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?"
"Mom and Dad were older when they got married. I was the only kid they had. The rest of my family is gone too."
I called central dispatch and ran her license. The only thing on her record was a speeding ticket for five over when she was sixteen.
All police officers are called upon every day to make decisions that affect the lives of other people. Most of them are pretty easy. Arrest this guy, take this kid home and hope he's scared enough he won't run off again, tell this woman her husband's going to keep hitting her unless she gets her kids and herself to a shelter. I made another one that night that was maybe a little harder.
"Sandy, I'm going to let you go if you'll promise me you won't go back to that street and try to pull over another car. You don't have any idea about what you're doing or what could happen to you. I don't want to be back here some night putting you in an ambulance or a body bag. You understand what I'm saying?"
"Yes ... but where can I go, and don't tell me a shelter? I've already told you about that."
I made another decision.
"I'll drop you at a diner with a couple bucks. You stay there until the end of my shift, and you can use my guestroom tonight. That OK, with you?"
"Your wife won't care?"
"She would if we were still married, but I don't think she'll mind now."
Two hours later, I picked Sandy up at Mel's and drove home.
"Well, here we are, such as it is. The guestroom's down the hall on the right. Bath's next door. My room's across the hall and it has its own bath so don't worry about me walking in on you."
Sandy thanked me for the tenth time, then walked down the hall. I heard the door close and went to the kitchen for a beer.
I woke up about ten the next morning and smelled something burning. Without thinking, I ran out of the bedroom in my boxer shorts and followed the smell to the kitchen. Sandy's look of shock, and what I saw of the rest of her brought me to a screeching halt.
She had on one the work shirts I keep in the guest closet, and that was all. I'm about six two, and if Sandy had been much taller, that shirt wouldn't have done much in the way of covering her up. As it was, the shirttail covered her butt cheeks and front, but the "vee" on each side went all the way up to her waist. Unless she had on panties with an invisible waistband, she was naked under that shirt. It was so big on her, she might as well have been wearing a tent, and all I could see were her legs, but those slender, shapely legs were fantastic.
"What wrong", she gasped. "I thought this would be OK."
"It's not you. I thought I smelled something burning."
"Oh, that. You had something on the burner I'm using and it made a little smoke."
"OK. But why are you cooking? If you'd said you were hungry, I'd have stopped somewhere last night."
"It isn't for me. I thought you might like breakfast when you woke up. You had some eggs and bacon, so I decided to surprise you ... to thank you for letting me stay here."
"Nah. You needed help. Cops would rather help people than arrest them. By the way ... why are you wearing one of my shirts?"
"I felt cruddy, so I took a shower this morning. I found your shirts in the closet and put one on so I didn't have to wear my dirty clothes again. I'll go take it off while you eat."
"No, that's OK. You cook enough for us both, though. I'll go dress and then we'll talk about what you're going to do."
If Sandy cooked everything like she fried bacon and eggs, I thought she was going to make some man a great wife someday. She even got my old coffeemaker to produce a good cup of coffee. Sandy started to pick up our dirty plates but I stopped her.
"Sandy, just sit here so we can talk. What can I do to help you get back on your feet?"
The look on her face was part relief and part wary.
"Why would you want to help me? What do I have to do for you?"
"No, it's not what your thinking. I know you weren't ... well, I know you'd never done that before, and I don't want you to try it again. I've hauled in enough hookers to know their lives aren't much fun. You don't seem like the type of girl for that anyway."
"Well, last night while I was standing there in the cold, I did a lot of thinking, and I thought some more before I went to sleep. Maybe I'm not meant to be a singer. Maybe I'm just somebody who likes to sing. I don't know, but I decided I need to find a way to make a living while I'm figuring that all out.
"I know, you're thinking I should have figured that out a year ago, while I still had some money and a place to live. You're right, but you've never felt what it feels like to be on stage in front of people and have them like what you do. When I sang with a band, it was like that, and I loved it."
"What happened to the band?"
"They got tired of playing for tips and not getting any paying gigs. They just sort of stopped playing about six months ago. I haven't heard from any of them since."
"Well, I'm sure you can find something, if not today, then tomorrow."
I pulled out my wallet and handed her a twenty and the spare house key I kept there.
