Chapter 12: You're One of Us
Back on patrol. We’ve already accomplished a hell of a lot for a single night, and here we are, looking for something else to get into. What was it Confucius said? “Choose a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.” He must’ve been talking about being a cop in Central Division on Midwatch.
“Well, what do you think, Harper? Some night, huh?”
“And it’s not over yet.”
“And best of all, the car’s still in one piece. Congratulations.”
“Yeah, we haven’t had a chance to open her up yet. Let’s take this bad boy out on the freeway and see what it can do.”
“Let’s not, and be thankful we didn’t.”
Hey, I’m not that crazy! I’ve seen this guy drive!
“You’re not going to let me have any fun with this thing, are you?”
“Not if it involves going more than fifty miles an hour.”
“Whoa! Dani, check it out! We’ve got a fire in the alley!”
“At the end. See it?”
“I see it.”
It’s not much of a fire. It looks like a campfire. I’ve seen a lot of people burning wooden pallets in the street near the missions. That was a real shock when I first got here: people building pretty huge bonfires in the streets of a major city. It’s a regular occurrence. It gives this place a real medieval look. I halfway expect them to toss a body on top. But I’ve never seen anyone burning them in the alleys. And who the hell needs a campfire when it’s still at least ninety-five degrees outside?
“What do you want to do, Harper? I’ve noticed that almost everyone just lets the bonfires slide, unless the winds are blowing really hard.”
“Yeah, it’s more trouble to put them out than it’s worth, unless they’re too close to one of the buildings. Let’s check it out. If it looks dangerous, we’ll call the fire department.”
“Sounds good. Let’s check it out.”
That’s weird: there’s a bunch of people in that alley, but they’re all much closer to this end. Usually when someone builds a campfire, everyone crowds around it. But they all seem to be avoiding that one. I wonder why? Maybe they don’t have any marshmallows to roast?
“It’s a pallet fire, all right. You know this sector, Harper. Why are they burning it back here?”
“I don’t know. They don’t usually do that. They know we pretty much give them a pass if they burn them in the gutter, but not in the alleys. Maybe they’re trying to burn something down?”
“Well, let’s see if it’s something we need to get involved in.”
It’s definitely not an arson fire. It’s on the wrong side of the alley. There’s nothing to burn on that side. There’s just a block wall next to it. I don’t see anybody…wait a minute…there is somebody there!
“Harper! By the dumpster!”
“I see him. Hey, you! Is this your campfire?”
This guy seems pretty harmless. Just an old black guy, sitting by himself. But why is he way down here and everybody else is over there? Let’s see if Harper can get it out of him.
“Hey, pal? If this isn’t your campfire, then why are you here?”
“No point in letting it go to waste, sir.”
OK, that makes sense – sort of.
“What do you mean, go to waste?”
“It’s here. Nobody else is. That’s a waste. Now I’m here. It ain’t wasted anymore. Now it’s got a purpose, sir.”
I think he’s one of those skid row philosophers Harper was talking about. Well, I wanted to meet one of them. There’s no sense in letting the opportunity pass me by.
“So you just saw a campfire and nobody was using it, so you sat down to give it a purpose?”
“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? Did I come to it, or did it come to me? That’s a good question, don’t you think, sir?”
Oh, yeah! He’s definitely one of the philosophers!
“I don’t think a campfire can get up and walk, so you came to it.”
“That’s one way of looking at it, sir. Not the only one, but it’s one way, sir.”
“So what are you doing here?”
“Just watching the fire, sir. Watching and thinking.”
“In this heat? Thinking about what? Why the hell are you sitting by a fire when it’s hotter than hell out here already?”
“There’s your answer right there. Most people come to think of this place as hell, sir. If it is, then don’t it make sense that it’s hot?”
Oh, this guy’s a real piece of work! I can’t tell if he’s crazy or a genius. I think he’s starting to scramble Harper’s brain.
“So why are you sitting here where it’s even hotter?”
“Because no one else is, sir. I’ve got it all to myself. Can’t say that about much out here, now, can I?”
“Yeah, but that’s because no one in their right mind would sit next to a bonfire in a goddamned heatwave!”
“You’re here, sir. She’s here, too. What does that say about you?”
I take it back! This guy is seriously fucked in the head!
“I’m here because we need to make sure you’re not going to burn someplace down.”
“Is that the only reason, sir?”
“I’m pretty sure, yeah.”
“I’m not so sure that’s right, sir. Lots of cops came by here. None of them stopped by to ask me a bunch of questions. They got the same job as you. How do you explain that?”
“OK, you lost me, there.”
Yeah, you’re not the only one, Harper! I think I’m hell and gone lost on this one!
“You’re here on account of you want to be here, sir. A fire in an alley? That’s some strange shit. It drew you in. You’re drawn to the strange shit. She is, too. Especially her. I can tell. That’s why you’re here, sir. That’s why she’s here, too.”
How did he know that about me? This is getting a little weird. I think I need to get in on this little exchange.
“Excuse me, mister. What makes you think I’m drawn to strange shit?”
“Your eyes, ma’am. I can see it. You’re not like the others. You don’t just work in this place. You’re a part of it, like we are. You’re drawn to it. You got more in common with us than you do with them. You’re one of us, ma’am. Or else you will be, soon. I can always tell.”
