Sometimes I wonder about
becoming a copper. Seemed clever when I signed on. Tossing bad chaps in the nick’s got to
be a good thing, right? But the line between good and bad’s not always drawn where it should
Instead of becoming a copper could have
bought an electric guitar and banged away with somebody like the Ramones. Bang on a
guitar, bang my head. Bang you any way you like. Bang you some ways you’re afraid to ask for,
Reminded of all that by
finding the Ramones on the jukebox: “Swallow My Pride.”
And reminded of how often being a copper forces me to swallow my
pride. Yeah, I don’t bang black heads together like a proper copper. But just being a copper
makes me part of the problem.
But I was out with Sylvain, wanting a good time. I asked him for
It started up and I said, “Dance
“I’ll spill my
“Sod your pint,”
I said. “Get to sod something else back at your flat anyway.”
He started dancing. Dreadful. I
lot were natural dancers,” I said.
Other customers kept quiet. Didn’t like seeing us together.
Pub got busy and we lost our dance floor. Half-seven up on an elevated stage, a
young chap began strumming a guitar and warbling: Elton John, Neil Young, Don McLean. Puppy-dog
the jukebox over him?” I said. “Bit soft.”
“Wouldn’t hurt you to be soft,” Sylvain said.
“I’ll be soft when you get hard. But he’s
I stroked Sylvain’s
“Your surgery ever involve hair?” I said. “Guitar
chap’s mop would suit you.”
He laughed. Sweetest Labrador
Retriever you had growing up would laugh like Sylvain, if dogs could laugh. His laugh makes
Don McLean the last straw.
this world was never meant for one as
beautiful as you?” I said. “Let’s hoof it.”
Halfway back to Sylvain’s flat we were moving free and easy—we’d had too much—so I never noticed the GRAND
OPENING sign sticking out over the pavement from the front of a florist’s shop. Hung from
an iron bar bolted to the shop wall, sticking out two feet over the pavement at head level for a
tallish lass like myself. Wouldn’t have needed someone pissed-up and besotted with love to
collide with the bugger.
Dragging myself off the pavement I was thinking to have a chat
with the florist bloke next morning when I saw a copper strongarming
Sylvain. London’s Finest, indeed.
Copper like that’s a greater danger to public safety than some fairy florist who’s got
careless with his GRAND OPENING sign.
I marched up to the young
this dark chap knock you down, mu’um.”
“Dark chap’s Doctor
Sylvain de León,” I said. “Famous cosmetic
my badge is out: Detective Inspector Ellen Flay. Twat unhands Sylvain. Sylvain
backs away. Hadn’t resisted the strongarm. Prudent choice for a chap of his
knocked me down, Constable. Doctor de León is my lover and his black gorilla paws will soon
be all over me in his flat.”
“Ellen. . .” Sylvain
“I need your name,
Constable,” I said. “Want to charge police harassment,
I added, “But not
worth the time that could be spent getting to his flat pronto to get those gorilla paws on me.”
too far’s my M.O.
“Charges would be better than what the doctor’s tribe
will do if they hear about this,” I said. “Jungles of Côte
d'Ivoire. Notorious for witchcraft.”
tell if he believed my witchcraft rubbish. Wanker finally spoke.
“You’re bleeding, mu’um,” he said in a
mouse’s voice all meek and mild.
I touched where the sign had struck. Hand came away red.
Sylvain had been behind me. He steps
“My God, Ellen!”
I sucked and licked the blood off my hand.
“I’ll drink your blood too,”
With my head I let him know to piss
get back to the flat and take care of you,” Sylvain said.
He spoke soothingly. Best bedside manner. Love his manner inside
the bed too.
are numbered for his sort, Ellen.”
don’t see racists going extinct anytime soon.
Morning, I was up first. His great dark carcass
in bed like a seal washed up on the beach.
His flat in Twickenham a
good haul from the Brixton station. Sausage rolls scarfed during the drive left a spot of grease on my
At the station, more grease:
Dickie Woodford hanging about my desk all winks and snickers.
“Admirer’s left you a gift, Ellen.”
Wrapped up like a mummy it was. Shape left no room for guesswork,
“Something for the hard times,”
the twat titters.
But not so overcome
by his own wit that he can’t speak more.
