Yes, I am still here. Still writing. As mentioned before, writing priorities have turned to The Great American Cop Story, and progress has been slow but steady. I’d even say I’m fairly happy with the progress made so far.
A peripheral tangent of this Cop Story takes place within the soul-scape of The Dividing Line, which was first posted more than ten years ago. The original cop story, begun and discarded several times now, predates The Dividing Line by years, yet when I first penned TDL I imagined it forming one of the core questions within the Cop Story. As such, TDL has been revised once again, and what I’m posting here comes from Part I of the original tale (posted on this site and elsewhere). It’s just different enough to warrant a fresh read – or re-read, but it’s still recognizable as framed by and within the original story.
Pat Patterson is the central character of the Cop Story, and you will find a brief mention of his character here. This story takes place in Dallas, Texas, in the summer of 1982. Like most of the material in the Cop Story, The Dividing Line is grounded in personal experience.
[ ELP \\ The Endless Enigma, Part I]
The Dividing Line – Point A
Sara Wood lived in the shadowlands, and she kept to the darkest shadows – that is to say she lived by blending into the shadows, by knowing how to disappear in the blink of an eye. If caught out in the grim light of day, Sara understood that in order to survive she needed to be able to fade away into the deepest, darkest warrens of the city, for instance into the darker recesses behind huge industrial dumpsters, or by ducking into abandoned warehouses down by the tracks on the far edges of downtown. By the time Sara was ten years old she had become an expert in the fine art of disappearing from view, and of a style of urban camouflage grounded in the sudden appearance of underwhelming innocence. She was also, perhaps inadvertently – or perhaps not – a master at falling through all of the cracks in the few systems left to deal with girls of her sort: homeless and therefore nameless, faceless girls, girls who had grown accustomed to life in the darkness. Or ‘souls beyond redemption,’ as more than a few politicians liked to say. Yet there was ‘no place like home’ for Sara Wood, and there never had been. No Auntie Em, no Toto, and never even a kindly old Wizard behind a green curtain watching and waiting in her dreams to carry her all the way back to Kansas. To the home Dorothy Gale longed for as she followed the yellow brick road.
No house in Kansas, and certainly no family waiting in the wings. Yet there had been a series of “homes” run by various Godly institutions, homes that were really anything but. Homes where bespectacled, fat-thumbed men introduced Sara Wood to the deeper rituals of oral amusement – when she was not yet ten years old. And finally there had been the shelters. Shelters from the storms where wide-eyed women pushed her to the floor – and with Bibles in hand forced her to repent for sins she never knew she had committed.
There had never been, in Sara Wood’s life, a fridge in the kitchen to feed her empty belly. There was not a television in the den to fill empty time, there had never been a telephone to carry on late night conversations in darkened bedrooms, safe spaces where she could learn about the carefree, almost empty lives of teenagers spread all over the late-20th-century American landscape – lives spread like a thin coat of lily white paint over the variegated walls of Patrician Denial.
So, Sara Wood did indeed keep to the shadows, although there were times when it felt like the city did it’s very best to keep her there. Out of sight was, she understood better than any social worker ever could, truly out of mind. What little comfort in this world she could afford to purchase she paid for in the only currency available to her, in the currency of her soul. This money Sara earned on her knees in dark alleys behind downtown office buildings, or with her legs spread in the backs of furtively parked suburban station wagons. She was paid for doing things other women wouldn’t do, because that was all that was left for girls trapped in the shadows. Curiously enough, she didn’t use drugs, for the thought had never occurred to her. Perhaps because such things were more than she could afford, for dealers and pimps who trafficked in such things had rarely turned a profit on girls like Sara. They had little obvious need to use her body, as it happened, because the market was already glutted with dapper boys and cleaner girls.
Sara earned just enough money to, from time to time, buy a burger and a coke – and the implicit nature of her social contract stated that she couldn’t rock this boat – because, after all, there really wasn’t a boat to rock anymore. She couldn’t beat the system, or even game the system – because by 1982 the system to care for people like Sara had been systematically dismantled. What might have been never really came to pass…perhaps because, in the end, such things as safety nets tended by caring social workers had always been a cruel illusion. Or perhaps distraction is a better word than illusion, but then again sometimes words have two meanings.
So, in the terra firma where Sara lived, she knelt and prayed on the altar of poverty, and justice for all only applied to people who understood the hidden meanings behind even the simplest sounding words. Yet Sara spent a lot of time on her knees, selling her soul time after greasy time in a story as old as humankind, a story that is anything but an illusion for people lost in shadows.
On any given day, perhaps just like on the day in question, Sara’s face was poised before the unwashed, urine tinged khaki trousers – now gathered around edematous ankles of a fat, smelly man named Bob – sucking his glans. Bob had a dirty red name tag on his shirt, a once shiny plastic thing that identified him as an employee of the New Resurrection Christian Family Bookstore, and, at least so far, he had been enjoying his time with Sara. At about the time in question, Bob had Sara Wood’s hair grasped tightly in his hands, and he was pulling on it roughly, calling her a dirty little whore, telling her to to do the things his so-called girlfriend had told him she would never do. His half-hard penis, Sara Wood thought, was about the size of her little finger and she had been sucking on it for what felt like an hour. Bob would not – or could not – cum, and the more apparent this became to Bob the harder he pulled on Sara Wood’s hair. Bob looked down at Sara Wood’s face and noticed tears in her eyes when he pulled her hair especially hard, and for some reason Bob liked this reaction. He liked it a lot.
Bob gave Sara Wood’s hair a vicious tug, and she cried out, tried to pull away. Bob liked that even more, and he could feel his dick get hard and twitch in response to the sudden pain. But then she attempted to flee, but he forced her down, told her to hold still and that he was going to cum. He held her head forcefully to his groin and tried to pump away, but Sara Wood was now in a fair amount of pain and growing more fearful by the moment, and she was in fact trying to pull away from Bob with a fair amount of effort. Bob both liked and disliked her struggling; he liked the fact that he could frighten and hurt someone so obviously beneath him – and this was something very rare in his experience. Bob disliked the fact that he was probably not going to be able to cum in this girl’s mouth, which, too was a very rare experience in Bob’s life, one that he had paid good money – five bucks and change – for. Determined to prevent her spoiling the moment, Bob decided to shut her up, and with his right fist he swung down with his not very considerable strength – and hit her smartly on the top of her head.
