Sombrero Loco

sombrero loco 2.06.11 PM


SANTA BARBARA, California (AP) Students here are still in shock the day after a shooting rampage by one of their own left three dead and two gravely injured, one of whom was just taken off life-support by their relatives because they are Christian Scientists, though a nurse at the hospital plugged the life support machine back in while the parents weren’t looking. The patient remains stable but whether she will ever wake up is currently unknown.

“I’d put that at an unlikely,” said the Chief Bullet Removal Surgeon at Our Lady of the Drive By.

The suspect is thought to be dead after 100 state troopers witnessed the car he was alleged to have been driving flying off what a spokesman described as a “200-foot” cliff and into the Pacific Ocean. The troopers followed him there from the center of campus where he had shot five people. The Spokesman acknowledged that the 200-foot number was an estimate and that he could be way, way off. The point he said he was making was that the drop was considerable and from any perspective made the car look small, like a pebble, or like an a single acorn caught falling from a tree. The trooper also said that for a time he tried writing poetry, but that was a long time ago. He called that time “another life” and then started looking around uncomfortably and went back to giving details of past car explosions from past chases but admitted that his memory was bad and he might have just been telling reporters the things he may have seen on TV. He stepped aside gently, and there was some awkwardness as the row of troopers stood silently behind him. Then one trooper stepped up to the podium.

“Actually,” said the trooper who continued wearing his sunglasses even inside, “we started following him once he got on the California Highway System. We don’t like to step on any jurisdictional toes and consider the campus security forces comrades as much as any others, so we leave them alone.”

Witnesses allege that that campus security attempted to follow the shooting suspect on Segues but stopped when the assailant fired a warning shot through his sunroof and honked his La Cucaracha car horn. Another witnesses claimed to have seen what looked like a McDonald’s Double Cheeseburger Wrapper flying from the sunroof but backed off the claim when her friend wearing a bikini top and tastefully hemmed, cut-off style jeans, which she said were “really quite expensive,” claimed to have seen no such thing. In the end, the witness conceded that she couldn’t say for sure it was a Double Cheeseburger wrapper, but that it was a crumpled ball of “something yellow,” and the assailant was definitely “chewing a large mouthful of something too and messing with the dial on his car radio.”

“He like totally honked his horn,” said a sophomore sorority pledge with a bandage over one eye. “Like totally. They were just past the campus gate. And his horn played that cockroach song the Mexicans like. And the police were after him. Some kind of yellow ball landed on one of their windshields, and they tried using the wipers to get it off but it just got stuck on one of the wipers and stayed there, I think.”

Witnesses to later parts of the chase confirmed the presence of something yellow stuck on a windshield wiper, and some reported seeing a motorcycle trooper speeding along next to it, trying to knock it off with his baton.

“If that happened, that took guts,” said yet another spokesman. “The suspect was armed and obviously willing to shoot.”

“Not the faggy kind of baton like a girl would twirl on our front lawn in Ohio,” said a muscular blond student with his t-shirt tucked behind his backwards baseball cap, waving in the near perpetual Pacific breeze here like a French Legion headdress. Asked by a reporter if he meant Billy Club instead of baton, he said “probably,” but he wasn’t a criminal justice major, so he couldn’t be sure.

Once the assailant was off campus, the troopers took over the chase. Starting off as a group of ten, they were quickly joined by what looked to be the whole force, which in turn was joined by other surrounding jurisdictions.

“Some even came up from as far south as Ventura just hoping to get in on the action,” said one. “Would have been a good time to break the speed limit on your daily commute down there. I even saw a car or two from Oxnard. Could have done some traffic violating down there too. We’re happy to report there are no reports of anyone doing that. The law abiding people of the Santa Barbara area and beyond showed their true colors today and followed the law to the letter so that we could apprehend someone who had failed to follow it to the whole alphabet written twenty times – probably by a naughty student held after school.”

The officer, the fourth or fifth spokesman of the day, had a bandage wrapped around his head and a loose IV tube stuck in his arm. He appeared to be searching for a bag to poke it in. Reporters knew he was not a spokesman but indulged him because he was still wearing his holster around his gown, and most assumed the gun in it was at least partially loaded.

