Scott walked into the corner store, looking at his watch as he did so. 12:45 AM. Only a few more hours in the shift. He thought about how a lot of guys kept their watches on military hours. He didn’t like that, it made him feel disconnected. Funny how something as small as that made him feel a bit more like a normal person.
He glanced around at the patrons. Mostly drunk people grabbing a cheap snack or more booze. The occasional trucker grabbing caffeine. That was exactly what Scott was going for, to get himself and George through their shift. The go-to was something in the fridge, even at this hour it was too damn hot outside for coffee.
As he rolled up to the counter to pay, he could feel the eyes of the others on him. Came with the territory, people stared when he was around.
“Four dollars even.” The cashier even looked a little uncomfortable ringing up the drinks.
Scott threw a five on the counter. “Keep the change,” he said with a smile, then strolled back to the driver side door.
George looked like he was about to pass out. “Tell me you got coffee?”
“Better,” and he held up the energy drinks.
“Thank God.” He popped the top and took a few gulps. His eyes widened from the chilled, artificially sweetened elixir. “Any suspicious characters in there tonight?”
“Nah man, just the normal crowd. Mostly drunk. If any were high I couldn’t tell.”
“Fine by me. Well, let’s get back on the road then.” Scott could tell, George was too exhausted to care if they made an arrest tonight.
And they rolled out on patrol. They got a few more glances from the people at the pumps as the black-and-white police cruiser pulled onto the road and headed for a busier street in the neighborhood.
Scott had only been out of the academy for a few months, but he had the basic parts of routine patrols down pretty well. Drive around, find a problem or wait for a call, and go fix it. That was why he had joined the police department to begin with. Because he was good at solving problems. He had enjoyed working in the school automotive shop as a teenager, jumping at opportunities to fix the cars of other students. He was excellent at finding ways to pin the enemy down with fire or isolation, and then snatch them up or put them down during his time in the Corps. Now, he was good at it as a cop.
And he liked this better than the military. It felt like he was really serving his community, rather than the one he was deployed to in whatever part of the world the government had been interested in. And he did his job more often. In the military, he had only done his actual job about 10% of the time, if that. And while combat had given him the greatest rush of his life, for him, at the tail end of the war, the experiences had come too few and far-between. The rest was just busy work. As a cop, most of his time on the job was spent doing the job. He got to take action more often, respond to the changing situation. Whether it was chasing a drug dealer or getting a kid out of an abusive home, he didn’t care. It was better than patrolling some piece of desert that the government told him belonged to terrorists.
He drove the car into a neighborhood that was usually quiet, and thought back to the academy. He had heard that the quality of the candidates wasn’t the highest in the department, but he had expected a little bit more than what he saw. Many of the people there had clearly not been in a life or death situation before. Most of them certainly didn’t have enough training with firearms to be carrying one. A few people were one cheeseburger away from a heart attack. But, if they met the all-too-low standards, they got on with the force. The department didn’t have much of a choice these days. They were well below the quota they needed for officers on patrol, and nobody wanted to be a cop anymore.
Even many of the older guys were retiring, or quitting outright with only a few years left to get a pension. A disgruntled attitude had gripped the department in the wake of the attitude that the country had adopted. It didn’t seem like anyone cared about doing the job.
Then there was George. Scott had gotten lucky with his training officer. George didn’t have a bad attitude. He rarely got political, he was just there to do a job and help a few people if he could. And he genuinely meant that. George cared when they were at a domestic call, or if they had to give medical aid to a suspect even. He was a little overweight, but Scott let that one go, since he was many years senior to him.
George always gave him a little crap for being a Jarhead. Said he was wound too tight. The truth was Scott had actually cooled off significantly since leaving the service, before entering the academy. Scott always just fired back that the Army must not have been as tough on George as the Corps was on Scott. George just laughed it off, he was always too laid back.
Until it was time not to be. They had chased down a drug dealer Scott’s second week on patrol. George moved fast for an older guy, and hadn’t held back with the tackle. George said it was because the asshole had been dealing to kids. He had two of his own, and somebody screwing up someone else’s children was a thought he didn’t take lightly.
Scott was jerked out of his reminiscence by a call on the radio. There was an officer in distress in an apartment complex about five minutes away. Lights and siren on, Scott floored it as George called them en route.
They arrived on the scene and saw the patrol car of the other officer. Scott read the unit number and realized right away that it was Sergeant Kennewick. An intense guy, but he had seemed alright so far. Wasn’t particularly fond of rookies, and Scott didn’t have the urge to force a friendship with the guy.
As they got out, they could hear raised voices coming from a lawn between two buildings in the complex. Things sounded heated, so they sprinted the distance, and observed the scene unfolding before them.
Sergeant Kennewick had his gun drawn, and was facing the situation in front of him. In the orange glow of a street light, Scott could see that his face was stern, maybe even strained. His shoulders shrugged forward, arms locked out, and eyes unblinking, because in front of him was a large African American man, gripping a kitchen knife firmly in one hand.
