Chapter 8: Stranger in a Strange Land
Jesus, Harper hasn’t stopped laughing since we drove away! It’s nice to see he’s got a good sense of humor. Hey, I’ve hardly stopped laughing, too. That was really funny! But he keeps looking over at me and cracking up. I think I must be missing something, here.
“All right, Harper! What’s so damned funny? Why do you keep looking at me like that?”
He’s just looking at me again with that crazy look on his face!
“Area denial? Where the hell did you learn about area denial?”
“I read books. I watch The History Channel. I play HALO and Call of Duty.”
I’m serious! I do those things. I happen to like The History Channel. Is that so hard to believe? But Jesus, he’s looking at me like he just saw a UFO! What’s going on with him?
“What? I know things, too! Even if I wasn’t a Marine.”
“Fucking area denial? I can’t believe you know about area denial!”
“Well, I got it right, didn’t I?”
At least he’s nodding. He’s laughing too hard to answer, but he’s nodding. Hey, I knew I got it right. I read about that shit somewhere. Land mines, poison gas, booby traps. Area denial. You know, shit like that.
“You are completely out of your goddamned mind, Dani! Did you know that?”
“It’s been said.”
“You gassed his stash! That’s the craziest thing I ever saw! You gassed his stash!”
“What can I say? It seemed like the thing to do.”
“Did you see his face? I thought he was going to shit himself! In fact, I think he actually did! I’ve never seen Ricky look like that!”
“That’s because nobody’s ever challenged him before. He probably thought everyone was too scared to do it. He’s used to groveling junkies and patrol cops leaving him alone. He didn’t think we’d fuck with him. And we did it in front of his asshole friend and a bunch of junkies, right in his own backyard. He’s probably still fuming about it. And that’s exactly what I wanted to happen.”
“I’ve got to tell you, Dani, I was impressed with you before. I mean seriously impressed! But that shit back there? That absolutely blew my mind! And how the hell did you know he had those hide holes booby-trapped?”
“I didn’t. But some dealers are doing that these days. I figured if anyone out here was setting traps for the police, it was Ricky. There was no way I was going to put my hand in there. And now we know for sure: he does booby-trap his hides. We need to remember that.”
“You are unbelievable! Seriously! Compared to any other cop I’ve ever worked with, you’re operating on a whole other level! God, I’ve been dying to fuck with that asshole since the day I got here!”
“Good. Because we’re going to be fucking with him a lot from now on. We might not be able to catch him dirty, but we can sure as hell fuck with his business. If you can’t put someone like that in jail, the next best thing is to make his life miserable. If we fuck with him enough, it’ll put a big dent in his cash flow and it’ll drive him right up the wall. With any luck, he’ll get so frustrated that he’ll pack up and leave. Go try to set up shop somewhere else.”
“What about the orders? Patrol’s not supposed to go after with Ricky.”
“Screw them. Detective Godfrey says Narcotics Division never gave any such order. It’s a miscommunication. I have it directly from him and his partner. They gave us both a green light to go after Ricky and every other dope dealer out here. They want us to fuck with him, and they want us to pass along any information we get while we’re out here. As long as we keep them in the loop, we should be fine.”
“Yes! Finally! You are the best! Hands down, the best!”
“Thanks. Now, it goes without saying that some of what I did back there wasn’t what you’d call ‘in-policy.’ I’d rather not give the Watch Commander any details if I can avoid it.”
“Hey, you know I’m not going to say anything.”
“I just don’t want anything to come back on you. As you know, I’m not exactly their favorite person.”
“I’m your partner. I’ve got your back, no matter what.”
“Same here. Of course, now I’m out of pepper gas.”
“There’s canisters in the kit room.”
“Good! Head back to the station. I don’t want to be out here without a gas canister. You never know.”
“What are we going to do about that asshole?”
“You mean Ricky?”
“No, I mean the asshole we left hooked to the drain pipe!”
“Oh, Diego! I figure we’ll go back in an hour and unhook him.”
“What if someone fucks him up while he’s chained to that pipe?”
“Then we’ll go back in an hour, unhook what’s left of him, and take a crime report.”
“Are you serious? Dani, you’re insane!”
“Aww, you say that like it’s a bad thing.”
“No, it’s a good thing! It’s a very good thing!”
“Forty-Four Central, officer needs assistance! We’re in foot pursuit of a 211 suspect! Southbound on Meridian, south of Seventh Street! Suspect male white, blue shirt, grey pants! Armed with a knife!”
That’s Signolo and Goren! If they’re heading down Meridian, that guy’s going to go for the alleys!
“Harper! How far?”
“That’s one block over! We can cut him off at Eighth Street!”
“I think he’s going for the alley east of Meridian! I’ll bet he runs north as soon as he gets there!”
