I N T R O D U C T I O N
I had recently turned 19 in August of that year but by the time November rolled around the warmth of August had faded and the bright sky of summer had given way to early dusk and fog. The neighborhood trees were bare and the aroma of winter was slowly descending on our small town. The mercury hit 50 on consecutive days but most of us suspected that we were only one hard frost away from a prolonged artic chill. This brief respite from the hardship of winter was nice however, and on this day it was warmer than normal for a November eve in northern Illinois. Perhaps the warmth is the reason for my story
Neil was an old friend; a visit from him harkened to my younger days when school was a party that we often traveled to and from together. I was in college now and my mid-term grades suggested that thinking, not partying, would need to rise up if I were to meet the challenge of higher education. Neil did attend college but not with me, he moved out to the land of red stockings and clam chowder during my junior year of high school. Neil had grown up in small towns like me but didn't seem the small town type. He was a big guy, he had big thoughts, big humor and was more brash and bold than I could even hope to be as a recent high school graduate.
I grew up in a small town and, at 19, was still growing up. Generally short for my age, I was still hoping for a growth spurt that would distinguish me from respectable dwarfs and midgets near and far. My small stature did not prevent a penchant for mischief however; and on this night, fun was about to take a back seat to terror.
I had known for a few weeks that Neil would be coming to town in order to tie up a few loose ends. His family's home was pending sale and random belongings lingered in storage after their initial move. Neil's old home was only a few blocks from my parent's house so on that day, I decided to walk. I arrived and greeted my old friend with a hug. His father was busy sorting through family possessions and making phone calls and we decided to leave him alone. Despite our anticipation of this night, plans were sketchy at best and a sleepover at my parent's house was the best idea we could muster.
We spent some time in Neil's room, listening to music, digging through old record labels and talking about his instrument of choice, the bass. On the inside of his closet door he had stapled the cardboard cover from U2's 3rd album, 'October', Neil's favorite. I made a quick joke about it being November, not October but my attempt at humor was lost on his chord strumming. As his version of With or Without You reverberated though the floor boards to the top bunk of his bed, I laid there and let the bass and the words of the song echo in my soul.
The song ended and he gave me a short music lesson using words like staccato and pizzicato, (this created in my mind a picture of a small textured building specializing in Italian food). Neil dismissed the pun but caught my drift. We ordered Pizza Hut and gave them my parent's address and then said goodbye to Neil's father. The walk to my parent's was quick, one we had made alone and together many times while he was still living in town.
Our large pizza was quickly devoured and was followed by a dessert of video games in the basement. From video games to darts to the VCR, we darted from one form of entertainment to another until we grew restless from boredom. The phone rang and I crossed over the stair landing to the unfinished side of our basement, I answered on the fourth ring. It was my friend Ted, he wondered what I was up to that night and inquired about repayment for a tennis wager we had made. The words, "double or nothing" came quickly to my mind as I silently rued that roasting hot day in Bloomington, IN where I had deliriously committed to several bets that my tennis racquet couldn't cash in. I gave assurances to Ted that I would pay him soon and then wished him good evening, he lobbed back an "adios" and hung up.
Ted was a competitive guy but I could only blame myself for the 50-plus dollars I had lost in a single afternoon of Ted's aces pelting me on the hardcourt. Double or something sure sounded a lot better to me at this point, I was not looking forward to forking over that dough.
I joked about putting out a contract on Ted's life Neil was too sharp not to mention that a quality assassin might cost me a bit more than 50$ so I would do well to just pay up. I tried to forget about the debt but the idea of a hit-man reminded me of something in the adjacent room... my father's antique pellet rifle. Boredom instantly transformed itself to intrigue as we pulled the gun out of the low ceiling rafters. The unspoken question of consensus shot to my tongue as I blurted out, "what can we shoot"?
The treehouse was just out the door in our backyard. Our mulberry tree stood there leafless and cold, the smell of falling berries fermenting in the sun was long gone and all that remained was the clubhouse. My childhood club/tree house consisted of a couple of old wooden pallets and inch plywood sheeting; it was not an architectural marvel. After five cocks on the pump action rifle I drew aim and promptly blasted a hole in the plastic tarp covering our neighbor's camper. I pretended to be amused as though I were aiming there all along silently knowing I would never be considered a quality assassin. Neil took his turn and left his pellet slightly lodged in the plywood wall tearing off some paint in the process. After a few turns, we both managed to aim and connect with some consistency.
