The barrage of cuss words assaulting Lina’s ears had gone on far too long. Department policy strictly forbade reciprocating with anything less than professionalism but the pompous asshole on her line was testing her resolve. Muting the caller, she called out to Officer Lee for help:
“Boomer, I’ve got a guy on the line who says he’s a city councilman and he’s demanding we send him an officer to guard some opera singer who’s in town.”
“We don’t do that,” snapped Boomer.
“I told him that. And he’s now calling me every name in the book. He’s being a real jerk.”
“Tell him to hire a private bodyguard.”
Lina unmuted her mic, “Sir, I’ve consulted with a senior officer and was told to advise you to hire a private bodyguard. The Phoenix Police do not, as I’ve already told you, provide bodyguard services for the private sector.”
The caller shouted even louder: “Do you know who I am? I’m Barry Starr; I’m on the goddamned City Council and I used to be a Phoenix police officer! All I’m asking for is a little professional courtesy. Who the fuck are you, some know-nothing bitch, to refuse my request?”
While department policy dictated professionalism, communications operators did not have to take this kind of abuse. Lina followed the script for just this sort of situation: “Sir, if you continue to use profanity, I will have to terminate this call.”
“Terminate? Fuck you, you fucking little cunt! I demand to speak with your captain!”
Lina again muted her mic. “Boomer, he’s demanding to speak with the captain.”
Boomer marched over to Lina’s side and plugged into her desk jack. “Hello,” he growled, “This is Officer Lee. As my colleague has already advised you, the Phoenix Police Department does not provide free security details for citizens.”
“I’m Barry Starr! I pay your fucking salary, officer!”
“And I fucking pay yours. The answer is still ‘no’.”
“Let me speak to the goddamn captain!”
“Happy to transfer you. Please hold.” Boomer reached over Lina and punched in the captain’s extension, who picked up on the first ring.
“Captain, this is Officer Lee. I have Councilman Barry Starr on the line—”
“Oh, Christ, not him again.”
“Yeah, him again. Some opera singer is in town and Starr wants one of our uniforms to serve as her personal bodyguard.”
“We don’t do that.”
“I told him that, sir, but he won’t take ‘no’ for an answer. And he’s been extremely abusive to one of our Com Ops.”
“Shit! Fine, put him through.”
Boomer hit the transfer button, patching the call through. He and Lina listened in as Captain O’Malley told the overbearing councilman where to stuff it and to never again speak to his people with such disrespect. When Starr began cursing at him, the O’Malley promptly hung up. Lina’s extension immediately began to ring.
“A1812,” she answered.
“This is Captain O’Malley. Please inform everyone in Communications that if that pompous S.O.B. calls back again, they have my permission to hang up on him.”
Boomer and Lina slapped palms, celebrating their moment of vindication. It felt good knowing someone had their backs, and especially good knowing it was the Bureau captain.
Lina sighed, glad to be done with the call, but getting cursed out first thing on a Wednesday morning had rubbed her nerves raw. Her coworkers sensed this and commiserated.
“I’m glad you got that call and not me,” said Inga. “I’d of given it right back to him…and probably gotten my ass fired.”
Faye piped up: “Speaking of ‘fired’, did you hear about Rosita in radio?”
The others shook their heads. Dee asked, “Is she the cute one with the super-short hair?”
Faye nodded. “That’s her. Apparently, she was making out with another girl in some park in the Union Hills district…”
“Did you say ‘another girl’?” asked Marley, more curious than appalled.
“Huh. I never would have pegged her for a lesbian,” said Inga.
Faye issued a flimsy rebuttal. “We don’t know for sure that she is. Regardless, rumor has it she and her friend had both been drinking, and one thing led to another. They were sitting on a park bench, kissing, when a district-six beat officer saw them and arrested them for public indecency. Rosita was fired the next day.”
“Since when is kissing in public an act of public indecency?” asked Dee.
“I heard the department has zero tolerance for homosexuality. Still, they were just kissing,” said Lina.
“If it had been a guy she was with, she’d never have been arrested, let alone, fired.” said Inga.
Marley instantly thought of her lunch with Muenster and the officer he referred to as ‘Pie Face.’ “The Department could have at least let her resign in lieu of firing, like the officer I heard about yesterday on my ride-along. He was visiting prostitutes during his lunch hour. While on duty.In uniform.”
“Holy crap!” cried Faye. “And they let him resign?”
“It happens all the time, according to my brother-in-law,” said Lina.
“Civilians, especially female civilians, are always punished more severely than officers. Officers practically have to commit murder to get fired,” added Inga. “By the way, how is Sergeant Stupid these days? Any new exploits?”
Lina laughed and rolled her eyes. “Nothing lately, thank god…Hey, Marley, how was your ride-along yesterday? Anything interesting happen?”
Marley thought a moment before replying. “Mostly traffic stops and reports. Nothing very exciting, except maybe the tour of the morgue and the autopsy. That was interesting.”
