"They're Dropping Like Flies"
The Narrow Alley. Skid row. Just after midnight. Do you remember how Winston Churchill said of Russia: “It is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma?” Well, he was wrong. He wasn’t talking about Russia. He was talking about China. Or more specifically, about Chinatown. Every city seems to have one and even after more than a hundred years, nobody can figure them out. Normally that wouldn’t be a problem, except that where there’s a Chinatown, there are Chinese street gangs. And since we’ve got a tiny little Chinatown just up the street from Central Station, we’ve got Chinese street gangs in the division. And since we’re the police, guess who has to deal with them? Bingo! Now, we usually wouldn’t have much to do with them on Midwatch. The division almost never gets a call for service up there, and when we make an arrest or investigate a crime, almost no one is willing to talk to the police. That’s par for the course in a Chinatown, or so I’ve heard. It sucks, but by and large, it means that it’s not really our problem. You can’t help people who steadfastly refuse your help. But now that some of the Chinese gangs are involved in the heroin trade – or should I say heroin spiked with Fentanyl? – and that shit is killing our junkies left and right, it’s a massive police problem and we all have to deal with it. It’s either that, or we deal with the dead bodies that are presently littering these alleys. We’ve been dealing with those for a couple of weeks already; a little over a month now, I believe. I think it’s time we took a more proactive approach. I suggested nuking Chinatown and the whole damned lot of those shithead gangbangers, but I’m told that was a little extreme. Hey, you try scraping up a dozen dead junkies in three weeks and then you can tell me it’s a little extreme. Trust me, they’re dropping like flies all over the sector.
Rather like our friend here: John Doe number whatever-the-fuck. He’s the third one we’ve found in two days and we weren’t even looking for them. Mister Doe here is DRT: Dead Right There, in case you’ve forgotten. That’s cop-speak for when a junkie shoots up with a concoction so lethal that they literally die before they can get the needle out of their arm. This guy’s still got his stuck in the vein. That hypo is so filthy that if the Fentanyl didn’t kill him, the resulting staph infection almost certainly would have. I don’t know who he is. So far, none of us have been able to identify him. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen him around, but I guess I never paid two seconds’ attention to him. Now he’s got my undivided attention. It’s a hell of a way to get it, though. He could’ve given up the asshole who sold him the poisoned dope instead of shooting it into his arm. Then he’d be alive and he’d also have my gratitude. But now he’s dead and he’s pretty much just an annoyance. He’s got my attention until the coroner arrives to cart his dead body away. After that, I’ll probably forget about him. So will everyone else.
Here comes my partner and hubby, Officer Harper. He was questioning some of the guys hanging out at the far end of the alley. Maybe they can at least tell us who this guy is? I hope so. Nobody should end up in the morgue as a John Doe. Not even a nitwit junkie.
“Harper, did any of those people over there know this guy?”
“If they did, they’re keeping it to themselves. Those guys are scared. They’re afraid if they buy any dope, it’ll be the last thing they ever do. They’re asking if the clinics are going to start free testing. You know, like they did back in the seventies?”
Ah, the bad old days! Drug panics were a semi-regular thing back then. People would cut their dope with strychnine and junkies would start dropping left and right. The free clinics on skid row would offer to test your dope, no questions asked. The seventies were the heyday of heroin, or so I’m told. Of course, that was a different time. If there’s any plan to start doing dope testing again, I haven’t heard about it. And the assholes who are selling that shit are some seriously dangerous people. They probably wouldn’t take too kindly to a program like that. Those clinics could end up getting torched.
“That’s the city’s call and they don’t seem to be in a hurry to make it. The coroner’s van should be here any minute now. What’s the word from the station?”
“Same as the last time: get the information – such as it is – write it up and send it to Narcotics Division. Where it will probably go straight to the bottom of a very large pile.”
“And growing larger every day. I really hate this shit. Can’t these asshole junkies take a hint? I mean, just tough it out! Kick the shit! Three days of hell, but then they’re off of the dope! Why don’t they go for it? It can’t be any worse than playing Russian roulette with a needle.”
“Dani, if they weren’t stoned out of their minds, they’d suddenly realize they were living on skid row. That’s got to be worse than the dope.”
Good point. Harper always sees things so clearly. It’s one of the many things I adore about him, even if it annoys the shit out of me sometimes.
“Heads up, Dani! We’ve got a sergeant!”
Sergeant Hendrickson. I’m not surprised. I thought I heard him say he was responding to our location. He’s not any happier about these overdoses than we are. And he sure as hell doesn’t look very happy right now, does he?
“Lynott! Harper! What is this? Number three since yesterday?”
“That we found, sir. Kursteff and Vinell found one last night and I’m pretty sure Garcia and Acevedo did, too. Theirs was hard to tell, though. The rats got to him first and there wasn’t much left of his arms below the shoulders.”
“Are you trying to make me sick, Lynott? I just ate, for God’s sake!”
That’s one of the interesting things about Sergeant Hendrickson: he’s big and as tough as nails, but he’s got no stomach for the really messy ones. Me? My idea of fun is watching slasher films. I never had a problem with the gory ones.
“If the food around here didn’t make you sick, nothing will. As for this guy? He’s still got the spike in his arm, so it’s pretty obvious what happened. He didn’t OD on the regular dope. It’s got to be that Fentanyl crap. Chalk up another one for the Chinese gangs. When is Narcotics going to start taking that shit seriously?”
“Probably after today. The captain got hauled into a meeting this afternoon. A couple of city councilmen and a bunch of businessmen. Some of them were from west of Meridian.”
Translation: the hotels and skyscrapers at the heart of the Emerald City. The munchkins are afraid that the junkies are going to start dropping dead over in their neck of the woods. As long as the assholes stick to skid row, the people west of Meridian don’t give a shit what happens to them. But if they move across the street into that area, all hell breaks loose. We’ve seen it happen before.
“Are they going to put together a task force to deal with it?”
