by Karl Wenclas
Kirk sat drinking vodka in an after hours den near downtown Detroit with a skinny black prostitute named Jakayla, the kind of spot where if you’re white and male you’d better arrive with someone they know because otherwise they’ll think you’re a cop.
A lanky drug dealer named Lenny Z sat at a table nearby complaining about someone who’d stolen his main girlfriend, a white girl named Stacey. Kirk knew her.
“When I catch that motherfucking Grant Fannin gonna skin him alive. I mean it. Goin’na take my knife and start maybe at his forehead and start cutting–”
Kirk knew Lenny Z’s reputation and knew the man was serious. He looked serious. Deadly and serious. Kirk’s heart began beating rapidly, nervously. Jakayla next to him was nodding from something she’d injected in the bathroom, bought here with money from him. Kirk felt for something in his pocket.
Lenny Z continued ranting blowing off anger but with no immediate intent to go after Grant Fannin. He liked scornfully saying the man’s name. In his business it was best to avoid trouble. As he continued to bellow, a young white guy stood up from the shadows from a side table and moved in front of him holding a pistol.
Lenny was still running his mouth about “that motherfucking Grant Fannin” when Kirk emptied a clip of bullets from a small .32 automatic pistol into the man’s head surprised eyes gaping red spots from bullets highlighted like red laser spots on the man’s face.
“Hey–” Jakayla said as Kirk turned went out the door no one stopping him into the cold night air went straight to his car to “get out of Dodge” as fast as he could.
Grant Fannin was Kirk’s brother.
Death and gunsmoke lingered in the small club, lights full on blazing yellow showcasing Lenny Z stretched out on the hard tile floor, his head lying in a puddle of crimson blood.
Half the patrons scattered, the others too high, drunk, or scared to move. The echo of sirens sounded outside, from down the avenue. The burly doorman stood immobile against a wall, pondering the future. The club would now close and he’d be out of a job.
As the man waited for whatever was about to happen, he noticed a rocks glass half-full of vodka on the table where the shooter’d been sitting. Needing it, he moved from his place against the wall, stepped over the body, grabbed the glass of vodka and downed it.
Black Hat Boyd didn’t drink vodka.
When Boyd heard of Z’s demise he was infuriated but secretly pleased. It meant he’d take over Lenny’s business. Black Hat already controlled a large part of his gang.
“Whadda we do now?” a member of his posse asked him.
They sat on gaudy furniture in a small rented house in a bleak part of Detroit smoking crack, six of them, including two in the shadows. Black Hat Boyd was a short man with a bullet-shaped shaved head and a bullet mindset: shoot first or someone will shoot you. A true gangsta. He looked mean, and was. The gang members in the room watched his every move, careful not to get on his bad side.
“Hand me my phone,” Boyd growled to one of them.
All of their phones had been lighting up for the past five minutes, as word spread about what’d happened at the after-hours club downtown.
“We gonna ACT,” Black Hat said in a low reverberant voice.
The two men in the shadows sat up in their chairs at the sound of it. Black Hat was angry– which meant that as a matter of their survival they were also.
Police cars surrounded the club, with more coming. Third Street became closed off. Detectives and technicians rushed into the crime scene. Vice detectives joined them, realizing this was an illegal club, the victim was notorious, and someone somewhere in the department had been paid off.
As this happened, the shooter Kirk Fannin sped fast but controlled in a gold-colored Mustang on a narrow expressway taking him downriver, where he lived. In his racing mind he realized he shouldn’t go where he lived. He’d killed a man and the world would be after him. The police for certain– but friends of Lenny Z worried him more. Killing was their business.
Kirk had relatives in Kentucky. Should he drive there? Stay on 75-South and keep going. Kirk had stayed with these people when he was a kid. He’d suspected his folks had wanted to get rid of him– needed a break– but he’d enjoyed his time down there regardless.
As Kirk drove, with one hand he dialed Grant’s number on his cellphone. He’d left two panicked messages on Grant’s voice mail, but Grant never picked up or returned his calls.
Stacey Shemke was a spectacularly beautiful twenty-three year-old with bleached silver-blonde hair, large brown eyes and dark eyebrows. She stood in the center of the room of her small downriver apartment watching Grant’s flashing phone ring again and again. She’d heard the shocking message– but Grant was passed out on her sofa refusing to wake up.
Beneath his swagger and army background Grant Fannin was a handsome alcoholic who carried around vodka in Big Gulp cups pretending it was soda pop.
He’d been at the Friday Night Fish Fry at the local VFW hall, where he’d consumed an enormous amount of beer. Then he’d shown at her door with a large smile on his face, holding one of his trademark Big Gulp cups. “Hey babe,” he said. Ten minutes later he was out.
