Authors: Laurie Lynn Drummond
my mother, Marion Deane Drummond
my father, Kenneth H. Drummond
and my beloved brothers, Finlay and Carter
The following stories appeared previously, some in a very different form: “Finding a Place” in
New Delta Review
(1989); “Under Control” in
(1991); “Taste, Touch, Sight, Sound, Smell” as “Learning to Live” in
(1992); “Cleaning Your Gun” in
(1993); and “Absolutes” in
New Virginia Review
One always learns one's mystery at the price of one's innocence.
This really happened, this story. I've never told anyone, not the whole story. When civilians ask, I say, “No, never killed anybody.” Almost apologetically because I know they want me to say yes. Because then they can ask more. Because then their minds can twist the various elements of a-woman-with-a-gun-killing-a-man into their own vicarious masturbation of fact.
This will be just the facts: I killed a man. I shot him at 1:33
. He died at 1:57
. That's when I couldn't get a pulse, a heartbeat. That's when the EMS boys got there and took over CPR. When they said, “Shit, sister. You fucking flatlined him.” I didn't have to look at the fist-sized hole in his chest where my own hands had just been, massaging his heart, swearing at the goddamn sonofabitch to come back to life goddamnit. I knew he was dead.
This really happened; it's the absolute truth. He was twenty years old. His name was Jeffery Lewis Moore. He had a gun, and I shot him. My job is to enforce the law and protect citizens. Our departmental handbook stipulates: A police officer may use deadly
force when her own life or the lives of others are in mortal danger. So it must be true.
Every night when I go home after shift, I run my hands lightly over my body as I undress. The tips of my fingers catch the new scratches on my hands and arms, tiny red vines, an unreadable map. The burn from the teeth of the cuffs, I remember it catching my skin only now; the new welt on my side, unexplainable; the constant, steady bruise on the hipbone where my gun caresses the skin a deeper purple day after day; the red mark, raised and uneven and mysterious on the back of my knee. The knot on my arm from the night before is smaller, less painful; the flesh is stained a darker green, a more vivid yellow. My breasts are sore and tender from the bulletproof vest. I unbraid my hair and shake it loose. One of my fingernails is torn and bleeding; my tongue glides quickly over the rusty sweetness. I taste others' sweat.
I stand under the shower. I place both hands on the wall and lean into the water, stretching out the muscles, pulling them long the length of my body.
Okay, I tell myself. Every night I tell myself,
In the newspapers, they don't refer to us by name. Not at first. I am “the uniformed police officer”; he is “the alleged suspect.” The official forms list us as Officer Joubert and Perpetrator Moore. Only in his obituary do they print the full name of Jeffery Lewis Moore. He is survived by his mother, two brothers and a sister, many aunts, uncles, and cousins. He graduated from Roosevelt High, liked to skateboard, sang in his school choir. Both of his brothers will serve as pallbearers. No cause of death is mentioned.
In the newspapers, there are editorials about rising crime: armed robberies, burglaries, carjackings, murders. Reporters call the precinct. They call my home. “Do you believe your actions were justified?” they ask. “How did it feel to shoot someone? Was there anything else you could have done?” One reporter wants to write a profile on female police officers; she says it's a chance for me to tell my story. “Which story?” I ask her.
In the newspapers, they print statistics about the use of deadly force: how many civilians have been killed by police officers in Baton Rouge in the last year, the last twenty years. How many were “clean” shootings, how many weren't. They compile a series of articles,
In the Line of DutyâWhen Cops Kill
, and linger over the details of my shooting. They print my age, twenty-two, and my time on the job, fifteen months. My boyfriend, Johnny, says, “Notice they don't say how many police officers have been killed or almost killed, Katie.” I point out that I'm still alive. “Exactly,” he says.
In the newspapers, they say I was in the right. “Officer Katherine Joubert handled the situation correctly, absolutely within departmental procedure,” the chief of police says. “An unfortunate incident,” he calls it. In private he tells me about a man he killed. “The guy was crazy,” he says. “The impact of the bullets flipped him over backward. Amazing. Never seen anything like it.” He tells me counseling is available if I want it.
