The Come-Up Kill
Curtis Bradley never felt the bullet enter his body. He saw the muzzle flash, heard the deafening bang crack across the darkened courtyard—but he never felt a thing. His body simply fell, side-first on to the cold asphalt.
“Shots fired! Shots fired!” a woman’s voice rang out. Curtis looked up at the police patrol car. The blindingly bright headlights gave the scene a surreal quality, he thought, as if some ethereal beauty had come to his rescue. But there was no rescue, and no beauty, as the officer’s silhouette cast its shadow down upon him.
“Stop resisting,” the Officer drooled as she pushed Curtis’ face to the ground, and knelt on his back, “or I’ll let you bleed out right here.” Curtis wasn’t sure what she meant. He hadn’t resisted her, or done anything to warrant his arrest. In all of his seventy-one years, he’d never been so mistreated, so confronted by mindless brutality.
“Good boy,” said the officer, as she pulled his arms back, and slapped her handcuffs on his wrists. Curtis could feel her searching his pockets, grabbing his crotch, looking for anything that would incriminate him.
“I-I don’t have anything. What did I--”
“Shut up!” yelled the Officer, “You don’t get to ask questions. You know what you did.”
But Curtis didn’t know. He really didn’t. He’d just come from Bible study, at the Armor of God Baptist Church, a popular house of worship among Flint’s black population. Curtis found a real love for the gospel when his wife died, several years earlier. He dedicated himself to church service, becoming a loyal member, always available when the Senior Pastor needed help or donations. On this particular night, the Pastor had expressed concern over much-needed building repairs. Curtis didn’t hesitate; he gave the Pastor all the money he had on him, including his cab fare. He felt so proud of himself, so Christian, that he didn’t mind the walk home.
Besides, he’d thought, it’s the perfect night for a stroll.
“What’s the situation here?” Another officer was on the scene, now. A man, asking questions.
“Resisting, possible obstruction,” lied the female officer, “I observed the suspect acting suspiciously--”
“In a known drug zone,” said the man.
“Right,” she said, taking her colleague’s hint, “Drug zone. Anyway, he was walking, exhibiting signs of intoxication--”
“I-I don’t drink,” whimpered Curtis. He could feel the wet asphalt getting warmer against his cooling skin.
“Possession,” said the male officer, ignoring Curtis entirely, “intent to distribute. It reads better. Then what happened?”
“He lunged … or reached into his waistband. I haven’t decided.”
“That’s alright,” said the male officer, as he walked to greet an approaching ambulance, “Plenty of time to get it right.”
“So warm,” Curtis choked out his words through bubbling blood, “Why is it so warm?” Through blurred vision, Curtis saw the paramedics coming closer. As they ran to him, he wondered what he should say—what he could tell them. He didn’t know why the female officer stopped him. He didn’t know what frightened her, or why she felt the need to shoot. He only knew that he’d forgiven her, like any good Christian would.
* * *
“God! I feel like killing something today.” Officer Smith leaned back and stretched, letting out a prolonged grunt. “Bobby, have you read this?” he asked, pointing to the newspaper in his hand, and addressing his patrol partner: Robert Dicarlo.
“Yeah, Fitz,” said Officer Dicarlo, “I skimmed it this morning. That’s the story on that cop … the one in Flint? What was her name?”
“Schulz. Leslie Schulz.”
“Yeah. Sucks that they put her on desk duty.”
Officer Smith leaned forward in the driver’s side car seat and raised his voice, “Are you kidding me?! No jail time, and getting paid to sit on her butt?! Then she’s got her pension—and don’t forget those crowd funding donations!”
“Crowd funding?” asked Bobby Dicarlo.
“Yes, Bobby!” shouted Smith, “Jesus! You are slow. When a story like this goes national, people want to donate—do their part for the cause. So, they crowd fund. And let me tell you—they outdid themselves on this one.”
“Really,” said Dicarlo, “How much did she get?”
