14


Sunday, November 1




8:09 PM
LUKE

            I open my eyes to the cold metallic glow of a hospital ward. Machines beep and whir at my sides. The overhead lights are dimmed, but still give off the pallid glow of the unwell. I wonder what time it is and move my head, searching for a clock. A bolt of pain in my neck and shoulders tells me this is a bad idea. I guess it doesn’t really matter.
            I try to move my hand to my face, but find it impossible, the strength sapped from my body. I notice an intravenous line attached to the back of my other hand. I must be pumped full of sedatives. I take it as a positive sign that I’ve figured this out; at least my brains are intact.
            I wiggle my fingers against a series of plastic buttons at the side of the bed and push one. A nurse arrives a few moments later and swings away the curtain shielding my bed. I try to say something, only to find that my tongue, like every other muscle in my body, is feeble and clumsy. A muffled gurgle is the only sound to make its way past my lips. The nurse steps forward, presses her hand against my shoulder, and begins to scrutinize the machines suspended above my bed. She jots something on a clipboard before finally speaking.
            “You’ve been out for a while, Mr. Harding,” she says, shaking her head. “I’m guessing you probably don’t remember much of it.”
            She appears to pause and study my reaction. I can’t remember much, but there’s no way to tell her this.
            “Well, there was an explosion… You were hit with some flying shards of glass.” Another pause. I stare at her blankly.
            “You took a lot of it in the arm, neck and face. Fortunately it was nothing that’ll cause permanent damage. It’s a wonder the glass missed your eyes. The doctors say you are a very lucky man.” I glare back at the woman, wondering if she knows how idiotic that assessment seems right now.
            “Your wife is waiting outside. I think she’s pretty eager to get in here and see you. Is that ok?”
            I give a slight nod and grit my teeth against the pain. The nurse acknowledges it and leaves. A few moments pass and Amy’s face appears at my bedside. She smells warm and flowery, and suddenly the sterile ward is alive with her color. Her face is puffy and red and she clenches a wad of crumbling tissues in her hand.
            “Oh my God, Luke!” she exclaims with a gasp. She rushes to my side and collapses, draping her body over me. I ignore the pain of the physical contact and enjoy her warmth.
            “I can’t believe this, Luke… Are you ok? Can you talk?”
            I attempt using my vocal chords again, and this time I’m nearly intelligible. “Mmm ok.”
            “You were in surgery for four hours, do you realize that? They said they extracted over fifty pieces of glass from–“ Amy stops suddenly, her tissue hand rising again to her face. “But they say you’re gonna be ok. Dr. Adams even said it should heal up without any major scarring.” Scars. That’s the last thing I have on my mind. At this stage, I’ll be thrilled just to speak again.
            “I’m just happy you’re ok, babe,” Amy says, squeezing my hand.
            “What… day?” I whisper. The sound is low and raspy, a stranger’s voice.
            “Today? It’s Sunday. You were checked in two days ago, right after the…the incident. Around 7:00.”
            I struggle to recall all the events but it’s still too disjointed. I recall us responding to the scene of an incident. A shooting? A robbery? I seem to recall a church.
            “I came over as soon as I got the call from Lieutenant Lorrace. I’d never heard him so scared in my life. I thought the worst had happened to you… Like those others.”
            I frown at my wife, not understanding. Others?
            “The two officers who were trying to arrest that man… They… Didn’t make it.”
           I close my eyes and force myself to remember. More snippets come back. There was a panic, people running around. Something loud. Fire and glass.
            “Hey, how’s my buddy?” says another voice from the doorway. I glance over to find Gabe walking in. His arm is in a sling around his neck, but otherwise he looks ok.
            “The blast knocked me over and I sprained by wrist. I’ll live. How you holdin’ up?” He’s smiling but he’s not himself somehow.
            “He can’t really talk right now. Must be all these drugs they’re pumping into him,” Amy says bitterly.
            “When’s he gonna be out of here?” Gabe asks.
            “Maybe a couple more days.”
            “Oh, ok.”
            “Captain?” I struggle to say. I remember that he was there too, at the church.
            Gabe gives me a somber look before responding. “He’s alive, but he’s worse off than you. A chunk of shrapnel caught him in the arm. The doctors had to amputate.” He bows his head and looks away. He’s angry, I realize. Amy glances at him suddenly, her mouth hanging open. Apparently this is news to her, too.
            “If only I could just go back and finish that scum off before he had a chance to pull the trigger,” Gabe growls. It’s the first time I’ve seen him like this and don’t blame him. The nurse enters the room, glancing briefly at my two visitors before giving me a nod.
            “You’ve got another visitor here, Mr. Harding. The name is Richards. Are you up for it?”
            The name conjures up Eva’s face. Why is she here? Could she possibly expect an interview? I can barely state my name, let alone give a statement for a newspaper. And what difference would it make? It all suddenly seems so trivial. News reports, interviews, all of it. Who cares? The nurse leaves before I have a chance to respond.
            “We’d better give him some space,” Gabe is saying to my wife. “Why don’t we grab something in the cafeteria. You want anything, Luke?”