“Going for the space between the buildings?”
“If he gets there…”
“We’ll lose him for sure! Hang on!”
Oh, shit! Are we really going to try to drive through this alley at forty miles an hour? And he thinks I’m crazy?
“Sixteen Central, we’re northbound through the alley, east of Meridian, approaching Eighth Street! Responding to the assistance call!”
We’re going to plow into something in here! Oh, God! I hope Harper knows what he’s doing!
“Harper! There he is! He heading northbound in the alley! And he’s got a knife!”
“I see him! Hang on!”
There’s our guys in foot pursuit! Jesus! Who’s in the lead? Signolo? Damn! He’s as fast as hell! Look at him go!
“Don’t hit our guys! They’re right behind him!”
“I see them!”
These alleys aren’t made for this speed! Just don’t crash, Harper! Please don’t crash!
“I got him! I’m going to cut him off!”
Fuck! I didn’t know Harper was going to try a front-bumper takedown! He really nailed that asshole! The guy went airborne! Right over the hood!
“Are you all right, Harper?”
“I got him! Let’s go! Hey, you! Let me see your hands! Let me see your hands!”
Harper’s got him at gunpoint! I need to let everybody know what’s up before we have a crossfire situation!
“We’ve got officers coming behind us! Watch your line of fire! Goren! Signolo! Your suspect’s down! Come around my side of the car!”
The guy’s down, but not out! He’s yelling his goddamned head off!
“Fucking asshole cop! You tried to kill me!”
“No, you hit my car!”
“Fuck that shit! You cut in front of me, motherfucker! You tried to kill me!”
“Shut up and show me your hands!”
“Fuck that shit! My fucking leg’s broken! Jesus fucking Christ almighty! You tried to kill me!”
Well, he’s not holding the knife anymore. No kidding! I saw it fly out of his hand when he slammed into the car! And he doesn’t look like he’s going to put up much of a fight.
“Harper, keep him covered. Goren, cuff him. He dropped the knife.”
“I got him. Come here, asshole!”
I don’t think he’s going to get up on his own. Not with that banged-up leg. I think it really is broken!
“Officer, I didn’t do shit!”
“Bullshit! You robbed a guy at the lunch truck! We saw you!”
“That weren’t no robbery! I just asked him for some change!”
“Yeah, you asked him with a knife to his throat!”
“What knife? I ain’t got no knife!”
“Dani, where’d the knife go?”
“It’s right over there, behind you.”
“Shine your light on it.”
“Right there. See it?”
“I see it. Watch this guy for me, will you?”
“We got him. Sixteen Central, show a code four; suspect in custody, alley east of Meridian, north of Eighth Street.”
“Sixteen Central, roger. All units, code four; suspect in custody, alley east of Meridian, north of Eighth Street.”
Where’s Signolo? He was running like hell. Damn, he’s fast! I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone run that fast! Another few seconds and he would’ve caught the guy without our help!
“Signolo! Where are you?”
“Right behind you. Just needed to catch my breath.”
“Jesus, where’d you learn to run like that?”
“I’ve always been a runner. I was a sprinter at UNLV.”
“I believe it. If you ever enter the Police Olympics, let me know so I can put some money on you.”
“Yeah, I’ll do that. Did we get the knife?”
“Yeah, Goren’s got it. Who did he rob?”
“Some guy at the roach coach. The asshole asked him for change, and when he said he didn’t have any, the fucking idiot pulled a knife on him. I’ve got to get back there before the victim takes off. I don’t want this guy getting a free pass.”
“I think you’ve done enough running for one day. “Take our car. We’ll walk over.”
“Thanks. What about the suspect?”
“Fuck him! He can walk, too.”
Apparently, our suspect disagrees.
“No! I can’t walk nowhere! This asshole cop tried to kill me with his motherfucking car! A motherfucking car! Goddamned fucking maniac cop! He broke my fucking leg!”
Some people, you just can’t please. Go figure.
“You can walk. If you can run, then you can walk.”
“No way, Senior! Look at this shit! This asshole broke my motherfucking leg!”
“It doesn’t look broken to me.”
Actually, it does. But that’s beside the point.
“Bullshit, Senior! That’s ’cause it’s internal! You can’t see it with your eyes! You need a doctor to see it! They got that special shit that can see it! That’s what I need! I need a goddamned doctor!”
“You can start walking, or Officer Harper and Officer Goren are going to drag you out of this alley by your heels. Your choice.”
“For real? You’d do me like that, Senior?”
“No, but they will. I’m a woman. I don’t do that shit. I might break a nail.”
“We wouldn’t want you to break a nail, Dani.”
“Thank you, Harper.”
