Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Safe Passage

By Albert Tucher


“I’m surprised to see you working today.”

Diana warmed her hands on her coffee cup and studied the man who sat across from her. He had a matching cup in front of him on the table. She didn’t care if her open scrutiny was rude. Three hundred and sixty-four days a year Detective Swedborg and the other Witherspoon cops did their best to bust her. Today she was supposed to sit and chat?

“Relax,” he said. “I’m not going to hassle you on Christmas Day.”

He had confronted her as she came out of a client’s house. He didn’t have the elements of a hooker bust, but he could still make her life miserable. When he had suggested coffee, she had taken his invitation as an order.

Then he had told her to meet him across the line in her hometown of Driscoll. That made her bad feeling worse. When a cop made a point of leaving his own jurisdiction, he usually wanted something sleazy, like a freebie from her.

But so far coffee meant coffee, and Denny’s wasn’t in Witherspoon. Nothing was, except one-acre lots.

She shrugged. “I always work on Christmas. I can’t afford to skip it. Between the guys who have nobody and the guys who want to get away from everybody, this is one of my biggest days of the year.”

“Who knew?” he said.

“The tips are great. Tomorrow will make up for it, though. I don’t know why, but the day after always does. Maybe everybody is too hung over.”

“I guess you’re not like us. Cops dread Christmas.”

“I wouldn’t go that far, but it’s not my favorite thing, either.”

“Sounds like you should look forward to it.”

“The money’s fine. It’s the complications.”

“Such as?”

“Such as my next date. He’ll have a tree with tinsel and everything.”

“What’s wrong with making a little effort?”

“Trust me. Until you’ve seen a Christmas tree in a hot pillow motel room, you don’t know what depressing is. And that’s only the beginning. He’ll have an expensive gift for me, all wrapped and everything. The idea is to soften me up for when he asks me to marry him.”

“That could get awkward.”

“I’m running out of ways to say no without hurting his feelings.”

“But you keep seeing him.”

“His money spends. I’ve got the same bills as everybody else. Maybe more.”

“I hear you have a grandmother.”

Cops knew everything about everybody. It no longer surprised her.

“Later on I’ll go see her at the nursing home. I put a little tree up yesterday, but I don’t think it registered. She has dementia.”

“She’s in Brentwood Manor?”

“That’s right.”

She wondered what he was building up to.

“It’s Christmas. Today you get safe passage through town. I’ll make sure the uniforms don’t bother you.”

Damn, she thought.

She felt tears starting behind her eyes. He really did know everything, including her habit of taking the long route around Witherspoon unless she had to venture into town for business.

“Thanks,” she said.

She wanted to say more, but she didn’t trust herself. Bawling in front of a cop would be too humiliating.

The waitress saved her by appearing with the coffee pot and refilling their cups. When she had gone, Diana said, “Talk about a reason to hate Christmas. Try working at Denny’s today. That actually was my last straight gig, before I decided to go for the big bucks.”

“What do you think of that idea now?”

She had opened the door to that question, but she still didn’t want to go into it with a cop.

“It’s got its pluses and minuses. Why do cops dread Christmas?”

“Think about it. All those exes and cousins and in-laws who usually have the sense to stay out of each other’s way. On Christmas they don’t get a choice.”

“Uh-oh.”

“You got it. Domestics--every cop’s favorite thing. I really shouldn’t complain, though.”

“Why not?”

“It’s basically the uniforms’ show today. If they get a call and everybody’s still standing, they’ll handle it. That can get rough. But if they bring me in, that means somebody is horizontal. Bad for the people involved, but easier for us.”

He waved the topic away.

“You grew up in Driscoll, didn’t you?”

“That’s right.”

“Driscoll High School?”

“Class of ‘Eighty-Seven.”

“Damn. You must know my ex. Terri Zientek.”

“Oh.”

“What?”

“Junior year, I took her boyfriend away from her.”

He laughed out loud.

“No shit.”

“Well, the timing was pretty tight. I think she might have been done with him anyway.”

“Let’s just say you took him away from her. I like that better.”

They sat there making boy-girl smiles at each other.

Well, she thought. Who expected this?

As he reached for his coffee cup, his cell phone rang in the inside pocket of his sport coat. He took the phone out and looked at the display. What he saw didn’t please him.

“What was I just saying? Somebody must be horizontal.”

He listened. She couldn’t make out the words, but his expression turned businesslike.

“On my way,” he said.

Swedborg closed the phone and put it in his pocket. He picked up the check, and slid out of their booth. For a moment he stood looking down at her, and she understood that tomorrow things would be back to normal. It was sad but also reassuring. No one had changed the rules without notifying her.

“Merry Christmas, I guess.”

****

Albert Tucher is the creator of prostitute Diana Andrews, who has appeared in more than thirty published short stories and three unpublished novels. You'd think she might give him the occasional freebie for it, but you'd be wrong.

16 comments:

Alan Griffiths said...

I love your Diana tales, Albert. They are always so smooth, easy on the eye and enjoyable to read. This one was no different - top job!

Julie Lewthwaite said...

This reminded me of WWI stories of German and British troops playing football in no man's land on Christmas day. Great story, really enjoyed it!

seana said...

Excellent!

Paul D. Brazill said...

Brilliant. Diana is the biz!

J.E. Seymour said...

Nice story, Albert.

David Cranmer said...

It is a pleasure whenever Ms. Diana shows up.

Sean Patrick Reardon said...

Albert- Liked this a lot. First exposure to the Diana character for me and enjoyed it.

John Kenyon said...

Nice to see a character study where the only violence is implied and off the page. Just enough tension to keep the story moving forward. Nicely done.

Al Tucher said...

Thanks, everybody. Julie, nice comparison!

pattinase (abbott) said...

It wouldn't be Christmas without Diana. Al, another great one.

Joyce said...

Really enjoyed this. Both have it tough, each in their own way, and it was nice to see them both occupy, briefly, some neutral ground and not be pitted against each other or having to deal with the dark side of their respective occupations--even if it was just over a cup of coffee. Perfect setting too for their holiday chst.

Joyce said...

Sorry. Meant 'chat'--not 'chst'. Should have cleaned my glasses before I started typing...

Evan Lewis said...

Nice. Rings true.

chad rohrbacher said...

I liked the tone, the atmosphere here. The melancholic banter. The simple moment they share letting everything else go for a little while. Nice.

sandra seamans said...

Christmas with Diana, nothing is ever what it seems. Great story, Al!

ABSOLUTELY*KATE said...

"Between the guys who have nobody and the guys who want to get away from everybody, this is one of my biggest days of the year.” <Damn good line speaking from Diana's biz accu-men.

Like the jolly crime crew up above there, I dig the reality'bites of this character too. Gonna seek out some more Diana tales and tell you to publish the novels!!!

OK that all said, happy brave new year to the slew of possibilities you and your prostitute must have rummaging about. Nice character development with Detective Swedborg ... I'm gettin' to like him already. Bring him back???

(thanks) ~ Absolutely*Kate