Detective Don Belarus sat in his recliner, brushing popcorn off his protruding belly in the cool glow of the television. His wife had gone to bed hours ago, and though he found himself dozing every once in a while, he stayed up to sit in front of the television he chronically ignored to think about his life and what had gotten him here, to this place. He was high up in the force, but his boss was hounding him daily for more details on the Mulraney woman’s disappearance, and Belarus just didn’t have anything to show for the hours that he had put in on the case in the last few months.
He thought back to that moment he had seen Hannah Mulraney in the elevator at the police station – at least, he had thought it was her. He thought it was Hannah when he saw the woman in the park today. He had been on his lunch break, sitting on a bench in the cold spring air, steaming coffee in one hand and giant sandwich in the other, when a woman walked past him with the same wavy blond hair and sly smile as he had seen in all of the pictures of the woman he was looking for. He’d thought about jumping up and running after her, chasing her through the park and grabbing her, spinning her around to demand her name, but he didn’t. He remembered what had happened the last time he went chasing someone down in a park, and all he wanted to do was forget it.
They had ruled it an accident. Sure, they had pulled Belarus off the beat and put him behind a desk until he transferred out of the New York City department, but that was what he had wanted anyway. Belarus was always a bit too jumpy to be a beat cop. He was always getting into some sort of trouble, usually by disregarding or just forgetting the rules he was supposed to follow, and he did better work behind a desk or on a phone – researching, interviewing, finding people who were lost.
Sure, it had been an accident. But just because you didn’t mean to do something doesn’t mean that the consequences of your actions won’t haunt you forever.
It was the middle of the night, and he and his partner had been patrolling Central Park. His partner, Steve Brooks, was a decade younger than Belarus and had only been a year on the force. The night was quiet, they were strolling peacefully toward Belvedere Lake, with the castle on their right and the obelisk jutting out from the ground ahead of them when Belarus heard the crackle of static before a voice came through his radio.
“We’ve got a guy heading your way, about five feet tall, black, armed and dangerous. We’ve got an officer down on the East side of Belvedere Lake and we are needing your assistance, over.”
“Copy that,” Belarus said into his radio, and he nodded to Brooks, who drew his gun from his holster. “We’re on the West side of the lake, proceeding forward, over.”
Belarus drew his weapon and unlocked the safety. There was an officer down, a short, black suspect on the loose, that was all he needed to know. He nodded and gestured to Brooks to flank the north side of the small lake while he took the south. Sure there were other officers on their way, Belarus decided he would move low and slow through the bushes, hoping he’d be able to catch the suspect by surprise without having to fire his weapon – something he’d never done before in over a decade with the force.
A moment later, he saw movement in the bushes coming toward him. Belarus crouched low, hoping to jump out and grab the guy, take him by surprise. The suspect got closer. Closer to where Belarus had tucked himself away.
He saw the gleam of black metal in the suspect’s hand.
Belarus stood suddenly, pointing his gun at the suspect who he’d taken by surprise.
“Drop your weapon! Do it now!”
But the man didn’t drop his weapon. Instead, he raised the hand holding it, raised it toward Belarus.
Without hesitating, Don Belarus fired his gun for the first time since he’d joined the NYPD out of the Academy. Pulling the trigger was as easy as pushing “Start” on his microwave at home, but the gun exploded in his hands, he felt the thrum of the shot move from his hands and up his arms and into his shoulders, his chest imploding with the shock of the gun’s force and the weight of the consequence that he’d just shot and likely killed another human being.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!” Belarus heard the crackling voice of his partner over his radio as he stepped carefully toward the fallen body. He could hear footsteps of other officers approaching, and Belarus dropped to his knees beside the body he had fell.
It was just a boy. His name was Jakar Toombs, Belarus later found out. He was thirteen years old and on his way home across the park after going out into the night to find baby aspirin for his little sister. And it hadn’t been a gun that he’d raised to Belarus. It was just a black Nokia cell phone, his mothers, and he’d sworn to her that he wouldn’t lose it or drop it on his trip to the store. She had given it to him so that he could call the police if he ran into any trouble at night, in the park.
Blood pooled from beneath the boy’s body. It spread in a circle and then it followed the slant of the ground Belarus kneeled on, soaking into his pants. He couldn’t believe how hot the blood was. He couldn’t believe that this hot blood came from the hole that he had put directly over the boy’s heart, that the bullet had gone through him and came out the back, that this blood was all over him now. On his clothes, on his hands, on his conscience.
In a moment, three men stood above him. Brooks and two other beat cops he’d seen before, but now he couldn’t remember their names. Belarus reached up without looking and Brooks took the hot pistol from his hand, but Belarus could still feel the throb from having fired it. It wasn’t like when he went to the range for practice, it wasn’t like then, when you grew numb to the feel of shooting, when you are just aiming at far off pieces of paper and not living, breathing, innocent boys.
“I thought it was a gun,” Belarus said. “I thought it was a gun.”
Belarus felt a hand on his shoulder. Brooks. “It’s alright man, it’ll be okay. It was just an accident.”
The other two officers, having seen the carnage, sprung back into action. One called on his radio: “We need a bus at Belvedere Lake, shots fired, we have one victim, teenage male, you better hurry,” and then the two of them shuffled off into the night, still on the lookout for the real suspect.
“He’s dead,” Belarus said flatly.
“It’s okay,” Brooks said, “We’ll let the paramedics decide that.”
“His blood’s all over me.”
“Get up man,” Brooks said, helping Belarus to his feet.
Brooks looked nervous, he couldn’t quite look Belarus in the eyes.
“It’ll be okay, man. He fits the description. You gotta admit, from far off, those phones can look like guns, especially at night. You told him to drop it, I heard you.”
“Did you see him raise his arm at me?” Belarus asked.
The answer was no, and Don Belarus knew that. Brooks had been yards away, coming around the other side of the pond when that shot was fired. Steve Brooks hesitated for a moment, then steeled his gaze and looked, finally, into his partner’s eyes.
“Yes,” he said. “Yes, I saw everything.”
For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Billy Flynn challenged me with “Use as inspiration or verbatim: The police in New York City / They chased a boy right through the park / And in a case of mistaken identity / They put a bullet through his heart. -The Rolling Stones, (Heartbreaker)” and I challenged Nimue with “We’ll make believe we never needed any more than this.”