We lost interest in these stationary targets and glanced around for mobile options. Wild game was not in abundance, small town or not, birds and squirrels were common but at that moment there were no creatures in sight. We had unloaded our initial cache of ammo into the tree house and decided to walk back to Neil's house to get a few extra pellets. After repeated tree impaling we had used all the pellets that I was able to locate in my dad's workshop. Neil tipped the little rectangular tin on its side and one last pellet dropped into his trigger-happy fingers. As we embarked for his house, we considered possible targets for our last round.
My 3rd grade elementary school was just two houses away and we decided to cut behind the building as a shortcut. We slowly walked as we talked and navigated through the dark alley behind the large three and story brick building. The back of the recently converted art museum was red brick, square and 3 stories. The old classroom window's metal screens had been replaced with mortar and bricks completely masking the window openings. What remained was a tall square brick wall that towered over us and it was kind of impressive. The only eyesore was the long down-spout, halving the symmetry of the back of the building like a dark brown metallic snake. The sides of the building both had outdated wrought-iron fire escapes leading from the 2nd floor library on the north and 3rd floor gym on the south side.
From the front, the building was positioned on a hill, two stories tall with big windows still intact. It had a high sloping roof that went up to sharp high reaching peak and descended to the other side, overhanging the lower roof of the rear portion of the building built below the ground level in the front. Erected in 1896 but still sturdy, it had been a landmark to play in and around for the neighborhood for as long as I could remember.
Neil and I cut around the corner and succeeded in surprising the neighbor's guard dog. He bolted back and forth behind the chain-link fence as he snarled and growled. His growls turned to barking when he realized we were out of his reach. "His barking must be echoing through the whole neighborhood", I thought. As I loaded the weapon I took a seat at the foot of the old fire escape. I carefully placed the pellet in the chamber and locked the metal pin that slid the cover over the shaft. I then cocked the rifle pump's lever while Neil counted. 11 times I pumped it up, filling that chamber with enough pressure to fell a thin-skinned miniature elephant.
The short intervals of loud barking were immediately cut to one ear-piercing "yelp" and then the four-legged noise maker retreated in silence "Mission accomplished", Neil exclaimed and I nodded with a smile. I was still aglow, basking in the warm confidence that comes from making contact with an intended target. "Did you see how I shot right through the opening in the fence?" I bragged. Neil was actually impressed; he genuinely hated dogs and loud ones in particular. "Nice shoot'n Tex", he replied. The rest of the walk was full of macho talk and one-upsmanship, the night of the yelping dog was upon us and we took nicknames. I was to be called "James" and Neil was "John" but we decided on Bond and Rambo for short. Never mind that I was in college, going on 20 and Neil older yet, we were together and it felt like old times.
The above ground pool had been drained and the yard was absent of lawn equipment and decoration. I paused for a second in realization; Neil was leaving for good this time. His only home was now in Marlboro, Mass Neil interrupted my lament, "the back door is locked" and he led me down the cedar stairs and reached under the pool decking. He pulled out a tarnished key that hadn't been touched for months. "Dad must have forgotten about this one", he said. We did not want to mention our evenings' intent to his father so we used the spare key and entered through the attached garage. It had a familiar odor, one of messy oil-changes, leaky gas cans, and a musty refrigerator in the corner. The smells combined to create a 'well-used' fragrance and this comforted me for the moment, not wanting to think about Neil's house being sold and his imminent departure.
My attention was drawn to the side wall covered in old license plates as I could hear Neil quietly rummaging through the detritus and debris left behind for the final move. "Find anything, Rrrambo? I chuckled a bit as the "R" rolled off my tongue. "I have 3 Super Nintendo games, Contra II, RBI Baseball, MegaMan 3, and a Beatles album. Hmm them plus you makes 5 twit Brits, Mr. Bond." I had to laugh at this, I knew it was painful for him to degrade the British quartet of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. He admired them for their historical impact on contemporary music and I felt honored that he would diminish them for my sake. I called out, "Yo Adrianne!" and that quote ended the friendly exchange. (He knew that the excess fodder for fun poking lay in my corner). "You should have been G.I. Joe; his character is vague but respectable. All we know is that he is an American hero, it'd be harder to tease you about that." "I'll take it under advisement for my future army games", he said with in a sardonic tone.
