Category Archives: Culture/Politics

Fair is Fair

A familiar image popped up on my Facebook feed, shared by a reasonable conservative friend, sourced from a page of patriots dedicated to opposing “Jihad.”

So I wasn’t surprised to find a misleading story:

Post whatever you like on a political issue. You're practically guaranteed no one will look it up.
Post whatever you like on a political issue. You’re practically guaranteed no one will look it up.

I knew I’d seen this image before, and had even responded to the panicked fear-mongering, the dire sense of impending doom, the overwrought feeling of “what has our country come to?”

Yet here it was again.

Out of a foolhardy need to correct people on the Internet, I clicked “Show all comments” on the thread. The reactions were explosive. A few, in bold, are presented below, along with my thoughts on their points:

Anyone who didn’t walk out is a traitor to the oath they swore when they were elected.

Actually, they’re upholding the importance of pluralism and diversity, and ensuring that our government isn’t misunderstood to be promoting or respecting a particular religion over all others. By supporting this, they’re doing exactly what they swore to do. And to be fair, selection of pray-ers is probably pretty transparent and unrelated to almost everyone in either body of Congress.

How can they say separation of church and state about schools and government offices when they’re forcing the Islamic ideology on the House of Representatives?

Because the prayer fits that gray area where no religion is being forced or pushed upon any individual, no one is being forced to participate in a religious act, and no implication of government respect or disrespect is shown for a particular religion in relation to all others.

If Obama wants them to have an Islamic prayer, then he has to let them have Christian prayers too. He never will, but he should. Fair is fair. 

If fair is fair, then we probably owe Islamic clerics far more opportunities to conduct the prayers, not less. 

The timing seems highly suspect, coming right off the heels of the tragedy in Orlando. It’s pretty obvious what Obama’s trying to say here.

Well, the video is actually from late 2014–note the presence of John Boehner as Speaker of the House, which, by the way, is a Legislative body controlled by Republicans at that point, and not part of President Obama’s Executive branch.  So the President had nothing to do with it now, nor did he back then. But for whatever reason this page decided to post it like it happened yesterday. You’re right, the timing is suspect… but not in the way you think.

This post highlights a level of ignorance many Americans may have about what happens every time our representatives meet. I didn’t know all this until looking into a similar post a few months back, so I assume maybe others also don’t know.

The House of Representatives has a chaplain who conducts an invocation or prayer at the start of every session, and this practice has taken place since 1789. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of prayers offered are Christian in nature.

The first Islamic invocation was conducted in 1991, and several have occurred since then, once every couple years or on some occasions twice in one year.

Other religions have also been represented, but sparsely. Jewish prayers account for 2.7% of all invocations in the last fifteen years. Hindus have occasionally offered prayers (once every six years or so since 2000, near as I can tell).  Islam and Hinduism are tied at about 0.5% of the invocations in that 15 year period.

That data came from the Freedom From Religion Foundation, who pointed out that 97% of prayers in Congress in the last 15 years  are Christian in nature. And yet no form of atheism, secularism or humanism has been given a chance to conduct anything resembling an invocation. “Of course not,” one might say, “they’re not a religion.” But there are values which most atheists or humanists espouse, and there are options that would permit inclusion and participation of a group that is currently excluded, without putting down religious beliefs or pushing a non-faith ideology on anyone–in the same way that Christian prayers can be offered without violating the separation of church and state. (But when someone tried to nominate a secular person to perform the invocation, that request was denied.)

Back to the original point.

The problem is, a page with an agenda can depict this subject in a frightening or conspiratorial light. President Obama is blamed for this as though he directly scheduled this cleric to pray and as if he has banned any other forms of prayer–neither of which are true.

Simply put, a little bit of research goes a long way to defusing tensions, enlightening minds, broadening perspectives, and understanding differences. Taking the time to dig a little deeper and discover the truth keeps us from going off the deep end or responding in fear toward someone we don’t agree with. It helps unite us in a time when our culture and country is starkly divided.

Instead of seeing the worst, we can seek and discover the best about others. Instead of presuming or pre-judging, we can come to know others as they are, just like we’d hope to be treated if the roles were reversed.

That seems pretty fair.

Voices Worth Hearing

A couple things crossed my social media feed and challenged / moved me in the last few days. And I’m not just talking spoiler-laden clips of Game of Thrones’ season finale. (But holy cow did they fit a lot into that episode!)

1. With regard to the Brexit vote, before it happened, here’s a powerful and masterful example of persuasive public speech.

I know a lot of people opposed Britain leaving the EU, arguably for some good reasons. What I hate is the idea some spread or implied which said that every “Leave” supporter is some xenophobic, racist, greedy, hateful miser only out for themselves. Several million people voted for this (what was it, 19M+ if memory serves). Are we really supposed to believe that the vast majority of them are motivated politically by hatred and fear? Take a listen and enjoy a well-stated perspective, even if you don’t agree.

2. After the tragic and horrific shooting in the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, my wall exploded with different views on what should be addressed, what could have been done, what the real problems in America are, and so on. Accusations of Islamophobia (and maybe some actual Islamophobia) all peppered the mix. As if it’s so simple as suggesting adopting “if we just had a stricter law about guns” or “if the President would have called it radical Islam” or some other myopic opinion masquerading as a solution.

In the midst of all that, I found this OpEd on CNN: Well-stated views about what Muslims in America could do about the current state they’re in. On the one hand, I don’t like the idea that an entire, complex group of people is painted with the same shade, with one massive brush. But the writer seems to pragmatically state, “Well here we are, what can we do about it?”

3. Another piece of very persuasive and energetic public speech appeared on my feed today. I don’t know who Jesse Williams is, but he issues a challenge to all those with something to say about Black Lives Matter and about how African-Americans should deal with racial tensions. Those of us who aren’t forced by daily experience to consider all the ramifications and consequences of something as basic as skin tone might do well to listen with an open mind. We might not see it how Mr. Williams sees it. We might not agree with his conclusions. But there is a wide swath of America that does see it that way–a large percentage of Americans for whom Mr. Williams’ comments are spot on, addressing their day-to-day reality. If we’re willing to understand, we can’t assume we’ve got the whole picture on something so complex as race.

If you’re only going to watch one of these, I suggest the third option. Click the image below for a link to the speech.

Jesse Williams
Jesse Williams

Under Illusion

I saw this political image making the rounds on my Facebook feed this week, and it got me thinking. Or rather some of the responses did.


One pastor seemed quite incensed that “under God” wasn’t in this version. To that individual, this image shouldn’t be shared as a result… despite the image caption making clear the intent of showing the Pledge as originally written.

In fact, the original Pledge by Francis Bellamy is even more different: I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. 

I thought about the power of those two words, “under God.”

In Supreme Court decisions on the subject, the Chief Justice argued that “under God” is an acknowledgement of the religious heritage of the nation but is at this point essentially a secular declaration.  

The ‘God’ referred to is generic and devoid of any religious context. You can say it’s a monotheistic God, so it’s probably tied to an Abrahamic religion. But I don’t think that’s the Court’s intent or point.

I think they recognize, like we should, that two words in a pledge do absolutely nothing to impose any religious standard of behavior or belief upon anyone. No one draws nearer to God in a spiritual experience by reciting the Pledge. It’s not a hymn or worship song, it’s not a prayer to say by rote like Our Father Who art in Heaven or Hail Mary.

Yet the Righr, ever fearing that War on Christianity, focuses attention on those two words in the pledge, as though they constitute some magic cute to social ills that concern us.

Maybe if kids say “under God” then it’ll show what a good, Christian nation we are–regardless of the immorality we approve, condone, or even actively participate in.

I don’t think it works that way. Not on a national level, where we claim some divine favored status–spiritual immunity perhaps?

I’m positive it doesn’t work this way on an individual level, where so long as I say the right words now and then, all my faults and failures get a wink and an understanding grin before being brushed aside. 

After all, I’m part of the good Christian club, right? I ‘liked’ that image that 93% wouldn’t, and shared that poem about footprints in the sand. I voted for the guy who quoted the Bible in his speeches. And I totally got behind defending “under God” from those atheist social justice warriors. 

To paraphrase Jesus, perhaps today He’d tell us, “On that day, many will say, ‘Lord, did we not post in Your Name? And did we not block the atheists on social media, and fight against the growth of Islam in Your favorite nation? Did we not defend the Christ in Christmas, and stand up for the massive cross monuments on public property?’ 

And I will say to them, ‘Depart from Me. I never knew you.'”

It’s easy for me to sit and criticize. So I’ll be honest and admit that I’m just as in danger of missing the whole point as those whose opinions I decry here. I just don’t want to be content flailing about in a cloud of religious / cultural chaff and controversy. 

If I really believe what I claim, then it’s too important to get hung up quibbling and griping over minor details, caught under some illusion that I’m fighting the good fight for the faith.

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 8

This is the eighth and final preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

“This way,” Jamal called. Chris followed the big teen through the warehouse. They’d kicked open a locked door when the gunfight broke out. With no way of knowing which side was winning, and with sirens going off heralding the arrival of the cops, they decided to make a break for it through the building.

