323 Juneberry Way, Deptford, NJ 08096
(856) 848-0501 Lmanfredo@comcast.net
In certain places there exists a permeating pointlessness to life with an aura of despair so acute that its inhabitants come to be unafraid, or, at the very least, indifferent to the inevitability of death. Camden City is just such a place.
Camden is a torn down ravished ghost of a city, blighted by poverty and corruption, violence, drugs and disease. Its residents wallow amidst the decay which lies like a sickened, dying animal prostrate in the sun’s heat.
Within this city, in stark and ironic contrast, the modern glass and steel complex of Cooper University Hospital rises awash in bright, artificial light, a towering monument to mainstream mankind’s fierce desire to live. The hospital exists on sprawling acres of urban renewal, restored row houses lining its borders, a false oasis of promise in a true desert of desperation.
Frank Cash, senior partner of the distinguished Haddonfield law firm of Cash, Collings and Haver, slowly turned his shiny new BMW into the hospital’s enclosed parking garage. He stopped just short of the barrier arm as the dashboard digital flickered: 4:01 AM.
As the driver’s window lowered silently, a cold dampness from this dark November morning intruded into the car’s warm interior. Cash shuddered slightly against it, reaching a hand to the automated ticket machine and pressing a manicured finger against the glowing green button. He frowned unconsciously at the cheerful computer generated male voice which accompanied the dispensed parking stub.
“Welcome to the Cooper University Hospital Parking Facility.”
Tucking the stub into his pocket, Cash swung the car left and accelerated quickly up the smooth concrete ramp of the nearly deserted garage. It occurred to him that perhaps it would have been more prudent to use the family mini van as opposed to his 750. He noted a small cluster of parked vehicles at level two, centered around the elevator bank. He parked quickly and strode to an elevator.
Ten minutes later he stood facing a window in a small consultation room located within the emergency room. He gazed out across Haddon Avenue and eyed a squat building in the near distance. Emblazoned across the top the words ‘Camden Police Department’ gave fair warning to anyone in and around the hospital to behave themselves. Cooper had been as effectively isolated from the surrounding city as possible, Interstate 676 and parkland to the east, police headquarters to the north, renovated housing used as residences for hospital staff and medical offices to the south and west.
It had been a rather profitable project, Cash recalled as he scanned the scene, absentmindedly scraping a bit of soot from the sill before him, sleep stinging his eyes. Quite profitable.
As he waited, Cash’s thoughts returned to the events of last evening: the quiet dinner with family in his sprawling Victorian home in Moorestown, some reading, the late night news, sleep, and then the phone call.
“Hello?” he had whispered into the mouthpiece, glancing to his sleeping wife as she gently stirred beside him.
“Mr. Cash?” a tentative voice had begun. “It’s Ken, sir, Ken Barrows.”
Jesus Christ, Cash had thought, what could the most junior member of the firm possibly want at this hour?
“What the hell, Barrows, it’s almost three-thirty in the morning.”
“Yes, sir, I realize that. It’s just that … well, I’m on call tonight. For the FOP, you know, the police union. It’s my week to be on call.”
Cash frowned into the mouthpiece, again glancing to his wife. She seemed re-settled, her nightly sleeping pill working its wonder.
“And?” Cash asked harshly.
Barrows paused, perhaps suddenly rethinking the wisdom of the call himself. Then, assured by a recurring thought, he continued.
“There’s been a shooting, sir. A fatal police shooting. One person is dead, but no police were injured. The union rep called me from the scene a few minutes ago. He wants me down there.”
Cash’s frown turned to a scowl. “Of course he does, Barrows. That’s the purpose of having a lawyer on call twenty-four seven. It’s mandatory when you represent the unions. But why in God’s name did you feel it necessary to____”
“I thought you’d want to know, sir,” Barrows interrupted, a new confidence in his tone. “You see, the shooting was in Camden City. It was a white officer, the dead man is black. And the officer involved, the one who shot the perpetrator was … it was that new officer.” He paused here for effect. Barrows, despite his youth, was a good lawyer. He knew how to bring a point home effectively.
“It was Anthony Miles.” Another slight pause. “I thought it best you knew, sir. Of course, I can handle it if you’d like … but I thought you should know.”
Now Cash sat upright, indifferent to whether or not the movement would further disturb his wife. “Oh,” he said, his mind shifting sharply from disgruntled employer to defensive lawyer. “Oh,” he repeated.
