Her name was Quan. Rosie Quan. She’d only been my partner for a week, but whenever I looked into her eyes, it felt like we’d known each other for a lifetime. There was something about her that made me feel safe, and at home. Like I could tell her anything and she’d still stick by my side, albeit begrudgingly.
Did I mention she was a tall drink of water? And boy howdy, was I ever thirsty. Ah, but that was crazy talk. Dipping your pen in the company ink is a good way to write your own death warrant, or worse, your co-worker’s. After all, you can’t save your partner’s ass if you’re too busy staring at it.
We met up later that afternoon and I can’t deny it. As I sat across from her, listening to her hammer me over the morning’s events, all I wanted to do was stop her and ask if I could dip my eggroll into her spicy Szcechuan sauce. Would that have been racist? Most assuredly, but it was a sentiment that came from a place of love, and if loving is wrong, then this guy doesn’t want to be right. At any rate, I held that comment back as the last thing I needed was another letter of reprimand from human resources in my file. I already had enough to paper my walls at home.
“Let me get this straight,” Rosie said. “A friend of yours in the seventh precinct told you that Lt. Jeffries’ unit brought in a high-level suspect. Wanted all over the world.”
“Yes,” I said.
“Tons of blow.”
“Heads in the fridge.”
“Video evidence showing the suspect in the act of murder.”
“A living victim saved in the nick of time who was willing to testify.”
“You got it.”
Rosie shook her head in disgust. Her disapproval frustrated me, but it was hard to be mad at her. She looked so cute in her fancy business lady attire.
“And so, after hearing about this rare, virtually unheard of mountain of damning, sure to convict evidence, the only thing that caught your attention was the fact that your source in the seventh precinct told you that when the suspect was brought into the station, she was sucking on a plastic straw inside a take-out cup?”
“And with laser focus, you honed in on that straw and nothing but that straw, the department’s priorities be damned?”
“That’s about the straight and skinny of it, sister.”
Rosie sighed. “I don’t know, Mack. Sounds like Lt. Jeffries was right to be angry.”
“Sure,” I said. “Take his side.”
“I’m not taking sides. It’s just, Jesus. If anything, it sounds like he was remarkably restrained.”
“Had I been in his shoes, I would have pistol whipped you until you stared coughing up blood.”
“Yeah, well, maybe I would have deserved it. Maybe I would have done that to me if I had been him as well, but I’m not him, I’m me and as me I have different priorities, see?”
We were sitting at a table in a Moonbeam Coffee. You know, that chain of shops that hipsters love to congregate in? They were all around us. Wearing their fedoras, eating their artisanal scones, typing away on their laptops, each one working on either a novel that will never be published, or a screenplay for a movie that will never be seen. Worse, they were all drinking cups full coffee with a dash of this and a sprig of that. Try ordering just a straight, black coffee in this place and the kids at the bar will look at you like you’re a six-foot tall lizard person wearing polka dot underwear.
Hanging on the wall over the bar, there was a flat screen television. It was playing the news of the day. Reporters were following Kowalski down the steps of the courthouse, each vying to stick a microphone in the jamoke’s face. Eventually, stopped to address the crowd. The short, stubby little prick ran his hand through his bad combover, then spoke.
“Look, everyone. I’m sorry. No, I’m very sorry. I understand that tensions are running high over this case, and that many of Miss Thibodeux’s victims hail from right here in the district. Hell, my secretary has been fielding angry calls from their families all day. But I’m not about to get into the arcane complexities and technicalities of legal procedure. Suffice to say, Lt. Jeffries did a shitty job. I can’t stress this enough, Lt. Neal Jeffries is the one to blame for this mess, so if you want to blame anyone, blame Lt. Neal Jeffries. Further, I would add that I have taken shits that had more structural integrity than the flimsy case Lt. Neal Jeffries built here and in conclusion, this is all the fault of Lt. Neal Jeffries.”
Rosie and I looked away from the television.
“Neal doesn’t deserve this,” Rosie said. “He’s a good man, and his case wasn’t flimsy at all.”
“You know him?” I asked.
“Sure,” Rosie said. Her eyes looked like they were staring off into space, trying to recreate a scene from long ago. “We worked a drug bust together. He said we should wait for backup but back in those days, I was young, dumb, full of cum and didn’t know any better. I went charging in, head first, guns blazing, only for some chump to get the drop on me with a Tec-9. Jeffries saw it before I did. Threw himself in front of me and took the bullet. Thankfully, he was wearing a vest. I doubt I would have been able to forgive myself if I hadn’t.”
