Mystery/Thriller centering around Joe Rhodes, a rookie at Greenville PD
| A Simple Wave
Alone. A small insignificant planet of blue and white spins in the void. Closer, under the white swirls, squares of green and brown spread out across the horizon. Life. Abundant. Chaotic at any single glance. But stare long enough- purpose. People, like pieces on a chessboard, moving; being moved. Destiny? Design? King, Queen, Pawn. In the end, does it matter? Who knows?
Greenville, North Carolina- early November
The bright lights of the sleepy city strobe hypnotically across the filthy windshield of the old blue pickup. Joesph Rhodes fidgets in the passenger seat, green eyes squint, trying to see past the glare to read the overhead signs on the freeway, curious about their destination but not enough to ask. He'd asked too many questions already. Asked stupid questions about things he should have already known. Annoying, yes, but he was stubborn too. Determined to show his partner he could be one of the guys. That wasn't entirely true. Dan was his TO, training officer, and per his words, not his partner. But after almost half a year, he'd come to see him more as a friend than either a partner or trainer. Friend. That implied something that wasn't in place- yet. The reason for him to be sitting in this antique. Why he'd bugged Dan these last few months to have a beer after work; to prove he fit in. Even if he didn't drink or like it when he'd tried at Seargent Gonzales's not mandatory get-together.
The truck slowed and backfired.
"Yo, kid, You okay?"
"Sure. Sorry." The skinny man had jumped, lost in thought, when the pickup had exited. He glanced back to try and see which one, but the back window was just as dirty.
"Joe, noth'n ta be sorry about. Chill," the relaxed driver, a sturdy dark-eyed, dark-haired man, tried not to sound irritated, but not too hard. He hadn't wanted to be here at all. He had plans, well, not officially. But anything would have been better than babysitting his noob. Kid, he liked to call him because he knew Joe hated that. Dan didn't want to be a jerk, but he didn't want this wide-eyed rookie getting too familiar. "Remember what I said about breathing? Yeah, try that some more." Dan slowed but didn't stop as he turned right at the stop sign.
"Hey, that was a stop sign! And what about blinkers?" I'm doing it again. Relax. Joe mentally scolded himself, pushing his hands down on his legs to keep them from shaking, rubbing them against his new jeans to get the clamminess out.
Homes blurred by his side window. The old pickup was moving fast through a neighborhood, not one he'd patrolled, older, well-lived in. Homey.
Winterville, Joe thought. Home. One he missed but knew it was time to put behind him. He'd done his best to ween himself since moving into the city. He was nearing the halfway mark of his probation, feeling better about what it meant to be an officer. He owed it all to this man. Dan. It was close to six months, but it already felt like a lifetime. He'd learned so much from him. A streetlight flickered and blinked out, snaping Joe out of his dead-eyed star at his friend, forcing his attention to his surroundings. The road had changed. Dark huge buildings came up around him. Warehouses. Joe swallowed hard. He knew this area; it didn't have a good reputation. Dan weaved in and out of the streets with dull yellow lights, navigating past the dark monoliths to break free into open lots. No lights here. Dark, only stars to hint at what lay past the curb.
The windshield wipers groaned to life. Scratching once across glass and dirt before water smeared mud making the glass completely opaque.
"Fuck," Dan rolled his window down and peeked his head out but hadn't slowed. Instead, he clicked up the wiper's speed and shot more water.
Joe tried wiping on his windshield side to see if that'd help any. His hand came away dirty, but the view was still a blob of mud and dark. "Can you even see where you're going," he questioned in a high voice, pressing his face hard against the cold glass of the passenger window, trying to see what was ahead. A pinprick of light came over the horizon. Closer, as the wipers started to do their job, he could make out people. As they passed, he saw them. Silhouettes of outstretched hands huddled over a glowing barrel. Fire licked at the rim and through rusted holes of the drum, illuminating the small lot of scattered debris. Joe shivered despite the warm air coming out of the broken vent. There was something familiar about this place.
Startled, Joe grabbed for the door, holding himself in place. No seatbelts. Things a death trap, but he kept that thought to himself. With the scrape of a final pass, the glass cleared. Joe swallowed again. The truck had only one headlight. The young rookie was about to comment when Dan hit something on the floorboard, and brights flared, spotlighting the pockmarked road they were bouncing across. The high beams, both working, spread out in front and the peripheral, allowing him a panoramic view of the vicinity. I was better off not seeing, another comment he kept to himself. Mostly empty lots of high grass and discarded junk. The occasional building, some even with windows, fade in and out of shadows. Then it hit him. He knew this place. Dan's neighborhood. He'd been here only once, but it wasn't something to quickly forget. That time it'd been daylight, and he still hadn't felt safe.
I'm an officer now, not some frightened child.
