The Projects

5 Sep

The Projects

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Alternate Endings

4 Sep

Alternate Endings

By L. Stewart Marsden

Scrolling through my files I stumbled on this pair of poems earlier published and titled similarly. Both were very conscious works, and reflect two every different endings. I’ve often heard it said that where spouses are concerned, the death of one is preferable to divorce. I’m at emotional odds with either, frankly. “Preferable” is a relative term. Neither – it seems to me – should ever be labeled “preferable.”

 

† † † † †

At the Last

At the last,
when the salt-brined smell of urine
soaked the entire room;
when you looked up and saw past me
beyond the darkening doom;
when you touched me with your purple-mottled hand
and gently squeezed;
when the curtains softly billowed
with the cooling evening breeze
and masked the stench of death
with a honey-suckled ease;
I wanted to hold on – and
not to ever let you free
from my selfish one desire:
please do not ever go from me.

† † † † †

At the Last, Again

At the last, when starched-white papers lay open on my desk,
and I saw your signature scribble, and leafed through all the rest
of official proclamations, now registered and done,
of the death of “and now they are one” where nobody won
and all took losses, stride for stride,
and not much was left – nor much to hide –
of what began in earnest and looked out hopefully,
yet ran its course for better,
then ran aground for worse
and now we both are finally free.
Aren’t we?

† † † † †

Perspective

2 Sep

Perspective

By L. Stewart Marsden

Anton Ego, food critic, is a character in one of my favorite movies: Pixar’s Ratatouille. A sophisticated version of the Grinch, he seethes venom with his condescending reviews of the restaurant industry in Paris.

He says,

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read.”

It is metaphor to our current and perplexing nationwide conflict. Too easy to slip in the word “media” where Ego is talking about food critics. Or, perhaps, the extreme Right, or the extreme Left.

If you are familiar with the story, you remember he goes to investigate the hullabaloo over a new chef at a once-thriving restaurant.

There, a waiter asks if Ego knows what he would like for his meal.

Yes, I think I do. After reading a lot of overheated puffery about your new cook, you know what I’m craving? A little perspective.

In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, in addition to its devastation and carnage of Houston and the surrounding area, we are also left with perspective.

Facebook abounds with quotes and images similar to “America is NOT Charlottesville; America is Houston!”

Well, we’re both. Unfortunately. The perfect among us cannot hide nor eradicate the imperfect.

As a nation, we show the world our best and our worst. From the vitriol of antagonists who can’t stand one another, and are dedicated to sniping at every opportunity (we thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and read), to belittling and bashing one another; to hitching a thousand boats and driving thousands of miles to help with search and rescue and aid.

As Dickens wrote,

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair…

Perspective. We say that in the aftermath of tragedy: it put things into perspective.

Why does it take a devastating hurricane, tornado, illness, horrific event to grab our attention, shake sense into us enough for us to see (some of us, that is) that we are better than whatever it is that brings us shame?

It’s like we’re caught up in an emotional maelstrom that dulls all other senses and sensitivities. Perhaps a quasi-mob mentality, only the mobs are at either end of a see-saw. The vast majority of us just want none of it. Content to let things play out. Please, we say, can we not go back to normalcy?

We are all afflicted in one way or another.

Perspective. Not sure which is worse: the radical ends of the spectrum, or the sluggish majority that separates the extremes.

With disasters come the stirring of wills to be involved in some helpful way. Who is helped at the time is not dependent upon nation of origin, color of skin, gender identification, religious value, primary language spoken, political affiliation, economic standing, outstanding warrants, meat-eater or vegan, educational accomplishments. Or any other attribute that would normally keep us from deigning to be involved with that victim.

For a moment, we will have experienced what it is to give emotionally and financially and physically to a cause without regard to anything but the betterment of those who have lost home and loved ones.

This, too, shall pass.

Houston and the area will eventually get cleaned up. The snipers and critics have already begun to crawl out of the water-saturated woodwork and begin what they do best. The nation will breathe a sigh of relief at not having more than half the nightly news centered on all of the problems that do and eventually will exist. We’ve done our heartfelt and pocket-felt due diligence, and can return to normal.

And the carousel will start up again, slowly at first, and crescendo to spinning speeds.

Until the next disaster.

When,  once again, we will be presented with the opportunity to gain Perspective.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

24 Aug

Things That Go Bump in the Night

By L. Stewart Marsden

Since a kid I’ve been susceptible to my imagination at night, seeing things or hearing things that weren’t there. The jacket hung on a door hangar, transformed into a ghoulish being by the dark tones of night. The darkest corner of the ceiling, harboring a shapeless “thing” that would suddenly jump out at me. Things skittering about on the periphery of my vision.

I saw “King Kong” down at the beach one summer, and was effected for life. Years later, “The Time Machine,” also at the beach, had me turning my back on the one window in my bedroom, assured that if/when I turned to look, I’d see the red eyes and white-haired blue bodies of the Morlocks staring in on me.

Karloff, Lugosi, Lon Chaney & son, Price, Christopher Lee were the men behind the monsters, and I loved them all. I devoured magazines on horror make-up, anxious to uncover the magic behind Frankenstein, the Mummy, Dracula and the Wolfman.

Like Cosby’s great schtick on the radio show, “Lights Out,” I loved being scared. Not horrified, mind you (the advent of Nightmare on Elm Street and other blood movies was not to my liking at all), but scared.

Everything was filmed in black and white, even though Technicolor was available.

Yeah. Scare me to death.

The night before I left for prep school I watched a horror film called “Blood of Dracula.” It was about a girls school where one of the faculty had somehow procured the blood of the vampire, and along with a magical pendant, could turn students into creatures of the night. I wondered if one of the faculty members – maybe the science teacher – was likewise preparing for us boys and I would meet my destiny with horror.

At prep school, I was quartered in an old wood frame dorm, House C. I shared one of the second-story rooms with my roommate who was from Savannah. The rooms were spacious. My window looked out onto the delivery court of the Walker Building, a combination dormitory, office, and dining hall structure of brick and antebellum design. Several floodlights illumined the delivery court – a large square with a loading dock along one side. It was the favorite haunt at night of dozens of feral cats, who gathered to fight over garbage and other night-time activities. When late evening fog would roll into the square, and the cats would begin to fight, screeching and growling, it was the perfect soup for my imagination.

After lights out, I would pull out a flashlight, bury myself under my bed sheets, and read from Bram Stoker’s classic horror tale, “Dracula.” The fog, the cats’ yowlings echoing  in the courtyard, were the perfect visual/aural background, and more than elicited my ripe and visceral imaginings.

As I grew older, I outlasted my childish fears. I revisit them for entertainment, as well as escape from the real and far more scary realities of this day – the things that really do go “bump” in the night.

 

Hmmm.

The Roller Coaster – reposted

23 Aug

The Roller Coaster
by L. Stewart Marsden

Clanking loudly up we climb
Blue sky is all we see
As we ascend I think that I’m
Not ready for the free fall
next to come once we’ve
o’ercome the summit – and leave
the slowness of our pace
to plummet through both time and space
to ten thousand feet below.

As we dive at breakneck speeds
I wonder why I didn’t heed
my inner warnings not to go,
yet despite the things I know
I turned and said, “I do.”
And the ensuing rock-about
which slings me up and nearly out
in spite of how I cry and shout
does not slow or stop.

And you sit laughing, head flung back,
enjoying both the speed and fall,
while I wish I’d re-decideded
my choice to take the ride at all,
as bile and gall build up inside,
I muster all to save my pride
and keep from heaving ho –
I know there’s miles of track to go
before we ever start to slow.

After spinning upside down
and turning circles all around
I’m fairly certain I am bound,
when this ride’s through,
to kiss the ground.
And finally, finally, FINALLY
we start to finally slow,
and I can’t wait to stand and go
on wobbly legs with woozy head,
you grab my arm and say instead,
“You wanna ride again?”
I look, and while my vision spins,
and stomach churns with breakfast stuff,
I answer, with a sickly grin,
“I think six times is quite enough.”

