Midwatch

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Chapter 3: New Watch; New Partner

Central Station. The roll call room. So here we are: my first Midwatch roll call. A total of eight officers and what looks like two sergeants. That’s typical. Midwatch is usually a small, tight-knit group. That’s one of the many things I like about it: you can get to know the other people on the watch pretty quickly. The boots sit in the first two rows, no matter how close they are to getting off of probation. It’s an unwritten law. Over there: second row, by the wall, all by himself. That’s got to be Harper. Poor guy. He’s the only boot on the watch. Well, at least he’s only a month away from getting off probation. He looks like a Marine. Big guy. Jesus, he must be eight inches taller than me! He’d better not try any short jokes. I’ll cut his fucking balls off if he does! I’m kidding, but I really hate the short jokes! I’m not short for a woman, but in a man’s world, you can imagine how it goes. At least he’ll be good in a fight. That’s always a plus. He looks confident. That’s one of the first things I look for in a boot. He doesn’t have his head buried in the table, nervously writing down useless shit to make it look like he’s a good, obedient boot in the presence of his masters. He’s also not looking nervously over his shoulder to see who his new training officer is. Good. That suggests he’s got nothing to prove. That’s the kind of attitude I like in a boot: he’s good at the job and he knows it. He doesn’t need me to constantly tell him.

It looks like the Sarge is ready to start. Sergeant Lee Gellar. I’ve seen him around, but I’ve never spoken to him. He’s a crusty old Sergeant II who’s been on the job forever. I’ve heard good things about him. I don’t know the other sergeant. He’s a Sergeant I, and he looks pretty young. In fact, he doesn’t look as old as I am. Please don’t let him be a boot sergeant! They can be real trouble. Yes, sergeants have to go through a year of probation after they get promoted, just like you do when you get out of the academy. It’s not as bad as the first time you’re a boot, but it ain’t fun.

“All right, welcome to Midwatch! I’m Sergeant Gellar. I’ll be Forty Central. Those of you who came from Daywatch, congratulations on being delivered from the walking wounded.”

The Sarge got that right. I don’t care what division you work; Daywatch is boring. Lots of drones work Daywatch. Almost nothing ever happens before the shift is half over, and a lot of it happens about thirty minutes before you’re supposed to go end of watch so you’re almost guaranteed to be working overtime. I hate Daywatch.

“Moving right along! The Watch Commander is Lieutenant Hagan. Sergeant Alfaro is Sixty Central. Ruiz and Rosen, you’re Eight Central. Lynott and Harper, you’re Sixteen Central. Where’s Lynott?”

“Right here, sir.”

“How do you pronounce your name? Is it ‘Ly-nott’ or ‘Lin-nott’?”

“It’s ‘Lin-nott,’ sir.”

“Good deal. I hate fucking up people’s names.”

“You and me both, sir.”

“Well, I’m so fucking glad we have something in common.”

“Yes, it warms my heart too, sir.”

“Yeah, my mission in life is to warm your fucking heart. Welcome to Midwatch; you and your partner.”

Now that’s a typical Midwatch sergeant: all piss and vinegar.

“All right! Vinell and Kursteff, you’re Twenty-Two Central. Signolo and Goren, you’re Forty-Four Central. Does everyone have a job?”

In a division the size of downtown, eight people is a pretty standard Midwatch. We’re basically extra units, meant to supplement the regular units on Nightwatch. Unless the shit gets crazy with radio calls, it gives the Midwatch units a lot of freedom. You’re not chained to a specific patrol sector, despite your unit designation. And even if we were, because we’re unit Sixteen Central, we’d be assigned to the heart of skid row. It’s a win-win situation, as far as I’m concerned.

“For those of you who’ve never worked Midwatch before, this is a working man’s watch. And working women, for those of you who aren’t men.”

I take it he means me. I seem to be the only woman in here.

“Thanks for the inclusion, Sarge.”

“You’re welcome, Lynott. Now, we’ve all heard the speeches over the last few weeks. Crime stats are up and the brass wants numbers. We’re going to try to put a dent in those stats so they’ll shut up about them.”

I see Ruiz has a question. He looks older than me. I’m guessing he’s got some time on the job.

“Sir?”

“What is it, Ruiz?”

“Are we focusing on anything in particular?”

“Good question. All of this shit is related to dope, so if you can make a good dope arrest, go for it. And if you can’t make a good dope arrest in this division, there’s something seriously fucking wrong with you! Beyond that, we want to cut down on the robberies and ADWs. These homeless assholes are spreading beyond Meridian, going after anyone who isn’t homeless.”

“So they’re targeting humans?”

“Pretty much.”

It may seem callous to refer to the homeless on skid row as something other than human, but I’ve been here for less than a month and I can already see the logic behind it. These guys have been here for a while. They’re probably completely jaded in that respect.

“So all of you, remember: if you see one of these fucking zombies west of Meridian, you jack him up and turn him around! In addition to the robberies, they’re breaking into the stores again. We didn’t have a lot of burglaries past Meridian for a while, but they’ve been picking up lately. And now that the summer’s here, they’re going to pick up a lot. Watch the construction sites. Talk to the people there. Find out if any tools are missing. Make sure they lock them up at night. And keep your eyes open. Any asshole walking around with a pickaxe is probable cause.”

You know, I doubt there’s anyplace else in the city where you’d encounter someone walking around with a pickaxe. Hey, I’ve already seen it here. This is definitely one weird fucking division!

“As for the ADWs, most of that shit happens in the skid row sector. The weather gets warmer and all of a sudden, they’re all cutting each other to pieces! The heatwave just makes it worse! It fries whatever’s left of their brains! They’ve all got knives and they just love to use them. Lynott! Harper! Watch your ass out there! We’ve had some of them go after cops lately. I guess the city cut back on their medication. Your sector’s no better, Ruiz. Alvarado got his shoulder broken in your area a month ago. He was lucky. So don’t get your ass stabbed, Ruiz! You got that?”

“Roger that, sir.”

Sound advice. Most cops worry about getting shot. While it’s certainly something to worry about, a lot of people underestimate what a knife can do to you. And unlike bullets, your vest isn’t worth jack shit against a sharp knife. It says so, right on the label.

