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OFFICER WILLIAMS had been my one and only bully as a kid. I had experienced a few others, but only when standing up for someone else. It started during my first week of high school. I had been battling a head cold, my pockets full of tissue, as I would go into these spells of my nose running like a faucet. It was during Art class when I got down to my last few squares, and so I asked my teacher for a hall pass and headed for the bathroom.
Once I stopped the flow and refilled my pockets with toilet paper I was back on my way to class, but as I neared the science lab a big deep voice came at me from behind.
“Hey! What you doing out of class?!”
It was one of the tall black campus cops the school used to try and intimidate the troublesome kids.
“I was just using the bathroom,” I answered.
“Where’s your slip?”
I searched my pockets. Nothing but toilet paper.
One syllable was all I was able to get out before he threw me up against the door of room 187, his baton already withdrawn and pressed against my chest and neck.
“You skippin’ class?!”
My line of sight was right on his name tag, the ton of pressure crushing me branding that name into my brain.
“I asked you a question!”
“No. I was just using the bathroom. I- I think I left my pass in there.”
Being the skinny fifteen-year-old kid I was he had no problem snatching me up by the back of the collar with his free hand, proceeding to guide me back down the hall and to the bathroom, my foot falls feeling lighter than ever as most of my weight was held up by this giant of a man.
First he puppeteered me to the sink, where I had washed my face and hands. Nothing.
Next it was to the trash can, where I had thrown the rough paper towel after using it to dry off. He made me dig for the pass, but it wasn’t there either.
“You ready to tell the truth?” he taunted.
My heart was in my throat but I managed to get out a few words.
“I used the toilet.”
I pointed to the second stall, and he used my rag doll body to push open the door. Tears began to fall from my eyes when I saw the hall pass on top of the toilet paper dispenser.
I had to catch my weight when he let me go, not a hint of remorse in his voice as he warned me not to be so careless or else I’d get detention next time. And with that he left me alone, where I burst into more tears, the name WILLIAMS pictured in my mind and crushing my innocence.
For the rest of that week I was consumed with getting even, with seeking justice. But how? I was just a kid. But then during History class, as the teacher spoke about Lincoln and how he was a lawyer before a president it occurred to me. I’d report that asshole WILLIAMS to the local police station.
I was now feeling confident as I walked the halls, finally unafraid of running into my bully. But by the time the last bell rang I had started to lose some of that self-assurance. Didn’t cops protect their own? Worse than one adult tormentor would be many, all with the power of the law on their side. I thought maybe I should just forget about it. After all, I hadn’t seen him in a couple of days. Maybe he was now busy with the real troublemakers.
I wanted redemption but feared retaliation, so I let it go. That is until the following week.
I didn’t have to turn around to know it was him, but also didn’t want to give him an excuse to go off on me again. So I did so and looked up at him.
“You stayin’ straight?”
I didn’t know how to reply, since I wasn’t the punk kid he thought I was.
“I’m TALKIN’ to you!”
His force of tone was almost as hard as his baton.
For the next few days he’d stare me down while patrolling the halls. I was becoming an anxious wreck and couldn’t imagine going through the whole year like this, let alone all of high school! And so I decided I had to go to the police station.
I had to catch two buses to get there, the pit of my stomach twisting tighter and tighter with every step I took as I passed the black and white cars and the uniformed cops they were assigned to. By the time I made my way through the doors I felt like throwing up, my eyes scanning for a bathroom just in case. This turned scared nerves into adrenaline, remembering what WILLIAMS did to me, and so I was able to approach the tall front desk just as its attendee stepped away from it.
Was this a sign to just turn around and leave?
My eyes found a nearby poster advertising The Police Explorer Program.
“You here to join?”
A middle-aged guy in a dress shirt and tie walked up to me.
This was the answer I was looking for. They took care of their own, right? What if I was one of them?
He put his hand out to shake mine.
“I’m Detective Scofield, but you can call me Max. Come on back. We’ll get the paperwork you’ll need your parents to sign, then you’ll be all set.”
I felt important as he led me back behind the tall front desk where only members of the police station were allowed, and now I’d become one of them, taking part in the after school program that involved physical training, giving station tours and other non-hazardous activities.
Right away Max took me under his wing, and during our lunch together that Saturday afternoon he asked me why I had been drawn to the Explorer Program.
