Wednesday, February 25, 2009
Sunday, February 22, 2009
Dear Citizens, Neighbors, Friends and Family,
My name is Jill and I am a cop. That means that the pains and joys of my personal life are often muted by my work. I resent the intrusion but I confuse my self with my job almost as often as you do. The label "police officer" creates a false image of who I really am. Sometimes I feel like I'm floating between two worlds. My work is not just protecting and serving. It's preserving that buffer that exists in the space between what you think the world is, and what the world really is.
My job isn't like television. The action is less frequent, and more graphic. It is not exhilarating to point a gun at someone. Pooled blood has a disgusting metallic smell and steams a little when the temperature drops. CPR isn't an instant miracle and it's no fun listening to an elderly grandmother's ribs break while I keep her heart beating. I'm not flattered by your curiosity about my work. I don't keep a record of which incident was the most frightening, or the strangest, or the bloodiest, or even the funniest. I don't tell you about my day because I don't want to share the images that haunt me.
But I do have some confessions to make:
Sometimes my stereo is too loud. Andrea Bocelli's voice makes it easier to forget the wasted body of the young man who died alone in a rented room because his family feared the stigma of AIDS. Beethoven's 9th symphony erases the sight of the nurses who sobbed as they scrubbed layers of dirt and slime from a neglected 2-year-old's skin. The Rolling Stones' angry beat assures me that it was ignorance that drove a young mother to draw blood when she bit her toddler on the cheek in an attempt to teach him not to bite.
Sometimes I set a bad example. I exceeded the speed limit on my way home from work because I had trouble shedding the adrenalin that kicked in when I discovered that the man I handcuffed during a drug raid was sitting on a loaded 9mm pistol.
Sometimes I seem rude. I was distracted and forgot to smile when you greeted me in the store because I was remembering the anguished, whispered confession of a teenager who pushed away his drowning brother to save his own life.
Sometimes I'm not as sympathetic as you'd like. I'm not concerned that your 15-year-old daughter is dating an 18-year-old because I just comforted the parents of a young man who slashed his own throat while they slept in the next bedroom. I was terse on the phone because I resented the burden of having to weigh the value of two lives when I was pointing my gun at an armed man who kept begging me to kill him. I laugh when you cringe away from the mess in your teen's room because I know the revulsion of feeling a heroin addict's blood trickling toward an open cut on my arm. If I was silent when you whined about your overbearing mother it's because I really wanted to tell you that I spoke to one of our high school friends today. I found her mother slumped behind the wheel of her car in a tightly closed garage. She had dressed in her best outfit before rolling down the windows and starting the engine.
On the other hand, if I seem totally oblivious to the blood on my uniform, or the names people call me, or the hateful editorials, it's because I am remembering the lessons my job has taught me.
I learned not to sweat the small stuff. Grape juice on the beige sofa and puppy pee on the oriental carpet don't faze me because I know what arterial bleeding and decaying bodies can do to one's decor.
I learned when to shut out the world and take a mental health day. I skipped your daughter's 4th birthday party because I was thinking about the six children under the age of 10 whose mother left them unattended to go out with a friend. When the 3-year-old offered the dog the milk from her cereal bowl, the dog attacked her, tearing open her head and staining the sandbox with blood. The little girl's siblings had to pry her head out of the dog's jaws - twice.
I learned that everyone has a lesson to teach me. Two mothers engaged in custody battles taught me not to judge a book by its cover. The teenage mother on welfare mustered the strength to refrain from crying in front of her worried child while the well-dressed, upper-class mother literally played tug of war with her toddler before running into traffic with the shrieking child in her arms.
I learned that nothing given from the heart is truly gone. A hug, a smile, a reassuring word, or an attentive ear can bring an injured or distraught person back to the surface, and help me refocus.
And I learned not to give up, ever! That split second of terror when I think I have finally engaged the one who is young enough and strong enough to take me down taught me that I have only one restriction: my own mortality.
