Agent January Jeffries stared at the living room of the dilapidated house where the ATF agents had found an arsenal of AR-15s, Uzis, Sig Sauer and Beretta semi-automatic handguns, and even an old Soviet era hand-held RPG launcher. Merry friggin' Christmas. Someone was going to have a lousy one. Though given the state of the house before ATF stormed it, she didn't believe it would've been very happy anyway.
The white plastic pre-lit tree lay on its side with its ornaments strewn over the dirty floor. Blood stains mixed with other unidentifiable substances on a carpet that hadn't been clean in years too long to count. Goes with the smell. Someone had used the corner for a toilet, in addition to the nasty room set aside for sewage. Both the corner and the bathroom had made hardened agents run for the yard to empty their stomachs. January swallowed hard and moved toward the kitchen.
"Aw hell." Her partner and mentor, Terry Oberman, threw a sheet over one of the bodies on the floor. "He couldn't have been more than ten years old."
"Are you serious?" January scowled. "They had kids in here?"
"Yeah." Terry shook his head with a scowl. "They had a family in here, trying to make it look like it was a residence." He closed his eyes and rubbed his face. "Though given the health of the kids, I suspect they were being pimped out for other things."
"Shit." She headed toward the bodies.
"Jan, don't. You don't want to see." He caught her shoulder.
"Are you telling me I ordered a raid that got kids killed?" Her heart sank along with her gut. "Are you telling me we took down an arsenal with kids living over it?"
"I'm telling you that they'd left kids to defend it. Each one of those bodies has some sort of weapon it it. Recently fired."
"Oh glory, Oberman. I killed a bunch of kids." She turned and headed for the yard, the contents of her stomach refusing to stay where they should. She made it outside just as the first heave broke the seal of her lips.
Kids. I killed a bunch of kids. Tears squeezed out of her eyes as she vomited her breakfast.
A hand landed on her back as Oberman stood beside her. "It's okay, Jan."
She shook her head, but her throat burned too much to speak. She'd made a vow when she left the inner city tenaments of Chicago that she'd never hurt or kill kids in anything she did. She'd seen too many of her schoolmates, friends, and neighbors killed for drugs, abuse, prostitution, or weapons before they reached their teen years, and she swore she'd do her best to protect them. That's why she joined ATF and trained to be an agent, so she could stop the flow of the deadly items.
And now I've done exactly what I said I wouldn't.
She wanted to scream, to force the universe to rewind the day, to give them better intel on who occupied the run-down hovel on an abandoned street on the South Side of Chicago. Those kids could've been the children of her friends or neighbors. They probably shared her skin color and had the same experiences growing up. Hell, they certainly shared the holiday decor.
Her mother had worked two jobs just to make sure they had a little bit of pine and holly berries wrapped up in a ribbon around a paper napkin from McDonald's and steel utensils for Christmas. She could picture them on the gray wood table they'd had in their tiny apartment. Her brothers and sister had tried to bring home little candies or used toys to make it a little more festive. But then they joined the gangs. Her oldest brother March (pronounced mark) was killed in a drive-by, and her middle brother August currently sat in jail for multiple B&E and possession charges. Her older sister June had survived an abusive husband with three kids, and her younger sister May was currently a teacher in an inner city school.
Oh my glory, I've killed kids. Her family would never forgive her.
"I can't do this anymore, Oberman." Her voice came out raw as she shook her head. "I'm not cut out for this."
"You know that ain't true, Jan. You're a damn good field agent. This was one little mistake--"
"Little mistake?" She rose so fast her head swam and he had to steady her. "That 'little mistake' cost several lives of kids. Not adults who know what they're into, but kids who were just trying to friggin' survive!" She pointed back at the doorway other shack. "I've lived that life, Oberman. I know what they had to do, and I had them killed for it."
"You can't take responsibility for them choosing to pick up guns, Jeffries."
"Can't I? They probably didn't have any choice. They'd found a way to survive and I just made sure they didn't." She shook her head. "This is my fuck-up, and I'm done. The case and the investigation is yours. I'm heading back to office to tender my resignation."
January shook her head as she strode for her vehicle. She was done in the field. She'd crossed a line she couldn't come back from and she had to live with the consequences. But all she could see in her head as she drove away was the gray wood holiday table and the drops of blood marring the surface like grotesque holly berries.
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