By Joseph Bentivegna All Rights Reserved ©

Action / Thriller


Billionaire African-American Cord Campbell has just picked up his parents from the airport and is driving through Connecticut when he detours through a tony suburb to avoid traffic. But the local politicians have instructed the police to keep pigmented people out of the area and pull him over for DWB (driving while black). The police accuse Campbell of being a drug dealer and subject his family to a humiliating ordeal in which Campbell’s elderly mother is strip-searched. Outraged and unable to obtain justice from the legal or political system, Campbell solicits the help of his old MIT college roommate, a CIA operative. Together they unleash a ruthless high-tech vendetta until Campbell accomplishes his true desire: “Respect.” What follows is an edgy and often hilarious exploration of barely concealed racism told as a taut page-turner that ranges through a kaleidoscope of ethnic experiences and economic classes. This novel, Respect, is sure to have people talking.

Chapter 1

Cord Campbell glared at the radar gun protruding through the window of the police car. He instinctively slammed on the brakes. The domino effect of the other cars doing the same created a sea of red lights.

“Easy,” Cord’s father, Herman, said as his torso was propelled toward the glove compartment. “Lucky I’m wearing this seatbelt.” He adjusted the seatbelt that had jerked him back into position in the passenger seat.

“Sorry, Dad. Speeding tickets on the Merritt Parkway are a main source of income for this state. I have to be careful.”

“You’re going at the same speed as the other cars.” He did a sweep of the surrounding cars with his index finger.

“Yes, but I’m still ten miles per hour over the speed limit,” Cord said. “If that cop decides to pull someone over to meet his quota, which one of us so-called speeders will he pick?”

Herman looked around again at all the vehicles he’d just pointed out. He laughed. “I taught you well, son. You have a point.” It hadn’t taken him long to figure out that all the other drivers, unlike him and his son, were of the Caucasian persuasion.

Cord looked in his rearview mirror and was relieved to see the police car remain stationary with no flashing blue and red lights. He turned his attention back to the road in front of him. Suddenly, a sea of red lights appeared again, warning him of the slowing traffic. He slammed his fist on the steering wheel. His left foot quickly shifted to the clutch as he down-shifted his Lexus IS250 into second gear. The police car was now a distant past, so why in the world was traffic slowing down again?

Herman shuffled in the front seat. The hip surgery had not worked as well as advertised. A two-month recovery his doctor had told him. But six months later, significant pain persisted, and he could barely climb stairs. After a month of pleading, Cord had finally convinced his parents to come to Connecticut and stay at his house until he had completely recovered.

“Calm down,” Herman said, flinching and grabbing his hip.

“Sorry, Dad.” Cord was genuinely apologetic, but still aggravated with the slow flow of traffic. “But look at this.” He pointed straight ahead and then let his arm drop to his middle console like dead weight. “Construction! Really?” He shook his head. “This is why I never drive. These cops and construction guys drive me nuts.”

The slowed traffic, which was just a few miles per hour from being at a standstill, was caused by the cars being forced into a single lane. But no one was near any of the orange cones or Jersey barriers that bottlenecked the narrow two-lane highway. The unionized construction workers, who were supposed to be adding to the scenery by planting trees, were sitting on the side of the road, probably laughing it up and watching real-time porn on their tablets. And this was what tax dollars at work looked like? It was a sight Cord could have done without.

The Hegamon corporate jet had just delivered his beloved parents to Westchester County Airport. Cord would have dispatched a limo to pick them up and deliver them to his Greenfield Hills estate where his wife of twenty-seven years, Clara, was preparing a feast; but his mother, Betsy, frowned upon such behavior. A son should pick up his parents at the airport, even if he was the chairman of one of the most successful hedge funds on the planet. And Cord agreed. After all, she had scrubbed the floors and cleaned the toilets of the landed gentry of Charleston to pay for his MIT education.

When he made his fortune, he bought his parents a Southern colonial with gabled roofs, a colonnade that rose to the second floor, and a long Magnolia tree-lined driveway. The house reminded him of the houses his mother cleaned during his youth. He had no idea of the indignities she had suffered until he obtained his driver’s license and would go to these houses to pick her up when she was finished working. The mere fact that some of these houses had statues lining the driveways of black figures holding lanterns, caricaturized by huge lips and obsequious smiles, should have been enough of a clue for what he was about to encounter.

