Dispatch Calls

The Vidalia onions are in bloom, so you might get the odd call from Dorothy who insists that someone is stealing her vegetables again. They were there yesterday, she’ll tell you, flicking her wrist to bring you back on the one acre lot, her mobile home slanted on its rusted support beams, the smell of dirt,  wet cat, and ammonia stagnant in your nose. Keep your ear on the radio and try not to get swept up in her imaginary world. She’ll point to the water basin where she grows her garden and tell you how her next-door neighbor from fifteen years ago has it out for her. She doesn’t remember he’s dead, so it’s unlikely that she’ll remember you, five days from now, when she calls back about the missing celery. Make sure your radio is turned up. Answer dispatch when she unit checks.

Dorothy might start in on the bogeyman. She may peel back the sleeveless, crusty, t-shirt she’s wearing to expose her breast, lifting the pancake of her seventy-year-old skin to show you where he was biting her while she slept. Ignore the crinkled black hair on her nipple. Just give her a card and tell her you’ll check the area.  She’ll thank you and ask if you know so-and-so from back in the day. Just smile or pretend to get another call on the radio; your presence is needed somewhere else. She’ll make her way back to the grime of her life. Try not to stare at the bald spot on the top of her hairy calf muscle as she walks away. Ignore the slap-slap of galoshes on skin. Check your volume knob to make sure your radio is turned up.

Next, you might get called to the Circle K for a disorderly conduct, or a trespass after warning. If Jesse James is back out on bond, he’ll be raising hell. Of course, he’ll be gone when you get there, but his pregnant, homeless girlfriend will tell you that the store manager is a stupid fucking bitch and all they wanted was a lousy fucking beer. Let her rant awhile. You can try to explain how Jessie is trespassed from the store. How he can never come back. Realize that this might make her angry and fall into another tirade about the fucking police and how Jesse ain’t never hurt nobody. You’ll need to adjust your radio ear when she yells. You need to hear what is coming next. You need to answer dispatch when she unit checks.

Eventually, Jesse’s girl will make her way back into the woods where a faded blue, two-man tent awaits her. Try not to shake your head at the life that her unborn child has ahead of it, and don’t offer to help her find a home because her family gave up trying a long time ago. Besides, she’ll run away. It’s what she does. She’s using meth. You’ll see that. She’ll smack her lips when she speaks to you and her face will be pockmarked from the acne of Muriatic Acid and rendered red phosphorus. God helps those who help themselves. She’s putting her faith in Jesse. He’ll take care of me, she’ll say. If he’s not back in jail by the end of the week. Check out on your computer for a directed patrol of the area. Write that you’re looking for Jesse. Or go inside the Circle K and talk to the nice ladies that work there. Make yourself a barbecue sandwich and call the directed patrol out over the radio so your squad mates can hear where you are. What you’re doing. Answer dispatch when she unit checks.

On 5th Street, you have a frequent flyer. Teenage girl out of control. A runaway who cries kidnap and rape. Understand that this will happen. Listen carefully. Take statements. Believe. If policy demands it, call a detective. If he or she comes out, hand it off to them. If it’s days old, handle it yourself. If she is lying, and you will know if she is lying by the gaps in her story, how she gauges her mother’s reaction to each telling, and her clear, quick escape to victimhood after just being caught skipping school or shoplifting. With your ear to your radio, call her on the carpet. Or don’t. Write it and send it. Whatever makes you feel comfortable. Some of you have a problem talking to kids. Get over this problem. This is ninety percent of your job. Listening. Talking back. Answering dispatch when she unit checks. Understanding which situations are truly criminal and which are just people desperate for someone to take their side in an argument.  Problems ten years in the making, children nurtured on neglect, Hatfields and McCoys, resentment thriving wildly out of control will not be fixed in ten minutes by you. They call for support. They call for answers. They call to talk. Listening is mandatory. Believing is optional. Your greatest tools? Common sense and a bladed stance. You have discretion. Some people lie. Some people don’t. Some people just want an ear to bend. And make sure you answer dispatch when she unit checks. Make sure you let them know where you are. That you are okay. Make sure you hear them too.

