Stephanie had been enjoying her run through the woodland until she heard a gunshot and raised voices up ahead. Most twenty-somethings would have turned and run the other way, or perhaps looked for somewhere to hide. Stephanie wasn’t like most twenty-somethings.
Five minutes later, slowing down to a jog, she could hear at least three voices. Two of the people were speaking in calm, reassuring tones, while the other person was shouting and sounded irritated. Stephanie left the track and stepped in among the trees, moving closer to observe the situation.
At a narrow track junction a few yards from where the runner had stopped, a young policewoman was standing beside her male colleague and a man in his forties holding an automatic pistol. The officers wore the standard uniform with all the usual paraphernalia, including hi-vis vests. Being British officers, the one item they didn’t carry was a firearm.
“Put down the gun,” the female officer said. “You don’t have to make this worse.”
“Listen to you,” the gunman said. “Your pal down on the main road is lying with a hole in him, and you two are unarmed.”
“The injured officer has somebody with him, and an ambulance is coming—you can stop this right now.” She paused. “I’m PC Taylor—I’ll speak up for you if you put down the gun.”
“That’s big of you, sweetheart.” The gunman turned to the policeman. “What’s your name, curly?”
“PC Smart—I’ll speak up for you too if you calm down and place the gun on the ground.”
“You two are unbelievable.” He laughed. “Get on your bloody knees and put your hands behind your heads.”
“We’re not doing that,” PC Taylor said. “We told you already—we’ve got a job to do.”
“If you two don’t get on your knees right now, one of you is gonna get shot—that’s my job.”
“You’re a real charmer.” Stephanie stepped out from the trees. She glanced to the left, at the two police officers who were standing close together. Stephanie moved to the right.
The gunman turned to his left. “Who the hell are you—bloody Wonder Woman? I’ve got a loaded gun.”
“I saw that, and it makes you feel brave … I know, I know.” Stephanie moved farther to the right, nodding absently.
The female officer saw what the courageous young woman in the tracksuit was doing and moved to the left, creating a more significant gap between herself and her colleague. She stopped when the gunman turned towards her.
“Where the hell are you going, Missy—stand still?”
“Oh dear,” Stephanie said, moving farther to the right. “Is it hard to keep track of three targets?”
“Have you got a fucking death wish, love—shut up?”
“Please, put the gun down,” PC Smart said. He kept his voice low; reassuring. “We don’t want an accidental shooting.”
“If I shoot one of you it won’t be an accident, Curly.”
“This place will be swarming with armed response units shortly.” PC Taylor took another step to her left. “Don’t let them find you with a gun—”
“Shut up! All of you, shut up, and get on your bloody knees.”
Stephanie stepped farther right and toward the gunman. “Listen to reason—give it up, man.”
“You’re pushing it, girly—stay where you are.”
PC Mick Smart was worried about the two young women. He stepped forward. “Please, listen to—”
“I told you—” When the gunman fired a mass of birds took flight from their perches.
“Jeezuss—” PC Smart fell, gasping, and gripping his wounded thigh.
When the injured officer’s colleague ran to his aid, the gunman fired at her but missed.
The gunman turned to see the blonde runner coming at him with a large branch in her hands. The man turned the gun on her and squeezed the trigger, but the weapon failed to fire. He tried again, and when it failed, he cursed, threw the gun at her and ran off.
Stephanie dashed to the two police officers and checked the young man’s injury. She pulled off her tracksuit top to press against the gushing wound. She turned to the woman. “What are your names?”
“Mick,” the man gasped.
“Ruth,” PC Taylor said. “Who the hell are you?”
“That’s not important, Ruth—I’m not staying here long.” Stephanie removed and folded her tracksuit bottoms into a large pad and pressed firmly against the other pad on the injury. “Have you called for help?”
“Yes,” Ruth said. “I’ve just called in to request a second ambulance.”
“Great—keep this material pressed on Mick’s wound until the medics arrive. Don’t remove the padding to look at it.” Stephanie stood, now in athletics vest and running shorts. She walked away from the officers.
Ruth said, “What are you doing?”
“I’ve got to go—my training session isn’t finished.” Stephanie stooped to pick up the gun. She knew that of the possibilities for a jammed weapon, a damaged round or faulty magazine would be probable. She unclipped the magazine to inspect it—all good. She ejected the round from the chamber and picked it up—a dent on the rim of the percussion cap. She kept the damaged round in her left hand, reloaded the magazine, and ran off in the direction the gunman had gone.
The police officers had watched in silence at the slick skills.
Ruth murmured, “I hope she’s okay, Mick—she’s brave, but in so much danger.”
“She’ll be fine.” Mick winced but nodded and repeated, “She’ll be fine.”
