By J Von Ree
Copyright © 2017
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or business establishments, organizations or locales is completely coincidental.
The ride home from the library was the usual swing and sway as the large metro bus went around corners, straining to leave downtown Seattle behind, and work its way up Capitol Hill. There were few passengers riding the 10pm bus, giving Janice West the solitude to re-examine the argument she had with her mother.
It was a silly subject; Janice wanted to watch a football game and her mother wanted to watch some boring show on PBS. That rolled into Janice wanting a TV in her room, and her mother forbidding it. Which led to her stomping out of the house and going to the library to research job opportunities on the Internet.
With her stop coming up, Janice rang the bell for the driver to let her off, and then . . . what?
Janice didn’t remember stepping onto the sidewalk and the bus pulling away.
It was like she’d lost her place in time. She found herself standing in the street, frozen in place and unable to move, her whole body numb and her mind refusing to process what just happened.
There had been the flash of headlights, squealing tires and then the collision. Of all the things that happened in that one moment of chaos, her mind kept replaying a single moment.
The night air was cool on her skin.
The man’s touch was warm. And brief. And horrid. A mere caress, yet she knew it would be forever seared into her memory.
The cool air, and then the touch.
It took a few moments for Janice to start regaining her senses; sight, hearing, smell. She was standing in the street, facing a mini-van that was smashed and resting on its side. Fluids hissed and spat as they came in contact with the hot engine, causing smoke and steam to billow out from under the crumpled hood. An acrid combination of odors filled the air.
The glass of the van’s tinted windows were crazed in manic spider webs, creating crystalline pebbles that fell into the dark interior.
Then, as if shaking itself awake after the violent collision, the vehicle quivered. From inside came a low moan, then silence. More hissing steam came from under the front, then the van rocked, causing it to tip a few inches on its side.
A hand balled into a fist broke out what remained of a shattered window.
Miraculously, a male passenger poked out his head, bloody from a gash above his eye. Seemingly larger that the hole he was trying to fit through, he rolled his shoulders from side to side, making slow progress to emerge from the dark body of the wrecked minivan. As he struggled he stopped long enough to take deep, gasping, breaths, then went back to pushing himself up and out. As soon as his broad shoulders were past the tight opening, he was able to extract the rest of his body before landing on his back.
In the back of her mind, Janice knew she should try to help him. Instead she kept watching him emerge. His escape brought no sense of relief. Rooted in place, she watched him gather his wits, and then stand up.
He was a big guy, both in height and stature, wearing a football jersey and blue jeans. Minor lacerations on his face and hands seem to be his only injuries.
A voice came from inside and the footballer crawled back onto the up side of the mangled van. His muscular arms strained, the corded muscles of his neck bulged and thick veins popped up as his face grimaced with his efforts. Like a rabbit out of a demented magician’s hat, he pulled another passenger free. He too was wearing a football jersey, only he wasn’t nearly as large as the first passenger to exit.
By now the residents of the neighborhood were coming from their houses.
Doors opened, creating rectangles of illumination on lawns and sidewalks as people stepped into the night air. Some were clutching bathrobes closed; others were rising up on tip toes to see what was going on. Groups formed, creating zones of comfort for the people whose neighborhood peace had been suddenly shattered.
Voices murmured as hands gestured and then collided, testing out theories and explanations of what had just happened in the surrealistic aftermath of speed and steel gone out of control.
From the corner of her eye, Janice saw solitary shapes moving around. The perimeter of the light cast by the overhead street light briefly illuminating the faces of ghoulish voyeurs cruising for an emotional kick.
The van shuddered again.
Janice looked from the spectators back to the wreck. A third footballer crawled out of the window with the help of his two friends.
The creaking metal of car doors being forced open changed Janice’s focus.
Behind her, two police officers pushed their way out of a wrecked patrol car. One of them walked right in front of her as if she was invisible. He held a radio in his hand. Cursing under his breath as he surveyed the area, he then keyed the microphone, requesting an ambulance and emergency support.
The other cop stood still for a moment to gather his wits, then walked to the largest of the three bodies lying on the grass beyond where Janice stood. In the shadows he crouched down to get a better look. Janice knew what he’d find. No one lands like that and gets up, even if he did touch her face as he went by.
Her mind flashed with momentary images of what had just happened.