Finally, you might meet John. He’ll be calling you about the threats he’s been receiving. It will take you a couple of drive-bys to find his address since this is your first time. Call your zone partner if you get lost. The driveway is overgrown, much like the man. You’ll need to drive slow.  He’ll be standing at the gate of a locked chain-link fence guarding a seemingly empty lot. But as you look closer, you’ll see the remnants of asphalt under the tangle of grass and weeds. You’ll see the remnants of a man. And that closer look will only happen after you’ve been talking to John for a while. He is the main attraction on this street.  He will tell you this. Nothing is more important than his problems. Nothing, besides answering dispatch when she unit checks.

“They were screaming again this morning. Woke me up at four in the God-damn-morning screaming.”

Ask him who was screaming, but it will be hard for you to concentrate at this point. Try to ignore the loincloth towel pinned around his waist. Keep your eyes on his glare, glancing down only when the opportunity presents itself. The towel will be threadbare yet thick with dirt and almost molded to his skin.

“Those kids. Yelling Bum! Bum! Bum! How much of this do I have to take?”

Ask how old the kids are. Try to avoid staring at his receding hairline, which appears to be one large dreadlock of feces; a dirt helmet created from years of sleeping in filth. You will be amazed that the clump of hair doesn’t knock up against the back of his neck as he turns to point to the bottles thrown onto his property by these hooligan youths.

“And I know my rights. If they come on my property, I can shoot ‘em.”

It’s okay to wonder why anyone would want to live like this. Just nod your head. Agree with him. Answer dispatch when she unit checks.

“You could do that, sir. It is your right. But wouldn’t it just be easier to ignore them? Stay back in your house?” You can say these things. You can try to reason.

And as much as you might want to, don’t look for his house behind the brush of overgrown weeds and dense trees. Does it truly exist? Is there some tent back there too? How long has he lived here? Is there power running to the property? Why haven’t you met him before now? Why haven’t you heard the stories of the hermit, hunched over, bare-chested, and wearing a dirt loincloth pinned precariously at his hipbone? Some tragic Tarzan. Questions don’t help.

“I already got a card from some female deputies last week when the kids threw them bottles, but this has got to stop.”

And how long did it take his beard and mustache to grow so that the only way you know he is speaking is the sound and the slight bump of hair moving on his face?

He will ask you what you plan to do about this. He will ask you to fix this problem of his own creation. He will ask you to listen. But your skin will be itching now. Resist the urge to scratch it. Any bugs you feel are probably imaginary. You can go back to the Circle K when you are done to wash your hands. He doesn’t really want help. If he did, your skin wouldn’t be crawling. Just give him another card while you back away, tilting your head towards your radio, and answering dispatch when she unit checks.


This piece was originally published at O-Dark-Thirty back in the Summer of 2013. To read more from O-Dark-Thirty, please just click the link on the left side of the page or click here to read more from that Summer issue.

On Call: A Day in the Life, part III

12:00 noon

“What ain’t you getting, Darius?” Tasha said as she stepped around the living room picking up dead socks and shoes. “My quota for sorry, black asses is already met,” she said without sentiment.

Andre stood in the door of his brother’s apartment and stared at Darius. This was bullshit. He didn’t cheat on her. Why was she taking it out on him? Darius looked at his brother in the doorway, almost pleading for help. He thought she’d be cooled down by now. Well, he’d hoped.

“Baby, please,” Darius started, but Tasha threw her hand up to stop him, her face hard as stone. The socks dangled like limp snakes in her hand.

“Don’t baby please me, Darius,” she said. “Hood rat brought some trail hoe up in here while I’m at work. Makes me sick thinking what he did with her in my bed. Our bed,” she emphasized. “Uh uh. I don’t think so.” She moved to the couch and straightened the pillows on the couch. “I know he’s your brother, but he ain’t mine.”

“Where am I supposed to go?” Andre asked.

“Not my problem. Same place you went last night, I suppose.” Tasha looked at him without a trace of sympathy. “You need to take responsibility for your own damn self.” Then she looked at Darius unmoving and waved her hands at him. “Go on, then. I don’t know what you all is waiting for.”

12:45 pm

As Andre loaded up the rest of his clothes in a black backpack and walked out of his brother’s apartment, one of the leasing agents from the complex across the street approached the group of cops standing in the shade talking.

“Excuse me,” she said, “but I thought you all should see this,” and she handed Melissa a folded up piece of construction paper. “One of our residents heard about the break-ins, and brought this to our attention. She said someone slipped it under her door around one this morning.”

Melissa unfolded the paper and read it to herself, and then smiled as she handed it to me. “Looks like he was looking for a party,” she said, and then flipped open her phone to call our crime analyst.

