Here are the four impressions from the Images Series, united in one rendering. Not much new, just a few lingering missteps cleaned up.
Images of Other Days
Part One: Impressions of an Afternoon, in Spring
First Impression: Water
It is late in the afternoon, and the sky is green.
An early Spring this year, he thinks – but a different kind of weather seems to be lurking just out of sight. Yesterday’s air too cold; today’s too warm, too humid. Too early for this kind of unsettled warmth, too soon for the such big storms to be moving in – and he wonders what is happening to this world. Something feels amiss, out of balance, and nature abhors imbalance.
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 like sparkling snakes a hundred yards away, and he gets out in the rain, places large orange cones across the highway and stops motorists with an outstretched hand. More patrol cars arrive and, like a bleeding artery, the highway is clamped off, sealed. Power crews in cherry-pickers arrive, and soon traffic is backed up for miles in every 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 running, to Highway 67, and he heads south a few miles and stops behind a crowd of police and fire rescue vehicles. 3110, the district’s evening 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 advise it was a small car, hatchback maybe, red or dark orange. One witness states she saw five people inside, two adults, three kids. Officers are walking the banks, and they’ve 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 safety lines…”
“Already 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 up. “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, real 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 to set it up.”
“You better gear up,” the sergeant said. “I’ll get the tanks.”
He went to the trunk, slid his duffel close to the edge and opened it, stripped out of his uniform and put on the wetsuit and booties, then his hood and, in the warm, humid air behind 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.
“Could you have someone bring the tanks down to the hole?” he said to the sergeant, then he started off down the steep 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 now 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 kicked against the current as he felt his body being pulled away from the bank. He turned, saw three men holding safety lines 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 a reddish 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 on 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 seat belts 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 waiting 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, and 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 next 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 at his face – and he turned away.
Second Impression: Blue Smoke, Still Air
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 her hair had kind of a French Poodle thing going. Curly reddish 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, and she tended to disagree with everyone. 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, just yesterday, had soon grown into something approaching a living nightmare, a nonstop series of questions and 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 your situation apparent now?”
“Yes,” she said, yet her voice was dripping with malicious 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 he 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…I’ll 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 from the L-T’s car, 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, well, you aren’t paying attention because you’re listening to the voice inside your head. 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. So, you don’t listen…to what’s going on around you.”
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 me, 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 was a shrink. I 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 six weeks with them. With you, but in this case five 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, especially 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 time together.”
“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 disposition.”
“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, now standing by their side. “How ‘bout Whataburger? And I’m buyin’!”
Third Impression: Images of Firefights
He’d figured out once, a long time ago, that Sean O’Malley wasn’t exactly the sharpest tool in the shed, but the kid’s 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 Civil Statutes, and 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. 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 the O’Malley’s couldn’t afford a car – not yet, Sean said – and besides, 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 works.
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 had 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 soon became everyone’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 than just simple recollection. Sean was in distress, going down fast.
He called his wife, who by that time was a resident in Internal Medicine, and he asked her to come over. After she 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, because 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 and 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, a fragile truce.
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 we can get to calls faster on our bikes, 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?”
And he shook his head, took a deep breath and held it. “Nope,” he said, letting his breath out, “but 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 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, at his ‘bestest friend in the whole wide 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 ever happened to me, ya know?”
“You don’t have to.”
And O’Malley looked at him. “You love her too, 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 together one more time – at their time, this 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 the team leader 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 a 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 if anyone 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, and 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?
Forth Impression: Impressions of concrete, and yellow pools of light
“2141, are you clear for a call?”
He put his ticket book in the Harley’s saddlebag and clamped it shut, then reached the radio.
“2141, go head.”
“Uh, 2141, reports of a male, black, on the overpass, I-20 and Highway 67, witnesses advise they think he may jump.”
“41, code 5.”
“2141, 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 black 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.”
“2141 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 just 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 guard 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 my 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 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 his wife 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 into 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 through 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 with 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 – 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 wasn’t coming out.
“Does he have any firearms 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. Mine too…”
Standing outside the kids room, knocking on the door. Hearing a commotion from 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 the wind, saw lightning outside, then the deep rumble of thunder…close, and getting closer…
And the train…close, and getting closer…
He ran to the window, lightning flashed and he saw the kid running through the muddy 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 deep 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 as he got close 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…and leaping…
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.
Father looked at his son and turned away, walked back to his house.
But the boy’s mother looked at her son, then at the officer crying in the mud, and she knelt by him, and she 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 think.”
“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?”
Part II: Impressions of Summer, in the Evening
First Impression: Pictures of Plastic Man, in Pearls
‘Still an hour to go ‘til shift change,’ he thought, just glimpsing his watch on the Harley’s vibrating handlebar. Eleven at night. 2300 hours, on a hot August night. Quiet so far, too; only a couple of accidents, minor injuries – no big deal. He needed to pull in somewhere, get a Coke and write-up the last accident, and that would probably take him to midnight – and then three days off – three days in a row!
He saw a Mustang up ahead. New. Dealer plates on the back. Black, red pin-stripes. Big pipes, deep, throaty rumble. One guy behind the wheel, having trouble keeping the car in his lane, slowing for a red light a few hundred feet ahead. Middle lane, six lane divided road, light traffic.
He pulled over to the right lane, watched the driver swerve a little, sharply this time, then the driver corrected and got back in his lane. Keeping out of mirror angles, he pulled closer, maybe twenty feet behind the Ford and stopped, waiting for the light to turn green.
When it did, the driver in the Mustang pounded the throttle, then let up as quickly; then accelerated smoothly away from the light, then swerving through traffic erratically a moment later.
He picked up the mic and called the tag into dispatch, then checked out on traffic – hitting the strobes, letting the siren wail for a few seconds – and the driver lost it completely then, veered off the road, jumping a curb in the process, and he watched sparks fly off the underbody. The Mustang careened through the parking lot, narrowly missing several parked cars on the way to a collision with a large, concrete and steel light tower.
Smoke poured out from under the Mustang’s hood as he got off the Harley and, with hand on pistol, he walked up to the driver’s window.
He sees driver leaning back in his seat, his trembling hands grasping the steering wheel, and he hears hard, fast breathing, as if the man is in distress…
Then he sees blond hair bobbing in the driver’s lap.
She is in the short strokes now, and he backs off, waits for the performance to end – which isn’t too far in coming. The driver is pounding his head against the headrest, his hands are squeezing then releasing the steering wheel, then he is screaming, almost a Tarzan-like yell, a real, shattering Johnny Weissmuller yodel, and he laughs – then shines his Mag-Lite into the cabin. The driver, just coming back to earth, turns his head and looks at the motorcycle cop standing outside his window – and grins.
“Are we having fun tonight?” he asks the driver. The girl is sitting up now, clearly embarrassed, her face a pearlescent wreck.
The driver nods. “Yup.”
“You had anything to drink?”
“Not yet. But I intend to take care of that shortly.”
“Ma’am? You alright?”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” she groans.
“No ma’am. I need a straight answer. Are you alright?”
“Look, this son-of-a-bitch just shot two gallons of splooge down my throat. How do you think I feel?”
“Pretty damn good!” the driver said, grinning deeply now.
“Ma’am, are you in this car against your will?”
“No, but I sure didn’t know this son-of-a-bitch had a foot long dong hiding down there.”
He looked down, saw radiator fluid running out from under the new Ford and sighed. “You’re going to need a wrecker to get out of here, sir,” he said to the driver.
“Better come take a look.”
The driver got out, opened the hood and a boiling wave of steam billowed up into the air, and the steam smelled like scorched ethylene glycol and burnt rubber.
“Son-of-a-bitch!” he cried.
“That’s what I said,” the girl added, wiping stuff off her chin.
“This is gonna be the most expensive blowjob in history,” the driver sighed, then he looked at the motor-jock, ticket book in hand, and he cringed. “Man, don’t write me up. I work in the DAs office, and Henry will fuckin’ nail me for this.”
He sighed, shook his head. “Got your ID?”
“Yeah, yeah.” The driver went to the car, fished around in his jacket, pulled out his wallet and ID, handed it over.
He looked it over, then filled out a ticket, handed the lawyer his ticket book. “Go ahead and sign it. I’ll have to call in the morning, but if you’re legit I’ll cut you some slack, void it out.”
The driver seemed a little put out, but took the ticket book and signed on the dotted line, then handed it back.
“You need me to call you a wrecker?”
“Yeah, could you?”
“Sure. No sweat.” He walked back to the car, looked at the girl. She had finished cleaning up the mess on her face and neck; now she looked up at him sheepishly as he came to the window and leaned over.
“You sure you’re okay,” he asked.
“Yeah,” she said, gently now, “I’ll be okay.”
“Not the safest place to do this, you know?”
She nodded her head. “Would you like my telephone number,” she asked.
“I might, but my wife sure wouldn’t,” he said, smiling. “Can I call someone for you, or you want to stick it out with Tarzan?”
She handed him her business card, looked up at him. “Just in case,” she said.
“Yes, ma’am. You have a good night.”
Second Impression: Hand in flame, reaching skyward
It was the first day of a new school year, and every officer in both Patrol and Traffic was geared up to work school zones this first morning. Indeed, for the next week anyone busting a school zone would get hammered. No leniency. No excuses. Just a massive fine. Fifteen over the limit and a trip downtown for Reckless Driving, per orders from both the Mayor’s and the DA’s office. Too many kids killed last year, and a big PR campaign was underway.
He was set up in a parking lot near a large elementary school, the school located on a busy, six lane divided roadway. There were volunteer school crossing guards at four of the major crosswalks leading to the school, and it didn’t take long.
A little red pickup zipping through traffic, he guessed a solid forty five in the twenty miles per hour zone, and the truck tripped his radar at 46. He tossed the radar in his saddlebag, pulled in behind the boy and flipped on his lights – the kid pulled over and looked at him nervously as he walked up. He explained to the boy why he was being stopped, and asked his age.
He nodded his head, had dispatch call the kid’s parents, ask them to come to the scene, then he called for a Juvenile Division officer to come to the scene and get ready to take the kid into custody.
He heard: “Jimmy, don’t!” and turned, looked at the crosswalk – and he could see it unfolding before it happened. He started memorizing the scene, the placement of vehicles, the locations of people…
A hundred feet away. Cars stopped in the outside and inside lanes, the middle lane clear. Six kids in the crosswalk, following the crossing guard – one kid darting out ahead of the guard. His name, apparently, Jimmie. A red car in the middle lane, Toyota Corolla, four door, estimated speed fifty. Girl, blond hair, high school, not paying attention, doesn’t see the kid because of the other stopped cars – they’re blocking her view.
Hits the kid as he crosses into the middle lane, his angle of departure a little to the left, towards the inside lane, knocked about fifteen feet up into the air, flies about seventy feet before landing on the inside lane. Body tumbles about fifty feet more then comes to a rest on the concrete median, and he’s marking the impact points in his mind’s eye when he realizes the red Toyota is out of control now, heading right for him.
He jumps out of the way as the Toyota skids past, slams into his Harley before careening into the back of the stopped pickup truck. He pulls out his hand unit and calls dispatch:
“2141, 36B my location, pedestrian down, signal 60, secondary collision and impact with previously stopped vehicle. Need EMS, possibly a helicopter my location, and code 3 backup for traffic control.”
“2141 at 0755 hours.”
He runs to the kid in the street, feels for a pulse and there’s nothing, so he runs to the Toyota. There is gasoline all over the scene now and he calls dispatch again. “2141, get me an engine on scene, I’ve got gas all over the place, and three kids trapped inside their car.”
“Get back!” he yells at onlookers and passers-by – as he runs around to the passenger door, tries to pull it open. He cuts the seatbelt free of the girl sitting there and cradles her head as he pulls her free, and someone helps him carry her to the sidewalk. Black smoke starts coming up from inside the Toyota’s engine compartment and in an instant fire engulfs the little car. He jumps back, then runs to the pickup and sees the boy is now unconscious, slumped over the steering wheel. He opens the door, pulls him free and throws him over his shoulder, runs to the sidewalk and more people help him put the kid down.
Two men are spraying the Toyota with small fire extinguishers as he runs for the driver’s door. He reaches in through the flames and yanks the girl free; her clothes on fire now and people help him douse the flames. Someone empties another fire extinguisher on the car and he sees a little kid in the back seat screaming – before the car disappears from view in howling flames and boiling black smoke.
Fire trucks in the distance. Sirens. He looks down, sees the scorched flesh on his hands and arms – but oddly, he can’t feel anything.
Patrol cars, paramedics and firemen are everywhere now, making an opening for two helicopters. Three kids are loaded and the helicopters rise into the morning air, head for Parkland.
The Watch Commander is walking the area, talking to the chief by radio, describing the scene, then walks over to him.
“You look like a fucking hot dog,” the lieutenant said, shaking his head, “like someone held you over the fire too long. Why aren’t you on the way to the hospital?”
“I’ve got to get my measurements, L-T.”
“Bullshit. We can do that.”
“No, sir. This is on-view, and I know where everything is,” he says, pointing to his head. “I know where the key points in the sequence are. I’ve got to get my points marked, my measurements down now. I can do the rest later, but I’ve got to get those down now.”
The lieutenant nodded his head, called a patrol officers to help, and he got to work.
Third Impression: Wet grass and smoking clutches
He hated this stuff. With a passion.
Once a year, three days of recurrent motorcycle training. Running cones. Endless courses of cones. Tight circles, so tight his Harley’s floorboards were ground down to nothing now. U-turns, inside the space of a single parking place. High speed sprints, then locked up brakes and a sharp, 90 degree turns to the right, followed by a quick left and another sprint. All day long, over and over. Smoking clutches and scorched brake pads and frayed tempers, all brittle by day’s end.
The course was set up at DFW airport this summer, on the vast concrete apron outside fire station number three, but this was the third morning, so at least an end was finally in sight.
But this was the joyride day, the real world practicum day. The tough day, in other words. The day you were scored – by how many times you put your foot down. With a new clutch assembly installed, and fresh rear brake pads too, his Hawg was ready for the grind, the mechanical grind, anyway, but he remembered this was the most emotionally, as well mechanically stressful day of the class. It was supposed to be; it was designed to be. When you were a rookie motor-jock, and after three weeks of training, this was the day, and the test, that so many washed-out on attempting – and who then went back to patrol.
If any of them washed out today, they’d get one more chance, get to make one more run, next week – and another failing score would see a quick return to patrol, and a measurable loss of face in the eyes of brother Traffic Division officers. Scoring was simple, too. Put your foot down at any time on the joyride – and lose a point. Five points and you were out, sent to the barn.
The group started out running, one at a time, down closed runway 13 left – at very high speed. An instructor rode alongside, kicking his bike’s left saddlebag – as hard as he could. Once at the end of the runway he entered a circle, rode around slowly, letting the adrenalin rush taper, fade away, and when all the other officers finished it was out onto Highway 114 and a quick ride down to Texas Stadium. Into the stadium parking lot, a meandering course to an open gate, then up the inclined ramps inside the stadium to the upper deck. Up steep steps to an opening a couple hundred feet above the 10 yard line, then down the steps, through the bleachers to the bottom row of seats and a hard left turn. Fight off the vertigo, make the turn – without putting a foot down – then run along the seats to the next set of steps, then another hard left and back up the steps. Without putting a foot down. Then around the deck – up, down, up, down.
He felt his clutch slipping more now, compensated with more rear brake, but he made it out without a point off. They rode into the city, rode through downtown traffic – stopping at red lights – without putting a foot down when they stopped. Clutch simmering now, they rode out to Fair Park and rode the ramps up and down through the old Cotton Bowl, then ran over to Adair’s for hamburgers and Dr Pepper – foot down allowed here – then a long, high speed run on back country roads to DFW, where one last course through the cones was set up for them, waiting to claim one more careless victim. One of the official Police Rodeo short courses was set up, and here the scoring was adjusted a little. Time became a factor, with any time greater than one minute through the course disqualifying, while a foot down still garnered a point off.
With his clutch in terminal decline he entered the course, zipped through and went over to the fire station, parked his bike and hopped off. His hands still shaking, he took off his helmet and sat on the grass under a shade tree. He wiped the sweat from his face, tried to ignore his shaking hands and trembling knees.
He caught his breath, looked on as the rest of the guys made their runs through the course, then he heard a thunderstorm in the distance and sighed. A motor-jock from Plano came over and sat by him, and they looked up at the clouds as another rumble echoed across the airport.
