Sometimes events happen around you where, if you fail to act, you’re as good as guilty. Bystander I am not. But guilty—let’s call it a gray area.
Impulses like these get you killed.
Fuck it. I threw off the covers and snatched the baseball bat I kept under the bed. The scrape of a crowbar on metal is never a good sound and even more alarming at three a.m. Wearing just my underwear, I shivered in the cool air of the garden where moonlit trees made crosshatched shadows on the walk. Straining to see through the darkness, a clang near my truck told me I hadn’t been dreaming and someone was up to no good.
My palms slamming the front gate surprised two men who dove into a waiting car. They punched the accelerator hard and I was soon left transfixed on the sidewalk, trying to memorize a fragment of license plate. This kind of thing can happen anywhere in the city, even in my sleepy neighborhood, if there are tools in the truck. I whacked the concrete with my bat. I’d only intended to scare them off anyway, I told myself. I was about to check the lockbox when another guy shot out from the back of my truck and sprinted toward the end of my street, toward the fringe of woods and total anonymity. Instinctively, I chased him.
Reaching the edge of Wildcat Canyon, the dark trees made it impossible to see but I heard movement through the underbrush. The dirt trail felt smooth under my bare feet and a surge of ferocity radiated in my muscles, propelling me faster. I knew this path well, was closing in, and had an advantage for an instant—until the earth gave way, story of my life. I’d hit the drop-off sooner than expected. The bat fell as I made a wild grab at overhead branches. Struggling to break my fall, my hands locked onto a willowy sapling and I careened forward into thorny brambles.
What the hell was I thinking?
All the brave imagery of brute-force revenge evaporated as I fell. My lagging common sense caught up with my blind rage as I heard the other man stumbling on the bank far below. He probably wore shoes. And clothes, for that matter. Luckily, I’d avoided getting brained on the live oaks. I used to know how to pick my fights. Maybe I wasn’t so choosy anymore?
Limping to the top of the trail, I paused under the light at the end of the cul-de-sac to check what I’d done to my leg. My neighbor Dahlia watched me from her porch as she cradled her fussy newborn. The glare of the streetlight illuminated my shredded briefs and blood flowed down my leg. Pressing on the wound, I knew what she saw. Bleeding and mostly naked, lit in stark chiaroscuro like any number of defeated heroes from a Renaissance canvas, was a fool.