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HIGH SPEED SILENCE
By Alex Wade
AuthorHouseCopyright © 2011 Alex Wade
All right reserved.
Chapter OneIN THE HEART OF EVERY city lies a bastion of worldly justice, a castle of decency amid a siege of bad behavior.
The north coast of California is known for its foggy weather. During summer a thick gray layer usually moves onshore in the early afternoon, snuffing out the warm, golden rays of the morning sun. There is a distinct change in mood as the accompanying temperature drops, turning an innocent day dark and foreboding. The most notorious police shooting in North Coast history took place on just such a day.
It happened on Highway 101 just outside Humboldt City on a sunny Fourth of July. Holiday traffic had come to a complete standstill on the freeway because of a fender bender. Irritated by the delay, frustrated drivers got out of their cars to see what was going on. Fifteen minutes later, no one had moved an inch. Worse yet, there was no sign of law enforcement or emergency personnel anywhere.
Lester, a grumpy old curmudgeon in an RV, finally reached his boiling point. He was already late for his weekly bingo game at the casino. Sweat stung his eyes. He brushed it away and then banged his fist on the AC panel. He'd paid fifty thousand dollars for this piece of crap RV, and now the air wasn't working. He glanced out the window at the wall of traffic that had ground to a halt. Where the hell are the police when you needed them? If he didn't get his vehicle rolling soon and get some fresh air blowing through the windows, he'd broil alive. Lester glanced over to the shoulder. It sat empty all the way to the Humboldt City exit, five hundred feet ahead. It seemed a bit narrow, but he felt sure that he could make it. Lester turned the wheel and pressed on the gas. His RV lurched out of line and onto the shoulder, sending dirt billowing up in clouds. He pushed forward a good two hundred feet and then noticed some young punk step out of an old El Camino and onto the shoulder. Lester slammed on the brakes and blared the horn, but the punk just flipped him the bird. The young hooligan's hair was shaved up on one side, and long earrings dangled from both ears. Lester scowled. Only faggots wore earrings.
Lester blared the horn again. The punk ignored him, chugging down the last of a forty-ounce malt liquor and tossing the bottle into the ditch. Goddamned litterbug, Lester thought. These kids have no respect for the law. Lester honked again. The punk took a step, staggered a bit, and then assumed a steadier stance. With legs spread wide, the punk reached down, unzipped his pants, and pulled out his jimmy. Lester couldn't believe what he was seeing. For God's sake, there were women and children around. Lester honked the horn again, and again the punk shot him the bird. The punk proceeded to pee right on the side of the road. The urine struck the ground and spattered back on the kid's legs, but he didn't seem to notice.
Lester watched, flabbergasted. Sweat again stung his eyes, and he had to brush it out with his hands. He looked up and spotted a young girl in a pink sundress skipping between the cars with a sparkler in her hand. The girl approached the punk and slid to a halt. She stared for a moment. The punk spotted her and turned to wave. His jimmy stood in full view, splashing urine all over the road. The girl giggled and then ran off.
That was the last straw. Lester held down the horn and pressed the accelerator.
The young punk turned to look.
The RV bore down on him, but the punk refused to move. He just flashed Lester a sneer.
A sneer? Why, that bastard. Lester decided to scare the crap out of him. He refused to ease up on the accelerator until he was nearly on the kid, and then he slammed on the brakes. Unfortunately, the AC wasn't the only thing that didn't work right on this piece of shit RV. It slammed into the punk and slid a dozen feet past where Lester thought it would stop, dragging the kid the entire way.
The foolhardy youth evidently had not spent any time around grumpy old men. Lester was still spewing venom from his window when the frenzied crowd dragged him from his vehicle. Two of the victim's buddies started beating Lester to a pulp, just as the fog rolled in. Someone in the crowd tossed red smoke grenades onto the roadway, while others shot bottle rockets and tossed beer bottles into the melee.
Luckily, help was on the way. Knifing through the gridlock at high speed, silently weaving past pedestrians, motorcycle patrolman Adam King arrived at the scene. In one fluid motion, he dismounted his bike and sprinted toward the center of the action, simultaneously relaying information through his microphone headset. Without breaking stride, he pounced on the two young men beating up on Lester and yanked them both off by their hair. Outraged by such rough treatment, the two decided to gang up on the patrolman instead of surrendering. King knew he was in for a fight. The steely cop stood his ground as they began circling him like wolves. "It only gets worse from here," King said, warning them to back off. But the two had no intention of giving up peacefully. The one on the left, a wiry white boy in a wife-beater tank top with multiple piercings on his face, lunged forward. King neatly sidestepped him, tripping him at the ankles. The poor lad hurtled headlong into a parked car. The thud was sickening. He wobbled to his feet, blood streaming down his face from the collision. A torn eyebrow flapped open and hung down over his eye. The second stooge, a steroid-swollen gang banger with thick gold chains around his neck, was close behind. King spun deftly on his heels and launched a pulverizing heel kick to the meathead's groin. The big oaf buckled and groaned as he fell to his knees on the pavement. King then drew his Taser and issued an unmistakable warning in a loud clear voice: "The next one of you who tries to put his hands on me will be tasered!"
