HERE IS A SHORT STORY YOU MIGHT ENJOY
THE TARNISHED SHIELD
Part One - Betrayal
The distant sound of breaking glass stopped Police Officer Joe Brauer in mid-stride. He turned, sucked in a lung full of the frigid night air, and listened intently. His eyes swept along both sides of Jamaica Avenue, scanning each storefront, alert to any absence of reflected glare from the piles of snow heaped on the sidewalks. But there was nothing. No sound, no movement, no further clue to this sudden break in the tranquility of Christmas Eve.
He exhaled and jogged back along the avenue, retracing the path he had just covered on his beat, puffing before completing a full block, the heavy winter overcoat and flapping rubber boots adding to his discomfort. He crossed 160th Street but didn’t bother to glance down it, knowing the source of the breaking glass was still a block or two away. Gathering speed as he approached 161st Street, the adrenalin released by the expectant encounter gave him the extra push necessary to overcome the cold, the slippery footing and his cigarette-shortened breath.
Joe slowed as he neared 162nd Street and began to regain his breath. No sound impinged on his ears, except the pounding of his blood. Then the buzzing click of the relay in the traffic light control box made him jump. He glanced across the intersection. The bank clock said “11:31,” then flashed “+7° F.” His hands were moist and his armpits were drenched. A cold trickle of sweat worked its way down his spine. Withdrawing his gun he cautiously peered around the building edge, down 162nd Street. Still nothing, but he was sure he was close. He edged around the corner, every muscle and nerve taut, ready for action. Then, just as he spotted a glint of shattered glass in the snow, he heard a muffled moan from the same vicinity. He relaxed slightly and approached the source of the sound. He spotted a body, lying on its back, amidst broken glass. It was dimly illuminated by the red neon glow from the sign above the Bird’s Nest Bar.
As Joe approached to within a few feet of the body, he spotted the door to the Nest and realized what had happened. Someone, obviously not filled with the spirit of Christmas, had ejected this unlucky guy without first troubling to open the door. A movement from the body in the snow drew his attention. He holstered his revolver and crouched down. He was just a kid, maybe eighteen or nineteen years old, and Joe’s practiced eye and six years’ experience told him the cuts were superficial. His nose also told him the boy was more drunk than injured.
The boy opened his eyes as Joe cradled him in his arms. He jerked his head and a groan slipped from his throat.
“Easy there, fella. Calm down, I’m just trying to help you. What happened?”
The boy did not respond but only stared up at him with what Joe perceived to be a mixture of distrust and fear. He was olive skinned, probably Hispanic, and Joe figured he probably came from the neighborhoods of Corona or Jackson Heights some five miles to the west.
“Relax for a few minutes son while I get this straightened out,” Joe said as he
lowered the boy’s head back onto its pillow of snow and headed toward the Nest. He stepped through the opening in the door. No one glanced up. Seven patrons, all men, sat spaced unevenly along the length of the mahogany bar. They all stared straight ahead at their glass of beer, all conversation having ceased with Joe’s entrance. The bartender nonchalantly passed a damp, gray rag over the bar top, paying no attention to Joe’s presence.
“All right, Richie, what the hell’s going on?”
“I don’t know what you mean, Brauer. I –”
“Don’t play dumb with me. You damn well know what I mean. Who threw that kid out there through the door?”
“Wait a minute. Don’t come in here throwin’ your weight around. I run a decent place here and –”
“Richie, Richie, Richie, spare me the crap. All I wanna know is who threw the kid through the door, and when I find out I just might lock his ass up. It would make me extremely happy if that ass was yours.”
Richie clenched his teeth and a bright pink color rose up his neck to his pockmarked cheeks. Joe knew Richie hated him more than he hated all cops, but he also knew Richie feared him.
“I told you, I don’t know what you mean.”
“Don’t give me the ‘I don’t know nuttin’ routine,’” Joe said, thrusting his long arms over the bar and grabbing Richie by the throat. He jerked Richie’s face to within an inch of his own and squeezed his hands tightly.
