Safe From the War, rest of chapter 1


Other chapters and excerpts from Safe From the War can be found below:


“204 dispatch, I’m arriving.” Sergeant Tillis, one of the few patrol sergeants Nunez thought was worth a damn, pulled off Hanley into the parking lot. He drove low and slow, only in a hurry when an officer was screaming for help. Tillis rolled to a stop behind Nunez’s car, popped his door and gracefully swung all his six foot, five inches and 290 pounds out of the driver’s seat.

Nunez took his eyes off the bottom floor of the apartment only long enough to recognize Tillis walking toward him, then turned his head back into the doorway and said “Hi, Mel.” Mel was not his real name, of course, but there was no other name for an old, tall, fat white guy named Tillis.

“Whatcha got, Jerry?”

“Well, it’s a combination stabbing, slashing, attempted decapitation, triple nut cutting and aggravated jaywalking all rolled into one.” Nunez kept his eyes inside the apartment as he talked, paying particular attention to the stairwell entrance. “All my years of police experience lead me to believe that something illegal happened inside the apartment. I’m not good enough to be a detective or anything though, so that’s probably wrong.”

Tillis laughed quietly at the last statement, knowing how pissed off Nunez had been at not being selected when he had applied for Homicide Division two years earlier. “Spare me the whining, tell me facts, Jerry.”

“The complainant’s in the kitchen, slashed and stabbed and head almost cut off,” Nunez said. “Little girl, looks like a teenager. I barely got a look at the suspect through the window, I’m pretty sure he’s upstairs. Take a look at the blood, there’s the pool in the center of the room here and trails leading to the kitchen and upstairs. The only way he could have gotten out is through the upstairs window, but the screen’s still on it and there’s no blood around it. He could have gotten into the attic and crossed to another apartment that way too.”

Tillis waited a few seconds before saying, “Hmmm…it’s been a long time since we had this kind of thing around here, maybe we’ll get ourselves a serial murderer or something interesting like that.” Meaning, Well this is different. All we usually see in this district are gangster homiecides and the occasional, run-of-the-mill domestic murder.

“Wait til you see her, sarge,” Nunez said. “She’s shredded.”

“Sounds like it. Hopefully the dog will get in there and eat his ass before we hook him up. Hang on, I’m going to try to call him out.”

Nunez waited while Tillis bellowed Houston Police, come outside now into the apartment. Nobody on the scene expected the suspect to come out, but they always had to make the show. Just in case it turned into a shooting and some lawyer wound up asking them, Are you sure you did everything you could to avoid a violent confrontation with the suspect?

Calhoun waited until they were all sure nobody was coming outside and said “I hope he fucking offs himself when we find him. Maybe with a 12 gauge. I want to see his head explode. I can take some of his brains home afterward.”

“Yeah, whatever,” Nunez said. “Usual deal sarge, dog goes in first and we hold what he clears?”

“Sure, unless Jonesy wants something different. He might be worried about his dog getting stabbed,” Tillis said.

Calhoun muttered, “Oh yeah, we don’t want the dog to get stabbed. I guess we should go in first then, the dog’s training and insurance costs more than ours. I’ll just take my vest and gun belt off and go in blindfolded too.”

“Eddie, I hope you don’t whine that much when we actually go inside,” Tillis said. “In fact, you can wait outside and cover the window. We wouldn’t want you to get hurt.”

Calhoun’s face tensed but he didn’t reply. Just like every other officer on night shift in North Houston, Tillis knew thought Calhoun was a loudmouth prick. Nunez was probably the only officer on the shift who would have ever chosen Calhoun to be his backup on a scene, but other officers thought he was such an asshole they couldn’t have cared less about Calhoun’s tactical proficiency.

Jones pulled into the complex parking lot. Grey haired and black, he got out with his short leash in his hand and opened the back door, hooking the leash onto his big Belgian Malinois before letting him out of the back seat. Nunez and Tillis waved him over, and Nunez explained the situation to Jones while Tillis stood quietly to the side and Calhoun sulked in silence. Jones asked who was going inside the apartment with him for the search of the first floor.

“Calhoun, go tell Mata to come here so he can cover K9’s back,” Tillis ordered, “then you take a position at the corner, and keep one eye on the front door after we make entry.”

Calhoun holstered his pistol in disgust, gave Tillis a hateful look and walked toward Hanley. Nunez took a quick look at him as he was leaving, and for the first time noticed that Calhoun had tailored his uniform sleeves, making them tighter in order to show off his upper arms. A few seconds later Mata walked quickly to the doorway, smiling and holding his shotgun. “Boy, you sure pissed Calhoun off, sarge.”

