DISCLAIMER: EarthBound and related properties are copyright Ape / HAL Laboratory. This work and all contained within is the property of R. Dillingham, with exceptions to names trademarked by Ape / HAL. This is no challenge to that trademark or any Ape / HAL copyright. Alterations to the EarthBound universe in this story are not to be considered canon.

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Ride-along
By Rusty Dillingham
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I would be lying if I said I wasn't nervous as I waited in the briefing room, anticipating the arrival of those I had chosen to profile on this dark night.

The Onett Police Department liked to keep to itself. Based on everything I'd heard about them, if the officers could have replaced the To Protect and to Serve labeling on the side of their patrol units, it would have probably read something like Shut Up and Get Out of the Goddamned Way instead. Apparently they strongly preferred it if, provided you were desperate enough to give them a ring over something, you just stayed out of their path and let them do their duties the way they pleased. I wasn't certain how to feel about this, having never been in any kind of trouble with the law, but my hopes were high anyway.

I sat at one of the tables, a small notepad and a pencil before me and a small recorder in my shirt pocket, along with my newspaper credentials hanging around my neck. I knew little about the officer I was taking a ride-along with in order to get some insight into the procedures of the OPD. I'd always felt that the public should know more about the cops, given that everyone's opinion of the Onett Police seemed to be a resounding, collective "meh." For as long as I could remember, the Onett police had a reputation for being slow to act, arrogant, underpaid, overworked, and often useless for anything other than setting up roadblocks whenever something was going on. They were, in essence, a thankless bunch that deserved no thanks.

I was sure there was something deeper to be found in this force, and I admittedly wanted to know more about them myself, so being that it had been a slow news week (beyond the Sharks pulling a novel, elaborate prank on Mayor Pirkle that involved re-routing some of his water pipes to his own septic tank), I'd decided to pitch this idea to my boss to see if it was worth a go. The response was a resounding "meh," which basically meant I was to do as I pleased, so here I was, ready to get a story that would awe whatever tiny paper-reading masses there were in little Onett.

Another reason I wanted to do it was so the police knew the guys at the newspaper weren't a bunch of hate-mongers, considering how another reporter had once done an extremely biting, negative, sarcastic, cruel column painting the Onett Police Department as a bunch of incompetent, frequently clueless idiots who spent most of their time blocking the roads when they felt like something needed doing. The Onett Times at its finest, some called it. I vainly hoped none of the officers remembered it.

I glanced around the room. On one side's wall there rested a bulletin board. There were an array of mugshots, most of which belonged to perennial Shark members whose biggest crimes involved skateboarding on the police station's front sidewalk. There were also various group activity announcements, such as the annual Onett Police Department Ball, which I'd heard had again been cancelled for this year too because of a lack of interest—not by the public but by the department itself. I'd asked the secretary what was up with that, and she'd told me to bugger off and leave her alone.

Captain Strong walked into the briefing room, moved to the podium near the front, rested his hands on it, and sighed one of those long, painful-sounding sighs that makes life for everyone in the vicinity just a little unhappier. I don't think he even noticed me, or if he did, he failed to make it at all obvious.

An officer shuffled in. He slinked over to a table, took a sat with a loud flump noise, laid his head on the table, and looked utterly miserable. A fantastic start to the evening.

In came another. He was the biggest, fattest, laziest-looking fellow I'd ever seen, the kind of person who's actually developed another ass on their frontside. He eased along across the floor as if he had nothing in mind that he really wanted to do with his life beyond showing up here every night. He took a seat next to Miserable, and huffed. At this point I noted that all of them were still wearing their police-issue sunglasses, despite it being nighttime.

Then came an officer who, through his facial features and rapid, skittery movement, reminded me of a golden retriever painfully enduring a never-ending wait for someone to throw a ball. He took a seat at a table behind me, clamped his hands together, and waited silently for the briefing to begin, periodically glancing down at his service pistol and staring at it.

A tall, brown-skinned cop with a razor-thin mustache entered and took a seat next to me. "You're the newspaper guy, huh," he said in what wasn't the friendliest tone I'd ever heard.

"Yes, sir."

"Yes, officer," he corrected, utterly stone-faced beneath the trooper shades.

I just stared at him.

"Yes, uh, officer... um."

He turned away and ignored me, a tiny little smirk appearing in the depths of his visage. I cleared my throat and twiddled my newspaper credentials in my fingers awkwardly.

A few more officers entered. I could read all manners of emotions and mentalities in their faces, the most widespread of which being boredom, agitation, and maybe a little constipation. There was a woman among the group. She had made news for being the first woman on the force, something that seemed to grind on the other cops' nerves, if the long glowers a few of them directed at her were any indication, although some of them preferred staring at her body instead, including the one sitting right next to her, whose head was blatantly pointed down as he stared at her behind while it filled out the chair. Also of interest was that she looked irreparably annoyed by the glaring and staring.

Captain Strong shuffled a paper on the podium, glanced at the clock—9:00 PM, it read—and the night shift began. "Roll call. Whittle."

The absurdly large officer sniffed loudly, not looking up.

"McBride."

Miserable, who had since moved beyond miserable and could now likely be referred to as Pissed Off, made some kind of strange, drooling rrgh sound.

"Ransom."

"PRESENT, SIR." The when-the-hell-is-somebody-gonna-throw-a-ball boy kept staring at his gun.

"Jiminez."

"Mm," mumbled Mr. Tough Guy next to me, while I confusedly took note of how there seemed to be no alphabetical order to the names whatsoever.

Captain Strong paused, studying the rest of the list, sighed quietly to himself, and then looked up at the group, obviously very impatient in getting this over with as quickly as possible.

"Okay, you know what, anyone who's not here raise their hand."

Officer Ransom raised his hand.

"Put your goddamn hand down."

Ransom's hand returned to the table.

"Okay, so, everyone is here tonight. Great. Fabulous. No one's home playing Nintendo this time. First order of business." I could see Captain Strong's eyes glide over to me under the sunglasses, as if only just now taking into consideration explaining the presence of the only guy in the room who wasn't wearing a dark uniform and a badge. "This," he announced, "is Brian Cole. He's a columnist with the Onett Times."

Every pair of eyes slowly, very slowly trailed over to me and gnawed straight at my head. I did everything in my power to force the color of my face to only turn a moderate pale instead of neon white as my stomach turned over and over. Tell them I'm not the one who wrote the article. Tell them I'm not the one who wrote the article. Tell them I'm not the one who—

Strong failed to do that, too, instead continuing: "He'll be riding with Jiminez during tonight's shift. Apparently he's doing another article on us—"

I cringed and ground my teeth.

"—so be on your best behavior, ladies. Second order of business. Who's bringing me my lunch tonight?" Strong stared at someone.

After a few seconds of angry silence a cop towards the back of the room raised his hand, very irritably if I observed correctly.

"Thank you. Third order of business." Captain Strong picked up the daily hot sheet of information while I only now regained control of my facial color. "Someone vandalized Mayor Pirkle's car the other night. As in, during our watch. So all of you numbskulls get your heads out of your butts and be on the lookout for suspicious activity around his home." I got the feeling Strong hadn't thought very highly of the night watch to begin with. "Do a couple of drive-by checks on the place during your shift if you can. He's gone out of town today, making a trip to Fourside, and he just about beat down our doors this morning, demanding that we find the horrible, uncouth miscreants who committed the evil act while he's gone."