“I think I’d like to be a police officer,” I said. “To help those in need. Too many bullies out there.”
“That’s very admirable. Do you have any bullies?”
I was hesitant to answer, but at the same time I already felt a connection with Max. Maybe it was because I had never had an older male role model, or maybe it was just due to the fact that he was nice to me. Looking back, now I know it was both, which is why I ended up opening up to him and telling him about Williams.
I never found out what happened between the two, as Max only ever said, “We just had a little talk,” so I could only imagine what prompted the bully to now be the one to avoid me in the halls and transfer out a couple of weeks later.
I DROVE FAST ENOUGH TO BREAK THE LAW but slow enough to still stay safe, pulling up to the empty lot of Inglewood High School and taking with me my 5-cell Mag Lite and lock pick to get inside. But the doors were already unlocked for me, and when I got to the hall of the Science Lab, the hall I would still sometimes wake up in sweats dreaming about, the lights were already on, guiding me to Room 187.
The lights inside the room were off. I slowly turned the doorknob. Of course it was unlocked.
I flipped the switch to light up the lab, what I saw set up on the other side of the room leaving me speechless, motionless.
There Williams was, strapped naked to a wide lab table that had been positioned upright, mouth gagged as his eyes went from the shock of recognizing me to desperation, his pleading moans begging for help.
A spool of fishing wire was now in motion, apparently triggered from me turning on the lights. It was retracting, gathering the slack line that was attached to…
Williams’ stomach, stitched closed after having been sliced wide open. I quickly flipped the lights back off but that didn’t stop the churning spool so I turned them back on, right in time to see the wire pulled loose from Williams’ stomach, reopening him back up and therefore causing his insides to fall out onto the floor below.
There was nothing I could do, no way to reverse the disembowelment, his last sight being that of the kid he had been too hard on.
Now I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that the past several hours had been anything but random. Someone out there knew my history. An obvious psychotic that I had somehow managed to enthrall. I was completely at a loss, knowing only one thing for certain; this deadly web, in all its detail, was being weaved around me.
“I DIDN’T RECOGNIZE YOU YESTERDAY,” the pregnant woman lying in the hospital bed said to me, “but when I watched the news this morning I remembered. I’m Nicole Moore, the psychologist who evaluated you after your accident.”
Another mind fuck!
Two weeks into my Police Explorer training I had been invited on a Ride Along. This was something I had been very excited about, seeing it as a chance to witness action firsthand out on the streets.
The first couple of hours were relatively slow, the two cops I was driving around with telling me stories of some of their past adventures, talking on their radio and joking around with me. When we answered a domestic disturbance call they even let me turn on the siren, but it wasn’t until after lunch when the incident happened that ended up changing my world.
A bank robbery was in progress, and when the woman on the other end of the radio gave the address my heart began to pound with both excitement and fear. From the red light we were stopped at we were only two blocks away! But then I was hit with some disappointment.
“Sorry buddy, you can’t come along on this one.”
I was then given a couple of dollars and told to get a slurpee or something at the 7/11 we were right there next to, and that I’d be picked back up in a while.
Right after I shut the back door to the police patrol car it sped off, sirens blasting and soon joined by others. Knowing where they were headed a part of me wanted to run over there and watch, but I didn’t dare, following orders to go inside and get a frozen drink.
The middle-eastern guy behind the counter had the action playing live on his small TV, a news helicopter getting a birds-eye-shot of the scene. I quickly got my cola slurpee, paid for it, then along with the owner and a couple more of his customers stared transfixed at the screen.
Two masked gunmen suddenly ran out of the bank and into an awaiting car, taking off seconds before my black and white entered the frame.
“209!” I yelled out, pointing to the TV. “That’s my squad car! I was just inside it!”
Everyone looked at me like I was full of shit, until I pulled my Police Explorer’s t-shirt off my chest and up for them to see. Their eyes got bigger, now even more into what had now become a car chase.
We started pointing out nearby landmarks, and when the sound of news helicopters began to fill the air outside me and the other two customers rushed over to the plate glass window.
“They’re headed this way! They’re gonna pass!” the owner shouted out, now running over to join us.
The only other thing I remember are the sounds of blaring sirens and popping gunfire, amidst a burning sensation in my torso that I thought was caused by the bitter cold of my slurpee.