By the time the alleged assailant actually drove what is thought to be his car off the cliff and into the ocean, over 100 law enforcement officers, representing nearly all jurisdictions in the region, were present, more or less half in cars and the other half on motorcycles.   An exact ratio cannot currently be given and may never be known. A spokesman dismissed as “impractical” the idea of re-enacting the scene in order to come up with an exact count.

Hours later, after the car was seen flying off the cliff, a cavalcade of meter maids arrived in their electric three wheelers, one so tired that she must have temporarily forgotten how to apply her brakes. She leapt from her vehicle, which continued along its slow, careening path to the cliff, which it went over bouncing and clanging on the rocks and into the ocean. Prior to going over the cliff it skirted and swerved suddenly on the gravel, dramatically changing direction but not dramatically enough to avert its ultimate demise.

“There goes a days worth of parking citations,” said a still aviator-sunglasses-clad trooper, smirking.

The assailant’s car, meanwhile, remained (and still remains) unrecovered.

“We all took turns staring at the ocean for 50 minute intervals to see if he and/or his car would surface,” said one trooper. “Generally, in groups of ten…sometimes more. It wasn’t a super formal arrangement. Just kind of emerged spontaneously. I guess some kind of organization instinct kicked in. Like muscle memory, only different. Maybe it was like something ants do. Anyway, it was great how all those law enforcement officers, men and women, just kind of fell into looking out at the sea and horizon without any one authority figure directing any of them.”

The trooper spokesman confirmed that it remains unknown whether the assailant was driving the car when it flew off the cliff.

“Seconds prior to flying off the cliff, the troopers immediately on the scene reported seeing a gun stuck out of the driver’s side window. Those who arrived from the south and had already staked out a good viewing position and were watching through binoculars from their vehicles, indicated that the gun was clearly being held by a hand that had the same “mom always” tattoo a former dormitory roommate of the alleged assailant alleges the assailant to have had two years ago, when they lived together for five days before the assailant moved back home in the midst of a crisis triggered apparently by getting a D on some kind of biology pop quiz.”

So said Sergeant Johnson before another trooper came along and whispered something in his ear and then took over for the visibly distraught, departing Johnson, who came back thirty seconds later to grab the can of Pepsi he’d forgotten. The new trooper continued:

“And we are combining our empirical knowledge of the tattoo on the hand shooting the gun from the driver’s side window, which we obtained because most of the troopers at the scene in actual pursuit of the assailant filmed it on their cell phones, with the ex-roommate’s testimony, which we obtained from watching a news report by one of you shown about five minutes ago – thank you KHX Channel 7 – to reach the preliminary conclusion that indeed, the suspect was in the automobile when it careened through the barriers and flew into the ocean.”

Asked if the assailant really moved out after getting a D on a biology quiz, the trooper said as far as he knew, yes, but it may not have been the primary cause of the move as there was mention also of a cancelled viola lesson.

“We’re still unclear on whether the assailant cancelled the lesson or whether the teacher did, but we do know it was a big deal and may have actually contributed to the overreaction to his D on a biology quiz. Also, common sense tells us the factor of roommate incompatibility cannot be ruled out as an aggravator too.”

The spokesman immediately explained that he meant the roommate of two years ago may have been less than perfectly compatible with the presumably dead assailant and that contributed to the alleged assailant’s alleged moving out in reaction to a D on a biology quiz.

“We thus do not see at this time any link between the old roommate and the murders today,” he said. “That said, whether there were indeed compatibility issues remains an open question.”

Asked if the roommate could still be questioned, the spokesman said, “we never rule anything out” and also said, “he knows not to leave the county until our investigation is complete.”

The roommate said he had never thought of leaving the country but now can’t get the idea out of his mind since the police told him not to do it.

The professor of the biology class explained that the assailant’s D was the highest grade in the class, and, after contemplating curving the quiz, the professor decided instead to simply throw the grade out. He sent an email alerting all on the “listserv” for the class but it is not known whether the presumed dead alleged assailant every read it.

