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Killer In Control
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Chapter 1

           

The eerie night flashes by the frosted squad car window. My hands ache from clutching the car seat as I, Sgt.
Katherine Morgan, and my partner. Sgt. Hank Burdock, do a U-ie. We zoom toward Water Street to answer the call
spewing from our radio—a call we’ve expected and dreaded for weeks.

            No lights flash.

            No sirens wail. Yet.

            “Burglary in progress. Four-twenty South Water. Burglary in progress.”

            Our headlights glare on the black ribbon of ice decorating the street like a package of death, on week-old snow banks nasty with slush from passing traffic, on a flank of steel-soldier parking meters, marching along the sidewalk’s edge. Typical small-town Iowa. Typical January weather. Dumb criminals. You’d think they’d be smart enough to hang it up until spring.

            Again I clutch the frayed seat covers in our blue and white.

Hank’s fingers choke the padded cover on the steering wheel.

Muddied burger cartons crunch underfoot.  If second-hand smoke kills, we’ll die soon.  Or we may die from Hank’s crazy driving. 

With feet against floorboards, my weight shifts side to side as we careen around a corner, fishtail, regain traction. 

Our headlights show the outside of the store at 420 South Water Street, Wayland’s Pet Shop. Tan paint peeling. Cracked front window. Storm door sagging on rusty hinges. Nothing but a run-down hole-in-the-wall. I never go near the place if I can avoid it. And most of the time I can. The PD’s had the shop under long-time surveillance as a suspected cover for drug operations.

We are last to arrive.

           Two squad cars sit in front of the shop.

            Officers on foot surround the place with drawn guns. 

           We park in the back alley and skin from the car while Chief Gilmore bellows through a bullhorn.

            “Come out with your hands up! Now. Come out with your hands up and nobody gets hurt.”

“Now!”

“Come out now!”

Nobody leaves the shop.  How many are inside? 

Gilmore shouts orders again and we wait—coiled springs ready for action. 

Seconds pass. 

A couple of minutes tick by before Hank and I follow orders to storm the store from the rear. 

Others smash through the front entry and broken glass crashes against concrete. 

One kick fractures the door lock and we rush inside.   My hand feels clammy against my pistol.  A heightened sense of the imminent danger lurking inside this shop kicks in as does my eidetic memory of white mice—a childhood memory I fight to keep buried. 

But the memory explodes into my thoughts.

I may vomit.

No!  Choke it back! 

I won’t let the squad say that the token female on the force caused a distraction that allowed these scumbags to escape.  How could I explain my heaving to Hank, to any of the guys?  I swallow the bitter taste rising in the back of my throat as the stench of animals and urine overcomes the faint smell of air freshener and sweeping compound.     

I see movement from the periphery of my right eye and whirl to face it. 

A street light outside illumines a gunman.  He lifts his arm, raises a pistol, points it at my head. 

An atavistic impulse prompts me to fire first.  The gunman drops like a stone.  The stench of gunpowder fills my nostrils, overcoming the animal odors.

 Pandemonium. 

Shouts. 

Pounding feet and more gunshots.

The coppery stench of blood. 

The snap of a light switch. 

Sudden overhead light bathes the scene as Gilmore barks orders, takes command of two intruders who drop their guns and raise their hands.  It’s over—for the moment.

The perp lies prone on the floor.  Living?  Dead?  I can’t tell.  But now it’s plain that his gun is nothing more than a child’s plastic toy.

I’ve shot another human being.

I’ve shot an unarmed man. 

I close my eyes to the blackness that washes over me—a murderer.  In only a few minutes my world has changed.  My thoughts are like vultures that flutter overhead but never perch.  I can’t cope.

   I vomit.

 

***************************************************

I was a few miles from Key West when I heard the siren and saw blue lights flashing in my rear-view mirror. I snapped from thoughts of my two failed career dreams, thoughts that had plagued me all the way from Iowa to Florida. I straightened my shoulders. I might be down, but I wasn’t out. My tires crunched against gravel when I pulled onto the scant shoulder beside the highway. I didn’t need this encounter.  

I lowered my window. I smiled.

My stomach clenched like a fist when the patrolman eased from his tan car and strolled toward me. He was of medium height. My own 5 feet and 11 inches usually gave me confidence, but right now I felt miniscule. In a crunch, sometimes I could buoy myself with pleasant memories of my long ago Miss Iowa crown and the recognition of my singing talent. That ploy didn’t work now. This patrolman wouldn’t be interested in the incompetent ENT surgeons who had quashed my potential blues-singing career. He might be interesting in knowing I had squelched my police officer career with my own gun. But I wasn’t telling. To him, I was just another minor law breaker.

“Do you realize you’re traveling above the speed limit, Ma’am?”

“No, sir. I didn’t realize. I’m sorry.” Sorry I was caught, I thought, hating to be on the receiving end of a traffic ticket, but knowing a heavy pedal foot marked one of my failings. Right now I didn’t want to think of failings. Down deep, I knew neither of my two career failings was my fault. Surgeons and criminals were to blame. People of my past. I was headed toward a bright future—although I didn’t know yet what it might be.