Yet Bob’s penis was, at just that moment, seated rather deeply – and deeply for a three inch penis is of course a relative term – in Sara Wood’s mouth. At that moment, as well, Bob still had a hold of Sara Wood’s hair and he was holding her tightly in place with the grasping fingers of his left hand, holding her tight against his right knee, which he had lifted to brace Sara Wood against, to keep her from pulling away. As Bob’s hammer blow connected – driving Sara Wood’s head down as a result – her lower jaw, now supported against Bob’s right knee, was in effect driven up. Unfortunately for Bob, Sara Wood still had all of her teeth, and they were in decent shape, all things considered.
Bob screamed and reached for his groin as he fell back in agony, his groin now on fire. He fell in a thrashing heap, and as he tried to come to grips with what had just happened he reached for his groin, felt the bloody stump of his cock, and brought his hands to his face. Bob’s ensuing scream was reportedly heard five blocks away, and over city-traffic at that. Bob tossed and twisted on the grimy asphalt, but unfortunately for Bob he was losing a lot of blood at the moment, and as his gyrations slowed to a fetal crawl shock began to set in.
Sara Wood had, at the time Bob dropped to the grimy asphalt alleyway, fallen to the ground under the impact of his clutched fist, fallen in a completely unconscious pile of ragged disarray. There was now, in fact, a large raw patch on the side of her head where a substantial handful of hair had been pulled out – when Bob’s penis had come into full contact with Sara Wood’s teeth. The remnant of Bob’s penis was, by the way, now lodged under Sara Wood’s tongue. The only visible evidence of this was a small trickle of blood that leaked out of the corner of her mouth, down into the watery, broken asphalt of a large pothole.
In due course an ambulance arrived, and a squad car from the police department was not far behind. Bob was stabilized by the fire department’s paramedics, while a half dozen firemen who had responded with the paramedics began searching the area around alley, even the nearby garbage cans and potholes, for the remnants of Bob’s penis. Of course the street-waif had been ignored by the medics as just another piece of garbage that had been blown out of the shadows, and so they had quite naturally concentrated their attentions on the man who was bleeding profusely from the wound in his groin. This man, his name Bob they learned from the name tag, was now, in fact, in very serious condition.
The first patrol officer on the scene was J Eddie McCarran. McCarran’s semi-glacial exterior stood in stark contrast to his open, friendly face; these often slow movements obscured a quick, darting scans of his eyes. Yet it was his inherent slowness that allowed for such careful observations, and he’d been told more than once that he would’ve made a good shrink, and perhaps it was his scrupulously analytical observations of people at crime scenes that led people to such a peculiar conclusion.
But on this hot spring day Ed was also the first public official to move to Sara Wood’s side, and the first to check on her condition. He was the first to see the trickle of blood sliding out of the corner of her mouth, and the first to notice a raw patch of exposed scalp on the side of her head. He looked across at the man on the ground and saw twisted red hair in his hands, and in a way that fit the scene, but he hadn’t quite pieced together events just yet. He bent closer to the girl and felt inside her pant’s pockets, found a grimy, sweat-soaked five dollar bill inside, and he shook his head knowingly as one more piece of the puzzle slid into place. But he saw something else in the girl’s open mouth and he felt a deep twisting churn in his stomach as he took his silver Cross pen out of a shirt pocket and gently pried open her mouth.
“Get me some saline and a four by four – and an evidence baggie; I’ve found the penis,” McCarran said quietly. A couple of firemen came over, and of course these firemen all had something quick and clever to say about the penis in the young girl’s mouth. McCarran just grimaced as he put on his latex crime scene gloves and pried open the girl’s little mouth, but he swept the penis clear of the girl’s mouth with his gloved finger while he tried to not think about what had happened out here.
An ammonia stick was produced and cracked open, waved under the girls nose. She stirred, her eyes fluttered, then she sat up in startled confusion. She looked around – at first wildly confused, then she coughed and wretched when she recognized the taste of blood in her mouth. She pulled herself suddenly into something like a fetal ball, holding her knees to her chest, breathing in shallow fear – because she was no longer in the shadows where she belonged. Then, as Sara Wood regained awareness of her surroundings, the first thing she noticed, and this was a very dangerous thing in Sara Wood’s world, was a police officer kneeling by her side. It didn’t matter that this man was speaking gently to her, holding her shoulder with kind, steadying hands. What Sara Wood saw was a navy blue uniform, a badge, a black leather belt, a holster, a gun, a nightstick and radio, and most dangerous of all, handcuffs. She saw a system that could hurt her, all the people who had ignored her over the years, and now here was a man in the uniform that represented this system – and he was beginning to question her.
The policeman asked for her name, and where she lived. He wanted to know what had happened in this alley, yet she was non-responsive, just another deaf-mute shadow-girl. She didn’t exist – how could she? She understood that on some basic level the man knew this one simple fact of her life, and better than anyone else in this alley.
But then he told her he didn’t want to take her to jail, that he thought he knew what had happened. If he guessed right, he asked gently, would she tell him if he was right? He talked to her, told her what he thought had happened, told her about her missing hair, why her head hurt, what the taste in her mouth was – where that bloody taste had come from.
Sara Wood turned away from the man in the uniform and vomited bile tinged with curling streamers of deep red blood, and she would have passed all her stomach held but for the simple fact her stomach was empty – she didn’t even have what little nourishment there might have been in Bob’s semen. She fell back to the earth and felt her world spinning out of control, and she lay on her side and drew her knees up to her chest again and cried like a baby, cried like the baby she had never had a chance to be.
Ed McCarran sat in his squad car writing yet another police report on his battered aluminum clipboard while he listened to calls on the car’s radio. There were two Flying Magazines on the passenger seat, and a letter from Patterson was tucked inside one of them. He’d told Pat that he had recently moved back to Oak Cliff, but not just to be closer to work; the rents were cheaper over here and he needed the extra money to pay for his flying lessons with Jim Horton. True to form, Patterson had then arranged for Horton’s time to be covered by Cardevac, and while thankful for the gesture Ed hated being in debt to anyone.
But he paid attention to the radio just now – to respond if anyone needed back-up – but then he checked his watch. Just a few minutes to go until he was supposed to check out for lunch, so he turned his attention back to the report on his clipboard, hoping to finish it before lunch in case calls got backed up later in the afternoon.
“Hey there!” he heard a girl say – and it was like a bolt out of the blue.
