They say you never forget your first one. My case was no exception. The way he looked, what he said, and how he touched me are details that will remain vivid until I draw my last breath. He was older than me – ten years or so, with a lean, muscular body and an athlete’s lithe grace. No man had ever looked at me the way he did, or whispered words that sent such shivers. My first one was tall, dark and handsome – and he wanted to kill me.
I was young and naive enough to believe that what I said would make a difference. I was still a rookie, just four days out of the Police Academy and sharp in my brand new blues and a gun belt with shiny leather, that still squeaked. I was working the afternoon watch when the call came: “Disturbance with the man.” En route to the assignment, Dispatch sent me two more updates.
“Looks like this is a domestic,” came the next report, and then, “Use caution. The caller is saying there are weapons involved.”
When I pulled up in front of the modest frame bungalow, the victim was on the porch, clutching her arm to her chest. The towel she’d wrapped around it was already sodden with blood, and her face and chest were smeared with it.
“There he is!” she shrieked. “There’s the one who did this! Kill the bastard!” She gestured to a tall man who stood placidly on the sidewalk. Dressed in a long trench coat, he stood calmly, oblivious to the drizzling rain. He turned and smiled at me, and his eyes had the unfocused glaze of the seriously crazy. From somewhere deep in the folds of his coat, his hand shifted, withdrew a butcher knife, still dripping blood.
My gun was already drawn, a move I’d practiced many times in the Academy. This time, after just four days on the street, it was for real. And the only thing my rookie’s brain could think of was the litany of qualifiers drilled into us regarding ‘use of deadly force.’ Shoot or don’t shoot? Was deadly force justified here, or did he have to commit ‘an act in furtherance?’ Brandishing a bloody knife seemed to qualify, but the guy was fifty feet away, hardly close enough to present a real threat.
“Drop the knife and get your hands up,” I shouted in a voice that seemed to be coming from somewhere else. “Don’t move or I’ll shoot.” Which seemed pretty obvious with my Smith&Wesson magnum pointed at his heart. Still, the man looked unconvinced.
He smiled again, still holding the knife, and then thrust out both arms in the sign of the recently crucified. Raising his eyes heavenward, he chanted, “I am the Lord Jesus, and y’all done crucified me too many times.”
“Drop the knife, Jesus, or your obituary’s a done deal.”
Spectators from neighboring houses had begun to gather on porches, shouting ugly anti-police comments that told me I wasn’t considered part of the home team. And presented another interesting dimension to the scenario: if I shot Jesus, which of them would shoot me? One of those situations they’d neglected to mention back at the Academy.
Jesus inched closer and my finger closed over the trigger. Shoot or don’t shoot?
“One more step and you’re a dead man!” I screamed.
This time he got the message. The glazed eyes snapped, the knife clattered to the pavement, and Trench coat Jesus was off and running. Chasing him was almost a relief. Running was no problem. There was no life-or death decision to be made, just pick ‘em up and put ‘em down, hopefully faster than he did. With weapon still drawn, I bolted after him, simultaneously sending a radio description of the fleeing felon. Down alleys, through empty lots, across a railroad embankment, and still Jesus raced on.
He cut through a backyard gangway, and finally, I slowed to a stagger, trying to catch breath. Had it been ten blocks, twelve? Maybe a mile and a half – nothing compared to the long distance runs we’d done in the Academy. But a huge difference when the adrenaline’s kicked in. The sound of approaching sirens meant other units were on the scene, responding to my 10-1 call. I could walk now, catch up with one of the approaching squads. From my alley vantage point, I could see blue lights flashing on the next block. According to my crackling radio, at least half of my sector was on the scene.
I cut through a gangway, and got almost to the front of the building when he leaped out of the doorway he’d been crouching in. Hiding or waiting? It was Jesus, whose face I’d remember for eternity. His eyes found mine, locked, seemed to glow from within as he whispered in a seductive croon.
“Better kill me, bitch, ‘cuz I’m about to blow your head off.” I couldn’t see the trench coat then, or his crazy eyes, only the bore of the .38 special he was pointing at me. To this day, I don’t remember doing it. Call it instinct or survival mode; whatever it was, I don’t remember raising the gun, only that my finger caressed the trigger like a long-time lover.
Jesus was close to me, less than three feet away, and when my gun muzzle spat blue fire; I could smell his sweat along with the cordite. After that, everything was in slow motion. A dot of red appeared on his cheek, what looked like a splat of ketchup. It was the entry wound from a bullet powerful enough to knock him into the front of the building and take off the back of his head.
Slowly I became aware of the others who gathered on the scene. More police, more gaping citizens who stared at me, at the corpse. The mobile crime lab arrived to process the scene, followed by detectives, my watch commander, and of course, investigators from Internal Affairs and the Office of Professional Standards. They all spoke to me, pointing and probing, but their mouths seemed to be moving in elaborate pantomime. With the roaring in my head, I couldn’t hear any of them. The body remained sprawled on the sidewalk for an obscenely long time, what seemed like forever. The rain had picked up, diluted the rivulets of blood that flowed down the concrete to a pastel wash. It reminded me of the crayons I had as a child in the Catholic school where I learned how to read, and color, and obey the Ten Commandments. Thou shalt not kill.
Staring at Jesus, at his unseeing eyes fixed on the heavens; I wondered why I didn’t feel anything. I was his ticket to Judgement Day, yet there was no guilt, no remorse, only a chilly void. I’d just killed a man and I felt nothing.
I looked up and noticed, for the first time, the wide-eyed children across the street, gaping from behind the Police barriers. I thought of my own children at home, two exuberant little boys who waited for me every night and asked what exciting things I did. That night, I’d answer, “I got to come home to you.”
The sensation of apathy after a violent act was a curious one. Tears, remorse, or the expected ‘Recruit Hysteria’ had been pre-empted by a total numbness. I’d crossed a line, a chasm that many cops never encountered in the whole of their careers. I’d become someone else – a killer. Later, I’d learn that it was shock that kept me numb, blocked out the onslaught of emotions that would slowly seep in. And later I would learn that Jesus was not divine at all, but a repeat offender with an extensive rap sheet. He’d been a rapist, armed robber, and had multiple convictions for battery and done time in the Federal Penitentiary. But, fifteen years later, I can still see his glazed eyes, hear his silky voice, envision that blood seeping away from his shattered skull. Because he was my first, and I was his last.
________________________Copyright 1998 by Gina Gallo_____________
About the Author: Gina Gallo has been a member of the Chicago Police Department for fifteen years. During her career, she’s worked in Prostitution, Gangs, Tactical Enforcement, Gun Task Force, Narcotics and Public Housing. Her first book, ARMED AND DANGEROUS: MEMOIRS OF A CHICAGO COP, will be published by Forge Books in 2000. Gina can be reached through her email at firstname.lastname@example.org