Fiction

Story: The Witness

By: W. Jack Savage

 

accident site

I woke up, having planned to go in a little late and had told my employer so the night before. My son’s birthday was coming up and I knew what he wanted. It was a T-shirt in black with either Harley-Davidson or something masculine and extrovert on it. He was of an age, you see, and well, Bill had been one of those boys who sort of kept a low profile to avoid confrontation. Not a wimp by any means, but he didn’t like the rites of passage as you might call them, and so he sort of stayed in the shadows through school.

Now in his late teens, he was ready for something more, and I thought that was fine. But, I mean, Penney’s or Targetwhere do you find things like that? Finally, and it was on the way to work the previous day, I was in the drive-through at McDonalds picking up my coffee and a sausage and biscuit, when, right across the street, I saw a little shop. Not a head shop as they used to call them, but a place that could pass for one if you had a motorcycle. Outside, there were Rebel Flags and T-shirts with skulls on them and it looked perfect. So today I stopped there and went through the place. It was interesting, and were I Bill’s age, I would have liked something from there. They had all manner of motorcycle attire and lighters with a military insignia on them, and knives and various military patches as well. Strangely though, among the clothing there was not one Harley-Davidson T-shirt. There was, however, a rather nice Jack Daniels Whisky T-shirt in black, orange and white. But for some reason I sort of balked and decided to walk over to the McDonalds to have a bite and think about it. The streetlight was twenty or so yards down the way and faced the entrance to a shopping center. I walked down and crossed over and headed over to McDonalds before I realized I’d left my wallet in the car. So I headed back to the streetlight, and by this time there were three people; two men and a woman, waiting to cross back over with me. That’s when it happened.

As to who I am and why on earth you should listen to my account of what happened, I can’t see that that’s of any relevance other than to say that, of the three other official accounts, mine varied sharply from those and made me wonder what the hell was going on. I mean, we all experienced the same thing and yet their descriptions and observations were strangely different from mine but remarkably like each other. And so, either something is going on beyond that which I can explain, or I’m delusional, or they are. A three to one ratio of one account versus the others would strongly suggest that perhaps I’m the one who is, well, mistaken at best, and crazy at the far end, but I assure you that I know what I saw and experienced and I thought they did too. I mean, it was horrible. A woman was killed, and she was killed right in front of us.

She was running from something or someone, and turned in the street for just a moment, as if to look back and say something or see whoever or whatever it was that was chasing her. She was terrified, I can tell you that. Then she turned and continued, but it was as if she never realized she’d run into the street in the first place. As she did, the car, which had started to steer around her, hit the brakes, but it was too late. He or should I say she, as it was a woman driver, hit the woman, and at first it didn’t seem to me to be that hard. As I said, she was braking and not really going that fast when the actual contact took place. I might have imagined a broken leg or even both legs, but, well, she kind of fell backwards and I’d swear she didn’t even hit her head, you know, on the pavement.

By the time we were questioned when not fifteen minutes had gone by, we heard she had died on the way to the hospital. I was the last to be interviewed, and having heard these other three, it was as if I’d seen a different accident.

“Did you see the same thing?” the officer asked me.

“No, I didn’t, and I don’t know why they’re saying that,” I said. “She acted to me like she was being chased and then stopped in the street to look behind her. Then, and it was like she didn’t realize she was in the street, she turned and continued to walk further into the street, and that’s when she was hit.”

“You say someone was chasing her?”

“No,” I said. “But she was hurrying, as if someone was chasing her, and then she turned and looked back at where she had been. That is, as if there was something behind her.”

“But you didn’t see anyone behind her?”

“No.”

He went back to the other three and asked something, but I couldn’t hear what it was. They all shook their heads. He came back to me.

“They didn’t see anyone else.”

“I just said I didn’t see anyone. I said she was acting like someone was chasing her. That’s why she stopped and looked back. I don’t know. Maybe she was imagining someone after her, but that’s how she acted.”

“You said she stopped in the street, and then started again?”

“Yes.”

“The others said she just walked out and was hit,” he said.

“I don’t know where they were looking. But she stopped maybe five or six feet after she hurried into the street, turned around, and then turned back and continued.”

“Did she, or could she have been checking for traffic?”