Lost in his paperwork – a rookie’s mistake – Ed McCarran jumped in his seat. His head jerked around to the left, quickly assessing his surroundings, analyzing threats as he reached for his holster. Then he saw the girl, a destitute looking waif that seemed more like the ghosts he’d read about in books detailing the lives of people freed from Nazi concentration camps.
But as he looked up at her, looked into her eyes for a moment – he recognized her from a recent call, something near Union Station maybe a month ago. He had seen something in the girl’s eyes that day, something lost and alone about her, but then his memory kicked in.
“Sara Wood, right?” he said gently, as the details of that encounter came back to him.
“Yup. How are you?”
“Good,” he said as he scanned her body, habitually looking for any threat she might present. “What’s up with you?”
“Nothin’ much,” she said, looking away for a moment. “I just wanted to thank you for what you said to those D.A. people. They told me if you hadn’t done your job right I’d ended up spending a lotta time in jail.”
Ed McCarran looked down and nodded; he never knew how to take a compliment, or even a simple expression of gratitude. He shrugged it away, like most modest men do out of habit.
Yet the girl took his silence as yet another rejection – so she stepped away and started for the safety of the nearest shadows.
“So,” Ed McCarran asked, “how have you been doing since?”
She stopped. Something in his voice spoke to her, told her there was something different about him. “Oh, you know. Same ole this and that…”
All Ed McCarran had to do was look at this girl to know how she was doing. “Hey, I’m about to check out for lunch. Care to join me?” He could see the conflict roil across her face in an ages old calculation: Trust versus Fear. Hunger versus Fear. He could tell she was afraid of his uniform by the way she held herself obliquely to him, and he already knew the outcome of her simple calculation, and for a split second he wondered why he even bothered anymore.
Yet she shrugged – carelessly, ambivalently – as she looked at McCarran. “I guess,” she finally said.
And he thought he could see her salivating as he picked up the microphone hanging from the side of the squad car’s radio. “2141, 25 code Bob King 114” – and in that stream of jargon he checked out for lunch at one of the Burger Kings in his division, which that day was Southwest, near the Marsalis Zoo in Oak Cliff. He rolled up the window and stepped out of his patrol car and locked the door. “Okay then, let’s do this!” he said with gentle enthusiasm.
Once inside he ordered a Whopper combo meal and then he asked her what she wanted.
“Could I get a glass of water?” she said, looking down somewhere around her shoes.
“Sara, I’m buying. What’ll it be? Come on, sky’s the limit!”
So Sara Wood ordered two Whoppers with cheese, a large order of fries, a large Coke – and then a small chocolate shake, because – why not? The girl behind the counter repeated the order, called it out over the system and shook her head. Ed found a table and waited for the order to be called, and then he carried it back to the table after the surly girl shoved it at him.
Then Ed McCarran sat back and watched the show as Sara Wood tore into the food. It was almost painful to watch, too, and he was sure that, as shrunken as her belly was, it would be very painful to see in an hour or two. He didn’t say a word, didn’t want to interrupt Sara Wood as she piled down the food – which took about three minutes flat.
“Still hungry?” he asked.
Sara Wood made a laughing noise that came out her nose – as her mouth was still full of food. She nodded her head and just managed to say, “a Double Whopper?”
“Comin’ right up.” Ed said as he walked up to the counter again and placed the additional order. He waited until Miss Surly-face slid it over to him, then he carried it back to Sara Wood, and as he put it on the table in front of her he smiled and said “Well, bottoms-up!” as he sat again. He sipped his iced tea while looking at Sara Wood’s contented face – looking at her as if for the very first time – and as he did he flinched. As he looked at her blue-green eyes, at the weathered skin and the scabs on her shoulders, he recognized something within and yet beyond the lost eyes, and the forsaken ambivalence. He saw someone unloved – yet lovable – and he thought for a moment she had been hoping against hope that someone might find her. Whatever else that something might have been, the wave of unexpected feelings tore at his sense of humanity and left him wondering about the rest of her story.
‘Damn, I’m getting old,’ he thought as he watched her eat.
“So, filling up?” he said, forcing another smile in the face of her need.
Her mouth full of food, she nodded and just managed to say, “Yeah, this is really good!”
He smiled again. “Alright!” he replied, looking away for a moment, trying not to cry.
After they finished eating, she asked him where he worked, and he told her he was usually at Southwest Division, but then he gave her one of his cards. “You can call me at the station if you need me; if I’m not there someone will know how to get in touch with me.” he said, his smile genuine. And what was that? Did she see concern on the man’s face?
‘Now just why the hell did I do that?’ he thought – in a moment of regret.
Yet Sara Wood handled his card as if someone had just handed her a stick of dynamite with a burning fuse, but maybe it was more like a one pound bar of gold? The conflict she felt was instant, as was the extremity of her need. She looked at the card intently for a moment, wondering what it said, but she tucked it carefully into a pocket on the rear of her jeans.
The radio on Ed McCarran’s belt came to life: “2141.” He slipped the radio free of the holster on his belt and brought it to the side of his face. “2141, go ahead.”
“2141. 36B K, Clarendon and Tyler, two possible fatalities reported.”
“2141, 10/4 show me Code 5 at this time,” he said into the radio, and he hastily turned to Sara Wood: “Sorry, but I gotta go.” Then he looked into her eyes again. “Really, Sara, if you need me just call the number…”
And with that he was gone, trotting out the door.
She watched him as he got into the car, and she almost winced in pain as the red and blue lights turned on, then she watched as his car pulled out into traffic and the siren came on. She jumped back from the sudden noise, then she watched the car speed away, even as she went to a window and watched the red and blue as they disappeared around a curve. She didn’t realize it just then, but she had been standing on her tip-toes, biting her lip as if she was afraid for him – not of him – and maybe she was even then.
Yet Sara was afraid of all the unknowns waiting out there, whether on the street or in the shadows, unknowns waiting for the kind man, just as they were always waiting for her – but just then the surly-faced girl came over and pushed her out a side door and back into the shadows – right where she belonged.
Because some things in her life never changed.
It was the very next Friday afternoon, and Sara Wood looked down Illinois Street at the Southwest Division sub-station, and as always she was standing in the shadows. She had been hiding there all day, hiding in plain sight, watching and waiting for the kind man’s police car. She finally saw him late in the afternoon, and she watched as he turned into a parking lot that was almost completely hidden from view by tall fences, and so she assumed he had walked into the station. Yet she remained where she was – as if rooted to this spot – waiting to see if he would somehow reappear.
