With one hand steering the police cruiser, Kazsinski punched Mason on the shoulder. “You awake, scrub?”
“Yeah, man, I’m awake.” Mason shifted in the passenger seat and adjusted his gear. He checked his watch. Only ten o’clock? Feels like we’ve been out all day. “Hailey had a hard time getting to sleep last night, that’s all.”
“Pssh, that’s why me an’ my girlfriend ain’t havin’ no rugrats. Kids steal your energy and drain your money, and for what?” Kazsinski laughed. “Am I right?”
Mason chuckled, hoping it would seem like agreement. Then he thought of Hailey’s tight hugs and the “kiss-on-nose” she gave him each night at bedtime.
Kazsinski turned the car east on Main, keeping his speed slow, rolling toward the Twenties in a show of presence. “Watch the clusters,” he warned. “Guys in the back could be hiding weapons, setting up an ambush for us or for a rival gang. You know the gangs here yet?”
Mason nodded, recalling his briefing the day before. “Mercy Disciples take the north half. Took their name from the hospital. Can’t get into the gang unless you send someone to Mercy’s ER. And the Kings run the south side of the Twenties, give or take.”
“Yeah, those are the main ones. But they got a bunch of little groups workin’ for ’em. Frickin’ splinter cells pop up like terrorists. There’s Pinoy Saints, run by a bunch-a Chinese or Filipinos or somethin’ like that. And the Cholos around Q Street got supply routes linked back to Mexican drug cartels.” He cursed and dropped a racial slur, then continued. “The Kings get their product and their pieces from south of the border.”
Mason frowned. Hope he doesn’t talk like that in public.
“And that ain’t even countin’ all the deadbeats and ex-cons. Since the railyards shut down, a bunch of ’em just lay around all day, doin’ drugs and collectin’ their checks from Uncle Sugar.” Kazsinski slapped Mason on the shoulder in a friendly manner this time. “Good to know your hard-earned tax dollars are well spent, right?”
“Uh, yeah.” Mason fixed the chest-mounted body cam that shook loose with Kazsinski’s slap. Then he turned his eyes on the street, watching faces glare at the cruiser or look away. Definitely behind enemy lines here… but why do we have to be the enemy?
No one liked getting pulled over, of course. Kazsinski had issued five tickets that morning, most for speeding on Main Street cutting through the Twenties. They’d stopped a white woman doing fifteen over the limit on her way to work, and she gave them an earful, like her ticket was their fault. Earlier in the morning, they’d spotted a mixed crowd of teens circled around a fight near Pulaski High. The crowd dispersed when Kaz sounded the siren.
Kazsinski’s curbside manner bothered Chris. The vet saw every driver as a threat, and his solution was to dominate the situation—gun holstered but prominently displayed, harsh and direct interrogation, and an assumption of guilt or hostile intent until Mason finished the paperwork and Kaz sent the drivers on their way. I’m the new guy. Maybe that’s how it’s done here—maybe it has to be this way.
Even so, whether Kazsinski’s tough manner showed up full force seemed too dependent on the suspect’s complexion.
Mason eyed Kazsinski as the cruiser slid down side streets. He’s a jerk, sure. But is he really a racist? Or is valuable experience driving him to do it this way? I don’t know.
The academy instructors taught a curriculum that harped on respect and restraint. But the same teachers cracked jokes about the course content and told the rookies they’d learn “how it really is” when they got to their first station. It would be easy to judge Kaz, Mason decided. But his life is on the line to protect and serve, just like mine. Who am I to say his method is off-base?
Mason thought of Laura and Hailey, probably out for a promised morning walk to the park near their new apartment. We have a right to return to our loved ones at night, don’t we? Even Kaz got someone waiting for him at home.
“Check this guy out,” Kazsinski said, and pointed to a shiny black sedan. “Where d’you think some ‘G’ from the Twenties gets the money for a ride like that?” He flipped a switch and the lights and siren came to life.
