A Book Like No Other - Chapter 5

Chapter 4
CHAPTER 5 – John Smith
Josh headed south on interstate five, intending to drop the ambulance off and pick up his car. End-of-shift; I’ve been sawing logs the live long day and it’s not like Swenson to be so nice, he wondered; not only didn’t he ride my ass for nearly getting myself killed, but he’s giving me tomorrow paid off to recover; probably covering his own ass for dispatching me solo. Josh considered his partner, Mac, who was out sick with the flu. Swenson’s making twice the cash with two buses manned solo rather than doubling us up with Mac out sick. “The greedy bast’ud.” Josh smiled.

He found it entertaining to distort words, sometimes mimicking some unusual accent he’d heard in the past, and sometimes simply corrupting the pronunciation arbitrarily. Midtown was fading in the rearview mirror with Little Italy coming up on the right. Josh laughed, recalling the scene from which he had just borrowed a line, one in which a gangster killed another suspected of stealing from the boss and with the smoke from his pistol still hanging in the air, the Mafioso explains, “He was skimming too much off the top, so the boss told me to whack ‘em, the greedy bast’ud. Ain’t none of it personal; just business and I’m just the messenger boy.”

“I’m just the messenger.” Josh said the words aloud, turning them over in his mouth, getting a taste of them. These random words of a fictional mafia hit man and the experience he had just recounted seemed linked. He was no longer so certain that the story he recounted was entirely his own. It all felt familiar in some vague way, but not as it should feel had it been his own past-life autobiography.

He was completely accepting of the notion of past lives; the idea of consciousness evolving over the span of countless lifetimes seemed perfectly valid. He felt certain that he had just witnessed the actual experiences of a conflicted German soldier during World War II, but he no longer felt that he had lived that man’s past life. There was a close connection between his past and the past of the soldier, he was certain of this; the exact nature of that connection was missing in his feelings, like a gap in the information crawler at the bottom of a TV news feed.

He imagined a news reporter interviewing him live as he blinked into the muzzle of a shoulder mounted video camera. “We have Ambulance Driver Josh Evington on the scene of the gruesome final months in the life of a murderous traitor.” The image changed and now he was watching himself on TV. “Mr. Evington, I understand that you have an incredibly detailed story to share with our viewers; you were an intimate witness to this man’s life over this entire span of months. Tell us, Mr. Evington. What was your relationship to the accused?” The TV image went dark and then immediately returned to the newscaster’s desk where the lead anchor touched his ear piece then apologized to the viewers for a lost live feed.

“Oh crap!” Josh jolted himself back to reality and felt for his wallet. I didn’t think to check for it when the detective asked me if anything was missing. I was too worried about my gear. “Oh, good.” He flipped his billfold open, holding it up so as to watch the road while checking its contents. “That son-of-a-bitch! He stole my money!” No, wait. I emptied it myself, he thought, remembering his son’s twelve year birthday card and the five twenties he had posted in it. I’ll need some more cash, he realized abruptly, and there’s the exit for Amici Park!

The wheels screeched as Josh swerved into the exit lane to make the off-ramp at the last second. Turning down Front Street, he steered the ambulance into the bank parking lot and slowed to a stop. The ATM had generated a five car queue and he felt weird driving through it in the bus. They’re still open for business, he thought, checking his watch, but not for long. He parked and trotted for the door.

He found it locked and slammed his open palm against the glass in frustration. “Come on!” He shouted, shaking the door and rattling it noisily in its frame. He pressed his face to the glass peering in and feeling childish as his breath fogged the glass. He suppressed the urge to draw a smiley face on the glass with his finger. The door flew open as though automatically. Grasped by the upper arm he was propelled through the doorway and into the main room with such force as to send him tumbling to the floor. Josh rolled and found his feet, his body reflexively poised to defend an attack, arms to front, fists at the ready. A huge man draped in a green trench coat stood before him thrusting a short barreled shotgun into Josh’s face. The eyes, the mouth were expressionless; the remainder of the big man’s face was shrouded behind a black ski mask. The shotgun jerked upward and Josh raised his arms above his head quickly getting the gist of the robber’s non-verbal communication style. Another motion with the shotgun prompted Josh to turn his back to the gunman and to the sound of keys turning a lock in the door.

The big man moved in silence like an apparition; his breath set a-tingling the hairs on the back of Josh’s neck; his breathing made no sound. Josh felt the shotgun muzzle in his back painfully urging him toward a hallway. They crossed the empty room and walked down the hall – Josh leading with his hands in the air. Pushing through a set of double-doors, the gunman directed him to the left, down another hallway and into a conference room. Josh scanned the room; taking a count of twelve other captives seated around a table presided over by a second gunman. Wearing the same blue jeans, trench coat, and ski mask ensemble, the second gunman was taller and less powerfully built than his partner which is more a statement of the former man’s enormous size than a diminishment of that of the latter.

