by Kevin Z. Garvey
“Am I being detained?” said the driver of the late model BMW. “Am I free to go?”
I smiled. Here we go again, I thought. Another YouTube constitutionalist, thinking he knew his rights.
“License and registration, please,” I said, nice and polite. I always start off politely. The good cop.
“I asked you if I was being detained,” the driver said. “I know my rights.” He gestured toward his cell phone, which was in a stand mounted to his dashboard, pointed at me. “I’m recording this interaction, by the way. Which is also within my rights.”
I just stared at the guy. What a weasel. His ride had to have cost more than my annual salary. He had a smirk on his face that was just begging to be wiped off. Patience, I told myself. Patience.
“You were doing thirty in a twenty-five zone.”
“You pulled me over for that? Are you kidding me?”
“License and registration,” I said again. No please this time. Still in good cop mode, but feeling the first tingles of the bad cop rising in me.
We eyeballed each other for a few seconds before he took out his wallet and produced his license. I took it from him and waited for the registration. Kept my eyes on him as he reached into the glove box, my hand poised on my service weapon, because sometimes they come out with something other than a reggie. But not this time. He handed me the papers. I looked them over. His name was Alex Austin.
“Be right back,” I said, intending to take the documents to my prowler and look him up.
As I turned to walk away, he said, “Hey.”
I turned back. “Yeah?”
“You know, when I was a kid, around ten years old, I wanted to be cop.”
“But then I turned eleven.”
I stood there, looking at him. “You done?”
“I guess some kids never grow up,” he said. “It’s like they’re stuck in preadolescence. Wanting to be a police-man That’s gotta suck.”
“It’s a living,” I said.
“Nah,” Austin said. “More to it than that. You never grew up, that’s the real reason. You’re still a kid. A pretty big one, though. What are you, six-four, five? But I guess inside, you still feel small, huh? Tiny. Like a little kid, bent over your daddy’s knee. Did your old man bully you as a child? Is that why you’re a cop?”
I don’t know why, but this guy was really getting under my skin. I could feel my face getting hot, and was glad the red lights from my flashers were on to cover up the color that had to be rising in my cheeks.
“Go on now, Mr. Big Man with the little dick,” Austin went on, oblivious to the danger he was in. “Run back to your crappy little squad car and write me up. Gotta meet your quota, right? Maybe your captain will give you a gold star. Right before he fucks you in the ass, like your daddy used to do.”
It was then that I felt something snap in my head. A wave of calm poured over me, like warm water. I stood there, staring into his eyes. At peace.
“What are you waiting for?” he said. “Hurry up, asshole. You’re on my dime. My taxes pay your salary.”
“Okay,” I said, my voice pleasant, without a trace of heat. “Let me run your plates. If they come up clean, I’ll let you off with a warning.”
Austin looked at me like I had two heads. “Seriously?”
“Seriously. Not all cops are assholes.”
He didn’t know what to say.
“But first,” I said, pointing to a spot in the road ahead of him, “I need you to pull your car up a few feet and park it a little better, okay? The nose is kind of out in the street. You don’t want someone coming along and denting your ride.”
Austin’s demeanor began to change. It was like he couldn’t really believe what he was hearing. I could tell he was happy about not getting a ticket. He probably had a lot of points on his license as it was.
“About ten, twenty feet is good,” I said. “I’ll be right back.”
I went back to my prowler. As I climbed in, I heard the BMW’s engine start. My dashboard camera was on, recording the scene. I tugged on the audio cable, unplugging it, leaving the video on, but with no sound.
He started to move. I smiled as I flicked on my siren and mashed the pedal. Bolting out in front of his car, I made a sharp right in front of him, causing him to stop short, blocking him in.
Now my camera was in front of his car, recording nothing but empty road. And the audio was dead. I was invisible.
I killed the siren, hopped out of the prowler, and walked back to Austin. He was sitting in his car, staring at me, a look of concern on his face. I ripped open the door, grabbed him by his collar and yanked him from the car, sending him sprawling on his ass in the road.
