Short story by P. Lewis Henderson
When I returned to my dorm that night, I discovered that I’d locked myself out; my keys were still inside my dorm. I helplessly knocked on the door. I could just barely hear my roommate snoring.
I decided to spend the night in the only place left open on campus—Robeson Hall, the Fine Arts building. I entered through the back where the door was open. I hid in one of the rooms, underneath the easels, nestling under the empty cartons of Chinese food and dust and discarded yellowed newsprint for about five hours or so until I was rudely awakened by a sharp whack across the buttocks. I lurched up and saw a CSU security officer standing there, looking down at me. “What the hell you doin’ sleepin’ in here? You homeless?”
“No, I can’t get in my dorm,” I said.
He sucked in his breath.
I think I remembered his face. He was the officer I went to report that my old car had been vandalized, and he looked very ugly this morning. His nostrils flared. Everything about him—his rigidity, the rapid anticipatory breaths coming out of his chest—spelled open hostility. He acted like he’d met me for the first time; worse, he acted like I’d committed manslaughter. The bastard wanted to see blood: it was written all over his face.
He drew his stick.
“You’re a liar,” he panted, casually flinging the stick around—before he took a wild swing towards my face with all his might. The stick hummed in the air as I ducked away from it. But that merely fed his rage/lust; he hadn’t gotten his release, so he swung the stick again against my ribs; the stick struck it with such force I was surprised to feel it didn’t hurt so much. He looked inexplicably outraged.
“You’re a liar,” he repeated…. “Tell me what the fuck are you doin’ sleepin’ in here, you pissy-ass fuckhead.”
“I already told you I can’t get in my dorm,” I panted, feeling my bladder open up against its will, and the first few droplets of urine already forcing their way into my underwear.
The cop didn’t want to hear what I had to say. He swung the stick towards my face again and this time, he made sure he didn’t miss. The stick thrashed me up across my eye, near the temple, and just at the edge of my mouth, up against the teeth; my teeth cut into my lip. He hit me again in the same place, then when my head jerked around he thwacked me across the back of my skull.
My whole head tingled and suddenly felt very heavy with rage; I seemed to have heard a thousand airplanes roaring through my ears at once. The blood streaming into my eyes began to burn and my right eye violently blinked. It was very thick, glue-like—not the bullshit blood when your finger gets cut. I could hear it dropping everywhere, on the papers, on the floor, like silent atomic bombs….
I looked up out of the other eye. He struck again, but missed, because I covered my head, and that pissed him off even more. I wondered if he was going to kill me; I only hoped he didn’t want to. I had never been beaten by the police and it was my assumption that all those stories about “police brutality” were just exaggerations of flighty, paranoid minds. But there was nothing fanciful about those bits of blood coagulating on the floor. Any more childhood fantasies still latent, kid?
“Show me some goddamn ID, you idiot,” he screeched in abject hostility, unbuttoning his holster.
I gave him my student ID—he snatched it rudely from me, looked at it, turned it around and around, held it up to the light, him poking his fucking Vaseline lips out all the while. “Is this a fake?”
“It doesn’t look real to me,” he snorted. “Now—how about your validated card? Huh?” He rudely flung the ID on the ground, and stomped on it. “Show me that.”
I pulled it out and showed it to him: he snatched that from me, too. “Oh—so you ARE a student here, after all,” he growled. “Well—that don’t make no goddamn difference to me. Get up, faggot.”
I stood up, but not fast enough for him, because he yanked me up violently by the bloody front of my shirt. Then he slapped me across the face with his big open palm. I felt a stinging numbness there where he’d hit me, commingled with all the other blows, physical and emotional, I had gotten there all semester long. “You’re onea them mo’fuckin’ white boys, huh,” he screeched, looking me up and down bitterly. “You think you somebody special, right? You think you can do whatever the fuck you like? Right? You think you King Shit? Huh?”
I stood there looking at him perplexed. He swung the stick towards me again and struck my arm as I dodged it. “I said you think you can do any fuckin’ thing ya want, right?? Well speak up!—“
“No,” I helplessly whimpered, “I never said that—“
“Don’t you ever talk to me in that tone of voice,” he suddenly spat.