 

Reblogging on the occasion of reading another’s use of the roller coaster metaphor, only related to adolescence. If you would like to read that poem, click below to be hyperlinked.

Woes of Adolescence

The Projects

21 Aug

Updating The Projects via reblogging the initial post.

Writing Odds n Ends

  

The Projects

By L. Stewart Marsden

Forward

Sometimes, just before waking, in that twilight of dream-sleep and consciousness, a thought or image or story or scenario will flit through my mind. Like a glint of light reflected off some shiny object. It’s there, and it’s gone.

Two thoughts – spawned perhaps by subconscious mulling over Charlottesville and the last several years of police action.

What if a person convicted of a hate crime – who had served the time – was paroled with the stipulation that he/she (mostly he, is my guess) served lots of hours working in the neighborhoods of the very people the hate crime was committed against? Impossible? I say this because on CBS evening news, a former member of a hate group was interviewed. This person, Christian Pitulini (sp?) joined a hate group at the age of 14, and quit a few years later to…

View original post 3,437 more words

2nd Edition, Through the Glass Darkly

19 Aug

 

Ray Ferrer’s cover illustration for Through the Glass Darkly

I’m making the manuscript of my second edition of Through the Glass Darkly available –after many attempts to figure out how to do it – for a limited time.

You are free to download and read the manuscript, as well as share it with others if you so care.

As I do plan to publish it, I hope you will benefit me with your comments, including which stories you liked and why, as well as those you didn’t care for. I will leave this page posted for your comments, but will dismantle the link to the file eventually.

Comments on plots, characters, dialogue, flow, etc., are all important to me. Not so much, “I liked this story” (which I used to say when I wrote book reports as a kid), but, “I liked this story because …”

I post to and maintain my online writing studio on WordPress because I seek feedback, as I imagine you do also. Whether positive or negative feedback, it is all beneficial to me in terms of my growth as a writer and poet.

Thank you in advance for those thoughtful comments.

LSM, 19 August 2017

Click the following link for the manuscript. Please alert me if you have any difficulty opening this file.

ThroughtheGlassDarkly_2ndEdition11-26-2015-TEST

Pain

19 Aug

 

Pain

By L. Stewart Marsden

 

When I was about ten years old, I began having intense attacks of pain on my right side under my rib cage. It was deep inside. The best way I found to describe it was it felt as though a double-bladed knife, triangular in shape from its tip to the hilt, was being slowly inserted into me. The pain would gradually increase over hours, and I did everything I could for relief to no avail. It got so bad I would force myself to throw up in order to empty my stomach. Again, useless. I even banged my head against the wall to distract my mind elsewhere.

I was checked and tested for a myriad of maladies, including hepatitis and ruptured appendix, during which time I must have drunk gallons of pasty, chalky “stuff” that would show up problems under x-rays.

Nothing.

The attacks repeated over a number of years, seeming to get more and more painful and intolerable. And the duration also lengthened, from several hours to a day and a half. The usual guess at a diagnosis was severe indigestion. So whenever I felt an attack coming on, I’d drain a bottle of Pepto Bismal – thinking it might lessen the severity. That’s what you get for thinking.

Finger down the throat. Head banging on the wall. Even had a pediatrician give me morphine once. Well, that worked, but it sure wasn’t going to be the normal treatment.

Over the years I suffered dozens of attacks. Only complete exhaustion and drop dead sleep helped me survive.

The spring before Ronald Reagan was shot by John Hinkley, the attacks began to occur within weeks of each other. At the around the same time, I found out my older sister had her gallbladder removed due to having painful attacks.

Gallbladder!

A gastroenterologist told me I couldn’t have gallbladder disease, and my pain wasn’t the result of gallbladder attacks because I had been having them since I was ten.

“Improbable,” he surmised, having never heard of someone so young diagnosed with the malady.

This time the tests – for gallbladder – came back positive, and proved the doctor wrong.

The surgery took hours longer than was expected. My gallbladder had shrunk up under my liver, and the surgeon cut a large half-moon opening to the right of my stomach area in order to actually move my liver So he could get to the gallbladder.

It looked like a dried-up lemon, he told me later. And it was packed with dozens and dozens of BB-sized stones that had been produced over the years.

Pain.

It tells us something is wrong, and compels us to do something about it. I’ve heard preachers say metaphorically that it is God’s way of steering us in the right path. I have a response to that premise, but I can’t write it down in mixed company.

The solution for my pain over the years was first the diagnosis. And no one for the longest time reached a correct conclusion. At the time of those attacks, I was happy merely to have the pain go away, which they eventually did, but only to come back again.

There is no such thing as timeliness as far as pain is concerned, in my opinion.

I’ve been told that the pain of a gallbladder attack is at the same intensity as what women experience when in labor. I wouldn’t know. That could only be asserted by a woman, and I trust they would know.

We’re in a time of pain. The country.

Just shy of fifty years ago we were also in a time of pain not dissimilar to now.

Then, the sources of the pain were evident. On Sunday evenings when CBS covered the war in Vietnam on 60 Minutes. Kent State. Martin Luther King assassinated. The Black Panthers. The bombing of Hanoi. Bra-burning. Marches, marches, marches.

And like a gallbladder attack, it was like a two-edged knife being slowly inserted into the gut of the country, and there was no relief to be found.

We’re there once again. The faces are the same, only the names are different. Afghanistan. Syria. Al Qaeda. ISIS. Terrorism. Police brutality. Denial of rights to a different set of minorities. Racial tension. Political buffoonery. Fascists. Bigots. Racists.

For those of us who were around the first time during the 60s and 70s, it’s deja vous all over again. Ground Hog Day. Like the unseen gods are saying, “We’re going to do this until we get it right”-kind of scenario.

Is it just me? Or have I felt this pain before? And will we ever have a definitive diagnosis? Will we go into surgery to have this malignancy removed at last?

Were it only that simple.

In the meantime, we have the pain, which will persist and recur until solutions are found.

 

 

 

 

Forget About It

18 Aug

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Forget About It

By L. Stewart Marsden

Never forget.

Forget, hell!

Gettysburg. Manassas. Fort Sumter. Shiloh. Richmond. Antietam. Petersburg. Vicksburg. Andersonville. Chickamauga. Lookout Mountain. Appomattox.

Images of the statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled in Baghdad, Iraq.

Images of the statue of Robert E. Lee being toppled in Durham, NC.

The oft-quoted maxim involving forgetting history – while a tired phrase – might apply here. The poet and philosopher, George Santayana is purported to have said:

Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Of course, various versions have been bantered about throughout time.

Edmund Burke said, “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”

Winston Churchill weighed in with, “Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

And my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut, put his spin on the phrase, elaborating, of course:

I’ve got news for Mr. Santayana … We’re doomed to repeat the past no matter what. That’s what it is to be alive. It’s pretty dense kids who haven’t figured that out by the time they’re ten…. Most kids can’t afford to go to Harvard and be misinformed.

History is filled with images and symbols that act as touchstones to the past. The Roman Empire SPQR held high on a pole; the sign of the fish for early Christians; family crests (I am currently wearing a ring with my family’s crest). From the benign to the monstrous. The cross on the shields of Christian warriors who slaughtered in the name of Christ during the Crusades; the swastika, “a sacred symbol of the spiritual principles in Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism”† to a symbol of Nazi Aryan race identity, hate, and mass murder.

Flags of the nations. During WWII the Japanese flag elicited much anger on the part of Americans. The Russian flag did the same during the Cold War.

And statues and busts of every imaginable sort.

A growing sentiment is being heard across the country, urging the destruction or eradication of both symbols and statues that represent to that group something odious and despicable. Confederate flags, once incorporated into various southern state flags, are being removed from, or being called to be removed from those state symbols. The sentiment is significant, but not quite a majority.

There are those who are baffled by what seems to be as vitriolic a response as those who see these symbols as touchstones to a time and way of life they have identified with for generations.

Fascists, come the cries. Bigots and racists.

Liberals, come the retorts. Pinko commies who want to take without earning.

