Late Sunday afternoon, Lechugaville, California. The smell of standing irrigation water and harvest ready crops blankets the low desert valley. In River Park, the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of Okie immigrants from the ’30s, ’40s, and ’50s are frying catfish. In Southeast, there is “birria,” goat stew, Sonoran Style, brewing in large pots over wood fires. The unmistakable smell of chitterlings permeates Northeast and the drifting aromas of carne asada and barbeque are all over town.
The old Sergeant is cruising the Southeast alleys trying to locate birria.
The radio dispatches units to a call: “Child run over by farm vehicle, possible serious injuries.” He heads that way.
The Sergeant arrives at the scene, agricultural fields next to a new housing development, and sees Tommy Whatley, the primary officer, standing between a tearful white male and a group of angry drunk adult males.
An old farm truck is stopped nearby, half in the street, half out, driver’s door standing open. A crumpled bicycle is wedged under the front bumper. A young boy’s body lies in the street a couple feet beyond; his head burst open.
Emiliano Estrada, gray haired, street cop with a salt and pepper mustache in faded blue, has the left flank. He has both hands in front of him, palms down, motioning, “Calm down, calm down. We’re here; we’ll take care of things…”
On the right flank, Rose Houston, a new officer from Killeen, Texas, stands between Whatley and the crowd; left hip forward, left hand on her baton.
The Sergeant gets out of his black and white, slides his baton in its ring and walks toward Whatley.
An oversized drunk male with a shaved head, steroid pumped muscles and space alien sunglasses with vine-like tattoos similar to those made popular by Hollywood evil doers on his upper torso and legs, wearing nothing but skin tight shorts stands before Houston. “You’re not gonna tell me what I can and can’t do. I know my rights. That wetback killed an American kid and you people are not gonna let him go.”
Houston is standing her ground and making a “back up” motion with her right hand, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. We’ll take care of it, sir. Stand back. Let us handle it.”
Her voice is matter of fact.
The tearful white male is between Whatley and a dust covered, gray mustachioed old male Mexican, sitting on the curb, sobbing, “I’m sorry.” Tearful white guy is telling the angry crowd, “It was an accident. An accident. I saw it. It was Dusty’s fault. Go home. Go home and let the officers do their job.”
Walter Singh, the grower who owns the truck and employs the old field worker, drives up and starts toward the dead boy. The Evil Doer now even more agitated urges the crowd to not let the Mexican get away.
The Sergeant shakes his head tiredly, briefly turns away from the crowd, and calls for more backup over his handy talky.
Some in the crowd are calling to the tearful man, the dead boy’s father, “Sherm! Sherm! What’s wrong with you? What’s wrong with you? That guy killed your kid!”
Others in the crowd are yelling racial epithets and profanities and are telling Whatley and Estrada to “Come on. Come on. Let us have ’em.”
Singh looks at the dead boy and passes by toward the crying father and old farm hand. The Evil Doer goes berserk.
“You’re not taking him anywhere.” At the same time he is saying this, he tries to run over Houston like a monstrous rampaging linebacker.
He has at least six inches of height on her and more than 90 pounds of brawn. She buries her baton in his solar plexus, taking the impact of his body and grunting as 250 pounds of charging bellowing beast comes to a stop atop her shoulder. Her right leg is extended straight behind her, the unbendable hypotenuse of a triangle. She holds the baton in both hands, a rifle with fixed bayonet, her arms reciprocating pistons, thrusting the loudly thudding baton over and over into his midsection.
Evil Doer looks surprised.
She steps back briefly, lips pulling into a clenched teeth snarl, and swings the baton against his right knee and comes back across the left. Then she thrusts the baton between his outstretched left arm and his body, steps around him, leveraging the arm back and up, throws all of her weight on the arm and baton. Evil Doer goes down and his face bounces off the asphalt.
There is a loud crack and the crowd goes silent.
Evil Doer isn’t saying anything because he isn’t breathing.
Houston rotates around him, cocks the left arm high behind his back and locks it in place with her knee. Her black hair, normally pulled into a tight bun at the base of her neck, is loose where her head made contact with his torso. Sweat flies from the loose ends, flows from her hairline into her eyes and bounces from the tip of her nose. Her dark blue uniform is darker where she has sweated through. The smell of her perfume, deodorant and sweat and the Evil Doer’s body odors mingle in the heavy air.
The Sergeant steps between Houston and the crowd. “Go home.”
Houston is telling Evil Doer to put his other hand behind his back. He’s not complying fast enough, so she reaches out with her right hand and pulls his right arm in. She has difficulty handcuffing him because the left hand and arm are not in the right place. Perplexed, she pulls them into place and cuffs him anyway.
