Ed lies still on the sidewalk, his eyelids open but unflinching. The only thing about him that moves are the lapels of his corduroy coat, flapping slightly this way and that across his neck as the wind floats chilly feelers over his body.
Timmy gasps—but his eyes are not tearful, not yet. In that second, when time slows, the driver side door is swaying with an annoying noise. With each squeak, the child takes a gulp of air as if about to ask, “Dad, will you get up? Will you grab the door handle?”
No blood is visible, at first. So, I too allow myself to wonder: Will Ed climb back into his seat, dust off his shoulders, and wave goodbye to his son, before driving away?
I expect him to do so. Almost.
Until another round of gunshots blasts the air.
Without even thinking, I push Timmy down to the asphalt, which is quite easy because he’s such a skinny child and utterly in shock. Then I land hard on my elbows beside him and push a hand against his chest until he crawls backwards, until he butts against his father’s car. It casts a shadow over him. At the moment, there is no better place to hide.
Up on the pavement, a short distance from us, blood starts puddling around Ed’s shoulder. I try to block Timmy from seeing it.
He shakes his head, still in disbelief.
Please, God, no. This can’t be true.
Everything around us is in a state of utter confusion. The sidewalk is strewn with abandoned backpacks, as some pupils are running for their lives. Others cower behind a bush or a car. One uses his flimsy umbrella as a shield.
A teacher cries out to him, “Duck!”
And another teacher, by the gate of the school, yells, “Run! Get inside! Get down, crawl under your desks! And for Heaven’s sake, stay away from the windows!”
A couple of parents attempt getting out of their cars to pull their children to safety, but at the sound of shooting they drop to their knees with empty arms.
Next to me, Timmy turns onto his stomach, mashes his nose against the tire, and wedges himself, somehow, between the curb and the Ford. Then he crawls under it toward the rear bumper, making room for me, too.
I try to cock my head up from the damp surface. Looking at the scene from under the belly of a car is a whole different experience. Someone stands at the other side of the car, and all I can see is his sneakers, socks, and the hem of his coat, flaring at its bottom. Also, the muzzle of his gun. For a heartbeat, before dark clouds close in, it glints in the sunlight.
I reach over and clamp a hand over Timmy’s mouth to prevent him from screaming, from drawing the killer’s attention. A hail of bullets rains down, sparking off the front bumper.
Timmy tenses up. His breath trembles as it escapes my touch. I must protect him. I must bring him back safely to his mother.
The edge of the curb gouges into my back. I adjust, I turn over. Now it presses against my belly.
I must not lose this child, either.
Now, the killer kicks the grill of the car, then jams his weapon, hard, into the front window. I know it by seeing only one of his feet on the ground and by the sound of cracking. It reverberates all over as the car shakes. Shards of glass come pinging against the asphalt and stab at my fingers.
Why is he wasting his time—at the risk of being identified, or even caught—on an empty car, when all around us, juicier targets come into his view?
The first police patrol car tears around the intersection, lights and sirens screaming. It screeches to a halt. A second car follows suit, then a third. Officers file out of both of them, weapons drawn.
Would he shoot at them?
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