“Get away from the window, man!” Chris yanked on Jamal’s hoodie pulling him to safety as bullets punched through the thick glass. The boys dropped to the ground and crawled deeper into the dark building.

“What about Lamar?”

Chris shook his head. “Dude, screw Lamar, screw the Kings and the Pinoy and whoever else. Let’s just get outta here!”

He ducked low and hustled in the shadows between shelves stacked with boxes. Jamal chased him. “Where you goin’ man?”

“Tryin’ to find a safe spot to hide.” Chris pulled out his cellphone and tried to get a signal. There wasn’t anything Mom could do, but she was close and he was desperate.

The sound of glass shattering and distorted shouts echoed across the wide warehouse. Jamal grabbed Chris’s arm. “They comin’ in here for us. No witnesses. Or maybe they think we got some of the Kings’ product they can steal. Either way, ain’t safe here. We gotta leave.” He rose and looked around the dim room.

“Exit light that way.” Jamal tugged Chris and ran.

Chris followed, panicked, furious at Jamal. Jesus, let him figure out how stupid this is so he gets out of it for good.

They ran up a flight of stairs and found the fire escape door. Shouts below spurred them on. Jamal shoulder-checked the door and it burst open, leading to a wrought-iron walkway and railing that stretched around the building. Sudden sunlight blinded the teens.

Chris ducked through the doorway and squinted. A siren warbled nearby. Frequent gunshots snapped on the other side of the warehouse. Chris held up his hand—clutching the phone—to block the brightness. He spotted a ladder to the ground at the far end of the balcony. “Jamal, follow me, there’s a way down.”

He hopped down onto the second rung and hooked his feet on either side, hoping the move worked like in the movies.

It almost did.

Chris hit hard, crumpling on the ground next to the ladder. Someone shouted from the street, but Chris couldn’t make out the voice through the pain. He struggled onto a knee and thrust his hands up when he saw the flashing lights of a cop car.

 

 

The gunman in the alley fired three shots at the other gang further down. Mason took aim on the gunman’s cover. Pop up again, punk. See what happens.

The radio chirped inside the cruiser. “Ambulance ETA three minutes. Backup enroute. Car Seventeen, say status.”

Something thumped to Mason’s left side.

Mason spun, staying behind the cover of his cruiser door, pistol ready. A thin-frame teenage suspect lay on the ground next to the fire escape ladder. “Freeze!” His voice squeaked at the end of the full-throated roar.

Another one—a bigger guy—ran along the balcony, heading for the ladder down.

The thin guy rose to one knee and extended his hands toward Mason. Something black in his right hand caught the light.

Gun! Mason double-tapped the trigger.

The teenager fell, his weapon scraping across the concrete. His partner hit the ground at the bottom of the ladder then dropped to his knees next to the suspect Mason shot.

“Oh Jesus! Chris!”

Mason did a double-take at hearing his name, but the chaos and panic drove the thought away. Training kicked in. Gain control of the situation. Hunkered down behind the door, Mason took aim and shouted. “Hands behind your head! Get down on your knees!”

He is already.

The new suspect complied. But his eyes seethed and his muscular body shook with anger. He swore at Mason. “You shot a kid! He done nothin’ wrong.”

More gunfire from the alley. A scream.

Mason kept his weapon trained on the kneeling suspect, tuning out the tirade. He took quick glances checking for the gunman in the alley.

A body slumped against the bloodstained wall behind the dumpster.

Tires screeched in the distance and an engine roared. Mason hopped to his feet and ran to the car where Kaz lay. He pointed his gun down the alley and caught sight of two suspects sprinting from the far side of the warehouse, fleeing on foot.

Mason almost gave pursuit, but Kazsinski groaned. Those guys are long gone, and my partner needs me. “Kaz, hang in there, man. Ambulance is coming.”

He moved back toward the cruiser to check on the subdued suspect. You never actually subdued him, idiot. The big guy was gone.

Mason checked for threats, found none, and ducked into the cruiser. He snagged the radio and called in. “Car One Seven status: Shots fired, officer wounded. Two armed suspects fleeing east on foot, one vehicle fleeing scene.”

The radio chirped and the female voice replied, sounding relieved. “Good to hear you, Car One Seven. Ambulance should be there any second.”

Mason heard the sirens approaching.

“How many you got in need of medical attention?”

“At least four suspects wounded in gunfight. Plus two armed suspects neutralized by responding officers.”

He looked over the scene to confirm his facts. One gunman that had Mason pinned down, taken out by the rival gang. At least two bodies at the other end of the alley, probably shot early in the fight. The dead guy by the driver’s side door of the black sedan. The gunman Kaz took out. And the thin guy Mason shot, who lay unmoving on the concrete…

Next to a black smartphone, scuffed and cracked. That’s no weapon.

Mason stared at the device. Oh my God oh my God oh my God.

He tried taking deep breaths to slow his panicked heartbeat. What do I do? “Oh God, Kaz… what do I do?”

Be courageous. Own up when you’ve done wrong.

His voice cracked as he keyed the mic. “HQ, Car Seventeen, correction. Unarmed possible civilian shot on scene by responding officer. Need that ambulance stat.”

The handset thunked in the floor of the cruiser, next to his discarded body cam. Mason scrambled to the kid on the ground, clamping a hand over each bullet wound to staunch the blood flow. Through tears, he barely saw the medics rushing toward Kaz and screamed to get their attention.

“Civilian down over here, I need help!”

 

 

Author’s note: Thanks for reading this far, but the novel is really about the aftermath. If you like what you’ve previewed, you can find Not to the Swift at my Amazon author page here.

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 7

“Oh my Lord,” Kazsinski ranted as he steered the cruiser out of the parking garage. “You believe that load-a-crap the Captain foisted off on us?”

Mason said nothing, watching the shops and houses pass by.

Kaz took on a mocking tone. “She’s all ‘How many people trust you? How many people want to hug you? How many times do the people in the Twenties bring you flowers?’ God. Whadda tool.” He laughed and punched Mason’s arm. “At least she had a nice rack, right?”

Kaz ignored Mason’s silence and kept venting. “I got an idea for how we change things. Throw a few more in prison. Stop pussy-footing around and bring some SWAT gear down here, maybe clean out the gangs. Can’t be on the street committing crime if they’re in a cell at the pen. Or in a damn box.”

He turned a corner and pulled up behind a driver. “Looks like a tail light burned out, don’t it?” Blue and red lights flashed with the flip of a switch. “Let’s see what this guy’s up to.”

The driver’s Hispanic. Surprise, surprise. Mason sighed. This is ridiculous. Kaz can’t be the face of the police force in this community. Evidence or no evidence, I need to talk to the Captain about this.

 

 

“We don’t need to do this, J. Maybe they ain’t coming. Let’s get out of here.”

Jamal hunkered down with Chris Washington in an alleyway between Madison and Nelson. “They’ll be here. Trust me.”

Chris scoffed. “I trust you. I don’t trust them. What time they s’posed to get here?”

Jamal showed Chris his phone and laughed. “Four twenty, man.”

Chris shook his head. “Figures.”

A car pulled into the alley from the east end. Jamal watched them for a moment, then rose. “They here. Let’s go.”

It’s not too late to leave. Chris looked to the other end of the alley. The sunlight on the street looked like freedom beckoning. He almost made a break for it.

But I can’t leave Jamal behind. Chris turned and followed his friend to the meet.

Two Hispanic guys with a bouncer’s physique stepped out of the car. A blocky bulge revealed the outline of a gun tucked into one’s waistband. The other had something bulky in his pocket. A thin black man with narrow eyes and a scowl stood between his guardians. He scanned up and down the alley as Jamal approached.

Jamal extended his hand. “Lamar, my brotha, what up!”

Lamar ignored the greeting and nodded at Chris. “This the kid you told me about?”

Jamal paused. “Yeah, I’m tellin’ you man, he don’t look like much maybe. But dude is a beast with numbers. He could keep your cash flow straight, help you figure out, y’know, some fool stiffin’ you on profits or something.”

Lamar folded his arms across his chest. “I don’t like this. He looks risky.” He turned to Chris. “You look risky to me, kid. Like someone who will fold if he gets caught. Someone who’ll cry to mama and spill details to every cop that’s listenin’.”

Chris should have been happy to be excluded, but a touch of pride rose up within. Man, you don’t know me.

Jamal waved his hands to get Lamar’s attention. “Hey, dawg, nah, it ain’t like that. Look, you give us some product to store for you, I keep it at my place, not his. You know me, man, you know I’m good for it. No risk.”

Lamar cocked his head at Jamal. “Then why is he here?”

“Man, he gotta learn somehow,” Jamal said. “Someone need to take him under the wing, be his mentor. That’s me, a’ight? I know he ain’t what you need right now, but gimme some time an’ he will be.”

Lamar considered the suggestion.

Jamal pressed it further. “Did you ever have someone come alongside and teach you how to hustle, how to get by on the streets? I want to be that guy for Chris.”

