Author's Notes: This story started off as a simple little one-shot birthday present for Mari. Then, as things in my fic-writing life are wont to do, it took a bit of a turn. The fic is 100% complete but I'm going to post it in 5 chapters because expecting anyone to read close to 80 pages of what I've written in one sitting feels a wee bit too self-indulgent to me. So there will be one chapter posted per day for the next five days.
This one is completely different than anything I've ever posted in this fandom before. If you like it all thanks go to my friend Liza for strong arming me into writing it. If you don't we'll just assume her idea was good and my execution wasn't. LOL
Happy Belated Birthday, Mari! The best writing partner anyone could ever ask for. Now that this beast is finally done we can get started on our next adventure!
Chasing Old Ghosts Chapter 1
"You have got to be kidding me," Steve laughed as he maneuvered the Camaro through mid-morning traffic. "I knew you were interested in this girl. Very interested even. But this goes way, way beyond that. This is…" He trailed off as he searched for the right word.
"Don't mock, Steve. It's unattractive," Danny huffed as he turned his head to look out the passenger's side window.
"I'm not mocking. I'm just…you willingly went for a moonlight walk….on the beach?"
Steve had been trying to get his head around the information for a good thirty minutes and he just couldn't.
"That's a thing people do," Danny defended.
"It's a thing people do," Steve agreed. "It's just not a thing you do."
"I didn't pick it…okay. I asked Amber what she wanted to do after dinner last night and…that was what she wanted to do." Danny was becoming more agitated as the conversation went on.
"No, I understand that." Steve was clearly enjoying his partner's discomfort. "What I don't get is how you're not ranting about it this morning. I haven't heard one complaint about sand between your toes, or anywhere else," Steve smirked. "In fact, I believe you're actually smiling."
"I smile, Steve. I am capable of smiling. I often share a smile with the world."
"If you say so." Steve continued to make his way back towards headquarters, an enormous grin firmly in place.
After a few minutes of silence Danny couldn't stand it anymore.
"You know what…why don't you just spit it out?"
"Spit what out," Steve asked innocently.
"Whatever it is you've been dying to say all morning."
"I've got nothing….it's just…ok…you're smitten."
"I'm a grown man, not a teenage girl," Danny scoffed.
"I do not get smitten."
"Then what would you call it?"
"I'm….interested. Very interested."
"You've got a goofy smile."
"Does this conversation seem at all familiar to you," Danny asked, recalling a morning in the hallway of the medical examiner's office four years earlier. "I mean are you getting any sense of déjà vu at all?"
"I think….you know what I think…..I think you're in love."
"That….my friend…. is a stone that you, in particular, do not want to throw…..especially from the big, glass house you currently reside in," Danny warned.
"We're not talking about me here; we're talking about you," Steve grinned.
Danny was saved from any further discussion on the topic, at least temporarily, by the ringing of the phone. Steve chuckled and then answered the call.
"Chin, what'd you find out?"
The team had caught a case in the early hours of the morning. A garbage collector, making his rounds at a local strip mall, found several bags of body parts in the dumpster. Thirty minutes later a different collector found three more bags of severed limbs across town.
Max was in the process of inventorying the contents of the bags to determine how many victims they were dealing with and to ascertain any possible clues to their identities.
"Nothing much yet. Max is sending up a preliminary report soon but he says he needs another couple of hours before he'll have the final body count. There's no chance for fingerprints though; all the finger tips are missing."
"Did HPD come up with anything when they searched the dumpsters?"
"Not yet. They're still looking though."
"Anything from the garbage company?"
"They're calling in all their trucks and searching them as we speak. They said they'd let us know if they find anything. I also called the dump; they're gonna cordon of all the garbage that came in overnight and this morning. We're gonna need to send someone out there to help search."
"Call HPD. See if they can spare a few guys to do it."
"Thanks, Chin. Danny and I will be there in a few minutes." Steve disconnected the call and turned to his partner. "Don't think we won't be revisiting the moonlight beach walking later."
"I'll be looking forward to it," Danny sighed.