Our suspect doesn’t appreciate my sense of humor.
“Are you fucking kidding me? You guys are gonna let her do me like that? For real? I almost died! My fucking leg’s broken! I need a fucking doctor!”
“We have to. She’s my partner, but she outranks us. See her stripes?”
“That’s true. She’s our boss. We have to do what she says.”
“Oh, man! Fuck this shit! This is bullshit!”
“No, it’s armed robbery. You heard her. Start walking.”
“This is some humiliating shit, you know that? I need a goddamned doctor! Police brutality! Hey! Hey, anyone! These police brutalized me! I need a doctor! Help! Help!”
Who the hell does he think is going to hear him in an alley in the middle of the night? So let him yell if he wants to. Maybe it’ll make him feel better? He probably is in a lot of pain. Hey, I wonder if he put a dent in our car when he slammed into it? I sure hope not. We’ll catch hell for it if he did.
“Just keep walking. And by the way, you’re under arrest.”
“Arrest? For what, Senior?”
“Robbery. Running from the police. Anything else they can find.”
“But you all done brutalized me!”
“No we didn’t. You brutalized our car. You ran right into it.”
“Are you for real? Oh, this is such motherfucking bullshit! Hey! Hey, somebody! They brutalized me! Police brutality! They ran over me with a motherfucking car! Help!”
He’s going to keep yelling all the way to jail. Some people do that. They don’t shut up until they get them in the cell.
“Oh, great! Harper, we’ve got a sergeant here!”
“Who is it?”
Oh, thank God! It’s Sergeant Hendrickson.
“It’s Sergeant Hendrickson. I guess we lucked out.”
Well, I hope we lucked out. We could still be in trouble. Even some of the best sergeants don’t take kindly to front-bumper takedowns. It’s not exactly something they teach you at the academy.
“Lynott! Harper! What’ve you got?”
“Ask Goren. It’s his arrest. Him and Signolo.”
“Robbery suspect, Sarge. He took off running.”
“So I heard. Where’s the victim?”
“My partner’s up the street, talking to him now. We’re walking this guy back.”
It looks like our suspect is going to try his victim act on the Sarge. I don’t think it’s going to work.
“Sergeant! Sergeant, they brutalized me, Sergeant! They tried to kill me with a motherfucking car! They ran me over and broke my leg! That one! The tall one! He tried to kill me, Sergeant! Police brutality!”
From the look on Sergeant Hendrickson’s face, I don’t think he’s too sympathetic.
“If your leg’s broken, then how the hell are you walking?”
“They made me walk, sir! First they brutalized me, then they made me walk on my broken motherfucking leg!”
“Who brutalized you?”
“All of them! These two! The girl! And the other guy, too! The one that drove away! It’s a whole motherfucking conspiracy!”
“Yeah! They all conspired to put a case on me! Then they conspired to motherfucking kill me!”
“Uh-huh. Was the victim in on it, too?”
“Victim? I’m the goddamned victim, Sergeant! Look at my motherfucking leg!”
“Harper, Signolo, take this guy back to the scene. Make sure the victim can ID him. Lynott, you talk to me.”
I don’t think he’s going to chew me out, but you never know. I really don’t feel like another lecture. I mean, technically, we didn’t do anything wrong.
“OK, Dani, what happened?”
“We were trying to cut him off. We saw him go north into the alley. Goren and Signolo were chasing him. We got ahead of him, and…”
“Well, to be perfectly honest, he hit the car. Not the other way around.”
“Uh-huh. Any damage to the car?”
“I don’t think so.”
“And did anyone tune this guy up after he went down?”
“No, sir. We just cuffed him.”
“So we’re not going to find any mysterious welts on him?”
“No, sir. Well, maybe a few bruises from where he hit the car, but…”
“All right. I’ve got it. Good job. You got here damned fast.”
“Harper was driving.”
“That explains it. The Mario Andretti of Central Division.”
So I’m not the only one who thinks Harper drives like a maniac. Good. That’s good to know.
“We also recovered the knife he used.”
“Just give your info to Signolo and Goren for the report. I’ll make sure the guy gets checked out.”
“Now, do you want to tell me about the asshole at the Big Lot who’s chained to a pipe and screaming his goddamned head off?”
Oh, shit! I forgot about him! I guess the Sarge must’ve driven by there! I didn’t think of that!
“What would I know about that, sir?”
“Yeah, right! You’re the only woman working Midwatch, and every other word out of that asshole’s mouth is ‘fucking bitch!’ I did the math.”
Yeah, I think it’s pretty obvious it was me. Fortunately for me, he doesn’t seem angry about it.
“We were just about to go back there and unhook him.”
“See that you do. I could hear that asshole yelling a block away, over the air conditioner! Somebody’s liable to complain.”
