It was his first time...
...being grilled by Internal Affairs.
Could Luca clear his name in time?
As a new gang, pushing a deadly and addictive drug cocktail, threatens the city, Luca is on the sidelines. Yes, mistakes were made. He should have vetted the informant better and his partner shouldn't have gone in alone. The shooter was dead, but there were two problems.
The guilt about his partner was killing him...
...and the man who ordered the hit was still out there.
While Derrick lay in the hospital clinging to life, Luca had one thing on his mind. But was he thinking clearly?
Or did he just want revenge?
You'll love this latest Luca Mystery, because the battle to stop the gang is about more than keeping the streets safe.
Get it now.
Release date: May 5, 2020
Print pages: 224
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A charcoal gray cloud formation had snuffed the light out of the sky. I checked my watch. It was 2 p.m. A gravel path led to a trailer tucked in the woods off Santa Barbara Boulevard. We were a mile off Davis Boulevard, and somehow the property hadn’t been developed. Yet.
Derrick had a contact we hoped would help us cripple a drug ring that had moved in. I knew it was important work, but it just didn’t cut it for me. Homicides were my thing. Being a narc wasn’t.
Without a murder to solve, I dug into cold homicide cases. Most detectives liked active investigations, but not me, especially a drug case. My distaste for them was compounded by a lack of experience.
Derrick caught me looking at my watch and said, “What time was her appointment?”
“One.” Mary Ann had gone to the neurologist. She said it was routine, but I’d noticed she was tiring quickly, and it concerned the hell out of me.
“Every doctor’s office is jammed up these days.”
“Probably.” I pulled out my phone. No text. “All right, let’s get this over with.”
The walkway to the pale blue trailer was lined with a rusty bike and more tires than a gas station.
“I hope this guy gives us something.”
“Making us come all the way out here, he better.”
Derrick knocked on the door. My phone rang. It was Mary Ann. Derrick knocked again and I stepped away. “What did the doctor say?”
Mary Ann was telling me about a new prescription as Derrick disappeared into the trailer. Shots rang out. I shoved my phone in a pocket, drew my weapon, and screamed, “Derrick! Talk to me.”
No reply. My back pressed against the trailer, I cracked open the door with the nose of my pistol. My lunch backed up into my mouth. A pool of blood was forming near Derrick’s neck.
“You all right?”
Derrick mumbled, and I heard what sounded like someone jumping to the ground. I ran around the side of the trailer. A six-foot male in a black hoodie was running away.
My vision tunneled. I dropped to a knee. Aiming, I pulled the trigger.
I heard my gun cycling but the shots themselves were muffled. The suspect stumbled and I fired again. He began to fall and I shot again. And again.
I ran up to him and put two more bullets into his back. I nudged him with the toe of my shoe. He was dead.
My hearing returned. Digging my phone out, I ran to the trailer. “This is Detective Frank Luca. We have an officer down. Nine-nine-nine. Officer down. Get a medic unit rolling. Now!”
I gave our coordinates and knelt by my partner.
“Hang in there, buddy. Help is on the way.”
Blood seeped out of a wound where his shoulder and neck met. Derrick tried to speak.
“Don’t talk. Save your strength, man.” Tears rolled down my face. I took my vest off and tore my shirt up. I put the cloth on the wound and applied pressure. Blood soaked through. I pressed harder.
“Don’t close your eyes, buddy. Look at me. You’re going to be okay. Come on, man, don’t go to sleep.”
As the sounds of sirens drew near, I caressed his cheek. It was cold. “Hang in there. They’re coming. You hear the sirens?”
His eyes closed as the medics burst in. “Hurry! He was hit in the neck area.”
The medics put an oxygen mask on Derrick and wrapped a pressure dressing around his neck. On the phone with a doctor, I heard the medic say Derrick’s pulse was weak, had lost a lot of blood, and they suspected he had a collapsed lung.
I sat on the floor trying to replay what had happened. How had I let him go in alone? Why did I go after the ambusher? I should have let the killer go and called for help as soon as I saw Derrick was shot. Every second counted with a gunshot wound. I’d let my partner down.
