Objectively, it probably only takes about ten minutes for the police to arrive, but it feels like an hour. I spend the time pacing behind the counter excitedly, my nerves jittery. I’ve been in life-or-death situations before, but this is the first time I’ve had a gun pulled on me, so that may be what’s got me so hyped up.
Also, I’ve always been able to do something about it before. Admittedly, sometimes that thing was “futilely fend off attacks,” but at least it was active. Matt doesn’t want to disturb the scene before the police get here, so there’s absolutely nothing for me to do except wait. And so I pace.
“Come on, at least let me clean up the mop water. That can’t possibly be important to their investigation.”
“Dan, I don’t know what the police need! Leave it alone.”
“It’s water! It’s not like it has footprints in it or anything.”
“Leave it be, Dan.”
There’s a warning note in Matt’s voice that I haven’t heard before, and I realize that I’m perilously close to ticking him off. So I subside and apologize, sit down at one of the tables, and spend the next few minutes picturing all of the ways I could have heroically stopped the robbers from escaping. These cover the gamut from melting the tires on their car to blocking the exit with a sheet of flame. Something that showy would probably have caused more problems than it fixed, but it would absolutely have looked awesome.
Finally, I hear sirens, followed rapidly by the appearance of blue and red lights outside. Matt emerges from behind the counter, steps carefully through the puddle and opens the door for the two cops, motioning them inside. They enter the restaurant, looking around with interest.
“What’s with the puddle?” the younger of the two asks.
“The mop bucket broke,” Matt answers.
“Ah. Thought maybe you’d scared one of your robbers really, really badly.” The cop grins, and after a second, Matt offers a smile in return.
“What happened here?” The second policeman is crouched down, looking at the ruptured gun on the floor curiously.
Matt shrugs. “Defective gun, I guess? He tried to fire it and it went off in his hand, like that.”
The cop straightens up, stretching his back. “Tell you what. Let’s just get you to tell us what happened in order, instead of asking you about things as they catch our eye. Then we’ll go over the place and see what we can clarify.”
He gestures to the younger policeman. “Orlov, you want to talk to Mr. Jefferson here, while I talk to this guy?”
“You’re splitting us up to talk?” Matt says, surprised. I’m with him. I thought that was something they did to criminals to see if their stories matched.
“Yeah, thing is, if one of you thinks you noticed something, a lot of times, the other one will suddenly remember having seen that, too. It’s not intentional, it’s just the way people are wired. So it makes it a bit easier for us to figure out what’s an actual identifying feature if we get two separate accounts first.”
Matt nods and shrugs, and Orlov leads him off to the side while the older cop joins me at the table. “Hey, I’m Officer Lands.” Reading my nametag, he continues, “Do you want me to call you Dan, or Mr. — ?”
“Everton, but Dan’s fine.”
“Okay, great. Call me Andy, then. I just need you to tell me what happened. Be as detailed as you can. I’ll ask clarifying questions afterward.”
So I tell him about the three robbers, the gun, the demand for money, and the bag. I tell him that the mop bucket broke and startled them, and that the lead robber flinched and pulled the trigger when that happened. This is all close enough to true for their purposes, I figure.
Midway through the interview, the door chimes, and I look up to see a man in the doorway. “Hey, are you guys open?” he calls.
I look around the restaurant. There are two policemen talking to the only two employees. There’s a giant puddle of water on the floor, a couple of lengths of pipe lying in it, and a broken gun situated squarely in the middle of everything. And the whole scene is lit by the strobing lights from the police car parked outside.
“I’m sorry, we’re not,” Matt responds pleasantly, while I’m still agog at the question.
“Oh. I just wanted to get a quick burger,” says the man.
“I’m sorry, we’re not open,” Matt repeats. The man opens the door wider and starts to step into the restaurant.
“Can I just — whoa!” His foot slides out from underneath him as he steps into the puddle of water, nearly going down on his backside. He grabs onto the doorframe for balance.
“Sir, we are closed,” Matt insists, walking towards him. “I’m going to have to ask you to come back tomorrow.”
“Yeah, well, okay,” he says. “Hey, you guys should really put up a sign warning people about the wet floor. Someone could sue you over that.”
He leaves, and I look at Officer Lands incredulously. He sighs.