After a brief silence, he spoke again. “Call the union rep at the scene. Tell him to put Miles into a radio car and get him over to Cooper ASAP. I’ll call ahead and get hold of whoever is in charge of the emergency room. I want Miles sedated. Tell the union rep to convince the kid that he’s stressed out and needs to see a doctor. Once the doctors get a drug into him, the law says he can’t be interviewed. It’ll buy us some time. I can be at the hospital in less than thirty minutes.”
“Yes, sir, I’ll call the rep. Shall I meet you there?”
Cash considered it. “No. Just make sure the rep gets Miles to the E.R. immediately. I’ll grease the wheels. I don’t want some intern refusing to sedate.”
“Yes, sir,” Barrows said, his confidence even stronger now. He was pleased with himself, Cash thought. As he should be.
“You were right to call, Ken. It shows good presence of mind.”
“Thank you, sir. I thought you should know.”
Cash slipped out of bed, shaving and dressing quickly. He left a note for his wife and drove to Route 38, leaving the lush, manicured splendor of Moorestown for a twenty minute drive to the barren, desolate wasteland of Camden City. As the BMW cut rapidly through misty darkness, Cash thought about Police Officer Anthony Miles.
Miles had gone directly to the Camden City Police Department after graduating the County Police Academy. Like all rookies, he had been assigned to routine patrol duty with a senior training officer. In most such cases, no one in any remotely influential position would have cause to notice or to care.
But Miles was different. Miles was the son of Curtis Miles, United States Attorney to the State of New Jersey. The Republican United States Attorney.
And Camden was ground zero for the Democratic machine that had maintained a strong and lucrative hold on New Jersey politics for more than two decades. Frank Cash, himself the son of a former county chairman, had lined his pockets and filled the coffers of his law firm with countless contracts, retainers and fees financed with state and county tax dollars. Indeed, his firm’s profitable representation of every police union in South Jersey was merely one such plum.
So when Cash sat down to lunch some months earlier with the current county chairman, the implications had not been lost on him.
Officer Miles, the chairman had suggested, was no ordinary rookie. His father was an ambitious, driven man who had chosen a pragmatic approach to what he hoped would be an unlimited political future: he would dedicate himself to fighting corruption in New Jersey – particularly Democratic corruption.
“Like shooting fish in a barrel,” the chairman said between forkfuls of shrimp. “If he’s serious about it.”
“Is he?” Cash asked.
The chairman laid down his fork, then patted his lips gently with a linen napkin.
“Yes, he is – it’s his ticket to the governor’s office.
Cash considered it. “What’s our exposure?”
The chairman shrugged. “Any is too much. This young cop has his own political juice, courtesy of his old man. If becoming a cop was all he really wanted, his father could have gotten him assigned to bikini patrol in some shore town or crabgrass stakeout in our neck of the woods. Why would he want to go to that shit-hole, Camden?”
“Maybe,” Cash offered with little conviction, “he just wants to be a real cop.”
“Yeah,” the chairman said, reaching once more for his fork. “And I’m Harry-fuckin’-Truman.”
He leaned in across the table, speaking more softly. Cash had to strain his ears to make out the words.
“Camden has about twenty-three hundred violent crimes per hundred thou population, compared to the national average of about four hundred fifty. It’s been named the most dangerous city in the entire country time after time. The state had to take over the entire police department and school system because they’re so fucked up. Tell me, why would the son of Curtis Miles, the guy who wants to be governor, maybe president someday, want to work in Camden? The kid’s a Rider University graduate, for Christ’s sake.”
The chairman sat back. “He’s a fuckin’ plant for his old man. You have any idea what motivated and hostile eyes can find in that environment?”
Cash sipped his wine before responding. “So you figure his father for a white knight sending his kid in to help?”
The chairman laughed. “White knight my ass. He’s no better than anybody else. He’s already greased some wheels for his son. The kid isn’t on the job six months, and he’s assigned to HIDTA already. The worst fuckin’ place for him, far as we’re concerned. No, Curtis Miles is no white knight. He’s just so ambitious he’s willing to throw his own son into the fire to help get him what he needs to nail Democrats.”
Cash shook his head. “We’ve chosen a nasty business for ourselves,” he said.
“Yes. And that kid working High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas can turn things even nastier.”
“Why are you telling me all this?”
The chairman shrugged. “You’re the union lawyer. Sooner or later, this kid will most likely wind up in your lap. I want you to understand what you’ll be dealing with. I haven’t survived in this shit all these years without learning to anticipate.”