“Nothing like running home in the rain,” the guy from Plano said.
“Unless it’s hail. I really love riding in hail.”
They both wiped sweat from their heads, then one of the firemen came over. “We got some Cokes in here, on ice.”
That was all it took.
He got up, held his hand out and helped the other guy up, then they walked inside the bays to a big, galvanized tub full of ice, overflowing with red cans of Coke. He grabbed one, popped the top and downed it, then let out a huge, billowing belch.
“Goddamn, that feels good…” he sighed, and he saw one of the instructors walking his way and grabbed another Coke.
“Looks like you’re number two today. 47.3 seconds and no fouls. Not bad,” then he looked at the guy from Plano. “57.5 and three fouls. You pass, but that time sucks. You need work, amigo.”
“That’s what he told me last year,” the guy said, slamming down his third Coke as the instructor walked away. He ripped off a burp that lasted minutes, then grinned.
The last jock was about to enter the course when he heard sharp thunder, now very close, and they turned, saw a dark wall of cloud racing for the airport, then lightning arcing through the clouds overhead. A few sprinkles hit the pavement, and the instructors looked nervously at the clouds, then at the last guy weaving through the cones.
“Gonna be close,” he said, and the guy from Plano burped again, a long hissing burp easing past his nostrils, nodding his head all the while, then the last guy was through, parking by the station.
More thunder, this time right overhead, and a lightning strike over by 114.
“Alright, guys,” one of the instructors said. “Let’s take cover.”
The group went inside the bays, but all the huge overhead doors were open, the immense fire engines, in effect, aimed at the runways – waiting, while a table was set up with hot dogs and hamburgers, firemen sharing their dinner with the cops.
He went over to one of the bays overlooking the runways on the east side of the airport, watched a little Learjet flare and land a few hundred yards away and he was glad he wasn’t flying this afternoon. He watched an American 727 struggle with a gust on the far side of the airport, then felt a sudden shift in the wind. He was about to turn away when he felt a ripple in the air, then he saw a huge, billowing fireball behind the cargo terminals…
“What the fuck,” Plano said.
He watched as the back third of an L-1011 tumbled through the grass just beyond the cargo ramp, smoke and bodies flying through the air, fires starting and instantly smothered by the heavy rain that had just started falling – and everyone was running for the parked bikes, starting them as they strapped helmets on, then screaming across the cargo ramp to the grass. He threw the Harley’s kickstand down as he stopped, then ran into the grass, ran through a sea of smoldering bodies and glistening grass…
Forth Impression: Speed
He was sitting right seat this morning, Deborah Desjardins doing all the driving now as she was well into her third week of training. It was warm out by eight that morning, and the air conditioner in the Dodge Diplomat was already having trouble keeping up, so running with the windows down seemed a better option, at least until afternoon came ‘round. Eighty days in a row with temps above 110 degrees, but she was getting used to it now, not complaining as often. Still, when you weren’t used to wearing a vest, a bullet-proof vest, in this heat, the misery index tended to shoot off the scale.
“Where to?” she asked after she’d double-checked the squad car’s inventory of flares and cones, and after he’d loaded his dive gear and reconstruction duffel in the trunk.
“Take 67 south to Camp Wisdom. Remember your briefing? There’s been a spike in burglaries in our district, and both DeSoto and Duncanville are reporting the same. Did you write down the suspect vehicle information?”
She looked at her notes, read through and he shook his head as he watched.
“Deb? CCR! You got to get this shit into memory. You can’t stop and consult your notepad out there…you’ve got to know what you’re looking for. Black Camaro or Firebird, damage on right rear quarter panel, some kind of decal on the back glass, maybe an STP decal. Sergeant read that out, not for your amusement but for you to have in mind while you patrol your district. Got it?”
“You memorized all that? This morning?”
“Yeah, you got to. I can remember shit like this from two weeks ago, some from months ago. And you’ve got to. We’re not cruising around out here just for fun, we’re looking for specific targets. You see a black yada-yada-yada today, you turn on it and we scope it out. Got it?”
“Yup.” She left the station and made for the highway, and they drove south out Highway 67. “Are they mainly hitting houses, or apartments?”
“Good question. The sergeant didn’t specifically tell us, did he? But he gave us street names both here and in Duncanville. All residential, single family homes.”
“Understood. I’ve got to memorize all these street names too. Right?”
“Yup. Pain in the ass, but when I was a rook I took a street map of my patrol beat into the house with me, and just started memorizing street names and block numbers. It’s tedious, but using a map is the only way to go. You’ve got to not only know the names, you’ve also got to know the quickest way from X to Y. Remember the Civil Service Exam? The most direct way is often neither the quickest or the safest way. All these things come into play, but here’s a clue. This knowledge takes time to acquire and assimilate. You have time now, as a rookie, to start learning this stuff, but you really have to apply yourself. It ain’t easy, and it won’t come together without hard mental prep time.”
She nodded her head. “It’s funny, driving out here, how suddenly everyone starts to drive the speed limit.”
“Yup. People see the bubble gum lights on top of the car and they get religion – real quick. But there’s a lesson in that, too. Know what it is?”
“Something about showing the flag?”
“Maybe, but no, something a little less obvious. The guy driving a little too perfectly, too carefully, he’s usually hiding something. You look at his car carefully. Is it well kept? Are the tags current? The inspection sticker? Sometimes you’ve got to drive close, get a closer look, see if he looks like a scrote.”
“Yeah, derived from scrotum, I think, but someone who looks hinkey, suspicious. It’s a perception thing, too. You can look at someone out here, after a while, and you can almost read their arrest and conviction record before the printout is in your hand. Certain types of tattoos are a dead give away, but I can see it in the eyes now. More a smirk, you know? No respect for the law, or for the badge, and that usually comes after a little time in the big house.”
“The big house?”
“Oh. What do you think is the common denominator? I mean, behind criminal behavior?”
“Wow. Now there’s a question. Maybe a pointless one, but let’s see. If I was going to lay one thing out there, it’s that most street criminal think they’re real smart. That makes them lazy, and often careless. Another word that comes to mind is stupid.”
“Yeah, you watch a few when you arrest them. They do things they think are smart, but in the end those moves are self-defeating, not thought through real well. Poor planning, poor execution. Stupid, in other words.”
“Then why do so many get away with stuff?”
“Well, I hate to say it, but luck plays a big role in that. Not to mention we’re stretched thin, especially at certain times of the day, and, believe it or not, cops aren’t immune to fucking up, too. The problem with being out here, exposed like we are, is that when we fuck up we, generally speaking, get fucked up. My biggest fear isn’t getting shot, it’s being run over on a traffic stop, or out on a highway, working a wreck.”
“The closest I’ve come to getting killed was working a wreck out on I-20. A couple of 18-wheelers got into it, jack-knifed across all lanes of traffic, and one of ‘em was a chemical tanker. I get there, park on the shoulder and start helping a patrolman get cones and flares set out on the road. A sergeant was parked up beside the tanker truck, his strobes on, flares set back from the truck. I see a car barreling along, in the lane I was standing in, and I put out my hand – like, “STOP! Now!” – but the car doesn’t slow down, not one bit, and as I leap out of the way all I can see is a ‘little old lady’ – squinting under the steering wheel – as she roars by, doing at least seventy.”
“And she plows right into the tanker truck. She was killed instantly, but so was the sergeant. I mean vaporized. The explosion knocked us off our feet, blew out windows in houses and businesses on both sides of the interstate, and the sergeant’s squad car was just a black, scorched pile of twisted metal. That fast, you know? Probably thinking about his kids, but who knows? Maybe he coulda done X, Y, or Z if he had been paying closer attention, but he didn’t, and he was just dead. Smart guy, nice, dedicated. Great father, good husband, and he was a friend, too. And I watched him die. That’s part of the job too, one you need to get ready for. It’s not ‘if,’ Deborah, it’s when. It WILL happen to you, someday. You WILL see someone you know get seriously hurt, or killed. You WILL go to a lot of funerals, dead officer’s funerals, and it will fuck you up.”
“How many have you been to?”
“Three. In the last year. When there’s one anywhere within driving distance, the chief likes at least four motorjocks to show up.”
“When it happens to a friend? Man, that fucks with your head, big time.”
“How many? For you, I mean?”
“Too many, Deborah. One would be too many…but…too many. Uh…Camp Wisdom Road, one mile.”
“Turn left at the light, go down to Hampton and make a left.”
“K. Where we headed?”
“The country club.”
“Turn right on Red Bird, then right, the next right, into the lot.”
“The maroon Jaguar over there. Under the tree. Pull my side up to the driver’s door.”
He rolled down his window when the car stopped. “Hey, Dad, how’s it going?”
“Alright. Who’s this?”
“New rookie. Deborah Desjardins.”
“Pleased to meet you,” the old man said, eyeing the rookie closely. “Why don’t you talk this asshole into bringing you to dinner at my place this weekend. Sunday afternoon.”
“I, uh, well, I’ll try, sir.”
“Well, you’re invited, so come on over anyway.”
“Bad case this morning?” he asked his father.
“Old guy, in his 80s, replaced his mitral valve last year. Bacteria all over it, eating it up. Tried to fix it…I told him it was too risky, but he insisted.”
“Whoya playing with this morning?”
“Bill and Henry. They ask about you, you know? They’ll be there Sunday, so try to come, willya?”
“You too, young lady.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“Seeya later, Dad.”
He rolled up his window as she pulled ahead, and he pointed at the road. “Right on Red Bird, then the next left. Lake Placid, I think, then let’s start cruising the alleys.”
“Right. Now what the fuck was that all about?”
“Inviting me to dinner?”
“Guess he liked you.”
“So? He’s not married to, like, your mom?”
“She passed a couple of years ago.”
“He’s lonely as hell, and he’s a world class flirt. I think you’d have a good time.”
“So, did you arrange this little meeting ahead of time?”
He turned and looked at her, grinned: “Who? Me?”
“Hell, I guess I should be flattered.”
“That you’d think of me that way. Someone your dad might like.”
“Look, kiddo, if I wasn’t married I’d be all over you.”
She blushed, turned away.
“Next alley, make a right.”
“Windows down, go real slow,” he whispered. “Slower…now…stop. Engine off.” He got out of the car and tip-toed along slowly, up to a six foot tall wood fence. He crouched low, walked up to the fence and pushed aside some shrubbery, peeked over the fence then motioned her to get out of the squad car and come over, but he was grinning like a fool. She walked over quietly and looked over the fence, then tried her best not to break out laughing.
A naked blond, by the swimming pool, with a German Shepherd between her legs, doing the deed…
She doubled over laughing, stumbled back to the car and got in, watched as he came back and got in the car…
“Goddamn!” she said, now laughing hysterically. “You knew she was going to be here? Doing that?”
“Most mornings, all summer long.”
“Shouldn’t we arrest her? You know, like animal cruelty? Something like that?”
“Did you see that dog’s face? Does he look like he’s suffering to you?”
She started laughing again, this time harder.
“I mean, you’re going to testify in court? Testify about the look on the mutt’s face? Really? That fuckin’ dog is in Hogg Heaven. Animal cruelty?”
She was losing it now.
“Roll up your window, dammit! You don’t want to disturb them, do you?”
“Goddamn you,” she snorted. “You’re a sadistic sonofabitch, you know it?”
“What? Don’t it make you horny?”
“Stop it!” she tried to say, but she was laughing harder now. “I’m about to piss my pants…”
He picked up the radio, all business now. “2141, go ahead.”
“2141, signal 53, Woodstock and Oak Forest. RP advises a black Camaro in the area just pulled into one of the houses on the cul-de-sac, unsure of the address.”
“41, code 5.”
“2110, show me code 5, and get another unit en route.”
“Units en route at 0935 hours.”
“Do you know how to get there?” he asked.
“Left to Reynoldston, then make a right. We’ll turn left on Polk.”
“Put your overheads on.”
“Slow for the intersection…look both ways…okay, bust it…!”
“Yeah, got it.”
“Traffic on Polk is gonna be shit,” he said as they approached the intersection. “Okay, nose out just a little, let people see the strobes…okay, you got it…go now…”
She turned left… “Should I keep the lights on?”
“Hell yes…right lane now…Oak Park ahead, right – at the school, then an immediate left…”
“Slow…down…you got to look ahead, but you have to scan the side streets, remember – look out for the little old lady with her air conditioning going full blast. She can’t see you or hear you…okay, here’s the school…”
“Yeah, got it.”
“Left now, lights off, and about two blocks…lot’s of kids…keep it down now.”
“Slower…there it is, about eleven o’clock, reddish brick house, hipped roof. Got it?”
“How the fuck do you see these things?”
“Pull over here,” he said as he picked up the radio. “2141, show us code 6 and we have the suspect vehicle in sight now. 2110, can you approach from Oak Trail?”
“2141 at 0939”
“2113, show us code 6 in the area at this time.”
He pulled binoculars from his duffel and looked at the black car. “2141, 27 on Arkansas 132 George Paul Sam.”
“Received at 0940.”
He looked at the house, saw movement inside a window then looked at the front door. “2141 going to TAC2,” he said, switching to the tactical channel. “2141 on 2, front door kicked in, male white suspect in the house.”
“2113, coming up behind you.”
“2110 on Oak Trail.”
“Okay, they’ve seen us…running for their car…switching to primary…2141, suspects are in their car, backing out the drive…coming right by me now…”
“Just cut through the fucking yard…!”
He reached down, turned on the lights and siren…as 2113 got in behind the Camaro. “Keep on ‘em, close it up, stay with them.”
2113 busted the intersection with their lights and sirens going, 50 yards behind the Camaro, and they heard the officers in that car take the lead, call the chase.
“That’s Tim,” she said.
“We were in academy together…”
“Okay…come on, keep it tight. If they wreck out, we’re the lead and we can’t lose ‘em…got it?”
“Ease up on the steering wheel, don’t choke it…take a deep breath, good, keep breathing…remember, scan ahead AND the side streets, always ahead…”
“2113, we’re at Camp Wisdom and Polk, southbound.”
“2110, get an air unit up, notify DeSoto and Duncanville we’ve got a chase headed their way.”
“2113, passing under I-20 now…”
Two more patrol cars joined the chase, fell in behind the shift sergeant, 2110, so there were now five patrol cars following the Camaro.
“Roads choke down out here, get hilly and the surface is rough – these shit cars can’t handle it.”
“Air 2 monitoring, think we have ‘em.”
“2113, passing Wheatland Road.”
He looked over, saw their speed was over 80. “You’re doing good, keep a few hundred feet behind now, at this speed if something happens you need a buffer.”
“2113, turning west on Danieldale.”
“Okay, get left in the lane and brake before you start the turn…that’s it…now accelerate through the turn…attagirl. That was smooth. Remember, smooth increases speed, jerky slows you down.”
“There are some choppy hills up ahead, lots of trees, reduced visibility and sight-lines. Got it…?”
“Yup, think so.”
He looked at her, hard: she was sweating and her lip was quivering but she was doing okay.
“Uh, 2110, we’re approaching Cockrell Hill Road. Is Duncanville aware of this pursuit?”
He saw a slow car ahead, a big yellow car, and a sharp little hill – but the Camaro pushed it, started to – make the pass –
“Don’t do it…don’t do it…” he whispered, but 2113 started to pass the slow yellow car too. He watched the Camaro duck back into their lane atop the hill – then 2113 went head-on into a pickup truck – at about 80 miles per hour.
“2141, 2113 is out of the chase, 36B about a quarter mile east of Cockrell Hill, we’re in the lead.”
“Okay, get around that shithead…”
“2110, someone behind me stop that yellow car.”
“DeSoto 211, we got em, sir.”
“Cite ‘em for failure to yield and hold ’em at your jail.”
“Got it, sir.”
“Uh, 2110, get EMS out here Code 3, looks like multiple 60s.”
“What?” Desjardins cried. “Dead?”
“Concentrate on your driving, Deb. You have one job now. Don’t lose these fuckin’ scrotes. Got that?”
She became feral, possessed, punched the accelerator – hard.
“Ease it up, don’t let your anger carry you away.”
“2141, we’re going south on 67 now, uh…wait one…okay, 2141, the guy on the right is leaning out the window, he’s shooting at us…notify Cedar Hill we’re in their jurisdiction now for Sig 1A.”
“2110 to Air 2, you got a sharpshooter on board?”
“Air 2, negative.”
