Freedom Lane: Daq da’ Police

“I ain’t never done dis,” Da’Quarius said, speaking softly so his mothers wouldn’t hear and wake up. He had his X-Box on and running in case they did come in. He’d just tell them he was playing an online game.

 

“It’s alright, honey,” the woman on the other side of the phone said. “I can help you along.”

 

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said. He met the woman on Twitter, and she insisted they “phone-fuck”. She said she was thirty-five, but she could have been closer to fifty as far as Da’Quarius knew. The only personal information she had given up was that her name was Lisa.

 

“What do I do now?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

“Talk black to me,” Lisa replied.

 

“What?” Da’Quarius asked. “Like ‘fo’ shizzle an’ shit?”

 

“No,” Lisa said. “Blacker.”

 

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “I dunno wha’chu want me to say.”

 

“Just talk black, goddamit!” Lisa exclaimed.

 

“Fry me up some fish and bacon!” Da’Quarius snapped.

 

Da’Quarius thought Lisa would hang up after that, but she moaned on her end. “Yes,” she said. “More.”

 

“Umma steal yo’ damn car!” Da’Quarius said.

 

“Yes!” Lisa moaned. “What else.”

 

“Umma run you over with it, you stupid ho!”

 

Lisa groaned and moaned as a notification from his friend Flounder popped up on his X-Box to start a game. “Hold up,” he said, picking up his headset. He put it on to respond to Flounder. “Sit tight. Umma come blast yo’ face off in a minute, mo’ fucker.”

 

Da’Quarius put the headset down and picked his phone back up to finish with Lisa. But all he heard was her screaming in terror and hanging up.

 

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said, putting his phone down and picking up his X-Box control. “I guess dat last part was way too black fo’ her white ass.”

 

 

***

 

Freedom Lane 

 

Created, written, & directed by Budgerigar Orville Bigelow

Co-created by executive producer BluntSharpness

 

Season 11, Episode 1: Daq da’ Police

 

***

 

“I didn’t threaten to kill any white bitch!” Da’Quarius shouted. New Haven police officer Rocco Priolo was standing in his living room on Freedom Lane.

 

“That’s not the report we got,” Rocco said. “The woman called the police, telling them you threatened to run her over with a car and shoot her face off.”

 

“Oh my,” Rose said. She was sitting next to her wife and life-partner Helen, a worried look on her face as Rocco read the charges some woman in South Carolina had brought forth about her adopted son.

 

“What kind of bimbo is this?” Helen asked. “Why is she talking to a thirteen year old boy on the phone? Can’t we get her arrested for pedastry?”

 

“I don’t want any of dat!” Da’Quarius said. “She’s just some freak from Twitter. Call her up. I bet I can clear dis up in five minutes. She wanted me to talk dat way to her!”

 

“We can’t,” Rocco said. “We got word from her local police department. She died.”

 

“Oh no,” Rose said, a hand on her chest.

 

“I didn’t do it!” Da’Quarius said, his hands flailing. “I’ve been here since I talked to her da’ other night. I ain’t never been to South Carolina!”

 

“Relax,” Rocco said. “She died after accidentally opening an artery masturbating with some kitchen utensils.”

 

“Kid,” Helen said. “You need to show me how to use that Twitter.”

 

“No,” Rose said. “I think he’s going to be banned from Twitter for a while. Possibly forever.”

 

Da’Quarius sat down on the couch, crossing his arms. “Damn dead chick,” he muttered. “Fuckin’ up my Twitter game an’ shit.”

 

“So there’s no punishment?” Helen asked. “This broad’s dead, so she can’t possibly press charges against Da’Quarius for an innocent conversation she took the wrong way.”

 

“No, there won’t be any charges,” Rocco said. “But your son should learn about what the consequences for his actions will be if he breaks the law.”

 

“Shove a nightstick up your ass,” Helen said under her breath.

 

“Excuse me?” Rocco asked.

 

“I think he’s right,” Rose said. “I worked as a career dispatcher for the NHPD, and I think Da’Quarius can stand to learn a lesson from all this.”

 

“Dis some bullshit ‘bout to come,” Da’Quarius muttered. “I can feel it.”

 

“I have an idea,” Rose said. “Here me out, Rocco.”

 

***

 

“So let me get this straight,” Helen said, sitting on her bed while Rose packed. “The kid is going to be spending all weekend with that cop?”

