A dead woman crying: murder in the rain

I’ve seen more than anyone’s fair share of murder victims. More than I’d care to count, actually. I’ve also seen a variety of methods and instruments used by killers to achieve their goal(s)—gunshots, edged weapons, etc.

Some victims were poisoned; others were killed by hanging, strangulation, fire, torture, beatings, blunt instrument bludgeoning and, well, you name the manner and instruments used to kill and I’ve probably seen the end result. Unfortunately, it’s not long before dead bodies—the victims of senseless violence—quickly begin to stack up in the old memory bank.

Sure, cops get used to seeing carnage. They have to in order to survive the job. Still, there are cases that cling to the outer fringes of the mind, remaining fresh in our thoughts for many years. These, the often thought of, aren’t necessarily the most gruesome or the most difficult to solve. Not at all. In fact, what sticks with one officer may not affect another in the same way.

A few homicides occasionally creep back onto the “replay” reel inside my brain—the killing of children, the crazy guy who hacked his sister-in-law with an ax because she wouldn’t give him money for a pack of cigarettes, the kid found hanging from an extension cord in an abandoned factory, and, of course, the case I’m about to describe to you. It came to mind recently because of rains we’ve received lately here in Delaware.

The storms came at night, bringing brilliant displays of zig-zagging lightning followed by earth- and window-rattling thunder. Windblown raindrops the size of chickpeas pounded against our windows and rooftop. This is how it was the night I saw the dead woman crying, and it was the morning after when I had the unpleasant task of doing the “death knock.”

So slip on a pair of boots and a raincoat and join me on a brief journey into my memory. And yes, sometimes tales do begin with the weather…

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It was a brutal storm that night, one that delivered a hard-driving and bitterly cold winter rain. Accompanying winds tugged hard against my long, school-bus-yellow rain coat, sending its tails fluttering and flapping, exposing my brown over tan deputy sheriff uniform. It—the uniform—was not waterproof. Not even close.

The ground at the crime scene was extremely muddy, and with each step my once shiny brown shoes collected gobs of thick, wet soil until it felt as if bricks were tied to the bottoms of my feet.

These were the deplorable conditions in which I met the crying dead woman.

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Raindrops the size of gumdrops pelted her smooth and round caramel-colored face. They gathered and pooled at the corners of her eyes, eventually spilling out across her cheeks like tiny rivers following the contours of her flesh until they poured from her in miniature waterfalls.

It was one on one—me and the victim.

Passenger door open.

She’s lying there,

Bottom half in, top half out.

Her face aimed at the sky.

Rain falling into her open mouth.

Cheap dollar-store tennis shoes and half-socks, the socks her youngest daughter—the seven-year-old—called baby socks.

Her wet hair, mingled with mud, sticks, and windswept leaves.

Power lines crackled and buzzed overhead.

The yellow Magnate beam, a spotlight on her dim gray eyes.

No life.

No recollections.

No dreams.

Not a flicker.

Tire tracks.

Different pattern than the rubber on her Chrysler.

Driver’s window down.

Three rounds—one to the head and two to the torso.

Five empty casings.

Pistol.

Not a revolver.

Half-empty wine bottle.

Cheap convenience store label.

Not her brand according to the ladies in her church group. “Oh we don’t drink. Neither did she. Except on special occasions. Yep, it must have been something or somebody really special for her to drink that stuff.”

“Was there a somebody special?”

Eyes cast downward.

Blushes and eyelash flutterings all around. “Well … she did stay after Wednesday night preaching a few times. But they were meetings strictly about church business. After all, he is the Reverend. A good man.”

More blushing.

A stammer or two.

A good man.

The rain comes harder.

Droplets hammer her open eyes.

She doesn’t blink.

A dead woman crying.

Footprints.

Two sets.

One walking.

Casually, perhaps.

The other, long strides.

Running away, possibly.

Zigzagging to the woods.

Bullet lodged in base of a spruce pine.

One round left to find.

Water inside my collar, down my back.

Shivering.

Cloth snagged on jagged tree branch.

Plaid shirt material.

Blood?

Still visible in the rain?

The missing fifth round?

Maglite never fails, even in torrential rain.

Light finds a shoe in the underbrush.

It’s attached to the foot of an adult male.

Dead.

Bullet in back.

The fifth round.

Coming together nicely.

Church meetings.

Reverend.

Two lovers.

Special wine for special occasion…

A good man.

Sure he is.

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Morning sunshine.

Tiny face peering from window.

Waiting for Mama?

A lump in my throat.

Scent of frying bacon in the air.

I raise my knuckles to the door.

It’s the worst job in the world,

To deliver…

The “Death Knock.”

