DAVE WICKENDEN - JACK-IN-THE-BOX
Based on Real Events
The radio squawked breaking the early morning silence, “All Units in the area of Parkland, respond to a 10-32, Man with a Gun in the rear lane of 734 Jethro Road. Two suspects, Caucasian, involved in vehicle B&E.”
I felt a sudden urge to vomit and had to swallow hard to keep my stomach where it should stay. After twelve years of speed traps, domestics and the odd drug shake down; this was my first gun call.
Slapping the gearshift into drive, the cruiser jumped like a racehorse given his head as I depressed the transmit button. “Eleven Bravo acknowledge. Three minutes out.”
Splattering slush arced towards the sidewalk as I sped down Oat St and passed the corner of Jethro Road. I locked the rear wheels into a slide that stopped before the rail tracks, facing the laneway that ran behind several older tenement buildings. As I pounded over the ruts in the gravel alley, my head bounced like a bubble head. A man in a blinding hunter orange jacket stepped between two vehicles and raised his arm to flag me down.
As I slowed to a halt, I dropped the window and felt immense relief at hearing approaching sirens approaching in the distance. I wouldn’t be alone.
“Little bastards took off that way,” said the man pointing towards the bridge that ran over the train tracks one street over. I could see foot prints cutting through the fresh snow angling across a back yard, headed for the opposite street. Pulling the cruiser off the main part of the roadway, I radioed the incoming units the direction the suspects had headed off in and stepped out into the damp fall air.
“I had just loaded my shotgun into the truck for the morning hunt and went back inside for the rest of my gear, when I saw these two smash the window of my driver’s door and grab my gun and my packsack.”
“Was the gun loaded,” I asked knowing the damage a 12 gauge could do to a person.
“No, but the shells were in my bag and the keys for the trigger lock.” He gave me the specifics of the gun and the contents of the bag.
“Eleven Bravo to all units, suspects are armed with a shotgun.”
“Sir, please go inside. Someone will come see you for more information.” Not waiting for him to acknowledge, I jogged through a rear yard following the tracks. I kept to one side so not to mix up the prints or the scent.
I scanned the neighborhood ahead of the trail, but nothing was moving. The double line of footprints, running shoes by the tread marks, crossed the bridge before turning in between another two buildings. There was a spot on the edge of the bridge where the foot prints had trampled two circles in the wet slush from last night’s snowfall. From that spot, I could see into the back yard where the hunter stood watching my progress. The perps had watched him pack his weapon into the vehicle and took advantage of the opportunity. They hadn’t expected such a fast response.
I crossed the bridge as one of the other responders slowed at the intersection and I pointed the direction the suspects had taken. The cruiser sped up down the main avenue to the next cross street while I continued on foot, slipping on the wet snow that sat over the still unfrozen grass. I could feel the cold moisture seeping into the leather boots even though I must have used half a jar of water proofer on them. I knew I would end up sick as a dog before this was over.
Running between the two buildings, I slowed as I came to the corner and peeked around the vinyl siding in the direction the visible prints went. Braced for a blast from that shotgun they were lugging. I knew my vest would absorb the blast, but would do nothing for my head or lower extremities.
No explosion of pain or noise met me and I let out a shuttering breath of relief. The trail crossed another back yard and met another laneway. There was a patch of slush that looked like one suspect had slipped and fallen. A shock of wet grass spread in a gash, breaking the dirty white layer of snow. I took extra care as I closed on the track. The last thing I needed was to fall in the drenching mire. That, on top of the wet shoes would be the death of me. Sick time would take a kicking.
At the alley, deep fresh mud tracks gave clear prints. We could cast them as evidence if we captured them. I stepped wide around them and found snow mixed with mud foot prints cross the next yard and up a set of steps to a second-story apartment. Trash piled high beneath the stairs and there was little upkeep in this older building.
Keeping a close eye on the windows, I ran past the stairs and out to the front of the house. At the street, I keyed my mic and said, “Eleven Bravo to dispatch. Suspects have entered a two story dwelling at 19 Willard Avenue.”
Within seconds, the whine of tires spinning for traction on the slick pavements came from both ends of the street and closed on my position. I pointed to the upper floor and while one officer, shotgun to his shoulder covering the building, the other ran bent over to where I was standing between the two rundown buildings.
“Suspects grabbed a Lakefield Mossberg pump action in a green carrying case and a bag containing a variety of items including 12 gauge shells,” I said to Griffith, my new best friend. I felt a less nervous having backup. He nodded and together we mounted the staircase.
At the top, the covered landing opened to two entrances. Beer cases and more garbage bags covered all but a trail to the doors. It was obvious we were dealing with a pair of high class perps. The one thing that stopped me cold was the empty diaper boxes among the refuse. It can get dicey when kids involved.
Keeping out of the direct line of the first door, I hammered at the door with a gloved fist. When there was no response, I rapped again. “Police, Open up!”
