For the next few hours Martina and Tate don’t talk much. Martina picks the music and puts on her favorite 90s station. Tate cringes but doesn’t argue as she dances along in her seat. Their rule has always been that whoever drives gets to control the radio. They take a few calls but nothing ends up panning out. It’s a boring night, the kind you dream of on nights when things are going crazy but you hate when they actually arrive.
As it nears three in the morning, they get a call about a scene only a couple of miles away. Lot of gunshots, neighbors calling it in, not an area you see a lot of gang violence. Desperate for anything to do, Tate grabs the radio. “We’re not the closest but we can be there in a few minutes as backup.”
Dispatch sends them to the scene and soon the red and blue lights are flashing over their heads. Making sure his gun’s loaded, Brandon gets ready in case there’s still danger by the time they arrive. As they near the area they find it’s a standard residential street. Two other cars and an ambulance have beaten them to the scene. One of the cops is occupied roping off the area so the immediate danger must be over.
Parking next to the other cars, the partners jump out and proceed onto the scene. It’s a dark street with not a lot of light but between the cars and the street lights there’s enough to get an idea of what happened. A trail of blood leads from the sidewalk, through the grass and into the street. A car parked nearby has the back window blown out. The trail of blood leads to a pair of tarps covering what look to be a pair of bodies. The ambulance sits open with a bald man in a vest perched inside. His legs dangle over the edge as a paramedic checks him out. He’s wearing a gun holster on his hip. He seems middle aged and slightly out of shape. There doesn’t look to be anything wrong with him.
The lights and noise seem to have woken half the neighborhood and more and more people are streaming out of their houses and gathering just outside the police tape. Others are waiting on their porches or staring out from behind their curtains. Two of the officers are working crowd control, trying to keep people back and get them to return to their homes. None of them seem interested in listening. This is a sleepy neighborhood and they want to see what everyone’s going to be talking about for the next six years.
Looking around for the person in charge, Martina spots one of her favorite officers. She heads over to Officer Tracy Daniels. A tall, dark skinned woman with long hair tied in a pony tail, she’s talking with her partner off to the side. Making her way over to the pair with Tate at her heels, she’s greeted with a weak smile. “This is a messed up one Martina.”
“What the hell happened out here?”
“Apparently that middle school principal looking idiot over at the ambulance was walking along and saw a couple of guys running through the neighborhood. Didn’t have a clue why or what was going on but he saw running at night so he took off after them with his gun. Yelled to stop a few times and they didn’t. Says one of them turned around and pulled a gun on him so he had to draw his own and fire at them. Put them both down with a few shots each.”
Scanning the scene, Martina’s eyes narrow. “Any of that check out?”
With a wave of her hand Tracy says, “Go ahead and take a look.”
Martina heads over to the tarps where a medical examiner has just arrived and is investigating the bodies; she sees the tarp pulled aside. The bodies are in the darker section of the crime scene but there’s enough light from the examiner’s flashlight that she can already tell the man’s story is crap. For one, both bodies landed face down. The bullets entered through their backs, so they weren’t facing him down with a gun when he killed them.
Both of the victims are black men, both look like they were in their late teens or early twenties. Both have short hair and are wearing basketball shorts and t shirts. One of their faces is sideways and his eyes are still open. She didn’t notice before but the bodies also aren’t that close. They’re not that far from each other but one got almost ten feet further than the other. That’s another hole in the story, the killings weren’t one right after the other.
Returning to Tracy, she shakes her head. “That was an execution. They were running from him but they never turned back. Any idiot could see that unless he decided to flip them over after he killed them. You find any sign of a gun on either?”
“Nothing except the one he’s carrying.” She points to the man sitting on the back of the ambulance, chatting up a young paramedic. She’s taking his blood pressure while he’s laughing about something. Martina feels ill. From her current angle the light hits him just right for her to see his holster. His gun’s still in it. She spins back to Tracy.
“Why the hell is he still armed? For that matter, why is the only cuff we’ve got him in on his upper arm?”
“He’s a vigilante.” She shrugs, as if that should answer it.
“What the hell do you mean? He just murdered people in cold blood. We’ve got enough here to know that. Vigilantes aren’t immune to murder charges.”
Tracy sighs. “Can you prove those two didn’t just fall weird? We know they didn’t but we can’t prove it yet. Try going against a vigilante and not proving it. You know exactly how that’s going to end. We’ll see what the medical examiner comes up with but we’re probably going to have to send this guy home.”
Leaving her friend, Martina heads right for the back of the ambulance. Tate tries to grab her arm. “What are you doing grandma?”
“Just follow my lead Brandon.” She almost never uses his first name. He pauses for a moment to take it in but he follows a few steps behind.
The vigilante’s in the middle of a story about a recent trip to Wisconsin when they approach. He smiles at them. “Good evening officers, sorry to bring you out here this time of night. What can I do for you?”
Keeping one hand near her weapon, Martina stares at him for a moment without saying a word. His smile cracks slightly, but in response he just makes it bigger. When he starts to open his mouth she breaks the silence. “I’m Officer Alvarez, this is my partner Officer Tate. We have a few questions for you.”
“I’m glad to help but I actually already gave a statement to the first officers who got here. Did you talk to them?” He points back toward Tracy.
“I talked to them. We have a few more questions. Is that a problem?” Her eyebrow raises, daring him to have a problem.
He frowns. “Not at all. Always glad to help out the police. That’s why I signed up to be a vigilante after all.” As he says this the paramedic takes the blood pressure cuff off his arm and climbs into the back of the ambulance.
“What were you doing out here tonight?”
