The Dark Blue
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster... for when you gaze long into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”- Friedrich Nietzsche
You could hear a pin drop. I looked to my right at Brian, we met about a month earlier when we both were sworn in, he was watching the screen, waiting intently. The next video began to play in the darkened classroom. A maniac dancing around outside his truck came onto the screen, “Come get me piggy, Baaaaaa!” he stopped dancing and went to the backseat of his truck. Since this was the tenth video of an officer being murdered so far that day, we all knew what was coming next. But those were the stakes and no one dared take their eyes off the screen, both out of respect for the fallen and certainty that the Drill Instructor would have our asses. The deputy in the film screamed frantically “Stop! Stop!” as the bullets continued to riddle his body from the Ak-47 rifle, his attacker still smiling as he rained down searing hot copper and lead. Victorious, the murderer got back into his truck and drove away as the microphone on the dash-cam picked up the sounds of the deputy choking on his own blood and gasping like a fish too long out of the water, then finally breathe his last. The lights came on in the classroom as the first day of the Sheriff’s academy came to a close. I chanced another glance at Brian who was pale as a corpse, sweat beading on his brow, fists clenched; I knew he felt just as sick as I did about the video that had just played.
“Life and death recruits, those are the stakes!” The Drill Instructor said, breaking the heavy silence, “IF you want out, this is the time to quit, there is no quitting in the street, there is only life and death in the street.”
Not a soul moved.
“Dave, you see that?” I asked as we drove towards the apartment complex. It was a slow day and we were hunting for someone to take to jail. I spotted smoke coming from an upstairs window in the complex. Dave called it in on the radio to see if fire dispatch had the call for service yet. They hadn’t, we both knew that meant it would be 10 minutes for fire to suit up and roll to the scene. “Lets go see what’s up” Dave suggested. We stopped in front of the complex and ran up to the double plexi-glass security door. “Fuck, its locked!” I hollered over my shoulder. Dave pushed me out of the way and started beating on the glass with his baton, but it wouldn’t break. The noise was enough to rouse a resident of the building who had been outside watching the smoke billow from the unit; he let us in. The jackass hadn’t cared enough to call the fire department, but at least he opened the door for us.
At the bottom of the stairs a middle aged black woman was jumping up and down and crying. Clearly distraught she wailed in our direction, “My baby, my baby!” pointing towards the burning unit. Dave and I exchanged glances. Decision time. We either wait for fire or we save the woman’s kid. Waiting meant certain death for a civilian, going meant risk of serious burns to the two of us, clad in dark blue polyester uniforms made for running and fighting, not braving fiery buildings.
We ran up the stairs and started breaking out windows in hopes of clearing the smoke. In fact all we did was fuel the fire with more oxygen. I smashed the glass to a fire extinguisher case on the external wall and aimed it at the fully engulfed kitchen. No dice, it was like spitting into a bon fire hoping to put it out.
“Fuck it…” Dave said begrudgingly as he booted the front door. Into the inferno we went; the thick acrid smoke stinging our eyes and lungs, forcing us to the floor. I took the lead as we crawl down the hallway towards the unit’s one bedroom.
“At least we won’t have trouble finding the kid.” Dave joked uneasily. I could see by the look on his face he was praying to God the kid was still alive, but doubting because of the smoke and the stifling heat.
“There she is!” Dave shouted from behind me. We turned our crawl into a crouch and rushed towards the unconscious girl who was laying on a bed. She was no baby, but a teen. I shook her and she woke with a start, staring up into the smoke barely a foot above her body and dropping fast.
“Its okay, we are here to help!” I shouted to her above the sound of the flames hissing and crackling a room away in the kitchen. I rolled her off the bed and told her to crawl out with Dave, who motioned to her near the door. She choked on a lug full of smoke and began to crawl, too slowly, towards the door. The smoke was now coming in with each breath and I urged them to crawl faster. Finally I saw the open door is within reach and crawl through it, emerging to fresh air and the sounds of distant sirens wailing.
