They put me in the hospital and kept me two days. The doc said if I hadn't had such a hard head,
I'd be dead. As it was, I had a helluva dent in my skull. You can see the scar on the back of
my head, right there.
Rhonda was upstairs. She was asleep most of those two days, same as me. When I wasn't asleep, I was
thinking what I should've done different, and couldn't figure how I could have known the bum
would be violent. I was thinking maybe when she could leave the hospital I'd take her to my place,
at least till we found him. Maybe she'd want to stay longer than that. It would be nice to have
her there. It would be nice for her to be there when I got home from my shift; or to be next to
me in the morning when I woke up. Nothing serious, I knew she wouldn't want that. Just…it would've
been nice…you know?
I went to see her when they let me out of my room to go home. It was a shock to see her all hooked
up to tubes and things; and when she turned her head to see who was coming in the door, I got my
first look at all the stitching all over her face. Stens told me it wasn't too bad, but he lied.
The bruising would go away eventually, but the scars from the cuts wouldn't. There was a bandage
over one eye. Stens hadn't told me that at all. The other eye looked funny, besides the red
from the bruising; really blue, really light.
I walked over to her bed and leaned down to kiss her. She turned her face away. I touched her hand
where it lay on the sheet and she pulled it away.
"Don't you dare tell me you're sorry. What good is that? What use is that now?"
Her fingers picked at the edges of the sheet, and then clenched into fists. "What did you think I
wanted you around for, you big dumb jerk? And then, when he showed up, you were useless."
I must have looked confused. "What, didn't you figure that out yet? Why'd you think I came on to
you that first time with Louise and Stens? 'Cause you were so suave and debonair?"
"It was because you were a cop. I wanted to keep you coming around 'cause I was thinking if Roy
found me, somebody like you maybe could scare him off. Or maybe protect me. What a joke."
She waited like she expected me to say something. What was there to say?
"I would've been better off by myself. At least I wouldn't have left the door open so he could
just walk in."
"I suppose you thought we were going to get married or something just because I like what you got in
I shook my head. I felt like I needed to do something with my hands, but I didn't know what; so I
stuck them in my pants pockets.
"I was depending on you--I thought maybe you weren't as dumb as you look, but you're just a big
stupid doughnut-eating cop, after all."
She closed the eye that I could see and let her head fall back against the pillow. "Oh, God,
Wendell, look at my face."
She didn't say anything more then for a while. And there was nothing for me to say. She just
about said it all. Finally I cleared my throat and asked, "Do you think he went back to Napa,
or do you think he's still here?"
Rhonda (I can't remember her real name) laughed. "You still don't get it, do you? I've never been
to Napa. I never lived there. I live here. Roy lives here. And you're going to try and find him?
You think you can do that? And then what?"
"Is there any particular place he likes to spend his time?"
"Yeah, there's a bar he likes." She gave me the name and the street. "I suppose you're gonna go and
sit there till he shows up. And what if he never shows up, huh? What then? What useless thing are
you gonna do then? I get out of here, he's gonna kill me. If I'm lucky."
'I'll take care of it." I turned to go toward the door.
"Wendell, wait." She looked really tired. "Listen, I shouldn't have said all that….You know,
"I'll take care of it." And I left.
"Wendell, wait, Wendell-" The door closed on whatever she was going to say.
A big stupid doughnut-eating cop. Just absolutely as dumb as he looks.
My car was still parked in front of Rhonda's apartment. I asked Stens if he would drop me there.
"Sure….You sure you're good to drive? You still look pretty tough."
"Yeah, I'm good."
"When's Rhonda getting out? She know yet?"
"I don't know."
When we pulled up behind my car, he said, "You all right?"
"Sure." I didn't get out right away. Stens just waited. I thought he deserved to know
something, but I didn't know what I could stand to say out loud. Finally I said, "I'm gonna…
I'm gonna pick up my stuff out of Rhonda's apartment."
"She dumped you? Shit, man, that's rough."
"It's not a big deal. Don't go making it into a big love affair or anything, cause it's not.
It was just…we were friends, that's all."
Stens looked skeptical, but he said, "My mistake." And then, "You sure you don't want me to
drive you home?"
I shook my head and got out of the car.
Somebody had come in and cleaned up the blood. Probably Louise. I made myself go through the
bedroom and into the bathroom and get my razor and aftershave. I only had one change of
clothes here, so it wasn't hard to gather up my stuff. I had a few things in one of the drawers.
I tied it all up in the shirt, except for the picture.
When she gave me the picture, I laughed. "What do I need a picture for when I have the real
thing right here in my arms?"