I drummed my fingers on the table. “Were you two…”
“I know what?”
I rolled my eyes, then inserted my right pointer finger into a circle I made with my left pointer and thumb – the international sign for making whoopie. It was a mistake to do so. It grossed Rosie out.
“Ugh! Of course not!”
“Alright,” I said. “Sheesh. No need to get all worked up about it.”
“What business is it of yours anyway?” Rosie asked.
“It’s not,” I said. “I don’t know. I’m just making conversation.”
“Yeah, well,” Rosie said. “Converse about something else.”
“Fine,” I said. “And don’t worry about it.”
I looked around the room. None of the hipsters were listening. They were all too busy listening to third wave tribal ska fusion on their oversized, overpriced, overhyped, rapper endorsed headphones.
“Can you keep something under your hat?”
“No, I’m serious. Can I trust you?”
“We’re partners, aren’t we?”
“Past partners have failed me before,” I said.
“Join the club,” Rosie replied.
“OK,” I said. “Between you, me, the four walls, and these dipshit millennials, Jeffries is going to be fine.”
Rosie was understandably skeptical. “He is?
“Yeah,” I said. “You think I would have screwed him over and secured a bloodthirsty psychopath’s release over a straw without a backup plan?”
My partner glared at me as if to say that she and I already knew the answer to that question.
“Fine,” I said. “Yes, I would have, but luckily, I had a backup plan here. The third ex-Mrs. Smasher…”
“How many ex-Mrs. Smashers are there?”
I looked at my fingers and began to count. “Carry the one, add the remainder and…I don’t know. Too many. What business is it of yours, anyway?”
“It’s not,” Rosie said with a smirk. “Just making conversation.”
“The third ex-Mrs. Smasher is an Israeli national,” I explained. “Used to work at the embassy until she was promoted to a high rank in the Mossad. They’ve got agents en route to Mongolia. They’re going to pick her up the second she lands in Ulaanbaatar.”
“Ulaanbaatar?” Rosie asked.
“Yeah,” I said. “Ulaanbaatar. It’s the capitol of Mongolia. I thought everyone knew that. You don’t know that?”
Rosie cocked her head and looked at me sideways. “Why would I know that?”
“I don’t know. Because…”
“I’m Asian? And Asians know everything about Asia?”
“I’m fourth generation American, asshole.”
Suddenly, I realized that holding back on the spicy Szechuan line had been a good judgment call.
“No,” I said. “Because you’re educated. You’ve got that master’s degree and…whatever. Let’s move on. They’re going to grab her, bring her to Tel Aviv and then, I don’t know. Beat her. Torture her. Hook her twat lips up to a car battery. Basically, do a lot of things that are frowned upon here in the states but they’ll get her to talk about all her accomplices and conspirators. They’ll be able to bring down a lot of bad hombres, more than we could have, what with all our civil rights bullshit.”
Rosie pondered what I had just told her. “I suppose that’s good. I mean, the part where a lot of criminals get brought to justice, not the parts about the twat lip torture and the civil rights being bullshit and so on. Still, this doesn’t help Jeffries.”
“It will,” I said. “The third ex-Mrs. Smasher has some pull. She’s going to make sure that the Israeli Prime Minister himself gives a big speech, praising the Mossad for catching Mo-Mo and that they couldn’t have done it without the work Jeffries did in America. Blah, blah, blah, there will be some procedural crap that no one understands but ultimately, he’ll spin a good yarn about how from watching all the details about the case Jeffries built on American TV, Mossad agents were able to construct a profile on Mo-Mo and track her to Mongolia and all that jazz.”
Rosie folded her arms. “Bullshit.”
“You’re going to sit there and tell me that not only did you orchestrate the release of a mass murderer but that also, you hatched an international espionage plot that involves kidnapping a suspect from a nonextradition country, all over a plastic drinking straw?”
Now I was disgusted. “You talk about straw law ban enforcement like it’s a joke.”
“Well, it is, isn’t it?”
Funny how fleeting feelings can be. One second, I wanted to get down on one knee and propose that Rosie become the next Mrs. Smasher. The next, I wanted to stand up and walk away, leaving her in a cloud of my own dust to contemplate how badly her laisezz faire attitude towards straw crime had disappointed me.
“You think this is some kind of game for me?” I asked.
