Her clock radio’s alarm didn’t go off; she dribbled toothpaste on her blouse and had to change at the last minute; then she caught every damn red light on the way to work—she was well on her way to being late. Again. The last thing Marley wanted was to raise the ire of Sergeant Hook first thing in the morning. Not a good way to start her Wednesday. But she had made up some time in finding a premium parking spot on Eighth Avenue and even more time by catching the closing elevator as she flew into the lobby. The time, according to her watch, was straight up seven, so unless she tripped on her way down the ramp, she could get herself plugged into her phone before the clock struck 0701 hours and save herself the humiliation of Sergeant Hook’s dirty looks and reprimands. The ramp lay just ahead…
Marley made it down the ramp without incident but stopped herself short at its base, skidding to a halt in front of the duty sergeant’s desk.
“Good morning!” said the strange man sitting behind the desk.
“Hi,” said Marley, unsurely.
“I’m Sergeant Garvey, your new shift sergeant.”
Marley took a split-second to size him up: Lanky and relaxed, comfortable in his own skin, so unlike Sergeant Hook. And though well into his thirties, he possessed a wholesome, clean-shaven boyishness whose smile radiated corn-fed goodness and down-home cheer, like he just stepped off the cover of Farm and Tractor magazine. And on his ring finger, Marley noted, a bright and shiny wedding band. Well, that sucks, thought Marley.
“And you are…?” he asked.
“Marlette Fahlstrom,” she replied. “But I go by Marley.”
The sergeant rose and offered his hand for Marley to shake, which she accepted.
“I’m introducing myself to everyone as they arrive. I just want you to know that my door—” He chuckled, conceding the fact that he had no door, “—or rather, my desk is always open, so if you ever have a problem or need to talk, I’m available.”
“Great, thanks,” said Marley, reclaiming her hand.
Sergeant Garvey pointed at her necklace. “That’s a beautiful cross. Are you a believer?”
“A believer?” asked Marley, brows arched.
“In Jesus Christ,” he clarified. “As your savior.”
“Oh, that! Of course,” Marley said, trying her hardest to be affirming yet noncommittal.
“I ask because I run a bible study group every week for police employees; both officers and civilians are welcome. We’re a really fun group. Just putting it out there, if you’re interested in joining us
Marley began to stammer. “Oh, a bible study! Wow, that’s, well…”
Just then the colored light posts in the complaint room lit up and the chime began to sound. Music to Marley’s ears: “I’d better get plugged in!” she said, all too eager, then rushed off.
“Think about it and let me know,” Garvey yelled after her, face beaming with hope.
“I will,” Marley called back, knowing full well she wouldn’t. She was never so relieved as she was at that moment to have escaped an unwanted invitation. It was easy enough to say no to her born-again brother and his wife, but to her new sergeant? That was a stickier situation. A social pitfall if ever there was one.
After the phones quieted down, Inga, just across the conveyor belt, greeted Marley. “Hey there! So, what do you think?” she asked, tilting her head toward the sergeant’s desk.
“He seems okay. Definitely nicer than Hook,” she replied.
“And better looking,” Dee, one desk over, added.
“So what do you think happened to Hook?” asked Marley. “Not that I care…”
“A G.O.D transfer,” replied Inga.
“God transfer?” asked Dee. “What on earth is that?”
“For the Good Of the Department,” explained Inga. “I heard he’s now at the shooting range, where there aren’t any female employees to tempt him.”
“Good,” said Marley, “Maybe he’ll shoot himself in the foot while he’s there.”
“Or someplace a little higher up,” joked Dee.
An outburst nearby nabbed their attention and piqued their curiosity: Lina and Faye’s heads were bent together, both doubled over with laughter.
“What’s so funny?” asked Inga.
“Oh, my god,” Faye said, holding her side. “You guys have to hear this.”
Lina, face red as a beet and tears in her eyes from the strain of laughing, tried to speak but another outburst by Faye ambushed her.
“Tell them!” Faye insisted, “About the toilet paper! Oh, my god!”
Lina shushed her. “Quiet!” she said, looking around the room. In a hushed tone, Lina began, “My brother-in-law, Sergeant Gross, has a Superman fetish…”
Dee, Marley, and Inga were all practically climbing over their desktops, trying to get close enough to hear.
“He gets off on Superman? Like, sexually?” asked Dee.
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Lina replied. “He collects all kinds of Superman stuff—comic books, action figures, shot glasses, t-shirts, even underwear, anything that has the Superman logo on it. My sister told me he even has toilet paper with the logo on it.”
“What?” asked Marley, in disbelief. “How old is he?”
“Thirty-eight, believe it or not. And get this, he wears a Superman t-shirt under his police uniform. Every. Single. Day.”
“He sounds like a certifiable nine-eighteen,” proclaimed Inga. “That’s some deep-rooted psychological shit. Do his superiors know about him?”
“Where on earth does one go to buy Superman toilet paper?” pondered Marley.
