Behind Lori Baer
The grass was brown and the ground hard in October, a perfect flat for speeding police squads. But not a clear route for the fleeing Cal Baer, because a drainage ditch landscaped to fake a stream cut across the eastern portion of the field perpendicularly. The park district had done a credible job; however, some people had adopted the nasty notion it was a refuse for their garbage; not many, but enough to be irritating and cause the district to sponsor quarterly community clean up days.
Gary couldn’t drive over it; there was no bridge. Fortunately, it was too wide for a man to leap, so we thought we’d easily corner him.
Cal appeared in the million-candle watt spotlight of the lead squad as a pinpoint all fuzzy around the edges, scurrying this way and that in a desperate attempt to reach the ditch. He brought to mind a night Beth and I spent in San Diego and had dinner at the Marine Room right on the ocean. Cal looked like the gulls bobbing on the horizon in the restaurant’s floodlights.
“The ditch will end this,” Gary said, angling our squad around the right side of the lead car.
Without Tommy or Beth in sight or earshot, I let loose: “Look at that son-of-a-bitch. He’s running over the fucking ditch like it wasn’t there.”
“What the … ” barked Gary, already pumping the brake to bring us to a reasonably normal stop.
Gary wiggled the spotlight. Staring along the beam, I saw what Cal had done. “He laid a plank across it.”
As he made the observation, Cal stepped onto the other side of the ditch. He stopped, turned, and raised an arm and thrust his forefinger at us. Then he bent, lifted the plank, hooked his arm around it, and dragged it forward. We didn’t hear it, but we saw the plank slip into the ditch.
Gary drubbed the wheel viciously. His astonishment and anger vented in less than a second and he was on the radio calling for coverage on the other side of the park. The officer was out of the other squad, surveying the ditch with his flashlight.
“I’m not letting him get away this time,” I said, snatching Gary’s flash from the dash and bounding out of the car.
He yelled something, but to me it was as distinct and meaningful as the wind in the trees. I snapped on the light and flew to the ditch, startling the officer peering into it.
“Mr. Angellini, wait a minute,” he said.
“Keep your light in the ditch,” I commanded, as I started sidestepping down the steep slope.
I swept the light across the angled ground. I struggled to maintain my footing and still move fast. My side, where Cal had planted his foot a couple of times, protested like hell. I didn’t ignore it. I couldn’t. I used it as fuel and it spurred me in my drive to outpace Cal. I was younger, a mere fifty to his whatever, and I was fresh from sitting in the squad.
The ditch was nearly six feet deep. The slopes were cut in forty-five degree angles. Down was definitely a cinch compared to up. I tried climbing once with the flashlight but couldn’t get sufficient purchase. I shifted the Wesson from my jacket to my right front pocket, replacing it with the light, figuring I could get at it quicker. I signaled the officer to lead me up the slope with his light.
It seemed as if I could have produced an entire ad campaign for the U.S. Army so interminable was the time required to claw to the top.
Stopping on the rim to suck in air, I pulled out the light. I shined it on my watch. I’d been at it for less than three minutes. Not bad time, I thought. My running was paying dividends.
I aimed the flash up and out over the field. It was getting colder and I could see my frosted breath in the light. I squinted through the cloud and played the light over the field. In my third sweep, I saw him. He was a football field ahead of me.
I pushed up, switched the flashlight to my left hand and drew the Wesson with my right. I stretched my legs and took off. He was motionless for a second, but when he saw the light bobbing in his direction, he began moving away from me.
I established a steady, moderate pace. I’d run on this field before. It was generally flat but there were occasional shallow depressions and holes. It wasn’t difficult to see these in the daylight, but in the dark each was a potential land mine capable of causing a sprain or broken bone. Better to be cautious, otherwise I might lose Cal.
Cal made the mistake of zigzagging. His broken field running cost him time and the lead he had on me.
The run began to calm me. It relieved the tension that had built up since the afternoon. I’d warmed considerably and was chugging a locomotive-size plume of white breath. Each step brought me closer to him, and to confrontation and decision. What if he resisted? What if Gary and his people didn’t make it? Could I fire on Cal? He was a killer, a multiple killer. He wouldn’t hesitate to kill me if he gained an advantage. I’d never faced a situation like this.
