The two county deputies sat in the front seats of the patrol car watching the guy they had pulled over standing in the glow of the headlights, giving them his profile, standing still as he was told to, but clenching and unclenching his fists because he was scared and stoned and it was hard to remain in one place.
The deputies had pulled him over a few minutes earlier because he had been doing forty-three in a thirty-five.
Deputy Chris Hummel had called the dispatcher at 2043 hours and advised they had stopped a 1999 Chevy Suburban with a license tag number KAY-6705 and then got out of the car to talk to the young man. Asked him a few questions, then got back in to discuss with his young partner what they should do next. It was Hummel who was driving.
The dispatcher came back. She ran the driver's license number and tag and did not find any outstanding warrants or record on the guy.
Deputy Hummel said, "Son of a bitch." Disappointed. He said to the patrol officer next to him, "Look at him. Is he not blazed out?"
Deputy Wade Childers said, "Yeah. Look at his hands."
Night. Cold out, a fine mist that was not going to become rain anytime soon. Early November. There was hip-hop playing on the radio in the patrol car. The windshield wipers slapped intermittently between them and the guy that had been requested to step out of his vehicle and stand in front of the patrol car.
The deputies were both in their twenties; Childers on the low end, Hummel on the upper end. It was Hummel's eighth year in law enforcement; cynical and hard-bitten, but not yet tired. Hummel was married with two children. The older child had been from his wife's first marriage; Hummel had adopted him a year after he married theboy's mother. They had the second child together. He was taking two courses at the University of Missouri-Saint Louis and he hoped to have his bachelor's degree in criminal justice by the time he was thirty.
Deputy Wade Childers was twenty-four and looked it. He was not married, but he had a serious girlfriend whom he had known since he was fourteen. Childers had been a law enforcement officer for ten months. It was his rookie year; he was still on probation. Like many young men, he was drawn to the trappings, the stuff, of law enforcement. The uniform, the cars, the guns, the handcuffs, the OC spray, the batons and ASPs; what Chris Hummel liked to call "the fuckin' tools."
Childers was also attracted to the rush of police work, the downright narcotic effect of racing to the scene of a crime: a fire, a shooting, a robbery. It did not matter so much what the event was; what mattered was that there was an event happening now and you were going to be there. You were going to be there and you were going to handle it because no one else would know how. It is this rush that peels young men away from other professions that pay better wages, that set more reasonable working hours, that are more hospitable to marriage and family, that are devoid of opportunities of being shot at or sued or terminated at the whim of a shift captain who thinks your wedding tackle might be bigger than his. Wade Childers, at twenty-four, did not contemplate the hazards to the psyche that come with police work. He did not think about paranoia or burnout or stress from being witness to violence and death and cruelty and injustice. He did not think about administrative backbiting and politics and callous bureaucracy. Wade Childers thought police work was cool and pitied those who did not have the opportunity to do what he did. Wade Childers was, in short, a very young police officer.
They were parked in a lot off Manchester Road in St. Louis County. Cars whisked by, slowing by degrees as they passed the stationary police car with the flashing red and blue lights. There was an Ace Hardware store and a Dollar General store nearby, both of them closed for the night.
Chris Hummel said, "He's a big old boy."
The man standing in the November mist was big. Much bigger and heavier than Chris Hummel. But if the man in the headlights felt any size advantage over Deputy Hummel he never showed it. If he ever felt it at all, it was forgotten when Hummel made him step out of the car and explain who he was and where he was going. Hummel stood about five-nine and weighed no more than 165 pounds, but he had the voice and the stance and the body language that intimidated people. Watching him, rookie Wade Childers--who was also physically bigger than Hummel--felt envy and admiration. How? How do you learn to do that? Are you just born with it?
Truth be told, in his years of police work, Deputy Hummel had pulled his service weapon from his holster only once. That had been when he saw a man reach into the backseat of his car to reach for a shiny object that Hummel had thought was a shotgun. There followed a lot of screaming and shouting of orders and warnings and the man got out of the car and facedown on the ground. The thing he had been reaching for turned out to be an aluminum baseball bat. Hummel was thankful he had not killed the man.
