Chapter 4: Welcome to Skid Row, Dani
Well, that was definitely worth it. That burglary on Vanguard was a big one. The detectives said the thieves got away with about three thousand dollars’ worth of clothes. Of course, if they took it right to the swap meet, then that shit is long gone. We’ve got zero chance of recovering it. But I’m more interested in putting the assholes responsible in jail, so we’ll see what we can come up with on this “Mason” guy.
“Harper, do you know the guy he was talking about? This ‘Mason’ character?”
“I’m afraid not. There are so many junkies out here, they all kind of blur together. But we’ve got a name and some good info on what he looks like, so I think we can find out who he is.”
“Who’s the best detective to talk to in Burglary?”
“Art Guzman. He always listens when patrol brings him something.”
Interesting. I almost expected him to say that he didn’t know. Most boots don’t know anything about detectives. It’s like they’re afraid to go back there and ask around. Of course, some detectives make it clear they don’t have any time for boots. They figure that anyone with less than a year on the job doesn’t know anything useful, and they don’t feel like answering a bunch of entry-level questions when they’ve got a pile of work on their desks. But Harper has definitely taken some initiative. That’s a very good sign.
“Sounds good. We’ll run the name and description before end of watch.”
“We’ll catch him, Dani. Junkies are creatures of habit. And it’s not like he’s going to leave town.”
“Do any of them ever leave this place?”
“Yeah, in handcuffs or a body bag.”
Now that, I can believe.
It seems we’re coming up on another alley. I’ve got a feeling that my life around here is going to consist largely of alleys. Hey, that’s fine with me. I think they’re pretty cool.
“All right, Dani. If you want to know about the heroin trade in Central Division, then you definitely want to know about this place. This is the Narrow Alley.”
“Yeah, I can see why they call it that. Damn! Can we even get the car in there?”
“Barely. But you don’t want to drive in there unless you absolutely have to. You can get trapped in the car, and the assholes block the way with dumpsters. It’s a pretty dangerous place. It’s great for ambushes.”
“I believe it. Is this a big dope spot?”
“Huge. There’s a lot of places where the junkies can hide. At night, you can be standing three feet from somebody in there and you’d never know it.”
“It sounds pretty loud in there. Are those the air vents?”
“Yeah. During the summer, when the air conditioners are blasting, the noise in the alley is ridiculous. It helps us sneak up on people, but it also helps them hide.”
He’s not kidding. There’s enough noise in there that you probably can’t hear shit. It sounds almost like an airplane idling on the runway! And he’s right about the problem with so much noise: it’s a two-edged sword. We can use it against them, but they can use it against us. This would be a bad place to run into some psychopath with a knife. Or a pickaxe.
“Are we going to check it out?”
“Yeah, but later. Around this time, there usually isn’t much going on in there. The junkies are still pretty mobile around this hour. Give it a few hours.”
“How many hiding spots are in there?”
“Who the hell knows? We’ve got guys who’ve been working here twenty years and even they don’t know all of them. It’s amazing how so much shit can get crammed into one alley.”
“How far down does it go?”
“About three blocks north of here. Then it dead-ends. South of this part, it widens out. Beyond this point, they don’t call it the Narrow Alley anymore.”
“What the fuck were they thinking when they designed this place?”
“Honestly? I think it was an accident. These are some of the oldest buildings downtown. I don’t think they planned it to work out this way.”
“Maybe they thought it was for a horse and buggy? It reminds me of some of the really old streets in Salem. They’re a couple of hundred years old. They weren’t designed for cars.”
“You never know.”
He’s got that right. The whole downtown area has this weird craziness to the layout. I guess they built it a piece at a time and never gave any thought to what was already there. It’s hard to explain, I know. But I sometimes get this feeling that there’s something about this place that was purposely designed to drive you crazy. Maybe that accounts for some of the weirder shit that goes on out here?
“Harper, do you ever get the feeling that…I don’t know. Kind of like this whole place is somehow…”
“Laughing at us?”
“All the time. Officer Loomis said that to me my first week here. I didn’t know shit, but right away, I knew what he was talking about. I’ve never forgotten it.”
Maybe that’s what explains how strange skid row is? It’s not just a place. It’s almost like the place is somehow…alive. Like it knows what’s going on. I’ve had that feeling ever since I got here, and I never had it anywhere else. This place is way different from anyplace else I’ve worked. Hell, this place is way different from anyplace else I’ve ever seen! It’s a really strange feeling, but to be honest, I fucking love it!
“Harper, let’s take a drive down Meridian. The captain says he wants extra patrol there. I want to get it on the log before the shit starts happening out here.”
“You got it, Dani.”
“And make sure we come back here later. I want to check out this alley.”
“You read my mind, partner. Wait…we’ve got some of the locals waving to us. Say hello, Dani.”
A bunch of homeless zombies. Some of them look like they’re completely out of their minds. This place definitely takes some getting used to.
“Hello, guys! I’m Officer Lynott!”
“Look out, people! We got the ECPD!”
“One time! One time!”
Ah, yes! The time-honored alert that the police are here. The whole “One time” is supposed to be less obvious than yelling “911.” But that other thing…
“Harper, what the fuck is this ‘ECPD’ shit? I heard that the first day I got here, and I’ve heard about a dozen people say it since. But I still don’t know what the hell it means.”
“Yeah, I’m serious. What does it mean?”
“It’s something the assholes call us. It’s a little joke they have. ‘ECPD’ stands for “Emerald City Police Department.’ A lot of the homeless say that.”
“What the hell is this ‘Emerald City’ shit? I’ve heard that one, too.”
