Lina parked her graduation gift—a cherry-red, T-top Camaro Z28—alongside the curb on Ninth Avenue, taking care to avoid the empty beer bottles in the gutter. She waited for Debbie Harry to finish singing…
One way or another, I’m gonna get ya; I’ll get ya, get ya, get ya, get ya.
“No, you won’t,” she said, emphatically, before ejecting the cassette and tossing it into the glove box. A honk sounded behind her as she stepped out of her car.
It was Faye, cheery-eyed in her powder-blue VW bug, pulling up across the street. Exiting her car, she let with a wolf whistle:
“Nice wheels!” she said.
“Graduation present from my dad,” Lina said, somewhat embarrassed.
“Wow. Must be nice being the sheriff’s daughter.”
“It’s not all that,” Lina said, unsmiling, as she waited for Faye to trot across the road. Together, they walked the squalid downtown side street that served as the parking lot for the dayshift civilian police employees. As the two rounded the corner onto Adams Street, a sleeping wino blocked the sidewalk. Both stepped, in a synchronized fashion, into the street to circumvent the obstacle, unaware of the pickup truck speeding towards them from behind. The truck came to a screeching crawl as it passed the women; its young, shaggy-haired driver turned his head sideways to face them, glaring long and hard before punching the accelerator and roaring off.
Lina jumped back onto the sidewalk, pulling Faye with her.
“That was creepy!” Faye exclaimed. “We should report him.”
“Don’t bother,” said Lina, irritated. “His name is Vaughn. I went out with him my senior year. Once. He’s been stalking me ever since.”
“Have you considered getting a restraining order?” asked Faye.
Lina shrugged it off. “He’s harmless. Just a big, lovesick puppy. Besides, he knows my dad would kill him if he ever touched me. He’s bound to lose interest, eventually.”
They continued chatting as they passed through HQ’s rear parking lot—reserved, during business hours, for visitors and department brass—and approached the back entry door, marked ‘Employees Only’. Faye pushed the buzzer as both held their ID badges up to the security camera. A series of short, teasing buzzes sounded, making it impossible to open the door. Faye and Lina exchanged weary sighs. Finally, the buzzer sounded long enough to open the door. Faye yanked it open before the front desk officer inside could change his mind.
“Jerk,” she muttered.
As the women slipped into the elevator, Officer Stoneman’s front-desk replacement, a pock-marked officer whose balding head sat atop a giant, shoulderless, bottom-heavy body, leered in their direction. Faye found the elevator button marked “B” and gave it a hard slap.
Inside the elevator, Lina shook her head. “You’d think after ten weeks, ‘Baby Huey’ would stop already with the door buzzer.”
“He doesn’t seem to catch on too quickly,” replied Faye. “He’s asked out just about every Com Op on day shift without any takers. And, poor Marley—he’s badgered her worst of all. The way he’s always hanging out in the complaint room, staring at her. Creepy.”
The elevator doors opened. Stepping out, Lina nodded in agreement: “Him and every other cop in the district. I swear, I think they come down here to personally hand in their reports just as an excuse to cruise Communications for dates.”
Faye laughed. “You’re just now figuring that out?”
The two made their way to the Communications Bureau security door and waited for the police aide, Hazel, to buzz them in. Inside, they stopped in the locker room to retrieve their work materials and headsets.
“What’s that?” Faye asked of Lina, who was unfolding a square of paper she’d found in her locker.
“You have got to be kidding me,” Lina said to herself.
“What?” Faye demanded.
Lina handed her the note. Faye read it aloud:
You’re the hottest girl in Communications.
I can’t stop thinking about you.
Faye looked up and met eyes with Lina. A thought of disgust hit them both at precisely the same moment, each of them screaming, in sync: “Baby Huey!”
Lina grabbed the note from Faye, wadded it up, and tossed it in the trash receptacle on their way into the complaint room.
They broke apart in the chaos of the Monday morning shift change—the lamps were lit up and the bell chiming as they arrived.
