The flashing red and blue lights burn their filthy likenesses into the back of my skull. My piece rests on the passenger seat in its holster back in the car. As I chase them, my feet slap hard against the pavement down the dead end alley. They slow to a jog. They turn to face me. The taller one looks pensive, eyes darting about, probing the shadows for either an improvised weapon or a place to stash his dope. The shorter one slides his right hand nonchalantly into the back pockets of his baggy blue jeans.
As I approach, the intoxicating cocktail of adrenaline and endorphins enters my blood. What they don’t know is that I love these guys. I really do. I’m a cop, a good guy, but that is meaningless without bad guys. Job security and a rush wrapped all into one. Can’t live with ’em, can’t live without ’em.
The little old ladies at church sometimes pull me aside and ask in a whisper, “My goodness, how can you stomach so much violence?” Well, I once heard a wise man say, “life is suffering.” He was right, and what can I say—I love life.
The short one pulls his hand from the back pockets abruptly, thrusting wildly with a glinting blade at my face. I step inside the wide arc of his swinging right arm, simultaneously parrying and cracking him with an economical uppercut with my left. It hits right on the button, which in boxing jargon means it clipped him perfectly on the tip of the chin.
His head snaps back like a trout, leaving the next target exposed. Aiming for the top button of his shirt with an overhand hammerstrike, my fist connects deep against the chicken breast. An M.D. would call the spot the “suprasternal notch.” It’s the place where collarbones join at the sternum, just below the throat. For an instant, I picture the fine teeth of splintering bone severing the rubbery arteries inside. The blood flows, filling him like water from a cherry fire hydrant on a hot city day.
The crumbling bones beneath his thin flannel shirt frame his face as it turns bright pink, with his skin acting as a bladder for his flowing electric life fluid. His legs buckle, and he slumps, clutching his chest with stubby fingers.
As the first suspect expires, the second begins to bolt past me on spindly legs. I grab blindly at him, holding onto him with a fistful of his wiry beard. He takes the opportunity to sink his rusty teeth deep into my hand between the index finger and thumb.
Before he draws blood, I drive my other fist with as much velocity as I can muster into his far scapula. He contorts automatically, like a house spider having a hairy appendage plucked off. He looks so high I am unsure if he felt his humerus rip out of the rotator cuff, but his teeth make a hasty retreat from my hand. I curl my fingers into the lapel of his grimy tweed jacket and bash him against the graffiti brick wall behind him. From his dislocated shoulder, his arm hangs down limp like a silk ribbon, but his other hand is alive and punchy, staccato even. I get nervous when I can’t see his functional hand.
“Where’s your stash?!” I bark.
His eyes are twitchy, like a piranha feeding frenzy. The anxiety is contagious. I feel my heart thundering wildly.
“Where is it!?” He smells like a pissed pit bull on fire.
“Where’s your goddamned dope, fuckface!?” Where’s his hand? I can’t see his hand!
“Here’s my fuckin’ dope, pig!” he cries. With that, he stabs a hypodermic needle into the fibrous tissue of my neck. The poison burns as it passes from the syringe into the sinews surrounding my carotid artery.
He smiles with deep satisfaction. So do I. To be frank, I don’t really enjoy a fight until I see blood. Especially mine. Red helps me concentrate.
I weave underneath his left elbow and fire off a body blow to the lower ribs just about the kidneys. The sound is hollow, like pounding a sack full of flimsy plastic coat hangers. The blow cracks the seventh and eighth ribs on his left flank. I hit with enough force to hopefully snap off a rib and thrust it into his lung. Every breath of his will be grinding electric hell until he dies.
The empty syringe stands perpendicular to the contours of my neck. I tug on it swiftly, like a bandage on a hairy sore. It chimes as it strikes the pavement. As I walk back to the squad car, I call in an ambulance for the mess.
As I approach the car, I hear a vaguely familiar voice say, “I admire the proficiency with which you dispatched those mammals.”
I glance around the dirty alley. I don’t see anyone else.
“Here, on the roof of the patrol car.”
There I notice a small black smudge about the size of a half-dollar. As my eyes focus in the dim back alley, the ovoid little blotch becomes some kind of insect.