“Your name, please.” He raised his voice so it would carry above the din of trucks, motorcycles, open convertibles with boom boxes blaring rap.

“Kitt Morgan.” No point in telling him I’m Police Sgt. Katherine Morgan from Marshalltown, Iowa. No point in telling him I’m a law-abiding citizen who seldom ignored speed limits. I concentrated on keeping my smile in place.

“May I see your driver’s license, please?”

 I dug into my purse, jerked out my billfold, opened it and flashed the license toward him. He took his time reading. A Winn Dixie truck driver honked as he passed.

“May I see your car registration, please?”

I leaned to open the glove box. The car was so new, the box had nothing in it except the owner’s manual and the registration form. He read the registration carefully then smiled as he returned it to me.

“I clocked you at ten miles over the speed limit, Ma’am.”

“I didn’t realize I was speeding.”

He smiled. “It can happen—especially when you’re driving a new car. “Since you’re from out of state, I’ll let you off with a warning this time. Easy with the foot from now on, okay?”

“Thank you, Officer. I’ll set the cruise control.”

“Good idea.”

I hesitated then I risked some small talk. “I know you pulled me over for speeding, but I’m guessing you also wanted to get a good look at my Prius, right?”

He grinned. “That was secondary in my thinking, of course, but I’ll admit it’s the first hybrid car I’ve had a chance to observe up close and personal. You like it?”

“Love it. Smooth ride. Classy looking.”

“Like its owner.” He grinned. “Mileage?”

For an instant, his compliment flustered me at the same time it buoyed my spirits. I grinned back and answered his question quickly. “Gets around 50 mpg on the highway. You may not believe it, but it does even better in the stop-and-go city traffic.”

“In another place, another time, I might ask you for a demo ride. The public needs to give this type of car serious attention.”

“Agreed. It’s time the public took some meaningful steps toward energy conservation, especially after all the tragedies our servicemen are experiencing in Iraq.”

Still smiling and eyeing the car, the officer backed off and waved me on my way. “Easy on the gas pedal, okay.”

“Right.”

He followed me a few miles down Highway One, one of the most dangerous highways in Florida, but I didn’t relax until he turned off at the Quik Chik on Boca Chica, leaving me alone with my thoughts, worries, and frustrations. I had a bundle of them, and Shelby Cox, my ex-boyfriend nudged his way to the head of the list.

Although I’m 32 and thinking now and then about marriage and family, Shelby and I aren’t into a strong relationship. We didn’t live together, but we enjoyed each others’ company—I thought—until the pet shop shooting. With a casual see-you-around following our first date after my suspension from the force, he disappeared from my life. No good-night kiss. None of his usual compliments about my slim figure, my flame-red hair, my smooth complexion. No morning follow-up call. Nothing. Was he afraid of me?

Did he think armed and dangerous whenever I came to mind?

But forget Shelby Cox. I dumped him from my mind. Or at least I tried to. Most of my problems hinged on my shooting the perp.

My gun bucks in my hand.

I smell the stench of burnt gunpowder.

And the blood. The blood. The blood.

I jerked my thoughts back to the present. The perp. I refused to humanize him by remembering his name. How could I deal with gunning down another human being? Yes, he was still alive and recovering. Yes, he’d been trying to pull a drug deal. Yes, he had a rap sheet a mile long. But those mitigating circumstances were secondary to the fact that I’d shot a man. My guilt felt like an evil fungus, an ever-expanding mushroom crowding my lungs until I could hardly breathe. But I was determined to get over those feelings, to move on with my life. I had to find a new direction.

“Retired after thirty-four years on the force and never fired my gun.”

In spite of my determination, Dad’s proud words replayed in my mind. He’d been dead five years and I missed him, yet I was glad he’d never know I shot a man. He’d never know my position on the force depended on the decision of a grand jury. If I was permanently cut from the force, what would I do then? I’d faced challenges before and I could do it again. I would find a new direction.

A car zoomed by me in a no-passing zone, but I kept my cool, my thoughts back in Iowa. At home, when a cop shoots a perp, that cop’s relieved of duty with pay while a grand jury or a Civilian Review Board investigates the case and decides if the shooting was justified. And if the perp is unarmed? It’s a bad scene. I’d testified under oath that I believed I shot in self defense. Now I could only wait and worry—pray that the members of the jury believed me, and endure the suspension. I loved my job. I wanted nothing to change it or my world. Even before I joined the force I’d read and studied books about the criminal mind, about murderers, their personalities, and what made them tick. Murderers. I never dreamed that one day I might be one of them. I prayed the perp would live.

“How about them Hawkeyes!” A car with blue and white Iowa plates zoomed by me—in a no passing zone—the guy in the passenger’s seat tossing me a thumbs up along with a big grin.

I beeped my horn in response, but I smiled to see the accident-waiting-to-happen driver stuck behind the same Strunk Lumber truck I had been following for miles.

As I drove on toward my sister Janell’s home, news stories of past police shootings flashed through my mind. After one Iowa police chase, a policeman shot and killed an armed robber as the perp abandoned his car and fired at the officer. A grand jury declined to recommend charges against the officer. In another instance, a sheriff’s deputy shot an unarmed man dead after a car chase crash. The case came before a grand jury that charged the deputy with voluntary manslaughter.

