“You always have two choices: your commitment versus your fear.”- Sammy Davis, Jr.
Hondo saw Darryl’s head peeking beneath a pile of debris. He rushed toward him nearly giddy and dropped to his knees. Immediately he began to dig the young man out.
“Shh…take it easy, I’m here, I’m here.”
“I have to tell you!” Darryl tried again.
Chester saw the uniform and he knew that he needed to act now before it was too late.
“It’s okay, I got you, I got you.” Hondo assured him.
Darryl felt his hand break free from the rubble as Hondo continued to dig. Behind Hondo, Darryl saw the stranger who had been the cause of this nightmare…then he saw the gun.
Hondo turned just in time to see the young man in black fall against a pile of mangled electrical equipment. The wet stain blooming across his chest caught Hondo and Darryl’s attention. Then Hondo saw the gun hanging from Chester’s limp wrist. He turned to see Luca standing with his gun still trained on his target. He’d saved Hondo’s life; he should have been dead but somehow his friend had come from out of nowhere just in time.
“Luca, thanks man.” Hondo exhaled breathlessly.
“I got your back; always.” Luca replied, slowly lowering his gun.
Luca moved toward Chester and placed two fingers on the side of his neck to confirm that he was dead. Adrenaline still pumping fiercely through his body propelled him toward Hondo and Darryl; he would deal with the fact that he had shot a child later…much later.
Pops waited against his wishes outside behind the yellow tape. The shouts from parents and the press irritated him because he too wanted answers. Both Hondo and Darryl were inside, and no one was giving any of them the answers that they needed. He’d already tried to breach the cordoned off space; caught both times and now he could feel the young female officer’s eyes watching and waiting for his next attempt.
The mood of the crowd quickly shifted as students, terrified, and confused began to emerge from the rubble; some under their own powers, some holding onto paramedics and officers and some being wheeled out on gurneys. Everyone from both sides looking for familiar faces to claim as their own and desperately rejecting the notion that their loved ones were among the twelve that were brought out in zipped black body bags. It felt like forever before the elder Harrelson saw those he’d been holding his breath for. Hondo was walking along-side a gurney; on the other side was Luca both men glancing periodically down at Darryl. The boy seemed well enough to be talking; the sight of the three gave Pops permission to exhale.
Maurice had seen enough; everything had gone off as planned even luring Sgt. Harrelson to the seen for a closeup of the carnage. A large satisfied grin slowly spread across his face and after one last look over the crowd eyeing the reunions between parents and children, Maurice quickly disappeared out of sight.
Luca helped the paramedics load Darryl into the bus. The young boy was insisting that he was fine and just wanted to go home. Pops interrupted the two while pushing past his son beating him into the ambulance alongside Darryl. Hondo shook his head in disbelief while Pops teased him with a satisfied grin while the back doors closed in his face.
“Your Pops man is something else.” Luca chuckled.
“Yeah he tries to do too much sometimes.” Hondo responded mournfully.
“At least he’s trying, you know?”
“I just wish he’d tried a lot sooner.” Then seeing the sadness in his friend’s eyes. “You okay, man?”
“He was just a kid…He wasn’t much older than Darryl!”
“Luca, you saved my life and Darryl’s! At least one of us would be dead right now if you hadn’t shown up when you did!”
Luca looked at his friend; he was right, but he wasn’t ready to hear that the dead boy had chosen a life that led him to his unfortunate end. He wasn’t sure if he’d ever be ready to let go of the guilt.
“I don’t know; it just should have ended better.” Then changing the subject. “We better go find the rest of the team.”
Hondo watched his friend make a hasty retreat. He was worried, he knew how Luca’s big heart would trip him up over this. He’d keep his eyes on him; they all would. For now, there was still a lot to do before any of them would be allowed to go home and lick their wounds.
S.W.A.T. Headquarters – Evening –
Hondo found Luca in the locker room. He didn’t want to leave before making sure he was alright. The two of them were the last to leave and the building was quiet.
“Hey, you’re still here.” Hondo began.
“Yeah, I’m heading home now.”
Hondo watched as Luca put the last few items in his bag. Luca hadn’t looked up and he knew he was still dealing with the shooting earlier.
“I.A. ruled it a clean shooting.”
“Clean…yeah. How come I don’t feel, clean?” He asked.
“Look Luca, I know how it feels…”
“No, no you don’t Hondo. I killed that kid; me! The funny thing is, I’d do it again if I had to.”
“You didn’t have a choice! You’ve been doing this longer than I have. This job forces us to do some things that haunt us, but we have to do it to keep this city safe!”
“I get it, Hondo, really I do. Look, I don’t want it to sound like I regret pulling the trigger. I regret that that young man, that boy thought it was okay to pick up a gun and take lives, which put me in a position to have to make a choice like that!”
Hondo took the spot next to his friend and waited a few seconds before speaking again. His pain was radiating from his body and Hondo remembered being in the same emotional space not too long ago. It was hard what they did and what they were asked to do in the course of their day.
“I know it sucks, all of it but if you hadn’t been there today, I would be dead and for that I’m grateful. I owe you.”
“Nah, you’ve saved my life so many times I’ve lost count…”
“I think we’re even.”
The two exchanged knowing glances and smiled. It was time to go home, and rest and to heal; tomorrow was coming, without permission or warning and with it would come new challenges, and new choices…whether they liked it or not.