“You’ve known me for twenty seconds. How do you know anything about me?”
“I’ve been out here a long time, ma’am. After a while, you learn to see it. You learn to read the eyes. I can read yours. You’re one of us, ma’am. You just don’t know it yet. But you will. Real soon.”
“Mister, I’ve got a home and a job. I’m clearly not one of you.”
“Oh, I think you are. Living on the street out here ain’t about having a roof over your head and dollars in your pocket, ma’am. It’s about the place. This place. It calls to you, if you’ve got the ears to hear it. You got the ears. You got the ears something fierce.”
“Isn’t that from the bible? Something about ‘let he who has ears hear it?’”
“Now you’re starting to get it, ma’am.”
I’m starting to get confused as hell! What the fuck is this guy talking about?
“So you’re saying skid row is somehow calling to me?”
“You’re here, ain’t you? Why else would you be here?”
“Because I’m assigned to be here?”
“Yes, you are. But who did the assigning? You think it was your boss what sent you here? It was, but not the boss you’re thinking of. This place is your boss now, ma’am. It always was. You only just heard the call is what it is. You might want to think about that some more.”
“And I’m supposed to listen to some crazy drunk on skid row?”
“Just because a crazy drunk tells you today’s Christmas; that don’t mean it ain’t true, ma’am.”
OK, he’s got a point. He’s a crazy drunk, but that doesn’t mean he’s automatically wrong.
“So if I’m one of you, then what does that make me?”
“Blessed? Cursed? Who knows? Only you can answer that one.”
I think it’s time to call the rubber truck! This guy has definitely lost the plot!
“OK, how will I know if I’ve got the right answer?”
“You won’t, ma’am. But that don’t matter much.”
“Because there ain’t no right answer. If there was, then ain’t none of us would be here.”
“OK, you definitely lost me with that one.”
“Good. You’re learning. Being lost is what skid row is all about. That’s about the only good thing about it.”
“You want to stay lost, ma’am. If you ever found yourself out here, then there wouldn’t be nothing left of you. Not one little bit.”
Excuse me? What a fucking kook! What the hell is he talking about?
“Do you want to explain that one to me?”
“To find yourself, you got to know yourself, ma’am. And to know yourself, you got to know a lot of things. Deep things. Secret things. But if you do, and you’re out here, then it costs you. It’s one of the rules of living on the street, ma’am: the more you know…”
“The less you are.”
“Very good, ma’am! You’re on the right track. And that’s a damned shame.”
That’s the same thing that was written on the Prophet’s Wall: “The more you know, the less you are.” Jesus Christ! I just got the weirdest feeling; like I’m actually beginning to understand what that means! All right, this is fucking crazy! Half of me wants to sit here and talk to this guy all night, while the other half wants to start running as fast as I can. What the hell is going on, here?
“Uh, we need to get going. We’ve got work to do. You sit here and enjoy your campfire in the middle of a goddamned heatwave.”
“You’ll be back, ma’am. Sooner or later, you’ll be back.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Because you ain’t left since the day you got here, ma’am. And I’m betting you never will.”
I knew I was going to regret this. Rule number one: do not talk to fucking crazy people!
“Harper, let’s get out of here before this guy starts chanting.”
“Way ahead of you, Dani. We’re out of here!”
Don’t ask me why, but I’ve got the weirdest feeling that whatever the fuck just happened; it’s going to turn out to be a really big deal. I can’t even begin to explain it, but I suddenly feel like that was one of the most important conversations I’ll ever have in my life. And for some reason, that scares the hell out of me.
Well, that was definitely among the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had on the job. You meet crazy people in every division, but the crazy people in this division are worlds above those of other divisions. I guess that’s to be expected. This place would drive anyone into the ninth circle of insanity.
“What are you giggling about, Harper?”
“I was just wondering if you’re all enlightened, now?”
“More like I need to start drinking with both hands! That guy was fucking gone!”
“You need to be careful out here. Some of these guys can really mess with your mind if you let them. They’ve got a talent for it. If you’re not careful, you’ll end up talking to yourself in the hallways.”
“I can believe it!”
“I thought maybe you were going to turn him into a toad.”
“Again with the witch thing? You just won’t let go of that!”
“It’s interesting. I never met a witch before.”
“And you still haven’t. Look, the closest I ever came to being a witch was dressing up at Halloween.”
“I guess a witch costume was pretty popular where you grew up.”
“I think it’s pretty popular everywhere. To be honest, some people in Salem thought it was insulting. You know, to real witches. They didn’t like the stereotype.”
“The old hag with the long nose and the broom?”
“Yeah, but that wasn’t the only one.”
“The only one what?”
“The only witch stereotype. There were others. One of them even got me into a lot of trouble, once.”
“How did that happen?”
Oh, now I’ve put my foot in it! This is not a good story to tell your partner!
“I don’t think I should tell you.”
“Oh, come on! What happened?”
“No! It’s not a good story for you to hear!”
“Why? What happened? Did you get arrested or something?”
“I guess I could have, but no, I didn’t. It wasn’t that kind of trouble.”
“Oh, come on, Dani! Now you have to tell me!”