Derrick was lifted onto a gurney as two uniformed officers came in. Ignoring the question of what went down, I followed the stretcher out as a crime scene van and police vehicles pulled up.
I wanted to ride along, but the details of the tragedy needed explaining, and I wanted to examine every inch of this hellhole. They closed the doors to the ambulance, and, saying a prayer, I noticed someone approaching.
Detective Lacey was a no-nonsense kind of guy. He’d been on the streets for two decades and was considered a good cop before going inside. However, eight years as the director of internal affairs made him less sympathetic to the dangers and split-second decisions officers had to make.
Without extending a hand, he asked what had happened. I gave him a quick rundown of what had transpired, and he said, “We’re going to need your weapon.”
It was standard procedure. I handed it over. Bagging it, Lacey said, “Where is the alleged shooter?”
Alleged? “This way.”
“Put booties on and watch where you step.”
Circling away from the path used by the shooter, we came to the body. Lying on his right shoulder, he was crumpled into a semi-fetal position. Lacey surveyed the area then bent over the corpse. He stood, exchanging glances with the uniforms.
“Where were you when you fired?”
I pointed behind me. “A couple of paces off the trailer’s corner.”
“Did you announce your presence, asking him to halt?”
Everything happened so fast, I hadn’t. “He knew I was here.”
“Is that a yes?”
I couldn’t admit I shot first. “Yes.”
“And he kept fleeing?”
“Did he threaten you or point a weapon in your direction?”
“He shot my goddamn partner, for Christ’s sake.”
“I’m aware of that, Detective Luca. What I’m trying to understand is why you fired six shots into his back.”
“Don’t you even try to turn this shit around on me. This sleazebag ambushed Derrick. You want to talk to me, do it downtown. I have a crime scene to process.”
“You’re prohibited from participating in this.”
I turned around. “My partner was shot!”
“That doesn’t matter.”
I gave him the finger and walked to the trailer. My mind was hopping from Derrick’s condition, to why this had happened, to indignation over Lacey’s insinuation.
Pulling on gloves, I stepped into the trailer and was hit with the smell of mildew. Two walls were streaked with black mold. It felt like it was the first time I’d been inside. The filth of the place came into focus. In a snapshot, I realized no one had lived there in years.
Footprints of blood led to a pool of it on the right, where Derrick had fallen. To the left was a kitchen area, anchored by an aluminum card table. Sitting on the old table was a broken scale used by drug dealers to weigh their poison.
Rags, empty bottles, and aging fast-food wrappers were strewn on the floor. By the toe plate under the sink lay a glassine envelope. It had a pair of capital C’s on it. What was the meaning of that? Were these drug dealers so brazen they created a logo for their crap?
A stained mattress and old magazines were all that was in the bedroom. The window was open. It was the one the shooter left through. I stuck my head out. Lacey stood by as the corpse was placed into a body bag.
The dead guy was surrounded by a police contingent. Who was with Derrick? How would his wife, Lynn, react? I had to get to the hospital.
I poked my head in the bathroom. The sink hung off the wall and the shower stall had no door. Why was this place chosen for a meetup if the ambush wasn’t planned? I went outside and pulled my phone out to call Mary Ann.
“Derrick’s been shot.”
“Oh my God. How is he?”
“It’s bad. Took a bullet to the neck area just above the neckline of the vest. He’s on the way to Physicians Regional.”
“Is he going to be okay?”
“He better be. Look, get over to Lynn’s and tell her what happened. If she doesn’t have anyone to take care of Wendy, then take the kids with you and get to the hospital. I’ll meet you there. They need us.”
Derrick was in surgery. The waiting room was a sea of beige uniforms. I’d already lost one partner. It was from a heart attack, but he had been my best friend. My brothers kept coming up to me, but I was in no mood to talk to anyone. I went outside to wait for the girls.
Mary Ann and Lynn ran toward the entrance. I met them halfway and wrapped my arms around them.
Lynn had tears in her eyes. “How is Derrick?”
“He’s in surgery.”
“Tell me, is he going to make it?”