"Bad news," Chin said as Steve and Danny entered the office. He was standing at the smart table opposite Catherine and Kono. They were studying the preliminary report Max had just sent up. "Duke says they're shorthanded and can only spare two people to help with the search at the dump. We need to send out some manpower of our own."
"Not me!" Steve and Danny said in unison as they crossed the room to join the others.
They turned to look at Kono, both noticing that at some point while they were out of the office she had changed clothes and was now wearing a black skirt and somewhat conservative white blouse.
"Why are you dressed…..like that," Danny asked.
"Gee, Danny, you sure how to make a girl feel special." Kono rolled her eyes and Catherine chuckled.
"I didn't mean…I'm not trying….I just noticed you changed your clothes."
"I changed because I have to testify in…" she looked at her watch, "…exactly 27 minutes in the Warrick case, so I need to get going."
"Damn. I forgot that was today," Steve said.
"Well it is," Kono smiled triumphantly as she gathered her things. "So I guess that leaves me out of garbage patrol. Have fun boys," she called over her shoulder as she headed out the door.
"What does she mean have fun boys?" Danny scoffed.
Three sets of eyes turned to Catherine.
"I'd say you're up, Newbie," Chin smiled.
"Sorry. Not me either." Catherine shook her head.
"Why not you?" Danny asked. "The Warrick case is a retrial from over a year ago. You weren't even working here then so there's no way you have to testify."
Catherine smiled. "Well, if you recall, two weeks ago when Grace's school asked for someone to come in and give a presentation to the students about a career in law enforcement, you all volunteered me."
Danny remembered quite clearly receiving a call from Principal Fiske requesting a guest speaker for the assembly. He had done the presentation the year before and while he enjoyed the talk itself, he found the question and answer period afterward to be a bit…disconcerting.
'What does it feel like shoot someone?' 'Did you ever beat up a suspect when no one was looking?' 'Have you ever been offered a bribe?'
He decided it would be better to send someone else this year.
"We did?" he feigned ignorance.
"Yes, you did," Catherine smiled indulgently. "As a matter of fact you pretty much insisted I should be the one to go. You sold it to Principal Fiske on the theory that I could cover two topics. Both law enforcement and a naval career. "
"That is a valid argument," Danny defended.
Catherine looked at him skeptically. "When I pointed out to you that Steve could cover the same two topics, and in fact add in the third one—SEALS—you changed your tune and claimed it had to do with giving the girls at the school a good female role model."
Catherine had actually been looking forward to the presentation all week. She just couldn't resist giving the boys a hard time.
"That was a good point, too," Steve said as Chin nodded in agreement. "Kono did the presentation three years ago but there's a whole new crop of little girls there now who need strong female role models."
"Uh-huh. It was all about the kids, right? Had nothing at all to do with the three of you not wanting to do it."
"We've all done it at least once," Steve said. "We just thought it would be nice to give someone else a chance."
"I'm not sure what you're laughing at." Catherine turned an appraising eye on him. "You went right along with them."
"I'm laughing because I'm on the witness list in the Warrick case as well. I'm due on the stand right after lunch. So that leaves me out."
Danny realized that there was no way he was getting out of a trip to the dump. "It seemed like such a good idea at the time," he sighed.
"I'm sure it did, but now I get to spend my afternoon talking to a bunch of bright, energetic students and you two get to spend your afternoon crawling through piles of garbage."
"You don't have to look so happy about it," Danny groused.
"I'm not happy so much as I'm…..no you're right…I'm happy. Like Kono said…have fun boys. Try not to get too smelly, Steve. Remember, we have plans tonight."
"Are we still doing that?"
"Yes, we're still doing that."
"What?" Danny perked up.
"Nothing," Steve muttered.
"Come on. You made fun of me all morning for walking on the beach in the moonlight…"
"You walked on the beach in the moonlight?" Chin and Catherine asked in unison.
Yes, I walked on the beach in the moonlight. I have no idea why you're all acting as though this is some monumental event."
"Well not so much monumental as…" Chin searched for the right word.
"Completely unexpected," Catherine provided.
"That's it," Chin smiled. "Completely unexpected."