“Listen close, you dirtbag. Tell me what I want to know, and tell me now, or I’ll choke you out.”
“O…ok...okay...,” Richie managed to gasp.
Joe relaxed his grip and Richie’s hands moved up to massage his aching neck. Then, much to Joe’s surprise, Richie smiled at him, and said, “Officer Brauer, what happened here was a strong wind blew the door open and broke the glass. Nobody threw nobody out my door.”
Joe stared hard at the grinning Richie not believing he had the nerve to lie right to his face. He was about to grab him again, but something told him to look outside. The kid was gone. He rushed out and looked up and down the block, but there was no one in sight. He walked back into the bar to a slight snickering from the patrons and a smiling shrug of the shoulders from Richie.
“Like I said, Officer, ain’t nuttin’ happened here.”
The urge to smash Richie’s face was almost irresistible, but he was beat, and he knew it, and he knew Richie knew it. Joe clenched his teeth and stormed out of the Nest, viciously slamming the door. The remaining pieces of glass flew out of the frame as a high-pitched voice called after him – “Merry Christmas, Officer Brauer.”
Joe walked back toward the avenue. The bank clock said “11:56.” Four minutes and his tour would be over. He began to shiver. As he calmed down from the encounter with Richie, the change in his body chemistry exposed him to the full effects of the dropping temperature and gusty northwest winds. He lifted the receiver from the call box and waited, shifting his weight from one foot to the other. A bored voice said, “Sergeant Miller, One-oh-Three Precinct.”
“Brauer here, Sarge. Any relief tonight?”
“No, Joe. The old man got the Christmas spirit and gave half the midnight tour the night off. The sector car will cover your beat. Have a Merry Christmas.”
“Right, Sarge, same to you.”
He replaced the receiver and walked up the street to his parked car lighting his first cigarette since he heard the breaking glass over a half hour ago. He dragged deeply and eased out onto the avenue. As he drove the seven miles to his apartment he reflected bitterly on Richie. He could visualize his NYPD rap sheet – “Watson, Richard, male, white, 5’9”, 185 lbs., brown hair, brown eyes, poor complexion, age 41, Identification Bureau #63247, F.B.I. #Q19720438.”
They should add, “Local low-life, two-bit burglar, part-time junkie, and full-time pain in the ass,” muttered Joe. Richie was not a murderer, but he was living proof that crime, indeed, did pay. He had seven felony arrests with no felony convictions. Three were for house burglaries, Richie’s early specialty. The other four were for narcotics possession, possession of a loaded weapon, promoting gambling, and assault with a knife. His numerous misdemeanor arrests were for similar, though less serious crimes, with the last three being for possession of stolen property. This reflected a change in Richie’s M.O. from an active criminal to the more passive role of “fence.” Using the Nest as a front, Richie would be content to give the young burglars ten to fifteen cents on the dollar for their hot goods and, when they cooled off somewhat, he would deal them out a few items at a time for a nice profit.
The more Joe thought about Richie, the madder he got. It infuriated him that he had always beaten the system and was released time after time to continue his illegal activities. But what bothered him the most was Richie operated on his beat, in his corner of the world, and he seemed powerless to stop him. A lot people on his beat ran numbers, or peddled dope, or committed petty thefts, but he always caught them and terminated their activities one way or the other, in the system or outside it. But he had been unable to stop Richie, and the courts wouldn’t stop Richie and… and what the hell was the sense of getting so worked up over this crumb? He grinned, remembering that brief, delicious instant a while ago when he had his hands around the dirtbag’s throat. If only he had squeezed a little bit harder and a little bit longer…
* * *
The sudden silence caused by the unconscious act of switching off the car’s ignition made Joe realize he hardly remembered driving home. He walked up to his third floor apartment in New Hyde Park and headed for a cold beer from the refrigerator. He took a long swallow and then grabbed a second can before heading back into the living room. Throwing his cap, overcoat, and gun belt on the chair he plopped heavily onto the sofa, punching the ON button on the remote on the way down. Just as he finished the first beer, Johnny Carson’s face materialized on the screen. Joe removed his blue wool shirt and tie, popped open the second beer and lit a cigarette, deliberately trying to keep his mind blank, not concentrating on the heated discussion between two of Carson’s guests.
