“You’re a funny man, Chopper.”
I slid out of the booth, said I had to leave. Chopper said he had to scoot, too, and followed me out of the restaurant, one hand working his chair and the other balancing a carton of milk and an envelope of fries. I exited in front of him, holding the door open. That’s when I saw the black teenager striding toward me, walking with purpose, his hands wrapped around a twelve-gauge Mossberg pump gun with pistol grip.
You feel it in your stomach before you understand it in your head, the animal-like mixture of fear and confusion that makes you flinch, then freezes you in place until the brain has a chance to analyze the danger. If the brain takes too long, you’ll stand there, paralyzed with uncertainty, until the danger overwhelms you, like a deer in the headlights. But if the brain is well trained, with plenty of experience, you just might have enough time …
I dove headlong between two cars parked side by side in the lot. A shotgun blast took out a chunk of headlight. Another smashed a windshield. I ran forward in a crouch, fumbling for my Beretta, trying to get it out from under my jacket. A third blast sprang the trunk as I swung behind the far vehicle. I came up with the Beretta in both hands. The shooter was facing me, pointing the pump gun at me, yet he was looking at Chopper through the window of the restaurant door, Chopper just sitting there munching fries, watching.
I fired three times, hitting the teenager in the chest. Dead center.
I moved slowly toward his fallen body, breathing hard, my gun trained on his chest, my hands trembling slightly, waiting for him to move. He didn’t. I had won again. Yet you can’t win them all. Just ask the kid lying flat on his back, his right hand still clutching the pistol grip of the Mossberg.
Chopper pushed through the door. Now he was sipping from his carton of milk.
“Holy shit,” he said.
I bent over the teenager and put two fingers on his carotid artery. Blood was forming a puddle under his body, spreading across the asphalt, but none was pumping through his neck. I felt nauseous and faint, like I hadn’t eaten in three days. I moved to the back of the parked car, set my gun on the trunk lid and leaned against the fender, sucking air through my mouth. I had managed to go all those years since the convenience store shooting without pointing a gun at anyone. What tough work was necessary I was able to perform with my hands. Now I’d killed two men in two days.
The air was loud with sirens as I emptied my insides onto the dirty asphalt.
I gave my statement six times, starting with the officers at the scene and ending with Minneapolis Police Lieutenant Clayton Rask and the assistant county attorney at about nine p.m. Everyone wanted to know what I had against Cleave Benjamn. That was the kid’s name, Cleave Benjamn.
The final statement was made in front of a videotape camera in room 108, the Minneapolis Police Department’s homicide office located in the “Pink Palace,” the city building noted for its gothic architecture and pink granite facade. For some reason the camera made me nervous. And humiliated. Still, I tried as best I could to sit up straight and look directly into the lens when I answered Rask’s questions.
“No, I didn’t know him.”
“No, I never saw him before.”
“No, he didn’t say anything.”
“Yes, he was awfully young.”
“No, I didn’t see anyone else.”
“No, I don’t know why he was shooting at me.”
“No, I don’t know why he would want to do that.”
“Yes, I have a permit to carry a concealed weapon.”
“No, I don’t believe it’s a license to kill.”
The carry permit seemed to irritate them more than the shooting. It was issued to me by the sheriff of Itasca County. Itasca County is where my lake home is located. I had once done a favor for the sheriff.
“Goddamn rurals hand these out like they were party favors,” Rask told the ACA. The ACA agreed.
“McKenzie, listen to me.” Lieutenant Rask was smiling like we were pals, a very scary sight. “If you talk to me, maybe I can help you get through this.”
It wasn’t the first time I considered lawyering up.
“I’ve told you everything I know, LT.” I was smiling, too. “Check with the witnesses. Uptown early on a Thursday afternoon, there must have been a hundred people saw what happened, easy.”
“Are you telling me how to do my job, McKenzie?”
“Of course not.”
Rask told me he was asking the questions. He told me to shut up unless I wanted to spend the night in a holding cell. Then he asked me if I had anything to say that might make things easier on me.
I assumed we weren’t friends anymore.