Due Cause - from Rock n Roll Dreams
Wilson sat at the table, wringing his sweaty palms as the footsteps in the corridor drew closer. There were two pairs, slow and rhythmic and almost in sync, accompanied by the sound of muffled, concerned voices. There were no discernible words, clearly deep male voices struggling to lower their natural tone to a whisper. They’d be as aware as he was how sound travels down in the holding cell area. The off-white concrete walls seemed to push sounds long distances with surprising clarity. Wilson had locked the heavy steel door on numerous unwilling residents before, but now it hung slightly ajar. As a courtesy, the desk sergeant hadn’t closed or locked the door, but he might as well have because he was going nowhere till this was over.
He knew the desk Sergeant, Oliver Brampton. He’d appeared slightly embarrassed, shrugging his square shoulders like he’d never done this before. That was probably true. It’s not every day an officer of the law puts one of his own in a cell. Brampton was a tall, square man, neat greying hair and moustache to match. He was a likeable and patient type, minimum requirements for anyone who’d been on the front desk as long as him.
“Grab a seat, they won’t be long, coffee?” he said, as if Wilson might be there for a job interview.
He was there for an interview all right but not the type that gets you a job, quite the opposite.
“No, I’m fine, thanks.” Wilson almost smiled, he felt for the guy. Brampton turned and before leaving gave a wink. “Formalities, that’s all.” He opened his mouth like he was about to say more but thought better of it. Instead, he just looked Wilson up and down and left.
The two strangers marched in purposefully, the first dropped a file on the table whilst the second hung back near the door. Neither of them made eye contact or acknowledged him. The guy who sat down was the older of the two, balding with tired eyes and a bushy 1970s moustache. The guy by the door looked like a guy who never made the grade in the military, sharp features, crew cut and light blue suit. He had light hair in some pseudo quiff, but it was too thin to pull it off, he was maybe mid-forties. The 70s moustache guy opened a file and leafed through its contents.
Officer ‘military reject’ meanwhile stayed back near the door and looked on, chewing gum vigorously. He stood with legs spread, arms folded like he was daring Wilson to make a break for it. He didn’t of course, not that he didn’t want to; he wanted to run home to Lucy and explain everything like a blubbering child. He knew she wouldn’t be far away, once she heard what happened. He was surprised he couldn’t hear her from here.
Finally, the first man closed the file and clasped his hands on top of it. “Officer Nathan Wilson?”
“I’m from the district attorney’s office, and for the moment, I’m here as an observer only. You are not under oath, but anything you say could be used as part of the investigation into your conduct and possible criminal charges, do you understand?”
“Sir, I did nothin,” Wilson said, flitting his eyes between them both.
The older guy held two palms up and dropped his head. “No one is saying you did Officer.” He glanced at the military reject. “But you were witness to the death of a young man, so we just want to get the facts cleared up.”
Wilson said nothing.
He looked up at the other man who was glaring down at him, his hands were clasped in front, and he held a clear plastic package in his fist. He didn’t blink, he just stared into Wilson’s eyes. At last, he nodded at the attorney as if asking permission to speak.
When he did so, it was slow and purposeful. “My name is Chief Inspector Kurt Venner from internal affairs.” He stepped forward, placed the evidence bag on the table between the two men and leant on his knuckles over them both. He turned his head to Wilson, who could smell the stale peppermint gum mixed with the man’s personal odour.
“I have one question for you, son, and I want you to think long and hard before you answer.” He undid the folds in the plastic bag and flattened it on the table, so the contents were clearly visible and stepped back. He flicked back his jacket and hitched up his trousers by the belt, revealing his shoulder holster and sidearm. Inside the evidence bag, Wilson could see the weapon from the crime scene. The last time he’d seen it was when it lay in the passenger side footwell of a 76 Buick on Highway 46. Partly obscured by the bloody remains of a young man he now knew to be Tyree Ford. Chief inspector Kurt Venner didn’t speak until Wilson slowly turned from the package to him and their eyes met.
“Did you see Tyree Ford pull a gun on Officer Foley?”
“Sir, I already...”
Venner cut him off and thumped the table, leaning on one arm over Wilson. He looked across at his observer, but he wasn’t observing. He was looking at the table, squeezing his temples with his thumb and finger.
“It’s a straight yes or no, son,” said Venner. “Think hard now.” He stood back and opened up his stride again, folding his arms. “Hit me, son.” Venner made a quick beckoning gesture towards his right ear with his fingertips.