Cash drained his wine glass and reached for the bottle.
Now, forty minutes after leaving his bed, Frank Cash stared out the hospital window into the Camden night and sighed. He remembered long ago advice from his politician father. ‘There are winners and losers. Be a winner. It makes life bearable.’
He turned as the door to the small consultation room opened. It was the union representative, Peter Negron.
The man entered the room and closed the door softly behind him. “Hello, Mr. Cash. I didn’t figure you’d come down personally.”
“Yes, well, I have. Has Miles been sedated?”
“Yeah, the chief resident saw him soon as we got here. They jacked the kid up on Xanax. Five minutes later, two spooks from the county prosecutor’s office showed up. I told ‘em the kid was medicated and couldn’t talk to them… They left, said they’d see him tomorrow. They seemed pissed off.”
Cash grunted. “They’ll get over it. We needed to buy some time so I can get a handle on this.”
Negron nodded. “Okay. I was with Miles when the shooting went down. We were workin’ HIDTA city-wide, me and Miles and Sanchez.”
“Where’d it happen?”
“Line Street, between South Sixth and Roberts.”
“Tell me what happened.”
When Negron finished, Cash ran a hand through his hair thoughtfully. “Sounds pretty clean,” he said. Then pointedly added, “If that’s how it went down.”
Negron smiled and raised his right hand. “I swear on my eyes, counselor, I ain’t dumb enough to lie to the lawyer. ‘Specially for this kid.”
With their eyes locked, Cash nodded. “Go get him. Bring him to me.”
Negron turned and left.
When Miles entered the room, Cash was immediately stricken by his youthful appearance. Although twenty-two, he looked seventeen. His black hair was long, unkempt. It spilled over the collar of the faded Navy peacoat he wore. Dried vomit stained the front panel of the coat, its sour odor touching at Cash’s nostrils. Dark blood was splattered across the left cuff and forearm. The young man’s eyes were hollow and listless. A stubble of light whiskers covered his chin and touched at his cheeks, giving him a dirty, unpleasant look. While the clothing and grooming fit well with Miles’anti-narcotic assignment, he seemed a little too comfortable in the outfit. Cash found a mild and illogical disliking begin to dawn.
“Have a seat, Miles,” he said and watched as the cop slid a chair back from the small round table. Cash sat opposite him, folding his hands on the smooth plastic table top. How much bad news, he wondered, had been discussed in this very same room?
“Alright,” he said as Miles’ eyes lifted to meet his own. “My name is Frank Cash. My law firm represents members of the local chapter of your union, the Fraternal Order of Police. I’m here to help you deal with all this.”
Cash saw Miles’ gaze fall away, dropping to the table top, his body shaking with a sudden chill. His appearance seemed to suddenly morph into that of a frightened young boy caught in some youthful transgression and summoned to his father’s study. Cash found his initial suspicions and dislike begin to waver. In all his fifty-one years, he had never taken a life, not even that of a small animal or rodent. And here was this boy, barely out of school, who had violently sent a man to hell in what surely must have been a horrifying, desperate moment.
“Alright,” Cash repeated, gentler this time, softer. “State, county and city head-hunters will be hounding you tomorrow, son. I need you to tell me what happened, everything, every detail. Get it straight in your head. Let’s see where I can help. Just start from the beginning and go slowly. Tell me everything, even if it doesn’t sound very good. It’ll sound worse said cold tomorrow, believe me.”
Miles raised his eyes. “Negron said he told you everything already.”
Cash nodded. “Yes. He told me what he did and what he thinks he saw. I need you to tell me what you did. What you saw.”
Miles suddenly found his vision blurred with moisture. “Yes. I understand.”
The young policeman shifted himself in his seat, fixed an unblinking stare at the darkened window behind Cash and began to tell his story.
“We were on patrol, the three of us, me in the front recorder seat, Negron driving, Sanchez in back behind me. It musta been about two in the morning. We were cruising known drug locales; just eyeballing. Cold, crappy night like this, most of the deals were going down indoors. Anyway, we wind up on Line Street, heading east, just rolling passed the broken down houses along there.”
“Where is Line Street?” Cash asked.
Miles shrugged. “ ‘Bout six, seven blocks south of here, just east of Broadway.”
“What neighborhood is that?”
Another shrug. “I don’t know. Whitman Park, I guess.”
