The precinct office wasn’t what Ash expected. He expected the world’s enforcers to work in an office building with state-of-the-art criminal-catching equipment. Instead they worked in a warehouse. Cracks in the wall leaked fuzzy insulation. Grumpy men in uncomfortable suits banged at boxy computers.
The cop who drove Ash led him through a maze of desks. He pointed at one for Ash to sit at. “Someone will be here to take a statement shortly.”
“All right, thanks,” Ash said. By the nameplate, the desk belonged to Lt. Crowe. The only items on his desk were a computer monitor and a pile of papers.
Ash waited for ten minutes, staring up at the ceiling, at the floor, at the other cops’ faces who gave him dirty looks. The ones who weren’t talking to distraught citizens looked bored and angry.
A black man holding a coffee mug walked up to the desk. “Who are you?” he said indignantly.
Ash scowled. “I’m Ash.”
“What are you doing at my desk?”
“I’m here to make a statement. The other cop brought me here.”
“What other cop?”
“I don’t know his name. I’m supposed to make a report on a marijuana user I caught this morning.”
“Marijuana user? Who sent you? You’re not supposed to be at my desk.”
“I- I-,” Ash stammered. “All I know is what I’ve been told.”
The man, presumably Lt. Crowe, shouted out to the cubicle farm, “Hey, anyone know about this kid?”
No one answered. This was how they ran this place? They just shouted to each other?
Crowe dropped his mug on his desk, splashing coffee on his papers. “Shit, goddammit.” He mopped up his papers with a Kleenex. “Look, you’re not supposed to be here.”
“Well, where am I supposed to be?” Ash said, “All I want to do is give a statement. That’s not hard.”
“Christ, just sit here. I’ll be back.” He stomped off.
Ash gritted his teeth. This was like the clinic. No wonder organizations like the White Knights existed. Who would want to protect the city when you had to sit in the office dealing with paperwork? It would be like teaching.
Crowe came back a moment later. “All right, you said your name’s Ash?” he said in a calmer tone.
“That’s right. Are you taking my statement now?”
“Apparently.” He pulled out his keyboard and started typing. “Why don’t you tell me what happened.”
“Why don’t I?” Ash told his story, starting from the protest at the library and up to spotting the drug use on the corner.
“So you went looking for trouble?” Crowe asked him.
“What? No. I saw a crime being committed, and I reacted. That’s what the White Knights do.” Or should do, he added in his head.
“Yeah, you mentioned that. Who are these White Knights again?”
“They’re a citizen’s watchdog group. You’ve never heard of us?”
“Nope,” he shook his head. “What do they do?”
“We patrol the streets. We look for crimes being committed. Help keep the streets clean. See the sash?” He held out his banner, as if anyone could miss the fire hydrant red across his chest.
“What sort of crimes?”
“Small stuff. Like alcohol on the beach. Driving off homeless people.”
“Ash, you know what vigilantes are?”
“We’re not vigilantes,” Ash said, “We’re the eyes and ears of the police. We’re where you guys can’t be. We’re peacekeepers.”
“Yeah, you say you’re peacekeepers, yet you got into a fight with this man.”
“Can I finish my story?” Ash said and detailed the steps he went through to try and stop him, finishing with, “Since he wasn’t listening, I decided to add my own style.”
“Meaning you decided to antagonize him.”
“No… well,” Ash admitted. “Yes. The standard operating procedure wasn’t working. He wasn’t respecting my authority. Look, I did nothing wrong. The guy was using illegal drugs.”
“I’m not saying that,” Crowe said. “No one’s accusing you. I’m just saying you could have handled it better. You could have gotten hurt if he had a gun.”
Ash shrugged. “You gotta take the risks when you wear the uniform. You know that, right?”
“I haven’t been on the streets in years. Hours were too long on my family.” He typed some more. “Anything else you want to add?”
“No, that is my complete story.”
“All right, Ash, what’s your last name?”
“Uh…” Ash tried to remember what he had wrote at the clinic, but then decided lying to the police would be inappropriate. “I don’t have one.”
Crowe looked up from the tops of his eyes. “You don’t have one?”
“I’m an amnesiac. To be honest, I don’t even know my real first name.”
“Uh-huh. Look, kid, if you’re dicking me around…”
“I’m not dicking you around. I lost all my memories three days ago. I tried to go to a hospital, but they couldn’t help me. So I found a job with the White Knights.”
