Wednesday’s Other Mass Shooting

Everyone’s heard the news by now about the married couple who shot up the man’s work colleagues this past Wednesday: a friend of mine said, after the initial reports giving the shooters’ names, in a remarkable example of gallows humor: “It’s nice to see that Muslims have assimilated into American culture well enough to participate in ordinary workplace mass shootings instead of making it an Islamic thing.” But of course, the shooters turned out to be doing it for twisted-Islam reasons, so never mind, thanks for trying.

But there was another mass shooting this Wednesday, here in Georgia:

SAVANNAH, Ga. — One woman is dead and three males are injured after an early morning shooting Wednesday.

The shooting happened near the 100 block of West 33rd street around 1:00 a.m.

Savannah-Chatham police are still looking for the suspect. The victims range in age from 17 to 52. They are Jamond Heyward, 17, Brandy Council, 34, Jarrett Myers, 40, and Jeran Washington, 52.

Council died at the scene and the men were transported to a local hospital with what are being described as non-life-threatening injuries.

Right now, we don’t know anything about these people. It could have been a domestic dispute, or a drive-by, or a case of mistaken identity. The scariest part about 21st-century America is that there are so many potential proximate causes for mass shootings—and so many guns with which to do it. What would be the headline for days in nearly any other civilized country is second place for the day in ours.

I don’t care for guns, myself, but my opinion isn’t really all that important. I’ve written about guns before, so I’m going to let that do the talking. Here’s the first scene from an unpublished story, Stalkers, Zealots and Sentries:

Alvin Smith died as he had lived: surrounded by guns and the other paraphernalia of anxious masculinity. Detective Diana Siddall looked around the living room of the loft Smith had rented in Atlanta’s West Midtown neighborhood, which in the boom times had been overbuilt with condos for the aspirational, but even five years after the crash was half-empty and mostly rentals. The loft was a case study in what a long-divorced fortysomething woman like her Did Not Want: a weightlifting bench; a tremendous plasma television; posters of football players, of the text of the U.S. Constitution, of Barack Obama eating a slice of watermelon, for god’s sake. A workbench held many firearms, including an assault rifle mounted in the place of honor. In front of the television lay the long-barreled Patriot Arms .44 Magnum that Smith had been cleaning when it discharged, putting a neat round hole in the point of his chin and blowing the back half of his head over the back of the enormous, oversized brown leather recliner that was the room’s sole chair.

Diana crouched down, peered up at the stand. “Removed the clip but forgot there was one in the chamber?”

“Something like that,” said Dave Keller, chief of Crime Scene. “Gun fetishists all over the city are already feeling embarrassed on this idiot’s behalf.”

“Maybe a suicide?”

“Inconclusive. His hands test for gunshot residue, but they would either way.”

Diana looked up as her partner Inspector Mustapha Alawi cast a shadow across Smith’s body. “Hey,” she said. “Find any clues?”

A sardonic grin underneath his pirate’s beard. “Nothing but survivalist magazines to read, and all he has in the kitchen is light beer and ground beef.” He crouched down to look at Smith’s face. “No note, if that’s what you mean. Internet history is what you’d expect: porn, guns, the kind of bloggers who think Fox News is for liberals. Door was locked. He’s real pissed at someone named Alice, who I’m going to go out on a limb and say is his ex-wife. You want to put fifty bucks on this one, I’m going to take accident.”

“Yeah? I’m thinking this guy had a moment of clarity looking around this place, found his life insurance policy, saw the suicide rider and decided to muddle the issue.”

Keller noticed both detectives were staring at him. “Don’t ask me. I had all night here, I might could find something. But it’s Friday, and it’s ninety degrees outside: I’m guessing we got about half an hour before somebody else gets shot.”

 

Alice was indeed the ex-wife. Her clothes hung loose on her; she wore running shoes; her hair was the color of a fresh copper penny. She made an effort not to look relieved. “Cleaning his gun? I told him a thousand times those things would be the death of him. You better come in and have tea.” When they were served, she continued. “You’ll find a whole list of suits, countersuits, custody battles, and then a restraining order, just from typing our names into your computers. So I figure you’ll be suspicious–” She heard a thump from upstairs, and lowered her voice. “But just so you know, I was at Grady High School all afternoon and evening. Just walked in the door when y’all called. My son’s school play. Bye Bye Birdie, can you believe they still put that one on?” She sighed. “I’m going to have to tell him. Talk about mixed emotions.”

Mustapha put his teacup aside. “Ms. Smith, do you think there’s any reason your husband–”

“Ex-husband.”

“–would take his own life?”