Or perhaps she really wanted to see the man’s face again, know that he was alright. But now she was hoping that, against all odds, maybe he’d come over and talk to her.
About twenty minutes later the kind-faced man came out of the station, only now he was wearing jeans and a white shirt, but he was wearing white sneakers and she thought those looked out of place on him. He was carrying a small bag, too, and she wondered what was in it. Hiding in deep shadows cast by dozens of oak trees near the brick wall that surrounded the station, she watched the man as he walked along the sidewalk that led away from the station, and for a moment she wondered where his car was parked – but then he stopped to talk with a couple of other – she guessed – cops. A minute or so passed before he started walking along Illinois Avenue, then he turned and walked down Cockrell Hill Road. After a block or so he veered left and walked towards a cluster of two-story apartment buildings – and still she followed him, but from a distance. She stayed well behind him, still keeping to the shadows when she could, and after a couple more blocks he left the sidewalk and started into a grey shingled apartment building, his retreating form suddenly hidden by wooden fences and thick stands of bushy live oak trees. Afraid she might lose sight of him, she also wanted to see which apartment was his – so she ran up to the first fence and flew around the corner – but then she ran into – him. He caught her with strong hands yet brought her gently to a stop.
“Whoa, there, kiddo,” he said as gently as ever, “didn’t anyone ever tell you not to follow a cop?”
But Sara Wood just stood in Ed McCarran’s hands, now afraid and being careful to remain still. Suddenly she grew too fearful to speak, and besides – she didn’t know what to say.
A couple of awkward moments passed, his face awash in a befuddled grin as he scanned his surroundings for other potential threats, then he looked into her eyes, looking for the truth of the moment. She seemed guileless, almost childlike, so he shrugged and smiled at the innocence of the encounter. “Well, I don’t know about you but it’s hot out here, and I’m tired. Could I get you a Coke?” he said as he turned and walked off towards another apartment building one block closer to the police station. Sara Wood figured it out right then and there. He’d known she was waiting there all along, known he was being followed, probably from the time he pulled into of the station, so he’d led her into a diversion, then into the trap he set.
Once at the place he really lived, the man walked up one flight of stairs, took out a key and opened the door to one of the apartments, then she followed him into a room full of half-empty boxes and thoughtlessly arranged furniture. He walked over and turned the thermostat on the air conditioner down, way down, then he put his gym bag on the table by the door before he went into the apartment’s tiny kitchen. He got glasses then opened the ‘fridge and poured two Cokes over ice before he came back out to the entry, where she still stood, waiting. McCarran was still in the process of moving into the new apartment, but when he saw the look on Sara’s face it seemed as though she was gawking at the insides of an elaborate mansion.
He walked over and handed her a Coke, but immediately he noticed something was seriously wrong; the girl smelled, indeed, the stench was awful. She exuded pure, unadulterated stink, the stink of seriously neglected personal hygiene. He looked at her skin around the worn collar of her shirt just then and he could see the dirt there was actually inside the pores of her skin. Her hair was beyond greasy, while the fabric of her Salvation Army jeans and t-shirt was thin and foul with the grimy smell of the street. He thought the worst would be the shoes, but just then he had no intention of finding out. One thing was for sure, he had to get her cleaned up before the neighbors complained! Cleaned up first, then maybe he could get her to a shelter.
‘Shelter…? Why do I remember that about her?’ He thought and thought, then remembered…a mouth full of hamburger!
“I remember you,” he said as he looked at her eyes again. “It’s Sara, isn’t it? Sara Wood?”
She nodded and looked away, then she took a long, slow sip of the drink before she looked at him again. “Yes,” she said shyly.
“Well, sit you down, Miss Sara Wood,” he said, his voice still soft and gentle, “and tell me a story.”
She looked at him quizzically – as she still didn’t know what to say. “What kind of story?” she finally asked.
“Well, let’s start with your story, Sara. Then maybe you could tell me why you were following me home.”
She looked away again, afraid of the truth, fearful of his reaction. “I’m sorry, I was just scared for you and I wanted to see you was O.K.”
“What were you afraid of, Sara?”
“Afraid of you gettin’ hurt.”
“Do you have any family, or even some friends?”
But Sara Wood just shook her head.
“Well, Sara, how old are you?”
She shrugged her shoulders a little, then shook her head. “I ain’t sure, but I think maybe twenty – but nobody’s ever been real sure. Maybe twenty-two, but I guess I don’t know, really. ”
“Do you know what year you were born?”
She nodded. “I heard someone say once, something like 1960?”
“Where did you go to school?”
She smiled and turned away. “I ain’t been to no school. None I remember, anyway.”
“Where do you live?” he asked, immediately regretting he’d asked her that and not really wanting to hear the answer.
But she just shrugged his question away, like she always did when someone asked her that.
“Well, okay, do you have any other clothes?”
She shook her head.
“When’s the last time you got cleaned up?”
“At that place where you took me.” He remembered it all now, Bob and the case of the missing dick! That’s where he knew her from. Street girl, trading sex for food money. His stomach turned as he remembered the scene – then the severed penis in her mouth.
“Excuse me, but do I stink bad?” she asked, suddenly ashamed.
“Well honey, maybe just a little,” McCarran said, immediately regretting he’d used such an intimate word.
“You can call me honey if you want. I like it when you say it.”
Ed McCarran looked down at the carpet, embarrassed. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I shouldn’t…”
“It’s okay, it makes me feel like you ain’t gonna hurt me.”
McCarran looked away, hurting inside for this discarded human being. When he looked up at her again he wanted to cry. “Well, okay then. Let’s get you cleaned up.” He stood and took her Coke into the kitchen, and she followed him like a puppy, with almost thoughtless devotion, but he saw her behavior was like that of a small child. He felt intensely uncomfortable as he went into the apartment’s only bathroom and turned on the shower in the bathtub, and he adjusted the water. “Alright, Sara, you come on in here and get cleaned up. There’s soap and shampoo in the shower, and clean towels over there. You take your clothes off and put them in that hamper,” he said, pointing at the white plastic basket next to the sink. “I might have something to fit you in my kids’ room.”
“You got kids?”
“Yeah, well, they live with their mother in Oregon, but I have some of their stuff here; I bet I can find something you can wear. Now come on in and get yourself cleaned up.”