“Yes…” He paused. “Or no?”
They say, ‘fake it till you make it’ and after a year and a day Wilson was feeling he’d made it. Feeling like he was a real police officer, not Dragnet or nothing, just a level of competence and, dare he say it, confidence. It took time to settle into any profession before you stop feeling like a fake. He’d written up tickets, calmed drunks and had a few arrests to his name. He’d never say it out loud, but Officer Wilson was doing what he loved. He was one of the good guys and he liked that. After a year, he was at home in his skin.
He knew it was a year because of the cake Lucy presented to him at breakfast. Lucy was proud of him regardless of the reservations of her father. In the years they’d known each other, Mr Hecker or “Call me Danny” as Nathan secretly called him, had made that plain. Even at the wedding you’d think Lucy might be a widow by twenty-five the way he talked. Lucy had suggested he take the ‘one-year anniversary’ cake down to the station and share it with the guys. She was serious too; he’d laughed all day thinking about it.
“Hi guys, it’s my first year on the force cake. Hey, Dooley 23 years on Homicide would you like a slice, how about you Sargent Wallascki 14 years on vice?” He ate some for breakfast and dipped his finger into the cream and wiped it in her hair before running for the car.
He was working the highways between Basildon and Newark and was starting his second week with veteran Ade Foley.
Foley was, without doubt, an acquired taste that Wilson still hadn’t fully acquired. He broke wind in the patrol car, or anywhere else for that matter, he told dirty jokes and ate too much. He was red-faced and overweight, but he’d been on highways for over fifteen years, a sideways move after some misdemeanour or other. It was a story he’d promised to treat Wilson to one day, but he’d clearly not reached that level of trust yet. Instead, he’d heard the unedited version around the station. It involved a paperwork issue, some inconsistency in his notebook, which resulted in an acquittal.
“Dot your T’s and close your eyes,” he’d say when it came to report writing and then laugh his way to the washroom.
That morning they were heading back along route 46 around 11:30 am, and it was already 28 degrees outside. The dark blistering tarmac cut a wide arc through the dusty red landscape. Foley was driving one-handed whilst finishing his breakfast hotdog and cursed when he spilt mustard on the front of his uniform. He brushed it off with the napkin and threw it out the window along with the last bite or two. The stain would soon become another memory emblazoned across the front of Foley’s shirt. As they pulled around a wide sweeping bend, they saw a dark car pulled over to the side of the road up ahead. It was pushed as far as was possible to the right without driving into the ditch.
Foley pulled up and stopped behind the vehicle, but there was no driver and no sign of one. He put the blues on and climbed out of the patrol car and scanned the flat, dusty plains that stretched to the horizon. Then he leant back inside the patrol car. “Call it in I'm gonna have a look around.”
Wilson picked up the radio and slapped a fly from his neck.
“Come in 77.”
“Could I have a 10-35 on a black Buick, licence BZ 522 TH?”
He watched as Foley walked around the car with his hands on his hips, it looked old and battered, but he’s seen worse legal rides in his time. A half-peeled sticker on the bumper claimed ‘Sam’s Tackle is the best’ Sam’s tackle store. And a taillight that had been repaired with tape.
Foley was trying the doors, but they were all locked, then cupped his hands to see through the grimy windows. He went around to the ditch side and did the same before he lost his footing. His feet just went backwards, and he slid down on his toes and knees into the ditch.
“Get me the fuck outa here, Wilson, for Christ sake.” He screamed.
Wilson jumped out of the patrol car and grabbed Foley’s sweaty, mud-covered hands and pulled him up. This would be funny back at the station, but right now, it might be best to save the humour for later.
“Hey, it’s not too bad, we can get back to the station and clean up,” said Wilson
Foley was dusting himself down, and his feet were wet, but he’d survive once he stopped cursing, then the radio squealed back to life.
“77 are you there, over.”
He ran around to the driver’s side and pulled the radio out through the window.
“I have your 10 35.”
As he said that, he saw Foley looking up the highway, up to the brow of the hill.
“The car is registered to a Joshua Fontain of 35 Winton Apartments, Sweet Falls. Mr Fontain has a record of shoplifting and minor drug offences. He’s not wanted for questioning right now. He’s been a good boy for over two years.”
Wilson could see a figure walking towards them from the brow and heading towards the car.