She could still see the man’s trajectory as he flew past her; just inches away as his body traced a back-flip through the air, his arms and legs fully extended. His expression was a bizarre combination of blankness and surprise. The arc of his flight caused him to make one and a half rotations before he hit the ground face first, his body bending the wrong way as it formed a tight, bone crunching circle. For an instant his buttocks rested on his shoulders, his eyes looking at the back of his heels. He came to rest, then slumped over to his left side, motionless.
The kneeling police officer turned his head away from what he saw, and Janice’s world started to spin. She found herself fighting off spasms in her stomach that threatened to double her over. It was a victory just to keep control and stay on her feet.
Soon, other police cars arrived, along with ambulances and fire trucks. Janice watched as each arriving vehicle added its flashing lights to those already there.
More and more emergency personnel arrived; disbursing themselves throughout the area, organizing the chaos. As their fellow officers controlled the accident scene, the cops from the crashed patrol car meekly went with paramedics to be checked out.
Two of the football players also went to an ambulance to be examined. But the first one out of the minivan frantically motioned firefighters to the wrecked vehicle.
Janice watched a paramedic put his hand on the big guy’s elbow to lead him away from the wreckage. The footballer stood his ground, saying, “Ashley’s still in there!”
Janice flinched back. Still in shock, it hadn’t occurred to her that any of the actors in this weird event would have names.
The big guy frantically pointed at the minivan, refusing to move. “You’ve got to get her out!” His voice carried a sniveling quality that conflicted with his size.
At that moment Janice realized that although the football player was a big guy, he was just a kid, probably on his way home from a high school game.
Police officers, still organizing the accident scene, quickly directed away spectators. “Excuse me, Miss, you’re going to have to move on.”
A paramedic was walking up to Janice, and he saw the right side of her face; the side touched by the flying man. He reached towards her saying, “Why don’t you walk over to the ambulance.”
Janice’s whole body shivered in revulsion. The panic in her voice surprised her as much as the paramedic. “Don’t touch me!”
The paramedic looked around, then waved to someone in the distance.
Janice stayed where she was, watching as two policemen coaxed the big kid over to an ambulance.
Firefighters crawled into the van through doors pried open with long steel bars.
A police officer walked up to Janice. “Hi, honey, had a rough night?” Her voice was soothing, her eyes kind under the polished brim of her hat.
“Sort of,” Janice said, her answer sounding to her like a small child’s.
Slowly reaching out with both hands, the policewoman gently took Janice’s hands in hers. When the policewoman touched her, it was like the officer’s kindness traveled from her hands to Janice’s body; starting as a warm feeling in her fingers and spreading up her arms, then throughout her torso.
“Why don’t we step to the side so the firemen can do their job.”
Janice was going to agree right away, but it seemed like an eternity for her lips to form a response. “Okay.” After a moment, she got her feet moving enough to let herself be led to a nearby police car.
“Are you hurt?”
Janice looked at the police woman then back at the mini-van. “I don’t think so. I just feel . . . strange.”
“Do you want to sit down?”
Janice shook her head. “No. Not yet.”
“That’s alright, honey. You can stand here.” The policewoman used the radio on her belt, talking into it briefly before turning back to Janice. “Did you see the accident happen?”
Janice nodded yes.
The policewoman was using her radio again, then said something to Janice.
“What?” Janice asked.
“I said I’ve been called to another location.”
The policewoman saw the look on her face. “It’s alright. I’ll have another officer come over.”
A feeling of loss went through Janice as she saw the policewoman leave, working her way through the fire trucks, police cars, ambulances, and wreckers. In the distance, Janice saw the policewoman talk to a policeman that towered above everyone else at the accident scene. He listened for a moment, then cocked his head her way. It was easy to read his lips as he said, I’ll handle it.
The tall policeman started towards her, purposefully working his way through the emergency equipment. The way he led his body with his front shoulder gave him a curios gait of self-importance. He was about ten yards away from her when his foot found a glistening puddle of oil. He was on his way down as he flailed his arms in an ungraceful attempt to stay on his feet. The cop did keep from falling, but it was obvious his pride was injured. He turned to give an expression of searing scorn to the insolent patch of oil.
Janice realized that despite the wrecked cars, bodies on the ground, and a girl trapped, the most important thing to the approaching cop was his own image.
