As regular readers know, I’m writing short stories about my police experience with the eventual goal of putting together an anthology. In this edition of the Literature Corner—a semi-regular feature here at SMM—I present a charming true tale of alcoholism, stupidity, love gone wrong, drooling and baseball, not necessarily in that order. Finding an abused woman, the police do their best to be knights in shining armor. Unfortunately, in the real world not every damsel wants to be rescued, and the armor is always a bit tarnished.
The neighbors called the fight in. Considering the neighborhood, it must have been really good. The average fight wouldn’t have drawn a glance and certainly not a call to the police.
My back up arrived just as I pulled up, several houses down the street. TV cops drive around with a partner–two cops in a single car–but in reality, most cops patrol alone. It doesn’t offer many possibilities for dramatic, dysfunctional interpersonal relationships and snappy dialogue, but it’s more efficient in a real world of strained budgets and insufficient manpower.
We hopped out on foot and carefully maneuvered toward the house. It was a run down shack built into the side of a hill with a ground floor and a basement. The lights blazed from every window, but it didn’t look like anyone was moving.
As we drew nearer the back, basement door, I noticed that it was half open, light streaming into the trash-strewn backyard. Just as Steve and I took up positions on both sides of the door, it banged open and someone stumbled out, scaring the spit out of both of us. Fortunately, he couldn’t see us–coming out of a brightly lit house into a dark backyard his night vision was shot–and he wasn’t looking for us anyway. He stumbled several steps into the yard, clumsily unzipped his fly and with a big sigh, began to water the lawn. Steve looked at me and grinned as we both relaxed. He had no idea we were there; we had the tactical advantage.
After a very long and noisy hosing–he must have had plenty to drink–he started to zip up and suddenly screamed, a long, wailing, high-pitched little girl scream. He was caught in the zipper! He started hopping around, yelping and gyrating wildly as though he was on fire, and I suppose at least one part of him was. With considerable difficulty, Steve and I stifled laughter. We didn’t want him to spot us quite yet.
With a loud sigh of relief, he abruptly stopped hopping around. He spent a few minutes commiserating with his smarter half and when, after putting himself away, he finally turned around, we were standing between him and the open door. He let out another girly scream and jumped about five feet straight up into the air.
“Wha, wha, wha?” he exclaimed as he touched down, his eyes wide open and unfocused, his chin on his chest.
“Hi there. Police Department. We got a call about a problem. What’s up?” I spoke slowly. He was amazingly drunk.
“Up? Whas up?”
“Yeah, what’s up? Do you live here?”
“Here?” He wasn’t getting any smarter.
“Hey, this is Tony–Tony Carter, isn’t it?” My partner said. Tony smiled stupidly.
“OK,” I said, “Tony’s not going to be much help. Let’s knock and see what happens.” My partner nodded and knocked loudly on the back door.
Someone inside yelled “C’mon in.” That almost always happens, and provides a convenient–and legitimate–excuse for the police to come into a house. “Well your Honor, we knocked at the door and hearing someone inside ask us to enter, we did.” The police have no more restriction in that than an average citizen. If Joe Average can legally walk up to a given door, knock, and be invited inside, so can the Police.
We smiled at each other, and guiding Tony in front of us, walked in. The back door opened into a sort of utility room, with a trashed washing machine and a possibly functional dryer against one wall and a badly rusted and obviously leaky water heater against the other. The floor of the room was actually ankle deep in various kinds of trash: old clothes, fast food wrappers, beer bottles, you name it, it was there, and so was the smell. There’s nothing like decaying goodies of all kinds to contribute to the sophisticated ambiance.
We walked into the main basement room. There was a sofa against one wall, and a love seat against the other. Both pieces of furniture were so ragged and threadbare, with so many cigarette burns and other holes in the fabric it was hard to tell what color they were, or might have originally been. I didn’t want to even think about what the various stains might be. On the unpainted concrete floor a torn and equally threadbare rug was bunched.
Asleep on the sofa was Susan Taylor. Susan was a stone alcoholic. She was in her early 40’s but looked 70. She was so skinny she was almost skeletal. Sprawled on the love seat–actually, it was more of a lust seat those days–was Tom Sobinski, another member of the local alcoholic set. Only 26, Tom looked at least twenty years older. Empty beer bottles surrounded him. Though he was at least semiconscious, he was drooling like mad and making no attempt to stop.
But what really caught my attention was the huge, red and rapidly swelling knot on the forehead of Vicki Campbell, who was sitting on the floor, her filthy and torn jeans-clad legs spread wide, her arms hanging limp, her back against the couch. If we were in a cartoon, stars and little chirping birdies would have been rapidly circling her head. She quietly muttered “uh, uh, uh,” and tried–unsuccessfully–to focus her eyes on me.
I knelt down and spoke to her. “Vicki. Vicki! Can you hear me? Do you know where you are?”
She just kept grunting, though she did make an effort to turn her face toward my voice. She was incredibly drunk, just like the rest of them. There must have been at least 50 freshly emptied beer cans and bottles littering the tiny basement room. I flashed the beam of my flashlight across her eyes. Her pupils, which were the same size, constricted–rather slowly–but they constricted. That was a good sign. Pupils that aren’t the same size and that don’t react to light are usually a sign of a serious concussion, maybe even brain damage.
“Vicki, do you want an ambulance? Should I call an ambulance? Do you want to see a doctor?”
