by: William C. Burns, Jr.
Susan R. Panagakos
Virginia is waking up.
“I’m in no mood for this Webster, if you have something for me,
spill it. Otherwise get out of my face!” She crawls out of her
ramshackle bed and makes her way to the coffee maker.
“Virginia, with Christmas only a week away, must you behave so?”
“Getting sensitive in your old age?”
“A situation is developing on Featherwood Road, near the old Watson
house. A hostage situation, one that promises to be a bit nasty. This
one, he is a very bad one.”
“One of your guys?”
“Oh, no. This one is quite human.”
The phone rings.
“Hello?” she answers. I can only hear her side of the conversation.
“Yes, I know. Featherwood. Its none of your business how I know. I’ll
be there in a half hour.”
I evaporate, leaving her there.
“Rotten son of a monkey’s uncle.” I grumble, looking longingly at the
steaming coffee just starting to drip. I could think of a hundred other
things to call that bogey, but I was taught to keep a civil tongue. I’ve
got to get a better grip on my overtaxed imagination. My clothes are
shocked to discover they can’t fly as I toss them off my body, they
crumple into disappointed piles on the floor. The water in the shower is
just one more shock I manage to survive. Soon I’m dressed, pressed and
ready to go . . . well, two out of three ain’t bad. I turn off the
coffee maker, pour a full cup, take a sip and I’m out of the door. I’ll
regret that nod to habit when I get back, it will mean one more dish to
wash, but I need the caffeine.
The car sputters to life like a chugging washing machine stuck in
the rinse cycle. The windshield wipers do little to help clear the oily
smear picked up from the dismal road. Dark, threatening clouds run the
sky overhead. Great, simply great, just the kind of day to have a
“situation”. My mind is running over houses, trying to remember what the
one at 1225 Featherwood Road looks like. Oh, yeah . . . modest two
story, “barn red” with white trim, front door, back door, garage access
and the occasional bush and tree. This person likes mowing lawns,
planting flowers and plowing fields. Not many places to take cover
around there. Damn.
A hostage situation, the guys will be standing around waiting for me
to show up. Calling me “old chastity belt” and other delightful
monikers. Like I need that kind of attitude. They don’t realize I
worked twice as hard to get through the academy and put up with all the
infantile macho slurs and comments the men made when I drew assignment to
their area. I scared them, a tough woman is a real threat to their egos,
but that didn’t make me feel any better when they’d make fun of me. It
really messed them all up when I was promoted ahead of them. Serves ’em
A familiar figure congeals in the seat next to me, like some sort of
double exposure effect. I hate it when he does that. Makes me feel like
I’m seeing ghosts or something and I don’t believe in ghosts.
“Wha’d’ya want now?” I demand. He turns to me, attempting to look
offended. This only succeeds in making him look silly and I allow
myself half a grin.
“Why do I have to want something?” he asks, “Perhaps I came around
just to enjoy your company?”
“Webster, you’ll turn my head,” I respond.
I have never really cared for the name Webster. She calls me that
because of the information I impart. She does not really accept my
existence, but I know she listens to me. She gets to pretend that I do
not exist and I get to spend time with her, as per my contract. Its not
a bad arrangement all told.
“Are you ready for details?” She nods making some kind of
“A mad man has taken a child hostage. He was driving a stolen
vehicle with two units in pursuit. He rammed the vehicle of the owner of
the house at 1225 Featherwood Road as she emerged from her driveway. The
mother was killed instantly, the daughter was protected in her child
seat. The child is now orphaned.”
“Is this kid all right?”
“The child’s name is Grace and she is safe for the moment. You must
restrain your fellow officers, lest in their zeal . . .”
“What’s so special about this child? Why are you so concerned?”
“I can only tell you that this is a very special little girl.”
“I despise it when you say things like that.”
“As well you should . . . You’ll arrive in ten minutes or so. Do
take care of yourself.” I try an effervescent, bubbling fade this time.
“I don’t need your crap. I was a plenty good officer before you came
“Nonsense Virginia, I have always been with you.”
I growl wordlessly. This demon is out to drive me absolutely crazy.
I try a casual shrug to off-set the growl, but he knows me better then
that. He chuckles, vanishing completely. Good riddance.
I arrive at Featherwood and find ambulances, police cars and every
possible vehicle with flashing lights on its roof present. I grumble at
being one of the last to arrive as I elbow myself through the throng of
“Mornin’, Ginny.” Jim Matts, the local paper’s reporter, drawls at
me, “What’s the scoop?”
“You’ll know soon’s I do, Jim.” I tell him, offering him a weary
smile, and I keep moving. I assess the situation, listening carefully
to what my people tell me and keeping a sharp eye out for movement from
within the house. I end up in a rather foolhardy stance (looking much
more casual then I feel) in front of the house, talking to the man
inside and attempting to get him to come out. I realize it isn’t going
to work when he takes a potshot at me.
“Damn!” I yelp, diving for the ground. Everyone scatters. I roll
and manage to put myself behind a tree. “Maxwell, Jensen take
position, wait for my lead and for God’s sake watch for the girl.”