“A’ight, we’ll try it out,” Lamar said. He handed Jamal a black duffel bag. “I’m givin’ you two brick for you to hang onto until we get some permanent arrangement set up. And I got half a brick for you to push in your set. Chris can help you sell it if you want, and get some of the profits—on one condition. The part you’re sellin’ on your set—that doesn’t stay with the part you’re storing for us.”

Chris stepped forward. “Wouldn’t spreading it around increase risk?”

Lamar glared at him. “I don’t want it all in one spot. You fools get caught sellin’, they’re gonna check Jamal’s house before they give you your phone call. If you lose a few bags of my goods, it won’t be hard for you to replace that. But if you lose whole bricks… that ain’t all you gonna lose, let’s just say that.”

Jamal nodded. “Sure, dawg. ‘Course. We can use Chris’s place.” He shoved the bag toward Chris.

Chris stared at Jamal and took the duffel. You know I can’t store nothin’ at my house. What are you doin’, J?

“Now about my set, I was thinkin’ if I could cover—”

A car squealed to a halt in the other end of the alley. Gunfire and shouts erupted, and Chris pulled Jamal to the ground.

 

 

“All vehicles, Headquarters,” the woman’s voice blared from the cruiser radio. “We got a two forty-five in progress between multiple four seventeens. Two suspected gangs in an alley between Madison and Nelson on the southside eighteen hundred block.”

Kazsinski spun the wheel. “That’s us, man. We’re almost on top of it.”

“Multiple shots fired,” the radio squawked. “Possible injuries on scene. Any available officers, please respond.”

Mason grabbed the transceiver and keyed the mic. “Cruiser One-Seven is on it.” Oh God, oh God, this is really happening. Shots fired.

The lights danced on buildings and reflective surfaces as the cruiser tore through the streets, siren blasting. The police car caught air on a downhill. Eyes wide and intense, Kaz let out a “Whoo!”

Mason checked over his equipment. Body cam secured. No helmets, can’t help that. Weapon loaded, safety off. The double-action trigger wouldn’t misfire even if dropped. He reached in his door panel and donned his ballistic glasses. These aren’t stopping a bullet, but every little bit helps, right?

In the distance, Mason heard soft popping sounds like firecrackers going off in clusters of two to four. Kazsinski barely slowed as the cruiser sped through the school zone of Pulaski High. It’s after four. All the kids should be long gone. I hope.

Kazsinski slammed on the brakes near a black sedan blocking the alley. The driver’s door hung ajar, its window shattered. A body lay on the ground among the glass shards. Gunfire echoed around the corner.

Mason looked to Kazsinski for guidance, but Kaz burst out of the car as soon as he hit the emergency brake. He rushed to the wall of the nearest building then slid toward the alleyway, his Beretta held level, clutched to his chest.

A young man’s voice resounded in Mason’s ears. “This is Pinoy turf now. Run home an’ tell the Kings.” More gunshots punctuated the demand. Someone wailed for help out of sight.

Kaz thrust his pistol around corner as he leaned to get a view. “Police,” he screamed. “Drop your weapons, hands above your head.” He whirled back into cover. Brick chips and dust sprayed past Kazsinski’s shoulder as bullets riddled the other side of the building.

Laughing voices swore in English and some other language, but Mason could make out “pigs” among the curses. He hunkered down and hustled over to where Kaz stood.

The vet swore. “That was close. Shoulda just let them shoot each other up a while and arrested whoever survived.” He tapped his temple with his left hand. “File that plan away for another day.”

Two more gunshots rang in the alley. Footsteps of tennis shoes on gravel sounded as the gang members sought new cover. Mason drew his weapon and checked the safety once more. “What’s the plan?”

Kaz pointed the pistol toward the car. “I’ll move behind there for another view while you cover me. We can’t both be at the same position and overlap our fields of fire. Ready?”

Mason and Kaz traded places so Mason could lean out to fire down the alleyway. He took a deep breath to steady himself. It didn’t do much good.

“Now!” Kaz dashed behind Mason, seeking cover behind the sedan. Mason stepped to the side and thrust his hands out, supporting his weapon and searching for a target.

Gravel sprayed and bullets whizzed past as the gang members fired at Kaz. Mason popped off two shots at one of the assailants before spinning back behind the corner. Kaz ducked behind the sedan’s trunk.

“Looks like two left in the middle,” Mason called. “Three or four at the other end of the alley. At least one wounded there too.”

“Ain’t worried about how many wounded,” Kaz said. “Gonna make some more of them before this is over.” He popped up, fired off two shots, and dropped back into cover. Someone in the alley screamed in pain.

More gunfire broke out at the other end of the alley. They’re distracted, still trying to kill each other. Mason poked his weapon around the corner—scraping his body cam across the wall. He found a target and took a shot.

One of the big guys at the other end jerked with a hit to the shoulder. His weapon fell in the rocks, and he dove to retrieve it.

Someone in the middle loosed a burst of bullets that riddled the man Mason wounded. The body flopped into the gravel and twitched once before going still.

A twinge of guilt struck Mason. Did I just get someone killed? He shoved the thought down. The guy was clearly a threat looking to be neutralized.

Kaz fired a couple more rounds, alternating fire from the left and right sides of the car. Then another gunman sprung from the corner of the building across the alley from Mason. With a clear view of Kazsinski, he cracked off three shots with a pistol. Kaz spun and returned fire, striking the shooter in the chest and head. But he fell to the ground, blood soaking through the shoulder and side of his uniform.

“I’m hit!” He writhed on the ground and swore repeatedly. “Oh god, it burns.”

Mason froze. He almost ran to Kaz, but more gunfire down the alley cut him off. “What do I do, man?”

“Get to the radio. Call for backup and an ambulance. Son of a—what are you doin’ standin’ there? Go, dammit!”

Training kicked in. Mason ran to the driver’s side door and ducked inside, snagging his body camera on the doorframe as it swung open. He keyed the mic as he grabbed the transceiver. “HQ, officer down at Eighteenth and Madison. Officer is responsive but bleeding heavily. Situation still in progress with sporadic gunfire and multiple offenders. Send backup.”

A woman’s voice crackled through the mic. “Hold position, drag officer to safety if able, backup enroute. Ambulance support will be dispatched.”

The body cam swung loose and rattled with Mason’s every move. He ripped the thing off, left it in the car and called out to Kaz. “I’m coming to get you, man. Hang on. Ambulance on the way.”

Kaz lay still, the gravel and dirt beneath him stained red.

Bullets struck the hood of the cruiser, and Mason dropped to the ground behind the open door. One of the gunmen tried to flee the alley but got pinned down behind a dumpster on the other side of the sedan. Concrete shattered as bullets sprayed the wall above the dumpster. The gunman whipped back and forth between keeping Mason in cover and shooting at his enemies down the alley. He fired again, creating a spider-web in the cruiser’s windshield.

Mason held his gun at the ready and tried in vain to calm his racing heart.

 

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 6

This is the sixth preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

 

The Precinct bustled with activity at the start of the workweek. Captain McCullough pulled in every available officer for a morning training session, due to kick off in half an hour. Kaz hit the gym set up on the second floor, leaving Chris on the operations floor alone.

He sat at one of the few available computers filling out a soft-copy document with the details of the Friday patrol and the encounter with Mister Shuttlesworth. The report already reflected the seeming racial bias behind Kazsinski’s methods when conducting a traffic stop. But the main incident description held Chris’s attention.

Intentionally drew weapon on unarmed non-threatening civilian.

Chris deleted “intentionally” and tapped the desk. I need a word with less blame, maybe. I don’t want to crucify the guy. I just want to make sure he learns the lesson.

He highlighted the text for later revision and moved on.

One of the boxes read, ‘Video clip media number.’ Chris paused and looked for a veteran for guidance. “Hey O’Neill, how do I track down a cut of body cam footage?”

O’Neill laughed. “You gotta talk to Hannigan up in Records. If any of the footage is marked to save, he’ll have it.”

“Thanks.” Chris saved the document, pulled his access card, and headed for the second floor. If any of it is saved? What does that mean?

He found Hannigan behind a desk in the Records office, wasting time on his computer until the training session. Cat videos? Are you kidding me?

“Hey man, I need to get a media number for a clip from our patrol on Friday.”

Hannigan glanced at Mason and returned to his computer. “New guy? I don’t take requests from new guys. Tell Kaz to come by himself if he wants something.”

“Come on, this is serious. I need to file an incident report, so I need the footage number.”

“Incident report? What are you talkin’ about? Wasn’t no incidents on Friday.”

I don’t need Hannigan looking into this. Better watch my mouth. “Look, I just need to see what you’ve got off our body cams from Friday morning.” Chris paused. Maybe I can play it off as rookie hazing to get him to cooperate.

“Kaz has me doing a stack of paperwork before we go on patrol today. New cops push papers, he says. I’ve been at it for two hours now,” Chris lied. “It’s killing me.”

Hannigan smiled wide, his sadistic streak apparently satisfied. “In that case, I’ll help you out with something. Kaz sent you on a wild goose chase, kid. He does that with all-a you scrubs. You shoulda seen the crap his first partner gave him when he was a rookie. Oh man, it was good times.” Hannigan chuckled. “Anyway, ain’t no video recordings from Friday.”

