To Protect and Serve
“Central to One-L-Nineteen … Central to One-L-Nineteen … respond to a report of a domestic disturbance at 237 East Langdale Drive.”
Patrol Officer Martin Deeks reached over from the passenger seat of the black and white cruiser and snatched up the radio mic as his partner cautiously turned them back into the traffic cruising down Sepulveda Boulevard.
“Copy that Central … 237 East Langdale … log One-L-Nineteen en route.”
“Copy One-L-Nineteen … en route at 1935 hours.”
Deeks nodded to the big African-American man in the driver’s seat. “One-L-Nineteen clear Central.”
As he was placing the mic back on its hanger, he glanced over at Sergeant Marcus J. Wilkins and asked the question that had just popped into his head. “Hey, doesn’t that address sound familiar?”
Wilkins took a moment and then nodded.
“Yeah … uh … two Fridays ago … man got drunk and started knocking his wife and kid around. Mom’s name was … ummm … Judith and the little boy is … is … uh …”
“Dakota … his name is Dakota.” Deeks had gone tense over in his seat at the memory of that call: a drunk husband, a wife with a bloody lip and a scared little blonde-haired boy. An ice-cold shiver raced up his spine, causing goosebumps to break out down his arms and he was finding it hard to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat.
Seeing that his partner had fallen under a dark cloud, Wilkins tried to pull him through.
“Well, there isn’t much we can do when the wife wouldn’t press charges … they had to cut him loose once he sobered up.”
“And here we are going back to the same address for the same call for the same reason.” It came out as almost a growl, the anger and helplessness from long ago memories returning to haunt him.
“When you make detective …” Catching the quick cut of Deeks’ eyes, Wilkins nodded. “Yeah, I know you’re studying for the Detective Selection Board and I’ve got every confidence in you son … when you make detective, maybe you can change these kind of things … but right now, all we can do is to protect and serve.”
To protect and serve.
It was stenciled on the side of every LAPD cruiser in italicized black writing. It was one of the reasons that Deeks had left the Public Defenders Office and enrolled into the Police Academy. To protect and serve.
He just hoped that when the time came tonight, he would know who to protect and who to serve.
That moment came just a few moments later as Sergeant Wilkins pulled the cruiser up to the sidewalk in front of a white wood-framed house that had seen better days with grass that really needed a trim and a rusted out Dodge pick-up truck in the driveway. Not a great place to live and definitely not a great place to grow up.
All too familiar.
Just as he was about to open his door, Sergeant Wilkins gave him one last bit of advice. “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast, Deeks.” It was something the big man had learned in the Marine Corps and always said to his partner when they headed into something a little dicey … just like tonight.
Nodding his acknowledgment, the younger man eased his door open to step out onto the cracked sidewalk. Just as his door clicked shut, there were too muffled, yet distinct pops from inside the home.
Wilkins was on his mic in an instant. “Central, we have shots fired at 237 Langdale … repeat … shots fired at 237 Langdale!”
“Copy, One-L-Nineteen … additional units en route.”
As the dispatchers voice faded, Deeks was already crossing the front lawn, his Beretta pistol already gripped in his hands. He paused slightly, waiting for Sergeant Wilkins to come up beside him when the front door suddenly flung open and a man in worn jeans and a dirty white t-shirt stumbled out onto the front porch.
And he had a small revolver in his right hand.
“GUN!” Deeks yelled out the warning as he dropped into a classic three point firing stance, his own gun coming up to point at the center of the man’s chest. “PUT IT DOWN! PUT IT DOWN!”
The man did not seem to notice the cop standing in the middle of his lawn but he was already spinning up into rage. “I told that bitch to shut up! I told her!” He moved toward the stairs and Deeks side stepped to the right to try and put the man with the gun at an angle where he might not focus on Wilkins who was moving to the left in a flanking movement.
“Just put it down and we can talk about it man … but you have to drop the gun first.” Deeks was beginning to sweat; the longer the suspect held onto his weapon, the worst the situation began to look.
“We can work this out but you have to put it down.”
“She just wouldn’t stop raggin me … and then that little shit thought he was big enough to stop me!” The man had reached the top step with the gun still swinging by his side. “But they won’t bother me any more … I showed them!”
Calling out from his position near the edge of the lawn, Wilkins tried to catch the man’s attention. “Come on buddy … put it down and let’s talk.”
