Michael Parker

But why do we have to dress up like cops, I asked Run. Because we’ll make more money, he said. I met Run at Mattie’s. He was from Perquimans also but I never knew him, nor his people. Years later, after he died, I was back home for a funeral and met one of his sisters who told me they were raised Holiness and weren’t allowed to go into town except once a week to the tobacco market on the back of their uncle’s truck, each of the six set on top of a burlap sack of tobacco to keep from losing a leaf to the wind. At Mattie’s one night both Dawn who was Run’s and June who was my girl were upstairs working when Run said he knew how to make some quick money. I ain’t selling no more oregano to high school kids, but okay, I said, and he told me about the bar in Newport News and said about the uniforms, which weren’t real cop but security guard. Them Nellies love a man in a uniform and will pay double, he said, so we would drive over there and go stand at the bar for a few drinks so they’d know we were off duty and then they’d come up and start talking and we’d end up outside in the alley, leaning against the bricks shoulder to shoulder smoking and talking trash while they went to town on us. Run could have gotten more than me had he been by himself because I looked a couple times in the moonlight and saw he was thicker but we went together since most of these boys were sailors just into port and hardly any of them were what I’d of called a Nelly. Big strapping boys, some of them. Run said he’d heard of some would wipe off their lips with the back of their hand and reach in their pocket stick a knife to your throat to get their five dollars back. Don’t ever get in a car with them, said Run, they’ll drive you off somewhere and throw you in a basement and try to make you their husband or worse their wife. Ain’t nobody going to make me their wife I said and Run said June will have you wearing an apron should you mess up and marry her. We never did tell Dawn or June how we were all of a sudden flush but neither of them when they found out after what happened with the vinyl siding salesman seemed to have a problem with it. Neither ever complained about whoring, especially June who would tell me she loved me all day long but that she wasn’t about to quit her job just because of a feeling. She said she loved fucking and she loved money so why not combine the two? Before that she had worked at the shipyard. I had too and so had Run but we all met at Mattie’s. Dawn had been working there. One night Run and I were out in the alley with these two old peckerwoods. One of them said he sold siding. The one working on me never said a word. He was the shaky type like most of them until they heard that zipper coming on down the track and then there wasn’t anything nervous about them. We’d been out there for a few minutes when all of a sudden Run called shot-cock violation. Say what, asked the vinyl-siding guy and Run who had drunk three ryes with Pabst backs, which meant it would of took him forever said, They’s rules just like in basketball if I don’t come in three minutes, you lose your turn. But I already paid you and goddamn if I don’t want and Run pointed to his fake badge we bought at the dime store and asked did he want us to radio for backup, which got me to laughing, and the one working on me grabbed me by my hips to keep me still but he slammed my ass against the bricks when he done it so I pulled out and kneed him in the face hard. He took off down the alley. The vinyl-siding salesman started running his mouth about how we weren’t real cops and everybody knew it and we weren’t no different than them. Run said listen I am going to prove I’m different than you: I am going to slit your throat and leave you here to bleed out in this alleyway and no one would bother to come looking for me when they find out what you were out here doing. There is not a real cop would walk to the corner trying to find out who killed some traveling faggot. Soon as he said this I realized it was true. I guess I never thought about it before. I thought about June up under some old boy just got off second shift at the shipyard. She’d turned up at the house with bruises before but I never did try and talk her out of working for Mattie because I knew she would leave me. Still, what Run said to that man made me think I might go to hell if I didn’t at least try, so I left Run in the alleyway arguing with the vinyl- siding salesman and I wasn’t there when Run beat him and took his wallet and his car keys. I was on a bus back to Mattie’s when the cops pulled Run over in the salesman’s Corvair and he tried to claim he worked security at the shipyard. Wearing a dime store badge and goddamn dingo boots, his hair grazing his collar. Lying to a cop about being a half-ass cop as if a real cop gave a damn about a security guard, which was just some loser couldn’t pass the PE test they give you at the rookie academy. The vinyl siding salesman all he had to do was turn the whole thing around and put Run down on his knees in the alleyway. It didn’t make him look any too good but since Run beat him to all to hell and the man was from Ohio or Iowa or somewhere the judge declined to have him up on a morals charge. Dawn says for you to go talk to some lawyer about Run, June told me the next night but what was I going to say that wouldn’t put me playing dress-up in a alleyway and maybe bring that old boy out of the woodwork whose nose I’d bloodied? And me end up in the cell with Run and get sent off like he did? A group tried to hold him down in the shower and make him into a wife. That’s when he died. The night he said for us to dress up like cops I told him I had a sailor suit when I was little. Run said he wanted one but instead he had to settle for a towel he used as a cape to fly off the back porch. He said it was blue and white striped and he claimed to have saved it. You take it to the beach and lie out in the sun on it I asked. Run said he would never, he said he kept it rolled up tight, he said he kept it somewhere only he knew where.


Michael Parker is the author of six novels—Hello Down There, Towns Without Rivers, Virginia Lovers, If You Want Me To Stay, The Watery Part of the World, and All I Have In This World—and two collections of stories, The Geographical Cure and Don’t Make Me Stop Now. His short fiction and nonfiction have appeared in various journals, including Five Points, The Georgia Review, The Southwest Review, Epoch, The Washington Post, The New York Times Magazine, Oxford American, Shenandoah, The Black Warrior Review, Trail Runner, Runner’s World and Men’s Journal. He is the Vacc Distinguished Professor in the MFA Writing Program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and since 2009 has been on the faculty of the Warren Wilson Program for Writers. He lives in Greensboro, North Carolina and Austin, Texas.

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