“So beyond that, it’s business as usual. Back the Nightwatch area cars, pick up any dropped calls, and watch your backs. Oh, and for those of you who are new to the division…”

Which means me, of course.

“For God’s sake, do not…repeat: do not drive the wrong way on the one-way streets! It’s dangerous as hell, and we’ve already had one disaster in this division because of it. The policy here is: if you get caught driving the wrong way on a one-way street for anything but an officer needs help call, it’s fifteen days’ suspension! No arguments, no excuses! We are not kidding! Don’t fucking do it! Everybody got that?”

Well, since “everybody” means me…

“Yes, sir! I got it!”

“Good! And watch the goddamned pursuit driving! We had another crack-up last night! Two units, both following too close to the suspect’s vehicle! The suspect took out a passing car and the secondary unit slammed into the back of the primary unit! Thank God Lynott had enough brains to hang back! As for the other two units, the captain is not happy with them! We’re wrecking too goddamned many cars! Not just here, but throughout the whole fucking city! I don’t want to see anything like that on this watch! Does anybody have anything? No? Good! Let’s go to work!”

Short and sweet. My favorite kind of roll call. Let’s get to it!


Standing outside of the kit room, waiting to get our car and our gear. That’s another nice thing about Midwatch: it’s a small watch, so you don’t end up waiting forever. And you don’t have to wait for Daywatch to turn their shit in before you can get a car.

“Officer Franco Ruiz, Eight Central. Radio check.”

Eight Central, radio check loud and clear.

“Roger that, dispatch. Central Midwatch is down.”

Roger. Central Midwatch is down.

Usually, when you get a new boot, they try to impress you by getting all of your gear from the kit room before you get there. Let’s see if Harper does. Of course, with one month left on probation, he doesn’t have to impress his training officer as much. But I’m interested in seeing if he’s worried that I’ll think he’s grown salty. That’s something no boot wants his training officer to think. I couldn’t care less, but all boots live in fear of it until the day they get off of probation. Let’s see if Harper still harbors the fear. I don’t want him walking on eggshells around me. That doesn’t do either of us any good.

“Officer Lynott?”

“That’s me. You’re Harper, right?”

“Yes, ma’am. Ryan Harper. I’m your boot.”

“Have you got our stuff?”

“Yes, ma’am. We’re ready to go.”

“Good. Let’s go to the car and have a talk.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Well, he’s certainly respectful. And he doesn’t seem to be faking it. But I learned a long time ago that this total deference to your training officer can be a bad thing. If your boot’s mind is focused on not offending you, then it’s not focused on doing the job. And that’s something I won’t allow. I always make them think for themselves. I know it sets me apart from most training officers and some people on the department hate it, but I don’t give a shit. I know what I’m doing, and my job is to make sure that my boot knows what he’s doing. Trust me, it pays off in the long run.

“Harper, what car did we get?”

“We got 588. It’s over there. It’s a good one. I made sure of it.”

I swear, I will never understand how some cops go absolutely nuts unless they get a car that’s practically perfect. If the damned thing runs good and everything works, what more could you want? And take it from me: there are divisions in this city where the cars are so fucked up that it’s a miracle that they run at all. Some of them have holes in the floor big enough for you to fall through. They bolt a piece of plywood over them and consider them fixed. Or else only one of the front doors opens and the passenger officer has to slide across the seat, which isn’t easy. Be thankful you’re not stuck with one of them, I always say.

“If it’s got four tires and runs good, it’s enough. Oh, and in this heat, the air conditioner needs to work or we’re both going to keel over dead.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Oh, and here’s another thing I can’t stand, so I might as well break him of the habit right now.

“OK, let’s start right here. Harper, did you get out of the academy yesterday?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Good. In that case, I’m not ‘ma’am.’ I’m your partner. My name’s Dani. Call me that.”

“OK. Is that short for something?”

“It’s short for Danielle, but I hate being called that. Only my grandmother called me Danielle. Even my mom calls me Dani. What do you like to be called? Ryan?”

“Ryan’s fine, but everyone pretty much calls me Harper.”

That’s a weird thing about cops: they almost never call each other by their first names. Whatever your last name is, that’s your official name on the job. I don’t know why. It’s probably because so many cops in this country are ex-military, and that’s how they do it in the military.

“Harper it is, then.”

“Sounds good.”

“OK, so there are some things you need to know. First: I don’t play this ‘training officer-probationer’ shit. Especially not with someone as far along as you are. As far as I’m concerned, there are two cops in this car. You’re one of them and I’m the other. Yes, I’m your training officer, but you’re done with your training. You’re officially a short-timer. So I’m your partner, plain and simple. Fair enough?”

“Fair enough.”

That look on his face tells me that’s exactly what he was hoping to hear. Good. That makes things work better for everyone.

“I came to this division to work. The busier it is, the happier I am. I don’t hang back when things are happening, and I sure as hell don’t like to coast. What about you?”

“The same. I like to get involved in things.”

“And how have your training officers reacted to that? No bullshit. Speak your mind and speak the truth.”

“Well, not all of them were what you’d call hard-chargers.”

“I figured as much. Don’t worry. I am a hard-charger. You don’t have to worry about working with drones anymore.”

“I was hoping you’d say that.”

That look on his face tells me that he already checked me out. Smart guy. Boots want to find out as much about their training officers as we want to find out about them. At least, the smart ones do. A lot of them don’t have the guts to do it, though. Moving right along with the new partner introduction speech.

“OK, from the top: I wear a vest. I carry a five-shot .38 backup on my left ankle. I’m right-handed. I carry a .45 caliber Glock, two magazines in the front and two on the back of my belt. I’ve got two speed strips of .38 ammunition in my front pockets for the backup. What’ve you got in there?”

“A 9 millimeter Glock. Standard issue.”

Now that surprised me!

“I thought you were a Marine?”

“That’s right. What of it?”

“I figured you’d go for a .45, then.”

“I want to carry one, but around here, they told me to hold off until I’m off of probation. I didn’t want to come off as salty.”

You see? This is what I mean about stifling boots! Some training officers won’t even let their boots wear short sleeves, if you can believe it. They tell them they have to earn every little thing, and a lot of them don’t let them earn anything until they get off probation. I’m not making that up. It’s a goddamned power trip. It’s fucking stupid, if you ask me!