“Looking for action. First massage is free,” I read aloud, shaking my head. I handed the paper to Sarge, and turned to the leasing agent. “Can you give me the name and apartment number of your resident?”

“Sure, but it’s on our computer,” she said in a business tone. Then without a word, she turned in the direction of the front office, and walked off.

“Can you believe this guy?” Sarge said. “Left his phone number and signed it his name. Dre. How stupid can you be?” and he handed the paper back to Melissa. “Tell her to call Felony to get them started.” Melissa nodded her head and walked away in conversation.

“Wait. Dre?” I said. “As in Andre? That’s the the name of our guy from this morning.”

Sarge shook his head, looked at me with his eyebrows raised in expectation, and waved his hands in the direction of the leasing agent. “Office. Go.”


To be honest, I thought I would be done with this story by now, but court being what court is, the whole story is not done in real life yet. So I will get back to it eventually. Promise.

Continue reading

On Call: A Day in the Life, part II

If you missed Part I, go here for parts I and II.

Part II – Breakfast

6:00 am

Kylie sat at the card table in her kitchen and tore thin strips from a Wendy’s napkin. A few feet away, a CSI dusted the blinds and frame of the sliding glass door. Across the complex, the K9 and his  handler moved along dewy grass and dim lit sidewalks looking for someone to bite.

Christina sat next to Kylie and listened to her account of the shadow in the doorway. No, no one locked the sliding door the night before. No, she didn’t recognize the man who spoke to her. No, she wouldn’t be able to identify him later if she saw him. It was dark. She was asleep, just like every one else in her apartment, and the only one who could shed any on the incident lived in a pineapple under the sea.

“I know it was dark, but was there anything about his clothes that stood out to you, or maybe the way he sounded? Even the small things are important.”

Kylie organized the mountain of napkin in front of her. “I think he was wearing a hat.”

“You think or you know?” Christina asked, making sure not to sound angry.

“I just remember white writing on a black cap, but I thought I was dreaming,” Kylie said, shrugging her shoulders. “I’m really not sure.”

“That’s good, Kylie,” Christina said. “I’m sure your weren’t.”

The radio chirped out some coded speech and I tapped Christina on the shoulder.

“Looks like the K9 hit on something,” I said quietly. “Let’s wrap things up.”


When we walked up to the building, about six uniformed deputies milled about the parking spots in front of the corner apartment. The K9 handler rubbed his partners furry head and pulled a yellow tennis ball out from his cargo pocket.

“Who’s a good dog?” he said and bounced the ball high for his dog to snatch out of the air in mid flight. A female deputy stood next to him and tucked her flashlight into the plastic ring on her gun-belt. When she saw the shirts and ties, she jerked her head in the direction of the apartment, and handed me a piece of note pad with two names on it.

“Andre Johnson and Jeffry Daniels,” she said. “Jeffry lives here with his baby mama, and Andre is just visiting.”

“Where are they?” I asked, handing the note to Christina.

“Both are inside,” she said, “and baby mama is none too pleased.”

“Right,” I said, “thanks.” When I walked into their living room, Andre sat on the couch with his head in his hands. One of the female deputies handed me his ID and pointed to the suitcase near the couch and a male deputy in mid search.

“He says he doesn’t live here,” she whispered. Her back was to Andre, and she kept her voice tight, omniscient. “Got kicked out of his brother’s place only last night.”

“Did he give you guys permission to go through his things?”

She looked at me with a smile, her hair pulled back in a tight bun. “Sure. Said he had nothing to hide.”

I wondered how that conversation went down. Dogs barking at the door, a gaggle of cops banging, telling him to open up. That sounds consensual enough. I smiled back and looked at Christina. She nodded at her notepad and the red light of her digital recorder. I read the name on the ID and stepped up to the plate.

“Andre, I’m with the Sheriff’s Office and I need you to know that you don’t have to talk to me,” I said. My voice sounded big, playful almost. I’ve found that dumb ox plays better than smooth talk.

“You want to tell me what’s going on here?” Andre said, keeping his eye on the deputy rifling through his duffle bag. “I don’t even live here.”

“Well, you match the description of a guy we are looking for, and the dog tracked to your place.”

“Yeah,” he said, looking back and forth between me and his increasingly empty duffle. “Well, like I said, this isn’t my place.”