“I thought you said it was an accident. Well, I always figured if Alvin was going to kill himself, he’d do it about thirty seconds after he shot me. For a few months after I got the restraining order, he seemed to calm down. Then, he joined this awful group of men who are even worse than he was. They egged him on to start claiming that I was abusing the legal system–” More thumps from upstairs, then footsteps coming down. Two boys, late teens, a matched pair of a type that hadn’t existed when Diana was young. Trim, pretty, buff, gay, had never even heard of the closet. The sort that made Diana’s own daughter sigh at the unfairness of it all.

“What’s up?” said the taller one.

“Roger, these are the police–”

“Oh, not Dad again.” The other boy inched closer to him.

“It’s complicated,” said his mother. “I’ll explain later. David, are you spending the night?”

“No, ma’am,” said the other boy. “My mom has a conference call; I have to get my sisters ready for school.”

“We just came down for snacks,” said Roger.

After they were safely upstairs, Alice shook her head. “I’m going to have to tell him. You see, Roger was what started it all. He used to like dresses, as a little boy. Alvin couldn’t handle it. I came back early from a business trip and caught Alvin beating Roger with a belt for being a sissy. Filed for divorce the next day.” She finished her tea. “As if anything could have beaten the sissy out of Roger.”

Advertisements

Stalkers, Zealots and Sentries (5)

Parts 1 and 2 set up the structure of this rather long (15k words) short story. Parts 3 and 4 give the first two sections of the story. Here’s the third:

Two days later, Diana was adrift upon a vast sea of paperwork when the desk sergeant sent up a visitor who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Anything for a break. The man was short, dressed like a caricature of a television husband, simultaneously weak-chinned and pugnacious. “Frank Thomas. I’m the president of the Men’s Rights Association of Atlanta. They said you’re investigating Alvin Smith’s death?”

This ought to be fun. “Yes, sir. Coffee?”

“No, thank you. I’m off caffeine for good. I have information that may help you solve the crime.”

“Well, that’s very kind of you, but we’re not treating Mr. Smith’s death as a crime.”

“That figures. I know for a fact that his ex-wife was out to kill him.”

“Hold on, Mr. Thomas. There’s just no evidence he was murdered.” She sketched out the scene for him. “Accident or suicide; take your pick. And his ex-wife couldn’t have done it, even if he really was killed. I know they had problems, but we double-checked her whereabouts.”

“Then you need to dig deeper. See, she’s a pothead.”

“Um, that doesn’t exactly argue in favor of planning a homicide.”

“Hear me out. She smoked in front of their son. Alvin found out, decided to try to regain his paternal rights. I’m his attorney. He had a pretty good chance of succeeding—or would have, if the justice system weren’t so heavily biased against men, and fathers.”

“So she killed him?”

“Or had him killed, if she really did have an alibi. She’ll get a lot of money, from the life insurance.”

Diana made an effort not to roll her eyes. “We checked her phone records; there’s no hit men there. Hit people. We did our due diligence. Your client was cleaning his gun when it went off. His thumbprint was on the trigger; the door was locked. Unless there is someone out there who can walk through walls–”

“Or has a key. The son does.”

The son did. He showed Diana his key ring. “The keys were in my bag at the play. I know I ought to be sad—he’s the only dad I’ve got—but he was a dick. He hit me, he hit Mom. After the restraining order? I thought he would come around. But then he started talking about how he wanted to send me to one of those camps? You know, pray away the gay? We’re not even religious.”

Two weeks later, Diana and Mustapha were at a house in Kirkwood, a pseudopod of the city of Atlanta stuck deep into DeKalb County to the east. Fifteen years ago, Kirkwood had been a nasty ghetto, but it was somehow zoned for the better schools closer in town. It had gentrified with astonishing rapidity; bakeries catering to dogs now significantly outnumbered storefront churches.

But Robert Fisk’s death looked old-school: an open front door, cabinets rifled through. Fisk lay on the hallway floor in a pool of his own blood, his jaw ruined, the lower half of his face a mass of gore. The blood trail led back to an armchair in what Diana bet Fisk called the “man cave”. This had multiple bookcases surrounding the big-screen TV; but instead of books, these held clear plastic cases that proved on closer examination to hold thousands of baseball cards.

“Holy cow,” said Mustapha. “It’s like a dream come true.”

“For a nine-year-old boy.”

“Get off of my cloud. Look: here’s Sandy Koufax. Wow.”

A patrolwoman who Diana could have mistaken for a high school student said, “The front door was unlocked and open, ma’am. Perp got him from real close range: check out the powder burns on his cheek.” She pointed to the floor beside the armchair. “Dropped the gun and ran.”

