Dead Don’t Breathe by Erik C. Martin

The steamed windows told Officer John Sheehan that the Ford was occupied. Call for backup? His squad was taking Code-Ten at the Baptist Church. Every year the congregants cooked Thanksgiving dinner for the police, fire fighters, and paramedics who had to work. Let them eat. Officer Sheehan stepped out of the car.

Lowering the hood of his holster, he approached the car on the passenger side. His car’s takedown lights illuminated his breath. Nothing moved. Except for him and whoever was inside the Ford, the parking lot was empty. By now everyone in town was in a turkey coma watching the Cowboys on TV. Later would come the alcohol-related domestic calls, maybe a DUI. But now, it was quiet.

“Police! Roll down the window!”

No movement. No sound. Officer Sheehan couldn’t see inside the vehicle. Just a lot of black shapes. The back seat seemed cluttered, but he saw no head-shaped silhouettes. Someone living out of their car maybe. This close it looked like people were seated in the front passenger and driver seats.

“Police! Roll the window down!”

Still nothing. He grasped the handle of the passenger door and pulled it up. Unlocked. He yanked the door open, stepped back quickly, and drew his gun. 

A thin, stiff arm popped out, the nails red and chipped. A syringe fell onto the blacktop. 

“Don’t move!” 

 John sliced the pie a bit to get a better look. White female in the passenger seat. White male next to her in the driver’s seat. Their eyes were closed. Very still. Their chests weren’t moving. Very dead.

“Shit.” John moved closer. He holstered his gun and felt for a carotid pulse. No heartbeat. The woman was cold. “Car 210. I’m Signal Fifty, but start me a car and EMS. I’ve got two overdose victims, both Ten-Seventy-Nine. Routine traffic, they’ve been gone for a while. Have a supervisor respond.”

Officer Sheehan looked at the windows.

They’ve been dead long enough to be cold. Why are the windows still fogged up?

The dispatcher replied, but John missed it. Something moved in the rear of the car. He jumped back. His hand went to his gun.

John opened the door. Two children sat among bags of clothes, empty fast food containers, and crumpled cigarette packs. One was maybe two years old, restrained in a car seat, blue with cold but breathing fine. The other looked three or four. He’d burrowed down into a pile of dirty clothes on the floor. He stared up at John with big eyes, and then fished the last crumb of deli turkey out of a plastic Food Lion bag and shoved it into his mouth.

When John bent down, the older child leapt into his arms. John carried him to the patrol car, placing the boy in the warm backseat. The veteran officer closed the door and paused. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. Putting his glasses on, he headed back to get the other child.

Erik C. Martin lives and writes in San Diego. He writes stories for children and is a member of the SCBWI and the San Diego Writers and Editors Guild. He loves a good baked potato, but nothing beats mixing your buttered mashed potatoes with corn. Follow him on Twitter at @ErikCMartin or visit www.ErikCMartin.com. 

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