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A Holiday Noir

Down at the beach, waiting for Santa Claus. Well, not quite; I was at the beach because I love the beach and even more important, my dog loves the beach. But it truly was Christmas Eve, an unseasonably warm one although those were becoming more common, and we'd been on the sand and in the water for hours, and the sun was now setting and we sat on the seawall to watch. I unwrapped my burrito, now cold - I had feared that most eateries would close early and so got it on the way down at midday - and piled some dog kibble on the wall next to me to distract the pup from begging and drooling. I popped a beer too, which had kept nicely in my little cooler bag.

The sunset was of medium beauty. The pup wolfed his dinner and then grew restless as darkness came down fast. "OK', I said, and he, knowing as much English as many San Franciscans, hopped down off the wall onto the walkway while I got down a bit slower. Looking south, I could see that there was not another car for the entire half-mile or so of beachfront parking. The big restaurant just above me and down the beach were dark. Other than the hum of the surf a few hundred feet away, it was a scene of great quiet. The one streetlight popped on of its own accord.

We got in my car, and I put my long pants and socks on, and a sweatshirt, and gave pup a bowl of water from the big jar I always kept filled for him. What now, I wondered. Home could be extra dark and depressing tonight. But not as bad as the few bars or other such spots that might remain open for other losers. I turned on the CD player and selected a Keith Jarrett piano concert, figuring I'd hang out for at least awhile. His intensely meditative ramblings drew me in and I shut my eyes and just sat back, with a brief worry that I might wear out the car battery if I passed out - but what the heck, I had an AAA card, and the tow trucks couldn't be too busy on this night, right? Right...

I awoke to a light in my eyes, reflecting off the rear-view mirror. The music had ended, and I heard the rumble of a car engine and saw lights behind me. A cop car. Shaking my head, I reached for the empty beer bottle and shoved it under my seat. Then I relaxed, sorta, not being able to think of anything else illegal about me at that point. I rolled down my window and put my arm out, with a little wave, and put my right hand on the steering wheel, having been told this reassured cops. And then I just sat, waiting.

The patrol car's door opened, someone got out, and walked up to my window, flashlight in hand. The police radio crackled. Pup got up from his own slumber and looked groggily out the window at the intruder. "Good evening" came the voice. A woman. "Hello," I replied.
"How are you doing here tonight?" she asked.

"Oh OK...just watched the sunset and now taking a nap, I guess," I explained. There was a pause and she said, "Would you mind stepping out of the car, with your license and registration, please?" Very officious. "No problem, I said, and did so, hoping any beer on my breath had dissipated or at least been cut by the beans and salsa.

She was shortish, Asian, fully garbed in that thick black leather cop jacket, the cap, all the tools and radios and weaponry. Her hand rested on a big billyclub at her waist. I got my wallet out and handed her my license and insurance card, and stood. She put the light on them for a moment and handed them back, looking up at me appraisingly. "Do you want the registration now too?" I asked. "I didn't want to be rooting around in there until you said it was OK." She smiled a little, and said "No, that's OK now, but thank you, and I did notice your showing your hands when I pulled up, so thanks for that too."

We stood there for a moment, silent. She looked into the car, and shone the light on pup's big face. "Wow, nice-looking dog," she said. "Yes, he's a good mutt," I replied, "He'll stare at you until you give him whatever he wants, tho." She chuckled.

"So...I have to ask, what are you doing out here tonite, and where are you going from here?"

"Well," I began, thinking about what to say. "I ran the dog on the beach, took a quick swim myself and caught one wave close in, watched the sunset, ate dinner, put on some music and took a nap, I guess. I have no other plans at this point, but will likely just head home."

"OK. And what happens then, will anybody be there?"

Strange question, seemed to me, but what the hell. "There will be hungry cats, is all." I paused, and she said nothing, so I ventured, "So, can I ask, are you on suicide watch or like that? The bridge is a couple miles away."

She gave another quiet laugh, and looked me in the eyes. "No, not really but yes, well, in a way. Yours is the only car out here. It's Christmas Eve. Strange things happen, you might say. I felt I had to check you out here. It's what we do."

"I checked out OK, right?" I said, nodding towards her car.

"Yes. Nothing. But of course most things are not in our computers."

"Of course." We both stood there for another moment.