“How soon can you get a .45?”

“I’ve already got one.”

“Do have it here?”

“Yeah, it’s in my locker.”

“Did you qualify with it?”

“Yeah, sure. First chance I got.”

That’s not surprising. He’s wearing a DX medal on his chest. That’s “Distinguished Expert Marksman,” for those of you who don’t shoot a lot of guns. It’s the top medal you can get on the department. It means he’s a dead shot. Good! This guy is sharp. And he’s prepared. I like him.

“If you’ve got it, then go get it.”

“Seriously?”

“You’re damned right I’m serious! I don’t want you covering my ass with that pea shooter! I’ve seen 9 millimeters fail before. I want you carrying the biggest damned gun you can. The life you save might be mine!”

“Sounds good! I’ll be right back!”

“I’ll be right here.”

Don’t get the idea that my carrying a .45 is some sort of “Jane Wayne” thing. I’m not trying to be macho or anything. I’ve just seen a lot of people who got shot with 9 millimeters and kept on going. The damned thing usually drills a nice, neat hole through somebody. The .45 makes a bigger hole, and it hits a hell of a lot harder. Trust me, if you shoot someone, you don’t want them to keep going. They might keep going long enough to kill you. I also got into a shooting five years ago with my issue 9 millimeter. Let’s just say I wasn’t happy with its performance. The first shot hit the guy square in the gut and it was like I hit him with a fucking snowball! I got my .45 the next day. It was money well spent. Damn! He’s back already?

“That was fast! What? Is your locker in the hallway?”

“No, I just didn’t want to keep you waiting.”

“Oiled and loaded?”

“Roger that.”

“Good. Now we can use each other’s magazines if we have to. I’ve got extra ammo in my bag, in case we need it. I don’t expect to need it, but one of my training officers told me, ‘Ammo is like money: better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it.’ I’ve always remembered that.”

“That’s good advice.”

“Hey, what have you got, there? You don’t have one of those crazy-assed safety holsters, do you?”

“A suicide special? Hell, no!”

“Good. I’ve seen those things hang up on cops. Mine’s nothing fancy. Pop the thumb strap and pull the gun out.”

“Same here.”

“Do you carry a backup?”

“Five-shot .38 in my right front pocket. Extra ammo in each pocket.”

“Good man. Most people don’t think to carry extra ammo for their backup.”

“How come you carry your backup on your ankle?”

“Because I’m not six-foot-five like you.”

“I’m six-two.”

OK, so he’s only seven inches taller than me.

“And here I thought you were taller.”

“Nope. My dad’s almost six-foot-eight, though.”

“They grow ’em big where you come from.”

“Pretty much.”

“All right. Now, I told you there are two cops in this car. No PIIIs, no PIs. Just two cops. We’re partners. We’re a team. We’ve got each other’s backs no matter what. The most important thing is that we both go home at night in one piece. We do whatever it takes to make that happen.”

“Right with you.”

Good. You’d be surprised how many cops – and I don’t mean just boots – don’t seem to understand that. I’ve known cops who got hurt because they hesitated when they shouldn’t have.

“Now, I’m not trigger-happy, and I don’t want you to be, either. But I’m not trigger-shy, and you can’t be, either. We do what we have to, when we have to do it.”

“That’s how I feel.”

“Good. Now, when I say we’ve got each other’s backs, I don’t just mean officer safety. I’m your partner. Whatever gets said in this car stays in this car. I have to be able to trust you, and you have to be able to trust me. I want you to know right now that you can trust me.”

“That’s good to know. And you can trust me.”

God, I hope so. Over the last year, I’ve developed some real trust issues. Jesus Christ, how could I not? But that’s not his fault, and I’m not going to start out thinking I can’t trust him. You can’t do this job if you think like that.

“So, Harper? If anything happens out there…”

“We talk first before we talk to anyone else.”

“Perfect. You got it. Now, you’ve been here for a while. You know the division like the back of your hand, or so your evals say. You’re going to have to get me acclimated. I know my way around, but you know where everything is. You know the hotspots. I need you to teach me where they are.”

“No problem.”

“One more thing. Worst case scenario: some asshole’s got a gun to my head. He tells you to drop yours or he’ll kill me. What do you do?”

“I shoot the motherfucker in the head and put the rest of the magazine into him once he’s clear of you.”

I like this guy! You’d be amazed how many cops think it’s some sort of judgment call. Believe me, it’s not.

“Good! That’s exactly what you do! You take the shot. I’m not married, and I don’t have any kids. You take careful aim and you blow the motherfucker’s brains out! If you hit me by mistake, just make sure your next ten shots go right into that motherfucker.”

“And if the roles are reversed, you do the same. I’m not married, either. No kids, no nothing.”

“I won’t miss. I shoot DX. I was a Marine sniper. I’m pretty good.”

Like I said, shooting Distinguished Expert is as good as it gets on the department. That is not easy! Before I die, I will shoot DX! That’s a promise I made to myself a while back and I intend to keep it.

“Good. Then you should be able to make a headshot under pressure.”

“Can do. What do you shoot?”

“So far, Sharpshooter. I’m always one or two points away from Expert. Do you think you can help me with that?”

“Hell, yes! I’ll get you your Expert medal! I’ve taught plenty of people.”

“Great. Of course, I’ll have to pay for the Sharpshooter medal I lost a few years back.”

“I was wondering why you didn’t wear a shooting medal.”

“You mean you were afraid that because I’m a girl, I didn’t know shit about guns and didn’t earn one?”

“Well, you carry a .45, so I figured you knew something about it. I’ve got to tell you, I was glad to hear that.”

“I like to shoot. As for the medal, the fucking thing fell off. I hope they’re not too expensive.”

“They’re not. Don’t worry. First, we’ll get you Expert. Then we’ll get you DX.”

“Are you that good of a teacher?”

“Oh, yeah. I learned in the Marine Corps. I taught pistol shooting to some of the guys in my unit when I was in Iraq. Don’t worry, I can teach anyone.”

“I’ll hold you to that. I really want to shoot DX.”

“Don’t worry. You will.”

