Homefront United Network presents HUN Reads, a weekly segment of a novel by Amanda Cherry, HUN writer. Follow along every Friday as the story unfolds! If you missed last weeks Introduction, catch up here!
Detective John Watts sat in his empty cubicle at the Kansas City Police Department’s Homicide Division; a place he used to call home. He looked around the desk barren of any and all connections to his fourteen years of service on the department, his eighteen years serving in the United States Army, and his now disintegrating family. Awards, photos, mementos all carefully packed away until a new home could be found for them.
Like a pot of boiling water, feelings of dread were bubbling up to the surface of his mind. A deep breath, followed by another did nothing to calm him. He tried to remind himself of what his therapist had been saying, “Fear is natural, fear is knowing that to begin the journey toward yourself, you have to take the first step. Think of this only as a first step on a new path.”
John hadn’t been convinced, his therapist’s advice all felt a little too spiritual for a man who lived by code of conduct rooted in precision and order. Reminding him in a way of something his Drill Sargent had said during his Airborne training. Fear had gripped him then, as he took his first steps toward the open hatch of the plane. Trusting your life to the tenuous connections of strings sewn to nylon while hurtling hundreds of feet from a perfectly good working airplane, felt unnatural. “It isn’t the fall that will kill you,” his Drill Sgt. had said. “It’s that sudden stop at the end that will get ya!”
John felt as if he were still falling, wondering what kind of parachute could stop this fall or if the sudden stop would finally get him. He was virtually homeless, living in a hotel room with a good weekly rate. He had no family to rely on, with his only sister raising her own family on the west coast, he didn’t want to become a burden. His ex-wife was nearby, but had long ago moved forward without him to a life of happiness he couldn’t share. Department mandated therapy had lead him to this place, to this decision. It was time, he knew, to quit the only life that had ever made sense to him. So here he was, running his hand over the smooth surface of this empty desk, contemplating that first daunting step on his new path.
From the corner of his eye he caught a reflection of light from under his desk. He looked down to see the gold sticker his son Scott had rebelliously stuck to the steel filing cabinet adjoining his desk. The sticker was an imitation of a gold Detective’s shield given to school aged children who toured the department. Scott hadn’t been impressed.
“Daddy this isn’t real,” he whispered when George Heins, John’s partner was out of earshot. He was well mannered enough to thank George for the sticker, but wasn’t pleased with it all the same. “It’s just a sticker.”
“Well, that’s true,” John admitted. “But to get a real badge you have to work hard do things like go to college and become a police officer. You have to earn a badge, it’s not just given to you. ”
“Like you Daddy?” Scott asked.
“Yup,” John replied tousling his son’s mop of blonde hair. “Just like me.”
With the innocence of a child reflecting in Scott’s blue eyes, he simply stated- “When I grow up, I’m going to earn a real badge.”
At that point, his small but nimble fingers peeled the backing off of the sticker and put it on the filing cabinet, just below the desk. To add insult to injury he went so far as to poke his tongue out at the offending sticker. When John began to reprimand his son for defacing public property, the wisdom of Scott’s reply proved that he thought well beyond his five years of age.
“Daddy,” he said. “You’re going to keep that sticker here until I’m old enough to have earned my own real badge. Then we’ll take it off.”
They shook on the bargain, to seal the deal.
John ran his hand against the cool surface of the sticker. The sorrow of promises unkept overwhelmed him and that fear rose to the surface again. Yet knowing that sticker would be there for years to come somehow brought him peace. He tried to hold onto that feeling in hopes of diluting the fear.
“John,” came the soft version of a voice he’d always known to be commanding and powerful. “John, you okay?”
Standing just outside his cubicle was his commander, Captain Athena Gregory Lomage. She had an unusual look on her pretty face, not one John was used to seeing, until he realized it was concern.
“Hey Captain,” he replied with more joviality than he felt. “I’m just here to sign that paperwork.”
“You looked like you were a million miles away,” she smiled, perfect teeth behind scarlet red lips. He had jokingly told his therapist months ago that all of his previous Captains had worn red power ties, while this one, the only female commander he’d served under, wore red power lipstick. “You sure you’re okay?”
“I’m fine, Captain,” he reassured himself more than her. “I’m really okay.”
She came further into his cubicle with perfectly manicured red nails wrapped around a green cardboard folder. She placed the folder on the desk, one long finger holding it shut. Leaning her vivacious figure dressed in a grey tailored menswear suit against John’s desk. She may have been dressed like a man, but there was no hiding the curves of her body that made her all woman. With her free hand she tucked a loose strand of her dark brown hair behind one ear. Then Captain Lomage reclined toward John the scent of her exotic perfume reminded John of her demeanor during difficult interrogations. This is how she does it, John thought. She reduces even the most harden criminals to putty in her hands by standing a little too close or giving them a glimpse of something they want.
Every detective in the homicide division had a bag of tricks, establishing a rapport with a suspect being the end goal. Athena Gregory-Lomage was no different, she was a chameleon; the tough no nonsense leader of the homicide division, the exotic beauty he had admired from afar at formal police functions, and now the seductress set on gaining a confession from a criminal. John wasn’t sure how he felt about being on the receiving end of this trick.
“You know,” her accent wasn’t thick but it was tinged with the roots of her Brazilian culture, which added to her allure. “You don’t have to sign this paperwork. You can get a few more months medical leave. I can pull a few strings, lose this paperwork, whatever you need, I’m here for you.”
“I appreciate the sentiment,” looking into her warm brown eyes he could feel his resolve waining. “But we both know I’m not going to be ready to come back in six months, a year, if ever.”
“You have some big plans for your retirement then?” she asked. Moving slightly away she opened the file on the desk. Handing John a pen, she pointed out where his signature or initials were needed.
“I always thought if I couldn’t be a cop I’d open a diner, or maybe a coffee shop,” John laughed. “I suppose opening a donut shop would be too cliche!”
Stay tuned for the continuation of Chapter 1…JULY 20th 2012, here on HUN Reads!