A sneak peak at “While Sleeping”

Trigger warnings: Gun violence.

Photo by Lisa Fotios on Pexels.com

January 29, 2014

Youngstown, Ohio

It was after midnight and Jakob and Cindy had just walked into their second bar. The entryway was slippery, the flimsy mat doing nothing to combat the snow the patrons were bringing in. They hung their coats and walked toward the bar, happy to see there were few others there. They had made a deal at the beginning of the night not to talk about the case. Any case. So far, they’d been able to steer clear of touchy subjects. Jakob ordered a bottle of some local craft beer called “Buckeye,” and Cindy had surprised him by ordering a White Russian.

“You know there’s no whisky in that, right?”

Cindy laughed and said, “Shit. You’re right.” She yelled after the bartender who’d just left. “Rob, I’ll also take a Pappy Van Winkle Rocks with a water back, if you don’t mind.” The bartender gave her a thumbs up and proceeded to prepare their drinks.

“What the fuck was that?”

“A whisky and a glass of water.” Jakob shook his head.

“You’re going to be floating out of here tonight.” There was a comfortable silence between them. Then Jakob asked, “You still seeing that steak guy?”

Cindy laughed. “His name is Angus, thank you very much. And yes, we still see each other. We recently agreed to be exclusive, so no more one-night stands for me.” She gave him a pointed look, secretly begging for him not to bring it up.

The bartender dropped off their drinks and quickly left, reading his customers well. They wanted privacy, not a chit-chat with a stranger. “Does that include work husbands?” He looked at her innocently, brown eyes lingering a little too long on her lips.

“You just had to go there.” She drained her whisky in one go.

“Aren’t you supposed to savor whisky or something?”

“Oh, I savored it.” She looked over at him. “It was one time, Jakob.”

“Hence the name, one-night stand. But if only one-night stands are off, what about two-night stands? Asking for a friend.”

Cindy grunted. “You are incorrigible.”

Jakob relented. “Hey, I’m sorry. I’m happy for you. From what little you’ve told me about him, well, he sounds like a great guy.” Jakob finished off his beer and motioned for another. He asked, “Did Sagan tell you he’s got a date next week?”

A shocked gasp escaped from Cindy’s lips. “No way. How did that happen?”

“The M.E. in town set it up. She’s apparently a friend of hers, some kind of professor at the local university.”

“Wow. Do you think he’s ready?”

“For a date? It’s way past time.”

“What about you? You hiding somebody in your basement?” She smiled at him and laughed, trying to diffuse the tension between them. Again, she regretted the night they’d spent together. Not that it hadn’t been great, far from it; it had been amazing. Jakob was such a patient and giving lover, every touch intense. Every caress a thank you for finding his mom’s shooter. Unfortunately, he wanted more than she could give him. Surely Jakob couldn’t think he was in love with her. They barely knew each other, and she just couldn’t feel that for him. She couldn’t be with someone that held her up on a pedestal like he did. It was too much pressure.

Jakob looked at her for a long time before answering. “I don’t know, Cin. I guess there’s nobody. Maybe one day, right?”

They were both quiet for some time then Jakob said, “I’ve been meaning to ask you something. Well, two things I guess.”

Cindy took a deep breath and prepared herself mentally. She didn’t think this was going to be about them. It wasn’t going to be about the possibility of something developing between them in the future. No, this was going to be about something she really didn’t want to talk about.

“You remember, we agreed not to talk about the job, right?” Jakob nodded and took another swig of his beer.

“I’ve been wondering about what brought you to law enforcement.”

Cindy quietly said, “Well, that’s not really a question.” She winked at him. “And?”

“Well, when I first heard of you, you’d been working on a task force tracking down gun nuts. But when I finally called you, you were working with Sagan on this serial killer case. Why?” Cindy had silently ordered another whisky while Jakob had been talking and she quickly knocked that one back as well.

Jakob waited her out. She didn’t look at him when she started speaking again. “In 1999 I was living in Columbine, Colorado.”

Jakob was taken aback. This was heavy. “Shit.”

“Yep. Columbine.” She took a sip of her White Russian and smiled. “This is pretty good, actually.” After a few minutes, she continued. “My daddy was a cop. His daddy was a cop. And my parents never had another child.” She shrugged. “So, I just knew I was going to be a cop all along. Daddy took me hunting and I’ve always been a damn good shot. I could just about outshoot him at age twelve, like I was born to it. I grew up around guns, they were just a part of life. I always thought that it made sense. America was born through violence, through the use of guns. It was part of our heritage. Part of who we were as a country. I used to think that every American had the right, the God-given right to defend their property with a weapon. Defend their family. Now I’m not so sure.” She stirred her drink with the little black plastic straw sticking out of her glass as she continued. “After all these years, I guess I’m still trying to decide which side of the line I’m on.”

She began again. “Columbine. Columbine came along and changed things for me.” She sighed deeply before continuing, scared of having herself psychoanalyzed by her partner. She hated looking weak. “I was a senior that year. But after the shooting, I was more than just a senior. I was a survivor. Every breath I’ve ever had since April 20th of that year, well, I’ve had a moral duty, right? To make every. single. day. minute. second. count.” She motioned for another whisky and it didn’t even hit the bar. It went directly from Rob’s hand to her own and she held up a finger, the universal sign for “wait just a minute,” as she emptied the shot glass and handed it back to him. “Another?” he asked. She shook her head and asked for another water instead.