"You know what? I'm done with all of you," Danny huffed. "I'm going to check if I have any old clothes in my locker to change into."
Academy of the Sacred Heart
Catherine glanced around the bustling school office as she stood waiting for Principal Fiske. The scene was so familiar—a secretary with a phone pressed to her ear patiently answering questions, mountains of papers waiting to be whipped into some semblance of order, younger students standing on their tip toes to see over the counter. She couldn't help but think of how many times she had stood in an office just like this one, minus the high tech electronics of course, and waited with equal parts anticipation and dread to get started at yet another new school.
The door to the principal's inner office opened and a pretty brunette emerged and started towards Catherine before being stopped mid-stride by a harried student with a question. Catherine couldn't help but think, as she watched the woman's easy demeanor, that things had certainly changed since she was in school, where most of the principals she had experience with were older, stern looking gentleman who had very little compassion for a young girl on her third new school in two years.
Once the student's issue was dealt with the woman continued across the office and extended her hand to Catherine.
"Ms. Rollins. I'm Principal Fiske. It's very nice to meet you. Thanks so much for coming in to talk to the students today."
"My pleasure," Catherine extended her hand in return.
"You certainly came very highly recommended. Grace's father couldn't talk you up enough."
"That's good to hear." She pictured Danny on his way to the dump, wishing he was here preparing to give the presentation instead. "I know he would have loved to be here himself."
"Oh, I know. We can always count on Grace's dad to help anytime we ask. He did this presentation last year and the students loved him."
"I guess I have big shoes to fill then. I'll do my best to live up to his standards."
"I'm sure you'll do great," Principal Fiske said confidently. "Your credentials are certainly impressive, Annapolis, three tours in Afghanistan, Naval Intelligence and now a position at Five-0. The kids are gonna love you."
"Thanks. I'm excited to talk to them," Catherine said sincerely.
Principal Fiske's phone buzzed and she glanced at the screen. "I'm sorry," she apologized. "It's one of those days. I need to take care of an issue in the cafeteria real quick."
"It's fine. Take your time," Catherine assured her.
"I shouldn't be long. You can start down to the auditorium if you like so you can get a feel for the setup. I'll meet you there in a few minutes."
"Do you know the way?"
"No, this is my first visit to your school."
"Just go straight down this way," the principal indicated as they stepped out of the office into the hallway. "All the way to the end. There are two large sets of doors on the right. You can't miss it."
"Thanks. I'm sure I'll find it."
"I'll see you down there in a few minutes."
Catherine thanked her and headed down the hall. She smiled as she looked at the familiar rows of lockers and the colorfully decorated bulletin boards. The bell to signal the end of the class period sounded loudly and suddenly the hall was filled with students. Most of them barely seemed to notice Catherine as they talked, laughed, and made their way towards their next destination.
Suddenly a familiar voice called from behind her.
"Hi Grace," Catherine turned and smiled as Grace approached her with another smiling girl. "How's your day going?"
"Good. This is my friend Caryn."
"Hi, Caryn. Nice to meet you."
"You too," the young girl smiled
"Are you ready for your presentation?"
"I think so."
"Danno told me to tell my friends to think up a lot of good questions for you. Last year when he did the assembly people asked a lot of questions."
"I'll have to remember to thank him," Catherine grinned.
"We have lunch period now. We'll be in the second assembly."
"That'll give me a chance to get the kinks out the first time through," Catherine ruffled her hair.
"See you later. Danno said it was ok for me to ride home with you if it's ok with you."
"It's fine with me, honey. I talked to him about it earlier. We'll stop off for some shave ice and then I'll drop you at home."
"Thanks! That sounds fun. We better get going. We have to get lunch before the next bell rings."
"What's on the menu?" Catherine asked.
"Spaghetti and meatballs."
"Sounds pretty good." Catherine tried to be enthusiastic, but from what she remembered about cafeteria food there probably wasn't much to be excited about.
"It's not bad. Kinda mushy. The cookies are the best though. Chocolate chip. Do you want me to bring you one?"
"That'd be great. Thanks."
