Heaven's Rending Ch. 05byAdrian Leverkuhn©
Dance On A Volcano
Alan Burnett walked out of the Assistant Chief's office and headed down the dingy hallway towards the Patrol Division briefing room. He stopped at the worn out old water fountain recessed in the hallway and pushed the little round button on top - it's chrome had worn away ages ago and was now just a shiny brass knob that seemed little more than an echo of another time - and as it had for almost fifteen years the old gray box rattled when he pushed the knob and sent an icy stream of water straight up his nose. Burnett cursed as he always did and stepped back, then slurped down the water before it turned warm. He stood and wiped the remains off his mouth with his hand and threw the errant drops to the floor with a careless flick of his wrist, then he looked around, took his bearings, and continued on his way to the briefing room - lost in a cascade of furious emotion and feeling more than a little disoriented.
An hour before shift change and already the room was filling with cops, mainly over-eager rookies wanting to impress their new shift sergeant, but on this, his 'Friday', Burnett could not have cared less. He didn't impress easily anymore these days, not even on a good day, though he could remember wanting to impress any and everyone when he had been a rookie. Those days were long gone; now, most days he felt like he'd seen it all, done it all, and these new kids looked nauseatingly naive to him, just as he must have looked those many years ago to the watch commander who sat at this very same desk.
And while the world had changed in the intervening years - changed in ways that it hurt to think about - the work hadn't. People still needed Cops as much as they hated them. Houses continued to be broken into, businesses robbed at gunpoint, women raped, kids beaten. Cars kept running red lights and killing people, speeders lost control of their cars and ran off the road and into a tree, kids in trucks tried to beat speeding trains, and occasionally airplanes fell from the sky. Burnett had seen all these things, and more. His soul was numb from all the hate and fear that filled this world, from all the suspicion that met his arrival at the latest outburst of man's inhumanity to man. And this was the world all these rookies wanted to change. They were all - to a person - dedicated to the proposition that they could and would make a difference.
All these rookies had just come from nine months of Academy, learning - hopefully - everything a kid might possibly need to learn in order to survive long enough on the streets to really begin understanding the real rules of the game. Most did. It was his job to spot the ones who couldn't - and get rid of them, fast. He looked out over the sea of expectant faces, at all the lonely idealism that hovered in the air, apparent to no one but himself and the memories that held him together on days like this . . . and he seemed to . . . drift away . . .
As he drifted in the tidal streams of memory, surrounded by the echoes of another life very much like his own, he suddenly thought of his father, and the incongruity of the thought jolted Burnett. As he sat looking at the sea of tables and chairs peppered with navy blue uniforms, out of the blue he could just make out his father's voice. All the dedicated young faces arrayed before him reminded him of something his father had once told him, and the need to hear his father's voice now startled him. He had forgotten something. Something vital. Something he had forgotten from time to time, only to have it drilled back into his head like a bullet. It was something his father had wanted him to remember, needed him to remember.
Burnett's old man had flown fighters for the Navy in the Second World War and had gone on to fly for American before a heart attack nailed him in his early fifties, and yet to his last day Burnett's father had lived and breathed flying. Flying not simply as a passion, not simply a metaphor, but rather - it had been a calling. He'd trained more than his fair share of pilots - mainly 'Jet-Jocks' transitioning from the military into the more sedate reality of hauling cattle from sea to shining sea - but even with these prima-donnas his father's one true maxim held. And even though Burnett's old man had been gone now for more than ten years, he could still hear that clear voice bouncing around in the shaded vaults of memory.
"Remember this, and remember it well, Alan. There is nothing as dangerous in this world as a pilot with two hundred hours of flight time."
It was a simple lesson, yet a hard one to grasp.
Their was, his father had told him, no one so dangerous as one just out of training, as one who thinks he or she knows everything. These miscreants get cocky, they get over confident, and they fuck up big-time when they do. They get hurt and occasionally they get killed, and sometimes - when they fly jets - they get a bunch of people killed. Burnett had watched rookies come and go long enough to understand that his father's maxim applied to just about any profession, but it applied to cops with a vengeance.
