Ten and a half hours into my first shift, still in training, and my radio was dying. Every time I pressed my shoulder mic, the radio bonked out and nothing got through. My field training officer reached up and pressed his mic and answered dispatch.
“We’re twenty-six, county. Send it,” he said. The computer blipped with the dispatched call and I studied the screen for the address. “You need to leave it on all night tonight,” he said.
I must have looked confused, so he added, “Your radio. It’s dying because you plugged it back in before it was completely dead, didn’t you?”
“I plugged it in after the nighttime scenarios. It’s been charging all weekend,” I said, over explaining.
“Right. Scenarios are about four hours. These batteries should last you a good fourteen hours. You need to let it die first, otherwise, you’re bonking by three o’clock with two hours still to go.” He wasn’t pissed, just matter of fact. “Don’t worry about it. We’ll head to this house check, and then call it a day. You still have that report to write anyway.” He flipped the computer lid closed and pointed at the windshield. “Now tell me how to get where we need to go.”
Lesson over, now get to work. I tried to remember where the call said to go. He tapped the steering wheel like he was conducting an orchestra. He smiled and turned his head in my direction.
“Baby steps. Okay. Left or right?”
“Right?” I said. He raised an eyebrow. “It’s left, isn’t it?” He flipped the left blinker on with his finger and shook his head.
“Take another look and get us on the right track.”
I turned the computer towards the passenger seat and lifted up the lid. We needed to go east. Which way was east? The beach. Head towards the beach.
“At the next light, take a right, then take 50 towards the beach.”
At my girlfriend’s house later that night, still in uniform, I sat in the living room telling her about my day. Her mother sat with us, the two of them smiling ear to ear.
“And I kept thinking someone was drowning. Twenty-six this, and twenty-six that.”
Sam smiled at me, not getting the joke.
“Signal 26 means drowning, but 10-26 means understood. They just kept leaving off the ten and I thought they were drowning.”
Sam and her mother both laughed. I was a cop now. They were proud with me. The rocking chair just fit my gun belt and I rocked back and forth smiling and talking, the radio turned down but still on. I needed to get my radio ear tuned and I needed the battery to die before plugging it back in tonight. Bonking out tomorrow was not an option.
“What did Julie think?” Sam asked. My sister and her daughter had just moved in with me and she couldn’t get enough of the world I had just crossed into. Putting on the gun and badge, I was that much closer to following in my father’s footsteps, and she couldn’t be more proud.
“I came straight here after work,” I said, looking down at my watch. “But now that you mention it, I should probably get home. I have to be up at five tomorrow.”
In my truck, I turned up the volume on my shoulder mic and tried to listen to music and work at the same time. I copied a burglary over with, a verbal with all parties on-scene, a traffic stop, and assorted other routine calls. I had finished out the day without screwing up. I was taller, stronger, and tougher than I was only twenty-four hours ago. Things were getting better. And then the radio screamed an alert tone.
“Attention zone 22, copy Signal 5.” Signal 5. Homicide. Why did I have to be off already?
“County 322, go ahead with it.” On new instinct, I turned down the music and leaned my ear to the shoulder mic.
“Copy 322, Signal 5, at 1530 Alameda Drive, apartment 301.” As the address came over the radio, my head started to spin. I lived Alameda Drive, 1530 Alameda Drive, apartment 201. There was no 301. No apartment above mine and my sister. “Caller advises white female and her five-year-old daughter-”
Suddenly, the agency-issued beeper buzzed to life on my belt. I picked it up and recognized the comm center’s number.
“322, caller advised the victim is related to 10-37.” 10-37? 10-37? Agency employee. Me. My foot pressed down on the accelerator as I raced east on the expressway towards my apartment. “322, caller is now advising possible 28A.” Suicide attempt.
“I don’t know what to do. I can’t stay here. Not now. Not with his son still in the house.” Julie’s voice stretched across the miles from North Carolina to Florida.
I sat in my apartment dressed in my academy greens just home from training. In one month, I would be graduating, and four months after that and I could live half-price somewhere as a full time deputy. I could afford to pay my child support and still eat. Gas money wouldn’t be an issue anymore because I would have a take home squad car. I was just about to get my life back in order after having my pedestal fall to pieces beneath me after a self-sabataging divorce. I was in a position to help, but was that what she was asking?
“If he doesn’t care about his daughter, I can’t stay here,” she said again.
“You know, if you need a place to go, I suppose you could-”
“Are you serious?” she interrupted.
“Just til you get on your feet. I mean, I don’t see why, I mean if you need a place to go.” I didn’t really know what I was doing. I couldn’t say the words. Part of me loved my privacy. Letting her in would blow that to smithereens. But what else was I supposed to do? She was my sister.
“Of course. Just till I get on my feet, and find a job.” Julie smiled through the phone. “And I can take care of Keaton for you, you know so you can date and all that.”
“Sure,” I said, “We’ll all be dating.” What had I done?
I took the steps to my apartment two at a time. The stairwell shook under my weight and I hit the door in seconds. The door was open and I called out to her as soon as I hit the linoleum foyer.
“Julie!” She wasn’t in the place. I ran back outside, down the steps and approached the squad car just pulling up. The deputy smiled at me and waved. We didn’t know each other, but I was in uniform and he thought I was responding to the call, just like he was.
“What apartment does it say?”
“There is no 301, and 201 is my apartment. My sister. I’m going to check the pool. She spends a lot of time there.” Before he could respond, I ran off towards the front office and the pool. I looked back and forth as I ran, hoping to see her walking the dogs, or coming back from the pool, a towel around her neck, with her daughter shoving popcorn from the front office in her mouth. Nothing. The pool was empty, the office locked. I made my way back to the apartment, blood pumping hard in my head and my heart beating fast.
When I rounded the corner, a deputy was laughing, and before I could yell at him, I saw Julie on the phone, my niece sitting on the bottom step of the stairwell.
“They were at the neighbor’s place, playing cards. She’s talking to your mom right now.” the deputy said. “Apparently, she’s the one who called it in.”
“Did you let the battery die last night?” my FTO said when I met him in the briefing room the next morning. He was sitting in the back with his laptop open, checking his mail.
“Yeah,” I said, sitting down next to him. I tugged at the neck of my bullet-proof vest and read through the pass-on log on the table.
“Did you work on your radio ear?”
I didn’t know how to answer him. I wanted to tell him about the call to my mother, how she thought her phone going through a tunnel was a hang up from my sister and how a routine depression about not finding a job was a cry for help. How going downstairs to play cards with the neighbors is not attempted suicide, let alone murder-suicide. Instead, I flipped through the book of bolos and nodded my head.
“Learned the difference between suicide and murder,” I said, leaving it at that.
“At least there’s no more drownings, right?” he answered, taking the book out of my hands. “What do you think we can get into today?”