Some memories never go away. These new ‘sketches’ are from the book, the novel I’m working on. As such, they’re fiction. Kind of, anyway, in the way that memory tends to influence fiction. I know it’s going to be aggravating, but I’ve used the pronouns – he, him and his – a lot in here. Purposefully. You can make up a name for ‘him’ if you like. Not long, perhaps 20 pages, so just a few minutes time. Hope you enjoy.
Images dans la nuit
A dream itself is but a shadow…
It is late in the afternoon. An early Spring this year, he thinks, yesterday’s air too cold, today’s too warm. Too early for this kind of warmth, too soon for storms so big – and he wonders: Is something amiss? He is driving on an Interstate, and there is a wall cloud ahead, the hanging cloud an unnatural shade of greenish-gray. Seeing a large freeway overpass ahead, he pulls over to the side of the road, just under the sheltering concrete, and watches the cloud as it falls and spreads. An instant later heavy hail pours from the sky, thunder rumbles overhead, and just a few hundred yards away lightning strikes a green highway sign, the arc transfixed in time for several seconds – before blinking out of existence.
He leans forward, peers through the hail, and grabs the radio.
“3114, I have a funnel on the ground, I-20 at Spur 4-0-8.”
“3114, at 1848 hours.”
Seconds later warning sirens pierce the evening, and when hail turns to rain he ventures back onto the highway, paralleling the funnel cloud as it heads for a residential neighborhood…
“3114, notify Duncanville PD they have a funnel working, headed for the area between Clark and Cedar Ridge Road, headed south-southeast.”
“3114, at 1851 hours.”
The sun is setting and the air radiates green – everywhere. The clouds are green, the wet streets a series of shattered green reflections, and he watches as high tension power lines twist in the green air over the Interstate, then snap – showering green sparks as they snake their way down to the grass.
“3114, power lines down at 408, on the roadway; we’re going to need to shut down the Interstate…”
“3114, at 1853 hours.”
He stops on the left shoulder of the highway, strobes flashing, power lines writhing in agony a hundred yards away, and he gets out in the rain, places large orange cones across the roadway and stops motorists with an outstretched hand. More patrol cars arrive and, like a bleeding artery, the highway is clamped off. Power crews in cherry-pickers arrive, and soon traffic is backed up for miles in either direction.
“3110 to 3114.”
“3114, go ahead.”
“Duncanville and Cedar Hill are working a reported car washed off the road, Highway 67 just south of Danieldale Road. They’re requesting a Rescue Diver, so I need you to clear and get over here.”
“3114, code five.”
“3114, at 1922 hours.”
He cuts across the wide grassy median and runs Code 3, with lights and sirens, to Highway 67, and he heads south a few miles and stops behind a crowd of police and fire rescue vehicles. 3110, his district’s evening watch shift sergeant, is waiting for him, watching as he gets out of his patrol car.
“You have your gear with you?” the sergeant asks.
“Everything but tanks,” he advises.
“FD has three. Will you need more than that?”
“I doubt it. At these depths and water temps, two will last longer than I will. What’s up?”
“Car washed off the road, about a hundred yards upstream from here. Witnesses advised it was a small car, hatchback maybe, red or dark orange. One witness states there are five people inside, two adults, three kids. Officers are walking the banks, and have found several deep holes where a car could get hung up.”
He nodded, looked at the swollen river, the fast moving currents. “I’ll need a couple of men holding a safety line…”
“Already got it rigged. But, well, there’s a lot of stuff ripping through the water, branches, things like that. And, uh, it looks like there are a bunch of water moccasins in there, too.”
“In the first deep hole. I saw about fifty moccasins.”
“Well, shoot the goddamn things! Run ‘em off. I can’t get in the water with that many snakes…I won’t last a minute in there.”
“Can they bite underwater?”
“They can bite anywhere they want, and I don’t feel like getting’ killed by a bunch of goddamn snakes tonight, sergeant.”
A fireman, a Chief, walked up, and he was listening to their talk about snakes, then he spoke. “We can dump a few hundred gallons of gas upriver, let it run down; there won’t be any snakes in the water for days after that. Fucks up their eyes, bad.”
“As long as the EPA doesn’t find out, you mean?”
“There could be survivors in the water,” the Chief said. “We need to get you in as soon as possible. You think I care about what fuckin’ EPA is gonna do?”
“Okay. If you think it’ll work…”
“It does. Gimme about ten minutes.”
“You better gear up,” the sergeant said. “I’ll get the tanks coming.”
He went to the trunk, slid his duffel close to the edge and opened it, put on his wetsuit and booties, then his hood – and with the warm, humid air after the storm he immediately broke out in a sweat. He grabbed his mask and fins, then his regulator/vest, and trudged down the road to a steep trail that led down to the river’s edge.
“Can you have the firemen bring two tanks down to the hole?” he said to the sergeant, then he started off down the trail to water’s edge. It was another hundred or so yards to the first hole, and he looked in the water as he walked along the water’s edge, saw perhaps twenty moccasins writhing around in the watery gloom. Men started shining flashlights on them when he stopped at the hole, and he looked down at the water’s edge, saw a half dozen white-mouthed, black skinned snakes coiled up on branches just beneath his feet. A patrolman walked up next to him, looked down at the snakes and chambered a round in his 870 pump and fired five rounds into the hive, and he watched bloody chunks break off and roll away in the churning water. He heard men wrestling SCUBA tanks down the trail, hauling them through the tangled brush, and he rigged one to his vest while men started shooting into the water, killing more snakes –
– then the smell of gasoline became almost overpowering –
More lights shining in the water, no snakes on the surface, so he heaved the tanks over a shoulder and strapped the vest tight across his chest, then slipped his fins on. Someone handed him his mask, and he slipped that on too, and once he double checked his safety line he jumped into the water.