“2141, their engine is smoking…looks like they’ve thrown a rod, slowing fast now, they’re going for the frontage road…”
Smoke pouring out of the underside of the Camaro, the two men jumped from the car as it rolled to a stop on the frontage road…
“2141, out on two suspects running into the woods, 300 yards south of Wintergreen Road.”
Police cars from four jurisdictions slid to a stop, twenty patrolmen started running into the hilly scrub west of the highway; Desjardins was following the driver of the Camaro with her gun drawn. He heard a pop-pop-pop, saw her stop, aim and fire two rounds – and he ran to her, then ran with her – to one suspect down on the ground, two bullet wounds in his chest.
“2141, Signal 33 shots fired, one suspect down, one suspect still at large.”
“Air 2, second suspect in custody.”
“2141 to 2110, my partner took out the driver, and he is Signal 60.”
“2110, notify CID and the watch commander.”
Fifth Impression: Martyrs in shadow, part one
‘Still an hour to go ‘til I finish up with this mess,’ he thought, and he rubbed his eyes, looked at his watch. Seven thirty already, but the sun was nowhere near ready to go down. Two more hours, at least, ‘til he could wrap up his measurements and head home. Nineteen hours straight. Called back to work at midnight, on his only scheduled day off this week, five hours after going off duty. Now, nineteen hours on top of that. Two bad wrecks in the morning, and he had been heading in to work on those reports when this one came out. A school bus full of kids going to a church campout. Railroad track. Driver not paying attention. Speeding train. Thirty four killed, seventeen injured.
“You know, there’s not enough room in the human soul for this much heartbreak.”
He turned, looked at a pastor and saw a kindly soul, at least that’s what he thought when he looked into the old man’s eyes.
“All of them. Every one of them.” The old man’s eyes were red, watery and red, and he could tell this soul had endured enough today.
“Why don’t you go home now, sir. You look…”
“The Lord will give me strength, son. Don’t worry about me.”
He followed the pastor’s eyes, turned and looked at the last two bodies being loaded in a medical examiner’s van, then looked down at the ground and rubbed his eyes again.
“What about you, son? How are you doing?”
“You know, I’ve been better.”
“You look tired. More than tired. Your soul looks – well, almost broken.”
He smiled. “Does it? I’m not surprised.”
“Oh? Why do you say that?”
“It’s been a bad month, sir.”
“My name is Ewan. Ewan Biltmore. Please, call me Ewan,” the old man said, handing him his card.
He took it, looked it over, then got out his. “Here’s my card, sir. You’ll need the information, this service number, for your insurance company and, I assume, legal counsel.”
The old man nodded his head, looked him in the eye. “Perhaps you can’t speak now, but please, call me when you have some time.”
The old man walked across August’s scorched grass in a fading breeze, over to an old station wagon and to the arms of his wife – and he watched them as they held on to one another, consoling one another in the face of this sudden eclipse. He turned, found the department photographer, confirmed all the angles he needed had been covered, then he walked the half mile down the rough gravel roadbed to the locomotive, up to the engineer.
“Sorry to keep you so long,” he said. The man was about fifty, his expression bleak, lifeless. “Could you tell me again exactly what you saw?”
“Like I told the detectives, I was approaching the crossing and I see the bus slowing, then the driver looks, and I could see his face.”
“He looks? What do you mean, he looks?”
“He looked up, right at me.”
“How far away were you when you saw him look up at you?”
“Fifty yards. Maybe a little less.”
“Forty, on the nose. Those NTSB guys have the recorder now, but I swear I was right on forty.”
“I’m not questioning that, sir, just need to make sure I’ve got my notes squared away.”
“Where was the bus, I mean what part of the bus did the locomotive strike? Front, middle, rear? Just your opinion, okay?”
“You want my opinion?”
“That guy waited for the train, and the driver pulled out onto the tracks, then stopped.”
“I been sittin’ here thinkin’ about this for a few hours, playin’ this thing over and over in my head. I see that guy lookin’ at me, his face all blank like, then he pulls right up on the tracks…and stops, and he never stopped lookin’ at me…not once, the whole time.”
“You think he, what? He committed suicide?”
“Yessir, I sure do.”
“You tell this to anyone yet?”
“No, sir, I haven’t. No one asked me about my opinion – ‘til you did.”
“What about the kids? Any of them in the back of the bus looking at you?”
“They all was, officer. All of ‘em, lookin’ and screamin’ – and I can still see them…oh sweet Jesus!”
The engineer turned away, leaned over and held onto a handrail, vomited once, then wiped spittle on his arm. He turned back a moment later, looked at the motorcycle cop standing there, almost like a robot.
“One more question…Anything like this ever happened to you before?”
“Couple of suicides, yeah, but never anything like this.”
“Okay, Mr Simmons, I guess I’m done here. Take my card; anything else you want to tell me, give me a call. You have anyone you can talk to about this?”
The man shrugged, looked away. “Won’t do no good. Wasn’t anything I could do, you know? I just ain’t ever gonna get those kids’ faces out of my mind.”
“I know. Still, sometimes talking about these things helps. Then again, sometimes nothing does.”
“What about you? You seen shit bad as this before?”
He looked away, thought of the Tri-Star tumbling through the thunderstorm a few weeks ago, the bodies in the grass, the smell of jet fuel and seared flesh still fresh in his mind, then he looked back at the engineer.
“You have a…no, sorry. Adios, Mr Simmons.”
“Yeah. You too.”
Part III: Sketches of a hot Summer Night, in Rain
First Sketch: Of Shadows and rain
“2141, show me in-service with an accident report, and I’ll need a second service number the a Signal 60 supplemental report, with one -95 for JCID.”
“2141, clear at 1845 hours, second service number 8521197.”
It was close to dinner time and he looked at his watch, figured he was close enough so he might as well run home, maybe grab some dinner and get out of the heat for a few minutes. He started the Harley and checked traffic, then u-turned in the street and started for the highway. The neighborhood was hilly, full of dense brush and tall trees between widely spaced houses, and the afternoon sun was slanting through the trees, casting long shadows in the stillness. A father and son were tossing the football in their front yard and they waved as he passed, and he waved back, smiled at similar memories of his father on autumn mornings, then he thought of the kid back there in the road. No more football, that much was certain.
Running wide open with his girlfriend on the back of his dirt bike, he’d lost it in a corner and tried to brake but high-sided – and they’d been launched as the bike flipped sideways.
His trajectory took his right thigh through a stop sign – and severed it completely. His body landed in a bleeding heap and tumbled, his outstretched arms impacting the curb and shattering both in several places, with the remainder of his severed leg vaulting into a vacant field, almost lost among tall weeds and scraps of gravelly litter.
The girlfriend landed in the street, and a kid speeding through the neighborhood in a pickup truck didn’t see her until it was too late to stop. People in their homes ran out and stopped the boy from bleeding out, but the girl was beyond help, dying slowly before their eyes. Mothers hid children’s eyes from the sight – but for too many it was too little too late, the damage done.
And now the damage done to three lives was irreparable, and for the girl, final. There were open bottles of beer in the kid’s pickup, alcohol on his breath, and at fifteen his life was now little more than wreckage, just as surely as the other boy’s dirt bike was scrap.
And now it was his job to make sense of it all.
To make sense of the senseless.
Pointless, too, he thought. Physicians and surgeons would try to put one life back together, and maybe psychiatrists could fix the other life, but what about the girl? Lawyers and insurance companies would slug it out, he knew, and they’d rely on his report to get to some kind of arrangement, some sense of closure, but she was gone and her death would never be anything more or less than senseless.
Once the road was closed he’d gone about the scene making his measurements, taking photographs and talking to witnesses, and when he, in the end, knew what had happened he just shook his head, put his stuff away and wanted to disappear down a deep hole. What were fifteen year olds doing out on the streets in trucks and motorcycles? Playing? Playing their parts in a vast mechanism of automobile manufacturers, car dealerships and insurance companies, all orchestrated by oil companies and big government. Profit and loss statements to some, nothing but shattered lives to all the others: parents called from homes to scene after scene, day after day, futures wiped away in an instant. “The show that never ends,” he sighed.
Freedom. Free to be irresponsible. Free, to look like a pizza smeared down seventy three feet of asphalt. Free, for the stump of your thigh to look like a spiral sliced ham. That’s freedom, alright, and he wondered how he would react if he got the call some dark and stormy night.
He was riding home and he stopped at a stop sign and sighed. “How many this month?” he wondered. Fifteen – by last weekend, and five more so far this week? Twenty dead, and those were just the wrecks he’d worked. Day in and day out, no time off for holidays, people were simply out there killing themselves in record numbers – and nobody gave a damn. Killing more in a year than in ten years of war in Vietnam, and where was the outcry, the outrage.
Just the price you pay for freedom, right? Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose, or so goes the song…until it happens to you. Then there’s some outrage.
He thought of the TriStar tumbling through the field short of the runway, smoldering bodies on wet grass. He’d walked up to the first water tower, where the cockpit impacted and he couldn’t recognize anything human. And yesterday, an NTSB investigator told him the cockpit was found there, right where he’d been looking, and everything, the entire cockpit – man and machine – had been compacted in the impact to a lump about the size of a shoe box.
He heard a car pulling up behind his Harley and saw people sitting there, looking at him, waiting – and he shook his head, waved them to pass, then he paddled over to the side of the road.
Two girls, teenagers, pulled up alongside.
“Are you okay?” the girl closest to him asked.
And he nodded his head. “Yeah. Thanks for asking.”
“You were at the wreck, weren’t you? Stacy…she was our friend.”
“I’m sorry,” he said, but he turned away, didn’t know what to say to such grief anymore.
He heard doors opening and closing, felt them standing by his side, putting their arms around him and he realized he was crying. He’d been crying for weeks, ever since the moment –
The spinning hulk coming to a rest. Running through fields of gold, running through bodies falling like rain, then through the smoke – a man, walking. He was running towards the man, saw his white skin black now, black and peeling, his business suit smoking, and the man walked right up to him.
“Excuse me,” the man said – and he remembered the voice, “but I seem to be lost. Do you know the way to the baggage claim?”
And then the man fell into his arms.
He put the side-stand down and climbed off the bike, went and sat on the side of the road, the girls still crying as they held onto him.
Another car stopped – Stacy’s mother, it turned out – and she came up to see what was the matter, what was wrong, and soon she was holding the girls, and him, crying as the sun slipped behind trees far, far away.
Second Sketch: Martyrs in rain, part two
‘Desjardins fourth week of training,’ he wrote in his training log, ‘and she’s made progress but it’s a struggle for her to let go of old ways of seeing the world…’
He looked at her across the briefing room table, thought of her those first few days…so self-centered, almost narcissistic. Always questioning, never listening for an answer, never watching things take shape right in front of her face – to blind to see – seeing so much she was blind to everything going on around her.
But she was changing. The chase, losing her friend from Academy, shooting a man who was getting ready to shoot her. She was starting to listen. Just. She would make it, he knew, but only if she could keep on listening.
They walked out to the patrol car in a light rain, and she checked out the car while he put his gear in the trunk. She got behind the wheel and checked them into service while he settled-in and put on his seat belt.
“Where to?” she asked, but he just turned her way and shrugged.
“You listen during briefing? Even maybe just a little bit?”
She picked up her notepad and he snorted, shook his head. “Goddamnit all to hell,” he grumbled – and she put her pad down and sighed.
“Sorry,” she said, looking down.
“Concentrate! Commit to memory! Recall! CCR – got it! Now think…what happened in our district today?”
“Male black in an old Datsun pickup, light blue, maybe a lawn mower in the back?”
“Anything on Camp Wisdom this morning?”
“Armed robbery, gas station at Cockrell Hill, in Duncanville.”
“And the suspect did what?”
“Came into Dallas, east on Camp Wisdom.”
“Red Firebird, first three on LP are 277.”
“Good. Damn good. So, based on that, where should we go?”
“Camp Wisdom to Red Bird, neighborhoods first, before people start coming home from work.”
“Okay? So, what are you waiting for?”
She smiled, turned on the windshield wipers and into traffic, then made for Highway 67.
“You still flying? Doing lessons and all that?”
“Could you take me up sometime?”
He turned and looked at her, then resumed scanning.
“It’s just, you know, I’d kind of like to learn how to fly.”
He looked at her, didn’t say a word – yet.
“It looks like it would be fun, I guess. Up there. Free as a bird.”
He sighed. “Yeah. When we finish up together, if you still want to give me a call.”
“Who was your favorite FTO?” she asked, out of the blue.
“Guy named Ed MacCarley. Worked deep nights, downtown, out of Central.”
“Retired a few years ago, went sailing.”
“Have you heard from him? Since he left?”
“No. Don’t imagine I will, either.”
He pointed ahead. “Focus on the road. Three cars in front of us. What do you see?”
She sped up, pulled close enough to read the license plates then slowed down, pulled back into the right lane.
“Don’t get caught up day dreaming, Deb. Did you see the light blue Datsun pickup headed north?”
“You were talking about flying just then.”
He sighed. “No lawn mower, driver was white.”
“None so blind as those who will not see. You can’t talk and think about this shit at the same time, so don’t try.”
“You know, we need to work on your vocab.”
“Yeah, take a right – on Red Bird, let’s take the back way in, by Westmoreland.”
“My ass is twitching.”
She took the Red Bird exit, drove down to Westmoreland and turned left there – and a moment later he said “Stop, now.”
He was looking out the right side of the car into a thick stand of trees and he picked up the radio before she managed to stop. “2141, show us out on a 54, Red Bird at Westmoreland.”
“2141 at 1615.”
He was out the door, running, and she still hadn’t seen a thing, let alone a ‘welfare concern,’ but she got out and started running after him – then she saw it. Him. A kid, young boy, naked, holding onto a tree, crying. When she got to the kid he was already kneeling there, talking to him.
“Hey buddy,” she heard him say, “what’s going on?”
The kid was in shock, taking deep breaths between vacant sobs, and she guessed he was eight or nine – and there were bruises all over his torso and legs. Wide bruises, straight edges.
He took out his hand unit and called in: “2141, need an ambulance, code 2 this location.”
“Can you tell me your name, buddy?”
The kid was shivering in the rain, looked up and saw the badge, the uniform, then fell into his arms, suddenly hyperventilating.
He held the kid close, and as he stood she watched the kid wrap his arms around her partners neck, legs around his waist. He cradled the kid and walked through the trees back to car, telling the kid it was all over now, that everything would be okay now. That he was safe now.
And she knew he was telling the kid the absolute truth. She could feel it in his voice, in the strength of his words, and the kid felt it too and he let loose, started crying – and then she saw feces, runny diarrhea running down the kids legs, urine flowing down her partners shirt and pants – but still he held on to the kid – and he held on tight until the ambulance and a fire truck arrived, ten minutes later.
Paramedics took the kid and put him in the back of the ambulance, and he got his duffel out and took out a change of clothes, had firemen hose him down. He toweled himself dry and changed in the street, then went to the back of the ambulance. A paramedic saw him and stepped outside.
“Kid’s been raped. No telling how many times, but a bunch. I’d say he was strapped down for an extended period of time, maybe days. He’s dehydrated and…”
“Okay, I got it. Is he stable?”
“Hold off on transport for now. I need to talk to him first.” He turned, called the watch commander. “2141 to 2102, need you to 25 my location, and 2141, need someone from CID this location, code 2.”
“2141 at 1625.”
“2102, code 2.”
He turned to Desjardins. “Take a fireman, go back and see if you can pick up a trail, but don’t let anyone see you. There are house about a quarter mile in…”
He went back to the ambulance, stepped inside and closed the door. The boy was wrapped in blankets, an IV running wide open into his right arm. The boy was staring ahead, wide eyed, almost catatonic – and he sat next to him, ran his fingers through the boy’s hair.
“Look at me,” he said, and the boy turned to the voice. “I need your help now, and you’re the only one that can help me. Understand?”
The boy nodded his head.
“Do you know the man, the – who did this to you?”
The boy nodded his head, and he didn’t break eye contact.
“Do you know where you were when this happened?”
“No,” the boy said, his voice far away and tiny.
“If I drove you by the place, do you think you would recognize it?”
“Maybe. I’m not sure.”
“Did you know the man who did this to you?”
“There are a lot of them. They keep us in cages, then they take us out and take pictures of us while they do things…”
“How many boys? In cages?”
“I don’t know. Five or six in the room I was in. I think there are more, in the other rooms.”
“How did you get out?”
