A Fresh Start
LaDonna got hit by a bus when I was fifteen. I heard about it a month or so after it happened.
There was a grapevine of sorts among some of us fosters, but at the time it happened, I was
living with a family that'd just started taking in foster kids, and they were still pretty strict.
So it wasn't until they kicked me out (don't ask---that's a whole other story) that I heard about
what was happening on the street. Somebody else was living in her apartment by that time. Nobody
seemed to know where Marly was. I didn't see her again for 7 years.
I know a lot of people thought Stens was the bottom of the barrel. But I knew they were wrong,
'cause I'd worked with LeRoy.
I was the new guy at the precinct. LeRoy was on the shit list. So we got put together, and we
got the worst route---the bars were dumps, the markets were dirty, the houses were shacks. Full
of people with no money and no other place to go.
LeRoy lived on the shit list. Belonged there. He was kind of a scuzzbucket. Don't know
why he never got fired; rumor was he knew something about somebody. You know, if I knew something
about somebody, I think I coulda done better with it than just hanging on to a shit job, living
on the shit list. If I was gonna do something with it. But then that's just me. Before I got
rid of LeRoy, I realized he liked it right where he was. Just as happy as a pig in shit.
Word at the station was, everybody got put with LeRoy at first. So I figured I could put up with
him for a while. He taught me a few moves I didn't know, and who the other scuzzbuckets were.
He had something going on the side, too, but I didn't wanna know about it.
He called me Wendy at first, till I knocked his dental work loose.
It was really something to be the one driving the black&white around, instead of being the one
riding in the back seat. LeRoy didn't mind letting me drive, at least at first; and I liked it.
The first couple weeks he'd suddenly tell me to pull over, and I'd do it, thinking he'd seen a
purse-snatching, or an assault, or something else illegal. But most of the time, it was some
broad he'd seen that he wanted to make time with, or one of his slime ball buddies. One time
he jumped outta the car, I saw money going into his pocket and something else going into the other
guy's. After that first two weeks, when I drove, I ignored him. I stopped the car when I wanted
to. When he drove, there was nothing I could do.
He used to bitch at me about being such a hard-ass. "What the hell is your problem?" he'd say.
"We gotta be out here, we might as well make some money, might as well get some tail. You know?
Jesus Christ! Do you ever do anything for fun?"
We didn't make a lot of arrests.
After 6 months or so, I was starting to get pretty tired of him. He didn't seem to notice it.
That's about the time we got the word to shut down the abortion parlors. Some of 'em weren't too
bad. Some of 'em-like the one I told you about before-were just butcher shops. Found a girl
bleeding to death in one of 'em; another one with about 10 cats with the run of the place, walking
all over the instruments, shitting in the corners.
Sent the one fella to the hospital. The others might not've walked the straight and narrow later
on, but they didn't set up shop in our part of town again right away.
"You know," LeRoy said, "this'd be a good business to get into on the side. I hear it's not hard…...not
much you have to learn. And think of all the pussy you'd get to look at."
"I'd let you in on it with me, if you could just loosen up a little…."
"You know, you're never gonna get anywhere….you won't even think about new stuff. How you think
you're gonna get ahead?"
"What, like you?"
"Yeah, I gotta a coupla things going on the side---"
"I don't wanna hear about 'em."
"No, there's one that's perfect for you-I got a guy that's opening a chop shop down on--what're
you stopping the car for?"
"Cause if you don't shut up, I'm gonna take out some of your fucking teeth. And I don't wanna
have a wreck while I'm doing it."
"OK, OK….man, you're hard to get along with."
Anderson let me know if I could stick it out another coupla months, I'd get reassigned. He was
gonna put in for me himself, he said. OK. Two more months.
LeRoy started spending a lotta time around the shacks under the railroad trestle. Couldn't figure
it. No money there; not much of anything else, either, except misery.
