My wife and I were Christmas shopping and we decided to have dinner at a restaurant. It was to be a memorable dinner.
"It's cold," said my wife as I opened the door for her and she stepped out onto the parking lot.
"Forty two years of marriage," I said to myself, inwardly smiling at my traditionalist personality, "and I still open the door for her. "Back on our first date in high school I did it too. That was what our generation did."
"The restaurant looks crowded," my wife said as I opened the front door replicating my nineteen fifties gentlemanly manners.
"Two, please," my wife said to the young hostess.
Others had followed us in and I turned my head to see a man in his sixties standing behind us with his wife. He was wearing a hat similar to my own. His was proudly displaying his service in the Marines; mine was the Army.
"When were you in?" I asked and smiled as I nodded at his hat.
"Fifty-nine to sixty-two," he answered proudly. "How about you?
"Sixty-one to sixty four," I answered. "Thanks for your service to our country," I added.
"Thanks," he responded. "You too."
Suddenly from the back of the restaurant there were loud voices. I stepped slightly in front of my wife to see what the commotion was.
"I don't want to sit back in the corner," a loud voice, with a foreign accent, could be heard saying. It was followed by a different voice saying something indiscernible, but obviously in better control and not as loud as the shouting voice.
"You don't want others to see us in your lily white restaurant," yelled the loud voice.
I took several steps beyond my wife to get a better view of what was going on.
A man, who appeared to be in his twenties, and middle-eastern, was standing next to a booth in the far back corner of the restaurant, angrily looking at a waitress and a man who I presumed, was the manager. Then he looked at a woman who was sitting in the booth. She had a scarf wrapped around her head and neck that exposed only her face. I presumed she was probably his wife. "Let's go," he said loudly. She responded with something that made him even angrier and I could see she slightly shook her head.
"I said now!" the man said loudly and reached in and grabbed her by her upper arm and yanked her from the booth. There were a few gasps and disbelieving looks from patrons at nearby tables. She stumbled slightly as she emerged from her sitting position, but as she stood up; she lowered her head and began to walk dutifully towards the entrance where we were standing, avoiding any eye contact with the restaurant patrons watching her. The man followed her displaying a scowl and glaring at the same eyes the woman was avoiding. As they passed us I looked closely at him and saw what I could only describe as rage. His return look was scary. In another moment both had left the restaurant. I looked at the ex-marine standing behind me and raised my eyebrows in a gesture of 'what was that all about.' Then I could hear a voice say, "How many?"
"Two," my wife answered. "Come on Rob," she said to me. "Forget those two, let's have a nice dinner."
I turned and nodded my head and followed my wife as she was led to the booth directly across from where the incident had just occurred. As I sat down I noticed the ex-marine and his wife being seated on the other side of the restaurant. His eyes met mine and we both displayed a smile of acknowledgement.
Forty minutes later my wife and I were finishing a second cup of coffee when there was shouting at the entrance to the restaurant and suddenly there was the sharp thunderclap of gunfire. This was followed by screams and another thunderclap, causing a flash that could be seen throughout the entire restaurant. Then another, and yet another, was fired. Instantly I stood up and could see a young hostess holding her upper chest and trying to run to the kitchen area. Another round was fired and the girl fell to the floor showing no signs of trying to cushion her fall. Patrons throughout the restaurant were frantically trying to get out of their seats. No one was attempting to stop the man and he began spraying bullets everywhere. There was a family of four or five sitting near the front and two of that party slumped onto the table and a third fell to the floor. An old woman, who was trying to escape to somewhere, fell and two others fell over her in their frenzied rush for life. The two who fell on her got up. One of them looked down at the woman for a moment as if he were going to help her, but then continued his dash for safety. More shots were fired and I saw another person fall. Tables were sliding and chairs were falling as desperate human beings were scurrying for their lives. I glanced at my wife and she had stood up and I realized we needed to escape the carnage that was beginning to take place. I looked to the left and right. There were no exits that we would have direct access to without crossing the restaurant in plain view of this wild man. We would have been easy targets.
"Get down," I yelled at my wife, and gave her a shove downward. More shots were fired. More screams of fear and anguish were filling the air. People were scrambling towards the kitchen presuming escape was possible there. I looked at the shooter and he had begun to move into the interior of the restaurant. He had a gun in each hand and he fired one more time; another innocent human, who only moments earlier was enjoying his meal, lost his life. Now he was only thirty feet away and I recognized him. He was the Middle-Easterner who had angrily left the restaurant when we had first arrived. He looked my way and pointed his gun at me and fired. I ducked as the window behind me shattered from the bullets impact. I quickly moved over to my wife, wrapping my arms around her, to offer some kind of protection and realized there was nothing I could do. It was then my army training from long ago flashed into my head.
"When ambushed, immediately attack," were the words of my boot camp drill sergeant. "Attacking has been proven the most effective way of overcoming the disadvantage of being ambushed," he added that day as we were conducting jungle fighting training. Suddenly I remembered the ex-marine and looked his way. He too was crouched low protecting his wife and his eyes met mine. I could see fear. I'm sure he saw it in my eyes too. The pandemonium of screams and hysteria continued to fill the restaurant making voice communication impossible. I squinted my eyes as I looked at the ex-marine and pointed at the shooter and mouthed the words; 'are you with me?' There was a moment of hesitation and then he nodded his head.
