Solomon

03/02/2012

0 Comments

 
(Author's note: The following story was narrated by a retired Chicago policeman who drove a taxi in Kalamazoo, Michigan, one lazy winter day at the bus station while waiting for fares. You will find the story  being told as if I were the cabby's fare, and can only hide behind artistic license in an attempt to make the environment more interesting. According to the narrator this event really happened, and I have tried to make his telling of the story as original as possible. Unfortunately, most readers have stated that they have difficulty getting around an old black man's dialect, particularly in print, so I have included a transliteration just after the original story. May one or both of these help bring you closer to the story as I heard it. jth)

 
He told me about the amnesiac cop on the way to Flint, and fifteen years later it still sticks in my mind like dirty nails. I think it was more the way he said it than the story itself; his slow, black, southern bass rising and falling over the highway whistles coming through his taxi’s windows seemed a mystical chant. It was more like a dream then than now.

“Don’t know if ah should tell yuh‘bout the wust t’ing evah happen’d to me in mah yeahs on de foce, but since you write ‘n awl, I reckon ah maht as well. May be you could put it in one o’ yore books.”

I sat behind him, could see his mud-brown eyes and bushy white eyebrows in the rearview. He would often look at me this way, sometimes for so long I would break from his gaze and crane over his shoulder to see the traffic ahead. His eyes would always be waiting for mine to return, his words never breaking rhythm.

“Ah’d been on de foce twenty–six yeahs when it happen’d.” The plexiglass behind him was scratched with undecipherable symbols, creating a mosaic of anarchy between us. “Joe Lorenzo –may de Lord bless an’ keep him – was mah pahtne’ den. He took one obeh on Cicero jus’ a mont’ later, right in de chest, by some punk nigga’ kid wid a foty-fahv. Di’nt ebben get to testifah at de trahl for de one ahm bout to tell yuh.”

The skin on the back of his neck and head wore the etchings of time like old leather left out in the sun. “We wuz on Challs ‘n Foth at de station, waitin’ fo’ owa shif’ to staht when dis cawl comes in to dispatch ‘bout a domestic distuhbance a block down on Fif’.Joe ‘ n I hopp’d up frum owa seats, jump’d in owa patrol cah’ and headed on down deh, afteh de dispatchuh tol’ us he’d send hep soon as dey sho’d up.” He paused while a semi growled by in the passing lane.

“Fo’ we’uz haf way deh, dis ole lady cum runnin’ up de street in huh nahtgown, holl’in an’ carr’in on ‘bout sum’n gettin’ killed, so we hump’d it de res’ of de way deh. Lemme tellya, it don’t mattah how many yeahs you on de foce, ebby tahm you gets a cawl lak dis, yo hart getsa poundin’ lak it wansa jump outta yo’ches’. Ah din’ no what to espec’, so ah grabb’d mah gun jus’ in case.”

For a full minute the only sound came from the clicking meter, the taxi’s tires on the highway and the steady whistle from a window not entirely up. His reflected eyes bored into my head like he was trying to determine whether I would be able to handle the rest of the story, so I sat quietly, patiently, all the while screaming at him in my mind to continue. At last he spoke again, his voice slightly lower, causing me to lean forward just to hear him.

“We come up on dis young man standin’ on de sahdwok holdin’ a lil baby nex’ to him lak dis,” he curled his right arm as if he were holding a football in front of him “an had a big ol’ butcheh naaf in his ubber han’, wavin’ it ‘roun’ lak he wuz tryin’ to cut up de air aroun’ him. Dere wuz a woman behin’ him standin’ haffway up a set of rowhouse steps screamin’ ‘Mah baby! Mah baby!’. Man, dere wuz blood ebbyware! On de woman, on de steps, on de sahdwok, on de man, on de baby, ebbyware.

“Joe ‘n ah bot’ staht’d yellin at de man ‘Put de naaf down!’ but ah cud tell he wadn’ about to, cuz his eyes wuz wild-lookin’. Jus’ seein’ how he wuz actin’, de fus’ thang ah thought of wuz PCP.” His eyes furrowed in disgust. “Whenebba sumbody on de PCP, dere ain’t no reas’nin’ wit ‘em. Deh go crazy, ah tellya, get as strong as ten men, can ebben break han’cuffs! I seen it wit mah own eyes!