"Hey, I found it!" In the second crate of discarded and outgrown items that remained he'd uncovered a container of pellets and his own, newer but similar style, pellet rifle. Squirrels, birds and domesticated pets all over town must have had fur and feathers standing on end. "The night of the yelping dog" we just kept saying this with a dumb expression on our faces as though the phrase somehow had transformed us into big game hunters and in our new altered state of safari reality, in-town shooting was legit and animals everywhere were open-season.
Our exuberant zeal seemed to dwindle after a dozen playful squirrels continued to evade our marksmanship. Neil terrorized a stray cat by blowing up a pile of leaves he was resting on, this barrage may have resulted in a new standing broad jump for North American felines. The orange-stripped cat took refuge on top of a nearby car, now newly adorned with muddy footprints. I got quite a kick out of that scene but didn't have the guts to shoot at the mangy furball while he was perched on the hood of a green oldsmobile. "Your target picked a good spot to take refuge", I teased Neil. "Yeah, I'm kind'a fond of the green Olds.", he admitted sarcastically.
I wasted my last round on a discarded truck tire leaning against an old metal garbage can. The pellet glanced off the tire ricocheting off the can with a 'crash' and then shrieked past my right ear striking the birdhouse dangling above Neil's head. "His baldyness" took splintered shrapnel on his scalp but no real damage the bird house had been unoccupied at the time. Perhaps if we had carried birdseed and pellets we might have hit something, "I thought to myself". The only real carnage of the evening thus far had been various types of wood, rubber, leaves, concrete, and a glass bottle that didn't break. I took the shot-of-the-night award with the yelping dog trick and we left for my parent's house; content that no one was injured and no property damage had been done.
The short walk turned long as we dawdled on our way, chatting, practicing our rock-climbing skills on the side of a brick banking office, and trying to remember every U2 song written before 1987. The temperature readout on the bank display read, 44. The sun had been warm during the afternoon and the ground was slow to give up its heat. Fog was slowly settling in on us and began to obscure our vision. The end of the block was barely visible at this point with the exception of a car's taillights dispersing red through the fog like a glowing red orb.
We continued walking, content to label our "hunting" trip a nominal success and go in for the night. The fog seemed a bit chilly and I suggested we sheath our rifles by sliding the barrels up the sleeves of our respective coats. By doing this I could keep my hands warmer and my gun was hidden except for the wooden stock hanging out of my coat arm in place of my hand. We were only a block from the old school now, almost home. I considered cutting through the yard next to the yelping dog when I noticed another set of red orbs silently driving by on the cross street at the block's end.
I wasn't sure what set of senses were triggered first, my ears hearing the skid of tires on the damp road, my eyes seeing the red glow in the fog turning to hot white, or my mind suddenly realizing that I was walking around town with a gun. Neil seemed less concerned than I, perhaps because he was from a big city out of town where this was common or because he thought I was just being paranoid. But I knew there was trouble the moment that car started to back up, the only thought in my brain, "Police". We were confronted with only two main options at this point, stand still and face the music or. "RUN!" Neil shouted, interrupting my thoughts.
Cutting through the yard was no longer just a consideration, Neil and I loped through the leaves and wet grass until we encountered the famous chain-link fence. The fence was about four feet tall and we managed to quickly ascend it and dismount. I suggested splitting up and Neil took off down the alley, heading for my parent's house. Rather than chase us on foot, I could see blue and red lights advancing in their reflections off of fog-stained homes in the neighborhood. I expected the patrol car to whip into our alley at any moment. I wasn't confident that I could get to the safety of home in time to avoid being seen so I decided it would be better and quicker if I hid.
