The shotgun blast was so loud that it took me a moment to even understand what I’d just done. I can’t say for sure what I was feeling. There was anger. There was fear. But most of all, there was a strange giddiness. If it hadn’t been my first time firing a shotgun, maybe it would have felt differently. The two men in front of me looked at me in disbelief. One of them had just the hint of a grin when the other one fell. And though I knew I was done, I was ready to fire again.
The previous night, there was no shotgun. My only weapon was a heavily used blue nylon jacket with the word ‘Security’ embroidered on the upper left hand side, like a nametag. My job was simple: stand outside the Food Mart from 6pm to midnight. That was it. If the place got robbed, I was supposed to call 911, like any customer would do. If someone stole something, I was to tell Todd, the night manager. I was a grocery store scarecrow. My training consisted of being told where to punch my time card and where to hang up the jacket that had been worn by countless security guys before me. Twice a night (at 9pm and at 11pm), an armed rent a cop would drop by while Todd did a safe drop. My first night on shift, the rent a cop said to me, “You’re just a deterrent. I’m the stopper.” He patted his holstered pistol for effect.
The job was Lisa’s idea. Lisa was the sort of girlfriend who looked at boyfriends like projects. She knew that I wanted to be a cop. At 19, I was still two years away from being eligible for the Washington State Academy. I’d taken a criminology course at Tacoma Community College, but now it was summer. Sure it was boring, but it was a job. And as Lisa often reminded me, “ Nick…a lot of being a cop is standing around doing nothing.” And money was money. Even if it wasn’t much.
Most nights, I didn’t mind the monotony. I’d joke around with the cashiers and help them take down the outdoor fruit displays at closing time. But that night, I didn’t want to be there. Lisa was at a party and even though it was with her lesbian friend, Rose and that whole crowd, I’d rather have been there. Lisa thought she was being the good girlfriend by sending me texts on my cell telling me how much she missed me, but really all it did was make me want to walk off the job.
By the time midnight came around, I was more than ready to leave. It’d been another uneventful night. The most exciting thing that happened that night was Todd throwing out a drunk who’d managed to throw up in the vegetable aisle.
I exchanged texts with Lisa, while I walked the mile back to our basement apartment.
Me: I M OFF U STILL @ R’s?
Lisa: No. I’m home now. Stop using text speak.
Me: BUT WE R TXTING
Lisa: And you’re still literate. Type like a human.
Me: Okay. You win.
Lisa: I always do.
Me: LUV U
Lisa: Come home so I can beat you properly.
I was home before one, but Lisa was sleeping. My least favorite aspect of my job wasn’t the hours. It was that I seemed to miss everything. Nine times out of ten after work sex wasn’t an option because Lisa was already asleep. I went into the bedroom, got undressed listening to her quiet snoring, and went to bed.
The knock on the door woke us both up. There were three quick hard knocks. Basement apartments tend to have this thing where every sound in the place echoes. I grabbed some dirty clothes off the floor. I caught a quick glimpse of Lisa’s breasts as she got up and went down the hall to the bathroom. I saw her naked every day, but I loved those brief accidental peaks. I opened the front door and was not ready for what was on the other side.
At first I thought he was a stripper, but the uniform and gun were too real. Still, the Elvis Presley shades and the slicked back black hair almost defused any authority the guy might have. He chewed gum like it was tobacco. He looked me up and down and said, “You gotta be Nick. I’m Dean.”
Maybe it was too early. Or maybe I wouldn’t have known what to say regardless of what time it was. I got out an, “Um…”
“This is 2010 Proctor. Apartment 1. Right?”
“Yeah.” The cop stood there for a moment with a look that said, ‘Is this the right place?’
“Oh shit. She didn’t tell you.” The cop said.
“Tell me what?”
“Lisa. That’s your girlfriend, right? She set you up for a ride along. Get dressed man.”
What. The. Fuck. “I’ll be right back.” I shut the door.
Lisa walked into the living room wearing a bathrobe. “Lisa, there’s a cop here. He says you signed me up for a ride along. Says his name’s Dean. You know anything about this?”
“Crap!” Lisa said, “I totally spaced it. Sorry. Where is he?”
“He’s at the door.”
“You didn’t invite him in?”
“No, I don’t know him and he looked kinda sketchy even with the cop uniform. “
“Dean’s fine. I met him and his wife at Rose’s party last night.”
I opened the door and let Dean in while I got ready. Twenty minutes and a quick kiss from Lisa later, I was walking out to Dean’s patrol car. I got into the passenger seat and noticed the mounted laptop facing the driver’s side separating the two sides of the car. Dean got in and pointed at a switch between us near the dash.
