It was the hardest thing I’d ever swallowed. And once I had, all hell broke out. Tracy Beecher was yelling into the news camera jumping up and down waving her arms around.
“Did she swallow it? Oh my Gosh, I think she just swallowed the key to the handcuffs.”
Why couldn’t she just say God, instead of being all puritanically American about it? I mean, she probably had never even been to America, much less believed in a damn God. Or if she did believe, I bet she thought he was made out of Stocks and Bonds or something bankable like that. She made me want to vomit, but I choked it back.
TV choppers roared above my head. They flew so low that the wind from their propellers whipped straight through my Larry Fine print T-shirt. Police lights were flashing. The whole area had an eerie X-Files sort of feel to it. Somebody was yelling into a megaphone, telling me that this kind of show didn’t cut any ice with SA’s finest. I wasn’t putting on a show. It wasn’t me that got the choppers or the cameras or half the state’s police force out here. All I was doing was trying to right a wrong. I would swallow the GOD damn key even if it had just been me and the drivers out here on the docks.
A policeman was crawling on his belly towards me, gun out and pointed straight at me. It was almost comical. I mean, what did he think I was going to do, shackled to the truck the way I was? He was screaming, his face all twisted with some kind of maniacal fury.
“You better have another key there for those cuffs or I’m gonna shoot them off and maybe take your hands clean off as well!”
I couldn’t help it. I turned to the cameras and rolled my eyes. I mean, was all this for real? I was just a girl. I didn’t have an army by my side. I didn’t have bombs or guns or nuclear devices on me. It wasn’t me who had just about called out the National Guards or made the decision to get the media involved. It damn sure wasn’t me. But everyone would think it was. My father would think it was. This whole thing wasn’t my fault. But he would blame me.
I stared out at the scene unfolding before me. I couldn’t shake the sense of impending doom for some reason.
“Step down off the truck,” somebody was booming through the megaphone.
Was he crazy? How did he think I was going to do that? Hadn’t he seen me swallow the key? How many of those things did he think a person carried with them? And anyway, I had no intention of stepping down off the damn truck. That lunatic was going to have to shoot me, I wasn’t moving. I couldn’t turn back now. I’d made a commitment. I was fighting, but it wasn’t me using the violence.
“Fight or flee,” Uncle Gordon used to tell me. “Engage the enemy or run like hell. The worst thing you can do is freeze.”
The hero was still wriggling towards me. He had certainly taken the engaging the enemy rule to heart. I had to do something. I didn’t want anybody to think I’d frozen.
“This is a peaceful protest,” I yelled.
“I’m not doing anything wrong. It’s a peaceful…”
The hero interrupted me with a couple of rounds fired off in my direction. One of them bounced near my feet. There was some clapping and cheering from the drivers.
“Hey, wait a minute,” I screamed.
I’d never been shot before and I didn’t want to make this my first time. But I couldn’t cut and run. I wasn’t a deserter. I wasn’t committing no ugly sin. I wasn’t a quitter. I wasn’t going to be the one doing the surrendering. I was going all the way. I’d made a commitment. The cop got ready to fire again. He pointed his weapon at my face and then lowered it to my arms, and down to the hand that was chained to the carrier truck. I stared back at him. I wasn’t trying to be defiant. If he was going to shoot me, then he would just have to do it in cold blood. I wasn’t going to be looking
away. I wasn’t going to be backing down. I’d made a commitment. I saw him squeeze the trigger. I crossed my fingers hard and waited for that bullet that might kill me, or worse… I kept my eyes trained on the shooter. Hostile faces and cameras were glued on me. I tried to keep my face blank, composed. I tried to keep my breathing regular. But my brain was going crazy. I couldn’t think for all the jumbled thoughts that were dancing around in there. And then I heard somebody shout.
I waited. I had nothing better to do. I had one eye on the hand with the gun, the other searched the docks for the voice. A guy stepped out of the fray and moved towards the cop.
“Wait,” he said again.
He was slight of build and had that fair-haired pale, sickly pallor about him of someone diagnosed with a lot of allergies and respiratory difficulties. The kind of things that could have easily been fixed with a good vegan diet.
The cop rolled onto his back and directed his gun at the guy.
“You go firing off any more bullets like that,” he said, “and you’re liable to go hitting the sheep and then our loading rates will all get docked.”
“We’re just working stiffs, officer. We need that money.”
His voice was sort of slow and laconic. He sounded like the kids I’d grown up with in hicks-ville, SA .
If he was all the help I was getting, I was dead, I was better off dead.
I tried to breathe. I didn’t want anybody thinking that I was so scared, that I was holding my breath. I breathed. In. Out. I kept my eyes wide open. I stared right down the barrel of that cop’s gun. A funny sort of quiet rippled through the docks. All I could hear was my breath. In. Out. I saw the hero squeeze down on the trigger again.
It started to rain. I could hear the sheep bleating. For some reason I thought about my marketing lecturer recounting the time he’d helped to artificially inseminate sheep.
“It’s an operation,” he said.
“They put the sheep on their bellies, make two slits and jab in the semen in a big syringe. No anesthetic.”
And then there was a crackling noise coming from the radio on the cop’s belt.
“Holster your weapon, Constable,” a tinny voice screamed. “We’ve got a locksmith on the way.”
Something came flying through the air and hit me in the arm.
I turned and faced the lights, the gun, the hatred…
And all around me sheep were bleating…