Lt. Clay Menessa had had another long day at the office. Not long in the sense that it had involved particular strenuous police work, but long in the sense that it seemed to just drag on and on, until all he could he think about was leaving the cramped, run-down police station in the little town of Reedsville, MN that was strewn with outdated dell monitors, scattered files that were overdue to be archived, the ancient coffee machine that needed badly to be replaced, dirt-streaked window panes that showed views that were of no particular interest to anyone who wasn’t in the business of mostly dirt roads, farms that probably dated back to the early 19th century in some cases, trading posts that went back even further, or a small corner bar called “The Watering Hole” that accounted for at least 90% of the small-town department’s work. In other words, neither Reedsville nor its small police station was much to look at.
Clay hadn’t grown up in a place like Reedsville. His father had been a low-rung dock worker in the heart of the great megalopolis of Chicago. His mother had spent his childhood at home trying to keep him out of trouble, but in retrospect, she would’ve been better off working, because trying to keep your son out of trouble when you lived in an inner-city ghetto was next to impossible. And Clay had gotten into plenty of trouble. He’d enlisted in the marines at 17 to try to turn his life around, lying about his age so that he could go. Nonplussed about the idea of returning to the windy city once he’d returned to the states, he traveled north and landed a job as a beat cop in Madison, WI. He traveled quickly up the ranks due to his toughness, dedication, and skill with a firearm. However, it wasn’t until a cold night in the dead of winter that he had discovered his true talent.
He was responding to a domestic disturbance, and by the time he’d arrived, the husband had snapped and shoved the barrel of a 9mm in the face of his poor wife. As he was the only unit on the scene when he arrived, Sgt. Jason Gray had told him to sit tight and wait for backup. At first, he had obeyed. A few minutes had gone by, the screaming from inside the house steadily rising in its intensity.
And then Clay had heard it. The shot. In that moment, his mind had cleared. He forgot his orders, the book, procedures, all of it thrown out the window. He had charged into the house to find the wife lying on the ground with a bullet hole in her stomach, her husband standing over her with a look of pure venom in his eyes. He had managed to talk the man down with no formal training or experience whatsoever. Sgt. Gray had been the first on the scene after the crisis had been resolved. “Look kid” he’d said. “I’m not saying what you did was by the book, but I’m damn glad you did it.” From then on, Clay had been the unofficial hostage negotiator for the Madison police department. He’d immediately been promoted to sergeant so that he would have the authority to immediately step into hostage situations without approval from a higher-up. Or as Sgt. Gray had amusingly put it, “he could step into the eye of the storm without having to fight his way through the shit first.”
Well unfortunately, the shit eventually caught up with him. An ambitious Wisconsin senator who was making a bid for the white house questioned during an interview with NBC news why the Madison police department no longer utilized state hostage negotiators. Eventually, Sgt. Clay Menessa’s role in the unorthodox negotiation process was uncovered, and the department was forced to let him go. Thoroughly exasperated with people at this point, Clay Menessa had cast off in a sailboat into the vast ocean that was America, and eventually landed on the shore of the tiny, out of the way island of Reedsville.
“Yo Clay '' came the spry voice of Menessa’s young fellow officer Julie Grant, which pulled from his thoughts. “Yeah sorry, what’s up Julie? '' Clay responded distractedly. “We’ve got a situation out by the McKrane farm. Apparently some lady heard gunshots and thought it might be worth calling in.” Clay sighed and rumpled his hair. The McKrane farm was the closest thing Reedsville had to a royal pain in the ass for their small police force.
John McKrane was a well-known alcoholic whose wife had died in childbirth giving birth to their second child, Sarah. Since John preferred starting fights at “The Watering Hole” to looking after his children, it had fallen to his eldest, Gwen, to raise Sarah. Domestic disputes were a weekly occurrence, with Gwen having been taken by ambulance to the Centracare hospital in St. Cloud for injuries inflicted on her by John during their fights. “Well, maybe we can put away the bastard for good this time,” Clay said, standing up from his desk chair. “Damn straight,” Julie replied.
When the officers arrived at the McKrane farm, the first thing they noticed was John sitting in a rickety old chair on his sagging porch, wincing in pain as he wrapped a wound on his forearm with gauze. “That a bullet wound?” Julie asked as she and Clay arrived on the porch. “Damn right” John replied in his deep, gravelly voice. He grimaced as he applied another layer of gauze to his arm, which was bleeding freely. Technically, Clay should’ve radioed for an ambulance according to his training, but neither he nor Julie were inclined to do John McKrane any favors. “Looks fresh,” Clay remarked. “Mind telling us what happened?” “Gwen happened,” John replied angrily. “Should’ve thrown the little shit out years ago. I knew she was crazy, but I didn’t realize just how much. I walk into the house about an hour ago, and she comes out of the kitchen holding my hunting rifle. I ask her what the hell does she think she’s doin’, and she says she leavin’, and takin’ Sarah with her. I tell her she ain’t takin’ Sarah nowhere, and that’s when she shoots me!”