“No,” I said. “She never looked for traffic. She looked back in the direction she had come from. Can I ask you a question?”

He nodded.

“Did they all say they saw what happened?”

“Yes,” he said.

“So there’s four of us, right? Four of us standing there waiting for the light to change and we all happen to be looking in the same direction. Does that seem odd to you at all?”

“A little, maybe. Yes,” he said.

“Now, I’m not saying they’re lying or anything like that. But they all saw it, and have been hanging around for what, twenty minutes now, and telling you what they saw, when all they had to say was, no, I didn’t see it, and they can go on their way. Now, I did see it and I told you what I saw. I am going to be late for work. I called them and they said they understand. But these three others, I mean, what are they about? Are they all retired or independently wealthy, that they all say yes and hang around to tell you what happened? And, oh yeah, then get it wrong, and more than that get it exactly wrong; each exactly the same as the others. Is there something wrong with this or am I crazy?”

“Where exactly was she looking when she stopped to turn around?” he asked.

The area I speak of sort of ran along the fence of a trailer-court park. My novelty store was the first business on the right, and as I said, about twenty yards from the light. It’s hard to tell what might have occupied this other hundred and fifty by, say, thirty yards from the street to the fence. I seem to remember them selling Christmas trees there, and also pumpkins at Halloween. There was some debris alongside the novelty store and as near as I could tell, she’d looked back that way, I told him.

“Toward the trailer park?” he asked.

“Well, yeah, I guess so. Toward the fence of it, anyway.”

“The driveway is right next to the biker shop,” he said. “People walking sometimes cut behind it and through the lot. She lived in that trailer park. Some guy was

staying with her. You’re sure you didn’t see anyone?”

“Yes. I’m sure. I only saw her

“When she stopped,” he asked, “did you notice anything strange about her; how she looked, anything?”

“Yeah, she looked scared, frightened, maybe even a little, I don’t know, dazed.”

“Where were you going when you were going across the street?”

“That biker shop as you called it,” I said. “My car’s out front. I walked over to McDonalds and realized I had left my wallet in the car. I was picking up a T-shirt for my son. Can I ask you why, what possible reason those people would have to lie about, about this?”

The deputy sort of looked around for a moment and then looked back at me.

“If I asked you to break down what happened here today, sir, could you do it in one sentence?”

“Um, I… I’m not sure,” I said. “Ah, a woman… a woman was hit by a car as she crossed a street, possibly being chased by something or someone.”

“But without the speculation,” he said, “a woman was hit by a car and killed

crossing the street, right?”

“I guess so, yes.”

“The woman who was killed,” he said. “Can you describe her?”

I shrugged. “Dark hair, maybe in her mid-thirties, maybe older. Pants down to her calves; pedal pushers, I think they call them; a blouse.”

“Ethnicity?

“I, ah, white, maybe Hispanic.”

“And these other three witnesses,” he continued, “can you describe them?”

“Ah, Hispanic maybe, I guess.”

“And the woman who hit the victim with her car? Can you describe her?”

“A white woman, in her forties, I’d say.”

“A white woman, you say. Are you sure of that, sir?”

“Yes, yes, I’m pretty sure.”

“Would you say that a white woman was likely to have insurance?”

“I… I would think so, yes.”

“Have you got it yet, sir?”

He never said any more than that. He didn’t go ‘wink, wink’, or anything like that. He just kind of acted very matter of fact about four witnesses and a dead woman who’d been hit by a car. Three of the witnesses and the victim were the same; Hispanic. I’m white. If I hadn’t been there, a woman walked into the street and was hit by a car driven by a white woman and killed. Even with my statement, it wasn’t much more than that. But the implication was that three Hispanics hung around, inconveniencing themselves to some degree, to testify to the only essential fact they felt needed to be addressed. One of theirs had been killed by one of mine and any other speculation to the contrary was not relevant. I’ll confess the whole thing had me pretty upset, and by the time I got to work it hadn’t gotten much better.

“Hi Greg,” said Andrew, my boss. “Can you tell me about it?”

Of course, I’d have rather not, but I was even later then I said I would be, and what mattered was, he was the boss, and he wanted to hear about it. I told him and said I thought it was very strange, but I didn’t include the part where the Sheriff’s deputy gave me his little ‘twenty questions’ reality check.