I then lost consciousness. Only later would I learn that I had been shot by a stray bullet, the small hot piece of metal making its way through the windows of a
parked car before flying through the plate glass and into my body just as I turned towards the owner. Thankfully it had just missed vital organs, but did end up taking out one of the discs of my spine and as a result collapsed it.
For the next few days I was in and out of consciousness, when awake feeling as though my back had been blown apart. I was then transferred out of ICU and began the long and grueling road to recovery, my spine now hunched forward as I was told a rod had been fused to it in order to keep it from eventually curving over to the point of crushing my heart and lungs.
Also crushed were my dreams of becoming a police officer. Despite fighting my way back to good health I was no longer allowed to participate in the physical aspects of the Police Explorer Program, including Ride Alongs. It didn’t matter that I had worked so hard to get in better shape than I had been in before the accident, and that I had been mentally cleared by one of the department’s psychologists, Nicole Moore. I even convinced my mother not to file a lawsuit, but the term that kept coming up was “potential liability.”
They put on a ceremony for me, with the mayor and Chief-of-Police giving me an award and ‘honorary’ badge, but I didn’t really care about these ‘symbols of bravery’, nor did it matter to me that my story had made it to the local news, with CNN then picking it up to go international. The only thing I wanted, which was to protect and serve, now seemed impossible.
But then Max gave me hope. He said we’d fight the system by preparing me so well that by the time I reached the age of twenty-one I’d not only have my Criminology degree but would also have been physically trained by some of the government’s most elite soldiers. A small tight-knit group of Max’s friends that were made up of Marines, Green Berets and Navy Seals. Men who had been conditioned in the hard truth of combat, now my personal tutors, in turn making me the most prepared cadet in police academy history. This is when my training had begun, the brotherhood soon calling me by my last name, Riker, their way of showing I had earned their respect.
And so for the next seven years I was built into the man Max envisioned I would become. My application to the academy was thick with referrals, certificates and the like, then sent up to the state level for special consideration given all that I had put into preparing to serve.
When I received that denial I felt completely lost, feeling as though I had nothing more to live for. I couldn’t face the disappointment of Max and the other guys, I couldn’t face anyone really, especially myself. But then, as if yanked up out of my freshly-made grave and injected by new life platform six happened.
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, this person, this mastermind, whoever he was, had brought me back from the dead and was now giving me purpose.
THE SURVEILLANCE FOOTAGE FROM THE DRAGONFLY showed a white male, twenties, curly hair and a porn stache, just as Williams’ sister had described. An outside camera had him leaving in a ‘96 Toyota Tercel, all seven digits of his license plate visible.
The car was registered to a David Lehman, a struggling actor whose main source of income was balanced between Extra work and unemployment checks. When Max followed SWAT to pick him up they took him into custody, of all places, on set of a Law and Order shoot. The confusion that arose, I was told, was a legendary story-in-the-making for both the production crew and law enforcement. Even the background actor himself didn’t fully grasp what was going on until he was booked at the station, all too eager to clear his name once he realized what he was facing as I watched Max question him from the other side of a two-way mirror.
“I didn’t kill that guy, man! And I didn’t hire those guys either. Well, I guess technically I did, but I was just doing what he told me to do. That AK I had, it was just a prop! I was scared shitless that those guys were gonna unload their nines on me at any moment!”
“You keep saying he. He who?” Max asked.
“I told you, I have no idea! It was all done by email!”
“So you were just this innocent little pawn who happened to open an email by someone you didn’t know, and when he tells you to go risk your life you’re like “Gee, golly, sure mister!
“Were you one of those little kids who played a Little Rascal? Are you Alfalfa?”
The other detective in the room couldn’t help but smirk, as did I.
“Nah, that show was before your time, wasn’t it? But you expect us to believe you’re really that gullible?”
“I already told you, it wasn’t that simple. He said he was a Casting Director, and that the A-list director, who he couldn’t mention, was looking for a fully-committed actor. I thought they were testing me, to see how far I’d take it. I wasn’t even entirely sure if those black guys were in on it or not, or that black chick at the club.
“All I know is that the guy said they came upon my headshot, which had my email address on it, and that after seeing me on The Practice thought I might be the kind of talent they were looking for.
