Brutal Season

Book Award Sub-Category
2024 Young Or Golden Writer
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
In the midst of BLM protests after a police shooting, Dallas detectives Sarah & Angel are thrust into the investigation of two midnight murders, while desperately clinging to the threads of their partnership that is threatening to unravel like a cheap sweater.
First 10 Pages

Brutal Season


Maryann Miller

Chapter One

Tuesday, June 16,2021

Sitting at her desk in the Crimes Against Persons Division of the Dallas Police Department, Detective Sarah Kingsley heard the ping of an incoming text on her partner’s phone and looked over as Angel picked it up and read the message, then slammed her phone down. “Christ! Another black man's been killed.”

Another ping. This time, from Sarah’s phone. She grabbed it but didn’t check the message. She was unable to tear her gaze from her partner, who radiated a growing anger like heat from an open oven door. “Was it an accident?” She asked the question, hoping, but her instinct answered before her partner.

Fury flashed across Angel Johnson’s face. “No. It was not a goddamn accident. One of our officers shot him. In his own front yard.”

Sarah couldn't recall a time that she had seen so much anger burning out of her partner’s eyes, but the sight of it now stunned her into silence. She turned away, hoping that if she just gave Angel some time, the heat of that rage would dissipate.

A moment later, Sarah's phone pinged with another message. She heard the same alert on Angel's phone and glanced over, but her partner just sat there. Not moving, as if she’d become a stone replica of herself. Sarah looked at her phone, then back to Angel. “It's McGregor. He wants us in conference room B in ten minutes.”

She waited, but Angel didn’t stir a muscle or blink an eye. It was the longest few minutes in Sarah's life. She didn't know what to say. Or even if she should say anything to the woman who could have been a statue in the chair. Maybe it would be best not to poke a hornet's nest.

Sarah stood. “Okay, then. See you there.”

Still no response, so Sarah quickly strode out of the squad room. She took a moment to relieve her bladder from too much coffee that morning, followed by a splash of cold water on her face to ease the tightness around her eyes. She hated to think of what waited in the conference room.

When she got there, she saw her immediate boss, Lieutenant McGregor; the Chief of D’s, Helen Dorsett; and one of Sarah’s least favorite people on earth, Price, the PR guy for the Dallas Police Department. She was sure that he’d been behind the initial pairing of her with Angel a few years ago to quell community protests over the death of the young black teen that Sarah had shot. What a nightmare that whole time had been. Not only had she been forced to kill a kid, something she regretted to this day, Sarah had lost her long-time partner in that same undercover fiasco, but few people had lamented the loss of one of Dallas’s finest. Instead, they’d come at Sarah with all the sound and fury of a marauding army. The Dallas Review Board had almost succeeded in taking her badge, and it was only the intervention of McGregor that had saved her.

Not surprisingly, the outrage had died down to a dull roar after the partnership between her and Angel had been announced. Slick move on the part of the PR department, but not so slick for the detectives. Even though they were in a better place today than at first, too often some racial sensitivity would hit a nerve and push the two women back to square one. Sarah wondered if that would ever stop, and this latest news didn’t bode well for the possibility of them cementing a working relationship any time soon.

Let alone a personal one.

Sarah barely gave Price a nod, but did acknowledge the others in the room, noting how crowded it already was, with detectives standing along the back wall, almost like a line-up. Now she understood why the largest conference room had been chosen. She’d just taken a seat when the door opened and more officers filed in. Some from Vice and more from the CAPERS unit. They were followed by Burt and his partner, Simms, along with Ryan from narcotics and his boss, Lieutenant Webb.

Despite his bypass surgery a couple of months ago, he looked pretty good. He’d lost some weight, which was probably in his favor. Might keep him from having another coronary.

The door opened again and Angel slipped in, heading for the far end of the conference table. Well away from others already seated there. And definitely well away from Sarah. What the hell? Angel’s whole demeaner still screamed anger. Was she going to be pissed at the whole department because of one idiot who couldn’t control his trigger finger?

The last to arrive was Bruce Walinski from The Special Investigations Unit. Sarah wasn’t surprised to see an SIU officer, although it usually took more than twenty-four hours for their unit to get involved in an officer-related shooting, whether being shot or having to use deadly force.

