What I'm reading: At Close Range, by Tara Taylor Quinn
While I'm regrouping after my trip to the Writers' Police Academy, and en route to the Emerald City Conference, I'm delighted to share the next installment in the "Homicide - Hussey" saga. If you read the previous post last Thursday, you might remember that he enlisted in the Army. Following is his recounting of his early days at Fort Bragg. Enjoy!
I was partnered up with a senior Specialist 4th Class named Clive Satler. Clive had less than a month to go on his hitch. He was content to answer the calls that came crackling across the huge jeep radio, and to not make waves. I, on the other hand, was like a puppy dog. I wanted to investigate everything. I wanted to write tickets, I wanted to ferret out criminal activity and I wanted to bust up bar fights.
I had checked out a hand held radar unit from the sergeant's office. When Clive saw me dragging the gray plastic suitcase holding the radar gun, he groaned, settled down in the passenger's seat of the jeep, and pulled his red beret down over his eyes. "Do whatever you want, but don't wake me up, Cherry." With his eyes closed and as an afterthought he said, "And don't get me into no shit."
I started the M151A1 ¼ ton utility truck (Army nomenclature for jeep), and after advising the desk, officially designated on the radio as Smoker, that unit 2-1 was in service, I headed to the heart of the 82nd Airborne Division Area. I found a spot, in plain view, as mandated by the Supreme Court, and pointed my radar gun north in the hopes of catching a speeder. The speed limit in the division area was 35mph, so it was pretty common that guys would speed on the wide-open four-lane highway. GI's are usually in a hurry. In the 82nd, in the midst of frequent readiness alerts, off-duty time is precious, and troopers like to make the most of it.
I had written several tickets, each one for at least ten miles over the speed limit. My partner continued to snore. I hoped I never got that lazy and worthless. How could he be like this? Police work was so exciting.
My daydreaming was interrupted by the high pitched whine of the radar gun. I excitedly locked in the speed at 57mph. "Holy shit!" I yelled. "Twenty over, a mandatory court appearance." I threw down the radar gun and depressed the clutch, jamming the jeep into first gear and popping the clutch at the same time. The jeep lurched forward, spinning the rear wheels and throwing gravel.
The suspect vehicle was a white Plymouth Valiant, 2-door bearing a North Carolina license. It took me nearly two miles to get the white female driver to stop, partially because of the speed—or lack thereof—of the jeep, and partly because of driver's desire to escape. She kept looking into that rear view mirror. In later years I would say she was hinky. That type of behavior on the part of a suspect would later make my mouth dry and my stomach tight, and usually cause me to remove my side arm from its holster.
On this day, however, I was too young and inexperienced to know better. The old wailing siren was still winding down, and Clive was still snoring when I got out of the jeep, ticket book in hand, and began walking toward the '74 Plymouth, to give this violator a piece of my mind and a criminal citation.
The driver and I made brief eye contact in the side rear view mirror. I walked briskly toward the door and was preparing to ask this young lady where the fire was, when I saw a hand being stuck out the window. Something clicked in my mind because the hand wasn't empty. The fingers were curled around a small, shiny object. In the MP school we were told watch the hands, the hands are the only thing that can hurt you. The object was pointed back in my direction and slightly upward. Something made me jerk my ticket book up and turn my upper body slightly to the left, like some kind of animal instinct was telling me what was going to happen next. Looking back, I seemed to be watching the incident from somewhere else. The whole thing was in slow motion.
I heard a small pop. Something felt like a fist punched into my right elbow. It punched hard enough to force my six-foot, 180-pound frame off its feet and backward, into the dusty North Carolina roadway.
I caught myself with my right hand, but for some reason wasn't able to support my weight. My mind didn't register the puff of smoke hanging in the air near the driver's door. Somewhere in the back of mind a little voice told me that I had been shot, although I'm not sure I really realized it.
My mind raced through this slow-motion, surreal scene. What had I done to this woman? Why did she hate me? Was she going to finish me off now? That thought seemed to snap me back to reality.
I reached down and unsnapped the patent leather holster and drew the issued Colt government model 1911, .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol, which was hooked to the standard issue white cord lanyard on my right shoulder. As I brought the weapon up, I used my left hand to chamber one of the five round ball ammunition cartridges carried in the magazine. As the pistol came up, I rose to my knees, extending my arms fully in a classic isosceles stance, as I had been taught on the pistol range. Aiming at the rear window along a line where I thought the driver must be, I pulled the trigger. I truly don't remember doing it.