“NO!” Vicki suddenly came to life. “No docker,” she mumbled.
That took care of that. We don’t call ambulances for people like Vicki unless they have an obviously life threatening injury, and even so, they can refuse to be treated. You can’t force people to accept medical treatment. In any case, she wasn’t going to pay for it. I decided to make one more try. “Vicki, are you sure? That looks pretty bad. We can call an ambulance.”
“No docker, she slurred.”
“Yeah, no docker,” Tom mumbled from the lust seat.
“Vicki, how’d you get that knot on your forehead? What happened?” I asked.
“Got hit,” she slurred, and passed out.
“Why don’t you take Tom and Susan upstairs and see what they can tell you. I’m going to have a little chat with Tony,” I said to my partner. We both understood that he was the most likely suspect.
“Right,” he said and helped them stumble up the stairs.
By then, Tony had slumped on the lust seat and was grinning like an idiot. “OK Tony, have you been here all night?”
Still grinning, Tony replied, “yeah, dude!”
“OK then. What happened to Vicki?”
Tony swung his arms as though he was knocking a ball over the fence, made a pretty good impression of the “ping” sound an aluminum softball bat nailing a ball makes, and exclaimed “home run, dude!”
“Home run? You mean she got hit in the head with a bat?”
He nodded happily. “Thas it Dude! Home run!” Tony giggled in a high-pitched little-girl voice choked off by a Great Dane-sized hacking fit.
“OK Tony,” I said, “who hit her?”
“I did, dude! Best homer I every hit!” He was really pleased with himself.
“What’s that again, Tony?” I asked. This was great! He was confessing to aggravated assault, maybe even attempted murder. He began to ramble on incoherently about Vicki making him mad. After about five minutes, I came away with the impression that he hit her because she didn’t like parakeets, or maybe Pabst beer, possibly underwear or aliens or aliens in somebody’s underwear, or she was just ticking him off in general, but it was hard to tell. “OK Tony, where’s the bat?”
“Out back, dude.”
“You threw it out there after you hit her?”
“Thas it, dude!”
“Why did you throw it out back?”
“Home run, dude!” He replied grinning like the village idiot. I just looked at him, impassively, waiting. People tend to fill empty air with talk, so after a brief pause he added “I didn’ want her hittin’ me with it, dude.”
Just then, Steve came back downstairs. “What did you get?” I asked.
“Well, according to Tom, Vicki and Tony are kind of a couple–at least for tonight–and were going at each other over something. Tom said he thinks Tony hit Vicki with something.”
“How about Susan?”
“Nah. She passed out as soon as we got upstairs. She’s not going to add anything tonight. Oh yeah; Tom said he was glad Tony shut Vicki up because she was gettin’ on his nerves.”
“Swell. Tony said he hit her with a bat and tossed it out back. Would you go check on that?”
“No sweat,” Steve said and headed out the door. I kept an eye on Tony, who was muttering some kind of melody to himself and still grinning and drooling. Steve came back a few minutes later holding an aluminum baseball bat.
“Take a look at this,” He said, handing me the bat.
“Oh man,” I said. There was a significant dent in the sweet spot. “Where was it?
“About 20 feet straight out the back door,” Steve replied.
I held up the bat. “Is this the bat, Tony?”
“That’s the one, dude. Home Run!” he happily exclaimed, making another batting motion.
I nodded and made a slight cuffing gesture with my right hand, indicating that I was going to handcuff Tony. Steve nodded and took the bat and we took up positions on either side of him.
“OK Tony, stand up,” I said.
He shakily got to his feet, and I spun him around and cuffed him. “You’re under arrest, Tony.”
“Oh man, dude. I knew you wuz gonna do that!”
“Tony, you could have killed her. You shouldn’t do that.”
“Hey, she deserved it dude. Besides, ‘was the best hit I ever made! Home run!”
Vicki wasn’t responding to any of it. She was still asleep. Steve took Tony to his car and I checked on her again. Her eyes were still OK, and she was breathing regularly. I made a note to have the next shift check in on her, stuck around long enough to do a set of photos of the crime scene and the back yard, and headed in to tell Steve the charges for Tony.
The prosecutor settled on aggravated assault. It’s a felony, but not as serious as attempted murder. Tony couldn’t bond out, so he ended up sitting in jail until the preliminary hearing a month later. That isn’t as bad as it sounds. He sobered up and got decent food and regular showers for the first time in years.
There’s always a preliminary hearing for felony charges. A preliminary is sort of a mini-trial where the judge determines whether there is enough evidence to warrant a complete trial. Of course the defendant–Tony in this case–can always waive the preliminary and even plead guilty at any time, but his public defender decided to go the whole route this time. It was a good strategy that paid off.
Why did it pay off? He was counting on Vicki being drunk, or just not caring, and not showing up. He was right. She didn’t.
And unlike in the movies or on TV, that was the end of that case. The judge dismissed the charges and freed Tony. There was no point in trying to round up Vicki. Even if we did arrest her and drag her into court, no jury would convict on the word of an alcoholic who had to be arrested to get her to come to court. After all, if she cared so little about it, why should they? Also unlike TV or the movies, it happened all the time.
For the public defender–and Tony–I guess it really was a home run.
NOTE: Another edition of The Literature Corner will post next Sunday, July 1, 2012. I hope to see you there!