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Dazed from a nap not nearly long enough, Shlomi mumbles something inaudible into his cell phone, then slams it shut. He fumbles for the light switch and his glasses, squinting as he looks at his watch.
It takes a moment of orienting himself to grasp that he barely has time to get dressed, let alone wash up. This makes the fact that he fell asleep in his shirt, underwear and socks as much of a blessing as it is a curse. On the one hand, he hates leaving for work or anyplace else without being showered, shaven, deodorized and in a fresh set of clothes. On the other hand, feeling grungy is not as bad as being late. Furthermore, it suits the mood he's been in for the past 48 hours.
Groggy, and irritated at the prospect of an unexpected shift, he grudgingly hoists himself up into a sitting position. He extends his foot to try and reel in the pants of his uniform that are lying in a crumpled heap on the floor near the bed. But the weight of the holster makes this impossible. He has no choice but to stand up and lift the heavy mass with both hands.
Getting himself into the garment would have been a lot easier had he taken care to remove the gun, the magazine, the pocket knife and the flashlight before undressing. Which is what he's supposed to do anyway, since technically he's not allowed to leave his weapons unattended when they are not "on his person."
But certain states of being trump regulations. Sleep-deprivation is one such state. Heartache is another.
Shlomi smooths his shirt-tails over his boxer shorts and under his pants with one hand while hoisting his laden-down belt with the other. He zips his fly and adjusts the whistle-rope strung through his epaulet. He pats the seat of his pants to make sure his wallet is in place. It is. But when he feels the protrusion of the little box next to it in his back pocket - which, in his current fog, he'd temporarily forgotten - he flinches.
The knot in his stomach accompanies him down the steps and onto the street.
"What's the deal?" he asks gruffly, entering the squad car that has just pulled up in front of his building.
"Car-thief patrol," his temporary partner answers as he speeds away from the curb, still chewing on the last bites of a pita with schnitzel.
"For this you guys woke me up after a 20-hour shift?" Shlomi can't believe his ears.
The driver shrugs. "What can we do?"
"For this you couldn't have given me an extra 15 minutes to drink a cup of coffee?" Shlomi whines.
For this - he wants to shout at God - he has to waste precious time deciding what to do about his dreaded predicament?
"Yeah," the driver yawns. "You know, because of the prime minister."
"That's what they said yesterday," Shlomi growls, replaying the wrenching scene in his mind. "And the day before that."
"What can we do?" the driver shrugs again. "Every cop in the force is either surrounding Hadassah Hospital or handling terror threats."
"I know, I know," Shlomi says irritably. "So there's nobody available for standard rounds."
"Just be glad you don't have a family at home," the driver says, prepared, if need be, to compete in the "who's-more-miserable-to-be-here" contest.
Shlomi doesn't know whether to laugh or cry. That he should be pleased about not having the very thing he's sure would make his his life bearable - and his job tolerable - is beyond ridiculous.
"Poor you," Shlomi says with a grimace, imagining his partner being sent off with a warm hug and a hot sandwich.
"You don't know the half of it," the driver sighs, remembering the cold shoulder his wife gave him when he got the call that meant leaving her alone with three rowdy kids, none of whom was down for the night yet.
"HEY," SHLOMI says suddenly, snapping his fingers and pointing. "Over there."
The driver braces for a showdown with a suspect - the only thing that could lift his spirits on such an otherwise tedious beat. "Where?" he asks, lowering a hand to his gun. "What?"
"Slow down," Shlomi commands, the police-flasher projecting alternate beams of blue and white on a lone figure - a woman - leaning against the fence around the train tracks. Clad in summer pajamas and slippers, she is shaking convulsively from the strong wind and winter drizzle that - together with the broadcasts on Sharon's condition - are responsible for her being one of the few neighborhood residents out of doors at this hour.
"Is she insane or what?" the driver elbows Shlomi, who has poked his head out of the window.
"Are you all right?" Shlomi calls out. When she doesn't respond, he adds, "Ma'am?"
Startled, the woman spins around, wipes her eyes and clears her throat.
"Everything's fine," she answers, her haughty manner and style of speech at odds with her soggy appearance.
Shlomi blinks. "Get in the car," he says, his voice steady.
"Why should I?" the woman responds indignantly. "I've done absolutely nothing wrong."
"Oh, really?" Shlomi asks. "You call walking out on me while I'm at work 'nothing wrong'?"
The driver turns off the engine, thinking this has turned out to be a much better shift than he anticipated.
"You're always at work!" she wails, now shivering uncontrollably.
"C'mon," he says. "It's because of the prime minister."
"I know, I know," she says, sniffling. "So there's nobody available for standard rounds."
"What can we do?" he shrugs.
"That's what you said yesterday," she growls, replaying the wrenching scene in her mind. "And the day before that."
"Get in the car," he repeats. "You're gonna catch pneumonia."
"Why is that any concern of yours?" she challenges, sliding into the back seat.
"It's not," he says, signalling to his partner to turn on the ignition - and the heat. "I just don't want you coughing all over the diamond ring I'm about to give you."
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