He'd reminded himself that day too. He'd been in uniform and on patrol with Dan, who'd forgotten his ID- again. He'd cussed a lot, saying he didn't want Gonzo, his private nickname for their sergeant, up his ass. Joe felt his ears burning. Cursing had never been his thing, and Dan liked ribbing him when he reacted to it. Luckily his partner was too busy driving to notice it now.
"Nice area you live in." Joe's eyes darted from one side of the darkened street to the other to confirm what he already knew. Their final destination. Dan's watering hole. He'd heard some of the guys at the station talking about it.
"Homey," The confident driver smirked and turned a sharp left, this time using his signals. The passenger tossed to the door, head out, catches a glance at the battered street sign, Whitehorse Drive, before falling back into his seat. "We're almost there." The engine shakes with the truck's turn but smooths out once the driver eases back onto the peddle. The new road, equally dark and bumpy, adds a few more deserted buildings to the landscape. The road ahead bends left; Dan's headlights hit a broken window in a faded red house. The silver glint stings Joe's eyes, making him blink.
Stay in the truck boy
"What?" Joe asks.
Dan ignores him. The passenger searches in the window. Dark. Nothing there. No blood. Joe lets go of the door, his pasty white hands sweaty; he wipes them again on his jeans before absently running his palm over his blonde buzz cut. The shock of what he feels makes him forget the broken glass. Even after all these months, he can't get used to it.
When the truck hits a large pothole, it rocks on worn shocks causing the front lights to flash across a yellow shot-up sign- DEAD END. Joe goes rigid. Cold, numb hands that no amount of wiping could fix. A chill ran up and grabbed his chest, all over a stupid sign. Dan's window was still down; he thought about telling him to roll the dang thing up, but it was warm for this time of year, and the engine's heat was coming through the vents, making the cabin smell of burned oil and... he rolled down his window.
Remember. Officer of the law.
An officer of the law. He likes the sound of that. A dream made real.
Think about anything else
After college, life had moved fast, the academy, graduation, and now almost halfway done with his rookie year. Gone in a blink.
I begged him, Joe's mind snapped back to the present. This is what I wanted. Be one of the guys. Dan had picked him up at his place-already running late. Joe had thought he was ditching him till he heard the horn. Didn't bother even to come in.
A jolt from another pothole had him grabbing the door again. The truck had slowed; he doubted the shocks could take it if they hadn't. The slow speed gave him plenty of time to look at the surroundings- all the dark buildings on the unlit street, many abandoned. The beater, Dan's nickname for his old truck, wasn't giving him a warm and fuzzy. Breaking down here would be the last thing he wanted.
I knew the place was in a bad part of town...
"Relax, kid. I come here all the time."
Joe's head swiveled so fast that his neck popped. His open-mouthed question to Dan's big grin.
"You gonna catch flies."
The younger man shuts his mouth with a frown. Annoyed at how easy it was for his friend to read him.
The word stung.
"I'm not a kid, probably the same age as you." He regretted it as soon as the words came out. It made him sound childish. But it was only Dan. If anyone knew him, it was Dan.
The driver smirked but didn't reply. He had one hand on the wheel and the other propped on the open window, not concerned with the temperature, the fumes, or the location.
Another jolt sent the passenger and Dan's expensive leather-clad briefcase flying. With no seatbelts to restrain them, Joe grabbed at the dash to try and keep his head from connecting with the roof. "How can you live around here?"
"Like I said, reminds me of home."
"I can't imagine New York being this bad."
A large neon sign flashed B FFALOES. Joe waited for it to flash on again.
The U had burnt out. In the second flash, the gloomy woods surrounding the building and large, mostly empty, parking lot also signaled the end of the road.
Joe looked to Dan, who didn't bother looking back. He swung in, then backed towards the woods, wheels crunching the ground before sputtering into silence. The headlights cut out, but not before Joe had an eyeful of the multitudes of beer cans and other unidentified objects littering the cracked concrete. One word came to mind- Seedy.
Red neon glints off a shiny metallic purple car parked right at the entrance.
"That cars got to be lost."
"What? The 1964 Chevrolet Impala Coupe?"
"You know it?
"Sure. Belongs to a regular."
"Dang. How did they get that here? Things so low to the ground..." Joe hears the driver's door open and close. Dan's gone. The nervous man tries the handle, it's lose in his hand. "Hey, wait up!" He yells into the glass, seeing Dan rounding the truck, not looking back. He jiggles it a few times, feels it catch, and gets it open.
"Dan," Joe yells while fast walking to catch up. His partner doesn't stop but takes a more casual pace towards the entrance.
When the screen door creaks and snaps closed, the three men at the bar stop talking.
