We all have a defining moment in our lives.
For most of us, those defining moments are infrequent. They crash into your life, then years go by before another one lands in your lap.
Our daily choices are ones of life and death, so
for it to be a defining moment, it must be one that answers life toughest questions.
Am I a coward?
Am I a liar?
Am I honest?
Can I be trusted?
Who can I trust?
But I won’t be making those decisions today.
My name is Rick Mason, and I'm a rookie police officer for the
Houston Police. And I drew one boring assignment on my patrol today.
Some big-time witness against a local organized crime lord is
getting dropped off for my partner and I to escort- with two detectives- to the Courthouse for a hearing. My partner, Steve Lance, yawns as the plane finishes taxiing to a stop. Steve and I are both old for rookies, having spent the bulk of our twenties in the military. He'd been in the Military Police, and I served in Special Forces. Both of those had more excitement than watching this overweight, balding accountant stumble down the stairs from his FBI jet escort. His current handlers- two feds with obnoxious earpieces and blackout sunglasses- don’t even bother to step off the stairs. They quickly glance around, then duck back into the cool of the jet. “Numbers,” as I will call him, is looking nervously from side to side, and sweating profusely even for the mid-July South Texas heat.
“And where are the detectives?” I ask as Steve and I reluctantly
leave the shade of the terminal awning.
Steve grunts and shrugs, placing his headgear on his shaved, dark-skinned head. “I think I saw one lounging in the terminal. Drinking coffee or something.”
Meanwhile, Numbers is running towards us, looking left and right and babbling. We can’t hear over the roar of the nearby engines, including that of the jet that just dumped him on us.
My periphery catches the glint of a glass door opening, and two
men in suits walk out. I can see their badges, even if I can’t see their faces just yet. “Finally,” I mutter under my breath.
The drone of engines dies just enough for us to hear the frantic
yell of Numbers “-kill me! His men are right there!” And he points
to the hangar two hundred yards away.
My eyes shoot to the twin SUVs that begin to move in our
direction. Slowly, at first. Then I hear a new engine revving.
Two, actually. V8s, supercharged. And sitting in the SUV’s hurtling
at numbers at ever-increasing speed.
The detectives see it, too, and they begin to move towards
Numbers. I get there first. I may be shorter and blockier than
Steve, but I can sprint faster than most other rookies I graduated from the Academy with.
I hear the first bullet buzz past my ear, and feel the air part
around the path of the second. I grab Numbers by the shirt and twist him so that my body is between his and the guns firing at him. Steve and the detectives flank me and start to return fire. One of the detectives, who I recognize as a local legend- Elijah Ransom- is screaming into his phone for backup. We begin to move toward the terminal, where our own SUV is parked.
The attackers must see our destination and turn fire on our
vehicle. It is reinforced, but only so much, and none at all in the
windows. Which is why the back window spiderwebs over my shoulder.
Steve takes a shot, apparently hitting the driver of one of the
advancing SUVs, and it swerves hard to its left. This buys us enough time to get into our car and go.
The detectives pile into the backseat on either side of Numbers,
Steve rides a literal shotgun, and I hop behind the wheel. Time spent in Kabul with Special Forces makes me a well-equipped driver in stressful situations such as this.
We speed toward the exit gate of the secure area of the airport
only to see that the SUV that Steve hit has rejoined the chase. On top of that, I notice the gate is being blocked by a third SUV. And it has its own armed threats. “Hey, guys, we got a problem…”
Steve sighs heavily. Ransom begins to roll down his window
and raise his firearm. Ransom’s partner, another local legend named David Fordham, swears. Ransom asks between trigger pulls, “Any way around it?”
I have milliseconds to decide if I want to try something, but that
is what I am trained for.
Millisecond life-altering decisions.
There is just enough space behind to the blocker-SUV that I can
push into it and spin it around. But it is going to give us a nasty
jolt. “Brace for impact!” I yell.
At the last second, I jerk the wheel to my right, causing the
driver side headlight of our car to connect with the back quarter panel of the other vehicle between the wheel and the bumper. I hear the screech of metal and the peel of my tires as the unstoppable force meets the immovable object. For another millisecond, the battle is waged, but my knowledge of physics and the unstoppable force wins out.
We are clear, and I check my rearview mirror to see that the spin
was enough to slow the advancing SUVs, but not completely stop them. And Car Three is in no way disabled, just pissed off. I see the sign for Hobby Airport shrinking as I turn onto Telephone Road.
We have a clear straightaway, so I hit the lights and sirens at
the same time as I punch the gas to put as much space as I can between them and us. Then I feel Ransom’s hand on my shoulder. “Great driving, kid. But kill the noise and sights. If the guys after Eddie here can get on a secure tarmac, then they will be coordinated enough to have more folks out there.”
“Yes, sir,” I say as I oblige him.