“Yes, you are being detained, you rat motherfucker,” I said, bad cop in full effect. “You are not free to go.”
“I’ll have your badge!” he roared.
I pulled my weapon and pointed it at him. “The only thing you’re having is a funeral, shithead.”
I squeezed off three shots, right into his chest. Bam! Bam! Bam! A nice tight grouping. He gasped, wheezed and then went silent. I’d purposely avoided shooting him in the face because I wanted to see his expression in death, to see if the smirk would follow him into the afterlife. It didn’t. He died with his mouth open, like the bitch he was.
I stared at him for a few seconds, enjoying the sense of release I felt, like the afterglow of a busted nut. Then I holstered my weapon and got busy. Reaching down, I unsnapped my ankle holster and took out my drop gun. I always carried one with me. For situations like this. But I never had to use it before. My other shootings had all been legit.
I kneeled down and pressed Austin’s fingertips onto the gun, leaving his prints all over it. Then I wrapped his forefinger around the trigger, aimed high and fired, twice. The bullets sailed into the night. After that I picked up the piece and threw it, to justify my own fingerprints being on it.
There. I’d covered my ass. Now it was time to call in the cavalry. I hit the talk button on my shoulder radio. “Shots fired!” I shouted. “Shots fired!”
As I waited for reinforcements to arrive, I went back to the BMW and used a tissue to pluck Austin’s cell phone from its stand. I carried it back to where he was sprawled on his back, deader than shit. I placed the phone on his chest, over his shirt pocket. Then I stood over him and gave the camera a middle-finger salute.
“No more YouTube for you, douchebag,” I said as I aimed my service weapon. I fired a shot at the phone and hit it. Bulls-eye. The round went right through, into the dead man’s chest. So much for recording his interactions with the police. Using the tissue, I picked up the demolished phone and tucked it into Austin’s pocket.
By now I could hear sirens in the distance. I radioed in again, trying to sound panicked, telling the dispatcher to send an ambulance. Then I went back to the prowler, sat in the driver’s seat and practiced acting shook up.
As is customary with police shootings, I got a paid vacation out of it. The investigation always takes time, and eventually you either get cleared or charged. The union kept me abreast of things, and for the first week or so everything seemed to be going my way. That’s why, when Captain Reynolds called and asked me to come down to the station, I didn’t think twice about it. In fact, I thought I was being cleared and that they were going to give me back my gun.
“Hey, Cap,” I said, when I got there.
He was sitting behind his desk. There were a couple of guys in civilian clothes in the office with him. I didn’t recognize either one of them. They looked like detectives, but I didn’t know for sure. One of them was sitting in a chair in front of the captain’s desk, the other on the couch along the wall. I didn’t like the way they were eyeballing me.
“Big Jake,” Reynolds said. “Thanks for coming down.” He gestured at the empty seat in front of his desk.
I sat down, and the guy next to me stood up and moved towards the door. I watched as he took up a position in the doorway, like he was blocking it. I knew right then that I was fucked.
I turned back to Reynolds. “What’s going on, Cap? Who are these guys?”
“Jake, listen. I’ve got bad news.” He picked up a remote and pointed with it at the mounted TV in his office. “Watch.”
He hit a button on the remote and video began to roll.
I saw my own face, with a crazed expression on it.
I watched myself flip the bird.
“No more YouTube for you, douchebag,” I heard myself say.
There was a flash. The screen went black.
I sat there, stunned, wondering how in the hell they’d salvaged that video from the phone.
“That was just the ending,” Reynolds said. “Would you like to see it from the beginning?”
I shook my head, still too shocked to speak.
“Alex Austin had his phone set for streaming video,” Reynolds said. “His computer at home saved a copy. One of his family members found it.”
The guy on the couch stood up. “Internal Affairs,” he said. “You’re under arrest.”
So they were dicks, after all. Here to take me to jail.
Captain Reynolds said, “You’re not armed, are you, Jake?”