That’s when Clay noticed the pistol sitting next to John on the porch. A tiny, almost imperceptible amount of smoke was wafting from the barrel. “What the hell did you do?” Clay said sharply, cutting John short in the middle of his rant about Gwen. “Me? I didn’t do shit, didn’t I just tell you she shot me?” John replied indignantly. Then Clay lost it. His temper, which had been steadily ticking upward for the last few minutes, had now boiled over the edge of the pot. Without thinking, Clay shoved his hand inside his waist holster and withdrew his police-issued Smith & Wesson .357, which he shoved in the face of John McKrane.
John’s eyes widened when he saw the weapon. “Woah Clay” shouted Julie. Clay ignored her. “Where is Gwen?” John just stared at him, completely frozen in fear. “I will ask you one more time, and you’d better get it right, where is your daughter?” Clay spat viciously. Clay was vaguely aware of Julie screaming at him to put down the gun, but he didn’t give a damn. Procedures and the punishments for breaking them were the last thing on his mind. Slowly, John opened his mouth. “I don’t know,” he whispered shakily. Clay drew back the hammer on the revolver. “NO NO” John screamed. “I SWEAR I DON’T KNOW. SHE TOOK THE TRUCK TO THE MAIN ROAD, AND I DON’T KNOW WHAT HAPPENED TO HER I SWEAR TO GOD!” He drew his hands up over his face as if to shield himself from the anger now radiating in waves from Clay Menessa. Clay looked at John a moment, his facial expression contorting into that of a person who has just watched someone beat up a stray puppy. Then he slammed the butt of the revolver against John McKrane’s temple, knocking him unconscious.
“You shouldn’t have done that” Julie said to Clay once they were back on the main road. “You could lose your badge.” “The SOB has landed his oldest kid in the hospital twice, and now he’s gotten into a gunfight with her, he’s lucky I didn’t kill him.” Julie said nothing. “Julie, do you know why I do this job?” “To serve and protect, just like everybody else,” she replied. She wasn’t sure what else to say. “No,” he replied. “No, it’s more than that. I came from the Chicago streets. I did a lot of things that I regret. But there was one that I’ll never forget. I was 13. It was the first time I’d ever been in a gang before. We were hanging out at this guy’s house. Everybody called him Diablo. Well Diablo tells me that I need to do something for him before I’m really a member. He says to me ‘There’s this old lady down the block that got one of my boys busted for dealing meth a few years back.’ Then he hands me a can of lighter fluid and a box of matches. ‘I have a saying, kid’ he says. ‘Eye for an eye. My boy died in prison, murdered. His life’s over. Why should hers go on?’ We all went over to where her house was, and I go in there with the stuff while they all wait outside. I find her bedroom.” Clay stopped the car suddenly. He closed his eyes and rested his forehead against the steering wheel. Julie stared at him. Clay looked back at her. She was trembling.
“As I was running away, I remember looking back” Clay stopped short, struggling to continue. “I saw her in the window, Julie. She was staring at me, and she was burning. Her entire body was on fire. Her whole body was melting like candle wax, but somehow, I could feel her staring at me.” Clay could feel tears forming in his eyes. Julie was crying openly now. “That” Clay said shakily “is why I do this job. Because somehow I convince myself that I can make up for it by saving people. That if I save enough people, and do enough good in my life, maybe it will be okay.” Julie sat back in her seat, her eyes filled with tears. “Clay, we’re going to save that kid.” She paused. “You are going to save that kid.” Suddenly a call came in over the radio from the chief. “All units, the St. Cloud police found her out on the bridge by Highway 99 that overlooks the river, about 20 miles from here. They’re requesting help from the surrounding areas, she’s armed with a rifle and she’s got a 6 year old in the truck that looks like she’s been shot. I repeat, all units, please respond, over.”
When the two officers arrived at the bridge, they stepped into a chaotic scene. John McKrane’s truck was stopped in the center of the bridge, surrounded by squad cars. Officers from several of the surrounding departments stood in haphazard formation between the cars, guns drawn. The sheriff from Reedsville, Clay and Julie’s boss, Brad Grenton, stood in the center of the formation, holding a bullhorn. “We know you’re scared, kid, but we can’t help you unless you talk to us!” Clay heard Gwen McKrane scream back “Anybody takes one step closer, and I drop them!”, raising the rifle to make her point clear.