“Two point two. That’s million, Bobby. Plus her salary, plus her pension in ten.”
“Wow,” said Dicarlo, dumbfounded, “All for shootin’ a perp--”
“A nobody perp. Drug pushin’ scum, dead and buried. And now this chick is rich.”
“Yeah, well … that’s all good for Flint. They’ve got plenty out there. But here in San Francisco--”
“I know, Bobby.” Smith’s expression went cold, “Job’s almost done out here. If we want our cut, we’ll have to move fast.”
Officer Dicarlo laughed, grabbing his partner by the shoulder, shaking it in jest.
“Ha! You almost had me going there, Fitz—like you were really gonna do it! Ha-ha!”
But Officer Smith didn’t laugh. He was looking forward, now, through the patrol car’s windshield. His eyes darted in erratic patterns, as if panicked, working it all out, covering all the corners.
“I’m doing it, Bobby. Today. And you’re gonna help.”
Officer Dicarlo took his hand from Smith’s shoulder. He shrank backward, taking on the gravity of his partner’s statement. For the first time in five years, he saw T. Fitzgerald Smith as the monster he really was.
“We’re gonna … kill somebody? Kill a criminal?” asked Bobby.
“Yes! You’ve said it yourself, must be a hundred times: if we only had the balls. Well, I’ve got the balls, Bobby. And if I’ve gotta drop some useless dindu to secure my future, then so be it. But don’t worry. It won’t be anyone dangerous. It won’t be anyone armed. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be controversial, and controversy brings the cash.”
Officer Smith expected an immediate response from Bobby, but the latter officer just sat there, his eyes darting in erratic patterns.
“Well?! What do you think?!” asked Smith.
“I think,” said Bobby, “I think that two million dollars is a lot of money.”
Officer Smith smiled devilishly. He leaned forward, fixing an intense stare on to something in the distance.
“I’m glad you said that.” Smith pointed to a black man, who was exiting a coffee shop, halfway down the block, “Because I think we’ve got our boy.”
* * *
My name is Kwesi Whitmore. I’m an accountant at The Vitruvius Investment Company. I’m also a corporate spy, and undercover operative, in the employ of MŌR Industries, owned by The Black Heroes. This morning, I woke up in New York. Less than two hours later, I was walking the streets of San Francisco. That’s a minor miracle when you consider that any normal flight would have taken six. But The Heroes are anything but normal. They’ve set up base in what they call a “bubble universe,” meaning: a small, alien domain with physical laws comparable to our own. It’s one of many holdover assets, discovered in their research days. Anyway, travel within the bubble is very different from our own universe; it’s frictionless, and devoid of any atmospheric or gravitational hindrances, which explains my impossibly short commute.
I was in town on business, of course, picking up a bit of tech that The Heroes needed in order to analyze their recently acquired Android Womb. And I knew how important the research was: learning the secrets of Android gestation, searching for that miraculous moment when A.I. becomes I—looking for an exploitable weakness. We were gathering the tools for a righteous genocide, our own survival goading us onward.
1308 Clement Street was a gray office building, with oddly stacked windows, a bit out of place in the largely residential area. But the exterior gave little suggestion of the light show inside. Walking through the offices of Qiányán Solutions, an engineering firm, was like walking through a diamond. Every ray of sunlight that didn’t go to the building’s photovoltaic surface, was sent through a byzantine array of glass and chrome mirrors, illuminating each room, and projecting the company’s logo in white and rainbow light.
“Mr. Whitmore,” an overweight Asian man, dressed in a t-shirt and shorts, shook my hand. “I’m Hou Bing, the project manager. Please, come to my office.”
“Sure,” I said, adding, “This is some building you’ve got here.”
“Thanks—but this is nothing,” said a smiling Hou, “Wait til you see our new fabrication space on The Island. Five thousand square feet of cutting-edge robotics and materials. It’s a geek’s paradise!”
