Writing Justice for the Dead
Why do we choose the subjects we do when we write? Some of us have political, social, or religious agendas. Some of us just want to educate, entertain, express ourselves, or cope. But I believe all writers have a reason for writing what they do.
When I first began putting stories on paper, I was a child, so I wrote children's stories. Naturally my subjects have changed over the years. I tend to write from experience, and my life usually shows up in my stories. I'm not writing my life, but my life definitely affects everything I write.
Over the last several years, I have written stories that primarily center around justice, and I tie that to incidents that I experienced in law enforcement. Justice is rarely served, and sometimes, the only way to achieve it is to write it into a story. It is so often lacking in real life. The first time I truly encountered this was when I was stationed in Frankfurt, Germany with the Army's 284th Military Police Company.
It was foggy that night, impossible to see beyond the beams of our patrol car. I began the shift with a lie of omission -- and a new partner in a bad mood. Confessing to being the source of Beheng's anger wasn't an option at that moment, and I decided to save the necessary moment of truth for later, preferably as much later as possible.
The 284th was one of those assignments that everyone wanted, and we were the lucky ones to get it. We handled military-related law enforcement for Frankfurt and all of the surrounding cities. It was like being a cop in New York City -- only we covered more territory. I listened quietly as Beheng ranted about his pre-shift detail, which had been the laundry room of our barracks.
We all had pre-shift details. We worked twelve-hour shifts, but before and after each shift, we had Army-related duties. Our twelve-hour shifts usually worked out to be about eighteen. After that, we did our personal chores: laundry, ironing, cleaning, and whatever else we needed to do to get ready for our next shift. It left us with no time, and we were usually functioning on two to three hours of sleep a night. There were times when we worked up to three months without days off. We were all on the verge of snapping. That night, Beheng had snapped.
And it was my fault.
He just didn't know it yet.
I had been running late and needed to get the trash out of my room. I shared the room with Janelle Bebo. Janelle was gone, and I couldn't ask her for help, so I took our trash and put it into the trash can in the laundry room. I was too tired to think about the consequences for whoever was responsible for the laundry room. I was just thinking about getting the trash out of my room and still making it to guard mount on time.
As I settled into the patrol car with Beheng, he began his rant. Bebo had left her trash in the laundry room. There had been a pizza box with her name on it in the trash, and he was going to let her have it the next time he saw her. Literally. He had saved the trash and was going to bury her in it. Since I was her roommate, he was taking it out on me. I debated telling him the truth right then, but I ended up deciding to save the confession for later. After all, we were both armed, and I didn't want to get shot.
Like I said, Beheng had snapped.
It wasn't a very busy midnight shift, so we met up with other MPs throughout the course of the night. Each time we did, the 'trash' subject was brought up by Beheng. He would rage on about what he was going to do to Bebo next time he saw her, and I just stood by in guilty silence, waiting for the best time to tell him. I decided that would be at the end of the shift after we'd turned in our weapons to the arms' room.
Since we weren't busy, we were able to do all of our security checks. There had been several terrorist bombings on military bases in the area, so we did frequent checks of those compounds to watch for suspicious activity. But we also patrolled civilian apartment complexes that housed large numbers of military personnel. We were patrolling a German apartment complex around two A.M.. Beheng was driving. I looked through the window as he cautiously maneuvered the different streets in the complex. It was so foggy I couldn't even see the buildings, much less the sidewalks or the grass.
After we finished, we called in our check, and Beheng pulled out of the complex back onto the street.
We had no sooner called it in than dispatch called us back. A soldier, who was walking his dog, had discovered a dead body lying in the grass beside one of the buildings of the apartment complex. We had just driven by it but hadn't even seen it because of the fog. We turned around, drove a few hundred feet, and parked -- quickly finding the man, his dog, and the deceased.
At first, I thought I was looking at a dead child -- a boy of about twelve. Here was someone's baby. I walked as close as I could without disturbing anything and bent down, checking the child's neck for a pulse. There was no pulse, and the skin was still warm and supple. The death had recently occurred. The child's head was completely caved in on the right side. It looked like someone had taken a baseball bat to it. There was no blood on the scene, so it was obvious that the death had occurred someplace else, and this was a secondary crime scene. The boy had been laid flat, and his body was neatly arranged. His hands were in his pockets. He wore clean white socks. The ground was soaked from earlier rains, but those socks were pristine. They had not even touched a floor -- much less the wet grass.
I stood and moved back, hoping I hadn't contaminated the crime scene. We secured the area and started talking to apartment residents. We soon discovered that our 12-year-old boy was actually an adult woman. She was so small and boyish looking that her appearance had been deceptive. We also discovered that she was a German national, so we called in the German police.
While we waited for them, we spoke with her neighbors. She was a lesbian and a prostitute. She worked in the red-light district in Frankfurt. She and her girlfriend shared the apartment, and apparently they were involved in a lovers' triangle. There had been a loud argument in the apartment shortly before she was found murdered. We had a general idea of what had happened, and when the polizei arrived, we attempted to tell them what we had discovered. They brushed us off and told us it was obviously a suicide.
The woman, according to them, had jumped.
I'd been with the 284th for over a year, and I had worked with many German police officers during that time. These were the first German police officers who had not impressed me.
The woman's body was removed without any investigation, and Beheng and I were left with our mouths hanging open. We could barely believe what had just taken place. Apparently, the murder of a lesbian prostitute was not high on the priority list of these particular police officers.
Beheng had forgotten about the trash.
We were both devastated by what had just happened. The story soon spread like the flu. Everyone on duty with the 284th that night was sickened by the lack of justice for this murdered woman. Though Beheng and I had primarily been just acquaintances when our shift began, we were now bonded by this experience. We ended up our shift completely somber.
After we returned to the police station, I told Beheng the truth about the trash. He barely commented on it. A few minutes later, he asked if I could do him a favor. Would I go out to the patrol car and get his briefcase? He needed some paperwork in it. I went out, but when I came back in, he told me he didn't have the right paperwork after all and asked if I'd check my briefcase. Perhaps I had the right paperwork. At this point, all of the MPs who had been on duty that night had returned, and many of the MPs who were coming on duty were present.
I went to my briefcase, opened it
... and it was filled with trash.
I almost fell down laughing. Dozens of people were there when I opened that briefcase -- the MPs coming on duty, and the MPs going off, the desk sergeants, and the patrol supervisors -- and every one of them was laughing.
And we really needed that laugh.
I dreamed about her several times after that -- the woman discarded like trash. In my dreams she always had my sister's face. It still haunts me to this day. Very few people cared. Those who should have sought justice, didn't. A heartless murderer walked free.
My writing changed after that.
I always make sure justice is served in my stories -- one way or another.
It's so often lacking in reality.
I hope you enjoyed today's essay. If you'd like to see a little justice dispensed, let me recommend my debut novel, Sleeping With Skeletons. Thanks.