Authors: Karin Slaughter
“Gimme a call, sweetheart. Day or night.” He gave her a wink as he followed Landry to the front of the room. “Night’s preferable.”
There were chuckles around the room, which Amanda pretended to ignore as she flipped through Butch’s notes. The words got easier to read as she paged along. Butch and Rick worked homicide division. There was a job Amanda never wanted. Because she typed Butch’s reports, she couldn’t help but absorb some of the details. They had to tell relatives that their family members were murdered. They had to look at dead people and watch autopsies. Just reading about these things turned Amanda’s stomach. There really were some jobs that only men could do.
Vanessa asked, “Did you hear we’ve got a new sergeant?”
Amanda waited expectantly.
“He’s one of Reggie’s boys.”
Amanda suppressed a groan. One of Reginald Eaves’s seemingly better ideas was to finally institute a written exam for promotions. Amanda had actually been foolish enough to believe she had a chance. When none of the black officers could pass the written exam, Eaves had thrown out the results and instituted an oral exam. Predictably, very few white officers were able to pass the orals. None of them had been women.
Vanessa said, “I hear he’s from up North. Sounds like Bill Cosby.”
They both turned around, trying to see into the sergeant’s office. There were filing cabinets stacked in front of the glass partition. The door was open, but all Amanda could see was another filing cabinet and the edge of a wooden desk. A glass ashtray was on the leather blotter. A black hand reached over and tapped a cigarette against the glass. The fingers were slim, almost delicate. The nails were trimmed in a straight, blunt line.
Amanda turned back around. She pretended to read Butch’s notes, but her mind wouldn’t focus. Maybe it was the heat. Or maybe it was because she was sitting next to a mynah bird.
Vanessa said, “I wonder where Evelyn is?”
Amanda shrugged, still staring at the notes.
“I can’t believe she came back,” Vanessa continued. “She’s gotta be trippin’.”
Despite her best intentions, Amanda felt herself getting sucked back in. “It’s been almost two years,” she realized. Duke had been off the job eleven months. Evelyn had left to have her baby the year before that. The woman had just made plainclothes division. Everyone assumed that was the end of her working life.
Vanessa said, “If I had a husband and a kid, no way I’d show up at this dump every day. It’d be ‘Good night, John-Boy’ for me.”
“Maybe she has to.” Amanda kept her voice low so no one could hear her gossiping. “For the money.”
“Her husband makes plenty of dough. He’s sold insurance to half the force.” Vanessa snorted a laugh. “That’s probably the only reason she came back—to help him sell policies.” Her teasing tone dropped. “You really should talk to him, though. He’s got cheaper rates than Benowitz. Plus, you wouldn’t be giving your money to a Jew.”
“I’ll ask Evelyn,” Amanda said, though she liked Nathan Benowitz. Her Plymouth belonged to the city, but they all had to pay for their own car insurance. Benowitz had always been nice to Amanda.
“Shh,” Vanessa hushed, though Amanda hadn’t said anything. “He’s coming.”
The assembled officers quieted down as the new sergeant walked into the room. He was wearing their winter colors, dark navy pants and a matching long-sleeved shirt. He was very light skinned. He kept his hair shaved in a square military cut. Unlike everyone else, there was no visible sweat on the man’s brow.
Amanda watched as he navigated the invisible line down the center of the squad where none of the tables touched. The new sergeant looked to be around thirty years old. He was fit and lean, his body more like a teenager’s than a grown man’s, but he still had to turn sideways to pass between the tables. Amanda noticed that the gap was tighter than usual. Pettiness was generally the only thing that compelled them all to work together. The black cops would hate the new man because he was from the North. The whites would hate him because he was one of Reggie’s boys.
He stacked his papers against the podium, cleared his throat, and said in a surprisingly deep baritone, “I’m Sergeant Luther Hodge.” He glanced around the room as if he expected someone to challenge him. When no one spoke, he continued, “I’ll read the daily briefing before roll call, since there are a considerable number of transfers.”
A groan went around the room, but all Amanda could think was how refreshing it was that someone had actually figured out it was better to announce transfers before taking roll.
Hodge read through the names. Vanessa was right that he sounded like Bill Cosby. He spoke carefully if not slowly. Every word was fully enunciated. The uniformed men in the front rows stared openly, as if they were watching a dog walk on its hind legs. Black or white, they were all straight off the farm or freshly discharged from military service. The majority of them spoke in the same heavy dialect that Amanda’s country cousins used. She couldn’t help staring at Hodge herself.