He recalled knocking on one door where a rude lady answered. She smirked at him and said, “She’ll be right out.” She then slammed the door in his face. Even behind the closed door he heard the lady screeching at his mother. “You can’t possibly think you’re about to leave now. That toilet bowl is still filthy. What am I paying you for?”

The next words Cord heard made him want to go through that door.

“Get your lazy, fat, black butt out here and sweep the veranda again. You people have no sense of cleanliness.”

Something inside Cord told him this woman’s disrespectful display was on purpose. Her mission was not only to humiliate his mother in front of her boy, but to also humiliate Cord. Black folks had to be kept in their place . . . right?

Had Cord not been raised better, he most certainly would have gone through that door and laid hands on that woman . . . and not in a spiritual manner, but in a manner in which a teenage boy didn’t know any better. But he’d known better. So he briskly wiped the tears of anger from his eyes and waited for his mother to appear through the doorway; just like a good Negro boy was expected to do.

Now Cord wanted his mother to hire white people to clean her house. He wanted to have her inspect their work, making snide comments if the top of the toilet bowl wasn’t clean or if there was dust under the Persian rugs. He wanted to put statues of white people holding lanterns along the brick driveway leading up to the spacious portico. But she would have no part of it. As a lifetime member of the Morris Brown Church, she upbraided her son for forgetting his Bible:

“Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord,” Romans 12:19.

The traffic came to a complete stop. Cord was actually pleased with this development. It would allow him to program his GPS, which failed to respond when the car was moving, to take an alternative route. He pushed the memory button, and the address of his house appeared. The traffic had started to crawl, but he remained motionless as he chose his preferred route, which was a collection of side streets that would avoid the highway altogether. An obnoxious honk from the driver behind him broke his concentration; but then he proceeded to complete the program.

“Please proceed to the highlighted route and the Route Guidance System will guide you,” the GPS device said in its globally recognized annoying voice.

Cord tapped the gas pedal.

“Please take exit forty-one in one-point-two miles, on the right.”

Cord now began to creep along with the traffic.

“Where are you going?” Herman asked.

“Alternate route. This thing is the best invention since the TV remote.” He nodded toward the screen that displayed a map.

“You mean that thing tells you where to go?”

“Yes, Dad.”

“How much did it put you back?”

“You don’t want to know,” Cord said, recalling the $4,300 extra he had paid to have the option. Herman was one of those guys who still took soda cans to the store to redeem five cents. If Cord shared with him the actual financial setback, it would be his father’s heart that was in trouble instead of just his hip.

“I still think a map is better. You can still get them for free if you know which gas station to go to. And a map keeps you out of the wrong neighborhoods.”

Cord laughed. “There are no wrong neighborhoods . . . unless we go to Bridgeport.” Bridgeport was the poorest city in affluent Fairfield County.

“I mean, a neighborhood where we don’t belong. That thing won’t tell you if you’re going to get shot.”

Cord smiled at his father. “This is Connecticut, not South Carolina.”

His father did not share his mirth. “You remember the time when you and your pals took your prom dates to that nice restaurant on the wrong side of town?” He let out a reminiscent tsk as he shook his head. “Me and Denise’s dad had to come down there and prevent you from being arrested.”

“I ordered my steak rare, and they deliberately overcooked it. I had a right to complain. I even offered to pay for a new steak. I had the money.” Cord remembered the incident all right; just as well as he remembered his mother’s rude boss.

“That was the problem, Cord. You flashed all your cash in front of their faces. Made those white waiters feel low. They don’t like to see our kind pulling out wads of cash. You weren’t thinking, son. And that’s why they called the cops.”

Cord smiled. “We’re living in civilization now. When Clara and I walk into a restaurant, I get the best table, and they love it when I leave a big tip.”

“That’s your problem. You like to show off.”

“People in this area like to show off a little. It’s not a crime.”

