A fast-paced read, where justice is a matter of opinion.
|Killing Them Softly 2,829
The pain in his shoulder? Well, he really couldn’t feel it anymore. Or perhaps the pain caused by the bitter cold temperatures to his extremities had matched that of the gunshot wound to his shoulder, thereby rendering him numb. Phil actually smiled a little when he sardonically whispered to himself, “It’s called shock, moron.” Carefully, he put his gloves back on. He was pretty sure the bullet hadn’t hit anything vital, although anything between the first layer of skin to the center of his bones was vital to him. But at least he still had relatively good movement in the lower half of his arm. Determining if the bullet had exited his body would have to wait, as his hands were too cold to feel if there was indeed a hole in the back of his heavy down jacket. From where he lay in the snow under a tangle of pine branches, Phil couldn’t hear his pursuer anymore. He was not thrilled with the amount of light the three-quarter moon was broadcasting from the cloudless night sky. Lying motionless for several minutes, he tried to slow his breathing while listening to the native sounds of nighttime in the Sierras. There was no wind, and he was near no moving water. The utter silence frustrated him. From flat on his back he lifted his head and turned it slowly in both directions. It felt like the pounding of his pulse and the screaming of his thighs, the result of an adrenaline induced escape up the ridge, would surely give him away.
The sudden sound of a snapping branch carried across the snow from just above where Phil lay. He rolled to his right, onto his good arm, and catapulted himself to his feet. Again he felt a surge of adrenaline, sidestepping to the base of the nearest tree. Angry bits of pine bark peppered his face and neck as the night exploded with gunfire, the rounds thumping into the trunk inches from his face. From his peripheral, Phil saw muzzle flash above and to his right, less than a hundred feet away. Cursing under his breath, he pushed away from the tree and rolled to his back, starting an uncontrollable end-over-end, roll-slide-roll down the mountain. Several more gunshots rang out, but he felt no impacts.
Phil guessed he had roll-slid better than two hundred yards down the steep incline. He rose to his feet, right arm clutching his left shoulder, and squinted up the mountainside. How the hell had he missed all those trees? Snow fell from his jacket as he shook his head and half smiled, half grimaced at himself, feeling the absurdity of the night’s events. One in the shoulder, four in the tree, and at least three wasted on my descent. He put the number of rounds left in the man’s weapon at nine, or possibly eight. Be safe Phil, figure nine.
Shot number nine, or perhaps ten, ripped into Phil’s right thigh, sending fire up his leg and back, exploding out the top of his head. This time the scream was heard outside of his body, the cry sounding to him like an animal’s. The man with Phil’s gun, which is how he knew the number of rounds in the magazine, must have matched Phil’s descent. He was inside of ten yards away now, and Phil could see his wild eyes and breath clouds beyond the barrel of the Glock 9mm pistol. Phil spoke through gritted teeth.
“Hold on son, you don’t want to do this."
The man, or boy as Phil would call him, shook violently as he glared at Phil over the top of the gun’s sights. Phil took a step toward him. The boy, who was probably no more than eighteen or nineteen years old, was named Tommy. Phil of course knew this, but hadn’t deemed it necessary to use his name.
“Tommy, you’ve already shot me twice, and you know you’re in a lot of trouble here.” Phil took another step, right arm extended, shivering through cold and pain.
“Give me my gun.” His teeth chattered around each word.
Tommy closed his eyes a split-second before squeezing the trigger. Phil was already halfway to the ground when the round passed through the very space his face had occupied a millisecond earlier. He was rolling frantically to Tommy’s right, when another shot pierced the night, overpowering the echoes of the previous one. It hit the top of Phil’s left officer-issue boot, bullying it’s way between the second and third toe. Pain knifed through his nearly frozen foot. He screamed again, but kept rolling. The next shot hit the base of the tree Phil had rolled behind. He stood, shifting his weight from side to side, trying to decide which hurt less, foot on fire, or throbbing thigh?
“Damn it, kid!” He tried not to whimper. He had been through worse, to be sure, but things were adding up quickly here. He risked a peek around the thick pine, his breathing heavy and labored.
Tommy was gone. Phil tried to control his breathing and listen which direction he had gone, but it was no use, he was gone, like a ghost.
Then Phil heard it.
He strained to see if he could make out their exact position. A minute later he saw the shadows. Four Sheriff’s deputies, fanned out at fifty foot intervals. He knew this, of course, because he himself was a local Sheriff’s deputy. Instinctively, he reached for his radio below his left shoulder. He grimaced as his frozen fingers jabbed his gunshot wound, the drying blood nearly matching the dark brown of his uniform. Your stinkin’ radio is a mile away buried in the snow, Phil. Idiot. And your gun? Idiot doesn’t begin to cover it.