 

“Yes,” Rose replied. 

 

“And you’re going on that hippy retreat?” Helen continued.

 

“It’s not a hippy retreat,” Rose sighed. “But yes.”

 

“And I’m going to have the house all to myself?” Helen asked.

 

“Yes,” Rose said. “I’m sorry I didn’t plan this better. I forgot this weekend was the retreat when I asked Rocco to take Da’Quarius with him for the weekend. I’d skip the retreat, but this year is likely my last one. I’m going to be too old to go hiking in the woods and camping soon.”

 

“Don’t worry about it,” Helen said. “I’m going to hold down the fort for you.”

 

“I have faith in you,” Rose said, smiling.

 

“That’s right,” Helen said. “I’m going to hold down this quiet, relaxing, no kid having fort. God bless America.”

 

***

 

Rose dropped Da’Quarius off the following Saturday morning at Paulie’s Pizza on State Street. “Officer Priolo is going to meet you here,” she said.

 

“Sweet,” Da’Quarius said, nodding. “Check out what I got for da’ weekend.” He reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out a pair of aviator lenses, which snapped onto his regular, yellow-rimmed glasses.

 

Rose laughed, looking at her own reflection in the lenses as Da’Quarius gave her a mean mug. “I thought you’d hate this,” she said.

 

“Nah,” Da’Quarius said. “We gonna bust up some bad guys. Maybe toss ‘em in jail an’ shit.”

 

“I doubt that,” Rose said. “I just hope you learn something.”

 

“Umma learn how to choke a hooker with a nightstick,” Da’Quarius said.

 

Rose sighed. “Promise me you won’t do anything like that.”

 

“You know I’m jokin’, Rose,” Da’Quarius said. “Umma go meet up with Paulie an’ Tony. Have fun on yo’ hippy thing.”

 

“I am not a hippy!” Rose exclaimed as Da’Quarius got out of her car and ran toward the front door of Paulie’s Pizza.

 

***

 

“So my old pal Rocco’s showing you the ropes this weekend,” Tony said, finding Da’Quarius waiting in Paulie’s main area. “Make sure he shows you where all the good gay hook up spots are.”

 

“Da’ fuck do I wanna know dat?” Da’Quarius asked. “An’ why you so interested anyway?”

 

“I’m not,” Tony said. “He’s just told me stories about how he has to bust up the gay orgies every Friday and Saturday night. It sounds friggin’ hilarious.”

 

“You real fucked up, Tony,” Da’Quarius said.

 

“Oh!” Paulie exclaimed, coming from his private bathroom with a newspaper tucked under his arm. “Don’t fill the kid’s head with your nonsense. He’s about to learn about the law enforcement in this city. You could’ve benefited from a ride along with a cop when you were a kid.”

 

“I learned plenty from my family,” Tony said. “Just from the opposite side of things.”

 

“You and me both,” Paulie said. “We were raised hearing about how the police were the bad guys.”

 

“I blamed the police for my father getting arrested,” Tony said. “It took me years to come to terms that it was his own fault. The police didn’t force him to break the law after all.”

 

“I was the same,” Paulie said. “When the feds flipped my father, I blamed them for his death for the longest time.”

 

“See,” Tony said. “We’re the same, you and me.”

 

“Yeah,” Paulie said. “We both could have benefited a ride along with the police officer.”

 

“Are you guys done?” Da’Quarius asked. “I wanna leave before you guys start huggin’ an’ shit.”

 

Paulie and Tony looked at each other, neither saying anything.

 

“Hey, fellas,” Rocco Priolo said, coming into Paulie’s, breaking the awkward silence. “I’m here for the kid. You ready?”

 

“You know it,” Da’Quarius said, adding his aviator lenses to his glasses. “It’s gonna be fun ridin’ in da’ front of da’ cruiser instead of da’ back dis time.”

 

“Come on,” Rocco said. “We got a long shift, keeping the streets safe.”

 

“From who?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

Rocco looked at Da’Quarius, his brow furrowed in a look of extreme seriousness. “From themselves.”

 

***

 

Rose made her way toward the rows of tents with her small duffle bag on her shoulder. She huffed, walking on the soft, leaf-strewn earth. It was going to be a cool night, so she packed an extra blanket. But she knew she’d still feel the coldness in her bones. As much as she tried to deny it, she was getting older, and she wouldn’t be able to come on this retreat much longer.