“The lock on my cage wasn’t shut right and I snuck out, crawled through a window where they do the laundry.”
“How long ago? Did you crawl out the window, I mean?”
“Not long, but I’m not sure. Maybe an hour?”
“Could you tell me your name?”
“What about your mommy and daddy…”
“Don’t call them,” he cried, suddenly very frightened. “Please, don’t…”
“Okay, Jason. I won’t, but can you tell me why?”
“They took me there, left me…”
“They took you there? Why?”
“It’s a secret. I can’t tell.”
“Okay Jason. No problem. I want you to just stay here and rest, okay? I’ll be right back – in a minute.”
He stepped outside, the hot rain wrapping it’s arms all around him and he shook himself back into the present, tried to keep his anger in check – saw the watch commander’s car pull up behind the fire truck – followed by a gray Ford Fairmont – and he walked to them as the lieutenant and a detective got out of their cars.
“Saw a kid over there in the trees,” he said, pointing, when they were standing together in the rain, “naked, in shock, semen around his anus. I just finished talking to him, says he’s been locked in a cage for a long time, along with several other kids in cages, raped and photographed during the act. And here’s the thing. His parents dropped him off there, left him…”
“What the hell…?” the lieutenant said.
“My rookie and a fireman are looking for a trail, but he said he escaped recently, like within the hour, so I’m thinking we may be able to find the place. Put him your car, Andy,” he said to the detective, “drive him around, see if he can point out the place…”
But he saw Desjardins running through the woods just then, the fireman behind her, and she saw him and altered course, came up to him and joined the group, the fireman as well.
“Other side of the woods, street,” she said, gasping in the wet air. “Men looking, calling out a name…”
“One of them is a pastor of some sort, has the collar, anyway” the fireman added – and the lieutenant sighed, looked away – for he was a religious man.
“How many houses in the area?” the detective asked.
“I don’t know,” she said, wheezing, “Long street – maybe fifty?”
“Front door open at one house near the end. Pale orange brick, white asphalt shingles.”
“Let me have your hand unit,” the lieutenant said to Desjardins, then he took it from her hand, angrily lifted it to his face. “2102.”
“Get a TAC team rolling this way, and about ten patrol units – and notify 100, have him head this way.” The L-Ts voice was dripping cold fury now, and his hands were shaking.
“Uh, 10-4, at 1633,” the dispatcher’s voice trembling now.
“Okay,” the lieutenant began, “we need to block off American Way, both ends of Cedar Circle, and, well, probably Corral, too.” He turned to the fireman: “Get onto your chief, tell them to standby for a pediatric call-out, better notify Parkland, too.” He thought for a moment, then shook his head. “Better use a land line, keep as much of this shit off the air as possible.”
He walked back to the ambulance, stepped into the air conditioned space and wanted to sigh, but he walked back. leaned over the boy and scratched his head gently. The boy was woozy now, coming out of shock, but as his body rehydrated his color was improving, and the kid looked up and smiled when he saw the uniform.
“You feeling better now?” he asked the boy.
“The house? Orange brick?”
The boy nodded his head.
“Do you know what color the front door is?”
“White, and there are white shutters, too.”
He stepped outside, went back to the group. “Kid says orange brick, white door and shutters on the house, white roof, too.”
“That’s the one,” Desjardins said.
“We’re gonna need a warrant, lieutenant,” the detective said. “This is too thin.”
“Exigent circumstances. They know the kid is gone, they’ll be cleaning up their act right now.”
“So? We let them alone, let things settle down, hit them in a few days?”
“And what if they decide to get rid of a bunch of witnesses? What happens then, detective?”
The detective shook his head, thought he knew how this was going to end. “I’m going, gonna try to get the house under surveillance.”
The lieutenant nodded his head, looked at his watch. “Damnit! What’s taking them so long…”
“I can take Desjardins, we can work our way behind the house,” he said…
“Go!” the L-T said, tossing the hand unit back to Desjardins.
“Come on,” he said, grinning. “Up for a little run. Again?”
He took off into the woods and she followed; he heard her swearing under her breath and he slowed, let her catch up. “This is why you ran and ran and ran all during academy,” he said, trying not to sound too ironic. “And the reason why you’re about to drop right now is you haven’t run since you got out of academy. Right?”
“Right, you fucking asshole.”
He laughed. “And no more Dairy Queen. Got it?”
“God damn you’re slow,” he said, picking up into a near sprint. The cursing got louder, but a few minute later he slowed, held up a fist and stopped, and she stopped beside him, knelt when he knelt, by his side. She watched his breathing, wanted to reach out and hold him, kiss him. Love him.
“That’s it, down there,” she said, pointing through thick brush at the orange brick house. There was no activity now, either in the yard or along the street, but he saw the gray Fairmont pulling up several houses further down – under a thick tree, of course, and he laughed, then picked a way through the woods so they could get around behind the house without being seen.
And she cursed when he took off at a dead sprint, followed him around the back of the neighborhood and into deeper woods. She saw him leap through the air and slowed, then detoured around a coiled up copperhead, trying to keep up with him while keeping an eye on the ground now – but he had stopped, had a fist raised again, then he was almost tip-toeing through dead leaves and broken branches, moving noiselessly now, and she tried to mimic him.
He was kneeling behind a tree when she caught up to him, and she could feel a shuddering pulse hammering away inside her skull – yet she tried to breathe soundlessly – because he was.
“2141, 102, we’re behind the house, maybe twenty yards, lots of activity inside, screaming, crying.”
“Any reason you shouldn’t go in now?”
He heard a man’s voice inside – “No, we have time…I’m not going to do that!” then a physical altercation started.
“2141, we’re going in, need code 3 backup!” He started for the back porch, picked up a wrought iron lawn chair and threw it against a sliding glass door, and she followed him through cascades of falling glass…
Third Sketch: Sitting in the shade on a summer afternoon
They drove by her apartment a little before seven, and she was waiting for them – dressed a little too well, he thought. Nice dress, high heels and makeup, and he hardly recognized his rookie. She seemed nervous, a little self conscious as they drove across town to his father’s place, but it had been a hard couple of days. The shooting review board, hours of questioning by Internal Affairs and a routine interview at the DAs office – but no verdict yet. No decision whether her first shooting had been justified or not.
Neither would be allowed back on the street until there was one.
He wasn’t worried, though.
But she was. She was rattled, unsure of herself now.
“You look nice,” his wife said as Desjardins got in the back seat. “Has he told you much about his father yet?”
She looked at his eyes in the rear view mirror, then looked at his wife. Much taller than expected, she thought. Kind eyes, but kind of mad, too. Like she’d seen enough, knew enough about people to remain curious.
“Just that he’s a heart doctor of some kind,” Deb said.
“Well, he’s brittle,” his wife said. “Like: push him hard and he’ll break. Don’t talk about June, his wife, unless you want to see him break.”
“For that matter, don’t talk about June around this guy…”
“Alright,” he said, “that’s enough.”
She watched the exchange, sensed friction in the action and reaction, the give and take. Like both had been worn down by such back and forth over the years. Like she had had enough hushed reprimands over the years, and now she turned away, looked out the window as the drove south on Preston Road past the country club. A few more blocks and he turned down Willow Wood Circle and drove down to the very end. He pulled up to the curb and stopped, went around and helped his wife out of the car, then came around and got her door.
“Thanks,” she said, but she saw he looked distracted, careworn, and wished she’d ducked the invitation, but he led them down to the walkway and then up to the door. It was a two story affair, pinkish brick that seemed darker in the shade of so many trees, and the steep roof was vaguely French, she thought, and it was sheathed in what looked like slate and copper. He rang the bell and a maid opened the door, told them “everyone is out back, just awaitin’ for y’all…’ and he led them through the house to the backyard.
And it was like a forest back there, she thought. A solid canopy of dense foliage, not a shred of sunshine making it down to the ground. And no grass, either. Nothing but plants and monkey grass, until she saw the pool. Small, multi-level tiers, and the walls and bottom of the pool seems to be made of black slate – and the net effect was of being in a grotto of some sort. Like the world outside this house was a world apart, held away by the illusions created by and within these walls.
“I guess you’ve had a rough few days,” she heard, and she turned to the voice, saw the man from the maroon Jaguar – and she looked down, saw his outstretched hand. She took his hand and he held it for a moment, looking into her eyes, then he seemed to sigh a little, and draw inward. “Could I get you something to drink?”
She looked around, saw that a cluster of kids had formed around her FTO, and she desperately wanted to get back to him, back to something familiar – because suddenly she felt very out of place. The women were diamond encrusted and well-coifed, the men looked like fashion models just in from a catalogue shoot – and she felt like someone her partner’d just dragged in from the boondocks.
“You know, I really don’t know what…”
And he smiled. “Come with me,” he said, and the old man led her into the house, to the bar, and he went inside the little room and picked up a glass and filled it with shaved ice, poured a little dark rum, then a little light rum, and finally, something she didn’t recognize. He stirred the contents then added pineapple juice and a splash of orange juice, poured everything into a blender and added more ice. He hit the switch for a second and poured the contents into a chilled martini glass, looking at the color before he handed the drink to her.
“Try this,” he said, smiling – and she did.
“Oh my God,” she breathed. “That’s so smooth!”
He beamed. “It’s strong, so not too fast – or you’ll be sorry.”
“You might do something you’ll want to forget later.”
“Such as?” she said, a little suggestively.
And he looked at her just then, looked into her eyes again. “You never can tell, Miss Desjardins.”
He even pronounced her name correctly, and that, for some reason, thrilled her. She watched him come around for her, and he held out his hand, led her back out into the yard. “Now, why don’t you come over and tell me what in heaven’s name convinced you to become a police officer?”
He was so unlike his son, so easy to talk to, so attentive, so unwilling to criticize. When her glass was empty he went in and made her another, and another, and she found it easier and easier to talk to him, told him things she’d never told anyone before – and pretty soon he didn’t look like a man in his fifties. Didn’t look even a little like her own father.
No, he looked like a man, an attractive man who was paying serious attention to her.
“Look,” she said after an hour of increasingly intimate questions, “I’ll never find my way to the restroom, so could you take me, please?”
He looked at her and smiled, then stood and offered his hand, again, and led her inside – to his bedroom, then he stood with her outside his bathroom and he looked at her.
“I’m curious,” she said. “Do you want me to fall in love with you, or am I reading this all wrong?”
He smiled, looked away, looked around his room. “Do you know, you’re the first woman who’s been in this room since my wife passed.”
“No one in the bed?”
“Not a soul.”
“I’m not sure I know how to answer that. Not yet, anyway.”
“You’d better lock that door,” she said, “and turn out the lights.”
Forth Sketch: In a darker light
He looked at the name on the post-it note and searched memory for a moment, then recalled the face. Ewan Biltmore, the pastor from the bus wreck, all those kids. He looked at the number and went to the briefing room, dialed the number and sat at the sergeant’s desk with a notepad out, at the ready.
“Reverend Biltmore’s office, this is Barbara speaking. How may I help you?”
He told the girl who he was, and that he was returning the ‘reverend’s’ call.
“One moment, please.”
The man’s voice came on, rich and sonorous. “Yes, son,” the man said, “I just wanted to know how you’re doing?”
“I’m fine, sir.”
“I see. I ask because you seemed a bit distraught the other day.”
“Yessir, it’s been a rough few weeks.”
“Do you attend services, son?”
“No sir. Not in years.”
“What happened, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“After my mother passed away, I just…well…”
“I understand. Look, I don’t want to keep you, but I wanted to invite you to services this Sunday. We serve lunch after, so bring an appetite, would you?”
“I’m working Sunday, sir, but if I’m free I’ll try to stop by.”
“Yes, I’d like that. Hope to see you then.”
“Yes, good day to you.”
He looked at the clock on the wall: 11:23 – not quite time to check in service. He went over the hit list, the speeding-related accidents over the past week that Traffic Division used to set radar enforcement schedules, and the L-T had circled Kiest and Westmoreland, between noon and three, and put that in his box. He dropped off a supplemental report and headed to the parking lot, checked out the Harley and put on his helmet, then checked into service.
Out onto Illinois then south on Cockrell Hill Road to Kiest, just like yesterday. Just like the day before yesterday. Just like tomorrow would almost certainly be.
Yet…what was waiting for him out here today, he wondered. What shit-storm was waiting to break open and fall from the clouds. “And who’s gonna die,” he asked no one in particular.
Certainly not God. God’s not interested in questions, is he?
He thought of Biltmore as he pulled off the road a few hundred yards south of Kiest, thought of the locomotive engineer’s words: “I see that guy lookin’ at me, his face all blank like, then he pulls right up on the tracks…and stops, and he never stopped lookin’ at me…not once, the whole time.”
Why? Why such despair? Why would someone be willing to kill himself – and dozens of children, too? A church employee, no less?
He pulled out the radar gun and flipped-on the power, ran the ‘TEST’ circuit, then pulled out his tuning forks and knocked them on his knee, one by one, holding the vibrating rods up to the radar aperture and hitting the trigger. When all three checked he put the forks back in his shirt pocket and looked at a car – headed his way – at, he guessed, 38 miles per hour. He held up the radar and triggered it, saw the car’s speed at 37 and falling – rapidly now – and with his visual estimate verified he sat on the bike with the radar balanced on his thigh, waiting for his first customer of the day.
It didn’t take long.
Bright orange corvette. Heavy acceleration from the light at Kiest – a manual transmission, convertible. Visual estimate 55 and climbing, in a 35 zone, and he triggered the radar, then dropped it in the left saddlebag and toggled the starter, pulled out into traffic as the Corvette streaked by. Strobes on, siren next, get in close, read the plate. She’s signaling now, got religion real bad now…
“Out at Westmoreland and Silverwood on Texas personalized Henry Oscar Tom, Lincoln Edward George Zebra.”
He got off the Harley and looked over the car, slowly, then walked up to the drivers door. Blond hair – long; face – sunburned. He moved closer: white gym shorts, orange halter top, bare feet. Inspection sticker expired, no seat belt. Fingernails? Long and black, with little red spots on them. Perfect, he thought. A black widow…
“Morning ma’am,” he said, running through the department’s mandated ‘seven step approach’ for initiating a traffic stop: “Hello, my name is officer ‘insert your name here’, and you were observed having sex with a donkey, in violation of the Laws of the Great State of Texas…”
“…And I’ll need to see your driver’s license and proof of financial responsibility.”
“Proof of insurance, ma’am.”
“Oh.” She rummaged around in seat, then the car’s glove box – then turned to him. “Sorry…I must’ve left them at home,” she said, batting her eyes. “Was I really going fifty five?”
“Ma’am, I’ll need your full name and date of birth, please.”
“Mindy Haskell, March third, fifty nine.”
“Keys, on the dash, please?”
“Car keys, up there on the dash now.” He walked back to the Harley and picked up the mic: “41, need a 27, 28 and 29 on Haskell, Mindy, female white, three, three, fifty nine.”
“Ma’am, please keep your hands where I can see them.”
“2141, stand by to copy 29 information.”
“Oh, great,” he said, reaching for the mic. “41, go ahead.”
“Multiple 29s signals five, twenty three, and that D-L comes back suspended for signal 40 times three.”
“41, confirm warrants, and I’ll need a unit for transport, dispatch wrecker this location.”
“Ma’am, hands where I can see them. Now.”
His hands go to the Sig226 on his hip – but her hands aren’t coming up. She’s looking at him in the door mounted sideview mirror, and he can see her eyes.
‘Not scared,’ he says to no one in particular, ‘and that ain’t right.’
The Sig comes out and he steps out of her line of sight, moves to the right, and he sees her turn, sees the pistol in her right hand as she lifts up in the seat, then the pistol is coming up and everything slows down.
It sounds like a loud ‘SNAP’ and he feels the bullet slam into his vest – but two rounds have left his Sig by then. The first round hits her left eye, the second goes through the right side of her neck, exits after going through her spine.
He hears “2230 out with 2141 – signal 33, shots fired!” on the radio and he wonders who 2230 is, then sees a patrol car across the street, sliding to a stop. “2230, ambulance code 3 and 41 looks okay, one suspect down.”
His chest is on fire and his breathing feels constricted – and he’s stumbling backwards, then sitting on the pavement, pulling off his shirt then pulling the velcro straps on his vest, throwing it off.
