At times it’s like a cinema screen that’s pulled down in front of me. Eight millimeter film. Slow moving. Conspicuous. At other times, a still voice. Inaudible but just as true as the East River. Just as real as Avenue of the Americas. I’ve even seen my full name written across the canvas: John Taylor Sellers. Almost as if the utmost care is being made on my behalf. Accuracy. Only my parents call me John Taylor. My friends know me by J.T. My professional name- Officer Sellers.
I knew he would be at Stenson’s Coffee on Columbus Avenue in the upper west side. I saw him on the screen. I wasn’t dreaming but I wasn’t completely conscious either. When I’m in a trance it seems like weeks- months even. In reality, it’s usually only a minute or two. Everything at the coffee shop was just as I had seen it on the screen: pea coat with chrome buttons, vintage tennis shoes. Ominous eyes. Asian. Probably Korean.
I was given a promotion in the NYPD last year after solving a string of homicides, formerly unsolvable. The year prior, I was in and out of rehab. Alcohol poisoning had put me in the ER. It was a wake up call. I started attending AA meetings. I was put on leave for six months to get my life back. Humiliating. It wasn’t until my last AA meeting that I started to experience illuminations on a grand scale. Visions. What some would call prophetic powers. I can be standing on a sidewalk or sitting on the edge of my bed. It doesn’t seem to matter. Often, the moving pictures happen at inopportune times.
The young Asian slid the barista a ten-dollar bill and told her to keep the change. The register drawer opened and he stared. Too long. I was in in plain clothes and observing from a nearby table. “If you ever need some extra cash, let me know.” He slid a card on the counter to the young barista. She looked confused. She didn’t look to be a day over sixteen. “If you ever need some extra cash…,” were the very words I had seen and heard on the screen. But I always come to this point in time. A dilemma. The movie stops at this scene and I’m now on my own to figure out the rest. I have to rely on my senses. Things that I don’t factually know- but in the moment- I just know. But there’s a catch: I lose momentum and everything becomes like a vague dream after a late night of pizza and ice cream if I don’t take a risk. I must always take action with what I’ve been shown.
I push my chair out from the table, leaving my laptop unattended and follow him out the door. I accidentally- or more like- an on-purpose accident- trip over a threshold and bump the coffee out of his hand. “I’m so, so, sorry,” I say, concern tearing up in my eyes. Submissive body language. “Can I buy you another coffee?”
“My coat,” he says, his bottom lip curling in contempt.
“No. Please, just leave me alone,” he says.
I wipe the spilled coffee off of his designer coat. Frantic. I’m doting and making a scene.
He pushes me away and storms off. Stop and Frisk is now illegal in New York but sometimes accidents happen and people lose their wallets. He just lost his. And now it’s mine.
Back at the office, I run his name. My sense was accurate. I haven’t told any of my colleagues about my gift. Some of them think I’m really good at my job. Others just think I’m lucky.
I pour coffee out of the two-pot carafe at the precinct . I drink it black. I think about the long hours of the job. The stress. The attention of the press and the fact that it seems that no matter how good I get at solving these cases there seems to always be pressure for more. The district attorney. The mayor. They all want more arrests. They need more. “Need,” they tell me. Headlines are power and elections are coming up. I long to meet people that are doing good just because it’s good. But the truth is: none of us are good.
The phone rings. There’s frantic, labored breathing on the other end.
“Hello? Help me. Is this the police?”
“Yes.” My tone is cautious. Deadpan.
“ I found her. I mean- them. Found her in the-.”
Her sobs make her words scarcely recognizable.
“I need you to slow down and tell me where you are and tell me your name.”
My core is tensing. Terror on the line. A fleeting thought passes through my mind: why is this call not from a dispatcher?And even more importantly- How did she get this number?
“There’s probably fifteen girls. Some as old as sixteen. One looks twelve. Please. Get someone over here. They’re not safe. I’m at The Bellmouth on Central Park. Room 231. He’s coming back soon. Please. I’m scared,” she says, now whispering, her voice wet with tears.”
“Police are on the way. Stay with me.
And then it came to me. A fleeting random thought popped into my mind:
How do you know-”
“Don’t worry about that right now. I need you to listen to me very carefully. Breath. Can you get the girls out of the room?”
“They’re handcuffed to rings in the wall.”
Her breathing intensifies.
“The congressman is coming. I can see him at the far end of the hall.”
I stopped. My mind is telling me: it’s not what you think. This can all be explained. My experience and my senses, however, tell me something different.
“Police are almost there, Mellissa. Get out. Leave the girls there.”
“I’m pushing the elevator button but it’s not working. I can’t find the stairs.” Her whisper starts again: “There’s an Asian man in a black coat, chrome buttons coming toward me on the other end of the hall. He has a gun.”
I was now en route. I knew she didn’t have much time. A U.S. congressman can hide things including interns that stumble upon a hotel room in a five star hotel, full of underage girls, as she would later testify in a federal courtroom.
“Pull the fire alarm, Mellissa.”
I was screaming into the phone. I was trying not to panic but calm was evasive in the moment.
I could hear the fire alarms in the background.
“Put the gun down!” Police were there. New York blue had the place surrounded and ample manpower in the building. The congressman and his supplier- the Asian man from the coffee shop were cuffed and placed in the back of a police cruiser.
“Detective Sellers,” I said, extending my hand to Mellissa outside of the posh hotel.
“How did you get my number? It’s not a number available to the public.
“It was scrawled on a note pad in my boss’s office with an angry note: call immediately. I’d entered the number in my phone but never called it. I got distracted and forgot. I meant to call 911 but I was in such a panic I just pressed dial. It was a lucky accident, I guess.”
“An accident, huh?”
“Yea, I know, right? What are the chances?”
“Someone’s looking out for you,” I told her reassuringly.
“No doubt,” she said, her makeup mostly gone.
“See ya, round, John Taylor.”