The Dragonslayers, Volume One: The Righteous and the Lawless
The last hour of life for Adam and Anne Philipson began at 3:04 in the afternoon on a Thursday in mid-December. Anne was in the kitchen, checking a roast in the slow cooker and Adam was asleep on his day off. Goldie was next to his master like a good dog always is, and the basil for the indoor garden was sprouting its first leaves next to the window in the kitchen.
Anne sat down at the kitchen table and opened her Christmas planning folder. The tree had been up for a week and the decorations were all out. Scott was coming home in two days and she wanted everything to be perfect for him. She missed him at college but was glad he was able to afford the school he wanted to go to. Ever since he discovered nickels as a little boy he had been fascinated with Thomas Jefferson. Going to the University of Virginia was a personal accomplishment for him and a bragging point for his mother.
Anne rubbed her eyes. She had risen early and felt the tiredness now, despite the heavenly smells emanating from the slow cooker. A nap seemed to be an ideal occupation for the next hour or so. She set her alarm clock and climbed into bed, snuggling up next to her husband. They weren’t rich by any means, especially with Scott at an out of state college, but they were happy. She was deep in sleep when everything went wild.
Suddenly the dog was barking, growling fiercely in a way she had never heard. Adam shoved her hand aside from his rib and grabbed the revolver he kept in his nightstand. Anne had closed the bedroom door when she entered and Adam reached for it now, then hesitated and grabbed for Goldie’s collar instead. The door burst open on its own and men entered, shouting incoherently. They wore black and pointed their guns directly at Adam and Anne. Adam lost his grip on Goldie, who lunged straight at the intruders. The intruders fired. Anne realized they were police, finally able to read the writing on their vests as one of them turned, but it didn’t matter.
She saw Adam jerk and felt her own body lurch, then felt shocking stabs of pain in her chest. Her lungs betrayed her and refused to function, even as she struggled to command them. She was choking, drawing in smaller and smaller amounts of air with each breath. Her body demanded air and she tried to satisfy the craving but couldn’t. It felt as if her lungs had already sucked in air but somehow felt hollow at the same time. Then the cold came. “Help,” she tried to call, but only a wheezing gasp came out. If she could only reach a blanket and get warm. She pawed around the bed and her hand felt wetness, but she wasn’t sure where it had come from.
The shouting continued and a man jumped on top of her, running his hands roughly over her body. Were they going to rape her? Fear replaced pain for a moment, but then she realized he was checking her for wounds and reality asserted itself. She realized she was shot, and he was trying to save her life. He ripped something open and pushed it onto her chest, bringing back the pain. She watched him do it again, but the pain didn’t hurt so much this time. Then the needle came. She had always been afraid of needles and this one was huge, a real spike, but it didn’t hurt when it went in. Just a small poke.
She wished he would cover her with a blanket because it was getting very cold in the bedroom. They must have left the door open and all the heat was getting out. Adam would be upset. “Adam?” she called, or thought she called. It was so very hard to breathe, and she was so very sleepy again. Perhaps if she just closed her eyes for a little bit this would all go away.
She closed them, and it did.
It is impossible to forget the moment you first hear of the deaths of your parents, even if you want to out of spite and hatred. If you love them, you still can’t forget, even if you want forgetfulness only as an anesthetic. Scott Philipson would never forget the December afternoon he walked back to his apartment from the last final of his first semester at the University of Virginia, and not for a lack of love.
He picked up his mail from the mailbox and flipped through it as he trudged upstairs, all junk except the electric bill. Scott hated paying the bill, but at least his meager six hundred square feet didn’t take a lot of energy to heat or light.
His cell phone rang. As he pulled it out of his pocket, he noticed the area code was from home, but he didn’t recognize the number. He tapped answer as he opened the door.
“Hello?” he asked curiously.
“Scott, oh thank God you answered. It’s Betty Davis.” She was the neighbor from across the street, and she made wonderful pies on Independence Day every year. “You have to come home, right now, something happened at your parents’ house.”