“I don’t want to talk … I want you to get out of my face!” He swung toward the big cop then suddenly spun toward Deeks. “GET OFF MY LAWN!”
And the gun began to come up.
“Drop it! Drop it!” Deeks was screaming as loud as he could but the man did not seem to hear him or he simply did not care anymore. As the barrel continued to rise, Deeks heard two quick pops as he fired two quick shots center mass and two red dots appeared in the center of the man’s shirt.
For a moment, it looked like he was trying to catch his breath but then his entire body went slack as he tumbled face first onto the deep grass. Moving up quickly but cautiously, Deeks and Wilkins approached the man on the ground, their firearms trained on him in case he had any more fight left in him. After kicking the revolver out of reach, Wilkins nodded toward the house. “Check on the family … I’ll wait for the other units.”
Taking the steps two at a time, Deeks called out, “LAPD! LAPD!” as he eased though the open door into a small living room that held a worn couch, a cracked coffee table and large console television that was playing some advertisement for a treatment for male baldness. When he heard no response or movement, he followed a narrow hallway toward the back of the house, searching every corner and dark shadow along the way. He checked the first room on the right that turned out to be a kid’s room, complete with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle posters along with a matching bedspread and pillowcases.
A burning sensation crept into Deeks’ throat as the image of a little blonde haired boy danced within his mind; a little boy named Dakota whose young life appeared to be a mirror of his own upbringing. This realization added even more urgency to his search and he quickly spun back into the hall, heading toward what he thought would be the kitchen … and then he stopped cold.
Through the doorway, on the floor just in front of an overturned table, a leg was visible with a pink fluffy slipper covering the foot. Hurrying into the room, Deeks scanned for immediate threats before kneeling beside the young woman on the floor. He was reaching down to grab her wrist to check for a pulse when he noticed the almost perfect bullet hole in the center of her forehead and the way her vacant eyes were locked on the ceiling.
Before he could mourn the woman’s death, something moved on the other side of the table. Jumping up from the floor, Deeks stepped around the table and his eyes fell to another crumpled body. A small one. Just as his heart froze in his chest, the little boy let out a soft moan.
“Dakota … Jesus …” He turned and called out to his partner. “MARCUS! We need an ambulance and we need it now!”
Sergeant Wilkins called back as he tromped down the hallway toward the kitchen. “They’re already on the way, Deeks!” When he entered to small room, he saw the dead woman laying on the floor and his partner hunched over a small boy.
Deeks had dropped to his knees and rolled little Dakota over onto his back, trying to ignore the raspy sounds coming from the kid’s mouth. “Hey little man … look at me … you hang in there, Dakota … help is on the way.” He held the back of the child’s head with one hand while pressing down on the bullet hole just off center of the little chest.
“Awww … dammit!” Wilkins keyed up his mic as he turned away from the nightmare in the kitchen. “Med 2 … Med 2 … you guys got to get here fast! We got a kid down!”
“We are just around the corner … be there in less than five minutes!”
Looking down at the small, limp body cradled in his partner’s lap, Wilkins could see that five minutes was going to be entirely too long.
Deeks could feel the heartbeat under his palm and the slow expansion of the lungs as the boy struggled to breathe as his lifeblood continued to ooze between the cop’s fingers.
“You’ll be fine little man … the medics will snatch you out of here and then the docs will make it all better.” The breaths that should be smooth and regular were all too ragged and he could feel the heartbeats slowing with every second that ticked by.
“But you got to be strong … like Leonardo … he was always my favorite.” Deeks felt a shudder go through the little boy as his eyes suddenly popped open and locked with the man hovering over him.
“Hey, little guy …” then the knot in his throat squeezed off the rest of his words. The boy was looking right at him, the light dimming in the blue of his eyes as he struggled to breathe. Then Deeks realized that the kid was trying to speak and he bent over to bring his ear closer to a set of lips that were turning a pale blue.
“Mmm … mmm …” The boy choked and bloody spittle trickled from the corner of his mouth. He gagged once more and then finally got the word out. “Momma?!”
Knowing that he couldn’t tell the boy the truth about his mother’s condition, Deeks left a kernel of truth in his response. “She’s right here, little man … but she can’t come over just yet, okay?”
There was confusion and a little fear in the small eyes, but also a little faith too. “Mister … take care of … my momma.”
“We’re gonna take care of you too, Dakota …” Then the slowing heartbeat under his palm stopped. “No, no, no, no … Marcus! I’m going to start CPR!”