This partnership might be even better than I thought.

“Now, you’re a Marine and you’re a sniper, so I figure you’re rifle qualified?”

“Absolutely.”

“Good. So am I. Did you get us a rifle?”

“It’s in the rack, next to the shotgun.”

“Outstanding. Are you as good with a rifle as you are with a pistol?”

“Better.”

Being a Marine sniper, I guess that’s to be expected. From what I’ve heard, those guys are practically married to their rifles.

“You and I are going to get along just fine, Harper.”

“I think so, too.”

I really like this guy. There’s only one thing that could ruin it now, so I’d better ask the question.

“What’s your favorite baseball team?”

“The Colorado Rockies.”

Oh, God! Well, it could be worse!

“I forgive you for that.”

“Oh? Who do you like?”

“The greatest team ever to play the game of baseball”

“The Yankees?”

Oh, he did not just say that! No way! He did not say that…word!

“I should kill you where you stand, you know that? You do not mention those pinstriped assholes in my presence under any circumstances! Got it?”

“I got it. So I take it you’re a Red Sox fan?”

“Smile when you say that, mister!”

“Yes, ma’am!”

I can see I’m going to have to straighten this guy out regarding a few of life’s more important matters. There are exactly two great loves in my life: this job, and the Red Sox!

“Just get in the car. You’re driving.”

“OK, Let’s do it!”

Damn! This car stinks! What the fuck is that smell? That’s something I’ve noticed about the cars in this division: they all smell like crap. I guess when you’re carting the homeless to the station and jail all the time, the stench gets into the upholstery.

“You know, Harper: we took you guys in the series in five. Do you remember that?”

“Yes, ma’am. I remember.”

“Good. I’ll be reminding you several times a day from now on.”

“Play by play, no doubt.”

“Especially the winning runs.”

“So, you’re basically a sadist?”

He is sharp! I think this partnership’s going to work out just fine!

“Onward, Harper! Skid row awaits!”

“We’re gone! Central Sixteen, clear.”

Roger. Sixteen Central, Clear.

All right! Here we go! Come what may!


Out on patrol. One nice thing about this division is that you don’t have to drive fifteen or twenty minutes to get to where you’re going. You could walk from the station to the heart of skid row in five minutes. I wonder if that was by design? I mean, skid row was here for a long time before they built the police station. I wonder who thought to put it so close to the worst sector of downtown? Maybe the real estate was just a lot cheaper?

“Harper, what do you know about Sergeant Alfaro?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because I like to know the sergeants on the watch. I know about Sergeant Gellar. He’s a good sergeant. Good cop. What do you know about Sergeant Alfaro?”

“He’s a boot sergeant. He got here two months ago from Operations.”

That’s Office of Operations. They’re the administrative division in police headquarters that oversees the daily operations of the department. A total waste, if you ask me. They could have civilians do that job just as well, if not better, and free up all of those cops to work the streets.

“So he’s basically a paper-pusher?”

“Big time. He’s had almost zero time in the field since he got off of probation and got wheeled to some division on the west side. He made sergeant while he was still in the building. He tends to overthink things. He’s of the opinion that he can talk his way through any situation.”

“Can he?”

“Not so far.”

Great! That’s all I need out here! Maybe he’ll just stay the fuck away from our calls and we’ll be safe. These desk jockeys who suddenly find themselves sergeants in the field can do a lot of damage in a real hurry.

“Dani, how’d you get to be a Red Sox fan?”

“I’ve been one all my life. I grew up in Salem.”

“How does living in Oregon make you a Red Sox fan?”

Jesus Christ! I wish I had a nickel for everyone who thinks that the only Salem is in fucking Oregon! Oregon became a state in 1859. Salem, Massachusetts was founded in 1629! We’ve got 239 years on them, for Christ’s sake!

“Not Salem, Oregon. I’m from the real Salem.”

“The real Salem?”

“Salem, Massachusetts.”

“Oh, OK. That makes sense. How’d you wind up out here?”

“I went to college out here. Plus, I got tired of slogging through ten feet of snow every winter.”

“Fair enough. Hey, wait a minute…Salem? Isn’t that where they burned people for being witches?”

Don’t think I didn’t see that one coming. The minute you set one foot outside of Salem, you get bombarded by the “Witch” questions. Sometimes I think the city should teach a class on how to handle them.

“No, we didn’t burn any witches. We’re not barbarians, you know.”

“Well, I always heard…”

“We hanged them. Big difference.”

“You hanged them?”

“Well, not me personally. The witch trials were in 1692. That was a little before my time.”

“But they were hanged, not burned?”

“Yep. A whole bunch of them. Strung them up on Gallows Hill, though some people say it was actually done somewhere else. It’s a nice place to take the kiddies. It’s also a required party spot when you’re a teenager.”

“You seem to know a lot about it.”

“I’m from Salem. You can’t grow up in Salem without knowing about the witch trials. They’re everywhere.”

“How so?”

“It’s all anyone wants to know about the place. They’ve got museums, shops, historic shit, you name it. Hell, the police department’s insignia is a witch on a broom. Witches are everywhere in Salem. I went to grammar school at Witchcraft Heights Elementary.”

“You’re kidding!”

“Nope. I’m dead serious.”

“Witchcraft Heights Elementary?”

“Like I said, it’s everywhere. Especially at Halloween. Every Halloween, it’s 1692 all over again.”

“Sounds kind of creepy.”

To be honest, I think a lot of people in Salem feel that way sometimes. Some of the Halloween tourists can be a little insensitive.

“Sometimes. But it’s actually kind of fun. Halloween is a big deal, there.”

“Did you ever meet any real witches?”

“Maybe.”

I always say that with a really wicked smile on my face. It creeps a lot of people out. You wouldn’t think so, but it does. And it always leads to the inevitable next question…

“Dani…you’re not a witch, are you?”

Jackpot! Can I call it, or what? You’d be amazed how many people have asked me that over the years. You’d be more amazed at how many of them are dead serious about it, too.

“Maybe. Wouldn’t you like to know?”

Oh, that look on his face is priceless! God only knows what’s going through his head right now!

“Hey! I thought partners didn’t keep secrets from each other?”

