"What would you've done?" I asked.
"I wasn't there," he said, then flipped some papers over and looked at me. He concentrated on my eyes. "You killed two men tonight."
The investigator took off his glasses. Glasses I could tell he hadn't worn long. He wasn't comfortable with them or his bald spot, as he rubbed it with his head down.
"Two armed invading thieves. And I told your dispatcher I was going to. I didn't miss."
"So you keep loaded shotguns around the house."
"Yes, and four handguns and three rifles."
"Why?" the cop said.
"Who needs that many guns?"
"I used to."
"And why are they loaded?"
"Well, they're not much good unloaded," I said.
"Just for verification," the cop said, nonchalantly. "Why again did you shoot two people found within a few feet of your property line?"
"For verification, huh? Screw your verification. I told you twice and your partner once. I've told the same story enough tonight. I need to get home. My plants need water and my dog needs to be fed."
I opened the back door and knew right away they'd already been inside by the way the trash can angled away from the kitchen island. No such thing as privacy anymore. Russelbee, my Redbone hound, didn't greet me right away, and this was unlike him. I scanned the rest of the house, quickly stepping in each room and turning on the light to see.
I went out the back door again to look around the backyard for Russelbee, who often hid under the deck when frightened.
"Russy get out here." I listened intently but didn't hear him.
I turned and walked to the back gate, careful not to trip over the many small tree stumps I'd cut weeks earlier along the fencefor a better view. I walked out my gate and up the alley to the Busco's gate next door. I could hear them on their back deckMrs. Busco cackling with Mr. Busco, pretending everything was all right.
When Mr. Busco was out of town on business, Mrs. Busco often drank Martinis on her back deck late into the night. Sometimes I'd go over and talk casually for a little while, but usually I just listened to herme and the dogquiet as clams, as Mrs. Busco spouted uncensored, heartfelt misery. I doubted that she ever knew I heard, because of how different her posture and demeanor were when Mr. Busco was around, which was rarely. Often, she cried herself into an inaudible angry frenzy, and my curiosity would turn to sympathy. She'd stumble into the house, the shower would go on, and stay on, sometimes for more than an hour, before their house went dark. I watched and listened to her for years and often worried she was getting worse, but then Mr. Busco would come home, and it was as if a switch was flipped.
"Frank," I said. "It's me, Baird." I walked toward them on their swing for two, both with drinks in hand.
"What a day," Frank said.
"You're telling me."
"We all knew something bad was bound to happen over there," Frank said. "Milly's grandson ran with some shady characters."
"I never thought you'd be involved, though, Baird," Rose said.
"Caught being a good observant citizen I think," I said. "But I don't know anyone across the street anymore."
"Aaron was just arrested last month for distribution of methamphetamine, with the same kid you caught him with," Rose said.
"I'm always telling Rose, we don't belong here in this place and time. Our country's gone to shit."
"Yes it has. I feel out of place, too," I said.
"Why is that?" Rose said.
"Maybe we're stuck in a simpler time," I said.
"And we like where we're stuck," Frank said, and over that, we all had a good laugh.
"Frank has Russelbee in the garage."
"Let me get him for you."
Mrs. Busco smiled and pulled her fingers through her long auburn hair.
By my table at home, I handed Russelbee a bit of gristle from my pork chop. He took the bite of flesh back to his bowl and ate like a gentleman. We got along, he and I.
My broken doorbell rang, ding, and then only half the dong. After ten. I looked through the peephole before opening the door. It was the same nervous cop from earlier. I swung open the door. He was carrying a bulky soft briefcase by a strap around his neck. He'd changed clothes and looked casual. "What's the occasion, Detective?"
"Can I come in, sir?"
"It's a little late." I hated when people called me "sir." He didn't know me well enough to call me "sir." And I thought he was trying way too hard.
"I want to ask you a few more questions, and I need the twelve-gauge in question as possible evidence. We were unable to locate it when we searched your place earlier."
"That's because it's locked in a safe. Do you have a court order?"
"May I see it?"
"Sure," he said, as he shuffled through what I learned was really a computer case. "Here it is."
I retrieved the gun out of my gun safe around the corner from the kitchen, "This is a very valuable gun, son."
"Oh, do you?" I handed my old Remington to him as he gave me the court order. "I need you to clarify here in the description, the model and serial number. I'm not losing that gun."
He took the gun and carefully inspected all the pertinent information and then leaned over the gun on his knees to the paper on the cocktail table and wrote what he needed with an ink pen.
"All right. Sign here Mr. Emmons."
