End of the Line

Officer Peter Densus, sitting in his patrol car, stared at his watch. 8.30. Half an hour to go.

He was parked in an alley, lights out. He wondered if he should simply stay here, wait it out, watch the time crawl away. Fuck it, he thought. One last drive-around.

He started the engine and pulled out into the street. There was almost no traffic. And there were only a few people about, just some knots on street corners, doing not much except waiting for possible customers. Not likely, not until the day after tomorrow, when the welfare checks arrived. Until then, no-one in Los Través had any money. Except the gangers. They had plenty. Whatever cash dribbled in flowed relentlessly upwards.

He turned a corner at random, and then another. It had become second nature as a safety precaution. Don’t go on an obvious route, don’t go in a straight line for more than two blocks. Doing the predictable thing was how blues got killed. He glanced at the two bullet holes in the windscreen: ambush fire from a fortnight ago. Had there been another cop in the passenger seat they would have taken the bullets, but two-man patrols had ended a long time ago. Budget cuts.

And there was no money to make repairs to the car, either. There were other holes in the doors, and the lights on the top of the car had been shot out. Aside from that, there were innumerable dents and scratches in the cruiser from where people had thrown rocks and garbage. He smiled grimly: the car would make it to the end of the evening, probably, but that would be it.

He swung around another corner and for a moment could see the lights of the Big City in the distance. Long way away. Seemed to have got even further in the past few years. There had been a bus route that linked Los Través and the Big City. Had been.

He passed Angelo’s Pizza. It was once a good place: he remembered going there as a kid. It had had big glass windows then. But they had been smashed by one of the gangs, he couldn’t remember which, about five years back. So Angelo had put in new windows, with decorative metal bars. Which had been stolen within a week. So more bars, heavier and tougher, and a grill. Which went down to a ram-raid. Which had also seen Angelo lose one of his hands, for refusing to pay protection money. So Angelo had boarded the place and gone … somewhere. Somewhere else. Anywhere else.

There was still the sign: NO DELIVERIES. That was because the delivery boys kept getting shot. A gang-banger would order a pizza, and then shoot the delivery boy, if he was white, in the face. Like in that rap song by … was it Menace Clan? Wrong place at the wrong time, white boy. So Angelo took to hiring black guys and Hispanics. That worked for a while. Not for long. Apparently, working for a white guy made you a sort of white guy, so … well, there it was.

Densus wondered if there were any businesses left in Los Través. The last one he could think of was the pawn shop on Seventh Street, and that had been burned down a year ago. There had been a bail bondsman – did that count as a business? – on Fourth but that had been robbed so many times it had folded. There had been a Social Security Office on Fourth as well but that had closed because no-one would work there, not after three shootings in the space of a month and the publication of the clerks’ home addresses. Same with the school. At some point staying around to try and make things better was merely foolish.

So the only commercial activities that were left were drugs and hookers. And even the dope business was getting too dangerous, with gangs multiplying and splintering and mowing each other down. Being a cop had actually been easier a few years ago, when there were gang leaders. They kept a sort of order, just wanted things to be reasonably quiet so they could turn a profit. But either they had got too greedy, trying to expand into some other guy’s territory, or had been displaced by some radical up-and-comer tribe with new-gen tech and heavy-grade firepower. Some of them had RPG7s, apparently.

Densus turned another corner. This was a street of old apartment buildings. He knew there were people still living in some of them, but there were heavy curtains drawn across the windows. No point in letting anyone know you were in there, it was like asking for someone to kick your door down and take whatever you had left. He wondered when the electricity company would get around to turning off the town’s power, because no bills were paid. Pretty soon, probably.

He drove around a pile of smoking garbage in the middle of the street. The collection service wouldn’t come here anymore, so people threw their garbage into the street, and eventually someone put a match to it. It was effective, in a way, if you could ignore the smell. At least the fire gave the homeless junkies something to sleep around, wrapped in cardboard or rags.

There was a burst of machine-gun fire a couple of streets away, followed by an answering burst, and then a whole fusillade. An explosion. Densus shrugged: nothing to do with him. Intervening in a firefight was an invitation to your own funeral. The gangers would stop just long enough to turn their guns on the blues. Then someone would grab the badge to claim the bounty. And then they would go back to their war. It might be over some turf infringement, a minor insult, or a … well, it didn’t matter, did it?

He saw a hooker standing on a corner, just up ahead. He knew her, had busted her several times when doing it still made sense. Her working name was Diamond but her real name was Tilly. She had had a pimp but he had ODed a few weeks ago so now she was freelance. Not much future however you sliced it. Best-case scenario: one of the gangs might scoop her up, put her on a measly commission until someone decided to cut her a new one.

He stopped the car and got out. The street was nearly empty. No trade for a working girl tonight, probably, especially one that was starting to get the strung-out shakes.

“Hi, Til,” he said.

She nodded and did her best to smile. “I thought you would have gone by now,” she said.

“This is my last shift,” he said. “Ever. Half-an-hour, I’m done and get my pension. Then I’m out. But I thought I should say goodbye.”

She nodded again. “Out,” she murmured.

Densus dug into his pocket, pulled out a twenty. “Here,” he said. “Get yourself some food, Til. Looks like you could do with it.”

She took it. She started to kneel, but he gently pulled her to her feet. “It’s … on the house,” he said.

She stared at the note in her hand, and then at him.

