Authors: JC Coulton
Whatever it is she said comforted me enough that I’m able to sleep soundly. Either that or my body is too exhausted, wrung out from carrying the weight of the case. I work out most mornings, but when the alarm goes off today, I pull the covers over my head and go back to sleep.
Both Brenda and I learned how to self-soothe from a young age. It’s one of the paradoxically cruel symptoms of an abusive childhood. You learn how to make yourself feel better. This is sad when you’re a kid and feeling alone. As an adult, it’s one of my most valuable traits. I don’t even use alcohol to shift the way I feel anymore. It means I can operate with self-sufficiency. It means I can rely on myself even when other people let me down.
I do this for a while, coming to every now and then as the apartment comes alive underneath me. I can hear George having breakfast, chatting away over his muesli when my phone rings. It’s my boss.
“Good morning Lieutenant, what can I do for you?”
“It’s not looking like a good morning from my perspective, Detective.”
My gut starts to sink. “What’s happened now?”
“That’s a question I’m interested in asking you, son. The way it stands now you’re going to need to take some time off work pending an investigation on your involvement in the Lee case.”
I know why, it’s obvious and I also know there are rules for her to follow in these situations. I make it easy for her this time.
“Sure Lieutenant. I understand. Thanks for letting me know.”
“You’re going to need to come down to the precinct today for an interview. What time can I expect you?”
We agree on four in the afternoon, and although the writing’s been on the wall for some time, I still feel a little sick.
“Don’t forget your gun and badge, Detective. And see staffing admin on your way out. They will need your work cell phone and all access keys until this is resolved.”
I agree and she hangs up. It’s strange to have an unexpected day off. It’s even stranger to consider what life will be like without being on the force. She didn’t say it directly, but I know that my involvement with Carrie was frowned upon from the start.
The brass must have finally had enough. There’s only so much a cop can do before being called out as insubordinate. I’ve been walking that line too closely. I feel ill. I don’t want to lose this job. I love being a cop. I love Carrie too, and the thought of what she’ll say about this makes me feel worse.
It’s not like I can let her know too much or even ask her for advice on how to play it. I have no idea what she’d say. What she really thinks about me or what Cooper has told her either. When it comes to Carrie James right now, I’m flailing around in the dark.
I need to pull myself out of this place. In a few hours, I’ll find out what’s happening with work. Until then, there’s nothing I can do, except try and make the most of an unexpected day off. I wonder what George is up to, other than filling up with cereal and chatting to Brenda so loudly, I can hear him through the ceiling and the floor below my bed.
I squashing the anxiety about what’s going to happen later, and head downstairs for coffee.
“Morning dude,” I greet him.
“Morning, Uncle Blake…” He chants up at me.
“What’re you up to later, buddy?”
“I’m building a volcano,” he says proudly. “It’s for my school science project, and it’s actually going to explode!”
His excitement is contagious. I remember doing something similar myself. I don’t want to muscle in on his project, so I offer to help if he needs me too.
“Yeah, come on!” He grabs my hand in his. It warms my heart. I decide there’s nothing better I’d rather be doing on a forced day off. I dedicate myself to the impromptu lesson he’s teaching. The little guy is super proud of himself. He can’t wait to show me what he knows about chemical reactions. It’s the cutest thing, watching him push out his proud little chest.
We set up the eruption station as Brenda makes jam. With summer ending, she’s decided to go all traditional. The house fills with the smell of berries. She’s cooking in a massive saucepan, stirring every now and then.
“That looks like a witch’s cauldron, you know,” George points out.
“Ha ha. Very funny, you won’t be talking about witches when I’m hoarding the best jam for myself, will you?”
My sister has an infamous sweet tooth. We both do, but she’s more disciplined than I am in keeping it in check.
This jam-making mission is part service for the school fair and part personal supply. She likes to contribute to George’s school community in any way she can. I just like the jam. I always sneak a couple of jars for my desk drawer at work. It’s the perfect late night pick me up when I’m on shift. Not that I’ll be on shift for much longer. It seemed pretty clear that I’m being suspended. Why else would she have told me to bring in my gun and badge? The thought of surrendering makes me itch with discomfort. Being a cop is my passion; it’s a huge part of who I am now. I don’t think I can bear it if Jacob takes that away.
