Inspector Matt Armitage and Sergeant Des Gianetti were digging into plates of Carla’s home-made gnocchi swimming in her special pomodoro, funghi e quattro formaggi sauce, and served with fresh-from-the-oven flatbread infused with garlic, basil and oregano, accompanied by a supercharged, kitchen-blended pesto sauce on the side, when Carla made a pronouncement.
They had been discussing Armitage’s recent harrowing experience when he was assaulted with a deadly weapon in front of his apartment building. He had actually taken a wound, but modestly, he described his escape from serious injury, or death, as luck.
“Luck had nothing to do with it, Big M,” she said, passing Armitage the plate of warmed flatbread. “The goddess Lachesis had other things in mind for you. She decided your destiny, and you weren’t meant to die that night.”
It was folly to debate Carla Gianetti when it came to establishing cause and effect for any unexplained aspect or life-event of the human condition. In her mind, if a person was struck by lightning, it was never because they were walking around during a thunderstorm with a metal umbrella or standing under a tall tree. Pragmatic details like that just didn’t factor greatly into the discussion, because the thing was, Carla knew her subject cold, and she always came down firmly on the side of fate.
Or, more specifically, because she was a serious scholar of Greek history with a focus on mythology – her master’s thesis had been titled: The Influence of Zeus and Hera on twenty-first century global culture (2011) – she inevitably cited one of the Three Fates as being responsible.
And, otherwise practical woman that she was – university professor, police officer’s wife, competitive runner, and gourmet cook extraordinaire – regardless of the incident or occurrence in question, she refused to allow any of her cylinders to be moved off top-dead-center of this rather esoteric, or eccentric, philosophical position, depending on how one looked at it.
Des Gianetti had invited his boss home for dinner; something he did periodically, with Carla glad to accommodate his impulsive generosity. She got along well with Armitage and enjoyed the frank discussions and cop-talk that inevitably ensued whenever he was in the house. She said it was a welcome change from verbally having to walk the tightrope of petty politics in her academic life.
When she had first met Armitage, Carla had established an informal naming convention for the two men when they were together in the Gianetti house. They were both physically large, close to double her petite one-hundred and twenty pounds, so she had taken to calling Armitage Big M and her husband Big D. In this household troika however, the elfin but formidable Carla reigned supreme in the pecking order.
She loved to perform in the kitchen and was equally comfortable in turning out spectacular culinary efforts that might feature any one of a dozen different cultures. This evening, she had chosen the foods of her Italian heritage for what her husband had called a rest-and-recuperation feast. Armitage did his best to downplay what could have been a death sentence, and continued to chalk his survival down to happenstance, a lucky accident. Carla however, stuck firmly to her position that it was fate that had spared him.
Des and Carla Gianetti had been married for eighteen years. He knew perfectly what his wife was on about, but he played dumb. “Oh, oh,” he said. “Here we go again. And now it’s a goddess, no less, that she’s got lined up for you, boss.” He popped a gnocchi into his mouth and rolled his eyes in mock despair.
“Fool,” Carla said and elbowed her husband in the ribs, fondly. She was an inveterate matchmaker and was used to being gently chided for regularly attempting to line Armitage up with her eligible female colleagues and acquaintances. He had so far adroitly managed to avoid any of these contrived romantic entanglements, but he enjoyed fencing with her.
“If this Lachesis has an adequate dowry,” Armitage said, with a straight face, “I might consider an introduction.”
“You scoff,” accused Carla, in good natured heat. “But Lachesis decides how long the thread of your life is. And you’re sitting here tonight, eating my gnocchi and pesto, and not in a hospital, or worse!”
“And loving it,” said Armitage, taking another mouthful. “Some days you just get lucky.”
In truth, it had been a very close call.
Armitage had been inserting his key in the lock of the building’s security door when he sensed rather than saw movement behind him, and knew instinctively that it was a threat. He wheeled, clutching the ring of keys in his fist like a weapon, and faced the attacker.
The man – it was definitely a man, although his face was covered with a balaclava – was powerfully built with a thick chest and muscled arms and thighs defined through a dark track suit. He was crouched in a fighting stance, holding a military-style tactical knife, with its wicked-looking blade out and ready.
Armitage silently cursed himself for his complacency. He had been mentally preoccupied for the past week. Almost everything, including his self-awareness, had taken second place to the wearisome details of a high-profile murder case that he was working on. If he had been more attentive, he might have seen the man waiting in the dark angle where some dense shrubbery met the building near the door. But after a full and frustrating day heading up the City’s Major Crime Unit, his mind had been mainly focused on getting home to a double scotch and a thick streak. Now he was a split second away from having five inches of cold steel punched into a vital organ if he didn’t do something. So, he seized the moment.