A fear has swept over the country, like tsunamis from two directions hurtling toward each other. One group fearful that the country will revert to pre-Civil War days, and minorities will be enslaved and hunted and valued at a lesser level (2/3?) than their white counterparts. The other group, doggedly holding onto values they believe to be inalienable rights, and angry and frustrated that the country “is going to hell in a hand basket.”

In the middle – between these two groups – a large segment of the country who are confused at best, ignorant at worst, at what to do. Wishing and hoping it will all “settle down” so life can resume as it was. Content with the status quo. Spectators.

Do you eradicate any and all controversial symbols of the past? Anything offensive to anyone? Do we bury the reality of a civil war on our soil that took between 620,000 and 750,000 lives on the battlefield? ††

It’s true that many in this country cling to these symbols as a connection to a time and way of life they would prefer. It is also true the symbols are odious reminders of oppression and worse.

One group says “you are erasing history.” The other, “we are removing the icons of hate and bigotry and fascism.”

Is there a solution regarding these remnants and reminders of a time our country was literally ripped apart? Do we eradicate these touchstones to a time when people, many born in the United States, were enslaved and denied the rights of citizenry or even humanhood?

It is revealing that descendants of the men depicted by statues honoring their ancestors express mixed emotion:

“William Jackson Christian (known as Jack) and Warren Edmund Christian are great-great-grandsons of Stonewall Jackson, the general best known for leading Confederate troops in the First Battle of Bull Run. On Wednesday, they published a blistering open letter in Slate, calling statues of Jackson and other Confederate leaders in their hometown, Richmond, ‘overt symbols of racism and white supremacy.’”

“‘While we are not ashamed of our great-great-grandfather, we are ashamed to benefit from white supremacy while our black family and friends suffer,” they wrote. “We are ashamed of the monument.’”

“Bertram Hayes-Davis, a great-great-grandson of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, has been less forceful than the Christians. In an interview with the CNN host Don Lemon, he said that statues of Davis and other Confederate leaders at the United States Capitol ‘were placed there for a reason,’ but that they should be moved to a museum if their current location is ‘offensive to a large majority of the public.’”

“The statue of Robert E. Lee in Charlottesville was the cause célèbre of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis who marched last weekend. But Lee’s great-great-grandson, Robert E. Lee V, told CNN he would not object if local officials chose to take it down.

“‘Maybe it’s appropriate to have them in museums or to put them in some sort of historical context in that regard,’ Mr. Lee, 54, the boys’ athletic director at the Potomac School in McLean, Va., said in the CNN interview. But, he added, ‘we have to be able to have that conversation without all of the hatred and the violence.’

“In a statement, he and Tracy Lee Crittenberger, Robert E. Lee’s great-great-granddaughter, said Lee would not have supported the actions of the white nationalists and neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Like Mr. Hayes-Davis, they defended their great-great-grandfather to some extent, saying his life ‘was about duty, honor and country.’

“‘At the end of the Civil War, he implored the nation to come together to heal our wounds and to move forward to become a more unified nation,’ they wrote. ‘He never would have tolerated the hateful words and violent actions of white supremacists, the K.K.K. or neo-Nazis.’

“A museum, Mr. Lee and Ms. Crittenberger said, might be a better place for such statues: a place where they could be put in the context of the 1860s.

“But Mr. Lee added in an interview with The Washington Post, ‘If it can avoid any days like this past Saturday in Charlottesville, then take them down today.’”†††

I am white. I was born in the South. I am part of the “privileged class,” and grew up in a small southern town and did not want for anything growing up. While my heritage was not based on Southern tradition (my parents relocated to the South at the end of WWII, having grown up in Minnesota), the norms of that quaint community were assimilated in many ways into my family. I attended an exclusive all-boys prep school nestled in the rural hills of Virginia not far from Fredericksburg and Lynchburg and Richmond. At the time, the school was all-white as far as students and faculty goes. Many of my classmates bore the recognizable last names of families steeped in Virginia and southern history.

In public school, there were no blacks in the schools I attended until I reached junior high, and then a hand-full only. Segregation was in force and enforced, with separate bathrooms and water fountains and entrances and seating for blacks. During that day, there were no Hispanics or Latinos that I knew of in the community. I’m sure there were, though.

As part of the ruling class, I unknowingly and unwittingly perpetuated the status quo. Along the way, between then and now, I’ve come to see how this “arrangement” benefitted only certain whites – those who occupied the most prestigious classes. And those benefits still remain into this day.

I cannot identify with nor tolerate the egregious attitudes of the Alt-right, the KKK, or any other hate group. I struggle with, however, how to deal with the clear-cutting of historical monuments or statues that represent a time when our country was not at its best. I tend to agree more with the idea of collecting these symbols in museums that treat the era in a way that places like Auschwitz treat the atrocities of Nazi Germany. Hitler and Company are not deified or aggrandize to my knowledge in those museums.

But then I cannot identify with people who have suffered generations back because of their countries of origin (my ancestors were largely Irish, according to DNA results through ancestry.com), the color of their skin, gender, or any of a host of other reasons. I can’t identify with profiling, or being a victim of police brutality. I can mentally understand why the strong feelings, still, I find the wholesale destruction of historical monuments/statues unsatisfactory.

Perhaps if we do not forget, and view our past with appropriate perspective and discernment, Mr. Vonnegut’s assertion that we will inevitably repeat history will be less likely.

I hope so.

§§§§§

†Wikipedia, under Swastika.
†† A December 2011 article by Professor J. David Hacker suggests the traditionally-accepted death toll of soldiers (620,000) during the Civil War was underestimated. http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-17604991
††† https://www.nytimes.com/2017/08/17/us/confederate-monuments-stonewall-jackson-lee-davis.html

The Projects

16 Aug

  

The Projects

By L. Stewart Marsden

Forward

Sometimes, just before waking, in that twilight of dream-sleep and consciousness, a thought or image or story or scenario will flit through my mind. Like a glint of light reflected off some shiny object. It’s there, and it’s gone.

Two thoughts – spawned perhaps by subconscious mulling over Charlottesville and the last several years of police action.

What if a person convicted of a hate crime – who had served the time – was paroled with the stipulation that he/she (mostly he, is my guess) served lots of hours working in the neighborhoods of the very people the hate crime was committed against? Impossible? I say this because on CBS evening news, a former member of a hate group was interviewed. This person, Christian Pitulini (sp?) joined a hate group at the age of 14, and quit a few years later to form an organization that actively works against hate groups. 

Second, below is another whimsical thought – the beginning of a story that addresses one possible way to span the chasm that exists between minority communities and the police officers who are charged with serving them.

– LSM

†††††

The Projects

Pastor Jeremy Tolbert rapped the table with his coffee mug amid the sudden outbreak of arguing.

“Folks, please! Just give me a moment to clarify things!”

The chaos continued.

“FOR THE LOVE OF JE-SUS!” he blasted, slamming his cup down, freezing the moment as if he had sprayed everyone with ice-cold water. “Please! Sit down!”

One by one his parishioners sat, still somewhat shocked by Tolbert’s anger.

“This is not the same old same old. It’s a new idea on a very old problem, and the Lord knows we need to try something new. Amen?”

Amen, came the reply in unison.

“Keydets are key people of all ages who live in each block. Young, old, men or women. Black, Latino, mix. Straight, gay. Liberal or conservative.”

“We got any conservatives in the hood?” piped up Simeon Crouch, and the room relaxed in laughter.

“We got one or two, Simeon. They just don’t want you to know it!” said Tolbert. “Here’s how it is different: we are the ones who choose our neighborhood block Keydets. Not the police department. Us. And there won’t be no uniforms or badges or guns or billy clubs issued.”

“How anyone gonna know who a Keydet is, then? And how they gonna enforce the law?”

“They won’t enforce anything. That’s not their job.”

“What they gonna do, then?”

“They will play a key role in communicating between the neighborhoods and the police department. We will know who they are because they will be trained to go into their blocks and areas and organize. In a few weeks, a Keydet is going to knock on each of your doors to sit down with you.”

