When he had arrived back at their apartment, she already had the dryer pulled back from the wall. This independence, it must have been why he had fallen in love with her so many years ago.
He said, “So while I was there I asked someone where the dryer hoses are. He said, Do you mean washer? I said, I need a dryer hose. The one that blows the lint from the dryer. And again he said, Do you mean a washer hose. Then the lady next to him said, I know what he wants. And she showed me where they were.”
She said, “They were just standing together?” He nodded. “Why weren’t just talking to both of them?”
“I don’t know.”
“This is what I am always talking about. You just don’t think before you do things. I’m sure you just lowered that woman’s self-esteem. You just assumed she wouldn’t know.”
“No, the man. He wanted to talk to me.”
“He said that to you? In words? And she also said that she wanted him speaking for her?”
“You know the world is not that simple.”
“That is pretty simple if you ask me. By ignoring the woman you took away her agency and made her have to fight to get back from you. You made her lose face in front of her male coworker. That word. ‘Coworker.’ It means that they are supposed to be equal. I don’t know why I put up with you.”
“I walked up to ask either one of them. I looked directly at the both of them and raised my hand to see if I could cut into their conversation. They both saw me. They both cut off their conversation. The man made eye contact. The woman looked away. Unless eye contact as a way to get someone’s attention is a new tool of the patriarchy, I think I did just right.”
“Jenkins, you know it is. Eye contact is a challenge. It is a threat. You don’t know how intimidating you really are, do you? That cop stare of yours. The one you are using right now. You scare the shit out of me sometimes. And I am your wife.”
“It’s all your fault, you know. Elly, You wanted me to have handcuffs so bad.” She blushed. That’s all it usually took to break her out of one of those moods.
She was a substance abuse counselor with a college degree. He never knew why she had decided to marry him. He knew that she wanted more for him. For them. Not this rundown apartment on the outskirts of the city. The one where they had to do their own repairs if they ever wanted to get done. The one where the heat was out more of the winter than it wasn’t. The one where she had to keep the knob, two deadbolts, and a security chain licked when he was gone. The one where he insisted she keep pepper spray by the door. But they had to be near the city for her job. “We will be closer to the university.” Her words. But he had to take the job he knew if he wanted to keep them off the street.
They were out past the industrial district in a third story walk up in a sleazy part of town. But he knew the people in his building, of they knew him. He was the cop. They would respect that if only for the fact that they knew he had a gun in his apartment. Elly hated guns and wouldn’t keep the one he had bought for her. He had taken her to the gun range to teach her how to shoot. She squeezed off a few rounds before she lost interest. And our trips got fewer. Until, one Christmas, she had gifted it to her brother. She didn’t even tell him. He had to take some time off to get the transfer of ownership paperwork done. He felt responsible that she hadn’t known the law. Or worse if she knew and just disregarded it.
Since most of the industry took a dive about 15 years ago, their Westchester Heights neighborhood was one of the few still out past the old factory buildings and his was the last subway stop on the orange line. He spent so much extra time going back and forth from the precinct that he read about one new book a week. And he always rode in full dress uniform. Although he never used his locker, he was assigned one and was required to keep a lock on it. So whenever he got to the station everyday he would through his book in the locker for safekeeping.
One day when a month or two after they moved to the city, after a long shift, he walked into the locker room. To an abnormally large crowd. Officer Chauncey McGee was there holding a pair of bolt cutters in one hand and a broken lock in the other. They must have been waiting for him because they almost let out a cheer before they quieted so Chauncey could speak.
“So many of you have been wondering about all those books you been reading Officer Browning. Some people are saying that you are just hiding in the closet. They say that you are hiding your books under that science fiction dustcover. I defended you. I told them that you ain’t no fag. But they were saying that you was always reading a sissy book. I don’t think that. But that is what they were saying. Let’s put that rumor to rest.” Chauncey opened Jenkins’s locker it was packed full of books. He pulled the book off the top and feigned a look at it. “I was wrong about you, Jenkins. Romance novels.” He pulled out some more. “Another. Another. Still another. How many of these damn things do you read?” From there he just tumbled the rest of them out onto the concrete floor. “And what do we have here?” He reached into Jenkins’ locker and pulled out a Play Girl magazine. He opened it up to the centerfold and held it up for everyone to see. He said, “Look at the dong on that one. I may just keep this one for myself.” Everybody laughed.
From that day, the other officers started calling him, Daniel or Officer Steel. The women officers were the worst. Once they heard about the prank they began handing him Tampons in the halls and pulling the paper off the back of pads and sticking them to the back of his uniform. It was months before he could leave the building without checking his back for something stuck to it. But he knew he was part of the team. You don’t pay this much attention to someone you hate.
But the city. There is something about this city. He’s been spending more time downtown. The funky little shops. Juong’s Grocery with that one wall with all the “Eastern Medicine.” One of these days they’ll get sloppy. Get caught selling something they’re not supposed to. Jenkins, he wants to be there when they do.
Jimmy’s Pawn where the junkies sell off the nice stuff. Jenkins loves to pop out from around the corner and watch the how the people inside eyeing him out of the corner of their eyes trying to play nonchalant trying not to get caught looking. And all those other shops.
But what he likes the most is all the people. The crowds on a normal day. The people on their way to work, the sightseers in from out of town. The streetwise and the dupes. The marks. They are the best. He can always count on one of them to get into some sort of mess. Give him the work that he craves. Being out among the people is nice. But there is no thrill like footing it after some idiotic criminal that doesn’t realize that there is a cop right around the corner or watching from across the street.
He’s been switching assignments with anyone willing just to be downtown. And he has been coming in on his days off. He says that they need the extra cash, and they do. But that is not that is not the whole reason. Most of the time he is able to coordinate his extra days with Elly’s “duty days at the clinic,” as she calls them. They needed someone there on the weekends and all of the staff were required to work them on a rotating basis. Just so happened that today was her Saturday, and he was lucky enough to pull parade duty. Since he was mandated to work on his day off he was getting extra pay without having to show up to some boring old court case.
He was set to monitor the section of crowd outside of Steve Dupree’s Private Detective office. They always had a box of donuts and a pot of coffee ready for any officer who was who was willing to put up with a sales pitch. And on this chilly October morning Jenkins hadn’t had time to get breakfast.
Jenkins walked up to the detective’s office to see Steve himself standing outside looking up at a large banner suspended from ropes tied to the two trees that flank his storefront. Steve raised his voice seeing Jenkins walking his way.
“You know. They do this shit every year. Block my damn store. I paid a lot of money for the large lettering on my windows, and they put this damn banner up blocking my store. City Hall says that this parade is supposed to bring in business, but how the hell am I supposed to get more business if the crowd cannot see past the damn banner.”
Jenkins engaged in just enough small talk to not seem rude. Then he said, “You mind if I get one of your donuts?”
“No, no, go right ahead.”
Jenkins pulled on the glass door and a large jingle bell hanging from a leather strap on the top of the door clinked. The smell of brewing coffee hit him as he went in. Steve followed him in.
Steve said, “Have you thought about working for me on your days off. A bounty here and there really helps pay the bills. I mean I know. There is not as much call for a private detective as you might think.” Jenkins had politely ignored this same spiel every time he had gone in here.
“So how far out do you usually go for these bounties?” Damn it. Jenkins didn’t know why he asked. Now he was going to have to act interested.