“Brad, what’s the situation?” Clay asked as he reached his boss. “It’s bad,” he replied. “The little one, Sarah, has been shot, and we can’t get to her without putting her in more danger. As of right now, I’m doing the best I can with negotiations until the state hostage negotiator can get here. Until then, all we can do is try to keep the situation stable, and prevent her from escalating.” “Brad, let me talk to her.” At first, Sheriff Grenton was completely taken aback. “Look son, maybe those unorthodox negotiation tactics flew in Madison, but here we do things by the book.” Clay balked at the remark. “Sir, with all due respect, you’re not aware of the full story here, and that won’t help you de-escalate her” Clay snapped back, struggling to conceal his irritation. “Son, you’re out of line” Brad said angrily. “Now you need to step back and let us handle the situation.”
That made Clay snap. “I’ve got a better idea, sir,” he spat. He tore his badge off his shirt, ripping a piece of his uniform off in the process, and threw it to the ground. “I’m done. I’m going to help this kid, whether as a cop or a private citizen. If your book says you have to shoot me for doing that, then go ahead.” And with that, Clay turned on his heel and stormed off in the direction of the truck.
Gwen McKrane saw the officer break the line of his fellow officers, and start moving in her direction. Fear jolted through her as she raised the rifle. “Didn’t you hear me? I’ll kill you!” Then he stopped a few hundred feet from the truck. “Gwen, my name is Clay Menessa, I’m here to talk to you. Are you alright?” Gwen stood up, refusing to lower the rifle. “Can you tell me what happened?” “I’ve gotta protect my sister, since the people who are supposed to refuse to do it” she shouted back, her knuckles white from gripping the rifle so hard. “I can see that,” Clay said, still completely calm. “Is that why you shot your father? Was he hurting her?” He started to walk forward again. Gwen aimed the rifle at his head. “That’s far enough,” she shouted. He obediently stopped.
“Yeah,” Gwen said after a minute. “I came in the house, and she was screaming. I found him standing over her in her bedroom, hitting her.” Even from this distance, Clay could hear her voice starting to tremble. “I tried to pull him off her, but he just shoved me aside, so I went for the rifle.” “You’re a strong girl Gwen,” Clay said. “You love your sister, you’d do anything to protect her, right?” “You’re damn right I would,” Gwen replied, and Clay was pleased to hear the anger leaving her voice. “But right now she needs medical attention, so would it be all right if you put down that rifle so that me and my friends can take her to a hospital?” “No!” Gwen screamed, raising the rifle to the level of Clay’s heart. “You’re not taking her anywhere, you’ll take her back there, I know you will!” Tears began to pour down her cheeks. “You always say it’s the last time, he won’t hurt you anymore, then he’s fucking back the next day!” Gwen angrily swiped the tears from her eyes. “I’m not putting her through this again, not anymore.”
“Gwen, I’m not gonna let him hurt you anymore…” “They all say that!” she shouted, cutting him off. “I’m the only one who cares about her, and I’m the only one who will protect her!” “Gwen, I know the cops can save you. Because I was saved by one once.” Immediately, I saw a change in Gwen. Her angry expression softened, if only a little. Her grip on the hunting rifle loosened. She relaxed from a shooter’s stance into a bystander who was walking to the coffee shop after a morning jog. “I was 17 years old. I was running with gangs, getting involved in turf wars, drugs, dealing, you get the picture. Then one night, I was out walking the streets, and I got jumped by some guys from another gang. One of them had a piece, and he shot me in the chest.” Clay stopped for a moment, finding the memory difficult to relive. “That should’ve been the end of me, but as I was laying there, I see another car pull up. A squad car. I woke up in the hospital. One of the cops who’d pulled me off the street was standing by my bed. We had a long talk about the way my life was going, and how it needed to change. That’s what made me turn my life around, and why I’m still alive today instead of dead in a gutter somewhere.”
Gwen had started to relax. The rifle that had been pointed at Clay’s heart only a few moments ago was now pointing at the ground. Clay began to walk towards Gwen. She didn’t stop him. “Give me the rifle, Gwen.” He slowly reached for it, and she didn’t resist when he pulled it from her grip. All at once, she collapsed into him, and Clay caught her as she began sobbing her heart out on his shoulder. “It’s gonna be alright kid, it’s gonna be alright…”
Clay Menessa sat behind the wheel of his new Hyundai Elantra as it sped over the bridge into Indiana. Sitting next to him was his adopted daughter, Gwen Menessa. She was back to a healthy weight, her face was free of bruises, and her dark hair looked healthy for the first time in her life. “What do you think?” Clay asked as they crossed the state line. “Want to stay?” “Nah” Gwen replied. “Too many farms.” They both laughed. Clay was glad to see that her sense of humor was coming back. “Hey dad, I’m getting hungry” came Sarah’s voice from the backseat. “Alright, there’s a Denny’s coming up, how’s that sound?” “Sounds fine to me,” Gwen replied happily. “I think I’ll try the blueberry pancakes this time.” “God, you’re so boring sis” Sarah teased. “Everybody knows strawberries are the best.” “You’ve never even tried blueberries,” Sarah replied, giggling. Clay laughed with his two daughters as they sped toward the sunset.
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