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Chapter 2: You're going to Midwatch


Back on patrol. I can’t believe those guys just dropped the whole goddamned thing like that! And here I thought they were sharp! All of that preparation and planning and just because they didn’t hit the jackpot and have it handed to them, they just give up and kick those assholes loose! Come on! That one guy didn’t take off running like that because he had a bullshit warrant under a phony name! He’s hiding something! And since he was carrying a bloody knife that he had the presence of mind to toss as soon as the police showed up, I’m guessing he’s hiding something major! But the sad truth is that some cops are like that. They’ll do everything right and put in the effort, but if they don’t come away with an easy caper and arrest, they just lose interest, like it was all a waste of time. Please! We’re talking about serious shit, here! It’s worth the fucking effort!

All right, what’s next on the agenda? So far, there haven’t been many report calls, so I’m not stuck doing them. That’s a nice change. I suppose I can just keep driving around like this and get to know the lay of the land better. This is one tiny division compared to a lot of the other ones, but there are so many places and alleys and abandoned buildings and shit that it’ll probably take me months to really know my way around here. I hope this Harper guy knows his way around, because he’s going to be driving when we start working together. I hate to admit it, but I’ve already gotten lost a couple of times working on my own. They’ve got some weird streets around here. And it’s not just knowing the streets and landmarks. This place has more hotspots per square block than any place I’ve ever worked. And by hotspots, I don’t mean Wi-Fi hotspots. I mean dope spots, murder spots, burglary spots, rape spots, robbery spots, and the like. That’s to be expected. When you’ve got a couple of thousand people living on the street in about five or six square miles, there’s going to be a hell of a lot of crime. And unlike anywhere else in the world, the overwhelming majority of people on skid row have absolutely nothing to lose. That makes them as audacious as they are dangerous. Stab a police officer? Bash her brains in with a metal pipe? Why not? What are they going to do to the guy? Throw him in prison? He’d probably like that. A roof over his head, food on his plate, clean clothes and free medical care, all courtesy of the state? If you ask me, that sounds like a major improvement over living on the street. So why not stab a cop? In their minds, she probably had it coming.

When I worked the gang unit, I used to think that gangbangers were the biggest threat. They were the ones who caused most of the crime, they all had guns, they were major assholes, and they were supposed to be hardcore. Then I got here and I found out what hardcore really is. You have to be beyond hardcore to live out here. This place is the ninth circle of hell on earth! A typical gangbanger wouldn’t last a day out here. Someone would slit his throat and eat him for dinner. Hell, he’d probably sell the leftover bones at a swap meet. And I’ll bet someone out here would buy them, too. They’ve got some seriously strange people wandering around out here.

OK, what’s wrong with this picture? Over there, across the street. That car looks pretty new, and the driver looks almost like a kid. What the hell is he doing out here? Seeing the sights? Not a chance. I need to run that plate. Let’s see if we’ve got a stolen vehicle here.

“Three Central Delta, requesting wants and warrants on a blue Ford Fusion, license number 7DIJ688.”

“Three Central Delta, stand by.”

He’s headed into the warehouse district. That’s a red flag. None of those places are open right now, and the only reason the bosses ever show up at this hour is to respond to a break-in. There’s nothing going on there right now, but it’s a great place to dump a stolen car.

“Three Central Delta, 7DIJ688, code thirty-seven vehicle, 2015 blue Ford Fusion. Three Central Delta, confirm your location.”

Code thirty-seven! That’s a stolen car! Here we go! I knew there was something wrong with that thing! He’s probably looking for a place to strip it. The warehouse district would be perfect for that!

“Three Central Delta, I’m following a code thirty-seven vehicle, a blue Ford Fusion, license 7DIJ688. We’re eastbound on 2nd Street, approaching Exeter. Requesting backup and an air unit.”

This is going to be tricky. I’m alone here, so I have to drive and broadcast the following at the same time. Not to mention the fact that as soon as some sergeant realizes I’m a Delta unit, he’ll order me to let the guy go. They don’t like one-man units chasing stolen cars. I don’t like it, either. You can’t focus on the car if you’re trying to read street signs and key the microphone. It’s a great way to get into a crash.

“Three Central Delta, I’m now heading southbound on Exeter. I still need that backup and an air unit.”

Come on, guys! Where the hell are you? I’m a one-man unit out here! You all know I can’t do this alone!

“Ninety-One Central, responding to the following. ETA is about ten seconds.”

Finally! Someone bothered to respond! He didn’t say where they were coming from. That’s not good. We could crash into each other, especially if the other unit is driving what we call “Code Two-and-a-Half.” In other words, you’re driving balls to the wall with your emergency lights on but no siren, and praying that you don’t slam into anyone or anything.

“Three Central Delta to Ninety-One Central, can you get to the intersection of 5th and Exeter? We’re almost there now.”

