Last issue, Kitt decided to embark on a different kind of story for apocrypha: A continuing tale, but told in self-contained bites. Last issue, in "Stripped," a young Officer Mike encountered an equally young ADA Ben Stone under uncomfortable circumstances. This time, he has a very different kind of encounter ... courtesy of the New York MTA. Stay tuned for further installments.

 

Stripped: Uptown
By Kitteridge
 

He just makes it. Deftly stepping into the second door of the last car, Mike lands on the scratched linoleum subway floor just as the doors snick close behind him. A little out of breath, the adrenaline is making his head pound, and he wants to take a look around to see who's been following him the last few blocks, but doesn't want to give them the satisfaction. He never saw anyone trail him from the courthouse, where he's just come from a meeting with that suspender-wearing ADA, Stone -- but he feels it. It's like an instinct, but not quite. More like training he remembers from the police academy, where he only left nine months ago. For now, he just knows someone's watching. Probably one of those bastard internal affairs guys, gotta have another question and answer session, gotta ask just one more time how come Officer Michael Logan discharged his weapon on a neighborhood street at a retreating vehicle, a shot which subsequently got the driver of that vehicle a new angle for his neck.
He doesn't want to talk to them. He doesn't want to talk to anybody. The conversation Mike had with Stone a few minutes ago in the courthouse is enough to chew on. It confirmed what Mike already knew: That they, whoever they were, were out to get him. IAD knew he was clean on the shoot, and so did the DA's office, and yet here he was, having to chase down his PBA lawyer so when he gets indicted he'll know what his legal remedies are. A sick queasiness seizes his belly as the adrenaline subsides and the train lurches forward, heading uptown. He considers sitting, but decides just to watch the tunnel race by out the glass panes in the doors. He's got his uniform on, and a cop taking a breather looks somehow wrong, even if the last car on the train is all but empty.
"Stick 'em up," says a voice behind him and his hand is on his holster even before the words fade in his ears. A fist presses up against his kidneys, then slips around his waist like an anaconda.
Mike whips around, the voice registering. "Jesus, Maggie," he gasps, relieved. His girlfriend of the past six months grins up at him, gray-blue eyes glittering.
"Gotcha, sporto."
Mike just shakes his head at her. So much for being tailed. "You're the only person I wanna get held up by," he says, and rests a hand on her shoulder. She slinks her arms around his waist and they hug while the subway car gets up some good express-mode steam. The lights in the car flicker off, then on, then off and they stay that way. Mike watches the tunnel lights zip through the car and he feels like he's falling. Maggie fits a flat hand under his belt, and they hold tight, plummeting.