I looked at my trembling wife. "I love you," I said and partially stood up and looked at the ex-marine. "Let's go," I said, enunciating the words for lip recognition knowing that he couldn't possibly hear what I said. He stood up and both of us began to rush as fast as our old bodies would take us. We had advanced about ten feet when the crazed killer noticed the ex-marine. He pointed the gun in his left hand at him and fired two quick bursts. The ex-marine was not hit. Then he crouched low, grabbing a table and threw it down in front of himself as a shield. For an instant I didn't know if he was going to continue our pursuit and then I could see him pushing the table as he advanced. The man fired again and splinters from the table exploded around the ex-marine and he seemed to turn sideways and I wondered if he had been hit. During all of this I kept moving towards the shooter and was now only ten feet away. One long table was between me and him. Then he turned my way and pointed the gun in his right hand at me and fired. I could feel the heat and the pulse of air it generated as it passed within inches of my head. There was no time left to run around the table. I clenched both of my hands into fists and pointed them in front of myself similar to the old comic book character, Superman, and leaped onto the table. Plates of food and cups and glasses flew to the right and left. I felt the sting of a fork piercing my arm. I slid across the table and my outstretched fists landed on his midsection. He careened over backwards with my landing on top of him.
"Some-bitch," he growled as he tried to push me off. My sixty-seven year old body groaned with pain, but I resisted his shoving and tried to grab the gun in his left hand. He pulled the trigger and a light fixture above us exploded and showered glass shards everywhere. It was at that moment the ex-marine arrived. He jumped on the shooters right hand and was able to pull the gun from it and threw it across the floor. The sound of it clunking and sliding was comforting to me that at least one of the guns was no longer available to this madman. The shooter then pulled his right hand free of the ex-marines grasp and put his arm around me. In an instant I was rolled over and now I was on the bottom and the shooter was on top, his left hand holding a hand-gun still smoking from its last use. Somehow through the fear I was experiencing I strangely felt proud for what I was doing for my fellow man; my country. My years of peacetime military service, so long ago, had been spent shining boots, standing inspections, and marching in parades. I never encountered an enemy who was trying to kill me and me, him. I realized in that instant that I felt unfulfilled as an army veteran. I am not, and never was, an advocate of war, but throughout my entire life, wars have raged. Just prior to my years on active duty the Korean War was fought. Only years after I separated from active duty, the Vietnam War exploded. I witnessed both of them from the safety of my living room. But, this was my moment to show what I could have done if my country had called on me to do. Somehow I found a little more energy in my old body and grabbed the gun in his hand. With his other hand, he smacked me in the face and then backhanded the ex-marine to his side and abruptly stood up. He pointed the gun at me and displayed the most terrifying look on a human being that I have ever seen. I knew it was time to meet my maker and my thoughts went to my wife who was probably witnessing all of this. As I turned my head to look her way, the ex-marine hit this guy in the side just below the ribcage and he momentarily doubled over. The ex-marine then hit him again and he grabbed his stomach and turned towards the ex-marine and wildly fired off two quick rounds. Miraculously, neither struck the ex-marine and during this moment that the ex-marine was being attacked, it allowed me to get up and I hit him as hard as I could with my fist in the side of his head. He winced and quickly turned back towards me and pointed his gun at me. The barrel was no more than a foot from my stomach as he pulled the trigger. There was a click, but nothing happened. He had fired his last bullet. At that moment the deranged killer knew his overwhelming advantage over us had disappeared. The ex-marine and I knew it too and we attacked with as much viciousness as our old worn out bodies would permit us to do. The ex-marine hit him in the stomach and I hit him in the face. As he staggered backwards I kicked him in the crotch and he fell. The ex-marine pounced on him grabbing him by his hair and hit him hard with the heel of his hand on his nose. Blood spurted to the side. I stomped on his right hand as he tried to grab the ex-marine and then kicked him in the ribs. His resistance finally subsided.
"Help us," I yelled. "Call nine-one-one."
Apparently someone somewhere had done that already because as I was yelling the words I could hear the sounds of multiple police sirens approaching.
The shooter groaned as we rolled him over onto his stomach and yanked his two arms behind his back. Then several young men came to our aid. The ex-marine and I were exhausted and we turned this poor excuse for a human being over to them.
The ex-marine and I slowly stood up, our bodies crying for rest and relief, and for the first time saw the massacre that had just occurred. Dead and wounded were lying everywhere and both of us were overwhelmed with a desire to help each of them. Then, swarms of men and women, who just minutes ago were fleeing for their lives, returned to help the wounded or confirm their fears that their loved one was killed. I looked at the ex-marine and his face was sad. Then I realized my wife had somehow got over to me and she hugged me tightly.
Within minutes the restaurant was swarming with police and emergency medical teams. The ex-marine's wife had come to him and the four of us slowly walked to some vacant chairs that were still upright. A policeman came over to us and asked us if we were okay. We told him yes. He said the police would be in touch soon, but we could leave.
"Thanks," I said to the ex-marine as I turned to him and shook his hand.
"Thanks to you too," he said to me. "Us old guys are still pretty good, aren't we?" he added.
I nodded my head and looked at my wife. "Are you ready to go home?"