Outside the snow is falling, each flake a tiny little speck of white that floats quietly through the moonlight to softly kiss the ground. By itself, each one is nothing, but the weatherman says by tomorrow morning there'll be six more inches on the ground. That means I'll be out there with my shovel cleaning the drive again.
Inside, my fire is crackling noisily, the yellow flames gnawing at the oak logs stacked on the andirons. In an hour, the flames will yield their seat to red, glowing coals that burn hot and slow, slow enough to be stirred back to life in the morning. Already there are a few coals claiming their right to the logs. It's almost as if the coals burn so hot the flickering flames leave for cooler spots.
The scotch in my glass is down to one last swallow that I toss in my mouth and hold there, savoring the earthy blend of flavors ripened to smoky perfection over the years spent aging in the cask. I swallow, then reach for the bottle to pour two more fingers of the amber ambrosia into the heavy crystal glass.
On January nights, like this, the snow, the fire, and the scotch all set my mind to remembering other times in my life. Some people would think it's because of my age, or that when the single malt in my glass relaxes my mind, I'm trying to relive old times. I think those people probably have just existed through life. I've lived it, so I have many things I like to remember.
It happened, along with many other events more noticeable to the public, one night in October of 1991. I was an experienced cop with two tours as an MP in Vietnam and twenty years of wearing a badge, and was sure I'd seen about everything there was to see.
I turned the plain white sedan onto Hayworth Avenue and drove slowly as if I was looking for something. In truth, I was. The popular name at the station for Hayworth Avenue was "Hooker Alley". There were six blocks of old storefronts garnished with the occasional corner bar between Ashland and Rosemont that every night seemed to sprout women in extremely short skirts, low cut tops and ridiculously high heels. If one wanted a short time with their expertise, all one had to do was pay.
About every six months, we ran an undercover operation on Hayworth to keep the girls on their toes. We knew they wouldn't stop, and they knew we could only hold them for a few hours before their pimps bailed them out. Sometimes, it almost seemed like a game. With plain cars and officers dressed as civilians, we tried to get them to tell us what they offered and at what price. With street smarts and very good memories for our faces, they tried not to get caught.
If we had a new face to put in a car, we'd usually get half a dozen. They'd be mad, but they were mostly mad at themselves for letting their guard down. Once at the station, it was like a family reunion. We all knew each other from other sweeps.
I drove through the green light at Rosemont and then through the one on Jason. There was a parking lot in the middle of the next block where I could turn around. I was headed back down toward "the Alley" when I saw a woman standing by the street in the middle of the block. As my car approached her, she waved and walked out to the curb...
She didn't look like the typical prostitute from Hayworth and she was a block past their usual turf. She wore jeans, not a short skirt, her shoes were running shoes, and she had on a coat. I slowed to a stop as she walked up to the passenger window, and rolled it down when she tapped on the glass.
"Ma'am, you need some help?" I asked.
She took a deep breath and then put on a fake smile that wouldn't have fooled a kid in kindergarten.
"No, but I have something you might want."
"Oh, and what would that be?"
She unzipped her coat revealing a pair of nice breasts under a tight knit top.
"How about these?
I guessed the Hayworth girls had decided to expand, although there weren't many streetlights on this block. Our street girls may have been working on the shady side of the law, but they weren't stupid. Streetlights meant a customer could see them and what they had to offer. Streetlights were also some protection against the man who wants a good time but doesn't want to pay for it.
"Well, I don't know. I was on my way to see my girlfriend..."
She took another deep breath.
"I – I'll be better than your girlfriend. Try me out and you'll see.""
"What d'ya mean, try you out?"
"I'll go home with you ... for the night, for..."
She stopped talking for a couple seconds. I guessed she was trying to figure out how much I'd pay.
"Well, get in here Honey. We're wasting time."
I drove a couple of blocks past the Alley and turned into an empty parking lot. When the car came to a stop, I turned on the dome light, then reached across the seat and grabbed her arm. She pulled back and cried out.