The water’s force was remarkably strong, and he felt his body being pulled away from the bank. He turned, saw three men holding the safety line and he went under the surface, turned on his flashlight. The first thing he saw was a moccasin, it’s bilious mouth snapping at his hands. He grabbed it behind the head and pulled on the line. Men pulled him to shore, saw the snake wrapped around his wrist, and someone leaned over, cut the snakes head off, and he fell back into the flow, submerged again, then kicked his way to the bottom. He saw a faint glow in the murky water below and swam for it, saw the headlights of an old Toyota in the swirling muck. He grabbed hold of the front bumper and pulled himself close, looked through the windshield, saw four people staring ahead, their eyes cold and lifeless, then he pulled himself around to the right side of the car. The back door had been pulled open and it dangled in the current by a broken hinge, so he went closer and saw an infant car seat strapped in the middle of the rear bench. It was empty, and he choked back a sob.
He swam upstream, against the current as best he could, poking into the branches and limbs that choked off the river in drier times, and after a half hour of poking through limbs he saw an infant’s leg poking up out of a tangled mass of branches and garbage. He pushed through the limbs, got hold of the little leg and pulled a little girl’s body free, then he pulled on the rope, swam for the surface, cradling the little girl’s body to his own while men pulled him to shore.
He passed the little girl’s body up to waiting hands, and he could feel the gasoline in the water working into his skin.
“Find anything else?” the fire chief called out.
He spat the regulator’s mouthpiece from his mouth. “Yup, right below me, at about twenty feet. Four bodies, still in the car. Let me bring those up, then I’ll hook up a tow line. Oh, better toss me a couple more lines while I’m up.”
Someone shot him a thumb’s up and he slipped beneath the water as soon as he had the new lines in hand, and he swam back down to the Toyota and tied one off to the bumper, then he swam around to the dangling door and reached in, cut away a seat belt and grabbed another little girl before the current could take hold and pull her free. He tied a bowline around her waist and pulled on the line, felt his body being pulled through the water until he broke surface once again, and he handed the girl up, waited for the line to be untied, then he dove, three more times, bringing up the other members of the family. He made one last dive and secured a braided metal tow line to attachment points under the front bumper, then hands pulled him free of the water. He was shivering by then, though his skin felt like it was on fire. The fumes wafted into his eyes, up his nose, causing him to wretch.
He saw them then, in all their sundered humanity. A mother and father, their three kids, laid out on the banks of the river like they were taking a nap. Firemen helped him out of his gear, then up to the highway, and they used a firehose to wash away the gasoline on his wetsuit, then from his skin, then they threw him towels. He had a spare change of clothes in his duffel and changed in the back of an ambulance, then the first bodies were brought up and he saw the little girl, the girl from the infant’s car seat, and he had to turn away.
The sergeant was waiting for him outside on the highway.
“Sorry, but you’re the only accident investigator working southwest tonight,” the sergeant said, “and we’ve got a bad one over on Stemmons, by Love Field.”
He nodded his head, walked back to his patrol car and took out his activity sheet, then checked in with dispatch, wrote down the location of the latest accident. He looked through the windshield, past the beating windshield wipers, as firemen loaded bodies into waiting ambulances, then he checked en route to the accident.
He drove through traffic with images of that kid’s leg sticking up through branches down in the darkness, then he felt a snake wrapping around his wrist, saw it’s fangs through the green water, snapping away.
He is steaming mad, or he is at least acting that way.
He is sitting behind the wheel, waiting for his rookie to get her seat belt on.
“Any time now would be good,” he said, not a little sarcastically.
“I think I meant sometime today.”
“It’s hung up on my goddamn holster,” she said, almost crying.
“Jesus H Christ,” he groused, turning to help her. “Here, let me give you a hand.”
You weren’t supposed to cut rookies any slack, none at all, but this was only his second female rookie, and she didn’t look like a cop. For that matter, she didn’t act like one, either. She’d been a teacher, and a French teacher, at that, and she looked kind of like a French Poodle. Curly blond hair, deep brown eyes, skinny as hell – but she was unnaturally nice, too nice to be a cop, but that wasn’t what bothered him most. After just one night riding together, one night he’d not soon forget, he was more convinced than ever she should go back to teaching, or maybe social work.
She had been part of the first class at the academy that had focused more on a “being nice” style of policing – and less on the conventional “good ole boy” approach that had been employed for decades – a style which, to put it mildly, involved a more physically confrontational approach to dealing with criminals. Old timers regarded the new academy routine as suspect, too “touchy-feely,” and most were concerned such an approach would lead to more violence, and more officer involved shootings, not less.
But he’d been an FTO, or Field Training Officer, for a few years, and as such he was well regarded. The rookies he trained went out on their own well-grounded in the art of not just taking care of themselves, but in looking after their fellow officers as well, and that was considered a large part of the job, maybe even the most important part. The first girl he had trained was doing well, too, at least in the eyes of those who mattered most – his fellow patrol division officers – and that mattered, to him.