I estimated we where halfway across the field when I saw the headlights on Route 21. At the rate we ran, we’d be there inside of five minutes. I looked left, north, and saw four fireballs. I could see the squads were deploying along the road, hoping to catch sight of Cal when he emerged from the field.
The reinforcements relieved me. I concentrated on them and that relaxing sensation a bit too long, for when I looked forward to find Cal, he was gone.
“Shit,” I screamed into the air. “Shit, shit, shit.”
My side ached. I grabbed it and added pressure in an attempt to ease the throbbing and to focus on catching sight of Cal.
Where could he have disappeared to? This was a field, barren but for grass, weeds, and the occasional bush. There was only one answer. He’d gone to earth. And here I was racing toward his position. Racing into an ambush, or past him, thus giving him the opportunity to double back and elude me, and maybe even the police.
I didn’t think I was right on top of him, unless he’d reversed direction.
In that instant of thought, Cal struck just as he’d done at Great America. He slammed me in the back fast and hard. I pitched forward, breathless. As I became aware of losing my grip on the Wesson, he whacked me again, on the forearm of my gun hand. The Wesson sailed away from us and the field rushed up and smacked my face.
I swear I kicked up dust when I hit the ground. Fortunately, neither the blows nor the fall knocked me out.
“You should of taken my advice and stayed outta my way,” he raged. “Now I’m gonna make sure you don’t pester me or my little girl again.”
I still had the flashlight. I rolled away from him, then shined the light in his face. On it’s way up it caught the glint of a knife. I held on it long enough to know it was long and broad, forged, it appeared, for carving an elephant.
This was my first glimpse of his face. It was a snarling road map of scars. His bright blue eyes, too, were marred—with hot hatred and icy cruelty.
I wanted to scramble up and run, but doing so would have made me an easy target for his blade. Instead, I rolled madly like a top off it axis. There was a benefit to it, though. He couldn’t anticipate where I was going and be there to impale me.
There was reason to my epileptic gyrations. I was headed to where I thought the Wesson had landed.
I heard him swear as he kicked at me, trying to catch a piece of me before I escaped. I flailed at the ground. Where was that gun? I repeated it to myself like a mantra.
I rolled again and this time I struck pay dirt. Something, hard and cold, and metallic, dug into my back. It felt like salvation.
Cal changed his tactic, switching to a stomp. He wore work boots and the heel accelerating toward my head looked to be the size of a mid-size Chevy. I was never particularly fond of that car, and certainly didn’t like it any better as the heel of a boot.
I rolled furiously and raked my hand over the ground. The stones ripped at my fingers but the pain was rewarded. I scooped up the Wesson and kept rolling. He gave up on the stomp. He raised his knife arm and took a swipe. The blade clanged against the stony ground, sending a spray of dirt into my face.
I rolled one more time into a crouch. He advanced on me swinging wildly. I ducked and lunged in a direction opposite to him.
Suddenly, as if dawn was appearing unscheduled, the field burst into bright white light, with hints of red and blue.
Cal staggered back, shielding his eyes with the hand that held the knife. The blade glinted.
He screamed, defaming us as whoremongers, devils, defilers, and the damned.
A loudspeaker squawked. I heard Gary’s voice. I have to admit. It nearly brought tears to my eyes. It wasn’t because I thought Cal would kill me. I had the advantage now. I had the Wesson, cocked and up with him in my sights. But Gary had saved me from doing something I’d never done before, something I had no wish to do. As bad as Cal Baer was, I didn’t want to shoot him. I didn’t want to carry that around with me for the rest of my life.
“Cal Baer, this is the High Hills Police,” bellowed Gary through the PA built into the squad car. “We have you surrounded. You can’t get away. Drop the knife.”
If he had been any rational person, he’d have dropped it. Cal was anything but rational and chose to scream a stream of additional expletives, a disturbing mix of scatological and sexual and religious spew.
