Martin, sleepless, rode in his car for a while, evading any green-looking bombs. Once he did see the Fury parked by the coke dispenser at the ancient full-service gas station on Forsythe, Mac beseeching a lone pedestrian who was just trying to get a soda. But Martin slid past unnoticed, coasting neutral.
Might as well appear to be doing work, so he stopped by the station. Officer Broun with his smart-aleck grin claimed him right away, pointing down the hall to the photo room. Martin saw a slim young black man staring ahead into the lights with zero expression.
"Now, I know, the word burglary is not going to jack up your eyebrows one bit, is it, Martin?"
"Do I applaud your genius now, or should I wait?"
"Hee. I din't think so. But--I would like to show you something. Could I interest you in taking a ride with me?"
Martin was surprised how crowded with electronics the front of the patrol car was--huge, as if they were old units with tubes, though he knew they couldn't be. Also at how infrequently he had ever ridden in one of these. His sister lost no opportunity to brand him a clean hands reporter--she was always being taped flying helicoptors and motorized pontoon boats and the like. Martin dealt best (he was aware of this) on second-hand material, material largely to be embroidered upon. Reconstructed. Not ever to say invented, mind you.
Broun of course couldn't make it a leisurely ride, flipping all the lights and sirens for Martin's sake. Martin hated that light feeling rising from the pit of his stomach. The journey terminated at a darkened Church's Fried Chicken on North 18th.
Three in the morning and there goes Mac past on the four-lane, honking at the officer, thankfully unable to spot Martin inside the car.
"Tell me Martin. What are you thinking right now."
"I'm thinking what are you going to show me that's new. Because you are going to do that. I know you are."
"Haw. Always somethin new in a nigger's mind, isn't it. 'Cause they the ones got the time to sit around and think it up. Now, now, I see that coming up your throat a little, but just bear with me. Consider it my public duty in the education of a news-man who, I know, I know, has to see things on the liberal side just to get the job. You don't have to tell me that."
Most of the guys on the squad Martin got along with, including comes-with-the-territory tendencies like this. But Broun was hard to take. They walked to the back of the restaurant, where a ladder angled up to the flat-top roof. Broun made him climb and look at the point of forced entry. "Now he went through all the trouble to get a ladder and bring it here in plain sight, I mean to tell you. And that little bitty hole he found--I mean, hell! How did he get his shoulders through it?"
"He was one determined individual, and there aint a thing in the world that would have kept him out of that chicken restaurant. Now tell me. Do you have any idea what he was after?"
"Come on, don't shit with me. Thought you were going to show me something new."
"Oh, I am. Believe me. Now answer me this: what you think tipped us off, as we were just driving by, that there was a breaking and entering going on?"
"A wild guess: the alarm system?"
"Didn't I tell you he was determined? And smart, as it goes? He knew exactly how to disable the system with a coke opener."
"Dont see many of those anymore."
"They have a second life now, much to the dismay of this particular alarm manufacturer. But. But! I just happened to glance over and saw a kitchen light on that wasn't on when we passed half an hour before."
"He was in the kitchen?"
"He was. And I radioed in and got the door code and let myself in. And Martin, answer me this. Do you think myself or my partner raised our weapons as we approached to apprehend the suspect?"
"Well, yes we did. But! What in the hell do you think I smelled?"
"Yes! Yes! I put my weapon down when I smelled that fine southern fried chicken. And the cash register sitting there completely untouched. I said, Excuse me sir. What the hell you think you doing? Wait. Don't answer that. I can see. But why? And it turns out he wakes up in the middle of the night and can't think of anything but fried dark meat chicken and he don't have a wife anymore and aint no place in town open to sell it at this hour."
"Except the all-night Wal-Mart."
"But you and I both know that aint chicken. It might be a related species, but it aint really chicken."
"And nothing in the world was going to stop him. Martin. What do you think he said after I gave him his Miranda?"
"Pass the ketchup?"
"Close. He wanted to finish the leg and thigh he had in his hands before we cuffed him."
"I hope you let him."
"Well. You have to admire that much passion in a person. Even one of his persuasion. But no. I didn't let him."
"Jerk. You probably ate it for him. In front of him."
"Hee! Naw. But now you mention it, wish I had at least thought of it."
"Broun--Is there a point to all of this.?"
"I knew you wouldn't admit it. But inside, you'll know it. I just showed you prime evidence. No matter what you say, you can't walk away and know you haven't seen the shining example I just showed you."
"Example of what, would you care to state?" A big grin that got under Martin upside down, sideways and back and forward. "Everybody has a right to be deranged. Individual acts are committed on an individual basis, not a race's composite melanin factor."
"That sure sounds pretty doesn't it? Has a ring to it. Say what you want. Doesn't change the truth a bit. Maybe a little prejudice of the media itself. Loves to fool itself, then it can fool the audience."
"A guy cuts you off in traffic--if he's white you flip the bird and call him an idiot. If he's black, he does it because he's a nigger."
"Statistically speaking. Now that's impossible to get numbers, but the numbers are still there, statistically speaking per persuasion."
"Have I ever referred to you in the paper disparagingly? Or any cop? What's the deal?"
"Just gets on my nerves, is all. Shining faces sticking out of the newspaper: We's all working our way out of the bottom here, jes give us a chance and we's just as good as you. Or on the TV--Lift Your Face and Lift the Race.That's shit. Nobody has any real intentions."
Martin, looking down the four lane. The deadest hour of the clock. Broun continued: "Every damn thing stays the same, no matter how nice you dress it up. It's the pretending that I despise so damn bad." Martin was silent. "Call it a matter of conscience. I know you aint going to put this in the paper. But I know it happened. And now you know it happened."
"Know what? That a guy is going to prison for breaking and entering a restaurant in order to fry chicken? Big deal. But no, not for you. For you it's a story because he's a black guy."
"That's right," sing-songy. "Now, you ready to head back?"
And what Martin despised was that he couldn't go any further than that. With Broun. Or any other Broun. Didn't have the words.