Officer Susanna Maria Figueroa was frightened, and she hated being frightened. It made her angry. Even worse, she was sure her partner Norm Bennis felt horrible, too. Nevertheless, he had made a serious mistake, and his mistake had gotten them both into trouble.
Suze Figueroa sat on one side of the waiting room, her arms folded across her chest. Far away in the other corner-as far away from her as he could get and still be in the same room-sat Norm Bennis, feet spread, elbows on knees, hands dangling, head hanging. He looked absolutely miserable.
Hell, Suze thought, he ought to. She just hoped he felt guilty as hell, making a stupid mistake and then sticking with it. Stubborn bastard!
But they’d been together so long!
Bennis was her mentor and her friend.
The Police Academy teaches you what they think you need to know. Then the job-and your partner-teach you what you really need to know. Suze Figueroa had been assigned to Bennis just after she finished the initial on-the-job phase of working with a supervisor. She’d been afraid of what Norm would think of her at first. He looked so solid and experienced-like a walking ad for professionalism in police work for the twenty-first century. He’d been ten years a Chicago cop when she came on. He was built like a wedge, with narrow hips, a broad chest, and very wide shoulders. His square brown face, when she first saw it at that first roll call, was set in a scowl. But she soon realized that he thought it was lots of fun being mentor to a five-foot-one-inch naive female.
They hit it off immediately, and Bennis never made fun of her for not knowing whether a ten-young or a one-frank was a “disturbance, domestic, peace restored” or a “dog bite, report filed.” He didn’t belittle her, as her trainer sometimes had, for not knowing how to fill out a specific form. He knew the department didn’t run on gas or electricity, it ran on paper, and he knew when she’d filled out a couple hundred of them, she would remember all the forms.
Bennis was sardonic, but not sour.
For her part, Suze teased him about the long series of women who took his fancy for about three weeks apiece, but she sympathized too. She was divorced. Her ex-husband called her the “affirmative-action cop.” By this he meant that she was too short and too female to be any good to anybody.
Bennis thought she was just fine on the job. “You back me up better than any partner I’ve ever had.”
“Hey, Bennis! I’m not just backup. I’m forefront.”
Suze and Norm and half the First District went to the Furlough Bar for a beer after a tour. Recently, Suze and Norm had taken to going to an occasional movie instead. It was not exactly a girl-and-boy thing, Suze told herself. They were both too embarrassed at the thought of being called just another squad car romance.
And now-now they wouldn’t even look at each other.
It was 11 A.M. on February 15, the day after the incident. Two rooms down the hall, a roundtable of inquiry-four men and one woman, including an assistant deputy superintendent, a state’s attorney, and the union rep-were reviewing the documents in the case. They had before them the fire department reports and the preliminary findings of the medical examiner and the detectives. But the reports from other departments only explained what happened after the incident. After the point where Norm’s story and Suze Figueroa’s story diverged.
Their commander, Sazerac, sat with them in the waiting room. He was as unhappy as they were. Finally he spoke.
“There’s no way I can stop this. But it bothers me. I wouldn’t have figured you for a shirker, Figueroa.”
“What do you mean?”
“Don’t you realize how they see this?”
“Yes, boss. They know that Bennis and I have two different stories about last night, and so they think one of us is improperly describing the case. So they think one of us is lying. Which would be a reprimand.”
“NO, Figueroa. It’s not that minor.”
“Minor! I’ve never had a reprimand and I don’t intend to have one now! Uh. Sir.”
Sazerac sighed. “Listen to me. We’re talking separation from the department. Maybe prosecution.”
“They think you left that man to die in the fire, Figueroa. And made up your story later to cover up. To make it seem he was dead.”