After another beer he felt better. Carson ended and Joe switched channels to a late movie. An old black-and-white World War II flick he had seen a dozen times before played on the screen. At least in those days, he fondly recalled, the good guys always won. Black-white, good-bad – no grays, no hassle, no confusion. At the first commercial break he got the fourth can from the six-pack and slumped back on the sofa. It whooshed loudly reacting to the shock of his 190 pounds hitting it. By the next commercial his head tilted back and he dozed lightly.
He awoke to the stirring rhythm of the Marine Corps Hymn as the credits rolled by. He glanced at his watch – 2:30. As he arose from the sofa, a hazy plan began to take shape in his mind. He was a little dizzy from the four beers, but the thought of his recent humiliation would not go away. He would do something, but just what he did not yet know. Stripping off the remainder of his uniform he got into a pair of blue jeans and a black turtleneck sweater. He tucked his off-duty, snub-nosed revolver into his belt, threw on his brown leather jacket, and strode out the door.
* * *
Joe eased his four-year old Dodge off Jamaica Avenue and onto 162nd Street. The numbers on the bank clock blurrily flashed, “2:55,” then “+1° F” as he slowed to a stop about a hundred yards north of the Nest. He walked to the bar, shivering as a gust of wind pushed him from behind. The fractured glass and drops of blood were still scattered on the dirty snow. It was so cold the blood was still bright red as if it had been deposited there just five minutes ago.
As he turned to enter the bar, he noticed Richie had attempted to secure the front door with some old slats and cardboard nailed sloppily to the frame. It might keep the wind out, but it sure as hell wouldn’t keep a burglar out. He drew himself up to his full six foot, two inch height and, still not knowing what the hell he was going to do, pushed through the door.
Richie, at the far end of the bar, started at the sudden appearance of Joe. He said nothing as Joe threw a leg over the stool nearest the door, but continued his muted conversation with the one remaining customer.
Joe waited patiently – one, two, three minutes. Richie continued to ignore him.
“Hey, dirtbag,” Joe called out, “get the hell down here and give me some service.”
Richie came down toward Joe staring at him with a menacing glare. The customer swiveled toward the front of the bar in expectation of the confrontation that might occur. “What’re you doing here, Brauer? If you harass me, I’ll turn you in to Internal Affairs. I’ll have your badge, I’m warning you.”
“Shut up, and draw me a beer. And use a clean glass, if you got one in this crummy joint.”
Richie started to say something, but then shut his mouth. He went over to the tap, drew the beer, and placed it carefully in front of Joe. He took the ten dollar bill Joe placed on the bar in front of him, and rang up the sale returning with the change. He then retreated to the far end of the bar to resume his conversation with his pal. He occasionally glanced down at Joe, and when his glass was empty, walked down, refilled it, and rang up the sale without uttering a word.
Meanwhile, Joe tried to sort out his thoughts. Just what was he doing here anyway? Why had he come all the way back to his beat? To break Richie’s chops? To provoke him into a fight? Or did he just want to be somewhere – anywhere – on Christmas, just so he didn’t have to spend it alone with his memories?
Twenty minutes later, the man at the end of the bar got up and walked to the front door giving Joe’s stool a wide berth. Richie cautiously moved nearer to Joe now they were alone, but Joe noticed he stayed well out of arm’s reach.
“I’d appreciate it if you would drink up, Brauer. It’s Christmas y’know and I wanna close up”.
“What’s the big rush, Richie? What are you gonna do? Follow Santa around and steal some kid’s toys?”