I had my doubts but not about sharing them. “Of course, he will.”
“Thank God. If I lost him, I don’t know what we’d do.”
“Let’s go in.”
“What happened? Tell me.”
I told them what had happened, leaving out several details as Sheriff Chester pulled up. We quickly exchanged greetings and headed into the hospital.
Three hours later, Lynn was told the doctor wanted to speak to her. I took Lynn’s hand, escorting her down a hall. A doctor in blue scrubs was toying with his phone. He pocketed the device when I cleared my throat.
The physician smiled thinly, extending his hand. “Mrs. Dickson, Dr. Blaine. Your husband is out of surgery—”
“How is he?”
“He’s critical but stable. The bullet did substantial damage in the thoracic region and ricocheted into an upper vertebra. Your husband has lost a lot of blood and has a collapsed lung as well.”
Lynn wobbled. I put my arm around her waist. “Is he going, going to be okay?”
“It’s early, but we believe he’ll recover.”
“Oh, thank you.”
“There may be some struggles along the way—”
Instead of telling him to shut his damn mouth, I said, “Can she see him?”
“Yes, but only for a moment. He needs to rest. Follow me.”
Beds lined both sides of the recovery room. We went toward a bed where a pair of nurses hovered over Derrick. He had a tube down his throat and a spaghetti bowl of lines and hoses leading to bags on poles. Lynn’s knees buckled, and I struggled to swallow as I caught her.
She sobbed while patting Derrick’s arm. I had to look away, staring at a squiggly lined monitor as she reassured Derrick he’d be all right. As we were asked to leave, I silently vowed to get everyone and anyone responsible for the assault.
Handing Lynn off to Mary Ann, I went to brief the sheriff on Derrick’s condition. Chester shook his head.
“His poor wife, with a newborn, no less. I’m going to see if there’s anything we can do for the family. Look, you need to get back and make a statement.”
Nodding, I let the girls know I’d be back as soon as possible and headed for the exit. I stopped short. On the other side of the glass doors was a group of reporters and a cameraman. They were like sharks who’d smelled blood.
Backing up, I scooted out a rear exit used by ambulances. Walking to my car, I was enveloped with a surreal feeling. This nightmare was snowballing. Having internal affairs conduct a colonoscopy on me was expected, but I hadn’t considered the press.
I climbed into the Cherokee and sat there. How the hell did this happen? What could I have done to prevent my partner from lying in an ICU room?
As the senior member of our team, I was responsible for him and, de facto, his family. I pushed Lynn’s terror-filled face from my mind and started the car.
As I drove, I went over my story. The reality was that until Lacey said I had shot him six times, I hadn’t given it a thought. It was a foregone conclusion that IA was going to claim it was excessive force. To an outsider it’d appear so, but not in the instinctual mode I had been in.
My responses had to be truthful but couched in a certain way or I’d find myself in deeper trouble. There’d be an investigation into every aspect of my actions. I understood it and backed a reasonable assessment anytime an officer fired his gun.
It was serious business, but this was different. We were ambushed. Unfortunately, I knew that wouldn’t mean much to IA, especially when deadly force was deployed.
I was less concerned about being charged with murder, though it was a possibility. The fact the victim was a gang member who’d shot an officer would be hard to ignore, no matter how righteously it was framed by those with low opinions of law enforcement.
It was so obvious. They shot first. Derrick was lying in a hospital fighting for his life. How could they think otherwise? They’d see the light. The thing to worry about was the health of my partner. He was in a bad way.
What the hell had I’d done? If I would have stayed with Derrick, he’d have a better chance of recovering, and I wouldn’t have to defend my actions. Why hadn’t I? Now I was stuck defending myself.
I’d probably be forced to sit behind a desk until a complete airing of the incident was finished. Or would it be something worse? Either way, I wouldn’t be able to track down who was responsible for setting the trap Derrick walked into.
The conference room in internal affairs was freezing. Lacey had his sports jacket on. I didn’t know if he was projecting formality or trying to keep warm.
Lacey didn’t ask a single question as I explained what happened at the trailer. When I finished, he said, “Why was Detective Dickson alone in the trailer?”