The suspect had long dreadlocks, a beard that looked like it hadn’t been trimmed in a while, and the slight build of a wide-receiver, with a bit of a gut. He glared at Kennewick, whom he was postured toward as if he was trying to block his path to something. His muscles were strained, jaw clenched shut. His eyes moved to Scott and George as they ran onto the scene, stopping short of the line between the sergeant and the suspect.
Behind the man, there were two bodies on the ground, another African American man, and a Caucasian woman. The man was slightly larger than the one standing, with short hair and a clean shaven face. But he was unconscious. The woman had a slight build, as if she had been a flyer for a cheer team. She had long blonde hair, and a gray sweatshirt, both of which were covered in blood that was pooling around the two of them. Whether it was just from one of them or both, Scott couldn’t tell from so far away. She was crying, and her eyes met Scott’s, pleading for some kind of help.
“Put the knife down now!!” Kennewick shouted. He said it with all the authority of a veteran of the profession, making it clear he was not going to tolerate any deviation from the order. Judging from his hoarse voice, it was clearly not the first time tonight.
The man with the blade said nothing. He made no move toward us, but he didn’t let go of the knife either. His eyes moved from the weapon in his hand to the officers in front of him, brow furrowed.
There wasn’t enough room to get by the suspect to give aid to the victims. He had to be dealt with first.
George did what he knew to do. He drew his pistol, and he and Sergeant Kennewick began to separate, putting space between them. Two targets are harder for the human eye to track than one. You don’t want to circle behind someone this panicky, just get enough space between you and your partner that if he is going to go after one of you, he has to choose which one. Let him see both of you.
With both their guns drawn, Scott figured it was best that he do the talking, as the least threatening person in uniform. He trusted the other two enough to cover him if necessary, and with the angle he had, his weapon wouldn’t just be pointed at the suspect, but at the victims behind him as well.
“Hey man, look at me. I don’t care what happened here. But we need you to drop that knife so we can get by and help those people.” That was bullshit. Of course he cared, this piece of shit had butchered these people, and he wanted nothing more than to beat the hell out of him. Scott’s heart was pounding and it was everything he could do to keep himself from lunging at this butcher.
“Fuck that, I ain’t dropping shit. She fucking deserved it, they both did. I told her if she left me I’d kill her!”
And that’s when it became clear what had happened. This guy had come home, and found his girl with another guy. And grabbed a knife to gut them both. Completely understandable really. Scott knew guys that had happened to in the Corps. The difference was they hadn’t acted on that urge.
Scott raised his hands, in a gesture of trust. He was comfortable, there were two guns on the guy if anything went wrong. “I get it man, shit, I probably would’ve done the same thing. But we need to help them now. So put the knife down, and let us by. They don’t have much time, and I don’t want to see this get any worse.” As he said it, he could once again hear the woman sobbing.
The man peaked over his shoulder at the woman and man behind him, then at George’s pistol. Then down at his knife. Seconds passed that felt like millennia to Scott. He didn’t want this to go south, he just wanted to go help those victims. He was praying the suspect would listen to him. But when he raised his head, his eyes showed resolve, and it was clear he had made a decision. It wasn’t a good one.
“Fuck that. I’m not rotting in a cell.” Now there was something different in his eyes. Whatever reason he had left was gone. He stepped off with the speed of a running back and ran right at George.
Kennewick had the better angle, but was also firing at a moving target. His first round passed behind the man, and impacted with a trash can along a foot path. After that, he fired six more shots, and Scott couldn’t keep track. He was the only one without a weapon drawn in the middle of the confrontation, he needed to get the fuck out of the way. Scott turned, away from the suspect and George, behind Kennewick. He wanted to avoid getting in the line of fire, and the best way to clear that was to get behind the sergeant. As he did, he heard a few shots fired from George’s direction, but he couldn’t keep track of how many. The first few gunshots had rendered him all but deaf.
He turned back to the scene. The man was on the ground, about five feet from George, with the knife still in his hand. George’s gun was still smoking.
“George? George, can you hear me?” Sergeant Kennewick was trying to get control of the situation. It had been a while since Scott was near a gunshot that wasn’t fired on a range, and he was still recovering.
“Y-yeah. I can hear you sarge.”
“Alright, I’ll cover the body, move the knife away from him. Rookie, go help those people on the ground!” He said it with authority. As draining as it was, this was not the first time Kennewick had been to a call like this, as far as Scott could tell.
Scott had nearly forgotten. He looked up: the woman looked pale and her eyes were beginning to glaze over. He realized he could no longer hear her crying. He ran over, glancing and the man. There was no chest rise and fall there, and his shirt and the ground were soaked with blood. It didn’t look like much could be done. But maybe he could save her.
“Hey, hey, talk to me. What’s your name, can you hear me?”
“Carol, m-my name is Carol,” she said. She looked pale and was showing signs of slipping into shock, but her eyes opened as she responded to the question.
“I need you to keep talking to me Carol. As long as you’re talking to me you’re gonna be alright, okay?” And he began his assessment. Miraculously, none of her arteries were cut. Most of the lacerations were on her arms, they were deep but she hadn’t lost a lot of blood. Her clothes had been covered in it, but as Scott patched her up with the first aid kit and a couple of tourniquets, he understood that most of the blood had been the man’s. Carol told Scott his name was Reggie.
