11/20/2006

The Saga Finishes...Part 3

The night of the stake-out, I drive downtown and park across the street from the P.D. I've had the weekend to think the whole thing over and in that time I've managed to remember that I am somebody's mother and not just one somebody, two somebodies. I can't go off hurtling myself into dangerous positions and winding up dead just because I want to write mystery novels. That is totally too selfish.

But I really want to! So I make a bargain with myself. If there's trouble, I won't try to save the po-lice. I'll just call 9-1-1 on my cell phone and lock the car doors.

I decide the powers that bargain for the universe may not think this is enough of a promise for behaving in an irresponsible, un-momly way, so I promise to also throw in a home-cooked breakfast for my boys when I return home, even though I will have been up over 24 hours and will be incredibly tired. See? I will have suffered to have an evening's excitement.

The P.D complex looks like a huge tinted-glass and concrete structure with a set of building-wide concrete steps leading up to the front door. On all cop and court TV shows, as the D.A is leaving the courthouse, they are always descending an imposing set of marble or concrete steps. Well, this must be standard issue for all governmental buildings that house people likely to give live interviews because that is what this building looks like. There is even a statue at the bottom of the steps of a cop reaching out to aide a little boy.

In the dark, the entire picture is fairly imposing.

Imagine then what it looks like to stand at the top of those stairs and look out onto the wide boulevard that T-bones into the municipal plaza and see a lone, unmarked police sedan coming steadily toward me out of the darkness.

I have checked in with the Watch Operations officer, signed a form that gives the police basically carte blanche to throw me into the line of fire and not face any consequences, legally or financially and then been instructed to wait at the top of the steps until I see Detective Smith's car pull up out front.

It is a warm, May evening, but I shiver a little when I see his car. When he ignores the curb and pulls his vehicle up onto the sidewalk, I realize the powers of the universe know me better than I thought they did...They know I love men who ignore the rules.

He steps out of the car, rounds to open the passenger side door and I pray for one more favor from the universe. Please do not let me trip on these stupid steps and land on my ass at his feet. I am that kind of klutzy.

He barely says a word until we have driven off. His radio is squawking with communicator to cop traffic and we are heading into the urban (if you can call it that) warehouse district of town. Without a word he parks in a shadowy parking lot, pulling the car in to face out. I think this is so he can be ready to make a speedy get-away in case we need to chase the bad guys.

He rolls down our windows. "I like to hear what's going on out there," he explains. "I'm waiting on my partner."

Tonight he has questions of his own. How long have I been writing. Who is my publisher. Do I know Patricia Cornwell (They all ask me this, male, female, straight, gay, cute or ugly- they all want to know, do I know her. Down here on Planet Earth, we little authors do not get to dine in the rarefied air of the Best-seller but admitting this is always hard. It's probably the cop equivalent of saying to one of our small town cops, "So, do they let you use real bullets or are you still using the rubber ones?")

Apparently, my detective sees something because as I'm answering one of his questions, he interrupts. "Punch the button on that glove box, will ya?"

I do. The compartment falls open and a single beam of yellow light hits a large, black semiautomatic pistol. He reaches across the seat, brushing my knees with his arm as he moves, and I swear to God I will remember this the next time I am having sex alone.

He grabs the gun, jams it barrel down in between our two seats and says, "There's a guy walking toward us. See him?"

I look out, squinting into the shadows and only then do I see a figure making its way across the parking lot.

"Don't worry. If he gives us any trouble, I'll shoot him."

Oh, my hero! I can scarcely breathe I am so taken with this big, strong, hunk of burning love...who is also, I might add, married, so it's only a fantasy but still...

Can you say naive? Can you say gullible?

Would you have smelled this line 5000 miles away? I bet you would have. Not me. Not good old soccer mom, Nancy. I think, yes, he will shoot this guy if the stranger so much as approaches the car. What a man!

Hell no. Do you know how much paperwork he'd have to fill out, not just for discharging a firearm but for actually committing a homicide, which is what that would be if the guy was just strolling by and asked what time it was...

But I didn't realize any of this. I was sitting in a car with Sam Elliot's better-looking, lost brother and all I can think about is when was the last time I felt this excited about anything? And no, boys' soccer games do not count as adult excitement.

Well, the guy walks on past and my detective tells me the story of a woman he arrested whose name was, his hand to God, "Asdawnbreaks Sobeginstheday."

Yes, I swallow this too. Whole. Right along with the woman he arrested named, Lasagna. Urban myth, my ass! This, I think, is real life!

Has it really been that long since I got out into the real world or am I just brain dead?