“Remind me to tell you about my hot date on Friday night,” Faye shouted over the clamor, as she plugged her headset into the desk just beyond Lina’s. Soon, more familiar faces joined them—Dee, Marley, and Inga—each taking a seat in adjacent desks. Across the aisle, opposite Lina, another familiar face arrived.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” Agnes’s words dripped from the corners of her down-turned mouth. She all but pushed the desk’s occupant, a night-shift zombie, out of his chair, “Hurry the hell up!”
The chaos of the morning continued for the better part of the day, with the call volume surpassing any amount the new phone recruits had experienced during their first ten weeks. It wasn’t until two p.m., an hour before quitting time, that the phones finally quieted. The women, frazzled, gave a collective sigh.
“I think something’s wrong with my phone,” Dee said. “I keep hearing clicking noises while I’m on the line with a caller.”
“There’s nothing wrong with your phone,” said Lina, pointing a discreet finger in the direction of the sergeant’s desk. “Hook’s still monitoring our calls.”
“Just two more weeks until we get our permanent shift assignments,” said Faye. “I can’t wait to be rid of him,”
“Which shift did you put down as your first choice?” Lina asked her.
“Swing shift,” replied Faye, referring to the 3 p.m. to 11 p.m. hours of the second shift. “Not that I have much choice with my high A-number,” she lamented and then teased Lina, “Unlike some people here who can have their pick of any shift they want.”
“Second shift might not be so bad,” said Lina, “If it means not having to deal with Sergeant Sleazy anymore.”
“Only two weeks left,” sighed Dee. “My A-number’s even higher than yours, Faye, so that means I’ll be joining you on swing…or, worse, assigned to graveyards.” Dee winced at the thought. “I have no idea where I’ll find a babysitter for those hours.”
Faye’s eyes gleamed. “My secret sergeant works the swing shift, so that would be perfect for me.”
“Oh, that’s right!” Lina, said, remembering. “I forgot to ask you about your hot date!” The other women sitting in close vicinity perked up. “Hot date?” they all chimed, “What hot date?”
“Why is he a secret?” asked Inga.
Faye leaned in and, under her breath, replied: “We’re keeping it quiet until his divorce is final.”
“He’s married?” gasped Marley.
“Getting divorced,” Faye corrected. “And not because of me,” she said, raising her palm in defense. “He was already separated when we met back in May, while I was still working at the traffic court.” The thought of their first meeting brought a warm smile to her face. “It was love at first sight, but we decided to wait until his divorce was final. That was four very long months ago. Then he up and called me last week, out of the blue. He said the divorce was pretty much a done deal, just the formality of paperwork, and that he just couldn’t wait any longer.”
“Was he worth the wait?” asked Dee.
Everything in Faye’s blushing smile confirmed that, yes, he was most definitely worth it.
“So what did you guys do on your date?” asked Lina, “Besides the obvious.”
The others broke into raucous laughter, drawing the attention of the entire room, including Agnes, who was perking up her ears.
Faye’s blush deepened—a tell-tale blush that revealed the carnal bliss beneath.
“Oh, my…” said Marley.
“It was so good,” Faye gushed. “First, he took me to see ‘Pretty Baby’, that movie with Brooke Shields, then to Woody’s Macayo on Central for dinner. Afterwards, we went back to my place and…” The playful twinkle in her eyes told the rest of the story.
“Pretty Baby?” Inga interjected. “Isn’t that the one about a 12-year-old prostitute?”
“Yes. But it’s handled really well. It’s an art film,” Faye replied.
Inga’s face soured. “I wouldn’t pay a dime to see that. It promotes child pornography.”
“No, I don’t think so…” Faye countered.
Inga countered with an angry outburst. “Eleven-year-old Brook Shields does a nude scene in the movie, Faye!”
“I didn’t mean to upset anyone by—”
“Sorry,” said Inga, still visibly upset. “But I can’t help it. Children should not be sexually exploited like that. It’s personal. My ex, Manny, molested my daughter. She was four.”
“Oh my god,” the others exclaimed.
“Is she okay?” asked Marley.
Inga nodded. “It was two years ago. Misty has little memory of it now. I wish I could forget.”
Silence, like a pall, fell over the women. Inga wiped an angry tear and continued:
“She came to me one morning, after Manny had left for work. Mommy, she said, very calm, very matter of fact, daddy put his peepee in my mouth. My head exploded. I thought my heart was going to stop, it was pounding so hard. I called the police that same damn morning.” With a vengeful laugh, Inga added, “Officers were waiting for the scumbag when he got home that night; they hauled his sorry ass off to jail.”
