Wednesday, November 3, 2010

You Gotta Love a Feisty Woman

Danielle, Seth "Pinto", and Albany County Coroner-elect Kathleen
Don't get your knickers in a twist! I know, everyone and their great aunt is blogging about how someone did someone else wrong in the election yesterday. Bloggers the earth over are either elated or fractured over Nancy Pelosi's sad face on the news this morning. TAKE HEART! This blog, albiet about the election, isn't about them. It's about our youth. Specifically, MY youth, the gorgeous redhead on the right, above. She is another in a very long line of feisty, no-nonsense women in my family. At twenty-three, she was just elected Albany County Coroner here in Wyoming.

Kathleen has been a Deputy Coroner for over two years. She's one of those nameless, faceless people who pick up the wreckage of life. At twenty-one, she watched as a grieving father collapsed into the arms of a police officer when he heard the news that his child had been killed in a traffic accident. She sat silently by as another grieving parent held her daughter's hand one last time.  She has investigated the deaths of those killed by accident, those lost to suicide, those who die of natural causes, and those murdered by others. She does a job no one wants to do, and one that the rest of us don't even want to know about. In doing so, she's developed compassion and professionalism seldom seen in someone her age.

When her boss decided not to seek office again, he asked Kathleen to run. She agreed, but came to us with her worries. "What do I say to people who tell me I'm too young to do this job?"

I opened my mouth to answer, but it was her dad who spoke up. "Tell them that when your dad was your age, he was a platoon sergeant in Vietnam. Tell them your mom was a cop. Tell them that men and women your age die every week in service to this country."

And that's what we forget. We forget that young people aren't just about giant pants, loud music and poor decisions. They are our soldiers, our firefighters, our paramedics, our police. They come in the night when we fall and can't get up. And they come when we won't ever get up, carry us away, conduct an investigation and make a determination about how we died.

My daughter and her equally-young campaigners (Danielle and Seth, pictured above), fashioned a campaign that was informative and dignified. Kathleen made speeches at every opportunity, passed out voter information, and gave radio and newspaper interviews. Her minions enlisted canvassers who went door-to-door, talking to voters all over the county. Danielle and Seth never flagged in their unwavering support of their candidate.

Kathleen won this election because she not only ran an excellent campaign, but because she is by far the most qualified candidate. Her enthusiasm for her profession is obvious to anyone who talks to her.

The election's over now, and Kathleen's floated back to earth, knowing she's got huge responsibilities and a constituency she cannot let down. This is a big job. It takes a tough-minded, sensitive person to do it right.

Has this been a purely self-serving Mom Moment? Well, you can bet your bifocals it has been. But it should also be a reminder to you, dear readers, about the sacrifice and service  to which our young people dedicate themselves.

Finally, a note to Kathleen~~
You go, girl! The blood in your veins runs hot--filled with the vitality and strength of a whole wagon load of feisty, no-nonsense women, all of whom (even those with angel's wings) are busting their buttons over your accomplishments. Dad and I are unbelievably proud of you and awed by your ability and dedication.

Oh, and we love you. A lot.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

That June

My daughter urged me some time ago to post this, so Kc, this one is for you. And, forever and always, for Bill~~Enjoy

I wrote to him for almost a year before disaster struck. 

I’d graduated from high school a few days before. As was popular in southern California, and still is today, immediately following the evening graduation ceremony, all the matriculating seniors changed clothes and hopped on a dozen or so school buses in which we were ferried to Disneyland for an all-night ‘grad party’. We had the exclusive use of the entire park—along with several thousand other graduating teens from other high schools—all of us teetering together on the cusp of adulthood. The lines to Pirates of the Caribbean and It’s a Small World were just as long as ever, but somehow standing in them was much more enjoyable with a gang of my friends, knowing my parents were sixty miles away, watching The Johnny Carson Show on TV and not watching me.

After a night of fun, frivolity, a couple of shoving matches, and a fistfight or two—topped off by extremely expensive junk food and silly hats—we all piled back on the buses, arriving in the school parking lot a couple of hours later just as everyone else in the western United States was going to work. I blearily drove my little Ford Falcon away from school for the last time, thinking I’d maybe take a shower and then sleep for a while but my body rebelled, refusing to settle into slumber. Back then I thought circadian rhythm was the opening act for Jefferson Airplane. Who knew?

Bill, the young army sergeant my grandmother had conned me into writing to the previous fall, was on my mind. He was in Vietnam and although we’d never met, I kept his picture on my bedside table and his letters to me in a stationery box in the top drawer of my dresser.

I knew he was tall; I knew he was blond; I knew Grandma liked him. With that, I’d taken on the task of writing to him with a zeal heretofore unknown.

At least by me.

I wrote to him every day.

He was older than me—twenty-four—and judging by his picture, clearly a dangerous man. He’d been wounded twice that February and spent a month in the hospital at Long Bien before the army sent him back into combat. He never wrote about it, but Grandma sent me the article from the Barstow paper about him being awarded a Bronze Star for Valor to go along with his two Purple Hearts.

Today, looking at the twenty-two letters I received from him back then, still in the Snoopy Stationery box in which I kept them all those years ago, I am struck by their unremarkable content. There were no professions of adoration, no lustful suggestions, no declarations of devotion. They contain nothing other than polite discourse about the weather, a little about where he was, and stories about his life in the army, and before.

