That July was so hot I remember thinking my eyes were sweating even with the air conditioning on full-blast. I was in the front passenger seat of the minivan. Mom was driving. We were meeting my dad and my brother Paul at the Retzer's house for 4th of July burgers and fireworks. We turned right at the busy intersection and onto a road lined by dying oaks and pines. We curved past the graveyard entrance and the lake docks. Then the shaded asphalt opened up to a wide boulevard built on top of the Riss Lake dam. The sun was so bright it pulsed a haze into Missouri's atmospheric pressure. But out the front windshield I didn't see the sun. All we saw was a a curtain of black. It looked like a raincloud, but Platte County was in the midst of its usual summer drought. Had the Riss Lake subdivision caught fire?
At eye-level, the neighborhood's houses appeared normal — all beige, grey and sage-colored versions of the next, bedecked with holiday-appropriate bunting and flags. In one driveway, a dad wore his suntan and golf shirt like an advertisement and lit the charcoals of his Weber. These were the only flames in sight. Still, the amount of darkness that hung over the community was worrying. We drove by Walnut Way and Spinnaker Pointe, and the fake ponds with fountains that light up at sunset. We were getting closer to the Retzer's house, and the cloud was getting darker. When we turned onto their street, the firetruck had already arrived. Two police cars were parked on the curb. I could hear my mom's mind race through the possibilities: Had the backyard caught fire? Did Paul blow up his hand? Had Dad blown up his face? We got out of the minivan and ran towards the driveway, where everyone gathered while my dad and Richard Retzer clearly played dumb for the cops.
What happened was sometime in the course of the week leading up to the 4th, Mr. Retzer had acquired a military-grade smoke bomb. He knew my brother lived for the 4th of July — it was the only day he was allowed to blow stuff up. So he lit a punk for his son Alex and Paul and told them to have at it. The grown-ups knew the effect would be big! and exciting! They didn't know the smoke bomb would put all of Parkville's Finest on-call. When the sirens showed up, Mrs. Retzer handed out burgers to the officers, which seemed to convince them all was well enough to turn a blind eye and leave. I remember that my brother was ecstatic. All smiles and jumps and making fake explosion sounds with his mouth. He was 10, so it was kind of cute.