I’d heard the rumors. Some of the guys on the force think it’s funny to try to scare the female officers. But, I would say, after seventeen years of experience, women police are far more difficult to rattle than male.
We probably have more fears than our male counterparts, but we simply cannot show them.
Dan was trying to bait me, no doubt. Our afternoon assignment was to clear out the squatters in the abandoned Ramada Plaza hotel. The property owners had security, but once a month, they’d ask for a sweep. And we drew the short straw that day.
“Patterson, code 4.”
The hotel was supposed to be on a low-use power setting, operating hallway lights, exit signs and the fire system 24/7. But even this seemed to be faulty, as I exited the 2nd floor and jogged down the steps in the dark, my feet spotlighted by my Maglite.
“Please answer me.”
My ears rang with the bang of the door behind me as I exited the stairwell and jogged over the matted, thick carpet between peeling wallpaper and doors marked with large, gold plated numbers in the one hundreds. My whispered pleas where only met by the squelching of the carpet beneath my shoes.
“Officer Patterson, please respond.”
The crackle from the two way echoed through the first floor hallway. No power on this floor either. I stopped and started to close my eyes. But the silence around me begged for my full attention.
He’d said we should stick together, but I wanted to get in and out and had felt the vile, moldy stench infecting my uniform before we were even inside. No one in their right mind would sleep here, breathing normally was impossible.
I thought we’d be out in fifteen, so I’d decided to split up.
But as I had kicked around crack pipes and used condoms in my twentieth empty room, there was a laugh through the two way, a gasp and a sigh. Then, complete silence.
Half an hour later, I wished I’d listened to his sorry, lazy ass.
“Dan, please. If this is a prank, it’s over. I’m calling for back up.”
I stood at the front of the damp, putrid lobby, praying for his laugh to bark through the speaker at my shoulder.
But the only sound I heard was my own breath. And the pop of electricity as the lobby, too, went black.
Reeling into the daylight felt like being born. The front door swung open so easily, I half expected to find Dan standing by the cruiser, eating one of those God awful protein bars his vegan wife makes for him.
But the car was empty.
I fought back tears as I sat in the drivers seat. Pressing insubstantial buttons on the laptop screen, stomach acid rising in my throat and my skin itching with some combination of the late summer heat and the layer of mold spores that must be invading every pore. I could not give myself the opportunity to second guess. It had been nearly an hour.
“Better not be fucking with me.”
I cleared my throat and took a deep breath, closing my eyes to the setting sun glaring across the windshield.
“Tango Echo, officer needs assistance at 4900 Sinclair.”
I waited, an odd light grabbing my attention from behind the glass inside. Green and hollow, like a hot air balloon, but as it grows brighter, I’m fascinated by it. I stand and move toward the door, the dispatcher’s voice chirping over the call, asking me to repeat. The sun seems to be setting too fast.
Stopped, halfway to the door, I felt the ground beneath my feet shudder. The vibration was electric in it’s intensity, invading my skin, penetrating my tissues right through to my veins and nerves.
My vision swam, the light changed, became all I could see.
It is twenty three steps to the door.
I know this because I fought my own feet for 22 of them.
I heard the sirens blaring up the highway that zoomed across the back of the hotel. My puppeteer maneuvered my body as though I truly was held up by strings. I couldn’t stop staring at the light. I wanted to be in it. Under it.
I needed to.
When I found him, in the center of the basement, the light pouring from his pores, I understood why.
But by then, it was too late.