Things had changed in the investigative process since her face-off with Quinlin a few years ago, and for that she was grateful. Having to discharge your weapon, knowing that someone had to die to protect yourself or the public, or your fellow officers, gives most cops nightmares for weeks, or months, or often for the rest of their lives.

Piling on the guilt like Quinlin had tried with her, did nothing to ease the trauma.

Now with the new policy and approach to the investigations of cop-related shootings, officers would be spared the same kind of demeaning third degree.

Helen stood and went to the front of the room, facing the large conference table ringed by officers in comfortable wooden chairs. “You all know the basic facts by now. There’s been an officer-involved shooting. What we know so far is that the victim was Jamel Frederickson, age 18. The officer is Brad Smithfield.”

Sarah groaned. She knew full well what that officer was in for.

“Preliminary report states the teen was not armed.”

“Oh shit.” McGregor said.

Helen nodded. “As in feces and the proverbial fan.”

“Do we know any more?” Sarah asked.

“Nothing official yet,” Helen said. But Price has set us up with a live feed from Channel 8 News who has a reporter at the scene.” She motioned to Price who had his laptop open and connected to a large Smart screen on the wall behind Helen. She took a step to the side and Price touched a key, bringing the screen to life. The scene was chaos. Lights from an ambulance and three police cars swept across yards, the sidewalk and the front of a small brick house. The lights looked like bright yellow and blue strobes at a dance club. People milled around the area, most holding cell phones aloft, recording the moment, probably more for thrills than posterity. Several uniformed officers were doing their best to hold people back from the grassy lawn where the outline of a body could be seen under a white sheet.

Bianca Gomez stood to one side of the chaos, black hair dancing slightly in a low breeze, microphone to her lips. “Bianca Gomez, Channel 8 News, reporting from the scene of a deadly shooting that took place at 6:45 this morning. The victim, 18-year-old Jamel Frederickson was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced DOA. Rookie Dallas Police officer, Brad Smithfield has been taken to department headquarters where he will be questioned, then put on administrative leave pending a full investigation.”

The reporter paused a moment and Sarah could clearly hear another woman’s voice crying, “My baby. My baby!” The camera swung around, finally focusing on a rail-thin woman with light mocha skin, mascara running in black rivers down her cheeks. A tall, burly man with ebony skin held her upright as best he could while she wailed, “He killed my baby.”

The reporter’s pause was no coincidence. Sarah was sure of that. A distraught mother made for great television, and Bianca was all about great television.

Slowly the camera panned back to Bianca and she continued. “There are still only few details known about the incident. According to a neighbor, who didn’t want to speak on camera, Jamel has mental health issues and had stopped taking his meds recently. Nobody was aware. Not even his mother, according to the neighbor. The mother told her neighbor that she’d come home from work and allegedly found him pacing around the house, cursing and hitting his head with a plastic spatula. He was in a crisis and needed help. The mother called 911and told the dispatcher what was happening and requested an ambulance.”

Another dramatic pause while the camera moved to show the mother being comforted by another woman about the same age. Bianca’s voice came off screen. “Even though Jamel was so big, his mother described him as soft as a teddy bear and just as harmless. As long as he took his meds.”

Bianca continued the report as the camera came back to her. “Before an ambulance could arrive, a patrol car came screaming up the street. According to what the mother told her neighbor, when Jamel saw the police cars he ran out of the house before she could stop him. He was still carrying the spatula and ran toward the two officers, Smithfield and Greg Renshaw who shouted for Jamel to stop.

“He didn’t stop until officer Smithfield put five bullets into this unarmed man.”

“Turn that shit off.” McGregor’s voice was sharp, and Helen didn’t even object to the language. She often did, thinking that cops didn’t have to curse like drunken sailors, but she just nodded to Price, who pushed a key on his laptop.

The screen went blank and silence reigned for just a moment, then Helen cleared her throat. “Under normal circumstances, we wouldn’t be having this meeting. But, well… you all know how not normal things are. So, we need to look ahead and make sure we don’t end up like Minneapolis.”

“There are sure to be protests,” Burt said.

Helen nodded. “So, we’re preparing. The mayor has asked for added security around the Federal Building. That seems to be the place where protesters make the most noise.”

“Are we going to be part of that security?” Simms asked, gesturing to the other detectives in the room.

“Not at first,” Helen said. “Grotelli is already pulling his uniformed squad together to hit the streets. The commissioner has authorized overtime for the foreseeable future. You will all be on standby to assist whenever needed. Nobody rests until this is over.”