"Ok. See you later," Grace said happily as she and Caryn headed off in the opposite direction from where Catherine was going.
Catherine found the auditorium with no problem and made her way to the front of the room. It was very similar to every school auditorium she'd ever been in. The elevated stage was at front. The seats rose up the sloped floor towards the back of the room. There were aisles along the left and right edge and a large wide center aisle.
Out of habit Catherine took notice of the exits. In addition to the two large sets of doors in the back of the room there was another set on each side, directly in front of the stage. The heavy red drape that concealed the stage when not in use was in place. There was a podium on the front edge of the stage apron, directly in the middle, with an empty folding chair on either side.
She turned and watched as teachers began to lead their classes in to the room and get them settled in their seats. Catherine noticed that each of the classes seemed to be around 20 students. One of the many advantages of a private school education. They were able to keep their class size smaller and thus ensure each student more one-on-one attention.
A woman who looked to Catherine to be about eight months pregnant led her class down to the front of the section of seats on the right and got them settled. She placed her hand on her lower back and stretched as the last of her students took their seats.
Catherine noticed that these students all seemed to be a bit older than Grace. She had been told that the children would be split by grade for the assemblies so she should prepare one presentation suitable for older students and one, tamed down a little, for the younger grades.
An older woman, who looked to be in her mid-60s, brought her class in next and they settled immediately behind the first students. The next teacher in, a very young looking woman, was having a little more trouble controlling her charges. They were talking loudly and shoving each other in and out of the rows.
Catherine ascended the short flight of stairs and moved to the center of the stage to check out the podium. As she did Principal Fiske entered through the door to the right of the stage. She noticed the chaos immediately and addressed the students.
"Alright, everyone. Let's settle down. We're very lucky to have Ms. Rollins here to speak to us today."
Before the principal could say another word the doors of the auditorium banged open and shots rang out. Catherine drew her weapon out of pure instinct, but immediately knew it was pointless. Four men, all armed with automatic rifles, entered the room, firing warning shots into the ceiling. One of the men immediately began yelling instructions. The children initially froze, then started to panic. When a small group of them started towards the door on the left of the room one of the men immediately began shooting in that direction.
"No one goes near any of the doors," he shouted menacingly. "Is that understood?"
Three of the men made their way quickly down the center aisle to the front of the room while the fourth man remained in the back, guarding the two sets of doors. Catherine could hear screaming from outside the auditorium so she knew that the others in the school were aware of what was happening. Within seconds she heard the fire alarm go off. She hoped that there weren't other men outside of the auditorium and that the remainder of the students and faculty were able to get away safely.
As she tried to block out the chaos around her and assess the situation her eyes were drawn to three large gas canisters attached to a small explosive device that two of the men had placed directly in front of the stage.
There was no mistaking the markings on the canisters.
They contained cyanide gas.
"Everybody stay where you are," one of the men screamed. "If I see anyone on their phone I will not hesitate to shoot you."
"Do as they say," Principal Fiske yelled over and over, attempting to break through the chaos and panic and get the young people to comply. As principal of the school, her first responsibility was to get her students and faculty through this, whatever it was, alive and unharmed. She had been through hours of classroom training on how to deal with an event just like this one. But it only took seconds to fully understand that classroom training couldn't compare to the reality of having a man stand five feet from you and point a machine gun at your head.
Suddenly one of the men spotted the gun in Catherine's hand. He moved towards her quickly and grabbed her wrist.
"You're not going to be needing that," he growled as he twisted her arm as hard as he could. The gun dropped from her hand and clattered to the floor. Catherine reacted by instinct and brought the palm of her hand up and delivered a sharp blow to the man's collar bone forcing him to let go of her arm. She felt a rush of satisfaction as she heard his bone snap.
The man screamed in pain and stumbled a few steps back. It only took him a minute to recover, however, and he came back towards Catherine with fury in his eyes. The other inhabitants of the room watched in horror as the man delivered a blow directly to Catherine's jaw, knocking her off her feet.
"Enough," one of the other men yelled as he stepped in between them. "That's not what we came here to do."