See? This is what I was talking about! Why did I open my big, fat mouth? What was I thinking?
“Come on! Out with it! I want to hear this!”
“No! You might get the wrong idea.”
“What do you mean, the wrong idea?”
See? Now I’ve really done it! He’s not going to let go. Shit! This is embarrassing!
“The wrong idea about me. It’s not something a training officer tells her boot. Let’s leave it at that.”
“Come on, Dani!”
I’m not going to win this one, am I? I mean, it wasn’t really that embarrassing. Not at the time, anyway. It’s just…I don’t want to give him the wrong impression. I like Harper. I like working with him. I don’t want him to think I’m a flake or anything. Still, he’s not going to shut up about it. That much is certain.
“If I tell you, do you promise not to tell anyone else?”
“Nobody! Not ever!”
“What’s said in the car, stays in the car. Remember that one?”
“All right. But you’d better not laugh. And no dirty jokes, either!”
“I give you my word.”
Yeah, right! We’ll see how long that lasts! He is a cop, after all. Cops like to spread stories like this one around.
“All right, it’s like this: when I was sixteen, and I finally…how shall I put this? When I finally…filled out, so to speak? Well, for the Halloween party at school, I went as a witch. Not an ugly witch, but a…”
“A naughty witch?”
See? Now do you understand why I didn’t want to tell him this story?
“That’s putting it mildly. I wore this skin-tight black witch’s dress that was as thin as tissue paper. You know, like Elvira? It had a slit all the way up to my waist, and it was cut down to about here in the front. I was a bit of a late bloomer, and I used to get teased about it by some of the other girls. So now that I had the goods…”
“You decided to flaunt them?”
“That’s putting it very mildly.”
“You really let it all hang out?”
“Let’s just say, I left damned little to the imagination. So when everybody put on their costumes, I come walking out in this ridiculously racy outfit and spiked heels. The guys were howling and whistling. Some of the teachers went completely nuts. I mean, I wasn’t the first girl to do that, but I guess I was the first one dumb enough to just let it fly at the school’s party.”
“What did they do?”
“First, they wrapped me in a blanket. Then they sent me home and called my mother. Apparently, they thought I looked more like a porn starlet than a hot witch.”
I guess I can’t lie to him, now that the cat’s out of the bag.
“There was definitely some truth to that.”
“Oh, my God! What did your mom do?”
“She hit the roof. She said I looked like a hooker. I thought I looked great, but there was no reasoning with her. Thank God my dad never saw it.”
“You probably got a lot of attention from the guys.”
“Oh, I was a big hit with the guys! Looking back, they couldn’t have asked for much more. Yeah, they remembered that one for a long time.”
I’ve said too much already. I’m not going to tell him that in order to make the costume work, I wasn’t wearing anything underneath it. Yeah, it was a huge hit with the guys!
“Do you have a picture of you wearing it?”
I knew it! I knew he’d ask that! Shit! This is not good!
“None that I would show you!”
“Oh, come on!”
See? This is why I didn’t want to tell him! I can imagine what’s going through his mind right now! That is not an image you want to put in your partner’s head! Especially when your partner is your fucking boot! What the hell was I thinking?
“Could you stop laughing, please? Just wipe the image from your mind and forget I ever said anything about it!”
“I don’t know if that’s possible.”
“Yeah, I was afraid of that. All right, you dragged it out of me. Remember: not a word to anyone else! You promised!”
“I won’t say anything.”
“But I still want to see the picture.”
“Do you still have the dress?”
“Oh, God! This discussion is over! That’s an order, boot!”
I’m trying not to imagine what’s going through that twisted brain of his. He should not be thinking of his partner like that – let alone his training officer!
“OK, now you have to tell me something embarrassing about you!”
“Uh, I don’t think I can top that.”
“Try. Your final evaluation may depend on it.”
“I’m having a little trouble focusing right now.”
Oh, I’ll bet he is! I’m going to regret this! I knew I should’ve kept my big fucking mouth shut! What the hell has gotten into me?
“You should be ashamed of yourself, you know that?”
I think part of him actually is ashamed. But it’s probably a small part.
“Quit looking at me like that! I know what you’re thinking!”
“Like hell you are! Keep it up and you’re going to be spit-shining my gear every day for the rest of the DP, boot!”
“Sixteen Central, GTA in progress, Meridian Avenue, south of 9th Street. Vehicle is a blue two-door Acura, license 7VTJ990. Suspect is a male white, black shirt, blue jeans. Sixteen Central, handle code three.”
“Sixteen Central, roger. I guess you’re going to get to race this car after all. Hit it, Harper!”
That’s about seven blocks from here. There’s no traffic at this hour, so we’ll get there in a few seconds. But it also means that if the guy already took the car, we’re probably looking at a pursuit. God, I hate pursuits! Too many crashes!
“Go, Harper! You’re clear on the right! We’re looking for a blue, two-door Acura.”
“Any idea what year?”
“It doesn’t say. We’ve got the plate.”
“Almost there! Keep looking for that…”
Jesus Christ! That was fucking close! That son of a bitch nearly sideswiped us! Is he fucking crazy? Oh, shit! That’s a blue Acura!
“I think we found the car, Harper!”
