The Other Side of the Leaf
The ratched click of a lighter cut through the silence in the park. The flame illuminated McGrath's grizzly face as he pulled it close to his cigarette. He had bags under his eyes from years of sleepless nights. A crooked and flattened nose that had been broken countless times since his youth. A full beard except for a small scar on the left side of his chin which kept hair from growing there. His hair was the neatest part about him. No balding or receding line. No gray hairs. Just soft, smooth, straight hair he kept just long enough to run his fingers through.
McGrath was ruminating, nearly detached from the present. He was going over everything from the last several years. Starting to feel exhausted from everything and beginning to rethink some of the things he had done. Things that had felt right at the time, however, now he was starting to feel otherwise. Guilt or remorse was the best he could call the feeling. A feeling he hadn't felt in a long time.
Justice was what McGrath was doing. What he was told he was doing. He was a detective and before that a police officer. He had taken up a career in law enforcement to help be a part of justice. He never thought he would end up where he was; the executioner.
Taking a deep drag from his cigarette, that's when McGrath heard it; the metal clink of a knife locking into place. He whipped around, almost quick enough to dodge the blade, but it caught him in his left side. Tearing through his jacket and making a slice through his side.
McGrath only winced and kept his composure. Quickly gathering himself, he was able to grab the arm holding the knife before it retracted. Then he landed a swift, hard hit to the person’s face and they fell to the ground.
McGrath huffed at the ease the person went down as he placed hand on his side with a wince. Then dug his phone from his pocket with his free hand; calling in the situation.
Years ago while McGrath was still a police officer he had received a call about a disturbance in a hotel.
Having been the closest officer on duty, McGrath was the first to arrive. He headed to the room that had been reported; that's when he heard the scream getting muffled as he approached the door.
Without hesitation or any consideration for the rules, McGrath kicked the door in with weapon ready.
Disgust and rage filled McGrath at the sight; four naked men - one holding a phone recording, two holding the woman down with one trying to keep her gagged, and the other was mounted on top of her.
The men had all been stunned by McGrath's entrance, which gave him the upper hand of action. He fired at the one on top of the woman first; three shots - one to the side, the next to the shoulder, and the final shot in the head. The man slumped on top of the woman with blood pouring out of him.
The guy holding the phone came to his senses first; throwing his phone at McGrath and charging at him.
McGrath wasn’t quick enough. He had fired a shot as he got tackled by the man, but the shot went stray into the wall.
McGrath and the man rolled around on the ground. With the gun still in hand he had managed to hit the guy in the head, knocking him unconscious. He pushed him off to the floor, and when he stood up he fired a couple shots into the guy's head.
While McGrath had been wrestling with the, now dead, guy, the guy on the far side of the bed had freaked out and tried to go out the window. After failing to get the window opened he hid behind a chair in the counter.
The other restraint man had readied up to fight with McGrath. He was standing at the ready with a lamp in hand trying to look tough, yet McGrath could see the fear in his eyes, and without any other thoughts, McGrath raised his gun and fired.
The first shot hit the man in the head but McGrath had fired a few more as the man dropped to the ground.
Looking around the room for the fourth man, McGrath spotted the man hiding behind the chair. He walked over and full of rage he threw the chair across the room with ease.
“Please, no,” the man begged, crowing in the corner.
McGrath didn't hear him, instead, he raised his gun and unloaded the last of his bullets into the guy.
The woman was covered in blood, with her face smeared with blood and tears.
McGrath grabbed a towel, pushed the dead man off her and then wrapped her in the towel and picked her up to carry her out of the room.
Not thinking about anything other than getting the woman to a safe and less gruesome place, McGrath kicked in the door across the hall.
“Wait here,” McGrath told her, as he set her down on the bed.
Shortly other officers began to show up. All of them with jaws on the floor as they saw the scene McGrath had left; four dead men and blood sprayed all over the room.