“It has to do with the center of downtown. Something about the skyscrapers and the contrast with skid row.”
“You know The Wizard of Oz?”
“Apparently, a while back, the homeless people out here started calling the skyscrapers ‘The Emerald City.’ It’s because they’re all lit up at night and they’re really beautiful, and the homeless aren’t allowed to go near them. It’s like the Emerald City is one world and skid row is another one, and you can’t cross the line between them. Especially during the day.”
“I haven’t worked Daywatch.”
“Consider yourself lucky. It would drive a cop like you absolutely bonkers. In this division, Daywatch is all about public relations. Sweep the drunks and the drug addicts off of the sidewalks, keep the homeless from wandering past Meridian and bothering the fine, upstanding people who work in those skyscrapers, and try to avoid doing any real police work. Waddle around on foot, smile, and make sure they see you. But for God’s sake, don’t do any police work.”
“Because if you’re doing police work, then you’re not waddling around and being seen by the fine, upstanding people.”
“You got it.”
“But the whole ‘Emerald City’ thing?”
“I know. It doesn’t make sense. I mean, the Emerald City was green, right? The skyscrapers are mostly white, or mirrored glass. But it’s a weird thing: after I started working Nightwatch and Graveyard, it kind of made sense. I started to get it. It’s just…it’s what this place does to you. It gets to you. It gets inside of you. You can’t help it.”
It sounds like maybe this place is affecting him the same way it’s affecting me. Maybe I should pick his brain about it? I’ve been wanting some answers, and he’s a sharp guy. But I don’t want to get too far off track. This is our first night together as partners. I don’t want him thinking I’ve got a screw loose. I’ve got enough people thinking that already.
“It’s kind of like stepping into another world, isn’t it?”
“It is another world! I mean, son of a bitch! Goddamned Falluja wasn’t this weird!”
Falluja? As in Iraq? As in the war?
“You were in Falluja?”
“Yeah, the garden spot of Iraq. My unit was there.”
Holy shit! If even half of the shit I read about Falluja is true, then this guy’s seen some serious combat!
“Was it as bad as they said?”
“Oh, yeah. Some days, it was a lot worse.”
“At least you came through it in one piece.”
“I wish I could say the same for everyone.”
OK, now I’m in big trouble. I know what he meant by that. He lost friends. Not all of them made it out. But if I ask him about it, I might strike a nerve. I definitely don’t want to do that. My grandfather used to talk about the Korean War all the time, but I learned very quickly that you didn’t ever ask him about the friends he lost. That subject was strictly off-limits. It might be the same way with Harper. But now I’ve gone and opened the door. So what do I say to get out of it?
“How long were you over there?
“Two years. A little longer, actually. My first tour, I got caught in the stop-loss, so it extended it a bit. Then I volunteered for a second tour.”
That’s a Marine for you: Gung-Ho all the way.
“Thanks for doing that.”
“For doing what?”
“For serving. For going over there and fighting. I appreciate it. I mean that.”
Jesus! With that look he just gave me, I’ll bet no one ever said that to him before. If that’s true, then it’s bullshit. My dad used to say that if we learned anything from Vietnam, it was to be grateful to the people who went over and did the fighting – especially if you were one of the people who didn’t.
“So this place is weirder than Iraq?”
“Oh, hell yes! Iraq was Disneyland compared to this freak show!”
“Because this place is crazy for crazy’s sake. Even Iraq wasn’t that crazy.”
“You’re right. Skid row’s a tough place to figure out.”
“You got that right. I think you have to be a full-blown psychopath to make any sense of this shithole.”
I think he’s right. And that explains why there are so damned many pyschos out here. For some reason, I find that…I don’t know…reassuring. Damn! What does that say about me?
“Dani, you’ve only been here a month, right?”
“That’s it. Actually, a bit less. I got transferred here in the middle of the DP.”
“So you haven’t worked the lockout yet?”
“What’s the lockout?”
“The missions lock their doors at nine o’clock. After that, nobody gets in. Which means there’s a shitload of pissed-off people hanging around out front.”
“The ones that didn’t get a bunk?”
“That’s them. The situation gets pretty ugly sometimes. Some of these assholes don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. At least one Midwatch unit usually goes over there to make sure things don’t get out of hand. Lots of fights, ADWs, that sort of thing. We should head over there a few minutes before then.”
“Sounds good. So what do we do in the meantime?”
“Well, you like to work dope cases. What say we check out the dealers on Meridian?”
“Sounds like a plan.”
One of the first things I learned when I got here was that Meridian Avenue is a huge open-air dope market. Mostly crack, but you can find just about anything there. Working alone, they haven’t let me go over there to work it. I really want to see this place. They say they move more dope there in a day then anyplace else does in a week.
“You know this place better than I do. How do you want to work it?”
“There’s an office building on the west side of the street. The security guards let us go in after closing and use it as an OP.”
“An observation post in an office building? Can’t the assholes see you?”
“Nope. The windows are all tinted. They’re pitch dark. It cuts down on the sunlight during the day. You can’t see a thing in there from the street.”
“Sounds good. What time do they shut down?”
“Pretty much everyone’s out of there by six, so we’re good to go. Hey, you’re not afraid of rats, are you?”
“Yeah, they’ve got a problem with the rats in that building. I’ve seen some huge ones in there. Sometimes they’re lying dead in the hallways.”
Is he kidding? Rats in an office building? That doesn’t sound like any office building I’ve been in.
“That must be a great place to work. What’s the approach?”
“We go over there about three blocks north, and then park a block west of the place. That way, they don’t see the car.”