For just a moment it occurred to me that the yelping dog must still be licking his wounds because there wasn't a sound to be heard sans the pounding of my heart and heavy breathing as my lungs tried to digest the damp mist of the night. The fire escape to the school was only ten steps away and I lumbered up the old wrought-iron stairs as quickly and quietly as I could. I stumbled over the first landing and paused for a moment until I heard the chirping sound of rubber seeking contact with the asphalt down the alley. 'The police car must be just around the other side of the building', I thought, as I ran up the remaining stairs two at a time until I reached the top landing. A set of three black iron rails surrounded the staircase and were solid enough to support my weight.
Long ago I had noticed, in boyhood recreation, that the top landing of the south side fire escape was positioned almost perfectly for lower roof access. The rails were about three feet away from the edge of the roof and the wide brick chimney continued upward as a brace to lean against. I threw my first leg over the railing and stretched out my toes until they caught the roof's edge. Hanging on to the railing with one hand, I reached out for the edge of the square brick wall that connected to the chimney and the higher peaked roof. I grabbed a hold of the sharp masonry with my right hand and pushed off the railing with my left hand and stepped down into the recessed area of the tarred roof.
On three sides the building walls continued their reach beyond the roof about two feet so when I bent to my knees I would be hidden from the view of anyone on the ground that might be looking. Though I had been on those stairs many times as student and as a trespasser, each time I made the reach across the void, those three feet seemed to belong to bigger shoes. There were times I couldn't believe that I had done this climb so easily and looking down to the ground at least 30 feet below took my breath away. The fear of pursuit added to my sudden rise in altitude equaled a small measure of terror sinking in and movement became increasingly difficult.
The roof was big at least 60 feet wide by 40 feet long meaning approximately 2400 square feet. Lots of flat surface area with a few ventilation fan hoods jutting upward. The roof itself was a good hiding place but it occurred to me quickly that on the roof there were not any decent hiding places. I started to wonder if Neil had the better plan.
I had lost sight of Neil the moment I touched the fire escape. My decision to hide rather than run would soon be weighed by the passing of time and the tenaciousness of the officer's search. I took solace in the proximity of the police lights as a sign that Neil made it back to my parent's unscathed. I couldn't tell how close they were but the blue and red lights were dispersing through the cloud of fog like a whirlwind. The purplish colors made it seem for a moment like I was star gazing for the Northern Lights. The lights were plenty but I had yet to hear any sirens. Perhaps there were other patrol cars in the area now, I had no way to be certain and I dare not peek out over the flashing on the wall.
I laid there in silence, flat on my back trying to decide what I should do with my father's rife. Had the officer seen us walking with only the stocks protruding from our sleeves? It was dark and foggy; could even a trained eye have perceived this from a moving car half a block away? But if the guns were not seen, why was he chasing us? Had there been reports of vandalism in the area? Was it only a routine drive-by? These and dozens of other questions bombarded my brain as I struggled to lay still on the roof, three stories off the ground, being sought by police and helplessly pinned down with one high-wire escape route.
I decided to ditch the gun. If the officer had made out the silhouette of a rifle stock I could deny it as long as it was out of reach and they hadn't found Neil and his rifle. If it had not been seen it would be easy to say I ran in fear because I wasn't thinking. Of course these explanations were problematic mostly because they were simply untrue. Why would I run in fear if I had done nothing wrong? If the officer did see my gun, would lying about it accomplish anything but getting me into more of a bind? All of this would only be considered if I got caught and at the moment I had no intention of announcing my whereabouts.
My legs were still shaking from exertion and fear. I noticed my right leg was starting to cramp a bit and I tried to straighten it out. I had plenty of room to stretch and I was hidden from anyone looking up, but a sitting duck to anyone watching from above. There were no lights actually on or shining on the roof and I had to struggle just to see beyond my reach. The roof was black and the fan hoods were dark green, even with the two foot high protruding wall that encapsulated the roof's edge, I was still a little scared that I could just walk right off into thin air. I could see myself having a very hard landing on the ground and decided to refocus on the task at hand, what could I do with the gun?
I was determined to stash the gun in a superb hiding spot somewhere on that roof, I slinked along toward the far side where the higher roof peak opposite the fire escape sloped down and came to an end. I couldn't hear any activity on the ground and I hadn't made any noise snaking along over the hard tarred surface of the flat lower roof.