“Are you sure?” He let out a harrumph. “Well, how about the time in college when that store in Boston accused you of shoplifting? All you had to do was be polite and respectful and there would have been no problem. But, no, you had to show off.”

“I wasn’t shoplifting.”

“I knew that, and you knew that. But then, why did you have to go back there the next day with a wad of cash you made gambling and try to buy everything in the store?”

“It wasn’t gambling. I made it on oil futures.”

“Sounded like gambling to me, and it sure sounded like gambling to the cop that almost cuffed you if your buddy Joe hadn’t saved your sorry ass.”

His mother shouted from the backseat. “You know I don’t like that word.”

Both men were surprised that she was wide-eyed and awake. She’d been so quiet that they had each assumed she’d dozed off, the day’s travels getting the best of her.

“Sorry, dear,” Herman apologized to his wife.

Cord laughed as he recalled the incident his father had just described. He was so insulted that a store along the South Shore of Boston had accused him of shoplifting that he returned the next day, bought every shirt and tie his size, and threw $1,200 on the counter. To top it all off, he told the white proprietor to “keep the change.” When the owner refused to allow him the large purchase, Cord protested, resulting in the local cops being called. Only the intervention of his roommate, Joe, a second-generation Sicilian whose family had deep and complicated ties in the area, prevented Cord from being arrested.

“Dad, you were actually proud I did that. You’ve told that story at every family reunion with a huge smile on your face.”

His father did not respond. No need vocalizing the fact that his son had him on that one.

The traffic began to pick up speed before Cord was able to exit the highway and follow the route his GPS had given him. He debated with himself as to whether he should continue on the highway. When he heard the ding of the GPS signaling the approach of the exit and saw the red lights illuminating from the miles of vehicles in front of him, his mind was made up. He concluded the back roads would take him less time. “Right turn ahead.”

He wondered if there was a way to program the GPS for a sultrier female voice but kept this thought to himself. His mother would not approve. He shot her a quick glance through the rearview mirror.

She sat in the backseat, engrossed with her iPhone. Unlike his father, his mother embraced modern technology, even at the age of eighty. His mathematical ability had come from her.

After taking the exit, Cord made a right onto Wilton Road as the GPS had instructed.

“Left turn ahead onto Red Coat Road, and then, in two miles, take a right turn.”

He made a quick turn onto Red Coat Road. He looked at the GPS and saw that the right turn would be a continuation of Red Coat Road. He snaked along the tree-lined street.

“Make a right turn, ahead.”

The road doglegged to the right, but there was also a side street. New England roads made no sense. He made the sharp right turn onto the side street, but, to his annoyance, he noted the street name: Winker Lane. He should have just taken the dogleg, but he decided to continue until he saw a place to turn around. He gazed at the massive colonials recessed from the New England stone walls.

Just as he realized he was approaching a dead end, he heard, “Recalculating. Make a legal U-turn ahead.”

He approached a gated estate, pirouetting his Lexus with a masterful three-point turn his father had taught him at fourteen. No one waited until sixteen to learn how to drive in South Carolina.

Just then, unbeknownst to anyone in Cord’s car, a small camera, which was ensconced in the crevices of the gates’ stone pillars, rotated soundlessly and focused on the license plate of the Lexus, transmitting the random numbers and letters to a server in India housed at a company called Cozy Bed Security. There, the information was scanned into a database. The camera then focused on Cord’s face and transferred his image to another server where a snippet of JavaScript code converted the color of his face to the hexadecimal number 3D1F00. Another snippet of JavaScript code created a database of his various facial ratios: the distance between his pupils, the width of his nose and lips, the height of his nose and lips, along with a dozen other parameters. This hexadecimal number and his facial ratios were then inputted into another snippet of code that spit out the hexadecimal number 4B1, which, in computer language, meant “West African descent.”

This then resulted in the server executing a subroutine that connected to a SQL database to ascertain if any other of the 1,327 residents of the neighborhood had the facial features that generated a 4B1 hexadecimal number. There was one family comprised of four individuals. Another subroutine ascertained that Cord Campbell was not one of them. The final subroutine placed 4B1 into a three-dimensional database where it correlated with the term “suspicious vehicle.” This term, along with a Google map showing Cord’s exact location, was relayed to the dashboard computer of a patrol car several streets east of his location. This entire process took approximately 1/100th of a second.