 

“Rose!” Casper, a large man with a big, white beard said from his folding chair. “I’m so glad you came!”

 

“Hi Casper,” Rose said. “You’re looking well.”

 

“Thanks,” Casper said, offering a smile with a few missing teeth. “I’ve procured a special treat for tonight.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Rose asked. “What would that be?”

 

“Iowaska,” Casper replied. “We have a real shaman too from Honduras. She’ll be supervising us tonight while we brew and take it.”

 

“That sounds a little dangerous,” Rose said.

 

“Don’t be a stick in the mud,” Casper said. “Nobody will force you, but do you really want to miss this opportunity to look deep into yourself and find out the secrets of the universe?”

 

“I don’t know,” Rose said. “It sounds fun, but I try not to do drugs.”

 

“Just think about it,” Casper said. “How many of these opportunities are going to come around, after all?”

 

Rose thought for a moment. “What the heck. This may be my last retreat anyway.”

 

***

 

Da’Quarius rode with Rocco, watching New Haven from the passenger side window. “Hey,” he said. “I bet dat guy right dere got some drugs. Let’s go search him an’ arrest his ass.”

 

“It doesn’t work that way,” Rocco said. “I need a reason to search someone.”

 

“I just gave it to you,” Da’Quarius said. “He looks like he’s carryin’.”

 

“Why?” Rocco asked. “Because he’s black?”

 

“Don’t make dis ‘bout race,” Da’Quarius said. “He just looks like da’ kinda guy who’d have some shit on him.”

 

“Like I said,” Rocco said. “We don’t operate that way in this day and age. Maybe ten or fifteen years ago I could have stopped anyone who looked suspicious, frisked them, and brought them in if I found any drugs. Nowadays, everyone got camera phones and attitudes like drugs aren’t illegal any more. If I frisk and try to take anyone in, I better be sure I’m doing everything by the book.”

 

“Society ruined itself,” Da’Quarius said.

 

“My old partner had a way of spotting a potential criminal,” Rocco continued. “They waved to him.”

 

“Dey just waved?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

“Yeah,” Rocco replied, chuckling. “Every time he drove by someone and they waved, he’d frisk them and almost always find something to bring them in on.”

 

“So let’s go see who’s wavin’!” Da’Quarius said.

 

Rocco sighed. “We can’t. The old ways are tried and true, but we just aren’t allowed to use them anymore.”

 

The radio squealed, and a female voice started speaking. “Is anyone in the vicinity of Legion AVE?” the dispatcher asked.

 

“Shit,” Rocco said. “That’s us.” He picked up his mic and pushed down the receiver. “This is Officer Priolo. I can take the call.”

 

“Head over to Rite Aid,” the dispatcher said. “They need help with one of their customers.”

 

“Roger,” Rocco replied, putting the mic back in its holster. “Probably got a shoplifter or something.”

 

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said. “Let’s go get us a shoplifter.”

 

***

 

Rose had picked out her tent and was settled by early afternoon. She had her chair set up near where the fire would be and was looking forward to a relaxing day before the circle geared up in the evening to commune and speak of the issues of the world. 

 

That and the promise of the shaman and his iowaska in the evening.

 

“Rose!” Sally, a robust middle-aged woman with gray hair and a sun hat, said, walking up to Rose’s tent. “I heard this may be your last year as part of the group.”

 

“Yeah,” Rose replied. “I’ve had a good run and made some great memories. It’s just too much when you get to my age.”

 

“You’re only as old as you feel, dear,” Sally said. “And you look like you don’t feel quite your age.”

 

Rose sighed. This was true. She barely felt seventy-four years old, but the retreat was for the young. There were people there older than her, but she felt herself drifting away more and more each year.

 

“To be honest, I don’t know if I’m still into this as much as I used to be,” Rose said. “There’s so much new stuff going on in the world, and I just can’t relate to a lot of what is said. I almost didn’t come this year, but I figured I’d give it one more go.”

 

“And I’m glad you did,” Sally said. “If your mind’s eye being closed is an issue: just wait until you’ve tried the iowaska. Have you ever indulged?”

 

“No,” Rose answered.

 

Sally laughed, placing a hand on Rose’s shoulder. “You’re in for one crazy night,” she said. “Prepare your mind to be opened as it never has before.”