“You see this switch? This unlocks the shotgun.” He pointed to the rack directly behind our heads. “You see me get into trouble, don’t try to work the radio or anything. Just flip that switch, take the shotgun, and shoot the fucker.”
He shifted the car into gear while I thought about whether or not ‘He told me to shoot the fucker’ would be a viable defense in court. We got to a stop light. Next to us I heard the familiar summer sound of some moron’s bass speakers. Generally it was something I tuned out, hearing it a hundred times a night at work. But it wasn’t even seven in the morning and they were blasting their radio like they were at a club. I looked over at the driver who couldn’t have been older than I was. His eyes got wide and he turned it down. It took a moment for me to figure it out and when I did, I thought, ‘Hey, being in a cop car has its advantages.’
We drove without saying anything. He sent a few texts with his cell and called someone at the station to tell them he had a ride along today. When he was done he said, “It’s a weekday so it’ll probably be boring as shit, but I’ll arrest somebody. Try to make it interesting for you.”
Jesus. Right now there was someone who was walking around not knowing that by the end of the day they’d be arrested for my own amusement. I thought cops arrested people because they were criminals. I kept these thoughts to myself. No reason to get on his bad side. Dean smiled at me and rounded a corner. Tires squealing.
We went down 30th Street Hill, which took us through Old Town, then hit the freeway, eventually getting off on the Tacoma Mall exit. Until a few years ago, the main police station was part of the County City Building in downtown Tacoma. Then one of those warehouse grocery stores decided to move and expand and in exchange for the permits, they sold their old place to the city of Tacoma for cheap.
As soon as we pulled into the parking lot of the station, Dean lost his sunglasses and gum. I walked into the squad room with him and no one gave me a second look. Dean disappeared and came back a few moments later with some paperwork.
“On the part that says, why you’re here, just say you’re interested in law enforcement. Make sure you sign everywhere you need to.”
While I filled out the paperwork, I heard the sergeant, a bald, older black man, tell us about a shooting that happened last night only a couple miles from the Food Way. I wondered if I heard the shots. If I did, I hadn’t noticed. The guy who got shot survived and the shooter was still out there. The suspect’s description was a white guy in his twenties with a Mohawk and a neck tattoo. Obviously not a criminal mastermind. I signed the last page and handed it to Dean. “Great.” He said. “Let’s get out of here.”
Dean offered me a stick of gum as he got back in the car. I didn’t take it. He tossed a couple of pieces in his mouth and put his sunglasses back on.
“So, Nick. Why you wanna be a cop?”
“I like the idea of helping people.”
Dean pulled into traffic, heading into downtown.
“You may want to help people. That’s fine. But there’s only two reasons to be a cop: Either you’ve never had authority and you want some or you’ve been a bully all your life and you want to keep being a bully. Me? I won’t lie. I’m the bully. What about you, Nick?”
“Like I said. I just want to help people.”
“Then you should be a doctor or something, dude because I’ll tell you this one for free: Cops don’t help people. Most of the time, all we’re doing is dealing with people no one else wants to deal with. We’re garbage men.”
“So if that’s what it’s about, what’s the appeal?”
“Two things, man: One, I got the power. People talk a good game, but nobody fucks with cops. And the guys that do, we take- Whoa. Did you see that shit?”
I did. The Mazda in front of us had gone right through a red light. There was no traffic going across so we followed him through the light as Dean flipped on his lights and sirens. The car pulled over after a half block or so. Dean typed a few things into the laptop.
“The car’s clean. This probably isn’t anything but a dumbass. Still, stay in the car.” I watched him step out and thought of all the highway patrol reality shows I’d seen where things started out just like this and then went terribly wrong. Nothing like that happened. Five minutes later, Dean walked back with a smile on his face.
“You didn’t give him at a ticket?” Dean got back in the car. The Mazda drove off and a small hand waved out the driver’s side.
“Her. I didn’t give her a ticket. And if you’d have seen her, you’d understand why.”
“So some girl runs a light and she gets a pass because she’s hot. What if a guy like me runs the light?”
“You’d be a hundred nine-teen dollars poorer.”
“That’s not cool, man.”
“Sure it is. Like I said, two things. The first one is power. The second one is pussy. Now don’t look at me like that. I ain’t one of those creeps who lets girls off for sleeping with him. That ain’t right. I just give’em my number.” I was sure that Lisa had mentioned something about Dean having a wife, but this didn’t seem to be the best time to bring that up.
The police scanner chirped. Dean picked up the call and ten minutes later we were at an apartment building near the city dump. There was already another police car there. The building was a single level nine unit structure that looked like it might once have been a bad motel. There were broken windows and half the doors were open or missing. It looked as if it were waiting to be demolished. As we pulled up, a uniformed cop got out of his car.
