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 by Attila Gyenis

At first it was only a siren off in the distance. It steadily grows louder and louder until it seems to stop in front of my building. It sounds disturbing at this late hour. I go to the window and look out. It did stop in front, parked on the other side of the street. I look down and see a red fire truck with its red and white lights flashing, reflecting off the surrounding buildings. The siren is turned off and its wail gently becomes silent. The lights keep flashing. I am on the second floor looking out a huge window. My room is dark, and I hide in the shadows to watch the proceedings below.

I don’t see any fire. That’s good. This part of the neighborhood is made up of old two-story wooden structures and I am always worried about a fire spreading through the buildings. Not for myself, but for my books.

I saw a fire last night a few blocks away. A garage with flames shooting out a side window. The fire truck was already there with a firefighter hooking up the hose to a hydrant. I circled once, out of curiosity, and then kept driving. On my way home, I passed another fire truck rushing to the fire.

But as far as I can see, there is no fire tonight. One firefighter is by the door to the building talking to a man. The other firefighter goes around the fire truck, opens a compartment on the side of the truck, and grabs some equipment. Looks like medical equipment. The other firefighter comes back to the truck to grab some more equipment. They seem to be moving at an unhurried rate. Undo a strap that is holding a piece of equipment, shut the compartment door. The strap is left hanging outside so the firefighter re-opens the compartment door to place the strap inside. No one seems to be rushing (and by that I mean running) so I assume that it is not a dire emergency.

The man in the front entryway is motioning to a woman who is sitting in a nearby car. I didn’t notice her or the car before, but they must have been there.

I also notice down the other end of the street a man who is wearing an auto mechanic’s outfit, not overalls, but a blue shirt with a patch that is either his name or the company’s name, and dark pants stained with grease. He had stepped out of his doorway to see what is happening. He steps back into his garage a few minutes later. I wonder if he sleeps there.

The building across the street is a two story building, with an apartment on the second floor. The apartment has white venetian blinds on all the windows except for one. That window has a confederate flag hanging in it.

There is an empty storefront on the first floor. It was formally a pawn shop with a bad reputation (don’t they all?). The second floor apartment had stood vacant for a long time, with naked windows that exposed the bare rooms painted industrial white. It was an apartment that wouldn’t rent for much. The new tenant, or tenants, moved in recently and that is when the blinds and confederate flag went up. I never knew who lived there. Occasionally the blinds would be open and I could see people sitting in there and talking. But for the most part they were closed like they are tonight.

A few minutes later an ambulance pulls up and the driver and sidekick get out and grab equipment and go into the doorway and up the steps. From where I am, I can only see people enter the door and disappear as they walk up the steps. I cannot see any of the activity that is happening up in the apartment.

In the past, I had often heard people on the sidewalk give a series of whistles hoping that someone was inside to let them up. I really don’t know what went on inside the second floor apartment. It could have either been a meth-manufacturing lab; or a meeting of a recovering drug abuse prayer group. I don’t know which. The whistles make me think that it was the first, but what do I know? Hell, I’m not even sure which is worse.

I figure it is a drug related situation, but all seems under control now. Drug related activity is quite common in this neighborhood, from robberies to the police raids, so this is not an out-of-the-ordinary scene. The ambulance crew comes down and gets the gurney from the ambulance. They leave it parked outside on the sidewalk by the door. I haven’t been staring out the window this whole time. I go between being a voyeur to packing my stuff up for an upcoming trip to the east coast on the dirty dog.

Twenty minutes have gone by from when the fire truck first arrived. I come back to my perch and see that two cop cars have arrived. I stand slightly to the side so the cops can’t see me peering down at them, and another cop car shows up and then another. I don’t know why I don’t want the cops to see me. Each officer walks through the front door and disappears from my sight as he descends up the steps.

One of the blinds is now open, showing one of the rooms. It is lit by a single bulb in the ceiling, which casts eerie shadows on the white walls. Some of the officers are looking around the room casually, but with intent. They pick up an occasional object to examine. One of them picks up a prescription bottle. Another finds a baggie that he looks into before placing back down. I can see that the television is turned on. I try to make out what show is on, see if it’s David Letterman, but can’t tell from this distance. I see that the walls are still bare.

The fire fighters come back down and start putting their equipment away. They get into the fire truck, turn off their emergency lights, and drive away. The paramedics take off a short while later, after replacing the empty gurney back in the ambulance.

I occasionally check back on the situation across the street. My mind has already worked out the series of events that took place in the apartment. Some guy overdosed and the paramedics arrived to revive him, and with the evidence of the drug activity in plain sight, the police were called in. Now the final phase of activity was being carried out. Gathering of evidence for booking at our lovely downtown jail. Taking another peek, I still see 4 or 5 cop cars and a white van in the street. The white van wasn’t there before. ‘So that is how they will transport the prisoner’ I thought. I continue to watch, waiting for the perpetrator to be brought down in handcuffs.

A man opens the back door of the white van. He is wearing civilian clothes. He reaches in through the back door and drags out a gurney. The ambulance gurney had a blanket and pillow. This gurney has no need for it. It is a plain metal gurney, no creature comforts. There is a long black slim object on it. It quickly dawns on me that it is a body bag. I suddenly became aware that I hadn’t figured it out at all.

The man parks the metal gurney on the sidewalk by the door, at the same spot where the previous gurney from the ambulance had been. The man removes the thin black bag, folds it up, and carries it up the stairs. A little while later a white body bag, or maybe just a bed sheet, is carried down the steps by four police officers. They seem to struggle with the body that is in it, and are trying not to bang it against the wall or the front door. They place it on the gurney. I hear the cops huffing and puffing from where I was. The body seems tall and heavy, and hung off the ends of the gurney.

I can’t say it was ceremoniously or unceremoniously placed on the bare gurney. It was done in a sparse, efficient manner. The gurney is wheeled to the back door of the van and they push it against the opening. The gurney, with the body, slide in with the wheels of the gurney folding underneath itself against the edge of the van. I don’t know why they didn’t use the black body bag.

I see that the television is still on in the apartment. No one turned if off the whole time. The white van drives off.

The cops continue to mill around the front door, talking a little more loudly, even a few quiet laughs. After a few minutes, they get in their cars and drive off. Some part of me wished that the paramedics had arrived in a timely manner, and that the cops were there only to arrest the guy.

I think I remember seeing a tall skinny guy going into the apartment in the past. He had a white wispy beard, and was really tall. I’m trying desperately to put a face on the body, though I don’t know why. I just think it’s important.

It is now a few hours later. The street is quiet and peaceful with no hint of the flashing lights, cops, or the white van that had been there earlier. I look into the empty apartment across the street, venetian blinds still open, and see that the television is still on. I wonder how long it would be before someone would turn it off. I remember hearing the Jack Kerouac was watching “The Galloping Gourmet” right before he died. I retreat back into my room, reach towards the window, and draw my curtains closed.