“Listen, Brauer, if you got somethin’ on me, why don’t you lock me up? If not, bug off or I swear my lawyer’ll be knocking on a lot doors in the New York Police Department’s Headquarters tomorrow, Christmas or no Christmas.”
“One of these days, you slime ball, I’ll get you good. And if I can’t do it legal, I just might take care of you myself with these two hands.”
Richie’s hands started to move up to his throat, but then he dropped them back to his sides. The movement did not go unnoticed by Joe.
“What’s the matter, neck still hurt?”
“Stop threatening me. I’m too smart for you guys. The system had plenty of chances at me and I beat ‘em every time. And you’re too smart to do me in yourself. You’d never get away with it and you could kiss your job and pension goodbye.”
Joe felt himself about to lose control. He and Richie were alone in the bar – and now there were no witnesses.
“Please,” Richie said. “Drink up. I gotta fix that door before I leave. Please.”
The abrupt change in Richie’s tone defused the imminent mayhem in Joe.
“Gotta fix the door,” he said, mimicking Richie’s voice. You should have thought of that before you and your pals threw that kid through it.”
Joe grabbed his change and prepared to leave. He hesitated momentarily as he remembered the guy who had left a few moments ago. Was Richie setting him up? Could that guy be waiting for him in a dark doorway? Christ, he must be getting paranoid. That pockmarked-face weasel wouldn’t have the nerve to try to take him out. He opened the door and stepped out into the icy, clear darkness.
Just as he reached his car, a sharp crack echoed through the freezing air. He hit the snow, slipping on an icy patch, his right hand desperately groping for the gun at his waist. He ripped it free and waited, crouched behind the car. Three more loud bangs split the silence. He relaxed somewhat after realizing they were not the sounds of gunfire. He peered cautiously over the fender of his car as another series of blows sounded down the street. Just as he had said he would do, Richie begun to nail some more boards across the door of the Nest.
Joe chuckled to himself at the thought of how he must have looked hitting the ground. Yet he knew his reactions and reflexes had kept him alive all these years. He would take a cold, wet ass anytime to keep the bullet with his name on it from splitting his skull.
He entered his car, started the engine and lit a cigarette. He inhaled deeply and laid his head back on the head rest. He exhaled slowly allowing the tension to flow out with the blue smoke. He lit another cigarette as the car began to warm up. As the heat
began to fill the car, he watched Richie finish up and head toward the alley. What had he accomplished by coming back here? Nothing. What could he do to stop Richie anyway? Beat him up? Kill him? He must be going nuts. Imagine wanting to kill a guy because he got away with a lot of little crap. But as he remembered his hands tightening around Richie’s neck, a bit of satisfaction entered into his tired brain. Jesus, he had to go home and get some sleep.
Joe prepared to slip the gear selector into drive when something, a flicker of movement, caught his eye. He froze. Was it the changing time of the bank clock numerals reflected in the rear-view mirror? He glanced up. The reversed digits translated to read “3:53.” He stared at the Nest. Richie had left about two minutes ago heading for the alley that led to the parking lot behind the bar. Just when he had convinced himself his overtired senses had played a trick on him, he saw a movement across the street – and this time it was definitely not his imagination. He shut the ignition off and slouched down behind the steering wheel. There it was again – a darting shadow.
The figure stopped, in full view now, and looked up and down 162nd Street. It then scurried back onto 89th Avenue from where it had obviously just appeared. It re-emerged thirty seconds later accompanied by two more figures. They huddled in a group against the wind, gesturing and pointing, first toward the Bird’s Nest, then toward the alley. Were they kid burglars looking for an easy score through the bar door? He smiled to himself and thought how nice it would be to sit here and watch those punks rip off Richie’s joint. But he knew he could not let that happen. Nobody was going to violate his beat. This turf was his corner of the world and Joe considered an attack on any part of it an attack on him personally. He clutched his gun once more and placed his left hand on the door handle waiting to spring into action. For the third time in four hours the adrenalin coursed swiftly through his body.