“Come closer,” it asks. So I do. As I approach, the symmetric beauty of its body is striking. Its onyx shell shines wetly in the warm streetlights. Twin wings lie folded hard against its broad, segmented abdomen. Black antennae quiver uneasily and taper like power lines into the distance.
“I am the collective representative Orthoptera Gryllidae Domesticus. I am communicating to you via a complex series of scents, which your brain perceives as words. You can simply communicate with me using your rudimentary speech, and have no worries, I speak Homo Sapien English fluently.”
As the voice speaks again, I lean in nearer to see if its tiny mandibles were articulating the soft words. They aren’t; they lie perfectly still.
While staring into its pygmy compound eyes, I suddenly discover my inability to withdraw my gaze. A sense of awe overcomes me, and my jaw drops in amazement. Within the texture of its exoskeleton is the satori of an ocean tide, symphonies cemented in the joints between its head and thorax. As my mind floats freely into my feet, an imaginary cord ties our dancing ganglia together inextricably.
So submerged am I in wonder, I am barely aware of my complete paralysis. So submerged am I that I forget the reason why I stand mesmerized so completely.
Like a popping piece of popcorn, the insect leaps from the car to my face. I try to move, but I stand rigidly statuesque instead. It crawls steadily toward my open mouth. As it passes over the smile lines on my face, my skin itches unbearably. I silently sell my soul to Satan to be able to scratch, but he isn’t listening. The hairs on its leg tickle the flesh of my upper lip as it slips slowly inside my mouth. Its salty smooth segments rest lightly upon my tongue like a cracker.
“I know it is difficult for you to speak in this state, so please allow me to speak. The time for a coup is now. The Corporation is reaching the end of the mammalian management’s reign. Soon, our divisions’ population will explode, something like one of your nuclear bombs. It is our time to control. Only a few key mammals stand in the way of our hostile takeover.”
“This is where you come in. As I said, I admire the proficiency with which you dispatched those mammals. We could you [LJ1] a warm-blooded mammal killer like you on the inside, working for the Bureau of Six Legged Affairs. I respect that you are a mammal of action, not words, so I will cut to the chase. Here is the proposition that I am authorized to offer you: become a double agent for us, dispatching preferred mammalian targets as mandated by me as your direct supervisor or…”
“Or what!?” I mumble.
There is no way I am going to take orders from an insect. I must be hallucinating. This can’t be happening. That’s right, none of this is really happening. It must be the effects of the shit that punk pumped into me.
“Well, or we must make certain nobody learns of our communication. What’s your answer?”
“Hell no!” I mutter excitedly, my tongue fumbling around its hard shell.
“Are you sure?”
“You’re damned right, I’m sure!”
“In that case, nobody must know our communication. You must kill me.”
“Gladly,” I bark. My hand reaches into the passenger side window of the patrol car and glides the .38 out of its holster. The handle is cold and heavy in my palm. My thumb pulls back the stubborn hammer, and a round chambers, rotating and clicking into place. The steel barrel coolly touches my lips, and my jaws widen. Incisors clank firmly against the barrel’s blue skin in an attempt to keep them from chattering. I feel my eyes cross to look at my hand. I still have no control over my actions.
“Do it. Kill me.”
“Do I have to?” I ask.
“Yes, do it now. Now.”
“But I don’t want to!” I scream inside.
My teeth unclench the barrel. The index finger of my right hand contracts deliberately. A bright white flash and a loud pop. My eyes burn. The moist pink skin of my soft palate opens up, exposing the insides of my skull. The mass of flesh where head and neck meet lands in the garbage can behind me. All around, the ground is slick with blood. I fall over backwards. The assorted pieces of crumpled filth soak up my draining life from the street. As I lie here dying, my mind revels in memory. I am no longer a sadist dying in a back alley in the big city. I am a boy of a few years in hand-me-down overalls. I live in a rural mountain town next to a gurgling stream. October air smells like burning cedar and homemade chili. The sky is clear, and dusk gives you colors no neon light ever could. The days are lazy and long, and the only sound to stir you from a soft sleep is the endless song of crickets.