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As he pressed close to the cold, clammy wall, he strained to hear through the deathly quiet screaming in his ears. He felt the cold rain falling on his hat, then running down his neck, and heard the drops as they fell in the filthy alley. It was dark—so dark—and he strained to see into it. Nothing. He could hardly see the 9mm Glock he held in front of him. He slowly shuffled a foot further into the alley, touching the alley wall with his free hand. The quiet screamed at him. The dark was smothering. His nerves were ringing as if they were being squeezed in a vise, and despite the cold, he felt as if he was on fire, but shivering in spite of it.
He inched down the wall and barely saw the Dumpster across the alley, then a couple of aluminum garbage cans beside it. He wanted so badly to turn on his flashlight, but knew it would just give him away. His feet were freezing from being in the water, and his whole body was shivering. His clothes were soaked through from the rain—almost sleet in the cold.
And he still couldn’t hear anything except the creaking of his wet leathers. The quiet seemed to be so loud it shrieked in his ears as he moved. Though this was his beat, he didn’t know this alley. But he had seen the guy run in here. He couldn’t see any light where the end of the alley might be, so he didn’t know if the guy had gone out a back exit. If not, then he had to be in here. Maybe the alley T’d ahead. He could have gone either way. But, it was so dark.
His mind flashed back to other dark places—other chases—until finally a suspect’s weapon had exploded from ten feet away. The slug had hit him right in the stomach and had knocked him back like a baseball bat. Down on his back, trying to scream from the pain and shock, but with the breath completely knocked out of him, barely managing a strangled moan. He finally curled up in a ball as the cramps hit him. The suspect was long gone before Paul could comprehend that his vest had saved him. He still had the scar from where the bullet cut him even through the vest. And now his mind was replaying the scene again.
He was still sliding carefully down the wall one foot at a time, trying to see something. Was this guy armed? He didn’t know, and didn’t want to find out the hard way. He’d had a couple of friends go down the hard way and didn’t want to be next. And he remembered when it had been him. If he could only see. Should have waited for the backup and lights, but then probably would’ve lost the guy. No time. Follow him in and get him before he could do someone else. But…the dark. So dark.
He slowly reached ahead and slid sideways another couple of feet. He could see a dark shape ahead. Maybe a building wall coming up—the T of the alley? He was getting dizzy with the strain of trying to see. Reached out again, carefully, and touched—a fence? What…? Then panic hit him as he thought, “Oh, god, I’ve gone past him. He’s…”
He almost screamed as he fell to the alley floor, trying to make himself as small as possible. Waiting for the next bullet. Lying in the freezing water, but so scared the shivering had stopped. The adrenaline raced him up so high his heart felt like it was exploding, then dropped him back down until he was part of the slime under him. Over and over like a screaming roller coaster. He vaguely realized he was pressed tight against the base of the fence and felt the rubbish beneath him. Funny what you feel when you’re about to die, he thought in an instant. Something was pressing hard into his side. Was that where he been shot? Moved a bit and felt—a piece of rock? A brick? Suddenly realized it hadn’t been a shot. The guy had thrown a brick? Where was…?
Then he heard the slapping of feet running back down the alley and knew that the guy had to have been hiding behind the Dumpster. The only place he could have been, but how could he have gotten behind there? He tried to force himself up to go after him—then sank back down and lay in the freezing water in the filthy alley, shaking violently, trying to breathe.
Paul sat in the locker room of the station shivering. He had stayed in the hot shower for half an hour trying to warm up and get his system to relax, but it hadn’t been enough. He was wrapped in a couple of huge soft towels and his civilian coat had been thrown over his shoulders, but the shivering wouldn’t stop.
“Here. Drink this,” came the soothing voice, announcing the speaker as he came down the aisle. He heard the footsteps behind him and then felt the hand on his shoulder. The quick adrenaline rush made him jump, even though he knew who it was. Anyone else would have called the voice low and perhaps dangerous, but to Paul, the voice was safety and comfort. The cup of hot coffee (Where did he get fresh?) was pushed into his hand, and then Tony D’Angelo sat beside him on the bench. “You feeling any better?”
He nodded and simply said, “Yeah. A little.” Then, “Thanks.”