“How about a driver’s license?”
“If I had that I could tell you my last name. Look, why does any of this matter? I’m just making a statement. I’m an eyewitness to a crime. Do I need to be a registered voter for that?”
“If you don’t know who you are, where do you live?”
Ash shrugged. “Various places. A friend’s house one night. Last night I stayed with my girlfriend.”
Crowe raised his eyebrows. “You have a girlfriend? You don’t have any idea who you are, but you have a girlfriend?”
“Yes, well, um, sort of a girlfriend. She moves fast.”
“I bet. Do you have some parents or someone I can call?”
“Not that I know of.”
“Mm-hm.” He typed some more. “All right, we’re done here. I’ll show you where you can take a seat.”
“Why? What do you have to do now?”
“Just some processing.” Lt. Crowe led Ash to a back corner of the wasteland, and set him on a vinyl bench. “Just sit here and someone will come get you when we’re done.”
I’ve heard that before, Ash thought, but complied. He should be working with the police, not against them. He had to make some concessions and let them handle things. The system of justice would work itself out.
The corner looked like a cobbled-together waiting room. No magazines, no newspapers, no TV. Just an empty water cooler. It gave him an excellent view of the precinct floor though.
Cops, clerical workers, civilians, and criminals traipsed back and forth like a factory floor. A grandma clutching her purse trembled as she talked to a pudgy policeman. An officer led a man with bottle-cap glasses down the hall by his handcuffs. Two cops argued with each other–angry, sullen, sick of their jobs. No wonder the criminal element was so rampant.
Then he spotted the pothead he’d caught, coming out of a taupe hallway at the far end of the floor. Ash smiled. He was going to be able to watch him led off. Seeing him go to jail would make everything worth it.
But no one was following him. And his hands were uncuffed. Why were the police letting him walk around free? Was security that good here?
“What the hell?” Ash mumbled. The pothead moved across the room and, with a smirk on his face, left through the lobby.
“Hey,” Ash called. “Hey, hey.” He jumped from his seat, and ran after him. Garbage cans and swivel chairs fell over in his wake. Lt. Crowe sprang from his desk and followed behind him.
By the time Ash made it to the lobby, the stoner had already opened the door to the outside.
“Stop him! He’s getting away,” Ash cried.
Crowe seized Ash’s arm from behind. “Get back here. What are you doing?
“What are you doing?” Ash tugged at him. “You’re letting him go.”
Ash stopped resisting. “What? What the hell for?”
“We’ve got nothing to hold him on. No evidence.”
“I brought in the joint he was using.”
“He said it wasn’t his,” Crowe said.
“What?” Ash’s eyes bulged. “Of course it is. Do a DNA test. Look for fingerprints.”
“Those tests are expensive. All we’ve got is one eyewitness, and you could have some kind of vendetta against him.”
“What? Do you think I go around accusing people of nothing?”
“I see it all the time. People call in the cops to screw somebody over.”
“Then punish those people, instead of letting people go because you think everyone’s a criminal.”
“Look, kid. If we bust him, that’s going to be a mountain of paperwork. And he’ll get off with a ticket and a fine he’ll never pay. It’s easier to let him go. If you want, you can file a complaint against him, but it ain’t gonna do no good.”
“You can’t just let him go. What’s the point of a system of justice if it doesn’t punish crimes? Do you think he’s scared of being caught now? He thinks you’re a joke.”
“It’s a waste of time to deal with punks like that. You, on the other hand,” he tightened his grip on Ash’s arm. “You don’t have a driver’s license, a social security number, and you won’t tell me your last name. But you have a job and a girlfriend. That looks pretty bad, don’t you think?”
Ash’s jaw dropped. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Maybe. But unless you give me your identity, we still gotta check it out. It’s just procedure.”
Ash relaxed his arm. He didn’t want to risk incriminating himself further.
Crowe yanked him into the station. “I’m going to take you to a room until we sort this out.”
They went through the same taupe hallway the pothead had come out of, and stopped in front of a brick room, painted robin egg blue. Crowe opened the steel door for him. “You really don’t have anyone I can talk to?”
Ash perked up. “Call Ivan. He’s the leader of the White Knights. He can vouch for me. He knows me.” Ash pulled out his cell phone and recited his number, which Crowe jotted down.
“All right, we’ll give this Ivan guy a call. Meanwhile, go on in and have a seat.”