One week in May has been set aside as Police Memorial Week, a time to remember those officers who didn't make it home after their shift. But why wait? Take a moment to tell an officer that you appreciate her work. Smile and say "Hi" when he's getting coffee. Bite your tongue when you start to tell a "bad cop" story. Better yet, find the time to tell a "good cop" story. The family at the next table may be a cop's family.
Nothing given from the heart is truly gone. It is kept in the hearts of the recipients. Give from the heart. Give something back to the officers who risk everything they have.
About the author:
Jill Wragg is a retired Police Officer from Massachusetts. She can be reached at JKWragg@yahoo.com This piece is copyrighted and was printed here with permission from the author. Please contact Wragg for permission to reprint.
Wednesday, February 18, 2009
Friday, February 13, 2009
Thanks to the Scotch Joe planted in front of him, the evening at the Pig and Whistle held no prospects except to forget. This was the only break in Sam Harper’s ten-hour day. Soon, he’d get up and do it again. He’d continue to scour the streets for leads on the Raymond Anthony murder. If he was lucky, they’d produce some viable evidence.
As it was, ballistics hadn’t matched the bullet taken from the victim’s brain to any known registered weapons and Anthony’s prints and bodily fluids were the only ones found at the scene. A week into the case, still no leads. It seemed the odds on a swift arrest weren’t stacked in Harper’s favor. The exceptionally clean shot through the temple sparked unrest among the other detectives. The guys tossed several possible scenarios around, but the one that kept ripping through Harper’s mind was the chance they were dealing with a professional hit man. If that were the case, the usual breadcrumbs marking a path to the killer’s identity would be non-existing.
Harper motioned to Joe with his glass for a refill. After a minute, the bartender returned with two.
“There you go. I’ll put ’em on your tab.”
Joe read his mind. Harper knocked the next one back then stared into his half empty glass, swished the Scotch through the ice and waited for the red-labeled concoction to work its magic.
At happy hour, the Pig and Whistle was dotted with regulars, now at nine p.m. he and a handful of patrons had the place to themselves. All eyes were on the flat screen TV at the end of the bar watching the Celtics lose to the Knicks by a measly five points. Harper didn’t care who won. It was a temporary distraction meant to work with the booze and help him relax. A few more of these, he thought, and I’ll be there. That’s what he was thinking when he heard Jennie’s voice.
“I thought I’d find you here.”
He drew in a breath and slowly glanced over his shoulder. Jennifer Blake had etched herself into his heart two months before, then vanished as abruptly as she entered his life.
“Mind if I sit down?” she asked.
Harper lowered and raised his glance. He sensed what was coming. It wasn’t where he wanted to be; not here, not now. Jennie was all he’d thought of for weeks. Every provocative inch of her body was seared into his thoughts. Part of him wanted to pull her close, kiss her as if it were their first and pretend she had never left. That was at the heart of his being, but his logic demanded answers and now. “I called you. Several times.”
“I want to explain,” she said. “Can we talk?”
“Skip the apologies, Jen. They don’t suite you.”
“You wouldn’t say that if you knew the truth.”
“I’m listening.” For once he’d like nothing more than an honest statement but something in her voice put him on edge. Harper ordered a glass of Chablis for her, grabbed his drink, and led her to one of the small tables near the back. He watched every move she made; the way she slipped off her coat, how she brushed her bangs from her eyes. Everything about her was all too familiar, especially her eyes—he’d never forget their spark or the intimacies that had led them here to this minute. “Well?”
“I was on a special assignment for the Chandler Times.”
“Come on, Jen. It’s me. You can do better than that.”
She stared at him for a second before breaking her silenced. “I didn’t have a choice in the matter.”
“Since when?” Where was that playfulness in her tone or that staunch determination that had captivated him the minute they met? Jennifer Blake didn’t have a submissive cell in her body. Did she really expect him to buy the line that her editor, Brian Taylor, forced her to go against her will? The Jennie he knew wouldn’t let him. On the other hand, Jennie wasn’t beyond working an angle. “So which is it? Are you after another exclusive or did you step in a pile of trouble?”
“Good. I’m fresh out of favors.”
“It’s the truth,” she said, taking a sip of her wine. “Foolish me for thinking you’d appreciate the challenges of my job.”
