Sunday, March 29, 2015

Someone Else's Field by Billie Pritchett

Two cops talk about their lives while staking out a storage facility that may or may not be the site of a colossal drug deal; by Billie Pritchett.

The old detective Scarsdale had been waiting in the car for a very long time. When Rossi came out, the detective was eyeing the brown-brick facade of the apartment building. Scarsdale looked surprised when Rossi's knuckles tapped against the driver's side window. He looked up with a start. Rossi stood there smiling. Scarsdale rolled down the window and Rossi extended a hand.

"I'm Rossi," he said.

"Peter Scarsdale," Scarsdale said. "How did you know it was me?"

"Please," Rossi said. "1996 green Ford Taurus. I knew you must be on a cop's salary."

"Well, are you going to stand out there all night or get in?"



Scarsdale and Rossi drove to the edge of town to a maze of storage units. The last sight a body could see before leaving Maron County were those strangely configured storage units, laid out along the stretch of highway. Scarsdale parked the car behind one of the units.

"What are we doing out here?" Rossi asked.

"Keeping a lookout," Scarsdale said.

"I know that," Rossi said. "But why'd you turn the car off? Aren't we just supposed to look and go?"

"Got a tip this is where the deals have been going down," Scarsdale said. "We're talking meth and lots of it. We're talking big deals."

"That's not what I was briefed on," Rossi said. "According to HQ, we're going out here to investigate a possible theft at the storage facility."

"Poppycock," Scarsdale said. "This is bigger than that. I know that they've been moving meth down this way. As far as I know, this is your standard bathtub meth. But they're moving in bulk. And in this kind of business, it's quantity that counts, kid. This isn't like the TV shows."

"All right," Rossi said. "But again that's not what I heard." Then he said, "You mind if I smoke in here?" He began reaching into his blazer's pocket.

"Actually, I do mind," Scarsdale said. "I can't be around smoke anymore. Gave it up last year because the doctor said my lungs look like two charred chicken breasts. What do you smoke, anyway?"

"Menthols," Rossi said.

"Menthols," Scarsdale mouthed. "What brand?"

"Turkish Royales," Rossi said

"I knew it." Scarsdale laughed with a wheeze. "Too soft for the unfiltereds. Me, I smoked Lucky Strikes. I chain-smoked them. See, like this." Scarsdale mimed with his hands puffing at one cigarette while lighting another cigarette with his other hand and then puffing on the new one.

"I know what chain-smoking is," Rossi said. "Anyway, I tried Luckys. They gave me a bad head buzz."

Scarsdale reached down and picked up a styrofoam cup from his console. "You want a cup of joe?" he asked.

"No, thanks," Rossi said. "Been drinking that stuff all day. If I drink anymore, I'll have a heart attack."

"Say," Scarsdale said, and scratched his jaw line, "you're not one of those wild young guys who likes to get himself in trouble - put himself in harm's way?"

"No," Rossi said.

"No loose cannon?" Scarsdale said.

"No," Rossi repeated.

"That was just the thing with my last partner," Scarsdale said. "That guy sure was some firecracker. He got himself fired for beating a bad guy up to get testimony. Got himself doing a little jail time too. You're not like that, are you?"

"Look," Rossi said. "I'm not a married guy. But I want to be a married guy." He scratched at the back of his crew cut. "I know I sure as hell can't have a wife and kids one day if I go and get myself shot dead. You don't have to worry about me. I'm about as strait-laced as they come."

"Don't get too excited about the wife and kid thing," Scarsdale said. "It's not all it's cracked up to be." Scarsdale looked off into the distance and sipped at his cup of coffee. The crescent moon hung in the distance like a call to prayer. "My last partner's name was Myers. Andrew Myers. Maybe you've heard of him."

"I haven't," Rossi said.

"I would've thought you guys in Willard County would've heard of old Myers. That guy was a legend."

"Name didn't make it up to me," Rossi said.

"Well," Scarsdale said, "that's all right. Myers never did it for the glory."

"So about you," Rossi said. "Are you some kind of wild-man loose cannon? Am I going to have to worry about you?"