“Might not measure up to the one hanging off your African
Marvelous, I thought. If Dickie knows
about Sylvain then so does everyone else. We’d tried to lie low, but London’s smaller
than you think.
“You a spit girl or a swallow
girl?” Dickie rattles on. “Or your African doctor decide?”
Perfect time for Chief Inspector Redmond to
pass by demanding all hands on deck. I can put Dickie out of mind.
My moment came early.
“Darkies on the warpath,”
Bloody hell, I thought. But what hill you want to die on? I shut
“That showing at the
local Odeon?” a voice said.
to Zulu,” another said. “Also ends bad for the chaps with spears.”
Neither voice Dickie’s. One oily fish in an
“But don’t have Michael Caine,” Redmond
said. “Only D.I. Flay. Whom I’m boring.”
open, he continued.
“A certain Viv
Lloyd and his mate, Lester Richardson, are rousing the rabble.”
“Blokes that put out that Marxist broadsheet?” I said.
“Within their rights, sir.”
“Let’s help them stay within their rights, Flay,”
Redmond said smiling, if smile’s the right word. “Latest edition suggests they may soon
He lifted a sheet of newsprint off the lectern. Fished glasses from his breast pocket.
“The entrenched racism of the Metropolitan Police Service
has been protected and even strengthened by David McNee’s leadership,” he read. “Even
before Mr. McNee affirmed the right of his officers to murder citizens whom one might have
thought the police should serve and protect—but then, Alvin Greenfield was a ‘seedy
degenerate scarcely worth the dust on the bottoms of my men’s shoes,’ in Mr. McNee’s
telling—the MPS had won notoriety for its shift toward jackbooted
paramilitary techniques in the suppression of civil liberties.”
his glasses. Gave him beady
bat’s eyes. With that executioner’s smile, took away all the pleasure of looking at
what might have been rather a dishy bloke.
“Commissioner McNee discerns an increasing shrillness of tone, Flay, so it’s irrelevant that they’re within their rights and that no crime’s
yet been committed.”
“Just as not committing a crime may have
been irrelevant in the case of Alvin Greenfield.”
M.O. again. Wanted to bite my tongue. But teeth couldn’t catch up when it was already out
“Public drunkenness, resisting arrest, assaulting a police officer,” Redmond said metallically.
“Speaking hypothetically, sir. I meant, irrelevant
if you believe the outrageous accusations against our officers.”
suicide wouldn’t bring Alvin Greenfield back.
“No crime’s been committed,” Redmond continued, “and our courtesy
to Mr. Lloyd and Mr. Richardson will be to make sure they maintain their spotless records. A courtesy
you’re to extend, Flay. The spirit of courtesy being
best embodied by a member of the fair sex.”
the room he said, “By our Desdemona.”
Dickie knew, Redmond knew, everyone knew.
But not a chuckle heard. Redmond
thought those mouth-breathers would know Shakespeare?
Viv Lloyd and Lester Richardson
had emigrated from Barbados. Their restaurant on Lampard Road supported the Manifesto’s
publication and distribution. The restaurant didn’t have a sign, so locals called it “Viv
and Lester’s.” I’d eaten there. Lads cared about politics more than food.
I claimed a table without waiting to be
seated. From a magazine rack by the door I’d picked
up a copy of the Manifesto that accused the Commissioner of resorting to “jackbooted paramilitary techniques.” I
told a very dark, very pretty girl that I wanted a lime squash and to talk to whoever wrote the
rubbish about Commissioner McNee. I pointed to the front-page headline next to McNee’s
picture: WE KILL SEEDY DEGNERATES. The girl asked who I was and
I said. She made a face like I’d shown her what the cat had killed.
A slender handsome chap and a short round
one, ages unclear because the sun doesn’t beat up their skin. Even in the Caribbean, where
it shines all the time.
with me?” I said. “Have a chat?”
stand,” scowled the handsome one.
Touch of Harry Belafonte. Under different circumstances, I thought. . .
come with friendly advice,” I said.
“Friendly?” the short round chap said in a mocking voice.
The pretty girl brought my lime squash.
forget to add the copper’s fifty-percent surcharge,” Richardson told her.
“Entrenched racism among the Metropolitan Police, you wrote?”