Mayor Pirkle could be slightly out of touch when he wanted to be, I knew. I wondered if he had any idea that the big, obnoxious gang of annoying kids who the police loathed constantly hung around an arcade less than a quarter-mile from his house.

"What else do we have here...?" Strong absentmindedly skimmed the rest of the sheet. It didn't seem to me that he felt there was much worth reading off, and I started to wonder if maybe this hadn't been a mistake. I was supposed to be doing an article that showed the cops did good work, not drive around bored out of their skulls with nothing to do but make sure nobody screwed with the Mayor's car.

"Keep a lookout for Bertha Bigbottom's blue 199X Flawd Virgo. License plate LUV2SHAKEIT." Some of the officers looked visibly ill. "It went missing from her carport last night and nobody's seen any trace of it. Detective Irving thinks it might be related to the Sharks somehow." Now there were a big roll of the eyes from many of the blues. As if anyone who lived in Onett but the Sharks would bother doing something like that. God only knew why they'd take it; probably because they decided the backyard of the arcade needed some redecorating. "Be sure to contact the station if you get any information or you see it yourself."

I had been jotting down some sparse information about everything Strong had been saying in my notepad. I glanced over to Officer Jiminez and realized he was half-smirking, half-sneering at me, as if I were some kind of nerd for doing such a thing. I glanced around the room again. Officer McBride was leaning his head against his fist, looking like he'd rather be anywhere else at the moment. Whittle didn't look like he was even paying attention. Ransom was staring at his gun. The others were either staring at the female officer, who was glowering at nothing in particular, and anyone else looked bored.

Some part of me realized that this might not turn out to be the most interesting story I'd ever write.

Strong looked through the rest of the report, his patience with the briefing rapidly nearing its limit. "Blah blah blah," he mumbled to himself, "meteorite still dangerous, blah blah. Sharks, blah blah. Kids trespassing in Giant Step." McBride looked really annoyed about that one. "Blah blah blah. Fraudy real estate agent selling expensive home near the cliffs, yeah, whatever, blah blah blah." He looked up with yet another of his increasingly-patented sighs. "I guess that's it. Be safe, look out for your own butts, and don't do anything that gets us all fired." Strong waved his hands in the air mock-dramatically. "Mount up."

The boys in blue rose in one big, depressingly slow, unified motion. They began shuffling out the door while I grabbed at my notepad and pencil, suffering a quick case of butterfingers and dropping the latter. Jiminez scoffed.

"Gonna be one of those nights."

I wasn't sure what he meant by that.

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As we walked outside to the patrol car I gave Officer Jiminez a good once over. He was tall and well-built, seemed to take great pride in his mustache, and rather than carrying the standard-issue black 9mm service pistol, opted for a big, silver-finished .45 ACP instead. He noticed my uncomfortable staring. "I don't carry a little girl gun like some wimps," he said. "I need a man's gun. More stopping power. A man's gun doesn't go pop. It goes boom."

I inquired and was thoroughly disturbed to learn he'd dropped the hammer multiple times in his career. Here in Onett, a normally quiet, peaceful slice of Eagleland, where the biggest story anyone could think of was a meteorite plowing into a mountain near it, Officer Jiminez had been involved with countless shootings since his career had begun. Shootings in Onett? I didn't believe him and assumed he was just showing off. I could tell he harbored incredible disdain for anything anti-authoritarian too. I was unsettled and realized that out of anyone else available in the department, I had been chosen to take a ride with the group's annual Daryl Gates Hardcharger Asshole Award winner.

"Get your ass in the car and let's go."

We got in, and Jiminez suddenly pointed a long brown finger at me. "First thing's first. You do exactly as I tell you. No punching the buttons on the dash, no dicking around with the radio, no pretending you're a cop like some of these tools who go on ride-alongs and suddenly think they can ask somebody for their license and registration. When you're in this car with me, you have all the authority of a Mr. Saturn. Comprendé?"

"Yes, sir."

Jiminez stared at me like a genius stares at an idiot.

"Yes, officer," I corrected, feeling a jolt of embarrassment flood through my chest.

"You're a bright kid, newsboy." Jiminez put the car into drive and rolled out onto the quiet streets of Onett. Although the roads were by no means empty, there wasn't much traffic of which to speak at this hour, and the town wasn't that big to begin with anyway.

We cruised silently for a few minutes. I concentrated more on the passing scenery than chit-chat, unnerved more than I could remember ever being. I snuck glances at Jiminez and detected a tiny wry smirk on his face. He probably enjoyed my discomfort and was purposely fueling the fire.

I eventually worked up the courage to say something.

"Nice night," was the first thing that came to mind.

Officer Jiminez looked over at me, thoroughly unimpressed. I did my best to smile back pathetically.

"Nice night," he repeated, turning a corner. I detected a tinge of bitter crudeness to his rough voice. "Real nice night. So nice you probably got some little dipstick banging down the shack at Giant Step right now just to be a turd. And then you know what he's gonna do after that? He's gonna trespass. He's gonna go through the whole damn cave, go up to that big damn footprint, look down at us as we cruise on by, and he's gonna wave. And we're gonna go runnin' up there after him, and he's just gonna go racing off into the woods or something because that's what they always do. Goddamn kids. Screw these kids these days. The little dogs just think they can walk all over the po-lice. And because of people like Pirkle, they do. Kids. Send 'em all off to the army for a few years." He shook his head back and forth. "Damn."

I sat there in the awkward silence that followed, beyond terrified that if I said something wrong he was going to take out that cannon he called a gun and start blowing down buildings with it.

We stopped at an intersection and Officer Ransom's patrol car rolled past. The black-and-white pulled over just down the street. We watched Ransom get out of the car, go to the trunk, pull out some big red-and-white roadblocks, set them in the middle of the road for no explainable reason, get back in the car, and drive off.

"How does a night usually go for you guys?" I asked as we continued on when the light turned green.

Jiminez glanced at me. "Most people here keep outta trouble. Then you got the Sharks. You think Mara Salvatrucha's hardcore? Sharks, man, they're even worse."

He didn't notice the slightly disbelieving look on my face as he continued. "This pogo-jumping skateboard clown shit, man? It's an all act. Not that we actually have any proof of that, but I'm pretty damn sure they're hardcore gangsters. Y'know how I can tell? 'Cause I got the street smarts. And they like to start crap with you whenever they feel like it, even at this hour. Arcade has to stay open all damn night because if it closes then they just scramble around town getting into all sorts of trouble. Makes the people nervous. Gotta have a home for the little bastards, I guess. Some place they can only get themselves hurt and nobody else."

"Is it just the Sharks who cause trouble?"

"Nah. Once in a while you get some dumbass from Fourside who comes around here and thinks he owns the place. Thinks he can just stroll into town and act however he wants. Big city thinking doesn't work in a small town. A little nightstick justice usually sets 'em right. Then you just get the morons in general, the ones who do stupid little crap for no reason. I like them. People plus stupidity plus criminal acts equals job security."

I began to wonder just how much of Jiminez's testimony I wanted to include in my future article, if any.

"Look at these friggin' guys." Jiminez pulled the car over. I realized there were a pair of Sharks skateboarding around in the street just ahead of us, illuminated by the patrol car's headlights. Even with the headlights it was a wonder Jiminez could see anything else under those black shades the entire department staff refused to be seen without. He called in our location to dispatch, then hauled himself out the door and waved at them. "Scat. Get lost."

