Voice of the Mountain
by Shawn K. Inlow
The water was black. Well, not black, but the color of tea. The lake was full of tannins from the acid loving plant life and it made the water dark and serene and reflective even in the broad daylight of a warm off-season day.
The surface was placid, reflecting like an impenetrable eye the world around it, a perfect beautiful dark looking glass.
The Trooper had driven his patrol car there on a serene, deserted patrol, seeking quiet. Needing to sleep. Mind wandering and numb.
The internal investigations just kept coming one after another. It had gotten to the place where the Trooper had posted his most recent notice on the patrol room bulletin board so that the guys could read it without clandestinely poking through his mailbox.
It didn't matter that the Trooper was blameless in any of it. It only mattered that he was an officer who needed to be hammered down like a stubborn nail poking its head above the flush of a wooden deck. He was an officer who needed to conform. An officer who needed to know that filing a grievance was not what team players did.
The officer nosed the cruiser up to the water's edge and cracked the window, letting in the meditative sounds of wind and calming black waves. The water was a reflection. It was an abyss. He pushed the driver's seat forward and reclined it the few inches it would go before it ran up against the cage for back-seat passengers.
His uniform didn't fit very well. He was getting overweight, a far cry from the boot that came out of the academy in the best shape of his life, and his gun-belt was on its last notch and spent its shifts digging into his gut and his woolen gray uniform was stuffy and uncomfortable.
He turned down the radio so it could barely be heard and fell into a troubled sleep sitting upright. The Trooper could not dream. He had not dreamt in years.
Back at the barracks, his corporals in the patrol unit and crime unit were conspiring on ways to stick it to him. One of them kept a file on the Trooper. The other kept downgrading his evaluations. Every report that came across their desks bounced like a rubber ball back into the Trooper's box. Do it over. Review OM 7-2 regarding statements on domestic violence. Familiarize yourself with blocks 7-15 regarding initial crime reporting. Submit correspondence STD-501 explaining the lateness of this report. One time, his report bounced because his signature was wrong. The Trooper couldn't lick a postage stamp and get it past these guys and, after a while, even a sensible Trooper began to doubt whether or not he was capable of doing anything right. After a while, even a sensible Trooper began to make unforced errors, failing at easy tasks.
And when the Bureau of Professional Responsibility came calling because one of his supervisors kept filing paper on him for whatever they could think of, the report always came back clearing the Trooper. The Trooper had always acted with best intents. It was the six months of not knowing where the complaint originated or whether the misstated and bent reasoning of the complaint would be discovered in the investigation or not. It was six months of not knowing what the department was going to do to you.
And then another investigation would begin. And another. There was, for a sensible Trooper, no recourse.
There comes a time for a Trooper when he can no longer function. When he can no longer manage the Chinese Water Torture of stress. When you are driving but you don't know where and you wind up somewhere but you realize suddenly you have no idea how you got there.
The Trooper's mind thought in still frames. In pictures. And the thought crept up on him in the middle of a tripple-header - three eight hour shifts out of five - like shadow not wanting to be seen and insinuated itself. The Trooper was not safe.
He saw in his mind's eye the picture of the bloody roof of the patrol car. But in the picture he could not see his face. Either he had become no one or his mind would not allow him to be in the picture. But he could not see his face there. He had disappeared.
His hand caressed the Beretta's grip in its holster. The Beretta with the interminably long trigger pull. The Beretta whose grip was too big for his hand. And his thumb unsnapped his holster as his hands caressed the grip and his black leather holster.
In the picture, he could not see his face.
He had been fond of reasoning with people in his work that one should never make a decision while angry. But this was not anger. This was sorrow. This was despair. There is no one more unpredictable than the desperate.
It wasn't a moment of hatred for his co-workers that mattered so much, although the Trooper somehow was determined to not let them win out. Somehow, the picture in his mind changed to the picture of his son.
What kind of a man would do that to his son? What kind of a coward could leave his family a legacy like that? This way was the way of the hopeless. But it was the beautiful face of his son; he could see it clearly in the picture, it was love that was stronger than all of it.
The Trooper shook his head and began to weep. And his hands went to his shaking head to deliver comfort instead of release.
He had to get out of there. Terror and sorrow and love swirled like madness in him and he unsteadily backed his patrol car up from the boat launch and drove the winding, twisting road toward town needing someplace safe.
Up ahead on the right was the home of someone who would have to do. It was a place he was always welcome to pull in and park his car around the back of the house on the spacious forest lot and he did so on this day. Most days he'd pull in and, even in the middle of a work day, one or both of the parents or some of the boys would be around if they were in town. He was usually offered something to eat but he mostly declined except for coffee or tea.
He parked out of sight of the road and shut off the car. He turned off his police radio and opened his cell phone and dialed.
"State Police, can I help you." A female police communications officer.
The Trooper introduced himself. He didn't sound good.
"I'm going to be off air on this number for a while."
"Are you okay?"
"I need to be left alone today, alright? Call me if you really need me."
"Alright. Let me know when you go back in service."
He put his phone in his pocket and straightened himself up. He took his clip-on tie off and tossed it aside, opening up his collar to breathe a bit. He locked up the car and walked up the back steps to the kitchen. He knocked lightly and walked in.
"Anyone home?" he called as he sat down at the big table. The lady of the house was home. She was a kindly type, kind of full of new age philosophy, a good person. This was a healing place.
She came around the corner. "Hi! How ya doin'?"
"Good. Just thought I'd come and spend some time."
"Great. Can I get you some lunch? I've got some tomato soup and some ham sandwiches." She was used to feeding an army.
"You have no idea how good that sounds."