Not a Cop | The Newcomer – Chapter 7

Note: this is Chapter 7 in an ongoing series of speculative fiction about an alternative history of the USA. Chapter 1 can be found here.

“Well just calm down, Marvin.”

Carla had her iPhone awkwardly pressed between her shoulder and ear, freeing her hands to button up her blouse.

“I don’t see what the big deal is, Marvin.”

She straightened her blouse and pinned her ID badge onto her breast. She glanced at herself in the mirror.

“I know, Marvin. I know.”

She tapped the speaker icon and plopped the phone on her dresser. Marvin’s disgruntled voice blared out:

“I done told them I ain’t interested in all that nonsense. I just wanna get up there to Oakland and get some rest and see all y’all, I don’t want to get into none of this nonsense.”

“I know, Marvin. Look, why not just see what they have to say? At the very least you’ll get a good dinner out of it.”

“I don’t want no dinner! I can’t believe you’re on their side!”

“I’m not on anyone’s side, Marvin. I just think maybe it would be a good opportunity for you, you should at least hear them out.”

“I ain’t interested!”

“So tell them that!” said Carla. She opened her jewelry box and plucked out a pair of earrings. Little black pearls.

“I done told’em and told’em! They ain’t lettin’ up. I ain’t goin’ to no LA, I just want to get up there to Oakland and see all y’all. They can’t make me go to no LA, I ain’t interested in all that.”

“I’m wearing the earrings you got me,” said Carla.


“The black ones, from Iraq.”

“What the hell’s that got to do with anything, Carla?”

“Look, Marvin, I gotta go to work. If you don’t wanna go with them they can’t make you. Just relax.”

“They’re just pissin’ me off, is all.”

“Everyone pisses you off,” said Carla, giving herself one last glance in the mirror. Presentable. “I still think you should listen to what they have to say.”

“Did they tell you to say that?”

“I don’t even know who ‘they’ are, Marvin. Look, I gotta go, I’m running late already.”

“Well I ain’t goin’ to no LA, you can tell them that.”

“Goodbye, Marvin,” said Carla, smirking as she reached down to end the call.

She grabbed her keys and left her apartment, quickly running down the stairs. She ran over to the public bike rack and selected the orange Marin she’d ridden home the night before.

“Oh, shit,” she said to herself, realizing her phone was still on her dresser. She leaned the bike against her apartment staircase and sprinted back upstairs.

The hospital was quiet, in the way that hospitals were. She could hear voices down the long hallway from some other room, and the muffled chiming of various machines in other rooms, and the occasional page from the intercom, and the clicking of her pumps on the glossy floor, but it still had that strange hospital quality of quietness.

Carla didn’t like hospitals very much. She always felt like she was in the way.

She came to room 307. Chuck was standing outside of the door, eating an apple.

“How’s he doing?” asked Carla, eyeing the apple. She’d had to skip breakfast.

“Sleeping, last time I stuck my head in. Doc says it looks worse than it is. Should be back on his feet in less than a month.”

“Kids heal fast,” said Carla.

“Kid’s lucky to be alive,” said Chuck, taking another bite. Carla felt her stomach rumble jealously.

“I might have to kill him, myself, after this one,” said Carla.

“Good luck,” said Chuck. “I’m gonna head home now, if it’s all the same to you. Been a long night.”

“Sure,” said Carla. “I’ll handle it from here.”

She eased open the door. It was dark inside, except for the glow of a machine by the bed. She could faintly make out the soft edges of Johnny’s youthful face. He looked peaceful as he slept. Innocent.

“Wake your ass up,” said Carla, flipping on the light. “You and me got to talk.”

“Ms. Carla…?” said Johnny, startled awake by the sudden burst of LED light that filtered down indirectly from the ceiling.

Johnny’s right leg was in traction. His left leg had one of those delicate-looking 3D-printed casts that looked like a spiderweb. He was shirtless and the side of his body that was facing him was covered in complicated-looking dressings. A deep gash was stitched up, running from his cheek bone to his chin.

“You told me just last week that you were gonna stay out of trouble,” said Carla, pulling up a chair to sit down at the bedside. She looked at a tray of uneaten food at his side. She picked up a pudding cup and held it up in Johnny’s face. “I’m eating this.”

