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Rites of Passage

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There were a lot of advantages to shifts. You could shop outside peak times, without the crush of other people and long lines for the check-out. You could get to work in the morning and back at the end of the day without the congestion on the roads normal for rush hour. You could have a lovely long lazy lie in, cuddling with your wife when everyone else was running the rat race. You regularly had ‘long weekends’ when others were limited to a tiny number each year. But then there were evenings like this: when you couldn’t take your daughter out trick-or-treating like other dads.

It was Sadie’s first Halloween to go out on her own. Well…not really on her own. No well-brought up child with watchful parents ever went entirely on her own. And she still wasn’t old enough yet to go with a group of her own friends. Wordy’s kids were taking her trick-or-treating. They had come over earlier, bringing with them garish make-up and costumes made out of old clothes and bits of material, plus empty pillow cases, ready for all the candy they would collect. After helping to carve the pumpkin, they had showed Sam and Jules the simple tap dances and card tricks they had planned, just in case someone asked them for a trick. It would only be a pensioner who asked. Mostly people didn’t remember that old custom; but every once in a while some elderly person answering the door would demand they earn their treat, and Wordy had taught them to be prepared.

Sam watched, savouring the precious moments as Jules insisted their excited daughter wore woolly tights and three layers of thermal vests before she helped Sadie get dressed in her outfit: a pretty pink and white frilly dress, a couple of sizes too big, that Sam had brought home a week earlier, to which he had added large wings improvised from gauze and wire, decorated with glitter. Jules had glued a star made from foil and cardboard to the top of a length of white painted dowelling, so their little fairy princess would have a wand. Sam held his arm protectively round Jules’ waist and she leaned her head on his shoulder, eyes swimming with bittersweet happiness, as they stood in the doorway to wave goodbye to two hobos, a teenage witch in a long black cloak and pointed hat (placed in charge of the group), and their own giggling daughter.

Last year Sam had stayed at home shelling-out while Jules had shepherded their three year old to a carefully pre-selected handful of neighbouring doors, helping her to say the ritual words, reminding her to say thank you, before bringing her back home to sort through the candy kisses, peanuts, tiny boxes of raisins, bubble gum, and bite-size chocolate bars she had collected. How they would like to have gone with four-year old Sadie this year: to stand and watch her from the sidewalk as she went successively up each of the garden paths to knock on the front doors of the houses along their street. To see her run back to one of them proud of having done it all by herself, excited by the growing weight of candy she was collecting. Instead, they saw her off with a friend’s children. Well that too was a rite of passage, even if one which had come – from Jules’ perspective at least – one year too soon.

But Sam was working tonight. And Jules: she looked down at her bulging tummy and, in the age-old gesture of all pregnant mothers, stroked her hands around the shape of the baby she could feel within. Too much walking, the midwife had said – best sit it out this year. If she could see them past her belly, Jules knew she would see swollen ankles. She was grounded for the duration. Sam emptied the big bags of candy into a large bowl he placed on a small table near the door and helped her to get settled in an easy chair he positioned strategically close to the door handle, before he kissed her lightly, said goodbye, and drove to work.

The previous shift had cleared a number of outstanding warrants. Early into their shift, Team One made one visit to a house where they arrested the father just as he was on the point of taking his little boy out trick-or-treating. After booking the unlucky individual into custody, a searching look at the faces of his colleagues, decided Ed Lane this would be a night devoted to finishing overdue paperwork. Arresting a man in front of a five year old Superman had hit home that bit too hard. The team ate orange and chocolate donuts from Tim Horton’s, and drank endless cups of coffee, grateful for the respite from emergencies. Halloween was normally a quiet night – for them, at least.

Halloween could, however, be busy for the regular shift: pranged cars caused by motorists who swerved suddenly when a kid darted out (usually it was the parked car that came off the worst), lost kids (usually just home later than their parents expected because the kid decided to do an extra street after he’d been told not to go that far), and rowdy teenagers (that bit too old for trick or treat), who had drunk a few cans (often nicked from the local shop) and decided it would be fun to take the little kids’ candy. But although it kept the uniformed service busy, it was generally a happy night. It wasn’t that there were no burglaries or drive-bys; but there just never seemed to be as many. Maybe the burglars stayed home to dish out candy to kids too? Team One celebrated by sharing the latest pictures of their own children in costume and catching up.

Sam was back with them as Team Leader. A few months after Sadie was born he had been promoted to the Leader of Team Three; but he’d only stayed with them one year, before being seconded for a while to Guns & Gangs. Now he was posted back to the SRU to brush up his skills. (He was tipped to be the next Sergeant to Team Two when Matt Shaw retired in four months.) It was Sam’s first night back with Team One and he’d been given an iced pumpkin muffin with a candle stuck on top in welcome.

