Last updated  :  | By Terry Shepherd

Flash Fiction – The Veteran

From Jessica’s Autobiography: It’s early in her career. She’s still a probationary cop and her Field Training Officer is doing everything he can to demoralize her.

“You take too damn long in the bathroom, JRam. What if a robbery went down in this gas station while you were sitting in there reading some knitting magazine?” I did not know how to knit. “Someone could die because you’re wasting time.”

“I can’t just unzip it, Mitch. Women have to take off our utility belts, undo everything connected to them, and drop our drawers. God made it simpler for you men, and you are still too stupid or thoughtless to put up the toilet seat. Add another two minutes to get out the wipes to clean up your mess before I sit down.”

Mitchell bristled. “Your attitude is insubordinate, probie. I can flunk you for that, alone.”

“We’re both learning, ‘sir’. I know that this is new and uncomfortable for you. But I’m simply modeling the communication behavior you are teaching me. It feels like you and everybody else in the House want’s me to stumble. Perhaps if you treated your beginners the way you want to be treated now, you might get better results.”

My FTO rolled his eyes, dropping a five-dollar bill on the cashier’s counter at the Quick Stop. “I’m getting too old for this shit.” And then to the cashier. “I’m covering her coffee. You can keep the change.”

The young female behind the counter leaned toward Mitchell. “There’s a guy over by the candy bars who has been hanging around for a long time. I’m a little worried about what might be on his mind.”

Mitch turned toward his subject. I stepped up next to him and addressed the girl. “Anything else that’s setting off your radar?”

The cashier carefully pulled a piece of paper from under the register. It was a cop composite drawing. The artist’s rendition was a dead ringer for our boy. Her voice was tired. “We keep these all in a row below customer eye level when you send them to us. He looks awfully familiar.”

I grinned. “Good eyes, sister. We’ll have a little conversation and he’ll never know you gave us the intel.”

“Stay here and cover the exit, JRam,” Mitchell growled, his eyes locked on his suspect. “Watch how it’s done.”

“He’s on a wanted poster, sir. Shall I step outside for a moment and call for backup?”

“He’s one guy, Ramirez. We’d never live down the harassment if we brought in the troops for a simple arrest. I’ve got this.”

As my teacher worked his way casually toward the candy bars, I leaned on the counter, sharing a quiet moment with our citizen partner. “I’m a probationary officer, ma’am. So I guess you and I get to watch how a seasoned officer approaches someone who may be armed and dangerous.”

Mitchell tried to look interested in the potato chips, picking up some pork rinds as he assessed his subject.

The guy was six-four, approximately two-hundred and fifty pounds. He wore old military boots, jeans and a loose fitting short sleeve button-down shirt that could easily hide a half dozen weapons. Powerful biceps bulged against the fabric. Unkempt brown locks and straggling strands of facial hair framed haunted gray eyes.

I deduced military vet, likely PTSD, self-medicated.

“What’s the wanted poster say he did?” I asked the girl.

“Kidnapped his daughter. I’ve seen it happen. They come back damaged from the service. The VA lets them down. The wife dumps them and gets custody. And they feel backed into a corner. The child equals normal and sometimes they want normal so bad that they take it.”

“’Do me a favor,” I said, passing a business card across the counter to the gas station cashier. “Call this number and ask for Gina in victim services. Tell her Jessica thinks she found a missing kid and the guy who pinched her at this location. See if Gina can get down her before my partner machos the poor man into using his military skills.”

The girl complied, turning her head away from where the subject might see her to make the call.

I caught Mitchell’s eye and waved at him as if I had a burning question about procedure.

My FTO bit his cheek and ambled back. “What is it JRam? I’m about to make the collar.”

“The composite poster says kidnapping. A daughter. The guy looks PTSD and may carry weapons. Would a bold arrest trigger him?”

Mitchell took another look. His eyes narrowed like the coyote in the road runner cartoons, feeling superior, right before some bolder fell on his head.

“OK hot shot. If you think a first-year probie knows better than her FTO, you make the approach. I’ll give you feedback after the guy pounds your feminine ass into the cement.”

The cashier gave me a thumbs up. Help was on the way. I winked at her and then walked slowly, directly toward our subject.

I kept about ten feet between us and studied the long row of candy bars. “Damn, these things are bad for me,” I said in frustration. “But when I was a kid, I loved Kit-Kats.”

The mountain nodded, avoiding my smiling face. “My girl likes Skittles. Can’t find the damn things.”

I could. Picking up a package, I offered it to him. “There are so many to choose from. They can be hard to find.”

His eyes met mine. I put on my most welcoming smile. “I’m Jess. Thank you for your service.”

The corner of his mouth twitched. A huge hand took the Skittles from mine.

“How did you know?”

“My brother has those same boots. When were you there?”

Now I had his attention. “Five years ago. Some nights I still am.”

I nodded, sensitive to stay out of his personal space. “I’ve seen a lot in this uniform, but I can’t begin to know your experience. Was it hard coming home?”

“That’s getting pretty personal,” he said, darkening.

“You don’t have to answer. All of us cops eventually get PTSD and compress into our own world. I’m most comfortable with other cops.”

The eyes looked into the distance, processing. “Yeah. At least you have a family. Most of my brothers in arms left their souls over there.”

I shook my head. “I’m so sorry. Are you Paloma born? I wondered if we have siblings in common from school?”

“Champaign. Just passing through with my daughter. We’re taking a vacation together.”

I broke into a grin. “Fantastic! How old is she?”

The man brightened. “Seven. You know that age? They really have insights then. And the kid is wicked smart. She can add numbers in her head much faster than I can. I think she’s got skills to be an accountant.”

I could see Gina’s pageboy bob enter the store in my peripheral vision. She would have a couple of uniforms with her, checking the parking area for a vehicle with a kid in it.

“Accountant?” I gently challenged. “CEO. I hope she gets the chance to run things when she grows up.”

The hint of a laugh rumbled in his chest. “She runs me now.”

I held out a hand. “Well, it’s back to work, sir. Just wanted to thank you again for your sacrifice. I wish you peace and closure. Stay safe.”

He took my hand. The guy could have squeezed until the bones broke. But his grasp was firm and tender at the same time, as if he was reading me like a fortune teller.

“I know what you just did. Your partner was angling around over by the chip isle. I hoped he wasn’t going to do something stupid. You’re the first cop I’ve met who seems to care. Thank you for that.”

“I do care,” I said, meaning every word. “We’ve let you down. I hope that part of the story ends today.”

“The girl with the dutch haircut. Is she the police department shrink? They make me crazy.”

I couldn’t suppress a smile. “You knew all along, didn’t you?”

“Navy Seal.” he said. “It’s how you stay alive.”

“Hey handsome.” It was Gina’s bubbly voice. “I hear that the VA totally fucked things up for you. Maybe us small-town people who have lost our share of outstanding young men over there can help untangle a few of the knots.”

“Are you taking my daughter from me?” He said it without emotion. But I could sense the tension behind the words.

“That’s not the goal. Let’s get her those Skittles first and then we can talk.”

Gina touched my arm. “You did the right thing, officer Ramirez. Not bad for a beginner.”

The mountain studied the bag of candy on an enormous palm. “Guess I had better pay for these first.”

I leaned into his personal space just enough to put my hand on his bicep. “My treat.”

I left my subject with the department victim advocate and girded myself for the barrage of criticism I knew was coming after Mitchell got me alone in our squad car.