Scarsdale laughed. "No, partner," he said. "Married 15 years. Set to retire after this case. I bet you didn't know that, did you?"

"Know what?" Rossi asked.

"This is my last big case. Lieutenant says if I put in my time tonight, that's it for me."

"Congratulations," Rossi feigned. Then he said, "So this really is a big case? Like I said, the boys at HQ said we're supposed to be out here investigating a break-in. Then we're supposed to head back. That's it."

"Don't listen to HQ," Scarsdale said. "I know what I'm talking about. There's going to be a deal tonight."

"If you say so," Rossi said.

"Retirement," Scarsdale said. "I don't know about that. I can't see myself doing it, you know what I mean. All I know is I just want to provide for my wife and put my boy through college soon."

"Good to hear," Rossi said.

"Well, what do you know?" Scarsdale said.



Scarsdale and Rossi sat in the car for a long time, upward of an hour, not talking to each other, only looking and waiting. They sat so long, they felt as though their seats were actively trying to bruise their asses.

Finally, Rossi closed his eyes and said, "God."

"What?" Scarsdale said.

"What are we doing here?" Rossi asked. "What are we looking for? What are we waiting on? This is ridiculous. We got called out because the other cops on the beat are busy writing chickenshit tickets, and all we're supposed to do is see if there's a B and E."

"No," Scarsdale said. "That's not it, see. This is a stakeout. And if my intel is correct, we're about to see one of the biggest deals ever go down. We're talking about the kingpin of this whole tri-state region."

"How do you know that?" Rossi asked.

"I just know," Scarsdale said. "Don't ask me how I know."

"You must be out of your mind," Rossi said.

"No," Scarsdale said.

"Look, how can you be so sure?" Rossi asked.

"You got to trust me on this," Scarsdale said. "I may be old but I'm not stupid. I am an old man, it's true. I'm tired a lot these days. My mind doesn't work that well anymore. My mind's tired. But you have to follow my lead here."

"Jesus," Rossi said. "This is unbelievable. What am I doing sitting in this car?"

"Hey, calm it down now," Scarsdale said.

"I'm going to call this in and check," Rossi said and reached for the CB.

Scarsdale slapped Rossi's hand away like he was a child. "No," Scarsdale said. "What are you, stupid? You think these guys don't have access to our frequencies?"

"This is paranoia," Rossi said.

"Like I said, trust me," Scarsdale said.

"I really should be at home right now," Rossi said. "I should be at home, lounging around in bed, watching some TV. I shouldn't be here."

"Hey, hush yourself now, kid," Scarsdale said. "Don't get too excited. Somebody might hear the commotion."

"You know what?" Rossi asked. "I shouldn't be here at all." He paused. "I shouldn't even be in law enforcement," he said.

"Are you kidding me?" Scarsdale asked. "We're on what might be one of the biggest cases ever and you're talking about having cold feet about police work? How fresh out of the academy are you?"

"A year," Rossi said.

"A year!" Scarsdale repeated. "You can't be burnt out after a year. You haven't seen anything. You get a few more years under your belt and then you can afford to complain. Let the weight of the world press down on you a little before you get cold feet. A divorce. Your kid hating you. It'll come soon enough."

"You said you were married," Rossi said.

"I said I'd been married for 15 years," Scarsdale said. "Didn't say I've been divorced going on 17. But I'm the one who takes care of everybody. Nobody else is going to do that. Just me. And as for the son, well, let's just say that his mother's convinced him that I'm the bad guy. He hates me, but I love him anyway."

"But didn't you say you plan to put him through college?" Rossi asked.

"I still send checks," Scarsdale said. "They know the money's in the mail. The kid can hate me. I'm still going to provide for him. But you know, fact is we took out a huge life insurance policy on me once upon a time, and believe it or not, I'm worth more dead to them than alive. Can you believe that?" Scarsdale huffed. "This is what I mean," he said. "You don't know anything. You let the world push itself against you a little more and then you come back and talk to me about being burnt out."

"Well, wait," Rossi said. "Wait. It's not that, exactly. That's not what I meant."

