“Whatcha think’s under all that snow?” Gabe asked his beat partner Mike as he drove. They rolled through Southie, heat blasting in the cruiser. The edges of the windows crackled with ice. It was new dark, temperature falling fast. Snowstorm in progress, with another six inches on the way.
“Bodies. Drunks who didn't get home from the bar,” Mike said, in the Boston way that made the word bah. He was looking out the window, at the snow piled between and over cars. "I bet we could open a few cases if we started looking."
“Cases of beer, maybe,” Gabe said. “That’s the only way I’d want to be out there in this. Supposed to get into the negative numbers tonight.”
“You bring up booze a lot, you know that?” Mike said.
Gabe sighed. “I guess I didn’t, though it doesn’t exactly surprise me. You’re right, there are probably bodies. At least one, I imagine. I don’t think that’s the case for us. I’m trying to fry fish.”
Mike looked at him. Gabe sighed again, tapping his fingers on his leg. “God sure took a precipitous dump on us, though, didn't he? A lotta lotta snow. You want to work possible bodies under it all right now?”
“No,” Mike said. “I’m bored is all. Tired of working meatloaf cases. Meatloaf is great, but it's too much meatloaf. Why not a hot pursuit? A car chase? This snowstorm is fattening us up.”
“You, maybe,” Gabe said. “I get my ass to the gym at five in the morning, that's the time to go. Also, good thing we’re not pursuing anyone, the engine floods any time you try to put the pedal down.”
Mike sighed. “Yeah, wish they’d assign us a different car. But the gym, man. I don't understand how you can work a whole day at the police and get up at five."
"Trust me, it's harder to work the whole day at the police than get up early." When Gabe gets to the words "the police” he spits them.
"Insomnia?" Mike asked. "You know, I try with those nature shows when nothing else works. The narrators remind me of my high school math teacher, Mr. Brooks. Some of my sweetest dreams I had in his class. Did hell on my grades though."
They were both silent for a while.
That morning, Gabe woke up minutes before his alarm, heart racing. His wife’s slight snores beside him were the kind of comfort that fed him temporarily. When he got out of bed she groaned and rolled over. He put water on the stove to boil and got in the shower. He felt the beads on his forehead, felt himself leave his body momentarily, then came sucking back inside, polaroids emblazoned on the inside of his eyelids. He shut the water off.
In the kitchen, he poured coffee. He ate slices of melon from a sandwich bag in the fridge. His wife came up behind him, wrapping her arms around his waist. The bump of her belly touched his lower back. He relaxed back into her warmth and softened his expression, turning around.
It was a nice moment. He tried not to think about what the moment would mean if things went awry. Now, in the cruiser, Gabe thought about what he was going to say, how he felt, things he'd been holding inside himself. Things he'd found out.
“We aren't good, Mike,” he said. “We aren't good. People fear us. People who should know we're here for them. They don't trust us. I didn't want to be that. Someone people hate because of things we did. They treat us like we're demons or something. Tired of feeling like that, associating with that.”
“People fear what they don't understand,” Mike said. He fidgeted, looking out the window.
“No, they understand. Power without pity or penalty. We fear them, is how it is. We're afraid they won't respect us, that they can't. So they die. And no matter what I do, I can't stop us from killing them. Or...doing other things.” Gabe's voice caught in his throat, the edges of his eyes burned.
Mike turned to him from the passenger side. “Listen, hey, Gabe. Why are you police?”
That was easy. “To help people and put bad people away.”
“Well, hold on to that. John Q. Public wants us to be murderers and go off on them, go nuts and shoot 'em all. That's what they want. So they can say we're all bad. Then they win. Gotta hold on to why you chose the uniform you in the first place.”
“But the bad people, Mike. They're not out on the street like we're told. They're in here, with us.”
“Maybe in Missouri, but—“
“No, here.” Gabe said. He looked right into Mike’s face. “Now."
Mike looked confused. “Now? It's just you and me here now.”
Gabe looked away, focused on his hands on the steering wheel. Loosened his grip. “You've been a good partner. I always trusted you.”
Mike chuckled. “Me too. Hey, what's this all about? Did I get you mad or something?”