“Don’t count on it. The department doesn’t have the money in the budget. We’ll be lucky if they do a few sweeps in the sector. A typical buy-bust operation won’t do any good. The poisoned shit is coming from the Chinese gangs and they don’t do retail. Arresting the street-level dealers won’t solve the problem. We need to take down the suppliers.”
And those dope dealers won’t roll on the suppliers. They’re terrified of the Chinese gangs, and with good reason. We’ve got to take out the gangs behind the supply, but how? The regular Gang Unit deals almost entirely with black and Hispanic gangs. They don’t know shit about Asian gangs. I used to work that unit, remember? The department has an Asian Gang Unit, but it’s about eight guys – including their sergeant and lieutenant. They deal mostly with gang extortion and human trafficking cases. Those are traditional Asian gang crimes. Dope is a little out of their league. They’re going to have to coordinate with Narcotics Division, and I’m pretty sure that Asian gangs are a little out of their league. I’ll bet nobody over at Central Bureau Narcotics even speaks Mandarin or Cantonese. In short, this situation totally sucks. Even Sergeant Hendrickson can see that. Just look at him: he’s a frustrated as we are.
“God damn it, maybe we can go straight to the source for a change? Try it that way? Lynott, who’s the main dealer in here?”
In here? The Narrow Alley? He’s kidding, right?
“In the Narrow Alley? Sir, have you got about an hour for me to list them all?”
“All right, point taken. Let me know if you guys come up with anything. And talk to your friends over at Narcotics Division. Who are they again?”
“John and Angelo. Detectives Godfrey and Cardozo. I’m planning on going to see them tomorrow. I’m sure they’re aware of the problem. I don’t know if they’re going to be able to do anything about it, though.”
“Talk to them anyway. We need to be able to tell people we’re doing something about the problem, even if what we’re doing doesn’t amount to jack shit.”
Ah, yes! The familiar refrain: style over substance. Appearances over reality. Bullshit over the truth. It’s the essence of politics. Unfortunately, it never changes and it never ends.
“Will do. Is there anything else?”
“Not unless you’ve got…”
“Central units and Eight Central, ambulance overdose, possible fatality. In the alley behind 959 South Palomar Avenue. Victim down at the location. Eight Central, handle code two-high.”
Another one. That’s behind the Big Lot. It’s got to be a junkie and it’s got to be that poisoned dope. Here we go again! Clearly, the Sarge isn’t too happy about it.
“Son of a bitch! Lynott, as soon as the bone collector comes for this piece of shit, get over there. That’s the Big Lot. Nobody knows it better than you and Harper. I’m heading over there now. Fuck! These fucking junkies! They’re doing their best to kill themselves and we’re out here trying to keep them from doing it! Can somebody tell me the logic behind that?”
“Not in a million years, Sarge. Watch yourself over there. If the bad dope is over at the Big Lot, then a lot of the junkies will be too scared to buy it. That means they’re getting sick by now, and that makes them dangerous. Watch your back.”
“Always, Lynott. I’ll see you over there.”
Yeah, we’ll be there. And at the next one, and the next one, and the next one after that. Jesus, when is this shit going to end? When all of the junkies are dead? What kind of business is it where you kill off your customers and you think it’s a good thing? How the hell do they expect to stay in business like that? Can someone please explain that to me? Only on skid row, people! Welcome to Crackerbox Palace!
Behind the Big Lot, standing over yet another dead junkie. Did I call it or what? I think the coroner is going to have to give the police a volume discount for this shit. We’re certainly keeping them busy. This guy? At least he managed to get the syringe out of his arm. He got it about six inches away before he vapor-locked and died. He’s still got it in his hand. We can’t even touch it because Fentanyl is so dangerous that less than a drop of it can kill you fifty times over. If there’s any on the outside of the syringe, it could get on your hand and kill you. Even rubber gloves might not protect you, or so I’ve heard. We have to wait for the paramedics to come by with a pair of tongs and pick it up and seal it in a jar. And since the guy’s clearly dead, they’re in no hurry to get here. They don’t get paid to pick up toxic waste for the police. They’ve got much better things to do with their time. Unfortunately, we don’t. We’re stuck here for the duration. At least it’s warm. Summer’s coming a little early, I guess. Lucky us. They say the weather is going to turn to shit in a few days, though. That sucks.
Ruiz and Rosen caught the call, so they’re over at the north wall, questioning the so-called witnesses. Trust me, a bunch of junkies too broke to buy anything aren’t going to give us a damned thing. They’re just waiting for someone to front them some dope. They don’t know shit. At least Ruiz speaks Spanish. Most of the guys over at the wall right now are Mexicans. They’ll feel better talking to someone who understands their native language. All of them know Harper and me. We see them every night. We’ve built up a rapport with them, but they don’t trust us as far as they can throw us. They’re junkies and we’re the police. That’s the way it goes. It’s frustrating, but you get used to it.
So I guess it’s a good time to catch up, since we may be here for a while. A lot has happened since we last met, and I don’t just mean with the dead junkies. I’m talking about last summer with the Robbery Suppression Detail. You remember that one: my not-so-brilliant idea to deal with those gangbanger armed robbery crews that were coming up here in droves and shooting people left and right? The one that got me shot in the gut at point-blank range and nearly got everybody on the watch killed at least once? The one that very nearly got Goren killed? Yeah, that one. And if that bullet had hit me about an inch lower? I’d definitely be dead. Thank God for the vest, huh? Without it, that bullet would’ve torn right through me. As it was, all it did was bruise the living shit out of me. Oh, and it hurt worse than pretty much anything I ever felt in my life. So what happened after we wrapped the detail? As you might have guessed, the usual gang of idiots went absolutely ape shit when news of it went public. Oh, they gave it the full-court press: City Council hearings, Police Commission hearings, and a scorched earth campaign against us in the press. They called us every name in the book: murderers, racists, sadists, and a department-sanctioned hit squad among them. None of it was true and the press wasn’t interested in the facts, as usual. About the only thing that kept people from forming a lynch mob and coming after us at Central Station was the fact that we had the Council of Downtown Churches view the body camera videos to see that we fired only in self-defense. Those ministers took ten tons of shit for that, but they stood their ground. The assholes were slaughtering people over nothing and we had to do something, so we employed a decoy operation in areas where it was least likely that any innocent bystanders would get hit. The ministers all testified to that, and to the necessity of the operation under the circumstances. People hated it, but we were cleared. The Chief of Police was advised of it in advance and he gave us the green light, and he said so at the hearings. People were calling for the mayor and the Police Commission to fire him on the spot for that. They weren’t any easier on us when we had to testify. I haven’t been the target of that much hate since the fallout from the Reid shooting. That should tell you how bad it was.