The eaves trough was about a two foot reach up and out over the wall's edge. My thought was to quietly slide the rifle into the eaves where it would be safely out of sight and away from my possession. The difficulty was that I would need to expose my position for about 20 seconds to do this. I could reach it from my knees but for anyone looking skyward, my head and shoulders would be easy to spot, an abrupt shadowy interruption to the sharp angles and lines of the square rear portion of the building.
I knew it was a chance I had to take, if any car windows or other damage had been reported that night it would be easy to pin the blame on a couple of young punks walking around town with pellet rifles. I slid the gun out of my sleeve and positioned it on the roof, parallel to the eave. I hunched my shoulders and sat up on my knees and quickly poked the barrel of the gun down into the trough. Thus far I had not heard voices or seen any lights. I pushed the remainder of the gun under the buckle of the eave support straps and started to set it down when I heard a loud rustling sound and I froze. Apparently the barrel of the gun lodged itself on some sediment and when I pushed on the gun's stock, the sediment went 'swooshing' into the downspout. It was terribly loud and would be obvious to anyone in near vicinity of the north facing of the building. I flattened down on my stomach and was quiet for a few moments until I heard the sound of footsteps. The fire escape on the north side of the building was being accessed.
I took momentary comfort in the fact that it was the north side stairway; those old stairs only went to the second floor library. The comfort was short lived when I heard a echoing voice on the ground say, "stick around, I'm swinging around to the south". I was still unsure about what had been heard and if they even suspected I was on the roof or not but I knew I had better act fast or I'd be trapped in that corner and they'd be too close for me to move undetected. I decided to take a chance, having left the gun seemingly secure in the eaves, I crouched as I stood up and ran over toward the only exit from the roof. I peeked over the edge in time to see someone striding around the corner of the building heading right for the third floor fire escape.
Ducking down, I realized that I was indeed stuck there for the duration of their search and I needed to quickly pick the hill I would die on, or literally, the place I would hide. If, indeed they climbed onto the roof, I suspected that they would need to be within ten to fifteen feet proximity. I assumed they would be carrying a flashlight. With no light he might need to be even closer than 10 feet, I wasn't too sure. But as long as I was still and quiet he would almost have to trip over me to realize he wasn't alone on the roof.
There were two lines of thought on hiding that I had learned playing competitive games of hiding and seeking as a child. The first idea is to find a clandestine spot to hide in, batten the hatches and ride out the storm. If you could succeed in that approach, eventually the seekers would give up and renounce victory. This could prove to be a detrimental approach however; if the spot of choosing was either not secret enough, or stumbled upon blindly, there was no escape route to be had.
A big pile of leaves, a tall tree, a secluded window ledge these were all good spots I had once tried in sport, but if cornered, there was no where to run. For this reason, I carefully considered a second option that highlights flexibility over secrecy. Instead of tucking down in a place that could not be found, I could hide in a place that has good potential to hide me for the moment but would yield an easier escape.
I immediately thought of that tall pine tree in the school yard. Once the tree top got to be a familiar place to scan for the 'seekers' I would hide at the base of the tree trunk and then take off running if the seekers got too close. "Hide and bide" or "duck and chuck". "Bide" referred to counting time and patiently waiting for the seekers to give up. "Chuck" was my best friend in high school, he would always wear his soccer cleats, even in hide and seek games and he could cut and juke his way across an open field faster than anyone in plain sneakers. I wished Chuck was with me at that moment, I knew he would have a great plan to escape a high-altitude bind.
I wasn't wearing any cleats but I thought quickly and opted for a "duck and chuck" approach for two reasons. Firstly, there were no clandestine hiding spaces on this wasteland of flat space. Secondly, I knew where at least two officers were stationed and intended to use that to my advantage. None of the variations of hide-n-seek that I had played in childhood offered jail time as a consequence for being caught. I sincerely hoped that the hiding principles would still work with the stakes being significantly higher.