“Organize what?”

“Well, help the neighborhoods know how to protect itself, and to know what to do to identify crime and criminals, and what to do about that kind of thing.”

“So they snitches.”

“Yeah, undercover cops!”

“NO!” Tolbert leaned forward on the table, his arms stretched out in front of him, palms down on the battered wood surface. “No.”

He surveyed the group. They comprised the leadership of Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church, where he had served going on two decades. He knew and loved each individual. He could talk spiritually to each person, and knew their stories intimately. How they struggled to make it in a world that seemed to keep them down and “in their place.” How they feared for their children, worrying that the streets would eventually drag them down into lives of crime – or worse. For many of them, that had already happened.

“They are not going to be snitches. They will be – for lack of a better word – Aarons. They will interpret our people and our ways of struggle to those who are charged with our protection.”

“Preacher, why you say Aarons?”

“You know, great as Moses was, he had one major problem. He told God he was slow of speech and tongue.”

“He had a speech impediment,” said Mabel Howard, fanning herself with the flat of her hand.

“Yes. So God appointed Aaron to speak to Pharaoh for Moses. And that’s what our Keydets will do for the community. They will interpret to their partners from the police department how we feel, what we need and what we want as a community from them.

“Our job is to identify these people.”

“You said they will interpret to their partners from the police department.”

“I did.”

“Who they?”

“Like our Keydets, they will be police officers of different ages and races and backgrounds. But a key part of the program, is these officers will have a history of misunderstanding our community.”

“What? Like they’s the ones that beats us up?”

“Not that extreme, Buck. But officers who have something in their history that lets their superiors know they will profit from being involved in the program. It will help to change their attitudes.”

“And how’s that gonna happen, Preacher?”

“In addition to choosing our Keydets, we are also responsible to train the officers.”

Once again the room exploded into vocal chaos. This time Rev. Tolbert waited, drumming his fingers slowly on the table. Gradually the storm passed, and the room quieted.

“The police department will train our Keydets. Observation and questioning skills. Recording skills. And some personal defense. The only equipment the Keydets will have will be an inexpensive cellphone they can use to contact their partner.

“We will train the officers. That curriculum will include a variety of things: our ways and how we view police; our hopes for the neighborhood – such as crime-free; and some basic language skills.”

A laugh rippled through the group.

“The only snitching to be done will be on each other. The Keydet will report to us, and let us know what his or her partner needs to work on. Same thing for the officer, who will report to the police trainer about what the Keydet needs training in.

“The goal, at the very least, is that these two people from two very different backgrounds and experiences, will come to understand and trust each other. They are our Adam and Eve project, in a way. And the hope is that a new and positive relationship between our neighborhood and those sworn to protect us will be the result.”

THAT IS HOW sixteen-year-old Jehwan Tyree Johnson and forty-two-year-old Officer Gabriel Sean O’Hare came to be partners in the southeast Mulholland District of the city.

†††††

“So, we gonna get paid to do this?” asked one of the potential Keydets. “I mean, seems if we gonna do all this work, we should get something for it.”

Heads nodded in the room and a low murmur ensued as those gathered whispered agreement.

“The grant does provide funds to compensate you. Not a lot. You won’t get rich if you choose to become a Keydet.”

“Then why should we care?”

Captain Irene Daniels resisted the urge to roll her eyes. All eyes in the room scrutinized her every move, word and voice inflection. Anything that detracted from “the sell” could mean potential failure. And, as the Chief of Police as well as the Mayor and District Attorney had carefully explained to her weeks earlier, there was no room for failure. The violence in Mulholland last spring could not be repeated. Nor the ambushing of police officers. Nor the display of brutal or fatal force against citizens on the part of her officers.

“Maybe you shouldn’t care. That’s for you to decide. Maybe it doesn’t matter that the anger and rage continues.”

“No, Ma’am – it matter,” said an elderly black man as he rose to his feet in the back of the room. “We have come too far since Dr. King was kilt. Now, maybe that’s not far enough for everyone, and you angry on a cause of that. But now? Seems we be slippin’ backwards towards those days don’t none of us want to ever see again. My boy couldn’t see straight ‘cause of he was mad! It got inside his head to where he couldn’t do nothin’ but hate and fight. Now he’s dead. No, Ma’am – it definitely matter.”

“Thank you, Mr. Terrell. I hope that this program will end the “we” and the “they” mindset we’ve all fallen into. So, yeah, the pay is not great. But you will be doing something positive to change this neighborhood and yourselves – plus the police force – for the good.

“Sergeant O’Hare is going to pass out your cell phones. These will be used for you to contact your police department partner, or they you. Don’t lose these, please. If something goes wrong with them, bring them back in and we will either repair or replace them.”

A large bear-like officer cradled a cardboard box, and began handing out cellphones.

“Hey, Chief!”

“Captain,” Daniels corrected.

“Oh yeah – Captain. Can you text with these?”

“You can text. But you cannot get on the internet. They are not smart phones.”

“They dummies!” a voice blurted out, and the room tittered.

“Make sure the phones are charged, and that you can bring up the phone number for your phone.”

“How you do that?” said an older woman.

“I’ll show you how, Miz Cruise.”

“Thank you, Jehwan. It is Jehwan, right?”

“Yes Ma’am.”

“Sergeant O’Hare is your police department partner, Jehwan.”

“No shit? Uh – sorry, Ma’am. Really?”

“Really.”

†††††

“And how old are you, Juwan?”

“Jehwan. Like a J with a wan. You know, Obi Wan? But it’s J-wan.”

“You’ve seen the movie?”

“Who ain’t?”

“So, J-wan … how old are you?”

“Sixteen. I’ll be seventeen next October.”

“Ah! Me too!”

“Damn! For a seventeen-year-old, you musta had a really hard life!”

“Smart ass! I meant I was born in October! You a Libra, then?”

“Nah. Scorpio.”

“A leader!”

“And a lover! Least that’s what the ladies tell me.”

“I’m a Libra. Intellectual, we are,” he said, trying to mimic Yoda.

“Didn’t know – ah, no – never mind.”

“Never mind what? You can tell me. We’re partners, right? Partners can tell each other anything.”

“I don’t know …”

“Go ahead. I’m a thick-skinned Irishman.”

“I thought the Irish were a little sensitive. Quick to get mad.”

“That’s a myth. Now, what were you gonna say?”

“What I was gonna say was I didn’t know cops were intellectuals – per se.”

O’Hare stopped in the middle of a spoonful of his ice cream soda. Jehwan could tell he was thinkin’ fast.

“How’s your Sundae?” he finally said.

“Oh, it’s fine! Very fine.”

They continued to eat their desserts silently.

“So, tell me: what are your superiors concerned about you?” Jehwan asked.

“What concerns? What’re you talking about?”

“Preacher Tolbert said, when we was recruited, that the police partners was chose based on – you know – some problem they has with people like me.”

“People like you?”

“Black people. People who live in Mulholland. You hit somebody?”

O’Hare put his spoon down. He was slowly turning red in the face. Jehwan wasn’t sure if the color change was anger or not.

“It was nothing. I made a mistake. I said something to somebody that I shouldn’t have said.”

“Yeah? What was it?” Jehwan’s eyes were wide with interest, and he leaned forward over the small table toward the officer. O’Hare said something – but it was garbled, and Jehwan didn’t understand.

“Say again?”

“You know. The N-word.”

“Wha?! You called somebody Nigger!”

“Shhh! Not so loud! I was angry, okay? The guy was a junkie. He was a worthless piece of shit!”

“Oh, my!”

“Let me ask you – why is it okay for a black person to use the N-word but not a person of another color? I don’t call all blacks the N-word. Just the scum-buckets. And don’t you call white people Honkies? Should I be upset about that? I mean, I’m not.”

Jehwan laughed out loud.

“That funny to you, is it?”

“Nah, man. Either way, nigger or honkie ain’t right. But that word you used. Scum-buckets!” He laughed again.

“That’s what they are! And so I called one black scum-bucket the N-word. What the hell is so wrong with that? Tell me, please!”

