Surviving Another Day
There was only one way this would end.
That’s the problem with getting backed into a corner. Even though where I was temporarily staying should have been unknown to anyone who mattered — an alternative escape route should have been envisioned.
Right now there was no opportunity for evasion. I could meet them out in the hallway or in here. But the moment itself was inexorable.
If there was any saving grace, at least I observed them first.
Both my third-story windows looked out the front of the building. Through the partially opened blinds, I could see the driver peering up in my general direction from his blue and conspicuously new 1947 Plymouth Coupe. Like me, he was now waiting. Holding back his anticipation as three men entered the front door. They’d be here in a moment.
Quickly, I over-turned the table and dragged it to the bathroom doorway, as additional cover while I faced the only entrance and exit.
Even if I take out all three, there would be more to follow another time. But at least I might live another day.
They smashed the door with a two-person kick and burst into the living room with guns raised. In their final instant of seeking to locate their target, each met dual shots in the chest.
Simultaneously the third appeared as they were falling. He pointed in the right direction and fired, but his gun jammed.
The first seconds seemed to occur in slow motion, but the next seconds seemed to freeze in time.
He pulled the trigger again and nothing happened.
But that paled in comparison to the bizarreness of my own reaction: I didn’t shoot.
It wasn’t that I hesitated because I had misgivings. I simply decided to hold my fire, at least for a little bit longer.
He knew I had him.
I knew I had him.
We stared at each other.
He kept his gun pointed at me and I kept mine pointing at him. He was standing in the open. I was concealed behind a wall, a partially closed door, and a fully turned-over kitchen table.
He knew he was dead.
And I knew he should be.
You’d think he’d instinctively try to run back out the door. Yet he kept his wits enough to realize that I would be compelled to shoot before he got anywhere.
We stared at each other like two opposing statues.
I broke the silence. “No sudden moves. Lay down or you’re done.” I was not surprised at how calm I sounded. But I had a heightened awareness of how calm I felt. Today, lady luck was on my side.
Still, he didn’t budge.
I could hear doors opening in the hallways and someone shouting in confusion about whether that was gunfire.
While still perfectly aimed at him, I continued. “Slowly lie face down with your arms and hands pointed as far out as they can stretch.”
Such an odd tableau. Neither of us moving and at any instant, he could be dead. And neither of us understood why he wasn’t already.
I offered him another chance. “Look, if you can survive the next few seconds, your day won’t have to end like your buddies.”
He didn’t seem afraid. If anything, he looked defiant. This wasn’t the first time he faced a gun.
One more time. “Joey, I knew your sister in school. She said you were a survivor. But this is your last chance. Drop the gun and lay down, facing the floor.”
Although I couldn’t see what was happening in the hallway, I recognized some of the neighbors’ voices on a lower floor trying to identify the source of the door crash and four shots.
In spite of the dilemma immediately facing me, I was already thinking ahead and anticipating walking down the hallway.
Joey dropped the gun. Then he stepped over the two bodies and slowly crouched down like he had all the time in the world. When he was on the floor with arms splayed aside, I rose up, peeked out the window (the driver was on alert for the guys to come back out to the street any second) and I slowly walked across the room and kicked the loose floor gun. It slid through the bedroom door and under the dresser before thumping against the wall. A little later, Joey would have to decide if it was worth retrieving the gun before making a hasty exit.
Next, I kicked the guns from the others in the same direction. Blood from the guy on the left was pooling around some of the door splinters scattered by his shoulder.
With my gun pointed at his head, I continued: “I’m leaving. If I don’t see you following me you can get out before the police arrive.”
He still hadn’t made a sound, but I offered an explanation: “For what it’s worth, I had the money and it got stolen from me. I already told Mr. Dimanti I know the punks who took it. Obviously, he’s sore. But I’m going to get it back and square things up.”
My words were pointless. Joey’s just doing a job. In the past, we happened to be in a card game together. I didn’t like or dislike him but in a long-past life, I was fond of his younger sister, although she and I only chatted at school.
Regardless, I went on. “I just need more time. Let him know.”
In retrospect, that was likely when Joey knew he was going to survive. He grumbled his only words: “I’ll tell him.”
At that moment, I believed, rightly or not, that Joey wasn’t going to come after me, at least not in the next few moments.
I backed through the broken door into the hallway. This wasn’t the first time I left a perfectly adequate hideaway, never to return.
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