What?

Chris didn’t have to fake a look of shock. “So what happens to all the footage from the body cams? What’s the point of them?”

“Every day, end of the day, we purge the previous day’s videos if they ain’t marked to save. Jeez, few dozen officers all wearin’ cameras on patrol, can you imagine the storage space that would fill up on the network drive?”

Hannigan shook his head and added, “If somethin’ bad happens and we really need the video, we’ll know about it before it gets purged, right? No reason to keep a bunch of clips of driving down streets for hours.”

Chris fumbled for a response. I have no proof of what I’m accusing Kaz of doing.

“Besides,” Hannigan said with a shrug, “a lot of the guys, they don’t want someone listening to their conversations. Lots of stuff you share with your partner that you wouldn’t prob’ly share with anyone else, y’know?” He laughed. “Well, you don’t know yet, but one day you will.”

“I see,” Chris said. “I guess I’m done here. Thank you for your time.”

“Yeah, man, you bet.”

Chris wandered down the hall past the gym. Several policemen worked with free weights, watching form in the numerous mirrors. Two guys took turns on the bench press, spotting for each other and adding plates. Kaz sat on an incline bench, pressing two thick dumbbells into the air above his chest. Do I talk to him about what happened? Do I still file the report, without any evidence to back up my claim?

“Quit checkin’ me out, scrub,” Kaz called from inside the gym. “Bad enough the Captain stuck me with a rookie, now I gotta worry my rookie partner’s a homo tryin’ to stick me too.”

The others laughed and sneered at Chris. He shook his head. “Dude, you’re ridiculous.” You’re also the only one who knows about Friday. And I doubt you’re going to help me request an incident review. No one’s going to believe a rookie.

A thought struck Chris. But would they believe a civilian, if a rookie corroborated his account?

Chris strode to the stairwell and checked the time. Five minutes until the training brief. He returned to the computer and brought the incident file back up. Then he looked through the record of traffic stops uploaded from the mobile computer in the police cruiser. He found the entry he needed, and copied details into his report.

Driver: Benjamin Shuttlesworth. 4215 West Garrison Street.

The Captain made an announcement and called everyone to the briefing room. Chris clicked save and logged off. I need to pay you a visit this week, Mister Shuttlesworth.

There was still time to do the right thing.

 

 

René waved goodbye and bounded up the sidewalk into Franklin Middle School. George pulled away from the curb and licked his lips, looking for words.

“Dad, I can walk,” Chris complained. “Do we really need to do this?”

“Do what? I’m just dropping you off at school.”

“You only do this when you want to talk,” Chris said. “But you already talked to me last night about Jamal and drugs and gangs and everything else. I’m not doin’ any of that, Dad.”

“I’m concerned, son.” George pulled the car away from Franklin and headed south. “I need to know you’re thinkin’ about what I said, what happened to Clarence, what you wanna do with your life.”

Chris stared out the window. “Jamal’s my friend, Dad. I ain’t gonna lie, he wants to get into some stupid stuff, dealing with the Kings. I told him that’s not me. I’m tryin’ to tell him that ain’t him either. You gotta believe me.”

George stared straight ahead, driving on subconscious autopilot. Hadn’t thought of that, you tryin’ to talk sense to your friend the way I feel like I need to talk to you. I want to believe you. I think I do. But I love you too much to ignore this.

They sat in silence. Say something, George told himself. Tell him you trust him. Tell him you’re proud. Anything.

George forced a joking tone. “Sometimes I think all them superhero stories goin’ to your head, son.” That the best you got? Come on, George, man up. Say somethin’ real.

Chris laughed once, but said nothing.

Pulaski High loomed ahead. You runnin’ out of time. George slowed the car to a stop along the sidewalk. Don’t be distant like Dad was to you. Most of these kids don’t got a father at home—your son does. So make sure that means something.

George parked the car near the corner of the school grounds. “Look, son, I trust you. I do. You got a good head on those shoulders. You’re smarter than I was at your age. You got a future, somethin’ to hope for. But it’s not gonna happen by itself. You need to strive for it. When all your friends cuttin’ class, smokin’ joints or gettin’ drunk or God knows whatever crazy stuff they get up to, you can’t go with them down that path. That path dead-ends right here in the Twenties.”

“I know, Dad,” Chris nodded. “I get it. You don’t have to tell me again. I gotta go.”

“Okay,” George said. He extended a fist toward Chris, but the teenager exited the car without noticing. Chris rushed toward the front door and disappeared into a crowd.

Was that Jamal next to Chris? George couldn’t make out the face among so many others. Then the teens entered the school. No telling now. Just gotta hope he listens.

George sighed and checked the clock on the dash.  Need to get to work at Eastwick before they drop my contract. He left behind a cloud of smoke as he pulled away, headed for the Stapleton suburbs.

 

 

Chris glanced back through the crowd and saw the tell-tale fog of his father’s car. Jamal kept talking, and Chris tuned back in to the conversation.

“—three of them asked me to. So this afternoon, I’m gonna meet up with Lamar’s associates and store some of their product at my crib. My gramma’s old, she won’t have any idea what’s goin’ on, even if she find a brick under my bed.”

“This is bad mojo, man,” Chris said. “You come up with some plans over the years, J. Some of ’em been aight, but some of ’em just all the way dumb.”

“Bruh, I got this. No way this one goes wrong. An’ I told Lamar I was bringin’ you along.”

“You crazy, fool. I ain’t gettin’ involved in this.”

Jamal’s face twisted in rage. “Man, I’m lookin’ out for you. Hookin’ you up. I’m not sayin’ you gotta bring their stuff to your place. That’s the dumbest idea. Your mom and dad be all over you. So I’m storin’ all the product. That means I’m takin’ all the risk, stickin’ my neck out for you.”

He really is trying to do this smart, and he’s doing me a huge favor. Chris struggled at the thought of rejecting Jamal’s unexpected kindness. He’s doin’ this as a friend.

“You in or out, man? Or are you in, but you’re gonna choke again?”

If I say no, he’s not gonna listen to anything else I tell him. A small hope bloomed in his mind. Maybe I can still talk him out of this—but that’s only gonna work if I go with him.

“I’m not committing to anything, dawg,” Chris said. “But I’ll come along.”

“Yeah, boy!” Jamal bumped Chris’s fist. “That’s all I’m sayin’, give me a chance.”

“Sure, J. But you need to give me a chance too, listen to some reason. I don’t know what, but somethin’ botherin’ me about this—more than just the drugs and the gang.”

The bell rang, and teachers patrolling the halls started yelling at stragglers to get to class. “Gotta go man,” Chris said. “Can’t afford more detention.”

“Yeah, bruh.” Jamal laughed. “You got an appointment with me this afternoon you don’t want to miss.”

Chris turned and entered his classroom, his fledgling hope choked by dread. Maybe detention—and facing Mom afterward—would’ve been a better choice.

 

 

Ms. Stafford, a petite blonde in a business suit, moved about the briefing room, engaging the gathered officers. “If I asked what percentage of Stapleton’s population strongly agrees with the statement ‘I trust my local police force,’ what would you say? You there.” She leaned close to read his nametag. “Bridges.”

Bridges cocked his head and smirked. “I don’t know, twenty? Twenty-five?”

She smiled. “Lower. Who’s next?” The captain raised his hand, and she waved him off. “I can’t let you answer, sir. You’ve read the results of our polling. How about you, Whalen?”

He shrugged. “Sixteen?”

“Close. It’s six. If I lined up sixteen random civilians, odds are only one of them might strongly agree that you all have earned their trust.”

Outbursts of swearing or dismissal erupted throughout the room. Ms. Stafford raised her hands to calm everyone down. “To be fair, a majority of people answered ‘Agree’ on that one. Combine the two positive groups, and you’ve got a trust factor of sixty-four percent.”

Then she pointed to a map on her screen. “What do you think the trust factor is in the Twenties?”

“Who cares,” someone called from the back.

“You should,” Ms. Stafford said. “That’s your area with the highest crime, the highest incidence of drug use, and high rates of both unemployment and recidivism. You’re fighting the same battles there, week after week, and what do you have to show for it? They say doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So are you guys nuts?”

A light grumbling murmur spread through the crowd.

Ms. Stafford raised her voice. “We tried to get good survey results in the Twenties. Most folk slammed the door in our polling staff’s faces and told them to eff off.” She ignored the muffled laughter and continued. “So the results we have are only from the people who were willing to talk with us about their relationship to the police force. These stats I’m about to tell you? The reality is probably worse.”

She surveyed the room and repeated the question. “What’s the percentage of people in the Twenties who think their police force is fair and balanced in their approach?”

No response.

“The answer is less than thirty percent. You lose more than half of the trust others have earned just by driving past twenty-hundred east. And not one participant answered ‘Strongly Agree.’ Still don’t care?”