The punks continued skateboarding as if they didn't even realize Jiminez existed.

"I said BEAT IT."

They skateboarded over to him, around the patrol car, and back to where they'd been.

I watched from the passenger seat, knowing Jiminez might take it upon himself to blow my head off if I so much as removed myself from the car. It wasn't like the punks were really bothering anybody. I watched Jiminez take out his service knife and prick himself lightly, but thought little of it. I didn't see much point in accosting them for having some after-hours fun when no one was around, but based on how they were acting, I also didn't see how Jiminez could possibly come away from this without suffering intense blows to his dignit—

"OFFICER DOWN!" screamed Jiminez into his shoulder radio.

"Um," I blurted a nanosecond before Officer Ransom's patrol car, siren screaming and red-and-blue lights flashing wildly, came tearing around a corner and roared up to us, followed rapidly by Officer McBride's car, and then three more. The punks never knew what hit them. They were on the ground and cuffed before I could even get halfway through mentally observing the processes of the event.

Rights read and charges figured out, the backup hauled the punks off to the station while McBride approached Jiminez.

"You okay?"

"Yeah, whatever."

And everyone returned to their cars. I sat with my mouth agape.

"You just gotta know how to deal with the situations as they come to you," said Jiminez once we were back to our patrol. "Especially 'cause people don't trust the po-lice. The people? They see you wearing a badge, they think you're the enemy. They treat you like the enemy."

I was having a hard time believing that, but said nothing of it.

"Nobody trusts the po-lice these days. Not even here in Onett. They see us put up a roadblock, they think, I'll bet those pigs are just bored. They see us race up to a meteor that just fell outta the sky, they think, I'll bet those pigs just want to be the first to get radioactive superpowers. Well, that is actually what Ransom was hoping for. He ended up in the emergency room for a little while. But the public sees us doing something and doesn't think we're doing it right. Onett just ain't the same."

I wondered for a moment if maybe it had been different when he'd been a kid. That was by no means a subject I felt comfortable getting into, however. Jiminez had already demonstrated his ability to be a prick quite well when I said or did something that irritated him, and I had to be cautious.

I did want to know, however: "Why'd you cut yourself?"

He glanced at me. "'Cause it wouldn't feel right if I called for backup and didn't have anything to show for it."

After a while of quiet cruising we got a call from the station requesting that we head over to the hospital. Officer Whittle needed assistance with something, but he couldn't say what. Apparently everything he'd told dispatch had been an utterly jarbled mess. Jiminez cursed under his breath and turned the car in the hospital's direction while I stayed quiet, hoping this would go better than the midnight hour's first encounter.

We got out of the car upon arriving and entered through the hospital's double doors. We saw a doctor, some nurses, and a few patients standing around the lobby desk talking with each other and frequently stealing agonized, harried looks to the couch. There sat big fat Officer Whittle, who had a small red mushroom sticking out the top of his police hat. A quick visual assessment revealed a good number of other people in the room suffered from the same ailment.

"Chingada madre." Jiminez walked up to Whittle with that po-lice swagger I'd noticed he employed with every step he took. "Hey."

".yeH," said Whittle, not bothering to meet Jiminez's perpetually-annoyed gaze.

"Where is it?"

Whittle pointed south. Jiminez started walking north. I followed as he led us down a short hallway, and then something small went running at our feet in a panic. "Shhhiii—" A notably startled Jiminez took great care in avoiding it, and I barely got my foot out of the way before the little thing accidentally crashed right into me. The tiny figure scurried down the hallway back into the lobby, where various cries could be heard. Jiminez groaned, his hard features tightening in frustration.

We returned just in time to watch the walking mushroom spray a nurse with some spores. She shrieked, and then started walking repeatedly into a wall.

"!gnihtemos ro gniht gnikcuf eht toohs tsuJ," yelled Whittle, who was having incredible difficulty removing himself from the couch without tumbling all over it in the process.

Jiminez and I stared as the little gabbering mushroom plodded around the room to the scorn of everyone else present, talking to itself quietly about politics and what it might have for lunch later.

"Get rid of it!" yelled one of the nurses, waving a hand at the man in blue next to me.

It was pretty obvious Jiminez didn't want anything to do with it. Clearly hoping it would just run out the doors or leap out a window, or otherwise do anything to make it so he had no viable opportunity to catch it, he not-so-stealthily approached, removing his handcuffs. He cuffed his own wrist with one half and moved to put the other half around the obnoxious little thing. It didn't seem to have a big problem with being handcuffed, instead choosing to continue rambling about the peculiar longevity and popularity of disco among older men, as well as who'd won yesterday's NASCAR race.

Jiminez took it over to the lobby's desk, and was just starting to say something about having placed it under arrest when a big burst of spores sprayed everywhere from the mushroom's head. Head? Whatever it was, I wasn't sure. Jiminez reared back, flailing wildly. ".YTHGIMLA TSIRHC SUSEJ HO"

The situation eventually got under control when someone ran to wake up the healer. A hell of a lot of money later, everyone at the crime scene had been cured of their illness, including Whittle, although he still seemed to be having trouble getting off the couch. Jiminez decided to leave the suspect under Whittle's watch, so he handcuffed the thing to the other officer's wrist, regardless of the very loud protests to this, and before long he let dispatch know we were back on the road, back on the beat.

I asked Jiminez about the other officers. He went into detail in ways that went far beyond arrogance and eclipsed it in favor of a new, special brand of pompous bigotry I felt was probably unique to those in uniform, espousing to me his various, interesting opinions on the other cops he had to work with.

He spoke about Officer McBride. McBride was a few years older, so Jiminez had picked up some of the elder officer's traits, such as stomping out the little pests who liked to trespass around Giant Step. McBride was highly irritable and had just gotten through what was purportedly a really nasty, bitter divorce, much to the amusement of the other cops. He had an immensely foul disposition towards any kind of youth culture or interests (which he apparently regarded as 'delinquency'), which to him included rockin', hammer, love, gifts, slime, gaming, and boxing. He also hated tax evaders and local whiners, and made no effort to hide his opinions.

Some time back, Onett Elementary had asked the police department to do a presentation to the kids on staying out of trouble and gangs. No one at the department had any desire whatsoever to do it, so they drew straws, and naturally McBride got picked. He showed up on the day of the presentation after a really lousy day of patrol, and after introducing himself, said:

"Listen to me as hard as you [colorful expletive]ing can, kids. I know where all of you live. I got your addresses right back at the station. You take one goddamn mother[colorful expletive #2]ing dick-grabbing sumbitch step outta line and I'll make sure you never forget it. You think we're all a bunch of donut-chomping asshats; well, only one of us is. The rest of us have to spend our days hauling losers like your dad to jail for drug charges, the same drug charges most of you are gonna grow up getting damn familiar with when you're living in south Onett or hanging out at the arcade with those hippie Sharks. Any of you assholes ever taken heroin?" Serious question. "Some of you will someday 'cause you kids are just that stupid. It's gonna [colorful expletive #3] up your lives and it'll be your only friend one day. And on that day we're gonna find your coked-up body in the Giant Step shack, all shriveled up and barking like a dog to keep us away from your precious brown stuff. You're gonna be Gollum incarnate, y'little bastards. And furthermore, that sign outside the shack? The one that says Do Not Enter near the door you're always going through? It means just that: DO NOT ENTER!!! Now, I'm gonna talk about my gun. This is my gun. It's the one for fighting, not the one for fun. We use it against delinquents and thieves like Santa Claus, who also isn't real. And we point it at the bad guy and we pull this here trigger, just like this."

