CHAPTER 31

Drawing of Muttley, cartoon dog.

It was another busy Monday morning at 620 West and Marley, Dee, and Inga escaped the bombardment of Crime Stop calls at their first opportunity.

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” Inga had urged the other two, both of whom were happy to join her in a well-deserved fifteen-minute break. After beating feet to the main break room and hitting the vending machines, the trio collapsed into plastic chairs and bemoaned their respective present situations. Inga griped about her kids and the stresses of motherhood:

“I swear, last night I wanted to wring each and every one of their little necks—especially my youngest, Jimmy. Yesterday he tried to flush Misty’s Barbie Doll down the toilet! Misty nearly killed him—took everything I had to pull her off of him…”

Dee nodded throughout Inga’s saga. “I’m so glad I only have one to deal with.”

“Count your blessings, Dee. And Marley—god, I envy you not having any kids. I can’t remember what it feels like to have a night all to myself.”

“It’s a mixed blessing,” Marley replied, with a sigh. “Living alone can get pretty lonely.”

Marley turned to Dee: “Speaking of blessings, did that Eli guy ever call you?”

Dee gagged on the Diet Rite cola she’d just sipped. Her face turned pink; just thinking about Eli and their Saturday night sex-capade brought on a fit of giggles.

Inga’s eyes widened, “Should we take that as a ‘yes’?”

Still gagging on her cola, Dee could only nod and giggle, and then nod some more. When she finally swallowed the cola, she quieted and calmly replied. “Yes, he called,” then burst out laughing again.

Marley and Inga exchanged looks of amusement.

“Well?” asked Inga. “Are you going to tell us about it or not?”

Dee raised a hand in the air as a signal to herself to calm down. She lowered her voice and asked the others, “Have you ever had your toes sucked?”

Marley and Inga busted up.

“Say what?” asked Inga.

The blush on Dee’s face deepened, yet she couldn’t wait to share the sordid details with her friends:

“Eli kept telling me how hot my feet are. The next thing I know, he’s getting himself off by sucking on my toes.”

Marley scrunched her face “Gross!”

“That’s disgusting!” cried Inga.

Dee gave them a knowing smile. “Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” she told them, launching them into another fit of laughter.

“So is it serious, this thing with Eli?” Inga asked.

Dee shrugged.

“There’s nothing like sucking on someone’s toes to cement a relationship,” joked Marley.

“I’m not sure if Eli’s really relationship material,” replied Dee. “Or father material, for that matter. He’s hinted that he wants to keep his options open. If I’ve learned anything over the years, there are two kinds of people in the world: givers and takers, and I suspect Eli is the latter.”

 “That’s too bad,” said Marley, her words all but drowned out by a loud herd of women who’d just invaded the breakroom, all of them wide-eyed and fresh-faced and wearing their brand-new ID badges.

“They must be the new batch of Com Op Ones,” said Dee.

Marley checked her watch. “And their timing is perfect; our break’s over. We need to get back to the phones.”

On the way out, a smirking Inga stopped and lifted her can of Fanta to the herd of new-hires, now pillaging the vending machines:

“Welcome to the dungeon, ladies!”

~ ~

Back in the complaint room, the day wore on until it was nearly quitting time. One of the radio operators from dispatch—a thirty-something, strictly-business female who exuded cool confidence—appeared in the center of the complaint room. She cleared her throat:

“May I have everyone’s attention?”

Marley, Dee, and Inga gave each other quizzical looks.

“My name’s Martina and I’m your ASPTEA union rep. I’m pleased to inform you that, after long negotiations with the City Manager’s Office, all personnel classified as a ‘Com Op One’ will be given a fifty-percent pay increase to achieve compensation parity with the ‘Com Op Two’ classification, effective immediately. This pay increase will be reflected on your next paycheck.” Martina ended her announcement with a huge smile at the Com Ops who looked back at her as if she’d just thrown a live grenade at them.

“Oh, and, you’re welcome,” Martina said, still smiling broadly, as she slipped back into the radio room.

She was no sooner gone when the grenade she’d dropped exploded, resulting in an eruption of excitement and a flood of questions from the Crime Stop operators.

“What did she just say?”

“We have a union?”

“What does ‘parity’ mean?’

“Did she say a fifty-percent pay increase?”

Martha, who helped lead the training academy, stood up from her cubicle and banged her hand against the top of her desk to get everyone’s attention.