She’d never met Grant’s brother Kirk, who continued to phone, but his voice on the messages sounded one part hysterical and another part dangerous. She feared to answer it. If Stacey had regretted being mixed up with Lenny Z, now she regretted being mixed up with the crazy Fannins.
Kirk drove hard. Night fast. Yellow-lit instrument panel within a black dashboard in his golden car as he looked to it for speed, mileage, context. Some connection to the universe.
The Fannins had long been white trash troublemakers in town. The shack-like house the brothers grew up in always had two cars parked in the yard and three in the drive. One of the cars was guaranteed at any time to run. The cars changed, not their number or condition.
They also owned animals. Their parents loved animals, so the house and environs contained a collection of dogs, cats, and rabbits.
The Fannins: five cars, four large dogs, seven or eight cats, and innumerable rabbits.
Their father died when Kirk was ten, their mother when he was fourteen, so for several years– before joining the service– five years-older brother Grant was the dominant influence on Kirk’s life. For good or ill. Mostly ill.
The brothers were fast with their fists and expert with gun or knife. They were as fast with insults, which brought on those fights. They never backed down from one.
Captain Mohican Jones, director of the Detroit Police Department’s Gang Squad, jolted awake from a call to his phone at the side of the bed. His wife snored lightly next to him.
Must be important.
He and his wife had been to the opera this evening– to see “Rigoletto” at Detroit’s glamorous downtown opera house. She enjoyed opera– an excuse to dress up.
The captain had been named Mohican by his parents because he had a smattering of Native American blood in him, on both sides. His complexion showed it, reddish-brown, which made his green eyes stand out in his face, and caused enemies and colleagues alike to pause a moment before confronting him. On the street, a moment is all you need.
The opera had been a modern updating, with characters dressed as latter-day gangsters. Fedoras, pin-striped black suits and prop machine guns. One of the tough-looking hoods looked like Joe Pesci. Another like a man Mohican had sent to prison a year ago. This caught his attention for a minute.
His stylish wife preened in her seat, eyes alert from the moment the overture played and the dark-red curtain rose over a brightly-lit set, posturing costumed mobsters part of it. Glowing– like television come to life.
Jones closed his eyes and allowed the singing to wash over him while he pondered problems of his job.
They sipped brandy during two intermissions, standing near the grand staircase while his wife remarked on how people were dressed. The brandy eased his appreciation of the art.
His wife wore a red dress which accentuated her curves. Mohican complimented her on it– and made sure his eyes never strayed onto other ladies present in the house.
The arias remained in his head.
The phone next to the bed continued to flash. His lightly-snoring wife on the other side of him wore earplugs and a pink eye mask. She’d long ago accustomed herself to his job. Captain Jones placed a professional grimace onto his face and grabbed the phone to find out what happened.
When Lenny Z had been mocking the name Grant Fannin, the image of Stacey Shemke appeared in front of him. You wouldn’t think a woman could light a fire in a man simply by looking at him, but it happens. A pair of eyes– he couldn’t get them out of his head.
Then came an assault of high-speed gnats, penetrating small bullets.
As Z lay on the hard floor of the after-hours club dying, hungry life flowing swiftly out of him, the magical eyes of Stacey Shemke were the last thing he saw.
The significant fact about Stacey Shemke few knew about was that she was nearsighted. She hated glasses and didn’t like contacts, and wanted no one slicing her eyeballs– she preferred to stumble through life half-blind in a blurred world of colorfully amorphous shapes and sizes.
When Stacey walked through parties or clubs, whether downtown Detroit or in her home town, she carried herself with aloofness which some mistook for conceit and others saw as mystery. She floated like a princess, or an empress, at least a celebrity, and everybody believed it.
She became interested in men first by their physiques. Their forms, because that was all she saw of them. This is what attracted her to both Grant Fannin and Lenny Z. (They of course were attracted to her.) When she moved close to them and saw their faces it was invariably a surprise. Like, “Hey, these guys are human beings. Personalities as well as bodies.”
Captain Mohican Jones moved downstairs to his den because he knew it’d be a hectic night. He and his wife lived in a large 100 year-old house in one of Detroit’s better neighborhoods. Refuge against a wasteland of disorder. The home’s price had been far less than it should’ve been, because of its Detroit address.
The captain pulled a bottle of VSOP brandy– top-shelf drinking– from a cabinet and poured himself a generous shot in a rocks glass. Something to sip on while he thought.
The den was thick-walled and quiet, stocked with books, cd’s, and vinyl record albums. For him, a bunker. Escape.