“Deeks …” Wilkins moved to kneel beside his partner and friend, resting a large hand on his shoulder.
But Deeks was not listening as he slid beside the little body and placed his over-lapped hands in the center of the boy’s chest. “I’m starting compressions …”
“Deeks …” Tightening his grip, Wilkins tugged gently.
“1 … 2 … 3 … 4 … come on kid … come on … BREATHE!” He felt his partner pulling on his shoulder but he shrugged him off. “No, Marcus! It’s a kid … we don’t stop with kids … we … don’t … stop!”
Seeing that any argument that he could make would be futile, Wilkins nodded and moved to the boy’s head so he could begin rescue breathing. “Okay, Marty … okay.”
“Thanks, Marcus …” When looked up at his friend, the tears in his eyes blurred his vision, so Deeks turned back to the child at his knees, doubling his efforts. ” … 1 … 2 … 3 … 4 …”
Seven days later …
“The kid didn’t make it?”
From his position looking out of the office window, Deeks simply nodded, forgetting that the man who had asked the question probably could not see him from that angle. “No … no, he didn’t.”
“I’m sorry, Martin … I truly am.” Doctor Alekzander Segal made a quick notation on the pad resting on his knee before glancing over to the young policeman.
“Is this where you ask me about how it made me feel?” Deeks had not meant for the words to sound angry and was about to apologize when the doctor spoke.
“If you want to, Martin …”
Deeks was already shaking his head. “Please, doc … it’s Marty.”
Chuckling lightly, Doctor Segal nodded. “Okay … Marty … but we are here to talk about whatever it is that you want to talk about. I have only one agenda and that is helping you get back out there doing what you love.”
So, no ink blots and talking about how I was potty trained?”
“Do you remember how you were potty trained?”
Deeks took a moment then shook his head. “No, I don’t.”
Alekzander let out a sigh of relief. “That’s good because I really didn’t want to know anything about that anyway.”
“You know, the last time I was in a psychologist’s office after a shooting, that was some sort of big deal that I had to dredge up in order to make peace with the child inside of me.” Deeks did a full body shiver that made the doc laugh once more but his face became serious in an instant.
“Did it help?”
“Not really … made me pretty uncomfortable.”
Alekzander nodded. “Then it was a useless exercise, wasn’t it?”
Deeks shot the other man a rather inquisitive look. “Doc? Are you really telling me that I don’t have to sit here and talk about my feelings about what happened to that kid?”
For a few moments, Deeks simply stared blank faced at the man who was supposed to be one of the best at digging into the disturbed psyches of troubled cops. The more seconds ticked by, the more a little frustration began to creep into the young officer’s mental state, until finally it reached a boiling point. “Then why am I in here? Why am I still on desk duty? Why haven’t I been cleared to go back on patrol with my partner?!”
The good doctor waited until the younger man was breathing at a more regular pattern before responding to the small outburst. “Because we are not here to talk about what happened with that little boy.”
“What?! Then why the hell am I here?!”
Again, he took a few seconds to respond, allowing Deeks a moment to catch his breath.
“We are here to talk about what happened to you.”
Deeks threw his hands in the air in frustration. “We talked about this yesterday, doc. I’m fine … the kid’s dad killed him and his mother … then I shot and killed the dad! It sucked but that’s what we have to deal with sometimes!” He was gesturing madly now, arms and hands flying in the air as he let out a little more of the nervous frustration from the incident at the little wood frame house. “It was just another glorious day in the City of Angels where men beat their families and kids die for no other reason than being in the wrong place at the wrong time.”
He was rolling now, stalking around in front of Alekzander’s large desk like a wild animal that did not like being in a cage. “I mean, come on! We deal with kids dying with syringes still stuck in their arms …. mothers putting their babies into microwaves while high on Meth … gangbangers shooting up school yards because one of their rivals’ little sisters goes to that school … and the whole world is supposed to stop because some asshat decides to beat the crap out of his wife and the little boy has to watch!”
Alekzander waited until the tempest passed before tapping the tip of his pencil on his pad. “How did you know that?”
Deeks spun to face his confidant. “What?”
The doctor rocked forward in his chair, dropping the pad on top of the desk. “You said ‘the little boy has to watch’ … how would you know that? It wasn’t in the reports that both you and Sergeant Wilkins submitted.”