“But I was just—“
“Shutup, nigger, you a goddamn liar!”
The coon cop pushed me roughly to the ground and started stomping all over and around my thighs. My angels told me he wasn’t the only coon cop in the building, and they proved to be absolutely right. The others came right on cue; the two feet turned into seven or eight others. All of them were security officers and, as I could vaguely smell, drunk. When they were finally finished, I rolled over on my back, because it felt better than being on my aching stomach. The ceiling twirled around and around, along with their faces and the coon cop who assaulted me first shrieked, bent over me, with his horrible stinking breath on my face, “you know I can just kill you if I wanted! Ain’ nobody would know I kilt you!”
The others were standing around looking when he forced me back up again by the front of my shirt. All of the buttons were torn off; my blood was all over my chest and my shirt and on his fingers and along the outer edges of his black hands. One of the cops vaguely smiles. Yeah, it’s funny that I got pummeled. The funniest fuckin’ thing in the world.
They make me sit in one of the stray desks. Coon-cop number one pulls his gun out of his holster and then roughly forces it right under my chin. The gun itself seems to be happy knowing I’m about to die; I can even sense the bullet giggling deep down inside the chamber. “I can kill you, black nigger. Or I can do this.”
He rips off my penny-loafers and my socks. He takes matches out of his pocket. Coon-cop number two gets up and locks the door just to make sure nobody comes in to spoil the fun. Coon-cop number three draws his baton, as does coon-cop number four. “Say,” says number four, “you a student here?”
“No, he isn’t,” spits number one, putting matches in my toes, “he isn’t. He’s got some goddamn fake IDs so he can come in here an’ loiter—or steal shit. Goddamn stupid sonofabitch.” He spits violently in my face. My jaws ached so violently I was unable to speak. He slaps me a couple times before the matches begin to burn into my toes. I started to scream, but as I shrieked the officers threw stray paper balls at me and told me to “shut (my) black ass up”. They’d handcuffed my hands to the desk by then and laughed at my every move, until coon-cop number one got up and gave me another violent push and knocked me down so that my head violently rapped on the hard tiled floor…. “Damn! Wilkins, you tryna kill the nigger–?”
“Thass right,” he shrieked, “thass right! Thass right! FUCK that punk-ass bitch-muthafucka! I don’t give a FUCK what the fuck he did do or didn’t do, I’mo fuck that nigger UP! I’mo kill that black-ass sonofabitch!—“
“Say, man,” Coon-cop number two suddenly said, stroking his night-stick, “less FUCK that nigger.” He laughed dryly when he said it. He turned to me and looked me dead in the face with this stupid half-smile. He had a very long aquiline nose with small lips and mouth and protruding buck teeth and skin like cold coffee; he had eyes that rolled around in their sockets with lazy arrogance. “Hey, bitch-nigger,” he barked, “you been fucked in the ass before?….”
I didn’t answer him. My mouth hurt—though I knew I had to get some words out of it if I wanted to live. He got up and walked over, uncapping his brandy bottle. He took the leftover matches with him, too, though he had no cigarettes on him. “I axe you a question, nigger,” he spat. “I said, have you been fucked in the ass before?….”
He didn’t wait for a reply. He doused me from head to toe with the brandy. What was left he tried to force into my mouth. The stench and taste of it burned my nose and throat: everything smelled like rubbing alcohol. When I spat some of it out he smashed the bottle across my lips and teeth.
I felt my head pounding like a billion sledgehammers when he struck the match and started talking shit. He waved it around me. The other nigger cops laughed and howled and slapped their thighs. It just got funnier and funnier, so funny, that they should have made a goddamn sitcom out of it. “You wanna burn, nigger?” the coon cop taunted, “you wanna burn, mothafucka? Burn, baby, burn, baby? Burn the mo’fuckin’ baby?”
“Yeah! Burn baby burn!”
“You better talk, boy.”
“I can’t,” I groaned.