But something was not quite right. While Joe planned his move, the trio had crept stealthily across the street and the yellow sodium lights had illuminated their faces. They weren’t kids – young, but not kids, and one of them looked familiar. It was the boy who had come through the glass door! As they disappeared down the alley, the realization of what was going on hit him squarely between the eyes. This was no burglary in the making. This was revenge.
He started out the door, but then stopped with it halfway open. Why should he be in such a hurry to help Richie out? He had a beating coming to him tonight three times over. Screw him. He hoped they’d do a number on him, the bastard. And after all, he was not even there. He had gone off duty four hours ago. He shut the door and lit another cigarette. You work in mysterious ways, Lord. What I couldn’t do, you are doing for me by sending three avenging angels down on Christmas Day.
He was giddy with laughter now, and the alcohol from all the beer he had consumed since he went off duty was just peaking in his brain. He choked on the next drag of the cigarette and had to roll the window down to suck in a few breaths of cold air. As his head and lungs cleared a little, he listened intently for sounds of a struggle. He peered back toward the avenue. The clock flashed “4:06.” Seven minutes was a long time. Maybe they were doing a bad number on Richie. Maybe they were slicing him up. So what if they were? It would be good riddance to a piece of crap, a rotten chunk of garbage swept from his beat.
The minutes continued to creep by. The click, click, whirr, buzz sounds emanating from the control box as the traffic light changed seemed abnormally loud in the icy stillness. A sudden chill went through his body as the cold penetrated to his bones. He had to do something soon.
Just then a figure emerged from the alley followed by two others. Was that a knife glinting in the hand of the first one? They ran across the street and disappeared down 89th Avenue. A minute later a car engine coughed and sputtered to life. Doors slammed shut. Tires squealed, then the chirp of second gear, the whine of third gear, then….nothing.
Joe debated what to do. An inner voice, cautious from six years of self-protection on the beat, urged him home. “Don’t get involved, stupid. Forget it. Split.” A second voice, commanding, macho in tone, ordered him out of the car. “Investigate, Joe. It’s your beat they’re screwing with.” Indecision was not in Joe’s make up. He leaped from the car and ran toward the alley.
A jagged path had been shoveled along the left side of the alley where the least drifting had occurred and Joe trotted through it and out into the dimly lit parking field. He slowed to a walk as he spotted Richie’s old car in the north end of the lot. A cold
knot began to form in his stomach in anticipation of whatever grisly sight awaited him. Although the faded blue Ford was familiar to him – he had searched it three or four times in the last three years – its cold, still presence was now menacing. He took the last step and cautiously, almost fearfully, peered in the driver’s window.
Richie lay sprawled on his back along the front seat, both hands clutched tightly to his stomach, his head under the steering wheel. His eyes stared blankly at the roof and a thick trickle of blood oozed from the corner of his mouth. Joe opened the door for a closer look, certain Richie was dead. But as his face passed directly over Richie’s, he heard a sound unlike any he heard before. It began as a low, mewing whine, like an alley cat in heat, and then it rose in pitch to a steady shrill scream – and ended abruptly in a thick choking gargle of fluid. Joe shuddered and felt as if his body temperature had just plummeted to zero. He forced himself to examine Richie more closely in the dim interior dome light. The trio had done a thorough job. He was sliced from his groin to his collar bone, and his clenched hands unsuccessfully attempted to prevent his insides from spilling out of his body. A dark red, gooey stain spread through his fingers and shiny coils of intestine were visible above and below his hands.
Joe knew Richie would be a goner soon unless he did something fast. It was bitterly cold now, and Richie was sinking deeper and deeper into shock. He looked for the car keys. They weren’t in the ignition. Frantically he began searching Richie’s pockets all the time thinking the call box was a five minute sprint away, and how few ambulance crews worked on Christmas, and would they get here in time, and if they did they’d never make it to the hospital in time and….and just why the hell should he care anything about Richie who only got what he deserved anyway?
