Tag Archives: race relations

Not to the Swift on WattPad

Having just finished my third National Novel Writing Month, I revisited the manuscript of Not to the Swift as the first book I ever completed and a departure from my sci-fi/fantasy norm. I forgot how much I love those characters and the conflicts between them.

I’ve made the whole book available for free reading on WattPad today. I know the joke is that site is full of sparkly vampire and One Direction fanfic… but there are kids engaged in reading, and reading a lot. Also, while purchases on Amazon or Kindle put a buck or two in my bank account, what I really need is readers who might buy future books. (I’m so selfish.)

To that end, if you read Not to the Swift and enjoyed the book, more than a purchase, I’d love an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. Thank you.

As a personal aside, chapter 16 is my favorite. I had a lot of fun as a writer trying to emulate a middle schooler’s style and level of poetry while hopefully making it meaningful to the story content.

More than that, I think it was in the middle of NaNo, and I was struggling to get the words on page as well as dealing with the constant inner doubts of “is it even worth writing?”

Renee telling her students that everyone goes through that sort of thing was just supposed to be a little personal pep talk to myself and something it sounded like a decent, encouraging teacher might say to address kids’ fears of sharing their work in public.

When she comes back into the room after the encounter with LaTasha Washington, in the moment of writing it struck me that Amir could respond with some of the same advice he’d just been given. I love when those moments come up later, sort of a bookend or resonance within the writing. I probably try too hard for that in other places, but here, it seemed to happen naturally.

Over the last few months, I’ve been mulling over what I wrote back then, contemplating the characters and where they might be “today.”

It’s a challenging but fascinating exercise to imagine what another person’s viewpoint or argument might be, especially on such charged and divisive subjects. I feel like if I can write a remotely convincing point of view from someone whose ideas and beliefs I may strongly disagree with, then I’ve hopefully learned more about that sort of person and their perspective–learned to see them as a real human being with feelings and emotions, and not just as the butt of a joking Facebook meme.

I don’t feel like there’s enough of that going on in America today, but the only person I can really change is me… so this is part of my ongoing attempt.

I fully intend to write a sequel to this book, Not to the Strong, perhaps as next year’s NaNo effort. I have included a preview of one scene here:

Maria shook Bishop Simms’ hand and smiled, then gestured toward the seats at the front of the sanctuary. “This should be fairly quick,” she said, “but feel free to answer at any length you choose. Any long, awkward rambling can be edited out later–thank goodness, or I’d have been fired years ago.”

“I just hope the editors are careful to preserve the content of the dialogue instead of looking for the right sound bites.”

“We’re not like those types of news agencies, sir. We won’t put words in or take words out of your mouth.”

Simms laughed, a full-bodied and amicable sound. “You know, Miss Melendez, I believe that’s what all the others would tell me too.”

The cameraman placed lights on posts and set up diffuse panels to soften the shine, then made final adjustments. Maria shuffled in her chair and checked her watch. “You about done with that?”

“I just–there’s a glare coming off the bishop’s head that I’m trying to reduce.” He looked at Simms with an apologetic shrug. “Sorry, man.”

“Son, no need. Been bald for the last thirty years. I’ve wished I could reduce that glare too.”

Maria flipped through notes on her cell. “Okay, Bishop, the obvious topic of discussion will be the question of reparations, so we’ll knock that part out right off the bat. Sound good?”

“I’m at your disposal, and all too happy to talk. Ask my parishioners.”

Maria smiled. “So I’ve heard… Hence my warning about the editors.”

“You’re good, Maria.” The cameraman gave her a thumbs up and hunkered down behind his device. “Ready? Five, four, three…” He waved his finger twice.

“Good morning, Stapleton,” Maria said, her face a picture perfect smile. “I’m Maria Melendez, and this is Today on the Town. I’m sitting in the sanctuary of New Hope Tabernacle, a place of worship that has developed an intermittent relationship with the local news in the last few years. You may remember this sanctuary from the funeral of young Chris Washington, an unarmed black teen inadvertently killed by Officer Chris Mason while responding to a shoot-out between rival gangs–with Pulaski High School just a couple blocks away.”

Bishop Simms waited, hands folded in his lap, a slight upward turn to his lips, the sort of smile looking for a boot to drop or a knife in the back.

“Since then,” Maria continued, “Bishop Henry Simms has been a prominent voice on the subject of racial tensions and race relations in the Stapleton area. But in the last year, his platform skyrocketed into national attention when his slogan and position on the subject of reparations came up in the Presidential Debate.”

She turned toward Simms, whose face maintained that gentle cautiousness. “So, Bishop, let’s talk about your efforts. Since finding yourself under national scrutiny, have you reconsidered any of your more aggressive or challenging stances on policy?”

“If I changed my views just because of the spotlight,” Simms said, “that would imply that I wasn’t fully convinced of them to begin with. My positions are the same as when you stepped into my church that sad day as we mourned Chris’s wasted life.”

“So you’re not backing down on the issue of reparations, or the messages you’ve given condemning the rampant white privilege you claim affects so much of American politics?”

“No. Why should I? Though I’m not sure I used exactly those words.”

Maria scrolled through the text on her cell screen. “In a sermon on–December Twelfth two years ago, you’re on record asking how we can rightfully expect God to bless our nation while at the same time allowing corruption to grow and fester throughout all levels of government.”

“A valid question, in my opinion.”

“And later in that particular message, you brought up the disparity between how whites and blacks experience police intervention in Stapleton and across the nation. To a lot of people across the country, this doesn’t sound like Sunday morning sermon material.”

“Throughout the Old Testament,” Simms replied, “we see God concerned with His people and their societal expressions of righteousness. This word, in the Hebrew, goes straight to the modern concept of justice and equality–whether we’re talking about the courtroom, the locker room at the police station, or the break room in your work center. God doesn’t change, so I believe that justice and righteousness must still stir up His passions and holy anger just as much as when He sent His prophets to condemn abuses back then.”

“Do you see yourself as a prophet in a sense, Bishop?”

“Nothing so lofty as that. I’m a watchman on the wall, looking out over my city and my nation with concern. There’s so much–”

“A watchman on the wall,” Maria interrupted. “Interesting choice of words, given the divisiveness and the spectacle of the last election. A lot of talk about walls during the debates and the run-up to Election Day, wasn’t there? Are you supporting policies to build walls?”

“Again, I harken back to God’s holy Word,” Simms replied, “far more than I do the brash words of one man or woman. In the days of Joshua and King David, they built walls not to separate their own people, but to protect the community. I’m willing to stand on that kind of wall and call attention to the problems I see weakening our society. And like many times with the children of Israel, I don’t see the big problems coming at us from the outside, but within our walls, within our communities, our cities.”

“And your answer to that appears to be a mutil-billion dollar reparations program many call a bold-faced socialist redistribution of wealth, with some even leveling charges of reverse racism and discrimination.”

Simms leaned forward. “You ask why I talk so much of reparations. Is the concept far fetched? Perhaps. It certainly is a difficult and challenging question, whether–”

Maria shook her head. “Bishop, the conservative estimates on what it would take to attempt such a program are staggering.”

“Maybe,” Simms replied. “But it gets people attention, and it should. What African slaves went through is mighty staggering as well. And while we have made so much progress in the last several decades, we cannot sit idly by and declare ‘Mission Accomplished,’ all is well in the racial divide in America.”

“Well, it is a divisive view you’re espousing, Bishop. You can understand why people might disagree.”

“Might be we could have a much different conversation if there was acknowledgment that there’s cause–There’s a grievance in our past, as yet unresolved, where reparations could be in order. I wouldn’t presume to speak for every person in the African American community, nor do I think you can speak for all Latinas, or your cameraman for every white male. But I think that it would be a huge step to hear certain vocal leaders on the other side of the debate simply acknowledge it. Acknowledge that the grievance exists.”

“Bishop, I have to ask, what of forgiveness? Christian leaders and especially your detractors have often responded based on your own religious beliefs. “Simms is a preacher of the gospel,’ they say, ‘so he more than others should know Christ called us to forgive, not judge. Because He–Christ Jesus–already forgave.’ That’s a quote from the Reverend Jerry Turnbull, a megachurch pastor from Saint Louis.”

“Oh, I have heard those kinds of arguments before,” Simms said, nodding. “Yes, indeed, that sounds pretty good when you’re preaching to your congregation. But I look to no less than the Apostle Paul for my answer to Reverend Turnbull’s query.”

“Saint Paul?”

“Paul indeed wrote that nothing now separates us from the love of God, and there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus, so I understand where my brothers and sisters on the other side of this issue are coming from.”

Simms curled his hands toward his heart and continued. “But Paul had a broken and contrite heart about his sin. He wrote at length about his failures, his crimes against the church, his rebellion against the Lord. ‘I am the chief of sinners,’ he said, ‘I am the least deserving.’ Paul knew the power of grace because he recognized the depth of the evil he had done.”

He pointed his finger to the south side of the sanctuary. “People on this side of the Twenties would be much quicker to forgive if we heard some of that recognition of wrongdoing from those fine believers on the south and east sides of Stapleton.”

“Yes, but–”

“Maria,” Simms continued, “I think of what one of my parishioners told me the other day. ‘I don’t hold my brother’s death against anybody… but I still hold that pain inside. That’s part of who I am. And while I know God forgets the sins of others and binds up my wounds, I don’t think that means I should forget the hurts or pretend they didn’t happen.’ So it is with our nation and our past. Too many folk want to pretend it didn’t happen, or, you know, ‘well it’s all over and done with now, let’s dust ourselves off and move on.'”

Maria opened her mouth to respond but said nothing.

“We still remember the Alamo,” Simms said, “and the Revolutionary War… and rightly so. We must remember our history, both the good and the bad. The good, so we can emulate the heroism of those who came before, and the bad, so we don’t forget and become doomed to repeat their mistakes.”

“Hard to argue with any of that, Bishop,” Maria finally said. “But when you slap a bill for several billion dollars on a weakened economy, people are still going to balk.”

“I’ve long heard it said that freedom isn’t free,” Simms replied. “Believe me, we know. We paid for our freedom over centuries of abuse and maltreatment. So perhaps my response to my detractors comes down to this: you talk a good game about freedom and justice. Let’s see you put your money where your mouth is.”

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 8

This is the eighth and final preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

“This way,” Jamal called. Chris followed the big teen through the warehouse. They’d kicked open a locked door when the gunfight broke out. With no way of knowing which side was winning, and with sirens going off heralding the arrival of the cops, they decided to make a break for it through the building.

“Get away from the window, man!” Chris yanked on Jamal’s hoodie pulling him to safety as bullets punched through the thick glass. The boys dropped to the ground and crawled deeper into the dark building.

“What about Lamar?”

Chris shook his head. “Dude, screw Lamar, screw the Kings and the Pinoy and whoever else. Let’s just get outta here!”

He ducked low and hustled in the shadows between shelves stacked with boxes. Jamal chased him. “Where you goin’ man?”

“Tryin’ to find a safe spot to hide.” Chris pulled out his cellphone and tried to get a signal. There wasn’t anything Mom could do, but she was close and he was desperate.

The sound of glass shattering and distorted shouts echoed across the wide warehouse. Jamal grabbed Chris’s arm. “They comin’ in here for us. No witnesses. Or maybe they think we got some of the Kings’ product they can steal. Either way, ain’t safe here. We gotta leave.” He rose and looked around the dim room.

“Exit light that way.” Jamal tugged Chris and ran.

Chris followed, panicked, furious at Jamal. Jesus, let him figure out how stupid this is so he gets out of it for good.

They ran up a flight of stairs and found the fire escape door. Shouts below spurred them on. Jamal shoulder-checked the door and it burst open, leading to a wrought-iron walkway and railing that stretched around the building. Sudden sunlight blinded the teens.

