Lieutenant Detective Sam Myamoto arrives at the scene and starts his investigation.
approximately 3900 words
The sun-scorched blacktop in the mall's parking lot penetrated Lieutenant Detective Sam Myamoto's Reeboks and baked the soles of his feet. Heat rose in waves and sent a drizzle of sweat from his brow into his eyes. He blinked against the sting while peering into the gaggle gathered outside the yellow police tape, as if the tragedy inside was a ghoulish reality show just for their entertainment. He sighed. They had no idea real murder scenes were nothing like the sanitized TV versions. He clipped his badge to the belt of his Levis and pressed into the crowd.
As he was about to slip under the yellow police tape, a bony hand gripped his arm and a high-pitched voice wheedled, "Detective, do you have a minute? I'm Randy Jumping Eagle with the Lakeland U Ledger. What can you tell us about the shootings?"
Sam turned to face a spindly young man whose narrow features and ebony eyes reminded him of a ferret. Except ferrets don't have spiky black hair with purple tips and a reporter's notebook. Sam glanced at the young man's t-shirt and didn't quite twitch. The front of the t-shirt displayed a gaudy cartoon of a rooster with the words "I like" stenciled above it. Jumping Eagle met his gaze and Sam faltered for a moment as his mind clicked on what the words and the cartoon meant.
Before either could speak further, a burly uniformed officer shoved Jumping Eagle away and snarled, "Leave the detective alone, faggot. He's got better things to do than talk to the likes of you."
Sam winced. "It's all right, Officer Franzen. I can spare a second." Apparently, Franzen had no trouble figuring out that Running Eagle was gay. Go figure. A straight guy with gaydar.
Franzen's upper lip curled and his gaze raked over Sam from head to toe. "You sure...Detective?"
A momentary spark of anxiety froze Sam's features before he answered, keeping his voice neutral. "I'm sure." He nodded in the direction of a black Cadillac Escalade that had just pulled into the lot. "Maybe you could escort Chief Sturant through the crowd? He's in the SUV with the OSU Cowboys flag. I'm sure he'd appreciate your assistance."
The officer glared at him for a beat longer before he pivoted and bulled his way through the crowd.
Sam turned back to the reporter. "I'm sorry...Randy, you said? I just got here and don't know any details."
Randy tipped his head toward the mall. "Is it true that two Lakeland students were hurt?"
"I don't know, and even if I did, we'd have to notify next of kin first. Tell you what. Keep an eye out for Chief Sturant. You know who he is?"
Randy looked as if he'd bit into an apple and found Harley Sturant inside. "I've met him."
"He'll be giving the official press briefing. I'm sure he'll give a local student reporter a break."
"I doubt he'll give me a break. He hates student reporters. I bet he hates gay people, too, like that other creep, the one who just pushed me."
Sam kept his face impassive despite another internal twitch. "I'm sure Chief Sturant won't let his personal feelings, whatever they are, keep him from treating you right. Besides, how would he know whether you're gay or straight?" He wanted to add that Harley was too clueless to understand the kid's t-shirt, but thought better of it. He glanced at the mall entrance. "I've really got to go, Randy. I'm sorry."
His skin prickled when he pushed into the frosty air-conditioning of the mall. Ahead of him, cheery, deserted stores opened to an empty promenade. The strains of a string orchestra playing The Girl from Ipanema lilted from the mall's sound system, while a murmur of voices whispered from around the first turn, past the Cineplex and the Mexican restaurant. Faint aromas of popcorn and salsa mixed with the flat, coppery scent of murder.
Sam paused and waited for his eyes to adjust to the cold fluorescent lighting, grateful for the delay, however brief. He'd trained to be a peace officer, but tonight his job had nothing to do with peace.
Chief Sturant slammed through the double glass doors, stomped toward Sam, and hitched his pants up over his beer belly. He growled, "God damned student reporters anyway." Perspiration beaded his ruddy features, and he swabbed his face with a wrinkled handkerchief. "This is a fuckin' mess."
Sam caught a whiff of Southern Comfort on Harley's breath and grimaced. "You know it. I just got here myself." He nodded toward the interior of the mall. "It's not going to get any better with us just standing here. You want to join me?"
