Phoenix Police HQ
620 West Washington
A knowing smile crept over Officer Errol Cooper’s face as he stood in the breakroom pouring a freshly-brewed mug of coffee. It wasn’t the alluring coffee aroma caressing his nasal passages that made him smile, nor was it the comforting fold of the morning newspaper tucked under his armpit. No, it was neither the coffee nor the paper—both essential to his morning work routine—that made his mouth curl upward, but the slow, meandering hand that was, at this moment, playing down the length of his spine, starting from the top of his starched collar, fluttering softly downward until stopping, mercifully, at the hard edge of his leather belt.
It was an unmistakably feminine hand, delicate in touch yet brazen in motive.
Officer Cooper’s smile, however, was not an acknowledgment of the scintillating pleasure the hand offered (although it did feel damn good) but, rather, of the predictability of its occurrence.
The hand, now playfully tugging on Cooper’s belt, began a slow slide along his beltline, around to his right-hand side, eventually coming to rest atop the thumb strap of the clip-on holster that held his police-issued revolver.
Cooper need not have turned around; he had no doubt whose hand it was that teased him in just this way, every goddamned morning, at the coffee station.
“Good morning, Daisy,” said Cooper, the words oozing out of his mouth in the lazy, unfazed drawl characteristic of his West Texas upbringing.
Daisy Forrest, the hottest broad in dispatch: Raven hair, crimson lips, four-inch stilettos, skin-tight slacks, and an ample cleavage showcased in a clingy, scoop-neck sweater. Daisy was well-known for her generosity of affection towards the male officers who worked the Phoenix Police Department’s Crime Stop phones. The younger, newly-assigned officers who eagerly accepted Daisy’s advances invariably lived to regret it, as Daisy’s legal moniker was Mrs. Dirk Forrest, as in Lieutenant Dirk Forrest, the iron-fisted head of the Communications Bureau whose red-hot jealousy over his much younger wife was legendary. Most of the older officers – officers like Cooper himself, who was twenty-years married and tantalizingly close to retirement – were much too wise to fall prey to a dick-devouring vampiress like Daisy.
“Good morning, Coop,” replied Daisy, breathing her ritual greeting into the back of Cooper’s neck.
Coffee pot in hand, Cooper turned to fill the cup Daisy held out. She batted a pair of heavily-mascaraed eyelashes and returned his knowing smile.
“Ready for another day in the dungeon?” asked Cooper—the “dungeon” being the basement floor of the department’s downtown headquarters where the Communications Bureau, including radio dispatch and the Crime Stop phones, was located.
Daisy’s eyes gave all six-foot-two-inches of Cooper the once-over, from his full head of sandy-colored waves to his neatly-trimmed mustache, from his Stacy Keach dimples to the well-toned physique evident beneath his civilian clothes—not a bad-looking man for his age. Daisy let her lingering eyes move from Cooper to the large school-house clock hanging on the wall over the coffee maker: 6:57 a.m. She rolled her eyes. “I’m never ready for this; it’s too fucking early.” She patted the pack of Marlboros in Cooper’s chest pocket then turned to leave.
Cooper watched as Daisy crossed the hallway and descended down the walled, narrow ramp that led to their respective workplaces. He soon followed, eyeing the deliberate swing of her hips as she made her way before him. Though happily married, he was wearily amused by Daisy’s relentless cock-teasing. And, hell, he was barely forty, still plenty young enough to appreciate the sashay of a nice ass, even at this hour of the morning.
The end of the ramp opened into a large windowless, smoke-filled workspace with a drop-tile ceiling that was divided by modular acoustic panels into three main rooms:
To the immediate left was the smallest of the partitioned areas where ten department secretaries, all of them women and the lowest of the low among both sworn and non-sworn employees, sat at their cramped and cluttered desks banging away at their IBM Selectrics, typing up the stacks of last night’s police reports.