“Roger that, Three Central Delta. We’re there right now.”

Nice work, guys! You read my mind! Of course, once this guy sees a second police car, he’ll know he’s been identified. He’ll either pull over and bail out or jam the accelerator and try to run.

“Three Central Delta to Ninety-One Central, I’ll hang back and you take over as the primary unit.”

“Roger that, Three Central Delta.”

There they are! Good work, guys! They were there in a heartbeat! The response time in this division is a goddamned dream come true sometimes.

“Three Central Delta, I saw only one guy in the car, but that doesn’t mean someone’s not hiding in there.”

Actually, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if there’s someone else in that car. I mean, what’s he going to do? Strip it himself?

“Ninety-One Central, we’re now the primary unit in the following.”

I figure the suspect’s got until 6th street before he has to make a move. If he gets onto 6th Street, he’ll floor it and go for the freeway entrance. It about a click from here, but that’s not too far. Oh, shit! They’re trying to light up the guy before we hit 6th Street! This is a very bad place for a traffic stop, guys! Shit! I knew it! There he goes! He floored it!

“Ninety-One Central, we’re in pursuit of a stolen vehicle, westbound 6th from Exeter! Blue Ford Fusion, license number 7DIJ688!”

That’s exactly what I was afraid he’d do! Shit! Now we have to stop that asshole before he makes it onto the freeway!

“Ninety-One Central, approaching Palomar! Requesting an air unit!”

This sucks! He’s heading right into heavy traffic! And he’s not stopping for the lights! Crazy son of a bitch! This guy’s going to wreck for sure! Hang back, guys! Don’t get too close!

“Ninety-Once Central, we’re now southbound on Palomar! Southbound Palomar from 6th!”

What the hell is this asshole thinking? He just blew his best chance to get on the freeway! Where the hell is he going? He’s still driving like a maniac; that’s for sure! He just blew another light!

“Ninety-One Central, the suspect is not stopping for the lights! We’re still southbound on Palomar!”

If he keeps going this way, he’s going to run smack into Coronado and slam right into something! That’s practically a blind intersection at night! Fuck! We need more units! And where the hell is that goddamned air unit?

“Three Central Delta, do we have an air unit en route?”

“Three Central Delta, air units are unavailable at this time.”

Great! Without that helicopter overhead, this idiot might take this into the next county!

“Eighty-Five Central, we’re right behind the pursuit! Show us as the secondary unit!”

Nice of you to join us, Eighty-Five! You want to be the secondary unit? That’s fine with me! It’s all yours, guys! I’ve got a really bad feeling about this one!

“Three Central Delta, breaking off from the pursuit!”

“Three Central Delta, roger. Eighty-Five Central, you are now the secondary unit.”

That’s it for me. I’ll follow as best I can, but I’m officially out of it, now. Good! I don’t know this division well enough to be chasing people at seventy miles an hour. Shit! Ninety-One’s too close to the suspect! And Eighty-Five’s too close to Ninety-One! There can’t be more than a car length between them! What the hell are they doing?

“Guys, you’re both too close! Back off! Put some space between the vehicles!”

And nobody listens! Damn! Why do I even bother?

“Ninety-One Central, we’re southbound on Palomar, approaching Coronado! The suspect’s vehicle is…oh, shit! The vehicle has TC’d! The vehicle has TC’d!”

You’re goddamned right he just TC’d! That’s a gentle way to say he just broadsided another car! Jesus! He hit that thing like a fucking missile! I hope nobody’s dead in there! Thank God I was hanging back! I’ve got plenty of room to stop, but does Ninety-One? Oh, God! They’re halfway out in the middle of the street! Get out of there, guys! Get out of there before you get…oh, fuck! Direct hit!

“Ninety-One Central, show us in a traffic collision! We are involved! Repeat: we are involved!”

I knew it! Eighty-Five plowed right into the back of their car! I told them they were too fucking close! Fortunately, it doesn’t look too bad. Damn, those guys were lucky! But what about our suspect? And what about the car he just hit?

“Three Central Delta, we have two units involved in a TC, we have the suspect involved in a separate TC. We’re going to need a supervisor and at least one Traffic Unit here.”

“Three Central Delta, roger. Are there any injuries?”

“Three Central Delta, unknown at this time. Stand by.”

Yeah, I’m betting there are plenty of injuries! I’ll bet the suspect wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and a seatbelt probably didn’t help the guy he just broadsided one bit! But we’ve got to secure the fucking suspect first! And it looks like I might not have any help! The other guys are stuck inside their wrecked cars! All right, draw down on his ass and get him the fuck out of that car!

“You! Driver in the blue Ford! Let me see your hands! Put your hands on the windshield! Do it now!”

At least he’s moving. Frankly, I didn’t think he would be. Not after that wreck. Fucking criminals have all the luck.

“Let me see your hands! Right now!”

