Tourist Visa

What better way to celebrate my birthday then by posting a new story…sort of. The following is kind of an introduction to an introduction. I have been working a book for awhile and am trying to edit a beginning. This is my first attempt at that. For those readers easily offended by foul language, be advised, due to the graphic nature of law enforcement, people curse. They curse me, the situation, and each other. You get the point. To edit that language out would make the work sound less than…well, it sounded fake, forced, and plenty of other F-words. Just keep that in mind when you are reading. At any rate, enjoy.


Tourist Visa

The first time we worked together on an off-duty job, Healy called me a tourist. We were five hours into an eight hour shift, locked in the Convention Center guarding sports memorabilia, and he said it as a matter of fact. As is the case with most guard duty details, all of the magazines had been read, and the DVDs watched. Once we got passed which super hero would win in a fight, someone always asked the bigger questions, chief among them, what made you start doing this?

Healy pulled at the top of his bullet proof vest, adjusted his shoulders, and blew at the heat of Kevlar against his skin. “I’m not like you,” he said. “I’m a cop, because I am a cop. Chasing bad guys, finding drugs, all that shit. I live for it. But you’re not like that.”

I wanted to object. I found parts of it fun. Talking to people. Hearing their stories. Trying to fix things for them. But I knew he was right. Traffic stops, burglary reports, and humping calls for service; it just wasn’t a calling for me. It was a job.

“You know what your problem is?” Healy said as he reached into his bag and pulled out a cold Big Mac. “You’re too smart for this job.”

“Hold on,” I said. “You’re no-” But he cut me off with a wave.

“Give a monkey a gun,” he paused and dusted sesame seeds off his shirt. “And I’m talking one of those monkeys from NASA who understands sign language and shit and you’ve got yourself a cop.” Healy smiled, wiped the beads of sweat from his head and tugged again at the Kevlar vest. “Or maybe a gorilla. That’s me. Deputy Coco.”

I shook my head at him and laughed.

“You know I’m right too,” he said with a mouth full of food. “You’re just sightseeing until something better comes along. I’ve seen your reports. I write the facts. You tell stories. You won’t retire from this. Take it from Deputy Coco. He knows a thing or two about a thing or two.”

What Deputy Coco didn’t know was the backstory that got me here. Three years prior, I graduated college with a Creative Writing Degree with every intention of writing a book and teaching for the rest of my life. But somewhere between stepping off the stage with my diploma and going to my service industry job that night, I got lost. Suddenly, I found myself in bars after waiting tables in downtown Orlando. Talking to women who weren’t my wife. Spending time with people who were not my daughter. Drinking all sense of reason away. I was becoming someone I didn’t recognize. Even one of my friend’s had made the comment to me, “Somewhere in the timeline of your life, you’ve been fired for sleeping with a student.” But I ignored his warning. I refused to see that the pedestal I had carefully built for myself was crumbling. Until the inevitable happened. One semester after starting a new phase in my life, I went home to the wrong house.

A year later, I was divorced, only seeing my daughter every other weekend. I was a part time dad. Something I would never have imagined for myself. I needed to start bringing home a real paycheck, and not one dripping with maybes that you get waiting tables. I needed to pay my child support. I needed to make things right. I wanted to write, but I wanted my daughter more. I needed to get back to the man I was when I was in the military; honorable. So it was that I checked into law enforcement, to do something good while looking for a story to write.

I realized in talking to Healy, that I needed to find something I could dedicate myself to, some sort of crime fighting I could get behind. Stopping guys on the street looking for drug paraphernalia wasn’t cutting it. So I started watching the call screen looking for something major. That’s when I started asking for the sex cases.

I spent the better part of a year going from call to call, looking for something to prosecute, and following detectives to the Sexual Assault Treatment Center to see how they did it. All the while, taking diligent notes, writing quotes, and documenting everything I could use later for a possible story, poem, or script. Each call had a life of its own. Every detail was significant and loaded with nuance; two parties, two stories, but only one truth. It was like reading a script or going to the movies.


FADE IN:

INT. KITCHEN – DAY

Modestly decorated home. A strip of wallpaper with farmyard animals, vegetables, and fruit accent DIY sponge paint on the walls. MOTHER, 28, slightly plump, but fighting it, sits at the kitchen table with a newborn baby quietly taking a bottle.

DEPUTY, early 30’s, fit but balding, sits across from her, diligently taking notes in a small, pocket-sized, pad of paper.

MOTHER

So Megan and I were taking a shower, and I’m asking her how her day was; did she make any new friends? Did she have any homework? Did anyone try to touch her today?

