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Chapter 9: Hazards of the Job

Central Station. Roll call. Last night was a real eye-opener for me in more ways than one, so I’m really psyched about tonight. It’s still hotter than the pit of hell, but I’ll deal with that. God, I wonder what I’m going to see tonight? If last night was any indication, it’s going to be a wild ride!

And Sergeant Gellar has a pretty sour look on his face. Somebody must’ve done something wrong. I just hope it wasn’t me. I mean, gassing Ricky’s stash was a little over the line, and Harper doing a front-bumper takedown on that robbery suspect would definitely raise a few eyebrows among the brass.

“All right, Midwatch! We’ll skip the assignments, since you all know what you’re working. Let’s go straight to roll call training! Tonight’s roll call training is on why the fuck aren’t you people writing any goddamned tickets!”

Ah, yes! They’re harping about tickets again! The sergeants are always on your ass about writing more tickets. It’s not that they have any love for them in particular, mind you. They do it because they get pressure from above to write them. You see, tickets generate a shitload of money for the city. You’d be amazed. So in a way, it’s a form of extortion. I’ve worked divisions where they actually told us not to write tickets to people who looked like they wouldn’t pay them because it didn’t bring in any money. How the hell can you tell if a person’s going to pay their tickets just by looking at them? And out here? On skid row? Who the hell is going to pay a ticket on skid row? These people don’t have any money. Jesus, that’s why they’re homeless! If they could afford to pay the ticket, then they wouldn’t be here! But obviously, Sergeant Gellar’s been getting heat from the captain, so now he’s on our asses about it. Whoever said shit rolls downhill must have been talking about the need to write a bunch of traffic tickets.

“All we’re asking for is that you each knock out a couple of scratchers a night. Is that so much to ask?”

I guess that’s my signal to chime in. Not that he’s going to like it, of course.

“Sarge, who the hell’s going to pay a ticket out here? What are they going to pay it with? Chits from the missions? I mean, all we’re doing is generating a bunch of traffic warrants and clog up the misdemeanor big tanks at the jails.”

“I didn’t say to write tickets to the zombies in your sector, Lynott. There are plenty of people west of Meridian who pay their tickets. Go over there and write them. Now, I’ve got the stats from last DP. Not one of you wrote more than two moving violations! Are you kidding me? Not one of you wrote a measly two fucking movers? That’s just embarrassing! You should all be ashamed of yourselves!”

“Sarge, I wasn’t here last DP.”

“Yeah? And how the fuck many scratchers did you knock out on Nightwatch, Lynott?”

I guess I should’ve kept my mouth shut.

“None, sir.”

“So how the hell do you live with yourself?”

“It’s a struggle, sir. But I manage.”

“God only knows how! Now, I want to see at least two movers out of every one of you tonight. The captain’s on my ass, so now I’m on your asses. Write the fucking tickets! No excuses! Is that understood?”

You know what they say: you can’t fight City Hall.

“We’ll make you proud, sir.”

“See that you do, Lynott. I’m serious about this. If I see anyone turn in a log at end of watch without at least four scratchers in it…”

“We get the picture, sir.”

“Well, hallelujah! Dani’s got the picture! Life is good! I can die a happy fucking man! What about the rest of you?”

That collective grumbling means we all get the picture. God, I hate writing tickets!

“Then let’s get out there. Let’s educate the public on their bad driving habits. Anyone got anything? No? Fine. Go to work.”

Another typical Midwatch roll call: short and sweet. That’s the way I like them. Except for the part about the tickets.

Waiting around in the parking lot again. I see Harper’s got the car ready. He’s very efficient about that. That’s a good thing. I don’t particularly like doing it myself; carrying all of that shit from the kit room. That’s one of the benefits of being a training officer: you can make your boot carry all of the heavy shit and gas up the car.

“Are you ready to educate the public, Harper?”

“Ready, willing, and able, partner.”

“Don’t be so enthusiastic about it. Tickets on Midwatch are hell.”

“How so?”

“I take it you haven’t been to traffic court on a scratcher yet?”

“Not yet.”

“I figured as much. Traffic court is the biggest goddamned pain in the ass you’ve ever seen. You’ve got to be there at seven o’clock in the morning, sharp. If you check in with the court liaison so much as five minutes late, they’ll burn you. Court doesn’t start until 8:00 a.m., and you can bet your pension that your case won’t be the first one called.”

“How long does it usually take?”

“That’s the problem. There’s no such thing as ‘usual’ in traffic court. If you’re lucky, you’ll be there until about three in the afternoon. If you’re not, you’ll have to come back the next day. And maybe the next. Doing that shit and working Midwatch is hell. The only thing worse is a D.U.I. arrest. That’s like a traffic ticket on steroids.”

“I didn’t think of that. I guess that’s why nobody writes tickets on Midwatch.”

“You got it. Let’s try to knock that shit out of the way, first. If we put it off, we might never get around to it.”

“Sounds like a plan.”

Yeah, a really shitty plan. Oh, well. Time to go extort the public. If they only knew the truth!

Out on patrol. Well, we’ve done our duty and each wrote a total of two scratchers to people who were unfortunate enough to be driving downtown when the sergeants were on the warpath for tickets. Hey, it’s not like they didn’t fail to stop for that stop sign. That is a righteous violation, mind you. But I really hate doing it. I don’t think it educates anyone, and with my luck, we’ll spend four days sitting around in traffic court waiting for these things to go before the judge. Add to that the fact that there’s a strong possibility that at least one of the drivers won’t show up, and you can see why most cops think traffic court is our special little sliver of hell on earth. I don’t know how those motorcycle cops do it. Motor cops, as they like to be called. All they do is write tickets. They’ll write at least twenty a day. Some of them will wrote two or three times that many. I sometimes think that the main qualities for a good motor cop are the ability to go without any sleep for five days straight, and having no life outside of the job at all. How else can you explain it? Kudos to them, though. If they weren’t doing it, then the sergeants would make us do it. I’d probably end up in the funny farm.

“What do you want to do, Dani? It’s too late to work the lockout. Is there any place you want to go first?”

“Where do the junkies in our sector go when it’s raining? For some reason, I was thinking about that last night when I got home. They don’t just stay out in the rain and get wet, so they must go somewhere.”

