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“He’s No Humanitarian, But Damn, Can He Take a Punch”


It took a day for the situation to deteriorate. That morning Mumford and I were double-checking our inventory. We’d asked K.C. at the front desk to page us if another busted-up vagrant came through. She called me out to the lobby and I found a squat man in a tattered polar fleece, a bandage over his nose like Nicholson in Chinatown.

            “Sent in by Crenshaw,” K.C. informed me.

            His name was Roderick Gornt. I learned his name from his Care Card, the only ID in his wallet. Gornt didn’t speak. Mumford and I asked questions. Gornt nodded or shook his head. Occasionally he’d write something on a scrap of paper, his hand a burst of frenzied movement leaving inscrutable glyphs on the page.

            In front of the entrance to the Karnes Building is a circle of benches set the legal distance from the doors. Smokers congregate there. Gornt had been sleeping on a bench when a voice ordered him to his feet. Gornt, I took it, heard voices almost constantly, and regarded this one with some skepticism—until he felt something hard hit the back of his head, driving his nose into the planks of the bench.

            Holding his busted nose, Gornt looked up. He saw two security guards, both tall, one with a shaved head, the other with a crew-cut. One of them kicked over his bag of possessions. The other pulled down Gornt’s pants and ordered him to walk off the property before pulling them up.

            I’ll admit I found the image of the old man waddling off like a penguin funny. I bit the inside of my cheek to keep from showing it. The humor faded. Gornt had been ashamed, hadn’t wanted to report the beating. Crenshaw had convinced him.

            After he left I got angry—at society, at myself, and for damn sure at Taurus. I tend to do stupid things when I’m mad. Let me amend that--I tend to do stupid things. When I’m mad, I do them on a grander scale.

            “Buy me a beer,” I said to Mumford as our shift ended.

            In the confines of a back booth at the Black Forest, we tried to work our way through the Crenshaw situation. I had a solution, but I knew I had to get Mumford to come to it on his own.

            “It’s wrong but not illegal to smack around a homeless guy if he’s on your property,” I said. “Or it’s illegal, but it’s not enforceable.”

            “Someone should beat them up, the Taurus guys.”

            “Can’t be us,” I said.

            “We could give the story to the press,” Mumford said.

            “We could. Not that that would get anything done. Knowing the B.C. press, they’d find a way to make it our fault.”

            We drank for a while. Then Mumford’s eyes lit up and he snapped his fingers.

            “Think of a solution?” I asked.

            “No, just forgot to tell you. My uncle came through. K-9, Victoria detachment. I start Monday.”

            “Hey, congrats.” We shook hands. I made him buy another round.

            “Sure you don’t want to come along? I could ask my uncle.”

            “Thanks but no,” I said. Part of me still held out hope for IHIT. Integrated Homicide was where I wanted to be, where a lot of cops want to be. The odds were slim. Nil if the Board didn’t come back with a clean decision on the shooting.

            Mumford left to use the head. I mulled things over. When he came back I asked him, “Fred, what would you say is the problem we’re facing?”

            “Stop the guards beating the homeless, I guess.”

            “And why can Taurus beat them with impunity?”

            “‘Cause they’re homeless?”

            “Because they don’t matter. How do we change that?”

            “Dunno. Eliminate homelessness?”

            “Sure, I’ll get right on that. Seriously. Order to stop someone who beats up people no one cares about…”

            “We have to convince people to care about them?”

            “Or?”

            “Get them to beat up someone people do care about?”

            “Right,” I said. “Then you get the media and the law begging to be involved. Police higher-ups can’t afford to look the other way. Taurus has to change its policies.”

            “Like a mathematical equation.” Mumford slurred his words. “But how do we get them to go after someone who matters?”

            “Last point first. Who matters?”

            “Dunno. White people?”

            “Gornt is white.”

            “The rich?”

            “Hard to get Bill Gates to stand for a beating,” I said.

            Mumford thought about it some more. I knocked back my drink. He pushed his bench away as it dawned on him.

            “You son of a—”

            “You’re already unkempt,” I said. “Pair of sweat pants and an army jacket, some fingerless gloves—”

            He swore at me.

            “Fred, in a week you’re going to be living on the Island surrounded by dogs. Ten years you’ll be Chief Superintendent, and all us Surrey rats will be a dim memory. What’s a couple of shots to the face?”

            “Think I want my nose broken, Nick?”

            “That was more the angle than the intention.”

            “Won’t do it. Hell no. Why’on’t you do it?”