“No, I just think you’re going overboard,” Rosie answered. “Way overboard. Ridiculously, insanely overboard.”
“One can never be too vigilant when it comes to straw criminals.”
“Straw criminals?” Rosie asked. “Eight days into a new initiative to monitor what essentially boils down to a civil infraction, and you’ve already trashed six department issued cruisers, incinerated three buildings, pulled your gun on twelve minimum wage fast food workers and now this fiasco.”
Rosie looked up at the TV. The media was bending me over and giving my reputation a vigorous pounding, sans lube. The first head on the pundit panel was right-wing blowhard Jim Claymore, a crusty old bastard who looked like he’d been fed one too many cheeseburgers. Funny, you don’t see too many elderly fat people. Their addiction to pizza and curly fries usually cuts them down in middle age, but somehow old Jimbo was still plodding along, I assume thanks to the best doctors his big pile of dough could buy.
“Great,” Jim said. “The far left has finally gotten their wish in the form of Mack Smasher. He’s a jack-booted thug, a Gestapo agent ready to gun down anyone who so much as thinks about sipping on a straw. Come on, people. Is this the America we want? Oh sure, the liberal whack jobs say they’re pro-choice when it comes to abortion but when it comes to deciding whether or not to use a straw to guzzle down a nice, cold glass of lemonade, you’d better chose not to use one lest Mack Smasher kick down your door and blow your face off.”
I leered at the TV. Rosie shot me a look as though she agreed with that clod.
“That’s not true at all.”
Rosie looked at my footwear.
“OK,” I said. “Maybe I do wear jackboots, but only for the heel support and the steel toe. You could drop a hundred wrenches on my toes and I’d be fine.”
“And the other part?” Rosie asked.
“He’s got his facts wrong,” I said.
“Does he?” Rosie asked.
Rosie flashed me the stink-eye. “But…does he?”
“I haven’t shot anyone in the face over a straw,” I said. “Yet.”
Rosie shook her head. The panel continued. Monica Blather, an equally gassy blowhard but on the left side of the aisle. God, that dopey old bag’s glasses were the size of a pair of goggles and I was willing to bet her snootch was filled with more spider webs than a Halloween blow-store. Don’t even get me started on her get-up. Why the hell do liberal broads insist on wearing those Old West Mexican outlaw style poncho sweaters? I’m not trying to offend anyone. I’m just saying I’ve never met a liberal woman over fifty who didn’t dress like The Outlaw Josey Wales.
“I don’t care what Jim says. Cis male scum like him shouldn’t be saying anything as far as my colleagues and I at More Blame for America Now! are concerned. Someone needs to be thinking about the environment. Now, are Mack Smasher’s methods violent? Of course. But is it any less violent to drop a straw in a trash can?”
“It absolutely is,” Jim said.
“Disagreeing with me is violence!” Monica snapped. “Your words are violence!”
Rosie and I returned to our conversation. “Mack…”
To my surprise, she reached across the table and grabbed my hand. “I need to ask you a personal question.
This was it. In my mind, I just knew she was going to ask me to dip my eggroll into her spicy Szechuan sauce.
“Partners shouldn’t keep secrets from each other, should they?”
“No,” I said.
“I never kept secrets from any of my partners,” Rosie said.
“Neither did I,” I replied.
“Good. Can I ask you a personal question?”
Oh man. Here was my big chance.
“Let me stop you right there,” I said. “I already know what you want to ask.”
Rosie let out a sigh of relief. “Thank God.”
“Nine inches,” I said. “Nine and a half on a good day. Shaved. Cut, because I’m no heathen.”
My partner pulled her hand away fast. She looked ready to bolt for the door. “What in the…”
I changed the subject fast. “Sorry. I missed the mark. What do you want to know?”
“What have you got against straws?”
I laughed. “How much time you got?”
“As a heart attack.”
Rosie frowned. “I can’t tell if you’re being serious or engaging in some type of semi-artistic, avant garde performance art. It’s like you’re a bad caricature of a straw law enforcement officer, straight out of a self-published parody novel.”
“Ha,” I said. “Like I’d be caught dead in a self-published novel. It’s traditional publishing for me or bust, baby.”
“Please answer the question.”
“I could ask you the same,” I said. “You volunteered for this assignment, didn’t you?”
“I did,” Rosie said.
“I did too.”
“Right,” Rosie said. “But I’m starting to get the impression that you and I signed up to become Washington, D.C.’s first straw law enforcement officers for very different reasons.”