“Yeah. No problem.”
Paul had staggered out of the alley just as the patrol car screeched to the curb and Mark Jurgens and Tony jumped out. They had both grabbed him, demanding to know if he was okay, then almost threw him into the back seat and turned the heater to ‘roast’. They got the little bit of information he had on the suspect and radioed it to the other cars in pursuit, then headed him full speed to the station. They could tell he was close to being in shock from the experience and the cold, and they got him to the station, stripped him and stuffed him in the shower with a chair to sit on.
The Captain had come down to the shower, but Tony kept him out and had said, “We’ll bring him up when he’s ready, Cap.” Sergeant Carter came down a few minutes later and Tony let him in. Carter just stood at the shower door looking at Paul for a minute, then nodded to Tony and went back upstairs. Tony and Mark stood guard over Paul until he finally lifted his head and looked at them. They helped him out, covered him, and sat him on the bench. Then they just stood by, silently.
After a while, Mark touched Paul’s shoulder, too, and said, softly, “We got him, Paul.”
Paul looked at him, then at Tony, then nodded and sipped some more coffee. Finally, in a raspy, shivering voice, he said, “I was so scared.” The men could hear the tears and said nothing. Then Tony simply said, “Yeah. Been there,” and put his arm around Paul’s shoulders for a moment. He pulled his arm back shortly, and the three men just sat side by side on the bench.
When Paul was dressed again, Tony and Mark took him upstairs to the Sergeant’s office, walked him inside and quietly closed the door on the two men. Carter looked at him for several moments, then said, “You alright now?”
“Yeah, I’m okay. I hear we got the guy?”
“Yeah, just down the next block, hiding in another alley. Had lights and a couple of cars this time, so he was toast. He’s downstairs. But, you—okay? You need some time? A doctor? Sit down.”
“No. I’ll be okay. I’ll head back out in a few.”
“Okay.” He paused, then, “Tell me everything that happened.”
Paul looked the big Sergeant in the face and saw knowledge and acceptance. So he rested back a little in the chair and told the whole thing. Carter just listened. Paul’s composure broke when he got to the part of coming out of the alley and seeing Tony and Mark’s faces, knowing that then he was safe.
Carter still just listened as Paul bowed his head. He waited until Paul looked him in the face again and then said, “Tell me again.” His eyes never left Paul’s as the story came out again.
The Sergeant hadn’t picked up a pencil, but after Paul finished, he said, “I’ve taken your statement and this is what I’ve heard. Everything you said about the pursuit and the alley is fine. He hid and you missed him. When he threw the brick, you ducked and slipped. You busted the skin off your knuckles and cheek when you hit the deck. He ran out ahead of you. When you came out, you were soaked and freezing. Tony and Mark brought you back here to warm up and clean up. The other guys caught the suspect in another alley. That’s what happened. Okay?” He looked at Paul until their eyes locked again. “That…is what happened. Nothing else. Okay?” He paused a moment. “I’ll call the Captain and tell him. It’s slow tonight. You get home and get some rest. Sure you’re okay?”
Paul looked at him for a long moment, then said, “Thanks, Sarge. I’ll see you tomorrow.” He got up and quietly left the office. Tony and Mark were sitting on the bench outside the office and stood as he came out. He held out his hand and shook theirs, then said again, “Thanks, guys. It sure was good to see you.”
Both men smiled a little, and replied, “Yeah. No problem.” Mark added, “You okay to get home? Need a ride?”
Paul said he was okay, and they parted. It was just past one in the morning.
When Paul got home, he sat in the warmth on his living room sofa for the rest of the night, shivering. He finally fell asleep as the sun was coming up.
Paul had been a cop for eighteen years.
He and Diane had struggled through the lean years of college together, then the first couple of years as he worked at being a business manager with an accounting firm. When he finally realized that managing money and keeping books just wasn’t his thing, he enrolled again at college while keeping his regular job. He ended up taking courses in people—psychology, sociology, politics, government, and law—until one day he saw the hiring ad for the police academy. It was as if suddenly a light had turned on for him and he changed directions.
