This story is by Peter Shabelsky and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“Are you Bork?” she said, looking into the eyes of the man on the stairs. Like the rest of the group of men, he looked up at her, this little redhead girl walking up to them like she belonged.
“Girl come here so I can bend you over this rail,” said one.
“Shorty come to play!” said a another.
She looked at the man on the stairs. “It is Bork, right?”
“Whose askin?” he said.
“I’m Alexis Luke, pastor at Christ Church down the road.”
“They got white lady pastors now? Shit,” he said.
“Can we talk, Bork? Like in private?” she said.
“Whatever you got to say, you better say it and get outta here,” said the quiet one. He was sitting on the stairs eating Skittles and hadn’t said a word until now. Of all of them, he was the most indifferent.
She turned back to the man on the stairs. “You probably don’t want to talk about this in front of everyone.”
“Why don’t you go back to your country club and get outta my hood,” he said.
“I know what you did,” she said. “On Hosea Williams. By Mo’s. I saw it.”
The men froze. Only the quiet one was moving, popping Skittles into his mouth one by one.
“Do you admit you did it?”
“I ain’t admitting nothing.”
Then they’re were up. Bork was rooster up, his chest in her face.
“Comin’ in accusing people.”
“Get yo ass outta here.”
“Time to leave, priest.”
The rest were crowding around. She didn’t know what they were saying anymore just that this was the stupidest idea she had ever had. She turned and walked away.
She didn’t sleep that night. She hadn’t been sleeping for the last thirty-two nights.
It had all started innocently, a quick email to one of her congregation who worked for city transit and had access to security cameras. He wasn’t supposed to send her them. He could have been fired, he said. He did find something, though. He did send her the photo she needed.
The police weren’t doing anything with the case, but she was. She became a regular at the liquor store down the street of the incident, would buy bottles of vodka she would throw in the trunk of her car to make friends with the man behind the barred, bulletproofed window. “Earn the right to witness,” she had learned in college ministry.
His name was Omar. One night she showed him the photo.
Omar kept his mouth shut. For a while.
She came back to the liquor store every night. She showed the photo to Omar. She told him about her friend Annie. She told him how much weight Annie had lost, the color of the circles under her eyes, the numb look on her face. Did he know Annie had to move out of the city because every black person she saw made her think of that night. It wasn’t fair, they both knew that, but he was also behind bulletproof glass so he understood right?
Maybe they could fix it, she told him, restore the beloved community.
No justice, no peace. Right?
All they had to do was find out whose face it was, then all the other faces wouldn’t terrify Annie so much. Couldn’t he just tell her who it was in the photo, since he saw the IDs of every face in a three mile radius. And she wouldn’t tell of course. She was just a pastor with a fake drinking problem.
It took sixteen days but Omar told her, even gave her the address.
Watching Peter Bork became a habit, an obsession. The second night she went to watch the man Omar had identified she justified it was just to gather more evidence. She told her husband there was an important prayer meeting. On the sixth night, she knew there was something else drawing her there, something she needed to understand.
She admired sociopaths, if she was honest about it.
She would park outside his tenement. She chose a spot under the shadow of a dumpster where she could see him and his group on the steps but no one could see she was a white redhead on the wrong block.
What sociopaths had that she lacked was the ability to say no, to do whatever they wanted, to stand up to people who wanted things from them, to inflict their will on the world.
She thought of all the people she shouldn’t have said “Yes” to, people like Annie, Annie who was having an affair with another man before the shooting. Annie who she had become “best friends” with in the process of counseling her away from the end of her marriage.
“I love you so much,” Annie said after a few weeks.
Is that what we’re doing here? she would think but never say. Is this love? Or do you have some major problems and I just need you to like me?
Peter Bork didn’t have a hard time saying, “No.” Watching Bork sleep with who he wanted and beat up who he wanted and sell what he wanted made her realize how much control of her life she had given up. For what? For people to like her?
She knew, for Bork, there was no concept of people liking or not liking him. There was only power and powerlessness, and wasn’t power better?
She had fallen asleep in the car when a rough hand grabbed the back of her neck and slammed her head into the steering wheel.
The world disintegrated to black pain. Then something hard and cold was pressed into the side of her skull and she might have been screaming but she didn’t register anything but pain.
“You say a word and you’re dead,” he breathed into her ear. His breath smelled of Skittles.
She whimpered. He pressed the gun harder.
“Ok,” she whispered frantically. “Quiet I promise.”
“Where?” She was panicking.
“I could drive better if you pulled that gun off my head,” she said.
“Shut up. You say one more word and I’ll kill you.” But he withdrew the gun.
