Sunday, May 29, 2005

Vigilante

by David Brandon Thomas.



Copyright May 2005. Printed with permission of the author. By cafegroundzero press.



_____When someone close to you dies, a part of you leaves with him or her. They leave a void that can never be filled. When I met my wife, I vowed that I would do anything in my power to hold onto her; for five years I succeeded.

September 11th, 2001 - 3:59 A.M.

____My name is Michael Hall, a married black man living in a city notorious for riots an poor race relations. I am a three-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department. My wife Carla and I were slowly finding our place in suburban society. We were fast asleep on this night in our home when a loud knock came on our door.

"Who is that at this time of the night?" Carla groaned.

"Probably some persistent Jehovah's witness," I said, rolling over. Carla groaned and got up to answer the front door.

____Realizing that Carla had left, I woke up to use the bathroom. I had a peak out the window to see a late model pearl white Lexus coupe with illustrious 20-22 inch rims and limousine tint parked on the other side of the road. The gleam of the rims glistened so brightly in the moonlight that I had to cover my eyes when staring at them.

____Abruptly, two loud gunshots rang out near the front. The horrifying sound was then accented by a loud thud on our hallway floor. Terrified, I ransacked my drawer to get my loaded police-issued handgun. My feet never seemed to touch the stairs as I blazed downstairs with my handgun cocked and loaded. A loud screech of tires echoed in the night as I reached the front.

____ I paused at the end of the stairs to see Carla lying on the floor. I ran quickly and dropped my gun on the floor, kneeling at her side.

_____"Carla! Wake up baby. Can you hear me, baby? Wake up WAKE UP!" I shouted.

_____It was too late. She was dead --and there was nothing I could do to change that. A vow which I swore to uphold five years ago was broken. It was a pain that could not be healed by lust, drink or by any words, I remembered feeling.

_____A few hours later, after the coroner took her body away, it seemed that God was trying to tell me something. His message was clear: the world does not stop for anyone's grief.

_____My wife's funeral was beautiful. Her casket was surrounded by several wreaths and flower arrangements. The church's decor consisted of white walls and clear stained glass windows. This institution was the epitome of purity and cleanliness. Considering the several inner demons that resurfaced following my wife's death I was absolutely certain that the minister would throw holy water on me. My parents and in-laws were too close for comfort. Although appreciated, I oddly felt that it would be helpful if I stayed clam and collected in this whole ordeal. At the burial site, I sat holding my mother-in-law's hand as the minister gave the last rites. His words brought me no comfort. Instead, I felt anguish towards God and the man or men responsible for Carla's death. I put on my sunglasses, which served as a futile attempt to conceal my welling eyes. As the funeral staff lowered Carla's casket in the ground, I felt my heart sink. I sat around at the gravesite standing upright looking into her grave. I looked at the rose I held in my hand. I then looked at the grave and spoke these words.

________"Carla, there is something I must do to make this right. I do not know what will happen, but it must be done. GOD said "Vengeance is mine," but I think he should make an exception just this once. Forgive me for my anger, but it cannot be helped." I dropped the rose into the grave on Carla's casket. I would make sure that this is one promise that would not be broken.

________________________________ * * *

____Three months and three weeks later, I was sitting at my desk, constantly reviewing my wife's case files. No leads, not tangible shred of evidence has surfaced following her burial. Countless times I am told that everything is being done in the precinct's power to investigate. One hundred eleven days, 9 hours, 32 minutes and 18 seconds of promises have led to nothing. Why so long, you ask? I was not allowed to enter the investigation. I lingered on that for awhile until I finally worked up the nerve to speak with Captain Hayes to express my concerns. To me, the entire meeting was like conversing with a brick wall. "Michael, I understand how you are feeling but we cannot drop everything for this investigation. It's not possible," Hayes said while he polished his badge.
_____"I understand, sir, but nearly four months have passed and not a man is in jail. Put me on my wife's investigation, along with a few others. Why can't you consider that, sir?" I asked agitatedly.

_____"By remembering that MY precinct does not revolve around THIS investigation," he answered in a condescending tone. With that, I had only one thing to say:

_____"I quit." I slammed my badge and gun on Captain Hayes' desk. Captain Hayes looked up at me with an astonished look on his face, as I exited the office.

_____Everyone near his office heard everything, given the surprised looks on their faces as well. I went to the locker room, and changed into my civilians clothes. Momentarily, I went to my desk and gathered everything that was of any value to me, including my wife's case files. My friend and colleague, Shaun Bell, approached me with some documents , but hesitated. I resumed leaving the office with possessions in hand and a vengeful motive in my thoughts.

