Sonny’s Gift [Write Club]
Sonny’s Gift was written for the September meeting of Write Club Surrey. The theme was mysteries, and I drew on some African folklore and religion, and also riffed off Neil Gaiman’s American Gods. There was also a little bit of inspiration from the Black Lives Matter protests too.
The mystery in the story revolves around a shipping container, which has been delivered to the front door of the local police station.
There’s a couple of competing points of view in Sonny’s Gift, and perhaps the real mystery of Sonny’s Gift is not who sent it, but how they knew what was needed months before Sonny even had his epiphany! The title character of Sonny’s Gift is a black ex-cop. He rescued a woman from drowning when on patrol, and as a result realised that he needed to do more to serve and protect his community than he could manage as a cop. It’s set in September 2020, several months after the rescue.
For reasons I don’t recall I forgot to put Sonny’s Gift on my blog at the time. So here it is now.
Sonny’s phone chirped. The lock screen showed a message from UPS.
‘Excuse me.’ Sonny interrupted his female companion, an attractive black woman in her early thirties wearing a red and white A-line dress with a snakeskin belt round her middle.
‘We need to go pick up a delivery?’ she said.
Sonny had given up wondering how she knew about things before he told her. He unlocked the phone.
Your consignment has been delivered to Liberty Square. Let us know how the experience was for you link.
‘UPS telling me there’s a package for me. Not expecting anything though.’
‘Maybe we should take a look see. Where is it?’
‘It’s at Liberty Square, didn’t know UPS had a place there.’
‘Well we’d best go quick so we find it before anyone else does.’
‘What’s that doing there?’ A white man in a suit with silver at his temples gestured towards a shipping container across the front of the police precinct entrance.
‘No idea, Lieutenant, Wilson came back in a minute ago saying he couldn’t get out the front door.’ The desk sergeant had a blond buzz cut above a tanned face with deep blue eyes.
‘Did anyone see anything, Sergeant?’
‘I’ve sent Scheheradze to look up the camera footage, and Wilson is going round the back way to check the front.’
‘How long could it have been there?’
‘Not that long, sir. The rest of the shift went out about ten minutes before Wilson.’
‘Put us on lockdown, and move everyone to the back of the building. I don’t like this.’
‘Yes, sir.’ The sergeant reached down under the desk and hit a button.
Orange lights flashed and an alarm tone preceded a voice message. ‘Lockdown in place. Do not evacuate the building.’
While the message repeated a couple of times the Lieutenant walked cautiously towards the door for a closer look. The container rested right up against the building. The bottom of the ridged walls was painted red, with a wavy black line palm-wide separating the red from a white top half. There were spots of rust where the paint had chipped and sea air had corroded it. The whole thing was covered in dust from the road.
Opening the door he looked left and right. There was a few inches between the container and the walls, not enough for even the slimmest cop to get through.
The speakers in the ceiling crackled with static. ‘This is Sergeant Cullen, move to the back of the building and stay away from windows, we’ve got a suspicious package at the door.’
The Lieutenant walked back to the desk.
‘Sergeant, let’s go out back. You probably ought to tell dispatch to move to their backup location.’
Sergeant Cullen reached for his radio.
The Lt’s hand grabbed his wrist.
‘Wait until we’re further away, there could be a bomb in there.’
Cullen’s face paled and he nodded silently, edging away from the door.
There was a crowd outside the police precinct in Liberty Square when Sonny pulled up nearby. As soon as he’d seen the shipping container he’d suspected it was the consignment from UPS.
‘What do you think Mamie? Is it ours?’
‘Only way to find out is to look see.’ Mamie grinned a wide smile at Sonny.
They got out of the car and walked arm in arm over to the assembled crowd. Like many of the demonstrators recently there was plenty of room for two people to get through the crowd of masked people.
When they got to the front there was a semi-circle of clear space round the large red and white shipping container that blocked the main entrance to the police precinct.
‘Anyone know what’s going on?’
‘Not sure. Maybe they’re building a barricade?’ a young woman with a Black Lives Matter plackard said.
‘Sure won’t stop us if we wanted to get in!’ shouted a matronly woman.
‘Nuh, uh! More likely they got a shipment of something to use on us.’ a young man shook his head.
‘Well I’m going to look see.’ Sonny walked up to the doors of the container, where a snake head ate its tail.
He paused for a moment at the manifest stuck in plastic on the door. His name was on it.
He looked at the seal on the container, it showed US Customs had inspected it on March 1. Exactly six months ago. Two months after he’d fished Mamie dripping wet from the freezing river.