Deputy stops writing mid stroke and looks up. He pulls a tissue from a decorated rooster box on the table and hands it to mother as her eyes well up.

DEPUTY

Has she been having a problem with that recently? Being touched, I mean.

MOTHER

Oh no. Never. But I make it a habit to ask.

Mother covers her newborn’s ears with a burping cloth, and leans in to Deputy.

MOTHER

(continued)

You know how people are nowadays, right?

DEPUTY

Of course.  (Beat) Please, continue.

CUT TO:

INT. MEGAN’S ROOM – DAY

Pink princesses adorn every corner of the lavishly decorated room. MEGAN sits quietly at the foot of the bed, listening intently to Deputy , who squats a few feet in front of her.

DEPUTY

Do you know why I am here, Megan?

Megan nods her head solemnly.

DEPUTY

Can you tell me a little about it?

Megan looks at the ground and squirms. Deputy struggles in the kneeling position for a moment and then takes a seat on the ground.

DEPUTY

Do you mind if I sit, Megan? I am getting really old.

Megan laughs a little as Deputy makes himself comfortable.

DEPUTY

You know what, Megan? I have a daughter just about your age. Seven, right?

MEGAN

Eight.

Deputy rolls his head back in enthusiastic apology, doing his best impression of Tom Hanks in every comedy he’s ever made.

DEPUTY

Eight?! Well! Geez! Your practically driving then, huh?

Megan gives him a look of incredulity, and a smile brightens her face. She’s warming up to him.

MEGAN

No. But I can ride a bike. No training wheels either.

DEPUTY

I bet you can. Big as you are. You know what else I bet you can do?

MEGAN

What?

DEPUTY

I bet you can tell me about what happened at school today.

Megan looks back down at the ground, but then, in almost a whisper…

MEGAN

My mom says Coach T is bad.

DEPUTY

She does? Why does she say that?

MEGAN

Because he touched me on my private.

DEPUTY

Can you point to your private?

Megan sits still for a few seconds, but Deputy doesn’t move. Then Megan moves her hand and covers her chest.

DEPUTY

Any place else?

Megan shakes her head from side to side.

DEPUTY

And where were you when this happened? In his office, the classroom, or somewhere else?

Megan continues to shake her head and then crosses her legs on the bed getting comfortable.

MEGAN

We were in the gym.

DEPUTY

Who we?

MEGAN

Everyone. The whole class.

DEPUTY

What were you doing?

MEGAN

We were getting ready to play dodgeball and we were lining up, and he touched me on my private.

DEPUTY

Why do you think he did that?

MEGAN

I don’t know.

DEPUTY

Did he say anything to you when he did this?

Megan nods, her eyes bright and open as she speaks.

MEGAN

He said, “Back up.”

DEPUTY

Oh. So you were in line?

MEGAN

The front of the line.

DEPUTY

And he wanted you to back up.

MEGAN

Yes. We are supposed to line up behind the line.

Deputy smiles at Megan as he gets to his feet. He picks up a stuffed bear from her bed and smoothes the fur back on its head.

DEPUTY

How did it make you feel when he did that?

MEGAN

I don’t know.

DEPUTY

Well, do you think it was a bad touch, a good touch, or something else?

MEGAN

I don’t know.

DEPUTY

Did he move his hand around, keep it still, or something else?

MEGAN

He kept it still.

DEPUTY

He just wanted you to move, huh?

MEGAN

I think so.

DEPUTY

And did you tell your mom this? The part about the line and the dodgeball?

MEGAN

No.

DEPUTY

Why not?

MEGAN

She didn’t ask.

DEPUTY

She didn’t ask.

FADE OUT


The front seat of my patrol car had become a slush pile of human tragedy. Movie quality quotes coming from the victims and witnesses as well as the truth of everyday law enforcement. I wasn’t a writer. I was a cop. And it got me thinking; was this where I was supposed to be all along?

I started writing stories while working midnights in a top secret SCIF in England in the early nineties. I did it to entertain myself and flirt with the woman I was trying to date. In between satellite realignments, I typed suspenseful noir type settings with damsels in distress and nefarious characters in dark shadows. It was easy to envision with foreign voices speaking coded transmissions in my ears.

At the end of my shift, I would return to my barracks, and watch recorded episodes of NYPD Blue that I had sent to me from friends and family in the states. I fell asleep each morning with police stories and the gravel voice of Dennis Franz in my head. Having grown up in a policeman’s house, nothing was better than being a rehabilitated Andy Sipoweitz of the 15th precinct. I didn’t want to be a detective, only write stories about them. Now, ten years later, I wasn’t watching television anymore. I was doing the job. The television of my past was now the reality of my present, and three hours of he said, she said, with paramedics to patch up the injured parties, boiled down to five lines in a report.


