We strode down the dank second floor hallway of Framington Apartments. Hard rock pulsed beyond the flimsy door of Unit 233, our destination. Yelled curses added to the racket.
As first on scene, I stepped forward to knock. Ramirez pushed me aside and banged hard on the flimsy door. “Police! Open up!”
The yelling stopped. The music didn’t. Ramirez banged again.
My heart pumped with adrenaline. Anger simmered in my gut. Ramirez had no right to push me aside. His big brother act was getting old.
Ramirez prepared to pull a stupid macho move and put his size thirteen shoe through the door, but it opened. He was left with his foot hanging in the air with no place to go. I bit my lip to keep back a snicker. The twang of electric guitars and crash of drums rolled over us along with a urine and putrid food stench that made my eyes water.
A woman stood in the narrow opening. One hand covered the left side of her face.
Ramirez pushed against the door to force it wider. She resisted, her fleshy bulk a temporary barrier. A soiled yellow t-shirt imprinted with a spray of purple pansies stretched across sagging breasts and belly. Sweatpants and ratty tennis shoes completed her outfit.
“Errythin OK.” Her terrified countenance spoke the familiar language of abuse. She tried to close the door.
“We got a call about the noise. You okay ma’am?” Ramirez asked, his deep voice muffled by the reverb of electric guitars.
The woman glanced behind her, and then back at Ramirez.
“MA’AM, YOUR NEIGHBORS ARE COMPLAINING ABOUT THE MUSIC. TURN IT DOWN!”
The big cop’s shouted request had no effect on the woman. She pushed the door against his solid bulk to no avail.
“WE NEED TO MAKE A REPORT. PAPERWORK. EVERYTHING WE DO IS ABOUT PAPERWORK, RIGHT MS. GAJOS? DO I HAVE THAT RIGHT, FOR THE REPORT, MAJA GAJOS?”
“Won’t take but a sec,” Ramirez said, returning to a pacifying tone.
After a tense moment, she lumbered back. The door swung open.
Three children, more dazed than afraid, clustered behind a lumpy gray sofa. A bearded man with wide-set eyes and broad shoulders leaned against a cluttered counter, smoking a joint. The place reeked of dirty clothes, unwashed bodies, old food, burning marijuana, booze and urine. On the counter next to the man sat a half-empty bottle of Old Crow and a head of lettuce cut in half. A disgruntled cat darted across the dingy carpet and out the door.
“Turn muh music off, I gonna kick yo ass.” The man voiced the threat just loud enough to be heard.
Ramirez crossed the room in three strides and pulled the plug on a pricey looking sound system. The abrupt silence was as jarring as the former noise.
“You threatening me, Sir?” Ramirez took a notebook out of his pocket and looked at it. “Arnold Pointer, is that your name, Sir? We got a complaint about the noise, Sir.”
Every time Ramirez said “sir,” I flinched. It sounded anything but respectful.
Pointer snuffed out the joint with his thumb and forefinger, and then balanced it on the edge of the counter. He sniffed through over-large nostrils, lowered his head like a bull, and charged. Ramirez easily turned aside. Instead of taking Ramirez down, Pointer barreled into the sound system’s shaky stand. He roared in fury as everything tumbled to the stained carpet. Pointer grabbed one of the giant speakers and hurled it at Ramirez who pivoted away, but not in time. The speaker smashed into his shoulder and knocked him into the wall. I stepped between them before Ramirez could act on the flash of fury that had him reaching for his weapon. I flipped a surprised Pointer around, forced him to his knees and cuffed him. He wasn’t the first person to underestimate me.
Ramirez rolled his shoulder and grimaced before he grabbed Pointer by the arm and jerked him to his feet.
“You broke my shit! Gonna sue yo ass!”
Ramirez winced when Pointer tried to pull away from him.
“You okay?” I asked.
“Secure the scene. Interview Gajos, I got this piece of shit!”
Pointer lurched toward Gajos. “Keep yo’ mouth shut, bitch!”
Gajos scuttled away as Ramirez yanked Pointer back. The effort made Ramirez grunt with pain as he roughly steered his prisoner toward the open door.
“Where you taking me? I ain’t done nothin’!”
“For starters, assault on a police officer, asshole.” Ramirez grunted again when Pointer yanked on his restraints.
“You want me to take him to the car, Benjie?”
“I got it!”
I kept my annoyance to myself and turned to the woman rather than argue. Gajos stood weeping, her face buried in one hand while the other rested on the counter next to the head of lettuce. The joint had gone out but residual smoke drifted in the rancid air.
I glanced at the three children. The oldest, a boy of about twelve, glared at me like I was the enemy. In that moment, as I turned back to Gajos to question her, the woman lunged at Pointer wielding a huge knife. Where the hell did that come from? Pointer twisted out of Ramirez’s grasp leaving the big cop wide open. The knife plunged into his belly.
Ramirez yelped a curse and stumbled back. He tried to catch himself, but stumbled on a speaker and went down, taking a crack to his head when he hit the floor.
“Crazy bitch!” Pointer screamed.
“Shut it, Pointer! MOVE, MOVE, MOVE!” I pointed my weapon at Pointer and Gajos trying to get them as far from Ramirez as I could. The cramped space made that impossible.
“Officer down! Framington Apartments, unit 233. Ambulance and back up NOW!” I yelled into my radio.
I sounded strong and controlled. Inside, not so much. Sweat slickened my body. My heart thudded.
Crusty foam gathered at one corner of Pointer’s mouth. He inched toward Gajos like a rabid animal stalking prey.
“STOP OR I WILL SHOOT!”
Pointer lashed out with a vicious kick at Gajos and caught her in the side at the same instant I pulled the trigger. The bullet hit him in the shoulder spinning him around. Blood gushed from the wound. Gajos jumped back to avoid stepping in blood and in the process stumbled over Ramirez’ legs and fell across him. An alarming spurt of blood pooled around the knife in his gut. He groaned and his eyes opened. I rolled Gajos off him and jerked her to her feet.
“Sit!” I shouted at her as I pushed her into a chair. Keeping a wary eye on Pointer, I got her cuffed. She sobbed and keened, “Sorry, sorry, sorry!”
Pointer slumped against the wall. When he wasn’t spewing vitriolic curses, he whimpered in pain. I grabbed a cup towel off the counter and pitched it to him.
“Hold that against the wound!” I kept my weapon on him and hurried to Ramirez.
He groaned and tried to form words. I leaned toward him to see if I could make out what he was saying. The smell of sour liquor hit me. I jerked back just as he grabbed my arm in a surprisingly strong grip.
“You promised,” I whispered. “You promised.”
Here ends Chapter 1.
Officer Ada Blake is desperate to regain her confidence after an on-the-job fiasco left her doubting and despondent. When she returns home after a fifteen-year absence seeking peace and quiet, she finds her mother on the brink of bankruptcy, a brother creating long distance havoc and a disapproving sister. Can she overcome the sense of failure that follows her from her job in the city to her small hometown where she is haunted by past betrayals, inexplicable threats to her life, and appeals from the woman who took away the one thing she wanted most?