When they'd given him a woman as his first partner, Mike saw red.
Fresh out of the academy, he had visions of how hitting the streets was going to be, how he and the senior cop they'd give him to show him the ropes would become buddies, and he'd learn all the secrets of the cop life he intended to memorize. Since he'd been a kid, a cop was Mike's sole ambition. Follow in Pop's footsteps, make the old man proud, piss off the old woman good and pure. In retrospect, Mike knew the whole buddy-buddy thing was pretty unripe; the life his pop rhapsodized about after a few Killians down the gullet wasn't how the streets were, not in the modern 1980s. But Mike was ready for it, however it came.
And then it came in the shape of Officer Margaret Douglas, on the force three years, his senior in rank and in age -- she was born in April, he in November -- and that really rankled. From the minute they threw them together, Mike knew somebody had it in for him. It was like showing up late for a lab partner and getting stuck with the geek who wore tape on his glasses. A fucking woman, for Chrissakes. For the first weeks of their tour together, he barely spoke to her above a grunt of hello and the occasional "uh-huh" when she was showing him the way to approach a situation on the street, or how to knock to enter a domestic dispute. Mike avoided eye contact, he picked up every weird thing she did to tell the guys later on -- "hey, she uses Sweet 'N Low in her coffee," or "hey, she had her purse in the back seat yesterday." He was rude, a know-it-all, a real pisser while they walked the sidewalks -- never got her an extra coffee, never offered to shoot the shit at McGinley's down the street after a shift, never even offered to go into a dangerous situation first. A woman. A sexless, dumpy woman with a huge utility belt and rank and seniority. After a week, Mike filled out the paperwork for a transfer and looked for strings he could pull. As soon as he was eligible, he intended to get into the robbery division, and there to the crown jewel: Homicide. Women were to date. Not partner material. And thanks to that attitude being shared amongst the other rank and file of the precinct, Mike saw no reason to back off of it.
Officer Douglas said not a word.
But apparently she'd saved it all up for when it mattered. And then he got all of it.
One night, after a long shift pounding the pavement, Mike was in the middle of changing out of his uniform into street clothes in the locker room of the basement, all alone at that hour of the night -- and she'd just strolled in. At first, he didn't even recognize her, standing there in a pair of jeans and a crisp white shirt, and only after a second of absorbing her tightly-drawn face did he realize who it was. It was the first time he'd seen her out of uniform. And the first time she'd seen him so completely out of his own. Margaret stopped at the end of his row of lockers and folded her arms, waiting. Mike yanked open the bottom half of a locker for modesty and stood behind it.
"Oh, give it a rest, Logan," she said then. "It's not like I haven't seen the glory before."
And it wasn't like he hadn't shown his off before, either, but the circumstances were usually different than this one. This particular circumstance hit him right in the special nerve the priests implanted in him during Catholic school. "Didn't want to blind you or nothin'," he tossed off gruffly. After an awkward pause, where she refused to move and he refused to close the locker door, Mike added, "Whafuck are you doin' in here anyway, Douglas? In case you hadn't noticed, it's the men's locker room."
"There's something I want to tell you," she said.
"You're a man?"
Maggie gave him the finger.
Which sent Mike into a fit of laughter, red-faced and all, until he could hardly catch his breath. The thing was, it wasn't just his modesty that was making this situation uncomfortable. Seeing Maggie in her civvies suddenly put a whole new angle on the person behind the badge. Why hadn't he ever noticed she had copper hair?
"You got your wish," she interrupted after a minute.
That silenced him. Three months, and he got a transfer already? Hot dog! But...jeans. Copper hair. Shit. "They're letting me into robbery?"
Now it was her turn to laugh, but there wasn't any happy in it. "No, Logan. The world will not officially revolve around you until you get to be Commissioner. No, you're not transferred. I am. Looks like they've given up partnering me with anybody. How's that for a gas. Some of the best numbers in the precinct, but I'm gonna be planting this ass in a chair until further notice."
Mike frowned, not sure what she meant. "How come? What'd you do?"
Maggie strolled forward and leaned up on the locker just a few inches from Mike, arms still folded, a sharp look in her eye. "I was born with tits, Logan, that's what I did. Tits and no penis and the sole career goal of walking the beat. Nobody told me one had to exclude the other."
And then, he got it. Mike pinked again. "I -- oh. I didn't know."
"Three years, Logan, three I've been out of academy. I've had eight partners since then. I am the only woman in this precinct. Nobody sticks. I get more excuses -- my wife don't like it; my girlfriend don't like it; I can't trust a chick; she's too small; she's like a dyke..." her voice trailed off. "And then there are the ones who don't say a damn thing." She bored into his face at that. "Those are the worst. 'Cause then you don't really know what they're thinking, even if you're sure you got the gist. And all you can think is how they can't wait to get transferred, because it's a punishment to have to pair up with the one chick on the force."
He didn't know what to say. He could've denied it, but making up that kind of lie while standing in front of her wearing only a locker door was a stripping of the truth he couldn't manage. He thought briefly of his mother. What a pisser she was. Put her in uniform and the arrest rate -- plus the assault rate --would've tripled. She'd crack you in the face with her nightstick just for tossing gum on the pavement. "It ain't fair," he said finally.
Maggie pressed the pads of her thumbs into her eyes, shoving tears back in. The sudden jerking movement flung one drop onto his arm and he watched it bead in the soft hairs there. "Fair," she said in a shuddering, sarcastic tone. "Life ain't fair, Mike. Didn't anybody tell you that yet?" She stood straight. "So anyhow, I came in here to tell you something."
"What."
"Thanks for nothing, big man. Thanks for fucking nothing."
It all happened quickly. Shame for not knowing how to be a man, shame for the waste of a partner's talent -- copper jeans, blue hair -- and she whirled to go. He let go of the door and grabbed her wrist. "Hey," he said, and she stopped hard, shivering. Mike waited an age until she turned to face him again. "I wouldn't want to go out with nobody but you, Margaret." He meant on the street -- and suddenly, he meant it in another way, too.
She looked at him hard, wary, but...wanting to believe.
"Really," he said, stronger, and loosened his grip on her wrist. She didn't move.
"Maggie," she finally said.
He half-smiled. "Yeah. Maggie."
He waited.
"Look -- I'll go fix it with the Captain tomorrow. Tell him I don't want you desked."
Her mouth twitched a little. "Goddamn men," she whispered. "Always owe you something." But she sighed, and nodded. During that long moment, Mike got his first good, close-up look into her face, her features, her eyes, that hair, the little scar just under her nose. But he didn't make a move. A half hour ago he'd had a partner he hated named Margaret. Now he had one who made his heart slam named Maggie. The world was a strange, if unfair, place.
She slowly withdrew, backing up to the end of the row of lockers. "Mike," she began.
"Yeah?" he was surprised how husky his whisper was.
"You're a good cop. I mean it."
He smiled.
"And you've got the salute down pat." She darted a quick look at where he'd left himself exposed, flashed a grin, and raced away.