I hit my brakes when the lumber truck suddenly slowed. Two books flew from my passenger seat to the floor. I’d tossed them into my car before I’d headed south. The black one, which I’d placed in a velvet bag, slipped out and the cover flipped open.

Be not only fair, be generous. Right may lie in the other scale.

Dad had penned those words he lived by on the inside page of the diary in shimmering gold ink. A great guy. A great cop. He’d given me the diary before he died and I read snatches from it whenever I needed hope and inspiration.

The other book, “The Textbook Sociopath,” was a treatise on a type of criminal unfamiliar to me. I wanted to learn more and I’d been studying the book for several weeks. Its contents left me feeling unsettled and wary.

After I’d replaced the books beside me on the passenger seat, I noticed Dad’s retirement medallion had slipped from the velvet bag where I’d placed it for safekeeping. I scooped it up and tucked it into my pocket. In the past, I’d worn the medallion on a chain hidden under my shirt, but since the shooting I felt unworthy of it. I’d tucked it into the bag with the diary. My neck felt bare without it.

I looked forward to spending a few days of my enforced suspension with my sister and brother-in-law. I had asked to visit them because I needed to take some action on my own behalf. I was not hiding from my problems. I needed to examine my life and find direction. I had every intention of returning to Iowa and facing whatever awaited me there. Sometimes Janell played the part of bossy-older-sister, her BOS act, I’d called it as a kid, but I’d see to it that we’d get along fine for a few days. She and her husband, Rex, had agreed to my coming for a visit and I intended to help with daily chores while I was a guest at their bed-and-breakfast, The Poinsettia.

On the right side of the highway, the sun sparkled on waters in the Gulf of Mexico. On the left side, it shone on Hawk Channel and the Atlantic Ocean. Bay side. Ocean side. That’s how the locals designated their addresses. Who, I wondered, decided where the ocean ended and the bay began? Henry Flagler?

I’d always seen Key West as a fun-and-games, anything-goes island. But today when I watched pelicans perching statue-like on gray coral rocks protruding from bay waters, I tried to avoid seeing it as a haven for the woebegone. But anyone wanting to hide out from the world could find no better place. I hung another right at Garrison Bight and marveled at the hundreds of yachts, sailboats, and runabouts bobbing in their slips.

I felt small.

A traffic snarl involving a Conch Train and a RV with Michigan plates caused a near chaos on Duval Street. It made me glad to turn onto the quiet of Caroline Street—an ominous, waiting quiet, I thought. Inching forward slowly, I ignored the kids in the rusty Conch cruiser threatening to drive up my tailpipe as I scanned house numbers. The street had changed in the years since I’d last seen Key West.

I parked in the only space available, a clearly marked tow-away zone.

“Yo, Mama!” a kid in the cruiser shouted, burning rubber when he zoomed past me. “You askin’ for a ticket!”

           “Your Iowa tags won’t save you,” his passenger shouted. “The cops suck up tourist tow-away fees like margaritas.”

I didn’t dignify their comments with a reply.

           Janell and Rex’s old Conch house sat back from the street. Thorny date palms and a Seagrape strangling with bougainvillea vines showered blood red blossoms onto the pea-graveled yard. The home with its white paint, its steep tin roof, and its wrap-around verandas was reminiscent of old Key West. A few feet in front of the house, a sidewalk rimmed a flourishing bed of poinsettia plants, their leaves looking like scarlet spears in the late afternoon sunshine.

          Where was everyone? I gave a brief toot on my horn then slid from the Prius and started walking toward the house. I felt eager to call it home for a few days even though I knew my visit was only a stopgap between my past and my future—whatever it might be.

“Janell? Rex?” Where were they? I knew they were expecting me. Hadn’t they seen me arrive? Heard my horn?

In moments Janell appeared in her doorway, tall, willowy, hurrying to greet me, and elegant as always, today in an ankle-length caftan that skimmed her slim body. A broad smile chased a worried frown from her face

“Kitt! At last! Thought you’d never get here.” Our eyes met on a level before we exchanged kisses, but I felt tenseness in her arms and shoulders when I snuggled into her warm embrace. At 45, Janell was thirteen years older than I, but her fiery red hair was still as bright as mine. We both chose casual blow-and-go cuts that suited our lifestyles. Nobody would have any trouble believing we were sisters.

Janell had gone off to college after our mother died. Dad had raised me, and now I saw Janell more as a fairy godmother than a sister. We broke apart only when Rex followed her from the house ready to give me an additional hug. He looked pale and tired and I tried not to stare at his shiny head, although Janell had assured me he was bald by choice.

“Welcome! Welcome!” Rex exclaimed. “Glad you made it . . . safely.”

“Come on inside,” Janell invited. “But first let’s get that new car off the street before the cops tow it—at the owner’s expense, of course. Rex hurried to unlock and open a white pine gate at the side of the yard. I slipped beneath my steering wheel and followed him to a carport in the tropical garden behind the home they called The Poinsettia.

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