Chris ducked through the doorway and squinted. A siren warbled nearby. Frequent gunshots snapped on the other side of the warehouse. Chris held up his hand—clutching the phone—to block the brightness. He spotted a ladder to the ground at the far end of the balcony. “Jamal, follow me, there’s a way down.”

He hopped down onto the second rung and hooked his feet on either side, hoping the move worked like in the movies.

It almost did.

Chris hit hard, crumpling on the ground next to the ladder. Someone shouted from the street, but Chris couldn’t make out the voice through the pain. He struggled onto a knee and thrust his hands up when he saw the flashing lights of a cop car.

 

 

The gunman in the alley fired three shots at the other gang further down. Mason took aim on the gunman’s cover. Pop up again, punk. See what happens.

The radio chirped inside the cruiser. “Ambulance ETA three minutes. Backup enroute. Car Seventeen, say status.”

Something thumped to Mason’s left side.

Mason spun, staying behind the cover of his cruiser door, pistol ready. A thin-frame teenage suspect lay on the ground next to the fire escape ladder. “Freeze!” His voice squeaked at the end of the full-throated roar.

Another one—a bigger guy—ran along the balcony, heading for the ladder down.

The thin guy rose to one knee and extended his hands toward Mason. Something black in his right hand caught the light.

Gun! Mason double-tapped the trigger.

The teenager fell, his weapon scraping across the concrete. His partner hit the ground at the bottom of the ladder then dropped to his knees next to the suspect Mason shot.

“Oh Jesus! Chris!”

Mason did a double-take at hearing his name, but the chaos and panic drove the thought away. Training kicked in. Gain control of the situation. Hunkered down behind the door, Mason took aim and shouted. “Hands behind your head! Get down on your knees!”

He is already.

The new suspect complied. But his eyes seethed and his muscular body shook with anger. He swore at Mason. “You shot a kid! He done nothin’ wrong.”

More gunfire from the alley. A scream.

Mason kept his weapon trained on the kneeling suspect, tuning out the tirade. He took quick glances checking for the gunman in the alley.

A body slumped against the bloodstained wall behind the dumpster.

Tires screeched in the distance and an engine roared. Mason hopped to his feet and ran to the car where Kaz lay. He pointed his gun down the alley and caught sight of two suspects sprinting from the far side of the warehouse, fleeing on foot.

Mason almost gave pursuit, but Kazsinski groaned. Those guys are long gone, and my partner needs me. “Kaz, hang in there, man. Ambulance is coming.”

He moved back toward the cruiser to check on the subdued suspect. You never actually subdued him, idiot. The big guy was gone.

Mason checked for threats, found none, and ducked into the cruiser. He snagged the radio and called in. “Car One Seven status: Shots fired, officer wounded. Two armed suspects fleeing east on foot, one vehicle fleeing scene.”

The radio chirped and the female voice replied, sounding relieved. “Good to hear you, Car One Seven. Ambulance should be there any second.”

Mason heard the sirens approaching.

“How many you got in need of medical attention?”

“At least four suspects wounded in gunfight. Plus two armed suspects neutralized by responding officers.”

He looked over the scene to confirm his facts. One gunman that had Mason pinned down, taken out by the rival gang. At least two bodies at the other end of the alley, probably shot early in the fight. The dead guy by the driver’s side door of the black sedan. The gunman Kaz took out. And the thin guy Mason shot, who lay unmoving on the concrete…

Next to a black smartphone, scuffed and cracked. That’s no weapon.

Mason stared at the device. Oh my God oh my God oh my God.

He tried taking deep breaths to slow his panicked heartbeat. What do I do? “Oh God, Kaz… what do I do?”

Be courageous. Own up when you’ve done wrong.

His voice cracked as he keyed the mic. “HQ, Car Seventeen, correction. Unarmed possible civilian shot on scene by responding officer. Need that ambulance stat.”

The handset thunked in the floor of the cruiser, next to his discarded body cam. Mason scrambled to the kid on the ground, clamping a hand over each bullet wound to staunch the blood flow. Through tears, he barely saw the medics rushing toward Kaz and screamed to get their attention.

“Civilian down over here, I need help!”

 

 

Author’s note: Thanks for reading this far, but the novel is really about the aftermath. If you like what you’ve previewed, you can find Not to the Swift at my Amazon author page here.

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 7

“Oh my Lord,” Kazsinski ranted as he steered the cruiser out of the parking garage. “You believe that load-a-crap the Captain foisted off on us?”

Mason said nothing, watching the shops and houses pass by.

Kaz took on a mocking tone. “She’s all ‘How many people trust you? How many people want to hug you? How many times do the people in the Twenties bring you flowers?’ God. Whadda tool.” He laughed and punched Mason’s arm. “At least she had a nice rack, right?”

Kaz ignored Mason’s silence and kept venting. “I got an idea for how we change things. Throw a few more in prison. Stop pussy-footing around and bring some SWAT gear down here, maybe clean out the gangs. Can’t be on the street committing crime if they’re in a cell at the pen. Or in a damn box.”

He turned a corner and pulled up behind a driver. “Looks like a tail light burned out, don’t it?” Blue and red lights flashed with the flip of a switch. “Let’s see what this guy’s up to.”

The driver’s Hispanic. Surprise, surprise. Mason sighed. This is ridiculous. Kaz can’t be the face of the police force in this community. Evidence or no evidence, I need to talk to the Captain about this.

 

 

“We don’t need to do this, J. Maybe they ain’t coming. Let’s get out of here.”

Jamal hunkered down with Chris Washington in an alleyway between Madison and Nelson. “They’ll be here. Trust me.”

Chris scoffed. “I trust you. I don’t trust them. What time they s’posed to get here?”

Jamal showed Chris his phone and laughed. “Four twenty, man.”

Chris shook his head. “Figures.”

A car pulled into the alley from the east end. Jamal watched them for a moment, then rose. “They here. Let’s go.”

It’s not too late to leave. Chris looked to the other end of the alley. The sunlight on the street looked like freedom beckoning. He almost made a break for it.

But I can’t leave Jamal behind. Chris turned and followed his friend to the meet.

Two Hispanic guys with a bouncer’s physique stepped out of the car. A blocky bulge revealed the outline of a gun tucked into one’s waistband. The other had something bulky in his pocket. A thin black man with narrow eyes and a scowl stood between his guardians. He scanned up and down the alley as Jamal approached.

Jamal extended his hand. “Lamar, my brotha, what up!”

Lamar ignored the greeting and nodded at Chris. “This the kid you told me about?”

Jamal paused. “Yeah, I’m tellin’ you man, he don’t look like much maybe. But dude is a beast with numbers. He could keep your cash flow straight, help you figure out, y’know, some fool stiffin’ you on profits or something.”

Lamar folded his arms across his chest. “I don’t like this. He looks risky.” He turned to Chris. “You look risky to me, kid. Like someone who will fold if he gets caught. Someone who’ll cry to mama and spill details to every cop that’s listenin’.”

Chris should have been happy to be excluded, but a touch of pride rose up within. Man, you don’t know me.

Jamal waved his hands to get Lamar’s attention. “Hey, dawg, nah, it ain’t like that. Look, you give us some product to store for you, I keep it at my place, not his. You know me, man, you know I’m good for it. No risk.”

Lamar cocked his head at Jamal. “Then why is he here?”

“Man, he gotta learn somehow,” Jamal said. “Someone need to take him under the wing, be his mentor. That’s me, a’ight? I know he ain’t what you need right now, but gimme some time an’ he will be.”

Lamar considered the suggestion.

Jamal pressed it further. “Did you ever have someone come alongside and teach you how to hustle, how to get by on the streets? I want to be that guy for Chris.”

“A’ight, we’ll try it out,” Lamar said. He handed Jamal a black duffel bag. “I’m givin’ you two brick for you to hang onto until we get some permanent arrangement set up. And I got half a brick for you to push in your set. Chris can help you sell it if you want, and get some of the profits—on one condition. The part you’re sellin’ on your set—that doesn’t stay with the part you’re storing for us.”

Chris stepped forward. “Wouldn’t spreading it around increase risk?”

Lamar glared at him. “I don’t want it all in one spot. You fools get caught sellin’, they’re gonna check Jamal’s house before they give you your phone call. If you lose a few bags of my goods, it won’t be hard for you to replace that. But if you lose whole bricks… that ain’t all you gonna lose, let’s just say that.”

Jamal nodded. “Sure, dawg. ‘Course. We can use Chris’s place.” He shoved the bag toward Chris.

Chris stared at Jamal and took the duffel. You know I can’t store nothin’ at my house. What are you doin’, J?

“Now about my set, I was thinkin’ if I could cover—”

A car squealed to a halt in the other end of the alley. Gunfire and shouts erupted, and Chris pulled Jamal to the ground.

 

 

“All vehicles, Headquarters,” the woman’s voice blared from the cruiser radio. “We got a two forty-five in progress between multiple four seventeens. Two suspected gangs in an alley between Madison and Nelson on the southside eighteen hundred block.”

Kazsinski spun the wheel. “That’s us, man. We’re almost on top of it.”

“Multiple shots fired,” the radio squawked. “Possible injuries on scene. Any available officers, please respond.”

Mason grabbed the transceiver and keyed the mic. “Cruiser One-Seven is on it.” Oh God, oh God, this is really happening. Shots fired.

The lights danced on buildings and reflective surfaces as the cruiser tore through the streets, siren blasting. The police car caught air on a downhill. Eyes wide and intense, Kaz let out a “Whoo!”

Mason checked over his equipment. Body cam secured. No helmets, can’t help that. Weapon loaded, safety off. The double-action trigger wouldn’t misfire even if dropped. He reached in his door panel and donned his ballistic glasses. These aren’t stopping a bullet, but every little bit helps, right?

In the distance, Mason heard soft popping sounds like firecrackers going off in clusters of two to four. Kazsinski barely slowed as the cruiser sped through the school zone of Pulaski High. It’s after four. All the kids should be long gone. I hope.

Kazsinski slammed on the brakes near a black sedan blocking the alley. The driver’s door hung ajar, its window shattered. A body lay on the ground among the glass shards. Gunfire echoed around the corner.

Mason looked to Kazsinski for guidance, but Kaz burst out of the car as soon as he hit the emergency brake. He rushed to the wall of the nearest building then slid toward the alleyway, his Beretta held level, clutched to his chest.

A young man’s voice resounded in Mason’s ears. “This is Pinoy turf now. Run home an’ tell the Kings.” More gunshots punctuated the demand. Someone wailed for help out of sight.

Kaz thrust his pistol around corner as he leaned to get a view. “Police,” he screamed. “Drop your weapons, hands above your head.” He whirled back into cover. Brick chips and dust sprayed past Kazsinski’s shoulder as bullets riddled the other side of the building.

Laughing voices swore in English and some other language, but Mason could make out “pigs” among the curses. He hunkered down and hustled over to where Kaz stood.

The vet swore. “That was close. Shoulda just let them shoot each other up a while and arrested whoever survived.” He tapped his temple with his left hand. “File that plan away for another day.”

Two more gunshots rang in the alley. Footsteps of tennis shoes on gravel sounded as the gang members sought new cover. Mason drew his weapon and checked the safety once more. “What’s the plan?”

Kaz pointed the pistol toward the car. “I’ll move behind there for another view while you cover me. We can’t both be at the same position and overlap our fields of fire. Ready?”

Mason and Kaz traded places so Mason could lean out to fire down the alleyway. He took a deep breath to steady himself. It didn’t do much good.

“Now!” Kaz dashed behind Mason, seeking cover behind the sedan. Mason stepped to the side and thrust his hands out, supporting his weapon and searching for a target.

Gravel sprayed and bullets whizzed past as the gang members fired at Kaz. Mason popped off two shots at one of the assailants before spinning back behind the corner. Kaz ducked behind the sedan’s trunk.

