Feel Your Fury Kindled
Wednesday comes and goes. I spend the evening drinking coffee, watching movies, browsing the internet, and going for short walks around the block whenever I start to feel drowsy. I want to be able to sleep the following day. I forgot that I’d agreed last week to cover a night shift for Trossen. He wants to take his wife to Oneida for an extended weekend of gambling and fervent, childless love-making. Who am I to refuse him that? Although it dawns on me around 3 a.m. that I’m too old to be fucking with my circadian rhythm. I fall asleep on the couch thinking of Valerie. Ultimately, I dream of someone even further out of reach.
I sleep until about eleven, then eat breakfast while watching Judge Judy. Eventually I stumble outside barefoot to retrieve my copy of The Sheboygan Press. It comes bundled in an orange plastic sleeve. My eyes don’t fully open until scanning the morning’s headline on the front page. It promises an exposé on the devious inner workings of the young Judson Bottom radical.
I collapse onto the couch, TV still rambling. There are a few paragraphs of preamble; then the article, if one can call it that, continues on A3. Flipping over, I expect more of the same: superlatives, fear-mongering, hysterical forecasts of doom. Instead what I find is a full-page photocopy of Ismael’s original letter.
There is no need to wonder where they got it. Wojcik is described in glowing terms as the “ideal sort of decisive, undaunted official” for tackling this “unprecedented affront to the community.” I read through the letter again, even the large portions of it I have memorized. Now that some of the shock has worn off, I’m able to analyze it more clearly and see it for what it is: the self-righteous tirade of an arrogant, single-minded individual. In other words, a teenage boy.
Though the letter is addressed to Father and Mother, it’s obvious that right here in the press, in the media spotlight, is where Ismael intended his words to end up. I don’t see how anyone reading from a dispassionate standpoint (which, granted, is hard to do) can help but laugh at the goatee-stroking pretension, the almost cartoonish villainy. When I read it the first few times on my porch, I was so blindsided by the content that I missed all or most of these affectations. But I could hear his voice as plain as day. I could see him standing in the blustery parking lot with his neon vest, his shopping carts, and the completely sedate expression of someone who knows all the answers but deigns to live among those who don’t.
Dear Father and Mother,
At the moment you’re reading this, you ought to be feeling nothing short of pride and relief. I know you well enough to guess you’re letting yourselves be corrupted by more secular emotions. Living under this flag has weakened our family with a sense of entitlement. We are Americans first and children of Allah second. You have commented several times on a change in my behavior, asking me if I’m depressed. The fact is I’m not as much depressed as repressed. Spiritually repressed. This is a nation that touts separation of church and state, yet it ostracizes those of us who don’t subscribe to the Christian heresy. Even my academic motivations are sapped, because I see where they will lead me and where they won’t. There is nothing any university can offer me that will enrich my soul. My soul is the province of Allah and Allah alone. I will not betray, or rather persist in betraying Him, not to grovel at the feet of Western idols: money, greed, success, property, materialism. I have seen too clearly the dimming toll these aspirations have taken on you as Muslims. You seek outside the Qur’an, outside the guiding words of Mohammed, for solace and inspiration. You fret over the impression you make on unholy people, the shameless pig-headed pleasure seekers who will forever remain in bondage. It’s the little things that have launched me on this journey. The little things, when added up like pieces of a puzzle, make up everything. You say I never laugh, but inwardly I do, for reasons wholly unlike those that brought me joy as a child. I laugh at the sight of people eating greasy food prepared by someone they have never known, probably never even seen before. I laugh at people flocking to a sale, heavily marketed, to spend more money than they would’ve had there been no sale in the first place. I laugh at their proud, capitalist auras when they strut outside, carrying purchases that will lose their novelty within days, if not hours. I laugh at people going to the polls, celebrating their democracy, flaunting their right to choose from two tyrants instead of one. I laugh at the coddling security of burglar alarms, fire alarms, and how inept they would prove in the event of an explosion. You say I never laugh. I say speak for yourselves. It is incumbent on me to play my small role in reestablishing the caliphate, the memory of which our people have allowed to crumble into dust. At the urging of Western coalitions we even denounce that past. We have become skinny rats, grateful for whatever scraps are allowed us by the hegemony, choosing to forget that we once belonged to a great empire. Once the Sunni were respected as a force of power. It can happen again. What I hope to enforce by my actions is that not only should you feel proud, but more importantly, mechanized. Feel your love for Him revamped. Feel your fury kindled. Once you start praising God again, you will realize you are home. You have always shown me love, but that is not enough. Love alone has never changed the world, regardless what the pop songs preach. History makes plain that it must come down to war. Always war. If I was not placed here to be a footsoldier, then I have no purpose whatsoever. I pray that you will finally shake your needless chains and find honor again. I know He will welcome you back into His graces, but not without demonstration, not without sacrifice, and that is only just.