At first, Diane had been shocked and scared, but when she saw his face light up each time he spoke about working with the street people, the needy, the kids, she was won over and she finally jumped into the new life with him. When she thought about the darker side of police work, her fears flared, but, over and over, the joy his face showed when he spoke about the possibility of helping people calmed her and they worked it through.
He passed all the tests and entered the academy with ease. He graduated near the top of his class and was encouraged to get some experience and then move into leadership. “Someone always needs a good Chief or Commissioner, and you’d be good at that.” But, after six years on the force in San Francisco and having received almost an engraved invitation to make some strong upward moves, even Diane knew he was a street cop and likely always would be. The harassment and pranks that came to all new officers gradually died down as he paid his dues, and the beat became almost routine. Safe and quiet—never. Too many times he came home from his shifts with torn and dirty uniforms that spoke for themselves as to how his shift had gone. And the dreams he had had about working with people and bringing peace to the streets eventually became just that—old dreams.
Life on a beat was rough. Some people wanted caring and acceptance; too many didn’t. And he realized he didn’t have the time to be much of a counselor or priest. Hit the street; go to crime A, then to crime B, and on through the shift. Maybe dozens of calls a night. Try to pull people apart and settle messes, then move on to the next one.
Diane was pregnant with their first child then, and they sat and talked for hours about the choices in front of him, and he started putting out feelers for the East Coast. They had thought about moving there for years, and realized this might be the time. A few weeks after Jerod was born, Paul received an invitation to interview for the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan force, and three months later they were driving across country to a new life.
He was initially assigned to regular patrol in the Sixth and Seventh Districts of the city. The crime statistics were the highest in the city, but he was used to that from his previous location. What he found, though, were some people who needed help in their situations like back in San Francisco, but even while some of them came to know him a little, a lot of the hostility was still there and there was little opportunity to “help.” Paul knew that crime was just that—crime. But, he also knew that people were people—souls, persons, mothers, workers, beggars—and criminals. Yes, people were people, but the bad guys were the same everywhere.
He knew the statistics of environmental causes of crime, accepted them, but knew many of the causes were used to give criminals the freedom to simply be a criminal. “I don’t want to work at a low-paying job, so I’ll break in here and take things.” “I learned to fight growing up, so now I’ll do what I want and fight (or kill) if you get in front of me.” And he knew poverty, sickness and lack of hope turned people to things they would normally never do. Too many people, though, decided to become criminals because they decided there was nothing they could do to change or beat the system. There were ways out if a person hadn’t lost all hope, and that’s where Paul tried to make a difference. He wanted to help people find hope and work toward the way out.
Paul was good at what he did. He was smart and was able to figure things out instead of simply reacting and playing catch-up. He was tough on people when he needed to be and could roll on the ground with the worst of them when needed. He was also fair and gentle when he could be, and when he could still see the vestige of hope in a face. His arrest record was above average, but he continued to try to inspire a little hope wherever he went. Occasionally, some people listened.
After being in D.C. four years, he was moved to the Fourth District, one of the largest and most diverse residential districts in the city, then to the Third District, closer to the center of the city. It had a much heavier concentration of businesses in with the residences, and Paul was being groomed for work in business crimes as well as with the citizens directly. He was pulled into the downtown headquarters several times to work on cases that involved both politics and businesses, and he was recognized several times for his ability to think problems through instead of just reacting. He spent three years with the Special Operations Division, assisting on the Emergency Response Team and, because of his SCUBA abilities, the Harbor Unit. Ultimately, he jumped at the chance to join the Mobile Force that basically moved wherever it was needed to support the rest of the Metro Force. He loved it because it enabled him to move through the neighborhoods and businesses working closer with more people.
Paul had been in D.C. for ten years when he was almost ordered to study for the Detectives exams. He spent much of two years doing that around his time with the Special Ops group and the Metro Force, and he took many classes from both the FBI and DEA academies. He had sat for the exam two months before and had just been notified that he had passed. When he finished his work with the street forces this month, he would be reporting to the Superintendent of Detectives downtown. He was somewhat ambivalent about the new assignment because he knew it would cause him to work any time of any day, but he also knew he would spend more time with the people on a single case than he had been able to as a street officer.
Most of the years of career change had been good, even great. However, life over the past two years had taken a disastrous turn that was contributing to his shattering nerves.