But Deborah Desjardins had come out of academy with with an oddball reputation. Smart as hell, cute as hell, too, she came out with an attitude, the same one she had when she went in, and that was bad.
She argued with everyone. Students, staff, instructors – it made no difference. If someone said something she disagreed with, she was off to the races. No point of law was too trivial, no street procedure mundane enough – if she thought it questionable her hand shot up and she started asking questions – and his first day with her the day before had soon grown into something approaching a living nightmare, a nonstop series of arguments.
Why this, why that, why not do it this way, shouldn’t you being doing this instead of that?
And this morning was starting off the same way, and suddenly, he had finally had enough. “Why don’t you just shut your goddamn mouth for a half hour, just shut up and listen. Pay attention, and really listen, because it’s obvious you aren’t learning a damn thing.”
“Look, you’re too busy thinking about how you can object to something to even take in what’s being said. You get out on the street and fail to listen to every word being said, every sound in the bushes, and you’re going to get killed. And soon.”
“I resent being talked to like this!”
“And I don’t give a flying fuck what you resent. I do care about how you think. Your job right now is to learn how we do things – out here, in the real world – and not to question everything we do. If you can’t wrap your head around that one little thing, you need to let me know, and right now.”
“Because all I need to do to end your career in law enforcement, right here, right now, is write up one note and get it to the watch commander. You’ll be out of here within a half hour. No appeal, no due process, just gone. And as far as I’m concerned, you’re about ninety five percent of the way there. Got it?”
“Ninety six percent.”
“We clear now? The gravity of the situation apparent to you now?”
“Yes,” she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.
He got on the radio. “3114 to 102.”
“102,” the watch commander replied.
“Need to 25 with you about a personnel matter.”
“Red Bird Airport.”
“What’s this all about?” Desjardins said, her voice now defiant.
“I’m writing you up, terminating your training.”
“WHAT!?” she screamed.
“Are you deaf, as well as stupid?”
She crossed her arms, her lower lip jutting all the way to the little airport, and he pulled into the parking area by the old terminal building, spotted the lieutenant’s patrol car – parked under a shade tree – and drove over, parked window to window in the shade.
“What’s up?” the lieutenant asked.
“She’s not going to make it, L-T. She just doesn’t have the aptitude or the attitude, and it’s my opinion the department shouldn’t waste another dime on her.”
“WHAT!?” she screamed, again.
“See what I mean?”
“I sure do. Have you written up her 4301 yet?”
“I was going to right now, sir, but I didn’t bring one with me. Do you happen to have one handy?”
“No. Tell you what…let her finish out the day, with you, and you can turn it in after shift-change.”
“How’s your schedule look for Monday?”
“I’m free in the morning, sir.”
“Oh? Well, why don’t you save an hour for me, say around nine.”
“Will do, sir.”
He drove away, turned back to their patrol district and resumed scanning traffic and buildings, not saying a word to her. And after a few minutes of silence, Desjardins was about to explode…
“Did he just schedule you for something?”
“What, if you don’t mind me asking?” Her voice was subdued now, and she had relaxed somewhat, too.
“I’m a CFI, a flight instructor, and I’m teaching about a dozen guys in the department to fly. The L-Ts one of them.”
“No kidding? Where’d you learn to fly?”
“In the Navy, then I flew commercially for a few years, before the airline went bust. I had a mortgage to pay so applied with the department, and the rest is, as they say, history.”
“Do you like it? Being a cop, I mean?”
“Yeah. You know, I do. A lot more than I thought I would, too.”
“But you still love flying?”
“I’m a pilot. I guess that’s hard to explain, but…”
“No, it’s not. My father was a pilot.”
“He died, last year. Cancer.”
“I’m a lousy teacher,” she said, out of the blue.
“Why do you say that?”
“I couldn’t get along with anybody. Not students, not teachers, not admin. It’s always the same, wherever I go, too.”
“I guess you’re wondering why, too?”
“Yeah. Got any ideas?” she said, smiling.
“Yup. You don’t listen.”
“Case in point. I think there’s this voice going off in your head all the time, and every time you hear someone talk you aren’t paying attention to what’s being said. You’re trying to find a way to dispute what’s being said, or you’re trying to remember something you did, but did better than the person talking.”
He looked at her, saw her head nodding, then a tear running down her cheek. “I think you nailed that one,” she said, “right on the head.”
“Look, I don’t mean to pile it on, but in my experience when someone cries they’re trying to distract, trying to run away from the problem, so why don’t you dry up now, try to confront the issue head on?”
“Are you, like, a closet psychiatrist?”
“No, but close.”
“My parents are physicians. My father’s a heart doc, my mom’s a shrink. We couldn’t get away with shit in our house, and they always had an answer for every question.”
“So, you’re carrying on the family tradition, I see. And I bet you’re married, too?”
“Yup. She’s in med school now.”
“Of course she is. And you’ll fly away soon, too. I’d make bet on that.”
“Oh, I will one day, but I’ll stay in the reserves. It’s too much fun out here – I’d miss it.”
“I think I would have liked it too.”
“Maybe. Odds are you’d get yourself killed within a year. Or get someone else killed.”
“You think if I learned to listen better I could do it?”
“Maybe. I don’t know.”
“What would it take for you to know?”
“I’m in Traffic, I’m an accident reconstructionist and I usually work motors…”
“Motorcycles. But twice a year I get a rookie, and I spend a month with them. With you, but in this case three weeks and three days don’t count.”