“Look after yourself,” he said. He got back in the car and drove off. In the mirror, he saw her walking away, holding the twenty, heading for whatever dealer was closest.

Another firefight had started, coming from another part of town. Sounded like a big one. He turned to avoid it, and then turned again to avoid Callister Park, a little patch of ground with some straggly grass. It was known these days as Bounty Square, after the incident last year when a cop – Sancini had been his name, Densus remembered – had been taken down by a sniper in a third floor window. The two cops that had tried to collect the body had also been shot. Eventually, the Big City cops had agreed to lend the Los Través department an armoured car to retrieve the bodies. It had done the job but had been so badly shot up that the Big City cops had quietly said: don’t ask again. Seemed they weren’t used to having garbage thrown at them, either.

The Callister Park thing was the first time Densus had believed in the bounty on blues. There had been talk but Densus had, like the other cops, dismissed it as evil gossip. But now he believed it. Damn, the shooter who had made thirty thousand dollars that day put it up on his Facebook page, a picture of himself holding the cash, and his scoped rifle, and grinning. #killallcops.

One way or another, the Los Través Police Department pretty much disintegrated after that. There had once been fifteen police and ten support staff. A couple of the cops transferred out, and so did some of the support people. When the remaining supports learned that there was also a bounty on them – only five thousand, less than for the blues but still good money – they simply stopped turning up. Couldn’t really blame them. 

And no new staff appeared, either supports or uniforms. There were reports of Academy graduates refusing to accept postings to Los Través. So between the casualties and the walk-aways, the number of badges had shrunk from fifteen to twelve to eight to four to … him.

Fifteen minutes left. He wondered if he would be paid his pension. It was no secret that the City Council had no money. There was no tax revenue, and ever since the mayor quit a few months ago no-one knew who was running things … if anyone. The City had been operating on emergency loans from the Big City council but that well would run dry soon, as soon as someone realised there was no way the money could ever be repaid.

Fuck it, he thought again. He turned the car for the station. On the way, he passed a few groups of people, silently watching him, standing under the few streetlights that were still working. They knew that he was the last one, and this was his last run. This time, they didn’t throw things or shout insults at him. They were on their own now. Got their wish. If they wanted to tear what was left of the place apart, they were free to do so. No more blue line. Put it in the should-have-thought-of-that-before category.

He turned into the basement car park of the boarded-up station and parked and got out and went up to the deserted administrative area. He logged onto the computer on his desk and sent a message to the Council saying that he had finished his final shift, so his resignation was now effective and he qualified for his pension. He didn’t know if there was anyone on the other end to acknowledge it, but at least he had done his last bit of paperwork.

“Hey,” said a voice.

In a moment, Densus’ gun was in his hand.

“Easy, buddy,” said the guy. “I’m just here to say goodbye.”

Densus relaxed a little but did not put his gun away. “Hello, Clarence,” he said.

Clarence Jefferson nodded.

“I would feel a lot better if you unloaded,” said Densus. Clarence shrugged and took a pistol out of a shoulder holster and put it on the desk. But Densus did not put his own gun down. Clarence shrugged again and took another gun out, and put it down. Then another.

“Happy?” he said. “Or is that a stupid?”

“It’s a stupid,” said Densus, although he put his gun away. He gestured for Clarence to take a seat. He took a bottle of whiskey from his desk drawer. There was just enough left for a glass for each of them.

“I was trying to remember,” said Clarence, as he drank, “when it was that you first busted me. Six, seven years back?”

“Something like that. And you served … was it two years?”

“Time off for good behaviour.”

They both laughed.

Clarence said: “Where are you going?”

Densus shook his head. “I’m not going to tell you that, Clarence. Especially since my wife and kids are already there. And the last guy who told people where he was going, as soon as got there the place was fire-bombed.”

“You know that it wasn’t me that ordered that, right?”

“I know, but still … ”

Clarence nodded again. “Yeah, I get it. Truth is, I’m looking at getting out myself. You know I’ve got two kids, right? Four and six. I don’t think they’ll make it to eight. May as well have targets painted on them. But … where would I go? The only thing I know how to do is … what I do.”

“Yeah, well, this is probably where I’m supposed to say something about sowing and reaping, but it’s not really necessary, is it?”

“No, it isn’t. Say, you wouldn’t consider staying on, would you? Some of the other guys and I, we got together, thought we could pay you to keep doing the cop deal. And we would get rid of the bounty thing. Looking back, maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. And maybe we could get people to show a bit more … respect. You’d work for us, of course, but you’d still have a badge.”

Densus gave a little laugh. “Sorry, Clarence, I wouldn’t stay for any amount of money. There’s no place for me, not now. For years, everyone here has been saying that they don’t want cops. There’s no-one who wants to be protected by us, there’s no-one worth serving. So, okay, you win. Congratulations. No more cops. Everyone has got what they want. Los Través is yours. Enjoy.”

“Yeah,” said Clarence. “Yeah, that’s what I thought you would say. But I wanted to ask.” He finished his drink and stood up, and took his guns back. “By the way,” he said, “you probably shouldn’t go along Lawson Avenue tonight. Take another way.”

Densus nodded. “Thanks, Clarence,” he said. “And good luck.” They shook hands, a bit stiffly.

After Clarence had left, Densus sat for a while, thinking, finishing his drink. Then, eventually, he left the office. He turned out the lights. He went to the basement garage and got into his car and drove away, leaving the town where he had once lived, that he had once loved, to the future that it had chosen for itself.

END

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