 

***

 

Rocco pulled his cruiser into the Rite Aid parking lot, and he was able to see the disturbance right away. There was a car parked in the pharmacy drive thru, and the driver was now standing outside of his car, arguing with the store manager.

 

“Here we go,” Rocco said, putting the car into park. “Don’t get too close to this guy. Some of them are biters.”

 

“Word,” Da’Quarius said.

 

Rocco exited his cruiser and approached the man arguing with the manager. “There a problem here?” he asked. Da’Quarius kept his distance behind Rocco.

 

“Yeah, there’s a problem!” the customer shouted. He was nearly bald with round glasses. “These assholes are telling me the drive-thru is for pharmacy customers only!”

 

“I am not sending my pharmacy techs into the store to do your shopping!” the manager retorted.

 

“I just need two things!” the customer exclaimed, yelling his complaint at Rocco now. “Condoms and red Gatorade! Is that so much to ask?!”

 

“Sir,” Rocco said. “The sign clearly states that -”

 

“Two things!” the customer interrupted. “Condoms and red Gatorade!”

 

“What you wanted isn’t the issue!” the manager retorted.

 

“It’s the principle!” the customer exclaimed.

 

“Shit,” Da’Quarius said. “Gimme twenty bucks an’ I’ll go get your shit. I’d be in an’ out faster than dis dumb-ass argument.”

 

“Sir,” Rocco said, addressing the customer. “If you don’t move your car, I’m going to have it towed.”

 

“THIS IS AMERICA!” the customer shouted getting in Rocco’s face. He pushed his finger into his nose, flicking it.

 

“That’s it,” Rocco said. He wrestled the customer to the ground in a flash, pinning his arms behind his back one-handed. He then pulled a zip-tie from his belt and tied the customer’s hands together, reading his rights the whole time.

 

“Damn!” Da’Quarius said. “Dat’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout!”

 

Rocco tossed the perp into the back of the cruiser and slammed the door. “That’s ninety percent of the job right there, kid,” he said, “arresting assholes at drug stores.”

 

“You’re going to get his car our of my drive-thru now, right?” the manager asked, his arms crossed against his chest, a sour look on his face.

 

“And there’s the usual thanks we get,” Rocco sighed.

 

***

The Honduran shaman made her speech, wishing everyone a good trip within themselves. Her second then distributed ceramic bowls of the still-steaming concoction, urging them to drink together once distributed. Rose was handed hers, and she looked into the bowl, smelling the aroma of boiled leaves. She had been asked a dozen times if she was sure she wanted to try, if she could handle the trip. She decided she wasn’t too old, that she could handle it. Everyone drank, and Rose did too, letting the iowaska down her throats and toward her belly. A bucket was placed in front of her as she handed the bowl back to the shaman’s second. Vomiting was inevitable.

 

People spoke of life and others tapped drums slowly. Rose listened, absorbing their words and the beats of the drums. She found herself sitting next to the shaman, although she didn’t remember when she had joined her.

 

“Thank you for this,” Rose said, unsure how to address the old Honduran woman.

 

“There is no need for thanks,” the shaman replied. “I am here to assist those on their spiritual journey. I can tell you have not taken one before.”

 

Rose leaned forward, vomiting into her bucket.

 

“No,” Rose said, looking back up to answer the shaman. She wanted to say more, but her mouth no longer worked. She realized the fire in the center of the camp was gone, replaced with a pillar made out of rainbow, stretching straight up into the sky. Figures were emerging, unicorns and fairies end elves and midgets. They hummed and danced and Rose watched, transfixed by all of it.

 

“Hey,” one of the midgets said, coming up to Rose. He wore a green and brown tunic and a bowler hat on his head. She thought she recognized it at first, but she dismissed the notion. 

 

“Hello, little one,” Rose said. “My name is Rose. What’s yours?”

 

“Shut the fuck up, witch,” the midget said.

 

Rose was taken aback. She realized she did recognize the midget. It was Harold Fuchs, Helen’s enemy.

 

“What did you just say to my woman?!” another midget shouted, shuffling over with use of a cane. This was unmistakably Helen. She walked up to Midget-Harold and kicked him in the crotch. He fell over and disappeared under a blanket of dirt and leaves.

 

“He won’t bother you again,” Midget-Helen said, walking up to Rose as the ground regained its original shape after swallowing Midget-Harold.