More outbursts sprang up throughout the gathered officers. Some blew off the speaker, some told off their peers. “Fair and balanced? We ain’t Fox News,” O’Neill shouted over the din. “We’re there to enforce the law, not to be their friends. They want better lives, they can stop doing illegal things.” Many officers nodded with him.

“I know, I know,” Ms. Stafford said. “Statistics can tell whatever story the speaker wants, right? Maybe I’m spinning all this to make things look worse than they really are. A girl’s gotta get paid, you know.

“But maybe I’m telling the truth, and I’m here to help you all see something easily overlooked about the nature of your relationship with the community.”

Captain McCullough cleared his throat and the murmuring ceased.

Ms. Stafford moved on to a new slide. “We know that an increasing unemployment rate and a surge of crime can sometimes be related. It’s no news that the rail yards shutting down years ago put this city—or at least the downtown part of this city—into a tailspin.”

She pointed at Mason. “You. Give me a guess. What’s the unemployment rate in this precinct?”

Chris fumbled for a number. “Uh… maybe twelve percent?”

“Try thirty to forty on average since the rail yards closed their doors. The numbers on paper look better because after a while, people get written off and no longer factor into the unemployment calculation. The rest of you, do you think it’s relevant that a third to almost one half of the community has no reliable, steady income? People need to eat; they still need clothing for themselves and their kids. That means making money somewhere, wherever they can in some cases. And despite what your teachers taught you, crime does pay.”

She clicked to the next slide. “Do you see how some of this is coming together? What many people are going to see is that it’s your job to stop them from getting money to survive. It’s your job to shut down whatever method they’ve got to put dinner in front of a hungry child. You can understand, perhaps, why you’re not welcomed with open arms on patrol.

“Let’s try one more question. What percentage of your populace in the Twenties have a nuclear family member who has been arrested and sent to jail for any length of time?”

“Not enough,” someone shouted, and laughter exploded in clusters around the room. Not everyone’s laughing, Chris noted. Most of the minority officers sat in silence watching the presentation. Sergeant Bristow, the shift scheduler, watched the reaction of her peers. Though her face remained calm, her eyes trapped a piercing anger behind her glasses. She glanced his way and their eyes met for an instant. She seemed pleased to note he wasn’t amused.

“Stop the wisecracks,” Captain McCullough ordered. “I called Ms. Stafford here because what we’re doing every day isn’t working. We’re fighting the same battles, and we’re not making headway. We break up a drug operation the Kings set up, and then the Disciples start a new one the next week. We seize a stash of guns on the north side, and they shoot each other up on the south side. We gotta do something different.”

Ms. Stafford nodded. “The body camera initiative last year was a step toward the progress your captain is talking about. Research on traffic stops with visible body cameras shows an increase in civility and a decrease in escalation toward violence—both by officers and by those stopped. It forces everyone to play nice.

“Today, we’re talking about why we need to play nice. Back to my question, who’d be willing to believe that one third of the population of the Twenties has had a nuclear relative spend time in jail?”

Several hands raised. Chris shrugged. Sure. Sounds possible. He raised his hand.

“What about one half?”

Most hands fell. Chris followed suit.

Ms. Stafford leaned forward. “It’s sixty eight percent. Two out of every three people have a family member you’ve put in jail for some length of time—or they’ve been there themselves. Do you get why you might be looked at as the enemy? Do you see why these people don’t believe you’re on their side?”

Mason raised his hand, and she paused for the question. “So, how do we change that?”

Ms. Stafford smiled. “Glad you asked. I’m in discussions with your Chief of Police about how best to proceed. My organization started working in New York City ten years ago and saw tremendous results—you can find those online, no need to toot our horn here. We built relationships with families, we started mentoring programs with individual kids. We challenged them to stay in school, or to go back and finish their education—Never too late to educate, that was our slogan. But those steps all involved long-term investment into the community. What I’m doing here right now, that’s how we change things in the short-term.

“In other words, officer, it starts with changing how you see others.

America, It's Malignant

This is a little old (early March), but it popped up in my Facebook feed and triggered some thinking. 

I don’t get Trump’s candidacy, in much the same way I don’t get how some people still support Clinton. It amazes me what we’re willing to overlook when we decide someone is the best choice–or the least horrible choice.

In this Vocativ article, they look at Twitter data to see how people are treating Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly throughout all the debacle between her and Trump over the last few months. Since the start, Kelly has been treated to a fairly constant stream of vitriol, much of it from people I’d bet thought the world of her prior to her brazen and irrational questioning of a Presidential candidate about behavior that could affect his performance in the election. 

It’s more proof, as if we need any, of the downside of social media. Just because everyone has a voice, it doesn’t mean we should listen. 

I want to point the finger at Trump and say, “Look at yet another example of what this man produces.” I don’t see him as Presidential.

But the article is challenging, because it points out how Trump might not even use a particular sexist term… yet data show usage of that slur spiking on Twitter in the wake of Trump’s comments. His mistreatment of Kelly got the ball rolling. Now he can sit back and his supporters “take care of that,” rushing to his defense by attacking his victim online, like a noisy protestor at a campaign rally.

Trump is merely the symptom, the bump on otherwise smooth skin that reveals there’s a tumor spreading beneath the surface. The real problem is that there’s too many of us happily encouraging and engaging in the same kind behavior under cover of the Internet’s relative anonymity.

PLEASE STOP IT.

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 5

This is the fifth preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

The mirrored glass windows of Stapleton Baptist Community Church gleamed in the morning sun. An usher with white gloves directed Chris Mason’s four-door hybrid to a spot near the front door in a section marked “First Time Visitors.” Laura unbuckled Hailey, who jumped from the edge of the car door with a cheer, unconcerned for Sunday best propriety.

Laura took Chris’s extended arm, holding Hailey’s hand in hers. “Where’d you hear about this place, hon?”

Chris shrugged. “Biggest ad in the phone book—for a Southern Baptist church at least. They have a TV show and post sermons online. Pastor sounded pretty cool. Not sure how I feel about the music.”

A smiling elderly greeter in a long floral dress held the door and shook their hands. She gave them a visitor gift package and showed Hailey a huge grin. “Hello there, pretty!”

The aroma of fresh brewed coffee filled the foyer. Two young women served up lattes and mochas behind a counter set up on a patch of tiled floor. Churchgoers carrying iPads occupied the tables and stools provided, laughing and chatting before the service if their eyes weren’t glued to the screen of a smartphone.

Another usher inside led the Masons through the sanctuary’s double wood doors to a comfortable spot in the middle of the rows of padded chairs. Chris took in the church’s massive size, with a balcony level and seating all along the sloping sides of the bright room. A slideshow presentation scrolled on three large screens near the front, informing congregants of upcoming events and opportunities to serve. A countdown ticked two minutes and seven seconds until the start of the service.

Chris received several kind but distant smiles and a couple quick handshakes. A pastor’s wife hugged Laurie and responded in kind to Hailey’s silly face. Apparently this church had several associate pastors, each in charge of some facet of ministry.

The lights faded throughout the sanctuary. Colored flood lights and banks of high-power LEDs flared up front. The drummer started thumping out a driving bass beat, and an electric guitar wailed out a high note. The worship pastor marched out to center stage, clapping his hands, calling out into the mic, “Welcome to Stapleton Baptist! You all ready to praise our King?”

The band launched into a full-instrumental chorus as the congregation found the beat and clapped in time. “What can wash away my sin,” the pastor recited, cuing the first verse. “Nothing—nothing—but the blood of Jesus! Let’s sing it out!”

Words superimposed on smooth background effects flashed across the screens. Chris frowned at the modernized rock version of a sacred hymn. I’d trade all this for Grandma Keating on the organ any day. But at least I know the words.

Then they jumped into an added chorus, and Chris stood silent, hands clasped on the pew in front of him.

Jesus, righteous Lamb of God

I’m purchased through the shedding of Your blood

Now I will make my boast in Christ alone

The sinless Son of God

Oh, how I thank You for the blood.

Chris suppressed a smile. How hard is it to use the same rhyming pair over and over? Stop trying to be new, stick to being true.

At least Laura seemed to be having a good time. She met his gaze and gave him a curious look. He winked and she smiled, returning to the song she picked up easily.

Great. She likes it, so we’re probably stuck.

The band switched to a slower song about the intimate sweetness of God’s love, broken up with a one-line chorus they sang two dozen times or more. Chris checked his watch, frowned at how little time had passed, and stared dutifully into the screen, forcing a smile.

 

 

Decked out in an earthy brown suit and a lime green tie, George walked with LaTasha on his arm as the Washington family entered New Hope Tabernacle’s cozy foyer. A thin middle-aged man in long black robes with a maroon mantle laid over white stood at the door to the sanctuary. His horn-rim glasses hung down over a gold cross stitched into the mantle.

“Brother Washington,” he called, his face bright and inviting.

“Bishop Simms,” George replied with an extended hand.

“Welcome to the house of God! Good morning, Sister. Thank you once again for the service you and your children provide. The church was positively gleaming this morning when I unlocked the doors.”

“You’re welcome, Bishop,” LaTasha said, beaming. “Gotta teach these two the value of hard work. We’re glad to help out any time.”