Eighteen months earlier, health problems that had bothered Diane over the years had exploded into dreaded cancer, and a shocking, excruciating month later, she was gone. Paul was devastated. There had been no warning and no chance out of it. She was there—and then she was gone. No chance even to get ready. That was when the dark had started pressing in on him. It was as if the sun had gone behind the clouds during the days and the moon had had a veil pulled over it.
Three weeks after Diane was buried, Jared, his twenty-year-old son, left a note one night that simply said, “I’m okay, but I have to get away. Maybe some day.” He had taken just a small supply of clothes in an old gym bag and nothing had been heard of him since. When Paul looked in his room the next morning, he was just gone—like Diane.
And, to top it off, two months later, Sarah, their barely eighteen year old daughter, had announced one morning that she was going to move back to California to work, and to live with a girlfriend from childhood. Again, the move had been quick and Paul had no chance to talk her out if it. Here today, gone tomorrow. But, the worst part of it had been when he tried to call her at her friend’s place and got the word that she hadn’t arrived. Before he could get the San Francisco police looking for her, a postcard arrived with a simple message: “Dad. Sorry I’m hurting you, but I have to be alone for now. There are some people here that will help me. Don’t worry. I’ll keep in touch. Love, Sarah.” It was the last time he had heard from her.
Now, his time was spent more and more on the job. His off hours were spent mostly sitting on his living room couch, doing some reading and listening to soft music, but mostly just day-dreaming. Wishing the hours would pass. Sometimes he would show up back at the office just a couple of hours after his shift ended, and he would wander around talking with the other men, maybe praying with someone who needed support, sharing fishing stories, using up the time. He would sleep on a bench, then dress for his shift again and hit the streets. He gave his little dog away because he wasn’t home enough to take care of it and he didn’t feel he was being much of a companion to it, anyway. He sometimes went three and four days without spending three or four hours at his house. It didn’t feel like a home anymore.
He thought many times about taking up drinking to pass the time, but, luckily, had talked himself out of that. Sometimes wondered why, though. It might make things easier. Friends who were beginning to worry about his changed life had invited him out to one of the after-hour police bars one night. He couldn’t get started on a single drink, though, and didn’t last an hour before he left—back to the station. He didn’t actively think about how to spend his time. He just did it. Just waited after a shift ended for the next one to start.
Pastor Steve Sanders from the little church the family had attended had come by several times, but Paul wasn’t ready to take any comfort from him. He went to church every few weeks; sat in the back row until the service was over and left quickly. Tried to go bowling with a couple of the church guys one time, but left after the second frame. He thought he’d go fishing once, but just sat out of sight on the dock and watched the charter boat power away. He ended up back at the house trying to find a ball game on the TV, but finally just shut it off for some quiet music.
On one night off, he started the barbecue in the backyard and threw on a thick steak. When it started to burn, he just shut off the cooker and left the steak to fossilize. He sat all night in the back yard just watching the stars and listening to the sounds from around the city. The next four nights he spent at the station, smiling and joking with the guys, then going to the streets for his shift. Becoming more and more afraid of the dark. Yet only when it was dark did he have any peace. When it was light he could see things, and most of those things usually didn't give him any sense of comfort and security.
When Paul finally fell asleep after the alley, he slept for almost thirty hours, waking slightly for a couple of bathroom trips, then falling dead asleep again. When Tony called him about noon on the second day, ostensibly to see if he wanted to join him for lunch, Paul declined but got up and started to prepare for his shift. The sergeant had first specifically told the troops to leave him alone; then, on the second day, told Tony to call him.
When Paul got to the station, he laughed and joked with the guys, then hit the streets. He had gotten past the dark for a few days.
He had only been out an hour when an urgent call came: “Anyone in the vicinity; explosion reported at Oyster Elementary School, 2801 Calvert Street, NW. Fire and Rescue responding. Unknown injured. Unknown perpetrators.” Paul was only a dozen blocks from the school, so he responded, flipped his lights on and floored the car to the scene. As he got close, he heard more sirens and saw lights coming from different directions, then turned the last corner and saw the school in flames. Whatever it had been, it had been big. The main school building was almost completely in flames, and there were smaller flames coming from at least two other buildings that were close.