I did not see the benefit of lying out in the vast openness. If the officer caught a wild hare he might just step on me by dumb luck. I hugged the east wall, staying about 10 feet from the corner, a more obvious spot, I thought, and far away from the line he would take to walk over to the north wall where he could communicate with the other officer visibly. I was hoping this is what he would do after a cursory look around. Once he committed to that trek, I intended to double back to the fire escape and see if it worked as good as it name. I had no idea what I would do if I managed to get to the ground undetected but I could worry about that once falling three stories onto concrete was no longer a factor in the equation.
The only other thought I had was to climb up on the main roof and go over the top and slide down on the slope on the west facing of the school. This was ill-advised for several reasons however; mainly because that section was very steep and roofed with red clay shingles, the kind that look like the letter 'C' in 3D about 12 inches long. Clay shingles would be slippery and loud, if one broke loose the cacophony and collapse would create a landslide all the way back to the flat roof where I might avoid injury but surely not detection.
Having this much worked out in my mind created some peace and as I rested against the wall where I pondered the night thus far. I stole a quick glance at my Indiglo, it showed 10:37pm, still early enough to get in a few games of Super Mario 3 and Mega Man if I could only get home. I did not like the idea of being caught, as a nineteen year-old my parents would not need to be notified but the pellet gun issue would be questioned and I was not fond of the lies or lying in general. I hadn't actually done anything criminal yet but my situation already reeked of guilt and I had no inkling at the moment to embrace the long arm of the law and turn myself in.
The echo of the metal steps pivoting on their attachments brought me back to rapt attention. It wouldn't take more than a minute for him to reach the top landing. Police or not, making the climb over the railing wasn't for the faint of heart, perhaps he would chicken out, after all, I was not an escaped convict or complicit in some felonious activity. I considered that the officer may not be aware of these facts but I stayed still as the non-chicken placed his second foot over the rail. I had guessed right about the flashlight, I quickly pulled my coat over my head to cover my glasses and it got very dark and quiet. I could feel the vibration of his steps on the roof and hear him mumbling something but could sense nothing else. When the vibrations seemed to be diminishing I poked my head out above my collar. I could see a bit of his shadow from the light he was using, he looked like a pretty big guy.
My stalker took about five steps toward the southeast corner and shined the light in that direction revealing nothing but a stray tennis ball. The beam was heading my way but the handler of the light didn't appear to be moving closer. He noticed the exhaust fans and the glow passed over me like the angel of death and I was petrified.
After what seemed to be about 20 odd steps, I started to gather my courage. If I were to make my muffled, mad maneuver I would need to go soon. The silence parted with the sound of a clang and bang. As much as I could discern, the patroller had tripped on something and smacked his flashlight on the metal exhaust hood. I couldn't tell if he had fallen to the roof or just lost his balance but I decided this would be my moment. His bulb was not extinguished but it was shedding light toward the other corner where the rifle was stashed. He whispered something toward the ground that was unintelligible to me. "Probably telling his buddy that this was not in his job description", I thought to myself.
I decided that walking would make the least amount of noise and that he was too far away to see me, light or no light. Anyone on the ground to the south could see me, perhaps, but since I was heading down anyhow this did not concern me. I was pleased that my coat was dark grey and my Nikes were black, somehow, in my mind, these facts assured me of a successful escape.
I stood against the wall right on the edge of the roof and looked down, the thought of grabbing on to something solid gave me the boost I needed to take a risk. I reached out with both hands and lunged for the railing. I knew that I could trust it to hold me and that there was nothing to actually fear if I held on tightlywhich I certainly did. Achieving a major victory by climbing over to the top landing undetected, I quickly considered my next step. I decided that those top stairs were too creaky as they grind iron and sway in their moorings.
I climbed over the other railing and dangled from the landing by my white knuckles until my legs were still and vertical and then I let go. The sound I made was only a moderate 'thud' but the iron below me on the second landing screeched a bit. I peddled down the remaining stairs trying to support myself with my arms on the railings and treading lightly every third step. It seemed like there were twice as many stairs on the way down but I finally hit concrete with both feet and ducked behind the corner of the building. My legs were quivering again and I could hardly stand up but I was gaining strength now that I was back on solid footing.