Catherine assumed he was the leader of the group by the way the man who had struck her backed off immediately, albeit reluctantly, though he kept his angry gaze fixed on her.
She could taste a small amount of blood on her lip but refused to give any of the men the satisfaction of reaching up to feel the wound.
"There'll be no more of that. We're not here to harm anyone."
"What are you here for?" Catherine asked as she scrambled to her feet.
"We're here because this is the quickest was for us to get the attention of the people over at Pearl-Hickam."
"We have no association with them," Principal Fiske said angrily.
"Maybe not," the man spat back. "But I've been trying to get information from them for six months and they act as though I don't exist. I needed a little something to get their attention. Your school was as good a choice as any."
"If you want something from them this is not the way to get it. They won't negotiate," Catherine said as calmly as possible.
"If they don't, they're going to have to answer to the citizens of this island for a lot of dead children," the man sneered.
He then turned and faced the auditorium. "I want everyone to calm down, come down here to the front and take a seat on the floor. My associate is going to pass around a box. Put your phone in it along with any other electronic device you might have. "
As the students were complying with the orders Catherine took a minute to study the men. The one she had identified as the leader appeared to be in his late 40s. He had no discernable accent. His blonde hair was shaggy and shoulder length. He stood about 6'2". Catherine's eyes were drawn to his left hand where he carried what appeared to be a detonator of some kind.
The second man, the one whose collarbone she was pretty sure she had broken, looked to be about the same age, with a more olive complexion. He was shorter, maybe 5'11' but well-built and muscular. He had dark hair and dark eyes. It was difficult to make an assessment after such a short time but he definitely seemed more volatile than the man in charge.
The third man, who was currently prowling back and forth across the apron of the stage, assuring no one moved towards either of the doors, was tall and lanky. Catherine guessed 6'4" at least. He had short black hair and a scar above his left eye.
The fourth man, the one who had remained in the back of the room, was too far away for Catherine to make any kind of reliable observation.
The teachers, with the help of Principal Fiske, got the last of the students moved to the front of the auditorium and seated in the space between the stage and the first row of seats. Unfortunately this placed them in very close proximity to the make shift bomb. They sat shoulder to shoulder, many of them hugging or holding hands. The ones who had managed to get their emotions somewhat under control, or at least as under control as someone in their early teens could be in this kind of situation, were helping the ones who couldn't stop sobbing.
The teachers were helping as much as they could, speaking in firm but soothing voices, encouraging the students to take deep breaths and lean on one another. The 20:1 student to teacher ratio that had seemed ideal a few minutes before suddenly seemed woefully inadequate. Catherine knew that finding a way to keep the students calm was going to be an important part of bringing this situation to a successful resolution.
"You too," the leader indicated Catherine, "Get down there with the rest of them and put your phone in the box."
Catherine walked down the stairs and took her place with the rest of the auditorium's inhabitants. As she sat down the young teacher who had appeared to be having trouble controlling her students shot her a look of desperation.
"Just do what they say," Catherine said as calmly as she could. "Give the people outside a chance to figure out what to do."
It concerned her that the men wanted to deal with the personnel at Pearl-Hickam. Catherine had no idea what their issue with the base was, but she knew for an absolute fact that no one in the command structure would negotiate with these men. That just isn't the way it's done. She had no idea if they'd even consent to hear the men's demands.
She hoped that they would at least feign a willingness to hear out the grievances as a way to stall for time. To give Steve and the rest of the team a chance to devise a plan to get the hostages out unharmed.
Catherine knew without a doubt that no matter who these men wanted to deal with directly, the Five-0 team would ultimately be the ones to handle a rescue if it was required. Catherine's job would be to find a way to get them as much info as she could so they could formulate the most effective rescue plan possible.
She thought about Danny, and hoped that Grace had made it out safely. Catherine knew she'd been on the opposite end of the school when the shooting started and hoped that had given her an advantage. Danny and Steve would be beside themselves till they could find Grace and make sure she was safe. Catherine was a grown woman, trained to take care of herself and the people around her, but Grace was a little girl. Catherine sent up a quick prayer that Grace found her father and her uncle as quickly as possible.
