Note from Ray: I wrote this a while back. I might have been all of about 21 years old. It was the first time I ever sat down and tried to write a fleshed-out story. What can I say--I was trying to impress some chick. Anyway, I've polished it just a bit, but it's still the same story. So if you think it sucks, take heart--I'm not backsliding just yet.
Why’d I do it? Hell, I don’t know. I really don’t. Sharks, when they start eating, when they smell the blood in the water, or whatever, they just go crazy, you know? Feeding frenzy is what it’s called—I learned that in eighth grade science class. They’ll just go nuts with blood-lust, they’ll tear up anything that gets in the way, or anything that gets close enough. That’s what I think of when I think back to that day. I’m sorry as hell that everything happened the way it did, God knows I am. But if it all went down again, it would probably go down the exact same way. That’s the scary part, ya see.
I would love to say that I wouldn’t do it the same if I could have it all to do over again, but I know I would. Because it wasn’t really a choice, I don’t think. It just happened, like a chain reaction of insanity, everyone went crazy, and everything fell into place just like it has to in a situation like that. Like some horrible jig-saw puzzle that when you finish, it shows your mother being murdered. I know that doesn’t make much sense, but that’s the way it seems in my mind. You don’t want it to work out that way, but that’s still how it works out. Maybe you’ll understand better if I tell you how it happened.
I was a good cop. I didn’t ever take a payoff or a bribe or whatever. It might surprise you that there was ever a chance, in a small town like this, but there was. Cash, sex, dope. You would be amazed at what people will offer a cop to get out of trouble. If you ever tried that crap with me, you just ended up in more trouble.
I didn’t use my position to screw with people, though. I didn’t do any of those things that make police officers so scary. I took it serious—I was there to protect and serve. It seems funny, and a little bit ironic (I think that’s the right word) now. Yep, that’s me—Mr. Serve and Protect.
I just wanted to help people, you know? I just wanted people to feel safe when they went to work, or went to the store, or went to sleep at night. Honest to God, I just wanted to make my corner of the world a better place. Not all cops are like that—I’ll admit that without any hesitation. Some cops are just mean, ya see. They take the job for the ego boost, for the power trip. Sexual favors in exchange for ripping up a speeding ticket. Drug busts that show up on the records a little light. Like I said, even a small town, you would be surprised. So, yeah, I know there are dirty cops.
But I wasn’t one of them. I detest them, if you want to know the truth. Before this nightmare, I was actually working my towards Internal Affairs. In the city, of course—no IA office here.
You have to get rough with people sometimes, I understand that. They say it’s not our job—a jury decides who’s guilty and all that, and that’s fine and dandy. But sometimes you have to use a little more than words to get what you need. You remember last year, that little girl went missing? Man, we knew exactly who took her. And that guy, he wasn’t about to walk in and confess. She’s safe now, he’s in jail. Sometimes it’s just part of the job.
But the rest of it, that’s what I hated. To me, being a dirty cop boils down to one thing: hurting the people you’re supposed to be protecting. That kind of thing has always done a little more than piss me off. It’s wrong, ya see. We’re the shepherds, we have more responsibility. We should be judged accordingly, and we should be held accountable for our actions.
Since I was little, I just wanted to be a cop. Keeping people safe, out of harm’s way. Save the world, you know, one crime at a time. Maybe I just read too many comic books, or maybe I’m just a little cheesy.
I never wanted to hurt anyone.
I woke up like always, with music playing on the radio. I love that, waking up to nice music, and the sun shining in all nice and warm and things. I have a timer on my coffee pot, and I get it ready before I go to bed at night. So when I wake up, there’s always music playing, and there’s always the smell of coffee. When I was a little kid, the only time I ever got coffee was at my grandma’s house. She would get up before anyone else, get out of bed and start making coffee before the sun was even awake. By the time us grandkids got up, the whole house smelled so good, like coffee and toast and eggs. It always smelled warm and safe, like the whole day was going to go perfect.
Anyway, when I wake up in the morning and my apartment smells like coffee, I always think back to when I was a kid at my grandma’s—every day I think about it. It makes me happy, ya see. Like whatever’s waiting to pounce me, I at least have this time, this safe time, and I use it to tell myself it’s all going to be okay.
