A Reluctant Witness by Tracy Davidson

11/18/16 09:16:57PM
112 posts

Dead men tell no tales. Well, the one lying on the floor by the counter certainly won’t be telling any.

       I don’t know what to do. I hardly dare breathe for fear the perpetrator will hear me. Having killed the shopkeeper, now he’s busy pistol-whipping the shopkeeper’s wife, trying to make her tell him the combination to the safe.

       There's absolutely nothing I can do to help her. Crouched down behind the fruit and veg, I'm too far away to tackle him. Anyway, he's twice my size. And armed.

       I can’t see any way to get to the front door either without him noticing. He must have thought the shop was empty at this time of night, having locked the door when he came in. This guy won't want to leave any witnesses alive. The wife is dead even if she does give up the combination. So will I be if he catches sight of me.

       Of all the rotten times for my mobile phone to be out of juice. I was going to top it up when I paid for my shopping. All I can hope for is that one or other of the owners managed to hit an alarm button before the attack started. Or that a passerby looks in and notices something wrong.

       The wife finally stops her pitiful crying. I risk a quick peep over a box of oranges. It's all I can do not to scream out in horror at what is left of the poor woman. This guy definitely has anger issues. I blink tears away as I slowly slink back to the floor, trying to make myself as small and inconspicuous as possible.

       The killer is breathing heavily now, and he's still angry. I hear him kicking things over and cursing. I pray he doesn't come back here for any reason. However much money he got out of the cash register, it's clearly not enough to satisfy him. It certainly can't be worth two lives.

       I can hear sirens now, in the distance. The killer must hear them too, as he's stopped his rampage. I risk another peep. I shouldn't have done. He happens to be looking in my direction and senses my slight movement. His eyes glare straight into mine.

      The sirens are louder now, getting ever closer. He takes a few steps forward, toward me, then stops. He raises his gun and points it right at me. I don't even bother trying to duck back down again. There's no point. For a moment we just stare at each other, indecision in his eyes. Part of me wishes he would just hurry up and pull the trigger and be done with it.   

       But, to my surprise, he lowers the gun and grins. In a strange kind of way, the grin is even more menacing than anything else he's done this evening.

       The sirens are deafening now. It breaks the hypnotic stare. He turns his back on me, vaults the counter and runs into the back room. I hear a door banging behind him. I stand up slowly, badly cramped muscles making me wince.

       Police cars screech to a halt in front of the store. I raise my hands above my head and keep very still. I have somehow managed not to get shot by the bad guy. I don't want to get accidentally shot by the good guys now the immediate danger is over.

       My eyes drift to the security camera above the shop counter. Even I can see it's not actually attached to anything. It’s just there for show. My witness statement is going to be the only description of the killer. I'm the only one who can identify him. Which means the danger I’m in isn’t over after all. There’s still a target attached to my forehead. And I have a decision to make.  

       I can feel myself start to tremble, the delayed shock getting the better of me. I feel tears pouring down my cheeks as police officers force their way in.

       "He...he went out the back," I say, so softly they don't hear me the first time. I repeat the words and point the way.

       One of the officers bends down to the dead woman to check for a pulse. A futile gesture. His younger partner takes one look at the bloody pulp that was once a face, and heaves. That's enough to set me off, and before I know it I'm on my knees, heaving and sobbing, leaving a trail of snot and vomit on the already messed up floor.

       Another officer is by my side in an instant, offering me comfort. He helps me to stand and I let him lead me out of the store, away from the carnage. Someone puts a blanket around my shoulders as a paramedic checks me over.

       "Did you see him clearly Ma'am?” the officer asks. “Can you give us a description?"

       I hesitate before answering. Then I shake my head. I guess I’ve made my decision.

       "No," I lie. "I only saw him briefly, from behind. Then I hid. I was too frightened to look. There's CCTV isn't there?"

       The officer grimaces. "It wasn't hooked up," he said. "Did you notice if he was wearing gloves?"

       I have to think about it. I nod. No fingerprints then. The killer may have been drugged up to his eyeballs, but he wasn't completely stupid. He came prepared.

       The activity around me is a blur of noise and flashing lights, making my head ache. My statement, the truth rather heavily edited, is taken, and after being given a clean bill of health, I'm free to go. The nice officer who comforted me when I was sick arranges a ride home for me. They'll need to talk to me again, he says, but for now I should try and get a good night's sleep. Right. Like that's going to happen. After what I've seen tonight I wonder if I'll ever sleep well again.

       The lights are all off when I get home. I see the tall frame of my brother briefly peeping out from behind the living room curtain. He must be worried about why I'm so late home. And why I've turned up in a police car.

       I trudge up the path, my heart heavy. My brother doesn't come to the door until the police car has gone. He has an inherent distrust of the police. He has an inherent distrust of most people. Except for me. Even though I'm the younger sibling, by several years, I've spent most of my life watching out for him, rather than the other way around. And, it seems, going by tonight’s events, I've not done a very good job of it.

       He opens the door and retreats into the dark living room. I follow him slowly, wondering what kind of mood he's in. He has his back to me when I enter, so it's difficult to judge. I don't say anything, just put the lights on and wait for him to turn around. 

       When he finally does, I relax a little. The madness that was in them earlier has left his eyes. The drugs have worn off, thank goodness. I both love and hate my brother, in equal measure. I love him when he's clean, despite the trouble he seems to magnetically attract. But I hate the monstrous thing he becomes when he goes off on a bender. The thing that steals from me, menaces me, even beat me savagely once. He swore after that he would change. And he tried, I know he really tried. He was doing better. Until tonight anyway. I’ve no idea what, if anything, set him off this time.   

       Now, he's a double murderer. And I came close to making it a hat-trick of victims. He rarely recognises me when he's that high. Which is why I thought he would kill me too.

       At last, I break the awkward silence between us.

       "Why?" is all I say. I have neither the energy nor the inclination to say anything else.

       He shrugs. He looks confused. I wonder if he even remembers all the things he did. Does he remember the woman's cries as he beat the life out of her? Her pleas for mercy? When I see the tears on his face and the tremor in his hand as he reaches out to me, I know that he does.

       Despite the abhorrence I feel at what he's done, despite how sick and tired I am at having to clear up his messes, I go to him, take his hand and pull him into an embrace. He sobs on my shoulder, like the innocent little boy he once was, so long ago.

       I don't know what the future holds for us. Until I got home, I still didn’t know what to do, whether to turn him in or not. If arrested, the best he can hope for is life without parole. If I don't turn him in, and they find him anyway, I'll be an accessory to two murders, possibly get sent down for life too.  

       I should do the right thing, for both our sakes. And for those poor people who lost their lives. But, as usual, I won't. He's the only family I have left. This may not be the best decision I’ve ever made, but I can't betray him. And I won’t.


updated by @americymru: 11/18/16 09:17:40PM