 

“Thank you,” Rose said. “You’re always here to help me.”

 

“You’re strong too, Rose,” Midget-Helen said. “I made you strong like me. You just don’t realize it.”

 

“I don’t think of myself that way,” Rose said. “Maybe because I’ve always had you to be strong. You’ve always been my strength.”

 

“You know this is a bunch of hippy shit, right?” Midget-Helen asked.

 

“I know,” Rose replied.

 

“I brought the whole gang too,” Midget-Helen said. She motioned toward the rainbow pillar, and a Midget-Da’Quarius emerged, righting a jet black unicorn with an afro. Paulie held its reigns.

 

“That unicorn’s a bit racist,” Rose said.

 

“Shit,” Midget-Da’Quarius said. “It’s your vision, biddy.”

 

“Madon,” Midget-Paulie said. “Friggin’ stunad. Ah fongool!”

 

“Why’s he talking like that?” Rose asked.

 

“He doesn’t know any other words,” Midget-Helen replied.

 

“Puttana de Eva!” Midget-Paulie spat, smiling despite his obscenity.

 

“Oh,” Rose said. “Well, I’m glad you’re all here.”

 

Rose bent forward, and heaved into her bucket.

 

***

 

Rocco pulled his cruiser in front of Da’Quarius’s house on Freedom Lane and put it into park. “I hope you learned a lot about law and order today,” he said. “You ready for another long day of policing the mean streets of New Haven tomorrow?”

 

Da’Quarius scoffed. “Yeah,” he said. “How ‘bout we swing by some more stores to see if anyone is bitchin’ at da’ employees.”

 

“The job’s not all shootouts and drug busts,” Rocco said. “That stuff’s all good for TV and movies, but real police work is just making sure everyone doesn’t act like a bunch of assholes all the time. A day where you don’t have to draw your gun is a good friggin’ day to me.”

 

“Real police work can suck my dick,” Da’Quarius said.

 

“This is my career,” Rocco said, getting serious. “God forbid I have to take down a punk like you one day. I worked hard for my badge, and I’ve gone through my share of bad days. I’ll be damned if I let a kid like you disrespect it from a single slow day.”

 

“I’m just kiddin’,” Da’Quarius said. “You still gonna meet me at da’ same time tomorrow?”

 

Rocco sighed. “Sure, kid. Whatever you want.”

 

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said, opening the door. “Just try an’ make it more excitin’.”

 

Da’Quarius ran inside while Rocco watched, muttering. “You little shit.”

 

***

 

Rose woke up on top of her sleeping bag. She hadn’t even made it into her tent the night before. She sat up and looked around, seeing the others stirring from sleep, some moaning. The sky was cloudy. It looked like rain. The tents were nowhere to be seen.

 

“What happened?” Casper asked, getting up. His face was read and covered in blisters. He must have fallen asleep near some kind of insect nest. Rose counted herself lucky that she hadn’t done the same.

 

“I don’t know,” Rose replied. “Last thing I remember we decided to take a walk through the woods.”

 

“That’s right,” Casper said. “That shaman woman led us out here.”

 

“She was a false shaman!” Sally said, standing up under her own power. The others were all up, looking around, confused. “She led us out to the woods while her and that second of hers robbed us blind.”

 

“No,” Rose said. “That can’t be.”

 

“Oh yeah?” Sally asked. “Then where are we? The shaman’s job is to keep us safe, guide us on our spiritual quest. Our shaman led us on a literal trip, leaving us in a strange place when she was done with us. Where is she now?”

 

Everyone looked around, somehow expecting the shaman to show herself once again. Rose knew better. She also knew the group, and they would walk aimlessly around the woods if left to their own devices. Someone had to be strong and get them out, and Rose remembered what Midget-Helen had said the night before.

 

You’re strong too, Rose. I made you strong like me. You just don’t realize it.”

 

“Alright,” Rose said, raising her voice. “We just need to find the camp. Even if that shaman robbed us, she couldn’t have stolen all of our cars. At the very least we’ll be able to make it back to civilization in one piece.”

 

Casper bent over and vomited onto the ground. “We don’t know how far away we’ve walked!”

 

“We’ll find our way!” Rose said. She knew she had to be harsh in order to get them to follow her, keeping them in check for their own good. “All we need to do is to find the path we trampled getting here. That’s the best place to start.”