The resulting lawsuit had taken about two months to get cleared up, and when McBride finally had his gun license reinstated he returned to patrolling the streets just as irritably as ever, except this time he hated kids even more, but they hated him too now.

Jiminez talked about Officer Whittle next. He seemed to not like the man very much, but he admitted Whittle was a good cop. A fatass cop, but a good one, mostly.

Many police officers strove to prove to the public that, contrary to what the media and society in general liked to believe, they were in fact not fat, lazy, and in love with themselves. Officer Whittle strove to prove that these assumptions were in fact by all means correct and then some. Whittle had nothing going on in his life but his police work and food, and he wasn't certain which he would tell someone his life was all about if asked. He had more experience on the force than anyone but Captain Strong, and had gotten a bit lethargic in his daily operations, but when he needed to come through, he did.

A year or two before, a monkey had gotten itself stuck at the highest telephone pole in town. A monkey. Why or how it had gotten up there was anyone's guess, but there it was, so the emergency personnel were dispatched to deal with it. Animal control would have dealt with it, but Mayor Pirkle had realigned all the town's animal control funding towards increasing the amount of roadblocks in the police department's inventory.

Whittle and some other officers arrived on scene to find that the hospital doctor and nurses refused to handle it. The firefighters refused to handle it, believing their sole occupation was battling the very rare Onett fire. So that left the cops, who by no means wanted to handle it either but didn't have much choice. They would have liked to let it just stay up there for the rest of its life, but Mayor Pirkle didn't want any monkey business screwing up the town's telephone wires. The cops were ordered to go up there and bring the fugitive primate down.

After losing an intense bout of rock-paper-scissors, McBride started to approach the pole, then quickly ran off down the street.

Whittle, the senior officer at the scene, told Ransom to get the monkey down. Ransom removed his sidearm. He was stopped before something in gross violation of animal rights happened, and Whittle explained in great detail, using his best speaking-to-a-dumb-child skills, what Ransom was supposed to do. Ransom climbed three of the steel pegs that jutted from each side of the pole before he started crying.

No other officers had bothered taking time out of their patrol to come to the scene. Whittle had no choice. He began climbing the eighty-foot-tall pole himself, all god-only-knew-how-many pounds of him.

Halfway up he made the nervous mistake of glancing back down, and realized a crowd had formed below him. The hospital staff and firefighters had been joined by a large group of people—even some of the Sharks. Now he couldn't go back down. If he fell and nobody was there to see it, great, everyone would think maybe he'd died doing something heroic, like saving a child from a gangster or something when in fact he'd died trying to rescue a goddamn chimp.

By the time he reached the top he was ready to pee himself, but the monkey hadn't moved from its spot. It was chewing something and staring at him while he panted heavily, trying to regain his breath as well as maintain control of his bladder—and not look down again the whole time. Whittle motioned for it to come closer. The monkey held out a stick of bubblegum, offering it to him. Confused, Whittle accepted it, and then watched in mute horror as the monkey blew a gigantic pink bubble and started floating down to the ground.

That was good enough for the crowd, which cheered loudly, blocking out the colorful obscenities that flew from Whittle's mouth.

And then there was Ransom.

Apparently Officer Ransom was a poor little idiot from Twoson whose only reasons for becoming a cop were the cool uniform and the gun. He barely knew the laws himself, and had arrested more people for things that weren't against the law than otherwise. He, like Jiminez, had dropped the hammer multiple times in his career because he was 1: a certified gun/explosives freak, and 2: a bonafide psychofuck. He lived every day of his life as if he were a character in a first-person shooter video game. There was a rumor that he kept a minigun in the trunk of his patrol car with his roadblocks. He also felt the need to yell everything he said, as if people couldn't hear him, although most suspected he was halfway-deaf because he neglected to wear ear protection during target practice, something he partook in quite a bit. If people in the department were wary of Jiminez, they were downright scared of Ransom. He also had the tendency to get others mixed up in his incompetence.

One time a flock of spiteful crows had flown down from the mountain to the mayor's office courtyard, just to be spiteful. Of course they antagonized everything in sight, so eventually Ransom had decided to place them under arrest, like the tough cop he was. He never explained how, but he managed to get them under control and, not wanting to put them in his own car, placed them in McBride's, as the other officer had parked nearby to get a bagel and hadn't bothered locking the door (something that had gotten McBride in trouble on numerous occasions).

Ransom had stepped away for a moment to go back to the crime scene to get something. McBride eventually returned to his car and climbed in, oblivious to the feathery suspects waiting for him inside, and he returned to his route. According to Jiminez, who had arrived on scene just in time to witness the event from afar, McBride took a turn just a bit too hard for the little guys. They freaked out and started flying all over the car, bashing into windows and crapping everywhere. McBride nearly bulldozed a few lightpoles and almost crapped himself.

Officer Ransom's penchant for disaster didn't end there. One time an aged, decrepit police car, the oldest vehicle in the force, had finally been deemed too outdated to continue service. Captain Strong told Ransom to get rid of it, which was like telling a giant transforming battle robot to please not step on the flowers. Ransom, oblivious to the fact that Strong meant to strip it of all its equipment and have it sold to the public, spent a good few minutes contemplating what to do, using a brain that was 60% "so i hear u liek mudkipz" and 40% "kabooooom!"

Eventually he checked to see if the car still had gas. There was a good half-a-tank left. So Officer Ransom, in his own orderly, policeman-like fashion, lit up a rag and tossed the burning thing down into the tank. He then proceeded to run like a freaking gazelle.

Ka-BOOOOOOOOOOOOOM. That sucker went kablooie. Ransom was thrilled with himself (despite flying nearly thirty feet and having the back of his hair singed off), although Strong wasn't, because his car had been parked right next to the old one, and Ransom spent the better part of six months paying off the damages and getting himself reinstated into the force. That didn't stop officers from randomly yelling "Ka-BEEWWWMM" whenever he was around.

Before I could finally get around to asking about Jiminez himself, dispatch interrupted the stories and told us to rendezvous with Ransom at the drug store in north Onett. I thought about what I'd just learned about some of the department's members. They were interesting, no doubt—but they were fleeting glimpses, and that was all they would be. However many stories there were to tell, and I'm sure of which there were a great deal, my look into the OPD would only last one night.

Jiminez steered the car over to the drug store, and moments later we arrived to find a trio of people standing outside looking at it, the way dogs stare at a food bowl that doesn't have any food. Jiminez parked the black-and-white at the curb, exchanging a glance with me.

After we slid out of the car Jiminez stepped over to them. "What's the problem?"

"Mioajgfasdmnfk," mumbled one of the individuals. Jiminez removed his flashlight and shone it in the guy's face. The zombie—the zombie, I realized with a start—wailed and covered its eyes, stumbling around and eventually into the store's front door.

Jiminez, who didn't notice me taking cover behind our vehicle, gestured to a sign on the outside of the place. "It's closed, guys."

"Mkasdgkjgiswek?"

"They're closed. Go home."

"Mmmuakfjasdkf. Mkasdjf." One of the zombies stared deeply at Jiminez—as if to stare into his soul.

Jiminez flashed the light at that one's eyes too. "HNNNNH." It promptly stumbled into an adjacent stop sign.