The question on Mohican’s mind was Lenny Z’s gang. Who was now in charge? How would the gang react?
Growing up, Black Hat Boyd had been the shortest kid in the neighborhood and had to be tougher than everyone to survive.
He’d always been a leader– at least a leading troublemaker– based on his smarts and his nerve. In high school, the kid running a card game at the back of class, collecting most of the winnings.
He’d always been ambitious. A psychologist in a juvenile detention facility– where he’d been sent after a carjacking– told him he was “overcompensating.” What?! He’d keep overcompensating then until he lived in a mansion, and could hire and fire clowns like that motherfucker at will.
From his den, the captain phoned Monk, one of the members of his team, waking him up from a deep sleep. Which surprised Mohican a little. Had Monk been out for the night as well? He was the captain’s right hand man.
“Monk. This is Mohican.”
“Yeah, man,” Monk told him. “Give me a minute.”
Monk had received his nickname because of his ability to bury himself for days on a computer, monitoring sources and suspects on social media. Acquiring information. Spotting activities and determining trends.
Was that a woman Mohican heard in the background? He’d thought the man was immune. Then again, no one really is.
“Okay,” Monk’s voice said. “What up?”
“Felonious!” the captain said to him, communicating the importance of the call.
At times Monk’s nickname morphed into Felonious– takeoff on an old jazz musician’s name, of whose music Captain Jones was particularly fond.
The captain told Monk what happened– that he needed “eyes.” He needed Monk to get on Twitter, Facebook, chatrooms and the like and start listening. Start tracking.
Black Hat Boyd rode to the rendezvous in a long and low-riding limousine, sitting comfortably in the back seat with arms and legs spread wide. Wearing now his trademark black porkpie hat. The boss, he thought. The man.
He wore sunglasses so his driver couldn’t see his eyes, but he could see in the rear view mirror the driver’s face. The face in the mirror showed worry.
“We gonna take down those rednecks,” Boyd assured the man.
“River rats!” the man said, and laughed.
The car sped fast through the urban wasteland. As the thick tires passed over or around occasional potholes– some the size of craters– and vague night images showed outside, Black Hat reflected on his new position, the responsibility of leading the gang. Being head guy.
Everyone would look to him for direction. Being Number Two had been easy because the final decision never fell to him. Lenny Z made the calls, by privilege and right. That’d made it easy for Boyd but also frustrating, he remembered.
“If that cowboy didn’t shoot Z I mighta had to,” Black Hat speculated out loud.
Felonious Monk phoned the captain with the result of his research. Not good news. Members of Lenny Z’s gang were putting together a flash mob on wheels to invade the downriver suburbs, looking for Z’s murderer. The gang believed the shooting had been done by one Grant Fanning or Fannin, who lived in a tiny downriver community named after the Winnescott Indian tribe. The gangsters referred to the town scornfully as “White-spot,” as not many People-Of-Color resided there, but by reputation, several diehard rednecks. The city was known principally for its park on the river, which gave a splendid view of downtown Detroit.
Mohican Jones knew someone in the town’s police department: An easygoing, husky cop who until six months ago worked for Mohican as the token white dude on his team. The captain had called him Jerry Ski– easier than saying Jerry’s Polish last name. There wasn’t a member of Mohican’s team who hadn’t been graced with a nickname.
When Jerry Ski left the team, the others joked to him that he was joining “the donut boys”– how Detroit cops referred to their suburban brethren. Oh, theirs was a tough enough job alright. But it wasn’t Detroit.
While the captain guessed that most on the town’s force were local athletes hoping to continue local fame– especially with local women– he knew Jerry Ski was the genuine article. An able and intelligent cop. It was a good bet he’d know of this Grant Fanning. Mohican grabbed his phone to tip Jerry off to what was up.
Jerry Ski finished the call knowing he had a job on his hands. No doubt the captain had given him the straight shit. Mohican Jones knew his job as well as anyone Jerry’d worked with. Every outfit large and small has its share of time-servers and fuck-ups– is more than blessed to have a few men and women superb at their job. Mohican Jones was one of those few.
The task at hand: An entire Detroit street gang invading their insular hamlet. Not an everyday occurrence. As for Grant Fannin– Jerry had seen him at local saloons or the occasional street fair, always with a local woman on his arm. Lean and quick-smart, with the steel-gray eyes of a gunfighter. A lethal person when fueled on Jack or Stoli– that was the word on him. Fannin’s military training and experience added to the danger. But Grant Fannin had likely been trouble from the moment he was born.
It’d probably serve Fannin right to be snuffed out by a band of urban killers– would save the expense of prosecution and make the daily job of Jerry and his colleagues policing this town easier. But someone might get hurt in the crossfire.