And, Burnett had found, it applied to marriages as well. Just when you thought you were comfortable in your marriage, just when you got to that place where everything felt good and right, you got cocky and fucked up. You said the wrong thing in a flurry of masculine insensitivity at just the wrong moment, you were slow to compliment when you failed to heed the breaking shoals of feminine insecurity, or you saw a pair of legs that drove you wild - and wouldn't you know it - they just were never your your wife's.
And wouldn't you know it? You chased them.
Again. Every time. You chased them like a dog chases it's tail.
Cops and pilots seemed to fall off their respective wagons with alarming frequency, too, and Burnett understood that simple fact of life now all too well. He was fast becoming a monument to infidelity in all its wayward guises, and he knew his foundation was crumbling, too. But don't all monuments fall in time?
Burnett had tried the marriage thing twice, he thought glumly as he looked out over the room that seemed to fill with old memories as each new face walked in. Three times really, if he counted those strange platinum-laced days with 'Diane'.
There was Debbie of those innocent days now long gone - days and nights filled with furtive kisses and truly awful sex, and then there had been Diane. Diane the dominatrix. Diane the victim, the death-stalked whore in search of redemption. Diane, the dark chalice of soul. Then- after Diane passed away - Jennifer of the short skirt and long legs, Jennifer the flight attendant, Jennifer the nymphomaniac. She'd been everything poor Debbie never could have been, and everything he'd wanted Diane to be, and just when things looked like they couldn't get any better, just when he'd found out she had a thing for girls and groups, he'd found out she was still sleeping around with just about everyone in Seattle. She had left him four weeks ago, and it wasn't too long before he'd heard she'd tested positive to just about every STD known to medicine, including the biggie. He'd sweat bullets until his results came back negative, then he'd drifted through the funk of just what that really meant until the divorce papers had flooded into his life last week on yet another errant tide.
So, once again he was moving from the comfortable and the familiar, once again he would be moving into the shadowlands of uncertainty and the endless parade of lonely nights filled with the novacaine of television, and time would resume its deathly march.
And then came the bombshell the Assistant Chief had just tossed into this well-lubed uncertainty. Life was just one fucked-up adventure after another, Burnett thought. Just one more divorce waiting to happen.
And now this. Spooks. Goddamned spooks. It looked like it was going to happen!
He was carrying another box of books up the apartment building's rickety metal stairs when he saw the first one.
Burnett looked across the atrium through the wrought-iron balcony above and saw the pink halter-top and black leather shorts before he noticed anything else, but as he stepped out on the landing he took in the seven-inch spiked silver plastic platform sandals and the sucker in the mouth and he groaned inside. 'Oh crap, not a hooker...' he said under his breath as he smiled at the girl who stood looking at him with insouciant eyes. She was not ten feet away, yet Burnett felt almost repelled by the mere presence of the girl. Surely he couldn't catch anything from her from this distance!
"You the new guy in Two D?" she asked as she tongued her sucker suggestively.
"Well, there's a rumor to that effect," Burnett said as he looked at the flaccid smile on the girl's pockmarked face.
"Heard you was a cop." She licked her lips even more suggestively, as if she was hungry for more.
"Is that a fact? I'll be damned." He ignored the stirring in his groin as he stood on the landing catching his breath; he just looked at the girl and wondered what a piece of ass like hers went for these days. Ten bucks . . . twenty? Whatever the going rate was for a hit of crack or meth. Of that he was certain. The longer he looked at the girl the uglier she became . . . yet even in his revulsion he wanted to fuck her.
The girl looked at him knowingly then turned and walked away, but not before turning to flash him with a too bright smile and to toss off a little doe-like waggle of her almost too fat butt. Burnett walked down the balcony toward his new apartment and tried to stifle the laugh he felt building in his gut - but the box full of books was beginning to feel more than a little too heavy. Then the door next to his opened and a tall, fat woman in a white lab coat stepped out and inserted the key into the deadbolt and double-locked her door. She turned and jumped back when she saw Burnett walking her way, then almost relaxed when she saw the box of books in his arms.
