a Women Writer's' Showcase
by Ed Lynskey

Caffeinated by coffee, Sharon Knowles leaned back in her seat. The tense knot spasmed between her shoulders didn't slacken. Monday she was penciled in to work the nightwatch tour, "when the party animals came out," the desk sergeant said.  Her veteran partner, Jesse Malone, one-handed the steering wheel, his other turning off the CV Interceptor's FM radio.

"What's your favorite wish, rookie?" he asked.

Unsure if he was baiting her, Sharon watching a Silver Diner go by decided take a stab at humor.  "To meet a billionaire at Cafe Milano," she said, "and love at first sight."

Taking it the wrong way, Jesse reacted in a surly tone.  "It figures.  If patrolling a  beat isn't what you signed on for, bail now.  After fourteen years, I can tell you it doesn't get easier."

Without hesitation, she said, "I was cracking wise."

"Only it wasn’t funny," said Jesse.

"Look.  I didn't join up all starry-eyed," said Sharon.
"So, lighten up a little, huh?  I've been around the block."

To forestall a smile, Jesse bit his lips between teeth.  "You're doing okay," he said.

They retreated into their respective shells.  Sharon first
reminded herself to pick up a Brita water filter for her kitchen tap and to continue her search for an overdue video.  City water here left an aftertaste and the video hadn’t appealed to her. She let out a silent sigh.  The asphalt and concrete had grown harder and harsher since she begun looking at it through a real cop's eyes.

The weight snug on her hip was a .40 S&W Model 4006.  Its specs spilled into her head with intelligent ease: 4-inch barrel, double-action, 10-round magazine, and 37 ounces.  Her required off duty weapon of choice was a Browning 9mm.  The fact she was well-learned in police procedure was a point of pride for Sharon.  Her self doubts stemmed from a concern of how she'd do applying the knowledge in the field when called upon.

Jesse's partner had finagled a two-week vacation and in the interim Sharon had been filled in to satisfy the regulation that patrol officers pair up.  This tour was their last one.  At the termination of each watch, she’d found a chair and made a space at the cluttered oval table inside the supply room.  This, such as it was, served as their office.

Gleaning information from scribbles in her duty notebook, a Steno pad she'd paid for out of pocket, Sharon did their tour paperwork.  This time it was run-of-the-mill stuff -- a domestic disturbance between a drunk couple and a red light runner.  She picked up fast on how their cruising streets served as a visual deterrent to crime.  Once finished, the desk sergeant, herself close to 20 years and out, commented Sharon wrote good reports, what could only be an asset to her law enforcement career.  It was the only encouragement she'd received, but a little went a long way.  Something else she'd learned.  Tact, self-deference, humility, determination, and a wicked sense of humor were also desirable cop traits.

Just then over the Motorola 2-way radio blazed a message.  Shots fired were heard at the merchant's plaza in midtown.  Repeat, shots fired.

"Let's grab it," said Jesse.

He tripped the roof bar to pulse red-blue and activated the shrieking siren.  It unleashed adrenaline streams jolting both veteran and rookie alike.  Their ho-hum week had busted wide open.  Four and a half blocks away, Sharon radioed in their position and grabbed her shoulder harness.  Jesse hooked left and hammered down the major artery, threading between motorists hugging roadsides to clear them a path.

The merchant’s plaza was once a through-street down a canyon of small stores peddling everything from furniture to ice cream. The concept of creating an outdoor mall was a part of the city government's continuing efforts to revitalize the downtown core before all of the frustrated entrepreneurs pulled up stakes and moved on to the placid, bounteous suburbs outside of Bay City's limits.  The budget money never came, promises were broken, so stores emptied and windows boarded up.

Jesse curbed their cruiser behind a green Mitsubishi Eclipse. An OBX bumper sticker and out-of-state tags earned an eyebrow hike from Sharon.  Why was a tourist doing here in the old part of the city?  Barreling out of his seat first, Jesse then spun around and motioned his hand.  Grabbing her uniform hat, Sharon hurried to fold herself out of the cruiser.  They had to charge in together, one covering the other's back.

"Judging from the rubberneckers," said Jesse as they trotted over the brick walkway, "we're dealing with a homicide.  Stay on your toes, rookie."

"Got it," Sharon said.

The dead body was, indeed, a good draw.  Neither officer unhitched their holster.  The milling onlookers assured them that the big excitement was history.  At the crowd's edge, Sharon's mind snapped blank.  For securing a crime scene, every do and don't flew out her head.  Alarmed, only one thing stayed in her racing thoughts.  Her instructor at the State Police Academy had repeated almost like a voodoo mantra: “let common sense be your guiding force.”  She focused on that insight. Common sense told her they needed reinforcements.  Fast.  Those mean stares giving them the once-over suggested police weren't popular here.

Jesse sidemouthed in an even, low tone: "It's important we block these people and preserve the crime scene.  Be polite but firm."

Instinctual, Sharon reached a hand over to unlimber her baton.

"No," said Jesse, shaking his head a slight nod.  "Not
necessary.  Yet.  See if you can just talk them into backing off a bit.  Polite but firm.  Gain their trust, don't beat them over the head.  That's a battle we can't win."

"Got it," she said.

Elbowing a corridor through the mob, Sharon and Jesse repeated in a steady monotone: "Stand back, please.  Step aside.  Police coming through.  Everything is fine.  Thank you, sir.    Coming through.  Stand back, ma’am."

