“Officer Davidson, paging Officer Davidson.”
I took a sip of coffee from the passenger seat of my squad car, then reached up to flick on the communicative radio.
“Officer Phillips, you better use professional jargon on this station, or I’m reporting your ass. Copy?”
Across the airwaves, I listened to my buddy laugh.
“Jerome, you need to do me a solid. Sharon and I have a thing to go to in the morning.”
“A thing,” I drawled, unconvinced.
“A wedding thing. A married couple thing. A stupid thing, that I can’t get out of.”
“You want me to take a call for you,” I summed up.
“It’s midnight, and I’m at the end of my shift. It’d be cruel to make me go four and half miles out, just to check on a petty bar fight. Especially since you are...oh...three streets over from said bar.”
“There are other officers on duty,” I pointed out, kicking up my feet to rest them on the dashboard. “And you aren’t supposed to use the GPS function on the squad cars without emergency.”
“Oh, look at you with them fancy words! Jerome, you have literally nothing else going on. Your partner is off tonight, so you don’t even have anyone to shoot the shit with for the next--five, is it? Five hours of your shift. I’m giving you something to do with your life.”
“Why, did dispatch ditch for some sick ass party?”
There was a long sigh. “Jerome.”
I gave that sigh a partner. “Yeah, yeah. Go home.”
“You get points both for rhyming, and for being a bro. Later!”
“Next time, call my phone, you jackass,” I replied, smiling as I switched the radio off again. I exited the passenger side, returned to the driver’s seat, and called dispatch to formally take over for Officer Phillips.
I parked the patrol car a little ways down the block from Dicey Joe’s. It wasn’t exactly poppin’ at the bar, since it was a Thursday night/soon-to-be Friday morning. However, the college punk sitting on the curb, waiting for me, had clearly been the life of the party. The sparse group of alcoholics and bored couples peeked out at us from Dicey Joe’s grimy windows.
The kid’s face lit up like a Christmas tree when he spotted me. Not exactly the reaction cops are accustomed to.
I walked up to him with an uneasy smile on my face. Usually, the deal is to keep it stoic, but I was caught off-guard. I would’ve recognized the mess of blond hair sticking up in the back. I would’ve remembered two different-colored eyes, as glassy and red as they were now, staring up at me.
I didn’t know this kid, but he knew me. And that sent up a red flag.
“So, what happened here?” I asked, playing it cool. The kid removed the red-and-white linen from his broken nose.
“I got a little too chatty with one girl, and her friend didn’t like it. Don’t worry; happens all the time. Not as bad as that one fight you got tangled up in in Boston. He missed my ribs. How many of yours did they break again? Three?”
The smile vanished from my face. Strike two.
“Have we met before? Some night when I was as piss drunk as you are?”
This prompted a long laugh from the youth. “Yeah, we’ve met! We’ve talked for hours and hours, friend. I know your life story by now.” He smirked up at me with a blue-and-green stare. “Too bad you never know mine.”
“And why’s that?” I asked, shifting my weight to the other foot. He patted the sidewalk beside him.
“Now is the time when you usually sit. Though there was that one night when you didn’t have time for my shit, and just threw a ticket at me. I don’t understand why you never just arrest me. Maybe you’re too nice.”
“What?” I asked, completely lost. “I’ve never seen you before. At least, I don’t remember seeing you before.”
He pointed a finger at me. “And that’s the kicker. You don’t remember. But we’ve had this night time and time again.” He let out a long breath. “And again and again and again.”
It started clicking into place. “You’re saying that you’re repeating your nights?” An easy conclusion came to mind. “Is there any medication that you’re supposed to be on, sir? Someone that I can call for you?”“Nope,” he said, setting an elbow on his knee and putting his chin in his palm. “I’m just a looper, stuck in a cycle from 7 p.m. to whenever I black out.” He thought it over. “I think the longest I ever made it was 3 a.m. And then--” He slapped his knees and spread his arms out wide. “I’m right back here, where I started.”
I looked at him for a long moment. “Every night?”
He blinked. “What?”
“You’re repeating the same night over and over?” I confirmed, changing my stance. “That’s really shitty.”
He shook his head, looking slightly bewildered. “Man, I don’t think I’m talking to the right Jerome.”