"Then what did you mean?" Scarsdale asked.

"What I meant is I've been thinking lately." Rossi paused. "I haven't even said it out loud," he said, "but it's just - I don't think I'm cut out to be police."

Scarsdale looked at him.

"I always thought I wanted to be a police officer," Rossi said. "It was all I could talk about or think about when I was in grade school. And the only reason I went to college was to study criminal justice because I really believed in the line of work."

"So what's the matter?" Scarsdale asked.

"That was before I actually did it," Rossi explained. "Back then, it was just an idea. I think maybe I was fooling myself."

"You don't get it," Scarsdale said. "This is legacy. It's not something you can play around with. You're either in or out. See, I know what I am. I play a role. I'm in a long line of people who do this kind of work, hell or high water. I've been playing out a role that was set down for me since time immemorial. I don't have a choice in this."

"What are you talking about?" Rossi said. "Jesus, you sound like a crazy person."

"Listen, Green Horn," Scarsdale said. "Maybe you don't want to play along. But I know who I am. I'm police. That's what the gods intended for me, you understand? I didn't get to choose this. That was for the gods and the fates to decide."

"Well, you don't know who I am," Rossi said. "You're in no position to give me advice."

"Well, what I do know," Scarsdale said, "is that you're not going to get cold feet on me tonight. No sir. This is a big case. My last big case. You wait and feel disenchanted after this bust. After that, you feel all the disenchantment you want, kiddo."



Scarsdale's coffee was very cold now. He scratched at his sideburns. And Rossi was scratching at his head routinely, at a dry scab near the crown of his skull.

Then Rossi said, "Look, what's it been, almost two hours now? If you don't drive us back right now, I'm calling HQ myself."

"He'll come," Scarsdale said.

"Who?" Rossi asked.

"The meth guy," Scarsdale said. "The kingpin."

"How do you know?" Rossi asked.

"I have a police officer's intuition," Scarsdale said. "Nothing can beat that."

"Well, have you ever been wrong?" Rossi asked.

"Of course I've been wrong," Scarsdale said. "But when I've been wrong about a thing like this, it was because I wasn't trusting my intuition."

"You sure didn't notice me walking up," Rossi said.

"Well, that was different," Scarsdale said and adjusted himself in his seat. "My reflexes aren't so good. Like I said, my mind is heavy these days."

"All right," Rossi said. "If you're not just bullshitting me, if there's a real reason we're out here, I need to know some details. This kingpin. What do you know about this guy, anyway?"

"Guy's crazy," Scarsdale said. "Crazy meth head. He gets high on his own supply. He's a cop-killer, too, I hear, ex-assassin for what people thought was just a punk gang. He went rogue, though, and started busting up the gangs and taking over the drug rackets."

"How do you know so much about this guy?" Rossi asked.

"I keep my ear to the ground," Scarsdale said. "The guys at the station don't know about his assassin reputation, his craziness. They think he's a myth. But I know better."

"More detective tropes," Rossi mumbled.

"What?" Scarsdale asked.

"Never mind," Rossi said.

"And I heard he's ugly," Scarsdale said, "not like a TV gangster. I've never met a good-looking bad guy. I don't know, maybe they're out there and I've just been working the wrong beat all my life."

"The beat," Rossi repeated. "And how long have you been following this guy?"

Scarsdale paused and cleared his throat. "A while now," he said.

"Did your old partner know about him?" Rossi asked. "What was his name, Myers?"

"He knew about him, all right," Scarsdale said. "Who do you think he beat up?"

"What, this guy?" Rossi said.

Scarsdale nodded.

"Where's Myers now?" Rossi asked.

"He's dead," Scarsdale said.

"You told me he got fired from the police force and went to jail," Rossi said.

"He did," Scarsdale said. "And then he got out of jail, went home, and looks like what he did was put a bullet through his mouth."

Rossi was silent.

"But I know that's not what happened," Scarsdale continued. "I know this guy got him, made it look like a suicide. The guy's ugly but he's not dumb. He's clever."

"How do you know your partner didn't just kill himself?" Rossi asked.