I took the paper in my hand and scanned the information. I still knew the serial number by memory. I knew most of the serial numbers to my firearms. I took the paper to my kitchen table and signed it there. "Here, please pack her in this," I said.
"Okay," he said. He just stood there a moment like he had something to say but didn't know how to say it. He shuffled his feet and struggled with the soft case and the shotgun, before looking at me again.
"What is it, Detective?"
"Please, call me Paul."
"What is it, Paul?"
"Did you used to be some kind of sharpshooter or something?"
No one had asked me about that stuff in years. I knew he already knew, so it irritated me that he wanted to talk about it at eleven-thirty at night.
"It's just, there's this black-and-white video-file I found on the internet with your name listed as the shooter. Are you that same Baird Emmons?"
"I don't have a computer."
"But you were a show shooter. That must have been what, the early fifties?"
"I told you, I don't have a computer. Besides, sharp shooting died as a spectator's sport before that, except some places in the South."
"Would you like to see it?" Paul said. "I can show you here on my laptop."
What an odd thing to fathom. Me, from so many decades ago. I feared I wouldn't recognize myself. I knew a few home movies had been taken from the thousands of shows I performed back in those days, but I never imagined any of them would make it to an internet in the new millennium.
Paul sat the computer down on the table in front of us.
The movie was choppyfilmed from behind and to my left. It had that old picture-show speed problem, where people move just a bit faster than real life. But there was no doubt it was me. I looked tallcompared to how I felt nowand stout. I recognized the safety glasses below my cowboy hat and those bulky earmuffs settled around my neck. I felt a smug smile grow on my face. I actually remembered the moment from the film. Aberdeen, Georgia, 1952. It was a trick I only performed a few dozen times. Someone in the crowd requested it that daymaybe the guy with the handheld movie maker.
I hold up a woman's wedding band from the front row. A nearby man hands me a small paper. I fold the paper tight around the ring. Again, I hold it high for the crowd between thumb and index finger. Then, without hesitation, I turn my back to the crowd, throw the ring up into the air, pull a pistol from my side and shoot a bullet through the ring. The film ends as I catch the ring, take a quick glance in my hand, and then raise the ring high with a look of glee.
"Did you really make that shot?"
"Many times, but I never wore a ring."
He was off dutyand for a moment Paul was in awe of me. But he still considered me a murderer at the same time. I could see he was trying to loosen me upor set me up for some further questions on his mind. My mind was still wandering 1952. How cocky of me to try that shot with those muffs still around my neck.
"Were you justified in killing those two guys today?"
"It was kill or be killed, my friend."
"You said you were watching them from your kitchen window. Can you show me how you did that?"
I stood, walked over to the sink, pointed and looked out.
"I see," Paul said. "And why did you take your shotgun out to your front porch with you, during what you thought was an armed robbery?"
"Again, I heard yelling and screaming from across the street. When I saw them waving guns and running in and coming out with valuables, I called 911 on my cordless phone. I stood out on my little front porch with my shotgun and spoke loudly, hoping the robbers would notice they'd been found, and leave. But that's not quite what happened."
"I should say."
"Paul, did you know the human heart is roughly the same surface area as a clay pigeon? I've shot hundreds of thousands of clays."
"I'm going to go now Mr. Emmons. I'll be in touch. You don't have plans to leave town or anything like that do you?"
I shook my head.
I didn't sleep much that night, and when I did slip into shallow sleep, I kept seeing bars and tiny windows and crowded cafeterias, like when I was a teenager in the Air Force.
I walked out my front door for the morning paper. Two news vans parked across the streetthe same from the night before. Frank and Rose approached their car, dressed like they were going to church, or court. Both of them wore hats, and Frank tipped his my way.
"Where ya'll off to?" I said, feeling inclined to inquire into their business.
"The in-laws cabin, out by Riss Lake," Frank said.
"What's the occasion?"
"Just want to get away," Frank said.
"Where are you off to?" Rose said, as she struggled with her car door handle.
"I'm not going anywhere. You are, remember? Why would you think I was going somewhere?"
"Oh, just chit-chatting sorry. I'm sure everything's going to be fine, BairdFrank and I are sure of it."
Frank nodded reassuringly over the roof of their sedan, and I waved them off from my driveway in my slippers. But I felt coldness in Rose's voiceto me it sounded eerily similar to some of her backyard profane mumblings.
I peered over at the news crews scrambling to point a camera at me, and then went inside to my hidden closet safe under a floorboard and found my only semi-auto shotgun. I sat in the kitchen with my gun loaded and deliberately placed on the table over an old cooler full of shells. Then I sat back and drank coffee and ate toast with Russlebee, and waited for Paul to call again.