“Do the dealers use lookouts?”
“Some do, but only to spot us on the street. They’re not very smart.”
“Show me a street dealer who is. Let’s do it.”
“Sixteen Central, show us on an OP on the west side of Meridian, south of 5th street.”
“Sixteen Central, roger.”
All right, let’s go see the biggest open-air dope market in the Emerald City. This should be good!
When I was a boot, one of my training officers was really big on using observation posts to scope out dope dealers. He said you should always look for a good OP wherever you are; one where you can see them but they can’t see or hear you. He would test me on it. We’d be doing something and he’d say, “Where’s the best OP for this place?” I was constantly looking around for the best OP. It was a good habit to get into, and I still do it. And now that I’m downtown, there must be a million good places for an OP out here. That one last night was pretty good.
“That’s it, Dani. The one at the end of the block. The entrance is on the side. We just walk in like we’ve got a call there, and the dealers won’t pay us any attention.”
“Which floor do we use?”
“The third floor, usually.”
Smart. Anything above the third floor and you can’t see as well without binoculars. Below it, the dealers might see you – even through the window tint.
“Do you use binoculars?”
“At this place? Not usually. But I’ve got a pair in the trunk if you want them.”
He comes prepared. Good. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had somebody try to borrow my binoculars. They’re too expensive to loan out, and mine aren’t even what you’d call top of the line.
“I’ve got a pair, too. We’ll leave them for now.”
“Let’s do it.”
Nobody’s paying any attention to us. Harper was right about that. I know that Daywatch gets a lot of calls in these office buildings during the day. Most of them are bullshit business disputes and people who got locked out of their cars. Well, good for us. We can get inside without drawing any attention. So far, so good. And in we go!
Damn! Nice lobby! This is definitely a few notches above most of the buildings in this division that I’ve seen. And this place is supposed to be crawling with rats?
“It’s your OP, Harper. Where to?”
“The security office is over here. They’ll unlock the elevators for us.”
It’s a good thing the security guards work with us on this sort of thing. But you always have to wonder if they’re also working for the dope dealers, taking payoffs to signal them when the police arrive. I’ve seen that a few times. You see a security guard making fifteen bucks an hour and he’s driving a brand-new BMW? Yeah, that’s a clue.
“Dani, this is Curtis. He’s the nighttime security here.”
And he’s as big as a house! No wonder they’ve got him working security!
“Nice to meet you, Curtis.”
“Nice to meet you, Dani. How long have you been working with Harper?”
“You’re a lot better-looking than his last partner.”
Which he says as he checks my finger for a wedding ring. Sorry, pal. I’m not here looking for a boyfriend.
“You going to the third floor? That’s OK. Harper knows where you can set up. Got your elevator right here.”
Interesting. An old-fashioned elevator key. Nothing digital in this place. It looks like it was built back in the 1940s. Maybe that explains the rats?
“Let’s get there, Harper.”
One thing I hate about old buildings is how the elevators are always really slow. If we have to get back downstairs in a hurry, forget it. This thing moves at a crawl. I hope it doesn’t get stuck between the floors. I wonder if our radios will work in here? The walls outside looked really thick, and this place is made of stone, not glass. I guess I’ll find out. And here we are: the third floor. Jesus, I almost could’ve walked up here by now!
“Have you got a flashlight, Dani?”
“You’re going to need it. They shut off the lights upstairs after the last person leaves.”
Whoa! He wasn’t kidding! This place is pitch dark! You can’t see a damned thing! What happens if somebody forgets to log out and they get stuck up here after they shut the lights off? They’d probably fall and break their neck!
“Which way to the windows?”
“Halfway down the hall and to the left. Just follow me. Oh, and watch out for the rats.”
I hope the dope dealers never find out about this place. In this darkness, you could stage one hell of an ambush. Just come up here before closing, hide someplace so the security guards don’t see you, and wait for the cops to show up. With these marble floors, they could hear every footstep. That would be a bad situation to be in.
“Over here, Dani. That’s our window.”
This is a good spot. You can see the whole east side of Meridian from here. From what I’ve heard, the dealers pretty much stand in one spot and wait for the customers. They keep the dope in their mouth so they can swallow it if the police show up. Typical. So if you see a guy who looks like he’s constantly picking something out of his mouth and handing it to someone else, that’s a dealer.
“Do the dealers here work solo, or do they use a money man?”
“Most of them work solo. If they’re using lookouts, they’re on either end of the block.”
A lot of dope dealers work in pairs: one carries the dope and the other carries the money. If the police try to grab them, they run in two different directions. That way, they’ve got a better chance of saving at least one: the dope or the cash. But that means that the dealers have to split the proceeds, and they’re all a bunch of greedy motherfuckers so they don’t want to share. Which means they’ll risk working solo. Stupid, but that’s dope dealers for you.
“Do the dope dealers here have territories?”
“Oh, yeah. Big time. On this block, it’s all Hispanics. The black guys don’t go south of 4th Street on Meridian. They all know to keep out of each other’s turf.”
“And this is all crack?”
“Pretty much. Sometimes they sell weed here, but that’s mostly over by the Lancaster Hotel. This place is definitely crack central.”
He’s not kidding. Hell, I’ve been looking out through this window for fifteen seconds and I’ve already spotted four dealers! These guys are blatant about it. I guess there aren’t a lot of patrol cops working dope out here. Good. That just means more for us.
“Harper, check it out: blue t-shirt, khaki pants, left side of the overhang. Do you see him?”
“I see him. Yeah, he’s a dealer, all right.”