Faye pushed herself further into the circle of heads poised over the conveyor belt. “Tell them what he did last night, at dinner.”
Lina violently shook her head. “No! I can’t!”
Faye didn’t miss a beat. “He shows up to her dad’s house last night, for dinner mind you, wearing a Superman tank top and a pair of skimpy little, skin-tight shorts. And then—”
“Oh, god!” cried Lina, burying her face in her hands.
“—when he’s done eating, he stands up and belches, causing his dick to fall out of his shorts and flop down on the dinner table!”
“Say what?” screamed Inga. “In front of everyone?”
“No,” said Lina, wiping the tears from her eyes. “He did it after my dad and Kerri left the room. It was a show he put on just for me. Lucky me.”
“A show?” asked Inga. “You mean it wasn’t an accident?”
“It was no accident,” Lina replied, dead serious.
“May I have everyone’s attention?”
At the sound of Sergeant Garvey’s voice, the women broke from their huddle and returned to their chairs. Sergeant Garvey stood in the center of the complaint room, arm held aloft with clipboard in hand.
“For those interested in getting in some overtime, I’ve got a sign-up sheet for anyone willing to pull a double, or work a weekend shift.”
As the sergeant spoke, Agnes, in stealth mode, quietly rolled her chair up behind him. Then, inexplicably, she reached out and ran her hand up the inseam of his inner thigh.
Garvey jumped at the touch, spun around, and stared in horror at the sight of the perpetrator, Agnes, who just sat there, smiling stupidly at him. The sergeant, completely rattled, slowly backed himself out of the complaint room until safely back at his desk, where he would stay the remainder of the shift.
Most all of the Com Ops in the room witnessed the breach, including the gang of five on the other side of the room—Faye, Lina, Dee, Marley and Inga—all of whom now sat in stunned silence. Agnes, conversely, went right back to taking calls, as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
“Did she just do what I think she did?” asked Marley.
“Yep,” replied Inga, not quite believing her own eyes. “She sure as shit did.”
All five continued staring, with morbid fascination, as Agnes repeatedly glanced back toward the sergeant’s desk, smiling at him like a lovesick school girl.
“Holy crap, she’s got the hots for the new sergeant,” Faye whispered to the others.
“Oh, that poor man,” said Dee, with genuine sympathy.
Marley slowly shook her head. “He’s married, and he doesn’t strike me as the type to cheat on his wife.”
“Especially with someone like Agnes,” said Inga.
Lina leaned over Inga’s desk and cupped a hand to her mouth to shield some juicy gossip. “I heard she was married to a Maricopa County deputy, a guy named Tom Dowdy, and that he divorced her.”
The huddle of five quickly reformed over the conveyor belt.
“Are you serious?” asked Faye. “I can’t imagine any guy who’d want to do her.”
“Apparently Deputy Dowdy did, not once, but twice. They had two kids together. Two little boys,” said Lina.
“Who told you all of this?” asked Dee, somewhat skeptical.
“One of the dispatchers who’s friends with Agnes’ mom, so I’m pretty sure it’s legit.”
“Damn, if she can get a guy, maybe there’s still hope for me,” joked Marley.
From her periphery, Lina could see Agnes getting up from her chair. “Shhh!” she told the others, who all promptly pulled away from the huddle. Each kept a furtive eye on Agnes as she grabbed her coffee cup and headed to the breakroom. As she passed by the sergeant, Agnes playfully drummed her fingertips along his desktop, accompanied by a salacious smile. Garvey managed a weak smile in response then abruptly turned away and buried himself in his paperwork. Agnes’s smile melted. Begrudgingly, but much to Sergeant Garvey’s relief, she walked off in a huff.
Constrained snickers rattled through the five onlookers.
“Oh, that poor, poor man,” repeated Dee, even more sympathetically than before.
“Speaking of married sergeants, how’s it going with yours, Faye?” asked Inga.
“He’s separated,” Faye corrected. “And it’s going great. I’m not ashamed to admit I’m head over heels. And his divorce will be final in thirty-six days–not that I’m counting the days or anything,” she added, laughing.
The others all joined Faye in laughing but then all abruptly stopped, all but Marley that is. Soon, Marley realized that she, alone, was laughing and the gaiety on her coworkers’ faces had all turned to stone as they blankly stared at Marley…or, rather, at the person standing behind her.
Marley turned to find Agnes staring down at her, a refilled coffee cup in hand
“Hi,” squeaked Marley.
“I saw you talking to Sergeant Garvey when you came in this morning,”
Agnes spoke in a tone which, to Marley, sounded very nearly like an accusation—of what, Marley had no idea. She hesitated to reply for fear of angering Agnes who, after all, was holding a cup of steaming hot coffee over Marley which, she reasoned, would burn like hell should Agnes decide to deploy it.
“Uh-huh,” Marley carefully replied, by now afraid to even breathe, let alone say anything that might set Agnes off.
“I was wondering what he said to you.”
Marley’s mind raced to replay the morning’s conversation she’d had with Garvey. “Nothing much. Just introduced himself.”
