A true police story
OF RAINBOWS AND UNICORNS, LIPSTICK AND KISSES
A POLICE STORY
Few things turn a cop’s head faster than a fellow officer holding radio traffic upon arrival at the scene. Every cop in the city will stop and listen.
“George three-fourteen. Ten sixty-three,” the voice boomed across the air-waves. The tension in his voice was plain as he reserved the radio for officers on this call.
“I got a man on the porch with a gun.”
I went on with my call one ear tuned to the chatter as one unit after another arrived at the scene. Frantic calls for an ambulance were followed by a plea to,“Have ‘em step it up.”
Moments later, the supervisor, Sgt. White, announced his arrival and advised, “Everybody slow down. We’re ten-sixty-four,” he said, “Resume normal radio traffic.”
After fourteen years behind the badge, it was just another Friday night on the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma. Until the sergeant requested another car.
It was an overtime gig and not my normal beat, but as I pulled off Harvard Avenue, I immediately recognized the neighborhood. Single story homes sporting hardwood floors, charming casement windows, mature oaks, and wide lazy streets. It was one of those areas which hadn’t quite decided if the young professionals would make it the next ‘in’ place to live or if it would slide into the shadows of disuse, another victim of the slow tide of poverty washing across the city.
Rolling around a corner, I spotted the row of police cruisers queued up along the road. I pulled my mic from the dash and keyed up.
“Baker one-oh-four, show me ten-ninety-seven at the scene.”
I found a spot at the end of the line as the dispatcher acknowledged my transmission. “Baker one-oh-four. Ten-four,” she said. “It’s twenty-three-forty hours.”
As I passed the half dozen cruisers parked out front, I wondered why Sgt. White had requested another set of hands. The original call went out as a domestic. Following the excited chatter over the radio and the call for an ambulance, it was clear what had happened. Even though there was no hearse, experience suggested murder.
The front door stood open on the aluminum sided house with faded yellow trim. Tin foil curtains were taped to the window left of the door while a pallid glow flowed onto the yard from the one on the right. Bright yellow crime-scene tape fluttered in a humid July breeze as it streamed from the wrought iron porch railing to the big oak tree out front, then back to a rattletrap pickup parked in the drive.
“Hey, Jake, what are you doin’ here?”
When I ducked beneath the tape, I spotted my old academy mate, Darrin Short, seated on the porch. He’d been hidden by the shadows as he taped on his cell phone, a clipboard in his lap.
“The sarge asked for another car.” I gave him a palms up shrug. “So here I am.”
As my eyes probed the darkness. I made out a pair of shadowy forms illuminated by a neighbor’s porch light across the way. Cops canvasing for witness statements I guessed.
“You know what he needs?” I asked.
Darin shook his head. “Naw, man. You’ll have ta ask.”
He scritch-scratched my name on the clipboard, the record of everyone entering the scene then flipped it around for me to sign.
“So what happened out here?” I scribbled my name and badge number and handed it back.
“Dude smoked his wife.” Darin cursed and slapped at a mosquito. The night air was thick with them. “Shot er’ right here.” He rapped a knuckle in the center of his bulletproofed chest. “Chick went down like a sack of potatoes.”
With a wave, I mounted the porch and stepped inside. Most people don’t realize this, but poverty has a scent all its own. It doesn’t matter what side of town you’re on, whether they keep a clean house or it’s full of trash, its always the same. A hard, flat smell that’s difficult to place. This home had it. That smell and many others. The acrid bite of burnt cooking still clung to the ceiling in weak gray wisps. The sickly sweet taint of rotting garbage and the pall of stale cigarettes did their best to fill the gaps.
From where I stood, the kitchen and a dining area were directly ahead separated from the living room by a wall on my right. Inside the living-room, I could make out the corner of an over-sized couch and a faded recliner. Both were illuminated by the blueish flicker of an ancient projector TV.
A cop I recognized but whose name I couldn’t place sat typing on a laptop at the kitchen table. Across from him sat a man in cuffs. When I stepped in, the man looked up. His shaved head gleamed beneath the candelabra lights, his lip quivering as he studied me with puffy red eyes.