The teen ran to her mother who embraced her tightly and they turned to watch everything they owned go up in smoke. There were no thanks and Dave just shook his head. The mother who had been desperate for us to save her child, brave the smoke and flames in her place, had gotten what she desired and could go back to her blind hatred for all those in a dark blue uniform. A tradition that had clearly passed to her daughter who also remained silent.
“Don’t let it bother you sir, this is the north end, if you have taught me anything its that they fucking hate us up there.” I said, right before I retched from the toxic smoke my body was trying to be rid of. The hose boys shook their head as they finally arrived and saw our ash-covered uniforms. The captain walked up, cigar in hand, looking like John Wayne clad in a fireman costume.
“Everyone okay? Anyone still in the building?” The fire captain almost sounded hopeful.
“Not anymore.” Dave choked out.
“Well, you know you guys aren’t equipped to go into fires, wait for us next time. Go have my paramedics look at you before you clear the scene.” He said before he swaggered away, puffing smoke from the cigar as he went.
Dave, unamused, flipped him off as he left and we went over to the waiting paramedics for some oxygen and a blood sat tests. “Wait for us next time…” What he really meant was, “Don’t risk your life for these animals.” I had heard that before from Fire and I didn’t even have a year on the job. Apparently they still had some hard feelings towards the community from the days of the LA Riots, when they had been shot at while trying to put out the fires looters had started.
“You did good today boot.” Dave said through his oxygen mask referring to my rookie status, the first praise he had ever given in three months. With just five words Dave had just told me I passed my probation period as a new officer.
Just then, our own Sgt. arrived in his cushy SUV. He stopped next to the Paramedic truck where Dave and I were recovering. He rolled down his window, not even bothering to get out of the vehicle, “Good shit boys, this will make the shift look good in the incident log when brass looks at it. Remember though, risk versus reward, two of you are worth more than ten of them, let alone just one.” The message was clear and I wondered if my Sgt. and the fire captain were friends.
“Beep, Beep, Beep!” the radio stopped our conversation dead. Three beepers meant a good call. Brian sipped his coffee in the passenger seat as we waited for the dispatcher to come over the radio with the details. I swigged my Monster Energy Drink. We were eleven hours into a twelve and a half hour midnight shift and it was almost snooze time, or it would be if this three beeper turned out bogus.
“All units start responding to the intersection of Western and 182. Reports of a multi-vehicle collision with a roll over and driver ejected. Vehicles will be north of the intersection, FD also responding.”
“Well there went getting off on time.” Brian sighed as he put on his seatbelt over his dirty uniform and picked up the radio. Two years on the job and that had become the norm, dirty uniform, unpolished boots, cocky, sarcastic, grumpy ass attitude. Standard issue at this department.
“8adam5mary, responding code 3 from Western and 156.” Brian announced to dispatch as he activated the overhead lights and sirens. Brian didn’t like to drive; at 6’6” he had trouble getting his legs under the steering wheel comfortably. I could tell Brian was grumpy, it was five in the morning and cold. He would prefer to be sleeping, as I often allowed him to do in the passenger seat if it was a slow morning and we were close to end of watch. Sleep would not be in the cards for Brian for at least four more hours and he knew it.
“Slow the fuck down bro, you know as well as I do there ain’t shit we can do for an ejection.” Brian complained as I raced to the scene. He was right too, you were four times more likely to die in a wreck if you were ejected from the vehicle, and more to the point we had never personally seen anyone survive it.
It wasn’t a far drive, but I liked to drive faster than Brian did. Brian was a few years older than I, but in spite of that, the academy had made us fast friends, our first couple years as partners had made us brothers, and now he liked to complain at me in a way that was vaguely reminiscent of an old married couple.
As we arrived on the scene I saw the body in the road. As we pulled around to bock traffic I heard, “Jesus Christ!” as Brian put down his coffee and opened his door. I looked around to see the source of Brian’s agitation. There, fifty feet from the mangled wreckage of what had moments ago been the woman’s pickup truck, was her lifeless body. As we walked over to her, taking care to avoid stepping on the pieces of her hair, skin, brain and skull stuck to the roadway, it became plainly apparent that the woman was deceased.
