The lecture couldn't prepare her for the reality. Sure, there were photos and plenty of suggestions on how to deal with the odor: use a washcloth, coffee grounds, cigar smoke, or even an oxygen mask.
But no police academy class, as former Baton Rouge police officer Laurie Lynn Drummond writes in her new collection of short stories, Anything You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You, could have readied her for this: "The body's 92-year-old senile husband sobbed beside me, holding my hand in a bone-crunching grip. When was I supposed to scoop up coffee grounds, wet a washcloth, strap on a oxygen mask?"
Even though these gripping stories of policewomen are fiction, that scene was Drummond's first call involving a dead body. It's this kind of direct experience, translated into fiction, that partially explains the power of Drummond's work and helps distinguish it from true crime or mystery fiction. The rest of the equation is fairly simple: Drummond is a damn fine writer, and she has a heartfelt dedication to her subject.
"I want the reader to see these people as human beings," she says by phone from her home in Austin, Texas. I want them to see the honor and difficulty of the profession. They have flaws and dreams past the image of the cop, fueled by the media, that distracts from their humanity. People see the badge and the gun and that's it."
Drummond reveals what's behind the symbols of the profession, and shatters many police stereotypes. In the book's opening story, "Absolutes," Drummond tries to answer the question posed so often to cops: "Have you ever killed anyone?" Yes is the response, but a cold Dirty Harry doesn't provide it; a 22-year-old woman does. Katherine Joubert had to shoot a suspect, and her burden is to never forget the deadly moment and to preserve it. "His presence is here, in the back of my skull, tucked inside of my brain," Drummond writes. "There is a piece of him inside now, and I can't deny him his right."
In "Taste, Touch, Sight, Sound, Smell," Drummond delves into the sensory experience of police work. A veteran officer explains to new recruits how vital the senses are, but not for the obvious reasons the cadets might imagine. A slow-moving hand can calm a suspect with a weapon; a nearly imperceptible twitch can reveal that a perp is relaxed; and, the officer says, always remember that "the hands will kill you" and "the eyes will tell you."
For Drummond, who is currently an assistant professor of writing at St. Edward's University in Austin, it isn't enough for a cop to sharpen the five senses -- you have to develop a sixth. It is one of the pluses that women bring to police work.
"That instinct -- the deeper knowing -- you hone it," Drummond points out. "You know when things are going wrong and you learn to read people in a much deeper way in order to survive. I think, and I'm generalizing, that female officers have an advantage because society has helped us nurture that intuitive sense."
But there are disadvantages. In a profession that often requires a tough exterior, how does that translate outside the job? Can a good cop be a good mom? It's an issue that Drummond acutely explores in "Cleaning Your Gun." The story is simply set in a kitchen where Mona, an officer and a mother, is alone drinking straight rum. She longs to be with her daughter, rocking her in her arms, but she is trapped in a cycle of alcohol and domestic violence. Drummond starkly describes the scene: "If she were here, if last night hadn't happened, perhaps that's what you would be doing now. Instead you are cleaning your gun."
This is the kind of book that will satisfy a variety of readers. For those interested in understanding the lives of police officers, Drummond delivers compelling characters with real thoughts and emotions. And if you are looking for action, Drummond keeps the pages turning. Perhaps the best reviews would be the ones coming from the subjects themselves. Unfortunately, it might hit too close to home for the men and women in blue.
"I have a friend, who is a lieutenant, and he read the first story," says Drummond. "He hasn't been able to go on because he said he just cried and cried. 'You got it right,' he said. 'You got it right.'"
- Lynn Drummond's first collection of short stories has already earned praise from Publisher's Weekly and Entertainment Weekly.