Split Second Page 1


Georgetown, Washington, D.C.

Tuesday night

Nonfat milk, Fritos, and bananas, Savich repeated to himself as he pulled into the parking lot of Mr. Patil’s Shop ’n Go. It was after eight o’clock, and Savich was on his way home from a hard workout at the gym. He felt good, his muscles relaxed and warm, and he looked forward to playing with Sean, maybe with his new video game, Wonky Wizards. He breathed in deeply, enjoying the bite of fall in the air. He looked up at the low-lying clouds that promised to bring a shower in the next couple of hours. Nonfat milk and Fritos and—what else?

There was only one car in the parking lot, which wasn’t unusual at this time of the evening. A strange play of rapid movement behind the store’s large glass window caught his eye. He pulled the Porsche to the far side of the parking lot, out of the line of sight, got out, quietly closed the car door, and walked to the edge of the window. He could see a man inside, his face flattened in a leg of panty hose, standing in front of the counter, pointing a Saturday night special at Mr. Patil’s chest. Mr. Patil, who wasn’t more than five-five with lifts in his shoes and was at least seventy-five years old, looked petrified. Savich watched his hands shoot into the air above his head. He could hear the man yelling at him, but couldn’t make out what he was saying. Then he saw a customer. At the end of the counter stood a man about his own age, wearing a bright red Redskins sweatshirt, jeans, and glasses.

Savich felt his heart seize.

Pressed against the man’s legs were two small children, a boy and a girl. His hands were wrapped around their shoulders, hugging them tightly against him. Each child held an ice-cream bar, now forgotten.

Keep it together. He couldn’t call 911, and take the chance of sirens freaking the guy out, not with the kids still in the line of fire. He quickly ran around to the back of the Shop ’n Go and heard the engine running before he saw the Chevy Impala, tucked in the shadows off the parking asphalt. He saw a woman in the driver’s seat, leaning in toward the passenger’s side to get a partial view inside the store. Since she wasn’t wearing panty hose on her head, she obviously wasn’t slated to join the actual robbery; she was just there to drive the man in the store out of here. Savich couldn’t see the license plate. No matter. She hadn’t seen him. Good.

Forget her, let her get away. He crouched down and ran back around to the front of the store. He held his SIG at his side and began whistling. He opened the door and called out, “Good evening, Mr. Patil,” and the man in the panty hose whirled around, his gun leading, as the little girl yelled, “He’ll hurt you!”

The man froze for the longest instant of time in Savich’s memory. Savich saw the father grab the children and hurl them to the floor, and then he fell over them while Mr. Patil hefted a six-pack of beer the man had brought to the counter. Then Savich’s SIG was up, and he fired. The rule was always to fire only when you intended to kill, but the bullet didn’t go into the man’s chest, it went into his shoulder. The man screamed, fell hard to his knees, clutching his shoulder, and the .22 went flying.

Savich listened for the Impala’s engine to rev, for the car to roar out of there, but he didn’t hear anything except a car door slamming shut. He yelled, “Mr. Patil, get down!” Savich dropped to the floor and was rolling when the door burst open and a submachine gun started blasting bullets. He heard Mr. Patil scream from behind the counter, knew he hadn’t been fast enough and she’d hit him. He heard the kids screaming, heard the father’s deep voice, hazed over with fear, saying, “It’s all right, it will be all right.” He came up and fired, hit the woman square between the eyes as she swung the gun around toward him. The submachine gun hit the linoleum floor and fetched hard against the counter.

Savich saw Mr. Patil leaning heavily on the counter, a bloom of red on his right arm. He jumped up and quickly checked the gunman, pulled the stocking off his face. He was white, about forty, heavyset, his light brown hair seriously thinning. He moaned, holding his shoulder, the bullet still in him. He was lucky the bullet hadn’t hit an artery. He’d survive. Savich picked up the .22 and said, “Keep pressing down on that,” and then he went down on his knees beside the woman. Like the man, she was white, fortyish, but she was dead. Her dark eyes were open. A dribble of blood came out of her mouth, and the hole between her eyes was a perfect red dot. Blood haloed her head.

Please keep their eyes covered.

He quickly pulled off his leather jacket and covered the woman’s face. He ran back to Mr. Patil and examined the bullet wound. Through and through, thank God. “You did great, sir. You’re going to be okay.” Savich grabbed a wad of paper towels from next to the coffee machine and pressed them against Mr. Patil’s arm. “Press as hard as you can, sir.”