“The point I’m trying to make is simple. I work with rookies right out of academy, but they only send me the ones that are really questionable, the ones the academy staff just couldn’t make up their minds about.”
“The borderline cases?”
“That’s me, huh?”
“That’s you. I know this sounds ridiculous, but it’s nothing personal. I’m trying to save lives here, your life. Your life, my fellow officers lives, and yes, even the public. I’m part of the last line of defense, one of the guys the department looks to, to keep our ranks strong.”
“I guess flying helps with that, too. Being an instructor, huh?”
“Sure it does, but back to your question, I don’t usually make up my mind with a rookie until the end of our four weeks.”
“Yet you made up your mind this morning.”
“That bad, huh?”
“As bad an attitude as I’ve ever seen, yes.”
“Jeez. I’m sorry. I really am.”
He reached for the radio. “14, go.”
“3114, advise public service.”
“14, code 5.”
“3114 at 1700 hours.”
“What’s public service?”
“Call in on a telephone land line. Sensitive information, too sensitive to let it slip on air.” He saw a ‘stop and rob’ – a convenience store – ahead and turned into the parking lot, drove slowly by the front, looking at everyone inside, then he pulled up to a pay phone and parked. “Go in and get a couple of cokes, would you?”
He went to the phone, called in and took notes, then went back to the patrol car, called the shift sergeant and the watch commander on the tactical channel, then waited for her to get back.
“They didn’t charge me,” she said, exasperated.
“I know. Store policy. We drive in, show the flag, and it’s safer for everybody. And we get fatter, too, and Coke all over the seats,” he said, sighing.
She laughed as he backed out of the parking space and turned onto the street.
“What was the call about?”
“A suspicious person, but with a twist,” he said.
He pulled back into the parking lot at Red Bird Airport, only now there were a half dozen patrol cars there, waiting. He pulled up to the group and got out of the car, then repeated what dispatch had just told him.
“There’s a male, white, 43 years old, in a silver Dodge pickup, parked in front of the Sewing Center,” he said, pointing down Camp Wisdom Road. “Just served with divorce papers, maybe two hours ago. Wife works in the store, called and advised he’s out front, has a bunch of guns with him in the truck. He’s alternately threatening and despondent.”
The lieutenant and the sergeant looked at him, the the L-T spoke.
“Okay, you two swing by the parking lot, try to ID the truck on your pass, then report what you see. Stay on tactical.”
He got back in the patrol car, and Desjardins looked at him as he buckled in. “He’s armed?” she asked.
“That’s what the wife reports.”
“Ex-wife, you mean.”
“Nope. Not until the papers are signed by the judge, kiddo.”
“Right. What if she’s…?”
“Setting him up? Been there, done that. Or, this could be a suicide by cop. Or, he’s about to storm a sewing shop full of little old ladies with an AK-47. Take your pick, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends…”
He pulled out onto Camp Wisdom Road and they drove by the shopping center.
“Did you see it?” he asked.
“I’m not sure.”
He drove another block, then turned off the main road onto a side street.
“14 to 102 on 2.”
“He’s parked facing the store, two rows back, right in front of the main door. He’s sitting on the passenger side right now.”
“Okay. Two units are at the rear of the store, going in now. You and 10 are going to enter the lot at opposite ends, try to remain out of sight and close on foot at 45 degree approach angles. Start now.”
He drove back to the little shopping center and pulled in, parked out of sight, then turned to Desjardins. “You take the shotgun, chamber a round here, keep the safety on. Follow me, one step behind, a little to my right. If the door opens you take cover, get ready to back me up if I have to close on foot. Sergeant will be to our left, so don’t, for God’s sake, shoot his ass. Got it?”
“Okay. Let’s do it.”
They made their approach in low crouches, and he kept his eyes on the suspect by looking through the windows of parked cars; he saw the sergeant doing the same, and in less than a minute there were only a few parked cars between the suspect and the two of them –
– then the man looked over, saw the sergeant –
– then put the barrel of a shotgun under his chin and pulled the trigger –
He heard a muffled boom, and the truck’s cab filled instantly with blue-gray smoke – and he stood, ran to the truck’s door and peered through the blood-stained glass. He opened the door and the man’s decapitated body writhed out, a fountain of blood spraying out the stumpy remains atop his chest.
He pulled out his hand unit and called in: “3114, we’ll need the medical examiner’s and CID at the scene for photographs, and call this a Signal 60 at this time, pending final investigation.”
“Signal 60?” she asked.
“What do we do now?”
“Preserve the integrity of the scene until CID gets here, then we get information for our report and clear the scene – hopefully in time for dinner.”
“Fuck yeah, man. I missed lunch, and I’m starving.”
“I hear that,” the lieutenant said. “How ‘bout Whataburger? And I’m buyin’!”
He’d figured out once, a long time ago, that Sean O’Malley wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but his heart was always in the right place. They’d shared a dorm room the first six weeks of academy, and he’d helped O’Malley out with everything from simple math problems to the finer points of Vernon’s Annotated Statutes, but while O’Malley was as strong as an ox, he just wasn’t in the hunt when brainpower was called for. He’d played ball in school, football – because in Texas no other kind of ball counts for much – then he’d gone into the Army. O’Malley ended up, and he’d still never figured this out, flying helicopters over in ‘Nam. Hueys, for the most part. Slicks and Chickenhawks. O’Malley told him once that they’d figured out he was all balls and no brains, so he was perfect for the job. He got injured grunts out of the tightest, hottest L-Zs, and he did so with a shit-eatin’ grin on his face, no matter how tough the call was. If someone’s life was on the line, O’Malley got the call, and his Huey was the most shot-up – and beloved – bird between Hue and Danang.