“Hey, guys – look at this!” Sam exclaimed.

As usual Spike had a laptop open. Sam turned the screen to show the rest of the team a series of pictures of naked men – and one woman – blindfolded and tied up. Detailed directions about how to tie the knots accompanied the photos.

“Spike – is there something we should know about you?” asked Ed archly, eyebrows lifted, “something perhaps you didn’t reveal to Father Confessor when you went to mass last Sunday?”

“Or tell his mother,” put in Leah.

“Or Winnie!” added Sam.

“Come on guys,” Spike protested, “I was just looking.”

“We can see that, boy. But looking for what?”

Spike blushed bright red. “I read an article, in one of those women's magazine's that my Mom takes, that said six out of ten marriages run into trouble because the sense of adventure goes out of the relationship and the sex gets boring, especially after the children come along.”

“Spike, you finally got the woman to agree to marry you after four years of asking; the wedding is in two weeks; and now you’re worried about getting bored in marriage?” Ed’s astonishment was palpable.

“Not me!” Spike protested. “I’m just doing forward planning in case Winnie wants something a little different, that’s all.”

“A little different?” Ed shook his head.

Sam laughed, “We all know how eager you are to finally tie the knot, Spike, but isn’t tying each other together just a touch extreme?”

“I’m just considering every option– that’s all!” Spike protested.

Somehow I can’t see Winnie tying you up,” Ed offered. “Now, if it was Jules going after Sam, that would be another matter!”

“But not until after the baby is born,” Leah retorted.

“And only if Sam suggests having another,” Ed joked.

“However did you even get onto that website with a work computer?” asked Leah, wonderingly.

“I disabled the security protocols,” Spike said sheepishly.

Any reply Ed might have made, as Team Sergeant, was pre-empted by the familiar claxon sounding through the station, and the tannoy announcement:

“Hot call – suit-up - armed home invasion in progress!”

Ed gestured toward the exit, “Come on folks – you know the drill. Let’s move it! ”

They were fed information as they drove toward North Toronto.

“It’s going down at No 20 Birdsall Avenue. Mrs Holmes, the neighbour who lives across the street at No 11, called it in. She has a clear view of the neighbour’s living room and could see the wife tied up and a masked intruder waving a gun,” briefed Pearl from Dispatch.

“Spike–” Ed started.

“I’m on it boss: floor plan and specifications – I should have them for you in a few seconds.”

“Now, that’s putting those computer skills to good use,” Ed approved.

Their approach was silent, lights flashing, but without the alarms which would alert the perpetrators inside the house. It was a small side street in a quiet older neighbourhood. Near the crossroad road where they turned in was a retirement home. The rest of the street was houses, all brick built and traditional looking, with fresh paint on the wood trim and well-kept gardens, suggesting money was no problem.

Only the corner house opposite the residential home showed a light on the porch and a carved pumpkin in the window. Homes in this area tended to have teenage children, when they had any at all. A lot of the owners would be parents whose families were grown, and at university at least, if not living independently. Their days of trick-or-treat were long since over. Maybe they’d be out at Halloween parties – maybe they’d be enjoying a quiet after-dinner coffee while they watched the latest PBS drama on TV, curtains decently drawn against the night. Either way, there wasn’t a lot of activity on the street, which meant there weren’t a lot of people to notice what was happening to the house across the way. Streetlamps were heavily shadowed by large trees that, given how mild Autumn had been, still had not completely dropped their leaves. The poor light levels and natural screening of homes by well-established shrubbery were ideal for criminals. Hopefully this was just a burglary gone wrong, Ed thought, not a real home invasion. This wasn’t a gang neighbourhood, after all; most home invasions were about turf wars or bad drug debts. They’d find out more from the neighbour.

Mrs Holmes had clearly been watching for them, and came down her porch steps the moment the team exited their vehicles. Ed left Sam to direct everyone into position while he confirmed location and got more details from the neighbour. “Get back inside, Ma’am, and leave it to us,” he recommended, as he returned to brief his team.

“She was getting her husband and herself coffee and pumpkin pie when she saw what was happening from her kitchen window.” Ed studied the house schematic as he briefed them all over the team’s link. “The house that was broken into changed hands recently; no one knows the new owners very well. Quiet couple – younger than most of the rest on the street – no children. He works away a lot, and is out of town on a business trip right now. The neighbour knows this because her husband had a chat with the wife this morning while they were putting the bins out. Wife’s a nurse and works shifts at St Patrick’s Hospital. Mrs Holmes thought she was working tonight which is why she was surprised to see a light showing across the street as she went through to the kitchen, so she made a point of looking.”