“Looks like two left in the middle,” Mason called. “Three or four at the other end of the alley. At least one wounded there too.”

“Ain’t worried about how many wounded,” Kaz said. “Gonna make some more of them before this is over.” He popped up, fired off two shots, and dropped back into cover. Someone in the alley screamed in pain.

More gunfire broke out at the other end of the alley. They’re distracted, still trying to kill each other. Mason poked his weapon around the corner—scraping his body cam across the wall. He found a target and took a shot.

One of the big guys at the other end jerked with a hit to the shoulder. His weapon fell in the rocks, and he dove to retrieve it.

Someone in the middle loosed a burst of bullets that riddled the man Mason wounded. The body flopped into the gravel and twitched once before going still.

A twinge of guilt struck Mason. Did I just get someone killed? He shoved the thought down. The guy was clearly a threat looking to be neutralized.

Kaz fired a couple more rounds, alternating fire from the left and right sides of the car. Then another gunman sprung from the corner of the building across the alley from Mason. With a clear view of Kazsinski, he cracked off three shots with a pistol. Kaz spun and returned fire, striking the shooter in the chest and head. But he fell to the ground, blood soaking through the shoulder and side of his uniform.

“I’m hit!” He writhed on the ground and swore repeatedly. “Oh god, it burns.”

Mason froze. He almost ran to Kaz, but more gunfire down the alley cut him off. “What do I do, man?”

“Get to the radio. Call for backup and an ambulance. Son of a—what are you doin’ standin’ there? Go, dammit!”

Training kicked in. Mason ran to the driver’s side door and ducked inside, snagging his body camera on the doorframe as it swung open. He keyed the mic as he grabbed the transceiver. “HQ, officer down at Eighteenth and Madison. Officer is responsive but bleeding heavily. Situation still in progress with sporadic gunfire and multiple offenders. Send backup.”

A woman’s voice crackled through the mic. “Hold position, drag officer to safety if able, backup enroute. Ambulance support will be dispatched.”

The body cam swung loose and rattled with Mason’s every move. He ripped the thing off, left it in the car and called out to Kaz. “I’m coming to get you, man. Hang on. Ambulance on the way.”

Kaz lay still, the gravel and dirt beneath him stained red.

Bullets struck the hood of the cruiser, and Mason dropped to the ground behind the open door. One of the gunmen tried to flee the alley but got pinned down behind a dumpster on the other side of the sedan. Concrete shattered as bullets sprayed the wall above the dumpster. The gunman whipped back and forth between keeping Mason in cover and shooting at his enemies down the alley. He fired again, creating a spider-web in the cruiser’s windshield.

Mason held his gun at the ready and tried in vain to calm his racing heart.

 

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 6

This is the sixth preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

 

The Precinct bustled with activity at the start of the workweek. Captain McCullough pulled in every available officer for a morning training session, due to kick off in half an hour. Kaz hit the gym set up on the second floor, leaving Chris on the operations floor alone.

He sat at one of the few available computers filling out a soft-copy document with the details of the Friday patrol and the encounter with Mister Shuttlesworth. The report already reflected the seeming racial bias behind Kazsinski’s methods when conducting a traffic stop. But the main incident description held Chris’s attention.

Intentionally drew weapon on unarmed non-threatening civilian.

Chris deleted “intentionally” and tapped the desk. I need a word with less blame, maybe. I don’t want to crucify the guy. I just want to make sure he learns the lesson.

He highlighted the text for later revision and moved on.

One of the boxes read, ‘Video clip media number.’ Chris paused and looked for a veteran for guidance. “Hey O’Neill, how do I track down a cut of body cam footage?”

O’Neill laughed. “You gotta talk to Hannigan up in Records. If any of the footage is marked to save, he’ll have it.”

“Thanks.” Chris saved the document, pulled his access card, and headed for the second floor. If any of it is saved? What does that mean?

He found Hannigan behind a desk in the Records office, wasting time on his computer until the training session. Cat videos? Are you kidding me?

“Hey man, I need to get a media number for a clip from our patrol on Friday.”

Hannigan glanced at Mason and returned to his computer. “New guy? I don’t take requests from new guys. Tell Kaz to come by himself if he wants something.”

“Come on, this is serious. I need to file an incident report, so I need the footage number.”

“Incident report? What are you talkin’ about? Wasn’t no incidents on Friday.”

I don’t need Hannigan looking into this. Better watch my mouth. “Look, I just need to see what you’ve got off our body cams from Friday morning.” Chris paused. Maybe I can play it off as rookie hazing to get him to cooperate.

“Kaz has me doing a stack of paperwork before we go on patrol today. New cops push papers, he says. I’ve been at it for two hours now,” Chris lied. “It’s killing me.”

Hannigan smiled wide, his sadistic streak apparently satisfied. “In that case, I’ll help you out with something. Kaz sent you on a wild goose chase, kid. He does that with all-a you scrubs. You shoulda seen the crap his first partner gave him when he was a rookie. Oh man, it was good times.” Hannigan chuckled. “Anyway, ain’t no video recordings from Friday.”

What?

Chris didn’t have to fake a look of shock. “So what happens to all the footage from the body cams? What’s the point of them?”

“Every day, end of the day, we purge the previous day’s videos if they ain’t marked to save. Jeez, few dozen officers all wearin’ cameras on patrol, can you imagine the storage space that would fill up on the network drive?”

Hannigan shook his head and added, “If somethin’ bad happens and we really need the video, we’ll know about it before it gets purged, right? No reason to keep a bunch of clips of driving down streets for hours.”

Chris fumbled for a response. I have no proof of what I’m accusing Kaz of doing.

“Besides,” Hannigan said with a shrug, “a lot of the guys, they don’t want someone listening to their conversations. Lots of stuff you share with your partner that you wouldn’t prob’ly share with anyone else, y’know?” He laughed. “Well, you don’t know yet, but one day you will.”

“I see,” Chris said. “I guess I’m done here. Thank you for your time.”

“Yeah, man, you bet.”

Chris wandered down the hall past the gym. Several policemen worked with free weights, watching form in the numerous mirrors. Two guys took turns on the bench press, spotting for each other and adding plates. Kaz sat on an incline bench, pressing two thick dumbbells into the air above his chest. Do I talk to him about what happened? Do I still file the report, without any evidence to back up my claim?

“Quit checkin’ me out, scrub,” Kaz called from inside the gym. “Bad enough the Captain stuck me with a rookie, now I gotta worry my rookie partner’s a homo tryin’ to stick me too.”

The others laughed and sneered at Chris. He shook his head. “Dude, you’re ridiculous.” You’re also the only one who knows about Friday. And I doubt you’re going to help me request an incident review. No one’s going to believe a rookie.

A thought struck Chris. But would they believe a civilian, if a rookie corroborated his account?

Chris strode to the stairwell and checked the time. Five minutes until the training brief. He returned to the computer and brought the incident file back up. Then he looked through the record of traffic stops uploaded from the mobile computer in the police cruiser. He found the entry he needed, and copied details into his report.

Driver: Benjamin Shuttlesworth. 4215 West Garrison Street.

The Captain made an announcement and called everyone to the briefing room. Chris clicked save and logged off. I need to pay you a visit this week, Mister Shuttlesworth.

There was still time to do the right thing.

 

 

René waved goodbye and bounded up the sidewalk into Franklin Middle School. George pulled away from the curb and licked his lips, looking for words.

“Dad, I can walk,” Chris complained. “Do we really need to do this?”

“Do what? I’m just dropping you off at school.”

“You only do this when you want to talk,” Chris said. “But you already talked to me last night about Jamal and drugs and gangs and everything else. I’m not doin’ any of that, Dad.”

“I’m concerned, son.” George pulled the car away from Franklin and headed south. “I need to know you’re thinkin’ about what I said, what happened to Clarence, what you wanna do with your life.”

Chris stared out the window. “Jamal’s my friend, Dad. I ain’t gonna lie, he wants to get into some stupid stuff, dealing with the Kings. I told him that’s not me. I’m tryin’ to tell him that ain’t him either. You gotta believe me.”

George stared straight ahead, driving on subconscious autopilot. Hadn’t thought of that, you tryin’ to talk sense to your friend the way I feel like I need to talk to you. I want to believe you. I think I do. But I love you too much to ignore this.

They sat in silence. Say something, George told himself. Tell him you trust him. Tell him you’re proud. Anything.

George forced a joking tone. “Sometimes I think all them superhero stories goin’ to your head, son.” That the best you got? Come on, George, man up. Say somethin’ real.

Chris laughed once, but said nothing.

Pulaski High loomed ahead. You runnin’ out of time. George slowed the car to a stop along the sidewalk. Don’t be distant like Dad was to you. Most of these kids don’t got a father at home—your son does. So make sure that means something.

George parked the car near the corner of the school grounds. “Look, son, I trust you. I do. You got a good head on those shoulders. You’re smarter than I was at your age. You got a future, somethin’ to hope for. But it’s not gonna happen by itself. You need to strive for it. When all your friends cuttin’ class, smokin’ joints or gettin’ drunk or God knows whatever crazy stuff they get up to, you can’t go with them down that path. That path dead-ends right here in the Twenties.”

“I know, Dad,” Chris nodded. “I get it. You don’t have to tell me again. I gotta go.”

“Okay,” George said. He extended a fist toward Chris, but the teenager exited the car without noticing. Chris rushed toward the front door and disappeared into a crowd.

Was that Jamal next to Chris? George couldn’t make out the face among so many others. Then the teens entered the school. No telling now. Just gotta hope he listens.

George sighed and checked the clock on the dash.  Need to get to work at Eastwick before they drop my contract. He left behind a cloud of smoke as he pulled away, headed for the Stapleton suburbs.

 

 

Chris glanced back through the crowd and saw the tell-tale fog of his father’s car. Jamal kept talking, and Chris tuned back in to the conversation.

“—three of them asked me to. So this afternoon, I’m gonna meet up with Lamar’s associates and store some of their product at my crib. My gramma’s old, she won’t have any idea what’s goin’ on, even if she find a brick under my bed.”

“This is bad mojo, man,” Chris said. “You come up with some plans over the years, J. Some of ’em been aight, but some of ’em just all the way dumb.”

“Bruh, I got this. No way this one goes wrong. An’ I told Lamar I was bringin’ you along.”

“You crazy, fool. I ain’t gettin’ involved in this.”

Jamal’s face twisted in rage. “Man, I’m lookin’ out for you. Hookin’ you up. I’m not sayin’ you gotta bring their stuff to your place. That’s the dumbest idea. Your mom and dad be all over you. So I’m storin’ all the product. That means I’m takin’ all the risk, stickin’ my neck out for you.”

He really is trying to do this smart, and he’s doing me a huge favor. Chris struggled at the thought of rejecting Jamal’s unexpected kindness. He’s doin’ this as a friend.

“You in or out, man? Or are you in, but you’re gonna choke again?”

If I say no, he’s not gonna listen to anything else I tell him. A small hope bloomed in his mind. Maybe I can still talk him out of this—but that’s only gonna work if I go with him.

“I’m not committing to anything, dawg,” Chris said. “But I’ll come along.”

“Yeah, boy!” Jamal bumped Chris’s fist. “That’s all I’m sayin’, give me a chance.”

“Sure, J. But you need to give me a chance too, listen to some reason. I don’t know what, but somethin’ botherin’ me about this—more than just the drugs and the gang.”

The bell rang, and teachers patrolling the halls started yelling at stragglers to get to class. “Gotta go man,” Chris said. “Can’t afford more detention.”

“Yeah, bruh.” Jamal laughed. “You got an appointment with me this afternoon you don’t want to miss.”

Chris turned and entered his classroom, his fledgling hope choked by dread. Maybe detention—and facing Mom afterward—would’ve been a better choice.