It took seemingly forever for the Shooting Team to investigate all of our shootings, but in the end, we were cleared of any misconduct. They couldn’t even fault us on tactics because everything was planned out and we had Lieutenant Hagan leading the detail. A former SWAT team Element Leader? It’s kind of hard to argue with a guy like that over tactics, and he was there when the captain presented the whole kit and caboodle to the Review Board. Two of them really hated us for it, but in the end, all five found the shootings in-policy. I think they were just playing to public sentiment, or to one segment of it, anyway. Their rhetoric was, shall we say, more than a little contrived. I think someone in the media actually wrote it for them. Deputy Chief Neustadt tried to browbeat us at the end of it for what he called a department-sanctioned campaign of slaughter and mayhem, but we had Chief Delano on our side and after he ripped Neustadt a new asshole, Neustadt retired and moved out of state. He’s the chief of some department in Outer Mongolia or some such place now. Good riddance!
The media went after us like you wouldn’t believe – or maybe you would, depending on which side of the sociopolitical fence you find yourself on. You should’ve seen the stories they wrote about us. Naturally, they started by focusing on the fact that I had been present at the Reid shooting. Officer Lynott guns down another innocent citizen! Several of them! The homicidal witch must be stopped! Of course, it kind of backfired on them because they then had to admit that I didn’t shoot Reid and that I had nothing to do with it other than being there when it happened. I may have actually benefited from that. We’ll have to see. So then they went after everyone else on the watch. There were a few stories about how Lieutenant Hagan shot a shitload of assholes back when he was a patrol officer and later in SWAT, but it didn’t get any real traction because all of that happened a long time ago. They went after Acevedo; calling him a thug and little more than a gangster himself. Nice, huh? But that didn’t work out too well because the ministers made a big deal of the fact that when one of the assholes pulled a gun on him, Acevedo decked his ass instead of shooting him. I wanted to strangle him for taking a chance like that, but I guess it worked out in the end. Weird, huh?
So then they went after Harper. As you can imagine, that didn’t sit well with me. God, they went after him hammer and tongs! No mercy! It was disgusting! As you’ll recall, he was our designated sniper on overwatch during the decoy operations. There was this one fucking bitch reporter who did a whole article on him; making him out to be some sort of deranged killer who sharpened his homicidal skills in the Marine Corps and gleefully murdered women and children in Iraq. Total bullshit! She got hold of a picture of him that was taken over there and he’s smiling, as usual. It was just a casual photo of him standing in front of a Humvee with his rifle and gear on, but the way that fucking cunt wrote it, he was evil incarnate and now he was doing it here. I can’t even begin to tell you how furious I was! But it gets better! You see, Harper just brushed it off the way he always does. Nothing fazes him. But then a few days after that shit article appeared in the paper, that fucking cunt showed up at the station looking to get a statement from him! Can you fucking believe it? She never once tried to talk to him before she wrote that shit! Now she wants a reaction from him? Well, I just happened to be in the Watch Commander’s Office when she showed up at the front desk and as soon as I realized who she was, I went berserk! I bit her fucking head off and when she started talking shit about Harper, I jumped on her and tried to slam her head against the wall! I went total Officer Woodward on her! I was ready to kill her – literally! Sergeant Hendrickson had to physically rip me off of the little bitch and drag me into the Watch Commander’s Office! They almost wound up chaining me to the bench! The rotten bitch said she was going to sue and she wanted me arrested, and that was fine with me! Unfortunately for her, the whole thing kind of blew up in her face after that. The Marine Corps refuted everything she had printed about Harper’s service and demanded that the paper print a retraction and an apology. That story got picked up by some of the other news outlets and the paper decided it was best to let the whole thing die. They never printed the retraction, though. They were going to give me a twenty-two day suspension for wailing on her ass, but the chief knocked it down to an official reprimand. He said that under the circumstances, my reaction was understandable. Bullshit! Ripping her fucking head off and taking a great big shit down her neck would’ve been understandable!
In the end, life went on and other stories took over the news and they all kind of forgot about us. That’s how it always goes. We went back to doing our jobs and the world went on turning. Goren came back as good as new, having recovered from his gunshot wound. As for the rest of us? Our bruises healed. Even mine. I’ll say this, though: when I finally got a chance to watch those body camera videos, I realized just how close we all came to getting killed more than once. When Acevedo decked that asshole? The muzzle of that gun was about four inches away from his face! Crazy bastard! Latin King my ass! Latin lunatic! And watching that car get turned into Swiss cheese with Ruiz hiding on the floorboards scared the living shit out of me, but nothing compared to when I saw how many times Harper was almost shot in the head. That time at the apartments when he was on the roof of that little building? I knew those assholes were shooting at him a lot, but I hand no idea how close those rounds came to him. The roof was being torn apart less than six inches from his face! I swear, I actually screamed when I saw it! That’s how scary it was! Then I yelled at him for about an hour for not having told me how close he came to dying. Mister Harper was definitely in the doghouse after that one! He’s been there before, so he was used to it.