So I woke up with the smell of coffee in my nose and the sound of fine jazz in my ears, fighting the temptation to just turn off the alarm and go back to sleep. I have a theory that that’s why nature made it where we have to pee first thing in the morning—otherwise, we’d all just hang around in bed and never get anything done.
I got out of bed and took care of my morning business, standing on the cold tiles and wondering what kind of refrigeration unit my apartment complex has hooked up to the bathroom floor. It could be a hundred degrees in the rest of the house, and that bathroom floor is still going to be cold in the morning. Just one of those things you got to live with, I guess.
I did the morning wash routine—hands, face, teeth, and went out into the kitchen for a cup of coffee. That first cup of coffee, I just sat there drinking it and letting the day wash over me and wake me up a little. In a daze for about ten minutes, letting my brain catch up to the rest of me, drinking coffee and thinking about pretty much nothing. After my second cup, I went in and took a shower.
I always shower pretty quick, because standing around in a little stall has never really appealed to me. Seems like I’m wasting time, even though I know I’m not. After that second cup of coffee, I’m usually walking out the door in about fifteen minutes, dressed, awake, and ready for the day. That day wasn’t any different, except that it had plans in store for me that I don’t think I could ever be ready for. That day, it wasn’t all going to be okay.
The drive to work was nice. That’s one thing I like about starting at nine instead of eight around here—you don’t have to deal with so much traffic. It was already about eighty degrees or so, and the sun was shining bright. Sometimes when you walk outside, you can already tell that it’s going to be a scorcher, like where it’s already a hundred degrees before noon. That day, though, there was a hint of cool breeze, and it seemed like it was going to stay relatively cool. So when I pulled into the parking lot, everything was still just like it should be.
Work was about the same as ever—a bunch of joking with most of the guys (there are ladies that work there, too, as I’m sure you know, but we always just refer to each other as the guys), a little hostility between some of them, and a bit of fear hiding underneath it all. There’s always that fear. It’s not a big deal, really. You either learn how to deal with it, or you find a new job.
The way I cope with it is to pretend I’m some sort of superhero. I know that sounds childish, but it’s what I do. Hell, man, that’s the whole reason I decided to be a cop—to save the day, ya see. You can’t go in there thinking about how this might be the day you get blasted while you’re writing out a speeding ticket or whatever—that stuff happens, sure. Happens all the time. But you can’t dwell on it. You start thinking that every civilian is a murderer and pretty soon you start wondering why you’re protecting them in the first place. And that leads to trouble.
Sure, there are dirtbags out there. But there are decent people, too. Mostly there are decent people. And it’s my job to keep those people safe. Corny as that sounds, that’s what I think about when I walk into work each morning, is here I go, keeping the good people safe and sending the bad people to jail. Like I said, maybe I just read too many comic books as a kid. I was happy, I loved my job, and I felt like it was a noble thing.
And that’s how it was that morning. I walked in, saying what’s up to the people I usually said what’s up to, humming some song that I couldn’t remember the words to, and thinking about when was the last time I fueled up my squad car.
When I got to my locker, I saw that there was a note on it. I get a funny feeling when that happens—like I’m in trouble for something , even if I haven’t done anything wrong. It’s kind of funny, because you see people feeling like that all the time when you pull them over. Maybe they have a tail light out, something little like that, and you pull them over to let them know. You walk up to the window, and you’ll see some guy looking all nervous in his khaki pants and powder-blue shirt. The kind of guy that you can tell he doesn’t ever even speed, and he’s sweating like he just killed somebody. When you’ve been a cop for awhile, you can separate the guy who is just scared because you’re a cop from the guy who’s scared because you’re a cop and he’s breaking the law.
I pulled the note off my locker and read the message. All it said on it was, “Come to my office.” You get a note like that, you know who it’s from, and when you’re supposed to go. The Chief, and now.
I walked down the halls of the station, feeling a little excited and a little nervous. You got you pessimistic side and your optimistic side, you know? One half is going, “Oh, crap, Danny, you screwed around and got yourself fired.” The other half is going, “Good job, Danny, you’ve done something great and you’re about to get a promotion.” Of course, you know it’s not either one of those things, that he probably just needs to talk to you about some report, but still. It’s not everyday you get called into the Chief’s office.
I knocked kind of quiet on the glass door, loud enough to let him know I was there but soft enough so I didn’t bug him if he was in the middle of something. He didn’t look up from whatever it was he was working on, but he lifted a hand and signaled me to come in.