“So we’re just rolling along, real slow – maybe ten, fifteen tops. The street is narrow, a few parked cars here and there, some just abandoned. So we cross South Sixth Street heading toward Roberts. Northwest corner of Line and Sixth is an empty lot where some condemned buildings got demoed. There’s a fence around it, chain link. Even though we’re kinda looking around as we roll, none of us saw this old lady ‘til she was right in front of us, like she just appeared out of the dark, you know? Negron almost ran her over. Well, she makes us for cops and starts banging on the hood of the car and screaming at us.”
“Was she black? Hispanic, Caucasian, what?”Miles glanced briefly at Cash. “Hispanic.” He paused for a moment before continuing. “Anyway, she’s all excited, so Sanchez gets out of the back seat and approaches her. He tins her and starts talking in Spanish, and she starts bawling and pointing to the only house on the north side of Line Street that’s still standing. It was the house she had come out of.”
“Had you seen her come out of it?”
“No, like one second the street was empty, the next second there she was, in front of the car.” Cash noticed the trembling begin to intensify, apparently overcoming the dosage of Xanax Miles had received. When Miles spoke again, there was a rise of pitch in his voice. “So anyway, I get out of the car and Sanchez winks at me and makes a face, like he’s saying, ‘Look at this old bitch, do you believe this?’”
“How old would you say she was?”
Miles shifted in his seat and leaned forward slightly, still directing his words at the black rectangle of the window. “Old. Pushing sixty. I don’t know.”
Cashed smiled slightly. “Go on.”
“So when I reach them, she starts speaking English, telling us there’s a black guy up on the second floor of the house, been acting crazy all night, people coming and going and she was trying to sleep and told him something and he cursed her and tried to hit her, and she got scared and ran out and saw us. So by now, Negron is standing there, too, and he asks her if she called the cops. She says no, there’s no phone in the house, no water, no electricity, nothing. We can see it’s boarded up, abandoned, and we figure her for a squatter. She tells us the black guy deals H, sometimes crack, the building is his base, everybody is afraid of him and all this kind of shit. So Sanchez starts writing it down, you know, to sort of appease her a little. We figure maybe she’s stoned, you know, old and stoned and half nuts. So then Negron says he feels like a little action, let’s check it out. Well, I’m a little bored myself, it was a slow tour and I figure, what the hell. So Sanchez stays at the car with the old lady to call in our ten-twenty. Me and Negron start walking toward the house.”
“Describe the house.”
“Two story brick, like all of them around there. Most of the windows boarded up. There was a narrow front covered porch with side steps leading up to it. The front door was missing, it was just a dark open hole. The east side of the house was just like the west, another empty lot.”
“Alright. Go on.”
“Well, me and Negron get to the house and I walk around the porch to the side steps. Just as I reach them, I hear Negron cursing. He stepped in dog shit. At least he hoped it was just dog shit. The place really stinks, piss, garbage, shit, everything. The nearest street light is burned out, it’s dark as hell …” Now Miles’ body seemed to tighten on itself, the trembling turning sharply into a steady shake. He tried desperately to moisten his mouth before speaking again.
“So, I’m laughing at Negron, he’s wiping his shoe on the edge of the porch. I start up the steps.”
“How many steps?”
“Four, maybe five.”
“Where’s your gun at this point?”
“Well, I have two guns on me. My Glock is in a belt holster under my coat, and a thirty-eight revolver is in the right coat pocket.”
“Both regulation side-arms?”
“Is your coat open or buttoned up?”
“Open. You know, it was warm inside the car, so it’s open.”
Cash glanced at the now tightly closed coat, the warmth of the room unable to reach Miles’ chill. “Go on.”
“The old lady told us this guy didn’t have a weapon, none that she saw, anyway. We figured it for a dispute between two homeless squatters, we’d check it out and then leave. So while Negron is still scraping shit off his shoe, I go up maybe two, three steps and I hear something coming from inside the doorway.”
“What did you hear?”
Miles’ shoulders twitched and his right hand jerked out of his lap, fisting. “A sharp double metallic click. Like a weapon being locked and loaded. Negron heard it, too. He said, “Fuck!” and I saw him duck in front of the porch and go for his gun. I just stood there, frozen.”
Cash sat back in his own seat, eyeing the young, trembling cop.
“Go on,” he said softly.
