Yellow Mama Archives II

Gary Clifton

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Zumpe, Lee Clark

PRIORITIES

 

by Gary Clifton

 

Downtown was inundated in Christmas lights. “Silent Night” was playing not so silently from overhead throughout downtown at 1 AM 

It was clearly a Patrol assignment. But it had rained in torrents, and fender benders clogged the call sheet. I’d cleared for home in the on-call Homicide dick’s take- home car, but the alarm office found me. A patron at the Gay Paree, a transgender bar on Woodlawn, had smacked the owner with a bar stool. I knew the victim, Bruce, fortyish, slender, soft blue eyes, from a murder in the place a year before.

“I swear to God I didn’t know the guy,” the blue eyes lied.

It was not unheard-of for some dickhead, outsider homophobe redneck to hang around, laying in the gap to get physical with residents of the area. But I could see that wasn’t the case here. The perp here was no outsider. Talk would radiate around the neighborhood, and we’d have the guy in a week.

The blow had nearly amputated Bruce’s left ear. “Ambulance,” I said.

“Call EMTs and I’m gonna refuse to go, McCoy.”

The place had emptied before I got out there. I found a towel as a sop. He locked up and I drove him to Parkland. I badged him to the front of the line. It was way past my quitting time.

“Thirty-seven stitches, but no concussion.” the young doc declared, beaming at his diagnosis. His Santa cap struck me as catharsis in the frenzied emergency room.

Bruce said he lived in an apartment in the back of the Paree. The rain had stopped as he stepped out. The guy in the bushes did his damnedest to get smaller, but the dim streetlights spoiled the plan. As he fled in the darkened alley, the piece I saw in his hand was big and ugly. I caught him in twenty yards, and we went down, wallowing in the mud.

He struggled to reach beneath him. I stuck my Glock in his ear. “Come up with that pistol and it’s teeth, hair, and eyes all over the alley, tough guy.”

Bruce stumbled up. “In the name of God, no!” He clutched the assailant. I stepped back as they stood and embraced for several seconds.

“God, I’m so sorry, baby.” The bushes guy smothered Bruce with blubbery, wet kisses.

I found my flashlight and spotted the object in the mud which I’d just missed killing a man over— a tall single, long-stemmed rose in a slender vase shattered in half, for God’s sake. The assailant wasn’t a patron; he lived there.

I walked back to my car, wet, muddy and beat all to hell. I’d stop by tomorrow and get Bruce to sign the declination of prosecution form, then file it in the back of a lower drawer. Records wouldn’t give a damn if a Homicide cop reported the call as unfounded. They had plenty of action to chew on.

A lover’s spat, even a thirty-seven stich one, was definitely a low priority in the crime and violence business.  Twas’ the season for a little forgiveness, anyway.

I lowered a window. The sound of overhead carols wafted after me as I drove out from the area.

 

 

SWEET SPOT

 

by Gary Clifton

 

“Listen up,” Flaherty said soberly. He motioned for help in holding the sketch he’d spread onto the hood of the unmarked Dodge. They’d gathered just before midnight on the back parking lot of the church of something or other on the far east side. The sharp December north wind relentlessly found any leak in the clothing of the half dozen plain clothes cops huddled around.

“We know from last night this punk prick is a shooter. Snitch just come out and said Thompkins is stoned and conked out in this rear room.” He pointed to the crude map. “That don’t mean he’ll stay that way. Like to have SWAT out here, but as y’all know, they’re tied up on that barricaded nut case on Second Avenue. Gotta couple uniforms comin’ out, instead.”

“Hell, Flaherty, we can handle this guy,” said a detective.

The wind whipped the lapels of Flaherty’s heavy coat. He pulled up the hood. “Yeah, but don’t forget, this guy beat his mother to death with a ball peen hammer when he was thirteen because she wouldn’t give him money to buy a fudgesicle. Parole system keeps turnin’ the mu’fucker loose.”

Bennie Ray Thompkins, twenty-four, with a three-page sheet and two trips inside, had gunned down the Vietnamese owner of a convenience store eight blocks away the previous evening. Security cameras had been Bennie Ray’s undoing in this case. Identification was positive.

A marked squad car rolled up. Two officers got out, zipping their jackets. Instead of the usual one cop, one car policy, a training officer with a rank rookie aboard had been assigned. Manpower shortages often resulted in T.O.’s as young as their early twenties monitoring a twenty-year-old.

Flaherty and Detective Sheena Easton both recognized the pair. They had watched several games of the police league autumn basketball tournament a month before. The two young officers were big, black, and outstanding athletes.

