Who can see in the dark?
Night belongs to the ears.
The phone rang.
“Don’t flatter yourself.”
“And why not?”
“You’re plan B.”
“Pretend I’m Z.”
“Nix: get over to Odin’s Acre.”
“The biker bar?”
The Volvo was working, and it was August which made “Now!” a reality. Fifteen minutes later I found myself parked along the barbed wire periphery of a three story
brick structure and the most notorious watering hole in the upper Midwest. In less time, I knew why Larsson called. What hinted at a manageable spectacle from afar was terrifying up close: the scaling flames from the bar grew faster and hotter in the time it took to find Larsson. Amidst
the frenzy of firefighters, police, Berserker Bike Club members and onlookers, the police chief barked orders in every direction. He had to. Inside the fray, I learned the fire was the smaller problem.
With the fire warming our backs, a human half-circle gathered around one person. A head taller than any in crowd, Stanley Ellefson swung an axe with his two fingered hand as he waved a revolver overhead with his other. The half of his face that was unmarked glistened with sweat, while the layers of scar tissue that covered the other half of his face and neck were dull and dry. His mouth, what was left of it, returned the taunts from the bikers.
For a moment, I pictured in my mind’s eye the twenty-four year old that was firefighter Ellefson, before he rushed into the burning Ericsson Home for Children seven years ago.
“The Amazing Stan” the papers dubbed him. I looked quickly from the crowd back to the fire as a night wind carried a searing reminder of its presence.
“Know him?” Larsson screamed.
“Sure. He started the fire?” I began to walk past the police chief and in Stan’s direction, I got a forearm to the chest.
“You know better. Some guys over there say you talk to Stan all the time.”
I looked over at the sampling of Bridge City’s homeless, men I’d seen almost daily over the last two years: Smitty, Raffers, Burleson, and Cal Grimes. All were lakefront locals and close pals with the usually homeless Ellefson. They were especially agitated at the anxious corral of police. I looked to Ellefson as I walked over and caught the attention of their de facto leader, Cal Grimes, a fifty-something African-American refugee from Central California. He waved me closer, pointing to Stan:
“ ‘Ain’t right, Will Day. Bikers got Stan the Man sponged soaked with Tequila, then set their women to lap dance him, and all the time whispering dirty, they then throwed him out the bar.”
I nodded looking back to Stan’s feigned movements towards the taunting bikers.
“Where is Sister Say, Will?” Grimes yelled.
“Sister Say was plan A?” I asked looking back at Larsson.
“She’s on summer retreat, her Provincial says. But she has been contacted.”
Less than ten years back, while still her teens, Sister Sadhbh Kinsella, singlehandedly formed the “homestead movement” in the city. A zero tolerance poverty program, it
morphed into organized support for the homeless, many of whom were post-rehab. Sadhbh, known as “Say,” recruited the biggest construction firms in the state to build low cost
independent and group living residences across the city. For the first three months of my moving to Bridge City, at the request of Brother Malachy, I walked the streets with her,
learning that she was recently only semi-successful in fending off a tweeked-out slasher. Repeatedly, she told me I wasn’t needed. Ever the sole crusader. She wanted to and
did her best work alone. Later, I found out that Stan, even drunk, was a better bodyguard. I saw her maybe half a dozen times in the last couple of years.
“This don’t end well, Will Day,” Grimes called out.
I watched Stan feign a rush at the Berserkers, his gun pointed to the sky. Larsson spoke into his head set.
“All’s in place, Chief,” a uniform rushed to his side. I looked past the crowd and up. Odin’s Acre was the only building structure in the area, the only possible cover, except for the three fire truck ladders, now manned but not by firefighters.
“No way.” I leaned over to Larsson.
“I’ve a sworn obligation to everyone out here.”
“Including Stan.” I grabbed his arm. “Let me.”
“One minute,” he looked over to me, speaking into his headset. I stepped into the open, my hands high and, a beer stein flew over my head; followed by a motorcycle boot. I
smiled at Stan and caught his eye before he stared behind me.
“Get gone, Day.”
In his leather vest, the leader of the Berserkers, Miles Trondur, broke from the crowd and came at me with a windmill of fists. I moved off the line of attack and kicked low. He lifted his foot to avoid the blow and I swept his other foot from under him. Two policemen came up to me and I was dragged back to Larsson.
“At least you’re entertaining.” The police Chief nodded over to the laughter from Stan and the crowd at the sight of the now seated Trondur. In an instant, all turned quiet as Stan went into a crouch, his gun hand curled around his shins. From three sides, as police began to move in; Stan stood and unfurled. The axe flew into the open behind him, his gun aimed barely above the crowd.
“She’s here!” Cal Grimes screamed.
I looked over and saw two uniforms escort the slight figure and freckled face of Sister Say over to Larsson.
“It’s about the gun,” the Chief helped her fasten a Kevlar vest. “Remember, Sister: get him to put it down. Stay only within shouting distance.”
“And your guns?” She spoke with a smile. “I want your word, Chief Larsson, that—”
“—I won’t do what I cannot do.”
“I AM A MAN!” Stan Ellefson bellowed in every direction. Again and louder, he repeated it before a laughing crowd.
“Stanley, I know. And I know you Stanley. You’re not this; this is not the Stan Ellefson I love.”
At the sight of her, Stan dropped his hands at his sides. “You love everybody though. What kind of love is that?”
The crowd roared. A piece of rope landed at Stan’s feet, followed by a beer bottle, then a ball peen hammer. He snarled and raised the gun to shoulder level, his one eye squinting in aim. Sister Say sprinted towards him with outstretched arms. The sound of a single shot flooded my
hearing. For a moment, everything I saw went into slow motion—including the joined collapse of Stan and Say. Larsson was the first one to them. He waved his arm furiously for the EMTs. Cal Grimes and I helped the police officers to circle around them. It seemed like an hour before
the stretchers left to the ambulances through a forced opening in the crowd.
I watched the flames die as people dispersed.
“Wrong!” Cal looked around to the few left at the scene. “It’s just wrong, Will!” He stomped on the ground and pounded his fist repeatedly into his palm. “‘Woman could see who hurt and how, then do something. She wasn’t like the rest of us. Sister Say could see, Will. And save.”
I stood and listened. My eyes stung. A bald man in a seersucker suit with a clipboard came over and announced that he was from the coroner’s office.
“I’m sorry but I was told that you gentlemen knew the deceased, both parties.”
Calvin Grimes wrapped his arms around his midsection as he fought back a wail, the loud hum remaining in his mouth as tears rolled down his face. We stood in silence, watching him.
“First, the woman’s name?”
“Sister Kinsella,” I responded. Cal Grimes began to rock back and forth on his heels. Smoke from the doused flames surrounded us.
“Sister Say Kinsella,” I continued.
“Spell it, please.”
“First name: S-a-d-h-b-h. Last name: K-i-n—”
“Skip all that.” Calvin Grimes struck a pose. “Name: Super Soul Sister, For Real.”
The man from the coroner’s office looked over to me.
As the bar’s remaining wall crumbled, we felt the roll of a wave underfoot. The smoke grew even thicker, enough to blind us until dawn.