“Look, Ms. Carla, I know I messed up. Look at me, you think I wanted this to happen?”

“I can’t even begin to comprehend what you were thinking,” said Carla. “You’re eighteen years old. You can’t hide behind bein’ a kid no more, and this is serious. Now you’ve got three different communes pissed off at you. So explain to me why you took Comrade Redding’s motorcycle without permission and crashed it into a wall last night?”

“I thought I could handle it,” said Johnny.

“Well, clearly you thought wrong.”

“I just wanted to try it out,” said Johnny. “I was gonna put it right back when I was done.”

“Why didn’t you just ask Comrade Redding if you could ride it? And why were you going so fast?” asked Carla, ripping off the plastic seal of the pudding cup. “You coulda killed a kid or something.”

“I thought I could handle it,” said Johnny. “Is Comrade Redding angry…?”

“Angry? Hell yeah he’s angry! And disappointed! But not as angry and disappointed as I am!”

“I’m sorry, Ms. Carla,” said Johnny. “I fucked up!”

“Yes you did,” said Carla, taking her first spoon full of pudding. Banana. She let the silence linger until she’d finished swallowing.

“What’s gonna happen now?” asked Johnny, shifting himself up on his elbows.

Carla placed the pudding cup down and helped reposition Johnny’s pillows so he could sit up. He groaned a bit in pain as he shifted into position.

“That’s a good question,” said Carla. “Most folks in the commune are sick of your bullshit. Some folks want you out, now that you’re 18.”

“They all want me out,” said Johnny. “Been that way since I got here. Wish I never left Philly.”

“Oh, enough of that self-pity shit,” said Carla. “You haven’t exactly made yourself welcome. I’ve been workin’ cases for a long time, now, and you get in more trouble than anyone I’ve ever looked after. Do I need to read back your case file?”

“Half that shit I didn’t even do,” said Johnny. “Folks just hate Okies. Streetlight gets busted and they blame me, just cuz I’m the only nuke in the commune.”

“I’m a newcomer,” said Carla. “There are fourteen other newcomers in the commune, and none of the rest of us have these problems.”

“You all been here for years, Ms. Carla, and you’re all old. You don’t know what it’s like in school. All the kids call me a cappy, they treat me like shit. I’m sick of it.”

“We’ve been over this, Johnny. You push kids around, talk trash. You gotta show respect if you wanna get respect.”

“I never had these problems back home,” said Johnny. “I have lots of friends back in Philly. I wish my momma never brought me here.”

“If you did what you did last night in Philly you’d be handcuffed to this bed right now,” said Carla. “And as soon as the doctors cleared you out they’d throw you in a jail cell. And I don’t even wanna think about how much your hospital bill’d be.”

“Jail would be better than this place,” said Johnny, slumping back in his bed.

“Look, if you wanna go back to Philadelphia so bad, I’ll get the paperwork started,” said Carla. “Just say the word.”

Johnny tilted his head back and said, “Fuck, I fucked up Ms. Carla. What am I gonna do? Comrade Redding’s not gonna want me to work in the shop any more after this.”

“On the contrary,” said Carla. “Comrade Redding expects you to help him get his bike back into shape. It’s gonna be a lot of work, after what you did to it.”

“He said that?” asked Johnny.

“Oh, he said a lot more than just that,” said Carla. “But don’t ask me to repeat most of it, I don’t use that kinda language.”

“So I can keep my job?” asked Johnny.

“Probably,” said Carla. “Nobody in the syndicate’s talking about voting you out, just yet. But we all want to see how things go with you. You need to start therapy again, Johnny.”

“That shit doesn’t help me,” said Johnny.

“Then we’ll get you another counselor,” said Carla. “You can’t keep going on like this.”

“I guess my supervision’s getting extended?” asked Johnny.

“I terminated your supervision, Johnny. And we’re not gonna force you to do anything. So far all your mistakes have done is hurt you, really. And a motorcycle, I guess.” She scooped up another bite of pudding. “Look, we want to help you, but you gotta want to help yourself.”

“You’re right, Ms. Carla. It’s just hard. Ever since mom…” Johnny looked away. “It’s just hard. I’m sorry I wrecked Comrade Redding’s bike. I’ll help him fix it. I’ll fix it all myself, even.”