“What’s up, Chief?” His official name is Sheriff, but everybody calls him Chief.
“Shit, Daniel,” he said. “That’s what’s up, and it’s going to come down sooner or later. The way things are seeming, it’ll probably be sooner.”
“Not following, Chief.”
“I know, Danny, I know. Okay, look: there’s a demonstration today.” The first thing that popped into my head was a memory of when I was a little boy, and a stranger knocked on the door. Probably, I was around three at the time. He knocked on the door and I followed my mom from the kitchen to the front door. She talked to him for a minute and then let him in. I remember he kept saying things about a quick little demonstration. The he vacuumed the front room carpet. My mom told him that, yeah, that was really nice, it worked really great, but we just couldn’t afford it right now. The man said no problem, have a good day, and left her with a business card.
That was my first thought, it lasted less than a second, about demonstrations. Then that thought about a quick little demonstration was gone, back to wherever odd little memories come from, and I realized that the Chief was talking about a protest.
“Big one?” I asked.
“Yeah, seems like they finally got their shit together. They been planning this one for quite a while—it takes hippies quite a while to get their shit together. I seen flyers all over town, something like, ‘rally to show our disapproval of the daily violence our country instigates.’ Something like that, I didn’t read it too close. Anyway, I reckon we’ll have about a hundred or so hippies down in the square, maybe around fifty people talking shit to the hippies, and maybe something like fifty to seventy-five people just hanging around watching. Most of ‘em will be students, I’m guessing. I’m trying to get a good mix of young guys and the veterans down there to keep things in line.
“I figure the younger ones, maybe the kids will think that cops aren’t so bad if there are some down there close to their age. And the older guys down there will make the kids realize that there’s authority so things better stay under control.”
The Chief, he seemed pretty pleased with his idea. I wasn’t sure if it would work out like he said. I was thinking about the stuff I had seen on TV, of the demonstration footage shot back during the Vietnam War. Cops just clubbing the shit out of kids, beating them, tear-gassing them. I thought maybe it would be good to just send down some cops that were cool under pressure, laid back enough to function in the middle of chaos, regardless of age.
River Ridge isn’t a big city. Without the University, it probably would have dried up and blown away decades ago. We have a couple malls, a few theaters, every fast-food joint you could think of (essential to a college town) and a number of bars. Probably a hundred other businesses in town, too. When school lets out for the summer, the population decreases by approximately a third. There have only been two murders since I’ve been on the force. I was only on the scene of one of them. There’s been one rape since I signed on, which is really good for a college town.
Mostly it’s stolen cars or barroom brawls that we have to deal with. That and drunk driving. There’s quite a bit of grass, and some of the harder narcotics get through once in a while, but drugs haven’t become a major problem in River Ridge, yet.
Anyway, my point is that I wasn’t expecting things to get all crazy. The kids that come to the university are usually laid back and calm—River Ridge is a pretty relaxed place.
“I’m sending about twenty guys down to the square today,” Chief said. “Mostly on foot, a few horseback, a couple in patrol cars. I’m not expecting trouble, but we might as well be prepared.”
Damn. Thinking back to that, I don’t know if I feel like laughing or just bawling. Prepared? Nobody was prepared.
The Chief had us in loose groups of four: two of us stayed close at all times, and another pair stayed in the same general vicinity at all times. We were just supposed to be sort of milling around through the crowd, making sure nothing got out of hand.
I was partnered with Riley Miller that day. Scott Brady—my usual partner—was sick that day. Riley’s a good guy for the most part. He’s got a temper, but he usually keeps it under control, using it like a tool, you know? Cops got all kinds of internal tools they use. I have my super hero fantasy, Riley’s got his temper, Scott has a family full of cops that he’s trying to make proud. It’s that kind of stuff that keeps you on the right side of things when they get all crazy. But tools break, I suppose, or they get lost. And sometimes, when you go looking for them, you get lost too.
Things were going fine. There was tension in the air, that kind you can feel, ya see. But it was…I don’t know. It was a mellow tension, if that makes any sense. It was there, but it didn’t feel dangerous. The protesters were hollering all sorts of different chants, and they had signs that kind of bobbed up and down with the words.