As Joe backed out of the car, his eyes momentarily locked on Richie’s. A flash of recognition and pleading, and hope, seemed to brighten Richie’s face.
“Joe…Joe…help,” he said in a hoarse whisper.
“Why? Why should I help you Richie? You got what you damned-well deserved. A little while ago you threatened to sic Internal Affairs on me, you dirtbag.”
Joe’s voice rose now, his anger and repressed frustration breaking to the surface. “No way, pal. I should save your miserable life? For what? As far as I’m concerned those guys did me, and everyone else on my beat, a big favor. What I couldn’t do to you in six years, what the system couldn’t do to you in twenty years, they did in one minute. This is justice, my friend – street justice – the only kind that works for crumbs like you.”
He continued to scream at Richie, venting all his pent up rage on the dying man in front of him. As he began to calm down, his fury spent, tears streamed down Richie’s cheeks and Richie’s lips moved slightly, but no sound came from them. The pitiful sight stirred something deep within Joe’s soul. Confused, jumbled pictures flooded his mind. Distant memories of his father lying in a coma, the priest intoning the last rites, tears dripping from his half-open eyes….Joe swearing to the oath of office, promising to protect and serve, to preserve human life….broken, shot, stabbed bodies, all those he had helped, whose lives he had saved….all flashed through his confused brain in an intermixing, conflicting pattern. He suddenly became light-headed and grabbed the backrest for support. He looked down at the wretched soul dying beneath him and said, “Hold on, Richie. Just hold on.”
He ran back through the alley and slowed as he approached the call box to gain his breath, glancing nervously up and down the cold, silent streets. He opened the green metal door and grabbed the receiver, but hesitated before lifting it from its cradle.
What was he going to say? How would he explain why he was here on his post four hours after he had gone off duty? He was half-drunk and probably allowed a murder to be committed on his beat without attempting to stop it. But he had to call it in. The poor guy was dying a horrible death back there. But what if they think he stabbed Richie? How’re they going to find the three guys who actually did it? What about all the guys in the bar who heard him threaten Richie?
He released his grip on the phone and clutched his head tightly between his hands attempting to squeeze a decision from his tortured brain. A minute passed. Then two. He lowered his hands from his head. He was suddenly freezing on this silent Christmas morning, and he couldn’t control the trembling that shook every muscle in his body. He lifted the receiver to his ear.
“Sergeant Miller, One-oh-Three Precinct” a voice said. “Sergeant Miller here. May I help you? Is there trouble there?”
Joe lowered the phone to its cradle; softly, he closed the call box door.
* * *
When Joe returned to his apartment, he pulled off his clothes, dropped onto the bed, and fell asleep in less than five minutes. At 7:30 that morning, he was startled awake by the ringing of the phone as a weak Christmas morning sun filtered through the blinds. He picked up the receiver and said hello as the events of the previous night rushed back into his mind. “Merry Christmas, old buddy. Duke Williams here.”
Inhaling a deep breath, then slowly releasing it, Joe said, “Same to you, Duke.”
“Sorry to bother you this early, but there was what appears to be an attempted murder on your beat last night, about four hours after you went home.”
Attempted murder? Richie Watson was still alive?
“Who was it, Duke?”
“Your old buddy, Richie Watson, the guy you’re always bitchin’ about to me and Timmy at our little get togethers.”
“Well, I didn’t do it to the nasty S.O.B., but I have a good idea who did.”
“You do? I’m all ears.”
Joe related the story of the kid getting thrown through the door of the Nest and said, “He probably came back to settle the score with Watson.”
“Can you give me a good enough description of him to work up a sketch?”
“Were there any others in the bar when the kid got thrown out?”
“About seven. Most of them familiar locals. I can give you a few names.”
“Terrific! Listen, I want to thoroughly check the scene and then go to the hospital. Richie underwent some heavy-duty surgery and I want to be there when he wakes up. I’ll arrange for a sketch artist to come to the stationhouse. Can you meet us there say around two o’ clock?”