The hairs on Scott’s neck turned up at the tone of desperation in her voice. “Wait, what? What happened?”
“I – I don’t quite know. All I know is there are lots of police outside your parent’s house, and an ambulance, and -“ she broke down in muffled sobs. “Scott, they wheeled a stretcher out of the house, then another.” Scott went light in the head on the other end of the line. His parents had always been law-abiding, always doing whatever police said, on the nearly nonexistent interactions they had with peace officers. Something was dreadfully wrong, and he knew he had to get home as fast as possible.
“Thanks, Mrs. Davis, I’m packing and coming home now.” He closed the phone and ran to his closet. His clothes were packed in ten minutes and he was headed for the door when someone knocked. He opened the door to see a short, stocky black man with somber eyes.
“Scott Philipson?” the police officer asked.
“Yes,” he said, feeling a pit open up beneath his heart.
“I’m Sergeant Crispus Exeter, Charlottesville Police. May I come in?” he asked humbly.
“Oh God, this is about my parents, isn’t it?” Scott said as the tears started in earnest.
“Yes son, I’m afraid it is. I have the regretful duty to inform you that they were killed this afternoon in a drug enforcement raid. I’m sorry, but I don’t have any more details than that.”
“Umm, thank you. If you’ll excuse me, I-“
“I was asked to give you this phone number,” Sergeant Exeter said, handing over a card. “Agent Andrews will have more information for you.”
“Thank you,” Scott said.
“I’m sorry you had to hear about it this way. If you need anything at all, I’ll be glad to help,” Exeter said, handing over his own card. Scott took it and turned away. He found himself on the couch, staring at his phone in one hand and the card with the phone number of Agent Roy Andrews in the other. He willed himself to dial the number.
“Agent Andrews,” the voice said.
“This is Scott Philipson,” Scott said.
“Oh, Mister Philipson, thank you for calling. I’m the director of the Drug Enforcement Agency in Philadelphia.”
“Yeah, the police officer said you knew about my parents’ deaths?”
“Yes, I’d like to speak to you in person about it. I understand you’re in Virginia right now?”
“Yes, Charlottesville” Scott said.
“I can drive down tomorrow and meet you in the afternoon, if you’d like.”
Scott’s heart burned with a need to get home at that moment, to see his family, his house, his dog. “No, I’m headed for my car now. How about I call you tomorrow?”
“Do you have someone to stay with? I’m afraid we can’t let you stay in your parent’s house.”
“Yes, my parents’ neighbor called me a few minutes ago, I can stay with her. I’ll … I’ll call you when I get to Philadelphia.”
“Thank you, Mr. Philipson. I’ll see you tomorrow,” Andrews said, and the call ended. It was 4:30. If he ran, he could be in his car and headed north in five minutes. Taking the route through Frederick, Maryland he could avoid the DC chaos and skirt the edge of Baltimore, arriving in Germantown in perhaps six hours. Maybe less, if he drove as fast as he dared. Would Agent Andrews vouch for him if he got a ticket? Probably not. Maybe.
The shock melted away at last, replaced by numbness. The numbness gave way to confusion – why had the DEA been involved, instead of the local police? The details from Betsy were odder still. Why would police be at his parent’s house? He opened the phone to call her, then paused as he saw the shadow of his neighbor in the doorway. Carley Hill was standing there, her book bag over her shoulder. She looked concerned, as if she had been standing there for some time.
“Scott, what’s wrong? Did something happen?” She brushed her brunette hair behind one ear.
“My parents are dead,” he said with tears dripping from his eyes. “I just spoke with a DEA agent. They want to meet me tomorrow.”
She dropped her purse and covered her mouth. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry!” She ran to him from the open apartment door and hugged him. He hesitated, then hugged her back without strength, just wrapping his arms around her. She pulled back just as he embraced her and looked at him. “Is there anything I can do?”
Scott and Carley had been neighbors in the apartment building and occasionally saw each other on campus. She was a third year studying nursing, so they had not seen much of each other outside the apartment, but were friendly nonetheless. “I have to leave right now, can you tell the super I’ll be away for a while and have him hold my mail?”
