Fiction: Framed Friction

Happy November, readers.  Join us in this month’s issue as we dive into the gritty realism of Drew Jennings’s “Cinderblocks for Sneakers,” a story about the way death can carve away at pretense and false perceptions.  We hope you enjoy this harshly tragic glimpse into the world of cops as much as we did.

Hayley Battaglia
Fiction Editor

Cinderblocks for Sneakers
By Drew Jennings

Marcie regrets coming. The rest of north patrol gather around the tailgate of Jackson’s pickup and graze on the plain bagels and coffee that Cooke brought. It’s overcast and steam seems to seethe from the asphalt. Cooke gives Marcie a look that says “Let’s get this shit over with.”

It was Jackson’s idea. He’s popular in the department, tall with a strong jaw-line. Marcie found it all strange because he and Ram weren’t close at all. Ram had often joked that Jackson was gay. Jackson would just smile and shrug it off and float above it all.

Jackson addresses everyone. “Alright my fellow law enforcers, we’ve got about thirty minutes before they start showing up with their twenty-one guns and shit so I’m gonna go ahead and start this shindig.” He always says cute things like “shindig.”

He sets his coffee down and begins. “We’re gathered here today to remember Lieutenant Robert Allen McKenzie or Ram, as he liked to be called…”

The clerical intern from the station shows up. Her hair is down and her shirt is tight. Marcie knows for a fact that she’d hated Ram. She ogles over Jackson. Pathetic.

“I remember when I was a rookie a few years back and was shadowing him. We were having lunch at Furry’s buffet, Ram’s favorite.” Everyone laughs. He really did like that place.

“At one point, I was sitting back down from using the restroom and he goes real loud ‘Jackson, what’s this I hear about you eyeballin’ every cock that goes into the bathroom?’ and everyone turns and looks at us!” It was just like Ram. The intern shrieks with laughter.

“So we’re leaving and there’s this guy talking to the girl at the counter about his receipt. He has his little son with him, hugging on his leg. So Ram goes over like ‘Where are you from?’ and the guys kinda taken aback, ya know? Then Ram’s like ‘You hard of hearing?’

“The guy says ‘Sorry officer, I’m from here, San Antonio.’

“Ram says ‘I wouldn’t have thought a Texas man wouldn’t know how to talk to a woman.’ The girl tried to say something like how it was her fault but Ram cut in and said she could just go back to work. Then Ram leans over to the kid and goes ‘You know how to treat a lady, don’t ya son?’

“The kid is scared and just says ‘Yes, Off-fah-sah.’

“Then Ram goes ‘You see it’s sad when a man could stand to learn basic respect from his child.”

Marcie has heard this story before but even if she hadn’t, she could fill in the rest. A stronger man forced to be Ram’s whipping boy. The veins in his arms pulsating, he had to take it.

Ram almost never called for backup so Marcie figured it was serious. She was in the area and first to arrive. Ram was slumped against the front bumper of his cruiser. He wasn’t leaning against it casually or resting his elbows on his knees. He wasn’t ok.

She got out of the car and ran to him. His eye-lids sagged. She was afraid to touch him. If his neck was hurt, moving him could make it worse, right? “Ram,” she squeaked out. She cleared her throat. “Ram!” she shouted. He didn’t move. She ran back to her car and radioed for an ambulance.

Marcie knew it was futile to try to hide anything from Cooke. Cooke could always tell when Ram had gotten to her. She would just say “I know, babe, I know.” Cooke made detective last year. She would let Marcie sit in during interrogations. Usually, Marcie would guard the door to let the suspect know it was serious.

Wallace Ridley sat still across the table from Cooke with clenched fists. The oversized county garb hung on his frail frame. He was a fifteen-year-old Irish national with unkempt, curly brown hair and green eyes. He said he was in Texas because it was too dangerous for him back home. His father was big time in the Dublin mob, he explained. They would try to “snatch him up.” They, the other “money players.”

Jackson rejoins the officers and smiles at the intern. Cooke steps up and talks about a late night years before Marcie joined the force when she and Ram were alone at the station. “I was doing some filing and Ram was at the computer. You know he liked to go on those sites where you rate a pair of tits, 0-10? He calls me over and I told him I didn’t care how big the tits were. He said it wasn’t that, that I’d like it. So I walk over and he’s playing solitaire. Then I see this flesh in my peripheral and think ‘alright, let’s see what he’s got going down there.” Everyone laughs.

“I see these big furry nuts and this little half-hard cock. It was like a tree stump! I just went on with my filing.” Marcie smiles. The officers applaud and Cooke takes a bow. Marcie notices a subtle grimace come over her face.

Part Two: “So What Happened Wallace?”

“So he starts sniffing around saying he smells weed ‘n that. I’m like ‘I’m fucking dusted in here, PCP and shit.” Marcie held back a grin. What a foul-mouthed little thing. “Then he called me a leprechaun and something like that.”

Marcie had to focus on his lips to make out his speech through his thick-as-mud accent. Wallace became agitated like it was Ram sitting across from him instead of Cooke.