            I shake my head once, not feeling the least bit interesting in eating. The news about my two dead colleagues and Pryce’s amputation has killed any sort of appetite. I watch as the two leave quietly down the hall.
            When Eva enters a few minutes later, she’s holding a small bouquet of flowers in one hand and her purse in the other. She sets the bouquet down on a table at the foot of the bed and then stands at my side, her eyes assessing the damage.
            “So, who were you trying to save this time?” she asks with the slightest of smirks.
            I groan, not really in the mood for jokes, though I appreciate the effort.
            “I heard about Officers Cole and Stenson on the news. I’m so sorry. The bombing is all anyone is talking about, even the big networks…” Her voice trails off as she studies my expression. I’m totally apathetic to whatever’s dominating the airwaves, and she seems to sense it.
            “I’m not here for your story, Luke. I just wanted to pass something on, something very important. I wanted to get it to you first, before the press descends on you. And trust me, they will. I counted six vans with reporters and camera crews milling around outside.”
            “What?” I ask in a voice still hoarse but stronger than minutes before.
            “I did some research on the bomber, Matthias Ward. You know he was a cop before?”
            “Yeah.”
            “Did you hear why he quit that job?”
            “I don’t really care.”
            “Well, apparently there’d been all sorts of internal issues with him in the department. Some thought he was unstable. Later, he moves down here. I think he wanted a fresh start. He gets a job working in a post office. He’s there for a couple of years, probably for the health benefits. At the time, his wife has stage three colon cancer. The insurance company refuses to cooperate; they say it’s pre-existing and not coverable, et cetera et cetera. Well, she finally dies and Matthias is stuck with the three kids.”
            I’m half listening as she rattles on, wondering why she thinks I need to know any of it. I’ll be happy if I never hear the name Matthias Ward again. Still, it’s curious how much Eva has managed to dig up in just two days. I wonder if the news vans outside have gathered as much dirt.
            “Flash forward to about eight months ago. Matthias decides to sign up for a church membership at St. Peter’s Episcopal and takes the kids with him faithfully every Sunday.”
            “I know, I talked to the pastor,” I say, surprising myself with a nearly normal voice. Maybe it’s the mental focus.
            “Yeah, so did I. He said the family was getting a portion of the donations.”
            “Right.”
            Eva’s face flashes with a wry smile and she shakes her head slowly. “But church membership at St. Peter’s for a family of four isn’t cheap. If my sources are correct, it would’ve been over four hundred dollars a month for Matthias and the kids. I doubt the church would’ve then turned around and given him that money back, plus a little extra.”
            “What’re you saying?”
            “I think Matthias was there for something else. He may have even been a plant.”
            I close my eyes and let out a heavy sigh. I’m not in the mood for Eva and her conspiracy theories.
            “It fits the pattern, Luke. I think Matthias was hired by the same people that rounded up those arsonists.”
            “Eva, stop. Please. I don’t want to have this conversation now. People are dead.”
            “Yeah, and they’ll continue to die if something isn’t done soon. These are contracted attacks, Luke. Something bad is going on and I believe it’s going to keep escalating.”
            “Then go to the police.”
            “You are the police.”
            “Not the police you need. If you really think something this big is being planned out, you need to talk to the FBI.” Eva averts her stare for a moment, a shadow settling over her expression.
            “I tried.”
            “And?”
            “I went to them, months ago. I… I don’t trust them, Luke. That’s why I came to you. When I saw that you’d saved people from that fire, I knew I could trust you.”
            I take a deep breath and try to process everything, but my mind moves in slow motion.
            “So what’s your theory, then? That Matthias–an American, and an ex-cop–was hired by some secret terrorist organization to bomb a church, and maim himself and his children in the process?” Eva’s shaking her head.
            “No, the kids were never meant to be hurt.”
            “How can you even know that?” I say, feeling flustered. Eva gives me a cold stare and pulls something from her purse. It’s a CD with something scribbled on the top in black marker.
            “What’s this?” I ask.
            “I went through all of the footage from the news crews at the scene and put the video together. I want you to have a look, tell me what you think.”
            “Now?”
            “No, but don’t let it wait too long. I feel I’m running out of time.”
            “Okay, fine. I’ll take a look.”
            “Do it at home, and make sure you’re alone.”
            “Sure, whatever,” I say, alarmed by the paranoid look in her eyes. Eva turns suddenly as my wife walks into the room suddenly. She’s holding a sandwich wrapped in cellophane in one hand and a can of Coke in the other.
            “Who are you?” she asks Eva.
            “Hi, my name is Eva Richards. I’m a friend. You must be Mrs. Harding.”
            “That’s right,” Amy says with an edge. “I’m sorry, but I don’t think my husband is able to talk with you right now, not in this condition.”
            Eva opens her mouth as if to explain, but stops herself. “You’re right. I’ll be on my way.” Then, to me, “Rest up, Officer Harding.”