He’s too fucking dazed from the crash. Oh, screw this shit! I’m just going to yank his ass out of there! Approach from his blindside, make sure he can’t see me, I don’t see a weapon, so we’re probably all right. Light it up with my flashlight. There’s just the driver in there. Good. There’s no way that door’s going to open now, so I guess I just yank his ass out through the open window! Ready…go! Pull! Yes! Got him!

“Come here, you! Right here! What the hell were you thinking?”

No answer. It fucking figures! There’s no blood on his face. Thank God for air bags. He’s still pretty dazed, though. And I was right: he is a fucking kid! He can’t be more than seventeen! Stupid asshole!

“Three Central Delta, show a code four at the termination of the pursuit. One suspect in custody. No outstanding suspects. We need additional units for traffic control. We’ve got two civilian vehicles involved, and two police vehicle involved in separate TCs.”

This is a royal fucking mess! I can’t go over to that other car and check on them until I get someone to watch this idiot. Ninety-One didn’t get hit too bad. It looks like Eighty-Five took most of the damage. Why are they all sitting in their cars? Probably getting their stories straight. They shouldn’t have lit the guy up so soon, but that’s not the real problem. They were too damned close to the suspect’s vehicle! When he wrecked, they were too close to come to a stop before they skidded into the intersection, and Eighty-Five was crawling right up their ass. They’re both going to catch hell for that.

“Hey, guys? I’ve got the driver! A little help here?”

And now they get out and join the party! Better late than never!

“Are you OK, Lynott?”

“Yeah, I’m fine. Hang onto this guy for me. I’m going to check the other car.”

Nice of them to get back in the game. God, I hope those people in that car aren’t hurt too bad. He really slammed into them! Well, there’s only one person in the car. Just the driver. Thank God for that. But he looks pretty bad. He’s out cold, and it looks like he got thrown out of the driver’s seat and into the passenger seat. Oh, this is not good!

“Three Central Delta, I’ve got a male, early thirties, unconscious. We need EMS here fast!”

I’m not going to try to move this guy. I don’t know how bad he’s injured. I could make it worse if I try to get him out of there by myself. My best bet is to wait for EMS to get here. They’re the experts. They’ll know what to do. Right now, all I can do is try to talk to this guy and hope he can hear me.

“Sir? I’m a police officer. We’ve got an ambulance coming. If you can hear me, try not to move. Help’s on the way.”

God, is that the best I can do? I hate it when there’s nothing I can do to help. But I’m no doctor, and I’m no paramedic. I can’t risk making it worse.

“Lynott! How is he?”

Who’s that? Oh, it’s Sergeant Hammett. Damn! Where did he come from? No matter. I heard he used to work Traffic. Good. We can use his expertise with this mess.

“I don’t know, Sarge. He’s unconscious. He looks like he’s breathing, but I don’t want to risk moving him. The suspect’s car hit him like a missile. No brakes. He just slammed right into him.”

“You’re right. Don’t try to move him. Wait for the paramedics. Are you hurt?”

“No, it wasn’t my car. I wasn’t involved. Ninety-One got hit by Eighty-Five, but not too seriously, I think.”

“Yeah, I can see that! Following too damned close!”

Yep, that’s a veteran Traffic cop for you: they can analyze a traffic collision in two seconds and tell you exactly how it went down.

“The suspect’s pretty dazed, but he doesn’t seem to be hurt, Sarge. I had to pull him out of the car.”

“Is that him? That fucking kid?”

“Yes, sir. He was the only one in the car.”

“Fucking idiot! And I’ll bet there’s not a goddamned scratch on him! All right, set up a flare pattern west of here. Start directing traffic away from the crash.”

“Roger that, Sarge.”

I’m glad he asked me to do that. I don’t want to be standing here when he starts laying into those other guys. I don’t know who’s working Ninety-One or Eighty-Five, but I wouldn’t want to be any of them right now. I saw the look on the Sarge’s face. He is definitely not a happy camper! Oh, look! He’s already started!

“What the hell were you assholes thinking? What? Were you trying to crawl right up his fucking ass? Why didn’t you hang back when the suspect started blowing lights? Didn’t they teach you how to drive in the goddamned academy? Fucking morons!”

They’re fifty feet away, and I can hear him like he’s standing right next to me! I feel sorry for those guys. They’re all about to have a very long night!

“Lynott! Start an impound report for both of these civilian vehicles! The suspect’s and the guy he hit! Hold them for evidence, and for Traffic division!”

“Roger that, sir!”

This is going to be a shitload of paperwork, but the impound reports are going to be easy enough. I don’t envy the poor guy at Traffic Division that’s going to have to untangle this knot. Whenever there’s an injury that might fall on the department, they have to pull out all the stops. The final report looks like that thing that the government wrote when President Kennedy got killed. It’s about eight feet thick and nobody can understand more than one word in five. Reason number umpteen thousand and one why I never, ever want to work Traffic! All right, we’ve got the fire department and EMS here. Good response time, guys. Let’s hope it makes a difference.