He saw one of the first fire trucks arriving at the main vehicle gate. It was chained and padlocked, but a fireman jumped out of the truck with bolt cutters and had the chain cut and the gate was open in seconds. The truck then rolled on through and got as close as possible to the burning building. The main hose to the hydrant at the street had already been rolled out behind the truck and the hoses were being quickly laid out from the truck to the building. Paul heard the pumps power up and within a few more seconds the first streams of water were arching through the night sky into the flames. Another half a dozen trucks had pulled up by then, and he could see teams of men gathering to try to enter the buildings.
Paul could see several police cars had moved into place for traffic control and to keep people away from the fire. He figured he was in about the best place he could be, beside the main gate the first truck had entered, so he got in position to control the gate and watch the backs of the fire crews.
Apparently, the reported explosion had been the only one because the scene was quiet except for the fire crews working and the flames roaring. It wasn’t long before it was reported that the gas supply had been turned off, so they didn’t expect any secondary explosions. Someone had already called the school district office and was told that no one should have been working in the buildings at that time, so rescue efforts were not likely critical. However, the crews were carefully working their way through the buildings to be sure no one was stranded inside.
Paul saw the news vehicles stacking up on the streets. The never-ending chase for the news, he thought. It didn’t matter the day or hour; the news would be collected and broadcast. Satellite booms were up; perfectly dressed and coifed reporters were finding the best places to get and give their stories; camera people were framing their reporters and other dignitaries against the flames. Ah, the drama, he thought. Flames, broken bodies, death and destruction—the things that sell stories. So many people here trying to put out the flames and stop the destruction—and so many wishing for more so they could sell the story. And we call this living?he questioned.
Suddenly, he heard screams coming from a group gathered around a news van half way down the block, and before he even thought about it, he was running as hard as he could toward them. As he neared the group, he saw someone lying flat on the ground and several others kneeling around the person. “Police,” he called out. “Let me through.” As he reached the person on the ground, he saw the blood pool already running from underneath the body and was startled to realize that this apparently was not a heart attack or other natural emergency. He dropped down beside the man on the ground and barked out to the others around, “What happened here?”
A lady holding a broadcast camera replied, “I had him in the viewfinder when he suddenly grabbed his chest and dropped. I couldn’t tell because of the fire noise, but I might have heard a ‘pop’ like a gunshot. I’m not sure. He just dropped.”
Paul questioned, “What do mean, a gunshot? You saying he was shot?” He immediately grabbed his radio and put in the call for homicide. Then, a thought popped into his mind and he said to the camera lady, “Don’t you even move with that camera. Don’t push a button. Don’t do anything without thinking carefully. If you have that on film, don’t you dare do anything to hurt that film. In fact, whatever you have to do—very carefully—you get that film out of there and into my hands, right now.”
The camera lady was fairly new and the tone in his voice kept her from thinking about press privilege or confidentially or anything except very carefully removing the disc and handing it to Paul. “Will I get it back?” she asked, as she finally began to think about the story.
“Yeah. You’ll probably be able to get a copy later, but it won’t be in time for tonight’s news, I’ll guarantee that.” He carefully tucked the disc inside his jacket, then changed his mind, unbuttoned his shirt, and put it inside his shirt. He buttoned up, then zippered his jacket, then turned back to the fallen man. He had already determined the man was dead, but now started trying to piece together what had happened.
“How much coverage of the crowd did you get?” Paul was thinking of the possibility of the arsonist or the shooter having been recorded.
“I had a lot. Just before he was ready to begin his reporting, I scanned the whole area to get any possible news items. The fire, the crowds around here, the park…”
An ambulance roared up and two paramedics ran to the man. Paul said, “Leave him. I’ve called for Homicide. He’s been shot and he’s gone. Don’t move him.” They did a quick check for vitals, then moved back to their van.
Paul grabbed the camera lady and said, “Quick. Show me exactly where you were standing.”
The lady took half a dozen steps back into the street, looked back at the scene, then shuffled a little to the right, back to the left a couple of steps, and another two steps into the street. She looked through the camera at the fire in the background, checked around a bit more, then said, “Right here. I think I was right here.”
