Bring Your Rifle
Because it was a small town, we only had one cop, a tall thin Sheriff named Jacob Fischer, who took his job very, very seriously. He would drive up and down the little town center, past the barbershop, past the post office, and past the veterinarian's office (where the Doctor would also set up shop on Tuesdays and Fridays). Then he'd make the whole loop over again. There wasn't much to see.
Sometimes, when he was really bored, he would drive out towards the farms. He must have been lonely because he would always stop and talk to the neighbors. Farmers can be chatty. Like Jacob Fischer, they spent their days going up and down the rows of corn and soybeans. He would park the squad car—a beat-up cruiser with "police" painted on the sides—and he'd walk around the front of the property until whoever was working the field stopped the combine, climbed down, and walked over to him.
"Something wrong, officer?"
"Nope. Just looking around."
Jacob Fischer was always looking around, which made him an incredibly well-informed gossip. And, as I'm sure you know, people in small towns (anywhere in the world) love to gossip. I'll admit, I liked gossip too, but I hated small talk even more. He knew this, and it inspired him to annoy me even more. When he did, I'd ignore him (sometimes for over an hour), and he'd either go away in defeat or stand there long enough that I'd assume that maybe something was different this time. Maybe I'd done something illegal, or the boys were in trouble. Then, I'd stop the combine, climb down and go over to him.
"Something wrong, officer?"
"Nope, just looking around."
He'd smile like he knew he'd fooled me, and I'd turn around and get back on the combine and keep doing my work.
I didn't have much sympathy for him. He had the easiest job in town, and he knew that when he took it. There's no crime in this place because there aren't many people. The people who are here own guns. Rifles. And they sleep with them next to their beds, not because they're afraid of a burglar, but because there's always an off chance that a raccoon will climb into your attic and fall through your bedroom ceiling in the middle of the night, landing on you or your wife with a scream, leaving you no choice but to shoot it. It would be foolish to rob people in a town where confrontations with paratrooping raccoons have sharpened everyone's reflexes.
So, Jacob Fischer spent most of his days driving around and making small talk. People didn't mind Jacob Fischer until the gym-class-incident, which I'll admit maybe wasn't entirely his fault but was absolutely asinine. It was May. Or April. It was springtime. Or maybe it was fall? September maybe? It doesn't matter. It was a nice day. A nice enough day in Northern Iowa that the boy's gym class decided to go outside to run sprints in the street. Of course, like any good high school gym class in the '70s, they brought their starter pistol with them. What's a race in the street in the middle of a weekday without a starter pistol?
The gym teacher, who also moonlit as the owner of the dry cleaners in the town over, sent the smallest kid, Kenneth Nilsson, to the street's end, five-hundred meters away. Kenneth would be the referee because he was probably too small to keep up anyways. This must have been a day when Jacob Fischer veered away from his usual route because, in the time between Kenneth firing the pistol directly into the sky and the boys finishing the race, Jacob Fisher was already there, jumping out of his beat-up cruiser.
His gun was drawn, and his face was pulled back into a mask of confidence, aggression, and absolute panic. From the looks of it, you would have thought he was stopping a bank robbery. Somehow, the sight of the gym uniforms, the running shoes, or the presence of the totally calm gym teacher did nothing to clue him in to what was happening. Before anyone could explain, ninety-pound Kenneth Nilsson was handcuffed, slammed into the cop car, and loaded into the backseat like a sack of potatoes.
By the time that Sherriff Fischer had confiscated a gym shirt from another student and used it to pick up the evidence (an attempt to keep his own prints off the gun), all of the neighbors had come out to watch. And that was when Jacob Fischer realized that this was not an active shooting and that the "gunman" in the back of his car was actually a sobbing fifteen-year-old. And he was holding a starter pistol with a sweaty shirt that he had taken off the back of a high schooler. It wasn't a good look.
That year, people talked about replacing Fischer, and I was the most disappointed to admit that no one else was qualified. Not that Fischer was, but there was a general belief that maybe Fischer wasn't just a cop in a town without crime, but that maybe he had played some role in preventing said crime. Fischer won by a percentage point when elections rolled around, narrowly beating out write-ins Starsky and Hutch. He was pissed.
The small talk stopped, and the detours out to the farms turned into solemn, gossip-free drives. I was grateful for the change, even if I did feel bad. Usually, the town resets after a few months: if everyone remained ostracized forever, no one would be speaking to one another. That wasn't the case with Fischer—he would need to earn back his social credit. For that to work, something big would have to happen. And to my dismay, it did.