“Credible?” Sam asked.

“I think so,” Ed said.

“Even though she isn’t directly opposite and must have craned her head round a corner and a half to see what she saw?” Leah questioned.

“Yeah, but she looks ultra-respectable and should make a good witness, especially given what she said about the man of the household being away,” Ed countered. “In this part of town, being neighbourly means keeping an eye on one another, especially if you think a house is empty for the evening.”

“Got to love the neighbourhood busybody who knows everyone else’s business,” commented Leah.

“The living room curtains are closed now,” remarked Ed. “Spike – what have you got?”

“Thermal imaging places two people close together in the living room; they’re too close to distinguish between them,” Spike briefed over the earpiece.

“I’m in position but no solution,” confirmed Leah. Her vantage point gave her clear view of the living room window, but with the curtains closed they were reliant on technology to ‘see’ what was happening inside.

Ed took a deep breath and nodded, “Do it, Sam.”

“Police Strategic Response Unit – we have you covered front and back. Sir, will you lay down your weapon and open the door please,” announced Sam through the loudspeaker in stentorian tones.

There was a tense moment while the team wondered if dynamic entry would be needed. Then, the curtains twitched open a crack.

“We’ve got their attention, folks,” Spike announced. “Smaller person seated and still – the other has moved across the room.

“I have the solution,” Leah announced quietly.

Ed took over the loudspeaker from Sam as he repositioned himself slightly nearer the house. “Police SRU. Sir, come out with your hands up!”

There was a long tense moment before, slowly, the front door opened to reveal a male figure, garbed in black jogging suit and black and red ski mask. He held his hands open, fingers spread wide.

“Sir, put your hands on your head and kneel on the ground,” called Ed.

The suspect’s head jerked as he noticed Sam moving in closer, rifle ready for action. Ed repeated his instructions.

The perp’s legs visibly shook as his knees bent. Spike did the honours with handcuffs, then pulled the ski mask from the man’s head.

There was a loud gasp from the neighbour; Ed swivelled to discover Mrs Holmes had taken advantage of the fact police were completely focused on the confrontation to leave the safety of her porch. She stood just behind him.

“But that’s Joe!” Mrs Holmes protested, clearly shocked.

“Joe?” said Ed. “You know the assailant?”

“Assailant...?” She sounded bewildered. “But it’s Joe.”

“Who’s Joe, Ma’am?” asked Ed patiently.

“My neighbour – I mean…he lives there. It’s his house…he must have got back early….

Driving back there was much banter between the vehicles.

“Just let that be a lesson to you Spike, when you decide to try out bondage with the Missus,” joked Sam. “Always remember to close the curtains.”

It provoked another round of catcalls, snarky (and very un-PC) comments (all of which Spike took with good humour) and much laughter. Relieved laughter: had it been a real armed break-in the call could have gone quite differently.

They had not quite reached the station, when the call for urgent assistance came in. Pearl replayed the radio message as they speeded to the scene.

“He’s shooting through the windows! Officer down – officer down!”

Sam looked across at Spike, whose eyes looked no less appalled. That had sounded like Dean Parker.

“What’s the background, Pearl?” asked Ed tensely. They were only a few blocks west of the incident.

“There was a missing child report earlier in the evening,” Pearl explained. “An officer in the area located her at a house a few streets away from her home. The home owner claimed it was his granddaughter staying with him; but something in what he was saying didn’t sit right. So Officer Carmichael radioed the other police who were already in the area looking to alert them he thought he might have found the girl, and talked his way inside.”

“And?”

“We’re not really sure what happened in the property but, after a few minutes, Carmichael came running out with the little girl over his shoulder. The perpetrator opened fire with a shotgun and both the child and officer were hit. Ambulance is on its way.”

News had inevitably got out and the streets were crowded as Team One approached. Bystanders shifted to allow their vehicles through the streets, then closed in behind. A loose perimeter had been established by several uniformed officers who were managing the situation, keeping people several paces back. TV and news stations always monitored police shortwave radio transmissions; it was no surprise to see a mobile camera crew near the front of the crowd. One officer appeared focused on keeping the newshounds under control. Usually they caused no trouble while an incident was ongoing. Like the SRU, they were old hands at volatile situations and knew to keep far enough back. Got to hand it to zoom lenses: they made for great pics from 100 paces!

As Team One parked, one ambulance left, blue lights on. A second ambulance had closely followed Team One through the crowd, and parked behind them. The paramedics exited swiftly and headed for a little group to one side, where an officer sat on the curb, wrapped in a blanket. Beside him sat two civilians, one of whom cuddled a small figure covered with another blanket.