When the cop glanced up, I asked, “You know where the sarge is?”
He studied me a heartbeat before hiking a thumb down the hall. “In the bedroom, I think.” He turned back to his work his fingers click-clacking across the keyboard.
I followed his directions to the end of the hall where a white door sat ajar. I recognized the sergeant’s voice on the other side. However, when I made to step in, the door only eased back a few inches before thudding to a halt.
“You’re gonna have to squeeze in,” Sgt. White called.
As I did, the reason for the snag became clear. A woman lay on the floor, her arms askew. She rested beside an unmade bed with one tennis-shoed foot jutting out to block the way. In life, she’d not been a handsome woman, her jowly, pale complexion blotchy and red, her hair a blonde oily mop, but her eyes. Her eyes stared up in a piercing sapphire glare. Even half-lidded in death, they were impossible to ignore.
Along the floor, the remnants of the EMT’s effort to save her lay scattered across the threadbare carpet. Torn sticky patches from EKG probes, the paper wrapper off a syringe, a bloody bandage beneath her arm which someone failed to remove. Her lips and chin were smeared with blood and the bullet hole in her chest was plain to see. A through and through which left its bloody footprint on the wall behind. But her dirty sweatshirt was hardly stained at all. A soggy maroon patch the size of my fist just below her breast. That was it. A lung shot probably. Maybe the heart. Either way, she’d been dead before the ambulance ever arrived, coughing up what remained of her life in those last struggling gasps.
“So what’cha need, Sarge?” I asked.
Sgt. White and one of the forensic detectives had been photographing items in the room. White looked up and wiped a wrist across his sweat-beaded brow. The ceiling fan clicking above us did little to move the sweltering air.
“I need someone to watch the kid out front.” He straightened with a groan and cocked his neck back and forth. I could almost hear the vertebrae cracking. “Her grandmother’s on the way, but Smith can’t wait around. Homicide wants the suspect in the interview room before midnight.”
“Kid?” I looked over my shoulder as if I might see her through the walls. “I didn’t see a kid.”
“She’s on the couch watchin’ TV,” White said as he returned to his work. “Probably didn’t see her among all the crap.”
My eyes drifted to the body on the floor. The staring blue eyes. The crimson spattered face.
“Did the kid see what happened?” I asked.
The sarge lowered his pen. His lips tightened. “She saw enough.”
As I turned to go, he called over his shoulder, “And don’t forget to check Granny’s ID and have her sign off.”
After returning to my car for paperwork, I found my way back to the dimly lit living room and there she was. She couldn’t have been more than seven, a small six if I had to guess. It had been some years since my own girls had been that age, and I was getting rusty in my guessing.
Despite a sour whiff of urine and her dirt-smudged face, she was a cute kid with a shock of mousy brown hair and bright rainbow pajamas. She sat cross-legged staring at the TV with a doll cradled on her lap. It was one of those cheap hollow plastic ones you see at roadside gas stations. The ones you wonder who would ever buy something so cheap for a kid. I guess now I knew.
I checked my watch wondering how long it might be before granny arrived. After the sergeant’s comment, I’d remembered the cop's name in the kitchen. Smith filled me in on family details. Daddy was a domestic violence regular, a police officer wannabe who made his living as a security guard at one of the low budget firms patrolling Section-8 housing. The victim was a part-time mom and full-time drinker. Her last arrest a DUI only six months prior. I’d been wrong about little Kirsten. Her name was Kirsten. She was only five.
As I dropped into the recliner and began filling out the forms, I wondered what to say to her. What could I say? I watched her for a long while imagining my own girls at that age. She should be worrying about birthday parties and toys and who to play with at school, not whether mommy’s gonna make it after daddy parked a 9 mil in her chest. Not parked, I thought morosely. He’d parked the round in the drywall. Mommy had just been in the way on its way there.
