Out There Screaming
Reckless EyeballingN. K. Jemisin
Black female, approximately midthirties, alone. Driving a hundred-thousand-dollar Tesla? Yeah, Carl would’ve stopped her regardless. Casually dressed. Not light-skinned or pretty enough to be some wealthy man’s side piece.
“What seems to be the problem, officer?” she asks as he comes up to the window. Hands in clear view on the steering wheel, no expression on her face. No smell of weed or anything else illicit, but he’ll find something. There’s always something, when he sees the eyes.
“License and registration, please,” he says.
“Is there some reason you’ve pulled me over? I’m pretty sure I wasn’t speeding.”
“License,” he says, slowly but (always!) politely, “and registration.”
She hesitates a moment longer, the silence between them punctuated by the windy drone of passing cars. Carl could take her in on the hesitation alone—obstruction or maybe resisting—but he waits. He’s a patient guy. After a moment, she takes her hands off the wheel, slowly. “I’m going to reach into the pocket here on my car door,” she says. “I keep my registration and other information in a small folio there. May I pull it out?”
“Be my guest,” Carl says, amused. So many “how to talk to police” videos on TikTok these days.
She hands him two cards. One is the registration, which is current. The other is her license, also current—and stuck to it, apparently by chance, is her membership card for the National Lawyers Guild. Also current.
He glances at her. She gazes off down the gently curving length of the interstate, as if unconcerned about his presence or whatever he might think of her little “Do you know who I am?” play. That’s not important, though. Where is her phone? Most drivers keep it on the seat or in the console next to them, or attached to a dash cradle. If it’s out of sight . . . Carl’s state allows one-party recording. Best to assume the worst.
So he hands back the woman’s documents. “Thank you, ma’am. You have a nice day.”
She looks fully at him for the first time, still with that neutral face—but her eyes are cold. Truth always lies in the eyes. “Can you tell me why you pulled me over, Officer . . . Billings?”
“Well, I can see them now, but at first I thought there was an issue with your headlights.” He moves away from the window, around to the front of the car. Her headlights are still on, and he’s familiar with what this make and model should have: LEDs with a white rim, inward-slanting. What’s actually on the front of this woman’s car are prettier than LEDs, and sly-looking. They shift to follow him as he moves into their range. Brown irises, just like those of the driver, and just as cold. No blinking, no ducking his gaze, just a steady, sharp stare back. Whatever she’s up to—because it’s always something—this bitch is ready for him.
He could take her in anyway. His dashcam is off, “malfunctioning.” Drag her out of the car, rough her up a little to let her know he’s not scared of her or any other lawyer, park her in holding until he can figure out what she’s really done. Probably better to shoot than arrest her, really; dead women file no lawsuits.
While still in front of the car, he glances up. There’s a tiny rectangular device behind her rearview mirror. Can’t make out what it is or tell where it’s aimed, but he’s pretty sure it’s a camera.
Could still do it. Black women don’t usually go viral.
He sighs and heads back to her window. “I apologize for pulling you over, ma’am, but there’s no issue that I can see at this time. You have a nice day.”
He feels her eyes—the ones in her face—against his profile as he turns back toward his car. “You, too, officer.”
Next time, whore.
Carl started seeing the eyes a few months back. Thought they were just some new headlight fad at first. Every year there’s a new one—neon rims, insectoid multiple bulbs, designs like hearts or cobra hoods. Tacky, but not illegal. These eyes, though, are far too realistic to be simply another mod. They blink. There are veins throughout the sclera, striations in the irises, boogers at the corners. Carl actually saw them manifest once, ordinary halogen one moment and then blink, and they were blinking. Since that moment he’s come to understand something else: The eyes are a magical thing, or supernatural, if there’s any difference. He asks around, casually mentioning the new headlight fad to a couple of his fellow highway patrol officers, but no one else has seen them. Nobody mentions freaky car-eyes. It’s a Carl-specific magic, or blessing, or psychic gift. Just for him.
There has to be a reason for it, so Carl starts pulling over anyone whose car has eyes to figure out what the reason might be. This is tricky at first. He usually sets up speed traps with his patrol car oriented along one side of the highway, with the traffic flow, but he sees the eyes most easily on the oncoming side. They’re never on the taillights. They actually glow with the same illumination as any headlights, beams angled through the pupils, so he loses a couple because it’s hard to clock the model or color of a car when one’s night vision has been ruined. Still, the first “eye car” he catches is a gold mine. Professionally dressed guy, nice (though not too nice) car, but there’s a faint chemical smell. Guy’s name is Gimenez. Chatty in a pretend-friendly way. Third-generation Cuban from Florida; makes sure to mention that he votes Republican. When Carl calls in a K9 unit, the guy stays cool, even offering them his suitcase to examine. The dog alerts on the guy’s suitcase, which turns out to have a couple of prerolls tucked into a pocket. Marijuana’s legal, as Mr. Gimenez clearly knows; nice red herring. He smiles when Carl and the K9 officer close the suitcase. Carl smiles back—and reminds Mr. Gimenez that he just drove a Schedule 1 substance over the line from a non-legal state, which gives Carl the pretext to do a full search of the car. Gimenez flips. Starts talking about lawsuits and calling the mayor of a city Carl’s never heard of. Anyway, there’s a palpable lump in the fabric of the car’s ceiling, which Carl cuts open to find two keys of pure South American white powder heroin, flattened and sewn into little vinyl pouches. There’s also a wrapped packet of cash—ten grand in small bills.
Unit captain later tells Carl that the heroin was worth more than two hundred thousand dollars in street value. No sign of the cash that Mr. Gimenez reported, but a drug dealer will lie about anything, won’t he? Anyway, Gimenez takes a plea bargain, and Highway Patrol gets to brag about a big bust on Facebook, so everybody’s happy.
Carl resolves to not call in any other units the next time he sees the eyes. His magic just bought the K9 guy a new deck, and the f***er didn’t even thank him for it.
Carl’s walking past his shift supervisor’s desk when the supervisor—Kinsey—gets up and follows him into the locker room. The room is empty since it’s not a shift change, and there are no cameras here. They’ve got privacy.
Carl doesn’t like Kinsey. Highway Patrol is full of good ol’ boys; they all bleed blue here but for most of ’em, the color white matters more. As in, Kinsey is. As in, Carl’s Black. Another reason he’s so careful.
“Getting some complaints,” Kinsey says, while Carl changes into his civvies. “I mean, I always get complaints, about everybody, but lately there’s a lot of new ‘no probable cause’ ones specific to you. You, uh, reading chicken bones or something?”
Funny. “I get hunches,” Carl says. “Same as everybody. I always make sure there’s cause on my reports, though, don’t I?”
Kinsey sighs, in a “these people” tone. Carl’s not sure whether it’s for him or for the complainants. “You know what it looks like when you break somebody’s arm after pulling them over for an ‘outdated inspection certificate’? You can’t think up anything better?”
“All I did was pull that kid out of the car. I wasn’t even trying to hurt him.” Apparently it was something called a torsion fracture. Kids don’t drink enough milk these days.
“Look.” Kinsey rubs his face, sounding annoyed at having to show empathy. “I get it, but you gotta remember people are out to get us. We’re just trying to keep them safe, but all they’re thinking about is how much they can get selling a video to TMZ, or suing the city. So can you try not to make it easy for them? Please?”
He walks away before Carl can answer. Duty done, now he doesn’t have to treat Carl like a person anymore.