Jerry stepped to his kitchen and grabbed a cold bottle of beer from the fridge. He prepared his mind to phone his boss, the town’s police chief.
While Grant Fannin slept, he felt like voices were calling him from a far distance. Knocking on the door to his house. Though he wasn’t in his house. He woke up.
Stacey Shemke lay sleeping on the rug over the floor. Beautifully sleeping. His cellphone sat next to her. Grant picked up the phone and listened to Kirk’s messages.
He patted Stacey on the head, grabbed his car keys and left.
Mohican Jones hung up the phone with Jerry Ski and sipped from his glass of brandy. He’d told Felonious to continue monitoring activities of the gang to the best of his ability. Mohican knew they likely wouldn’t receive more of the story until morning, when it was “too late,” whatever that meant.
Police work was an imperfect science. In the detective business you deal with fragments of information, trying to piece those together to create a picture of events. A narrative. A story. He well knew that in the onrushing flow of the world and life you never had the full story.
“Preposterous!” Police Chief Kolpak said when Jerry Ski told him about the Detroit gang. “I’m not about to believe every imaginary rumor or lie propagated by social media.”
The chief loved language in that he’d use any word high or low large or small as cover for what he really thought. Including with himself, in his own head. He’d been at the VFW Fish Fry this evening. His brain pounded and he wanted to go immediately back to bed.
“Grant Fannin allegedly shot and killed some Detroit drug dealer? Then for crissakes let’s arrest that asshole and nip this presumed gang invasion in the bud. Fannin has to be drunk somewhere. I saw him in town earlier.”
It didn’t occur to the chief that Grant then might have an alibi. He didn’t care. He wanted to be done with this. To wash his hands, Pontius Pilate-style, which he did a lot of. Low profile, he told himself. Maintain a low profile. In this age of hyperbolic media it was incumbent upon a responsible police authority to keep a low profile, for the good of all. He worked at this assiduously. Which meant, all the time.
“Jerry, we have only four cars at our disposal tonight. I’m not about to order officers in from home. Tell you what. I’ll call Sergeant Sperger, who’s shift supervisor tonight. He’ll send a car to find Fannin, and send the three others to the riverfront just in case your scenario is not hallucinatory myth. Hell, they can sleep there as well as anywhere else!”
Silence on Jerry’s phone for a full minute. He wondered if they’d been disconnected. Jerry knew the chief believed him to be a know-it-all Detroit troublemaker. The chief’s rumbling, belchy baritone came back on.
“Tell you what, Jerry. Sperger can pick you up at your house. You help him direct this circus show, because I am done with it.”
Grant’s brother Kirk Fannin continued on to Kentucky, racking up miles beneath his car’s tires– then realized this wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair to Grant and Stacey, who’d be left with what had very much become his problem.
He exited, turned the wheel, traveled on an overpass and gunned it down an entrance ramp, re-entering the highway but in the other direction. Headed back to Metro Detroit.
After he left Stacey’s apartment, Grant Fannin drove aimlessly around town for twenty minutes before realizing he needed smokes. He pulled into the parking lot of a 24-hour chain drugstore with a flashing blue-red sign. The night hovered black, silent, and eerie when he stepped from his car. The red-blue sign was a touch of paint against the night. A distant buzz brushed his imagination. The sound of motors. Lenny Z’s friends?
When Grant stepped outside again with a pack of cigarettes, a grubby guy stood wobbling at the entrance, under the sign.
“Spare change?” the man said.
Despite scratchy layers of wear, the voice carried an air of breeding. Refinement. Grant had known army officers who spoke like that.
The man had unkempt hair streaked with gray, bloodshot blue eyes in a pockmarked face, and wore a smelly green overcoat. A mess.
Grant studied the man. Himself in twenty years? A warning sign.
Grant opened his wallet and handed the character a ten dollar bill.
Then he climbed back into his pickup, started it, shifted into gear and sped off, more confused than ever.
Grant had sat at the bar in a sports bar in town nursing a beer– it was early evening– staring down at his phone when two young women took seats next to him. He could tell they were young by their voices. The one nearest him complained about her boyfriend.
“I’m supposed to meet him in Detroit,” she said. “But I don’t feel like it.”
An impressive but exasperated voice. Her friend said something in response, calling her Stacey.
“He cheats on me anyway,” Stacey added.
Grant swiveled slowly in his seat.
“Have him meet you down here,” he suggested.
The woman (the Woman) reconned the room.
“He has, before, but he’s not really comfortable down here, you know? Doesn’t fit in. Nothing he’s said. But I can tell.”