“8adam5mary to Southbay, go ahead and initiate a traffic investigator callout.” Brian told the dispatcher, indicating that this was going to be a fatality call and will require a traffic unit to document everything and do a thorough report. I could see a glimmer of hope in Brian’s eyes, a traffic call out meant we wouldn’t be taking this report, we might not be stuck too long after our shift ended after all. Though the scene was gruesome, it was not enough to make Brian put down his coffee, we had seen worse. That was the job, sometimes you played the devil, dragging people kicking and screaming towards the hell of prison and sometimes you played clean up for the reaper. Death was part of life on the job and the mode of death ceased to matter after a while. It became part of the routine and wasn’t worth getting worked up over, and certainly wasn’t as important as getting into bed on time.
“Try not to smile bro, people are watching.” I told him, as we checked to see if there was anyone in the car the dead woman ran into.
“It’s our Friday bro, and I’m spent, hell of a grind this week.” And it had been, we had been in two fights in as many days, taken more reports than either of us cared to count or write, and been chewed out by three different supervisors for hitting people in the face during a fight. As a result the command staff had been the butt of our jokes all week. It didn’t matter what they thought, we were within policy and most importantly we won the fight.
Inside the other car was a graphic scene, how come Hollywood never got this part right? It was always worse in real life than on TV. In the back of the little Toyota Corolla was a white dress, not a wedding dress though, this one looked like it would have been something for a kid, maybe a prom dress or something for a quincinera.it had ruffles and frills but was utterly ruined now. In the front seat a man was pinned between the steering wheel, with its deflated airbag, and the mangled rear end of his car that had been pushed so far forward that it had ripped his seat off the base and pushed it forward into the steering wheel. Crushed chest, thick blood oozing from his ear, a huge gash that stretched from his temple to his chin, I knew he wasn’t going to make it. As the man struggled and labored for each breath, not really conscious, Brian called into his window, “Help is on the way sir! The fire department will have you out in no time.”
We both knew it was a lie, the man had about zero chance of making it out of that car alive. Brian had read the scene the same way, heard the same sounds of death we were both too familiar with, this man was choking on his own blood. Like the mangled dress in the back of the car, his body was broken, his insides torn and crushed beyond repair. I felt sorry for them man, for his daughter who was probably about to celebrate her 16th birthday if I was right about the dress. I swallowed my feelings as I always did, I knew Brian would do the same; it is what we all had to do to survive the job with our heads in tact. What is one more death when you have already watched so many? It really stops being such a big deal when it happens every week. It wasn’t my dad in the car; it wasn’t my wife’s mangled body in the road. It didn’t matter, or at least that was the lie we all needed desperately to believe.
An hour later, the morning shift relieved us from our post. Brian was ecstatic; we were getting off on time. “Plans for the weekend?” he asked.
“Nah, probably just chill, maybe go see the new movie Superbad, I heard its pretty funny, want to go?” I replied.
“Sure bro, we can grab some sushi too I need to get out of the house, wife is driving me nuts. Maybe we can go shooting Tuesday, I need to get some rounds in.” Brian griped.
“Sounds good.” I replied.
On the way back to the station, Brian called his wife to let her know he would be home on time. He lied that his shift had been uneventful as we pulled into the back lot of the station, finally done for the day. That’s what he always did, everyone did it. It seemed preferable that police wives believed their husbands just drank coffee and talked shit to one another at work. The reality was more grim, and why should they have to bear it, was the common notion. Deep down we all knew they weren’t fooled though.
“Shots fired, shots fired! I’m Hit, I’m Hit! 8Lincoln3david, roll me the world!”
