Sunrise lit the room to a dim azure. The old ceiling fan rocked back and forth as the blades spun around. A fly darted around the corners of the room. A beagle scratched at the outside of the door with a whine. After some moments of silence, he stepped back and released a deep bark.
Elijah James Cash snapped open his electric blue eyes. Lime numbers on his alarm clock read "6:00." He eased onto his back and peered at the woman asleep beside him. With a smile, he caressed her dark hair and propped himself onto his elbow to kiss her cheek.
He rose and dressed in black shorts and a navy blue tee shirt, snatched his CD player and headphones from inside his room, and met the Beagle at the door. He opened it and let the dog out ahead of him, then exited and closed the door behind him.
The dog peed in the strip of dirt against the house while Elijah clamped the headphones over his ears and started a CD called Mansion by NF. When Danny was done, Elijah pulled open the screen door and pushed open the wooden door to let him back into the house. He closed it up again and leapt into a jog and exited the corner of the court where they lived.
He looked both ways before crossing the intersection at the mouth of the court and continued jogging down the sidewalk. The crisp August dawn was getting light enough to reveal the colors in the homes and lawns. He raised his hand in a wave to an older man who was watering an azalea bush.
"Good morning, lieutenant," the man called.
"Good morning, Earnest!"
By the time the sun had risen into complete view, he circled the entire block twice. As he approached his house again, the sun warmed the bricks that made up the bottom half of the structure. There were more cobwebs in the corner of the eaves, on the white stucco, he noted as he came up the driveway and across the cement path to the porch. That might be a weekend project.
When he opened the door again and stepped inside, giggles and creaking steps echoed in the hall. Out came a brunet toddler with a spark in his deep blue eyes.
"Hey, man, what are you doing up so early?" Elijah scooped him up and gave him a squeeze.
"I woke up!"
As he spoke, a slender woman with dark auburn hair emerged out of the hall in a tank top and shorts. She smeared her palms against her brown eyes.
"Shiloh, baby, what are you doing up?"
The boy giggled. "I heard daddy."
"Daddy has to get ready for work," the woman came closer and accepted the boy into her arms. "But we will see him again before he leaves, all right?"
"Thanks, Jules," Elijah kissed her before striding down the hall to brush his teeth and shower.
He made it quick, and when he came out, he dressed in long sleeved black shirt to cover the black and blue tribal tattoo down his right arm and black trousers with a tactical belt. He ran a comb over his long golden crew cut. His bright eyes were fringed with dark lashes. He smeared a finger over each dark eyebrow. After an examination in the mirror, he determined that he looked his best.
He was about two inches over six feet and twenty-nine. After ten years with the police department, that was not a bad age to reach lieutenant.
He emerged out of the hall and came into the kitchen, where Jules sat Shiloh down at the table while she made scrambled eggs and toast.
"Are you going to eat breakfast?" she asked.
"Going to grab something with Anton," he answered.
"All right, then. Come here, Shiloh," she reached out her hand. The little boy scooted out of his seat and came closer to grab it. She laid her other hand on her husband's shoulder while their son touched his leg. All bowed their heads. "Dear Heavenly Father, thank You for another day with Elijah. We ask that You protect him and those he works with and those whose calls he answers. Give Your peace to those who need it. We love you. We pray all this in the name of Jesus. Amen."
"Amen," said her husband and son.
"You be careful," Jules wrapped her arms around his shoulders and gave him a squeeze.
"Always," he promised and released her. "Eat my share of the eggs for Ophelia."
Jules laughed and laid a hand over her stomach. "We'll see. I'm not sure how much scrambled eggs I can fit in there with her taking up so much room."
"See you later, little man," Elijah tousled his son's hair. Then he embraced his wife again and kissed her cheek. "Bye, honey."
"We love you," she called after him as he exited the kitchen and strode out the door.
"Love you, too!" he called back. "You, too, Danny."
The beagle wagged his tail.
