No, we had no spies in their midst now. We couldn't be 100 percent sure who they'd hit. The Goodins? Yeah, that was a no-brainer. But home or business? And what about Doc's drug store, with all its laudenum and cannabis? Or maybe Carty. He was obviously stirring up trouble (as they saw it). They might figure the man they feared to face in broad daylight would look a little less formidable at 3:00 a.m. in his jammies. As long as there were six of 'em and a flash-bang grenade to wake him up, that is.
Who knew? In preparing, we had to cover a lot of bases and stretch our resources thin. Every adult was responsible for his own and his family's self-defense. But we were neighbors and community. We had to "hang together or hang separately."
We might not know exactly what was coming or when, but we knew something bad was heading our way when all our new cops suddenly quit trying to pull us over for doing 35 in a whatever-the-heck-you-think-is-sensible zone and went into long secret huddles inside city hall.
Didn't take too much to figure out that Sgt. Stedenko and Barney Fife were about to morph into "Hardyville SWAT" ("Stay tuned as officers raid wrong house and shoot a great-granny!")
The next few days and nights were tense. And exhausting. Eventually we would pay for letting ourselves get overextended and over-tired.
But we'll have to give Hardyville SWAT this much credit. When they finally hit, they did hit the right house.
And hit is the right word. Oh. My. God. Being SWATted is like a car wreck. Too fast for reaction. Yet at the same time, like slow motion. You grope upward from sleep. Muscles won't work. Mind struggles to comprehend. It's not just a car wreck you can't stop. It's a car wreck in a nightmare in a shattered mirror in a pit of quicksand. And it hurts. You can't imagine how much it hurts.
I know. I was there.
The first -- the only -- warning we got was Spooner's low "woof" as he rose from sleep. He roused us -- we women who were camped out at Goodins' house with Monique.
I admit it: we had let our guard down after days and nights of no action. A bunch of us -- Monique, her twin sister Martina, Janelle, and I -- were more or less making a hen party and sleepover out of our guard duty while Will Goodin and some of the men watched over the valuable goods at the store. After gossiping and giggling, we'd all fallen asleep sprawled around the den, our firearms in backpacks, purses, or under piles of newspapers on the coffee table. Confident that our lookout down the street would give us plenty of warning if anything happened, we were out of it.
And so, we would learn later, was Marty Harbibi, the lookout we were counting on. By the time he came to and called for backup, what happened had already happened.
Spooner chuffed, hearing something outside the house. We scrambled, groping in the moonlight for weapons. Spooner shook himself and padded from the den, through the broad archway into the living room to greet whatever new friend might be approaching the front door.
"Spooner! No!" Monique cried. She grabbed for her Kimber with one hand. Grabbed at -- and missed -- Spooner's collar with the other. I was slower. I was still groping for my Glock as Monique and Janelle rushed after Spooner.
Bam! Magnesium-bright light blinded me. A concussion kicked the breath from my chest. And another concussion and another. My ears rang. My head exploded with pain. What was up? What was down? I couldn't see. Couldn't hear.
Then, beyond piercing pain and the ringing, a shotgun blast.
And screaming that went on. And on. And on. And on.
"On your knees, M------!" Something like a lead pipe struck me in the back. I fell. Martina crashed down beside me, crying out as her head struck the coffee table.
You can't know. You can't even imagine. You think, in your fantasies, you're going to defend your home or go down in glory trying. Yeah. We thought so, too. Instead, we were laid out on the floor with boots, knees, and guns in our backs before we could get half awake.
All I knew was pain and confusion. A copper tang of blood stung my nostrils and ached in the back of my throat as some thug shoved me prone, yanked my arms behind my back and twisted my wrist into flesh-cutting plastic cuffs.
Martina struggled against her captor as he tried to pinion her flailing wrists. "Get off me!" She screamed, "Get your filthy hands off me!"
The cop grabbed her by the hair, pulled back hard, then slammed her head to the floor. "Shut up, you black b----!" He shoved his MP5 next to her ear. And laughed. "You ain't seen nothin' yet."
I wanted to call out for Monique, for Janelle. Where were they? I couldn't see them with my face smashed into the carpet and my eyes blinded with dizzying afterimages from the flash-bang. Where was our lookout? Where was anybody? Where was help? All I knew was that somebody was still alive because somebody was still screaming.
After what felt like hours but was probably only a few minutes, I heard a different kind of commotion. The endless screams stifled down to sobs. The echoes of gunfire stopped ringing in my brain. The shouting and cursing and threats ceased, now that everyone in the house was down -- one way or another -- and subdued. And gradually I became aware of other people in the room besides cops.
I risked lifting my head. A wave of nausea struck me. But no sticks or knees or muzzles or Tasers did. That was an improvement.
What I saw was surreal. The cops were posturing over Martina and me like armed roosters. There we were, two handcuffed middle-aged women with three ... four ... I don't know how many submachine guns and tactical shotguns pointed at us, fingers tensed around triggers.