The woman across the street from my house is sweeping her porch. She sweeps all the timeâthe porch, the walkway, the driveway, the sidewalk. Sometimes even the street. I've lived here over a year, and every day, except when it's raining, Miss Mary sweeps. She's almost seventy and as black and shiny as a plum. “You jist a baby, be doin' this kinda thing,” she's always telling me. I laugh when she says this. She's told me I remind her of her daughter, the one in California; she says we have the same toothy smile. I help Miss Mary pick the figs she can't reach from her tree out back, and she always lets me carry some home, warm and sweet from the sun.
After the shooting, I sit out on my front steps, like I do most every day after shift, drinking a rum and coke, fingering the small St. Michael's medallion that Johnny gave me, and watch her sweep. She won't meet my gaze those first days after. She sweeps fiercelyâshort, sharp strokes.
I like this neighborhood, my street in particular. The live oaks are old and heavy with ball moss, the crape myrtles fighting with them for room and light. When the wind comes through here, you know it; the trees sing to you. Most of the houses are shotgun style, built dur
ing the WPA. The yards are clean, and something is always blooming furiously in every one. We're all mostly blue collar here on the inside fringes of the Garden District. Two blocks west and you're in the projectsâMagnolia Hills is the name on the map, but everyone calls it The Bottoms.
Cops tell me I'm crazy to live in this neighborhood, that it was foolish to buy a house here. “Dogs don't sleep in their shit,” Johnny says. “You shouldn't be livin' where you're bustin' ass.”
I think about words, how definitions can be stories in themselves. I pull out an old battered dictionary and flip through pages and find
: an event that disrupts normal procedure or causes a crisis.
: to cause the death of, or to pass the time in aimless activity; to delete.
: not limited by restrictions or exceptions: unconditional or positive: certain <
truth; pertaining to measurements derived from basic relationships of space, mass, and time.
I stare at these words, let them swim into a blur of gray. I run my fingers over the fine, icy lines, but they are stories without life, these definitionsâno pores, no bones, no unguarded pain. No answers. Not really absolute.
I keep coming at what happened from different angles, like a tongue probing a sore tooth, testing memory against reality until the two blur. I never play what-ifs; they don't pertain.
I go to work. I take long walks, clean the house, water my plants. I avoid the meat aisle at the supermarket. I cook meals for Johnny and me that require long preparation and we sit down to eat with a freshly laundered tablecloth and two candles just so on the diagonal; the flames bend and rise in the tepid evening air. I pour wine and chew each bite of food slowly.
I sleep well, except when he starts breathing and I am jolted out of sleep. Jeffery Lewis Moore is breathing in my ear, the same desperate rasp as before.
What you want, what any cop wants, is an unconditional response. An immediate, reflexive responseâabsolute.
“Freeze,” I yell. “Police.” My voice is deep and strong and sure. And they are supposed to stop. They are supposed to raise their hands into the air.
“Hands behind your head,” I say. You yell now only if there's a chance they'll run. You yell now only if you're afraid. You don't want them to think: if they think, they may fight.
The training films and the instructors at the academy, they tell you when you are sitting safe and cool in the classroom that you should say, “Do it NOW!” after each command. But there is never time for this: they respond or they don't. If they don't, I yell, “NOW MOTHERFUCKER!” You want to convince them you're mean, that you'll take them out in a second. You want to convince them not to do anything you'll have to shoot them for.
“On your knees,” I say. “Drop.” I have tried this dropping to the knees with hands clasped behind my head. It is hard to do. It hurts. You feel it all the way up into the jaw.
When they are on their knees, you must make a decision. Do you move in close and cuff them, or do you order them all the way down, face first into the concrete, dirt, gravel, grass, mud?
When I go in close, I step on their calf, hard with my heel on the right one, unless I know for sure they are left-handed. I holster my gun, but don't snap the safety strap, pull out my handcuffs and reach up for the left hand, bring it down, cuff it; then I bring down the right. Usually I throw them a bit of advice in a low, tight whisper: “You fucking move I'll blow your fucking head off, motherfucker.”
I give them their Miranda rights, “Mirandize'em,” it's called. If they don't respond, you shake them, yellâanything until you get some sound. Without a verbal response, it won't fly in court.
