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"What was it you threw at him?" the officer asked again.

Before Bob could answer, a kid, who must have been in his teens, shouted out the answer.  

“It was a can of Sunny Meadows beans,” he yelled as he looked at the can that he’d picked up from the crime scene.  He held it up in the air, then added, “Pinto beans, 15 ounces!”

That must have seemed funny to the kid because he laughed like a madman, started jumping up and down, and then began shouting, "Pinto beans, pinto beans, pinto beans."  Which caused the crowd of shoppers around him to join in as they clapped to the pinto bean beat.  

It was pandemonium.  The inmates were taking over the asylum.  

Bob gave the officer a "What the hell can I do look?", which prompted her to wave her hands in the air as if asking the crowd to be quiet.  When they didn't shut up, Bob began to get pissed off at them even though he knew they backed his actions and would tell the police they did, but this wasn’t the way to do it.

"Everybody shut the fuck up, now!" he shouted with his mask lowered.  

His outburst brought almost total silence, except for the kid who shouted, “But you’re a hero, dude!”

Bob shot him a look that must have frozen his balls and said, "Yeah, and I got another can of beans right here for you if you don't stuff it and let the officer do her job."

That stifled the kid and got him a look of appreciation from the officer, who Bob thought must have been very pretty under her mask and her full-blown battle rattle.  Her touch was soft when she took him by the arm and guided him away from the assembled mob.  A look at her partner told him to keep the people at bay.

"Thanks for that," she said, "now tell me exactly what happened.”

She pulled out a notebook, took the pen out of the holder inside, and waited.  Bob saw the paramedics working on the man he'd just assaulted and, for a moment, hoped the guy would live.  

But only for a moment.  

"Okay.  So, I am here doing my grocery shopping for the week; I like to get in here early to avoid the crowds and any COVID carriers.  When I see that guy walk in," he gestured to where the paramedics were lifting the man onto a gurney.

“If he’d been wearing a mask, I might not have noticed him, but coming in barefaced like he did, set off alarm bells in my head.  My first urge was to tell him to get the fuck out of the store.  His left side was towards me, so I couldn't see the assault rifle hanging on a strap down his back on the right side, but I didn’t have to wait long for him to show his hand.”

Bob paused for a deep breath.  The officer said nothing.  She looked at him, pen at the ready, for when he was prepared to continue.  He thought that she did have lovely eyes, deep blue and penetrating.  Wrenching his gaze away from them and the accompanying thoughts in his mind, he saw her partner chatting with the crowd while also taking notes.  A few of the ladies in the group were crying while looking tenderly at Bob.

“Okay, I’m ready.  So the guy reaches across his body with his left hand and comes up holding the barrel housing, then he gripped the handle and trigger with his right hand.  That is when I knew we were all in deep shit.  I knew that the coward was holding an AR-15 or something like it because I used the mother of all these rifles in Viet Nam."  

“You don’t look old enough to have served there,” the officer said as a look of suspicion stirred in her eyes.  

"Well, I am old enough, just ask any of the construction companies around here who won't hire me because I am 68 years old", Bob replied, not trying at all to hide the bitterness in his voice, "anyway, you'll verify it somewhere along the way.  I know the drill.  I was an MP over there in Uncle Sam’s shit show.”

The suspicion fled from the officer’s eyes, “That explains all the detail in what you have told me so far.”

“Yeah, it’s a hard habit to break, so when I tell you what happened, it’s what happened.”

The officer nodded in response.  Bob could tell she was smiling under her N95 mask.  He wished he could see it.

“When I saw what was what, all I could think about was to duck.  Then I heard a lady in the deli section scream, making the guy turn away from me.  He was going to take her out first, so I didn't have time to think, there was no moment of clarity, no time to ponder that maybe I could be a hero, I just shouted at him, 'Hey asshole, over here, and just as he turned toward me, the can of beans hit him in his left eye.  He screamed like a stuck pig and went down, clutching it with his left hand while still holding the rifle in his firing hand.”

The officer held up her hand, then continued writing.  When done, she looked up and motioned for him to continue.  Bob took another deep breath and, for the first time, noticed that the store was now swarming with blue suits and more paramedics.  No one had approached him and the officer.  They must have been warned off by her partner.

“Anyway, everything happened in a flash.  I don't have a clear memory of picking up the can and throwing it.  I also don’t recall running over to the guy as he tried to stand up; I was at the register, then I was standing over him.  What I remember next was my right foot with the Keen, steel-toed shoe on it making contact with his forehead.  He fell backward, and his head made a very pleasing thump when it hit the tile floor.  I thought that might have ended it, but he started to move, so I kicked him on the side of his head, I guess more than once.  I wasn't counting.  Then I started stomping on his right hand to make him let go of the rifle.  I don't know if he was conscious or not.  I didn't care, you understand I had to neutralize the threat?  Finally, a couple of guys pulled me off him.  Then you showed up."

 The officer had stopped writing at some point in Bob's narrative and looked at his shoes.  The right one was splattered with blood.

“Do you always wear shoes like that to the supermarket?” she asked with a hint of devilishness in her eyes. 

Bob smiled under his mask.  He knew then that all would be okay.  The officer would write the incident up as needed to cover his ass.  

“I guess I do, officer…”

“Bryant.  Sgt. Elaine Bryant.”

"I guess I do, Sgt. Bryant.  I worked in construction for over forty years until jobbers told me I was too old to work anymore while looking at my birth date instead of me.  These are the only kind of shoes I have anymore." 

"Well, I will have to take that pair as evidence, but we can do that down at the station," she replied as she holstered her pen, folded up her notebook, and slipped it back into one of her coat pockets, "you understand that you have to come with me for a while, don't you?"

“Of course, but can I take care of my groceries first?”

His cashier was obviously straining hard to hear the conversation he was having with Sgt. Bryant caught this last part and spoke up, "Don't worry about your groceries, sir, don't worry at all.  We will have them bagged and ready for you when you can come back for them."

Then, in near unison, the crowd shouted, “And we’re paying for them!”

As Sgt. Bryant took him by the arm again to lead him to her patrol car, uncuffed, her partner fell into step with them while in the background, the shoppers broke into loud applause and whoops of appreciation, most likely started by the kid.

Bob flushed.  He didn’t know how to handle this kind of attention.  

All he knew was that it was nice to be appreciated for something again, no matter what it was.


Since the 1970’s John Darling has written and published numerous short stories, poems, and magazine articles.   

His first publication was a short story that appeared in the Journal of Mental Health.  His lone play, Stage Directions, has been produced in the United States, Canada, and most recently at the Soho Theatre in London, England.  While most of his published works are short stories and articles, he has had some poetry published.


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