Fort Lauderdale, Florida
November 11, 2008
Police Dispatcher: "911 Emergency."
"Oh, geez, excuse me, I'm so nervous. I can't remember his name... the psycho that was on North America's Most Wanted... Oh, now I remember; Ralph Oxner!!! I think I just saw him in the grocery store!!!"
Dispatcher: "What is the name and location of the grocery store, ma'am?"
Woman: "It's the Publix on 17th Street."
Dispatcher: "Is the subject still in the building?"
Woman: "I think so. Maybe. I don't know for sure. I just saw him in there about
thirty seconds ago.
Dispatcher: "Where are you now?"
Woman: "I'm in the parking lot. I'm talking to you on my
cell phone. I was pushing my shopping cart down the aisle when I saw him. Then I... Hold on, I think I see the car he stole. Right now I'm looking at a silver stationwagon just like John Washburn described."
Dispatcher: "Can you run up to it in a hurry and read the plate number to me?"
Woman: "Yes. It's up a ways. If he comes out and sees me
looking at it he might shoot me, but I'll take the chance."
Fourteen seconds later, sounding short of breath after making the trek, she exclaimed, "Oh, my God, there's no license plate
on the back!"
Dispatcher: "That's all I need to know. Now please leave the scene immediately for your safety."
Twenty-two year-old Richard Briggs was a wide-eyed, scrupulous, rookie policeman. The Fort Lauderdale
captain dubbed him "Choirboy" in reference to the cherub face which belied his age, as well as his profession. The nickname was also apposite due to the career path he ultimately rejected. Three and a half years ago, the righteous stalwart was
seriously considering attending Southeastern Institute of Theology (S.I.T.) to become a preacher. However, after much prayer and meditation, he felt swayed by the Almighty to serve his fellow man by driving a patrol car rather than standing on a pulpit.
Young he was, but what Officer Briggs lacked in experience, he overly compensated for in dedication. His enthusiasm and work ethic were contagious at the police station. And entrenched beneath the "Choirboy" teasing was a strong current of admiration
and respect amongst his older co-workers. Nevertheless, he wanted to apply an edge to his soft image. That's why the previous week he told his barbour to clip his light blonde hair crue-cut style. What's more, he was even considering getting
a tattoo on his arm. It would probably be Superman's "S" symbol.
South Florida was even more humid than usual; which is the very reason
the thirsty, young policeman walked inside the 7-11 store off Capital Boulevard, despite being on-duty. Making commercial purchases wasn't against the rules, just something he didn't like to do too often. Peering into the freezer section, he selected
a lemon-lime Gatorade and an orange flavored Gatorade, opened the big glass door, and pulled them out. He paid the cashier, got back in the police car, took the lemon-lime bottle out of the brown bag, shook it vigorously, popped the lid, and took a few
swallows. It was refreshing!
Then he eyed the car's clock. 12:47. He was assigned to patrol South East 16th Street at 1:00pm. However, while traveling along U.S. 1 South, his mundane duty was altered by a dispatch broadcast. It was laden with sporadic beeps and
light static. The dispatcher spoke over the typical interference.
"Attention all officers! Attention all officers! A silver Volkswagon Passat
was spotted by a citizen. Its license plate is stripped. The location is Publix Supermarket on 17th Street. An individual matching Ralph Oxner's description is in the grocery store at this time, unless he recently walked out. All attending
officers report to the location immediately!"
Officer Briggs's adrenalin surged as he turned on his siren and raced to the site. Five other police cars
were strategically positioned along the building's periphery when he arrived on the scene. Upon getting out of his car, a lieutenant hurried over and instructed him to assume defensive posture mode by his vehicle with his gun drawn. Then the lieutenant
flurried back to the corresponding spot of his own squad car. Obeying his stern commander, Richard took cover by the front side of his shield-serving car; squatting next to the piece of metal, while exposing his head high enough for his light blue eyes
to simultaneously survey the two public entrances at the opposite ends of the building.
Seven additional squad cars pulled into the parking lot of the besieged
grocery store following Richard Briggs's advent. They'd swarmed on the area like bees to honey, forming a perimeter. Each subseqent officer was quickly approached and given a brief rundown of the plan of action. The posse waited; hunched
down; peeking above their cars' hoods with arms supported on their legs and guns grasped in their hands. They were ready!