13


4:28 PM
LUKE

            “You ready to talk yet, Matthias?” Pryce shouts. He’s been standing in the street now for almost two hours. The roads going off in each direction have been blocked off, but it hasn’t prevented several news vans from squeezing onto the scene. Camera crews are setting up frantically and training their lamps on reporters on the sidewalk. I half expect to see Eva Richards out there among them, but so far no representatives from The Herald have shown up.
            “How d’you know my name?” the man shouts back. He’s sitting on the steps with the children still within arms’ reach around him. The smallest one, probably only four or five years old, is cradled in one of the older girl’s arms, sleeping.
            “I did some research,” Pryce shrugs. His voice is cooler now, and yet somehow more authoritative.
            “I didn’t see you go anywhere. You wired?”
            Pryce pulls the earbud from the side of his head so that the man on the steps can see it. “Of course. We both know how this works.”
            The captain has now shifted roles. The concerned neighbor persona wasn’t going anywhere, so now he’s back to being the captain.
            “Should we get rid of the press?” I ask Lieutenant Lorrace, who now stands behind me studying the screens before him with one hand clenched in a fist at his chin.
            “No, they’re good where they are. This guy wants to be heard, let him. Get him to think his words are reaching the ears that matter.”
            I nod. It makes sense. “Were you able to get in touch with the Senator?” I ask. This had been one of Matthias’s requests from early on, and Pryce had promised him they’d try to get him a phone conversation.
            Ben Lorrace shakes his head. “Can’t get past his secretary. She says he’s in some meeting. It better be important,” Lorrace hisses through gritted teeth.
            “So, I guess you know all about me, then,” Matthias yells from the steps. Pryce shrugs.
            “I only know your name, and I know you’ve been through a lot. But I still don’t know you. What’s going on Matthias? Talk to me.”
            “I already told you, they took everything.”
            “I remember that part. But why do this? Why hurt those children?”
            “I won’t let them take them from me.”
            “You mean the government? You won’t let them take your kids?”
            “Yeah.”
            “They won’t.”
            “What? What do you mean?”
            “You were a cop in Baltimore, right?”
            “Yeah, so what?”
            “You ever heard of the Maryland LEO Pension Fund? It was put together for law enforcement officers who worked near the capitol. I guess they thought it was a riskier city to work in, with all the terror threats and everything. They never told you about it?”
            “No.”
            “Well, then you need to make some phone calls. I’m sure there will be something there for you, once they find out about you being a single dad and a widower. Especially after that fiasco with the insurance companies.”
            Matthias’s eyes are a thin line as he weighs the captain’s words.
            “It’ll never work. Not after this. I’ll go to prison.”
            “Not if you end this now, Matthias. Call it off. Let the kids go. No harm done.”
            “And I’ll never get help from the government. They won’t give me a dime after they see this.”
            “They’ll have to. People will be in an outrage when they hear your story. They’ll put pressure on the government until you get taken care of. That’s the power of the press,” Pryce says with a sweeping hand motion in the direction of the news vans.
            Matthias glances over at the reporters waiting down the road and seems to consider the offer. The cameras are rolling, capturing his every move.
            It’s at this moment that a car pulls up behind the police barricade. A couple jumps out. Both are crying and shouting, pointing desperately to the steps of the church. The line of policemen converge and try to block the road, but they move too fast. They squeeze past the cars and run directly for the church, screaming.
            “Alan! Madison! We’re here! Daddy and Mommy are here!”
            I feel my whole body go numb. The parents of the other two kids have arrived. Perhaps they’ve seen the news footage and recognized their children. On the screen, the man is trying to hold his wife back. Pryce stands motionless for a moment before springing into action. His wrist snaps to his face and he hisses into the line.
            “Get these people out of here now!”
            Lieutenant Lorrace is on his radio in an instant, and within five seconds two officers have jumped the barricades and are pulling the couple back. The wife is hysterical, her arms and legs flailing, her nails clawing at the officer’s faces. A third officer appears and slips her into handcuffs, which only infuriates her husband. He pushes the officer away, screaming profanities.
            The children on the steps are now awake and watching the scene with large, terrified faces. The two small ones are crying again, their arms held out as they sob. But worst of all is Matthias. The hint of calm that had settled in during Pryce’s dialogue with him has vanished. He is once again edgy, panicked, and dangerous. He stands, raising his arm again into the air. Everyone holds their breath.
            The next few moments are a blur as chaos erupts. The oldest boy slips out of Matthias’s grasp and makes a run for it. He leaps down the steps, tumbling onto the curb but catching himself with outstretched arms. His sneakers dig into the pavement and he’s up and running, moving like a wild animal, soaring past Captain Pryce and directly into his father’s waiting arms.
            The other kids are looking around now, perhaps wondering if they can do the same thing. But the boy was the oldest, and there’s no way they can match his speed. But now they are moving around, back and forth on the steps, as Matthias reaches for their clothing and tries to corral them again. Without the boy there, his primary source of cover is gone.
            “If you can get a clean shot, take it,” Pryce says into his mic.
            And that’s when the shot rings out.
            A single crack into the evening air, and that’s it. Matthias spins sharply to one side and crumples backwards onto the steps. The children scatter, screaming and crying. Officers from a dozen concealed locations now materialize, weapons drawn, scooping the children into their arms and withdrawing instantly back to the shadows. Matthias is writhing on the steps in an unnatural position like a withered tangle of dead branches. The shot has hit him in the shoulder. He’ll live.
            With the children at a safe distance, two more officers approach the steps. Pryce inches in another fifty yards behind them. One of the officers kicks at Matthias’s shoe to see if he is conscious, and when he barely moves, they lean in closer to get a look at the damage. A team of paramedics who’ve been waiting nearby rush in with a gurney, and just as they all gather in a frantic knot on the steps, it happens.
            It is the sound of utter destruction. Metal crumbling, glass shattering, stone and concrete being obliterated, all packed into a single, awful explosion. The ground shakes, rattling the surveillance van like a small earthquake. People are screaming. Black smoke and static fill the screens in front of us. Matthias has detonated the bomb.