He finished reading out the lengthy transfers, then cleared his throat again. “Roll will be called in teams. Some of you will have to wait for your partners to come from other divisions. Please check with me to make certain that your partner is accounted for before you go out into the streets.”
As if on cue, Evelyn Mitchell rushed into the squad room, glancing around with an almost panicked look in her eyes. Amanda was still in uniform when Evelyn got promoted to sex crimes, but the few times she’d seen her, the woman was always stylishly dressed. Today, she was carrying a large suede purse with an Indian pattern on the front and tassels hanging down from the wide gusset. She wore a navy skirt with a yellow blouse. Her blonde hair was cut to shoulder length and very flattering, reminiscent of the style worn by Angie Dickinson. Obviously, Amanda wasn’t the only one thinking this. Butch Bonnie called out, “Hey, Pepper Anderson, you can cuff me anytime.”
The men laughed in unison.
“I’m sorry I’m late,” Evelyn told the new sergeant. “It won’t happen again.” She spied Amanda and Vanessa and headed toward the back table. Her heels made a clicking sound that echoed through the space.
Hodge stopped her. “I didn’t catch your name, Detective.”
His words seemed to suck all the air from the room. Heads swiveled around to Evelyn, who stood frozen beside Amanda. The dread coming off of her was as palpable as the heat.
Hodge cleared his throat again. “Am I missing something, Officer? I assume you’re a detective since you’re not in a patrolman’s uniform?”
Evelyn opened her mouth, but it was Rick Landry who answered. “She’s plainclothes, not detective.”
Hodge persisted. “I’m not sure I understand the difference.”
Landry jabbed his thumb toward the back of the room. The cigarette in his mouth bobbed as he spoke. “Well, ya see those two tits under her shirt?”
The room erupted in laughter. Evelyn clutched her purse to her chest, but she laughed along with them. Amanda laughed, too. The sound rattled in her throat like a drain.
Hodge waited for the chatter to die down. He asked Evelyn, “What’s your name, Officer?”
“Mitchell,” she provided, sinking down into the chair beside Amanda. “Mrs. Evelyn Mitchell.”
“I suggest you avoid tardiness in the future, Mrs. Mitchell.” He looked down at the roll sheet and checked off her name. “You’ll be with Miss Livingston today.” He went to the next name. “Miss Wagner, we’ll put you with Detective Peterson, who’ll be coming from—” Someone gave a loud wolf whistle. Hodge talked over it. “—from Zone Two.”
Evelyn turned to Amanda and rolled her eyes. Kyle Peterson was a mess. When he wasn’t trying to put his hand up your skirt, he was sleeping one off in the back of the car.
Vanessa leaned over and whispered to Evelyn, “I like your new cut. It’s very chic.”
“Thanks.” She pulled at the back of her hair as if she wished she could make it longer. She asked Amanda, “Did you hear Oglethorpe got reinstated?”
“They gave him his old squad back,” Vanessa supplied. “I wonder what that means for us?”
“Probably nothing at all,” Evelyn murmured.
They all turned their attention back to the front of the room. There was a white man standing on the periphery, just inside the open doorway. He was around Amanda’s age and wearing a sharp, powder blue three-piece suit. His sandy blond hair was long in the back, his sideburns untrimmed. His arms were crossed impatiently over his chest. The round paunch of his stomach stuck out below.
“Brass?” Vanessa guessed.
Evelyn shook her head. “Too well dressed.”
“Lawyer,” Amanda told them. She’d been to the downtown office of her father’s lawyer enough times to know what they looked like. The nice suit was a giveaway, but the arrogant tilt to his chin was the only clue she needed.
“Detectives Landry and—” Luther Hodge seemed to realize no one was paying attention to him anymore. He looked up from the roll sheet and stared at the visitor for a few seconds before saying, “Mr. Treadwell, we can talk in my office.” He told the squad, “I’ll be a few minutes. If someone could take over?”
Butch jumped up. “I’ll handle it.”
“Thank you, Detective.” Hodge seemed to miss the wary expressions around the room. Putting Butch in charge of the schedule was like putting a fox in charge of the henhouse. He would change the assignments into his own version of
The Dating Game
Hodge made his way back to the rear of the room, angling his lanky frame through the narrow dividing line. The lawyer, Treadwell, followed along the outside wall. He lit a cigarette as he walked into the office and shut the door.