“Due to poor signal strength, the route guidance system is suspended. Street-to-street guidance cannot be provided.” Those were the dreaded words heard from the GPS.

“I can’t believe I paid over four grand for this piece of . . .” Reminding himself that his mother was in the car, Cord bit his tongue.

But his mother couldn’t resist. “You should use the WAZE app. It’s more accurate and it’s free, but I can’t get your father to use it.”

“I’ll just head back to the Merritt,” Cord said. “I can’t believe it stopped working.”

He made a left turn back onto Red Coat Lane. He started speeding up the street.

“It must be a male thing,” his mother commented, “speeding up when you are lost so you can go nowhere faster. We could always ask someone.”

Cord was of the opinion that most divorces were caused by the line, “Why don’t we ask for directions?” Of course, he kept this opinion to himself.

He tore around a corner and started to accelerate. From out of nowhere, a black-and-white appeared from behind. No siren; just flashing red and blue lights.

“Unbelievable,” Cord said as he looked in the rearview mirror. “These guys really have nothing else to do?” He pulled over onto the side of the road.

He heard his father’s calm baritone voice say, “Relax, Cord. Both hands on the top of the steering wheel and in plain sight. No sudden movements. Ask permission to move and lower the window.” Herman lowered his window too.

Cord pressed the button controlling his window, and it descended silently. Dealing with police officers in South Carolina was a requisite survival skill passed onto to their sons by all black fathers for generations.

Cord watched, this time through his side view mirror, as two officers exited the police car now parked behind him.

The officer wearing a badge that read Jack Fletcher stepped to the driver’s side, while the officer with a badge that read Kevin McMahon approached the passenger side of the car. McMahon, the shorter of the two, donned a uniform that was at least two sizes too small, accentuating his muscular frame. Fletcher looked like a professional wrestler, at six feet four with arms the diameter of most men’s thighs. Fletcher’s uniform was the proper size, except for the tight collar that made his neck appear like a protruding tree trunk. Both men had buzz haircuts and wraparound Carrera sunglasses.

“License and registration, please,” Fletcher ordered.

“May I open the glove compartment?” Cord asked.

“Yes, very slowly and only with your right hand. Keep your left hand on the steering wheel.”

Cord could not hide the slight tremor in his hand as he opened the glove compartment. After a few seconds, he produced the required documents.

“What is the problem, Officer?” he said, handing Fletcher the documents.

“I’ll ask the questions here.” Like most police officers, Fletcher was trained to establish dominance quickly in such situations. He also enjoyed doing so. That was apparent by the slight smirk he was making every effort to conceal.

McMahon chimed in, “Speeding. That’s the problem.”

“How fast?” Cord asked.

“Too fast,” Fletcher answered, and then added, “I’ll ask the questions here, or didn’t you understand me the first time?”

The chairman of Hegemon Capital, with a net worth of $1billion, was not about to tolerate these indignities, especially in front of his parents. Like the few Homo sapiens who achieved super wealth, he had the smirk of privilege, the smirk of power, the smirk of superiority. And he was all but trying to conceal his smirk.

Thus, Cord continued while affecting a slight British tone in his delivery. “You, gentlemen, could not have recorded my speed. You were not posted in my line of travel, and a moving vehicle from behind cannot accurately estimate the speed of another moving vehicle, even with radar unless both cars are moving at constant velocity.”

Such was the value of an MIT education. Fletcher did not appreciate Cord’s smirk. Furthermore, Fletcher, who once struggled with simple algebra, was not impressed with Cord’s knowledge of physics and was becoming quite annoyed.

“Sir, could you please step out of the car?” Fletcher said.

“For what?” Cord tried to keep calm. He knew that was the purpose behind his father clearing his throat upon his question to the officer.

“I’ll ask the questions here.” Fletcher’s tone was becoming less cordial.

“Do what he says, Cord,” his father pleaded. “The man has a gun, and you don’t.” He reminded his son of the obvious.

“Sir, could you please step out of the car?” Fletcher repeated.