“It looks like he’s got a customer.”
And here we go! Mouth dealers have it down to a science. The customer hands over the money, the dealer reaches into his mouth, they do the hand-to-hand, and the sale is complete. It only takes a second or two.
“That’s a transaction.”
It sure was. With all of this foot traffic, that dealer could make fifty sales in less than twenty minutes. I wonder how much cash he’s got on him? He’s not using a money man, so he’s got the dope and the cash. If we can catch him, he’s fucked. His supplier is going to kick the living shit out of him for losing everything.
“What do the dealers do when they see a cop?”
“A lot of them just stand there and try to play it off. Running into the middle of Meridian Avenue isn’t really an option, unless they want to get squashed. The smart ones run into one of the stores.”
“They don’t get trapped in there?”
“Unfortunately, no. They own this territory. These guys intimidate the shit out of the storeowners, so they let them run out the back. It’s that, or they get their store burned down. These assholes won’t hesitate to throw a firebomb into a store that doesn’t cooperate.”
“Hey, there’s another one. White t-shirt and jeans, in front of the radio shop, mid-block.”
“I see him. He’s got a guy with him. He’s probably the money man.”
“It doesn’t look like he’s getting much business.”
“He might be new on this track. The crackheads probably don’t know him.”
“There’s nothing like having everyone know you’re the local dealer.”
“Yeah, I guess it’s like any other business: reputation is everything.”
It looks like our first dealer is making another sale. No, make that two sales. He’s the busy one. Harper’s right: the crackheads know him. At least, they know him better than any of the other dealers out here.
“Dani, there’s two more at the end of the block, right on the corner.”
“A dealer and a money man?”
“I don’t think so. It looks like they’re both dealing.”
“Side by side? That’s a little weird. Are they getting any hits?”
“A few. Our blue-shirted friend still seems to be the most popular. Jesus, he just made two more sales!”
“He’s picked a good spot for sales, but a bad one for escape. He’s too far from any of the doorways. The only place he can run is right out into the middle of the street.”
“Yeah, he’s boxed in pretty good. I say we take him. How do you want to work it?”
“Let’s do it on foot. If he sees the car heading his way, he’ll have time to make it into a store.”
“That sounds like a plan. Do you want to approach from the north or the south?”
“I know you’ve been working this division a lot longer than I have, but I think we should head in from the north. There’s at least three people dealing south of him. If we come up that way, we’ll alert them, and they’ll alert him. Our best bet is to come down from the north side. What do you think?”
“It sounds like you know what you’re doing. All right, let’s head back down and get this guy.”
“After you, partner.”
Of course, it’s not that simple. You always have to prepare for what might happen. For instance, what do you do if he takes off running? What do you do if the people on the sidewalk go nuts and start throwing things at you? A lot can go wrong in a crowd like that.
“OK, we make it look like we’re just walking a foot beat. Once we’re on top of him, that’s when you grab him. I know they probably told you not to do this in the academy, but how’s your C-Clamp?”
“Then as soon as you grab him, you throw a C-Clamp on him. Right on his neck. I don’t want him swallowing that shit. We’ll be all night in the hospital, waiting to get the asshole’s stomach pumped. And that’s assuming he doesn’t have an allergic reaction and drop dead.”
“Roger that. What do we do if he takes off running?”
Good to see that Harper’s thinking ahead. Most boots would just assume that we chase after the guy, no matter what. Harper’s clearly smarter than that. He wants to make sure that we’re on the same page before we do anything. Like I said, it’s like working with a veteran officer. My job’s going to be pretty easy this DP.
“If he bolts south, we don’t chase him unless we’re no more than ten feet away from him when he starts running. Any more than that and we’ll never catch him. If he runs out into traffic, don’t chase him unless he gets jammed up by the traffic. You don’t want to get hit by a car. I’ve never lost a partner, and I don’t want to start with you.”
“Yeah, that would really suck.”
“And remember: if he goes for anything that even looks like a weapon; screw the dope! We put him out of commission fast! There’s too many people on the sidewalk for us to take any chances.”
“Right with you, partner.”
“All right, then. Let’s go catch a dope dealer.”
This should be interesting. Dope dealers have different ways about them. About how they work. I want to see how the dealers in this division operate. I need to know that shit if I’m going to be effective. And on a busy street like this? There’s a million things that could go wrong in a heartbeat. We need to be careful.
All right, we’re down on the street, and we made it to the east side of Meridian. Damn! I hate doing this shit with so many people around! You never know how a crowd is going to react. And if things get ugly, we could have some injured bystanders. I just hope it doesn’t go south on us.
“I think we’re good, Dani. I don’t think he saw us cross the street.”
Harper’s right. The guy is scanning the crowd for customers. Based on his bad position, I don’t think he’s even thinking about the police grabbing him. That’s going to cost him.
“OK, try to hug the wall on the way down there. It’ll be harder for him to see us.”
“Who goes first?”
“He probably won’t pay as much attention to a female cop, so I’ll go first. I’ll walk past him and try to draw his attention. When he turns away, bang! That’s when you grab him.”
“OK, let’s do it.”
I can’t believe there are so many people out here this late. The sidewalk is fucking packed! That’s what you get when a lot of the stores stay open until ten or eleven. At least it helps hide us. It should also make it harder for this asshole to take off running. He’ll have to elbow his way through the crowd, and that will definitely slow him down. Still, I don’t want to get into a foot pursuit of this guy. People could get hurt.
“There he is; about twenty feet ahead. Get ready, Harper. I’m going to walk past him. When he turns his head…”
“I’ve got him.”