“Usually, they crash in an abandoned building. There’s a bunch of them in our sector. In fact, there’s an empty little apartment building just south of our area. That’s a big hype spot. It’s a real asshole place. Do you want to check it out?”

“Hell, yes! That sounds like someplace I want to see!”

“You got it. But be careful in there. It’s pretty dangerous.”

“The hypes or the building?”

“Mostly the building. The place is completely trashed. I saw better-looking buildings in Iraq after we shelled them. There’s a million ways to get hurt in there.”

“How long has it been like that?”

“I don’t know. It looks like it’s been wrecked for about fifty years, but who knows? Fifty days out here is like fifty years anywhere else.”

“So why don’t they just knock it down?”

“I don’t know. I heard the city’s got a moratorium on knock-downs for anything that might be considered affordable housing, but even the rats have too much self-respect to live in that dump. Whatever it is, nobody seems to want to do anything about it.”

This being skid row, I’m not surprised. You’d think that the city would take one look at this place and send in the bulldozers, but they don’t. It’s like they’ve written off this entire sector. I wonder if that’s true in other cities? Probably. I guess you can’t have a city without a skid row. They have to corral the homeless and the psychos somewhere, right?

“How many people are we likely to find in this place?”

“God knows. Sometimes it’s one or two, sometimes it’s ten or fifteen. I only had one training officer who liked to work dope, so I didn’t get to spend a lot of time in there.”

“I never understood that. You put a junkie in jail; you take a burglar off of the streets. It makes a pretty big difference in the long run.”

“Maybe we can catch a few burglars, then? It’s just down at the end of the block. We’ll park halfway away and walk from there.”

“They won’t see us?”

“My training officer used to park right in front of the place and they never saw us. I guess the junkies don’t pay a lot of attention to us. Junkies don’t seem to be very smart as a whole.”

“For God’s sake, Harper! They stick needles in their arms and shoot a bunch of shit that ruins your life and can kill you pretty easily! How smart could they be?”

“I see your point. Let’s go check out the junkie spot.”

Something tells me that Central Division’s idea of an abandoned building is going to be ten thousand times worse than any other division’s. All right, Central! Prepare to thrill me!

There it is. Jesus, this place is only about ten minutes’ walk from the police station! A major junkie hangout less than half a mile from a fucking police station? That’s downright insulting!

Harper wasn’t kidding: this is one creepy-looking place. It looks like it was gutted by a fire and they just left it here for a decade or two. No one in their right mind would go in there, but we’re not dealing with people in their right minds. I can imagine all sorts of shit going on in this place. It’s definitely off of the beaten path, too. This block is all warehouses, except for this dump. I wonder why someone built an apartment building here in the first place? Who the hell would want to live here? The city must have been a lot different back in the day.

“You weren’t exaggerating, Harper. God, what a shithole! Is there a better way to get in than the front door?”

“Not unless you want to crawl through the windows. The back door is boarded up solid.”

I don’t usually like going into these places through the front door. If the assholes have taken any kind of precautions against the police, then that’s where they’ve done it. But since I don’t know this place, I don’t want to risk climbing through a window. Jesus, we might fall through a hole and wind up in the basement with our legs broken! So the front door it is. I just hope Harper has at least some idea of what this place looks like inside.

“Do you know your way around in here?”

“I know the layout, but a lot of the walls have been knocked out. They can get from room to room pretty easy.”

“Did you ever chase anyone in here?”

“Nope. I’ll bet that would be a bitch, though. You could trip and break your neck pretty easy in there.”

“Then let’s try to avoid it. You go in first. You break right, I’ll break left.”

“Let’s do it.”

“Ready? Go!”

We’re in! Shit! It’s dark as a motherfucker in here! I don’t want any invisible homeless popping up like last night. Time for the flashlight.

“Harper! Got anything?”

“All clear.”

Jesus! Look at this place! What a fucking dump! It looks like a bomb went off in here! In this sector, I wouldn’t be surprised if a bomb did go off in here!

“It’s totally trashed! Jesus Christ, Harper! What hit this place?”

“Search me. Like I said, it’s been like this since I’ve been here.”

“It reminds me of those creepy places you see in slasher films.”

“You’re not far from the truth, Dani. They’ve had a few nasty slashings in here. Watch your ass.”

He doesn’t need to tell me twice. This is one fucked-up place for an ambush. We’d better take it slow.

“Down the hall. We clear one room at a time. First the left, then the right.”

“Got it. I cover you, then you cover me.”


“We can’t really see hand signals in here, even with flashlights.”

“Good point. Just try to keep your voice down. Keep communications to a minimum, unless you get something. In which case, you sound off loud and clear.”

“Roger that.”

“Let’s go.”

Sneaking around in here is a waste of time. Half the floor’s been torn up, and the boards that are left are creaking like hell. If the assholes didn’t know we were in here before, they sure as hell know it now. Keep going. Nice and slow. Light up the room and hope the light disorients anyone in there. Listen for anything. God only knows what’s waiting in here. It’s a good thing most of these rooms don’t have doors anymore. Somebody probably used them for firewood.

“Harper! First room clear.”

Now it’s Harper’s turn to clear the first room on his side, with me covering. The flashlights really kill your night vision. If someone’s hiding in here, he’s got every advantage.

“This one’s clear. Your turn, Dani.”

Moving right along. Fuck! Every goddamned step makes enough noise to wake the dead! Take it slow. Clear everything. Expect the unexpected. Good. Nothing in this one, either.

“Number two left’s clear.”

I can see some light coming from the room Harper’s clearing. It’s the window. Somebody pulled the boards off of it. That’s probably how they get in when the front door’s boarded up – assuming anybody ever bothered to board up the front door.

“Number two right’s clear, Dani.”

So what’s behind door number three? Emphasis on the word “door.” This one’s got a door. Why? What makes this room so special that nobody stole the door?

“Harper, this one’s got a door. Stay sharp.”

My best bet is to open it slowly. If I kick it open, it’ll alert anyone who might be hiding in the building. Two cops walking through this place is one thing. Kicking down doors is something else. Open it slowly. So far, so good. Light up the place. Nothing. I don’t see…

“Dani, look out!”

Shit! The son of a bitch was behind the door!

“Stop! Police!”

“Dani watch it!”