The second gunman stood at the back of the room, a pair of handguns shoulder rigged to holster the pistols underarm and beneath his coat. I suppose you are all wondering why I summoned you here today. Josh thought this; his mind attempting to inject humor into a serious situation, but he wisely stopped short of saying it aloud. Now that’s just silly, Josh. You’ve been nearly killed once already today. Let’s not prompt someone into finishing the job.

He lifted his hand off the tabletop to gauge the extent of his nervousness. His hand visibly shook. Steady there, boy. I’ve got this. Nothing here for you to worry yourself over. He spoke in his thoughts to his body as though he and his body were sharing the same space, as if his body was the horse upon which he rode. His thoughts were reassuring, reminding him that he had a choice in how he might respond internally to this crisis in which he now found himself.

The presiding gunman nodded silently to his partner before waving one of the pistols into the face of a man in a business suit seated nearest to him. “Get up. Let’s go.” He spoke quietly, calmly, as though discussing the latest interest rates before a room full of loan officers.

He must be the bank manager, Josh reckoned. The business man seemed determined to ignore the robber; he was content to stare at his hands, the fingers splayed apart upon the table before him. His eyes were red rimmed and oozing moisture like a deep abrasion in the skin as though the man had forgotten how to cry and was coming as close as he could manage. The robber tapped him on the shoulder with a pistol barrel. “I won’t say it again.” The man in the suit swallowed hard and stood to his feet to be escorted out of the room through a back door. The extra-large gunman nestled his shotgun into the crook of his left arm so as to scratch his head with a trigger finger.

Note to self, Josh thought; never rob a southern California savings-and-loan in September wearing a wool ski mask. A feeling of familiarity flared deeply within him. His imagination flashed to the concocted image of a flamboyantly dressed fashion designer parading himself before an assembly of runway models in seductively cut armed robbery attire. The designer effeminately snapped his fingers in the air and chirped, “wool may wear well in winter, ladies, but it’s a buzz kill for that casual summer caper; I much prefer cotton or – and if you repeat a word of this, I’ll simply deny it – acrylic!” He touched his fingertip to his puckered lips advising their collusion in keeping his dreaded secret. The ladies all guffawed in thuggish manner in sympathy with his request. Josh snickered to himself at the incongruence of these alluringly beautiful young women as they chummed it up with the designer. One pounded him on the back nearly giving him a case of whiplash, another hacked and spat on the floor at his feet and a third rubbed at her crotch to more comfortably distribute fishnet leggings about non-existent male genitalia before giving the designer an affable elbow to the ribs.

Josh grinned. Where do I get this stuff? They’d have me in a straitjacket and wandering a padded cell if the Doc’s could see half the crap I come up with. He switched off the projector in his imagination and swept the row of frightened faces seated across from him to halt at the scowl situated one person to his right. She thinks I’m smirking, he guessed. She’s glaring at me because she thinks I’m not taking this situation seriously enough. I can read it in her face. She’s not at all happy with me. She’s looking at me and thinking that with all that’s going on I still somehow find time to smirk at her from across the table.

Instantaneously Josh was almost overcome with a sense of unease, not because she was still glaring at him with such intensity but because he found her so incredibly attractive. The muscles of his face seemed strung up toward the ceiling and playing to the whims of some wicked puppeteer. The ever-so-slight-hint-of-a-smirk on his face was giving rise to the full-blown-cancer-of-a-shit-eating-grin, and there seemed nothing that Josh could do to prevent it.

You’re so beautiful when you’re angry – words from some old movie edging about the periphery of his consciousness. My God, he marveled. Her eyes are turquoise in color and so strikingly brilliant. Is she wearing tinted contacts? The need to know nibbled at his consciousness like minnows beset upon a wader’s ankles, and try as he might, he couldn’t seem to shake them. Their biting became incessant and irritating, as though they might morph into piranha should he further put them off. Very soon his need to placate them overruled his better sense and with more than one cautionary voice shouting in his head he reached across the table.

The table was littered with notepads, pens and other leftovers from the more legitimate meetings of the day. He bumped a notepad into his lap and scribbled a note before quietly tearing the page away and folding it into his palm. He slid his hand across the table until his fingertips touched hers. He would spend countless future moments pondering on the precise nature of his experience of that millisecond in time when his body connected with hers and struggle with what a cliché it was to have the word ‘electric’ anywhere in that description. He rotated his hand to reveal the note. The glare in her eyes became a glower of horror at the extent of his foolhardiness. She quickly palmed it and slid it off of the table into her lap. The anger radiating off of her and onto him only lessened in the moment that she glanced away to read the note.

