What did he see when he looked inside?
by Erin Halfelven
He woke up again and looked at the clock. Five a.m. this time, that meant almost three hours of sleep. He didn't try to remember the dream that had woke him up; he always had the same dream, lately.
Sharon lay beside him; at least he hadn't woken her up thrashing around this time. He slipped out of bed and went to the kitchen without turning on any lights. Sharon's apartment was almost as familiar as his own now and he'd always had a good sense of place.
The classical music they'd programmed into the computer in Sharon's living room had reached something by Vivaldi, all sweet strings and intricate harmonies. It sounded louder in the kitchen but he couldn't deny that the soft presence of music all through the apartment helped him to sleep. Sharon's idea had been a good one; he'd have to get a computer or mp3 player for his own apartment.
Or just move in with Sharon permanently.
He ran water into the sink for a moment then filled a glass, still in the dark, and turned the water off. He sipped the acrid stuff that came from the tap, reflecting that he could have some of the sweeter bottled water Sharon kept in the refrigerator if he were willing to open the door and let the light wake him up more than he already was.
He liked the dark at the moment. A bit of moonlight through the curtains made a drop of water hanging from the tap glisten and shine like a captive star. He reached down to play with the droplet, covering his fingertip with silver. He imagined what the opening in the tap looked like from below.
Like a black spot.
The thought didn't particularly bother him so he considered the other black spot, the one that had seemed as large as the opening of a tunnel under the mountains. The memory of that black spot kept waking him up from dreams but held much less power over his waking mind.
In the quiet darkness he considered the black spot.
* * *
The familiar radio calls washed over him in a stream, unnoticed like the smell of his partner's minty chewing gum, familiar and unimportant. Until one of the unheard voices spoke his callsign, the identifier for the car he and his partner shared.
Cesar had been telling one of his stupid jokes, "A cop, a dentist and a hooker are sitting in the waiting room, see? Waiting to see the same psychiatrist, see?"
"Yeah, yeah," Doyle agreed, watching the sidewalks on the right side of the car while Cesar drove.
"They've all got job stress. The hooker says, 'It's all the same, you know. Men, they're all the same. They just want some hole to stick it in, to fill it up. And I'm that hole, is it any wonder I feel empty?'" He said the hooker's line in a fruity falsetto while waving his chest around like he had a pair of tits.
"That's funny," said Doyle.
"I'm not done," said Cesar. "So the dentist says, "It's all the same. Everybody comes to me with their bad breath and holes in their teeth and they want me to fill them up. Is it any wonder I feel so empty?'" He used a whiny nasal voice for the dentist.
"That's funny with what she said," Doyle said, watching a group of wary gangbangers watching him from the street corner. "Where'd you hear this joke?"
"I forget," said Cesar. "So the other two look at the cop, who says, 'Yeah, it's all the same. Everyday I have to deal with people who are just as full of shit as you two.'"
Doyle laughed and Cesar joined him. "Is that the punchline?" Doyle asked.
Cesar shrugged. "I dunno, I was laughing so hard, I may not have heard the rest of it."
That struck Doyle even funnier than the stupid joke but even while laughing he heard the callsign. "Adam-44, Adam-44, shots fired, 117th and San Pedro."
Doyle acknowledged the call.
"This is news?" commented Cesar, reversing their generally northward direction with two quick rights onto San Pedro.
Cop humor, thought Doyle. He took a moment to scribble in his logbook. Then they heard the staccato popping of small caliber firearms and he quickly called dispatch for backup. Cesar hit the lights and siren.
Things got a little busy and confused after that. Cesar drove the squad car into the intersection, hoping to break up the fighting with simple police presence. About half of the thirty or so youths scattered, some of the others continued firing and three bodies lay on the pavement, not moving.
"We're taking fire," Doyle reported when bullets bounced off the light armor of the police car. Cesar maneuvered to put the car between the bodies on the ground and the main group still firing. Both cops knew that the car body would not stop a heavy caliber round, so they stayed low and put on their helmets as soon as they could. "Three victims down. At least six active shooters," Doyle told dispatch.
More sirens could be heard, police, ambulance and rescue cars en route. Doyle opened his door when the shooting slackened but kept low. "Stay here!" Cesar ordered.
But Doyle had already slipped out to crouch by the car, still protected by the door. Cesar's side still took an occasional hit but the bulk of the heavy vehicle protected Doyle's side. The moon and several intact streetlights illuminated the scene along with reflections from the police car's powerful headlights off the surrounding buildings.
"Damnit!" exclaimed Cesar as a ricochet starred the driver's side window. He lay down across the front seat, both to keep himself low and so he could see what Doyle might be doing.
With his service arm drawn, Doyle duck-walked toward the nearest body, an Hispanic boy who could be thirteen or twenty. A small pool of blood had formed around the body's middle. Doyle checked for a pulse at the neck and found none.
"Get your ass back here!" Cesar ordered. He had his service pistol out, too, pointed up. He raised himself so he could look back toward where most of the shots were coming from. Sirens got closer.
Doyle crawled toward the next body, a boy who might have been white or Asian. When he touched the apparent victim he heard a clicking sound. The boy rolled over, revealing a snub-nose revolver that might have been an old style police special. A thirty-eight, thought Doyle, looking into the black spot of the end of the barrel.
* * *
Six months later he still hadn't returned to police work. His paid leave had run out months ago and unless he filed for disability, he had only a few weeks of unpaid leave still coming.
At first, the papers had called him a hero. He'd talked the wounded boy into giving up the gun even while Cesar had cursed from the police car, threatening the kid with his nine millimeter. Three LAPD cruisers arriving almost simultaneously along with two ambulances, a CHP car and a Fire Department Rescue truck had broken up the last of the confrontation.
Nobody said anything about heroes now.
Doyle had looked into the black spot and saw the end of his life. But he'd lived to tell the police psychiatrist about his fear. And he discovered that he had only one regret, one thing that still bothered him after weeks in counseling. Something he hadn't done that he'd promised himself a long time ago that he would do.
He pushed the curtain away from the east-facing kitchen window and watched the sun come up over the San Gabriels. He drank more bad-tasting city water then he went to the bedroom and woke Sharon up.
"What time is it?" she asked.
"After six," he said. "I've got something important to tell you."
She yawned and stretched, looking at him over the pink-and-white patterned sheet. "I'm going to need coffee for anything important," she said, "and a shower."
He went back to the kitchen to make coffee while she showered. He expected that this would be the beginning of the end of their relationship. But Sharon deserved to know what he intended to do with the rest of his life that she might have planned on sharing.
He ground new beans and filled the coffee maker with bottled water; he wanted the coffee to be good. He thought about Sharon's body under the warm spray of the shower and almost regretted his decision.
But he'd looked into the black spot and seen the truth about himself. There were a lot of people he'd have to tell. Sharon deserved to be first.
The sun came more strongly in through the uncovered window. Morning colors and coffee aromas filled the kitchen. Doyle sliced a bagel to toast and put two cups on the table for the coffee. He got the condensed milk from the refrigerator and the sweetener from the cabinet. He sat down to wait for Sharon.
He knew that after he told her the truth about himself he wouldn't need to dream about the black spot again.
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