Fueled by a volatile mixture of testosterone and crank, the wild-eyed thug unsheathed a belt-buckle knife and took a violent swipe at the patrolman's neck. King fired his Taser, but one of the copper wires got tangled and snapped, rendering it useless. "Ha!" the young thug laughed, and he resumed a fighting stance with the buckle knife. It was clear to King that this guy had done some training and probably would go for a kill shot if given the chance. King finally pulled his gun. "Last chance to not do something stupid ..." he said coyly.
"Fat chance, pig!" the foolhardy youth snarled. In his twisted mind, he was fighting the system and the authority figures he despised. In reality, he'd simply brought a knife to a gunfight.
The stiff crack of the patrolman's Glock 22 cut through the air and delivered its message with lethal force. The recipient grimaced and then went slack, dropping to the pavement with an expression of disbelief on his face.
Most of the crowd fled in mass panic, terrified by the sight of a real shooting. It's not the same as it is on television. The moaning, massive pooling of blood, and involuntary twitching of the victim as the life runs out him are hard for even the most jaded veterans to witness. It's the kind of thing that changes you forever. The only person who stood his ground is the victim's buddy. The patrolman saw the shock and rage welling up in his eyes and knew what would come next.
"Double or nothing?" King said, coldly fixing his laser sights on the big oaf's chest. The words sounded like a brazen challenge at the time, but the streetwise officer knew it was the most effective way to discourage an assault. The hefty gang banger looked down at the bright red dot on his chest and put his hands up in surrender.
When backup officers arrived, they found King calmly directing traffic. A flood of law enforcement personnel descended upon the scene. The local news media were there in full force, eager to get the scoop of the year.
Leaning against his motorcycle with arms folded and calmly smoking a cigarette, the patrolman appeared oddly detached in the center of the storm. A beam of sunlight broke through the cloud cover, illuminating him briefly as though he were on a separate plane of existence. Although small in stature, he was tightly muscled and well-proportioned, and he moved with an extreme economy of motion. Decades of hard riding had sculpted him into a lean, mean machine. Everything about him suggested speed and toughness ... like a bullet.
Lieutenant Dave Sharp was the supervisory officer on scene. Clad in a plain black Hugo Boss suit with a gold badge glinting on his waistband, he carried himself with the stony gravitas of a seasoned veteran. The tall, angular veteran listened grim faced as the patrolman described the sequence of events that led to the shooting. "He left me no choice," King explained. As the words left his mouth, the realization suddenly struck him that he had just shot someone. "So what happens next?" he asked.
"Sounds like a righteous shoot," Sharp reassured him. "But we do this by the book. Surrender your service weapon to the evidence tech, and meet me in my office ASAP."
King unloaded his weapon, just like he had been taught at the academy, and handed it over to the lieutenant. He felt like he had just lost his right arm.
As the lieutenant sped off in a dark sedan, Officer King took a final drag from his cigarette and then crushed it under his boot heel with a decisive twist. How did I get here? he asked himself. All I ever wanted was to ride a motorcycle.
* * *
The Humboldt City Courthouse is a five-story pink stucco building smack in the center of town. The drab concrete edifice is largely nondescript except for the weathered State of California shield above the front entrance. The county jail, nicknamed the Humboldt Hilton by locals, conjoins its north wall. The Humboldt City Police Department occupies the ground floor. Law enforcement vehicles buzz in and out of the underground parking garage like wasps from a nest.
A large group of protesters has already assembled on the front lawn of the courthouse. Angry citizens circle the block waving picket signs, chanting anti-police epithets, when Officer King arrives. He has to push his way to the garage ramp through a gauntlet of cameras and reporters and is safe only after the steel garage gate closes behind him. "Holy crap," he says to himself after dismounting his bike. "That didn't take long."
