Lawman: a short story

I could see dark spots where blood from others had soaked the backseat fabric of the police cruiser. The faint acrid smell of ammonia spoke of the latest attempt—probably by the rookie at the wheel—to erase these indelible marks of that which makes their job necessary. My knuckles, pressed against the small of my back, joined my lips to drip and trickle their marks onto the seat and my ripped shirt—a sort of defiant graffiti, saying to me, you were here: here are your genes and your father’s and your mother’s smeared in stains.

To my left, Lyle Christen was in much the same condition. His body had been all right angles since we were handled into the car: knees, hips, shoulders, elbows, eyes. He must have memorized the wavy pattern of the back of our driver’s head—if he was seeing it at all. The deputy (who couldn’t have been much older than me) reached back to gingerly scratch the spot on which Lyle’s gaze had been fixed.

At this, my old schoolmate turned toward me. The one eye he could open met my own. His shoulders were now less rectangular, and his spring-mud-brown lens, after that moment, retracted to focus on the air between us. One corner of his mouth turned upward, and he said, “You stupid bastard.”

I wanted to laugh and scream at the same time—laugh because it was equally true, strung in that space between us, and scream because it said far too little—the killing white-hot pilot light in my sternum inspired far more awful names.

Our chauffeur glanced in his rearview and said, “Quiet.” I knew he was a rookie because I’d never seen him around the station until a couple weeks ago. Now he was trying to imitate that gaze that made me feel cut from stone. They all did. He should’ve known better than to try on me an amateur version of what I’d lived with all my life.

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