“You get that, Foley,” said Wilson
“Oh yeh, I expect this is Mr Fontain now, don’t you?”
Wilson stayed at the police cruiser and threw the radio back in on the seat whilst Foley stepped around the front of the kid’s car and walked up a few yards to meet him.
“Christ almighty, he look like a spade to you, Wilson?” he shouted over his shoulder.
Wilson didn’t reply. He just put his hand up to cover his eyes and leant on the car before thinking better of it as he pulled away from the hot metal. A young black male was approaching down the hill.
“Officer, I can explain,” he said.
“Shut those fat lips boy and get your ass over here.”
The man complied.
"What’s your name, son?”
"Tyree, sir, Tyree Ford.”
“Eat your breakfast now, you know Tyree gets in big trouble if you don’t eat your breakfast.”
Mitty pushed the soggy cereal around the plate with a plastic spoon, looking at Tyree with that mischievous cherub grin. “I don’t like it.” She giggled.
“Sure you do, Mitty. You don’t wanna get me in trouble do yer, Momma beats me with a stick if you don’t eat yer breakfast,” said Tyree.
Mitty giggled and ate again.
Tyree did his deep south slave voice for Mitty, it always made her laugh. “There ye go. Thank you, Mitty yo saved your big bro from a helluva beatin. Yes, ma’m.” She giggled once again.
A TV was balanced precariously on the edge of a cabinet that was too narrow for it, the grainy picture was showing Sesame Street. Big Bird was conversing with Grover about the similarities between the letter M and W. The room was hot and stuffy, and it played the central role of dining, lounge and kitchen due to the lack of space. The grubby net curtains festooned on string and hanging from nails allowed in some silver light from outside. Tyree left Mitty watching the TV and went back to the folded newspaper across the table. His reading was good, but quite slow, so he had to concentrate as he scanned the rows of job adverts.
He had an interview today, but he knew not to rely on that, he had to keep looking. His grandpa had said a black boy is always looking for work. “You ain’t nearly finished hanging your coat ‘fore’ your putting it on again.” He’d say ‘before’ like four, he talked like that cos of where he was from, South, that is. Glancing up, he met Mitty’s eyes and smiled as she waved at him with the spoon, droplets of milk running down the handle and splattering across the table. He heard the front door go and the sound of Joshua’s deep base voice. “Go on upstairs, honey, I’ll be right up.”
Tyree seldom set eyes on the women his brother brought home. They would be smuggled upstairs to his room like hostages whilst Josh occasionally came down for supplies to keep them sustained. Every time he opened his bedroom door the waft of hemp would drift around the house accompanied by the muffled sound of music. Beats like Franti, Spearhead, anything with a deep enough base and a deep enough meaning. Thankfully for Ma, it was enough to drown out the moans from inside, which would be heard at random but receding intervals throughout the day. Eventually, his hostage would be smuggled out and never seen again, only to be replaced within days.
Josh came in and went over to the sink. He tipped some greasy liquid from a glass amongst the dirty dishes and rinsed it briefly. Then he filled it with water and gulped the whole lot down in one. “What’s in the news today, has Jesus returned yet?” His eyes were bloodshot, his hair was tatty. He looked like a shadow of the man who had left the night before. Tyree didn’t answer, his eyes darted to Mitty, he furrowed his brow and he continued scanning the paper
“Wasup, baby bro,” said Josh.
Tyree didn’t look up from the paper. “Don’t baby bro me again, I need the ride today I got interviews.”
“You got interviews, eh.” Josh was rummaging around for something underneath the paper Tyree was reading.
“Have you left juice in the ride or shall I remind you how I lost my last job?” said Tyree, pushing his bottom lip out.
“Chill, baby bro, that’s what big brothers for, quit the chatter.”
“I gotta go out of town, that gauge is faulty, don’t f...”
He quickly turned to Mitty before he swore. Josh found his pager and slipped it into his jeans pocket.
“Here.” He threw the keys on the table and rubbed his face with both hands.
“Good morning, Josh,” said Mitty.
“Mornin Mitt,” Josh said, looking at Tyree. “It could be a very good day, if I can find my wallet.”
"Chill bro, it’s in the ride, listen. I’m gonna head upstairs an get some sleep, ok.”
"You got Mitty today, I have an interview. Mom ain’t home from the laundry yet.”
Josh put his hands on his hips and rolled his eyes, he subconsciously glanced upstairs and then at Mitty. “Mitty’s fine, aren’t you, baby. Big bro is right upstairs and you can watch as much TV as you want.”
