The day shift was over and done and the potluck celebrating the end of the long twelve-week training period had begun. All the civilian Crime Stop operators were squeezed into the small breakroom for the occasion, gathered around a table laden with home-cooked food as each awaited their turn to dish up. A roar of laughter suddenly rose up from the group: A bleary-eyed Marley had just set out a large bowl of creamed cucumber salad, giving a tired wink to Inga as she did. Inga’s cucumber list was, by now, famously known to most everyone in Communications, including the women in radio, the shift officers, and the duty sergeants. Inga accepted the joke graciously and was the first to dish up a large plate of the crunchy dish, exclaiming, “You know what they say: A cucumber a day keeps the obstetrician away!”
Amid the laughter, the dishing up, and the steady influx of hungry employees, Marley, Inga, Faye, and Dee shimmied off to a corner where they encircled Lina. They listened, enrapt, while eating from their heaping plates, as Lina described her night of terror.
“What do you think he would have done, had he gotten inside?” asked Dee.
“I have no idea,” replied Lina. “I’m just glad the police and my dad got there when they did.”
“Why was your dad there?” asked Faye.
“I panicked and called my dad instead of Crime Stop—I know, I’m a complete airhead,” she admitted, laughing.
“So, is he in jail now?” asked Marley.
Her mouth full, Lina nodded, then swallowed. “But probably not for long. His parents have money, so I imagine they’ll bail him out.”
“Oh, god,” said Inga, “You need to get an order of protection against him ASAP.”
“I did,” said Lina. “My sister took me over to the courthouse yesterday. He’s not allowed to call me or come within five hundred feet of my residence or workplace. And he still has to answer to the felony charge; hopefully, he’ll be going back to jail before too long.”
“Let’s hope that day comes sooner, rather than—” A tap on Dee’s shoulder stopped her. It was Sergeant Pinkus.
“Can I see you in my office?” he asked.
Dee’s stomach clenched. She knew this was probably going to be bad news.
“Sure,” she said, trying not to let her emotions show.
As the other women watched them leave, Marley gestured toward the feast on the table. “All this makes me sad. You two,” she said, as she looked to Lina and Faye, “Are going to swing shift next week. And if Dee resigns, that’ll just leave me and Inga on days.”
Lina tried to look on the bright side: “We’ll see each other during shift change…and when any of us works a double.”
Marley and Inga, echoing each other’s thoughts, spoke in unison:
“It won’t be the same.”
Dee followed Pinkus down the long hallway to his office, her thoughts in chaos as she scrambled to come up with some sort of survival plan that didn’t include moving back to Arkansas. She could always start temping again, but the minimum wage the temp jobs paid would not be enough for her to keep the apartment. She lived paycheck to paycheck—except for a paltry amount of savings, there was no nest egg to fall back on while she looked for another job. With a return home to her disapproving parents looming in her immediate future, the clenching in her stomach now felt like a large, angry ulcer about to burst.
As Pinkus ushered her into his office, the pain in her stomach worsened. She felt as though she might throw up at any moment.
“Have a seat,” said Pinkus, as he situated himself behind his desk.
Dee sat, stiff and stone-faced, as she waited for the axe to fall.
Without speaking, Pinkus opened a file—Dee’s personnel file—and removed a sheet of paper. He laid it on the desk and slid it toward her.
So this was it, Dee thought. It was likely a letter of termination and now, somehow, she had to muster the strength to read and sign it, all without bursting into tears, screaming in anger, or vomiting all over Pinkus’ desk.
“Aren’t you going to read it?” Pinkus asked, a little smile forming on his lips.
Dee didn’t know how to interpret his odd smile—was it his way of coping with the stress of firing a subordinate, or was he deriving a cruel sense of fun from Dee’s angst?
“Read it,” he said or, rather, ordered.
Dee steeled herself and picked up the paper. As she read, the dam burst and tears rushed forth.
Pinkus’ smile widened. “Will that work for you?” he asked.
Dee stared in disbelief at the type on the paper:
Shift Re-assignment: Split-shift,10 a.m. – 6 p.m.
N-days: Saturday, Sunday
Overcome with emotion, she could only nod her reply.
“It wasn’t easy,” said Pinkus. “I had to pull some strings. A split-shift is something we’ve never done before, but I argued that it will give us coverage during the busiest hours of both shift one and two, especially during the shift change. The City’s personnel manager agreed to let us try it out and evaluate its effectiveness in six months. There’s still the issue of seniority, however; City policy mandates that this shift option be offered first to everyone who outranks you…”
Dee’s hopes fell, as did her face, which Pinkus quickly noted.
“Don’t worry. I’ll talk to the other Com Ops and deal with that matter over the next week. For right now, the split-shift is yours to accept or decline.”