Harley snuffled and wiped his nose on the handkerchief he'd just used on his brow. "Yeah. I already got calls from Tulsa and Oklahoma City TV stations. In another hour we'll have real fuckin' reporters crawlin' all over the place. I'll need somethin' to tell 'em."
Sam nodded. "Better you than me, Harley." He heaved a sigh. "Let's go." He started down the mall.
Harley gripped Sam's elbow and stopped him. "Just a minute, Sam. You're gonna need help on this, what with Jimmy off on paternity leave."
Sam chewed his lip at the mention of his partner. "Can we talk about this later, Harley? Marie delivered two months early, so I haven't had time to think about a temporary replacement ."
"I was thinkin' that young guy Franzen is an up-and-comer. He's Commissioner Brandt's nephew, ya know. Besides, he sure gave that fuckin' faggot reporter what for."
Franzen. Fuck. Just what I need. "Can I get back to you on that? For now, I'd like to look at the crime scene."
"Sure, sure. Take your time. But you need a new partner, 'specially now. Let me know anytime a-fore the press gets here ." Harley gave Sam's elbow a friendly squeeze and he winked. "Think about Franzen. I won't force nobody on you, you know that Sam. You're my best detective. Hell, you're the whole homicide department right now. But I have a feelin' Franzen's the right man for the job."
Sam wondered if he caught a faint emphasis on the word "man," then decided it had to be his imagination. "I'm not sure Franzen is right for this assignment, but I promise I'll think about him." You don't want to know what I'll be thinking about him. "Can we go now?" Sam pulled away and stalked down the corridor without waiting for an answer. Harley harrumphed and plodded alongside him.
When they turned the corner, the mall stretched desolate before them, a panoply of brilliant colors, glass and burnished aluminum. Anti-abortion picket signs, shopping bags, and fast food detritus littered the otherwise pristine corridor. Half a dozen uniformed officers clustered about a hundred feet away. Two bodies lay in bloody pools on the crimson and cream Terrazzo. An overweight mall guard slumped on a bench next to an African-American female officer. Tears streamed down his face.
Harley nudged Sam. "That's Ozzie Childerson. He took out the perp."
Sam grunted, thinking it was too early in the investigation to draw conclusions about who was the perp and who was the victim. "I heard he was one of the shooters. I know him. He's part of the auxiliary. We used him for the county fair last month. One of the good guys." He waved at a group of uniformed officers clustered not far from the bodies. "Hey, Lucky. You the ranking officer here?"
A officer with a gymnast's taut posture, curly blond hair, and five-o'clock shadow waved back. When he sauntered up to them, his craggy features broke into a smile and his words piped in a cheery baritone, as if violent death made his day. "Not no more, Sam. You got that job now."
"So fill me in." Sam pulled out a spiral notepad and stubby pencil.
Lucky consulted notes on a clipboard. "We got a 911 from the bank at 1736 tonight. They reported a shooter in the mall. Me and my partner Izzy responded and got here at 1751. People was still running like scared chickens from the mall, but the action was all over." He pointed to the body nearest the bank. "That A-rab guy pulled a gun and blew away the other guy, the one in the sweatshirt. Poor Ozzie over there came out of the bank and ordered the shooter to drop his gun. The A-rab pointed his weapon at Ozzie, so he blew the guy's brains out. Good shootin', for a rent-a-cop, and one less towel-head fuckin' with the USA."
Sam's mouth hardened. "Stick to the facts, please, Sergeant. You said that fellow, the one with the head wound, he shot first? Attacked the guy in the sweatshirt? Any witnesses?"
Lucky nodded. "We got names of a bunch saw the first guy get hisself shot. Franzen's got 'em gathered up outside, but we ain't had time to interview nobody yet."
Harley piped up, "We've called in people from the day shift to help with witness statements."
Sam nodded. "How about the second victim? Any witnesses to that?"
"Some fat woman. I got her name." He flipped through his notes. "Here it is. Clarisse Stern. Her husband was with her, but he claimed he didn't see nothin'."
"They outside, too?"
Lucky shook his head. "Her husband was havin' chest pains. The EMTs transported him to the hospital and she insisted on goin' with him. I got her address and phone number."
"No other witnesses? How about the person who called 911?"
"There was five 911 calls. Like I said, we ain't had time to interview nobody."
