“I see thugs deserving punishment.”
The call for submissions to our work-in-progess: “Essential Americans: the Stories that can no longer be Ignored” asks only that what you write is powered by your passion. An essay, a poem, a narrative, a response to the littany of injustices that just seem to multiply since the murder of George Floyd.
Jose Monroy is a young writer whose talent assures his future. I have the privilege of working with him on his first novel, Clearton City Tales, and quite frankly, very little as his editor has been required of me. Shopping it out, now. But here, in this entry, he uses his talent to reveal the nuances of the romance between right and wrong.
Can You See Me Now?
by Jose Monroy
“It’s June 14th. Already Monday,” officer Forsyth recites his daily report while strapping in. “7:55 in the morning, sun peeking through gray clouds, around 65 degrees Fahrenheit and should go up in to the mid 80’s this afternoon.”
“What’s happening in the world?” I always like to ask. Forsyth catches News In 60 Seconds every weekday morning. Something I skip in favor of another minute in bed and saves me the angst of knowing what’s wrong right now for later. I wake up. I pour my coffee. I drink my coffee. I shower. I pour and drink more coffee. Moments of deep thought and focus I choose not to color with –
“The singularity is coming and you should be afraid.”
I turn the key and my cruiser ignites. “What?” This is the angst I’m talking about. I look down to my badge and it’s thumping to the beat of whatever wants to burst out of my chest.
“Reed Davis spent about 30 seconds elaborating on this theory that in the next 50 years, or 40 years or 10 years, soon, man, that something”— Forsyth snaps his fingers, “will happen with technology and transform, irreversibly, our experience as human beings, our experience of life and he called it the singularity and he ended with…you should be afraid.” His voice turns up a note, “Robots, A.I., chips implanted in our brains or maybe we become this global hive mind. Obey. No borders, no distance, no conflict…maybe.”
“And the other 30 seconds of the broadcast?”
“Something about Iran, more protestors captured and executed by the People’s Militia and, oh,” he reaches into his pocket and pulls out a small flag pin, “it’s Flag Day.” He hands it over and taps on his own. “Near the heart. God bless our stars and stripes.”
I pin it on, then pull out of the lot and head downtown. The singularity. Will we still need law enforcement? A chip in my brain. Will it tell me who to arrest? Will it tell me when to shoot? I’m trained to observe. No, I’m trained to see. Having earned the trust of the department in this city I wear a badge brandishing my expertise in seeing. Will the singularity see for me?
I brake at the stop sign on Cityview Ave and 8th. Some chatter on the radio. It’s been about an hour since we buckled up. Eyes on the road. A blue Honda Odyssey can’t make up their mind whose turn it is to go, I flick my high-beams and honk to express my bother.
“Fucking drivers ed dropouts. Bet you if we stopped them they’re licenseless. What’s their plate number?” Forsyth loves the computer, fingers at the ready.
I roll through the stop sign and catch the plate number as the Odyssey heads down 8th, “6-Q-R-I-5-9-0.” My mom drove that model. I recall her anxiety at the wheel. I tighten my seat belt.
I recall how when she’d make a sudden stop her right arm would instinctively swing over to my chest and her hand would firmly hold me back into the seat. A hand more determined to save me than the Kevlar under my shirt or the badge pinned into my chest.
“Patricia Rivera, 43, from Fallado County. She’s employed at that luxury Ingots hotel that just opened. She’s licensed, by the way.”
I nod. I brake at a red light on Cityview and 10th. An eerie steel claw digs into what will be a parking lot, I assume, across the street. There’s no stalling life in this city. What used to be in that spot is a barber shop, I remember it vividly. Dad holding my hand. We cross the street, not on the crosswalk, but in the middle of the block cars honking as we flip them off. Always defiant, always righteous. It’s early in the morning and he opens the shop. In minutes the neon OPEN sign is on and his apron fitted. The shaving blades reflecting the sun into my eyes, back when there weren’t high-rises to block it from doing so. I sat at the shop and colored in my books like I did 9-5 on Saturdays while he worked. These were the coloring books that contained colorless pictures of life. I could color them with any colors I wanted from the crayons I’d collected. Sometimes money would be blue, birds purple, streets red, people green. After I colored them these pictures of life became cartoons of a certain childish madness. Yellow trees and a black sun.
My dad shaved like a possessed artist, his elbows contorting in shapes that didn’t seem comfortable, but his wrist tilted just right and the sound of harmless scraping always gave me goosebumps. The only time my dad ever cut someone by accident, someone walked into the shop. This person was colored different just like my pictures of life after I’d colored the blank space. Only difference in my book is everyone had a smile on their face. I thought to myself, whose idea was it to color people differently?
