SOMETHING TERRIBLE IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN.
There, in the upper-left-hand corner of the screen. Behind the goal and a step to the left. The videotape is probably a copy of a copy of a copy, as grainy as a Navajo sand painting. A hockey game. The camera pans too fast, too slow, chasing knots of players back and forth across the ice. Medium wide-angle coverage, very likely shot from the press box, panning blue line to blue line, blue line to crease, blue line to blue line. It looks like team tape, overbright and jittery, something coaches use to show players how a penalty kill broke down or to mock their clay-footedness on a breakaway. The date—apr.17.1998—appears across the bottom of the screen.
You've been told about the incident, so you know what to look for, and where. You think you know how bad it's going to be. The camera pans left and then rests, showing an area from the blue line to the goal. A clumsy rush forms and dissolves, and a blocked shot shakes the puck loose. It squibs into the corner, left of the goal. Two men skate in on it. They look small, but they aren't. The white jersey gets to the boards first; black jersey vectors in a second later, delivering a cross-check to the back, left elbow high. The puck slides past them and is cleared up the ice. White jersey turns, gives black jersey a shove, and they both glide toward the net. They are three feet from each other, no more, the black jersey a step nearer the goal. They pause for a second or two, the time it takes to read from here to here. But the moment seems to stretch on and on, elongated and made dense by the number of possibilities it contains.
Then it happens. White jersey lifts his stick and swings it hard at the head of the player in the black jersey. The long, flat arc of the swing drives the heel of the stick into his face, and he goes down. Goes down like an empty suit of clothes dropped to the floor. Goes down and stays down. The player in white stands over him as the camera pans away to the right. The tape abruptly cuts to a shot of the scoreboard.
Several seconds later you remember to breathe again.
This is a sports story in which no one wins. Everyone involved has already lost, and all that's left is the reckoning.
WHO YA GONNA BELIEVE?
From hockey officials, on the record: "I didn't see it."
From officials, off the record: "The worst thing I've ever seen."