Most of them, they weren’t that stereotypical sort. Sure, some of them had long hair, some had bell-bottoms, some weren’t wearing shoes. I don’t know what hippies are supposed to look like in this day and age, if you want to know the truth. I’m not sure if there even are hippies anymore. The people I saw, they were mostly just college kids—jeans, t-shirts, tennis shoes and sandals. College kids who were opposed to the killing, that was the impression I got.
The protesters of the protesters were mostly middle-aged guys. Big trucker caps perched up on their heads, cowboy boots, Wrangler jeans. I wondered why they weren’t at work. The two groups were, for the most part, segregated—the protesters on the east side of the square and the protester protesters on the west. Riley and I were walking just about right on the line that divided the two groups.
“Fuckin’ hippies!” I heard one guy yell. I looked over and saw a tall man, wearing a straw cowboy hat, too-tight blue jeans, boots, and a t-shirt that read, “God bless America…And Goddam everybody else.” His eyes were as red as the shirt, and the whiskey on his breath was like a freight train. “Men die for your freedom, and you shit on their graves with your horseshit!” He took a quick look around—totally missing Riley and I—and then pulled a flask out of his back pocket and took a deep swallow.
I nudged Riley and pointed to the guy. We headed in his direction. He saw us coming and tucked the flask away.
“Sir,” I said, “It’s illegal to consume alcoholic beverages in the town square.”
“Shit, Officer, I’m just trying to wet my whistle, right? I ain’t doin’ anything wrong. You want to bust somebody’s chops, look in the pocket of any one of those fuckin’ hippies—I guaran-damn-tee that you’ll find a bag of reefer.”
“Sir, I’d like you to come with us, please.”
He threw up a fuss, but not a bad one, and then he followed us to the squad car. The cars were parked on the perimeter of the square, and although there were a couple of people milling around, it was mostly deserted.
“You arrestin’ me?”
“No sir,” Riley said. “Not today. We just need you to go home, all right? If we see you around this place again today, we’ll have no choice but to take you to County to sleep it off. But right now, we’re just asking you to leave.”
“It ain’t right, these kids,” he said. “They grow up takin’ advantage of the rights guys like me fought to protect, livin’ with the safety that we helped preserve. And then they turn around and piss on the way we do it. It just ain’t right.” He didn’t seem drunk anymore. Just sad. “Good day, officers,” he said, and walked away.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about what the man had said. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, if you want to know the truth. It seemed like a good point. But on the other hand, I don’t really like the idea of carpet-bombing, either. I can’t help thinking, when I watch the news or read the paper, that what if some other country did that to us, you know? I mean, you’re just sitting there, drinking your coffee and letting the day soak into you, and then you hear an airplane and BOOM! And why?
Because war isn’t an accurate thing. If there was a bomb that just killed bad guys, we wouldn’t have any bad guys. And then we would at least know who the real bad guys were.
People die, and the dying folks aren’t limited to the soldiers that signed up to fight, you know? I don’t really object to what we’re doing in other countries, but I don’t condone it, either. I don’t have an opinion, because it doesn’t seem like either side is right. Until I can think up a better plan, though, I’ll just keep my mouth shut.
Anyway, that guy walked off, and Riley and I walked back into the crowd. I should mention a couple of things while I’m thinking about them: We kept in pretty much constant radio contact with each other. Every time we walked more than twenty-five yards from the other two guys we were loosely grouped with, we told them about it. When that happened, another group moved closer to the two guys left on their own. Nobody thought things would get out of hand, but we wanted to be prepared, just in case.
The second thing I want to mention is that the Chief’s estimation of the crowd was low. Way low. There were something like four hundred people crammed down into the square, and around it. We didn’t have enough guys to keep that kind of crowd in control if something went nuts. I guess we should have taken steps to fix that, but like I said—nobody expected things to get crazy.
Riley and I walked back into the crowd, telling all our guys what was up, via radio. The second guy we walked out of the crowd was one of the college kids. We walked him to the edge of the crowd, and I wondered if Riley was going to let this one walk or lock him up. The kid had been toking up in the middle of the crowd, safety in numbers, I guess he thought. So we took his dope away and walked him to the car. He looked scared as hell, I’ll tell you that. If you’re going to protest, don’t take dope with that’s my advice. He was a stupid kid. But a scared stupid kid. Riley made some threats, got the kid’s address, said we might be paying him a visit some time.
“Maybe this week, I don’t know. My schedule’s pretty clean, so that’s a real possibility,” Riley said. “What about you, Danny? How’s your week looking?”