12


2:41 PM
LUKE

            I pull up to the scene behind a barricade of crisscrossed squad cars and flashing lights. Someone waves at me to stop and park. I get out of my car and find Captain Pryce behind me. He explains that they’ve set up a small command unit in the parking lot of a bank across the street from the church. A handful of officers have been sent out to extract civilians from nearby buildings and get them evacuated from the scene. Pryce strips off his police getup and slips into an old college sweater. It’s an odd thing to me, changing clothes at a time like this, but my attention is quickly diverted to other matters.
            Several officers with automatic rifles are making a circle around the captain. There’s tension in everyone’s face and no one speaks. Pryce breathes heavily, and I realize this is the most rattled I’ve ever seen him. I glance at the officers around me. Despite their uniforms and special ops weaponry, these aren’t soldiers. They never imagined they’d be here today, wondering if they’ll ever see their families again.
            “Brief them,” Pryce finally mutters to a lieutenant as he goes to retrieve something from the trunk of his car.
            Lieutenant Ben Lorrace, nods and makes eye contact with each of the armed officers standing around the squad car. “The call came in a little less than an hour ago. Apparently one of the church members is upset over this Liberation Act business. He’s demanding the right to worship freely with his family. An eyewitness said he was quoting the constitution earlier, before we showed up. He’s wearing some kind of vest, and he claims it’s rigged with explosives. He says that if his demands aren’t met, he’ll detonate it.”
            “Do we know for sure he’s not bluffing?” one of the officers in the circle asks. His name is Mike and he’s been on the force a year longer than myself. As far as I know, he only started training with our department’s tactical ops unit a few months back.
            “We snapped some photos and sent them to ATF,” explains Lieutenant Lorrace. “They had one of their bomb techs take a look and he said it was impossible to tell, but they could very well be live pipe bombs. Anyone with an internet connection can learn how to rig an explosive these days. We can’t take our chances.”
            “What are his demands?” one of the ops officers asks. Her name is Selena and she is our precinct’s top sharpshooter.
            “He wants the law reversed, of course.” Heads lower and shake around the circle. It’s not a promising situation.
            “Who are the hostages, sir? They look like just kids.”
            “Yes, that’s right. He’s got some children with him. We don’t know whose they are, but we’re assuming they’re his.”
            A few groans can be heard among the group. One of the officers swears under his breath. His face is pale and he keeps wiping it with a damp handkerchief. Captain Pryce returns with a plastic tube he’s pulled from his car. He uncaps it, unsheathes a large map, and spreads it on his hood.
            “Ok, listen up. We’re here,” he growls, making a red X with a sharpie near the intersection of Decker and Coldwell.
            “The church is here.” Pryce circles it with the pen but it’s hardly necessary. The building is the largest structure on the map and labeled with a black cross and the name St. Peter’s Episcopal.
            “I want eyes here, here, and here,” Pryce is saying, making small check marks at several strategic points that will provide good cover. The captain points at three of the officers and they nod in acknowledgement.
            It’s probably the first time they’d seen a situation like this, I realize. In the past, we’ve held the line against riots and protesters, but never have we been up against a threat that could, in a blink, extinguish so many innocent lives.
            “I also want two snipers, one on the roof of the bank and one on the deli here. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you to stay out of sight. I don’t want him spooked.”
            “The rest of us, sir?” I ask.
            “We’ll form a command team here and communicate with the eyes up top. I want you all to stay close. And I want information on our bomber. Who is he? Does he have a record? And find out who the kids are. If they aren’t his, you’ll have to track their parents down.”
            I feel light headed at the thought of that phone conversation but force myself to acknowledge the order.
            “Lieutenant, you’re in charge of these officers. I don’t want any shots fired unless it becomes absolutely necessary, do you understand?” Lorrace nods once, the muscles in his jaw tight and bulging.
            “Ok, let me go talk to this clown,” the captain grumbles. And with that, Pryce walks around the corner of the bank and disappears.
            Within minutes, a surveillance van has been set up in the parking lot. Hidden cameras mounted up on rooftops where the snipers hide feed live images to a series of flatscreen monitors. I was trained on this equipment, but it was months ago. My eyes crawl over the controls and dials as I try to remember how it all works. A technician hands me a white earbud and I stick it in. I can hear heavy breathing. The captain.
            Looking over the screens, I now understand the wardrobe change. The sweater makes Pryce look less imposing, more like your average civilian. A neighbor, maybe, or a grandfather. Somehow, he’s even smiling as he holds both of his hands in the air to show the suspect he’s unarmed.
            On the wide steps leading to the front door of the massive church, a man in a wired vest stands with his arms wrapped around a few children. The youngest are hysterical, wailing and pleading, but none of them dare to move away.
