“Are you coming tonight?”
“Tonight? What’s happening tonight?”
“How can you ask that? The Ffiti-fest!”
“Well, how can you ask that? Of course, I’m coming. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
“I heard Officer O’Connor is going to be on the prowl.”
“No matter. He never catches me.”
“You always say that but he comes close sometimes.”
“Whatever. Don’t forget my blue.”
I hang up the phone after the conversation ends with Parker. I get off my bed and begin to prepare for the Ffiti-fest. It is a week-long graffiti festival that takes place in town every year. Every year, my graffiti crew, Walls, along with some other less-talented crews (in my opinion, of course) graffiti the walls of Bloomdale.
What my friend, Aaron Parker, said is true, though. Graffiti on public property is illegal, but there’s no joy in it if it’s not on public property. Every year, Paul O’Connor tries his possible best to catch me in the act and arrest me. Unfortunately for him and the rest of the police force of Bloomdale, his best is not good enough.
Parker and the other Walls members have tried to convince me that the only reason he tries so hard every year is because he has a crush on me, but I think that’s a twisted way to tell someone you like them.
I pull up the hood on my hoodie and head out. It’s 12.30a.m. now. The festival always starts by 1am. Don’t ask why: that’s just the way it is. I get in my car and stop by the most popular diner, one of the only three in our small town.
I see O’Connor leaning on his Taurus cruiser. He returns my gaze and says, “Robyn. I hope you don’t have plans of joining that stupid festival this year.”
“What festival?” I ask, playing dumb.
“Good,” he says, although he knows that I know what he’s talking about. “Then why are you out so late?”
“I’m always out this late,” I say, while giving him a sweet smile.
Before he can prolong the unnecessary conversation, I push the door of the diner open and the bell dings, enlightening everyone about my arrival. Before the door closes, though, he says, “Don’t think we haven’t noticed the scrubbing.”
I chuckle in my head. Every year, just before the festival, all the crews start scrubbing old graffiti off the walls. The Bloomdale PD always know why we’re doing it, but can’t arrest us because when they ask why we’re scrubbing the walls, we just say something like “Community service. Cleaning public property. Shouldn’t you be glad?”
I get a milkshake and some fries to go and head out to where the rest of my crew is. O’Connor enters his car to follow me, but he’s in for a shock.
“Officer 11221 to North Precinct, 11221 to North Precinct: Code 5 on Robyn Thomson.”
“Paul? Is that you?” my partner, Samson asks before dispatch can answer. “O’Connor, you know you’re never going to get that girl. You better stop trying.”
“Are you saying I have no game?”
“No. I’m saying she’s too damn smart with her art. Now, if we’re talking about your game, man, just ask her out. I bet you $50 she doesn’t know you’re into her.”
“What? $50? You still owe me $100 from that last bet!”
“Whatever, Paul. Count it as $50 less when I win this one.”
I drop my radio after the conversation with my partner, Julius Samson. I think about what he said, though. Is it true that Robyn doesn’t know that the chase every year is just a ploy to get close to her?
I shake off the thought and head towards Shaw, a district that’s far from the diner, on the eastern side of town. I’ve seen Robyn and the rest of her group around that area, scrubbing walls, planning for the festival, I’m sure. At first, I thought it might be a decoy to throw me off, but I’d never seen Robyn scrubbing walls before, so I knew she must be planning something big this year.
Before I get to Shaw, I see a group of kids holding and shaking spray paint cans. I check the time: it’s 12:58. I am conflicted between waiting until these kids start and arresting them or going after Walls. I weigh the pros and cons and decide they’ll likely never start as long as they know I’m here.
I drive off and enter Shaw. I park in the cover of darkness close to the area where I saw them scrubbing walls and then I wait. I recognize a kid that hangs out with Robyn quite often and think to myself, Big haul today.
It’s about 4am in the morning and none of the Walls group has shown up. The one kid keeps looking around and texting on his cell phone, so I stay put. My radio crackles to life and I hear what sounds like wheezing on the other end.
“Sorry. Sorry,” Samson says, in between fits of laughter. “You need to get back here.”
“Why? What happened?”
“Just get back here and see for yourself.”
“No, not until you tell me what happened.”
“Fine. 12-59 to Officer 11221. 12-59 specifically to 11221,” he tells me, trying not to burst into laughter and failing.
I start heading back. The 12-59 is a code the BPD created because of graffiti in our town. It signifies the fact that the festival will start a mere 60 seconds after. But to me, specifically? Why can’t another officer get it, especially if it’s close to the North Precinct?
“Okay, Samson. I’m in the area. Where am I going to?”
“Get here first.”
“Is it the Stickler again?”
“No. And she’ll have your head if she hears you calling her that.”
I laugh quietly. The Stickler is actually our Chief of Police, Amanda Wright, and we call her that because she is a stickler for rules and efficiency. She appreciates it when we try to stop the Ffiti-fest but also believes we shouldn’t waste state resources on –
My eyes widen as I take in the precinct. Or specifically, as I take in the side wall of the precinct, which happens to be on a corner, so the wall is also exposed to the public. I come to a screeching stop and get out of the cruiser. As I slam the door, I hear Samson speaking to the other cops on duty, “He’s here…”
There is a horrible portrait, with little but evident resemblance to me, graffitied on the wall of the police precinct. And it was done by Robyn. I know this because as I walk closer to the wall, I see her signature of “R™” in robin blue paint. Robyn Marie Thomson. Atop the caricature is written, “Stop trying. You can never catch me.” Shaw was a decoy after all, but I was right: she was planning something big.