It took a few strides, but Janice saw that the policeman quickly recover his swagger. By the time he stopped in front of her, Janice was fighting back a most inappropriate feeling of giddiness.
“May I see some ID, ma’am?” the policeman asked.
Janice dug into her purse. It took a moment, but she found something with her name on it. She handed it to the cop.
Looking up at the police officer’s deadly-serious expression forced Janice to put her hand over her mouth. She wondered what was wrong with her as a giggle escaped from her throat.
“Is this your full name,” the officer asked, his eyes gauging her, “Janice Louise West?”
Afraid to speak, Janice nodded. She didn’t know what was going on, certainly not anything humorous. Still, another titter leaked out.
The officer’s face, harshly illuminated by the sodium street lights, seemed exaggerated. Square jawed and with a flattop hair cut, he looked like a caricature of a tough cop. “This is all the I.D. you have? You don’t have a driver’s license, or anything else?”
“All I have is that library card,” she nodded to his hand, “and I’ve never got a ticket for speed reading.”
Janice saw the policeman’s chest rise as he took in a breath. She could tell he didn’t appreciate her humor. Janice turned away to keep from laughing in his face.
Two of the football players from the overturned mini-van left the paramedics and walked back to their large friend. They faced each other in an impromptu huddle. The big kid pointed to the window he’d crawled out of, recreating his efforts to free himself. As the football kid told of his struggles, his gestures seemed familiar. It took her a moment to realize he looked like a cheerleader going through a complicated routine.
This time it was more than a giggle that escaped Janice’s control.
“Sorry,” she said to the police officer, trying to compose herself. Looking down to avoid eye contact with him, she noticed her clothes. For the first time she saw the blood splatters on her white blouse and light blue skirt. She knew the whole situation should be treated with the proper amount of decorum. In an effort to keep control, Janice tried to focus her thoughts on the most proper person she knew: her mother.
Margaret McCalister-West was a lady in every way: refined tastes, common sense, and a respectable widow. The sight of her clothes spattered with blood wouldn’t amuse her in the least.
Janice found herself losing her inner battle for proper decorum. She looked intently at the three football players talking to each other. Without her bidding, Janice imagined one of the group saying, “Coach says to go long.”
Knowing that her thoughts were getting more surreal, Janice tried to shift her mind back to her mother. She knew Margaret McCalister-West didn’t understand Janice’s obsession with football. She didn’t know why her daughter liked watching large, sweaty men lurch forward in growling confrontations; tackling and hitting and grunting.
“Sometimes a player is hit so hard his collar goes flying through the air.” Janice said out loud.
“What was that, miss?” the officer asked. “You said something about a collar.”
“I meant a helmet. Sometimes a hard hit knocks off his helmet.” Janice saw the puzzled look on the officer’s face. The reflection of the flashing red and blue emergency lights gave his eyes a demented look. Janice felt like asking the officer if he was alright, and was hit by another compulsion to laugh. “It wouldn’t be proper,” Janice said, chiding herself.
“Proper?” the officer asked.
Janice put her hand over her mouth to hide the smile. Watching the way the cop conducted himself with such gravity made the giddiness inside her want to bubble out even more.
“I know this is hard, miss, but I’d appreciate it if you could give me a brief statement.
“You want a BRIEF statement?” Janice asked, trying hard to keep everything inside.
“Yes, ma’am,” the officer said, nodding his head.
“Touchdown!” It exploded out before Janice knew she had said it, holding her arms up like a referee signaling a score.
The officer’s face was deadpan.
“Don’t you get it?” Janice asked, and then all of it escaped. The gales of laughter rolled out of Janice uncontrollably. “It’s like football,” she said, gasping for air. He must get the joke then. “You know football, don’t you? The ball is snapped and the bodies go flying.”
Janice stopped abruptly. “Oh, I’m sorry.” She put her hand to her face where the man had touched her. “I shouldn’t say flying. That’s not a nice thing to say.” Janice took control of herself again. “At least, not now.” She put her hand above her forehead then drew it down, like she was wiping a smile off of her face. It lasted a couple of seconds before the laughter erupted again.
The officer’s shoulders slumped down as he lowered his writing pad. He turned, acknowledging a young lady dressed in a stylish pants-suit walking towards them. “She’s all yours,” he said, a touch of anger in his voice. He handed the lady a piece of paper.