            “Not another step!” the man screams, waving something in his hand. It’s connected to his body by a pair of red wires and is clearly some sort of remote. I know the eyes must be scrambling above us to zoom in and take snapshots that will then be analyzed by technicians from a bomb squad a few towns away. The Captain stops in the middle of the road, still smiling.
            “You got it. I’ll stop right here.” HIs voice is almost unrecognizable from the one he’d been using to give orders moments ago. It’s agreeable, warm, unimposing.
            “My name is Dale,” says the Captain.
            “What do you want?” the man snaps.
            “Well, let’s start with your name, if that’s all right.”
            “Why do you care?”
            “I just wanna talk to you. That’s it. I thought maybe if we knew each others’ names–“
            “You don’t care about my name! You don’t care about any of this!”
            I can hear Pryce’s even breathing in my earpiece. If he’s nervous, I can’t pick it up.
            “I can see you’re upset. Care to tell me why?”
            “Why do you think? They’ve taken everything from me!”
            “Can you tell me what you mean? Who’s they?”
            “Them! The powers that be! The system that controls it all!” The man’s hand is flailing again, pointing to the buildings all around him. “They control everything, and I’m sick of it! And they’re controlling you, too.” Pryce nods calmly, but his breathing seems to have changed.
            “I’m sorry they’ve taken so much from you. But do you really want to hurt the children?”
            I watch the screen as the man looks down, blinking a few times as if he’s forgotten he isn’t standing alone on those steps.
            “I know how it looks,” the man says, his tone softening just slightly. “But this is more merciful.”
            “What do you mean?”
            But the man doesn’t answer. His jaw is clenched and his head is shaking back and forth. Tears stream down his face. Captain Pryce turns away slightly from the steps and begins scratching his face. The microphone we strapped to his wrist is now in position for him to send us a message. He speaks in a low, quick voice: “Get me intel on this man NOW.”
            I can feel the Captain’s urgency, his voice almost panicky. Whatever has led to this point, the man is clearly ready to die and take others with him. My mind is racing. Without a name, how can we track any details down?
            “Find me the priest of that church,” I say to the man on my left. The officer flips open his laptop and begins scrolling through an online phone listing. He rattles the numbers off as I press them into my phone.
            “Hello?” says a elderly voice on the other end.
            “Yes, is this Emmett McCallister? From the Episcopal church?”
            “Well, not anymore. Who’re you?” grumbles the voice, clearly annoyed.
            “My name is Luke Harding, and I’m a sergeant with the local police department. We’ve got a situation that we need your help with.”
            “Yeah?”
            I lay out the scene, mentioning only the most crucial of details, afraid to waste even a second.
            “Oh, Lord in heaven,” sighs the voice when I’ve brought him up to speed.
            “Sir? Do you have any idea who this could be?”
            “Matthias Ward. That’s his name.”
            I scribble the name frantically on a pad of paper and pass it to the officer with the laptop. “Any details you can share with us that might help?” I ask.
            “I’m afraid he’s not stable,” Mr. McCallister says gravely.
            No kidding. “Any idea why?”
            “Life has not been kind to that one. His wife died of cancer last summer. She fought it for years. Matthias had his own battle–with the insurance company. They paid out almost nothing. That poor family…”
            “They have any kids? Can you tell me how many? And about what age?”
            “Three. Two boys and a girl, all about the same age, maybe spread out a year or two.”
            My eyes flick back to the monitor. I count five kids in total. That means two belong to someone else. My stomach twists into knots at the realization that our situation has just gotten even more complicated.
            “...All in elementary school. I don’t know their exact ages. We’re a big church, you see, and sometimes hundreds–“
            “Can you tell me about his work? Would he have any knowledge about building a bomb?”
            A pause on the other end as the pastor thinks. “Oh, I suppose he might. I believe he was on the police force in Baltimore for years before the family moved here.”
            I cringe. An ex-cop turned terrorist. It doesn’t get much worse.
            “And do you have any idea what he might be acting out against now?” I ask. There’s a scoff on the other end.
            “Oh, sure. He’s mad about that awful new law. The family was getting a small cut of the collections our church took in each month. It wasn’t much, you know, just something to help them get by. Now that the church is closed and the federal government has seized our accounts, there’s nothing left for them. I’ve tried talking with him, but he was furious. Seems like he’s finally snapped.” The pastor’s voice becomes more and more aggravated and accusatory as he speaks, as if all this is somehow my fault.
            I consider asking the pastor if he’s willing to come down and talk with our bomber, but decide against it. If he’s this hostile on the phone, there’s no telling what he’ll be like in person. It might even push Matthias in the wrong direction. It’s clear Pryce is our best bet of talking the bomber down. I thank Mr. McCallister and hang up.
            I speak quickly into the transmitter, feeding the vital details directly to the Captain’s earpiece. The image on the feed zoomed in to his position shows him wrinkling his brow slightly and dipping his head a centimeter or so in acknowledgement. It’s enough, and it only confirms what I already knew. It’s time to change tactics.

