Don’t smile Duane, the man thought as he pumped his legs harder, putting more space between himself and the pursuing officers. Don’t ever fucking smile.
With his size and stamina as twin allies, Duane Thompson churned both pavement and concrete as he fled, weaving from the street to the sidewalk and back again. He used parked cars and parking meters to his advantage, swerving around them with the grace of someone who dodged defensive ends and linebackers through high school. Thompson pounded the ground with purpose as he ran. Each step came as fast as the last, and the sounds of his partially-unlaced sneakers were vivid reminders of what followed him from the swanky brownstones of the aging Beacon Hill neighborhood.
I almost killed that old man, he thought as he turned left from Mount Vernon Street onto Walnut Street. I cut him, but he won’t die. Duane gritted his teeth hard, hard enough to jar a filling loose.
He better not fucking die.
Duane felt the wind in his face as he approached Boston Common at speed, but he couldn’t hear the oncoming traffic for the sounds of the blood pounding in his ears and the vibrations in his chest as he pushed his heart beyond its limits. He ran the two hundred or so yards in half a minute, then made a wide left-hand turn onto Beacon Street, his momentum carrying him out into the street. A red Geo Tracker, fresh off the lot, had to stop quickly. Its brakes squealed, the tires peeled, and soon the smell of freshly burned rubber hung in the salty air. Duane leaped back onto the sidewalk once the horn and the headlights jarred his senses.
He kept running.
He knew that if he stopped now, or any time soon, his freedom was forfeit. He needed to get away from the trailing officers, which had fallen back so far that they hadn’t yet made the turn onto Beacon. The only way he knew how to escape was with his feet and his powerful strides, long honed by his football regimen. The cops would give up the chase soon, he knew, for they had no chance to catch him.
Duane stifled a grin as he made his way up the long incline toward the Massachusetts State House.
Don’t smile, he thought.
This would be where he knew he’d lose them. He had trained for a hill like this: he had used the stairs at Brockton’s famed Rocky Marciano Stadium and its large twin stands for pre-season preparation, and now it was as if he could hear his feet slamming against the steps again, rubber pounding against steel in an exquisite concerto of testosterone. He powered his way up the long, steep embankment without breaking stride. He looked behind his shoulder for just a moment: the two police officers had just made the turn, and it seemed to Duane’s eyes that they didn’t have it in them to continue the chase any longer. They couldn’t keep up. Their uniforms clung to their swollen bodies, their skin saturated with sweat. They bent over and gasped for breath. One grabbed his radio and pulled it toward his mouth.
This time, Duane smiled as he passed the western entrance to the State House. He turned his head and continued to run, his nostrils flaring into a snarl even as wailing sirens converged closer.
Sweat coated his brow as he reached the summit of Beacon Hill. His legs showed no signs of tiring. He continued into the cavern of tall buildings that had sprouted up in the last twenty or so years, the nighttime revelry well underway on the outskirts of what had become known as the Combat Zone. He didn’t try to blend in or be like one of them, as the knife in his hand would have told anyone that he did not belong. He sped by as a blur, his ebony skin and dark clothes making him appear wraith-like, a swift-moving shadow to any onlookers or passersby. It served as his camouflage for his freedom.
Duane swept the corner and headed down the hill toward Tremont Street. He paid careful attention to the curb cuts on the left-hand side, which occasionally stood higher and more prominent than the others. The red bricks were also poorly laid, and it wasn’t odd to see one jut out as if waiting for someone to stub their toe against it, or trip while evading capture. He wet his lips and hoped he wouldn’t turn an ankle in his flight.
After passing the old King’s Chapel at a dead sprint, he crossed the street as he came into the area once known as Scollay Square. With squealing brakes, two Boston Police cruisers skidded to a halt at the corner of Cambridge, Tremont and Court Streets, nearly colliding with one another as they came from different directions. The one on the left came from the vicinity of Massachusetts General Hospital, the other screeching to a halt as it came from the direction of the Common just as Duane crossed the street in front of 1-2-3 Center Plaza. Duane propelled himself onto the cruiser on the right, his feet denting the fiberglass hood twice before he jumped down and continued to run. Two officers, both with fresh legs, vaulted out of their cruisers and tried to give chase as Duane launched himself onto the sidewalk. Ahead, the red-bricked ziggurat of the Government Center subway headhouse stood as if belched from the hillside, a blemish on City Hall Plaza’s hardened skin; behind it, the Brutalist Boston City Hall, its beastly concrete sides reaching for the night sky.
Duane skirted the headhouse and pumped his legs harder. He gained ground on the new cops as he sped across the Plaza.
Duane couldn’t avoid the man headed to the subway near the first set of granite stairs, their collision sending him into a spiral. The bystander hit the ground hard, the back of his head cracking against the bricks, his momentum sending him down the three stairs. Duane lost his balance though, but only a hand, his left, touched the ground. He sprang up as if his fingers were a matching set of fleshy Slinkies and immediately continued running, not caring that the man’s life spread out on the bricks in a crimson tidal wave. Behind him, the police halted if just for a second, then rushed to the aid of the fallen man, their quarry rushing away.
Duane tried to escape across the Plaza, his feet and legs tiring after nearly a mile of sprinting. Congress Street was in front of him now. He trotted down the stairs leading to the street. He felt he could take it easy and walk briskly instead of running away, seeing as he had lost the police, hopefully for good.
