Along the docks of the Columbia River, below the confluence of the Willamette River, not all the old city of Portland has been gentrified. There, just outside the old Chinatown District, crowds are projected to gather and demonstrate over the weekend. Though Donald Trump has been in office for less than a year, they are already protesting his tenure in office. Rumors abound that among the protesters – those for Trump, and those opposed to the man – are set to rumble in an old-fashioned riot. Among the more militant, the protesters have gathered baseball bats and brass knuckles, knives and cudgels. Among those disposed to violence, they have probably manufactured even more intimate, but no less cruel instruments of violence. That is the word that the chief has passed down to his lieutenants, his lieutenants to his sergeants, his sergeants to us, the common policemen on the Portland Police Force. For the West, Portland is a city known for its liberalism, but at the turn of the twentieth century, it was a scruffier place, one where violence was not unknown, especially around the docks and Chinatown. Well, this weekend we’ll just have to see.
“MacPhail,” I hear my name called. I jot my hand in the air. It is the voice of Ron Summersby, a sergeant on the force, and my immediate supervisor. There are about thirty policemen sitting on folding chairs in front of the podium he stands on. There are at least another dozen standing about in the small auditorium. None seem too anxious about any impending violence: Portland is just not that kind of city. Still, they seem a little more wary than they would at most police briefings. I stand up.
“MacPhail, you don’t have a partner, so you stick close to Burke and Edmonds,” says Summersby in a gravelly voice. Summersby is a short, stout Southern boy who still has a bit of a drawl as he barks out orders. Usually preternaturally calm, Summersby has a hair trigger when pushed too far. That’s where he got the nickname, “cherry bomb.” He permanently begrudges any of his officers who have pushed that hair trigger. He continues. “Is that clear to you, Burke?”
“Yup,” I hear Brad Burke say.
“That clear to you, Edmonds?”
Standing behind a lectern more suited to a taller man, Summersby tells us that in addition to the usual handguns we always carry, we will also be wielding clear fiberglass shields to deflect any rocks or baseball bats that might be directed at us. We will all be issued riot batons and cans of mace. “Then, there’ll be partners with tear gas canisters to use on the crowds if they get unwieldy. So you’ll all be issued face masks.” A hum in the auditorium begins like an undertow on the Pacific. Summersby, places both arms in the air, palms out, signaling that he wants silence. He then explains when and how we’ll be deployed to meet the demonstrators. “Any questions, you patsies? Well?”
No one seems to have any questions. No one really expects the demonstrations to devolve into a riot. But one never knows. And the police commissioner doesn’t want egg on his face. Nor do we. It is just as important in this liberal community that we don’t appear heavy-handed, that we used undue force when we didn’t have to. To emphasize this point, the back door of the auditorium opens and the police commissioner himself, Michael Horton, strolls in. His presence is suffused with an indelible arrogance. In my two years on the force, I’ve come to call him the “Teflon Don” like all my colleagues. He is first and foremost a political animal.
He adds little to what Summersby has told us. He reinforces that he’d consider it a failure of policing to let the demonstration break into a real riot. “Someone – I won’t say who – told me that when Trump heard that a riot might be incited in Portland over his presidency he just jeered and said, ‘Portland’s full of losers.’” A few of my colleagues chuckle. The commissioner smiled and left like a politician glad-handing a select few before the doors close behind him.
My fellow police officers break into groups to receive a plastic shield, a baton, and a can of mace. A few are issued tear gas canisters. Then we are all issued gas masks. It is June and all the gear weighs us down like football players in full-contact game regalia.
I find Burke and Edmonds. They say hello, but refuse to stare me in the eye. It’s been that way for six or seven months now. My previous partner was Rich Foster, but he’s been gone since November 10th. For five years we partnered up together. Five years my senior, he was like an older brother to me. Since he died, I have gone through at least a half dozen partners in the car. But they all moved on to other partners, citing various reasons. I have become the precinct’s pariah ever since shooting my partner by accident when we were hunting Culebra Creek, north of Tillamook, that fateful November day. It was deer season, and each season the two of us went out hunting the Pacific Coast Deer. That day, Rich, my best friend and partner on the force was hunting the north side of the creek while I hunted the southern bank. I thought I saw a deer moving in some low foliage across the creek five miles from the pullout where the coastal highway crosses the creek before it tumbles in the Pacific Ocean. I was sure it was a deer, and even though it was on Rich’s side of the creek, I took my shot. At night, right before I nod off, I still hear him scream. I haven’t slept well since the day I lost my best friend.
I remember the day that I introduced Rich to my wife, Caroline. Rich was divorced, and all he showed up with was a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, as I grilled fillets on the barbecue out back. Caroline and I had just moved down from Seattle where I had spent two years on their police force. My wife, who is quite religious, asked where there was a Catholic Church in the neighborhood. “I’m Catholic, too,” Rich responded.
“No kidding,” I said. “We’re you a product of parochial schools too, just like Caroline and me?”
“I plead guilty, officer.”
“As a deacon in the church, I often gave sermons at the church we attended in Seattle.”
“He’s very moving at the lectern,” added my wife.
My family was even more religious than my wife’s. They instilled in me at an early age the sanctity of marriage, and how it was a bond that could not be broken. I never understood how Rich could let his marriage fail without trying harder to keep it together. All he ever told me regarding his marriage was that his wife, Stephanie, was making him miserable. I asked him if he ever sought counseling through the church. He didn’t. I told him that God would never accept his separation from his wife; she would always be his wife. He grinned for a moment, then seeing I was serious, told me, “I’ll have to live with it. They say that God can forgive anything. You believe that don’t you, Corey?”
“You’ve got me there, Rich.”
Contrary to her nature, Caroline introduced him to several available women at dinners at our house or restaurants in the community. She was funny that way. Then one day when I had to work, and Rich took a sick day, I was driving the squad car by myself when I passed the “The Pines,” a cheap flophouse not far from the Church. I saw Rich’s old, red Mustang parked in front of it. Parked beside it was Caroline’s Subaru. I began looking more closely at the phone bills. There were more calls to Rich’s apartment than should have been.
It’s been a long time since Rich departed this earth. Naturally, there was an inquest following the shooting. The group investigating the shooting found no criminal intent. Still, I find it hard to make friends among the fellow officers, ones who befriended me when I first came on board. Still I find it hard to fall asleep at night. I know it is for Caroline. Across the bed, when the lights go out, I hear her crying silently.
By Joseph Dylan