"Yo, Pat!" Dan gets the attention of the balding heavy-set man behind the counter. "One DC and..." He pauses to check on his trainee, sees him wide-eyed and breathing heavily at the screen door. "...a Coors Light." The shorter of the two customers, a stalky thirty-something with slicked-back hair, meticulous goatee, and mustache, nods, tugging at the bottom of his leather jacket. Dan nods back. The hulking second man, in similar attire, groans and gets off the stool to stand and face him, hands crossed. When the music starts up, Dan frowns, ignoring the patrons at the bar, looking between his companion and the jukebox.
Joe, fully inside, coughs in the hazy room. "I thought Greenville had a smoking ordinance..." Seeing his friend's rolling eyes, Joe let his whispered complaint fade off.
"We're off duty, relax. Why don't ya reserve us a seat."
"But all the tables are empty."
Dan points at a booth close to the door, looking angry.
Joe opened his mouth, ready to say sorry, but stopped when he realized his friend's attention was elsewhere.
Dan was fixated on the disco music booming from the back of the bar. "Geez, this fu..."
"This place have a restroom?" His companion cut him off.
"Yeah." Dan points without looking towards an unmarked door near the bar, still focused on the noisemaker at the back.
"Thanks." The rookie takes a few steps in the direction as the giant standing guard at the bar moves toward the same door. Not wanting to compete for the door, Joe slows his pace, shifting his gaze to the ground, shuffling to where he remembered the door to be. "Excuse me," he couldn't move forward; two large boots blocked his way. Not wanting to make trouble, Joe took a deep breath and waited. They didn't move. Geez, now what? He could feel the heat of the man's eyes on his head. Slowly he traced up the tree trunks that doubled as legs to the gut, stretching out a leather vest and jean shirt to a grinning mouth highlighted with gold crowns. His stature wasn't the only intimidating factor. His face. Joe couldn't stop staring. Dark brown with black hair pulled tight, maybe into a ponytail? He was guessing because he couldn't see from his small vantage point. A large jagged scar ran across the bridge of a nose broken many times to cheeks that looked like the pock-marked road they'd taken to get here. But the worst part was his black unblinking eyes staring back. Waiting. "Sorry," was all he could think to say.
"Esse, somethin' tell'n me you ain't no local. Maybe you... "
" Oye, cabr, muete," his compact companion spoke calmly, almost pleasant, but his thin tight smile said otherwise. He had swiveled around on the stool to observe, or so Joe had thought. But the man's piercing black eyes were not focused on him or his muscle, but towards the back of the room, squarely on Dan, who was equally staring back. This man, though way shorter, held more of what he'd seen in the monster hovering over him. Power. He was the boss. Confident of his every word, which wouldn't be many.
"Jefe, este gilipollas; he don't belong."
The seated man didn't reply, but the tight smile disappeared. The big man got the message and moved aside; Joe quickly went into the unmarked room while his partner continued to lock eyes with the boss. When the door closed, Dan returned his attention to the songs qued. Four of them, all disco.
"No fuck'n way." He reached around and unplugged the machine. When he powered it back up, the jukebox reset, returning the record to the queue. Reaching into his front pocket, he produced a handful of quarters and shoved them into the slot, ignoring the eyes burning into his back. After making some selections, he walked over to the booth he'd pointed out to Joe and took the seat facing away from his spectators. He figured they weren't too pleased with what he did, but fuck um, was his unspoken opinion.
"Lisa! You got them drinks," the barkeep yelled over his shoulder, keeping one eye on the man seated in front of him. Sweat rolled down his fleshy jowls to a scruffy, more salt than pepper, beard. "We got ol' Dan wait'n!" He swiped a meaty hand across his forehead, then wiped it on the dirty embroidered buffalo's apron he wore over a once-white T-shirt.
"Hold your water, Pat. Got um right here." The high-pitched voice buzzed by him.
The old-fashioned machine found the record and started with a crackle/pop.
Oh, the shark, babe, has such teeth, dear
And he shows them pearly white...
"Hey, Dan." A petite blonde with a country shirt tied in a bow across her ample bosoms appeared beside him, holding a tray with their order.
"Lisa." The seated man had a wide grin on his face. "You look cold." Dan ran his eyes over her trim figure; her short shorts and tight shirt left little to the imagination.
"Not anymore." She placed the drinks on the table and gave him a wink.
"Ya busy tonight?"He pulled her into his lap; surprised, she let out a yelp, clutching the tray close to her chest. When she settled in, he ran his hands across her shoulders to her neck; there, he lingered, caressing slowly upward towards her chin.
"Maybe." She giggled and squirmed out of his playful embrace when she saw his companion returning from the bathroom.
"That bathroom... should be reported to the health authorities," Joe whispered as he sat down, ignoring the smiling waitress.
"You guys need anything else?" She'd looked at Joe, who was too busy glancing between Dan and the group at the bar. "Honey?"
"What?" Joe looked up at Lisa. "Uh, no, sorry."
