Fiction Crime Contemporary

This story contains sensitive content

Sensitive content: This story may offend some people. It contains scenes of murder, gore, gun-violence and death.

For poetry purists, I have incorporated some of the technical elements of Dante’s epic poem into the structure of this pale imitation, but have deliberately left others out. I have forgone a rhyming scheme and tight numerical patterns to focus on the story, which is set down in a (very) loose form of free verse (the first word of each line is capitalized).

Inspired by the Master’s original example however, I have divided the story into three parts, included references to the three guides, and Alighieri’d the last word of the last line of each section. I should also point out that Dante devoted more than 12 years, to completing his masterpiece. And as it is mathematically impossible to get 14,233 lines of poetry within a 3000 word manuscript, I’ll say no more about that. 

Part 1.

Inferno –Virgil and I advance toward the flames. I plummet into the depths.

Virgil and I, responding to the call, were first on the scene. We both

Had a choice. We were going off shift. Then a panicked 911 voice

Claimed a robbery was in progress. So we both suited up again, high-fived

It and signed back in. We protect and serve. We train to run toward danger.

It’s another boiling-hot day here in the city that fun forgot.

Many say, crime and violence happen most in hot climates.

Some say, that’s just unproven urban lore. They say, Jacko

Boy, you really need statistics to back up that theory, my man.

It’s God-given that doubters of wisdom have to arm themselves with

Stats, to climb up and stand on, attempting to disprove cause and effect.

But from my vantage point here, I don’t need stats. Crime and violence

Seem blindingly obvious. It’s been a scorching July, the hottest on record.

But, today, I hold the heat entirely blameless. There are other factors at play.

Virgil held position by the cruiser to radio and coordinate back-up, and I,

Already invited inside by telephone, slipped into the bank building.

A young man was standing beside one of the waist-high tables that

Customers use to write deposit and withdrawal slips. From the back,

He didn’t look dangerous. Slim, maybe five-ten. Wild, frazzy blond hair.

A camouflaged army combat shirt that was darkening at the armpits

With perspiration. Skuzzy old blue jeans. Sandals, and cruddy feet.

But he is deadly serious. He has a handgun, and a bulky

Backpack, that contains a bomb, he says with confidence. Five

Sticks of dynamite. The gun, a Glock, may be a .40 calibre,

I’m not sure. Doesn’t matter, we’re not going to be trading

Firepower today. I am definitely taking a hands-off approach

With this one here. I’ve been waiting for you, he says, smiling.

You’re my official passport out of this place.

Two bank officials, the manager and an auditor, have produced

A carry-all bag stuffed with cash. The bomber waves the two men

Aside casually, with the gun. He picks up the bag with his free

Hand, and hugs it tightly under his arm.

The auditor is scared, but determined. He speaks, angrily,

Protests. Then he suddenly rushes for the bag. It is a mistake.

The big 150 grain slug catches him in mid-stride. It enters his

Skull, low on the forehead and just above the bridge of the nose.

It rips through the frontal and parietal lobes of his brain and

Explodes out the back of his head, leaving a silver-dollar sized

Hole that chugs out cerebral fluid and pieces of cortical substance.

I’ve seen similar, but the brutality of the act is still shocking. The

Auditor drops as if pole-axed and is now on the floor, gulping

And twitching. After-death reflexes, but a female customer who

Was sprayed with particles of bone and dura mater, shrieks and

Shrieks and shrieks, as if she has been shot, herself.

A clear fluid leaks out through the jagged hole in the auditor’s skull

And forms a pool around his face on the floor. The collective fear in

The room gives off a rank, animal smell. I feel the bile rise in my

Throat. The killer waves the Glock at me. Let’s go, he says.

I push the bank door open and a searing blast of hot air from the

Outside suddenly envelops me. I have a quickening sensation, wetness

At the armpits, and I smell my own fear, a musky, rank animal stink.

I never heard the shot that came from the SWAT sniper rifle on the top

Of the building across the street. The bullet swept away most of the blond

Young man’s head. Then, in the micro-second before the shock wave

From the explosion ripped through my body and sent me spinning and

Tumbling through the air, depositing me into a boneless and jellied wedge

Between the police cruiser and the curb, I saw the young man’s skinny

Frame begin to swell, as if attached by the anus to a high pressure air hose.