After the sixth week of academy cadets were cut loose, allowed to commute to school from home, and O’Malley called him their first night home, asked if they could car-pool, use the time to go over homework assignments, or just shoot the shit. He said “sure, why not?” – and agreed to pick O’Malley up at five thirty the next morning.
He’d not met Micki O’Malley yet, Sean’s wife, though Sean had talked about her non-stop for the last six weeks. He got to their rented mobil home a little early and went to the door, and Micki came to the door, told him that Sean was still getting dressed.
“Can I get you some coffee?” she asked.
“Yeah, you know, that’d be good,” he said, but he was staring at the woman as she turned and walked away – because she was just about the cutest human being of the female persuasion he’d ever laid eyes on. Blond hair and blue eyes, freckles all over her nose and forehead, and bodacious legs too, but it was the enormous sense of ‘cute’ that lingered as she walked away – and he felt like he’d just looked into the eyes of every male’s idea of the perfect girl.
And he wondered just how the hell O’Malley had pulled it off. What could she possibly see in him?
Her coffee, on the other hand, was godawful stuff – not fit for the living.
Which, in the end, didn’t matter all that much.
He picked O’Malley up and they drove in to academy together five days a week, and he did so, he soon realized, because O’Malley couldn’t afford a car – not yet, Sean said – and anyway, Micki wasn’t really the ‘go to work’ type. She was a born housewife, Sean said, and was already baking their second kid in the oven when Sean made it into academy, so her getting a job just wasn’t in the picture, and that’s the way they both wanted it.
He also figured out, in short order, that O’Malley lived with the most sensuous female God had ever put on this earth, and the poor guy never really had a chance. O’Malley loved Pearl Beer and Micki, and when he got off work neither was far from his face. And if Sean had a hard time studying, Micki was the reason. O’Malley dragged his ass out to the car every morning looking like she’d fucked his brains out all night long. Some mornings he smelled like it, too.
And yes, he was jealous.
Things developed into a pattern when he got to the mobil home. He pulled up and Micki met him at the door, and every now and then she reached up and pecked him on the cheek, then O’Malley would drag his ass out of the bedroom…
And Sean would say: “How’s it hangin’, Peckerhead?”
“Down to my knees. You?”
“Pointin’ at the moon, Ace.” And Sean would point at Micki with his thumb – and they all laughed.
So O’Malley struggled, academically anyway, through academy, but he graduated – at the bottom of their class – but once he was on the street he became everybody’s favorite. He was the class clown in briefing, cracking smiles wherever he went, and whenever he had dealings with the public, even as a rookie, his supervisors got calls telling what a great officer he was, and that he was an asset to the community, and to the department.
And it was the truth. He was.
But in time his stint in helicopters called out to him, and a few years after academy he applied to and was accepted in the department’s Aviation Division. After Sean finished training on Jet Rangers, he moved downtown, to Central Division, and life for them finally seemed better than good. O’Malley bought a house and moved his family in, and they finally had a new car, a first in their lives.
He invited Sean and his family over for an afternoon Bar-B-Q after the transfer, and their kids played in the pool while the wives talked about babies, and he and Sean talked about their days together in Academy. And the thing was, he realized, he really liked Sean, missed working with him. He was a friend, despite their radically different upbringings, and pretty soon the O’Malley’s were coming over most weekends. They came over for Thanksgiving, and there were Christmas presents waiting at his house for Sean’s kids, and so over the next year they became best friends. Again, or maybe just for the first time.
One night Micki called him – in tears, begged him to come over, and when he got there she took him to their bathroom. Sean was curled up in the bathtub, crying, and he smelled like a brewery. And urine. Sean was in a fetal ball, sobbing as recollections of hot L-Zs, going in for wounded troops, coursed through veins of memory, but it was apparent there was a whole lot more going on that just simple recollections.
He called his wife, who by that time was a resident in Internal Medicine, and he asked her to come over. After his wife examined Sean, she recommended he go see a psychiatrist, even a VA shrink – if they wanted to keep the department in the dark, but in the end it didn’t matter. O’Malley’s episode that night wasn’t his first, Micki sobbed, but this one, she said, was her last. Sean apparently grew violent as his episodes lagged, and Micki showed off bruising all over her body, and they loaded Sean’s kids in his wife’s car and she drove them to their house.
When it became apparent Sean wasn’t coming out of this one, he took Sean to the ER, checked him in and then called Tom Anders, one of the assistant chiefs. Anders had been a light colonel in ‘Nam, and he knew the score. He took over and arranged for treatment with the VA, and when that fell short the department stepped in, and O’Malley went onto so-called ‘light-duty’ after he was cut loose from the hospital. He landed in dispatch, taking 911 calls and sending them to the appropriate operator, but he came to work with dark bags under his eyes, and often smelling like he hadn’t bathed in days.
Yet even the stress of taking calls proved too much, and one night Sean called him, in dire straits indeed. He got to the house just in time.
O’Malley was curled up in the bathtub again, a 45 Colt in his hand, the barrel in his mouth. He saw that and leapt on his friend, disarmed him, then called Chief Anders, and they carried him to the ER again. O’Malley spent almost a year at a psychiatric hospital after that, but Micki never filed for divorce. She and the kids stayed away, lived with he and his wife, but she never gave up on him.