“I’d had a crush on one of them for a couple of years, you know?” Cindy had a pained expression on her face, and she shook it off with a cynical laugh.

“One of the shooters?”

“Yeah.” Cindy waited for the obvious question, “The blond one?” But it didn’t come. He didn’t know her well enough yet, and she probably hadn’t told him that Angus had blond hair.

“So, what happened after that?”

“Well…life.” She laughed again. It was a dark thing, a laugh born out of blood and fear and constant self-criticism. “The clocks kept ticking. We graduated the following month.” Cindy got a dreamy look on her face, as if the act of focusing on the day had teleported her back to those moments. Moments she’d no doubt played through her mind ad nauseam in the following years.

“Graduation day felt surreal. It was bright and sunny, and it just felt so wrong.” She looked over at Jakob. He was peeling the label off his empty bottle. “People were laughing and smiling and I just kept telling myself that there were tears behind those sunglasses. I kept telling myself that all of us seated there would make sure this never happened again.”

“I can’t even imagine what that must have felt like.” Jakob had taken on the solem tone and quiet manner of a good listener.

“I used it. Used the experience as a catalyst in my life. I was always going to be a cop, but now I was going to be a super cop, you know? I started attending Community College of Aurora straight out of high school. They had an AA transfer option for Criminal Justice. After that, transferred to the University of Northern Colorado.”

They were dangerously near to closing time and Rob had just announced last call while turning up the lights. The brightness stung Cindy’s eyes and she looked around. The floor was scattered with typical bar debris…barely used napkins, peanuts, crushed cigarettes, unidentified fluids, broken beer bottles, and sticky footprints.

“To make a long story short, Jakob, I became obsessed with gun violence. I became fanatical about gun safety education and fought for common sense gun control. I tracked down some homegrown terrorists and became an alcoholic.” She finished her White Russian as if to prove the point.

“Then there was Sandy Hook.” Rob had started shooing customers out of the door. Jakob nodded. “Yeah. It’s hard to believe it was only, what, a year ago?”

“A little more than that. Anyway, I couldn’t do it anymore.” They started walking toward the front door. “My dad knew Sagan; they met at some convention for crime enthusiasts, or some shit. Knew he was looking for some bright minds. And I thought, why not?”

“Why’d you invite me to the team?”As they stepped outside, a vicious wind pummeled them with an apocalyptic level of snow. It felt like they’d barely survived the blizzard from a few weeks ago, and now this? Cindy motioned toward their nearby hotel. She knew an attempt at speech in this shit was pointless. She imagined the homeless out in this. The drunks. It would be so easy to just have a seat on the ground and let mother nature take over. So easy to give up.

After surviving a shooting, the ironic thing is how many times you think about killing yourself. Was the only reason she was still alive due to her fear of being seen as a coward? She didn’t know, but she was done with the self-hate for the evening. She began jogging toward the hotel, her head down to avoid the piercing darts of snow. They entered the hotel at a near run, faces bright red and stinging, ripping their coats off at the door. The receptionist gave them a nervous nod. It was the nod of a citizen whose instinct was to call the cops whenever anything out of the ordinary seemed to be happening. Cindy began laughing and Jakob joined in. When you are living off a late night and half the bar in alcohol, well, you didn’t need to hear the joke to know that it was funny.

“What are we laughing about, Cindy?”

“I…I was just…” She tried to catch her breath, but another laughing fit pursued. “Can you call the cops…on the cops?”

She had thrown her coat over a drying rack near the fireplace, kicked off her shoes, and sunk down into the comfy couch in front of the hearth. She had managed to get a handle on her laughter and patted the empty place beside her.“When we met in November, I was in a dark place. I was close to leaving law enforcement. This thing with Sagan felt like a losing battle. Felt like we were just spinning our wheels, and I needed a win. I needed something to believe in again.”

“So, Sandy Hook had been pretty recent. You were feeling disenfranchised…”

“Yeah. I was feeling pretty useless, like nothing I’d ever done had mattered one fucking bit.”

“And then I came along and gave you a white savior complex.”

Julia laughed. “It wasn’t that, man.” She reached out her hand and patted his arm. Left it there. He put his hand over hers. It was so damn warm. “You made me realize that despite the violence, despite the shootings, despite the…” she choked back a sob, continuing when she was able. “Despite the broken bodies of dead children, maybe I had done some good. And maybe the world would have been a worse place without me in it.”

Cindy dropped her head down to his shoulder. “And besides, you were a good lay. Figured I might need to keep you around.”

She could feel his laughter before she could hear it. Damn, she was a bitch. Typical of her to try and lighten the mood with the exact thing she was trying to avoid let happen again. Had she just encouraged him to keep on carrying that flame, when she had no intention of lighting her own? She started to drift off and Jakob said, “Thanks for bringing me on.” She mumbled something incomprehensible and began to snore, snuggling into the man she would never allow herself to love. The two of them fell into a comfortable sleep, unaware of the receptionist who would spend the night tending the fire to keep them warm. Unaware of the manager who would come and put a blanket around them. Unaware of the skinhead who would shake his head as he passed, anger at seeing a white woman in the arms of a black man. Unaware, too, of the small child who would walk up to them and reach out a tiny finger to poke at Jakob’s face. It was a blissful, dreamless sleep that would not in any way whatsoever prepare them for the hangover to come.

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