“Nice work,” said Mustapha. “You’re gold shield material for sure.”

Diana rolled her eyes at the look of joy on the patrolwoman’s face. “My partner’s being a jerk. There’s no perp; this was a suicide. Mr. Fisk here killed himself.”

“And he did a terrible job. Sorry, kid; I shouldn’t haze you.” Mustapha took her by the elbow, led her to the armchair, motioned for her to crouch down. “Even people who want to end it all have a survival instinct. This guy sat here, took a big shot of whiskey, tossed the glass behind him—see it over there by the couch?—put the gun to his head and went to pull the trigger. But, survival instinct: he jerked the gun away at the last second. Look right there at that bookshelf: see the little hole above that case of baseball cards? That’s where the first bullet went. He gets his nerve back, but like a lot of amateurs he thinks TV is real. Suicide is trickier than you think, plus that reflex. This poor fucker shot off his jaw, then spent five minutes in agony and confusion before he bled out. I bet you money there’s a phone somewhere in that direction.”

The patrolwoman looked back and forth. “Oh. Man, I feel–”

“Don’t worry about it. Live and learn. You ever decide you’re going to end it all, put the barrel of the gun all the way back in your mouth.”

Diana looked up from her tablet. “Thanks, Inspector Morbid.”

“Hey, do the job right, save everyone the trouble. Just do it in the bathtub, okay? Makes cleanup way easier.”

“Okay, that’s enough,” said Diana. “Officer, go knock on doors, find out what the neighbors know. Get away from the bad influence of my partner.” A few taps and swipes on the tablet. “Whoa. Mr. Fisk here had a big old record. Let’s see, assault, simple battery, aggravated stalking.”

“Yeah? Now I’m kind of glad he missed the first time.”

“No comment. He… oh, nice. He busted into his wife’s office and waved a gun in her face. Did a whole three months in jail for that one.”

“Welcome to Georgia.”

“Welcome to the nineteenth century. He got out about a year ago. Let me check civil cases. Yep: divorce, loses custody.”

“Score at least one for the state.”

“Don’t start cheering yet. He filed suit about a month ago to modify the custody arrangements.”

“Because he cares.” Mustapha saw her brow furl. “What is it?”

“His lawyer? Remember how I told you about the guy who came to see me? The men’s rights guy? Come on, it was last month.”

“Oh, the dude with the gay son. He was a lawyer?”

“No; this guy was his lawyer. Fisk’s, too.”

“Ha. Hope he got paid in advance.”

Stalkers, Zealots and Sentries (4)

This is a novella I’ve been working on for rather awhile. Here’s the second part of the intro. Part one is here.

Alice was indeed the ex-wife. Her clothes hung loose on her; she wore running shoes; her hair was the color of a fresh copper penny. She made an effort not to look relieved. “Cleaning his gun? I told him a thousand times those things would be the death of him. You better come in and have tea.” When they were served, she continued. “You’ll find a whole list of suits, countersuits, custody battles, and then a restraining order, just from typing our names into your computers. So I figure you’ll be suspicious–” She heard a thump from upstairs and lowered her voice. “But even if you’re not sure it was an accident, I was at Grady High School all afternoon and evening. Just walked in the door when you all called. My son’s school play. Bye Bye Birdie, can you believe they still put that one on?” She sighed. “I’m going to have to tell him. Talk about mixed emotions.”

Mustapha put his teacup aside. “Ms. Smith, do you think there’s any reason your husband–”

“Ex-husband.”

“–would take his own life?”

“I thought you said it was an accident. Well, I always figured if Al was going to kill himself, he’d do it about thirty seconds after he shot me. For a few months after I got the restraining order, he seemed to calm down. Then, he joined this awful group of men who are even worse than he was. They egged him on to start claiming that I was abusing the legal system–” More thumps from upstairs, then feet coming down. Two boys, late teens, a matched pair of a type that hadn’t existed when Diana was young. Nice, trim, pretty, buff, gay, had never even heard of the closet. The sort that made Diana’s own daughter sigh at the unfairness of it all.

“What’s up?” said the taller one.

“Roger, these are the police–”

“Oh, not Dad again.” The other boy inched closer to him.

“It’s complicated,” said his mother. “I’ll explain later. David, are you spending the night?”

“No, ma’am,” said the other boy. “My mom has a conference call; I have to get my sisters ready for school.”

“We just came down for snacks,” said Roger.

After they were safely back upstairs, Alice shook her head. “I’m going to have to tell him. You see, Roger was what started it all. He used to like dresses, as a little boy. Alvin couldn’t handle it. I came back early from a business trip and caught Alvin beating Roger with a belt for being a sissy. Filed for divorce the next day.” She finished her tea. “As if anything could have beaten the sissy out of Roger.”

