Blood Crumbs: Chapter 16Mature

   At the time, I had been on the force for fifteen years. All my life I had wanted to be a cop and had joined the academy pretty much right out of high school. The problem was once I got there, I realized I wasn’t the ambitious type. It seemed I was just biding my time until I could get my pension and retire. I wasn’t a bad cop, just one that decided to fly under the radar.

    “Burton retired.” Someone would mention some day.

    “Who?” They would ask.

    “Just some guy,” would be the reply.

    This had been exactly how I wanted it at the time. It was the reason I was standing in front of Isaac's classmates that day dully telling them that drugs were uncool. It was part of a cataclysmically unsuccessful anti-drug campaign that would later disband.

    A man had suddenly pushed his way into the classroom drawing all eyes to him. Jeremy Graham was wearing a dirty flannel button up shirt and his pants hung loosely from bright green suspenders. His face was sunken and his skin looked waxy and unclean. His gray hair was greasy and plastered haphazardly to his scalp. He was mumbling to himself revealing yellowed, rotting teeth. Evan Squires, their teacher, and I both assumed a transient had just wandered into the school in hopes of getting warm relief from the cold autumn air.

    “Sir, you can’t be in here.” I said politely as I moved towards him.

    The man looked deathly but there was still a spring to his step. His eyes landed on Isaac and he moved agilely across the room and grabbed the boy’s shoulder, yanking him harshly to his feet.

    “Hey!” I shouted moving towards him. Graham pulled a revolver out of his pocket and pointed it at me, stopping me dead in my tracks.

    A few of the kids screamed and dove under their desks. Graham shouted over them. “I don’t wanna kill nobody I don’t hafta, but God help me, I will. This is between me and Him and his…” He hissed down at Isaac, “His Seed.”

    My hand dropped to where my holster would normally sit and silently I cursed myself. One thing you learn quickly about the drug prevention program is not to bring weapons into the classes. Otherwise, the Q&A portion becomes; ‘What kind of gun is that? Have you ever shot someone? Why do you have pepper spray and a stun gun?’

    Jeremy then used Squires and I to round the children into the corner of the classroom. He motioned for one of them, a young red-head named Cassie to come to him. She looked pleadingly at me for guidance.

    “I won’t hurt you,” Graham cooed pressing the revolver against Isaac’s temple hard enough to elicit a pained mewling sound from him.

    I nodded to her and she walked over.

    “Ok sweetie, I need you to reach into my left pocket and grab a piece of paper in there. It’s a very important piece of paper ok? I need you to take it to the principals office. Got it?”

    Cassie’s eyes were tearing but she nodded.

    “If you don’t go right away it will make me very angry, Sweetheart” He said, “Then I’ll have to shoot one of your classmates so that the next messenger I send knows that I’m not bluffing. Is that clear?”

    Amazingly, Cassie was able to nod again and reach into his pocket and retrieve the note. She walked out of the classroom without hyperventilating, which was the best we could hope for. It was a long few minutes before the small phone on the desk began to ring.

    Graham nodded at me. “Hit speaker.”

    “This is Officer Burton,” I said clicking the button.

    “Hello Officer is Mr. Graham in the room with you?” A deep female voice came from the other end.

    “Yes, you’re on speaker. He can hear you.” I said looking over at Graham who nodded to confirm that he could, indeed, hear her.

    “Mr. Graham, I am Principle Karen Hilt. I’m calling per your request to let you know that we received your letter, and we’ve made all the calls you requested.”

    Graham was nodding silently so I answered for him. “Thank you Principle Hilt.”

    “Mr. Graham.” Hilt’s voice cracked slightly, “Please, please don’t hurt any of them.”

    “Hang up.” Graham said softly.

    I pushed the button again and began wondering just what Graham’s note had said.

    A large shrieking caused me to jump as the school’s PA system boomed to life. It was Principle Hilt again. “Black Out teachers. This is not a drill. Black Out.”