Evelyn asked, “Wonder what that’s about?”
“Never mind them,” Vanessa said. “Why on earth did you come back?”
“I like it here.”
Vanessa pulled a face. “Come on, kid. The truth.”
“The truth is really boring. Let’s wait to see what the rumors say.” Evelyn smiled, then unzipped her purse and searched around inside.
Vanessa looked to Amanda for an explanation, but she could only shake her head.
“Yassuh, yassuh,” someone said.
Amanda saw a group of black patrolmen had taken it upon themselves to narrate the goings-on in Hodge’s office. Amanda glanced at Evelyn, then Vanessa. They all turned around for the full effect.
Behind the glass partition, Treadwell’s mouth moved, and one of the black cops said in a pompous voice, “Now, see here, boy, my taxes pay your salary.”
Amanda stifled a laugh. She heard this same phrase almost every day—as if Amanda’s taxes didn’t pay just as much of her salary as the next person’s.
Hodge was looking down at his desk. There was a meekness to the slump in his shoulders as his mouth moved. “Yassuh,” the first cop supplied. “I’s’a gone look into it fo ya, suh. Yes indeedy-do.”
Treadwell jabbed a finger at Hodge. The second cop grumbled, “This city is a mess, I say. What’s the world coming to? The monkeys are running the zoo!”
Hodge nodded, his eyes still trained downward. The first cop offered, “Yassuh, it sho do be a mess. Cain’t even eat my cone-bread without hearing ’bout thems po’ white women what’s gettin’ harassed by Negro men.”
Amanda chewed her bottom lip. There were a few nervous titters.
Treadwell’s hand dropped. The second cop said, “I say, you damn niggers act like you own the place!”
No one laughed at that, not even the black officers. The joke had gone too far.
When Treadwell threw open the office door and stormed out, the room remained stiflingly silent.
Luther Hodge was a study in contained fury as he walked to the open door. He pointed at Evelyn. “You.” His finger jabbed in Amanda and Vanessa’s general direction. “And you. In my office.”
Vanessa stiffened in her chair. Amanda put her hand to her chest. “Me or—”
“Do you women understand orders? In my office.” He told Butch, “Continue roll call, Detective Bonnie. I shouldn’t have to tell you twice.”
Evelyn clutched her purse to her chest as she stood. The back of Amanda’s legs felt cool as she rose to follow. She turned to Vanessa, who looked both guilty and enormously relieved. Evelyn was standing in front of Hodge’s desk when Amanda joined her. He sat in his chair and started writing on a piece of paper.
Amanda turned to shut the door, but Hodge said, “Leave it open.”
If Amanda thought she’d been sweating before, it was nothing compared to how she felt now. Evelyn was obviously feeling it, too. She nervously pulled at the back of her hair. The thin silver of her wedding ring caught the light from the overhead fluorescents. Butch Bonnie’s dull monotone called out team assignments in the other room. Amanda knew that even with the door closed, Luther Hodge had heard the black officers making fun of him.
Hodge put down his pen. He sat back in his chair and looked at first Evelyn, then Amanda. “You two are on the sex crimes unit.”
They both nodded, though he hadn’t asked a question.
“There’s been a signal forty-nine reported at this address.” A rape. Hodge held out the sheet of paper. There was a moment’s hesitation before Evelyn took it.
She looked down at the page. “This is in Techwood.” The ghetto.
“That’s correct,” Hodge answered. “Take statements. Determine whether or not a crime has been committed. Make an arrest if necessary.”
Evelyn glanced at Amanda. They were obviously wondering the same thing: what did this have to do with the lawyer who’d just been in here?
“Do you need directions?” Hodge asked, though, again, it wasn’t really a question. “I assume you ladies know your way around the city? Should I have one of the squad cars provide you with an escort? Is that how this works?”
“No,” Evelyn said. Hodge stared at her until she added, “Sir.”
“Dismissed.” He opened a file and began reading it.
Amanda looked to Evelyn, who nodded toward the door. They both edged out, not quite sure what had just happened. Roll call was finished. The squad room was empty but for a few stragglers who were waiting for their newly transferred partners to arrive. Vanessa was gone, too. Probably with Peterson. She would certainly enjoy the assignment more than Amanda.