“Sarge! I’m letting the fire department through!”

“Get them over here! They’re probably going to have to cut this guy out of his car!”

Yeah, that’s what I was afraid of. His car’s practically bent into a horseshoe! God, I hope that guy’s not seriously injured. But the way the suspect slammed into him, I don’t see how he couldn’t be. Not unless he was driving a tank, which he wasn’t. Jesus, they’re already breaking out the power saws. I guess they aren’t even going to try to pull what’s left of the doors open.

“Hey, Sarge? Any word on that guy?”

“He’s alive, Lynott. He’s breathing. I guess that’s something.”

Yeah. Not much, but it’s something.

“What about our suspect? Do you want to have him looked at?”

“Fuck him! If he dies waiting for the paramedics to finish with this guy, serves him right!”

“I don’t think he’s got anything worse than a few bruises, Sarge.”

“That’s how it usually goes, isn’t it?”

Unfortunately, he’s right about that.

“Sarge? What do you want me to do after I finish the impound reports?”

“Just scratch out a statement of what you saw. Drop it in my box before end of watch. I’ll let you know if I have any questions.”

“Roger that, sir.”

“Hey, Lynott? I heard you on the radio telling them they were too damned close. I know you’re new to the division, but you were right to sound off. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I’m glad to see somebody was thinking.”

“Just doing my job, sir.”

“You do it well. I hear we’re losing you to Midwatch. That’s too bad. We could use you on this watch. Maybe you could straighten some of these guys out?”

“I think that’s your job, Sarge. Two stripes on my sleeve doesn’t mean they’re going to listen to me. They only work on boots.”

“Speaking of boots, you’re getting Harper, right? He’s a good guy. He likes to work. He’s been saddled with some training officers…well, let’s just say they’re not what you’d call a bunch of hard-chargers. He’s been dying for a partner who likes to work for a living. You two should get along fine.”

“Is there anything I should know about?”

“No, he’s pretty squared away. He’s a bit of a lead-foot, though. You might want to talk to him about that.”

“After this shit? Count on it, Sarge!”

“You watch yourself out there, Lynott. This place gets pretty crazy on Midwatch. And out here, that’s saying something.”

“I’ll be careful.”

Well, not too careful. I’m all for playing it safe, but not if it means I’m not doing the job. This place is a patrol officer’s dream come true, and I’m not going to waste it writing tickets and arresting drunks. Hell, if that’s all I wanted to do, I’d go to Daywatch with the rest of the drones. No, thank you! I’ve been sidelined for over a year, already. I’m itching to get back to work.

Central Station. End of watch. The end of what definitely ranks as one weird night for me. I’ve seen some crazy shit since I got here, but this night was completely crazy! A couple of good arrests, backing on a foot pursuit, and a stolen vehicle and a pretty major crash, plus two police vehicles headed for the body shop. That’s a busy night for anyone, but it’s practically legendary for someone working a one-man unit. It’s a hell of a farewell to Nightwatch. Not a bad watch, but the first few hours are boring and the traffic is horrible. It’s like you’re just waiting for nightfall and praying that you don’t get saddled with some ridiculous shit before it comes. That’s why I’ve always loved working Midwatch. It really is the best of everything in any division, and it’s as busy as hell. And I’m back to being a training officer, which is really the only thing I’ve ever wanted to do. I’ve worked the special details and crap like that, and it just doesn’t appeal to me. I like training boots. I like working patrol. I like having partners who can’t wait to get to work every day. And I like the fact that they can’t just ignore me or give me a load of shit because they don’t think that women should be cops. Oh, they can feel that way, but they can’t do anything about it. Not as long as they’re boots. Once they’re off probation, they can do what they want. But not as long as I’m their training officer. I don’t have to put up with that shit. Rank hath its privileges.

How much do you want to bet that Tobias and Sevigne didn’t leave shit in my box about those guys we caught? Let’s see…yep! Not a thing! It figures. Some guys just want everything to come easily. Like they don’t want to have to work for anything. Grab someone and if they come back with a felony warrant, fine. But do some digging? Check out the bullshit information they give you, find the flaws, follow up and discover who the son of a bitch really is and why he’s lying in the first place? Oh, that’s for the detectives. Not our job, honey. I swear, that shit burns me up to no end! I sometimes wonder how many major assholes got away long enough to go out and kill someone because either the patrol officers didn’t want to invest the time and effort, or because some sergeant felt that patrol shouldn’t be involved in any sort of investigation? And let’s not leave out the captains and above who think that patrol’s sole reason for existing is to be seen by the public, but not really do anything! We’ve got a bumper crop of them! Is it any wonder that at any given time of day, there are a few thousand people walking around here with felony warrants out for them? Hell, is it any wonder that the crime rate is up – despite our best bullshit assurances to the contrary?