“I can live with the demands of your career, but you left without a word, no warning, nothing. Three weeks ago, I came home after work—you didn’t. I was crazy with worry; checked the hospital, the morgue, missing persons. You weren’t listed anywhere, just gone—vanished. What the hell was I suppose to think? You could have called.”
“There was no time.”
“I didn’t want…” She choked on the words. “I didn’t know about the assignment until Brian handed me the plane tickets that morning.”
“Two seconds. That’s all it would have taken. I’m on your speed dial, at least I was.”
“I couldn’t. I was under strict orders to keep my location confidential. Brian was worried that if the calls were traced, it would have blown my cover and jeopardized our chance for an inside story.”
“Please … don’t ask.”
“It’s still sensitive information,” she said.
An uneasy silence seemed to suck the air out of the room.
“Then why'd you bother to come here?” he asked.
“Because I wanted to tell you what happened.”
“Cut the charades, Blake. You haven’t told me a damn thing more than what I already know. You left—end of story.”
Jennie took a sip of her wine and looked away. Harper didn’t need to see her face to know she was checking her options.
“I was investigating a drug ring in Florida.”
“Christ, I know the scum that’s out on the streets. You could have been killed.”
“I wasn’t. Besides, it was a huge exclusive for us.”
“Right, the story. Now you’re back and what? You want to pretend none of this happened? Goddamn it, you could have been wasted and no one would have known to ask. And what’s so damn important about Florida? We have plenty of drug related stories right here in Chandler.”
“It’s linked to a high-level state official,” she said. “That’s all I can tell you. The story will break in a couple of days.”
“What the hell were you thinking? I’ve heard you say no before. That would’ve been a great time to voice it.”
“And lose my job?” She shook her head. “It’s okay for you to risk your life, but when I—”
“Don’t even go there. I’m trained to take risks.”
“Some things never change, do they?” She pushed back her chair and grabbed her coat.
“Where’re you going?” Harper shot around in his chair in time to see her rush out of the pub. Stupid, stupid, stupid! He jerked his coat off the back of his chair, yanked the door open, and stood on the snow-cover sidewalk. A glance in one direction made him turn and run in the other. She was only a few yards away. “Jennie, stop! Where’re you going?”
“You forgot to yell, Freeze, Detective.”
He raced to reach for her arm and made her stop. “This's your answer to everything, isn’t it? You disappear, come back, dangle a carrot in front of my nose, and take off? Think again.”
“Sam, what do you want?" she asked, blinking away the tears that welled in her eyes. "I tried, but there’s no talking with you.”
She was wrong. His thoughts and emotions were playing war, twisting the words he wanted to say and leaving them in a tangled mess somewhere between the pit of his gut and a brain that wasn’t connecting with his speech. “I’m not the one who left. I deserve some answers.”
“Then you should have the courtesy to hear me out! I told you what I could. Believe me, don’t believe. It won’t change the facts.” Jennie wiggled from his grasp and slipped away.
He cursed under his breath, rubbed a hand over his mouth then yelled again, “Jennie, wait. I didn’t mean it.”
“That’s the problem, Sam, you never do.” She took a few more steps then stopped. “Yeah, you’re a cop and you, of all people, should know it isn’t a perfect world. Things won’t always go your way, you’re not going to get calls when you expect them, but damn it, the least you could do is trust that maybe, just maybe someone else’s life is a tad more complicated than yours!”
“Trust? Hell, I didn’t know what happened. I called Brian—”
“And he told you he didn’t know where I was, right?”
“Yeah. Talked with your neighbors too. No one’s seen or heard from you. What was I supposed to think? For all I knew you skipped town with another guy.”
“Another …? You don’t get it, do you?”
“I’m in love with you. There, it’s out.” She paced back and forth then stomped a foot and held her ground. “Do you think I wanted to leave the way I did? Do you have any idea how many times I reached for the phone fully aware that I shouldn’t? How much it hurt not to be with you—wondering what you were thinking—knowing the next time we’d meet you’d react exactly like this?”