_____At home, it became difficult for to savor the memories I had without feeling any sorrow. The pictures of us together remain upright. Her knick-knacks and porcelain figurines stayed in their respective places. I spent many nights sleeping on the couch with the television on at full blast and my handgun at the coffee table. The bed has still not been made since her death. One day, I was sleeping in the living room when the telephone rang rather rudely. Combine the loud ringing of the telephone with the Dolby Digital surround sound on "Black Hawk Down" and you as well will have the urge to curse at the top of your lungs. Still sleepy-eyed, I searched the table for the phone, combing through several beer bottles and cigarette butts. I answered the phone rather groggily saying,"Hello?" The person on the other end was my friend, Shaun bell. "Hey, Mike it's Shaun. I got something that you may want to have."

_____"Like what?" I asked as I got up from the couch.

_____"Check your fax machine."

_____I walked over to the fax machine and waited. Seconds later, documents began to feed out of the fax. A slight grin came over my face as I reviewed the documents.

_____The "documents" Shaun had sent me were various files on the tire tread results that were collected from the road adjacent to my house. The tires that were on that Lexus could not be ordered stock issue from whichever car dealership the car was purchased. Knowing that California is one of the birthplaces of car customization, I decided to check out the numerous car customization shops nearby and away from my house. I visited several shops within a few miles radius of my home. No on at those respective shops had done work on a Lexus coupe. All hope seemed to have vanished until I arrived at a A.Z.E. Car Customs at Long Beach, California, which is many miles away from my home in Los Angeles. On display at the front of the shop were several "tricked-out rides" the staff either owned or had completed. They showcased different styles of tint, rims, and audio/video equipment that the shop had to offer. I entered inside the shop to see at least four more cars that were customized in the same elaborate way as the ones outside. I began to look around some more until my eyes focused on a wall with several framed pictures of each of their completed works.
_____I looked at each one until I saw the white pearl Lexus coupe. The owner of the car stood at the front while the persons that were involved in the project stood in the background. Seconds later-- "May I help you, sir?"
_____ Startled, I tuned around to see who had spoken. A Caucasian male with an average build entered the shop."Yes, you can," I replied.

_____"Jeff, as it says so on the shirt," he answered pointing to his name embroidered on a black and blue shirt.

____"Sorry. My name is Michael Hall, I'm ...Excuse me...I was a police officer for the Los Angeles Police Department. I have a few questions for you or for whoever is in charge." I responded.

____"I'm the owner. Please, come into my office." Jeff led me to his office. I took a seat in his office, which was adorned with posters that dealt with car customization. "So, Mr. Hall, what can I do for you?" Jeff asked as he leaned back in his chair.

____"I have a question about one of your client's cars. It's a pearl white Lexus coupe with limousine tint and it probably had 20"--22" inch rims." I stated.

____"Of course. The guy who owns that car is one of our best customers. That was his second vehicle he brought to our shop. The first one we did for him was a black Cadillac Escalade with twenty-two inch rims. We had so much a/v equipment in that car it was ridiculous. Money was no object to him." Jeff said enthusiastically.

____"Do you remember the guy's name? Do you know where he lives?"

____"His name is Raymond Stiles. He lives on 223 Overbrook Drive, just a few miles away from this hop. May I ask why you want to know all this?" Jeff asked curiously.

____"He may have had something to do with my wife's murder. His car was parked outside of my house one night. Someone that was in this particular car stepped out, rung my house doorbell, and put two nine millimeter bullets in my wife's chest when she answered the door." I stated plainly.
____Jeff stood back slightly surprised. "I'm sorry to hear that."
____"Yeah, me too." I answered back. I exited the shop and drove onto 223 Overbrook Drive.

____While driving to my destination, I could not fully express the emotions that ran through my mind. At first, I felt anxiety, due to the gravity of the situation at hand. I was one step closer in finding the much-needed answers in the investigation. The second emotion was anger. "What would I do if I knew for sure that this is the man who killed my wife?" I asked myself that question countless times. Finally, I reached 223 Overbrook Drive.
____The details on Stiles' financial capabilities that Jeff at A.Z.E. Car Customs provided did not coincide with the Raymond Stiles' home. The house was not what I was quite expecting. Instead of a large, high profile, 20 million dollar estate, the home at 223 Overbrook Drive was a two story white wood house with black window sills, a luscious and vibrant garden which consisted of several exotic flowers and the two cars that Jeff described. Although the Lexus coupe and the Cadillac Escalade are mainstays in Long Beach, California, the customization and the detail put into each vehicle make them stand out from the rest. I could tell by just looking at each car that the amount of equipment and accessories put into them would pay the salaries of two high school teachers. I approached the front door and began to ring the doorbell.
____Oddly enough, I began to visualize what had happened on that eventful night. A young gorgeous and well-dressed woman answered the door. "May I help you?" she asked.
____"Yes, I'm Michael Stiles, Los Angeles Police Department. I was wondering if a Raymond Stiles was at home?" I asked.
____"He was, but he has left." She pulled out her insurance information that she carried in her Gucci purse, and handed it to me. Sure enough, she was right.
____"Do you know where he went? Marcia, it is very important that I speak with him." I handed back her insurance card.
____"He went to meet some guy that he does business with. It's at a newly renovated office building about 25 miles from here," Marcia responded. "Thank you. I'm sorry to trouble you, miss." I said as I left the house. Marcia didn't seem to be to bright. She hadn't asked to see my badge.


