Valley of Shadows-Chapter Twenty-Five

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Richard massaged his throbbing temples.  Tiredness and frustration were causing his mounting irritation to grow into anger.  He could feel himself teetering on the verge of blowing up on the police officer smirking at him.  Earlier, he had used his cell phone to call for an ambulance and notify the police of the shooting as Carl’s mother cried hysterically, draped over her son’s prone body.  In short order, the ambulance came and departed with Carl and his mother. Richard had anxiously watched the rear doors closing on paramedics frantically working to stabilize Carl’s vital signs as the ambulance launched into the flow of traffic with flashing lights and sirens wailing.

The police had arrived shortly after the ambulance. After it pulled away, he turned his attention to the officers who had begun attempting to disperse the gathering crowd.  When he looked over and saw which officers had responded to the scene, he immediately regretted sticking around.  Officers Brent and Foster had given him the most grief during his years on the force.

Some of their so-called jokes and pranks went so far over the line that Richard suspected that the two of them were a little warped.  They enjoyed pushing people’s buttons a little too much and never seemed to know when they needed to stop.  More than a couple of their colleagues had gotten suspended for allowing them to get under their skin and making them lose their self-control.

Now, Richard no longer had a badge to protect him from their vicious games.  They could decide to make his life miserable if he got on their bad side or if his reaction to their harassment made doing it too enjoyable.  When they approached him, he immediately read off the license plate number of the truck which he’d managed to jot down as it sped off.  Without asking, Officer Foster had ripped the page out of Richard’s notebook and called in the license plate number.  Richard could feel Officer Brent’s eyes on him, waiting for him to react and say something to his partner.

It quickly became obvious that the plate number wouldn’t be enough to get them off of his back.  They were going to take their time questioning him.  Still rattled over Carl’s shooting, Richard struggled to pull himself together.  Any overreaction would be viewed by them with suspicion. They hated him and seemed to be looking for an excuse to arrest him.

Suddenly, all Richard wanted to do was leave town and retreat to the safety of his cramped apartment.  Helping his mother didn’t seem worth all of the grief he was about to endure. Once the paramedics had departed with Carl and his mother, Officer Brent’s fake jovial tone had suddenly switched off. Richard watched the smile slide off his face.

“C’mon, let’s sit in the cruiser. I need to ask you a few questions.”

There was another group of neighbors gathering on the sidewalk, so it seemed like a reasonable request. Richard had moved to climb into the front passenger seat. Officer Brent stopped him.

“Where the hell you think you’re going boy? You ain’t a cop no more. Get your ass in the backseat,” he commanded.

Richard stood stock still, glaring back at him. The men locked eyes. Richard folded muscular arms across his broad chest. Officer Brent suddenly smirked.

“I forgot how sensitive you are. Did I hurt your feelings? Get in the car man.”

“I’m not getting in the back.”

“No matter, I’ll get you back there sooner or later. Next time I tell you to get in back there, you won’t have a choice.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

Officer Brent sucked his teeth and wordlessly gestured for him to get into the front passenger seat. Richard grudgingly complied, pulling the door closed behind him. He waited while Officer Brent lowered the screen on his laptop and fished a fresh stick of gum out of his left pocket to cram into his mouth. The smell of Juicy Fruit smelled sickly sweet in the close confines of the front seat. Richard grew impatient and prompted him.

“Are you going to tell me what you meant or are you waiting for me to read your mind?”

“You in a hurry boy? Someplace you need to be or are you feeling guilty?”

“What would I have to feel guilty about?”

“You tell me.  All I know is it looks like you and Carl got into it about something before he got shot. Looks like he worked you over pretty good. Maybe you had him shot to teach him a lesson.”

“What? No, that didn’t happen and you know it. You know me.”

“Well, clearly y’all got into it. Once upon a time, I thought I knew you. Looks like I didn’t,  ’cause I never thought you’d leave the force unless…”

“Unless what? ”

“Well, I know the only way I’d give up my badge is if I was forced out.”

“Now, you’re just being stupid.  Are we going to talk about what just happened here or are you going to waste my time with baseless accusations?”

“I wouldn’t call them stitches and bruises baseless accusations.”

Richard had kept his expression bland, careful not to allow his dislike for the man to show.  He gave short answers to Officer Foster’s questions, refraining from reacting to his not-so-subtle insinuations and the cynical tone of his follow-up questions.  Richard had no intention of letting on how nerve wracking he found the whole process.

He had already told Officer Foster everything.  Still, he had to swallow his irritation and wait while the man made a big show of reading over his interview notes.  One minute crawled by and Richard fairly squirmed with impatience. He forced his mind onto more pleasant thoughts. Cataloguing the many slights and innuendoes he had already endured would only feed his growing anger.

Richard blurted, “I have a question for you.  How much time are you going to waste harassing me while the man who shot Carl gets away?  I wonder what the chief will think about this.”

Richard’s implied threat had the desired effect.  The sly expression fell off of Officer Brent’s face.  For the first time, he looked a little uncertain.

“Look Richard, I’m just following up on the evidence that I have.”

“I gave you the license plate number.  Why don’t you go help find the men responsible?  I’ve told you what happened twice now.”

A call came in over the officer’s radio.  They had discovered the truck with the license plate number Richard had given them and had the driver in custody.  Officer Brent reluctantly ended the interview.  Richard forced himself not to rush out of the cruiser. He climbed out slowly and stood still, waiting until Officer Foster had driven away before allowing a small sigh of relief to escape.

Officer Brent was busy securing the scene from gathering neighbors and gawkers.  Richard thought about calling his brother to come and pick him up and decided against it.  The last thing he wanted to do was hang around the scene waiting for a ride.  Officer Brent was busy fielding questions from onlookers.

He needed to leave while that pest was distracted. Richard couldn’t endure any more questions while his nerves were still on edge. Besides, he needed time to clear his head.  Richard quietly took his leave and walked away slowly, not wanting haste to be viewed with suspicion.

Walking helped him begin to calm his jangled nerves.  It had been five years since he was an officer on the force, yet all of the negative emotions associated with that experience came rushing back the moment he laid eyes on Officers Foster and Brent. If he was honest with himself, those two weren’t really what had him so shaken. Richard marveled over the fact that being reminded of his ex-wife wasn’t even bringing him down.

It was the realization that his impulsive return to the warehouse may have gotten Carl killed. It hadn’t even occurred to him that those people would continue to look for him or that they would associate Carl’s hat and jacket with him. He had made rookie mistakes and now Carl would probably die.