While she spoke and Grant remained casual and concerned something registered in his head that she was very good-looking. Dressed in black, with short-cut blonde hair, melodious eyes, and dangling earrings. He glanced toward the bartender.
“Hey Jimmy. A shot of Stoli when you get the chance.”
Then, almost as afterthought, to Her:
“Can I buy you a shot?”
“There it is!” Boyd’s driver said.
A couple dozen cars with headlights blazing waited in a vacant lot in a post-industrial neighborhood somewhere in Detroit. The area could be called No Man’s Land– the only residents were various types of rodents and roaming packs of wild dogs.
As Black Hat Boyd stepped aggressively from the sleek limo flexing his neck and shoulders, dozens of pairs of eyes focused on him. He knew he was being assessed, especially by those who’d been Lenny Z’s business associates and friends.
They scanned Black Hat Boyd for any hint of uncertainty or weakness. Black Hat snorted to himself at the idea. Never had he been more aware of his own smarts and health. He felt the vast black sky above grant to him– Black Hat Boyd– its power.
Boyd pointed to someone he knew and trusted, a crafty flashy slim young gangsta named Ellis Joy.
“Ellis, you been to this ‘white spot’ before. Can you find Grant Fanning?”
“Cut me loose when we get there and I’ll track him down,” Ellis promised.
Black Hat considered his own performance. Make decisions quick, but not too quick. You’re being studied. Watched.
“Good!” Boyd said, and the gang relaxed.
They’d gather next in the targeted town’s riverfront park. Many knew the way to it. At this late hour, no one would be there. At the park they’d await word from Ellis Joy on Grant Fanning and how many trailer trash friends he might have with him. They’d be armed, no doubt.
“Are we gonna be able to handle this crowd, weapon-wise?” a new member of the gang asked.
“Oh, I believe so,” Black Hat said, showing a compact submachine gun under his coat.
For a full minute all eyes in the lot were on the glistening black metal submachine gun. He’d polished it before they set out. They stared at the weapon with appreciation and awe. This earned Black Hat instant cred with the remaining skeptics in the gang.
“We have a few more of these killers too,” Boyd added.
Three new members of the gang stood away from the headlights at the outskirts of the circle of cars straining to hear Boyd’s voice across the cold air.
“What? What did he say?”
He looked smaller and meaner than they’d expected.
As Grant Fannin sped away from the drugstore into the night, lighting up a cigarette, blue-red drugstore light flickering behind him, he saw the world with stark clarity. He saw Stacey Shemke with clarity. An illusion. An intoxication vastly more powerful than the vodka he liked to drink.
Beauty that remarkable was deadly.
The gang climbed in their vehicles. Engines started as Boyd’s chopped midnight-blue limousine took the lead, coasting slowly out of the vacant lot, supercharged motor rumbling, yellow headlights blazing, other vehicles pulling behind it. Detroit’s peculiar night sky– distantly lit with tinges of industrial red– spread great and ominous before them. That distance they headed toward held action, adventure, maybe death– resolution for the raging unasked questions of their lives, which is all they wanted.
They set out.
Object of their intentions was a working-class community and part-time summer resort, of saloons and churches. More saloons than churches. But the saloons were closed.
At the end of town at the edge of the river lay the park. An oasis from craziness. At this hour, dark. Quiet. Chill– in more ways than one. River flowing placidly alongside it while seagulls slept standing up on the outstretched pier.
When Swaggy McCray missed ten p.m. curfew at the town’s halfway house, where he’d been rehabilitating after a drunk-and-disorderly charge, he decided to make it a night.
You couldn’t get away with panhandling for long in this cop-controlled city, but Swaggy was adept and pathetic-looking enough to score ten dollars from a generous (or more likely drunk) soul. The man had stared through him. Swaggy took the ten inside the 24-hour drugstore and bought himself a bottle of vodka– Popov, the cheap stuff. This he secured happily under his coat.
Kirk Fannin’s car left the expressway and continued to glide through the night. The world filled with the sound of crickets, the town asleep except for Kirk and whoever pursued him.
Kirk turned the car onto Oak Street and found Stacey’s apartment building. He turned off the engine and sat parked for a few minutes, under a street lamp. He carried the pistol– the death weapon– in his jacket pocket. Should he toss it away? Probably. Or he might need it.
Stacey Shemke awoke from a brief sleep, lights bright in the apartment. Grant was gone. She stood and glanced out the front window onto the street below, not seeing Grant’s dark-blue truck. She noticed a patch of color, a sleek glowing orange car there instead, but didn’t think anything about it.
Black Hat Boyd coordinated the caravan using his smartphone, issuing directions to individual members of the gang. They moved as a unified pack. At the same time, surrounded by night, Boyd and his driver floated along in their private capsule, as if in outer space. Isolated.