“You’re going to have to paint this picture by numbers for me, sweetheart,” I said. “If there’s one thing Mack Smasher doesn’t do, it’s abstract watercolors.”
Rosie pointed at me. “See? It’s stuff like that, that creeps me out.”
“This,” Rosie said as she waved her hands in my direction. “This whole persona of yours. Your noir style manner of speech. Your tough guy swagger. Your action hero lines. And the whole referring to yourself in the third person thing.”
“If Mack Smasher wants to refer to himself in the third person, then Mack Smasher’s going to refer to himself in the third person.”
“OK,” Rosie said. “Whatever. I signed up for this gig because I’m tired.”
I interrupted immediately. “You’re too young to be tired, doll-face. What are you, 31, 32, 33? No more than thirty-four, tops, I’d wager.”
“Congratulations. You can count.”
“My apologies. When it comes to age, a gentleman never asks and a lady never tells. Ma Smasher taught me better than that and I’m not representing her well at the moment. Please continue.”
“I’ve been through some shit,” Rosie said. “I’m not whining. Every cop has. But every cop has their limit of how much shit they can take and I reached mine long ago. Smasher, I’ve been beaten up, shot at, stabbed twice, thrown out a ten-story building only to fortuitously land on a soft canopy…”
“Pbbhht,” I said, blowing my co-worker a raspberry. “You haven’t lived until you’ve been thown out of a twenty-story window only to fortuitously land on a soft canopy.”
Rosie carried on with her tales of misery and woe. “I’ve been kidnapped by the mob and barely escaped with my life.”
“I got into a round robin sword fight with six Yakuza assassins and somehow, miraculously bested all of them.”
“Typical Saturday night for me.”
Rosie was exasperated by my nonchalance. “The Russian mafia swapped out my sister with an exact double who was ordered to kill me.”
I rubbed my pointer finger and thumb together. “You know what this is, kiddo? It’s the world’s smallest violin and it’s playing a sad song for you. Why, if I had a nickel for every time someone close to me was replaced with a phony replica assassin, I’d be a rich man.”
“You know what made me finally decide to slow down?” Rosie asked. “When the Salazar Cartel kidnapped my daughter.”
I raised a quizzical eyebrow. “You have a kid?”
“And here I thought we weren’t keeping secrets.”
“I met you the day after New Year’s, Smasher,” Rosie said. “We hardly know each other. My kid isn’t a secret. She’s just one of many topics of conversation we haven’t had yet.”
“Huh,” I said. “I heard talk of a lady cop who went into full mama bear mode last year. Told to stand down, let the SWAT team handle it, but she went in on her own, iced sixteen narco-terrorists, rescued her kid then set the whole operation ablaze while walking away without looking back at the ensuing explosion. That was you?”
“In the flesh,” Rosie replied. “Why? You don’t think a woman is capable of getting her hands dirty?”
“No,” I said. “I just thought I was the only one who enjoyed walking away from an explosion without looking back.”
“Enjoy is a strong word,” Rosie said. “Smasher, I’m done with that life.”
“You sure about that?” I asked. “A shame to let all that talent go to waste.”
“I’ve done my part to keep this city safe,” Rosie said. “Now all I want is a nice, cushy job where I walk around the city, hand out informational packets on the straw law ban to food service business owners, issue the occasional fine for non-compliance and be home in time to spend a nice evening with my mom and daughter.”
“Your mom?” I asked.
“What’s wrong with that?”
“Nothing,” I said. “I guess I just assumed there was a Mr. Quan somewhere in the picture.”
Rosie laughed. “OK, I suppose I did say there should be no secrets between us.”
“The idiot ran off with a stripper,” Rosie said.
“Been there,” I said. “Done that. Bought the T-shirt.”
“It gets worse,” Rosie said. “He drained our joint bank account, told me he was sorry but this woman as the true love of his life and he hoped I would understand. Three weeks later, I get a call that he’s stranded in Tijuana. She took it all and left him to rot. He asked me to buy him a plane ticket and begged me to take him back.”
“What’d you do?”
Rosie snickered. “Hung up the phone. Haven’t heard from him since.”
“Interesting,” I said. “Oddly, I sympathize with you both. I’ve been on both ends of that phone call.”
“Keeping the ex-Mrs. Smashers a secret from me?”
“No,” I said. “I’d just need at least a year to tell you about all of them.”