“The money they slid under my door is what really had me convinced. No one drops five grand like that without being serious. So when he sent me the brief character bio I really wanted to get into it. I mean, I’m no Day-Lewis or nothing, but damn, you don’t know how it is to be trying to live your passion while surviving off Ramen Noodles most of the time. This could’ve finally been my big break to get me out of background and really in front of that camera.”
“And what character were you supposed to be playing?”
“That’s the tough thing, he didn’t give me much to go on. Said I was some working stiff who was becoming disenfranchised with the world around him. I don’t know why, but I started to think of Pacino in Serpico and Deniro in Taxi Driver. Kinda combining the two.”
“Ok, so you think Scorsese is eyeing you for his next picture, but once you saw the news on Union Station, and on the campus cop the next day something had to have went off in that head of yours. But instead of calling the police you just pick up where you left off and go back to working on crime dramas.”
“My mind was blown, I didn’t know what the hell to think! The only other email I got from the Casting Director, or whoever he was, was a couple of lines saying he’d be in touch, and that maybe I’d be able to play him later in the movie.
“Play him?! This is when I started to panic like shit! Had I been used by some kind of psycho?! And how could I call the police?! What would it look like?!”
“Like what it looks like now, Mr. Method Actor,” Max said. “Maybe the years of getting nowhere pushed you over the edge, with you beginning to see everything as some big movie, your Hollywood heroes influencing that fucked up mind of yours that you’re some kind of mastermind.”
Lehman started to get scared, frustrated. “No, I-”
“How do you know Riker?” Max asked.
“You know who I’m talking about.”
His expression changed a little, but not to the recognition we had been hoping for, but rather, confusion.
“Is that the guy they attacked at the train station?”
He wasn’t falling for any of the traps being set, consistent in everything he claimed, and either one of the greatest actors I’ve ever seen or genuinely telling the truth.
Either way he had admittedly participated in planning a crime by hiring thugs to attack me and Nicole Moore. Whether he had sent the email to himself or followed the orders of an outside party it was still attempted murder, and since such a charge carried quite a hefty bail he wouldn’t be going anywhere anytime soon.
FOR THE NEXT TWO MONTHS Nicole Moore and I became good friends. Most weekends we’d get together and discuss the baby, my undecided future and the case, which had went ice cold after the murder of Williams. Max and the prosecution were trying to build their evidence against the actor, but they could prove no more than what he had already admitted to. The emails had been sent from IP addresses of internet cafe computers, none of which had surveillance cameras pointing at them. So as Lehman awaited trial in a six by eight cell to face the lesser charges the actual murderer was patiently laying low, which made him all the more dangerous. Most criminals act on impulse, their urgency to feed their desire being what ends up sealing their fate, but this guy, he was is no rush, apparently having no problem with taking a break from seeing his work splattered across the news. There were many who believed it all began and ended with Lehman, but instinct was telling Max and I otherwise. When putting together his profile we knew the person responsible for all this was well connected, well financed and a professional. An obsessive personality type who took pride in details, who took the time to perfect. And unfortunately we had no choice but to wait as he took such time to do so.
On the day Nicole’s water broke she and I had been eating lunch at a park only a few blocks from the hospital where she was scheduled to deliver. She was due any day, and on this particular Saturday the mother-in-waiting helped me prepare for my P.I. license over sandwiches and flashcards. Along with Max she had helped convince me to follow my true calling as someone who felt drawn to serve and protect. It may not have been with the LAPD like I had planned for so long, but as Max had pointed out, in many ways I wouldn’t be held back by restrictive bureaucracy, assuring my first case would be the obvious one. As for Max, he would make it his last, refusing to retire until we found the psychotic asshole.
At first I thought Nicole had been joking with me, as she had been doing all afternoon while quizzing me on my test questions.
“Better get this question right, or I’ll have this baby right here, right now! You’ll go from P.I. to O-B-G-Y-N in an instant!”
They say the strongest relationships always begin with friendships, and to be honest the thought of us having something beyond platonic had crossed my mind more than once. Especially when she had felt comfortable enough with me to tell me about the baby’s father, what little she knew of him anyway.
Conception had come about as a result of Nicole choosing to go against her nature and being spontaneous for a night. She had started the evening with a couple of high school friends, the trio reconnecting on social media and getting together for old time sake.
