Conversation in the meeting room was subdued. A handful of staffers and police officers were shocked by the revelations but many weren’t. Niles Gule, vampire of Baltimore and detective consultant for the police department’s night shift, was dismayed by the lack of surprise he saw.
A major story had broken over the city. Seven police officers who’d served in a high-profile gun unit had been indicted on federal racketeering charges. They were accused of running what amounted to a criminal mob organization. They’d used their badges to rob innocent citizens, often simply mugging people and laughing because they knew they couldn’t be arrested. After all, they’d probably thought, if the victim called the police, he’d be calling his own attacker. Not content with simple thuggishness, the group had falsified expense reports, took vacations that they charged to the department, and made fraudulent overtime claims. All this while the Justice Department was investigating Baltimore for violating civil rights. The crimes were epic in scope. That they’d continued for so long meant many others had to know and yet had remained silent.
The blue line, Niles thought. One never crossed it.
To our shame.
The chief of police had called the meeting to bolster his people. He described the situation and praised the handful of individuals within the department’s investigative wing who’d helped bring down the perpetrators. He reiterated that the criminal behavior exhibited by the ring was beyond the bounds of human decency and he was gravely disappointed in himself for failing to stop it sooner. He asked that all the honest, hardworking officers of the force keep their chins up and be proud of the fine work they did. Don’t, he said, allow a handful of bad actors to destroy all the good work the rest of you do.
“There’s gonna be a ton of shit coming down,” Jonas Williams murmured after the chief left the room.
Niles nodded. “The pep talk was nice but let’s be honest, others had to have a clue.” His vivid blue eyes darted around the room where uncomfortable officers avoided looking anyone in the eye. “This isn’t the end of it.”
His partner, feisty little Mariella Cruz, was shaking her head. “I feel like a freaking idiot! I didn’t know.”
Williams, a huge man in his fifties, gave her a shrug. “You just joined the team, Cruz. I’ve been here for fifteen years.”
“Did you know?” she asked, her dark eyes wide.
Williams folded his arms and gazed out the window at Baltimore sparkling in the night.
“Did you?” Niles pressed. He’d heard rumors but nothing he could have acted upon. He was ashamed he hadn’t pursued his suspicions. Maybe this pain could have been avoided.
Jackson kicked the vampire’s foot. “Don’t go there, Ghoul.”
“Why not?” Niles rounded on the black man. “If he knew something, he should have reported it.”
“I didn’t know anything!” Williams snapped. He glared at Niles, daring him to continue.
Cruz pressed her forehead into her hands. She shook her head, her satiny black hair waving in its thick pony tail. “I can’t believe this.”
“There’s nothing to believe,” Jackson insisted. He gave Williams a bracing look. “He didn’t know. None of us did.”
“How can you be so certain?” Niles demanded.
Jackson glared. “Because I know.”
Williams’ partner, Walter Cooksey, was white faced. Niles feared the little, fat, bald man was going to be sick right there in the meeting room.
Being a vampire with icy hands, Niles knew better than to touch him. He did lean close. “Are you going to be okay?”
Cooksey swallowed and blinked rapidly. He nodded in a frantic fashion then hung his head.
Cruz sank into her chair. “You both knew! Jesus!” She turned worried eyes to her partner. “Did you?”
Niles scowled. “Hell, no!” He lowered his voice. “I might be a vampire but that doesn’t mean I don’t have scruples. I don’t rob people. I don’t falsify reports. And I don’t lie to cover it up when other people do.”
“No, you just kill and eat people,” Williams growled.
Niles’ blue eyes momentarily flickered yellow with anger. He took several deep breaths to control himself. “Go ahead. Attack me, Jonas. Make yourself feel better.”
“Will you both just stop it!” Jackson hissed. “We can’t afford to fight amongst ourselves.”
“Defending the indefensible is what got the department into this mess!” Cruz insisted.
Williams drew his breath. He let it out with a wheeze. He stared each member of the team in the eye. “Look. I didn’t know anything. I’d heard stuff. I suspected things. But I didn’t know!”
“You should have spoken up.” Niles shook his head in disgust at Williams and himself.
“That’s easy for you to say, Ghoul!” Williams snorted. “You don’t consider us your friends, your brothers.”
Niles flinched as if he’d been hit. “I resent that, Jonas. I’ve bent over backwards to fit in. But right now I’m not sure I want you as a friend or a brother.”
Williams’ gray eyes flashed like a storm cloud. “Then it’s a good thing we’re neither, isn’t it?”
“Stop it!” Cooksey popped onto his feet. He was so short the action did little to stop the argument so he waved his arms. “I can’t stand this.” He glared around the circle. “We’re a team, remember. We take care of each other.”
Williams folded his arms and half turned his back. “Everyone but the Ghoul, I’m thinking.”
“Even the Ghoul,” Krewelski said quietly. “He’s probably the most honest one amongst us.”
Jackson laid a huge hand on Williams’ shoulder before the man leaped at Krewelski. “Jonas, stop.” His deep voice rumbled like the ocean. Like Cooksey, he swept the circle with his dark eyes. “Cooksey’s right. We need to hang together. All of us. This thing could get ugly. When it does we may have no one but each other. Remember that.”
Williams huffed then subsided. He seemed to deflate. He sat staring out the window bleakly.
Jackson looked pointedly at Niles. “Are you one of us, or not?”
Niles didn’t know where to look. At a disgusted Cruz who seemed ready to simply quit, a fervent Cooksey who nodded at him to agree, a confused Krewelski or Williams’ defiant back. Finally, he made his decision. He sighed.
“I’m one of you.”
Jackson slapped his shoulder then stomped off to get some coffee. Cooksey smiled. Krewelski shrugged and headed for the men’s room.
Cruz shook her head. “We’re gonna burn in hell, Gule.”
Niles nodded. “Probably. But we’ll burn together.”
She snorted and suggested they get to work.
As he followed her to their desks, Niles wondered just how far the disease had spread. And what he could do about it. He finally decided there was nothing he could do. He was one of them. In for a penny, in for a pound.
The blue line, Niles thought. One never crossed it.
To our shame.
© 2017 Newmin
Niles Comments: The arrest of the seven officers has shocked and saddened me. The saying is true. Power corrupts. We must all remember that the vast majority of police officers in this country are dedicated men and women who put their lives on the line every day to keep the rest of us safe. We cannot allow the actions of a few to destroy the faith we place in our men and women in blue.