A couple of weeks had passed since the civilian complaint operators received their permanent shift assignments and Marley and Inga were still adjusting to the changes. A lot of new faces surrounded them in the phone room: The second round of Com Op new-hires had completed their classroom training and were now fielding their own Crime Stop calls, though still tethered with their training officers. Sergeant Garvey had transferred out, replaced by Sergeant Brown, a slow-talking man with the face of a Basset Hound. Brown’s first task of the morning was the announcement of an employee blood drive taking place in the Emergency Response Command Center Conference Room.
Inga had just returned from donating and proudly showed off the Ace bandage wrapped around her arm. She set the cookie and orange juice the phlebotomist had given her on her desk and plugged back into her workstation jack.
“There’s no one down there right now if you want to go donate,” she told Marley.
“I can’t. I don’t meet the weight requirement.”
“You weigh less than 110 pounds?”
“I’m down to 103,” said Marley.
“Geesh,” said Inga, as she tossed her cookie to Marley. “You need this more than I do. Why are you dieting? You sure don’t look like you need to.”
Marley picked up the cookie, broke it in two, and handed Inga one of the halves. “I’m not trying to lose weight; it’s just stress, I think. From the phone calls.”
“You didn’t change your number?”
“I did. I even paid extra to get it unlisted, and for a couple days the calls stopped. But then they started up again. He calls pretty much every night now.” It was as Marley had predicted—that the caller, if it was her own brother, would simply get her new number from her parents. The resumption of the calls after she’d changed her number all but confirmed her suspicions. The nausea she’d felt on the night she first realized the identity of the caller was now a chronic state and it was affecting her appetite and ability to keep any food down.
“I don’t know what else I can do, other than cancel my phone service. But the department requires us to have a phone on file for our personnel records, so that’s not an option either. I’ve lost ten pounds so far, because of him.”
“That’s sure a shitty way to lose weight,” said Inga whose eyes were now looking past Marley. “Speaking of weight—good god!—doesn’t the department have any fitness requirements? I mean, really, if that beer gut had to chase down a suspect…”
“Who?” asked Marley.
“Behind you. The fat cop turning in a report to one of the secretaries.”
Marley swiveled around just as the officer looked out toward the complaint room, catching Marley’s gaze. He smiled and gave her a little wave.
“You know him?” asked Inga.
Marley turned back around. “He was my ride-along officer.”
“The old, fat one with the girlfriend?”
Marley laughed. “That’s the one. Officer Muenster.”
Inga lowered her voice, “Well, don’t look now, he’s headed your way. You really are a magnet for losers, aren’t you?”
“Actually, Inga, he’s a really nice guy. Looks aren’t everything.” Marley turned to greet Muenster with a sincere smile, leaving Inga gobsmacked.
“Where’s a guy have to go to get a drink around here?”
Marley looked at her watch, “Isn’t it kind of early for alcohol?”
Muenster laughed, looked at his watch, and said, “It’s past noon somewhere in the world…actually, I was thinking along the lines of a soft drink. Is there a vending machine anywhere in the building?”
“Oh, of course,” said Marley. “In the main breakroom.”
“And where would that be?”
“It’s just across the hall from the Command Center Conference Room.”
Muenster gave Marley a look of helplessness. “Maybe you could show me?”
Marley looked at her watch again. “It’s close enough to my break time, so, sure, I can show you.”
Marley walked with Officer Muenster through the hallways of the basement, heading toward the main breakroom. He asked her how her morning was going—“Fine,” she said—and how her allergies were doing:
“Did you get in to see that allergy specialist yet?” Marley shook her head,
“Not yet. My appointment’s in two weeks.”
Up ahead, a sign on an easel read, “Blood Drive” with an arrow pointing to the right.
“The main breakroom is down this hall, just past the conference room,” said Marley. Midway down the hall, the two approached a set of opened double doors—the entry to the Command Center Conference Room where the blood drive was set up. As they passed by the doorway, a brunette woman, as wide as she was tall and who was reclined on a blood donor chair with a needle in her arm, yelled out: “Muenster!”
Muenster froze and looked into the doorway…
Marley came to a halt beside him…
A confused smile came over the woman’s face as she stared at Muenster and Marley.
“Oh, hi,” Muenster mumbled, then pulled Marley by the arm as he hurried them both into the breakroom, just a few feet ahead and across the hall.
“Who was that?” asked Marley.”
“Who was who?”
“The woman giving blood that we just saw.”
“Oh, her. Yeah, she’s just someone I know. She works over at the courthouse.” Muenster dropped a couple quarters into a vending machine and waited for his selection—a Dr. Pepper—to drop into the dispensing slot. When it did, Muenster snatched it up and popped its top. “Can I get you anything?”
“No thanks, I’m fine.”
Muenster gazed about the large breakroom—empty except for the two of them—and asked Marley, “Do you have time to sit and chat?”
“I’ve got a few minutes,” answered Marley.
“Great,” he said and led her to a table in the far back of the room.
Seated, Muenster sat with his hands on the table, wringing them vigorously while constantly looking back to the closed breakroom door as he tried to make small talk with Marley. Finally, she asked him, “Why are you so nervous?”