“Bloodbath,” had begun to be whispered all around, and later the title on the front page of the newspaper when the story got out. And not long after that, McGrath's nickname around the police precinct - Bloodbath McGrath.
McGrath’s action had outraged the public and lead to him being charged for the murder of those four men. Which lead to him being put on trial. Also, he was put on leave from work while under investigation and on trial.
It had taken just over a year for everything to come to a close.
A few days after the trial ended, McGrath was sitting at home going over everything. Trying to make sense of it all. The judge's voice declaring,” Innocent,” sounded over and over in his head when a knock came at his door disrupting his thoughts.
Answering the door, McGrath was surprised to see the chief of police there, he had expected another reporter trying to get an interview.
The two exchanged greetings with McGrath offering for the chief to come in. However, he declined and told McGrath to grab what he needed and come with him for a ride, and that they needed to talk before McGrath returned to work.
A few minutes into the ride neither had said a word. McGrath had started to break the silence yet was shut down with just a hand gesture by the chief.
McGrath was starting to get tense and worried what was going to happen and where they were going. They had been driving towards the edge of town into the manufacturing district, not to the precinct like he figured they would go.
Past a few more buildings and the chief drove to the back of a derelict building where two other cars were parked.
“Come on,” the chief said, shutting the car off and getting out.
Night was falling and McGrath felt uneasy about the situation, yet he trusted the chief and followed him into the building.
In the building the safety lights were still on. The place was cleared out except for a few stacks of pallets. Bits of trash littered the place and there were crushed and empty boxes here and there.
The chief led McGrath to the floor office, where light shone through the door frame.
McGrath froze in the doorway when he saw the other people in the room, the judge and his lawyer from the trial. His minded raced wondering what they were doing here.
Reintroductions were made and the judge told McGrath to have a set.
All four men were seated around the table exchanging looks when the judge broke the silence, “I suppose I will start then.”
The judge went on to explain how it was his step daughter McGrath had rescued that night. How McGrath was innocent in his eyes before the trial every began. He also expressed how he wished McGrath wasn’t but on trial yet the news skewed the story to make it look as if McGrath had gone out of is way to murder them which lead to a pubic outrage and demanding justice for the victims. Lastly, he had sent his step-daughter away so she wouldn’t have to testify, and eventually dismissed the subpoena for her to be there. He had to let that one drag out so as not to draw attention to his connection with her.
McGrath’s lawyer was even a part of it from the beginning. Asking for a bench trial to help insure McGraths innocences, and speedy trial to keep anyone from digging into the full identity of the woman and her connection with the judge which had gotten the case moved to be overseen by a different judge; one that might not have let McGrath off. Aslo, why he had coached McGrath so heavily on what to say and not say.
McGrath was baffled by all of it as he sat there silently taking it all in. He had no clue that they had orchestrated and controlled the whole trial. He also began to wonder how much other stuff went on behind the scenes, and then he started to piece it together; he was there to become a part of it.
Sure enough, the chief began to explain that's what they were there to do. He would make McGrath a detective in order to investigate, gather evidence, and come to them with a suspect. From there they would determine what to do with them next; put through the system or “taking care of”.
The judge and the chief both expressed how often they see some of the same faces year after year. The judge had been on the bench for seventeen years and the chief had been on the police force for twenty-six years. Both question whether or not the system worked after seeing so many familiar people.
“I know, it’s a lot to take in,” the chief said reassuringly.
It was a lot. More than McGrath had expected. He was being asked to willing and out right execute people. His head felt like it was going to explode. This was not what he was expecting. He tried to just focus on the fact he was getting a promotion to being a detective after only a few years as an officer. Yet still, he was having trouble wrapping his head around it all.
“Come on,” the chief cut through McGraths thoughts, “I’ll take you home. You can have another week off and then decide by the time you solve your first case.”
The silence was even heavier on the car ride home. McGraths head was just empty.