A huge false smile spread across his face and he stared at Tyree and switched it to an exaggerated frown.
"Never mind, Mom’s home soon, I’ll wait.”
Josh didn’t answer, he dropped his glass in the sink and went upstairs. Tyree knew it could work but was anxiously checking the time on the clock that leant against the wall. If Mom didn’t miss her bus and arrived on time, all was good, after that, it could be a problem getting out of the city so late in the morning.
It was looking like a good day, his mom hardly had time to get through the door before he was putting his coat on and heading the opposite way.
"Where the hell are you heading so fast?” she said as he went to push past her, straightening his collar.
"Where’s that brother of yours?”
Tyree rolled his eyes and nodded towards the stairs, his mom shook her head and headed for the lounge, firing questions at Tyree as she went.
Has Mitty had her breakfast, has she had her snooze, where’s the job at, what time did your brother get home.
In the end, Tyree was literally jumping up and down in frustration.
Tyree shook his head and snatched the keys from the table. “Gotta go, I’m late.”
He made it to the door. “Wait,” his mom shouted.
He stopped and turned his head flopping to one side; he knew what was coming. He stomped towards his mom and she kissed him hard on his cheek, she walked away mumbling to herself with a smile. “My own baby don’t wanna kiss his mamma no more, I never thought.” Then she stopped.
"Hey Tyree, seriously baby. I’m takin Mitty to Mollie’s this mornin, so you be sure to tell that no good brother of yours I need a half a dozen eggs for your cousin’s birthday cake, ok.”
Tyree nodded and left, slamming the front door behind him. His mom was still talking to herself as she headed in to see Mitty. “Might just get something good from that boy, Mitty.” Then she rolled her eyes at the ceiling.
He finally got the Buick to start after a few tries and disappeared in a cloud of grey smoke. The traffic was light and soon he was heading out of the city and into the woods where the air is good and clean. He reached into the back for his mixtape and put his hand in a condom. “That lazy no good,” he said.
His mood lifted once he was on the open road, the car was running like a dream and the roads cleared until eventually, he was alone. Watching the open road spread out before him, he began wallowing in his daydreams. About makin it one day and buying his mom a new home. Just like Elvis did or the guys in the NBA who played pro. He would make music and the world would listen.
Just then the car splutters, he pulls as far as he can to the side of the road, avoiding a drainage ditch and the engine stoped dead. With the music off there’s only silence aside from the sound of a light breeze and the engine clicking as it cooled. The fuel gauge indicated what it always indicated, empty. He hadn’t passed a town or fuel stop for a while and couldn’t remember the last vehicle he saw. Eventually, he decides his only option is to go forwards, up the hill and hope he finds something.
He was in luck although the three-mile walk seemed very much longer. Over the brow he spotted a service station with a fruit stand out front.
By the time he arrived, he realised it’s been a long time since this place pumped gas which was bad news in itself, at the same time patting his pocket he also realised he couldn’t pay for it anyway.
"Shit, man.” He rummages around in his pockets and finds a handful of change and heads for the payphone to call home.
“Hey, baby bro.”
“You punk ass mother fucka, I told you to cut the crap with my endeavours. The car ran out of gas, you said there was gas.”
“Chill, baby bro, there’s a gallon in the trunk and if you need more fart.”
“Where’s my wallet?”
“Your wallet’s in the glove compartment so the mystery’s solved,” he said solved like solv-ed, “Listen to me hard, baby bro, take what’s yours an leave mine where you saw it, ok. Gotta go my baby’s callin.”
He hangs up. Tyree goes to walk away, relieved that he isn’t stranded then he remembers the message about the eggs.
He dials once more, but by this time Josh is busy pursuing his girl, there’s no way he’s answering.
"Are you getting that phone?”
"Na, it’s just my bro fuckin with me again.”
The phone rings out and goes to answer machine and Tyree leaves a message before slamming the phone down and beginning the hike back up the hill and down again.
The whole incident has left his heart rate higher than normal, and he’s sweating under the arms of his shirt. If he makes the interview, he could wear the jacket of his uncle’s suit to hide it, there’s still time to get there. By the time he reached the brow of the hill, he’d already decided the day couldn’t get worse. That was until he stopped in his tracks at the top. Later he can see a cop snooping around his ride, he drops his shoulders and marched forward. “Shit,” he whispers to himself.
