The Seattle Changes
I had just run into the alley, out of breath and sucking wind, and when I saw the headlights turn in at the other end ahead of me I did the only sensible thing I could think of: I stopped and raised my hands. Twin beams of blinding white light rumbled down the alley and screeched to a halt about twenty yards away, pinning me where I stood. But as soon as I heard the doors to the van open I did the only other sensible thing I could think of: I started running again.
The second I'd cleared the alley and turned the corner, I heard the squeal of rubber on cement. They thought I would give up quietly, but they were wrong. They also weren't going to be quite so friendly next time.
I didn't think they had planned on gunning me down or they would have done it in the alley. But being run over didn't seem like much of an alternative. I was on the sidewalk, but it was nice and wide and not the sort of thing to dissuade a potential Death Race driver. Ducking into a doorway offered about as much cover as the pitcher's mound at Safeco Field during a Mariners' game, so I did my last sensible thing that night: I dove to the cement, head first, and rolled under a parked car.
The van exploded from the alley in a cloud of exhaust and burning rubber, fishtailed in the middle of the street and roared by me. When the brake lights came on at the end of the block the vehicle hesitated only slightly before turning to the right.
Instantly, I was up and on my feet running as fast as I could after the van to make sure they didn't double back and catch me in the open. I reached the end of the block just in time to see them make another right they were circling the block. Once the van was out of sight I began running toward the darkness of the waterfront, hoping to lose them in the maze of industrial buildings south of town.
I turned into the next alley, trying to put as much distance between myself and my pursuers as I could manage, and after taking a left out the other side I figured I was at least two or three blocks away as I continued running west. A block north and another west and I was nearly out of breath. I stopped in the shadow of a broken streetlight and leaned in the doorway of a gray brick building to rest.
The adrenaline that had carried me this far had just about dissipated and I felt my knees beginning to give. With my back against the cool brick I took long deep breaths and felt my whole body shaking. But headlights two blocks away snapped me back to attention. The building I was against was too long to get around in time and I couldn't risk exposing myself by going across the street. As the lights approached all I could do was go to the ground alongside the building and lie still behind the skinny shrubs that passed for landscaping.
When the lights were closer I could see it was a cop car. Jesus, that was all I needed. The blue-and-white passed by agonizingly slow. I hadn't even realized I'd been holding my breath until the taillights turned the corner. My heart pounding and my breathing labored, I rolled on my back to think and considered the empty sky while my body tried to settle down. It was a clear night but the urban glow from the city's lights had washed most of the stars away. I had to get someplace safe.
Once I could walk again, I pushed myself up and headed back east as fast as I could. There was only one place I could think of to go, and as I headed in that direction I tried hard not to think about what I was going to do when I arrived. Meanwhile, I took inventory.
I brushed dirt and beauty bark from my Levi's and took off my black sport coat to check for damage. The back came clean easy enough, but the elbows were another matter. I did my best to rub out the dirt and then slipped the jacket back on over my forest green T-shirt. My working clothes. Any dark colored clothing will keep you hidden where there is little light, but colors look a lot less suspicious than all black if you happen to get lit up by headlights or a flashlight.
As I made my way up Holgate toward Beacon Hill, there were enough cars and errant pedestrians to make me feel relatively safe. And that was dangerous. I couldn't afford to be out in the open much longer. Even though I was several blocks north of where the van had caught me, it wasn't far enough away to relax.
It was a warm night in early September, and I broke into a light sweat as I pushed myself up the Beacon Avenue overpass across I-5. After three blocks of looking over my shoulder I slid behind a car in the driveway of a darkened house. Across the street was an old brick apartment building. I could see the front door of the building from my vantage point. There were lights on in two of the apartments, including the one in the upper right.
My watch said it was just after three in the morning. Why was the light on? Was someone else there? Would I be walking in on something I didn't want to know about? Without any answers I took a seat on the cement and waited. Waiting for what, was another question I didn't have an answer to.
Five minutes later I heard police sirens and I stood up and crossed the street. I didn't need to be caught skulking in someone's driveway by the cops. I only hesitated a moment before using my key to let myself in the front door. The familiar smell of old carpet and cooking calmed me considerably, and after a deep breath I ascended the stairs.
As I reached the third floor the apartment was the first one on the right, number 302. Before I could give myself a chance to get nervous, I knocked. I heard something fall inside the apartment and tensed, then I took a step back and waited for an answer. Finally I heard the chain slide back and saw the knob turn.
Two seconds after she'd opened the door, Stacy Lambert slammed it in my face. That was a relief. I was afraid she was still mad at me.
Before I could knock on the door again I saw a strobe of red and blue lights coming in through the window in the stairwell. I ran over quickly and looked down to see two Seattle blue-and-whites disgorging their black-clad passengers. At the other end of the building was another stairway that let out onto the alley, and I ran down the hallway as fast as I could. One of the banisters nearly gave way, but I managed to make it down to the back door in seconds. I whipped it open and was instantly blinded by spotlights.
I have a difficult enough time keeping my heart rate steady when I hear, Do you know how fast you were going, sir? But, Freeze, motherfucker, put me into a vapor lock. I froze. A burst of garbled voice from a police radio was followed by someone grabbing me around the upper arm and pushing me face-first against the side of the building.
Cops moved past me through the door as the one behind me cuffed my wrists. But instead of being ushered into one of the patrol cars, they pushed me back inside the apartment building. I didn't ask what I was being arrested for, partly because I was curious as to where they were taking me, but mostly because I was still too scared to talk.
I made my way up to the third floor and I immediately registered that most of the cops were standing outside Stacy's open door. If I hadn't just been there a minute earlier I would have feared for Stacy's life, but I couldn't imagine what the hell was going on now.
As it turned out, I didn't have to wait long to find out. With all eyes on me I was guided into the apartment. The first thing I saw was Stacy sitting on the couch crying, two cops standing over her. Then I looked down and the second thing I saw was the man on the floor. He was in bad shape but no one was attending to him. You didn't have to be a doctor to figure out that, with half his face missing, he was dead.
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© 2008 by Eric B. Olsen
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