“Joe ‘n ah look at each uddah fo’a second, ‘n we bowf no’d whut we had to do. We bowf staht’d edgin’ to’d de man‘n split up, me on de man’s naaf sahd, ‘n Joe on de baby’s sahd. Awl de whil’dat woman on de steps kep’ screamin’ ‘Mah baby! Mah baby!’ and now de ole’ lady who we fus’ saw was cummin’ up yellin ‘O lawd! Jesus hav’ murcy!’ De scene wuz getting’ hectic, ah tell ya.

“De man swang de naaf at me and staht’d hollerin’ ‘Leeme alon! It’s mah baby!’ an’ ah began tawkin’ to him awl calm lahk, sayin’ ‘Man, you don’ wanna huht dat lil baby, jus’ throw de naaf obbeh dere an’ we’ll awl be ok’. Ah moved a little bit closah’, awl de whil’keepin’ mah eyes on dat naaf.

“De man had awl his ‘tenshun on me, an’ dat’s jus’ de way we wanted it, cuz awl a sudden lahk, Joe snatch’d hold obbah de baby’s legs and pulled. ‘Cept only de bottom haf of de baby came away – de man dun cut dat baby clean in two! Jus’ as soon as Joe pulled away, his eyes fixed on his haf of de baby an’ den it wuz jus’ lahk summun tuhn’d a switch off insahda him, coz he kinda flopped down where he wuz an’ jus’ sat dere, holdin’ de baby’s legs in his lap.

“De man lunged at Joe an’ I shot him wit’out thinkin’, akshully emptied mah clip in him an’ den stood obbeh de man still thinkin’ ah wuz still shootin’ him. Ah lateh tol’ de ‘vestigatuhs ah tho’t de man wuz tryin’ to get away, ebben doh the corenuh said mah firs’ shot prob’ly kilt him. Awl ah ‘membeh is thinkin’ ‘muddah fukkah’ obbeh and obbeh agin.

“When de reinfoc’ments got deh, dey had to pull me offa standin’ obbeh de man, pullin’ mah triggeh on empty chambehs. But ah sware as Gawd is mah witness, when dey lifted Joe up offa de sahdwok, he dropped de bottom haffa de baby ‘n jus’ strolled back to de station, went ‘n changed outta his bloody unifohm into a clean one, den sat in de lobby chattin’ wit ebbyone lahk nuttin’ had happened. When ah show’d up, shakin’ lahk a leef and bout as sick as a man can get, Joe jumped up outta his chair ‘n said ‘Its ‘bout  tahm you show’d up! Les’ get rollin’!’

The air in the taxi felt heavy and static and I suddenly had the taste of copper in my mouth. The cabby fixed me again with his eyes, and they shined with a glaze of tears. “From dat moment on til dat bullet kilt him a mont’ lateh, ole Joe nebbah ‘membeh’d a thang ‘bout dat naht.” After a brief pause he added, “Wish ida been dat lucky.”

The rest of the trip was shared in silence.



~~


He told me about the amnesiac cop on the way to Flint, and fifteen years later it still sticks in my mind like dirty nails. I think it was more the way he said it than the story itself; his slow, black, southern bass rising and falling over the highway whistles coming through his taxi’s windows seemed a mystical chant. It was more like a dream then than now.

“Don't know if I should tell you about the worst thing ever happened to me in my years on the force, but since you write and all, I reckon I might as well. Maybe you could put it on one of your books.”

I sat behind him, could see his mud-brown eyes and bushy white eyebrows in the rearview. He would often look at me this way, sometimes for so long I would break from his gaze and crane over his shoulder to see the traffic ahead. His eyes would always be waiting for mine to return, his words never breaking rhythm.

“I'd been on the force twenty–six years when it happened.” The plexiglass behind him was scratched with undecipherable symbols, creating a mosaic of anarchy between us. “Joe Lorenzo –may the Lord bless and keep him – was my partner then. He took one over on Cicero just a month later, right in the chest, by some punk nigga’ kid with a forty-five. Didn't even get to testify at the trial for the one I’m about to tell you.”