He thrust his fist out, raking aggressively at the attacker’s face with the cluster of keys protruding between his clenched fingers like a shuriken, a Japanese throwing star. He saw surprise and caution register in the dark eyes behind the balaclava at the unexpected offensive move, and the man moved back a step, the knife still gripped in his hand. He advanced and thrust forward with the keys again, watching, holding the attacker’s hard stare and backing him up another step. Keys against knife; Armitage rued the obvious imbalance but held his ground. To retreat now would be a potentially fatal move.
Then he spotted the heavy metal snow-shovel leaning against the wall beside the security door. It was out of reach, but not far away. He swept the keys out forcefully at the attacker’s face again and moved sideways toward the shovel, but this time the man did not step back. He had seen the shovel too and, with it, his initial advantage of surprise fading. He leaped forward with the knife, first a slash and then a vicious chest-high matador-stab. It would have been lethal, but his target had moved like a wraith, and gained the shovel.
Armitage was a big man – four inches over six feet, and two-hundred and ten pounds – but he had been blessed with the agility, reflexes, speed and strength to weight ratio of a circus acrobat. Still, while his keys vs. the assailant’s knife didn’t give the Inspector great odds, now they were beginning to even up.
He had seen the man imperceptibly change his stance and the eyes behind the balaclava shift and focus for an attack. When it came, an adrenalin rush fueled the muscle-memory of long-unused martial arts skills and Armitage pivoted, adroitly avoiding the first slash and then knocked away the forceful stab, with the shovel handle. A vicious back-slash however tore through the upper sleeve of his Harris Tweed overcoat and the knife blade came away bloody.
His first thought, absurdly, was for the coat and he was indignant. Enough of this! He swung the shovel overhead like a sledgehammer and brought its sharp scimitar-curved edge down two inches from where balaclava met shoulder. He felt the collarbone give, heard it go snick, and saw surprise and pain reflected in the murderous dark eyes. The bloodied knife dropped on the sidewalk. He drew back and followed through with the shovel again – this time with a lateral, over-the-fence Babe Ruth swing – and ruined a kneecap.
Sensing the situation now sharply reversed against him, the attacker turned to flee but the damage to his knee had crippled his mobility. A third powerful swing with the shovel came in ankle high and swept him off his feet. Then Armitage was on him like a cat on a rodent.
A passer-by walking a dog was startled when he came upon the scene. A large man with blood dripping from the rent sleeve of his overcoat was kneeling on the broad back of another man who was wearing a dark track suit and a balaclava, with his face pressed down on the snowy sidewalk and his arms twisted up against the back of his head. The man in the bloody overcoat called to him in a firm, authoritative voice. “If you have a cell phone, call 911 and tell them a police officer has been attacked with a knife and needs back-up.”
The samaritan gawked, fumbled in a pocket, found his phone and then, dropping the leash, thumbed in the numbers with both hands. The dog, a scrappy-looking mutt of uncertain parentage wearing a bright-red quilted cold-weather coat matching its owner’s ski jacket, rushed over and began circling the two men on the ground, darting in and back, and barking self-importantly.
The man in the balaclava squirmed and bucked in apparent fear every time the barking animal got near his face. Armitage sighed. His arm was beginning to hurt like hell. He liked dogs, but this one was getting on his wicket. He also realized that he needed to establish some sense of official authority, for no other reason than the situation had descended into near-slapstick comedy. He called over to the owner. “Would you also mind pulling your dog back? He’s frightening my prisoner.”
“Oh, sure, sure” said the man apologetically, gathering up the leash. “Come away, come away, Jacko!” He tugged at the dog but hovered close by in nervous agitation as if the two struggling men on the ground, the bloody knife and the torn overcoat had overwhelmed his sensibilities. Then he finally said, as if he meant to leave: “Is there anything else I can do, then?”
“Just stand by, please,” Armitage said. “You were a witness to this. We’ll need to have a statement.”
“Oh, sure, I’ll just be over here,” the man said, pulling the dog with him over near a shrub just as a blue and white police Taurus sped up and braked to a stop by the sidewalk where Armitage had eased off and now only had one knee on the attacker’s back. Two uniformed officers emerged from the Taurus. A minute later another blue and white police cruiser arrived in a rush and two officers from the crisis response team jumped out, both suited up in tactical gear and ready for action.
There was some initial confusion as to who was guilty of what, but Armitage identified himself firmly as a police officer and one of the tactical officers snapped handcuffs on the assailant’s wrists before the Inspector got up off his back. As he got to his feet, his arm was still bleeding profusely and he felt slightly light-headed. The flashers of the two police vehicles in concert with the pre-Christmas lights of December now winking on the trees and shrubbery gave the scene a benign, festive aura that belied the bloody violence that had just taken place.