She looked up at him, the force behind her stare like a spear thrust into his eyes. She looked away hoping to end this blatantly perilous engagement. His casual tapping upon the table surface commanded a return of her attention. At last she yielded and turning to face him she mouthed the word ‘no’ in answer to his note. Removing her reading glasses, she placed them on the table in front of him. She jostled the glasses with an index finger tip, tapping them as he had tapped the table, and then frowning at Josh, she touched her face just lateral to an eye. She gave him a tight-lipped scowl, her sarcasm registering, her point made: Why would I wear colored contacts as well as eyeglasses? You assume I’m both vain and stupid.

Oh, my God, I can’t seem to help myself, Josh thought as the crescent of his grin arched ever higher bringing his teeth into view. It’s like I’m a little kid in church; I’ll soon be tugging at her ponytail and giggling to this fellow beside me about the risk I’m taking with catching her cooties.

Josh felt an enormous presence intrude into his personal space from behind as a black gloved hand appeared palm up to his right. The middle finger contracted once, beckoning. The cold steel of a shotgun muzzle pressed uncomfortably into his neck; he froze looking directly ahead. She leaned across the table to place the note into the gunman’s hand, her stare now communicating fear in his direction rather than the anger they had so recently conveyed. Unfolding the note, the gunman dropped it to the table, face up. Josh strained his senses in anticipation of the man’s next move – the sound of scoffing, the flashing jolt of a shotgun barrel upside his head. Nothing came – no sound at all. Josh felt him moving at last, a shadow of oppression soundlessly edging away; the sun reappearing after the eclipse. He reached out to crumple the note into his hand.

The anger was back in her eyes but lagging, growing tiresome for her to preserve. She looked away and down toward the floor beside her, frozen in place, hesitating, deciding. Finally a book appeared which she set before her, hands resting upon its leather cover, her eyes closed like she was praying. Minutes later, she drew in a long breath, opened the book and began to read while Josh watched. There was no stirring of lust in his lower regions. He shook all over, vibrating in a manner that was recognizable for him. He had experienced this before.

Josh loved nature; he loved to go on long hikes with no destination in mind, expecting little, and biding his time. Invariably, he would return to his home altered in some subtle and indescribable manner. Occasionally, the difference was felt not so subtlety, and in a way that impacted him profoundly changing the condition of his life because he now felt different inside. He’d talk about it while on the job, processing the experience, searching within himself for its meaning, sharing of what he had found with his best friend and work partner, Mac.

McKenzie was the sort of guy who responded with little insight, but neither did he judge what he heard. “That’s alright, Man,” he would say. “I feel you, Dude,” or “Keep on keeping on” or “Thanks for sharing.” He may not have agreed with Josh’s evolving conclusions, but neither did he dispute him; maybe at times he didn’t particularly care one way or the other. He seemed to lack an opinion. But he wasn’t indifferent. He was far more. He was like a blank page in a journal, simply open and willing to receive.

They would be on their way back from a call; Josh would be several minutes into his sharing, and suddenly it would just hit him. “Oh, my, God,” he would say. “I see it, Mack. It just came to me and it’s like this…..”

Josh felt the paper crumpled in his fist as he watched her read. Its hard corners were smoothed down now; the embarrassment had passed. Nature was always like that for him, speaking to him through his feelings and impacting him in some intangible way, causing him to feel out of his depth, only to show him how to swim in deeper waters. Today it had happened in the city; once in a back alleyway, and now it was happening in a bank, and Josh was aware of it happening in real time. He was witnessing it now rather than recognizing it later in retrospect.

He was in over his head, a conclusion gradually finding its way into his conscious mind in a conversation had with himself. Circumstances have strangely, and some will say, miraculously, brought her across my bow. Others will call it mere coincidence and others, still, will tell me there is no such thing as a coinkydink .

She frightened him down deep where few care to look, and deeper still she thrilled him; she made his heart shout. His eyes ran the length of her golden hair, tied in back and working its way free, to fall in pieces across her face. She touched her cheek, unconsciously repositioning stray hair behind an ear, the intensity of color in her eyes flashing like the strobe of a lighthouse seen far across the night. Isabeau, he thought. She looks so much like Isabeau to me.

Josh was a child of nine when he first saw the movie, ‘Ladyhawke.’ It spoke to him somehow, calling out into the dark recesses of forgotten time and space, to gently shake a slumbering memory awake. Josh had returned to the theater several times, watching it over and over until it was no longer showing. Michelle Pfeiffer would forever remain top of his list of actor favorites though the reasoning behind this would slip from memory. Much later he found the movie in the knock-off bin at a video store; a long lost friend purchased at a bargain price. It was from that time onward that when the time was right and the feeling was fading he would treat himself once again to the story of Isabeau and Navarre.