From the doghouse to the outhouse, in a manner of speaking. You see, all of that stress from the Robbery Suppression Detail and the bullshit we went through after it finally took its toll on us. We were warned by some experts that it could happen, and boy did it ever! Strangely, Harper was the first to succumb. I thought that was pretty strange, anyway. He’s usually the indestructible one; Captain America. Well, he got destroyed in a big way! One night we were working together and he remarked that he wasn’t feeling too well. No big deal, right? Just a kind of casual remark; like “Gee, I think I might be coming down with something.” That sort of thing. But by the end of the shift, I could see he wasn’t in good shape. And by the time we got home, whatever was making him ill hit him like a ton of bricks. I swear, I’ve never seen anybody so sick in my life! It was really scary! He was in agony! He was hurting from head to toe – literally! I’m not talking aches and pains, either. I’m talking about pain like every muscle in his body had been hit with a baseball bat. There was nothing he could do to get away from it or even make it a little better. Then he suddenly couldn’t breathe. You heard me right: He couldn’t breathe! He could breathe in, but not out. It was so serious that he started to panic. Harper panicking? That should tell you how serious it was! Like I said, it was scary as hell! After what seemed like a couple of hours, he was able to breathe kind of normally, but that was nowhere near the end of it. No, that’s when he got hit with horrible diarrhea and stomach cramps that forced him to double over in pain. And that’s when he started puking harder than anyone I’ve ever seen! He was puking so much, I started to think he was actually puking up the lining of his stomach! In no time at all, I could see that he was dangerously dehydrated. I’m talking about the kind of dehydration that lands you in the hospital so that you don’t die from it. I wanted to call an ambulance, but he wouldn’t let me. I don’t know why, because he was as scared as I was. I was absolutely terrified. I thought he might actually be dying. I thought he might have cholera or Ebola or something like that. It lasted all night and into the next morning. After that, he was a total physical wreck. I couldn’t believe it. He was in worse shape than when he got shot, and no, I’m not exaggerating. It was that bad! And it didn’t show any signs of getting better!
Two days later, whatever he had suddenly hit me with a vengeance! I had all of the same symptoms and they were absolutely hellish! I thought I was going to die! I really did! I was actually hoping I’d die! It was that bad! What was worse was the fact that we were both like that for the next seven days! I shit you not: that horror lasted for seven fucking days! It’s a good thing we have two bathrooms upstairs in our house because it was all we could do to crawl to and from the bathroom. You heard me right: we had to crawl! We were that sick! When I called the station to tell them that I had whatever Harper had and that I wasn’t going to make it to work, Lieutenant Hagan told me that whatever it was, it had spread through Midwatch like a biblical plague. The whole watch had it and they were all out of action. I’m not sure if we gave it to them or if they gave it to us, but we were absolutely wrecked and so was Midwatch. Harper and I spent seven days in bed wishing that God would strike us dead and get it over with. Put us out of our misery. That shit gave new meaning to the word misery. It was awful!
I’ll tell you this, though: if you ever want to find out for sure if you and your significant other are meant for each other, just get horribly sick together. I know it sounds weird, but it works. We were so completely thrashed that all we could do was lay in bed in our own filth because we were too sick to stand up in the shower. We didn’t have the strength to change our clothes, either. We smelled like a toxic waste dump. We stunk so bad that even Highway didn’t want to come near us, and I’ve seen that dog roll around in his own shit! And since we were in pain and throwing up constantly, we weren’t exactly civil to one another. The whole thing was pure hell. But through it all, I never doubted for a second that I was madly in love with him. So if you can get through something like that and still be crazy about your hubby, then you know you’ve found your one and only soulmate. It’s disgusting, but it works.
After that, the rest of the guys weren’t too crazy about us for a while because they blamed us for giving them whatever the hell that shit was. Even the mighty Lieutenant Hagan was felled by it, so you can imagine what he thought of us! They all started calling us the Typhoid Harpers, and it wasn’t a term of endearment. Once it finally passed, they all swore revenge on us. They haven’t pranked us yet, but we’re pretty sure they haven’t forgotten. How could anyone forget going through that hell? It’s that old Sicilian proverb: revenge is a dish best served cold. They’re just biding their time until they find the perfect way to strike. I’m not looking forward to it. These are the guys who put a live duck in my locker, remember? They’re merciless.
I thought that once we recovered, it was all over. Boy, was I wrong! I guess the stress was still there because just recently, I went through this strange period where I couldn’t concentrate for shit! My memory went on the fritz like you wouldn’t believe! I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal, but believe me, it was. My head was so scrambled that it would take me five minutes to get out of my car because I couldn’t concentrate enough to figure out that I should grab my keys, pick up my purse, and lock the car afterward. I’d decide that I needed to go to the store to pick up a few things and by the time I made it to the front door, I’d forgotten why I was standing there. Or I’d go to the store and forget what I was there to buy. I’d make a list and forget where I’d put it. I ended up taping lists all over the house to make me remember things! Harper and I began to think that I might have actually had a stroke. It turned out that wasn’t the case, thank God. My doctor said it was the result of massive stress and that I needed to take it easy. For once, I didn’t argue with her. I actually burned a few days off from my overtime bank to rest up and recover. It went away about a week ago, but I’m telling you, it was one of the most frustrating experiences of my life. I was ready to start screaming because of it. I hope I never go through anything like it again.
Winter is officially over. It’s been a pretty rotten winter, weather-wise. I felt more like I was in Salem; what with the cold, the rain, and the overcast skies most days. It’s been miserable. I’ve been going straight to bed when we got home for the last few days. I think I’m catching a nasty cold. I feel sick to my stomach lately. I hope it just goes away. I really don’t need to get sick again. I’m not sure I could handle it. I’m hoping this warm spell sticks around until the end of April and the spring really kicks in. I need a break from the bullshit. I’ve had enough of it to last me ten lifetimes. God, would you listen to me? I’m worried about getting sick, so what am I doing? I’m standing in a goddamned alley on skid row in the middle of the night with a fucking dead body at my feet! Gee, that sounds healthy, doesn’t it? It’s a wonder we haven’t all caught some fatal disease out here by now.
