On August 24th, through a quirk of fate, I was NOT on my usual 8:40 bus across 34th street that would have dropped me off at 34th and 5th at 9 a.m. Which means, by that same quirk, I was not in front of the Empire State Building on my way to get breakfast on 5th and 30th, at 9:03 when all hell broke loose and a gun battle erupted.
Once again, it’s only fiction ‘til it happens. In my second book, The Hammer of God, when the bad guys take a broadway theater in broad daylight, it starts with a shootout on 47th street. My immediate interest as I was writing was – here are the bad guys and the cops shooting it out, but what about everyone else? What about all the people on the street – the tourists, the street venders, the homeless people. So while I was writing, I made sure that the action was laced with the impact on the innocent bystanders.
On that Friday in August, nine innocent bystanders found themselves in the line of fire. This was totally the act of the gunman, who decided to draw down on two New York City cops in front of the busiest landmark on the earth. The officers had no choice but to defend themselves, and by extension, everybody else on the street. Unlike my drawn out beats and reactions in the dramatic telling of the shot by shot gun battle unfolding in fiction, this actual shootout took less than a few seconds. Too fast to know what happened even if you were in the middle of it.
In the aftermath however, there was a lot of second guessing. Did the police shoot anybody? Did they do the right thing? Was there another way to handle the situation? Luckily, there was a video tape, and I think it’s all but conclusive that the cops had no choice, this guy drew down on them. He had already killed somebody, and he was a credible threat that had to be removed. I believe six or seven of the nine people injured were not shot, but victims of fragments and pieces of large flower pots which are used to protect the front of the building. (See Photo)
Two of the injured received wounds – one in the leg, one elsewhere – from a direct bullet.
Now, being fiction, the carnage in the scene in my book, was heavier. It had more gravitas, if you will, because unlike the New York City cops, who had to react in a fraction of a second, I had a couple of months to write the scene. I had the time to make it all work out.
NYPD cops train for all situations, but the majority of the dilemmas these cops, who are posted at the Empire State building day in and day out face are questions from families and kids asking about King Kong. They smile through the answer as they watch the man with the backpack who looks nervous, or imperceptibly twitch when someone makes a fast move to pull out a cell phone while a tourist takes their picture. Yet on this morning, a normally dressed man, actually someone no more out of place than anyone else who worked in the neighborhood, came to within 1 second of being a mass murderer. I guess, ‘It’s only fiction ‘til it happens’, also covers heroes.