“I was right behind him, but something caught my attention, so I stood outside for a moment.”
“What was it?”
“Before I could check it out, I heard the gunshot.”
“You fired six shots at the gunman. All entering his back. Was he a threat?”
“He shot Derrick, for God’s sake. Of course he was a threat.”
“He was running away.”
“He was armed. I had no idea what he would do next.”
“His weapon was found tucked into the front of his pants.”
“It was my judgment at that time to ensure he was neutralized. It’s my duty to eliminate any threat to public safety.”
“That’s all for now, Mr. Luca.”
Mister? Had the decision been made to suspend me rather than some kind of administrative leave? If that was what was coming, I had little time to figure out who the hell was behind the ambush.
I ran down the stairs to my office and searched the property records for the owner of the trailer. The tax assessor’s office listed Ray McKinley as the owner of the land. There were no improvements listed on the bill. The county didn’t seem to know a trailer was parked on it.
Nothing came up on McKinley besides a twenty-four-year-old speeding ticket. He didn’t have a current driver’s license. I went into the DMV portal, discovering that he failed to renew his license in 2017. That was probably because he was now eighty-six years old.
Though the chances were slim that McKinley was connected, I owed it to Derrick to check him out. I took a picture of the address with my phone and took the stairs back up.
Collier County didn’t have a dedicated narcotics detail, which was why I’d been asked to work this case in the first place. It’s not that Naples was insulated from the scourge of drug use. We had our share of users, but the problems they created were far different than those of a large city.
Instead of dealing with strung-out addicts mugging old ladies to feed their habit, we had people wrapping their German autos around light poles and a cell full of people drying out.
Most of the people in town abusing prescriptions or using illicit drugs had the money to fund their addiction. In fact, it was probably the money that got many of them into trouble in the first place.
Sergeant Cisco ran the general crimes unit and was the drug expert by default. Six foot three, and measured, he was one of the handful of people actually born and raised in Naples.
“How’s Derrick doing?”
“He took a hollow point to the neck area. He’s in ICU.”
“Jesus Christ. I heard you put six shots into the bastard.”
Word spread fast, especially in institutional settings. “It was surreal, you know.”
“They didn’t put you on admin leave?”
“Not yet. Since I’m the only able-bodied homicide dick, I’m hoping I can stay on, even if it’s just behind a desk.”
“Good luck with that. I heard the county is putting out a reward for information.”
“Let’s hope it helps get the bastards.”
“What about IA? They putting you through the wringer?”
“Asking questions at this point.” I lowered my voice. “But you know how Lacey enjoys crawling up your butt.”
“Tell me about it. We have three separate investigations going against my guys.”
“We’re gonna take up a collection for Derrick’s wife, to help as best we can.”
“That’s nice; she’ll appreciate it.”
“It’s the least we can do.”
“Take a look at this. See if it means anything to you.” I pulled up a picture of the glassine envelope found in the trailer. “It looks like a logo or something.”
“It seems familiar. The drug cartels are branding their products like they’re a legit business. Hold on a second, and I’ll check with the DEA.”
Driving to see McKinley, I rolled around the idea that a Mexican drug cartel was trying to extend its reach into Collier County.
The closest cities the cartels had a known presence in were Miami and Daytona Beach. Was the envelope evidence that one of them had decided Southwest Florida was an attractive market? Or was it just some user taking his poison in the trailer, who panicked?
The idea a frightened user shot Derrick faded as I drove east on Immokalee Road. At this time of night the notoriously busy road was empty, and I breezed along, turning into Huntington Lakes.
McKinley lived in one of the brown buildings lining Marsh Creek Lane. His unit was on the first floor of a multifamily structure. The only light visible was coming from the TV. I rang the bell, slamming the door with the heel of my hand for good measure.
A woman with an accent I recognized as Filipino opened the door.
“Detective Luca with the Collier County Sheriff’s Office. I’d like to speak with Mr. Ray McKinley.”
“Uhm. He’s not able to talk much.”
“Is he here?”
