When Fifth District Homicide popped Dobie Stallworth on murder one, we just about threw a party.
Cherise, our superstar receptionist, hung a crepe string of purple, gold, green crowns above Andsell’s desk. I slipped a fresh bottle of Wild Turkey into his drawer to keep the half-empty one company. Lots of Kenny Loggins was played in his honor.
Not that Dobie made any newspapers.
He’d just laid out two drunks in a fight over cards. Only pissant DUI and domestic priors. No big shit.
But Dobie had solid evidence against him: Witness statement. Forensics. Everything but a confession.
That was about as rare as Haley’s Comet around the Fifth.
Cherise printed out the only appropriate photo of Andsell, framed it and hung it on the lobby. She stacked King Cakes into a fleur-de-lys on his desk.
“It’s September,” I told her. “Those are out of season.”
She gave me her eighty-watt grin.
“Generosity is never out of season, Jari,” she said.
Of course, a week later, the station house was robbed.
Cherise brought a lot of gifts to the Fifth. Organization was the greatest.
She bustled around those FEMA trailers like Ms. Pac-Man, round body ricocheting from one task to the next. Store-brand cleaner spritzing in front of her. Plume of frosted hair bobbing behind razor-straight bangs.
“Cleanliness is the best way to say thank you,” she’d tell me.
I’d fold my notched hands behind my back so that the dirty fingernails didn’t show and beam back at her.
Cherise color-coded our felonies. She let me choose my favorite, green, for Narco. She set up a flash-card system to track our arrest intake.
She made a special map of the District, hung it behind our dispatcher, Plunkett, and actually convinced that shiftless bastard to put pins in it corresponding with calls. Not that he remembered which pin colors were which.
“You’re going to rot our teeth with all this sweetness,” I’d tell her.
She’d just giggle her Pixie-stick giggle.
Cherise brought other treats: Hubig pies. Aunt Sally’s pralines. Moon pies.
The sense of order around the Fifth was the sweetest.
“You’re our secret weapon,” I told her.
“I am a squirrel rifle among popguns.”
I let that one slide. My next thought made me lose my smile.
“Don’t let the bad guys find out about you.”
“Ain’t a scrape yet I couldn’t get out of.”
The morning after the station was tossed, I found Andsell sitting on my cruiser, cradling his sidearm.
“Think the department would take cost of the bullet out of my life insurance if I ate my gun?” He asked.
“That, plus custodial cost cleaning up your brains.”
Andsell sighed. “We had Dobie. Had that fucker. The first clean kill in two years. Now I don’t know what we have.”
“Place is a real mess.”
“They even took my pack of new pens.”
Another sigh. “Lots? Nothing much? I can’t tell.”
The light bulb went on for us both at the same time. His head lifted. Mine fell.
“Jari. Go grab Cherise.”
“She’s off duty. I’m on.”
“You’re, what, doing surveillance?”
“Yep. Got bad deeds to watch.”
“So you’re not doing anything important. Go get her.”
Cherise answered the door like she was a centerfold spread for Southern Living. Her hair was disheveled as her little taupe shotgun house, though. I could have broken her smile with a feather.
“We need our squirrel rifle,” I said.
“I’m not really ready,” she said, letting me in. “Just getting the kids up for school.”
Crammed into the dining-room-cum-kitchen, the kids were four, six, eight, thirteen and a baby. They went from real loud to real quiet when they saw me.
“Just a minute,” Cherise said, bustling off.
I took stock of the kitchen: Clutter and yellow stains screened fading decorations. Drain-cleaner sat next to the OJ on the sink. Clothes spread instead of carpet.
“Cherise!” A man’s thick voice approached. “What the fuck, girl?”
Two-fifty pounds of groggy man lumbered in. He wore only briefs and sweat. He scratched at both as we sized each other up.
“What’s up?” His squint looked familiar.
He grabbed the eight-year-old’s cereal bowl and drank. The others ate faster. The roaches on the table didn’t mind.
When Cherise came out, she waited until the ride to the Fifth to break the silence.
“Sorry about all that,” she said.
“That your boyfriend?”
“Your man have a last name ending in ‘S’ by any chance?”
Turned out, Cherise’s “man” was Dobie’s cousin.
Turned out, the dumb bastard still had Hendrick’s pens in his car.
Turned out, Andsell celebrated after all.
All month, no warning, he’d boom out, “Two jailbirds, one stone!”
I didn’t celebrate.
I let Cherise clean up that day. Didn’t even look over her shoulder. Then I walked her out.