Nonetheless, they enthralled me, ensorcelled me, terrified me.

He referred to any action in which he and his men became involved as ‘being busy’. “We were busy today,” or “Charlie has been busy,” always with the admonishment, “Don’t worry!” He sent photographs: the village, the marketplace, animals, military vehicles and soldiers.  He sent Vietnamese money and Military Payment Coupons.

And, he asked questions about me.

I suppose that was what was most astounding, that a grown man in a foreign land—a stranger, himself in harm’s way—took the time to ask questions of me; that he bothered is what flattered me most.

I couldn’t wait to get home from school each day, rushing straight to the mailbox to see if there might be an envelope from him. I watched the evening news, hoping for a glimpse of him and horrified I might see him in danger, or hurt, or worse. But, I couldn’t not watch. Watching, like writing, had become part of my job.

Now, I sprawled on the bed in my lavender and purple bedroom and wrote a long description of graduation and the night I’d spent at Disneyland. Once done, I launched into my standard flight of fancy—that he’d come home, fall instantly in love with me, and we’d live happily ever after.

I floated back to earth about the time Mom arrived home from work, and as was our habit, we fixed dinner together and ate in the den on trays in front of the television, Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather reporting on the war.

Feverishly attentive, I watched the screen as always, fulfilling my duty to my pen-pal for another night. Watching was the least I could do.

Afterward, I called several friends, inviting them to go with me to Newport Beach the following day. It was Thursday night and there was no school. I was free as a bird. Never mind that I’d had less sleep than an astronaut circling the moon, I was FREE!

I hung out at the house until Mom went to bed, then grabbed my car keys, picked up a couple of these same friends and went cruising. The ebullient giddiness of liberation from the stultifying burden of high school invigorated us all. We spent three hours or so at McDonald’s, reliving moments from our shared past, and discussing our abruptly adult futures. 

And him. 

We always talked about him. 

No one else was writing to a strange man at war. To my giggling teenage girlfriends, this long-distance, platonic relationship was more romantic than an episode of The Love Boat. 

Finally, I drove home, set my alarm for five, and climbed into bed. I got about four hours of uninterrupted, blissful sleep.

With a strong sense of joie de vivre, I drove my friends to Newport Beach the next morning, swilling horrible coffee from 7-11 like so many of the jaded commuters around me. We sang along with the radio, flirted with truck drivers who honked enthusiastically at my carload of girls in two-piece bathing suits, and talked about boys, and him. As always, I hoped Bill was safe. I hoped Bill was dry. I hoped Bill was madly in love with me.

By the time we got to the beach, the sun was broiling, and I was exhausted. The sleepless excitement of the last couple of days had finally caught up with me. Following a quick dip in the ocean, I spread my towel, and as was my habit, slathered on a bar of cocoa butter, purchased from a beach vendor for the astronomical price of three bars for a quarter. I toppled over face-down, murmuring something to my friends about waking me up if I went to sleep.

I’m a little hazy on the events that followed.

Sometime during the day, someone roused me enough to get me to turn over. About four that afternoon, I woke up on my own and ambled out into the ocean to wash off before we headed for home. The water felt surprisingly cool, almost cold, in fact. I dunked my head and got as much sand off me as I could.

Walking the quarter mile to my Falcon, I knew I was sunburned, but growing up in California, pre-sunscreen, sunburn sort of went with the territory—like rattlesnakes and scorpions in the desert. “Am I red?” I asked my friend Kathy as we trudged along. It was a foolish question, really; I’d been asleep on the beach for seven hours.

“A little,” she said, avoiding eye contact. Oncoming pedestrians gave us the sidewalk, gaping at me askance as though I were a sasquatch being led along on a chain.

At the car, I shook out my beach towel again, and draped it over the naugahyde of the driver’s seat and climbed in. Affecting nonchalance, I looked in the rearview mirror and recoiled in horror.

I looked like a radiation victim. A radiation victim with oddly-green hair.

A blister was already emerging on my nose. My eyelids were swollen, my eyelashes sticking out like the thorns on a cholla cactus. On the upside, my eyes and teeth had never seemed so white in a face more livid than the reddest Atomic Fireball jawbreaker.

It was gridlock on the freeway. Our forty-five minute drive took three hours. Three hours in an un-air-conditioned Ford with a carload of sweaty, sunburned, surly women. The truckers honked and waved, but somehow the thrill was gone.

By the time I got home I was on fire, tender places like my abdomen, the backs of my knees and my thighs reminding me that seven hours in the sun, with cocoa butter as basting sauce, was just too long. My skin was sticky from the saltwater and blisters peppered my shoulders—well, peppered me—period.

Mom took one look and sent me to the bathroom with a box of baking soda which I poured into a cool bath. But nothing could quench the fire in my skin. I was evenly toasted on both sides, so there was no position I could assume that did not cause me pain. My usually pale complexion had taken on the hue of an Oscar Meyer Wiener. In agony, I went to bed, unable to tolerate even the top sheet on my body.

