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The Paths We Take #16: Officer Down

May 29, 2018





Detective Townsend


The call came in around 5:45 AM. Lieutenant Mason’s rough voice roared even when he whispered, and the words “it’s one of our own,” gave me that sick feeling that starts at the bottom of your stomach and works its way up into your mouth until you can taste the despondency sour into violent fury.

Kristin was still asleep when I left. As soon as I hit Market Street, I could see the blue wave. Every uniform, detective, supervisor, and Trooper within thirty miles was descending on the New Life Church. The church, which was formed inside of an old Kmart, was in the center of a small strip-mall. To the right of the New Life was a Chinese buffet where I would meet Kristin for lunch on occasion when I was working days, and then a beauty salon and local tailor occupied the left two spaces. The tailor did most of the dry cleaning and tailoring for the Red Pines PD.

The yellow tape, which was anchored to trees, no-parking signs, and whatever else the uniforms could find to attach it to, circled the entire property. The scene was a mess of sloppy-suit detectives and shuffling uniformed officers with recently buzzed I’m-a-rookie haircuts who scooted around with pocket-sized pads of paper. The brass were standing huddled in a group like they were planning out their final Super-Bowl drive, shouting commands at the uniformed officers and assembling the suits around the mobile command center, which was basically a bus with several laptop computers. County crime scene techs, who were just arriving to start the processing of the scene, were assembling cameras, sorting bags, and marking evidence with yellow plastic tent-like markers. I imagined the scene mirrored the inside of a beehive, each unit performing their assigned task.

I followed several rushed uniformed officers as they scurried to the rear parking lot. I caught the scent of blood before I saw the cars. I have never gotten used to the metallic aroma of blood, like pennies and rusted nails boiling inside an iron cauldron.

A black Nissan Altima, with the front windshield and driver’s side window shattered, was parked beside a stack of wooden pallets that were leaning up against the side of the building. I could make out a tangle of long hair pressed against the passenger door, and a pale face streaked with dark crimson lines tilted toward the driver’s seat.

The other car, a silver Dodge Charger, was parked about twenty feet away facing the Altima. The driver’s door was open, and I could see a hand hanging from beneath it. I knew it was one of our unmarked vehicles.

“Townsend, I need you to go check an address,” Lt. Mason called out as I walked over to the mass of lieutenants, captains, and majors, all wearing their heavy department issued parkas that looked to still be brand new. They all had the same smug look on their face, close-mouthed and stiff-necked, like wooden toy soldiers, confused about how to operate outside their cozy offices downtown.

“Who is it?” I asked, not knowing if I wanted to know the answer.

“Rygart,” Mason sighed as he handed me a printed-out DMV record for the Altima. Rygart was a part of Special Investigations; I worked with him for a few months before I transferred out. He didn’t have kids, but he was married to a nurse that I met a couple of times at squad get-togethers. He would be described in the papers the next day as “Detective Allen Rygart, age thirty-seven, known as ‘Bert’ by the community he served.”

“Talk with this Faye Hunter and see what she knows about what happened to her car. It hasn’t been reported stolen yet, but I’m willing to bet it was stolen out of the driveway last night. Don’t give her any details; see what she says,” Mason said. “Take Chavez with you.”

Lillian Chavez was the only female detective assigned to Special Investigations. I had never worked with her, but she had a solid service record and a reputation as a worker. Chavez had the exotic looks, and body, of a South American beauty queen, but she was a natural born American citizen, and she knew less Spanish than I did. I walked over to her and relayed that Lt. Mason wanted her to come with me, and she was more than happy to leave the scene behind her.

We were both silent as we drove to Mrs. Hunter’s home at 258 Hinton Street. A navy-blue Honda Civic was parked in the driveway of the small ranch-style home that reminded me of the modest home that I grew up in. The porch light was on, and I could make out the yellow glow of a floor lamp in one of the windows.

I knocked on the door the way a police officer doesn’t knock, soft and melodic. I could hear heavy footfalls trudging towards the door before it creaked open. A skinny guy wearing baggy gray sweatpants and a hunter green hoodie stepped out onto the front porch.

“It’s early. What you want?” The guy said, his voice still heavy with sleep. He rubbed his eyes and looked at me with one eye shut. He hadn’t realized that I was a police officer, and he hadn’t noticed Chavez standing on the other side of the Civic.

