To Serve and Protect

It had been two hours since we went into lockdown. An unknown, greyish substance had been found at the reception, delivered by a masked man. He had left the package and the moment it was opened protocol necessitated the lockdown. A police station was a highly probable target for such an attack so all precautions had to be taken. The men in hazmat suits arrived, sealed off the station, and took a sample for testing. It would take 6–8 hours they guessed, not short enough to provoke intrigue but long enough to induce boredom. The administrative staff sat irritably; a disquiet had set in amongst them. All the documents and papers had been filed, they had nothing to do but sit and gaze around them. From the looks on their faces you’d think they’d never seen a Police Station, let alone worked in one. Day to day they were so focused on the papers in front of them that they hadn’t given time to the officers with guns, the prisoners and the grim mould of the building. The men in the cells sat more placidly, accustomed to the daily monotonies of confinement. In fact, I don’t think they even realised we were under lockdown, the playing cards continued to be traded between suspicious eyes, punctuated by bouts of laughter. The Police continued to loiter near the cells and doors as if reminding us they were still in charge. The guns on their waists and badges on their chests did that well enough. And finally, here I was, trapped by circumstance; I was only meant to schedule an appointment with the Police Captain for an interview. I’d been here for less than 15 minutes before the alarm sounded and signalled the lockdown.

The third hour was the slowest thus far. We all routinely checked our watches or looked at the clock on the wall. It might not have been so tiresome if I could talk to anyone, but everyone seemed stuck to their groupings. I was the only reporter and was therefore left in isolation. The officers had given me a few glances, curiously trying to work out who I was or what I did without having to actually ask me. They’d get bored enough eventually and ask. I, in the meantime, would have to busy myself with my surroundings. I got up and went to the window, through the plaster and tape I could see the street below. Two officers were standing at the entrance, just in case the masked man returned perhaps and to instruct people that the station was out of service. With the exception of a thin line of tape and the two officers nothing indicated a lockdown inside. The Mayor obviously didn’t want to induce a panic. Told in the wrong way, the story could become an attempted biological terrorist attack. It didn’t seem likely from the calm that the officers exuded but protocol did stipulate that any unknown substance, once inside the station, required a lockdown until it could be identified. I checked my watch again. My mutterings had gotten me to the fourth hour.

As I suspected, an officer eventually worked his way towards me.

‘We were all making bets as to what we thought you were, you don’t happen to be a lawyer by any chance?’ he said with a smirk on his face.

‘No sorry, just a reporter’ I said almost consolingly.

‘Ah, Gary’s won it then, he guessed reporter’

‘What gave me away?’

‘You’d have to ask him, he guessed it. Hey, Gary, come on over, you won’. From behind the group of officers, a short, thin figure emerged.

‘Pay up then Frank, I told you he looked like a reporter’ he said smugly.

‘Yh, yh take it and shut up’, he slapped the $20 into his hands and walked back to the group.

‘So, what are you here for?’ Gary asked me.

‘I was making an appointment with your Captain, to schedule an interview. I was barely here 15 minutes before the alarm went off. They sounded really panicked, talking about some substance of sorts.’

‘Yh, just another day for us really, this is the third lockdown we’ve had in the past year. It’s always a false alarm, just some idiot trying to scare us and we pay the price in hours.’ I wanted to look at my watch but didn’t want to seem rude by suggesting I was bored.

‘How did you know I was a reporter by the way?’ I asked.

‘You seemed like the type, looking around, walking back and forth, bored but still looking for something’

‘That obvious, huh?’ I said with a laugh.

‘Well, it had been four hours, I had a bit of time to work it out and nothing better to do.’ He looked over to the other officers. ‘The others were way off. Frank thought you were a lawyer, Steve guessed an inspector and Mike thought you might be a criminal who had finally decided to turn himself in’, he couldn’t contain himself at the remembrance of the last guess.

Gary had gone back to the others shortly after, making sure to extract all the smugness possible from the situation. I was once again left to myself. Perhaps I could write a story or an article, on the ‘Procedural Efficiency of the Police’ in locking down the station. It’s not the most captivating title but something along those lines might work. Or…conversely, a critical piece on the incompetencies of the Police in allowing an unknown substance to get into the station without detection and the testing process taking so long. I’d have more to say with the latter, the hours here are making sure of that. I called over Gary.

‘You wouldn’t happen to have a pen and paper?’

He patted his chest and trousers and pulled a pen from his pocket. ‘Should have paper somewhere around here too’ he scrambled looking for some and handed me what he found.

‘That should do, thank you’

‘Having a pen is reporting 101, isn’t it?’ he said with a laugh.

‘Yh, left it in my other jacket’ I said weakly.

‘What’re you writing anyway, a piece on us?’

‘No, no nothing like that’

‘Oh, come on, it must be something’

He was beginning to become a nuisance, I needed to get rid of him. ‘Well thank you again’, I dropped my head to signal the conclusion of our conversation.

‘Ok, well, I’ll leave you to it’

Another hour limped on. I now had an outline of my article, I’d be arguing that…

‘Knock, Knock!’ came an enthusiastic voice from outside. Had they finally finished and arrived with some good news? One of the officers went to the door to check and he was greeted with three bullets. The other officers jumped up but were too slow to withdraw their guns, stunned into disbelief. With a chilling swiftness the man executed them from left to right. For the first time since the lockdown began, the administrative staff were still. A madman’s bullets did what none of us could. We all eyed the fallen officers’ weapons, as if trying to pull them towards us telepathically. He was admiring his work. Finally, he halted and pivoted where he stood, and then turned to face us.