“What’re the names, officers?” Ransom asks cordially, as if we
were at some department mixer, not in a car chase.
I am focused on driving and checking the three black dots growing ever larger in the rearview mirror, so Steve responds. “Officer Lance, and Mario Andretti here is Officer Mason.”
Fordham looks behind him. “Andretti needs to gas it a
bit. They are gaining on us.”
I agree, but apparently, the horses galloping under their hoods
are in better shape than the ones under mine. I decide it is time to get creative. “I can’t outrun them, but I can outmaneuver them. Better buckle up.” Eddie “Numbers” whimpers behind his hands.
I dart left, just as a fourth SUV turns onto Telephone Road ahead
of me. It is followed by two more. That makes six vehicles in
pursuit. “We need back up. Detective, did you get anyone on your
call?” I ask as I dodge and weave between parked cars and general road trash on this much smaller thoroughfare.
Ransom shook his head. “No- they couldn’t hear me over the
“Can you call now, while there aren’t any?” I ask, with mounting
Another head shake. “Dropped it when we got in the car.”
Fordham shrugged. “Left mine in our cruiser.”
Steve smacks his head with his hand. “I’ll call it in on the
radio!” Steve reaches for the radio, and a fresh round of automatic
gunfire explodes the back window of our car. Our witness screams and ducks his head even lower between his legs. Fordham and Ransom turn and fire out the rear window.
Steve begins to go for the radio again when Ransom yells out,
“Dave- what, are you doing!” I spare a glance over my shoulder to see Ransom and Fordham fighting over Fordham’s gun, which appears to be pointed at Eddie “Numbers.” Ransom wrestles the gun muzzle away from the witness’ direction, and it suddenly fires. Right into the Police band radio. Sparks and smoke fill the front seat, as Steve yanks his hand back.
A second gunshot explodes from the backseat, then I hear panting.
I glance in the rearview and see that four SUVs are behind us and gaining since I slowed during the backseat battle. I also see the lifeless body of Fordham, a single gunshot wound in his forehead. Eddie is absolutely blubbering, and Ransom looks at me with utter shock. “He was trying to kill the witness…”
I look over to Steve and see something that makes my blood run
The grill of a Ford Expedition in my passenger window.
We are T-boned, our SUV screeching sideways into the brick of an abandoned warehouse. We rock to a stop, and I open my eyes. Steve is unconscious but alive. The Ford is backing up, and as it does, it rips the passenger door off. Through the smoke from our ruined car, I see that the Ford has only one occupant. The driver. I draw my Sig Sauer P229 and fire once, putting a .40 hole in the windshield and the driver’s head.
Ransom sees my intention and is already shoving Eddie out of the car and moving toward the Ford. I do the same with Steve, who is coming around. This allows me to employ suppression fire at the four advancing SUVs. They slow, partly due to the gunfire, and also due to the strange behavior we are exhibiting. I have just a moment to wonder where the fifth one is.
Steve is awake enough to get in the car himself, which is good,
because I have to remove the body of the previous driver. Ransom and Eddie are in place, and we begin to back up.
Just in time. The fifth SUV comes barreling down the road to
the right, a failed effort to box us in avoided.
But I cannot turn around, so I back as fast as I can, jerking the
wheel awkwardly from side to side as we go. When we come to a side street (or was it an alley?), I spin the wheel and thread the needle, then throw it into drive and peel out.
The vehicular and human carnage slows our attackers down a bit, but they are moving again. I find my voice long enough to shout at Ransom, “Why are they sending so many after this guy? What’s he got?”
Ransom sighs heavily. “Everything on Julio Cancio. Every. Thing.”
I have been through a lot today, but that shocks me. Cancio
is the boss in Houston. He has his fingers in every pot. Including…
“Do you think Fordham was working with him?” I ask Ransom.
Steve grimaces and grips his leg.
Ransom rubs his face, a line of blood trickling down his cheek
from one of our impacts that day. “I...I can’t...he was my partner for
six years. He...he couldn’t…”
“And if Cancio has that connection...can we trust anyone on the
force?” Steve asks, indicating the walkie attached to his chest,
forgotten in the heat of the moment until now.
Ransom is rubbing his face with both hands now. Eddie is
either coming out of shock or going into total denial, frantically looking around. Then he meets my eyes in the rearview. “No. Cancio has people everywhere. And I mean everywhere. I need to get to Assistant DA Gutierrez. She is the only one willing to go after him.”
I look back and forth between the balding, fat man who was risking his life to do the right thing and the road ahead. Then I catch a glimpse of the five remaining SUVs catching up to us. Ahead is the interstate, and a mostly straight shot to the Federal Courthouse. I realize that surviving this day is a long shot. For Eddie. For all of us. Then I ask, “It’s just your word against his, why do you have to risk it?”