Jacob is a hard boss. Her standards are often impossible to adhere to. It means she gets the best out of her officers. Sadly, it also means there are few second chances. I’ve already been extended one of those. I’m aware that my status as an alcoholic works against me, in her eyes. I’m also aware that the media debacle that Neon caused a while back could and probably should have been the last straw for me. In fact, it seems every time I have something to do with Neon, it ends badly. I should take it as a sign to stay away for good. The day goes by slowly. I’m nervous about the meeting with Jacob. There’s nothing I can do, but wait for it to play out.
George is a sweetheart. Brenda cleans up around the house. Despite my angst about the axe that’s about to drop, I enjoy myself. Being with family is the best thing I can do to take my mind off it all, but I still wonder what Carrie’s doing. She’s constantly on my mind.
Finally, it’s time to leave the apartment and find out my fate. When I pull into the parking lot, the good spots are all taken. I do my best to maneuver into another, tighter spot near the fence, and I’m already grinding my teeth. It’s not a good sign, but I can’t afford to complain.
I make my way up the ramp, through the front doors and past processing. There are a few tattooed thugs and city boys waiting to be interviewed. I don’t spare them a second glance.
The desk sergeant greets me with a mock salute. He’s on the phone. I don’t stop and chat. I know Lieutenant Jacob is waiting for me and if I don’t want my ass in a sling, I’d better get in there. I pass the cage and the mock jeers of my fellow detectives. Now is not the time for joking around. They obviously don’t know what today is about. I just want this over with.
I knock on her door and wait. She signals to me that she needs another five minutes. I feel like a schoolboy outside the principal’s office. It’s not unusual for me to be in trouble, but I can already tell from the look she gives me through the glass. This is going to be worse than ever. If my friendship with Neon or my romance with Carrie has been outed, I’ll have no excuses.
Jacob invites me in finally. I take a seat in front of her without being asked. Hell, what more can she do? Discipline me for sitting without permission? I look across her desk and meet her eyes. I have nothing to be ashamed of, but I have disappointed her.
“Detective Anderson, I received a call last night from the FBI. They say you intervened during a critical surveillance operation. Would you like to explain to me what the hell you were doing in New Jersey, and why you were associating with known criminals?”
“Honestly, I thought Neon Lips might have some ideas about April. I went to check it out. She owes me one. That’s all it was.”
“You’re not even on this case anymore, Blake!” Her tone is sharp. She must have taken some heat from above to be so worried.
“Agent Cooper also tells me you have history with Neon Lips. You may have forgotten I started this assignment after some issue you had that made it to the papers. Is all of this true?”
“Well, not all of it, but yes. I’ve known her since she was fifteen…”
“Save me the history lesson. What I want to know is if she’s already caused you such public grief, why are you still in contact?”
“The last time we spoke it was before the media got hold of the Senator story. Someone did me in to the press. I’m sure it was Neon, but I had nothing to do with any of her business dealings. I got hold of her last night because of the information she might have on April Lee.”
“Detective Anderson, I need you to confirm that you are not in a romantic relationship with Neon Lips before we go any further.”
“No. I am not in a relationship with her anymore. It ended years ago. After that, we were friends. That’s all.”
“Detective, you know I’m on your side. I’ve always had a soft spot for you, but there’s nothing I can do this time. The decision has been made. Effective immediately, you are officially suspended from your role as a NYPD Detective. Do you understand what I’m saying?”
I nod. “I know I should have said something earlier. I took a chance on Neon and I understand that you’ve got no choice.”
“I’m sure you’re aware there’ll be a full investigation into your conduct on this and other cases that may or may not have involved Neon.”
“I’m prepared for that, Lieutenant. I have nothing to hide. I know I was doing a good job. I was onto something.”
“Regardless of that, Anderson, I need you to surrender your gun and your badge to me now.”
I hand over the symbols that have come to mean so much to me.
“I’m sorry to be the one to do this, Anderson. Your union rep will be in touch to advise you of recourse. Internal Affairs may also contact you for an in-person interview. Make sure they can reach you.”
