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Phelps could hear a fresh set of sirens: the county ambulance already. He resisted the urge to look again upon the dead female victim. Tim Fitzsimmons had done time in stir; he was a reputed meth dealer who had consorted with criminal elements for most of his life. No big surprise that he would go out with a bullet to the back of the head. But the girl troubled Phelps: Another woman who had made the fatal mistake of falling for the wrong man. That had been enough to get her killed.
The approaching siren seemed to mock the dead. Fitzsimmons and the girl would leave the trailer in body bags, not on stretchers.
He felt relieved when he stepped outside, leaving the two bodies behind him. But the audience that was awaiting him was not exactly friendly. The people outside were growing anxious. A burly man at the front of the crowd pointed his finger at Phelps and said:
“Aren’t you going after him, Sheriff? He’s getting’ away!”
“You ain’t going to catch him in that trailer!”
Phelps quashed the resentment he felt at being told how to do his job. It was a natural question, of course. None of these people had ever pursued a suspect in real life. They had done it only in their minds, vicariously, while watching television shows and movies. They therefore didn’t realize a central truth of police work: that the Hollywood image of the lone officer chasing down a criminal and challenging him in a gunfight was more myth than fact. Actual police protocol strongly discouraged one-on-one confrontations with armed suspects, unless the loss of innocent life was imminent. The man-to-man shootout was a last resort. Sometimes the best choice a cop could make was to hold tight and call for backup.
Phelps believed that he had made the right decision, though there would probably be more than a few citizens here who would disagree. He could not have apprehended McCabe on foot—not by himself, and not with the head start that the young man already had. But it was only a temporary setback. A net would soon be drawing around McCabe. Phelps was confident that he would be in custody soon.
“We saw who did it: It was that Lee McCabe!”
“Why don’t you go get him, Sheriff?”
Phelps sighed. You could not treat private citizens like fools just because you were the one with the badge and the gun.
He held up his hand in a gesture that commanded silence. He scanned the faces gathered around him. He knew most of them on a first-name basis.
“Okay, here’s what I can tell you now. As most of you already know, there are two corpses inside this trailer. One white male was seen fleeing the scene, and we’ll be putting resources in place to apprehend him. I don’t think that he will come back here. If he does, dial 911. Do not attempt contact with him yourself.”
“If he comes back here, I’ll shoot him!” one man said....