I couldn't believe the explosion. We wore earplugs at the range. My ears rang. A large cloud of blue smoke mixed with the smoke already hanging in the air. I was unable to see the car clearly for what seemed like an eternity. As the smoke cleared, I saw that the back window on the driver's side had been broken out. I saw no signs of movement in the car. I guess I was still on auto pilot, working on instincts. Instincts I didn't even know I had.
It was then that I was vaguely aware of someone running toward me from behind and screaming. I reeled around, still pointing the .45, arms fully extended, hammer locked to the rear, a round in the chamber, ready to discharge another blast.
Clive stopped in his tracks, his eyes showing the terror. "Take it easy Cherry," he said, slowly holding out his hand. When he was satisfied I wasn't going to shoot him he walked slowly toward me. As he reached me, he pushed my arms down toward the ground. He said, "It's okay man." He looked me over and the color drained from his face. "Jesus Christ, Cherry, you're bleeding." He walked me to the jeep and sat me in the front seat.
Clive's voice was high pitched and cracking as the fan on the standard issue "PRC 77" (or Pric 77 as we called it) radio began its drone. The first part of his transmission was surely lost, as he began talking before he even keyed up. He was screaming into the microphone and shaking. "Smoker two-one, my partner's been shot. I need an ambulance and a backup, over." Before the desk could answer, he began talking again. "Notify the duty officer and hurry it up."
I wasn't sure what all the big deal was. It sure hadn't sunk in. I felt a little light headed and sick to my stomach. I must have looked a little queasy, cause Clive shook me and said "You're all right Cherry. Goddammit I sure as hell hope this don't delay me gettin' outa the Army. I'll be pissed; probably never forgive ya'. I might not forgive ya' anyway, you and your damn tickets." He paused. "Did ya get 'im?"
Now we had a problem. Clive knew from the look on my face that I didn't know what the status of the driver was. She had momentarily slipped my mind. There hadn't been time to check the driver; too much had been going on.
"You mean, get "her," I corrected him.
"What the fuck are you talkin about?" he asked, his eyes narrowing.
"The driver is a female, a woman," I whispered.
Clive just whistled through his teeth, looked up at the sky and said, "Fuck me to tears, the cherry shot a bitch. This just keeps getting better."
In the distance I could hear sirens wailing from several different directions. It didn't dawn on me immediately that they were coming for me. It's a beautiful sound.
There is no call that generates the interest of fellow cops like officer needs assistance. But when a cop is shot, you better get out of the way, 'cause cops are coming, no matter what. It is a great feeling to know that they will be there for you in that situation.
My arm was beginning to tingle and ache, then burn as the first units began to arrive. Things happened more quickly after that.
The ambulance got there and they began working on me. I remember hearing one EMT ask if the driver of the white Plymouth needed any help. One cop said, "not unless you got something that glues heads back together."
Another chuckled and said, "Don't bother." One old timer reached into the ambulance and slapped me on the head saying, "Good shootin' Clint, you blew her head clean off."
I began to feel sicker then. I would feel that sickness on and off at times the whole rest of my life. That feeling would slowly sweep over me and my elbow would tingle whenever I thought about that day...and I thought about it a lot.
The woman was an outlaw biker chick, wanted in Fayetteville, on 27 counts of armed robbery. She had been the "wheel man" or "wheel woman" for her boyfriend. She must have thought I was stopping her on the warrants. We never had a chance to ask her.
I spent two hours in the hospital and was asked two days later if I was ready to go back to work. I said "yes." I didn't know. I never really got over it but I did learn to deal with it. I didn't talk about it much until nearly fifteen years later. I never was proud of it, I didn't feel macho, or like a hero. I do feel it was my only option. I am glad it was her instead of me. I am sorry she made the choice. I suppose it made me more careful and most likely, saved my life over the years, but it sure screwed me up in a lot of ways.
It's just not natural to take the life of another human being, even if they shoot first. I guess that's what separates us from the sociopaths we police.
Come back tomorrow for another Friday Field Trip. I'm on the road, but this time I'll have my laptop, so MAYBE I'll have time to check in.