In one of those strange moments, like laughing during a funeral, I remember hoping none of the ninjas got the hiccups.
But the surreal part was that they appeared to be posturing for the sake of ... yes, Our Glorious Leaders. Behind the stormtroopers, safely over by the wall, shuffled a half dozen or so of our Civic Dignitaries. It was like a little celebrity gallery, invited along for the display.
As I held my head up and tried to control the spinning, throbbing, and flashing, I saw Epperson Chutney, chief Birkenstocker, peering eagerly. He was so excited he looked like he was about to have an ... no, sorry, I won't say that on a family website. Some of the other celebs looked more dubious. Even shellshocked. Dan White, one of the city council members, looked ... well, white. And there was the mayor in his purple robe, looking ...
And then a voice like God's own thunder boomed in the night. "Drop it! Or we'll blow away every ninja-masked bastard here."
I peered over my shoulder, setting off another round of vertigo. But it was worth it. Carty, Marty, Will Goodin, and even the long-gone Nat stood in silhouette in the blazing, blinking doorway. Their Uzis and Mossbergs pointed straight at the MP5s and Remingtons of Hardyville SWAT. For a moment, everybody froze. Neither side yielded an inch.
Beyond the ringing in my ears, I don't think I ever heard such silence. It, too, went on forever as each side faced the other with fingers wrapped tensely around triggers. A long time went by.
And then sounds of struggle arose from the living room. One of the women rolled to her side. Monique. I could tell by the halo of black hair in the pulsing light from the doorway.
With hands still bound behind her back, she struggled to a sitting position. Defiantly, with tears streaking down her face, she glared at the home invaders. She looked around. Spotted something. She seemed to freeze briefly. Then she began to edge along the floor -- straight between the opposing lines of armed men. Sobbing, she pulled herself awkwardly toward a dark, still body lying nearby.
All eyes flicked toward her goal. As we feared. One of our own lay bleeding.
One of the thugs twitched. The barrel of his gun tracked Monique. Carty's Uzi swung in his direction. Nat, Marty, and Will stared down the rest of the invading gang.
And still Monique inched along until she reached the bloody body on the floor. Then she let herself fall forward, laid her forehead against the dark form and wailed, "What kind of people are you? What kind of people?!"
There are certain things civilized societies don't permit. The casual slaughter of innocents is one. The moment citizens discover that their government considers the death of innocents to be business as usual -- mere "collateral damage" or tactical necessity -- at that moment, all things should come to a halt.
At that moment -- that very, precise moment -- a deadly slide has started.
Truly civilized people will stop. They'll say, "Never again. Not one more innocent life will be considered disposable. We will not only stop this. We will stop the attitudes and actions that led to this -- for the sake of all that's decent and just."
Uncivilized people will yawn and say, "What's on the other channel?" Or worse, they'll hope that the other channel will be playing a reality show in which face-masked cops kick down doors and throw people to the ground while screaming obscenities.
A society that tolerates that kind of thing -- even once -- is sliding downhill on gravel and broken glass.
You have to choose. One way or the other. If you make the lazy, ignoble, uncaring choice, you can't honestly call your society free. Or just. Or healthy. Because, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."
We looked across the divide, over the body of the Goodin's dead Newfoundland dog -- Spooner, friend to all personkind -- and we halted.
Birkers and yuppie matrons and old-time Hardyvillians might not have a lot in common. But we share a common human decency, and on that, perhaps we all can build.
As Hardyvillians looked down on the bleeding body of Spooner the Newf, we chose.
"Back off," demanded councilman Dan White, waving frantically at the police officers. When they didn't immediately lower their weapons, he screamed. "Back off! Back off! I said BACK OFF!"
Behind their balaclavas, the cops' eyes flicked to each other, nervous, questioning. "Authority" wasn't backing up their authority. Their world didn't work that way.
"BACK OFF!" White screamed, panicking when no one moved.
Still, the motionless silence dragged on.
"... Or I'll shoot you in the back," came a quavering voice from the kitchen. Christian Goodin, 16 and small for his age, stood there with a 12-gauge shotgun -- leveled straight at a knot of black-clad men. He had sneaked through the backyard from a friend's house when everyone on both sides was preoccupied.
"NOW," ordered Dan White.
"NOW," ordered Carty.
The only sounds in the room were Monique Goodin's sobs as she nuzzled Spooner's bloody fur -- and the sounds of MP5 machine guns and tactical shotguns firmly thumping to the floor.
"Hands in the air," Carty ordered. The thugs hesitated again. Looked to Epperson Chutney. He turned away as if he'd never met them. And hands began to raise as Hardyville gave the stormtroopers a taste of their own "compliance."
But at that exact instant ... the world rocked and rolled. The sky flashed white and red. The earth shook until it nearly kicked us off our feet.
Special thanks to Cathy Del Signore for demonstrating what a determined woman can do, even when bound hand and foot.