"Because I know, that's how," Scarsdale said.

Rossi's face was expressionless. "So what happened with you?" he asked.

"I'm here," Scarsdale said, "doing what I do."

"No, but I mean how did you react at his death? That must have been hard on you."

"My father died of renal carcinoma when I was 29 and my mother died of lymphoma when I was 32," Scarsdale said. "I told you about my wife, my son. My partner dies?" Scarsdale shrugged. "Losing people becomes easier with time."

"There's no way it doesn't affect you," Rossi said. "I mean, that's got to be the reason your really out here, isn't it? This isn't about the case, it's about payback."

"Maybe," Scarsdale said. "Everything affects everybody. The world never stops affecting you. It's just a matter of what you're willing to put up with. And what you're not."

Rossi coughed and then stared straight ahead.

Then Scarsdale said, "What do you want out of life anyway, huh, kid?"

Rossi looked at Scarsdale.

"You said this isn't your line of work, so you don't want this," Scarsdale said. "So what do you want? What do you want to do?"

"I don't know," Rossi said.

"Well, you have any skills?" Scarsdale asked.

"I don't know," Rossi said. "Maybe. I've never tried anything else."

"That's tough," Scarsdale said seriously. Then he said, "You know about the Greeks? The Greeks had it right. Mycenae. You know Mycenae? About thirty-five hundred years ago, there was Mycenae. You know what that looked like? This is what it looked like. There's was this fortress up on a high hill. That's where the king lived and all the Mycenaean lands surrounded that royal fortress. And what most everybody did in the surrounding area was trade or farm. And a great many of those farmers had to work someone else's field. Now why is that?"

"I don't know," Rossi said.

"Because they didn't have the good sense enough to be born a wealthy Mycenaean, that's why," Scarsdale said. "Because they were born peasants."

Rossi stared at Scarsdale.

"There's no one naturally fit to be a peasant or a slave," Scarsdale said. "Everybody knows that. Aristotle even knew that. But the Mycenaeans needed labor, and some of them were wealthy enough to want leisure, even if that meant telling themselves that some men were lesser men than them. So the peasants." Scarsdale sniffed. "They owned nothing," he said, "not even their own bodies. Victims of circumstance."

"How do you know about this?" Rossi asked.

"I'm a history buff," Scarsdale said.

"Why are we talking about this?" Rossi asked.

"You think those peasants could have been anything else?" Scarsdale asked. "I mean, given the conditions of Mycenaean society, given the way everybody thought about everything at the time, what the wealthiest folks wanted, you think if we rewound that tape it'd look any different?"

"I don't know," Rossi said. "What's this have to do with me? Why are you telling me this?"

"We're not that much different than those Mycenaeans," Scarsdale said. "There's no choice in this. I'm here, playing my part, being a cop. That's my role."

"All due respect, Detective Scarsdale -"

"I'm talking about life," Scarsdale said. "Your life. My life. I'm talking about doing what you do because that's who you are. That's why I'm police."

"You talk about this like you don't have any choice," Rossi said. "Well, if everybody can't help but be who they are, how do you explain people like me? What's my role?"

Scarsdale paused. "It seems like a point, doesn't it?" he said.

"This is all just an excuse," Rossi said. "You could have been anything you wanted to be."

"No," Scarsdale said. "No, and I'm right. You've got a role too. Everybody's got a role. It's only a matter of time and place. You see, if you or I were one of those Mycenaean peasants, we would've worked ourselves to death, tilled the ground until our breath left our bodies. But the same goes for everybody. You can't be anything but what you are."

"That's not true," Rossi said. "We've got choices. I've got a choice. I can decide who I am, what I want to be -"

"Well, if you really believe that, what are you doing here?" Scarsdale asked. "Why are you sitting here in an old car with a fat fucking cop from Maron County? A fat fucking cop you don't believe in the slightest has any idea what he's doing. You don't believe that anybody's coming, do you? You think I'm crazy. If you really think that, then you make a move. Here." Scarsdale handed the CB receiver to Rossi. "Call it in," he said. "Tell all the guys back at the station I'm crazy. Tell them. They already think I'm crazy, anyway."