“Well, if I turn you into a toad, then you’ll have your answer.”

“Just don’t turn me into a Red Sox fan.”

Oh, I walked right into that one, didn’t I?

“Are you trying to make me kill you?”

“You won’t kill me. It’s against the rules to kill a boot once he’s made Phase Three. Besides, you need me to help get you your DX medal.”

Damn! He’s right! I can’t kill him until then, at least. Maybe I can turn him into a toad? One of those witches back home must know how. I need to make some calls.


We’re coming up on 5th Street. The heart of skid row. So far, we haven’t received any radio calls. But the streets are packed with people, and the heat is unbelievable! It’s got to be at least 105 degrees out here right now, and the sun’s starting to go down!

“OK, Dani. If you want to work skid row, you’ve got to know the alleys. They all have names. Not official names, though.”

“Unofficial names?”

“The homeless gave them names over the years. This one’s the biggest. Grand Alley.”

“Alley? Jesus! I thought this was a street!”

“You’d think so, being this wide. But it’s an alley. The main one in skid row. Every crime in the world happens here. It’s a nightmare spot for us.”

“Why is it so damned big?”

“Officer Abbott said it was meant to make it easier for trucks to unload back here. You know, back before it turned into a shithole and they actually had businesses here.”

“Who’s Abbott?”

“He works Daywatch. He’s one of the Senior Lead Officers. He’s been here for about a thousand years.”

Good to know. I really need to learn who the hell works here. You can pick up a lot of good information from the ones who’ve been here the longest.

“There must be a hundred people in here! Is it always like this?”

“Unless it rains. During the day, there’s three times as many. A lot of them are the overflow from the missions.”

“The guys who don’t get a bed at night?”

“Them and the ones who get kicked out.”

Kicked out? That doesn’t sound like a very Christian thing to do.

“How do you get kicked out of a mission?”

“Drugs, alcohol, weapons, fighting, being a total psycho. You know, the usual.”

“Then how does anyone out here manage to get into one?”

“Good question. You’re learning.”

Look at these motherfuckers! Living on Skid row is as bad as you think it is, and then some! I mean, look at these people! Every one of them looks seriously hardcore! There are definitely no weaklings out here. The weak ones probably get eaten for dinner.

“Harper, did you check the wanted flyers?”

“Every day. There are copies in my Posse Box. Go through them and see if you recognize anyone.”

That’s exactly what I’m going to do. The way this place is lit up, it’s easy to see faces. Good. Let’s see if I can spot one of these assholes.

“Anything?”

“Not so far.”

“Wait a minute! We’ve got a fight up ahead!”

“How many?”

“It looks like three guys. I don’t see any weapons.”

“Yeah, not yet!”

Now I see them! They’re really going at it! In any other division, a fight like that would generate a dozen 911 calls. Out here, it’s nothing. Look at this shit! Three guys beating the shit out of each other and half of these people aren’t even paying attention!

“Here we go, Harper! I’ll call it in. Sixteen Central, show us code six in Grand Alley and 5th on a battery in progress.”

Sixteen Central, roger.

“Are you ready, Harper?

“Let’s do it!”

Here we go! Now the question is: will they stop, or will they all start running? Or will they just turn and attack us?

“Police! Stop what you’re doing! Put your hands in the air!”

“Fuck you, bitch!”

Well, I guess they won’t be running away. They’re still wailing on each other.

“I said put your hands in the air!”

“And I said fuck you, bitch!”

It never ceases to amaze me: I’m a cop and I’m pointing a loaded gun at him, and he acts like it’s nothing! What the fuck is it with criminals? They do know that police shoot people on occasion, don’t they?

Harper’s taking up a position ahead of the car. Smart. He really does know what he’s doing. Let’s see if he has any better luck with them.

“She said put your hands in the air! Do it!”

“Fuck you, asshole!”

Well, at least it’s not because I’m a woman. They’re equal-opportunity insolent assholes.

“Cover me, Harper.”

“You got it.”

If brandishing the gun doesn’t work, maybe a good crack with a nightstick will do it.

“I said…”

“Back off, bitch!”

Whack him on the knee! Got him!

“Put your fucking hands…”

And give him one good jab to the gut!

“…in the air, asshole!”

“Oww! Fuck!”

That did the trick! He’s down! Two left!

“You want another one? Drop to your knees! All of you! Do it!”

“You heard her! Drop to your knees!”

They seem to have gotten the message. Amazing what two feet of aluminum jammed into your gut can accomplish.

“Don’t move! Any of you! Just stay right there!”

“Fuck, bitch! Why’d you have to do me like that?”

“Because you weren’t listening! Now shut up!”

I see Harper’s moved to a better position. Good. He’s making sure I’m out of the line of fire if he has to drop one of these guys. And without me having to tell him. He’s been trained well. I don’t know if it’s by us or the Marine Corps, but he knows his shit. Thank God! In this alley? They could hit us from all sides at once!

“Dani! That guy’s got a knife!”

Oh, shit! And he’s only ten feet away from me! At least Harper’s got my back!

“Drop it, asshole! Keep away from her!”

“OK! Don’t shoot! I’m puttin’ it down!”

“You move anywhere near her, you’re fucking dead!”

“I ain’t movin’ sir! I ain’t movin’ at all!”

He’s disarmed. Good! I’d better cuff him before he changes his mind!

“I got him, Harper.”

Three guys and I’ve got only two sets of handcuffs. This is where it can get tricky. I need another set of cuffs from Harper, and a lot of convicts practice attacking an officer when she reaches for her partner’s cuffs.

“Harper, I need another set of cuffs.”

“You got it. Hey, you! Face down on the ground! Now!”

Good move. Prone the guy out so he can’t turn on you. Harper’s been trained well.

“They’re hooked. All right, get up! All of you! Nice and slow!”

Believe it or not, this next part is where I could actually get into trouble with the department. You see, being a woman, I’m supposed to let my male partner search the men, if possible. These assholes could file a complaint that a woman officer touched them inappropriately during a search. I’m not making that up. It happens. But frankly, I don’t give a shit. And I’m guessing these guys don’t give a shit, either.

“Have you got any weapons?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Anything sharp in your pockets? Needles? Razor blades?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Anyone else got a knife?”