Fuck! He hit me with something! Oh, fuck! My arm! Jesus Christ! That fucking hurt like hell! Fuck! He knocked me down! Right on my ass! He’s running! God damn it! What the fuck did he hit me with? I didn’t even see it!


“Right here, partner!”

“Where did he go?”

“He’s in the wind. He went out the door when you went down. He was really moving! Are you all right? Are you bleeding?”

“He hit me with something. I don’t know what. It hurt like shit!”

“Let me see your arm. Oh, shit! You’re bleeding!”

“Was it a knife?”

“I don’t think so. It doesn’t look like a knife cut. Did he get you anywhere else?”

“No, I don’t think so. I think I hit my head when he slammed the door into me. That fucking asshole knocked me right on my ass! God damn it! Fuck! This hurts like a bitch!”

“I’ll get EMS.”

“No! Not yet, anyway. Let’s get out of here. Get a better look at it outside. Fuck! That motherfucker was fast!”

“I know! He was out the door before I knew what was happening!”

“That’s why SWAT uses five guys for a search like this.”

“Are you good to walk? You took a big hit. Son of a bitch! I can’t believe he got past me! I should’ve done something! I’m sorry, Dani! I should’ve…”

“Don’t beat yourself up. There was nothing you could’ve done. If we’d switched positions, it would’ve been you on your ass and me not being able to stop it. He got the better of us. It’s his turf. He was ready for us. Sometimes it just happens like that. Get used to it.”

“Get used to my partner getting cracked on the head and cut? That’ll never happen!”

“Let’s just get out of here. I want to see how much damage that asshole did to me.”

This hurts like a motherfucking bitch! Whatever he hit me with, he nailed me right on the bone, near the elbow! That’s a bad place to get hit because it always hurts like hell. Damn! These assholes really are fucking invisible! I didn’t see him, I didn’t hear him, and I didn’t have time to react! And to think I used to worry about a bunch of little shithead gangbangers! These guys are fucking Ninjas compared to those assholes!

“Dani, let me see your arm. Yeah, you got cut. OK, it’s deep, but not too deep. It wasn’t a knife, thank God.”

“I think it was a two-by-four. I saw something for a second…yeah, I think he hit me with a board.”

“There’s plenty of them in there. Wait right here. I’ve got a first aid kit in my bag.”

“Good thinking. Be prepared.”

Ten bucks says Harper was a Boy Scout. He strikes me as someone like that.

“Here, let me bandage that. Hold your arm still.”

“Did you get a look at the guy?”

“Barely. Male black, maybe five-nine, blue coat down to his thighs, looked pretty ratty. Definitely homeless.”

A coat in this fucking heat? He’s got to be a junkie! Anyone else would keel over from heatstroke!

“You mean a homeless junkie. Who else would be in there? Let me know if you see him again, OK?”

“You’ll know it when I jump out of the car and kick his fucking ass!”

“Just save a piece of him for me.”

“You got it. Here, this should clean it off. You don’t want to risk an infection out here.”

“Way ahead of you on that one. That board might have had a nail in it.”

Shit! That crap stings! What the fuck is he using? Iodine?

“God damn, Harper! That fucking burns!”

“Good. That’s how you know it’s working.”

“You sound like my mother.”

“Your mother wouldn’t let you go into places like that.”

That’s true. She’d freak if she knew my job involved poking around in hellholes like this. Maybe I should take a picture of it and send it to her, just to freak her out?

“How’s that feel?”

“Better. Thanks for the assist.”

“That’s what I’m here for. That wrap should hold. Do you want to go back to the station? Get it looked at?”

“Hell, no! Sergeant Gellar will make me go to the infirmary, and you’ll be stuck on the desk all night. We don’t say shit about this until end of watch. Got it?”

“I got it. Are you sure you’re OK?”

“I’ve been beaten worse. Hazards of the job.”

“Yeah, but I want to take a look at your head, first. He really slammed you with that door.”

“Tell me about it! How the hell did I miss him?”

“It’s like last night: these assholes can turn invisible when they want to. I’d give my left nut to know how the hell they do it.”

So would I, if I had any nuts. It might be worth an ovary, though.

“Any damage to my head?”

“I don’t see anything. No blood. Are you sure you’re good?”

“I’m fine. I just feel like a fucking idiot.”

“Don’t. People underestimate these assholes. They don’t know what it’s like out here. These guys are seriously dangerous. Sometimes I think this shit is worse than fucking Falluja.”

“Yeah, I’m getting an education fast.”

“Dani, I’m sorry I wasn’t able to do anything.”

He’s really kicking himself over this. It wasn’t his fault, but he thinks it is. I know the feeling. I’ve had partners get hurt worse. I ended up kicking myself for weeks, even though I knew there wasn’t a damned thing I could have done to prevent it. Sometimes it just goes down that way. But knowing that doesn’t make you feel any better. Harper’s probably going through hell right now. Less than a week into the DP and his new partner-slash-training officer is bleeding all over his uniform. Guys like him don’t take that kind of thing very well.

“You did fine. You protected your partner and you got at least a partial description of the suspect. That’s as much as anyone could’ve done. I mean that. You did fine.”

“Thanks, partner. Now, you let me know if that shit starts bothering you, OK? Don’t try to play the tough cop. You tell me right away. Got it?”

“Yes, mom. Let’s get back to work.”

“Where do you want to go now?”

“Back inside. We haven’t finished clearing the building.”

“Are you serious? You want to go back in there? After that shit? You’re unbelievable; you know that?”

“I finish what I start. And I don’t let some asshole scare me off with a two-by-four.”

Harper seems to like that attitude in me. He’s suddenly got a great big smile on his face.

“Fair enough. Let’s finish it. But you let me go first. You hang back and cover me.”

There’s no way in hell I’ll be able to talk him out of that. Not after what just happened. Hey, if the roles were reversed, I’d say the same thing.

“All right, you go first. Ready?”

“Let’s do this!”


And this time, if some asshole takes a swing at me, I’m going to kick him in the balls so hard, they’ll shoot out of his fucking nostrils!