“What did I do wrong? Since when is it a crime to make a wrong turn?”

“Sir, would you please step out of the car? I am not going to ask you again.”

Cord’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t you guys have anything better to do?”

“Son,” Cord’s mother chimed in, in a both worried and pleading tone.

Fletcher and McMahon heard this line at least three times a day. The answer, of course, was, “Yes.” They did have better things to do. They could be golfing, playing poker at Foxwoods, coaching their children’s Little League games, having a barbecue in their backyards; anything but trying to keep blacks out of a politically connected posh neighborhood. But this was their assignment, and Fletcher was losing his patience with what his father—a retired police officer—called an “uppity nigger.”

“Are you telling me how to do my job?” Fletcher asked with an eyebrow raised.

“I’m not telling you how to do your job,” Cord said. “I’m just asking why you stopped me.”

“Are you telling me how to do my job?” Fletcher was starting to sound like a broken record.

“What is your job?” Cord decided he’d entertain the officer and pretend to care what he had to say.

“Sir, my job is to patrol this neighborhood and make sure nobody is speeding so that nobody gets hurt. These roads have blind curves. Children are on bicycles, and many residents are jogging.”

“So simply answer my question. How fast was I going?”

“Sir, could you please step out of the car?”

“You can’t answer my question because you didn’t check my speed. You stopped me because I’m black.”

“That’s not true, sir. We are treating you with the upmost respect.”

“Respect? I pay more in taxes in one month than you make in a year. You work for me. You stopped me because I’m black.”

“Sir, you get out of that car. Now!” Fletcher’s jaws could be seen tightening.

Cord’s father now spoke. “Cord. Please,” he said in a hushed tone. “Why does everything have to be a fight? Stop insulting the officer. The man is doing his job. Get out of the car, be polite, and we will soon be on our way.”

Cord glared at Fletcher. “I live in Greenfield Hills. Your houses look like shacks compared to mine. You racist thugs have no right to stop me because you don’t like my complexion.”

His father realized his words of advice to his son had fallen on deaf ears as he closed his eyes and shook his head.

At these words, Fletcher no longer cared about controlling the situation. All day he ate shit from the pretentious, obscenely wealthy Fairfield County denizens.

“Listen, you nigger, you get out of this car, and you get out now or I will make you get out.” Fletcher thrust his face six inches away from Cord’s.

Suddenly, McMahon shrieked, “Video! Video!”

Fletcher looked in horror as Mrs. Campbell had the back of her iPhone facing him; the small clear eye glaring at him.

“Jesus Christ,” Fletcher bellowed. “Grab it!” he yelled at McMahon.

McMahon propelled his torso through Herman’s open window, displacing the older gentleman’s body as his arms shot over the leather seat. He grabbed Mrs. Campbell’s wrists as the iPhone tumbled onto the car seat. He pushed himself further, his legs suspending in the air as he groped for the iPhone. He gently cradled it from behind, taking great care not to

push any buttons.

“Got it!” McMahon exclaimed. He then pulled his body out of the car.

Everything happened so fast that Cord didn’t even have the chance to come to his mother’s rescue.

The public perception is that cops feared guns, knives, and the chiseled bodies of physically intimidating thugs. For most cops, this was true. But some cops relished physical confrontation of any type. If one were to come to this conclusion about Fletcher, they’d be correct. He lived for the adrenaline rush. He was a bully as a child, and now, he was a legalized bully as an adult. He could verbally abuse, shoot, and pummel disrespectful citizens with impunity, and then doctor the paperwork to justify his actions. There was a plethora of phony charges—resisting arrest, interfering with an investigation, loitering, being a public nuisance, obstruction of justice—that had such vague definitions that they could be applied even if he found one of the nuns from Mother Teresa’s order feeding a beggar.

But there is one thing he feared: a video, especially a video with audio. And once the icon was pushed that placed that video onto the Internet, no amount of verbal and written obfuscation could hide the truth. Videos had cost cops their jobs, their pensions, and put them behind bars. Videos had caused riots. And this video, complete with the verboten n-word, could cost Fletcher his badge.

Fletcher opened the back door of the car and shrieked into Mrs. Campbell’s face. “Did you e-mail the video?”