Here comes the ambulance. That was a lot faster than I thought it would be. Usually, a dead body call is about the lowest of low priorities for those guys. They’re into saving lives, so someone who’s already dead is kind of a black mark on them when you think about it. It reminds them that they’re not superhuman any more than we are. That’s Chris in the passenger seat. I know him pretty well. He’s your typical paramedic: very dedicated, very gung-ho, and very flirtatious as long as he doesn’t see Harper standing next to me. The fact that I’m happily married doesn’t seem to register with a lot of these guys. Go figure.
“Lynott! What do you do? Go looking for these things?”
“I don’t have to look for them. I just rub a lamp and they appear.”
That’s a line from the Marx Brothers, in case you didn’t know. A Day at the Races. Harper and I have watched that film a dozen times and it never fails to crack us up. It seems to be lost on Chris, though. When he looks at me, I get the feeling he’s got a different kind of film in mind, if you know what I mean.
“Guys, be careful. There’s a spike in his hand and we think this is a Fentanyl overdose. You know what to do.”
They didn’t need my warning. They’re pros at this. Yeah, they’re way ahead of me. Chris is putting on those huge chemical spill gloves; the ones that go up to your elbow and have enough protection to let you reach right into a nuclear reactor and grab the plutonium without feeling a thing. Like I said: that shit is seriously dangerous.
“It looks like your stiff got some new ink before he croaked. Take a look at his arm. That tattoo only just started to peel.”
He’s right: that thing is new. On his forearm, right on the inside. But it’s in the wrong place for a junkie. Junkies get tattoos to cover the needle marks and knocked-out veins from the injections. Those characters are pretty small. Too small to be useful for a junkie. Besides, that thing isn’t going to cover jack shit on that part of his arm, so he didn’t get it for that reason. They’re Chinese characters. Well, he was a white guy so I’m pretty sure it’s not a gang tattoo. Asian gangs don’t admit white guys. And it’s probably not a prison tattoo, either. The most common prison tattoo with Chinese characters are three characters that read “Trust No Man.” I’d recognize those. I’ve seen them a million times. No, this is different. I’m going to take a picture of it and show it around. Maybe we’ll get lucky?
There goes the spike, into the safety jar. All right, we’ve got our evidence. Time to give it to Ruiz and Rosen and get the hell out of here. The coroner already picked up one of these guys tonight. They won’t be in any hurry to pick up another one. Those two could end up sitting here until end of watch. We don’t want to get stuck on it with them.
“Harper, we’re out of here! Let’s go! Have a better one, Chris.”
“When are you going to come down to our station and see us, Lynott? You know we’ve got a pole. You don’t have one of those at your station.”
See what I mean? I’ll give you three guesses why he mentioned their pole and the first two don’t count.
“I don’t need it. I’ve got one at home. You’d be amazed what I can do on it. I get private lessons from an expert”
Hey, that’s the truth. You remember Acevedo’s girlfriend Angie, the stripper? She’s taught me a few special moves guaranteed to drive the boys wild. They work, too. Just ask Harper. Poor Chris looks like he’s about to have a stroke. The thought of me and some smoking hot professional stripper on a pole together? Yeah, I think that just about killed him. Imagine if he’s actually been there. That definitely would’ve killed him! Take my word for it.
“You got any pictures you’d be willing to share?”
“Sorry. I only do private performances for my hubby and he doesn’t need any pictures. He gets the real thing: up close and very personal. See you around.”
Yeah, I know it’s cruel to do that to him, but it’s good to keep him in check. I take enough teasing from these firemen and paramedics. Making them squirm every now and then is sweet revenge. It’s also a lot of fun.
“Let’s go, Harper. I don’t want to get stuck here.”
“What did you say to Chris? He looked like he’d been stabbed through the heart.”
More like through the balls, but Harper doesn’t need to know that.
“I just let him know what a lucky man you are.”
“Luckiest man in the world. I think about that every day of my life.”
And not a hint of sarcasm when he said that. You just earned yourself another champagne room performance, mister!
“Harper take a look at this picture. Do you know what these characters mean?”
“Those were on our John Doe?”
“On his arm. They’re new. Any ideas?”
I don’t know why I’m asking him. It’s not like Harper speaks Mandarin.
“No, but Tung’s working Nineteen Central Graveyard tonight. He should be able to read them.”
Damn! I forgot about him! Officer Gary Tung is half Chinese and half Vietnamese and he speaks about four languages. Good call, Harper!
“Sixteen Central to Dispatch, have Nineteen Central Graveyard meet us at Central Station.”
“Sixteen Central, roger.”
I want to know what these mean. It’s probably nothing, but given the connection to the Fentanyl, it could be important. We’re about to find out. And if they’re nothing, then we’re no worse off that we were before. Sadly, that’s not a comforting thought.
Central Station. Our home away from home. Nightwatch is gone, so Lieutenant Hagan is gone, too. Sergeant Lazzeroni is the interim Graveyard Watch Commander. He hates sitting behind a desk, but that’s what happens when a skid row psycho rushes up and stabs you right through the back of your vest when you’re writing a traffic ticket. He’s lucky to be alive. Graveyard’s on a tough deployment these days: lots of injuries and illnesses. Two of our officers on Graveyard actually came down with meningitis. Can you believe it? In a major American city, two cops contracted meningitis. I told you Central with the filthiest division in the city. I’m beginning to think it’s the filthiest division in the world. We heard they’re going to be OK, but that stuff is nothing to take lightly. It can kill you in a heartbeat. We also have an officer who got taken out of the field two nights ago and the initial diagnosis was cholera. You heard me right: cholera! I thought that shit was only in jungle swamps. What’s next? The bubonic plague? The Ebola virus? Maybe even the actual zombie apocalypse? I’m beginning to think that whatever hit Midwatch a few weeks ago was a just warning: we’re working in a toxic waste dump and our days are numbered. I hope not, but I wouldn’t rule it out. I’m telling you, they’ve got diseases on skid row that medical science doesn’t even have names for yet. One day they’re going to build a wall around this place and leave the inmates to fend for themselves. I hope we’re not here when that happens. I saw the movie Escape from New York. Don’t think for a minute that it couldn’t happen here.