“I’d like to see him.”
“Is this about his son?”
She flicked on the lights as we walked into the family room. McKinley was sound asleep in a reclined wheelchair.
“Wake him up, please.”
She shook his shoulder, repeatedly calling his name. It took almost a minute for McKinley to open his eyes.
“This is a policeman. He wants to talk to you.”
“Mr. McKinley, you own a piece of land on Santa Barbara Boulevard. Who do you rent it to?”
The reply was mumbled. The only word I caught was mother.
“He gets very confused. It’s the dementia.”
“Who takes care of his affairs?”
“His son used to, but he passed away a year ago. Now his daughter does. She’s in Indiana.”
“I’d like her contact details.”
She wrote down a name and number.
As she showed me to the door, I asked, “How long has he been like this?”
“Mr. McKinley wasn’t bad before his son died. Then he really slid.”
“Terrible losing a child.”
She nodded. “Especially when it’s from an overdose.”
“His son died from drugs?”
“Yeah, so sad.”
“When was that?”
“A year ago.”
It felt there was a connection.
I circled the kitchen telling Mary Ann the latest on Derrick’s condition. When I punched a number into my cell, Mary Ann said, “Who do you keep calling at this hour?”
“The daughter of the guy who owns the land the trailer is sitting on.”
“She probably shut her phone off. It’s after midnight. I’m exhausted. I’m going to bed; you coming?”
I grabbed the car keys off the counter. “I can’t go to sleep with Derrick lying in the hospital.”
“There’s nothing you can do. The doctors are taking care of him.”
“That’s bullshit. I can let him know I’m there for him.”
“You’re really going to the hospital?”
“Yeah, I can’t sit around here.”
“You need to sleep. You’re not going to be helping anyone if you don’t get some rest.”
I felt like crap. My body was crying for a break, but my mind was crying for action. “I’ll lie on the couch, and see if I can catch a couple of hours.”
“Come to bed, Frank. I don’t want to sleep alone on a night like this.”
She was right. I was exhausted and followed her into the bedroom. As Mary Ann washed up, I called the hospital. There was no change. Derrick was still critical.
We slipped between the covers and she grabbed my hand. “He’s going to be all right.”
“I hope so. He lost a lot of blood.”
“They gave him a couple of pints. He’s where he needs to be.”
“They say they don’t know if the damage to his spine is going to be permanent or not.”
“They can fix almost anything these days.”
“I feel so bad for Lynn.”
“Me too, but you know she’s stronger than you think.”
Most spouses of cops were. They had no choice. Anytime your partner went to work, there’d be a nagging worry until they returned. You were never prepared for something like this, but the reality was it wasn’t a total surprise.
“She’s staying with him, right?”
“Her mother lives in Cape Coral; she had to go pick her up to watch the baby.”
I sat up. “He’s going to be alone?”
“Derrick’s not alone. There’s a lot of people taking care of him. Don’t worry, before you know it, he’ll be back on the job.”
After what happened to him, it wasn’t clear he’d go back to law enforcement, regardless of whether he recovered or not. It made me ponder if I wanted to do this anymore.
His shooting and the threat of something happening to me hadn’t sunk in yet, but I could sense a change in outlook that was being kept below the surface by adrenaline and confusion.
“I don’t care if he ever walks a beat again as long as he’s all right.”
“Absolutely.” She turned on her side and kissed my cheek. “Let’s get some sleep.”
The words just tumbled out of my mouth. “I took a life today.”
“You did what you were trained to do.”
“I don’t know. I may have gone a little overboard.”
She grabbed my hand. “You were ambushed.”
“The guy was taking off. I shot him in the back.”
“He was armed, right?”
“There’s no buts. He shot one of us and was fleeing. Who knows who he would have fired on next? You probably saved a life or two.”
She was making me out to be a hero of some kind. I knew I wasn’t. “I should’ve called for help first, but I went after him.”
“You had to make a split-second decision. Don’t start doubting yourself. You eliminated the threat. I would’ve probably done the same thing.”
Probably? “I don’t know.”
“You’re going to be put on leave, you know.”