All right, here goes nothing. I’ve got to move to the far edge of the sidewalk, by the street. That way, he won’t see Harper until it’s too late. Come on, asshole! That’s it! Follow me with your eyes! Pay no attention to the other cop who’s about to throw a C-Clamp on your fucking throat. That’s it. Keep looking at me. Keep looking…
“Now! Grab him, Harper!”
“Police! Spit it out! Now!”
Got him! Harper’s got the C-Clamp on his throat, and he’s got him bent over so he can’t swallow the dope! Perfect! That’s how you do it! Now we have to get him to spit it out before Harper chokes him to death!
“Do as he says! Spit it out!”
“Spit it out, asshole!”
“You’re caught! It’s over! Do it!”
“Spit it out!”
This fucking idiot’s not giving in! He’s going to suffocate before he gives up the dope! One good shot to the gut with the end of my nightstick would do the trick, but I don’t want to do that unless I have to!
“It’s over! You’re under arrest! Spit out the dope!”
“You heard her, asshole! Spit it out!”
God, this guy’s face is bright red! We’ve got to end this right now!
“Oh, hell! Harper, step back!”
One shot to the gut, not too hard! Right below the sternum! Yes! There goes the dope! All over the sidewalk!
“It’s out! He spit it out! Hang on to him, Harper! Don’t let him step on it!”
“I’ve got him! He’s not going anywhere!”
Jesus, there must be twenty or thirty rocks there! This guy was carrying a serious load! How the hell did he fit all that in his mouth without chewing it up?
“Harper, cuff him! I’ve got the dope.”
For a street-level dealer, that’s a lot of crack! It’s got to be at least a quarter ounce! He’s fucking toast! At least this guy won’t get off lightly with some bullshit “personal use” argument. This is definitely resale weight!
“He’s cuffed, Dani. No weapons.”
“Check him for the cash. I saw him put it in his right front pocket.”
“God damn! Look at this! He must have three or four hundred bucks!”
“He’s a popular dealer. OK, pal! You’re under arrest. Possession of crack cocaine for sale. Do you speak English?”
He’s giving us the silent treatment. Usually, when they don’t speak English, they say so. The silent routine suggests that he understands exactly what we’re saying.
“Fine. If you don’t want to talk, that’s up to you. But you’re still going to jail.”
“Fuck you, cunt!”
So he does speak English. And Harper’s not happy with his disrespect!
“Hey! You don’t talk to my partner like that! Watch your mouth, asshole!”
“It’s OK, Harper. It’s nothing I haven’t heard before. Let’s take him back to the car. I want to finish this one as soon as possible.”
“You heard her, asshole! Let’s go! And don’t even think about trying anything!”
I don’t think we have to worry about that. This guy’s got a look on his face like the world just came to an end, and in a sense, it did. Oh, he’s not all broken up about going to jail. No, he’s afraid of what his supplier is going to do to him when he finds out that he lost both the dope and the money. He’s in a world of shit. When that happens, the supplier usually beats the dealer black and blue – or worse. I almost feel sorry for him. Well, almost.
Central Station. The report writing room. Well, that was fast! Most of these bookings take twice as long. It certainly helped that our arrestee gave up his real name right away, which is all the more surprising since he had two outstanding felony warrants for selling dope. Most people with two felony warrants make us identify them by their fingerprints. I guess this guy figured it was all going to end up the same. That was nice of him. I hate waiting around for the computer to match up the fingerprints. It’s a pretty amazing process to watch, but I’ve seen it a couple of dozen times. And I want to get back out there. The night’s still young.
“Hey, Harper? Can you believe that guy gave up his real name right away?”
“That was definitely a switch. Out here, nobody gives up their real name.”
“It must be a bitch, what with nobody out here having any ID.”
“Or any fixed address. Most people out here have at least twenty names.”
He’s got a point. When you’ve got no home, no job, and no hope, I guess hanging onto your real name seems like a waste of time. I need to start trying to think like these people do. Their situation is so much different than anywhere else. I need to get into their heads if I’m going to be effective out here. Damn! That used to be so easy everywhere else! Even the assholes weren’t all that much different from most people. You could figure them out in a day. But this place? This place is a whole other planet. Think about that for a minute: the whole time I’ve been on the job, I’ve never had to think like someone from another planet. Now I do. This place has no end of surprises. No wonder I like it so much.
“Where to now, Mister Harper?”
“Time for the Lockout.”
Oh, I almost forgot about that. I really want to see this. It sounds like a regular occurrence in this division.
“Which mission are we going to?”
“The Shepherd. It’s the biggest. That’s where the shit goes south most often.”
“That’s that huge one, right? How many entrances?”
“Just the main one. All of the others are already bolted. The front doors are all that’s left. Eight doors, all in a row.”
“You’re kidding, right? How do you handle eight doors?”
“They’ve got their own security. Very big guys. They know what they’re doing.”
“Are they armed?”
Is he fucking kidding me? Who the hell would work security in one of those places without a weapon?
“Not even a nightstick?”
“They’re not allowed to carry weapons. None of the missions allow it. Not even pepper spray.”
“Isn’t that kind of suicidal?”
“What can I tell you? I guess when you’re doing the Lord’s work, they don’t want you doing it armed.”
I hate to admit it, but that makes sense. Still, those security guards are really sticking their necks out.
“So you’re saying that’s why we’re there?”
“You got it. We’ve got the guns and the nightsticks. Just in case, you know.”
“How often do you have to use them?”
“Well, I’ve never shot anyone there.”
“What about stick time?”
