Original Flash Fiction by C. N. Nevets, (c) 2012
“It was supposed to be cops and robbers.” Tommy slurped at his coffee mug and looked out at the attentive, interested faces of nineteen year-olds clustered around the college coffee shop, staring at him at the table where he sat. Officer Thomas “Tommy” “T. J.” Jansen, a.k.a., “the Hook,” was nobody special, but he was still the one addressing this class of mostly criminal justice majors. Check that. Officer Jansen was nobody special, and so he was the one who couldn’t say no to the request for someone from the department to come down and address this class of mostly criminal justice majors.
“It was supposed to be cops and robbers,” Tommy repeated, following it up with another slurp. The Hook was 37 years old. He looked like he was 47. He felt like he was 57½. He’d been married for 15 years. He’d been divorced for 6. Another 9 to go before he’d be caught up with his own bad luck. She’d married a cop. She’d wanted a police man.
“It was supposed to be cops and robbers,” Tommy said again. The words were echoed by another slurp. It was a coffee mug. It wasn’t coffee he was slurping. He wasn’t sure what it was. Probably whiskey. Maybe bourbon. He hadn’t looked at the label. He wasn’t really tasting it.
Tommy “T. J.” Jansen saw the restless, awkward looks shared by the college students. He saw a similar expression on the face of their professor. Dr. Somebody Something, Ph. Something. He realized they wanted him to say more. In Tommy’s estimation, there really wasn’t more to say. “It was supposed to be cops and robbers,” he said again. He did not slurp this time. “That’s what I thought. That’s what I want on my tombstone. That’s why I became a cop.” He was staring into his mug. Bourbon, almost definitely. “A cop. Cops and robbers.” He snickered at himself. “Cops and robbers.” This time, he slurped.
Tommy looked up. He made eye contact with a guy in the back. He was tall, tan, athletic. He probably wanted to go into the FBI and be an “agent.” Then he made eye contact with a girl in the front. She was sweet-faced and bright. She probably wanted to wear a suit and be an “investigator.” They would both be cops, or they would be nothing.
“It was supposed to be cops and robbers.” He took a gulp. Tommy felt himself finally finding a groove. He latched onto it, even though he couldn’t see the twists and turns of the dark corridor he was sliding down. “Maybe for some people that’s some kind of moral issue. Good versus evil or something. Maybe for some people it’s about teams. It’s us versus them. Maybe, I don’t know, maybe for some people it’s about service to the community or some crap like that. The people who care about the community against the people who don’t. For me it wasn’t that complicated.” Slurp. “I never went to college like you assholes.” Definitely bourbon. “For me, cops and robbers was about doing. It was about seeing and responding. I’m a cop. A see a robber. I respond. I act. I do some damn thing rather than philosophize or religiousize about it.”
Tommy “the Hook” finished off what was in his mug. It might have been scotch. “It was supposed to be cops and robbers, but it wasn’t. It isn’t. It’s not about to be.” He looked at the guy in the back. He looked at the girl in the front. He looked at Dr. Somebody Something. He had their attention. Maybe their pity. Probably not their confidence. But he had their attention. He glanced at his watch. Yep. Twenty years in. Probably didn’t matter what he said at this point.
“Its cops trying to figure out what the hell they’re supposed to do, every damn time they see something.” Tommy’s right hand rested on his sidearm. “There’s a lot of nonsense out there. Just nonsense, you know? People doing horrible things to other people for stupid ass reasons. We make laws against that kind of shit, right? We hire cops to make sure people follow those laws, right?”
Under the table, Tommy caressed the butt of his weapon. Its bulk was smooth. He could feel the power inside the masculine grace with which it was formed. He sniffed. “So you got these guys beating the crap out of their wives. The law says the women have one basic choice. If they can get the hell out of there, that’s what they have to do. When you can flee, you flee. If they don’t flee. If they fight back and defend themselves, they better damn well be able to prove they were in immediate peril and had no option to flee. The burden of proof is on them. On these women with the shit beat out of them. These women who did nothing more wrong than getting trapped by an asshole with a fist, or a belt, or golf club that he can’t stop swinging.”
Tommy Jansen looked out at the students. He definitely had their interest now. They weren’t comfortable, but they were interested. He glanced at his watch. “It was supposed to be cops and robbers, right? So who’s the robber? The wife who shoots the guy who’s beating the shit of her, or the guy who makes her wipe her own bloody face before he’ll let her go out in public?” Tommy looked at the professor. She was interested, too. “Morals say one thing. The law says another.”
