Later, back at the house, I left Stephanie to finish packing her suitcase and stepped out for my evening walk. I was in a good mood despite the fact that I’d made no headway with Dave. It seemed that none of my enticements could bring him out of his shell. His karma must have been shit, I figured. I was relieved that he’d soon be in Costa Rica and not around to frustrate me.
It was a splendid evening. As I passed his McMansion on the corner and turned left off of Pride and onto Templeman Road, I mentally turned my back on him.
Then, I saw the cops. There were four police cars parked haphazardly along the sides of the narrow street, with uniformed officers and German Shepherds scattered in all directions.
“There was a shooting. Some dude killed his friend,” a female officer told me. “Happened over on 116 just past the veterinary place.”
A shooting? In Forestville?
“But if it happened over there,” I asked, “what are you guys doing over here?”
“The shooter is on the run and he was seen in this area.”
The gravity of the situation sank through my brain cells like oil through a sieve. “You mean he’s out here now?”
The officer ignored me and started talking into her radio. I kept moving. The other cops had dogs, rifles, and very large flashlights trained on the underbrush and on me as I passed by. As the facts began congealing in my mind, the scene reminded me of that Doors song:
There’s a killer on the road, his brain is squirmin’ like a toad
Take a long holiday, Let your children play
Children. Killer. Jesus Christ, there’s a killer on the loose and I left my kid alone in the house!
At the moment of my realization, an officer climbed out of the bushes next to me. The crack of breaking branches and the flash of her light made me jump and scream. I took off running, probably leaving her to wonder if I was implicated somehow.
With the speed and drive of a track star, I dashed past the Sheriff’s cars and back up the hill. On Pride Road, I still had wind, but my brains were so rattled and my eyes were so full of tears, I could barely see the potholes to leap over. If Dave had bothered to look out his window, he might have wondered if I was training for the Bay to Breakers race. I had never run so hard in my life.
Suddenly, I found myself playing a character in a slasher flick. The woman runs from danger. She flies through her front door. She slams it, locks it, and leans against it. She huffs and puffs and casts wild eyes across the room in search of a breach. Here’s the classic part: she’s so breathlessly terrified she can’t speak.
Stephanie yelled, “Mom, what’s going on?” several times, but I was struck deaf as well as dumb.
“Out there… Shooting… Two… guys… Cops…” I sputtered.
At that moment we heard a helicopter circling.
“There’s a killer out there!” I shrieked.
I ran around the house, slamming down windows like a lunatic. Stephanie went to her room and grabbed her baseball bat. Then, she got on the phone with her friends.
“Alicia, there’s a murderer outside. Is it on the news yet?” And, “Hey Cindy, I have to talk to Jennifer. There’s a killer running around here.”
I paced my bedroom and gulped vodka as I struggled to contain my panic. Why, oh, why did our redneck neighbor have to move away just when we needed a man with a gun?
Dave might have a gun.
I stormed into Stephanie’s room. “Get off the phone.”
“Got to go,” she said and she handed me the phone. I hadn’t seen her so excited since the Loma Prieta earthquake.
I punched Dave’s number with shaking fingers. With an even shakier voice I told him the situation.
“You should turn your lights back on,” he said calmly. Didn’t he realize a killer was on the loose?
“Ok, ok,” I breathed, “But do you have a gun?”
“Will you bring it over?”
“I don’t think I need to bring my rifle over. Just keep your doors locked and the lights on. And pull your shades down so nobody sees in. Your living room blind is up.”
He may have been willing to offer advice while watching our cottage from his tower bedroom, but clearly, Dave was not going be my hero tonight. He wasn’t in love with me, and he hardly even liked me enough to save me from the psycho killer. Clearly, Stephanie and I were on our own.
As bat-wielding Stephanie patrolled the house and choppers pounded the sky, I speed dialed the Sonoma County Sheriff’s Department every five minutes for updates. From the upstairs window, I smoked and watched for any sign of movement.
Over a ridge to the East, three choppers circled the area and cast intense beams of light. They hovered there for several minutes. Then I saw flashes of red light through the trees. Something was happening, but I couldn’t see what. After about twenty minutes, the helicopters dispersed in three different directions and were gone. Was it over? Did they catch the killer?
A few minutes later, the Sheriff’s department told me the suspect had been apprehended on Vine Hill Road and no one else was hurt, although the original victim was still dead.
Stephen King could not have written a more ambiguous ending. The women are safe. The villain is captured. The do-nothing hero can go screw himself. Yet, in life as well as literature, there is always the chance of a twist. The next day, the newspaper reported that a shotgun with the guy’s fingerprints was found in the orchard behind our house. It was still loaded.
You’d think a military brat might be amenable to the use of weaponry to solve disagreements, but I was always the opposite. Just like being a Catholic atheist, I was an Air Force pacifist.
The only time I shot a gun was when I was eleven, at Camp Ondessonk in the Ozarks of Illinois, the summer camp I attended while we lived at Scott Air Force Base. They made us lay down on dirty mattresses before picking up our rifles and aiming them at paper targets in a field. The rifles were unwieldy in their actions and made obnoxious popping sounds when fired, so I failed see the attraction of playing with them. I preferred the bows and arrows because between the bow and the target, you actually watch the arrow take its long graceful flight toward its destination.
A gun might go off by itself and you’d never see it coming.