By morning, I’d grown a fever blister on my upper lip that, had it been measured, would surely still occupy the ‘biggest’ category in the Guinness Book of World Records. I staggered into the bathroom and took stock. I’d rubbed the ruined skin off my nose sometime during the night, leaving a nose-sized raw patch in its place. I globbed the vacancy with a sticky white coat of zinc oxide. Other miniscule blisters roughened my cheeks and forehead and there was, of course, the cauliflower upper lip. Except for where the top and bottom of my bathing suit had been, I had combusted; there was no other way to describe it. Miserably, I realized I hadn’t thought about him for hours.

I was brushing my teeth, trying not to touch anything, anywhere, when Mom knocked on the bathroom door. “Hurry up, honey. We’re leaving in a few minutes.”

“Leaving?” I jerked the door open, unconsciously brandishing my toothbrush. “Leaving where?” Toothpaste foam sprayed out to sprinkle Mom’s glasses.

She had raised four kids and didn’t bat an eye. “We’re going to Grandma’s. It’s her birthday.”

I had forgotten. The trip had been planned for a couple of weeks.

“But, I’m sunburned.”

“Yes, you are. And you’ll be just as sunburned no matter what you’re doing.”

That meant I was going. I dragged myself back up the hallway to my bedroom, in a quandary over what to wear. Certainly not my bathing suit. But slacks were out of the question, as was anything else that bound or rubbed. In desperation, with Mom calling for me to hurry, I scrabbled through my dirty-clothes hamper and found the two items of clothing I owned that would touch me the least: a navy blue, scoop-necked, sleeveless blouse with tiny white pin dots on it, and a pair of double-knit, swamp-green polyester pants I’d hacked off about four inches below the crotch and never hemmed. Now hideously ugly short-shorts, they were spattered with lavender and purple paint (having been worn when I redecorated my bedroom) and there was a big purple moon on one butt-cheek where I’d backed into the wall. Both pieces were wrinkled from being stuffed in the hamper, but I didn’t care. Besides, riding eighty miles out into the desert in Mom’s old sedan would steam the wrinkles out of anything, probably even Grandma, if she’d been making the trip.

Mom, my little brother Louie, and I loaded up. Without a word, Louie climbed into the backseat, looking at me with something approximating sympathy. No little-brother gloating, no teasing. “You look awful,” was all he said.

I sulked in the front seat, listening to the news, knowing my soldier-pen-pal-dream-lover Bill would be home from Vietnam around the end of the month. All things being equal, I’d probably be healed up enough by then to accept visitors. I also figured if I restricted my diet to nothing more than a saltine and a half-a-glass of water a day—and got plenty of exercise—I might even lose the fifteen pounds I’d been planning to lose since he sent me his picture back in October.

My cold sore had swollen stupendously by the time we pulled in at Grandma’s place on the Mojave Desert. I wished her happy birthday, but for obvious reasons offered nothing more by way of physical affection. “Go get some ice for that lip,” she said, scanning the rest of me as she scolded. “You’re old enough to know better than to get this much sun.”

Yes, I was.

I went into the kitchen, wrapped a couple of ice cubes in a paper towel, then came back to the living room to sprawl on the carpet, directly under the icy blast from the swamp cooler. At Grandma’s direction, Louie retrieved a spray bottle of Bactine from the medicine cabinet in the bathroom and sprayed my shoulders, my thighs, and the backs of my knees. That, a couple of aspirin, and the cold air from the cooler made me feel a little better.

“You look awful,” Louie reiterated.

“You heard anything from Bill?” Grandma asked, changing the subject. Always curious about our correspondence, she listened raptly as I lay semi-comatose on her living room rug and told her about his last letter, received several days before.   

My hair wafted around my head, limp and unstyled. The auburn hair dye in it had been profoundly affected by the sun and salt water at the beach. Not only transmogrified to green, it was also puffy, almost electric in its appearance. Conditioner is what it needed, I figured. Or being sawed off at the scalp.

I nursed my lip with my ice poultice. I couldn’t even muster enough enthusiasm to engage in my happily-ever-after-dream-lover fantasy.

Around noon, I helped Mom make lunch and we carried it out to the flagstone patio off the kitchen. Even in the shade, it was hot. Louie sprayed me with more Bactine. We ate. I managed to circumnavigate my upper lip to swallow some cake, then we all walked around in the garden, me with my legs splayed and arms out like Boris Karloff in Frankenstein, admiring the array of vegetables and flowers my grandmother had managed to coax out of the desert sand.

Once back on the patio, I noticed that the zinc oxide I’d applied to my nose that morning was melting in the heat and had migrated (kind of like the Blob, only white) onto my face and onto my round, black-framed glasses. I was vigorously cleaning them on my blouse when I heard a car coming up the long gravel driveway out front.

Grandma’s eyes twinkled. “They’re here.” My mother looked very concerned.

“Who’s here?” I asked with some dread, rubbing at the greasy white smear now adorning my blouse-front, which, incidentally, was still wrinkled and smelled vaguely like gym socks—and Bactine.

“Emmett and Delma,” Grandma said. “They’re bringing me my birthday present.”

Emmett and Delma.

They were his parents. Bill’s parents. I knew immediately I would never be able to erase from their memories the apparition I’d become. Not ever. It wouldn’t matter how much Bill loved me when he got home; they would forever remember the thing standing in Grandma’s patio.

Alarm replaced dread. I didn’t want them—I didn’t want anyone—to see me like this! I jumped up, thinking to go hide in the house. But Mom’s car was out front; they would know I was there; I always came along when Mom visited. I quickly fussed with my hair, knowing it was a lost cause.