“You, get out. Couldn’t you read the sign?” My dad waves the person off with the bloody blade, red droplets coloring my white sneakers. The person retreats through the door and the wounded customer gets his cut and shave free of charge.
Now the barber shop is demolished. Sometimes I see these memories on my beat. I’m trained to see. But how can I see the steel claw for what it is when what I see is my dad’s rugged hand gripping a bloody blade, waving out someone colored by a mad child. 10th and Cityview, ladies and gentlemen. The light turns green.
Forsyth commands, “Go.”
Fixated on his watch, Forsyth counts down, “Three, two, one.”
“What is it?”
“Two hours of nothing but empty chatter on the radio. When’s the last time we had such an uneventful start to the day? On a Monday, no less. People are usually ready, at least, to speed through a red light.”
“It’s certainly a different Monday than last Monday.” Don’t get me started on last Monday. “Let me ask you something’s been on my mind lately.”
Forsyth nods and lays back into his seat, probably surprised I actually have something I want to talk about. Usually I just listen.
“How can you train someone to see something for what it is when whatever they’re seeing at any given moment isn’t what it was a second ago. Two seconds ago, even.”
“Give me an example.”
“Okay. You pull someone over. You’re pissed. They’re riding around, registration’s expired for 2 years and you’re thinking, ‘who’s this fucking idiot?’ and you stop them. She gets out of the car and she reminds you of your mother. Now, you’re still annoyed, sure, but, do you give her a break? If she cries—”
“Let me stop you right there. First of all, she broke the law. Second, to answer your question according to your example. Easy. There are rules. Rules existed yesterday still exist today. And will tomorrow. You break the rules. You pay. Done. Has nothing to do with seeing.”
Maybe I gave a bad example. Need to think on it a little longer. Maybe the singularity is what we need. We’ve got too much built up in our brains. Easy for Forsyth to say follow the rules. Not like I haven’t watched him beat up thieves until their teeth were loose.
Forsyth offers me two doughnuts. I take the one with sprinkles.
Not like Forsyth hasn’t been disciplined for irresponsible language during the course of an arrest.
“Sounds like what I said’s got you deep in thought again, Officer.”
I shape my face into a smile, “Haven’t got my answer just yet.”
Heavy chatter on the radio. My brain is wired. Sugar rush to my god damn temple. Doughnut buzz and coffee crash fighting to see who wins. Forsyth sits up in anticipation. What’s it going to be, dispatch? People’s Militia advancing on the city and need backup? Meth related house explosion and thugs are on foot down at the Gaslamp District? Or does the cathedral need additional security so the CEO of Boom Enterprises can confess and say a prayer? Ends up being nothing. 11 a.m. and it is quiet. This is it. This is my example. “Here you go, check it out.” Forsyth sits back again.
“We’re both wondering, ‘what the fuck?’, right?” Eyes on the road then I turn to Forsyth to see if he gets me. “3 hours in and nothing. Zip. We’re both wondering: why didn’t we stay at the precinct and finish up the paperwork from the twenty-something arrests from last week?”
“That’s my example. We see nothing happening. But we can’t help but find it weird, odd, almost frustrating. We can’t see this for what it is and what it is is a quiet Monday.”
“I get what you’re saying. So you weren’t talking about your own personal life kind of messing around with your brain during an arrest?”
“No, I’m” – I take a breath, “Especially after last week. I mean, some of them, sure, they’re rightfully locked up”–
“Hold it. They were thugs.”
“Exactly my point. That’s what you see.”
“And you don’t?”
“I don’t know.”
“I do. I do know. I see thugs deserving of punishment.”
The two weirdest consecutive days of my life occurred when I was thirteen years old. These days started with my mom explaining to me what sex is. And ended with my desire to be a police officer.
Over cereal, the kind that rots your teeth, as my mom would say, then she brings up my friendship with Santiago. “How’s he doing?”
In her usual, careful tone she slowly blurts out word-by-word and rushes to end the question, “Have your teachers taught you what sex is?”
Sex. I’m thirteen when she asks. Of course, I know what sex is. At this age I know about it because of its absence. It’s not there for me to know because it’s pervasive, it’s there for me to know because of how absent it is and how it gets talked about in a roundabout way. Doing it. Sleep together. In PG-13 rated movies, cutting as the couple jumps into bed, barely revealing skin.
“What have they taught you?”
“I don’t know they just talked about it for an hour at school, that’s all.”
My mom. Knowing the buttons that get pushed. Proceeds.
“And what did they talk about for an hour?”