“These other witnesses,” he said. “What were they like?”

“It’s funny you should mention that.”

“Why?”

“Well, I was very upset,” I began. “I’d never seen anything like that; the last moments in someone’s life, as it turned out. I was a witness. I saw it and remembered

it in detail. In retrospect there was nothing I could have done. Anyway, I wondered and I asked the deputy why they, the witnesses, would not be more forthcoming, as I thought I had been. He told me; I mean, in a way he talked down to me. He asked me questions that

were meant to show me what was really happening.. I’m not naïve, after all, but he suggested that the other witnesses were only trying to streamline the process in some way. A woman, he said, or rather got me to say through his questions, ran out in the street where she was hit by a car and died a short time later. The victim was Hispanic and I hadn’t really noticed, but the other three witnesses were too. It was; I mean I never suggested it wasn’t an accident except to say she was maybe being chased or something. But for the next step in the process to go forward, that speculation on my part was not only unnecessary, but could be harmful in some way. He seemed to suggest that maybe for insurance purposes; so the woman’s family could benefit in a timely manner, the details I offered were, I don’t know, could muck up the works. Oh, and the fact that the driver was a white woman was significant. That she probably had insurance and well, you know. I’m sorry, but I don’t think in those terms.”

“I see,” Andrew said. “Sounds like you’ve had quite a day and it hasn’t even really got started.”

“What do you think?” I asked.

He paused for a moment and said,

“I understand how you feel because I believe you’re reacting to what you saw; what you witnessed. It must have been horrible to see that. In the end though, I’m afraid your deputy is right. And as far as talking down to you goes, he may now, even as we speak, be involved in some other accident or incident where someone is hurt or killed and so while he’s become somewhat jaded, I suppose, desensitized by the world he deals with, your reaction also seems appropriate. So much of what passes for the life going on around us is taken for granted; compartmentalized into things we can’t understand or more specifically do anything about, that when they land on us like this, we look for answers to questions we wouldn’t ordinarily ask.”

I nodded and then shook my head.

“Are you going to be okay?” he asked. “Do you want to take the rest of the day off?”

“No,” I said, getting up. “God, no. I… I need to push on; get busy. Thanks

anyway.”

“That T-shirt?” he asked. “Did you pick it up for your son?”

“No. I’ll give him a gift card.”

He shook his head.

“What?”

“You went there to be a good dad,” he said. “You wound up being a good citizen. That your effort won’t mean any more than it will, shouldn’t cheat your son. You’re a good man, Greg, and too good to give into this ‘world weariness’ around you.

There’s already been one victim in your day so far. Let me do some checking. I’ll find that Harley-Davidson T-shirt for you.”

“Thanks, Andrew,” I said.

As I walked back to my desk, I thought what a nice gesture it was for him to say and do that. And he was right; all I had meant to do was to get Bill what he wanted and then all this happened. I hadn’t been at my desk two minutes when the phone rang. It was Andrew.

“What size, Greg?”

“Well, I’d say large, because I believe that’s what he is, but they’re wearing them big these days so I’d say, extra large at least. Maybe two times extra large.”

He put me on hold, and after a few seconds picked up again and said,

“There’s a place not far from you. It’s on Route 66 near Grand; two blocks west of Grand. It’s called Biker Heaven. They’re open until six.”

“Thank you, Andrew. I appreciate this.”

That evening, driving home, I stopped and picked up the shirt and of course continued thinking about my strange day. The deputy was just being expeditious, I decided. I hadn’t seen anyone or anything that might have been chasing her. She did stop and look back, but at what I don’t know. She did look scared. Maybe, somehow, she was running from death and just looked back in the wrong direction. That would be just like death; to scare you from one direction and be waiting from another; that poor woman. I’d never been at that crossing without my car, and providing a detailed description of what I saw did no good at all. I wondered what possible casting call I got picked out of to be there just then? By the time I got home I had worked it out to be some kind of message. In doing something specific and special for my son, rather than send him my usual gift card, I was reminded that my absence in his life these last few years was as if I was never there at all. I know that’s bullshit but I picked up a gift card to go with the T-shirt and mailed it off the next day anyway.

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