    Black Out had been a new type of drill created after, eighteen months previously, two students had walked into Columbine High and ended the lives of twelve of their peers, two teachers, and their own. The massacre had been a horrifying event and the demand for action had been immediate. Black outs had been the school’s response. At this moment, students would be crawling under their desks while their teachers turned out the lights, locked every door, and covered every window to ensure no one was allowed in or out of the classrooms.

    It was time to play the waiting game. Evan and I and most of the children were sitting helplessly in one corner. Some of the kids had shoved themselves under the teacher’s desk or curled into a ball, while others sat stoically and cried. We did our best to comfort them, but it was difficult considering the circumstances.

    Graham and Isaac were across the room, having moved closer to the door to block off any escape. Isaac looked like a rag doll, stoically following as Graham paced back and forth mumbling to himself. His eyes focused on some far away point. He looked resigned, even accepting of the events that were going unfold. It was a look that no twelve year old child should be given the opportunity to show.

    Twenty-two minutes passed with Jeremy’s rambling and I picked up enough to realize that Isaac had little chance of survival. It appeared that Graham was just waiting for Brian Weston to show up so that he could kill Isaac right in front of him.

    I felt a small nudge at my side as Evan Squires got my attention. He carefully slid a small piece of paper across his desk to me, on it was a key.


                      Bottom left locked drawer. Colt 9mm, fully loaded


    Evan Squires, it seemed, was not very confident in the Black Out system.

    Another shrill ring pierced the air causing everyone to jump. The phone on Squire’s desk lit up again. Jeremy stared at it and in turn, everyone else at him. We waited patiently for his response.

    Finally, he pointed the gun at me, “Answer it.”

    I clicked the button for speaker. “This is Officer George Burton, you’re on speaker.”

    “Hello George, you’re doing great in there,” The calming voice of John Langston of the FBI came from the other end. “Do we have any casualties? Anyone in need of medical attention?”

    “No, everyone’s okay so far.” I replied and could almost hear the collective sigh of everyone on the other end of the line.

    “Mr. Jeremy Graham can you hear me?” Langston asked.

    “I can hear you just fine.” Graham said.

    “Good. Good. Jeremy, my name is Jonathan Langston, but you can call me John. Do you think you could pick up the receiver so we could discuss this one on one?”

    “Nope. I don’t think this calls for much discussion. You know what I want.”

    “Yes, we do. And we’re working very hard to get Mayor Weston for you. In the meantime, as a show of good faith, Jeremy, could you do something for us?”

    “No.” Jeremy replied simply.

    “But Jeremy-“

    “NO!” He shouted, “I got one request and one request only. You walk that man into this room so we can talk and he can look me in the eyes. Then it’s over. I’m done talking to you, I only want to see Weston.”

    He pointed the gun at me and commanded me to hang up. I clicked the button with a terrible sense of finality as silence enveloped us. I had waited the longest twenty-two minutes of my life in order to give them a chance to end this peacefully. Now, I was sure that wasn’t going to happen, though deep down I think I had known all along that the day would end in violence.

    I grabbed the key from atop the note Squires had written.

    Graham had gone back to pacing and babbling as I stealthily slid the key into the lock. I inhaled sharply at the small click as I disengaged the bolt. Jeremy hadn’t noticed. I felt my heart pounding and all sounds faded behind the blood pumping in my ears. I looked down at the drawer, empty but for the black pistol resting at its center.

    My right hand wrapped itself around the butt of the gun and slowly I felt my training taking over. Many officers get through their entire careers without ever having to fire their weapon. A gun is a last resort and you are trained that a bullet should never be fired at another human unless its intent is to take a life. A gun is not meant to disable, it’s meant to destroy.

    Jeremy pressed both hands to his skull and his face contorted in pain as he whined, “I’m doing it, Just let me do it!” The barrel of his own gun was now pointed at the ceiling.

