Crossing the Center Line

The call taker’s voice distracts me from my crossword puzzle. For an hour I’ve been trying to think of an eleven letter word for salvation. I want to cheat with the thesaurus on the back shelf, but I won’t.

“Ma’am you have to repeat that,” the call taker says into her headset. “A grey Toyota?”

A box appears in red on my blank screen. I press my foot pedal to raise the officer working the area. The officer responds with apathy in his voice. Yes, another reckless driver that will be long gone in a minute, I think to myself.

“Did you say there was a baby in the backseat?” asks the call taker.

She is standing up waving her hands to get my attention. I read the information she added to the call over the radio.

“10-4, headquarters,” responds the officer. Yeah, I know it’s almost shift change.

I can hear the caller through the call taker’s headset. I pick up and monitor the call so  I can update the officer more efficiently. I tell him the location of the caller and the vehicle.

“She’s crossing the center line!” screams the caller. “Oh my God! Oh my God!”

I advise the officer. He doesn’t respond. I wish someone were closer. Other officers request information on the call. I hang up the phone so I can hear the radio.

“So you can’t see the vehicle anymore?” I hear the call taker ask.

I update the officer.

“I’m in the area,” he says with annoyance. “Is the complainant following?”

“Negative,” I say.

“10-4. Unfounded.”


“Did he say unfounded?” asks the call taker.

I nod in response, hoping the vehicle will get to its destination before anything bad happens. I try not to think about it. You can’t spend too much time thinking about things like that. Or else you’ll lose your mind.

I go back to my crossword puzzle. The thought of the reckless driver batters my mind. The baby in the back seat. I can’t stop thinking of the baby in the back seat.

There’s always things you can’t get rid of. The mother screaming into the phone that her baby stopped breathing. The small child crying that his daddy is hitting his mommy, again. The deputy shouting shots fired . . . I go back to my crossword puzzle. Eleven letter word for salvation.

The shift ends and the next shift comes on duty. I give my pass-on to the dispatcher taking over. The phone rings.

“Did you say a grey Toyota?” asks another call taker.

I stop.

“It hit a what? Ma’am slow down. We’re sending units already,” she says into the phone. “Somebody start units and EMS to Third and West. A grey Toyota hit a tree,” she says to the rest of us.

“I got EMS,” says another call taker.

“I got fire,” says another.

I stand beside the dispatcher as she sends officers to the location of the accident. I grab a portable radio and hold it close to my ear on a low volume so I can hear what’s going on without disturbing the dispatcher.

“We need extrication!” shouts one of the officers.

“I’ll advise fire!” shouts one of the call takers.

“Advise fire the car is smoking, headquarters!”

“10-4,” answers the dispatcher.

I close my eyes. Please don’t catch fire, I think. Please don’t catch fire with that baby in the backseat.

Put fire on scene,” says one of the officers a minute later.


“Be advised the vehicle is engulfed,” he says.

Oh my God, I think. I envision my own son, just turned two.

I don’t leave , waiting for officers to clear the call. A tow truck takes the vehicle. A white female is transported by EMS. I wonder what happened to the baby.

We need to do a major occurrence. I fill out the paperwork and wait for the officer to call. I want to speak to him.

“Police, operator 814,” I answer the phone.

“Hey Jess,” says Arnie. “You working nights now?”

We went to highschool together. The year before he had a foot pursuit that ended badly. He went to the hospital. I was dispatching when it happened.

“Hey Arnie. No. I got off an hour ago. You got information on this?”

“Yeah the driver was 79 (intoxicated), on pills. Hit a tree,” he sighs. “She went to the hospital with moderate injuries.”

“Was there a baby in the car?” I ask.


“I thought that was an 85 vehicle from earlier,” I said.

“Oh yeah,” he says. “That one Standford marked up unfounded?”


“Might have been,” he says. “Description matches. But there wasn’t a baby in the car. Let me ask. Hold on.” I hear his hand covering the speaker of his cell phone. “Hey, Lieu. Is this going to be that 85? Yeah? Oh yeah?” He removes his hand from the speaker. “Lieu says he thinks so. The driver said she was leaving her ex-husband’s. Must have just dropped the kid off.”

I close my eyes and breath. “Thanks, Arnie.”

“All right, hon.” He hangs up.

I finish the paperwork and send out the group message about the accident. The dispatcher stops me as I walk by her to put the papers in the bin.

“Jess, you left your book on the desk. You want it?” She hands me my crossword puzzle book.

“Thanks, Tasha,” I said taking the book from her. I look at the page I was working on.

Deliverance, I think. An eleven letter word for salvation.