Dean and I got out into the summer heat. No wonder the cop had stayed in his air-conditioned car until we arrived. Dean introduced me to the other cop. His name was Dan Salvatore. He was in his mid-30s, balding, and had more of a belly on him than I’d expect a good cop to have. His face was soft and round. He looked more like a pastor than a cop.
“What are we doing here?”
“Nick, this is a place where bad things happen.” Dan said.
“Sometimes we find stolen cars here. Maybe some junkies shooting up. You never know. I’ve been on the force three years and Dan here shows me one of these places about once a week. These are places you’ve probably driven by a hundred times without really noticing. Dan here notices everything.”
We walked through an open door. The door had a ‘5’ on it. The unit was about twelve feet by ten feet. In one corner there was a bathroom that had a sink and toilet. There were empty 40 oz. bottles and cigarette butts on the ground. In the middle of the room there was a mattress that was so torn up, it was barely recognizable.
“We ever get any rape calls here?” Dean asked. Dan shook his head.
“Great place for one though. Probably only a matter of time.” I would have said something, but nothing in my experience had a response for ‘great place for a rape’. We heard something outside and walked back out.
The little girl couldn’t have been more than two. A diaper with at least one load of crap was the only thing the kid had on. She had a red popsicle in her hand. And she was walking out of one of the open doors of what I thought was an abandoned building. I took a step towards her, but Dan held me back.
“Amber!” Dan said. “It’s Officer Dan.” At first I thought he was talking to the girl, but a moment later there was some commotion inside one of the units. A stringy haired blonde in a dirty tank top walked out and sneered at us.
“What you want, ‘Officer Dan’?”
“You living here now, Amber?” Amber reached in her pocket, pulled out a smoke, and lit it.
“Well, y’know.” She said. “The rent’s cheap.” She smiled a smile that was missing a few teeth.
“It looks like little Ashley needs a change. You got any diapers here?”
She glared. “Don’t you worry about Ashley. I take care of my kid. Now fuck off. All a’ you!”
Dan gave a nod to Dean. Dean walked past Dan and me and right up to Amber.
“Remember me, Amber?”
“Yeah, I remember you.” She blew some smoke at him.
“You may have Dan there wrapped around your little skeletal finger, but I know you got a warrant out for solicitation and I think little Ashley would be better off in foster care than with your junkie ass.” Dean snatched the cigarette out of her hand and let it drop to the ground.
Amber’s attitude disappeared. She walked away from Dean and picked up Ashley, who smiled at her. She walked back over by Dean.
“What- what do you want?”
“We’re cops, Amber. All we want to do is take down bad guys. You point us towards something worse than your warrant, we’ll leave you and little Ashley alone for now.”
Amber looked at Dan. He gave her nothing but a stare.
“Check number eight or nine.”
“What’s over there?” Dan said.
“I don’t know. I stay away from it. Some Mexicans stay there sometimes.”
Dean started walking towards the other units. I followed him. Dan stayed with Amber. I heard Dan say, “You gotta get a new diaper on Ashley.”
Once we were out of earshot, Dean said, “That’s Dan’s biggest problem. He spent five years as a social worker before joining the TPD. He doesn’t just want to police. He wants to solve everyone’s problems. I was once at a domestic with him where, I shit you not, he helped them figure out their finances. We were there for three hours.”
We walked past number six and seven and into number eight. It looked just like the one we had been in before with the exception that the right wall was destroyed leading into nine. There were a couple of chairs, a bunch of jars of something, a few rolls of tin foil, and a small fan near the window. It was about twenty degrees hotter inside than it was outside. Dean and I were already pouring sweat. As we walked into number nine through the wall, I noticed broken batteries and a camp stove. It smelled like the place had been flooded with cat piss.
Dean grabbed my arm. “We gotta get out of here.”
We went to the door, but it was closed and wouldn’t budge. We walked back through the wall and out the door of number eight. I felt light headed.
“What was that?”
“That was a meth lab. We gotta call the Hazmat Team.” For some reason, though I’d seen junkies before, the word ‘lab’ always made me think that meth labs were clean or at least organized places. Having just walked through one, I realized how silly that was.
Dean and I walked over to Dan. Amber was in the back of his car with Ashley.
“You arresting her?” Dean said.
“No. I’m taking her to the grocery store. Find anything?”
“Yeah. There’s a meth lab back there. I’ll stick around and wait for Hazmat. You go do your good deed for the day.”
Dan grinned. “Thanks Dean. She just needs a little help.” Dan got in his car and drove away.
Dean and I got back to the car and he called in the meth lab.