I’ll pull their log tomorrow and see what information they turned in. It probably won’t be much, but it should be at least something. And I’ll try to remember that guy with the knife. I might never see him again – out here, that’s a very real possibility – but you never know. The way they’ve got so many people packed in like sardines out here, good Lord! How can you remember anyone’s face? But you have to try. It’s part of the job. If we get sloppy about it, the bad guys get away. Oh, I’m not stupid enough to think we’ll ever catch all of them. They have too many advantages over us; numbers being the biggest. There are a lot more of them than there are of us; especially in Central Division. I didn’t used to think you could stuff so many people into such a small area, but you can! Still, the minute you surrender to the feeling that nothing you do makes a damned bit of difference, well, that’s when you might as well retire. This job takes too much out of you to do it thinking you’re basically useless.

And here’s Sergeant Hammett; no doubt looking for my account of the end-of-pursuit smash-up. Fortunately, there wasn’t much to write. I came, I saw, I warned, and I winced in sympathetic pain when the cars crashed into each other. That’s pretty much it.

“Lynott? Did you write up that statement on the pursuit? I need it for my sergeant’s log.”

“It’s in your box, Sarge. Any word on the civilian in the car?”

“Yeah, he’s a mess. Alive, but a mess. He’s awake and he’s in a lot of pain. The doctor said he’s got a broken arm and a bunch of cracked ribs. His leg’s messed up, too. It could’ve been a hell of a lot worse.”

“What about the suspect?”

“That little shit? Nothing! Not a scratch! He just got a little scrambled when the air bag hit him in the fact! Fucking idiot!”

“How old was he?”

“Sixteen! Fucking sixteen years old! A little fucking car-thieving eastside gangbanger! Three priors for GTA! He’ll probably get a slap on the ass for it, too!”

“What’s a gangbanger doing bringing a stolen car into this sector?”

“He said he got lost. He got off the freeway at the wrong exit and was trying to get back when you spotted him. Can you believe that?”

Sadly, I can. I learned a long time ago never to underestimate the stupidity of a gang member. Believe me, I know. I worked the Gang Unit in Woodlawn Division.

“Sarge, please tell me you didn’t have to release him to his parents?”

“No, they wouldn’t come get him. I can’t say I blame them. His ass is in juvenile lockup. But we both know he probably won’t stay there very long.”

He’s right about that. Anything short of a homicide and they let the juveniles go after a day or two. It’s almost impossible to keep them locked up anymore. That’s someone’s idea of progress. It sure as hell isn’t mine.

“You did a good job out there, Lynott. From what I’ve seen, you always do. We’re going to be sorry to lose you on Nightwatch. Have fun on Midwatch. At least you’ll beat most of the goddamned heatwave. Christ! Is this shit ever going to end?”

“Not this week, sir. They said on the news it’s going to continue through next week and probably longer.”

“That’s just fucking great! I think I’ve already sweated off ten pounds!”

“Yeah, the drycleaners are getting rich off of us for sure.”

“Well, if you ever get bored of being a Midwatch cowboy – or should I say cowgirl – you can always come back.”

I think I’ll wait until after he unloads on the entire watch for a whole week about proper pursuit driving. I can do without ever hearing that lecture again, thank you very much.

“I’ll keep it in mind, sir. But I’m pretty sure I’ll find a home on Midwatch.”

At least, I hope to God I’ll find a home there. Finally! I’ve been…well, let’s call it being professionally without a home for too long. That’s what happens when you wake up one morning and discover – much to your surprise – that you’re one of the six most hated people in the whole goddamned city. Hell, I was probably one of the most hated people in the whole goddamned country for a while. I’ve been through the wringer for a solid year, now. And now? They tell me it’s over. They tell me I’m finally in the clear. I want to believe that. And right now, I’m looking for a little stability around here. God knows I need it.

So before I leave tonight, I should check out this boot they’ve given me. In case I failed to mention it, “boot” is the standard term for a rookie police officer. Cops in their first year. Probationers, as they’re officially called. Don’t ask me where the name came from. In eleven years, I haven’t been able to get an answer to that one. Being a boot is no picnic, even under the best of circumstances. That’s because we’ve got a lot of training officers who leave a lot to be desired, and they like to make life hell for their boots. It never ceases to amaze me how many people go to all the trouble of becoming a PIII – that’s a field training officer, for those of you who don’t speak cop – only to complain endlessly about how they have to train boots. Didn’t they read the job description? If you ask me, as long as you get a good boot, it’s the best job out here. They’re every bit as fired up about doing the job as you are. They can’t wait to slay the dragon, so to speak. And you’re setting the foundation for the next batch of good cops. What could be more important than that? It sounds like a win-win situation to me.