Paul got his pocketknife out, opened it, and scratched some deep marks in the pavement around the lady’s feet. Then he said, “Now. Where exactly was he standing when he got hit? Exactly.”
She thought for a moment and looked at the scene carefully, then said, “Well, he went straight down, as best as I can tell. No, maybe he took a little step backward, like trying to catch his balance? Maybe two little steps, like stutter steps? Then he went down on his knees and went over on his front. Yeah, I think he went backward just a bit, then down. I think that would put his feet just about exactly where his knees are now. I don’t think he turned or anything. Just backward a bit, then down and straight forward.” She thought for another moment, then added, “The film will probably show it all.”
Paul pulled out his notebook, handed it to her, and said, “Write down your name, address and phone. Home and business. Cell phone. Every way to contact you.” Then he started to get the crowd back from the scene so it wouldn’t get contaminated before the detectives got there. A moment later, he stepped back to where the newsman lay, straddled the man to get into the probable position the lady had indicated, and tried to look out a possible line of fire to find a location the shooter might have used.
Two more patrol cars roared up at that moment and the sergeant jumped out of one. Paul gave a quick rundown on the situation and pointed out some possible shooting sites. The sergeant radioed to get some more help, then took Paul’s knife and marked the pavement where the man’s feet had likely been. He then told Paul to check out the location Paul had noted.
Paul looked across the street and the edge of the park it bordered, and tried to fix on the buildings in the background. It was about fifteen or twenty yards across the street, then maybe another one hundred and fifty yards across the park to the buildings. In the dark, he couldn’t see any distinct markings on the buildings. It looked like an apartment unit because several window lights had come on and he thought he saw people milling around at the base of the unit. He saw light spill out as an entrance door opened, then closed. He could see the building looked to be three floors as windows were lit up on all the levels.
Would they have fired from one of the rooms? he thought. Or from the roof?
“Sarge,” he called out. “We need some cars at that apartment building over there. Surround it, and get a circle around the neighborhood out a few blocks. I think that’s where the shot came from. Maybe the roof. We need some guys to talk to the people there. See if they saw or heard anything. I don’t think anyone would be so stupid as to fire from a room inside the place, but you never know. Need to check the place out. Fast.”
The sergeant was already on the radio calling for the chopper and assistance from more officers, and Paul saw several cars pull out immediately and head over to the building. He ran back to his own car and swung around the park and to the front of the apartment building. He saw many of the people disappearing as they saw the police cars heading their direction, and when he arrived seconds later, there were only a dozen or so outside. He jumped out of his car and walked quickly over to a group of senior citizens standing by the entrance doors. He knew they would be the least likely to be concerned with him as a police officer and also the most observant of things taking place, and the most desirous of having their area kept clean of dangerous elements, whatever they were.
He spoke to the group in general. “Folks, we’ve had a problem over by the fire and are trying to find the source. Anyone hear or see anything over here that might be out of place?”
One older lady said, “You mean like a shot or something? I might have heard a shot? Not sure, though.” One of the men added, “Yeah, me too. Maybe from around here somewhere. I was watching the fire from my room up there,” pointing to one of the upper floors, “and heard maybe a ‘pop’, then I came down here. What happened?”
“Might have been a shot came from over this way. Anybody else?”
“Well, I was out here all the time the fire was going and didn’t see anything from right here. Nobody with a gun or anything out front here.”
“Did you maybe hear if a shot might have come from one of the windows in front here?”
“Nope. Nothing that I heard.”
“Nah. Like I said, I was looking out my window, but didn’t hear where it might have come from. Just heard it, that’s all.”
A young girl spoke from behind one of the elderly women and said, “I maybe heard it. Maybe from up on top there.”
Paul knelt down in front of her and asked, “What’s your name, miss?”
The girl looked up at the woman beside her, then back at him and replied, “I’m Susie.”
“Is this your mama, Susie?”
The lady replied, “I’m her gramma. She stays with me at nights while her mama’s working.”
“Okay, Susie. Where do you think the sound came from?”
“Up there on top. Over there.” She was pointing to the far end of the building to her left.
Paul’s pulse quickened a little. “Did you see anyone, Susie, or anything?”
