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The Call They All Fear Most - a Short Story

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DW is a veteran, a father, a husband, and a teacher. He's published 9 YA/NA novels thus far. The story you're reading might be next.


The Copper Shield


Smoking will kill you

Mark walked into the Copper Shield on Main Street in Eastfield, his hometown, and took a seat at the bar. He pulled a new pack of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket and removed the cellophane wrapper from the box.

“You shouldn’t smoke. Those things will kill you.”

Mark looked up to see who’d spoken. Standing behind the bar in front of him was a pretty blond woman with the bluest eyes he’d ever seen. The woman had a petite build, fit, like a runner, and she was smiling at him, showing a perfect set of white teeth that had obviously never been stained by tobacco.

“There are lots of things that can kill you,” Mark replied. “Some kill you quick.” He held up the pack of cigarettes. “Some will kill you slow.”

“That may be,” the blond woman replied. “But they don’t all make your clothes stink, stain your teeth, and turn your fingertips yellow. And most don’t make kissing you taste like licking an ashtray.”

Mark regarded the woman for a long moment and then looked at the pack of cigarettes. The woman waited patiently for Mark to decide what to say next.

“If I throw this pack away and promise never to smoke again, will you kiss me?”

The woman’s smile widened. “Here, give them to me. I’ll throw them away for you.”

Mark set the pack on the bar and slid them toward her. She picked it up, crumpled the pack, and tossed it in the trash. Then she leaned over the bar, placed a hand on each side of Mark’s face, and kissed him firmly on the lips.

Sara, no H


When the woman finally broke contact, it took Mark a moment to catch his breath.

“Wow. What other bad habits can I quit so I can have another kiss like that?”

“Stick around, and maybe we’ll find out,” the woman said. “So, what’s your name?”

“I’m Mark. Mark Fairchild. What’s yours?”

“I’m Sara, no H. Sara Dyrdahl.”

“It’s nice to meet you, Sara no H. Today must be your first day working here.”

“What makes you think so?” Sara asked, tilting her head, and sweeping her hair behind her ear in a way that made Mark’s heart beat a little faster.

Mark took a moment to catch his breath. “My Grandpa Joe owns the place, and I’ve been in here every night since I got home on leave. My Aunt Sheela is usually working the bar this time of day.”

“Sheela asked me if I’d work for her today. One of her kids had a thing at school, some kind of athletic awards.”

Mark nodded his head. “That must be my cousin Sean’s spring sports banquet at the high school. I forgot that was today.”

“Were you supposed to go?” Sara asked.

“Nah,” Mark replied. “It’s just for parents. If they invited aunts and uncles and cousins, they’d have to rent the civic center to hold everyone.”

Sara laughed. “Your probably right. Anyway, would you like a drink?”

“I’ll have an O’Doul’s,” Mark replied.

“I’ll have to see if we have that,” Sara said, scrunching her brow.

Mark pointed at one of the beer coolers behind the bar. “It’s right in there. They just started carrying it when I got back. I think I’m the only one in town who drinks it.”

“That wouldn’t surprise me,” Sara said. “The crowd that comes in here doesn’t take much to the non-alcoholic type beers.”


Bacon Cheeseburger, no onions

Mark slowly sipped his beer while Sara waited on other customers, mostly off duty or retired cops or firefighters. Mark hoped to join the ranks of law enforcement once he was discharged from the Army. Thanks to his family’s ties to the Eastfield Police Department, Mark was already an auxiliary police officer.

Mark had almost finished his O’Doul’s by the time Sara made the rounds of the bar and had filled the drink orders Catia, the waitress who worked the day shift Monday through Friday, brought to the bar.

“Do you want another one of those?” Sara asked as she pointed at his near-empty bottle.

Mark picked up the bottle and examined the small amount of beverage remaining in it. “I think I would. I’d also like to order something to eat. I usually wait for my Uncle Phil, but he must have gotten sidetracked at work.”

Sara retrieved a fresh O’Doul’s from the cooler. “Do you know what you want to eat, or do you need a menu?”