“Sure, but you understand, you’re staying here and this thing just happened.” The deputy was pulling clothes out of the duffle like he was looking for a clean set of pants to wear. He tossed them on the floor and I noticed a black hat, rounded brim, with white lettering on the front. “Have you been outside tonight?” I asked, my eyes steady on his face.

“Just to the Circle K, to get a sub and some chips.”

“What time?” I asked, then changed tack. “Better yet. You have a receipt? You see. We know exactly when this whole thing kicked off, so the sooner I can place you somewheres else, the faster we’ll be outta your hair.”

Andre stayed seated on the couch and held a hand up to the deputy going through his things. “Can I go to the kitchen?”

“Andre, like I said, this is your world. I’m just standing in it.”

Andre stood up from the couch and moved to the plastic bag hanging on the back of the front door. He dug around and came up with a slip of white paper drenched in mayonnaise. “I think this is it,” he said and laid it out on the kitchen counter.

7:00 am

The lobby of the Circle K smelled of disinfectant and bleach. A group of construction workers milled near the coolers, grabbing subs and chips, preparing for the day outside. I walked to the soda fountain to fill my cup with crunchy ice and sent Christina to chat up the clerk for evidence.

“You guys have video here?” she asked.  Out of uniform, Christina’s look doesn’t exactly scream police. Without the bullet proof vest and utility belt full of gear to guide her, the clerk looked warily at this minivan mom cutting in line to ask her questions. Christina smiled and tapped the badge hanging from her neck and the look on the clerk’s face flashed with instant recognition.

“Rita!” the clerk called behind her as she counted change back to a customer. “Cops need to speak to you.” Christina looked over at me and winked, something she had started doing more and more as she got her detective legs. She and I, two cops in the know, always smiling.

Before coming to sex crimes, Christina spent years on the road training newbies. The wink was her way of easing them into the job; a “watch this” attitude of good humor and insight. Who was training who here? I wondered if she knew she was doing it to me. I finished filling my cup with water and went to stand by her side.

Rita opened the door of the office and stuck her head out. She had a stack of cash in one hand and a ream of receipts in the other. Her bleached, blond hair pulled tight on her forehead and poked out a frazzled ponytail. She had her mouth pursed in concentration. Had she been outside, a cigarette would have been living there. She looked busy, and not in the mood for detectives. The face of the neighborhood watch, she was not.

“What can I do for you, dear?” she said to me, already exhausted and ignoring Christina. I smiled and was about to speak when Christina cut me off.

“We need to see your video from this morning.” Christina approached the door and held out a her card for Rita to take, but Rita just smiled and held up her hands.

“You’re going to need to hold on a sec. I got to count this up and get it in the safe,” she said. “Then you two can come in and take a look.”

9:00 am

Christina and I stood in the doorway of Sergeant Maddox’s office as he checked his emails and listened to the events of the morning.

“Black cap with white lettering and black collared jacket,” she said with a smile. “Not the blue sweatsuit he said he was wearing.” Then she gave him the blow by blow of the investigation and how Andre had already disappeared by the time we got the video and went back to re-engage him in conversation.

“So what you’re telling me, Detective, is that you let the bad guy get away. Is that right?” Sarge has a way with words. He likes to tie us up with our own explanations and watch us try to wriggle ourselves free.

“What she’s telling you is that she’s going to be writing a warrant for the apartment and after I eat some breakfast, a bunch of us will be heading out to canvas for witnesses.” I said with a smile. I wanted to sleep sometime today and I knew he would be at this awhile if I didn’t step in. Sarge looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes. I could hear the sound of his voice in my head. C’mon fella, let me have my fun. But the email called to him and he let it go.

“Fine. Call felony and get them up on the stolen phones,” he said with a sigh, on the edge of uninterested, “and let me know when they start to ping.”

10:47 am

Anita Nunez walked four miles of the Cady Way trail every morning with her husband. They talked about their kids, how she never thought she’d miss the dusty littered dawns of Juarez after leaving Mexico two years ago, and how sometimes, when driving with the windows down, the diesel fumes from passing trucks took her home again. So when the glint of sunlight shone off the pieces of Kylie’s phone up ahead on the trail, Anita thought it was just another spot of trash conjuring up images of home and loss. But once she got closer, she realized her mistake, and started picking up the pieces to see if they fit. By the time she got home, she was smiling ear to ear with the treasure that had landed in her lap. I almost felt bad for her when she opened the door to her apartment and found me standing there with a felony team behind me.