I said. “Course there is. Not defending it, but your Manifesto won’t make it go away. And you keep on, it’ll destroy
“Why would it
be in your interest to defend racism?” Richardson said, mocking me again.
Was I supposed
to say I’d spent the night shagging my rich African doctor in his posh flat in Twickenham so they’d understand that I was a friend of the blacks?
Puckered up. Thirty years—or twenty—that’s my face full-time.
“Think about your own interest,
not mine,” I said.
But how was repeating my point in a louder voice going to help?
hurt me to be soft, Sylvain had said. I made my voice gentle.
“Not like I can’t see the point of violence against the government,”
I said. “When there’s a chance of winning. If there’s no chance, it’s about
your pride. And got to swallow your pride when the only chance is losing.”
“Not like she can’t see the point of violence against
the government,” Lloyd said. “A revolutionary among the Metropolitan Police. That’s
I said would make it worse. Best to piss off, I thought. Did so after telling the pretty girl she might want to go easier on the lime.
“Building trust are you, Flay?” Redmond
wanted to know.
to worry. You have a natural bond.”
Sylvain. All blacks the same to Redmond, so I’m Desdemona to Lloyd and Richardson too.
“Plus they seem like slow-boil lads, Flay:
brainy sorts. So you’ve got time.”
I thought. Also thought how stupid I’d been to mention pride, make sure that was foremost
in their minds. “Swallow your pride,” I had said. You daft, girl?
My failure had got me down. I said to Sylvain let’s go out for a drink.
“Place last night
was all right,” he said.
young chap’s there. Was written on a chalk board by the door.”
“Stevie something. Williams. I’m all right with that.
And you said he was pretty.”
“Like Jane Birkin,” I said. “But can’t
bear him singing his Vincent song again.”
world was never meant for one as
beautiful as you.’ That eats at you. But it only says the world is cruel. I’d think
you as much as anyone would agree.”
“Doesn’t only say that. World’s cruel, yeah. But don’t glorify
weakness, call it beautiful.”
Sylvain sighed. He pushed away from the
“Should lay off the potatoes if I want room for a couple of pints,” he said.
Horse had left the barn if he was going
to lay off the potatoes.
weakness, you flash a green light to cruelty,” I said.
crossed his arms.
can’t just hear a sweet tune and a pretty voice, Ellen? Pretty voice, pretty lad?”
I crossed my arms back.
“I’m fine going to see pretty
Williams sing,” I said.
Striving for what’s called comic timing.
“Long as I get to shag him.”
He laughed his Labrador Retriever laugh. Then he
“But you’d rather
listen to your Ramones than pretty Stevie Williams. Let’s
on his unsexy-bloke-acting-sexy voice. I love that voice. Not as much as his laugh.
My Pride,’ indeed,” he said. “We’ll soon have you swallowing something else.”
I thought of Dickie Woodford.
Wasn’t long before
Redmond had his hands full with protests of the exoneration of the officers who’d killed Alvin
polloi are on high boil,” he said. “So you can lay off your slow-boil lads for a bit,
me for the excitable ones: put me to work with the other D.I.’s,
bringing in blokes who’d smashed shop windows or cars. Difference was, no busting
heads of the black chaps I brought in. Bloody hero to the blacks, I was. Their best mate.
A week later,
with the excitable lads gone off the boil, Lloyd and Richardson seized the Brixton police sub-station on Ashcombe Mews.
had always kept the sub-station lightly staffed. And since the start of the protests,
staff not needed for basic operations had been sent to the hot spots. Lloyd and Richardson took
notice. First thing one morning, without firing a shot or striking a blow, they surprised the two
officers on duty. Locked them in a holding cell and rang the office of Commissioner McNee.
McNee rang the Brixton station
and like a good boy Redmond
cut short his morning briefing.
came back, he announced that he and I would lead the recapture of the sub-station. I was to choose ten officers to accompany us.
I said, “There’s blokes specially trained
for this, sir.”
“Would raise the profile,” he said. “Told
the Commissioner they
wanted to prove a point. McNee’s made no bones
about the power of the Metropolitan Police to crush any protest that crosses the line. Point
of taking the sub-station’s
to prove our power’s overrated.”
He saw I wasn’t following.