Grace wasn't the only child of a team member who went to this school. Catherine remembered Lou Grover talking about his daughter, Samantha, being a student here. Catherine had only met the girl once. She knew Grover was having problems with the thought of his daughter growing up but from what Catherine could tell from their brief meeting she was just a normal teenager. Her eyes scanned the assembled students and her heart sunk as she took notice of the young lady sitting directly next to the gas canisters on the left hand side.
"So what are you and Catherine up to tonight that she doesn't want you getting too smelly this afternoon," Danny asked as Steve drove towards the landfill in Kapolei.
"We're going to a photography exhibit."
"That doesn't sound too bad."
"The artist is the wife of somebody she served with on the Enterprise."
"Still not seeing the problem."
"She only takes pictures of elbows and knees."
Danny barked with laughter. "Are you serious?"
"I wish I was kidding," Steve sighed.
"Elbows and knees? I just…why…."
"The name of the exhibit is 'A Joint Exploration'."
"When Catherine first mentioned it I thought it was….well let's just say I thought it was something different."
"I can imagine. You're sure it's not? Maybe Catherine is just messing with you about the elbows and knees."
"No such luck. I've seen the brochure. Apparently this is her first big exhibit and she's really nervous. Catherine wants to go and be supportive."
"How do you….I mean…..what constitutes supportive in a situation like this? What do you say to someone about their pictures of elbows and knees?"
"I have no idea. I'll just follow Catherine's lead. But I know one thing. It's gonna be a really long night."
"I'd feel bad for you if you hadn't been such a jerk about the walk on the beach thing," Danny grinned.
"Hey, I know. Maybe you can give Amber a call and you two can go to the exhibit with us."
"No, thanks," Danny laughed. "You're on your own on this one."
"Wanna know something?"
"I'm actually considering getting into a pile of garbage up to my hips this afternoon hoping I'll smell too bad and Catherine won't make me go."
"Do you think that'll work?"
"It might be worth a try, right?"
Suddenly the car was filled with a high pitched siren-like sound.
"What the hell is that?"
Danny grabbed his phone out of his pocket. "It's the ringtone I use for emergency announcements from Grace's school." He pressed the button and held the phone to his ear, listening to the recorded voice coming through the phone.
Before Danny could hear the entire message Steve's phone rang as well.
"Chin, what's going on?" he asked anxiously.
"There's an emergency at The Academy of the Sacred Heart. I don't know exactly what's happening yet but they want every law enforcement officer on the island at the scene ASAP."
Steve and Danny looked at each other, sheer panic written on both their faces, as Steve turned the car around and headed back towards Grace's school at top speed.
Academy of the Sacred Heart
Steve made the trip in record time. But even with lights and sirens he couldn't get the Camaro closer than half a mile away from the school. The road was clogged with emergency vehicles and terrified parents responding to desperate calls and texts from their frightened children.
Without hesitation they abandoned the Camaro and sprinted in on foot.
As they got closer to the school they frantically scanned the area for any sign of Grace or Catherine.
The parking lots, playground and surrounding area were filled with crying, panicked children and heroic staff trying their best to keep the students calm and get them moved to safety as quickly as possible. Resolute teachers were instructing the students to stay together and to move to the designated gathering area; the park just off school grounds.
They had performed this drill at least once a month throughout the last several school years. Even in the pandemonium that accompanied an actual emergency both students and staff found themselves automatically following the well-practiced procedures.
Every available staff member was pitching in to help. Teachers, janitorial staff, cafeteria workers, all doing their part to bring some small amount of order to a scene of utter chaos. Some stayed close to the building, at great risk to their own personal safety, making sure that every student exiting the structure could see a trusted adult, hoping that might help reduce the panic. Some headed directly to the park, accompanied by several HPD officers, to give comfort and support to the students as they made their way to safety.
At the request of the HPD, a large group of local firefighters formed a perimeter around the park. They understood the frantic parents who wanted nothing more than immediate access to their children but there were protocols in place for a situation like this for a reason. Every student needed to be accounted for before they could be released to a parent or guardian.
