I stepped on the field, followed by Tracy and the men in black. I looked around. Flat, open ground, bright almost full moon. No cover. Had I been alone, I would’ve shape-shifted and ripped these guys apart. But Dent was the last person I wanted to know my secret, and I couldn’t kill her.
Well, I could have, but I prefer to keep my life as simple as possible.
It wasn’t just her threat of my past substance abuse problems being made public. That was the worst kept secret at the sheriff’s office. It was Leroy Evans. Career petty criminal, usually picked up for shoplifting and trespassing, vagrancy and aggressive panhandling. Now residing in a long-term care facility in Galveston. Now a vegetable. Because of me.
I kicked a crawfish mound. Behind me, I heard Tracy sob.
Leroy Evans. One hundred pounds soaking wet. Five-foot-six or so. The last day of his conscious life, I caught him Dumpster-diving behind the Golden Dragon Chinese Seafood Buffet. The owner had called the sheriff’s office and complained. Evans had been there all week, scavenging through thrown-out Kung Pao shrimp and fried rice. He was throwing stuff out of the Dumpster, making a mess. He refused to leave.
“Leroy,” I say, and his head pops out of the Dumpster. I have my left hand resting on the butt of my Glock, my right on the butt of my extendable ASP baton. Leroy is not known to be violent, but still. It might be the Oxy I had for breakfast, or the remnants of my Vicodin and Jack Daniel’s dinner the night before, but I’ve been on edge all day, paranoid.
“Yeah boss,” he mutters. His T-shirt is filthy, full of holes and old fried rice.
“Out of there,” I take a step back.
He climbs out. The asphalted area around the Dumpster is littered with discarded Styrofoam containers, soy sauce packets, and food that even Leroy deemed inedible. I point at it once his knock-off Air Jordans hit the ground. “You’ve made a mess.”
He looks down at it, nods.
I hear a car, coming on my left. County cruiser. Tracy Dent. We’re behind the Golden Dragon, in a narrow alley created by it and a HEB grocery store. I hadn’t brought my cruiser down this alley, thinking it was too tight, but Tracy’s navigating it just fine, and I feel like an idiot for leaving my car parked in front of the restaurant.
Her brakes squeak when she applies them. She gives me a little wave, and I nod in return, with no idea what she’s doing here. I haven’t called for backup. I was just going to tell Evans to get lost, maybe issue him a trespass warning. Expend as little effort as possible.
Dent takes her time getting out of the car. She’s tall, and she’s bashed her head against the edge of the car’s roof more than once. Once she’s out, she adjusts her belt, smooths the front of her uniform shirt, makes sure that her blond hair is still contained in its usual pony tail.
Meanwhile, I’m discovering that if I stand still too long, the ground does this weird jittery thing.
“Leroy!” Tracy grins. She shuts her car door. “Whatcha up to?”
“Uh-huh. Shit, you’ve made a mess.” She steps on a Styrofoam box. “It stinks out here. How can you stand it, Leroy?”
He shrugs. I hadn’t been bothered by the smell; it was just rotting food.
She gets in close to him. She has six inches on him. “Leroy, you holding anything?” She finally glances at me. “Anderson, you search him yet?”
“No.” It hasn’t occurred to me to do so. I rub my jaw. I have a tendency to clench it when I’m on Oxy.
“Well, guess you ought to.” She wrinkles her nose. “I’m not going to, that’s for sure.”
Leroy says, “I can just leave. I ain’t got nothing.” He actually tries to step around Tracy. I think her height and closeness rattles him.
She shoves him back. “Don’t you fucking move again, Leroy.”
He nods. His eyes are fixed on the ground. I rub my jaw again.
She nudges me in the shoulder. I hadn’t realized she was so close to me. Actually, I hadn’t realized I was close to either of them, and for a second, I think that the jittering ground has moved me.
“Search him, space cadet.” It’s her new nickname for me.
