I should have stayed down; stayed where I was.
Anyone with half a brain would have stayed out of sight until it was definitely all over.
But no; I had to stick my head up to see what was going on.
I only had vision for a split second, but I could see the young policeman lying on the ground; his gun just out of reach.
I was guessing that the masked bloke standing over him was probably the one who shot him. With all the gun-fire over the past few seconds it was difficult to tell how many people had been involved.
The shooting had stopped and the other masked blokes had legged it up the street and into the car park; leaving this lone gunman standing over the fallen officer aiming his gun at the young man’s head.
I got that sick feeling that you get when you know that if you don’t do something really quickly you are going to spend the rest of your life wishing you had.
Let’s get this straight; given enough time I’m always going to fall on the side of the line that says ‘coward’.
My dad was a war hero but that’s not me.
Gold plated, self-interested coward.
So, knowing all that, I was surprised as anyone when the words, “Don’t do it mate”, came rather loudly out of my mouth.
Thinking about it later, and I do that a lot, it occurs to me that my training as a referee was what got me into this sticky situation. Sometimes during a game some bloke will ‘loose it’ and look like he is going to kill someone and if you shout at him, from a considerable distance, the shock of your words can snap him back into real-time.
It worked about half the time and the other half of the time he came after you, which was bad. But as I mentioned, you did this from a distance and if things went ‘pear-shaped’ you had a running start and hopefully his team mates would grab him before he got to you.
Only now, this bloke didn’t have team mates and no matter how fast I thought I was, I wasn’t going to be able to outrun a bullet.
The gunman did indeed stop looking at the injured policeman; and he turned his gaze toward me.
All my life I have been able to talk my way out of tight corners; they don’t come any tighter than this.
He looked at me but didn’t level his gun in my direction, which I took as a good sign.
I think I said something like, “No one has died [how the hell did I know that] and all you have to do is walk away, but if you kill a cop they will never stop looking for you.”
He stared at me for what seemed like an eternity and it occurred to me that I had a big mouth and it was finally going to catch up with me.
Then it happened.
The gunman smiled at me and walked in the direction of his fellow armed robbers.
He walked slowly and I could hear the sound of his boots as they hit the footpath.
All other sound had ceased.
It was as quiet as you can imagine, except for the sound of his boots.
At that moment it occurred to me that this bloke was likely to come out of the spell of my brilliantly chosen words and realise that the cops were going to get him no matter what, and that he might as well make it as hard as possible for them by killing the two closest witnesses; the young policeman and myself.
I guessed that I had about four seconds before this all unfolded so I bent down and picked up the policeman’s hand gun.
I looked at him and I could see that he was in a very bad way and I think he read my mind because he started to shake his head.
I was running out of time and we both knew it so I said,” Do I have to cock this thing or do I just point and shoot?”
I could barely hear him but I’m pretty sure he said, “Point and squeeze.”
I’m now half kneeling on the footpath and when I turn and look the gunman, who had reached the corner of the building leading to the car park, was turning in our direction.
The penny had dropped in his violent mind and my words had fallen from his eyes.
He had returned to reality; his reality; kill or be killed.
I brought the weapon up and squeezed the trigger.
The gunman fell like a rag doll.
I couldn’t tell where I’d hit him but I’d aimed at his chest.
My foolish brain now worried about him getting up again and killing us both. I wasn’t sure if I could stop my hand from shaking for long enough to fire again, so I left the young policeman lying there and covered the few steps to where the gunman lay.
He wasn’t going to get up again; I kicked his gun away, like I had seen it done on TV.
At that moment I heard the V8-engined getaway car start up and I heard something whizz past my ear followed by a whole bunch of other somethings; then the noise from someone in that car shooting at me became apparent.
Like a complete idiot, I returned fire.
Who the hell did I think I was?
The car sped away closely followed by a couple of police cars that had just arrived.
I went back to the fallen policeman to see if I could help but he needed a priest and that was not in my skill set.
I kneeled next to him and tried to reassure him but both of us knew that he probably wasn’t going to be here much longer.
It was only when I tried to grasp his hand that I realised I was still holding his gun. I didn’t feel as though my hand would let it go, but a loud voice that came from behind me convinced me otherwise.
I found out much later that the voice belonged to the dying officer’s partner.
He had gone to the Fish and Chip shop to buy them both some lunch as it all kicked off.
It was his turn to buy lunch and it saved his life.
He wasn’t sure if I was one of the armed robbers or not, and holding on to a gun was not helping my cause.
I dropped the gun and this large policeman pushed me to the ground and kneeled on my back; it really hurt and I thought at the time that I was going to have a permanent dent in my back.
I politely suggest that he might want to get the fuck off me and he responded by punching me in the kidney.