“Why’s that?” I humored him.
“Well,” he murmured, “you’ve never believed me before.”
“I watched Groundhog Day for the first time last night.” I gestured over to Dicey Joe’s. “So this is what you do? Get shit-faced drunk every night and throw punches?”
He looked up at me, real confusion on his face. “After a while, isn’t that all there is?” He shrugged. “I mean sure, I’ll change it up a bit. Slept with just about every girl in there, I think. The boys clearly don’t like me much,” he winked. Then he sobered up a bit. “It doesn’t matter what I do. It always resets. Got a tattoo of an owl, and the stroke of midnight wiped it away. Robbed a bank, got shot, and woke up standing outside the bar, seven o’clock ringing in my ears.”
“Poetic,” I grunted, taking a seat beside him.
He directed a little grin at me. “You aren’t scared of me attacking you, Officer Davidson?”
“I have a gun, you have a potential psychosis.”
“Sounds like we’ve evenly matched, then,” the kid breathed.
I paused. “So, you know everything about me.”
“And Officer Phillips. And Sharon. And Sharon’s sister going to the poodle groomer, and coming out with a new girlfriend.”
“Wait, you can predict the future now?” I stopped him.“Phillips mentioned it once in passing before you came over. I guess you’ll find out tomorrow.” He looked over at me. “I wonder if you get a tomorrow. Everyone’s just a copy here, following the same motions, every night. Pre-set to say things and give certain ticks. It’s like clockwork. Like programming. I might be the only real person here.” The kid turned his gaze to the curb. “But you are different tonight. So maybe I’ve got a new friend to keep me company. A friend who will remember me.”
“Then shoot,” I said, planting my hands onto the sidewalk behind me and leaning back. I crossed my legs at the ankle. “I have five hours. Unless I’m supposed to take a call about another incident later?” The kid shook his head. “Tell me everything you want me to hear.”A genuine smile burst across the kid’s face for the first time that night.
I woke up to the sound of an alarm ringing.
Sitting up in my bed, I yawned and looked at the red, flashing, numbers with sleepy disdain. 12 p.m.
Working the late night shift always put me out of whack, but once I collapsed in my bed, I never stayed down for more than five hours. I tripped out of my blanket and shuffled into the kitchen, switching on both the coffee maker and the TV. I ran a hand along the back of my cat, and laid a bowl of food down for her. She purred and ate and, as always, I was impressed that she never choked.
I listened to the same old news stories as I got dressed, intending to go to the supermarket for some milk. It was like the carton never stayed full, leaving me to single-handedly keep the corner business financially afloat.Skipping down the stairs, I waved at my neighbor. I didn’t even have to look up to know that she’d be there, sipping coffee as she sat on the stoop of her apartment. She spent her entire day off outside, faithful in her observation of the population.
I decided to walk to my destination, since it was such a lovely day. Sometimes it was nice to walk the streets as just another black guy, instead of the big and powerful Officer Davidson. My step faltered for a beat, thinking of that phrase. I traced it back to last night.
Who had called me Officer Davidson, sounding like a smartass?
My first instinct was to pin it on Phillips, then it all came rushing back. The kid. The fight. The endless seven to three. I whipped my head around, looking for any sign that yesterday had been a thing. I was considering running over to Dicey Joe’s, then I caught it. A flash of green and blue, staring at me from across the street.
I smiled and waved. The kid did the same, but with some clunkiness to his actions. He did the kind of wave people do when they aren’t sure if it’s them you’re actually waving at. In short, he didn’t know me. But I knew him. I knew those eyes, that face, and that story.
“Have a good day at school, Michael!” I shouted. More easygoing than I had been at a stranger shouting my name, he simply offered a thumbs up and continued walking.
As I watched him go, I started to wonder if that was the Michael that I knew, or if he was just a copy living out the kid’s life, while the original was stuck in limbo. A copy, like the bar patrons had been, living out a predetermined script. Only difference was, this life was too long to know if it repeated.
I shook my head. There was no way of knowing. Not unless I chased the nearest Michael down. Not unless I wanted to waste my day hoping, waiting at D.J.’s for the Michael from yesterday to appear. Not unless I wanted to become a looper, too.Or find out that I already was one.