“I’ve seen people barge into worse. Had a teacher once, he had a story about a time he was at a hostage situation. Big office building, buncha cars called, maybe a dozen officers, a gunman with four or five people inside. And this guy pulls up in the middle of it, parks some of the police in, and starts walking for the building like nothing’s going on. They ask him what he’s thinking, he says his briefcase is in there, and he needs it. Won’t be a minute, he says. Like he’s gonna walk in and right back out.”
He shakes his head. “Anyway, go on.”
I try to describe the robbers, but apparently ski masks are a pretty good disguise, as they all looked pretty much the same to me. Average height white males, nondescript clothes, no noticeable accents or visible tattoos. In my head, they’re just Gun Guy and Pipe Guys, and since the gun and the pipes are all still on the floor here, that’s not likely to be terribly helpful for identification.
I’m still racking my brain for useful details when the door chimes again and I look up, amazed at the stupidity of people. Instead of another would-be customer, though, it’s two more cops, a woman and a man. I don’t know the woman, but the man is Officer Peterson, who is potentially still annoyed with me. When last we spoke, I was in a hospital room, refusing to tell him what happened at the museum. Since what happened was “The place was torn apart by repeated lightning strikes before I used my powers of magnetism to disable a storm-sower,” I stand by my decision.
That doesn’t mean that he’s going to be happy to see me again, though. He takes in the whole scene from the doorway, raising his eyebrows when he notices me, but says nothing at first. He and his partner collect the pipes, gun and bag, putting them in evidence bags and storing them in their car while Matt and I finish telling the officers what we remember.
Peterson and his partner come back inside at about the same time Lands and I finish talking. Lands gives him a rundown of the situation, and he nods along through it.
“Find out if there are any security tapes,” he tells Lands at the end of it, and while Lands goes to ask Matt about that, Peterson heads toward me.
There’s nothing ominous about his presence. He’s not a big guy, not scarred or battle-hardened. If anything, he looks weary and slightly rumpled. But somehow, he gives off an impression of steel despite that, and I do not like being in his crosshairs.
“Officer Peterson,” I greet him.
“Mr. Everton. Are you doing all right?”
“I’m a little shaken up, but I’m not hurt. We got lucky.”
“Did you.” It’s not a question.
After waiting a moment to see if I’ll respond, he continues, “Was there any…strange electrical activity here tonight?”
“There was not. I told you, I don’t think the storms are a problem any more.”
“You did tell me, yes.”
There’s another loaded pause, but I won’t rise to the bait. Finally, he says, “I’m glad you’re not hurt. If you think of anything you haven’t told the officers tonight, feel free to give me a call and let me know. No matter how it sounds.”
It’s the same offer he made me at the hospital, and I’m tempted to take him up on it. To tell him what’s going on, explain everything, demonstrate it so he believes me, and get someone else on my side for this. He can’t think I’m crazy, not if I show him that I can make things catch fire. But he might think that I’m a threat, especially after I tell him that someone superpowered is probably coming after me. Because either I’m wrong, meaning I’m a paranoid pyrokinetic freak in his eyes — or I’m right, which might be worse. The last person to come after me just about sank the entire city with her unending weeks of rain. There’s no telling what the next one could do.
All of this flashes through my mind in a second, and so I hesitate and say, “Thank you. I will let you know, if I think of anything.”
He gives me a look suggesting that he understands my thought process better than I’d like, but turns away. Lands is walking back over, shaking his head.
“No cameras. He says the bigwigs only pay for ’em in ‘at-risk’ locations, which means that they’ll probably get ’em in here after this. Locking the barn door after the horse is gone, right?”
The police thank us and make their way out, and I lock the door behind them so we can clean up. When I turn back around, Matt’s examining the mop bucket.
“Weird,” he says. “This whole seam along the bottom looks like it melted apart.”
“Shoddy workmanship?” I say, trying to sound casual.
“Yeah, I guess. Well, go get a towel to plug it up for now and we’ll seal it up tomorrow.”
All told, it’s nearly midnight before we finally lock up the store and leave.
“You want a ride home?” Matt asks.
“Nah, thanks. It’s like a mile, and it’s a nice night out.” I see Matt’s expression, realize I can see my breath, and kick myself. “It’ll be nice to burn off some of this energy, I mean. I’m still all keyed up.”
“Suit yourself! I’ll see you tomorrow, Dan.”
I’m about halfway home, whistling to myself, when I hear an engine roar. Before I can even turn to look, the car hits me from behind.