He closed the door behind her, went to his kid’s room and found some generic sweat-pants and a couple of t-shirts. Socks wouldn’t be a problem, though shoes might be. He pulled out a couple pairs of sneakers from the closet that looked like a ‘maybe’ and gathered them up and put them just outside the bathroom door. He called out to her, told her where to find the clothes and she answered “Okay!” from inside the shower. He looked at his watch, phoned the D.A.s office, got shuffled around, then asked a clerk to look up some information on a Sara Wood, unknown DOB possibly 20 to 22 years old, brought into County as a Welfare Concern back in early May, at least he seemed to remember that much. When he was informed she was twenty-two he breathed a little easier. Not much, but a little. He asked if they had done any blood work, wanted to know if he might have been exposed to anything during his contact with her, then rang off after the clerk told him she’d not tested positive for anything.
He sat in the living room, turned on the evening news which was, as always, full of stuff about Iran-Contra and budget cuts. He heard the water cut off, then the shower curtain sliding open; a few minutes later he heard the bathroom door open and close as Sara grabbed the clothes he’d set out. “Can I use your brush?” she called out once.
“Of course, go ahead. And oh, before I forget. There are some new toothbrushes in the medicine cabinet over the sink. Help yourself.”
About five minutes later she came out. There must have been a pair of gym shorts stuck between the t-shirts, because she came out wearing navy colored shorts, a yellow t-shirt emblazoned with an L.A. Laker’s logo, some white gym socks and an almost new pair of black suede Pumas.
But by then Ed McCarran’s blood pressure had shot through the roof – because the girl that walked out of the bathroom that afternoon looked hotter than any firecracker on the Fourth of July. Her hair was actually reddish-blond once all the dirt and grime had been rinsed away, and it struck him in that moment that she looked like a very thin Sissy Spacek. And now, suddenly, his voice was shaking – but he looked away – now quite ashamed of the onrushing feelings he was experiencing.
“Well, how’d that hot water feel?” he finally said. But then he felt his face flush with red heat of a different kind – and now he felt very uneasy that this unexpected stranger was now hanging out in his apartment.
Sara Wood walked into the living room and sat on the couch next to Ed McCarran; she obviously knew enough about the world, and the baser instincts of men, to understand the effect she was having on him. “That felt really nice,” she said with a minty-fresh smile, leaving him adrift in another new silence. She found herself looking at his forehead, then the wrinkles around his eyes. She looked up at his receding hairline, and then she saw his left eyebrow was twitching!
But just then Ed McCarran stood and walked away, headed toward the bathroom. “If you don’t mind, I’m gonna take a quick shower, then I’ll take you out to dinner. How’s that sound?” ‘And it’s gonna be a cold fuckin’ shower, too,’ Ed McCarran told himself as he peeled off his jeans in the bathroom.
Sara Wood sat on he sofa, smiling. ‘So, he isn’t like the rest of them,’ she told herself. ‘And he blushed! I hope he loves me as much as I love him!’
In Sara Wood’s world people either used you or used you and then killed you, but there was no such thing as love in the shadowlands. While Sara Wood knew what it felt like to be used, she was pretty certain she had no idea what love was supposed to feel like, because she was certain that in her entire life not one soul had ever loved her. And while she had never loved anyone, she was pretty sure she knew that love existed.
But something deep in her belly was connecting to a primal need that crawled through her being inside that moment, a distant, faraway need seeking connection. A connection grounded in desire and release, and maybe Sara Wood thought that this was what love was supposed to feel like. When she saw him, that’s what she felt – connection and desire – and it felt good to her as she sat there in his room because this new feeling didn’t make her want to run back into the shadows.
She got up from the sofa after Ed closed the bathroom door. She heard the water turn on and walked around the apartment, curious what he was like. She poked inside the half-empty boxes, saw framed diplomas and strange looking books. Then she walked into his bedroom, around the far side of the bed, and once there she looked out the lone window – and she could see the police station through the trees. She turned to go back to the living room and saw some magazines under the bed so she bent down to look at one of them. She couldn’t read the words on the covers, but there were women on them, women with very few clothes on. She picked another one up and opened it; there were men sticking their things into women, women sucking on men’s things, women kissing women – which she thought looked really funny, and laughed a little at that – and all of the women were wearing really weird stuff. She had never seen anything like what these women had on; not anywhere, not anytime. She picked up another magazine, and another, and they were all filled with pictures just like the first one, and all the women were dressed up in these silly looking things.
Ed McCarran finished drying himself off and cursed when he realized he’d left his change of clothes in the bedroom, so he wrapped the towel around his waist and prepared to dash across the hall into his bedroom. This he adroitly did, only to screech to a halt as he saw Sara Wood sitting on his bed giggling at the pictures in his secret stash of magazines. And just like a deer caught in the headlights of an onrushing car, Ed McCarran froze.
But Ed McCarran had failed to appreciate the innocence harbored within this girl; she turned another page, completely focused on the next set of new images, giving an appreciative ooh here and a stifled giggle there. Then, at some point she became aware of Ed McCarran so she turned around to face him and said, “Look at this!”
Ed McCarran, rarely at a loss for words, was now utterly speechless. He shook his head to clear his mind after a few more awkward moments in the headlights, and as nonchalantly as he possibly could, he asked Sara Wood if he could have some privacy while he got dressed. She grabbed a handful of the magazines and headed out of his bedroom with them toward the sofa – only now with a contented look of happily sated curiosity on her face!
‘Oh, man, what have I gotten myself into?’ McCarran said as he closed the bedroom door behind her, wiping away beading lines of perspiration that had suddenly formed on his forehead and upper lip. While he dressed he heard her giggle a few more times, and he wondered how he might get those magazines hidden away again without looking like too big an ass. Yet when he went out she had neatly stacked the magazines and she watched him carefully – and again he was struck by how puppy-like she seemed.
“Think you could eat something tonight?”
She smiled. He turned bright red.
“For dinner, I mean,” he stammered.
“When’s the last time you has something to eat?”
Again she just shrugged.
“Does anything sound good? A burger? Pizza or spaghetti? Anything?”
“I don’t know.”
At a complete loss now, he led her outside and back down the steps then out to the parking lot behind his building. He walked over to a car covered with a heavy tan cloth and pulled the fabric away from the vehicle, revealing a tangerine colored Triumph TR6 convertible; Sara Wood squealed and clapped her hands as she looked at the car, jumping up and down a few times along the way.
