“State your name.”
“No, just J.”
Officer Cruz gives me an ‘I’m in no mood for this shit’ look but says nothing. This is not off to a good start and I expect it’s about to get worse.
“I don’t know.”
He stares at his computer screen for a good minute without so much as blinking. I try to get Officer Strickland’s attention but that’s pretty hard to accomplish when you’re under the impression you’re one wrong breath away from being shot.
“You don’t know your last name?” I can almost hear his teeth grinding and his pulse is visible in the vein protruding from his right temple. It’s kind of like a cartoon character… except nobody is laughing.
“I was six years old when my father died,” I tell him slowly – but not too slowly; I don’t want him to think I’m patronizing him. “If he ever told me I’ve long since forgotten and I’ve never even seen a birth certificate… not mine, not nobody’s.”
Officer Cruz mulls that over and decides to let it go; either he doesn’t care enough to dig deeper or he knows he has no way to figure out if I’m lying or not. I’m just glad he does.
Before our fun little chat can continue we’re interrupted by the jarring ring of his desk phone. Cruz rips the wireless from its brown dock and just listens, no greeting required for this call. He hangs up with an electronic beep and glares at me briefly before standing up.
“Don’t move,” he tells me. “I’ll be right back. If I find a paperclip out of place when I get back you’re spending the night with your buddies in the drunk tank.”
He storms back the way we came and I let him go without a reply, back to playing the good, humble little bum. Any citizen of the street worth his cardboard knows the rules: keep your head down, never speak out of turn, never get angry, and you might just stay out of trouble.
Alone for the first time since I got here, I can finally take in my surroundings without the threat of violence or jail time. The voices are constant, both quiet and loud; a symphony of keyboards; the floor tiles have been scrubbed so clean they reflect the harsh overhead lights back up at me; it reeks of really cheap, really bad –
“Yeah, I mean no, no thank you,” I tell the coffee-pot-bearing Officer Strickland. “A glass of water would be great though.”
“Sure thing,” she says and then, with a conspiratorial wink, “Officer Cruz gone to get the welcome wagon?”
“He didn’t say but that must be where he’s run off to,” I tell her with a quick smile. “I don’t suppose you could take my statement in his place?”
“He’d be none too happy about that,” she says with a quiet laugh. “I don’t need that headache today, thank you very much.”
“That’s funny – I was getting the distinct impression that he would like nothing better than me being taken off his hands.”
“Officer Cruz can surprise you sometimes; now hush up honey,” she says with a previously unheard hint of the South, “here he comes.”
She fills his coffee mug to the brim before returning to her desk, my water seemingly forgotten. Cruz sits down with a creak of leather and a resigned sigh. He inspects his desk closely, his dark eyes examining every inch before they turn back to his monitor without comment.
A mighty crack of his knuckles and then: “All right, Johnny Boy – start at the beginning and don’t leave anything out, not even the smallest detail.”
So I begin with the meeting with Tommy in his alley and tell him everything I can, and almost everything I should. Because every good bum knows that telling the cops everything is never a good idea.
“State your name.”