Gianetti had related the salient facts of this story as they had been eating. He took a drink of the ruby-red wine that Carla had chosen for the feast ̶ a smooth-as-satin Chianti Riserva that had been in an oak cask four years before it was bottled ̶ looked over at his wife with one eye and, away from her line of sight, winked at Armitage with the other.
“All right, my love,” he said. “So, you’ve heard what happened. Now I have a question for you. Do you think the fates were also responsible for what took place next?” And he went on again to relate the facts.
The next four hours for Armitage had gone by in a fog of administrative officialdom. The crisis response team had taken the attacker to the Civic Hospital to see to his injuries before he could be taken to police headquarters to be charged. They wanted the Inspector to come with them but he insisted on driving to the hospital himself, following the police vehicle in his ancient Volvo.
There, Armitage was blood-typed and given a shot for the pain and then an intern cauterized and closed up the knife wound in his arm with thirty-six stitches. The medical staff estimated that he had probably lost more than a pint of blood. The assailant was treated and handcuffed to a hospital bed with one of the tactical officers watching him.
However, a doctor had vetoed Armitage driving himself home because of the blood loss and powerful pain medication, so the other officer drove him to police headquarters to start the paperwork. And that’s when things got crazy.
Because the attacker had the bad luck to be injured by the senior police Inspector he had been trying to kill, the incident was dutifully reported to the Special Investigations Unit. This generated a storm of excrement within the bureaucracy. Armitage had groaned inwardly and consented to an interview.
He suddenly found himself on the defensive, explaining the sequence of events to two thin-lipped SIU investigators, one who clucked at him with the stern admonishing sanctimony of a television news commentator; “The man needed surgery, for chrissake!”
Their mission appeared to be to find him guilty of using excessive force, notwithstanding the torn overcoat, the knife wound that required three-dozen stitches to close up and the loss of enough of his blood to fill a full-sized beer mug.
The interview finally over, Armitage had gotten back to his apartment a few minutes before midnight, with a pounding headache. The signs of the bloody struggle were still on the sidewalk in front of the building. It was too late to cook. He went to pour himself three fingers of Laphroaig, then, remembering the pain medication, thought better of it and grudgingly settled for a cold Coca-Cola. After scrounging at the back of the refrigerator, he found and ate a suspicious-looking block of old cheddar cheese with some stale corn chips and a dill pickle. Then he fell into bed and slept the sleep of the dead.
The following morning at seven o’clock, he had called Gianetti. The Sergeant, an early riser, was already at his desk as usual. Armitage could picture him there with his Cops are people too coffee cup; dark curly hair partially tamed, solid and thick through the chest as an old-growth tree. The two men had worked together in the Major Crimes Unit for more than eight years and had formed a deep bond of mutual respect. Gianetti had been expecting the call after he had gotten the bare-bones version of what had happened from the previous evening’s shift report.
It had been Gianetti’s idea to send an officer over for the building’s security camera footage, as well as.to canvass the neighborhood for possible footage from other buildings in the area, which, Armitage agreed, if it existed, would aid big-time in getting a conviction.
As it turned out, high-quality security footage did exist; not only from two cameras trained on the entrance of Armitage’s building, but also from an outwardly-facing camera in a building across the street. It clearly showed the attack as well as Armitage’s part in fending it off, in all its disturbing detail. It was this footage that Armitage’s superiors were able to use to turn off the SIU investigation. The Chief of Police had even offered him an unofficial apology, of sorts.
“Damned unfortunate, in your case, Matthew,” he had said, coming across as smiley and sincere as any politician waiting to shake a prospective voter’s hand. “I knew you weren’t guilty, but some of these cover-your-ass practices of the bureaucracy are necessary, and in any case, are endemic to twenty-first century policing. So, no harm done, eh?”
Armitage, who knew that the Chief would just as quickly have thrown him under the bus if Gianetti hadn’t been able to produce the security footage, just nodded and pasted on his own professional smile, mentally kicking himself for his hypocrisy.
“Right, sir. All’s well that ends well.”
“So, I say to the both of you,” said Gianetti to his boss and his wife, when he had finished relating the rest of the story and had taken another slow and measured sip of his wine. “You can call it luck, or you can call it fate, but I went over that security footage at least a dozen times. I don’t think either of you have taken the snow-shovel into consideration. If that shovel hadn’t been there for the boss to get his hands on, I shudder to think how things might have turned out.”
Carla gave both men, The Look. The one that conveyed in silent terms: ’Why don’t you just quit while you still have some dignity?’
“Just who do you think was responsible for that shovel being in that exact place, when Big M needed it the most?”
Her husband glanced over at his boss, startled. Armitage shook his head silently, as if to say, 'You're on your own here, pal.' Gianetti stumbled verbally on.
“Surely you don’t mean what’s her name, Lachesis?”
“You said it, I didn’t”
Based on her years in the cut and thrust of academia, Carla knew how important it was to get in the last word.