She came into the police station, one o’clock in the morning, the mayor’s wife, dressed like a chippy.
“I want you to find me a room,” she says.
Still living at home, I knew nothing about renting rooms or where to look when talking to a half-dressed woman old enough to be my mother. It was one of those May nights where after the sun goes down, clouds hold in the warmth and everything feels damp, earthy and smells of growing.
“Yes, ma’am,” I said, saying “yes” only because I was afraid to say no. “What’s the matter, ma’am?”
“The matter is I need a room, to stay in—why are you asking me? You know what a room is for. Now, get me a room!”
“Please calm down,” I said, not having the courage even to be offended. “Do you want me to call your husband?”
She shrieked liked an angry rabbit. As I started around the desk, she grabbed our ink bottle and hurled it. Stupidly, I turned to watch the black spot stretch down the plaster.
She beat her fists on my back. “Oh, you men! You stupid, stupid, men!”
The sergeant came out with an old horse blanket, and we chased her all the way to River Street before we could wrap her in that sweat-stunk blanket. I hated doing it. I argued not to take her home, but the sergeant would have none of it. Two o’clock in the morning his honor opened the front door. I heard him lock it just before her screaming began.
A year later he sent the sergeant and another cop to Florida to bring her back.
“Not on your life would we do any of that today,” this young beat cop says after I tell him the story. I don’t know him, don’t know his father or his uncle. City of twenty-five thousand, you knew everyone on the force. This kid, he knows me. “You’re a legend,” he says.
I listen carefully, but I don’t hear a snicker. At eighty-five, my hearing’s a bit of guesswork. “A legend?” I say, and laugh.
“Just between you and me,” he says, “take an officer with judgment, like yourself, sir, why the old ways may have worked better. Only now you can’t choose, not if you want to stay on the force and not have your picture resting on half the citizens’ cereal bowls.”
I let him know how it was sixty years ago. You got on the force, and there you stayed, doing your job, getting respect, collecting a few bottles of whatnot come Christmas, and hearing only the occasional lip from young ruffians, who thought breaking a couple of windows made them bigger in the pants.
I keep the rest of the story to myself, how two years after Florida, the mayor’s wife called me, midnight, and her husband dead on their parlor carpet. She helped me tumble him down the cellar stairs. Then I poured booze on him and reported the tragic accident.