“But we downplay this, Flay, let them think they’ve
proved something, we can get them to lay down their arms, end this without violence. Back-pages
item, soon forgotten.”
pursed his lips.
our establishing trust. So I want you to have the first
I’ve done such a
brilliant job of establishing trust already, I thought.
“No violence? Seems that’s
want, harming no one in the takeover.”
“That’s the goal,” he said. “But we still need ten good men if this
plan goes south.”
It seemed dodgy, but
I’d been given a job. I looked for blokes that I couldn’t recall having expressed racism
overtly. Not born yesterday, so I know that still waters run deep. But would you have had me bring
along chaps who go about in white sheets?
The Ashcombe Mews sub-station occupied the remains of the old stables, carriage houses, and living quarters that had given their name to the little street.
Officers, citizens making complaints, and other visitors could park in the converted stables and carriage houses. The former living
quarters, one floor up, were for business.
Redmond and I
studied the scene.
for you to stand naked in front of them,” Redmond said. “So
can go to that even now, I thought.
“Though you won’t be naked in the full sense,” he continued.
“They point a gun at you, they’re finished.”
He checked his watch.
“Seven minutes to the hour. Which
is when I’ve told them to look for your pretty face making advances toward them.”
the street right on the hour. Stopped short of the sidewalk in front of
I shouted, “Richardson,” and then: “Viv! Lester!”
Desperate to hear a word back, yet no clue what my own next word
me,” I said under my breath.
of movement on the right of the broad window above me.
I heard a shot from behind, far to my left. There was no more movement
on the right, but the shattered window gave a clear view of Viv on the left, firing a rifle over
my head. I heard more shots and watched him fall.
Silence and stillness.
I repeated. “Viv! Lester!”
silence and stillness.
Finally, Redmond’s voice.
“They were going to shoot you, Flay.”
I spun around.
“Bollocks. Who saw a gun pointed at me? Who started shooting?”
I raised an arm toward my face. But I thought
twice and froze it halfway.
started shooting?” I said.
my arm. They’d know about my tears if I brushed them away.
“Was all about setting
me up, wasn’t it? Could have killed them without involving me, but so much sweeter with me.”
Sweet to see Desdemona weep, I thought.
kept my tears to myself as they streamed down. I was far away from the lot of them.
“You’re all cowards,” I said.
A voice from my right.
“What?” I said.
But meant nothing. Same obscenity came from a voice to my left. Then many voices.
The shouts of “I’m Spartacus” were loud.
The laughter was louder.
your pride,” I’d told Viv and Lester. No chance. Weren’t buying.
But what about Ellen? Too late to learn
the electric guitar. This was the life I’d chosen for better or worse. Finishing up at the
scene, then back to the station—had to swallow my pride.
Don Stoll has written about
Ellen Flay, the protagonist of "Swallow," in 15 other stories published here in Yellow Mama and
elsewhere, including Pulp Modern, Down and Out, Punk Noir, and
the new noir anthology from Uncle B. Publications, Now, There Was a Story!
by Don Stoll
Al stood with me
over the body while we waited for the ambulance. Somebody else, it might have bothered
me. Might have thought he was there to give me “comfort,” like wasting such
a waste of space would have got to me. Not Al, though.
“Looks like he only got one kid before you nailed him, Dave,” he said.
“Boy. Fifth-grader, I think. Hard to tell, way the teachers are screaming. All hysterical.”
“You know what’s gonna
be in the papers,” I said.
“Calls for gun control,”
hearts’ll be all over it.”
He lit a cigarette saying, “Offer you one but you’re trying to quit,
“Know what else is gonna
be in the papers?” he said. “Officer Dave McKeon, hero. How’s it feel
to be a hero?”
I caught a whiff and thought maybe one smoke. But Lisa was right: wouldn’t
be just one.
be a hero to everybody,” I said. “Bleeding hearts’ll say could have
shot him in the leg. Could have sung him a lullaby—sung ‘Kumbaya’—listen to him pour out his heart about his abusive
childhood while you put on the tourniquet.”
“Unbelievable. Like the
other day when the SEALs took out Osama, there
were people saying they shouldn’t have killed him. Should have taken him alive.”
“Yeah, give him a fair trial. You imagine the shit show?”