 

***

 

Da’Quarius rode with Rocco on his second and final day of his ride-along. So far the trip had been quiet. Neither one had brought up Da’Quarius’s comments from the day before. 

 

“Let me ask you somethin’,” Da’Quarius said, breaking the silence in the cruiser. “How come the cops are so unfair to blacks.”

 

“Excuse me?” Rocco asked.

 

“Don’t pretend like it don’t happen,” Da’Quarius replied. “Dere was dis black dude who got arrested for stealing forty bucks worth of steaks from da’ store. He got twenty years after it was all said an’ done. Den dere’s dis white chick who threw her newborn baby out a movin’ car, killin’ it. She got probation an’ house arrest. How da’ fuck is dat fair?”

 

“That’s not the police,” Rocco said. “That’s our fucked up justice system. I read about that woman in the news, and I would have liked to be the arresting officer. I would have choked the bitch out.”

 

“What ‘bout da’ black guy who stole da’ steaks?” Da’Quarius asked. “Would you have choked him out too?”

 

“Depends,” Rocco said. “If I’m being honest, most shoplifters try to run, and end up tackled and brought down harshly. If he resisted, then he’d get the nightstick or worse. That can add years to a sentence too. I don’t know the details, so I can’t answer.”

 

“Figures,” Da’Quarius muttered. “All of a sudden you don’t know da’ details.”

 

“Look,” Rocco said. “You’re the one who was egging me on to racially profile more yesterday. You can’t tell me to frisk a guy because he’s black one day and chastise me for working in the fucked-up, racist legal system the next.”

 

“How ‘bout we only arrest hispanics today?” Da’Quarius asked. “That should help dis racial tension.”

 

“That’s not how things work,” Rocco said. “We’ll arrest law-breakers, regardless of race. What happens after that is out of my hands. I’m not one of these assholes blasting blacks in the street, kid. Not all of us are trigger happy racists.”

 

“Damn,” Da’Quarius said. “Things are gettin’ dark up in here.”

 

“Let’s just do another honest day of police work,” Rocco suggested. “We’ll even hit up Paulie’s for lunch. How does that sound?”

 

“Cool,” Da’Quarius said. “I can get on board with dat. Pick up da’ radio and make a few calls, Rocco. King Kong got nuttin’ on us.”

 

***

 

Rose led the way through the woods, followed by the twelve other members of her retreat. She found their path easily enough, finding the trampled brush and the articles of clothes and items that were dropped along the way. She silently thanked Midget-Helen for clueing her in on how strong-willed she actually was, and she silently thanked real-life Helen for making her sit through all those survival shows on TV.

 

“I’m starving,” someone whined, not for the first time. They had no food, and they had vomited the contents of their stomachs the night before during the iowaska circle. Rose didn’t think they were too far into the forest, but they were low on energy. She was feeling tired from not eating since the day before herself.

 

“Here are some berries!” another exclaimed, picking at some red berries from a bush.

 

“Don’t eat those!” Rose shouted, turning and putting her hand up.

 

“But I’m hungry,” the man said, holding the handful of berries. “And nature always provides!”

 

“Were you born yesterday?” Rose asked. “Those are probably poisonous. You’d have to be an idiot to eat those.”

 

The man looked away, embarrassed, letting the berries in his hand fall to the ground.

 

“What about these mushrooms?” a woman asked, crouching next to a tree.

 

“You’re dumber than the berries guy!” Rose snapped.

 

The woman looked as if she was slapped in the face, but Rose didn’t care. She was hungry and tired and cranky, and she knew she had to be harsh in order to get everyone out of the woods safely.

 

“We need to eat, Rose,” Casper said, speaking softly next to her. “I’m not dumb enough to start eating berries and mushrooms, but we’re going to have to have something.”

 

Rose looked around, and she saw her answer. “Can you start a fire?” she asked.

 

Casper dug through the pockets of his sweater. “I still have the matches from last night’s bonfire,” he replied. “I can find some dry wood and probably start one.”

 

“Good,” Rose said. “Bring everyone to the clearing we just passed and start a small fire.”

 

“What are you going to do?” Casper asked.

 

Rose watched the squirrels in the trees, scurrying about. She crouched slowly and picked up a rock. “Nature will provide.”

 

***

 

Rocco and Da’Quarius entered Paulie’s Pizza a little after noon. They were greeted by Tony, who was standing by the front counter. “Hey, Rocco,” he said. “Kid.”