The gap in the liquor store shelf normally contains bottles of Tullamore Dew. Just to be sure I’m not mistaken, I read the print on the yellow price tag. Now it feels more like an epitaph. “Here stood an affordable triple-distilled Irish whiskey, buttery on the nose, with a palate-delighting charcoal finish.”
I think about splurging on one of its more illustrious counterparts, actually gripping a bottle of Glendalough 13 by the neck before deciding to check with the cashier and ask if there isn’t more of my preferred spirit in backstock. Old habits die hard, especially when fifty dollars hang in the balance. He is young and I guess I ought to know his name, seeing as I darken his doorstep more than I do my own brother’s or barber’s or mechanic’s. He jumps at the chance to leave his post, saying he’ll go look if another case hasn’t come in.
In the meantime I browse the array of lottery tickets, colorfully marketed to adults the way candy is to children. A voluntary state tax is what it amounts to, a bond without any chance of payback. I happen to glimpse the security monitor and find that two bikers are strutting inside: bandana-clad, tattoo-infested, wearing torn jeans and fingerless leather gloves. I whirl around, facing down an aisle of rum and liqueurs. The voice of my old compañero, Riotville co-founder Gian D’Amato, animates the place with an assertive good humor I remember all too well, a humor that sets people on edge, because it is so clearly the positive output of a charge that flows both ways.
My cashier is nowhere in sight. He disappeared through a pair of swinging doors and is probably treating himself to a smoke break, knowing the choosy old fart at the counter will wait eons for his whiskey. Before fleeing, I at least consider the path of the grown man. I at least consider staying put and retaining my dignity. But after years of public insults and veiled threats, after years of being tailed on darkened roads by anonymous assholes flashing their brights, the fight has gone out of me.
It’s the same every time. I swear my picture must be passed around at meetings, because every Riotville member, even the ones who were initiated years after I left, ones I’ve never seen before and wouldn’t look twice at if not for the Riotville emblem, they all clearly recognize me on sight. Worse yet, it seems to be verboten to leave Mickey Fontanel alone should you cross his path. I’ve been harassed in restaurants, bars, local festivals (which I hardly ever attend for this reason), and even out on patrol. Even when I’m trawling the town in a licensed cruiser with a badge and a gun, I am not deemed impervious. That’s because they know exactly what line to tread, what they can get away with, what I’ll tolerate and endure rather than embarrass myself by pressing charges, thus opening the floodgates of evaluation into my past.
For the benefit of a nonexistent audience, I behave as if I’ve forgotten something, snapping my fingers in distress, doubling back to the walk-in coolers. There I hide (there really is no other word for it) among the cases of domestic. I peer between the Budweiser and Heineken, watching Gian and his companion approach the register with a six-pack and a bottle of Old Crow between them. Right around the same time, who should appear from the back room with my Tullamore Dew?
The cashier gives a brief pause, confused at my replacement by these goons clad in matching green scorpions. They exchange some banter as he checks them out, adding four packs of Pall Mall reds to the purchase. Meanwhile I stand in the cold, numb to any shame. My main concern is that Gian will have recognized my bike in the parking lot. Whenever he glances over his shoulder, or whenever his eyes seem fixed on the security monitors, I get the prickling sensation that he is watching for me. This paranoia is validated when I see him ask the cashier a question and the young man nods and gestures to my whiskey bottle beside him. Then he shrugs and all three of them look around.
