Thursday, October 28, 2010

week twenty-nine: coward in the rye

Warning: this week's story contains strong language.

911 Emergency.” “Oh, God, oh, God! Help, Help!” “All units dispatch to Grove University, we have a 245 in progress, shots fired! Repeat: shots fired!” “He’s got a gun and he’s shooting at all of us! Oh, God!” “Calm down, ma’am, try to stay-“ “Oh, God, he’s coming this way! No! NO!” “Uh, there’s only one and he’s got a gun- a pistol! A handgun!” “Unit 432 arriving on the scene, where the hell is everybody?!” “I don't know what he's screaming!" “I can hear them! I can hear the shots! They’re coming this- they’re coming this way!” “We’re heading westbound, we’re going as fast as we can!” “This is 432, I have confirmed shots fired, requesting permission to go in-“ “Negative! Negative! Wait on the SWAT team!” “Mom? Mom!” “Hold together, help is on the way!” “Mom… I’ve been shot. There’s a guy here and he- ah- mom, I just- Oh, God, no!” “SWAT team is inbound, ETA five minutes.” “I love you.” “This is 432. Fuck it. I’m going in.”

In his dorm room at just before eight in the morning, Scott Green stood before the mirror and worried about his hair. As is typical in college sophomore males, his hair's a mess; a dirty blond mess. At the same time, however, a calculated mess. He hoped his hair would offset the fact that he was a little overweight, so he paid it particular attention. After once again straightening his thick-rimmed glasses, he grabbed his tan messenger bag and stepped outside. His class is at 8:30 so he knows he has time. He always hopes to run into someone on the way, but no one is much for conversation at this hour in the morning. Thus, deciding that no one would say hi, Scott put in his earbuds and turned on his iPod. He put it on shuffle, he didn’t care what, but he needed some of kind of sound.

How It Ends – DeVotchka

Scott needed something to concentrate on besides either of two things: Class and his parents. He didn’t want to think about class because, well, it’s class. There’s little else to say about that. He could worry about his homework or fret over any upcoming quizzes or exams, but the point to that is nil. Having music in the ear deafens any apprehension. And of course, the latter of the two is the more complicated issue. Scott wanted nothing more than to be completely independent of his family. He loved them, but tired of them dangling money over his head like the proverbial carrot on a stick. As such, Scott didn’t talk to or call them much. He felt bad about that, but this is his way of convincing them that he can do life on his own.

His first class is the only class he really cares about: Postmodern Literature. Scott always enjoyed English classes, and especially enjoyed this one because it dealt with modern issues, perspectives, and emotions. In other words, it applied. Upon arriving in class, he turned off his music, sat down, and eagerly awaited continuing their ongoing discussion of The Catcher in the Rye. Although Scott had read it before more than once, hearing Doctor Spencer analyze and explain every detail never failed in yielding new insight. It was as if hearing speech, but for only the first time understanding the words.

They were at the part of the book where Holden reflects on his old friend, Jane Gallagher. Interestingly, Jane never appears in the actual narrative; she only shows up in reflective passages. For some reason, Scott found himself oddly connected to this passage. Scott felt Holden’s pain as he misses an old and dear friend, who, Scott felt, could be a romantic interest. There is definitely something anyone could relate to in this section, especially those with the proverbial teenage angst, however, Scott felt as though it spoke directly to him. He could never fully place it, though. Perhaps, however, the biggest parallel Scott drew to his own life is Holden's constant self-victimization.

Doctor Spencer always liked to end his lessons with some kind of life lesson or application. He tried so hard to make his class practical rather than merely informative. And so he told his students, and Scott listened carefully, “You’re reading Holden’s story here and I’ll bet a lot of you are thinking about how much it applies to you or how you can relate. I don’t think anyone can read Catcher and not relate in some way. That’s the beauty of it. But I want to encourage you not just to accept Holden’s little pity party. You need to look at it, reflect on it, and, most importantly, do something about it. Is your life as bad as Holden Caulfield’s? Well, that just sucks, doesn’t it?” The class laughed. “You can do something about that. Don’t run away to some hotel; don’t run away at all. If things are bad, then do something about it. Holden is a lesson on what not to be. Don’t be Holden.”