    I let instinct take over and was on my feet before I even registered my own movement. My legs were shoulder width apart, my knees slightly bent, both hand locked and steadying the weapon. A classic shooter’s stance.

    Graham realized what was going on and swung his gun at me with his right hand while simultaneously grabbing at Isaac with his left, but he would not be fast enough. Jeremy was no more than twenty feet away and I was not about to miss.

    Warm air churned across my hands, dispersing gun powder from the chamber as the bullet exploded from its casing. The screams of the kids were drowned by the loud pop of the gun. Graham’s head snapped back as the bullet drove into the bridge of his nose, right between the eyes. He fell backwards, his skull colliding with the wall on the way down, but he would feel no more pain. Isaac fell with him, a cloud of blood spraying him as he went.

    I clicked the safety and shoved the pistol into my waste band as I rushed across the room and pulled Isaac into my arms. I turned his head away from the body.

    “Don’t look! Don’t look at him!” I heard Evan trying to calm the other children as the door next to me exploded. There was a frenzy of activity at the door from the sound of the gunfire. Men in SWAT gear moved in with guns drawn and ready. They shouted at me, and I at them and the children screamed in terror.

    “Hold it!” One shouted as he lifted an assault shotgun up towards me.

    “Don’t point that shit at me, do you not see I have a kid in my arms?” I said furiously. “I’m Officer Burton, Graham’s there, dead. Get him covered and get those kids out of there. I’m taking this one to an ambulance.”

    I walked quickly outside with my awkward shaped package.

    “I got his blood on me,” Isaac said matter-of-factly into my chest.

    “Don’t worry, we’ll get you cleaned up.” I said trying to sound more calm than I was. My stomach was doing cartwheels and I felt I would throw up soon.

    “You killed him.”

    “Yes I did.” I replied firmly as two EMTs made their way to us.

    Isaac’s face scrunched in confusion, “Why?”

    I looked down at him. “Because he wanted to kill you.”

    “Well I knew that.” He said in a tone that surprised me. If I didn’t know any better, I'd think he sounded sarcastic, like I hadn’t given him a good enough reason.

    The two men grabbed Isaac from my arms as Bishop walked towards me with an irate man close at his heals. I would later find out the other man was John Langston……….
    



   “I read the book,” Isaac said snapping me back to the present.

   My mouth went dry and my stomach plummeted. “Now why would you go and do something like that?”

   The book Isaac was referring to had been printed two years after Jeremy Graham’s death. It started out as a reference text that was written by a forensic psychologist for the FBI. Graham had kept detailed journals all his life and it was a pretty insightful look into a shattered mind. The psychologist rewrote it into a non-fiction book that sold a few thousand copies after he had retired.

   I had read bits and pieces of it which is how I am so intimately familiar with the events leading up to his tragic end. Some of the journal entries included in the piece had almost left me undone, and I am haunted by the life I ended.

   “I’m sure you read it,” Isaac continued.

   “You know I don’t read,” I hedged.

    “I did my own reading on the Salt Flats Dump Site, too.”

   A huge piece of chocolate cake, shaped somewhat like a volcano, landed between us. The crater in the center was full of vanilla ice cream, and hot fudge had been drizzled over the entire piece. It looked delicious, but I had no desire to pick up a fork. The waitress gave Isaac a warm smile before departing again.

   “And where’d you find yourself?” I asked, though I had an inkling that I already knew. I had been secretly dreading some variation of this conversation for eight years.

    “Nowhere good.” He admitted, “Lots of questions I think I need answering.”

    “I don’t know how much I can help you. I didn’t go anywhere near the Salt Flats stuff.” I said.

    “Yeah, I know. But I just wanted to ask you one thing, George.” He took a deep breath, “And I’d prefer as honest an answer as I can get.”

     I wanted to run. Just shuffle out the door and leave this conversation behind me. Instead, I managed an “I’ll do my best.”

     “Do you think my dad was behind the dump stuff as much as people think?”

