Throughout a lifetime a lucky man will come in contact with a handful of humans that meaningfully impact his life—rare men and women who quietly go about changing the world around them one life at a time. For me, Lloyd Perkins embodied and embraced all that is good and honorable in a man. Under the most extreme circumstances he answered only to himself; settled down at night with what he knew to be right, steadfast, and true. If people were paint and life a canvas, the majority would melt in the center to produce the muted shades of mediocrity. I’m convinced Lloyd Perkins would have wilted and died there. He is a fiery red hue, one of the scant few born to dance on the fringes of life.
From his outdated flattop to the way he carried himself reminded me of an old stallion that refused to be broken. After you crush the dreams of a few cowboys word gets out. All that’s required from that point forward is to posture in the corner of the coral, stamping your hoof and making certain they see the steam rising from your nostrils.
A steady diet of adrenaline is not for everyone, tends to eat most from the inside out. Over the years I watched plenty of decent men come and go, but within ten seconds of our first meeting I knew Lloyd Perkins was born to lead. His ‘old stallion’ persona perfectly suited for a man selected to head a S.W.A.T. team. The beauty of the situation was simplistic. I don’t believe for a second he realized the magnitude of impact and influence he had over his men. Lloyd relied more on actions than words. Each of us knew he considered his position a distinct honor and he viewed his boys as extended family. If a situation got ugly Lloyd would be in the thick of it. Not even a shred of doubt existed that if required and without hesitation; he would die in place of any one of us.
Information flowing from dispatch continued to be sketchy. Around midmorning a state trooper executed a routine traffic stop. As he approached the vehicle the unthinkable happened. Instead of simply speeding off, the driver jammed the car in reverse, backing over and killing the patrolman. He fled the scene at a high rate of speed, leading officers through two counties before bailing out of his vehicle and holing up in an old barn. The drivers ride turned out stolen, so even at this point his identity remained a mystery. As of yet no one wanted to connect our runner to a brutal mother-daughter slaying, but plenty of us were thinking it. The murders were only hours old and investigators still combing the scene for evidence, but a man doesn’t run like that because he’s a few minutes late for a P.T.A meeting.
Team members swayed in unison as the van made a hard right turn onto a dirt road. Leaning on the accelerator the driver announced we would arrive on scene in less than two minutes. Lloyd gave the signal for a final gear and weapons check.
“Men, we got a job to do. Let’s get it done safely and efficiently so we can all get home to our families.”
Right arms extended and fists touching we chanted, “We are the best of the best. Do our part and God takes care of the rest!”
I suppose the ritual was a strange cocktail of cockiness and humility; a confidence in our training, abilities, and fellow man, but much like our leader we hoped for just enough renegade to get the job done but never so much we forgot who is ultimately in charge of the outcome.
Our van slid to a stop next to a line of squad cars and before the dust settled the back doors burst open. Lloyd leapt from the vehicle and we streamed behind, fanning out, and taking up position.
“Who’s in charge of this scene…I need a status”, Lloyd barked.
A young officer stepped forward.
“We believe he’s ex-military, definitely heavily armed, Sir.”
In full surveillance mode; eight sets of eyes scanned and processed the bits of chaos lying about, but Lloyd was our spokesman—always. A single point of contact simplified things.
“Son, I’m not telling you how to do your job, but why in God’s name didn’t you call for us earlier?”
A shadow struck the young man’s face, making whiskers where there were none.
“Extenuating circumstances, Sir.”
Lloyd invaded the man’s personal space, delivering an honest assessment.
“You lookin’ at the same mess I am? One officer wounded, and from the looks of it, three more dead before they hit the ground.”
Lloyd abandoned the boy to act on a plan I knew to be forming in his head. Like a cobra his movements were purposeful and efficient.
“Marcus, take a position on the second floor of the old home. If we can snipe this guy let’s get it done.”
Voluntarily or not the officer on scene had been relieved of his duties. There was little for him to do but follow Lloyd around as he continued to position the team. It was only a matter of time before the young man became a nuisance. As if shedding the weight of a shadow Lloyd turned on the boy without warning.
“Is there something more you need to say to me, son?”
The shadow moved over the young man again, but this time didn’t even pause at his jaw-line, instead swallowing his entire outline. With head hung low the young man’s voice dribbled from the shadows.
“Just that I’m sorry, Sir—so very sorry.”
Lloyd grabbed the officer by his shoulders and squared him.