One Wednesday, I waited in the car for him like I always did. He didn't come back. I musta waited
over an hour. Finally I went looking for him. Walked around all the cardboard boxes and lean-tos
people called homes down here, yelling for him, cursing him. Down by the trickle that passed for
a creek that time of year, I heard him. His voice was coming out of a crooked wooden "house"---sort
of a lean-to that wasn't leaning against anything. Looked like a wooden box with a rag hanging over
the front. I pushed the rag back and looked in---
"Jesus fucking Christ." I let go of the rag and walked away. I could hear him laughing at me.
"Hey, White, you want some of this? Plenty to go around."
I assumed the person he was with was female. It was pretty hard to tell from what I'd seen; he,
she, or it was filthy; and the same with the rags she was wearing. Or not wearing, I guess.
"Hurry up and get your ass out here, or I'm gonna drive off without you."
"Nah, this is some of the best head I've had in a long time, and I'm gonna enjoy it."
I shoulda driven off. I shouldn'ta waited even a minute. But if I came back without my partner,
then I'd have to explain. I'd have to rat on him. OK, maybe it was stupid, 'cause I hated his guts,
and everybody knew about him anyway, but until I could get rid of him, he was still my partner. So
I waited. I walked off a ways, though, so I didn't have to listen to him.
LeRoy came out first, holding his pants up and then zipping them. His shirt was flapping open.
"Hey, Wendell, you sure you don't want some of this? She'll do you right there where you're standing
if I tell her to. She belongs to me. I just bought her." He was pretty damn pleased with himself.
He held up a paper packet. "And this new stuff's great-man, you give her some of this, and she'll
do anything. I gotta get me some more a' this."
The woman came out next. She was naked from the waist up. Didn't seem too worried about it.
Didn't try to cover herself up.
"You gotta be kidding," I said. "She's probably got every disease known to mankind. I ain't
putting nothing a' mine in there."
I kept looking at her. Something bothered me….I couldn't decide what it was.
"Rolly told me she's clean. She's fine. Nothing wrong with her."
"Yeah, you bet, she looks real clean. So what's that on her face, huh?"
"Nah, don't worry about it, that's just dirt……" He rubbed at her face. She giggled, obviously
still hopped up on what ever was in that paper packet….and it sounded kinda familiar somehow.
"….shit, you're right! Ah, man, now I'm gonna end up with the clap!"
"If you're lucky."
She sat down on the ground with a thump.
"You hang on, Wendell, I gotta go get my money back---this is a bunch a' shit!"
Yeah, good luck.
The woman looked up just then and smiled at me. And I knew her. Under the filth and the sores
and the chop job somebody'd done on her hair, was Marlene.
Ah, God. "Marlene?" I hunkered down so I could look her in the face. It was hard to believe.
I figured she left town when LaDonna died. Surely she hadn't been out here since then. 7 years
is a helluva long time to live this way. "Marly, honey, do you remember me? It's Wendell."
She giggled again, and laid down. I guess she passed out.
It was tough getting her up off the ground. She was like a big stick doll, arms and legs flopping.
I finally got her up far enough to get my shoulder under her. Once I was on my feet, I could shift
her on my shoulder better, and then it was easy to carry her to the car---she didn't weigh anything.
Getting her up to my apartment was a little tougher. The damn blanket from the trunk of the
black&white kept falling off and getting underfoot going up the stairs. And if anybody'd seen
me carrying a half-naked woman into my place, I probably woulda been kicked out pretty fast.
She didn't wake up until I was trying to get her out of the bathtub. She was lots slipperier than
I figured on. Hard to hang on to.
I guess I was cursing under my breath when her eyes opened.
"What's the matter?" she said.
"You need to help me get you up."
She was pretty wobbly, but stood long enough for me to get her out on the floor and dried off.
Now that the dirt was gone, I could see the needle tracks on her arms, her thighs. Sores around
her mouth, probably inside, too; sores other places. I knew what they meant. Dark circles under
her eyes. Looked like her ribs were about to poke through her skin.
When I stayed with her and LaDonna, she used to get me down and blow raspberries on my bare belly.