“That’s between you and Comrade Redding,” said Carla. “But you gotta turn this mess around. Are you gonna start therapy again?”

“I’ll try,” said Johnny. “But…”

“What?” asked Carla.

“Aren’t there any nuke counselors I could talk to? Someone from back East? That lady from San Francisco don’t know what it’s like, man. She just ain’t got no idea.”

“Of course,” said Carla. “I’ve got a good friend from New Jersey who I think you’d like. He’s into motorcycles, too.”

“Thanks, Ms. Carla,” said Johnny. “Tell Comrade Redding I’m sorry, and I’ll help him fix the motorcycle.”

“You’re gonna have to tell him yourself,” said Carla, setting the empty pudding cup back on the food tray.

“You asshole,” said Comrade Redding, standing in the doorway. “What did you do to my bike?”

Carla ate an enormous pastrami sandwich in the hospital cafeteria. It was sitting heavy in her stomach as she walked out into the cool air of Oakland. She came to the bike rack, and was a little sad to see the orange Marin gone. She found a sturdy electric Mercurio plugged into one of the solar stations and decided that might be better after the pastrami, anyway.

Wizzing away from Highland Hospital’s shade, Carla felt the warmth of direct sunlight and lost herself in the first calmness of her day.

Her phone vibrated in her jacket pocket.

She pulled over to the curb in front of one of the cute, colorful houses that dotted the street. An old man was sweeping his porch. They waved at each other as she put her phone up to her ear.

“Did you end up murdering the Problem Child?” asked Chuck.

“I spared his life,” said Carla, “but I’m not sure Dave Redding will make the same choice. He showed up just as I was leaving.”

“I almost feel sorry for Johnny,” said Chuck.

“I certainly do,” said Carla. “Both of us got here as adults, and we have people here. Must be hard for someone his age, no family to speak of.”

“Yeah,” said Chuck. “I think this shook him up, though. Hopefully he’ll straighten up after this.”

“I really hope we can help him,” said Carla. The old man was stepping onto his porch with a big trash bag.

“Listen,” said Chuck, “I called because I need you to look in on Comrade Beasley today, over near Mills. She’s been having some trouble with Chicken.”

“With her chicken?”

“Chicken is the name of her dog,” said Chuck. “Her neighbors have complained before about him, say he’s aggressive. She says he’s never harmed a flea but apparently it already chased after one student from Mills who was jogging by. Now there’s a dean over there, insisting we take the dog to Animal Welfare.”

“How bad was the bite?”

“No bite, just a chase. Look, I think this is a tempest in a teapot situation. Better if we handle it quickly before it gets out of hand. Just go over there and see what you can do. Comrade Beasley lives on Berkman Boulevard. I’ll text you the address.”

“Sounds like a fun case,” said Carla. “I can’t imagine why you’re pushing it off on me while you have the day off.”

“I’m gonna go back to bed, now,” said Chuck. “I owe you one.”

“You certainly do.”

Carla ended the call.

The old man was struggling to lift the trash bag up into the bin. Carla put the Mercurio on its kickstand and went over to give him a hand.

“Oh, great, now the cops are here,” said Rebecca Beasley. She was sitting on the stoop of a slate gray apartment building that faced the entrance to Mills College.

“I’m Carla Tucker,” said Carla. “I’m a social worker for the Fischer Park Commune. Not a cop.”

Carla handed a business card to Beasley, as well as a middle-aged woman in a houndstooth skirt suit who who must have been the dean. She had also been standing on the stoop with her arms folded. Her bright red plastic glasses matched a pair of red pumps. Carla noticed they were the same make and model as the pair she was wearing, though Carla’s were brown.

“Took you long enough,” said the probable dean. “When is Animal Welfare coming?”

“I talked to Chuck Hodgeson on the phone,” said Carla. “He’s my partner. Said there was an incident with a dog?”

“I don’t talk to police,” said Beasley, digging through her handbag for a vape pen. She took a puff and turned away. “And nobody’s taking Chicken away from me, not unless it’s over my dead body.”

“I’m not a police officer,” said Carla. “You know that. I’m just here to mediate and take a report for a commune hearing, if it comes to that. Though I hope we can find a better solution by talking it out.”

“What’s there to talk about?” asked the woman in houndstooth. “That animal is vicious, it chases our students almost every day. It’s just a matter of time before somebody gets hurt.”