It wasn’t the what of the situation, but the how and her inability to give him details that sent him into a rage. But even the brilliant Jennifer Blake didn’t have what it took to make this one up and bluff her way through it. She was, however, one of the few people who could make him feel like an ass and get away with it. “I’m sorry. Jennie, I’m…”
Had they stood in the frigid air looking into each other eyes for a minute or was it five? It didn’t matter. It wasn’t the cold he felt or the reason for his embrace. All he wanted to do was soak in her being and prayed she wouldn’t resist.
“It’s been like a bad dream,” he whispered. “The one where someone dies and you go through all the emotions of loss. Then you wake up in a sweat and realize how damn lucky you are because nothing has changed and you never, ever want to go back there again.” He kissed her cheek. “I woke up, Jen. Back there. You scared the hell out of me.”
“Ever?” she asked.
He cupped his hands around her face and leaned in for kissed. “Only if I can I hold you to it.”
“Hold me to what?”
Harper glanced away for only a second. “You know … what you said a minute ago.”
“Spit it out, Harper. It’s not like you to be at a loss for words.”
“That you care.”
“I’ll always love you.” She pressed her lips to his. “Take it as a threat or a promise.”
Jennie was the only person who could send him on an emotional rollercoaster ride and make him feel grateful for it. She was back in full form. They were as different as the jobs they had married. He’d concede he was a skeptic—a left over tick from his work, but Jennie was exasperating at times. Still he needed her by his side to keep him in check, to remind him there was more to life than the scumbags he chased for a living.
“What do you say we get out of the cold?” he asked.
“My car is right here.” Jennie reached into her pocket for the keys. “I’ll meet you at your place.”
“Not tonight.” He took her by the hand and walked her toward his jeep. “It’s late and I’m not letting you out of my sight.”
Tuesday, February 10, 2009
From: Sam Harper, Homicide
Subject: Call From Shannon Wallace
My current case was about to crack. I was looking forward to putting this one to rest; thought a few extra hours would just about wrap it up when I got the call. I recognized the phone number on the display and glanced at my watch—7:00 PM. It was Shannon Wallace, a friend of a friend of a friend. Damn it, she was in trouble again. How did I know? Call it instinct or maybe dumb luck—mine. Either way, that torque in the pit of my gut went for a spin. I was willing to bet Shannon was neck deep in trouble and sinking fast. Why else would she waste a perfectly good chunk of change on an out-of-state call?
Our conversation went something like this:
HARPER: All right, Shannon, just settle down. Let’s start from the beginning. You had the incredible bad judgment to fall for your boss, he fired you and hours later he’s dead. You have to admit, it doesn’t look good. How did you ever get involved with a guy like Rick Fine?
WALLACE: Oh you know the type, Sam.
HARPER: Come on, it’s late. Enlighten me.
WALLACE: I was young, impressionable, and naïve. Who ever thinks that they can get out of a relationship with their boss, for crying out loud? Not without losing your job, right? So… that’s me in a nutshell. I needed a job, it came with strings.
HARPER: Right, some strings. So what kind of dealings was Rick involved with anyway? I mean, were there any suspicious characters hanging around before he was murdered? And don’t give me any snappy answers. I want details.
WALLACE: I’ve been thinking about this and I remember a situation that happened not long ago. Someone was calling Rick's house and hanging up. I always put it off as his mean brother. His brother is a real character, Sam. His own dad fired him from the family business for his bad deals and even worse attitude. He could have done it.
HARPER: You’re going to need more than a ‘could have done it’ excuse to convince the authorities. What do you have on the guy?
WALLACE: Hey, I heard that going on your gut instinct is good enough for cops, why not me? I definitely have a gut about Charles Fine. He’s just the type to do it. I mean he blamed Rick for getting fired. That’s a motive in my opinion.
HARPER: What about detective Ramirez? You said you knew him—I know you’re on shaky ground with him, but can he be trusted?
WALLACE: Shaky ground? You could say that. I don’t know about the trust thing, we, uh, had a friendship at one time. He can be trusted to do the right thing for himself, maybe, but I’m not so sure about doing the right thing for me.