We'd giggle till we were outta breath, and then she'd rub her beautiful hair all over my chest,
my neck, my face, till I grabbed handfuls of it and held her still. I used to thread my fingers
through it and let it caress my hands when we made love. Dark red, shiny, felt good on my skin,
felt good on my fingers……
She seemed so much older than me back then when I lived with her, but it was because I didn't know
anything, and she knew everything. At least I thought so. She must not've been too much older
than me really. 4 or 5 years, probably, is all.
There was gray in her hair now. The beautiful red color was dull and harsh. It was all chopped
off in odd bunches. Like somebody took a knife and just hacked.
It wasn't pretty any more. She wasn't pretty anymore.
I wrapped her up in a clean blanket. She sat on the couch where I put her and didn't say anything.
"Are you hungry?"
I made her a sandwich, cut it into pieces. Had to coax her, but she ate part of it. I expected
it might come back up but it didn't. Got about half a glass of milk into her (counting what dribbled
down her chin). Then she slid down and closed her eyes.
She didn't answer. I got a pillow and put it under her head, lifted her feet on the couch, and
covered her up with another blanket. I left one of the lamps on when I went to bed.
I woke up once during the night.
She was walking in slow circles in the living room. No blanket, she was naked.
"Whatcha doing, Marly?"
She stopped and looked for me. When I came closer, she squinted at me. "I need…..I need….."
It was like she couldn't remember long enough to get it said.
We didn't quite make it into the bathroom in time. I was kinda upset about it at first; after
I thought about it, I was just grateful it didn't happen on the couch.
All my clothes were way too big for her, but I didn't have anything else, so after I got her cleaned
up again, she got to wear a pair of my underwear shorts with a safety pin to make the waist smaller,
and a short sleeved shirt that hung down to her knees.
She lay back down on the couch. I covered her up and went back to bed.
The Captain saw me right away when I got to the station the next morning.
"I hear you stranded your partner yesterday."
"You're riding with Schmitt, is that right?"
"Everybody that partners with Schmitt comes in here complaining about him at least once a month.
You've been paired with him, what, 6 months? And I haven't heard a peep from you. You two get
along pretty well?"
"No, sir, just trying to do what I was assigned to do."
He didn't say anything for a few minutes. "OK, Officer, because Schmitt's been raising a fuss,
and because I want to find out what actually happened so I can deal with him, I'm going to ask you
unofficially. I'm not going to put it in your file, or his; I'm not going to write it down; I'm
not even going to remember it. Now, can you tell me about it?"
"…..He drove out to the shanty town. He was…..He said he bought this girl---"
"Hold up. Let me amend that. Don't tell me something that might conceivably be criminal, since
I promised not to remember it. Let's talk in more general terms…..I'm going to assume that he
did something you couldn't stomach."
I nodded. "Yes, sir."
"And he's never done anything you couldn't stomach before this? You must have a pretty strong
stomach. What makes this time different?"
I took a deep breath. "It was the girl. She's….somebody I used to know."
He tapped his pen on the blotter while he thought. "You know reassignments are coming up." I
nodded. "Three of the men are retiring. That will leave three men without partners. All three
of those men have said they would be satisfied with you as a replacement." He paused for a moment.
"I'm stuck with him in my precinct, but I assume you're ready for a change."
He threw his pen down on the desk. "I'm going to file Schmitt's complaint. You've managed to put
up with him longer than most, and even succeeded in making a few arrests. I'm going to consider
yesterday a justifiable lapse."
"Thank you, sir."
"You don't have to be quite so military here, White. Loosen up just a little."
"I'd like to know if it would be possible for me to take some sick leave, a couple of days. I know
I haven't been here long enough, but---"
"This have something to do with yesterday?"
"Take three days."
"Thank you, sir."
I turned to leave.
"White," he said. I looked back over my shoulder. "You don't have to do everything by yourself."
I musta looked like I didn't understand, 'cause I didn't.
He sighed. "Never mind."
LeRoy was in the wardroom when I came in. I tried to walk on through. No dice.
"Hey, White, you drove off without me!"
