Helicopters are buzzards for trouble. I have a sick thing about 'em anyway, so last Tuesday morning, I'm at the D.H. Hill Library at N.C. State and start smelling smoke and I hear that distinctive clatter. I jump on the Sears three-speed and ride right into trouble. Kling, Kling, gotchu lomein. OUDTAWAY. "You ride that thing from Durham?" the cop asks, examining my press laminate.
"Amazin' how much ground these things can cover."
I wend through police lines and hoses and trucks and puddles of water. Dense, grey smoke is pouring from Reynolds Coliseum. Seems a leg of the 440 transformer serving Reynolds jumped to ground (the building itself), igniting and ultimately destroying ROTC headquarters. Kid said it sounded like someone "welding." Wow. That's one way to get the military off campus. ZOT!
The distinctive smell of old burning building is being replaced by that soggy garbage-fire smell while the whirley-birds, legions of firefighters, cops, EMTs, uplink trucks, cameras and freaked out ROTC kids all crane for a look.
"My, my, my," I think as I pedal off. "Sho is a lotta stuff here." But not much of a story, far as I could tell. I watched the Cincinnati stockyards burn as a child--think acres and acres of barbecue.
Hmm, funny--how'd someone managed to steal my handcuff/bikelock while I was behind the line? A cop at the fire with a key? Some sick fuck in the dorms? Weird. I'd lost the key anyway. Big deal.
I go back and write. Later, surfacing from my nap, groggy, I here them again, closer. The phone rings. It's Eddie. "Sadlack's is surrounded by cops."
"Thanks Eddie. Gotta go." Outside in the bright blue sky, both 5 and 11 have birds in the air.
Kling, Kling. OUDTAWAY.
Hillsborough and Enterprise is crawling with news trucks, onlookers and dozens of cops and EMTs. Seems someone didn't like his haircut and went berserk at Five Star barbershop next to Jerry's Pawn Shop, stabbing the barber, James McGee.
McGee tore out, the bad haircut in hot pursuit, chasing the poor dude into the Bell Tower Mart, where McGee was shanked again.
My boy Blake at Buddha's Belly flipped a broken bar stool leg to the other barber, Darryl France. France took a swing but doesn't quite git 'er done. The bad haircut sticks him and skedaddles. He doesn't make it 30 feet and BOOM, RPD's got him on the ground and headin' downtown.
Inside Five Star, it's like a ghost ship. TV's on, AC's blowing cold. There's air and blood everywhere, all up and down the street and in the Bell Tower mart. Lotta activity, but still, just another day in the city. I mean, I was over in Boylan Heights one night and someone got stabbed bad right around the corner from the mayor. I had one hand on the tourniquet and one on the phone, trying to avoid the spreading dark, sticky puddle. "How many times has he been stabbed?" asked the 911 operator.
"Tell you what, darlin', why don't you ask him," and held my Nokia to the kid's mouth.
"Get me a fucking ambulance. I'm bleeding to death. "
Back on Hillsborough Street, it is mostly over. There are five trucks, yellow tape and all dat, everyone catching their breath, cameras still running, RFD, RPD and the EMTs packing up when, stage left, here comes chugging across Hillsborough, right into the crime scene, inexplicably, this fat ol' groundhog--the Native American embodiment of a mystery of death without dying, trance, dreams. First one I've ever seen. I'm guessing he got blowed out of his hole by the transformer. Finally some real news. Ground fault, groundhog--makes perfect sense to me. Sir Walter Wally gets spooked up under a patrol car getting ready to peel out to the next call.
"Stop!" Mary yells. "There's a groundhog in your wheel well!"
"Huh?" says the cop.
"There's a groundhog in your wheel well!"
The officer gets out and pokes away with his baton until ol' groundhog scrambles out from under the 'Vic and clambers up under Jerry's Jetta. He's just hangin' out, under the car breathing from the temporary respite, as all the vehicles, officials, press and gawkers pack up and trickle away.
What do we do? I'm not touching the mother. The other customers at Sad's are formulating a plan in real-time. I don't like it. The thing would chew your arm off if you gave it a chance. I call 911. "I'd like to report a rampant groundhog at 2116 Hillsborough, you know, the stabbing earlier?"
"They'll euthanize him!" someone cries. "OK," I say to the operator, "forget it. We're going to try to handle it on our own. I'll call you back if it doesn't work."
"Just let us know."
While the gaggle of after-work drinkers begin improvising a trap out of a taped up beer box, Lutie finds a plastic milk crate. The Asian dude from the wing joint comes out for a look.
"Fat and juicy," hollers Big E, and dissolves into a gigglin' fit.
They are ready to move in with the beer box, a piece of old crown molding out of someone's work truck, and the plastic milk crate when a white GMC Colorado with an aluminum box in back and a city seal on the side arrives. Hooray! The experts are here!
Animal control officer G.W. Barham has all manner of nets, snares, sticks, lassoes and snake sticks in the back of the truck. A cop for critters. Assisted with back-up from the bar, the critter is flushed from under the Jetta and begins, poor thing, to waddle terrified around the parking lot of Buddha's, a mob of drunks in hot pursuit. Wally gets pinned up in the corner. Lutie slams the Parmalot crate on him and soon, the critter's wiggling in the net.
"You're not going to kill him are you?" Mary pleads.
"I'm taking him to the Neuse River," Barham says. Mary is on his shoulder, tugging at his uniform, almost wailing, "Promise me you won't kill him."
"You can ride with me, if you want," Barham says. Mary is mollified. Wally's heading for the woods.
It is not yet 7:30 and it is still a full moon.
Then I see an envelope in the basket of the Sears. Inside are my handcuffs and a note signed by Harry Houdini.
I go back to my stout.
"You lose a set of keys, Eichenberger?" My lost keys are hanging inside.
"You know what all this means?" asks David.
"I dunno, suppose you tell me?"
"Six more weeks of weirdness."