Back out on patrol. Well, my mystery assailant was the only one we found in there. I guess everyone else heard the commotion and high-tailed it out through the windows. Jesus, the upper floors were even worse than the ground floor! Harper damn near fell through the floorboards at the end of the second floor! They just gave way underneath him. I think I’m going to call this dump the Slasher Palace. It seems like a really good name for it. I’m certainly not going to forget it. I plan to spend a lot of time in there from now on. I have a feeling it could lead to some good arrests.

“Dani, what’s your blood type?”


“What’s your blood type?”

Now there’s a question no boot ever asked me!

“I’m ‘A’ Positive. Why do you ask?”

“In case you ever need blood.”

Does he know something I don’t?

“OK, what’s your blood type?”

“You’re in luck. I’m ‘A’ Positive, too.”

“Harper, is this a Marine thing?”

“Roger that. We always made sure everyone in our unit knew everyone else’s blood type. That way, if someone needed blood, we knew where to go.”

“That makes sense. Whenever a cop gets seriously injured, we all head over to the hospital to donate blood. But most of us don’t know their blood type.”

“You do. You’re ahead of the curve, as usual.”

“I asked the doctor once, after a physical. I just figured it was a good thing to know.”

“It is. And if you ever need any, you’re set. I’ve got plenty.”

“Let’s hope it never comes to that.”

“Amen to that. But if it does, just make sure you get it from me. You don’t want to leave it to the hospitals around here.”

“Why is that?”

Suddenly, he’s giving me this “are you fucking kidding me?” look. What did I miss?

“Dani, where do you think all these zombies get their dope and beer money?”

“I don’t know. Social Services, I guess. What difference does…oh, wait a goddamned minute! You’re not telling me…”


“These fucked-up people sell their fucked-up blood to the hospitals?”

“As much as they can. You see the bloodmobile sometimes, up by the missions. There’s always a crowd.”

“Are you serious?”

“I’m afraid so.”

Holy shit! These fucking dope-smoking, disease-ridden zombies sell their blood and they use it in fucking hospitals? Are they crazy? Don’t they know what these people do out here? What the fuck kind of place is this?

“Thanks a lot! Now I won’t be able to sleep tonight!”

“Sorry. But it’s better you know now, then wait until you need it. Because once they hook the needle to you…”

“Oh, fuck that shit! Fuck that shit in the ass! No way! Harper, if you see some nurse trying to give me a blood transfusion, you draw down on the bitch! You read me?”

“I’ll give her two to the body and one to the head.”

“At least! Fuck! Just the thought of having that fucked-up blood running around inside of me? Yuck!”

“A lot of guys in this division feel the same way.”

“I’ll bet they do! Think of what that shit must do to you! Harper, if it comes down to me dying or getting a blood transfusion from these motherfuckers, you put one right through my goddamned head! I’m serious! You fucking kill me! You understand? That’s an order!”

“Don’t worry. I won’t let them turn you into a zombie.”

“You see? I’ll bet that’s how it happens! You go to the hospital and they give you that zombie blood, and the next thing you know, you’re wandering around out here like one of them! That’s it, isn’t it? That’s how the goddamned thing spreads!”

“You might be on to something, partner. A I know lot of these guys have been to County General. It could be the source.”

“I’ll bet it is! This could all be some secret government bio-warfare experiment! Yeah! That explains it! Skid row is one big fucking government lab! No wonder nobody does anything about this loony bin! They’re the ones making it happen! They’re going to round them up and turn them all loose on ISIS or some shit like that!”

“OK, now you’re starting to sound like one of the homeless.”

God, he’s right! I do! Was there some of that fucked-up blood on that board the guy hit me with? Did they already get me?

“Oh, shit! Do you think I’ve been infected? Is it too late for me? Am I going to turn into one of them?

“I hope not. Because if you turn, I’ll have to put you down. Your orders; remember?”

“See that you do! I don’t want to be one of them! Fucking kill my ass and burn the body!”

Hey, I love this fucking place, but that doesn’t mean I want to become one of these motherfuckers! Even I have limits!

“Sixteen Central, ADW just occurred, inside the parking garage, 221 East 9th Street, code two high.”

Here we go! The zombies are definitely getting restless tonight!

“Sixteen Central, roger. En route. Hit it, Harper!”

“Hang on!”

Inside the parking garage? It must be near Meridian, probably for one of those office buildings.

“Harper, do you know that place?”

“I know where it is. What do you think? Our second ADW of the night?”

“Second? What was the first?”


Jesus, he’s right! I guess that’s my official initiation to skid row. I’m now one of their crime victims. Gee, I feel strangely distinguished!

That must be it. Three levels; right next to what has to be a dope spot. It’s a lot like that fucking garage from the OP on Nightwatch. Who the hell would park their car in that place? In this area? By the time you got off from work, you’d be lucky if even the frame was left.

“Sixteen Central, we’re code six at 221 East 9th Street. Do you know what level the victim is on?”

“Sixteen Central, stand by.”

“I’d hate to have to go level by level. That could take a lot of time, and our victim could be bleeding out. Harper, blast the siren. Maybe he’ll hear us and start yelling?”

“Good idea.”

One steady blast. Christ, I think they heard that in the next county! The sound really travels out here.

“Officers! Up here!”

Hey, it worked! Imagine that! That guy sure as hell isn’t homeless. The homeless don’t wear suits and ties. He looks OK, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t our victim.

“Harper! Second floor! Up the stairs! Let’s go!”

First things first: clear the stairwell. Our suspect could still be inside.

“Sixteen Central, do we have a description of the suspect?”

“Sixteen Central, negative. Your victim is on the second level.”

“Sixteen Central, roger. I think we’ve got him in sight.”

Then again, he could be the suspect and this could be an ambush. It’s happened before.

“No one in the stairwell, Dani.”

“Let’s get up there.”

If it were a mugging, it probably would’ve happened in the stairwell. That’s the best place for it in a parking garage: tight space, nowhere for the victim to go, no witnesses, and a concrete and steel staircase makes for a great weapon. All you have to do is throw the victim down it. But we still don’t know what we’ve got beyond an ADW. OK, we’re at the second floor door. We’re about to find out.

“That’s the guy who was yelling. Harper, search him quick. Just in case.”

“Got it. Hey! Are you the guy who called?”

“Yes! Yes! He’s over here!”

“All right. But I’ve got to search you real quick. We have to be sure.”

“I had nothing to do with it! I’m the one who called you!”