Like camouflaged garbed hunters
excitedly spotting an innocent deer moving through a dense forest, the pack of men in blue uniforms on city terrain collectively caught sight of their presumed prey when he exited the automatic-sliding doors. The big man was clad in an excessively long,
white T-shirt which almost completely covered his shorts, and his pigeon feet walked inside of brown sandals. In addition to acquiring fresh new clothes, the suspect had obviously managed to cut his hair, as well as shave his face and neck stubble while
being on the run. Since the chaos he spawned last week, those were the only alterations visibly manifest in the eyes of the blue hunters; every one of which had tuned into North America's Most Wanted last Saturday night. Everything else
was a perfect match: his black framed eyeglasses; his height; weight; and his facial bone structure, which was accentuated by an aquiline-bridged nose and thread-thin lips. A white plastic bag was dangling from his right hand as he ambled along the sidewalk
toward the closest vehicle track, between the store-front and the array of parking spaces.
The 52 year-old snow-haired captain with sky-blue, acerbic eyes and
pinkish flesh raised the bullhorn to his mouth and spoke authoritatively through it: "Stop and put your hands high in the air!!!" Completely ignoring his command, the carefree gentleman proceeded casually toward the curb with a large smile sweeping across
his face. Captain Blackman repeated the order, this time speaking in a harsher tone and making sure that the suspect unequivocally knew he was the one being addressed: "Man in white T-shirt, black hair, glasses: Stop walking and raise your hands
high above your head!!!" The target's momentum and focus continued unabated and he appeared to be headed directly toward a red Honda Ultima in one of the parking spaces nearest to the store.
At this juncture, Officer Briggs's thoughts were racing. He felt sure that he was looking at Ralph Oxner.
But he could not understand his motive in approaching a shopper's car. Maybe someone was actually sitting in the car; in limbo resulting from the presence of a small army of officers in their trenches behind almost two dozen squad cars. Officer
Briggs couldn't see through the Honda's window from his angle. Perhaps Oxner wanted to hijack it like he did with the Volkswagon a week and a half ago, he speculated. The suspect had arrived at the car. He reached his hand, and part of his
arm, under his extra, extra large shirt; which seemed ideal for handgun concealment. Murder through the window was the likely scenario according to the rookie's split-second calculation. He heard the psychiatrist's "wise words" replay in his mind:
"As long as that gun is in his possession, death is inevitable." The trigger was pulled. BANG!!!!!!" He collapsed instantly on the concrete.
The gang of cops rushed to the fallen man. His head was bleeding profusely and he was unconscious. But the first thing that Officer Briggs noticed when he got to him was a Superman insignia ("S") keychain and numerous keys on the key-ring laying
beside his inert body. He'd fully expected to see a gun instead of just an innocuous set of keys. Could it be that the man he shot was merely "going for" his keys in normal preparation to unlock his car's door??? Furthermore, no one occupied
the Honda's interior, which was parked in a Reserved Parking space, and a blue and white handicapped tag hung on the rear view mirror. A two litter plastic jug of Pepsi Cola was rolling on the concrete, while
the white plastic bag somehow remained in the clinched fist of its unmoving carrier. Gushes of blood were pouring forth from the open head wound and spilling heavily onto the pavement, painting the grey cement red.
While the captain called for an ambulance, Officer Velasquez reached into the man's back pocket, removed his wallet, and withdrew his driver's license. The photo strongly resembled Ralph Oxner, however,
the name beside it was Nathan Hammonds. Officer Velasquez somberly stated, "This is not Ralph Oxner." Richard Briggs let out a hellish scream, dropped to his knees, and put his hands over his face.
The attractive female newscaster's image visited the Krouse's luxurious living
room on their fifty-five inch plasma television screen. Victoria was busy cooking roast beef in the kitchen while the children were upstairs in their respective rooms doing homework. The man of the house sat comfortably with his legs elevated and
crossed on the Lazyboy recliner chair. His right hand exchanged the remote control for a can of cold beer which Victoria delivered to him upon his beckoned call.
"Turning to national affairs, a rookie Fort Lauderdale, Florida policeman shot a deaf man whom he mistook for the fugitive, Ralph
Oxner. Officer Briggs was part of an assembly of over two dozen policemen which swarmed on a Publix Supermarket parking lot in response to a 911 emergency call. Nathan Hammonds was about to get into his car when Officer Briggs shot him in his head.
Officer Briggs was reportedly too distraught to comment on the shooting. After nearly two weeks of being on the run, Ralph Oxner still remains at-large. However, the vehicle he stole was recovered and returned to its rightful owner. That
car happened to be in the same supermarket parking lot at the time of the shooting and may have contributed to it. The police are investigating how it ended up at that location, and if anyone else, other than Ralph Oxner, drove it. Officer Briggs
is on administrative leave and the S.B.I. is investigating the shooting. Nathan Hammonds is reportedly in critical condition."