"Listen, you guys want to go shopping, you gotta come here during the day. They ain't open at this hour."

There was some quiet, annoyed protesting.

"Yeah, I don't care that they stay open all night in Threed. This ain't Threed."

More mumbling.

"Any of you guys got ID?"

The zombies glanced at one another, then back at Jiminez.

"I didn't think so. How'd you get here?"

Mumbling.

"You walked here."

Mumblemumblemumble.

"Hey, I know you're tired, and if I could do something I would, but this is beyond my control."

They sighed.

"Okay, I'll tell you what. If there ain't nothin' in there you need right this very second, you come back here tomorrow night before they close and you're good to go then. Is that okay?"

The zombies paused, and seemed to find this acceptable.

"Okay, good. You guys stay out of troub—" Jiminez seemed to jolt a little bit, realizing something was rapidly approaching--

"AAAAAAHHHHHH!!!" screamed a new voice, and out of the corner of my eye I saw Officer Ransom racing up to the group with his patrol car's shotgun. "ZOMBIIIIIIEEES!!!" BOOM ch-chuck BOOM ch-chuck.

The zombies gave a truly awful screech and ran for their lives, or whatever it was they had, while Jiminez dove for cover behind the car with me. Ransom tore after them, blasting every shell he had. "DIE ZOMBIES, AAAAHHHH DIIIIEEE--" BOOM. BOOM. BOOM. Car alarms around us started ringing and honking to accompany the noise, which would have been somewhat annoying if we weren't deaf by then.

Since it turned out Ransom was actually a horrendously awful shot with the noisy thing, he didn't hit anything besides a couple of homes in the distance, which was reason enough to make tracks and get the hell out of Dodge.

"Sometimes we get displaced zombies from Threed rollin' in here," said Jiminez once we were cruising again. "I guess some punkass kids over there made it clear they weren't welcome. Beat up their leader or something and told them to get lost, I don't know. Even the kids today are racist. This country just ain't the same."

He waved to McBride, who was in the process of setting up a roadblock as we went past ("One closer to the world record!" he yelled at us). Jiminez then glanced over at me to see me jotting some things down on my notepad. "What are you writing?"

"I'm keeping a log of everything we do. The recorder in my pocket can't pick up the details, after all."

The look on his face indicated he didn't like that.

"It's," my mouth stumbled, "it's just for my own memory's sake, really."

"What, exactly," Jiminez asked, careful to enunciate every syllable, "is the nature of this article?"

"Well, people don't really know much about the cops. They just know that they're there. They don't know what it's like on the job. People in Onett especially don't think much of them. But everything I know about the police myself is that they want to help people and they put their lives on the line doing things no one in their right mind would—"

"That bleeding-heart crap only lasts the first week or two. It's a warzone around here. You gotta fight to survive in Onett. You get in a fight, you forget everything you learned at the academy. You fight dirty. You go for the balls, you go for the eyes. You pull his hair if you have to. If you don't, they're gonna be haulin' you along in a box a few days later. Might get you in trouble with your superiors, yeah, but you know what? It's better to be judged by twelve than carried by six. It's the wild frickin' west out here."

I stared at him again with that disbelieving look. He failed to notice. I looked out my side of the window, at the black peacefulness of Onett at night. Onett, a town where the only big news in years had been a small meteorite landing just north of it. A town where the biggest problem were some punk kids hanging out in an arcade and being rude. Some warzone.

"Well," I said after a while as we cruised the empty streets under the dark sky. "This is pretty exciting."

I made certain to sound less than enthused. This, Jiminez did not fail to notice, and he turned to me with a very hard look. His brow seemed to get so flat you could put a leveler on it.

After a period where each of us realized not much was going on, we headed to Mayor Pirkle's home to do the requested drive-by check-up. It wouldn't involve much more than driving by slowly and flashing the patrol car's driver's side lamp at the house, or so I suspected. Jiminez slowed the car to a stop in front of the place. The mayor wasn't home, as Captain Strong had mentioned in the night's briefing, so we wouldn't have to worry about waking anyone.

Jiminez studied the exterior of the building silently, then propped forward a little to get a better look at it, as if noticing something out of the ordinary. He shut the car off and opened the door. I stared after him, and he glanced back in. "You coming or you gonna sit out here catching fireflies, Brianna?"

"Is it alright?" I asked, ignoring his condescending. It was the mayor's home, and I wasn't a sworn officer.

"You came to get a story, so come and get it." He closed the door quietly and ambled towards the house. I hurried after him.

It was silent outside, minus the sound of distant crickets. The house was bathed in black. Jiminez turned down the volume of his shoulder radio and pointed at the side gate. "Why don't you go check out the backyard?"

"Me?" I sputtered, aghast. Was he serious?

"Sure, why not? It'll make for a good part of your little article. I'll go around the other way."

He must have been joking. I glanced back and forth between him and the gate. "I don't, um—"

He stood there with his arms crossed, hard eyes staring at me with the kind of look that slowly degrades the dignity of a human being on the receiving end of it. I swallowed my fears and turned to walk to the gate, praying I'd find nothing but nothing back there.

It was quiet in the backyard, too. The only sound besides the crickets was the shortly-mown grass flattening under my shoes, but if I listened carefully I thought I was able to make out the sound of my rapidly-beating heart. To say I was tense was putting it lightly. It must have been nice to be carrying a gun, a flashlight, and a radio to let people know you needed help if, in fact, you came to discover that you really needed help. Why the hell was I doing this, exactly?

I looked around the back porch a little, eventually relaxing a little. It seemed that whoever had messed with the mayor's car the other night hadn't felt a second visit was in order—at least not right then, anyway. In what little light there was I spotted nothing out of the ordinary. Relieved, I turned around and began walking back to the gate.

Something was approaching. I heard heavy steps charging across the yard behind me. In the darkness I couldn't see well, and my heartbeat shot up when I realized that something was coming straight for me. In fact by the time I realized it they were right there, causing me to I nearly have a heart attack when a huge form impacted against my upper torso.

I gasped and hit the grass flat on my back, scrambling in a total frenzy to get away as the assailant came on again. I could see my life flash before my eyes, just before they pinned me to the ground. The impact knocked out whatever air had been in my lungs; calling for Jiminez was out of the question in those precious seconds. The assailant got even closer--

And started licking my face.

"By the way, Mayor Pirkle has a dog," said Jiminez, a short distance away. I looked over and saw him and McBride both laughing their asses off.

Once we were back in the car and on the road, he kept glancing at the passenger's seat, where I sat with a decidedly grotesque look on my face.

"You sure you don't need to go home and change your underwea—"

"I'm very sure."

When I finally returned the look I saw that wry little smirk of his, and I felt my face flush with anger.

Eventually we parked outside the mayor's office. It was probably the nicest part of town, after all, despite being a little close to the arcade. That might have been part of the reason Jiminez ate his lunch there. Lunch at 12:30 in the morning. It was an interesting oddity, or so I thought. He piteously gave one half of his sandwich to me when he realized I'd neglected to remember to bring something to eat for myself. Nothing besides the arcade and the police station are open at night in Onett, after all—not even old Mach Pizza, which has enough trouble getting your food to you in the daytime as it is. McBride parked next to our car and through the rolled-down windows he and Jiminez chatted about how badly they wanted to get it on with Fourside-based singer Venus, who'd just released her first album the week before.

