Shades of Deception
By Charlie Hudson
Anyone who knew Bev superficially would have been shocked to see tears trickling down her cheeks as she sat in the darkened car. Anyone who truly knew Bev wouldn’t have been surprised and would recognize her response as the blend of anger, frustration, and relief that the child being transferred from the emergency room for overnight observation had not suffered worse than the broken collarbone and deep bruising. Bev had channeled the almost irresistible desire to shoot the worthless piece of shit responsible into the more acceptable release of tears once she knew the boy was safe and she wouldn’t be observed. Safe was a relative term of course, since he and his brother would be safe only if the mother was going to genuinely listen to the social worker about her options. If she couldn’t, or wouldn’t, walk away from the abuse for her own sake, the escalation of violence tonight might be enough to convince her that having no man in her life was a better choice than the son-of-a-bitch she’d been making excuses for.
The tears were gone in seconds. Bev shook her head sharply, swiped the wetness with the back of her hand and found a packet of tissues in her purse. Of all the calls they received, domestics could be the most unpredictable and, at times, the most tragic. As the senior detective, Bev still occasionally rode patrol. The usual level of crime in Verde Key didn’t require intensive investigations and being out on the streets helped relieve the tedium of paperwork that never seemed to diminish. She’d been with Beau Wilson, one of their senior officers, and they were closest to the address given for a domestic disturbance. No one ever wanted those calls since there was no way to know if it was simply a screaming match or something far more volatile. Late afternoon light was fading to twilight when they turned onto a street with a mix of small, rectangular houses just out of sight of the water, all concrete block construction and stucco exterior. Most were kept neatly, a sprinkling of boats on trailers parked in carports, creative amid a variety of palms and nautical-themed decorations. A scattering of houses was like the address of their destination. A junker car in the drive, no space in the carport crammed with old tires, a refrigerator missing the door, tarpaulins covering mounds of something. If there had ever been an attempt at landscaping, it was long past and the short concrete sidewalk leading to the door was cracked than solid.
The bellowing reverberating from inside the small house explained why the neighbors had called. Dogs behind fenced yards on either side added to the tumult, barking protectively at the threatening tones they didn’t know were contained within once white walls woefully in need of paint. Bev had taken this in quickly, the screamed words clear through the partially open door.
“You stupid little prick — get the fuck off me!”
“Please, Donny, don’t hurt him anymore!”
That short-cut the niceties and Beau yanked the screen back and shoved through with, “Verde Key Police, stop!”
The scene was chaotic, the man swiveling his head, the boy, one side of his face streaked with blood, his right arm hanging limply, his left wrapped around the man’s leg. The woman, on her knees in front of a sofa that had been shoved away, had blood pouring from her nose and the wails of the toddler behind her were now discernible. The coffee table was tipped on its side, whatever had been on it strewn across the tile floor. The television was tuned to some cartoon.
“Hands on your head, now!”
The man’s snarl twisted his heavy lips in the broad face, deep red with anger, his large hand reaching for the boy. “Fuck you doing here?” He didn’t seem to register two pistols aimed at him. “Get the fuck out!”
“Give me an excuse to use this,” Beau barked, Bev moving behind him to check first on the woman, holding her breath that the blood on the child was only splatter. The woman’s eyes were wide and she released one stained hand to point to the older boy. “Get Chad away from him.”
The man had stilled, his eyes squinting as if trying to decide whether to charge Beau, his breathing ragged. It was the look of adrenalin pumping, ignoring the pistol and sizing up the deputy who, at six-foot two, topped him by an inch and wore an expression other men had ignored to their detriment.
Bev kept her right hand steady with her weapon using her left to motion to the boy to release his determined grip and crawl to her. She glanced at him to ensure he was out of the line of fire and pitched her voice low, only loud enough to be heard over the television. “Donny, it’s Donny, right? Donny, we don’t know what happened, but let’s talk, okay?” She was forcing the bile down, wanting to do anything except talk to this bastard. “You can tell us what happened.”
“This is family business, got nothing to do with anyone else,” he said darkly. “Stupid cow can’t have dinner ready when she’s supposed to. Watching TV with the brats instead of doing like she should. The little one can’t even take a fucking drink without making a mess. Man can’t put up with that shit, now can he?”
“Don’t listen to him,” the boy said fiercely, pressing against his mother. “He’s always beating and kicking us.” His face didn’t seem to have a source for the blood, but he had obviously been hit and the position of his right arm couldn’t mean anything good.
