Can I Get A Witness?
A short story
by Chris Hibbard
Written August 10, 2011
Begun at 11:15 p.m., finished at 12:45 a.m.
MST time, Canada
Can I Get A Witness?
Charles was a short man. His father was short, just like his grandfathers on both sides. For all he knew, his ancestors were short on all sides, going all the way back to the 16th century. He had been told there was some Scottish in there, mixed with some Danish blood – but what does that all really matter anyway.
With a job in the print shop at the city newspaper, Charles lived comfortably; though sometimes he’d come home stinking of ink, his clothes stained beyond repair. As his calico cat named Chun-Li never seemed to give two shits about anything but the sound of Friskies, any dirty laundry was of little consequence. He’d wrapped up a big four-day project at work today, and was feeling good about the world, looking forward to nursing a few cold Pilsners this evening while watching tonight’s hockey game on his big screen. Charles’ life was literally floating by him quite effortlessly, with nary a care in the world. That is, until the drive home, when it all went south thanks to some bad frickin’ driver.
He had just crossed over the coulee that split the city, and his four-cylinder engine was chugging its way up the other side. After glancing in the side mirror and double-checking quickly over his shoulder, Charles tapped the accelerator and merged into an obvious gap. Nearing the top of the hill, he fiddled with the stereo system. A disc he had loaded into the player was stuck in its little crack, and all he could do was listen to it over and over again. Over the last four days, it had begun driving him just a little bit loony. He’d memorized every lyric, yet only tracks 3 thru 7 were worth hearing. Tracks 8 and 9 both skipped a little, and Charles would definitely buff out any fingerprints on ’em, if he could ever get the frickin’ disc out of its player. He was pondering the retrospective merits of buying something European when he noticed that silly twat in the mini-van.
Anyone who has lived in Middleton long enough knows that there is a crosswalk halfway through the merge lane onto University Drive. They know because it was all over the news a few years back, how some third year history major got clipped by a sedan and never recovered. The student’s parents were so outraged that the city has since created a full-blown crosswalk – buttons; flashing lights, X on the ground – you name it. When the dark blue mini-van in front of Charles swerved gently to the left, Charles still had his index finger on the eject button – hoping it would work this time; since it hadn’t worked the last 35 times he’d tried. Ever cautious, Charles looked up in time to notice the mini-van had begun crossing the line on the two-lane, same direction strip.
Immediately to his left was a big white pickup, what must have been a 350 or a hemi. From the driver’s window of Charles’ beat up Sunbird, there was no way of seeing into the elevated cab, and no noticeable driver. When the blue mini-van was clearly about to change lanes with signalling, it came dangerously close to causing a rear-end collision with Mr. White Truck, who had been pushing the speed limit already.
Charles instinctively depressed his foot on the brake pedal, fully expecting to hear the truck honking, likely followed by a raised middle finger, as was commonplace in most major city centres after business hours. Therefore, it was a serious shock when he heard the truck’s diesel engine rev before it slammed forcefully into the van’s rear end. The van’s driver was obviously shaken; swerving precariously on both sets of side wheels before it flipped on its side and slid for 15 metres. There were no true sidewalks on this particular stretch of road, caught somewhere between a major thoroughfare intersection and the first strip mall on this end of town. Charles would stop to get tacos at the drive-through place sometimes, and somehow came home with a case of beer and some cigarettes too. The next day he always wished he’d gotten milk and eggs instead – funny how things worked out.
After witnessing this show of vehicular hostility, Charles’ mind was racing. ‘Do I race home six blocks and call 911?”; “Maybe I should pull into Taco Palace and call from there?’. Acting impulsively, Charles yanked hard right on the steering wheel and came to a stop several car lengths ahead of the now-smoking mini-van. ‘Holy shit. I’m first on the scene…,” his subconscious pointed out. ‘You took that first aid course last summer remember? You’ve got to stop and help, it’s like an oath you made.”