“Is he still in jail?” asked Lina.
“He should be but, no. The detectives handling the case told me I’d have to put Misty on the witness stand and subject her to cross-examination.”
“A four-year-old?” asked Dee, astonished.
“Exactly! Can you imagine putting a four-year-old through that?” asked Inga. “I flat-out refused. The detectives treated me like I was a candidate for ‘Worst Mother of the Year’ and tried to shame me into prosecuting Manny. I told him to go ahead and prosecute, but that they’d have to do it without putting Misty on public display. They said they had no case without Misty’s sworn testimony. I told them, She’s already told you what he did; it’s in your report. You don’t need to put her on a witness stand and make her relive the trauma in front of a courtroom full of strangers. But they wouldn’t back down, and neither would I; so they dropped all the charges against Manny and blamed me for letting him walk free. I have no regrets. I’d do it again if I had to. My first obligation is, and will always be, to protect my child. Besides, if Manny had gone to prison, he’d have no way to pay me child support. No way can I afford to feed three kids on my own. That bastard refused to wear condoms, so he should damn well have to pay for the kids he spawned.”
“You’re getting child support?” Dee asked, with a note of envy.
“I do now,” said Inga. “Manny whined on and on about not being able to find work—he’d lost his job when his boss found out about the arrest. You want a job? Fine, I said, and hauled his butt down to the nearest Army recruiting station. I told him, Either you sign up, right here, right now, or I call the detectives and tell them to go ahead with the prosecution. You have two options: Four years in the army, or five-to-ten in the state penitentiary. He picked the Army. And the sweet thing about the military? They’ve garnished his wages, so I get my child-support cut before Manny ever sees his paycheck.”
Lina, Faye, and Marley sat, mouths gaping, awed and just a wee bit intimidated by their gutsy co-worker.
Dee grunted in frustration. “At least you’re getting child support. My ex—well, not my ex, not yet; we’re still legally married. He ran off one day with a seventeen-year-old waitress. Blonde, of course. Oh, sorry, no offense,” she added, in quick apology to Lina and Faye
“None taken,” they replied.
“He left us with pretty much nothing,” said Dee, her voice heavy with despair.
“So why are you still married to him? Divorce his ass already!” cried Inga.
Dee shook her head and exhaled, “I have to find him first.”
“If he’s got a job, you can find him. A private investigator can track him through his employer,” said Inga.
“As far as I know, he’s still a driver with UPS. And, actually, I did hire an investigator but I only had enough money for a basic skip trace. All I got for my two-hundred dollars is that he’s living somewhere in Arizona.”
“And that’s why you moved here?” asked Marley.
Dee replied with a nod and a tired smile. “Phoenix Police,” she said, addressing the caller on her line. The call forced her to break from the conversation and turn her attention back to her keyboard and CAD monitor while the others continued talking.
“So what about you, Lina, your stalker? What’s the deal with him?” asked Faye.
Inga cried out, “Holy shit! You have a stalker?”
“Nothing to tell,” Lina shrugged. “He was the captain of the basketball team. I went out with him just once, to the prom.”
“Not your Mr. Right?” Inga asked.
“He was more a ‘Mr. Right Now’. He wanted more than I was willing to give, if you get my drift. Besides, we looked ridiculous together.”
“How so?” asked Marley.
“I’m five-foot-four…he’s six-foot-seven,” she said, causing an outbreak of laughter.
In the midst of the laughter, Faye turned to Marley: “And what about you?”
“What about me?” asked Marley.
“Are you single? Married? Divorced?” asked Lina.
“Single. So single, it hurts,” replied Marley, self-pity dripping from her words.
“Good god, why?” asked Inga. “With your looks, men should be lining up in droves.”
Marley just shrugged. She never thought of herself as pretty, nor the type to attract men ‘in droves’. All eyes were on her now, awaiting her response, but she had no explanation to offer them. She grabbed at her cross and began to squirm. She wasn’t comfortable being in the spotlight.
“No one?” asked Faye. “What about ex-boyfriends?”
