Exactly one year ago today, a close friend of mine by the name of Chase Matthew Brooks was murdered in cold blood on the front porch of his house in San Antonio, Texas. One .45 Caliber ACP bullet to the frontal lobe ended his life before he even heard the gun go off. I received a call from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office’s Criminal Intelligence Analyst, Rick Garcia, who informed me that Chase had been found dead, slumped over in his rocking chair as he was taking a break from working on the new boat he had recently bought for weekend fishing.
As I pressed the lock button on the side of my phone, thoughts poured into my mind faster than I could process them. My initial reaction was to rush out the door but my mother grabbed my arm and tried with all her being to slow me down. “James, please! You’re not thinking this through!” she said, but something in my gut told me I needed to get down there and see it for myself. I grabbed the keys to the truck and put my mother’s indoor slippers on, anything that would get me out the door would have to do. I threw the truck into neutral and had it rolling down the inclined driveway before I even put the key into the ignition. The V-6 engine roared to life as I peeled out of the cul-de-sac going about 60 mph, leaving skid marks where the massive off-road tires had spun uncontrollably. As I began leaving the neighborhood, the voices in my head seemed immensely louder than I remembered. I flung the glove box open reaching for the carton of Marlboro Reds I usually saved for fishing with Chase. It felt wrong touching them, as if they were a precious piece of history from a museum, but anything that would calm my nerves seemed okay at the time.
As the smoke rose in front of my eyes I began thinking about my first cigarette. Chase had taken one out of his mother's carton while she was preparing lunch. We walked down the street to the drainage ditch and sparked the Marilyn Monroe themed lighter. Suddenly, the light coming from the cherry of the cigarette meant so much more than just a source of intoxicating nicotine. Ironically enough, it meant living life; because of that, I put it out. There was no more Chase, no more memories to be made, nothing.
I glanced down at my watch that read 8:38, what had felt like an eternity had really only been four minutes. As I entered the neighborhood I could see flashing blue lights around the corner. Reality began to set in as tears welled up in my eyes. I flung the door open and wiped my eyes on my sleeve. I appeared to have arrived before EMS because I saw Chase’s lifeless body sitting there hunched over in his favorite chair where we had exchanged so many of our conversations. A young deputy was ordered to stand behind the yellow tape and not let anybody through, Officer Garcia walked over and lifted it up for me to duck under. I had a moment of hesitation wondering if I really wanted to see the gruesome scene, but my curiosity got the best of me so I continued under. There I stood, 4 feet away from my lifelong friend fighting my instincts to talk to him, as there was no point. I knew if I said anything my emotions would overpower me, standing in silence and disbelief was all I could do. Officer Garcia expressed his condolences but I knew I was not the one who needed them, but rather his mother who had yet to be informed. A screaming ambulance pulled up into the long driveway, right behind the freshly cleaned boat that still had a rag hanging off the side of it. The emergency services didn’t rush over, there was no point; it was very evident there was nothing to be done. As the sheet covered his body blood seeped through, leaving only an outline of his facial features to be seen as he was wheeled off into the back of the ambulance. The ambulance drove away slowly with only emergency lights on. Night fell and I drove home with an expressionless face; no thoughts, just regret, regret for not calling him that day, regret for all the times we fought over small things like who sat up front when we were kids, regret for not having the heart to call his mother and break the news to her, but there was no point in reminiscing over any of that because it was all gone.
At the closed casket funeral, I examined everybody in the room. Chase’s mother sobbing as his father held her, old mutual friends from middle school, others who I did not recognize but seemed to be friends of his. The room was dead silent as the eulogist recited bible references, the only things I could seem to focus on was the picture of Chase that I had taken at Lake Calaveras as he stood on his brand new boat. Chase had one of those memorable smiles that for some reason always got me smiling as well, it was hard to grasp the thought that I wouldn't ever see it again. On my way out of the chapel, my phone lit up with the name Rick Garcia. I pressed the green button with confusion wondering what he could possibly have to say. He informed me that he had news about the murder that I would be interested to know, “for closure” as he put it. The forensics team had come to the conclusion that the murder was done by a local gang. They suspected it was part of an initiation process in which a member must kill someone to be included in the gang. Chase’s life had been taken merely because a delinquent wanted to pursue a life of crime and thus needed to take a life of someone innocent and unknowing. The person behind the gun not only took Chase’s life, but a piece of those close to him. The Reaper hides in many different forms, he lurks in the shadows through many aspects of our life, but in this case he was nothing more than a young criminal masked behind the cold polymer of a glock .40, seeking out someone to wreak havoc on, Chase just so happened to be in his way.