“All of a sudden this guy, this enormous fuckin’ guy is right there, right in the doorway, maybe eight, nine feet away from me. A huge, crazy looking guy, and he’s got a fuckin’ rifle in his hands. A rifle!” The words were pouring out now, and Cash held his questions. Let him spit it out, get it all out and overwith. The details, actual or invented, could wait. “I almost peed myself. I mean, this guy looked like a real maniac, sweating, cursing to himself, stepping out onto the porch and swinging that rifle back and forth.” Miles shook in spasm. He took a deep breath, held it briefly, then continued. “So I say, ‘Hey,’ you know, like a fuckin’ idiot, and the guy zeroes in on me, he don’t hesitate for a second. I’m telling you he was crazy, and he starts yelling at me, something about his old lady, about his kid, something like that, and he’s pointing the rifle at me and I know he’s gonna kill me, and I’ve got my left hand on the banister, you know, I was climbing the stairs, and so I push myself backwards. I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing, just throwing myself down the stairs. Then I hear this tremendous explosion and there’s a giant flash of light and I’m rolling down the stairs into the dirt and Jesus Christ, I swear I did pee myself. I mean, I felt it, you know, the warm piss in my pants. I thought it was blood, I thought I was shot. Mr. Cash, I swear to God I don’t remember taking it out, but my thirty-eight was in my hands and I’m pointing it at the guy and he’s swinging his aim over toward Negron who’s down behind the front of the porch yelling something about us being cops and the guy starts screamin’ he’s gonna kill us and he swings the rifle back at me, right at my fuckin’ chest and he jacks another round into the chamber and my gun goes off and the guy just blinks like bullets can’t hurt him and so I figure I missed. Then he fires again and I think I’m hit, I’m going to die, and I start firing over and over. The last shot I see his shirt, he’s wearing a tee-shirt, and I swear to God I see the shirt tear. It’s like slow motion. The shirt gets pushed in, like somebody poked him with a pencil or something, and then it pops out, out of the hole in his chest, and it’s torn, you know, the shirt is torn and it’s red with blood, and it just popped in, then out of his chest. Blood sprayed out of the hole – some of it hit me. It was like slow motion. Then he falls down, sits down actually. Negron goes rushing passed me. The guy drops the rifle and it slides down the steps and Negron, he’s all red and excited and he sticks his Glock in the guy’s face and says, ‘You son-of-a-bitch,’ and the guy just plops onto his back and his head hits the porch, and that’s it. That was it.”
Cash let a few moments elapse before asking, “Would you like some water or something? Coffee? Maybe the doctor can give you something more to relax you.”
“No, sir. No.” Tears welled in Miles’ eyes, and he wiped them quickly away. He sighed and looked down at the floor, his right leg shaking, anger and shame weighing heavily on him. The tears welled again, and Cash rose and turned to face the window, his back to the young man. Uneasy moments passed before he sat down again and spoke.
“What happened next?”
Miles shook his head clear. His voice was low, flat. “Sanchez came up and started running his hand over me. You know, I was down on the ground, the guy had fired right at me, so Sanchez figured I was hit. He kept saying, ‘Holy Christ, are you okay, are you okay?’ I stood up. Sanchez took the gun out of my hand and put it in my pocket. We just stood there looking at each other. Then Negron said, ‘Come on,’ and he ran into the house. There coulda been a second perp, we had to clear the place, so me and Sanchez followed him.”
“Did you look at the body?”
“The old lady told us the guy’s room was on the second floor. We went up. It was very dark. Then we saw an old kerosene lamp in what we figured was the guy’s room, that was the only light. Negron and Sanchez went in. That’s where they found the heroin on a small table against the wall. I just sorta wandered into the bathroom. And for the first time in my life my mind was a total blank. I wasn’t even thinking, “Hey, you’re not thinking about anything.’ It was just completely blank, empty. I had a pencil flash in my pocket. I took it out and turned it on. That’s when I saw myself in the old mirror, in the bathroom, you know, and I started … I started crying. But it was crazy, like I was crying for no reason, because my mind was blank, totally blank. I was just looking at my reflection, then I started shaking like a leaf and threw up in the sink. Just like that, I puked, and I felt so embarrassed. Negron came into the bathroom, he had his light on, too. I don’t know what he was saying, I felt so ashamed, and then he just went away and I was alone. I shut the door. I wanted to wash out the sink, clean myself up, but there was no running water. I didn’t want to leave the bathroom. I was embarrassed.” Miles shook his head slightly. “Then it dawned on me, what the hell, I did my job, I’ve got no reason to be ashamed. Then, all of a sudden, I got real hostile … like I was thinking ‘Fuck everybody, fuck them.’ It was stupid, I guess.”