My hunk of burning love's partner arrives and while he's cute and knowledgeable, he's no movie star cowboy. He pulls his car next to ours, front side in so he is face to face with Detective Smith and they agree upon their respective locations for the stake-out.

I learn we are staking out a drug house, looking for a homicide suspect. The killer crawled in through the tiny kitchen window of a little old lady's house in the subsidized housing development where she lives and snapped her neck like a twig for $2. A few days after my night with Detective Smith, we go to see the scene and my heart is broken by the unnecessary tragedy.

She has carefully saved the ribbons from every birthday and Mother's Day floral arrangement her adult children have ever sent her and they are tacked to her living room walls, along with pictures of those same children through the years. In the spotless kitchen a pristine white washcloth hangs over the dish drain.

"We found a coffee can in the back of her pantry full of cash," Detective Smith says. "The guy didn't even get that. All he got was $2."

He takes me into the victim's bedroom, shows me the blood on her mattress and on the floor beside her bed. He shows me the footprint of a brand new sneaker, revealed by Komassi blue powder and a Lumalite. This is why we are sitting in an unmarked car listening to the chatter of the surveillance officers...We are looking for a kid wearing brand new sneakers.

But I don't know the details when Detective Smith pulls onto a narrow side street and up onto the sidewalk beneath the low-hanging branches of a tree. It doesn't occur to me that this is a fairly conspicuous way to stake someone out...I mean, parked on the sidewalk? Unnoticed? I don't think so.

But at the time, I only chalk this up to Detective Smith's cavalier attitude.

We are talking in soft voices. He is explaining to me that we are "supervising" the stake-out from almost a mile away. As if he senses my disappointment, he suddenly stiffens again and whispers, "You've got one coming up on your right. If he tries anything, don't worry, just lean back against the seat and I'll shoot him!"

The guy blows right on past us without a word...which is difficult given the unmarked car takes up a good two-thirds of the sidewalk.

We sit and sit and sit, until finally the detective says, "How about some coffee?"

Finally, I think, some action.

We pull up to the convenience store. Detective Smith opens his door, turns to me and says, wait here. He leaves the motor running and heads inside, but with an apparent afterthought, he spins back and starts to say something.

"Hey, if anybody gives you a hard time," he starts...

"Don't worry," I say, patting the butt of the semiautomatic beside me, "I'll shoot 'em!"

I follow Detective Smith around for the next four months, attending workshops he teaches on sexually-related homicides of children in which he posts pictures of murder victims who look just like my boys...and I am sure he knows this and is testing me for a reaction. I never let him see me sweat.

When I have a psychotic patient who stalks me, I go to Detective Smith for advice. He raises an eyebrow. "Do you have an alarm system?" he asks. "Motion lights?" "Bushes?" He shakes his head slowly. "Get motion lights and have the bushes around the house cut down. I'll check his record." He raises his head and gives me the cowboy bedroom eyes. "I would never let my wife go off to see patients at night," he says.

In the midst of my fear, I feel like the proverbial Knight In Shining Armor has arrived.

I write my book and Detective Smith's image forms my hero. I give him Reba McEntyre as a vicarious fantasy reward for him, even though I'll never tell him this.

When "Your Cheatin' Heart" is published, the newspaper calls to interview him and blurbs his comments in the Sunday issue's review of the book.

I continue to sing his praises all over town, at every book club and rotary club meeting, at every signing, I talk about him without ever mentioning his name. But when I talk and other cops are present, they all know who I mean.

Because they are laughing.

"We call him Pretty Boy," they tell me later, when they know me well enough to clue me in...poor benighted fool that I am. "He's always acting like that! He was just putting on a show for you. We don't shoot people that give us trouble, you know that!"

My friend, Donna, pops what's left of my idealist balloon. "Oh, yeah," she says. "I know his Mama. She goes to my church. You know he sings in a Gospel quartet? That boy just loves his Mama!"

Sigh. He is not super-human after all.

A year later, after he has retired, I run into him in the grocery store. He is there with his wife and they look just like any other retired couple, strolling around, gathering cans and clipping coupons.

By now I know he's played me, played his role to the hilt and taken me for a ride with his macho-cop swagger, but still I get flustered and barely manage to stammer out "Hello."

Looking back on it now- after I've gotten my own life and no longer rely strictly on the fantasy version- I see he gave me every thing a good fiction writer needed- a hero, a plot line and the energy to create a two book series.

What more, indeed, could one, poor Soccer Mom/Mystery Writer ask for?

Patricia Cornwell, my ass!

1 comment:

Jerry Bledsoe said...

Great stuff, Nancy. Really enjoyable.