“Be a good one.”
It was what my grandfather said to me when I told him I wanted to be a cop. I promised him I would.
I’d been nervous, standing in front of him and the rest of my family and saying it out loud. They were all college educated and white collared. I thought their plans for me had always been to follow in their well established footsteps.
When Grandpa said that, though, I realized they just wanted me to be happy.
Grandpa passed away before I graduated the academy, but his words stayed with me. When I was running on coffee fumes to get through my overnight shifts. When I was standing out in the pouring rain beside a car wreck. When a perp swung me into a metal pole so hard my kneecap shattered and I was put on desk duty while I recovered.
Be a good one.
The years pass hard and slow on the streets. I saw every kind of person humanity had to offer: the remorseless killer, the victim of circumstance, the ruined innocent. You become thick skinned and cynical real quick. You learn to laugh to keep yourself from getting lost in the darkness.
A decade in and a promotion to detective later, nothing shocked me anymore.
There were nights, though, that I couldn’t close my eyes. I’d leave my wife sleeping peacefully in bed and I’d go sit in my office and I’d think about all the shit I’d seen and wonder if it was worth it. What was the point of putting on the badge? Why keep trying to make this a better place when so many others just didn’t care? It was all I’d ever wanted to do, but was it worth it?
I’d lean back in my chair and stare up at the sign hanging over my computer. It was made of weathered wood with carefully painted letters on it, black cut through with a thin blue line. A handmade gift from Mom.
Be A Good One
It was a reminder of a promise I’d made. The reason I’d become a cop in the first place. Even if the rest of the world sucked, I could still try to be a small speck of good in it.
It was enough to let me get to sleep.
It was also why I opted to take over the case with the missing prostitutes. Other detectives in my department had been shuffling it around between them, but no real progress was being made. I understood why: these girls were some of the hardest to find. They worked those streets where witnesses didn’t exist. People saw nothing and said less. Fear of law enforcement and of retaliation from others within the community made for tight lips.
The only reason we knew that four women had even gone missing in the first place was because of Bambi Rashaad.
She and I were familiar, to say the least. She had at least a dozen arrests in the last five years: prostitution and possession, mostly. I’d been the one to cuff her half the time. As messed up as she was, Bambi was a good kid. One of those victims of circumstance.
The first time she came in, I thought she’d been collared again.
“Hey, Bambi,” I said. “Rough night?”
“Angel’s missing, Cooney,” she cut to the chase. Bambi didn’t do bullshit well. “She got in a John’s car last night and never came back.”
“You check her apartment?”
“Duh,” she said, raising her voice. Her bright pink bangle bracelets jingled noisily as she gestured irritably. “Tried calling her, too. I been trying to get someone around here to listen, but they’re just sitting with their thumbs up their asses, just like always.”
“Ok, ok, come on and talk to Scofield. He’ll take your statement.”
Scofield was a solid guy and I was already working overtime on a murder investigation. I couldn’t squeeze a missing girl in on top of it. He went out, did some poking around, and came back to report that yep, she was missing, but nope, no one had any information for us.
Angel was added to a pile of similarly open cases.
Bambi came back when Stephanie disappeared a couple weeks later, and again when Jess did a bit after that. Each time, Scofield took the name, a description, and all the details she could offer. Each time, it led to a bunch of dead ends. Bambi was getting frustrated and blamed us for not doing enough.
“When’re y’all gonna start giving a shit about us, huh? We matter, same as any other bitch out there. Why don’t you act like it?”
She had to be escorted out after she refused to quiet down. I watched her pace in front of the station, muttering to herself and raking her hands through her hair, before she finally stormed off.
After she left, I grabbed the files for all three missing women and flipped through them. The story was the same every time. A John pulled up, girl got in, girl was never seen again. Car was described as a dark four door, but no definitive make and model. The only description for the driver was male. The notes were sparse.
Scofield was only all too happy to trade it to me in return for a gang bang case I’d just gotten.
“Why do you even want it? You know you’re never going to find them, right?”
“Maybe. Still have to try though.”
It’s what a good cop would do.
I found Bambi’s most recently cell phone number and left a sticky note on my desk to reach out first thing in the morning. I was sure Scofield had been thorough in his questioning, but it never hurt to go over the finer points again.