"Those stupid cops shot
the wrong guy," Walter Krouse bellowed to his apron-clad wife. "Yeah, I saw it, too," she said, barely loud enough for him to hear her from the adjoining room. She was in the habit of having the kitchen TV set turned on while she cooked.
"What a bunch of buffoons," the doctor screamed, in reiteration of his 'stupid cops' comment.
"I know, most of them are idiots," she agreed while shaking her head. Just then, the kitchen phone rang and Victoria picked it up.
"Yeah, he's here," she casually said. Before she had a chance to fetch her husband, she turned and saw him walking through the doorway.
"Is it Allen,"
Walter asked, expecting that he'd be the first one to call following the news report. Victoria nodded her head and returned to the stove.
Allen. Let me call you back on my cell phone."
Walter didn't want his wife to hear the conversation, so he went upstairs into the bedroom to talk in private.
"Okay, Allen, I think I know what you're calling
"Did you see the news," asked Allen.
"Yeah, I saw
it," Walter said in a dispirited tone.
"Dr. Thorne, just as dispirited, said, "Look how close we came to our troubles being solved!"
"I know. I'm just afraid that this incident will make those retarded cops hesitant to pull the trigger when they finally close in on that fat bastard. You know what I mean -- they
don't want more bad publicity."
"Well, hopefully they'll forget about it and when they spot Ralph they'll be just as trigger-happy as they were with that deaf
dude. "Hey, how is your solo investigation coming along?"
"I don't think I'm going to have enough time to do it on my own, actually. I've decided
that I'm going to have to hire a PI. Would you mind splitting the cost with me?"
"No problem. Do you know whom you're going to get for the job?"
"Yeah, this guy I saw listed in the phone book. His name is Arnold Fetz. I called the Better Business Bureau and they said he's been in business
for 17 years and hasn't ever had any complaints lodged against him."
"Sounds good! Hopefully, he'll get to the bottom of this thing. Hey, Walter,
I've got a confession to make."
"You ready for this
"I hope so... but knowing you, I doubt it. What is it?"
Dr. Thorne began, "Remember last week when you left me alone with that client of yours, 'Paulina Price'?"
"Yeah. That was when I went to the resthome
to check things out. I remember."
"I gave her a gift," hinted Thorne, with a chuckle.
"What kind of a gift did you give her, Allen?" Krouse asked in a tone that reflected his slight annoyance at having to draw it out of him. He would occassionally become impatient and irritable with Allen over minor things like
this. Allen had the same effect on other people, as well.
"I gave her the gift that keeps on giving; it's called 'genital warts'."
"What," Walter exclaimed, flabbergasted. "I can't believe she agreed to sleep with you!!"
"She didn't... at least not while being in her right mind. See, I hypnotized her during our little ad lib counseling session. Once I got her 'under', I suggested [ I ] was that movie star that she's obsessed
with... what's his name? I already forgot."
"Aaron Hughes," Walter replied.
"Yeah, that's it! 'Aaron Hughes.' She was all over me! Anyway, I was sure to give her the command to forget the entire episode once I snapped my fingers."
"How do you know you gave her warts," Walter inquired.
"Because I was in the middle of an outbreak at the time and didn't use a condom," explained Allen. "I knew she was STD free because I read her medical file before she showed up at the office," he went on to clarify.
"Anyway, I just thought I'd prepare you for the subject the subject she's going to be yapping about pretty soon," he warned.
Walter chuckled and added, "She's
not promiscuous at all; she's bound to assume that her husband gave it to her. She'll probably think he's been running around on her and dump him." He chuckled again.
"Ha! That would be hilarious! I just hope she infects him before they break up."
"I hear ya. Hey, I've gotta go, bro.
My dinner is probably ready by now. I'll see you tomorrow at the office."
"Okay, later." And with that, Allen hung up the phone.
Walter Krouse walked downstairs and returned to the kitchen. The meal was prepared, but the boys weren't sitting at the table yet. Victoria set the dishes for her husband, sons,
and herself at their customary spots on the expansive mahogany table-top. Then she spoke to Reig and Colon via the house's wired intercom system. "Colon, Reig: may I have your attention? Dinner is ready. Come to the kitchen without
delay." Ten year-old Colon and eight year-old Reig suspended their homework assignments and rapidly descended the long, winding staircase, on into the dining room.
When everyone was seated, the woman-of-the-house declared, "Reig, I think it's your turn to say grace."
"Yes ma'am," he said.
All four family members closed their eyes and bowed their heads. Reig recited the prayer: "Lord, we thank you for the meal you have given us on this blessed day. We are thankful,
as well, for all of the luxuries and modern conveniences that you have bestowed upon us. Furthermore, we are thankful to you for separating us from the heathen and choosing our Milifen seed to preside over the whole of mankind with authority and dominion.
