It isn't necessary to have read the previous Stripped installments (Superheroes; Uptown), but it can't hurt. Here, Kitt continues her self-contained chapters series with a young Officer Logan and his girlfriend and partner Maggie -- and ADA Ben Stone, all tied up in a shooting gone bad. For this installment, she adds, "It looks confusing, but try to have some patience. Imagine all of this happening at the same time, yet coming to the same conclusion. Somehow."


Stripped: Animal Shelter
By Kitteridge
 

"What do you know about Officer Mike Logan," asks Assistant District Attorney Ben Stone, shouldering up the sandstone wall.
He pats the end of a Marlboro against the pack a few times like tapping his foot. The city behind the two of them races by in beeps and herky-jerky scrapes and shoes on pavement and voices, and deep beneath their shoes runs the screeching subway, but right here there is quiet. Late afternoon sun glints on his signet ring.
Sergeant Max Greevey grinds against his cigar, which has gone out. Then, "Doesn't matter what I think, Stone."
Ben scrapes a match on the courthouse wall and offers it to the cop. They inhale, exhale, the smoke rising thoughtfully above their heads. "Mean. He has a mean look to him."
"Maybe he is."
"Don't you know? You sent him to me."
"Hmm," said Max, chewing. 
"That testimony yesterday -- what she said --" Ben stamped down on it; he couldn't get into specifics. "Just made me think twice."
Max shifted the cigar as if making a decision. "Had a dog once. Bit a neighbor kid. Got 'im real good, too, chewed up the little shithead's calf." He leans over his considerable stomach and taps his knee, then his shin, cigar clamped between a curled forefinger. "Eighteen stitches."
Ben forgets his cigarette. Ashes tumble, smoke in reverse. He waits. He's trying to learn to wait, but patience doesn't become him. He wants action. Max is a study of inaction most of the time, but Ben waits for him because he likes the cop. He has learned to wait for others -- his boss, the district attorney, for one -- because he is scared of him, scared his promotion won't come through, scared if he fucks up this upcoming Phillip Swann case he's going to get sent down to narcotics or sex crimes. The last few months have been quite the roadbump in his prosecutorial life. So he waits for his boss, a man of four words if Ben is lucky, because he has to. But Max he respects.
Nothing. "That's nice, Max. Our cat was called Tiger."
"Pipe down, I ain't done," Max squints.
Ben has a meeting in ten minutes. A motion for dismissal with a judge who has a terminal case of pomposity, and who invariably can be found in and out of the men's room all day. That's where Ben corners him for warrants when he's desperate. God knows what's wrong with that man's digestive system. He belched once and the room smelled like death covered in cheese. But the judge won't wait. Ben knows that.
He takes a long drag from the cigarette, then kills it against the wall.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Reluctantly, Mike leaves Maggie at the subway, a little jealous as she trots up the steps into the precinct. He's on a suspension for that not-so-little incident uptown. Paid. That's a good thing. Mike isn't sure how he'd make rent otherwise. But for now he's persona non grata inside there. At least, that's how he feels.
Here's where she turns and waves, thinks Mike, but Maggie does no such thing and disappears behind the dark door like a memory. Officer Margaret Douglas, his partner and occasional bed partner, the woman he just shared a thoroughly sensual subway ride with uptown -- she's allowed in. She was around the corner subduing someone when Mike ran after a second suspect in a deli robbery, caught him leaping into a big ugly El Dorado and speeding off down a street full of kids playing ball. Mike took aim, shot a tire.
End of tire, end of driver, possible end of career.
He wonders if his little meeting with that balding ADA Max told him to chat up had any effect. Doubts it. People like him, Ben Stone, they don't get it. They got a big fancy education up in a place where the Ivy is glued to the walls, they come down here for a couplea years to make their bones, then they're out on the other side, making some real cash. Nope. Mike shuffles his feet on the sidewalk, heading into the subway again. He has to meet his PBA lawyer. He's only got a week. He saw him once, at the arraignment, but ignored all the phone calls since. Those answering machine gizmos are pussy, so if he isn't in, the phone just rings and rings and rings. Sometimes he lets it ring even when he is in.
Maggie gave grand jury testimony yesterday. He wonders what she said, even though he can hear her saying it in his head. That kind of Brooklyn twang, like lemon in her voice, making everything sparkling fresh again. She'll take care of him. That's what partners do.
The smell of the subway is like the smell of burned rubber, the yelping screech of the approaching train and imagining how Maggie told it to the jury puts his head back on the street -- and he sees it again:
He raced, he chased, felt the run stream into his legs, enjoying the pursuit and the feel of his strength propel him forward. Even as his cap flew off he felt a mix of thrill of the hunt even as his gut crumpled, weak with a terror he knew was there, but his brain wouldn't recognize, soused in adrenaline. The sidewalk flew by like sheets of paper as he bore down on the curly-haired suspect half a block away.
There was no sound but his feet on the sidewalk.
The incoming Number 6 screams a greeting, curving impossibly around the bend.
He yelled some kind of a warning at the fleeing perp, who turned and hurled an orange from the deli he just fled. The fruit arced wildly to the left, smashing against a tree. Mike reached for his weapon as if the orange had been an exploding shell, it all happened so fast there was no time but that moment in time, that second, and he'd only been on the street a few months but suddenly he heft of the gun felt right, in his hand it made him taller, stronger, a superhero.
The floor grating slides forward to meet the paused train. Doors open. People disembark. Mike steps on, unthinking, lost in his head.
Then the perp disappeared. Just as Mike darted around the tree, into the open street, not even looking one way or the other for cross traffic, he lost sight for barely a second. Another orange came at his head. It was white. He caught it. A baseball. Down at the far end of the street, six children were playing stickball. He arced the ball back at them. But the suspect was gone.