The other cops come out and jeer good-naturedly. “Don’t worry, man,” Samson said, “I already told someone to come hose it down. Just wanted to see your face before it went. Priceless!”
“How did this even happen while all of you were here?” I ask.
“Well, it’s not like there are windows on this wall, man.”
“Okay, and security cameras?”
“Yeah, watchman didn’t notice until the hooded figure in a mask was using a spray can of robin blue.” They all burst into laughter at that.
“It’s not funny,” I say, even though it’s pretty funny. Even Amanda the Stickler is grinning, though she doesn’t join us outside. “Don’t scrub it off,” I say, stunning all of them into silence.
“What?” someone asks.
“Leave it there. The perpetrator will be irked and take it down herself.”
“How do you know it’s a her?” someone asks lightly and the rest of them “Ooooohh!”
“I just know,” I say and smile.
I can’t wait to see Paul O’Connor’s face tomorrow. I can’t imagine the shock he got when he saw yesterday’s graffiti. I know it will be gone by morning, and it is a pity not many people will get to see it, but maybe it will convince him and the other cops to stop interfering, fruitlessly if I may add, with the festival every year.
To my shock, however, when I drive past the precinct the next morning on my way to work, I see that the portrait is still there. I reverse, brakes squealing, and pull in to the station. I walk over to the side wall and one of the officers call out to me, “What are you looking for, Thomson?”
“Nothing,” I mumble. “Just appreciating the festival.”
Under the portrait and my “signature”, in black paint, are the words, “Signed by the man himself: Paul O’Connor.” The cheek of him!
As I walk back to my car, I hear the police officers laughing. I had assumed he would be embarrassed and have it cleaned off immediately. Instead, he gave his stamp of approval!
I stop by the diner to get a cup of coffee and when I enter inside, I see the devil himself. He notices me and gives me a big smirk. I glare at him while I wait for my coffee. A few people snicker when they realize what is happening, but a glance from me shuts them up.
I leave thinking that I won’t give him the satisfaction he wants of me taking it down myself. I bet he’ll crack within a week.
Meanwhile, as she left the diner, Paul O’Connor was thinking to himself, I’ll bet she’ll crack at the end of the week. She won’t be able to stand graffitiing other places while that one is still standing.
For the rest of that week, whenever the two crossed paths, Robyn would give him a glare and Paul would smirk in return. By the end of the week, the graffiti was still standing.
Robyn sat on a stool at the bar at the diner, eating her lunch. Paul sidled onto a stool next to her and said, “Hi.” She gave him a scowl and asked, “What do you possibly want?”
“I’m not going to “fess up”.”
“I’m not here about the graffiti.”
“No. I just want to talk.”
“What could we possibly have to talk about?”
“Will you go on a date with me?”
Her jaw hits the diner bar.
“Robyn…Robyn,” she hears a voice, breaking her out of her state of stupefaction. “If you don’t close your mouth, Robyn, some flies are gonna lay eggs in there.”
She blinks in confusion as she comes back to where she is. She suddenly remembers what shocked her in the first place. Date? Him? Me?
“It’s not a horrendous idea, is it, going on a date with me?” he asks.
She is still slack-jawed and struggling to regain composure.
“Come on, say something. Even a “no” would be better than this vow of silence you’ve taken.”
“Why?” she finally asks.
“Why me? Why now?”
“What do you mean “why you”? It’s always been you. And “why now”? What did you think the chase every Ffiti-fest is about?”
“I thought you were just an overambitious cop trying to do his job.”
“Hell, she thinks I’m the Stickler,” he mumbles under his breath.
Then, all of a sudden, she says, “They were right.” and he says, “He was right.” They both look at each other warily, waiting for explanations.
“Well, my cr – friends seem to think that you had a thing for me. I told them they couldn’t be farther from the truth.”
“Really? My partner bet me $50 you didn’t know I had a thing for you.”
“You took a bet on me?” she asks incredulously.
“Not like tha –”
“I can’t believe you took a bet on me and lost. It’s not the bet, but the fact that you lost,” she says, giving him the playful grin he adored.
“Well, I didn’t think you’d be clueless. Now, I owe the jerk of a man $50.”
“Don’t worry, I owe my cre – friends $50 too. I was so sure they were wrong.”
“It’s okay, Robyn. You can say crew. I’m off duty right now.”
“Hmm. Doesn’t an off-duty cop still have an oath to his country? No, thank you.”
“If you scrub it.”
“I’ll go on a date with you if you swallow your pride and scrub the precinct wall.”
“That would be you swallowing your pride, since you’re asking me to do it.”
My phone rings as I’m preparing dinner to go. I pick it and suspend it between my cheek and shoulder as I stir a pan with veggies.
I know who it is, just by the breathing on the other end of the line. After that day, the previous year, I went on a date with him. And then we became inseparable. We’d just about done everything together except move in together. And we’re thinking about it now. We didn’t even take the graffiti off the police wall until just a few days ago.
Why? Because I’d finally convinced him that graffiti is part of our town and should be legalized. “As long as it’s nothing obscene, I don’t see why not,” the mayor had said. Well, the Ffiti-fest has rolled around again and I’ve actually been commissioned to graffiti the side wall of the police station. And guess who my assistant is.
“Are you coming tonight?”