“I’m pretty full up for the rest of the month, but I think I could manage to get by there next month some time. How does that sound, Bryan?”
Bryan was the kid. “Okay,” he said. Stammered, actually, that whole, scared-stuttering thing that you see in cartoons and comic books. I almost laughed. The thing is, there was no way we were going to go to Bryan’s apartment. But if he decided to get high there, it would give him something to be paranoid about. We let him walk, too.
Riley dumped the grass down a sewer grate and tossed the baggie into a trash can as we walked back into the middle of things.
We had been patrolling the crowd for about two hours when the radio on my shoulder said something that almost made me piss myself.
“Shit, we got a situation here, anybody close, get over here right now!” It was Toby Johnson. He was one of the guys on horseback. It wasn’t so much what he said that scared me, it was the way he said it, the tone of his voice. He sounded scared, and that was not good. I mentioned earlier that the fear is always there—it has to be, or you wind up getting dead. But it’s usually down under, down where nobody can see it or hear it. When that fear rises to the surface of things, that’s when you need to watch out. That’s when things have already gone bad, ya see. Everything has the potential to be a bad situation.
I knew a guy once, he saw a lady outside the grocery store. She was having a little trouble getting her kid strapped into the baby seat. He stopped to help her, just being friendly, ya see, and the lady freaked out. She pulled a letter opener out of her purse, and just lunged at the guy’s throat.
Fortunately for him, that fear was running smooth, like an underground river, constant but not really noticeable. She stuck him in the arm instead of the throat because he had that fear, and he was able to disarm her and get her cuffed and onto the ground. Turns out, it wasn’t even her kid—she was stealing it. That wasn’t in River Ridge, but even here, you have to have that fear running all the time.
But when it bubbles up, like it was bubbling up in Toby’s voice, that means the situation has gone beyond “potential.”
Riley and I moved through the crowd as quick as we could—we knew where Toby was because of the radio communication that had been going on before there was a problem. The crowd was getting louder, and as we walked the segregation line, I noticed that the tension in the air was getting…I don’t know—electrified is the best way I can describe it. I felt that fear rising up inside of me, not turning into panic, but cranking out the adrenaline. The day was brighter, all of the sudden. Colors were more defined, more contrasting. The sound of the crowd stopped being a steady senseless roar in my head. It was like my brain was picking apart every single bit of sensory input and filing it away in separate categories. I could distinguish each voice, each action, and knew exactly where it was coming from. I was scared as hell.
“Fuck, man, get over here with that horse!” It was Jerry Dills. He was one of the guys on foot. “They’re lynching Gordy! Get the fuck over here” Gordon Jones was Jerry’s partner. I looked at Riley and saw that he was just as scared as I was. We began running, but it was hard to move fast with so many people in the way.
“Get the hell out of the way!” Riley screamed. He was pushing people, knocking some of them down. I understood his fear, but I wondered if it was going to come back and bite him in the ass, pushing people around like that. I didn’t wonder too much, though, just followed closely in his wake.
You could tell when we got close to the action. People didn’t move out of Riley’s way as easy, for one thing. But there was another thing, too. Tension isn’t the right way to describe how the air was when we got close. It was a solid thing, almost. Violence, maybe that’s what it was. It was difficult to breathe. I’ve never had a problem being in crowds, or in tight places, but I felt a wave of claustrophobia so bad at that moment that the fear almost bolted up the scale to full-blown panic. It crashed down on me, hard, and I felt a crazy urge to just pull out my service revolver and start blasting away.
Riley felt it, too, I think, because that’s when he pulled out his nightstick. They aren’t those big black clubs—we don’t use those anymore. What we have now is this piece of retractable steel rod. I read once what kind of alloy it was, but I can’t remember now. I know that it’s a solid piece of pain, though, and I had always dreaded the day that I might have to hit someone with it. Riley yanked his off of his belt, did that little flip thing that makes it pop out to the full length—something like two feet, I believe—and cracked a kid right in the back of the head.
Everyone was facing towards the action, ya see, and I guess the kid either wouldn’t move, or just didn’t know he was supposed to. Riley had tried to push him out of the way, but it hadn’t really had much effect. Even over the insane roar of the crowd, I heard the rod connect with the back of that boy’s head. Like if you wrapped a watermelon in a towel and then smacked it with a board. He made a surprised little “Uck!” sound, and crumpled to the ground. Riley stepped over him with barely a pause, and then clubbed the next guy.