She did, pulled out behind the dumpster and drove as best she could. Her hands were shaking and she caught herself holding her breath. If she had forgotten how to breathe, she certainly had forgotten how to drive.
She was used to pressure, though. Ten years on stage in front of critical millennials had taught her a few tricks. She slowed her breathing, pulled her spine up.
“You’re the real Bork then?” she said.
“Priest you think you’re a detective all of a sudden?” he said.
“Why didn’t you tell me when I came by that day?”
“You do, don’t you.”
“How did you get Omar to tell me the wrong person.”
“You thought you were all smart, huh?” he smiled. “Comin into the hood, makin friends, gettin clues.”
“I dgot a name,” she said.
“Omar’s my cousin. He gives whatever name I want him to.”
“You knew I’d come?”
“Sure. White girl with something to prove. Didn’t think you’d be stupid enough to keep comin though. Thinkin you could hide from the hood.”
“His name was Harrison Parker,” she said.
“What? That guy in the car?”
“He had three kids.”
“Rich ass white kids. What do I care about them?”
“Admit you shot him.”
“Keep driving, priest.”
“Admit you shot him.”
“Priest just shut up.”
“Admit you did it.”
Her ears were ringing after the pistol hit her on the side of the face.
He led her south and they drove until the strip malls turned to freight yards. He was silent behind her.
She knew this didn’t end well. At each intersection she expected him to tell her to turn through the backstreets to some trap house far away from sympathetic eyes.
Then she saw it, the blue car with it’s big red letters, rack on top, Atlanta Police, passing them on the left. The gun was on her again, pressed into her gut below the window
Could she do it? She saw her own death. She would pull up the driveway and into an overgrown yard. When she stopped, she wouldn’t feel the gun. He would just pull the trigger. Her head would slump into the steering wheel, her arms go limp to her sides. Sleeping. Like Harrison.
Or maybe not. Maybe he would scare her and let her go. Was it worth risking it all now doing something stupid? She might still live?
Hiding her face she mouthed at the cop, “Help me.”
She felt the fear in her gut. She felt it shiver along her fingers until she was shaking again, this time worse than before.
She waited, for the gun to go off into her ribcage, for the cop to do something. Did the cop see? Did Bork?
But the cop just kept driving, passing them, getting farther away. The panic was in her now. She wasn’t sure she could control it. Or that she should.
“Right,” he said. That was the signal.
She yanked the steering wheel hard to the right and hit the pedal, Bork was pressed to the window, the gun was off her, the telephone pole on the corner was approaching, she sped, sixty miles an hour, directly toward it. The crash, shearing, splintering, explosion, glass, then nothing.
The world was purple. She had never noticed before.
She could not feel her ears. It was annoying. There was just the night’s cold. And pain.
She brushed her hair out of her eyes and her hand came back sticky.
Where was the man? He wasn’t in the back seat. The door wasn’t open. There was a hole in the window. Had he leapt through? Yes, she saw him now, tripped and fallen, a skid of blood, too far past the wreck.
He hadn’t been wearing a seatbelt, she remembered. Where was the blue car? Hadn’t she seen one earlier?
She stumbled out of the car. The street was purple and when she reached him he was lying facedown in the street, blood shining in the city lights.
“Beloved,” she whispered. He was scraped raw, skull cracked, ribs broken, still breathing. His eyes twitched. He opened his mouth.
“It was me,” he said. “I did it.”
“I know you did,” she said, “And you need to ask forgiveness from God. But I’m the one who did this to you, Bork, and I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
Then the breath left him.
She had only administered last rights a few times. She tried to remember the words.
“Father, have mercy on your servant. God the Son, have mercy on your servant. Holy Spirit, have mercy on your servant.”
Then her vision was overwhelmed by the purple sky.
She pressed the call button when she woke in the hospital.
“I’d like to see his body, the man who kidnapped me,” she said to the nurse. “I want to pay my respects. Can you find out how I can do that?”
“You need to sleep,” said the nurse. “You have a lot of healing to do.”
“Please,” she said gripping her arm. “I need this.”
“I’m sorry. The man is gone,” said the nurse. “They found you in your car. But the man had fled the scene.”
“No I saw him. I watched him die.”
The nurse looked confused.
“You bumped your head pretty hard, dear. There’s a manhunt going for that man right now, but they haven’t found him yet. But sleep. The police will talk to you later. You need to sleep now.”
She began to chuckle. Then to laugh. Then the nurse was holding her down and her husband was hovering over her. Didn’t they see how absurd it was? Sleep? No justice no sleep. Then they were putting something into her arm and the world was going purple again but it was not sleep. No it would not be sleep.