...I come to, still screaming, lying flat on the ground. The loud whack of something heavy hitting the pavement near my head is fearful enough; then add the uproar of a herd of panicking people who trample my prone body like a bunch of mad Cossack dancers. I shout and kick at them; totally ignored as usual. Avoiding whatever falls from the sky is far more important to them than my flaccid convulsions.
Hooray! I’m saved. A jacked-up armoured vehicle, marked by semi-understood marking, screeches to a halt nearby. A roof mounted megaphone booms a recorded message, “DISPERSE, DISPERSE”, efficiently clearing my part of the sidewalk. Sitting up, I urge my doubly-abused brain to decipher the lettering on the side of the truck. Grudgingly it comes up with ‘Special Police Unit – Domestic’, printed around a symbol of a wide, staring eye.
I say it softly, and the chill that runs through my spine has nothing to do with the cold weather. An old recollection of pounding fists and swinging truncheons warns me to run from these law men. They aren’t here to help. Possibly they might use me to show a new recruit which nerve bundles hurt most when hit; with an emphasis on how to avoid the subject passing out or dying.
I am distracted by the wads of unbound paper that lie around me. The sheafs are being stripped of their bulk by the heightening wind, filling the air with a rustling paper storm. I frown and grab a handful from one pile and crush it in an angry fist when I realise this is what hit me. Some moron forgot to break the binding before tossing it out a window above. An oversight corrected by my already damaged head.
I stand up, wobbling a bit. All ten heavily padded riot cops, who’ve sprung nimbly from the van, turn their mirrored visors towards my movements. Weapons clatter; loaded with practiced ease before they even understand the threat. Their target, my pasty white, frightened face and orange dressed figure, is unmistakably out of place in the rapidly thinning crowd.
Superior training dispels the SPUD officer’s nervousness faster than mine. Evacuating the area would be smart move, I’ve done nothing wrong; not that I’ve remembered yet anyway; so there is no reason for them to detain me.
I take one step.
“YOU! DON’T MOVE! RAISE YOUR HANDS!”
The officer’s voice is distorted and androgenised by the helmet’s amplifier. The instructions are conflicting however, so I compromise, imitating the ‘mime stuck behind a glass wall’ trick.
The cops’ attitude of high alert relaxes, becoming quizzical scorn as they discuss my clothes, bandaging and the papers clutched in my fist.
“YOU ARE UNDER ARREST FOR POSSESSION OF RESTRICTED MATERIAL.”
I look in shock at the offending hand, and release the paper to the wind.
It is evident some of them are snickering, and a few rifle barrels drop.
Several do not.
A loud bang brings forth a little girl’s shriek. From me, I think; and my galloping heart takes another spurt of adrenaline it really doesn't need.
I’m shot! Oh Jesus, God, Please, nooooo!
Loosened bowels put the hard word on an already anxious sphincter; which I resent. I imagine a split-second fantasy where I crap hard enough to implode myself through my own arsehole. Anything is preferable to being machine-gunned to death.
Talking of which, I mentally check my skin for a bullet holes, but find none. No blood spurts, no unbearable pain, other than that which I’m already suffering. Then another bloody packet of paper crashes down not three metres away. The same dickhead who’d floored me a minute ago is at it again.
Is the concept of cut, then throw, really too difficult to grasp, or are they trying to kill me!?
The cops run about, confused, shouting at each other, covering the windows above.
I can’t help but look up to make sure another load isn’t heading my way. I scream again; it’s habit forming when stuff is continually being dropped on you. This time it’s the workman’s platform, descending at a rate of knots, only metres from my face. I drop and barrel-roll several times in quick succession before hearing the frame crash to the ground. I cry with relief when no part of me is caught beneath it.
Ok, I was already crying from when I thought I’d been shot.
Three haggard men leap the platform’s guard rails, swearing loudly over their shoulders at the unseen leaflet chucker. They run towards the police van, demanding protection, without the slightest concern for my welfare.
So I wasn’t the target, merely in the way of trouble, again.
The situation escalates. A shot rings out and a blood flower blooms from a cop’s shiny helmet. The surviving police are very angry. They immediately switch to full automatic and rake the building above indiscriminately.
A ‘cancelled’ stamp flattens the half-formed belief that my luck has hit rock bottom. Overloaded with the terror of the moment, a ‘do nothing’ option is engaged. Flopping into a dead man’s pose I prepare to wait out the appalling racket of rapid gunfire, bullhorns, and authoritative shouting.
At first the crash of broken glass batters my uncaring ears and finds me unresponsive. The sounds are muted and flow around me while I stare upwards, already bored in my insular state. Far above the platform’s swaying tether ropes, I see the nearly finished billboard again. Daylight is on its death knell up there, and the overlapping shadows collect menacingly, attacking the advertisement’s luminescent letters.
I almost miss the pretty glitterings and sparkles of glass shards sheeting down towards my. Of course the majority of it is heading my way. I am a magnet for injuries.
Lingering here is a poor idea after all.
A cloud-burst of broken windows ricochet from the uncaring concrete in a roar of powdered glass. I gain my feet in a flopping windmill of arms and legs; just like an agile, fit man wouldn’t. While the SPUD’s attention is concentrated on shattering every remaining pane in the building, I sprint off, crossing the swiftly emptying street.
Like a puffing express train that has jumped its tracks, I barge into cretins who have stayed to watch the action. The next obstacles are a vanguard of the old and infirm who crank their walking frames and crutches as fast as they will go. I weave around them; walking aides are nefarious trip hazards, and I don’t intend head-butting anything harder than my pillow from now on.
Running out of steam reins me in after no more than several hundred metres. I duck into a deeply recessed doorway to recover, and listen as the shooting becomes sporadic then ceases altogether. Doors slam and a powerful motor starts. A squeal of tyres precedes the police truck’s reappearance. As it passes my inept hidey-hole a cop’s eyes meet mine through bullet-proof glass. A raised microphone is probably transmitting my involvement as suspicious, and possibly the cause of the incident.
But at least they do not stop.
That second smack in the head, and subsequent near madness brought on by that utterly insane mind excursion, has freed something up. I squat on a step and cup my cheeks to have a good hard think.
“Where do I live?”
This I ask of myself in quiet desperation. I don’t quite believe it as the cogs move and directions are returned. The fanfare is negligible as no satisfying flood of warmth and cheeriness is attached to this residence. Regardless, my desire to be there is no less urgent. There’s no need to question myself further. I know how completely and utterly dangerous it is to be out at night, wearing orange overalls, and wanted for questioning about the shooting of a police officer.
A slight bitterness that I am not some lost billionaire, and all will be well now, is discarded as I draw comfort instead from at last knowing, at least vaguely, where I belong.
I heave myself up and wander in a northerly direction, reconsidering my fortune of the last few minutes. Having my poor, scrambled brain smash-started would be counted as a lucky break by some. Instead of being grateful to the unknown ‘helper’, I choose to imagine a day where I get to return the favour. It involves a running kick between the legs. Maybe that would get them laid by the same token.
Daydreaming such an act is so satisfying I almost miss a less ambiguous lucky break. The item of interest lies in the gutter, appropriately enough. It is an overcoat dropped during the recent stampede, stamped into a dirty, shallow puddle. Its worn and patched appearance wasn’t high fashion before its fall, but as a cover for these highly visible, neon clothes it is ideal.
Looking around, just in case the coat’s owner is about, and bend to pick it up. The sweat loosened adhesive tape lets the bandage fall from my face. I am content to leave the bloodied tissue paper in the overcoat’s place as I trot away, wrapping damp anonymity around myself.