With a grandfatherly smile, Doctor Spencer ended his class, “I’ll see you all next week.”

Scott left the classroom and immediately realized he hadn’t eaten breakfast. His stomach cried for nourishment. He had gotten to the point where it didn’t exactly matter what he ate so long as he was fed. Fortunately, Grove University is a big school and the western campus has a smaller cafeteria with all of the necessities. Scott made his way there, grabbed a single-serving bowl of Fruit Loops, and filled it with milk. Scott was one of those people who liked a lot of milk in his cereal, his reasoning being that the milk afterward is the best part. Hoping to find someone to sit with, he stood there and looked over the morning faces. There was no one. Only somewhat disappointed, and not at all surprised, Scott resigned to sit by himself. As he sat, he felt his loneliness, but laughed only slightly when he realized it just made him feel more like Holden Caulfield.

“Don’t be Holden,” he remembered with a smirk.

That was when he smiled, looked around, and labeled everyone a phony. Everyone there in their own tight-knit circles with no time for Scott was officially a phony. That felt good. Oh, you bet it did. Phonies.

Now, let’s take a look at a real phony:

Police Sergeant Jack Maurice drove his patrol cruiser right past Grove University. It was just another morning with just another cup of coffee. There was nothing really planned except for work. Well, work, and Jack had a meeting to attend; a very shady meeting. On his left, is Grove University, but that isn’t his destination. No, his destination is on the right in a residential neighborhood.

And look, college kids do drugs. Or at least most of them, right? But how do they get them, you wonder?

Luce Montenegro.

Montenegro sold crack cocaine and needle heroin to Grove students and made a killing. Through comprehensive investigation, Jack uncovered no signs of drug dealers in this area. None at all. Grove students must have gotten their stuff elsewhere. People like Montenegro don’t exist around here. Well, that’s what the official report will tell you.

Unofficially, Jack knew exactly where Montenegro was and had enough hard evidence to put him away for life. So, what’s stopping him?

Ten thousand dollars every month, that’s what. That’s enough to set Jack for life; something his policeman’s salary could never do. It’s truly a sad state of affairs when the men in blue are barely paid enough. Of course, you never joined the force for money. You joined so you could “help people” and “make a difference.” Jack did that. He just took a little extra on the side, that's all.

Jack pulled up to Montenegro’s house and schlepped his way to the front door. With his fist, he pounded and soon a tall, lanky Hispanic man opened the door: Montenegro. “Ho, officer Jack! You’re a little early, aren’t you?”

“Yeah, I guess I am,” Jack replied shifting uncomfortably. But he stayed firm. “You boys still being good?”

“As good as you’ll let us be,” Montenegro laughed. “You know, officer, I just gotta say man, we really appreciate bent cops like you helpin’ us out like this.”

“Fuck you,” Jack sharply exhaled. “Just give me the money so I can go.”

“What? You scared more coppers like you are gonna show? Don’t worry about it, homie,” he must have been at least a little high. Jack always thought dealers never did their own stuff, but Montenegro was his own man. Let him be. “Hey, Paulie, get this man his dough.”

“Thanks,” Jack grunted as soon as Montenegro handed him a thick stack of hundred dollar bills.

“Look, man, you can come by any time and we’ll fix you up, man, okay?”

“No way, I don’t want to smell like you,” Jack turned and didn't lose any time making it back to his car. Right there he considered flaunting his badge and arresting them all. But no, not now.

“Real funny!”

When Jack looked back and rolled his eyes, Luce had already closed his door. The bent officer climbed back into his cruiser and resumed his patrol. Since his beat was in the area, he could keep other officers away from Montenegro. Ten grand a month is a good deal; no taxes to screw it up, even. Of course, Jack felt bad about it, but come on, Luce sells to college students. They’re gonna do drugs anyway, right? Not like anyone’s getting killed.