I reach for my leather gloves. I have latex ones, but they’re in my car. I pull the right one on, and then Tracy grabs Leroy. She later said he tried to move again. I have no idea. I was fixated on the glove.
I do see what happens next: he whips his arm, slick with sweat and soy sauce and who knows what else from the Dumpster, free of her grip. His hand smacks her in the face. It’s an accident. She was moving closer to him, trying to maintain her hold, and then his arm came out, and she got in the way. She’ll say the same thing later.
But all I see is another cop being attacked. I drop the left glove, grab the ASP, open it up, and strike Leroy.
I swear to God I didn’t hit him in the head. I’m not sure where the steel landed, but it wasn’t his head.
His head clangs off the Dumpster, and he drops, lands face-down on a bed of fried rice. His right foot starts twitching.
“Jesus Christ, Anderson,” Tracy says. Her lower lip is split. She wipes her lip, wipes the blood on her pant leg. She bends over Leroy. “I think you broke his fucking head.”
“I didn’t . . . I didn’t hit him in the head,” I say, collapsing the baton. I holster it, check on Leroy. His foot’s still spasming. “Oh shit. Oh shit, now what do we do?”
I half-expect Dent to raise her hands, say, “What’s this ‘we’ shit,” and then bail. She surprises me by grabbing my shoulders and pulling me away from him. “We get him somewhere else, is what we do.”
“What? No, we need to call an ambulance–” my hand goes for my shoulder mike. She knocks it away.
“Look at him. Little guy like that, versus two cops. And you’re high right now, aren’t you?”
I manage to nod.
“Anyone can see that you’re high,” she says. “Your eyes give it away. We need to move him, take him somewhere else. Let someone else find him. You don’t need this shit, I don’t need this shit. Come on. Help me get some room in the trunk.”
She pops the trunk on her cruiser, and we start moving stuff–her gear bag, some bright orange plastic cones, a box of crime scene tape–to the backseat. We get enough space in the trunk and then we carry Leroy–his foot’s still kicking, and Tracy sticks me with his feet while she gets his upper body–and fold him into it. He fits, barely. Tracy shuts the trunk.
“Good thing he’s so small. Listen, go back inside, tell them that you chased him off. Leave it at that. Don’t embellish. Don’t say you cited him or anything. Just say that you told him to leave, and then you leave. Keep it simple. And then meet me at Greathouse Road.”
Greathouse Road. On the fringes of Mitchum Bay, on the way to Louisiana. Want to dump a dog or an old lawnmower? Head out there. Sparsely populated, lots of trees lining the gravel road. Overgrown fields dotted with more trees. There are a couple of ranches out there, and their complaints have convinced the sheriff to regularly patrol the area.
And today, that means Pierce Kemp. I check my watch. It’s almost noon. He’s about to take his lunch, barring any emergency calls, and since he’s a creature of habit, he’ll go to Brisket Baron’s, a barbecue joint near Greathouse. After his lunch (shredded beef brisket, potato salad, unsweet tea, no bread or onions) he’ll head down the road. He’ll find Leroy. He’ll take this out of my hands.
“Hurry the fuck up,” Tracy says, and shoves me aside on her way to her car.
So we dumped Leroy Evans on the side of the road. We followed Greathouse to where it hooked up with another gravel road that eventually led us to Highway 12, and by then, Evans was in the hospital. Comatose. Depressed skull fracture, intracranial hemorrhage. He never woke up, and he’s never going to wake up. With no family, no insurance, he was shipped off to Galveston.
I was questioned. All I said was that I told him to go, and he went. The detective assigned to his case figured that he panhandled the wrong guy, or guys, and got hit, then dumped.
I visited him once. After Tracy Dent got busted and sent away, I got sober. A month later, I took the ferry to Galveston. I sat beside his bed, across the hall from a large woman who kept rocking in her bed and humming to herself. I took his hand. It felt cool, weightless. I said I was sorry. And then I left.
Behind me, one of the guys told us to stop. We were in the rough middle of the field.