HARPER: If he’s clean, he won’t let his personal feelings interfere with the job. You know, you really should be talking to Ramirez, not me. Just tell him the truth.
WALLACE: But, geez, Sam. The DVDs are the thing. I can't let him find out about those damn disks. He’s always held a grudge. I just don’t believe he won’t use them against me if he gets the chance.
HARPER: DVDs? I’m afraid to ask … what exactly is on the DVDs?
WALLACE: Oh, um, can I take the fifth? Oh okay, look, we took a video camera and we turned it on at various times including… you know. THOSE times. Lots of them. And don’t tell me about Paris Hilton or anyone else making sex tapes. Dwayne said that too, and I just don’t want to hear it. That’s why I broke into Rick’s apartment. I don’t want anyone to see me wiggle my jiggle on television! Oh Lord.
HARPER: Damn it, I can’t believe ... anyone ever mention that breaking and entering, especially into a crime scene, is against the law? All right, I’m sorry, stop crying. Look I’m sure forensics combed through the place. If you didn’t kill the guy ... you didn’t did you?
WALLACE: I didn’t do it, Sam! I swear I didn’t. I can only hope that I didn’t leave anything behind for forensics to connect me to Rick’s murder, including my disks.
HARPER: If you're innocent, you'll be in the clear. None of the evidence will point to you. But the DVDs are another matter. They're incriminating. They give you motive and you certainly had opportunity. Who else knew about them?
WALLACE: Unless Rick had some kinky friends, well, you know what I mean. I can’t believe he would just leave them laying around for Mr. Anybody to find. What the heck? I mean, he promised me. He PROMISED me, no one would ever know. That’s what I get for believing a man.
HARPER: Don’t beat yourself up. Everyone’s made a mistake or two in their lifetime. You mentioned Rick’s personal phone book was missing. How do you know he didn’t leave it someplace--that it’s not missing?
WALLACE: Well, this is the kicker. I know the freak took the phone book because it was missing. Ask me why, I can’t tell you.
HARPER: All right so you have a feeling about it. I go with my gut too, but you know Ramirez is going to want answers.
WALLACE: Answers? He’ll want my blood. He’s got reasons to get me back. I stole his personal journal in college and I published it in the freaking newspaper. There, do you understand now? He’s out for revenge. I’m surprised he hasn’t been the one calling to threaten me.
HARPER: If Ramirez was into revenge, why wait until now? It doesn’t add up. You really think the killer’s the one who’s been calling you?
WALLACE: Whoever killed Rick took that phone book. I know it has to be him.
HARPER: Why single you out of all the names in Rick’s phone log?
WALLACE: Why? Well, that’s the million dollar question.
HARPER: So tell me about them--the phone calls you’ve been getting.
WALLACE: He calls me at all these weird times. I think he watches me and knows that I am going to be asleep or in the shower. Then, he blows up my cell, breathing heavily into the phone, threatening to come after me.
HARPER: Did you recognize the voice?
WALLACE: No. He masks his voice. I swear it could be Charlie. What if he stole that phone book and now he’s calling up all of Rick’s girlfriends? He’s a big enough creep to do it.
HARPER: What’s Ramirez doing about it? Is he checking your phone records?
WALLACE: I don’t know. I told him about the calls, but he sort of took the attitude that I am imagining an old boyfriend has turned into the killer. I mean, what the eff? I’m scared all right! I have a plan to draw this freak out but Dwayne thinks I’m nuts.
HARPER: Sounds to me like you should listen to Dwayne. After all he’s your closest friend. Right?
WALLACE: Sam, I’m damn scared.
HARPER: I know.
WALLACE: If I don’t do something to get this guy to show himself, Rick’s killer will go free and with my DVDs. And believe me free is bad in this case.
HARPER: That's Ramirez's job, not yours.
For a moment, neither of us spoke. What was she thinking? I knew calling me was probably Shannon’s last ditch effort for justice, but what the hell was I supposed to do from over 900 miles away? Still, the plea in her voice rang as true as the bells from St. Paul’s.
HARPER: Look, I’ll probably regret saying this ... actually I know I will, but let me make a few calls. See what I can find out. In the meantime, keep your nose clean and stay under the radar. Understand?