A jittery tightness lumped in Sharon's chest.  Shoving between the taller, bulkier men, she swallowed.  She felt her comfort zone erode and a vulnerability raise in her.  On tiptoe, she craned her head and neck looking for Jesse.  The crowd obscured his burly profile, but his drill instructor voice cut through.

"Back it up, huh?  I'm coming through.  Thank you, gentlemen. Excellent."

In a little, they intersected again at the nucleus of the
restless mob and fixed eyes on a young Asian male, age no more than 16 if that, laying crumbled on the brick pattern.  The pool of blood pointed to the fatal bullet strike.

"Is he dead?" asked Sharon in a low utter.

"Is he dead?" heckled a man's accented voice.  "No-no,
officer lady.  He got tired, decided to deck out, take a nap."

A chorus of rough bantering laughter agitated Sharon's
professional cool.  Seeing red, she wanted to single out her tormentor, cuff him, and haul him off to jail.

"Easy, rookie," Jesse murmured.  "Don't go for the
bait. There's one in every crowd."

"Step back, please," said Sharon, her command strained and high-pitched.  For the first time, she recognized it as fear.

"Any of you know the decedent?" asked Jesse, his toughened face sweeping the bleary-eyed spectators.  "Is he a local?"

Sharon knelt to one knee, touched two fingertips to the boy's radial bone, a pulse point above his wrist.  Hoping otherwise, she detected no pulse.  For corroboration, she focused her gaze to a point below his sternum where the ribs joined but saw no breaths rise and fall.  The boy was gone.  Her mouth went dry.

Jesse unclipped his shoulder microphone, barked their location and status into it.

"Units en route," dispatch responded.

"Easy, Sharon," Jesse said.  "Just keep 'em from
tracking through it.  We'll keep that much of the crime scene uncontaminated until we can build a police line."

A new voice piped up.  "I called it in on my cell."

Sharon and Jesse peered through the faces.  "Who are you?" asked Sharon.

"Sir, please step out," said Jesse.  "We'll want to
get down your statement."

"No-no, I gotta go to work," the voice told them.

"Get his heart pumping again," the heckler hooted out.  The laughter revved up.

Several nearby men nodded, the banter instigating a couple more as the crowd noise intensified.  Uneasy for the first time, Jesse didn't like how things were playing out. 

"That'll be enough out of you," he said. 

His empty hands rose a few inches but he resisted the nervous temptation.  His .40 S&W remained in its holster.  His chin nod showed Sharon to shift around and put their backs to the brick wall.

"Bring him back to life," said the heckler.

"Don't react," Jesse said through his teeth. "That's
what he's fishing for.  It'll only escalate this."  In an authoritative voice, he asked: "Who witnessed this shooting?"

"Yep, I saw the whole thing," said the man.  "Gotta
go, now."

"Sharon, our main thing is crowd control," said Jesse.
"Take out your baton.  Stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me."

"No guns?" she asked.

"Not unless you wanna see this rabble yank out theirs."

A sullen silence fell over the crowd gaping at the spectacle of one down dead in the street and two cops guarding him with nightsticks in hand.  Sharon looked back and forth under the brim of her uniform hat.  The troublemakers, however, stayed tucked in the safety of numbers.  Cowards, she decided but not willing to articulate that thought.

Relief arrived with the crisp crescendo to police sirens.  Ears pricked up.  A few broke away and shuffled down the plaza. Louder whistles dispersed the rest.  A wino curled into an alleyway.  One by one, the others melted away.  Even the faceless hecklers didn't linger.  As with every homicide call, a swarm of units had responded.

Jesse and Sharon unspooled the yellow police line tape, anchored one corner on a newsstand, and then tied it to a lamp pole. Their sergeant started a personnel list to document who went in and out of the crime scene area.  Jesse, Sharon, and another officer walked a search grid to recover any spent brass but no luck.

Events proceeded in quick, efficient fashion.  No eyewitnesses came forward.  The canvass of the adjacent neighborhood turned up nothing of evidentiary value.  Sharon followed Jesse back to their squad car as disappointment and dismay clouded her downcast face.  Her first homicide investigation had turned into a flop.

"It's all right," said Jesse, aware of the sting she felt.

"We've all been there.  This job is hard and heartbreaking.  You fall down, you get up and keep running, eh?"

"I hear that," she said.  "And thanks for the advice."

The green Mitsubishi Eclipse was still in the same slot as when they'd pulled up earlier.  All the respondent cop cars had already left as the two patrol officers got into their cruiser. Again, the “use your common sense” rule occurred to Sharon. Suppose an out-of-towner needed money.  He’d find somebody to mug.  Suppose that mugging went bad and ended in a fatal shooting.  He’d have to hang around until everybody disappeared to reclaim his car, this green Mitsubishi Eclipse, and scram it out of town.

Sharon explained all this to Jesse sitting in their patrol car. Her suggestion -- and she repeated it was only a suggestion -- was to leave the plaza, then circle back and stakeout the Eclipse.

"Yep," said Jesse.  The cruiser moved with new purpose.
"That perp might show up to get his car and we'll be ready to nab him. Good catch, rookie.  I mean Sharon."


Ed Lynskey's short fiction has appeared in HANDHELD CRIME, FUTURES, PLOTS WITH GUNS, MYSTERICAL-E, MISSISSIPPI REVIEW ONLINE, and ORCHARD PRESS MYSTERIES.  The Sharon Knowles character is featured in a completed novel ms., THE BAMBOO CRUX, about to make the usual rounds. Contact Ed.