I made a face. “If I was, I’d already have wasted these two pricks.”
“Take it easy, Jake,” Reynolds told me. “Don’t make things worse.”
I stood up, feeling panic in my gut. I thought about bolting. About running right over the guy in the doorway. But I knew it was no use. I was fucked. There was no escape. I was dead meat.
I put my hands behind my head and laced my fingers.
“Do what you gotta do,” I said.
My bail hearing was a circus. Apparently, a tiny snippet of the video had been leaked to the press. Enough to cause a minor sensation. The courtroom was packed. My mother was there, too, and it pained me to see the devastated look on her face. The judge denied bail. No surprise there. The case against me was too strong. Overwhelming. You didn’t have to be a law scholar to know I was looking at the death penalty. The judge set a date for the arraignment, one week hence.
They took me to a cell in protective custody. I was alone, isolated from the other prisoners. If you’ve never experienced that kind of solitude, in a tiny, oppressive cell with no links to the outside world, there’s no way to understand it. It’s pathological boredom. Torture.
I tried to sleep some of the tedium away, but didn’t have any luck. When you’re desperate to sleep, that’s when you can’t. Reading helped a little, but not much, because every time I looked up from the page I’d see my filthy cell and come crashing back to reality. I also spent a lot of time kicking myself in the ass for allowing Alex Austin to get the better of me. I replayed the events of that fateful night over and over again in my head, thinking about all the opportunities I had to walk away. But there was just something about the guy. I could have walked away, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to. I wanted to kill that cocksucker, and I did. And I’d enjoyed it.
Still, I wish I could have found it within myself not to lose my cool during my encounter with him. For my mother’s sake. At the bail hearing she’d been distraught. I felt terrible for her, having to see her only child in jail, accused of murder, with overwhelming evidence to back up the charge. It made me wonder how many years I’d taken off her life.
On a positive family note, my father was long dead. I was so glad that he wasn’t around to see me in that courtroom. Because now I wouldn’t have to see him gloat. Years ago, when I told him I’d taken the test to become a cop, he laughed and said there was no way I’d pass. But I did pass, and entered the academy. Then he predicted I’d wash out in the first week. Wrong again, pops. I graduated. Finally, he assured me that I’d never make it through probation. And once again, he was dead wrong, though he never knew it, having kicked the bucket three months before my probie period ended. For a time I felt cheated about that, resentful that I couldn’t rub his nose in it. But now I was grateful that he was gone.
Thinking of my father made me wonder how things might have turned out between me and my own son, if I’d had one. But in my situation, I was glad I didn’t have kids. It would have sucked for them to know that their dad was facing the needle. I didn’t have a wife either, or a girlfriend for that matter, so no one came to visit me. Except for my slimy lawyer, Jerry Binder, Esq.
“You’re in serious trouble,” Binder told me. “That video is very incriminating.”
“Gee, ya think,” I said. “Is there any way you can get me off?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Then what am I paying you for?”
“You’re not paying me. I was appointed by the court. But even the most expensive lawyer in the world wouldn’t be able to beat this charge. The best we can do is try and save your life.”
There it was. The harsh reality. “How?”
“By copping a plea. The victim’s family has seen the video. They don’t want it released. They’re embarrassed at the way the victim spoke to you. I believe they’d be fine with dropping the capital charge in exchange for not having a trial. A guilty plea would put you in prison for life without the possibility of parole.”
Even though I somehow knew that this would be how things ended up, I still couldn’t grasp what I was hearing. I sat there, stunned.
“A trial would be very high profile,” Binder said. “And your chances of winning virtually nil.”
He was right, of course. Considering how much of a clown show the bail hearing had been, I couldn’t even imagine the three ring circus a trial would bring. Even worse, every day in court I would have to sit there, watching my mother wither away.
“Looks like I’ve got no choice,” I said.
I shrugged. “Fuck it, then. Plead.”