“It remind me of this YouTube video I seen where Eddie Murphy was like this old man in a sweater in some kind of kid show.”

“Mr. Rogers? Mr. Rogers Neighborhood was a great TV show!”

“That’s it! Yeah, but Eddie was the black version, and he’s talkin’ ‘bout his landlord, and he looks into the camera and says all nice and all, ‘Can you say scum-bucket, boys and girls?’”

“Ha! Yes! I remember that one, too!”

They laughed. Then Jehwan drew himself as tall and as straight in his chair, trying to neutralize O’Hare’s size.

“So here the thing: it ain’t cool for a non-black person to use the word ‘nigger.’ That’s our word. We own it. Least that’s what Chance said when Bill Maher said it on his show. And besides, mostly we use ‘nigga’ – not the other one. So I ‘preciate that you do not use the words around me or my kind.”

“And I appreciate you not calling me honkie – or worse: carrot top, or spudfucker.”

Spudfucker!? Agreed.” They fist bumped to seal the vows.

“Well, that’s what got me into trouble. And that’s why the Captain assigned me to the program. And that’s why you and me are partners.”

“Not like you beat somebody up or shot them – like what’s been happening.”

“Just so you know, cop lives matter, too.”

“Shit! I don’t even want to get into this!”

“If we don’t, we won’t make any progress.”

“Progress. You don’t even know, man!”

Silence.

“So how’s your Sundae?”

“It’s okay.”

†††††

The police cruiser slowly passed Jehwan, who was walking quickly on the other side of the street. The interior light cast from the computer on the dashboard illumined the two officers, and he could see the one in the passenger seat was eyeing him carefully. Jehwan’s heartbeat stepped up several notches, and he slowed his pace to see if the cruiser would also slow. He put his hand in his pocket and clinched the cellphone given to him for the neighborhood/cop program. It was cool to the touch.

The cruiser did slow, and pulled over to the opposite side of the street and stopped. Of a sudden, the blue lights on its roof began to flash, and he saw the driver lean forward and a siren began to wail, as the car pulled out quickly, its howl subsiding as it sped down the street into the night and disappeared.

As on cue, the phone in Jehwan’s pocket vibrated in his hand, and he pulled it to his ear.

“‘Lo?”

“I’m running late, Jehwan. Go ahead and get started without me and I’ll be there shortly. Have to do something quick.”

“Yeah? Well get me one of the jelly-filled ones.”

“Jelly-filled what?”

Do-nuts! That’s where you’re going, right? To get coffee and doughnuts?”

“Ha! Only in the morning, my man. See you in a bit.”

Jehwan grinned, and stored the phone back in his pocket. He was glad to hear O’Hare’s voice, especially when he figured he was going to get waylaid by the city’s finest on a dark street.

He picked his pace up and turned the corner onto Seventh Avenue toward Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church, located across the street in the middle of the block. The only working street lamp on the avenue rose from the sidewalk at the foot of the church’s concrete steps, a wide swath that invited passers by to stop and climb them. During the day, the steps served as bleachers for spectators of pickup basketball games in the street.

The Reverend Tolbert had bought a portable basketball goal from Movement God and placed it across the street from the church steps. He had also put out a rubber garbage can full of street-ready basketballs. Jehwan always wondered why the balls were never stolen. Not one. One of his friends said if somebody ever did, they might end up in the river.

During summertime and on weekends, neighborhood kids swarmed the street to play three-on-three, and the goal had seen better days. Originally, Pastor Tolbert had leaned a piece of plywood against the wrought iron handrails of the steps. On it he painted “You must be this height or smaller to play basketball,” indicating a horizontal line drawn at about the five-foot level.

That didn’t go over well, and the bigger kids eventually started dominating the “court.” Of course he had to replace the metal rim and the backboard a few times due to kids dunking and hanging off the rim. And he went through a dozen or more nets. Someone told him he should put up chain nets like those used on the public playgrounds, but he refused to listen, remembering how he hated the metal sound of a swish compared to nylon.

“Only the best for my kids,” he said.

Parishioners laid out lane markings for the court, and spray-painted the lines with white paint. Then someone came up with the idea for an ongoing three-man basketball league, which Tolbert christened “Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church Trinity Basketball League,” a mouthful. Everyone called it The Trinity League, which suited Tolbert just fine. The Father, Son, and the Holy Ghost basketball. The league grew, and so did Tolbert’s reputation as a voice of reason in the community.

Jehwan crossed the street under the basketball goal, flicking the bottom of the net as he passed. He thumped the garbage can full of balls and leapt up the steps to the church’s arched double doors. The doors were unlocked, as they always were, and he swung one open and entered the church.

The vestibule was small and covered in red carpet, which continued into the sanctuary and ran down the middle of rows of wooden pews. At the far end of the nave the chancel was elevated above the floor level. A baptismal font stood on one side of the chancel, and a dais on the other.

Seated on the edge of the chancel floor, feet dangling, Pastor Tolbert faced a small group of people seated haphazardly in the front pews. Only the chancel lights were on, the rest of the sanctuary shadowed in night tones. One one side of the aisle were people from the community, and on the other side, a variety of people from the police department, some in plain clothes, and others in uniform.

Tolbert looked up as Jehwan entered.

“Hey, here comes the last of our community Keydets! Everyone, this is Jehwan Johnson for those of you who don’t know him.”

Faces turned and people grunted various greetings as Jehwan eased into one of the pews toward the back of the group. Jehwan raised his hand and waved briefly.

“Where is your counterpart, Jehwan? Sergeant O’Hare?”

“Oh, he be here directly. He said go one with the meeting.”

“Okay, that’s a good idea. I know everyone wants to get started on time. All of your time is valuable, and I so appreciate your willingness to be here. May we begin tonight’s meeting with a prayer? Good!

“Dear precious Lord, we are set with a task that is bigger than any one of us. The wounds of this community gape open, and we seek your healing touch.”

Various impromptu responses of “Amen” sprinkled from the group.

“So we ask humbly, dear Heavenly Father, that you unite us as one body, with one accord and resolution to do whatever is necessary for this healing to take place. We know it will not be either a quick or an easy task …”

“Yes, Lord!”

“… as the gulf that separates us has slowly widened over the years and decades …”

“Uh-huh!”

“… and the distance between us is steeped with stubbornness …”

“That’s right!”

“… and ignorance …”

“Oh, my!”

“… and preconceived notions and falsehoods …”

“Je-sus!”

“… on all – I said ALL sides …”

Clapping, and arms raised, heads nodding and shaking back and forth.

“… There is no one but You, Father God, who can provide what we need today and evermore …”

“All right!”

“… which is the miracle of your healing hand …”

“Yes!”

“So use us, Lord, as you used Moses – use our mouths and our hands and our feet to lead this community out of its attitude of slavery …”

“Oh, Lord, do!”

“… into one of servitude to one another, that we may do unto others – NOT before they do unto us – but that we may do unto others as we would have them to do unto us. Amen.”

“Amen!”

†††††

The keydette training and officer training was difficult. Not physically arduous – but strenuous on a mental and psychological level. For Jehwan, the process of realizing that not all cops were racist or bullies or imbued with a disposition to prejudge anyone of color, or from another country, or who worshipped anybody other than Jesus – was, as he told the police instructor, “Tough as shit.”

On the other hand, Sargent O’Hare strained against second nature that had been ingrained through three generations of police officers in his family. He was used to throwing back a couple of beers at O’Malley’s On The River, and trading jokes with his fellow officers.

“A Jew, a Wop and a Wetback walked into a bar …” kind of joke.

Racist, he was told.

“By God and by Jesus! Them’s ninety percent of my joke repertoire!” he said, smiling in anguish. It was anguish over the loss of his favorite jokes, not that he was racist.

“You tell me the definition of racist!” he challenged Rev. Tolbert.

“Racism, in a nutshell, is the belief, however conscious or unconscious, that you are better than someone else because of the color of your skin. And in the case of your jokes, that extends to national origin, religion, and other things – like gender preferences.”