What might a child of nine find appealing in the medieval tale of two lovers’ ironic curse to forever remain companions but to never again experience a mutual love’s embrace? The Knight Navarre, a wolf by night and his Lady Isabeau, a hawk by day, recall nothing of their shape shifted lives, glimpsing but for a moment the other in human form in the twilight of dusk and dawn, and in that fractured second of transition they are reminded of the heights of their love and the depths of their longing, doomed to live one day after the next reliving the agony of coming so close and yet denied their heart’s ultimate desire. There are those who would seek to destroy them in their quest to see love triumphant, but there is one as well who is any deterrent’s polar opposite; he is a catalyst, a purveyor of hope – the peasant thief, Mouse. Acting as their liaison, the lovers find a way and communicate through the diminutive Mouse, and in renewed contact, true hope takes root, to flourish with possibility.

What could possibly motivate a child so young, Josh wondered, to gather all his available wealth to fritter it away in the theater viewing such adult subject matter over and over again? Some would say – indeed a very few might say – that a dying flame found a breeze that day to fan itself back to life in that little boy. The winds of true hope begin as a whisper; a quiet subtlety playing upon the breast to find its way into the heart waiting there patiently, compassionately. He sighed at the extravagance of his thoughts. Such an amazing hope, a hope so rare and authentic; a true hope that can understands the caution put in place by its brash cousin, the counterfeit of hope, the betrayer of hope. False hope is ostentatious and deliberate in convincing the weary heart to actions that only exhaust the spirit further. Grandiose and cunning is the false hope that promises so much to truly deliver very little. It is the great substantiation of all things pointless in the end; it is the banner of those bravely fighting their way to a reason for giving up. It appears in its advent in every way as its cousin, true hope, and differing only in subtlety; only in the way of feeling. Such a feeling discernment takes practice to develop; true courage is the stuff that makes the soul desire practice. The flame slow burns in such a draft as this, trusting and knowing that life will provide the necessary catalysts. Josh scoffed at himself. Where did that come from?

I watched that flick over and over until I could recite the dialogue along with the actors, my little-boy-heart all the while echoing true hope’s inspiration and given a mouth to talk with, it might just as well have said, ‘Be attentive to the ebb and flow of life. Mouse comes very quietly and is easily mistaken for something else, to be ridiculed or feared or even completely overlooked; never forget that they seemed bigger than life – Isabeau and Navarre – as they faced down their demons, but it was Mouse – the reject, the outcast – who helped them know they could succeed.’

A stranger sat across the conference table reading. Josh had never laid eyes on her before; he was certain of it; retaining names was a challenge for him, but he never forgot a face. She felt familiar, but it wasn’t her face; he would remember that face most certainly, and he didn’t remember hers. He watched her read, studying the contours of her face, tracing the angle of her jaw, the steep vertical of her forehead, noticing how the fullness of her lower lip found its way between her teeth momentarily to be set free again and moving ever so slightly in synch with the lines of the page. A faint gap in the perfect white of her largest incisor teeth claimed his attention – a flaw discovered at last, although his relief was fleeting, driven away in the impending conclusion that what worked beautifully for Lauren Hutton was an even lovelier accentuation here. His focus climbed the narrow heights of her nose to arrive again at her eyes; larger than normal, exasperatingly so, and so intelligently set within their sockets that Josh felt himself diminishing into invisibility. No wonder, I behaved like an ass, he decided; it’s the only way I thought she’d notice me.

She looked up from her reading abruptly, her eyes wide and filled with horror. He felt brutish immensity looming behind him simultaneously with the sharp flash of pain in the back of his head. The strength to hold his head upright faded into searing pain as the table rushed up to smack him in the face. Liquid warmth trickled onto the table to pool against his face and making its way through his flaccid lips, it tasted of blood. A woman’s voice shouted from somewhere in the darkness, an angry voice, defiant and strangely concerned. The voice was that of the beautiful woman sitting across from him and as the fog of reality slipped entirely from his grasp, he knew that it was she who championed him. This thought and no other was the last to occupy his mind.

The darkness parted at its center and then it was gone completely. There were unrecognizable sounds scattered upon familiar sounds like pieces of a shattered window glass strewn upon a freshly waxed linoleum floor. The sounds were muffled as though he was racing a fast car up a steep mountain and building up pressure behind his ear drum. The high pitched hum of tinnitus preluded a popping sound which seemingly drew all of the haphazard distortion into an epicenter assembling it into lucidity. A single sound greeted his ears, the sound of a man talking. He spoke in a language that Josh recognized but could not interpret. The man sat in darkness beside a window smoking a cigarette and peering out into the night sky. The ember glowed as he inhaled casting pale pink illumination about the right side of his face, the side in profile.

