The Written Exam

Sergeant Bernie Blick stood next to the podium located at the front of a cavernous room, its vastness made even larger by the expanse of white marble flooring, long banks of twenty-foot-high windows, and a soaring ceiling. The largest conference room within the historic, ten-story Phoenix Municipal Building had been set up with row upon row of long banquet tables and chairs, most all of which were occupied. In front of each chair: A manual portable typewriter, an answer sheet, test booklets and a #2 pencil, newly sharpened. The room was filled to near capacity. More than three hundred prospective applicants anxiously shifted in their seats, all eager respondents to the recent employment ad for the newly created position of Police Communications Operator I.

Blick, who filled out his uniform admirably, was an exceptionally fit man in his early forties, a fitness hard earned by running up Squaw Peak Mountain every morning. In spite of his hardened bulk and six-foot frame, Blick seemed small, as did everyone, relative to the room.

The sergeant was nearing the end of taking roll call:

“Zandusky? Carolanne Zandusky?”

A grey-haired woman in the front row raised her hand: “Here!”

“How’s it feel to always be the last one called?” Blick teased.

“Like I’m always the last one called,” she deadpanned. The room erupted in laughter.

“Touché,” laughed Blick, checking his watch.

“Okay,” he cheerfully announced to the room. “It’s 9 o’clock. Time to get this show on the road!” He motioned to two of the four uniformed officers standing by, “Go ahead and close the doors.”

Two rookie officers jumped at the order and rushed to the opened double doors. As they began to close and secure them, a woman’s shrill voice from outside the room screamed out, echoing in the empty hallway:

“Wait! Wait! Please wait!” The sound of high heels clicking against marble tile accompanied the desperate pleas.

The officers looked to Sergeant Blick—

“It’s okay. Let her in.”

—then pushed open the doors for the late-comer. Immediately, both were smiling with appreciation.

Through the doors burst a platinum blonde, her porcelain skin flushed red from running the two blocks from the parking meter to the municipal building. Designer jeans hugged her hour-glass figure as she proceeded into the room, heels still clicking, echoing and bouncing off the walls, filling the entire room—she had everyone’s attention. The two rookies secured the doors then fell in close behind her, smiling lasciviously. She nervously looked around for an empty seat…

“Over here!” hailed a third officer from across the room. He, too, was now grinning like a Cheshire cat as he pointed to a vacant chair.

The blonde spun about and began click-clacking across the floor, rushing her steps to end the embarrassment of her conspicuous entry. Her mind raced with regrets as she hurried to the distant chair, cursing herself for running late. Squeezing her ample curves through a narrow aisle, she pushed her body behind a long line of occupied chairs obstructing the narrow passageway. The purse slung over her shoulder caught on the top of one chair and sprang open, its contents flying out in every direction. Two of the officers rushed in to help the young damsel in distress, picking up various and sundry items. Wallet. Lipstick. Comb. Some of the seated attendees jumped in to help with the scavenging duty. Unfortunately, for the blonde, it was the drop-dead gorgeous, blue-eyed cop who sheepishly picked up, then held aloft as if a ticking time bomb, a small cardboard cylinder. A tampon. The flush on the blonde’s face turned lobster red. She grabbed the tampon and shoved it back into her purse and turned, in desperate fashion, to take her seat. She was on the verge of crying but the tears dissolved into nervous giggles after everyone in the room burst into laughter.

“Okay, settle down,” Sergeant Blick said, stifling his own laughter.

“That was quite the entrance,” he offered, sending the room back into laughter. The red-faced blonde threw up her hands and tried her best to laugh along with the rest of them.

“And your name is?” Blick asked.

It took several protracted seconds for the blonde to regain her composure, but when she did, the whole room suddenly quieted, awaiting her answer.

“Jones,” she finally replied. “Catalina Jones.”

Blick gave her a long and sympathetic smile before checking her off his list.

“Okay, everyone, listen up! I’m Sergeant Bernie Blick with  the Phoenix P.D. and I’ll be administering your test this morning. If you’re not here to test for the position of Police Communications Operator One, you made a wrong turn somewhere along your way this morning. You may leave now if that is the case.” Blick waited for any lost souls to act on his offer. There were no takers.

“My four lovely assistants,” continued Blick, as he pointed to the officers now standing at each of the four corners of the room, “who were kind enough to help me out today are going to hand out the first section of this morning’s exam. When you receive your test pamphlet, do not open it until I tell you to do so. This is a reading comprehension test. You will read a short passage then answer the questions that follow. This is a multiple choice format. Choose the best answer based on the content of the reading material. There are twenty-five questions in total. If you get stuck on one, move along to the next question, then go back to it if you still have time to do so.” He picked up a timer from the podium. “You have sixty minutes to complete this section.”

Blick waited for the officers to finish handing out the test pamphlets. Done, he scanned the room, then set the timer. “You may begin!”

