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Take Honor Against a Sea of Troubles

by Gary Clifton

Louise was out of patience. “For cryin’ out loud, Slattery, you’re already forty pounds of lard overweight. You wheeze like a ruptured blue whale. A couple more donuts is all you need. So far tonight, we’ve stopped, what, fifteen times so you could smoke a cigarette. And you were tipsy with beer breath when we made roll-call tonight. Damn, partner.”

At 51, Carl Slattery had been on the job 28 years and could pension out any day. Just divorced by his fourth wife, kids with three of them; a recurrent bleeding ulcer, painful and chronic hemorrhoids, about a year’s hair left, a minor heart attack last year. He couldn’t afford to take a pension. After child support, he calculated he’d have about nine dollars a week to eat on. No donuts, cigars, and sure as hell no beer on that starvation diet.

“Man, Louise, you nag worse than my last two wives put together. I do the best I can. Just never seem to have no luck.”

Louise, 22, blonde and trim, had been Slattery’s partner for the two years she’d been out of Academy. She was still working deep-nights uniformed patrol in the River District, because a steady flow of Slattery’s screw-ups had buried her by osmosis. As the cop mantra said, “Feces splatters equally in all directions.” Boy, could she attest to that.

“Luck? Carl, if I hadn’t lied like a mink to Internal Affairs when you capped that pimp last year, you’d be in the joint.”

She liked Slattery, but in his last stumble, eleven months ago, he had shot and killed a pimp called “Slim Fred.” Louise and Slattery were both looking at charges.

They’d pulled up on Slim slapping around one of his girls at 3:00 a.m. Slattery, in a time when many younger officers didn’t even have an issue police cap, had pulled on his battered uniform cap as always, waddled up on Slim, then whipped out a revolver and shot him deader than Napoleon when Slim was reaching in a back pocket for ID.

Louise saw it then, plain as sunrise. It was a bad shoot. Slim needed killing, but not with her as a witness. She’d swallowed her conscience, toed the long blue line and swore on God’s oath she had also thought Slim was going for a weapon and that she was in deadly fear for her life. After four sessions with Father Salinas, she still felt the finger of guilt.

But with her testimony, Slattery walked — again — and she still shared an 11-7 shift with Wednesday and Thursday nights off in a deep-nights squad car with a drunken loose cannon whose life expectancy appeared to be about an hour.

“Louise, it’s nearly five a.m. Sweetie, I got an ass-bust headache. Pull over there behind Cleo’s Bar so I can take a leak and grab a smoke. Then I need one more donut down at Lo Chan’s.”

“Dammit, Slattery, I just said you don’t need another donut.” She slid the old Ford down the narrow alley, causing a pair of winos to bolt over a low fence behind Cleo’s and flee across a trash-littered vacant lot. She was not surprised when Slattery donned his official police, dumb-looking cap and heaved his bulk out of the passenger seat into the morning chill.

A shard of ulcer pain wrenched his ample stomach when he climbed out. “Ouch, damn.” He hesitated a second, then motioned for Louise to cut the headlights while he stood in front of the car and urinated with sporadic difficulty while sucking on his favorite cigarette, a Camel.

Louise flipped on the headlights when he plopped back into his seat, the weight testing the shocks and springs with a groaning bounce. He grimaced from hemorrhoidal pain, but made no sound.

“You been to a cardiologist lately?”

“A what?”

“Heart doctor,” she said maternally. “The way you hack and cough tells me you should seek some medical help.”

“Aw, Louise, the Department plan is sorta stingy on stuff like heart doctors. I can’t afford the co-pay. I’ll go one of these days, promise.”

“Sure, Carl. I’m gonna end up being one of your pallbearers, sure as God made apples. Fool, it’s gonna take ten of us.”

The car radio crackled. “Delta 326?” said a female voice.

Slattery picked up the microphone. “326, go ahead.”

“Injured man, corner of 127th and Preston. EMT’s on route.”

Slattery spoke into the mike. “Delta 326 responding.” As he hung the mike back onto the console, he slipped on his battered cap and shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

Louise reached down and keyed the overhead lights and siren.

“Louise, that’s gonna be ol’ Tex whatsie. Some white kid from downtown trying to hijack his stash again.”

“Tex Large? Take a pretty salty kid to take him down. He’s stood out on that corner and peddled junk for the two years I’ve been down here. Nobody tough enough to take him.”

“Naw, before you come on, he got robbed. Shot, actually. But just shootin’ probably ain’t gonna kill ol’ Tex.”

