Authors: Craig Buckhout
Maxwell Calloway’s hands moved with practiced efficiency over the rough nylon canvas fabric of his vest, touching, counting, verifying everything was there — magazines, flash-bangs, knife, flex cuffs, trauma dressing.
Somewhere nearby, a horn sounded urgency, followed by a revved engine racing away. Out in the street a teen slowed his car to gawk and was rear-ended by another. Max didn’t even look up.
Instead, he slung his carbine, strapped on the ballistic helmet; he hated the fucking thing, slammed the trunk lid, and jogged toward the others while working the custom-fitted earpiece into place.
As he moved, he experienced that weird almost out-of-body sensation you get when something happens, either really good or really bad, that you never thought in a million years would occur. You are aware of what you are doing, but at the same time it seems like it’s not real; like you’re there, but not there at the same time.
Over the radio, he copied the continuing reports of people down, shots being fired, others in hiding and asking for rescue, all at the hands of an active shooter in the Oakridge Mall.
In the parking lot, all around him, he could see dozens of people. Some were squatted down behind cars, some were crying, some were pacing and shouting and swinging their hands wildly about, some holding a hand over their mouth in that way people do when they’re horrified beyond words, and almost all of them had a cellphone stuck to an ear. He could also hear the sirens coming and saw a fire truck pull to a stop out in the street a hundred yards away, its air brakes hissing, probably waiting for the cops to tell them it was safe to move closer.
A small group of people were standing and kneeling around someone down on his or her back. One in the group spotted the fire engine, and they all started waving at it frantically. It was real all right. Better get my head into it, he told himself.
Steve Woods, Max’s red-headed, tobacco chewing best friend, turned his head and spit on the ground, “Bout time,” he said with a smile.
Steve loved this stuff. He was an adrenalin junkie. He thrived on it.
Steve and Max went through the police academy together and were actually issued consecutive badge numbers. Since graduating, over nine years ago now, they’d followed each other around, bidding the same team and shift every six-month rotation. They also drank together, shot together, and often worked-out together.
Standing next to Steve, shifting nervously from foot to foot, was the rookie of the team, a short, stout, blond female, just out of the Field Training Program; Fran something or other. She seemed all right, but Max knew very little about her.
Their sergeant, Roy Rudd, who you never seemed to encounter more than once during a work shift, started to say something but was interrupted when the nearest mall entrance doors burst open and a group of five people ran out, causing both Steve and Max to swing their carbines up. With the doors open, they could hear a series of evenly spaced gunshots. By the sound of them, they were some distance away. Max’s heart rate bumped up more than a beat or two.
One of those exiting was a young woman in her twenties, with a gray face, holding a bloody arm to her chest. Her baby-blue, spaghetti-strap top and white shorts were stained bright red all down the front.
When she saw Max and the others, she changed course right for them, like an injured child running to her mother, took a few unsteady steps, stopped, started again, staggered, and went down on the blacktop. One of the men with her kneeled down and shouted, “Hey you guys, over here. She needs help!”
Fran what’s-her-name moved to render aid, but an uncharacteristically tight-faced Rudd grabbed her shirt sleeve and stopped her.
“Leave her,” Rudd growled. “I’ll take care of it in a minute. Your job is to stop the shooter.” He then addressed everyone. “You all got the training, follow it. Once you’re inside go straight for the shooter — locate, isolate, and neutralize, which means kill the asshole. Got it? No stopping for the injured or directing people to safety.”
It was then that the fourth and final member of the team arrived.
Max had seen him around but didn’t know his name. He was a forty-something burglary detective with flared sideburns and permed hair, all of which gave the impression of a just divorced old guy caught in a midlife crisis. He was carrying a Remington 870, 12 gauge shotgun at port arms, and was wearing a blue windbreaker over his shirt and tie with
San Jose Police
stenciled across the back in big yellow letters. He was already breathing hard.
“We the first team?” he asked.
“Yeah,” Rudd said. “Problem?”
The detective shook his head and didn’t say anything more.
“Okay, radio check and then get going.”
Another blue and white pulled into the parking lot, red and blue lights flashing, no siren.
Fran got the door, allowing the three men with long-guns to enter. Once inside, they encountered a hallway that ran for a distance of about thirty yards. The four of them formed up in a loose diamond pattern with Max at the front, Fran to the left, Steve to the right, and the detective in the rear guard position. Each one was responsible for their zone — front, left, right, and rear. They moved at a quick-step pace. As they did, gunshots could be heard to their left, still some distance away.
When they reached the intersection with one of the main hallways, they turned left. This put Fran in the point position, the detective on the left, Max on the right, and Steve as rear guard. Once again, they moved quickly, their weapons at a low ready, their eyes all over the place.
The mall was massive. It was two stories, and the promenade they now walked was at least forty yards wide. Shops lined both sides, on both floors, and down the middle were support pillars, planters, escalators, stairs, benches, kiosks, and tables and chairs. Periodically, overhead, there was a skywalk connecting the left and right sides, allowing shoppers to cross over. All these obstructions presented a tactical challenge to them, but they trusted to the fact that the shooting was going on straight ahead, and that was where the threat lay.
They immediately encountered people, lots of people. After all, it was Memorial Day and the sale ads had been running all week. Whoever was doing this had timed it well.
A woman and small boy were flat on the ground, at the base of one of the planters. The woman was laying partially on her left side, on top of her son, so he was protected by her body on one side, and the planter on the other. She looked up at them as they moved by but quickly tucked her head back down and squirmed even closer to the boy.
