My first job was in the Tenderloin, arresting hookers. A few weeks out of the Academy, I graduated top of my class and wanted to make good. My sergeant had been on the Force since the days of the Zodiac Killer and kept me on a tight leash. I tapped the patrol car dashboard as we watched the streetwalkers through the windshield.
“We gonna arrest them?”
“Sit tight, newbie. Just sit still.”
I slumped back in my seat, the evening rain tapping the roof. My sergeant sat behind the wheel, never taking his eyes off the steaming coffee cup in his hands. He had a grey cop mustache and should’ve retired a decade ago. I could only guess why he stayed on the Force. Probably troubles at home, alimony payments or gambling debts or worse. Everybody had their reasons for needing a steady paycheck these days.
It’s just a job. Beating up bums, tasering drug addicts, intimidating streetwalkers, whatever it took to get a suspect in the patrol car. Just a job. Not who I am. Not on the inside.
Streetlights flickered down the wet boulevards as we sat parked in the rain. Nightwalkers shivered in their short skirts and hot-colored bras. Like some dumb game, we sat inside the dry car, pretending not to see them. The girls, with their damp hair and running mascara, pretended to look for a good time. I heard stories about parts of the city like the Tenderloin. A few long blocks filled with enough dark longing and vice to make the evening news on a regular basis. Now, everything I heard about the slum seemed like a load of crap. The soaked streets looked about as happening as an empty pool hall.
The downpour letup like someone turned off the shower. I checked my watch. Late or early, depending how you looked at it. I yawned. It felt pretty fricking late to me. Few cars ventured out on the deserted avenues, their headlights catching glimpses of our patrol car and the hookers smoking cigarettes. With my window open, I smelled the wet pavement and the smoldering fumes of Marlborough Lights. Nodding off, I dreamed of red lights and white lace before my sergeant awoke me with a laugh. Another pair of girls approached down the boulevard, calling out to their girlfriends on the opposite street corner.
My sergeant elbowed me. These two streetwalkers were a different class of girl. They had tall boots and tan legs, wearing lingerie that looked like something out of Victoria Secret. My mouth hung open, my sergeant laughing again. He pointed towards the two hookers as they crossed the street in front of us.
“Well, rookie. Why don’t you say ‘hello’?”
I didn’t understand. Maybe he wanted me to arrest them. Or just question them and let them off with a warning. I decided to take him literally. I would just say “hi.” Rolling down the window, I stuck my head out into the damp night air.
One of the hookers paused in the street, the red and neon shop lights accentuating her curves and jet black hair. Under the phosphorescent bulbs, her eyes reminded me of a calico cat. I swallowed, trying to keep my voice from cracking.
“How you doing?”
Her eyes narrowed on my badge.
“Fuck you, pig!”
All the blood rushed to my face. She wasn’t some pretty girl, and I wasn’t just some nice guy. We were hooker and cop, and those two enemies didn’t mix.
She gave me the finger. A strange glow emanated from the side of her face. Still in the center of the street, the hooker turned and looked into the headlights of a moving cab. The car brakes screeched to a halt as her skull hit the pavement. She lay still on the wet asphalt. My sergeant sat up.
“Holy Christ! Did that just happen?”
He called in for an ambulance on the radio, almost gleeful for having something to do. I stumbled out of the patrol car. If I hadn’t called out to her, she wouldn’t have stopped in the middle of the street. She wouldn’t have gotten hit. I should’ve been mad that she flipped me off. Instead, my stomach tightened in a knot.
My sergeant called after me, still on the handset with Dispatch. I ignored him as I raced toward the intersection. Her bare legs and raven hair protruded beneath the dented bumper. She wasn’t moving. The cab driver put his hands to his head.
“Hey, Officer, I had the green light. She came out of nowhere!”
My ribs ached, like I had been hit by the cab. The girl’s gang of girlfriends stood nearby, silent as death. My sergeant called out from the patrol car.
“Don’t touch her, kid! You don’t know where she’s been.”
The other hookers watched me, a cop, an enemy hunched over their friend. Sirens murmured in the distance. Screw what the sergeant said, she was still a person. My hand trembled as I reached down to touch the girl. Her cheek felt cold as ice. I brushed back a strand of her midnight locks, her ruby lips shiny as candy.
Grabbing the handheld radio on my uniform, I spoke in the clear, steady voice they taught us to use back in the Academy. The rain started up again.
“Young female struck in traffic collision, requiring medical attention. She’s…”
I felt for her pulse. Her painted eyelids remained shut. I held my breath. Her chest rose ever so slowly. I clicked on my radio, looking at the girls on the street corner as I spoke.
“She’s breathing…she’s alive.”
Her companions started to cry. I held my coat over the unconscious woman at my feet, shielding her from the rain. She looked like a fallen angel sprawled on the wet asphalt. Ambulance sirens neared. I stifled a sigh. Even a cop could be a human-being sometimes. It wasn’t just a job after all.
Mark Noce is a Technical Writer by day and Fiction Author by night. He writes novels about historical fiction, ranging from pirates to the colonial frontier to the American Civil War. He also writes contemporary short-stories.