Echo by Bader A. Shehab

“If you keep doing whatever it is your job requires you doing then you won’t last very long, girl.” My mother spoke on the other side of the bathroom door as I washed the blood stains off my left forearm then looked up at the mirror and addressed traumatic blows to my cheek bones, nose and lower lip. I poured some Medline into a wet towel and cleansed the rest of my wounds thoroughly. I pushed the door open and there she was still standing there with a worried look on her face, eyes glaring with horror and she held my chin pulling my face to one side and the other. 

“What did they do to my baby?” She cried. “Instead of getting a nice job, marry your high school sweetheart and buy yourself a nice little place in Long Island, no! You keep doing this piece of shit turn-up of a job you call your life…” Before she could go on any longer with the usual daily tirade I gently move her hand off my chin, kiss it and kiss her forehead before wishing her goodnight. I collapse on the couch, too tired to go to bed.

I jolt from near-death tiring sleep to a full-alert snapping out of a nightmare responding to the radio chatter on the portable ham radio emergency frequency – “All nearby units in the Bronx area please respond to a major shooting incident off West 6th Avenue, Robinson Projects. Report 4 males, Hispanic, 20s, possible hostage situation, proceed with caution suspects are armed and extremely dangerous.” The emergency dispatch repeated the message several more times as I snatched my badge, Glock .45, loading and turning on the safety, and barged out of the apartment door. I held the radio closely interrupting the emergency dispatch “Unit 32, Officer Jennifer Jiménez on call, on my way.” There was silence from the operator for some time as the emergency channel muted and a woman’s voice came on as I got in the car – “Unit 32, roger, be careful out there.” The Dodge Charger’s Hemi 6.2 liter engine revved under my foot as I warmed her up in this harsh cold, storming out of the parking lot I turn on the flasher and sirens, the little bit of traffic dispersed around make way for my unmarked vehicle and I race through red lights and intersections at full speed.

The reported shooting place is a mere 3 or 4 blocks away and needless to say I make it there in less than 10 minutes, I turn the last corner and I see several units at the scene with sirens and flashes silencing the dead cold of the night with the red and blue and high-pitched alarming sounds. The ghetto residential blocks, the projects, and low income housing around the imminent area of conflict are no strangers to such scenes. An eye in the sky police helicopter circles above with a powerful spot light trained on a ground floor apartment complex and from a distant a news-broadcasting helicopter from NBC impatiently waiting for something to happen. I drove hastily up to an empty space near the other vehicles parked across the street from the suspects’ hold-up, got out the car with my head low and crouched behind one of the marked vehicles parked horizontally and tapped a shoulder.

“What’s the situation, officer?”

“We’ve got four guys, possibly more, trenched in and well-dug. Just an hour ago several gun shots were heard and the chopper picked up images of a body being dragged to the last apartment complex right up the street from here” responded officer Trent as I nodded and moved away to the next vehicle where a large speaker was turned on and police negotiator Thomas McKinley was desperately trying to get control of the situation – because things got ugly very quickly that very second as he stood up and held the speaker phone to his mouth.

Automatic weapon fire went by across the street and we were right in the middle of it, screams were heard, mostly in Spanish and before I knew it – Officer Trent and everyone else were on the radio desperately calling for backup. I took off my jacket, the adrenaline rush uttered me senseless to the harsh Christmas cold, kept my head low as more gunshots went off in the distance, and the place was escalating. Reaching into my car I dragged an 8-pound armor vest, put it on discretely and zipped it up to my neck. I holstered my Glock .45 turning off the safety and swiftly moved to the trunk of my car and took out a SWAT-issue M4 Carbine as I knew this would get even uglier. More sirens and flashes were approaching at the end of the street, enclosing our area. As I walked across my car I saw my phone’s light go off, it caught my eye in the middle of all this chaos because the caller ID read: “Mom”, I knew she was probably worried sick not finding me asleep as expected, watching the breaking news, most likely guessing that I’m in the middle of it – or about to be. I would have taken that split second slip in the middle of the crazy atmosphere to pop in and answer, hear her screams and cries with a tired and sorrow, yet happy smile drawn across my weathered facial skin, something I don’t do much of in my line of work – smile. When I hear her voice once more, perhaps it will drag me back to the safety of her arms, her caring hands caressing my injuries, battle wounds and scars. Braiding my hair on a Friday afternoon, picking up groceries and making a warm meal on a cold evening, most likely interrupted by the usual dispatch calls – gloom draws on her face and horrible worrisome as I zip my jacket and hang the badge around my neck.

I held the rifle in one arm and the other talking into the loudspeaker, I spoke in Spanish and the shouts at the other end of the conflict were silenced – possibly hearing a woman’s voice over the loudspeaker for a change, speaking in their language and calming the storm, for the time being. “This is the police, please drop your weapons and come out with your hands up. Nothing will happen to you if you comply.” I repeated this several more times in my mother’s tongue and it seemed to work as I heard responses in the distance, as though trying to communicate back. I moved in closer keeping my rifle at the ready for any surprises, the police chief was there as well and he pulled on my shoulder “Don’t go any closer! It’s dangerous!” said Commissioner Johnson.

“I have to do something before more people die…” I responded and he nodded, signaled for a squad to follow me across the street just in case – I lead the way, several SWAT members followed me as I eased my way against the wall and screamed again at the voice, immediately responding. “I am not coming out of here! I want 2 million dollars in unmarked bills and a helicopter on the roof or I will shoot this whole family up!”

“Listen to me” I responded, sticking to Spanish as much as possible. “You don’t wanna do it this way; this won’t go well for you, just drop your guns and I can promise you, give you my word that I’ll make this a lot easier for you.” I’m not allowed to solicit the negotiation but the solidarity took over me as I see my own countryman fall into shambles, with nothing to lose and automatic weapons roaming freely. I popped my head out of the corner quickly to take a peak but more gunshots came in my direction – I felt hands pull me violently back to cover: “Get behind one of us!” a masked face commanded me fully-equipped with tactical gear and armor vest, I use to be one of them for a few years. I tapped a shoulder as I got behind in cover and at the ready – this is going to get even uglier than expected. Shoot outs are devastating in this part of the country, and perhaps for the countless time the news helicopter catches my face as I am about to storm another sticky situation.

But if it is one thing on my mind at every life-risking situation like this one, it’s my mother’s voice, her touch, caring eyes, soulful food and passionate sighs as I am out that door revving the Dodge, driving out at 80 miles an hour, living life on the edge for the lowest pay day. My guardian angel of the night and day echoes in my mind, her words are the last thing I hear before radio chatter, gun shots and boots grinding the floor take over and intensify my focus as we’re about to neutralize the criminals.

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