I first tried to save Betsy before the storm.
It was five years and a lifetime ago. I was rookie Patrol. A real missionary. I was going to save the world.
Betsy was 11. She was still a baby then. We both were.
We met in the back room of a routine crack house raid in Desire District.
Cruz was my partner. We’d split a beignet for breakfast. Cadged it from the dozen Ferraris in Homicide brought into the Fifth District every morning. We were two promotion-happy ballbusters running on fumes. Both cranky as cottonmouths as we rolled the heads, wearing gloves because half of them shat themselves when we kicked the door.
Difference being, Cruz is sloppy when he’s pissed. I get sharp. I noticed the cameras and plastic cocks in the back room.
I fished Betsy out of the cupboard they’d locked her in. She was sixty fragile pounds wrapped around me, trembling for safety.
I gave the 300 photos of her to evidence. I gave her back to her mother.
I didn’t even worry about the needle marks on the arms that welcomed Betsy home. Someone so fragile as Betsy, you just want them held tight. You just want them safe.
Wasn’t more than a month later, I learned I should have worried.
Cruz and I had McDonald’s Big Breakfast that morning. A New Orleans cop puts in their straight 72 hours and three nights’ bodyguard work if they’re making the rent. It takes at least a four-digit calorie bomb just to stand. It’s rehydrated eggs, frozen sausage, maple syrup from a test tube, or it’s speed from a pill. We patrolled with dry mouth from sky-high sodium counts, eyes rolling until the sugar high dropped us.
That morning, we dropped on Betsy’s mother trying to sell her for the second time.
Cruz got the story. He was cranked. Bovine growth hormone from the sausage or a 32-ounce Coke for breakfast—whatever was to blame, Cruz about broke Mama’s arm for taking her daughter to a dope deal.
Mama had gone three days without rock. The point you feel earwigs on your eyeballs. She spilled to Cruz like he was the Pope himself.
She told us she wasn’t buying; she was just trading Betsy again.
I reported it to Vice. Every last word I could hardly bear to type. Even though Betsy begged me not to.
“Please, Jari, ma’am please,” every time she saw me. Betsy’d been raised so polite by the Mama she’d never see again.
“Please, ma’am, please,” rubbing her Dora doll to tatters. Betsy talked like an angel and stared at me with devils in her eyes.
Betsy knew I was sending her right where she’d begged Mama not to go: Away from Mama.
I knew I was sending her someplace safer. I knew I was right. I didn’t know shit.
I rolled alone by the time I saw Betsy again. Narco Detectives have partners, but my dipshit spent his days shooting coke between his toes and press-ganging hookers into threesomes. My breakfast was No-Doz and coffee. I’d already forgotten food tasted good. I had a search warrant on a premise, delinquent offender, selling horse tranqs to pre-teens on the Carver playground.
I opened the door on the foster home I was searching and there was Betsy.
Betsy, wearing a four-inch crucifix that matched the forty on the walls. Betsy with wash-gloves on and lye burns up to her elbows and hair cut with scissors.
Betsy, twelve years old and about six months pregnant judging by the belly jutting from her willowy frame.
Betsy had so much hate in her eyes for me. The one not bruised shut.
The foster parents were very helpful. They told me all I wanted about her. She was a sinner, they said, but no worse than their other nine kids.
The fourteen-year-old I was arresting was the one who “sinned” with her. I asked if she was keeping the baby. They answered by showing me the door hard.
I let them push me out. I turned my back on Betsy for the last time.
“It’s a gift from God!” They said.
Aren’t we all? And God save us. We aren’t going to do it ourselves.