Jesus! I thought bootlegger’s turns were something you only saw on TV! Damn! Harper really knows how to handle a car; I’ll give him that!
“He’s not stopping! We’ve got the lights and siren on and he’s not stopping!”
“Oh, fucking hell! Sixteen Central to dispatch, we are in pursuit of a stolen vehicle; a two-door Acura, license Seven Victor Tom John, nine-nine-zero! Heading northbound on Meridian from 8th Street! Requesting backup and an air unit!”
“Here we go, Dani!”
That guy’s going like a rocket! Fuck! This is a bad street for a pursuit! Too many intersections and too many freeway off-ramps dumping onto it!
“Sixteen Central, air units are down; end of watch.”
Shit! With the air unit, there’s no way we could lose him! But without one…
“Look out, Dani!”
“Watch it, Harper!”
“Did you see that?”
“You’re damned right I saw it! Sixteen Central, the vehicle just sideswiped a passing vehicle, Meridian and 4th street! Where’s our backup?”
“Any unit in the vicinity, Sixteen Central is in pursuit of a stolen vehicle, blue two-door Acura, Seven Victor Tom John, nine-nine-zero, requesting backup.”
Son of a bitch! He’s turning onto 3rd Street! The streets that way are even worse!
“Sixteen Central, the vehicle is now going eastbound on 3rd Street, high rate of speed!”
I don’t really want to say this asshole is doing about eighty miles an hour in a thirty mile an hour zone over the radio. I should, but I won’t. It freaks out the sergeants and gets them to call off the pursuit. I don’t want this guy getting away!
“Where the hell is he going, Harper?”
“I don’t know! There’s no place around here to go! Hang on!”
“Jesus, Harper! Try to keep the wheels on the road! Sixteen Central, we are now northbound on Amsterdam, approaching Giselle! Still requesting backup!”
“Sixteen Central, roger. Any unit in the vicinity, Sixteen Central is in pursuit, now northbound Amsterdam, approaching Giselle, requesting backup.”
“Harper, he’s going to blow the light! Watch out!”
“I see it!”
“Sixteen Central, we are northbound Amsterdam, approaching…oh, shit!”
“Hang on, Dani!”
Fuck! That idiot just wrecked big time!
“Sixteen Central, the suspect has TC’d into the northeast sidewalk! Repeat: the suspect has TC’d into the northeast sidewalk! Amsterdam and Giselle!”
Traffic collision my ass! That was more like a fucking explosion! Jesus Christ! He took out a streetlight and a bus bench! At least he’s not moving anymore!
“Sixteen Central, we’re deployed on the suspect’s vehicle, the northeast corner of Amsterdam and Giselle! Have units approach either from the south or the west!”
Holy shit! Look at that mess! That car is trashed! Is that guy even alive?
“We’ve got to clear the car! Harper! Move wide to the left! I’m going up on the right side!”
“Dani, stay in his blind spot!”
I can hear the other units approaching. Damn! What took them so long? We can’t wait. We have to clear that fucking car. I can’t see if there’s anyone else inside. I see the driver. He’s not moving. But is there anyone else in there?
“Harper! Can you see anyone else in there?”
“Not from this angle! The driver’s not moving!”
Yeah, because he’s probably dead! He hit that streetlight like a missile! What a stupid motherfucker! OK, do a quick peek into the back of the car. Ready…go! Good! No one in the back seat. Now I have to clear the front seat! But I need to let Harper know first! Otherwise, we’ve got a crossfire!
“Harper, watch the crossfire!”
“You’re good! Go for it!”
OK, good! No one else in there! Just one really stupid motherfucker at the wheel!
“The car’s clear! Just the driver! Come on in!”
Shit! I can’t tell if this fucking idiot is dead or alive! He’s still not moving. I can see blood on his face. Probably from the shattered windshield. The air bag deployed. If he’s alive, then that’s the only reason why!
“Dani, is he still alive?”
“I can’t tell. He’s definitely injured. He looks unresponsive. Call for EMS.”
I don’t want to try to move him unless I have to. But I can try to wake him up!
“Hey! Hey, you! Dumb shit! Wake up, asshole! You’re under arrest!”
Well, at least he’s moving. So he’s alive…so far.
“Hey, shithead! I’m a police officer! Can you hear me? Say something!”
Nothing. That figures. He’s lucky to be alive.
“Dani, we’ve got EMS en route.”
“We’re going to need a sergeant and a traffic unit, too. I don’t know how bad this guy’s hurt. He could still croak on us.”
I need to keep trying to wake him up. If he’s totally unconscious, then he can’t help the paramedics who come to treat his stupid ass!
“Hey! Idiot! Are you all right? You crashed your stolen car, shithead! Hey! Can you hear me?”
“What? What…happened? What?”
Well, at least he’s talking now. That’s a good sign. He’s not a vegetable. Too bad! I would’ve served him right!
“I’m a police officer. You stole this car and crashed it. We were chasing you at about eighty miles an hour, remember?”
“Yeah. Look around you. You crashed, all right. Big time!”
Oh, just fucking great! Not a vegetable, but definitely brain-dead!