To hell with it. Tommy reached between the third and fourth button on his uniform shirt. He slid his hand inside and slipped out a silver flask. He unscrewed the top. He poured some into his mug. He smiled. “So we change the law,” he said. “We make it more moral. We say, okay, this is shit. That woman had a right to feel threatened even if she didn’t know for sure he was about to kill her. That woman had a right to stand up for herself. We can’t demand that she gives in and runs away and hides or else stands there and lets herself be a punching bag. She can defend herself. Feeling threatened, we say, is as much a justification as being threatened – and we should never demand people run away.”
The students were nodding. The guy in back had his jaw set with a smug, John Wayne sort of satisfaction in the power of the American male to make wrongs right. The girl in front was positively beaming with something close to a romantic attraction to the ideal of ordinary people changing the world for the better. They didn’t know anything. It’s not cops and robbers. It’s cops, trying to figure out what the crap to do.
“So the burden of proof’s not on the woman anymore.” Tommy felt his own jaw set. It wasn’t smugness. “She says she felt threatened, the only way she gets in trouble is if the cops prove she had no reasonable right to feel threatened. The burden of proof is on them now.” Tommy felt the tension in his jaw. There was power there. Maybe once there had been masculine grace. Now there was just stubble and power. “And it don’t matter if the guy had a gun or a weapon or anything else. If she felt – felt, I tell you – threatened, we can’t say, ‘you could have just walked away.’ All those women with the shit beat out of them, they can now stand up for themselves.”
One student clapped. Tommy couldn’t bring himself to look around and see who it was. He felt the vibe from the group. He could tell that some of them were uncomfortable. He could tell that they all thought it was good, even if they were maybe uncomfortable with how a woman could potentially abuse that privilege. They didn’t know anything.
Slurp. “Only, when you write a law you can’t write a law that says, ‘women who get beat up can stand up for themselves.’ That’s too specific. It leaves out abused men. It leaves out psychological torture. Whatever. So you say, ‘people who feel threatened can stand up for themselves and don’t need to run away.’” Slurp. “Cool beans, right?”
There were nods out there. He didn’t look for them, but he knew they were there. Tommy’s hand was back on his side arm. His jaw was practically locked, even as he talked. “Only now I got some white guy who shoots a black kid and says he felt threatened.” Gulp. “I got some white guy who gets scared when he walks around his neighborhood and he sees black kids wandering outside their own neighborhood and into his. Maybe his dad’s store was robbed by some black kids. Maybe his mom was harassed by a black guy. Maybe he got beat up once by a couple of black dudes. Maybe he just listens to too much rap music and watches too much shit TV and thinks all black teenagers are gangsters. Point is, he feels threatened.” Slurp. Slurp. “People who feel threatened can stand up for themselves and don’t need to run away.”
Now the college kids were confused. They looked to their professor, but she wasn’t offering them much help. None of them really wanted to look at Tommy anymore. His fingers wrapped around the butt of his weapon. “It was supposed to be cops and robbers. Instead, it’s cops trying to figure out the hell to do. I’ve got a white guy who shot an unarmed black teenager, saying he felt threatened. I’ve got a family who lost their boy, saying there’s no way he was a threat. I’ve got civil justice people saying there’s no way it was self defense. I’ve got black people saying I’d make an arrest if the kid were white. I’ve got black people saying I wouldn’t bother with an arrest if the kid was white and the shooter was black. I’ve got white people saying that the case is only still open because we’re being pushed around by black activists. I’ve got neighborhood watch people saying that if the cops protected people then people wouldn’t have to make these tough calls. I’ve got a kid who was doing nobody no harm and is dead. I’ve got a guy who shot him, saying he felt threatened. And it’s up to me to prove he didn’t feel threatened, because I can’t say, ‘you could have just walked away, asshole.’”
Slurp. Gulp. “I’ve got women’s rights people saying that this distorts their law. I’ve got women’s rights people saying that anything we do mitigate the law for this guy waters it down too much. I’ve got people on the internet who think the cops aren’t doing their jobs. I’ve got cops busting their asses, looking for evidence that isn’t there, to try and make an arrest that will stand up in court so we don’t lose any chance we have at getting justice.”
Officer Thomas Jansen downed the last of whatever he’d poured from his flask and stood, his right hand still on his sidearm. “So that’s what I want on my tombstone. ‘It was supposed to be cops and robbers.’”
Tommy, “the Hook,” walked out of the college coffee shop and slid into the driver’s seat of his city car. He cupped a hand around mouth and blew. He could smell the drink on his breath. It was brandy. He blew again. The last thing he needed was another DUI in uniform. He unhooked the strap that held his sidearm in place.
He glanced at his watch.
He’d said his piece.
He closed his eyes, and he hoped that they remembered what he wanted written on his tombstone.