The EMT’s were knelt over a rotund form, prostrate on the sidewalk in a pool of blood. Not a living soul was visible for blocks. Slattery flashlighted the injured man.

“Ol’ Tex Large, sure enough,” Louise said.

“Dead.” A fresh-faced EMT looked up. “Took two to the gut. Bled out. We’ll call the ME and the wagon.”

Slattery stepped back into the darkness of a boarded-up storefront. Louise followed. “Looks like shootin’ could finish ol’ Tex, after all,” he said.

“Carl, you okay?”

“Everything and everybody is goin’ to hell, Louise.”

Surprised to see he had teared up, she said, “Carl, Tex was way, way overdue, standing here under a streetlight in the middle of the night waving his swag. He must be forty. Man, that’s a hundred years in the straight world.”

Behind them, the radio sounded. “Delta 326, report of a man with a gun on the Preston Street Bridge. Witness says blond white male, young, wearing a light blue jacket.”

They piled into the squad car. Louise re-cranked the siren.

The kid was nearly to the far side of the bridge when they pulled abreast of him. Slattery, cap firmly in place, bailed out as Louise skidded to a stop. She grabbed the mike. “Delta 326 needs assistance, west end of the Preston Street Bridge. Man with a gun.” She stepped out.

To Louise, the kid looked to be about nineteen. He stuffed a large automatic pistol in his belt and climbed over the railing. He stood precariously on the narrow outside ledge. Close to the shore, he was beyond the water’s edge, 80 feet above rocks on the bank below.

Louise was amazed when Slattery managed to pull himself over the rail, grasping the top bar, looking away from the rocks and certain death below.

Six feet from Slattery, the suspect’s shoulder-length dirty blond hair fluttered in the cold wind. He snarled, “You the hero rescue guy, fatso?” He leveled the pistol at Slattery. “Stay back or I’ll jump.”

“No rescue hero here, young fella, I just want to help. I just don’t wanna see you jump... or fall. Ever’body’s got somethin’ worth livin’ for.”

Louise moved in, directly behind Slattery. “Carl, please climb back over.” Terrified, she put a hand on his shoulder. “This mope can jump, for all I give a damn.”

Slattery tried again. “How about givin’ me the pistol. We’ll go have a beer.”

“Screw off, loser. Anybody gonna cry if I plug you?” He waved the pistol again.

Louise asked the kid, “Was it you shot Tex down the street there?”

“I was four bucks short. Four lousy bucks and he wouldn’t help me out. Yeah, I let the air out of his ass.”

Slattery inched closer. The pain in his stomach was sharp, intense; his hemorrhoids throbbed. His headache was severe. God, he needed a beer.

Louise said, “Carl, Emergency Rescue is coming. Get back over here.”

“I got nuttin’ to live for,” the kid spat in the developing daylight. “My parents are tyrants. Make me go to school... wear dumb clothes. Nobody loves’ me, lady, or gives a damn if I jump.” His voice trailed into a whine.

Slattery craned his neck back and studied Louise with an intensity she’d never seen before. Then, he turned to the kid.

“You know, kid, you got a point. Life can be a bastard when everything you do turns to crap and the world views you as a piece of used toilet paper. You’re right. You shoot me, there ain’t a damned soul who’d care.”

Louise watched in horror as Slattery pulled off his worn cap, sailed it out toward the water, then jumped after it. He fell from her grasp, leaving her holding a handful of uniform sleeve. The hat hit the water. Slattery did not. Soundlessly turning slowly in the air, he smashed into the rocks below, ten feet from the water’s edge.

“Holy mother of God,” the kid shrieked. “What the hell am I ’sposed to do now? Help me, bitch. Cops gotta save me.”

Louise stepped toward him and extended her hand. “Give me the weapon.”

At the far end of the bridge, red lights and sirens approached.

As Louise reached for the pistol, the kid yanked it wildly away. Off balance, he lost his footing. His gun dangling awkwardly in one hand, the kid clawed desperately, catching the top-rail with his other hand. He screamed hysterically, then disappeared.

Louise leaned over and watched him crash on the rocks a few feet from Slattery. His pistol hit the rocks near him and discharged from the concussion.

She studied Slattery’s broken body below and said quietly, “Good grief, Slattery, you can’t even jump in the river.”

A uniformed sergeant rushed up. “What happened, Louise?”

“Punk took a shot at Slattery. Caused both to fall. Slattery was a hero.”

Copyright © 2017 by Gary Clifton

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