Somewhere deep in the apartment, came a startled cry of a child. It rose in volume as the door cracked open and the face of a woman, her eyes squinting at the early morning light, hair falling across her face in a disheveled mess.
“What’s wrong,” she croaked blinking at my uniform.
“We believe two men armed with a weapon entered this building. Are you alone, Miss?”
Her eyes opened in fright as she shook her head. “Just me and my little girl.”
“Do you know who lives next door?”
She nodded but refused to elaborate and I could read the fear in her expression as her eyes darted back and forth from me to the sound of her child’s cries.
“Why don’t you grab your girl and come with me?” I said giving her a chance to get to safety.
She nodded and turned back towards the bedrooms and the wailing child. I kept my foot in the threshold so the door would not close behind her. My hand was on the butt of my service pistol just in case she was lying about being alone. The cries died out, and she came out of the bedroom with the tear stained little girl wrapped in her blanket. Without ceremony she pressed the toddler into my arms which drew a scared whimper, pulled on a pair of boots and a large hoodie before retrieving the girl.
“Thank you,” she whispered as she squeezed past me to descend the stairs.
With Griffith guarding the entrance, I entered the woman’s apartment and did a quick sweep to ensure there were no other occupants. Retracing my steps to the landing, we positioned ourselves on either side of the door which was no easy feat because of the accumulative trash. Much of it was rank, and I prayed it would not adhere to my clothes. I was leaning deep into it to clear the doorway.
With a nod to Griffith, I pounded on the door and repeated my call to open the door. There was a crash of glass within the apartment and we froze, both wondering what was happening on the other side of the wall.
“Suspect has rabbited,” said a voice that expressed amazement. “He jumped from the second story. 10-43 in pursuit. No sign of a weapon.”
Griffith and I exchanged glances. There was still one unaccounted for. He had to be in the unit. There had been two sets of tracks going up the stairs. I raised a single finger up to my partner and then pointed at the door with my thumb. He nodded.
“The building is surrounded,” I yelled. “Let’s end this with no one getting hurt.”
My imagination was in high gear and I could picture some scared punk, the shotgun getting heavier and swaying as he pointed it toward the door. He would be desperate and there was no way of estimating what he might do at this point.
The seconds dragged by as we posed there, both waiting to see what the guy might do. My nerves were dancing on a live wire and I had to force myself to take long, deep breaths to calm myself. A trickle of sweat dripped from Griffith’s hairline and I realized that he was just as scared. That knowledge helped to steady me. We were feeling normal reactions to a high-stress situation.
As if reading each other’s minds, Griffith pointed at the door and then to himself and I drew my pistol. Seeing me, he did the same. There was no Sergeant to write us up for drawing our weapons, but we would at least be ready if the guy was waiting for us with a loaded shotgun.
Griffith wormed his body forward so only his legs were before the door. He drew back one of his thick-soled boots and like a piston, rammed it under the doorknob. There was a cracking sound as the old wood splintered and the door swung open to slam into the wall. Griffin’s pistol aimed into the apartment from his position on the floor as I curled around the frame, my weapon scanning for threats. There was no sign of the perp. With my gun arm extended, I reached down and helped Griffith to his feet.
The unit held a kitchen-living room with two open doors; one leading to a bath and the other to a bedroom. The first thing I noticed was the green gun case on the table. Keeping my firearm aimed towards the two other rooms, I sidestepped an overflowing garbage can and stepped towards the table. It took a second to confirm that the gun was still secure within the case. I felt a ton of relief but also felt my knees sag and I had to force myself to keep standing. Together, we cleared the two other rooms but there was no sign of the second suspect.
After we both holstered our weapons, we radioed an update. Seconds later, there was a pounding of feet on the stairs and the Staff Sergeant poked his head into the unit.
“Are you sure there were two?” he asked.
“Yes sir,” I said. “The gun owner saw two suspects boost the gun, and I followed two sets of tracks from the scene to this building.”
“There were two sets of fresh prints on the stairs,” said Griffith backing up what I had said.
“Only one went through the window and they have him squirreled away in an attic two houses down the street,” said the supervisor. “So the guy must be here somewhere. Double check everything.”
Griffith and I split up with him going through the kitchen cupboards while I went through the bedroom. I checked under the bed but there was nothing but dirty clothes and an army of dust bunnies. The closet held a pile of clothes in one corner which I pushed around to insure he hadn’t burrowed himself under and two suitcases in the other. Neither room had an attic access, so he hadn’t copied his partner’s genius strategy of hiding in a dead end hole.
When I left the room, I could hear Griffith in the bath. Remembering the stink of the garbage on the landing, I stepped out of the unit and tossed garbage bags down the staircase, thankful of the leather, puncture resistant gloves I was wearing. Still there was no sign of him.