I make sure I have enough cereal in my mouth. “Sex.”
“Okay. It’s when a man gets excited -”
“I know what it is.”
“Have you talked about it with Santiago?”
This is mom code for: Did you fuck your friend? At thirteen. I know this. I’m slurping the sugar milk from my bowl, staring at my mom with the intention of communicating silently, in absence, how fucking uncomfortable I am. “I haven’t. But we know what it is.” No, Mom. We have not fucked.
I swear I could have thrown up the awkward balloon that formed in my belly by the end of that conversation if the school bus hadn’t saved me from wherever that was going. I didn’t talk to Santiago that day. I made a silent promise, in the absence of speaking one, that I would never talk to him again.
Day 2 of my vow to never talk to the love of my life again and my dad picks me up. It’s strange, he never picks me up from school. Hiding from Santiago sucked the energy out of me and I practically fall asleep before my dad reveals – “They tore the shop to pieces.”
“Fucks. Excuse me.”
They did. He took me straight to the shop. To prove a point? Why did he pick me up that day? Mom was fine.
I remember the image of the cop. Badge shining into my eyes so bright I had to block it. Consoling dad. On the way home dad shares –
“Hope the cops make sure that never happens again.” I promise that’ll never happen again, Dad…
Forsyth’s index finger indicts the Corolla making the left turn after halfway stopping on Bellevue and Crest.
“Could’a killed someone.”
“That’s going to be our first gig? The left turner?”
“I did see that.”
Flick of the wrist and sirens sing me through the stop sign without stopping.
Forsyth holds the radio in his hand praying for the feedback to come now.
“Jonas comma Corinthian. Call him Cory. Has a warrant out for his arrest. Aggravated assault, negligently causing bodily injury to a widow.”
“Widow? What the hell? Is that right? Widow?” The radio goes silent. Crack. “Ahem, aggravated assault, negligently causing bodily injury to another with a deadly weapon. Sorry, it’s my first day.”
Forsyth pulls the slide back on his Glock 40, “That explains the no-call morning.”
I see someone eager to hurt. “Put that away.”
“You wanna get caught killed? Not me.”
The Corolla stops.
Cars distance between me and the suspect. What do I see? Tinted windows.
“Flip a coin?” Forsyth pulls out a quarter.
“I’ll go.” I open the door and look up. On a black billboard propped up on a three-story, gross graffiti of two cops drawn with chalk and in a chat bubble: TO SERVE AND REPENT. I get back in, sit comfortable in my seat.
“Not the best block to stop one Jonas comma Corinthian.” Forsyth scrolls through Cory’s history.
I see a car. A 2011 Toyota Corolla. Tinted windows. No movement inside the vehicle.
“I’m locked and loaded I have no problem tapping on that window.”
I nod, exit and shut the door behind me. Across the street, I see civilians stop. What color are they? I make it up. Purple. See the vehicle. No movement. Tinted windows.
Radio cracks. I look up. What do I make of the shapes the sky makes? And I continue towards the Corolla. I look back. Forsyth exits the car and leans against it. Fingers on his holster. I see someone eager to hurt.
Forward. No movement. Tinted windows. The cracked asphalt aspires to catch my step off guard but here I go, standard formation. Hand on my belt.
Forsyth is…I look back. Leaning. Forward. The butt of the Corolla upsets me. How did I not see that? The break light is busted. Who the fuck is this asshole? My fingers brush the corner of the trunk.
No movement. Tinted windows. What would the singularity see? I see thugs deserving of punishment. Would it take my side?
The driver door of the Corolla slips open. A crack. It opens. The hand caressing my belt caresses the hammer. I look back. Did he light a cigarette?
“Wait a second.” A voice from inside the Corolla. “I can’t roll down my window.”
I sidestep two feet away from the car, hand on the hammer, already busting this motherfucker. What do I see? A door creaking open. I see I’m afraid. A cop afraid of a thug who deserves punishment. Who do I see? Colored fingers crawling along the frame of the door. It’s almost lunch time.
“Sir, open the door. Slowly. Hand me your license and registration please.”
The door remains inches open. Nothing. Voices inside the car. Tinted windows. The voices move. People in the back seat. I look to the back window. Who do I see? Myself. My fucking hair I should have cut. My badge shining against the window. I promise that will never happen again. Cracks on the radio dispatching, “Crimes, misdemeanors, flaws, mistakes, fuck ups…”
What do I see?
The door swings open. Cory hands me his license and registration. I scan it. I give him a ticket. He drives away.
“Calm as a motherfucker.” Forsyth buckles in.
So do I.
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