“Oh, well! Are you telling me we aren’t different? Are you telling me some people aren’t better than others? That a law-abiding citizen isn’t better than a low-life drugged-up gang-banger?”

“If you can, Sargent, try to strip away how one behaves from those attributes that define who one is.”

It baffled O’Hare that anyone could separate what someone does from what someone is.

“A junkie is a junkie. A liar is a liar. A thief is a thief. And so forth, Pastor. Is it my fault the majority of these criminals are from a certain class or race or religion? Look – my ancestors came over to America from Ireland. The way they were treated when they got here was a crime. But did the Irish give in to that crap? Hell, no! We persevered and pulled ourselves up by our bootstraps. There wasn’t no handouts for us. We had to succeed on our own! We are fighters! And that’s the only way you’re gonna make it in this world. You claw and scrap at anything and anybody who is in the way and you will eventually climb to the top of the heap! Period!”

“But you were never bought and sold, or separated from you wife or children, or hung because you tried to escape being a slave – all because you were Irish.”

IT WAS NO BETTER for Jehwan.

“So, the Man has always been there to keep us in our place – whether it was on the plantation or in the ghetto.”

“And by ‘the Man,’ you mean?” asked Captain Daniels.

“By ‘the Man’ I mean the ones who is in power. And mostly that’s white people.”

“Well, I have the power to keep the peace, and I’m not white.”

“You an outlier.”

“Nice word, and correctly used. But blacks have made great advancements since the time of slavery, or the time of Jim Crow.”

“Jim Crow’s coming back.”

“Why do you think so?”

“It’s so obvious! The most of us is still struggling to get somewhere and be somebody. We are a threat! I mean, what would happen if the black man was to somehow become top dog? All across the nation people – most particularly the Man – is gettin’ nervous and all about that very prospect. So he be cracking down by crackin’ us in the head. Or worse. And, by the way, the Man is using you, Brother. You think you have improved your situation, but have you really? I mean, you’re becoming just like him! The power has gone to your head! And to your billy club. And to your gun.”

“So what’s the answer, Jehwan?”

“I don’t really know. I mean you pull out these programs – like this one – and I don’t know if it’s to keep us quiet or to help. We are so far apart – I mean I not gonna hold my breath or nuthin’. It’s like Dr. King’s dream is just that – a crazy, unrealistic dream that not nobody gonna ever wake up to for real. That’s all it is, seems to me. A dream.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way.”

“Being sorry ain’t gonna change nuthin. Sir.”

Thus the Keydet program got off to a dubious, if not extremely shaky, start.

†††††

The phone call awoke O’Hare from a vivid dream. He reached over on the nightstand for his cellphone and turned on the lamp. His wife, in a harrumph, turned her back to him and pulled the bed covers over her head.

It was Jehwan. And it was two am.

“Jehwan? I know we’re supposed to be bonding, and all – but …”

“You got to come get me – now!” The urgency in his voice was enough. O’Hare threw his clothes on, grabbed his keys, gun and badge, then fairly leaped down the stairs and out the side door to where he kept his old Fiat.

The weather was cold and damp, and it took several tries to get the engine revving. He swung out of the drive and gunned down the dark streets. He had enough time to get a location from Jehwan before the boy hung up: Tyrone’s Bar-B-Que.

Jehwan was huddled in the small alcove of the front door of the restaurant. He wore a thick dark hoodie to protect him from the wet cold – or to keep him from being identified on the streets, though the Sargent . O’Hare stopped and unlocked the passenger door, and Jehwan jumped into the car. He was shivering – his eyes wide with fright.

“Let’s get the hell outta here!”

Before O’Hare could respond, the rear window on his side of the car shattered.

“What the hell – !?”

“GET THE HELL OUTTA HERE!”

O’Hare floored the gas peddle. The Fiat sputtered, then shot forward, leaving a thick trail of smokey exhaust in its wake.

“What the hell is going on?”

“I’m in trouble.”

“No shit, Tonto! What kind of trouble?”

“I don’t think I can be a Keydet anymore.”

O’Hare slowed the Fiat and pulled to the side of the street under a street light.

Jehwan looked about nervously, casing the area carefully as he spoke.

“I got a visit tonight.”

“From who?”

“Let’s just say it was peoples that is not too excited about having somebody spy on them in the streets.”

“Spy? You’re not a goddam spy, for Chrissakes!”

“Yeah? That’s not what’s goin’ ‘round. Two other Keydets got visits earlier this week. A message is being sent – just like that bullet through your window.”

“For me, it’s nothing new. Don’t get me wrong – I might have pissed my pants. But cops get shot at all the time.”

“You not in your cop car, Sargent. You in this – this – what the hell kind of car is this?”

“Fiat. 1998. 250,000 miles and runs like a dream if you’re not awake.”

“They don’t pay you shit, do they?”

“My wife has the good car. Dodge Stratus.”

“Damn! Look – you can see they mean business.”

“And who is ‘they?’”

“The Cyclops.”

“A bunch of punks, Jehwan. Real fine citizens of your community!”

“The brothers got guns – big, bad-ass guns. And they ain’t afraid to use them.”

“Yeah? Well they ain’t very good shots,” O’Hare said, nodding toward the shattered window.

“If they had wanted, your head be busted open like a watermelon.”

“And their message to you?”

“Get out of this program. Or worse.”

“What could be worse?”

“Be dead. Or do like they want, and be a snitch on the inside.”

“What?”

“Keep them posted on you guys – the cops.”

“We got no secrets. Unless maybe a planned bust.”

“Exactly my point. You and I is a threat to their business. And they don’t tolerate threats, if you know what I mean. The next shot won’t miss, in other words.”

“I don’t want you to quit the program, Jehwan. These guys need to be kicked out of the neighborhood. They are the reason things are the way they are.”

“You may think that, but the way things are? It’s a lot more complicated than a bunch of gang members sellin’ dope. And everybody lives here knows that.”

“Well, we gotta start somewhere. You should stay in the program. Help turn things around. Get the gangs out of here.”

“How we do that? You think this is gonna do anything more than make things worse you are dreamin’, Man.”

“Like Dr. King said, ‘I have a dream …’”

“This is not a dream. This be a nightmare! And as far as they concerned? You and I are the Bogeyman.”

“So you’re gonna quit.”

“Man, this is my life we’re talkin’ about! They will kill me! Or, if not me, my baby sister, or my aunt, or my damn dog! And they wouldn’t blink twice about it. They been three drive-bys in the last six months!”

“I know. And we’re working on that.”

“Well, whatever you doin’ ain’t done shit!”

“That’s why this program –– ”

Fuck this program! Already things has not gotten better, but worse! You think the Cyclops gonna be rehabilitated? What they gonna be rehabilitated to? Shit, man, they wearing gold bling and got real diamond ear studs – real diamonds, I said! Got more weapons and ammo than the National Guard! Drivin’ fine cars! They own the neighborhood. They not lookin’ for more power ‘cause they is the power! Now you tell me –– they gonna give that up for a minimum wage job at Mickey Dee’s?”

“They’re a bunch of dumb thugs. There are at least ten ODs here every month, and out of those, six don’t make it. They are killing off the very customers they live off! You okay with that staying the way it is?”

“First, they ain’t dumb. They smart enough to not get caught up in the dope theyselves. And, ain’t but a few ever see jail –– but even so, they know they can catch up when they out. And they know they kids is protected and has food and rent money.

“Second, they don’t give a flyin’ fuck if somebody ODs and croaks. They’s always somebody lookin’ for a fix. And schoolyards of future customers.”

“Wow! I can’t believe I’m hearing this from you.”

“Why? You don’t think I understand where they coming from? Get a education, they say. That’ll give you a future! It ain’t no future possible if all the rest of the cards is stacked up against you. It don’t matter you can read or spell or do algebra if the door is always closed. Sure, they’s one in a million gets a chance to break out and make it. What they do then? Why, they move out of here and live in some exclusive neighborhood. Like they’s white, or something. How does that help me?”

