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He awoke abruptly in the chair, thinking that he had heard something but not able to identify it – perhaps a dream. An old black and white movie was showing on his TV.
“George?” he called out, but there was no answer.
Then he heard clearly the shouting from outside, someone yelling obscenities. It sounded as though there might be a fight close by. His watch told him it was a little after 1 A.M. He listened more intently to the yelling and was puzzled at the sound of what he was certain was his own name. He soon distinguished the words, “Prewitt, you sonuvabitch, come on out here. I’m gonna kill you!”
He went to the window and could make out the silhouette of a figure in the yard, but the reflection on the glass from the inside lights made it impossible to see anything that would help define who was yelling.
“There you are, you rat,” Mason heard. Someone set off a firecracker and the glass near his head tinkled and slowly disintegrated inward. It was one of his stained glass panels, a bird of paradise in a heart wrenching cascade of blues and reds. His first thought was that someone had thrown a rock through his window.
“I’ll get you, you asshole!” the visitor in the yard yelled. There was another popping sound and Mason heard something strike the side of the house. Someone was shooting at him.
“Shit!” Mason exclaimed and slammed himself back against the wall beside the window. His heart pounded with frightening intensity as he breathlessly sucked in air through his mouth. Another section of the window shattered and Mason saw a puff of dust rise from the binding of a book on the shelf across the room. There was a neat hole in the book.
“You can’t fool with my life and avoid paying the price, shyster!”
With only a slight sense of relief, Mason identified the shooter.
“Is that you, Borst?” he yelled out through the broken window.
“You’re fuckin’ right it is, shithead!” There was another shot, but Mason didn’t hear it hit anything. Borst sounded drunk. Maybe he had missed the house.
Mason felt himself grinning. His heartbeat slowed to a steady ruthless rhythm. In a world of circumstances that were all unfavorable and all beyond his control, here had been bestowed upon him the chance to do something definitive and final. At last he could strike back.
Crawling on his hands and knees and now coldly calculating every move, he doused the lights in that room and dodged carefully through the rest of the house, extinguishing all the other lights. A pattern of bullet-shattered windows followed him. An emerald tree in a pastoral stained glass lost its leaves. A school of golden fishes sank to the bottom.
In the bedroom Mason took his .32 automatic from the dresser, checked to make sure the clip was full and shoved the rest of the box of bullets into his pants pocket. He was ready and he was determined.
“They can’t do this to me,” he muttered to himself.
Mason crept back to the kitchen window and peered carefully out into the yard. He saw the beach ball shape of his barbecue, the pillar shapes of a couple tree trunks, and the broken outlines of bushes, but no Borst. He concentrated on detecting movement, expecting it to show before the recognizable shape of a man. There was nothing. Could Borst have passed out or departed, denying Mason the opportunity for retribution?
“Borst, are you out there,” Mason called through a broken window.
The answer came back loud and clear. “What’s the matter, faggot? You hopin’ I might have left already?” He was behind one of the trees. There was a muzzle flash and one of Mason’s steins exploded behind him into a shower of ceramic shards.
Mason pointed his pistol in the general direction of Borst’s location and pulled the trigger. The little pistol kicked viciously, leaving Mason with the satisfying feeling that he had just figuratively landed a punch on Borst. He had never shot the pistol before. He liked it. He fired again and broke into a laugh of delight.
Borst answered with his own laugh. “All right cocksucker,” he called. “You wanna make it more interesting. That’s good!”
Mason ducked down and Borst put three shots through the window that Mason had just vacated. Two more steins disintegrated. Borst was not so drunk that his aim was bad. Mason crawled to another window and fired two shots at the crouched shape running between tree trunks. Without waiting for a reply, he ducked down again and quickly scurried off to the recreation room that was around the corner and at the farthest end of the L-shaped house. It was a flanking maneuver, something he remembered from a TV series about World War II. He felt proud that he was using tactics and not just blindly firing away.
Mason re-loaded, even though he had not fired all the bullets. When he peeked through the window he saw Borst about twenty feet away apparently re-loading his own weapon. Borst’s silhouette presented a perfect target. Mason saw that he dropped something, probably a bullet, and fumbled around on the ground for a few second before giving up and folding the cylinder back into his revolver. Mason heard the metallic click of it locking in place. Borst peered cautiously around the tree toward where he had last seen Mason, but he was so ridiculously exposed that Mason couldn’t help laughing. Borst looked at him. Even in the dim night light, Mason thought that for an instant he could see terror on Borst’s face.
But in another instant Borst swung his gun up toward Mason, took a two-handed police grip on it, feet apart for stability, and fired. Mason felt something sting his arm, but he was too busy propelling himself out of the line of fire to devote much attention to it. Borst’s gun was still firing. Without looking, Mason reached his gun up to the window and pulled the trigger repeatedly until there were no more bullets. So much for tactics.
He slid down to the floor, suddenly exhausted, surprised that his legs seemed too shaky to support him. His ears were ringing. His hands were trembling. He pressed his back against the wall and sighed deeply. The sirens were getting louder.
By the time he heard the knock on his door, Mason had hidden the gun in a can of coffee that had been only half full, had picked up all the shell casings he could find and dropped them into the toaster, because he thought the police would not look for them there, and then had changed his shirt. The one he’d been wearing had a bullet hole in it. The wound was on the inside of his right bicep. The bullet had grazed his arm without penetrating, leaving a cut and bruise. It hurt, especially when he cleaned it off with cold water and put ointment on it, but it was not disabling. The location of it made it impossible for him to use his right hand to apply a bandage, so he fastened adhesive tape to the end of a washcloth and clumsily stuck it to his arm. There was no time for a better job and the shirt sleeve covered it.