"You might not always, you big lug."
"No?" I pulled her up close and did something I knew she really liked.
She was so pretty. I used to love to watch her face when things were going real good, when I was
doing everything just right; her eyes would close so slow, her head would fall back,
and she'd breathe out with a hiss. And then she'd squeeze me so tight---
"Always, baby, always."
You know how it is. Sometimes when you're making love, you say things. I wondered for a while if
she'd heard that; I finally decided that she hadn't.
And the last time we made love here in her bedroom, I'd said something else. I guess I should feel
lucky that she hadn't heard.
Or maybe she'd just ignored it.
I shoved the picture in my pocket.
The box with the necklace I bought was still there in my pocket. I didn't know what to do with it
now. It was a necklace we saw in a store window and she admired it; so I went back on payday and got
it for her. I brought it with me and forgot to give it to her, 'cause we ended up in the sack
almost right away.
Not a big deal. It wasn't like it was a ring or anything. But she wouldn't want it. And I sure
as hell didn't want it. I tossed it in the wastebasket on the way out.
I left the key to her apartment at the nurse's desk the next day. The nurse said she'd give it to
Stens volunteered to help me stake out the bar Rhonda told me about. I was on leave for the head
injury, but Stens wasn't. He said not to worry about it.
I listened to him on the radio with the dispatcher, making her think he was someplace he wasn't,
"You've done this before," I said.
"Yeah, and I'll probably do it again." He grinned.
Stens was the one who made the food runs and the liquor runs (those were mainly for his benefit).
He's the one who thought to bring the empty jug. He's the one who emptied it out the car window.
He's the one who showed me how to watch so you don't put yourself to sleep. He kept me company, and
spelled me, and stayed right in it with me, even though it wasn't really his problem.
I know what people said about him. I know what he was. You can't be someone's partner for 4 years,
and not know him. He was lazy, and he drank too much. He was a bigot and a liar and a cheat.
He was kinda like the big brother I never had, the one you have to haul home drunk at night,
the one who throws up in your car. And you go get him again the next time, because you know he'd
do the same for you.
This bar we were watching was a dump on the edge of town, with shacks built against it round the back
and one side. Lots of business flowed in and out, and I was pretty sure not all of it was for booze.
My bet the shacks had women doing business 24 hours a day. Probably some of them didn't want to be
there. After we caught the bum we were after, I might have to pay another visit here.
It was the evening of the third day before we saw the guy we wanted. I knew him right away.
Snotty-looking bastard, didn't even glance in our direction; didn't look like he was worried at all
somebody might be waiting for him. I poked Stens and pointed. The bum didn't go in the front door,
he went around the far side. I slid out of the car and shut the door carefully.
He wasn't hard to find. He was standing in the moonlight, with a couple of other bozos, doing a
deal of some kind. They left, and he came back toward me. I stepped out of the shadows, said,
"LAPD-get down on the ground." And he did it, just like that. I didn't even have an excuse
to hit him.
Stens was walking slow, he was about halfway between here and the car. I think he was waiting to
see what I wanted to do with the sonovabitch.
"You gonna arrest me, Officer?" the bum said. And then he laughed. "Maybe you want to call your
headquarters before you do that. I been arrested already once today. I'm out on bail. Be a lot
of trouble to take me in, then let me go."
"Oh, yeah? "
"You better call them first. I gotta a lawyer now. He's not gonna let you cops do nothing to me."
I cuffed him and stood him up. He was grinning. I think he was hopped up on something. "You
can't touch me."
"Why don't you shut up?"
"Even if I go to jail, I'm gonna be out in a year, year and a half. Hell, I can do a year standing
on my head."
He squinted at me in the moonlight. "Hey, ain't you the bastard I cold-cocked last week? You a cop?
How 'bout that-hell, if I knew it was a cop screwing that bitch of mine, I woulda hit you a little
harder. " And he laughed some more.
He kept talking, but I didn't hear what he was saying. I kept seeing Rhonda laying on the floor,
hearing her screams. The way she looked at me in the hospital. All the things that were ruined
because of him. And the sonuvabitch was right-he wouldn't get enough jail time to matter. He could
go after Rhonda again when he got out-or he could do it tomorrow. Maybe next time he'd use a
tire iron instead of a knife. Maybe next time he'd kill her.
I don't remember drawing my gun. I don't remember pulling the hammer back. I do remember the
intense satisfaction---watching the surprise on his face when the bullet hit him in the forehead.
He wasn't the first man I'd shot---but he was the first one I killed in cold blood.