The Other Night's Excitement
Then it got weird. The guy on the bike started yelling “Fire! Fire! Fire!” in this nasal whiny screech. I paused at the stop of the stairs. Doggy Dog looked back at me uncertainly. Finally, I remembered reading somewhere, in an advice column or something, that if you’re in trouble, the best thing to yell is “Fire,” because people come to see what’s going on. Apparently the guy on the bike had heard the same thing.
Still, I paused. It really was hard to make sense of what was going on. The guys on foot – I could see for sure now there were two of them – were just looking at the guy on the bike, probably wondering if he was loco. I put a hand on the cell phone in my pocket, wondering if I should call the cops. I wasn’t even quite sure what crime, if any, I might be reporting.
Then the guy on the bike, apparently spotting me, called out, “Call the police! These guys just ripped off a bike!” Contrary to what the guy on the bike intended, that stopped me cold, and for a couple of reasons. One is that he had just managed to confuse matters even further. I understood – or thought I did – why he was yelling “fire” in the middle of a non-flaming street, but what was this bullshit about a stolen bike? The only bike there was the one he was sitting on. I don’t recall any advice column ever recommending that when you really want someone to call the police for you, you should yell out that a bike’s been stolen. The other reasons I paused is that he was yelling at me to call the cops while I was standing right at my front door. It sucks that I feel the need to think this way, but I do; this was the last place I wanted to be if I was going to intervene in plain view of the guy’s possible gang-banger possible attackers. There are some bad precedents around these parts that argue strongly against making my house a target.
Fortunately, events overtook my need to make a decision. A car pulled up into the intersection, and the two guys on foot back-pedalled out of the way. The driver came out of the car and said what I thought was “Here’s your bike.” I still wasn’t making any sense of this at all, but I figured it had just ceased to be my problem. The on-foot guys were taking off and the in-the-car guy would take care of the on-the-bike guy. Then the single weirdest thing happened in the whole weird episode; the guy on the bike pedaled away, ringing the little bell on his bicycle as he went.
As I saw it at that point, my only responsibility was to see to it that my dog took a dump. I walked Doggy Dog off in the opposite direction. I started to go on my regular route, but decided that might carry me past the on-foot guys if they were coming around the block, so I struck off in a different direction. I got about half a block away when I heard running behind me. I turned and saw the two on-foot guys booking up a side street towards Telegraph. Probably not gang kids, I decided. But definitely teenagers, judging from their size and the way they moved. Doggy Dog and I took our walk.
My indecision and inertia gnawed at me during the walk. Should I have done something more? What, exactly? Yelled? Called the cops? Went over and let my large vicious-looking dog defuse the situation? It’s a cliché, but it truly did all happen too fast. Things seemed a little clearer with time to think about it. For one thing, I started to piece together what had probably happened. The two on-foot guys had stolen a bike from the house of the on-the-bike guy, or maybe from someone else the on-the-bike guy had been with. He chased them. They ditched the bike and attacked him. The motorist picked up the stolen bike and followed. I never did see a second bike, but befuddled witnesses miss all sorts of things. And like I said, it was far away and dark. It didn’t add up 100%, but it seemed like I was probably pretty close.
When Doggy Dog and I got back to our street, I decided to go to the corner – the scene of the crime – and see if perhaps the police were taking a report. It seemed I ought to at least tell what I’d seen, particularly the direction the malefactors had headed in. Sure enough, when I got around the corner I saw a police car halfway up the block. I walked up there and found a policeman talking to a young fellow holding and ice pack to his face. I figured that was the guy on the bike. I told them as much as I had seen, as clearly as I could given how confused I was by it all. The guy with the ice pack said, “Did you see where the guy on the bike went?” I said, “That wasn’t you?” Turns out, he had come out to intervene on behalf of the bike guy and got popped in the nose for his trouble. The bike guy hadn’t stayed around to say thanks. Or to explain what the hell had gone on. The ice pack guy and the cop seemed as confused by the whole thing as I was, and I chose to take the ice pack guy’s bloody nose as a sign that I’d probably done the right thing by staying out of the middle of it after all.