Beyond the typists’ area lay the telephone complaint room where an exhausted crew of night-shift officers, tethered by headsets to their phone stations, took all the incoming calls to the department’s emergency Crime Stop line.
To the immediate right was the complaint sergeant’s desk. Cooper came to a halt at the desk while Daisy proceeded towards an open doorway a few paces beyond that led into the radio dispatch room. She paused momentarily to cast out a predatory gaze upon the men occupying the phone stations before disappearing into the room.
Officer Cooper cleared his throat to announce his presence. “Morning, Sarge.”
Sergeant Hook, a humorless twig of a man with a toothbrush mustache, returned the greeting without looking up from his scheduling clipboard. Behind Hook’s desk was an enclosed office with large plate-glass windows on two adjacent sides, allowing its occupant, the bureau lieutenant, an unobstructed view of both the radio and complaint rooms.
“Lieutenant’s in early today,” Cooper observed.
Hook looked up from his clipboard. “Yeah. Big meeting today with Captain O’Mally and the bureau chief. Some sort of announcement coming down.”
“Don’t know, exactly. Personnel changes, according to the grapevine.”
“Interesting,” Cooper muttered. He’d heard the rumors—they’d been circulating for months—but this was the first sign there might be any truth to them.
“Oh-seven-hundred hours,” Hook informed Cooper, glancing out at the digital clock mounted in the far upper-most corner of the phone room.
“So it is. Time to plug in,” sighed Cooper, who then ambled over to one of the occupied workstations in the complaint room.
The room was abuzz with phone activity. A cookie-cutter collection of tired officers, all of them white and male and dressed in short-sleeve dress shirts and polyester ties, puffed on cigarettes as they talked into the mouthpieces of the headphones they wore. A long coil of phone cord stretched from their headphones to a phone-jack attached to the outside leg of their desks. Each desk supported a multi-line telephone console and a shiny new CRT monitor and keyboard, collectively known as a Computer-Aided Dispatch system—CAD, for short —brand spanking new technology for the department. Operational for less than a month, the system’s many kinks were still being ironed out.
Before CAD, caller information was conveyed by hand-written cards transported by an old-school conveyor belt that ran from the complaint room to the radio room through an opening in the wall panel. The conveyor belt, still in place and used as a back-up whenever the new CAD system was down, which was often, ran all along the front of the complaint room then split into two arms that ran down the length of each side of the room. Each of the conveyor belt arms was lined by ten L-shaped desks—five on either side of the belt, with each of the five desks facing the five on the other side, in a mirror image. Twenty workstations, in all.
In the front of the room, mounted up high, close to the ceiling, were a pair of lamp posts, not unlike barbershop poles. Each lamp consisted of a series of four differently colored glass boxes stacked one on top of the other: White at the bottom, yellow, green, then red at the top, with each color representing how long incoming calls have been on hold—the topmost red light indicating the longest amount of time. Any wait at all, no matter how long, was too damn long for someone who’s trying to report an emergency, and too damn long by departmental performance standards.
Cooper approached one of the desk stations. Its occupant, a young officer with dark circles under his eyes, looked like he’d been to hell and back.
“Unplug,” Cooper told him. “Go home and get some sleep.”
The officer stubbed out his cigarette in the ashtray on his desk. “Thanks, man. Last night was beaucoup crazy. Every 918 in the city had our number. Must’ve been a full moon.”
The exhausted officer unplugged from the desk port, grabbed his ashtray, and vacated the desk while several more first-shift officers began shuffling in to relieve the weary warriors of the graveyard shift.
At that moment, the two bottom-most white boxes of the mounted lamps lit up and a loud bell began a slow and rhythmic chime. Soon, the yellow boxes lit up…then the green…the chiming of the bell sounding faster and louder with the illumination of each newly lit box. By the time the red boxes lit up, the chiming was incessant and head-pounding.
At the supervisor’s desk, Sergeant Hook was now out of his chair, his wiry little body coiled tight and ready to spring. “Calls are holding, people! Pick up those calls!”