When people saw what was going down, they moved back some. Not much, but a little. If you ever heard the sound that stick makes against a human skull, you’d probably get back, too.
By the time we got to the center of things, several of the guys had formed a kind of circle, practically elbow to elbow, facing the crowd. In the middle of the circle, I saw Gordy. His face was a mess, and I wondered what had happened to him. You know when you’re really trying not to puke, and you feel it kind of jump from your stomach, and you have to block your throat to keep from losing whatever you ate for breakfast? That’s what happened to me then. But it wasn’t food that was trying to spew out of me—it was rage. Seeing Gordy like that, all beat to shit, lying in the street and blood covering his head and making his hair stick together like some crazy sort of braid—that made me furious. I mean, here we are, trying to keep things from getting violent, and there’s Gordy looking like the poster boy for acts of violence. I wanted to hurt whoever did it, I wanted to hurt them as bad as they had hurt Gordy, and then some. But I didn’t want to hurt anyone else, and that’s the truth. Not then, I didn’t.
I think that’s when the crowd went insane. Maybe it was all the blood, like a feeding frenzy, I don’t know. Maybe it was because they had us surrounded, or maybe that’s just how life goes sometimes. Whatever the reason, that’s when someone threw a beer bottle at our little circle. It hit someone—I think it was Susan Green—and the crowd started cheering. That pissed me off, and I drew my own nightstick, almost hoping I would get a chance to use it.
I don’t know how to describe what happened to me. I’ve never been a violent man. The thought of hurting people really bothers me. Sure, I’ve had to do it sometimes, but it’s always kept me up at nights when I have. But right then? Right then, I wanted to hurt someone. Whoever had messed up Gordy, whoever had thrown the bottle, whoever had cheered.
The guys on the horses were closing in—it had taken them a bit longer because they couldn’t just trample people to get there, ya see. Some kid—probably about twenty years old—stepped up and spit on Jerry. Jerry grabbed the kid, threw him to the ground, and zip-tied his wrists. You don’t use handcuffs when there are lots of people, you use the zip-cuffs—like the plastic ties you use to keep the wires on your stereo from going all over the place, but much stronger. At least we had thought to bring those.
A couple of kids jumped out of the crowd, grabbed the cuffed kid, and tried to drag him back. Riley stepped up, cracked one on the arm with his stick. The kid shrieked and let go, then took off back into the crowd. The other would-be rescuer didn’t take his cue—Riley got him in the knee with the stick, and he went down screaming and clutching his leg. He was immediately zip-cuffed and laid out by the first kid.
I made a mistake then. I looked out into the crowd. If you’ve ever stood up on a high cliff and looked down over the edge, you might kind of understand how I felt when I looked out at all those people. This huge crazy sea of angry pulsing flesh. I could feel the hatred rolling down on top of us, all the potential violence. I was overcome with a kind of vertigo, and it pushed me a little closer to the panic point.
That was when the segregation line broke.
When I say this and that about the segregation line, I’m not talking about anything us cops did—we hadn’t put up the yellow tape or any other kind of divider. There were the protesters and the protester protesters, and they just pretty much stayed on their own side of the square.
But right then, all the madness and anger and hatred, it kind of washed back over the crowd after it hit us.
The segregation line broke—hell, exploded would be a better word for it, I think—and people started hurting each other. I’m not sure exactly where it started—I don’t think anyone is—but it spread like fire on top of a lake of gasoline.
That was when a few of us cracked, too. Again, I’m not sure who started swinging first, but it didn’t take long for the rest of us to follow suit. I saw Riley wade into the crowd, his nightstick swinging like a machete through jungle growth. I didn’t move. I don’t think it was fear that froze me, but something did. I couldn’t move.
There was blood everywhere. Probably only thirty seconds after the riot broke out, and everywhere I looked, there was blood. The crowd spread when the violence started. There were still clumps of people—reminding me of the days in the schoolyard, where, when a fight broke out, all the kids gathered around—but the crowd wasn’t all packed together like it had been.
The guys on horses went into action, then. That was when I was able to move, when one of those huge horses almost ran me over. I jumped out of the way and tripped. I caught myself before my head hit the asphalt, but then someone stepped on me and I felt the hot asphalt rub away part of my cheek. Someone else stepped on my leg, and that really didn’t hurt much. I stayed sprawled there, watching things in a daze. Mostly I saw people’s feet. Scuffling around, kicking, jumping, running. Just feet.