She stared at the police officer politely, but unintimidated, even as Fletcher’s sputum pummeled her face. “No, Officer,” she said.

“You better not be lying,” he seethed through clinched teeth.

“I don’t lie, Officer.” There was actually a friendly lilt in her tone.

McMahon looked at the iPhone in terror. He wanted to just place it under the wheel of their patrol car and crush it into an infinite number of plastic, silicon, and metallic bits. But iPhones were also equipped with a GPS. This meant that it could be proven that the iPhone was present at the scene. He carefully fondled the iPhone, staring at the various icons. Thank God, he had the same model himself. He went to the camera app and stopped the video from recording.

“Quick, quick, before it locks. Keep your finger on the front surface,” Fletcher said while turning toward him.

“I know what I’m doing,” McMahon responded.

He swished his finger on the screen and looked at all the apps Mrs. Campbell had downloaded. Then he made sure that none of the common streaming apps such as Vimeo or the ACLU app was present. The proud civil rights organization claimed credit for the expansion of the rights of Americans for decades, but this app had done more to prevent police abuse than any courtroom activity they had sponsored. This app streamed videos with their audio onto the Internet immediately, rendering bullying and police mendacity impossible to deny. Any cop who tried to lie after this app was activated was soon watching himself in action on YouTube, along with the entire community.

McMahon found the icon to Mrs. Campbell’s e-mail account that wasn’t password protected. The old lady wasn’t a liar after all. She had not e-mailed the video. He also checked for recent text messages. Again, no recent activity. He swished through the app until he found the video. He replayed it. She had caught everything, including the lie about clocking the car’s speed and Fletcher’s use of the n-word. He then deleted the video. McMahon nodded to Fletcher and pointed to the patrol car.

“You’ve got what you wanted,” yelled Cord. “Give that back to her.”

“Shut your goddamn mouth and don’t move. Keep your hands on the steering wheel,” Fletcher yelled.

The two police officers walked over to their patrol car and began speaking in hushed tones.

Mrs. Campbell said quietly, “I recorded the whole thing, but I think he deleted it.”

“You mean you had him calling me a nigger recorded on your phone?” Cord said.

“Yes, but like I said, I think he deleted it.”

Cord looked over his shoulder at the cops talking. “Shhh, let’s see if we can hear what they’re saying.” The car fell silent as they all strained to hear the officers’ conversation. But they could not hear a word the cops said.

“We have to cover our ass here,” Fletcher said to his partner.

“Calling him a nigger may have been less than prudent.” McMahon was surprisingly articulate when he wanted to be sarcastic.

“I know. I lost it, but I’m tired of eating these people’s shit. But at least he can’t prove it. That video is gone. Right?”

“I deleted it. Nothing to worry about.”

“Then it’s his word against ours,” Fletcher said.

“But all he has to do is make the accusation. Then Chief is going to be all over our asses.”

Fletcher pondered this for a second. “You’re right. But remember why we are here. These goddamn country clubbers want us to keep the niggers out of their neighborhoods so they won’t distribute drugs to their spoiled brats. We were informed by the system that this was a suspicious vehicle. We have to search the car for drugs, and then we’re covered. Even if Chief gives us a hard time, we can tell him we were following policy. We were doing our job. We were doing what he ordered us to do.”

McMahon’s lips tightened. “How are you going to get him to sign the form giving us permission to search the car?” He nodded at Cord’s vehicle. “This is not some gangbanger with a record or some gardener we can intimidate. This is a professional guy who knows his rights and who is already pissed. We don’t have him on the radar. No speeding. No running a stop sign. No nothing. Not even a broken taillight.”

“No. But, we have them for interfering with an investigation.”

“How?” McMahon asked.

“She videotaped us.”

“That’s not illegal,” McMahon said as his voice became more irritable and louder.

“But that video had an audio. That is illegal.”

“That’s pushing it.” The slits in McMahon’s eyes decreased.

“But they don’t know that,” Fletcher said in a hushed tone. “And, shhh.” He placed his index finger over his lips. “Do you want them to hear us?”

Both men looked at the car they’d pulled over, then continued on with their conversation.

