Big Muscles

I guess I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, somehow I ended up as one of the four prisoners on the 12th floor of the Norblad Hotel, scared shitless. Went there in the morning for a stupid business meeting and ended up all tied up and gagged. Must have looked like something out of bad movie. But it’s also this part of the movie that doesn’t translate well. A scene like that in real life carries a stink unlike anything you’ve ever experienced, hopefully. There’s a smell to human terror, a warm and putrid odor that drowns you. Mix it with the stench of adults who’ve literally pissed themselves, and you’ve got a moment so disturbing that years later, like now, the thought of the smell instantly makes me dry heave. There’s no words for it.

So what went down?

You probably heard about it, it was all over the news. Security cameras documented four unlucky business people held for 7 hours while their captor, a muscled and tank-topped white dude wearing a clown mask, alternated between shooting off a few rounds and doing hundreds of push-ups. He took out two of us right off the bat, one bullet each, and we thought we were goners. When all was said and done he’d fired off more than 1800 rounds, but only two ended up in people. The rest left holes in the walls and ceiling. His shooting became so regular that eventually folks stopped reacting. It’s like we all got used to it pretty fast. Kind of crazy to think of it now. I mean, it only took like three or four hours to stop jumping every time the gun went off. Funny too because now when I hear a gun, even if it’s in a movie, I get sick to my stomach.

It went on like this until dude just walked out of the room and didn’t come back. Then maybe five minutes later the cops swarmed in with body armor and rifles, gas-masked and amped up. “Where is he?” they kept asking, “Where’s the guy?” I remember us two prisoners just looking at the door at the same time. I remember wondering if the guy was going to come back in, like maybe he just left to take a leak or something. I remember one of the cops telling me everything was OK, and I said, “No it’s not,” and looked at the dead woman next to me. A bullet in her chest, no blood stains on her black blouse.

Somehow our captor had made it down to the lobby without getting caught, then managed to sneak out to the sidewalk, unlock a mountain bike, and ride away. An off-duty cop walking back from tee-ball practice with his kid recognized the captor’s face from the TV and gave chase for six blocks before knocking him off the bike with a swing of his kid’s wooden bat. And once he was down, more and more swings until the cop finally sat down and used his cell to call for backup. The kid caught up before more police arrived; his eyes scanned the scene: his father, his baseball bat, the bicycle, and the captor. Then he pointed to the dead man on the ground and said, “Hey dad, is that the guy from the news?”

“Yes son. Yes it is.”

“I thought so,” the boy said. “I could tell by his muscles. Someday I want big muscles, too.”

I only know he said this because later, when the cop was interviewed on the news, this is what he kept repeating. Every channel was showing the cop tell the story of his kid showing up, then saying something about having big muscles someday. It was like something in his kid’s voice made him unable to think about anything else. I don’t have kids, so don’t understand really. But there’s no doubt that the day started out just fine but turned into hell pretty quick. I guess it could have happened to anybody. Which means you should thank God that it happened to me and the other three, and not to you.

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