He came apart in slow motion before my eyes. His body seemed to expand

Outward, puffy and bloated, stretching the fabric of that sweat-stained clothing

To near transparency before disintegrating into tiny bits of flesh, fabric and monetary Confetti. It separated into layers, as mass of different-density reacts in a centrifuge.

And in that last moment while I still had clear vision, I saw Virgil reach

Upward involuntarily, perhaps to grasp something from the air, as the

Particles of detritus from the blast scattered into the sky like so many stars. 

Part 2.

 Purgatorio – Wounded and dazed, but hanging on. Virgil tries to help

The concrete is hot and rough against my naked temple

There is a puddle of sticky something under my cheek.

It’s strange that there is no pain. I can see the thumb

And two fingers of a human hand on the sidewalk.

They are near, not far from my face. Are they my fingers?

I look again at those severed digits, stark and waxy-white against the

DayGlo yellow paint of the curb marker. If I survive this…I sense the

Puddle under my cheek slowly spreading. But no, I push that thought

Out of my mind. I need to live because I want to know. I want to know why

This escalating craziness – bombs, for Christ’s sake? – is taking place.

Because, to me, it makes no sense. And I know I’m not alone in this thought.

It’s hard to see clearly. The angle is all wonky and it’s like

Looking down a tunnel with a telescope. I try to move my head

Slightly, but can’t. I squint to focus. No, they’re not mine.

The fingers are bloodless and stippled with bristly hair. Blond hair.

Definitely not mine! There is no hand, just those three digits, connected

By a thin strip of translucent tissue. Skin. It looks dry and crinkly-curled, like

A rawhide pet chewy left out in the sun. It’s only been moments since it

Happened, but I’m not surprised. It’s been a truly scorching summer.

You could probably toast Wonder Bread© on this sidewalk.

I can see right into a bank employee’s office. The gaping, splinter-edged

Aperture that was a heavy triple-glazed window two minutes ago, now

Is free of its pane. But I can also see where some of it went. 

A two-foot shard of the thick window glass has neatly impaled

Someone’s left arm to the polished top of a desk. The arm’s owner,

A middle-aged man, Is slumped soundlessly in the desk’s chair,

His silent face death-mask-white. The glass-sliver winks in the sun.

And then, out beyond the end of my personal tunnel, I suddenly

See the tour guide. I don’t see any of the others from the group,

But I see her. From the bus-tour. The stunning young woman who

Looked so cool, chic and stylish in the blue and white summer dress.

She is lying on her side not far from the curb, where she

Has been thrown. And that curb, I shockingly remember, is

Twenty, maybe thirty feet from the entrance to the museum,

That is across the street from the bank. Her group was all

Milling about not far from the front door, waiting their turn to

Go in to the museum together, when the blond young man

With the Glock, bag of stolen money and lethal backpack

Disintegrated into small bits and pieces, right across the street.

So the tour guide, and I, must have both been catapulted a good fifteen

Feet or more to land where we are now. The thumb and two fingers

Near the curb tell me without doubt what happened to the blond young man. 

I still can’t see anything to either side, and, again, I wonder about Virgil.

The tour guide is on her side now, both arms hugging her knees.

The fetal position. Instinctive. Involuntary. She is lying in what looks

Like a pool of tiny glass fragments and I see where these have

Come from. There are two civi cars parked along the curb in my line

Of vision. The side windows of both cars have been blown out

Completely, onto the sidewalk. But the back window of the car closest

To me, a red Hyundai sedan – by some weird focal happenstance I can

See the emblem quite clearly – has been shattered into a giant cobweb

Pattern but the glass is still holding together in its frame. So I think, the

Blast couldn’t really have been that powerful then, could it? I seize onto that.

The chic blue and white dress is beginning to stain red at a hundred

Little points on the fabric and I think about how it must have felt having

Flying slivers of glass penetrating the light material. She is close

Enough that I can see her mouth. It is partially open. Saliva is dribbling

Out onto the concrete. But suddenly I see an arm unfold and one leg kicks,

Convulsively. She is moving, so she is alive. I seize onto that.

And I wonder again about Virgil, and the others.

The tour guide is struggling to get up now. She is definitely alive. I

Hang onto that. The blast was survivable, for some, at least. She is now

On her knees. She is bleeding from the nose. It is puddling, bright crimson,

On the sidewalk. I can see a fine mist of vapour, like steam, rising off the

Concrete….the hottest July on record, people keep saying.