In a row near the back, Catalina Jones put her nose to the grindstone, flying through questions with ease. Finished, she closed her pamphlet and set down her pencil. A slight panic arose from her abdomen when she realized she was the first to finish. She quickly flipped open her test booklet and carefully scanned each page, making sure she’d answered all the questions. She had. She closed the booklet and again set down her pencil. She sat for what seemed like forever before another test-taker, a petite red-head near the front, closed her pamphlet and set aside her pencil. Soon others began following suit, one by one, until a little more than half had finished.

“Time!” Blick called out. “Put your pencils down and close your tests.”

Groans arose from those who hadn’t finished.

“Please pass your tests to the right. An officer will collect your pamphlets at the end of each row.”

Catalina passed her test down the row, feeling a bit more confident after seeing others’ incomplete answer sheets.

“How’d you do?”

Catalina looked to her left. The plump, somewhat disheveled woman sitting next to her asked her again: “How do you think you did?”

“Okay, I think.” Catalina said, modestly.

“Just okay?” the woman asked, bemused. “You were done way before anyone else. You must be a fast reader. Who are you? Evelyn Wood?”

“Evelyn who?”

The woman laughed, “I guess you’re too young to remember. Evelyn Wood was—” but her words were abruptly cut off by Sergeant Blick’s booming voice.

 “Listen up! The next exam section will test your memory and ability to recall details given to you verbally. I will play a tape of a simulated police call to the Crime Stop emergency phone line. At the end of the tape, you will have sixty seconds to answer a series of five multiple-choice questions testing your recall of key details.” Blick moved to a table in the front of the room set up with a reel-to-reel tape player and two mammoth, wooden stereo speakers. “I will play twenty taped recordings, making for a total of one hundred questions.”

Catalina enjoyed this section but, still, she was uncertain about her performance. The exercise seemed way too easy, making her wonder if these were somehow trick questions: Did the bank robber have a mustache? What was the color of the getaway car? Which direction did the car leave? With each recording, Catalina was the first to finish, causing her even greater uncertainty.

The woman to her left gave her some incredulous side-eye and whispered, “Geesh!”

Catalina—Lina, as her friends called her—found the third test the easiest. No uncertainty this time, spelling and basic English grammar were two of Catalina’s best subjects. And it was all still fresh in her brain as she’d only just graduated from high school three months ago.

The fourth and final test was a three-minute typing exercise and another walk in the park for Lina who had been one of the fastest in her sophomore typing class at Xavier High School, the private all-girls’ Catholic school her father, Army Jones, insisted she attend. To say Army was overprotective of his youngest daughter was a colossal understatement. And had he known his precious teenage daughter was applying for a lowly civilian job within the Phoenix Police Department and not for college, he’d have burst a carotid. Army was fine with his eldest daughter, Kerri, working as a police dispatcher—after all, she was married to a cop—but he’d had higher hopes for Lina. Admittedly, Lina was his favorite and his excessive spoiling of her made that obvious, like the new Camaro he’d bought her as a graduation present. It was a gift of necessity, he’d told her, as Lina would need transportation to and from the private Christian college he’d picked out for her.

But Lina had other plans. Since turning eighteen, she’d set her mind to moving out as soon as she graduated high school. She was ready, desperately ready, to move out from under her father’s overly-protective wing. He was suffocating her with his control. She needed her own place, room to breathe. And for that, she needed a job. This job.

All the tests completed, Blick offered parting instructions to the sea of hopeful prospects:

“Okay, then! You should receive your test results in the mail within two weeks’ time. We will call you for follow-up interviews, starting first with those who scored highest. Good luck to all of you and thank you for your interest in working with the Phoenix Police Department. You are now free to go!”

The frumpy woman next to Lina bent toward her: “Good luck. I’m sure you’ll be one of the first called.”

“Oh, I don’t know…”

“Sure you will.”

“I’m sure you’ll get called, too.”

“I sure as hell better,” the woman snorted. “I’ve got three kids, a no-good ex, and bills up to my eyeballs.” The woman let out a heavy sigh. “I’m Inga, by the way.”

“Lina. I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you, Inga.” Lina held up her left hand, displaying two crossed fingers.

 “Thanks, I’ll take all the help I can get,” Inga replied. She mustered a laugh as she turned to leave, but it was a tense, tired laugh, one bordering on desperation.

Lina looked on as the woman left, feeling genuinely sorry for her…and secretly ashamed; her overprotective-daddy problem was nothing by comparison, she knew, yet her own sense of desperation was just as real. Lina pushed back her thoughts, collected her purse and fell in line with the hundreds of others shuffling their way out of the room’s big double doors. As the throng of bodies squeezed in on her, she kept both hands close to her sides, each with fingers crossed:

Two on her left hand crossed tightly for the single mom of three, as promised, and two on her right hand, crossed even tighter, for herself.

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