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 Category:  Mystery and Crime Non-Fiction
  Posted: June 5, 2019      Views: 30

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This work has reached the exceptional level
A close call
"Incident on a Saturday Afternoon" by shaffer40

It was four-thirty and sunny; I had no thoughts of danger on that bright Saturday afternoon in 1989. I'd simply planned a quick jaunt to the pet store while my resident grandson was out with my neighbor, Tara, and her little girl for an hour. Making my way through this quirky part of town, past green Mohawks, panhandlers, and occasional fellow pedestrian of indeterminate gender was the most excitement I'd expected that weekend. Returning to my street, cat food in hand, I paid scant attention to the ordinary-looking, middle-aged man walking slowly ahead of me. Had I not stopped momentarily to chat with neighbors who sat outside, the ensuing evening might have been uneventful--for me and for a policeman I'd never met, although he'd been my across-the-street neighbor for a couple years. We were about to become acquainted.

The policeman was off duty and attending a street party around the corner at a tavern frequented by cops. Also attending were Jack and Gloria, a couple who lived across the courtyard on the second floor. Gloria, who had often resolved to kick the habit, had forgotten her cigarettes and returned home to retrieve them, entering her doorway just as I approached the building (we later wondered how we missed each other). She was exiting the courtyard when she heard a scream and a crash. She immediately ran back to the party to report the signs of trouble to her husband, who happened to be talking to the policeman at that moment.

I had bypassed the strolling man while Gloria was upstairs but lagged behind him when I stopped to chat with neighbors. He was then walking into the courtyard ahead of me, and I assumed he had business there, as we entered my lobby together. I remained totally unconcerned when he stared at the names on the mailboxes as though intending to ring someone. My basement apartment was accessible from the lobby, and when I opened my door, I felt his weight urging me down the three steps into my foyer.

"You have the wrong apartment," I said, the words colliding with the realization that he knew exactly where he wanted to go. I turned as I spoke, placing my hands on his chest, his weight and position above me impeding my attempt to push him out. I did manage to knock him one step backwards, causing him to bump into my grandson's bicycle parked in the vestibule. It fell, creating the crash that caught Gloria's attention. The scream she heard when he shoved me back inside was instinctive. It wasn't until he closed my door that I realized how much danger I was in, "just like people I see on the news", I thought, noticing the cat food I'd bought scattered on the floor and an indiscernible tune ringing out from my dangling Walkman earphones. "Everything just drops at a time like this," my thoughts continued, interrupted by the man's suggestion that I not scream again. "Don't do anything stupid," he reiterated softly, "or I'll cut your throat."

His voice escalated. "Where's your money? I gotta have money." I pulled out what I'd carried in my pocket and, afraid a paltry six dollars would anger him, indicated that there was more in the purse near the sofa. He held my right arm while we moved as though one unit, close enough for me to reach down and retrieve my remaining cash, only another ten.

"Don't look at me," he ordered, as I turned to hand it to him, his breath strong with alcohol and his voice tense and loud for the first time. It was too late; I'd looked right into his eyes, and knowing that he knew I could identify him gave me a stronger reason to be afraid.

"I need something to tie you up," he stated next and, reacting for an instant to the impulse to be accommodating, I actually considered giving him the cord I knew was in the cabinet under the kitchen sink. "I don't think I have any rope," I said instead, leading him around the apartment, pretending to search. I hoped in vain that someone would walk past my street-level windows and glance in or even attempt to speak with me, as my neighbors often did. It occurred to me that someone passing by would respond to shattering glass if I could free myself from his grasp and hurl a heavy object through the windows. But my wide vinyl blinds might cushion the blow, only antagonizing my captor. Whatever I tried had to work. I could think of nothing.

He ordered me to sit in the round Papisan chair just inside the dining room but seemed to change his mind, urging me on into the kitchen, where he would tie my hands behind me with his jacket, he indicated, if I would just kneel down in front of the sink. I continued to stand, horrified by the prospect of being that far below him, as he fumbled with the sleeves of the windbreaker he'd had draped over his left arm.

"I'm not going to hurt you," he assured me. "I'm just going to tie you up." I found no comfort in his promise. I looked longingly at the door in my kitchen, which was wide open not ten feet in front of me but barricaded by a locked steel gate, which I'd installed to keep myself safe from people like him.

He'll rape me first, I thought, envisioning him tearing away my shorts and uncovering the second day of menses. What do they do when they find blood? I wondered silently of rapists, fearing anger, possibly sodomy, then my five-year-old grandson walking in and finding me dead on the floor. I was desperately contemplating a last resort dash for the front door when I heard it open and recognized Jack's voice asking, "Are you in here?"

The presence of another person gave me the courage to break free, and I ran into the living room. There I encountered Jack and another man I didn't recognize but who looked familiar. Not expecting duty that day, he wore Bermuda shorts and a t-shirt and was unarmed. "I'm a police officer, you're under arrest," he announced, walking toward the intruder. They locked horns, and I, in my stupor, stood around helpless while this man whose face I didn't recognize risked his life to save mine.

A moment later the attacker was seated in the Papisan chair with the policeman standing over him, their arms locked in a stalemate. The intruder's lowered position offered me a straight shot at his head. I don't know how many seconds passed before it dawned on me that I could do something to disable him. Nor can I imagine how many more I wasted running my fingernails over his face, leaving a gash he failed to notice. I probably used up another several seconds searching for an object to bash into his head before spotting my grandson's metal Tonka truck. I raised it, ready to strike.