Virgil appears through a wax-paper window, pushing back a gawking crowd.

I can’t hear, but can sense sirens in the distance. It’s strange that I still can’t

Feel any pain at all, except a beginning chill, which is perplexing on a day like

This. I reach for the sun’s comfort, but in growing darkness, see only stars.

Part 3.

Paradiso – Mother Beatrice comforts me. A thought for Bernard, from forensics.

I strain and try to view more. There is no telescope effect now, but I

Can’t see much beyond that focal tunnel. Can’t see anything to either

Side. A detached retina. That’s probably what it is. I have a detached retina.

Like she thought when I was a kid. I remember the anxiety on mother’s face. 

I was sitting on the toilet seat, crying. Beatrice, my mother, now passed,

Was a nurse, and worked for an eye doctor. She was holding up something

In front of my face. How many pencils do you see? One, I blubbered. See

Any spots? No, I said. I could see her visibly relax then.

You’re lucky, my Mother B said, putting Ozonol ointment on my elbows

And knees, and cutting gauze with her surgical scissors. You could have

Suffered a detached retina when you took that fall. Your bike’s a wreck. It

Will need major surgery. She smiled. But you’ll live, sweetie. What’s a

Detached retina? I blurted out.

She switched to her clinical voice then, and told me the symptoms.

She’s gone now, but I still remember what she said. You’ll live. I

Seize onto that now, as I clutched to it then. You’ll live. You’ll live.

I wonder about the blond young man. He couldn’t have been more than

Twenty-five. And he looked so normal. I wonder if he didn’t want to live,

And what could have possessed him to throw away his future by

Robbing a bank with a gun and a bomb and committing a murder.

And the innocents. I wonder about them. There were, I think, at least thirty

Or forty people here in the area. Maybe more, with the bus-tour group. Who

Thinks to count people in a tour group? Except maybe the tour guide who is

Responsible for keeping track of them, to see that someone doesn’t wander

Off, or maybe pilfer something and disgrace the group.

You read about these bombs as being sophisticated. You see it in the movies.

They are triggered by cell phones and such. All very high tech. Not this one.

This one had a simple, wooden clothespin trigger. The type with a coil spring

That opens the jaws, like a toothless alligator. I noticed it in his hand, his left

Hand. It was clamped on his forefinger. That’s what set the bomb off, when

The round from the SWAT sniper rifle took him down.

I see the clothespin now, on the sidewalk. It’s not far from those

Disconnected fingers and thumb. I can see that the alligator jaws

Have some sort of metal contacts fixed into them. I hadn’t noticed those

Before. And there are two thin wires going back from the contacts. They are

Uneven lengths. One is about six inches long, the other maybe eight.

They look like two fine strands of red spaghetti, the ends copper-coloured

Where they must have been severed from the detonator in the backpack.

Bernard and his forensics team, I am sure, will want this apparatus, as they

Piece this mess all together. I must remember to tell them, when they come.

I wonder again about this blond young man with the clothespin on his

Finger who suddenly swelled up and began to come apart at his

Clothing seams, just as our eyes locked. I wonder about his mother.

I wonder about his childhood. I wonder where he went to school and

I wonder what he learned there. A line from a Steely Dan song comes

To mind: The things that pass for knowledge, I can’t understand.

I wonder about his dreams and goals.

He reminded me vaguely of Teddy, the cousin of a girlfriend I had met

Years ago, at the lake. Ten or twelve years younger than I am now. Early

Twenties. Skinny. Slightly gawky. Straight blond hair, a bit untidy. Pale blue

Eyes. A three-day growth of scrappy, blond beard. Teddy and I had talked.

He had said he was frustrated with the button-down world around him and

Was looking for adventure. Lots of people want that. Like Teddy, this blond

Young man with the pale blue eyes, scrappy growth of beard and the backpack

Looked so normal.  

But what normal person does something like this? The murder of the auditor,

Especially. Were there demons at work in his head? And what about the bomb?

Was it a bluff? Or, would he have set it off on his own accord? Was he looking for a Doorway to another World? Or had he given up on life? We’ll never know now.

The entire devastation is now visible. It is fearful, chaotic, like some

Grotesque travesty of war. The scene is a Salvador Dali mural out

Past the far edge of my field of vision. It is way out of focus, a zig-zaggy

Portrait behind cloudy film, like a reflection in a steamy bathroom mirror. 