Shifting the Sunbird into park, Charles removed the keys and opened his door. He made sure to push the auto-lock button before pushing it shut firmly behind him. He’d begun his approach towards the van when he froze in his tracks. The door of the truck had been kicked open, and a driver was descending. Immediately after the door closed, a man appeared. He was wearing a grey suit, and there was little that was remarkable about him. His hair was a light brown, and he wore thin-rimmed glasses. Charles’ eyes barely registered the man; fixed as his eyes were on the aluminum baseball bat he held in one hand. ‘Why would a guy be carrying a baseball bat while wearing a suit in a truck?’ popped into Charles’ mind.
He stayed frozen – his muscles locked and his breath held, while his eyes tracked the motions of Mr. White Truck. The man walked boldly towards the upturned mini-van, and asked loudly “Are you okay? Hey! Are you all right in there?” His voice carried on the wind, and Charles noticed that other cars had been passing, driving slowly; the necks of their drivers awkwardly craned, aching for details about this latest traffic nightmare. Seeing a break in the traffic, Charles put his shoulder forward and pushed across the road, intent on helping however he could.
As he approached the van’s front end, he heard a strange noise; something that reminded him of a cat coughing up a hairball. When he looked around the driver’s side, he saw that Mr. White Truck had reached up and over the undercarriage; and had somehow begun pulling the van’s driver out through the window by his throat. Was it Mr. White Truck’s knuckles that were turning purple, Charles thought for a second, or is that Mr. Mini-Van’s face?”
Charles quickly ducked back behind the engine block, planning a quiet return to his vehicle, carefully waiting for the right moment to bolt across the other lane. He had made it across and was pulling his keys out of his pocket when he looked back; just in time to see something that would haunt him forever.
Mr. White Truck was kicking the mini-van driver in the ass, keeping him crawling in the dirt. The van’s driver seemed to be in shock from the crash; bewildered by whatever this was that was happening. Suddenly his head burst open, and like something off Mythbusters or from a coconut-cracking competition, all the grey matter sprayed free. Horrified, Charles watched Mr. White Truck calmly wipe the blood and hair from the dripping bat on the shirt of the now-dead driver and return to his vehicle. Aside from a dented grill and a broken front headlight, the truck cranked over just fine. Before he could even register what he had just witnessed, the truck was pulling away from the curb and was pulling an illegal U-turn, tires spinning as it took off back in the other direction. Charles had just enough time to notice a yellow bumper sticker and a W or a V in the first part of the license plate, and it had yielded back onto the main ramp, disappearing out of sight.
Pulling the passenger side door open on the Sunbird, Charles rummaged in his business workbag for his cell phone. “9-1-1. 9-1-1. 9-11,” he was mumbling out loud to himself, as though he needed constant reminding of the digits he was about to call. After depressing the three buttons, he was immediately connected to a somewhat detached voice that said, “Middleton Emergency Department. What seems to be the problem?” Charles momentarily thought that this dispatch agent sounded resigned to her post, expecting yet another lost cat call, or some minor fender bender business.
“There’s been an accident,” Charles said. “An accident and an assault too. I think someone’s dead.”
“Are you still at the scene sir?”
“Yes, well, across the street and few yards away, but…”
“And what is your location please sir?” asked the operator.
“I’m near the top of the coulee hill on the West Side. Right near the Taco Palace, on University Drive.”
“There’s no need to panic sir. We have had a call about the accident already sir and officers are en route. Could I have your name and home address please?”
Charles wondered if she had heard something in his voice, something that sounded like panic. He mentally checked his breathing, and realized his hand was cramping up from squeezing the cell phone too tight.
“Sir? Are you still there sir?”
Charles hung up the phone, thinking that they couldn’t really need his home address could they? He was just a witness to a crime. If the police wanted his address, they could ask him when they got here. Which they did in just a few seconds, as the first of two black and white cruisers peeled onto University Drive, their sirens chirping and lights rotating until they pulled to a stop, the first behind Charles’ Sunbird and the second cutting through the oncoming traffic to pull in front of the flipped over mini-van.
Two officers stepped from the first cruiser, their hands on their belt holsters. “Remain where you are sir. Please don’t make any sudden moves and keep your hands where we can see them,” the taller of the two officers said.