11


Thursday, October 22








10:14 AM

AMY



            Chelsea sits across from me wrapped in a homemade scarf, sipping a frothy vanilla latte. Though she loves their coffee, she rarely splurges for Starbucks, and with the way things went the last time we saw each other, I figure that treating my friend to her favorite coffee is the least I can do.

            “Thanks for not being mad about the other night, Chelsea,” I say.

            “Hon, Luke’s reaction was understandable. I told you to come clean months ago. Did you two talk after we left?”

            “Not at first. I was a wreck. I sort of locked myself in the bathroom.”

            “Oh, dear.”

            “I couldn’t help it. I was just too upset. I was afraid I’d say something terrible…”

            “So? Then what happened? You didn’t sleep in there, did you?”

            “No, he finally came and apologized.”

            “He apologized. Amy, sometimes I’m not so sure you realize how good of a husband that Luke is.”

            “Yeah. So we talked about it all, and I told him everything.”

            “He knows you’re thinking about baptism?”

            “Well… not that part.”

            “So, you told him Amy’s edited version of everything.”

            “Hey, I’m working on it. I feel pretty good about myself for finally saying what I did, you know?”

            “But only after it came to a confrontation. You’ve got to be more proactive about these things, Amy. You need to earn his trust and respect.”

            “You don’t think he respects me?”

            “Put yourself in his shoes. You’re out doing a stressful, dangerous job every day, doing your best to support your family, and suddenly you find out about a secret life your wife was living. How would you feel?”

            “You make it sound like I was doing something illegal.”

            “Studying the Bible may very well be illegal someday soon. Isn’t attending meetings already?”

            “That’s not what I meant, Chelsea. I’m saying that studying with you isn’t a bad thing.”

            “Not to you and I. But being empathetic means seeing things from someone else’s point of view–in this case, Luke’s. He’s a police officer, Amy. His job requires him to uphold the law, whether we agree with it or not. It can’t make him feel good that his wife has been doing something contrary to what he stands for.”

            “So what do I do now?”

            Chelsea gives me a long look for a moment, wheels turning.

            “I’d say you could start by meditating on what Jehovah inspired Peter to write in Second Peter chapter three, verses one and two. Let’s look it up.”

            I fumble through my purse and pull out my iPad. Chelsea glances around us to make sure we’re not being overheard as I navigate to the verse and read it softly.



                        In the same way, you wives, be in subjection to your husbands, so that if any are not obedient to the word, they may be won without a word through the conduct of their wives, because of having been eyewitnesses of your chaste conduct together with deep respect.



            “What do you get out of this verse?” Chelsea asks me.

            “That actions speak louder than words,” I respond, shrugging.

