HONOR AMIDST A SEA OF TROUBLES

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, 15, 16 times so you could smoke a cigarette. 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 re-current 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 of a steady flow of Slattery’s screw-ups which 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 IAD when you capped that pimp last year, you be in the joint.”

She liked Slattery, but in his last stumble, eleven months ago, he 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, as always, had pulled on his battered uniformed cap, waddled up on Slim, then whipped out a revolver and shot him deader than Napoleon when he reached 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 also thought Slim was going for a weapon and 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, Wednesday and Thursday nights off, deep nights squad car with a drunken, dissipated, loose cannon, whose life expectancy appeared to be an hour.

“Louise, it’s nearly five a.m. Sweetie, I gotta ass bust headache. Pull over there behind of 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, as he heaved his bulk out of the passenger seat into the morning chill.

A shard of ulcer pain wrenched his ample stomach as 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 dually urinated with sporadic difficulty while sucking on a Camel.

Louise flipped on the headlights as 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 PD 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 flash-lighted the injured man.

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

“Dead,” a fresh faced E.M.T. looked up. “Took two to the gut. Bled out. We’ll call the M.E. 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 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 something worth livin’ for.”

Louise move 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.

“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 gotta 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 a handful of uniform sleeve. The hat made 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 ‘posed to do now?” He screamed at Louise. “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, causing him to lose 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.”

Previously published at http://www.bewilderingstories.com