Now, in the subway, he feels hot behind his ears thinking about that first time he really saw Maggie as a person, not just his partner. And he's never regretted it. He's got the buddy he always wanted, and she's up to the challenge in all other areas he never expected to explore with a partner, too. She's in his corner, totally - she knows the shoot at the fleeing car was clean, because she was there. When Stone called her in to the grand jury, he knew she testified that he shot good, he knows she said he was a hell of a partner. And nobody questioned why. Mike's sure of this. They've kept the relationship hush-hush, since partners dating is a big, unspoken no-no that's never been challenged, simply because there are no other women in the precinct -- so Maggie'll have tons of credibility. She knows it was good. She's always insisted he's a great cop, from that day in the locker on.
Though, apparently, he's not the most aware cop in the world, since she apparently was able to tail him into this last, near-empty car on the train. That bothers him a little. Not that he has anything to worry about with Maggie, but he suddenly begins to wonder -- what is it about her he doesn't know? Is he really so sure she has no doubts about his shoot? He's always assumed. She can't talk about her grand jury testimony, which she gave yesterday. She can't talk about any of it, so they've never brought it up. But for the first time, Mike wonders what else he may have missed as they stand in the dark subway car, falling, arms encircling one another, tight, close. Mike thinks of Maggie in the locker room again, and whispers, "You are one fabulous lady."
Without answering, Maggie draws herself even tighter against him and they brace their legs against the speed of the car. Mike clasps his hands behind her back and they close their eyes, letting the subway ride them, the bumping and jolting random and exciting. The falling sensation turns into a feeling of rolling downhill, on top of Maggie, then she on him, and the heat behind his ears spreads out under his uniform. Maggie writhes gently against him and he reaches one hand around, sliding it over her breast. He understands why people have sex on trains, in planes, on anything moving; he wants to have her here, right now, on the 6 train but settles for nuzzling against her cheek. She makes a soft moaning noise into his neck and they squeeze the air from one another.
Suddenly, the lights flood on again and Mike can breathe, taking Maggie in, out, losing himself in her eyes. The train begins to slow, approaching Union Square. What Maggie has taught him during his nine months on the force can hardly be measured -- and there's plenty he still intends on investigating about her...but there is at least one thing he knows for sure: When you find something this good, you reach out and you grab on tight. He has no intention of letting her go -- his partner, his lover, his friend.
But when the subway slides into Union Square and comes to a gradual, shuddering stop, they set each other free.
 

end





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