A few weeks later McGrath got his first case as a new detective; a man had been murder and his body was found in a dumbster. It was an open and shut case. A surveillance camera caught a clear image of the perpetrator. After a facial recognition scan the suspect was found; a man with a history of assault and domestic violence, and the victim was his brother-in-law.
It had only taken McGrath a few days to gather all the evidence and make it into a case file. When he had finished he stared at the file on his desk for a while. He had lost control when he killed those four men, despite the situation he encountered. Yet now, here he was being given the okay to do it again. The okay to help better clean up the streets and the system. He understood the point of it all, and it wasn’t just him making this choice on his own; just following more orders. He felt torn over it all, but looking ahead, he figured the chief was right; McGrath would probably end up seeing some of the same faces over and over throughout the years leaving him to wonder what justice is even really being done.
Eventually, McGrath grabbed the file and marched to the chief’s office where he found the door open and went right in dropping the file on the chief’s desk.
“I’m in,” was all McGrath said.
The chief looked down at the file, then back at McGrath. Then, still having not said anything in response, he reached over, grabbed the desk phone, and made a call.
The man started to come around and McGrath quickly hung up the phone and drew his gun.
As the guy rolled over, McGrath recognized him; Cooper Stone. He was convicted on two accounts of rape several years ago. He was also suspect in a few others, as well as possible murder - yet that couldn’t fully be proven.
McGrath was just a regular police officer when he arrested Cooper.
The police were called when someone heard one of his victims cry out. Fortunately for the woman, McGrath showed up quickly, yet not quick enough to save her from a beating.
Being in his prime, McGrath was in great shape and it was a short chase when Cooper tried to run.
After the arrest, Copper was quickly linked to a few other rape cases, however only two of them stuck. Which was enough to land him in prison for years. However, it wasn’t long enough, because now here he was attacking McGrath - and according to Cooper; the one responsible for his years in prison.
McGraths phone rang. He figured it was dispatch calling back or the chief; he ignored it and kept his focus on Stone.
McGrath stared at Stone, his finger on the trigger of his gun. He could shoot him and McGrath could easily justify it with being attacked and the hole in his side to prove it.
Stone was the kind of person McGrath had been cleaning off the streets for years. Low-life murders, rapists, career criminals. The kind of people society wouldn’t miss and could do without.
McGrath was beginning to feel torn. He gripped hard on the gun handle as Stone began rambling about losing years of his life and such and how it was McGraths fault.
“Shut up!” McGrath barked, “I have every reason to kill you now and really take your life away.”
Thoughts and feelings bounced all over and then something in McGrath gave way and settled. His grip loosened and he relaxed his finger off the trigger. Not this time. This wasn’t what he had envisioned when he wanted to serve and protect, to uphold justice. He felt he had become just as bad as those he put down. He had manipulated files and reports to further prove the guilt of criminals or made the cases disappear or closed them once someone was “found guilty”. He had even killed a few people with barely any evidence to even be convicted in a real court. He had done it off a gut feeling and the fact the people already had a criminal history. He was doing justice, yet now something else inside had surfaced saying otherwise.
McGrath's thoughts were broken up by the sound of sirens in the distance and relief fell over him that he could get himself away from the situation. He felt like he was about to burst and just collapse from the overwhelming guilt.
Rushing footsteps further eased McGrath, and shortly two officers appeared next to him with weapons drawn.
“Whoa, Bloodbath got a live one,” one officer joked as he moved forward, commanding the Stone to lay face down with hands on his head.
The second officer only let out a laugh as he turned to check on McGrath and then signaled with his flashlight to someone else behind them.
Shortly Stone was arrested and McGrath was on a gurney getting medical attention while being wheeled to the ambulance.
Watching the ambulance doors shut McGrath went back into thought. He was going to have to explain to the chief what happened, as well as why he let Stone live after so many years of getting rid of people like him. He knew he would come up with something. He was done being the trigger man. He was turning the leaf back over, and for now he just closed his eyes and laid back.