Al exhaled. I caught another whiff.
I thought of Lisa saying I went a month, she’d let me fuck her in the ass. But
funny I’d never asked. Telling me maybe I didn’t need to pass her test. Get a
few drinks in her so she’s relaxed, we’re doing it doggy style and I just slide
from one hole into another like it’s an accident. I bet she’d be fine with it,
me kicking cigarettes or not.
But she’s right about the cigarettes. I really should stop.
“You imagine the cost of
guarding him?” Al said.
gone hard thinking about fucking Lisa and had kind of forgot about him.
“Shit show is right,”
Al said. “Shit show for the taxpayers. I’d like to be on that guard detail,
save them some money.”
He brought his hands up to his chest
and bent his fingers so his hands were like claws. He made like he was strangling somebody.
“Osama was six-five, Al.
You sure you could manage that, being the runt of the litter?”
“You know how it is with
guys like me,” he laughed. “Lot of anger.”
He finished his cigarette. He threw it on the blacktop and lit another.
Al. Kids play here.”
“What they have janitors for, isn’t it?”
I jammed my hands in my pockets. With my left hand I brushed the end of my dick,
firm enough to get the feeling but fast enough so nobody could see. It was only Al and
me there anyway. The other cops and the Fire Department had herded the teachers and kids
away from us, past the classroom buildings. Parents were starting to show up, so talk about
a shit show.
With my right hand I felt for the scrap of paper where the blond in the Mustang
that I’d stopped just before I got the call about the school had written her number.
If I was wrong about Lisa I might be right about the blond. I pulled out the paper, holding
it close to my pocket. Jane. And her number in neat block letters almost like they were
I slipped it back in my pocket.
We heard the ambulance. Al turned toward it. Usually hard to make out the direction,
but the school was on a dead-end road. I was standing behind him, looking over his toupee.
I gave the end of my dick another brush, but this time slower and firmer. That one was
for Jane. With my right hand I patted Al on the head.
“How many endangered species had to die to make this thing?”
laughed and swatted my hand away.
“How about for your next one they kill a Siberian tiger, give you a unique
We heard the ambulance come closer.
aren’t they?” Al said. “Had to finish jerking off before they answered the
and. . .” I said.
I waited for Al to look back at me. Then I made like I was smoking a doobie.
“You know they’ll
take your gun away for a while?” he said. “Make you see a shrink?”
I shook my head.
“Even in Palmdale,”
I said. “Hour from LA, no ‘diverse constituencies’ whose asses we have
to kiss. You think it’s a different world, and then—”
“So, Officer,” Al
said, changing his voice, “how do you feel about taking a human life?”
“I hear they like it better if you ‘open up.’ Gets you back on
the street faster.”
could see the ambulance.
“Been some week for you,”
Al said. “This time last week you were. . . where?”
“Rescuing your baby brother from the Arab Spring. You really are a hero, man.”
“Baby brother didn’t
need rescuing. Nothing happening there.”
“That’s what you needed to rescue him from. No action with those Arab
women, right? Get stoned to death or some shit.”
He grinned. He had something green stuck in his teeth.
“Get stoned to death or get your hand cut off. Or something else.”
He grinned again.
“So your brother fucking camels?” he said.
My baby brother isn’t much like me. Teacher, which is the last
thing I’d want to be. Unless it’s to teach shooting. I’ve done a little
of that with civilians, and it’s a kick. Especially the ones that you can tell they
think there’s something wrong about guns. Maybe they’ve had some kind of scare
so they’ve decided they need the protection, but even so they think they’re
better than people who carry guns all the time. Then you get that baby in their hands,
get them comfortable with it. Be patient with them because they’re nervous. But their
nervousness is really excitement because everybody loves what a gun can do even if they
won’t admit it.
Be patient and encouraging until they can hit something. Then
you don’t need to encourage them anymore because the gun does all the encouraging.
You don’t show too much satisfaction because they still want to believe there’s
something wrong with guns and that they’re too good for them. That’s all right,
though, because you’ve done your job. You’ve taught one more civilian to shoot,
so maybe one day he—or she—will put an end to another school shooting before
it gets out of hand.
