Some people say the life of a cop can be exciting, even glamorous. I don’t. Not when you have to live with the memory of an innocent girl dying in your arms.
I’m thinking about her, replaying the details of that day in my mind as my partner and I patrol the west side. He looks over and asks, “What’s with you? You haven’t said two words all day.”
“Thinking about Shandra.”
“I knew it. Why don’t you just see a shrink?”
“I have. Didn’t do much good.”
For three years I’ve lived with the guilt that I wasn’t able to protect her, and I wasn’t able to solve her murder. I failed her. Twice.
“You can’t change the past no matter how hard you try. You got to…”
He’s interrupted by a call from dispatch. They’re alerting us to the scene of a shooting, just around the corner.
In a couple of minutes we pull up and see a young girl, maybe 10, 11 years old. Bullet wound to the back. An officer has already arrived. He gives us the story.
“The victim’s name is Makayla Spencer; lived on this block. We have eye-witnesses who say she was caught in the cross-fire of a drug shooting. One of the shooters came out of the house two doors down, and the other fired at him from up the street. The man who owns the house is named Goodson, Joshua Goodson. The witnesses also placed a third man at the scene but he ran off. We haven’t been able to identify him, although he’s described as an African-American male, early to mid-thirties. Everyone I’ve talked to loved this little girl. She must have been something special.”
A lead comes over dispatch as we return to our car: “We just took a call from someone who recognized the third man at your shooting. His last known residence is 1528 North Gilmore. Subject is Jaylen Crane, recently released from Jessup prison. Advise caution.”
Shandra jumps back into my mind.
We pull up to the address dispatch has given us. A middle-aged woman answers. We identify ourselves. She confirms that she’s Mrs. Mary Crane. She seems cordial, but I can tell she’s apprehensive. She wants to know if we’re there because of her son, Jaylen. We ask if he’s home.
“He’s not. He was here earlier. What’s this about?”
“Can we come in Mrs. Crane?” She looks at us and opens the door wider. We follow her back into the house and find seats in a clean and comfortable living room.
“Mrs. Crane, you said your son was here. Can you tell us what you talked about?”
“He was very upset about something.”
“Did he say what?”
“How long was he here?”
“Do you remember what he was wearing?
“A pair of jeans, I think. Also, a jacket with a white shirt underneath. I didn’t recognize the jacket. Come to think of it, he went upstairs for a few minutes. When he came back down, he didn’t have the jacket on anymore.”
“Did he say or do anything else unusual to you?
“Did he take anything with him when he left?
“I don’t think so.”
“Do you mind if we check his room?”
Mrs. Crane leads us upstairs. Jaylen’s bedroom is immaculately clean, except for a jacket thrown on the bed. Going to the closet, my partner looks inside, pulls out a balled-up shirt from a corner and holds it up. It’s white, adding to the contrast of the bloodstain in the middle. He turns to Mrs. Crane and asks, “M’am, where’s your son now?”
“He said something about going to his friend John’s house.”
“Thank you Mrs. Crane. We’ll let you know what we find out.” As we leave I look over my shoulder. She’s looking at pictures of Jaylen as a young boy, hanging on the wall. I look at the pictures too. The framed photos are hung in a cross-like pattern.
Darkness settles in as we arrive at John’s house. Soon, other police cars pull up. We find out that Jaylen has just called the station, and that he’s in the house alone, wanting to talk to someone. A crowd begins to form. Word’s gotten out that someone involved in Makayla’s shooting was here.
“I’ll go in,” I tell my partner.
“We’ll back you up. You wearing a vest?”
“Yeah, I’m set.”
The door to the house is unlocked. I pull out my gun and enter. I call Jaylen’s name but get no answer. I go from room to room expecting to see him at any moment. He’s not downstairs so I head upstairs to continue my search. I walk toward the end of a hallway lined with paintings of flowers. At the end of the hallway there’s a room on the right with the door open. I look in and see Jaylen, leaning back against a far wall. He’s holding a gun by his side.
“We found the shirt Jaylen.”
“I suppose that was inevitable.”
“She was coming toward me on her bike. Just as she got to me she lost her balance and fell. She looked at me and said how embarrassed she was. It was a sweet thing to say. I knelt down to help her and we started talking. She was very pleasant and kind. We talked for a while.
Then a shot rang out. She fell toward me. I held her close and tried to keep us both low. It was over very quickly. I said to her, “It’s okay. They stopped.” She didn’t say anything or move. I pulled away. I knew she was dead. Her blood had been soaking my shirt. I cried as I laid her down. Given my record I knew I had to run. I looked at her one last time before I left.
“Jaylen, we just got news that Joshua Goodson’s bullet killed her. You won’t be charged with this.”
“I’m already considered guilty.”
“Are you worried about your record?”
“Actually, I’m innocent of the crimes I was accused of.”
“The ending of this story is as it should be. I accept that. I’ll be dead before I make it to the street.”
“Are you planning on shooting it out?”
“No, not at all. No one else will die. It’s my life they want.”
I couldn’t understand his logic so I said the only thing I could think of, “Jaylen, this won’t bring that little girl back.”
“No, it won’t. I accept the fact that I had nothing at all to do with her death. It’s a gift that I was the one person in the world that would be with her when she died, an act of providence that I have received with gratefulness. My father always told me there’s a plan and purpose behind everything.”
He pauses then says, “You need to leave. Now.”
“But if you…”
I step back toward the door and leave without taking my eyes off of him. The cars are parked in a semi-circle around the house and I take my position behind them as night falls. After a few minutes the front door opens and Jaylen steps out. Someone in the crowd yells “Get him! He shot Makayla!” The crowd begins to riot and we try to calm them down. An onlooker fires a shot in Jaylen’s direction. Instinctively Jaylen raises his gun. Bullets rain on him and the impact pins him back to the house. He’s sprawled there, arms outstretched in a crucifixion-like pose. Eventually he slumps over, dead. I hear someone weeping and I turn around. It’s Mary, his mother. She’s being comforted by a young man standing next to her. I think it’s John, the owner of the house.
It’s been three days since Jaylen died. I’ve taken the last few days off to clear my head. I’m sitting in a bar, killing time when my partner walks in, pats me on the back and says, “Glad to see you in here drowning your sorrows. After the other night I didn’t think you were going to surface for a while.”
“The thought had crossed my mind but I’m okay now. In fact, believe it or not, I feel like I’m a changed man.”
“And what’s that supposed to mean?”
“I’ve been thinking about what Jaylen Crane said about being with Makayla as an act of providence. As soon as he said it I thought about Shandra. She’s gone and I can’t change that. I’ve given up trying to correct something that’s just not in my power.”
My partner’s staring at me now. I can tell he’s not sure how to respond. In exasperation he says, “Why would it take the death of a man to get you right with yourself?”
I toss back one more drink, “I don’t know. I honestly don’t. It’s a crazy world.”