The Hostage

Victoria English


It’s the little things like the variation in the pronunciation of the word “police” that identified you among your colleagues and within the community. The police (pronounced poh-lease with stress on the first syllable) identified you as a streetwise, hardened veteran of inner city policing. You were of the breed of police officers that other police officers turned to when the going got tough. I was proud to be the poh-lease. Coming into the profession in the early 1980s, I earned the title the hard way. I rode a one-man car on the 4-to-midnight watch in the bowels of Jacksonville known as Zone 3. Cops on the fourth watch tended to be the ones who liked constant action, so in that regard I fit in pretty well with my squad. We all had our special talents and worked well as a team.


Each night was pretty much the same as another at least as much alike as street patrol can be. The radio crackled nonstop with calls dispatched as fast as they were acknowledged by the beat cars. The only interruption to the incessant chatter across the airways was the ear-piercing, adrenaline-pumping alert tone that sounded when a felony-in-progress or an accident with injuries was about to be dispatched.


What’s it going to be this time?


Will you be saving a life or writing its final chapter?


One hot, sticky, summer evening, just before dusk, the alert tone rattled the relative peace of what had been a slow start to the watch. I had been winding my way down the narrow streets of the lower income housing of what had once been the jewel of Victorian-era homes. Now, the streets and alleys were strewn with garbage, broken liquor bottles, and the rank smell of urine and vomit. It’s the smell of poverty, desperation, and despair. The call was to the recovery of a kidnapping victim. The dispatcher rallied the street supervisor, beat car, and a back-up car. I wasn’t sent because it didn’t happen on my beat, but it wouldn’t be long before my sergeant called me to assist.


I pulled up to the scene, parked my car on the street, and walked down the long dirt driveway, past a line of police cars and a fire/rescue unit, until I came to the back of the two-story house. There sitting on a brick retaining wall was the victim. She was surrounded a circle of men, each keeping about ten-feet distance from her. She was hysterical with fear. She was inconsolable. And none of the men knew what to do.


“She won’t quit crying, and we can’t interview her,” said one of my colleagues.


“See what you can do, English,” Sgt. Rutledge said.


Being a woman, the solution was clear to me, and I was amused that this poor creature had these men at bay with her tears. I turned to the paramedics and asked for a wet towel, which they eagerly obliged. I walked over to her, sat down next to her on the wall, and offered her the towel to wipe her face. That’s when I saw it. She was scarred down one side of her body. My heart broke for her because it was plain to me that not only was she hysterical but she was hideously scarred from some earlier trauma and it scared the hell out of the men. I put my arms around her, held her, and soothed her. She was safe now, and we were there to protect her. Within minutes she was completely calm and ready to be interviewed. My work was done here, and I turned her over to the others to begin their paperwork.


Later that evening when I met with my sergeant, we talked about her. He told me he was impressed with how I handled the situation. “It was easy,” I said. “I just treated her the same way I would want to be treated.” As for the scars, her stepfather doused her with gasoline and set her on fire when she was a teenager.