A hand knocked on the door while Stacey Shemke sat in a maroon armchair with her phone, terrified.
“Grant?” a man’s voice said. “Are you there? Stacey? Hey, this is Kirk, Grant’s brother.”
She recognized his voice from his voice mail messages and from the once or twice she’d spoken to him on the phone.
“Hang on,” she said.
Insanely, she put aside her phone and checked her make-up with a mirror– as if that’d make a difference to the man who killed Lenny Z. Then she opened the door.
“Women the problem,” Black Hat Boyd said to his driver as they traveled onward. “Been the downfall of man since the world began. Mark my words. All problems in this world can be traced back to a woman. Don’t get me wrong– I love ‘em, but a man need to know why they’re there. Lenny Z– he didn’t know.”
Black Hat had been with Lenny Z when Z met the blonde. White girl name. “Stacey.” He sat with Lenny at a popular nightclub away from downtown. Z liked having Boyd along as bodyguard and sidekick. Or flunkie. This made Lenny feel big. Made him important.
The blonde– nothing special in Boyd’s book. Too skinny. Sharp-edged, like a knife. Lank hair. No class, just trash. She looked at Z with serious eyes and he was gone. Lost. A puppy dog. Black Hat Boyd could tell. He shook his head.
A smoky underground club filled with available women– this Stacey took out her cigarette and Lenny was there with silver lighter. Orange flame against blue darkness. Lenny looked smooth doing it, Boyd had to admit. The girl looked at him while he lit the white cigarette between red lips. She inhaled. The burning lit tip of the cigarette seemed gigantic. They stared at each other like two cats.
“Z, he jus’ a pretty boy anyway,” Black Hat Boyd said to his driver, or to himself. “I knew he wasn’t gonna last.”
He patted the submachine gun inside his leather coat as the car sped through the night.
“Hello,” Stacey said.
“Hi,” Kirk returned.
Kirk Fannin looked much like his brother, but clean-shaven and younger. Kirk looked very young. Baby-faced. He didn’t look like a killer, though he was.
She motioned him to her sofa.
“Can I get you a beer?” she asked, moving toward the refrigerator in the apartment’s tiny kitchen.
White cabinets, yellow walls and faded yellow linoleum floor. She didn’t bother to switch on a light, but opened the refrigerator door.
“Hey, how old are you anyway?” she called. “You look young.”
“Twenty-one,” he answered. “Hey, I need something stronger than beer,” he called back.
As she brought one of Grant’s Big Gulp vodka cups, their eyes met.
Her hazel-brown eyes: enormous.
Kirk felt suddenly warm and accepted gratefully the plastic cup she said was filled with vodka. So this was Stacey. He saw why both Grant and Lenny Z had fallen for her.
Stacey parked close to him on the sofa. Very close. Her large brown eyes framed by shimmering blonde hair took him all in, her body soft and curvy within a baby blue t-shirt. He’d never met a girl so striking looking.
Stacey put her hand through his hair. The boy– bizarrely, she thought of Kirk Fannin as a high school boy– looked to her impossibly cute. A very different proposition from her previous two men. Placed on her sofa just for her. She put her hand through his sandy-colored hair.
Kirk Fannin was the dangerous one– yet for a moment Stacey Shemke was the aggressor. A different experience. She enjoyed it. Their eyes locked. With an intake of breath Kirk kissed her and moved his lean body on top of hers.
“Stacey,” he said. “Oh, Stacey!”
“Kirk,” she said. “Kirk!”
Swaggy found his way into the park at the river, a secluded location where he could safely imbibe the night’s reward. Often police would shine spotlights and chase everyone home. Summer lovers and such. But on this chilly night they’d figure no one was out.
No one but Swaggy!
As he scouted for the right bench, shards of his past life scattered through his mind. The woman who’d led him to this. She! He couldn’t recall exactly which woman though of the many he’d let down was directly responsible.
He’d been a stockbroker in a past life, flush with money. Coke and vodka. Vodka and coke– not the soda pop kind.
Money to burn? He’d burned it! The culmination of his disintegration was the night he and a co-worker were returning from a strip club in Canada. He’d drunkenly bounced his Mercedes against the wall of the underground tunnel several times, and laughed about it. He laughed to the Customs officials on the U.S. side that he’d destroyed his car. They frowned and called D.P.D.
He blew 0.40 on the breathalyzer test. “Legally dead,” an officer told him.
Then came the ‘08 market collapse, and he was finished anyway.
He’d been glad to get out. Stress and ulcers. Ulcers and stress. Now he was free. Forever. He sat down on a park bench.