"Fine." Her smile gone, she left, shaking her head at Dan.
"Geez-us, Joe, can ya turn it off?"
...You know when that shark bites with his teeth, babe
Scarlet billows start to spread...
Dan took the shot glass with the clear liquid and plunked it into the mug of dark stuff. Joe fidgeted with the unopened canned beer, still glancing between his partner and the bar's trio. His curiosity about the drink won out.
"What the heck is that?"
"This? Dan pointed at the mug; Joe nodded. "It's a DC," his companion was still confused. "Pat calls it a depth charge; it's his special- not on the menu."
Dan thought about it before he answered. "He's got a still in the back, makes a mean white lightening. The beer, some imported Ale- together, it's got a nice kick- wanna try some?" The man grinning, raised his mug toward Joe.
The younger man leaned across the table. "That's illegal," he spoke so low that Dan could barely hear him over the music. "Shouldn't we do something about that?"
His friend and mentor shook his head, regretting telling him the truth. Joe stiffened, seeing the disappointment on his friend's face, fidgeting more with his unopened can of beer. "Would ya open the damn thing already? Try ta relax and enjoy yourself? Sheesh, we ain't on duty. Take that stick out of your ass."
The rookie's ears turned red, his hands halfway to covering them, he realized the man he wanted so hard to impress- to like him, was lost in his mug, mercifully unaware of how out of place he felt.
All those years of college... I'm still the same dork
Forgetting about his burning ears, he drops his hands to his beer and opens it. Tries to think of something to say. Something to turn the night around. Nothing comes to mind, so he closes his eyes and gulps the cold beer. Disgusting, as it had been at the Sargent's outing.
Ignore it. Fit in
The two sit- one studying his drink, not wanting to look at his young charge, the other trying hard to look normal, cradling a beer he hates.
...Now that Macky's back in town
Look out ol' Macky is back!
Awkward silence. Joe watches his partner scrutinize his drink, his head almost buried in the mug.
Geez, say something already
But nothing came to mind, so he took several slow swallows hoping for inspiration. A burp was his reward.
Dan got up and went to the dark jukebox without saying a word.
In the silence and having no one to avoid eye contact in front of him, Joe focused on the raised voices at the bar. He couldn't make out what they were saying, but their tone was evident. It made the heckles on his neck raise. When Pat noticed his attention, he went quiet. The seated man, not satisfied, leaned in close to the balding older one.
A hiss and pop- an aged 45 began to spin the same song as Dan hoped back in the booth, muttering something about another round. Joe, engrossed with the budding drama, ignored him.
"OOOOkay." Dan lets the word stretch out, looking at his rookie's dead-eyed stare. "Suit yourself. Me, I'm gonna have a double."
Pat's eyes bug out when the seated man grabs his collar. Joe swallows air, not sure what to say.
"How long yah been riding with me?" Dan misreading the growing terror coming from Joe begins offhand. "What? Five months? You know I speak my mind. Don't take it so personally."
"Dan..." Joe's voice goes up several octaves when he sees the sleek-haired man produce a knife; the glint of silver through the smoke-filled bar froze him in place. "Oh...." Shit was the mouthed word as the last of Joe's color drained from his face.
"What?" Dan traced the fixed stare of his partner across the room to the bar. "Fuck me." He got up and walked calmly over to the group. The big man moved toward him. "Lurch, ya might want ta take a few steps back."
The two stood and stared at one another for only a second before the big guy moved and allowed Dan to pass.
"Rafiel, come on, man, this ain't cool," Dan's words, calm on the surface, held an edge tempered with his piercing eyes.
"Por quno te preocupas por tus propios asuntos?" The seated man was equally calm, turning his knife toward Dan while his other hand disappeared into his vest.
"What? Really?" Dan said in disbelief.
"He said," the words came from behind him, accompanied by a meaty hand on his shoulder. "Mind your own business."
"Hector, ya don't want ta be do'n that." Dan didn't give him a chance to respond; his fist connected then disappeared entirely into the man's large gut, doubling him over. Taking Hector's head before he could recover, he slammed it into the counter. Rafiel had something in his vest but hesitated in pulling it out. He was too busy watching his muscle wilt to the floor, unconscious.
Before Rafiel could recover, Pat clocked him over the head with a bottle; his unconscious head connected with the counter and stayed there.
"Thanks," Dan, unshaken, smiled at the worried barkeep.
The pale rookie hadn't budged from his seat. Frozen, he looked at Dan with wide eyes, muttering sorry under his breath.
"Yeah," Dan kicked at the prone man at his feet; he didn't budge. "Great fuck'n night."
...There's a tugboat, down by the river, don't ya know
Where a cement bag's just a-droopin' on down
Oh, that cement is just, it's there for the weight, dear
Five'll get ya ten old Macky's back in town...