The woman had the perpetually down-turned lips that most unhappy people wear as a defense against having to reveal the least bit about themselves, and this woman's scowl was crowned with suspicious little pig-like eyes that swept across him like razor-sharp searchlights; to Burnett her eyes were full of dread and suspicion, and he watched as these pale gray pin-pricks avoided his. He was left with the feeling that he had just looked into the loneliest place on earth. The woman darted past hurriedly and scuttled down the balcony, then down the stairs before he could as much as say hello. Burnett shook his head as he walked through the wall of too heavy perfume the pear-shaped woman left swirling in her wake.
Not promising, he said to himself as he put the box down beside the door. He fished out the key and opened the door, then picked up the box and walked inside. He dumped the box on the sofa and turned the air conditioning down before walking over to the little 'fridge and taking out a beer. He tossed it down in one long pull and wiped the sweat from his forehead on his shoulder, then got another beer out and took another long pull. His heart hammered in his chest as he walked over to the window that looked out on the balcony, and he pulled the cord to open the flimsy little curtain that covered the dirty window. He stood there for a moment watching a red bird taking seed from a little hanging feeder outside his window. The bird ate contentedly for a while, hopping from perch to perch to snag just the right bit, then Burnett and the bird made eye contact. They stared at one other for God only knows how long, then a cat leapt from its hiding place in a nearby tree and landed on the balcony with the bird's neck in it's mouth. The cat shook the bird once viciously, then trod off down the balcony.
Shaken by the sight, Burnett put down his beer and walked out of the apartment, heading for his car and one more box. The cat was sitting outside an open door, and as Burnett approached the cat fled into the safety of darkness within. Then he heard it. A man shouting, a woman's scream, breaking glass. Off duty or not, he was a cop - he turned and went back to his apartment and called dispatch, then clipped his badge and holster onto his belt and walked back toward the disturbance.
Another shout, another scream. Other tenants opening doors to check out the commotion. Burnett walked to the open door and looked in. The man was on top of the woman, kissing her passionately while he furiously worked to open his jeans; the woman's legs were wrapped around the man's back and she was clawing at the man, imploring him to hurry. Burnett reached in and shut the door, then walked back to his apartment. He called dispatch and told them what had happened, chuckled into the phone at the obvious rejoinder, then headed back down to his car.
His head clearing now, all he could think was that nothing on this earth was as it appeared to be anymore.
Burnett opened his car's trunk and reached in to pick up the last box when a car screeched into the parking lot. It accelerated heavily, then slid to a stop behind him. Burnett heard a window roll down, but he didn't need to turn around to know a patrol car was behind him.
"Hey, Big Al!" Burnett groaned when he heard O'Reilly's voice booming from inside the Ford. "So what's the deal?"
Now obvious that it wasn't going to go away, Burnett turned and looked at the graying red hair and impish face of "Crash" O'Reilly. "Oh, you know, couple up there getting a little boisterous in their hunka-chunka. Knocking shit off the tables, that kind of crap."
O'Reilly took on a faraway look as he said, "No, I don't. Don't remember that kinda crap happenin', least not to me. No, not in a coon's age, anyway. Can't say it ever did, for that matter. Wouldn't mind giving it a try, though."
Burnett laughed and nodded his head.
"Man, heard you was gettin' another divorce. What's up with that?"
"Irreconcilable differences, Crash. Gets you every time."
"Yeah. So I hear. Lose the house?"
Burnett looked at O'Reilly then looked away, not wanting to talk to the old asshole but not wanting to go upstairs and face the emptiness. The radio inside the patrol car squawked and came to his rescue. . .
"2115, are you 10-8?"
O'Reilly picked up the microphone. "2115, 10-4, go ahead."
Burnett listened with zero interest as O'Reilly wrote down the details of his next call on the little steno-pad strapped to his knee, then he stepped back as O'Reilly dropped the transmission into drive. "Seeya later, pal. Gotta run." Burnett tapped the roof twice and the Ford slipped out of the parking lot and disappeared down the street, leaving Burnett alone with his discordant feelings once again. He turned and reached for the box in the trunk as another car came into the lot and made for the empty space next to his.
An old silver BMW 2002 pulled into the space, and Burnett sucked in his breath when he took in the woman behind the wheel. Red hair, maybe a little blond, nice profile, too. Her sunglasses a little on the exotic side, nice earrings catching the afternoon light. Her door opened and a long stocking-clad leg slid out with assurance; the woman stood and stretched, let out a little sigh, then turned to lock her door.