The HPD officers who remained on school grounds were fighting to gain control of the situation. They had called in every available officer on the island and were in the process of locking down the area immediately surrounding the school to secure the scene and push back against anyone trying to enter. Officers with bullhorns directed frantic parents to a pre-designated waiting area at the local firehouse, less than a block away from the school and park.
Danny knew that Grace's lunch period started right around noon, the time whatever happened had likely occurred, so he concentrated his search on the area at the far end of the school where the cafeteria was located. He tried to control his breathing and the rising feeling of panic. He knew he'd be no good to his daughter, or anyone else's child, if he let his emotions get the best of him.
Steve stayed closer to the front of the school on the theory that he and Danny could cover more ground if they split up. His eyes scanned the area again and again but there was no sign of either Grace or Catherine. He had just begun to think he was going to have to enter the school himself when he spotted Duke, standing at the bottom of the stairs directly outside the front door, issuing orders to the HPD personnel on scene.
"Duke, what's going on? Why the perimeter? Are we dealing with an active shooter?"
Steve cursed himself for being in such a hurry to get to the school that he had neglected to grab his tactical gear from the trunk of the Camaro. Not that it really mattered. He was fully prepared to enter the school with no vest and just his service weapon if needed.
"I'm afraid it's worse than that."
Steve's stomach dropped.
"What do you mean worse?"
"As soon as we arrived on scene we got officers into the building," Duke explained. "Lots of the kids were in the cafeteria so we managed to evacuate them immediately."
Steve breathed a small sigh of relief. Danny had said he was heading towards the cafeteria because Gracie should have been at lunch when the event occurred. If Duke's men had managed to evacuate the students from that area there was a good chance Gracie was safe.
Duke continued. "The fire alarm got pulled and most of the students exited the building. My team was doing a quick room to room. Everything looked good till they reached the auditorium."
"What?" Steve was growing more frantic. "Tell me, Duke."
"We've got somewhere between three and five perpetrators, heavily armed. They've got hostages. Students and staff. My men saw explosive devices and several large gas canisters. They threatened to shoot the hostages and detonate the explosives if we didn't back off. We had no choice."
"How many hostages?" Steve asked, half afraid to hear the answer.
"We're not sure. Dozens at least."
At that exact moment, as Steve was trying hard to process the information, he heard the unmistakable sound of Grace's voice yelling "Danno!"
His head turned and he watched as Danny crossed the parking lot in five strides and gathered a sobbing Grace into his arms. He held her as tight as he could, unable to say anything, or even think anything other than that she was safe.
"Are you ok?" he asked frantically as he pulled back and looked her over from head to toe for any sign of injury.
"I'm fine. I was just scared. Everybody was screaming and running and I got separated from Caryn. She's supposed to be my evacuation buddy but I couldn't find her."
"It's ok, Monkey. We'll find her. The important thing is that you're ok."
"Is there a fire? I was just sitting down with my tray when the fire alarm went off. But we heard all kinds of popping sounds too. And the teachers started telling us all to get out of the building and run to the park. I was trying to do that but I couldn't find Caryn and then I saw Miss Kelly, she's my gym teacher, and she was gathering a bunch of kids together so we could go to the park as a group….but then I saw you and…." Tears began to roll down Grace's cheeks.
"It's ok, Monkey. Everything is gonna be fine. Let's get you away from here." Danny grabbed her hand and began moving towards the outer perimeter of the school. He knew he would have to notify the school that he had Grace, but at this point he had no intention of letting her go to the park without him. All he could think of was getting her out of the area and out of harm's way.
After giving them a moment alone Steve caught up with the pair and wrapped Grace in a tight hug.
"You ok, Gracie?"
"I'm ok, Uncle Steve. But I don't understand what's going on."
"Nothing for you to worry about, sweetheart. We're gonna get you out of here to somewhere safe. You let me worry about taking care of the bad guys."
"What's going on," Danny asked over Grace's head as Steve's eyes continued to scan the parking lot and surrounding areas. In the pit of his stomach he knew he wouldn't see her. She'd been coming to the school to do an assembly. There was no question where she would have been when the shooting started.
