***Warning: Today’s episode may make white people uncomfortable. Good. Ya’ll should know by now, I don’t apologize or pull my punches. Please read this article before you continue with the chapter. It will help you to better understand the context and reality of black and multi-cultural families.***
***Sheriff’s Office, Sebida, TX***
Will pulled Mercy’s battered, old Honda into the parking lot of the Sebida County jail. This day was pushing all his buttons. First, seeing James Travis Tyler, now coming here. Attorney-client privilege meant that Laura had not shared any information about why J. T. had hired her. But whatever it was could not be good.
Of course, he had never been the schadenfreude type. Etta Mae was the ‘heap coals of kindness on their heads’ and ‘turn the other cheek’ type. But he’d spent three decades playing nice to men like Tyler, and it had gotten him nowhere. Coming here now was just another reminder of that. Ryan had broken the rules, too, when he became involved with Laura. But he had been offered his job back. And when he declined that, he’d been rewarded with….
“Shhh, we’re there now, Chloe. Damn, why don’t these things come with an owner’s manual?”
Will had to laugh, “I think they do. About a hundred thousand of them when I checked online.”
“You looked online for parenting books?”
He unbuckled his seat belt and turned to look at Mercy in the backseat with the baby. “I bought several of them, including one on pregnancy for men.”
“Awww, have I told you I love you today?”
“A couple of times. I love you, too, woman. Now, let’s drop the baby on her daddy, and you can demonstrate how much.” Okay, so things weren’t that bad. He had a partner, lover, and best friend who believed in him. A woman to stand by his side through whatever life threw at them. Yeah….
“Out of the vehicle. Hands in the air.” Maybe he had spoken too soon on that one. Will knew the routine. He placed his hands in the air as the ‘good’ officer demanded.
But Mercy was out of the car, baby in her arms, before Will could coach her through the Driving While Black protocols. In this case, he had committed the cardinal sin in some people’s book – driving around a small town with a white woman and baby.
“Who the hell do you think you are, Tad Meadows? What did we do wrong?” Damn, that woman was beautiful when you got her riled up. But he really did need to have ‘the talk’ with her. Mercy needed to understand her white privilege. And that it had new limits when she was with him.
And, hell yeah, that made him every bit as angry as it did her. But he’d learned early that to fight, you needed to stay alive.
“Ma’am, step back from the car.” The white police officer glared at her.
“Dammit,” Will prayed he lived to marry this fireball as he opened his door. He stepped out with hands in the air. “What’s the problem, officer?”
As he expected and planned, the man’s attention turned fully to him. The wind was knocked from his lungs as the cop body-slammed him into the side of the car. He willed the muscles in his arms, neck, and shoulders to go slack to minimize the risk of permanent injury as the man twisted his arms behind him.
He started counting and breathing slowly and deeply to calm himself and perhaps oxygenate his blood, just in case. But his attention was divided this time as he tried to focus and listen for sounds from her. But all he heard was a screaming baby.
Will felt the cold metal of the cuffs. Damn, he was getting used to that now. He knew better than to speak. Demanding to know the charges or his rights would only escalate the situation. Survival was what mattered. He would deal with the rest later.
This was the seventy-second time since that first mall cop when he was just a kid. True, some of those had been while he was undercover. Those cops either had no way of knowing who he was or did not want to blow his cover. But more than once, he had been subjected to unnecessary force. Hell, one of his fellow Houston PD officers had once joked afterward that he had to make a good show of things.
“Meadows, what the fuck are you doing?” Will tried very hard not to smile at the sound of Ryan’s voice.
“Sheriff, I was just….”
“Harassing my brother-in-law? Upsetting my baby? What were the charges?”
“Ummm, just a random license and insurance check. He seemed nervous and was acting suspiciously,” the officer continued to hold Will’s arms tightly behind his back.
“We’ve already had this talk. I don’t care how it was done in Sebida before. Things are changing. Release him. Now.”
Even as Will heard the click of the key in the lock, the man gave an extra lift to his hands, forcing them and his arms into an unnatural position. He grimaced in pain as he felt the cuffs give. He waited until the man released him and stepped back before turning slowly.
“Are you alright, Will?”
He looked from Ryan to the officer. He knew exactly what would have happened if Ryan had not come, what had happened to others. Sometimes he really hated those ‘gifts.’ He was damned lucky that his friend had shown up.
Damn, he was tired of men like this and turning the other bruised cheek. Over five decades since Walt, Etta Mae, and that great man had dreamed, and not a fucking thing had changed.