She didn’t answer when I called. I left her a quick message just asking her to call me back.
Two days later, I still hadn’t heard anything.
“Hey, Bambi, it’s Detective Cooney. I’ve been trying to get in touch to tell you I’m taking over your case. I’d like you to come in so we can talk. Just let me know when you’re available.”
With the only concerned party currently not talking to me, I had to put the girls’ files on the back burner and focus on more active cases. As much as I would have liked to put all of my attention on one thing, I had enough on my plate to keep three full time detectives busy. I had to keep working.
Bambi stayed at the back of my mind, though. She’d been so adamant that we do something and now, when I was trying to, all I got was radio silence.
I was still thinking about her when I went to bed that night. She’d become like an itch I just couldn’t scratch.
Something splashed against my cheek. I pawed sleepily at my face, still not quite awake.
I mumbled something and pried an eye open. My room was still dark. My wife, Elizabeth, was asleep beside me. I sat up and touched my face, where cold, wet droplets were dripping down my skin.
“S’amatter?” Liz mumbled from her pillow.
“Nothing,” I said, staring at my hand even though I couldn’t see it very well. “Go back to sleep.”
Had I been having a nightmare and sweating? Was a pipe leaking? I felt around my side of the bed, but it was all dry.
Must be sweat, I thought. But I didn’t recall any dream.
Kicking back the covers, I stumbled toward our bathroom. Liz kept a nightlight plugged in and it cast a dim, blue glow. As I found my way to the sink, I became aware of an odor. It was dull and cloying, like stagnant water, and it was getting stronger. My first thought was the drain was backing up and I instinctively looked in the mirror to see the shower behind me.
A dark figure was visible in the frosted glass door.
I yelled and slapped my hand against the switch while I spun around. The light sprang on.
The shower was empty.
I yanked open the door and almost gagged on the stagnant water stench that rolled out. All of our shampoos and soaps were in their usual spot, undisturbed, but the floor was soaking wet.
“Leo?” Liz called from the bedroom. “You better tell me you’re ok because I’ve got the shotgun and if someone’s in there with you, I’ll blow their fucking head off.”
She managed to remind me every day why I’d fallen for her.
“It’s fine,” I replied. “I think we need a plumber though. Seems like we’ve got some back up in the shower. Just water, not sewage.”
I didn’t know how else to explain the puddle of stinking pond water. The drain swallowed it readily enough when I took a chance and rinsed it down, though.
I left Liz pouring over plumber reviews the next morning and headed out to my car. I tossed my lunchbox on to the passenger seat and climbed in. The neighborhood was still quiet at 6am and I enjoyed the peace and the dark.
”I’m waiting for you, Cooney.”
I jumped and almost smacked my head against the roof of the car when someone spoke from beside my open door. I knew that voice.
“Bambi? What the hell are you doing at my hou—”
But I was alone in my driveway.
I got out and circled the car, looked under it, even checked the hedges between our house and the neighbors. She wasn’t anywhere.
With my heart thudding against my ribs, I got back into my car and slammed the door shut.
“What the fuck,” I muttered.
I waited another moment, but the early morning remained still. Bambi had no idea where I lived. She couldn’t have been at my house. I didn’t know what had just happened, but I was certain there wasn’t a prostitute lurking in my bushes. Bambi wouldn’t do something that crazy.
And if she did, well, Liz was pretty handy with a shotgun.
After reassuring myself that no one was there, I turned the key in the ignition and backed out of my driveway. I paused at the end, watching the house for a long moment, and then continued on my way. I reached the end of my street and rolled to a stop at the stop sign. The left was clear.
But on the right, a woman was leaning on the pole, one foot kicked up to rest against it and her arms crossed over her chest. She was wearing a low cut tank top and short shorts, both soaked and clinging to her bloated, fish-belly white skin.
Bambi scowled at me with swollen, purpled lips and raised a hand, her index finger pointing towards me.
My foot slammed on the accelerator before my brain realized what it was doing. I glanced in the rear view mirror as I sped away.
She was gone.
“What in the absolute fuck,” I shouted.