The sedan slowed and stopped on the side of the four-lane street. Kazsinski pulled behind it at an angle, forcing traffic around the cruiser into the left lane. “Follow my lead,” he said as he opened the door. “And keep your weapon ready, Mason. You don’t know these guys.”
Mason exited the cruiser and surveyed the street. Passersby made a point of ignoring the scene, yet Mason felt a chilly anger from the community. He tried to match Kazsinski’s easy swagger as the burly officer approached the sedan’s driver. No one would mess with a cop as tough as Kaz. But Mason’s posturing felt as fake as he assumed it appeared, so he rested his hand near his holster and took a position on the other side of the vehicle.
The black man in the driver’s seat looked rigid, almost like a mannequin, hands planted firmly on the top of the steering wheel, eyes fixed forward. He couldn’t be more than thirty years old. Is he scared, or is he guilty? Mason watched Kaz for clues, unsure of what to expect. Maybe he’s scared because he’s guilty?
Kaz tapped the glass and Mason watched the driver’s hand move—slowly and in plain sight of both officers—to lower the window. The man’s voice was muffled through the passenger window, but Mason could make it out.
“Is there a problem, officer?” he asked in a calm, crisp tone.
Kazsinski smirked. “Whose car is this, son? Where ya taking it?”
“I’m on my way to work at Our Mother of Mercy, sir.”
Kazsinski leaned closer, his voice quiet but cold. “Don’t lie to me, man. I will find out, and I won’t be happy. Let me see some ID.”
The man lifted his right hand from the steering wheel. He spoke in a careful, almost broken pace. “I am going to reach for my wallet in my back pocket, officer.” His ID flashed in the morning sun as he handed it out the window.
“License and registration too, buddy.” Kazsinski flipped the ID in his hand, checking all the information. He mouthed to Mason, Watch this. “Got any proof of insurance, Mister Shuttlesworth?”
Oh yeah, he said that’s one of the most frequent offenses.
Kaz crossed his arms and waited. He seemed antsy, bouncing around like he couldn’t stand still.
The passenger window lowered, and the man spoke to Mason in that same plodding manner. “Sir, I am going to reach into the glove box now to retrieve paperwork.”
Yeah, man, whatever. Just do it. What’s with the robot impression?
Suddenly Kaz had his Beretta drawn on the driver. Tendons strained in his thick neck and his scream echoed in the street. “Get out of the car! Hands up! Move slowly! Get out the frickin’ car!”
Mason’s hands stretched out toward his partner. “Kaz! What are you doing?”
Mister Shuttlesworth complied, hands in the air in clear view of the entire street. He rose with grace and stared down Kazsinski’s barrel. “Officer, I am complying with your instructions. No need to escalate—”
“Shut up! Turn around, hands on the roof! I’ll tell you what I need, I need you to shut your mouth and do what you’re told, boy!”
Mason’s hand struck like a cobra, locking around Kazsinski’s wrist, shoving the gun aside and holding it down with a rush of adrenaline. Kaz turned wide eyes on his partner, and his muscles tensed like he would strike back.
Mason stood firm. “He was reaching for the glove box—for the paperwork you demanded. I had my eye on him the whole time, and he told me exactly what he was doing.”
Kazsinski’s nostrils flared with each breath as the thought took root. Finally he shoved Mason off. “You finish up then.” He stomped off toward the cruiser.
Mason stood, watching his partner. What the hell just happened?
“Uh, sir?” Mister Shuttlesworth said, his head still lying between his arms on the sedan.
“Sorry, uhm, Mister—you know what, you’re free to go, with my deepest regrets.”
The driver straightened, then tugged out the wrinkles in his ruffled button-down shirt as if the motion would repair the damage done to his dignity. He turned to glare at Kazsinski in the cruiser. “You best get some help for that one, officer. He’s trouble lookin’ for a place to happen.”
Mason apologized again and extended a handshake.
Mister Shuttlesworth ignored the gesture and took his seat behind the wheel.
“Good day, sir.” Mason tried a final, feeble attempt at restoring trust.
“Yeah, man,” Mister Shuttlesworth said as the window raised. “It was, until now.”