“No, ma’am.”

Well, this one’s attitude has certainly improved. How about the other two, I wonder?

“Hey, you! Do you have a knife?”

“Not with me, ma’am.”

“Are you lying to me?”

“No, ma’am! I got it with my cart. It ain’t on me.”

We’ll see about that. One thing I’ve learned about this place: you can’t do a simple pat-down search on guys out here. They hide all kinds of shit on themselves. Lots of needles. Lots of razors and sharpened spikes and God knows what else. Let’s see what we can see. So far, so good. No weapons, and I haven’t sliced my hand open. They’re definitely filthy, though! All right, no weapons.

“They’re clean, Harper. No weapons. Besides that one, I mean.”

“Roger that. I’ve got it.”

“Good. Now what the fuck were you guys beating each other about?”

“Just a disagreement, Senior.”

I see that I’ve gone from “ma’am” to “Senior.” “Senior” is in reference to the corporal stripes that mark me as a PIII. A field training officer. Some people see the stripes, they call you “Senior,” as in “Senior Officer.” I guess it’s better than being called “Corporal.” We don’t have that rank in this department.

“A disagreement about what?”

“This guy owes me some money.”

“Which one?”

“Him. With the hat.”

Our friend with the knife. He probably pulled it just as we got out of the car. Good timing on our part. One or both of these other two guys were about to get stabbed.

“OK, and you…in the middle. Why were you involved?”

“I was trying to break it up.”

“Why?”

“On account of this is bullshit!”

“OK, guys, is that true?

Well, they both seem to agree. They’re nodding. I guess this guy really was trying to break it up. He’s lucky they didn’t both start beating on him!

“OK, then. You did your good deed for the day. I don’t suppose you’ve got a warrant?”

“No, ma’am. I took care of ’em. Did three days behind it.”

“I’ll take your word for it. Cut him loose, Harper.”

I probably should run him for warrants before I let him go, but there’s a good chance that I’ll see him right here, three or four times tonight. I can always check him out later.

“You heard her, pal. You’re free to go.”

“Seriously?”

“You heard her. Go and sin no more.”

“Thank you, sir!”

Which leaves us with these two guys. Then again, we don’t really have much here. And I don’t want to get stuck with a cluster fuck if it’s just an ass-kicking contest between consenting adults. So let’s find out why they were beating each other senseless.

“OK, back to you. Now, this guy with the hat, here. He owed you money?”

“That’s right, Senior.”

“And you thought you’d beat it out of him?”

“What was I supposed to do? He wouldn’t give it up.”

Uh-huh. I’ve come to learn that such thinking passes for logic out here. Go figure.

“Assault and battery is a crime. I don’t care if he owes you.”

“Hey, I got to collect what’s mine, right?”

“How much did he owe you?”

“Two bucks.”

Excuse me? Did he just say “two bucks?” He was going to beat someone to death for two bucks?

“You were going to kill him for two bucks?”

“Well, not kill him, Senior. Just teach him to pay up, you know?”

“I was going to kill your fucking ass, motherfucker!”

Our friend with the knife chimes in. Apparently this was more than just an ass-kicking contest, at least as far as the guy with the knife was concerned.

“Is that why you had the knife?”

“You’re damn right! Fuck that motherfucker!”

This guy is utterly clueless. He’s going to talk himself right into jail. You’d be amazed at how many people go out of their way to do that. And not just on skid row.

“Do you want to go to jail?”

“For what?”

“Uh, how about attempted murder?”

“Fuck that shit! It was self-defense!”

To be honest, it was. At least, according to what this other guy just told me. Still, I don’t think he would’ve stopped if the other one stopped swinging. This guy looks like he gets off on stabbing people.

“Harper, run these guys for warrants. Do either of you have a warrant?

“No, Senior.”

“No, ma’am.”

Why do we even bother asking? I mean, does anyone ever come right out and admit that they have a warrant for their arrest? Unless it’s a three hundred-dollar traffic chickenshit warrant that no cop would ever arrest you for, I have yet to see it happen.

Harper’s clearing the crowd away from us. Good. That’s how you’re supposed to do it. I really like this guy. He may only have a year in the field, but he works like he’s got at least five years on the job. I’m glad Lieutenant Hagan put me with him.

“I got the crowd back. You got this, Dani?”

“Yeah, go ahead and run them in the car. I’ll watch these guys.”

I hate running people over the radio. It takes up a lot of time and you pretty much monopolize the radio frequency while you’re doing it. You could end up stepping on some other cop’s officer needs help call. That’s definitely something to avoid. The computer in the car is a lot faster, and you can usually tell right away if a warrant comes back for a different guy with the same name. That happens a lot.

“So how long have you guys been out here?”

“I’ve been here all day, Senior.”

“No, I mean how long have you been on the street?

“Oh, hell! About four years now. Almost five.”

“What about you, mister self-defense?”

“A few months.”

“Where were you before that?”

“Up north.”

Did I even have to ask? For the uninitiated, “Up north” is street-speak for “I was in prison.” That explains his shitty attitude. Not to mention his fondness for sharp objects.

“What were you in for?”

“I caught a ADW case.”

When criminals say “I caught a case,” it’s their way of suggesting that they really didn’t do anything wrong. For them, getting arrested and convicted is like catching a cold. They had nothing to do with it. It just happened to them. What a fucking crock!

“What was the weapon?”

“A knife.”

See? What did I tell you? This guy likes stabbing people. And prison is the world’s best knife-fighting school. You go in for ADW and three years later, you come out as an expert killer. It’s a great system we’ve got, huh?

“Are you seeing your parole officer?”

“Yes, ma’am. Saw him two days ago.”

“Uh-huh. Does he know you’re out here?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Something tells me he’s telling the truth. The city is pretty much out of places to put parolees, so a lot of them end up on the street. And when they do, they find their way here. The usual result is that they end up doing something that gets them sent right back to prison. And when they get out, they end up back here. Like I said: great system, huh?

“Harper? Anything?”

“They’re clean. Figuratively, I mean.”

“OK. Turn around, guys. I’m going to unhook you.”

“Hey! What about my knife?”