“OK, just bear with me. You don’t have any weapons?”

“Me? Of course not! He’s over here!”

“Just making sure. He’s clean. No weapons.”

For a minute there, I thought maybe this guy was the suspect and the call just came out wrong. You know, businessman shoots homeless guy for messing with his car or bugging him for change. I’ll bet that’s happened a few times out here.

“Where’s the victim?”

“Right over here!”

OK, he’s not kidding! That guy over there is bleeding big time! He looks homeless. He was probably up here to be left alone. Jesus, and this is what he got for it?

“Harper, get an ambulance. Hey? Hey, you! What happened?”

“Motherfucker stuck me.”

“What motherfucker?”

“Don’t know.”

“It wasn’t this guy, was it?”

“Nah, he’s the one that called the cops.”

“Harper, tell them we’ve got a victim of a stabbing, male black, early forties, conscious and breathing.”

Yeah, he’s conscious now, but for how long? He’s lost a lot of blood, and he’s losing more by the minute. His voice is weak. These are not good signs!

“How many times did he stab you?”

“Stuck me one time in the gut. Right here.”

“Harper, tell them it’s a single stab wound to the abdomen.”

You always want to give the paramedics as much information ahead of time as possible. Sometimes it makes a big difference.

“Do you know the guy who stabbed you?”

“I ain’t never seen him before.”

“Why’d he stab you?”

“Don’t know. He done come up here; all of sudden he’s in my face. Don’t know why. Crazy motherfucker. Talking all kinds of bullshit. I couldn’t tell what he was saying. Crazy talk, you know?”

“So what happened?”

“Told him to get the fuck out of my face. He pulls a knife; bam! Right in the gut. No reason for it. Crazy-assed motherfucker.”

“Where did he go?”

“Down the stairs. This dude over here found me and called 911. Tell him I appreciate that, would you?”

“Sure. Are you sure you’re not stabbed anywhere else?”

“Just the one. It was enough.”

“Don’t worry. You’re not dead yet.”

“I ain’t about to die. I ain’t meant to die. Every day’s the proof.”

He’s got a point. He looks like he’s been out here for a while. Anyone who can make it out here for more than a day has to be one tough son of a bitch.

“Have you ever been stabbed before?”

“Four times. Once out here, three times in the joint. I think this one’s the worst, though.”

“What did the guy look like?”

“Crazy dude.”

“Can you be more specific?”

“Black dude, about my height, thirty-five or forty, brown shirt, grey pants. He looked all messed up.”

“You mean like he lived on the street?”

“Yeah. Doesn’t everybody?”

I guess the homeless have trouble telling one guy from the next, just like we do. Living in a post-apocalyptic world can do that to you.

“Dani! We’ve got the ambulance!”

Good response time, guys! And they drove up here. Good. That way, we don’t have to carry him down the stairs.

“Harper, get the info from the PR.”

“Roger. All right, I need to ask you some questions, sir.”

“I’m the PR?”

“It means ‘person reporting.’ Now, did you see the guy get stabbed?”

“No, I just found him here.”

“What were you doing here?”

“I work in that office building. I was just going to my car, and there he was.”

“Did you see anyone else around?”

“Just him. God, I’ve never seen someone…you know.”

“Yeah, I know. I need to get your personal information.”

“Whatever you need, officer. Is he going to live?”

“Maybe. He made it this far. That’s always a good sign.”

OK, Harper’s got that under control. And I’ll get this guy’s information for the report. Yeah, some report: crazy bastard stabs homeless guy for no apparent reason. Suspect description: average crazy guy on skid row. End of report. There’s something fundamentally wrong with that, don’t you think? Well, it’s up to the paramedics now.

“Over here, guys. Single stab wound to the abdomen.”

“Thanks. We’ll take it from here.”

If that guy back at the apartment building had a knife instead of a two-by-four, that might’ve been me lying there with a hole in my gut. These vests don’t stop knives.

“What hospital are you taking him to?”


“We’ll meet you there.”

Our victim’s hanging tough. It never ceases to amaze me how some people can be so nonchalant about being shot, stabbed, or whatever. They make it sound like it’s nothing more than one of life’s minor little inconveniences, like missing the bus. It’s hardly a deal at all.

“Harper! We’re going to county. Did you get everything?”

“Yeah, he says he didn’t hear or see shit. He was going to his car and saw the guy sitting there, bleeding.”

“I don’t see any bloodstains anywhere else. There’s a shopping cart over there, full of clothes and shit.”

“It’s probably our victim’s.”

“He was going to hunker down here for the night, and someone took exception to that.”

“People out here get stabbed for a lot less, Dani.”

“Yeah, I’ve learned that much already. Stabbing people is like the national sport of skid row.”

“While we’re at county, they can take a look at your arm. You know we’ll have to file a report on it.”

“That can wait. Let’s knock this out first.”

“Is he going to make it?”

“Anyone else? No. But that guy? I think it’ll take a hell of a lot more than a knife to the gut to kill that guy.”

“So he’ll be OK?”

“As OK as anyone can be out here. It’s funny when you think about it. I wonder if that’s a good thing?”

That’s one question that I don’t think I’ll find an answer to on the Prophet’s Wall. Only God can answer that one.

County General Hospital. The report’s finished, and our victim gets to sleep in a real bed for a couple of nights. It’s crazy, but getting stabbed might be the best thing that’s happened to him in a long time. He said he didn’t remember the last time he had a bed and a roof over his head. Still, it’s a hell of a price to pay for a few nights’ room and board.

“The nurse said you did a good job of bandaging my arm. You’ve got a future in medicine, Harper.”

“Did they give you a shot?”

“You mean like a tetanus shot? No. But she did give me some antibiotics, just in case. She didn’t think there was any metal in the wound. She did find two splinters, though.”

“So it was a two-by-four?”

“Cheap and readily available out here.”

“Well, at least you got your name on a crime report.”

“It isn’t my first, and it won’t be my last.”

“Other suspects tried to take you out?”

“Plenty of times.”

“Do you think it was because you’re a cop, or because you’re a female cop?”

That’s actually a good question. Some assholes think women cops are an easy mark; others just don’t like having a woman give them orders. But for the most part, I think they went after me because I’m a cop. I’ve seen just as many male cops have suspects go off on them. In the academy, they tell you: “It’s not you they want to hurt. It’s the uniform.” There’s a lot of truth to that.