“Chad, be quiet,” the woman said desperately, sitting to pull the younger one onto her lap, his crying changed to whimpers.
“Lock your fingers behind your head and move to the corner of the room and we can talk,” Beau said firmly. “The detective is going to call for an ambulance.”
The man glowered, his hands by his side, fists clenching and unclenching. “Nothing wrong with them. Little cleaning up is all they need. You two get the hell out so’s we can take care of this ourselves. Goddamn nosey neighbors.”
Beau’s voice roughened. “Do like I said. Lace those hands and move to the corner.”
Some spark of rationality flared in Donny’s brain and he slowly complied. Beau didn’t lower his weapon until Bev completed the call to dispatch and maintained watch while Beau handcuffed a now sullen Donny. She left him muttering, “Lazy, fat-assed…” and squatted next to the woman and two boys. “The EMTs will be here in a few minutes,” she said quietly.
“Her name is Stacey,” Chad said, cradling his right arm in his left, his face communicating anger rather than allowing whatever physical pain he was in to show through. “He’s not our dad, he’s her boyfriend.”
“He isn’t usually this bad,” Stacey started and dropped her brown eyes to the top of the toddler’s head. “He, well, he, the kids get on his nerves sometimes and he over-reacts. Not as bad as this. He didn’t mean it, I’m sure.”
Chad’s voice was pleading. “Don’t lie for him, Mom. We don’t need him.” The bruising was going to be bad, although the blow or blows had apparently caught him only on the cheek. His eyes were green, hair a lighter brown than his mother’s and darker than his brother’s assuming that was the relationship. The siren grew louder and set the neighbors’ dogs barking again. Stacey looked up, despair playing across her plain face, clotted blood no longer dripping. The toddler, whose name had not been mentioned, had his head buried into her ample chest.
Bev rose to the sound of hurried footsteps and when the first responders entered, she found the remote to turn the television off and surveyed the room. The EMTs had moved Stacey and the boys onto the couch. The furniture was the mismatched conglomeration of probably thrift store or garage sale finds. The embedded stench of cigarette smoke was noticeable in the absence of filled ashtrays. Bev assumed the three doors leading from the living room were to the kitchen, bath, and bedrooms in what looked to be approximately thirteen hundred square feet of space. Whatever else Stacey might be, slovenly didn’t seem to be among her problems.
“Thought I’d see if you needed back-up,” Sergeant Kevin Blackwell said, coming inside. Beau nodded in acknowledgement.
“Bev, you want to go to the hospital to get statements or take this guy to the station?”
“I’ll do the hospital,” she said, wanting to get the boy Chad alone if possible. She also wanted to make sure the doctor checked them all for signs of previous abuse.
led a glowering, silent Donny past them, one last glare at Bev. Kevin had stepped backward, holding the screen door open and giving Bev a questioning look as to if she was okay. “I’ve got this, you go ahead,” she said.
Boone Reynolds, the senior of the two EMTs snapped his case shut. “We’re ready if you want to follow behind us.” He had taken the scene in at one glance and softened his expression as soon as he turned to care for Chad. Bev had worked with him enough to guess what his thoughts were. She didn’t try to hear the conversation Stacey was having as she carried the younger child, and did notice that Chad was walking closely to Angie Rodriguez, the second EMT. Stacey stopped halfway down the walk and turned her head to Bev who was the last one out of the house. “Can you press the button inside to lock the house?”
“Got it,” Bev said, hoping that Stacey wouldn’t use the time it would take to ride to the hospital to strengthen her defense of Donny and coach Chad as to what she wanted him to say.
Kevin’s cousin, Martha Sears, worked with social services and he had apparently called her because she was at the emergency room instead of waiting for the system to process the arrest. The plump woman who barely reached Bev’s chin projected a maternal air of comfort and calm in tense situations and Bev was glad to see her. She respected Martha’s ability to lead women past their reluctance to be honest about their abusive situations. Bev knew her own impatience with this type of behavior was likely to leak into her body language and tone. Stacey nervously agreed to have Martha present for the interview. The patient load was surprisingly light though and the emergency room doctor asked Bev to hold off until he completed treatment of mother and son. Martha won Stacey over by taking a coloring book, small box of crayons, and a clean T-shirt with a sea turtle on it out of her voluminous red purse.