Wait for it. It'll all work out. Just have a minute's patience and he'll come to you. Give him room.
At long last, Max speaks.
"Hadda put the mutt down, 'course. Can't let an animal like that go running around, chewing off people's legs. We let her run loose, anywhere she wanted. Our property, neighbor's property. She loved this space over by some old tool shed. Would curl up in the sun in the back and sleep for hours. Anyhow, we let her out, it was our fault, but the dog was the one who got it between the eyes. Pop took her out back and used his service rifle, just whistled once between the teeth and she turned with that dumb tongue lolling out. After she died I stuck it back in."
"Is Officer Logan a dog, Max?"
"Now, now, counselor. That's not a very kind thing to say."
He isn't certain why he clicks with the older, experienced cop. They don't have all that much in common but the Irish background, and Max's mother was German altogether. But Ben recalls having dealt with Greevey on one of his first solo cases, remembers the then-officer leading him through the most basic question and answer for trial prep, pointing out that he doesn't fudge the details to make a case, but if the case dies on the details he might be able to see it in a different shade of gray. He gave Ben pointers the lawyer has used ever since. For the first time Ben wonders if Max hasn't done the same for Officer Logan. But why this one rookie? What makes him so damned special?
"So," Max continues, "the dog's gone. Didn't even have a name, hardly was ours she wasn't home so often. Ate scraps. Mom gave her strudel. Loved that stuff, the powdered sugar, all of it. She'd got smacked around pretty bad before she adopted us. Only had one eye. One ear was shorter than the other. But she was good people."
"Until she went and mauled some kid for no reason."
Max tsk'ed. "You oughta know better than that."
Ben felt his temper growing as short as his time. "Better than what, Max."
"Don't assume facts not in evidence."

 
 
 
 
As the stations fly by he feels his life pass before him, going backwards. He's lost in his head, stuck on that side street and backing up. One year ago. Five years ago, ten. Back to Ma and Dad. Back to school, by the time he was speeding by Central Park he's eating mash and crying over a tooth coming in.