“Poor Swaggy,” he thought while cracking open the bottle and taking a swig. “Good old Swaggy!”
The line of cars headed downriver on Fort Street. Over a drawbridge across a canal and through a bleak section of Detroit with large gasoline storage tanks rising behind isolated homes on empty streets. What used to be a neighborhood. They sped across the dividing line between city and downriver– past an intersection infamous for the amount of vice available. For any observer outside this time of night (this hour of the morning)– the stray hooker or druggy– the parade of roaring multicolored vehicles was an impressive sight.
Jerry Ski and Sergeant Sperger pulled into the park in an unmarked black car, stationing themselves to the side, where they could observe, nearly invisible within the morning fog. A few minutes later the three assigned squad cars arrived. White, with blue lettering. They’d been together at a coffee shop someplace. The three cars backed into parking spaces so they’d be facing the park entrance. Ready. In case.
Mohican had been texting Jerry what scant information he had. As far as he knew, the gang was set on their plans and were on their way.
“It’s all a fog,” Jones added.
Sunrise was yet an hour away. Would anything happen? They waited, and waited.
Black Hat Boyd lost himself in the kind of strange thoughts that hit you in the deepest latest part of the night, as you suddenly wonder where you are and why you’re up at this hour, you should be in bed somewhere yet at the same time you’re incredibly alert.
“We’re almost there,” his driver announced.
Boyd sat up, looking ahead and around himself, struggling to see, to know.
One of the park’s regular seagulls was up and about, perched upon his favorite post on his favorite railing, enjoying himself, hanging out. His head cocked, as if hearing something.
Jerry Ski and Sergeant Sperger glanced toward the park entrance at a curious play of lights. Floating surreal headlights accompanied by a roaring wall of noise as souped-up cars– gangmobiles– emerged from the night and pulled into the park from every direction.
“Oh shit,” Sperger said.
Black Hat Boyd held his state-of-the-art smartphone in his right hand but dropped it when he saw what was in front of them. The too-familiar white cars with lights on top. He thought his driver should halt but instead the man continued driving calmly ahead as if– as if this were a day at the park.
“Po-lice!” Boyd shouted, scrambling for something inside his coat. “What the motherfucker is the deal with these motherfuckers waiting for us? Someone snitched. Heads gonna roll when I find out who dimed us the fuck out!”
He began firing his machine gun through the open car window to cover any retreat.
The gunman in the car behind Boyd’s took more deliberate aim, his gloved hand– an expensive yellow soft leather glove– squeezing the trigger red jets of flame glimpsed within the barrel gun kicking a row of shots sent off like hopeful children toward their destination.
Trees rustled and his companions instantly flew off, but the seagull on the post froze at what looked to be a mesmerizing white dot of light traveling at superfast speed aimed directly for his head.
Two officers sat in one of the cars peering in front of them when their windshield shattered.
Quick red-white flashes from gang cars, bullets firing then spraying in the officers’ direction– at them— whose first trained instinct was to reach for their weapons.
“We’re under attack!” a voice said on their police radios.
This was the signal they needed, abandoning the three police vehicles en masse and scattering into shadows while Jerry Ski and Sergeant Sperger watched in the unmarked car to the side.
An officer loaded down with vest, pistol, handcuffs, radio, belt and shotgun tripped and sprawled across the concrete walkway as bullets whistled over him.
Swaggy the bum on the bench awoke from what seemed at first to be firecrackers then fireworks– explosions suddenly everyplace. Had Fourth of July come early? “Pop-pop-pop” from every direction a bullet passed through the bench, near his head, and one through his coat– Swaggy rolled off the bench hit the ground hugged it, army style. Swaggy at war! As he’d seen in movies, but the explosions kept coming– “Pop! Pop! Pop!”– kept coming, kept coming. . . .
“What do I do now?” Black Hat’s driver said as the clusterfuck scene laid out in front of them.
“Keep driving!” Boyd ordered.
Sergeant Sperger grabbed the transmitter on his car radio– to say what?
Shrieking multiplied sounds of expelled weapons from both sides filling the air in every direction for miles.
A burst of white light like a camera flash showed Swaggy McCray’s face and his eyes: terrified.
“Ten-thirty-three,” Sperger yelled into his mic. “Ten-thirty-three! Need assistance. Need assistance!”
The sounds were what everyone remembered most about the night. The staccato “rat-tat-tat” layers upon layers. And the lights– flashes from both sides. Volleys blended together at speed.
“Get us out of here!” Black Hat Boyd demanded.
He feared getting boxed in from behind.
One of the police cars caught fire orange flames rising heat and fire against the night reflecting off the black-sheet-glass surface of the river, creating for a few minutes a vivid never-forgotten image, like a painting.