Gabe waited until they were stopped at an intersection. He didn't look Mike in the face.
“I found out some stuff about you. Didn't want to but it was mailed to me. Somebody thought they could force my hand, or get me to act rash.”
Mike paused, taking a breath and swallowing before answering. “What’d you find out, Gabe? “
“Found out you're unfit for the uniform.”
"Me? Gabe, what? You know I’m a brother, that I’d die for this uniform. I bleed blue. I’m a cop, through and through.” Mike laughed nervously at the spontaneous rhyme.
“I know why you got transferred," Gabe said. "I know about the favors your family pulled for you, and why. I wish I didn’t.”
Mike’s eyes looked like they were going to come out of his face. He doggy paddled for air. “Ah Christ, all that stuff—I mean, I don't know what you found out, but if it's got you mad, maybe—listen, all that was years ago. I've changed. Everything about my life is better, I'm sober, the habit’s gone—“
“Mike. Drugs, alcohol...don't make people do what you did. A little girl called 911 and you showed up and...you did that to someone who trusted you to help. Who'll never trust any of us again. Her mom choked to death while...you did that. Pure evil. Electric chair stuff. And you know? It’s not all I found.”
Mike's eyes were big. Gabe's partner gulped, mouth opening a couple of times, but he couldn't seem to decide what to say. The part of Gabe that still hoped it wasn't true, that someone was set Mike up for a fall, that part of him ceased to exist.
Now he knew. His partner Mike was the monster the tipster said he was.
“I’m real sorry you found out like that, I bet it feels horrible. Like you don't know who I am or something. But it's still me.”
Gabe's throat was tight. There were tears in the corners of his eyes. When he spoke again his voice was a growl.
“It's you. And I'm sure of exactly who you are.” His heart was starting to race, adrenaline starting to pump.
“Well shit,” Mike said, “this sure is a lot of crying over spilled milk, isn't it? Come on, Gabe. That was me in the past. I'm sorry for what I did, I atoned for it, I changed, I healed.”
“Spilling milk's an accident. She was seven. Give me your sidearm.”
Gabe drew his gun and pointed it at Mike's head.
“Give me your sidearm or be dead,” Gabe said. “I’ll do it. I searched myself after finding out. I'll do it.”
Mike patted his front and felt down to his side.
Mike went slower. “You’re not going to take my sidearm, are you? Come on, Gabe. I'll have to report you for this.”
“Please don’t talk. Give me the radio. And your phone.”
Mike handed over his radio first, unclipped his waist holster and pulled the gun up by the hammer. Gabe took it.
“Now get out of the cruiser, ”he said.
The color was gone from Mike’s face. His nose was running, he wiped at it slowly.
“Gabe…no. I can’t do that.”
“You’ll do it. You’re a coward.“
Gabe could see Mike begin to protest, to defend himself yet again, before thinking better of it.
“Fine. But only because we're partners and I consider you one of my closest friends, not the barrel trained on my noggin.”
Gabe didn't flinch. "Whatever gets you out of the cruiser.”
“I’m going.” Mike opened the door and a blast of chilly air sucked the heat from the interior. He looked back at Gabe with puppy dog eyes, but Gabe kept the gun pointed at his partner's face.
“Remember we solved that drug bust? Put those junkies in rehab and their dealers away? Remember that? Now those, those were good times.”
“Get out and close the door,” Gabe growled.
Mike sat still for a beat longer, then sighed and got out, leaving the door open a crack. Gabe reached across the passenger seat and yanked the door shut. He locked the cruiser from the inside. He lowered his gun and stared straight ahead, looking at the time. Nine-fifteen.
Outside the car, Mike was talking loud.
“I know how this goes, Gabe. You get me cold, so I'll beg to be let in—then you'll open the back, make me handcuff myself. All fine. But shit’ll hit the fan when you try to bring me in—they'll fire you, you can bet. Probably worse things too. I got seniority on you. And I'm not the only one in the force with skeletons. Far from.“
Gabe turned the radio on, found a station playing a rap song, and pumped the volume. Mike was still talking, his sock puppet mouth opening and closing, but Gabe didn't have to hear it.
The song ended.
Outside, the wind was picking up and snowflakes were starting to fall from the sky.
