I was twenty-eight years old when I first met Janie. I was a writer living in San Francisco scratching out a living writing ad copy and freelancing for various independent pseudo political publications which were, by and large, not very good. Like most writers, I also had a day job to pay the real bills and mine, despite sounding sort of interesting in conversation with other twenty-somethings, was no more glamorous a job than any other city-living unpublished young writer’s. I worked for the police department at one of the smaller district stations. Although I was officially hired as assistant to the Chief, my real role was lackey to everyone, including the janitor. I cleaned up, fetched coffee, ran errands, emptied trash baskets, ran copies, washed cop cars including wiping vomit out of backseats. Whatever they told me to do I did it. Some days I wondered if I had a limit. What if they asked me to bury dirty money? Hide evidence for fucks sake. Ok, so that would be the line. No hiding evidence. Ok with burying dirty money but absolutely no hiding evidence. I felt better after that. I’d gotten the job through my Dad’s connections as Chief of Police in my hometown, a hundred miles north. I wasn’t proud. I needed the money and I wanted to be in San Francisco.
The job, however, had one redeeming feature beyond a paycheck. I heard things. Lots of things. As a fiction writer I found that a police station has a way of stripping human beings back to their very nature and leaving them most vulnerable, most transparent and therefore most easily understood. Whether the criminals, the victims, the families or the cops themselves, the very nature of crime is so barbaric, so intrusive, so vile that it disallows the presence of our delicately contracted civilized behaviors and actions. The two , civilized society and crime are, in a way, mutually exclusive.
Police radios are constant chatterboxes and once you learn the codes, or like me, download them from the internet and keep them on your smartphone, you pretty much know what’s going on. I actually think it’s ridiculous they don’t change those codes around more regularly. Some of them, like 10-4, everybody knows means message received. Others like 10-15 (Have Prisoner in Custody), or, my personal favorite, 10-54 (Possible Body), are less well known but can so easily be sorted out by anyone with an IQ above room temperature and access to the internet they are not really codes at all. Perhaps they are meant to be short-speak like short-hand for speech, rather than code. In any event, the whole system made it easy for me to follow along, as I am sure thousands or hundreds of thousands of civilians do every day. The other way to hear things at a police station is even easier. Cops talk. Just like everyone else they gossip. So, I listened. I’m a very very good listener and I got even better working at the station.
I’d been working at the station around eleven months and had finally become invisible to most of the officers and other employees. During the first six months I’d been asked out and declined so many times I finally started a rumor that I had lesbian tendencies. It was actually a true rumor but irrelevant. I wasn’t interested in dating anyone of any gender at the time. It backfired and I continued to get invitations, just more crude. I discovered that some men take lesbians as a challenge. The wanted to change me, convert me, make me see how great it could be the other way. Some wanted three-ways. There seemed to be this general assumption that if I wasn’t heterosexual I did not have the right to be treated with the minimal respect they might treat a “normal” woman. After a month or so of enduring the worse penis jokes I’d ever heard, (one joke actually had a donkey and two lesbians in a room together, I’ll say no more,) I invented a female finance who lived in New York City but would be joining me as soon as possible. That helped diminish much of the interest. The stragglers I slapped down with a flat, “Look, bug me again and my wife will come after you. She’s six foot one and she’s a mean bull dike. So fuck off.” I don’t think they were frightened as much as weirded out by that statement. That was that. Rumors spread. I was, not only a lesbian, but also a crazy lesbian engaged to an insane bull dike the size of a linebacker. Game over. I was left to concentrate on whatever I wanted. At just under a year, the thing I really wanted came along.
It was a Thursday and I’d been working since six am. I requested that schedule sometimes to keep my afternoon and evening clear for other things, forgetting that there really were no other things in my life. I guess I lived in a persistent delusion that between the time I put in my schedule request and the time the actual schedule came out two weeks later I’d spontaneously develop a social life. It never happened, but a girl could dream. Anyway, I’d heard radio chatter all morning about a convoy coming over the bridge into the city. Generally codes for convoys included the make and model of the vehicles and gave enough information to determine exactly what the convoy was about. This was a convoy of late model Ford Vans and it was headed down highway 80W. That meant prisoner transfer from one of the high security prisons north of the city, Chowchilla or San Quentin. The escort meant important prisoner transfer and important meant dangerous or high profile or both. Any time something like this occurred I put myself on alert for other information via cop gossip or radio chatter.
The particular car I’d been assigned to clean that day belonged to a cop I despised. He was arrogant and rude and had never ceased looking at me like I had some sort of disease once he’d heard I liked girls. Every time I washed the car he was assigned I swore he left it extra dirty. Not that there was trash or used condoms in the car. I’m pretty sure that would have got him a reprimand or fired or something like that. It just seemed dirtier. Sticky, dusty, like he’d taken a used vacuum cleaner bag and scattered the contents over the backseat and smashed it into the carpets. I was kneeling on the backseat suctioning the floorboards when a I heard two officers come up behind me. I was in the habit of eavesdropping whenever possible so I shutoff the vacuum and picked up rag and began wiping the seats down. Slowly. Listening.
“Major transport this morning out of Chowchilla, you heard it?”
“Yeah, I heard the chatter, four van convoy, crazy coming over the eighty.”
“Is it her?”
“I hear it is. She’s pretty sick. Headed for City Hospital I heard.”
“You’re kidding? All that for her?”
“That’s good. I heard she’s a piece a work.”
“Ahh not anymore, what’s it been? Ten years?”
“More like twenty I think.”
“What’s her name? Janie something Paradise,” he chuckled, “what was she a stripper?”
“Nah I don’t think so and its Lucille. Janie Lucille Paradise and she uses the whole thing you know. Like Jennifer Love Hewitt or Daniel Day Lewis. Weird story though. Anyway, it’s a no brainer thing. She’s sick, maybe dying I heard. Sort of sad.”
“Are you kidding? Sad? No way. Not sad not after what happened.”
“I guess; I’ll catch you later.”
I stopped wiping down the seat and sat up and looked out into the half-empty police parking lot. The low clouds parted and the sun sent ribbons of light onto the street and the asphalt revealed millions of secret diamonds.
My name is Virgie Barron. I’m twenty-eight years old and I’m going to tell you the story of Janie Lucille Paradise; child, mother, wife, concubine, lunatic, murderer.
To most readers this is likely to be a disturbing story not because of it’s strangeness, although it is certainly strange, but because of it’s tragic familiarity.