Maybe it was just a slow night, but I wasn't very impressed. Having bore witness to the activities of the police night watch, I felt myself losing faith in our justice system and tax money if this was what it consisted of. I glanced at Jiminez, who took a moment to admire his thin mustache in the rear view mirror and remove any bread crumbs from it. Was this our tax dollars at work? Onett's cops spent their nights antagonizing hoodlums and chasing after obnoxious monsters, all while displaying incredible arrogance and displeasure towards society. The wild frickin' west indeed. At this rate, it was no wonder Mayor Pirkle and Captain Strong didn't care much for the department. It was a little disappointing to realize I might have to find a different subject for my next article, to say the least.

Jiminez didn't like to take long lunches, so the second he was done we were back on patrol. Nevermind that I hadn't finished yet.

Our patrol car eased around one of Officer Ransom's randomly-placed roadblocks. "What's the worst situation you've ever been in?" I asked Jiminez out of the blue while he navigated the would-be road hazard.

He gave this due consideration.

"Having to do my patrol with a pasty whiteboy newspaper kid," he replied.

I glowered at him, but couldn't find the courage to raise any kind of retort. I bottled it up inside, angry and afraid at once. Angry because of his—I felt—undeserved, sarcastic attitude towards me, and afraid because if anyone in the world could stop a charging rhinoceros in its tracks with one foul glance, it was probably him. It wasn't just the uniform and big honkin' gun that did it, either. He was so full of it, and yet at the same time I feared him for some reason--as if part if me still wanted to believe he'd dealt with things many people had nightmares about.

We responded to a complaint in the northeast part of town. Jiminez stopped near a small house that had a massive "HINT" billboard on top of it, and we exited the car to find a small man with glasses being accosted by an irritated-looking individual.

The angry fellow got to us first. He told us he'd come here for help on how to repair his car, which had broken down and the only auto maintenance shop in town was closed at this hour. Apparently Mr. Hint (who I assumed must have operated at all hours of the night) offered "great, great hints" for a "low, low price" of one hundred dollars. Ridiculous as it was, the man paid the money, hoping it would tell him what was wrong with his car. Mr. Hint told the man to go to the auto shop place in the morning.

Since any dumbass could have told him that for free, the man wanted his money back and asked for real advice but had been refused. I'd learn later that a lot of people had problems with this Hint guy and the charges he demanded for crappy advice, but most people didn't do anything about it. This man, evidently being the exception, decided the treatment was a worthy-enough reason to go outside and slash Hint guy's tires. We learned with some level of surprise that it was actually Mr. Hint who had called the cops.

Jiminez placed the angry, hintless individual under arrest. The man whined loudly about his unfortunate lack of hints.

"Yeah, well," said Jiminez, "if it makes you feel better, I've got a hint for you and it don't cost anything."

"What's that?"

"Don't drop the soap. Haaahaha."

"Oh, I got a joke for you too, cop, it's called me kicking your fu—" The man started to turn around just in time to catch a healthy dose of pepper spray in his eyeballs. I watched in mute disgust as Jiminez plowed the guy against the black-and-white and then shoved him in the back with the delicacy of a butcher slaughtering a pig. We transported him to the station for booking.

When it was over and we were back out on the streets, I felt myself growing unhappy. The outlook for my article, something I had put immense confidence in as I discussed it with my superiors and tried to get their uninterested support, wasn't looking spectacular at the moment. It wasn't necessarily a bad night, no, but Jiminez's attitude and the way he conducted himself, as well as the peculiarities of the other officers, deeply concerned me. I felt my frustration start to grow as I dwelled on the events of the night so far. The cops, their arrogance, the damn roadblocks—they really were messed up, and I knew many of the rumors about them were correct. I watched Jiminez silently as he drove, wondering why exactly the city allowed men like this to enforce the law.

Eventually he noticed. I think that, for a moment, he understood why I was looking at him the way I was, but he said nothing of it. He just stared back wordlessly for a few seconds, taking in my subtle contempt, and then looked back ahead to the road.

I shook my head, wishing I could go home—there was no more reason to be out here. I'd find something else to write my next article about. Maybe do something for the sports section.

When the cruising grew monotonous, I sighed heavily.

"Let me guess," Jiminez muttered. "You're bored."

"Maybe."

"Sorry we don't have any serial killers and bloody crime scenes for you to ogle tonight, newsboy."

I snorted. "You're not gonna get anything remotely like that in Onett. Fourside? Maybe. It's a long-shot, but maybe. Not here in Onett."

"You don't know that," he spat. "You already forget what I tell you?"

"You're telling me it's the wild west out here? Onett?"

He turned and fixed me with the most annoyed look he'd had all night.

"Onett is anything but the wild west," I continued, feeling my sullen opinion of him flow forth. "I don't know where you get that from. It seems to me a good night for you guys is when you get to yell at kids and set up a hundred roadblocks all over the place. Beyond a couple of incidents that might make for a good story at the dinner table one night, I haven't seen a single thing that suggests anything but the notion that you might just have your heads up your asses."

I may have been purposely goading him a little, but it was still true. He looked back at the road.

"You guys have it easy, if you ask me," I finished.

He said nothing. I half-expected him to bite into me, but he didn't. He just sat there, driving. After a while I looked away too, wondering if I'd crossed the line.

Dispatch radioed Jiminez and told him that a silent alarm had been triggered inside the drug store. Jiminez glanced at me. "Try not to have another heart attack when you see those zombies again."

I gave him the most mirthless smile I'd ever managed.

When we arrived, there was nobody out front. Jiminez stopped the car a short distance from the place and watched it, letting dispatch know he'd arrived on scene while I wondered where the zombies had gone to. They must have gotten desperate and gotten in some other way, lest Officer Ransom notice.

Jiminez climbed out of the car. He gave me a look that asked if I was coming—as if he didn't expect me to now. I gave it some thought, but eventually decided to follow after him. He shone his light at the front of the building, still seeing nothing, although through the windows we saw a red light blinking repeatedly—the silent alarm system, I assumed. Jiminez flashed his light through the windows. There wasn't anybody inside that we could see, either. Weird.

"False alarm," he told me. "We get 'em sometimes. Like a stray dog or something, or the wind maybe, will get up against the door or the windows and trigger it. Pain in the ass."

Then we started hearing noises from somewhere.

We walked around the side of the building, towards the back entrance. Jiminez rounded the corner at the same time I did, and in unison we saw a very large man beating away at the back door with an equally-large aluminum baseball bat. He was doing a good job of bringing it down so far, with wood splintered everywhere. My eyes widened and I felt myself shrink back.

Jiminez, for his part, did not shrink back.

"POLICE, FREEZE!" he shouted. The man took one look in our direction and was off to the races.

I felt myself stuck in place, as though my feet had just been encased in concrete blocks. Jiminez was a flash, darting off after the man and immediately radioing he was in foot pursuit. After what felt like a year of standing there, I hurried after them. I was nowhere close to being as fast as Jiminez, and they disappeared around a corner and back towards the street. Adrenaline pumped into me, a feeling I hadn't had in years.

When I finally got there I saw them locked in what looked like a war of fists. The big guy had dropped his bat—Jiminez must have gotten it out of his hand somehow—and was engaged in the gentlemanly art of fisticuffs, the kind where each person tries to beat ten tons of piss out of the other. I was floored by the sheer violence of it.