Gabe had driven them down West Broadway all the way to a construction yard near D Street. No workers around at this time and even fewer lived in houses around here. The only thing Gabe worried about was another BPD cruiser driving by and seeing them there, Mike standing out in the cold, shouting.
“Gabe, you've made your point. I'll do what you want! Turn myself in. Say fifty Hail Marys. Just let me back.”
As temperatures descended past negative five, then negative ten, time was on Gabe’s side. Mike wasn't a healthy man, and he wasn't well-insulated; only had his police jacket, no gloves. His hands were whiter than usual, almost translucent.
Gabe put the car in drive and pressed slightly on the gas pedal. The cruiser moved forward a car-length and he stopped again.
Another song started on the radio. Gabe thought about what he was doing, the decision he'd made. Thought again about the little girl. Thought about the others, little boys, boys who would grow into men scarred in some deep and terrible way, likely perpetuating the same abuses.
He drove forward another fifteen feet. He glanced in the rear-view mirror. Mike was jogging to the car, shaking his hands out, balling them up and blowing into them.
“Hey, Gabe! Don't leave me here. You're starting to worry me! I don't know what to do, what can I say to make you let me in so that I can explain the rest of it?”
The snow fell harder now. The wind howled. Chains far above in crane equipment clanked in the wind.
“You know what? Fuck this—I'm calling the police myself. I'm calling the police.” Gabe could hear him over the music, now. Mike went for his pockets.
Shit, his cell phone. Gabe's heart sped up. I forgot about the cell phone. The radio, the gun, that's all he'd thought about. So Mike had no way to hurt him and no way to call the station for backup.
Outside, Mike dropped his cell phone.
Gabe knew he shouldn’t, but couldn’t stop himself. He grabbed his baton and got out of the car.
“Get away from the phone!”
Mike was bending over to pick it up. “Screw you, I’m calling them!”
“No you aren’t.” Gabe kicked Mike in the back, rolling him over his shoulder on the cement. But Mike already had the phone in his hand. Ignoring Gabe's kick, he swiped it open and started to tap.
Gabe swung the baton, hoping to hit the phone, maybe a finger or two. Mike yanked his hands out of the way, then scissored his legs around Gabe's, levering him off balance and onto the ground.
The tables had turned.
“You shouldn’t have gotten out of the cruiser, Gabey.”
No, this isn’t how this goes. Gabe’s internal measure kicked on. This was about surviving now, no longer winning. Winning was a lifetime ago.
They were both on the ground, for the moment on equal footing. But his partner was more experienced in hand to hand combat and fought dirty.
“You lock the door? Bet you didn’t.” Mike is on his feet and rushing to the car faster than it seems like he should be able to move.
Gabe got up, running to the car, and made it to the door in time for it to be locked, from the inside, by Mike. A wily devilish grin played across his face. Mike leaned forward to the window and yelled, steaming up the glass.
“You didn’t take care of me fast enough, partner. You had your chance, you should have taken it. What’d you do instead? Rush out the car at the first sign of danger. That won’t do. No partner of mine. Hey, you know you and yours are in deep shit now, yeah? Maybe I'll take a drive over, see your digs.”
The keys were still in the ignition. Mike was starting the car, maniacal look on his face. The same face as when he hid behind his badge to hurt children? Before Gabe could move, the cruiser leapt forward, accelerating away into the falling snow.
Gabe was left standing in the cold, alone in a shipping yard, and the advantage he’d so carefully created had evaporated in an instant.
Waves of anxiety started to wrack Gabe. Had he lost? This quickly? Before he let despair take over, he did a self-check. What did he have on him?
Gabe had his sidearm. His baton. His radio. His cell phone. His wallet. So there was nothing in the car that tied him to it. Who could he radio? Who could he call?
He tried home first, but his wife didn’t pick up. He lived twenty minutes drive from here. if Mark was headed that way, there was likely nothing Gabe could do.
So he called the precinct.
“This is officer Gabe Adelson. I was out on patrol with my partner, but my partner just dropped me off on Broadway. It appears there’s some power outage and I’m going to need a pickup back to the precinct.”
“Who’s your partner?”