Henry Simms laughed. “How about same time this Saturday?”

LaTasha chuckled. “We’ll be here.”

George suppressed a snort. Like it ain’t already been figured out for months in advance. Every able-bodied member had a month or two on the list in the church office. LaTasha volunteered the kids for two months to keep Elder Henry from throwing out his back scrubbing toilets and sweeping the floor.

Bishop Simms straightened up before Chris. “Good morning, young man. Isn’t it good to be in the house of the Lord?” His deep voice spoke with precision and gravity.

That’s what LaTasha liked best when Bishop took over. No “Lawd” or “Jeezus” or traditional “chu’ch” preaching here. Not for the first time, George longed for the passionate Gospel services he’d grown up in. Messy sometimes, but folk were real.

They found their usual pew, three rows from the front on the left side. LaTasha’s mother already occupied her spot at the outside aisle. With salt-and-pepper hair pulled into a tight bun underneath a sunhat to match her Sunday dress, and a stern glare as hard as oak when needed, Nana’s thin frame showed no signs of frailty. She hadn’t grown weaker over the years, just tougher. “Good mornin’, Nana,” George said.

LaTasha hugged Nana, then the kids followed. Nana snuck René a pink buttermint from a metal case in her purse, and René beamed.

Henry Simms’ wife, First Lady Evonne approached with a notepad. Her long hair had been relaxed then curled into a pristine style that shimmered in the light. She wore a dress splashed with luscious rose reds and maroons to complement her husband’s colors. “LaTasha, my, you’re the picture of beauty. I’m taking down names for our Thanksgiving potluck, and I wondered if you can provide a side dish.”

George tuned out the women’s voices and headed over to lay a hug on JJ—who sat alone—and Thomas, whose wife wrangled their three unruly boys into their pew.

The guys engaged in small talk as the rest of the congregation filed in. Services started at ten, or so the sign said out front. Truth is, fellowship starts at ten, and the service starts whenever. And that’s fine by me.

Then George saw Clarence and Dre slip into the back pew. Dre looked respectable in dark slacks with a bright button-down and matching tie. Probably from his Mama. After the divorce, after Clarence landed in the pen for the second time, Nadine found comfort with a wealthy doctor she met in her job at the hospital.

Clarence wore his best too, such as it was. A loose denim jacket covered a clean monochrome T-shirt hanging loose over the waistline of his slacks. He caught a few disapproving glances from other members. In the small congregation, where everyone knew everyone else, there was nowhere to hide.

I better go give him a greeting, let him know he’s welcome. But the anger from the night before surged back up into George’s chest. His feet stood still.

The choir filed in from the back room, their Sunday best covered in simple black robes. Dottie the choir director took her place near the front and nodded to the Bishop, seated next to the First Lady in the two large chairs behind the pulpit, under the great wooden cross.

Bishop Simms rose and approached the pulpit. “Welcome to New Hope Tabernacle, my brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Tabernacle—the tent of meeting.”

Damon, the organist, struck some riffs between each phrase as Bishop Simms gave the call to worship. “And we are gathered here on today for that purpose. To meet with the Creator who made us and gave us air to breathe this morning. He didn’t have to do that. He could’ve withheld His breath from us. But He gave us the gift of this day, to give Him praise.”

The choir hummed out their harmony and the organ music shifted to a staccato Gospel number. Aimee brought in a light drum beat with a tap-tap-tap on the crash, laying out a clear beat. Some of the worshipers softly clapped and stepped side to side with the music.

Simms continued in prayer. “Almighty Lord Jesus, all of us as families are gathered into Your one great Family, to meet You here, and to praise You in the light of Your glory.”

Dottie repeated that last phrase, and the choir voices boomed out.

In the light of Your glory, in the light of Your face.

In the light of Your holiness, I am changed.

“In the light of Your goodness,” Dottie prompted. In the light of Your goodness.

“In the light of Your holy face,” she shouted. In the light of Your face.

“You know every trouble that holds me.” Every trouble that holds me fades away.

George clapped and made his way back to his pew, sliding in between Chris and LaTasha, then slipping an arm around his wife and swaying with her to the rhythm of the song.

Dottie continued calling out the next lines and the choir and congregation followed the familiar tunes with ease.

Can’t stop praisin’ His name, I—can’t stop praisin’ His name, I—

“In the light of Your glory!” In the light of Your glory…

René tugged at LaTasha, and she leaned away from George to listen to her daughter. George edged his ear closer so he could make out the words.

“Mama, why Miss Dottie always sing everything twice?”

“Don’t talk like a thug,” LaTasha corrected. “Why does Miss Dottie—”

René sighed. “Why does Miss Dottie always sing everything twice? And why do we have to sing the same lines so often?”

“Probably so they can take root in your thick skull, heathen child.” LaTasha squeezed René’s shoulder. “Or maybe more for your brother’s.”

René giggled and belted out the tune with off-key enthusiasm.

George glanced at Chris and noted for the first time that he could almost look Chris in the eye without turning his head down. The young man stood, hands folded on the pew in front of him, mumble-singing the song. How you have grown, son.

Chris noticed and flashed George a smile that warmed the older man’s heart. George placed his right arm across Chris’s narrow back and rested a hand on his son’s shoulder. His other arm held LaTasha close, and he saw René’s hand in her mother’s. This is not bad, not bad at all. You doin’ good, George.

Nagging doubts picked at his sense of peace, remnants of his conversation with Clarence at Poker Night. But he banished them and joined in the song. “In the light of Your grace, every trouble that holds me fades away.”

 

 

“Saints, tell me, if I offer you a plate of food or a glass of water, and I poured poison into it, how much poison would you be okay with? Because that’s what we’re doing when we flirt with sin. Think about that a minute.

“Listen to the words of the Teacher as we work our way through the book of Ecclesiastes.” Bishop Simms held up a black leather King James Bible with gold-edged pages as he read. “Chapter 8, verse 11 and 12 tells us, ‘Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God.’

“Poison is deadly serious. You ingest a large dose of it in your food or water, you breathe it in, and you’ll feel the effects real fast. They’ll come carry your body out in a box. No one’s looking to drink a bottle of poison, right?

“And yet, if it’s in small doses, your body adapts. It grows strong, builds up a tolerance. Your body decides this isn’t so bad, I can survive this, I’m all right. Tell me, how do smokers get lung cancer? Is it from one cigarette? Or from years of poison building up? How does an addict develop that craving for drugs? How does the alcoholic come to love the bottle?

“In the same way—think about this, saints—there’s no quickness with spiritual sickness.  Sometimes we do what we know is wrong. But it seems for a time that everything is going all right. So we tell ourselves we can keep doing it.”

Clarence’s comments about Chris pricked at George while the bishop preached. It might seem everything’s goin’ right. But if Chris is hangin’ with someone connected to the Kings, could he get hisself sucked in to the trouble they involved in?

“I’m preaching it straight,” Bishop Simms declared. “If you want to win, you’ve got to keep sin from getting in!”

Several members gave an “Amen” in response.

Bishop Simms lifted a finger in warning. “But if you choose to excuse, you’ll lose.”

Nana and others said a cautionary “Well!”

George found himself nodding. I can’t ignore this. I gotta confront Chris about it. He looked at his son, and found Chris sitting forward, chin resting on his fist. Maybe this is just what he needed to hear. George patted Chris’s shoulder and the young man smiled.

Even so, he’s gonna hear it again from me.

 

 

“There was a squad of soldiers in Afghanistan,” the senior pastor began, his keen eyes engaging all sides of the room in turn. The cameras feeding images to the two side screens zoomed in on his face and followed him as he paced the stage. “Their convoy carried vital supplies needed at a Forward Operating Base—or FOB—surrounded by the enemy on all sides. Their mission? To punch through the enemy resistance and get those resources into the hands of their comrades in arms, whose own provisions ran low.”

Pastor Nate kept his hair short, brushed forward, with a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee, flecks of silver sprinkled throughout the auburn. Though he wore a suit coat, his unbuttoned polo gave off a casual air.

“Already, the team has taken small arms fire and even an attack with a rocket-propelled grenade. The soldiers are nervous. They haven’t even reached the enemy’s position yet, and somehow they have to advance through it. The convoy hunkers down, sets up a defensive position, and tries to regroup before the final, dangerous push.”

His hands rested on the plexiglass pulpit holding a smart tablet. “Consider that moment,” he said. “They can’t retreat. Their allies need these supplies. But they’re outnumbered and under fire. They can’t stay put for much longer. They’re a stationary target, a sitting duck.

“Do you ever feel that way? When you face your place of work or school, does it feel like you’re walking into a war zone?”

Chris pursed his lips. You don’t even know, pastor.

The incident with Kazsinski drawing his weapon filled Chris’s mind with doubts. He was wrong that time. But is he wrong all the time? Is this something I need to report?

Yet how would it look for a rookie to report his partner on the first day on duty? Who would believe me if I said anything? Who’s going to take my word for it? And how is Kaz going to respond?

Another fear rose in his heart. Is that what working in the projects does to a person? Is that what’s going to happen to me?