“C’mon, help me get the top down,” McCarran said, pointing to hooks and levers at the top of the windshield, giving her directions. They got the top down and then he pulled a vinyl-canvas cover out of the space behind the seats and snapped it into place. He opened her door and showed her how to put on the rather complicated manual seatbelt, then he shut the door behind her – at this point on autopilot and not having the slightest idea what he was doing.
“Oh, this is so fun,” she said as he sat down next to her, happily drumming the dashboard in front of her; McCarran turned the ignition and the Weber carburetors feeding the little six cylinder engine kicked the beast awake, and now it was his turn to smile. He studied the gauges while the engine warmed, doing his level best to ignore the pale thighs next to his.
“Nothin’ like an old British roadster,” McCarran said as the car sputtered and burbled to life. “So,” he added, “you want dinner and a movie, or dinner and shopping at the mall?”
Sara Wood’s eyes went round as saucers. “The mall?” she cried. “Could we…I never bought stuff at the mall before.”
When McCarran simply said, “Answers that question!” she just squealed again, and bounced around in her seat like a little kid.
Ed McCarran backed the little roadster up and pulled out onto the street, heading toward a gathering of restaurants clustered around Red Bird Mall.
“Whatcha feel like eating?” he asked as they motored along, and he looked at Sara from time to time, at her long red hair dancing in the slipstream, errant curls whipping around her face as she laughed and laughed. This was her first experience bouncing down an urban street in an English roadster, and Ed was entranced by her pure joy.
“I don’t know – you choose…”
So they had dinner at a local steakhouse, and he delighted in watching her fiddle with a ‘bloomin’ onion,’ and he ordered her – again at her request – a filet mignon, a fully dressed baked potato, and a heaping bowl of creamed spinach. She wolfed everything down and McCarran was certain he could see a little color return to her face, and he felt happier than he had in months. After they finished he told her they would get dessert at the mall, and she again clapped her hands and bounced around in the Triumph’s little seat.
He took her to The Gap, and she picked out some – to Ed McCarran’s practiced eye – low-cut bell bottomed jeans and a couple of shirts to go with them. He also got her some khaki shorts and a white cotton polo shirt, just because. They went to one of the athletic shoe stores, and she picked out some Adidas tennis shoes and some hot pink Converse All Stars, which she found especially “cool” and asked to wear from the store. They made their way down to the food court, where she ordered some pineapple sherbet in a small sugar cone, and Ed ordered the same thing. They gathered her packages from the counter and went to sit by a fountain under a huge skylight in the center of the food court, and Ed watched Sara’s pure joy as she nibbled on the ice cream cone.
But all the while, during dinner and now after, he looked at her and he could feel the weight of the abuse and neglect heaped on her soul, the tacit neglect of people who all too easily turned away from all people like Sara Wood. More troubling still, he had seen and often heard how many took a perverse pleasure in the pain and suffering such endemic homelessness caused. Yet watching her now, looking at her enjoying the simplest pleasure imaginable – eating an ice cream cone on a warm summer evening – he saw a cute girl who suddenly had not a care in the world. And what had it been? Six weeks from those awful moments in the alley? He’d first seen her six weeks ago on her side, unconscious and with the severed remnants of a penis in her bloody mouth.
He struggled while he tried to reconcile these two visions of her, and with the society that allowed such extremes to go unchecked. He’d seen too many Sunday school hypocrites, enough to understand one part of the equation, as usually the richest of these ‘religious’ people were the first to complain about the tax burdens of helping the poor. He hadn’t been the only person to see these same wealthy people drive past starving people on their way from church to a fancy restaurant. And he wasn’t the only cop to understand how starving people simply disappeared from view – day after day.
Yet he was all too often at a loss to understand why these things happened.
And after almost fifteen years on the force, he’d seen it too many times to count. The incremental soul-murders that suburban ‘Johns’ inflicted on downtown runaways, the despair of an elderly woman starving to death just yards away from a restaurant selling fifty dollar steaks. But just then McCarran realized that he too had worked around these same starving, nameless people, and that he too had grown obliviously numb to their everyday reality.
Why? What had caused that? When had such people become things, and no longer human beings?
His mind drifted, and for a moment he imagined having sex with this girl – yet almost instantly the thought made him feel sick to his stomach. Not that she was ugly or a turn-off, because that was surely not the case. No, it was more like he could see her now for the human being she had always been, and not some thing consigned to the shadows. Her guileless – and very cute face – left him breathless one moment and then he thought of the endless, senseless violations she had endured and those thoughts left him feeling dried-up and feeling lonely inside. If ever there had been a poster child of this society’s manifest hypocrisy and overt neglect, here she was, sitting right next to him. Sitting right here in this mall, one of America’s new cathedrals of conspicuous consumption. Here sat Sara Wood – poster child of an all new and enduring American nightmare.
And yet he couldn’t help himself. He was enjoying the moment. Enjoying the evening. Enjoying her happiness, her joy at experiencing a few of the things that had always remained beyond her reach, and the things he’d always taken for granted. Then she looked at him and said: “Can we go look at more stuff?”
And he experienced anew the childlike trill of her voice in full bloom, and it was as if the prospect of having something to call her own could erase all the dry, hard facts of her existence. As if “stuff” could somehow erase the last twenty-two years of a life spent without – like she could somehow hit the rewind button and start recording over all the misery. Could “stuff,” he wondered, really let her start life all over again?
Given the morality-free void that she had obviously grown up in, he thought it remarkable she had the capacity to feel good about herself on any level. But, and this was more to the point, she now had a huge grin on her face, and she was happy in a way very much like his own children once had been in this very same mall, yet her’s was an innocent happiness, a ‘for the first time in my life I’m happy’ expression of wonder, where to his children this place had always seemed almost dull and boring.
Like his marriage had, he assumed, once a certain kind of loved faded from view.
So they took off together in search of more stuff, and soon they walked down a wing of the mall they hadn’t been to yet, and she saw things she had never even heard of – yet everything she saw was all an infinitely bewildering array of ‘stuff’ that most kids in this mall had long taken for granted.
But soon he realized she didn’t know how to ask for even the simplest things; she had no experience asking anyone for anything. She’d never had anyone in her life to simply give her things; she had never been spoiled by a doting father or a caring mother; there had been no birthday parties with face painting and pony rides, no leaving cookies and a glass of milk left on the hearth for Santa. He soon understood it just wasn’t that things had always been out of her reach; no, it was that she had never known anyone who would simply be there for her, let alone there was no one there to show her how to ask for things. Things, perhaps, as simple as a helping hand.