“Aww, darn,” Tillis said. “Johnny, you’re cover for Jones, stay on him and watch his back. We’ll be in as soon as he says so.”

“Got it, sarge.”


Jones waited a few seconds, then let his dog bound forward to the end of his leash and followed him inside. Mata entered right on his ass, while Tillis and Nunez covered from the doorway. The dog sniffed the pool of blood on the floor, followed the trail of blood a short distance toward the kitchen, turned and followed the trail the other way toward the stairs, then started growling and pulling on his leash, trying to get to the stairwell. Jones yanked him back toward the kitchen and led him gingerly through the doorway. Mata went in at their backs, and Nunez knew Jones would be very carefully maneuvering his dog around the body to clear the kitchen, balancing the need to search every possible hiding place in the room with the need to keep the crime scene from being contaminated. There was a very real possibility that in the near future, some asshole defense lawyer would tell a jury something like You all heard the officer himself admit that he contaminated the crime scene by putting his dog into that room. Don’t you think that a dog, a big police dog, drooling all over a crime scene ruins it? Don’t you think that dog could have wiped off the real killer’s DNA with those big paws? If you agree with me on this, and I know you all do, you have no choice but to acquit my client. For god’s sake, let this innocent man get back to his family! Hasn’t he suffered enough at the hands of the police already? And some fucktard on the jury would buy it. Man, that’s true! I think I saw it on CSI once, an animal got into a crime scene and it like made a false DNA match or something.

After two minutes Jones and Mata walked back out of the kitchen. Jones looked at Tillis and Nunez, raised an eyebrow and shook his head in disbelief before carrying on the search. Mata was pale and looked like he was about to puke. Despite their best efforts, both officers had stepped in blood in the kitchen and along with the dog left bloody footprints in their wake as they walked into the living room. The dog pulled toward the stairwell again, and Jones directed him toward the deep corner of the room, where the doors to the closet and bathroom were. Both were clear.

After Nunez and Tillis entered the apartment, Jones looked at them and said, “Jesus Christ. I hope this sorry fuck is in here, and I hope he has a weapon and refuses to drop it.” Nunez and Tillis both nodded in agreement. Mata, still looking like he was holding back a gallon of vomit, kept his mouth shut and his eyes and shotgun on the stairwell.

“Well, let’s do this,” Jones said to Mata. “Sarge, you two should stay down here until we get to the top of the stairs. No point in having all four of us jammed up in the stairwell if it turns into a shooting.”

“Sure thing, Jonesy.”

Jones said to Mata, “If he pops up at the top of the stairs with a gun you better not accidentally shoot my dog,” and then moved around the corner into the stairwell. Mata stuck to his right side. They moved up the stairs slowly, with the dog straining on the leash, leading the way. Mata had his shotgun in his shoulder, muzzle pointed to the top of the stairwell, thumb on the safety and finger alongside the trigger guard, tensed and ready to fire. Bloody footprints marked every step, and blood was streaked along the wall for a few feet on the right side of the stairwell.

About five steps from the top, the dog started growling and pulling toward the second floor. At the top of the stairs they could only see a blank wall; because of the window that faced Hanley, Nunez knew there had to be a room to the right. The dog pulled to the left when they reached the last step, and Nunez lost sight of him as he moved, growling and ready to attack, around the left corner. Jones stopped Mata at the top of the stairs and motioned for Nunez and Tillis to come up.

“He’s in the room across the hallway,” Jones whispered as they arrived at the landing. “I need Mata with me and one of you to cover our backs when we go in.”

“I got your backs.” Tillis said. He shifted to the right and eased in to the spot Mata had been holding.

Most of the blood had been rubbed from the suspect’s shoes as he walked up the stairs, but faint bloody footprints were still visible leading to the room across the hallway. The door was closed, like all the others in the upstairs hallway, and there was blood smeared all around the door handle. Jones crept across the hallway and took a position left of the doorway. He had to strain hard to keep his dog from jumping on the door, but to the dog’s credit it never barked, just growled and choked itself on its collar.

Mata quickly moved to the right side of the doorway and shifted his shotgun to a high ready position, right hand on the pistol grip and left hand on the pump, the muzzle even with his eyes. Nunez crept to the left and took up a position beside Jones, watching the left side of the hallway. Tillis stayed at the stairwell, watching the officers as they prepared to enter the room.