He sees Desjardins running his way and he’s pulling off his t-shirt, clawing at his chest. “I can’t breathe,” he hears a voice say, then he thinks ‘I’m falling – backwards – slowly’ – and he hopes she catches his head before it hits the pavement, because that might hurt.
Fifth Sketch: Martyrs in rain, part three
He’s sitting outside in the twilight, on the grassy lawn, the orange brick house behind him now. News helicopters circle overhead, trying to get the shot they’ll lead with for the ten o’clock news, and the watch commander and the chief are talking with reporters down the street, the camera’s bright lights attracting a million flying insects. Desjardins has been in an ambulance with one of the last kids they found – a boy, maybe six years old, hiding under a bed. She heard his cries, found him – and now the kid wouldn’t let go of her. He’d counted sixty cigarette burns on his thighs and torso, then gave up and walked back into the living room.
The cages had been moved into the garage by the time they stormed in, and the men were busily setting up rooms to look like this was an ongoing church school, that everything was peachy keen and hunky dory. “No, no problems here, officer, and sure, you can come in and look around. See all our happy, smiling children?”
A detective walked over and sat down on the grass next to him, pulled out a steno pad and flipped to a page he’d written on earlier that evening. “Okay, let me run down what you told me, see if anything else comes to mind.”
“Sure, fire away.”
“You were out back, behind the tree you marked, and you heard someone yell ”No, I’m not going to do that!”
“And you put the 33 out, ran for the back porch, the sliding glass door, and you picked up the chair on the way, threw it into the glass door and you and Desjardins entered the residence that way.”
He chuckled at that. “I’m curious…why not just try the door?”
“I was kind of in a hurry. Anyway, I was thinking, ‘What would Steven Seagal do, you know?’ Would Seagal just try the door? Fuck no. He would pick up that very same chair, throw it just exactly the same way I did.”
“I can quote you on that?”
“Okay. So, first thing you see is a kid, throat cut, on the floor, and at least one other body halfway in a large, black garbage bag.”
“That’s a big ten four, good buddy.”
The detective looked up, frowning: “You alright, man?”
“No, I am not alright, man. I’m very seriously not alright. Make sure you put that down in your fuckin’ report, too, wouldya?”
“Yeah. Got it. So the next thing you saw was the reverend. Ewan Biltmore. And you say you saw him at least once before?”
“He invited me to services once, then lunch.”
“And you went?”
“To lunch, yes.”
“I’m curious. Why?”
“Couple of weeks after I worked a bad wreck, the accident with the bus from his church and the train…”
“Oh, shit. Didn’t know that was you, man.”
“Yeah, well, he called me, wanted to see how I was doing.”
“How you were doing?”
“It was a bad’ wreck, Sherlock.”
“I know. So, Biltmore has a gun, a Smith 629. He sees Ainsworth coming in through the front door and he was getting ready to shoot, and you take him out. A double tap? That right?”
“Yup, once in the chest, the next right between the eyes.”
“You’re still on the pistol team, aren’t you?”
“Okay, that accounts for the head shot. So, you run to Biltmore, Desjardins takes off for the sound of someone crying in a bedroom, and that’s when you hear more shots, run to the bedroom where you think Desjardins is, and you say she drilled that Pridemoor fella, twice.”
“Yup, and that’s when she heard that kid, got him out from under the bed.”
“Right, got that. So, you hear two shots next, you think Ainsworth’s, that right?”
“I think, yes, but I couldn’t see that part of the house from where I was just then.”
“Okay. Then the shotgun, what sounded like a shotgun, and by the time you got to the garage Ainsworth was down, and you hear the garage door opening. You see two men running, both with what you say were rifles, and then one turned on you, and that’s when you fired shots three and four?”
“Yup. Two head shots.”
“Why not double taps?”
“I was angry. I thought, gee, maybe I should shoot them in the nuts, but no, I had to do it the hard way.”
“I see. And after that?”
“I started looking for survivors.”
“Anything you want to add?”
“If you think of anything…”
“I’ll call you, slick.”
“You need anything?”
He coughed once, then looked up and laughed – shook his head and turned away before he said what he wanted to say. What he needed so say.
He felt her by his side a few minutes later, sitting there on the grass. She was looking at his hands and he looked down, saw blood all over them and he wondered when that had happened.
“Damn,” he said. “I don’t remember how I got blood on…”
“Ainsworth,” one of the paramedics said as he walked by. “You were doing CPR on him.”
“Hmm,” he said. “Weird, ya know? I don’t remember doing that.” He turned and looked at her, saw the expression on her face, in her eyes. “You know, there are guys that have been here twenty years and never drawn a gun. Now there’s you. Two weeks and two down. If you’re not careful, you’re going to develop a reputation.”
“I was thinkin’, you know. I wanted to…I think I got into this because…”
“I think I’m going to turn in my letter. Go back to teaching.”
He shook his head. “No. No, you’re not.”
“You’re not, because I’m not going to let you.”
“You won’t let me?”
“And why not?”
He turned and looked her in the eye: “Because, you’re too good a cop.”
She looked at him, let his words roll around in her mind for a while. “You know,” she said, “I hope I never meet your wife.”
“It’ll be a bitch telling her how much I love you.”
He nodded his head, looked down and laughed. “Wait’ll you meet my old man.”
Part IV: Images and Echoes of Other Dreams
First Image: Ice, in mud
He was, along with every other Traffic Division officer, on duty that night.
New Years Eve.
DUI checkpoints on all the major ‘party-hearty’ roadways, every available patrol car working radar, working the highways – but it was 28 degrees out – and a light drizzle was falling. Bare tree limbs turning white as ice coated them, streets and sidewalks glazing over rapidly, and by 2200 hours the streets were, he thought, good for only one thing: ice skating.
Everyone was inside drinking, getting ready for Dick Clark to make his annual Times Square Countdown, and he knows by the time people get out to their cars they’ll find themselves smack-dab in the middle of an upside down winter wonderland. Hopefully before they did something really stupid, like start their cars and try to drive home.
Still, he was hopeful. The roads were, so far, remarkably empty, very few people were out and about – yet – and he was in one of the departments new Suburbans. The normal tires had been swapped for winter tires, and he’d just stopped by the garage and had them put on chains. He was good, but how many people in Baja Oklahoma were? On a night like this, Trouble was out and about, ready to make mischief on his appointed rounds.
He rotated his left shoulder, felt bone fragments tearing into muscle and winced, let his arm down slowly and realized he’d been holding his breath. He sighed, took a deep breath and tried not to think about it.
And he knew what the call was even before he picked up the mic.
“2141, 36B, Greenville and Caruth Haven, officer on the scene advises code 3 not necessary.”
“41, code 5.”
“2141 at 2230 hours.”
He left downtown and got on Central, drove north as quickly as the chains allowed and exited at Caruth Haven, turned right and there it was. Patrol car already had the intersection blocked off, the scene secure, so he was just here for the report. Weird, he thought, because they only called him for the bad ones, and this didn’t look all that bad – then he saw one of the cars.
“Oh, god no…” he groaned, then shook his head – wished he could be anywhere else than here right now.
He gathered his notepad and opened the door, stepped out on the ice and nearly fell before he was halfway out the door. He steadied his fall with outstretched arms and winced, very nearly cried out when his left shoulder took too much weight.
But he managed to walk over to the wrecked gray Maxima and look inside.
The L-T was sitting there. His friend. The watch commander at the Biltmore bust. His sense of religion shattered in the aftermath, then his marriage shattered too. Divorce, almost bankrupt, the L-T had come to him, asked for help. Financial help, anything at all. Help to try and pull his life back together. He’d lent him money, co-signed a couple of loans with him and the L-T had been getting there, slowly, but at least he had some kind of life now, something worth living for.
Then he saw the girl in the passenger seat. Young girl, maybe in her twenties – at least he hoped she was – wearing hooker heels and cheap perfume.
“Hey, L-T…what happened?” But he knew. He could smell the booze on his friend’s breath, on his clothes, in the air, and when his friend looked up at him it was all there, plain to see. Eyes red and glassy, and he’d been crying. The girl was looking away, clearly trying to act bored – which meant she was hiding something. “Okay, hang tight, let me see what’s going on out here.”
He walked over to the officer who’d responded first. “What do you have so far?” he asked them.
“The lieutenant ran the red light,” the officer said.
“Oh, did you observe that?”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Then someone alleges the L-T ran the red light. Is that a more accurate statement?”
“Yes, it is.”
“Any other witnesses?”
“No sir, not yet. I’ve been securing the road.”
“Uh-huh.” He walked over to the other car, an old black Firebird, a real scrote-mobile, and he looked at the two guys in the front seat. Total hooks; scraggly blond hair, house tattoos on their knuckles and forearms – and they were nervous now, watching his every move with angry eyes as he walked up to the driver’s window.
“Howdy,” he said genially. “Reckon either of you can tell me what happened?”
“Yeah, that bastard ran the red light…” the driver said.
“And which bastard would that be, sir?”
“Fuckin’ whack-job in the Maxima.”
“Okay. Can you tell me what happened?”
“We come out of that gas station…”
“Which one?” he asked, starting to sketch the scene.
“That one, there,” he said, pointing across the intersection.
“If you don’t mind, could you sketch where you were, which pump you were at, and what happened next?”
He watched as the driver took the pad, his hands shaking, then he took the pad back when he finished and handed it back. “So, those pumps over on the far side?”
“I’ll need both your licenses, as well as your registration and proof of insurance,” he added, and when the driver handed over the papers he looked them over, saw the insurance was expired and for another car, while the passenger said he didn’t have a license. “Nothing? No ID at all?”
“What do you need that for?” the passenger said. “I didn’t do nothin’.”
“Just for the reports, sir. I’ll need some kind of ID.”
The man got his wallet out, handed over his state issued ID card and he took it, thanked them and said he’d be back in a minute. He walked over to the first officer on the scene and looked him over. Young, arrogant, lazy. “Did you bother to ID those guys, run their car?”
“No, sir,” the officer said. “Thought I’d leave that for you.”
“Oh? Well, thanks. Here are the IDs, and here’s the tag number. Run them, now, and get CCHs on both those jokers. And keep your radio volume down.”
He walked over to the gas station and found the attendant inside. “Did you see what happened out there,” he asked.
“Yup. Sure did.”
“What pump did those guys use?”
The attendant pointed at pumps on the other side of the station. Not the ones the driver had indicated.
“How did the car exit the station, sir. Could you sketch it’s path on this diagram?
The man sketched an altogether different route than the driver had, one that put them exiting the station and driving about a hundred yards on the wrong side of the divided roadway before turning south on Greenville. “Do you have a readout you could print up showing me which pump these guys used?”
“Sure,” the man said, and he printed up the receipt, handed it over.
“I’ll just need your name and a phone number sir.”
“The station number okay?”
“Both would be best, sir.”
He walked back out onto the ice, walked gingerly back to the first officer, looking at the contrite little turd as he walked up.
“Driver has warrants, both have CCH for signals 1, 3 and 5.”
“Plates come back on a 77 Mustang…”
“And that car is?”
“Not a Mustang, sir.”
“So, let me get this straight. You’ve got a stolen car over there, driven by a dude with a criminal history including murder, burglary and armed robbery, and with warrants out for his arrest, and you’ve been letting him sit there, watching you, not knowing whether he’s armed or not, for about a half hour. Is that about right?”
“Well, I uh…”
He picked up his radio and called dispatch: “2141, I need the district WC and about three units for back up this location.”
“2141 at 2241 hours.”
He turned to the officer. “Get your 870 and get behind that fuckin’ car, right now,” he growled.
“2141, we have returns on the second ID now.”
“Suspect Leftwich has an active BOLO and warrant out of Beaumont for Signal 1, signal 3.”
“41, confirm warrant, expedite backup to Code 3.” He looked at the officer and shook his head, knew the kid had no business being out here and wondered what his story was. “I guess you didn’t hear me? 870, cover the rear of the car? Like…now?”
Ten minutes later the bad boys were on their way downtown and he walked over, talked to the district watch commander about the officer’s performance – and the old man shook his head.
“Navy SEAL, thinks he knows it all.”
“He’s a menace, L-T.”
“You’re the third person to tell me that in the last two weeks. Write him up and I’ll send it in to personnel.”
“Who was his FTO?”
“Yeah. Oh. Now, what about Truman?”
“Drunk, but the accident wasn’t his fault.”
“Yessir.” A DUI for a cop meant immediate termination and loss of certification. Period. State law and no exceptions allowed for any reason, personal or otherwise.
“You know him?” the L-T asked.
“Yessir. We’re friends.”
“Goddamn. You want me to assign this to someone else?”
“No, I got it. I’ll put all my notes with the supplemental, and you should have Nelson assign someone to double check my report, but it’s cut and dried. A rookie patrolman could’ve worked this one. Just not that asswipe,” he said, nodding at the other officer.
He walked to the Suburban a few minutes later, and the SEAL was waiting for him by the front door. He turned on the Olympus Pearlcorder in his shirt pocket as he walked up, smiling as he approached.
“What did you tell the L-T?” the SEAL asked.
“What happened out here.”
“Dereliction of duty, incompetence, and that you’re a menace to your fellow officers.”
The SEAL grinned. “Oh, is that right?”
“No, it’s not right. Everything about your performance out here tonight was anything but right.”
“Here’s a piece of advice for you, hotshot,” the SEAL said. “Maybe you need to be careful what you say from now on. And who you say it to.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” he said – but the SEAL was walking away now so he got in the Suburban, pulled out the little Olympus and spoke into it for a few minutes, describing who said what, and why, as well as when and where.
“2141, are you clear for a call?”
“2141, DPS advises they have multiple cars in the water on Highway 67, the west span over Lake Ray Hubbard. Two are submerged, no survivors reported.”
“41, code 5.”
“2141, clear and code 5 at 0014 hours.”
He sighed, made his way south to Highway 80, then turned northeast, heading for 67, mindful of the ice now. It was almost an inch thick and snow had started falling; there were cars off the road everywhere he looked and whole neighborhoods were dark from power outages. He heard Lieutenant Nelson call dispatch, report that all accident investigators were now working calls and to get out the reserves, get back-up on the street now. Then Nelson called him.
“205 to 2141.”
“Don’t let DPS rope you into doing their report. Get back here as fast as you can.”
“And 41, go to inter-city now, keep me posted.”
“Got it.” He switched over to channel three and called in. “41 to 5, go ahead.”
He pulled over at the scene on 67, walked over to the DPS trooper and got the low-down, then walked back to to Nelson’s car, took out his Olympus and played the recording.
“Well fuck,” Nelson said. “Nasty little fucker, ain’t he, threatening a brother officer and all.” Nelson grinned, then looked at the scene. “You better get suited up. Need a hand with that shoulder?”
“Yeah, see if the fire department has any tanks handy. I’ve only got one 60 with me.”
“Okay. Oh, I heard Truman was in that wreck on Greenville.”
“Yessir. A 40.”
“Yessir.” He walked to the back of the Suburban and got his dry-suit on, and he was about to hook the 60 pound tank to his vest when a fireman arrived with an 80. “Whew,” he said, “thanks.”
“Hey, better you than me…that water’s freezing now. Literally, I mean icing up.”
“Swell.” He pulled his hood on and sealed it, then walked down the highway to where two cars had left the road. Two set of tracks, both yawing left as they tried to steer back onto the highway, and one of them appeared to have begun to flip on it’s top as it entered the water. Someone helped him into his BC and he snapped the vest tight and pulled his mask down, walked into the water, felt pressure as the water pushed in against his skin, but no leaks…
He turned, held out his hand and a fireman threw a safety line out and he caught it, clipped it onto his vest. “Get another ready,” he called out, then he sat down in the water and slipped his fins on, cleared the vest and took a deep breath, put his mouthpiece in and cleared it too. He crab-walked over the slimy boulders below until he was under water, and he turned on his flashlight, started walking along the bottom until, about fifty feet out, he saw the first car. He swam over to it, shined his light inside and saw two kids, maybe five years old, in the back of the station wagon – and both were still alive, breathing in an air pocket at the bag of the wagon.
They couldn’t have much oxygen left, he thought, not enough to mount a rescue operation, and he shone his light in again, looked at one of the kids fingernails. Blue nail-beds, hypoxic already.
He tapped on the glass and one of the kids put his head under the water and saw him. He smiled, pointed at the left side passenger door and made a slamming fist motion, then swam to the door and saw it was locked – so he reached for the rescue hammer strapped to his leg. It took two swings but the glass broke and the pressure inside the wagon broke too, flooding the back.