There’s no way in hell I’m giving that knife back to him. If I do, I’ll find it sticking out of this other guy’s chest before the shift is over! Count on it!

“Harper, do you think you can throw that knife onto that roof?”

“I think so.”

Our would-be killer doesn’t look too happy about that idea. Too fucking bad!

“What the fuck, lady? You’re throwing away my knife?”

“No, it’ll be right up there. You’re welcome to get it any time.”

“Oh, that’s fucked up!”

“So is packing a concealed weapon when you’re on parole. Consider it a gift.”

That’s actually a pretty tall building. I wonder if Harper can actually get it up there? Shit! I guess so!

“Whoa! Did you see that, Dani? I cleared the whole damned thing!”

Damn! That was a good throw. But I can’t let it go to his head. Not on our first day together. I have to keep up appearances, you know.

“Not bad for a Rockies fan. But you’d never pitch for the Red Sox.”

“I’m never going to hear the end of this baseball shit, am I?”

“Not as long as you’re working with me, mister. OK, guys. You’re free to go. No more fighting. If we have to come back here…”

“We know, Senior. We know.”

Yeah, I’ll bet you do! They’ve both probably got permanently assigned bunks over at county jail! Ten bucks says they’ll be locked up before the end of the month. It’s just that kind of place.


Back on patrol. Grand Alley is impressive, to say the least. But I want to learn the dope spots around here. Like the Sarge said: everything out here is tied to dope. And with all the dope they’ve got in this place, I really need to learn the hotspots. I know a couple, but I’ll bet there are a hundred better ones out here.

“Hey, Harper? What are some of the big dope spots out here?”

“That depends on the dope. What do you want to focus on? Crack? Heroin? Pills?”

Interesting. Crack is everywhere, but in the entire time I’ve been a cop, I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve seen heroin. You just don’t run into it much in the south end. It really is predominantly a downtown drug. Well, we’re downtown, so…

“What are the big heroin spots?”

“For dealers or for addicts?”

Good point. He’s definitely sharp. Crackheads just stuff their dope in a pipe and smoke it wherever. But heroin addicts need a place to cook their dope and shoot it. It’s an important difference. You want to know where the junkies hang out, because they’re the main burglars. But right now, I want to know where the dealers are selling the stuff.

“For dealers. Heroin dealers.”

“Well, for sheer business, it’s got to be the Big Lot. That’s a huge parking lot at 9th and Palomar. They move more heroin out of that place than anywhere else.”

“Lots of dealers?”

“Actually, the place is run by one dealer, but he’s got a lot of guys working for him. His name’s Ricky. The guy’s a major asshole. It’s weird, because he’s a mid-level dealer, but he’s out there in that parking lot slinging dope almost every night. When it comes to heroin, he’s the main guy in the division.”

“So how come he’s not in jail?”

“Because he’s pretty smart, and no one in their right mind will rat him out. The guy is pure evil. Everyone’s afraid of him, and with good reason. I hear he’s killed a few people who snitched on him; not to mention the ones who just pissed him off. Narcotics is supposed to be working on something to put him away, but they’ve been saying that since before I got here and the son of a bitch is still out there every night.”

That sounds interesting. This Ricky guy clearly doesn’t fit the usual mold.

“Go by there. I want to meet this guy.”

“It’s too early. He probably won’t be there for another hour. He keeps late hours. He’s got his boys handling the early crowd.”

“OK, but I want to check this place out before we’re done. Does he carry a gun?”

“He doesn’t carry one, but he’s got one stashed somewhere. He learned his lesson the hard way.”

Now that sounds like I story I definitely need to hear!

“What happened?”

“From what I heard, a few years back, they did a sweep and he had a gun on him, so he took off running. I think he cranked off a round or two; I’m not sure. Anyway, he was running down the alley with the gun in his hand and Hoekstra shot him in the ass.”

“Ouch!”

“Hey, from what I know about Hoekstra, he got off easy.”

I’ve heard a few things about Hoekstra, too. A couple of guys mentioned him when I first got here. I’m told he’s a borderline nut case, and definitely on the trigger-happy side. Basically, I was told to watch out for him. I haven’t met him, and I don’t even know what he looks like. I think he’s on vacation this month. But when you’re new to a division, you want to know about the people around you – good, bad, and everything else. After you’ve been through what I’ve been through, it’s basic survival strategy.

“OK, what about some of the addict spots?”

“There’s a million of them. There’s a good one near here. One block over and halfway up the alley.”

“Let’s check it out.”

“All right. Show us en route: the Brickline Alley east of McLaren, south of the Shepherd Mission.”

Again with the alleys. I have a feeling I’m going to be spending a whole lot of time in alleys from now on.


Coming up on yet another alley. That’s got to be it, up ahead. Damn, that place is dark!

“Stay sharp, Dani. We’re almost there. We can’t drive into the Brickline Alley if we want to catch these guys. They’ll hear the car as soon as we pull into the alley.”

Harper’s right. That’s one thing I’ve already learned: these alleys give the assholes every advantage.

“So we walk. How far up?”

“About halfway. See that lighted area, with the dumpsters?”

Not bad. A cozy little place with plenty of light for them to see what they’re doing. It should take us about fifteen seconds to walk that far. We could run, but they’d probably hear us.

“Why do they call it the Brickline?”

“See how the bricks go about up to your shoulder? The rest is cinder blocks. Hence, the Brickline Alley.”

“Where are these guys?”

“Behind those dumpsters. It’s a little loading dock. They move the dumpsters into a circle. There’s a ramp along the south side that leads up to the doors. I’ll take the ramp. You make sure nobody runs out.”

“Got it. How many do you think are there?”

“It could be one. It could be half a dozen. You never know.”

“Sounds good. If anyone gets past us, don’t chase them down this alley. You can’t see shit down there.”

“Roger that. Ready?”

You’re damned right I’m ready! I definitely want to see this place!

“Let’s do it.”

Off we go! I don’t hear anything, but that doesn’t mean there’s nobody there. I can see the ramp Harper talked about. Once up there, he’ll be able to see straight down into the middle of the dumpsters. So I just have to keep anyone from running out. Oh, and make sure that some fucking junkie doesn’t stab me with a dirty needle. That’s another thing I didn’t have to worry about much until I got here.