I made it as far as the entrance of my neighborhood before I had to screech to a halt at the traffic light. Standing in the middle of the street, bathed in the red light from above, Bambi scowled at me again. I was about to throw my car in reverse and find another route out when she raised her hand again. She was pointing to the left. Water dropped from her extended arm.
I was clutching my steering wheel, my eyes locked on Bambi’s milky ones.
“I’m waiting for you, Cooney,” she said loudly.
I looked in the direction she was pointing, the opposite way of work, and then back to her, but she’d vanished again.
Just go to work, I told myself even as I turned left. This is fucking insane. What am I doing?
But I couldn’t deny I had seen Bambi, or something that looked like her. I couldn’t deny that she was trying to get me to go somewhere. That she was waiting for me. As much as I wanted to ignore her and convince myself that none of this was happening, my gut compelled me to follow.
Why are you doing this?!, half of me wondered dazedly.
Because she needs me, the other half, the half that held tight to my grandfather’s words, replied.
I drove slowly. Bambi was waiting at every intersection, dripping and pointing and scowling. Her overly pale flesh was like a beacon against the black morning.
I followed her down a long back road, until it turned to dirt, and then turned on to a one lane path that wound alongside a marsh in the middle of nowhere. The pungent smell of stagnant water filled my nose.
Bambi was waiting for me at a dead end. She was no longer looking at me, but at a small boathouse set back in the reeds.
A car was parked outside of it. Music was blaring from within.
I radioed my location back to the station and then turned it down as they asked what I was doing out there. I shut my car off and crept quietly towards the boathouse, my gun drawn.
The door of the boathouse creaked as I pushed it open.
It was empty inside except for a large man crouched on the dock with his back to me. The music must have covered my arrival because he didn’t react to me. He was breathing heavily, practically wheezing, as he rolled something into the water with a loud splash. I caught just a glimpse of long red hair disappearing beneath the surface.
“Walsh County Police, hands up!” I shouted.
The fat man tried to lurch to his feet in surprise, but he lost his footing and toppled into the water. He managed to grab hold of the edge of the dock as we went and clung there, sputtering his shock.
“Stay there,” I snapped as I stepped towards the dock.
A neat pile of women’s accessories were lined up against one wall. A few rings, a necklace, and a set of bright pink bangles that jingled noisily whenever the owner had moved her arm.
A hundred questions ran through my head. What came out of my mouth, though, was, “You sick fuck.”
The man gaped stupidly at me. He still hadn’t quite seemed to process that he’d been caught. Honestly, I still wasn’t thinking too much on just how I’d caught him.
He bobbed once, sharply, going in so far that his head was almost submerged. He grasped desperately at the dock piling and hauled himself half out of the water.
“Help,” he squealed. “Something’s got my leg!”
Thinking a fish or snake might have snagged him, I approached quickly, but cautiously, in time for him to slide rapidly backwards into the water. He clawed at the dock, shrieking.
“Help!” He screamed again.
I almost reached for him.
Until I looked past him, into the murky waters, and saw a too-pale hand wrapped around his ankle. Bambi stared up at me from beneath the churning surface, her dark hair billowing around her face. Her cloudy eyes almost glowed.
The fat man dared to hold a hand out to me, but I stepped back. He howled and kicked and scrambled, but the hand on his ankle pulled relentlessly, and I watched as he sank into the water and out of sight.
I watched until the surface had gone still again.
Bambi, the fat man, and four other women, Angel, Stephanie, Jess, and a seventeen year old named Danni, were pulled from the marsh later that afternoon.
The news stressed that they were working girls. I visited each of their families myself. I came to know them as daughters, sisters, mothers.
They were women who’d lived hard lives and made mistakes. They were human.
The fat fuck who murdered them wasn’t worth remembering. I said he fell in when I surprised him and he drowned.
When asked how I’d found them, I said I’d received an anonymous tip left on my windshield. The note I provided, written for me by Bambi’s sister, sufficed.
I never told anyone except Bambi’s family about how I really found them. I let them know that she’d been a fighter even after death. Somehow, she’d gotten my message, and she trusted me to see the case through.
Be a good one, my grandpa had told me when I said I wanted to be a cop.
A good cop listens to the victims. A good cop makes sure that there is justice for them.
It’s not often that I’m certain that justice is achieved.
This time, though, I was.