“Let’s threaten to arrest the old bitch unless this guy agrees to allow us to search the car,” Fletcher suggested. “If I put his mother against the car and start searching her, he’ll cave. He’ll sign the form. Then we’re covered. And I will get him to sign the form.”

“How?” McMahon said.

“Just get the release form and leave the rest to me.” Fletcher took off back toward Cord’s vehicle.

McMahon grabbed a release form, then caught up with Fletcher and handed it to him right before he approached the driver side. “I hope you know what you’re doing.”

With paper in hand, Fletcher addressed Cord. “Sir, we believe you were in this neighborhood with intent to distribute.”

Cord stared at the police officer in bewilderment. “Distribute what?” he said.

“Illicit substances.”

“You mean drugs?”

“That is a distinct possibility.”

“There are no drugs in this car,” Cord said.

“In that case, you should not object to signing this form and allowing us to search.” He extended the paper to Cord.

Cord looked down at the paper. “I’m not signing anything.” It was clear he was refusing to accept that paper.

“If there are no drugs, you should not object. What are you hiding?”

“How do I know you won’t plant anything?”

Fletcher scowled and folded his arms. “Are you questioning my integrity?”

Is this a trick question? Cord thought to himself. “I’m not signing anything.”

“In that case, we are going to have to place your mother under arrest.”

“For what?” Cord snapped.

“Interfering with an investigation. She videotaped us. That’s interfering with an investigation.”

“It is not against the law to videotape you.”

Fletcher gave Cord a gloating smile. “Technically, you are correct, sir. But your mother was not just videotaping us, she was recording us too. Connecticut is what is called a two-party consent state, meaning you cannot record our words without our consent, which we did not give her. Thus, she was not only interfering with an investigation, she has violated our civil rights.”

“This is bullshit!” At this point, Cord was talking to Fletcher like he was some thug on the street. Technically, in Cord’s opinion, he was; a thug on the street in uniform with a badge and gun. “You stop me for no other reason than the fact that I am black. You call me a nigger. You grab my mother’s iPhone and delete the video that proves you called me a nigger, and now you say my mother violated your civil rights? You are a lying, worthless piece of scum.”

“This discussion is over,” Fletcher snarled. He walked to the back-passenger door that remained open from when he’d opened it earlier. “You are under arrest, ma’am. Please get out of the car.”

Cord watched helplessly as his mother exited the car. His father quietly started to cry. Herman had been here before. Mrs. Campbell’s pleading eyes looked at her son while he watched helplessly.

“Place your hands on the trunk, ma’am,” Fletcher ordered her.

“What do you mean?” she asked. He wasn’t going to search her and handcuff her, was he? That wasn’t necessary. She had every intent on obeying him willingly.

“Place your hands on the trunk,” Fletcher repeated. He was done answering questions.

She complied as Fletcher reached into his pocket, pulled out a pair of Latex gloves, and put them on his hands. He roughly kicked the woman’s feet apart. She buckled and started to fall, but Fletcher roughly grabbed her waist. There could be no physical injury. He padded her legs and her crotch. He then pushed his hands into her buttocks. Finding nothing, he moved to the torso, running his hands under her blouse.

She and her husband took this treatment without complaint; however, her son was another story.

Cord, who had previously refused to get out of the car, now did so on his own volition.“Leave her alone, you worthless piece of shit,” he said.

“You shut your mouth and don’t move,” McMahon bellowed. He was now pointing a forty-five Sig Sauer P220 at Cord’s center mass.

Most men would have now had trouble controlling their bladder, but Cord did not. The evolutionary response hidden in the limbic system of his brain made the rapid transition from flight to fight.

“Hands in the air now!” McMahon said as Fletcher handled Cord’s mother before his eyes.

Cord did not comply. “Fuck you, you arrogant pig. Just shoot me. I refuse to take anymore shit from a worthless piece of white trash like you.”

Suddenly, Herman bellowed at his son. “Cord, I’m talking to you. You sign that form and allow them to search this car, and you do it right now. Your mother is being abused, and you’re behaving like a four-year-old. You’re going to get yourself killed! The man has a gun, and you don’t!”