“If the desk officer approves the overtime, I will.”
“No problem, I’ll take care of that. See you later. I’ll call you before that if Richie does wake up and has more info on his attacker.”
Joe hung up and realized he had better get his story straight in his head for his meeting with Duke in a few hours. He made a pot of coffee, and after two cups, he took out a pad of paper and a ballpoint pen and began to write –
Hear glass breaking somewhere behind me. Run back and find young man lying in snow in front of Bird’s Nest Bar Appears to have been thrown through glass door. Go in bar and confront Richie Watson, the bartender. During questioning of Richie about the incident grab him by the throat and squeeze hard. Dammit, about seven witnesses. Realize the victim has left scene. No complainant, no crime. Leave the bar and sign off duty at call box and drive home. Have to leave it right there. Cannot mention trip back to bar in civilian clothes. Dammit one witness was still there.
Joe was relieved Duke had caught the Watson case. He could trust him to do the right thing. Then Joe shuddered as he realized one of the best homicide investigators on the force would be working to crack this case with all his skills and cunning. And what if Joe turned up in his sights? Would Duke pull the trigger on him?
* * *
Joe collapsed on the sofa and let out a great rush of breath. The awful tension of maintaining a calm conversation with Duke Williams, with the unexpected revelation that Richie was still alive, had drained his emotions, and a pounding headache had set in. He closed his eyes for a few moments to relax, to quiet his breathing, to allow things to sort themselves out in his racing brain. The headache would not quit. He went to the bathroom, took the bottle of Advil out of the medicine cabinet, and swallowed three tablets with a large glass of cold water. He returned to the sofa and lay down again on his back, eyes closed, hands folded across his stomach, breathing rhythmically, trying not to think about anything.
The pills kicked in within a half hour, and ten minutes after that, the pounding dwindled to a slight ache. He rose from the bed and went into the kitchen. His notes and memo book were where he had left them. He had to organize his thoughts and plan for the next few days. Okay, Richie’s not dead. He was not responsible for his death. Please, God, let him recover completely. Don’t let him die. What the hell got into him last night? How could he have allowed this to happen? How could he have betrayed his oath of office? The words of old Sergeant Webster at the academy flashed through his mind. Never tarnish your shield or your wedding band. And he sure had tarnished his shield last night. And, in a manner of speaking, he had also tarnished his wedding band by loving his beat more than his wife, which was why he was alone this Christmas and she and his two young kids were in Pennsylvania. He got down on his knees for the first time in years and recited the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Act of Contrition, and again pleaded with God, despite his unconscionable betrayal, to not let him become a murderer.
A chilling thought flashed through his mind. When Richie wakes up from surgery, what would he say? Would he say, it was Brauer that done this to me. He coulda stopped those guys, but he didn’t…
He looked at his notes again and then tried to recall his conversation with Duke. What had he told him that might come back at him later? He stated aloud: “I told him exactly what happened up to the time I signed off duty. No problem there. No lies, and only one omission, that being I choked Richie during the confrontation. What else did I tell him? I told him about the kid probably coming back for revenge. And the seven guys in the bar – the witnesses. Only problem will be if, I should say when, Duke finds these guys and they tell him about me choking out Richie. And the big problem is the one guy, who I didn’t recognize, that was there when I came back later. Maybe I’ll get lucky and Duke will never find him. And the way I reacted when I realized Richie was alive. Did Duke detect the relief in my voice? Did I raise any red flags?”
Joe was suddenly bone tired. The previous night’s events, the call from Duke, the strain of keeping his story straight, and the constant change in adrenaline levels that coursed through his system had finally taken its toll. Although he was desperate for Duke to call him with news of Richie’s condition, he needed more sleep. His tortured mind needed a good mental and physical rest. He set the alarm for 1:00 p.m., and finally fell asleep praying for the soul of Richie Watson and for his own tarnished and stained soul as well.