“Get the fuck out the car.”
I cursed. It wasn’t at the cold of the handgun pressed against my temple—that could turn sizzling hot at any second, and then who would I be to complain? It was damn near four in the morning and I had been just about ready to call it a night. Had my hand on the key and the key in the ignition. Now it seemed like I’d be up to see the sunset afterall.
Then again, I might not.
“I said get the fuck out the car!”
I looked up at the tense hand hovering just outside my window. He was black, like me. His finger was wrapped around the trigger, tight and ready. That could mean that either he was more than willing to turn my thinking station into a bowl of torn flesh if I didn’t comply, or that this whole experience was just as scary for him as it was for me.
I put up my hands, slowly. Quick movements get you shot.
“Look, buddy. Whatever you want.” But I didn’t move. I looked past the gun and to the man behind it. His face was paranoid, but angry. This was taking too long, already.
“Don’t look at me,” he said. His voice was firm enough, but I could detect some doubt there. It was the voice of someone who meant business but might not actually know what business meant.
But instead of turning away, I looked past him. My eyes grew wide. In a moment that could have very possibly startled a bullet into my head, I leaned forward and yelled, “Help! Police! Over here!”
“Shit!” The gunslinger whirled his torso but kept the gun surprisingly steady. Before he could realize his mistake, I reached between the car seat and the door, where I kept Susan. I had practiced the movement dozens of times, but never with my heart pushing to overdrive. It felt like forever to me. If the gunslinger had been watching, to him it would have been over faster than a bullet from a chamber.
Ah, the relativity of time.
A few days ago I’d researched what happens to human muscles when damaged—more specifically, when a bullet rips through at the speed of ‘you’re fucked.’ Research may be the wrong word, as my process consisted of a string of Google queries. The only answers I found in my short romp were from a plethora of Internet experts, in other words, pubescent teenage boys who read Wikipedia all day long in between looking at porn. Half the experts said that a bullet through the wrist of a gun-wielding hand would fire for sure and half said that there was only a 50% chance that the muscles would constrict and a 50% chance that everything would go stiff.
I thought they were good odds.
The blast of the gun left a ringing in my ears for days, but then I swear I hardly heard it. It was immediately followed by cursing. I didn’t waste time: I pushed out of the car, the door hitting the wounded predator turned pray on the hip and knocking him over with such ease it could have been comical. But I was in no mood to laugh. In those seconds between staring down the barrel of a gun and standing over this wounded predator with his weapon pointed at his head, a fire had blazed in my chest and my brain had frozen over. It all came together to a hard lump in my throat and with every throb of that lump, my anger grew and grew and my sanity melted.
I waited for the man to stop screaming and cursing. He was rocking on the ground like a ladybug turned on to its back. He was clutching a bloody hand, which now only had three fingers, possibly one and a half. I couldn’t tell if the middle finger was just capped with blood or capped with nothing. His gun had dropped into my car—I’d heard it. I made a mental note to share my real-life experience with the internet professors.
The initial shock was passing—or, at least, flowing out with the tide—and the man began to squirm away.
“You try to rob me?” I said. “You stick a gun in my face and try to rob me?” The man turned and began to awkwardly crawl on his knees while trying to cradle one hand. He looked like a wounded animal, which is pretty much what he was. It was although he had forgotten I was there and there was in the world was the pavement, the night, and the scream in his hand. That just angered me more.
I kicked him hard in the ribs. He cursed and fell over like an upturned beetle.
“I’ll kill you. I’ll fucking kill you.” The intent was all there and more, but he believed the validity of his words just as much as I did. I was the one with the gun and I’d already proven I had what it takes to use it. He hadn’t. Maybe in some other time and place he had passed initiation, but in my world he was still a juvenile.
“Get in the car,” I said. The man just looked at me. His hand was gushing more blood than I’d ever seen outside of television and movies.
There was a second when everything hanged in the balance. The only movement was the puddle of blood expanding from where his chest met the concrete. I don’t even think either one of us breathed. (also his eyes moved). He debated behind those eyes, went through more than a dozen possibilities, but all of them came back to the same optionless moment. And we switched places. I was on the ground, gushing blood, only instead of standing with the gun cocked, the man with the gun was perusing the pockets of my coat, my pants, my life, not caring that I was bleeding to death. And instead of telling me to get in to the car, in my fading universe I could hear the rumble of the engine I’d been hearing every morning for seven years.
Then the moment passed.
I lowered the gun, sighed, and weakly gestured toward the car. “Get in.”
The man obeyed.