Old man in a spooky graveyard.

A busy Monday morning marked the beginning of the end of the new-hires’ twelve-week training period, and the non-stop incoming calls left them little time to discuss that big unknown which was burning a hole in their collective brains:

When would they get their permanent shift assignments?

Around noon the citizens of Phoenix took a breather and gave the Com Ops a much welcomed break. Lina, exhausted by the crush of calls, blew out a puff of air, sending her wispy bangs aflutter.

“Tell me about it,” said Faye, in commiseration.

Dee, across the conveyer belt from Lina, joined in: “Well, that was fun.”

“Damn,” said Inga, “I sure hope, for my permanent assignment, I get Mondays off, like I requested.”

I’m hoping against hope for Saturdays and Sundays, though I know that won’t likely happen,” said Marley.

“Not a snowball’s chance in hell,” said Faye, stretching her arms.

All five breathed an anxious sigh, each contemplating the fate that awaited them.

“How was everyone’s weekend?” asked Inga. “Everyone get moved okay?”

“For the most part,” said Dee.

“Still unpacking, but, yeah,” Marley added.

Inga looked to Lina who now had her hand cupped ‘round her brow to hide her face.

“Oh, god,” groaned Lina, remembering her Saturday and the humiliating bikini-skating adventure that had gone so catastrophically wrong. “Don’t even ask.”

The other four were all snickering now, wondering what new calamity Lina had gotten herself into this time.

“Oh, c’mon!” begged Inga. “You have to tell us now!”

“Phoenix Police,” said Lina, saved by a call. Muting her mic, she glanced at Inga and the others, eyes teasing, “I’ll tell you all about it sometime, over a few beers.”

The conversation stalled, giving Dee an opportunity to share with the others the excitement of her weekend escapade: “Tad and I had a lot of fun at the fair yesterday.”

“Oh, yeah?” queried Inga. “What all did you do?”

“I’ve lived in Phoenix my whole life and I’ve never once been to the fair,” sighed Marley.

“Oh, you should go,” Dee told her. “There’re all kinds of things to see and do. We rode the carousel and Eli won Tad a stuffed animal at the shooting gallery.

“Eli? Who’s Eli?” asked Faye.

A shy yet sly smile gave away Dee’s feelings for the officer she’d been thinking about nonstop since meeting him the day before. The others caught on immediately.

“Oh, do tell!” said Inga.

Lina ended her call just in time to get in on the ribbing. “Now that you’ve let that juicy little tidbit slip, you have to tell us everything.”

“What’s his name again?” asked Marley.

“Eli Colton. He’s an officer in the Community Relations Bureau. He was manning the department’s booth yesterday.”

Faye crinkled her nose. “Eli Colton? Why does that name sound familiar…”

“You’ve probably seen him on TV. He does public service announcements for the department,” replied Dee.

“Ding! Ding!” said Faye with a laugh, then instantly turned serious. “But isn’t he black?” she asked, in a hushed tone.

“Is he?” asked Dee, with a smug little smile. “I hadn’t noticed.”

Dee’s droll response set the others off and their guffaws drew attention. Across the aisle, Marley caught sight of Agnes who was staring daggers her way. Marley turned to the others and jumped right back into the conversation to escape Agnes’ glare and obvious ire over ditching her at the barbecue: “I saw him on the news the other night warning kids against the dangers of drugs. He’s incredibly handsome, and charming as the devil.”

Dee smiled inwardly and nodded, “That’s him, that’s the one.” And then added, as if an afterthought, “He asked me for my phone number.”

The bombshell she dropped hit the others and exploded. Eyes lit up; hands slapped down; jaws dropped.

“Did you give it to him?” asked Lina.

“I did. But I doubt he’ll call,” said Dee. “Turns out he already has a girlfriend. She came by the booth. Blonde. Big boobs. Gorgeous. You know, your basic nightmare.”

“You’re not exactly chopped liver,” said Marley. “He’ll call.”

“Just because he’s got a girlfriend doesn’t mean they’re serious,” said Faye.

“That’s right,” added Lina. “She’s just a girlfriend, not a wife—girlfriends are fair game.”

Not one to mince words, Inga threw in her two cents: “Girlfriend or not, guys that good looking are almost always trouble. The better looking they are, the bigger the asshole.”