I leave her office without another word. I feel numb. I’ve been suspended. I don’t stop at my desk. I don’t say goodbye to anyone. I just keep walking. I get outside, jump into my car and start driving home. All I can do is wait for the outcome. I feel more powerless than ever before. I’m not angry. It’s strange, everything feels surreal. Even the busy traffic appears further away then ever. I’m in a bubble of isolation, driving towards a future I don’t understand.
The only person I want to see now is Carrie James. She hasn’t taken my calls today, so to me, she’s further away than ever before. I’ve lost the woman I love, and I’m facing the end of my career. Jesus, how did this go so wrong?
Now what? The phrase runs over and over through my mind. This is the worst I could have imagined. I’m suspended. There are so many things I wanted to say to Jacob back there. So many moments where I wanted to lose my shit and tell her she was wrong.
Thank God I didn’t. There was no way I could have kept a cool head. I would have walked out fired instead, I’m sure. She’s doing what she has to do, but I thought she would have backed me up with the Feds. I respect her; well, I respect the work she’s been doing, anyway. She’s got a name for being fierce and unyielding. I admire her commitment, but this feels like the opposite. Jacob is bailing out because the going got tough, or the brass snapped their fingers. Fuck!
I decide to call Ryan. He’ll have the inside word after being stuck on desk duty with that wrist injury. Our precinct is too small for gossip not to get around. There has to something more to this than Neon. Who cares if she’s my ex? It’s not even relevant. That’s what doesn’t make sense.
I suspect the real reason for a suspension is because I’ve been getting too close to Jessup. I need to find out who’s pulled the plug. It’s not like I’ll be gunning to take them down. I just want to know. It’s wise to find out who’s batting for which team around here. If there are a bunch of cops protecting Jessup, I’m going to have serious issues getting any further in this trafficking case.
“Ryan, brother. It’s me.”
“Blake, I heard. How are you?” His serious tone tells me he’s aware of the gravity of what’s happened.
“Buddy, I’m floored too, man. It was the last thing I expected.”
“What did Jacob say? Why?”
“She said it has to do with knowing Neon. We have some history.”
“Honestly bro, that’s all she said.”
Ryan is silent on the phone. I start to worry that he may know more. He says, “Don’t feel bad. I’ve seen worse shit happen. Talk to our PBA rep. They’ve seen it all. They can fix this.”
“Yeah man. That’s what Jacob said. Twice. She told me this was why I was suspended with pay until further notice. The Police Benevolent Association still has to be notified.”
“Well that’s good.”
“Not really, Ryan. It’s not looking good. I thought I’d tap in to Neon’s sources for some info on the April Lee case. I think the FBI old Jacob I was up there a suspect.”
“Buddy! This is bad news. So what’s the official line on how long you’re out for?”
“No idea. It’s pending an investigation.”
At that he is silent. We both seem to consider the consequences. It’s not good.
“Have you heard anything more on your end?” I ask. I have to ask because I can’t see how this alone would cause me to be suspended.
“Yeah man, I heard about the suspension and there’s been more shit talk about that FBI Cooper. He’s got himself a shitty rep, that guy.”
“What for?” I’d be interested in Ryan’s opinion on Cooper.
“If anyone got you suspended, it’s him. Guy’s a shit talker. He’ll never come to your face. I hear he likes to work behind the scenes to fuck officers up. I’ve spoken to someone else who heard rumors that he’s a nark. Don’t worry, brother. I’ve been keeping my eyes open. I’m making the most of my desk assignment. Can’t even work in the lab with this wrist!”
“Shit. Sorry, buddy. I got too caught up in my own drama…what’s the story? You gonna be chained to that desk for long?”
“Maybe a month. Depends on my progress, I have to do these exercises, get massages and physio twice a week.”
“Fuck! We’re both out of action then!”
“Yeah, man. Have you told Brenda yet?”
“Not yet. She’s gonna freak. I’ve got savings, but if this takes a turn for the worse, the pressure will do us both in.”