Mason had already decided that, first, he did not trust the police, and second, he wanted to settle with Borst himself, without anyone else getting involved.
The two officers were both young, no hats, open shirt collars, conveying the friendly spirit of the new breed, the kind who had studied a little psychology and smoked pot behind locked doors. Still they had that professional bored look and, Mason noticed, the one who stood back and a little bit to the side had his hand on the butt of his revolver.
“Good evening, sir. We’ve had a report of shooting here.”
“Not me. I didn’t report anything,” Mason said.
“One of your neighbors got a bullet through his window. He thinks it came from your yard. He says he heard yelling, like a fight. Do you know anything about that?” His gaze roamed sideways to Mason’s broken windows.
“I think there may have been some shooting. Some of my windows are broken, as you can see. But I was asleep in front of the TV.”
“You don’t know who did the shooting?”
“No,” Mason said. He had already met and matched Borst. Fuck the law. It didn’t seem to work very well anyway.
Out on the street, George wheeled the big Cadillac around the flashing police car, just as a second one pulled up. George parked in the driveway and got out slowly. He approached the house delicately, on the balls of his feet, everyone on the porch watching him.
“Who are you?” the second officer asked.
Mason started to answer for George but the officer interrupted him, holding up his hand toward Mason. “Just a minute. I’m talking to him,” indicating George.
“Don’t shoot,” George said, holding his hands above his head. “I’m George Shindler the dentist. I live her on an occasional basis. I don’t engage in any criminal activities.”
The first officer, Nately according to the name tag on his chest, turned back to Mason. “Anyone else in the house?”
“No. But feel free to look around. I wouldn’t want you to think I was trying to conceal anything.”
Nately took Mason with him and told George he could wait with Officer Sandella. As they toured the house, Nately didn’t say anything but carefully looked in closets and under beds, presumably for any stray bodies. In his best Sherlock Holmes demeanor, Mason explained, “You see, all the broken windows were knocked inwards. But I was never outside. If there was shooting it must have been toward the house, not from the house. Don’t you think?”
Nately looked curiously at Mason but did not make any reply to his question.
“Any idea who did this?”
“Kids, I suppose.”
“What do you do, sir?”
“College professor and lawyer.” He omitted municipal judge, since he wasn’t sure how long that would withstand any subsequent police inquiries.
They went back out on the porch, where the two officers from the second police car had arrived. One of them was holding shell casings in his hand. “From over there by the tree,” he said to Nately. “Looks like someone reloaded their .38.”
“Do you own a gun, sir?”
Mason figured they had probably already asked George. “I’ve got a little automatic, a .32 I think, but I don’t know where it is now. Do you know, George?”
“Not me,” George said instantly and raised his hands in front of him as though he were surrendering.
“Do you have some identification, sir? And you also?” Mason and George both handed over driver’s licenses to one of the officers who took them back to his patrol car to check via the police radio for criminal records.
Nately asked the other two officers, “Did you find any witnesses?” They shook their heads They hadn’t expected any. While they waited for the record checks to come back, the three started talking about where they were going to meet for dinner. George eased over to Mason. He had a crazy grin on his face.
In a low voice George asked, “Hey, man, what the fuck you doing? What is all this shit?”
Mason could see that George was stoned. He kept pulling his ear and shifting from one foot to the other. Mason replied to George loud enough for the police to be certain that the two of them were not carrying on any secret conversation.
“Jesus, I don’t know, George. But I think these gentlemen have things well under control. They’ll probably be leaving in a few minutes.” The implied message was for George to try to act straight just a little longer. Mason’s fear was that George might say something about the previous drug raid, which these officers obviously had not yet learned about, an unavoidable aspect of a big department. If they did find out about it, they would certainly stay longer and ask more questions on the theory that someone who was once a suspect deserved to remain so.
There was another consideration also: that they might connect Borst’s name with the shooting, which Mason believed would not do anyone any good. He did not even like to imagine what the news media might do with a story about a shoot-out between a college professor and a maniacal police officer. Besides, he was pleased with the private nature of his battle with Borst; and he was even slightly amused that circumstances had led him to protect Borst from an investigation by officers of his own department.
The officer who had their driver licenses walked back from the car. “No wants, no records on either one,” he told the others. He handed back the licenses and George said “thank you” three times rapidly.
Nately approached Mason again. “We’re going to leave now, Mr. Prewitt. If there are any more reports of gunfire here, we’ll be back. Even more of us than this time. And we won’t leave without taking somebody with us. Is that clear?”
“Sounds clear to me,” George volunteered, still grinning.
Mason agreed that it was clear. The officers walked back down the drive, one of them shining his flashlight around the yard in a final exercise of official intrusion. Mason and George went inside.
George ignored the broken windows and the shattered steins. He was only interested in the future. “Man, are those guys gonna be coming around regular from now on or what? I mean, second time in three days. I don’t want to complain or anything, but this stuff is really foreign to my customary life style, if you know what I mean.”
Mason, sitting at the glass-strewn table, felt his arm beginning to ache. He was trying to remember when he had last gotten a tetanus booster. George got a jar of peanut butter out of the refrigerator and a couple slices of bread. Mason was exhausted. Looking at the mess around him, he wanted nothing more then to be lying next to Gail in her condominium. Just then the lights went out.
“Oh shit,” Mason muttered, assuming that Borst had returned and sabotaged the electrical system in the house.
“It never did that before,” George said.
“The toaster. When I pushed the handle down it rattled funny and turned the lights off.”
Until then, Mason had forgotten about dumping his shell casings into the toaster. He started laughing uncontrollably, so George joined in. From the darkened house with the shattered windows, the lunatic sounds floated out onto the night air and caused a dog a block away to begin howling.
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