The 5 Stages of Grief

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Chapter 4, Sgt. Whitford

How fucking ironic! Scott thinks, hugging the cigarette burned toilet seat as his last hundred bucks or so spills from his guts into the stinking public shit-bowl. The story of my life, on its way to swim in the great Atlantic with the oh-so-many former deposits he’d made in the oh-so-many nights like this. It hadn’t started like this, nor had he planned this grand-finale. Nothing could’ve been further from his mind, his thoughts, his plans, intentions. I’m just a fuck-up, the bald and ugly truth.

It had started out a good day. The Lieutenant called, asked him to do some real old-school detective work, to search intensively into the background of some patients or something from a Dr. Reichmann’s datebook or journal or something. It had to do with the case, but Sam had left it pretty vague. Like always.

“Meet me at the Rancho and I’ll give you the details.”

“The fucking Rancho Lieutenant? Are you serious? When was the last time you were in Fells Point, let alone the Rancho Manila? Never mind that, the Rancho is closed down –lost their license last I heard.”

“What? When? Never mind it doesn’t matter. It’s about time that sewer was shut down. You choose then….”

“Why are we meeting in Fells Point? It seems a little out of the way, doesn’t it? Why don’t we meet at—”

“What are ya a fucking cop? I’ve got business down there. What’s the problem Sergeant, you getting soft? I thought you liked hanging out at the seedier places? Besides, it’ll give us a chance to catch up, you can tell me about your new squeeze… Scotty? You still there?”

Realizing he’d not said anything in a while and that the Lieutenant thought he might have lost him. He recognized this as the perfect time to hang up and pretend he hadn’t heard the end of the conversation even though he knew he wouldn’t. He liked the Lieutenant too much, “Yeah, I’m still here. Although, I doubt either one of us will be here long if you insist on meeting in that part of the city.”

“I do. Now quit whining and pick a spot. You sound like a fucking girl for Christ’s sakes.”

“Okay! Okay! How ’bout Tommy’s? You know where it is?”

“I’ll look it up. See you there in an hour. That work for you?”

“No, but I’ll be there anyway.” He hung up the phone.

There wasn’t much to go on but then again that’s why the Lieutenant called him. Turning shit to shinola was his specialty or so he’d been told over and over until he’d almost believed it. Fuck, who am I kidding? He knew he was the best in the city, there wasn’t a close second.

“The kid shows promise,” he said, staring into the drink in front of him. Scott hadn’t taken a sip yet, hadn’t even ordered it. The Scotch was sitting, waiting for him when he arrived and noticed the Lieutenant sitting in a both over on the dark side of the bar. That was a half-hour ago.

“You want him? I’ll make the call right now.”

He thought for a minute, swirling the glass in circles on the table to little effect, the last shards of ice barely visible in the amber liquid. “I don’t do well with partners. You know that Sam.”

“Who said anything about a partner? Consider the kid on loan – an extra set of legs. Look Scott, I need this done yesterday. If you think the kid can help speed it up, let me make the call. What do you say?” The Lieutenant remained still, studying him, waiting for an answer.

Scott played with his drink for a few moments more. “What the fuck – sure, make the call.”

“Meet you at the station in the morning. Eight?
He shook his head. “No. Tell him to meet me at my place, say ten. I need some time to think.”

“Will do.” The Lieutenant smiled, patted his chest for a cigar, stopped when he realized they were inside and there was no smoking. “Now, tell me about this new squeeze of yours. Yolanda isn’t it?”

That had been hours ago. How many exactly, Scott had no idea and was too miserable to lift his head from the wretched toilet seat to look at his watch as he would probably start puking again.

Sam had passed him the file before leaving, filling him in on the details of the case or as much as he knew. Scott had stayed, looking over the details. The crime scene stuff he already knew of course, he being the one in charge, but that was not what this was about. They already had their killer. This was about some journal or notebook they’d managed to get their hands on, the pages of which had been photocopied and placed in the file that they might keep the original as evidence – standard procedure. It hadn’t taken him long to get to the pages, dismissing the rest of the file as either unimportant or shit he already knew.

About a half-hour later he’d realized his drink was finished. The funny thing was, he hadn’t realized he’d been drinking it. He was disappointed in himself as he’d not intended to drink at all. He ordered another.

The pages were gripping, though far from complete and a lot of the jargon proved miles over his head. He guessed most of what he was reading was in-depth psychological profiles. Notes of events that had taken place, at least from the patient’s point of view, with the Doctor’s thoughts about them scribbled in the margins.

It didn’t take long to understand what Sam had been hinting at. That although the details were meticulous and in-depth, finding anything would be harder than pinning a virgin in a whorehouse. At least you knew where the whorehouse was to begin with. All he had to go on was first names and that they had – at least at one time, presumably currently – been patients of this Dr. Reichmann. Whom apparently he was not allowed to talk to as the Doc didn’t know they had his notebook. Fucking brilliant!

Scott had no idea how many hours passed. Many, he’d blocked out the world. Sat and read and drank and thought and drank, putting all the information into his head, letting it swirl and mingle together. A melting pot of fact and fiction, leaving his subconscious to sort one from the other.