Their station wagon rolled to a stop, the front bumper and part of the hood visible around the side of the house. I heard the car engine shut off, then car doors opening and closing. I bolted for the house, but it was too late, and silly. Just another symptom of how young I really was. With no small amount of glee, my brother blocked the kitchen door, so I turned back, defeated, a toothy grin frozen on my ruined face.

Around the side of the house, gift in hand, came Delma, with Emmett on her heels, all smiles. They immediately saw me standing in the deep shade against the house, and stopped.

And that’s precisely when disaster struck.

Because Bill, my every fantasy personified, was right behind them.

He came in slowly, modestly, greeting my grandmother respectfully, shaking my mother’s hand. His plaid shirt was crisp, ironed, his jeans immaculate.

He turned in my direction as Grandma introduced us.

Blond, tan, and gorgeous—the scars from the wounds he’d received in February standing out on his right forearm—he looked like a recruiting poster.  A warrior, a hero, the grown-up man and stranger I’d been writing to for almost a year.  

Over the roaring in my ears, I heard Emmett say Bill had received a ten-day drop and came home early, surprising them all. Apparently, he’d strolled out of the Greyhound Bus Station in Barstow, his duffle bag on his shoulder, just as his parents drove by. His mother tried to get out of the still-moving car.

I was speechless—knowing myself to be nothing more than a lumpy, smelly, scalded teenager with tumbleweed hair and white grease on her face.

But Bill, well he didn’t so much as flinch. With nerves of steel, honed on the battlefields of Vietnam, he strode across the flagstones of Grandma’s patio and kissed me. “Hello,” he said. His hands skated lightly down my arms. I looked up into the bluest eyes I’d ever seen. His parents and the others seemed to spiral away as we stood there.

“W-w-welcome home,” I managed to croak. 

He grinned down into my upturned face and held both my hands. “Thank you,” he whispered, for no one else in the world but me.  

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

The Corner Man

Here's another award-winning short story I penned a while back. Enjoy!~~LG

 “I didn’t even know the woman.”

That’s what I told him the first time Detective Bruno Janklow talked to me. We were at my front door in the four-story brownstone I lived in on Henry Street. He’d questioned me about a killing one floor below mine. A woman had been found dead in her apartment. It was hard to believe something like that had happened in my own building, and I told him that, too.

It was hot that afternoon.  Mrs. Schmidt, two apartments down the hall from mine, was cooking kraut and sausages with her door propped open again.

Detective Janklow’s stomach rumbled. “Damn, that smells good.” He winked at me. “You suppose whoever’s cooking might have known the victim?”

The wink surprised me, but I managed to shrug. “Beats me.”

He left then, sauntering toward the stench at the end of the hall. I heard Mrs. Schmidt and her broken English, then the thump of her door closing. There is a god, I thought, wishing the plug-in air freshener in my living room wasn’t empty.

Later that night, I headed out to work as I’d done a thousand times—for my evening shift at Calvin’s News. It’s a magazine store on the corner at the end of my block—one of those eclectic little storefronts you pass on your way to the subway. Besides magazines and newspapers, we sold smokes and candy and stupid stuff—like those fake tattoos, and rubber snakes, and fart cushions. We did a big business in fart cushions.

I was just getting ready to pull the iron gates shut and close up for the night when Detective Janklow showed up again. He nodded at me and picked up a skin magazine in the back of the shop. He thumbed through it, stopping once in a while, openmouthed, then dropped it back on the rack. He pulled a drink out of the cold case and wandered up to the counter.

“That’s a buck fifty.”

Janklow tossed a five on the counter and popped the lid on the plastic bottle as I made his change. He took a long drink, then sighed, palming his mouth. “Man, that hits the spot.”

“I thought you guys drank coffee and ate doughnuts by the gross.” I flipped the We Are Open sign with the conga-line of dancing bottles on it to We Are Closed, and turned out the lights. Janklow followed me outside where I locked the doors, then started pulling the security gates across the storefront. I glanced at the bottle dangling from his big fist. “All the caffeine and sugar in that soda is as bad for you as the doughnuts and coffee anyway, I guess.”

“Doesn’t much matter,” he said, stepping onto the deserted sidewalk, “we’re all dying of something, huh?” He started to leave, then turned back. “You work here every night?”

“Yeah, why?” The gates screeched as I forced them together.

“Just wondered. The medical examiner says Junie Davis, the dead woman from your building, was killed about ten hours before her kid found her. That would be about eleven or so the night before. You were working down here on your corner, huh?”

“I would have just got off. I usually close at eleven. But, not that night.” I locked the big chain-lock and pocketed the keys, thinking about the previous Thursday. “My dad needed help at his place up in Queens. I went up there for the day. Got home about two in the morning.”


“Look, why the hell are you bothering me? I told you I didn’t know this wom— ”

“—I just came in for a cold drink. The rest was just me thinking out loud, is all,” he said, dropping his empty soda bottle in the trash can on the sidewalk. “Sorry I upset you.”

Shaken, I brushed past him and headed toward home, but he followed me. I stopped and turned to face him. “What do you want with me?”

