To give you an idea of how powerful and compelling these short stories written by a former police officer, I set aside an hour one evening to review at least one story. I ended up reading well into midnight until my eyes could stay open. Case closed.
This book is a debut collection but there is nothing amateurish or merely promising in these stories about five women police officers. Drummond writes from her heart, her experiences and her knowledge of police procedures, and the result is an uncensored and sometimes disturbingly realistic portrayal of crime scenes, criminals, victims, and the aftereffects on the officers who often see the bizarre and brutal side of humanity.
Behind their uniform, their stance, their weapons and their procedures, it is easy to forget that these are human beings who have their own fears, emotions, troubles and other problems. But, as these stories illustrate, it isn’t an easy job. Some make it to the police force out of the academy; others drop out or quit after the pressure and the low pay beats them out.
To give readers an idea of how the paraphernalia of the job weighs on the women’s body, the foreword of Drummond’s book contains this poignant passage:
"Every night when I go home after shift, I run my hands lightly over my body as I undress. The tips of my fingers catch the new scratches on my hands, arms, tiny red veins, an unreadable map. The burn from the teeth of the cuffs, I remember it catching my skin only now; the new welt on my side unexplainable; the constant, steady bruise on the hip bone where my gun caresses the skin a deeper purple day after day. I unbraid my hair, shake it loose, and stand under the shower. I place both hands on the wall and lean into the water, stretching out the muscles. Okay, I tell myself. Every night I tell myself, okay."
In "Absolutes", a cop named Katherine learns to live with the ghost of 21-year-old perp Jeffrey Lewis Moore, a man she had to kill because he was armed and the gun was pointing at her.
Almost in shock, she relays the facts."I killed a man. I shot him at 1:33 a.m. He died at 1:57 A.M. That’s when I couldn’t get a pulse, a heartbeat…I didn’t have to look at the fist-sized hole in his chest where my own hands had just been, massaging his heart, swearing at the goddamn sonofabitch to come back to life goddamnit. I knew he was dead."
It’s a job, she tries to explain numbly. "My job is to enforce the law and protect citizens. Our department handbook stipulates: A police officer may use deadly force when her own life or the lives of others are in mortal danger. So it must be true."
And the trauma of dealing with the relentless media and the reactions of her neighbors who leave casseroles outside her door as if she is in mourning.
She spends her evening soul searching, grasping at straws and explanations even words from the dictionary. She finds that Incident is an event that disrupts normal procedures or causes a crisis. Kill: to cause death, etc.
"I stare at those words, let them swim into a blur of gray. I run my fingers over the fine, icy lines but they are stories without life, these definitions -- no pores, no bones, and no unguarded pain. No answers. Not really absolute."
The same police officer, Katherine, tries to reach out to rookies in "Taste, Touch, Sight, Sound, Smell," and caution them on the biggest misconception -- "to think that they know it all" -- because, she says, "you never will. Trust me. I’ve been working this job six years, and I still learn something new every day – a technique, an insight into human behavior, the way the law works, even the limitations of my own body."
And fear, without fear you make mistakes, and then "you can die quickly on the job. There’s a fine line between courage and stupidity."
Being a cop takes more than learning the practical skills and techniques and, even though the academy prepares them for the sight and smell of death by distributing autopsy and crime scene photos, deliberately selecting the worst of the worst. They try to prepare them by saying that "it is nothing else you’ve ever smelled…it will cling to your uniform, stay in your hair" and then there are the suggestions that they make them write them, "countermeasures: cigar smoke, a washcloth doused in cologne, coffee grounds, an oxygen mask."
And she admits that "a dead body does smell and it is unlike any other." People still persist in knowing, so she tells them to imagine "the smell of rancid hamburger. Now multiply that one pound of meat into 150 or 220 pounds of rancid meat. Then increase the smell by fifty for every twenty–four hour period that passes -- unless it is the dead of summer, then triple and quadruple that sum. This is rancid meat with maggots and rotting seeping body fluids. It is a dead body. And it is unlike anything else."
These stories show us how cops handle violence and crime scenes on a daily basis, and they also show how they themselves can become so accustomed to the violence that they are capable of inflicting it on themselves and the families, in some instances. The pressure is so immense that they can crack under it if they are not careful. They can’t get too involved; they must lose their composure or even relate to anyone at a crime scene because they might be guilty. The constant looking over your shoulder in bad neighborhood, the high fatality rate among cops and a thousand other dangers make this one of the most difficult jobs out there.
And Drummond, now an assistant professor at St. Edward’s University in Austin, Texas, captures it all beautifully, lucidly, and most important of all, humanely and compassionately.