“Awwww, that’s cute. That really is, you know. You know I gotta wife an’ kids, nigger?…..You ain’t known that, did yuh? Did you? Well, lissen….if I knew you were messin’ with them if you grew up, I’d cut your mothafuckin’ balls off an’ stick them down your throat. NIGGER. So,” rasps coon-cop number four, “you been fucked in the ass lately, cocksucker?”
He struck another match because the old one burned out….
“No, I haven’t,” I stammered, “I, I’m not, I’m—n-no-n-n-not, I’m not l-li-ii-like—“
“That nigger retarded, yo,” number three laughed. “Leam ‘lone. Nigger gon’ get killed anyway….”
“I’m-I-mnnnnooot, not that w-wa-wa-way,” I stammered.
Coon-cop number two chuckled and screamed “FUCK YOU” and casually chucked the light at my pants. My whole body was suddenly engulfed in flames which lapped quickly all around me for only a second before some kind soul sprayed me all over with a fire extinguisher. He sprayed it in my face and in my hair and my chest and the back of my head and tried to get it in my eyes. When I finally came to my senses I realized they were all over the ground pissing on themselves in hysterical laughter. “Man,” number four cackled, “uncuff that nigger, he’s ready.”
I told them all the lies they wanted me to tell. When they finally saw that I roomed at Dabney Hall, they started piecing things together. Maybe I was responsible for trying to kill this unidentified man whom they found nude and unconscious in the bathroom. Maybe I tried to kill Melissa McCormick and really did crush little Tony Randolph underneath an oak chest-of-drawers. There was little else to say, other than to have them prove it. And where could they do that?
“Come with us,” they told me, leading me out by the arm.
I wasn’t burned at all, but that didn’t mean shit. Anything could have happened now, because this was a typical situation in which black men found their end at the hands of cops. The more blood spilled, the more frenzied they get—it’s a religious thing with these motherfuckers. They took me down to the headquarters, which looked just like a prison. I guess this is where it all ends for one when he decides to educate himself—prison. They handed my “phony” ID card over to some gray-haired kook who clicked on a computer and began hammering away at the greasy keys. They took me into this bare, bleak room with light blue walls and worn, scuffled tiles where, right as I was pushed down, I pissed in my pants again. “Don’t keep on doin’ that, you gotta give us a urine sample before ya leave,” one “lady” says, robotically snapping on rubber gloves: a fat, bloated uncouth package of gold teeth and bobby pins and disgusting warts and wens. With this dreary, flat, disgusting voice, like a hostile, phlegmatic robot, she tells me, “I’m gonna do a strip-search on you, okay? This is to make sure….”
On and on she goes. All night long. Blah, blah, blah, blah, vo-do-do-de-O-do, ooga-booga, unga-bunga, just like the radio mindlessly droning away in the background somewhere about “love”. Get on with it, bitch.
I take off my pants and shirt and they look through everything there. They run a metal detector over the burnt remains of them, put them through the x-ray machine, and then some. They examine every scrap of paper still in there. All the while they explained the burns and bruises away lamely as my having been “drunk” and having “fallen from the shower after washing up”—with that unidentified man they found as their perfect, ready-made alibi. They ordered me to pull my ass-cheeks open, which I did with such unease they did it themselves. “You’re wasting our time, Mister Morris,” the dreary mole-ridden monotone robot snaps. “Cooperate with us and you’ll get it all over with.”
“But I don’t see what all this is about—“
“I said COOPERATE WITH US AND YOU’LL GET—IT—ALL—OVER—WITH,” she shot, more forcefully. Then she stuck something long, thin, cold and hard up my ass. My asshole contracted immediately feeling the cold hard steel. I heard a camera shutter click as I felt the latex fingers probing deeper and deeper, poking around trying to find something, but they didn’t find anything. Then I was kicked around in the sweat room a few more times before a couple guards pulled down their pants and pissed all over me. After that I gave them a sample of my urine, then some of my sputum, then my semen.
When it was all over, finally, I found I didn’t have to sleep. It was daylight already. They handed me my clothes, my card, my validation ticket, my briefcase, and pushed me out, just in time for class.