Jones whispered to Mata. Mata reached slowly across the door and tried the door handle. It was unlocked. Mata looked up expectantly at Jones, and Jones nodded to him through narrowed eyes. Mata turned the door handle all the way and pushed it just enough to make sure it would open, then hesitated again, making sure he wasn’t going to move before everyone was ready.

In a flash Mata shoved the door open as hard as he could. Before the door could bounce back off the wall Jones’ dog was in the doorway, barking like a raving beast and spraying saliva through the air. An accented voice shrieked “Dog out my house! Dog out my house!” while Mata screamed “DROP THE FUCKING KNIFE, MOTHERFUCKER! DROP THE FUCKING KNIFE!”, and Jones screamed unintelligibly in Dutch at his dog to keep him from breaking free and charging the suspect. Nunez added to the chaos by screaming “YOU NEED ME IN THERE?” over his shoulder while Tillis calmly waited for the screaming to stop or the firing to start. One or the other would happen soon.

Nunez saw that neither Jones nor Mata had entered the room, but were yelling commands from the doorway. Nunez bounced sideways two steps to look into the room.

The suspect stood at the back wall of the room, almost completely covered in blood, holding his hands away from his body as if he didn’t want the blood on his hands to dirty the rest of him. He was young and thin, no more than 5’2” and maybe 110 pounds. His blood-drenched baby face was covered in scratches and topped with an unruly tangle of black, blood-soaked curls. He wore a grey sharwal kameez, the traditional Afghan men’s outfit that consisted of a long sleeved shirt that had a collar and buttons at the top and looked like a long night shirt at the bottom, and a large baggy pair of pants underneath. The boy’s clothes were soaked through with blood, and Nunez only knew they were grey because of a few spots here and there that weren’t smeared or spattered dark red. The teenage suspect held a large butcher knife in his right hand, keeping it blade-down at waist level. Nunez could see that his left hand had a large slash across the palm.

The suspect had a dark, thin face with thick eyebrows and nearly black eyes, eyes that Nunez immediately recognized as the same that had looked at him through the Venetian blinds. The suspect screamed, “You shoot me! You shoot me!” at Mata, who was all tension and anger, weapon off safe and finger on the trigger.

“You want me to shoot you, motherfucker?” Mata asked, almost in a rage. “COME AT ME, MOTHERFUCKER! WALK AT ME WITH THAT FUCKING KNIFE!”

“Get dog out my house!” the suspect screamed. “You shoot me! Make me for heaven now!”

“John, calm down. Talk the knife out of his hands,” Tillis said, calmly but loud enough to be heard over the suspect’s shrieks. Nunez announced “I’ll give the commands”, and began talking to the suspect, who had paused between screams for a second.

“You need to drop the knife,” Nunez said calmly. “If you don’t, the dog’s going to bite you. Just drop the knife.”

“You shoot me or I cut your head!” the boy yelled back.

“Fuck you,” Mata hissed, not loud enough for the suspect to hear. Jones adjusted his leash and let the dog spring forward another three feet toward the suspect. The suspect cringed, throwing himself backward a few inches into the back wall and lifting his right leg into a defensive position. He raised the knife above his head. Nunez saw Mata’s shotgun muzzle suddenly dip a couple of inches, and knew Mata had almost pulled the trigger, anticipating the recoil and throwing his shoulder slightly forward in the brief instant before firing.

Jones had his hands full with the dog and Mata had his hands full with the shotgun, so it would be Nunez’s responsibility to cuff this bloodbath of a suspect. He holstered his pistol and quietly announced “I’m gloving up,” then continued talking to the suspect while he pulled a pair of rubber surgical gloves from his back pocket and put them on.

“Listen kid, if you don’t drop that knife you’re going to get eaten by this dog. You can’t get away. Drop the knife and lay down, you won’t get hurt.”

“No. You liaring.” The suspect had stopped shrieking, but had a thick-as-shit accent that Nunez recognized. The kid kept the knife above his head and his leg up while he answered. “You just want kill me because I muss-lim. I let go knife, you shoot me.”

“If you don’t put down the knife, you get shot,” Nunez said. “If you put the knife down and lay down, you’ll be fine. I promise. Look, I’ll even make the dog move back for you.” He tapped Jones’ shoulder, and Jones yanked the dog back, hard, two feet toward the door. The suspect put his leg down, and slowly lowered the knife.