WALLACE: Yes sir, way under the radar. I’m already hiding over at Dwayne’s from everyone including my aunts. No one will think to look for me at his place. You’ve got my number. Please see what you can do to help me. I owe you one, man.
I had her number all right and that ugly place between a rock and a hard spot just pinched a nerve and shot a pain straight up to my neck. I didn’t like the sound of this—any of it. I sure as hell didn’t need or want to get involved. Shannon is as wild and unpredictable as a porcupine in heat, but … she's a friend of a friend of a friend and then there’s that promise I made to serve and protect. I drew in a deeper than usual gulp of air and broke the silence.
HARPER: I’ll be in touch.
About the author:
Kim Smith was born in Memphis Tennessee, the youngest of four children. After a short stint in a Northwest Mississippi junior college, during the era of John Grisham’s rise as a lawyer, she gave up educational pursuits to marry and begin family life.She has worked in many fields in her life, from fast food waitress to telephone sales. “I always got the seniors on the phone who were lonely and wanted someone to talk to. My boss couldn’t understand why in the world I spent so much time talking to them and not enough time selling. That was when I realized I love people and care deeply about their lives.”Writing was a dream, hidden but not forgotten, and soon Kim began to talk again of trying her hand at it. She played with words, and wrote several poems, one of which was picked up for an anthologyOne day in the early nineties her husband came home with a desktop computer and sat her in front of it. “Now you have no more excuses,” he said, and she realized the truth in his words. Procrastination, now no longer an option, she took off on the pursuit of penning her first book. Though that book, a young adult fantasy, was lost due to unforeseen circumstances, she kept going, writing a historical romance, and another YA.When she decided to try out her hand at mystery writing, she discovered her true love and niche in the writing journey. She has since had four short stories, and her first mystery novel accepted for publication.Kim is a member of Sisters in Crime, and is a Coffeetime Romance and More author member. She still lives in the Mid South region of the United States and is currently working on her second book in the Shannon Wallace mysteryseries.
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
Reviewed by Thomas Fortenberry for Midwest Book Review
The latest Sam Harper mystery may leave the devil waiting, but not the readers. This gritty mystery series lies at the crossroads of crime and thrillers, both 87th Precinct and Davinci Code. Bodies of teenagers are washing ashore in an apocalypse of murder and intrigue spanning the dark dangerous world, from Vatican to Colombia to Harper’s hometown of Chandler, Mass. Drugs to ancient religious secrets to serial killers, this book has it all.
But the book’s unrelenting drama isn’t what captures me. It is the character Sam Harper and author Stephens. She writes with a forensic authority that makes these pages bleed with real world angst. Detective Harper is a well-realized, no-nonsense cop, a streetwise guy who refuses to give up despite the odds. When the going gets rough, everyone else has given up, an easy option looms, and the race becomes overwhelming, Harper is just getting started. He is the original it ain’t over guy. He literally pushes himself beyond physical collapse to solve crimes. He refuses to let any criminal escape on his watch.
The Devil Can Wait is a good mystery. Sam Harper is a better cop. I can’t wait to follow his next career move.
Sunday, February 1, 2009
Reminds me of a newspaper reporter who tracked me down a few months ago. Claimed she had questions about the Hancock murder. I gave her what facts I could but a few minutes later she made it clear it wasn't enough. She had to get personal.
"What's your passion," she asked. "I mean, what gets you out of bed, Harper?"
"The alarm clock," I told her. She didn't care much for my humor. That's fine. I didn't like the question.
Funny how little things stick with a guy. Later, much later and for reasons unknown, the issue of passion continued to buzz around in my head.
It's the innocent who keep me going; the muted victims who can’t fight against a criminal justice system that punishes them by protecting the rights of the criminals. It's the dead whose cases have grown cold and who wait on the sideline for justice.
Defense attorneys can manipulate evidence and their clients can lie all they want. I’ll turn into that festering thorn in their side, before it's over. Eventually I'll be the one who slaps down the winning hand.
Passion? Yeah, I guess you can say I have one.