Every boot gets evaluated monthly for six months, and then the evaluations – “evals,” as we sometimes call them – are pretty much a formality. If they haven’t got their shit together in six months, then they probably never will. If this Harper guy is a month away from completing his probation, then my job as a training officer is basically done. In effect, he’s not my boot; he’s my partner. His basic training’s finished. But the evaluations are something you definitely want to check out before you start working together. As long as the previous training officers did their jobs right, you can get a good sense of a boot by looking at their evaluations. You definitely want to know about any land mines before you step on them.

The evaluations are kept in a book; one for each boot. Most boots come to hate their book at one time or another because whatever the hell is written in there can make or break you. And because any training officer can write in any boot’s book, you can never be sure what the fuck you’re going to find in there. Some boots ceremonially burn their books at the end of their probation. It’s a good feeling. I speak from experience. When I was a boot, I worked my ass off. I worked harder than any other boot in the division. But that didn’t stop a couple of training officers from writing some nasty comments in there. I hate to say it, but more than one of them were written by guys after I told them I wouldn’t sleep with them. Yeah, that really happens. The rest of the unpleasant comments had to do with me being a little too good at the job for some people’s tastes. You see, if you’re good at the job when you’re a boot, then some people actually resent it. They think you’re cocky. “Salty” is the preferred term. I mean, Christ! Would they rather you were a total fuck-up? I swore that when I became a training officer, I would never do shit like that. And I can honestly say that I’ve always kept that promise. I’ve always tried to be fair, and I never looked down on a boot because he or she didn’t know every fucking thing about the job as soon as they got out of the academy. And I never resented the fact that some of them took to the job like a fish to water. From what I’ve heard over the years, that made me a popular training officer. Some of my peers didn’t like it, though. That’s what Lieutenant Hagan was talking about. They felt that I was supposed to be breaking boots instead of making good cops. They honestly thought I was doing something almost criminally wrong by not lording it over every boot who got assigned to me. I never paid any attention to it. It’s not about being popular with your peers. It’s about being good at the job. I know damned well that I’m good at it.

So let’s see what we’ve got here. Damn! The lieutenant wasn’t kidding! This Harper guy’s evals make it look like he practically walks on water! I’ve met some of these training officers, and they’re not easy on their boots. They’re also not given to flattery, so this guy must be pretty damned squared away. Good. His numbers are impressive, too. Lots of arrests. Lots of calls for service handled. He’s fired up, all right. And that’s exactly what I’m looking for. At least I don’t have to worry about any of that shit. My only concern now is something that never appears in these books: how is this gung-ho Marine going to feel about working with a female training officer? Plenty of guys come out of the academy thinking that women have no place on the job. Even worse, more than a few training officers encourage that kind of thinking in their boots. And since it isn’t something they grade you on, it isn’t going to be in the book. Well, I’ve always given my partners the benefit of the doubt. Even the boots. Unless I find out otherwise, I’m going to assume that he won’t have a problem with it. I’m just another cop to him until he shows me otherwise. Hey, do you want to know what’s funny? Nobody ever seems to ask if women cops have a problem with men being on the job. We don’t, but you’d think the door would swing both ways every once in a while. Trust me, it doesn’t.

I’m glad this guy knows his way around the division. That’s going to be a major help. It’s hard enough learning all of the streets and hotspots in any division, but this place goes way beyond that. In addition to the usual shit, this place is a maze of alleys and loading docks and crawlspaces and God knows what else. Alleys don’t have signs identifying them. Neither do crawlspaces and gaps between buildings. Throw in these gigantic old hotels, the missions, and all of the shithole abandoned and empty buildings, and skid row is perfectly suited to criminals. It gives them all sorts of advantages. And these assholes know every damned inch of the place. They know places that the people who built the place don’t know. In the short time that I’ve been here, I’ve seen people practically vanish before my eyes. I’m not kidding. They just disappear! It’s like, “Now you see them, now you don’t!” Whoosh! Gone! I don’t know how the hell they do it, but it must have something to do with knowing how to use this crazy terrain to their advantage. If I’m going to make it here, I’ll need to learn how they do it. Otherwise, I’m going to get skunked left and right, and I don’t handle that shit very well.

There’s something else. I don’t know how to explain it – not yet, anyway – but it’s like there’s a whole set of rules for skid row that are unlike anything anywhere else. It’s not like dealing with gangbangers and regular criminals. There’s a whole set of rules for them, but those rules come naturally to most cops. But this place? Hardly! It’s almost like…well, it’s like I’ve landed on another planet. I really think that’s the best way to explain it. Skid row is like the world’s been turned upside down and inside out. How the hell did it get this way? How does a place like this even come into existence? It can’t be by design. Even a lunatic couldn’t design a freak show like this place. The more I think about it, the more it just blows me away. It’s mind-boggling. I guess it’s something I’ll learn as I go. And I want to learn it. I’m not a big believer in fate, but I have this weird feeling that my being here isn’t a coincidence. It’s like I’m supposed to be here. It’s like I was always supposed to be here. Maybe someday I’ll figure that one out, too.