“Plenty of that, I’m afraid. And with this heatwave, it’s been pretty crazy, lately.”
Are these Lockouts really that bad? I can see some shit happening once in a while, but he makes it sound like a shit storm is almost a regular occurrence. This, I definitely want to see!
En route to the Shepherd Mission. Jesus, it looks like there are at least twice as many people on the street as before! Skid row seems to have these phases. I don’t know what else to call them. Different phases for different times of the day and night. I guess the Lockout is one of those phases.
“We’re almost there, Dani. Put us code six at the Shepherd Mission, Lockout.”
“They’ll know what that is?”
“Oh, yeah! It’ll also let everyone else out here know what we’re up to. Just in case.”
I guess they even have their own radio codes out here. Boy, I’ve got a lot to learn! I’m beginning to feel like I’m the boot and Harper’s the training officer!
“Sixteen Central, show as at the Shepherd Mission, working the Lockout.”
“Sixteen Central, Roger. Central units, be advised: Sixteen Central is code six at the Shepherd Mission, working the Lockout.”
You know what’s weird? The way she said that; it had an almost ominous ring to it. Something tells me this could go to shit in a real hurry. You know that old saying: “Be careful what you wish for?” This could be one of those times. I’d better be ready for anything.
And there it is: the Shepherd Mission. I’ve driven past it, but I’ve never really taken a good look at it. Talk about a fortress! God, that thing is big! I’ll bet it holds at least a thousand people! And that’s just a drop in the bucket as far as the homeless go. No wonder they go ape shit when they can’t get a bunk. At least half a dozen missions in the skid row sector, and they can’t even make a dent in the homeless problem. It’s a wonder they still try, but they do. It’s like Harper said: they’re doing the Lord’s work. They sure picked one hell of a place to do it. Jesus, this shithole could make anybody question their faith! If theirs is that strong, then I envy them.
“So where do we set up for this thing?”
“We’ve got to make our way to the front doors, first.”
“You mean we’ve got to wade through that crowd? There’s got to be two hundred people there, elbow to elbow!”
“At least. Welcome to the Lockout. All right, stick close. You definitely don’t want to get separated in there.”
“Are any of them going to get in?”
“Nope. It’s five minutes to Lockout. Everyone who’s getting a bunk is already inside.”
“Oh, great! Two hundred pissed-off people with nothing to lose, and it’s been over one hundred degrees all day long!”
“Yeah, and most of them have been drinking or smoking dope all day long. Sounds like fun, huh?”
“That’s one way to put it. What’s the best approach?”
Is he serious? Straight through that mob?
“Wouldn’t it be better to come in along the side?”
“Negative. As close as they are to the doors, they could pin us against the walls. I’ve seen it happen. Officers get hurt that way.”
Harper’s definitely been paying attention out here. I think he’s going to be a gold mine of information. Hell, I’ve been asking questions of the old-timers since I got here, and none of them were as informative. I wonder if all of the boots in this division are as sharp as Harper? I doubt it, but I’ll bet they’re pretty good. I really need to find out who the hard-chargers are. I’ve got a thousand and one questions already, and this is only my second DP here.
“OK, Dani. Ready to part the waves?”
“Lead on, Moses.”
“First, we let them know we’re here. Make it loud! All right, people! May I have your attention, please! Police officers coming through! Make a hole and make it big! Move!”
“You head him! Move aside! Coming through!”
Fuck! These guys do not want to move! I think I’m going to have to insist! That’s why they give us the nightsticks. They’re great motivators if you know how to use them.
“Fuck off, bitch!”
If I whack anyone, it’s a use of force and we’ll need a sergeant. But I can push them. I just hope one of these assholes doesn’t try to grab my nightstick. Then the fight’s on for sure!
“You heard her! Move it back! Police! Coming through!”
Harper’s got his nightstick out, too. It’s good to know we’re on the same page. We’re almost there. I can see the doors.
“Dani! The guys in the yellow jackets are security! Head straight for them!”
I can see them. Jesus! Harper wasn’t kidding! Those guys are huge! They look like pro football players! And they’ve got their hands full, too!
“Randy! Hey, Randy! It’s me! Harper! We’re coming through!”
I guess Harper knows some of these guys by name. Good! I think we’re going to need the help!
“I see you, Mr. Harper! Let ’em through! Let the police through!”
That did the trick. A couple of three hundred-pound guys can definitely clear a path.
“Good to see you, Mr. Harper. They’re rowdy tonight. It must be the heat.”
“That’s why we came by. This is my new partner. Dani Lynott, meet Randy.”
“Nice to meet you. Thanks for the help.”
“Any time, officer. I ain’t seen you here before. Are you new?”
“I got here last month. Just transferred to Midwatch.”
“In that case, welcome to the end of the world, Ms. Dani.”
I see I’m not the only one who thinks that way about skid row. Shit! These people are too close to the doors! We need to get them back. How? They’re all shouting at once. How the hell is anyone supposed to know what they’re saying? And what are those paper slips they’re waving around?
“Harper, what are those little paper things they’re waving?”
“Chits for a bunk. Most of them are probably from last week. They change the colors every week.”
“They don’t think they’ll get checked?”
“What can I tell you? Hope springs eternal.”
Yeah, I guess that explains it.
“When do they lock the doors?”
“Randy? How much longer?”
“They’re bringing the keys. Should be any second, now.”
We need to get these guys back now! They’ll never get the doors locked if we don’t! If they rush the doors, we’re going to get trampled! I’d better start yelling!
“Police! Everybody move away from the doors! Back up! Everyone back up!”
They don’t seem to be listening to me. I’m not even sure they can hear me.