"And you stole my woman!"
"You know what-the-hell woman I'm talking about---you made out like you didn't want nothing to
do with her and then you took off with her!"
"Don't know what you're talking about."
"You're a back-stabbing thief!"
"Yeah? So arrest me."
"You owe me twenty bucks!"
"You gotta be kidding."
A coupla the other guys came in and stopped to listen. LeRoy really played it up then. "I ain't
riding with you no more. What kinda rat steals his partner's woman?"
I turned around and walked back toward him. "The kind that hates your guts. I was doing her a
He got that sly look I hated. "So what'd you have her do, White? You work her hard? The rest
of her as good as her mouth?"
"Leave me the fuck alone."
"You keeping her at your place? Maybe you could have some of us guys over, we could have a---"
"Shut UP!" I grabbed the short end of his tie, yanked it up tight, and dragged him over to a
window. The wardroom was on the third floor at this precinct. Not too high, but maybe high enough.
Wound the tie around my hand to keep it tight, and shoved the window up with the other hand. I
had him mostly out the window before the other guys grabbed him. Somebody grabbed my arms from
behind, I found out later it was Anderson.
"He tried to kill me!" LeRoy croaked.
Somebody else said, "Shut up."
I stood still and Anderson loosened his hold.
LeRoy said, "You all saw it---"
Pulled loose and went for him again. Managed to hammer him a couple times before they pulled me
The Captain walked in. Schmitt immediately began to whine and accuse me of attempted murder.
"Shut up," the Captain said. He looked at me. "Go on home, Wendell."
I couldn't get in the door when I got back to the apartment. The key worked. I could hear the
lock turning. The door wouldn't open.
I was afraid to leave it unlocked this morning when I left. Marly was still asleep. I was only
gone a couple hours.
Put my shoulder into it and shoved. It opened a few inches. I heard a whimper, and saw bare legs
through the crack. Dammit.
"Marly, honey, you need to move, so I can get in. Roll away from the door."
She whimpered again.
I squeezed my hand in and tried to move her, but couldn't get my arm in far enough. Then I
remembered how she woke in the bathtub when I was swearing.
"Get away from the fucking door!" Good thing none of my neighbors was home. Called her a coupla
things, swore at her----and she moved. Not lots, but enough that I could squeeze through. The
bottom of the door left a bruise on her arm where it pinched the skin. Picked her up and put her
on the couch, and brought my packages inside. Bought a rubber sheet for the couch, a coupla dresses
I wasn't sure were gonna fit her, and lunch.
She peered at me. "Who are you?"
"Wendell. Do you remember me?"
She let me tie a towel around her neck. "Wendell."
"Yep. Here, have a piece of chicken." She seemed more alert than yesterday, I thought. A little.
"You used to buy kisses from me."
"Kisses." She laid the piece of chicken down in her lap.
"Here." I tore some meat off and put it in her mouth.
"Kisses," she said while she chewed.
She seemed to be looking around at the apartment. Then she looked at me and said, "I need to go."
I was afraid we weren't gonna make it but we did.
When I was pulling her shorts back on, she said, "What are you doing?"
"I'm helping you, sweetheart."
She put her arms around my chest and her head on my shoulder. "Wendell White."
"Yeah." That was encouraging.
"You know what I like…." She started humming a tune I hadn't heard in a long time.
It was something she used to sing to me, (or hum, she didn't know all the words, but it didn't
matter) when I stayed with her. Once or twice I woke up in the night from that nightmare I used
to have, the one with the blood from my mother's body trickling across the floor toward me, and she
wrapped her arms around me, and sang to me. Like she was singing now.
"Yeah, sweetheart, I know. I remember."
She ate almost a whole piece of chicken, and some macaroni salad. Drank about half a glass of milk.
She looked at me a couple times while she was eating and said, "Kisses," again. Then she leaned
over and gave me one on the cheek, and giggled. That was right before she threw up. I shoulda
put the rubber sheet on the couch before we ate.
I guess it coulda been worse.