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What had started as a simple visit to question a witness had turned into a foot chase through backyards and over fences. He was currently creeping behind a garden shed, hoping to catch the suspect, who was trying to catch his breath, by surprise.
The thought that he should have backup briefly crossed his mind. But that would mean making a phone call, which would tip off the witness turned suspect. Plus, by the time anyone could get to his location, the chase would be over. Captain Banks would probably lecture him on proper police procedure and safety, but that lecture would be much easier to endure with a suspect in custody, and this particular suspect could break this case wide open.
With Sentinel hearing, it was easy to detect the suspect just around the corner. All the detective had to do was pounce around the corner and take his prey by surprise. Unfortunately, the suspect took this moment to resume his flight. Ellison resumed the chase and once again the two men were jumping fences and dodging swing sets.
As he hurdled a sandbox, the detective offered up a prayer of thanks that it was early on a school day and that there were no kids in the yards. The prayer apparently pleased whatever gods looked after the police and sentinels, because the suspect got stuck while trying to make it over a fence. The suspect freed himself just as the detective reached him and they both tumbled into the next yard.
As they fell to the ground, Ellison realized that the gods were just toying with him. He saw out of the corner of his eye a young boy sitting at a picnic table playing with an army of green plastic soldiers.
Mustering all the breath he could, Ellison managed to shout, "Police!" He then concentrated on just trying to contain the suspect and give the boy a chance to get out of harm’s way. Once again the gods gave the detective a break, because the boy took off for the house and disappeared inside screaming for his parents.
After ensuring that the child was safe, Jim focused all his attention on subduing his opponent.
The battle descended into a no-holds-barred contest as the two men became a tangled mess of limbs and muscle. Punches and kicks were thrown and blocked. The suspect even engaged his teeth at one point.
The instinct of the prey to get away and the hunger of the hunter to overcome became the guiding forces leading both men.
A very distinct 'click-click’ forced itself between the combatants like a wedge, driven home with a commanding, "Halt! Nobody move!"
Like children playing a game of freeze tag, the two trespassers became statues. After a moment to regain a fraction of sanity they looked over towards the source of the command.
Stepping out from of the house through the sliding glass door, carrying an obviously ready to fire handgun, was a large, muscular man in his boxer shorts. Everything about the man screamed military and shouted that he would not hesitate to shoot either intruder.
"Both of you, on the ground." he commanded, the gun never wavering.
Only after seeing the suspect doing as he was instructed, and not making a run for it, did Ellison follow suit. In the background, the detective could hear sirens approaching and breathed a sigh of relief.
All three remained as they were for what seemed like an eternity as the sirens grew louder and louder.
Finally a new presence made itself know by announcing, "Police!"
Within the blink of an eye the backyard was filled with a swarm of uniformed police officers. They quickly relieved the home owner of his charges and identified friend from foe. With the suspect tucked away in a squad car and uniformed officers seeing to the various tasks of police work, Ellison approached the home owner, now clad in a bit more clothing.
“Sir, I’m Detective James Ellison. Please, let me apologize. The Cascade Police Department feels very strongly about endangering civilians, especially children. Had I know your son was in the yard, I would have done all I could to avoid this morning’s incident,” the detective explained.
The father was silent for a moment as he studied the other man’s face, looking for any signs of deceit. Finally, he allowed his expression to soften and extended his hand, accepting the apology. “I understand,” was all he said, but a hint of sadness in his voice made it clear that he understood in a way that most people couldn’t.
Jim heard the unspoken meaning as he took the offered hand, each man seeing a familiar haunting in the other’s eyes. “When did you get back?” he asked knowingly.
“Yesterday, we were going to spend the day together. Chris was playing outside while his mother and I, err, finished getting ready,” the father explained with a slight blush.
“Daddy, Daddy!” before the men could continue their conversation, the young boy from earlier came running up to his father, followed shortly by his mother. The father bent down to pick up his son, obviously glad to have the opportunity.
“Detective, why don’t you come inside and get cleaned up?” the mother asked gesturing to Jim’s bloody lip.
Reaching up and gingerly examining his lip, Ellison realized he must be a mess after his tumble with the suspect. He hadn’t thought about it at the time, but the suspect had been covered with mud and leaves as well. “I’d appreciate that, thank you.”
As a group they all walked into the house. The mother directed Jim to sit at the dining room table and went to get some first aid supplies. The father set his son down and said, “Chris, why don’t you go and get one of my shirts for the detective, since his is all dirty and torn?” Then turning to Ellison, “By the way, I’m Lieutenant John Mathis, my wife is Emily, and our son is Christopher,” he continued and began to clear space off the table so his wife would have room to work.
Before Jim could respond, Emily returned and began to make quick work of treating her guest’s cuts and scrapes. He instead took the opportunity to examine the room. It was a comfortable living space with plenty of seating for friends. Toys were scattered on the floor and family photos covered almost every available surface. Spotting one photo in particular, the sentinel gave it a closer examination.
Just as the mother finished her first aid and the little boy came running down the hallway and up to the detective. "Mommy and Daddy always say that I should do something nice for people who do nice things for me and since you got beat up and got your shirt torn keeping the bad guy away from me, you need a shirt to replace yours. Besides, the firefighter wouldn’t take it back. He said I had to give it to somebody else who needed it and since my Daddy is home now, I don’t need it anymore,” Chris rambled on as only children can do.
Jim automatically accepted the item that was thrust at him and smiled at the child’s rapid-fire explanation. “That’s very thoughtful of you, Chris, but you don’t need to give me anything. I was just…” he started to explain, but stopped when the little boy’s face fell as he realized the police officer wasn’t going to accept his gift.