_____I stopped at a gas station approximately five miles away from the office building that Marie said Stiles would be seen at. However, I began to act on a hunch, and called the precinct on my cell phone. Luckily, Shaun picked up the phone. "Los Angeles Police Department, Officer bell speaking." Shaun answered."Shaun, I need a favor. Can you do a search for a Raymond Stiles? S-T-I-L-E-S. Thanks, I owe you one." momentarily, I arrived about a few yards away from the office building. "This office building seems vaguely familiar to me." I said to myself, taking a good look at the building. "Yeah, I remember this place."
_____ It was two years ago. An informant gave the precinct a tip on a drug deal that went down at this place." We had disregarded it as some guy playing a practical joke, but when the aliases "White Magic" and "Breeze" were mentioned, we knew it was legitimate. White Magic's real name was Kevin Veracruz. Breeze's real name was... And then it dawned on me. Breeze's real name was Joseph Stiles. I had put Raymond Stile's father away for life.
_____Having illegal drugs with the intention of distributing could get anyone 25 years at the maximum, but he was wanted in at least half a dozen murders that had stretched across the continental United States. It had been a pretty good collar, but it eventually had also paid a heavy price. My wife's murder was an act of revenge in part of an only son, willing to save face for his incarcerated father.

_________________________________ * * *

____I didn't go straight home after having that startling discovery.I should have known that something like this would happen. Considering the pull that the Stiles family had in Los Angeles, it was amazing that something of a lesser magnitude had not occurred sooner. I decided to head to The Black Sun, a bar, to drown my sorrows. This is the very bar where I had met Carla, and where I had been putting aside my inner demons. The bartender, whose name was Larry, recognized me from years past, and asked me what I'd like to drink.
____"Let's start with a beer," I said, as I picked through the roasted peanuts.
____"You seem out of it," he said as he set the beer bottle in front of me. "Bad day at the precinct?"
____"I quit four and a half months ago. Every day after that was a bad day." I said, getting ready to drink my beer."
____"Why did you quit?" Larry asked. I started to get disgusted with Larry. "Where have you been for the past three months? She's dead. On 9/11 some guy looking for revenge after I put his old man away for life shot my wife at the front door. To top that all off, the captain of my former precinct kept me off her case. THAT is why I quit. Are you satisfied now?" I asked, too pissed off to drink. I paid for my untouched beer and walked out.
____While I sat in my SUB collecting my thoughts, I was glad that I didn't drink that beer. If I got started, I would be going non-stop until I had drunk myself into a deeper hole. I knew that the only way for me to get any answers in this case was to head back to the place that I had begun to loathe. I would have to head back to my old precinct and reconcile with Captain Hayes.

_____As I stepped into the precinct, I got a somewhat warm welcome from my colleagues as I made my way to the caption's office. Shaun stopped me halfway, and led me to the lounge room.
_____"So, Mike, what's going on with that investigation?" Shaun asked, as he went to pour himself a cup of coffee.
_____"Coffee this late? The investigation is going good. I found out something about my suspect."
_____"What?"
_____"Shaun, the guy who owns that car is Raymond Stiles. He is the son of Joseph "Breeze" Stiles." Shaun almost dropped his coffee on his lap when I told him that. Breeze Stiles had been the biggest drug dealer on the West Coast.
____"Woah! So this guy who killed your wife took revenge for his old man who is rotting in a prison cell for life?"
____"Yeah, and I think I need to speak with the captain. I'm thinking of rejoining the force."
____"Really? From what the captain told me, Mike, you were on leave. Your badge and gun never left that same spot on the desk where you put them." Shaun took another sip.

____After learning that, it seemed that getting my job back would be a piece of cake. I arrived at Captain Haye's office door and knocked three times.

____"Come in," Hayes said. As I opened the door, I noticed my gun and badges still sitting in the same place I had left them. The captain looked up, and gave me a slight grin. "Michael, just the man I wanted to see. I gather you see your things are still here." Hayes stood to shake my hand.

____"Yes, it's a little surprising," I responded. "Listen sir, about our last meeting. I wanted to apologize for my brashness. I was ticked off about the investigation, and..."

____"Michael, I'm putting you back on the force. After you left that day, I was kicking myself ever since. Instead of thinking about the morale of my officers, I was thinking about the upcoming budget committee meeting, and what we could add on with our repertoire of guns, armor, and ammunition. If you want your job back, it's yours."

