Dim regions, Martin thought, where the parents lived.
Martin wrote A twenty seven year old man was executed, drug-gang-style, last month off Standifer Avenue. One week later police officer J.L. McAdams died of a gunshot wound while making a routine traffic stop less than a mile from the site of the execution-murder. That there is any connection between the two incidents (proposed editorial insert: tragedies) is not apparent at first.
Dim but not bleak, not wretched. Never an area of more than modest ambition. Just dark mainly, heavily treed, even in summer noon. A street you couldn't tell if it was ever white to begin with. That kind of rigidly policed neatness to neighborhoods that were originally black, not transition. They raised five boys, three of whom rarely visited the house now. One came to check on his parents almost daily. But lately now the fifth, the youngest, was becoming a scarce visitor. Already. Gleaned from actual live interviews, notes available for inspection.
On his knees, the entry wound in the back of the skull, the exit removing his entire face--all in the style associated with drug trade activity. The other shooting, a reversal: entry below the nostril and rear exit with the ejection of the occipital portion of the cranium.
Ironies abound. A feature for the Sunday edition. Although there are countless billboards across the city, innumerable programs in the schools and churches, and mounds of casualties from illicit drug use as evidence, the appeal still remains strong for many disadvantaged youth. Not just the use of controlled substances, but their sale and distribution. The alternate? Minimum wage kitchen and counter jobs at McDonald's. City sanitation. Physical labor posts unsustainable past the age of fifty. Mopping blood at the charity hospital.
And when your brothers visit you see the gold chains, clean cars the kind that can't even be bought in this city. One of them notices you eyeing a walk-man CD player on the front seat and he just hands it to you. No smile even. He knows you know he'll never use it, never think of it again. Three of your brothers. Real, blood brothers--as in a shared mother.
But not one of them. Your other brother. Not him.
Their father had known jazz, known musicians. A certain cultivated taste. And had known how their eyes gravitated toward the whatever available lifting substance. Their mother had been a nurse's aide, had watched how certain older charge RNs left a tiny amount in the syringe for themselves just to get through a week of twelve understaffed-hour shifts. Not to say that she considered herself entirely innocent--but it was not her life. Nor her husband's.
Himself (the husband) a man not bad, and not good just by default but not by conscious choice or nature either: a certain knowledge of his own inability to be harsh or cruel because of the simple strength it takes to sustain those qualities, to defend them against like harsh and cruel impulses directed toward him. His life tended toward deflections and aversions.
Day to day they were free of it. Of all addictions in general. Especially now they were older, four boys out the house and the last about to be. Was already, practically.
Which was more remarkable--that three of their first four were in the trade, or that one wasn't? Or that the fifth, only fourteen years of age, seemed about to follow the three and not the one?
The second son de facto managing a meat/fish market for an absentee owner in a neighborhood where the only visible legitimate commerce occurred in convenience stores and hardly anybody's grandparents remembered what a meat market was. He's married, only been married once, no rumors of outside women. Two kids, Winnie-the-Pooh routines. Home every night, in a neighborhood where that raises eyebrows.
And never do two whole days pass now that his parents don't receive him in their home, checking up, lending a hand. Monitoring. A little green flow to help over rough spots. Three of them don't show up at all, hardly ever. Where the green really shows. And most of the time the second son doesn't see the fifth son the times when he's visiting. He catches the closed bedroom door, knows he's not in there. And knows where he is. Generally speaking.
The statistical dynamics: the second-born--not the first, with all his attendant socio-cultural attributes--and not the youngest, the baby. Not even the designation of middle child. Perhaps marginally better than the fourth, next-to-last.
One day his mother says of the fifth to the second, and it's the only time she says it: "He out all night." And that's all she has to say. "Hmm. And he's what. Thirteen?" "He fourteen." "Um-hmm."
Part of the story of the slain officer is the coverage of the story. You get to using different tacks around the central point. To get around "Everything's happened before." When it happens to you, it's new. For everybody, death is a first-time thing. Your safety depends someone standing between you and the bullet; J.D. McAdams happened to be that someone on October 10, 1996.
It starts not always with seeing your brother, but practically anyone around you. It's not seeing it that stands out more than seeing it. Add to that one brother, and another, and another. And that leaves only one other brother. One who always say you got to take the long view of things son.
It's not that you see one guy or two guys who used to be in your grade still too young to have beards having cars more expensive than a whole street of houses, it's that most of them seem to be pushing the life and you gone be the one left out, you the only one not doing the life.
Graduate Feliciana Parish Junior College Police Academy 1991. Married to the former Miss Miss, parents of an infant eight months old. Member Arkansas Road Church of Christ, Elks Club. Inveterate participant in NFL paper wager leagues, twice carrying the jackpot.
All to end one night in a routine traffic stop.
And they had met before. More or less. After an observed situation. A street corner conversation, the kid and another kid, whereupon they observed the observer in a parked car. Whereupon was was going to happen changed and became something different.
The meeting broke up. The participants departed in opposite directions. The kid in question walking along the edge of the street and the cruiser pulling up, slow, at a walking pace.
Where ya going.
You sure look like you goin somewhere in particular.
How come you walking so fast, then?
It cold. Walkin keeps me warm.
Wanna ride inside with me a little?