The door of the first unit which held the woman and child was still open, so I went through her apartment once again. The difference in the two units was remarkable. The young mother took pride in her home. It was clean and bright with crayon and marker pictures posted throughout. Although careful not to miss any hiding space, I was mindful not to just toss the place. A single parent didn’t need the extra grief.
I finished up, not finding anything suspicious and walked back out to the landing to find Griffith shaking his head.
“I can’t figure it out, Mark,” he said frustration written in his expression.
“Could he have pulled a Davy Crockett and backtracked, stepping in the prints he made going up?
His eyebrow rose as he considered this and shrugged.
Both of us began making our notes as we waited for the Criminal Investigation (CID) people with their cameras and other evidence gathering equipment. When the radio announced that the other suspect had been captured, we both let out a breath of relief. He might enlighten us on his partner’s disappearing act.
CID went over the apartment and the recovered stolen items, photographing and entering anything that might be evidence. It was a painstaking and slow procedure but we were all aware of how a case could be lost by the smallest omission. Everything was in the details.
After a full hour and a half, they packed their gear and left us to contend with the apartment. The landlord was on the scene and we would turn the unit over to him to secure. We walked him through the unit so he could see the state of his property.
“I would suggest you get rid of the garbage in the landing and under the stairs as I’m sure our friends at Fire Services would consider it a fire hazard and might give you some grief,” I said thinking it might also make it a better place for the other tenants.
He nodded his head with a bored expression and from the facial exchange with Griffith, I knew we would have to follow up with the Fire Inspection Department to get any action from this slumlord.
While he fitted a lock hasp to the door frame, I looked over the unit one last time as if it would reveal where the second suspect had gone. But there was nothing but trash and a tired, worn out sense of lost hope.
I stepped towards the door when I heard it. I’ve heard people say their blood went cold and until then, it was just a phrase. At that moment, I knew what they meant.
The sound was low and animalistic. A groan—of pain or despair—I could not discern, but it sounded desperate.
I spun in place, raising my hand to silence the landlord. I heard Griffith re-enter the unit and move to one side. I stood there rooted in place, my senses reaching out to determine where the noise had originated. Long minutes later, another low moan followed by a strained whimper. I looked back and Griffith nodded. He’d heard it. It was coming from the bedroom.
I entered the room, allowing my eyes to scan the interior, but saw nothing. Moving aside, I allowed enough room for my partner to enter and we stood in silence. Minutes passed with nothing but the pounding of my pulse in my ears.
It came again, louder because of the closed area. It originated from the closet. I closed on the recess, seeing the pile of clothes and the suitcases. The bar that hung for jackets and shirts was almost empty. Other than that, it was empty.
Subtle movement made me jump like oil on a hot skillet. It was a tremor rather than actual movement. One suitcase, a large, soft-shell with ‘Delsey’ stenciled across the fabric shuddered as if the building was feeling the aftershock of an earthquake. Its sides bowed outward and seemed to squat on its caster wheels.
With my foot, I tapped the side of the case. This brought forth an agonizing grunt, and I looked back at Griffith. His eyes were wide, and I noticed he had his pistol half drawn out of its holster. He swallowed hard and nodded to continue.
I reached for one of the leather buckles and undid the closest. The further one followed, causing the zipper to take the full weight of whatever was inside. I grasped the pull tabs on both sliders and pulled them apart. As they opened, the contents shifted and the teeth of the zipper pulled apart and the body of our missing suspect slid out of the case into a tangled heap on the floor. I fell back onto the pile of clothing in the far end of the closet to avoid the mess of bent arms and legs.
The suspect lay panting like a dog left in a vehicle on a hot day. He was pale, yet slick with perspiration. His limbs looked were locked in place with his knees pressed to his chest and his arms and hands squeezed together as if in prayer. He looked like a mummified child found in the Andes from some ancient civilization.
Behind me, Griffith says, “A regular Jack-in-the-box, with a broken spring.” The comment release more tension than he knew.
When I reached out to roll him over, he groaned as his entire body moved as a unit.
“I think his arms and legs are frozen in place from being cramped in the suitcase for so long,” Griffith said in an amazed tone. “I’ll radio for an ambulance. This boy is not walking out of here soon.”
A half hour later, Emergency Medical Services carted our suspect down the back stairs on a stretcher as he moaned and groaned as blood began to reach the lower extremities. The Staff Sergeant had returned and after looking at us in disbelief as we explained how we found him, he half-heartedly chastised us for doing an improper search of the unit. We could tell that there was no way in hell he would have found the suspect if the roles were reversed.
“I’ll stop and pick us up two coffees before I head back to the station to fill out our report,” Griffith said as we descended the stairs.
“I’ll be right behind you,” I told him. “I have to go back and inform our happy hunter he won’t be getting his shotgun back soon.”
He moved to the street. I stopped and listened to the water dripping off the trees as the morning sun melted last night’s snow. The sun felt good on my face and although I had been up all night on the graveyard shift, the fact that no one was hurt in this dangerous incident pushed the weariness away. It was a good feeling.