 

“Yo,” Da’Quarius said. “Unca Paulie here?”

 

“Nope,” Paulie said. “I’m in charge for lunch today.”

 

Alice, Paulie’s head waitress, came from the seating area. She gave Rocco a huge smile. “Good afternoon, Officer Priolo,” she said.

 

“You know you can call me Rocco,” Rocco said.

 

“Do I have to?” Alice asked, feigning a pout.

 

“Oh!” Tony exclaimed. “Quit your flirting!”

 

“I’m only greeting our customers,” Alice said, giving Rocco a wink.

 

“She didn’t even say ‘hi’ to me,” Da’Quarius said.

 

“Hello, Da’Quarius,” Alice said, turning toward him. “Do you two need a table?”

 

“We can sit in the main area and bullshit with Tony,” Rocco said. “Is that alright?”

 

“Fine by me,” Alice said. “Holler if you need anything.”

 

“You don’t serve out here!” Tony shouted as Alice left, winking at Rocco again.

 

“I gotta use your can,” Rocco said. “Get the junior officer and I some meatball grinders.”

 

“Coming right up,” Tony said as Rocco went to the restroom. Tony turned to make the pizza when something fell to the floor. Da’Quarius spotted it as Tony scrambled to grab it.

 

“Hey!” Da’Quarius said, snatching the baggie from Tony. “What do we have here?”

 

“None of your business,” Tony said. He tried to grab the baggie back from Da’Quarius, but it was pulled away from his fingers at the last second.

 

Da’Quarius opened the bag and peered inside. “Well, well, well,” he said. “Looks like I’m ‘bout to make my first arrest up in here.”

 

“Come on,” Tony said. “Any other day and you wouldn’t be a dick about this.”

 

“But I’m a junior officer today,” Da’Quarius said. “Once Rocco comes out of da’ toilet, we’ll get you cuffed an’ brought in. I hope you don’t have any priors.”

 

“Here,” Tony said, pulling his wallet out. He took out a fifty dollar bill. “Take this and don’t tell Paulie.”

 

Da’Quarius looked at the fifty for a moment. He snatched it from Tony and tossed him the bag. “Don’t let me catch you breakin’ da’ law again!”

 

“Da’Quarius!” Rocco said, standing behind him with his arms crossed. “Did you just take a bribe?”

 

“No,” Da’Quarius said. “He was just giving me dis fifty bucks fo’ no reason.”

 

“I heard the whole thing,” Rocco said. “Officers of the law do not take bribes. Give Tony back his money.”

 

Da’Quarius handed Tony back the fifty, which quickly disappeared into Tony’s pocket.

 

“Junior officer Masters,” Rocco said. “You are hereby dismissed of your duty.”

 

“Shit,” Da’Quarius. “Rose an’ Helen are gonna ground me for sure.”

 

“Tony,” Rocco said, causing Tony to jump. “Get that bag out of my sight and get us those sandwiches.”

 

Tony nodded and ran off to make the grinders.

 

***

 

Rose and the others finished the lunch of roasted squirrel. They were both awed and disgusted with Rose’s ability to kill six squirrels with rocks, but they all ate, despite a few protesters about vegetarianism. Rose had argued that they needed to eat to keep their strength, and there wasn’t a Whole Foods in walking distance to buy organic broccoli.

 

“Are you ready to go yet?” Rose asked. She had finished her own meager meal of squirrel meat, and she had waited for the others to finish.

 

“Ready,” Sally said, offering Rose a sad smile. She had insisted that squirrels were her spirit animal, and Rose had told her she’d be a spirit if she didn’t shut up and eat.

 

“Good,” Rose said. “It shouldn’t be much longer.”

 

Rose led the others once more, keeping her bearings. She looked around often, looking for evidence of their previous trip into the woods before the shaman ditched them and presumably robbed them of whatever she and her second could have carried off, including Rose’s bag and purse.

 

It took the better part of an hour, but they found the campsite. They had been right. Everything of value had been taken. “This is a disaster,” Rose said.

 

“Rose,” Casper said, approaching her. The others were behind him, all looking nervous. “I want to thank you for getting us back here.”

 

“You’re welcome,” Rose said. She smiled at Casper, but she noticed he didn’t return it. He had a look of sorrow on his face, and she knew what he was about to say next had come from the group and not him.