“Roger that, sir.”
“And make sure Harper knows that the speed limit in these alleys is five miles per hour. Tell him I said there’s going to be a quiz at end of watch. He’d better pass if he knows what’s good for him.”
“I’ll make sure he gets an ‘A’ on that quiz, sir.”
“I’ll hold you to that. You and Harper get back out there and clear. Forty-Four’s going to be tied up on this arrest for a while. The shit’s getting crazy, and we’ve got too many units tied up as it is. I need you guys out there to handle calls. We’ve got almost no one clear.”
“Roger that, sir.”
“Come on, I’ll give you a ride back.”
That’s an old-time sergeant for you. It’s guys like him that make me wish I’d been on the job back in the day. Things were different, and if you ask me, they were a hell of a lot better. I’m just glad we’ve still got some guys one the job who remember what it was like and aren’t trying to change it. I’d go bonkers if it weren’t for people like Sergeant Hendrickson. I really would.
Heading back to the Big Lot. I guess we got lucky. That idiot didn’t put a dent in our car when he slammed into it. It never ceases to amaze me the way everyone goes completely bat-shit crazy when you bang up a patrol car. Yeah, I know they’re expensive, but given what we do and the number of hours these cars are on the road every day, you have to expect that they’re going to get banged up from time to time. But if you put the tiniest little dent in a fender, stand by! They act like you just burned down the police station. It’s the same in every division. If there were a Ten Commandments of police work, one of them would be: “Thou shalt not bang up a police car.” You’d think the sergeants and the brass would have better things to worry about, wouldn’t you?
I guess we’d better go unhook Diego from that drain pipe. Yeah, some people would probably think it’s a terrible thing that I did that, but they’d be mistaken. For one thing, I’m guessing that Diego is a hell of a lot more dangerous to the people out here than they are to him; even when he’s chained up. For another, hooking people to lampposts and things like that is a common practice in this division. You see it more often during Daywatch, though. The guys working the foot beats will find some major drunk and hook him to a lamppost, tape a field interview card with his name and vital statistics to his head, and call for the drunk wagon to come collect him. It’s a weird system, but it definitely works. Evidently, they’ve been doing that here for about a hundred years and the sergeants and lieutenants tolerate it. So as far as I’m concerned, why should an asshole like Diego get anything different?
Oh, good! I see he’s still there! Honestly, I’m surprised Ricky didn’t unhook him. You’d be surprised how many criminals carry around a handcuff key. Why not? They’re cheap, and anyone can buy them. And for the most part, one key fits every pair of handcuffs in the country. So if you’re going to be a professional asshole and break the law for a living, then why wouldn’t you carry one?
Yeah, he sees us! He should be happy. Now he doesn’t have to chew through his wrist in order to free himself. That’s something, isn’t it?
“Hey! Hey! Over here, bitch! Cut me loose! You hear me? Cut me the fuck loose!”
He’s even more pissed off than when we left him! And where’s Ricky? I don’t see him.
“Relax, Diego. We’re here to let you go…if you promise to behave yourself.”
“Yeah! Yeah, sure! Just cut me the fuck loose from here!”
He doesn’t look any the worse for wear. Sadly, I expected that. My brief introduction to Ricky – along with what Detective Godfrey told me – makes me think that the people out here are just too terrified to fuck with him. And if they won’t fuck with Ricky, they won’t fuck with one of his boys, either.
“Hey, Diego? What happened to Ricky? I don’t see him. Did he leave?”
“What’s it to you, bitch?”
“I’m just curious. He can’t be much of a friend if he left you here like that.”
“Just cut me the fuck loose!”
“Harper, unhook him. But if he tries anything, you put him on his ass.”
“Will do, partner.”
“You think this makes you two a couple of badasses, bitch?”
“No. But we are the police, and this is our sector. We don’t like asshole dope dealers in our sector. We’re not inclined to cut you a break.”
“Oh, you ain’t inclined, huh? Fuck you, bitch! Fuck you both!”
“Is that the only thing you know how to say?”
“Just get the fuck out of here, bitch!”
“We’re not leaving. You are.”
“You’ve got no business being here. And your boss is in the wind. Start walking.”
He’s not going to stand his ground against the two of us if Ricky isn’t here. I think we both know that.
“I’ll remember you, bitch! Fucking count on it!”
“I don’t doubt it. Goodbye, Diego. Don’t come back.”
And there he goes: mad as hell, but with his boss gone, he’s not going to try any shit. Ricky would probably be pissed if he did.
“Come on, Harper. Let’s get out of here. We’ll be back.”
I think we’re going to be spending a lot of time in this lot. Something tells me that getting rid of Ricky is going to be a full-time job. But that’s OK with me. I’ve got nothing but time.