Warm in here, now. We could talk a little.
I'd rather think than talk.
Well then. What you think you got in them big pockets?
A missed beat. --Nothin.
Another full beat. --Oh ho. You sure there aint somethin we need to talk about in them pockets?
Do I know you? Have I seen you before? You look familiar.
The kid gave a name. Not the real one. Because, his brothers. --I lived here all my life.
And what was it that made the cop back off? What made him give the kid some space? Nobody knows. Nobody will ever know now.
Well all right then. I see you again, you might feel obliged to discuss the contents of those pockets, huh?
You might have time to even empty those pockets out. Might just have to ask you show me how you take a dump next time I see ya. Ya got me? Take care now.
And then they meet again. Routine traffic check, a car the same as any other car, only those gaudy chrome rims so obviously added on.
It's the same kid. The same cop.
Hey (in recognition, almost a smile, even.) How about them pockets fella----
A stuttering large sound, like an explosion but cut off before it's fully over. The car gone. The body in a crouch on pavement, silent fluids converging from several sources.
And what happened between those two meetings?
The phone ringing at the meat market. Thursdays, working late, no extra pay, just a little give-and-take. You give a little more and you get to take your job a little longer.
Saying come pick up your kid brother. Now.
Hangs up, nothing more to be told. Calls the wife. It's already dark out, but he'll be a little later still. Not long. Promise. The lock on the door, then the deadbolt, then the chain with the third lock. Steel mesh on the windows. That third lock--it gets tiring. All of it.
Starts not to even go. Something about the way the mother talked, was this worth it when he was already doing her like the others. But the voice saying now. His kid brother hearing that voice.
There wasn't anything else to do.
He went down to where the voice said. Not a likely place, not an unexpected one either, just nowhere. A field where a city street dead-ended, and around the tall grass--trees. He drove further where the street was pointing when it ran out. Into the woods. Then another field. And cars. Low-riders, big-rims, string lights along the bumpers. Profile cars. This was the place.
Wasn't nobody there. But of course there was. Just couldn't see them.
And then he did. The Raiders ball cap, metallic tooth. The nod: You. Come on here. He followed.
There were maybe twenty of them, standing in a kind of circle. Lots of chain necklaces. The weapons weren't directed anywhere, but they weren't hidden either.
There was his brother. Some kind of lesson here.
His brother kept looking at him, but when he looked back the kid would look away. The kid was with them, among them, still somehow outside them. Something was going to change before this was over.
They were going make him humiliate his brother. That much was clear. The rest wasn't.
"Look. I'll take him on home. He just a kid."
They looked at him as if the words had come out of the trees. "Wah? You say somethin?"
"Let me get him out of here. Is it a matter of money?"
Laughing from the perimeter.
"When it comes to money," the guy said, fingering his chains, "you don't know the magnitude, jazzbo. Forget about it, okay? You just stand there. You don't have say nothing, you don't have to do nothing. You just have to stay right there."
It began to go around the circle, strange remarks directed toward his brother, a tone of accusations with oblique words he couldn't understand. He started to ask something about his other brothers, but thought it might lead to complications.
Weapons spun on fingers. The kid brother with eyes everywhere, hands jammed tight in back pockets,staring at him like a gargoyle sat on his shoulders. The accusations, almost rhyming, circular, words pointing.
And then they make him get on his knees. Not the kid brother, him. On all fours. "Face down, motherfucker. Don't look at nothing!"
He could feel the aimed barrel. Not touching, but pointed. The back of his neck.
Wait. Wait. His kid brother's voice it was.
This was one of the things that didn't occur to him. A surprise. Promise.
"If you smart enough, home-shit, this what they call a lesson. I aint got no interest in hurtin you, cause I can tell you don't give a shit bout that. But this, this your mama's blood. Watch!"
Deep in the hundred acre wood.
For over a week there came no arrests in the slaying of the officer. When it happened it was almost as if the juvenile suspect were turning himself in.
"He was the only good one in the whole family of them," a neighbor said. "The only one. And aint that funny how things work out that way. Very very sad." Pause. "I used to know his father well, too. Played an instrument, I believe."
Guilt plays out in funny ways. Making a sacrifice as a penance--first of an unlucky victim, and then, yourself. One officer has speculated they may have never found the patrolman's murderer had the kid not decided allow himself to be interrogated on an unrelated matter.
"You're saying you're not going to run it ?"
"Didn't say that. Just some changes is all."
"It's rough, admittedly. I mean kind of sketchy. Unfinished."
"Mmm. Not what I'm referring to. What you're saying, what I take your point to be, is the odd way things in this story, lines between very different people, are connected. How unseemingly related events affect each other."
"I commend your perspicacity."
"You see? Right there! That attitude, your attitude, is all over this piece. You have to remember YOU'RE WRITING FOR A NEWSPAPER AUDIENCE. Simple, simple, simple."
"I'll just retract it then.The whole thing"
"Oh ho. Don't hurt me."
"Cut the irony, all right?"
"All those other avenues to place it. All the competition, fighting me for writing of this caliber. Don't hurt me, Martin, OK?"
"Look. I'm going to leave you with a blank space for a description of yourself here, OK? And a free word, a gift from a writer, if you may: Asshole. It'll do if you can't come up with anything else."