“Okay, okay – I’m not moving’ – but… but I… I mean, I’ m just…”
“That’s quite enough sir. We’re going to have to cuff you now, and you’ll sit in the back seat of our car here – there’s no need to cause a scene.”
My god! What was happening here? Charles thought, as the shorter of the two officers forced him face down, bent over the trunk of his Sunbird. As the cuffs were clicked tightly around his wrists, he realized he was being treated like a suspect. Like a criminal. Like he was somehow involved with this.
One officer from the second police cruiser was now on his handset, likely informing the other officers about the bloody mess they had just come across. The other officer was now positioned on the centre line between the two lanes, calmly directing traffic using hand signals and body language.
Charles was roughly forced into the back seat of the squad car, his forehead bouncing painfully off the roof on his way in. “I’m just a witness, officer. I called 9-11. I’m just a witness and there’s no need to…”
His pleas were cut off as the door slammed, narrowly missing catching one of Charles’ feet as it did. Charles started around him in bewilderment, his breath coming in gasps and something sticky now running down his forehead. “I’m bleeding,” he thought. “The cops made me bleed! That can’t be right, can it?” His eyes roamed the environment, noting the shotgun locked in place between the two front seats, the CB radio, the small video screen and GPS equipment mounted on the dash, the wire fencing separating front from back, and the plastic covering on the back seat – probably to act as a stain guard against leaking unsavoury bodily fluids. Looking outside, he noticed that slow-moving drivers were staring at him as they passed. One police officer was inspecting the interior of Charles’ Sunbird, popping the trunk from inside, a notebook in his hand. “Christ. This is where criminals sit,” Charles thought. “Why am I in the backseat? Why didn’t they ask me any questions? What the hell is goin’ on?”
His questions would be answered soon enough, as the shorter of the two officers returned to the car and settled into the passenger seat in front. Not saying a word, the police officer grabbed the CB radio intercom and rattled off a bunch of police codes and jargon that Charles didn’t understand. Before replacing the handset however, he did catch the term, ‘suspect is in custody.”
Turning to face Charles, the officer recited in a stern and rehearsed manner, “Are you Mr. Charles Theodore Raines, owner of the white Sunbird right there?”
“That’s me officer, but… but..”
“This is your driver’s license, and your registration, which we found inside the vehicle?”, the cop asked, holding Charles’ identification papers up against the mesh dividing wall.
“Yes, that’s me, but I’m not the one who…”
“Are you aware that your vehicle registration is several days past it’s renewal date, and you are currently driving illegally?” the officer asked. “Well, yes, I mean, kind of – I was going to renew it on the weekend but I’ve got…”
“And are you aware sir, that you have several unpaid parking tickets on your driving record, a number of which have remained unpaid too long and you have been convicted of traffic offenses?”
“Yes, I’m aware, that’s why I couldn’t renew my registration – that’s why I couldn’t do it on the weekend, because the court house isn’t open on the weekend – they’re just parking tickets…” His voice raising unintentionally, Charles continued, “I mean, what the hell is going’ on with all of this… I just, I’m just a witness… Like, come on man, I was the one who phoned you people! Why aren’t any of you listening to me!?!”
“That’s quite enough sir. There will be plenty of time for your questions at the station downtown later. Sir, you are under the arrest on suspicion of homicide. A witness to the crime has contacted us, and you match the description of the attacker they described. What have you done with the murder weapon – a baseball bat we were told? We understand that you called 911 and refused to leave your name and address. Now why would someone innocent do that? If you cooperate with us, things are bound to go much more smoothly for you.”
Charles’ sense of sanity was starting to slip. Tunnel vision began creeping into the corners of his consciousness, and he was suddenly pouring sweat. As the world began to spin slowly around him, he could hear the officer reciting, “You have the right remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to consult a lawyer or attorney. If you cannot afford an attorney, one can be provided to you. You have the right to…”
“Holy shit, I think I’m… I’m about to faint I think,” Charles blurted out, before everything went black.