“Nothing. My car’s parked up the street here.” He gestured toward a dark blue, unmarked sedan half a block away. “I was finishing up the interviews in your building and thought I’d come down for a soda, that’s all. Your corner store was the closest place.” He smiled at me again. His eyes even crinkled up at the corners; but they were flat. Dark blue—and flat as a cat on the highway.

I started walking and he fell in step. “How long you been a dick?” I asked, trying to be nonchalant. I’d never talked to a cop before Janklow.

“Long enough to have thought I’d seen everything.”

That hit me, the things this middle-aged detective must’ve seen. “Bad, huh?”

“Yeah, real bad.” He rubbed his face. “Whoever raped and murdered Junie Davis is a monster. She’s such a mess the M.E. says it may be a couple of weeks before he’s finished detailing her injuries. It took the evidence team twelve hours to process the scene. God, what a shambles.” 

We reached Detective Janklow’s car and he jammed his keys into the door lock, looking at me as the mechanism clicked. “Whoever killed her was searching for something, that’s for sure. I just don’t know what. It wasn’t like he was after something that was in the apartment before he arrived; it was like he was grubbing around for something he’d maybe dropped, or lost, while he was committing the crime. No drawers or cupboards ransacked, but all the cushions were out of the chairs, the bed was stripped, the throw rugs were all in piles . . . and her body . . . well, she looked like she’d been thrown around for an hour. I don’t know if he found what he was looking for, or not . . .” He pulled open the door and dropped into the driver’s seat. “You’ve got my card. Call me if you hear anything, will you?”

I don’t know why he picked me to dump that on. Maybe it was because I worked at the newsstand and he thought I might pay attention to the customers. Maybe it was because I’d lived in my building longer than anyone else there. Maybe he thought I had big shoulders. Who knows? I’ve sorted it out in my mind a hundred times since then, and I still don’t know why he picked me. But he did.

I didn’t see Janklow for ten days. I was sitting at the lunch counter at Tony’s Deli, scarfing down a corned beef on rye—with lots of pickles and mustard—when he slid onto the stool next to mine and ordered a chocolate cola, a bag of chips, and a chicken salad sandwich, on wheat. Janis Joplin was screaming about Bobbi McGee on the radio.

“How ya’ doin’?” Janklow asked when Jessica, the new counter-girl, walked away with his order.


We sat there, side-by-side, me in my knees-gone jeans and khaki-colored t-shirt, him in his brown sport’s coat and slacks—like mismatched bookends. His order came and he ate while we both admired Jessica, in all her tattooed and padded splendor.

“Whaddaya’ want?” I finally asked around my last bite of sandwich.

“Nothing. Just wondering if you’d heard anything.”

“Nothing—except you guys don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground.” I couldn’t help it; he was getting under my skin. Just showing up out of the blue like he did. Like he was watching me. Spying on me.

I gestured for an apple and Jessica handed me one as she undulated past on the way to another lousy tip. I took a huge bite of the fruit, then another, but it was mealy, so I tossed it on my plate. “Look,” I said, my mouth half full, “how about we make a deal?”

“Whaddaya’ have in mind?”

“You stay out of my face and I’ll call you if I hear anything. Does that sound fair?”

“Why? Don’t you like my company?”

“Fuck, no, I don’t like your company! Is that plain enough for you?” I stood up and put on my jacket. “You creep me out, man. Always showin’ up out of nowhere.”

“Always?”  He sat there just looking at me for a few seconds. I’ve never seen anyone sit so still.

My heart pounded like I was guilty of something, and I felt like an idiot. It had been ten days. I tossed some cash on the counter then stuck my fists in my pockets and slumped back onto my stool like a nine year-old.

 Finally, he stuck out his hand. “Deal,” he said. “You call me. I won’t call you.” We shook on it.

“Hell,” he said. “I know what it’s like. When I was your age, having a cop around would have bugged hell out of me, too.” He gave me another of his flat-eyed smiles. “No hard feelings.”

The hair stood up on the back of my neck.

I walked the two blocks to my corner and took over from Kyle, the day guy. All evening, I kept looking over my shoulder, expecting Janklow to jump out from behind a stack of magazines, just to say hello. But he never showed. I closed up and went home. A shower and three beers later, I started to relax.

After a couple of days went by and I didn’t see Janklow again, I reached the conclusion that he’d finally gotten my drift. Heading for work that day, I detoured around three guys from Men Moving, who were hauling stuff from Junie Davis’ apartment to their van in the alley. There was an ‘Apartment for Lease’ sign in the foyer of the building.

I got to my corner and took over from Kyle. Business was brisk in the late afternoon as commuters stopped for the papers, magazines, cold drinks, and candy. I even sold a couple of those damn fart cushions. Later, I watched the Cubs’ game on the fuzzy, nine-inch black and white TV we kept on the counter next to the register. I waited on maybe half a dozen customers between the end of the game and closing time.

I locked the register and was getting ready to close the gates when Janklow came in. He nodded at me and headed to the back, where he grabbed a soda. He strolled up to the counter. “I know,” he said, smiling, “a buck fifty.” He laid out the exact change.

There was something different about him. He seemed almost—I don’t know—almost jovial.

I unlocked the register and dropped the money inside. “What’s up with you?”

“Not much—been doing a little follow-up.” he said. “Just heading in for the night.” He smiled again.