Eddie’s eyes narrow as the grill guards of the approaching enemies grow larger. “Because I am tired of doing the wrong thing so that I benefit. I want my kids to be proud of me- not my money and the stuff it gets them. Me. For doing what no one else would.” He pauses and seems to weigh me with his eyes- if I could be trusted. I guess he thought I could, because then he says, “And it is not just my word. I have evidence.”
Ransom shoots him a glance. “What? We need to protect
that, too. I can carry it. Or Officer Mason. Just in case.”
Eddie shakes his head. “No. It’s my burden. My mission.”
Eddie’s words are still ringing in my ears. Benefits.
Who benefits from one man doing good things?
I floor the gas as we spin up onto the interstate and speed toward the Courthouse. Thankfully, traffic is lighter than usual at this mid-morning hour, so fewer innocent drivers were at risk. But not none.
I look at Steve, who is growing pale, and ask, “You okay?”
Steve shakes his head. “When they hit us, shrapnel got stuck
in my leg. Bleeding, but I’ll make it. Have to.”
“Can you shoot?” I ask.
“Not straight. At the moment,” Steve chuckles.
I think for a second. “Switch with me.”
Steve gives me a crazy look. “Going eighty on the interstate
in a car chase with my bum leg, and you want to do stunts?”
I give him a broad, sarcastic smile. He shakes his head and
smiles back. Then we maneuver- awkwardly- as I stand, keeping my foot on the gas, and he slides his undamaged leg over onto the driver seat. With some screaming and effort, he gets his bad leg over, then he takes the wheel, and I throw myself into the passenger seat. We swerve as curses and yells come from the backseat, but then we straighten out and speed on. I turn in my
seat, knees into the back of the chair, and surveyed the oncoming cars.
Ransom looks at me with doubtful eyes, but I just give him a mischievous half-smile.
“Slow down, and you guys duck,” I say. Steve complies, and
the car slows. Four of the five pursuers quickly close the gap as I draw the automatic weapon that the previous driver had left on the floorboard of the passenger side. “Just a little closer...little closer...and…”I open fire on the tire of the lead pursuer. There is a ‘brap, brap,’ as I fire, then an explosion as the driver side tire erupts, forcing the SUV to spin out into the three cars right behind it. Two plow into it, causing it to roll and spark on the asphalt. The third veers a bit too far to avoid it, and ends up launching itself off the raised highway of Interstate 45.
Four down, one to go. Steve jerks the wheel to make an exit
for the Courthouse, and I lose balance for a second. Then I began to think. There is no way this car lets us park and just walk into the Courthouse. But now, we are in a densely populated area, with lots of pedestrians. No more Hollywood car crashes.
I can see the courthouse edifice rising above Little Tranquility
Park, where there would be a sparse population at this time of day. Too early for lunch, too late for breakfast picnics. “Steve, gun it into the park. Then fishtail slide sideways.”
Steve looks at me, incredulously. “What?!?!”
“Trust me.” I give my most confident smile.
Ransom looks at me with something I take to be a mix of awe and frustration. And something else, but I do not have time to process as we jump the curb and plow into irrigated green lawn. Steve spins the wheel, and we slide to a stop. I usher Ransom and Eddie out of the car and toward the Courthouse. Then I stand between the last pursuer and our vehicle. I hear the rev of their engine, then I fire, hitting the driver multiple times. The passenger is still trying to shoot, but with the driver dead, the SUV hits the curb and rolls.
I turn and begin to follow Ransom and Eddie to the Courthouse.
Steve gives me the thumbs up as he uses his walkie to call for a medic.
The people on the steps clear out of Ransom and Eddie’s way, and I use a burst of adrenaline-fueled speed to catch up to them. And that is when I see it.
Ransom has his gun drawn and pointed at the small of Eddie’s back at an angle only I can see. They burst through the doors, and I am right behind them. Ransom flashes his badge and pulls Eddie off the doors on the right, a security room for questioning. I burst through behind him just as Ransom pushes Eddie away and raises a gun at him.
Then I see my gun is the one in Ransom’s hand.
The door closes, and Ransom says, “Good. Glad you made
it.” He pulls his own gun out points it at me. “Make it easier to
prove you killed the witness.”
“It wasn’t Fordham on the take, was it?” I ask.
Ransom smiles. “Nope. Not this time anyway. So, that’s two crooked cops I took out today.”
I smile. Then tap the bodycam on my chest. “Forgot
something?” I ask.
Ransom goes to fire, and I drop backward, pulling my secondary
piece from my boot. I fire twice before Ransom can, and he falls, dead.
Courthouse security rushes in with Liza Gutierrez, the assistant DA. She smiles as she looks over Eddie, and he explains what happened.
There are moments, milliseconds of destiny, when you have to
This was my defining moment.
Chad Lehrmann lives with his wife and two teenage daughters in College Station, Texas, where he teaches High School Psychology, Sociology, and Debate.