“I’ve definitely had some assholes take a swing at me for being a woman. That much is true. But most of the time, I think it’s just because I’m a cop and they’re about to go to jail.”

“What about the other times?”

“Well, I’ve found that some older Hispanic guys really don’t like it when a woman gives them orders; badge or no badge. They take offense to that. Particularly if their buddies are standing there watching. But as long as you don’t try the whole ‘Jane Wayne’ thing, being a woman on the job doesn’t make a whole lot of difference.”

“So you never went for the ‘Jane Wayne’ thing?”

“Fuck, no! That’s just ridiculous. I know. I’ve seen it. Some women try to be all super macho; just ridiculously over the top. The kind of shit you see on TV. Give me a break! It just makes them look stupid. Suspects don’t take it seriously, and the women usually come to regret it.”

“How so?”

“Sooner or later, they go overboard on the wrong suspect and he kicks the living shit out of them. I’ve known a few women on the job who had that happen to them. It wasn’t pretty.”

“I’ll bet.”

“The worst part of it is how they’re always trying to act ridiculously tough by humiliating the shit out of suspects. That’s about the dumbest thing you can do on this job. First of all, it rarely works. Second, all you end up doing is really pissing them off. That makes a fight more likely. I’ve found sarcasm works a lot better. And it doesn’t lead to a lot of fistfights.”

“Like when you told that robbery suspect that you might break a nail?”


“That was pretty funny.”

“Yeah, especially since I don’t have any nails. They’re a liability out here.”

“Saves you money on a manicure, too.”

“Every little bit helps.”

“Well, for what it’s worth, you’re the best cop I’ve ever met.”

“And you figured that out after what? Less than a week?”

“Sometimes that’s all it takes. I’ve seen some really good cops since I’ve been here, but they’re not as good as you. You’re damned good, Dani. I know that for a fact.”

I’ve known that for a long time, but it’s good to hear it from someone else. Oh, I know when a boot is sucking up to his training officer. I’ve seen it lots of times. This isn’t it.

“Thanks. And for what it’s worth, you’re a damned good cop, too. You’re way ahead of the curve.”

“I guess that makes us a great team.”

“You’d better believe it. So let’s go out there and prove it.”

“What do you want to do?”

“It’s been a whole day and we haven’t made our friend Ricky miserable. I think we’re falling down on our responsibilities.”

“What did you have in mind?”

“Well, my mother always said: ’If you want to hit someone hard, hit them in the wallet.”

“I like that.”

“So let’s go fuck with Ricky’s wallet.”

I cost him his dope. Now, let’s go cost him his cash.

The driveway across from the Big Lot. Harper definitely knows this sector, that’s for sure. This is an excellent OP for the Big Lot. And look at all the junkies! Ricky’s doing a lot of business today. It looks like he’s brought in extra dealers to handle the overflow. Perfect!

“What do you think, Harper?”

“There must be fifteen junkies down there.”

“I count four dealers, plus Ricky.”

“Five. There’s a guy by the north edge of the lot, just past the alley.”

“Good obs!”

‘Obs’ is short for observation, for those who don’t speak cop.

“What do you want to do, Dani?”

“I think we should let them know we’re here – in a really big way!

“Lights and siren?”

“Harper, you devil! You read my mind!”

“Let’s do this!”

“Hit it! Full blast and fast!”

And here we go! The lights and siren might not affect Ricky, but his dealers and customers are going to run in ten different directions at once! God, I love this shit!

“Straight ahead and lock it up right in front of Ricky!”

“You got it!”

There’s nothing like red lights and sirens, plus a little four-wheel lock skid to scatter a bunch of assholes up to no good. Look at them run!

“Good call, Dani! We’ve definitely scattered the roaches!”

“Let’s break the news to Ricky. Boy, does he look pissed!”

“Good deal. Just watch yourself. He can be dangerous.”

Oh, don’t I know it! I’m not taking any chances around this motherfucker!

“Hey! How’re you doing, Ricky?”

“Bitch! What the fuck are you doing with that shit?”

“Oh, I’m sorry. There’s something wrong with our car. All of a sudden, the lights and siren just came on. Weird, huh? Hey, do you know about cars? Do you think maybe you could fix it?”

“You’re really pushing it, bitch!”

See? This is what I mean about sarcasm. If I went all Jane Wayne on him, he’d just laugh at me. But now he’s just seething and he doesn’t know what to do about it.

“So you’re saying you can’t fix it?”

Look at him! He looks like he wants to kill me right now! Good! That’s the idea. Throw him off balance. Make him careless. Get him to do something stupid and then we throw his ass in jail. It’s an old but effective police trick.

“You got no business being here, bitch! You got no business fucking with me!”

“As a matter of fact, we do. It’s our job.”

“If you want to keep your pretty face, you’d better step back!”

“Is that a threat? Are you threatening us?”

“Just you, bitch!”

“So you’re not threatening Officer Harper? Why is that? Are you afraid of him?”

“I ain’t afraid of you or your boy, bitch!”

Yeah, right! Harper could take him with one arm tied behind his back! In fact, I think I should call Ricky on this one. A guy like him hates nothing more than having to back down.

“I think you are, Ricky. How about this: you go toe to toe with Officer Harper, and if you can take him, we’ll leave you alone. Is that good with you, Harper?”

“Oh, I’d fucking love that!”

“You see, he’s a Marine. They know like, I don’t know; ten thousand ways to kill you with their bare hands. Isn’t that right, Harper?”

“More like twenty thousand.”

“So if you can take him straight up, then you deserve to be left alone. So are you up for that?”

Ricky’s no taller than me. Harper could end him with one punch, and he knows it. He’s got no choice but to back down.

“You need a man to do your fighting for you, bitch? How about you and me go a few rounds?”

“You want to fight a girl? Gee, aren’t you the brave one! Not that I couldn’t take you, I mean. But I think Officer Harper would really enjoy beating your ass black and blue. I wouldn’t want to deprive him of the chance.”

“I’d love to kick his ass, partner.”

“See? Officer Harper’s up for it. How about you?”

