The Death of Sergeant Jim Allen
Marlowe Tolbert cut through the alley between Sam’s Diner and the Bright Lights Community Theater building. The tall, athletic young man shifted the plastic bag of used books he had just purchased from Edward’s Used Books from his right to his left hand to enable him to retrieve his car keys from his pocket.
Two middle-age women quickly crossed to the other side of the narrow street when they saw him approaching. Tolbert seethed inwardly, stung by their reaction. “I should be used to this by now,” he told himself. “But I’m not. And why the hell should I be? Why should I ignore racist attitudes and actions shoved in my face by people who don’t know me? They see a big, young Black man and they freak out.” Marlowe resisted the temptation to walk to that side of the narrow way and stand in front of them, just to see what they would do. But good sense prevailed. “That would not be a smart move,” Marvin acknowledged.
He was putting the bag on the rear seat when he saw three figures at the far edge of the parking lot. A woman was leaning over a little girl who was sitting in the gravel and dirt beyond the asphalt surface. The woman gripped the girl’s arm, who pried at the woman’s fingers with both hands. Her body writhed, an animal caught in a trap. Marlowe became aware of an older girl, jeans ripped stylishly at the knees, tank top, standing a few yards front the other two, hip out, studying her fingernails as if they held the answer to the secret of life.
As swift as a rattlesnake strike, the woman backhanded the child across the face! “Hey, hey, hey!” Tolbert yelled, sprinting at them, his arms extended, “Hey! What’s the matter with you?” The woman stood and yanked the child to her feet. Blood streamed from the little one’s nose. The teen looked up from her fingernail analysis at the onrushing Marlowe, apathetic, uncurious. Tolbert slowed as he neared the trio. “Please, Ma’am,” he said, “calm yourself. She’s hurt.” He reached toward his hip pocket for his handkerchief. “Let me wipe . . .” “Help! Help me! He attacked my little girl!” she screamed. “He tried to rape me!” yelled the teen, her stringy blonde hair tumbling wildly, “Get him for god’s sake!”
Marlowe drew back, his hand at his pocket. From nowhere came a bunch of white men. “Watch it! He’s pulling a gun!” One burly guy leaped on Tolbert, wrapping him in a choke hold, taking him down. “Let go, Clyde,” said a voice. Marlowe Tolbert rolled over. A young man with redneck sideburns and tattooed arms stood above him. “This no-good punk hit Corrine’s little girl, Jim! Then he went after Mabelle!” “He was gonna rape her right in broad daylight!” said a second man. “He tried to pull a gun! What are you waiting for? You’re a cop! Arrest his Black ass!” “Help him up,” Jim commanded. Marlowe Tolbert faced the tattooed police officer. “This guy’s a cop? Marlowe wondered. “He’s not wearing a uniform. No badge. No gun.” “What’s your name, young man?” “Marlowe Tolbert.” He looked the tattooed man in the eyes. “May I see your identification?” Tolbert resisted the impulse to ask for his. He showed him his photo driver’s license. “Please take it out of your wallet and hand it to me,” he said. Marlowe complied. The crowd seemed to be getting impatient. The tattooed man studied the information. “Meanwhile that white monster and her kids have disappeared,” Marlowe thought.
“Hey, Jim, what’s the hold-up?” Clyde asked. “Why ain’t you gettin’ this boy off our streets? We seen what he tried to . . .” The tattooed man turned to Clyde. “I don’t recall you’re being hired by the chief of police. Until he does put you on the force, I suggest you and the rest back up about six feet and allow me to take care of this. You got that, Clyde?” He turned his attention to Marlowe, holding his license between thumb and index finger. “Mr. Tolbert, how long have you lived on Cherry Street?” “I first rented the place three years ago. Officer may I ask . . .” “I will ask the questions, Mr. Tolbert. Where do you work?” Tolbert hesitated, looking at the pavement. “Until yesterday I worked at Brightfall Logistics on South Main. I’m a data analyst. Robert Carney is – was – my supervisor.” The tattooed man tapped the license against a fingernail. “Why did your employment end, Mr. Tolbert?” “I completed the project Mr. Carney had assigned to me. When he finished reviewing it, he said that because of a pending sale of Brightfall all analysts must be temporarily laid off. He . . .” The tattooed man interrupted. “I’ve had my eye on you, Mr. Tolbert. I was eating in Sam’s and saw you in the alley. Two women saw you coming toward them and moved immediately to the other side of the alley. Why would they do that, Mr. Tolbert?” “Did this cop just drop down from Mars? I have no idea what motivated them, Sir.” “I left the diner at that moment and observed you as you got to your vehicle, unlocked the doors and put your bag on the rear seat. Is this correct, Mr. Tolbert?” “If you tailed me, why are you . . .” “Mr. Tolbert, I am asking the questions. Your task, your only one, is to answer. Are we clear on this?” “Yes, sir. This is death by a thousand cuts,” he thought. “Let’s get this over with. If you’re gonna arrest me, then do it,” Marlowe scowled. “What happened next?” “I noticed a woman sort of crouching over a girl who was sitting on the ground just beyond the parking lot. She started hurting the girl, who tried to get free, and the woman hit her. So I yelled at her to stop and ran toward them.”