“Yeah, but Obama ––”

“Don’t do that. He the outlier. He the exception. The man don’t even talk black. Now, if Jesse Jackson had become President? He a black man’s black man. He knows. He identifies. Where Obama now, ask me? He not down here with me. He busy sticking up for DACA. Am I glad he was President? Damn straight! It was about time that happened! But what happenin’ now? Cops beating up and shooting blacks every other day …”

“So what do you want me to do?” O’Hare had heard the rhetoric seemingly endlessly. It was a dead end street to him.

“I don’t want nuthin’ from you! Not no handout. Not no special consideration.”

“But what do you want?”

Jehwan leaned his head back, cradling it with both hands, arms raised.

“Opportunity. That’s all. Same considerations for me and my eventual children, based on my ability and my willingness. I want to work hard and earn respect for what I do and who I am –– not be seen or not seen because of the color of my skin. You ever look at a black person’s hand?”

“What?”

“My hand.” He reached out to O’Hare, palm up. “Look at it. See, the inside of my hand is the same as yours. Got the same kind of lines. Not too far from the same color, either. My hand is lighter on the inside than the backside.”

“So?”

“It ain’t no gorilla’s paw. They’s black on the back and the palm. I am not a ape.”

“I know that.”

“Do you? Really?”

“Look, Jehwan –– I am not your prejudiced person. I got plenty of black friends. Hell, I work for a black woman who gets paid more than me and can order me about. She’s more educated than me, and lives in a better neighborhood –– which, by the way, is mostly black.”

“That’s supposed to mean something to me?”

“I don’t know –– but it’s a start.”

“We been hearing ‘it’s a start’ since the Civil War! That’s like sayin’ ‘Well, you should be satisfied with the progress you’ve made and what you have, not with what you don’t have.’” He trumped up his voice to sound white.

“So you’re saying progress hasn’t been made?”

“Sure it has. But on a superficial level. And now, they’s whites that has put up with it and now are afraid and want to go back to the dark days.”

“C’mon –– you don’t believe that’s gonna happen.”

“I honestly can’t say it won’t. Especially given all of the evidence to the contrary.”

“So you’re gonna quit, and just let everything go the way it will. Not try to make a difference. Because, frankly, I kinda had this feeling this program was gonna collapse. Not because of the cops, either. I became a cop to make a difference. I want to be a peace officer, not an armed thug looking for somebody to pick on. Not all cops are in it to beat up and shoot people. We just want to get the bad guys off the streets so the good guys can live their lives with what you said –– equal opportunity.”

They both sensed it. Stalemate. Like a game of tic-tack-toe. No winner. No loser. The silence was thick, like the cold pouring through the shattered window.

“So, you gonna report this?”

“Report what?”

“The window.”

“Won’t do any good. I’ll tell the insurance company somebody tried to break into my car and they’ll cover the window replacement. Actually, that’ll probably cost less than my deductible, so I’m screwed because it means they won’t pay for any of it. Maybe I should drive back through here every night and get all my windows shot out. Then, at least, I’ll get something for all the premiums I pay. I mean, why even have insurance, right?”

“Well, least you got a car. Two, if I remember. And a police cruiser.”

A bit more silence.

“So, are you gonna quit or not?”

“And miss these philosophical interchanges wid you?”

“But what about the Cyclops?”

“What about them? They a problem no matter if I am a Keydet or not. Who knows? If we made it to the moon and back, maybe there’s hope.”

“Want a ride back to your apartment building?”

“Please.”

†††††

Frank Garver had a lot to live up to, and a lot to live down. Like most cops in the precinct he came from a long line of law enforcement, as in four generations long. “It’s in my DNA,” he often said.

Frank’s Uncle Stew Garver had forever set the bar for those Garvers that followed. Uncle Stew was hustling groups of people down the inside stairwell of the South Tower of the World Trade Center at around 10 am, September 11, 2001. Frank Garver was 17 at the time, just beginning his senior year at Queens Academy in Flushing. He could see the large plumes of black smoke rising in the distance through the classroom windows, and watched the television monitor as the tower began its slow, surrealistic implosion.

He was his uncle’s favorite nephew, and a member of the American Legion baseball team his uncle coached.

After graduating from the police academy, Garver pursued the most rigorous assignments, and never complained about the hours or the pay or the disrespect he was subject to on his various beats. That dedication paid off, in his estimation, when he was appointed to the undercover division of his precinct. It’s also when his anger and guilt began to eat away at his soul. That erosion took the form of risky behavior, initially, and led to alcohol and drug abuse later.

The department moved mountains to help him rehab, which he did. Several times. But the hook was in, and Frank Garver struggled like a snagged bass, doing everything he could to free himself.

Finally he had what he called a cathartic experience, when he was put back on the beat and his partner, John Llewelyn was killed in the cross-fire of rival street gangs. He had gone to church in the early morning after drinking away his partner’s wake, and, kneeling at the altar in St. Patrick’s, broke down. After three years sobriety, he was reinstated to the undercover division.

Most of the other cops gave Garver a wide berth, and figured he was destined for some catastrophic end. He didn’t care. Camaraderie was overrated in his book.

Garver sat bent over on the bench in front of his locker, going through his Rosary, when O’Hare entered the locker room and began to dress for the day, hanging his starched uniform on a hook in his locker.

“So how’s it goin’, Frankie?”

Garver looked up from his beads and smiled.

“Couldn’t be better, Sarg.”

“That’s good.” O’Hare began to undress to his skivvies, then don his uniform.

“How’s the Musketeer thing goin’, Sarg?”

“Musketeer? Oh. The Keydet Program. Actually, I think it might make a difference. I wasn’t sold on it at the start – but now, I don’t know.”

“I wouldn’t hold my breath if I was you.”

“Why’s that?”

Garver turned on the bench and propped his feet up, facing O’Hare.

“Word on the street.”

“Which is?”

“I understand the Cyclops are not too happy about having cops and people in the neighborhood gettin’ all chummy. And, I heard you got a new rear car door window.”

“How’d you know about that?”

“Like I said, word on the street.”

“I figured there’d be some kickback on the part of the thugs. But when the fumigation is complete, them cockroaches will scatter like the pussies they are.”

“Maybe. But cockroaches have a way of coming back, no matter what kind of poison is used on them. Oldest animal on the planet, I heard.”

“Then why are you still a cop if you feel that way? If what we do doesn’t do anything, why the hell do it?”

“I owe people. The fucking terrorists and the fucking gang-bangers. Anything I can do to shorten the life of one of them, I figure it’s the least I can do.”

O’Hare nodded toward the Rosary beads in Garver’s hands.

“So, are those beads – or notches?”

Garver grinned, and slipped the beads into his jeans pocket. “Hard to say. So I guess the world has been turned upside down for you now.”

“How so?”

“You’re seeing Mulholland with new eyes, right? I mean, what has been the festering hole for some of the worst shit for human beings suddenly now has raised your expectations! Hope!”

“What’s your beef, Garver? I thought you had an ‘experience’ with God! What the hell is wrong with developing a new attitude, for chrissakes?”

“Nothing at all, my man! But be a cop, first. Everything isn’t always the way it seems. That’s the first rule of stayin’ alive.”

“What the hell do you mean by that?”

“Your Keydet. Jehwan, is it?”

“How – ?!”

“Leopards don’t change their spots, Sarg. Just remember that.” Garver slipped a hoodie over his head, closed his locker door, and walked out of the locker room.

“Asshole!” O’Hare said.

†††††

A gloved hand, finger covers missing, gripped the door to the Captain’s office and gave a gentle turn. Locked. A second gloved hand inserted a straightened paper clip into the keyhole, and wriggled the piece of metal until the lock yielded, and the door opened with a soft click.

The Intruder slipped into the office, leaving the lights turned off. A small flashlight helped navigate chairs and tables to the large desk dominating the floor space. The paper clip and a few seconds was all that was necessary to open a large file drawer in the desk. The Intruder sat in the Captain’s chair, wary of the sluggish night activity in the precinct room outside the glass walls of the office.