Josh felt such a powerful admiration for this man, such an overwhelming attraction as the man’s face went dark again and the quiet sound of exhaling breath filled the room. Parting the curtains aside, the man leaned out through the open window and craned his neck for a better upward view. He searched the blackness then drew himself back into the room. Tossing his cigarette outside, he closed the window and moved across the room; the floorboards groaned to mark his progress. He smiled and said something meant to be reassuring, and then he patted Josh’s leg. Leaning in close he kissed Josh on the cheek. A rush of feeling exploded within Josh’s chest to quiet his objections and to soothe the depths of his growing confusion.

The man repeated himself, a questioning look upon his face. He waited and Josh failed to answer. There was the rustle of clothing to flag the man’s movements followed by the opening snap of an old-fashioned butane lighter. A sphere of light erupted in the man’s hands. He lit a candle by the bedside and repeated himself once more. The candle’s warm glow lit the left side of his face; a handsome face despite the scar, despite the patch over the left eye. There was concern in his remaining eye and Josh’s heart swelled with affection for this stranger.

“Do you speak English,” Josh asked him.

“The man laughed quietly as though acknowledging a joke and agreeing to play along. “But of course, darling.”

The man spoke with a British accent but there was another nuance intermingling within his intonation. Josh was almost overcome with how taken he was with his accent. A feeling saturated Josh’s awareness letting little else in, a feeling akin to friendship, to camaraderie, but encompassing more and delving deeper into solidarity of communion that was nakedly intimate. Josh realized that he trusted this man with his life. “What did you say before,” Josh inquired, “while you were standing by the window there?”

“Oh, you did not hear me, then. My apologies, darling; I merely said that it looked as though the bombing has stopped. Even the searchlights have ceased fencing with the night. I think we can rest easy in the remains of this day at least.” He lifted the bedspread and turned to slide in beside Josh. It was then that Josh noticed the man’s missing lower arm. The question formed upon his lips as to how the man had lost his arm, but it fell away unsaid and heaped among so many others that did not seem at all to matter. “Now where were we before those thoughtless Americans rained down bombs on our parade? Oh, yes. I recall now.” He smiled and tenderly taking Josh’s chin in hand, he kissed him, passionately.

Josh returned the kiss. Some part of him shouted faint objections from within a distant recess of his psyche growing ever more distant by the moment. He heard himself say, “I love you, darling…too terribly for words,” and every word rang with such truth that he was compelled to repeat himself.

“Well, I love you too, darling.” The man was pleasantly surprised by the depth of emotion in Josh’s voice. He kissed Josh again, more passionately still. Josh gave himself over to a surge of passion rising from down below to climb like a flame into his heart. The man touched Josh’s face tenderly, and then ran a finger along the length of Josh’s lower lip. “Kiss me like that once more and a girl’s likely to give a guy the idea that he can have his way with her.”

Everything about that statement seemed as completely wrong as it felt too completely right to Josh. The final vestiges of who he was as a man were vanishing from view. The feeling now for Josh was something like that of being taken by the hand and guided away from a scene he was meant to witness. The light began to merge toward the center abruptly as when switching off an original vacuum-tube operated television set. The screen of his perception went to black and only a pinpoint of light remained at its center, and then like a last farewell it blinked away into oblivion. Pain reached out from that oblivion striking him full force. Josh tasted the slightly bitter tang of blood in his mouth. He suppressed the urge to vomit as he lifted his head from out of the pool of blood congealing on the table’s surface. Pain raged now where an alternative timeline had existed. Only the memory of it remained. His head swam into a sea of vertigo but he was back. He was himself again.

She was seated across from him, her face deeply bruised, a shallow skin laceration extending across the darkest colors upon the contours of her cheek. She stood up for me and that bastard hurt her for it.

A faint sparkle began to settle about her head. Josh blinked and stared into the space immediately above her. Pixie dust? Am I truly seeing pixie dust? His mind scanned above her, ascending the dying trail of scintillation to arrive at the ceiling directly overhead. A drill bit withdrew through a tiny hole casting the last of its filings into the soft glow of the nearby ceiling light.