Sonny turned to look at the crowd watching him.
‘Anyone got any bolt cutters?’ he said. ‘It’s got my name on it.’
From nearer the back of the crowd a man waved. ‘I got some in the trunk of my car.’ He said before running off.
‘Mamie, were you expecting this?’ Sonny said.
‘How many times I got to tell you not to ask about gifts?’ She gave him a stern look.
‘Sorry. It takes time to get used to rolling with it.’
The man came back, breathing hard, with a pair of bolt cutters.
‘Thanks! You want to do it?’ Sonny said.
Everyone went silent as a police officer came round the corner of the precinct building, with his hand on his gun.
Sonny squinted at the police officer.
‘Wilson, isn’t it?’
‘Who are you?’
‘Relax, Wilson. You ain’t going to come to no harm.’
‘Sir, you need to back off.’
The Lieutenant strode into the room without knocking.
Scheheradze was encircled by four large screens, two in front one atop the other, and one on each side of the lower monitor. The top screen had a camera feed of the container, and the left hand one showed four stills of the same space, two with the container in it and two without.
‘You found out who put it there yet, Scheheradze?’
Scheheradze startled, then stood pushing his chair out of the way.
‘Uh, no, sir.’
‘What do you mean no?’ the Lt’s face reddened.
‘There’s a gap in the footage.’ Scheheradze pointed at the four images on the left hand screen. ‘These four frames are when it appeared. If you look closely there’s a ten minute gap in the time stamps.’
‘Someone hacked our cameras?’
‘Looks that way.’
‘What about nearby ones?’
‘You’d need to get some officers to go ask, sir. We only have live access to the ones on the precinct, and the county hall.’
‘Noted. So you’ve got no idea how the container got there?’
‘Well, sir, it’s not nothing. There’s a serial number painted on the container, and I could read that off the camera footage. It’s in the tracking database.’
‘It belongs to Mermaid Freight. They shipped it out of Benin on January 27, and it was landed in Charleston on February 23. CBP flagged it for a search and they cleared it on March 1 when UPS picked it up.’
‘So where’s it been for the last six months?’
Sonny held out both hands, palms forward. ‘I used to work with you, brother. Remember?’
Wilson paused. Looked Sonny up and down.
‘Probably easier to recognise me if I was in a uniform.’
‘You’re the guy that quit after you rescued a woman from the river on New Years.’
‘This is her.’ Sonny looked at Mamie.
‘Uh, pleased to meet you ma’am.’
Mamie held her handbag in front of her and nodded at Wilson.
‘So what’s the deal with the container then?’
‘Not sure. I got a text from UPS telling me my consignment was in Liberty Square. And look. Here’s my details on the door.’ Sonny pointed out the manifest label to Wilson.
‘You go by Sonny Ali now?’
‘What it says on my driver’s license.’ Sonny pulled the card with a flourish from his pocket and held it up for Wilson to see.
‘So it’s yours?’
‘Looks that way.’ Sonny shrugged. ‘I was just about to open it up to see what’s in it.’
From an upstairs window at the front of the window the Lieutenant watched the crowd. He could see officer Wilson speaking to another black man, with a black woman nearby. A third black man stood poised with a set of bolt cutters. He turned away from the window for a moment to grab a radio from the rack.
‘Dispatch, we’ve got a situation at the precinct, there’s a crowd gathering outside. We need backup.’
When he got back to the window Wilson’s blue shirt was no-where to be seen, and the crowd had surged forwards towards the container, glee in their faces that he’d only seen before when an officer went down.
The doors to the container were open, and looters were already leaving with bags and boxes.
‘Dispatch, make that an all units priority call. Officer down. I say again, officer down.’
‘Roger that. All units, all units. Officer down at the precinct. Immediate assistance.’
Behind him the Lieutenant could hear boots on the stairs.
The metal squealed as Sonny strained at the container door. It slowly opened to reveal cardboard boxes packed floor to ceiling.
Sirens blared in the distance.
‘Looks like you got a mystery benefactor.’ Mamie pointed at one of the boxes, scrawled in a thick black marker it read, A Gift for Sonny Ali.
‘You see that, brother?’ Sonny pointed Wilson at the box. ‘Can’t be no doubt it’s mine. You bear witness, yeah?’
‘I see it, brother. I see it.’
Sonny pulled the box with his name on it out, the flaps were folded down. He pulled them up to open it. At the top of the box there was a brightly coloured shirt in a packet, with a card on top.
‘This is for you brother. Maybe you should put it on?’ Sonny handed the shirt to Wilson.