On December 27, 2005, at approximately 0056 hours, I responded to the listed address in reference to an alleged domestic dispute. According to witnesses, a fight broke out between non-related persons, the results of which required medical attention in the form of lacerations to the head of one of the combatants. Neither party wished to press charges and nonresidents were asked to leave the premises. It should be noted that a check of all participants in FCIC resulted in the confirmation of a DWLS Warrant for the lead combatant. He was transported to central booking without further incident.


But the calls stuck with me. The five lines, while adequate for reports at the end of my shift, the whole story lingered in my head for days afterwards. So, on my days off, I started writing again. Then I had lunch with one of my old professors who was now a close friend. She listened to a few of my stories, and by the time my lunch was over, I had promised to send in a submission to start my MFA in the new year. I even got a letter of recommendation from my supervisor who told the committee that I didn’t write reports, but narratives with style. And what better stories to write for a submission than one hidden between the five lines of one of my reports.


Sergeant Santiago stands in the living room of the double wide trailer getting one side of the fight that brought us here. I straddle the hallway in front of a bedroom with my back to the wall, keeping one eye on the door, and the other on Buddy, the other half of the disagreement. Buddy sits on the bottom bunk of his son’s bed, leaning against the stepladder with his head in his hands. His eleven-year-old son sits next to him crying for me to please help his dad. Buddy’s face is leaking. Blood clots in his nose. Just above his left eye, a gash about two inches long with semi-dried blood tracing a twisted path from the corner of his mouth to his chin.

“What happened?” I ask.

Buddy shakes his head.

I look at the kid. “Listen, bud.”

“It’s Buddy. My dad’s name is Buddy.”

“Okay,” I say. “Let’s get you out of here so I can talk to your dad. See what happened.”

Kid shakes his head. Like father like son. “Can’t you help him?”

The room smells like kid sweat. Dead socks and underwear litter the floor. Overturned toy cars wrapped up in bright, dirty blankets. Home sweet home on the brink of sour. I ask again, “What happened?”

More head shaking.

“You got to talk to me Buddy. For crying out loud. Your head’s split open in three places that I can see. Who gave you the blood wig?”

Still nothing.

Breaking through Buddy’s silence is the dispatcher coming through the radio mic. “Units on Sunderson, unit check.”

In a move resembling throwing salt over my shoulder at dinner, I cock my head to the left and squeeze a button on my shoulder mic. “Ten four, County.” Back to Buddy. “Tell me something. Tell me you fell. Tell me the floor split your head open. C’mon Buddy, tell me that the floor also did a number on your pal in the other room. He was just breaking your fall. I’m cool with that. You don’t want me here. I don’t want to be here. Tell me that, and I’ll leave.”

Nothing. Dried blood and dirt cakes in Buddy’s fingernails. His shirt, ripped at the neck, hangs off his shoulder. I don’t get it. Why call? Why waste everyone’s time? I shake my head in unison with Buddy. Just another episode of Jerry Fricken’ Springer.

“Fine,” I say. “You know what. I’ll take the other guy’s word for it. Whatever he says, goes. The other guy with the bloody knuckles. Why should I care? You don’t. Maybe he’ll say you hit yourself. Maybe I can Baker Act you since you’re obviously a danger to yourself.” I turn around to leave the room, calling Dispatch at the same time. “County, if you have Fire Rescue staging, go ahead and send them in reference to numerous lacerations to the head.”

“Ten-four.”

As I walk into the living room, Pal sits in the brown corduroy Lazy-boy facing away from the front door.

“She’s a dirty, fucking whore, and now everyone knows it,” Pal says to his sister sitting on the couch next to him in the living room. She has a baby in her arms and she continues to rock it back and forth. Her face and eyes red from crying. Pal’s jeans are covered in what appears to be a mixture of mud, charcoal, and blood. “And everybody thought she was so sweet,” he says, drawing out the O in so. “You’re nothing but a dirty whore,” he screams to the back wall of the trailer.

“So tell me. Buddy in there says he fell. That about right?”

“Yeah.” He motions to Buddy in the kid‘s room. “The father of my sister’s two-week-old baby boy. The fucking guy I told her to steer clear of and told everybody he’s no fucking good. I saw them.” He shakes his head. “I mean, I told her I loved her.” Pal clears his throat, shaking the tremble out of his voice. “At first, I couldn’t believe it. But there he was, out by the fucking fire with her and I just flipped. You’d done the same fucking thing, it’d been you.”

“Yep. Imagine I would,” Sergeant Santiago says.

“Fucking A, you would.”