When he was released this time he was put on disability, told he’d never work for the department as a sworn officer again, so Sean started applying with other departments in the region, and in the end, the County Sheriff took him on, baggage and all. After Micki agreed to move back in, they gathered all the kid’s and Micki’s belongings and drove her back to Sean’s house, but it was an uneasy, uncomfortable reunion.
Still, a new routine developed, and weekend Bar-B-Qs featured in their lives once again. Sean was sober, he was off medication and feeling good, and he was enjoying the work over at the S-O – the Sheriff’s Office.
“So, what are you doing?” he asked.
“Serving paper, for the most part. Divorce, bad checks and evictions, but sometimes arrest and search warrants.”
“Really? That sounds a little intense?”
“Only had to do a couple so far, and I think I’m dealing with it okay.”
“What about you? What are you up to know?”
“Still on motors, but I just went to Tac school. The thinking is I can get to calls faster on the bike, maybe do a little recon before the rest of the team shows up, something like that.”
“Still doing the FTO thing?”
“You give up on flying again?”
And he shook his head, took a deep breath and held it. “Nope,” he said, letting out his breath, “and I don’t suppose I can ignore the situation much longer?”
“Is it Annie?”
“You know, you’re a good cop, but this isn’t what you were meant to do.”
He nodded. “I know, but the thing is, it’s as fun now as it was when I started.”
“Fun? That almost sounds like the kid inside talking, ya know?”
“Maybe so. Micki looks good, Sean. Makes me happy to see you two together again.”
“I couldn’t live without her, you know?”
“I do. I think it’s mutual, too.”
And O’Malley nodded his head, looking across the yard at his wife, his ‘bestest friend in the whole world.’ “I worry about…” he started, then he stuttered to a stop, thought about what he was trying to say. “I worry about her, if something happened to me, ya know?”
“You don’t have to.”
And O’Malley looked at him. “You love her, don’t you?”
“I love you both. We both do.”
And O’Malley nodded. “I know. You’ve meant the world to us, too.”
“Come on, we better check on the ribs…”
And so time passed, several months, anyway, then one night, when he was working traffic on a summer’s evening, he got a Tac callout and rode over to a dodgy part of town, an area of run down bungalows over by Fair Park, and it turned out the Sheriff’s Office was going to try and serve an arrest and search warrant at a so-called ‘cook-house’ – a house where drugs were – allegedly – being manufactured. The warrant mentioned PCP and stolen automatic weapons, too, stolen from a National Guard armory, so a heavy Tac call-out was in progress.
He saw O’Malley standing in a group with patrol officers and other S-O deputies, and as he pulled up on his bike Sean turned and shot him the thumb’s up. “See they finally took the training wheels off that thing,” Sean said, grinning. “Do that mean you finally knows how to ride that thar thing?”
“I don’t know. This is my first day without ‘em.”
“So, how’s it hangin’, Peckerhead?”
“Down to my knees. You?”
“Pointin’ at the moon, Ace.”
And they laughed at time, at their time.
He geared up when the Tac van got on scene, and then the team discussed how to take the house. They would surround it first, then monitor windows for activity, and when they had an idea of who was where, they’d storm all the doors simultaneously, so the team spread out while patrolmen blocked off the ends of the block. People in the houses around the suspects’ house were evacuated, then the Sheriff’s deputies and Tac team members moved to the doors and windows.
He and O’Malley were teamed up and assigned the back door.
When the main team shouted “Police!” and crashed through the front door, he and O’Malley went through the back door. The way ahead was a simple, narrow hallway, with two bedroom doors about ten feet down the narrow corridor, on opposite sides of the way. There was pandemonium in the front part of the house, and they eased their way down the hall with their backs on the walls, each covering the opposite side of their approach, with O’Malley a little ahead of him.
As Sean approached the first door he saw the shotgun blast before it registered, and he saw O’Malley fall to the floor as gunfire erupted all over the house. He had an H&K MP5 and he turned, emptied the 30 round magazine through the wall and dropped the magazine, then reloaded. Moving forward, and low now, he peered around the corner into the bedroom, saw a man holding onto his belly, but with shotgun still in hand. Then the shotgun was coming up again, and he emptied the clip into the man’s chest and head. He darted into the room, checked to see no one else was hiding, then he dashed back to check on Sean.
O’Malley’s neck and face were a tangled mass of blood and sinew; buckshot had penetrated his left eye and that was simply gone, now a pulpy mess, but blood was pulsing out of two neck wounds, and foamy blood was coming out his mouth and nose. He leaned close, called out “MEDIC!” – and tried to staunch the flow coming from the neck woulds.
O’Malley grabbed him by the vest, pulled him close, and his last words were “Micki, Micki…loves you too…”
He took his friend’s hand, held on tight. “Don’t worry about her. I’ve got your back.”
He felt a last squeeze, then his friend slipped away.
He sat in that hallway for hours, holding his friend’s hand all the while, and people kept their distance.
Services were not quite a week later, at a Catholic Church over off Oak Lawn, and there wasn’t room enough for all the cops and deputies and Army buddies that came, and the procession out Hillcrest to Northwest Highway was simply huge.
Micki O’Malley stood by his side all the while, dressed in black of course, but everyone looked at her, then him, and shook their heads. It was so obvious now, wasn’t it? She’d been in love with him, and it had driven Sean to drink. That had to be it. Why else would such a great guy have had such a rough time?
