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Shotgun

This is not fiction. These events occurred. Any factual error is due to my poor memory and/or faulty retelling.

I had lived dangerously close to the epicenter of the Northridge earthquake. I had experienced the shock, the loss, the grief of this dramatic event. I had even lost a friend who was crushed to death in the Meadows apartment complex. I had lived though it but I had forgotten it.

That day in July of 1995 had been eventful. My friend Tomer and I had gone to West Hollywood in the early afternoon. We drank cappuccinos at an eclectic coffee house on La Cienega Boulevard and began talking about our movie script project. At five, we drove to a club on Sunset Boulevard where he performed two songs at the open mike. The audience was composed almost entirely of other artists and we soon left the smoky room, feeling more scrutinized than cheered.

We went to California Canteen, a restaurant where he works, and settled on the patio under a yellowed shade. Seconds later, my pager beeped irritably: a call from California Cucina, the sister restaurant at which I work. I returned the call to find they were overwhelmed with customers and togo orders. I rode with Tomer while we covered the two-mile distance and disembarked to lend a helping hand. Within thirty minutes the situation was back in order.

We returned to Canteen at nine, ordered some wine and two paellas, a seafood and saffron rice dish popular in Spain and Southern France, then quietly ate and talked, outlining the script's story line.

When ten-thirty rolled our way, we were ready to be rolled away. We snaked through the busy establishment wishing everyone a good night, leaving a substantial tip for our complimentary dinner. At last we bid the cooks good night and stepped out the back door into the fenced area that led to the parking lot. A yard from the back gate, as I readied my arm to push it open, a strong voice shouted "Back up!". From the darkness beyond the linked wire, a chrome double-barrel shotgun appeared, leveled at my chest by a man with a pantyhose over his head. There was a split second of stilled disbelief followed by an incredibly fast run back through the restaurant and out the front door. Tomer made a left where I made a right on the sidewalk and I was suddenly alone, running. One hundred yards away I halted, punched 911 on my cellular phone and was instantly put through to a Los Angeles Police Officer who got enough information from my stammering voice to dispatch the appropriate response.

Then came one helicopter, twelve police vehicles and twenty Police Officers, within two minutes of my call. I was duly impressed. In spite of this tremendous effort, the burglar had gotten away moments before with fifty dollars and nine police cruisers searching.

All were found safe and unharmed to our general relief. Many questions were asked that night; by the police at first, and by ourselves later. After the paperwork, most police officers left; sirens silent in the suddenly cold night. We too drifted away like leaves swept aside by the world's wind. But my beating heart reminded me that life is ephemeral: a gift easily withdrawn by mother nature. A wonderfully productive and peaceful day had turned to tragedy in the blink of an eye. So I remember often the shiny chrome shotgun aimed at my chest, and I thank God daily for the life he grants me.

Two months later, as he burglarized a bar, the man was killed by the bartender who stabbed him with a knife, grabbed the shiny shotgun and pumped his chest full of lead pellets.

©1996, Christopher Mahan