“It didn’t even count towards his grade,” the teacher said. “And now this…”

A graduate student teaching assistant for the same class said he had been “concerned” about the assailant’s “complete lack of background knowledge in the rudiments of basic science required to take the class” and took him under his wing in a kind of “mentor role.” He told reporters that the alleged assailant had found out about the grade not counting the Monday after moving out. In a prepared statement he said,

“He called me in a kind of breathy panic from a pay phone, or at least I assumed it was one from the sound of the traffic buzzing by constantly, and was telling me over and over again that it was too late, it was too late. I told him the quiz grade didn’t count, and that if he dropped the class with a “W,” he could always retake it and have the mark removed from his transcript. He explained that it was too late to move back in to his dorm, and that he didn’t care about the grade any more. I remember him specifically saying he got that the first time I said it, and that he was not an idiot and he didn’t care about the grade and never had. He grew very frustrated when I kept telling him that he could bring up his grade. He thought I didn’t get it, that grades didn’t matter.”

“The van had been rented and returned already, “ confirmed his ex-roommate. “And U-Haul is notorious for not giving refunds. My uncle works there and says it’s their number one complaint.”

Reporters demanded that the trooper get back to the actual shooting, chase, and flying off the cliff instead of recounting what everyone had already watched on KHX 7 on their smart phones.

Asked if the car exploded in midflight, the trooper said no, but he really wished it had.

“Seeing that kind of thing is what makes being a law enforcement officer worth all the tedium,” he said.

One reporter not known for her smarts asked if the “other victim” was still in critical condition. The officer explained to her slowly that there was no “other victim,” that there were “five,” and the proper way to ask would have been to inquire if the other victims were still in critical condition. Then he took to musing that actually, at one point, all five dead people were most assuredly in very critical condition.

“In that brief, fleeting moment when the assailant’s bullets penetrated their flesh,” said the trooper, “they still lived, and who knows what happened in the milliseconds between the penetration of their flesh with those bullets and the whole series of signals a body sends all over itself to shut down and die if the wrong organ is hit – we can never know what, in that small, last bit of time prior to the expiration of their lives, they must have thought, if people even think under that circumstance; but surely, whatever it was that occurred in those moments, we can all agree that their condition was, at the time, from a strictly physiological point of view, what we would all deem ‘critical.’ Highly critical.”

Asked if he was mocking the daft reporter by making quote marks in the air when he said the word “critical,” the trooper replied that he was mocking the whole “so-called journalistic alleged so-called profession” and also used the expression “penetrating flesh” while looking directly at what he called “the dumb broad” who “misasked her question earlier.”

He then mentioned that he had neglected to read from his prepared remarks that the assailant’s car had a manual transmission and was thought to be due for an oil change, at least according to the guy at Jiffy Lube who had expressed shock when informed of the rampage by a crushing mob of microphone shoving, overly perfumed, TV reporters who all caught wind of a tip that he knew the assailant.

“He was a great guy. Always limited himself to only one cup of complimentary coffee in the waiting room while we changed his oil, unlike that one lady who has the nerve to bring in a full sized thermos and fill it up and always tries to use long ago expired coupons to avoid paying full price for her oil changes and makes a huge embarrassing scene so we just give her the discount to shut her up” he said. “Really, he was a model citizen.”

The view was seconded by a cashier at Hot Lips Pizza, where the assailant frequently did his lunching. Reporters went there after the man at Jiffy Lube said the assailant always had Hot Lips boxes and drink containers littered in his car. The Hot Lips cashier agreed that he was a model citizen, and she was shocked to learn he shot five people on campus and drove his Prius of a cliff. She said that didn’t sound like the guy she knew.

“Only guy who didn’t shamelessly exploit our fountain drink free refill policy,” said she. “If he had one slice, he didn’t even get a refill. If he had two, he only got half a refill. Three slices? Two refills. He obviously had a system, a very courteous system. One time he got four slices – think he’d done some hiking that day and got lost, so he was hungry; it looked like he’d been attacked by some kind of wild animal, like a gang of coyote cubs – anyway, he ate four slices that day and drank only three and a half refills.”

“Really, the only customer who drank a half portion less than his full fill, and that, according to his own system! The actual policy is unlimited refills, which is costing us a fortune.”

Asked by this reporter whether he had more refills if he was eating a slice heavy on toppings, she said “no, never.”

“He was a model citizen,” she said again.

Two Hispanic neighbors disputed these characterizations and said the guy was “[expletive deleted] loco.” Asked in bad broken Spanish if they knew him well, (this reporter confesses to using the verb “saber,” which applies to things and ideas, instead of “conocer,” which is the verb used when talking about knowing people) the neighbors said they didn’t know any Spanish words other than “loco and sombrero” and went on to mock this reporter by giving him the nick name Sombrero Loco and telling him to take some “[expletive deleted] Spanish lessons.” This reporter then found himself fielding endless questions as to whether he was the world famous Latino Cross Over Hip Hop Artist by the same name.   “The one every one thinks is actually gay,” they kept saying.