“I said move back! Now!”
OK, there’s the guy with the keys. I hope he gets these doors locked in a hurry. This is really going to shit!
“Randy! Do you guys need to get in there before they lock up?”
I don’t think Randy can hear me. He looks like he’s got his hands full. That guy he’s talking to is going off big time! We might be taking him to jail if he doesn’t back off!
“Randy! They’re locking the doors! Do you need to get inside?”
“No, we go in through the back. Hey! I told you all! The doors are locked! Ain’t no one getting in tonight! We’re full! There’s no more bunks! You all need to leave! Now! The doors are locked!”
Damn! That was fast! These guys know what they’re doing, all right. OK, that’s the last of the doors. I’m hoping they all get the hell out of here now. Jesus, is it like this every night? How do these guys stand it?
“All right, people! You heard the man! The doors are locked! Nobody’s getting in! Everybody needs to leave! Now!”
“Are you all right, Dani?”
“Jesus, Harper! Is it always like this?”
“No, it’s worse when it rains.”
Great! Remind me never to work when it rains. This is fucking nuts! At least they’re starting to leave. I guess they know the drill by heart. Just keep ordering them to leave. That’s all we can do.
“That’s it! Everybody move away from the doors! The place is locked down for the night! You’re not getting in!”
“Hey, I think they’re listening to you, Dani. You must have the magic touch.”
“Magic, hell! What I need is a cattle prod!”
“They’re not authorized.”
“All right, they’re leaving. What do we do now?”
“Hit the alley behind the place. A lot of them are going to be headed that way. That’s where the fights break out.”
After this shit, I can believe it! Some of these guys look seriously pissed!
“Randy! Dani and I are going to check the alley out back!”
“You got it! Thanks for the assist, Mr. Harper.”
“Anytime, Randy. You stay safe in there.”
“Always do. You guys stay safe, too. Nice to meet you, Ms. Dani.”
“Likewise. You guys really earn your money.”
“This? Hell, this is nothing! Inside’s where you need to watch your back. If you don’t, you might find a knife in it.”
“You do that, OK?”
“Always do, ma’am.”
Mission, hell! This place is a fucking zoo! Are they all like this? Jesus Christ! This place is even crazier than I thought! They need to assign a riot squad to this place! Permanently!
OK, that was fucking ridiculous! I had no idea the missions were like that! Hell, I thought they were safe havens out here! Randy said it was worse inside. Worse? How bad could these places be?
“Hey, Harper? Are all of the missions like that?”
“Pretty much. The Shepherd’s the one with the most problems. It’s too big and they don’t have enough people working here.”
“That guy Randy said it was worse inside. Is that true?”
And he’s looking at me like I’m a babe in the woods. Jesus, what could be happening in there? How bad could it be?
“You’ve never been in there, have you? Dani, the missions and the shelters are hellholes. Lots of fights, stabbings, people getting their heads bashed in. People suddenly going psycho and tearing up the place. It’s like a war zone in there sometimes. All of the missions are. They do their best, but no one can control these places.”
“Don’t they search people for weapons?”
“All the time. But these guys are experts at hiding shit. It’s like prison: someone always manages to get something in. A lot of these people are afraid to go in there at night. They’d rather sleep on the street. They figure the odds are better.”
“Jesus, I had no idea. I thought these places were safe.”
“Unless you’ve been out here, you’d never know. The people at the missions; they’re good people. They do what they can. A lot of them are volunteers. But if we can’t keep a lid on skid row, then how the hell are they supposed to do it?”
That makes sense. People actually volunteer to come down here? I’ve got two guns, a Taser, a nightstick and a can of pepper gas and I don’t feel safe! And people volunteer to come down here with nothing? That’s some serious courage!
“You’re making me feel like a boot, Harper. There’s a lot more to this place than I ever thought.”
“It’s like Randy said: welcome to the end of the world. Come on, let’s grab the car and check the alley.”
“Yeah, I can’t wait to see what that’s like.”
God, I fucking love this division! Every time you turn a corner, there’s something new. Something unbelievable. I can’t believe I actually get to work here! This is fantastic!
The alley behind the Shepherd Mission. OK, now I see where everybody went. There must be a couple of hundred people back here! It’s practically standing room only!
“Do they stay here all night?”
“Most of them. They keep the lights on in this alley all night long. The rest move on to someplace else, or else they head out to commit crimes.”
“Harper, check it out! Halfway down!”
“I see them!”
Two guys beating the shit out of each other! Jesus, they’ve got two-by-fours! They’re swinging for head shots! They’re going to kill each other!
“Sixteen Central, show us code six in the alley behind the Shepherd Mission; ADW in progress. Two male suspects, armed with two-by-fours. Requesting backup.”
“Sixteen Central, roger. Any unit in the vicinity, Sixteen Central is requesting a backup on an ADW in progress, in the alley behind the Shepherd Mission.”
“What do you think, Dani? Do you want to wait for backup?”
Ordinarily, I’d say yes. But those guys are going to kill each other any second, now! We need to do something fast!
“I don’t think they’ll wait. Let’s prone them out before we have a homicide on our hands.”
“Right with you, partner!”
“Hit the lightbar and blast the siren. Get their attention.”
“You got it.”
This is a bad setup. There’s too many people. The background’s no good. If we have to shoot, we might hit a bystander. God, I hope the siren scatters the rest of them!
Well, some of them took off. Our two suspects don’t even seem to notice! Fucking lunatics! We’d better try to get their attention and prone them out. Out of the car and draw down on them! Let them see our guns!