Finally, he arrives at the car and the police officer was standing in front of his car, hands on hips.
“Officer, I can explain,” he said.
“Shut those fat lips boy and get your ass over here.”
The man complied.
"What’s your name, son?”
"Tyree, sir, Tyree Ford.”
The cop nodded, looking him up and down.
“Officer, everything is fine. I ran outa gas and I’m runnin out of time.”
The police officer wiped his brow with his forearm, Tyree noticed a second cop standing by the patrol car watching.
The nearest cop had grass or something on his trousers like he’d been kneeling. He spotted Tyree glance down at the stains on his trousers, he followed his gaze and then held up a hand with a grin. “Slow down, boy, this ain't no race, I can tell you kinda people ain't from round here. Am I right?”
He pulled out his sidearm and pointed it at Tyree, whose arms went up automatically.
"Tell ya what, turn around, put ya hands on the hood, and ya best be a good boy.”
Tyree leant over the side of the car but continued talking. “Listen, holdup - I'm speaking the truth, see I'm just trying to get to this here job interview.”
“Job interview eh, ain’t no one gonna employ a nigga round here,” said Foley glancing over his shoulder towards Wilson.
“Ok, sir, maybe I could just put ma fuel in my ride and be on me way.”
“You got I.D?”
“Yes sir, I have, it’s in the glove compartment.”
The officer kicked his feet wide apart and frisked him, “Shut them lips boy or I'm liable to say I was attacked by a nigga.” He gave Tyree a light but humiliating slap across the back of his head. “Now if you wanna make it to the morning. I suggest you wise up and show me some valid I.D.”
He spun Tyree round to face him and re-holstered his weapon. Tyree kept his hands in the air. “Chill man, alright there’s a problem we can solve. It's my brotha's car, he put my wallet in the glove box.”
Wilson didn’t draw his firearm, the kid looked scared shitless and harmless enough, but he had unbuckled his weapon and took off the safety all the same.
“Now I want you to reach in there and get it for me. I got my gun pointing right at your dumb head. You try anything clever and I’m about to blow those dumb nigga brains all over this highway, understand.”
“Yes, sir,” said Tyree shaking.
The officer back away and pulled his weapon once more. “Aw'ight you can get it but ya be nice an slow, Just remember I'm behind ya with a full clip.”
Tyree slowly dropped his hand to his waist and opened the passenger door. Leaning over he reaches for the glovebox catch, Foley shifted position to keep a line of sight with his hands. He clicked the button and the glove compartment dropped open. One hinge had broken, meaning it would spill its contents if it wasn’t caught.
Tyree was so nervous he just hit the catch and watched as the entire contents spilled out onto the footwell of the car. There were papers, parking tickets, pizza fliers and to his relief, his wallet. As he picked up the wallet, he noticed something else lying in the footwell, his brothers Glock 43 9mm handgun.
The cop shouted "Freeze" and took a further step back.
In that same moment, Tyree turned to stand up.
Foley pulled the trigger, and the explosive echo of the shot seemed to go on for an age. Wilson heard the shot and everything in front of his eyes went sepia. He saw the smoke from the gun, he saw the twisted face of Ade Foley as he fell backwards onto the road. He saw a bright yellow mustard stain on his shirt as Foley landed on his backside. Then he saw the interior of the Buick turn red as if someone had thrown a tin of red paint across the interior of the front windscreen. By some bizarre twist of nature, Wilson approached in time to see the twitching hand of the young boy drop his blood-drenched wallet onto the road.
When Mom got home, the house was pretty much in the same state as it was when she left, there were some rumblings from upstairs, but she couldn’t be sure. The answering machine was blinking so she hit the button and filled the kettle by the sink. Mitty went to draw and pulled out her crayons and colouring books.
There was a loud beep:
“Hey, it’s baby Bro. It’s not been a good day, but Mama told me to remind you she needs half a dozen eggs for Cousin Angel’s birthday cake, gotta go, stay solid.”
A second beep.
She clicked on the kettle before approaching the answering machine, she paused with her finger over the delete message button, then pressed.
As she turned to walk away, she was startled by the sudden ring of the phone. She turned around, and for a reason she’ll never be able to explain she simply stood there, staring at the phone as its ring echoed around the house.
Inspired by a song written by Michael Franti from the ‘Spearhead’ album Chocolate Supa Highway. Available from Capitol Records (1997)
The song is called ‘The world in your hands’.