That's when I saw the blood. It was oozing through the policeman's fingers and dripping onto the floor, as he walked toward me with his hand over the side of his face. I didn't know what to do for the bleeding and told him so. I somehow snapped to attention and rallied sufficiently to call the police, unaware that I still held the truck, until I had to put it down in order to pick up the receiver and dial. Jack came back inside just then and coached me to tell them a policeman was in trouble. Gloria had already called them to report trouble without knowing what that trouble was.

I hung up and grabbed a towel from the bathroom and wrapped it around the bleeding man's neck. I looked over at my windows and saw a police car, facing the wrong direction on our one-way street, come to a screeching halt in front of the building, its uniformed occupants appearing to jump out before they'd completely stopped. They came inside, took one look at the blood, and decided not to wait for the ambulance.

In a moment, they were gone, and the barrage of responding policemen hadn't yet made their way inside. As I stood alone in my living room for those few minutes, the sudden stillness almost created the illusion that nothing had happened. Thinking my neighbors must be wondering why the police were there, I wandered outside to tell them, noting that by that time the entire block had become a sea of blue lights.

I first encountered Tara returning with my grandson. She sent him to the park with an older child. Then there was Pauline, my chummiest neighbor, standing across the street in front of her building, looking curiously at the commotion. "Wait till I tell her what just happened," I mused, picturing one of our customary gab sessions and gesturing for her to come over. As she approached me, with a second neighbor at her side, I began to feel faint. ("You suddenly turned snow white," she would tell me later.) "I can't cave in," I counseled myself, "they'll want to talk to me." I recalled the hours I'd spent in the police station after being mugged at knifepoint in a nearby park the previous year. I walked back inside, where a throng of policemen milled about, one of whom sat me on the couch. Squatting in front of me and placing his hands on my arms, he asked gently but firmly, "Okay, what happened?"

"They got him," someone shouted above the chaos. The man had walked out, through the cops' party around the corner, and offered no resistance when faced with a young rookie's revolver four blocks away. He awaited identification in the line-up at the station. Déjà vu. I had ID'd my mugger in the same room.

This one was deadly. Out of prison only two months, he'd been convicted of rape twice and had killed someone during his thirty years of intermittent criminal activity. The evening was still young when I realized how narrow my escape had been. The policeman was okay after two hours of surgery to close the five-inch gash in his face. I was embarrassed that I'd been so slow to act in his defense. I visited him in the hospital room and didn't know what to say. When he returned home, I took him a six-pack and a balloon. I bought roses for Gloria. The flimsiness of the gifts embarrassed me more. The story was in the media, and reporters pestered us for several days. Then, gradually, life returned to normal, for me and for the intruder, who was again behind bars.

For weeks I panicked when I entered or exited my apartment. An overextended glance from a man on the street filled me with terror. The sight of blue police lights flashing for a traffic violation conjured up memories of danger. I intended to enroll in a self-defense class but never did. The policeman moved away. Gloria and I ran into each other occasionally and chatted as though nothing had occurred. I liked her a lot. Suburban friends told me I should move, but until the building was sold, I had no desire to leave. "I have great neighbors," I told them.

Twenty years after this incident I was browsing a Sunday newspaper and noticed a headline on the obituary page. "DETECTIVE SURVIVED SLASHING." The subheading read: "Rescued victim from apartment."

"Could this be the policeman who saved me from that home invader?" I wondered. Then I noticed the face shot below, captioned with "Mike Benson," and my question was answered. The man who'd saved my life had died.

I was unsure whether the reporter or Detective Benson's family would have any interest in hearing from me, but because the incident that had brought us together was presented in his obituary as the hallmark of his career, I felt compelled to make contact. I sent the reporter an email, and within two days I received a call from the detective's daughter, who invited me to speak at her father's memorial service.

"My association with Mike Benson was brief--but meaningful," I told the 500-plus attendees. "I'm the person he rescued from my basement apartment a little over twenty years ago. For those of you who don't know, he saved my life. I bought him a six-pack and a balloon, and when the smoke cleared from that event, I never saw him again. I used to wonder from time to time, 'Whatever happened to Mike Benson?' and I assumed he thought the same about me. I even envisioned running into him at some point and asking him what he'd been up to and maybe chatting with him about what I've done with the rest of my life, which, he, of course, provided for me, with no fanfare and at great expense to himself."

I was fighting tears as I finished.

"I don't know where we go when we leave here, but I'd like to think his spirit is among us at this moment and that he knows how much his actions meant to me."

Following the ceremony, the detective's widow approached me for a hug and welcome words: "I just said to the kids the other day, wouldn't it be wonderful if we could find that woman Mike saved?'"

I had always thought of myself as a perpetrator of damage to this man. After all, I had stood in my living room in a daze while he defended my life and nearly lost his own. What I discovered in the midst of this gathering was that the incident had reunited him with his estranged wife and thus with his children, some of whom had been quite young and still living at home.

"He came back so that Mom could take care of him," his daughter told me, "and he never left again."

That news and this loving family's response to seeing me gave me a new perspective. I would now like to think that Detective Benson and I brought life to each other.

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