I take a step backward. Now, for whatever reason, the need to salvage a few morsels of pride kicks in. I grab a nearby case of Spotted Cow by the handle. With a resolve that consists merely of not over-thinking, I exit the cooler. The bikers are just being handed their brown bag when they note my appearance. We stand there for a moment, forming a grim, awkward isosceles. I decide I’ll ignore them, joking to the cashier that a man can’t live on whiskey alone.
Gian and his companion loiter, taking up the whole counter, opening a newly bought pack of smokes and sliding one each behind their ears. “Still drink that microbrew shit I see,” Gian mumbles without looking at me.
“Still on that piss water,” I say, hoping to sound just as cool and indifferent.
“What can I say? I’m a man of simple tastes.” With that, he wishes the cashier a good afternoon. The two men walk out with their merchandise in tow like well-meaning, well-mannered citizens.
The cashier checks me out, fishing for praises that he was able to track down the Tullamore. The computer seems to take an ungodly amount of time to read my card. Then there is a paper jam in the printer. After he futzes with it a bit, I impatiently insist I don’t need a receipt or a bag. The whiskey will fit neatly in my leather side tote. As for this enormous cube of beer I had no intention of buying, it will be a bitch to transport on the Sportster. I might have to remove all the bottles and try stuffing them in the tote individually.
Outside, I’m relieved to find my bike still standing upright. As I said, they know exactly what line to tread. The only evidence of their tampering is a pink furry keychain, either a cat or a monkey, dangling from my handlebar. I don’t give it a close examination. Rather, I chuck it aside as always. If I kept every tchotchke that appeared on my bike, I’d be hoarding an oppressive collection by now. I open up my case of beer, and set to work filling the tote…
At some point I go back to bed, setting my alarm for 9:30. When that time comes, I crack a Spotted Cow and jump in the shower. The effect of a hot shower is not optimized without a cold beer in hand. This is something Rhonda could never wrap her head around, those juxtaposed sensations within and without. It is a luxury they probably offer in some forward-thinking Swedish spa. Her only focus was the empty bottles I left behind on the shelf beside the shampoo.
Toweling off, I walk into the living room, a second towel wrapped around my waist. The ten o’clock news is on for background noise, but a few words permeate the steam cloud enveloping my brain. The banner along the bottom of the screen reads, OFFICERS SHOT AT DALLAS PROTEST. I search for the remote and turn up the volume. The broadcaster at the scene goes on explaining that sniper shots rang out during a Black Lives Matter protest, targeting several police officers. The exact amount of casualties cannot be determined. This is all unfolding in real time. The camera is wobbly, facing down a lamp-lit street oppressed by skyscrapers. A cordon of squad cars is visible. Apparently the gunman, or gunmen, have yet to be apprehended. Attempts are being made at negotiation. I’m absorbing all of this, naked and wet, when my phone rings.
I expect Gavin, but it’s Wojcik’s who asks, “Are you seeing this?”
“He was only aiming at police?”
“Seems that way. They don’t know all the details yet. The first shot was fired an hour ago.” He emits a bronchial wheeze between every sentence. “This is terrible, Mickey.”
“I mean there are going to be copycats.”
“One thing at a time, Chief.”
“You’re headed in?”
“Alright, I’ll see you in the morning then. I’m coming in early.”
We hang up, ending a perfectly useless exchange. I walk away from the TV to dress. When I leave, the town feels empty, inactive except for a blue glow dancing in most of the windows, as though the homes are inhabited by electrically fed ghosts. Arriving at the station, I find everyone in-house standing around with glazed, angry looks on their faces, fixated by the 38" screen mounted on the wall. To my surprise, Flipse is at his cubicle, arms folded, wearing a pair of gray sweatpants and a black bomber jacket. He’s busy conferring with Officer Stoffregen. She is chestnut-haired, fairly plump, inordinately kind and popular with the locals, making her the de facto poster girl at police fundraisers.
