Flash Fiction Challenge: Acts Of Rebellion
Lieutenant Crouch blew hard on his old patrolman’s whistle, a ritual that did not endear him to his squad. To be fair, not much else would have cut through the jabber and jive in the small briefing room. And endearment held a particularly low priority on his case list.
“Lissen up, people.
“O’Reilly—that means you too. Unless someone made you a fucking captain this morning. We’ve all heard your shitty joke a hundred times.”
O’Reilly shut up, a relief to me, because I really had heard that joke too many times. For an Irishman, he was oddly shy on material. I suspected a German somewhere in his ancestry.
“All right, people. Unless you spent the last week heads down in a whorehouse—yeah, I mean you, O’Rourke—you know what the deal is today. Same as yesterday. Same as last week.
“You’re on protest detail. All of you.”
My stomach lurched. A chorus of grumbles and groans.
A guy in front spoke up. “But Lieutenant, the crack business is booming, all those liquor store heists, and we’re staring down grannies out in the bush. We—“
“Not your call, Klaus. You’re the hammer, not the brains. Chief says grannies are my problem, then grannies are your problem. Unless you have a line on a job at Gino’s Pizza. They have some pretty slick uniforms. Nicer than ours. I’ll put in a word, right?”
“I’m good, Lieutenant. I’m good.” Klaus shrugged. He’s a decent guy. Worries too much. Like me.
“Pleased to hear that. Last thing I want is you making pizzas. I’ve tasted your coffee.”
A knowing chuckle from the room. Klaus reddened.
“OK. Pick up full riot gear. Shields, helmets, flak jackets, rubber bullets. And remember—dead grannies make terrible press, so try not to aim for the heads, right? In fact, if you don’t even shoot a single one of them, it won’t go against your records. Got me?”
A round of nods and assents.
“Don’t get me wrong. These people are the enemy. They aren’t all grannies. They’re organized trouble-makers. Hired pros, and good at it. They are breaking the law. They deserve to be hauled in and arraigned. But we’re in touchy times. The DA and the commissioner are up for election. The press is looking for just one of you guys to look sideways at a protester, and we’re front page bad news. So act like professionals yourselves. I know you can all fake it.”
He gathered up his papers, straightened them against the desktop.
I stood. “Lieutenant?”
“Speak, Crandall. This better be important. Not your usual griping.”
I hesitated, bit my tongue. Besides, words were just air. I was past talking; I needed to act. “It’ll keep.”
That got an eye-roll. “Perfect.”
He looked around the room. “Be strong, people. Above all, be safe. Now get to work!”
We got our gear from stores and broke into teams for the ride to the warzone.
We piled into the police crummy and headed out. I felt sick to my stomach. My partner Jimmy noticed I was off.
He whispered, “Jesus, Cranny. You look green. Want me to bang on the window and get Marco to stop? Don’t want you puking in here.”
“Nah. I’m OK. Touch of the flu. I’ll make it. Gimme that water bottle.”
A long swallow, and I had the jitters under control.
We filed out of the truck at the protest site and assembled as ordered. A mob of people stood and sat in the mud between us and the worksite, big orange and yellow hulks of heavy equipment poised paralyzed in mid-stride behind them, as if the operators had suddenly been beamed up to a starship. Which they had, in one way of looking at it. The company and authorities didn’t want violent confrontation, so they had shut down work. They knew the courts would remove the protesters soon, and they could carry on with the planned devastation. They were being paid by contract no matter what, so they weren’t too concerned.
So there we were, in our full black riot gear, impervious to assault. But for God’s sake, the most powerful weapon the other side had was a guitar. Some dreadlocked kid was playing it and about a dozen people were singing, mostly out of tune. Beautiful, in a painful way. About as threatening as a summer shower, and here we were dressed for a hurricane. Deployed in riot formation, I felt ridiculous, even oppressive. Yes, I knew these people were in the wrong from where we stood. I’d been in these situations before, and I knew they’d end up paying for it.
We stood in our battle lines for two hours. Sergeant Bannon ordered the gathering to disperse over the bullhorn. He’d done that daily for two weeks; it was a formality. Photographers and reporters milled around. We ignored them; the protesters played to them. Eventually Bannon came over and addressed us.
“Time’s up for this crap,” he said. “Finally. The DA says we can go in and take them out. Stiffen your line. When I give the word, you advance and make arrests. Start with that asshole with the guitar, and then that loudmouth harpy over there.” He nodded towards a dignified grey-haired woman I’d seen on the news several times. She had spoken well.
He smiled. “Then take your pick. Watch each other’s backs. I don’t want any injuries.”
We lined up.
I didn’t wait for Bannon’s signal. I laid my plexiglass shield on the ground, took off my helmet, rested it on the shield. Shrugged out of my flak jacket and tossed it on the helmet. Threw down my badge. I cleared my riot gun, pocketed the rounds, and laid it beside the pile.
Jimmy looked at me, disbelieving. “The fuck you doing?” he asked.
“What I have to, Jimmy.“
I slowly walked across the ground between the police line and the protesters, leaving my friends and my career far behind me.