The lady read the officer’s notes then looked at Janice. “Hi,” she said, brushing a strand of blond hair away from her face, “I’m Tracy Rooney.”
Opening the back door of a nearby police car, Tracy said, “Why don’t you sit here.”
“Are you with the team?” Janice asked. As she sat, she kept her feet on the ground, the slant of the seat making her feel off-kilter.
Tracy smiled patiently. “I’m a crisis counselor. I work with the Seattle Police Department.”
Janice said,“And I’m…” She was going to say, a bloody mess, but didn’t.
Tracy scribbled on a small writing pad. “Just relax, Miss West. You don’t have to make a statement right now.”
“Why not?” Janice gave her head a shake as flashes of memory pushed their way past the subject of football. “Are you afraid his wife will find out?” she asked, pointing to the man lying on the ground. Janice noticed that someone had covered him with a blanket.
“I think she’s already been notified of her husband’s death,” Tracy said.
Janice saw the grave look on Tracy’s face and burst out laughing again. She was lucky she was sitting in the police car. If not, she would have laughed herself all the way to the ground. She was laughing so hard she couldn’t breathe. It was almost like racking sobs. Almost like she was crying. Almost like she cared about the man that had went flying through the air; touching her face as he made his imitation of a wide receiver tumbling after an hard hit. “Usually only one goes flying like that. Not three at once,” she said.
Like an emotional volcano, the laughter came again, spewing out uncontrollably. It was so unseemly, so unladylike to be laughing like that. Her mother wouldn’t approve.
Calmly, Tracy looked at her, waiting for the emotions to run their course.
Janice knew she was off again. The more she laughed, the more she felt like she was crying. It was the wildest ride she’d ever been on.
“It’s all right, Miss.” Tracy said, looking uncomfortable.
“It was so beautiful,” Janice said. “He should have been able to spike the ball.” The ride was starting again. Laughter that took her up in waves, peaking at the top, then plunging her down to tears.
Wiping her eyes, Janice looked through the windshield of the police car. She watched a firefighter placing a blanket into the wrecked mini-van, covering someone inside.
The big football kid was watching too, sinking to his knees as he buried his face in his hands.
“Who should have spiked the ball?” Tracy asked.
Seeing the blanket being spread over the girl was like having someone punch her in the stomach, instantly deflating her body. Her hand shaking, Janice pointed to the bodies lying on the ground. “That prick with the dogs.” Her mother always seemed so poised and in control. She would never use such a crude word, no matter what the circumstances.
“Did you know him?” Tracy asked.
“Intimately,” Janice said flatly.
Tracy looked at her. “You knew him intimately?”
Janice kept more profanity from escaping her control.
“Actually, I knew his dogs intimately. Or at least, they knew me.”
A few minutes before, the expression on Tracy’s face would have collapsed Janice with laughter. Now, all she felt was a smoldering hate. “How else would you describe two big animals charging at you? Sniffing and growling as they stick their noses in your crotch.”
Tracy scribbled in her pad. “When did that happen?”
Janice stood up. A wave of nervous energy made her pace beside the police car. “At night, when I would get off the bus.” She pointed at the curb where the wrecked police cruiser had knocked a Metro sign to the ground. “I would come home from work, step off the bus, and the Prick would be there.” She had the urge to walk over to the two dark shapes lying close together on the ground. She took a step towards them, but stopped herself.
“He lived right there.” Janice motioned to the house next to the bus stop. “I’d never know when he’d be standing there, hiding in the bushes. I’d get off the bus, and the Prick would whisper to his dogs.” Janice looked over at the two lifeless Dobermans again. “He didn’t think I could hear what he said, but I did.”
Instead of going over to the dogs, Janice walked to the other side of the police car. “Sometimes I could see the dog’s eyes shining in the darkness, waiting for his command. Their little butts quivering as they wagged their stubby tails.”
Janice never wanted to do anything so bad in her life, but she resisted going over to the dogs. “He’d lean down and say. . .‘Pussy.’”
Tracy’s pencil stopped.
“The Prick would sick his dogs on me. But they wouldn’t bite. They’d back me down the street, growling and slobbering on clothes.”
Janice looked from Tracy, back over to the dogs.
“I thought about kicking them, or giving them a good shot of pepper spray, but what would happen the next time I stepped off the bus? Would they sniff, or bite?”