“Keep dog away me,” the boy said, a little calmer now.

“I’ll keep the dog away from you, I promise,” Nunez lied. If the kid did anything the least bit threatening, fangs would be sunk into his flesh to the gums within seconds. “Just drop the knife and lay down.”

The suspect hesitated, thinking it over. “I should not be taken to jailed. I have done nothing wrong. Leave my house.”

“Who said you did anything wrong?” Nunez asked. “I’m not asking you to go to jail, I’m just asking you to put the knife down. Don’t even worry about laying down yet, we’ll just talk about the knife right now. What’s your name, anyway?”

“You cannot say my name,” the boy said. “No American say my name rightly.”

“Try it, you might be surprised,” Nunez said.

“What? I do not understand.”

“Tell me your name. I think I can say it right. I’ve had practice.”

“My name is Mohibullah,” the boy said.

“Mo-heeb-oo-lah. Mohibullah. Okay Mohibullah, my name is Jerry. How about you drop that knife, so we can have a talk?”

“I CANNOT TRUST YOU!” the suspect yelled, agitated again. “You lie! You kill muss-lims!”

“Mohibullah, calm down,” Nunez said. “I haven’t killed anyone. I can promise you, if you drop that knife, you don’t get hurt. If we wanted to hurt you or kill you, we would have done it already.”

Tillis offered his opinion from the hallway, quietly, so the suspect couldn’t hear him in the room. “Well, Jerry, you’ve killed Muslims, and you’re lying to him. Sounds like he has you pretty well figured out.”

Mata mumbled, talking to the suspect but only loud enough for Nunez and Jones to hear, “The only one in here who’s killed a Muslim today is you, fuckhead.” Nunez almost laughed, but instead put his head down until the smile passed, raising it only when he had his serious face on again.

“Well Mohibullah, tell me what you want.”

“I want you to out my house.”

“We’re not going to,” Nunez said. “Be smart, Mohibullah. You know that we have to be here to figure out what happened to the girl. After that, we can leave. You help us, and we’ll be out of here faster.”

“You say girl? What girl?”

“The girl in the kitchen,” Nunez answered, annoyed.

“What girl kitchen?”

“The fuckin…the dead girl in the kitchen, Mohibullah.”

“You speak for the woman? For my sister?” the boy asked.

“I guess so,” Nunez said. “I didn’t know she was your sister.”

“My sister is a whore.”

Nunez paused for a second. Even though Mohibullah had destroyed his sister, he had still seemed like a little kid. A fucked up little kid, but still a kid. Until he called the sister he had just murdered, just stabbed and slashed and tried to dismember, a whore. That single comment made him seem like a real life, honest to god, cold-blooded murderer.

“Mohibullah, we’re not going to wait real long,” Nunez said. “Drop the knife and lay down, or the dog is going to bite you, and it’s going to hurt. A lot. You’ve got about ten seconds before the dog attacks you.”

Mohibullah looked at the dog, and thought about it. “You promise me. I put the, down the knife. Then you let me go and get out my house.”

Sure, whatever. “Okay, no problem. Put the knife down, then we’ll get out of your house. Just throw the knife in front of you.”

Mohibullah stood still and silent for a few seconds, looking at Nunez, at Mata’s eyes behind the shotgun muzzle, and the dog. He swung his hand forward as if to throw the knife, but held on to it and moved it back to his side.

“Mohibullah, come on. Throw the knife in front of you so nobody else gets hurt.”

Mohibullah took another long look at Nunez, and began mumbling something under his breath. Nunez didn’t understand what he was saying, except for inshallah. “It is god’s will”. Nunez knew from his dealings with the locals in Iraq and Afghanistan that Muslims said that whenever they made any significant decision. They meant it as “the outcome is in god’s hands, not man’s”, but Americans usually interpreted it as “I don’t give a fuck what happens.”

Mohibullah abruptly pitched the knife about five feet to his front. He was still standing against the back wall, separated from the officers and the doorway by about fifteen feet. Mata lowered the muzzle of his shotgun and took a step into the room, saying “I’ll cover”. Jones yanked his dog back and stepped through the doorway while Nunez took a step inside.

Mohibullah took a slow and deliberate step toward them.

“Stop, Mohibullah,” Nunez ordered. Mohibullah stopped. “Lay down right where you are, you’re okay right there. You made the right decision, Mohibullah.”

Mohibullah took another step forward.

“Stop, god damn it! Lay down right there.”