Deputy Hummel was no pacifist. Like most police officers not on the executive board of a police union, he was the sort of right-wing Republican that establishment Republicans prefer to keep in the background. Hummel, for example, opposed sending conventional troops into Iraq because he believed it would have been easier--and, from his perspective, more humane--just to flatten the rebel hot spots with two or three nuclear bombs in as many days and start from scratch. But armchair politics aside, he possessed good street instincts. He knew when to use the appropriate level of force and when not to and, if necessary, when to run like hell.
His instincts told him now that the man in the headlights was a turd and a bump monkey looking for the kick that comes with snorting methamphetamine. Given the right encouragement, the man would probably be able to lead them to a meth kitchen.
Hummel said, "I can smell it on him."
Childers said, "Well, what do you want to do?"
"I don't know." Hummel said, "Look at his shirt."
"Yeah. What is that?"
They could see a brown patch on the man's white tennis shirt.
Hummel said, "That's what I asked. He said he burned a hole in it." Deputy Hummel sighed. "Look at him. I don't know if he's high or retarded ... . What, what is he doing now? Is he singing?"
"Yeah. He's singing."
"Look at his hands. Fucking tensed up."
"I'm waiting for him to fall over. Looks like he's going to pass out."
"Shit, he's only been standing there for five minutes."
"Yeah, but he'll tell people later it was two hours."
After a moment, Deputy Hummel said, "We don't have anything on him."
The young man in the headlights still seemed to be singing or humming to himself. Facing the road, his left profile to the deputies behind the patrol car's windshield.
Hummel said to Childers, "Wonder if I can sneak out of the car, walk up behind him real quiet, scare the shit out of him."
That's what he did. Deputy Wade Childers remained in the patrol car, watching the performance, Chris Hummel creeping up right behind the guy like he was coming on to him. Wade Childers smiled as he saw Chris speak into the man's left ear, then laughed as he saw the man jump in fright--who's that?--Chris keeping the same deadpan expression beneath his cap the whole time. Chris talked with the guy a little while longer before letting him get in the Suburban and go home. And again Wade Childers wondered how Deputy Hummel did it.
Hummel got back in the patrol car, radioed dispatch to 10-8, and drove back out into traffic.
They drove at a leisurely pace down Manchester Road, controlling the traffic ahead and behind them as other drivers warily kept their speed below posted limits and their beer cans out of sight. The patrol car passed the colors and lights of American commerce: video rentals, fast food restaurants, supermarkets with blue and white fronts.
Hummel's cell phone rang and he answered it.
Childers did not look over because he did not want Chris to think he was eavesdropping, even though he was. It was night shift and there were long stretches of boredom to get through. He could not hear what the caller was saying, but Chris was distinct.
"Uh-huh ... uh-huh ... uh-huh. I understand that ... . Babe, there's nothing I can do about it right now ... . Nothing I can do about it right now ... . Huh? ... I don't remember the black pattern ... . No, I still don't ... . Okay ... Then do that ... . Okay. Bye."
Hummel put the cellular phone back in his coat pocket.
"That was my wife," he said. "She's pissed at me."
Childers did not feel it was his place to ask why, so he just said, "Yeah?"
Hummel said, "We're redecorating the fuckin' house. Kitchen." He sighed. "Fuckin' cabinets." He said the word like it was a disease. "You ever get cabinets installed?"
Wade Childers said, "No."
"Don't fuckin' get me started on cabinets. They start talking about cabinets, just bend over and grab your ankles."
"You mean it's expensive?"
"Expensive? It's like getting hit by a swarm of locusts. They take everything."
"They ... you mean the contractors."
"Yeah. Assisted dutifully by my wife."
Young Wade Childers said, "Can't you just say no?"
Deputy Hummel was actually made anxious by this question. He had opened the door by revealing his frustration to the younger policeofficer who he knew looked up to him. He was Wade's field training officer (FTO) and he had to retain the younger officer's respect. Would the young man think that tough guy Chris Hummel let his wife push him around? He would have to set this straight right now.
Hummel said, "Man, what planet are you on? You think I want to be divorced? Separated from my kids? You get married, have a family, this is the shit you have to do. Let me tell you how it works: six months ago, I bought that Kawasaki Ninja bike. Nothing fancy. 2001 model. Paid four grand for it. Good deal, right? Well, that motorcycle is going to end up costing me about forty thousand dollars before it's all through. Know why? Because the old lady looks at it and says, okay, now it's time for me to get something. But--and this is what women do--she says that, unlike my motorcycle, the kitchen remodeling is for all of us. It's not a selfish gift, she says. I get a bike, she gets fucking cabinets. And they cost about ten times more than the fuckin' bike." A pause as Wade Childers laughed. "It's not funny."