"This'll get you a bus ride to wherever you need to go and buy you lunch. You come back here for tonight, OK? This key opens the front door. Come in and lock it behind you."
"I appreciate this ... I'm sorry, but you never told me your first name."
"It's Mark, Mark Daniels."
"I appreciate this, Mark. I don't know what I'd do otherwise."
"You just go out and look hard. Now, I have to go in early today, so I'll see you tonight, around midnight.
On my way over to 625 Richmond, I was hoping I hadn't made a mistake. She didn't seem like the type, but it was possible I'd come home to an empty house with no stereo, TV or anything else of value. Still, I was pretty confident in my ability to judge people, and my gut said she'd do just as I told her.
The apartment building was about what I expected. It was far enough from the worst parts of Nashville that it wasn't full of hookers and drug peddlers, but it wasn't any place you'd want to admit to living in. I found a door on the first floor that said "Superintendent" and knocked.
I recognized the man with the scar over one eye who answered. I'd arrested Jimmy Hayes a few years back for petty theft and knew he'd spent some time at the Turney Center. He recognized me too.
"Well if it ain't the fuckin' cop what busted me. What d'ya want. I ain't done nothin' since I got out o' Turney last year 'cept keep the johns flushin' in this shit hole and listen to people bitch that it's cold in winter and hot in summer."
"Jimmy, it's good to see prison changed you into a such friendly guy. How is Turney these days anyway?"
"It's a bigger shit pot than this is, but I did my time, and now you can't touch me."
"Oh, I don't know. I'll bet you're still on parole, aren't you?"
"Six months left if it's any of your business."
"Well, it's not you I came here for anyway. You got a tenant named Sandy, Sandy Williams?"
"Yeah, did have. Couldn't come up with the rent so I changed the locks. Taught me that in Turney, how to work on locks, I mean." Jimmy laughed. "Like I didn't know how before."
"I suppose she paid first and last months rent when she moved in?"
"Sure, just like everybody else does."
"It would seem to me that this month's paid for then."
"Nope. It says right in the contract if they don't pay, they get locked out. I keep the last months rent so's I can fix the place up for the next renter."
"Yeah, I'll bet you spend at least ten bucks on paint and keep the rest. What about all the stuff in the apartment? What's your contract say about that?"
"It says I keep anything left in the apartment if she don't pay up in a month."
"Her stuff still there, or have you sold it?"
"I tol' you, the contract says a month. I ain't about to do anythin' that'll get me in trouble again. Her shit's all still up there. Ain't nothin' worth anything 'cept an old guitar anyway. Might get ten for it down at Hank's Pawn, if he's in a good mood."
"Well, Jimmy, tell you what I'm gonna do. You get all her stuff boxed up and down here by eleven. I'll be by about eleven-thirty and you can help me load it in my car."
"I could kiss your bare ass in the middle of the street, too, but I ain't gonna do neither. That stuff's mine."
"OK. You know, I'm sure I saw a rat run down the hall a minute ago, and there's a toilet backed up somewhere. I can smell it. I'll just give the Building Inspector a call when I get back to the station. We go way back, so I'm sure he'll come over and show you what you need to do to the place. Of course, he'll probably close you down until you get it all done, and I doubt the owner will like that too much.
"While I'm here, maybe I oughta just have a look around your place too. I might find something interesting. I can do that, you know, you being on parole and all."
At twelve ten that night, I pulled in the drive. The front door was locked. Sandy was sitting on the couch watching a movie on TV.
"How'd it go, Sandy? Find anythng?"
"I have an interview tomorrow. It's just a waitress job, but it's something. The employment agency said people tip pretty good in this place, so maybe I'll make enough to get my apartment back. Then you can go back to the way you used to live."
"Well first I need you to help me get some stuff out of my car. I uh ... I went over and had a little talk with your super."
Sandy almost cried when she saw her guitar.
"This belonged to my uncle. He taught me how to play and loved hearing me sing. Just before he passed, he asked me to sing at his funeral, and I did. I didn't think I'd ever see it again."
I helped her get all her stuff in the guestroom and then went to my room to change. On my bed was a stack of neatly folded shirts and another of pants, and all my socks were matched up in pairs with the tops folded together. I walked to the guestroom and knocked on the door.