The officers who waited crouched behind various park barriers with guns drawn watched the display, transfixed.
Many of the bullets, aimed too high and too far, dropped into the river like rainfall.
Those within the maelstrom heard new sounds, the echo of approaching sirens. Approaching, approaching, but never arriving.
Black Hat’s driver turned the wheel the car bounded onto the grass scraped a tree then was back on a road looking for an exit for escape other cars following or scattering looking for other outlets, a display of red, yellow, blue, gray vehicles bouncing like retreating tanks with a roar of motors, leaving a cloud of gunsmoke the smell of exhaust and the echoes of reverberation behind them.
Silence- except for distant sirens. Shooting ceased. The officers waited a full minute as their ears recovered, to be sure.
Jerry Ski stepped out of the unmarked car on shaky feet to take in the scene.
Sergeant Sperger was on his radio transmitting to other downriver police departments, giving the route of the escaping gang vehicles in hopes that someone could block their retreat.
Traveling over 100 miles per hour on Northline Road, Black Hat’s driver crashed the car, which flipped over twice. Once-sparkling midnight-blue limo now damaged, turned upside down. Wheels spinning. Police arrested the two five minutes later, still in the smashed vehicle, stunned but otherwise okay, as they’d worn seatbelts.
The other gang vehicles vanished as quickly as they’d appeared, like fantasies of night– Shakespeare’s demi-puppets– finding routes back to their home turf of Detroit, which with its chaos and devastation provided ample places to hide. Until next time.
News vans outnumbered police vehicles in the aftermath, plus two helicopters overhead. Now that it was over, everyone wanted in on the act.
No one was seriously hurt. Casualties included one sprained ankle, a few cuts from flying debris, and a dead seagull. Plus three destroyed police cars.
The seagulls returned, circling overhead, squawking at the noise and the death of their friend.
Amid the sounds of activity, one stray person remained in the park. As he lay on his back in the grass on the cold ground Swaggy checked his coat and found the bottle of vodka intact, a few swigs left in it. He took a healthy swallow of the soul-relieving warm liquid. Life was good.
Kirk and Stacey awoke to the sound of helicopters and wondered what was happening.
“They’re after you,” she said to him.
He looked directly into her wonderful eyes.
Outside a window, the sun appeared as a red line in the sky from the direction of the river. The site of the helicopters.
“I gotta run,” he told her.
Her magnetic eyes said not to.
“Come with me?” he asked.
They packed as many belongings of Stacey’s as they could quickly round up into Kirk’s gold Mustang. Clothes on hangers, a laptop, coffeemaker, and two battered suitcases filled with whatever could be crammed into them. Stacey was used to living out of suitcases.
Before closing the door to her place, Kirk kicked one of his brother’s empty plastic Big Gulp cups. The cup bounced off a wall and rolled, then stopped.
They sat in the car and closed the car doors as the day appeared fully in front of them. They began driving.
A month later local police found Grant Fannin passed out drunk on locally-produced vodka while curled up with a local girl seventeen years-old, who had long black hair, in a room over a saloon owned by a friend of his. He’d given up blondes.
Grant was turned over to Detroit police, who put him in a police lineup. Those who’d been at the blind pig where Lenny Z was shot were called in to identify the shooter.
Mohican Jones and Jerry Ski sat at the back of the room. Grant Fannin and two other men stood on a brightly lit stage. The display reminded Mohican of the opera house.
“Not him,” witness Jakayla said. “Definitely not. Too old. My guy was younger. Handsomer.”
She wondered what happened to the white boy who’d done the shooting. He’d been cute.
Other witnesses were hesitant.
“The man in the middle look like him. He’s close. But I can’t be sure.”
Another witness, the husky doorman who’d let the shooter in and out, could only shrug.
“Can’t say,” he said. “All these white motherfuckers look alike.”
They sent Grant Fannin to prison anyway on a weapons violation, for an illegal sawed-off shotgun found with him when he’d been arrested. The thinking of prosecutors was to charge him with whatever they could to take him off the streets. A Wayne County jury agreed.
In prison, Grant met Black Hat Boyd. The two men bonded over the realization they’d been convicted on the same charge, and became friends.
Kirk Fannin and Stacey Shemke remained in Kentucky. They sent occasional letters to Grant in prison. Otherwise they were not heard from.
When Kirk and Stacey went out Friday nights they drank Kentucky bourbon. Never vodka.
New Pop Lit is a joint project of Karl Wenclas and Kathleen Marie Crane. The “3-D” multidimensional story is an idea we’ve been working toward for several years. We’re a long way from perfecting the concept. Expect more of them.