He had the door open within seconds and swam in, grabbed both kids and pulled them free of the car, then yanked sharply on the safety line, felt sure hands pulling him in. He broke surface and the kids started coughing and gasping, and a dozen firemen and police officers were in the water within seconds, helping him to shore. Both were in deep hypothermia but both were alive, and he asked for slack and submerged again, swimming down to look for the second car.
It was a little orange Honda Civic, resting on it’s top about fifteen feet beyond the station wagon and he swam down, looked in the window, saw all he needed to see for now and swam back to the wagon, looked for the driver and saw an old man face down on the front seat – lifeless. He reached around, unlocked the door and on the off chance felt for a carotid pulse, but no. Nothing. He hauled the man out and pulled gently on the safety line, felt pressure as he was pulled through the water again. When he was almost to the shore he held up two fingers: “Two more,” he said as he handed over the man’s body – before he disappeared under the waves again. He swam back to the Honda and easily opened the door, saw several empty bottles of beer rolling around on the ceiling and shook his head. He pulled a young man out, felt for a carotid pulse then pulled on the safety line, and a few minutes later went back down again, for the young girl he’d seen crammed in the back.
He pulled the girl’s leg and her naked body slipped towards the door and he stopped, looked at the knife wounds on her hands, the slit throat. Defensive wounds on her arms and hands – and why was she naked, in this weather? He closed the door, pulled sharply on the safety line, felt himself jetting through the water, breaking the surface a few feet from the rocky shoreline. He pushed his mask up on his forehead, treading water.
“Is this DPS’s call?”
A trooper on the rocks called back: “It’s mine. What do you have?”
“Homicide is my guess. Naked, slit throat, defensive wounds on her hands and arms. Probably better to tow the car up intact, preserve what evidence might be left?”
“Semen would be my guess. Pulling her body through the water might wash away anything like that.”
“Anyway, you think about it while we get the first car hooked up.” He swam up to shore and took a metal tow line from the wrecker driver, then swam down to the wagon, secured it to the rear tow hook and swam around the car one more time, saw a kid’s teddy bear resting on the muddy bottom and picked it up. He surfaced and gave a thumb’s up to the wrecker driver and swam clear of the towline, then watched the wagon slide clear of the water, then up onto the roadway.
“Just leave the body in the car,” the trooper called out and he swam over and took the towline down again, swam around to the front and hooked it up. He looked the scene over, then surfaced again. “Car on the roof. One more line, please,” he called out before he took the second line down and hooked it to the rear axle. Back on the surface he called out “Take in line one!” and he watched the Honda spin on it’s roof. “Okay, take in two,” and he watched as the Honda flipped over on it’s tires. “Okay, hold on while I let the second line go.”
He swam down, released the second tow line and pulled it clear, surfaced and called out: “Okay, she should come in easy now.” He walked up the rocky bank as the Honda rolled up the incline, but he stood there a moment, then turned and dove back into the water, swam down to the bottom. He could see where both cars had been and he swam around, poking in the mud as he moved along inches above the bottom.
His eyes caught something, a flash, an impression, and he swam over to a large rock, swept his beam of light around the area. A knife. Serrated edge, eight inch blade. He picked it up, put it in his vest pocket and swam back up to the rocks and climbed out. When he saw the trooper waiting he walked over to him.
“Got an evidence bag handy?” he said, opening his pocket.
The trooper took the knife, shaking his head – and he walked back to the Suburban, found Nelson still there, waiting for him. He looked around, saw the ambulances were gone and turned to his L-T.
“How’re the kids?” he asked.
“Girl was shocky, they did CPR once, got a rhythm and took off for Parkand. The boy’s fine.”
“Hot damn! We got lucky tonight.”
“Yes, they did.”
“What time is it?” he asked, unzipping his dry-suit and climbing out of it.
“Not quite three.”
“Shit, how long was I in the water?”
“‘Bout two hours, I’d say. You cold?”
“No, not with this fleece. I was sweating in there. Feels good out here.”
Nelson shook his head. “Better you than me, Ace.”
“Why does everyone keep saying that?”Second Image: Shadows in the dark light of day
Cleared after the Biltmore shoot, he and Desjardins saddled up for their last week riding together, and if he signed-off on her she’d go to deep nights for six weeks, then to days for six weeks. After that she’d go to traffic, probably with someone other than him for a week, then to CID for a week. She’d be assigned a district and a shift after that, but ride two-up for another year, and if she passed all that she’d be cut loose – to a car of her own, a beat of her own.
“You feel like driving tonight?” she asked as they walked out of the station.
“You don’t, I take it?”
“No, not really.”
“Yeah, okay,” he said as he put his dive gear in the truck. She did the walk-around, checked flare and cones and the 870, then got in the right door and buckled up. He got in and looked at the expression on her face, shook his head and checked into service, then took off down Illinois, heading for 67. “What’s the problem?” he said a moment later.
She sighed, looked out the window at traffic, then turned to him. “It’s your father.”
“Oh?” he said, slowing for a stop light.
“I think I’m in love with him.”
He turned to her, grinning. “About goddamn time, Deb.”
“Why do you think I invited you over there? I was hoping something like this might happen…”
The light turned green and he took off, turned on Zang then slipped onto the freeway. “Yeah, I mean, why not? He’s lonely and you’re cute as hell? It’s a match made in heaven, right?”
“You think I’m cute as hell?”
“Look, Deb, I told you day one if I wasn’t married…ya know?”
“But you are, right?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Are you two doing okay? Arguing a lot?”
He looked at her, frowned. “It shows, huh?”
“Like a fucking bonfire.”
“It’s been going on a while. She wants me to quit, start flying again.”
“So? Why don’t you?”
“I dunno. Maybe I like it out here, ya know?”
She shook her head. “That’s insane. You ought be outta here, like yesterday.”
“You think so?”
“I do, but here’s the real problem. I want you so much it hurts.”
He looked at her again, frowned, shook his head.
“I’m not kiddin, Ace. I’ve had it bad for you, real bad, since about the second week.”
“That’s half infatuation and half Stockholm Syndrome…”
“Stockholm…? Why do you say that?”
“‘Cause I’m holding you hostage. Your career is in my hands, remember?”
She laughed. “I’m trying to be serious.”
“Yeah? Well, so am I. I’m here to train you, get you ready for a life out here. I’m not here to fall in love,, and neither are you.”
“So? Have you?”
“What? Fallen in love with you?”
He turned, looked at the road for a long time, not saying a word, then he looked at her and shook his head. “What makes you say that,” he said, softly.
“I see things. I see things, like in your eyes.”
“Look, I care for you, alright? But that doesn’t mean I’ve fallen in love with you. Okay? Got it?”
She nodded her head, looked away. “Yup.”
“Goddamn…I wish you were butt-ugly and had a face full of zits…but oh no, you had to be so fuckin’ cute it makes my heart ache. You had to have a voice that makes me melt. And yeah, I could fall in love with you in a heartbeat, but you know what? Ain’t gonna happen. It just is not going to happen.”
“You know what? You keep telling yourself that and you just might get around to believin’ it – but I doubt it.”
“2141, signal 53, possible 14. Reporting person is a pilot landing on Runway 17 at RedBird, advises a gold sedan is parked in the trees off Mountain Springs, possible in-progress 14.”
“41, code 2.”
“2141 at 1615.”
“2110 code 2.”
He exited on Ledbetter, tore down to Old Hickory and made a hard, sliding left, yawing on the gravel and correcting, and seconds later they were on scene.
“Check us out,” he said, bailing out of the Ford just as it slid to a stop. Gun drawn, he ran past the gold Mercury Montego and she saw him skid to a stop – then turn around, laughing.
She ran up, heard music playing from a boom box and then saw a teenager – fucking a blow-up sex doll – complete with blanket spread out on the ground and a six-pack of beer in a cooler.
The kid was oblivious, and when the sergeant pulled up they walked over and explained what was going on…
“No shit. Yet, anyway.”
They all walked up just as the kid was in the short strokes, grunting away like a pig, then blasting away into PVC ecstasy, and the three of them burst out in applause…
The kid rolled over, going from pure white to crimson in seconds.
“I give him a ten on form, but a three on the exit,” he said.
“And the East German judge gives him a five! Boo-hiss!” Desjardins said, and the kid was staring at her now, devastated.
The sergeant walked up to the kid slowly. “Do you have a permit for that sex doll, young man?”
“Do you have a permit for that sex doll? In order to use a sex doll in public, you have to have a permit.”
“Uh…n-no, I didn’t know…”
“Well, that’s a felony you’ve just committed. Did you use a rubber, at least?”
“A rubber? Did you take steps to insure you don’t get that doll pregnant?”
Desjardins turned and staggered back to the car, trying not to let the kid see her laugh.
“Look, the last thing we need is for a bunch of pregnant sex dolls to start showing up at Parkland. No permit. No rubber. What kind of irresponsible young man are you, anyway?”
“What? Dolls can’t get pregnant!”
“Can too. Why do you think the state requires a permit?”
The sergeant turned to him: “Get his ID, call it in.”
He walked close and the kid lunged at him, tried to grab his gun and the sergeant took out the kid’s arm with his nightstick, pulled him up and slammed him into the Mercury and cuffed him.
“2141, 27, 29 on subject.” He called in the kid’s information, and while they waited for the return he started talking to the kid. “Why’d yo do that?” he asked.
“I ain’t got no permit. I don’t want to go to no jail. I know what they do to kids like me in jail…”
“Oh? Been to jail before?”
“Been to joovey. Couple times.”
“Jackin’ off? Where?”
“House next door. I sneak in, jack off on Mrs Zimmermann’s panties.”
“Still doin’ that?”
“Not as much as I used to.”
“Subject clear, negative 29, negative 27.”
“41, 28 on Paul George Ida – 283.”
The kid looked nervous now and he walked over to him, looked in his eyes. “Where’d you get the car, Ronnie?”
“2141, have returns.”
He motioned for Desjardins and took the kid by the belt and walked him over to the patrol car. “This kid’s about to rabbit on us,” he said. “Lets get him in the back.”
“I ain’t gonna run…”
“I know you’re not.”
“It’s air conditioned. You look hot.”
Once he was strapped in he reached inside and turned off the radio, then went out and called dispatch. “2141, go ahead.”
“Vehicle reported stolen two days ago by registered owner, Zimmermann, Edna, 3001 Gladiolus, city.”
The sergeant walked up, shook his head. “What do you think his mental status is?”
“IQ about the same as a head of lettuce?” Desjardins said.
“Yeah. My thought too,” the sergeant said.
He looked at them, shook his head, “I think we need to get to that house, check it out.”
“Why?” the sergeant asked.
“My guess? The kid killed her, took some money, bought the doll and came out here.”
The sergeant nodded his head. “I’ll follow you.”
He got behind the wheel, turned on the radio. “2141, 10-95 one, code five to address on 28 for a 54.”
“2141 at 1643.”
“2110, I’ll be with 41.”
It wasn’t far. A few blocks, a few turns. A nondescript beige brick house, tan shingles, brown trim around the windows and doors – just like most of the other houses in the neighborhood. Front door locked, back doors too, but when he looked in a bedroom window he saw the woman on her bed, hands tied behind her back with pantyhose, her neck twisted at an unnatural angle, her body starting to bloat as it decomposed.
“2141, need the ME this location, and a truck with hazmat suits for a Signal 60 evac, possible signal 1. If someone from juvenile could come down, too?”
“41 at 1650.”
“2110, get two units over here for traffic control.”
He walked back to the car, got in the driver’s seat and pulled out his Miranda Card and read through the kid’s rights. “You understand what I just read you, Ronnie?”
“When did you kill her?”
“I didn’t kill her. I was just going to scare her.”
“Did you stick your thing in her, Ronnie?”
He nodded his head. “Yeah. But I didn’t mean it to…it just kind of happened.”
“Did she know you took her car?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
Firetrucks rolled up a moment later and he left the kid with the sergeant.
“Better you than me,” the sergeant said, laughing.
He led Desjardins to the truck and they put on bright yellow hazardous materials suits, but she looked at him like he was nuts…
“Trust me,” he said, and when they were sealed-in the suits they walked up to the front door.
“No air conditioner going,” a fireman said.
“Hey, better you than me…”
The fireman put a huge pry bar up to the lock and pushed a little – and the door knob exploded, fell to the concrete porch and scattered – and he pushed the door open, walked in.
“This way,” he said to Desjardins. “Bedroom’s back here.” He walked up to the door, saw it was closed. “God damn,” he moaned.
“Look, I can’t do this to you.”
“What? What can’t you do?”
“I can’t let you open that door.”
“What? Why?” she said, reaching for the knob.
“Don’t do it, Deb. I mean it.”
She stopped. “What are you saying?”
“Look, every rookie gets one of these, but I just can’t do it to you.”
“When you open the door air pressure in the room changes. The skin ruptures…basically…the body explodes. It’s fuckin’ awful.”
“Did you do it? When you were a rookie?”
“Yeah, and they sent me in without a suit. Had to burn the uniform.”
“Then it’s my turn, isn’t it?”
“I don’t want you to.”
“Why? You protecting me?”
He turned away.
“I knew it. You do love me. Don’t you?”
He turned and looked at her. “I told you. I care for you.”
“No! Say it. Tell me that you love me.”
He shook his head. “Don’t do this to me, Deb.”
“Then shut the fuck up and teach me how to do my job.”
“Okay. Right. Look, that shit is going to fly everywhere, so the trick is to open the door and jump back…”
“But if I go back out there without that shit all over me, they’re going to know you warned me, right?”
He nodded his head. “Right.”
“So? You’d better stand back.”
“Nope. You’re not doing this alone.”
She turned and looked at him again.
“I wish you were a man.”
“Man enough to tell me the truth – how you feel about me.”
“Actions speak louder than words, Deb.”
He took her hand – and she reached out for the doorknob.Third Image: Broken dreams
He was sitting at an exercise machine, working his shoulder back and forth, up and down – with two pounds of resistance – about all the joint could take today. His physical therapist was a real charmer too, he thought. Like a Marine Corps drill sergeant is charming.
“Come on. Don’t cheat…move that joint all the way up.”
He was sweating, cursing under his breath.
“You pussy! My Aunt Gladys can do better than that!”
“Does your Aunt Gladys have four fucking pounds of stainless steel in her fucking shoulder, you cunt!”
She laughed. “That’s the spirit! Come on, fight through the pain…that’s it, FIGHT!”
They worked ten more minutes, then she took his temp and BP and wrote them down on a chart. She handed him a towel then she rolled him back to his room, and a nurse came by and they helped him up into the bed, his left femur still not ready to take any weight.
“So,” she said, “you’re with the PD? A motor-jock? What happened?”
“Working radar, truck went by, down there, on Harry Hines. Just robbed a store. They blew by and I had them on radar at close to 70, then the BOLO comes out. Anyway, some clown starts shooting at me…”
“I remember. You went through Snyder’s windshield, right?”
“Yup. That’s me.”
“Thirty six fractures. Man, you are going to be a human barometer.”
“So my wife tells me.”
“How long have you been in here?”
“Five weeks now.”
“That’s right,” the drill sergeant said, suddenly making a connection, “your wife’s a doc here too, right? Internal medicine?”
“Yup…and speak of the devil, here she is now!” His wife walked in – in green scrubs and a lab coat – and he looked at her. “Scrubs? What gives?”
“Your dad did one of my patients this morning, and he let me scrub-in and watch.”
“Fun. Ready for another residency?”
She laughed. “Not quite. Oh, he and Deb are going to come down in about a half hour, she’s bringing in some Chinese.”
“Ah…awesome. I’ve been craving…”
“I know. I gave her the list.”
The drill sergeant stood, excused herself, but not before she told him she’d be by at ten tomorrow morning – for a little more fun, she said – a little too sadistically.
“I can’t wait.”
She turned to him after the therapist left, tried to smile. “Your white counts are weird. Need to do a few more tests.”
“Another needle. Oh, I can’t wait.”
“Weird, huh. Is that one of those fancy new medical terms?”
She came and sat on the edge of the bed, ran her fingers through his hair, shook her head. “What am I going to do with you.”
“A blowjob would be nice?”
She laughed. “You’d say anything to get me to do that, wouldn’t you?”
“Yes, I would.”
“Sorry. No can do.”
“Yeah, me too.”
She turned away, looked at his most recent vitals on the board. “Still running a fever?”
