Scarred for Life

Orange rescue or coast guard patrol boat

“Another jumper?” the skipper asked as he answered his phone with an expression of both dread and resignation.

“Sweet Jesus, I hate this part of the job,” my boss, Capt. Milo Bender, said as he slid his phone back into the waterproof pocket of his slicker. He stared out at the bay bridge two miles out, glowing with the light of dawn and sparkling dots of red and blue, just as the unmarked police car, its dashboard gumball machine lights flashing, skidded to a stop on the shoreline end of the dock.

“Prepare to cast off,” the skipper shouted and we sprung to our stations to begin setting off out there, beneath the bridge on another search and rescue mission that we all knew was a search and recovery job. No tortured soul ever survived the leap from the bay bridge to the river a hundred feet or more below.

The two men in rumpled suits sprinted down the dock and hopped aboard just as I started raising the gangway. One looked at me as if I’d done it just to piss him off, rather than just following orders in the manner and time I’d been trained to. The other just looked winded and sad.

“Where’s Bender?” the pissed one asked.

“Skipper’s in the bridge, sir. Could you please show me some ID?” I said. Again, this was protocol and reflected our crew’s constant training.

He pulled back his jacket, exposing his Detective’s gold shield attached to his belt, but I had the feeling what he really wanted me to see was the Glock 19 concealed in a holster beneath his left arm.

“This good enough for ya, swabbie?” he said as he tried to brush past me to the bridge ladder.

“Actually, no, sir. I’m required to see a photo ID,” I replied. I could see him heating up faster than our boiler, but he yanked his wallet from his pocket and flipped it open, shaving it toward my face to show me he was Detective First Class Donald Swarovski.

“Thank you, Detective. Captain Bender will see you up in the bridge,” I said, though he was already past me at “Thank.”

The sad-looking one, a Latino like me, dutifully pulled out his ID, informing me he was Senior Detective Alan Abreu.

“Excuse my partner, buddy. He’s in a hurry to make Captain by end of shift. Each and every day,” Detective Abreu said. He staggered slightly as the boat jerked away from the dock with a roar of the turbines and a shriek of our horns. I caught him by the shoulder and he said, “Gracias, amigo,” and slowly climbed the ladder to the bridge.

In about a minute, the Skipper called down on the PA, “Frankie, to the bridge and take the helm.”

I scooted up the ladder and entered the bridge just as Swarovski began briefing the Skipper.

“Hold on, Detective. My first mate’s taking over piloting the boat out to the bridge. You have the helm, Frankie,” he said, stepping away from the wheel as I grasped control.

“Aye, Skipper,” I said and directed my attention to river traffic and directional buoys, as well as our radar/sonar screens. But in the background of the humming turbines and radio chatter I could hear the detectives and the skipper.

“Yeah, Special Services gal tried talking him in, but this son of a bitch was pretty determined. We’d been investigating a suspicious death and murder, an arsonist and his partner, and our jumper’s name, Johnnie Lawrence, popped up. We were about to interview him when he bolted, heading straight for the bridge,” Swarovski said.

“We called it in and uniforms had the east side of the bridge blocked so he was boxed in with us in his tail,” Detective Abreu said. “He was out of the vehicle and climbing the bridge before we could get to him. And I mean climbing. Shucked his jacket and shirt and just kept going up.”

“Yeah, ran up those cables like a monkey with its tail on fire,” Swarovski said. “Ironic, huh, partner?”

“What do you mean?” The Skipper asked.

“Well, when the Special Services officer arrived and started her rap, just to calm him down and maybe reel him in, Lawrence started raving about the burns our victim gave him, scarring him into some kind of monster people couldn’t bear to even look at,” Detective Abreu said.

“Our investigation had turned up that one of our victims, one Dontae Ellis, full-time mechanic and part-time arsonist for hire, had been, shall we say, the intimate cellmate of our subject upstate. If you catch my drift,” Swarovski said with a small chuckle.

“Best we can figure, from our investigation to date is that Lawrence wanted to get back together with Ellis once he was sprung on parole a year and a half ago. But Ellis had, shall we say, moved on, to a new personal and professional partner, having been paroled four months before Lawrence,” Swarovski continued.

“So our jumper killed his ex-lover. Okay, but what about the scars?” The Skipper said.

“We’d heard Lawrence began stalking Ellis, showing up at the garage where he worked, outside his apartment, following him wherever he went, trying to get him to reconcile, if you will. But Lawrence rebuffed him at every turn. He even showed up, we were told, at one of Lawrence’s torch jobs for a crew on the North End. That’s where it all went bad for all concerned,” Abreu said.

“Hold on a sec, Detective. Where’d you say he jumped from?”

“Just above the middle left pylon, this side.”

“Got that, Frankie? Check the current for the past hour or so,” the Skipper said.

“Aye, Skipper,” I answered.

“So anyways,” Swarovski said, “Lawrence confronted Ellis and his new partner as they were exiting their target warehouse, maybe even inside. At least that’s where we found the bodies. Initial detectives on the scene figured it was just a botched arson until the ME found the bullet holes in Lawrence’s charred remains. Ballistics pulled up a weapon used in a robbery ten years ago, for which Lawrence was popped and did eight.”

“We figure Lawrence got caught inside and was burned. At least that was some of the rambling story he gave our negotiator from up on the bridge cables,” Abreu said.

One of our lookouts then shouted into his radio, “Something on the water off starboard beam, Frankie.”

The Skipper and detectives raced down the ladder to the bow, where our spotter and another crewman stood ready with the hook. Sure enough, a body floated near the surface about thirty meters ahead on our right. I reversed engines and swung the boat around, puttering her close enough and cutting the turbines for the guys to scoop the poor bastard out.

“Is this your ‘subject,” Detectives?” the Skipper asked as Swarovski pulled a wallet from the floater’s pants.

“That’s what it says here on his license and parole department card,” I heard the impatient detective say.

“So where are all the scars you said he was ranting about?” the Skipper said, as dull morning light now fell on the deck.

“I have no fucking idea,” Swarovski said, rolling the body over and back again and finding nothing but some prison tats. “What the hell was this nut taking about? Hideous shit and no one could bear looking at him?”

“Wait a second,” Abreu said. “See that?” He pointed to a scar on Lawrence’s chest. “That’s a heart, right? And what’s inside it? Hmmm, definitely a J and L and that scar looks like someone tried sanding away a goddamn tat. Um…oh shit, of course. That’s definitely a faint D and maybe an E there.”

“That’s the scar that drove this nut to all this?” Swarovski said, sounding more passed than he was at me.

“You have no soul, partner. That’s only the scar on the outside. It’s the one he feels Ellis gave him on the inside that popped his cork.”

“Sweet Jesus,” the Skipper said as he lowered a tarp over the scarred remains of Johnnie Lawrence and shouted up to me, “Take us home, Frankie.”

“Aye, aye, Skipper,” I snapped in reply, firing up the turbines, bringing us about and chugging us back to port as the bay bridge reopened to traffic and the morning rush erased the specter of Johnnie Lawrence a hell of a lot cleaner than he did Dontae Ellis.

A really quick response to the prompt for a story of the results of a wounding promoted for Day 6 of Story-a-Day May. Again, too long or too short for its own good, but a workable first draft, nonetheless. I promise not to erase it. Too many bad things can happen.

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