“You two can handle it. You’ll pull through. You could do some consulting or some security work while you’re off. Hell, maybe you can work for me at the house. You’re handy, right? I’ve been meaning to get a contractor to hire out some tradespeople to redo the kitchen.”
“Thanks man. I can manage that for you, if this ends up taking more than a few days.”
“Good. I’ll get myself organized and set it up. I’ll keep an ear out here at the precinct too, just in case there’s more dirt spreading around about why you got suspended.”
“Yeah. That’ll help. If the FBI or Cooper is shutting me down, there’s not much I can do but accept it. It’s either that or get out there and prove them wrong.”
“Blake,” his voice has a warning tone. “You could be facing way worse than a suspension if you head down that road. You’ve got no gun, no badge and no authority. It’s not a good idea.”
“I’m not doing anything wrong,” I say defensively.
“Yeah but you’re planning to. I can hear it in your voice. Just try to make sure that whatever you come up with, you’ll run it by someone, okay? If you’re out there with no backup, shit could get real.”
He’s looking out for me and he’s right, but my service weapon isn’t the only one I own.
“If I go anywhere dangerous on my own, I’m not going unarmed. I’m not a fool, Ryan.”
“I know you’re not, but you are my friend, and that means I get to say this shit.”
He’s right. I need to hear this right now. It’s why I called him. He has my back. I might be driving home from a suspension meeting, and wondering why the woman I love never wants to see me again, but at least I’ve got my boy Ryan to count on. He’s solid.
Special Agent Jason Cooper, on the other hand, is a snake. Now I know not to trust him for second. He seems to be out to get me. It’s bullshit machismo stuff. He must think I’m involved with Neon and playing Carrie, if he heard us yesterday morning. It has to be something like this, something I don’t know about. He wouldn’t just make life hard for me for no reason. It doesn’t serve the FBI or Carrie, and it certainly doesn’t solve the case.
I drive for another ten minutes. The next right move is to tell Brenda and it’s about time I cook dinner. I’ve missed my night for the last couple of weeks. If I’m going to bring her bad news, I had better deliver it with some good food. The next stop is the supermarket, for that reason. The aisles are not too busy. I take my time, wandering around to plan a meal that will soften the blow. I get fresh herbs and quality meat. I even pick up her favorite ice cream. Little sister is getting the works tonight. She’s unlikely to be angry, but she will be anxious. She had a lot to deal with on her own, before I was sober. This is supposed to be my turn to be the responsible one.
Walking around makes Carrie’s absence feel more intense. A pang hits me. I want her right now. I want that feeling of knowing that there’s someone waiting at home for me. If Carrie James were here right now I’d cook every night for her. I’d hold her in my arms and make sure she’s happy. I’m feeling all this pain about Carrie. Her rejection shook me to the core. She’s shaken me off before, but this time she was really hurt. I hate thinking that I’ve hurt her. I don’t want to see the tears glisten in her eyes as she holds them back.
This place gets to be too much in my sullen mood. It’s probably not the healthiest place to be, for a lonely man who’s pretty much just lost his woman and his job. I need to leave here and have a conversation with her. If we have even a small chance of a future together, Carrie and I need to talk this out. I want to know what really happened back in high school. Why she came back from summer break like a different, super-cold person. Why there was such a sadness and secrecy. Why she works so hard and cares so much. What I did yesterday to drive her away.
I want to get inside her mind and I want to be back in her heart. I walk around the aisles but I keep missing essential items for the meal I have in mind. It’s a beef and mushroom curry that both Brenda and George love. It won’t cook itself, so I find what I need. Finally, I have everything ready to go. Even though money’s going to be tight for the next month, I spare no expense.
I get through the cashier’s line and hurry to get home. Something about it sparks a tiny seed in my mind. What if I were forced to leave the NYPD? What would I do next? Should I study, or will I end up bartending again? I haven’t considered being anything other than a cop. I thought I’d be a lifer. I’ve even imagined relaxing on my pension after twenty years of service.
Maybe there’s another life out there for me. Teaching or building businesses. Travelling, maybe. Being a cop has been everything to me. I’m sure in time, I’ll get some perspective. I always do. I’ll come up with a new plan.