A month later I was on a bus, heading for my new home, the state penitentiary, where I’d live out my years until the day I died. None of the other prisoners on the bus seemed to recognize me, which was a relief. As a so-called dirty cop in the joint, the last thing you want is for that fact to be known by the cons. It would guarantee a shank with your name on it.
During orientation they gave me a choice: protective custody or general population. I chose gen pop. Not because I’m a people person. I’m not. But I’d already experienced a month of protective custody. I couldn’t imagine doing that for decades. I’d rather take the death penalty. Or a shiv in the back.
I acclimated quickly. You have no choice. Not if you want to survive. No one seemed to recognize my name or my face. All they knew was that I was some big surly guy in for murder, and so I was pretty much left alone. I wasn’t sure how long that would last but I hoped for the best.
By chance I had my cell to myself for the first three days of my incarceration. The guy I was supposed to share it with hung himself the night before I arrived. Lucky me. It was stressful waiting for a new cellmate. I had no idea who I would be bunking with, and wasn’t looking forward to finding out. The worrying kept me up at night. I wondered if I’d ever get a good night’s sleep in this place.
On the evening of day four, he arrived. I had to smile when they brought him in, because he looked a little like Alex Austin, minus the smirk. He was small and skinny, and way out of his element. I felt relieved that he wasn’t some hulking bruiser with a chip on his shoulder–like me.
The guy was nervous as shit. He didn’t look at me at all for the first hour, which pissed me off.
“You’re gonna have to look at me eventually,” I said.
His mousey eyes darted around, landed on mine for a split second and then darted away again.
“I’m Jake,” I said.
“Ben,” he said meekly.
“What are you in for, Benny?”
His voice was a whisper. “I killed…I killed my wife.”
I laughed. I don’t know why. Just the way he said it.
“Well, good for you,” I said.
At that moment it occurred to me that, all things considered, I was pretty lucky. This guy was going to be a decent cellmate. I decided to have some fun.
Using my best good cop voice, I said, “Listen, Benny, since we’re gonna be cellies for a long time, a lot of years, we may as well get used to it. I mean, we’re living together, right? That makes us family.”
He nodded and seemed to be calming down a little. He even maintained eye contact for longer than a split second.
“So we’re cool?” I said.
He nodded again. “Yeah.”
He looked at me and even managed a smile. “Sure,” he said. “Family, yeah.”
“Great,” I said. “And now, since we’re a family, we have a decision to make. We have to decide which one of us is the mommy and which one is the daddy. I’ll let you choose.”
Benny was still looking at me, but the smile was gone. He looked confused. “What?”
“Our family,” I said. “You. The mommy or the daddy?”
He shook his head, like he didn’t want to answer. But that wasn’t an option.
“Benny, listen to me,” I said, my voice changing, no longer the good cop. “You have to choose. I’m not gonna ask you again. Do you want to be the mommy or do you want to be the daddy?”
Benny spread his hands in a gesture of helplessness and squeaked out his answer. “The daddy, I guess?”
“You got it, daddy,” I said, smiling. Then, in my most authoritative bad cop voice, I added, “Now get down on your fucking knees, crawl over here, and suck mommy’s dick.”
In all honesty, I expected him to laugh. It was a joke. An old joke. I don’t know how in the world he’d never heard it before. But the look on his face was priceless.
He stared at me for a minute, his bottom lip quivering, like he was about to cry. Then, as if in slow motion, he dropped to his knees. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. As he began to crawl to me I realized that prison life, like everything else, is what you make of it.
He was about two feet away when I decided to let him off the hook. By kicking him in the face. It was a good shot. Sent a tooth flying.
“Not tonight,” I said. “Mommy’s got a headache.”
I don’t think he heard me. He seemed to be knocked out. But he recovered pretty quick. Moaning, he pawed at his busted mouth.
I stepped over him to get to my bunk. “Goodnight, daddy,” I said as I climbed into bed. Pulling up the covers, I put my head down on the pillow and closed my eyes.
And then, for the first time in what seemed like forever, I slept like a baby.
Originally published in Crime Syndicate Magazine. Available at Amazon.