The skin on the back of his neck and head wore the etchings of time like old leather left out in the sun. “We were on Charles and Forth at the station, waiting for our shift to start when this call comes in to dispatch about a domestic disturbance a block down on Fifth. Joe and I hopped up from our seats, jumped in our patrol car and headed on down there, after the dispatcher told us he'd send help soon as they showed up.” He paused while a semi growled by in the passing lane.

“Before we were half way there, this old lady came running up the street in her nightgown, hollering and carrying on about someone getting killed, so we humped it the rest of the way there. Let tell ya, it doesn't matter how many years you're on de force, every time you get a call like this, your heart gets to pounding like it wants to jump out of your chest. I didn't know what to expect, so I grabbed my gun just in case.”

For a full minute the only sound came from the clicking meter, the taxi’s tires on the highway and the steady whistle from a window not entirely up. His reflected eyes bored into my head like he was trying to determine whether I would be able to handle the rest of the story, so I sat quietly, patiently, all the while screaming at him in my mind to continue. At last he spoke again, his voice slightly lower, causing me to lean forward just to hear him.

“We came upon this young man standing on the sidewalk holding a little baby next to him like this,”he curled his right arm as if he were holding a football in front of him “and had a big old butcher knife in his other hand, waving it around like he was trying to cut up the air around him. There was a woman behind him standing haffway up a set of rowhouse steps screaming ‘My baby! My baby!’. Man, there was blood everywhere! On the woman, on the steps, on the sidewalk, on the man, on the baby, everywhere.

“Joe and I both started yelling at the man ‘Put the knife down!’ but I could tell he wasn't about to, because his eyes were wild-looking. Just seeing how he was acting, the first thing I thought of was PCP.” His eyes furrowed in disgust. “Whenever somebody's on the PCP, there ain't no reasoning with them. Theh go crazy, I tell ya, get as strong as ten men, can even break handcuffs! I've seen it with my own eyes!

“Joe and I looked at each other for a second, and we both knew what we had to do. We both started edging toward the man and split up, me on the man’s knife side, and Joe on the baby’s side. All the while that woman on the steps kept screaming ‘My baby! My baby!’ and now the old lady who we first saw was coming up yelling ‘O Lord! Jesus have mercy!’The scene was getting hectic, I tell ya.

“The man swung the knife at me and started hollering ‘Leave me alone! It’s my baby!’ and I began talking to him all calm like, saying ‘Man, you don't want to hurt that little baby, jus't throw the knife over there and we’ll all be ok’. I moved a little bit closers, all the while keeping my eyes on that knife.

“The man had all his attention on me, and that's just the way we wanted it, because all of a sudden, Joe snatched hold of the baby's legs and pulled. Except only the bottom half of the baby came away – the man had cut that baby clean in two! Just as soon as Joe pulled away, his eyes fixed on his half of the baby and then it was just like someone had turned a switch off inside him, because he kind of flopped down where he was and just sat there, holding the baby's legs in his lap.

“The man lunged at Joe and I shot him without thinking, actually emptied my clip in him and then stood over the man still thinking I was still shooting him. I later told the investigators I thought the man was trying to get away, even though the coroner said my first shot probably killed him. All I remember is thinking ‘mother fucker’ over and over again.

“When the reinforcements got there, they had to pull me off of standing over the man, pulling my trigger on empty chambers. But I swear as God is my witness, when they lifted Joe up off the sidewalk, he dropped the bottom half of the baby and just strolled back to the station, went and changed out of his bloody uniform into a clean one, then sat in the lobby chatting with everyone like nothing had happened. When I showed up, shaking like a leaf and about as sick as a man can get, Joe jumped up out of his chair and said ‘Its about time you showed up! Let's get rolling!’

The air in the taxi felt heavy and static and I suddenly had the taste of copper in my mouth. The cabby fixed me again with his eyes, and they shined with a glaze of tears. “From that moment on til that bullet killed him a month later, old Joe never remembered a thing about that
night.” After a brief pause he added, “Wish I had been that
lucky.”


The rest of the trip was shared in
  silence.


 
 


Comments




Leave a Reply