Fiction by Anthony Neil Smith
Back the blue?
Fuck yeah, I back the blue.
You saw the flag waving out front of the house? Black and gray Amer’can flag, blue line running through it. I’ve got two more on my truck. Bumper sticker, too.
Oh, and the tattoo. See? I’ll flex it for you. I had him tattoo it upside down because, you want to talk about a real epidemic? Got to protect the cops, my friend. Protect the cops.
The vaccine is an automatic pistol.
Let me. Let me tell you. I’ll tell you about my son. Proud, so proud of him.
Ford Lincoln Nilson, four years of service with the New Pheasant Run Police Department. Out here in the corn and soybean fields of Southern Minnesota.
He was a good cop.
His picture, on the wall up there, in his uniform. Goofy fringe haircut. All the kids his age. His mother hated it.
Wet behind the ears. Proud, so proud of him.
They drove him to it. They drove him, I swear. Might as well’ve been holding the gun themselves, their fingers overlapping his.
Those people he killed had it coming.
Ever’ one of them, and ever’ time my boy had to sit in front of the fancy committee with, uh, those lords and ladies, I like to call them, in their dress uniforms never had a spot of blood on them, and answer their horseshit questions, and they were horseshit, what happened?
Cleared. Justified. Righteous kills.
Read his reports. He was no writer, no Louis L’amour, but read those reports and you tell me – don’t they have all the details? Don’t they make goddamn good sense? Listen to the tapes. No, better yet, read the TRANscipts, won’t you? He’s articulate. He’s sincere. He’s Christian.
He was. He was until…
Well, God have mercy. I can’t judge.
That’s all I’ve got to say about that.
Long line of cop blood. My grandpa was a cop up in Fargo. My father was a cop there, too. If it hadn’t been for my asthma, diabetes, depression, fallen arches, and being blind in one eye, I’d’ve been a cop too. I so wanted to be a cop.
Hands up, pal!
No one questioned when Papaw and Pops had to get rough with a suspect. No one questioned if, when they pulled their weapons, they were in fear of their lives or not.
Of course they were! They were cops.
When my son decided to take on the badge, boy howdy. You’d thought he had won the Clearing House Sweepstakes. Papaw gave him a horse. Pops gave him a gun.
If not for my debilitating narcolepsy, he would’ve given the gun to me, passed down in our family for generations, from a great great uncle, they say. An old west single-action Colt. The Peacemaker. Pops told me he was “holding” it for me, all those years. Gave it to Ford instead the day he joined up.
That’s alright, I guess. Got a lot more use out of it than I’d’ve.
What I should do for you now. What I should do is go through the shootings. You can’t look at them all like one big slaughter. My son. My boy. He was no mass murderer, no serial murderer, but you wouldn’t know from the medias.
Tell you what I really think. There’s no liberal media and conservative media. There’s only greedy media. Whatever gets eyes on the screen, they’ll say it, edit it, fake it, then scold you bout it. Jesus.
I haven’t believed a word of medias since, gotta be, like thirty years now. Used to watch O’Reilly sometimes, but they put him out to pasture. The new kid, the young one, Hannity? Likes to hear himself talk, doesn’t he.
I’m rambling. You don’t want to listen to me go on.
Like some iced tea? Some pop?
Sweetie, get some tea for our guest, please.
If not for my severe allergies, I’d be drinking something heavier. Wine makes my face and ears burn and itch. Liquor makes my throat constrict. Beer flat out don’t taste good to me.
Ford was real fresh when he shot the first one. I’m not going to dignify the dead with a name. The fool’s family burned down half a block after, you know. Those were people’s businesses! How’s that any justice?
Ford was backing up his partner, like any good cop. Saved his partner’s life.
So the guy had a butter knife instead of a chrome plated forty-five. The caller got it wrong, we all know now, but not at the time. Our cops have no idea what to expect. Climbing out of a car to talk to a schizo who charges at you first chance he gets. He had got to go down.
And I know.
If not for my own psychological difficulties requiring the intake of Lithum, I wouldn’t be able to sympathize with the man.
The simplest thing in the world. So simple.
When the police show up, do what they ask. Do it.
Surely didn’t want the man to die. Surely wish it wasn’t my son who was the one to kill him, but it wasn’t because the man was Indian, swear to you.
Native American, I mean.
Irdigurous, right? Ingenious?
Didn’t matter his skin tone. Crazy is crazy. If he’d dropped the butter knife and apologized, then gone with these fellahs to have a beer or two? Ever’body relax, have a beer, laugh about it. Could it’ve ended a much better way?
Johnny Paycheck watched his Mexican friend slice off a white bully’s ear in a Texas bar. So the song says, anyway. They laughed about it. Or Johnny did. Johnny bought the de-eared asshole another round.