“You still working the murder in my building?”

“Nah,” he said, “case’s closed.”

“Closed? Really? I hadn’t heard?” I was actually happy for him.

He chugged his drink, then burped, twisting the lid back on the empty bottle. “Not many people know.” He walked over to the gate and grabbed one side of it. “C’mon, I’ll help you close up,” he said. “My car’s parked near your place. I’ll walk back with you.”

Together we closed the gates. Like buddies, almost.


 I snapped the chain lock, and we started up the sidewalk toward my brownstone. “Who did it—if you can say, that is?”

“It turned out just like I figured—a guy in your building. I think I’ll be able to tie him to a string of other rape/murders across the river, too.” He walked beside me, his hands in his pockets. “Took me a while to get him though, but I finally did.”


“Dental records.”

Dental records?”

“Yeah. See, when I told you Junie Davis was a mess,   I wasn’t exaggerating. Raped, strangled—and the perp bit her—in twenty-three places—by the M.E’s count.” He stopped next to his car just as two men came out of the dark and crossed the street. “Hi Bob, Jeff,” he said, as they walked up. He gestured in my direction. “Meet Sean, here.”

“It’s OK, kid,” he said to me. “They work with me.” He pulled something out of his pocket. “Like I was saying, I got the guy with dental records. Well, not really records, but close enough for now. See, I was lucky enough to get my hands on some pretty good dental impressions he left behind at a lunch counter one afternoon. I took ‘em to the M.E’s office, and they were able to match them to the bite marks on the victim’s body.”

“L—lunch counter?” I stammered.

“Yeah. You remember? The apple?” He smiled again, a bit sadly this time. “Oh, and the lab was able to pull some saliva off it, too. I’ll bet my pension it’ll be a perfect DNA match to the suspect fluids we collected off Junie’s corpse.”

I started to back away, but Bob and Jeff stepped up.

“Then there was this.” Janklow said, showing me the item he’d pulled out of his pocket.

I didn’t want to look, but I did, anyway. It was a picture of a small, white, triangular-shaped object.

“What’s that?” My voice was very still. Even I could hear the lie in it.

“It’s your corner.”

My corner?”

“Yeah—you know, Sean—your corner?” He gestured toward my mouth. “The chunk of front tooth you lost in Junie Davis’ apartment.”

“Bu—bu—I loo—”

“—I know. You looked all over for it, didn’t you?” He pocketed the picture. “But it wasn’t in Junie Davis’ apartment. It was in Junie Davis. The M.E. found it in one of the bite wounds on her right thigh.”

I took a deep, deep breath. It was a relief, really. “I knew you’d figure it out the first time we met,” I said, scraping my hair back. “You have that bulldog look about you.”  I couldn’t help tonguing the still sharp, recently-broken corner of my front tooth.

Janklow opened the car door. “Yeah, I know. People have called me a bulldog before.” He sighed, smiling. “There’s just one more thing I need to tell you.”

I nodded and squared my shoulders—ready for anything. “What’s that?”

Janklow smiled, and this time his eyes lit up like the rest of his face. “You’re under arrest.”

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The History of Falling

This winter, I fell down at the end of our driveway. I'd staggered out to get the newspaper, dressed as usual in my ratty housecoat and not much else. I was wearing a pair of Bill's slippers, probably because mine were under the bed or muddy and in the garage or somewhere else. Rowdi, the Jack Russell Terrorist, led the way on her leash. Why she didn't tell me there was a patch of ice lurking there under the snow at the end of the driveway right in front of the newspaper tube is beyond me. But she didn't. 

I am not a small woman, nor am I a young woman. Truth be told, I'm not a medium woman, or even a middle-aged woman. Stature-wise, I fall into the 'whatever that is, it's huge' category. So, when I fell, and my shadow engulfed Rowdi, she looked back and made that face those kids in the Blair Witch Project made, directly into the camera, while everyone hoped the witch would kill them soon so the movie would end. Then she hit the end of her leash and went airborne. My feet came out from under me, I flew up in the air (the very contemplation of which defies all the laws of nature), my robe flew up and out, and then I came back down again, landing solidly on my impressively large and dimpled derriere. Foremost on my list of things to be thankful for is the fact that none of the neighbors were taking a walk right then.

Rowdi escaped being ruptured like a water balloon, but just barely. I sprawled on my back in the snow, blinking up at the underside of the newspaper tube, four feet above my head. The dog came over and sniffed me as she might have sniffed a rotting possum or something else she was thinking about rolling in. I figured I was killed. With no small sense of dread, I moved my limbs, only then realizing that my robe was up around my waist, and the resultant contact of my flesh with the ice, snow, rocks, and gravel of the driveway was distinctly uncomfortable, not to mention unbecoming. So I hoisted myself around, still hanging onto Rowdi's leash, and dragged myself upright using the newspaper tube post for a prop. One of Bill's slippers was a few feet away, upside down and still vibrating. I retrieved it, teetered on one leg as I wiped off my naked foot, and put it back on. With great dignity, I shook the snow and driveway cooties off my bathrobe and turned to look at the place I'd fallen. I'd made a snow angel! Actually, it was more like a snow Godzilla, but it did reveal the patch of ice on which I'd slipped.