Evil Doer screams in pain.
Total time lapsed from initial attack to handcuffs is less than three seconds.
Houston, no longer snarling, is telling him “Relax. Breathe. You’re okay, you’re okay. Relax, relax. Take a deep breath.” But he can’t take a deep breath because he has too many broken ribs, so he’s gasping, “She broke my arm! She broke my arm! She broke my arm!” and otherwise sounding like a badly mangled animal that knows it’s dying and isn’t going peacefully.
Backup units arrive. The crowd disperses.
A small group of drunks linger at a safe distance to keep a protective watch over their downed buddy.
The EMTs declare the boy dead, dispatch calls the coroner for the body and a Crisis Intervention Specialist for the father and the old Mexican, and Evil Doer is transported to the ER and then to jail.
The Accident Investigator, Noble J. Braun, a good ol’ boy originating from South Carolina, seldom seen without a chew of tobacco in his cheek, arrives. He surveys the scene, “I’m thinking the driver never saw the kid coming until he hit him.” He steps back from the child’s body, “See here. The bicycle tracks lead in from the driver’s left side blind spot.” He kneels down and looks under the truck. “The skid marks aren’t even as long as the wheel base. Judging from the skids and bicycle drag marks, I’d say the driver might have been doing ten miles per hour, but he was probably doing closer to five. I’ll have a better idea after I measure things and do the math.”
Whatley, Houston and the Sergeant spend the remainder of the shift writing reports.
Tuesday morning, the Sergeant’s day off, he’s reading the newspaper and sipping bad coffee in the shade outside Tran’s Donut Shop and Taqueria. The Chief shows up, buys a cup of coffee and sits down with him. He tastes the coffee and grimaces. “Did you see the news last night?”
“We made the national news.”
The Sergeant looks at the Chief.
“That cable news guy did an expose on us. Reported our long history of turning Mexicans over to local growers to use as slave labor instead of hiring the good Americans standing in line to do the stoop labor in the fields,” he lifts his cup and sniffs it. “It’s all out now. They even had callers who told them about my grandfather. Said we always favor Mexicans or other foreigners against good patriotic Americans.”
“Your grandfather worked in Walter Singh’s grandfather’s fields during the War, didn’t he?”
“Yeah. Granddad and Dad came up from Guerrero at the beginning of the war. Granddad worked the fields, Dad joined the Army. That’s how he got his citizenship.” He takes another sip of coffee and once again grimaces. “Walter Singh joined the Army with Dad.”
The Sergeant shrugs. “Any idea when the Singhs came over?”
“I think Grandpa Singh came over with a bunch on a ship around the turn of the century. Aside from the original Anglos, the Whatleys and the Brumleys, the Singhs and a couple of the Filipino families, the Fernandez’, and the Calderons, have been here the longest.”
“I think Granddad came right after World War One.”
They stop talking briefly as Floriana Tran, Old Tran’s Guatemalan-Mayan wife comes out and starts cleaning up the previous evening’s litter.
The Chief continues, “They showed a video of you and Braun standing next to the body, Braun had a wad of that crap in his mouth, spitting. Said you left the boy lie there for over two hours like so much ‘road kill.'”
“Yeah, it took the Coroner about two and half hours to get there. We covered him with a space blanket after Braun got his photos.”
The Chief looks tired; he’s been doing this for almost 40 years, “Houston is an Iraq combat veteran with post traumatic stress disorder. Eyewitnesses said she went berserk. Brutally beat that poor helpless patriotic citizen patriot while, you,” he points at the good Sergeant, “ignored her and threatened other witnesses.”
The Sergeant shrugs; he is staring into his coffee and trying to pick a bug off the surface, “It was a pretty simple arrest. She didn’t look like she needed any help.”
“And they interviewed an expert with an English accent.”
The Sergeant rolls his eyes and chuckles, “Not an expert with an English accent?” He shakes his head, “We’re toast.”
“Yep. Said that Houston’s violent behavior is typical of veterans who need help but are being ignored by the system. Each of them, and by inference Houston, is dangerously explosive, in need of serious help and we are recklessly endangering the public by employing her as a police officer.”
Both men sit staring at their coffee.
“Anything about what happened, the father defending the old Mexican from the mob.”
“Nope.” The Chief is looking sideways at his coffee and making a face.
The Sergeant flicks the bug away, takes a mouthful and savors the flavor before swallowing, “What do you think ever happened to civility and truth?”
The Chief tries to take a swallow, but spits it back into the cup and pours the rest into the sand, “Road kill.”