“Absolutely. Anything else?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’ll call in a few days. What’s your number?” She gave him her parent’s number. “I’m leaving in two days, but they live just north of town, so I can stop in and check on things if you need. Just let me know.”
“Okay.” They walked out the door and he closed it, locked it, and opened his phone. She squeezed his hand as he dialed Betsy’s number. He gave her one last glance as he turned to walk down the hall. “Mrs. Davis? It’s Scott, I’m coming home right now. Can I stay with you?”
“Of course, Scott.” Her grandmotherly comforting nature was fully apparent over the phone, and he drank it in, knowing he would need it in full very soon.
Scott lay awake, staring at the ceiling in Betsy’s spare room. He had wanted to go over to the house, but there was crime scene tape over the door and around the perimeter and an officer posted, so that was out of the question. The look on the officer’s face had said “don’t ask questions,” so he didn’t. It was unlikely he would know anything, given the details Betsy had given him when he arrived at midnight.
Pulling up, he looked over at his parent’s house, dimly illuminated by the streetlights. He pulled into the Davis driveway and John and Betsy had met him on the steps of their porch, Betsy hugging him close. They took him inside, where they sat him down and told him what they knew. John had gone over and chatted with some of the police officers, who had been less than forthcoming in their answers.
“It was some kind of drug raid,” John told Scott. “But it doesn’t make any kind of sense. The neighborhood has been going downhill, but your parents weren’t into that kind of stuff. We’ve had home invasions, a few robberies, but no drugs. That crap hasn’t shown up here yet.” He wrinkled his 68 year old brow, puzzled by the inconsistency. “There was never any trouble from your parents.”
Scott had looked up the name of the lawyer who had done his parent’s wills, called, and left a message saying he needed to talk to him as soon as possible. He had gone to bed, but not to sleep, unable to close his eyes as thoughts of the possibilities flooded his mind. Had his parents been involved in the drug trade? Had they been involved in something illicit? What was the deal with the DEA, had they been spying on his parents? Had someone in government finally tired of his father’s rantings on Internet chat boards and decided to do something about it? Had it been gang related?
What about Christmas?
What about his birthday in April? What about the wedding his mother had dreamed about? What would happen to their summer camping trips, their Philadelphia Eagles tickets they occasionally bought, their talks about politics stretching into the late hours of the night?
The first tears rolled down Scott’s temples into his blond hair. As the room grew unfocused, he closed his eyes, and began to whimper silently.
The lawyer, Silas Endwythe, met Scott outside the Davis house at ten the next morning. They sat in the chairs on the porch until Agent Andrews drove up, parking in the driveway of the house of Scott’s parents. No – it was his house now. The wills had been brief, leaving the entire estate to Scott, mortgage and all. Andrews walked over to the local police officer, who met him halfway to tell him not to park there. Andrews flashed his badge, and they talked for a bit, occasionally looking over at Scott and Endwythe, then Andrews began to cross the street.
“Like I said, I haven’t been able to get any info from the local police, so let’s just hear him out and see where this goes,” Endwythe said.
“Mr. Philipson? I’m Roy Andrews. Can we talk inside?”
“Sure. This is Silas Endwythe, the family lawyer. There’s coffee ready.” Andrews bristled slightly at the words “family lawyer”, but was resigned to the fact he would meet the man sooner or later.
Inside, they took seats as Mrs. Davis poured the coffee. Scott took his black, but Andrews added some sugar and stirred as he talked. “I didn’t expect your call so early this morning. I thought I wouldn’t be hearing from you until this afternoon.”
“I decided to come up last night. I got here just before midnight.”
”Ah, I see. Can’t blame you, for not calling me when you got here then – actually, I’m somewhat glad you didn’t. Long night.” He paused awkwardly, realizing he hadn’t been the only one who’d had a long night. “Well, anyway: your parents were killed yesterday in a drug enforcement raid. An informant’s tip led local police to believe there was a meth lab on this street, so they obtained a warrant and conducted a raid. We …”
“Do you have a copy of the warrant with you, Agent Andrews?” interjected Endwythe.
