“This is the FBI! Don’t move!” blasts a voice from a loud speaker behind me. Instantly, the playground jumps to life.
White lights from all around light up the night. Red and blue lights follow along the streets on both sides, creating a slow strobe-like effect that bounces off the trees. Spotlights pierce the frenzied atmosphere, focusing on John’s position. Although everything is happening so fast, it also feels like slow motion.
Men jump out from vehicles that were once hidden in the shadows. They race to the middle of the playground with their guns and rifles drawn and pointed in our—no, John’s—direction. They’re yelling commands, but whatever they’re saying doesn’t register. I’m too overwhelmed by the shear anarchy that has taken place.
Knowing the men are after John and not me, I instinctively want to move closer to him in hopes of protecting him: maybe if I’m near enough to him, they won’t hurt him. Maybe they’ll go easy on him.
But before I can move, Sam is pummeled by an agent who comes in out of nowhere. I hear the air escape Sam’s lungs with a painful grunt as he hits the ground. He’s facedown being held by an agent with a gas mask.
A gas mask?
Before I can assume why he would need a gas mask, arms wrap around me from behind, quickly pulling me away.
“Come on, Sarah,” a voice says in my ear. “We have to get out of here. Now!”
I let the voice direct me. I let the arms guide me away.
My head acts as if it’s on a swivel—continually twisting and turning to look behind me, laboring to see what’s happening to John and Sam.
An agent emerges from behind the dumpster and tosses a can-like object towards John. Smoke immediately pours out of it, covering the ground … and Sam. John tries to cover his face, but it’s too late. The smoke—or gas—has affected him. He tries to move away but falters to his knees, obviously choking on the gas.
Tears begin to stream from my eyes. Not from the gas, but from the images before me: Sam being held to the ground; John choking on the gas; dozens of men converging on both of them; and the look on John’s face when he realizes that I helped make all this happen. I can already imagine him going through a series of emotions: from denial to sadness to a feeling of betrayal.
“Don’t move!” booms the same voice again, this time closer. “Put your hands on top of your head and get on your stomach! You are under arrest!”
As Hecht parades past me, he lowers the bullhorn from his mouth … revealing a triumphant grin on his face.
I look back at John as Hecht strides towards him, a boastful swag in his walk.
John is on his knees.
His hands are on top of his head.
There’s no attempt to fight back … no attempt to escape.
He has succumbed to their orders.
A helicopter hovers above; its bright spotlight beaming on John. More cars tear around the corner, jumping the curb, driving through the grass, and stopping short of John’s position. Huge gouges in the grass lay in the cars’ wake. More men pile out of a SWAT truck that came in from behind, their guns locked on John. Despite the distance that has been placed between me and John, I witness a SWAT member kick him in the stomach. He immediately folds over to the ground.
“No!” I yell out immediately in protest, knowing he can’t hear me.
The person guiding me turns my body and blocks my view, shielding me from seeing anymore. She puts me in the back of an SUV and closes the door.
I sit there for a moment, staring at the back of the seat. The noise that was once chaotic and piercing is now low and muffled, drowning together in a hypnotic drone. I can actually hear myself thinking now, bouncing from one thought to the next.
What did I do?
What’s going to happen to John?
What about Sam?
Where are they taking them?
Will he try to escape?
Can he escape?
Will he be tortured?
Would John tell them the truth?
Would they believe him?
No, they wouldn’t….
A huge boom echoes overhead, breaking the trance I have fallen in. A ball of light explodes in the sky spilling its light in every direction. Someone shot a light flare of some kind into the air, illuminating the area and turning night into day.
I turn my attention back to John. An agent yanks him up from the ground; I can see that his wrists are handcuffed. Two agents escort him to vehicle that’s waiting nearby. One of the agents is talking to John.
He shoves John in the back of the vehicle and slams the door. With his hand still on the door, Hecht glances in my direction, right at me.
I look away quickly, not wanting to dwell on him. Despite my strong dislike for Hecht-especially his growing ego over the past few hours—the boastful but devilish smirk on his face is not the image I’m left with.
Unfortunately, the image that stands out the most right now is John being led away with a black bag draped and tied over his head. The stagger in his walk looks like the result of pain or exhaustion or defeat….
Or maybe all three.
“You did the right thing, Sarah,” says a voice from the front seat. “It will all work out.”
It’s Gloria. She’s the one that grabbed me. She’s the one that led me away. I was so caught up in the moment; I didn’t realize it was even her.
When I look at her, she waits until she has my attention.
“It will all work out,” she repeats.
Despite the insurmountable odds that John faces right now, something in me believes her. I can’t explain it, but her tone is very convincing.
When she sees me relax, she turns around in her seat and starts the truck. She takes her phone out and pauses as if sensing something. I see her look up and out into the distance.
I follow her gaze until my eyes find what she’s looking at. I grip her seat with both hands and slowly pull myself forward, getting a closer look. It’s the only vehicle that’s left parked on the street: a black SUV that sits quietly next to a flickering street lamp. My eyes dart back and forth between Gloria and the SUV, wondering what is so important….
A man appears from the other side of the SUV, his eyes trained on the vehicle that’s hauling John off to who-knows-where. He keeps watching until the vehicle is swallowed in the darkness. I see another man emerge from the driver’s side; he says something to the first man and gets back in. The first man nods and as he’s getting into the vehicle, he removes something from his head and throws it down to the ground. He closes the door, and they speed off down the road … in the same direction John was taken.
As I strain my eyes to make out what he threw down, I notice Gloria typing something on her phone. As the street lamp flickers, I can only get glimpses of the object.
What did he throw away?
It looks like a….
Is that a baseball cap?
A thought slams into me, causing my gut to tighten and knot up.
No! Not possible.
Gloria finishes typing and waits, staring at her phone and urging it to hurry up!
I strain harder to look at the hat in hopes that my suspicion is wrong.
The pulse of the street lamp lessens and the light stays on long enough for me to realize that my fear is confirmed.
When a faint beep comes from Gloria’s phone, she quietly expresses her satisfaction, slides the phone back in its pouch, and we drive off.
For the next few moments, all I can think about is the small image made more visible by the light of the street lamp….
A Tampa Bay Devil Rays hat … just like the one the man-in-black was wearing.