Back on patrol. It’s still pretty crazy out here. The heat’s keeping everybody awake. How the hell could anyone sleep when it’s this hot? I didn’t realize it before, but now I do: heatwaves are one of a cop’s worst enemies.
I don’t doubt that we’ll be seeing Diego again. Or Ricky. Not tonight, but tomorrow night and the next night and the next. I’ve been thinking about what we can do to shut them both down, at least in this sector. One of the things you learn on patrol is that there are a lot of things you can do to screw up criminals when they’re territorial, and no one is more territorial than a heroin dealer. Your customers are so hopelessly fucked up that you need to stay in one place or else they’ll never find you. No customers; no sales. No sales; no business. No business; there’s no point in sticking around. That’s how I plan to drive Ricky right up the wall and right out of skid row. I may not be able to pin anything on him that would put him in jail for a few decades, but I can definitely fuck with his business. Dope dealers hate it when you do that.
“What are you giggling about, Harper?”
“Our friend Diego didn’t look too happy to see us.”
“I think he was especially unhappy about seeing me again. I don’t think he likes me.”
“But you were so nice to him when you let him go.”
“I think it’s a gender thing. I don’t think he likes women telling him what to do. Especially women cops.”
“Really? I got the same feeling from Ricky. I think he really hates you.”
“It’s nice to know I’m doing something right. And make no mistake: he didn’t seem to like you, either. I think he wanted to take a swing at you.”
“If he did, I’d have put him on his ass.”
“I think you’ll get the chance pretty soon.”
I believe that, too. We embarrassed Ricky in his own backyard. Junkies were watching. We challenged his authority, and we made him back down and everybody saw it. He can’t let that slide. Not if he wants to maintain his position. The question is: what will he do about it?
“Dani, do you mind if I ask you a question?”
“I’ll kick your ass if you don’t. Answering questions is part of why I’m here.”
“Fair enough. How come you didn’t ask Ricky about the shooting?”
“Why do you think I didn’t?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.”
“Well, let me ask you something: do you think Ricky’s good for it?”
“At this point? Yeah, I do.”
“So do I. So as far as we’re concerned, he’s our number one suspect. Right?”
“Now, do you think Ricky knows he’s our number one suspect?”
“I don’t know. He might.”
“Or he might not. So if he doesn’t know we suspect him, would we want to tell him?”
“I guess not.”
“Exactly. It’s a homicide investigation, now. We don’t want to fuck it up. If the detectives think he’s good for it, then they’ll bring him in. But we sure as hell don’t want to tip him off. We could ruin the whole investigation. We don’t know what they know. We don’t know how they plan to work this thing. You see, this is a perfect example of that old saying about a little knowledge being a dangerous thing.”
“That makes sense. OK, now I get it. Thanks.”
“Anytime, partner. Always remember: if you’re not sure, you ask. And that doesn’t stop when you get off probation. You’ll be asking questions for the rest of your career, so don’t be afraid to do it.”
“I’ll remember that.”
That’s a good thing. It never ceases to amaze me how many cops rarely ask questions. Sometimes it’s a vanity thing: they think that if they ask questions, it means they’re dumb and it makes them look bad. Actually, the reverse is true. And you really can do a hell of a lot of damage to an investigation if you act on your own with the little knowledge of the case that you pick up here and there. Most cops who do that have the best of intentions, but you know what they say: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In this case, it’s absolutely true. If you fuck up an investigation because you think you’ve got all the answers, they might never be able to convict the son of a bitch. If that happens, the detectives are going to remember you in the worst possible way. You definitely don’t want that. And you sure as hell don’t want a murderer going free because your ego caused you to fuck up the case.
“So what do you think, Dani? Do you think the detectives are going to question Ricky about it?”
“Who knows? We don’t even know who the victim was or what it was about. They might know a whole lot of things that we don’t know. You get used to that on patrol.”
“Do they ever discuss the case with us?”
“Up to a point. They’re worried about revealing too much, so they only tell us what they think we need to know. Now, if they file on Ricky and they put a warrant out for him, that’s where we come in. If the detectives can’t find the guy right away, they’ll let us know so we can look for him, too.”
Actually, that’s what I’m hoping they’ll do. I have to believe that they know at least as much about Ricky as we do, and that they’re already considering him as the shooter. But I’m on the same page as Harper on this one: I want to know more about the case. I want to know who the hell that victim was. I want to know if we should be out here working on the assumption that Ricky killed him, or if they have some other suspect in mind. It’s really frustrating when you’ve got a major suspect walking around right in front of you and you can’t do anything about it. But if you want to make it in police work, you’ve got to learn patience. For some reason, that’s one of the hardest things to teach a cop. It sure as hell was for me.
