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Officer Rudy Kramer drew his pistol, a nine-millimeter that, as always, was set to fire—a round in the chamber, fifteen in the magazine, and the safety off. Then he took a deep breath and a long hard swallow that first sent his prominent Adam’s apple down, and then back up again.

His heart, thumping against the inside of his chest, was a metronome on steroids.

Bump. Bump. Bump.

There was no backup to call.

No snarling K-9 to send.

No tear gas.

No SWAT unit.

To make matters worse he couldn’t find his flashlight.

Like it or not, the time had come and there was no alternative.

He had to go it alone.

So Rudy, a highly-decorated veteran cop who was just shy of his fiftieth birthday, started the search slowly, carefully, and methodically, clearing each of the rooms precisely as he’d been taught in the academy.

Five down.

So far, so good.

Only two rooms remained, including that room.

The one where—

He heard a sound and stopped dead still, holding his breath.

A beat passed and he heard it again.

Clunk.

The noise came from down the hallway.

The kitchen.

His heart picked up the pace.

BumpBumpBumpBump

Clunk.

He aimed the barrel of his pistol down the dark corridor.

Watching.

Waiting.

Clunk. Clunk.

Ice cubes dropping into the plastic bin.

He exhaled, slowly.

His heart downshifted a gear.

Bump. Bump. Bump.

Next came a low hummm and a soft whirrrr.

The refrigerator’s compressor.

The kitchen would have to wait until after he checked the room where “IT” happened.

Unable to put it off any longer, Rudy turned and moved slowly across the hardwood toward the open door of “that” room.

With each step the old floorboards sounded off with a faint and screechy creak.

A lone drop of sweat slalomed its way down his backbone until it dipped beneath the waistband of his favorite boxers, the red plaid pair he’d received as a birthday gift from his wife Ruth, the love of his life since they’d first met in high school.

He paused, cocking his head to one side, listening.

Adrenaline dialed his senses to hyper-alert.

He detected the individual scents of the dust motes that danced in the moonlight spilling through each windowpane.

He sensed his own blood streaming and spewing through even the tiniest vessels within his body.

His eardrums pounded inside his head, begging to hear the slightest of sounds, like those of those stinky dust particles as they spiraled and sailed their way to the oak flooring until they landed with the collective volley of hundreds of earsplitting thuds.

Still, in spite of the cacophony of “house” noises that assaulted his hearing, the absolute quiet inside the house was absolutely deafening and quite maddening, to say the least.

And there was that constant hammering of the antique mantle clock. The battering and grindings of tiny gears and cogs and wheels as they worked against one another.

Tick … Tick … Tick …

Outside, a brutal December nor’easter pushed and pulled on the leafless, gangly limbs of the old Hackberry in the side yard.

The corner streetlamp backlit the tree’s gnarled appendages, sending its dark shadow in through the windows to wave and sway on the interior walls, including the one spattered with splotchy-red stains and, well, that other stuff. The stuff he didn’t want to think about.

The Hackberry’s tiniest branches and twigs scraped and scratched against the exterior of the house—dozens of skeletal fingers strumming a clapboard harp. The eerie display reminded Rudy of a maestro’s arms and hands as he brings his orchestra toward a final crescendo.

Same song and show every night.

Every single night of his miserable life.

Night after night after lonely night.

Whir, click, clunk, scrape, tick, scratch, and the bump of his grief-induced heartbeat.

The macabre concerto had repeated each night since his beautiful wife, a once loving woman who’s mind gradually overflowed with depression and psychosis, used his service weapon, the same gun he held in his sweaty hand right now, to scatter the parts of her that once contained her memories, thoughts, silent prayers, and dreams of growing old together, all over the walls of that room.

He could no longer bear to watch the shadows dance.

The music had reached the coda.

It was time for the maestro’s finale.

The fat lady was singing her ass off.

He raised the gun and pressed the barrel against the roof of his mouth.

Whir, click, clunk, scrape, tick, bump, thud … BANG!

. . . . . . . . .

Tick … Tick … Tick …

As a sheriff’s deputy, long before I made the switch to a city police department and later as a detective, I, as did my fellow wearers of the star-shaped badge, often patrolled the entire county, alone.

Should a serious situation arise our only backup was a lone state trooper whose duty was prowling for speeders and drunk drivers during their patrol of the major highways that crisscrossed their way through our jurisdiction. This meant that help, if needed, could be well more than three-quarters of an hour away, and that’s with full lights, siren, and gas pedal pushed tightly to the floor. Our agencies had a mutual agreement, though; they worked traffic-related incidents in the county—speeders and auto crashes, and we handled all criminal cases. When necessary we’d each back the other.

Needless to say, handling all calls by yourself could be a bit nerve-wracking. Troopers never knew what or who was waiting for them when they stopped a car out on a deserted stretch of highway, and we never knew what or who(m) we’d be dealing with when we approached a house or other location where a crime was reported, or one in-progress that we’d stumbled across while on patrol.

Now, I’ve said all of the above as a means to address a question that I’ve been asked numerous times over the years, and that’s if I experienced fear at any time during my career. Well, I’ve never had to pause to consider a response because the answer is easy … a resounding YES. And that fear, at times, was extremely palpable, complete with a heart that took on a mind of its own at times.

Like when searching for armed and wanted suspects inside an abandoned and very dark warehouse. You can’t see your own hand in front of your face and you know the thugs are there, waiting for you and will stop at nothing to avoid prison. It’s times like this when the old ticker starts pounding and thumping so fiercely against the interior of your chest that you’re afraid the suspect will hear it, giving away your position.

Sometimes, during extremely tense situations, you see your pant legs moving slightly and that’s when you realize you’re trembling just a bit. And there’s always that bead of cool sweat that worms its way down your Kevlar vest and fear-heated back, following the bumps and curves of your spine until it dips past your waistline and into your pants where it continues on into, well, you know where. Perspiration from your forehead and brow leaks into your eyes, burning like a powerful acid. And this is all when it’s cold outside.

We wade through mounds of people who’re fighting, using fists, and sticks, and knives, and guns, all to arrest the folks who’re leading the battle and/or those sought per arrest warrants. We go toe-to-toe with people far tougher than one could imagine, or would ever want to envision.

There’s nothing like pulling up to a “shots-fired” call and suddenly finding yourself the target of machinegun fire. Bullets rapidly puncture and rip and tear away the metal and glass of your patrol car while you frantically try your best to find some sort of cover.

A bar fight where the two bikers stop and join together to turn their large knives toward you because they hate cops more than one another. But, somehow you come out on top in spite of all the blood that’s pouring from your wounds.

But cops do what they do and I was no different. We have a job to do and dadgum it we do it. We head into those warehouses and street and bar fights and those dark alleys, and we continue moving forward until those suspects are in custody.

Sure we’re often scared. But we deal with the fear later, once all is a said and done. That’s when the hands really begin to shake and the knees knock, and you say your thanks to God, as I did and still do, or to whomever your faith directs you to thank for seeing you safely through the incident, even if that someone is merely your lucky stars, a rabbit’s foot (not so lucky for the rabbit, though), or to the earth and sky and wind and water.

So yeah, I’ve been scared. Plenty of times.

So remember, there’s nothing to fear but fear itself … and guns and knives and giant bad guys with big sticks and ham-size fists.

Oh, yeah, and spiders.