All this Ed took in at a glance. “Who’s in charge Pearl?” Ed asked over his mic.

“No clear chain of command,” came the reply. “First on the scene was an experienced officer, now down. The officer who called for assistance is a rookie. The rest are simply nearby police who were able to respond quickly to the call for help.”

Ed rubbed his forehead in frustration, remembering seeing Greg do the same countless times. “Leah, they seem to be doing a good job; but see what you can do to support the officers on crowd control.

“On it boss.”

“Sam–” Ed need no give more than the barest prompt.

“Spike: get us a floor plan. Kyle: you’re covering round the back. Jack: Scorpio –that tree ought to give you a good vantage for–”

But Sam never finished deploying the team. The unmistakeable sound of a single shot rang out from the house. Framed by the living room’s picture window, they could see a man’s torso crumple and fall. There was a moment of stunned silence before Sam shook his head and said quietly, “Well, it’s a solution of a kind, I suppose.”

Ed shrugged. “You handle the mop-up,” he ordered, “I’ll see what’s happening over there.”

He headed for the paramedics, detouring slightly on the way to remind the uniformed officer babysitting the TV crew to keep them well back. Now the perp was dead, the risk was reduced, and the reporters would want to move closer. The last thing family needed was those vultures in their face, wanting candid footage. Ed checked in with the senior medic in charge. The first ambulance had taken Officer Carmichael to hospital. He had one wound in his right thigh, and had lost a lot of blood; he should live but the paramedics wouldn't hazard a guess whether he’d make a full recovery.

"That leg's pretty messed up," the paramedic told Ed. The first aid the other police officer gave him before the medics arrived saved his life; there were no more guarantees.

"And the kid?" asked Ed.

The paramedic shook his head sadly. The little girl had already been dead when they arrived. Her parents were with her now. The paramedics wanted to get the child to the morgue but the mother had been lost in her grief, oblivious to suggestions.

“If you can convince them….”

Ed nodded. “I’ll see what I can do.” As he approached, one of the civilians stood up and turned toward him.

“Sir?” Ed greeted him quietly. “I am so sorry for your loss.”

His heart sank as he recognised the man. Ed had dealt with him a few years before. SRU only dealt with serious situations, though – the kind few people ever encountered even once in a lifetime. What were the odds of any person becoming involved in a high risk confrontation twice? He looked down at the woman whose face he also remembered. She looked grey and drawn and much older than the last time he had seen her: sorrow did not become her.

“Why her,” Carrie McCormick wept as she cradled the still body of her child. “She was just an ordinary little girl – nothing special, except to us. She was our little miracle, our second chance.”

“I remember you,” said Frank McCormick quietly, looking at Ed.

“Sir?”

“You were there, that day, at the Lab, when I made the doctor do the tests again – when I got proof she’d made a mistake.”

“Yes, Mr McCormick, I was,” Ed acknowledged.

“I didn’t do anything wrong that time and our baby died.”

“No, Sir.” Out of the corner of his eye, Ed could see Sam approaching to report about what he had found in the house – could see the recognition on his face as he, too, realised who they were dealing with.

“And this time – did I do something wrong this time?” Frank McCormick asked. “Maybe I shouldn’t have let my daughter go trick-or-treating? Should I have taken her? But she wanted to go with her friends. I told her to stay with the group – I told her.”

Sam had reached them now; his eyes opened wide as he listened.

There was a brief pause, before the heartbroken father added, soberly, “I should never have let her go. This is all my fault.”

A panicked look crossed Sam’s face, and he turned away hurriedly.

Ed shook his head. “You can’t think that way. It was that nut-case’s fault, not yours. You just did what every dad would do. Kids grow up – they go out with their friends. She was in a group; you taught her the rules to keep her safe. You told her to stay with the group.”

Ed felt in unfamiliar territory – counselling territory. That was Greg’s domain, not his. He was all too conscious he wasn’t really listening to this poor bereaved man, not the way he should. Frank McCormick deserved all his attention. Nonetheless, half of Ed’s focus was on Sam on the phone to Jules, checking in, checking Sadie’s whereabouts, trying not to worry her even while he soothed his own incipient panic. Evidently whatever Jules said reassured; the rigid lines on Sam’s face relaxed. He, at least, was sorted.

Ed crouched down next to Carrie McCormick.

“May I see her?” he asked gently.

She was bent over her daughter’s body, rocking back and forth.

“Mrs McCormick?”

She looked up, dazed and unseeing at first, then looked into his eyes, made the connection, and caught her breath.

“May I see your little girl?”