“I would like to file a formal complaint, Sheriff, for violation of my civil rights, harassment, and discrimination.”
That would make twenty-two complaints. Most of them were dismissed due to a lack of evidence. Several had never been thoroughly investigated. One, just one, had resulted in a written reprimand placed in the officer’s file. The cop who killed a black man had close to two-dozen of those letters, and he was still on the streets to harass people.
Did Will believe this one would be any different? Looking at his friend and soon-to-be brother-in-law, maybe? But even if Ryan succeeded in cleaning up this county, that was just one in three thousand. Who would change those others?
He blew out a long breath, thankful that he got the opportunity to do so. Mercy was by his side in a moment. Her fingers laced through his. Her smile that said ‘we’ll get through this’ gave him at least a tiny bit of hope.
Until he thought about having ‘the talk’ with the little girl growing in her womb. Would the day ever come when black mothers, fathers, and grandparents didn’t need to have ‘the talk’ with their children? Hell, now, he needed to have it with his wife.
“Wait for me in my office, Meadows.” Ryan waited until the man stomped off, but not before muttering something that sounded like, ‘He ain’t from around here.’
“I am, Tad. You’ve fucking known me my whole life. You tried to get in my panties more than once. So, that’s no fucking excuse, asshole.” Will grabbed her hand and squeezed tightly. He was half afraid she would claw the man’s eyes out if he didn’t. “Racist son of a bitch.”
“Watch your language around the baby,” Will kissed her cheek. Not sure whether to burst with pride or spank her ass. He settled for a bit of both by adding a quick swat to her ass. “Don’t do it again, sweetheart. Don’t bait the tigers.”
She shook her head, tears welled up in those dark eyes, “How can you not, Will? It isn’t right.”
“No, it isn’t, Mercy. But he’s right. You did the right thing, coming and getting me. But in other situations, you placed yourself and Will in more danger.”
He felt her bristle at Ryan’s words. “You’re just going to defend that….”
“No, I’m going to suspend him from active duty for two weeks without pay. I’m going to place him on dispatch until he completes diversity and anger management courses. And if he gives me half a reason, I’m going to fire his ass. But unfortunately….”
“Unfortunately, Ryan is the exception, not the rule, sweetheart. We’ll talk about this later,” he turned back to his friend. “Laura needs you to meet her in Houston later.”
Ryan nodded as he jostled the baby in his arms, “Her mama is going to love that. Stacey is already fuming about her rushing off to Houston on ‘some case.’ And taking ya’ll with her. She’s got this whole big bridal dinner planned. She’s had Reb barbequing since noon. And so far, the only person she’s been able to rope into it is Lizzie.”
Mercy smiled, “I told you so.”
“Come on in and fill out that paperwork. I’ll need statements from both of you. I didn’t get quite the carte blanche I wanted from the governor’s office. So I need to fucking document every disciplinary action and firing I make. Even though….”
“You know that one is trouble?” Will remembered that his friend had his own version of ‘gifts.’ Maybe Ryan hadn’t gotten off so easily after all. Was this job a reward? Or a punishment?
“With a fucking capital T. I need to feed the baby before we head to Houston anyway.” He kissed the top of his daughter’s head, and the baby smiled at him.
Will felt it like a knife to his soul. The knowledge that Chloe Ranger would never face many of the challenges that his daughter would. Though they were cousins, in many ways, the America they grew up in was different countries. A half a century since the Civil Rights movement and he’d still have to give his children ‘the talk’ that this little girl would never hear.
“I have something to show you. It’s what we’re getting you for your baby shower. It’s a new man boob that allows you to breastfeed, too.”
He laughed along with Mercy at the image of Ryan breastfeeding, but the truth was, nothing felt very funny at the moment. Today had been just another reminder of how far this country still had to go. Sadly, he had to wonder if he would ever see that ‘promised land.’
He smiled and placed his hand over Mercy’s lower abdomen. Would even she? Days like this, he just felt so fucking tired of fighting for something no one should have to. But he didn’t have the ‘privilege’ of not fighting. Neither would Sally Mae.
Sally Mae? He felt to his core. As if she had spoken her name into his heart. She had the blood of strong women running through her, ingrained in her DNA. She grew safely in the womb of one.
Mercy astounded him more every day. And something told him, she’d probably never truly listen to ‘the talk.’ It would be up to him to keep them safe until that ‘one day’ finally came.