 

 

Ms. Stafford, a petite blonde in a business suit, moved about the briefing room, engaging the gathered officers. “If I asked what percentage of Stapleton’s population strongly agrees with the statement ‘I trust my local police force,’ what would you say? You there.” She leaned close to read his nametag. “Bridges.”

Bridges cocked his head and smirked. “I don’t know, twenty? Twenty-five?”

She smiled. “Lower. Who’s next?” The captain raised his hand, and she waved him off. “I can’t let you answer, sir. You’ve read the results of our polling. How about you, Whalen?”

He shrugged. “Sixteen?”

“Close. It’s six. If I lined up sixteen random civilians, odds are only one of them might strongly agree that you all have earned their trust.”

Outbursts of swearing or dismissal erupted throughout the room. Ms. Stafford raised her hands to calm everyone down. “To be fair, a majority of people answered ‘Agree’ on that one. Combine the two positive groups, and you’ve got a trust factor of sixty-four percent.”

Then she pointed to a map on her screen. “What do you think the trust factor is in the Twenties?”

“Who cares,” someone called from the back.

“You should,” Ms. Stafford said. “That’s your area with the highest crime, the highest incidence of drug use, and high rates of both unemployment and recidivism. You’re fighting the same battles there, week after week, and what do you have to show for it? They say doing the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. So are you guys nuts?”

A light grumbling murmur spread through the crowd.

Ms. Stafford raised her voice. “We tried to get good survey results in the Twenties. Most folk slammed the door in our polling staff’s faces and told them to eff off.” She ignored the muffled laughter and continued. “So the results we have are only from the people who were willing to talk with us about their relationship to the police force. These stats I’m about to tell you? The reality is probably worse.”

She surveyed the room and repeated the question. “What’s the percentage of people in the Twenties who think their police force is fair and balanced in their approach?”

No response.

“The answer is less than thirty percent. You lose more than half of the trust others have earned just by driving past twenty-hundred east. And not one participant answered ‘Strongly Agree.’ Still don’t care?”

More outbursts sprang up throughout the gathered officers. Some blew off the speaker, some told off their peers. “Fair and balanced? We ain’t Fox News,” O’Neill shouted over the din. “We’re there to enforce the law, not to be their friends. They want better lives, they can stop doing illegal things.” Many officers nodded with him.

“I know, I know,” Ms. Stafford said. “Statistics can tell whatever story the speaker wants, right? Maybe I’m spinning all this to make things look worse than they really are. A girl’s gotta get paid, you know.

“But maybe I’m telling the truth, and I’m here to help you all see something easily overlooked about the nature of your relationship with the community.”

Captain McCullough cleared his throat and the murmuring ceased.

Ms. Stafford moved on to a new slide. “We know that an increasing unemployment rate and a surge of crime can sometimes be related. It’s no news that the rail yards shutting down years ago put this city—or at least the downtown part of this city—into a tailspin.”

She pointed at Mason. “You. Give me a guess. What’s the unemployment rate in this precinct?”

Chris fumbled for a number. “Uh… maybe twelve percent?”

“Try thirty to forty on average since the rail yards closed their doors. The numbers on paper look better because after a while, people get written off and no longer factor into the unemployment calculation. The rest of you, do you think it’s relevant that a third to almost one half of the community has no reliable, steady income? People need to eat; they still need clothing for themselves and their kids. That means making money somewhere, wherever they can in some cases. And despite what your teachers taught you, crime does pay.”

She clicked to the next slide. “Do you see how some of this is coming together? What many people are going to see is that it’s your job to stop them from getting money to survive. It’s your job to shut down whatever method they’ve got to put dinner in front of a hungry child. You can understand, perhaps, why you’re not welcomed with open arms on patrol.

“Let’s try one more question. What percentage of your populace in the Twenties have a nuclear family member who has been arrested and sent to jail for any length of time?”

“Not enough,” someone shouted, and laughter exploded in clusters around the room. Not everyone’s laughing, Chris noted. Most of the minority officers sat in silence watching the presentation. Sergeant Bristow, the shift scheduler, watched the reaction of her peers. Though her face remained calm, her eyes trapped a piercing anger behind her glasses. She glanced his way and their eyes met for an instant. She seemed pleased to note he wasn’t amused.

“Stop the wisecracks,” Captain McCullough ordered. “I called Ms. Stafford here because what we’re doing every day isn’t working. We’re fighting the same battles, and we’re not making headway. We break up a drug operation the Kings set up, and then the Disciples start a new one the next week. We seize a stash of guns on the north side, and they shoot each other up on the south side. We gotta do something different.”

Ms. Stafford nodded. “The body camera initiative last year was a step toward the progress your captain is talking about. Research on traffic stops with visible body cameras shows an increase in civility and a decrease in escalation toward violence—both by officers and by those stopped. It forces everyone to play nice.

“Today, we’re talking about why we need to play nice. Back to my question, who’d be willing to believe that one third of the population of the Twenties has had a nuclear relative spend time in jail?”

Several hands raised. Chris shrugged. Sure. Sounds possible. He raised his hand.

“What about one half?”

Most hands fell. Chris followed suit.

Ms. Stafford leaned forward. “It’s sixty eight percent. Two out of every three people have a family member you’ve put in jail for some length of time—or they’ve been there themselves. Do you get why you might be looked at as the enemy? Do you see why these people don’t believe you’re on their side?”

Mason raised his hand, and she paused for the question. “So, how do we change that?”

Ms. Stafford smiled. “Glad you asked. I’m in discussions with your Chief of Police about how best to proceed. My organization started working in New York City ten years ago and saw tremendous results—you can find those online, no need to toot our horn here. We built relationships with families, we started mentoring programs with individual kids. We challenged them to stay in school, or to go back and finish their education—Never too late to educate, that was our slogan. But those steps all involved long-term investment into the community. What I’m doing here right now, that’s how we change things in the short-term.

“In other words, officer, it starts with changing how you see others.

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 5

This is the fifth preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

The mirrored glass windows of Stapleton Baptist Community Church gleamed in the morning sun. An usher with white gloves directed Chris Mason’s four-door hybrid to a spot near the front door in a section marked “First Time Visitors.” Laura unbuckled Hailey, who jumped from the edge of the car door with a cheer, unconcerned for Sunday best propriety.

Laura took Chris’s extended arm, holding Hailey’s hand in hers. “Where’d you hear about this place, hon?”

Chris shrugged. “Biggest ad in the phone book—for a Southern Baptist church at least. They have a TV show and post sermons online. Pastor sounded pretty cool. Not sure how I feel about the music.”

A smiling elderly greeter in a long floral dress held the door and shook their hands. She gave them a visitor gift package and showed Hailey a huge grin. “Hello there, pretty!”

The aroma of fresh brewed coffee filled the foyer. Two young women served up lattes and mochas behind a counter set up on a patch of tiled floor. Churchgoers carrying iPads occupied the tables and stools provided, laughing and chatting before the service if their eyes weren’t glued to the screen of a smartphone.

Another usher inside led the Masons through the sanctuary’s double wood doors to a comfortable spot in the middle of the rows of padded chairs. Chris took in the church’s massive size, with a balcony level and seating all along the sloping sides of the bright room. A slideshow presentation scrolled on three large screens near the front, informing congregants of upcoming events and opportunities to serve. A countdown ticked two minutes and seven seconds until the start of the service.

Chris received several kind but distant smiles and a couple quick handshakes. A pastor’s wife hugged Laurie and responded in kind to Hailey’s silly face. Apparently this church had several associate pastors, each in charge of some facet of ministry.

The lights faded throughout the sanctuary. Colored flood lights and banks of high-power LEDs flared up front. The drummer started thumping out a driving bass beat, and an electric guitar wailed out a high note. The worship pastor marched out to center stage, clapping his hands, calling out into the mic, “Welcome to Stapleton Baptist! You all ready to praise our King?”

The band launched into a full-instrumental chorus as the congregation found the beat and clapped in time. “What can wash away my sin,” the pastor recited, cuing the first verse. “Nothing—nothing—but the blood of Jesus! Let’s sing it out!”

Words superimposed on smooth background effects flashed across the screens. Chris frowned at the modernized rock version of a sacred hymn. I’d trade all this for Grandma Keating on the organ any day. But at least I know the words.

Then they jumped into an added chorus, and Chris stood silent, hands clasped on the pew in front of him.

Jesus, righteous Lamb of God

I’m purchased through the shedding of Your blood

Now I will make my boast in Christ alone

The sinless Son of God

Oh, how I thank You for the blood.

Chris suppressed a smile. How hard is it to use the same rhyming pair over and over? Stop trying to be new, stick to being true.

At least Laura seemed to be having a good time. She met his gaze and gave him a curious look. He winked and she smiled, returning to the song she picked up easily.

Great. She likes it, so we’re probably stuck.

The band switched to a slower song about the intimate sweetness of God’s love, broken up with a one-line chorus they sang two dozen times or more. Chris checked his watch, frowned at how little time had passed, and stared dutifully into the screen, forcing a smile.

 

 

Decked out in an earthy brown suit and a lime green tie, George walked with LaTasha on his arm as the Washington family entered New Hope Tabernacle’s cozy foyer. A thin middle-aged man in long black robes with a maroon mantle laid over white stood at the door to the sanctuary. His horn-rim glasses hung down over a gold cross stitched into the mantle.

“Brother Washington,” he called, his face bright and inviting.

“Bishop Simms,” George replied with an extended hand.

“Welcome to the house of God! Good morning, Sister. Thank you once again for the service you and your children provide. The church was positively gleaming this morning when I unlocked the doors.”

“You’re welcome, Bishop,” LaTasha said, beaming. “Gotta teach these two the value of hard work. We’re glad to help out any time.”

Henry Simms laughed. “How about same time this Saturday?”

LaTasha chuckled. “We’ll be here.”

George suppressed a snort. Like it ain’t already been figured out for months in advance. Every able-bodied member had a month or two on the list in the church office. LaTasha volunteered the kids for two months to keep Elder Henry from throwing out his back scrubbing toilets and sweeping the floor.

Bishop Simms straightened up before Chris. “Good morning, young man. Isn’t it good to be in the house of the Lord?” His deep voice spoke with precision and gravity.

That’s what LaTasha liked best when Bishop took over. No “Lawd” or “Jeezus” or traditional “chu’ch” preaching here. Not for the first time, George longed for the passionate Gospel services he’d grown up in. Messy sometimes, but folk were real.

They found their usual pew, three rows from the front on the left side. LaTasha’s mother already occupied her spot at the outside aisle. With salt-and-pepper hair pulled into a tight bun underneath a sunhat to match her Sunday dress, and a stern glare as hard as oak when needed, Nana’s thin frame showed no signs of frailty. She hadn’t grown weaker over the years, just tougher. “Good mornin’, Nana,” George said.

LaTasha hugged Nana, then the kids followed. Nana snuck René a pink buttermint from a metal case in her purse, and René beamed.

Henry Simms’ wife, First Lady Evonne approached with a notepad. Her long hair had been relaxed then curled into a pristine style that shimmered in the light. She wore a dress splashed with luscious rose reds and maroons to complement her husband’s colors. “LaTasha, my, you’re the picture of beauty. I’m taking down names for our Thanksgiving potluck, and I wondered if you can provide a side dish.”

George tuned out the women’s voices and headed over to lay a hug on JJ—who sat alone—and Thomas, whose wife wrangled their three unruly boys into their pew.

The guys engaged in small talk as the rest of the congregation filed in. Services started at ten, or so the sign said out front. Truth is, fellowship starts at ten, and the service starts whenever. And that’s fine by me.

Then George saw Clarence and Dre slip into the back pew. Dre looked respectable in dark slacks with a bright button-down and matching tie. Probably from his Mama. After the divorce, after Clarence landed in the pen for the second time, Nadine found comfort with a wealthy doctor she met in her job at the hospital.