My grandfather shot six Indian men, three black men, five white men, and a Hmong man. Never shot a lady. Never went in front of a committee over it, except to pick up a medal.
Pops shot four black men, two Indian men, a white woman, two black women, nine pit bulls, and a Hmong man. Never got a medal, but never got a reprimand.
Shows you crime got worse, cops defended themselves, and those fuckers, excuse my tongue, those suckers in their ivory-gilded fortresses are too busy kissing the fat asses of activists, you know. Defund the police! But their moms and pops shake their heads and say, “No no no, we need the police.”
Mom and Pops need the police. You know why? To protect them from the little fuck-farts those activists are all buddy-buddy with. Probably where they get their weed, man.
You ever hear Cheech and Chong on vinyl? “Got some weeeed, man.” Chong, man.
The first time Ford pulled his service weapon and fired at an assailant was the Indian.
It was one-thousand precent righteous.
Ford derived no joy from it. It hurt his soul, having to do it.
Yet you’d think he was a Grand Wizard KKK or something, you watch the medias.
The one he shot was a bad example of a Native American anyway. He was a living stereotype. Drunk, surly, trying to intimidate people with a butter knife, charging a cop.
Had. It. Coming.
Ford’d’ve argued with me bout it. He’d’ve said no one ever had it coming. It was a last resort but never because they had it coming.
Ford, who I had to sign a form for in high school to excuse him from dissecting a frog.
Ford, who, growing up, wept hard over his pets when they passed – parakeets, newts, guinea pigs, a hairless cat, and an iguana.
Ford could pull the trigger on a human being if he had to, though. As long as it was few and far between. At first.
Always a good reason for it. Always.
Pops, what a guy, what a guy. Pops wouldn’t let me skip dissection day when it was my turn. I pled my case, nearly in tears. But he drove me to school anyway, walked me to biology class, and told the teacher in front of ever’one how I was going to cut this dead frog open or by God I might as well not come home.
If not for my gastrointestinal reflux brought on by stress, maybe I could’ve gotten through the lab without vomiting all over my frog. And the second one.
I didn’t want that for my son.
Wasn’t until later Ford got his killer instinct. When he was sixteen, Pops started taking him deer hunting. Elk hunting. Bison hunting. Thy had to drive clear over to Wyoming for Bison.
If not for my easily bruised shoulder, I might’ve gone along. Seriously. Shot a four-ten once, my whole shoulder, front and back, was purple, black, then green, yellow, for a solid month.
I never went on a hunting trip with my Pops or Papaw. The one day I was supposed to go hunt squirrels with them, I was nine years old and woke up with the flu. If not for that, though.
The second shooting is when Ford’s bosses put him under the microscope. It led to larger protests, shriller talking heads, and harassment the likes of which you can’t even, I mean it. You can’t even.
It was dark. He was dark. And yes, when held at the right angle in the darkness, a flip phone can absolutely look like a gun.
Who thought the kids even used flip phones anymore? Ever’thing is iThis and iThat.
The same ol’ wisdom, though: if a cop tells you to do something, do it. How is that so difficult? How is it? How?
You’d think from the TV, from the medias, all cop are looking to shoot black kids, all day ever’ day.
How many black kids are we going to shoot today, Sarge?
Well, it all depends on how many you see, doesn’t it?
Whole world’s crazy with racism. Racism this. Racism that.
If not for my repressed memories about my father, I’d’ve turned out racist, too. But bless my mother, my good Lutheran mother who taught me it wasn’t the color of one’s skin, but the clearness of their souls. I think she said “clearness.” Long ago.
I taught my son right. I did. Taught him to be colorblind. Not real colorblind, but, you know. Told him “Put on your ‘Soul Glasses,’ son, when you look at a suspect.
This had nothing to do with race. It had to do with the unknowns.
A call indicating someone had a gun.
A group of young people acting rowdy in the neighborhood.
A request from the officers for the kids quiet down, keep their hands visible, and answer some questions was not respected.
The officers where outnumbered and did not know if their opponents were armed.
The kids continued to loiter, taunt, and make sudden movements.
It was the perfect stew.
If you’ve only got a second to decide if it’s a flip phone or a gun, what would you do?
Ford did what he was taught to do.
Look what happened next.
One thing, as a parent, I wished I could have taken the brunt of the attacks for him. I goddamn wish. Vultures, all of em.
Black Lives Matter.
Especially internet medias.
If the rest are vultures, then internet medias are the vultures who eat the vultures.
Chants all day and night: “No justice, no peace!” and “Hey Ho, Killer Cops Have Got To GO” and flat out “Fuck the Police!”
“End White Supremacy!”
Can you explain it to me? Ever’ damn time? The chants and the fires and the looting? I don’t blame the looters. I get it.