“What makes you so sure—she’s a young woman with a loaded gun going after a dangerous criminal.”
“She said, medics, not ambulance crew, Ruth.”
“What difference does that make?”
Mick gasped. “It means that guy is in a world of shit.” He coughed when he gave a little laugh.
“Oh, my God.”
The faint sound of a two-tone siren became louder. An ambulance was being driven up the track into the woodland as far as possible.
* * *
One mile away, the gunman was out of breath and had to walk to keep moving. He was out of shape, but desperate. There was no way he could give himself up—he’d killed somebody with the same gun only three days earlier.
The narrow track continued straight ahead, and not far away it opened to twice the width—no good for an escape. A line of flattened grass led to the right among the trees, which was a better option. The best way to escape was to avoid any route used by the general public. When he’d stumbled and walked another few hundred yards, he reached a small clearing and leant forward to catch his breath.
Stephanie had set out earlier to complete a ten-mile cross-country training session, but she’d only done five miles when the shooting incident had changed her plans. Now reduced to running vest and shorts, she was taking it easy to watch and listen for the fugitive. When she paused at the point where the faint path showed going between the trees, there was a cough—it was enough.
Before entering the dense area, Stephanie pulled back on the breech slide and loaded a round into the chamber. She walked with stealth borne of training. The weapon was held in a two-handed grip and aiming where she looked—an extension of her person.
It took five minutes before Stephanie saw movement up ahead between the trees. As she got closer, she heard the heavy breathing and occasional cough of a person unaccustomed to running in woodland, or anywhere else.
“Okay, asshole—the good news is, the running is over.”
“You’re not a copper. It’s got nothing to do with you—who the fuck are you, anyway?”
“Now that I have the gun you tried to shoot me with, I’m your worst fucking nightmare.” Stephanie stepped forward to within ten yards and stopped. “I bet you’re the guy who shot that unarmed police officer a couple of days ago.”
“Yeah—what are you gonna do about it, bitch?”
“That depends on your reaction to being arrested—now, put your hands behind your head, slowly.”
“Fuck you.” He reached back, and when his right arm raised to throw his knife, it was a mistake—his last mistake.
Stephanie had dropped onto one knee when she saw the blade. When the man’s arm raised into the throwing position, Stephanie fired two rapid shots as she’d been trained to do. One hit the criminal between the eyes and the other, one inch higher.
Two minutes later, the blonde runner placed one of the gunman’s shoes at the edge of the track—pointing towards the clearing among the trees. Inside the shoe was the empty magazine from the weapon.
Stephanie ran off using the narrowest tracks and headed to the farthest edge of the forest where it ran along the bank of a river. No vehicle access meant no police patrols or checkpoints.
* * *
Three days later, Corporal Stephanie Bryant was back in Afghanistan where she was part of a Royal Army Medical Corps ambulance crew. She was picked up at the airport by one of her colleagues; Sergeant ‘Jack’ Frost.
Sgt Frost turned. “I hope you had a good break in the UK—I was thinking about you the other day.”
“Oh, yeah, Sarge. Dreaming about a revision on how to perform mouth to mouth?”
Jack laughed. “No—there was a report on the news about some guy who had shot a couple of policemen, but he was found dead in a forest where he’d been chased.”
“Why did that bring me to mind?”
“Well, it was a couple of things.” Jack glanced in his wing mirror and squinted as he tried to recall the details. “The bad guy was found dead in the middle of the forest, and the police think he was shot by a young woman in running kit.”
“Right, so, because I’m a young woman, and I run, it must have been me?”
“No—there were a couple of other minor things. For instance, the forest is near where you live in the UK.”
“Okay, so that cuts it down to at least a few hundred young, female runners.”
Jack half-turned and smiled at his companion. “One of the dead guy’s shoes was left at the edge of the track with the empty magazine from the gun.” Jack nodded, rechecked his mirrors and glanced at Steph. “When they found the body, the bullets from the magazine were in a little pile beside the gun, including a damaged round, but the weapon was stripped down so it couldn’t be used unless re-assembled.”
“That sounds pretty clever to me.”
“I thought so, too, and then I considered it, and something occurred to me.”
“It would take knowledge of handguns to put the weapon together again, but it would also take a similar knowledge to strip an automatic down into its working parts.”
“The person might have done it by chance—you never know.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.” Jack nodded again. “Are you representing the unit at the minor-units shooting competition next month?”
“Yes … as long as I can remember how to strip, assemble, and shoot a pistol.”
“Well, anyway, while you were back in the UK relaxing on leave, some of us were back here dealing with conflict.” He winked. “I’m proud to have you on our team, Steph.”