The smell of the gunpowder filled the store, and the sound of the shotgun blast had Julius's ears ringing. As he stood hidden behind the potato chip stand, he could hear the cashier moaning in agony as the robber ravaged the cash register. Surely, someone had heard the gunshot and had called police, but oddly, he didn't hear any sirens. A few seconds later Julius realized that the robber was walking down the aisle next to where he was hiding to get a case of beer. He came so close to him that if he had taken one more step, Julius would've been discovered. Julius held his breath as he saw a familiar face from the neighborhood in the reflection of the freezer doors. He couldn't move or breathe as he listened to his heartbeat get louder and louder. A second later he watched the man tuck the case of beer under his arm and exit out the front door. Only then did Julius allow himself to breathe. He knew he had to do something, so with trembling hands he opened his cell phone and dialed 911.
“Nine-one-one. What is your emergency?” the operator said through the telephone.
When Julius tried to speak, no words would come out, so he swallowed the lump in his throat and tried again.
“There's been a shooting.”
“Speak up, sir. I can barely hear you,” the operator replied.
“Benny's Market on the corner of Elk and Littleton has been robbed. I came in to buy a soda, and some guy came in and robbed and shot Remy.”
“Who is Remy, sir?” the operator asked.
“He's the clerk at the store,” he answered.
Julius could hear the operator typing on her keyboard as she continued to ask him questions.
“Police and medics are on the way. Is the robber still in the store?”
“I heard him leave out the front door,” he whispered.
“What is your name?” the operator asked.
“Julius. Julius Graham.”
“How old are you?”
“I'm fourteen,” he answered nervously.
“Are you injured, Julius?” she asked.
“No, ma'am, but I think Remy's dead.”
“It's going to be okay, Julius. You're doing great,” the operator replied when she detected tension in the young man's voice. “Stay on the line until I let you know you can hang up.”
Julius could hear the operator relaying his position and other information to police officers.
“Julius, the police would like a description of your clothing.”
He looked down at himself and said, “I have on some jeans and a green shirt with yellow stripes.”
“You're doing great, Julius. Police should be arriving any second.”
“I hear sirens,” he replied. “Is it okay for me to get up?”
“No, Julius. Let them come to you. I've given them your position. Don't move.”
Seconds later Julius heard police enter the store.
“They're here,” Julius told the operator.
“They know where you are,” she stated. “Stay calm.”
A second later two police officers approached him from both sides with guns drawn.
“Julius?” one of the officers asked.
“We got him!” the officer yelled into his radio. He then took the cell phone out of Julius's hand and said, “Dispatch, we have the kid.”
Everything seemed to be moving in fast-forward. There were police everywhere, and a crowd had gathered outside the store. The police patted Julius down before escorting him into the store office, while paramedics checked on the clerk. Seconds later two Arrington homicide detectives entered the office to get a statement from Julius while his memory was fresh. A third detective prepared to check the store's surveillance cameras to see if the crime had been captured on videotape. After getting Julius's complete name and address, the two detectives introduced themselves to the teenager.
“Julius, I'm Detective Daniels, and this is Detective Young. We want to take you downtown so we can talk to you in private about what happened here tonight.”
“I need to call my parents,” Julius announced nervously.
“Don't worry. We sent a police officer to your house to talk to your parents. They're going to meet us at the precinct,” Detective Daniels answered.
Julius looked up at the detectives with tears in his eyes and said, “I'd really like to speak to my dad. Please?”
“Okay,” Detective Young replied as he gave Julius his cell phone back so he could call his dad.
Julius dialed his father's number and waited for him to answer. Once he heard his father's voice, he felt relieved.
“Dad, are you on your way to get me?”
“Of course I am. Are you hurt?” his father asked.
“No, sir, I'm fine. Just a little shaken up.”
“I know you're scared, son, but be strong, and don't say a word to the detectives until I get there. By law, they can't question you without me or your mother being there.”
“No buts, Julius,” his father said, interrupting him. “You know how things are in our neighborhood. If the person who did this finds out you're talking to the cops, I would hate to think what could happen. Understand?”
“Good! So if they start questioning you, just tell them you want to wait until your parents arrive. Okay?”
Julius hung up his cell phone just as a police officer walked into the office. He whispered something to the detectives before walking back out into the store.
Detective Daniels sighed and then put his hand on Julius's shoulder. “Julius, I'm sorry to tell you this, but the cashier didn't make it. Now you see how important it is to tell us everything that happened here tonight.”
Julius lowered his head and said, “I want to help, but this is a tough neighborhood. If people see me coming out of here, they're going to think I'm a snitch. I'll be dead in twenty-four hours.”
“Don't worry, young man,” Detective Daniels stated. “No one knows you're here, and to be safe, we're going to take you out the back door and shield you as much as possible.”
“Promise?” Julius asked.
“Promise,” Detective Daniels replied.
“Julius, if you can identify the shooter, you have to tell us.”
Julius hesitated and then answered, “I want to wait until my parents are with me.”