“Hazmat teams have it made, man.” Dean said.
“They get a call, they get three hours double overtime even if it’s a false alarm.”
“The team won’t be here for a while. Let’s find a spot in the shade.” Dean shifted the car into gear, but we went backwards and hit something. We looked back and saw a telephone pole. He pulled forward. We got out to inspect the damage and my head spun. There was a small mark on the bumper.
“Dude,” Dean said, “I am fucked up on those fumes. How about you?”
I nodded. We got back in the car, turned on the air conditioner, and waited. Sitting with a contact high with a cop was a surreal experience. A half hour later, two vans showed up. Dean got out and talked to them for a few minutes. By then I felt a good deal better. He got back in the car and I saw the Hazmat guys getting into their moon suits.
“Dean, we were just walking through there with nothing!”
“That’s why we have you sign those release forms. You could get brain damage, but you can’t sue us.” Dean laughed. “Let’s go.”
The next call we took was a burglar alarm. “Let me guess,” I said, “Nine times out of ten, it’s a false alarm.”
“More like 9,999 out of 10,000. I’ve never answered a real burglar alarm and I don’t know any cops who have.” We got to the house and looked around. Nothing seemed out of place. He called into the alarm company and we left.
A little later there was word of a high speed chase on the radio, but by the time we got there, the show was over. The car was pulled over on an off ramp on Highway 16 near the Narrows Bridges and a State Patrol officer had the guy in the back of his car.
Driving away from there, Dean said, “Tacoma Police have a high speed chase ban. We can block the guy, but we can’t chase him. If the guy would have got off the freeway and kept speeding, he might have gotten away. Let’s get some lunch.”
The majority of Tacoma’s waterfront was known as Ruston Way. The jogging path along Ruston Way went from an old fishing wharf, down past a few restaurants, to the remnants of the Asarco Smelter that had been closed down for twenty years. After stopping by a sandwich shop, we parked down near one of the restaurants and watched girls in small outfits jog by. Being a cop may not always be exciting, but unlike the security job, at least the scenery changed.
“So how long, have you and Lisa been together?”
“A little over a year. What about you? You married or something?”
“Yeah. Been married two years.”
“She cool with you giving out your number to speeders?”
Dean smiled. “We have an arrangement.”
“I take it you don’t run around on Lisa?”
“You should dude. You’re young. A guy like you could do well.”
Dean saw him before I did. He didn’t say anything. He just dropped his sandwich and got out of the car. He left the car door open and ran towards a man with a Mohawk. He pulled his gun and started yelling something I couldn’t hear. The guy stopped.
I heard Dean’s cell go off in his seat. It was the standard text messaging tone. After a few moments, an automated voice read the message. “You. Are. So. Cute. Thanks. For. Dealing. With. Nick. I. Thought. He. Would. Find. Out. Everything.”
I reached over and picked up the cell. I clicked through the previous text messages.
The first one being a little before midnight from Lisa’s number:
Lisa: Stop by anytime after six. Twenty ten Proctor. Apartment one.
The next one was shortly after Dean had picked me up that morning.
Dean: I thought he went 2 work at 6am. Not 6pm. Ride along was all I could think of.
I thought back on how he’d talked about his favorite things about his job was power and pussy. Something outside got my attention. Dean and the Mohawk guy were on the ground wrestling. I thought of something else Dean had said: “Shoot the fucker.”
I flicked the switch, grabbed the shotgun and got out of the car. I pumped the shotgun. Mohawk had stood up and had Dean’s gun. I stared at Dean.
The shotgun blast hit Mohawk in the shoulder. He fell, dropping the gun. Dean went to pick up the pistol. I pointed the shotgun at Dean. Dean gave me a look.
“Your wife called.” I said, “She wants you to stop fucking my girlfriend.”
I lowered the shotgun. Dean called it in.
An ambulance took the guy I shot to Tacoma General. We told our story a dozen times to half a dozen people. Then we wrote it down. Dean called the Food Mart and said I was helping with an investigation. Around midnight, we got to leave.
Dean and I were walking back to the car. We’d hardly said a word to each other.
“Let’s get a beer.” I said.
Dean looked at me.
“You want to have a beer with the guy who screwed your girlfriend?”
“I won’t lie, Dean. I was pissed, but as I thought about everything that happened today, I realized something.”
“You never promised me anything. Lisa did. By sleeping with you, Lisa was being a slut. You though, you were just being a rock star.”
Dean put on his sunglasses.
“You got that right, baby. Let’s get drunk. I’m buying.”
*Like what you see? Read more about Cameron’s projects and purchase his book “Ruin Your LIfe” @ jackcameron.com.