Cash didn’t comment. Instead, he asked, “What happened next?”
“Sanchez came in, didn’t knock or anything, just opened the door and walked in. He said he was going to seal the building and call for the detectives. I think that’s when he told me they had found some crack, too, I don’t remember for sure. Anyway, I walked out of the bathroom. There were uniformed cops everywhere. Sanchez had put out a ‘shots fired – ten thirteen.’ I wandered off, went downstairs. Some neighborhood people were standing outside the house, a little crowd of them. I guess the radio cars woke ‘em up. It was very weird, this deserted street all of a sudden with this crowd … they looked like … like zombies or something. Like it was Halloween. They were talking and looking at the dead body and having a good time. I think some of them made me for the cop who shot the guy. I got some dirty looks, you know, and some mumbles. Most of them didn’t seem to care much, though. One old guy wanted to shake my hand, told me there were a few others around needed killing.”
“Where was the woman who had started the whole thing?” Cash asked.
“Some uniform was holding her in a black and white, waiting for the detectives. Anyway, I went to look at the body. You know …” He shrugged and let his voice trail off.
“You said the people were looking at the dead body. How’d you know it was dead?”
This seemed to stun Miles. How did he know? How did he know?
“I just figured. I don’t know, he looked dead.”
“You said before you hadn’t yet looked at the body, so how’d you know it looked dead?”
Miles did not respond. Instead he seemed puzzled, confused. Cash said softly, “Listen, Anthony, I’m only asking you what others will ask. And you have to provide the right answers. Just off the top of my head, you had better polish up your demeanor and change some terminology about certain things when you’re speaking to the investigators. And you need to make eye contact with them, not stare out the window like somebody reciting Hamlet’s soliloquy. You can’t say you responded to the call because Negron wanted ‘action’ or because you were ‘bored.’ You can’t say you didn’t know what you were doing when you threw yourself down the stairs, you can’t say you don’t know how your weapon got into your hand. You can’t say you felt hostile or pissed off. Look, I’m not trying to put words in your mouth, Anthony, but you need a tighter version, a neat, professional version. You took the call because the woman made an official complaint, you defensively threw yourself out of the way of the first shot, you drew your weapon, and after Negron’s shouted identification as police officers and the perpetrator’s second shot, you fired that weapon. Your gun just didn’t ‘go off,’ you fired in defense of your life and the life of your partners. Now I’ll ask you again, how’d you know the man was dead before you looked at the body?”
Miles realized he was sweating heavily and at last opened his coat. He shifted in his seat and looked into the lawyer’s eyes. “I knew he was dead because … because Negron had examined the body shortly after the shots were fired, and he told me that the perpetrator appeared to be dead.”
“Alright,” Cash said with a curt nod of his head. “And so after they sealed the house, what then? Did you speak to anyone? What did you do?”
“Sanchez approached me. He told me not to talk to anybody, not even another cop, until after Negron got a hold of the union lawyer. Then he slapped me on the arm and walked away; he was trying to disperse the crowd. In the meantime, more cops poured into the area. Negron was keeping guys away, you know, so they wouldn’t mess up the scene. I just sorta got lost in
“Is that when you looked at the body?”
Miles squirmed slightly in his seat. “Yeah. I walked over and there he was, just where he fell. His eyes were open.”
“What did you think when you looked at the body? Did you think, ‘This guy almost killed me,’ something like that?”
Miles hesitated. “Look, Mr. Cash, I didn’t think anything like that. And what does it matter what I thought? Thoughts don’t mean much. I had … I had crazy thoughts, but they weren’t anything like you might think.”
Cash smiled a thin, tired smile. “You’re right, Anthony, most thoughts don’t mean much. But tell me anyway. I need to get the whole picture in order to best protect you.”
Miles looked pale. He was trembling more noticeably now and clasping his hands together in an attempt to steady them. He suddenly removed his peacoat, folding and dropping it neatly to the floor. He looked up at Cash. “Alright,” he said. “You want to hear it, I’ll tell you. But like I said, it was a little crazy. I don’t really understand it, but here it is. I went over and looked at the body. It seemed sort of … sort of fake, you know? Like a mannequin or a pile of laundry. It was like … like a machine that somebody unplugged. And then, all of a sudden, I started thinking about … about college. When I took an anatomy class, senior year. The professor I had was great, he made it very interesting, you know? We learned about the human body, the bones and muscles, the glands, the brain, the blood and heart, all functioning together, forming a human being. You know, it doesn’t matter how smart you are, if you’re rich or poor or whether you’re good or evil, everybody’s got the same stuff inside, like a computer or something. Your values, your personality, that’s all secondary. What’s important is your body, your anatomy. That’s what I thought about when I looked at the guy. My anatomy elective.”