"So," she said, "How was the sunset?"

I laughed, and replied "It was OK, I'd say I'd give it a b-minus. Say, would it be OK if I let the dog out? He's friendly, and might have to do some business..."

"Sure, fine" she said, and stepped back. I opened the back side door and he tumbled out, looking at her warily but tail wagging. No traffic around, I didn't put his leash on and let him go over to the sand and bushes by himself. It was getting chillier out. We walked over to the seawall and looked out at the whispering dark sand and water. Her radio crackled lightly from her car behind us. I was quiet, keeping my face away from her to keep the beer odor to myself.

"So... again, I have to ask, but you don't have to answer - why are you out here tonite, by yourself?" she asked after a minute.
"You mean I can take the Fifth now?" She grinned. "I'm not - the dog is right there."

"Don't smartass a cop. You know what I mean."

"Yes, officer," I said, but while smiling, and she did too. 'OK, but excuse me a sec while I put this guy in the car - he makes me nervous in the dark, with seagulls around and such." I gathered the pup back up and led him back into the backseat of my car, and shut the door. She was still standing there silently. I took the few steps over to stand next to her, and said, "OK, sorry, yeah. I... well I like it here, and there's no place else I have to be, I guess."

She seemed to think about that, then said, "Listen, you were right, we are supposed to be on the lookout for loners and possible suicide risks tonite You swear you're not one of those?"

"Well, not for suicide, no, I swear. But loner, yes... although not really by choice."

She took that in for another pause. "You... don't have to tell me anything, of course. But how does that happen? You seem all right to me."
I laughed a little. "Well, thanks. It's a long story, but thanks."

"I've got time. It's a slow night."

I thought for a second. "OK, here's a deal for you. I'll tell you mine if you tell me yours - why are you on this nasty shift tonight?"

This time she laughed. After a pause, she said "OK, deal. But you first."

I took a deep breath. "Hmm, let's see. I used to have a great, normal kind of life. Charmed, even. Grew up at the beach, great schools, blah blah blah. Lots of friends, girlfriends too, busy all the time with mostly good stuff. I never wanted kids and didn't have any, and never got married either. I got this dog. Lots of friends died or moved away, just too expensive here, like that. Before I knew it, there was basically nobody left I used to hang out with.

“I've been solitary for years now; I'm pathologically shy among those I don't know, and don't seem to have it in me to try to change that much, and besides, now I'm too old and nobody comes my way anymore. I'm invisible. My parents have died and my siblings live far away and we aren't close anyway, so.... here I am. All my weekends and holidays and nights are like this, me and the dog, and the cats at home, and I eat alone and out of cans with them, most of the time. Haven't been out to eat with anybody in years. Used to go to concerts constantly but that feels silly on my own. I do sometimes go to movies by myself though, as that's just sitting in the dark, right? Anyway, I don't really recognize my own life anymore. Most of the time I can tell myself to just appreciate what I do have, as I’m not poor – I’m well-off, actually - and sometimes that works. But holidays and such, yep, can be hard....” I paused, cleared my throat. “So, that's it, I guess. Sorry if it's kinda dull."

I stopped; we were silent. A bird or bat or something flitted around the streetlight. I glanced at her and she was just staring out into the darkness over the sand and ocean. "OK, ugh, I said too much, sorry, but you asked", I said, suddenly embarrassed, again clearing my throat, wishing I could take that last sip of beer, "Your turn now."

She looked at me and seemed to sigh. "Ummm... hmm. Well. I.. Well, I was born down south too, my family broke up early, I have two brothers. They turned into young thugs, and I didn't want to be like the skanky girls they hung out with. I finished high school, tried some college but didn't like it much, and a friend had become a cop and told me I should try it, good pay, tuition help if I wanted to go back to school, and lots of guys to meet too." We both laughed. "So I got into the LAPD academy, did OK, but really wanted to get out of LA, and it was OK to transfer up here if you had a connection, which I did. There were more women cops here which was cool but most of the men were real dicks, yunno? Thugs, sorta, all about their high school and sports only. Some real racists, too. No thanks. I enrolled in classes at State and even graduated. On my way to promotions and such. But then a longtime captain, smart guy he seemed, he'd gone to Berkeley even, and I hit it off and started seeing each other. Turned out he was married, of course. I stuck it out for a bit - I was lonely too, I guess - but then broke it off, and then he got really nasty - stalking, threats, the whole thing. It got scary. He started making it hard for me to work, to get decent shifts, and all that. And with the Old Boys' network and all, there has not been much I can do but try to avoid him. So here I am, almost ten years on the job and still working Christmas Eve. Not that I really have anywhere better to be too, but still...."