But enough of the existential bullshit. Police work is about reality, no matter how unreal the setting may be. And the reality is that tomorrow night, I’m on Midwatch. I’ve got a partner who knows what he’s doing, and I’m working in what has to be the busiest, most challenging division I’ve ever seen. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this. I’m so damned fired up about it that I feel like I won’t be able to sleep tonight. I hope that’s not the case. So now I’m done for the night. I’ve done some good work, and my recap has something to show for it besides a bunch of reports. Perfect! I’m going to go home, get a pizza, watch TV, and thank my lucky stars that things are changing for the better. After all the shit I’ve been through in the last year, it’s like the weight of the world has been lifted from my shoulders. Thank God! That’s a lot to carry by yourself, believe you me.

Home at last! And I’m home by two in the mornig. Not bad, actually. Of course, starting tomorrow night, I’ll still have an hour to go on my shift. But that’s OK. The shit doesn’t stop downtown until about three o’clock or so, so actually, I’m probably missing something good right now. But for now, I’m going to kick off my shoes, eat this pizza I picked up, and try to relax a bit. I haven’t been able to unwind very much lately, so I should try to do it whenever I can. And I am pretty worn out. It’s been a hell of a night, particularly working as a one-man unit. Of course, report cars aren’t supposed to get involved in the kind of shit I got into tonight. Yet another reason why I love this new division. No one gave me any shit about it.

“Zephyr! I’m home! Where are you?”

Well, this isn’t good. Zephyr’s my cat. When he doesn’t meet me at the door, it usually means he did something wrong. And by wrong, I mean he took a dump somewhere besides the litter box.

“Zephyr! Where are you? What did you do now, as if I don’t already know?”

He’s probably hiding under the bed. I don’t know why cats think you won’t look for them under the bed, but they do. I don’t see him anywhere in here, so…oh, shit!

“Zephyr! Bad cat! Bad!”

That little shithead! He crapped on the floor again! Right on the rug! What? He couldn’t hit the linoleum in the kitchen just once?

“I see you missed the litterbox again! Where are you, you little shit? Front and center!”

No response. That figures. I know he’s under the bed. That’s his hiding place. Watch: I’ll stick my head under there and he’ll be looking at me with his “Oh, there you are. I didn’t do anything” look on his face.

“Are you under here?”

Yep. There he is, just like I said.

“Come here, you little shit!”

Great. Now he’s happy to see me! He knows I can’t stay mad at him. He’s practically the only real friend I’ve got left, so I can’t afford to piss him off. It’s a pretty sad state of affairs when your life is so fucked up that you can’t afford to alienate a cat. Well, that’s been me for the last year.

“You missed the litterbox again! Are you trying to drive me nuts?”

Sometimes, I think he does it on purpose. Of course, I can’t imagine why. Maybe he just likes to see me freak out from time to time?

“Yes! I see you left me a present again! Thanks a lot! I guess I should be happy you didn’t piss on the rug this time! What? Were you feeling sorry for me?”

And he’s still looking at me like I’m the one who’s crazy! Typical cat.

“No pizza for you, you little asshole! Now, you sit there while I clean up your mess. You’re welcome, by the way.”

I got Zephyr from a rescue a year ago. This place doesn’t allow dogs, so it was a cat or nothing. Back then, I desperately needed a friend, and a four-legged friend was the best I could do. Back then, no one in their right mind wanted to be seen anywhere near me. I have to admit, he really made a big difference. It was really good to have him around. He’s not judgmental, and he’s a great listener. He’s a pretty cool cat, as far as cats go. I got to thinking nobody wanted him because he’s a black cat, and people are superstitious about that. OK, he’s got white marks on his feet, but he’s still basically a black cat. But hey, I’m a girl from Salem, Massachusetts. I’m almost required to have a black cat. You know, the whole “witches and cats” thing. I guess that makes him my “familiar.” That’s what they used to call a witch’s cat, for those of you who didn’t grow up in Salem. As for his name, well, I didn’t call him Zephyr. He came with that name. It sounded pretty good to me, so I stuck with it. Of course, most of the time he doesn’t respond to his name, so I’m not entirely sure he knows it. Maybe he knows it and he just doesn’t care? Maybe he really is trying to drive me nuts? Cats are like that.

“Guess what? Mom’s going to Midwatch. I’ll be working later. Have you got a problem with that?”

Evidently not. Frankly, I think he’s got a problem with me being back at work period. He doesn’t see as much of me anymore. I was relieved of duty for almost a year. He saw plenty of me then.

“You want some cat food?”

Naturally, that gets a response out of him. He’s always been a little pig.