His phone kept buzzing and though he knew he should answer it, he didn’t. Didn’t want to break his concentration, loose the thread he was honing in on, hoping to catch on to it with both hands and not let go. Or maybe I just don’t want to ruin my buzz? he questioned – a slow-dance with self-honesty. After all, old habits die hard. At least that’s what they say. He took another sip.

His mind began to build, develop characters from the words, the notes, the side-notes, turning the patients into semi-people in his mind’s eye. Not their descriptions but their personalities, their thought patterns, their behaviors and motivations. Nothing conclusive of course, he had far too little information for that, but a beginning, a name and the figment of a person, a character to go with it.

“Jeremy…. Holly….” He whispered the names repeatedly letting them sink in, picturing the three-dimensional persona his mind was forming around them as he did. “Rachel…. Carl…. Grant….” He could sense something, the Doctor was telling them something, trying to… but not. “Bethany….” Scott felt his head swirling, beginning to swim, to spin. Was it the drinks? he wondered. Realizing he’d not eaten since breakfast, even then only toast and coffee. Or was it the words? The mind-fucking puzzle before him? He felt them revolving, turning and twisting, looking to connect, to merge, unite with others to tell him their story, start making sense but there were not enough, he needed more. “Marcus…?” He could not stop the whirling.

“Scott! Scott, wake up it’s me – Rhonda. Oh my God, this place is disgusting.”

He could hear her yet was unable to respond. He felt he was somewhere between worlds, between consciousness and not. Like the time he’d been put under for an operation on his teeth as a kid. The anesthesiologist had told him to count backwards from ten then covered his mouth with the mask. He’d done as he was told, like a good-boy. Or tried to at least. And was still counting in his head when they took the mask away and started stuffing a tube into his nose and from the feel of it, right down into his lungs or to China or possibly out his ass. He’d tried to scream, to move his hands and wave, anything to let them know he was still awake and could feel everything but do nothing about it! Thank God he was out when they started cutting.

“Scott honey, wake up. It’s time to go home.”

He felt a tugging at his arm then a pulling. It roused him to a more cognizant state. The fetid stench of the toilet bowl screamed in his face, slapping his senses with a repugnant jolt. His body fused to the floor, saturated in pain, stiffness and kinks, self-loathing.

“How’d you find me?” The first words he’d spoken – remembered speaking – since awakening to Rhonda’s voice some time ago. They were sitting in an all-night diner. She thought it best to get something into his stomach before they went home. He knew this place, had spent many early mornings here after many late evenings. Nothing much had changed.

“I’ve known Tommy for years. He knew you. When he finally got your number out of you and you gave him my name – well, my stage name,” she lowered her head, “he put two and two together and called.”

He sat silent a while holding the hot coffee between his palms. For some reason he was shivering, though knew he wasn’t cold. The silence crawled on, became awkward.

“You can leave me if you want to. I wouldn’t blame you.” He stared into the black depths of his coffee, hating himself more each minute, with every degree of sobriety that bleached into his system. “I’m sorry… for what it’s worth.”

The minutes ached by, her silence killing him one second at a time. The despair of loneliness overwhelming him. The knowledge that he wasn’t good enough for her, for himself. That once again he’d discarded his shot at companionship, at happiness, to wallow in the wretched sink-hole that was his piece-of-shit life.

He felt the table shaking and looked up. She was crying.

“I know I’ve let you down… that I’m not good enough to—”

She cut him off. “That you’re not good enough to, what? Is that what you think? That you’re not good enough to be with me?” She laughed, though more in pity. “Scott, did you think I didn’t see your problems? Did you believe you were fooling me? That you’d be able to handle them – quit them on your own? That I went into this with my eyes shut, too naive to see the man and the life standing in front of me. Like some fairy princess and her fucking frog – soon to become her prince charming?”

He stared at her unable to speak, realizing he did believe some of those things.

“Scott… honey… you are not perfect – I know that. I know what and who you are and I am here with you. You are my prince charming.” The tears streamed down her cheeks, her make-up running with them. “I was a stripper for Christ’s sakes and you saved me. I will be by your side forever if you will let me in?” Her eyes pleaded.

He realized he was crying.

He woke early the next morning or rather she did, and woke him snuggling her naked body next to his. They made love, their bodies connected, their souls as one for the first time. They did not talk for a long time, enjoying the silence though communicating all the same. He knew, she knew, that they were committed to one another, to themselves.

He spoke first, “The program will take four weeks. I think I should look into it after the case?” He looked towards her. “What do you think?”

“I think – no matter what you choose, I will stand beside you, proud. You are a beautiful man, Scott Whitmore – to me. Although it honestly makes no difference what I think, it’s what you see that makes or breaks you.”

“Let’s look at it after the case… Okay?” He grabbed the file from the table beside the bed, preparing his mind for the onslaught of the day.

“What time is your Rookie getting here?”

Preoccupied, sitting on the bed-side peering into the notes, he didn’t move, didn’t look up. “Ten. About an hour or so from now.”

He hadn’t noticed her silent movement and now she stood in front of him. She smiled as she pulled his head towards her nakedness. “We still have time then.”

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