I was working in the field in the middle of the summer when I heard the siren. I had never heard the police siren before and was immediately confused. I watched from the tall seat of the combine as Fischer's squad car shot down the gravel roads, close on the heels of a shiny new sedan. Rocks flew, dust billowed, and the cars weaved and zigzagged—a real-life car chase. I stopped the tractor and watched in amusement. Why would Jacob Fischer be in a car chase? Did a toddler steal a candy bar?
Then the lead car turned slightly, and its intentions were clear: it would go off-road. Off-road where? Right into my farm. The shiny sedan hurtled off the gravel and onto the bumpy grass. It wouldn't make it through the corn, but it wouldn't have to: it was making a beeline towards the largest barn, a massive white aluminum structure that would probably crumple against the force of the speeding car. At first, it seemed like the driver had a death wish, but his last-minute swerve revealed his real intentions: to drive straight at the barn, switch direction at the last minute, and cause the Sheriff to crash head-on.
While this was admittedly ambitious, it was also a challenging move to pull off. In speeding up directly towards the farm, the driver had to put a fair amount of distance between himself and the cruiser. He then swerved about ten seconds too soon and allowed Fischer to avoid the trap and cut him off completely. The driver had a choice: T-bone the cop and risk killing them both, or stop the car. Thankfully, he chose the latter.
Fischer got out with his gun drawn and pulled the suspect out of the car. "Ed! Get over here," he yelled. "And bring a gun." I grabbed my rifle out of the passenger seat, climbed down, and walked over to them. "Look," Fischer said. "We've got a double carjacking, and the other guy went the other way, so if you could just-" he grabbed the barrel of my gun and pointed it at the suspect. "Just hold him here. I'll be right back."
He got into the cruiser and sped away before I could say anything. I was confused (what's the point of a cop car if not for carrying fugitives?) and a little scared (I was babysitting someone dangerous). To make matters worse, the carjacker wasn't even handcuffed. I had him raise both arms in the air, and I eventually let him sit against the side of the barn.
I waited. It would only be a few minutes, right? Car chases go quickly. But I didn't know how far in the other direction the other carjacker had gotten, not to mention I had to factor in Fischer's general incompetence. How inept was he exactly? Well, considering he had me standing there, pointing a gun at a fugitive in the middle of my yard, he must have been pretty damn inept.
"Would you shoot me?"
I looked down into the carjacker's eyes. I don't know what I expected to see. Fear, probably. I thought about my brother shaking in a prisoner of war camp in the Pacific. This man didn't look afraid. He was certainly no hero. His question was a challenge, and my only response was a nod. I would shoot him if I had to. If he put my family or me in danger, then I wouldn't hesitate. My answer seemed to take some of the fight out of him. I breathed a sigh of relief. I was glad that he chose that particular wording. "Would I shoot him," as opposed to "could I shoot him?" They were similar but very different questions. The primary distinction was that while I would shoot him if the situation required it, I couldn't shoot him, as my gun was not loaded. I was holding a criminal at gunpoint. With an empty gun.
By the time I realized this, it was too late. I couldn't just tell him to hang on while I grabbed another box of bullets. No, I had to pretend like I could (and would) kill him if I had to. I played pretend for over an hour. By the time Fisher pulled up, his headlight busted, and his hood dented, my arms were shaking with exhaustion. The sheriff said a word of thanks and loaded the carjacker into the squad car, where his accomplice sat, handcuffed. Fischer gave me a cheeky, adrenaline-filled grin. "The challenges of a one cop town!" he said, as if this kind of thing happened all the time.
Fischer's story became an urban legend. I say, "Fischer's story," because it wasn't what really happened, so much as it was Fischer's take on the day. Some things sounded right: He didn't have cuffs with him and had to stop at the station between apprehending the two suspects. Some things were obviously false, like the version my barber told me, wherein the lack of handcuffs forced Fischer to get creative and make the first suspect ride on the hood of the car on their way to get handcuffs.
My involvement, and that of my unloaded gun, were all but erased. To be honest, I was fine with that. I didn't want people talking about me at the bar or the post office, or the barbershop. So whenever anyone told some insane, impossible version of the story, I just nodded and acted disinterested the way I always did. To his credit, Fischer himself gave me the best reward of all: he left me alone.