‘How rude of me, I haven’t even introduced myself’ he said with arms wide open and a smile.

The pools of blood had now converged, forming a greater red mass. He had introduced himself, humbly, as the man in charge.

‘Could someone clean this mess up please, it is rather distracting. You, in the corner, take your friend too.’ he pointed to the Admin staff. Two of them creeped hesitantly towards the bodies, looking like they were about to throw up. He went into the Captain’s office and searched it messily. He seemed to be whispering to himself, perhaps he was insane, his ‘introduction’ certainly seemed to suggest so. The two women stopped cleaning up, evidently struck by an idea. They had summoned their courage, if that’s what we could call it.

‘P-put your hands up’ she raised the gun slowly, ‘I’ll do it, I’ll…I will’ He walked towards her, gun still in hand.

‘Stop! I will, I will, I’m not-’ he moved nearer and placed his forehead on the gun.

‘I don’t want you missing now. So, you place your finger on the trigger like this and then you…oh look at that, you’ve left the safety on’, his smile now turned malevolent. Raising his own gun, he dismissed her with a single bullet.

He finished with the Captain’s Office and went to search the Evidence Room. He warned us that if we tried anything we’d be piling up more of our colleagues. The stench was building, the lockdown had made the smell even worse. What the hell was he looking for anyway and why was he taking so long? The longer it took the more irritated he’d become and his temperament was already…unstable, to put it kindly.

‘To Serve and Protect. That’s what every Police Car and Station in this city says. How very noble. It really would be more convincing if they could protect themselves’ he laughed, reminding us of the slumped bodies.

‘Oh God rescue us, I beg of you, deliver us from this evil’ the secretary had shrivelled in the corner the moment her friend was killed and she’d been whispering to herself ever since. Her voice increasingly rose, as if unaware of her surroundings and falling into God’s grace.

‘Oh, now this is something isn’t it, a prayer, a hope, a wish, you believe the man with the plan will save you?’ he shook his head with contempt.

‘Our Lord is merciful and kind and-’

‘Absent’

‘He has risen once, he will once again, he died for us.’ his disbelief was growing.

‘I never understood the masochism of Christianity, revelling in the glory of a man executed, forever remembering him by his death, ever so thankful that he died for all of you’ we had seen his malevolence, now we saw his hate; maybe it was the religious mindset, the feverish devotion to a cause that he couldn’t stand. He crouched down beside her, his hate unconcealed.

He had asked her to say another prayer, to hope one last time, to wish just once more. He wiped away her tears and with God as his witness he became the Devil.

He had picked off half the room and there was no guarantee he’d keep the other half alive, he had no reason to. He didn’t have an explicit reason to kill us, but his temperament suggested a predilection for killing. The officers were an obvious threat, the woman who picked up the gun a potential one, but the secretary praying in the corner? She was no threat, nor sought to be one. He murdered her because she was differently inclined to him, she chose to pray in her fear, to appeal to something greater than herself. So, although I’d stood as still as possible during the whole ordeal and cooperated with everything he had said, that was obviously no guarantee I would survive. Maybe he wouldn’t like the colour of my shoes and he’d shoot me for it, perhaps I wouldn’t smile at one of his jokes and he’d kill me for it. I didn’t have a god to pray to but if I did, I would, albeit quietly.

He had searched all the desks, cabinets and offices and still he had not found what he was looking for. He had found a die though, which he kept rolling between his index finger and thumb.

‘If I roll this, there will be six different outcomes for us, six different possibilities. We’ll roll until all our numbers come up, with the last man free to go. We all get a number, including me.’ He numbered us 1–6, with himself as 1 and ending with myself as 6. I couldn’t be quiet anymore.

‘But you could just leave, you could walk out right now, you’d live, we all would, why the game!’

‘I’ve failed to do what I came here to do, so if I’m to live, it is to be by chance. As for the rest of you, well… you’re just the unlucky participants who have to play with me’

‘You don’t have to do this!’

‘We begin now’ he rolled the dice, the clunky thing toppling over itself on the blood stained floor. It was a…4

‘No!!’

‘Thank you for playing’, he dropped without protest. He rolled again. This time a 2.

‘Thank you for playing’ she crumbled. Just four of us left. He rolled again.

‘Please, please I’m begging you’ it was a 3.

‘Thank you for playing’

‘God damn it!’ why couldn’t his number come up.

‘Just three of us left, isn’t this exciting!’ his glee was growing. He rolled. It was a 2 again.

‘That participant has already played’ he laughed hysterically. He rolled again, it was a 5. A guilty sigh of relief.

‘Thank you for playing’, Just me and the madman left.

‘Please, for your own sake, you could guarantee your survival, just walk away, no one else has to die today’

‘If it’s to be me then I’ll happily congratulate you’ his contentment was sincere, he would actually kill himself with a smile on his face.

‘Before we proceed, I must congratulate you on getting this far, bravo. So, here we go, one last time…’ He rolled again, the die flipped, turned on the bloodied floor and upon landing, he smiled.

‘Now wasn’t this fun?’