“Of course, I picked a good woman.” He smiles at me when he says this.

Pal lowers his head. “Thought I did too.” He lifts his head again. “Fucking Whore!” A stream of spit flies off his lips. The word whore stretches through the living room, out the back door, and taps Pal’s girlfriend on the shoulder as she stands outside by the fire.

It would seem that Pal never met a cuss word he didn’t like. In his agitated state relaying the evening’s events to us, each sentence is punctuated by a four-letter word. In the first few seconds inside the house, I noticed at least five children under the age of eight running around. And that’s not including Buddy’s son, who still sits in the other room waiting for paramedics to arrive and bandage his dad’s broken face, and then there is the two-week-old baby on the couch.

“Hey, Pal. You mind if we take this outside and talk about it? Or maybe get the kids out of here so they don’t have to hear all the sordid details? If you know what I mean?”

“Ain’t nothing they haven’t heard before.”

Clearly. That’s the problem. I look at my watch. Well after one a.m. and kids are still up running around with all the adults half drunk or passed out. Rerun of Law and Order muted on the big screen TV near the front door to the mobile home. No one in the room senses the irony. “Just the same,” I say, “They don’t need to hear more, do they?”

“Fine. Fine. After all, the children are our fucking future, right?” Pal says.

More like job security, I think, saying nothing. Instead, I put on my best poker face and wait for Pal to fold.

Pal sits back in his recliner. “What the fuck ever, man.” He motions to his sister sitting on a dirty, brown couch against the wall. “Hey, why don’t you take the kids out to the truck. Let them play with the satellite radio or something.” Then he looks at me. “I don’t want them to see me get arrested for Christ’s sake. After all, that is what’s gonna fuckin’ happen, right, boss?”

“I’m not saying that,” I say. “I just need to find out what happened, so we can figure this whole mess out.”

Pal’s sister rounds up the kids, five on the floor and one in her arms and takes them outside. Pal watches her leave with the kids and then turns his attention back to me. “She ain’t got a brain in her head staying with that fucking guy. They begged me to forgive him for Christmas. And I’m an idiot because I did. It’s why I’m here tonight. And I should’ve never done it. Only reason you’re here, cause of that son of a bitch. Oh yeah, and that whore out back by the fire.” He screams to the back yard again. “Jump in it, whore!”

While I wrestle the rest of the story out of Pal, Fire Rescue paramedics pour into the mobile home to work on Buddy’s face. He refuses treatment. Big surprise. His son pleads with him to no avail. Then his girlfriend comes in carrying his newborn son. She wears a white spaghetti-strapped blouse, dirty lace at the bust line, stretched tight against her postpartum belly. Her hair is a dusty blonde stain, streaked with brown lowlights. She is the picture of soil, smiling uneasily as she bends over his head. Then she whispers in his ear, kisses his blood-dried forehead, and leaves the room. Buddy says his first words of the night. “Okay. Go ahead with it.”

Firefighter #3 taps me on the back and tells me to come back into the room with Buddy and the paramedics.

“You ready to tell me what happened?”

A paramedic holds Buddy’s hand still and slowly wraps it with a sterile gauze bandage. Buddy tilts his head towards the living room. “What did he say?”

I run my hands over my shaved head. “Well, basically, he said you all had been drinking, he and his sister passed out in the living room, and when he got up to pee, he went outside and saw you kneeling out by the campfire with your face buried in his girlfriend’s lap, her pants around her ankles. He flipped, and beat you bloody. End of story. That about right?”

Buddy looks at the floor. “You believe him?”

“We got the same story from the girl, too.” I say, looking at Buddy’s kid sitting on the floor next to him. “What I don’t get is why he went outside to take a leak. Don’t you guys have toilets in here?”

Buddy looks up from his seated position, his expression turns from guilt to injured pride. “You gonna judge me now, too? How the fuck should I know why? You think I planned this? Look at my face. You think I fucking wanted this?”

I look around the room searching for an answer. Crayon markings on the wall. An empty, half-crushed soda can lodged between the twin mattress and the wooden headboard. “No. I can’t say as you did. You want to press charges?”

“What do you think? He’s my baby’s uncle.”

“Well, that didn’t stop you from—” But I stop myself mid sentence. What is the point? He doesn’t want to hear it. Why aggravate the situation? “You know what? Never mind. Doesn’t matter. He’s got a warrant out for driving on a suspended license. He’s coming with us either way.”