Sam eyed bloodstains outside a shoe store, about forty feet from the DBs. "Any other injuries?"
"Nothin' serious." He followed Sam's gaze. "Some kid tripped and busted his face open on a display or somethin'. The EMTs transported him, too. Otherwise, just bumps and bruises from when the mob fled the scene."
"Did anyone disturb the bodies?"
"The EMTs made sure they was dead. They wanted to transport the first guy--"he pointed to sweatshirt clad victim--"but I wouldn't let 'em. They checked his pulse and then I ordered them away from the body. The other DB's missing half his head, so he's obviously a goner. Other than the EMTs, no sir. I knew better. We made sure they was dead, then left 'em alone."
Sam slipped his notepad back into his jeans. "All right, then, Lucky. There are a half dozen uniforms here, and a crowd of onlookers outside. I want you out there canvassing for witnesses. I want to know if anyone saw anything before the shots were fired." He nodded at the officer consoling Ozzie. "Leave her behind, in case I need help in here."
"You bet." Lucky glanced at the Chief. "We did get ID on the two DBs. The shooter 's got a student ID from Lakeland University. Khalid Al-Amin. With a name like that, may as well have a sign hangin' around his neck that says 'terrorist.' The other guy's got a Georgia driver's license that says he's Aaron Busby from Atlanta."
Sam scowled. "So you did disturb the bodies." He paused before continuing. "Well, I need you to get to those witnesses as soon as possible. Can you do that?"
Lucky's face turned even redder than usual. His chest swelled up and he answered, "Whatever you say, Lieutenant." He swaggered away and gathered the other uniformed officers except for the female officer Sam had pointed out.
When they departed, Harley put a hand on Sam's shoulder. "Don't pay him no never mind, son. He's just kinda rough at the edges."
Sam shrugged off Harley's hand. "If I were you, I'd keep him away from the press. That's all Tar Flats needs is a national news story about how our police force is 'rough at the edges.'"
"Ya think? Still, that's good advice, son. You're always thinkin'. I like that." Harley's expression soured. " The OSBI called from McAlester. They're sendin' some high-falootin' agent, along with fancy CSI techs. Don't you let 'em take over our case. I want you checkin' those DBs before they stick their noses in, you hear, boy?"
Sam hesitated. He could really use the help from the professionals at the OSBI. Harley wasn't interested in the dead bodies. All he cared about was the next election. "I should wait for the Medical Examiner."
Harley held up a hand, palm forward. "You don't wait for nobody, 'specially not that drunk asshole ME. The Sheriff told me he's two sheets to the wind at the country club over in the county seat. He aint fit to be here, not with the press sniffin' around. I don't want no tight-assed OSBI bureaucrat hoggin' all the information, neither. You check out them bodies, Sam. I'm relyin' on you."
Sam knew there was no point in arguing, not once Harley made up his mind. He'd just have to be careful. "I guess I know how to walk a crime scene. Still, I want to talk to Ozzie first."
"Do your thing, Sam. Just remember what I said. I'm countin' on you."
Sam surveyed the bodies and acid roiled his stomach. "You know, Harley, I think the OSBI's techs would really help out on this one."
The older man's tone turned dismissive. "Your case, your call, your ass. Just keep me in the loop, so's I don't look bad with the press. Right now, I'm gonna follow up with Lucky. You're right. If his brains was leather, he wouldn't have enough to saddle up a flea." He turned on his heel and left.
Sam waved the officer who still sat with Ozzie to join him. When she approached, he asked, "How's he doing?" He paused to read her name tag. "Officer Stabler. Sam Miyamoto here. Are you new to the force?" He offered to shake hands.
She accepted his hand with a firm, direct grip. Almost a foot shorter than Sam's six-two, she tipped her head up and gazed into his eyes. "Yes, sir. I'm Tilisha. I just moved back here from Lawton." She turned a somber eye to Ozzie. "He's like broken glass. He blames hisself...himself." She shook her head. "Not like he could of done nothing different."
"Thanks for sitting with him. Hang around, okay? I might need some help. And can you call Phil Craddock for him?"
"The shrink? Ain't...isn't he just for cops? Ozzie's a security guard, a rent-a-cop."