Clarence wore his best too, such as it was. A loose denim jacket covered a clean monochrome T-shirt hanging loose over the waistline of his slacks. He caught a few disapproving glances from other members. In the small congregation, where everyone knew everyone else, there was nowhere to hide.

I better go give him a greeting, let him know he’s welcome. But the anger from the night before surged back up into George’s chest. His feet stood still.

The choir filed in from the back room, their Sunday best covered in simple black robes. Dottie the choir director took her place near the front and nodded to the Bishop, seated next to the First Lady in the two large chairs behind the pulpit, under the great wooden cross.

Bishop Simms rose and approached the pulpit. “Welcome to New Hope Tabernacle, my brothers and sisters in our Lord Jesus Christ. The Tabernacle—the tent of meeting.”

Damon, the organist, struck some riffs between each phrase as Bishop Simms gave the call to worship. “And we are gathered here on today for that purpose. To meet with the Creator who made us and gave us air to breathe this morning. He didn’t have to do that. He could’ve withheld His breath from us. But He gave us the gift of this day, to give Him praise.”

The choir hummed out their harmony and the organ music shifted to a staccato Gospel number. Aimee brought in a light drum beat with a tap-tap-tap on the crash, laying out a clear beat. Some of the worshipers softly clapped and stepped side to side with the music.

Simms continued in prayer. “Almighty Lord Jesus, all of us as families are gathered into Your one great Family, to meet You here, and to praise You in the light of Your glory.”

Dottie repeated that last phrase, and the choir voices boomed out.

In the light of Your glory, in the light of Your face.

In the light of Your holiness, I am changed.

“In the light of Your goodness,” Dottie prompted. In the light of Your goodness.

“In the light of Your holy face,” she shouted. In the light of Your face.

“You know every trouble that holds me.” Every trouble that holds me fades away.

George clapped and made his way back to his pew, sliding in between Chris and LaTasha, then slipping an arm around his wife and swaying with her to the rhythm of the song.

Dottie continued calling out the next lines and the choir and congregation followed the familiar tunes with ease.

Can’t stop praisin’ His name, I—can’t stop praisin’ His name, I—

“In the light of Your glory!” In the light of Your glory…

René tugged at LaTasha, and she leaned away from George to listen to her daughter. George edged his ear closer so he could make out the words.

“Mama, why Miss Dottie always sing everything twice?”

“Don’t talk like a thug,” LaTasha corrected. “Why does Miss Dottie—”

René sighed. “Why does Miss Dottie always sing everything twice? And why do we have to sing the same lines so often?”

“Probably so they can take root in your thick skull, heathen child.” LaTasha squeezed René’s shoulder. “Or maybe more for your brother’s.”

René giggled and belted out the tune with off-key enthusiasm.

George glanced at Chris and noted for the first time that he could almost look Chris in the eye without turning his head down. The young man stood, hands folded on the pew in front of him, mumble-singing the song. How you have grown, son.

Chris noticed and flashed George a smile that warmed the older man’s heart. George placed his right arm across Chris’s narrow back and rested a hand on his son’s shoulder. His other arm held LaTasha close, and he saw René’s hand in her mother’s. This is not bad, not bad at all. You doin’ good, George.

Nagging doubts picked at his sense of peace, remnants of his conversation with Clarence at Poker Night. But he banished them and joined in the song. “In the light of Your grace, every trouble that holds me fades away.”

 

 

“Saints, tell me, if I offer you a plate of food or a glass of water, and I poured poison into it, how much poison would you be okay with? Because that’s what we’re doing when we flirt with sin. Think about that a minute.

“Listen to the words of the Teacher as we work our way through the book of Ecclesiastes.” Bishop Simms held up a black leather King James Bible with gold-edged pages as he read. “Chapter 8, verse 11 and 12 tells us, ‘Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. Though a sinner do evil an hundred times, and his days be prolonged, yet surely I know that it shall be well with them that fear God.’

“Poison is deadly serious. You ingest a large dose of it in your food or water, you breathe it in, and you’ll feel the effects real fast. They’ll come carry your body out in a box. No one’s looking to drink a bottle of poison, right?

“And yet, if it’s in small doses, your body adapts. It grows strong, builds up a tolerance. Your body decides this isn’t so bad, I can survive this, I’m all right. Tell me, how do smokers get lung cancer? Is it from one cigarette? Or from years of poison building up? How does an addict develop that craving for drugs? How does the alcoholic come to love the bottle?

“In the same way—think about this, saints—there’s no quickness with spiritual sickness.  Sometimes we do what we know is wrong. But it seems for a time that everything is going all right. So we tell ourselves we can keep doing it.”

Clarence’s comments about Chris pricked at George while the bishop preached. It might seem everything’s goin’ right. But if Chris is hangin’ with someone connected to the Kings, could he get hisself sucked in to the trouble they involved in?

“I’m preaching it straight,” Bishop Simms declared. “If you want to win, you’ve got to keep sin from getting in!”

Several members gave an “Amen” in response.

Bishop Simms lifted a finger in warning. “But if you choose to excuse, you’ll lose.”

Nana and others said a cautionary “Well!”

George found himself nodding. I can’t ignore this. I gotta confront Chris about it. He looked at his son, and found Chris sitting forward, chin resting on his fist. Maybe this is just what he needed to hear. George patted Chris’s shoulder and the young man smiled.

Even so, he’s gonna hear it again from me.

 

 

“There was a squad of soldiers in Afghanistan,” the senior pastor began, his keen eyes engaging all sides of the room in turn. The cameras feeding images to the two side screens zoomed in on his face and followed him as he paced the stage. “Their convoy carried vital supplies needed at a Forward Operating Base—or FOB—surrounded by the enemy on all sides. Their mission? To punch through the enemy resistance and get those resources into the hands of their comrades in arms, whose own provisions ran low.”

Pastor Nate kept his hair short, brushed forward, with a neatly trimmed mustache and goatee, flecks of silver sprinkled throughout the auburn. Though he wore a suit coat, his unbuttoned polo gave off a casual air.

“Already, the team has taken small arms fire and even an attack with a rocket-propelled grenade. The soldiers are nervous. They haven’t even reached the enemy’s position yet, and somehow they have to advance through it. The convoy hunkers down, sets up a defensive position, and tries to regroup before the final, dangerous push.”

His hands rested on the plexiglass pulpit holding a smart tablet. “Consider that moment,” he said. “They can’t retreat. Their allies need these supplies. But they’re outnumbered and under fire. They can’t stay put for much longer. They’re a stationary target, a sitting duck.

“Do you ever feel that way? When you face your place of work or school, does it feel like you’re walking into a war zone?”

Chris pursed his lips. You don’t even know, pastor.

The incident with Kazsinski drawing his weapon filled Chris’s mind with doubts. He was wrong that time. But is he wrong all the time? Is this something I need to report?

Yet how would it look for a rookie to report his partner on the first day on duty? Who would believe me if I said anything? Who’s going to take my word for it? And how is Kaz going to respond?

Another fear rose in his heart. Is that what working in the projects does to a person? Is that what’s going to happen to me?

Nate went on. “Perhaps the overwhelming odds are the bills, the expenses, the mounting debt that you can’t ever seem to conquer. Or maybe your ‘enemy’ comes in the form of a blessing—the constant needs of small children, always demanding your attention to keep them out of trouble or clean up the mess when they find it despite all your efforts.

“Maybe your emotional convoy has been ambushed, hit with an RPG—the death of a loved one, a pink slip from your job, or bad news from the doctor. Life can be an insurgent sometimes, striking where we feel secure, creating fears where once we were at ease.”

A couple voices called out an “Amen” in agreement.

“But let’s go back to our convoy in Afghanistan,” Nate said, resuming his pace. “One of the soldiers is ready to give up. He looks to the squad leader, asks ‘What are we gonna do, Sarge? This looks hopeless.’

“Hopeless. I think all of us can relate to what that word means. If I asked you all to raise your hand if you’ve ever felt hopeless at some point or another, I’m pretty sure every hand in the room would go up.

“But we’ve learned to project a perfect image, an ‘everything is awesome’ story we tell the world. We act like the pretty life we show on social media tells the whole truth about what’s really going on.”

Chris leaned forward in the seat. That’s what I’m doing with Kaz, isn’t it? If I don’t report reckless drawing of a weapon on a civilian, I’m acting like everything’s okay when it’s not.

“And the sergeant tells his soldiers, ‘This is not hopeless. Be courageous. We are going forward, pushing through to our friends.’ Because what the junior troops don’t know is that the sergeant has the radio. He hears calls and chatter over the net, and he knows that his convoy is not alone out there.

“In minutes, as their vehicles race toward danger, they hear the roar of air support flying overhead. Enemy positions take direct hits. Insurgents scatter and flee. The line breaks. The convoy reaches their destination.”

“That command, ‘Be courageous,’ or some form of it, shows up twenty-six times in Scripture. Mark Twain is credited with saying ‘Courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of it.’ Courage is defined as…”

Chris tuned out and thought about Monday morning. I have to file the report so that the body cam footage gets reviewed. If I do nothing, and Kaz does something like that again, the responsibility would be mine too. It might suck, but I’ve got to do the right thing.

Nate continued his sermon, exhorting the believers to do what they deemed right in the face of resistance or fear. But Chris needed no further persuasion. He sat back and smiled, confident and ready for the next day.

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 4

This is the fourth preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

 

Billie Holiday crooned out Easy Living between piano riffs over the tinny speaker system in the Washington’s family room, and George leaned back in his chair. His eyes hid in the shadows of his traditional Poker Night plastic visor—clear emerald green, with the four suite symbols stenciled on. The gray tuft of hair popped up off his deep brown skin. He took a long satisfying drag from the convenience store cigar before laying out his hand. “I call. Full house, jacks over sevens. Whatchu all got?”

Thomas gave him a stoic face for a moment, then flopped his cards on the table. “At least I got more pride than to wear that god-awful hat.” He cackled and pointed, his gold tooth gleaming in the light.

James joined in, and George cocked his head with a glare. “Oh, this how it’s gonna be?”

Muscle-bound James shook his head and revealed his hand. “Two pair. Dayum, G-Dub, I thought I had somethin’ good this time.”

“You thought, JJ.” George shook his head. “You know better than to start doin’ that.”

“Come on, deal the next hand and we’ll see.” James tossed a couple pretzels into the pot. Thomas and George followed suit, and George offered the deck for James to cut.

“Lord give me strength, Herbert!” LaTasha strode through the room to open windows, waving her hands like an archaeologist sweeping away cobwebs. “You tryin’ to give us all cancer already?”

George smiled and dealt out cards. “Just enjoyin’ the finer things, baby! The sweet fruits of my labors all week long.”

LaTasha drew near and slipped her arms around George. “Fair enough. My man done good.” She moved to peck him on the cheek, but George managed to get his lips in the way.

Chris and René entered the room. Chris moved to the door to put on his sneakers, but René froze. “Eewww. Gross, Dad.”

Muffled by the kiss, George muttered, “No way, Lil’ Ray.” LaTasha pulled back, and George smiled. “I am a happy, happy man.”

LaTasha flashed a playful glare at the guys. “And he’s my man. I’m only loanin’ him to you incorrigible louts for a few hours. Do stay out of trouble.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Thomas and James answered in unison.

“Wouldn’t dream of it, Taz,” a new voice said from the hallway, standing with another young man and Chris, who held the door open.

“What up, Cee?” George called without looking up from the cards.

“Oh dear Jesus, Clarence,” LaTasha said. “I know you too damn well to buy that. My God, is this tall man my little nephew Dre?”

The young man smiled and nodded. “Good to see you again, Auntie ‘Tasha.”

Clarence gave him a soft backhand to the arm. “Don’t you go gettin’ on her side, boy. She’ll have you spyin’ on us with promises of home cookin’.”

Dre mumbled, “I’m okay with that.”

