It was a blood bath at Grand Central. By the time Franko and Rita arrived on the scene, commuters were scrambling, trying to get away from the pandemonium. The victim was flat on his back, face up and unconscious on the cold tile platform. It was obvious that life was quickly draining from him. The tails of his tie were flung back over his shoulder, and the lapels of his suit jacket were parted like a curtain that revealed a bull’s-eye of blood right at the center of his starched white business shirt. Papers that had spilled from a leather briefcase were strewn around the lifeless-looking body and sopping up the growing pool of blood.
“Freeze! Freeze!” came the shouts of Rita and Franko, who raised their weapons in order to corner three Latino men wearing leather jackets and holding switchblade knives.
“Drop your weapons. Now!” The commanding shrill of Franko’s voice echoed in the terminal. The two men in the rear of the group did as they were told. They threw down their knives. But there was one holdout—the pack leader, the guy heading up the trio. He waved a bloody knife in front of him, itching for a fight.
A spike of fear rose up in Franko. He stared into the man’s face. The image of those wild eyes, his thick nose and taut lips seared into Franko’s brain as he firmed his grip on his weapon, tight and damp, and ordered, “C’mon, man. I said drop it. Drop your weapon and put up your hands.”
“But I ain’t done nothing,” the pack leader said. He had a well-defined V-shape to his body that made him appear the most muscular-looking of the three. He kept his feet firmly planted. He didn’t blink. Perspiration was raining down from beneath the fringe of his black hair.
“Don’t be stupid,” one of the other men said, his voice rising from behind the group. “Just give ’em what they want. It’s over.”
The pack leader yelled something incoherent in Spanish that sounded like a bark.
Every muscle in Franko’s body was tense, but he could feel his hand, his fingers wrapped around the gun, beginning to quake. Locked in this standoff, Franko couldn’t see a way out of this, but he tightened his bicep so that his arm might feel stronger.
You’re the one in control here, spouted Franko’s internal dialogue. Keep your hand steady and your mind even. Finger on the trigger. Be cool. You’ve got this guy.
With his piece still aimed on the defiant pack leader, Franko took a step closer and said, “Get against the wall.” Franko could feel his adrenaline rushing, even through his eyes. “I said, put your hands up and drop your weapon.”
The two men in the rear backed up toward the wall of the terminal. But brazenly, the pack leader stood his ground. He brandished the knife in front of him like a shield, ready for Franko’s attack.
Franko kept his aim on the leader and again moved closer. One step… Then another. The perpetrator moved from side to side. He wouldn’t back down. Rita, creeping alongside Franko, kept her own weapon drawn and followed Franko’s lead. But as Franko took his fourth step toward the perp, Rita’s and Franko’s police radios hissed and crackled with static. The sound must’ve jarred the man with the outstretched knife. He lunged for Franko.
A bullet, a single shot, released from the chamber of Franko’s gun. It echoed like the roar of a cannon. The assailant collapsed onto the platform. Franko had lodged a bullet in the man’s leg.
The perpetrator looked stunned, and so was Franko. His arm was outstretched, and he kept the gun pointed straightaway. For a terrifying instant, a light, gauzy feeling filled Franko’s head. Everything in the cold, desolate terminal looked and sounded muted, except for the bloodied knife-edge. The shiny part of the blade glimmered on the ground next to the perpetrator, and Franko saw it as clear as if he were holding it in his own hand.
“Franko, you all right?” Rita asked.
He couldn’t speak. Have I imagined this? Have I really just shot a man? Franko could feel his face flush. He felt as though he’d just showered with his clothes on.
When the back-up team arrived, along with paramedics, the adrenaline of the scene finally began to drain from Franko. And on he went, business as usual.
The injured businessman, who’d been lying unconscious, was quickly put on a stretcher and rushed out of the terminal. After the victim’s wallet was recovered from the pack leader, Rita and Franko discovered there was only one hundred dollars inside.
The two other assailants were handcuffed. They were read their rights and whisked away. As the wounded aggressor was being carted off on a stretcher, the medical crew worked hard to restrain him. But what they couldn’t restrain were his words.
“I’ll be back to get you, you fat pig,” he wailed.
“Aw, I bet you say that to all your arresting officers,” Franko chimed, trying to act nonchalant while a sick feeling shivered through him.
Through the barrage of paramedics and police, the aggressor defiantly craned his neck. When he found Franko through the crowd, he raised his hand in a gesture of an imaginary gun.
“Bang, bang,” he said, taking aim and firing a make-believe shot in the direction of Franko’s head.
When Franko turned away, his gaze landed on Rita. He saw his own horror reflected in her pale face.