That was when Bev learned Ryan was seventeen months old. He happily went with Martha to the bathroom for a quick clean-up. His shirt was stained from a glass of juice he’d apparently spilled helping to set off the evening’s tirade. She also learned Chad and Ryan had different fathers; one who occasionally sent money for child support, the other who had disappeared a year before. An hour later Bev’s cautious optimism Stacey was going to accept Martha’s suggestions about how to get Donny out of their lives was strained when the Emergency Room doctor gave his assessment of the extent of Stacey and Chad’s past injuries. Thank God little Ryan seemed to have not been the object of the violence. Mother and older son had deep bruising around the shoulders in the way of someone gripped hard. Signs around the ribs indicated past brutal kicks, although not enough to break a bone. His guess was the scarring on their backs was from a belt buckle.
The doctor had time to repeat his explanation to Martha, his anger showing in the tightness around his mouth. Her broad face was expressionless until he left them alone in the empty corner of the waiting room. Martha seemed to sense Bev’s desire to find Stacey and try to guilt a confession from her as to how the hell she thought being with that asshole was a good idea. Martha laid a hand on Bev’s forearm and her brown eyes reflected a firmness that stopped Bev from shaking it off. “I know you’re pissed and you should be, but I need you to listen. I’m not trying to say that Stacey has made good life choices. The sad truth is I’ve seen worse and this may have shaken her up to where I can get through to her. As hard as it is for you to walk away from going in there to do whatever you feel you should, I’m asking you to let it go. Allow me do my job.”
Bev snorted her disgust. “You actually think she’s capable of change? She puts up with a guy doing that to her, and even more so, to her kid, and you have hopes she’ll smarten up?”
The look from Martha was a combination of admonishment and sympathy. “Don’t try to make me out to be some bleeding heart who automatically excuses people for making bad decisions. I deal with this every day, Bev, and different approaches work in different situations. I’m not saying she doesn’t need to make some significant changes. I am saying you aren’t the one to try and convince her of that. It’s not your strength and saying whatever you want to say is not likely to help the situation.”
Bev held her hands up. “I hope your right about this one and, if anyone can make her understand, it will be you,” she said, tempering her skepticism.
Martha smiled wearily. “Let’s do a little finger crossing, too. If you have all the official stuff you need, I’m going back in for another talk with Stacey.”
Bev nodded once. “Okay, see you around.” She used the brief moments in the car to expel the emotions roiling in her stomach. There was an element of dark humor when she looked at her watch to see that it was not yet eight o’clock. For most people in town, the night was just starting. She felt as if she was finishing a double shift even though things had been fairly calm before the domestic call. She needed something uplifting to clear her mind and a quick call to Kyle confirmed he was just now contemplating what to make for dinner. He agreed that Bev picking up take-out from Bojangles sounded good and offered to call in the order. Did she want anything other than her usual blackened chicken pasta in the Cajun cream sauce? No, not tonight, thinking they really did have other things on the menu she enjoyed. It was always a toss-up, wasn’t it, when you had a particular favorite at a restaurant. Do you stick with that or break out of your habit? In this case whatever blend of spices they used for the Cajun cream sauce had escaped Bev the few times she’d tried to duplicate it and she’d come to the conclusion it could remain a secret. As far as she knew, Bojangles was in no danger of going out of business.
Beau was still at the station, his mood swung back to his usual good humor with Donny locked up pending transfer from the holding cell to county. They completed the report without further comments, no doubt both hoping the public defender wouldn’t convince the judge to allow bail. Let the son-of-bitch spend time in the company of men who wouldn’t think much of a child beater. The odds were Beau would pass the word.
Setting the emotionally jarring events behind her was important, though. Her father, whose footsteps she followed in, had been reluctant to give her too much advice except to emphasize she had to find a way to separate the job from family. Even though they didn’t have the unrelenting brutal crimes of a major city, there were enough violent situations to keep them on constant alert. And, like tonight, resolution of those cases was not always easy or straightforward. When she was single, she had often pounded her frustrations with grueling runs and workouts at the gym. Not that she didn’t keep up with her fitness regimen, yet now she and Kyle were married, she more often turned to him instead. Their relationship was one where he didn’t need to ask questions to know why she was taut when she was dealing with a difficult case. As a former prosecuting attorney, he understood the special aspects of her career. Unlike her mother, who had tended to comfort her father with mouthwatering baked goods, Kyle had a variety of ways to reduce her stress. With that thought in mind, she took down the top of her British racing green Spitfire Triumph, a present from her father on her eighteenth birthday. A drive in the fresh air would help to clear away the disturbing sensations clinging to her.
Copyright © 2001-2023, Charlie Hudson. All rights reserved.