Clearly, Ricky isn’t up for a one-on-one with Harper. He’s an asshole, but he’s not a suicidal asshole. That’s it, Ricky: back down and chew on the shame. There’s plenty of junkies watching. And now they see you’re not as big and bad as they thought. That’s the idea.

“You keep this up and you’re going to be sorry, bitch!”

OK, maybe he is a little bit suicidal.

“Harper! He called me a bitch! I’m deeply hurt!”

Oh, this ought to be good! And there goes Ricky, right up against the wall! Ouch! I’ll bet that hurt!
“You don’t fucking insult my partner, Ricky! I take that shit personally!”

“Are you crazy? Let go of me, Harper!”

“Apologize to her!”

“Fuck you, Harper!’

“Wrong answer!”

And there goes Ricky bouncing off of the wall! That looked really painful! Jesus, Harper’s practically lifting him right off of his feet! It must be nice to be that tall sometimes.

“I said apologize, Ricky!”

“All right! All right! I apologize! Fucking crazy motherfucker!”

Ricky’s definitely off-balance right now. Time to hit him with the long-term shit. He’s so pissed off that we made him back down, he won’t be able to think straight. With any luck, he’ll make a really bad decision that we can capitalize on later.

“Better! You call her a bitch again and I’m going to get really pissed off!”

“Harper, explain to Ricky how things are going to work from now on, please.”

“You heard her, Ricky: it’s our job to fuck with you. As long as you’re out here slinging dope, we’re going to be here. We’re going to fuck with you every goddamned night. You’re not going to make a dime while we’re out here. Your customers won’t come anywhere near this place. You’re going to be out of business. So maybe you’d better find somewhere else to sell your dope. Understand?”

“You don’t know who you’re fucking with, Harper! I thought you had more sense than that!”

“I think we do. I think we know exactly who we’re fucking with! Don’t we, Dani?”

“Absolutely. So remember this, Ricky: we might not be able to hang anything on you yet. Eventually, we’ll get something. But until then, we can come here every night and fuck with your business. Like Harper said: we can make it so your customers won’t risk coming here. Every goddamned junkie we see around here, we’ll take him in on a marks beef. It’s chickenshit, but it’s jail time. You know what that does to junkies. They’ll get the message soon enough.”

“You and Harper think you’re running the show around here? You got another think coming, chica.

Hey, at least he didn’t call me a bitch.

“Time will tell. Come on, Harper. We’re done here. For now.”

“We’ll be back, Ricky. Count on it.”

You’d better believe we’ll be back. Night after night for as long as it takes. I really hate this guy. There’s just something about him. He’s way worse than your average dope dealer. This guy is a fucking menace. He needs to go to jail.

Back on patrol. I wonder what’s going to hit us next?

“Dani, don’t think I’m an idiot, but what the hell is a ‘marks beef?’”

“It’s police slang for arresting a junkie for having fresh tracks. It’s a real nickel-and-dime charge, but you can do some time. That’s why junkies are afraid of it. They know that however long they’re locked up; they’ll have to go through withdrawal. They’ll do anything to avoid that.”

“Good to know.”

“We used to be able to accomplish the same thing by catching them with a syringe, but that went by the wayside when they started the whole needle exchange thing.”

“Yeah, those guys are out here almost every day.”

“Where do they make the exchange?”

“The north end. You know where the big bus stop is? They use the parking lot just west of it. They show up in a van. It’s got big signs on it that say ‘Needle Exchange’ or something like that. They usually do it around ten in the morning.”

“Needle exchanges are a good place to find junkies with felony warrants. They’ll risk it to get fresh needles.”

“Sixteen Central, unknown disturbance in the intersection, 5th Street and Kahles Avenue, male black, blue jacket, harassing passersby.”

That’s almost dead center of the main drag of skid row. Anyone causing a disturbance there is going to get his ass beaten severely by about two hundred guys. We’d better get there fast before someone kills this guy!

“Sixteen Central, roger. En route. Hit it, Harper!”

“Hang on! Six blocks away! We’ll be there in no time!”

There are going to be a shitload of people there. If we get into a fight with this guy, it’ll go to shit in a heartbeat!

“Sixteen Central, can we get an additional unit to our call? There’s going to be a large crowd there.”

“Sixteen Central, roger. Any Central unit, meet Sixteen Central at an unknown disturbance, in the intersection of 5th Street and Kahles Avenue. Any unit to respond, please identify.”

“Forty-Four Central, show us en route.”

Well, there’s our backup. I hope we don’t need them. Four cops against two or three hundred people is not what I call a fair fight!

“Dani, put us code six.”

“Sixteen Central, show us code six at 5th and Kahles. Harper, do you see him?”

“Hell, yes! Northeast corner! Are you seeing this shit?”

Uh, that would be the raving lunatic swinging a metal pipe? Yeah, I’d call that a disturbance!

“Dani, that looks like the guy who hit you!”

“Are you sure?”

“Pretty sure! Check out the coat!”

Yep! That’s one of the things I love about this place: nobody ever goes very far.

“If he is, he’s not getting away this time.”

“Hell, no he isn’t!”

“We’ve got another unit coming up Kahles. It must be Forty-Four.”

“We’d better do something before someone stabs this asshole! How do you want to handle it, Dani?”

He’s right. The way this guy’s acting, someone’s going to stick him for sure. I can already see a bunch of pissed-off people starting to circle him.

“Grab the Taser and wait for my order.”

“Roger that. Charged and ready to go.”

We need to get this guy away from the crowd. I need to get his attention; give Harper a clear shot.

“Hey, you! You with the pipe! Drop it! Do it now!”

“Go away!”

“We’re not going away! Drop that pipe now! If you don’t do it, you’re going to get Tased! Drop it now!”

Goren and Signolo are moving to cut him off from the east curb. Good. Together we can herd him into the middle of the street. That’ll give Harper a clear shot. I don’t think this guy’s going to go quietly; especially if he remembers he bashed my head against a door and whacked me with a two-by-four. We don’t want to get in a wrestling match with him. He’s going to get lit up for sure!

“Goren! Keep him away from the sidewalk! Signolo! Get those people back! And Goren! Watch the background! Harper’s got the Taser!”

“What’s this guy’s problem?”

“He’s fucking nuts!”

“Anything besides that?”