            “Good. What actions?”

            “Being kind, I suppose. The first verse mentions being in subjection. But I can’t do everything he says just because he’s my husband. You just said that studying the Bible might soon be illegal, but we’ll still be doing that.”

            “Certainly. There’s a line there, and this scripture isn’t telling you to cross it. But notice that verse two uses the phrase ‘eyewitness of your chaste conduct’. That might seem like a strange way to phrase it. When you hear ‘eyewitness’, what do you think of?”

            “Someone at a crime scene, maybe? A person giving testimony in court?”

            “Yeah, I think of both of those situations too. An eyewitness is someone who is willing to speak about something they’ve seen personally. They’re convinced of its veracity, and so they testify. That’s how Luke needs to feel about you. He needs to be convinced of your fine conduct, your chasteness, your deep respect. That requires much more of you than just admitting the truth when cornered.”

            No one speaks another word for a few moments as I process what Chelsea has just said. As usual, the scripture makes sense, and Chelsea has been able to go much deeper than the surface where I’d been looking.

            “So I need to show him more respect,” I finally say, my voice barely a whisper.

            “That’s the idea, hon.”



Friday, October 30








1:58 PM

LUKE



            I hold the glossy pamphlet in my hands and inspect the cover carefully. In the picture, two police officers–one male, one female–pose proudly in full riot gear, cradling automatic rifles with one arm and saluting with the other. A giant American flag waves in the air behind them. 1033-DEFENSE LOGISTICS PROGRAM is plastered front and center in bold, yellow block letters.

            The DLP is nothing new. It’s a federal program responsible for transferring billions of dollars worth of excess military equipment to local law enforcement agencies, often with little or no charge to the police departments themselves. In some of the bigger cities, like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, where terror threats and heavily armed gangs are increasingly common, the DLP affords civilian agencies access to high-powered rifles, grenade launchers, armored vehicles, and sometimes even military-grade helicopters. But even the smaller outlying precincts have benefitted from the program with plated body armor, tear gas, and other weaponry previously available only to special tactical units.

            Years ago, the voices on the left were in an uproar over what they liked to call ‘the militarization of police,’ though the program managed to survive. A slew of terrorist plots foiled by well-armed metropolitan police forces was all it took.

            I glance around the den to find that most of the other officers are thumbing through the pamphlet as well. Obviously, each desk received a copy, but why? Our precinct is only mid-sized, with about twenty officers. It’s hard to imagine us qualifying for the program, though one could hope. Safe is always better than sorry, and the more firepower and armor at our disposal, the better. What’s the point of the police being armed if the average Joe can outgun us for a few hundred dollars on Ebay? It makes no sense.

            I tuck the brochure away in my desk and stretch. It’s been almost a year since the incident in the pharmacy, but there’s still a tightness in my right tricep, and I doubt the muscles and tendons will ever return to normal. It could’ve been worse, of course. Had the bullet penetrated just a few centimeters higher, it could’ve hit the carotid artery in my neck. In all likelihood I would’ve bled out in the parking lot and wouldn’t be here today.

            I think back to that fateful night the call came in. It was just after 11:00 when the dispatcher announced a 10-47: robbery in progress. All nearby units were called on to respond; I was there first. The kid in the red baseball cap and hoodie was only sixteen. He was shaking an aluminum bat at a bearded man in a lab coat behind the counter. The man’s hands were up, tembling, pleading. They made eyes on me at the same time, and in an instant everything changed. The flash of silver from the kid’s back pocket. The explosion of glass as the bullet passed through the front door. And the sudden, searing pain in my upper arm.

            I returned fire and got off three rounds before the perp hit the floor. Despite the stabbing pain, at least I walked away from the scene alive. It was more than could be said for the kid in the hoodie, who was wheeled out of the pharmacy on a stretcher, his body covered by a white sheet. The EMTs pronounced him dead before his body even reached the ambulance.

            His name had been Kyle.

            He’d been after a case of Oxycotins. To this day, I don’t believe he was a bad kid. Just desperate.

            My mind gradually drifts back to the DLP catalog. I imagine how much differently things might’ve been if I’d been in military-grade combat gear that night, holding a riot shield, armed with tear gas. Under those circumstances, it’s hard to imagine Kyle taking the chance. Maybe he would’ve surrendered, been arrested, and still be alive in a cell somewhere today.

            “How’s the arm?” Gabe asks as he rolls his desk chair across the floor. I’m rotating my shoulder cuff in alternating circles, an exercise I’ve done thousands of time since physical therapy.

            “No more pain, but it gets stiff sometimes.”

            “Too much desk work, man. Welcome to the life of a sergeant,” Gabe quips as he gooses me in my good shoulder. It’s true. Now that I’ve climbed ranks, I spend most of my time in front of a computer looking over reports from the officers I supervise. Ironically, all this office work is actually taking a toll on my body. Especially my gut.