“All night. Look, if you have someplace you’d rather be, you don’t need to hang around.”
“No, no, I wanted to see Deb. It’s been a while, ya know?”
“Have you seen her since the wedding?”
“Once, I think, right after the accident.”
“How’s your – friend?”
“Are you staying over there now?”
She nodded her head. “Sometimes.”
“It’s funny, ya know. If I’d lost you to another guy – I think I could understand that better.”
She looked at him, a little too defiantly, he thought. Gloating, maybe? Like: what did you expect? Gone all the time, never home. Not one vacation in the last three years. But why –why with a woman? Something else he’d missed along the way?
“Things happen, I guess,” she sighed.
Deb and his father came in a little before noon and they talked about life outside the hospital for a while, and Deb talked about all the usual BS going on the department, but he found himself looking at the ring on her finger more than once, and at how good she looked. Happy, he thought, and his father looked happier than he’d seen in years. Maybe ever – and that made him happy too. Then he looked at his wife and he felt like he’d lost something precious, even vital, while a world beyond reach began spinning out of control.
And soon enough both his wife and father excused themselves, he to make rounds, she to see patients. Once they were gone he looked at Deb, and she hadn’t taken her eyes off him in minutes.
“Your father told me about what’s going on,” she said, out of nowhere. “With Carol, is it?”
“You didn’t know?”
“Good. That means I wasn’t the last to find out.” She laughed, and he did too, a little. “How’s Dad doing? Treating you alright?”
“He’s an amazing man, took me flying last week.”
“Ah. Where to?”
“I guess he told you that part of the story?”
She nodded her head. “Sad.”
“You know, my mother knew. Everything, all along, when I was growing up. Never said a word about it.”
“I think I would have liked her.”
“I suspect she knows you now, somehow. I can’t imagine a little thing like death keeping her from taking care of Dad.”
“He loves you, you know. The accident scared him to death. He cried for days, until you were lucid.”
“I can’t imagine what life would be like without him. You do love him, don’t you?”
“I do. More than you’ll ever know, but never as much as I’ll love you.”
“You know, when she came in, a while ago, she asked if she could do anything for me…and I said, sure, how about a blowjob? She just walked away, too. I guess it hit me then. She was never into things like that. Never once, in ten years, did she ever do anything like that. Said it was revolting.”
“Yup, she’s a lesbian alright.”
They laughed, for a long time.
“So, would you like it if I…?”
“Give you a blowjob?”
“Nope. I love you too much to put you through that kind of guilt.”
“And what if I love you too much to let you lay their suffering.”
“Look at me? I’m not going to push you away – but only because I can’t. But I will ask you not to, as nicely as I can. Again, because I love you, and I love my father. And I know this much, Deb. If it’s meant to be, between us, it will be. I’m willing to wait, if you are.”
“You’re a Boy Scout, you know that? Too nice. To a fault.”
“So are you. A Girl Scout, I mean,” he said, laughing a little.
“What are you going to do?”
“What? Now? Get into PT, get my body back. Six months, that’s the word. Six months and back to unrestricted duty…”
“No – what?”
“No, as in no more duty. No more department. Take a medical, retire, move on. It’s time, and you know it…”
“No, it’s not, and I know it.”
“It’s going to kill your father…if you go back. You have no idea how much he worries. Your becoming a cop was childish, infantile, a need to act out cops and robbers fantasies, a need for adoration…”
“Yes, adoration. Can’t you see that? All you’ve wanted, your whole life, is to fly. Your father told me…in the middle of your second year in med school you dropped out, you dropped out because you got a position flying. Who does that? And then, when that was taken from you, you start this whole cop bullshit? Why”
“I thought it would be fun?”
“Fun? Bullshit. Think about it? Up in the cockpit, everyone adoring you, all those stripes on your sleeve, walking through terminals. Then that gun and badge, and wherever you walk, people…”
“If you say adoring me I’m gonna puke. It’s more like the exact opposite…”
“Sure. Tell it to that kid. What was his name? Jason? At the Biltmore shoot. That’s real adoration, in case you didn’t know it…”
He looked at her, shook his head. “How’d we get from blowjobs to taking me down a notch?”
She rushed to the bed, took his hand and kissed it. “Oh, my love, I’m not taking you down. I want you to do what you were always meant to do. Can’t you see that? I’m trying to protect you, and your father, from all this childishness.”
“Policing isn’t childishness…”
She sighed. “No, it isn’t, but your doing the job is like living out a child’s fantasies. Your father told me with your grades, your MCAT scores, going back to med school was still a possibility, but even if you couldn’t, there are so many other things you could’ve done. Why go out there and put your life on the line – everyday? Why do it? What were you trying to prove?”
“Deb, you know as well as anyone it’s a war out there. A war that’s been raging since the beginning of time. Good and evil, right and wrong. If everyone turns away from their responsibilities, to insure we aren’t overrun by evil, well, then evil wins. I’m just doing my part. Giving back. I feel that in my bones, too, and that’s the God’s honest truth of it.”
She looked at him, blinked her eyes then nodded her head a little.
“Okay. I can buy that. But even so, you’ve given enough. Done enough. It’s time to move on. You’ve been walking the razor’s edge for years. You need to move on. Too many people…need you.”
There came a gentle knock on the door, and she walked over, opened it a little. She saw an older man, little Ben Franklin glasses perched low on his sunburned nose, and a young woman standing behind him in the corridor, but the man looked over Deborah’s shoulders into the room.
“Hey? Rookie? What the fuck are you doing in bed? Time to get up and get dressed…we got work to do!”
“Eddie?” he whispered, his voice full of wonder. “Ed Fuckin’ MacCarley! Oh my fuckin’ God! Eddie! What are you doing here?”Forth Image: Flames and mud
He had his favorite spots. Like fishing holes, he’d once thought. Places where he liked to sit up and, with radar gun in hand, watch traffic, waiting for ‘the big one.’ The 60 in a 30. The 45 in a school zone. The really egregious violations.
It was called ‘stroking.’ As in, ‘yeah, I got a good one out there today, stroked him for 75 in a 55.’ Or: she got a double stroke – meaning two tickets, or the dreaded ‘triple stroke’: three tickets, three strokes for the truly big assholes. The more a ‘scrote bitched and moaned, the more strokes he got – simple as that. Nice people usually got away with one, or even a warning.
He sat up in the shade of an old pecan tree and pulled out the radar gun from the Harley’s saddlebag and went through the calibration procedure again, the bike balanced between his legs, a light breeze blowing on this sunny Spring afternoon. ‘God, what a glorious day!’ he said to himself – and he closed his eyes, felt the wind sifting across his arms, over his face.
He was on a two lane road that approached a school playground, set up where the speed limit dropped from 45 to 30 – and he looked down the road, saw a little red car headed in at close to 70; he watched as the car passed the 30MPH sign and pulled the trigger.
“72,” he grinned – and the little car’s brakes locked up, the driver looking at him as she skidded past. He put on his strobes and pulled out behind her, but she was already pulling off the road into a faculty parking lot at the school. He pulled in behind her and killed the strobes, then checked out on traffic with dispatch and dismounted, approached the car.
He saw blond hair, long, wavy blond hair – and black skin. As he got close: long legs and purple fishnet stockings, a gold lamé dress – and the shoes, too. Big hands, and aircraft carrier sized shoes.
“Yes, good afternoon…” he began, scanning the car for weapons.
“Well, it was. It sho ain’t now,” the woman said, lightly laughing.
“Yes, well, you were observed doing 72 in a 30, and I’ll need to see you license and proof of financial responsibility.” He watched her closely now…hand on his Sig.
She opened her purse, pulled out a license and an insurance card and handed them to him.
He looked at the license and did a double take. “Uh, it says your name is Harlan T Polk. Is this your license – that your name?”
“Yes it is,” he said, his voice now a deep baritone. “Any problem with that, officer?”
He bit his cheeks, tried not to laugh as he walked back to the Harley. “Uh, 2141, need 27, 28 and 29 on…” he said as he called out the driver’s and vehicle information, then he added. “I’m out on a female, black, in a gold lamé dress in heels.”
When dispatch read out Polk’s information the radio erupted in squelch pops, a sure sign that everyone knew what was going down, and sure enough, by the time he finished writing up Polk’s citation two patrol cars drove by, officer’s hooting as they passed.
He walked back to the car and handed over the ticket book. “Press hard, you’re making three copies,” he repeated – as he did for all his paying customers, then he took the ticket book back and tore out Polk’s copy, handing it to him. “By the way,” he continued, “I’ve heard that talking in a falsetto like that really damages your vocal cords, and there’s an increased risk of cancers in the throat associated with it.”
Polk looked up at him like he had just stepped out of the mothership and said ‘Take me to your leader.’ “You for real?”
“Yessir. I read that in an Otolaryngology Journal a few months ago.”
“There are speech coaches that can help you with this, over at Parkland.”
“Where were you going, I mean, why so fast?”
“I’m late…for one of my customers, if you know what I mean…”
“Ah…well, you have a good afternoon, Ma’am, and please try to drive more safely.”
Polk shook his head, rolled up his window and drove off – slowly – and he walked back to the Harley – shaking his head, too.
A patrol car pulled up, windows rolled down.
“Was she cute, at least?” the FTO in the passenger seat asked.
“Not my type,” he said. “Hands too big, if you know what I mean.”
“Oh, you like them trannies with teeny peckers?”
“Yeah, man,” he said, grinning, and everyone laughed.
“You get many of those?” the rook behind the wheel asked.
“No, not many. A couple, I think, in the last year.”
“How did you keep from shooting it?” the rookie said next, and he looked at the boy’s FTO. The old man scowled, rolled up his window and they drove off while he mounted the bike and started the engine. He cleared from traffic, stowed his ticket book and the radar, then rode off for another fishin’ hole.
Another good one, too. An alleyway, heavily shaded, and another speed transition zone. He was about to open his saddlebag when he saw a car headed his way…weaving across two lanes of traffic…and he saw two black men in the front seat. As their car passed he saw one man with a glass pipe in his mouth, then a sudden fiery flare-up coming from the pipe.
Free-basing? While driving? He called into dispatch: “2141, signal 61 on traffic, southbound Clark at Big Stone, two male blacks – and get a unit headed this way.”
He pulled in behind the black Camaro and it was obvious the driver had no idea who was behind him, let alone why. There was a small strip shopping center ahead and he flipped on his strobes, and – still – no reaction.
Just another fireball, this time from the driver’s seat.
He saw a patrol car ahead, in the shopping center – but they apparently didn’t – and he flipped on his siren, finally causing an – immediate – reaction. Paraphernalia started flying out the window, most into the hands of the officer standing by his patrol car’s door, then the driver decided it was time to try and flee. His speed leapt from an annoying 20 to, perhaps, 35, but the kid obviously couldn’t see well, at least well enough to see the lane markers – or the sharp curve in the road ahead.
The Camaro left the road at 43 miles an hour and nosed into a very deep drainage ditch. And both were not wearing seat belts, as it happened. He checked out on traffic, called for an ambulance as three patrol cars screeched to a stop behind his Harley. Five officers, three with shotguns, emerged – and advanced in a line on the steaming Camaro. Guns aimed, spreading out as they approached – he joined the advance, then crawled down into the ditch, and down to the passenger’s door – and he looked in.
“Y’all might as well start traffic control,” he said to men above,“because these kids are about 99% dead.”
“Well, shit,” one of them, the rookie from earlier that afternoon, said, “thought we was gonna get to shoot us some coons.”
He looked at the FTO again, then walked over to him. “You need to get this kid off the street, now. He has no business being out here, and you know it.”
The man nodded his head. “I know, but my hands are tied on this one.”
“Yeah? Well, y’all just go on. Really. Get him away from me.”
They left, the rookie still driving, and he walked back to the Camaro, got down to the bottom of the muddy ditch and felt for a pulse on the driver’s neck, but the neck flopped over, obviously broken when it impacted the steering wheel, so he crawled around to the passenger’s door and reached in. Firm, steady pulse, barely conscious…
“Hey, amigo, can you hear me?”
“Yeah…what happened, man?”
“You’ve been in an accident. Try and hold still, we’ll get you out of here in a second, okay?”
“Yeah…like where am I?”
“Don’t worry about that now, just try to hold still…the firemen are here now…so just hang on…” he made way for firemen and paramedics as they jumped down into the muddy ditch and he crawled up the steep bank – just as another patrol car drove up.
He smiled. Dickinson, The Duke, another kid he’d trained two years ago.
“Hey,” he said as he walked over to Dickinson’s patrol car, “they finally took the training wheels off your car, huh?”
“Yeah, solo – three months. What is this shit, anyway?”
“Total clusterfuck,” he said, running down the sequence of events.
“Well, fuck-a-doodle-doo,” Dickinson said, holding up an evidence bag full of paraphernalia – and two baggies full of white powder, “lookie what I found?”
“Holy shit…what say we go pull this car apart and see what else we find…?”
It turned into a long night.
Fifth Image: Interceptor
Betty Sue Rollins walked out to her ‘63 Rambler Cross Country station wagon – with two buckets full of the Colonel’s Secret Recipe fried chicken in a big paper sack – and she put the chicken behind her seat and got in her car, started the motor and drove through the parking lot for the exit…
Mark Tyler was stopped at the red light on his brand now Honda VF1000F “Interceptor”, revving the engine with sharp, sudden twists of the wrist, and when the light turned green he hammered the throttle and dropped the clutch –and the Interceptor popped into a ‘wheelie’ for a second, then rocketed away from the intersection. He looked down, for a split second, and saw he was passing a hundred – when something caught his eye…
A beige station wagon, pulling into the road just ahead –
Before his mind had a chance to register the event, before his hands and feet could react and engage the Honda’s brakes, the motorcycle penetrated the driver’s door – at what would later be measured between 127 and 129 miles per hour.
The motorcycle penetrated the drivers door and metal was fused to metal in the instantaneous friction of the collision. The motorcycle’s engine and chassis collided with Betty Sue Rollins, vaporizing her torso and arms, literally, leaving her dancer’s legs intact – severed from mid-femur down.
The Rambler slid a few inches to it’s right, but the overwhelming force lifted the left side up and the car began to flip, sideways, through the air. Tyler’s abdomen and legs were fusing to metal at this point, his chest and head arcing down into the car’s roof, the force great enough for his face to break through the thin metal roof, flesh fusing to metal again, in the process. When the overturning motion was complete the Rambler slid on it’s roof another forty three feet, grinding Tyler’s head and chest into the concrete roadway well before the car stopped sliding.
Witnesses and onlookers ran up to the Rambler and stopped dead in their tracks; most turned away in horror, a few dropped to their knees and vomited. The first patrolmen on the scene blocked off the scene, called for more units – and an accident investigator.
It was Sunday, and his day off when the pager started beeping. He was sitting with his father and Deb by the pool, but he was on-call and in uniform, his Harley waiting in the driveway out front. He went inside and called dispatch, wrote down the particulars and turned, saw his father standing there – his old man’s hopes dashed one more time.
“You have to leave, I take it?” his father asked.
“I suppose you’re getting back at me. For all the times I left, when you were growing up?”
He walked over to his father, hugged him. “Look, I’m happy for you, for you both. Have you set a date yet?”
“Christmas Eve. I’m hoping you’ll be able to drop by,” his old man added – more than a little sarcastically.
He laughed, a little, then leaned over and kissed Deb on the cheek. “Gee. Bye – Mom…”
Everyone laughed at that, and he walked out to the Harley and got on, checked in service – and his father jogged over, put his hands on his son’s shoulder. “I’m proud of you, son,” his father said, and they both choked-up a little bit.
“You know? That’s the first time you’ve ever said something like that to me?”
“I know. I know, and I’m sorry.”
They looked at one another and he slipped the transmission into first and let go of the moment, flipped on his strobes and siren, riding through Sunday afternoon traffic out Preston to Royal Lane. The area already secured, he surveyed the scene and made his measurements, took his photographs, then called in, asked for a department photographer to bring some High Speed Infrared and a Wratten 25A filter on an 85mm lens. He talked to witnesses, dozens, as it turned out, and every recounted version was uniformly the same: high speed acceleration for a few hundred yards, perhaps two seconds, then a shattering impact.
Another one for lawyers, he sighed. Cumulative negligence. The driver of the Rambler: failing to yield right of way; the rider: speeding, obviously, but reckless conduct as well. Insurance companies and their lawyers would struggle to apportion blame, divvy up all the various liabilities, but he looked at the senselessness of the scene, again, and wondered what it would take to stop the carnage?