The others nodded in concurrence, conceding that, though jaded, Inga’s opinion rang of the bitter truth.

“Well,” joked Faye, “Even if he’s not boyfriend material, he might still be useful for a good roll in the hay.”

“That’s true, Faye. It’s not like I’m looking for anything serious, myself,” said Dee.

“Just make sure you’re the one doing the using, and not the other way around,” said Inga, directing her warning at Dee.

Dee shook her head, discouraged by all the relationship pitfalls and caveats she’d failed to consider. “It’s all probably a moot point, anyway,” she said. “I’ll have to resign if I don’t get assigned to the day shift. And with my low seniority, there’s not much chance of that happening.”

“You don’t have anyone who can watch Tad at night?” asked Marley.

“No. The daycare center is only open ‘til seven.”

“Inga, what about you? Who’ll watch your kids if you don’t get days?” asked Lina.

“My parents, thankfully. If it weren’t for them, I’d be in the same boat as Dee. If you do end up going to second or third shift, Dee, go talk to Pinkus before handing in your resignation. Maybe the department will make an exception due to your hardship situation.”

A deflated Dee replied: “I told Sergeant Pinkus during my interview that I could work any shift. He made it clear that shift work was a requirement, so I doubt it’d do any good to talk to him. I’ll just have to let the chips fall where they may.”

~ ~

The shift was nearly over and Marley had thankfully managed to avoid Sergeant Garvey all day. She was really hoping to not have to explain to him why she’d skipped out on his barbecue but, now, here he was, just inches away from her, clipboard in hand. She readied herself for the dreaded confrontation.

“Hey, Marley.”

Marley punched out of the Crime Stop line and turned to face her sergeant. She offered up a smile but said nothing—if she didn’t bring up the barbecue, maybe he wouldn’t either.

“We missed you at the barbecue yesterday.”

Shit. “Oh, the barbecue. I’m so sorry I missed it.”

“What happened to you?”

“Something came up last minute, a family matter I couldn’t get out of. I’m really sorry.”

Across the room, Agnes watched Marley and Sergeant Garvey with the stone-cold eyes of a granite gargoyle.

“No worries,” said Sergeant Garvey. “We host a barbecue every Sunday. Maybe next time, then?”

“Maybe,” said Marley, forcing a smile.

“Anyway, I’ve got some good news for you. First, your ride-along is scheduled for tomorrow. Second, and I think you’ll be happy about this, you got your first choice of shift. Looks like we’ll be working together for a long time to come.” Garvey slipped a piece of paper onto her desk with her permanent shift assignment, neatly typed:

Shift Re-assignment: First shift, 7 am – 3 pm
N-Days: Wednesday, Thursday

Those nearby overheard the sergeant and were sitting bolt upright on veritable pins and needles as they awaited their turn to learn their fate.

Garvey passed Inga her sheet of paper, “Congratulations,” he told her.

“Hell, yes!” shouted Inga, showing Marley the paper. “I got days, too, with Tuesdays and Wednesdays off!”

Next to learn their fate were Lina and Faye. Both were thrilled that they, like Marley and Inga, had gotten their first choice—second shift, 3 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Garvey quickly handed Agnes her shift assignment, then rushed back across the room toward Dee’s workstation before Mount Saint Agnes had a chance to erupt.

“What the fuck!” she screamed out across the room. “Second shift was my last choice!”

Lina and Faye stared at each other, speechless. They both had hoped to escape Agnes by going to the swing shift. To their horror, she was going with them.

In a rush to avoid the wrath of Agnes, Garvey tossed his last sheet of paper at Dee and then beat feet. The paper caught a draft and glided over her head. Dee made no move to catch it, just sat and watched as it slowly wafted to the floor and settled at her feet.

Dee didn’t have it in her to look at the paper right away; every bone in her body sensed it was bad news. Let the chips fall where they may, she repeated to herself. Sucking in her breath, she leaned down and picked up the paper. Her heart sank like a block of cement, free-falling and crashing hard into the deepest trenches of her gut.

“Well?” asked Lina.

Dee fought back the tears and tried to clear the lump in her throat. “Graveyards,” she said.

Inga shook her head in defiance, then issued Dee a do-or-die order:

“Go talk to Pinkus!”

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