Kaleidoscope Of Life

Shootout Before Dawn

Marguerite Floyd

5:30 Monday morning. I was taking a shower, congratulating myself on actually being up, when I heard my doorbell and someone pounding on the front door. I assumed I was hallucinating and continued washing my hair. Again came the doorbell and the pounding. I got out of the shower and grabbed a robe, imagining various things as I went to the door -- was it a neighbor come to tell me my house was on fire, a long-forgotten lover who'd suddenly gone beserk?

I opened the door and in the gleam of the yellow bug light I keep burning all the time was a tall man all in black with a helmet and heavy things on the belt around his waist. Police, I knew immediately.

"Ma'am, please turn out the front light," he said. I turned off the light and leaned closer to the latched storm door. It was still too early to be unlocking the storm door and letting strangers in my house, even if they did seem to be police.

"Ma'am, are you aware of what's going on?"

"No."

"There's a guy on this street firing a weapon out in the open and we're evacuating everyone on the street. Is there anyone else in the house with you?"

"No. How long have I got to get out?" I asked, a few bubbles of shampoo sliding down my cheek. "I was in the shower."

"We'll come back in ten minutes to escort you out, ma'am."

I nodded, closed the door, and hurried back into the shower to rinse the shampoo from my hair. It was possible, I considered, that I was dreaming the whole thing, but just to be safe I quickly dressed for work, grabbed my purse and some files, and went back to the front door.

Two SWAT team members were on my porch when I peeked out, dark figures in the darkness, their backs to me as if guarding my house.

"So do I just get in my car and drive out?" I whispered. Beyond the two police I could see clusters of people out in the street, several cruisers parked across sidewalks. It was odd seeing so many people in the normally quiet street with only the occasional streetlight shining.

"No ma'am, we'll escort you out."

I clutched my files a little closer. "Oh, I see," I said. They led me through the driveway of my neighbor's house and out through their backyard which slants sharply uphill. The grass was wet and I fell trying to go too fast.

"You okay?" one of the policemen asked. "Yes, I'm just scared," I told him, though it wasn't exactly fear I was feeling -- more a sort of early morning bewilderment. I'd thought I could just get in my car and drive off, not that I'd be hurried through the streets.

One officer stayed on my left side while the other officer moved first in front of me, then to my right side, and then behind me. I realized later he was keeping himself between me and the line of any possible gunfire. We hurried around the corner and over to the next block. "We're out of range now," one of the officers said as we moved around the corner. On the new street I could see two special unit vans, a school bus, and several more police cars lining the street. People were standing around, quiet.

My escorts led me to one of the vans and introduced me to a man who clearly had more authority than anyone else. "He'll ask you some questions and you can wait on the bus with everyone else," one of them said and then vanished back into the darkness.

The new person asked me some routine questions like name, address, phone numbers, did I know the individuals at such-and-such address, did I know my neighbors, and so on. He briefly explained that while the individuals in questions had been firing weapons out in the open since around 3a.m., they had now stopped but refused to talk with the police. He didn't think there was any danger, but they were clearing the street just to be safe. "It's been quiet in there for a while now," he said. He apologized for the inconvenience, as I'm sure he'd been doing for hours. He then asked if I needed a ride or to call anyone.

"No, I think I'll just wait it out," I said.

He showed me to the bus that said "School Bus" on the front and "Lexington-Fayette County Department of Police" on the side. The bus was half-full of children under 10 and a few adults. It was too dark to see anyone's face, just their shapes.

We shared our house numbers and made small talk. No lights, no coffee, no information. Just long silent minutes of waiting. The children squirmed and chattered while their mothers told them to hush.

In the darkness, a woman said to no one in particular that she'd heard the police had put motion detectors on the house but no one was moving inside at all. The guys who'd been firing the guns had been drinking all night, someone else said. They were probably passed out, I thought. Would we have to stay here all morning while they slept it off?

After a little while, a woman and I decided to get off the bus and smoke a cigarette. Half a block ahead, cruisers blocked the streets, small knots of police and neighbors stood around looking expectantly down the street, other people entered and left the vans and cars parked near us. Quiet. A few children played with a neighbor's dog until a policewoman loaded them and their parents into a cruiser to deliver them to friend's house across town. I didn't sense fear from anyone, just a long expectancy.

Another woman, watching her children scuffle along the sidewalk in front of her said, "We've already been out here more than an hour."

A guy about my age who lives across the street from me muttered something about what a waste of taxpayers' money this all was. "It's better than someone getting hurt," I said. He didn't reply.

A man came out of his house where many of us were standing -- the noise and traffic had awakened him. We explained what we were doing standing around in front of his house at 6 in the morning.

It was still very dark and quiet, as if it was closer to two a.m. than to dawn. Someone said, "The media's here. They're over on Alumni Drive, but the police won't let them in."

I thought about my mother who lives 80 miles away hearing about this on the news. She's an early riser and the odds were good she'd hear it on the 6:30 news. But there wasn't anything I could do until the police let us go.

We waited. I finally sat on the curb, clutching my files and my purse to me, and thought about the society I lived in where none of my neighbors knew me or I them. I went over in my mind why exactly that was but couldn't put a name to it.

It began to rain, just a few drops here and there. I thought about getting back on the bus, but the bus was hot and stuffy. Maybe the rain will stop, I thought.

The rain continued to hesitate for a long time, and just as it seemed it had decided to really rain, someone walked past saying, "They got him! They got him!"

I walked up the street to the corner, waited a few minutes to see what was going on. Four houses down from my house, police were swarming all over someone's yard and porch. Several cruisers were idling, their parking lights on. Several people had made a sort of loose gauntlet from the house to the cruiser directly in front.

Behind me, I heard someone shout, "It's all over folks! Everyone can go back home now." I began to walk back to my house. "Thanks for your cooperation," I heard a voice behind me say, though whether to me or to the others, I don't know.

I unlocked my front door, turned the porch light back on, and went inside to call my mother and tell her not to worry if she heard my street mentioned on the news.


Other work in this issue by Marguerite Floyd:


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