“You crashed, idiot! You stole a car, ran from the police, and this is how you ended up! Way to go, asshole! You’re lucky to be alive! Why did you run? For that matter, why did you steal the car?”
I can see this is going nowhere. Talking to this fucking pinecone is just pissing me off.
“Just sit there. The ambulance is coming.”
“Ambulance? What for?”
I’m beginning to wonder myself. I think this guy must’ve lobotomized himself when he hit the windshield! Why bother to save his body?
I see our backup units have finally arrived. Damn, what took them so long? Harper’s guiding them in. Good. Let him set things up over there.
“Dani! What do you want the other units to do?”
“There’s not much they can do yet. Tell them to tape off this intersection. Send one of them back to see if that car that got sideswiped is still there. If they are, then get the driver’s information and vehicle information. And send someone back to the original location to talk to the PR. If it’s the owner of the car, have them break the bad news.”
“Roger that. We’ve got a sergeant approaching.”
“I’ll fill him in.”
“At least I didn’t bang up our car. You’ve got to give me credit for that.”
“I’ll be sure to tell him that.”
Actually, Harper did a hell of a job on the pursuit driving. Certainly better than I would’ve done. I would’ve crashed when the suspect sideswiped that car. I guess I should tell him that.
“Harper! Great job on the driving. Seriously. You did a hell of a job.”
“Don’t thank me. You really held it together. You earned it.”
“Does that mean I get to see the picture?”
Oh, my God! I should kill myself for telling him that fucking story!
“Go! Now! Before I turn you into a fucking toad!”
Never, ever tell your partner embarrassing stories about yourself! Words to live by! I swear, I’m going to regret this shit for a long fucking time!
Driving home. I’m almost there, thank God! What a night! Almost four hours of overtime! I’m completely dead on my feet! So that whole pursuit and wreck turns out to be nothing but an argument between a drunken boyfriend and girlfriend. They argued, he snatched the keys, and she calls 911 and tells them that “someone” just stole her car. “Someone?” Is she fucking kidding me? So now the car’s totaled, he’s in the jail ward of the hospital with a concussion and a bunch of broken bones, he’s charged with two felonies: car theft and evading pursuit, and she’s a pedestrian for the indefinite future who’ll probably be hitting up her parents for the asshole’s bail money and a new car. They’re sure as hell not going to fix that heap! It was so trashed; the firemen had to saw him out of the car. How’s that for a waste of taxpayers’ money? They’ll almost certainly drop the car theft charge – she already said she won’t press charges – but the evading pursuit charge will stick. Plus, he’s on the hook for taking out a streetlight and a bus bench and overhang. And now he’s got a broken arm, broken ribs, and a concussion to show for his stupidity. It just goes to show that craziness isn’t confined to skid row in this division. The denizens of the Emerald City are just as crazy, sometimes. When that idiot comes to his senses in a few hours, he’ll probably shit himself. And that’s the least of his worries.
I’ve been wondering why I told Harper that story. You know what it is? I think it’s because I actually trust him, and I haven’t had anyone to talk to for so long. When I was going through all of that shit over the Reid shooting, the only people I could talk to were my PBA rep and my lawyer, and you can imagine how those conversations went. Beyond that, almost nobody wanted to have anything to do with me. The whole thing was too public. It was on the news constantly. I couldn’t get away from it, and nobody around me wanted to be a part of it. Hey, can you blame them? People hated me. I got death threats. I had to delete my e-mail account and change my phone number four times. I was a regular Typhoid Dani. So when you haven’t had anyone to talk to for a year and suddenly you find yourself spending a lot of time with someone who doesn’t give a shit about all of that, you tend to start babbling. When you get a good partner, just sitting in the car and talking can be a lot of fun. I really missed that. I had a lot of partners over the years, and plenty of them weren’t what I consider great cops. Some were drones, some were assholes, and some just didn’t like having women on the job. Whenever I got a good one, it was a real breath of fresh air. And when I became a training officer, I learned that there’s a wall between you and most of your boots. You’re their training officer. They think you’re constantly judging them. Always looking for them to fuck up. Always looking for some negative shit to write in their book. It makes it hard to form a real partnership. Not with Harper. He’s like a veteran officer, and I feel really comfortable working with him. I guess I didn’t realize how much I missed that until now. God, did I ever miss it! Still, I’m going to have to get him to start talking more often. He’s probably been trying to feel me out – you know, figure out where he stands in the partnership; seeing as he’s still a boot. I think I’m really going to miss working with him when he wheels out of the division. I’ll get another boot. It won’t be somebody fresh out of the academy. Well, probably not. They rarely put a brand-new boot on Midwatch, so whoever I get will be pretty far along in their training. I don’t know the boots in the division well enough to guess who it’ll be. I should check into that. I don’t want to get stuck with some asshole after working with a great cop like Harper. It would be a hell of a letdown, and I’ve had enough of those, lately.