Cash said nothing when Miles fell silent. Over the years he had interviewed enough people to know when to be silent and when to speak. He knew Miles would continue. Cash didn’t care about body parts, he cared about the facts surrounding the shooting. And he was willing to let Miles digress for awhile if that’s what it took to gather those facts.
“Anyway,” Miles continued as though there had been no break in his narrative. “I just kept on thinking about anatomy and my professor. The human body was like God to him, he worshipped it. Like even though he spent years studying and teaching, he was still fascinated by it. Some of the students didn’t give a damn, but I did. I found it all so amazing. I remember discussing it one day with some blonde who sat next to me in class. She said it was boring, she only took the course because it fit into her schedule and was offered as a pass-fail. I tried to explain why it was so fascinating, but she was completely turned off by it. Then she said something that had never occurred to me. And it all came flooding back into my head while I was looking down at the bloody hole in that guy’s chest.”
Cash found himself frowning. “And what was that?”
Now Miles raised his eyes to meet Cash’s.
“She said, ‘This guy,’ meaning the professor, the one I figured was so cool, ‘This guy is a real cold bastard. He talks about people like they’re meat. To him, there’s no difference between anybody – just between dead and not dead.’ That’s what she said. At first it kind of pissed me off. But then after I thought about it, I began to see her point. And I had it filed away in my head all these years that she was right, you know? Like people really are more than just blood and veins and body parts. But when I looked at that body tonight, I realized the only difference between it and me was that it was dead and I wasn’t. The only difference. Its systems were shut down, mine weren’t. Its heart was stopped, mine was beating.” Miles shrugged. “See? Crazy, right?”
“Yes, well … people have odd thoughts at times like that.” Cash wanted more relevant information. “What about the perpetrator, Anthony? How many times had you shot him?”
“Well, there was the chest. There was also a side wound, the right side, by the ribs. And one of the bullets hit him in the hand. The EMT found that one. The detectives checked my gun. I had fired all six rounds.”
Cash reached across the table and patted Miles’ shoulder. “This sounds like a very clean shooting, son. If Sanchez goes along and the Crime Scene Unit confirms those two rifle shots, you’ll waltz through the mandatory Grand Jury inquest. You did what you were forced to do. You need to realize that, calm down a little.”
Miles looked up at Cash, his sad eyes hooded. “Mr. Cash,” he asked softly. “Have you ever wept?”
The question surprised the older man. “Sure, son, everyone cries,” he said. “Don’t think because you’re a man or a police officer that you’re not allowed to cry.”
Miles shook his head sharply and leaned forward in his seat. His tone implored Cash for understanding. “Not cry. I’m talking about weeping. When I looked at that guy, I sat down on the porch next to him and I wept. I mean, really wept. In my whole life I never did that; sure I’ve cried – from pain, frustration, anger, sorrow, but I never wept. Not until tonight.”
Cash straightened in his seat. Jesus, he thought, the kid was really taking this hard. All this crap about weeping and crying, as if there were some difference. “Look, son, it’s tough, we all cry, and no cop who saw you will ever mention it. They know it could be them next time.”
Miles reacted sharply, almost rising from his seat. “No, damn it,” he said in a suddenly strong, clear voice. “It’s not the macho thing, it’s not about crying, it’s about weeping! You don’t understand. I didn’t care about that guy, or his family, or his friends, nobody. I only cared about his body, his blood and his brain, his chemistry, his parts, his fuckin’ anatomy. All that incredible machinery, broken, dead. I wept for that. Don’t you understand? Nobody ever thinks about that or cares. But that’s all there is, Mr. Cash, that’s all there is to care about.”
Cash leaned back in his seat. “Listen, Anthony, you’re tired, you’re upset. You’re not making a hell-of-a-lot of sense here, and tomorrow no one will appreciate that kind of talk. It doesn’t sound … just doesn’t sound right, do you understand?”