“Hey, Harper? I meant to tell you earlier: nice job with the front-bumper takedown. Not a scratch on the car. I’m impressed.”
“I thought there was going to be a big-assed dent. He really hit hard.”
“I kind of feel like we didn’t need to be there. The guy was as good as caught. Did you know Signolo was that fast?”
“Are you kidding? He got out of the academy three months before I started, and they were still talking about him while I was there! He was like a legend.”
That doesn’t surprise me. Running is a big deal on this department. They’ve got half a dozen races and marathons every year, not to mention the Police Olympics. Some people take that shit way too seriously. But anyone that fast is going to get noticed.
“Well, at least we stopped the guy before he made it to that space between the buildings.”
“Actually, I figured he’d go for someplace else.”
“Really? Where else could he go?”
“In that alley? Hell, there are about a hundred places he could’ve gone.”
“At this hour? All those doors must be locked by now.”
“Screw the doors. There’s all sorts of hiding places in there.”
OK, I must have missed something. I didn’t see anywhere in that alley where someone could hide.
“What kind of hiding places?”
“The alleys are full of them. They’re everywhere out here.”
This sounds like something I need to know about.
“You got it. We’ll go on foot. It’s easier that way.”
“Lead the way.”
This should be interesting. I’ve driven through some of the alleys, and they’re usually full of people after dark. I just figured they went there to get out of sight. You know, shoot their dope or just avoid being hassled by the police.
“All right, this alley will do just fine. Let’s start walking.”
“So where are these hiding places?”
“I’ll tell you what: we’ll start walking up, and you tell me when we come across the first one. Fair enough?”
“You’re testing me?”
“This is what my training officers did with me.”
“How’d you do?”
“It was embarrassing.”
“So this is your revenge? OK, let’s do it.”
Right at the entrance, I don’t see anything. There are no openings or crawlspaces. Keep walking. I’m sure I’ll see something.
“The dumpsters don’t count, right?”
“People hide in them all the time. But no, for this test? They don’t count.”
A little farther up. A lot of pipes and air ducts. They’re pretty big, but I don’t see how anyone could get in there.
“See anything yet, Dani?”
“Not so far.”
“What about in there?”
In where? This little air conditioner space? He’s got to be kidding. A five year-old couldn’t fit between that thing and the wall! And there’s a big pipe running across the middle of it! You’d have to be a contortionist to fit in there!
“Not a chance. Not unless you’re a midget.”
“Are you sure?”
“Of course I’m sure. No one could fit in there.”
“Take a look in there. Tell me what you see.”
“I don’t see anything.”
“Get a little closer.”
“If I get any closer, my head’s going to get caught in there. Come on, Harper, there’s no way anyone could fit in there!”
“Are you sure?”
“Are you just fucking with me? How the hell could anybody fit in here?”
“Why don’t you ask him?”
“Come on out of there! Now!”
Fuck me! There’s a guy in there! Holy fuck! He was less than a foot away from my face and I didn’t see him! How the fuck did he do that?
“I said come out of there! Now! Move it!”
“Jesus Christ! I didn’t even see him!”
“Neither did I, the first night I came through here. And I shined a flashlight in there and I still didn’t see the guy! Come on, let’s go! Out of there!”
“Don’t shoot, sir. I ain’t got nothing. I’m clean.”
That guy’s no midget, either! He’s bigger than me!
“I don’t fucking believe it! There’s really someone in there!”
That’s fucking impossible! How the hell did that guy fit back there? And how the hell did I look straight at him and not see him?
“You think that’s amazing? Watch this: all of you get the hell out of there! Let’s go! Move it! Front and center!”
There’s three…no, four of them! There were four guys in there! That’s fucking impossible! There is no fucking way on the planet that so many people could fit in that tiny little space! But there they are! I don’t fucking believe it!
“Come on, guys! Line it up! I want you to meet my new partner, Officer Lynott.”
“We’re coming out, officer! No problem!”
“Line up against the wall. Face me.”
This is unbelievable! I was looking right in there! I was looking right at them and I didn’t see a goddamned thing! Nothing! If just one of these guys wanted to jump me, I never would’ve seen him! And there were four of them in there! I’d have been dead where I stood! Thank God Harper was here!
“All right, guys, what were you doing back there?”
“Nothing, sir. Just sitting. Just talking. The usual.”
“I believe you. Now, tell Officer Lynott how you managed to get back there.”
“Ain’t nothing to it, ma’am. You just kind of turn sideways and squeeze your ass in.”
“It ain’t as hard as it looks, ma’am.”
“You just got to watch your head on that pipe, though. If you ain’t careful, you could knock yourself pretty good. I done that before.”