There’s Officer Tung. Let’s get this show on the road.
“Tung! Come over here! We need your linguistic mastery!”
In addition to speaking a shitload of languages, he’s also a first-rate pitcher. He plays for the department’s baseball team. He’s a southpaw with a wicked slider. If you ask me, that’s better than being a master of four languages.
“Take a look at this. We found this tattoo on a dead junkie. Do you know what these characters mean?”
“Yeah. Jade Lotus. This says he’s a runner for them.”
The Jade Lotus? They’re the gang in our Chinatown. They report to the local Tong. They stomped out most of their competition in Chinatown and they pretty much run the place. We got word they were expanding into the dope trade – something very new for them, actually. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re the source of the Fentanyl.
“This guy was white. Don’t the Jade Lotus chop off your arm if you get a gang tattoo without their permission?”
“Yeah, with a chainsaw if they can’t find a sword. But he’s not a member. He’s an affiliate. This tattoo says he’s a runner. The Jade Lotus use people to run errands and messages for them. If you do a good job for them, then they give you this tattoo. It’s a recognition code: you show up at the meeting place and flash the tattoo. That way, they know you’re legit. The Chinese just love their codes. They use them for practically everything. If you show up and you don’t have this tattoo? You’re dead. We won’t even find your body.”
I can believe that part. Those guys are beyond cruel. I’ve heard the stories.
“Couldn’t anybody get one of these? It looks easy enough to draw.”
“This is the real thing; not a fake. You see, it’s not about the drawing. You have to look at the style. This is a Chinese tattoo. This was done the old, old way. See the colors? You’re not going to find ink like this at your local tattoo parlor. And a regular place uses electric needles. They couldn’t do it like this. I don’t even think it’s legal for a tattoo parlor to do one this way. Health Department regulations, you know? And even if they could, they wouldn’t dare. They know what would happen to them if they started counterfeiting Jade Lotus ink.”
“Very bad. They’d be lucky if their shop just got firebombed.”
Tell me about it. Those guys have got extortion down to a science. And they really like their firebombs, don’t they?
“So what would this guy have been carrying? Dope?”
“Not likely. Not yet, anyway. This ink is new. He just got it. They’d start him off with simple shit: mostly carrying low-level messages. It’s how they get around phone taps. If he proved to be trustworthy enough, they might let him carry small amounts of dope, but nothing major. Not an outsider. Those guys have a strict code of secrecy when it comes to gang business. They don’t trust outsiders with anything serious. That’s why they’re still in business: nobody can get on the inside. The Asian Gang Unit has been trying for years, but they’re nowhere.”
So we’ve heard. Like I said: that unit is basically a handful of guys in suits who happen to be Asian and know some of the languages. It isn’t a lot more than that. Their budget is said to be little more than cab fare.
“They keep their secrets close, huh?”
“They live by the pirate’s code: three can keep a secret if two of them are dead. They don’t fuck around. Are you going to tell me what killed this guy? Was it a homicide?”
“No, he was a stupid shit junkie who gave himself a lethal dose of Fentanyl.”
“Are you sure someone didn’t give it to him? He wouldn’t be the first guy the Jade Lotus whacked with a hotshot. I hear they’re into that now: no mess, no fuss, and completely untraceable. Just how they like it.”
I hadn’t thought of that. It’s possible. Grab the guy in the alley, hold him down and inject him. He’d die in seconds. Just put the syringe in his hand and leave the body there in the alley. No mess, no fuss, and definitely untraceable. Witnesses? Who cares? No junkie in what’s left of his right mind would testify against a bunch of local Chinese gangbangers. Not if he wants to keep breathing.
“You might be on to something. I’m going to ask Narcotics about it when I see them. You know, with all of that information, you ought to put in for the Asian Gang Unit.”
“Forget it. I’m allergic to suits. Besides, trying to put away a bunch of assholes when I know nobody will testify against them isn’t my idea of fun. And that ‘Uncle, we’re here for the envelope’ shit? I’d probably start blasting them in the street! No, thanks. I’ll stick with patrol.”
Yeah, I know exactly what he means. The “We’ve come for the envelope” shit is what the gangbangers say to the business owners when they come around every week for the extortion payoffs. If you work Chinatown during Daywatch, you’ll actually see it about twenty times a month. The assholes are pretty brazen about it. And no matter what we do, none of those owners will testify against the gangs. It’s not just fear, either. It’s cultural. If you can get them to talk, they’ll tell you that this is simply the way they do business. It’s been this way for centuries and they don’t see any reason to change it. Really? Uh, how about the small fortune you’re paying these assholes every year for nothing? I think that’s a pretty good reason to testify against them!
“We’ll keep you posted. If it pays off, we’ll let them know you gave us the information.”
“I appreciate that. I could use a commendation. Hey, when is another spot going to open up on Midwatch? I’d kill to go there.”
I don’t want to answer that. Tung’s a good officer, but we’ve got a tight watch and we’d like to keep it just as it is for as long as we can. He probably knows that. Most people around here do.
“Probably not anytime soon. We’ll let you know. Have a good shift. Stay safe out there.”
Most people don’t want to come to Midwatch. The hours are horrible, the work is dangerous, and we get into more shit than anyone in the division. For the young hard-chargers, that’s exactly what they want. That’s why all of us came to Midwatch. I don’t mean to be a snob, but it takes a special kind of officer to work this watch. Some of the people who’ve expressed an interest are people we wouldn’t touch with a stick, but Tung’s not one of them. If we could find another one like him, we might agree to expand the watch by one unit. God knows we could use the help. We’ll have to see. Midwatch is still reeling from the fallout from the Robbery Suppression Detail. I’m not sure our leaders are in any hurry to expand the deployment. Not right now, anyway.