“Need to talk with Faye,” I responded. “It’s about her car,” I continued as he opened his other eye.

“She’s asleep man,” he said. He looked over at Chavez and I could see his chest push out as he glared at the badge on her belt. “I’m not talking to the fucking cops again. Fuck off,” the guy said as he stepped back inside and slammed the door shut before I could stop him.

I radioed for check-ins but heard the metal clanging of a storm-door in the back. Chavez was the first off the porch, and I followed just behind her. The backyard led to a small patch of trees that separated the property from the house behind. The guy’s baggy sweatpants fell to his knees and he struggled to pull them back up as he ran.

I passed Chavez and planted my boot into the guy’s back. He landed, face-first, into the dirt and dead leaves that covered the ground. He rolled onto his back and tried to kick me as Chavez and I each grabbed an arm and forced him back onto his stomach. Chavez put the handcuffs on while I held him down.

“You fuckers. I told you earlier that I would cooperate and now look at me,” the guy gasped as he struggled to regain his breath.

“What are you talking about?” I asked. I could feel my ears heating up as I thought about how the prick was probably the one who murdered Rygart. I jabbed my knee in the small of his back as he tried to push us off.

“A couple of cops stole my car last night. Told me that I was fucking dead if I reported it,” he said as the thrashing turned to heavy breathing. I looked at Chavez and she gave shrug. I took my knee off his back, and we sat him up with his legs extended and crossed at the ankles. Chavez searched him, starting with the back waistband where his hands were secured behind him.

“What did you think was going to happen to you. You killed a cop,” I blurted out before I could stop myself. Even in the dim light of morning, I could see the color drain from his face. His light blonde chin-strap beard was smudged with brown mud at the bottom, and his bottom lip was bleeding from a small triangular gash.

Chavez pulled his wallet from the side cargo pocket of his sweatpants and handed it to me. I opened it up to find a Pennsylvania driver’s license with the name “Kyle Hunter.” The picture looked to be recent, and his “boxer” ear was as prominent in his photo as in real life.

“Kyle, We have a mutual friend,” I said, thinking of Molly, as he looked up at me with narrowed eyes. “For your sake, it better not be the girl in your car.”

“Lots of bitches hang out with me. There ain’t no girls in my car though, not without me in it anyway,” he bragged in a half-laugh, half-growl, kind of way. “The girls I hang with wouldn’t come anywhere near you.”

Kyle spit on the ground in front of him, nearly missing his sweatpants. Chavez finished searching him but didn’t find anything to note. He winked at her and asked, “You want to hang out with me sometime baby.”

“Maybe if you didn’t smell like shit, sling crack, or were even generally good looking. You might have better luck hitting on high-school girls who dig the I-still-live-with-mommy thing,” Chavez said as she squeezed the handcuffs one notch tighter before locking them.

Kyle wasn’t acting like a guy who just killed a cop. He was cocky, but he didn’t seem nervous. He answered the door without blasting buck-shot through it first. No one who just killed a cop would answer the door in the middle of the night. Still, it was absurd that he would say some cops stole his car.

“It’s cold out here. Pigs get cold right?” Kyle joked as Chavez shook her head like a middle school teacher ignoring the student who just made a dirty joke in class.

The wailing of the sirens grew closer as we stood Kyle up and started walking back towards the house. Two uniformed officers met us and escorted him to their patrol car. I told the officers to make sure the camera was on in case Kyle made any spontaneous utterances, that is legal jargon for saying something stupid without being interrogated.

My cell rang as I got back in the car. Lt. Mason’s name was on the phone screen. “Go ahead L-T,” I said.

“Hey, does any of your female informants have a rose tattooed on her arm?” Lt. Mason asked. “The victim here has the name “Adeline” tattooed on her arm with a rose.”

“Not sure,” I responded as I scrolled through the list of informants in my mind. Reality was setting in, and my mind could only think of how this was the first Red Pines officer killed in the line of duty in eight years. It was also the first double homicide in three. Mason continued, telling me that Marks would be handling the interview with Kyle.

Chavez was texting, on her personal cell, and I could see the name “Marks” on the conversation thread. My phone was still to my ear, and I snuck a glance to see the last text that she sent.

“We need to talk.”


© Josiah A. Miller 2018. All Rights Reserved.