Miles shook his head and suddenly stood up. He was still trembling. He stepped around the table to the window. “I don’t care how it sounds, it’s true. Just look out there.” He gestured at the window. Cash turned somewhat nervously, as much to keep his eye on Miles as to look out the window. “Look out at Camden. Tell me, what value does a person have if he’s a rapist, a murderer, a junkie? Or a liar or a cheat, or a mean bastard or skinflint for that matter? How many people out there fit that description, or part of that description? If some terrorist blew it all to hell, what would be said? All those poor people, those poor human beings, murdered. But they’d be talking … about something else, something totally different from what I’m saying. They wouldn’t care about the bodies, the machinery. That’s why I wept for that guy, because I destroyed his body. If his soul even existed, it wasn’t worth a damn to him, me or anybody else. Humans are pompous fools, they award themselves souls so they can look at a cow or a monkey and say, “I’m better than that, I’m a human being.’ So what, Mr. Cash? How can anyone really give a goddamn?”
Cash rose from his chair and moved closer to Miles. He faced the window, speaking to his own reflection in the darkened glass. “Anthony, you killed a man tonight. When you took this job, you must have asked yourself at least one time, ‘Am I willing to chance being killed? Am I willing to chance killing someone?’ Well, tonight it came to pass, son, and you did what had to be done. If you’re going to get all philosophical about it, you’ll only cause yourself a lot of grief. You wouldn’t be so damn philosophical if you were lying in the morgue right now, or up in the O.R. with a bullet lodged in your spine. You killed a man; I don’t give a damn if you think you killed his soul, his body or his goddamned asshole. He’s dead and you’re not. So when you’re interviewed tomorrow, you forget about all this bullshit and you talk facts; you talk distance in feet and inches, you talk lighting and visibility, and you talk police procedure. You talk it because that’s what they want to hear. That’s what they need to hear. If you have a problem with something, talk to a priest. If you can’t handle it, go see a psychiatrist. This is a police shooting and we talk facts, not bullshit. Do you understand me, Anthony?” Cash turned and looked the young officer in the eye. “Do you understand me?” he said into the bloodshot eye glaring back at him.
“Yes, I understand. It’s you who doesn’t understand. You prove my point. Answer the questions, fill out the forms, toe tag the corpse and shovel it under. Then on Sunday talk soul and spirit …” Miles paused and returned to his chair. He sat down heavily and spoke softly. “I’m sorry. Maybe I don’t know what I’m saying. Maybe you’re right. Maybe any damn thing. It’s dawn and I feel like I came to work a week ago. I’m exhausted. Can I go home now?”
Cash turned back to the window. “Where are your guns?”
“The detectives took them. They gave me a receipt.” Miles produced the wrinkled paper and placed it on the table.
Cash glanced at it. “Alright, put it away, hold onto it. You know procedure. You’ll be reassigned to a desk job until you’re cleared on the shooting. Tomorrow we’ll talk again and cross the T’s and dot the I’s. Then you’ll sit for your official interview. I’ll be there personally to monitor things.” Miles stood up and began to leave the room. “One more thing,” Cash said to the man’s back. “Stay home. Let Negron take you straight home and stay there. Don’t speak to anyone about the shooting, not even Negron. I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Miles placed a hand on the door knob and started out. Before leaving, he turned slowly and spoke. “Mr. Cash,” he said softly. Cash looked at the young cop. “I know what everybody thinks. I know what you think. Tonight, any other cop would have been assigned some lawyer right out of school. But because of my father, you showed up personally. And I’m sure you know how grateful he’ll be for that.”
Cash wore a neutral expression. “Yes,” he said.
“I need you to understand something though. I want everybody to understand something. The last thing in the world my father wanted was for me to become a cop. He tried his best to change my mind, and when he couldn’t he tried to talk me out of working for Camden P.D. But he couldn’t do that, either. There are some good people in Camden, Mr. Cash. They’re trying to make a life for themselves.”
For the first time since entering the room, a small, tired smile touched Miles’ face as he continued.
“I just wanted to help them do it. That’s all I ever wanted. The other cops, they hardly talk to me. Negron and Sanchez have me for a partner because they pissed off the duty sergeant. But they’ve got me all wrong.”
He turned back to the door, speaking as he left the room.
“I was just trying to help.”
When Miles was gone, Cash turned to the window behind him, his cold grey eyes studying the early morning light as it began to nudge against the slowly dying night sky.
He stood there alone for quite some time. He wondered why Negron, from his position of cover behind the porch, had not fired.
He wondered why Sanchez had not fired.
And as the Camden sky grew brighter, he wondered about organs and brains, nerves and enzymes, anatomy and souls.
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