Nate went on. “Perhaps the overwhelming odds are the bills, the expenses, the mounting debt that you can’t ever seem to conquer. Or maybe your ‘enemy’ comes in the form of a blessing—the constant needs of small children, always demanding your attention to keep them out of trouble or clean up the mess when they find it despite all your efforts.

“Maybe your emotional convoy has been ambushed, hit with an RPG—the death of a loved one, a pink slip from your job, or bad news from the doctor. Life can be an insurgent sometimes, striking where we feel secure, creating fears where once we were at ease.”

A couple voices called out an “Amen” in agreement.

“But let’s go back to our convoy in Afghanistan,” Nate said, resuming his pace. “One of the soldiers is ready to give up. He looks to the squad leader, asks ‘What are we gonna do, Sarge? This looks hopeless.’

“Hopeless. I think all of us can relate to what that word means. If I asked you all to raise your hand if you’ve ever felt hopeless at some point or another, I’m pretty sure every hand in the room would go up.

“But we’ve learned to project a perfect image, an ‘everything is awesome’ story we tell the world. We act like the pretty life we show on social media tells the whole truth about what’s really going on.”

Chris leaned forward in the seat. That’s what I’m doing with Kaz, isn’t it? If I don’t report reckless drawing of a weapon on a civilian, I’m acting like everything’s okay when it’s not.

“And the sergeant tells his soldiers, ‘This is not hopeless. Be courageous. We are going forward, pushing through to our friends.’ Because what the junior troops don’t know is that the sergeant has the radio. He hears calls and chatter over the net, and he knows that his convoy is not alone out there.

“In minutes, as their vehicles race toward danger, they hear the roar of air support flying overhead. Enemy positions take direct hits. Insurgents scatter and flee. The line breaks. The convoy reaches their destination.”

“That command, ‘Be courageous,’ or some form of it, shows up twenty-six times in Scripture. Mark Twain is credited with saying ‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it.’ Courage is defined as…”

Chris tuned out and thought about Monday morning. I have to file the report so that the body cam footage gets reviewed. If I do nothing, and Kaz does something like that again, the responsibility would be mine too. It might suck, but I’ve got to do the right thing.

Nate continued his sermon, exhorting the believers to do what they deemed right in the face of resistance or fear. But Chris needed no further persuasion. He sat back and smiled, confident and ready for the next day.

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 4

This is the fourth preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

 

Billie Holiday crooned out Easy Living between piano riffs over the tinny speaker system in the Washington’s family room, and George leaned back in his chair. His eyes hid in the shadows of his traditional Poker Night plastic visor—clear emerald green, with the four suite symbols stenciled on. The gray tuft of hair popped up off his deep brown skin. He took a long satisfying drag from the convenience store cigar before laying out his hand. “I call. Full house, jacks over sevens. Whatchu all got?”

Thomas gave him a stoic face for a moment, then flopped his cards on the table. “At least I got more pride than to wear that god-awful hat.” He cackled and pointed, his gold tooth gleaming in the light.

James joined in, and George cocked his head with a glare. “Oh, this how it’s gonna be?”

Muscle-bound James shook his head and revealed his hand. “Two pair. Dayum, G-Dub, I thought I had somethin’ good this time.”

“You thought, JJ.” George shook his head. “You know better than to start doin’ that.”

“Come on, deal the next hand and we’ll see.” James tossed a couple pretzels into the pot. Thomas and George followed suit, and George offered the deck for James to cut.

“Lord give me strength, Herbert!” LaTasha strode through the room to open windows, waving her hands like an archaeologist sweeping away cobwebs. “You tryin’ to give us all cancer already?”

George smiled and dealt out cards. “Just enjoyin’ the finer things, baby! The sweet fruits of my labors all week long.”

LaTasha drew near and slipped her arms around George. “Fair enough. My man done good.” She moved to peck him on the cheek, but George managed to get his lips in the way.

Chris and René entered the room. Chris moved to the door to put on his sneakers, but René froze. “Eewww. Gross, Dad.”

Muffled by the kiss, George muttered, “No way, Lil’ Ray.” LaTasha pulled back, and George smiled. “I am a happy, happy man.”

LaTasha flashed a playful glare at the guys. “And he’s my man. I’m only loanin’ him to you incorrigible louts for a few hours. Do stay out of trouble.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Thomas and James answered in unison.

“Wouldn’t dream of it, Taz,” a new voice said from the hallway, standing with another young man and Chris, who held the door open.

“What up, Cee?” George called without looking up from the cards.

“Oh dear Jesus, Clarence,” LaTasha said. “I know you too damn well to buy that. My God, is this tall man my little nephew Dre?”

The young man smiled and nodded. “Good to see you again, Auntie ‘Tasha.”

Clarence gave him a soft backhand to the arm. “Don’t you go gettin’ on her side, boy. She’ll have you spyin’ on us with promises of home cookin’.”

Dre mumbled, “I’m okay with that.”

Clarence dragged him to the table. “All right, boys, Dre just hit eighteen an’ got himself thinkin’ he’s grown. Been runnin’ dice on the street with guys from the Disciples, lost him some serious cash.”

The men shook their heads and made appropriately disapproving noises. George glanced at LaTasha out the corner of his eye, and saw folded arms beneath a raised eyebrow.

Clarence seemed to notice as well. He laid it on thick. “So I told his mama I’d teach him a lesson about gamblin’—but with pretzels an’ peanuts, not Lincolns and Jacksons. You boys know how to hustle better than any of them brothers on the street. Do your worst.”

LaTasha softened as Thomas passed a bowl of snacks to each of the newcomers. “You boys be good,” she said. “I’m gonna put these heathens to work gettin’ the church ready for tomorrow morning. Chris, René, you ready?”

They nodded, and moved to leave. A pile of pretzels grew and cards flew across the table, all eyes on the game while LaTasha pushed her charges out the door.

The men paused and waited a minute, nibbling on snacks.

Clarence reached into his backpack, and George waved him off with a hiss. He whispered, “Every once in awhile she sneaks back to check on us.”

Another minute passed, and grins slowly formed around the table on every face but Dre’s. He looked from one man to the next with confusion, then broke the silence. “What you guys doin?”

George laughed and pulled out a stack of one dollar bills. Thomas and James did likewise, and Clarence set a bottle in a brown bag on the table.

“We’re playin’ cards!”

 

 

James gathered up the pile of singles with a raspy laugh, ignoring the good-natured glares of his opponents.

Thomas shuffled the cards for the next hand and looked at Dre across the table. “So what’s this ’bout you hangin’ with the Disciples, kid?”

Dre pouted his lips. “Nuthin’.”

George raised an eyebrow under his visor. “If my mama gives me a whuppin’ and turns me over to my dad for a talk about somethin’ I done, then you can bet it’s somethin’ serious.”

Dre scoffed. “Just deal the cards, man.”

James glanced at Clarence, who said nothing and let the exchange run its course. “Watch your mouth, boy,” James said. “Don’t disrespect your elders.”

Dre shot him a sour look, then caught sight of James flexing his muscles, cracking his knuckles. His beefy arms shifted and bulged with each motion. “Yes sir,” the boy finally said.

George flashed Dre a sidelong glance. “Whatchu doin’ hangin’ with thugs anyhow? Nothin’ but hurt for you in that.”

Dre shrugged. “Got no job. If I can do some work for the Disciples, I got a chance of makin’ some cash at least.”

“Or ending up in prison.”

“So what? It worked for Clarence.” Dre crossed his arms and leaned back, fuming.

Lips pursed and expression thoughtful, George gauged Clarence’s reaction. There’s your pitch, Cee. Take a swing.

“Dre, I know I let you down,” Clarence said, resting a hand on his son’s shoulder. “I been gone too often when you were little. Your mama and I, we couldn’t make it work. I did so much wrong. Don’t mean you should too.”

Dre shook off Clarence’s hand.

“Son, your daddy’s tryin’ to keep you from the same mistakes that landed him in the pen.” George pointed a knobby finger at the boy. “Here on the outside, you got opportunities, you got some hope. How much chance you think you got sittin’ in a cell like your daddy did?”

Dre threw up his hands and yelled at Clarence. “Man, why you even bring me here? I don’t need this.”

“Maybe you don’t,” Clarence said, quiet and humble. “You hate me so much, hate what I did, what I put you an’ your mama through? Fine. Then don’t become me.

Thomas passed out another hand of cards to the distracted men.

“Think about what I’m sayin’, that’s all.”

Dre sat silent for a minute, then nodded. He turned to George. “You have this talk with Chris yet?”

George looked at Dre and laughed. “Why you even think I need to?”

“I’m just sayin’, sir.”

“You better be sayin’ more than just that. What makes you think this conversation has to happen? You seen Chris? My boy ain’t no gangbanger thug.”

“One of his friends gettin’ in good with the Kings. Jamal got a set, started makin’ money.”

The cards lay undisturbed in front of George. Chris was with Jamal the other day when I picked him up. They walk home from school some days. And Pulaski High is in the middle of Kings territory. How much time’s he spending with this kid?

