At the end of a life, perhaps all that is left is to say goodbye.
I love my family. I love my friends.
Becker did not hear those words. He saw them; watching a picture on a screen without sound, as they issued from the lips of the man that spoke them. Eight words mouthed silently without context, the string completing the sentence only a scarce second before this slightly graying individual in front of the camera was gunned down by the mugger who had just murdered him for his wallet and the few bills delivered from the bank's automatic teller.
Becker pressed REPLAY on the remote with a right-hand thumb that had by now memorized the button location by touch, no longer having to glance down among the others to check for the correct one.
I love my family. I love my friends.
Facing the camera, the male victim spoke the words in silence again. He was a man of no particular distinction, a bit hefty around the midsection, but with a frame that spoke of intermittent workouts; probably around five in the morning as he dragged his sleepy self out from under the covers before work.
To keep himself healthy, Becker thought.
The digital image on the monitor came once again to the last frames of the video and the chest of the man popped under his white shirt as if a small hidden balloon filled with red paint suddenly burst open. An assailant, standing just out of camera view, had shot him.
Becker glanced left through the upturned blinds of his office, at the bustle of fellow officers in the squad room beyond. Alone for the moment, he asked himself again, as he had done so over and over all morning long, did the man know the camera was on him?; and once again came up with the same conclusion; he did not.
Katie Helms, the sketch artist called in during witness statements had been the first to notice the man speaking, while all had been gathered around the monitor playing the video for the first time. She nodded the discovery to the gathered group.
"Wait, rewind," Dunhill picked up on Katie’s signal. "The dude is saying something."
The scene started anew and all confirmed that indeed the man was mouthing some words, but with no sound.
"Can you make out what he is saying?" Becker asked.
Katie stood peering over their shoulders, "Play it again," she said. They did. Becker watched as she verbalized the words to herself, then frowned, "I love my family. I love my friends," she said.
The rest turned to face her.
"I read lips. Part of my training. Play it one more time, and I'll confirm."
Becker did. She confirmed.
Dunhill reentered his office via the partially shut door without knocking, offering him one of the two mugs of coffee she held. "Night patrol may have picked up a suspect."
Becker accepted the mug and took a sip as she filled him in. "Caucasian male. Says he was with his girlfriend when it happened. Five minutes later when asked again, said that actually, he was waiting for his girlfriend to get off work in the Burger King parking lot - two blocks away from the bank ATM where this went down."
Becker stared at the monitor, tape still running, displaying a dull-hued nighttime image of a scene dimly lit from an overhead street lamp. The victim was now out of frame, presumably prone on the blacktop, dying; or dead already. Becker pressed the STOP button.
"What makes you think it's the perp?" he asked.
Dunhill sipped from her cup. "How many times have you played that tape?"
He said nothing.
Absently, she swirled the coffee around in the cup. "Found on his person were a number of billfolds, of which he had accidentally dropped from his jacket in front of a parked police car. Omers and Hayden were just having a break when the boy strides by. He saw the cruiser, turned away as he was trying to put something back into his jacket that he had been inspecting in his hands. I guess Omers and Hayden just watched. When the guy pulled out his hand, a load of wallets came with it. At first, he acted like nothing happened, then he stooped down to gather his swag. Omers said he shook his head at the stupidity and even considered for a second on letting it go."
"It was end-of-shift,” a deep voice said from the doorway, “And we didn't really know that we had cause,". A large jowly faced police officer stepped into the office. "But, we also knew we had no choice."
"We got out of the squad car to have a talk – Hayden still had half his burger with him. While we collected the wallets, the 10-54 from dispatch came in, and we hear - mind you this dude is standing between us, listening as well - 'probable dead body'. You never seen a young man so suddenly animated and vocal. All-a-sudden he's jabbering: ‘Not what you think’, and ‘Those ain't mine’, and ‘I know my rights’; then he says, 'All these wallets are mine'. I say, 'make up your mind.' On inspiration, Hayden tells him there is an interesting video out there on a bank security CAM and asked would he like to explain?"
Omers entered fully into the room and ambled up next to Dunhill.
"I had to stifle a chuckle. Hayden took a total shot in the dark. The kid immediately froze and said he wanted a lawyer. We hadn't even read him his rights. Hayden and I didn't laugh anymore when we found out what he did." He held up a plastic bag with a brown wallet inside. "In here we found the victim's ID."
"So now he has a lawyer and is not talking," Dunhill stated.
"What's his – what was his name?" Becker asked.
Omers sighed, "A guy named Leonard Harper. Worked at an IT consulting firm downtown. Guess he was on his way home but stopped to pick up some dinner at the Safeway."
Becker set the coffee cup on the desk and pressed PLAY. As the tape began again and Mr. Harper's receding hairline came into screenshot, focus aimed slightly downward, with the others standing beside him, he watched. He waited until the money was dispensed on camera; until the receding hairline turned as something beyond view caught his attention. For a moment the head, centered between the shoulders of a brownish sports jacket, stared out of frame. Then, after a few beats, the head swiveled back to face the camera. Mostly to himself, Becker said, “His eyes look…like…” He considered – but couldn't come up with anything.
He stepped away from the monitor, letting the video play, and strode behind his desk to the view of the city from his second-floor window.
“It was mere chance we recognized him speaking. He knew he was about to die," Becker said. "Watch the tape. I have. Over and over a dozen times. He knew. But, before he was executed, before he was silenced, he said, 'I love my family. I love my friends'. I'm convinced he had no idea the camera was recording. In that moment, even though he realized that for a few dollars out of the ATM his life would be cut short, he just wanted to say goodbye. He just wanted to say goodbye in the only way left to him. He doesn't look angry. He looks…" Becker paused, "He looks perturbed. He said goodbye to everyone by saying goodbye to no one."
Boots in the room shuffled to newer positions as the video played out. Dunhill finally stopped the tape as it passed the moment Mr. Harper's shirt bloomed dark between the lapels of his brown jacket, and the man, “Perturbed.” Dunhill whispered, was thrust back out of camera range.
"He was reduced," Becker added, turning back. "Reduced to eight words at the closing of his life. But, they are powerful words." He glared them down. "We make sure his family and friends know this about him. About what he said."
In unison, the group before him nodded.
Becker glanced at the floor. "He said it even though in his mind he had no belief anyone would ever know." Becker came around the desk. He placed a hand over his breast pocket and it came away with his badge. He stared at it for a split second, then set it on the desk. Next, he undid his holster snap, pulled the revolver out, checked the cylinder and placed it next to the badge.
"Beck," was all Dunhill managed.
The others said nothing.
Becker stepped between them and out the door of his office, speaking in a low whispering tone as he did so the eight words he hoped would not haunt him for the rest of his life.