“Actually,” she said, embarrassed to admit, “I’ve never had a boyfriend.”
Faye and Lina exchanged curious looks.
Inga cocked her head to one side. “Not ever? How old are you?” she asked, probing.
“Twenty-three. It seems the only men I attract are all old, fat, and married. Honestly, I’d rather stay single than go down that road. No offense, Faye.”
“None taken,” Faye said for the second time, though a bit more stiffly this time around. “Phoenix Police,” she said, answering an incoming call.
Inga kept pushing Marley: “What about in high school?”
“I wasn’t really attracted to any of the boys at my high school; most were pretty immature and just wanted the bragging rights of dating a cheerleader.”
“A cheerleader? Really?” asked Inga. “You seem too quiet to have been a cheerleader.”
“I enjoyed the athletics of cheerleading. But, yeah, I was very shy for a cheerleader. Because I was so introverted, a lot of the boys thought I was stuck up, that I thought I was better than everyone else. I don’t know, maybe guys still think that, but nothing could be further from the truth.”
“Or maybe guys are scared off by the ring on your finger; it looks like an engagement ring,” said Lina.
Marley looked down at her ring finger and the quaint piece of jewelry adorning it: A small diamond solitaire set in an antique design cast in rose gold. “It was my grandmother’s, given to her on her sixteenth birthday. It’s the only finger it fits on,” she said, fingering the ring.
“If anything’s scaring off the guys, it’s that giant crucifix around your neck. Are you trying to ward off vampires, or what?” said Inga. She laughed, as did the others.
Marley laughed along with them. “Well, it’s better than wearing a rope of garlic. You’re probably right, though, and maybe that’s why I wear it, to discourage creeps…and to appease my born-again brother and his wife; they gave it to me as a bribe to get me to join their church. I keep telling them I have no desire to be born again—the first time through the birth canal was traumatic enough.” Her joke landed, pleasing Marley. She’d learned early on to use humor to deflect the focus off herself, even if the humor was at her own expense.
“Maybe you could meet a nice Christian boy at their church,” teased Lina.
“Don’t count on it,” said Dee, rejoining the conversation. “My father’s a pastor so I grew up with church people. They have more than their fair share of creeps…Come to think of it, that’s where I met my husband, Newt, which kind of proves my point.”
Inga pointed an affirming finger at Dee, “Yes, it does. Like I said, men suck,” then, to Marley, “Keep wearing that crucifix, Marley. You don’t need a man—Phoenix Police.” Inga pressed a fingertip over the end of her headset’s voice tube to mute herself. “Get yourself a vibrator, instead.”
As Inga attended her call, Marley and the others covered their mouths to stifle the howls Inga’s shocking bit of advice aroused.
This time it was Marley’s turn: “Phoenix Police,” she answered, still stifling her laughter. A woman whispered something in her ear, none of which Marley could make out, so she cranked up the volume on her headset controller and tried again:
“Send an officer right away,” the woman whispered.
“You’ll have to speak up; I can barely hear you,” said Marley.
“There’s someone in my ceiling,” she said, still whispering.
“Your ceiling? Do you mean your attic?”
“I don’t have an attic,” the woman snipped. “He’s in my ceiling.”
“How can someone be in your ceiling,” asked Marley, genuinely confused. “And how do you know it’s a man?”
“I can hear him talking.”
“There’s a man…in your ceiling…and you hear him talking?” a dubious Marley confirmed, drawing the curiosity of her co-workers. “Uh, how long have you been hearing the voices in your ceiling?”
“I, uh, an hour, maybe, or more, well…however…”
Marley let out a sigh. “Is this Gladys?” There was no response, so Marley asked again: “Is this Gladys?”
“Yes,” said the woman, with a great deal of pause.
The other women cast a sympathetic eye on Marley. They all knew it was just a draw of bad luck that Marley got stuck with Gladys so close to quitting time. Getting Gladys off the phone could sometimes prove damn near impossible.
“Okay. Gladys. I’ll make a note that you called.”
“No, send me an officer!” she demanded, panic in her voice.
“There’s no one in your ceiling, Gladys,” Marley gently refuted.
“However, I…I…hear him talking up there. And sometimes, however, he knocks on the ceiling. However…please send an officer…please!”