“241, are you clear for a call?”
He put his ticket book in the Harley’s saddlebag and clamped it shut, then reached the radio.
“241, go head.”
“Uh, 241, reports of a male, black, on the overpass, I-20 and Highway 67, witnesses advise they think he may jump.”
“41, code 5.”
“241, en route at 2245 hours.”
He u-turned in traffic, rode as quickly as he dared to an on-ramp for 67 and got on the highway, drove the half mile to the bridge and saw a man sitting on the railing, his feet dangling over the edge, as he approached. An ambulance was already on scene, stopped just ahead of the man; the paramedics were standing back from the man – and they were clearly agitated.
“41, show me code six, and let’s get a few units out here to close the ramp.”
“241 at 2248 hours.”
He walked up to the man – who turned out to be a kid, just a very big, black kid – and the kid had a pistol in his hand. It looked like a Beretta, or a Brazilian knock-off of a Beretta, but he could see there wasn’t a magazine in the stock, that it didn’t look ‘right’ – and he sighed.
“I told them,” the kid said, waving the pistol at the paramedics, “and I’m tellin’ you, mutha-fucka…keep the fuck away from me.”
“Yeah. Sure,” he said as he walked closer, but he stopped a few feet short and leaned on the heavy tubular rail, his back to the traffic roaring by fifty feet below. He looked at the kid for a minute, then slid down until he was sitting on the pavement – and he could feel the kid staring at him, not sure what the hell was going on now.
“You know, my best friend died a couple months ago. A friend, here, on the force. He was killed, and I’ve been taking care of his wife and kids ever since.”
The kid looked at him, still not sure what was going on, but he turned now, and looked down at the cop.
“You know what the real pisser is? She’s pregnant again. She just told me, a couple nights ago. The problem is, well, I’m married.”
The kid slid down to the pavement and sat next to him. “Whoa…is it, like possible the kid is yours?”
“Fuck…dude…what are you gonna do?”
“I don’t know, man. I haven’t…well, you’re the first person I’ve told.”
“Way, Amigo. Deal with it.”
“So, like, what do you want to do? I mean, like have the kid?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, man. It feels too big for me, like I can’t handle it.”
“You love your wife, don’t you, man. If you love her you got to step up, make it right.”
He nodded, then looked at the kid. “What about you, man? What got you?”
“My girlfriend dumped me and I got bummed at work, and the manager fired my ass?”
“Really? What the fuck for…?”
“Oh, some customer started ragging on me and I shot my mouth off, told her to fuck off…”
He laughed with the kid. “No shit? Bet that was a sight…”
The kid looked at him, shook his head. “I don’t know, man. It wasn’t right. What she said, what I did. Nothing was right.”
“Wasn’t right for your boss to shit-can you, was it? I mean, what would you have done in his place?”
The kid leaned over, put his hands in his face. “I fucked up, man. Fucked up big time. Not sure I can make it without Amy, ya know?”
“What happened with her? Do you know?”
“No, not really. She started hangin’ with another dude in study hall and before I knew what hit me they were going out, then she just fuckin’ dumps me.”
“That’s fuckin’ cold, man. Sounds to me like you’re better off without her.”
“What about your folks?”
“They don’t fuckin’ care, man. No one cares, ya know?”
“I know it feels like that sometime. Like all the world is just hangin’ out there, waitin’ to take a shit all over you. Funny thing, though, sometimes just hangin’ back, chillin’ out for a while, finding someone to talk to, that’s all it takes to get things back in perspective. The trick is to learn how to hold on to your feelings – at least ‘til you can get to that place and talk it out.”
“I got no one to talk to, man.”
“Sure you do. You got me, don’t you?” He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a business card. It had his name and badge number on it, and a couple of department phones numbers printed near the bottom, but he took a pen out and scrawled another number on the back. “That’s my home number. You get in deep shit, need someone to talk to, give me a yell.”
“You ever been flyin’? Like in a small plane?”
“No. I ain’t been up in nothing. Never even been outta the city…”
“Well, tell you what. I’m taking a guy up this Saturday, in the morning. You want to come along?”
“Yeah. I teach kids how to fly. You wanna come along?”
“What? You gonna teach me to fly?”
“Who knows, kiddo. Stranger things have happened.”
“So…what happens now?”
“You get in the back of the ambulance and take a ride down to Parkland. I meet you down there and we talk to a doc. If you want, I can call your folks, try to help you straighten things out. If the doc thinks you’re okay, you go home, and you go flyin’ with me Saturday morning.”
“You want this?” the kid said, handing over the ‘pistol’ – which turned out to be a squirt gun, a water pistol.
“Yeah. Better let me get rid of that…”
He got back to the station as the day shift took to the streets, at 0800, and he went to his locker and changed into his street clothes, then called Annie and talked with her about his night. He grabbed a cup of coffee after, and his notepad, then went to the briefing room and started in on his reports from the night before, but a half hour later dispatch called him on the intercom, asked him to come up to the lobby.
The kid was there, along with his father, talking to the watch commander, and when he came out into the lobby the kid’s father came over and shook his hand.
“I just wanted to thank you, for what you did last night,” the man said.
“You’re welcome, sir,” he said.
“About this flyin’ thing…did you really mean that?”
“I ain’t never been in an airplane. Is it safe, for my boy, I mean?”
“Yes, it is. There are risks, but there are risks when you cross the street, or step in a bathtub.”
The man nodded his head. “Any way I could come along?”