She nodded, and turned slightly so he could see a small, motionless, white face and a tuft of blonde hair.

“She’s beautiful,” Ed said, soothingly.

Carrie nodded.

“It’s time for her to go to hospital,” Ed suggested softly.

“Frank?” Carrie McCormick looked round frantically, clearly searching.

“I’m here, Carrie.” Frank McCormick sat down on the other side of his wife and put an arm round her shoulders.

“I won’t let you take her away,” Carrie said adamantly, head up, ready to do battle with Ed. “I’m her mother – she needs me.”

“Of course she needs you. I wouldn't dream of taking her away from good parents like you and Frank,” Ed offered. “You and she go together. You and Frank and your daughter, all together.”

Carrie sniffed loudly, and nodded, clearly battling her tears, but allowed Frank and Ed to help her to stand, walk her to the ambulance, and climb in, clutching her child’s body all the while.

Ed stood and watched the taillights for a moment as the ambulance drove off slowly, before he turned back to Dean Parker, shivering under his blanket. He was sipping an energy drink one of the paramedics had given him; Sam sat beside him.

“Does he need to go to hospital?”

“He doesn’t have any injuries,” Sam explained, “but he’s had a bit of a shock.”

“Come on Dean,” Ed directed, “you ride back with us.”

“I…”

“Paperwork, buddy, always paperwork – and coffee.”

Dean nodded weakly.

* * * * * * *

It had taken a while before Ed had managed to get hold of him. Greg volunteered at a youth club which normally hosted a dance on Halloween nights; his cell phone had been turned off; and he hadn’t got home until gone 11 o’clock. Greg didn’t even bother ringing the buzzer to Dean’s building, just used his second key to let himself into the lobby and took the lift to the 14th floor. Really it was the 13th floor, but popular superstition meant this block of apartments didn’t have one, officially anyway. He remembered joking with Dean about it when he first moved: telling him he’d discover a mysterious thirteenth on Halloween night. Greg found his son seated at the small kitchen table, staring off into space. Perhaps he was seeing things on a different level; but Greg doubted anything supernatural had any part of that. A dirty whiskey glass and half empty bottle beside it attested to what Dean had been doing since he got off shift.

“I know from my own experience, there are no answers to be found that way,” Greg said quietly as he screwed the top on the bottle. He then got a jar of instant coffee from one of the cupboards, two mugs, and put the kettle on before he pulled a chair beside his son’s and sat down.

Slowly Dean’s head turned until he looked at his father straight on.

“Why?”

“I don’t know, son,” Greg shook his head sadly. “There are a lot of twisted people out there; every policeman knows that all too well.”

“I couldn’t do anything. I’m supposed to be there to help and I couldn’t do anything.

“I know, son.” Greg said, and then after a pause, “but you tried. That’s more than most people do. You kept the peace.”

“Kept the peace,” Dean sneered. “What’s the use of that when she died!”

“But nobody else died,” Greg reassured. “Scott Carmichael is alive because of the first aid you gave him and that’s something.”

“But I failed to protect her.” The anguish was deep in Dean’s voice. “She was alive when I arrived at the house – Scott was in there with her. I should have gone in. I should have helped more. He tried to save her. I didn’t even try. I should have saved her.”

“Oh, son – the ‘shoulds’ and oughts’ don’t work that way. You did your best: that’s all the ‘should’ there is. The rest is up to a higher power than you or me, both.”

“How do you live with it?” Dean asked brokenly. “I mean: failing.”

“I really don’t know that that’s something I can help with. We all have to find our own solutions. God knows, my way of dealing with things wasn’t the right one – been there, done that and believe me it’s not a t-shirt I ever wanted to hand on to you” Greg gestured toward the whiskey as he spoke.

Dean’s smile was mostly grimace, but it was at least an attempt. He was listening.

“Maybe you could talk to Ed about that.”

“Ed? Ed Lane!” Dean sounded startled. “I thought you were jealous of him.”

“Maybe I was – no…maybe I am.” Greg had learned to be honest the hard way.

A glimpse of that bottle as he spoke compelled the admission. This was not the time to fudge what there was between Dean and him.

“You and I missed so much time together after your mother left me, it just always seemed hard that once we found each other again, you listened more to Ed than me – especially when you gave up the chance to go to university to become a police officer.”

“So what’s different now?”

“I guess I’m learning to be father to my adult son. Ed’s been your mentor, and, based on what I heard about how you handled yourself tonight, a damned good one. No cop ever knows how he’s going to respond when he’s up against the kind of situation you faced. It’s a kind of rite of passage. Lots of cops never face it. But you did, and you ‘done good’. That’s what different.