“Of course you do. I’ll get you some. You stay away from my pizza!”

One good thing about cats: you don’t have to take them out for a walk as soon as you get home and you’re too tired to do anything. But you do have to feed them, or they let you know about it.

“Here you go. Bon appétit.

See? Now he’s happy. And now I get to sit down and eat. I suddenly realized just how hungry I am. I really should stop eating nothing but crap, but at this hour, beggars can’t be choosers. I guess I’ll just turn on the news. It’s funny, it wasn’t too long ago that I couldn’t bring myself to watch the news. I was afraid there would be something about the department. About the shooting. About the trial. About how the whole fucking city wanted my head on a stake just because I was there, even though I didn’t do anything. For a while, I thought the news was actually giving me an ulcer. I really did. The pain in my gut was no joke. If you don’t believe me, just ask my doctor. Even if it didn’t give me an ulcer, it certainly gave me fits. I came close to shooting my TV more than once. Fortunately, it never came to that. Zephyr was a big help in that department, which is why I can never really get mad at him. You can’t get mad at someone who stuck by you through the worst goddamned year in your life. But now it really looks like all of that shit is finally behind me. God, the thought of that is almost unreal. But I pray to God that it’s true. I’ve been through enough bullshit for ten lifetimes in the last year. I’m way overdue for a break.

“So what do you think, Zephyr? Mom can actually watch the news without screaming or giving the TV the finger! Isn’t that amazing? I’ll bet you never thought you’d see that.”

He’s not paying any attention to me. He’s too busy stuffing his face. Watch: as soon as he’s done, he’ll be begging for my food. He’s practically a dog.

“You’re not getting any of my food. The vet said you’re already getting a little too porky.”

If it weren’t so late, I’d call my mom and let her know about it. She’s been really nervous ever since I got restored to duty and sent downtown. She was hoping I’d get so sick of the bullshit that I’d quit and come home. I can’t blame her. Not only was I pretty much a basket case during all of it, but she’s been alone since dad died. She tells me she’s doing fine, but I know she’s not as fine as she claims to be. Funny, she says the exact same thing about me. I guess I know where I get it from. She’s got a lot of friends and a lot of things to keep her busy since she retired, but when you’ve got only one kid and she’s a few thousand miles away, it has to be pretty tough. I’ll call her tomorrow. She’ll at least be happy that I’m doing better. She’s never been crazy about me being a cop, but she’s supportive. No mother can be happy that her only daughter grew up to carry a gun and stick her neck on the block on a daily basis. That might have something to do with why I don’t have any kids. Of course, it would help if I could maintain a relationship with a guy for more than ten minutes. When it comes to relationships, I’m a perennial screw-up. I guess I’m destined to go through life solo. That sucks, but I’m getting used to it. Mom sure as hell isn’t. She hasn’t said it lately, but she definitely has grandkids on the brain. She’s always asking me if I’ve met some nice guy and when I’m going to start planning a family. When that doesn’t work, she tries to set me up with anyone and everyone. Sometimes it’s cute, but most of the time it drives me right up the wall. I’m thirty-three years old! I’m thirty-three and my mother is still trying to fix me up with Mister Right! What’s wrong with this picture?

“Why does my mom keep trying to find me a boyfriend, Zephyr? I’m OK on my own. And besides, I’ve got you! You’re all the man I need in my life, right?”

OK, that might be a stretch. But I’m getting used to being alone. And now that I’m back in the field, I’ve got my hands full. I’m not looking for a social life. I was always married to the job, and now we’re getting back together. That’s plenty for me.

“Well, if I fall asleep on the couch, your job is to wake me up so that I don’t end up sleeping here all night. You got that? Mom needs her rest. She’ll be busy tomorrow night. And if this damned heatwave doesn’t end, the whole fucking division is going to go stark raving mad. So I need to get some sleep tonight. Unlike you, I didn’t get to sleep all day long.”

He doesn’t care. I’m home and he wants attention. My schedule doesn’t seem to matter to him. Sometimes I envy him. His life is so uncomplicated. I’ve sometimes thought that if I really were a witch, I could just turn myself into a cat and life would be a hell of a lot easier. Too bad I’m not a witch, huh?

“Hey, little guy! I’m not kidding. I’m pretty exhausted, here. I’m not ignoring you. I just need to eat something and go to sleep. Are you going to let me sleep, or are you going to hit me in the face with your paw at four o’clock in the morning? No answer? OK, I’ll take that as a yes.”

So I’m exhausted and nervous and hopeful and a little but terrified all at the same time. But none of that matters. I’m back on patrol, I’ve got a partner who has his shit together – at least on paper – and my long nightmare seems to be over. I’ve got a lot to be thankful for. And in spite of the butterflies in my stomach, I can’t wait for tomorrow night. I’ve got a lot of catching up to do.

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