Sam barely even registered the intersection as he stepped on the brake. He was just a couple blocks from home and already imagining the cold beer and dull TV noise which would give his mind an escape from the labyrinth of angst he had tumbled into when he discovered his underwear matched a murder victim’s. But right before Sam could proceed through the intersection, a solitary figure sprinted across the street, jacket flapping in the wind. A moment later, two more people followed running at the same pace. “Shit,” Sam spat, as a feeling of duty smacked him in the face. He was not home yet, but in a police car, in a neighborhood that some of his fellow officers would probably consider a slum. And there were young men in hoods chasing someone.
Were they young men? Had he really seen them? But as fast as it had been, Sam knew how to recognize aggression. That was a pursuit, and it would probably end badly unless he did something.
Accelerating around the corner, Sam quickly caught up with the runners. White sneakers shone like beacons on the poorly lit streets. All three were still running as fast as they could and hadn’t noticed that it was a squad car behind them. Just scare them off, Sam thought. He was off duty, he needed to be prudent, but he could still help someone. Brights flashed in the night. Window rolled down, Sam barked a simple, “Hey!” in a tone of practiced authority. Three faces looked over their shoulder, recognized the lightbar on top of the squad car and understood. All three turned sharply and disappeared into the shadows. Sam stopped sharply. Whoever these young men were, they were now lurking around other people’s property. He could hear voices speaking in sharp tones, but couldn’t make out the words. “Get out of there,” he yelled.
There was a burst of profanity and a sound of scuffling and rapid footsteps. A shrub nearby started rustling. Sam opened the door of his car and stood up tall and powerful. “Get out of there,” he repeated.
More rustling—breaking foliage—rapid footsteps. Somewhere nearby a voice called out, “No! Stop!” Something bad was happening. Sam shouldn’t have even gotten out of the car, but he felt duty bound to take action now. He quickly reached into his car and turned on the vehicle’s spot light. The beam immediately fell on a solitary figure just beyond the reach of the headlights, illuminating wide eyes, white shoelaces, the metal zipper of a dark hoodie, and hands that were raised nervously in the air. “Please!” the young black man called back. He was shaking, “Don’t shoot!”
“Please,” he called out, voice cracking. “Don’t shoot me.”
The plea didn’t make sense. What did this kid think was going on? But then Sam realized that his hand was on the grip of his gun. The weapon was still safely holstered, but he couldn’t even remember reaching for it. He relaxed his hand, forced his breathing to slow, but there was still blood pounding against the skin throughout his body. “Look, just . . . just go on home,” he called. Aside from his shaking, the young man didn’t move. Hands above his head, face twisted and stretched with fear, eyes unblinking as they stared straight into the spotlight. Sam stared back. For a moment the whole world outside of that spotlight’s beam ceased to exist.
Man and Boy.
Officer and Citizen.
Cop and Thug.
Blood pounded in Sam’s ears. Angry at himself and at the thug who reminded him how much he was still a scared and confused kid, Sam roared, “Go!” The young man jumped, fell over backward, scrambled to his feet in such a panic that he slipped out of one shoe, and left it behind, fleeing into the night with a lopsided gallop. Sam stood beside his car until the only sound he could hear was his own shallow breathing. Trembling, he climbed into his car, turned off the spotlight, and drove home.
* * *
Story by Gregory M. Fox