Andrews paused, but answered calmly. “I do not have the warrant with me; I was not part of the enforcement operation directly. As soon as I get a copy, I’ll send it over to your office.”
“Thank you, along with any other documents we ask for.”
Again, Andrews paused before answering. “Now, as I was saying, the information described a house matching your parent’s residence. The enforcement team conducted a dynamic entry, at which point they were assaulted by your parent’s dog. The dog was shot, at which point your father, from the report I received, pointed a firearm at one of the officers, who fired back. At some point your mother was caught in the cross-fire and died.”
“Excuse me, Agent Andrews, I’m a little confused about something,” Endwythe asked. “You say Mr. Philipson pointed a firearm at an officer, who fired back. When did Mr. Philipson start shooting, and how many rounds did he fire?”
“Counselor, I’m not here to give a deposition, I’m here to report facts to you and your client as they were reported to me. Believe me, you have a case against the Philadelphia Police Department, but I’m just a messenger here today.” Andrews knew he would be deposed, but didn’t want to do it now. He just wanted to finish his coffee and go back to the office to continue the paperwork for this particular bureaucratic nightmare.
Scott looked at him coolly, with a calm rage in his eyes. He knew Andrews was just the messenger, but he was incensed the Philadelphia Police had not even bothered to send one of their own to tell him the facts of the tragedy. “How much meth was found in my parent’s house, Agent Andrews?”
“No drugs were found in your parent’s house, aside from over the counter medications and what appeared to be legally prescribed medications in your mother’s bathroom cabinet.”
“Then what. The. Hell. Happened?” Scott paused after each word to emphasize the anger he felt.
Andrews touched his tongue to the tip of his lips, bit it slightly, and answered. “It appears at this point – eh, that is – we believe, based purely on preliminary reports, that one of the enforcement agents transposed two of the numbers of the street address, and as a result the Philadelphia Police raided your parent’s house, instead of the correct one down the street.”
No one spoke. Scott stared at Andrews, mouth slightly open, not quite believing what he heard. Endwythe asked, “So you’re saying a clerical error ended in the murder of my client’s parents?” Scott looked at him, with an almost helpless look in his eyes.
“Murder requires malicious intent, so if you are not willing to settle out of court, there will likely be a manslaughter trial. I have been warned by DEA legal counsel to not say more, but I can say, unofficially, the DEA wants to wash their hands of this. Philly PD may be less conciliatory, but no one wants this to linger on the front page.”
“I haven’t seen the news reports, what are they saying?” Scott asked.
“So far they are reporting there was a drug raid on a residential house yesterday. We’ve been holding off on a more detailed press release, citing an ongoing investigation.”
“Claiming, you mean,” Endwythe retorted. “Your agency certainly played a part in the planning of this raid, if not the execution. Your agency would not be reporting to us if you were not involved. Your agency -”
“Does not want this to go to trial, and is willing to settle our responsibility out of court, if you are willing.” interrupted Andrews. He paused, knowing the line would get Endwythe’s attention. “Philadelphia PD was the lead agency on this raid; DEA was waiting to add Federal charges after the raid was done. Unfortunately, a mid-level bureaucrat ruined our investigation. The intended target has fled by now, and we will have to start tracking him down all over again.”
“Do you know the name of this ‘mid-level bureaucrat’, as you describe him?” Endwythe asked with a slight smile. Scott rose and left the room, sickened by the lawyer’s professional predator style. A Desert Storm veteran and his wife were dead, and all the shyster could think of was the settlement, and his cut from it.
The intended target turned out to be the house three doors down the street, number 2464 instead of 2446. Both houses had white siding with blue window blinds, and a white rain gutter. The house had matched the description, no one had noticed the discrepancy in the number, and the actual drug lord was last seen an hour after the raid started. Not only was the drug dealer long gone, but so were Scott’s mommy and daddy, and his happy golden lab. He buried them on December 20th, and tried as hard as he could to forget his nineteenth Christmas.
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