"He's officially a reservist, so he qualifies. Besides, I'm pretty sure Phil will be willing to help someone in need. Just give him a call, okay? You got his number?"
She nodded. "It's on the union's info card." She pulled out her cell phone and hesitated. "Lieutenant? We've met before. You taught a class on community policing when I was at the Academy two years ago. It changed the way I looked at being a police officer. I wanted you to know."
"I thought I recognized you, Talisha." He remembered her now. She'd been bright and articulate, with an inquisitive mind that asked good questions and made connections. With his partner on paternity leave, he could use a smart officer to help figure out this mess. For sure he didn't want to work with that bigot Franzen. "Hang around after you call Craddock, okay?"
Sam settled next to Ozzie on the bench. "Pretty tough day, Ozzie."
The man's eyes blazed red, and tears still moistened his cheeks. "He was just a kid, Sam. What was he doin' in the mall with a fuckin' gun?"
"I don't know, Ozzie. That's what we're here to find out. Do you feel up to telling me what happened?"
Ozzie shuddered. "It keeps playin' in my head, over and over. It won't quit."
Sam nodded and pulled out his notepad.
Ozzie's gaze flicked at Sam's scrawled notes before he leaned back and closed his eyes. "I was in the bank. We was gettin' ready to close, y'know? Then I heard these pops from the mall. At first I thought a kid had shot off some firecrackers."
He took a shuddering breath. Sam didn't speak. Seconds passed.
Ozzie started again, his voice hoarse. "Then all hell broke loose. Someone screamed something about a gun. When I looked out the door, I saw the other guy, the one in the hoodie, flopping around on the ground with blood spurtin' up from his chest. I yelled at Thelma--she's Mr. Sheldon's secretary. He's the branch manager. Anyways, I yelled at Thelma to call 911 and went out to investigate."
He fell silent for nearly a minute. Sam finally spoke. "What then, Ozzie?"
"Everyone was runnin' away. It was a panic, a mob scene. I didn't know what to think. But this one kid just stood there, like a statue. And he had a gun. I yelled at him to drop it."
"And he didn't?"
"No. He turned on me and raised the gun. I fired without thinkin'." A sob escaped his throat. "Oh, God, Sam. His head just exploded. It was awful."
"You say he raised his weapon?"
"Yeah. At least I thought so. Sam, it all happened so fuckin' fast. I'm not sure."
Sam stuffed his pad back in his pants pocket. "Sometimes law enforcement has to make split-second judgments. Sounds to me like you did what you thought necessary." He glanced at the video camera hanging over the ATM by the bank. Have to get the tape. It'll say whether or not poor Ozzie's guilty of excessive force. Sam reflected that no good could come from this. No matter what the tape showed, and no matter that the DA was unlikely to charge Ozzie, he was going to have to deal with having killed another living, breathing person. Welcome to being a peace officer.
Ozzie ran trembling fingers over his face. "God, Sam. I killed a kid! How can that be necessary?"
"If he was threatening you with deadly force, no one would fault you, Ozzie. Like they say in training, 'he's bought and paid for.'" Sam squeezed the man's shoulder. "Look, you've been through a lot tonight. I asked Talisha to call in the department's psychologist, Dr. Craddock. He's a good guy. Talk to him. Will you do that for me, Ozzie?"
"I guess. Don't hold much for that psychobabble stuff, though. Always seemed like voodoo to me."
"Just talking can help, Ozzie. I know." He squeezed the man's shoulder again before he rose and walked to where Talisha stood, waiting. "You get a hold of Craddock?"
"Yes, sir. He's on his way."
"Good. You holding up okay?"
"Yes, sir. It's my first murder scene. I guess maybe I was a little rattled at first."
"I'm always a little rattled at murder scenes. You don't get over it, but you learn to control it." Sam's eyes scanned the empty stores and vacant corridor. "I bet this place is riddled with surveillance cameras. What do you think?"
Her eyes lit up. "I was thinking the same thing, sir. I even mentioned it to Lucky, er, I mean Sergeant Haskins. Ozzie's the mall's security guard, and weren't in any shape to think of it."
Sam let an ironic smile tweak his lips. "Did Lucky bother to follow up?"
She snorted. "Told me to not bother my pretty head about it."
His smile broadened. "Well, I'd like you to attend to it, personally. I want those tapes gathered up and on my desk tonight. Would you do that?"