I drove 100 miles an hour down side streets to get there. How could this be happening? I had just left him. Not ten minutes earlier Eric had backed me up on a stop I made about a block away from his current location. After the stop he asked me to go to lunch but I told him I wanted to wait another thirty minutes. “This cant be real, we don’t get shot in this city, we shoot first, always” I thought. I blew through stop signs and traffic as I raced to get there; nothing mattered but his life. His absence from the radio in the decades long minute that follows was eerie. “What am I about to find when I get there?” I wondered. I kicked myself as I drove for asking him to wait for lunch, we might never eat together again.
I saw Evette arrive just before me and she stepped over his body, pointing her gun in the direction she thought the shooter would have shot from. Eric’s body was face down, just on the other side of a corner a building not far from his vehicle. From the position of his body in relation to the corner of the building he was laying behind I could already guess what happened. He had been chasing someone and rounded the corner with out clearing it. The gang-banger Eric was chasing must have hid and ambushed him as he rounded the corner at a sprint.
As I approached him, I saw him move and knew it was not too late. Blood pooled around his left leg, the mineral smell of it mixing with the smell of the burnt gun powder in the air. Eric was still clutching his gun, spent casings next to him.
“He went that way!” Eric said, pointing to the direction Evette had correctly guessed.
“Black male, usual clothes (Meaning white shirt and blue jeans), five eight, dark skin with a small fro.” This was a good sign, he was lucid, I thought as I clamped down above his wound. Eric’s warm blood quickly covered my hands as Chris and Sargent Karl arrived.
“Should we wait for fire or scoop him ourselves?” Chris asked.
“Fuck fire, you guys take him.” Replied Sgt. Karl.
With that decision made we carried him to the back my patrol car and Chris drove, at Mach three, with Eric and I bouncing around in the back. I couldn’t keep the pressure on his wounds with all the bouncing around.
“This is gonna hurt bro.” I said.
“Just do it, I am not ready to die.” Eric consented.
I plunged my finger into his wound to stop the bleeding as best I could until we got to the waiting surgical team at the trauma center.
“Fuuuckk!” Eric complained loudly.
I could see him going white, fear gripping him, and I wished he hadn’t mentioned death.
“You aren’t going to die today brother,” I lied uncertainly, “this is just a flesh wound.”
We were almost to the hospital, the surgeons would be waiting. Eric started to lose consciousness and I knew he was going into shock.
“Hey bro, you gotta stay awake. Tell me about your family” I tried.
“I’m single bro, my parents live up north in the Bay.” He wasn’t going to make this easy on me.
After a moment of silence he swore again, loudly, and the color started returning to his face.
“Fuck, I can’t believe that mother fucker shot me. You fools better get his ass.”
“We will bro, we will get him. I’ll put his dick in the dirt if I get the chance, I promise.” I didn’t care that the tape was rolling in the cars built in video system, if we got the chance, we would put our friend’s attacker in the ground. It would be a long day hunting, worrying about our friend on the operating table, and dodging calls from loved ones as they heard the news one of us had been shot and worried because they knew there were only seven of us working at any given time.
The day Eric was shot was the longest of my career, both physically and spiritually. From that day forward I never again questioned the cynicism rampant in our culture. I had been transformed by the dark side of the job, plunged into the dark blue never again to see the light of life without also seeing the darkness that is ever present in the shadows of our society.
Behind the blue uniform was a brotherhood as close as any I have ever known, and that aspect of the job could not have been more important. There was us and then there was everyone else, sometimes justice and sometimes just us. I had seen my brothers run towards certain death to save people who couldn’t have cared less if they lived or died in the process, had even done so myself on many occasions. But after a while, the ungrateful public just become to us as sheep in a pasture grazing ignorantly while the wolves circled; after a while you stopped caring about the sheep and fought the wolf for the sake of your fellow sheep dogs. You stopped hoping to save sheep and started looking for opportunities to bury wolves.
“Life and death recruits, those are the stakes.” Truer words had never been spoken.
About the author:
Michael Hassoldt is an aspiring writer of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. His other published work includes experimental poetry for the upcoming issue of Experimementos Literary Magazine.