I just wish I knew for sure that it was all behind me. It’s so damned hard to trust anyone, and that’s frustrating like you wouldn’t believe. When all hell broke loose for me, I couldn’t believe how many people turned on me. Most of them just froze me out. People I’d worked with and been friends with suddenly wouldn’t even talk to me. They didn’t want to be seen with me. But some others? My God! People were making up all kinds of wild bullshit about me, and it all got back to me. You should’ve seen some of the stories that appeared about me in the press: I was psychotic, I was brutal, I covered up all kinds of misconduct over the years, I slept my way through probation and into my PIII spot, and I was sleeping with half of my probationers. I wanted to scream! A couple of times, I actually did scream! None of it was true, but that didn’t seem to matter. The more salacious it was, the more people seemed to eat it up. It wasn’t just me. Every officer who was there at the shooting went through the same shit. We were evil and unfit to be on the job and we were just as guilty as Whaley was. Nobody seemed to care that it wasn’t true. The other guys got fed up and resigned or retired, so I’m all that’s left. That means that for anyone interested in keeping that shit alive, I’m the only one they can dump on. Is it any wonder I can’t seem to trust anybody?
OK, I need to stop thinking about that shit. There’s nothing I can do about it. Not right now, at any rate. And I’m too damned tired to do anything about it anyway. So once again, I’m going home in the daylight. That really fucks with your rhythm; working from before sundown to after sunrise. As tired as I am, I’m so hungry that I really need to get something to eat. There’s a place down the street from my apartment that I sometimes go to for breakfast. But it’s weird when you’re in there with a bunch of people who are just starting their day and you’re in there having what amounts to a midnight snack. But I’m way too tired to cook anything, and I can barely cook under the best of circumstances. I’m pretty good at starting fires in the kitchen, though. So I’ll stop in there before I go home. The best part is that it’s so close to my apartment, I can park my car and walk over there from the lot. It beats running the risk of falling asleep at the wheel two blocks from home on the way back.
The neighborhood cafeteria. If it has a name, I never bothered to learn it. Thank God I made it without falling asleep and killing myself. Look it this place! It figures! The place is packed. On a weekday? I guess that’s just my bad luck at work. I hope I can get a seat pretty quick. I don’t want to fall over in front of this crowd. I already embarrassed myself enough by telling Harper that ridiculous story. That’s more than enough for one day.
There’s Dimitri. He can get me a seat.
“Hey, Dimitri! Long time, no see.”
Dimitri runs the place. He doesn’t own it, but he runs it. Just don’t try eating here when he’s doing the cooking. You might live to regret it. Fortunately, he never works in the kitchen during the breakfast hours.
“Dani! You’re in early? You heading to work after this?”
“Actually, I just got off. I’m starving.”
“Working that midnight shift again? That’s not good for you.”
“I was supposed to be off four hours ago. I got stuck with something height at end of watch.”
“You need to get a life, sweetie. Living like that’s no good for a girl your age.”
“I’ll manage. Can I get a bacon and eggs breakfast?”
“That’s not good for a girl your age, either.”
It’s funny to hear him say that. He doesn’t have anything on his menu that could be considered health food. And eating this stuff three times a day doesn’t seem to have done him any harm. He’s got to be in his seventies, and he’s still going.
“Where can I sit? I want to read the paper.”
“There’s a table by the window. Plenty of light for you. Coffee?”
“Black, strong, and frequent, please.”
“It’ll be out in a flash.”
I never drink coffee except in the early morning, and then I guzzle the stuff. I don’t know why. It’s a habit I developed when I first worked Daywatch. Something about starting work at six in the morning just compels you to guzzle coffee. Too bad it doesn’t really do me any good. I think I’m immune to caffeine. Too bad.
“Dani? What are you doing here?”
This is a bit of a surprise. Carol is one of the few friends I’ve got left who isn’t a cop. Thank God for them. When I was in the doghouse, they were the only people who would so much as talk to me. And some of them weren’t exactly crazy about it, either. Carol was the exception.
“Dani, look at you! You look exhausted! Sit down, will you? I haven’t talked to you in a month!”
“Yeah, I’m sorry about that. Things have been a little crazy for me lately. But crazy in a good way.”
“What are you doing here at this hour? You never come in this early. I know you. You hate getting up at the crack of dawn.”
“I know. I just got off of work.”
“Why are you dressed like that?”
“Uh, look at you! What’s with the black commando pants and the combat boots?”
Yeah, when I was relieved of duty, I didn’t dress so…tactical. But the truth is, this is pretty much how I usually dress. So I’m not a fashion plate.
“Nothing. I just like wearing them.”
“You look like you’re ready for a raid. Why do you have to look like that? I thought you were working downtown, now?”
“Dressed like that? I don’t think so! And since when does Police Headquarters stay open all night?”
“I don’t work at Police Headquarters.”
“But you said you work downtown?”
I see Carol thinks the same as my mom: “Downtown” to her means I’m working a desk job at headquarters. Thank God that’s not true.
“I do, but at the downtown station. Central Division. I’m back on patrol, finally.”
“Oh, that’s a nice place. The office plaza down there is gorgeous. I used to love to sit outside when I worked there.”
She must be talking about Heller Plaza. It’s at the far west end of the division; the only part of what the homeless consider the Emerald City that they can reach without getting stopped.
“Yeah, that’s not where I work.”
“But you said you work downtown?”
I guess most people just associate the downtown area of any city with the tall buildings. I probably did before I got to Central.
“The Emerald City’s not in my sector.”
“The Emerald City?”
