About as far Out West as you can get in the U.S.,
it looks more like Land of the Lost.
Giant evergreens ring the houses,
but there still beats the wild spirit and lawless impulses of violent men.
In this century, the old, elegant homes, built during the Boom Years, are now subdivided into low-cost apartments.
And one home, just across the street from our place, has been the site of two fugitive stakeouts since we got to town.
The second was today.
My husband and I were getting ready to run some errands when we looked out the window of our third floor bedroom and saw police cars parked in front of our building. We counted six. Then eight. Twelve. Eight officers grew into fifteen, stationed at various points around the yard across the street, the alley and right behind our cars. One held a rifle across his chest as peered around the corner of the Second Life Ministry building, just on the other side of the house, behind the old church.
It was clear we weren’t getting out anytime soon. So, my husband sat on the floor to watch, “This is like a live episode of ‘The Rifleman’!” The kids played a video game, clueless to the outside. I decided to untangle a mass of necklaces from the bottom of my jewelry box, a job I’d never do under any other circumstance. For the next ten minutes, the police walked around with their hands in their back pockets, assembling and re-assembling behind trees, the garage, riot shields and fences.
Things started happening when a guy from inside the house walked out, wearing a baseball cap, smoking a cigarette. Two officers called him behind the garage. My husband attempted to decode the witness’s body language and arm motions, “I think he’s saying it’s a big guy in there, maybe he’s saying the guy has a gun? His hand looks like a gun, is that what he’s saying? Something about a hole about ‘this big’, a window? He’s pointing to the house! Yeah, he’s saying the guy lives in the front unit, upstairs.” I had no way of knowing if that was the actual dialogue, but it helped me maintain the television illusion of the whole situation.
Then, a van with blacked-out windows pulled up. “That’s an undercover paddy wagon,” my husband seemed certain.
“It says Unity Baptist Church,” I read the sign on the side.
“Yeah, that’s the cover.”
But then, two young boys got out of the van. I recognized them as the kids who live in the bottom unit. They’re polite and treat each other with respect. I gasped as they started walking to their door.
An officer behind the garage called them over with an urgent hand motion. The kids saw him and didn’t look surprised. They didn’t panic. They dropped their heads slightly and carefully walked over to two men in black vests. The kids nodded as they listened to the police and then walked far away, down the alley, following the pointed instructions of the officer with the rifle.
I lit a stick of lavender incense and prayed for a peaceful resolution. I tried to imagine the gathering clouds brought cool thoughts and calm energy. As I stepped back to the window, I saw an officer moving quickly across the church yard, heading toward the house. He was built like two football players, huge arms, massive legs and a rifle proportional to his size. My husband dubbed him “Officer Tits Grenade… with his Kill’um 5000”.
I went downstairs to the tell the children that everything was fine and that there was no reason for me to even tell them that, but “why don’t y’all sit on the floor to play?” It made me feel better, and they never listen to me anyway.
Five minutes later, though, they both came busting up the stairs yelling about simultaneously sustained injuries. My son fell on the bed complaining and then looked out the window, “What’s with all the police cars?”
I froze, knowing that if I opened my mouth I would say far more than he ever needed to hear. My husband, on the other hand, is exactly who you want around in these kinds of situations. He’s unflappable. “Bah. It’s dull. Go downstairs. Stay in your room. Just do it.” He sounded bored even saying it. He never took his eyes off the scene. The kids shrugged and went back to beating each other up in the virtual world.
Meanwhile, it appeared the pinch was on. Officers grouped and moved in, two cruisers turned on their lights and blocked off the street. Officer Tits Grenade took aim at the top window of the house. An officer with gray hair and a gray mustache held his gun in front of him with a stiff arm while he jogged around to the front porch, directly under the rooms of interest. At the end of the alley, SWAT officers exchanged blue jackets for bulletproof vests.
By this time, I had only freed one small gold chain from the knot of necklaces. The rest ended up even more tangled. I threw the wad of old jewelry on the bed, “Should I go sit in the bathroom with the kids?”
My husband hadn’t even blinked. “Nah. These guys know what they’re doing. This is your chance to watch them be good guys. Oh, look!”
A man stepped out of the gable window at the top of the house. He stood on the steep roof. His hands were cocked, but he didn’t have a weapon. From his vantage, he probably couldn’t see through the 100-year old trees to the officers below, all of whom had their guns pointed directly at him. He didn’t look urgent, more like he was just getting his bearings.
He looked up the street and for a brief second I could see his eyes. I thought he might have seen me through the blinds of my windows, but then I’m never content to just be the audience. I very intently sent him a mental message to step back, to let go of the fight, to give in. I imagine those cowboy movies I don’t watch have plenty of guys take a roof dive amid a shower of bullets. I didn’t need something like that ruining my cloudy Sunday afternoon.
The guy went back inside. A few minutes later, we saw officers lead him out the front door in handcuffs. We saw him listen to his rights being read. We watched him climb into the back seat. The guy in the baseball cap sat down on the ground and lit another cigarette.
The officers at the far posts stayed at attention until the suspect was in the car and the door was shut. That’s when the mother of the two boys came running out of the first floor apartment. She must have been inside, maybe even watched as her kids got out of the church van, as it pulled away and they came walking toward her, knowing she couldn’t go out and warn them.
She found the smoking guy behind the garage and they hugged. He pointed down the alley.
We’ve never met those neighbors. I know a lot about their comings and goings, but nothing about them as people. Our lives are very different. Still, I knew exactly what she was thinking when she saw her children sitting by a police car at the end of the alley.
I thought about all of the errands that were so important before the deal went down. I called out to my kids, still hooked into the game system, “Hey, let’s go to the beach! Get some fish sandwiches, watch some gulls, throw some rocks.”
I never did like Westerns very much.