            “‘Cause,” I said. “My uncle worked in the Nestle factory and now lives in Costa Rica. Yours is upper management for the Mounties.”

            “Fine,” Mumford said.

            “Ever heard that saying, a society is judged by how it—”

            “I said fine, Nick. Learn when to shut up.”

            It rained. We stood under cover at the bus shelter while Mumford changed into an ensemble that suggested homelessness without being overt: gray wool mitts, a faded green hiking jacket, broken work boots, sweats. He looked every inch a bum.

            “Anyone asks,” I said, handing him a beer, “you were in the tavern down the street. You had a few, you ducked under cover to use your cell to call a cab, next thing you know you’re on the ground getting pummeled.”

            “Nick, I don’t want to get pummeled.”

            “Doesn’t hurt half as much as you’d think,” I said. “Just as long as there’s a bruise—preferably on the face.”

            He began to argue but I pushed him out into the rain. I watched his dark green figure cross the street and head towards the canopied entrance to the Karnes Building.

            The shaved-head guard entered from stage right. He intercepted Mumford. Guard Two sauntered over from the opposite side. Both had a good four inches on Fred.

            Mumford took a step around Skinhead toward the entrance and Crew Cut grabbed a handful of hair and tugged Mumford back towards the street.

            Mumford’s head bent back funny and Skinhead tripped him up. He hit the cement. The guards began kicking him.

            The instant Crew Cut grabbed Mumford’s hair I took off towards them. I reached him seconds after he hit the ground. I body-checked Crew Cut, sending him onto his ass. I threw an off-balance punch that connected with Skinhead’s shoulder. His counter caught me in the throat and I hit my knees hard.

            Crew Cut regained his feet and proceeded to lay into my back with his shin. I landed on my gut, the rain pelting me almost as hard as the guards did. Before I tucked my head under my arms I caught sight of Mumford, on his feet, running.

 

             A little more rain and I could’ve swam back to where I’d parked my car. It took me an eon to regain my feet. Whole species evolved, flourished and became extinct in the time it took me to shuffle to the crosswalk. No sign of the guards.

            In the middle of the empty street I passed a gaggle of teens, Koreans in hip-hop brands. They snickered. I could feel warm blood from a cut on my scalp.

            Mumford was sitting in the passenger’s seat, holding a Dairy Queen napkin to his mouth.

            “Feel all right?” Mumford asked.

            I shrugged. “Fine ‘cept for my pride. You?”

            “Same.”

            “When you go to the station, remember, sell the hell out of it.”

            I climbed behind the wheel and straightened my back. I looked in the rearview. A few red marks, plus the gash on my head.

            “We have to find a sexier way to fight crime,” I said.

 

            Mumford played up the physical and mental anguish. Coleman’s Taurus goons went down. For all his talk of “his guys,” Coleman let them swing-”We here at Taurus Security have always cautioned our employees against over-aggressive physicality.” The Surrey RCMP severed ties with them.

            On Mumford’s last day we met at the Alibi Room. I bought the drinks. Chloe and I, Mumford and his girl, and a host of other cops, there to pay tribute to our future Chief Superintendent.

            I cornered him at the bar as he was waiting for the mixologist to put the finishing touches on his date’s Spanish Fly.

            “My uncle’s not too happy with me,” Mumford said.

            “John Timmons would be proud.”

            The barkeep put the drink in Mumford’s hand.

            “I think he probably would,” he said, “even though I feel like a chump.”

            “Timmons was always about a result rather than a gold star,” I said. “You probably saved someone’s life.”

            We chatted. I told him the Board had called the Bamford shooting. Clean. Mumford said he’d never had any doubt.

            I told him where I’d been reassigned. Not homicide, but good enough.

            We drank a toast to our dead boss and then went our separate ways.

By Sam Wiebe

Sam Wiebe’s short story “He’s No Humanitarian, But Damn Can He Take a Punch” won second prize in the 2011 Scene of the Crime short story contest. His current projects include Last of the Independents, a novel about an iconoclastic private eye’s search for a missing child, and radio adaptations of Frankenstein and Hamlet, available on iTunes and at samwiebe.com. He lives in Vancouver. 

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Anthony Jon
Comment by: Anthony Jon ( )
Left at: 1:30 PM Sunday, March 25, 2012
This is a fantastic short story. Its minimalism complements the setting and the action. But it also has some fantastically vivid description, even though this is presented in cold, hardboiled language, which works wonders. More please.

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