Up went the ball, down into the kid's glove. Sweet spot, solid. The kid went back to the game. But where did the perp go? Mike took a hard, ragged breath. An engine started up right where he'd lost sight of things. He strode in the general direction. An arm reached out of a gold El Dorado and backhanded him the finger. Mike raised his piece. "Step out of the vehicle," he shouted over the din of the muffler. "Come out slowly, with your hands up."
The parking lights came on, a red flash, then off. The car jerked into the street like a beached whale. A surge of cold heat flooded Mike's system and he knew, sure as shit, that the perp was paying zero attention to the six ball-playing kids. He was about to take his leave, so long, farewell, Auf Weidersein and all that, see you in the next world. Mike pointed his weapon at the car, realizing he could ricochet if he shot the vehicle, and continued his cautious cross step, closer, closer.
"Stop, Mike," Maggie's voice threaded to him, filtered as if through cheesecloth. "It's over."
She was in another galaxy. Otherwise she'd have seen that the car had unbeached itself and was arcing into a straight position. Three more seconds, he would hit high speed and they'd lose him. And in the way were those kids. Mike refused to let him. He gripped the handle of the gun and lowered it a hair, pointing at the muffler.
Squeeze. And --
He's here. The Bronx. The stop. His lawyer.
Out of the subway the late afternoon sun makes him squint, and he's back in the here and now. Mike stops hard at the corner and two teenagers nearly bowl into him. They mouth obscenities but avoid confrontation because of the uniform. Mike takes a heavy, poisonous breath and turns down a side street, leaning up against a brick wall. His chest tightens. He feels ready to pass out. It's all clear now. He fired. The car stopped. The man broke his neck.
"I killed him," Mike whispers.
But the suspect got away.
Maggie tried to stop him. That was a fact. And he shot anyway. That was another fact. Thus endeth the lesson.
"Max, you know, I really appreciate these Oracle sessions, but I have this thing called a schedule," Ben gives up on figuring out what the portly cop is getting at. "Would you mind if we picked this up later? I can get you a beer at Flaherty's."
Max eyes him, takes a healthy suck on the cigar. Shrugs. "It's your dime. You asked."
Ben flicks his gaze at his watch. He's a minute late right at this second. He gathers up his briefcase, about to offer farewells and condolences. "It's just --"
"The kid was sixteen. The dog found him in the shed. He was -- attacking my sister." Max stares across the courthouse steps, out into Police Plaza. He lets that sit. They both know what he means. Then, "At least, we figure that's what it was. Louisa didn't say nothin' about it for two weeks. By that time the stitches were in and the dog was dead. But it turned out the kid's leg got eaten up about a half hour after Louie came home and she and Ma went to the doctor. So we figured it out. Later. After."
His head feels too light for his body; his eyes float in too much water. Ben's head feels knocked in. Damnit. He doesn't want this, he has a motion to suppress and all he wanted to hear about was if Logan was good people, not Max's damned sainted dog and his poor violated sister. Ben's heart feels as mauled as the rapist's leg and he just wants to sit down and stare into space for an hour or two right now. Instead, he has to shove all of it down and keep it there. Tonight he'll go home and if Janice will listen he'll tell her this horror story that was dumped on him. But Janice won't listen. She won't be there to listen. Tonight's her aerobics class. Melissa has Girl Scouts. He'll be alone. The gaping maw of his life, like a mouth, stands before him wide and he can't see the bottom. It's so dark. He's got this heavy, heavy thing to carry now and no one to help.
He has no voice.
"Well," says Max. "You got your thing. I probably oughta get to my thing. We all have lots of things to go get to." He puts out the cigar but keeps it in his mouth, starts towards Police Plaza in a slow, shuffling gait.
Ben half-turns but his feet are locked to the ground. He feels old. And he knows that he is alone. "I'm sorry, Max."
"Not for a dog, I hope." Max keeps walking.
"No," says Ben, fumbling for the right thing -- any right thing -- to say. "Just sorry in general."
"Don't be. Happened a long time ago." Max stops, shadowed under the tall eaves of the building. "Way I figure it, nobody's leg has to get chewed off when a warning bark'll do. Make sure you got all the facts in evidence first. Just think about it."
And Ben understands.

 
 
 
 
 

The PBA lawyer, Grimaldi or Stickney or Scalia or one of the names on the door is talking and the words blow across Mike's hair. It doesn't really matter, in the end. He shot at the wheel of a car and killed a man and the perp, hiding in the bushes, made a swift and hasty retreat. He's still out there, too. Mike peers in every deli just to see if he's there, shoplifting another box of Ho-Hos. A box of Hostess and two oranges. That was the booty. That was it. Maggie took care of one of 'em, and Mike fucked up on the other.
He needs a miracle. He needs a beer. He needs Maggie's arms around him tonight, promising he hasn't thrown everything in the toilet, whispering that he's not a bad man, that there is some redeeming quality that makes him worth loving.
Tonight's her late shift, though. She's had a bunch of those lately.
His windbag PBA lawyer keeps spewing words with four syllables and he keeps tuning them out. Mike can't understand why deep in his belly he feels like a black hole has formed and is spiraling, sucking everything he thought he understood with it.
The cop blinks out of the lawyer's window as the day dies. Just beyond a cluster of trees he catches sight of a pink moon, growing whiter and more defined as night closes in.
He tilts his head back and feels like howling.

"Ah, Mr. Stone. How nice of you to join us." Judge Wilkins eyes the ADA balefully.
Setting his briefcase down on the Persian carpet, Ben emits a soft but firm growl.
 
 

end




whaddya think?