Rowdi took my stillness as an opportunity to rush around the post and me a couple of times, and was now gagging on the end of the leash, looking at me like it was all my fault. So I untangled us, avoided the ice, and stumbled back toward the house, astonished I didn't need a cast or a splint or some morphine.

Don't misunderstand. I'm not new to falling down. It comes with the territory when you're a cop, and I did that for a long time. Oh, I know in the movies you always see the stalwart boys and girls in blue racing up staircases, jumping fences, and sprinting across slippery linoleum floors like Olympic-class athletes. That's because the movie-going public doesn't want to see what really happens. This is how it often goes . . .

It's 2 AM. You came on duty at 11. You spent most of the day in court, which means you've had exactly 27 minutes of sleep, which was interrupted twice by your neighbor's barking dog. You tried to sleep through dinner, but could not. It's summer in the desert. Your uniform is polyester and navy blue, and it soaks up heat faster than a banker takes bailout money--even at night. Underneath it, you wear body armor, which means you feel a lot like a canned ham.

You pull onto the main drag in your little piece of paradise and immediately home in on a carload of  teenage boys. You know the car and because you've been a cop here for years, you know the kids inside. Trouble on four wheels. The driver hasn't done anything wrong, yet, but one of the boys in the backseat  swivels, sees you, and immediately initiates the 'kittens in a sack' response. Heads bob, shoulders hunch, bodies slither, and you know in your cop's heart that whatever mischief this bunch is up to involves what they are stuffing under the seats. A million 'could be's' run through your head.

You follow the car. The driver meanders away from the center of town into a residential neighborhood and fails to signal as he changes lanes. His passengers twist and goggle as they all try to casually glance in your direction--their casual more obvious than you, in uniform, at a Woodstock reunion. You pick the spot for your traffic stop and light them up. The driver lags in the slow lane for half a minute or so, then noses toward the curb. You pop your seat belt and pull to a stop the prescribed distance from his back bumper.

Before you can get your boots on the pavement, all four doors of the violator's car fly open and the occupants run in every direction. You go after the driver, who clears a neighborhood hedge like an antelope. You fumble with your radio, gasping out you're in foot pursuit and crash through the bushes instead of over them. The stiff foliage rakes your face and arms. You spit out a leaf and hope you can find your pen when you come back. The kid has vanished in the darkness, but you keep running. A dog barks up ahead and you follow the sound, catching sight of your quarry several houses down. "Stop," you yell. "Get down, now!"  He looks back and picks up speed. His grin flashes white in the gloom. He's wearing a t-shirt and jeans and he's fifteen years younger than you are. You decide to save your breath.

He cuts between two houses, headed for the alley in back. You do the same, except you fall over a garbage can and go down like Mike Tyson did in the Buster Douglas fight. Engulfed in the odor of someone else's refuse, you jump back up and limp onward, hearing, over the roaring of your respirations,  the distinctive sound of vehicles with bad suspension and questionable brakes converging on the area. Help has arrived.

On the radio, someone asks you where you are. Still on the planet, you think. Other than that, it's anybody's guess. The kid is still ahead of you, trotting along like he's on a nature walk. He hasn't fallen over anything, either, the little chump. Focused on him, you trip on a section of broken pavement and fall down again, banging your elbow on a parked car. The car alarm goes off, the headlights flashing in tandem with the sound of the beeping horn. You leap up, staggering guiltily away as the kid scampers off in the moonlight. You're not sure, but you think he's laughing. Your chest is heaving, each breath searing your parched throat. You have a stitch in your side. A patrol car pulls up and the cop inside asks where the kid went.

"Hagnagamuga," you tell him, gesturing weakly toward the now-invisible driver. He guns his car and races away. You hope he catches the kid and runs over him. Moments later, someone announces on the air that they have made an apprehension and asks you to meet them back at the car. You retrace your path, picking up your keys, your flashlight, and your hat along the way, sort of like following crumbs through the forest. The owner of the vehicle whose alarm you activated is standing in the alley in his jockey shorts and wants to know "just what the HELL is going on?"

"Nak," you say, still wheezing but making an effort to appear nonchalant. "Nakug to wurryagabnt." You shine your flashlight on the dent your elbow made in his fender and pretend you're looking for the malignant spawn who did it. You make it back out to the street,  avoiding the now-strewn garbage as you cut though the houses. Three other officers are busy searching the car you stopped. So far, they've come up with half a can of warm Miller High Life and some rolling papers.

Your knee hurts and you feel like you're going to vomit. Your pants are ruined; your face is scratched; you're sweating like a pig and you still have four hours left of your shift. The little shit is handcuffed in the backseat of your car. Aside from a slight dampness on his forehead, he looks as fresh as the morning. You pull your clipboard out of the front seat, jerk the backdoor open and ask him his name. He tells you, but you don't have a pen . . ..

I stamped the snow off Bill's slippers and went inside, unhooking Rowdi's leash at the door. She ran into the kitchen where Bill was pouring coffee for us. "Snowing, huh?" he said, looking at my hair as I joined him. "Anything interesting in the paper?"

For now I'm just Linda~~older,wiser, but just as clumsy.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Lust On the Job: Is That a Flashlight In Your Pocket, or Are You Just Glad to See Me?

Facebook friend and fellow author, Alison Kent, asked the following question this morning, online:

"How do we feel about romance novels where during height of emergencies (fires, police & EMT situations) there's much lusting between H & h?"
How do I feel?