Mohibullah exploded forward, falling onto the knife and popping back up with it over his head, charging forward. Nunez and Jones backpedalled as Nunez went for his pistol and they both screamed at the murderer charging toward them.

“STOP!” Jones let go of the leash and the dog started to pounce.


BOOM! Mata’s shotgun exploded a few feet to the right of Nunez’s head. The blast made him reflexively duck as pain jammed into his brain from his right ear. Jones yanked the leash back as hard as he could, thinking of his dog’s safety before his own. Nunez had his weapon out of the holster and onto his target before he took in what he was seeing, making the motions as Mata racked a fresh round into the chamber of his shotgun. He came out of the crouched combat stance he had taken, looking over his sights at the broken corpse in front of him through a haze of shotgun smoke.

Mohibullah lay on his back with his legs folded at the knees under him, his right arm still over his head with the knife held tightly in its hand. He had a very shocked look on his face, which was odd for a dead person. A large hole was in his chest, about two inches in diameter with three small holes just above it, all right in the middle of his sternum. His head twitched, jerking slightly to the left, but Nunez knew it was just nerves. As they looked at Mohibullah, his eyes and mouth slowly eased halfway closed. He was done. He was completely, unquestionably Dead Right There.

Nunez heard “Shots fired! Shots fired!” on his radio as the ring in his ear from the close range shotgun blast receded. He reached to his shoulder and keyed his radio. “1243, we’re okay, suspect is down, no officers hurt. Everything’s under control.” He was looking at Mata as he spoke, seeing his eyes still down on the sights, ready to pop another round at a dead guy. Mata’s left hand was shaking on the pump of the weapon. Nunez reached out and touched his shoulder, saying “Ease up, Mata, ease up, he’s down.”

Mata relaxed a little, taking a long breath and lowering the muzzle again. He took his finger slowly off the trigger, waited a couple of seconds, and put the shotgun back on safe. Then he and Nunez jumped when Tillis suddenly spoke up behind them.

“Well, this looks pretty good,” he observed. “The knife is still in his hands. There shouldn’t be any problems, this shooting should turn out okay.” Then he added appreciatively, “That was a great shot, Mata.”

Nunez holstered his pistol as he breathed in a lungful of cordite-tinged air. The four officers stood just inside the room, looking at the tiny body on the floor in front of them, and a question popped into Nunez’s head.

Why did that kid scream Allahu akbar at us?

15 Responses to “Safe From the War, rest of chapter 1”

  1. 1 Gene

    Shee-eesh! Good. VERY good.

  2. 2 M. A. Baxley, Jr.

    wow… just, wow…

  3. 6 Travis

    This sucks.

    Seriously. Why do I have to wait a f’ing week to get bits and pieces? Why isn’t there a ‘store’ or a ‘buy now’ button at the top of the page?

    I’m pretty sure I could come up with whatever you wanted to charge for the full novel.

  4. 7 SPEMack

    Hey Chris, good stuff as always. Cant wait for more. Sorry for the lack of commenting lately. Work, drill, and AT have consumed my life as of late.

  5. 9 prcek

    Hello Chris.
    It is some time I’ve been here… fortunately. I would die from waiting if I couldn’t read both parts in one day (actually one by one within one hour).
    Last time you asked me if I know someone who would be willing to translate your novel to Czech. My new English teacher could do it – she is also translator (please don’t judge her skills according my English) and moreover she loves crime themes. Could you send me e-mail (mine is somewhere in system I expect)?
    There is only one issue – we are having holiday now so I will see her in two or three weeks.
    But regardless this stuff continue with writing please.

  6. 11 Matt

    Great stuff. Looking forward to getting that book of yours from the indiegogo campaign. Keep writing, man. You make me hope I can keep writing, too.

  7. 12 Les

    I love the Houston stories. I remember when Greenspoint was a new area, but then I also remember when OST, Palm Center and Gulf Gate were the hot “in” spots. I see the Silverlake area in Pearland getting rougher. I was more on the southeast side during the Herman Short and Louis Welch era, Telephone Rd at Cage Elementary area. It was pretty rough then, but the last time I drove through, just to look at what was my grandparents neighborhood, it seems to be coming back some. Thanks for your writing, hope the books become available soon.

  8. 14 Tyson

    Help me, help you. Get this out somewhere to let me buy it…

    • Tyson,

      Book 2 (Line in the Valley) will be out this fall, not sure when/if I’ll release Safe From the War. I’ll keep everyone advised though. Thanks for the support, owe you one.

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