Yesterday, as I rounded the corner at Starbucks and headed home along Erskine, I spotted the young couple with the two black Danes sitting on a bench across from the school, their dogs standing either end of the bench like sentinels. I’d seen them around the neighbourhood, off and on, for some time, now, and had once photographed them from a distance for my website, but I had yet to meet them. This was my opportunity.

As I drew near, they were smiling at me and, returning their smiles, I wished them a “Merry Christmas Eve”. “Same to you,” said the guy. We bumped fists and, after exchanging a few seasonal pleasantries, got to talking about dogs, mainly, which led to my telling them about the photo of them I’d posted on my site. I suggested they might like to check it out and handed the girl one of my cards.

She looked puzzled. Why had I included a photo of them on my website, she asked, and what was my website about, anyway?

For a joke, I told them I make up outrageous stories about people I photograph on the street, which, along with the photos, I post on my site for the amusement of visitors. In my story about them, I said—a fan favourite—I’d made the two of them out to be members of a drug-smuggling ring that moves its product around in dogs, has the dogs swallow the drugs at one end and poop them out at the other.

I was expecting, at worst, a groan, but the girl went suddenly white as a sheet and the guy leaped up, grabbed me by the lapels and, with all his might, sent me sprawling onto a frozen flower bed.

Looming over me, now, with his fists clenched, he was shouting at me to get up and, when I wouldn’t, he called me a “cowardly old fuck” and kicked me in the leg so hard I immediately teared up. The ferocity of the kick alarmed me. And he wasn’t finished. He was hauling off to kick me again. But I had no more than braced for the blow when—music to my ears—there was a loud blast of siren from close by, car doors slamming, and running toward us, now, were two cops, one with his gun drawn shouting, “Get down!—Now!—On your stomach!”

I thought, for a second, the guy was going to make a run for it, but he didn’t and, as one officer slapped the cuffs on him, the other helped me to my feet and, while brushing off the back of my jacket with his hand, asked was was okay. I told him I was hurting in a few places but nothing serious, I’d be fine. "You’re a lucky man," he said. "it was just by chance we turned onto Erskine." He gave my back a final brush. "Your jacket wasn’t so lucky, sir. You’ve a big rip in your left sleeve."

My assailant had, right away, been escorted to the backseat of the cruiser. I’d been given a few minutes to collect myself and was being escorted, now, to the backseat of another cruiser that had just pulled up. By now, there were sirens converging from all directions and a half-dozen emergency vehicles already on the scene. You’d have thought there’d been a murder. 

My heart beating like crazy, I sat alone in the back seat of the cruiser for a couple of minutes nursing my wounds, then was joined by a serious young Officer Bradley who, after I’d assured him I was okay, took down my particulars, then asked me to describe in detail what had happened.

I had little more to tell him, really, than I’ve just told you and, when I’d finished, he asked a few follow-up questions, had me read and sign his notes, and that was it. He shook my hand, wished me a “Happy Holiday”, and was very kindly offering me a lift home when, with no warning, the back door of the other cruiser burst open with a loud bang—scaring the Hell out of both of us—and there was my assailant scrambling to his feet, uncuffed, and taking off down Erskine waving a revolver.

And now there were cops chasing after him, and a dog, and people screaming, and shouts of “Halt or we’ll shoot”. But he was running full out, so the lead cop stopped, took aim, and fired.

I might have been watching a Coen Brothers movie. The guy spun around a couple of times and fell hard against the rear wheel of a parked pickup, jamming his head between the tire and the fender. His body faced one way, his head the other. You could see, right off, he was dead.

Out of the cruiser by now, Officer Bradley shouted back at me that he was sorry, he wouldn’t be able to give me a lift, after all, which was good news, for I was seconds away from throwing up and, soon as the cruiser door swung open, out it burst, splattering off the pavement onto a tiny white dog. I apologized to its owner but she waved my apology aside and asked was I okay, which I said I was and, with a handful of tissues, wiped off her dog the best I could and told it I was sorry.

There were more sirens now and, behind me, a woman sobbing. Wanting away from it all, I cut left across the school lot and, against a current of people rushing to see what I wished I could unsee, limped home the back route along Keewatin, guiltily puking into a recycle bin along the way. Normally a quiet street, Keewatin was bumper-to-bumper with diverted traffic.

For the rest of the afternoon and on into the evening, Erskine was closed to all but residents. It’s eerily quiet, still, even for a Christmas Day.

He’d seemed just a regular guy. You just never know, do you—go for a laugh, someone dies.

I’m a little shaken, still, and have a badly-torn jacket, a skinned elbow, a throbbing left calf, and a big blue bruise the shape of Cape Breton on my rear end. But, as the officer said, I’m a lucky man. It could very easily have gone a whole lot worse. 

My friend, Laura, called, this morning, to wish me a Merry Christmas and ask how things were going, and when I’d finished telling her what I’ve just told you, she hesitated a moment, then said she never knew, anymore, when to believe me. Was this for real, or another of my tales? I assured her it was for real and, as proof, offered to send her a photo of my rear end. “I’ll wait for the 6 o’clock news,” she said.

just up the street