She saw shiny stereo and had no idea what it was; she looked at a color television set and was mystified by the images she saw inside the box. She saw posters of popular teen idols, yet she had no idea who they were, or why they were on a poster – even the concept of fame seemed like an abstraction beyond her grasp. The corridors of wealth weren’t a mystery to her, simply because she had no experience of either wealth or power.
But as they walked along they came upon a store that had scantily clad mannequins in the windows, forms dressed just like the women in the magazines she’d found under the kind man’s bed. She stopped and looked at them, and an embarrassed Ed McCarran looked away as he stopped beside her, as he shrank away from the locus of her attention. When she ran inside he looked up to the heavens and groaned at the forces of destiny that had brought him to this place.
Once inside he watched as she ran up to a figure that was outfitted all in white, kind of like what McCarran thought might be Hugh Hefner’s idea of a bridal lingerie-slut outfit. “Can I get this?” she whispered, and just then a jaded salesgirl came over and looked at Sara Wood, then at Ed McCarran – and the salesgirl passed along a knowing wink to go along with her condescending smirk. Ed nodded at the salesgirl then sent Sara Wood off to be measured, and when she came back to him she looked at another outfit that was lacy and black with jade colored insets here and there and she cooed as she picked it off a rack, “Oooh, ain’t this pretty?” Ed again nodded to the salesgirl, who nodded solicitously, then added, “Would you like to see some shoes, too?” When Ed McCarran walked out of the trashy lingerie store she was outfitted with the whole regalia; garters, stockings, pumps, bras, panties; ‘You name it,’ Ed thought, ‘I just bought it.’ He shouldered the load and carried her loot out to the car, and they stashed her new stuff in the trunk before heading back to Ed’s apartment. The sun was setting and Ed was simply beyond exhausted, yet he didn’t have the slightest clue what to do with the girl.
Simple inertia took over and he carried her packages up the stairs and into his apartment. He paused, thinking about what had been bothering him all evening, and then he made a decision. He took her packages to his kid’s room and put them on the top bunk, then he went back out to Sara, who was standing in the doorway. “You don’t have anywhere to stay, do you?” he asked.
She shrugged as another uneasy realization dawned on her – because she knew what came next. The shadows sang their siren’s song again and she turned to leave.
“Listen to me, Sara,” Ed McCarran said, catching her eye as she turned away. “If it’s none of my business just say so, or if you feel I should just shut-up, well, you just – tell me, Okay? My kid’s only come here for Christmas and Easter; their room is empty the rest of the time. If you want to stay here, with me – in their room – for awhile, until you can figure out what you want to do, well, it’s yours if you want it. You won’t have to worry about eating, or about getting new clothes, or having a place to sleep, okay? I just have a couple of rules.”
Sara Wood was looking at the floor, because she didn’t have the words for what was running through her mind.
“No drugs, no booze, no friends hanging out in here when I’m not around. Clear? You keep yourself clean, and you keep your room picked up, and I’m going to figure out how to get you into school…”
Yet Ed McCarran was cut off when Sara Wood ran into his arms at full speed, and as he put his arms around her she started trembling, then crying – at first just a little but then uncontrollably. He kept his arms around her and then stroked her hair, saying meaningless little things like: “Alright, it’s going to be okay now,” and “It’s okay, it’s all going to be okay now.’ In fact, he held her until she was spent, until he could feel her relaxing in his arms. She looked up at him, he looked down into her very tear-streaked face and kissed her on her forehead. “It’s okay now, Sara, you’re safe here,” he whispered. “You don’t ever have to worry about falling down again, because I’m gonna be here to catch you. Okay?” Then he held her face in his hands and wiped away a few of her tears with his thumbs.
“Can I ask you something?” she finally said, her little voice a faraway whisper.
“Yes, of course.”
“What’s your name?”
A blank look came over Ed McCarran’s face as he thought back to that day. ‘I gave her my business card – but oh no, God why didn’t I think, of course, she can’t read…’ He shook his head and laughed. “Yeah, I guess you should probably know my name. Ed, but call me Eddie, okay?”
“Now, let’s get those teeth brushed, and then get you off to bed.”
After he had her tucked away in the bottom bunk – in his kids’ bedroom, he flipped out the light and closed the door. He went into the kitchen and made a rum and coke and walked out to the sofa to sit – then he put his feet up on the coffee table as he tried to make sense of the evening. He reviewed the decisions he had just made in his mind, which was a problem because he had already made the big one with his heart. He thought about the Sunday School hypocrites he knew, then he thought about Sara Wood lying curled up and unconscious in an alley with the bloody stump of a penis caught in her mouth.
And then he thought about the dividing line between right and wrong, that cold, grey area where most people feel so uncomfortable they turn away from the mention of it. Yet he lived and worked along that line, didn’t he? He lived and worked in a no man’s land where the absolutes of good and evil defined his every action – yet his feelings for this girl lay far, far away from the contours of that line. She didn’t exist, not really, yet he was presuming he could carry her across that line, carry her far away from the thoughtless eyes that governed her insane existence.
He leaned forward and put his head into his hands, and then Officer J Eddie McCarran cried for a very, very long time.
‘She’s a child,’ he heard the gnawing voice in the back of his mind say.
‘No, she’s not. In the eyes of the law she’s an adult woman.’
‘You’re just taking advantage of that, you’ll be using her like all the rest.’
‘Did you ever think that maybe she’s taking advantage of me?’
‘Hah! Hypocrite! You’re no better than all the rest!’
‘How will she grow if I continue to treat her like a child. She needs to be treated like an adult, not a child…’
He was lying in bed a couple hours later – on his back with his eyes wide shut, afraid of sleep and the dreams he knew would be waiting for him there. There was no way he was going to find sleep, not tonight, so he was glad at least that he had three day weekend. He tossed and turned, struggled with his emotions, until…
Suddenly, quietly, he heard the door to his room opening, then he saw Sara silhouetted in the doorway, her long straight hair falling over the t-shirt she had worn to bed. She walked in slowly, then sat on the edge of his bed, and soon she was looking at Ed McCarran’s face.
“Eddie?” she whispered.
“I don’t want to be like one of your kids,” she said, a vast, cool tremor under her words. “Know what I mean, Eddie?” When he was silent for a moment, she went on. “I want to be in here with you. You said you wanted to take care of me, but I want to take care of you, too.”