We grew quiet. It was weird. We were so new to each other and yet I felt we were already comfortable enough to sit in silence.
“Smasher,” Rosie said. “We’ve meandered off track, so let’s get back to my question. You and straws? What gives?”
“I told you why I signed up,” Rosie said. “Honestly, I don’t give a shit about straws. If the city dumps the straw ban tomorrow, I’d find something else to do. But you really seem to despise them.”
“I do,” I said. “All my life.”
“You’ll never understand,” I said as I looked off into the distance, my eyes getting lost in the void. “No one ever understands.”
“I can’t promise I’ll understand,” Rosie said. “But I’ll try.”
“I could go through all the statistics,” I said. “What straws do the environment, our oceans, rivers and waterways. That alone should make even the most straight-laced John Q. Citizen go berzerko bananas over straws, but you know how people are. No one gives a shit about anything unless it affects them directly.”
“Aha!” Rosie said. “So, straws have affected you directly!”
“What?” I asked. “Wait. Listen, Toots. Just because you’ve got a Master’s in Psyche doesn’t mean you’re a bonafide headshrinker, so stay out of your brain, baby, because I promise you, you want like the goblins and ghouls who call that place home. Hell, I don’t like them either and I have to spend 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with them.”
“There was a straw related incident, wasn’t there?” Rosie asked. “Something that hurt you, changed your life, and not for the better. I can tell. It’s written all over your face.”
“I..just…listen. Straws aren’t just dangerous to the environment. They’re dangerous to people as well. Let’s just leave it at that.”
“Dangerous to people?”
“How?” Rosie inquired. “They’re just little, long pieces of bendable plastic. People use them all the time and I’ve never heard of someone getting injured by one. How could…wait. That’s it! Isn’t it? Someone in your life, someone close to you…”
“Come on,” Rosie said. “Once you let it all out, you’ll feel so much…”
I pounded my fist on the table, startling not only my partner but all of the super woke hipsters in our general vicinity. They took five seconds away from their laptops to stare at me, then returned to their works in progress.
I instantly regretted what I had done. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s cool,” Rosie said. “Touchy subject, apparently.”
“We’ll get there,” I said. “But we aren’t there yet.”
“Straws,” I said. “They’re a tool of evil. Some say the greatest trick that the devil ever played was to fool mankind into thinking he doesn’t exist but no. The greatest trick he ever played was to dupe the masses into believing that the average drinking straw poses threat to a human being whatsoever. Oh, but I’ve been on the devil’s tail for quite some time now. I joined the force so many years ago, biding my time. I trained. I honed my skills. All those busts. All those perps I hunted down. All those harrowing car chases and near-death experiences. All of it was to prepare me for this.”
“This?” Rosie asked.
“This very moment,” I said. “The time I’ve waited my entire life for. The day that people wake up, pull their heads out of their asses and realize the danger of straws is finally here.”
“You really joined the force in the hope that one day you’d be able to secure a transfer to a newly created straw law enforcement division?” Rosie asked.
“I did,” I said.
“Hmm,” Rosie said. “You’re right, Smasher. I’m not a fully licensed psychiatrist but for what it’s worth, I think you need one.”
I pulled my shades down over my eyes. “Maybe I do. Or maybe we’re all just a little bit crazy.”
“Do you do that a lot?”
“Pull your shades down when you think you have something clever to say?” Rosie asked.
“Maybe,” I said as I stood up. “Are we going to do this thing or what?”
Rosie looked dumbfounded. “What thing?”
I rolled my eyes. Good thing they were covered. “Wisenheimer’s.”
“What about it?”
“It’s a lead, baby, and if there’s one thing Mack Smasher doesn’t do, it’s abandon a good lead.”
“If Mack Smasher keeps saying stuff like that, Rosie Quan is going to be sick.”
“Enough talk,” I said. “Time for action. Are you in or out?”
Rosie stood up. She looked at me with the eyes of a stern mother, disappointed with her petulant child. “I’m in if you promise me that you’ll keep your gun in your holster, that you won’t rough anyone up, and you won’t do anything else that’s going to get us in trouble.”
“I can’t promise that,” I said. “Stop trying to clip my wings, cupcake. A stranded eagle is a terrible sight.”
“Then I’m out.”
“Fine. I promise.”
Joke’s on her. I had my fingers crossed behind my back.
“Wait a minute,” Rosie said. “What happened to my coffee? I ordered it like a half hour ago.”