Clarence dragged him to the table. “All right, boys, Dre just hit eighteen an’ got himself thinkin’ he’s grown. Been runnin’ dice on the street with guys from the Disciples, lost him some serious cash.”

The men shook their heads and made appropriately disapproving noises. George glanced at LaTasha out the corner of his eye, and saw folded arms beneath a raised eyebrow.

Clarence seemed to notice as well. He laid it on thick. “So I told his mama I’d teach him a lesson about gamblin’—but with pretzels an’ peanuts, not Lincolns and Jacksons. You boys know how to hustle better than any of them brothers on the street. Do your worst.”

LaTasha softened as Thomas passed a bowl of snacks to each of the newcomers. “You boys be good,” she said. “I’m gonna put these heathens to work gettin’ the church ready for tomorrow morning. Chris, René, you ready?”

They nodded, and moved to leave. A pile of pretzels grew and cards flew across the table, all eyes on the game while LaTasha pushed her charges out the door.

The men paused and waited a minute, nibbling on snacks.

Clarence reached into his backpack, and George waved him off with a hiss. He whispered, “Every once in awhile she sneaks back to check on us.”

Another minute passed, and grins slowly formed around the table on every face but Dre’s. He looked from one man to the next with confusion, then broke the silence. “What you guys doin?”

George laughed and pulled out a stack of one dollar bills. Thomas and James did likewise, and Clarence set a bottle in a brown bag on the table.

“We’re playin’ cards!”

 

 

James gathered up the pile of singles with a raspy laugh, ignoring the good-natured glares of his opponents.

Thomas shuffled the cards for the next hand and looked at Dre across the table. “So what’s this ’bout you hangin’ with the Disciples, kid?”

Dre pouted his lips. “Nuthin’.”

George raised an eyebrow under his visor. “If my mama gives me a whuppin’ and turns me over to my dad for a talk about somethin’ I done, then you can bet it’s somethin’ serious.”

Dre scoffed. “Just deal the cards, man.”

James glanced at Clarence, who said nothing and let the exchange run its course. “Watch your mouth, boy,” James said. “Don’t disrespect your elders.”

Dre shot him a sour look, then caught sight of James flexing his muscles, cracking his knuckles. His beefy arms shifted and bulged with each motion. “Yes sir,” the boy finally said.

George flashed Dre a sidelong glance. “Whatchu doin’ hangin’ with thugs anyhow? Nothin’ but hurt for you in that.”

Dre shrugged. “Got no job. If I can do some work for the Disciples, I got a chance of makin’ some cash at least.”

“Or ending up in prison.”

“So what? It worked for Clarence.” Dre crossed his arms and leaned back, fuming.

Lips pursed and expression thoughtful, George gauged Clarence’s reaction. There’s your pitch, Cee. Take a swing.

“Dre, I know I let you down,” Clarence said, resting a hand on his son’s shoulder. “I been gone too often when you were little. Your mama and I, we couldn’t make it work. I did so much wrong. Don’t mean you should too.”

Dre shook off Clarence’s hand.

“Son, your daddy’s tryin’ to keep you from the same mistakes that landed him in the pen.” George pointed a knobby finger at the boy. “Here on the outside, you got opportunities, you got some hope. How much chance you think you got sittin’ in a cell like your daddy did?”

Dre threw up his hands and yelled at Clarence. “Man, why you even bring me here? I don’t need this.”

“Maybe you don’t,” Clarence said, quiet and humble. “You hate me so much, hate what I did, what I put you an’ your mama through? Fine. Then don’t become me.

Thomas passed out another hand of cards to the distracted men.

“Think about what I’m sayin’, that’s all.”

Dre sat silent for a minute, then nodded. He turned to George. “You have this talk with Chris yet?”

George looked at Dre and laughed. “Why you even think I need to?”

“I’m just sayin’, sir.”

“You better be sayin’ more than just that. What makes you think this conversation has to happen? You seen Chris? My boy ain’t no gangbanger thug.”

“One of his friends gettin’ in good with the Kings. Jamal got a set, started makin’ money.”

The cards lay undisturbed in front of George. Chris was with Jamal the other day when I picked him up. They walk home from school some days. And Pulaski High is in the middle of Kings territory. How much time’s he spending with this kid?

Clarence grimaced when George looked his way. “Hey, man, money’s the key, right there. Chris gonna see Jamal with some bills, he’ll want to get some of his own. You an’ Taz got a nest egg, right? You might see about gettin’ Chris to do some work, payin’ him like an employee. Or find him a job. Only way he’s gonna learn the value of makin’ legit cash.”

Money’s so tight, though, George thought. Bills always piling up. And we’re finally makin’ progress on a down payment for a real home. Now I gotta give Chris some of that? I can’t.

Clarence gathered up the small bills. “You need to step in, G. Get him away from the gang scene. Most of the guys in prison started when they was his age. I did.”

George stared at his cards. Not much help here. It was his turn to raise the bets or call.

But his brother-in-law’s suggestion occupied his mind. In fact, it stirred up a deep, unexpected anger. He wanted to raise his voice and call his brother-in-law out. Who you think you are, Clarence? Chris isn’t like you. He’s smart, he’s doin’ well in school. LaTasha been on that boy since diapers about education and livin’ right. And so have I.

“Gonna double the bet,” George said, sliding two bills into the pot. He flashed the most confident grin he could muster. “Who’s sure of what they got? I am.”

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 3

This is the third preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

 

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.”

Not to the Swift – Preview Chapter 2

This is the second preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

“Emmanuel’s on Faulkner, that’s great, thanks. Faulkner Drive or Faulkner Court?”

Herbert George Washington—George to everyone but his wife and mother—pounded the steering wheel of his rusty Eighty-Eight Cadillac and wove through curving suburban streets. A sign caught his eye and he slowed. “When did this road turn into Faulkner Lane? What the hell!”

To George’s building frustration, Emmanuel Hospital lay in plain sight beyond the curving roads and man-made hills of Sandalwood Heights, a wealthy and ever-expanding suburb on the south side of Stapleton. Yellow and red flowers mocked him, spelling out “Emmanuel” in an emerald background on one of the slopes ahead.

What happened to square-grid streets and simple city planning? All the curves, the gardening… Gotta pretty everything up for the rich folk, make sure they know they live somewhere better.

He pushed his round-rim glasses back up his nose, and they promptly slid back down. Even with the windows down and air rushing past, his face beaded with sweat.

The Indian Summer stole the cool breezes of autumn and replaced them with eighty-five degrees of heat and stifling humidity. The Cadillac’s air conditioning always made grinding noises after two minutes of use, so it was no help.

Another thing to get fixed someday, George thought. Maybe if this Emmanuel job goes well, I can get a recommendation for work at Westside.

Faulkner Lane wound around another bend and revealed the gate of the hospital staff parking area. Shoulda just followed the signs to the damn E.R. and found my way in from there.

George stopped at the gate and held his temporary Emmanuel Staff badge up to the scanner. The yellow arm lifted, permitting him entry.

He found a spot, grabbed his personal satchel of tools, and exited the car. Two young men in clean white coats stood near their sports cars, giving either George or his old beater furtive glances. One shook his head and muttered something George couldn’t make out.

George paused and leveled a direct glare their way. Yeah, boys, this is what happens when no one on your staff knows how to fix your dinosaur patient alarm system. You gotta call in the poor folk from downtown. But you bet I’ll take your money.

The small tuft of hair atop his head caught a light breeze, but he felt withered in the sunlight. His thick blue maintenance coveralls trapped in the afternoon heat. He clipped the badge to his chest pocket and hustled toward the staff entrance.

 

 

“Seven East? All right. I’ll send him up.” The fat white security guard put down the phone. “You’re the contractor for the Rawlins system?”

“Yessir. Like I said.” George tapped his foot and pursed his lips.

“Staff elevator’s down the hall.”

“I know where the damn elevator is, son.” He held up his badge. “How do you think I got this in the first place?”

He shared the elevator ride with two doctors, both male, one black. George leaned against the back corner and watched the lights mark each floor’s passing. He ignored the look of disdain the doctors gave him, as though he might stain the pristine walls by his mere presence.

The doctors got off on the fifth floor, and the doors lingered open long enough for George to catch their conversation. “Couldn’t they find someone more… local?”

A few expletives came to mind, but George kept his thoughts to himself. Always better that way. Let ’em think you’re a nobody, just some brother from the ‘hood, maybe a little smarter than the rest of “your kind.”

Acting that way, some people—even other African-Americans—would look down on him. But since he posed no threat, they would tolerate him too. Go along with the black jokes and the cracks about fried chicken, everybody laughs, and I keep gettin’ paid. Laugh along when they talk about gangs and drugs and what goes down in the Twenties, and no one minds me bein’ there—even though I have to drive home to that hellhole at night.

A biomedical technician with no college education, George had little hope of landing a permanent job in the troubled economy. Advancing technology and the rising intricacy of computerized components made most top-quality medical equipment incomprehensible to George. But his broad experience and photographic memory of electronic schematics helped him solve crises and malfunctions many on-staff BioMed techs declared hopeless. Over the years, he made a name for himself and earned frequent calls from the area hospitals whenever their guys couldn’t hack a job.

George became Emmanuel Hospital’s go-to guy for all the aging equipment they didn’t want to replace. None of the higher-ups wanted to spend the money to update decades-old systems installed when the hospital was built. It cost far less to bring George in than to tear out circuits in the walls and ceilings of every floor.

Stinginess kept him working in the suburbs, and lack of funds kept him working downtown. Three days a week, he walked a mile and a half from home to Our Mother of Mercy Hospital in the Twenties. They had no money to spend on glamorous new equipment, so George earned his check by keeping their current inventory functional—all the models he grew up fixing and tearing apart, the so-called junk that places like Emmanuel would unload on the cheap whenever they bought the newest thing.

It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t permanent, and it was painful driving all over Stapleton and its suburbs. But between George’s freelance work and the meager checks LaTasha brought home from admin work in the school district, the Washingtons were getting by.

Food on the table every night, clothes on my kids’ backs, and a roof that don’t leak on their heads when it rains. With these things, we shall be content.

He thought of the rusty Cadillac threatening to fall apart in the parking lot. Okay, with most of these things, at least.

The elevator opened to a flurry of nurses going room to room checking on patients. A white redhead doctor saw George and waved. “G-Dub! Come on, man, we need your help.”

George chuckled at the familiar address. The kids he ran with grew up into the friends who came over for poker night, and that was their name for him. Not some white guy from the Heights. But John McGarrin was a nice enough man, George figured, at least so long as the status quo held out.

The wealthy whites and affluent blacks of Sandalwood Heights were happy to welcome someone like George into their midst, so long as two things were clear:

First, the visit was for a specific temporary purpose. Can’t have too many blacks driving through the town, swarming the stores, or God forbid, moving into the neighborhood. One guy coming down from the Twenties to fix some old junk—that was fine.

Second, he had to know he would never truly fit in. As long as he went along with the mocking and ignored the whispers behind the back, as long as he understood he’d never really be “one of them” then they’d act like he was.

He brushed off the thought, flashed a grin, and entered the fray. “What up, Irish?”

“The whole thing blew up,” John said. “Lights and colors, bells and whistles, every single one went off. You should’ve seen the panic. An entire floor of patients in recovery from surgery all Code Blue at the same time. I think several doctors had to go change their pants once we figured out it was a malfunction.”

George gave the expected laugh. He looked at the system panels beside each door as they headed for the main nurse’s station. Every possible warning light burned bright.

John continued. “We cut the sound of the alarms. You can imagine that was a pain. Turns out when they put this system in, they didn’t want medical staff to ignore the warnings when patients started dying. So we might have made some extra work on severed circuits.”

“Great. You know I get extra pay for call-ins after four.”

