An Officer and a Benefactor

Submitted into Contest #159 in response to: Start your story with a character accepting a bribe.... view prompt


Coming of Age Fiction

The first time it happened was during his first shift on the police force, when his uniform was pristine, and he was bursting with pride and naivete. A silver foreign-made SUV flew past them on the rough road, and his partner pulled their patrol car off the shoulder and flicked the sirens on, kicking up dust as he sped to catch up. The SUV pulled over immediately, and his partner winked at him with his hand on the door handle before he stepped out of the driver’s seat.

“Now you get to learn everything they didn’t teach you in academy,” his partner said with a sinister smile.

The young officer had learned so much in the academy that he was surprised to hear there was still more to learn. He thought he had the skills to deal with all situations, and while not arrogant enough to take the lead, he couldn’t imagine what his partner was about to teach him on a routine traffic stop. They approached the driver’s side of the SUV together. The window rolled down, revealing a middle-aged white man with dark bags under his eyes, who fidgeted nervously.

“Passport,” his partner barked.

The man dug into his pocket and retrieved a blue United States of America passport, passing it wordlessly out of the window. His partner passed it to the young officer, and he opened it, making a mental note of the unusual last name in preparation for completing the paperwork.

His partner squinted in irritation. “We have you on radar going far above the speed limit, dangerously above it, especially for this zone.” The young officer had not seen the radar reading and wrose did not know what zone his partner was referring to, and silently berated himself for missing such a key detail about his first patrol shift. “We can do this one of two ways. You can come back next Wednesday and take your chances with the judge, or you can make this inconvenience disappear now.” His partner looked at the driver expectantly.

“Oh, uh, no I can’t come back, my family is in the port city and we’re flying back out of there, I was-“ the driver babbled on. The young officer felt sorry for him, he had a kind face and seemed like a good family man.

His partner cut him off “I don’t need a story. Pay the fine of six hundred now and we call it good.”

A glint of recognition crossed the driver’s weary face. “Perfect, thank you sir,” he said, before removing a billfold from his pocket and peeling off six crisp United States one-hundred-dollar bills. His partner snatched the passport out of the young officer’s hand and with one motion, took the bills and returned the passport to the driver.

With a nod, he pocketed the money and said without irony, “Now slow down, I would hate for my partners down the road to have to stop you too.”

The officers walked back to their car and sat down in the front seats before his partner pulled the money out of his pocket. He handed one of the bills to the young officer, saying “one for you”, put two in his chest uniform pocket saying, “two for me”, and then begrudgingly, “three for the King”. Even the young officer knew who the King was – he was the regional commander of the gang that controlled the drug trade in that part of the country. His stomach dropped to his polished black boots. He couldn’t believe he had spent nine months in the police academy only to end up working for the same gang many of his friends left school to serve.

The young officer’s family had lived in this part of the country long before the drug gangs from the west infiltrated the area. None of the other men in his family had professional jobs, they were all farmers who barely scraped by, often relying on the money their wives made selling crafts by the side of the road. He wanted to be different though, he saw the gleaming badges of the officers in the larger market town and saw the respect they commanded from the locals and the foreign tourists. They lived in the nice houses in the town, not the dilapidated shacks out in the fields, although not the mansions in the hills that the drug gangs inhabited. The drug gangs were despicable, bringing a bad reputation to the town, and even as a young child he never idolized the flashy gang men the way his classmates did. He idolized the football players he saw on TV, representing his country in tournaments around the world, but knew better than to ask his parents for time away from the farm work to play an idle sport. No, the police force was good enough for him. He didn’t need to be on TV, didn’t need a mansion or a gold watch, he just wanted to not be like his uncles toiling away in the hot sun, dependent on yet constantly at warm with the mysterious forces of weather and soil. He stayed in school and always completed his assignments, even though it meant doing them late at night when the rest of his family was asleep, and he enrolled in the police academy as soon as he graduated.

All of that work only to end up there on that pockmarked road, pocketing the equivalent of two- or three-months of paychecks stolen from a foreigner. How stupid he had been to think the police and the gang were at odds when they were really the same, just in different clothes.

As his months with the police force continued, the young officer did indeed learn the things he had not been taught at the police academy. The region was relatively peaceful because it was controlled entirely by only one drug gang. The police targeted foreigners for “fines” which were never documented and were allowed to split the money collected with the King’s men. The young officer was astonished at how consistently and fairly this nebulous dirty money was divided, although he supposed the risks of cheating the gang out of their fair share, even if there was no obvious way for them to find out, far outweighed the benefits of more money. In exchange for this extra income, the gang would occasionally offer up a low-level operator for arrest, which brought the police department accolades from the regional government and promoted the “tough on crime” image that made the area feel safe and appealing to tourists. Most of the officers wasted the extra money on women, alcohol, drugs from the gang, and gambling, but a few of them sent money to their families in other parts of the area.

It was never explicitly stated but the young officer knew instinctively that any effort to call attention to the bribes would be suicide. The King’s men had killed people for far lower offenses. Still though, it didn’t sit right with him. At first, he used the money to take care of his family – fixing the roof on one of his uncle’s houses, buying another uncle a donkey to help alleviate the hard labor of the fields, and buying his grandmother a new bed. It felt dirty though and he hated continuing the cycle while using the money to only benefit his own family. One day, after about six months on the police force, he was at the bar in town watching a football game and he had an idea.

Ten years later, due to the generosity of an anonymous local donor who everyone assumed to be one of the King’s minions, the football academy opened. It was a gorgeous facility just outside of town, and instead of paying tuition, the families of the children who attended were actually paid a stipend to compensate for the time their children spent learning a sport instead of working in the fields. It was named after a player from the United States with a unique last name, who had agreed to coach in the area during the Major League Soccer offseason because his family had vacationed in that part of the world for as long as he could remember. The young officer was no longer young, and no longer naïve, but he attended the opening ceremony and shook hands with the player proudly, eager to watch from the anonymous shadows as the schoolchildren of the village gawked at role models who valued health and education, not money and power and violence.

August 15, 2022 23:33

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