     “He was never charged.” I replied a little too quickly. The words were stale and they left a poor taste in my mouth.

     “That’s not what I asked.” He said, “We both know some pretty crooked people that got off without ever being charged with a crime. I want to know who you felt should have been charged with it. Your gut instinct. Was my father behind the dump site?”

    Your father’s a corrupt sum’bitch, I thought but instinctively, held my tongue. My gut told me I should lie. I should tell Isaac that Graham was a nut job living in his own delusions . Instead, I just opened my mouth to speak and stared for a moment as nothing came out. Then I closed it and stared down at the melting cake between us.

    “Thanks for not lying,” he said. My silence had spoken volumes.

    “Look, I’m sorry.” I managed.

    “No big deal.” He shrugged.

    “No,” I said, “it is a big deal.”

    He shook his head, “Thingds are only as important as you want them to be.”

    And with that, surprisingly, I found myself laughing. “Did you just quote lyrics from Jon Secada's, 'I'm Free' to me?”

    “Maybe,” He grinned, “The man was a true philosopher of our time.”

    ”Our time? That song doesn’t belong with your generation. It’s probably older than you are.”

    He shrugged, “Could be,” then by way of an afterthought added, “It sure wasn’t older than you.”

    “No,” I conceded with a slight shake of my head, “No it most definitely is not.”

    “But then again there are probably a few Shakespearean sonnets younger than you are.” He said.

    “Wow, ouch, that’s not nice.” I said looking hurt.

    “Yeah, well don’t be messing with Jon Secada and I’ll leave your considerable age out of the conversation.”

    I considered this a moment then nodded. “It’s a deal. I won’t make fun of Saint Secada and you leave me to my aging in peace.”

    “Works for me. I mean, I’ve still got your weight issues and general sloth-like lifestyle to fall back on.”

    “Touché, Isaac,” I muttered, “Touché.”

    And that was it. My part, I hoped, in this storm had passed. I lifted up a spoon and pushed it into the cake getting a mouthful of equal parts cake, ice cream, and hot fudge, admiring how quickly my appetite had returned.

    Isaac ended up paying for dinner on the credit card his father had given him for emergencies. The waitress seemed especially happy with her tip and Isaac waved the receipt at me with a grin; it had her name and phone number hastily scribbled on it.

    I shook his hand and smiled as we left. He returned the smile, but I noticed that there was no light behind it. It seemed slightly phony and gave me pause. As he drove off, I leaned against my car and walked through the conversation from dinner in my mind. Something about the entire thing was off and I couldn’t quite put a finger on it. Knowing that I had a killer to catch, I was not happy to be burdened by such a distraction.

    There was someone I could speak with that could put my mind at ease, but I was loathe to do so. Finally, I swallowed my pride and dialed the number into my cell phone.

    “This is Laura.” She answered on the third ring.

    “Hey, it’s George.” I said.

    There was a small pause on the other end. “What do you need, George?”

    “Hey, I’m just calling you back. Someone told me you left a message for me.” I said.

    “Why yes, I did, George.” She said, “but you never return my calls.. So, I ask again. What do you need, George?”

    I silently cursed how well this woman knew me.

    “It’s not something I’d feel comfortable talking about over the phone. I figured since we both need something, we could meet up. Maybe I can buy you a drink?”

    “That’s not a good sign…”

    “What?”    

    “Do you really think you need liquor just to deal with me?” She asked.

    “Nah, but I figured you might need it to deal with me tonight.” I said.    

    She paused. “I don’t like the sound of that, but fine. Where do you want to meet?”

    “How about X-Wifes Place?”

    Longer pause. “Cute.”

    I winced. “Don’t say it like that. I was recently asked to avoid getting cute for the foreseeable future.”

    “Well that’s lucky for them,” she said, “Because you couldn’t really get cute even if you started farting rainbows.”

    “See? That’s basically what I told them.”

The End

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