"It's fine," Rossi said. "I don't care."

"Tell them," Scarsdale said.

"No," Rossi said and took the receiver and put it back on the radio. "No, I'm going to trust you with this one," he said.

Scarsdale popped a piece of gum.

Rossi squinted at Scarsdale. Then he turned his head toward the windshield and stared that way for a long time.

It was quiet outside and there was a great stillness to the world.



Rossi didn't know how long he had been asleep when he heard the tap on the driver's side window. He saw the man who opened fire: 30ish years old, white male, brown or black hair, no visible tattoos but a little scruffy, dark mole on his left cheek, wearing a pink T-shirt.

"Affirmative," Rossi said into the CB. "Pink T-shirt."

Rossi had reacted as quickly as he could, unholstering his gun as Scarsdale received one gunshot wound to the stomach, which the perpetrator had fired down and through the driver's side window. Rossi immediately fired one shot in the direction of the perp but missed, shattering Scarsdale's driver's side window and causing an unholy ring in his ears. Rossi exited the vehicle and scanned the area for signs of the perp. Then at a distance, Rossi saw tail lights and ran toward the vehicle. But the perp escaped before Rossi could even get sight of the vehicle's departure.

Now Rossi was driving to the hospital, siren blaring, cherry light stuck on top, Scarsdale in the backseat.

"That was him," Rossi said. He glanced back at Scarsdale. "You did this," he said to Scarsdale, but Scarsdale didn't answer. "You brought me out here for this. You knew this was suicide from the word go, didn't you? You didn't care about the deal, if there was a deal." Then Rossi said, "You're not going to die on me," but like more of a question.

Rossi radioed for emergency services, and the ER team met him in the hospital parking lot. They put Scarsdale onto a gurney. Rossi explained to the ER guys that this was an officer who was shot in the line of duty. As they were wheeling Scarsdale in, Rossi leaned over and whispered to Scarsdale, "I'm going to make this right, okay? That's what I'm going to do. I don't have to, no matter what the fuck you think, but that's what I'm going to do."

The light outside the hospital windows was breaking, and as soon as the early and rosy-fingered dawn appeared, Scarsdale opened his eyes to find himself upon the Elysian plain, where there is no rain, no snow, nor heavy storm, where life is easiest for men.

6 comments:

  1. The tale takes the reader into jagged and unsettling worlds - the internal psyche of a disappointed man, and the crude reality of policing with a view to settling old scores. Can the main protagonist be seen as an Olympian so that his sordid activities can be dignified? What a tragedy that Rossi seems to have been seduced into taking over the baton and continuing the naarative? A good story, told with pace and good observation for detail. Thanks,
    Ceinwen

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  2. first class, completely convincing characters and dialogue. even if you´re not sure you´re supposed to be a cop if one of your colleagues is hit you have to step in. they have their code.
    well done

    Mike McC

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  3. Nice storyline, great character depiction. Ceinwen says it well - Rossi has been seduced into taking the baton.

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  4. The gods wanted me to be a cop seems clumsy to me. Death by cop just before retirement seems familiar.

    Scarsdale seemed untrustworthy all the way through.

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  5. I love a good dialogues story, but try not to be so robotic: he said, he asked, he said, he said, he asked after every line gets old. It's a common mistake I used to make. Mix it up with some gestures or just let your characters talk, and trust the we as the readers are smart enough to know a good back and forth. You do that and you've got it! :)

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  6. Thank you for the comments, everybody. I appreciate the praise of both Mike C and Jim Bartlett, as well as the helpful criticism from Doug and Jessica Baumgartner. I guess I should go ahead and address some of those points.

    Doug says the gods thing seems clumsy. Maybe clumsily written, in which case I'll bite the bullet on that. Death by cop should be familiar because it's a detective story trope. And yes, I agree that Scarsdale is acting weird from word Go, but that's by design. If it doesn't work, of course, shame on me.

    Jessica, I think you're totally right: no need to indicate all the dialogue shifts--there are two characters and readers get it.

    Best wishes,

    BP

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