Sarah knew that lack of sleep included Helen, too. She never asked anything of her team than what she was willing to do. Probably where McGregor learned that basic tenant of leadership.

“You’ll be called for help containing the protestors if things escalate. And they probably will. We all know the history of this town.” Helen paused then nodded toward the captains in the room. “Orders will come through the normal chain of command. We can hope the detective squads won’t be needed for street safety.”

Yeah, Sarah thought. We can hope.

“Nothing goes to the press except except through Price.” Helen glanced toward him and Sarah swore he swelled more than a little in importance. Prick. “And nobody goes near the protesters unless they’re assigned to help the uniforms. Got it?”

Helen shot her trademark icy glare around the room skewering each person in turn until getting a nod of assent. Anyone new to the detective squad who’d never seen this phenomenon before and wondered how this diminutive lady, who looked a cross between Mary Poppins and their own grandmother, had become Chief of Ds, no longer wondered.

“Anybody else want to weigh in before we end the meeting?” Again, Helen gazed around the room, but this time the blue ice of her eyes had melted.

“We were thinking of hitting the pause button on any current drug operations,” Webb said. “Keep people in place. Just not make any moves.”

“Good idea. What about you?” Helen pointed to Lieutenant Burlingham, head of the gang unit.

“I’m pulling my guys in.” Burlingham hitched from one side of the chair to the other, perhaps to ease a sore back. “Gonna reach out to my CIs to see if they want to be ‘arrested’ for the duration.”

“Think they will?” Helen asked.

He shrugged.

“Okay. Go ahead. Anyone else? McGregor?”

“We’re good. I got Kingsly and Johnson. Burt and Simms. And Ryan can float over from Vice if I need him since Webb is pausing stuff over there.”

Webb snorted, but Ryan smiled. Sarah knew what precipitated both reactions. There was a rivalry between Webb and McGregor, sometimes friendly but mostly intense, both determined to someday stand where Helen was now. And Ryan. Well, Ryan would smile any time he was close to Angel.

“You want to add anything, Walinski?” Helen asked.

“We’ll do our usual due diligence, but most of the gathering of details around the incident will go through Grotelli. Talking to neighbors. Friends. That thing. Of course, one of our team will be in close touch with the family of the victim at all times.”

Sarah flinched. The victim? Such an impersonal way to refer to another young teen whose life ended much too soon.


Sunday, June 21, 2021

“I told you, didn't I?” Each word from her father was like a stab to Angel’s heart. “I said they was all against us and I was right.”

Gilbert slammed his fist on the kitchen table making his cutlery jump. “And don't you go telling me how some white folks are just fine and others are not. Your ‘just fine white police officer’ shot another poor black kid—

“But Daddy—”

“Don't ‘but Daddy’ me, girl. I'm right and you know it. When’re you gonna wake up and do the right thing?”

“But Daddy—”

Gilbert brushed her protest away with a wave of his hand and pushed away from the table so vehemently his chair thudded against the wall. Then he stormed out of the dining room.

For a moment, it felt like he had taken all of the air from the room with him, and Angel struggled to take a breath. She looked at the remains of what had started as their usual Sunday dinner. Mounds of mashed potatoes like little white mountains. Cold roast beef swimming in congealed gravy. She felt like her heart was just as congealed. Then the tears spilled out of her eyes and ran in a warm river down her cheeks. She said softly. “Oh, Mama. I don't know what to do. Please tell me what to do.”

“I can’t do that child. You’re a grown woman.”

“But Mama—”

Martha raised her hand in an identical gesture to the one Gilbert had used to wave away Angel’s protest. “No longer will I be the one to try to patch things between you and your father. You have to figure this one out for yourself.”

That response stunned Angel as much as the words from her father. What would she do without her mother’s support. It was always there as a buffer to her father’s periodic angry outbursts. Not that there had been many throughout her childhood, but the explosions he’d had when she was in high school had been fierce. That’s when she was with Bobby, and he got all messed up with drugs. Her mother had protected her, softening the anger in the room when her father railed against her boyfriend. Threatened to toss Angel out if she didn’t stop seeing him.

Angel’s mother would wrap her arms around the girl, who’d been left in the living room so many times trembling with tears after her father stomped out. Her mother would tell her everything would be okay. And the funny thing was, life was okay whenever Angel got around to doing things her father’s way.