“May I ask your name? I assume you work for the college?” asked Carla, glancing down at her shoes.

“Mina Hong. And yes, I’m this month’s student health and safety coordinator.” Dr. Hong offered Carla a business card of her own. Carla glanced over it. History professor. She/her.

“Comrade Beasley, Comrade Hodgeson tells me this isn’t the first time someone’s complained about your dog. May I ask why you don’t keep it on a leash?”

“Chicken has a skin condition,” said Comrade Beasley. “He can’t wear a collar. He gets loose from time to time but mostly he stays indoors. And he wouldn’t harm a flea, he just likes to chase people around sometimes, that’s all. He’s never bitten anyone!”

“May I see the dog?” asked Carla.

“You may not,” said Beasley.

“Alright,” said Carla. “Well, look, if we can’t come up with an agreement here then the college has the right to call for a commune hearing. I can help you prepare for the proceeding, if you’d like, but it is the commune policy to take the animal into Welfare Custody until the end of the proceeding. It says it right here in your contract.”

Carla held up her smart phone, which had the contract in question pulled up.

“Animal Welfare should be here already,” said Dr. Hong. “We called them hours ago.”

“And they called us,” said Carla. “I assume the dog is secure in the house, now? Can you at least confirm that, Comrade Beasley?”

“Chicken’s inside, yes, and that’s where he’ll stay,” said Comrade Beasley. “I’m not going to let you or any other cop bastard come and take him away! You’ll have to take me with him!”

“Has the dog ever had any obedience training?” asked Carla.

“He don’t need any training! He’s a good dog! I wouldn’t ever have a vicious dog,” said Beasley.

“All the same, maybe obedience training would solve this problem. We have some very good trainers who would be glad to come and help in the commune’s pet owner syndicate. Are you a member?”

“I don’t join groups like that,” said Beasley. “I’ve been living in this commune since 1967, and things were a lot better before all you tankies came along with your contracts and your cop talk. This place is falling to pieces! Won’t be long before Okies and tankies are running the whole show, if they aren’t already!”

“See?” said Dr. Hong. “She’s completely unreasonable. We’ll have to take this before the commune, I see no other way.”

“Comrade Beasley,” said Carla, “will you just try the training? You don’t have to join the syndicate, we can have someone come over a few times a week and see if it works out. I can have Chuck check in daily with you and the college to see how things are progressing, and when the trainer says Chicken’s ready we can all meet back together and see whether we’re all satisfied. I’m sure Dr. Hong would consider such a compromise?”

“We certainly don’t want this to go any farther than it has to,” said Dr. Hong. “But we have to be ensured that our students will be safe.”

“Do you think they could train Chicken to use my toilet?” asked Beasley. “I saw a cat that used the toilet on the internet, I’ve been trying to train Chicken but he’s scared of the toilet bowl.”

“I’m… not sure about that,” said Carla, “but we could certainly ask the trainer about it.”

“Well, I’ll give it a shot,” said Beasley. “But they can’t come on Thursdays.”

“I’m sure that will be fine,” said Carla.

“And you’ll check in on the situation every day, like you said?” asked Dr. Hong.

“My partner will definitely check in with both of you every day, just to make sure everyone is doing okay. Sound fair?”

“I suppose,” said Beasley.

“I’ll have to confirm with the rest of my committee,” said Dr. Hong, “but I think they’ll be in agreeance.”

“Excellent. Well, I’ll email you both a circumstantial contract and Chuck will be over tomorrow with a trainer.”

“Tomorrow’s Thursday,” said Beasley.

“Then I’ll have him come over this evening,” said Carla.

“That should be fine,” said Beasley.

As Carla walked back to the Mercurio she was already texting Chuck:

“Remember when you said you owed me one?”

Continue to Chapter 8

Author’s Note:

Thanks again for waiting for this chapter, Incidentally, I’ve set up Twitter and Mastodon accounts for The Newcomer as well as a dedicated page on this site — I do enjoy the positive feedback I’ve gotten on the series. If you really do enjoy the series, I hope you will consider subscribing to those social media accounts, sharing the series with your friends, and perhaps even contributing a buck or two on Patreon — the more support I receive the more time I’ll be able to spend cranking these out. 🙂

-Emerican Johnson

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