The Guy Who Was There

By John Connor

Sounds crazy, but sometimes Roy and I just talk like regular folks. We were both cops in the LongAgo-FarAway, and sometimes we share cop moments; funny ones, stupid times, “rolling code” and such. One came up that’s long haunted me and the moment went dark. “Get it out,” he said. “Exorcise it. Write it.” So…

Uprooted by The Miskito Rebellion, a buncha sad, culture-shocked native refugees were dumped into a run-down World War II-built federal housing project. Repeatedly closed, reopened and abandoned, the most recent residents had been Cuban dopers “freed” by Castro during the Mariel Boatlift. Officially vacated with the utilities turned off, the mangiest rats in that pack just hid out, stayed and continued their drug businesses. They found fresh customers among the new arrivals.

Apparently, back on the Miskito Coast, some of the natives had chewed a mildly hallucinogenic herb as a stimulant/relaxant, probably about as potent as two Miller Lites. But the Cubans were pushing “Sherms” — brown Sherman cigarettes dipped in PCP. The natives’ systems and psyches weren’t prepared for that kinda madness. It made for some grisly, horrific crimes.

The Call

I was working patrol, graveyard watch. The call was “Unknown disturbance, possible stabbing.” The only telephone was in the housing office. I got a best-guess location and floored it. A horseshoe-shaped building, dark, one light coming from an open door. A dozen clamoring refugees, some with knife cuts and slashes, pelted me with fractured Spanish and Misumalpan. “He kills all!” My cover unit was minutes away.

I eased in. Blood spatters on the walls and floor of the front room. I inched through an inner door. To my left was a space between the wall and a humming refrigerator. It was filled with a waist-high heap of bloody laundry — I thought.

One dim naked bulb lit the kitchen to my right and a rusty back screen door. The shadows were dark, fresh blood slashes bright crimson, everywhere; walls, fridge, cabinets, floor, not dropped, but flung, sprayed. I thought, all this needs is horror-movie music.

The bloody laundry moved and a head poked up. I admit it. I jumped. Wild black hair, deep facial cuts, scared sad eyes imploring, broken voice whimpering, one dripping hand extended to me. Holstered my sidearm, knelt and pulled away bloody clothing — and there was another head capped with black hair and a smaller pair of coal-black eyes. A girl, about five years old, bad cuts on her arms and hands — and two little feet? More digging. Yes. Another little girl, maybe two, three years old, her shoulder cut to the bone. Mother had burrowed into the laundry, hiding herself and the girls in that heap of rags as they bled and waited.

Momma sprayed me with word-salad and pantomime, and I got that “He gets the big knife to cut us in pieces.” Then her eyes popped wide as the screen door opened behind me. Spun on my knees. He was holding a machete in his raised right hand. I pulled my Smith & Wesson Model 19, leveled it and shouted for him to freeze, drop the knife, suelta el cuchillo!

Nothing. No reaction. I realized he wasn’t seeing me. Staring at her? I couldn’t tell. Still yelling I scrambled upright, into his line of sight. Nothing. His arm seemed to vibrate — but he still didn’t see or hear me.

Less than eight feet away. Head shots are a stupid gamble — but how much woodchopping could he do with two, four, six rounds in his body? I put the orange insert of my front sight on his nose. It would be too melodramatic to say I began to squeeze the trigger, because really, all I knew was the trigger was moving and the hammer arcing back. There was no anger, no murderous rage in his eyes, just deep ocean floor, blankness, nothing. Replayed countless times over all these years since, I could only think “If a cancer cell had eyes, they’d look like that.”

The End — That’s All

A flashlight beam played across the screen door. It swung out. My cover officer burst in, the rookie behind him blundering into his back, unbalancing him, but he swung the 4-cell flashlight hard, whacking Murder-Man on the side of the head with a thonk! He dropped like a sack. The machete hit the edge of the sink, did a high flip in the air and clattered on the deck. In another blurry second my cover cuffed Murder-Man, and the rookie, horrified, blanched dead white screamed “Oh Jesus, oh Jesus, oh sweet Jesus!” looking past me.

Momma had tried to rise. Long strips of flesh hung from one arm and a flap of cheek dangled. The bloody children tumbled out and another, a tiny infant, fell to the floor squalling now but seemingly unharmed, perhaps shielded by his mother’s shredded arm.

Roaring in my ears; hardly heard the sirens coming, tires squealing, cops and EMT’s filling that space, squeezing me outside, standing dumbly staring up at the night sky, gun still in my hand. A lieutenant asked “Did you shoot?” Uh, I don’t know. I knew only one thing for sure: Murder-Man would have cut them all into pieces. Pieces. Every one.

It wasn’t about skill or courage or justice or any of that crap. I was just The guy who was there. Late, but there. And now I look up into another inky-black night sky and think, Thank God. That’s all. Connor OUT.

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