Amen." Reig's brother and parents repeated "Amen" on cue nearly simultaneously. Then they lifted their heads, opened their eyes, and placed their napkins on their laps. Now it was time to dig into the delicious roast beef.
"So, how's school coming along, Colon," father inquired while cutting the meat with his knife.
"Pretty well, sir. I'm thinking about trying out for the lacrosse team next year."
Dr. Krouse took a swallow from his glass of iced tea and remarked, "That
sounds like a good idea. You know, the public school system doesn't offer lacrosse. That's just one more advantage to enrolling you guys in a private school."
"Yeah, I know. Public schools suck," Colon mindlessly blurted out, being well aware of his parents' level of strictness.
mouth, young man," mother reprimanded.
"Yes, that's very bad language, especially at the dinner table," input father.
Being immediately aware of the slip-up, Colon had placed his little hand over his mouth right after the words came out of it.
"Aplologize and rephrase the sentence," mother sternly demanded.
Colon did as he was told: "Please excuse me for using vulgar language.
What I meant to say is: "The public school system is inferior."
All the while, Reig sat watching in amusement as he chewed. He was admonished far less
than his older brother, and cut more slack.
An idea suddenly popped into Reig's young head. "Hey, dad, now that you were on North America's Most Wanted,
maybe you could get into the movies and be a big star like Arnold Schwartzenegger." His advice was naive, but cute-sounding, including how he pronounced the action heroe's last name.
His father chuckled and explained, simply, "Well, I'm not an actor; I'm a psychiatrist."
This didn't satisfy Reig. He persisted, "But
dad, everybody at school is talking about you! Even my teachers! After what you said on North America's Most Wanted, they see you like a superhero trying to save everyone from the bad guy!"
Mother chimed in, "Now all he needs is a long cape with the letter "S" sown on the back of it, and he'll officially be Superman."
"I've always wanted to fly," Walter casually commented. Then the phone rang.
The patriarch got off his seat and tersely scolded his absent
minded wife for failing to switch the ringer off, which was the rule before every meal. He hated being disturbed while eating with his family. To him, that was their scarce, sacred time to enjoy each others' company and stay connected. The
dinner table served as a sort of altar: its abstract function was almost religious in nature and it distracted the family members from worldly concerns and brought them closer together.
In a grouchy mood, he picked up the receiver and gruffly said, "Hello."
The following words entered into his right ear: "Get ready for the
million dollar question. Get ready. Get ready. Get ready. Here it comes. Are you proud of yourself for causing a deaf man to get shot?!" They were spoken slowly in a deep, creepy, but also refined and polished, voice, like
an angry aristocrat, the tone rising and falling, with added emphasis on the last sentence and, in particular, the last word, "shot." It was not, in the least, the way a normal voice would sound, more like something out of a vintage horror movie classic.
Under normal circumstances, Walter would've been taken aback and intimidated. But Victoria's oversight had caught his ire and caused anger to outweigh fright.
"WHO IS THIS," he barked into the mouthpiece like a drill sergant.
watching your every move, Krousey-Boy," was the only response he received. This particular sentence was enunciated in a sing-song tone of complacent, mocking delight. The Caller knew that he was getting the best of ole' 'Krouse-Boy,'
as he called him, and his voice reflected it.
"WHO IS THIS," he shouted again, this time even louder.
Instead of answer or even words, that familiar maniacal laughter arose.
The infuriated family man slammed the receiver on
the wall-mounted base so hard it sounded like a hammer striking hardwood, and fell down toward the floor, to be left dangling on the cord. Then he stormed out of the dining room, violently slamming the door behind him. The boys were sitting at
the table staring at their mother with countenances etched in shock and fear. She was mainly upset that they had witnessed the ugly scene. Rarely had they seen their father behave like that: totally blow up and lose it.
Nathan Hammonds's short life expired fifteen hours after his brain was blasted
by a bullet from a Christian cop's gun. His devastated killer was kneeling in prayer at his bedside when the life-support system was defeated by death; signified by its hopeful broken beeps merging into the dreadful continuous buzz of finality.
The despair and sorrow which that cruel mechanical sound universally invokes in loved ones was now paradoxically applied to a stranger responsible for it. Tears welled in his closed eyes before he opened them and stood on his feet. Then he reached
over the bed and laid his hand on the backhand of the late Nathan Causewell Hammonds. It was a remorseful farewell gesture to an unknown friend. After the nurse entered the room, he withdrew his hand and trudged toward the doorway with his head