“Sure. I can do that.”
“When and where?” the father asked.
“Saturday morning, how ‘bout eight o’clock, at Red Bird, by the old terminal building.”
“Know it well. We’ll be there.”
“Lieutenant, I’m still working on reports and, well, I’m supposed to be on at two and haven’t been home yet…”
“Taken care of. You’re off until Monday. Go back and finish up, and see me before you head for the barn.”
“Thank you, sir.”
When he got back to the briefing room Deb Desjardins was sitting at the table, reading through his notes; she’d already read his – unfinished – report, but she looked up when he came in, and she smiled.
“I remember your handwriting, you know. Looks like a draftsman’s script. I never got how you do it, especially in a car.”
“You told the kid you got Micki pregnant?”
“I needed an insurmountable problem, needed to appear vulnerable. I needed to get him to empathize with me in order to get him to trust me.”
“Jesus H Christ. And what, you just came up with that standing out there? And he had a gun in his hand?”
“I could tell something was wrong about the thing. It looked like at didn’t have a clip in it…”
“Yeah, sorry. And he wasn’t acting, well, threatening, not yet. Somebody who wants to commit suicide usually doesn’t want to take someone with him, and when I saw it was a kid, well…”
“How old is he?”
“I saw him in the L-Ts office. Looks like a fuckin’ mountain.”
“Play’s offensive line over at Duncanville High. Made varsity his sophomore year. He’s a good student, too.”
“The shrink, at Parkland? He called the chief this morning. Said he watched you talking to the kid down there, that you saved his life. Anyway, he wanted us to know.”
He looked away, shook his head.
She shook her head, too. “I wonder if he knows how lucky he is?”
“Lucky? What do you mean?”
“Well, how many cops responding to a call like that would have seen the gun and taken him out, no questions asked?”
“Well, how many times might someone like that turn on the cop as soon as he pulled up, try to shoot him?”
“So, why did you do it?”
He sighed, shook his head. “You remember our first week? They guy in the pickup truck?”
She shook her head, too, turned back to run through the memory, reliving their approach, then that ‘boom’ – and the cab filling with smoke. Then opening the door, seeing all that stuff on the ceiling and running down the inside of the glass. “Yeah, you know, there are nights I can’t stop seeing those things. It’s like they’re never going to leave me, ya know.”
“I know. I wake Annie up in the middle of the night. Screaming, sweats, racing heart – the whole nine yards. I’m kind of resigned to them now.”
He laughed a little, nodded his head. “Ghosts, maybe. I don’t think they want us to forget them, forget their pain, so they come by for a visit from time to time.”
“Our last night together? You remember that one?”
“The bedroom window?”
“Yeah. That one…”
The call had come out mid-evening, around eight or so, parents called about their son, a kid in middle school. He’d fallen in with a bad group, drugs, falling grades, and they’d had a big falling out at dinner, a really big argument that quickly got out of hand, then the father had threatened to send the kid away to school, a military school, up in Indiana. When they got to the house the mother was distraught and the father livid, domineering, his blustering voice audible from the street as they got out of their patrol car.
They had gone inside, figured out the basic contours of the conflict, but the kid had locked himself in his bedroom and wouldn’t come out.
“Does he have any forearms in there?”
“Yeah,” his father advised. “A Colt Diamondback, 22 caliber, and a Winchester, model 94.”
He looked down at the briefing room table, at his report, then he looked up at Desjardins and nodded his head. “That may be the worst nightmare I have.”
She nodded her head, too. “I know. I know…”
Standing outside the kids room, knocking on the door. Hearing a commotion inside the room, hearing a train in the distance. The window opening, the train louder.
Something’s not right…
Kid’s not in the room anymore…
He kicked down the door, saw curtains fluttering in a strong wind, saw lightning outside, then the deep rumble of thunder…close, and getting closer…
The the train…close, and getting closer…
He ran to the window, lightning flashed and he saw the kid running across the field behind the house, towards the tracks. He crawled out the window, jumped to the ground and took off, but after days of rain the field was almost a muddy swamp and his boots sunk into the ooze with each stride, and the kid had a fifty yard head start.
He saw the train through falling rain as he ran, then he saw the kid lay down by the tracks, put his neck on the rail, and he drove his legs through the mud, running as hard as he ever had in his life, closing, closing…getting close now…
He dove for the kids legs, pulled him back as the train passed and he sat up, saw the kid’s decapitated body crumpled up by his own, twitching now – and he sat up and screamed, began crying and pounding his fists in the mud…
Desjardins ran up and gasped, got on the radio and called in, then the kid’s parents ran up.
The boy’s father looked, then turned away, walked back to his house.
But the boy’s mother looked at her son, then at him, and she knelt there by him, and hugged him. She held his head while he cried, rocked him like a baby, and Desjardins came up to him and she held his head to her thigh.
“Know what?” she said, bringing him back to the present.
“I fell in love with you that night. With your humanity, I guess.”
“Did you really –” he said, grinning.
“How many – what?”
“Me? On view? Maybe ten.”
“How many have you talked down?”
“You know, there’s something I’ve always wanted to ask you.”
“Now’s as good a time as any. Fire away.”
“That form you threatened to fill out? The 4301, I think you called it? When you were going to cut me from the department?”
“I checked a few years ago. There’s no such form.”
“Yeah? How ‘bout that…?”
“Why? I don’t know. Just a feeling I had. Funny how things work out, isn’t it?”
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