I know the asphalt under my cheek is blistering-hot, but I still feel

Nothing. I open and close my eyes. No change in the scene.

Just the blurred and insane Dali poster.

Gawkers’ vacant faces float past my envelope of vision. They push and

Crowd toward a greasy brown patch on the hot asphalt the size of a manhole

Cover. Like vultures and carrion pickers sensing blood, they move in relentlessly.

The blood has stopped puddling on the asphalt under my cheek.

Virgil is striking at the gathering crowd with his nightstick, keeping

Them away. Then I see my partner turn his head and look down

At me. Virgil suddenly looks like he might puke. 

Someone is walking on the glass shards two feet in front of my

Face and I can see, but not hear, the glass crackle and crunch.

The congealing blood has now glued my cheek firmly to the pavement.

I try to hold on and focus on the viscous, oily brown smear that is slowly

Beginning to go dry in the hot sun. It is visible through a saran-wrap window. 

If there is a doorway into the next world, the blond young man has taken

The fast way through. No long goodbyes, just a quick rocket-blast to the

Hereafter. Is there a door? The psychics and parapsychologists say so.

My eyes are slowly closing, and an intense white crystal of light

Penetrates through my closed eyelids, past my crushed eyeballs

And like a searchlight, illuminates a room in my brain.

Suspended over me, I see many faces. Virgil is not there, but I see

Beatrice, and there is the blond young man. His face is whole and

Serene, and the Glock and the backpack and the money are missing.

I feel myself gently lift off, and float up. First into the brilliance,

And then slowly into the growing night surrounding the stars.

March 13, 2023 10:39

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Mary Bendickson
18:49 Mar 18, 2023

Oh, Richard! How divine!


Richard E. Gower
21:16 Mar 18, 2023

Many thanks for your kind words. They mean more than people who don't write, can understand.-:) RG


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Aeris Walker
01:11 Mar 17, 2023

I think the structure of this piece very much supported the story. Your use of enjambment (just took a poetry class and am tickled to be able to use my new word haha) really worked to keep the readers on their toes—always wondering what the next word will be and being forced to really concede to the format. I love how you played with the structure to come up with something really unique and new. I enjoyed it. These were some of my favorite lines: “Skin. It looks dry and crinkly-curled, like A rawhide pet chewy left out in the sun.” “The c...


Richard E. Gower
09:48 Mar 17, 2023

High praise; I am honored and overwhelmed with appreciation. -:) Thank you very much for the read, and I am floored that you picked up on those details. Yeeah!! Someone else out there in the e-sphere is actually reading this, and taking it seriously. Very gratifying. Merci, again.-:) RG


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Michał Przywara
20:55 Mar 16, 2023

Fascinating! I think above all, what I'm getting here is a feeling, a mood, of shock. The prompt is fundamentally about an interruption ("where the straight way was lost"), and being so close to the explosion has very much interrupted the course of the narrator's life. Shock, then relief. What drives the shock for me is the detached narration. The clinical, almost casual description of the gore. The realization that he can't move or hear or see quite right, but that this leads more to curiosity than alarm. The calm reasoning about whose ...


Richard E. Gower
22:13 Mar 16, 2023

Michal, your analyses always stimulate a deeper dig into the brain, and are appreciated for their insight. I am certainly no Dante scholar (I suspect that one could build an academic career on the one poem), but when I looked at the opening lines of The Divine Comedy (Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, For the straight-forward pathway had been lost.) in a copy translated by Longfellow, I was reminded of The Road Not Taken, by Robert Frost, a poem not nearly as epic, written hundreds of years later, and...


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Wendy Kaminski
23:33 Mar 13, 2023

Incredible, Richard! This was so captivating and so masterfully-written - you really shined on this prompt (well, moreso than usual, which is already pretty shiny! :). I loved the style in which you've written this, which somehow makes it more lyrical without lyrics. Your attention to detail is so engaging, too: I really felt like I was there. I don't know how you do it, but just wow! I am looking forward to seeing this high on the lists, when voting day comes!


Richard E. Gower
00:13 Mar 14, 2023

Wendy, thank you from the bottom of my heart. -:) I once again bow to your generous accolades. There is no greater honor for a humble scribe than praise from another writer and like mind, whose work you respect. RG


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