“Whatever man, if you can fix this, you deserve it. We’ve brought in nurses from other floors to make rounds every five minutes, keeping watch on patients’ vitals and ensuring their condition isn’t worsening. Almost had a woman slip through the cracks and Code Blue before we got that started. Jeez, could you imagine the lawsuit?”

George moved behind the counter and set down his tools. “It’s probably just a blown transistor,” he said, removing a wall panel near the ground to access the alarm system. “There’s a motherboard that governs power routing to all the other circuits in here. I’ve seen this happen once before. That transistor blows, power goes through all the circuits, and every light in the place goes up like a Christmas tree.”

Nurses rushed by, disheveled and exhausted. John watched them pass then turned back to George. “Sure, electronics and crap. Whatever. You can fix it?”

George nodded. “I can fix it.”

John pointed at him and backed away. “You’re the man, G-Dub!”

“Yes I am. That’s why you keep callin’.”

 

 

“Whatcha readin’, boo?”

LaTasha Washington leaned on the doorframe watching eleven-year-old René, who lay on her stomach on the bed, her dirty-sock feet in the air, swaying back and forth.

“To Kill a Mockingbird. Gotta write a book report in a couple weeks for Miss Pearson. I don’t know if I like the name ‘Boo’ anymore, Mama.”

LaTasha laughed and sat down on the bed by her daughter’s softly kicking feet. She patted René’s back and cocked her head, contemplating the thoughts the classic might inspire within her innocent daughter’s mind.

“How do you like Miss Pearson?”

“I dunno,” René said, distracted. “Sometimes I think she’s trying too hard.”

LaTasha nodded, her concerns confirmed. Troops to Teachers is great and all, but how are they going to send some rich white girl down here to teach inner city kids? What does she know that my baby needs to learn? How is she supposed to relate to these children?

“She’s pretty cool though,” René continued. “Did you know she has the same name as me? Says it’s the bestest name of all. She spells it with two ‘e’s at the end, though.” René looked up at her mom. “Miss Pearson told me at the end of the year she’ll say why she likes our name so much.”

LaTasha looked over her daughter’s homework. “That’s nice, boo.”

“One time she told us about Afghanistan.”

What? “Really?”

“Yeah, we were talkin’ about drive-bys and gang fights, and someone said how scared they got when guns popped off nearby. She told us how one time their convoy got hit by an RGP or somethin’ like that.”

Jesus, have mercy. What is this woman teachin’ my baby? LaTasha sighed. “I’ll talk to her, boo. Make sure she’s teaching age-appropriate content to her class.”

“Nah, Mama, you don’t gotta. She cool. I think some of the guys that didn’t like her before gave her props.”

She’s cool. Don’t sound like a thug. And I’m going to talk to her, it’s okay.”

“Mom, no, it’s not.” René put a finger in the book and rolled over to glare at LaTasha. Child, you better watch the tone of that look before I smack it off your face.

“You always yell at our teachers about everything, just ’cause you work at the school.”

“I do no such thing.”

“The kids call you PTA—you’re the parent in charge of teacher administration.”

Oh, that’s clever. Little brats. “Parent-Teacher Association,” LaTasha corrected.

René pleaded. “They make fun of us, Mom. Chris gets picked on at Pulaski too, he just don’t say anything to you about it. The girls in class say I’m an Oreo.”

“They can say that all they want, right up until they’re living off welfare, popping out babies. You’re going places with your life, and that means having a certain level of education.”

René rolled her eyes. She’d heard it all before. Well, I’m gonna keep saying it, child, until I see you spread your wings and fly higher than your Daddy and me.

“All right, I didn’t mean to distract you. You keep reading.” She patted René’s back once more and left to check on Chris.

She found him curled up on the bed, pencil in hand, erasing answers in an Algebra workbook. LaTasha smiled as she watched. He always sticks the tip of his tongue out on his upper lip when he’s trying to figure something out. There it is again.

“How’s it going, Little Man?”

Chris sighed without looking up. “Mom, I’m as tall as you now.”

“With a voice almost as deep as Dad’s. I know, but you’ll always be my Little Man.”

“Quadratic equations suck. When will I ever need to know this?”

“When you’re trying to get a high school diploma, with grades good enough for a scholarship to Southern Illinois, or some other college, so you can get your degree and make a living to support your family.”

“I’m gonna open a comic book shop. Don’t need quadratic equations to sell comics.”

A superhero posed on the other side of the page Chris worked on. She knew without checking that his books were full of similar drawings—aliens fighting giant robots, muscle-bound men and fake-chested supermodel women in capes and tights punching each other between math problems. It had been that way since fourth grade. Still on that dream.

“You need math to see if you’re making money or losing. You need skills to keep your employees paid and decide how much inventory to purchase.”

Chris narrowed his eyes at her and mumbled, “Yes, ma’am,” before returning to his work. “When’s Dad getting home?”

“I haven’t heard from him. He told me he got called to the south side for some big crisis, so I bet he’ll be home late. Don’t forget, you got laundry to do tonight or tomorrow morning.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He penciled in an answer and turned the page.

Now for the real question. “By the way, why’d you get detention today?”

She suppressed a smile at his wide eyes and open mouth. That’s right, I’m a superhero too, the All-Seeing, All-Knowing Mama. And don’t you forget it.

“I, uh…” Chris stammered. “I mouthed off to Mister Jackson. I apologized, but he made me clean the chalkboards and whiteboards as part of my discipline.”

“Good. Watch that mouth, Little Man.”

A distant sound like a pack of firecrackers broke the night’s silence. LaTasha flinched at the noise even though she knew the gunfire must be a few blocks away. Chris looked toward the window too, curiosity and trepidation playing across his face. Sporadic shots followed, then a siren wailed afar off.

“Ambulance on the way. At least it’s not in our building this time,” Chris offered.

“Thank the Lord for that.” LaTasha managed a smile for her son’s benefit. It struck her as sad that he knew the difference between the warbling police siren and the wail of an emergency vehicle. “You keep hitting that math homework. Get done so you can enjoy your weekend. I’m gonna go wait for Dad to get home, maybe give him a call to see how long it’ll be.”

“Sure thing, Mom.”

LaTasha walked toward the front of the family apartment, one large room with a cracking tile surface covering the quarter that served as the kitchen. They had a rickety dining room table with five chairs across from the kitchen stove. At the front of the apartment, two aged padded recliners faced the television and flanked the couch that had been their wedding gift from LaTasha’s parents. The lime green wallpaper peeled in several places.

She flipped on the television—some laugh-track sitcom she didn’t recognize—then sat in one of the recliners. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and began her vigil. “Lord, bless Herbert wherever he is. If he’s still fixing things, bless the work of his hands. If he’s headed home, be a hedge of protection about him. Bring him home safe to me, Jesus.”

The peace Bishop Simms preached about took a long time in coming that night.

Not to the Swift Preview Chapter 1

This is the first preview chapter of my novel, Not to the Swift. You can find the original post describing the novel here, and the novel is available on my Amazon author page.

 

“Okay, Chris, soon as the bell rings and Mister Jax blows the whistle, make a break for the alley.” Jamal grinned, the light in his eyes a warning that trouble was brewing.

Over a hundred teens milled about in the open yard of Pulaski High, separated into clusters by cliques based on race, gang affiliation, or social status. The two freshmen stood near the schoolyard fence.

On the other side of Lincoln Street, three men stood in the alley, puffs of smoke wafting around their faces. One of them beckoned Jamal with a wave.

Chris looked back toward the double doors of the school. Already some of the nerds gathered, working on homework, waiting to get back to class. When Jamal wasn’t around, Chris would join them and get a head start on the next day’s projects. But Jamal always had something else in mind if he wasn’t busy with his connections or getting high in some dark corner of the school.

“Yo, you with me or not?” Jamal rocked on his feet, eager to escape the afternoon’s classes. His thick arms and chest made him look big and slow, but he could sprint like a jackrabbit. Once again, Chris shoved down disappointment at his own awkward, lanky frame.

“Yeah, man,” Chris said. “I’m with you.”

“Then wake up, bruh, this is serious. These guys promised me a set to work, Eighteenth South, from Madison to Nelson. And I’m bringin’ you in with me. We play this right, we can make serious bank.”

“If we don’t get caught ditching.”

“Man, screw that,” Jamal said with a soft shove at Chris’s shoulder. “Wastin’ time in a stuffy room, solving for x or talkin’ about white dudes hundreds of years ago. That ain’t gettin’ you nowhere fast. My boy Lamar got stacks-a-cash for us—if we get out there and move his product. This is big time, bruh.”

Chris scoffed.

“Okay, okay, true enough. This is a step to the big time. Lamar see us doin’ good work, he’ll maybe hook you up with your own set next to mine. Then we makin’ double what we get at the start.” Jamal looked across the yard at the school doors and Mister Jackson, called “Jax” by the students. The teacher was well out of earshot. “How’s that for some math in real life, Jax? Hundred percent increase in profits.”

Jamal checked his cellphone. “Almost time. Hope you run faster than I remember.”

Chris nodded, swallowing fear. He tried to ignore the pounding in his chest. Mom will kill me if I get caught doing this. She will absolutely murder me if she ever finds out I had anything to do with drugs.

He looked up at the school’s third floor, searching for the admin offices. Mom might be in there… what if she comes to the window? Once again, he decided it sucked having your mother work for your school district.

“Better not punk out on me, man,” Jamal said. “We gotta make a good impression. Show ’em we can get it done.”

A long, clanging bell announced the end of lunch break, and Mister Jackson—a former Marine—loosed a whistle blast that echoed through the yard. The scattered groups of teens plodded toward the doorway while Jax yelled for them to hustle and line up.

“Go!” Jamal took off in a dash, trusting the crowd at the door to serve as distraction.

Chris froze. He tried to pick up his foot and run off after Jamal, but terror held him in check. His eyes watched the office windows. No sign of her. It’s safe. Go!

But something inside balked at the thought of Jamal’s plan. Taking this step felt like getting on the metro. Once the door closed behind you, you went wherever the train was headed, no chance to get off.

Jamal looked back as he ran across the street. His brow furrowed, then he sneered. He said something that looked like an insult, and disappeared into the alley.

Last chance, man. Chris tried to push past his fear. You want to make money? This is real, this is right now, this is your golden opportunity. Whatchu waitin’ for?

He lurched toward the fence and reached the edge of the schoolyard.

“Mister Washington!” Jax’s voice.

Chris froze, hand on the chainlink fence. He winced and turned to face the teacher.

Polo shirt stretched across a wide chest, with the same high-and-tight he’d have worn in the Corps, Jax marched toward Chris. “Where you think you’re headed, son? It’s time for class.”

Chris sighed and moved toward the school.

Jax looked at the alley and frowned. “Washington, I don’t know exactly what you had in mind, but do you realize you were about to make a huge mistake?”

Chris glared at him and kept walking.

Jax laid a firm hand on Chris’s shoulder, halting his progress. “Look, son, I’m not your enemy. But I’m not your friend either. And I’m not stupid. You’ve got hope. You’ve got a future, and you’re going to find it in here.” He pointed to the school doors. “Nothing good for you on that side of the street, you hear me?”

“Yeah.”

“Excuse me, son?”

“Yes, sir.

Jax put his fists on his hips. “Boy, I could walk upstairs, pull your mother aside, and have a nice chat about what her son’s up to. You want that?”

“No, sir.” This time the respectful tone was genuine.

“I thought not. Here’s my deal with you. I won’t talk to anyone about this, but you promise me you’re not getting into something you’ll regret. And you’re coming to see me for detention after school’s out today. Now let’s move.”

Chris’s shoulders sagged. “Yes, sir.” He followed Jax to the double doors and took his place at the end of the line.

But he glanced back at the alley, just in time to see Jamal and his friends stroll down Lincoln toward Jamal’s set. Jamal’s words echoed in his mind. Better not punk out.

He hoped his ears played a trick on him when he thought he heard Jamal’s laughter on the breeze.

