THE PRODIGAL UNCLE
When Mackentire Barabbas checked into the Yearwood Hotel and switched on the evening news, the exhausted former police officer was carrying considerably more baggage than he’d been able to stuff into a suitcase. Removing his denim coat and placing his holstered .44 special on the nightstand, he called to mind a frigid February morning in 2008 when he fired the shot that ended his career. Several years after he’d left his hometown and moved to Jacksonville, people encouraged him to put the entire incident behind him, but that was impossible. No man could ever forget the day he killed his only sister.
More than a decade of counseling and reassessing his purpose in life had given Barabbas the perspective he needed to cope with past mistakes. Even after all he’d suffered, the forty-five-year-old survivor was still devoted to the pursuit of justice. While he never expected to wear a badge again, his endeavors as a bounty hunter had afforded him the opportunity to make a difference. It was a privilege he was determined not to squander.
Approaching the fifteen-year anniversary of the tragedy that devastated his entire family had taken an agonizing toll on the pensive tracker. As he opened a bottle of prescription medication and poured two tablets into the palm of his hand, he thought about the media circus that irrupted when the press got wind of what happened to his sister. Reporters followed him everywhere. Although the memory of that catastrophe didn’t affect him the way it did back then, a half-hour documentary commemorating the event was the last thing he needed to see on television. Unfortunately, that’s exactly what a local station on the outskirts of Tallahassee was preparing to air.
This is WKTV-16 News,” the anchorman said. “I’m Corbin Tyler. Fifteen years ago, five masked assailants attempted to rob the Southeast Wiregrass Bank in Emerald Gulf Florida. During the holdup, an employee activated the silent alarm. Within minutes, the police arrived. A shootout ensued that claimed the life of a pregnant hostage. Victoria Claymore spent the past week in the Panhandle town just north of Panama City.”
A middle-aged woman in a navy-blue pant suit appeared on the screen. “That was a day the people here will never forget, Corbin,” she said, pointing to the entrance of the bank where the robbery took place. “Although it’s not a pleasant memory, everyone can tell you what they were doing when they heard the news. The assailants entered the building around 9:30am. There were eight customers inside. According to witnesses, by the time police arrived, two of the robbers came running out. They opened fire and tried to make their escape, but one of them was shot in the leg. When the other thief realized he was outnumbered, he dropped his gun and surrendered.” As footage of the SWAT Team descending upon the scene and taking their positions was presented, Victoria continued to relay the events of that harrowing ordeal. “A hostage negotiator was called in to communicate with the remaining gunmen. They demanded a car and safe passage to the airport where they intended to board an awaiting helicopter. In turn, they agreed to release seven hostages. The captive they decided to keep was eight months pregnant. Now this is where events become a little murky. The perpetrators walked out with the expectant mother. They draped a coat over her head and traipsed toward the awaiting vehicle. At that moment, a sniper atop a building across the street had a clear shot. He fired at one of the gunmen. Now no one seems to know why, but a split-second before the officer pulled the trigger, the suspect lost his footing and pulled the woman toward him. The bullet struck her in the sternum! The other robbers dropped their guns and the police moved in. But this wasn’t the end of the story. The wounded captive was rushed to the hospital where she gave birth to a healthy baby boy. Six hours later, she died. As more information was unearthed, the public came to realize the enormous scope of this devastating catastrophe. For more details, let’s go to Kevin Miles at the Emerald Gulf Police Station.”
A gray-haired man wearing a polo shirt and windbreaker prepared to speak. “That’s exactly right, Victoria,” he said. “I suppose the most shocking element of this entire situation was the identity of the hostage. Her name was Stephanie Mears. She was the wife of Sergeant Harold Mears. At the time of the shooting, the couple was expecting their second child. It seems impossible to imagine anything more painful for a police officer than losing his wife during the commission of a crime, but as the night progressed, citizens of this mild-mannered community learned that the SWAT Team sniper whose bullet fatally wounded Stephanie was her younger brother, Mackentire Barabbas. By the age of thirty, Barabbas had already risen to the rank of sergeant. The intrepid young marksman was brilliant and committed. Before this catastrophe derailed his career, he’d already received four commendations. Every official who remembered the gangling superstar believed he had a promising future. Intriguingly, the inner turmoil resulting from the shooting wasn’t the only burden he bore at the time. His judgment was called into question when Captain Edward Newman disputed the officer’s recollection of events. The veteran SWAT commander denied giving Barabbas the order to take the shot. Unable to convince Internal Affairs that he did not override the chain of command, the disgraced cop was demoted and assigned to desk duty. Although he faced no criminal charges, he was eventually fired from the Department. The victim’s husband, Harold Mears, is now the ranking homicide detective. We approached him, but the captain had no comment. Without a doubt, the death of Stephanie Mears is a tragedy Emerald Gulf will never forget. Now, back to Tyler in the newsroom.”
The image of Tyler Corbin with his textured crop top fade and burgundy double-breasted suit was an astounding contrast to the disturbing mug shots of Barabbas that surrounded him. The confident newshawk revealed no expression as he proceeded to conclude this biographical segment of the fallen peace officer. “As you can see, these unflattering photos of Mackentire Barabbas were taken when he was hauled in for drunk and disorderly conduct,” Corbin said. “Within a few months after the tragedy, The Emerald Gulf Police Department’s shining star spiraled down into an abyss of drug and alcohol abuse. He was never convicted of a serious crime, but drunken bouts and loud altercations made it impossible to prosper in the community that once embraced him. No one could tell us where Barabbas calls home these days, but the local authorities believe he will attend the hearing that’s scheduled for the day after tomorrow. New evidence concerning his sister’s shooting has come to light. While we don’t know what will be discussed, many believe the former sharpshooter’s role in the fifteen-year-old tragedy will be settled once and for all. Thomas Kelly will have the latest high school basketball scores after this word from Wexler’s Hardware Store.”
As Barabbas picked up the remote and switched to the Weather Channel, he remembered the lives he disrupted with the single squeeze of a trigger. He’d never forgotten the tears his young niece shed, and he often thought about the nephew who had to grow up without his mother.
When the burly bounty hunter finally left Emerald Gulf, he set out on a journey to atone for the sins of yesterday. With time and dedication, he became a different man. In fact, the detractors who demanded his head on a platter would have been hard pressed to recognize him. The military crew cut he sported when he was a cop was now a tight curly shag. His raven beard was full and neatly groomed. His somber brown eyes revealed the anguish of a man who yearned to travel back in time and relive the past, but he knew that was only wishful thinking. Moreover, he couldn’t allow dark memories to distract him. A good night’s rest and a rational perspective was what the adroit pursuer needed to accomplish the task at hand.
Since leaving Jacksonville, Barabbas had been on the trail of a sadistic killer named Sirloin Sammy Cohen. After jumping bail two months ago, the fugitive had killed four people. Taking on a monster like this wasn’t a job to be taken lightly.