The boy? Seventeen years old. His motorcycle endorsement not even a month old. The bike: three hours off the showroom floor, a father’s last words to his son – “be careful out there.” Rollin’s son called to the scene, his breakdown immediate – followed by murderous rage. News crews walking the scene, their camera men walking behind reporters all imaging the carnage, interviewing the boy’s father, the mother’s son. All the tears, all the anger, and it would all be forgotten by tomorrow morning – and by next weekend he would be at another scene almost identical to this one. More father’s burying sons, more grandmothers and aunts and uncles would be driven to the basement at Parkland for autopsies in an endless parade of gasoline fueled misery. Happy motoring! He said to himself, then:
“Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends…”
He couldn’t, of course, rely on witness statements to establish the motorcycle’s velocity – not speed, mind you, but velocity. He would have to derive that using simple physics, and he had to make sure he had all the vectors to make that formula work. All the approach vectors, all the departure vectors, the coefficients of friction: for the roadway, for the car’s roof – and he’d have to establish a baseline acceleration vector, too, but he’d have to wait, do that tomorrow – with a real Honda. A new one, with the intersection blocked off. That exercise would take more hours, more traffic units. Then he’d autopsy the bike, in order to derive an additional speed estimate, this time by measuring front fork deflection and deformation.
Once Rollins’ body was removed he had the department’s wrecker hook up to the Rambler, tow it up to 30 miles an hour, then cut it free, slide to a stop, with Tyler’s body still fused to the metal, and he measured the distance it took the car to stop and wrote that figure down. He took a patrol car and did the same thing, measuring the braking distance to determine a baseline coefficient of friction for the concrete. He measured everything about the roadway. He observed the traffic signals, for sequencing and nominal operation. He marked locations of everything from witnesses to stopped cars. Everything there when the event took place.
This preliminary part of his investigation took five hours, then he rode downtown to Central, to his office in the Traffic annex, and he fixed coffee then laid out all his notes on the huge drafting table. There were no computers to help him with the math, no drawing programs or pre-packaged Accident Investigation programs to do the work for him; in fact, the courts insisted that all the math be done in pencil on paper, so that each step could be checked for error.
With his notes on the table he drafted the scene, in pencil, right down to the correct radius for each corner, all the medians too, then the exact placement of traffic signals and drain openings, the locations of man hole covers and every surface irregularity he’d noted on the pavement – right down to large cracks in the concrete.
Two hours later he began placing vehicles and witnesses on the drawing, down to the inch, noting where they were located at the time of impact. He penciled in the approach angles, then the departure angles, and with that established he began to construct the vector diagram he would use in his ‘conservation of linear momentum’ calculations.
Using an H-P 41 calculator he ran through the math, arrived at a speed of 129, then he filled out the State accident form, reducing the accident to a series of simple written explanations. With that complete he started in on the much more detailed, infinitely more complex departmental forms, and all his notes and completed drawings were folded up and put in a large manilla envelope, attached to this report, then put in the L-Ts in-box. Fifteen hours after he sat down at his drafting table, twenty one hours after he took the call, he left the station and rode home – just as the sun started to peek above the horizon.
She was gone by then, of course. An angry note on the corkboard by the refrigerator signaling her cold fury, her growing contempt for his lingering absences. He groaned, walked to the little bedroom he was sleeping in now, and he fell into a deep sleep – as images of crashing motorcycles pushed their way into his dreams.
Sixth Image: That’s the way heroes go
Her belongings were boxed up, waiting for movers to come by and pick them up, and he walked around the house looking at a world without her in it. Only his pictures on the walls now – her’s all packed. His stuff in the kitchen – but nothing she’d bought over the years. He walked out back, looked at the swimming pool, looked at memories of parties they’d had out there over the last two years, when his father had come out for dinner with Carol.
That’s the night they met, wasn’t it?
She was a scrub nurse, and he’d asked her to come with him that night. That was when all this started, the long slide to “goodbye and good luck.”
He walked further out into the yard, looked over the fairway. His father had bought five lots out here at Preston Trail, and had built five very large, very fancy “spec” houses on Club Oak Drive. Then he’d simply leased one to him, and to him alone. Her name wasn’t on one piece of paper.
“Why not, Dad?”
“Because I don’t trust her, son. I never have. There’s something different about her eyes, something I don’t recognize, and I don’t trust it.”
Yeah, he whispered to the trees, he always was better at people.
“Right again,” he sighed, “one more time.”
He looked up, saw a Baron on base, in the pattern for Addison, and he squinted into the sun, tried to make out the color – but no go. He turned away, looked at his watch and nodded his head. That was probably them, coming back from New Orleans after the long weekend. Said they were going to drop by on the way home, too, so he went inside and stripped off his uniform, jumped in the shower and washed the day away. He dried off and put on some shorts and a polo shirt, then walked out to the mail box and picked the letters out, looking over three days of mail. He flipped through, found one envelope from TWA, another from American – and he looked at them both for a long time, his hands shaking a little, then he went inside, put them on the entry table – still unopened – and walked to the kitchen, poured himself an orange juice.
Nine years. Nine years – and that’s it? Just turn and walk away from it all? Like it all never ‘really’ happened?
He laughed long and hard, wondering what life was ‘really’ all about – while he wiped a sudden tear from his eyes. 384 fatality accidents. Three shootings. Too many felony arrests to count. Shot twice. Two motorcycle accidents resulting in forty-plus fractures. Fifteen fellow officers trained – including Deb – his new ‘mother.’ Too many funerals attended. Too many friends gone. Lost forever. Some shot, like Sean, some accidentally run down out there on the streets. All of them now simply dead and gone.
He thought of MacCarley, still out there on Awaken. In France, with Sarah, on the canals. “Living the dream,” Eddie had called it. He’d found the dividing line, found his way out of the blue. Not a bad way to go, he thought.
He heard a car pull into the circular drive out front, saw his father’s Jaguar stop on the far side of the glass door, and he watched his old man go around and get Deb’s door. She was his pygmalion, he thought, his diamond in the rough. The country girl with the pure heart he’d been smart enough to recognize, and now she was his elegant wife, beyond gorgeous – yet still working for the department, though behind a desk now. Assigned to ‘Crime Prevention’ – working schools, talking to classrooms full of kids again, teaching them about the world ‘out there.’
He watched her as they walked in, so beautiful it made his heart hurt – literally hurt. Anything money could buy, hers now. And he couldn’t think of anyone more deserving.
He let them in and led them past mounds of stacked boxes to the living room, but his father darted to the guest bath and they heard him let go – the loud “Ahhhhhh” audible, he felt sure, all the way to Oklahoma. Washing hands, then the customary loud fart – just for good measure – and he bounded back into the room, grinning.
“Good one, Dad.”
“About a seven point four on the Richter Scale.”
“Y’all head that one?”
“They heard it in St Louis, Dad.”
“Bosh!” his old man said as he walked to the kitchen. “Deb? Anything?” he called out.
“Ice water! Gallons of ice water!”
“How was Brennan’s?” he asked.
“Heaven, as always. John and Claire send their best.”
He nodded. “I always liked them. Good people.”
“You had a thing for their daughter, didn’t you?”
“In junior high, yes. When I was twelve, I think.”
“She remembers you. Divorced recently. She wanted me to make sure I told you that, for some odd reason.”
“She was always a cute.”
“She’s not cute anymore. She’s what I would call drop dead gorgeous.”
His father was walking back from the kitchen – but he stopped at the entry table. “What’s this?” he said, picking up the envelopes. “Not even opened yet? Deb? Here, please!”
She scrambled over, took the envelopes and carried them into the living room while he brought their drinks in.
“Not even opened? What the hell is wrong with this picture?”
“Just brought ‘em in, Dad, when you guys pulled in.”
“Uh-huh. You gonna open them, or shall I?”
“Oh, you go ahead.”
Father looked at son, shook his head just so – to indicate mortal disgust – then he ripped open the one from American and shook his head, frowned. “No go,” he said – tossing the envelope aside – then he opened the one from TWA. “Report first May, Kansas City, for First Officer training on L-1011s,” he said, and he came over and pulled his son up into his arms, hugged him for what felt like hours. “Well, I guess that interview went better than expected!”
His old man stepped back, concern in his eyes. “You’re going to take it, aren’t you?”
“It’ll mean moving, Dad. Maybe LA, probably Boston. I’m not sure I want to do that. Be away from you two.”
“Take Boston. I’ve been wanted to buy some property up there, maybe retire on Nantucket, get a big fucking sailboat.”
“Well then, Boston it is,” he said glumly.
“So? You’re gonna take it?”
“Yeah, you know, I’m gonna think about it. How long do they give me to confirm?”
His old man read through the letter again, looked up. “Next Friday; a phone call will do.” He looked at his son, saw indecision in his eyes and frowned, then he looked at his wife, saw the tears in her eyes and grumbled. “I think you need a swift kick in the ass, but in as much as I can’t kick worth shit these days, why don’t you let me take the two of you out to dinner. Maybe a swift kick of bourbon will do the trick?”
“Is Edelweiss open on Sunday?” Deb asked.
“Yeah,” he said. “At five.”
“Could we go there tonight?” she asked. “Does that sound good?”
He looked away as the phone rang, and he went to the study and picked up the handset. “Hello?”
“I don’t feel good.”
“About all this. About – everything.”
“What’s on your mind?”
“You. You’re on my mind. I can’t get you out of my mind. Not all week long.”
“This is all wrong. This wasn’t supposed to happen to us.”
“No, it wasn’t,” he said, and he felt his eyes filling with tears. “No, it sure wasn’t.”
“I’ve been talking with Carol all afternoon. About my feelings for you, for us. She says she can’t be the one to come between us.”
“Well, God bless Carol.”
“Look, don’t be trite…”
“I’m not, I mean it. God bless her. You tell her I just fell in love with her, too.”
He heard their laughter.
“Don’t tell me…she heard that?”
“Hey, Carol! I love you!”
“I was wondering. Could I come over? We need to talk.”
“Uh, yeah, sure. Dad and Deb are here, we’re going to run down to Edelweiss. You wanna join us, or come by later?”
“We’re close. Could we just drop by now? Say about ten minutes?”
“You live here. You don’t need to ask for permission to come home.”
Her’s was a long pause. “You’re right. And thanks for understanding. We’ll be there in a few.”
“Yeah.” He hung up the phone and went into the living room…
“Did I hear that correctly?” his old man asked. “Second thoughts about all this nonsense?”
“She wants to talk. Coming over now, or so she says. About ten out.”
“Well, hell, we better get this road on the show…”
“Nonsense. I told her you both are here, and that we’re going out to dinner. Asked them to join us, as a matter of fact.”
His father looked at Deb and grinned. “Always spending my money for me.”
“Like father, like son,” she said to him, grinning right back.
And he kissed his wife…hard.
“Y’all go get a room, wouldya?”
He heard a siren in the distance, saw a dirt bike running up the fairway out back, chewing up the grass – and they all went over and watched as an Addison PD patrol car chased the bike up the fairway.
“Shit, not again…” he said.
“Is that the same kid as last summer?”
“Yeah, the Andrews kid.”
“Thought they caught him?”
“His father’s a big deal with one of the oil companies downtown, a lawyer, I think. Got him off with a slap on the wrist, paid for all the damages.”
“Live around here?”
“Yeah, just up the street.”
“Well, come on, Doll. Let’s give these two have some privacy. You finish up early just give us a ring, we’ll meet you at the restaurant. We’ll shoot for five, maybe a little after. That okay with you?”
“Yeah, sure, but you ought to stay…”
“Bosh…” he said, standing. “Y’all have some serious talking to do. Don’t need me looking over your shoulder…” He reached out and Deb took his hand. “Come on, darlin’, let’s hit the road.”
He walked out with them, heard the siren and the revving engine a few blocks away, and he helped Deb in her seat while his father opened his door – but his old man just stood there, waiting – and he walked around, took his old man’s hand.
“A year ago and I wasn’t even sure I’d see you walk again, and now this. TWA. I’m so proud I could bust.”
“And I’m married to the sweetest gal that ever lived…thanks to you.”
“She told me, a long time ago, how you two feel about one another.”
They looked at one another for a time, and he nodded.
“Anyway. I thought my life was just about over, only now I find it’s simply beginning again. The next chapter. And you got me there, son.”
They heard it then, getting closer. The siren, the Andrews boy on the dirt bike, then he saw her car, a bronze BMW 325 convertible, coming up the street. They turned, saw the dirt bike roaring down the street, the Addison police car a hundred yards behind – and everything went into slow-motion…
His wife, turning into the drive, her eyes looking at him, then at the dirt bike.
The kid, paying attention to the cop behind, not the road ahead.
The last minute reaction, then the bike slamming into her door. The BMW lifting, rolling – and his eyes were locked on hers.
Then she’s gone and only a haze remains. He’s on his knees, sliding into the ruins, trying to get to her, and he sees his father and Deb pulling Carol out of the gasoline soaked wreckage, people running from houses, standing and staring, women crying, children peeking out from behind skirts, mother’s shepherding their kids away.
He has her hand, can feel her trying to squeeze his hand. Her face is intact, but her chest is torn apart and she’s bleeding out – her blood falling down on him as he looks up into her eyes.
“Love you,” she whispers, and he pushes up through the twisted metal, kisses her – then people have his feet, his ankles, and they are pulling him away from her, away from the sudden fire that is engulfing the wreckage. He stands and watches for a moment, then dives for the pavement, for a way back into Hell – but strong hands have him again, pull him from the brink.
His father. He’s beside him, holding him, crying with him. And Deb. She has him now and he looks at her, not knowing where love is anymore. Where one love ends and another begins. Where life stops for a moment, and changes, moves to a different beat – like a broken heart, he imagines.
But his father fixes broken hearts, doesn’t he?
He breaks away, walks down the street – then turns and looks up at the sky. He shakes his fist at God and screams “You mother fucker! You Goddamn mother fucker!” – then he falls to his knees, crying.
Coda: Out of the Blue
He’s at Central two weeks later, cleaning out his locker, going over memories of the last nine years. The walls in this room feel so familiar, even the smell of the place is like a warm embrace. Almost like home, yet anything but. He has boxes filled with ticket books, hundreds of them, each ticket a memory – some good, some bad. Folders full of incident reports, reports he wanted to keep for one reason or another. Hundreds of photographs, most from wrecks, a few of fallen friends, all neatly labeled and catalogued away in boxes now, ready to go home with him. Letters of Commendation, diplomas, training certificates, all filed away, meaningless now to anyone but him. He carries a couple of boxes out to his car, then goes in to get the last one when he sees her, standing outside the locker room, waiting for him.
“I guess you thought you could just slip away,” she said, “like a thief in the night.”
“Worth a try, I guess.”
“No,” she said, shaking her head, “it wasn’t.”
“One more to get,” he said as he walked past her. He came out a minute later and walked past her again, kept on going through the station, out to his car. He put the box in the trunk and turned, looked at her. “What’s up?” he asked.
“When are you leaving?”
“Why won’t you answer your father’s calls?”
“I’m not ready for that yet.”
“And you’re ready to fly?”
“Presto, ladies and gentlemen, and the Wall–Comes–UP! Just like that, huh?”
“Just like that.”
“And what happens when the wall breaks?”
She looked into his eyes, searching for something, anything to hold onto – and not finding it. “Yeah. Who knows, maybe it won’t. So, this is it?”
He nodded his head, looked away and she watched him for a while, then took his hand.
He responded to her touch, closed his eyes and saw her in the wreckage, the fear in her eyes, the words forming on her lips.
“What are thinking?” he heard her ask.
He turned, looked her in the eye. “Life is but a dream.”
“Yeah, row, row, row your boat. But what about me? What about us? Were we a dream, you and me?”
He leaned over, kissed her on the forehead, then looked around and sighed. “I’m gonna miss this place, you know? I’m going to miss every mother-fuckin’ moment of this place.” He opened his door and got in, started the motor and backed out of his parking space, then he rolled the window down and looked up at her.
“I’ll see you around the campfire, darlin’ – ” and he looked at her once again, then slipped away into midday traffic and was gone.
She watched for a while, for an hour or so, and in the end she smiled a little, wiped away a tear or two.
“Yes, you will,” she said, as she walked back into the station.
© 2017 Adrian Leverkühn | abw | adrianleverkuhnwrites.com