 

 

Sergeant Christopher Mason straightened his crisply ironed uniform shirt and adjusted his cap as he stood outside the Precinct 112 police station. First day. Remember this moment. He smiled, took a deep breath—and immediately regretted it.

Precinct 112’s jurisdiction included the industrial district of Stapleton, Illinois. The smokestacks of the massive car part manufacturing plants pumped God only knew what into his lungs and everyone else’s.

Chris coughed and strode up the stairs to report for duty. Showing up for half a day and a Friday… not a bad plan. The drive from L.A. in a U-Haul truck with a wife and toddler following behind in the family car took two days longer than expected.

He stepped through a packed waiting area and showed his ID to the clerk, a blonde twenty-something with an easy smile once she realized he wasn’t another civilian with a complaint or report. She buzzed him in to the operations floor.

The detectives got the nice desks with computers. Other than a long table in the break room at the back of the station, patrol officers were left to fend for themselves. A female sergeant rushed past with a stuffed folder and an evidence bag.

Chris reached for her. “Sergeant, can you tell me—”

She turned aside and brought her burden to one of the detectives, paying him no heed.

Another officer ignored Chris’s second plea with an abrupt “I’m off duty.”

Welcome to Stapleton. Chris meandered through the ops floor, taking in bits of conversation and noting details. He looked over an enormous street map of the precinct that covered the north wall. Precinct 112 sat divided into eight color-coded regions. Magnets with dry-erase names showed which officers were scheduled for patrol in each zone that week.

He looked for Mason and found his name in a large rectangle at the precinct’s center, slightly east of downtown, running north to south. Kazsinski. Can’t wait to meet him… or her.

Another officer stopped beside him, a studious black woman with a tight bun and a pretty face. She adjusted names on magnets for the residential area on the east side of the precinct.

Chris glanced at her nametag. “Afternoon, Sergeant Bristow. You post the patrol schedule?” His academy instructor’s voice echoed in his mind. Always pays to know the scheduler. Never disappoint your Captain, never screw over your scheduler, and you’ll be fine.

She gave a silent nod, then spared him a second glance. “Mason… right. New guy.” She extended a hand and gave a firm shake. “Welcome to Stapleton. Your first patrol’s next week, good luck in the Twenties.”

“Uh, sure, thanks,” he answered. “Can’t wait to hit the street. But can you point me to the Captain’s office first?”

She laughed. “My bad. Captain’s office is down the hall around the next corner. Good timing, I think your new partner’s in there now.”

“Perfect.” Chris nodded his thanks and hurried to report in. His shining dress shoes clicked on the tile floor with military precision. But a sudden voice swallowed up the sound.

“Come on, I had the last one! You gave me Jarvis, and that guy was a moron. Do me a solid here, give him to someone else.”

A soft voice replied behind the tinted door and windows ahead, but Chris couldn’t make it out. He slowed as he neared the door. Stenciled letters read ‘Michael McCullough, Captain of Police, Precinct 112.’

“Look at the record. This kid’s so fresh outta academy, he’s probably still wearin’ T-shirts with the logo on the chest.”

Chris blushed and stood at parade rest outside the Captain’s door.

“Kazsinski,” the other voice growled. “You know why I give you the new guys? ‘Cause you get results. If half my force hit the beat like you, the Mayor would finally be off my—as a matter of fact, look who we got here. Come in!”

Chris turned the knob and entered. “Sergeant Mason reporting for duty, sir.”

Kazsinski snickered. He looked like a caricature of a bodybuilder, with an oversized chest stuffed into a too-tight uniform shirt, tucked into a pair of creased trousers over thin chicken legs. His blonde spiked hair looked frozen in plastic, and his abnormal jaw muscles bulged. He probably does reps clenching his teeth with all his “bros” just for that effect.

The Captain seemed the opposite of everything Kazsinski represented, with thinning grey hair, some chubbiness under his chin, and a decent beer-belly stretching his waistband.

“Have a seat, son, and relax. Meet your new partner, he’s gonna show you the ropes.”

Kazsinski huffed and spun toward the door. “I got tickets to file. See you tomorrow morning, six forty-five, ready to ride, scrublet.” He stormed out and let the door slam behind him.

 

 

Chris Washington rubbed his palms together, trying in vain to get the dry-erase marker powder and chalk out of his skin. Backpack slung over one shoulder, earbuds buzzing with distorted bass, he walked out of the school and checked the time on his cracked phone screen.

The display read quarter past four. René is gonna walk home on her own any minute now, and I’m gonna catch it from Mom. Better to take the beating now than to wait for later.

He paused the music and dialed his mother’s number. Before he hit call, strong hands grabbed his shoulders. Chris jumped and spun with a yelp.

Jamal laughed. “Yo man, I knew you’d punk out.”

Chris bristled and kept walking. “Screw you, man, I wasn’t gonna get busted for cuttin’ class to hang with the Kings. My mom would kill me.”

“How long you gonna be a Momma’s boy, dog? Carryin’ all your books home, doin’ homework on lunch break.” Jamal pointed back at the school. “Man, just ’cause your mom work at Pulaski don’t mean all this gonna do you any good.”

“Education will do me good,” Chris countered. “It’ll get me the hell out of the Twenties.”

“Yeah, whateva. Keep talkin’ white if that works for you.” Jamal put his hands in his pockets and followed Chris for a moment, then spoke with a warmer tone. “You know what does me good? My buddies Ben and Grant.” He flashed two large bills. “Not bad for an afternoon. How much cash you make today, cleanin’ the classroom boards?”

“Jax gave me detention instead of tellin’ my mom what he almost caught me doin’. You should be glad I didn’t turn you in too.”

“Nobody like a squealer, Chris. Don’t even think about it. The Kings be on you in no time. Besides—” He clapped Chris on the back. “I put in a good word for you.”

“Say what?”

“Please. They saw you choke. They ain’t gonna give you product to push. But I told ’em to give you another chance. Maybe when the heat dies down an’ Jax has other kids to worry about, you can come with me. I’ll hook you up.”

Chris ignored the queasy feeling building up. “Hang on man, I gotta call my mom to pick up René.” He dialed and held the phone up before Jamal could object.

“Hey Mom. Yeah. Yes, ma’am. I’m on my way home now.”

Jamal cracked an imaginary whip. Chris glared at him then turned away. “I got held after class to work for Jax—sorry. Mister Jackson. No, ma’am, I didn’t. I’m with Jamal, we’re headed home. No, really.” Jamal gave Chris a mischievous smirk.

“He’s not like that, Mom. Yes ma’am… Uh, can you pick up René? She always leaves if I’m later than four thirty. Thanks, Mom. Bye.”

Jamal cracked up when Chris lowered the phone. “Yes ma’am, no ma’am, whatever you say, ma’am.”

“You met my mother, bruh?” Chris slapped the back of Jamal’s head. “Talk about punkin’ out. I bet you say ‘yes ma’am’ real quick if you come by our place. Or she put you in your place.”

Jamal chuckled, but nodded. “Yeah, true dat.”

 

 

Sergeant Mason’s head swam with information from briefings. Equipment hung in his locker, an issued weapon sat on an armory shelf, and a file folder stuffed with signed documents joined the others in the records room. The afternoon whirlwind of activity drew to a close. But now he was ready for duty.

Chris noted the long shadows and amber sunset hues in the windows of the ops floor. He checked his watch and gathered his things.

His cell buzzed and a text message from Laura flashed on the screen. “I’m in the parking lot. The Bee is with me. How was first day?”

With a smile and a joyful step, Chris made for the exit to see his wife and daughter.

“Mason!” The captain’s voice rang in the hallway to his office. “Got a sec?”

Of course I do. Even if I don’t. Chris walked with a brisk clip, fired off a text to let Laura know he needed a few minutes, and entered the open office without knocking.

The captain grunted a greeting without looking up from his computer screen, fingers tapping keys. “I know you’re on your way home, Mason, but there’s something you should know. Close the door, son.”

Chris did so, then stood at parade rest. “What’s wrong, sir?”

Captain McCullough paused his work and looked up to meet Chris’s gaze. “The stuff I told you about Kaz? Forget all that. He gets to babysit rookies—sorry for the term, but that’s what it is—because he’s hopeless. None of the vets will work with him. He’s certainly not the best I got. But he’s the open patrol slot where I could put your name.”

“Okay, Captain, understood.”

“I’ve got some special training lined up for next week that might help him sort himself out. Might help get you on the right path from the start, too. But listen, a new guy like you can still learn some things from him. Kaz knows the precinct well, and can teach you what to look for. He does a decent job while he pisses everyone else off, so figure out the stuff he does right, and throw away whatever else he tells you. Got it?”

“Yes, sir.”

The captain nodded and returned to his work.

“Sir? I have a question, if you don’t mind.”

“Hmm?” He kept his eyes on the screen, and kept typing.

“I keep hearing about the Twenties. That’s where Kaz and I are scheduled to patrol starting Monday.”

“Yeah, the Twenties…” The captain chuckled and sat back, hands behind his head. “Most of our trouble starts there, with the Southern Kings and the Mercy Disciples shooting each other up. Same way no one wants to ride with Kaz, no one wants to ride in the Twenties. That’s behind enemy lines to us, Mason.”

Great. Chris swallowed hard.

“I send rookies there first,” Captain McCullough said. “Trial by fire. You learn to deal with that place, everywhere else in the precinct is cake.” He noticed Chris’s reaction and softened his tone. “Don’t worry. Kaz may be a brick some days, but he can handle a rough situation. Pretty soon, this’ll all be old hat to you. Anything else?”

“No, sir.”

“Good. Dismissed. Leave the door open, please. And Mason? Get a good night’s sleep.”

“Thanks, sir. I’ll try.” He left the office.

Chris stepped outside to his wife’s smiling face and his daughter’s delighted squeals, and his mood brightened. Their hugs gave him comfort—one around his neck, one around his right leg. But he couldn’t shake the dread that latched onto him like a heavy backpack slung over his shoulder.

Preview – Not to the Swift

A year and a half ago, I completed my first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) challenge–I wrote a novel with over 50,000 words in the month of November. I revised and published the book last year, but I never really promoted it on my blog.

I’m a huge fan of caveat emptor – Let the Buyer Beware. No one wants to drop money on something with no idea what they’re actually going to get.

So over the next two weeks, I’m going to schedule posts for preview chapters of the book. But you can always go on my author page at Amazon and find all my books available there in both paperback and Kindle editions.

What’s this book about?

When I first committed to writing a novel, I planned on doing one of my fantasy projects. But around that time, the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson and the resulting explosion of racial tensions dominated the news. What I saw online frustrated me, because I knew that there was more to the story than any one side would likely present. Such complex issues aren’t answered by sound bites and 140-character policy statements, and anyone who thinks they are doesn’t deserve my attention or consideration. (Good advice for the current election, perhaps.)

I read up on aspects of culture I had no exposure to. I sought out perspectives that were unlikely to appear on my Facebook feed or regular web browsing. And at this time, I got sucked into some great books by Malcolm Gladwell that address human nature from an analytical angle using racial tensions and the civil rights movement as primary examples.

I was amazed, moved, challenged, and inspired. And I knew that though I arguably have no right to say anything on the subject of racial tensions, I had to write this book.

The back cover synopsis is as follows:

When a white policeman shoots an unarmed black teenager, the faith and strength of two families are shaken and a Midwest inner city community struggles with all-too-familiar tensions. The city’s lead investigator strives to control escalating protests, a middle school teacher tries to calm her frightened students, and a pastor sees a rare opportunity for his community’s voice to be heard. The victim’s friend feels the prison walls of gang and drug-related violence closing in, and the officer suffers under a burden of guilt and shame. But the heaviest decision falls on average-Joe hospital technician George Washington, who finds himself–gun in hand–face to face with the man who killed his son.