The narrow head of a flexible fiber optic wand emerged through the hole to peer about the conference room. The Calvary has arrived, Josh announced to himself, though it hurt his head to do so. He searched his jumbled memory banks for the correct set of initials. SWAT. They must have accessed the second floor from the roof. A movement caught his eye at the head of the table. The extra-large gunman had a radio in hand with his finger on the transmission button. He made no attempt to speak into it; he simply pressed the button three times in rapid succession. A gloved hand went to the blue-tooth receiver in his ear then he triggered his radio again twice. His attention was directed about the room, searching, until arriving at the hole that the snake-like camera had just withdrawn into. Uh oh, Josh thought. Now he knows the cops are watching.

The gunman roared a command, the words distorted and barely intelligible and sounding like, ‘Get up! All of you!’ Everyone came to their feet, startled and confused. “Get out! That way!” His enunciation was enough improved to make the command unmistakable, though he still sounded more animal than human. The group rushed toward the rear door. He bounded around the table smashing the butt of his weapon against the back of a lagging business man who cried out and fell to the carpet; a woman screamed as the man fell against her causing her to stumble. “I said get moving!” the gunman shouted, the words garbled by his speech impediment, but the meaning clearly conveyed in the violence of his movements and the temper in his voice. An elderly man grasped the floundering businessman by the shoulder, bearing him up, the gunman hovering over him, poised to deliver a second blow, a blow that Josh found too painfully familiar. Josh grabbed the injured man’s opposite shoulder and together they helped him along in catching up to the crowd.

The second gunman was out in the hall shouting directions. The businessman found his footing as they exited the conference room. An explosion erupted from behind them blowing a hole in the ceiling in the conference room. A black clad SWAT officer dropped through the hole. He was the largest portion of a mass of smoke and falling debris plummeting to the floor. The shotgun wielding robber pivoted at the waist to get off a shot at the officer landing behind him. The officer dropped to one knee; the blast aimed at this head went high missing him by inches. The gunman pumped the fore grip of his shotgun, shucking the spent shell. The policeman’s bullet hit him squarely in the face before he could chamber a fresh round. He crumpled to the floor, the life gone out of him.

The rear door of the conference room opened into a hallway adjacent to its perpendicular termination into a second hallway. The remaining gunman hurried down this hallway toward them brandishing his pistols and shouting for the group to continue ahead of him down the hall toward the front of the bank. Two SWAT officers appeared from out of a stairwell behind the gunman, their weapons at the ready and both men shouting for his surrender. The gunman carried a duffle bag slung over his back which bobbed from side to side in cadence with his stride. The woman was standing directly in his path in the intersection; the group of others rushed ahead of her; Josh and the elderly gentleman were still approaching from the intersecting hallway.

The gunman stopped and turned his back to the wall; he directed a pistol in both directions down the hallway. “Stay where you are!” He shouted at the woman. “I’ll kill her! Get back!” This warning was directed at the two officers through the fifty feet of distance between. Josh and the older man both froze just a few strides from the woman who stood waiting in the intersection. The other hostages retreated down the hallway to the front at the behest of waiting members of SWAT. The sounds of their retreat faded into a moment of silence. Two more SWAT operatives held the entry of the hallway into the main lobby of the bank. Another pair edged quietly into the hallway from out of the conference room. Josh could hear the lead SWAT officer dialoguing with the robber from the stairway opening but they, as well as the robber were out of his line of sight.

The elderly man stood a couple of paces closer to the intersection. The man seemed unduly at ease; there seemed an air of confidence about the man that was disproportionate to his appearance. He was short of statue and medium build, his snow white hair and wrinkled skin put him in his late sixties by Josh’s estimation. He wore a gray summer cardigan over a white button down shirt; his khaki pants hovered a good two inches in space over a well-worn pair of black penny loafers. Josh stepped forward bringing the gunman into view. The elderly gent put his hand back to stop him, then looking back at Josh he smiled reassuringly and shook his head.

Josh shrugged his shoulders and mouthed the word, ‘what?’

The man shook his head again soundlessly forming the words ‘wait there.’ It was clear that he didn’t want Josh to follow him any farther into the intersection.

“Okay, we’re lowering our weapons,” the lead officer said reassuringly. “I’m sure we can settle this so nobody has to get hurt.”

The robber sidestepped toward the intersection drawing closer to the woman. “Who tipped you off?” His voice was unexpectedly and abruptly calm.

“What matters most to me is that nobody gets hurt, including you. What’s your name by the way? What would you like for me to call you?”

“Was it that bank manager? It couldn’t have been. We were careful making sure nobody got off an alarm.” The gunman rubbed the back of his hand across his forehead. “Damn this thing’s hot. Should have gone with the stockings but who’s going to listen to some idiot with pantyhose stretched across his face?” An odd sense of complacency was bleeding into his voice.

“Let’s just take it easy and talk this out, okay? Can I get you anything?”