Sometimes I forget that not everybody speaks cop. Hey, even I never heard it called the Emerald City until I got to skid row.
“It’s something the people in my sector call the nice part of downtown. I’m in the not-so-nice part.”
“Dani, what are you talking about?”
“I’m assigned to Midwatch. I work on skid row.”
And that look on her face tells me she doesn’t approve. I’ll bet my mom made exactly the same face when I told her.
“Are you shitting me?”
“Nope. That’s my sector. I started last month. And I’m working Midwatch for the first time since I was in Morningside Division. I love it.”
“Are you crazy? Dani, you’ve got to get out of there!”
Jesus! Did my mom give her a script? Haven’t I had this conversation already?
“Not a chance. I love it there. This is what I’ve been looking to do since I joined the department. The place is incredible.”
“The place is psychotic! I know! I did an externship at one of those clinics when I was in college! I know what goes on down there!”
I’m betting she doesn’t know the half of it, but I’m not going to fill her in on all of the gory details.
“Carol, there’s more dope and more crime on skid row than in the rest of the city combined. And it’s a total freak show! I’ve seen things there that I didn’t even know existed! Believe me, it’s perfect for me.”
“Maybe if you’re suicidal! It’s going to kill you! I know what I’m talking about. You can’t be surrounded by that shit every day and not have it affect you. I was there! I saw it! I know what it can do to you! Dani, please get out of there!”
I don’t think I’m going to be able to convince her. I understand her point. It’s just that she doesn’t really understand me.
“I have no intention of leaving. Not ever. I love this division. I’ve never seen any place like it. It’s like a whole other world down there.”
“Tell me about it. When I worked that clinic near Meridian, I used to have two guys escort me to my car when I left. And that was in broad daylight! You’re down there at night. It’s got to be a lot worse at night.”
“It is. That’s when the best shit happens.”
And she’s rolling her eyes like I’m a raving lunatic. That’s what happens when you go to work for Social Services. Carol was an administrator for them before she got fed up and moved to the private sector. I don’t actually know what she administrates anymore. She must be doing pretty well, though. She drives a Lexus.
“Dani, listen to me. You just finished going through hell. I know. I was there. That shooting, all the shit they put you through, my God! It tore you apart! You were a basket case!”
“I know. I was there, too, remember?”
“Maybe I remember it better than you do. I don’t think you know just how bad you were. That’s why I begged you to resign before it ruined your life. You were devastated by that shit! And now you’re right back in the same situation that started it. Only now, you’re in a place that’s even worse! Those gang neighborhoods…they were nothing compared to that hellhole! Those people down there are bat-shit crazy!”
“Tell me about it! I met this guy last night, sitting by a huge bonfire in an alley, and he…”
“Dani, this is no joke! I know you! I know how you throw yourself into things. That place? It’s going to get into your blood. You’re going to become so enthralled by it that before you know it, you won’t be able to stand being anywhere else. Is that what you want? To wind up like those crazy people?”
“Carol, I’m not homeless. I don’t live down there. I just work there.”
“Do you? Dani, you live for that job. You can’t tell where the job stops and you begin. You never could. That’s why you went through all of that shit last year. And now that circus is going to suck you in, body and soul! You won’t even know what’s happening to you. I saw it happen to people who worked there. They thought they were making a difference, but they weren’t. You don’t change skid row. It changes you, and not for the better. Hell, Dani! It’s already happening! Look at you!”
What the hell is she talking about? My clothes? I looked this way when I worked in Woodlawn, for God’s sake!
“What’s wrong with how I look?”
“Look at your face! That big scratch under your eye! Don’t tell me Zephyr gave you that!”
“Oh, that? No, some psycho kicked me in the face. He was attacking people with a pipe in front of the Detox Center. We Tased him, but it didn’t work like we’d…”
“Dani! Listen to yourself! Some psycho kicked you in the face and you talk about it like it’s just a day at the office! What’s wrong with you?”
“It is just a day at the office for me. I’m a cop, remember? It goes with the territory.”
“What about your arm? What’s with the bandage? What? You cut yourself shaving?”
“Oh, that was the weird part.”
“The weird part?”
“Yeah, earlier that night, the same guy came charging out of a room in this burned-out apartment building. We were searching it for junkies, and he hit me with a two-by-four. That’s how I got this cut. Then he slammed my head against a door and ran past me before I could do anything. I didn’t even see him until he was right in my face!”
“Are you listening to yourself? You’re wandering around in a burned-out building, some psycho tries to take your arm off, and then you end up getting kicked in the face by him! And you think that’s a good thing!”
“I didn’t say it was a good thing.”
“Bullshit! You were smiling the whole time you were telling me about it! Dani, listen to me. That place is no good for you. It’s going to kill you. If the crazy people don’t do it, the place will. You need to get out of there before it’s too late. Believe me, I know.”
Why do people keep saying this to me? What’s going on? I’m clearly missing something. Oh, what the hell? Carol’s not a cop. She just doesn’t get it.
“Carol, I don’t expect you to understand it. Look, I love what I do. I don’t know how to do anything else. And now I’m in a place where I can do more than I ever thought possible. I’ve got a great partner, the sergeants have my back, it’s…it’s exciting!”
