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Authors: Thomas Mullen

Darktown (6 page)

BOOK: Darktown
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Dunlow clapped him on the shoulder. Almost hugging him. That bit of human contact, not at all what Rake would have expected from his partner, proved to be exactly what his own body needed. His nerves seemed to stop firing. He took a breath and his rib cage relaxed.

“You did good,” Dunlow said.

Later there would be ample time to deconstruct the myriad ways in which they had each fucked up. But for now they sat there, while other cops cleaned up the mess and joked about Triple James's agility and cleaned grits from the kitchen wall and floor.

“She's burned to all hell.” Rake's jaw started to behave itself again.

“That she is,” Dunlow said. “Like burnt bacon.”

“If I'd walked in with my gun in my hand, she never would have picked hers up.”

“Or she would have tried it and she'd be dead now and you'd be sitting here feeling guilty for killing a nigger girl instead of just maiming her.”

The phrase
maiming her,
the finality of it, was not what Rake wanted to hear. He sat there and tried not to fixate on the images of her head, the smell of skin burned liquid.

Dunlow hit Rake in the muscle of the shoulder. Hard enough to snap someone out of a coma. “Hey. Don't you feel guilty for a thing. You might be dead if you'd done different, or she might be, or both. This ain't on you. This is on Triple James and them that harbored him. You hear me?”

Rake nodded.

“Say it.”

“It's on them.”

Dunlow's eyes had been focused and intense, probably the same way they were whenever he told his linebacker sons during halftime to
hit harder goddammit. Then they softened, and he gave Rake another shoulder clap.

“You did good, kid. You lived to tell about it, and every bad joke another cop tells about you maiming her is one more bad joke you wouldn't have gotten to hear if you were dead.”

Rake tried to untangle that sentence while he looked at the palm of his right hand, the blister already forming, a bunched whiteness emerging from all that red.


Atlanta came in one size: big. There were big storms and big winds when those storms came and sometimes a big tornado afterward, then big floods. Or it was big heat, as though the sun had veered out of orbit and was pressing closer and closer, determined to exert itself on the personal space of everyone in the city, get right up next to you, breathe in your face, and laugh at your inability to do anything about it. The one fortunate thing about being on the night shift, Boggs figured, was that it was
less grueling to be walking around the city in the dark.

He and Smith were walking the beat on a quiet Tuesday night. Lightning occasionally streaked the sky like a distant, silent warning.

Then another flash, closer still, and the sound was not thunder.

“Gunshot.” Smith said what Boggs was thinking. Then a second shot, and glass breaking, and a woman's scream.

They stood at the intersection of Edgewood and Howell, and the sounds were coming from the south. They unholstered their pistols and raced down the street, where in the distance they could see a figure escaping into the night. They heard shouting closer by, and as they ran they saw two people standing on the front porch of a two-story brick apartment building. A man leaned on the porch railing, a woman holding something to his forehead.

“Were you shot?” Smith called out at them, stopping.

“Mind your own business,” the woman hollered back, not even looking at them.

Smith tried again. “Have you been shot?”

She looked up now, surprised. “No. We fine.”

“Stay there,” Boggs instructed them, then he and his partner con
tinued to run down Howell, but that brief pause was enough: whoever they were chasing was gone.

Five minutes later they returned to the couple on the porch. They said their names were Wilma and Raymond Moore, they appeared to be in their late thirties, and they seemed more annoyed than alarmed at whatever had just occurred. She wore a loose gray dress and her hair was pulled back in a bun with a red kerchief that matched the one she was pressing into his forehead. He wore a janitor's blue uniform shirt and tan pants, and his forehead was giving out more blood than his wife could clean right then. They claimed someone had been trying to climb into their first-floor bedroom, where she had been sleeping, when Raymond, who was returning from work, happened upon the would-be burglar. He'd wrestled the man from behind, taken an elbow to the forehead, and at some point the assailant had fired the errant shots and escaped. This scant information came from them grudgingly, and the officers could sense there was more they weren't being told. Plus, Wilma appeared to have some makeup on—she did not look like a woman who had been asleep a moment ago—and Raymond had liquor on his breath.

“Did you see his face?” Smith asked.

“Look, we're fine now,” Raymond said. “We're okay.”

“Why you even bothering about any of this?” she asked.

“Because we're police officers,” Smith replied. “It's what we do.”

“We didn't call you here,” Raymond said.

“We heard the gunshots.”

“Whyn't you mind your business?” she asked.

our business,” Smith said. “Enforcing the law is our business.”

“Law?” Raymond laughed. “Law ain't never concerned itself with us before, less'n they want to jail one of us for something somebody else done.”

“Well,” Boggs explained, “it's different now.”

“I ain't remember saying I wanted it any different. I want you off my porch.”

“We have a right to be on this porch because we heard gunshots and I'm looking at a man with a busted forehead,” Boggs said. “That's called probable cause.”

“Look, folks,” Smith said, speaking slowly, “I know everyone's all revved up right now so let's just calm down a spell. We're here to help you. Because we're two crazy men who actually like to help people for a living. It's like being preachers except we get to carry these,” and he lightly tapped the handle of the sidearm in his holster.