Even though the dogs were already dead, she still wanted to kick them, to have the satisfaction of her foot impacting their bodies. “One time, I saw his wife looking out the window when he sicked his dogs on me. Do you know what she did?”
Tracy didn’t answer.
“She closed the drapes. So I’m sure she didn’t see what happened tonight. But I did.” Janice leaned her hands on the hood of the police car like she was waiting to be frisked. “It was beautiful.” She felt the laugh and the sob and the profanity escaped all together. “Just fucking beautiful.” Janice didn’t care about the rancor in her voice or that someone might hear. It was all coming out, too fast to keep under control.
“I was trying to keep my purse between me and those dogs. That’s why I carry a big purse; because of the Prick and his dogs. One of them got his head under my skirt. I felt his cold nose right where it shouldn’t be. It was disgusting. I was still backing up when he called off his dogs. He’d act like he was saving me. Like I was too goddamn stupid to know what he was doing.
“That’s when the cars came speeding down the street. A black Camero being chased by the police car.” Nodding over to the tangled mess of the two cars, Janice blinked several times. “The mini-van came from the side street. The Camero swerved around it, but not the cops. They hit the van on the passenger side and it flipped over. The cop car was deflected towards the bus stop.” She turned away from the wreckage. “It plowed right into the Prick and his dogs.”
Janice walked back and sat in the police car again.
“It was fucking beautiful,” she said softly. “Like they were all synchronized together. The Prick went right past me. He was so close I felt his hand touch my face. And the dogs; their legs were stiff and their backs arched. I swear they were in slow-motion, spinning in the air.”
Janice started to describe the way urine was jetting out of one of the dogs, spraying in a sickening arc; the stream dividing into individual drops that sparkled in the street lights. She looked at Tracy and decided not to share the image. “It seemed like it took forever for them to land.” Janice slumped back on the seat, took a deep breath, blew it out. “They bounced a couple of times, and then stopped.”
She was standing on her feet again, pacing. “I might have been standing there if the Prick hadn’t sicked his dogs on me.” She felt a crooked smile come across her face. “The pervert saved my life,” she said, shaking her head.
Janice looked up as the parents of one of the teenagers arrived. The father looked ghostly white as he supported his wife. The smallest of the football guys went to them. He pointed at the crumpled van as the father restrained his wife, keeping her from running to where their daughter was tangled in the wreckage.
The firefighters were putting down their jaws-of-life and peeling open the mini-van.
“Is she. . .” Janice couldn’t finish the sentence.
“I think she’ll be alright,” Tracy said. “They had to cut apart the van to get her out.
“Thank God,” Janice said to herself, then looked at Tracy. “When they covered her up, I thought she was…” Janice hesitated, then whispered “…dead.”
“The firemen did that to protect her while they were working.”
Both her a Tracy watched silently as the girl was carefully extracted on a backboard. Her blue and red cheerleading costume looked impossibly crisp as she emerged from the wreckage. There was a clean white bandage around one of her ankles. They were just about to carry the girl to an ambulance when she motioned back to the wrecked mini-van. One of the firefighters reached in and retrieved a long hair extension.
Janice looked at Tracy, who was shaking her head.
“Well,” Tracy said, a note of disbelief in her voice, “we all have our priorities.”
When the big football kid saw his girlfriend wave her hair extension at him, he hi-fived his friends in joy.
The girl’s parents followed her to the ambulance, her mother holding her hand.
Janice suddenly felt very tired. She wiped tears from her own face with the back of her hand. “I’m going home,” she said flatly. “I kind of want to be with my mother. We were arguing when I left the house. Now, all I want to do is get back to her.”
“Maybe you should be checked by a paramedic,” Tracy suggested.
“No, thank you. I’ll be alright.”
“Here’s my card,” Tracy said, extending a small rectangle of white. “Call me tomorrow. It’ll help to talk this out.”
“Thanks,” Janice said, standing up from the police car. She started walking down the street. After a few paces, Janice turned back, looking at the three lifeless bodies.
Whispering to herself she said, “The pervert saved my life.”
Janice stepped off the Metro bus and knew the man was hiding in the bushes of his yard. At this time of night he was always there with his two big Dobermans. And as always his wife stayed inside; safe behind the window curtains, so she never saw the tricks her husband liked to play in the dark.