Deeks remained frozen in the middle of the floor, his breathing becoming a little more erratic as he kept his eyes locked on a point somewhere to the right of a picture of the doctor’s family hanging on the wall behind his desk. It was as if he was standing on a landmine and any extra movement would trigger an explosion.
“Officer Deeks?” Alekzander waited until Deeks finally glanced over in the general direction of his voice before he continued. “How could you possibly know that?”
Deeks’ eyes drifted away back to the spot on the wall and he remained silent.
But he was trembling.
The seconds clicked by until the quiet became something tangible. The big gasp before the plunge.
“Is it possible … that you were not referring to the small boy who died barely a week ago?” The doctor’s pause was intentional, both to allow the question to settle into the mind of the young policeman and to give himself the strength to push a little more. “Is it possible … that you were referring to another small boy? One who also suffered at a young age?”
The push continued.
“Is it possible … that what is hindering your ability to be honest about how last weeks’ killings affected you … is the fact that there is something dark in your own past that you have, as of yet, not dealt with?”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I’m sorry, Marty … but if you want your badge back … if you want to continue to work the streets with your partner … you’re going to have to talk to someone … anyone … about this.”
Deeks took a deep breath before he responded. “It’s not that I don’t want to talk about it … I just don’t want someone telling me how I should feel … my thoughts and feelings are my own.”
Alekzander was nodding when he spoke. “I agree.”
This made Deeks whirl to finally face the doctor. “Okay doc, enough with answering without really telling me anything … what are you suggesting I do? Even if the person just listens, they’ll still make judgments, thinking about how sad and pitiful it was … I don’t want anyone’s pity!”
Alekzander chuckled but held up his hand when it seemed to make Deeks more agitated. “Hold your horses, Marty … what if I told you there was someone you could talk to … tell all of your secrets … reveal every dark corner of your life … and that I could promise you, with everything that I am, that they would never judge or pity you.”
“Confessing to a dead guy isn’t really my thing, doc.”
Even in all of this, Doctor Segal had to admire the man’s desire to insert a little humor. “Not a dead person Deeks … but a new little program that will hopefully benefit the talker as well as the listener.”
The confused look on Deeks’ face was priceless.
A few days later on a semi-deserted stretch of Venice Beach …
Deeks sat in the sand that was still warm from the afternoon sun, content to watch a few surfers catch the last waves of the day. He wore a lite gray sweatshirt with LAPD written in bold, black letters across the front and he was absentmindedly fiddling with the strings for the hood. His companion was seated just to his right, his thoughts his own but he didn’t seem to mind the quiet of the evening.
When Doctor Segal had first explained the details of the groundbreaking program, Deeks had believed he had crossed over into some warped version of the Twilight Zone. The teaming together of such opposites made absolutely no sense on paper but according to the doc, the early results had been impressive with each pair that had been created.
And as he glanced over to his new ‘teammate’, he couldn’t help but chuckle.
Yeah … Twilight Zone … all the way.
“Well, I guess we’re supposed to sit here until we bond or something …” Deeks was grateful that his new friend was the silent type and wouldn’t be interrupting with stupid platitudes about understanding what he had gone through. No one could understand but Deeks himself. ” … but I think this may take longer than it should … I don’t really want to talk about my sucky childhood … my father was a real piece of work … and all you’re going to do is sit there and lick yourself.”
When his companion remained silent, Deeks reached over and scratched him between his ears. “How did a messed up cop get partnered with a bomb-sniffing dog that is suffering from the canine version of PTSD?”
The curly-haired dog, that looked more like a poster ad for the ASPCA, licked the tip of his snout before glancing over at the scruffy human that had walked him on the beach until he stopped shivering every time anyone looked at him. He seemed to enjoy the scratching behind the ears though and leaned a little closer so Deeks could reach a little better.
“I guess I should formally introduce myself … I’m Martin Deeks …” He held out his hand but had to reach down and grab a paw when the dog didn’t move. ” … but my friends call me Marty. I would say it’s a pleasure to meet you but they didn’t tell me your name when they stuck us together.”
The mutt just cocked his head as if Marty was trying to explain Algebra.
“Does this mean I get to name you?” A lump formed in his throat as Deeks realized that he had never named anything. Naming something involved … a bond … a relationship … a partnership. Then the perfect name popped right into his head.
“My first partner’s name was Montel, good kid who took a lot of ribbing for looking a lot like Meadow Lark Lemon …” Scratching the dog’s ear once more, Deeks explained.
“…but everyone called him “Monty.”