“You don't need to be dealing with people who cause you trouble on your own porch and try to break in and shoot you, all right?” Boggs said. “You don't need that. You can tell us who it was, and we'll take care of it. We can help you.”

“I don't need your help. I see that sumbitch again,
take care of him.”

Smith said. “That's what

“You beat folks up?”

“No, but we arrest people who've broken the law and we put them in jail.”

“I ain't want him in jail, I want to beat his ass, and that's exactly what I'll do next time I see him.”

“A second beat-up person is not what we want,” Boggs said. “We want you to stop beating on each other every time you disagree about something.”

“Don't you talk to me like I'm some child.”

“Sir, I'm trying to help you and—”

“I told you I don't need your help! I ain't some child, I'm a man. I know how to uphold my honor when some fool like that try and mess with me. He think he got away with it but he don't. Next time I see that Emmett Jones, I'm gonna—”

“His name is Emmett Jones, good,” Boggs said. “Where does Mr. Jones live?”

“You stop playing those police tricks on him!” the man's wife interjected. She removed the kerchief from her husband's forehead. “See how he done that trick on you?”

“It's not a trick, ma'am,” Smith said. “If you say this Emmett Jones assaulted you and shot at you, we can have him in jail tonight. He'll be tried, and if he's convicted he'll—”

“Dammit, I said I didn't want him arrested, I want his ass beat.” He took the kerchief from his wife and again tried to stanch the bleeding.
“I don't need some pretty-talking boy in a nice uniform to be doing no convicting for me. You saying I ain't my own man? I know how to defend myself. Last winter when Moody Hills come by and stole all my firewood, what you think I did to him? I tracked him down and clocked him with a piece of that same firewood and that took care of that.”

the one who assaulted Moody Hills?” Smith asked. “He was unconscious three days.” They'd never made any progress on that one; they'd simply come upon a man lying outside his home beside a pile of logs, back during their first week on the force.

“I didn't say that! I didn't say that!”

“You see!” his wife hit him in the chest. “He playing those police tricks on you again! You gots to stop talking!”

“That was a different time Moody got sent to the hospital anyway!” Raymond shouted at the officers. “Time I hit him was different from that time!”

Boggs folded his arms and began rapidly losing the desire to talk to this couple. Yet talk he did, for a few more minutes, and if this had been the debate club at Morehouse College, then surely the judge would have awarded Boggs all the points. But here on this dilapidated and unlit porch in the darkness of night, the verbal sparring won him nothing. Trying to introduce the concept of law and order to a people who had never been given reason to trust it, and who therefore found justice in blood feuds—they were so much more honorable, and interesting, and, well, bloody—was a terribly long and frustrating process.

Boggs jotted down snippets in his small notebook. More questions, fewer answers. The couple adamantly refused the need for medical care, and they didn't want to file a report, thank you, but the gunshots alone dictated the following of certain procedures. Boggs walked down the street to call in the gunshots from the nearest call box, and Smith began knocking on the other doors of the apartment building, hoping for witnesses and already knowing the kinds of half-asleep nonanswers he would receive.

Two hours later they were walking again when the skies opened and they took shelter beneath the awning of a hardware store. The monsoon was
intense and the wind soaked their pant legs as they stood there otherwise protected, the tang of wet asphalt thick in the air already.

Power flicked off, power flicked back on. Thunder rattled old windows.

Of the eight, seven had served in the war. Two had medals to show for it, including Smith, awarded a Silver Star for carrying two badly burned fellow soldiers out of a demolished tank and through hostile fire. Six had attended college and four, including Boggs, had diplomas (a graduation rate exponentially higher than the white cops'). All were Atlanta natives. Before swearing their oaths, one had been a typesetter at the Negro
Daily Times,
one had been a butcher, two had sold insurance, one had been a handyman, one had taught, and two had been janitors. Xavier Little played a mean fiddle and was ruthless at chess. Wade Johnson was a skilled artist and had once hoped to be an architect before seeing that particular door closed due to his color. Champ Jennings was six three, had once been an amateur boxer, and carried, instead of a billy club, the sawed-off handle of an ax. All were Christian, six of them attending services regularly. Three were fathers. Their ages ranged from twenty-one to thirty-two. Each of them wondered how many of the others were seriously considering quitting.

One of them was currently on suspension: Sherman Bayle, the ex-butcher. A kindhearted fellow, whom each of the others feared might be a bit too soft for this line of work. At twenty-nine, he was the second oldest, with three kids. Two weeks ago he was brought before Sergeant McInnis; someone had lodged a complaint that Bayle had been seen drinking in public. Bayle told McInnis it wasn't so, he hadn't even been at the nightclub in question. Yet a white officer, off duty, had driven past the club and he swore he'd seen Bayle leave the premises stumbling drunk. It was a white cop's word against a colored cop's.

An investigation was ongoing. Bayle was suspended without pay. Most of his fellow colored officers had dropped by his house to offer their support, though there wasn't anything that could be done.

All of the other seven believed Bayle was innocent, but that hardly mattered.

BOOK: Darktown
9.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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