I knew it was a gun.
There was a flash of light above and in front of me, to my right. I'd seen that flash before, in Afghanistan, when sunlight bounced off the lens of a rifle's telescopic sight. It meant the shooter had been careless in taking a position or didn't have a better option than facing into the sun. Careless or not, that flash of light tied my gut in a knot.
I was walking uptown on Hudson Street in the West Village but stepped close to a maple tree for cover and to survey the scene. Adrenaline made me breathe quickly; I wondered how much time before the shooter fired.
To my left was the Episcopal Church of St. Luke in the Fields, a beautiful old church and school set in a miniature park that occupied the entire block stretching west of Hudson. Diagonally opposite me across the intersection of Hudson and Grove Street stood Heritage Baptist Church. The flash had come from the roof of the Baptist church. I looked around and saw people strolling, enjoying a late Saturday afternoon in early May. No obvious targets anywhere.
Then the doors of St. Luke' opened, and a dozen or so people in very nice suits and elegant spring dresses poured out on the front steps, all facing expectantly into the church. It was a wedding. They were waiting for the newlyweds to emerge from church.
I glanced up at the roof of the Baptist church. No flash of light, but I could have sworn I saw a man's head rise above the roof's parapet.
The newlyweds were the target.
Jumping from behind my tree, I ran up the sidewalk, waving my arms, and shouting at the top of my lungs, “Back inside―GUN! GUN! Back inside!” I plunged into the crowd at the church entrance, shoving people aside and pushing them back through the doors and shouting, “Gun! Get back, get down, GUN!”
Some of the wedding guests began to rush inside St. Luke's, others scattered onto the sidewalk, and some stood frozen in place―they couldn't have been easier targets than if they had bullseyes on their clothes. I saw a slender figure in white just inside the church doors. I jumped up the steps, waving my arms and shouting at her to go back. She quickly retreated deeper inside.
Thwpt! Thwpt! Thwpt! Bullets whistled past my left ear and slammed into the church door, barely missing the bride.
I lunged over the threshold, grabbed the door handles, and pulled the doors shut. Spinning back to the sidewalk, I glanced up at the roof of Heritage Baptist and saw a dark blur of something moving.
This was the moment when I would have drawn my gun and run across the intersection, yanked open the Baptist church doors, charged inside, and caught and captured the assassin. But, since I don't make it a habit to stroll around Manhattan on springtime Saturdays with my handy-dandy Ruger automatic, I didn't have a weapon. However, the gunman above clearly did.
The smart play would have been to stay where I was and call 9-1-1. Instead, I shouted at one of the cowering wedding guests, “Call 9-1-1!” and ran across Hudson Street toward the church. An old Ford 150 pickup truck with a front bumper duct-taped to its grill almost flattened me in the middle of the street. I twisted out of the way with inches to spare as the pickup whizzed past. The driver grunted, “Asshole!” and flipped me the bird. Geez, man, cut me a break, I'm unarmed and chasing a sniper.
I reached the front door of the Baptist church, pushed the door open an inch, paused, then kicked it open hard. I dove inside and rolled toward the back pews. I lay there for a moment, breathing hard, and listening carefully.
Then I heard hurried footsteps pounding down stairs. The steps echoed throughout the church. I couldn't tell where they were. But I had a feeling whoever was running down the stairs had a rifle. I crouched low behind a pew and scanned the ground floor, hoping I could spot the shooter before he spotted me.
The footsteps stopped. I heard the sound of a heavy latch like an emergency door handle being lifted, then the door slammed shut. The shooter had exited the building on Grove Street.
I bolted through the main entrance back out to Hudson and turned left, running to the corner at Grove. At the instant I reached the intersection, a man was on the corner opposite me on the south side of the street. He paused and looked directly across the street at me. He was tall, slender to the point of being skinny, and had short brown hair. He wore blue jeans and a pale green polo shirt, and he was wearing a long, black-leather backpack, strapped over only his right shoulder. I would have bet large amounts of cash that his rifle was in the backpack―and, as long as it stayed in there, no one would get shot.
Our eyes locked for a second, and then he plunged into the traffic on Hudson Street, running out to the middle of the avenue and heading downtown through the uptown flow of vehicles. Without hesitation, I ran after him, dodging cars, ignoring the honking horns and plentiful curses, and running as fast as I could. He was fearless, zigging and zagging through the cars and trucks, barely missing his being smashed flat. I scrambled after him, but he was too fast for me even with the weight of the gun on his back. He was pulling away when a horn honked at my side. The driver side fender of a Honda Pilot slammed my left thigh, spun me around, and sent me toppling to the ground.
I lay on the road, stunned at first, then I flipped over on the ground, and glanced under the oncoming automobiles. I saw my quarry's feet disappear around the corner at Barrow Street, heading west. I put my hands on the pavement and shoved myself to my feet, took a single step in pursuit, and fell to the ground. My left leg was numb and useless.
“Oh, damn,” I muttered under my breath.
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