Sometimes this reporter actually understands why people like the assailant go berserk, though he insists he would never do such a thing.

“He hogs the coffee,” said a fellow reporter.

“Jittery as a squirrel on crystal meth,” said another. “I wouldn’t be surprised if one day he goes nuts and shoots a bunch of people.”

“If he ever changed his oil, I’m sure he would be ill-behooved also in Oil Change waiting rooms,” said yet another. “As things stand now, he just drives around coughing black fumes from his tailpipe.”

“Gets fountain drinks without even buying a pizza slice, “ said a fourth. “All the while that girl was there telling him about how it’s ruining their business!”

Queried as to whether efforts are being made to actually look under the ocean’s surface for the assailant, long after everyone had left after giving up hope of seeing the car or assailant resurface, a lone Highway Patrol man told this reporter that Frogmen are not searching the Pacific Ocean Depths for the assailant because budget cuts long ago eliminated the underwater forensics squad. He then slapped this reporter on the back and said,

“I’m just kiddin’ yuh. We never had a frogman squad. I’m from Ventura. I work this stretch of highway near my home. Pretty lucky, huh?”

This reporter has so far been unable to confirm any existence of such a squad in any jurisdiction, and believes the Ventura cop might be wrong, that there had to be a frogman unit, since so much of the highway runs along the coast.

The trooper pointed out that this was the first known shooting incident in which the suspect fled in a Prius.

“First time shots were fired from one too,” he said. “History was made today, but it doesn’t look like anyone knows that.”

“The Chief wants to commemorate that fact with some kind of plaque, memorializing the Prius,” he said. “That’ll never happen, though. The Chief always wants to commemorate just about everything.”

“His wife is some kind of environmentalist protester type,” he explained, standing dangerously close to the cliff. “So he’s really pushing this whole first Prius, shots fired going off a cliff plaque thing, but Chief has come up with too many crazy ideas in the past, so this one won’t go anywhere. It’s a lot like that crying wolf thing.”

This reporter and the CHP man from Ventura stood silently and looked at the sun setting.

“It really is peaceful here,” he said. “You can see why those Spanish bastards called it the Pacific.”

He pointed to some spot and insisted he had just seen dolphins flying one after another in the air and a whale behind them, spouting a fountain that rose just to touch the bottom of the smoky descending sun that had by that moment left behind an orange sky touched by streaks and patches of a golden yellow, the color the thin clouds take from their surroundings as night readies to fall like a blanket dropped on some friend asleep on the beach before the chill wakes him up to look this way and that, trying to make out the dying weak shadows thrown by the last embers dotting the fire that had just been making the faces nearest it glow red.

This reporter reports feeling as though looking past the cliff at that horizon the day behind him had never happened, and what he and the trooper were looking at instead was the curtain being dropped on a past that held before them some kind of infinitely recurring promise.

This reporter took solace in the way the trooper tipped his hat when leaving and the light crunch of his cowboy boots on the gravel and took solace also in the sound of the trooper clicking his car door shut and the delicate, solitary sound of the engine starting and the tires slowly turning over the little rocks and then onto the pavement where they went almost silent, save for the slight, peeling adhesive sound slow moving rubber sometimes makes. He then watched the red beady lights disappear around a bend in the coastal highway as the trooper drove the winding highway towards his home in Ventura.

The foggy glow of city lights hovered just above the mountain and became visible to this reporter once his eyes adjusted fully to the darkness.

He then heard the soft crunch of gravel beneath his own twisting feet and soon felt the breeze from the ocean grow into a thickening mist, and a whistling wind brought the sounds of the waves crashing on rocks roaring into his ears.



Jason Half-Pillow’s writing has been in The Iowa ReviewThe Bicycle ReviewHobo PancakesThe Driftwood PressThe SatiristCrab Fat MagazineMarco Polo Arts Magthe eel, and Remarkable Doorways Literary Journal.  A story of his is forthcoming in On The Rusk and another will appear inBully, an anthology soon to be published by KY Story. 

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