Anyway, my baby brother—Paul, who I call Paulie—was living in LA till
his girlfriend dumped him. He had a steady job with the LA Unified School District
teaching seventh and eighth grades. Never mind that I’d never want to teach school,
kids that age are the worst. Paulie, bless his bleeding heart, loves them. But he wanted
to get out of LA after Sally broke that heart, and right away he found a job teaching English
in a technical college in Oman. I wasn’t sure where Oman was. When he said close
to Saudi Arabia, I told him he was crazy. He’s stubborn, though. He said he’d
be fine and he’d already bought the plane ticket. So that was that.
was last August. Way it went the first few months was
fine. I started to think he was right: nothing to worry about. But then the “Arab
Spring” cut loose and I had second thoughts. People were being killed and I didn’t
want that to happen to Paulie. I thought, white guy among all those Arabs—and Paulie’s
way white, impossible to miss—he makes a perfect target. The hell the Arabs
were raising was supposed to be about their own governments. But people get angry to a
certain point, the anger takes over. Doesn’t matter what they started out being mad
at, they get to that point and they want to hurt anybody who might deserve hurting.
So I started
looking for a time to go check up on him. Wanted to make sure Oman was as mellow as he
said, not like those other crazy countries. Too much going on at work, though, and other
cops were getting sick or injured. The Chief couldn’t spare me.
last month, that is. Window opened up and Chief says, “Dave, I know you’ve
been concerned about your brother. Don’t know when there’ll be a better time.”
Funny thing, by then I pretty much believed what Paulie was saying. Eight months
he’d been out there and he’s fine. And I think, I take this time then I don’t
have vacation left to take Lisa to Mexico to lie on the beach for a couple of weeks.
I would have
told the Chief it’s okay except for the fucking royal wedding. Lisa wouldn’t
shut up about it. I said why do you care, you invited? She said it was like a fairy tale
and I said I got no use for fairies. She said you’re a real funny fucker aren’t
you Dave, and I said nothing funny about the way I fuck.
is, I thought since the fucking royal wedding is taking
over Lisa’s life till April 29, good time for me to disappear for a week. With two
weeks’ vacation that still leaves me one, so take one week in Mexico instead of
I fly out, Paulie meets me at the airport with his girl. Bonnie. Big upgrade over
Sally. I’m thinking Paulie’s got the life. Work’s easy, he says, but the money’s
good. And Bonnie. . .
brother’s fucking camels? No, Al.
He teaches in a town called Sur. First day I’m in his apartment, jet-lagged.
He returns from the technical college with Bonnie, who’s also teaching, at noon.
They say done, it’s beach time. They have three-thirty classes but all semester they
haven’t had a single student show up. Only half the Arabs show up for morning classes.
Late afternoon, when it’s hot, forget it.
Beach and snorkeling are great.
Drive’s an hour, though, and I fall asleep because their Toyota’s AC can’t
keep up with the heat. Paulie pokes me when we arrive and says I’ll need to be more
“Bonnie goes till one-thirty but
I’m done before nine. In the afternoon we’ll all come here, but in the morning
it’s just you and me at the wadi.”
A wadi, I
found out, is a long narrow valley between two canyon walls. You can’t call it a
river valley because it takes a big rainstorm—which doesn’t happen often in
a desert country like Oman—to make the water flow. I guess when that happens, you
get serious white water. Most of the time you just have little pools one after the other.
wadi Paulie took me to is famous: Wadi Shab, which you can find on the Internet. He said
his favorite part was the pool where little fish nibble the dead skin cells off your legs.
was quiet. Good thing since something happened that would have been bad if there’d
been people around. I’ll explain later. For now, I’ll just say that after it
happened I thought I should lay low. I was happy to go to the beach every day the rest
of the week. I never got tired of seeing Bonnie in her bikini.
Last day at the beach we heard
about Osama. Party time.
Like I say, Oman had been a great vacation. Still, work gives
you certain satisfactions. If you’re lucky you don’t work only to pay the bills.
Second morning back saw a soul brother driving a Caddy, thought let’s have
some fun. It was going to be the kind of fun you can’t have on vacation. You need
a badge for this.
I spotted him on the edge of town. I had the thought to be patient, see if he heads
out to the country. I could have a serious good time with him out there. Not in
the mood, though. I stopped him in front of the AutoZone.
