Monday, March 5, 2012

Reality Check

The pattern is always the same.  You hear footsteps in the hallway.  The footsteps slow, then increase, then slow again.  A blur moves past your office door, and then the footsteps stop.  The steps return and the blur transforms into a man.

The man morphs into a supervisor and he says, "I need you to take a case."  At first you feel flattered. After all, this supervisor selected you out of everyone else to handle a case of such importance.  Then, you remember the slow and fast footsteps.  You realize that the supervisor was pacing the halls and slowing in front of every door.  When he realized that no one was there, he moved on.

I wasn't sought out.  I was merely present.  Sometimes that's enough to give you a different perspective in life.

The blue file I held in my hands presented a simple, but sad case.  Last summer, a woman went out with some friends to her neighborhood bar.  Her boyfriend showed up a few hours later.  He was uninvited and angry.

The night was warm.  The street was busy.  Even at two in the morning, a steady stream of cars kept headlights battled the darkness.  Pedestrians meandered between a few bars and the corner stores.

This neighborhood bar only existed.  It had for years.  It didn't thrive; it didn't fail.  It just was.  The doors remained open on the backs and wallets of the neighborhood.  The ripped, black leather of the bar stools looked like tendrils reaching up to help lighten the patron's finances.  The jukebox hadn't seen an update in music or technology since it was considered cutting edge in the early 90's.  PBR was still the draft of choice.  

The inside mirrored the darkness outside.  In the early morning hours of a weeknight, the only ones left were two armed security guards, teenagers who managed to get past those guards, and the regulars.  The armed guards were an extension of the neighborhood - willing to let everyone have some fun, but ready to punish if they got out of line.

Veronica (pseudonym) was with two girlfriends.  She wasn't exactly a regular, but knew enough people there so she didn't create a stir.  The stir came when her boyfriend showed up looking for her.

Witnesses pieced together the argument later for the police, and for me.  Veronica went outside with her boyfriend when he arrived.  They moved towards his car parked across the street.  The security guards remember yelling and saw a man push a woman to the ground.  The security guards sensed a problem and forced two girls to get out their SUV, which was parked in front of the bar.  

While the guards ushered the girls from the SUV inside, one of them turned and saw Veronica walking towards them.  A car pulled from across the street.  

Light is faster than sound.  It's why we see fireworks first before hearing the boom.  Flashes erupted from the moving car towards the bar.  The sounds of gunshots echoed shortly after.  Six shots.  Three into the now vacant car.  Two into the walls of the bar.  

One through the bar window, past the bar and stools, and into a cook's chest as he delivered a plate of food to a patron.  The bullet struck a narrow metal strip and broke in two pieces before it hit the cook.  

It saved his life as both pieces missed his heart.   

All the witnesses were cooperative, save one.  Veronica.

Veronica was the intended target of her boyfriend's bullets.  Phone calls went unanswered.  Letters came back.  Then, we sent out subpoenas.  It took weeks to find her, but we finally did.

She appeared at my office in the morning.  I took her to a conference room for a private conversation.  She told her story, which is to say she told me nothing.  I pressed and prodded.  I invoked her life, and the life of the man that was shot.  I held my thumb and index finger millimeters apart and told her that was how close the man had come from dying.  I told her it was time to get away from her boyfriend who tried to kill her and that we could help her.  Otherwise, she could get hurt.  Or killed.

Veronica looked me in the eyes.  "Sir, people get killed every day on my streets.  That man didn't get killed.  Good for him.  If you and I talk, I mean real talk, then my kids ain't gonna have a mommy no more and you be working my case."

The next time I saw Veronica was when she hugged her boyfriend as the court officers took him to jail following his sentencing for shooting the cook.             

1 comment:

  1. That makes me physically ill. I have a hard time with the whole "bystander" syndrome.