“We don’t have any officers in the immediate area, are you good to walk?”
“Depends how far. It’s damned cold.”
“See if you can get to the Animal Hospital near the orange line.”
“At that rate, I’ll take the T.”
“Might be your best option. Other units aren’t nearby, and the closest ones are occupied. Why’d Officer Ruckman drop you off there?”
Gabe breathed in, swallowed, collected himself, and spoke.
“The weird part? About nine-fifteen he became agitated. Spooked. Saw something outside while we were driving or…you know, I don’t even know. But he told me he had to go, that he was going to drop me off and he didn’t want me involved in where he was going. I questioned him, but he stopped the cruiser and told me to get out. He wouldn’t tell me any more. Then I got out of the car and he drove away, heading to the Seaport.”
“Okay, well, get walking and I’ll send a squad car to intercept. If they don’t see you or you don’t see it, take the Orange line.”
Gabe hung up and started walking back through the empty shipyard toward the street. It was snowing heavily now.
Then, a surprise. Headlights, an engine revving, and the sound of tires searching for purchase on frozen asphalt.
His patrol cruiser was accelerating toward him.
When it was close, Gabe tried to time it, then leaped out of the way. His foot slipped on the ice. The fender grazed his leg.
The car was turning, doing a handbrake one-eighty. Gabe’s brain buzzed with panic. He knew he was getting up but it felt so slow, like in a nightmare.
The car was accelerating toward him again, and Gabe was on his feet. He bent his legs and started one way, then another, trying his best to zigzag. The car was behind him. Gabe could hear the car more over his left shoulder so he turned violently back to his right and sprinted from a turn on his right heel.
The cruiser’s tires squealed on the pavement, close, but not as close as the first time.
Gabe looked, he was behind the cruiser. He could see Mike inside, slamming his hands against the steering wheel. The car was stopped, the engine was off again.
Did he yank the key out on accident? No. The engine flooded.
Gabe pulled his sidearm, put it up to the window, and tapped the glass. Mike glanced at him, shrugged, and tried to start the car. The cruiser’s engine came to life. Gabe no longer scared him. Gabe was in the rear-view mirror of Mike’s mind.
If Gabe hadn’t already decided on Mike’s end, this would have been the moment that sunk him. He’d have let his partner get away. Instead, Gabe racked the slide and pulled the trigger.
Holes appeared in the window just as the engine started to rev.
Mike turned to look at him, with what was left of his face.
He tried to talk, maybe say “I didn’t think you’d do it,” but what came out was slurry mishmash due to lack of jaw and a disintegrated tongue. Mike swiped at him with his hands at the window, but the driver’s side window hadn’t shattered, only been perforated. His limp hands met the window and slid harmlessly off.
Gabe stepped back, still holding the gun, still trained on his partner’s skull.
Mike’s body seemed to crumple forward, over the steering wheel, and the cruiser’s horn blared.
The cruiser started inching forward, accelerating slowly toward the pier. Then faster, faster. As it neared the water’s edge the cruiser swerved, as though Mike had resurrected himself for one last attempt at course correction. The momentum was too much, however. The cruiser hit one of the barrier poles sideways and flipped up, so that Gabe could see its underbelly, the fuel tank and all four tires. Then it was over the edge, splashing into the water.
The snow came down almost too thick to see that far.
He’d have to walk from here, now that the car was in the drink. Mentally he knew it was fifteen below zero, but he felt warm. His heart, which only moments before had been pumping blood through his neck and chest and skull rapidly, was beating steadily again.
Like that, it was over.
Later, if anyone managed to dredge up the car, they’d wonder how Mike shot himself in the left side of the face and still put bullet holes through the driver’s side window. Maybe they’d assume he was murdered. Maybe they wouldn’t.
Gabe didn’t care.
He walked, knowing he’d done something the police, and the system that created and relied on them so seldom achieved. He’d put something right.
Snowflakes landed on his hair and his ears, freezing against his skin. He didn’t notice. His breath was hot and he walked through it, but he didn’t notice.
He was thinking about what Mike had said, begging to keep his gun.
“I’m not the only one in the force with skeletons. Far from.”
“I know about them, too, Mike, and I’m coming. It’s long past time.”