Stalkers, Zealots and Sentries (3)

This is the beginning of the story, as it now stands. For the background, look here, then here. It should be noted that the funeral part will come later: this is just the cold open. This will be a novella-length piece, probably around 25k words.

Alvin Smith died as he had lived: surrounded by guns and the other paraphernalia of anxious masculinity. Detective Diana Siddall looked around the living room of the loft Smith had rented in Atlanta’s West Midtown neighborhood, which in the boom times had been filled with condos for the aspirational, but even five years after the crash was half-empty and mostly rentals.

The place was a case study in what a long-divorced fortysomething woman Did Not Want: a weightlifting bench, a tremendous plasma television, and on the walls posters of football players, of the text of the U.S. Constitution, of Barack Obama eating a slice of watermelon, for god’s sake. The workbench and pegboard held many tools and several firearms, including an assault rifle mounted in the place of honor, and, its grip clamped in a vice, the long-barreled Patriot Arms .44 Magnum that Smith had been cleaning when it discharged, putting a neat round hole in the point of his chin and blowing the back half of his head over the back of the enormous, oversized brown leather recliner that was the room’s sole chair.

Diana crouched down, peered up at the vice. “Removed the clip but forgot there was one in the chamber?”

“Something like that,” said Dave Keller, chief of Crime Scene. “Gun fetishists all over the city are already feeling embarrassed on this idiot’s behalf.”

“Suicide, you think?”

“Inconclusive. His hands test for gunshot residue, but they would either way.”

Diana looked up as her partner Inspector Mustapha Alawi cast a shadow across Smith’s body. “Find anything amiss?”

A sardonic grin underneath his pirate’s beard. “Nothing but porn and gun magazines to read, and he’s only got light beer and frozen hamburger to eat.” He crouched down to look at Smith’s face. “No note, if that’s what you mean. Internet history is what you’d expect: porn, guns, the kind of bloggers who think Fox News is a liberal plant. Door was locked. He’s real pissed at someone named Alice, who I’m going to go out on a limb and say is the ex-wife. You want to put fifty bucks on this one, I’m going to take accident.”

“Yeah? I’m thinking this guy had a moment of clarity looking around this place, looked up his life insurance policy, saw the suicide rider and decided to muddle the issue.”

Keller noticed both detectives were staring at him. “Don’t ask me. I had all night here, I might could find something. But it’s Friday, and it’s ninety degrees outside: I’m guessing we got about half an hour before someone shoots somebody else.”

Stalkers, Zealots and Sentries (2)

Go one post down to see the original entry: the point of this exercise is to imagine yourself as the battered-women’s advocate who has finally had enough of seeing women killed by their exes, whom the justice system can’t contain so long as they’re willing to deal with the consequences of their actions—hence, “murder-suicide”.

Your frustration is so total that you let your former client fool you into thinking her mother is dead (had you bothered to check up on it, this would have been obvious) and the cops really light into you for organizing what is ultimately a legal assassination. But women keep dying. So you go underground, and start counseling people what they might do. You’re conscious of the possibility of a conspiracy charge, especially because you’re on the cops’ radar, so what you do is phrase everything as a hypothetical—you’re just telling a story about how something might go down.

Now imagine what happens when it does.

Stalkers, Zealots and Sentries (1)

Imagine a woman who, with the help of some friends, escaped from her abusive husband a few years ago: they moved her out while he was watching the game at the bar. She moved across the country and has been living under a fake name. There is a restraining order out against him.

Her mother dies; she wants to come back for the funeral. She tells her friends, who not only tell the husband she’ll be there (and thus that he’d violate the order if he showed up), but come to the funeral packing the guns they are legally permitted to carry. Husband shows up anyway, friends give him fair warning, he pulls his own gun, they drop him.

Now, imagine you’re the homicide cops. There’s no way this isn’t justifiable homicide: the guy was warned. But then you find out that the woman and her friends organized all this. You’re appalled, because the thing the justice system hates the most is vigilante justice, for a host of reasons, some of which are even legit. But what are you going to arrest them for? All the guy had to do was not show up.

What you ask them is why didn’t they call the cops beforehand, get a patrol car to come off, make the guy think twice. And the friend’s answer is that if the guy were scared off, he’d keep coming back, and why should the wife have to live across the country under a fake name or else have a very real risk of being murdered? Why should she never be able to see her mom or nephew? And you don’t have a real good answer for that, because it’s a hole in the justice system.

Now imagine everyone’s surprise when the wife says she’s been lying all along and that her mother isn’t really dead.