Mason was sitting on the hood of his truck, waiting for the school bus, when the patrol car turned onto the cul de sac. He watched it approach with a sinking feeling, his mind and his gut battling for control of the narrative.
Mind: “It’s just a cop on his beat. Look, his lights aren’t even on. You have nothing to worry about. You haven’t done anything.”
Gut: “They’re coming for you, man. I knew this freedom experiment was too good to be true.”
Mind: “Relax. He’s just going to circle the block.”
Gut: “They’re looking right at you. Run!”
Mind: “You’re fine.”
Gut: “You’re dead.”
The squad car pulled into his driveway and stopped a few feet from his truck. The driver, a crew-cut uniformed cop, said something into the radio that was attached to his shoulder. The passenger — bald, mirrored sunglasses, and a seersucker suit — stared poker-faced through the windshield. Another patrol car sped down the cul de sac. Then a K-9 unit.
Suddenly the doors flew open and they were crouching behind them, guns drawn in deadly synchronicity, aimed straight at his face.
Slowly, Mason raised his hands.
“Brilliant idea,” cracked the uniformed cop. “You must’ve done this before.”
Across the street, he noticed Fran standing on her porch.
“Now I want you to slide off that truck, nice and easy. Turn around and place your hands on the hood.”
The frisk was meticulous. “Anything on you I should know about? Guns, knives, needles, crack pipes, dope?”
He didn’t bother answering. His wallet was removed from his back pocket and tossed on the hood. The plainclothes detective wandered over and picked it up.
“Velcro. Classy.” He thumbed through the contents and found his ID. “Mason Foster, just the guy I was looking for.”
“Told you so,” said his gut as handcuffs were placed on his wrists.
“This your truck?” The plainclothesman walked to the driver side and peered through the window. “I see a beer on the floorboard. What else am I gonna find when I search it? A gun, perhaps?”
He kept his eyes straight ahead, locked on the river birch. “I’m a convicted felon. It’s against the law for me to possess a firearm.”
The detective circled the truck and came back to where he was standing. “Where were you last night at nine o’clock?”
He glanced at the pull-up bar. “Here.”
The detective smirked. “Of course you were. Can anyone vouch for you?”
He kissed her at sunset, almost four hours before nine. Tammy had company and her blinds were closed. No help there. His only hope was Fran. Maybe she was spying from her window.
“I don’t know.”
Sensing weakness, the detective moved in for the kill, his face inches from Mason’s. “Is there something you need to tell me?”
“Well don’t be shy. Go ahead.”
Mason hesitated. “I’m supposed to be babysitting this afternoon. A seven-year-old and an eleven-year-old. They should be getting off the school bus any minute.”
Gum smacked in his ear, close enough to smell. After a pause, the detective spoke in a gust of cinnamon. “Get him outta here.”
The uniformed cop clamped his arm in an iron grip and roughly directed him to the back of the squad car.
“What am I being arrested for?”
The door slammed. The outside world was muffled by plexiglass. And just like that, he was back in his natural habitat: confinement.
Neighbors gawked from windows and porches as he was chauffeured down the cul de sac. Humiliation crept between the shock and confusion.
The school bus was just pulling away when he reached the end of the block. Both kids stood watching from the sidewalk in their backpacks. Evan’s face was unreadable, probably still angry over the Tammy incident. Maddy’s mouth was wide open. Slowly, as if in a daze, she lifted her hand to wave goodbye.
It killed him not to respond. He wanted to. But his hands were locked behind his back. He watched through the rear window as they shrunk to specks, then disappeared altogether.