“I would say just get me my usual, but you don’t know what that is, do you?”

Sara cocked her head and stared at Mark until he went on.

“My usual is a bacon-cheeseburger with lettuce and tomato, no onion, and a side of onion rings.”

“Hm, that’s what I would have guessed,” Sara said. “Why no onions on the burger if you’re getting a side of onion rings anyway? Won’t it put off whoever you might want to kiss either way?”

Mark shrugged his shoulders. “There currently isn’t anyone I plan to be kissing later. You’re the first girl who’s kissed me since I got home from Korea, and I don’t dare hope there will be a repeat of that.”

One of the older guys at the other end of the bar raised his beer bottle to signal Sara that he was ready for another. Before she walked away, Sara winked at Mark.

“You never know. History has a way of repeating itself. In the meantime, I’ll put in your order.”

“Could you change the onion rings to fries?” Mark called after her.

Sara looked back over her shoulder. “I already did.”

Mark’s food had just arrived when Old Bill called out, “Keep it down, fellas.” He pointed at the police scanner behind the bar. “Young lady, turn that up.”

Officer needs assistance

Sara turned up the volume on the scanner. Mark’s blood ran cold as he listened to the radio calls.

“Shots fired! Officer down! Officer needs assistance!”

The following calls indicated help was on its way to the scene. Mark feared it would not arrive quickly enough.

“That’s a bad part of town for a cop to be alone in,” Old Bill commented.

“I didn’t hear where it was,” Mark said after moving down the bar closer to the old man.

“Down on the flats,” Old Bill told Mark. “Down there in the projects. You know. Section 8 housing.”

Mark knew what the projects were like, all right. He’d done a ride through in that area with his Uncle Billy, Grandpa Joe’s oldest boy, and Phil’s big brother, when he’d been in high school. And everyone who’d grown up in Eastfield knew what it was like down on the flats. It wasn’t the only dodgy part of town; it was just the worst.

“Who’s hit?” Mark asked, a heavy weight settling in his gut.

“Couldn’t tell,” Old Bill said. “That’s why I asked the young lady to turn up the speaker.”

More calls kept coming over the scanner. Another patrol unit tried to approach the downed officer’s car but had been driven back by gunfire. So had an ambulance that tried to move up to the vehicle of the downed officer. SWAT had been called in.

“Shit,” Mark muttered under his breath.

Old Bill gave him a stern look. “Not in front of the lady, boy. Aren’t you Joseph’s grandson? I thought you were off in the Army.”

“I was. I still am. I’m home on leave.”

“Aye. Good to have you home.”

Captain Donovan

Nothing more was said as everyone’s attention was drawn to the words coming out of the scanner. Sara slid Mark’s supper down the bar to where he’d moved, but it went untouched. She replaced his O’Doul’s with a fresh one, accepting his nodded thanks with a smile. Sara gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze.

Joseph Donovan stormed into the bar and zeroed in on Mark. Though in his early seventies, Joe Donovan still commanded attention the way he did as a Captain on the police force. Six feet tall and broad of shoulder, his red hair gone gray, Joe still worked out and ran daily. He pointed at the scanner.

“Sara, turn that thing off.”

He pointed at Mark. "Have you been drinking?"

"Just O'Doul's," Mark replied

“Come with me!" Joe commanded.

“Yes, sir,” Mark replied as he followed his grandfather out the door. He stopped for only a moment to look back at Sara. When he saw the worried look on her face, he flashed her a smile and then hurried after Joe.

Joe was waiting impatiently on the driver’s side of a black Ford Explorer.

“Well, come on, boy. Get in.”

Mark got in the passenger seat and had just gotten his seat belt buckled when his grandfather asked, “Are you carrying? Do you have your badge with you?”

“Always, grandpa. You told me not to go around without them while I’m home.”

“Good,” Joe said. “That’s good.”

“Where are we going, Grandpa?”

Joe’s knuckles turned white, so hard was he gripping the wheel. With a voice full of anger and fear, he hissed, “That officer down, it’s Phillip.”


© 2021 DW Davis