If not for being in this wheelchair, I promise you. I wouldn’t make it very far. I’d grab and dash and run out of steam half a block down.
They took my boy off the street. Might as well rip his spleen out and salt the wound.
They took his service pistol. Said it was evidence.
I mean, Ford never denied shooting the guy. Clear as day on his bodycam. Also clear as day he went by the book. Him and his partner both. But his partner, goddamn, she’s now got the nerve, the sheer nerve, to turn around and say those things about Ford.
Steaming with rage.
Like a bull at a rodeo, barely contained.
My boy? My son?
Nobody took the partner’s gun away. She even got a commendation.
When Ford stayed late in the parking garage, waiting for her to get off shift, he had no intentions. None at all. Just wanted to talk. Just wanted to know why she flipped on him, maybe work it out.
Yes, I’ve seen the tape.
Did I mention I’m blind in one eye?
If not for that.
Refill your tea?
Sweetie? Some more tea.
The tape was doctored. I believe it. I swear. A white cop’s life against a dead black guy and a woman partner? Worth less than nothing. That. That. Pardon me. That bitch provoked him. She must’ve made the first move. Must’ve. Ford would never. He would never.
No, I’ll keep going. I promised you. Sit back down.
It was self-defense.
And lucky he had his Peacemaker with him. Of course he carried it most ever’where. He was proud of his gun. As proud of it as I am of him. Still proud.
Even after they told me he was. You know.
Should’ve guessed. No dates in high school. Never talked bout a girl.
I thought he’d meet the right one eventually.
I’d’ve been waiting a long damn time, apparently.
Don’t know why he kept it from me. Turned out his mom already knew.
But other cops. If they’d even suspected.
If not for. For.
My boy shot his partner in the head.
All six shots.
Doctored. I swear to you.
She must’ve drawn first.
You must understand. He was trapped. His job was gone. Reputation a shambles. His private life, bout to be an open book. He had nowhere else to go.
He was a wreck. Pacing all over the room. Up and down the stairs. I’d sent Sweetie to the neighbors.
She called nine-one-one.
I don’t know what she expected. An ambulance? A kind and measured presence?
We didn’t know what he’d done, though. We didn’t know. We didn’t know he’d been set up. All we knew was he was our son and he was in pain.
If not for my own goddamn thickhead’ness.
Told him he had nothing to fear, turning himself in. Told him we’d get the best lawyer. Told him. Told him he was a good cop, and good cops always survived these. These. Witch hunts. All they were. Goose chases.
His finger slipped.
It wasn’t intentional. The lights and sirens, all the police cars out front, squealing to a stop. Disorienting. He was already anxious. On his last. His last. Nerve.
If not for the paralysis, I would show you where we were both standing when he shot me.
Right through my guts. Got this colostomy bag now.
Shattered my spine. The docs don’t know if I’ll ever walk again.
I know Ford was sorry.
He didn’t tell me, but I know.
I know he loves me.
After he shot me, he shouted Look what you made me do! This is on you! He slipped out back, through the kitchen, to the garage. He took Sweetie’s car.
The last we saw him. Alive.
The bastards showed me photos on an iPad. Digital photos. Why they couldn’t make me some normal photos, I’ve got my ideas.
They showed me where they found Sweetie’s car, up round the State Park, on the shore of the swimming hole. In the photos, the driver’s door is open. There’s a body. Top of the skull, a mess. I mean. Hole in the roof of the car.
Looked like a movie effect.
In fact, I’m not so sure it was my boy. Not my Ford. Some crash dummy they Photoshopped. They can do shit like that, now. I’ve seen the video. They can turn almost ever’one into Tom Cruise, I swear. So why not turn some dummy into my Ford?
Why, you ask? Why would they do it?
I think he got away. Too smart for them.
My boy is still out there. Still on the run. Trying to clear his name.
I see the clues. I see the signs. He sends me secret messages. Only for me. I see them on the YouTube. I’m helping him gather the evidence. Not only for Ford, but for all those other cops who got railroaded. Call it Illuminati. Call it Deep State. Call it. Like. Call it lizards. I’m not sure how it all links together yet, but I can tell we’re close.
The body they showed me in the morgue?
The one in the casket?
Phony as fuck.
He’s out there.
A real cop in a world of phonies.
Fuck yeah, I back the blue.
It’s the blue I wish would back itself.
That’s all I’ve got to say about that.
Anthony Neil Smith
Anthony Neil Smith is a novelist (Yellow Medicine, Slow Bear, The Butcher’s Prayer and others), short story author (Cowboy Jamboree, HAD, Exquisite Corpse, Bellevue Literary Review, and many more) and professor at Southwest Minnesota State University. He likes Mexican food, cheap red wine, and Italian exploitation movies from the the 70s. His dog is named Edmund, and he is the devil.