“An autopsy!” cried Faye. “I’m so glad I didn’t have to do that on my ride-along.”
“It was okay, actually. I found it rather fascinating.”
“What about your ride-along officer?” teased Lina. “Did you find him at all fascinating?”
Marley made a face. “Not really my type.”
“Old, fat, and married?” asked Inga, laughing.
“Old and fat, but not married,” replied Marley. “Though he does have a girlfriend.”
Dee gave Marley a sympathetic look. “Give it time. You’ll find someone. And he’ll be young and fit and spectacularly single.”
Inga perked up and reached for her purse. She pulled out a piece of paper, unfolded it, and flattened it out on her desktop. She read the title on the page out loud for all in earshot to hear, but directed her words specifically at Marley:
“Ten Reasons a Cucumber is Better Than a Man.”
The others were now grinning and leaning in so as not to miss a single word.
“Number one: A cucumber won’t tell you that size doesn’t matter.”
Giggles and nods of agreement.
“Number two: A cucumber will stay hard for over a week.”
Raised eyebrows and salacious smiles.
“Three: A cucumber doesn’t care if you’re a virgin.”
Panic struck Lina and her eyes flew to Faye.
“Don’t even worry about that,” Faye whispered to her, reassuringly.
“Number four: A cucumber will never make you sleep on the wet spot.”
Dee and Faye both groaned with recognition.
“I can definitely relate to that one,” said Dee.
“Wet spot?” asked Lina. “I don’t get it.”
Faye whispered into Lina’s ear to explain.
“Oh, gross!” cried Lina, prompting a burst of laughter from the others.
“Five: A cucumber will never tell you you’re fat.” Inga looked up from the paper, laughing, but still very much pissed at her ex: “Manny told me that all time. God, he made me so damn mad!” She returned to the paper: “Six…” Inga stopped and looked to Dee. “This one’s for you, Dee: A cucumber won’t run off with a waitress, a cheerleader, or an ex-nun.”
Dee didn’t laugh aloud, but smiled inwardly as she dryly lamented, “If only I’d married a cucumber instead…but then I wouldn’t have had Tad.”
“Seven: A cucumber won’t lie to you about having a vasectomy.”
Lina’s mouth fell open. “Guys lie about that?”
“Guys lie about everything,” replied Inga. “Eight: You’ll never find out that a cucumber is married, on penicillin, or trying to screw your sister.”
Everyone but Marley laughed especially hard at the last one. For Marley, number eight hit a little too close to home. Recent memories of how her brother-in-law—Jane’s husband—and even her own brother, Mitch, had tried to have sex with her when she’d spent the night at their respective homes, all while their unsuspecting wives and kids slept, just like Buck had done after that night of strawberry daiquiris on her eighteenth birthday. She’d begun to question if it was just her, if she had somehow courted their advances, or if all women of her age group experienced such unwanted sexual attention. Number eight answered that question: It wasn’t just her.
“Nine: Nobody cares about the color of your cucumber’s skin.”
Everyone looked to Dee, expectant.
“Has Eli called you yet?” asked Faye.
Dee gave a sad little pout and shook her head.
“It’s only been a couple days,” said Lina. “He might still call.”
“I doubt it. And it’s probably best if he doesn’t. Friday’s most likely my last day here, and Tad and I will have to move back to Arkansas.”
“Did you talk to Pinkus?” asked Inga.
“And?” asked Inga.
“He said he’d see what he could do, but he couldn’t make any promises. He wasn’t very encouraging.”
A heavy silence fell over them, each feeling Dee’s pain. One by one, their incoming lines lit up and they turned to their keyboards to attend to their calls. Throughout the morning, the calls kept coming, keeping them busy and distracted, forgetting, for a while at least, any and all personal concerns. When the phones finally quieted, Marley stretched and yawned, then asked Inga:
“So what’s number ten?”
Inga shuffled the papers on her desk to find the list. Found, she read number ten to herself. “Meh, it’s not very funny; kind of scary, in fact: A Cucumber can’t give you herpes, syphilis, or gonorrhea.”
“Yikes,” said Lina. “That is scary.”
A smug but excited look came over Faye’s face. “Well, here’s another thing a cucumber can’t give you,” she said, holding out the heart-shaped pendant attached to the gold chain around her neck.
“Is that from your secret sergeant?” asked Lina.
Faye nodded like a bobblehead doll, smiling so hard she just might split her face in two.
“When are you going to tell us his name?” asked Inga.
“When the divorce is final…” she answered, then did some quick math in her head. “In exactly twenty-nine days.”
“Syphilis, gonorrhea, wet spots,” said Lina, her voice filled with comic dismay. “I don’t know. Maybe I should cancel my date on Saturday night and go buy myself a cucumber instead.”
“I hear Bashas has them on sale at forty cents a pound,” said Dee.
Marley crossed her legs, squeezed her thighs together, and asked:
“How much for a bushel?”