“I believe I already answered that.” He pauses to wait for Martina to move on. She doesn’t. “No reason I can’t go over it again though. I live down the street, just about a quarter mile that way.” He points to their left. “I was up late, I have insomnia you see, and I heard something in the street. I don’t know if it was those two or not but I went out on my front porch and that’s when I saw them running along. I thought it was weird to have people running through the neighborhood this time of night so I followed them.”
“I see. Do you normally try to sleep in a vest?”
He’s wearing khaki pants as well but this doesn’t shake him. “Not at all but I’d already given up on getting any more sleep tonight. Grabbed a shower and got ready for work a little while ago. I was hanging out in my bedroom and watching TV while my wife slept.”
“What do you do?”
“I teach High School English.” Tracy wasn’t far off.
“So you were dressed and awake. You had time to grab your gun I see.”
“That was already on too. I put my holster on when I get dressed since I registered. Figure I can’t protect people if I don’t have the tools. I don’t see being a vigilante as a part time job. I always want to be prepared.”
Martina grabs a notepad from her pocket and pretends to take notes but so far he hasn’t given her anything useful. “So you take your gun to school with you?”
“Not yet, but eventually maybe. For now I lock it in a safe in my trunk.”
Martina looks at Tate but his face doesn’t offer any help. “Will your wife confirm what time you left?”
“I don’t know how she could, she was asleep when I left. She’ll be able to say what time I went to bed though.”
“What made you think you needed to shoot these guys? Running late at night may not be normal but it’s not a crime.”
“Of course, I feel terrible about that but I really don’t see how I had a choice. I called out to them at first, trying to get their attention. Followed them until we got here but they were losing me. I’ve been using the act to get in shape and I’m doing better but there’s still a ways to go.” He pats his stomach as he says this, his face twisting into a grin. “I was thinking of calling the police actually, to report it you know. Then they stopped and suddenly turned around. They said something.”
“What did they say?”
“I wish I knew, they didn’t say it very loud. I tried to ask them to repeat themselves, but then I saw the one man’s hand going up. There was something in his hand that reflected the light from the street light. I’m fairly sure it was a gun. I didn’t have time to think at that point. I raised my gun and started firing. It happened so fast.”
Martina desperately wants to push him on his facts. They don’t line up with the scene at all. She’s nervous to give away their case but without more they don’t have a case. “Did you shoot out the car window over there?”
“I’m afraid so, not intentionally of course. I wish I could say I’m a great shot but I’m just okay. I do well enough at the range but this was the first time I’ve had to shoot at someone. I became a vigilante to protect the neighborhood. We have a kind of neighborhood watch, a few of us dads and we thought it’d be good to have authorization to do what’s necessary. We only go out a few nights a week though. Mostly on the weekends. This is a quiet area.”
Looking at her notebook and back at the man, her eyes narrow. “What about the fact that both of the men landed on their stomachs? If they faced you they’d have likely landed on their backs.”
His smile cracks again and he takes a deep breath. “I don’t really know. I think they might have tried to turn as I fired or maybe when he hit the ground. One of them actually did land on his stomach but I flipped him over to see if I could help. All I really know is CPR though and he was beyond that.”
Without saying they’re done, Martina walks away and Tate follows. “Grandma, he didn’t give us enough to do anything. You need to let this go. I know it sucks but we have nothing we can prove.”
“Like hell we don’t.”
Walking over to the medical examiner, she crouches next to him. “Question, were either of these bodies flipped from their stomach onto their back?”
He gives her a strange look. “I can’t do my full autopsy out here but almost zero chance. There’d be a puddle of blood on the ground next to them. They moved after being shot, you can see the trail. That was just forward momentum though. They were running as they were shot. I’m fairly certain they weren’t moved after they fell though except for maybe crawling.”
Thanking the man, she walks back over to Tracy. “We have him.”
“What do you mean?”
“He just told me he flipped one of them over after they fell to try to help them. That one of them landed on their back. Medical examiner says no way. Obvious lie and that means he wasn’t just trying to protect the public. He just decided to kill these guys. No idea why, but that’s enough. Plus he said they were beyond help when they landed. We know they crawled from the trail of blood. We can charge him.”
“You do realize the DA hasn’t charged a single vigilante with anything yet, right?”
Martina throws her head back. The cops shouldn’t be fighting her on this. “There has to be a first time. We have enough. We can get around the vague rules. We need to make a move now. We can’t send this guy home after he shot down two people. We’ll arrest him and figure out the rest later.”
Tracy looks uncomfortable, her brow furrowed. Her eyes close for a moment. She turns to Tate. “What do you think Brandon?”
He has the same uncomfortable look on his face. “I mean, the guy’s clearly lying. That’s not hard to prove. That doesn’t necessarily prove enough to have charges brought against him though. I think we might have enough but we really need to wait until the autopsy comes back.”
Nodding, Tracy turns to Martina. “I agree with your partner. That’s a really good bit of info you got him on but on it’s own I don’t think it’s quite enough. I know it won’t be enough for my captain.”
There has to be a way. “What if I can get my captain to sign off on it?”
Tracy puts her hands up. “Sounds good to me, if you want to go to him with this that’s great. I’ll back you up on the scene if needed. For now though we have to let him go. I got his information. It won’t be hard to find the guy if we get an okay to go after him.”
She looks back at the shooter. The ambulance is closed now and he’s throwing his arms around, trying to stretch. He looks completely comfortable. It makes her want to go over there and beat the smile off his face. “Let’s go Tate.”
He tries to grab her by the arm and stop her. “We should finish helping here.”
“They have it, let’s go do what we can to get this guy.”