“That’s it? I heard him tell you to think about it and let him know. What was that all about?”
“Oh, that. He asked if I was interested in joining the bible study class he leads. That’s all.”
“He didn’t ask me if I was interested. Did he ask any of you?” Agnes challenged, posing the question to the other four women who, in turn, shook their heads. Agnes pointed her coffee cup at Marley. “So, why did he ask you?”
“Because of my necklace, I guess,” Marley replied, holding her gold cross up for Agnes’s inspection.
“Oh,” clipped Agnes. She chewed on her lower lip for a bit, mulling a thought. Slowly, she began to smile and her eyes refocused as if a little lightbulb had just gone off over her head. “Got it,” she said, satisfied, then turned away and ambled back to her desk.
Marley and the others let out a collective sigh of relief. The sustained tension of the Agnes threat soon gave way to nervous giggles: Lina was the first to surrender; one by one, the others fell to tittering; Marley was the last to give in, but give in she did—so thankful and relieved was she to not be wearing Agnes’s coffee.
By eight a.m. a torrent of calls began to flood into Crime Stop and they never let up. The day sped by, with little time for chatting, save for the mutual exchange of misery and occasional cursing over the stress-inducing calls from John and Jane Q. Public. The call volume for the first shift, on an average day, was on the order of 75 to 100 calls per Com Op. On a busy day, as was this particular Wednesday, some of the more efficient Crime Stop operators could log as many as 150. And then there were the superstars, those rare gems who could log 200 or more calls in a single eight-hour shift. For the day shift, that rare gem was Lina.
“What are you up to?” asked Faye.
Lina counted her log sheets—25 calls per page—flipping the sheets as she counted.
“223…Phoenix Police—” Muting her mic, she amended her count, “224.”
Faye and Dee exchanged looks of amazement across the conveyor belt. “I only just started my fifth page,” said Dee. “How does she do it?”
“For starters, she types a gazillion words a minute,” said Faye.
Finished with her call, Lina’s fingers flew across her keyboard as she entered the call into the CAD. “It’s just adrenaline,” she told Faye and Dee. “I’m so buzzed I’m getting my own place this weekend; everything seems to be moving at lightning speed.”
“Including your fingers,” laughed Faye.
“I’m moving this weekend, too! Where are you moving to?” asked Dee.
“A one-bedroom on Mariposa, just off First Street. I’m so excited I can’t stand it.”
Marley had just punched out of a call and jumped headfirst into the conversation. “How funny. I’m moving this weekend, too. On Saturday.”
“Where’s your place at?” asked Dee.
“Twenty-First Avenue and Northern,” Marley answered.
“In a complex?”
“No, it’s a one-bedroom cottage. There’re four cottages on the property all together.”
Inga finished up her call. “That’s nice that you don’t have to share any walls with your neighbors.”
“Do you mind if I ask how much the rent is?” Dee asked.
“Two twenty-five a month.”
“That’s not bad!” exclaimed Dee. She turned to Lina.
“And how much is yours?”
Lina hesitated, embarrassed by the question. “I don’t really know,” she said. “My dad’s paying for it.”
“Oh, sahweeeet!” cried Inga. “Can your dad adopt me?”
Sensing Lina’s discomfort, Faye came to her rescue and shifted the focus to someone else. “What’s your new place like, Dee?”
“I found a really good deal. As a move-in bonus, the first month’s free with a one-year lease. That’s a month of rent I can put toward hiring another private investigator.”
“That is a good deal. Where’s it at?” asked Marley.
“The Thunderbird Apartments in north Phoenix,” Dee replied.
Inga screwed up her face. “Thunderbird Apartments—that sounds really familiar. Is that the huge complex at Nineteenth Avenue and Thunderbird?”
“That’s the one,” said Dee. “I think the address is 1942 West Thunderbird.”
Inga typed the address into her CAD. A look of concern clouded her face. “Shit,” she said. “Check out the call history for that address.”
The other four women typed in the same address, followed by a chorus of disparaging exclamations. They all looked to Dee who did her best to sound optimistic:
“There’s bound to be a lot of police calls at such a big complex. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
Lina read off some of the calls’ codes from the list. “Lots of vehicle thefts and burglaries. And a 415G, person with a gun, just last month.”
“And a sexual assault two days ago,” added Faye.
“No wonder they’re giving away a month of rent,” said Inga.
“Are you sure you want to move there?” asked Marley.
Conflicted, Dee didn’t answer immediately. “I really need that free month.”
“Maybe you can find another place, somewhere safer, that also offers some kind of move-in bonus,” Lina countered.
“There isn’t time to find another place. I have to move in just two days…this Friday.”
Inga shook her head. “As a single woman living alone, I’d be scared to death to live there.”
“Well, I won’t be alone; I’ll have Tad,” said Dee, half-laughing, knowing a five-year-old child could offer her no protection. She cleared her screen of the call history and punched back into her phone. “Besides,” she added, “I’ve already signed the lease.”