“I accept!” cried Dee. Her spontaneous outburst caught them both by surprise. Dee began to laugh, as did Pinkus.
“Great,” said Pinkus, rising from his desk. He crossed the room and opened his door to see Dee out. “I’ll see you on Monday.”
Tad had sensed Dee’s excited mood ever since she picked him up from daycare. The car ride home was a bouncy one, and not because Bessie needed new shocks, but because there was just so much happiness in the air, the mood was downright bouncy. Dee couldn’t remember the last time she felt this happy. So happy, in fact, she stopped at Smitty’s Superstore on the way home and bought a box of Little Debbie chocolate chip cookies for Tad, fresh flowers for the apartment, and a bottle of Blue Nun wine for herself.
As they trundled out of the car at home, Tad yelled out, “Beat ya there!” and raced ahead. For the first time in her adult memory, Dee began to run, giving chase to her son while laughing like an asylum inmate. She caught up with him at the apartment door.
“I won!” Tad exclaimed.
“You sure did,” gasped Dee, as she unlocked the door.
“What do I win?” he asked, hopping up and down as the two continued into the apartment.
Dee set the grocery bag and flowers on the counter, then pulled out the box of Little Debbie’s.
“First prize is a cookie!” she said.
“Yay!” shouted Tad, running around in tight little circles in the living room.
Yes, Dee thought, as she handed him the cookie, just what he needs, more sugar.
Dee poured herself a glass of the Blue Nun and took to the task of arranging the flowers, only to realize she didn’t own a flower vase. Making do, she grabbed a Tupperware flour canister from the counter, dumped its mealy contents, and filled it with water. “There!” she said, happy with her quick thinking. She set the flowers on the rented dining table as Tad jumped up and down on the couch while munching his cookie, bits of chocolate chips falling to the couch with every jump.
Dee didn’t care. Let the chips fall where they may, she thought, laughing out loud. There was nothing that could spoil this day for her: She still had her job. They could keep the apartment. No returning to hot dogs and boxed mac ‘n cheese. Best of all, they didn’t have to go crawling back to Arkansas. It was a perfect day. There was nothing she needed or yearned for that could make this day any better. On this day and at this moment she was more content than a twenty-six-year-old wannabe divorcée had a right to be.
And then the phone rang.
“Nope,” said Dee, knowing that the only people calling her on a Friday night would be her parents, and even they, with all their judgmental, fire-and-brimstone criticism of her, couldn’t ruin this day. She picked up the phone and answered with over-the-top cheerfulness then braced herself for the usual onslaught of damning questions they were so practiced at slinging.
“Hi there!” said a voice, equally as cheery and sounding not at all like either her father or her mother. It was definitely male, but who? Dee fell silent as she tried to process who it was the voice belonged to. It was vaguely familiar but she couldn’t attach a name to it.
She finally gave up. “Who is this?”
“Oh, how quickly they forget!” he moaned. “Here’s a clue: Phil the Talking Police Car.”
“Eli?” Dee asked, not quite believing her ears.
“So you do remember!” he teased.
Dee was embarrassed but excited. Her day just got impossibly better. “Of course I remember. I’m so sorry, I just wasn’t expecting you to call.”
“I would have called sooner but I’ve been crazy busy this past week,” he said.
“No worries, I totally understand,” she said, fighting to contain the impulse to burst out into shouts of unbridled, unabashed joy.
“So, here’s the deal. I managed to snag a free pass to the Big Sky drive-in theater for tomorrow night. Saturday is double-feature night: Dawn of the Dead and Invasion of the Body Snatchers—a back-to-back scream-fest! Do you think you could handle that?” he said, his voice filled with daring.
“I most certainly could,” replied Dee, “but I’m afraid I don’t have a sitter for Tad.”
“He can come, too,” pushed Eli.
Dee looked at Tad, now sprawled on the couch, licking chocolatey cookie crumbs from his fingers. “I’m sorry, Eli, I don’t think so. That’s not really appropriate viewing for a four-year-old. It’d probably give him nightmares.”
“Oh, right, of course.”
The disappointment in Eli’s voice sank Dee’s hopes of the two ever getting together.
“Maybe some other time, then,” he mumbled.
“Sure,” she said, feeling like this might be the last time she’d ever hear from him. What had been such a perfect day was ending in a colossal letdown. There was a heavy silence between them as she waited for him to politely say goodbye and dismiss her, most likely forever.
Finally, Eli broke the silence: “So, then…Italian, Chinese, or Mexican?”
The unexpected question lifted Dee, yet confused her. “Italian, Chinese, or Mexican what?”
“Take-out,” he replied. “For dinner tomorrow night. What’s your preference?”
Dee laughed. “Um, Italian?”
“Beer or wine?”
“Red or White?”
“Red. Definitely red.”
“Tomorrow night, then. Eight o’clock sharp.”