He smiled, an amazing thing to do, and swung the sawed-off in a small arch toward me. I was too good a shot to miss from that distance. Wham! Wham! Wham! I hit him three times in the chest. The force of the nine-millimeter slugs lifted and spun him. His legs hit the low, wooden porch railing and he spilled over it into the front yard.
I moved toward him quickly, keeping the gun trained on his chest, my hands shaking slightly, my breath coming fast. I knew right away he was dead. I didn’t have to touch him, didn’t have to feel for a pulse, didn’t have to hold a mirror to his nostrils. He was dead, his leg and arm twisted under his body. He looked like he had fallen from the sky. I watched him for a long time, watched until repulsion over what I had done made me stagger to a corner of my house hidden by an ancient pine tree and throw up.
There are so many emergencies and so few officers to respond, sometimes 911 will ring ten, twenty, thirty times or more before it’s answered. Only at five-twenty-five in the morning it was answered on the second ring. I asked for the cops. They routed me to the St. Anthony Village Police Department. Not to be confused with St. Anthony Park, St. Anthony Village is a northern suburb nowhere near Falcon Heights, yet supplies police services for it just the same. I told them a man was dead in my front yard. Then I went upstairs. Three navy blue squad cars with distinctive gray stripes were parked in front of my house by the time I finished buttoning my shirt. I left the Heckler & Koch in the bedroom.
I stepped out of the front door onto the porch, pushing my shirt tails into my pants. All three officers reached for their guns, yet no one pulled. I made sure they saw my empty hands, then did a slow pirouette to prove I had concealed nothing. They kept their hands resting on their gun butts just the same. They were good boys.
“You do this?” one of them asked. His voice was nervous and a little too loud. His name tag read T. JOHNSON. He ran six feet, one-eighty-five, the same size as the dead man.
I descended three of the four steps before he grabbed my shoulder, pulled me off the steps, spun me around, and pushed my face against the low, wooden porch railing. He wound one cuff over my right wrist and brought it down behind my back. He brought my left wrist around and secured it tightly. For good measure he pushed my face into the railing, again.
He bounced me off the railing a third time and sat me on the top step.
“This guy is dead,” one officer said, his fingers on the black man’s carotid artery.
“How?” Johnson asked.
“Asphyxiation,” I said.
“There are three bullet holes in his chest,” the officer answered.
“That’s why he stopped breathing.” Sometimes I just can’t help myself—we all deal with fear in our own way.
“Shut up.” Johnson smacked me on the side of my face.
Two more officers arrived by that time, making five. They all seemed so young. Each took a turn at examining the body. Finally, I yelled, “Hey, you bozos! Didn’t anyone ever teach you about maintaining the integrity of a crime scene?”
Johnson didn’t like that. He took a few steps toward me and I braced, waiting for another blow. It didn’t come. Before he could raise his hand two men drove up in an unmarked car. The driver was white and wore sergeant stripes. The passenger was a big black man, bigger than Johnson by three inches, heavier by forty pounds. He wore plain clothes and an imperious expression.
He looked at the officers one by one, would have looked them each straight in the eye except all but Johnson had bowed their heads, school kids caught playing while their teacher was in the hall. I couldn’t help but smile. He was a crime dog. I could see it in his face.
The sergeant went through the crowd of officers, dispersing them. He fit all of Hollywood’s criteria of an ideal law enforcement officer—tall, mean, a perpetual squint. I watched from the steps as he examined the body, moving around it like he’d seen dead men before. Finally, he looked up at me.
“You didn’t like him at all, did you?”
I almost smiled, probably would have except that was the moment Tiger started yapping from the sidewalk. Tiger was a purebred schnauzer owned by Karl Olson, my next-door neighbor. He was straining at the leash that Karl held tight with his right hand. In his left, Karl carried a small plastic bag containing Tiger’s morning deposits. The expression on his face made me think that Karl thought I also belonged in the plastic bag.
“Can we do this inside?” I asked.
The crime dog nodded. He stopped me when I tried to move past him, took my chin in a huge hand, held my face steady so he could get a good look at it.
“There’s swelling,” he said.
“I must have fallen down the stairs,” I told him.
He released my face and we went inside. Johnson held the door open for us. He avoided the crime dog’s gaze as we passed.
I led the crime dog to my bedroom and gestured at the nine on the night stand. He retrieved it and sniffed the barrel.
“Oh yeah, she’s been working.”