Self defense.

The words followed Tom Hanson around everywhere he went. When he woke up in the morning, they were the first things to cross his mind. As he prepared for bed at night they were the last things he thought about. In between, he was seldom free from them.

He had talked to the department shrink about it—it was required after an officer was involved in such a situation—and he had been declared fit for active duty two months ago. But Tom felt anything but fit. He went to work anyway, though. Day after day, he performed his tasks as if all was fine. For now, anyway.

But everything was not fine. Because he knew, oh, he knew that he was a murderer, even if nobody else did.

*** *** ***

Hanson jerked awake as the alarm clock sprang to life. In his haste to turn off the device’s shrill warble, he got tangled up in the bed covers and landed on the floor beside his bed with a thud. He stayed there for a minute, then slowly untangled himself and stood up.

"Here we go again," he muttered as he thought of the day ahead of him.

He was in and out of the shower in ten minutes. When he was sufficiently dry, he pulled on a semi-clean pair of jeans and began to shave.

Against his will, his eyes found those of his reflection in the mirror. He didn’t like what he saw. Oh, it wasn’t anything as obvious as circles under his eyes or frown lines in his forehead. No, what he didn’t like came from within—he could see it in his eyes. He wondered if anyone else could.

"Stop it, Tom," he ordered. "Just finish up and go to work."

There was a time when he had looked forward to going in to the Chapel every morning. A time when he had been so full of hope. He used to think that by being a cop he could make a difference in the world, could save lives.

Yeah, you made a difference, all right. But instead of saving lives like you’re supposed to be doing, you’re too busy taking them, isn’t that right?

Tom slammed the medicine chest shut and turned away. In no time, he had shaved, dressed and eaten breakfast.

On his way out of the bedroom, he collected his gun and badge from the nightstand drawer. The badge he tucked into the pocket of his jean jacket. The regulation .38 he held in his hand for another minute. He hated the sight of it, wished he never had to touch it again for the rest of his life. It was an instrument of pain, of death. It had been responsible for killing a sixteen year-old girl.

Who was he kidding? He had been the one responsible for her death. He had pulled the trigger. He was to blame.

He vividly remembered the funeral. Fuller had advised him not to attend, but Tom had had to go. The girl’s mother, Mrs. Tray, had been in tears. It was to be expected, of course. But he hadn’t expected for her to see him, hidden away in the rear of the crowd as he was. She had, though, and when she had been led away by comforting arms after her only child had been laid to rest, she had passed by him, and looked at him. To Tom, her eyes made her seem like the oldest woman in the world. She had just looked at him with those eyes, eyes the same color as her daughter’s.

He would never forget that look. Words couldn’t describe it, but it was forever burned into his memory.

Right along with the words self defense.

IA had determined that the shooting was justified. Alicia Tray had been stoned out of her mind. She had fired the Baretta in her hand several times, and most likely would have killed him with the nest shot. She was an immediate danger; there had been no hope of getting the gun away from her. Hanson’s only choice had been to shoot her.

At least that was what everybody said. The shrink, the Internal Affairs board, his friends at work, his mother. But Tom couldn’t bring himself to believe that that was his only option. He could have just winged her, could have aimed for her arm instead of her heart. He could have tried to get through to her. He just hadn’t tried hard enough…

It was time to go. He was going to be late

The piece of paper by the phone caught his eye, and he thought about it as he locked his apartment door behind him. His mother had called the night before with the offer. Her boyfriend, Steve, had volunteered to help him get a bank loan…if he decided that that was what he wanted. Tom still wasn’t sure, but he knew he had to decide soon.

The drive to the Chapel passed in a blur.

Inside, it was busy as ever. Crime didn’t stop just because Tom Hanson had problems.

"Hey, Hanson," Ioki greeted as he hurried by with a file in his hand.

Tom looked up. "Hey." He wandered over to his desk. Whether he wanted to or not, there was work to be done.

The day dragged on, just like the day before, and the day before that one. Tom worked hard, accomplished little, talked to his friends, smiled at their jokes, and thought about Alicia Tray.

He remembered the girl’s bloodshot eyes, her wordless yells, the firing of the gun in her hand into the air. Then, then she had turned the gun on Tom. It was just the two of them, standing at the dead end of that ally, and Tom had truly thought that he would die. He remembered that Alicia’s gun had gone off after he had shot her. It was such an unimportant thing, really, but all at once he could hear the roar of the shots—his and hers.

Someone tossed a file onto his desk, and the slap of it hitting the metal surface snapped him back to the present.

All of a sudden, he couldn’t take it anymore. He had to get out of there, had to take a break, had to get some air.

He grabbed his jacket and headed out the door and to his car. The air outside was cool and refreshing. He leaned against his Mustang and breathed deeply, his hands shoved into his pockets.

God, he was losing it. Not yet twenty-five and already he was having a nervous breakdown. He didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Actually, he didn’t feel like doing either. He stood there and watched the late afternoon sun sink lower and lower on the horizon.

Someone walked up to him and stopped, then leaned against the car beside Hanson. Tom looked up from his shoes and offered a smile. It was Doug.

"Hey there, little buddy. What’re you doing out here?"

"Thinking," Tom replied.


Tom paused. "Life, death, work, Alicia Tray."

Doug’s face crumpled into a frown. "Tom…" he began.

Hanson cut him off before he could say any more. "I’ve been thinking about how much I hate my life. I hate the person I’ve become, and I hate the fact that I killed her."

"You can’t save everybody, Tommy. You know that. It was her choice to do drugs, her choice to pick up that gun."

"And it was my choice to shoot her!" He was almost yelling now.

Doug fell silent, and Tom’s face softened. "I used to be happy," he whispered, and looked at a tall tree standing at the edge of the parking lot. "I used to love my job. I wanted to climb the ladder, be the best. But it’s not worth it if people die because of me."

He glanced over at his friend. Penhall looked like he was trying to find the right words to say. "I’m not happy anymore, Dougie. I’ve known it for a while, and…I think…you have too."

"I know, I know…I just…" The sentence trailed off, and Doug pushed himself away from the Mustang and kicked at some rocks with his booted toe.

"Me too," Hanson sighed.

The sun was almost gone, now, the sky darkening rapidly. Tom watched as the orange streetlights began to turn on one by one.

"So, you’re leaving?" Doug asked. The light nearest them was apparently broken, and Penhall’s face was hidden in the growing shadows. Tom nodded. "What will you do?"

Tom was prepared with an answer. "A friend of my mom’s works at a bank. He’s gonna help me get a loan."

"What for?"

"For my new bowling ally."

Doug laughed. "A bowling ally? You’re kidding." When he saw that Tom just looked at him, he added, "You’re serious?"

"Yeah, I am. It’s…it’s something I really want, Doug. I think it’ll make me happy again."

"And if it doesn’t?" Doug’s voice was quiet, almost a whisper.

Tom didn’t know the answer to that one. After a short pause, he said, "Then I’ll have to try something else."

He was surprised when Doug reached out and pulled him into a bear hug, but after a second’s hesitation he returned the embrace. A lump found its way to his throat, and he had to swallow twice before he could say, "There’ll always be a place for you if you want it, buddy. You just let me know if you ever do."

A few pats on the back, and the hug came to an end. Doug sniffed, and swiped at his eyes, and Tom blinked back moisture from his own eyes.

"Yeah, well, uh, if I ever do I’ll let you know."


Doug laughed, a little shakily. "Yeah, I promise, Tommy."

They lapsed into silence again and watched the traffic go by.

Tom felt a little better. It was a beginning step to once more finding peace. And the beginning was the best place to be.

The End