My name is Ed and I’m an alcoholic. That’s how I came to be in this room, waiting to attend an AA meeting, after being one my whole life. Learned from my dad, and he was one of the best. Tasted my first beer at five I think. Didn’t do me much good at the time but what did I know. Fortunately I learned from dad how to pretend not to be an alcoholic at the same time, and I’ve been pretty good at it since. It got pretty bad when I got about high school age, went away when I joined the military. Just too damn tired to drink. It was after I got out and police work started to get dull that I started to drink, just a few beers during lunch, then rolling around with a nice buzz, chewing mints, smoking cigarettes and listening to the radio. Eventually, the lunches got longer, the buzzes afterward became outright drunks, and since I was plainclothes, eventually a uniform saw me weaving a bit too much and flipped his lights on. I’d smoked my last in the bar and I was out of mints so when I opened the window and he smelled my breath, he didn’t care about the badge I showed him.
I happen to be acquainted well with the daughter of a local judge, and through his grace my little indiscretion never saw the light of press, nor police report. But everybody knew. I could see it when I walked through the station, when I passed someone in the hall, when my path coincided with another guy on the uncomfortable shared walk to the restroom. I could see it, and what’s more, I could feel it.
But I didn’t stop. Not even then. I just stopped not hiding it. The beers at lunch became bourbon sipped throughout the day from a flask which was often refilled, and I lived in fear of straying too far from a white or yellow line when I drove. But I didn’t stop. I couldn’t. You all understand that, don’t you? I’m pretty sure that given what I’ve just listened to, you all know exactly what I’m talking about. You’re just lucky you don’t puke afterward.
Then, after months that seemed like years of ridicule, an old buddy was short a man and asked if I could get my shit together and jump on his team for serving search and hopefully arrest warrants on some goon somewhere. I didn’t care. Second-string or not, someone was looking at me as more than just a fuckup. Naturally I made sure I was properly drunk at the time so I didn’t lose my nerve or anything, and naturally, I overdid it. Subconsciousness, maybe? Who the fuck knows. All I know is when we were walking up the path to this house, I was weaving worse than when I was pulled over on the road, the guy behind me is hissing under his breath “Get it together for fuck’s sake you fucking drunk” and the guy in front is following the leader, and hisses back “shut the fuck up, it’s too late now” because the boss was mounting the step and the show was about to kick off.
So to make a long story short, the door opens, the guy runs, we chase him through the house. He goes upstairs, like a genius, and gets cornered in the bathroom. Like in The Shining or some shit. He’s locked in there, hollering he’ll die first, fucking pigs, blah blah, and the sarge is doing his usual COME OUT WITH YOUR HANDS UP routine. I’m still seeing double at this point and my stomach is doing a weird queasy thing that never means good news. So naturally, the sarge tells me “Harding, cover that goddamn door and if anything comes out without its hands up AND empty you fill it full of lead. Any questions?” I shook my head, afraid to open my mouth and vomit on the sarge under the best of circumstances. He turns back to the door and I pull my gun on it, trying like hell to draw a bead on something, anything, that looks like more than a doubling mirage. “The door is coming down” bawls the sarge, “so get your goddamn hands out of the way, then put them up and walk out!”
Two guys bring up a ram. Just as they’re about to start their charge, the door flies open and the guy comes out. I don’t even know his name. All I know is he’s got a gun and I start shooting. I pull the trigger over and over, aiming at first one of the blurred visions I’m seeing, then the other. Left, then right, then between them, back and forth, until I realize the gun is empty. I wonder how long it’s been empty and I shake my head. That motion and the concussions of the gunshot with the gunsmoke in my nose is what did it in the end.
That was my lowest point. Vomiting my liquid breakfast onto my feet in front of a squad of SWAT guys after emptying my gun into an unarmed man with, it turned out, nothing but a shadow in his hand.
My friend’s dad the judge had a bit harder time covering this one up, not because of the man I’d killed, but because a number of the squad were of the opinion that there should be nothing covered up. In the end, they settled for my resignation. But as I said, people talk.
“So now,” Harding said, holding his gun on each of them in turn as he spoke, his hand trembling but not drunk. Not for two years. “Now, when I bring you all in and it comes out that I arrested you in the course of attending my AA meetings after years of sobriety–” The gun came to rest on Missy. Harding exhaled, and grinned.