Outside, Elijah climbed into a red and white 1991 Ford F-150 and started the engine. He pulled out of the driveway and exited the court, murmuring the words to "Bluff" by Pilot Speed as he drove.
Anton Desai leaned against the tailgate of his own pickup in the McDonald's parking lot. He was a medium statured man with a light brown complexion and short dark hair. Elijah steered his truck into a slot beside him.
"Good morning," he announced when he climbed out.
"Hey. You run enough this morning to burn all these calories?" Anton smiled. He reached out a hand toward Elijah, who accepted it and swung an arm around his shoulders.
"Enough to make this worth it, anyway."
The two ordered – Elijah a bacon, cheese, and egg biscuit, and Anton a sausage biscuit – and seated themselves close to the windows.
"So how's the beat?" Anton asked around a mouthful of biscuit and sausage.
Elijah shook his head. "Getting hard to keep up. Some lady chewed me out yesterday because I was, in her words, 'late' responding to her broken down car. Never knew I was on a domestic violence call before that. There aren't enough of us to keep up with the crime rates."
Anton sipped his Coke. "Yeah, well, it's not like crime is new here in Modesto."
"No, but I grew up here. It wasn't always like this."
Anton nodded. "Yeah. I do notice a lot of the medicals I respond to have been gang related."
"Puttin' out more social fires than actual fires," Elijah teased. His companion laughed.
"I wish there was more we could do," Elijah emphasized. "We only have so many officers and firemen to address so many problems."
"Do, like what?" Anton pushed the last of his biscuit into his mouth and brushed his hands together as crumbs dropped to the wrapper.
"I've been doing some research. Remember the person in New Orleans who chased looters out of stores while in costume after Katrina?"
"Yeah. What does that have to do with this?"
"Not sure yet. But sometimes I want to do something similar. Take matters into my own hands. Do more than I am doing right now."
"Hmm," Anton mused. "I had thought she seemed like a nutcase."
Elijah smiled. "Well, I gotta go."
"Same," Anton rose and picked up their tray. "See you when I'm off on Friday."
"You watch out for those gangsters you mentioned."
"Yeah. You, too."
The two started their pickups and drove out. Anton arrived at the fire department one street away from the police department Elijah reported to.
It was going to be quite a day. Elijah realized this the moment he started out onto the street in his patrol car. Their morning briefing had included updates on two robbery suspects that had invaded a home the night before, a warrant on a potential drug trafficker, another warrant for a burglary suspect, and a request for extra patrols around the jewelers that had been burglarized two nights before. But the moment he pulled out of the parking lot, he heard this –
"217 in progress."
Assault with intent to murder. After he mediated that situation, which involved separating an irate husband and wife and, after being called back to the residence, arresting them both, there was this –
"10-54 by the railroad tracks."
Potential dead body. Elijah was able to confirm this when he arrived at the railroad tracks and discovered a transient almost covered in dead golden weeds close by. There were no obvious signs of trauma. He called in the coroner.
Suspicious person. He arrived at the scene around noon. There was a dreadlocked man wearing a black sweatshirt sauntering up the street, glancing in either direction. His hands were shoved deep into his pockets. He pulled his patrol car alongside the man.
"Good morning," he called when he rolled the window down. "Are you looking for someone?"
The young man glared at him. "Just a friend."
"Mighty hot this summer to be wearing a black sweatshirt. Aren't you hot?"
He shook his head. "No."
A tingle of suspicion rose up in Elijah. At least he could keep the kid occupied and potentially out of trouble.
"Want some lunch?"
He shook his head and continued darting his eyes across the street.
"Look, I got peanut butter and jelly. My wife cuts my sandwich. I ate a pretty good breakfast, so I don't think I could eat the whole thing. You can have the other half, if you want."
The kid shook his head. "No."
Another young man came out of the house behind him. The kid gave him a nod of acknowledgement, and the other young man returned it. He continued down the street and disappeared.
"Is that your brother?" Elijah asked.
"Why do you want to know this stuff?"