Today, her mother’s words stripped Angel of any sense of that protection she’d always counted on, and she didn’t know what to do.

Martha stood. “You need to go. Take your anger with you.”

“I’m not angry, Mama.”

“Oh, Child, yes you are. I feel it circling around you like a blackbird looking for a place to roost.”

Angel didn’t know what to say to that, even though deep inside her soul she knew the truth to her mother’s words. Finally, she looked at her mother, letting the tears roll down her face. “I’m sorry, Mama.”

“Don’t be sorry. Be righteous.”

Angel didn’t move for a long moment, while her mother locked eyes with her. Then, swiping the wetness from her cheeks, Angel stood and pushed her chair tight to the table. “Can I help clean up?”


That single word hurt almost as much as her father’s tirade.

A fresh flood of tears threatened as Angel hurried out of the house and ran to her car. Once behind the wheel, she let the dam break. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d felt so low. So alone. She wished her brother was here. To hold her. To pat her back and tell her this wasn’t the end of the world. The same way LaVon had done so many times when life had sucker-punched her. But then, part of her was glad that he was stuck in L.A because of the pandemic and hadn’t been here to witness this humiliation.

Taking a few deep breaths to pull her emotions together, Angel realized that her parents were right. Not in being so harsh. That was never right. But in the message. Angel was the only one who could figure out what to do. For the first time since she’d made the decision to become a police officer, doubts about the wisdom of that decision were rising like grisly specters from the dead.

She'd been so young and idealistic when her good friend, Stacy had been shot and killed during a robbery at the jewelry store where she worked. The robber had never been caught, and Stacy’s father was convinced the police didn’t care enough to really dig into the case. Angel was still in college then, but that’s when she switched her major to criminal justice. When she graduated, she joined the police force, so maybe she could do right by her people. And let's face it they were her people. They weren't the white man's people.

Oh shit. What am I going to do?

Grabbing a napkin from the wad in her center console, Angel mopped her face and blew her nose. She certainly couldn’t sit here for the rest of the night. Some white patrol officer might come by and shoot her.

Oh girl. Don’t go there.

Angel took a deep breath and let it out slowly, hoping the ugly mood would be taken away on the exhale. She tried it a few more times before easing the car into gear and pulling away from her parent’s house. She hoped she wouldn’t be exiled for long.

The route back to her house took Angel through the outskirts of downtown, and she noticed more people on the streets than usual on hot summer nights. She slowed as she passed clusters of folks and noted that most of them were Black. One young woman held a sign aloft that proclaimed, Black Lives Matter.

She was momentarily stymied. As a cop, she should definitely alert the department that something was brewing. But as a confused, angry black woman she didn’t want to do that. Not at the moment anyway. Let the people be.

Before she could make a decision, her phone pinged with an alert to a text message, and she pulled into a parking spot to read it. The text was from Isabella, a young woman she’d met last year when a local group of activists formed to protest the killing of George Floyd. It had been a chance encounter at a vigil for Floyd held at Fair Park. At the time, Angel had debated about going. Not sure if it was okay with the department that officers attend something like that, but she’d not been able to resist the pull of her heart that took her there.

After the prayer service came to a close, Angel wanted to avoid being seen by the good Reverend Billie Norton who’d led the prayer service. He was good friends with her father, and Angel didn’t want him reporting that he’d seen her here, so she’d pushed to the back of the crowd, inadvertently bumping into Isabella. After apologies and quick smiles were exchanged, Isabella had slipped Angel a business card. “In case you’d like to join the movement.”

The movement turned out to be a local group of activists in the Black Lives Matter organization. Angel had almost tossed the card. There was no way she could get involved. Surely that would be a risk to her job. But as the national momentum against the injustices of Black people getting killed by police grew, she’d felt a pull to take a stand. So, she’d met with Isabella a few times, even going so far as to give the young woman her phone number, but with each visit, Angel had become increasingly conflicted. Finally, the last time they met, she told Isabella about her job and all the reasons she couldn’t join the local protests. Much as part of her heart wanted to.

Still, Angel hadn’t deleted Isabella from her contacts. She’d admired the young woman's dedication to the cause and sense of righteousness. Was this what Angel's mother meant about being righteous? Daring to do the uncomfortable?

Angel texted back, Where are you?

At the Metro Diner.