The Island, I thought, feeling a bit of nausea, Alameda Island. So close to Oakland—and its rapidly dwindling black population.
“That sounds interesting,” I chuckled, “You’ll have to give us a tour some day … show us everything.”
For the next hour, Mr. Hou and I went over the checklist of technical specifications sent by MŌR Industries. When I was certain that the device in question met our expectations, I packed it in a small briefcase and walked a few blocks east to a car that was left for me. The Heroes were attending to important business in the multiverse, and wouldn’t be back to pick me up for another three hours. At that point, they would open an inter-universal portal in Whitney Young Circle: an area in the south-eastern part of the city.
Three hours, I thought. Might as well make the best of it. Sample the local brew. With that, I walked into a small coffee shop. The address was 905 Clement Street, San Francisco north-west.
* * *
1:15 PM. The Come-up.
I exited the shop with the small briefcase in one hand, and a cup of Chinese spice coffee in the other. My rendezvous with the Black Heroes was scheduled for two, which gave me forty-five minutes to make the half hour drive. All was well as I made the turn on 10th and headed south.
The sound of a police siren broke any mood of tranquility.
Jesus, I thought, what do they want with me?
“Pull over!” an angry voice came from the patrol car’s PA system. I followed the instruction, retrieved my license and registration, and placed the small briefcase on the floor in front of the passenger side seat. I looked in my rear view mirror, surprised to find that two officers had taken defensive positions behind the open doors of their patrol car. They were kneeling, pointing their guns directly at me.
“Show us your hands!” said one officer.
“Drop the weapon!” said the other.
I immediately dropped my ID and raised my hands. I started to put my arms out of my window when the first officer interrupted.
“Don’t move!” he shouted, as I pulled my hands inside.
“Drop the weapon!” the second officer was adamant.
What? I thought, What weapon? Which order do they want me to follow?! In a panic, I looked for a friendly face amongst the passersby. With very few exceptions, these people showed little concern for my situation. They would glance at the police, then squint to get a good look at me. A look of cold apathy came over them when they saw me, and went on about their business. Three or four people mustered enough humanity to record the incident, but they didn’t do anything.
They didn’t care. None of them. In that instant, in broad daylight, my life became forfeit.
The first bullet tore through the upholstery of my seat, passing just under my left arm, exploding into the dash. Instinct shifted my car into drive, and slammed my foot on the gas. A horizontal hail of projectiles followed, shattering what was left of the rear windshield. I knew that I must have been hit, but I couldn’t feel anything.
Whitney Young. Just get to Whitney Young.
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
The police were in pursuit now, firing from a moving vehicle, hitting my left rear tire as I turned left on Fulton Street. I couldn’t out drive them, not anymore. I had to get out, make a run for it. Luckily, Fulton runs along the north side of Golden Gate Park. It wasn’t much, not heavily wooded, but it was a chance. I turned hard on the steering wheel, breaking through the treeline, smashing into a chain link fence.
Don’t stop, I thought, moving as quickly as I could. Pull the shard of glass from your face. Grab the briefcase. Open the door and run. Just don’t stop.
As I stumbled out of the car on to what looked like a parking lot, I could already hear the police cruiser’s doors slamming shut. I picked up the pace, and ran into a nearby thicket of trees, scrambling to escape this insanity.
* * *
“Damn it!” shouted Officer Smith, out of breath and stumbling over an exposed tree root, “I’m sorry, Bobby. I messed up.” Smith and Dicarlo both knew that they had to finish this quickly, in one location, or another cop could claim their bounty. Now, with their victim escaping, the odds of an early retirement decreased dramatically.
“Do you think he left the park?!” huffed Officer Dicarlo.
“Probably,” said Smith, grabbing the radio from his own shoulder, “He was headed east … Two-one-six, in pursuit, requesting backup.”
Two-one-six, thought Dicarlo. It meant “Shots Fired,” and that much was true.
