Shift’s End


A slab of light fell on MacMillan’s face through the window. It illuminated one eye, brown and bloodshot, a nose, broken in a childhood argument, and a jawline, half-weak, half-strong and with three day’s stubble on it. Officer Jordan watched him from the darkness of the patrol car’s passenger seat. An ambulance rattled the windows, sirens blazing as it sped past.“You know what you’re going to name it?” MacMillan asked, the emergency lights flaring blood red across his face.

“We don’t even know if it’s a girl or a boy,” Jordan said, watching as the ambulance was swallowed by the night.

They’d parked up by a line of old warehouses, most of them empty or in the process of conversion to luxury apartments and premium grade office space. The trades were dying and the realtors were the only ones not crying about it. They often came out here near shift’s end. It was near enough to be able to answer calls from Dispatch, but far enough away to be out of the hotspots for trouble. Footsore and tired from another long shift, there was no sense in adding to the shift’s griefs with only lukewarm roast and a sleeping wife at the end of it. Jordan thought of home and the ice cold beer he’d grab as soon as he got in. He could feel the coolness tickling his throat already.

“It’s a girl,” MacMillan said, breaking the reverie.

“How’d you figure?”

“Because it came out of your sorry ass excuse for a prick.”

MacMillan grinned, bearing white teeth that gleamed in the streetlight through the window. He’d got two boys of his own at home, making him bulletproof to any reciprocal response.

“Cute,” Jordan sniffed, casting an eye over the parking lot opposite to feign nonchalance, “Real cute.”

“It ought to be a boy,” MacMillan said, shifting in the driver’s seat and reaching out a meaty hand to pat Jordan’s shoulder. MacMillan serious was worse than MacMillan joking around.

“It doesn’t matter to me either way. As long as it’s one or the other.”

The radio crackled, a short burst of static cutting their conversation. They both stared at it and MacMillan’s hand strayed towards the keys in the ignition. The radio crackled once more and then fell silent. MacMillan dropped his hand with a sigh, then reached for the shared pack of cigarettes on the dash.

“You’ve barely touched ‘em,” he said, the cigarette bobbing away from the flame as he talked, “Tryin’a quit?”

“Lucy thinks it’ll do the baby good.”

“Wha’bout you?”

Jordan shrugged, his eyes lingering on the dancing yellow flame of the match and the first swirl of smoke as MacMillan lit up. Jordan inhaled heavily, pulling the smoke into his lungs. He ached for more and reached for the carton. One couldn’t hurt anyone, not away from Lucy. The first pull was like rediscovering heaven.

They smoked in silence, lost in their own thoughts. The minutes ticked on towards shift’s end. Clouds drifted lazily past a crescent moon that wasn’t up to much either. Gradually, the lights went out in the tower blocks in the distant city. A cat yowled and a dog set to barking after it, somewhere in the darkness beyond the parking lot. In the distance, the C train rumbled by. Smoke fogged the windows and the leather seats creaked.

Cracking the windows in unison, the dog ends disappeared onto the street, the last embers still burning away like a pair of grounded fireflies. The night air was crisp, the scent of coming rain filled Jordan’s nostrils. Growing up in the country, he’d always been sensitive to the coming storms.

The radio crackled again. Dispatch directed them to a suspected break in a few blocks away. MacMillan fired up the patrol car, while Jordan acknowledged the call. The headlights carved hollows in the darkness, slicing the shadows as the engine thrummed noisily. The air whined through the cracked windows, ruffling at Jordan’s hair.
MacMillan parked around the corner. The patrol car always drew attention and not always the right kind. The building was once a factory that had caught fire. Jordan remembered it from when he first moved to the city, all smoke-blackened windows boarded up with cheap ply. Now it was a prestige living space, the atrium awash with recessed lighting and a blinking elevator button.

The elevator hummed loudly in their ears as it creaked slowly upward to the top floor. The cage, though, was silent as the grave as Jordan threw it back and the outer door made no more noise as it swung wide. The hallway was dark, save for the oasis from an apartment halfway along. The apartment they’d come to investigate.
MacMillan drew his revolver and moved up to the door, which had been busted off its hinges. Jordan followed suit, giving the count of three before they both burst in through the door. There was no response, no movement, except the flutter of papers as they moved.

It wasn’t much of an apartment. All one room, save for a bathroom tucked into a space no bigger than a closet. A murphy bed came down out of the wall, the sheets thrown back and cold when Jordan checked them. The ceilings were high and three enormous windows looked out over the street, a large writing desk in front of them. The chair had been tipped back and over and the whole area around it was stacked with books and papers in leaves bound with string. A shaded lamp cast a soft glow over an antique typewriter, one shabby blank piece of paper wound through its workings, untouched by ink.

Jordan holstered his weapon and looked through the papers on the desk. Some sort of novel, he decided. There was no title page, no author’s name.

“Been using checks as bookmarks,” MacMillan grumbled lifting a few short volumes from the floor.

“Not everyone’s as bothered by money as you.”

“These aren’t a couple of bucks, they’re a hundred thousand each.”

He held them up, five in all. They were all made out to Mr G G Harvey and signed by Stanley B Ingram, all dated the first of the preceding five months. Both names were meaningless to Jordan and MacMillan didn’t volunteer any identification either. A small fortune just left lying about in books, unclaimed. Jordan couldn’t see the point. He moved over to the window and looked out, wondering if Harvey or Ingram had gone out into the night.

The street was deserted. A large neon vacancy sign flashed luminous pink on the top of the building across the street, the second A refusing to light up. Jordan shielded his eyes from the pink glare and saw a burst of yellow. The window pane shattered. He hit the deck. Three shots rang out clear across the street, glass falling around him like snow in the hills. A hideous silence followed the shooting. Jordan crawled through the broken glass, his breath coming from his lungs like smoke.

A slab of pink light fell on MacMillan’s face through the shattered window. It illuminated one eye, brown, bloodshot and wide open, a nose, broken in a childhood argument, and a jawline, half-weak, half-strong and with three day’s stubble on it, thick with blood.

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