This guy was big. Bigger than Jiminez, who was already tall and well-built as it was. They were a good distance away, still—seconds were precious, but I wasn't certain what I could do anyway. Jiminez was doing everything he said he did in the event of a fight, and I couldn't blame him: He punched the guy in the throat, he kicked him in his soft spot, sprayed what must have been the whole damn can of pepper spray in the man's eyeballs. The suspect shrugged it all off like he was being played with. Either this guy was on something or he really did not want to be caught.

I'd never been in a fight before. Minor scrapes and bruises had come from mishaps in middle school, but beyond that I was useless. But somehow I got the courage to take a step forward—

"STAY THERE!" yelled Jiminez, stopping me in my tracks.

The man grabbed Jiminez by the arm, clearly alarming the officer immensely. Jiminez responded by removing his nightstick and implanting it in the side of the man's head like an axe cuts wood, then delivered a piston of a fist to the stomach, a blow that literally folded the man in half. That seemed to work in getting the suspect to let go, but then he rebounded and caught Jiminez with a big, meaty slam to the chin. It knocked the cop to the pavement and made him drop the baton, and just like that the man loomed over him. Left with little choice, Jiminez's hand slapped against that silver cannon on his belt, and when the suspect saw this he bolted again. "Goddamnit!" Jiminez cursed.

We could both tell the man was hurrying towards what looked like a blue sedan in the distance. It quickly dawned on me that we may have conveniently come across that stolen vehicle from Captain Strong's hot sheet. Jiminez picked himself up off the ground and, upon realizing the man was already too close to it to be able to catch him before he climbed in and had it started, gestured to me and went flying back to his black-and-white. "C'mon, newsboy!"

The car was already taking off by the time we reached Jiminez' patrol unit. Within seconds we were inside, and Jiminez floored it like it was the last thing he'd ever do. He radioed dispatch to inform them of the pursuit's new angle, while I saw Officer Ransom and Officer McBride come speeding around a corner in the distance, red-and-blue lights flashing and sirens wailing. Jiminez flicked ours on as well.

Our black-and-white's engine roared and increased in pitch. The suspect's car freight-trained it through a red light, but there were few people on the roads at this hour, leaving him free to get through unscathed. We tore through it after him, followed by Ransom and McBride behind us. The radio squawked endlessly with feedback from dispatch and other responding officers. I could not help but feel a cold sweat run profusely through my body, and I glanced at Jiminez. Intense concentration captured his hard visage as he worked the surprisingly capable patrol unit with the dedication of an airline pilot.

We flashed by the arcade, a parade of thundering engines, wild red-and-blue lights, and screaming sirens. Sharks stood outside and watched, hooting and hollering as we flew by. Up ahead was one of Ransom's roadblocks. It was nothing more than a couple of red-and-white wooden objects hanging around in the middle of the road—something a child could have blown over with a sneeze.

"Oh man," I said, not noticing that my voice had gone up an octave from how it usually was, "he's gonna plow right through—"

The suspect's vehicle swerved, tires yawning coarsely against the road and making everybody behind it squint. That damn thing actually worked--sort of. His car jumped a curb and booked it across a field of grass. The rest of us had no choice but to do the same, slamming Jiminez and I around in our seats as the patrol unit bashed against the concrete and hopped it as well.

Grass and dirt flying in his wake, the suspect sped back onto the road and jammed the pedal against the floor, if the loud cry of his engine was any indication—it could be made out even over the nigh-deafening level of our car's wailing whiner and those behind us.

With every change in direction Jiminez was on the radio and feeding info to dispatch and the other officers, many more of whom were struggling to keep up with where we were. My heart was beating faster than it ever had as the once normal scenery flashed by my side's window in a chaotic blur. Jiminez steered after the blue vehicle with nerves of steel, but now I noticed beads of sweat on his forehead.

Another red light came up on us. The suspect approached this one much like he had the one before. I saw the adjacent red sedan out of the corner of my eye just before I realized it could be in danger and then, just like that, a deafening explosion of metal and debris boomed across the city. It was a noise I don't think I'll ever be able to get past.

"Eleven-eighty, eleven-eighty!" Jiminez yelled into the dashboard mic, almost in unison with the officers behind us, but I was too stunned to take much notice. It had been an utterly horrid sight. Everything you hear about horrible events transpiring in what feels slow motion is correct, as I'd just discovered.

The two of us were thrown forward in our seats as Jiminez plowed his feet against the brakes. Up ahead we made out a distant running figure, and I realized the driver's side door of the blue stolen vehicle was open. No sooner had I taken notice of that did I realize Jiminez was out of the car and blazing after him like a race horse on crack. "STOP!!"

Officer Ransom's car sped by and continued past the disturbing scene while McBride's stopped; I heard his voice over the radio requesting immediate medical assistance. A flood of police cars closed in on our position.

After a moment of deliberating with myself over what to do, I jumped out of the car and took flight after Jiminez. I had been in this since the beginning, and felt it necessary to continue for some reason. Up ahead I made out he and Officer Ransom running into a small complex of multi-story buildings. Someone was standing and watching the mayhem in the distance, and Jiminez shouted at her, "Which way'd he go?"

He continued in the direction she pointed while Ransom and I both raced to catch up to him. Officer Whittle rounded a bend and joined us. He was panting heavily and not running as fast as the rest of us, but he was trying, and I couldn't blame him for that.

Jiminez questioned someone else in that polite way of his, and we were pointed into a two-story building. A set of stairs lay before us on one side, while on the other side of it a frightened bystander told us the man had hurried up to the next floor. Jiminez asked if the man'd had any weapons visible on him; the bystander replied he wasn't sure.

Nobody ahead of me bothered to take a moment to catch their wind. I tried, stopping behind the three officers and gasping for air while they removed their service pistols and ascended the steps, spending every effort they could to hide their movements and the noise of their creaking leather police boots. In the heat of the moment, I couldn't help but watch them fixatedly for a second—these men, now bathed in sweat, guns ready, moving up into what may have been a hornet's nest waiting for them. Onett's supposedly incompetent, lazy officers, willfully moving into a possible death zone.

Jiminez saw me start to join them, and pointed at me with a brisk shake of his head. I knew better than to backtalk.

They disappeared once they reached the second floor, Jiminez leading the group and flanked by Ransom with Whittle trailing behind. I continued to pant and stand there, bug-eyed and only just now beginning to feel the adrenaline fade. But the tension itself hadn't dissipated. Instead it seemed to get worse. I found part of me wishing I could be up there with them to face whatever dangers this wackjob had in store for them.

I heard movement above me. It got louder, and then suddenly all hell was breaking loose.

"GET DOWN! GET ON THE FLOOR!"

"STOP RIGHT THERE, CRIMINAL SCUM!"

"FREEZE—PUT IT DOWN!!"

I felt my blood turn to ice.

"DROP IT NOW!!"

"PUT IT DOWN!!"

I cringed and stared at the ceiling, tensing for an explosion of gunfire.

"GET DOWN! GET ON THE GROUND RIGHT NOW!"

"DO IT NOW! HANDS ON YOUR HEAD!"

Deep thudding trembled through the ceiling. I realized I was holding the stair's sidebar with a death grip.

Then it was quiet.

Moments later the uniforms reappeared at the top of the stairs, Jiminez and Ransom each hauling the handcuffed man by an arm. I felt my mouth drop open. Whittle stomped down the steps loudly after them, wiping his brow and shaking his head.