Home at last! Back at the House of Harper, as we’ve sometimes taken to calling it! It was a depressing shift. Finding dead junkies is nothing to cheer about. And I’m feeling a lot better. I don’t feel sick to my stomach right now. Maybe I’ll dodge the bullet? I hope so. I never want to be sick again. I can remember every miserable second of the last time. You know you’ve reached the end of your tether when you’re lying in bed and literally hoping God will kill you. No more! Never again!
“Zephyr! Highway! We’re home! Did you leave us any presents on the carpet? You’d better not have!”
Here they come, tails wagging. Mom and dad are home, guys! I don’t see any guilty looks on their faces. That’s a good sign.
“Come on, into the kitchen. Treats! I know you’ve been waiting!”
Little pigs! I swear, Zephyr is more dog than cat! He’s like a little furry black vacuum cleaner when it comes to treats! I think Highway’s been contaminating him. All right, beefy treat time! Here you go! Eat up!
“Dani, your mom left a voicemail on our landline. She wants to know why you haven’t called. I think you’re in trouble.”
And he’s grinning because he thinks that’s funny! It’s not funny! She’s been on my ass since word of the Robbery Suppression Detail broke. It made all of the papers out here, so naturally she found it on the internet and read all about it – every last word she could find! She went absolutely ballistic! She’s chewed me out plenty of times over the years, but never like that! I thought she was going to come out here and kidnap me and Harper and drag us back to Salem! She’s got a hell of a basement where she could hold us prisoner. She’d do it, too. Fortunately, she hates flying and she’d never drive across country. She still walks to the grocery store. Lucky us.
“I don’t want to call her. She’s going to yell at me.”
“Do you want me to call her for you?”
Oh, sure! Harper’s idea of him calling my mom is that as soon as she answers the phone, he says “Mrs. Lynott? It’s me, Harper. Dani’s right here. Here you go, Dani!” Then he hands me the phone and laughs his ass off while she lays into me. What an asshole!
“Forget it. I’ll deal with her. Besides, you’re in enough trouble with her. You know she blames you for not knocking me up by now.”
“Uh-huh. She does know you’re the one who handles that, right?”
“I think she’s blotted it out of her mind. Go get me a beer. If I’m going to deal with her, I’ll need a drink.”
“Don’t you want something stronger?”
Don’t tempt me. We’ve got a bottle of bourbon in the liquor cabinet with my name on it. I’ll crack it open if I need to. All right, take a deep breath! Here we go!
“Hello, mom? It’s Dani.”
“Oh, good. You actually got my message. How nice of you to return it.”
Sarcasm. I can already tell this isn’t going to be pleasant. She’s got that tone of voice. God, give me strength!
“I’m sorry, mom. It’s been really busy at work and I’ve been feeling a little ill lately. I should’ve called you sooner.”
“What’s wrong? It’s not that thing you had before, is it?”
Yeah, I told her about that. We were so sick that she almost decided to come out here and take care of us. We managed to talk her out of it, but it wasn’t easy.
“No, I don’t think so. That one went from zero to warp ten in about a day. I think I’m just catching a cold. It’s warming up, though. Not as much rain as before. Maybe I’ll dodge it?”
“I hope so. So how is everything else? How is Harper?”
“He’s fine. He says hello.”
I think she was really asking if he’s still fertile. As far as I know, he is. I’m telling you, one of these days she’s going to demand proof!
“Say hello to him for me. Dani, I’ve been reading about this drug problem you’ve got out there. This thing with the opiates.”
Oh, great! She’s keeping up with the local dirt in the Emerald City. The Wizard of Oz wouldn’t approve of that.
“Mom, it’s no big deal. Every city in America has an opiate problem. Ours is no worse than any other.”
“They don’t have a problem with it in Salem.”
I’m not entirely sure that’s true. While I’m sure it isn’t anywhere near what we’ve got, there are drugs in Salem. Mom just doesn’t seem to realize that.
“Salem’s not a major city. Besides, if they had one, the people would hang the dope dealers for practicing witchcraft.”
“We don’t do that anymore, Dani. You know I don’t like it when you make fun of our heritage.”
Someday I’m going to have Harper do a search through the records to see if we’re really related to one of the defendants in the witch trials. Mom always swears up and down that we are, but I’d like to put an end to it once and for all. Then again, I might find out that it’s true. Worse, I might find out that we’re related to someone who actually was a witch. I’d never hear the end of that one.
“Will do, mom. How’s life in Salem? Is it still cold out there?”
“Of course. The weather won’t change for another month or so. As for everything else, I’m fine. I don’t have a lot to do right now. Nothing really starts around here until the weather changes and it’s not like I have any children or grandchildren to keep me entertained.”
See? I told you! I told you so! Didn’t I? Here we go again!
“Mom, don’t start with that. Please?”
“Dani, you’re both coming up on forty. Do you have any idea how difficult it is for a woman to conceive after she turns forty?”
Yes, I know exactly how difficult it is! How? Because you send me every damned magazine article ever printed on the subject! And because you never stop reminding me about it! I should have my tubes tied and send her the hospital bill! At least then she’d quit bugging me about having kids! No, then she’d never forgive me for having it done. And she’d send me articles about women who had a kid through a surrogate! That would be worse!
“Yes, mom. I know. Look, I told you: we haven’t ruled anything out. It’s just not a good time for that right now. We work late hours and the job…”
“Dani, that job is going to kill the both of you. I’m serious about that. I saw the news stories about what happened last summer, remember? My God, how could you have volunteered for something like that in the first place?”
Here we go again! She never lets up on that shit! Not ever!
“Mom, I’ve been through this with you a hundred times. It was necessary. People were getting killed. A police officer got killed. We needed to do something and it was the only way to stop it. It’s over. It’s done. I’m not sorry about that.”
