If we’re lucky, our ticket isn’t collected until we’re old and gray and dying is as easy as closing our eyes and whispering good-bye. If we aren’t—but what does it matter? When it’s time for our tickets to get punched, it’s time. Neither when nor where nor why nor how many people mourn our passing nor the quality of their tears will make a bit of difference. The conductor simply punches our ticket and sends us home.
I broke my rule against drinking in the morning, stopping at Plum’s just down the street. I had a CB and water, but it didn’t do me any good so I had another. After the third drink I decided I had had enough.
A half hour later I was home. I wrote a detailed report on my PC that explained what I knew, what I thought I knew, and what I was going to do about it. I printed four copies and sealed each in an envelope along with disks containing copies of my notes. I addressed the envelopes to Bobby Dunston, Clayton Rask, Chief Casey, and Richard Carlson and left them in the center of my desk. Just in case.
Embedded in the floor of my basement is a safe. It’s where I keep my guns. I opened the safe and withdrew an extra magazine for the Beretta .380. I also pulled out a hand grenade, circa 1945, with ridges cut deep into the heavy metal to make fragmentation easier. It had been given to me a year earlier by a World War II vet I once did a favor for, a guy who was at the Battle of the Bulge and Remagen Bridge and who now lives in Hibbing. After all this time, neither of us knew if the grenade would still work.
“Let’s hope we don’t find out,” I told myself as I slipped it into the pocket of my Minnesota Timberwolves sport jacket. The .380 was on my hip.
I drove past the apartment building in Richfield, turned around, and drove past it again. A sleek Jaguar XJ6 was parked in the lot next to the two black Chevy vans—who says crime doesn’t pay? I turned south on the next street and followed it to the hole in the chain-link fence behind the apartment building. The empty field between the hole and the rear of the building made me nervous. I would be so exposed. Then there was the thick glass in the back door—easy to see through, easy to shoot through. That made me nervous, too. I couldn’t see a sentry with my binoculars but that didn’t mean he wasn’t there. I’d certainly station one at the back entrance, wouldn’t you? I hesitated for a few minutes, told myself, A guy in a T’wolves jacket cutting across a vacant lot, why would anyone get excited about that? I took a deep breath.
“Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” I muttered to myself, which was something my father probably would have said if he had been around. Either that or “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” He had a cliché for every occasion. For a long time I thought he made them up as he went along.
I left the car, squeezed through the hole in the fence, and quickly followed the path to the rear of the apartment building. I watched the door as I went. Saw no one. I paused outside the door. Through the glass I could see the corridor that ran the length of the building. Two black men holding automatic rifles were clearly visible just inside the front entrance. They were talking, their backs to me. Several large packing crates were stacked along the corridor walls between me and them. They looked like the boxes refrigerators came in. I took several more deep breaths, slipped the Beretta from its holster and activated it. Quitters never win and winners never quit. I went inside. In retrospect, it was one of the dumbest things I have ever done. Also the most amazing. I have no idea who I was pretending to be.
“What are you doing?” a voice called out.
“Oh oh.” I flattened against a refrigerator box, hiding.
“You’re supposed to be at the back door,” the voice screamed.
“Chill, man, I’m watchin’. I’s just talkin’ to my bro.”
“Don’t give me that shit, man. You suppose to be guardin’ the back door.”
“Ain’t no thing.”
“Tell that to Stalin. Now git your black ass back where you belong ’fore he see you. Move now.”
I listened as two sets of footsteps approached my hiding place. They were hard to hear on the carpet over the loud and imaginative curses the screamer was laying on the guard who’d neglected his post. The cursing continued as they passed me.
“Don’t move,” I said. I was trying to sound forceful but I doubt my words came out that way.
The two black men were startled. They swiveled their heads to look behind them. I made sure they saw the gun I held with two hands at eye level.
“Don’t talk. Don’t think. Just get against the wall. Do it now.”
They did what I told them.
“Set the rifle on the floor. Do it now.”
The guard thought about it. “I’ve already killed two of you,” I hissed. That convinced him. He dropped the rifle and the two men assumed the position without my telling them to.
“You dead, man,” the screamer told me.
I ignored the remark. “Call your friend.”
I poked the muzzle of the gun into his eye. He cried out in pain.
A voice from down the hall. “What is it?”
“Call him,” I hissed.
“Get down here,” the screamer yelled.
“Get your ass down here.”
The other sentry came running.
“Drop the gun. Up against the wall.”
He looked at me, looked at his friends.