Cord had never disobeyed his father, but was tempted to make an exception. His lip trembled as he pictured himself plummeting at Fletcher and taking a shot in the back from McMahon. But it would have been worth it. Or would it have been? That sad, defeated look in his mother’s eyes would be permanent if she had to bury her son. He could never—would never—be the cause of such pain. So on that thought, Cord relented. Bowing his head and raising his hands, he said, “Give me the form.”

Fletcher stopped frisking Mrs. Campbell and produced the form and a pen. He had learned never to let a suspect search for a pen. In one case, a perp had produced a gun and almost killed him. He handed them both to Cord, and without reading the form, Cord signed it.

McMahon and Fletcher demanded Herman exit and move away from the car, so he meekly did so.

For the next ten minutes, McMahon kept the gun trained on the passengers he had lined up in front of the car, while Fletcher inspected the vehicle.

Fletcher opened the trunk, which contained nothing but Cord’s golf clubs. He ripped up the carpet and looked in the well that housed the spare tire. He turned over the golf bag and let the clubs hit the ground. He shook the empty bag and then unzipped the numerous compartments, heaving the tees, balls, and gloves into the trunk. He then threw the bag into the trunk, threw the clubs on top of it and slammed the trunk shut. With his flashlight, he crawled under the car.

“What do you think you’re going to find?” Cord called out.

Fletcher ignored him while he continued his search. He looked under the trunk and under the hood. Nothing suspicious and definitely no drugs. He opened the glove compartment and threw the contents on the floor. After looking under the dashboard and the car seats, he was satisfied. In fact, Fletcher already knew he wasn’t going to find anything and was just going through the motions.

Hoping to still have a shred of dignity, Cord screamed, “Do you know who I am? I can buy and sell the two of you, and your white trash families. Do you think you can get away with this?”

“Cord, we are still alive. Let it be,” his father stated calmly. “These people like to shoot folks like us for target practice.”

Fletcher looked at Cord’s license and laughed. “I know who you are. Your name is Cord Campbell.” He shoved the license in Cord’s face. “You see, it’s written right here.” He then tossed the license into the car. It landed on the floor with all the other papers. He nodded his head toward his own vehicle and looked at McMahon. “Let’s go.”

McMahon put away his gun and then returned the iPhone to Mrs. Campbell.

Cord glared at the buffed-up thug. “You haven’t heard the last of this.”

Fletcher sneered at him. “Oh yes, I have. We tried to take a civil tone with you and got nowhere. If you know what’s good for you, you will pretend this never happened.”

Cord was about to erupt when he felt his father’s arm on his shoulder. “Calm down. It’s over. Nobody’s hurt, and nobody’s in jail.”

Fletcher was walking away, but turned abruptly. “Listen to your father.” He and his partner then returned to their vehicle and got inside.

Cord and his parents got into his car. There was silence as they all sat, slightly in disbelief at all that had transpired. The longer Cord sat there and thought about things, the angrier he got. Finally, he slammed the car into gear. He looked in the rearview mirror at his mother. “Are you okay, Mom?”

“I’m fine. I have suffered much worse indignities, but I do not approve of your use of foul language. Your father never took the Lord’s name in vain or used obscenities, no matter how unpleasant the situation.”

“Sorry, Mom, but I can’t believe that just happened.” He slammed his fists on the steering wheel. “This is Connecticut in the twenty-first century. We even have a black president.” Cord pulled back onto the street and drove off . . . slowly. He didn’t want to get pulled over for speeding again, especially considering the officers were still parked behind him. They were probably just waiting on him to give them another reason to pull him over, not as if they had reason the first time. But things would probably be even worse this time; worse in the sense that his car could end up getting shot up. He wouldn’t put it past those two for trying to claim that he was leaving the scene without permission, igniting a chase with fatal results.

“Doesn’t matter, son,” Herman drawled. “To these white people, a nigger is always a nigger. That’s what I like about the South. At least you know where you stand.”

Cord grit his teeth but did his best to quash his anger. As his college roommate used to say, “Don’t get mad, get even.” And he did not care how much it cost, Cord planned on doing just that—getting even.

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