“Gladys, you don’t need an officer,” Marley repeated, trying this time to be firm.
“Yes, I do! Please! Don’t hang up on me!” cried Gladys, more desperate than usual.
Perhaps it was that her shift was nearly over and she was tired and just wanted to go home, or perhaps it was a case of misplaced empathy. Whatever it was, Marley sat, conflicted. Her brain knew she should follow departmental policy and just hang up, but her gut was telling her otherwise. Marley listened to her gut: “Okay, Gladys. I’m sending you an officer.”
“Really? Today?” asked Gladys, as if Marley were cruelly pulling her leg.
“Yes, today. They should be there soon.”
“Oh, bless you! Thank you!”
“You’re welcome, Gladys.” Marley punched out for the last time of the day and entered the call into her computer as a ‘900’—radio code for ‘check welfare’—an urgent priority-two dispatch as mandated by department policy, requiring a field response time in under fifteen minutes.
“You know she’s on the nine-eighteen list, right?” asked Inga, in a tone that was more of an indictment than a question.
“I know, I know,” Marley muttered.
“Okay,” Inga said, packing her things up to leave. “It’s your ass.”
Marley paused a moment, checking with her gut one more time, then hit “enter” on the keyboard. Gladys was finally getting the officer she’d so many times been denied.
Across the room, Cooper saw on the bottom of his computer screen a rolling list of the last ten call types and addresses entered into the CAD system. It was the most recent call entered that set him off. “Who dispatched officers to Mrs. However?” he yelled out.
Before Marley could own up, what sounded like the voice of God, and a very pissed-off God at that, blasted out over the intercom:
It was the one voice all Crime Stop operators feared most. That of veteran radio dispatcher Thelma Fritter, a.k.a., ‘Gravel Gertie’ owing to the gravelly quality of her voice, a result of her three-packs-a-day smoking habit.
Upon hearing Marley’s A-number, Cooper sprang out of his chair and threw up his hands, shouting at Marley. “You didn’t!” Wearing an expression of utter disbelief, Cooper shook his head with disapproval.
“A1815, pick up the radio line!” barked Thelma.
Marley steeled herself for the fallout and punched into the radio conference line.
“A1815,” Marley said, holding her breath.
“Are you not aware that Gladys is on the nine-eighteen list?”
“We do not dispatch officers to confirmed nine-eighteens! Did your training officer not teach you that?”
“It’s shift change—I now have to hold an officer over, on overtime, to handle this call!”
“Clearly, you don’t or you wouldn’t have dispatched an officer on a priority two call for a confirmed nine-eighteen!”
“I know she’s nine-eighteen but this call felt different.”
“Different how?” snarled Thelma.
“I don’t know, it just did.”
“Oh for shit’s sake!” screamed Thelma. “Don’t ever do it again!”
With a slam of the receiver, the line went dead. Marley felt two inches tall, humiliated, and embarrassed. Fortunately, most of her coworkers had left, relieved by the incoming second shift, so she didn’t have to face any of them—except for Cooper who was now standing over her desk. “You need to stop being so nice, Marley. Gladys is just a lonely old woman with shit for brains. Don’t let her feed off your sympathy.”
Marley nodded, on the verge of tears.
Cooper couldn’t stand to see a woman cry; his voice softened. “Everybody makes mistakes. Just remember to follow procedure and you’ll be fine. And, for god’s sake, don’t let Gravel Gertie intimidate you. Stand your ground with her, or she will eat you up and spit you out.”
Marley wanted to thank Cooper for his encouraging words but feared the mere act of opening her mouth would open the floodgates and release the torrent of tears she was fighting so hard to contain. As she stuffed her headset into its bag and collected her things, a single tear escaped her eye and burned a track down her cheek.
Cooper gently patted Marley’s back. “Go on home now and just you forget about it,” he said, his soothing Southern drawl rivaling that of Scarlett’s Rhett. “You’ll feel better tomorrow.”
“Sure, tomorrow,” Marley mumbled. Though despite Scarlett’s famous quote that “tomorrow is another day,” Marley took no comfort from it. Tomorrow, for all she knew, might suck just as bad.
Perhaps, even worse.