If they've responded quickly to my commands, I assist them to their feet by supporting their elbows. “On your feet,” I tell them, sometimes nicely, sometimes not. It all depends on their body language and facial expression. If they haven't responded quickly, if they've been giving me lip, if they've made me nervous, I grab the happy chainâthe thin links that connect the two cuffsâand yank up hard. I say, “Get up,” as I yank again, bringing them up, their feet scrambling to find leverage.
Sometimes you hear the muscle tear in their shoulder when you do this. Just a slight sound, like a sheet being ripped.
“There must have been something else you could have done,” people who don't wear guns for a living say to cops who have killed.
If I could, I'd give them a story they might understand, one that doesn't involve guns of course. Except I can't, no matter how hard I try. There is nothing to compare it to.
“Don't try,” Johnny says, “it's futile. Soldiers understand. Maybe firefighters, medical personnel. But their work is about saving lives, not taking them.”
“We save lives too,” I say. “All the time.”
He shakes his head, brushes a strand of hair back off my face, and tucks it behind my ear. “That's not the way they see it, Katie, when a cop shoots someone.”
I change the topic. He doesn't understand either, not really. He may be fourteen years older than me and have eleven years more experience, but Johnny Cippoine has never killed anyone, never even fired his gun on a call. Not once. He takes great pride in this fact.
I tread carefully through my house. Pieces of that night come back to me suddenly, unexpectedly. His smell. The weight of his body against mine. It's like turning the corner on the roof of a high building and feeling a warm, nauseous rush of vertigo. I'll be washing the dishes, look down, and my hands will have become his hands, even the cut between his knuckles on his right hand is the same. The texture of the air shifts, and all the molecules in my body separate from skin, tendon, bone, fluid, and dance out into the room, rearrange themselves, weaving between then and now before they return, reshape into me as I stand here drying my hands.
“Mine,” I whisper. “Not yours.”
The first time this happens, I shut off the air conditioner and lie shivering under blankets, not sure whether I have stepped into his world or he into mine.
“You killed my boy,” is the only thing that Jeffery Lewis Moore's mother said to me. Her voice was low, steady, weary. I don't know where she came from, but when I turned away from the detectives on the scene, she was there. Her skin was the color of just-brewed coffee; a dusting of freckles covered her nose and cheeks. She wore black stretch pants, a pink T-shirt, and no shoes. Her toes were freshly painted, deep fuchsia. She looked right at me, over the police unit throwing patches of red and blue light across our faces, and said, “You killed my boy.” I nodded. I never saw her again.
“Better him than you,” my mother says when I tell her about the shooting. She is patting me like a newborn, all over, pat, pat, pat, pat, pat. Ten fingers, ten toes, all the parts are there.
Watching Miss Mary sweep becomes a meditation, a way not to think. There is something hopeful about the process despite the results. The wind blows it all back, the trees keep dropping leaves, the crape myrtle blooms make red splotches on the ground.
Several weeks after the shooting, I come out my door and Miss Mary is just bending down to put something on my welcome mat. I fumble with the latch on the screen as she straightens up slowly, a covered casserole dish in her hands.
“Brought you sumpthin,” she says softly.
I get the door open, and she backs up a step.
“Food?” I say.
She nods and holds it out to me. Her hands look as soft as homespun cotton; tiny folds of skin ripple like a sandy creek bed along the back of her arms.
“Food?” I say again.
Her eyes are the same familiar pools of deep, dark light. “Food.” She pulls her hands away, leaving the casserole dish in mine.
“Thank you,” I say, bewildered.
She nods again, hesitates, then turns around, starts back down the stairs, one hand resting on the rail to steady herself.
“Miss Mary,” I say. When she turns to look at me, I raise the dish slightly up and toward her.
I swear we stand like that for hours, though it's probably only four seconds at the most before she gives me a slight smile and says, “It's the polite thing to do at wakes.”
The next day, there's another dish at my door.
The crime scene detectives snapped on clear plastic gloves before they touched Jeffery Lewis Moore. They huddled over his body, rolling his limp fingers across the ink pad, then onto the paper. They took pictures of the entrance and exit wounds, my bullet cartridges on the ground, the body. They brought out tape measures and evidence bags. One of them looked at me, standing nearby watching, and said, “More blood on you than him.”