____Surprised, I only answered, "O.K."

______________________________ * * *


I set up a meeting at the precinct to talk with the man who had my wife killed. There was no doubt in my mind that wit would be an emotional confrontation. I sat in the interrogation room where the prisoners met with family and their lawyers. The entrance opened to reveal Joseph "Breeze" Stiles, the man I had put away for life. The look on his face was one of slight astonishment, as he took his seat across from me. "Well, well, if it isn't Michael Hall, the boy who put me here. I can't say that I'm pleased to see you here, but I am--"
____"Disappointed that your son couldn't do his job? I interrupted, "Well, for your own expense and pleasure, he did. He took away the only thing that meant something to me."
_____"Your wife's death was an accident. He was supposed to kill you."
_____"An accident, huh?" Infuriated, I raised my voice,"Let's say that I shot you right here and now. What would you call that?"
_____Joseph looked at me with a slight grin."I'd call it 'police brutality,'." With that, I rose from the chair, slamming Joseph down on the ground, my handgun drawn and cocked as I aimed it against his temple.
_____"Why shouldn't I kill you now? Why shouldn't I rid myself of the man who took everything from me?"

_____"Because when you kill me, the pain will never fully go away. I've wronged you in the worst way imaginable, as you have wronged me. I was trying to rebuild a relationship with my son. My only son Raymond. I will never see what the world can offer a man who wants to start over again.
_____"Go ahead. Do it," Joseph said as he closed his eyes. "I'm already dead."

_____The notion of killing him seemed very tempting, but in my mind, my wife's voice came into fruition but the words that she spoke did not come from her exactly. "Sometimes life isn't fair. We are not meant to have all the things that we want. But when certain things, or when certain people come into our lives, some of us cherish them. The others are the ones who forget they are gifts from God. You, of all people, should realize that.
_____"You loved me as much as I loved you. Vengeance is a thing that never gets the full justice that it deserves. My body is no longer here. But my love and my memories remain. If you kill him, you are no better than the one that took my life."
_____After hearing her voice, I withdrew the gun from Joseph's temple and backed away. "You and your son will get reacquainted here. It looks like we'll both get what we wanted," I said as I exited the room.
____Myself and several squad cars arrived at Raymond Stiles' home. Apparently, Joseph had spoken to him after my visit. Raymond stood at the doorway with his hands up. I was the first to get to Raymond. I placed my handcuffs on him, and escorted him to the police car. As he entered the car, he gave me the oddest stare. It was not a stirrer that indicated anger or happiness. It was a look that could be found on men and women that had regrets on things that they have done in the past. They knew wholeheartedly that there was nothing they could do to change what was done. It was at that very moment that I forgave the men who had taken Carla's life.
____I walked away from the car and watched it drive off. I went over to my car to sit inside, but I fumbled with the keys holding back tears that had not been shed in moths. They were tears of both pain and happiness. I was relieved to have ended this ordeal in a positive note. Yet although I had succeeded, the emptiness still resided. Joseph was right. The pain never seems to go away.

____A few days later, I went to Carla's gravesite for the first time in four months. It was the start of the New Year, but the past seemed to heave reared its ugly head, into everyone's thoughts. On September 11th, 2001, my life changed dramatically, as well as it did for those who were unfortunate to heave witnessed the atrocities that occurred that day. I still had my sunglasses but I threw them to the ground as I knelt at her grave.
____"There are some things in life I'll never understand. Did Bush's brother tamper with those absentee ballots? Did O.J. Simpson really kill his wife? What if I never was a police officer? Would you still be alive if I weren't? I can never be sure of those things.
____"They may come to me one day, or stay forever hidden. However, I do know one thing. I'm grateful for the time we spent together. I cherished every moment that we shared, although I did not seem to show it. Thank you for giving me understanding. Thank you for giving me honesty. Thank you for giving me love. These things I will find hard to repay. Rest in peace."
____I lay a bouquet of assorted flowers on her tombstone. With that, I walked away from her grave, renewed and collected. Bengeance is not as fulfiling as some would hope. We have seen in the past when persons take the law into their own hands. The satisfaction in finally getting justice for any wrong that was done unto one person is a passing thing.
____When one goes as far as taking a life for a life, the guilt begins to set in. We start to become the monster that everyone fears. My wife is gone, but her pesence is felt everyday. This is dedicated to those that have lost someone dear to them through violence or ill circumstances. Remember these words,
"Dearly beloved, avenge not youselves, but rather give place unto wriath: For it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord."
--Romans 12:19

[David Brandon Thomas lives and works in a small farming and logging community in Coastal Georgia. During the days, he works at a warehouse. He is a writer who aspires to make films.]

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