They were close enough now that Phil recognized three of the four deputy’s voices. He stood and slowly began back tracking, moving sideways along the mountain away from their approach. When they reached Phil’s elevation, he was well hidden in the trees. Someone’s radio squawked. A dispatcher repeated the information about Tommy Walker.
BOLO. Assume armed and dangerous.
Then the new information, confirming that the high-value target was indeed a law enforcement officer.
Then the reassuring statement; Be advised, suspect identification still unknown.Then the, ‘this is my part-time job’ statement; Suspect still at-large.
Phil heard someone chuckle. His brow furrowed. Who would laugh in the middle of a hunt for a serial killer? The deputies continued their ascent.
* * * * * *
Her breathing was steady and her pace was too. Even at forty years old she was in better shape than the three young yahoos from the Douglas County Sheriff’s Department. She would much rather be working alone tonight, but she was Reno P.D. and thus out of her jurisdiction. It had taken some convincing to be here, but the truth was that South Lake Tahoe was in desperate need of all-hands-on-deck. And then some. The bodies of women had been turning up in the chilly waters of Lake Tahoe over the previous three years. Oddly, they were all wrapped in satin sheets held tightly with duct tape. And the cause of death was always the same. Drowning. And in these last few weeks, when the whispers within local law enforcement had been substantiated, that the killer was indeed one of their own, all hell had broken lose. So, Officer Erica Johnson of the Reno Police Department was here, on the side of a snowy mountain in the middle of the night, intending to end someone’s life in order to achieve safety.
They were half-way up the ridge when she saw him, just a shadow in the trees to her left. She stopped and bent at the waist with her hands on her knees, head down. Glancing to her right she waited until the nearest deputy saw her. Go on, she motioned to him in the moonlight. He was probably more than happy to oblige her. Guys have a hard enough time with female officers, let alone one from the outside. She waited until they were out of sight.
The shadowy figure had moved down the hill toward the highway. She drew her gun and followed. The cabin appeared out of nowhere, just a stone’s throw above the road. No lights were on. She heard the click of the front door closing. She crossed the snow packed front lawn, carefully climbing a handful of stairs to the front porch. Navigating the aged decking layered with ice meant slide-steps, which produced a slight scuffing sound. She was five feet from the door. The moonlight was less effective under the extended eaves above the porch.
The door flew open.
Her .38 came up.
His 9mm was already up.
Breath clouds and wide eyes at both ends. A long pause.
Finally Erica breathed out, “Tommy. It’s me.”
Slowly, he lowered his weapon to his side and backed into the tiny living room of the cabin. Erica followed, her gun still up. She swung the door closed behind her with her left foot. The room was softly illuminated by the moon through a pair of windows behind Tommy.
Tommy said, “Where is he?”
She replied, “You tell me.”
He was shaking his head, looking at the floor. “He wouldn’t die. He got away.”
Erica had a disgusted look on her face. “Do you have any idea the risk I took setting up your little “meeting” with Phil? I handed him to you! He killed your mother, Tommy!”
Tommy’s head snapped up with a look of absolute confusion, but before he could speak Erica squeezed off three decisive rounds into his chest.
The warmth and comfort of the squad car caused Erica to close her eyes and think. She felt a little bad about killing Tommy. Yes, he was a drug dealer, that was true, but it really wasn’t his fault. You see, Tommy was one of the ones she had vowed to protect. She let out a long sigh as the memory came flooding in.
She was hidden in her mother’s closet, only eight years old, prolonging the beating she knew was inevitable. Through the louvered doors she watched her mother enter, baseball bat in hand, eyes dark and bloodshot.
She started toward the closet.
She never made it past the bed.
Erica’s father took the bat from his wife, and when he was finished with it he wrapped her lifeless body in the bed’s satin sheets. Erica could still hear the sound of the duct tape being stripped from the roll. The inaudible sound brought her back to the present.
She dropped the car’s selector into drive and pulled out onto the highway along the lake. She recalled how easy the killings had been since she had become a police officer.
Over the years, hundreds of domestic disturbance calls had afforded her a list of dangerously abusive mothers. She let go another long sigh. The last couple had been sloppy. They were getting close. Then she had learned some disturbing things about a Sheriff’s deputy down in Stateline, in Douglass County. Allegedly, his bank account had grown inexplicably, and the dollar amount seized in the largest drug bust in Tahoe’s history, was a matter of dispute. Deputy Phil O'Donnell's world was suddenly looking messy.
So a plan had been spawned.
Local authorities were now desperately searching for the killer, and knowing almost certainly that the suspect was a local law enforcement officer had forced Erica to move quickly. She had planted devastating evidence at Phil’s home, then tipped off Tahoe P.D. She had then made contact with Tommy, asking if he wanted to avenge his loss. Erica would have killed Tommy’s mother ten years earlier, but had missed her best chance.