King knew exactly why they had assembled so quickly. A few months earlier, a local teenager had been shot and killed while trying to run from the police. The public protests went on for weeks. In the end, the officer was acquitted, which created even more public mistrust. It was a vicious cycle, and this new incident couldn't have come at a worse time.
King follows a long corridor and then takes the back stairs to the office. The walls are lined with portraits of fallen officers. "Hey, Swaggs," he says to the faded photo of Sergeant Steve Swaggart, his old partner. "Hope you're having fun in Margaritaville." The man in the photo has a broad, friendly face and a thick brown mustache. They had gone through everything together—the academy, field training, and the mandatory first year of probation. At different times, it looked like neither one of them was going to make it. King nearly quit when the department reneged on its promise to assign him a motorcycle officer slot, and Swaggs totaled four patrol cars in his first six months. The only way they got through it all was by spending their off-duty hours partying at a local pub wearing loud Hawaiian shirts. Swaggs always played Margaritaville on the jukebox;it was his favorite. Many a night ended with them singing it, arm in arm, drunk as skunks. They vowed to meet up in the afterlife, in Margaritaville, should anything ever happen to one of them on the job. Swaggs died two days before his thirtieth birthday while trying to rescue a boy drowning in the Mad River. He left behind a wife and four children.
King passes through a security door to the main office, which is crammed wall to wall with battleship-gray metal desks piled high with case files. Manning the desks is a corps of loyal employees without whom the entire justice system would come to a halt. They are nearly always swamped with paperwork and rarely look up from their desks, but when King passes by on his way to the Lieutenant Sharp's office, he is met with a host of sympathetic eyes. News travels fast in the close-knit world of police officers. He double checks to make sure his uniform is properly adjusted before knocking.
"Are you okay?" Sharp asks perfunctorily.
"Fine." King appears unfazed by the day's events.
Sharp looks up from the papers on his desk. "Have a seat, Adam."
"Thanks," King answers, "but I'd rather stand."
The patrolman has a hard time even standing still, restlessly shifting his weight back and forward on the balls of his feet.
"You are on administrative leave effective immediately," Sharp says.
The news hits King like a bucket of cold water.
"Until you're cleared by the brass."
"How long is that?"
"Hard to say," Sharp replies. "This is going to be a real media circus. Turns out the kid you shot was only seventeen. Remember the O'Kane case?" the lieutenant says, alluding to the controversial police shooting case from a few months earlier that was still fresh in the public's minds. The seventeen-year-old high school student was shot and killed by officers as he ran through the park with a knife. "So be prepared for the worst."
The thought of not riding his motorcycle for more than a couple of days is the worst thing he can imagine.
"I'll be holding your hand through the process," Sharp offers.
"Thank you, sir," King replies.
King knows he can trust the lieutenant. Sharp is a cop's cop.
"Follow me." The lieutenant gets up from his desk and motions with two fingers. The grim-faced superior leads King down the hall to the Public Information Office. He knocks lightly on the glass door, and the two enter.
Unlike the rest of the institutional decor in the department, the walls in the PIO are painted a cheery blue color. Karen Phillips, a buxom brunette in her thirties, welcomes them into her domain. Little does King know that she has had a thing for him ever since she saw him glide into the parking garage on his motorcycle. She was instantly drawn by the way he made it look so easy—not to mention the thousand-watt smile he flashed her after taking off his helmet. But he had no idea that Karen liked him in that way; she kept that secret to herself. Her career depended on maintaining a professional demeanor at the office, especially in the macho culture of the police force. "If there's only one thing you take away from this meeting," she began, "it's that you don't talk about the incident to anyone. Period. Is that clear?"
"Is ... that ... clear, Patrolman King?" Karen firmly repeats. "Anything you say can and will be taken out of context. Even a stray comment to a buddy can cost you your career."
King looks across the desk at her and notices her for the first time in a new way. His eyes are drawn to the voluptuous curves under her tight gray flannel skirt. He can't help but notice the outline of the sexy purple lace bra under her button-down shirt. Their eyes meet. The attraction between them is instantaneous and powerful.
"I think he's had enough of the riot act," Sharp says after noticing the silent exchange between Karen and King. "Let's go, Adam."
The lieutenant ushers the young patrolman out of the office, but then King returns to get his leather jacket, which he conveniently left on the chair. They awkwardly bump into each other while reaching for it. "Excuse me," King says, looking at her and smiling bashfully. The chemistry between them is palpable.
"That's all right," she says as she blushes. "I wish you'd done it sooner."
Excerpted from HIGH SPEED SILENCE by Alex Wade Copyright © 2011 by Alex Wade. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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