“Fitz--” he said.
“I know. I know. We have to make the killing shot ourselves, or share the cut. Come on. We’ll find him faster in the cruiser.”
* * *
1:36 PM. Haight and Webster.
A black face. That’s all I needed. One black face in the city. To see me. To say something. To take me in. I hadn’t seen an African-American all morning, which wasn’t entirely surprising. For forty years, San Francisco had been the shining archetype of an antiseptic ethnic cleansing, an engineered world of opportunity for everyone but blacks. The final vestiges of a black presence were mostly located in the southeastern part of the city, which was coincidentally where I was headed.
Police sirens and flashing lights filled the streets as I ducked into the space between two houses. In every reflective surface, I could see the flash of red and blue lights headed slowly up Webster, adjacent to where I stood. Briefcase still in hand, I sank down to a crouched position, moving beneath an open window to avoid detection. There were voices at my back, inside the house, people conversing, walking dangerously close to the window. The police in the cruiser approached, taking their time to pause, and search between each row of houses. I slowly made my way to the back of the house, and peeked around the corner to see the yard. There, chained to a pole, was a sleeping adult rottweiler, lying undisturbed. I paused, sweat or blood rolling down my back.
Afraid to stand up, or take my eyes off of the dog, I inched my way toward the back fence. The dog sniffed for a moment, and I froze, just as the cruiser arrived at my row of houses. The rottweiler whimpered, and scratched its nose, but kept its eyes closed. I maneuvered past some clothes lines, and got to the fence, gripping the top to pull myself over.
That’s when I heard it: a rustling sound, coming from a few feet away. I turned, and saw a black woman standing in the yard. She was in her twenties, dark skinned and thin, with blue contacts and a greasy blonde wig. Her pink and white house dress, was a perfect match for her pink and white wardrobe: laundry, that she currently held in her arms.
We looked at each other, silently, communicating volumes. My eyes begged for her sympathy—if not for my obvious distress, then for the blood, dripping from my back, onto her finely tailored lawn. I saw such a sentiment building inside of her, something in her DNA that told her to help me, or to at least hear my story.
But the patrol car’s siren stopped all of that, and gave her all of the story she needed to hear.
“Here!” she screamed, as her expression turned from cold curiosity, to wild fear and fury. I saw a menacing hatred boil this woman from the inside out, and I knew that she would kill me herself, given the chance. “He’s over here!”
The rottweiler, startled from its sleep, immediately followed its master’s lead. The drooling dog barked through razor-sharp teeth, and ran toward me for the kill.
I leaped over the back yard fence, narrowly escaping the dog and the approaching police. As I stumbled, and ran for my life, a terrible thought entered my mind: We have no friends in San Francisco.
* * *
My body dragged itself forward, hugging the brick wall that divided the street from Route 101. I reached into my pocket for what seemed like the thousandth time, and checked my phone’s GPS. It placed me at Vermont and 25th Street, two-point-three miles from the rendezvous point.
I’ll never make it, I thought, leaning my back against the wall. The loss of blood had turned my legs to lead, and severely blurred my vision. I wasn’t going anywhere. My only hope was to send The Heroes a message, and pray that they’d receive it in time. I just needed a little luck.
The patrol car’s siren cut through the air and into my dying heart. I knew without looking that this was the patrol car, driven by the officers who shot me. They wanted me dead, and it wasn’t because I worked for The Black Heroes. It wasn’t for the Android womb, or the tech in my briefcase. They wanted me dead as a matter of convenience, eliminating an old paradigm in favor of the new. Their utopia was a dream just beyond reach, and they would will it to existence.
“Oro en paz; fierro en guerra.”
Gold in peace; iron in war.
I thought of the city’s motto, and many things as the officers approached with their weapons drawn. They shouted something, but I couldn’t hear them. I only heard the sound of cars passing on the highway, just beyond the wall behind me.