Burnett was unaware he was staring at the woman until she turned and looked at him.
"Hello," Burnett stammered. He was conscious of sweat still running down his forehead and of the immediate need to take a shower - preferably a cold one, he thought as he took in the totality of the woman before him - but he knew above all he was making a terrible first impression.
"So, you in trouble with the police?" the woman said, confusing Burnett no little bit.
"Pardon?" he said.
"I saw the police car leave as I pulled in."
"Friend of mine. Dropped by to say hi." The woman arched her left eyebrow and looked at Burnett sharply. "I'm with the department."
"The department?" the woman asked.
"I'm sorry, the Police Department. I'm Sergeant Burnett. Uh - Alan." Smooth, Burnett thought. Smooth as an overdose of laxative.
The woman walked over and held out her hand. "Tracy. Tracy Tomberlin. Nice to meet you, Alan. You moving in?"
"Yes Ma'am. Two-D."
"Ah. Next to Doc Canfield. The quiet quarters."
"Oh, the Doc won't tolerate any noise after eight. Calls the cops, er, the police."
"Cops is fine, Ma'am. We're used to worse."
"I, uh, yes, I imagine so. Well, got much more to move in?"
"Nope. This is the last box. Good thing, too. My back's not enjoying this anymore."
The woman laughed, seemed to hesitate, then leaned in. "So, how 'bout I cook up a steak or two, toss a salad. You interested?"
"Is that a trick question?" Burnett replied in his most intimidating police sergeant's voice. Then he chuckled. "Ma'am? Name the time and tell me what I can bring, and I'll be there."
"How 'bout eight? Three-A," she said, and before Burnett could answer she turned and walked into the courtyard. Burnett looked after her as she receded into shadow. 'Absolutely glorious legs,' he said to himself as he watched her disappear, 'and the eyes of an angel.' He lifted the box and bounded up the stairs two at a time, and after he was safely in his apartment let a little yip slip free. He jumped in the shower and scrubbed the days sweat off, taking care - as he always did - to run his fingers over the scar on his arm that Diane had patched up oh-so-long-ago, then he toweled himself off and dressed before running down to the car and going to the store for a decent bottle of wine. He was back and knocked on her door promptly at eight.
"It's open! Come on in!"
The smells hit him as he walked in, the broiling steak, the dry wholesomeness of roasting potatoes, the faintest tang of olive oil and tarragon vinegar lingering in the air just under the scent of a fine perfume. It was the most unexpected thing after all the vicissitudes this weird day had presented, and it hit Alan Burnett hard. Hard in the stomach. It took his breathe away.
He walked towards the kitchen and called out "Honey! I'm home!" then heard her laugh and the sound wracked through his body like a cold sob. A warmth washed over him, a feeling he had almost given up hope of ever feeling again. He felt a little like a teenager, and the feeling seemed to penetrate a part of his soul he had long thought dead. He poked his head in the apartment's little cooking space and held out the bottle of wine he'd just bought. "I bring tidings of great joy!" he said as the full brunt of her cooking hit him.
"Splendid!" she said when she saw the proffered bottle. "All I had was a natty old Riesling. Never too good with steak, but I love them nonetheless."
"Can I help with anything?"
"Nope. Just sit you down out there. There's some cheese and stuff on the table. Now, shoo! Out!"
Burnett sat on the sofa and took a cracker, cut a slab of cheese and took a bite. Tracy came in carrying a hi-ball and put it down on the table, then pirouetted and glided sexily from the room, calling out "It's a Mojito, just in case anyone wants to know . . . Rum and the juice of a few precious flowers." Again he watched her drift away into the shadows of memory, again he watched the perfection of her form, again he felt overwhelmed at the sheer feminine presence of this woman. She was unreal, like a dream, and in a flash he saw her walking across wind-swept sands. He watched her feet as they left little marks in the sand as she walked towards him, he saw her arms reach out for him, for him alone, and he felt the soft warmth of a million distant suns falling . . . falling . . . falling . . .
He reached down and took a pull from the Mojito and the cool warmth ran through him until he felt the fire in his belly. She'd made it strong, too strong. Why? Was she unsure of herself? How could anyone so gorgeous be unsure of herself?