I heard, "Just a minute".
Sandy opened the door and smiled at me. Her thin robe was tied at her waist, and was doing some very arousing things with her figure. It hugged her breasts and hips seductively. If she'd been a little older and the circumstances were different...
"I was getting ready for bed. Sorry."
"My bed is full of clean clothes."
"Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell you. My jeans and top were dirty, and you had some stuff in your hamper, so I washed it all. I ironed it too, but I couldn't find any hangers, so I folded them up and put them on your bed."
"Sandy, you didn't have to do that."
"I know, but it seemed such a waste to just wash my stuff. I did the laundry at home all the time after Mom was gone. It wasn't anything all that hard to do."
The next morning, Sandy had pancakes and sausage on the stove when I got up. When I asked her where she found the sausage and pancake mix she grinned.
"Daddy always liked pancakes and sausage, and I got to thinking you might too. I wasn't really hungry at lunch yesterday, so I used the money to buy this instead."
Sandy got her job that day, and her hours were about the same as mine. I'd drive her to the restaurant on my way into the station, and pick her up after the end of my shift. She was making good money. The restaurant catered to a lot of business dinners, and that meant she was tipped well. She was saving most of her money, so I figured it wouldn't be long before she left.
I knew I was going to miss her. Every day it seemed, I found something she'd done to make my life better. I'd notice the dust was gone from the bookshelf, or that the kitchen floor had been mopped, things I did only when I was expecting some of the guys over for a beer. The bathrooms sparkled like the ones in the TV commercials. And there was always her cooking.
On weekends, she made three meals a day, and I was finding my uniforms fit a bit tighter. Then there was Thanksgiving.
I had to work Thanksgiving night, so I'd planned to miss that holiday like I missed most of the others. By then, Sandy knew my work schedule, and said she guessed she'd miss it too.
I woke up the Saturday after Thanksgiving to the smell of roasting turkey. I still don't know where she hid the bird, but she'd bought one and everything else for the turkey dinner I remembered having when I was a kid. When she brought out the pecan pie, I was already stuffed to the gills. If I'd had to work that night, I don't know how I'd have managed to wedge my belly into the squad car.
Three weeks before Christmas, the bottom fell out of my life. The night before, a Sunday night, Sandy had treated me to a pot roast that was out of this world. She followed it up with a chocolate cake that threatened to put me in a coma. The next morning, after a breakfast of toast and omelets, Sandy told me she was off, and was going to look for an apartment.
When I drove to the station, I was more than a little depressed, but I understood. She had her own life to live, and I hadn't given her any reason to stay. It wasn't that I didn't find her attractive and fun to be with. There was just the age difference, and that difference kept telling me to keep some distance between us. Besides, I wouldn't ever put another woman through the waiting, the fear that I wouldn't come home some night. That drove Alice and me apart. Another one of those would be more than I could stand.
I suppose it was thinking about her leaving that took my mind off the driver of the pickup I'd stopped for speeding. He pulled down a side street and into an alley when I flashed my lights, and I'd run his plate before getting out of the car. Nothing came back except a couple of traffic tickets, so I didn't think there was much danger.
I don't like stopping trucks. The windows are high enough I can't see what the driver and passenger are doing with their hands. The guy had rolled down his window as soon as he pulled over, and when I walked up the side of the truck, I asked him to get out. When he opened the door, I saw an open beer can sitting on the floor.
They told me later they'd found a bag of meth under the truck seat, but I'd probably have never looked for that if he'd just cooperated. From what I knew at the time, the worst he was looking at was a DUI, and he'd have gotten off with at most, a couple of days in jail, a fine and a mandatory DUI class. He might have lost his license, but most courts would have given him a restricted one so he could get to work and back.
Every time I remember it, it happens in slow motion. He gets out of the truck, says something I can't hear, and it's after that I see the gun. He's pointing it at me. Training makes me turn sideways as I draw my Smith, but there's a blast and I feel the bullet smash into my leg before I'm on target. There's another loud blast and that bullet hits me in the neck. Still in slow motion, I fall to the ground while the guy gets back in his truck and drives off down the alley. After that, everything goes black.