Then one night the stars aligned.
It had happened three weeks ago, on a lonely stretch of highway just outside of Reno.
She had pulled a woman over for a possible DUI. She was older, and had changed her look some, but Erica recognized the last name and even the address. A gift from God, handed to her. Better late than never, right?
So she had told Tommy she found the killer, pointing everything at Phil. And it had worked, as Erica knew it would. Even the abused child has an undying love for his abusive parent, as dysfunctional and twisted as that is. But, Tommy had failed his part. Phil was still alive. And here she was, trying to close the loop.
And right then she received another gift. Less than a mile down the road, a Douglass County Sheriff’s cruiser sat idling on the side of the shoulder, it's only occupant slumped a bit awkwardly in the driver's seat. She rolled slowly up within several car lengths. Erica's heart nearly skipped a beat as she recognized the license plate number.
* * * * *
Phil didn’t wait to see who was coming up behind him in the police cruiser. He quickly got on the road heading north, winding along with the lake to his left. In his rear view mirror, the cop car came within inches of his bumper. What the hell? He sped up only a little, knowing the ice and snow were treacherous at three in the morning. It must have looked like a high speed chase in slow motion. The curves grew tighter, the car behind made contact with his, just a caress, a smooth left-to-right kiss along the bumper. The back end of his Crown Vic broke right, and although he was an experienced ice-driver, he overcorrected. Then instincts took over. One foot on the brake, one on the gas. The sound of tires crunching through the hard-pack and ice suddenly stopped, replaced by a sudden RPM hike. Three, maybe four seconds passed.
The front end of the car hit the water with incredible force, causing the air bags to deploy. Phil tried desperately to unfasten his belt, but his fingers would not cooperate as panic was setting in. The car was sinking at an alarming rate. His left arm was useless, his right arm continued to dig at the belt latch. He must be a hundred feet down already. Finally, his fingers found home and the belt released. It took nearly everything he had left to open the door.
The water burst in all at once.
He held his breath and was astonished at how cold it was
Erica stood at the road’s edge looking down the fifty foot drop to the water. Her lips were twisted in such a way that some would argue was a smile. As they often do in the mountains, clouds had appeared out of nowhere and a light snow began to fall. She tilted her head back and let some fall on her face.
The pickup came around the corner a little too fast. The driver maneuvered the truck just enough to avoid the Police cruiser stopped in the middle of the road. The truck slid softly into the snow bank a few feet away. A man stepped out. Erica turned towards him, the headlights of her own car illuminating her as though in broad daylight. She raised her left hand to shield her eyes from the glare. The man strode to the center of the street, close enough to where she could see him clearly.
Her hand dropped to her side.
His gun was aimed directly at her chest.
Frantically, she searched for a line of reasoning.
“You’re alive.” Was all that came out.
“I figured it out, Erica.”
She feigned a confused look.
“You set Phil up. For your murders.” He said.
She said nothing.
“You think you killed my mother?” He asked.
A long pause, then, “I did kill your mother. And I did it for you.”
A tear rolled down Tommy’s cheek.
“My mother is still alive. You killed my wife.”
This time, Erica’s confusion was not feigned. Her face dropped. Another long pause.
“She’s older.” She said flatly, understanding settling in.
“Yes, she was older.” Tommy began to shiver from the cold.
Sirens could be heard in the distance.
Erica blew out a long breath. “The cops will be here soon. Who do you think they’re going to believe, Tommy?”
“You shot me three times.” He replied.
Her face contorted as though just remembering something vitally important. Her right hand moved slightly toward her gun. Colored, blinking lights could be seen bouncing off the snow covered trees several curves away.
“Yes, I did." Her tone turned eerily playful. "So tell me Tommy, how is it that you’re standing here in front of me now, not even bleeding?”
The corners of Tommy’s mouth turned upward slightly.
“Don’t you remember, Erica? You gave me your bullet proof vest. In case things went south with Phil.”
Her eyes registered the memory, followed by fear. Her mouth flattened.
She reached for her gun.
Phil’s pistol bounced tightly in Tommy’s hands as he emptied the magazine into Erica. She slumped to the icy pavement, hand still on her holstered .38.
Tommy waited to be sure she was not moving before he dropped the spent weapon to the ground. The clatter couldn’t be heard above the wail of sirens directly behind him. He turned and faced the lake, watching the way the snowflakes landed delicately on the surface of the water, only to disappear as though they had never existed. Further down the rocky shoreline, large, dark boulders stood shoulder to shoulder, like shrouded sentries defending the beach. To his surprise, he thought he saw someone, or something, dragging itself up the beach from out of the water.
But he would never know for sure. He hit the ice face first, a pair of handcuffs digging into his wrists.