* * *
“Bobby Dicarlo, you are a genius!” Officer Smith shouted as he turned right off of Utah Street, and on to 25th Street. Just ahead of them, they saw a stumbling figure, leaning against a wall for support. The target looked weak, now, frail and unwilling: the perfect storm for a controversial kill.
“How did you know, Bobby?” asked Smith, “I mean, I would have checked the bridge, expecting him to run for Oakland. But not you! You said he’d hit the highway, make his way south—and that’s exactly what the bastard did!”
Officer Smith expected an answer—some explanation, but got none. He glanced at his partner, and immediately knew that something was wrong. Something about the man had changed.
“Bobby?” Smith heard the trepidation in his own voice, “You still with me?”
Officer Dicarlo kept his eyes forward, feeling no need to look at Smith. There was a newfound air of confidence in him, an entirely new demeanor, as if something long-buried had finally surfaced.
“You’ve done well, Smith,” he said.
“What?” Officer Smith stopped the car a few feet from the suspect. He kicked the driver’s side door open, and stepped out of the car, gun in hand, “What did you just say?”
“I said, you’ve done well,” Bobby exited the car on the passenger’s side. He moved slowly, deliberately, without the slightest sign of uncertainty. Then he pulled his gun from its holster, adding, “But you will suffer terribly.”
Officer Smith looked at his partner with a confused expression. What the hell was Bobby talking about, and why now? Was he going soft, all of a sudden? Smith shook his head and continued.
“I don’t know what you’re talkin’, Bobby, but save it. We’re doing this. We’re getting this money—because your hands are as dirty as mine.”
With that, the officers raised their guns in unison, determined to finish the job.
* * *
2 PM. The Mop-up.
The Heroes came down quickly, with the sun at their backs. Obsidian blocked the bullets meant for me, and made short work of the guns that sent them. Opal threw one officer against the hood of the cruiser, then turned to lay me down and treat my wound. Not to be outdone, Mr. Black meted out his own brand of pain. He smacked the second officer, backhanded, which sent the man hurtling into a light pole. Even at a distance, there was an audible sound of cracking bones, and wet flesh on metal. From my lowered perspective, the fallen men looked dead, which didn’t faze me at all. I smiled, held up my dusty briefcase, and said:
“I hope this thing works, because I am officially off the clock.”
* * *
Robert Dicarlo awoke to the ring of his bedside phone. He leaned over in his hospital bed, careful to keep his cast elevated. This was his third day at St. Mary’s, and he still wasn’t used to the broken leg.
“Hello?” he said, answering the phone, “The news? No. I’m not. Is there something … I’ll turn it on now.” Robert picked up his tv remote and fumbled through several channels before he found what he was looking for:
“--address the national outrage over the attack, which broke one officer’s leg, and sent officer Smith into intensive care, where he remains in stable condition. The President answered his critics briefly, but left little doubt regarding his position.”
Robert smiled as he watched the President appear on screen. Here it comes, he thought.
“This brutal attack,” said the President, “perpetrated by The Blacks, and an as-of-yet unknown assailant, has stunned this entire nation. It is our duty as Americans to protect those brave men and women who protect us, and fight a daily battle to keep us safe. So today, in cooperation with the Justice Department, the DHS, and the Joint Chiefs Chairman, I have ordered a warrant for their arrest. We will coordinate all areas of government, sharing intelligence and scientific data, in order to find and apprehend The Blacks. And make no mistake: I have authorized the use of lethal force. The Blacks will surrender, or they will die. This is my final act as your President. This is my legacy.”
Robert Dicarlo closed his eyes as he pressed the phone’s receiver to his ear. Despite his circumstance, he seemed to be in ecstasy, as if a lifelong prayer had been answered.
“Yes,” he said into the phone, “Yes. Every word, without variation. Everything as you said. Smith, the media, and the world—all so easily led. But our time has come. Death to the Progenitor Tyrant. Death—to Obsidian Black.”