The Thinning Blue Line

Accidents, it was always accidents: a patrol car spinning out into a lampost, a gun fired into a partner instead of a citizen, a bad fall down the station steps, a plague that tore through guards and spread to the officers.

The paranoia didn’t truly set in until the numbers kept climbing and uniforms kept dying, but who could you point to? Who could you blame for the heart attacks in the office and the relieved widows at the funeral? They closed ranks, bunkered down, stopped patrolling, avoided everyone but themselves. But even then—the overdoses in the evidence room, the asphyxiations on commissary sandwiches, the heat stroke as they dithered fully armed outside the schools—they were dying faster than the city could replace them.

When the retired and the recruited began dying, they started to panic. “Cursed,” muttered the city, and deputized anyone off the Board who wanted to go pro in desperation—to the scandal of Team One, though a spate of broken necks and shattered pelvises ended that soon enough, too. Nobody with any standing wanted anything to do with it, anyway; stick around long enough and you start to have suspicions about which side of the line is the right one.

WHAT NOW, said the headline over a black page, and in his second floor apartment Balaam the Jinx, the cleanhanded, a perennial zero at the bottom of the Ombudsman’s list, chuckled to himself. “Only as god wills it,” he said, and folded the paper neatly.