"A group of anywhere from three to five men, armed to the teeth, holed up in the auditorium with hostages and some sort of explosive device attached to cyanide gas canisters." Steve spoke quietly, wanting to give Danny as much information as he could but at the same time not wanting to scare Grace.
A violent situation unfolding at their child's school was every parent's nightmare. But until that moment Danny had allowed himself to believe that perhaps it was just a fire. Or a boiler explosion. Or any other of a thousand possible accidents. He hadn't wanted to believe that someone had entered the school intending to do harm to anyone inside. Let alone a heavily armed group of someones.
As he was trying to get his mind around what was going on, and figure out his next move, Grace asked the question that neither Steve nor Danny had allowed themselves to ask out loud.
"Where's Catherine? I saw her for a few minutes on my way to lunch. She told me she'd give me a ride home after school and we could stop for shave ice."
Steve knelt down so he was on Gracie's level. "Where did you see Catherine?" He tried hard to keep the worry out of his voice.
"She was on her way to the auditorium. She was getting ready for the assembly."
He'd known the answer to the question before he'd even asked, but hearing it verbalized made it all too real. Steve dropped his head and took deep breaths in a desperate attempt to keep his composure.
Suddenly his thoughts were invaded by the sound of very angry yelling. He spun around and saw Captain Grover heatedly confronting Duke, who to his great credit was holding his ground against the much larger man.
"Hey, hey, hey. What's going on here?" Steve ran back towards Duke to try to lend a hand. Danny followed at a distance, never letting go of Grace's hand and not wanting her to get too close to the school in case something erupted.
"What's going on here is that my daughter is inside that school. Most likely inside that auditorium. And I am going in there to get her out," Grover growled. "So you can get out of my way or I can go through you. Either way is fine with me."
"You can't do that, Captain," Duke said as calmly as possible.
"The hell I can't," Grover pushed Duke aside. It took Steve plus three other HPD officers to hold Grover back.
"Listen to me, hey, listen to me," Steve got right in front of Grover and locked eyes with him. "You can't go barreling in there. You're going to get everybody, including your daughter, killed. We need a plan."
"You may need a plan. I need to get to my daughter."
"These men are heavily armed. They have a bomb rigged to cyanide gas canisters. You're not going to be able to just barge in there and get your daughter back," Steve argued. "Believe me, if I thought it would work I'd be right behind you on the way in."
"I can't just stand here and do nothing."
"I'm not saying stand here and do nothing. I'm saying let's take a little bit of time to get a handle on exactly what's going on, and what these guys want, so we can figure out the best way to get in there and get everyone out safely."
The father in Grover wanted to just disregard Steve's logic and head into the school but the experienced cop knew Steve was right. "Fine. But let's get moving."
Grace looked up at her father with wide, teary eyes. "Are the still people trapped inside with the bad guys? Are Catherine and Samantha in there?"
Danny did his best to never lie to Grace if it could be avoided. "Yes, Monkey, I'm afraid so."
Danny was torn. On the one hand he wanted to help Steve and the rest of the team. But his first responsibility was the safety of his daughter.
"Let's go, Grace," he finally said. "I'm gonna go to the park and find someone in charge, let them know I have you, then I'm gonna get you home."
"You can't go home, Danno. Uncle Steve needs you. You have to help find Catherine and Samantha."
"You know I'm fine so you can be happy. You need to help them be happy too."
Danno smiled at the simple logic of his beautiful, big-hearted daughter. Always wanting everyone to be happy.
"Are you sure, Monkey? I want to stay here and help but….you have to know…there's nothing in the universe more important to me than you."
"I know that," she smiled. "But I also know that you're the best detective in the whole world and you can help Uncle Steve help all the people who haven't come out of the school yet. The people who love them deserve to have all the smartest people working on this case."
Danny knelt down and hugged his daughter tightly. "You're absolutely amazing, Monkey, you know that?"
She smiled in return. "So are you."
"Ok then, let's figure out a way to get you home and keep you safe and then I'll come back and help Uncle Steve and Captain Grover get their happy ending."