“A chopper, for a start,” the gunman replied, “but you won’t be doing that, will you?” He removed the ski mask mumbling, “No one ever gets the helicopter.” He cleared his throat and shouted, “I know how this is going to shake out, and I won’t be going back to prison; I’ll tell you that. I’ll make you that promise. Spent too much time behind bars as it stands,” and grinning darkly he added, “Got the tee-shirt to prove it.” He dabbed at his forehead with the ski mask, looked at it and then tossed it aside. “You guys shot my brother in there. I can’t let that go unanswered. You know I can’t do that.”

“This doesn’t have to end badly. Just let me help you. What can we get for you? You look hot. How about a cool drink of water?”

A gloved hand grasped Josh firmly by the shoulder urging him backward. It was one of the SWAT operatives who had come through the hole in the ceiling; Josh recognized him as the one who had come first, the one who shot the gunman. “Move to the conference room, sir, quickly,” an order whispered, but no less a command. A second SWAT op eased around Josh’s opposite side heading toward the intersection, moving quietly along the wall out of the gunman’s view.

The gunman leaned into the wall behind him, and shaking his head he said, “There’s one thing for certain, officer….” He bowed his head shaking it again, his pistols resting upon slightly bent knees; looking down the hall at the lead operative he added, “Do you know what’s for certain, officer?”

“I know for certain that things will look better to you tomorrow. I know that for certain. I can tell you that for certain.”

“No, here’s what’s for certain, cop! When you’re left with nothing to do for yourself but a choice between bad and worse still, you just look around and do someone else a good turn, someone deserving to have a good turn done them. My brother’s someone like that; he’s someone I could stand to do a good turn for; someone who would never hurt a fly on his own account; someone who never asked for much of nothing for himself.”

He dropped the left hand pistol to the floor. “Now you guys in your head to toe body armor are pretty much out of bounds for payback…..You savvy my meaning, cop? I can’t hurt you, and that’s an unnatural fact.” He stood up fully erect. His right arm went into full extension. “But she isn’t.”

From the doorway to the conference room Josh watched transfixed as the elderly gentlemen leapt forward to place himself between the gunman and the woman as the leveled pistol erupted, its aim in a flawless trajectory to the woman’s center chest. The bullet fired by the gunman smacked the old man full in the chest and he went down in a heap. The woman shrieked as a volley of SWAT gunfire erupted from both directions down the hall. She fell to her knees, her hands over her ears, screaming “stop.” The gunman took several hits but remained standing, this arms dangling at his side as the pistol slipped from his grasp. He slumped against the wall, skidding to the floor into a sitting position as the SWAT ops rushed forward. They kicked his guns away hovering over him, glaring down at him, but he was no longer there to see it.

“Somebody please help him!” Josh had heard those words too often carried on the winds of just such agony as hers and his heart went out to them both. “Help him, please!” The woman had knelt over the crumpled old man, touching him, then touching her face, her hands shaking, her eyes drenched in helplessness.

“Give him some room! I’m an EMT! He’s still breathing! He’s still alive.” The professional had taken over in the second it took Josh to arrive by her side attending the little old man who had just saved her life.

“Get her out of here,” a SWAT officer shouted.

A uniformed officer took her in tow. “No! I’m not leaving him! Get your hands off of me! No!” She shook herself free of the policewoman’s hands. “I can’t leave him; no!”

“Let them help him, please ma’am. There’s nothing you can do here but use up the poor man’s oxygen.” The lady cop put her arm around the woman, grasping her firmly, moving her away. “Come with me, please. Let’s get someone to have a look at you.” The policewoman steered her down the hallway toward the lobby. “You’ve been hurt yourself; someone needs to tend to that gash.”

A pair of EMTs rushed past with a gurney to arrive at Josh’s side. They ripped the elderly gentleman’s shirt open. The man’s chest was terribly bruised, ribs were cracked, but there was no bullet entry wound. “I don’t understand,” Josh murmured.
The elderly man’s eyes fluttered open. “Oh, I’m sorry. Did I pass out? A bit thoughtless of me.” He grinned and grasped Josh’s arm reassuringly. “I think I’m going to be just fine.”

“I don’t understand,” Josh repeated. “I saw him shoot you. I heard the bullet hit you.”

“Oh, you heard the bullet hit, all right,” the little old man murmured. His hands played about his chest searching for something. Something was wadded up in the material of this sweater, something in the front pocket of his shift. His hands fumbled separating his shirt from the sweater, grasping at a metal container sticking out of his pocket. “But hit me, it didn’t; it would seem, at least not directly, and my little friend here would be the reason, I suspect.” He coughed, groaning. “Now that hurts – coughing hurts. I’ll need to not cough if it’s not to hurt.”