“Maybe there’s a way for me to stay active. That way I can help find who the hell was behind this.”
“I wouldn’t count on it.”
“Let’s go to sleep.”
She turned over, and within a minute her breathing slowed. How did she fall asleep so quickly? On a normal day it was tough for me, but tonight, every time I shut my eyes, I saw Derrick bleeding on the trailer’s floor.
I replayed the episode for the hundredth time, and the reality that I’d killed someone hit me. There was no doubt he deserved it, but I debated whether I should have shot to incapacitate rather than to kill.
It was an emotional reaction. Understandable in most people but not acceptable in my line of work.
I slid out of bed and went into the closet to get dressed. Mary Ann wouldn’t be happy, but she’d know I was at the hospital. My holster was hanging on the belt rack. I slipped it on and opened the gun safe.
The pistol I used to kill had been turned in. I reached for my black Glock and hesitated. I thought about leaving without a firearm, but I hadn’t been unarmed in two decades. Much as I didn’t want to touch a gun, I forced myself to pick it up.
I got out of the Cherokee. It was warm, and the tropical wind messed with my hair. I breezed past a lone reporter, who was stopped from following me by a uniformed officer, and went into Physicians Regional.
You’d never know it was the middle of the night by the activity in the intensive care unit. I nodded at an officer sitting outside my partner’s room. Hesitating, I entered.
My bladder cancer had required opening my abdomen and creating a bladder out of my intestines. It was a rough surgery, but on my worst days I never looked as bad as Derrick did. I kept swallowing at the thought of having a tube shoved down my throat.
I stroked his hand. It was cold. A nurse came in. She smiled and fiddled with one of the lines feeding into Derrick. I said, “How’s he doing? He’s going to be all right, won’t he?”
“You’ll have to ask the doctor. I really don’t know much. My job is monitoring the IV bags.”
“But you think he’s going to be okay, don’t you?”
“I’m sure he will. But it’s best to ask the doctors.” Before she finished speaking, a machine began beeping. She checked the monitor, took Derrick’s pulse, and ran out of the room.
I was trying to assess whether Derrick’s face was getting paler when two men and a woman in lab coats rushed in. One asked me to leave.
“What’s going on?”
“Sir, leave the room. Now!”
I stepped outside as two aides bolted in. I went to the nurses' station to find out what was happening when Derrick was wheeled out of his room. Stepping toward my partner, a nurse corralled me. “He’s going into surgery. He may be bleeding internally.”
Blood pounded in my ears. Shaking my head to clear my vision, I asked God to save him and went into the bathroom. After splashing water on my face, I called his wife and the station.
Alone, I sat in a room for families. Why had I wasted time and chased down the killer instead of tending to Derrick first? He was up, almost able to talk. I thought there was time. I tried to calculate how much time I spent going after the shooter. Why didn’t I call for help as I chased him?
It probably was no more than two minutes, three max. It didn’t seem like much, but I knew it was more than enough to bridge the gap between life and death. I tried to assess what Derrick would have done if the situation were reversed.
Would it matter? Could Derrick ever forgive me? Could I forgive myself?
I was in a fog. My side was killing me from the way I had fallen asleep, and my phone was ringing. It took me a while to get out of the chair. My legs felt like concrete. For some reason, I answered the phone.
“Is this Detective Luca?”
“Yeah, who is it?”
“Diane McKinley. You called me a couple of times.”
It was the daughter of the man who owned the land the trailer sat on. “Hang on a second.”
I left the family room and leaned against a wall. “Thanks for calling back. Your father owns a piece a property where a police officer was shot.”
“Oh, my God.”
“I understand your brother died of an overdose.”
“Yes, he did, over a year ago. What does that have to do with anything?”
“How long was he using drugs?”
She exhaled. “Since his early twenties. He didn’t get into the hard stuff till he was about thirty, and then it got out of control. He went into rehab a couple of times, but he couldn’t, he just couldn’t stay clean.”
“Do you know who he bought his drugs from?”
“I have no idea.”
“What about some of his friends, people he used drugs with?”