Two teenagers, a girl and a boy, were squatted down with their backs against one of the support pillars, their knees pulled up tight to their chests, shopping bags at their feet. One of them was texting. The other snapped a cellphone picture of Max and their team as they passed.
Max saw a black head of hair bob-up over the top of a kiosk counter and a pair of soft-soled, black leather shoes dancing back and forth in the gap between the floor and the cabinet. Once they were past the kiosk, Steve, who as the rear guard was walking sideways and looking behind them, saw the person who had been hiding below the counter, run full-out in the direction they had just come from. Steve thought about yelling to him to keep his hands in view but let it go. He’d figure it out soon enough.
A little further on, crying and soft voices could be heard inside a shop displaying soaps and lotions in its window. Beyond that, a man of about thirty, wearing tan cargo shorts and a blue tee-shirt, stepped to the door of another shop, this one on the right, causing Max to bring his gun up. The man threw his hands in the air, said, “Whoa, whoa,” and pointed in the direction of the shots. “He’s that way.”
No shit, Max thought. Without stopping, he asked, “Did you get a look at the shooter?”
The man in the shorts shook his head no and stepped back inside the store.
As they continued on, Max saw a blood trail lead into a clothing shop. From inside he could hear music blaring, something dark and bass, but he couldn’t make out the words. In another twenty yards or so, he saw the soles of a pair of tennis shoes, toes down, sticking out from under a tipped over table.
The gunshots kept coming, louder, and fairly evenly spaced out. He was convinced by the sound the shooter had a long gun.
Max also took note of the fact that the shooter wasn’t acting as if he was out of control. He wasn’t frantic, spraying bullets all over the place. It suddenly occurred to Max that the reason the shots were one at a time and spaced out was because he was going around executing people. “Son of a bitch,” he mumbled. How many shots have there been? A lot.
Up ahead, he could see a set of stairs running in tandem with a down escalator, leading to the second deck.
“Let’s take the stairs,” he said. “We don’t want this asshole above us.”
“Copy that,” Steve replied.
They stopped at the base of the stairs, weapons up. Max pointed to Fran. You and I’ll go up first.”
Fran set her jaw and nodded twice. He could see her nostrils flaring with each breath she took and got the impression she was scared shitless …so was he.
With their guns up, they ascended the steps, scanning up-down, left-right, as more and more of the upper floor was revealed to them. Before they reached the top, there were a series of shots fired and what sounded like glass breaking, making them flinch and duck. Definitely a semi-automatic rifle of some sort, he thought, and definitely straight ahead.
When they got to the top of the stairs, they moved to one side, kneeled behind a cement trash barrel, covered downrange, and waved Steve and the detective up. Not ten yards from them, where the skywalk intersected the walkway on the left side of the mall, there were two bodies, a couple who looked to be in their fifties. Both were covered in blood, and more blood was on the floor around them. Neither looked alive.
“Dude, did you hear that?” Steve asked. “The update?”
“No, I switched off before I started up. Why?” Max replied as he switched his radio back on.
“Rudd says the second team is on the way, but he also says there’s an active shooter in a mall in L.A. and one in Florida someplace, too. It’s on the news already. People in the parking lot are telling him.”
“Oh man,” the detective said.
“Okay, well, we can only deal with what we got
,” Max said. It just means our suspect might be a little better prepared is all. We got this. He’s just another head case, right? Our job’s still the same.” And then before there was any more conversation, Max started off to the right.
This is not the time for discussion, he thought. This guy is executing people. Each shot means somebody dies.
As they moved toward the gunshots, Steve, who found himself on point, stepped over the body of a blond woman in her thirties. Her jaw was nearly detached from her face and there was a big piece of meat missing from one shoulder.
Max, who was on the right side of the formation said, “Watch your step, Fran.”
Fran, the rear guard, had her eyes trained behind them, so turned to look at what the obstruction was. As soon as she saw the body, she stopped and said, “Oh my God.”
“Eyes up and keep walking,” Max told her.
“Maybe we ought to wait for the other team,” the detective said. “It’d be better with eight of us.”
“Screw that, man,” Steve said. “Hear those gunshots? He’s offing people. We got to get him.”
“I’m just saying ….”
“Shut up and keep moving,” Max said, as he resumed the pace.
Up ahead of them was another skywalk connecting the left and right sides of the mall. At the end of this skywalk, on the left side of the mall, was the entrance to Macy’s. It was just inside this entrance the shots were being fired.
Just as they turned toward Macy’s, a man in his twenties, wearing blue jeans, a polo shirt, and a ball cap that read
Life Is Good
on the front, ran from the entrance and turned to his left, which took him away from their group.
Max heard a shot and saw dust and debris kick out from the wall outside the store. It was immediately followed by the appearance of a tall, thin, dark-haired man in his mid-twenties, carrying an AK 47 assault rifle. The shooter followed the man in the ball cap and threw his rifle to his shoulder.
The detective yelled, “Police, freeze!”
Max put his front sight on the man’s back and fired two rounds. The first hit him in the right shoulder blade and exited near his left nipple. The second shot went through the top of the left trapezoid muscle between his neck and shoulder.
Despite being hit, the man got off a shot with his AK as he spun to his right.
Max and Steve, at the same time, fired a total of five more shots between them. Two of the shots hit the man in his chest and one struck the right side of his nose, causing him to drop to the floor.
“Freeze my ass,” Steve said, looking sideways at the detective.