His attempts to remove the container from his pocket were proving fruitless. “Here, son. This will explain it all, I imagine. Can you help me with this?”

Josh scooped him up to place him into the gurney. The EMTs set about checking his vitals. “Help you with this?” Josh questioned, grasping the wedged container. “What the heck?! Is this a whiskey flask? It appears to have stopped the bullet!” Josh struggled to free the container from the shirt pocket.

“The shirt is done for, son. Give it a rip.” Josh did as requested ripping the container free.

“Would you look at this?” Josh laughed holding up a silver hip flask. The front face of it was smashed in, a mushroomed bullet nestled within the interior of it, and although the rear face of the flask was dented outwardly, the bullet had failed to pierce it completely through.

“Let me have a look.” The lead SWAT operative reached around Josh to take the flask in hand. “That’s a forty-caliber handgun round in there, and I’m supposed to believe this flimsy thing stopped it?” He laughed boisterously. “That’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen!” He handed it off to another officer. “Feel the weight of this thing! It’s light as a feather! Sterling silver, for god’s sake! Softest metal around, soft as butter in July – makes for lousy body armor.”

“Careful!” Another cop shouted. “That’s evidence! We’ll need it for the ‘Duof’ inquiry.”

The SWAT lieutenant frowned and slapped him on the shoulder. “Of course, Kowalski; where would I be without you?”

Kowalski scoffed. “Ass deep in a Deadly Use Investigation.”

“Like I said…” The lieutenant leaned over the gurney smiling at the elderly man. “I’m sorry, sir; the detectives will want to know what happened here. After the internal affairs hearing we’ll get your flask back to you. But for now, we need to get you checked out.” He grasped the man’s shoulder affectionately.

“No worries, officer; that old flask seems to have served its purpose admirably enough.” The old man grimaced and settled into the gurney. “Once given to taking lives, now it has seen fit to save one.”

The officer turned away only to turn back again. “That was a damned heroic thing you did just now.” He smiled rubbing his chin. “I think you’ve cashed in about all your good luck chips. Let’s have no more of that sort of thing, from here on out; what do you say?” He looked up, nodding to the EMTs. They began to push the gurney down the hall with Josh following by its side.

The SWAT leader shouted down the hall to a pair of detectives hovering over the slain bank robber. “Were you right? Are they the bad boys you’ve been after?”

One of the detectives looked up from his work. “We’ll know for certain tomorrow once the DNA prelim is in, but it’s all a match so far; weapons, MO, everything’s a match. Looks like the surveillance paid off.”

The other detective stood to his feet. “Captain’s going to be happy about that.”

“The first detective zipped closed an evidence bag containing the ski mask. “Yes indeed,” he said with a sigh.

The SWAT officer caught up to the EMTs. “Hey. What’s your name, by the way?”

The old man extended his hand. “I’m John; Pleased to meet you, officer. John Smith.” The officer frowned. “I know, but truly; that’s my name, just plain ole John Smith.”

“John Smith, eh.” The SWAT commander pondered momentarily. “Well, that’s knocking too close on disappointing; you wouldn’t happen to be a captain by chance?”

“Why’s the man’s name a disappointment?” Josh blurted. He was bristling and a little surprised by the intensity of his reaction. “Is there something wrong with the man’s name?”

“Don’t you already know, son?” The SWAT leader returned Josh’s defiance measure for measure. “You were right there and you don’t know?”

Josh’s nerve broke; he looked to his fellow EMTs for conciliation, for some indication as to what he was missing here. None was forthcoming; he was on his own. The old man patted his forearm and gave him an encouraging squeeze. His will to defy the officer by proving the man wrong simply dissipated into an impression that the officer had something valid to impart. Before Josh had only desired to attack and humiliate him; now his internal posture was different; now he saw in himself a deficiency in understanding that the policeman might alleviate. Now he simply wanted to know what he didn’t know more than he needed to be right. The thundercloud of animosity lifted into the calm blue skies of a harmonious atmosphere between them.

The officer’s eyes softened. “It’s just that the name is already taken, son; there’s already been a John Smith; he was captain at the Jamestown Virginia colony.” He smiled down at the old man. “We can’t have two noteworthy Thomas Jeffersons and there never will be another famous Winston Churchill.” He turned to walk away and with his eyes still fixed upon those of the old man’s he added, “But maybe that’s the point; aye, Mr. Smith? You want to remain a no-body, don’t you? No one notices a no-body. No one ever sees you coming until it’s too late.”
©2012 Miles A Moody
Chapter 5 Part II

A Book Like No Other - Chapter 5

Miles Moody

Boone, United States

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