I saw some a little ways away, bare, and I focused on them. They weren’t moving, and it was nice seeing something stationary in all that chaotic motion. The crowd split a little, and I was able to see the owner of those feet.
It was a girl, dark hair, glasses, jeans, and a semi-tight t-shirt. Probably in her mid-twenties, I figured. She was beautiful. To this day, I think that girl is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. She was scared, but she was so beautiful, ya see.
And that’s when I went insane, I guess. Because at that moment, I loved that girl. And I hated her, too. I don’t know why, but I did. I remember thinking, “It’s not fair, so much beauty in so much ugliness.” I don’t know why I thought that then, and I still don’t now. Just some random thought that shot through my brain. And then I was up off the ground, watching her, staring at her, not wanting to lose sight of her.
I wanted to save her, I swear to God. I wanted to go and rescue her and take her out of all that miserable hate. And when I got close enough, I hit her with my stick. I wish you could understand how it was. For a second, I looked around to see who had done it. It took me quite awhile to understand that the stick was still in my hand, that it was me who had done it. I know you can’t really call a thing like that an accident, but that’s what it felt like.
I saw the stick swing around in a wide arc, I saw it with my peripheral vision and almost ducked because I thought someone was swinging on me. And then it cracked down, hit her just beside the left eye. I saw her glasses break—disintegrate. They shot from her face, and I saw that they were already covered in blood. She looked really surprised for a second, her beautiful face already pouring blood, and then she just dropped.
I stood there, trying to figure out what the hell had happened, looking down at her, and I felt myself start crying. Bawling, is what I was doing, tears running down my face, snot running out of my nose, and moans pouring from my mouth that were only interrupted by gigantic sobs, the kind that makes you think your lungs might explode.
I felt the leather strip come unsnapped—the one that keeps my revolver in the holster, and I realized that I was probably about to kill myself. I didn’t feel my arm moving, but we’d already played that game, ya see. So I just waited, waited to see my gun come up to the side of my head, waited for the report. And sure enough, the gun came up in my peripheral vision, but I noticed my arm was still hanging limp by my side. I turned slowly, not really caring, and saw some guy—I don’t even remember what he looked like, only that he was male and had a beard. He was pointing my gun at my head, and I was still standing there bawling. I think I yelled something like, “Do it, damn you!” and that kind of made him looked puzzled for a second. Then I heard a gunshot, and that made him look even more puzzled. The he fell down dead.
Riley was standing behind him, and I saw that tears were coming out of his eyes, too, although he wasn’t bawling like I was. I stopped bawling then, and picked up my revolver. I stepped over and hugged Riley—another one of those things I don’t know why I did it. He hugged me back. It was only for a second, and then he turned around and started shooting. Random.
We were all crazy by then—everyone in that whole square. I wondered later why we hadn’t taken riot guns. I mean, why the hell didn’t we take the riot guns. That’s what they’re made for. Riot. Gun.
I guess because none of us expected a riot. That’s what we got, though. A riot that ended in a blood-bath, or slaughter, or massacre, or whatever else you want to call it. I call it a lot of senseless death.
I watched Riley start shooting, he emptied his weapon pretty quick, and then he reloaded. I was about to start shooting, too, I think, but I got knocked down again. I don’t know what knocked me down, but it hit me hard, and then I was being trampled, and the only thing I could see was feet, and then the only thing I could see was blackness.
I woke up in the hospital two days later. Too many broken bones to tell you about. I got off light, though. I guess quite a few of the others freaked out and did the same thing Riley did. Most of them got beat down pretty quick. Some of them got beat to death. Like Riley.
Gordon ended up dying later that night—internal bleeding got him. Seven people were shot to death that day, sixteen more injured with gunshot wounds. One hundred and twelve people went to the hospital. Too many for the hospital in River Ridge to hold, and most of them were transported to other hospitals in the area. Eleven more people died by getting trampled or getting beat to death.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen now—nobody really knows who to drop this one on, I guess. I’m sure the department is going to take loads of heat, and I’m sure that it’s deserved. The city council too, probably. Maybe some of the citizens will blame other citizens. When you have that kind of hell settle down onto your little town, it confuses people sometimes. They don’t know what to do.
I know how they feel.