“Allow me to interpret Martina’s announcement for you: Number one: The radio dispatchers are paid fifty-percent more than we are because of their higher pay grade. No more. All Com Op Ones, regardless of whether you’re a union member or not, will now receive the same pay as the Com Op Twos—that’s what ‘parity’ means. Number two: That means the starting pay for Com Op Ones has gone from $775 a month to $1,163 a month, which amounts to nearly a hundred dollars more a week…”

Martha had to pause because the squeals and hoots of joy from the complaint operators were drowning her out.

“And…” Martha added, yelling above the commotion, “Most important of all, with compensation parity, we complaint operators are no longer subordinate to the radio dispatchers. We are equals!”

Collective shouts of “Damn right!” and “Fuck yeah!” greeted Martha’s incredible news. This was a new day, a great day, a long-overdue day of redemption for the civilian women who’d been hired at half the pay of male officers to perform exactly the same job, and who had, since their hiring, endured the up-turned noses and condescending put-downs of the radio operators. As Martha said, no more.

As the news settled in, Marley, Dee, and Inga chattered about all the things they planned to do with the extra money.

“Tad and I can get a two-bedroom apartment!” said Dee.

“I can enroll the boys in the Montessori Preschool Program!” said Inga.

“And I can afford to get my phone number changed,” said Marley, frowning.

“Is that heavy breather still calling you?” asked Dee.

Marley didn’t have to answer; the repugnant look on her face confirmed that, yes, he most certainly was.

Inga mirrored Marley’s look of disgust: “You need to change your number ASAP. Do it today, as soon as you get home.”

Marley nodded. “I will,” she said, knowing, of course, that changing her number would be an exercise in futility if the caller was, in fact, who she thought he was. He’d just get the number from her parents or from another family member.

“I’m serious. Whoever’s calling you is a deranged pervert,” said Inga as an incoming call clicked in her ear. “Phoenix Police…A1815? Yeah, she’s right here. Hold on while I transfer you.” Inga punched four digits on her phone’s keypad and looked at Marley, whose extension was now ringing. “An officer is asking for you.”

“For me? What’s he want?”

“He didn’t say.”

Marley punched in her extension and answered: “A1815.”

“Yeah, hi, I need to run a plate. Can you help me out?”

“Sure,” replied Marley, wondering why he didn’t just ask Inga to do it. “What’s the plate number?”

“David William King, dash two five zero.”

Marley typed the number into her keyboard and waited for the vehicle registration to come up. “Okay, I’ve got it. Are you ready to write it down?”

“Yep, go ahead.”

“Vehicle is a 1978 Mazda GLC hatchback, silver in color, registered to—” Marley stopped herself. She, Marlette Fahlstrom, was the registered owner.

On the other end of the line, she heard a wheezy snickering, sounding every bit like the cartoon dog, Muttley, Dick Dastardly’s canine sidekick.

“Who is this?” she demanded, trying to sound stern but was by now laughing so hard at herself that she was pathetically unconvincing.

“Badge number twelve-fifty. Officer Muenster,” said the caller, who was no longer snickering but laughing uproariously.

“Who?” asked Marley, not recognizing his name.

There was a pause as the laughing stopped. “I was your ride-along officer,” he said, curtly.

“Oh, that Officer Muenster.”

“Wow, talk about deflating.”

“I’m so sorry! In my defense, it’s been awhile since the ride-along…and it has been a very long day.” Marley looked at the digital clock mounted high in the corner of the room. It was 1459 hours and, despite enjoying Muenster’s practical joke, she was chomping at the bit to go home.

“Okay, well I feel a little better now. Anyway, the reason I called is to give you the name of my girlfriend’s allergy specialist.”

“Oh, right!” said Marley, remembering the discussion they’d had during the ride-along of Marley’s inability to find an allergist.

“His name is Dr. Sinclair with Arizona Health. My girlfriend says he’s still accepting new patients.”

Marley jotted down the doctor’s name and glanced again at the clock: 1501 hours, one minute past her leaving time.

“Great. Thanks so much for the lead. I’ll give him a call.”

“My pleasure,” said Muenster. “I don’t want to keep you; you’re probably anxious to get home. So, take care.”

“You, too. And thanks again.” Marley punched out and took off her headset. She was touched by Officer Muenster’s thoughtful gesture and buoyed by his ability to make her laugh. It wasn’t until she’d left work and walked the two blocks to her silver 1978 Mazda GLC, plate number David William King, dash two five zero, that a troubling thought hit her. Looking up and down Ninth Avenue at the thirty or forty other cars lining the street, parked bumper to bumper, she wondered aloud:

“How did Officer Muenster know which car was mine?”

CHAPTER 30
CHAPTER 32

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