After dinner and with the feeling of wanting to recapture their youth they set out for the club scene. Nicole had always been the follower among the three, her first brush of makeup- only when the other two had tried it. Her first sexual encounter- only after they had experienced their own, going over every detail for her to envy. Even after so many years apart she found herself falling into the same pattern when their conversation turned to how hot the band members at the club were. One liked the drummer, the other, the vocalist. Wanting to prove she had changed, that she was now her own woman Nicole shocked her two ol’ friends when she got up after the band’s set and approached the lead guitarist.
Ironically this was not her at all, or so she had been convincing herself since high school, making it a point to avoid bad boys, especially ones with tattoos. But with such determination it had somewhat backfired, the boundary she had set for herself subconsciously turning into a fantasy within an occasional dream.
And so the alcohol had taken her to the edge of that fantasy, with the desire of wanting to finally lead and defy the past prompting her to jump off into the
unknown, leaving the club that night on the arm of a tattooed bad boy as her two high school friends watched in amazement.
By the next morning Nicole didn’t have to worry about facing her rock star mistake, for when she woke he was already gone. To the next town, next easy lay, she didn’t know, just glad that her spur-of- the-moment naughtiness was a night she could now leave behind.
That is until weeks later, when she discovered that the consequence had been growing inside of her.
It was times like this when she would share such honest parts of her life that I felt most close to her, really feeling the urge to offer myself to her as a mate, as a father for her unborn child. A baby she would often call her little dolphin.
“I think my water broke.”
“Come on! You didn’t even give me the multiple choice yet!”
“No, really. We gotta go.”
She brought her hand up from between her knees.
It was wet.
On the way to the hospital, through controlled breaths Nicole asked me something that made up my mind about us.
“You’ve been such a sweetheart. If you don’t mind, I’d love to have you in the delivery room with me.”
Right away I felt a special joy I had never experienced before. Sure we had only been friends up to this point, our time spent together close, but not romantic. Then again, wasn’t the strongest relationships built on friendships first? Or maybe I was just imagining it. Maybe her version of ‘sweetheart’ didn’t go beyond the heartfelt warmth of a friend. After all, we were over a decade apart in age.
But as we held hands while she pushed… As she looked up at me, covered in sweat and giving her all… As the baby girl was placed into her arms and the three of us shared in one of the most intimate moments of life… I really believed we were about to set forth on a new path.
“Her name is Jaime,” Nicole said as I gently palmed the baby’s head. “Named after the man who saved our lives. Well, as close to Jeremy as possible.”
I bent down and kissed both mother and child on the forehead, then went for a walk while they were taken to recovery.
How oddly beautiful life was turning out to be. If not bullied by Williams I may not have ended up at Inglewood police station. If this were the case I would never have been on that Ride Along. Never would have been shot, never would have been evaluated by Nicole. A series of links that would eventually lead me to the here and now. I’d be the father I never had. The husband I dreamed to one day be.
On my way back to the hospital I came upon a baby shop, and as if destined found a stuffed pink dolphin. Along with flowers for Nicole I took the elevator up to the maternity ward, still asking myself how to cross that line from friendship to more so that I could be certain that we wanted the same thing.
The door was open so as to allow light to reach in to the otherwise darkened room, the dimly-lit mother and daughter sitting in a rocking chair in a far corner. At first I was going to let them be, but that hope of a beautiful future led me over to them.
As I approached I could hear baby Jaime suckling, the stillness of Nicole leading me to believe she was asleep. Her blouse was open for the breastfeeding, but before I could feel embarrassment I wondered…
Why is there breast milk all over her chest…?
And all over the baby?!
And why is it so dark?!
My heart began to pound through my chest like a jackhammer, my mind repeatedly chanting no…no…no… as I fumbled to turn on a light.
Nicole’s throat had been slashed, the awful sight of not only her chest covered in blood but little Jaime as well, who was still suckling.
My first instinct was to rip the child from her mother, trying my best to wipe away the sticky red of the blood and frantically searching the newborn’s body to make sure she was alright.
I couldn’t understand how Nicole had just sat there, as if accepting her fate and having no will to do anything but sit there and die, for this is how it appeared, with no signs of struggle to show anything but.
That is until my shock took me to the back of her rocking chair, a Spyderco protruding from her spine and sticking out through the wooden slats like an exclamation point to the horror I felt.
Paralyzed from her spine having been severed, she had had no choice but to sit there gasping for air until the mercy of death had finally come about.
1st part of Part 2 posted shortly.