            “Death by paperwork,” Gabe sighs, as if reading my mind.

            “You get one of these?” I ask, holding up the pamphlet.

            “Yeah. The whole department got ‘em.”

            “What’s up?”

            “Looks like the captain’s been trying to pull some strings. The Defense Agency sent the info. I think Pryce is working his way through the forms now.” I nod, mulling it over.

            “So I guess you already heard about the new religious policy around here, huh?” Gabe asks.

            “Sure,” I say. Remembering something, I gesture at Gabe with a finger and make a questioning look. “Wait. How does that work out for you?” I ask. As long as I’ve known him, Gabe’s been a devout Catholic. He even wears a small gold cross on a chain under his uniform. I’ve seen him kiss it for good luck. Captain Pryce had mentioned that some of the officers would take the new regulations hard and I guess that maybe Gabe is one of them. He shrugs off my inquiry.

            “My ma won’t be too happy about it when she finds out, but I don’t expect the rest of them to raise too much of a fuss. They’re not happy about the church closing, of course, but they’ve been too scared to go recently anyway. They’ll get over it.”

            “And you?”

            “What choice do I have? Give up the job?” Gabe leans forward a little, and in a lower voice, says, “Anyways, it’s not like they can make me renounce my beliefs. They just don’t want to see their officers formally involved in religion. I get it.” Gabe shrugs with a conspiratorial grin.

            I nod. “You know much about Jehovah’s Witnesses?” I ask, trying not to sound overly interested.

            Gabe makes a face. “Not really. My ma always said they were dangerous. We’d usually hide as kids if they ever came knocking.”

            “Did you ever talk to one of them?”

            “No. I had a classmate, back in high school, who was a Witness, I think. Didn’t seem like such a bad guy, but we never saw him much after school. He was quiet, kept to himself. Wouldn’t do the holiday stuff. You know, a few years ago, we had a family in our church that talked to the Witnesses. They told me about it once after Sunday mass. They said they were studying the Bible together, and that they were learning all kinds of stuff. Seemed pretty excited about it, but I couldn’t understand half of what they said. I just told them to be careful. And then, one Sunday, they weren’t there, and never came back to our church. Our pastor made a big fuss over it during one of his sermons. So no, I’ve never talked with the Witnesses. I never wanted to risk anything that would take me away from my church and my family.”

            I resist the urge to point out the irony of his comment given the current policy change.

            “Why you wanna know?” Gabe asks, slipping a pack of gum from his pocket and sliding two sticks into his mouth.

            “No reason,” I say, avoiding my friend’s stare. “Actually, you remember that fire from a month ago?“

            “Yeah, sure.”

            “It was a Kingdom Hall. Where the Witnesses meet.”

            “Ok. And?”

            “I just got to wondering about them. That’s all.”

            Gabe smacks his gum and frowns. “Ok, buddy,” he says as he walks off.

            Dumb, I know. Gabe is not one to miss the details. It’s foolish to pry into anything that might put myself in danger.

            Danger. That’s what I’ve been sensing lately. Ever since Amy revealed her little secret, it’s like I’ve been looking over my shoulder constantly. But what am I so worried about? The department still hasn’t said a thing about officers’ families. Just the officers themselves. And besides, Amy clearly stated the other night that her and her friends weren’t meeting in public buildings. Surely the government doesn’t have a problem with people practicing religion on their own? What threat could that pose?

            My mind jumps again to Eva. I’m sure she knows a lot more about all of this than I do. She’s been on this trail for who knows how long. I decide it’s probably worth it to try to meet her again. If she’s willing, that is. Things didn’t go so well the last time we talked. Still, prying her for info will be much safer than picking the minds of officers on the force.

            I’m shaken from my train of thought by a sudden flurry of activity. The dispatcher, Jenny, is running from one of the back offices with a yellow pad in her hand, the headset still on her ears as the loose cable whips at her side. Officers are looking around, turning to each other and asking questions, wondering aloud. Jenny’s a pro. She can handle anything. But she’s clearly panicking now.

            “Listen up,” comes a booming voice from down the hall that can only belong to Captain Pryce as he jogs into the pen. “We’ve got a situation. Bomb threat and possible hostages. We need to get eyes out there. I want all units that aren’t in the middle of something crucial out there ASAP. We’ll organize you en route. Go!”

            More commotion as coats are lifted from chairs and items are hoisted onto officers’ bodies.

            “Sir? Where are we headed?” asks a voice amidst the sea of confusion.

            “Decker St. and Coldwell Avenue.”

            Everyone’s movement slows by a fraction as we process the location in our minds. Decker and Coldwell. The megachurch.