He didn’t know what to say, but he felt hot and cold running fear lurking in his mind.
“Eddie, say something, please?”
He sat up in bed, pushed himself up on his arms and flinched as an old shoulder wound pulled him back to the line and into the present, and he cried out as the pain hit home.
“What is it, Eddie?” she said, plainly scared by his reaction.
“It’s nothing. I got shot once, and some nights it hurts more than others.”
“Can I see?” she asked. She slid forward on the bed until she was close to McCarran at the head of the bed. She reached out to touch his shoulder and he flinched, pulled away from her.
“Please,” she pleaded, “don’t run away from me, Eddie.” She reached out again, touched his shoulder. She put her fingers on his skin, softly probing and stroking his fear. “I’m not going to hurt you,” she continued. “I promise, okay?”
Ed McCarran felt an electric tremor pass from her fingers through his skin as she touched him; at first he felt this tremor in his shoulder, then he felt it boiling up from his groin and up into the small of his back, then it moved further up his spine. He tried to look away, to close his eyes as he was carried along the line, but he felt that the worst thing he could do right now, do to the very fragile world Sara Wood lived in, was reject her, hurt her again in some new and unexpected way. But he also knew he had to take charge of the moment – for all his training commanded that he control each and every situation.
Because that was what allowed him to live and work along the line.
Sara Wood felt the fragility of her own sense of control, too. Yet from the moment she ran her fingernails over Ed McCarran’s shoulder, then across to the back of his neck, she knew she could control the music of his heart. “Turn over, Eddie, turn over and lay on your stomach.”
Ed McCarran slipped down into the safety of his bed, then he turned over onto his stomach.
‘This is a good, even a safe position,’ he said to the gnawing voice.
‘You miserable hypocrite!’ came the sharp reply.
She continued to rub the old wound on his shoulder lightly, every now and then running her fingernails in tight little circles, moving over his neck for a while, then running her fingers through his hair, scratching his head gently. He felt her moving, felt her move to sit on top of him, and then she was sitting on the backs of his thighs. He felt her pubic hair on his skin and realized she only had on a t-shirt, then he felt that other warmth spreading around his soul. Soon she was leaning forward, putting her hands on his back between his shoulder blades, and she began to rub his back with the open palms of her hands. She put real strength into her movements, rubbing from the middle of his back up with both hands, then moving slowly up to his neck and finally out along his shoulders, and after a few minutes of this he let slip a sigh from the deepest reaches of his fear. She retreated down the same slope with her fingernails, those strange electric currents still flowing through him in sync with her movements, and as he drifted along he saw a feeling taking shape in his mind: she was a brook meandering through rich, sun-warmed fields – then she was the hot blood running through his veins.
But Sara Wood kept rubbing his back, his shoulders and neck, and for what felt like hours. Every now and then Ed McCarran sighed, and words like “Oh, God, this is heaven,” and “That feels great,” passed his lips, until at one point he said, “Oh Sara, you feel so good to me.” And with that said, with that opening, Sara Wood leaned forward and slid her arms under Ed McCarran’s arms and cradled his soul in what was left of hers, she put the side of her face on his back, just below his head, and she nuzzled her face on his back. She then kissed his back, moving her tongue to his spine as she ran her hands over his outstretched arms, once gain tracing little eddies in the flow of her currents.
She then sat up, slid down until she was sitting on the backs of his thighs again. She scratched his back as she slid, scratched where she had been sitting, scratched the warm-moist slick where her vagina had rubbed against his back. She lightly ran her fingernails over his buttocks, felt him tense in the ticklishness of these unfamiliar, silvery motions, then she rubbed his butt coarsely, soothing the currents out and away into the charged atmosphere of her other intentions.
Ed McCarran felt Sara Wood as she moved down his back, felt the weight of her need, and he felt the weight of his desire for her growing with each stroke of her hand, each warm breath of her’s on his back. With the tension that melted from his knotted muscles, with each pulse of her beating desire, he felt his resistance to her withering within the ever-slowing heartbeats of time. He was moving from the world of his training, of his profession, into the dim gray light of the dividing line.
And that was when she asked him to turn over.
Ed McCarran felt the conflict between his head and his heart. He saw his ex-wife looking at him, fellow officers in the department shaming him, store clerks and fast food cashiers casting dark, sidelong glances his way; all of them looking at him as he fell into the shadowlands, judging him for his transgressions.
Yet she lifted from his thighs as she felt him beginning to turn under her.
And he turned his body under hers, struggling to make sense of this new world.
She straddled his belly now, just below his chest. She reached behind, reached for Ed McCarran’s groin, ran her fingers through his pubic hair, moved her hand purposely towards his need.
Ed McCarran’s entire body stiffened as her hand made contact with his belly. He felt her hand as it moved down, as she encircled him.
Sara Wood held him and stroked away his fear, only now she looked intently into his eyes. She saw the passive smile on his face as an echo of her own, and perhaps nothing more or less than that.
Ed McCarran felt her sliding away from his face, away from his chest. She was sliding through time now, away and beyond the infinite. He felt her pubic hairs as they traced faint electric contours on the charged surface of their need.
She still had him in hand as her vagina hovered, wraith-like, pulsing, above his groin. She lowered herself slowly, gently, until she felt the head just grazing the petals of her lips. She reached with her fingers and spread them apart, leaving a faint pink opening that seemed to reach of it’s own volition for the straining loneliness waiting just below.
Ed McCarran felt the heat of her folds radiating throughout his body, and he arced to meet her vast oceanic pull. He felt his skin on her lips, felt her lips parting in supplication, conforming to the shape of this new world. He moaned as her warmth penetrated the darkness, as the flooding tide of the moment flowed through the fabric of time.
The arc of time stands still in such moments, as sometimes happens when Time looks upon new lovers. Yet Time does not judge, does not weigh motive or intent. If in the infinity of Time’s travels such things as love and need can be measured by the arc created between two beating hearts – that moment when two lost souls collide and dance in molecular fury – then surely this comes at a moment of Time’s choosing. Time fuses in the heat of love’s first release and seems to begin anew, but all too often Time is bathed in the light of uncertain wisdom. Yet even then Time laughs with new lovers, not at them – if only for a little while.
This fragment (c) 2023 adrian leverkühn | abw | and it’s simply fiction, plain and simple.
[ELP \\ Tarkus]