I knew it was only a matter of time before one of those stinking piles of offal or some other unceremoniously dumped dead thing left on the edge of the canal in my run zone would turn out to be a person. And today was that day.

I’ve become conditioned to see dead dogs, calf fetuses, heaping piles of guts and garbage so it took me a moment to recognize the body for what it was. The head and half the torso were wrapped in a 6 mil sheet of plastic and the body had been pitched head first off the dirt road down the slope to the canal 50 yards from where it intersects the main highway.

Apart from the plastic sheeting there wasn’t much to see. An exposed belly, a bleached out white that was not much differentiated from the plastic. The body was clad only in trousers. The feet were the same color as the belly. After mentally separating the wrapper from the contents it took most of another five seconds to see that the body was of a man who was unquestionably stone cold dead.

I became instantly aware of the fact that I had just been repeating out loud, ‘Forty years,” over and over again. I was recollecting the length of time that an old high school era acquaintance had been locked up for the crime of second degree murder. Matthew Kyle Johnson was just 22 years old when the judge sentenced him to life in prison without parole. A pretty harsh sentence but I reckon that the judge knew that Matt was going to be a perpetual menace to society and decided to put halt to any future misdeeds.

I was 16 or 17 when I met him. Matt hung out at the house of one of my least supervised friend’s and he was a fun party guy. He was a couple of years older and we all thought he was pretty suave and sophisticated; a good looking lady’s man as the Joni Mitchell lyric goes.

But he was reckless and as it turned out prone to crime. He got a buddy of mine to help him break into the restaurant that one of them worked at and they got busted and my friend, John did a couple of months in county lockup and Matt got sent away downstate for a short term in prison; although we didn’t know that at the time.

On my run this morning I was marveling at how it could have been me – and not John – who was with Matt on that break in. Me – not John – who would then continue to carry the weight of that felony charge into the ever present future. Or maybe it could have been me who got talked into being in the wrong place when that murder happened. But by the Grace of God I remain a free man unencumbered by not so much as even a smidge of a criminal record although countless acts of thoughtless stupidity could have easily swung my life in that direction.

So I see this corpse of a guy and it got me thinking that there was someone who through some act of stupidity was going to miss tomorrow; the single best day of the biggest fiesta of the year. That’s so harsh. Think about it. Getting yourself murdered the day before the best day of the year. And just what did he do anyway? Was he a big criminal or a little criminal? Whatever he did, he certainly screwed up in some way and it got me thinking that sometimes it can take only the smallest of mistakes that lead to the harshest of consequences.

But unfortunately the story doesn’t end there but continues to trend in continuance with that theme: small mistakes; unpredictable and often harsh consequences.

So I was walking the last hundred yards back to the bridge where I catch the combi for the ride back into town when suddenly there came a big white SUV rolling up on me, running fast, pulling with it an immense cloud of dust. Per usual I threw my t-shirt over my head to act as a filter. But not per usual this time, it turned out to be the absolute wrong thing to do.

After it swung by I heard another vehicle following going equally fast before it abruptly broke to a hard fast stop on the gravel. I lifted the t-shirt off my face to see two policemen jump out of their SUV, level their machine guns at me, shouting, telling me to put my hands in the air. The one cop had his finger on the trigger, the gun pointed at my head, and murder in his eyes. He wanted to shoot me. And I could see in that one split second that he came very close to pulling the trigger.

Needless to say, my testicles shriveled to something resembling raisins but thankfully my Spanish didn’t fail me and I said back, “Polvo. My shirt was covering my face because of the dust.” So there I am like a complete dumb ass, less than a mile from the crime scene to which they were racing to investigate, and me with my face covered like some terrorist assassin.

In the short span of an hour, I found myself at the confluence of three unfathomless coincidences: I was thinking about the consequences of the crime of murder. I witnessed the product of a murder. And then damn near got myself murdered.

PS – While living in Washington, DC I once had a chilly feeling wash over me suggesting that a gunshot wound was never any further than a just small misunderstanding away.

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