Prompted by Hook’s barking, the incoming shift rushed to get plugged into their jacks and punched into their phones. Those already seated glanced momentarily up toward the lighted boxes then hunched down over their mouthpieces, trying to get closer to their callers in an attempt to hear and be heard above the chiming of the bell, the noisy typewriters, clacking keyboards, and the cacophony of twenty simultaneous phone conversations.
Hook began pacing back and forth, fists clenched at his sides, the scowl on his face growing with each annoying chime of the bell. “I said pick up the goddamn calls!”
After a few drawn-out seconds, the colored lights blinked off and the chiming stopped. Satisfied, Hook loosened his fists, sat back down and returned to his scheduling clipboard, allowing the complaint officers to again relax.
With the shift change complete, the phones quieted down giving Cooper the chance to finally light up a Marlboro and open the morning edition of The Arizona Republic. He wasn’t even past the first headline when the familiar click! of an incoming call sounded in his ear. His response was automatic, Pavlovian:
“Phoenix police.” Cooper took a long drag from his cigarette as he waited for the caller to speak. “Phoenix police,” he repeated, with a note of irritation.
“Is this the police?”
“Yes, you’ve got the Phoenix police,”
“Yeah, I need information about a traffic fine I need to pay. I was wond—“
“You’ll have to call the traffic court. 2-6-2-6-4-2-1.”
“6-4-2-1,” Cooper repeated as his index finger hovered over the phone’s “release” button.
“Okay, thank y—“
Cooper punched the release button, terminating the call. He jotted down the details of the call on his log sheet, then punched back into the Crime Stop line and returned to his coffee, cig, and paper.
“Any good news this morning?”
Cooper looked up to see Officer Boomer Lee settling his sizeable bulk into the chair at the desk opposite him. Like Cooper, Boomer was a veteran cop who’d been sentenced to light duty. He’d been reassigned from the Motor Division to Communications after an on-duty motorcycle accident nearly ended his life. Side-swiped while on patrol, Boomer had laid down his Harley at fifty miles per hour. His injuries were numerous and severe, the most distressing of which was the loss of both his testicles, their shriveled remains kept safely at his home in a jar of formaldehyde. The accident also left Boomer with a nagging chronic pain that, over time, darkened the officer’s once sunny disposition, leaving him with a permanent scowl. Behind his back, fellow cops called him “Officer Testy,” a double-entendre that referred to both his constant state of irritability and his famously empty ballsack.
Cooper’s reason for light-duty wasn’t quite so traumatic: a mild heart attack a year ago bought him a one-way ticket to the dungeon. Unlike most officers relegated to phone duty (most earned their spots via disciplinary action and resented the assignment), Cooper was only too happy to sit out the remaining two years of his twenty-year tenure tethered to a phone.
Cooper ruffled the pages of his paper as he acknowledged Boomer’s arrival. “Just the usual bullshit. Oh, and some big to-do happened at a Bruce Springsteen concert at the Coliseum last night. Says here a bunch of chicks rushed the stage and were all over Springsteen. One even stuck her tongue down his throat.”
“Lucky bastard,” said Boomer. A click! in his ear redirected his attention. “Phoenix police,” he answered. After a long beat, he asked the caller, “What’s the location?” As Boomer pecked at his keyboard, typing the address into the form fields on the computer monitor, the monitor screen blanked out. “Fuck you!” he spat at his computer, then to his caller: “Shit, sorry, ma’am, I didn’t mean you.” He hit the mute button on his headset controller and yelled over his shoulder. “Sarge, the damn CAD is down again!”
At the duty desk, Sergeant Hook’s head snapped up. “Again? Goddammit!” He sprang from his chair and yelled out to the roomful of officers, “Go to cards until further notice!” then stomped off to the radio room.
Boomer unmuted his phone and returned to his caller, “He’s doing what? In the park? Yeah, yeah, we’ll send an officer to check it out.” He terminated the call then burst into his signature gruff laughter.
Cooper looked up from his paper: “What’s so funny?”
