"Entry teams are lined up. Team One is primary, you’ve got the front. Team Two, you’re secondary, take the rear. No side doors. By the books, everyone, no showboating. Do you hear me, Sierra and Echo One? I will bench you both if there is a problem."
I listen as the captain continues to brief us. My hands start to sweat in my gloves as the anticipation builds. This was my first call with the Emergency Response Team; I've waited not only the last few grueling weeks for this, but since the day they left me. I need to get my head into the game. I calm my breathing, and press my gloved hand into my watch face pressed against the inside of my wrist.
My partner moves next to me and I look over at him. Only our eyes are visible through all our gear, but I see his hazel eyes focused on me, see his determination. I nod my head and sync my breathing with his. He and I have been a team for years now, mostly off the job, but he helps center me when I'm unfocused.
The squeal of tires draws the team’s attention, some swinging around and taking aim. A large man jumps from an SUV, pushes past the barriers and right up to the captain. I attempt to ignore him and watch the building in the distance that all my focus needs to be on. I can barely make out the hostages through the glass windows. I turn to look at the monitor with a feed from a camera we hijacked from the bank across the street. I can see the hostages lined up preventing us from breaching or shooting. The hostage-taker is standing in the middle of the room, his gun flailing around.
The transport arrives to take us to where we will stage, and the four of us jog to it. Sierra and Echo, as the primaries, will be dropped at the first and closest location. Derek and I get the further but back up position. I jump onto the running board of the transport and grab the rail above my head, my body jerks as it takes off. The weight of my gun strapped to my back comforts me.
I brace for the stop, waiting as the brakes lock up. Team One jumps off and Sierra One leers at me.
"Hey, girly, don't puke on your first gig." His remark makes me want to punch him.
Derek’s gloved hand hits my shoulder and I know what he’s trying to say. The transport takes off again and stops about five hundred yards from where Team One was dropped. We jump off and run into the building, bypassing security and head for the stairwell.
"Let's go, sexy," Derek says as his long legs eat up the steps.
My five-seven, long-legged frame is used to running with gear, so I'm only a step or two behind him. My breathing is controlled and I push the adrenaline overload from earlier into keeping pace and maintaining control. We make the rooftop and push through the door, my sidearm in my hand while Derek has his M4 out. We clear the roof in a pie formation, each of us checking a quadrant. Then we make for the edge of the roof and start setting up.
"Team Two, are you set?" comes across the comm.
"This is Victor, Team Two, we are on the roof and setting up now," Derek informs the captain as I lie down prone to my rifle and start getting ready for the measurements necessary.
Through the airwaves, we can hear the captain talking to someone with a strong British accent, and I then remember the man that ran up as we were getting ready to leave.
"Okay, sexy, how about the Brit that's arguing with Captain?"
"Six hundred yards."
"Pick the next."
"Door to convention center, seven hundred yards. Transport, five hundred yards."
We continue with our data sheet for the shot and I know in my gut that I won't shoot from this distance. Oh hell, who am I kidding? If Carl has his way I'll never shoot. I wasn't supposed to make this team or become the secondary sniper. Derek and I have only been on the force for two years. We were personally asked to join the team, we didn't have to apply. It's not because I'm a woman and they had to fulfill some bureaucratic quota. It's because I'm that good. This is all I've ever wanted to do.
* * *
"All teams, prepare. We will be going hot in fifteen."
I pull back from the scope and drop my head to the roof, my helmet and gear keeps me from smacking my face.
"Hey, Maya, you got this. Don't let the douche talk you out of it. You've always been a better shot than him." Derek’s hand lands on my shoulder and I tense. "Calm down. Focus. Breathe. Accept." He recites the mantra and I lift my head to smile. Of course the balaclava and gear cover it but his eyes twinkle in return.
"Team One, what is your status?"
No answer comes and I know that they are doing their own thing again. Radio silence continues and I return to my scope. I line up with the building entrance and wait for the command. I’ve got this. I know I can shoot from this distance.
"This is Echo, Team One, we went offline for a moment and are now ready."
"You mean to tell me you can't even control your own teams! It's time to call in the real marksmen instead of the cowboys. I have an associate in there. Thank goodness I got the high value out of there," a deep voice comes across the captain's radio.
"Sir, I've asked you several times to step behind the line. My team has it..."
As the captain yells at the interloper, I watch through my scope as the hostage-taker emerges slouched behind a hostage. It’s not a clear shot. At this distance I can't hear what is being said, but the gun is further pressed into the hostage’s neck. The front entry team falls back to protect the hostage.
I focus through the scope and take a look at the hostage. He’s about five-ten, with dark hair and an olive complexion. My gut twists and I see Abba in my eyes.
Focus! Focus, Maya. This is why you do this.
"No clean shot," Sierra says through the comms.
I look again.
"I have a shot but it will be close," I say on a choke. Clearing my throat, I try again. "Captain, I have a tight shot."
"Sierra, how about you?"
"Negative, sir. I don't know what she sees, but she's wrong. There is no clean shot."
That’s twice he’s identified me as a female over the comms, and everyone is silent, waiting for the hammer to drop.
"Sierra, Team One, please remember your radio protocols."
"Captain, Bravo has no shot!" he grits out.
I can hear his teeth clenching over the comms, and I wait and hope.
The hostage-taker hits the hostage in the side of the face with the gun. My vision blurs and I'm taken back. The anger, the pain, and the distance all swell. I will kill him.
"Captain, this is Victor, Team Two, Bravo has a shot," Derek says in frustration.
"Team One, disengage. Bravo, you are now Sierra, Team Two. Prepare."
"Yes, sir." I control my breathing. Three big breaths and I let it all out, then I squeeze the trigger and watch.
I turn as I hear the order given and watch the hostage-taker’s head explode in a fine pink mist of blood and brain matter.
"Who the bloody hell took that shot?" I yell at the captain.
That was an impossible shot for a military trained marksman. I don't know at what distance she was, but I do know it was a lass. When I pulled up earlier to offer my assistance, I saw the smaller person with the group but I never would have pegged her as a woman.
The ERT entry team clears the area and I watch as Raul walks out among the hostages and right up to me. The hostages are being checked over. Emergency personnel are treating the one that was held at gunpoint, his shoulder was nicked by the sniper’s bullet.
After about twenty minutes the team's transport pulls up. They tried to push me back behind the barriers again but because of Raul I got to stay close by. I can't get close enough to the officers, so I watch from our SUV.
"Sierra and Echo, Team Two, head back to the precinct to give your reports, then you're off for the mandatory twenty-four hours. Bravo and Victor, Team One, reports and then my office. I want to know why you changed your position." The captain demands.
"Hey, Williams, drinks at Murphy's later? Bring Aaron." One of the team members asks the tall figure with the woman as they prepare to load up into another transport.
I want to see what she looks like. I want to ask her about the shot. Something keeps me fixated on her. She turns and I see her eyes instantly focus on me. My body tingles and I'm instantly hard. I know it's been a while, but I can't even see this woman's body.