Officer Neil Sprang stares at the bench. It is full. A collection of different shapes and sizes and colors. Whoever said the police department was not integrated was just plain stupid, especially if you count up the types of people waiting to make a report, or pick someone up from the jail.
He’s seen it all at West Valley. Weary mothers who show up in thin housecoats and slippers because it doesn’t matter what they wear anyway, picking up their deadbeat, drunk sons. Latinos waiting for latinas caught in a bar-brawl in Canoga Park, laughing together until their wives are released. A gay guy who came to turn in a wallet he found and ended up coming back later “just to make sure the wallet was picked up.” Right.
Visitors were usually okay, unless they were picking somebody up from the tank, and then they were angry. Sometimes that anger spilled over before they left the station. Sprang once had to arrest a woman for beating her husband with her purse. She’d put a brick in it. He flew into a wall and added a concussion to his DUI.
Michele Jody saunters up to Sprang. She had her eye on him. Cops weren’t supposed to fraternize, but Sprang figures she doesn’t care about that rule. He’s heard stories. He guesses it’s his turn.
“Grab-bag tonight,” she says, looking at the bench.
He nods one quick acknowledgement. She likes the quiet types, he’s heard. Jones said so, and so did Heath. Who he figured was gay, but then found out the facts.
His silence works. She leans against his desk, swaying into it, moving back at forth rhythmically. So easy, he thinks.
“You hear about what I just hauled in?”
He nods a no. “Just got here.” Sprang stares at the bench of now-onlookers. They want to hear about Jody’s arrest.
“Total basket-case,” she says, not caring that her words echo down the linoleum and back into the tank. “I’m responding to a domestic disturbance, so I figure I’m going to talk some wife down from wanting to kill her husband, or do a cuff-and-cool — you know how much I like the cuff thing.”
Sprang holds his head straight. He does not take his eyes off the bench. He was told that works, the silent treatment, and it is true: Jody goes on, still moving back and forth against the aging desk.
“Ha-hah! So we get there, and what do we find? The wife of the frigging mayor.” At this, Sprang quickly glances at her. She squeals in delight.
“Just kidding! Had to make sure you were paying attention.” He goes back to watching the bench. What is it with this woman?
“Anyhoo, Ross and I get there, dumpy little townhouse off Saticoy, and no one’s answering. But we can hear things crashing inside. No voices, just crashing. Like coffee mugs against walls. We knock again, think maybe there might be another person in there, when I hear this “psss!” from the upstairs window next door. It’s this old woman, and she’s pointing to the pool. There’s nobody in the pool that I can tell, so I’m about to bang again, I hear the “psss!” again, turn around again, just in time to see this guy walking out of the pool bathroom. Completely naked.”
Sprang shoots Jody another look, eyebrows raised. She sure can tell a story.
Jody moves closer. She is almost sitting on the desk. “No, not testing ‘ya this time, pard-ner,” she drawls. “He’s naked and walking around in all his glory. And I mean all his glory.”
God, what a whore, Sprang thinks. She’s too close. Now he wants this over. She’s just too easy. But he’s confused. “How’s this a domestic disturbance?” he asks, annoyed that he is interested in the answer.
Jody stops moving, leaning in for emphasis. “That’s what I’m getting to,” she says. “Ross wasn’t impressed by this guy at all, but then you know Ross has a two-by-four hanging between his legs, so I’m not surprised. This guy, Jason Christopher — two first names, right? — he’s beautiful. Not the kind you expect to be hanging au naturel, unless he was doing it for a frat prank.”
“Frats don’t do that,” Sprang says matter-of-factly.
She doesn’t catch his tone-shift. Not even a little. She goes on like she still has a fish on the line. “Well I figure there’s a reason why somebody not-crazy is walking around naked. So I go up to the fence while Ross radios, and ask him, “So sir, why don’t you have any clothes on?’ And you know what he tells me?”
Sprang nods no. When would this be over?
Jody grins at the punchline to this hilarious joke. “Neither do I! Because right then, out the door comes his woman — with a knife about a foot long, and she’s screaming she’s gonna ‘cut that fucker off him if it’s the last thing she does!’”
Sprang glares at Jody, but for a different reason. “She said that? ‘If it’s the last thing she does?’”
“Yep. Exactly that. And then…”
“What was her name?” Sprang interrupts.
Jody flips through her notebook. “Eden.”
Sprang is thunderstruck. “Barbara Eden? Like the old actress?”
Now Jody is confused. “Who?” She shakes her head. “Whatev’s. Yeah, Barbara Eden.” Then it dawns on her with the force of a boulder: “Wait! You know this basket case?”
Sprang looks at the bench again. He’s angry. Angry because he knows Barbara Eden. He knows her very well. Well enough to know her favorite saying, a holdover from her mother’s mother. Words he heard often as she planned everything from the rehearsal dinner to the reception. “If it’s the last thing I do,…”
Jody hangs around a bit longer, hoping to tell the rest of the story. But even she realizes it’s hopeless. She wants to know the connection, wants to know how Sprang knows this woman. But he is lost in another world, staring down the bench opposite him, waiting for the call that would eventually come.