"Whatever. I gotta go," the kid shook his head in disgust and returned to the same house that the other man just left. Elijah stared at the house a moment and prayed for the family who lived there, then steered back into the street.
"Code 7," he said into his radio. Might as well eat the lunch himself.
He steered into a small church parking lot and stopped the car. He reached across the seat to grab his lunch container with the aforementioned sandwich and a slice of watermelon when static interrupted the radio.
"10-66, same place –"
A loud crack startled him. His blood ran cold.
"Possible 10-71 in the area of the last 10-66," he explained into the radio as he restarted the car and steered out of the parking lot. He continued down the street, eyes darting in every direction, then steered down the street where he spoke to the kid. He saw no one until he reached the end of the street, where he could see a fire engine and a couple people starting to gather. "10-97."
He steered the car to the side of the road and climbed out. There was a black man sprawled out in the street in a pool of blood. Anton was kneeling beside him and checking his vital signs.
"10-53," he said into the radio. "Victim is –"
A series of cracks sent the bystanders screaming and running. Elijah aimed his gun in the direction of the sound before a single thought crossed his mind. Anton was on the ground, bleeding.
"11-71! Firefighter has been shot! Send backup."
He rushed toward Anton and crouched beside him, but his companion pointed down the street.
"That way! Go get him."
Elijah rose and rushed down the street as other firefighters addressed Anton. There was a speck of someone running ahead of him. He recognized the olive jacket as the man he assumed was the brother of the boy he spoke to earlier that day. He seemed to be running back in the direction of the house.
"God, help me. God, help me," he panted as he ran.
Somehow, be it by adrenaline or Providence, he gained ground on the suspect until he was within earshot.
"Stop and put your hands up!" he shouted. The young man continued running until he disappeared between two houses. Elijah ran after him between the houses and stopped short. The young man was at the end of the driveway, staring at him.
Before Elijah could speak, someone leapt onto his back and sent him sprawling. The impact knocked his gun onto the ground. The knees of someone heavy drove into his back as a woman approached them, screaming –
"You pointin' a gun at my baby? Let me show you what that's like!"
He clamped a hand down on his gun as she ran closer and reached down for it. She dropped beside him and clawed at his arm in an attempt to grasp it. She pried at his wrist with both hands.
"Do not reach for my gun!" he commanded. "Stand up and back away, so we can talk."
She twisted his wrist around so the gun started to point to the side.
"I will shoot you if you keep trying to get my gun!"
A hand came over him to snatch it at the same time as the older woman lunged toward it. He pointed it toward her and squeezed the trigger.
He never heard the shot. Only the humming in his ears that came from the adrenaline. He saw the woman on the ground, yellow shirt stained with blood. The man on his back had leapt up and started screaming for his mother. So did the man he had pinned at the end of the driveway.
Sirens approached. The two men turned on him, screaming and threatening to shoot him with his own gun. He aimed it at them and warned them to back away.
The rest of the day was a whirlwind. Reports. Questioning. Paid leave pending an investigation. Media reports of an unarmed black woman shot by a white cop. Photos of the "victim," Andrea Phillips, with her three sons. The matriarch of the neighborhood, they said.
This after a shooting with probable gang ties that killed one man and critically wounded a fireman.
"Critically wounded," Elijah later learned, meant "paralyzed from the chest down."
He slammed his locker closed in the police department and beat his palm against it. There was a subtle dent now. Anton paralyzed and a woman dead, because of him. He rested his forehead against the dented locker and inhaled a shaky breath.
"Lieutenant Elijah Cash of the Modesto Police Department apparently shot an unarmed woman –"
"Witnesses say Cash shot the unarmed woman after she came outside to defend her son –"
"Yeah, my mom came out and asked what he was doin,' and he aimed his gun at her, and pop! shot her dead. For no reason!"
But it was when an angry columnist published his address that prompted him to call his wife.
"Someone published our address. Get Shiloh and Danny and go to your parents for a while."
"I'm not leaving you at the house!"
"I'll be there to protect it. Do this, please. I'll call you."