Then a car passed them on their left, going at least seventy on a city street. A Nissan Pathfinder, it swerved back in front of them after going by, making Hummel touch the brakes; they heard its tires squeal and watched it move away from them.
"Jesus!" Deputy Childers said.
Hummel said, "Rock and roll," switched on the lights and siren, and pressed the accelerator to the floor.
And there it was: the rush of a pursuit. Lights flashing, siren blaring, the road approaching them, rising and falling like a screen on a video game. A kick, the prospect of sudden quarry, the determined thrill the dog feels from his nostrils to his chest chasing the rabbit.
Childers radioed dispatch to tell them they were in pursuit of a Nissan Pathfinder, with a license tag not yet determined. They caught up with it and put the lights on full beam into the back windows.
The vehicle slowed.
Childers said, "Now he sees us."
Hummel said, "He's stoned. Or drunk."
The Nissan Pathfinder continued to decelerate. But it kept going. Like he was on his way to a funeral, the police escorting him from behind.
Hummel said, "What is this fucking guy's problem? Pull over, son of a bitch."
The Pathfinder continued for another half mile.
Hummel flashed the brights on and off, light filling the back of the vehicle ahead, knowing the effect it had on a typical drunk driver, filling him with fear.
The Pathfinder made a right turn onto a side street, away from the traffic and lights, the patrol car right on its tail. Finally the Pathfinder slowed to a stop and the patrol car stopped behind it.
Wade Childers had mixed feelings. The excitement of the chase still with him, he was sorry it ended too soon. A drunk, that was all it was.
Both of the deputies got out of the patrol car and approached the vehicle, Hummel going up to the driver's side, Childers walking up the passenger's side. They reached the front of the vehicle and saw the man behind the wheel. He looked to be around forty.
Hummel said, "Evening, sir." Using his tone of authority that was above speaking level but not quite shouting.
"What?" the man said. He did not seem terribly upset about being pulled over.
Hummel looked directly at him, pausing for effect, then saying, "You in a hurry?"
"What?" the man said. "Was I speeding or something?"
Hummel regarded the man behind the wheel. Thick, dark hair, dated sideburns ... turd air about him. Hummel thought, street. Menace. Hummel could sense it the way experienced cops sense such things.
"Slick," Hummel said, "I don't know that I'd call that speeding. More like reckless driving. Step out of the vehicle."
"Awww, fuck," the man said. "Come on."
The man opened the door and got out. He looked over at Childers, waiting for him to move. He did. He came around the front of the Pathfinder past the driver and stood next to Hummel. The man kept his hands at his sides.
Hummel said, "You been drinking?"
"No, I haven't been fuckin' drinkin'."
Hummel said, "You stoned?"
"Are ... you ... stoned?" Hummel said, giving him his Adam West delivery.
"Man, why're ya fuckin' ridin' me?"
Hummel said, "You want to watch the language, Slick? We can cuff you, and get out the Tasers and go to work, you push it hard enough."
The man almost seemed to smile.
"Hey," the man said, holding his hands up in a conciliatory gesture. "I was just driving, you know."
"We've established that you were driving," Hummel said. "My question is--"
A black Pontiac Bonneville drove up and came to a quick stop behind them. The driver of the Pathfinder stepped back, and kept stepping back. The deputies heard the Pontiac's engine, the tires scrunching to a halt, and then looked to their left and saw it, but did not believe what they saw, because it was happening before they knew it: A man in the backseat of the Pontiac, no more than eight feet away from them, pointing a stubby machine gun out the back window and pulling the trigger, shooting rounds into the deputies before they could utter a word or reach for the sidearms. The roar of gunfire burst in the dark, lighting up as the slugs poured into the deputies, cutting and twisting them, slamming them back against the Pathfinder.
The gunfire ceased.
The driver of the Pathfinder walked to the front passenger door of the Pontiac and got in. He shut the door and the car accelerated away.
THE BETRAYERS. Copyright © 2007 by James Patrick Hunt. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.