"What are you doing. I thought we were going to your house ... for the night."
I slipped my badge out from under my jacket and held it up for her to see.
"Miss, I'm Officer Daniels, and I'm placing you under arrest for prostitution."
My cuffs hadn't snapped all the way shut on her wrist when she started to cry.
You get used to all the false emotions these girls cultivate to use in avoiding arrest. I'd heard women cry before, and they cried better than this one. I ignored it and reached for her other arm. As I was putting the cuff on that wrist, I realized something was wrong.
She wasn't resisting. Her arms were limp and her body was slumped over as the sobs racked her chest. I let her arms go, just to see what would happen.
Most of the girls I'd arrested before would have tried to get out of the car, and a few would have tried to scratch my eyes out. This one did nothing but sit there and sob. She was really afraid.
"Honey, you really don't have much to worry about. Who's your man? Big C, Stonewall, Greaser? Doesn't matter. He'll be down to bail you out as soon as he knows we got you."
"I don't have a man, and I don't know any of those guys either."
So, she was freelancing.
"Honey, you're in for big trouble hooking by yourself. Those guys own all the girls on Hayworth, and they're not gonna take kindly to you stealing their customers."
"I'm not a prostitute, or hooker like you said."
"Sure sounded like it to me. You offered to spend the night at my place for fifty dollars. The law calls that soliciting."
"I just wanted someplace warm to spend the night, and I figured the only way anybody would let me was if they got to sleep with me. The money was just to make you think I'd done this before."
When I thought about it, there were a lot of things that didn't add up to her being a hooker. She hadn't just come right out and said she do this and that for such and such an amount, like she was reading off a menu. The cardinal rule of hooking is to get the money before anything else happens. She hadn't done that either. She was in the wrong block to attract men only interested in a quick blowjob or fuck in their front seat.
There was also the only offer she'd made. Street girls stayed on the street as much as possible to attract as many men as possible. Volume meant money, and the money was why they were there. Hookers who spent the night were high priced, pretty sophisticated, and very discriminating. You'd never catch one of them flagging down cars on the street. They made their appointments by phone.
"OK, suppose I believe you. Why'd you flag me down?
She looked at me with puffy eyes.
"I don't have anywhere else to go and I don't have any money and I don't know anybody who'd help me."
"Honey, this is a big city. There's shelters all over the place. You could sleep for free and get a meal too."
"I can't go to a shelter. I want to be a singer. If it ever got out that I'd stayed in a homeless shelter, no producer would give me a second thought."
"What do you think they'd say if they knew you'd been convicted of hooking?"
"I guess I didn't think I'd get caught", she sniffed.
I still wasn't really convinced.
"Give me some ID."
"Here, take my whole purse."
She was Sandy Jeanne Williams. The Tennessee license said she was twenty, lived at 625 Richmond - a couple of blocks over from Hayworth - and was an organ donor.
The rest of her purse seemed to confirm her story. Her wallet contained her Social Security card, a library card, and twelve cents in change. She had a lipstick, half-gone, a compact with no powder, two pens, and a hairbrush. I couldn't find any trace of drugs either.
"How in the hell did you ever get to this point? You could have called your folks to come and get you."
"I don't have any. Mom died ten years ago, and Daddy three, right after I got out of school. A drunk driver was what the police said. I always wanted to be a singer, so after the funeral, I sold everything but the car and drove to Nashville.
"I've spent the last two years singing in bars, but it's harder than I thought it would be to get noticed. I sold my car last month to pay the rent and buy some food. I ran out of money again last week and couldn't pay the rent. When I got back to my apartment this afternoon, the super'd locked me out. He still has all my stuff. He said he wouldn't give it to me until he got his rent."
"So, you decided to become a hooker?"
"No", she sobbed. "I keep telling you that and I don't know how to make you believe me. I just wanted a place to sleep that was warm. I wasn't even going to take the money."
"No brothers or sisters ... no aunts or uncles ... there's nobody you can call?"
.... There is more of this story ...