“Any updates in the last half hour?” I ask them.
“They think he’s holed up in a parking garage,” Stoffregen says. “They haven’t got a line to him yet.”
“A few witnesses confirmed he’s a black male,” Flipse adds.
I set my backpack down on the floor, unsure why I brought it tonight except out of habit when all I’ll be doing is patrols. Stoffregen says in a quiet, rueful tone, “It was only a matter of time before it came to this.”
“What the hell’s that supposed to mean?” Flipse pounces.
She blinks at him as if she only stated the perfectly obvious. “Well, it’s retaliation. At least in this guy’s mind. Two more cops were caught on video this week alone. Executing black men. One in Minnesota, one I think in Louisiana.”
“Executing my ass,” says Flipse. “Those guys were armed. It stands up to Graham.”
He’s referring, of course, to Graham v. Connor, the ʼ89 Supreme Court case that is pounded into academy recruits. The long and short of it goes, Dethorne Graham was driving around with a friend when Graham’s Type 1 diabetes triggered an insulin reaction. They pulled over at a convenience store so he could purchase a bottle of orange juice. Once inside, he decided the line was too long, so he ditched the juice idea and ran back to the car. A patrol officer, Connor, happened to be present in the same parking lot and wondered if he hadn’t just witnessed a robbery. He tailed the car, pulled it over, and had the occupants wait while he contacted the convenience store. In the meantime, Graham’s attack worsened. He got out of the car, circled it twice, and began convulsing on the curb. The respondent assumed narcotics were at play. When backup arrived, they detained the diabetic in handcuffs, ignoring all attempts by the friend to explain his condition. During the altercation, Graham sustained a broken foot, bruises on his forehead, cuts on his wrists, an injured shoulder, and allegedly a permanent ringing in his right ear. He filed suit through the District Court, Appellate, and SCOTUS, but his petition was roundly defeated each time. Chief Justice Rehnquist opined that given the situation from Officer Connor’s vantage point, his response had been “objectively reasonable.” And so this case went on the books as the prevailing metric to determine whether a cop’s use-of-force is justified, particularly when it results in bodily harm or fatality.
I can tell Stoffregen wants to be diplomatic and defuse the situation. Policing 101, in theory. “I’m just saying there’s a lot of racial tension in the air right now.”
“Racial tension,” mocks Flipse, who is perplexing in his sweatpants, but not enough that I care to ask what he’s doing here. “I told everyone right at the beginning. This Black Lives Matter, it does nothing but incite violence. It advocates so-called racial tension, can’t you see? And now look what it’s come to. Innocent cops dead in the street.”
Before long, Stoffregen and I and the rest of the night shift split off in various directions. Out of curiosity, but also to keep my mind focused, I chart eventual negotiations with the suspect in the parking garage. He reportedly taunts Dallas police over the phone, sings to them, asks how many white pigs he’s killed. My CB hums with commentary between officers. I keep my AM radio low enough so I can hear both. It occurs to me that Charlie Manson must be tickled if he’s watching this in prison right now. Judging by newsfeed alone, Helter Skelter is coming to fruition, just like his acid-warped mind prophesied all those years ago.
1:30 AM. Herschel Gimbe is so larger than life that his bald head stands a few feet taller than the rest of his billboard. He wears a tight denim shirt bursting at the seams and his forearms are crossed, calling to mind those oversized turkey drumsticks you find at Renaissance fairs. He is like a bearded and tattooed Mr. Clean, and if the town were ever to vote on a mascot, it would be his WWE (WWF in those days) alter ego, Cronus the Cannibal. Floodlights animate his face all throughout the night. He is Zeus keeping watch over sleeping Cyprus. In some of his famous carpentry commercials from the early aughts, his gimmick was to break 2x4s over this thigh. He has since given his aging body a respite from such feats and theatrics, but I hear those commercials still get astronomical hits on YouTube.