“Rook, ambulance is three minutes out!” Kennewick said.
Scott kept her talking, but felt that she was well enough that he could check on Reggie. But he already knew. The body was pale, and he hadn’t seen that much blood in a while. He checked the neck for a pulse. Nothing.
“Oh God, these pigs are out here, they killed more people! They killed three of em!”
Scott turned and saw that a small crowd was starting to form around the scene. After hearing the gunshots, people had begun to peek outside to see what was going on, and now there were about ten gathering in the area. A man in front had the camera light on his phone on.
“Stay back!!!” George shouted, swinging around with his sidearm raised. He looked pale and was shaking. Not a good sign. The crowd held their breath and took a half-step back, but all camera lenses now aimed at him.
“George! Holster your weapon!!” shouted Kennewick. To Scott, the situation was looking tense. He could tell that if Kennewick didn’t get through to George, the latter was likely to do something that would end badly for all involved.
“George!” This time, the tone was different, firm, but more like a plea to a friend contemplating jumping off of a bridge. Kennewick was begging George not to do it, and that seemed to reach him somehow. He looked at the sergeant, then at his firearm. “Holster your weapon, brother.” Realizing what was going on, he finally put his gun away. He still didn’t look so good, but he at least seemed to be aware of what was happening now.
“Now get back to the squad car so that you can rendezvous with medical. Let Scott and I handle this.” That was the first time Scott had heard the sergeant say his actual name. Before that, he assumed he didn’t know it.
George ran to the cars, still shaking. Getting him out of there was probably the right call. “How are those casualties?” the sergeant asked.
“The girl’s wounds look superficial, and I’m monitoring her. But I think this guy is gone, sergeant.”
“Well, do what you can, let me handle this.” With that, he addressed the crowd, attempting to control what seemed like an impossible situation. But he was making do. At some point, he called for more backup, just to get a few more hands on scene in case this crowd changed its attitude. They clearly didn’t like cops, but they were doing as Kennewick asked for the time being. He was just severely outnumbered, and this scene was definitely ending up on YouTube.
The medics got there, and relieved Scott. He moved to help Kennewick control the crowd, which seemed like the best move. The medics agreed that the male was beyond helping, but the tourniquets may have saved the woman’s life. They quickly got them on gurneys, including the assailant, and moved them to the ambulance. About that time, backup arrived.
They swiftly got control of the crowd, who lost interest as the ambulance drove away. The backup officers began to tape off the scene for the CSIs and the sergeant and Scott moved back to their cars.
When he got there, he saw George sitting on the hood of the patrol car. He looked up and saw Scott. “I can’t get my hands to stop shaking, man,” he said. “That...that was the first time I’ve ever had to pull the trigger. I killed that guy, man.”
Scott tried to find comforting words. “You did what you had to do,” he said. “That guy made the decision that cost his life, not you, and by acting, you protected me, sarge, and that girl on the ground. If you hadn’t, she might be dead.” George nodded, but looked unconvinced. Only time could help him process the night’s events.
Kennewick made the call that for the rest of shift, George and Scott needed to go back to the precinct. Scott drove back, and the two of them debriefed the incident with the lieutenant. George asked if they could grab a coffee from the break room. They passed the time there, and soon the shift ended. Kennewick returned, and Scott managed to catch him in the hallway, coming out of his own debrief. He figured George would be fine waiting in the break room for a couple of minutes.
“That’s not gonna go over well on the news.”
“Probably not. But that’s not our problem. The three of us are on administrative leave following the shooting. Don’t worry, this is the standard while they conduct an investigation, don’t sweat it.” Kennewick glanced inside the break room and stepped further from the doorway. Scott followed. “Listen, George was pretty rocked by that shooting. Check on him in the coming days, using your sidearm is never easy.” He sounded like he was worried about a younger brother who had just broken his arm. “And Scott...you did a good thing tonight. You helped save that woman’s life. Let the news say what they want. We help people on their worst days, and everyone else gets to criticize it. Keep doing the job.” With that final statement, a stoic sense of professionalism returned to his demeanor.
And he turned and walked down the hallway, back to whatever life he had when he was out of uniform. It occurred to Scott that he had no idea if the sergeant even had a life outside of peacekeeping.
Frank Gonzales is a Marine Corps infantry veteran, who served in Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, and in the Marine Security Company at Camp David. As such, he tries to embody the Marine slogan by being a “Jack of all trades and a master of none.” His love for literature and writing began in a high school English class, and has followed him into adulthood. He is currently piecing together a BA in English between traveling for work and his other hobby, jiu jitsu. He resides in his home state of Arizona, where you can regularly find him crashing on a mountain bike trail.
“Night Shift” is the culmination of Frank Gonzales’ hard work in the Fall 2021 Literary Fiction Workshop hosted by Dead Reckoning Collective and generously sponsored by SOFLETE. DRC is a veteran owned and operated publishing company, producing literature exclusively from military veterans.