“Thank you, Mr. Tolbert.” The tattooed man turned to the men surrounding them. “Listen, all of you. This young man ran to rescue a small child who was injured by a woman who was abusing her. He didn’t have to act. But he did. I saw it. You bozos didn’t. When Corrine and Mabelle started yowling, accusing Marlowe of rape and God knows what else, you were ready to lynch him. Geez, Merle, you yelled he had a gun! If one of you had had a gun, you’d have shot an innocent, unarmed human being! “You didn’t ask him what happened. You acted like a bunch of damn vigilante racists. The worst thing is, you know what Corrine and Mabelle are like. Yet you believed them. I hate to think what you jerks would have done if I hadn’t been here. Now get the hell out of here before I arrest the lot of you!” The men scattered.
“Mr. Tolbert, I’m deeply sorry.” He stuck out his hand. Marlowe gripped it. “My name’s Jim Allen, and I’m a sergeant on the police force. This nasty affair disgraces our town. I hope you’ll give us a chance to do some soul-searching, to change our attitudes. This community needs you, and many more like you. By the way, Robert Carney’s a good man. You can rely on his word. If he said you’re temporarily laid off, he meant it. He’ll hire you back as soon as the internal stuff at Brightfall gets resolved.” Allen glanced at his watch. “Listen, I gotta round up Corrine and Mabelle. But let me walk you to your car.”
“Thanks, officer . . .” “Jim.” “Thanks, Jim. I’m OK. Corrine and Mabelle need professional help. I hope they can get it. Thanks for saving my bacon.” “Marlowe, you ever need me, here’s my card. Maybe you’d accept an invitation to have a beer with me. If so, call me at that number and we’ll set it up.” “That sounds fine to me. Expect a call.” Jim Allen watched Marlowe walk to his car. When Tolbert opened the door, Sergeant Allen turned and started for his truck. “What the . . .?” The noise of three rapid-fire gunshots spun him around! He crouched, looking for the shooter. Marlowe Tolbert lay on the asphalt beside the open door of his car. Corrine stood above him, a gun clenched in both hands. Jim Allen dashed toward them. “Corrine!” he screamed. “Drop it! Drop the gun for God’s sake!” Allen cursed his off-duty status. No service revolver. Police radio in his truck. A woman was pulling her cell phone from her purse as Jim flashed past. “911!” he yelled. “911! Ambulance!” “Corrine!” Jim roared. “Put the gun on the ground! Now!” Corrine smiled, bent over, and gently laid the gun on the pavement. Jim wanted to slug her. “Back up! Put both hands on the hood! Now, damn you!” A siren. Allen knelt beside Tolbert. He felt for a pulse. He knew there would be none. Allen rested a hand on the young man’s cheek. This incident, all too familiar, too common in his work as a police officer, however, was terribly, hellishly different. It struck Jim Allen with the speed and force of lightning.
The EMTs arrived. Segeant Allen moved aside. Intuitively, Allen understood he would never be the same again. The senseless slaughter of Marlowe Tolbert destroyed who Sergeant Jim Allen had been just minutes before. He traced a finger over the grinning skull tattoo on his left forearm. There would be no coming back from this. He had suffered a fatal blow.
Sergeant Jim Allen was dead.