Well, Scott labeled everyone a phony except for that pretty girl sitting alone just a few tables down. He wasn’t sure, but he thought her name was Brittany. Ever since his first semester, Scott had admired Brittany, but couldn’t muster the courage to talk to her. He couldn’t even recall the sound of her voice. But to him, she was perfect: brunette and, though hidden by glasses, eyes green as spring. She was even in his literature class, evidence being the copy of Catcher she held in her hands.

As Scott enjoyed his Fruit Loops, he’d occasionally look up at Brittany. He loved the way she would subtly lick her upper lip before she turned the page or how she futilely tried to keep her bangs out of her eyes. But then, as she pushed her hair away once again, Brittany looked up and right at Scott. Man, she was pretty. She really was.

Stop staring, Scott.

His eyes locked with hers. He couldn’t look away. Brittany smiled patiently and might have even giggled a little before she returned to Holden’s world. Smiling, Scott returned to his cereal.

And then….



Screaming. Bloody, bloody screaming.



Everyone froze. The sounds and screams came from down the hall. No one dared move….

Someone finally cried, “Are those gunshots?!”

“Oh, God!”

Frantic screaming.

“Someone lock the doors!”

A young man ran to the doors and closed them. This was the only entrance. He cried, “There’s no lock!”

The shots and screams would not let up.

“Oh, no, oh, no… this doesn’t happen to me!”

Dude, someone call the cops!”

“I’m calling my mom!”

“But what if it’s something else?!”

“Do you really want to take that chance?!”

Scott fazed himself out of the chaos as he realized he didn’t have his cell phone. He couldn’t call his mom or anyone else. Scott looked down at this breakfast and wondered what to do. It was all of a sudden that no one but everyone mattered. Scott glanced back to Brittany and saw the horror in her eyes as she looked to him. For an instant, a powerful connection manifested. Scott jumped to his feet. What are you doing, Scott?

“I don’t know,” he would reply.

A couple of bigger guys, the football type, stood and started trying to take command, “Everybody find somewhere to hide! Turn tables over!”

“These windows don’t open!”

“Oh my God! We’re trapped! We’re going to die!”

“All units dispatch to Grove University, we have a 245 in progress, shots fired! Repeat: shots fired!”

Officer Maurice was the first man on the scene. Since his patrol was right next to Grove, he pulled in only an instant after the all-units call was given. Jack just couldn’t believe it. These school shootings happen; you hear about them on the news all the time, but it’s just one of those things that could never happen to you.

Or so you thought.

Jack pulled onto the fire lane at the western campus and radioed to dispatch, “Unit 432 arriving on the scene, where the hell is everybody?!” He drew his Beretta 9mm and took cover behind the car.

“On the way, 432, hold tight until backup arrives.”


Jack heard the bloodcurdling screams and shouts as the gunfire continued. There could be no mistake; all hell was breaking loose in there. “Goddammit, this is 432, I have confirmed shots fired, requesting permission to go in-“

“Negative, negative! Wait for the SWAT team!”

Jack slammed his fist onto the car. He stood there, listening to the piercing gunfire and harrowing death. There wasn’t even imagining the terror inside. How could he just sit there while this happened? You know what? He couldn’t. Before tossing his radio into the car, he said only three sentences:

“This is 432. Fuck it. I’m going in.”


Despite all best efforts, there was no organization, there was chaos. Most froze, while others frantically stumbled about. There was literally nowhere to go and nowhere to hide.

Scott pushed through the fray and on to Brittany. He ignored everything; the screaming, the terror, the sporadic gunshots.... For some reason, this one pretty girl mattered above all else. Scott knew very little about her, but in his naïveté, he loved her. And with that, nothing else matters.

But before he could reach her, the door burst open. Everything stopped as everyone gasped in horror. It was that one kid. Everyone knows who he is; or knew of him. He’s that kid you see around, but never say anything to. No one knew his name. Sweat engulfed his angered face, his nose ran, and his furious eyes were constricted. Blood spattered his clothes. And in his hand was a semiautomatic handgun.

Grunting, this kid surveyed the room, shouted slurred, unknown words, and then opened fire.

