Now it was their turn for a riot. It kicked off as night fell. Gas from cop grenades curled and spots of fire lit up the cityscape to the north. Downtown looked like Tokyo after it got firebombed.
Keith was called in. Had to set up barricades. He burned around a corner fast with the squad car sirens on and blue lights pumping.
I’m coming through; move.
On his right he saw movement in a pawn shop. He braked hard against the curb and squawked his megaphone. Four figures evaporated out of the place. Two slithered out the back door and the other two gazelle-hopped through the hole where the storefront window had been. Wiry kids. Opportunists. Their sneakers skittered and slipped on the glass shards. Then they were gone.
Keith blinked. The surveillance cameras in the shop had been smashed. And there were no street cameras pointing at him right here. Blind spot. He knew he was in one without having to look. It was his job to know where the cameras were.
No cameras, but there would be money. Money equaled breathing room. Last time he’d had much of that he’d been eighteen. Then came other things. Traditional, expected, expensive things. He fiddled with his wedding ring.
A man provides. That’s what we do.
He checked both ends of the block. Clear of other boys in blue or any other interested parties. Keith looked at the sergeant’s insignia on his shoulder epaulets and gave an apologetic shrug.
You guys don’t pay me enough to not do this.
And I’m hardly the first opportunist in uniform.
He broke his duty shotgun out of its ceiling clamps. Radioed in his ETA and added a minute onto it. Then he levered the door open and rushed the storefront. Jacked back the slide and hit the shop’s entrance.
A man provides.
“Come on…” The windows shook as the engine rumbled indecisively. Robert twisted the key again, and finally the engine struggled to a start. He adjusted his glasses over his nose and looked behind him as he reversed his old Buick into the dark street. He could still hear Gloria’s frail voice plead for him to stay, but that shop was his life. Without it he couldn’t provide for her. He checked the automated message he’d received on his pager again before he shifted to first and drove out into the city.
He passed rioters and peacekeepers all doing the same thing, and with his vision it was hard to tell them apart. He saw people crying on curbs and others cheering on rooftops. The city was a wreck. Robert turned the corner and saw his shop blown to pieces. The storefront window was busted and the door barely hung at the hinges. His heart sunk deep into his stomach. A squad car sat at the curb, lights still flashing. Good, Robert thought. Despite all of this, the good men of the law still had time for Robert’s small pawn shop. Robert turned into a parking spot, reversing and adjusting to make sure he was within the lines. When he exited, his rear passenger tire still crossed over to the adjacent spot. He zipped up his jacket to brace the cold and adjusted his glasses again as he neared his door.
He probably should’ve called out before he entered, but Robert forgot that officers often have their guns drawn.
The boy was hiding between a couple of bags of used golf clubs. He hadn’t wanted to leave his house tonight but his older brother wouldn’t leave him alone. His mother was stuck at work because the buses won’t run through the riots. Families in his neighborhood don’t have dads.
No providers. No protectors. Now there are riots.
What are these people even mad about? His brother thinks the riots are rebelling against a dirty system. Maybe he is right.
He warned, “You chill here Stevie. This shit ain’t for no youngbloods. You just get hurt.”
Thirteen doesn’t feel like young blood when you have been on your own since age eight. Stevie had meant to run away with his brother and the others when the cop rolled up but he had been distracted. Checking out a drum set. A little used but definitely still in good shape. His band teacher said he had rhythm and his cousin had gone to college on a band scholarship. The drums were a five piece ticket out of here. The thought to steal it crossed his mind but he knew it wasn’t right. That wouldn’t help anyone on either side of this riot.
Then the cop showed up. He heard the older boys scramble away through the shattered glass. Laughing and swearing at the police car, “Fuck you pig!” Then he heard the shotgun cock. Cops. Robbers. The middle of a riot.
Stevie hid among the golf clubs and watched the officer check everything out and make sure the coast was clear. He could hear the shuffle of broken things and figured the policeman was straightening up some of the mess and just trying to make sense of the madness. The kind of good things a policeman should do.
Stevie crept around the corner, “Excuse me sir…”
The cop whirled around with a shotgun in one hand and a handful of cash in the other. “Hands where I can see them!” Stevie immediately obliged.
“I’m not a looter. My brother left me here.”
The policeman looked confused and was slowly walking towards him when another man stepped through the shattered glass of the storefront window. The man was holding a set of keys and was adjusting his glasses. The owner stopped, staring at both men before him, and asked, “What is going here?”
Keith just did it.
Turn to the door, crunch back the trigger. With one hand padded full of cash it was sloppy shot. Terrible form. The pellets pulped the owner’s left leg and blew him back into the door frame.
Hard recoil. The money flew free from Keith’s grip and fluttered down. It was like standing in a Super Bowl parade.
Keith reformed his stance and regripped the rifle. He had to shoot the owner again.
His head had broken down the data and made the calculations for him. All in about a half-second. It was what made the most sense. He could have dropped the money and run right out. But he’d have to pass by the owner. And his last name was right there on his chest. Badge number too. Even though the store was dark he couldn’t take the chance that the guy would see that info, remember it and call it in.
He pivoted fast and lined up the barrel with the kid’s head.
“OK. Stay still. Stay right there.”
The kid nodded. Hands held up. He had to be eleven or twelve.
“Pick up the money,” Keith said. “Right now. Hurry up. Hurry the fuck up.”
The kid moved. Did this crazy fast crawl over the floor and gathered the bills into a stack. Took him under a minute. The money was all tens and twenties.
Keith just stood awkwardly in the smoke. Tracked the boy with the gun as he moved. Now the dread hit. It was sort of like acid. It pumped through his body from his chest outward.
The kid stood and presented the cash. Keith took it and threw three bills back at him. “Take those and go. I’ll be watching for you when I drive through here from now on. So I think it would make sense if you kept quiet about what just happened, all right? If I’m not a killer then you’re not a looter, OK?”
“OK,” said the boy. He hadn’t picked up the money. Just stood with his hands up and chewed his bottom lip. The boy was scared of him. Scared of a cop.
Not that he could call himself that any longer. It was a lie now. Keith drew his breath in like he’d just swum a lap underwater.
“Go, kid. Go. Get the fuck out of here.”
Keith took the gas can from the patrol car and a Zippo with Mao’s face on it from behind the shop’s counter.
The place burned in the rearview. Just another fire. Sirens wailed up at the next block but he didn’t hear them. Tonight the sins would go uncounted. As he drove he counted what was left. Four hundred and forty dollars. Or maybe a week and a half’s worth of rent.
A man provides.