“It’s a goddamned looney bin, is what it is. And if you stay there, you’re going to become one of the loonies. Count on it.”
“I know what I’m doing.”
“Yeah, that’s what scares me. Do you even have a life anymore? And I don’t mean your job.”
I wish people would stop asking me that. Why does everybody think I have no life?
“I’ve got a life. It may not be a life for you, but…”
“Bullshit! When’s the last time you went out? When’s the last time you had a date? When’s the last time you had sex? Hell, when’s the last time you just went to the movies?”
OK, she’s got a point. If that’s what constitutes a life, then I have to admit: I don’t have one.
“Fair enough. It’s been a while. But then, those things weren’t on my mind last year.”
“I’m not talking about last year. I’m talking about you being a cop and not having anything else in your life. You’ve been like this for a long time, Dani. As long as I’ve known you. Do you want to know what your life is anymore? You go to work, you go home, and you talk to a cat. Then you go to sleep, and you wake up and go to work and it all starts all over again. That’s your life.”
“Zephyr would be angry to hear you say it like that.”
“I’m serious. I’ll bet I’m the first person you’ve talked to outside of the job since you went back to work.”
OK, she’s got me there. I have been something of a hermit lately. But that doesn’t mean I live for the job.
“Does my mom count? OK, so I’ve been a little preoccupied. What do you expect? I’m in a new division, I have to get used to being back on patrol, and I’ve got a new partner. And not everybody’s willing to put the Reid shooting in the past. Believe me, I see how some people still look at me. I hear the whispers. I’ve got a lot on my mind these days, but that’s a good thing. I think I’m finally past all of that shit. And even if I’m not; I’m right where I want to be.”
“Listen to yourself, Dani: ‘I’m right where I want to be.’ You’re in the filthiest, craziest place on earth. You’re working from six at night to three in the morning. People are beating you up with pipes and two-by-fours! And that’s right where you want to be? Don’t you see how crazy that sounds?”
“I guess if you’re not a cop, it does sound a little crazy.”
“Dani, I’ve known plenty of cops. You introduced me to a few, remember? They had lives just like everyone else. They’re not addicted to the job. You are.”
“I wouldn’t call it an addiction.”
“What would you call it?”
“I’m dedicated. I’m good at it and I like doing it. That’s all.”
“Yeah, sure. Well, don’t expect me to stop ragging you about it. I’m your friend. In case you didn’t know, I actually give a shit about you.”
“I know you do. I appreciate it. More than you’ll ever know.”
“So are you still training new cops?”
“Yeah. My partner’s almost done with probation, so I’m not really training him. Hell, he’s training me. I’ve got a lot to learn about this division. It’s like working on another planet. It’s got its own set of rules. I need to learn them if I’m going to be effective out there.”
“Oh, I can believe it. Working in those clinics nearly sent me to the funny farm. How can you stand all of that filth?”
“You get used to it.”
“No, you never get used to it! When I worked at the clinic, I used to go home and take two showers! I felt like I was never going to get clean. I actually had to throw my shoes out a couple of times.”
“Is that why you switched to the private sector?”
“You’re damned right! A year down there was all I needed to find out that I was not cut out for social work!”
“Some of those people are actually pretty interesting. Like I said, I was talking to this crazy old guy last night…”
“I don’t want to hear about it. Those psychos used to drive me right up the wall with their babbling! Compared to them, the drug addicts were a breath of fresh air.”
Yeah, I know what she means. And I used to think that, too. But the lunatics down there aren’t like the lunatics in the rest of the city. I’m beginning to like them. Well, some of them, at least.
“There’s all sorts of weird places out there. It’s almost surreal.”
“Yeah, I know. I watch the news. They find dead bodies in those places, you know.”
“Would you rather we didn’t find them?”
“I’d rather you didn’t find them. God, Dani! Isn’t there something else you can do and still be a cop? Something more…normal?”
“Normal is boring. I like abnormal.”
“That’s your problem right there.”
She may have a point.
“Can we move on to something else?”
“Fine. So who’s this new partner? What’s he like?”
“He’s a damned good cop. He’s a Marine. Really sharp.”
“That’s not what I mean. Is he single?”
Jesus Christ! Just like my mom!
“He’s my partner. What difference does that make?”
“Dani, the only guys you’re ever going to meet are cops. You might as well start looking around.”
She’s right about that. I don’t exactly fit in with anyone else.
“Yeah, he’s single. You want me to give him your number?”
“Maybe. Is he good-looking?”
“Actually, he is. But I think you’re out of luck. He’s pretty much addicted to the job, too.”
“That figures. That’s probably why you think so highly of him: he’s just like you.”
Hmm. I never thought of that. Maybe Harper is just like me? Maybe he really does live for the job, just like I do? Maybe that’s why he’s so far ahead of the curve? If that’s the case, then I like him even more, now.
“So that means there’s at least two of us.”
“Yeah, too bad for him. But if that’s true, then at least you found a soulmate.”
“Nah, it would never work. He’s a Rockies fan. I don’t know if I could live with a Rockies fan.”
“You’re fucking hopeless, Dani. You know that, don’t you?”
Yeah, she’s right. I am hopeless. But it’s a good kind of hopeless, don’t you think?