Scott watched with wide eyes as blood sprayed and people fell. Dead. So much screaming, the gun blaring, spent casings hitting the floor.... Scott looked to Brittany. He could see nothing more than confusion and absolute terror. And he could sense the lingering question, “Why?” Their eyes locked. Both felt as though this would be the last thing they would ever see.

Brittany was right.

Her temple burst in crimson. Scott watched with utmost shock, horror, and sorrow as she fell from her chair and hit the floor lifeless and limp. Her table obscured his view, but he heard both her body and her book hit the ground. Why?

Scott turned to the shooter, who screamed completely unintelligibly as he showered random death. The slide locked, then the killer ejected his magazine.


This is your chance.

The gunman pulled a fresh clip from his pocket and slapped it in. The slide racked forward.


You know what Professor Spencer told you: “Do something about it.”

So he did.

Officer Jack knew to follow his ears. Keeping his Beretta raised and ready, he ran the halls. For every shot he heard, he had to assume someone lost their life. This is too much.

As he ran, he saw hundreds of horrified faces. They all looked to him as most bled, some cowered, and others still were merely corpses. Jack looked to them as if to say, “It’s going to be alright.” But he had to push aside thoughts from his head that he could have saved them if he had acted sooner. If only he had acted sooner….

But in a situation like this, you can’t think like that. You just can’t. You can’t think at all; just do. Jack needs to find this shooter and take him out. That’s all that matters; lives hang in the balance.

That was when Jack made the conscious decision to shoot first and ask questions later. There was no way he could risk anything at all. So Jack flipped off his safety and put his finger firmly on the trigger. These are two things against everything the books taught. But this is no place for the books.

There: the west side cafeteria. Every gunshot and holler came from there. In all of his visits to Grove, Jack knew that the cafeteria was a dead-end. If the shooter is in there, he’s stuck. No way out. Get ready, Jack, no turning back now.

Scott mustered everything and bolted the shooter. Before the gunman could react, Scott slammed into his side, bringing them both to the ground. With fury, fear, and courage, Scott bashed the shooter’s neck not once, but twice. That was enough. The madman released the pistol as he gasped for air.

In a frenzy, Scott grabbed the gun and came to his feet. He kept it trained on the laying gunman and considered exacting revenge. He should pull the trigger. He should kill this- this phony! For everything he’s done, for the unknown number of people he’s just murdered… for Brittany. Scott readied himself.


Pain. Immeasurable pain.


Scott looked to his side and saw a lone policeman at the door, smoking gun raised. He tried to say something, but nothing came. His chest was pierced and bleeding. Scott’s lungs faltered and breath came not at all.

Limp, Scott fell to his knees and then the floor. As he lay there, life draining, he looked to his side and saw Brittany’s lifeless body looking to him. Next to her, he saw the sleeve of Catcher in the Rye. For a brief moment, he put himself in Holden’s shoes again and she was Sally Hayes. Could they run away together; leave this world of phonies? Yes, but not together. Scott, if he could, would have sworn he could see her smile just that one last time. He really did.

Jack holstered his pistol and, with a hint of triumph, asked aloud, “Is everyone alright?” From what he could tell, that was the only shooter. It’s over; it’s all over.

And then a chubby girl in the corner shouted to him, “You dick! That guy just took down the killer! He’s the hero! You just- you just killed him you stupid pig!”

There were no words.

Jack holstered his pistol and cut out any remorse. There’s no time for that. “Then who is it? Who’s the real killer?”

The girl pointed at the floored kid who still gasped for air, “It’s him, dumbass!”

Jack glared at her before rushing to the killer. With the utmost precision offered by his training, Jack slapped handcuffs on his man. As he was lifted, the kid shouted again. Jack couldn’t understand him, but as he looked into the kid’s eyes, he saw the tell-tale signs of heroine abuse: constricted eyes, slurred speech, runny nose…. Oh, God.

As he led the killer down the hall, some of the kids were cheering. Jack couldn’t stomach it. He didn’t do this; it was that kid lying dead in the cafeteria. He's the hero. What’s his name? Officer Maurice looked no one in the eye. Officer Maurice is a goddamn phony and he knows it.

