It’s been three months since the robbery, and I still can’t sleep. So I toss and turn hoping tonight will be different, but it keeps playing over in my mind like some 1950’s black and white horror movie.
Since then, I’ve stuck to my curfew. Sometimes I’m in earlier, because after midnight is not a good time for any decent kid to be out. “You’re a hero, T.J.,” the neighbors said. But to tell the truth, I was scared, and I’m still scared.
I begged and pleaded with my folks for months to extend my curfew to midnight on the weekends. It seemed like just when things were getting started with my friends Jason, Sean, Brandon and me, I always had to go home. The day my dad gave in was cause for celebration, but getting home by the curfew was a goal that had to be met. My parents needed to know they could trust me, and there were no plans to betray that trust. Not immediately anyway.
My girlfriend, Tiffany tried to get her curfew extended past eleven too, but to no avail. Her old man didn’t give an inch. When her tears didn’t budge him, she knew it was a hopeless case.
Friday night was the time we guys hung out with our girlfriends. On Saturday nights we and the girls gathered in the parking lot of the convenience store and made plans for the evening. Sometimes we’d split, but mostly we stayed together and saw a movie or stopped by the diner or the mall and basically spent time together talking and stuff. We were good kids and were never rowdy or anything. I always got Tiffany home at five before eleven, dead on the money. The last thing I needed was her folks calling my folks.
After dropping Tiffany off, I usually spent time alone in my car and smoked, and then I went home. I prevented Mom and Dad from smelling the cigarettes on my breath and clothes by going straight to bed. They were on my case enough as it was, and another thing didn’t need to be added to the list.
Things were going pretty well with my getting Tiffany home on time and meeting my own curfew, and about three months in, I thought it was okay to smudge the time a bit. The very night I decided to stay out late, the robbery occurred on Elm Street.
I had put Tiffany off at her door. She gave me a quick kiss, and as I turned to leave, she grabbed my arm. “Be careful, T.J.”
“What?” I asked.
“I don’t know why I said that,” she replied, “but it never hurts to be careful. Good night.” She blew me a kiss and walked inside. I gave no more thought to our conversation.
As I slid into my smooth ’68 Camaro, I dove into the glove compartment for my cigarettes. It was time to relax. Let’s see...where to park…where to park. Elm Street is usually quiet this time of night. That’s the street the old people live on, and they’re in bed by nine.
So I found a nice place alongside the street next to a vacant lot with several big, old oak trees close to the street. Wonder why they call this street Elm Street with all these oak trees, I thought. Anyway, it’s darker on this side of the street, and no one will notice me.
After my second cigarette, I started to feel some pressure on the plumbing—too many root beers. Good thing these oaks are here. They’re the perfect place for an emergency bathroom. I casually got out of my car, made sure no one was around, and strolled to the farthest tree.
I heard a shot fired as I started back. Then there was a scream and another shot. Call it intuition if you must, but something told me not to return to the car. I stayed behind the tree, and as I glanced at the house in front of me, a man ran out.
He was dressed in dark clothes with a black hood pulled over his head. He carried a gun in one of his gloved hands and a paper bag in the other. The man looked around. I think he got scared because lights in the neighboring houses were coming on. That’s when he looked across the street, and it looked like he saw me. My knees automatically gave way, and I knelt behind the tree and froze. I heard footsteps coming toward me. It was a good thing I had already relieved myself, because it felt like my body just voluntarily wanted to go again. The steps stopped at the car, and the door opened. I didn’t have the strength to look. After a few seconds the car door shut, and I heard footsteps running away. It was then that I realized the man couldn’t drive away with my car, because the keys were in my pocket.
I stood quickly and peered from the tree and noticed the man didn’t have his mask on anymore. He looked back as he ran. He was close enough for me to get a clear view of his face. I had seen this man before, but for the life of me, I couldn’t remember where. Neighbors peeped out of their windows and apparently called 911. After gathering my thoughts enough to think rationally, I decided it was a good idea to hang around and tell the cops what I saw. I glimpsed my watch. It was almost 2:00 a.m. I heard sirens approaching. Calling my folks never entered my mind.
The robber got away with some pretty expensive jewelry and critically injured a man and his wife. They weren’t sure if they would survive. I explained my story to the cops like a hundred times. Finally, I told them I had to go home or my parents would be calling them soon to report me as a missing person. “I’ll call ahead and let your folks know what’s occurred,” Detective Bangley assured me. I gave him my address and promised to call if I remembered where I’d seen the guy.
As I got in my car, I noticed something that wasn’t there before. My heart felt like it was coming out of my chest. I jumped out of my car and called the detective. The robber had left his silky, black mask in my car. “I’m sure we can get some DNA from this mask,” the detective remarked. “Go home, son. We’ll be in contact.”
We saw on the news the next day that the old man died from his injuries, and the lady was paralyzed from her waist down. The robber’s faced taunted me for weeks until I saw him again--at school emptying the trash. I called Detective Bangley.
I identified the man from a line-up, and they said the DNA found on the mask matched perfectly. The perp eventually admitted to the crimes and got ninety-nine years in prison. His admission spared me from testifying in court, thank goodness.
I still have nightmares. In them, the gunman sees me and points the revolver in my face and fires. Sometimes I wake up screaming. Lost my taste for cigarettes too. I found out one thing in all of this. Bad stuff can happen in the still of the night.