They’re the best sharp shooters on the force, I trust them. I draw my
gun, not really wanting to kill the man, but what choice has he given
me? I figure this to be the only way out of this situation. I lay on
the ground, my gun firmly in both hands, and wait, watching the house.
You’d be amazed how much of this job is waiting. I have to do this
carefully. I see the curtain twitch and then the man peers out. I
shoot, once. Right on the mark, both snipers open fire. He’s down.
Without thinking, I’m first through the door, I’m always first
through the door. I find him face down in what must be the dining
room. I snap around, gun raised, responding to a sudden flicker of
motion behind me. For a long, cold moment I stare down the barrel of
my gun at a frightened girl-child.
Virginia has finished dinner and is preparing a cup of Yerba Mate.
I materialize on the far side of the table in her condo apartment. She
sets me a cup as a kind of sarcasm. Perhaps one of these days I will
drink it and shake her up a bit, but that would be a breach of our
I turn to gaze out her frosted window. “Are you holding up
“Me? I’m tough as nails.”
“You’ve one more thing to do.”
“Yeah?” she mumbles grouchily, “And what’s that, Webster? You
need the dead guy’s hand or something?”
“That’s disgusting, Virginia. What possible use could I have for
such a thing?”
“Look, spook, job done, case closed, the end. I interviewed the
shaken witnesses, briefed my fellow officers, and gave that gossip Jim
just enough information to keep him happy. I even wrote up all the
freak’n paperwork up. I despise paperwork.” There is a silence.
I ask, “What of the orphan?” Visibly shaken, she rummages through
the clutter on the top of her refrigerator and lights a cigarette that
she finds there. Her hands are shaking. She turns on me.
“Get out, get out of my life Webster! I never asked for you and I
sure as hell don’t need you!”
“Virginia . . .”
“SHUT UP! I don’t want to hear it!”
“Virgin . . .”
Webster stands there, refusing to budge, as the memories flood my
mind. Damn that kid. Why’d she have to complicate my life? Why did she
have to remind me of Jenny? Years peal away like the outer layers of a
rotten onion and I find myself eleven again.
“Virginia!” the screaming voice of my father rang through my head,
“I told you to shut your sister up!” Jenny, all of five years old,
crying because I’d told her she wasn’t old enough to “help” in the
kitchen. I was too tired to clean up the mess she would have made.
“Why don’t you go outside and play on the swing?” I offered as an
alternative, “You can help me put the ice cream in the bowls later.”
This was an acceptable trade-off to a five year old mind.
Dad doing his best to raise us alone. I did what I could to
help. Jenny was the one who paid for the fact that neither of us had
been ready for parenting. I was making an attempt at putting some food
together, too busy and too tired to be bothered with a five year old’s
desire to be grown up. Dad was in the other room mourning mom’s
passing three years earlier with his usual disappearance into
television and a beer can. Jenny decided to prove she was a big girl
on this hot summer night and went swimming in the pond out back all by
herself. It was the last thing she ever did.
“I can’t save her.” I shake my head and try to still my shaking
hands, “I just can’t.”
“Her name is Grace.” I heard Webster’s voice break into my head,
“She’s five years old, alone and very frightened. Her chances of being
adopted are virtually nonexistent. Most couples prefer babies.”
“I don’t need this. Leave me alone.” I muttered, but my voice had
lost its punch. He’s still looking out the window, his eyes far away.
“She’s in a hospital bed, in a vast empty room, right now.” he
continues, cruelly. “I am certain they have no idea what to do with her.
No father, mother, or family, she could disappear without a trace.”
“The nurses would notice,” I insist.
“You are certain of this?”
I give him a sharp look, knowing he’d caught where my mind had gone.
He vanishes through the wall, headed in the general direction of the
“Yeah, you’d better run.” I mutter, staring into the ghostly steam
rising from the tea. Suddenly, I don’t want tea any more . . . I don’t
want much of anything right now.
“Run.” I continue talking to myself, “Is that what I’ve been doing
all this time? Running from Jenny?” A tear slides down my cheek,
followed by another.
Christmas Day and Virginia’s desk at the precinct is empty for the
first time in countless years, the ash try is cold and the coffee mugs
remain discolored. This is as it should be. That reporter… Jim
Matts, yes, that’s his name, is talking with Officer Jensen. Most
curious, they decide, the meanest woman alive adopting an orphaned girl.
Arrogance . . . Still, I forgo the pleasure of spooking them.
Perhaps it is better they not see my hand in this. They are not the only
ones deceived. Virginia is under the delusion that she has somehow saved
the girl-child, Grace, but in her act of caring she is embarking on the
path to a deeper healing. Her old spirit will brush the shadows from its
shoulders and learn to dance again. This is always the gift brought by
the young. She has saved herself.
Grace is warm, well fed and loved tonight. I savor a small taste of
her contentment, bright and amber, even at this distance. One of the few
indulgences allowed in my arrangement. I gaze out the fogged window,
finding peace in the falling snow.