Jiminez glanced at me as they walked past with their trophy. I could barely return the look.

When we finished walking the suspect back to where we'd left the patrol units, I saw hospital staff huddled around the obliterated red sedan. I couldn't stand to look at the display for more than a few seconds. In the meantime, Jiminez parked the suspect in the backseat of one of the black-and-whites.

"Why'd you run, fool?" asked Jiminez, leaning his arm against the open door. "Why'd you try to fight me?"

The suspect thought about it for a moment.

"Just got scared," I heard him say.

After a bit of questioning we discovered the man had stolen the car because he'd been bored and one of his dumbass Shark friends had dared him to. He'd been trying to break into the drug store because he was bored and needed a little money. His few prior run-ins with the law? Either because he was bored or he somehow got roped into it. The reason he said he carried a gun? Personal protection. He'd been so rattled he'd almost put it to use. I anticipated a murder or two on his record, but it turned out in his life he'd done nothing truly horrible. He wasn't even on drugs—he was just some knucklehead who didn't want to get arrested. I was repulsed at such behavior, but Jiminez didn't seem very surprised.

The hospital doctor stepped over to Jiminez. They spent the next minute or two talking while I stood away, just trying to believe everything that had gone down in such alarmingly short notice. In that red car was someone who had clearly taken the ass end of the accident, and in the back of a police vehicle near me was the man who'd caused it, and he seemed fine save for some bruises and a cut on his chin, along with whatever damage Jiminez had done earlier. It was completely absurd. When I looked back at the two of them I thought I'd heard something about the police having to notify the "next of kin." For a second, I saw Jiminez's face soften, and then he said something.

"I'll do it," he told the doctor.

He walked back to our black-and-white. Slowly I followed, watching Ransom, McBride and Whittle in the distance, the same officers who I'd heard such bizarre stories, such crazy rumors about. They were all standing before the red sedan, and the looks on their faces was beyond what words can manage. I couldn't help but contemplate that as I climbed in the car, having no idea the hardest part of the night was yet to come.

We left the miserable scene behind us, rolling along on the street. It felt strange to be sitting in the car again without the lights and siren going. I'd been sitting in it all night, but now it felt different for some reason. I couldn't find the words necessary to describe it even to myself, as though it didn't necessitate words.

I still couldn't get over what had happened. Onett—the town where the biggest news was a little meteor falling north of it. I asked Jiminez later if he'd ever had something like this happen before, and he told me it wasn't necessarily rare. He confirmed that sometimes they got real wackos, and other times they just got bozos who did stupid stuff and got other people hurt for it. Things tended to happen during the night watch that the city failed to notice in its daytime activities, and usually nothing of such violent proportions occurred anyway. Afterwards I made a note to go through archives at the newspaper and see for myself what other insane situations the police had been forced to take care of that nobody else in Onett knew or cared about.

We slowed to a stop in front of a small home in the eastern part of town. It was a nice-looking place, far from the disaster area we'd just left. It was completely dark inside. After some quiet observation I looked over to Jiminez to say something to him, and that was when I saw the lump in his throat.

What? I thought. What are we doing?

He turned to look at me. His face looked almost different, much like the feeling of being in the patrol car now.

"Stay here," he said.

"Why?" I asked.

"Just do what I tell you. Stay here."

"No, look," I protested, "I need to. If I don't go back to my boss with all the information I can get, he's going to blow a blood vessel, okay? The bad guy is gone. You don't have to worry about me getting shot or anything now."

He took off his sunglasses. For the first time that night I saw his eyes.

"Are you sure?"

I paused, only just now taking into consideration following his advice. But I couldn't back down now—I didn't want my pride to suffer, nor did I wish to look weak in front of this man.

"Yeah."

He paused, then wordlessly hauled himself out of the car.

The two of us quietly stepped up to the front door, where Jiminez rang the doorbell a few times. No response, no activity from inside the home that I could tell. He rang it again.

Maybe nobody was home.

I saw a light flash on to the right of us. Then came another, and before long, the front door was opening. A petite older woman stared at us from the doorway as she flipped her porch light on.

"Onett Police, miss. Do you mind if we come in?"

With some hesitation, she opened the door all the way, and soon we were shuffling through the home.

The outside told stories of the interior's quality. It was well-decorated, and I spied pictures on the wall of who I assumed to be family members and friends. One picture was of a pleasant-looking young man. Something in me began to tense up as I realized what we were doing, and I looked at the woman. She didn't seem to know why I was there with the officer, but I don't think it mattered much to her. Her face was stricken with panic and fear as her husband entered the room, and her expression made its way to him too when Jiminez asked them to have a seat on their couch.

I could not take my eyes away from them. The obvious feeling of dread that was bubbling through to their surfaces enveloped the whole room. It was spreading to my own bones, and if not for Jiminez being there I don't think I'd have been able to remain standing. I wanted to sit down as much as they did.

Jiminez removed his hat and held it in his hands. He seemed to be having trouble getting the words out. The wife and husband stared at him, eyes pleading to say something other than what needed to be said. I would have done anything to be able to make that happen.

After a few moments that felt like an eternity to me, he said to them, "There's no easy way to say this, but you need to know. I'm sorry to tell you, there was an accident tonight on the road. Your son, Evan, was killed."

I was not at all prepared for what followed. I'll never forget the unspeakable anguish that came after his words.

When the night shift reached its climax, dawn was nearing. The two of us were relatively quiet for the most part, as Jiminez seemed to have grown less talkative after the night's events. Despite my sleep schedule being out of whack, I wasn't tired, though I didn't feel talkative myself either. For the majority of the night, things had been dull, maybe a little amusing now that I looked back on it. Then everything had gone to hell. And now it was back to being dull. In one night I'd experienced Onett in its shadows—the kind of things one doesn't see in what at first glance appears to be a charming portrait of tranquility. I wondered if all cities were like this.

Some part of Jiminez still seemed at least a little chatty—as if he'd done all this before and it would eventually just be another one of those nights. Maybe things like this had grown routine.

One look at him, though, confirmed the opposite. He'd put his sunglasses back on to hide his eyes, and as we sat a red light at one point, I heard him say something so low below his breath I wasn't sure if I'd even heard anything at all.

"I could've stopped him sooner."

There was nothing I could have said that would have made things any better, any happier for him—for anyone. I just sat in my seat, unable to speak to him. Thankless Officer Jiminez and the Onett P.D., who had to do things nobody else wanted to do, and nobody even realized it or cared.

Eventually Jiminez steered the patrol unit to the lot where I'd parked my car before coming to the station, stopping at the side of the road nearby.

"Shift's over," he said. "I gotta haul this piece back to the station. The guys who drive it in the shift after mine get pissy if I take too long."

"Alright," was all I could say.

We studied each other. I glanced away, then looked back at him. "Listen, about what I said earlier—"

He waved a hand at me. "It's no biggie, newsboy. We get it all the time. Comes with the job, you know?"

"Yeah," I replied. I did know. Only now did I feel myself growing winded, but I didn't feel bad, either.

As I climbed out of the car and shut the door, he rolled down the window before I could get too far away. "Hey!"

I turned around. "What is it?"

"You get your story?"

Standing there for a moment, I gave this some well-deserved consideration.

"Yeah," I eventually told him. "I got my story."

He gave me that subtle, wry smirk of his. I watched the black-and-white drive off down the road until it was out of sight.