“Ready, Dani?”

“Go!”

Shit! These fucking dumpsters are heavy! Pulling them aside is harder than I thought! Harper’s already up the ramp!

“Police! Nobody move!”

He found somebody in there!

“How many do you see, Harper?”

’There’s four of them! Hands in the air! All of you!”

Seriously? They actually got four guys stuffed into this little space? Yep! There they are! One of them’s holding something. I can’t see what it is.

“You! Drop that shit! Now!”

“I ain’t got nothin’.”

“Drop what’s in your hand! Do it!”

“Dani, he’s got a spike!”

“I see it! I said drop it, asshole!”

“OK, OK, ma’am! Don’t shoot! I’m droppin’ it!”

Good move, asshole! The last thing I want is for you to try and stick me with that fucking needle! That’s always the biggest fear when you jack up a junkie. Even if that syringe isn’t full of AIDS, it could be full of a dozen other diseases. I decided a long time ago that if some junkie ever tried to stick me with a needle, I’d fucking shoot him right where he stood. I’ve heard too many horror stories to take a chance like that.

“All right, guys! Line up! Has anybody got anything sharp on them?”

“No, ma’am.”

Yeah, not after you dropped the spike, you mean!

“What about the rest of you?”

“Uh-uh.”

“No, ma’am.”

“I got nothin’ on me, Senior. Swear to God!”

Honestly, I don’t know why we ask people that question. I’ll bet I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of people who fessed up when I asked them that. And they all know we’re going to search them anyway.

“You won’t mind if we don’t take your word for it, guys. Harper, start with that one.”

“You heard her. Hands behind your head and spread your legs.”

The worst part of it is, we could probably catch some disease just from searching these guys. They’re beyond filthy. Living on the street will do that to you. When I first got here, I saw a few guys wearing rubber gloves when they did pat-down searches. I thought it was a little weird. Now I know better. This is the only division in the city that hands out bottles of hand sanitizer in the kit room before you go out on patrol. We need it, that’s for sure.

“They’re clean, partner. No weapons.”

“Get their info and run them for warrants.”

If they have any chickenshit warrants, I don’t want to waste the time. But maybe we can use it as leverage? Junkies know a lot of things, like who’s doing what in the neighborhood. Well, not that you would call this shithole a neighborhood. Most of the burglaries out here are done by junkies, which means that if they’re not doing them, then they know who is. Let’s see what Harper comes up with.

“Got anything?”

“Just this one. The one with the black t-shirt. He’s got a bunch of warrants.”

“Anything serious?”

“Nickel and dime stuff. But he’s got six of them.”

“That ought to be good for a few days in the lockup. The rest of you guys, get lost.”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“And you! Don’t drop any more spikes on me and tell me you don’t have anything!”

“No, Senior, I won’t do that no more.”

“All right, take off.”

So that leaves us with one. Good. If he knows anything, he’s more likely to talk without anyone else around. He wouldn’t want to get a reputation as a snitch. Out here, that could be hazardous to his health.

“What’s your name?”

“Louis.”

“What do they call you?”

“Just Louis.”

“Fair enough. OK, Louis. Do you want to avoid a few days in the lockup?”

“Hell, yes, Senior!”

“Good. So what can you tell us about the burglaries around here?”

“I don’t know nothin’ about that.”

“Oh, I think you do. In fact, we’ll make it easy for you. Two nights ago. A warehouse on Vanguard. That’s just three blocks from here. Right, Harper?”

“That’s right. Tunnel job. Someone knocked a great big hole right through the wall and made off with a load of clothes. Do you know about that?”

“I don’t…I mean, I…I don’t know nothin’ about it, sir.”

Jesus, could this guy be a worse liar? The way he hesitated, I don’t think he did it. He wouldn’t have said a word if he did. But he definitely knows something about it.

“I think you’re lying, Louis. Now, you don’t want to go to jail tonight, do you?”

“No, ma’am.”

“Good. Now, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t think you did it. And we’re not looking to hang it on you. We want whoever really did do it. I think you know who that is.”

He’s thinking it over. Good. That means he’s considering it. If he gave it up right away, I don’t think the information would be worth shit. No one is anxious to give something away unless they’re looking at serious time, which our friend here is not. So I take his hesitation as a good sign. The important thing now is to go easy on him. A lot of cops like to get all Dirty Harry on suspects, threatening the shit out of them. Most times, that’s counterproductive. Most suspects can tell when cops are full of shit. They know what we can and can’t do. The best way is to keep it professional. Let them know you’re serious about getting the information, but don’t go all ape shit on them. That makes them feel like it’s just a business transaction, which is exactly what it is. It’s a strange business, but it’s a business. You’ve got to respect the rules.

“I give you the name, you let me go, Senior? No bullshit?”

“That’s the deal.”

“No lockup? No detox?”

“Straight up. You’re home free. Just give us the name.”

“OK. I heard a couple of dudes talking about it yesterday. Over at the Shepherd Mission.”

“What were they saying?”

“They said they hit a place on Vanguard. Lot of clothes, good score. They took it over to the swap meet by the Metro. Said they got good money for it.”

“How many guys?”

“Two of ‘em were doin’ the talking. A bunch of dudes was listening to ’em. I just overheard it.”

“Do you know these two guys?”

“Yeah, I done seen ’em around a lot. White guys. One of ’em is Mason. I don’t know his last name.”

“And the other guy?”

“I don’t know his name. I done seen him around, that’s all. They’re both junkies. They score at the Awning. You know that place?”

“We know it. Describe this Mason guy.”

“White. Brown hair. About five-eight. Maybe…twenty-eight, maybe thirty. He got a tattoo on his arm, right here. Flames. Like they paint on one of them old hot rods.”

“OK, what about the other guy?”

“White, a little older. Real skinny. Brown hair, almost black. I seen them dudes hangin’ together a lot. Usually by the Shepherd. You find Mason, you’ll find the other dude.”

“Harper, did you get all of that?”

“I got it, partner.”

“Louis, you have a good one.”

“I can go?”

“I keep my word. Just like I said. You’re free to go.”

“Thank you. Both of you!”

“Same to you. Try to stay out of trouble.”

Famous last words. For him and for us.

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