“And getting shot in the stomach? Are you sorry about that?”
“Mom, I didn’t get shot. The vest took it. My vest got shot; not me. All I got was a bruise. Nobody got shot.”
Well, that’s not exactly true. Goren got shot, but only after the detail had pretty much wrapped. Thank God he’s all right.
“Do you think that makes me feel any better? Dani, when are you going to see the light? You’ve got a husband. You’ve got a house. There’s no reason why you two don’t start a family. What are you waiting for?”
“The right time. Look, I don’t want to argue with you. It’s late and we just got off of work. I wanted to call and say hello and touch base with you. Is there anything going on back home? Anything interesting?”
“Yes, as a matter of fact. I saw a note on the town’s website. The police force is hiring officers.”
And we should just quit, move out there, and go to work for the Salem PD. Yeah, I’ve heard that one before about a million times. We almost did it when Chief Ellison was ruining the department, if you’ll recall. Mom hasn’t forgiven us for not following through with that one.
“And the starting pay isn’t enough to raise a family on, mom.”
“There’s two of you, Dani. It would be plenty. And you could probably do one of those lateral things and start at a higher rate of pay.”
Uh-huh. Translation: she already looked into it – thoroughly! She wouldn’t have brought that up if she hadn’t. And my mom wouldn’t know what a lateral transfer was unless she’d done a lot of research on the subject.
“Great. We could spend it all on snow tires and winter clothing. Not much left for a kid.”
“Just promise me you’ll think about it. Take a look at the department. It’s a fine police department, Dani. They have a dog, you know. I saw him at an event in the park over the summer.”
Why she thinks I want to be a K9 officer is beyond me. Yes, I love dogs. But working K9? I don’t think she truly grasps what that unit does for a living. Does she have any idea how many shootings our K9 officers get into? How many suspects wind up with a permanent limp because the dog tore off half of their ass in a takedown? I’m pretty sure I’ve told her about it. I’ll bet she just blocked it out of her mind like all of the other unpleasant things I’ve told her about the job. Hell, she probably thinks the K9 Unit just goes around to elementary schools and lets the kids pet the dog. If she only knew!
“We have a dog, mom. Highway. Remember him?”
“That’s not a dog, Dani. That’s a horse. How’s he doing, by the way?”
“He’s fine. He’s sitting across from me right now. Zephyr says hello, too. He’s fine.”
“Has he destroyed any furniture lately?”
Oh, not again! She’s never going to forgive me for that! One chair! One lousy chair that he scratched up when I went to visit her! Get over it, mom! That’s what cats do! They scratch! Deal with it!
“No, you put the fear of God into him for doing that. He’s a good boy now. Look, I need to get to sleep. I’m glad you’re doing all right. We are, too.”
“Will you at least think about what I said?”
“I’ll think about it. I’ll even read what they’ve got on the department’s website. Just don’t get your hopes up, all right?”
“About you switching jobs or about you having a baby?”
Red alert! Time for a tactical dynamic withdrawal! Translation: run for our lives while we still can!
“Goodnight, mom! Or in your case, good morning! I’ll talk to you later. I love you. Goodbye.”
Can you believe her? It never changes! She never lets up on it! And Harper’s in the living room and I can hear him cackling from in here! Asshole! Time for a punch in the balls!
“You’re dead, Harper! Do you hear me? Say goodbye to your balls! They’re coming off! Where did you put the scissors?”
“Somewhere you’ll never find them!”
Yeah, they’re probably locked in his toolbox and I don’t have the key. Fuck! No matter! I can rip his balls off with my bare hands! Or I can chew them off if it comes to that! Whatever works! Where are you, you little shit? Not in here. Where did he go? The den. He’s probably in front of the TV. Yep! There he is, on the couch! Perfect! He’s cornered! He can’t get out without going through me!
“Time to die, mister!”
“Dani, you need to have more patience with your mom. She wants grandkids, that’s all. My mom does too.”
“Yeah, but your mom’s already got grandkids! She’s not psycho about it! My mom is and you know it! Move your hand! I’m going to punch you right in the balls!”
“No, you’re not. You’re going to sit down and take it easy.”
Does he think I’m kidding? I heard him laughing at me! I don’t put up with that shit!
“I’m going to rip your balls off! I mean it, Harper! You know what she’s been like lately! You know that’s why I didn’t want to talk to her!”
“Dani, you really need to get a grip. You’re overreacting. Come on, sit down here with me.”
We’ll see how calm you are when I rip off your nut sack, mister! Time for the punch of testicular death! What the…he grabbed my hand! Oh, he’s fucking dead now!
“Dani, don’t make me have to paddle you!”
I’ll show a paddling, mister! Just let me get…fuck! He spun me around! Let me up, Harper! I mean it!
“Dani, I’ll take you over my knee if you don’t calm down! I mean it!”
Jesus, he’s actually doing it! Fuck this shit!
“Harper, let me up! Don’t you dare! I mean it, mister! Don’t you dare spank me!”
“It’s for your own good. Dani, this is going to hurt me worse than it hurts you.”
He’s serious! He just yanked my pants down! I don’t believe this!
“Harper, don’t you dare touch my ass! I mean it!”
“All right. How about it I do this instead?”
What the…oh, my God! Yes! Right there! That’s the spot! God, he’s good with his fingers!
“Feel better now? Or do you want me to stop?”
“Don’t you dare stop! Right there! God, yes!”
“Or I could do this…”
My God! Don’t stop! Right there! Yes! Oh, God! That’s exactly what I needed! Keep going, Harper! Yes! Just keep going! Oh, my God! I think I’m already halfway there! Keep going! Just like that! Just like that! Oh, my God! As soon as you finish, I’m going to give you the fucking of all fuckings! Count on it! Just don’t stop! Keep going! Just like that! Oh, my fucking God! Yes! Fucking yes!