“Me, too. That shit hurts, Senior!”
This is fucking incredible! I could’ve come through here in the daylight and I wouldn’t have looked in there for a split second! And there were four guys in there!
“Officer Lynott’s new to this division. She doesn’t know about these places. She’s got some questions for you.”
“Yeah! Like how the fuck did you guys even know about that place?”
“Everybody knows about that place, ma’am.”
“That’s true, Senior. Everyone out here knows it.”
“Yeah, there’s always dudes back there. It’s a good place to sit and get away from it all, if you know what I mean.”
I feel like a complete fucking idiot! How did I not know about this shit? I’ve been here for a goddamned month! How the hell many of these places have I walked past, not knowing someone was in there watching me?
“I was looking right in there! I didn’t even see you!”
“I saw you, Senior. I was looking right in your face.”
“How far back there were you?”
“When I was looking at you?”
“Maybe two feet? Might’ve been less than that. I could see your eyes, even in the dark. You got brown eyes.”
“What are you? The fucking invisible man?”
“When I need to be. Comes in handy out here. Especially at night.”
“How the hell do you do that? Just fucking vanish like that!”
“Don’t really know, ma’am. It ain’t exactly something you do. It’s in the mind, is more like it. It’s just something you learn to do out here. It comes to you after a while. You just start doing it, even if you ain’t really thinking about it.”
“Someone’s two feet away, looking right at you, and they don’t see you? How is that even possible?”
“Like I said, Senior: it comes in handy. Keeps you alive sometimes.”
This is beyond belief! If I hadn’t just seen it with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe a word of it! But it’s true! Hell, four fucking guys just did it to me!
“You’re not going to take us to jail, are you Senior? We wasn’t doing nothing wrong.”
“Yeah, we weren’t stealing nothing. I swear!”
After that? I’d feel like a total piece of shit for hooking them up, even if they had done something wrong!
“I think you guys have earned a pass. You can go.”
“Thank you, Senior.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Really! Thank you!”
“Thanks, officers. We won’t cause no trouble for you.”
Harper seems immensely pleased with himself. He should be! He just bested the living shit out of his training officer!
“You heard her, guys: hit the bricks.”
This is not good! This is pretty damned scary, actually! How many invisible guys have I just walked past since I got here? And I thought I was pretty sharp! Clearly, I’ve got a lot to learn!
“Harper, how the hell did you know they were in there? Did you see them?”
“Nope. But every time I’ve come through here at night, there’s at least one guy back there.”
“So there’s a big space back there?”
“Not even. I actually crawled back there to see for myself. I almost got stuck in there. There’s room for maybe three guys to stand up back there, elbow to elbow. Don’t ask me how they do it. They just do.”
I see what he meant when he said there are a hundred hiding spaces back here. If that robbery suspect had made it in there before we saw him, I never would’ve thought to look in there. And even if I did, fuck! These guys can just turn invisible? How is that even possible? It can’t be possible! And yet that guy just did it!
“I was looking right at that guy and I didn’t see him! And he was looking right at me! He could see the color of my eyes!”
“That floodlight behind us lit us up just enough. He was looking from dark into light. You were looking from light into dark.”
“He was two feet away! I should’ve seen him!”
“It’s like he said: it’s just something they learn how to do. It’s happened to me lots of times. I don’t know how they do it, but they do. The homeless? They just blend into the background. Scary, isn’t it?”
“You’re goddamned right it’s scary! Are you saying everyone out here can just disappear into the background? Vanish like they weren’t even there?”
“So they could ambush us at any time?”
“If they want to. They probably know twenty or thirty of these places just in this alley alone. Hundreds of them in our sector.”
“And we’d never see them coming?”
“Not until they’re right on top of you. Maybe not even then.”
“I don’t believe it!”
“Believe it, Dani. I’ve seen guys vanish right in front of me; even in the daylight. I thought I was going crazy, but it’s true. It’s like, boom! Now you see them, now you don’t! If you don’t believe me, just ask Officer Loomis. He’s been here forever and they can do it to him, too. And he can’t explain it any better than I can.”
“This is fucking insane!”
“Welcome to skid row, Dani. Insanity is a way of life out here.”
This is unbelievable! It’s like everything I thought I knew about being a cop just got turned on its head! I’ve found gangbangers hiding in bushes and under houses; no problem. I’ve spotted guys hiding in garages that were filled to the roof with all kinds of shit. But this? And this is just one place! Harper says there are hundreds of them out here! This really is another world! All of the rules are different! Oh, I have got to learn more about this place! I want to know everything there is to know about it! This is fucking incredible! Now I know I’m supposed to be here! I was fucking born for this place!
“Show me more! I want to know everything you know about this place!”