Jesus, isn’t that enough? He’s swinging a metal pipe at people!

“Harper! Stand ready!”

“Get him further back, Dani! Guys, this guy’s wanted for ADW on a police officer! He cracked Dani with a two-by-four a few hours ago!”

I’m not sure Harper should’ve told them that. Letting them know is a mixed bag. They’ll appreciate the danger better, but they’ll also want to tune this guy up. Cops don’t let ADW on a fellow cop slide.

“You in the blue coat! I said drop the pipe now!

Oh, he did not like that! Christ! He’s swinging it like a goddamned machete! We’ve got to put this guy out of commission fast, or he’s going to kill someone!

“Harper, are you clear?”

“Almost! Get him further into the street!”

“Hey! Over here! Remember me, asshole?”

Well, I definitely got his attention! I think maybe he does remember me! Now! Zap his ass!

“Light him up, Harper!”


Good shot! Right in the chest! Both darts stuck. Here’s hoping it’s enough!

“Motherfuckers! Fuck all of you!”

That’s it…down on the ground…it’s working! He’s going down! Almost…now!

“He’s down! Move in!”

It’s up to me, Signolo, and Goren now. Harper has to stand back in case he needs to light the son of a bitch up again. Three of us should be enough.

“Harper! Cut the juice!”

I definitely don’t want to grab hold of that guy while fifty thousand volts are shooting through his body. I don’t hear the Taser anymore. Harper shut it off. Good. We need to hook this guy up!

“Grab him, guys! Get his arms!”

Fuck! He’s still fighting! I hate the crazy ones! They keep fighting no matter what you do to them! I’ve got his legs and they’ve got his arms. This is exactly what I wanted to avoid! They need to get those cuffs on him!

“Hook him up, Signolo!”

“Working on it!”

Damn, this guy is strong! No wonder he got past us in that building! I can barely hold his legs down!


“Almost there!”

There! He’s cuffed! Now I have to wrap the hobble around his legs! Even with those cuffs on, this guy is going to keep fighting if I don’t tie up his legs!

“Goren, give me a hand!”

“I can’t! It’s taking both of us to hold this fool down!”

“Stop resisting! You’re fucking cuffed! It’s over!”

Fuck! This guy’s thrashing around like a…shit!


Fuck! He kicked me right in the face! God damn! My eye! I can’t see shit out of it! Fuck! Where the fuck are his legs? What? Who’s that?

“You son of a bitch!”

It’s Harper! And I know what that “whack” was! Harper just cracked the shit out of this guy with a nightstick! Damn! I need to stay in the fight! Don’t think about the pain! Don’t think about your eye! Stay in the goddamned fight until it’s over!

“Hold still! You hear me, motherfucker? Harper! Pin his fucking legs!”

“Quit thrashing around or you’re going to get another one!”

He’s got his legs down! Good! Just give me a few seconds to tie him!



One more wrap around his legs…got it! He’s tied!

“He’s tied! Somebody put out an assistance call!”

“Forty-Four Central, officer needs assistance, violent male mental, 5th and Kahles! Officer needs assistance!”

“Hey! Somebody secure that Taser!”

Good call, Signolo! The last thing we need is somebody picking it up and turning it on while the four of us are trying to hold this guy down! Shit! He really nailed me good! My eyes are watering! I can’t see for shit!

“Dani, we’ve got a situation, here!”

“I can’t see too well! What’s happening?”

“The crowd’s getting out of control!”

Great! We save these people from a lunatic with a metal pipe, and now they want to turn on us! Fucking assholes!

“Everybody stay sharp! We could have a riot!”

What was that? Broken glass! Fucking great! Here come the rocks and bottles!

“Sixteen Central, we’ve got an angry crowd at our location! Where the hell are those units?”

“Sixteen Central, Central units en route. All units, Sixteen Central is requesting assistance; major crowd disturbance, 5th Street and Kahles Avenue. Units en route identify.”

I can hear the sirens. Jesus! They sound like they’re ten blocks away! But they’re not. I know better. They’re almost here. We just need to keep this asshole pinned down and not get pummeled by the fucking crowd! Fuck! Now they’re throwing everything they can find! “Sixteen Central, we’re taking rocks and bottles! Officer needs help!”

That ought to get them here in a hurry! And here’s the first unit! God, I hope they hurry up and jump in the fight! I still don’t know everyone in this division. Please don’t let it be some fucking drone!

“Dani, we’ve got a sergeant! Sarge! My partner’s been hit! The son of a bitch kicked her!”

“Which son of a bitch?”

I recognize the voice: Sergeant Hendrickson! Thank God!

“This son of a bitch, Sarge!”

“Come here you asshole! Get the fuck on your feet!”

I think our arrestee is about to have a close encounter with a car door!

“Right here, asshole!”

Oh, yeah! Direct hit on the door jamb! At least now we’ll both have a black eye!

“Lynott! Are you OK?”

“I’m good, Sarge. He just kicked me in the face.”

“You’re bleeding! Harper! Get her out of here!”

“I’m not going anywhere, Sarge! Not until this thing is shut down!”

Damn! More rocks and bottles! This is definitely getting ugly!

“Harper, get that pipe! The one he was swinging!”

“Got it!”

“The Taser?”

“Secured the whole time. How’re you doing?”

“Loving every minute of it!”

“Can you even see out of that eye?”

“I can see fine! Where the hell is everyone else? This division isn’t that big!”

“I can hear the sirens now!”

So can I, but that’s still a slow response to a help call in this little division!

“You’re the boss, Sarge! Call it!”

“All of you, get back in your cars! Let’s get the hell out of here! That’s an order!”

“We need to get this guy into our car, Sarge! You can’t ride with him alone!”

“Has he got a weapon?”

“Not anymore.”

“Good! Then I’ll take him myself!”

“How are you going to…oh, shit! That’ll work!”

Yeah, I guess throwing the guy into the trunk of his car works pretty well. Sergeant Hendrickson is definitely an old school cop.

“I’ll meet you two back at the station!”

“Roger that! Let’s get the hell out of here! Harper! Let’s go!”

“Right with you!”

Fucking assholes! We save their asses from this idiot and they turn on us! Next time, maybe we’ll let the psycho bash a few heads? Maybe then they’ll get the fucking message!

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