The detective motioned for Julius to stand up and said, “You have to trust us so we can catch the guy who did.”
The choice was no longer in Julius's hands, because he was a minor, but he would have to become a man sooner than he had ever expected. In the meantime he would do his best not to get himself and his family killed. The person he saw in the reflection of the freezer was not a person anyone wanted to cross, and he hoped he never had to.
At the police station he was greeted by his frantic parents. His mother examined him to make sure he wasn't injured. His father spoke with the detectives before accompanying his son into the chilly interrogation room, while his mother waited in a conference room with a hot cup of coffee. The two detectives entered the interrogation room with coffee for Julius's father and hot cocoa for Julius.
“Mr. Graham, we appreciate you allowing us to interview your son. The sooner we can put the person responsible for this homicide behind bars, the better it will be for the victim's family and everyone in your neighborhood,” Detective Daniels said.
Mr. Graham leaned forward and said, “Detective Daniels, I'm going to be straight up with you. We didn't come down here to put our son's life at risk. I only came down here to get my boy. You're going to have to catch the killer another way.”
Detective Daniels looked at Mr. Graham and said, “Sir, I don't think you understand. There's a killer on the streets of your neighborhood, and your son is the only person who can help us catch him.”
“Detective, there are a lot of killers on the streets of my neighborhood. My son is not saying a word,” Mr. Graham announced as he stood. “We're walking out of here . . . now.”
“Please, Mr. Graham. We really need your cooperation,” the detective stressed.
Julius's father reached for the doorknob and yelled, “I said we're leaving! And if you continue to harass my son, I'm going to hire an attorney to protect my son's rights.”
“Mr. Graham, Julius was in the store at the time of the murder, and if we can't get you to cooperate, the evidence could steer our investigation in a different direction.”
Julius's father turned to face the detective and asked, “Are you threatening me?”
“All I'm saying is that I won't be able to stop the DA if he decides to look at Julius as a possible accomplice instead of a witness for the prosecution. Until we have a chance to interview him properly, we have no choice but to consider an alternate theory.”
Mr. Graham walked over to Detective Daniels and pointed his finger in his face. “You have lost your damn mind if you think I'm going to stand here and let you try to accuse my son of this bullshit. Do what you have to do, and I'll do what I have to do to protect my child. This conversation is over and we're out of here, and if you have anything else to say to my son, you'll have to go through me and my attorney, and believe me, it'll be harder to get past me than my attorney.”
The detectives had no choice but to allow Julius to leave with his parents. The detectives watched as the Graham family walked out of the office and onto the elevator.
“He'll be back,” Detective Daniels stated.
Detective Young turned to his partner and replied, “I think you're wrong, partner.”
They returned to their office and sat down at their desks and started going over the case.
“Did you see the look in that kid's eyes?” Detective Daniels asked. “He wants to talk, but his dad won't let him.”
“I can't say I blame him,” Detective Young replied as he typed some information into his computer. “It's a tough area over there now. I can remember when it was one of the better neighborhoods in the area. It was full of hardworking, middle-class, and retired families. Now look at it. Crime has done a number on it for sure. The people that could move out did, and those who can't feel trapped. That area has caught at least three homicides this year, and none of them have been solved. Somebody over there will eventually have to step up, and Julius might be our only hope.”
“Don't hold your breath,” Detective Daniels answered. “His father's not a pushover, and he's not having it.”
The ride back to the Graham house was relatively quiet. At least it was until Julius's mother turned to him and said, “Sweetheart, are you okay?”
“No, Mom, I'm not okay. I watched a friend of mine die tonight.”
His father looked at him through the rearview mirror and said, “Boy, watch your tone with your mother.”
“I'm sorry, Dad.”
“Don't apologize to me,” his father answered in a disappointed tone of voice. “Apologize to your mother.”
“I'm sorry, Mom.”
She reached over the seat and took her son's hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. “Apology accepted, son. It's been a scary night for all of us. Once we get home and get some sleep, we can talk about this in the morning. The main thing is that you're safe. You could've been killed.”
Mr. Graham looked up in the mirror again and said, “Your mother is right, and the only way you're going to stay safe is to keep your mouth shut. Just remember, whoever did this is still on the streets, and they won't think twice about killing you if they think you know something. Do you understand where I'm coming from?”
“Good. Now, there's no reason to talk about this anymore. We need to treat this like it never happened.”
Julius's mom looked over at her husband in shock and said, “Paul Michael Graham! Are you listening to yourself? Is this what you want to teach your son? A man is dead!”
He pulled into their driveway and put the car in park. He turned to his wife and said, “I know a man is dead, and I'm sorry about that, but it's my job to keep my family alive, and if I have to go against everything I believe in to do it, so be it. I will not lose my family to the streets.”
She opened the car door and stepped out of the car, slamming the door behind her.
“Come on, Alecia,” Mr. Graham pleaded with his wife as he climbed out of the car. “I need you to support me on this.”
When she turned to respond to him, shots rang out and all three of them fell to the ground.