The yelping dog was nowhere to be seen or heard and I took about 5 big steps and bounded back over the chain-link fence. The foliage was dewy but did well to conceal me. I trudged through the yard back to the side street where I had initially started my fleet fire escape-fleeing. I walked up to the corner and crossed to the other side of the road, I turned right and I was only a block from home. I crossed the street in front of my parents' house, the porch light was lit and I headed around to the back. I didn't see any police bulbs circling and it was strangely quiet. I peeked inside the garage and whispered for Neil, no answer. I grouped my way through the dark to garage attic stairway and called in a low voice for Neil again, no response. I turned toward the back of the house and snuck inside through the basement entryway.
The lights were on and I went back to the couch where our night started about 3 hours earlier, it felt good to lay down. I took a few deep breaths and realized, "I'm free" I almost said it too loud and it startled me. I had done it; all except returning the gun to its rightful place... the retrieval mission would have to wait. But I had avoided the police, out maneuvered and outsmarted them. I thought of my small town status and how scared I had been. I considered my escape and how strategic I had been to get away. Perhaps I could make it in the big city maybe after college? I was sure of one thing; it would take a lot more to intimidate me after this night.
I heard movement in the other room and poked my head through the door in time to see my dad coming in the basement door. He stopped and looked at me in surprise and I was at a loss for words. "Did you hear about the robbery down the street?", he asked. I shook my head, still unable to verbalize a response. My dad elaborated, "I guess a burglar was seen in the Ericson's backyard and four police cars swarmed the street and alley to surround him". "Neil showed up at the house almost an hour ago and when you didn't come back we decided to look for you". We weren't sure if the police had captured the burglar and we didn't want to attract attention so we were quiet, not shouting out your name but we looked all over the neighborhood for you". I was still struggling to find my voice "Where's Neil", were all the words I could summon.
My dad was about to continue his diatribe of discovery when the door opened and Neil limped in holding my dad's pellet rifle. "THERE you are, what happened to you? I was on the roof calling for you and why did you leave the rifle teetering on the brink of a crushing fall?", Neil was incredulous. "Well" I said, "the police were after us and I had my coat over my head and" Neil cut me off, "hold on a sec", interceding on behalf of 'reason', and he went over the events of the night thus far. The past hour of terror was starting to fit into an entirely different perspective for me and I wasn't sure if I was warming to the new context.
"Like you, I thought the police were after us but as I approached your parent's house I could see they were heading down the alley to the next block. I found out later they were looking for the burglar, the probably didn't even notice us." Neil's explanation was humiliation to me but he kept explaining anyhow. "You wasted over an hour of our time to hang-out lying in the dark on a roof and crawling through bushes?! Not to mention I banged up my ankle trying not to fall off that building" he sounded angry but he and my father were both grinning at this point, having some fun at my expense.
"Paranoia"! Danger and safety; fear and calm; terms hinging on interpretation. I admitted to myself days later that it was kind of funny. Running from imaginary trouble then making sport of evading Neil and my father thinking that they were the police searching for me apparently, my father also owns a flashlight. The sneaking, concocting lies, hiding the gun, risking life and limb on the fire escape and losing an hour of time with Neil, the whole thing was quite ridiculous.
I might try to explain my rationale some time in the future, talking among friends, rehashing the details about the night of the yelping dog and how all reason suggested the police were after me. I could see it making for a good story but a story ending in laughter, not high on drama. As I went to bed that night I closed my eyes and saw a big dog staring me down "paranoia", I mumbled, and went to sleep. A few weeks later I would drive down the alley by the old school and see the big dog digging in his back yard, he seemed no worse for wear. He didn't even bother to growl at my car.
I sent Neil an early Christmas gift, a small package; it was my attempt to get back a bit of my trampled ego. His reply via email was as follows: "When I opened your package I expected to find an impaled dog or some stuffed canine barking back at me you know, some joke about the night of the yelping dog. When I saw only a lone photo of that green oldsmobile covered in cat footprints with its window busted out I immediately panicked and thought, how did I not hear the glass break? I then realized you had doctored the photo I guess paranoia can come easy for us all. My grandpa often said that, 'Mercy belongs to the guilty for the innocent have no need.' The next time I come to visit you I think we should leave the guns at home and go see a movie" I could not have agreed more.