“I’m sorry but you’re fucking mistaken. Check the name. You should know with a name like McKenzie, even if you are a hillbilly. Then he tells me the name Ridley don’t mean shit in Texas. I tell ‘im flat out, that shit’ll put you in the fucking ocean, wearing cinderblocks for sneakers. That’s no lie. That’s a fucking fact!”

Marcie felt a chill come over her. She wasn’t afraid of Wallace but of his kind. He was a sociopath, maybe, no cop had ever been able to explain to her exactly what that meant, something about the part of the brain that deals with your conscience not working right.

“Then he got it, he shut the fuck up. He starts back to his car for something and I just say ‘fuck it’ and take off. I see him pull out his pistol ‘n that, yelling, calling me a cocksucker. I stop and he’s yelling for me to throw the keys out of the window and that he was gonna shoot if I didn’t.

“I’m like ‘Fuck that, I ain’t getting taken out by no hillbilly with a mustache.’ I throw it in reverse and duck down. He lets a few shots go and I slam into him proper and square. I look back at him and he looks like a sack of spuds.” He sat back in his chair, indicating the story was over. Either he didn’t realize or didn’t care how fucked he was.

“Goddamn,” Cooke said.

Ram never had a chance; he never could’ve prepared for Wallace. Chaos is the police’s worst nightmare. Wallace was chaos, fucking dynamite.

The EMTs declared Ram dead on the spot, said he was probably dead before Marcie showed up and she couldn’t have done anything. They took out the stretcher and set it next to Ram, still slumped over. Passing cars almost came to a stop, every one without fail, teenagers, soccer moms. Everyone was curious as hell. Just get him out of here!

A firm hand gripped Marcie’s shoulder. It was Cooke. She turned Marcie away from the scene. Cooke wrapped her arms around her. “Oh, poor thing.”

There was a splashing sound like a pot of grease being dumped in the street. Marcie tried to look back but Cooke held her firm.

“We have time for one more,” Jackson says. Marcie feels nauseous. She didn’t eat breakfast. She steps up. “Oh, it’s Marcie. Watch out!” Jackson says. They are having a great time, sipping their coffee with dumb grins.

“No one deserves to get murdered. You always hear officers say that for the cameras after a drug dealer is killed but I think Ram took something from everyone he ever met.”

They fidget and can’t look at her. They can’t look at each other. The shame is thick in the air like the stench of fresh mulch. Fuck them for organizing this shit. “We were down in Alamo Heights, rich area, ya know. We pull over this brand new Mustang GT swerving all over 410. It was like two in the afternoon and Ram was sweaty and whining about something. He told me to stay in the car. I think it’s just gonna be a quick ticket.”

The parking lot is filling up. Four state troopers clomp by in their oiled boots and goofy cowboy hats.

“When the guy rolled his window down, smoke poured out. They were hot-boxing. It was this young boy and his girlfriend. He was real skinny and his pants kept sliding down. Ram had them sit on the curb. I get out of the cruiser and Ram tells me to search their car. He went back to the cruiser to mess with something. I find a few ounces of weed and a gram of coke. Ram cuffs the guy and pats him down. This is on the feeder mind you.”

She pauses and takes a deep breath. “Ram had him bent over against the hood. The boy got upset because it was scalding hot. He pulled out his baton and put the handle side down the kid’s pants and like jerked it, ya know, the L part? Jerked it forward…into his…ya know.”

It’s already too late when she feels them coming. The tears of rage leave Marcie wrecked like an August flash flood tearing long dead sage roots from the drowned grit. It is quiet besides her weeping.

“Why don’t we just end it here?” Cooke says. Jackson puts his hand on the intern’s back and they start towards the precession growing with proud and medaled men, Jackson still floating above it all. The rest break off and head that way too. The rumbling motorcade should be arriving soon.

Cooke puts her blue collar hands on Marcie and pulls her in. “I know, I know.” Cooke smells musty, like Marcie’s mom was starting to smell. They sit alone on Jackson’s tailgate.

“His girlfriend was yelling then she looked at me and just saw me frozen. She quieted down. She knew I wasn’t gonna do anything.”

“It’s not your fault. Ram was a sick man.”

“He yelled ‘Selling dope? Thinking you’re hot shit, don’t ya?’ He looked crazy. I was scared.”

“There’s nothing you could’ve done.” Cooke says and runs her nails through Marcie’s blonde streaked hair. “He wasn’t right.”

“That boy cried like a baby. He was a baby. Ram turned off the tape.”

“Huh?”

“That’s what he was messing with in the cruiser. He turned off the tape ‘cause he knew he was gonna do something.”

“I’m sorry, babe.”

“I wish I woulda told him…how much hated him. I still hate him.”

“Me too. He’s gone now.”

“It was his brains, that splashing sound, by the ambulance. Wasn’t it? Falling out of his head?”

Cooke doesn’t say anything.

“That boy screamed like a baby,” Marcie cries.

Bio: Drew Jennings is from San Antonio, TX, has had work has been featured in Midway Journal, and is currently wandering the country aimlessly.

Photo by Jo Naylor

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