“Nervous? I’m not nervous.” He laughed.
“You’ve been wringing your hands since we sat down.”
Muenster looked down at his hands, yanked them apart, and flattened them to the table. “I guess I am a bit nervous,” he confessed.
“Because…” he took a deep breath and blew it out, “Because I’m trying to get up the nerve to ask you out.”
Blindsided, Marley sat for a moment, processing his words. “But what about your girlfriend?”
Muenster’s hands found each other and, again, started twisting over and around one another. “We broke up a while back.”
“Oh, I’m sorry…”
“Don’t be. It was time. We were both ready to move on. It’s best for both of us.”
“I see. Well, then, I guess congratulations are in order.”
“So, I thought, if you’re interested, we could have lunch sometime. There’s this really great place I think you’d like…”
Marley felt like she was standing at the proverbial cliff’s edge. Should she take the leap, or not? While she didn’t find him physically attractive, she did feel a sense of ease and comfort with him that she’d never felt before with other men. Perhaps it was because he was older and unattractive that she found him somehow less threatening. And she had to admit to herself she found it flattering that he was so nervous and shy about asking her out—the odds of him rejecting her were slim to none. She felt safe.
“I might be interested.”
Muenster’s hands stopped wringing and clasped tightly together as if giving himself a victory handshake. His eyes popped from the monster of a smile that had eaten his face.
“So where’s this ‘really great place’?” asked Marley.
“Actually…It’s my house.”
Marley gave Muenster a dubious look.
“No, it’s not like that,” he assured her. “I just bought the house, closed on it last week. Since my divorce, I’d been renting the in-law unit attached to my parents’ house while I saved up the down payment to buy my own place. It’s taken me five years, so I guess I’m just a little excited to show it off.”
“I didn’t know you were divorced,” said Marley.
“Is that a problem?”
“No.” Better divorced than married, thought Marley. “Do you have any children?”
“Two boys. Lloyd is fourteen and Harry, who just graduated high school, he’s eighteen.”
“You have an eighteen-year-old son? Wow…how old are you?”
“Thirty-eight.” Muenster noticed a hint of surprise—or was it shock?—on Marley’s face. “Is that a problem?”
It was, but Marley shook her head, regardless. It was the polite thing to do.
“Are you still interested? I don’t mean to brag, but I make one hell of a Caesar salad.”
“You can cook?” asked Marley.
“Don’t look so surprised. The greatest chefs in the world are all men,” he said, as if offended…then laughed. “Actually, after the divorce I got tired of McDonald’s every night, so I forced myself to learn how to cook.”
Marley was impressed. None of the men she knew, both in and outside of her family, cooked. All relied on their wives for their home-cooked meals. And while Marley enjoyed cooking the occasional meal, Susie Homemaker she was not. It’d be nice to have someone other than herself or her mother cook for her, for a change.
“If you’re serving Caesar salad, I’m definitely still interested, just tell me when and where.”
Muenster took a business card from his chest pocket, turned it face down and wrote down his address. He handed it to Marley. “How about this Saturday at noon?”
“Oh, I work Saturdays. My days off are Wednesday and Thursday.”
Muenster laughed. “And I work Wednesdays and Thursdays.”
“I suppose I could combine my two breaks with my lunch. That’d give me an hour. How far away is your house?”
“Five minutes, max.”
“It’ll be tight, but I think that might work.”
Muenster’s huge, face-eating smile returned. “Saturday, it is!”
Marley glanced at her watch, “Oh, crap! I’ve got to get back to work.”
The two rose and headed for the breakroom door. Minding his manners, Muenster opened the door for Marley, only to find its passage blocked by the same heavyset woman they’d seen reclined on the blood donor chair.
“Muenster?” she asked.
Muenster’s hands began to wring anew. “Oh, hi.”
The woman looked from Muenster to Marley and back to Muenster again. “Oh, hi yourself,” she said, her face a puddle of confusion.
Muenster, hands wringing out of control, squeaked out a nervous laugh. “What are you doing here?”
The woman pointed at her bandaged arm. “What’s it look like I’m doing?”
Muenster’s already ruddy face was now flame red and the veins in his temples looked ready to pop. “Oh, right, of course.”
“What are you doing here?” the woman asked Muenster, then turned her eyes to Marley.
“Who, me? Oh, I, uh, just, uh, came down to turn in some paperwork. Thought, you know, while I was here I’d, uh, get myself something to drink.”
The woman continued looking back and forth from Muenster to Marley as if there was yet more explaining for Muenster to offer but Muenster gave her nothing. A long, awkward silence followed as the heavyset woman fixed a hard stare on Muenster, now tight-lipped and sweating bullets. Finally, she threw up her arms in defeat.
“Um, okay, then…I guess I’ll, um, go. See ya.”
Muenster stood in the doorway, refusing to budge until he was sure the woman had left.
“What was that all about?” asked a bewildered Marley.
Muenster turned to her, his hands still wringing and mouth atwitch. “That was Totie, my girlfriend—I mean my ex-girlfriend.”