“Stop right there!”
His eyes didn’t widen even as the police officer emerged right in front of him, stepping out from the side of City Hall.
“Fuck,” he breathed. He made sure he kept the knife hidden, the blade touching his inner wrist. He held the handle steady, not letting the sharp edges nick his skin.
The cop drew closer, step by step, his gun up and pointed right at Duane’s heart. He inched closer to the perp. “Hands where I can see them, asshole!”
Duane gripped the knife harder and, without thinking, slashed upward. A blood-curdling scream preceded the sound of metal slapping against concrete. Duane then took off toward Haymarket, the cop’s blood sliding down the edge of the knife, hoping the cop wouldn’t recover and end up shooting him in the back.
I just sliced a fucking cop, he thought as he ran toward the Government Center parking garage, which hovered over the area up ahead. He also thought that it would be great to get lost in this area of Old Boston, with its darkened alleyways and hidden nooks and crannies, a criminal’s wet dream. He crossed New Sudbury at a light run; it was almost a trot. Beyond, the lights of cars on the elevated Central Artery left as quickly as they appeared, both toward Dewey Square to the south, toward the North Shore and the Tobin Bridge to the north.
He looked back and forth as he approached the Haymarket subway stop, pigeons toddling away on the gray bricks. The scent of fresh coffee, even this late at night, poured out from a nearby Dunkin’ Donuts, assaulting him with its fresh roasted flavor. He crossed New Chardon and Market Streets, headed for Canal. In the distance, Boston Garden and its cohabitant North Station stood ready to receive him if he decided to get out of the city proper. There were still trains headed out even at this late hour for points north and west. He couldn’t see the spires at either end of the building nor the tall windows that ran from top to bottom, but he did see the tall gold lettering shining brightly underneath a wide billboard, a white bull terrier with a red bow tie letting a toothy grin down on the masses: Spuds and Boston Party Right With Bud Light.
Duane didn’t grin back.
He tried to regulate his breathing. He could still hear sirens behind him and edging closer, growing louder even as he walked further away from Government Center and the scene of his original crime, but he did not feel the need to panic just yet. They weren’t anywhere near him, but he still walked at a brisk pace. He tried to appear calm and innocent, which for a black man in 1988, some fourteen years after the racial tensions that embroiled this city had ended, was hard to do. He checked behind him every few steps. There were no flashing blue and red lights coming down Canal.
He knew there had to be an all-points bulletin out for him, and he knew he couldn’t stay out in the open, especially in this part of the city, for long. The police, he knew, loved to patrol Causeway Street. The criminal element used the darkness provided by the elevated subway line as a way to conduct their business in between the routine sweeps. He heard, even as he walked closer to the Garden, the steel wheels of the Green Line subway headed for the elevated line to head out to Lechmere, or to the lower level at the corner of Canal and Causeway.
Five minutes later, he approached the station, his eyes darting back and forth, from the far side of Canal to the chain link fence to his right. There weren’t many waiting for the subway, as there were no events at the Garden on this night: the Celtics were done, the Bruins on the road. Cars passed frequently, not slowing for pedestrians, or other cars for that matter. Even with the meager light from nearby street lamps, Duane could see the rivets bolted to the green steel columns that held the elevated tracks up like Sisyphus and his stone. He slipped by the station, and he couldn’t help but feel anxious as he passed it: he felt the illuminated Green and Orange Line signs perched above the black doors staring at his back accusingly, as if they had eyes. He turned right onto Causeway, only to feel his skin crawl as another set of signs peered down.
Duane paused at the black lamp post that stood in front of the station, the one with the large letter T in the circle, if only to catch his breath. He closed his eyes and gulped air. Within seconds, he felt his resolve building once again. He was close to freedom, some eighty feet or so before he entered the Garden and followed other passengers to the Commuter Rail platform in the rear of the building.
Yet as he peered to the other side of Canal, he saw a homeless man crouched near one of the steel pillars. He wet his lips as thought caught up with him.
No, don’t leave the city, he thought. The pigs won’t catch me. If I can hide out for a bit, I’ll be fine. They won’t fucking find me if I can blend in with my surroundings.
He crossed over as rapidly as his tired legs would take him. He began looking for a darkened doorway along the front of the Garden, a place to hide from police until enough time had passed. A minute later, he found one. It was dark, just as he wanted, with discarded newspaper leaves, red, gold and white Super-sized French fry containers, and clamshell Styrofoam refuse, all in tan, gold and baby blue, from the McDonald’s across the street, clogging the concrete. The windows were dirty, the remains of exhaust fumes clinging to the glass, choking the cleanliness away. The pungent scent of stale urine hung in the air. Duane choked on it, but he remained stoic even as his eyes watered. Within moments, with his legs seizing up from his exertions, he slid down into a crouch and lowered his head.
There, with his face shrouded, he allowed himself a little smile. He knew that if he had a mirror, he would be able to see his white teeth even in the darkness, gleaming like a beacon. He reminded himself to stop smiling. His smile would give him away, even in the darkness of Boston’s armpit.
And there, with his head down, he thought about the robbery he and his “friends” had committed, and how he ended up here in this piss-scented doorway.
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