“Drop that knife right now,” commanded Gary. He didn’t expand, but the obvious threat hung in the air.
Cal appeared drugged, hyped on anger and hate, animated by his unholy urge to kill. He was ready to spring. And the only barrier between him and those he wanted to attack was me.
“Dad, please listen to the police. Drop the knife.”
Lori’s voice startled me and I involuntarily turned back to catch a glimpse of her. I broke into a swear realizing what I’d done and whirled back, hopefully in time to fend off Cal.
But he was as taken aback as I had been and stood there frozen, as astonished as if the season had changed miraculously to summer.
“Please, drop the knife and give up,” she pleaded.
A torrent poured from him. “Daughter,” he screamed, “who are you with? You’re not betraying me, are you?”
“They know everything,” she shouted, her words choking off toward the end.
“There’s nothing to know,” he called back, “unless you say there is.”
“Give up, please,” she sobbed.
“You’re a whore, Lori Baer. You was born a whore and you been one your whole life. I tried to save you, but you would have none of it. You lied to the police once. Now you’re doing it again. What is it you want, daughter? What is it you want from your father? That they lock me up in prison again and let me rot?”
She must have been handing to the microphone back to Gary. I doubt it was something she wanted her father, or any of us, to hear. But the instrument was keyed opened as she said, “He’s a bastard. He always was. You might as well shoot him.”
I heard it and watched Cal Baer nearly explode out of his skin. He dug in and charged at me. Maybe he wasn’t aiming directly at me. Maybe I wasn’t his target. But, no matter, I was in his path and unless he took me out he couldn’t get to where he wanted to be.
During the exchange, I’d allowed the Wesson to droop down toward my knees, my grip to loosen, my body to relax. Now I tighten everything and swiftly raised the gun into firing position. It was decision time.
Since there was no volley coming from behind me, I had no choice. I dropped to the ground a pinched off a round.
I knew I hit him. I saw the bullet raise a puff of dust as it blew through his shirt and into his shoulder.
He was pure energy running and mere Hi-Shok wasn’t going to stop him. A shot like I’d just made would have dropped a normal man, but not Cal Baer.
I squeezed off two more rounds, very fast. One caught his left arm, blowing it back, breaking it, leaving it dangling at an unnatural angle. The second caught him slightly left of center in his chest.
It was a heart shot, as I’d practiced often with Tommy. I never expected to use it, but Tommy had insisted. “If you’re going to shot, learn right,” he had preached.
The shot probably killed Cal instantly. But it failed to stop the momentum he’d built up. His legs clawed at the ground, operating on the last message from his dying brain, burning the last oxygen that would ever course through his body. As he progressed toward me, he diminished in size, lurching forward on crumbling legs, then knees before falling. He dropped and lay motionless in front of me. His hand opened. The knife rolled from it. On the ground, it looked small.
I was kneeling, reaching across, fingering Cal’s neck for life when they surrounded me. The Wesson, which I’d switched to my left hand, dangled. Gary gently removed it from my hand. Beth knelt beside me. Her hand covered mine and pulled it away from Cal. I looked into her eyes and she squeezed consolingly.
I glanced behind to Gary. Lori stood beside her. Tears leaked down her cheeks, causing them to glisten in the glare of the police spotlights. She knelt down to her father. She combed her fingers through his hair. She bent low and lightly kissed his forehead.
Beth and I stood and wrapped arms around each other until we felt like one. Lori rose and faced us, now more in control, not crying. She got close, as if she wished to share a secret with us. She regarded us imploringly.
“I’m sorry,” she said. In the field alive with police and emergency vehicles her words were barely audible. “He committed horrible acts. He hurt many people, including you. And me. But I loved him.”
She turned and walked away from us unsteadily. Gary came to her side and helped her to the squad.
Tommy materialized in front of us. “Gary said they’d stop by later to question you, Gabe. Let’s go home. I’ll drive.”
He scooted us along, past the police cars, to Beth’s BMW. I slumped in the passenger seat. Tommy tried to take the driver’s seat, but Beth shooed him into the back.
She drove us home in silence.