I decided that further conversation was a bad idea.
They threw me in the back of a police-van and drove me, faster than I thought was humanly possible, to a cell at a police station that I didn’t recognise.
I sat in that cell for several hours; I was scared and mad as hell. I knew that I had just saved someones life and I didn’t know what was happening.
I threw-up a couple of times.
The police surgeon explained that that was probably shock and the result of too much adrenaline in my system. “Thanks a lot Doc, that makes me feel a whole lot better.”
The police surgeon wasn’t the first person I spoke to. That honour went to Chief Inspector ‘someoneorother’, who had popped along to apologise for my treatment. He was probably only trying to limit the size of the lawsuit but I appreciated someone saying ‘sorry’, so I told him ‘not to worry about it’ and he apologised again while telling me that they could not let me go just yet as there were a few things that needed to be sorted out; not the least of which was how the gunman came to be shot.
As I said, I’d been sitting in that cell for several hours, which gave me a chance to think about what was going to happen next.
From the questions I was being asked, it seemed that everyone had their head down [except me] and no one saw how the gunman got his. The assumption was that the wounded officer had fired off one last lucky shot.
If I ‘put my hand up’ and said it was me, I would be an instant celebrity and my life would change dramatically; at least until the media got bored and then I’d be left looking over my shoulder waiting for this bozo’s mates to catch up with me.
So, at least for now, I was keeping quiet; hiding behind the trauma, until I knew what the other gunmen had seen.
Within hours there was a siege and shoot out.
Two officers were injured and the three gunmen were killed.
My problem ——- how many friends did these blokes have, and which one among them would like to make a name for himself by putting my lights out?
I had a family to consider so my story, when I finally emerged from my ‘trauma filled haze’, was going to be suitably vague.
After giving a rambling statement they let me go home, but I had to come back in two days to give a ‘formal statement’.
Two days went by very quickly.
“So where were you when this all started?” The person asking the questions was Detective Senior Sergeant Collins of the Major Crimes Squad.
One of the uniformed officers had warned me that this bloke was important and he would ‘tear me a new one’ if I pissed him off.
I took the warning seriously.
I wasn’t here to piss anyone off.
I had a story to tell and my immediate future depended on me telling it well.
“I was heading for the postoffice when I heard the bangs.”
“How many bangs?”
“I didn’t count but there were several.”
“Several like three or several like ten?”
“Like ten, maybe more. The noise of the gunshots seemed to be coming from more than one direction. It was then that I dived behind a car.”
“What kind of car was it?”
“How the fuck should I know?” I instantly knew that I shouldn’t have said that. “It was dark blue, I remember that.”
Detective Senior Sergeant Collins was glaring at me but he relaxed quickly.
“Easy there sunshine; I’m just looking for all the details . It was a dark blue Mazda 6”
He already knows which car.
That means someone was watching.
“Unfortunately you seem to be the only one who knows what happened next. Everyone else was behind or under something.”
I tried not to look pleased.
I told him my story and all of it was true until I got to the end.
In this version I went to see if the gunman was dead [my DNA might be on the kicked gun] and went back to the officer after the fleeing gunmen fired at me. When I got back to the wounded officer I picked up his gun; and I don’t know why I did that.
One of the few things that could trip me up would be finding the bullets that I fired at the getaway car but as it turned out the car got shot up in the siege, so chances were they would not bother identifying the bullets lodged in the car. Which was good news because my bullets would be lodged in that car; I’m a good shot, as it turns out.
If the wounded officer recovered he would, no doubt, remember what I did.
He did recover but it took several months and when he was finally interviewed he said he didn’t remember much after being shot.
I had no way of knowing if that was true or if he decided to go along with my story.
He was awarded the Medal of Valour and I slipped quietly back into obscurity.
On the anniversary of the robbery I received a package and a letter.
The letter was from Constable Stephen Walker. It was short and to the point.
“I owe you my life and I’m sorry that it took me this long to say thank you. I’m not sure what bravery means but if I did I would say that it applies to you. I get paid to risk my life; you were just passing by. I don’t know why you let them think that I made that shot and I don’t want to know; I guess you have your reasons. My rehab has been long and painful and I’ve had a lot of time to think and I want you to know that I can keep a secret. Every time I get to hug my kids I think of the bloke who took his life in his hands to save someone he didn’t even know. Please enjoy the contents of the package.”
He signed it.
The letter was written ‘long hand’ and the package contained a bottle of 28-year-old single malt, ‘Bowmore’.
It must have cost a fortune.
I’m glad he wrote to me and I’m glad I’ve never seen him face to face since that day, because I don’t think I could handle the look on his face when I told him that if it happened again, I doubt that I would come out from behind that dark blue Mazda 6.