“This guy, Peter Gist, he’s the one who got him started.”
She didn’t know where to find him, but we’d track him down. The question was whether that was the connection that led to the trailer on her father’s property.
A nurse told me that Derrick was in recovery. The surgery had gone well, but he was critical. I needed coffee before I could face Lynn. Walking to the cafeteria, the sheriff called.
“How is Detective Dickson?”
“He’s out of surgery. It seems to have gone well, but he’s critical.”
“I’m praying for him.”
“We all are.”
“You know there’s going to be a thorough investigation of this.”
“I understand, sir, but it was unavoidable.”
“IA will judge the appropriateness of the actions taken.”
“But we were ambushed, sir.”
“That may be the case, but my hands are tied. We have to let the investigation play out.”
“But can’t you intervene on my behalf?”
“There’s no buts. The very nature of internal affairs is to provide an impartial, independent assessment of a situation. I can’t be seen as interfering.”
“It was unavoidable, sir.”
“Department protocol is to put you on administrative leave—”
“I have to be able to hunt down whoever did this.”
“I don’t know if there’s even a way we can bring you inside.”
I was going to be sitting behind a desk in a best-case scenario. “Am I going to be suspended?”
He hesitated. “Why don’t we let the investigation progress?”
“How much time do I have?”
The sheriff had shown his colors. Again. He was putting distance between us. Chester always played it safe, like a politician. I understood it, to a degree. But where were the private words of assurance, support?
I had to sleep. Driving home, I was in a weird state. My mind was racing, but my eyelids were heavy. Stopped at the Fifth Avenue and Tamiami Trail intersection, a stream of people crossed the street.
They were going about their day, shopping, eating, and sightseeing without a care in the world. Yet I was weighed down by a partner fighting for his life, my guilt over how it happened, and the growing worry that I’d be suspended and unable to arrest whoever was responsible for the ambush. Added to all that—I’d killed someone.
I bounced between attempting to sort out the crazy cocktail of emotions I was experiencing, to trying to suppress the depressing reality. It was playing mental tennis with myself, and I was losing.
Between anger, overwhelming sadness, and exhaustion, I couldn’t think straight. Derrick had to get better, and I had to get justice for him and get internal affairs off my back. Then and only then could I evaluate whether it was time to find a new career.
I started thinking of easy-peasy jobs, like renting beach chairs or starting a home-watch service. My pension would cover most of the bills; I’d find something. Then I thought of Jessie going to college. I’d signed up for the Florida State program, so as long as she went to a state college, her education was covered.
It would work out, I thought, until Mary Ann’s MS crashed the party. Who knew what kinds of changes and expenses would head our way if her condition worsened? It may have been extreme fatigue or frustration, but I couldn’t see myself in law enforcement any longer.
It sounded like Jessie. It took my eyes a couple of seconds to focus. It was two o’clock in the afternoon. It felt like rubber bands were holding me down. Dragging myself out of bed, the reality that Derrick was in the hospital and that I’d killed a man rushed back.
I collapsed onto the bed and pulled the sheet over my head. How was I going to get past all this? My phone was vibrating on the nightstand. I reached out and grabbed it. It was Dr. Bilotti. I let it go to voice mail.
Couldn’t I just lie in bed for a couple of months and get up when this nightmare ended? As long as Derrick was going to be okay, that was all that mattered. If the department wouldn’t back me, screw them.
They could kick me off the damn force if they wanted. Being a cop had lost its appeal. I had a wife with MS and a daughter to think about and couldn’t run the risk of getting killed. Let them catch the bastards who shot Derrick.
Without me, they had no homicide department. If Derrick miraculously recovered overnight, he wouldn’t be able to hunt for those responsible for shooting him. As the victim, he had to stay clear of the investigation. With Derrick sidelined and me retired, or suspended, there would be no one to get justice.
It took years to train someone to hunt killers. By then, whoever was behind the conspiracy to ambush Derrick would be long gone. It was up to me. But was I up to it? There was only one way to be a cop; you had to be in it a thousand percent. If you weren’t, your odds of getting hurt or killed multiplied exponentially.
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