She stopped. Sighed again. It got quiet. All I could hear was the rumble of the waves out there,

"I'm sorry", was all I could think of to say, and it sounded stupid.

" too. But really, it's fine." She shrugged, then reached up and took off her stiff cop's cap, and shook her head, and a big pile of black hair tumbled out. I looked at her in the slight light of the streetlamp and was taken aback - it was like one of those Bogart flicks where the Plain Jane secretary takes her hair down and her glasses off and presto, bombshell. She was stunning. She reminded me of someone I could not forget and I turned my head away before that impression took over. But then I felt a light touch on my jaw, and before I could react she was turning my face back towards her, and her lips were on mine and we were, well, smooching. It had been so long that I was shocked at the feeling, then not, and I took her head in my hands and kissed her back, hard. She met me, then pulled back, took a deep breath, and giggled. I just cleared my throat.

"What kind of beer?" she asked, smiling.

I laughed too. "Oops, busted...uh, Anchor Steam, the local stuff. But only one bottle, I swear." She chuckled. Then I said, "I don't think I've ever kissed a cop. At least... not in uniform." She smiled, leaned back in and we kissed more, and I felt her hands on my neck, and without even thinking about it I reached inside her big jacket and yanked her shirt up out of her pants and felt the smooth skin of her torso, under where the gun handle came up from her holster, and she sighed loudly and fell into me and leaned her head back and I kissed her neck, just under her ear, and she smelled so good there and kind of moaned and wiggled and pressed into me, my god, it had been so...

Abruptly, she yanked back. "What?" I almost yelped, pulling my hands off, then said, "Oh, I'm sorry, too much - this is redicu- "

"Shut UP!" she barked, and spun back and looked behind us. A car was coming down the hill towards us, fast, and by the time I was down too, and she had tucked her shirt back in and I had settled myself a little, a dark SUV had pulled up behind her car in a screech of braking.

"Get in your car right now and lock it" she barked at me, in a very serious low monotone, and I did just that. She walked back past my car towards hers. I heard voices, a male's, then hers, then louder, and what sounded like somebody hitting a car with their fist. I laid down over to my right, across into the passenger's seat. The emergency brake handle bit into my side and I put it down, holding my breath, wondering what the hell I was supposed to do now. Her car had me blocked in with the curb in front, and I couldn't edge out of there without like a 10-point turnaround, if at all. Pup was in the back, alert. Maybe I should let him out and make a run for it, out onto the dark sand. I was thinking I'd look up and -

BAM! - came an explosion. A goddamn gunshot. Holy shit. Pup jerked and started shaking - he hates loud sounds - and I burrowed down again, freaked too. It was silent for a minute, other than the murmur of a cars idling. I felt the clear thinking of near-panic. It came to me that my car license had been checked into their computer already; it was known I'd been down here. After what seemed like a long time but was probably ten seconds came a tap on my window. I looked up, wondering if I was about to die. It was her, with her big pistol in hand. I just stared. Expressionless, she motioned me up. I sat up slowly, swallowed hard, and started to open my door.

"Don't get out of the car," she ordered, steely, staring over my head, up at the road, as she holstered her gun. "Here's what you are gonna do. Pull out of here, head home, take side streets as much as you can. Park in your garage if you have one. In about five minutes every squad car in the city is gonna be bearing down here, spoiling for blood. Anybody asks, yes, you were here, I checked you out, you left. That's all. Go."

She walked back to her car, got in, pulled it forward enough for me to back straight out. I started mine, and slowly did that. The SUV was idling there, lights half on. What looked like a body was sprawled next to it, and as I turned my car away, my lights caught a cop uniform, and a puddle of dark liquid next to it, glinting in the yellowish streetlamp. I glanced at her car. She was already in there, head down.

I drove up and away from the beach, as she had instructed. My hands were shaking but I could grip the wheel, very tight. I still tasted her on my lips. I didn't even know her name. And Santa Claus didn't show that night.

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