The killer screamed the whole way. No one could understand him. Maybe it was some foreign language or something, but it was slurred. Either way, the kid needs help and not just for his apparent drug abuse. Jack could only pity him, but more so all those kids inside. Especially for whoever that “hero” was.

After throwing the killer into his car, Officer Maurice radioed dispatch, “I’ve got the suspect in custody. Situation is under control.”

“What?! You had orders not-“

Jack turned off his radio. He didn’t have time for that bullshit. Jack knew he had done the right thing; it just didn’t turn out so well. In fact, it turned out in the worst possible way. There will be hell to pay. As the SWAT teams, ambulances, and other officers arrived one by one, Jack could only think, about damned time.

The lovely young reporter broke the story, “Just hours ago in the building behind me, the western campus of Grove University, a massacre unfolded. A single gunman, who I am told is a student, armed with a single handgun, came to class and started shooting at random. Seventeen students and faculty were injured and twelve were killed. Remarkably, the perpetrator was captured alive by police Sergeant John Patrick Maurice, who is now being referred to by some as the hero of Grove University. There have, however, been conflicting reports that perhaps it was a student who took down the killer. Here with me is Police Chief Armin Williams to answer some questions. So, tell me, what really happened?”

“Officer Maurice is one of the best men on our force. He took total initiative and stormed the building alone. He went in, found the suspect, and took him down.”

“Some students have told us about how another student took the shooter down and Officer Maurice killed that heroic student. What do you have to say about that?”

“Those reports are inaccurate and probably conjured up by do-gooder hippies trying to make us look bad. Jack Maurice is a hero and should be treated as such.”

What a phony.


That night, Officer Maurice just couldn’t get the image of Scott Green out of his mind. Jack’s district head had decided to let Jack go home that night and rest it out. The full investigation would have to wait until tomorrow, where Jack was sure to face consequences. Sure, the police chief had decided to play this for the media, but justice, and the truth, would have to be served. They’d make this private and secret. Jack would probably be forced to retire or something. Either way, his badge is as good as gone.

After a long, cold shower, a shave, dinner, and an hour of contemplation, Jack found himself staring at the blued-steel of his Beretta 92FS 9mm semiautomatic handgun. He slapped a fresh magazine inside and chambered the first round. Jack knew he had to do something with it. Something.

Scott Green came back to his mind. He could see Scott down the sights. And then the muzzle flare: Once, twice. He remembered his momentary relief and the shattering when he found out he had just murdered the real hero. God, Jack, what have you done?

That was when suicide presented itself as an option. He could do it; take the coward’s way out. He is, after all, the real villain in all of this. If Montenegro had been put away, then that kid would never have gotten heroin and maybe this would never have happened. But no, that’s too easy. Any honor left in Jack would never have permitted it. And then he got it.


It’s time to do the right thing.

Officer Maurice grabbed his badge and his gun, put on his coat, and got in the car. That’s right: he’s going after that drug-dealing bastard. The drive was an easy one. It’s ten at night; there’s not much traffic. He passed by Grove and could see there were still emergency vehicles around; likely just to keep order. How do you go on after something like this?

Jack pounded on Montenegro’s door and drew his pistol; he kept it in his hand, but hidden behind his thigh. Luce, clearly high, opened the door, “Officer Jack? Yo, man, hella you doing here?”

“You’re under arrest.”

“Wait- what? Is this some kinda joke?”

“Yeah, it is.”


Jack blasted Luce all over the wall.

Satisfied, Jack dashed back to his car and grabbed a full jug of gasoline. He rushed inside the house and searched every room to make sure it was empty. Thank God it was. After spreading the gas around and taking samples of the drugs laying around for evidence, Jack flicked his lighter.

Flames, glorious flames.

The whole neighborhood looked on as Jack walked away from the blazing home. And as they watched, Jack drew his badge and a slip that read, “I’m not a hero.” Without any second’s hesitation, he put the barrel of his pistol into his mouth and pulled the trigger.

This is as much atonement as it is cowardice.

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