“Yes, sir. I turned around and saw maybe a man look over the edge, but then he went back and I couldn’t see him anymore.”
“Can you tell me what he looked like, Susie? What color he was? Anything?”
“Well, not much. It’s pretty dark. But, he might have been black like me. He looked pretty dark up there. He maybe was a homeless.”
“What do you mean by that, Susie? What do you mean, a homeless?”
“You know. A homeless guy? Well, maybe he looked scruffy-like. Kind of lots of hair and maybe kind of baggy clothes?”
“What did his clothes look like, Susie?” He was hoping maybe, maybe.
“Well, just saw maybe just his coat or shirt or something. It kind of flapped, like it was baggy.”
Paul kept his disappointment hidden and said, “Okay. Thanks, Susie. That’s good.”
He looked up to the grandmother and asked, “Ma’am, would you please give me your name, address and phone, and Susie’s, so I can contact you?”
The lady nodded okay, and Paul wrote down the information. He reached out then, and shook the little girl’s hand. “Thank you, Susie. You’ve been a big help.” He said, “I’ll be back in touch, Ma’am, but I have to go now. See what I can find out.” Then he got back in his car and radioed the sergeant.
He reported what the girl had told him and suggested they get officers up to the top of the building immediately. The sergeant replied, “Okay, choppers on the way. Grab a couple of guys and get up there. Go up the inside and see if there’s a roof access. I’ll get some others watching from the back looking for any access from back there and to make sure nobody comes down that way.”
With that, Paul called across to two of the officers to follow him and ran to the entrance of the building. He quickly told the others what they were doing, then the three headed through the entrance. Paul saw two sets of stairs going up from each side of the large lobby and directed the two officers to go one way while he headed up the other. He took the stairs two at a time until he reached the second floor, then carefully stepped out and looked down the hallway. No one was in sight until one of the other officers popped out from the other stairwell, so Paul headed back up the stairs. He and the other officers repeated their actions on the next floor, and when they didn’t immediately see anyone down the halls, started looking for an access to the roof.
Halfway down the hall he was in Paul came on a door marked ROOF. He found the door unlocked, drew his Glock, carefully opened the door and listened for any sounds. He quietly closed the door, holstered his weapon and ran back down to the adjoining hall. He saw the other officers coming back toward him, determined they hadn’t found any other accesses their way, and directed them back with him to the access he had found.
“I don’t see any other way up,” he said. “We’ll open up here and go in quietly. Don’t know if there’s anyone there or not, but don’t make any noise in case they can hear us. I’ll go in first, then you guys follow. I don’t know what the door up there looks like, or whether it’s locked, so we’ll just have to find out. We know there was at least one shot, presumably a rifle, so there are weapons. Real careful, guys.”
Then he turned, drew his Glock again, and opened the door. Once again, he listened, and looked up the stairs into the dark—and the fear hit him again. The dark pressed in again. It stopped him from taking that first step into the stairwell for a moment until he felt the hand of the next officer touch his back. It jarred his mind back to the moment and he looked back to the others and said with a gravely voice, “Okay, together. But stay back a little. Don’t be a target.” He stepped into the stairwell.
The stairs were just like the others, but it was dark. He felt on the wall for a light switch, even though he knew he wouldn’t turn it on. No switch. Just the dark. First step…two…three…four. Still no sight of the door to the roof. He heard the men behind him. Wished he could use his flashlight, but knew it would show him for a perfect target if the people were looking down the stairs. Then he finally saw a sliver of light from the base of the door ahead. Luckily, the moon was shining from behind the building and was coming under the door, or there was maybe a roof light. Anyway, he could see enough from the sliver to know there was no one else in the stairwell. He turned to the others, whispered, “It’s clear,” and quickly stepped up to the top.
He carefully tested the doorknob and felt it turn, crouched down until just his head was above the sill and pushed the door slowly out until he could see the roof in front of him. Nothing in sight, so he slowly raised up and started through the door. He stepped with the swinging door to the left, pushed it against the wall, and then motioned the others out. They went to the right and held against the wall, eyes swinging over the roof. The front of the building, where the shooter had apparently been, was behind them, and he would have been over to their right. Paul motioned that he would go around the stair housing to the left and motioned the others to the right. He stepped slowly around the housing, trying to see everything as he went, sweeping the area with his Glock as well as his eyes. Nothing. There was nothing in sight for anyone to hide behind—just flat roof, so he moved on around the housing and to the back of it that fronted the front edge of the roof. Still nothing in sight.
