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The ghosts in my life had multiplied. One haunted every night; the other appeared briefly to save me and vanished.
On my ride home from work, I started reciting a wish. I was too on the outs with heaven to consider a prayer. Over and over I’d chant, please let me have a restful sleep. Spare me the visions of past mistakes, paths not taken and bleeding children.
My apartment welcomed me with its usual cold dark embrace. I dropped my clothes with the rest of the month’s dirty laundry on the floor. My stomach growled, but it would have to wait until food magically appeared. No energy to order out, I groped my way to my rumpled bed.
I’d close my blood shot eyes and make believe tonight I would be spared. The girl with no luck held on to a flicker of hope. Instead, my mind raced to start the nightmare.
Being the rookie cop, I had been selected to make a cigarette run for the desk sergeant. Not owning a car, I had taken a squad. Strike one.
As I drove down a dark rainy Sault Heights street, a girl stepped out of the shadows in front of my car. Windshield wipers slapped the glass and she appeared streaked in a rainbow of color. She flagged me down. I stopped and got out without a bulletproof vest or radio contact. Strike two.
“Is there a problem, ma’am?” I asked in my police-academy speak.
The wisp of a woman met my gaze with terror in her eyes. The lines on her clothing weren’t from the rain. Blood seeped from her side as she fell to the pavement.
“He’s gonna kill me,” she said, pointing to the alley.
Sporadic light offered up a silhouette of a man, stalking toward us. I pulled my service revolver from the holster. She whimpered and curled around my calf. The next sequence flashed in slow motion.
“Halt. Police,” I said, taking aim.
A gunshot rang out and I returned fire. Another squad arrived and two policemen took up positions behind me. The man had vanished. Not down or staggered, gone.
I went to take a step, stumbled, and landed on the dead body at my feet. Strike three.
My fellow officers shared their observations. The sixteen-year-old girl represented collateral damage in the battle for the streets, inevitable given her choice of profession. She had prior arrests for drug possession and solicitation. Her unclaimed body lay for weeks in a storage drawer at the morgue. Another Jane Doe, buried in a pauper’s grave, compliments of the county. I attended to my life in body, not spirit. Crushed by disappointment in myself and vanquished by the system, my soul retreated from my psyche and left an empty shell. The coldness grew inside, built into an iceberg, and waited for me to sink.
After an inquiry and reprimand for taking a squad without permission, I made my way back to work with the assistance of a secret friend.
Vodka, only when absolutely necessary.
The shooting happened six years ago, but replayed nightly on a continuous loop.