Let's face it; everybody wonders about that. It's exciting to think that two people, cooped up night after night~~in a high-mileage sedan with no leg room and the stench of a hundred winos in it~~might want to 'get busy' while the world around them goes to hell. We've been bombarded with just such situations from all sides: in print, in film and on TV. Who can ever forget (no matter how hard we try) the romantic parry and thrust in 'Emergency', 'Rescue 911', 'Hill Street Blues' and every other TV program before and since that has anything whatever to do with the fictional lives of cops, doctors, EMTs, firefighters, paramedics and other rescue workers. 

Just for now, imagine yourself~~~

You're a cop. You and your hottie partner have just gone on duty. You've hauled your gear out of your lockers; you've suffered through roll call, where the duty sergeant, who has the reading ability of a six-year-old, has slowly intoned the information on the watch reports, the dispatch log, and the hot sheets from the last 24-hours~~even though you've already read the watch reports, the dispatch logs, and the hot sheets from the past 24-hours. You listen to descriptions of rapists, murderers, and robbery suspects, jotting down notes and accepting print copies of wanted posters from the designated rookie, who scampers around the room handing them out with the earnestness of a spaniel at the Westminster Dog Show. Most important of all, you and your partner have decided who's going to drive tonight, and who gets to talk on the radio and who gets to run the magic lights. It's your turn to drive and run the lights. Hottie gets to talk on the radio.

You and the rest of the shift amble out into the dark, into the back lot of the police station where all the police cars are parked. The two of you open the doors and pop the trunk of your unit. No, not THAT unit~~your police car. You toss your extra gear into the trunk and start your safety check, making sure the spare is full, the tires are all good. You pull the shotgun out of its mount and eject all the rounds in it, checking the action. You reload it, push the safety back on and put it back in the mount. You check that the spotlights work, the headlights and turn signals all work. You pull out the mic for the external loudspeaker, usually making a brief statement to test it's effectiveness, such as: "Dave Smith (who is doing a walk-around at his own unit a few yards away) is a dipshit." You check under the seats for anything that might have been left behind by an arrestee~~like a gun, or a knife, or some dope. Or all of the above. It's summer, and in spite of the Lysol you carry in your gear bag, the car still smells like a foot. Someone else's foot. OK, it smells like ass. You spray more Lysol.

Finally, you shut everything up, climb in and start the car, moving along in the procession of police cars that heads off to their respective beats (this is the neighborhood's favorite part), each driver testing each siren in a cacaphonous chorus: woot, woooot, WOOOOOOOOT. DOOOdah, DOOOdah, DOOOdah. WEEEEoooh, WEEEEooh, WEEEoooh.

So there you are in your own little rolling universe with your hottie partner, and he is gorgeous. His uniform is perfect, badge glistening, ex-marine hair 'high and tight'. He has big hands, neat handwriting. Over the Lysol, he smells like Axe aftershave and leather. His gray eyes twinkle when he laughs, which he does often~~a dimple deep in one cheek. The two of you have been through a lot together. So much that you've no need for verbal communication. You know~~and trust~~each other that well.

You're assigned beat three tonight: a gang neighborhood so dangerous that decent people walk in the gutter to avoid what inhabits the sidewalk. Mute knots of tattooed men surreptitiously watch as you drive by, turning inward so you cannot see what they hold, what they plan. Loud music blares from a passing car. You pass another knot of gangbangers wadded together in heated conversation. You and your partner make eye contact. The hair on your arms lifts. You get the first hit of adrenaline as you make the corner, you and he in silent agreement that this group needs some attention. You drive back up the next block, turn again, approaching the group from a side street when the radio crackles. "345, a 211 in progress, 7-11, 4th and Orange. Handgun involved, shots fired. Repeat, shots fired." Armed robbery in-progress. Three blocks north. 

"Clear right," your partner says as you flip on the overhead lights. No siren. There is safety in silence, a chance to catch the perps. Dispatch continues to feed information. The crook is still in the store. Your eyes cut left, and you see no oncoming traffic from that direction, trusting your partner absolutely that the street is clear to the right. The gang on the corner loses importance for now, blurring as you blow through the intersection, bracing your right hand against the car's headliner as you hit the deep dips in the road, tearing through the neighborhood in a race with madness.

Half a block away, you kill all your lights and glide to the curb. You hear the shotgun rack pop as your partner pulls out the 12-gauge. You shut down the car and pocket the keys. "We're 10-97," he tells dispatch. You pull out your handgun, thumbing the safety as you and he crouch, listening~~swiftly scanning the area for pedestrians, getaway cars, bystanders, anything. Anything.

Silent, grim, working in perfect, deadly symmetry, the two of you creep up the sidewalk, using buildings, cars, and shadows as cover. There's an alleyway behind the store. You're moments away from confrontation. Your heart pounds, the heavy thrums vibrating behind the ballistic panel in your body armor. Together you veer left, still crouched, moving into the viscous darkness in the alley. He touches your shoulder. You turn, holstering your weapon as you lean against the still-warm brick of the store. Your partner props the shotgun against a dumpster as he steps between your welcoming thighs.

Hell, the crooks can wait.

Sure they can~~

Until next time, I'm just Linda