He saw the first motion of the other officers as they came around the stair housing, gave them an all-clear motion from his side and moved with them toward the front corner of the roof where they thought the shooter had been. Again, nothing to hide behind. A flat roof with just a few air conditioning shafts. They looked carefully, but there was nothing really big enough to conceal anyone. They scanned the rooftop and saw that it appeared deserted all the way to the far corner, so continued to move across it, still very carefully, but now fairly well convinced the shooter, if there had been one here, was gone.
When they got to the edge and saw it was, indeed, vacant, Paul said, “You guys go back around the edge all the way. Check behind everything. Be sure we didn’t…”
All three men spun toward the shattering sound with weapons almost coming alive, their eyes wide with shock and fear. Paul realized he was only inches from the roof edge—in fact, his foot was touching the base of the three-foot wall—and he knew he was just a slight misstep from going over. He jerked away from the edge, his weapon swinging left and right to cover the area back to the stairs. “The door,” Jesse shouted. “It’s closed. He got past us!”
The three men raced back to the door to the stairs and threw it open. Quickly, but carefully, looking down, they saw the passage was empty and they heard no noises. Robert started down when suddenly a figure appeared at the bottom. Robert frantically flattened himself against the wall and was already pointing his weapon down at the man when a voice shouted, “Police. Don’t move.”
Relieved, but shaking, Robert shouted back, “Police here. It’s okay.”
Both men cautiously looked the length of the stairwell at each other, then the man at the bottom stepped into sight and the two relaxed.
Robert called, “Did anyone just come down? We missed him up here.”
The other officer replied, “No. I’ve been here for a minute or so, and no one came down.”
Robert looked back up at Jesse and Paul and said, “He didn’t come down. Must have gone off a fire escape.”
The three dashed back out to the roof and looked down the outside walls for an escape route. Paul found it going down the back wall—a fire escape ladder with an easy jump from the end to the ground. Several police cars were parked around the base of the building now, so they knew the gunman had made his exit before anyone had arrived. Gone now, unless someone happened on him in one of the blockades around the area.
The men went over to the corner where they thought the shooter had staged and started looking for any signs. Jesse noticed a rifle shell in the corner and marked it by laying a piece of notepaper by it and weighting it with some roof rock. Paul saw some scratches on the top of the wall surrounding the edge of the roof, pulled a blank page from his notebook and weighted it with roof gravel on the flat just below the scratches.
They finished their inspection of the roof, then Paul and Jesse went back down the stairs to get evidence tape and report their findings. Jesse went back up with the tape while Paul talked with the Sergeant. He heard that the fire was almost contained and that nothing more had happened at the shooting site. He was told to head back over to the scene of the shooting to gather whatever statements he could get.
Nobody had anything more than what the camera lady had already given, so Paul headed back out to the streets about 2 a.m. When he finally got off his shift, he was tired enough to go home instead of sticking around, and he fell into bed for a few hours of restless sleep. He woke several times and wished the dog was there to jump up beside him.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Across the park off the side of the apartment building, the shooter calmly sat under a tree with low hanging limbs and watched the confusion. He had a continuous sneer on his face as he saw the police rush from the fire to the building he had just left and begin their search. For him. He laughed out loud at that thought. They thought they could find him? Fools! Nobody was going to catch him. Nobody. Because he was the dark, and you didn’t catch the dark. ‘Cause you couldn’t see the dark. It wasn’t there. That’s why they called it dark, you idiots. He noticed the first cop on the scene at the building and wondered if he was going to be in charge. Wondered, too, if he was going to have to have some time with the cop some day. Some time in the dark. Until then, he had his work to do. As he got up and slowly shuffled off into the trees, the rifle in the special holster he had sewed into the coat bumping into his leg, he chuckled at the thought and began humming a little made up song to himself—Time in the dark! Just you and me. Someday soon. Just you and me.
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