 

“We think it’s best if you don’t come to the retreat next year,” he said.

 

Rose was taken aback, but not surprised. She looked into the distance, and she saw Midget-Helen, nodding at her with a knowing look. She then turned and disappeared into the trees with Midget-Da’Quarius and Midget-Paulie.

 

“I guess I had to be like Helen to get everyone out safe,” Rose said, “but the downside is Helen isn’t welcome back to a lot of places, even if her intentions aren’t entirely devious.”

 

Casper looked at Rose, nodding. “Who’s Helen?”

 

***

 

Rocco drove his cruiser up Freedom Lane toward Da’Quarius’s house after lunch. “Here we are,” he said.

 

“Look,” Da’Quarius said after a deep breath. “I’m sorry ‘bout da’ bribery thing. I was just fuckin’ with Tony. I wasn’t going to arrest him or keep da’ money.”

 

“You need to be serious when you’re on the clock,” Rocco said. “Do I know Tony breaks the law? Of course I know. We help our friends, not torment them. How many times have you been on the receiving end of a favor from me?”

 

“I know,” Da’Quarius said. “For what it’s worth, I did learn a lot dese last two days. It was actually a good experience.”

 

Rocco smiled. “I won’t tell anyone you said that,” he said. “Why don’t we just say… what the fuck is going on here?”

 

Da’Quarius turned to follow Rocco’s gaze. There was a large, older hispanic woman looking through the windows of his house. There was another behind her keeping lookout, obviously missing Rocco’s cruiser as he pulled it over and killed the engine a few houses down. He was holding a purse.

 

“Dat’s Rose’s purse,” Da’Quarius said. “Da’ fuck he doin’ with dat?”

 

“They more than likely stole it from her,” Rocco said. “They probably found her ID and took her keys. They’re going to try and rob the house.”

 

“So do we arrest ‘em or wait for Helen to kill ‘em?” Da’Quarius asked.

 

“We’re on the clock, kid,” Rocco said. “I can’t ignore this.”

 

“Yo,” Da’Quarius said. “Lemme get a nightstick.”

 

Rocco took his nightstick and handed it to Da’Quarius. “If you get caught, you stole that from me.”

 

“Whatever,” Da’Quarius said. “Let’s go arrest us some trespassers.”

 

Rocco nodded and left the cruiser, followed by Da’Quarius. They ran toward the robbers, Da’Quarius brandishing the nightstick and Rocco holding his tazer. “Freeze!” Rocco shouted.

 

The two robbers stopped for a moment and tried to run. Rocco fired his tazer, hitting the male in the chest. He shook and fell to the ground. The woman with Rose’s purse tried to flea, but Da’Quarius hit her across the top of her chest with the nightstick, knocking her down. Rocco was there a moment later, wrapping her wrists together with a zip tie.

 

The front door opened, and Helen came out, brandishing a crowbar. “WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON OUT HERE?!” she shouted.

 

“We got them, ma’am,” Rocco said.

 

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius added. “Fucked ‘em up too.”

 

“Go on inside, kid,” Rocco said, “I’ll get them from here.”

 

A car pulled up to the front of the house, and Rose got out of the passenger side, looking at what was going on. “Oh,” she said. “I see you met the shaman who robbed everyone blind and left them in the woods.”

 

“Shaman?” Helen asked. “This bitch was trying to get into our house! Lucky this cop came, or I’d have been guilty of murder.”

 

“Not in self defense,” Rocco said.

 

“Good to know,” Helen said. “Hey, Rose. What are you doing hanging out with a shaman anyway?”

 

“Yeah,” Da’Quarius added. “What kind of hippy shit is that?”

 

“Where’s your car?” Helen asked.

 

“Well,” Rose said, picking up her purse, “since I didn’t have my keys, I couldn’t drive it home.  And I’ll have you I know I was as far from hippy as possible this weekend.”

 

“Well if there’s no more conversation,” Rocco said, pushing the two perps toward his cruiser, “I’d like to get these two losers downtown.”

 

“Excellent idea,” Rose said. “We’ll be pressing charges, of course.”

 

“Look at you,” Helen said. “I like this no-nonsense Rose. That retreat actually beat the hippy out of you. You should go next year too.”

 

Rose glared at Helen.

 

“What?” Helen asked.

 

 

 

The End

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