A year into my MFA, I transferred to Sex Crimes. Up to this point, I was writing fictional stories based loosely on my calls for service, but with this new world, came a more in-depth, demanding style of writing that was surprising. I went from writing five line reports to five pages, then fifteen, then thirty. Everything up to that point had just been the initial investigation. Now I was interviewing everyone involved, getting the stories straight, and then turning those stories into sworn affidavits of tragedy and shame. I was writing people into jail. Everything I wrote was true–things I had seen, heard, and been told my all parties involved–but crafted to convince the jury of guilt or innocence. The pen was finally mightier.

In my personal writings, I still hadn’t been published. Of course, I wasn’t very proactive about it either. I was too busy with real life. I was making a decent wage, not to mention all the overtime I was working. But as for actual writing for pleasure, that wasn’t happening. I told myself that I was gathering information; writing in my head, something I would get to in the future. I even slowed the pace of classes I was taking because I was so busy. I had become a detective. The writer in me would have to wait.

Then I went to a reading at the college and got cornered by the nonfiction chair of the department. She wanted to know how things were going. Had I picked a genre yet? She reminded me that if I missed a semester, I would lose what I had put into the program thus far. She got me back on track. She also got me thinking about nonfiction.

It came back to the job with me. The stories I began to tell left the pages and started coming out in my interviews with suspects and victims alike. I workshopped their lives. Edited their confessions. Tore them down bit by bit. Told them what wasn’t working and why. Taking both the fiction and non-fiction of their tales and putting together a separate truth of the situation. I had been questioning the idea of fiction and nonfiction in my workshops and here I had a real representation of it. People told me their stories every day and swore they were telling the truth, but the reality was that people lied. Victims said one thing, the witnesses another, and when it came to the suspects, I got them to tell me the easiest truth to make them confess. That was when it hit me. I wasn’t a fiction writer anymore. My whole life revolved around getting people to tell me the truth, and that realization stopped me sixty pages into the young adult fiction I was concentrating on in my schoolwork. This was what I had been looking for all along. This is what I wanted to write. The truth. In whatever form it took.


After

Kitchen tables,

rumpled Kleenex,

heavy questions loom.

Girlfriends murmur,

softly cutting,

from the other room.

 

The boy was purple

paisley buttons,

titanium leather band.

A fragrant fellow.

Nervous laughter.

Did things get out of hand?

 

Drinks were steady.

Dinner raw.

The fish.

The rice.

The soy.

He complimented.

Understood you.

This lovely, lovely boy.

 

You let him in.

You silly girl.

Your sisters call you ho.

They never ask.

They just accuse.

Did you tell him no?

 

Detective now

is softly speaking.

Do not veer off course.

Just another one

intruding.

All they know

is force.


After was the first thing I ever got published. A poem. Of all things. Rattle Magazine put a call for submissions out for a tribute to law enforcement and one of my friends from class sent me a note on Facebook about it. I had yet to start submitting anything to anyone at the time. But this was for cops, right? So, I sat down and looked through some of the things I had been tinkering with and found a piece of flash nonfiction, and played with it for about a week. I finally worked it into what I thought a poem was supposed to look like, along with a few older poems I wrote in a poetry class, and then forgot about. I felt good about putting something out there. Even if I only got a rejection letter in return. I was a writer wasn’t I? At least that is what I told myself. Nothing lights a fire like acceptance and a few hard copies.

In the months after I got that first letter of acceptance, I got a few more. I keep writing and sending things out. I also keep working at the other jobs, talking to bad guys, putting people in jail. I once sat in a courtroom answering questions about a case, something I do fairly regularly as you would imagine. I’m a regular episode of Law & Order sometimes. On this particular occasion though, the defense attorney was going on about how I had depicted the defendant in my report. He wanted to know about the language I used.

“So tell me Detective,” he said, standing confident at his lectern. “You attended the police academy, did you not?” This kind of questioning is routine. Make the cop look dumb on the stand. After all, aren’t most cops just trained gorillas?

“I did.”

“And how long is the report writing section in the academy?”

“Forty hours, if I remember correctly,” I said.

“Forty hours,” he repeated to the jury. “So that is where you learned to write like that. They train you to use a specific kind of language to put people in jail. Don’t they? In that forty hours?”

“No sir,” I answered.

“They have other classes then?” he asked, incredulously.

“No, the report writing class is forty hours alright, but that’s not why I write like that.”

“Well then, what other training do you have? An advance report writing class? A forty hour refresher?”

“No. I never took that,” I said, watching the smile broaden on his face. “But I also have a Master’s Degree in English, with a concentration in Nonfiction Writing. So, I only write the truth. As for the words I use; that’s just the way I talk.”

That’s when his smile disappeared. He stared at me then, not saying anything. I guess I’m not the gorilla he was expecting.

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.

Murder-suicide, right out of the gate.

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?”

“301.”

“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?”