“Not even eight a.m. yet and some asshole is jerking off in Encanto Park. Sitting on a picnic bench, milking his goddamn lizard.” Boomer scribbled the info onto a 4” x 9” dispatch card and dropped it into the conveyor belt.
Cooper shook his head, grinning with amusement. He flipped another page of his newspaper. “Mayor Maggie’s in the headlines. Again.”
“Jesus Christ. What’s the old lush done now?”
“More budget cuts for the city. Says here both police and fire might be on the chopping block.”
“I don’t believe it—Fire never gets hit; it’s always just us,” replied Boomer. “Oh, shit, I almost forgot! Where are the want ads?” He reached across the conveyor belt and snatched a section of the paper—the classifieds—from Cooper’s desk.
“Forgot what? You looking for a new job?”
Boomer flipped through the pages—front to back and back to front—his grimace deepening with each turn of a page.
“There!” he shouted, eliciting sharp looks from the other complaint officers. He folded the paper into fourths and handed it back to Cooper, stabbing at an ad with his finger. “Read that.”
It was a job listing. Cooper silently read the entry. His jaw tensed.
City of Phoenix
Police Communications Operator I.
High school diploma OR GED required
Minimum age: 18 y.o.
$775.00 / month
“Communications Operator One? Well, shit, it’s really happening. They’re gonna replace us with civilians and pay them half as much. That’s it, then; there’re the budget cuts Maggie and that sonofabitch city council have been pushing through. And all those rumors that the commander insisted weren’t true are, in fact, true. That’s the big meeting they’re having today.”
“Civilians,” Boomer spat. “Motherfucking civilians. With no academy training. No patrol experience. They’re going to get officers killed, mark my words. And Mayor ‘Maggot’ Hance will have blood on her hands. Fucking bitch.”
“And there go the majority of light-duty jobs for officers. We’re screwed. The department will force us into resigning and we can say goodbye to all our benefits and a big chunk of our pension.”
“That’s damn fucking right. As much as we all hate working the phones, it’s better than a pink slip.” Boomer stretched back in his chair and made a grand sweeping gesture toward the other officers in the phone room, “We may all be looking for new jobs.”
As the two officers fell silent, Sergeant Hook burst through the doorway from the radio room, gripping a dispatch card in his fist. He made straight for Boomer, waving the card in anger. “Officer Lee!”
Boomer spun around in his chair and threw up his hands, “What the hell did I do now?”
Hook’s little body shook with rage: “Milking his lizard?”
The entire phone room erupted in laughter. Hook turned fiery red, the veins in his neck close to bursting. “The dispatcher broadcast it, exactly as written. She had no idea what she was saying and the entire district gave her a mike thrashing. She’s in tears, thanks to you!”
“How was I to know she’d read it over the air?”
“Unacceptable, Boomer. I’m writing you up! Goddamnit!”
Hook stomped back into the radio room, leaving an exasperated Boomer muttering to himself, “She wasn’t supposed to broadcast it.” Boomer looked to Cooper for back-up, but Cooper’s attention was still on the folded newspaper and the job listing.
“No amount of training will prepare civilians for this job,” he said. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen, catastrophic for everyone involved: For the civilian operators. For John Q, Public. And, most of all, for our officers.” The more he absorbed the shock of the situation, the more his mind reeled with doubt and anger. Where would he work, if not the phones? There were only a handful of administrative positions available—the information desk, district callback officer, airport detail—but the waiting list for those positions was already six months to a year. With the sudden release of the forty or more officers currently working the phones, there’s no way they could all be accommodated. So the only options available were to go back to full duty—not an option for Cooper—or resign in lieu of firing. The thought of losing his job and most of his pension after eighteen years of service, gutted him. He wanted to stomp, scream, and curse. He wanted to put his fist through the monitor in front of him. Anger welled up in his throat like hot sulfuric acid.
Cooper gritted his teeth and swallowed his burning fury. Swallowed hard…