Since Kirsten seemed captivated with her show, I let any thoughts of conversation slide. She was watching some sort of claymation cartoon with a unicorn and dolls. I figured as long as she was distracted I’d stay out of the way and let her be.
When I finished the forms and glanced up, my jaw dropped at what I saw. On screen, a young girl portrayed by a Barbie strolled up to a claymation Pegasus and lopped off its wings with a set of hedge clippers. Blood spattered the ground and little girl laughed. What the hell was this?
“Smith! What's this kid watching?”
He bounded up and leaned in the room. “I don’t know. Cartoons of some kind. Why?”
“Why?” I pointed to the TV. “Cause this isn’t the type of crap a kid should be watching. Especially after...” I turned and rummaged through the cushions for the remote, finally finding it on the floor.
“I didn’t know,” Smith said apologetically. “It was cartoons for Christ’s sake. There wasn’t anything else on.”
For the first time since I’d stepped in the room, Kirsten took notice of me. “It’s all right,” she said. “It's “Adult Swim.” Mommy lets me watch it all the time.”
“See there,” Smith said sarcastically. “Mommy lets her watch it all the time.”
My jaws clenched as he turned and barked to the father. “All right. Get up, it’s time ta go.”
By the time, I’d changed the channel, Smith had hoisted the father to his feet and was leading him to the door.
“I want to say goodbye to my baby,” Daddy wept, “I just wanna give her a kiss.”
Kirsten’s moist gaze dropped to the ground and her shoulder’s tensed.
I looked to Smith and shook my head.
“Don’t you think you’ve done enough?” Smith said, dragging him out the door.
What kind of life had this poor girl led? I flicked through infomercial after infomercial landing at last on an episode of “Golden Girls.” Not standard fare for a five-year-old, but as Kirsten squirmed into the cushions, I figured it didn’t matter. I checked my watch wishing the time to hurry.
When I looked up, Kirsten considered me with familiar sapphire eyes.
“Mommy had lipstick all over her face.”
“Yeah...” I looked away. “I saw that.”
Jesus Christ. What do you say to a question like that? Sorry, your parents were shitbags kid. Better luck next time? I glanced over my shoulder as if help would appear down the hall. When I looked back she was staring into my eyes. Do I tell her everything will be okay? It won’t. Do I tell her not to worry? She should. What do you say to a child who’d seen what she’d witnessed tonight? What she's witnessed her entire life. What do you tell someone whose future is as dead as her parent’s? I had no words. I looked at her and smiled.
“What’s your dolly’s name?” I croaked.
“Hey, Jake,” Darin called from the porch. “Granny’s here.”
Relief crashed over me followed by an immediate tidal wave of shame. I was sworn to serve and protect. What serving and protecting had been done for this child? Hell, I couldn't even scrape together the few words needed to comfort her.
I picked up my clipboard as a stout woman in her sixties marched through the door. A ponytail of gray hair as thick and coarse as rope jutted from the back of her cap. Her bloodshot eyes searched the room and landed on the girl.
“Come on,” she barked. “I ain’t got all night.”
Her level of compassion was hard to believe.
“Sorry, ma’am, but I need to see some ID and have you sign some paperwork before we can let her go.”
“Are you serious?”
She spun on her heels with a huff of indignation and disappeared outside returning moments later with her purse clutched in her hands. She produced an ID and signed my forms before considering me with a scowl.
“I told her this would happen,” she said. “I told her to leave him, but she wouldn’t listen.”
Her eyes drifted to the little girl sitting quietly on the couch.
“What am I gonna do with you?” she said in a hoarse whisper. I wondered if she’d meant to say it aloud.
She stared at her granddaughter a long while before holding out a hand. “Come on,” she said at last. “It’s time ta go.”
Years on the street fill you with horrible visions. Most you wash away with a beer and a morning shower, their remembrance fading with time. As I followed them to the door and watched them drive away, I knew this memory never would.
According to a 2017 CDC report, over half of the killings of American women are related to intimate partner violence. A vast majority of the victims die at the hands of a current or former lover. This study says little about those impacted by the violence.