He says, “What’s the
fine for Driving While Black, Officer?”
Why would you be a smart
ass like that? You really don’t understand that makes it worse?
I was thinking
about how medieval I wanted to get on his ass until I saw the blond coming out of the nail
salon across the street.
day,” I told Puff Daddy. “Just got an emergency call.”
She’d made a left before I could start up. But a brand-new Mustang the same cherry red that
I’d been able to see on her lips even across the street. . . an amateur couldn’t
have lost her. She turned once more before I made the stop.
She could have had her registration ready but she waited till I asked. Stretching
toward the glovebox, she bent over extra. Full view of her bra: hot pink, half off her
hot pink nipples.
If Puff Daddy had been lucky, on this stop the lucky one was me. I snagged Blondie’s
name and number before the emergency call—a real one—came through.
thing civilians don’t understand about school shooters is that these sickos aren’t
Lee Harvey Oswald. They’re not sharpshooters. Usually, two days before the Big Day,
Mr. Sicko buys his gun, and next day he goes to a firing range for the first time in his
life. His aim is shaky so if you fight back and stress him out, throw his aim off even
more, you’ve got a chance.
In this case I was first cop on the scene and I see the teachers and kids doing
exactly the wrong thing: they’re on the ground. You want to make it easy on a guy
who can’t hit a barn door at ten paces, do that. These teachers with all their education—I
know this school: principal and vice principal both have Master’s degrees—and
this is their bright idea.
The one dead boy, the fifth-grader, had been shot in the cafeteria. It all began there. Then the
teachers had hustled everybody outside. But the cafeteria had been the place to make a
stand: turn those long tables on their sides and hide behind them. Then throw plates, cups,
glasses, silverware, food—sloppy joes or whatever
shitty thing is for lunch that day—hope for a bullseye. That many people throwing
shit, bullseye probably happens. Same principle as you lock enough monkeys with typewriters
in cages long enough, you get War and Peace.
Cafeteria opportunity’s wasted, though. Bodies stretched out on the playground
blacktop, begging to be shot. I didn’t hesitate. I squeeze off one round and Sicko’s on the ground too, and never getting up. I’m
a hero except to the gun-control types.
To me, gun control means finish your natural exhale, hold your breath—chest
muscles relax then, so you can hold it good and long if you have to keep shooting—and
don’t pull the trigger. Squeeze. That’s gun control.
Al got it right when he said I’d had some week. Standing over the shooter waiting for
the ambulance and scoping out what my bullet had done to his head, I remembered
the morning in the wadi with Paulie. The trail hugged the canyon wall on our right. We’re
usually about fifty feet above the valley floor where the pools were. We joked most of
the way. He was excited about the pool where the fish
nibble on you but I said I didn’t know if I’d like it. He said you’ll like it,
they nibble soft. He said about as soft as you want to be when you go down on a girl and
I laughed. I said you grew up right, baby brother.
Getting close to the fish pool, he was
a good ways ahead of me. He was more used to the heat. I was on a narrow stretch of trail
when this Arab comes around a curve. He doesn’t try to make room. Bumps me with his
shoulder against the canyon wall.
I tell him say you’re sorry and he looks back at me and laughs. Says something
I don’t understand because it’s not English. Three quick steps and I’m
level with him. Just like that, I shove him off the trail.
The drop was straight and short. He didn’t have time to scream. His head landed
on a boulder and split open. Kind of like the shooter’s.
This is why I was happy with the
beach the rest of the week. It’s dumb because nobody had been there to see. But I
kept thinking that if we went back, somehow a witness would turn up.
coming back from the fish pool, we saw some Arabs climbing down to the body.
“Maybe we should help,” Paulie said.
I said, “Looks like they got it.”
Paulie said, “Such a shame,” but I wasn’t
ashamed. Figured I’d done the world a favor.
Don Stoll lives in Southern California, in the mountains
overlooking Palm Springs. His fiction has appeared four times before in Yellow
Mama and recently in Punk Noir (tinyurl.com/3ut3m7e7, tinyurl.com/yckshbnj), Roi
Fainéant (tinyurl.com/44fwen37), Terror House (tinyurl.com/4tch459c), and A
Thin Slice of Anxiety (tinyurl.com/fy9wer4h).