An inert tanker looms large on the train tracks cutting past Kwik Trip, the graffiti on its flank faded to an illegible smudge. A prowling cat darts across my headlights, never in any real peril as I coast along at twenty miles an hour. Every now and then I’ll see the bobbing cherry of a pedestrian walking by having a smoke. It reminds me how many packs I used to go through on my earliest beats here in Judson, before I quit, with nothing much else to do but peer up and admire the constellations that were so foreign to Milwaukee skies. I pass by the liquor store parking lot to check whether Ari’s gyro truck is open for business, but he’s never there on weekdays except during the lunch hour. Anyway, I’m not hungry.
Lorraine, the dispatcher tonight, who has been feeding us Twitter gossip about the Dallas sniper rather than venting, per usual, about her sister’s taste in men, appoints a few units to a noise disturbance way out on Sycamore and XX. An anonymous caller has hinted around that underage drinking might be taking place. I happen to know the farmhouses are spaced too far apart in that area for a legitimate noise complaint to be viable. Most likely it’s a nosy and vindictive neighbor who noticed a lot of cars parked in the driveway.
Roughly forty-five minutes later, Lorraine cuts in again. “PB03, PB03 you have a possible B&E at 814 North Kensington. Caller is Meredith Strauss.”
I jerk out of my trance, realizing I’m PB03 tonight, and snatch the receiver to my mouth. “Copy that. 814 North Kensington.” I’m about ten blocks from there now.
Lorraine sends me another patrol for back-up. However, I know Meredith well. I doubt if there is anyone on the force who doesn’t. If she’s calling in a burglary, it could very well mean there is nothing worth buying tonight on the home shopping network.
I arrive at the Strauss residence, one in a series of homogenous Dutch colonials with elm-shaded curbs and square little lawns. No lamp posts except at the corners. Meredith is still on the line with Lorraine, insisting the intruder has not left her house. “Also be warned,” Lorraine relays. “There’s a Bichon.”
No lights on as far as I can tell. I watch for a flashlight beam darting behind any of the windows. Impatient with waiting for backup and wanting to stretch my legs, I get out, cross the yard, climb the porch, and verify the door is locked, secured, unbroken. Adirondack chairs are set out, one for Meredith and one for company. Large hanging baskets with tentacled flowers obstruct much of the street view.
I decide to walk around the house to try and determine a point of entry, if there is one. This entails squeezing between a row of conifers that delineates the property. In the backyard stands a vinyl tool shed, the kind you can buy disassembled and set up at home. Hulking like a centerpiece is the stump of a once enormous tree. Perched upon the stump, reminding me of some Druid seer’s pool, is a stone bird bath. A solitary dim light shines upstairs behind the curtains—Meredith on the phone, I imagine, quaking beneath her duvet and throw pillows. Otherwise there are no signs of activity, no impression of forced entry. I’m about to radio in these skeptical observations when my eyes fall on the basement window, or what’s left of it.
“Dispatch, I have a broken window. Basement access off the backyard. Not very big. Only an inch off the ground. I nearly missed it.”
“PB06 is headed your way.”
PB06. That’s Stoffregen, if I’m not mistaken. I superimpose her proportions over that of the window, finding the math doesn’t quite bode well in my head. “Tell you what,” I suggest. “I’ll enter through the window, go directly to the front door, and unlock it for backup.”
Lorraine stalls. Obviously her and Stoffregen can both read between the lines. “I would have to advise against that, PB03.”
I don’t bother responding. There is no other option. I twist the volume knob all the way down on my radio and crouch before the shattered pane, shining my flashlight into the chasm. I find plenty of clutter that could potentially serve as hiding places for would-be assailants, but I take the gamble that no burglar would waste time rooting around in the basement unless they knew something of value was stored there. I push my legs through and inch myself forward, grinding my teeth as jagged remnants of glass bite into my flesh. With half my body outside and my other half dangling inside, blind and vulnerable, I imagine being shot in the ass, or having my legs attacked with a knife or a baseball bat. It feels like dunking a limb into shark-infested water. The touch of concrete under my feet has never been so alleviating.