“Police! Both of you! Drop your weapons! Now! Do it!”
And of course, they’re not listening! Fucking idiots!
“Harper! Hit them with the spotlight! Light them up!”
OK, that got their attention! But they’re still holding their two-by-fours. Idiots! Total fucking idiots!
“I said drop the weapons! Now! Both of you!”
“Do as she says!”
“Hey, assholes! Do you see these guns? Don’t make us shoot you! Drop it! Now!”
Good! They dropped the two-by fours! But we’re not out of the woods yet!
“The rest of you, get out of here! Now!”
They’re scattering. Thank God! Now we’ve got a clear background if we have to shoot. I think these two idiots are going to give up, too. Thank God!
“Harper, prone them out!”
“All right, both of you! Face down on the ground! Do it!”
“He started it, officer!”
“The hell I did, motherfucker!”
“Fuck you, motherfucker! I’ll kill your motherfucking ass!”
“Shut up, both of you! I don’t care who started it! I said both of you! Face down on the ground! Now!”
OK, they’re smarter than I thought. They’re doing it. Harper’s got some good command presence. Good. We may actually get out of this without having to hurt anybody.
“I’ll hook them up. Cover me, Harper.”
“You got it, partner. You two! Don’t either of you move!”
“We ain’t gonna move!”
“See that you don’t!”
I need to be damned careful on the approach. It looks like everyone else took off, but with that spotlight shining, I can’t really tell. I don’t want some asshole jumping out of nowhere when I go to cuff these guys. In this alley? That’s a definite possibility.
“I’ve got you, Dani. You’re clear. Move in.”
“OK, hands behind your back, guys. Both of you. And don’t try anything.”
“No, ma’am. We ain’t gonna move.”
One, and two. OK, they’re cuffed. And nobody else is jumping in. Nice and easy, just how I like it.
“They’re hooked. Stand down, Harper. Hey, do either of you guys have any other weapons?”
“We ain’t got no weapons, ma’am. Never did.”
“Really? What do you call those two-by-fours?”
“Those ain’t weapons. They’re just pieces of wood, ma’am.”
“They are when you bash each other’s heads in with them!”
“Ain’t nobody got their heads bashed!”
“Yeah, because we stopped you in time!”
“So? Still ain’t nobody’s head got bashed. No blood, no crime, right?”
If that seems like a strange way of looking at things, it isn’t. A lot of people think that way, and not just out here. It’s ridiculous, but it’s a fact of life in police work. It still drives me crazy, though.
“Harper! Search these guys before I hit one of them!”
“OK, guys, you know the drill. Has anyone got any knives? Needles? Razor blades?”
“If I had a knife, I’d have stuck it in his damned ass! Stupid motherfucker!”
“Fine! I’ll take that as a ‘no.’ Lean back and spread your legs. And I’d better not cut myself on anything.”
“We ain’t got nothin’ on us, sir. You can check.”
These two are trying to kill each other, and they’re acting like it’s nobody’s business but theirs. God, I hope it’s the drugs. I’d hate to think their brains work that way normally.
“They’re clean. No weapons.”
“There’s no blood on the two-by-fours. They must’ve scored body shots only. I guess we got here just in time. So what was the fight about, guys?”
“This motherfucker disrespected me!”
“Fuck you! I called you a motherfuckin’ liar because you are one, motherfucker!”
Do you believe these idiots? Fucking brain donors! It’s a wonder they have enough brain cells left to remember to breathe!
“So you both thought you’d kill each other over an insult?”
“Damn right, Senior! I don’t take no disrespect from no one!”
“So you want to go to jail for ADW over a bunch of bullshit?”
“Don’t mean shit to me, Senior! Take my ass to jail! What the fuck do I care?”
He’s probably serious. Living out here, why should he care about going to jail? It would probably be an improvement over this place.
“Harper, take these guys over underneath that floodlight.”
“Roger that. What do you want to do with them, Dani?”
That’s a good question. Anywhere else, they’d be on their way to jail. But out here, things are different. This pretty much qualifies as a mutual combat. A mutual combat with deadly weapons, but a mutual combat nevertheless. No way will we ever get a filing on them. They’ll be out in forty-eight hours, tops.
“All right, here’s what we’re going to do: one of you is going to start walking east, and the other one is going to start walking west. If we see you guys within a hundred yards of each other tonight, that’s it! You’re both going to jail! Got it?”
“I understand, Senior.”
“Good! Start walking!”
Well, that was easy enough. Hey! What the…is he fucking kidding me?
“Hey, you! Leave the goddamned two-by-four!”
“But it’s mine, Senior!”
Am I hearing him right? “Oh, thanks for letting me go. Just let me grab my fucking deadly weapon so I can whack someone else over the head!” Jesus! What a fucking lunatic!
“Go find yourself another one!”
“Yes, ma’am, Senior.”
“Get going! Now! Before I change my mind and haul your ass to the lockup!”
“All right, I’m leavin’. Y’all have a good one, officers.”
Just like that? No big deal, officers! I just tried to kill a guy! Nothing to see here! What a total lunatic motherfucker! I swear to God, this place takes crazy to a whole new level!
“Harper, is there a full moon out tonight?”
“Hmm…not that I can see.”
“Then it’s just me?”
What? Is he laughing at me? My boot is laughing at me on our first night together?
“What’s so damned funny?”
“Nothing. Nothing at all. Welcome to police work on skid row, Dani.”
This is some welcome! Imagine what they do around here for Christmas! This whole division is one giant insane asylum! And we’re the goddamned keepers! I don’t know whether to laugh or cry or just start screaming!