“Look, Son, someone has to knock on doors today—inform three families we lost their husbands and daddies. And having been there, no amount of sorry will make that job any easier.”
I feared the weight of reality would buckle the young man’s knees. If time allowed I would have pulled him aside and explained that someday when he had a son of his own he would recognize rebuke as a necessary part of instruction.
A newly arrived black sedan saved the young man from further scrutiny. The gnarled veteran stepping from the vehicle was Colonel Lionel Nichols, the head of State Police. Lloyd and he shared a friendship long before each stepped into their respective leadership roles. The young officer moved to a safe distance, perhaps anticipating the locked horns of two angry bulls.
The elders shared a hearty handshake, with Lloyd speaking first.
“Don’t look good Nichols….your guys took some heavy losses. Your boy needed to get us involved earlier.”
Lionel moved his head from side to side in dissent.
“Wasn’t his call, Lloyd. I asked him specifically not to involve your team if at all possible.”
“That’s bullshit, Lionel…you know the protocol better than anyone. What were you thinking?”
Before the Colonel could explain his position an officer rushed up.
“The shooter refuses to talk to our negotiator any longer—says he’ll only speak with the head of S.W.A.T.”
The Colonel reached for Lloyd’s shoulder, “I really need to speak to you before….”
Without a moments delay Lloyd laid the phone on the hood and flipped the phone to speaker.
“This is Captain Perkins. Who am I speaking with?”
A voice fashioned from gravel and grit emerged on the line.
“Well, well, Captain…..the perfect title for a man with a perfect little life.”
Every ounce of color flushed from Lloyd’s face. During a million sets of undesirable circumstances never had I witnessed such an expression. In the absence of a response the man hijacked the line.
“What? Don’t even recognize your little brothers voice after all these years? Why don’t you take the opportunity to inform your colleagues how you fuckin’ cut off ties with me after Afghanistan. Told our entire family I was a nut…even went as far as getting an order of protection against me. This is between you me and Lloyd…come and get me!”
I disconnected completely, couldn’t make myself listen. One can only image the swirl of thoughts and emotions coursing through Lloyd’s body and brain. It pained me more than if it had been my own. The state police had known the identity of the shooter all along—the extenuating circumstances the officer spoke of. I knew how Lloyd’s mind worked, his knees buckled with the weight of each slain officer weighing on his conscience. He was traveling a lonely, desperate stretch of highway, and I needed to step up.
“Boss, I’ll gather the men. We’ll use the ram and bust those doors open.”
I hadn’t moved two steps before Lloyd returned to us.
“Get back to your position. I’m still in charge. I know what will bring him out.”
Lloyd gave orders to set the roof ablaze. Few things on earth wield the power and permanency of fire. That realization alone did not fully explain the uneasiness that swept in and settled in my gut. As I held the Molotov cocktail in my hand, I recalled a drunken celebration a few years back. In the dim hours of early morning Lloyd shared the details of a personal circumstance that was tearing him up. His brother returned from Afghanistan early. The transport he was traveling in was struck by an R.P.G. and his brother thrown some distance away. Despite the flames he returned again and again. Three times over he dragged another soldier to safety before the final explosion. A combination of burns over sixty percent of his body and the two soldiers he could not save proved too much for the young man’s mind. Lloyd shutdown after that and I don’t even know if he recalled what he shared with me.
A blanket of eeriness fell around as indecisive wisps of smoke flirted with dormancy. As if summoned a steady southern breeze arrived and transformed the roofline into a boiling stream of black that billowed skyward. Each fiery breath consumed another swath of wooden shingles and moss. Over and over I considered the human life trapped inside. By now his belly likely pressed against the dirt floor drawing from a waning reserve of fresh air. Collective wishing did not bring him out, and neither did my physical efforts prevent Lloyd from rushing in.
My granddad used to tell me even the fiercest storm begins as a subtle change in the horizon—and I suppose he was right. I’m convinced none of us could have changed the outcome of that day, but sure wish someone had been watching the sky. We executed our job to the best of our abilities and God did take care of the rest. At the time, the barn’s collapse seemed to me the cruelest and inappropriate end possible, but now I can appreciate the bigger picture.
The mother-daughter homicide victims turned out to be Lloyd’s wife and daughter and his brother the killer. No man should ever endure such agony. The dual blow would have been too much. Instead God allowed Lloyd Perkin’s last thought to be that of trying to save his disturbed brother. As bitter-sweet as life appears to be it’s those type of thoughts that grant me peace.