“It would take all night just to show you everything that’s in this alley.”
“Then let’s get started. What else is special about this place?”
“Well, down near the end is the Prophet’s Wall. It’s kind of a big deal out here.”
“The Prophet’s Wall?”
“It’s where the homeless write shit about living out here. Some of it gets pretty deep.”
“I want to see this.”
“Right over there.”
Whoa! He wasn’t kidding! There’s all sorts of shit written here. It’s not graffiti. Well, not like the graffiti you get from taggers and gangbangers.
“Somebody put a lot of work into this. Some of it looks carved into the wall.”
“It is. They want to make sure it lasts, even after they die. This is where the homeless come to find answers to the big questions. That’s a big deal to these people.”
“It’s that important to them?”
“I don’t claim to understand it, but yeah, some of them think it’s very important. It’s got something to do with immortality.”
“Skid row immortality, I guess. I don’t understand it. I just know what I was told.”
“Told by whom?”
“Some of the old-timers at the station. Officer Loomis, mostly. The ones who’ve been living on the street the longest? The ones who’ve seen the most shit? A lot of them feel like they’ve got a duty to pass on what they know, and this is one way they can do it.”
“You weren’t kidding about it being deep. I see quotes from the bible. Some of it looks like ancient philosophy.”
“Yeah, we’ve got a lot of philosophers out here. And prophets.”
“No, I mean it. Some of this is serious shit.”
“I know. It surprised the shit out of me when I first saw it. I guess living out here makes you think about things. It gives you a whole other perspective.”
“You’re not kidding. I’d like to read this. There must be hundreds of them.”
“I know. It’s hard to see in the dark, but I think they’ve got pictures of it back at the station.”
“Why’d they take pictures of it?”
“From what I’ve heard, sometimes the homeless write down their final thoughts here before they kill themselves. I guess it helps with the investigation, so they take pictures of it, just in case.”
“So you’re saying I’m looking at the biggest damned tombstone in the city?”
“In a way. Like I said, I don’t understand a lot of it. Officer Loomis told me that’s a good thing.”
“He said if I ever really understood it, then there’d be no hope for me. I’d be lost forever. I didn’t understand that, either.”
“I’ll have to ask him about it.”
Look at this shit! I’m starting to think I’ve underestimated these people. I thought they were all a bunch of worthless dope heads and psychos. I’m beginning to think there’s a lot more going on, here. Wait a minute…
“This one’s weird.”
“This one. ‘The more you know, the less you are. Here you know everything.’ What the hell does that mean?”
“Beats me. I guess you need drugs for it to make sense.”
“Here’s another one: ‘Everyone can see you, but you can’t. No one can know you, but you can.’ What is that? Kung-Fu logic?”
“Crackhead logic, maybe?”
“Or psycho logic. We’ve got an artsy one, here.”
“This one. Pretty fancy writing for a wall in an alley.”
“Maybe we’ve got a skid row Rembrandt?”
“It just says, ‘Everyone but you, and never again. Reach, but never touch.’ What the hell does that mean?”
“Oh, I know that one. Yeah. See the arrow?”
“Above it. See where it’s pointing?”
“It’s pointing over there. It’s pointing up.”
“Follow it. What do you see?”
“That’s it. That’s what it means.”
“I don’t get it.”
“The skyscrapers. Remember what I told you the homeless call them?”
“The Emerald City?”
“That’s it. That’s what it means. If you’re out here, you’re not allowed in the Emerald City. Not ever. It’s for everyone but you, and that’s for the rest of your life. Even if you came from there, once you’re out here, you can never go back. Ever.”
“Why is that?”
“Because you’re out here.”
Harper’s starting to sound as cryptic as the shit on this wall! Maybe I underestimated him, too?
“OK, I still don’t get it.”
“Officer Loomis says it’s like people in hell, looking up and seeing heaven in the distance. No matter where you go in hell, you can always see heaven. You can reach for it, but you can’t touch it. It’s kind of there to torture you. You know, like how you can always see it but never touch it? Something like that.”
“OK, I can kind of see that. But I still don’t get it.”
“That’s exactly what I said to Officer Loomis. You know what he said?”
“He said: ‘God help you if you ever do understand it.’ The way he said it to me, it was really weird. So I just left it at that.”
I can imagine! This place is weird in more ways than I can count. Right now, I feel like a boot on her first day in the field. Everything’s different. It’s as if nothing I’ve learned in my life matters out here. It’s exciting. I fucking love it!
“I want to see more of this. I want to see more things like this.”
“You’re in luck. There’s plenty of it to see.”
“Then let’s go see it. Right now!”
I’m beginning to think that skid row is the best-kept secret in the world. And now I’m in on the secret. And it’s fucking amazing!