Fingers quickly rifled through the hanging file folders until a specific folder was discovered. Typed neatly on a label was O’Hare/Johnson: Keydet Program. The Intruder slowly pulled a manilla folder out, and slipped it under a worn wool sweater, tucking the bottom of the folder under the top of his jeans. He closed the drawer, and stood to leave.

“Hey! What the hell are you doing in the Captain’s office?” The ceiling light suddenly flickered on as an officer stood in the doorway of the office.

“I had a meeting with Daniels this afternoon and left my cellphone in here.” The Intruder raised his gloved hand that held his cellphone. “See? I came in to find it.”

“In the dark?”

“First rule of investigative search, my man: turn the lights off and use a flashlight. You see things easier that way.” The Intruder flicked the small flashlight on and off to demonstrate.

“You are such a case,” the officer said.

“Fuck you,” replied the Intruder, shoving past his discoverer. “I got duty tonight. Have a pleasant evening.”

†††††

 

O’Hare burped loudly, and pushed away from the table.

“Sean!” his wife responded.

“What can I say? It’s a compliment in some cultures,” he grinned.

His son laughed out loud, and forced his own burp.

“See what you’re teaching him?”

O’Hare patted his son on the shoulder as he walked into the living room.

“The acorn doesn’t fall far from the tree, my Dear.”

He sat in his favorite lumpy chair and grabbed the remote, flicking on the flatscreen. He knew the UFC channel by heart, and turned to a bout between two rugged and muscular fighters. As he leaned back to fall into his customary after-dinner snooze, his phone vibrated.

“Damn!”

It was Jehwan. A text.

I need your help! Can you meet me at the church by the basketball goal?

WHAT’S GOING ON?

I don’t have time

ON MY WAY

“Marie, I gotta go.”

“What this time?” She said it as though she had said it a thousand times before, with a tired, defeated tone.

“Hey! Sorry, Hon. It’s Jehwan.”

“That boy will be the reason I divorce you.”

“I know,” he replied gently, and kissed her on the forehead. He grabbed his coat and waved at his son as he opened the door to leave.

“Bye, Dad!”

And was gone.

†††††

The Fiat literally smoked through the night streets. O’Hare was a bit miffed, like his wife. But he understood. He decided to talk to Jehwan and stress how little time he spent with his family. How police work wasn’t a 9 to 5 job. How his wife always worried if he would return home, whether or not she said it.

“This’d better be something,” he grumbled to himself as he turned down Seventh Avenue. He could see someone who looked like Jehwan sitting on the church steps in the light of the street lamp. He pulled over and parked and got out.

“What’s the problem?” he said in a loud voice.

“What? What’re you talking about? I was going to ask you the same thing!” Jehwan said, walking toward O’Hare in a huff.

Then it dawned on the cop.

Damn! We’ve been set up! Get into the church – quick!”

But it was too late.

†††††

The decision to hold services for both Sargent Gabriel Sean O’Hare and Jehwan Tyree Johnson met resistance from no one. Not O’Hare’s wife and son; not Jehwan’s mother or sister or other family members. And to hold it at Seventh Avenue AME Zion Methodist Church in the Mulholland projects was also a unanimous choice.

The day was not gray with clouds, nor maudlin with dreary rain, but the contrary. A beautiful blue sky looked down two communities gathered to morn and celebrate their lives and contributions.

Along Seventh Avenue officers of the Twenty-first Precinct lined the street on one side, dressed immaculately in their formal blues. On the opposite side of the avenue gathered those who knew, as well as those who did not know, Jehwan and his family.

Two shiny black funeral limousines turned down the street, headed for the church. Flags and flowers decorated every foot of the short drive from the corner. A line of six police officers, dressed in Scottish garb, marched slowly down the street in a wide line, bagpipes to shoulders, regimented in every movement. The lonely shrill of the pipes echoed Amazing Grace in the canyon of the avenue, the pipers turning at the steps of the church and splitting evenly on either side of the stairway.

The first limousine held Jehwan’s coffin. Eight pallbearers stepped forward as the coffin was rolled from the rear of the car. Four of the pallbearers were police officers, and included Captain Irene Daniels. The four other pallbearers were family members of Jehwan.

The second limousine held Sargent O’Hare, and again, eight pallbearers stepped forward. Four officers, and four from the community – including Pastor Jeremy Tolbert.

As the two coffins were lifted and carried up the stairs and into the church, the bagpipers fell into double lines behind the procession. The coffins were placed at the front of the church on either side of the midline.

Pastor Tolbert climbed to the pulpit and held onto either side of the wooden structure, gazing into the faces and eyes of those gathered. He nodded, and the piped song ended at the next refrain, the pipers slowly splitting to either side of the sanctuary where they stood at attention.

“What a beautiful day to honor two beautiful people: Sargent Gabriel Sean O’Hare and Jehwan Tyree Johnson.

“As they have become a part of us over the months, as they have struggled and succeeded – yes, succeeded in helping to bring us all together – we have much to be thankful for.”

Scattered amens echoed in the sanctuary.

“Sargent O’Hare and Jehwan came together as a part of The Keydet Project. Many of you know about it, and many of you are participating in it.

“And just as this program was indeed a project here in what many call the projects, so were Sargent O’Hare and young Jehwan.

“As are we all. Projects.

“We come together today as unfinished projects; as projects that are in some way crude, with a long way to go before we are finished products.

“But, rest assured, we are in the Master’s hands, and he will see each of us through to the end.”

Amens and hallelujahs.

“I know this is a hard time for the family and friends of these two. My heart aches, and I would like more than anything we were not gathered here for this occasion, God knows.”

Well!

“But this I know: that in that day I will stand in the presence of God Almighty, when I hope, through his Grace and Forgiveness, that he will say to me, “Well done!”

Tolbert turned and nodded at a young black woman off to the side who was dressed in a deep red choir robe. She stepped forward and began to sing.

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll …

Her voice started out light and soulful, the notes filling the sanctuary with reverence and pain. Then she stood straight and resolute, arms to her side, hands balled into fists, her eyes looking up into the great arch of the sanctuary.

Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say …

She became more than a conqueror on the last line, raising both arms and hands high above her head, her voice trembling with emotion.

It is well, it is well, with my soul!

Tolbert stepped to the side of the podium, and motioned to the congregation to rise and join in the chorus, well-known by some, awkwardly unfamiliar by most.

It is well
With my soul
It is well, it is well with my soul!

The grand blend of voices crescendoed and hung in the air, as the drifting sound of bells knelling on a distant hill.

Tears flowed freely, and handkerchiefs flapped like flags throughout the congregation. Tolbert returned to the podium, and raised his hands for silence and attention.

“I do not think it inappropriate to ask the members of my community, and the members of the police community, to move from where you currently stand and to integrate – if I may use that word – into one united body.”

Then he nodded and directed with his arms as the attendees slowly realized what he meant, and began to mill and mix with each other, shaking hands, hugging, and exchanging quiet and brief words to each other.

As family, friends and neighbors and police officers became indistinct from each other and melded, Tolbert began to sing.

A-a-ma-zing Grace, how sweet the sound

And as others joined in, the bagpipers began to play. The pallbearers resumed their positions, bearing both coffins back down the center aisle and down the steps to the awaiting limousines, followed by the bagpipers and the congregation.

At the end of the street, parked off to one side inconspicuously, was a sleek Ford Mustang. Its passengers were shaved bald, with greenish-black tattoos running up their necks, and covering each arm with sleeves of diabolical renderings.

The driver put on dark sun glasses, and lit a cigarette, then reached down and patted the handgun resting on the console. He looked around and grinned at his passengers, who took the safety locks off their guns. Then the driver reached to turn the key in the ignition.

The End

Note: This is the germ of a story on a contemporary problem. The central idea is two persons of different backgrounds are thrust together, not necessarily in accordance with their will, to try to work towards some semblance of understanding and cooperation for the good of all. Kind of like Congress, too. If you would like to see more of the story unfold, please say so. If you have any contribution or ideas as to how the story should/could progress, comment on that also. Thanks for the “likes,” but it is your comments I’m more interested in. LSM.