I snatch my flashlight out again, and my gun this time. A water pipe drips; nothing else stirs. With my sight so depreciated, my sense of smell overcompensates, parsing the grout between cinder blocks, moldy cardboard boxes, fuzzy piles of mouse shit, and the slime of incipient mildew coating most surfaces. I move toward the stairwell, where it’s clear a door was once attached. Now only hinges remain. I’m on the third or fourth stair, directing my beam upwards, when a woman trapped high above the rafters starts to scream. Not just scream, but yodel fitfully, like she has been cornered and mauled by a wild animal. My hair stands on end. It’s been years since that happened. The last time was when I approached the tinted windows of a Volvo I recognized as belonging to Bruno’s fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Lanser. Turned out she had stood her husband’s pump-action between her knees.
I bound up the remaining stairs in two impossible leaps, throwing open a door, sweeping my light around in a panic. I’m in the kitchen. The refrigerator is cracked open, releasing a sliver of incandescence. The hallmark of what—a forgetful Meredith, or a famished burglar? Screaming pervades from upstairs, then it trails off, tapering, not ending abruptly. I weave through the house, undoing the deadbolt on the front door, throwing it open in time to find Stoffregen headed up the walk. Her hand flies to her hip, gunslinger style.
“It’s me,” I hiss, waving her inside with a flamboyant gesture.
She waddles up the porch and we go in search of the staircase, playing our flashlights over portraits and doilies and candelabras. An upright piano. Overstuffed furniture dressed in layers of quilts and afghans, like half-shed snake skin. The house stinks of potpourri, vintage perfume, stale candy. We finally reach the stairs, climbing off a parlor area in the rear of the house. Treading ahead of Stoffregen, I train my beam on the top step, keeping to the margin along the wall. A few creaks are unavoidable. Upstairs I can hear muddled talking, mainly a man’s voice, soft but with an urgent vibrato. Every now and then, Meredith contributes a whimper.
Past a wooden balustrade protecting the corridor from the staircase, we can peer into Meredith’s bedroom. Her footboard faces the door. I can’t make out the old widow from this angle, but there is a red-haired man, clad in a black shirt and black pants, sitting on the edge of her mattress. He’s reciting something, judging by the cadence of his baritone. We proceed to the top stair, having stowed our flashlights.
I creep up beside the jamb, eternally grateful that this isn’t an older house with arthritic joists and floorboards. Once I’ve ensured that the man’s back is still facing us, I wave Stoffregen through to the other side of the doorway. Meredith’s frail white head is propped on a mound of pillows. With her blankets pulled back, she lies there exposed in a thin cotton nightgown. I can tell her teeth aren’t in by the way she nervously mashes her lips. The man, mid to late twenties, could credibly be her grandson. He tries to soothe her, muttering in his tonal way, gliding a sort of wand over her thighs, like a small sap or billy club. At least that’s what I think at first, until I make out that the object is green and bumpy. A cucumber.
Stoffregen and I exchange looks.
“—Police! Don’t move!”
We enter together, our Glocks leveled at the man’s frizzy red mane.
Reflexively, he springs to his feet and spins around, still gripping the cucumber, brandishing it like a weapon. He doesn’t rush us, thank God. He doesn’t register shock, hatred, fear, any of the customary emotions. It is pure devastation: the look of a child when you confiscate his favorite toy. If he isn’t already receiving it, I can read court-ordered psychological treatment in this man’s very near future.
“Drop the vegetable, turn around, and put your hands behind your head,” Stoffregen tallies.
Poor Meredith wails in her bed as he complies, able to stifle it no longer.
“Actually, Stoff, I think it’s a fruit.”
While Stoffregen does the cuffing honors, I try my hand at consoling the victim. Meredith won’t stop pointing at her closet door and crying, “Mrs. Trumbo! Mrs. Trumbo!” Then I remember about the Bichon. With an uneasy premonition curdling my guts, I go to the closet in question. After what we’ve just witnessed, I don’t put anything past the brain in that boy’s skull. I swing open the door. The loose knob rattles in my hand. Upon a heaped comforter, curled into itself like a snoozing python, lies a little white curly-haired dog. It gazes up at me with a bored expression and wags its tail twice.