As if suddenly noticing that he held something in his hands, the detective looked down and examined what he initially thought was the child’s well loved and threadbare security blanket. He couldn’t help but smile as he realized what he really was holding.
“This is perfect,” he stated, looking back up at the boy, with a smile that caused the boy to beam with pride for a job well done.
“Um, that’s not one of my sweatshirts,” John explained with a hint of confusion. He turned to address his son, “Christopher Mathis, where did you get this sweatshirt?”
“It’s alright, Lieutenant. It’s my shirt,” Jim quickly explained as he stood and walked over to the picture that he had spotted earlier. He picked up the photograph of a man, wearing a familiar ARMY sweatshirt, and boy and showed it to the man who had followed him across the room. “Is this you and your father?” he asked, already knowing the answer to the question.
John nodded yes as he accepted the picture, “It was taken about a year before he died, but what does that have to do with the sweatshirt?”
The detective gathered his thoughts as he moved back to the table and sat down. “Chris got the shirt from a firefighter, right?”
“Yes, he was at a sleep over and there was a fire. One of the firefighters gave Chris the ARMY sweatshirt to help him feel better so he wouldn’t be so scared,” the mom explained.
“I remember you telling me about that,” her husband added.
“The firefighter that gave Chris the shirt is a friend of mine,” Jim began. He explained how the firefighter had gotten the shirt from one of the doctors at Cascade General since a particularly nasty call had ended with his uniform in a condition that was not pleasant to wear. Next was a description of how the doctor had gotten the shirt because of her overachieving air conditioner. Jim pointed out the mud stains acquired when his brother had rescued a puppy, the coffee stains from when it had helped his roommate, Blair, trough finals, and the baby stains from when he’d loaned it to his ex-wife.
He continued to narrate how the shirt had helped Simon and his son, Daryl, come to an understanding, and how it had even helped Jim melt the ice between himself and his own father. Next was how the ARMY sweatshirt brought peace and harmony to Blair and his mother.
Each time the ARMY sweatshirt had exchanged hands it had been to help a friend in need and bring comfort. “This shirt has apparently developed a life of its own,” Ellison said with a chuckle.
Finally, the former Army Ranger explained how he had been the only survivor of a helicopter crash that left him stranded in the Peruvian jungle for 18 months. He then showed John the faded name, Mathis, which was written in for laundry purposes.
“Your dad led the team that rescued me. He gave me this shirt because the Army had already sent my person belongings back home,” Jim said, looking directly at Lt. Mathis, and then paused for a moment to let the significance sink in.
Looking back down at the ARMY sweatshirt in his hands, Jim continued, “By the time I got around to returning the shirt, it was too late. Your mom told me to keep it. She said she knew I’d get a lot of good use out of it. It’s funny how fate works, isn’t it?”
A brief moment of silence hung in the air as each of the adults contemplated recent events.
Chris looked back and forth between his parents and Detective Ellison, “Does that mean this was Granddad’s shirt?”
Jim knelt down in front of the boy, “Yes, this was your granddad’s shirt. It’s a very special shirt, just like your granddad was a very special man. In fact, I think he would love for you to keep it, permanently.”
Chris looked up questioningly at his dad.
The father smiled and nodded to his son.
The boy eagerly took the ARMY sweatshirt from Jim, hugged it tight, and then wrapped his arms around his new friend in the biggest bear hug his young arms could manage.
The detective gladly returned the hug and chuckled, “You’re welcome.”
The mother and father silently exchanged looks for a moment while their son had the detective distracted.
The dad bent down and picked up his son, “You know, Granddad went to a lot of trouble to get you that shirt. You need to take very good care of it,” he explained with just the right balance of sternness and fatherly guidance.
“Can I wear it when we pick Grandma up at the airport tomorrow,” Chris asked eagerly.
“I think that would be perfect,” the dad answered with a hug.
Lt. Mathis then turned to Detective Ellison, “But we still have the issue of you needing a clean shirt to wear. Why don’t you come back to the bedroom with me and I’ll find you something,” Lt. Mathis suggested as he put his son down and led the way down the hall.
Jim gave a smile to Chris and Emily and followed John down the hall and into the back bedroom. He found John standing at a highboy dresser with his back to the door. There was a tense silence hanging in the air. The Sentinel was about to ask if John was OK when the other man spoke.
“I was just starting high school when my dad died,” Mathis said, struggling to maintain control of his emotions. “I remember spending a lot of time wondering why he was gone all the time. He never got a chance to tell me why or any of his stories. You know, those ‘life lesson war stories’ or just ‘because it gets a laugh’ stories. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard the other guys talk about their fathers and telling stories, but I’ve had nothing.”
Mathis turned to look at his guest. “But now, thanks to you and a certain sweatshirt, I can tell how my dad saved a man’s life.”
The Lt. took a step forward and held out a much newer, unstained, grey sweatshirt with gold threads embroidered around the word ARMY on the front., “I don’t have words to describe what that means to me. Thank you for helping me reconnect with him.”
Ellison looked up at Mathis and saw a wealth of emotion in the younger man’s eyes. There was some sadness at the remembered loss, but the dominate emotion was gratitude and joy for the unexpected gift.
Jim contemplated his own feelings about events surrounding his time in Peru. Even the simplified version that he had relayed to the Mathis family had dredged up painful memories and a heavy sense of loss and confusion.
Some wounds heal, some wounds don’t, and some you just think heal.
The retired Captain came to attention, carefully accepted the sweatshirt as if it were being handed over in a flag ceremony, tucked it tight against his side, and saluted. The Lt. took a step back, also came to attention and returned the salute. Each man understood the importance and significance of recent events.
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