I’ve worked too many long days and hard nights. After a while, the stink of this city starts to rub off on you. Gets to the point where you’re no better than the back alley prostitutes and dope fiends. It wasn’t always like this, though. I grew up in the North Chambers district. Back then the city was a place people wanted to live. Hell, tourists would actually come here on purpose. The only tourists we get now are sex traffickers and drug dealers. I don’t know what started the degradation of the city and its people, but I know when it started.

I was thirteen years old; I’m pushin’ 50 now. My father was a cop going on 30 years. Damn near made it to retirement, too. But one night—a black, moonless night if memory serves—I stayed up late waiting for the old man to get home. He never did.

I still remember the look on my mom’s face when she got the call. It wasn’t a look of shock or surprise. It was a look of sad understanding. It took a long time before I understood that look.

‘Bout five years ago I was investigating a kidnapping case. Some junkie freak snatched a kid—a little girl—out of her back yard. God only knows what he planned on doing to her. Anyway, it was two days later when I was able to round-up the intel on his whereabouts. I tracked the perp to an abandoned crack house in Old Town. Me and my partner decided not to wait on backup and busted into the house. My partner found the girl in the basement, mostly unharmed. I, on the other hand, found two slugs in my back in a bedroom upstairs. Fortunately, I managed to take out the dirtbag who shot me before I blacked out. I woke up in the hospital a week later with a helluva headache.

My wife at the time—she divorced me a year later and I can’t say that I blame her—was the first person I saw when I woke up. She had the same look on her face that my mother had when she got the call about my father that terrible night way back when. That look of sad understanding. In that moment I finally realized what the look meant. It meant she—just like my poor mother—was always expecting that call. Was always anticipating the day when their husband wouldn’t come home. Unlike my father, I was lucky enough to come home that time. But I was never able to shake what had happened to me.

Back to my father. He was a good man. A strict but honorable man. He did his job, took care of his family, and never complained ‘bout a damn thing. He died three blocks away from home outside of a 24 hour diner. He stopped to get a piece of cherry pie after his shift ended—his only vice in the world—and some punk stabbed him the neck from behind. No motive. No remorse. As far as anyone could guess, the kid was just bored and my father was at the wrong place at the wrong time. That’s the moment the city changed—the moment it became what it is now. A cesspool of violence and debauchery.

Like I said before, I don’t know why it changed. I’m sure any number of reasons contributed to the city’s downfall. They say Rome wasn’t built in a day, but it didn’t fall in one either. If you lived in the city for as long as I have, the change was gradual. Every year the death toll would creep higher, stronger batches of drugs would find their way into the streets, and the cost of living would go up incrementally. Living day-to-day, it was hard to notice just how bad things were getting. Then one morning, bam! You realize you’re living in a nightmare.

I’ve been a detective for a long time. Long enough to know when things are too rotten to ever go back to normal. This city is nothing but a heap of refuse, and I’m done playing garbage man.

When my wife left me she took our daughter and moved across the country; out of spite, she didn’t give me an address. I’ve tried tracking them down a couple of times but always came up empty. I remember the feeling I had when I watched my sweet little girl walk out that door. I tried to stay strong—a half bottle of bourbon was supposed to help with that—but right before the door closed she looked back at me with disappointment washed across her face. Her soft blue eyes shot right through my soul. Then she was gone forever.

She took my heart with her that night. Since then, I stopped feeling. Stopped caring. Now, I’m sitting here reflecting on these old, useless memories. Like dust-covered books in the attic, the only thing they’re good for is making my eyes water. But I think it’s time to end all this nonsense once and for all. This city has taken everything away from me—has beaten me down and defiled any sense of self-worth I once had.

I know biting a bullet is a cowards way out, but there’s nothing left for me in this world. Through the last couple years I’ve been reckless, constantly wasted, and praying some dope head would do me the favor of pumping a round into my chest for me. But it never happened and I’m tired of waiting. So if I gotta do it myself, so be it. At least I know my little girl doesn’t have to worry about ever seeing her mother get that call. At least she made it out of this city before it had a chance to crush her innocence.

That’s a break most of us never get in this world…

Art by SMachajewski

If you enjoyed this, check out some of these other great flash fiction stories.

The Temple Fish

To The Summit Of Glory

A Fishy Situation



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