Clarence grimaced when George looked his way. “Hey, man, money’s the key, right there. Chris gonna see Jamal with some bills, he’ll want to get some of his own. You an’ Taz got a nest egg, right? You might see about gettin’ Chris to do some work, payin’ him like an employee. Or find him a job. Only way he’s gonna learn the value of makin’ legit cash.”

Money’s so tight, though, George thought. Bills always piling up. And we’re finally makin’ progress on a down payment for a real home. Now I gotta give Chris some of that? I can’t.

Clarence gathered up the small bills. “You need to step in, G. Get him away from the gang scene. Most of the guys in prison started when they was his age. I did.”

George stared at his cards. Not much help here. It was his turn to raise the bets or call.

But his brother-in-law’s suggestion occupied his mind. In fact, it stirred up a deep, unexpected anger. He wanted to raise his voice and call his brother-in-law out. Who you think you are, Clarence? Chris isn’t like you. He’s smart, he’s doin’ well in school. LaTasha been on that boy since diapers about education and livin’ right. And so have I.

“Gonna double the bet,” George said, sliding two bills into the pot. He flashed the most confident grin he could muster. “Who’s sure of what they got? I am.”

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 3

This is the third preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

 

With one hand steering the police cruiser, Kazsinski punched Mason on the shoulder. “You awake, scrub?”

“Yeah, man, I’m awake.” Mason shifted in the passenger seat and adjusted his gear. He checked his watch. Only ten o’clock? Feels like we’ve been out all day. “Hailey had a hard time getting to sleep last night, that’s all.”

“Pssh, that’s why me an’ my girlfriend ain’t havin’ no rugrats. Kids steal your energy and drain your money, and for what?” Kazsinski laughed. “Am I right?”

Mason chuckled, hoping it would seem like agreement. Then he thought of Hailey’s tight hugs and the “kiss-on-nose” she gave him each night at bedtime.

Kazsinski turned the car east on Main, keeping his speed slow, rolling toward the Twenties in a show of presence. “Watch the clusters,” he warned. “Guys in the back could be hiding weapons, setting up an ambush for us or for a rival gang. You know the gangs here yet?”

Mason nodded, recalling his briefing the day before. “Mercy Disciples take the north half. Took their name from the hospital. Can’t get into the gang unless you send someone to Mercy’s ER. And the Kings run the south side of the Twenties, give or take.”

“Yeah, those are the main ones. But they got a bunch of little groups workin’ for ’em. Frickin’ splinter cells pop up like terrorists. There’s Pinoy Saints, run by a bunch-a Chinese or Filipinos or somethin’ like that. And the Cholos around Q Street got supply routes linked back to Mexican drug cartels.” He cursed and dropped a racial slur, then continued. “The Kings get their product and their pieces from south of the border.”

Mason frowned. Hope he doesn’t talk like that in public.

“And that ain’t even countin’ all the deadbeats and ex-cons. Since the railyards shut down, a bunch of ’em just lay around all day, doin’ drugs and collectin’ their checks from Uncle Sugar.” Kazsinski slapped Mason on the shoulder in a friendly manner this time. “Good to know your hard-earned tax dollars are well spent, right?”

“Uh, yeah.” Mason fixed the chest-mounted body cam that shook loose with Kazsinski’s slap. Then he turned his eyes on the street, watching faces glare at the cruiser or look away. Definitely behind enemy lines here… but why do we have to be the enemy?

No one liked getting pulled over, of course. Kazsinski had issued five tickets that morning, most for speeding on Main Street cutting through the Twenties. They’d stopped a white woman doing fifteen over the limit on her way to work, and she gave them an earful, like her ticket was their fault. Earlier in the morning, they’d spotted a mixed crowd of teens circled around a fight near Pulaski High. The crowd dispersed when Kaz sounded the siren.

Kazsinski’s curbside manner bothered Chris. The vet saw every driver as a threat, and his solution was to dominate the situation—gun holstered but prominently displayed, harsh and direct interrogation, and an assumption of guilt or hostile intent until Mason finished the paperwork and Kaz sent the drivers on their way. I’m the new guy. Maybe that’s how it’s done here—maybe it has to be this way.

Even so, whether Kazsinski’s tough manner showed up full force seemed too dependent on the suspect’s complexion.

Mason eyed Kazsinski as the cruiser slid down side streets. He’s a jerk, sure. But is he really a racist? Or is valuable experience driving him to do it this way? I don’t know.

The academy instructors taught a curriculum that harped on respect and restraint. But the same teachers cracked jokes about the course content and told the rookies they’d learn “how it really is” when they got to their first station. It would be easy to judge Kaz, Mason decided. But his life is on the line to protect and serve, just like mine. Who am I to say his method is off-base?

Mason thought of Laura and Hailey, probably out for a promised morning walk to the park near their new apartment. We have a right to return to our loved ones at night, don’t we? Even Kaz got someone waiting for him at home.

“Check this guy out,” Kazsinski said, and pointed to a shiny black sedan. “Where d’you think some ‘G’ from the Twenties gets the money for a ride like that?” He flipped a switch and the lights and siren came to life.

The sedan slowed and stopped on the side of the four-lane street. Kazsinski pulled behind it at an angle, forcing traffic around the cruiser into the left lane. “Follow my lead,” he said as he opened the door. “And keep your weapon ready, Mason. You don’t know these guys.”

Mason exited the cruiser and surveyed the street. Passersby made a point of ignoring the scene, yet Mason felt a chilly anger from the community. He tried to match Kazsinski’s easy swagger as the burly officer approached the sedan’s driver. No one would mess with a cop as tough as Kaz. But Mason’s posturing felt as fake as he assumed it appeared, so he rested his hand near his holster and took a position on the other side of the vehicle.

The black man in the driver’s seat looked rigid, almost like a mannequin, hands planted firmly on the top of the steering wheel, eyes fixed forward. He couldn’t be more than thirty years old. Is he scared, or is he guilty? Mason watched Kaz for clues, unsure of what to expect. Maybe he’s scared because he’s guilty?

Kaz tapped the glass and Mason watched the driver’s hand move—slowly and in plain sight of both officers—to lower the window. The man’s voice was muffled through the passenger window, but Mason could make it out.

“Is there a problem, officer?” he asked in a calm, crisp tone.

Kazsinski smirked. “Whose car is this, son? Where ya taking it?”

“I’m on my way to work at Our Mother of Mercy, sir.”

Kazsinski leaned closer, his voice quiet but cold. “Don’t lie to me, man. I will find out, and I won’t be happy. Let me see some ID.”

The man lifted his right hand from the steering wheel. He spoke in a careful, almost broken pace. “I am going to reach for my wallet in my back pocket, officer.” His ID flashed in the morning sun as he handed it out the window.

“License and registration too, buddy.” Kazsinski flipped the ID in his hand, checking all the information. He mouthed to Mason, Watch this. “Got any proof of insurance, Mister Shuttlesworth?”

Oh yeah, he said that’s one of the most frequent offenses.

Kaz crossed his arms and waited. He seemed antsy, bouncing around like he couldn’t stand still.

The passenger window lowered, and the man spoke to Mason in that same plodding manner. “Sir, I am going to reach into the glove box now to retrieve paperwork.”

Yeah, man, whatever. Just do it. What’s with the robot impression?

Suddenly Kaz had his Beretta drawn on the driver. Tendons strained in his thick neck and his scream echoed in the street. “Get out of the car! Hands up! Move slowly! Get out the frickin’ car!”

Mason’s hands stretched out toward his partner. “Kaz! What are you doing?”

Mister Shuttlesworth complied, hands in the air in clear view of the entire street. He rose with grace and stared down Kazsinski’s barrel. “Officer, I am complying with your instructions. No need to escalate—”

“Shut up! Turn around, hands on the roof! I’ll tell you what I need, I need you to shut your mouth and do what you’re told, boy!”

Mason’s hand struck like a cobra, locking around Kazsinski’s wrist, shoving the gun aside and holding it down with a rush of adrenaline. Kaz turned wide eyes on his partner, and his muscles tensed like he would strike back.

Mason stood firm. “He was reaching for the glove box—for the paperwork you demanded. I had my eye on him the whole time, and he told me exactly what he was doing.”

Kazsinski’s nostrils flared with each breath as the thought took root. Finally he shoved Mason off. “You finish up then.” He stomped off toward the cruiser.

Mason stood, watching his partner. What the hell just happened?

“Uh, sir?” Mister Shuttlesworth said, his head still lying between his arms on the sedan.

“Sorry, uhm, Mister—you know what, you’re free to go, with my deepest regrets.”

The driver straightened, then tugged out the wrinkles in his ruffled button-down shirt as if the motion would repair the damage done to his dignity. He turned to glare at Kazsinski in the cruiser. “You best get some help for that one, officer. He’s trouble lookin’ for a place to happen.”

Mason apologized again and extended a handshake.

Mister Shuttlesworth ignored the gesture and took his seat behind the wheel.

“Good day, sir.” Mason tried a final, feeble attempt at restoring trust.

“Yeah, man,” Mister Shuttlesworth said as the window raised. “It was, until now.”