She straightened and her eyes sparkled. "Yes, sir."
Sam inspected her. She moved her compact body with an ease that suggested athleticism. She wore her hair short, in what Sam's mother would call a no-nonsense 'do. Her uniform still had sharp creases despite the heat, and her brass glowed. And she was a woman. She'd do for sure. "All hell's gonna descend on us. My partner's on leave and I'm going to need help. Think you'd be up to working with me on this investigation? Be my temp partner until he gets back? Can you take the heat? Can handle it?"
Her face lit up and she answered without hesitation. "Sir, I'd be honored to work with you. Just so you know, I finished second in my class at the Academy, and I'd passed the sergeant's exam in Lawton right before I moved back here." Her features hardened with determination. "I'm definitely up to it."
"Good. We'll see what the Chief thinks. Speaking of Harley, he told me criminalists from the OSBI regional office in McAlester should be here in less than an hour, but he wants me to look over the bodies myself. You want to join me?"
"Yes, sir." She hesitated. "I was wondering why that one's wearing a sweat shirt. It looks, well, suspicious, to me, it being July and hotter than a goat's butt in a pepper patch."
Sam suppressed a grim smile. "Good point. I was struck by the same thing." He knelt, lowered his face and peered at the body. His nose twitched and he froze. Holy shit. It can't be. "I think maybe you should step back, Talisha."
"I said I can handle it, sir."
He pulled a pen from his suit coat and glanced up at her. "You can't handle being blown to bits. You should step back. I'd say about fifty yards should be far enough. I'm picking up a smell like fresh asphalt. I smelled that once before, at demo of C4 at the McAlester ammunition plant."
Her eyebrows crawled up her head, but she stayed by his side. "C4? You mean plastic explosive?"
He poked his pen under the sweat shirt and lifted it. "The technical term is putty explosive." Sam peered under the shirt. Sure enough, there it was: an olive drab mylar packet, one by two by eleven inches, like an oversized candy bar. He counted at least six of them before he heaved a deep breath and eased away from the body. "Our vic seems to have several pounds of the stuff strapped to him, along with strands of nails braided around the packets." Sam stood and edged away, his gaze never leaving the body. "Pretty nasty if it went off in a crowd. Shrapnel everywhere."
She husked, "Sweet Jesus."
"Yeah." He chewed his lower lip and looked up and down the mall. "Are we sure everyone's out of this place?"
She followed his gaze. "Sergeant Haskin's had us walk the mall and chase out any civilians we came across, but that's it. I found the emergency enunciator system and offered to broadcast a vacate order, but he said to not bother."
Sam stared at the body. The bulge from the C4 packets seemed obvious, now, as well as ominous. He tried to reassure Tilisha, and himself, too. "If it's not gone off yet; we're probably safe." He scowled. "Suicide bombers usually have dead-man switches. If they release the switch, the bomb goes off. But both of sweat-shirt guy's hands are visible. Maybe he hadn't pulled the trigger yet."
She blinked, but held her ground. Her hands and voice stayed steady. "Better safe than sorry, don't you think, sir? If it's all right, I'll broadcast that vacate order now. The mall office is right here, next to the bank."
Good to know she's cool in dangerous situations. "Do it. I'll go with you and call the OSBI office in McAlester. They'll need to send a bomb squad along with the rest of the crew already headed here." She was cool, but her face was gray and her eyes threatened to explode from their sockets. "It takes an explosive charge, like a blasting cap, to set off C4. Even bullets won't do it. It's probably no more likely to go off than a lump of clay."
"Yes, sir. Good to know." She turned to leave, but then faced him again. "Sir...you're saying this guy's a suicide bomber?" She pointed to the sweat-shirt clad figure.
Sam stared at the man's body, then at the Planned Parenthood clinic, less than thirty feet away. "Looks like it."
"Then that Arab kid over there, the shooter. He probably stopped a bloodbath."
"Right again, Tilisha." I knew she was smart.
"So he's really a hero."
"Maybe, maybe not," Sam mused. "We don't know yet what really went down here tonight. But I don't believe in coincidences, that's for sure. The shooter and the bomber have to be connected, somehow. I promise you, we'll figure it out, no matter what it takes."