The driver recognized both homicide detectives. “Hey, folks, ya’ll getting’ off the desk for a little real police work?” he laughed. “I’m Willie Jackson and this mope is my hopeless trainee, Darius Washington.”

In standard southern police etiquette, they shook hands all around. Washington, robust and good natured, flashed a toothy grin, showing a single gold tooth. He quipped, “Glad to make the varsity.”

Sheena smiled in the darkness. Washington was just a big overgrown kid full of energy who would go far in the cop world or in anything else he attempted.

Flaherty said, “Jackson, you cover the back. No door, only windows, but he could jump. Washington, you come with us to the front. Just sorta lay back. We just need a uniform present so this redneck toad can’t claim he didn’t know we were cops.”

Jackson disappeared around a corner.

#

They mounted the apartment stairs as quietly as possible. Washington pushed ahead and kicked the door. The doorframe crashed inside onto the floor. In the flickering illumination of flashlights, Bennie Ray Thompkins, far from asleep, rushed down a hallway waving a .22 revolver. Lowering his head, he butted Flaherty to the floor, then fired a shot which, incredibly, hit no one. Washington bear-hugged the fugitive and tossed him into a corner. As Thompkins landed, he fired another wild shot. The glut of cops instantly had Thompkins disarmed and face down in handcuffs.

“Anybody hurt.” Flaherty barked. Mumbled negative replies from around the room resulted. “Let’s toss the place. Might find God knows what.”.

Suddenly, Washington gasped, “All the excitement is making me sick. I’m gonna barf or something. I gotta sit down.” He flopped on a battered sofa, his head lolling backward awkwardly.

Flashlight examination showed his left low topped boot was quickly filling with deep crimson blood. Someone slit his trousers. They rolled him on his stomach. The last tiny, errant .22 round had found the artery in the back of his knee. Washington was already unconscious. Sheena called 911.

Cold, blind panic followed as belts, a necktie, and a curtain cord were attempted as tourniquets accompanied by mouth to mouth, profanity, prayer, and death threats against Thompkins.

Washington, big, and full of life, was dead in less than three minutes. Jackson rushed in and instantly burst into tears. He sat beside Washington, holding his cold hand briefly, then stumbled out.

EMT’s rolled up downstairs. Sheena, standing in the doorway, saw them crawl past Jackson, slumped on the lower steps.

The lieutenant arrived. Sheena watched him follow the EMT’s past Jackson without speaking.

The lieutenant caught Flaherty’s eye. “What the fuck went down?” he growled.

Flaherty and the Lieutenant spoke quietly for several minutes before the Lieutenant turned away. “Shooting team is on the way out,” he said softly.

Thompkins, handcuffed on the floor, sneered, “Offed me a fuckin’ cop. Gimme a chance and I’ll do some more of you mu’fuckers.”

A cop kicked Thompkins in his ribs, eliciting a cry of pain. Then Flaherty gave him two in the guts. Thompkins gasped for air.

The lieutenant, an old timer, looked away. Knowing what he didn’t see he couldn’t report, he went back out onto the landing.

Sheena stepped out onto the landing to hold the door as EMT’s manhandled Washington’s big frame out on a gurney. Protocol required that Washington be transported to County General to allow a physician to declare the official cause of death. She squeezed past the gurney, coming down ahead of the sad procession to where Jackson sat sobbing. The icy wind seemed to increase as she picked her way through trash and debris on the steps.  “Jackson, you gotta scoot over, kid.”

One of the EMTs said, “He’s fine, we can make it.”

Sheena put a hand on Jackson’s shoulder as the two straining men boosted the gurney over him.  “Jackson, is there anything I can do?” she asked in hopeless fury.

“Good God,” Jackson sobbed. “We were gonna go Christmas shopping when we got off in the morning. Darius and his wife have a new baby. Mother of God, I guess I’m gonna have to go talk to her.”

Sheena stood in the cold, searching for words to offer to accompany Jackson to visit Washington’s wife. The lieutenant walked down and said, “Jackson, I’ll drive us to see Washington’s wife. Sheena, you stay here until the lab squints show up.”

Lost in tears, Sheena spat, “God, where the hell were you?”

The lieutenant nodded. 

Jackson didn’t look up.




Gary Clifton, forty years a cop, has been shot at, shot, stabbed, lied to and about, and often misunderstood. He currently lives on a dusty north Texas ranch, where he doesn’t give a damn if school keeps, or not. Clifton has published approximately 120 short fiction pieces, including upwards of fifty in Bewildering Stories Mag. He currently has three novels available through Amazon and other outlets: Nights on Fire, Murdering Homer, and Dragon Marks Eight. He blogs at bareknucklethoughts.org.

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