Door swings open.

Worried husband.

“No, she didn’t come home after church. Called friends and family. Nobody knows.”

Husband, devastated.

Questions unanswered.

Children cry.

“Yes, I have ideas. 

And I’m so sorry for your loss.”

Tire tracks match.

Pistol found.

Preacher hangs head in shame.

Special occasion.

To profess love.

But…

Another man.

Another lover.

Angry.

Jealous.

Handcuffs.

Click.

Click.

Murder.

No bond.

Prison.

Today, our rains have stopped.

But I’m thinking of the crying dead woman and her kids, her loving husband and, of course, baby socks.

Special occasion?

Good man?

Yeah, right.

 

During the course of their days at work, officers hear many excuses, threats and, well, dumb statements. Here are a few I’ve heard over the years.


Me – “Sir, do you know how fast you were driving?”

Driver – “I do, but I’m not telling you that I was going 87 when I passed where you were sitting because you’ll give me a ticket.”


Drug dealer – “You can’t arrest me because you didn’t tell me you were an undercover cop before I sold you the crack.”


Murder suspect – “She was already dead when I killed her.”


Murder suspect – “Yeah, I was in the house. But I didn’t kill that guy in the bedroom. Oh wait, you didn’t mention a dead body, did you?”


Man arrested for fighting – “Take off these cuffs and I’ll whip your a**,” he said to me as I drove him to the hospital for the treatment of injuries he received while resisting arrest.


Man found sitting in the middle of a busy highway – “I’m from Mars. Your laws don’t apply to me. Go away.”


Man who resisted arrest – “You’re not man enough to … Ow! Ouch! I give up!


Burglary suspect – “I must’ve been sleepwalking, officer. I went to bed around ten and woke up inside this strange house just as I heard someone yell, ‘Police!.’ Honest, I don’t know where I got these gloves and tools.”


Robbery suspect – “I ain’t scared of that dog … Ahhhhh!!!! Make him stop biting me! Ahhhhhhh!!!!!”


Tough guy – “I. Will. Knock. You. Out. Take one more step and—”

My grandfather drove an ice truck back in the day. In fact, I still have the tongs he used to muscle around massive 300-pound blocks of the frozen stuff. In his day, ice was made using a salt-brine process inside an “ice plant.”

The ice-making room was a vast expanse that contained a huge in-floor tank of the briny liquid in which large metal cans containing fresh water were submerged. Each tank was fitted with a wooden lid with a small opening where a pencil-size rubber air tube was inserted.

As the water began to cool, air was blown into the water-filled can. Doing so kept the water in motion, a process that allowed most of the air bubbles to rise and escape. This is what made sparkling, clear ice. Ice containing air bubbles is cloudy and unappealing. And, of course, not solid through and through.

Each metal can was fashioned with inverted creases that, when the ice block was completely frozen, those indentions formed the “score lines” that divided the ice into specific sizes. After approximately three days, the ice was ready to “pull.”

Using overhead hoists, workers attached chains to the metal cans and “pulled” them one by one from the brine tank. Then they’d dump the frozen block from the can and using their tongs, manhandled the four-feet by two-feet by one-foot hunks of frozen water into a freezer for storage until delivery time.

Many ice plant workers had their favorite tongs and kept them as their own, much like medical examiners, carpenters, electricians, and writers have their favorite work implements.

My grandfather’s ice tongs

The ice man, the person who carried ice to neighborhood homes, loaded enough 300-pound blocks to satisfy the needs of his customers. Typically, in those days, homeowners placed a card in the window indicating how many pounds of ice they wanted to get them through until the next delivery day. The iceman would then use an ice pick to chop off the desired amount (remember the 25, 50, 75, or 100-pound blocks I mentioned above).

Once the ice man whacked off a chunk of the correct size, using tongs to grasp the cold and slippery block, he’d carry the ice to the house where he’d place it inside the icebox. Most homes in those days, especially the homes of the middle to lower income families, did not have electric refrigerators. Instead, food was kept cool inside an icebox.

The ice man was a favorite of neighborhood children who’d often beg him for a sliver or small chunk of ice. This, in that day, was a treat on hot summer days.

Today, ice is made differently, of course, and wooden iceboxes are a thing of the past, as are the mule-pulled ice wagon and/or ice trucks. However, we still depend heavily on ice to cool our drinks on summer days. It’s a must for ice skaters and dancers. Polar bears and penguins adore it. Skiers enjoy the frozen wet stuff, and plenty of people in New England earn a nice living pushing it from roadways and sidewalks.

So, for the life of me, I just can’t understand why so many people want to get rid of it. Hardly a day goes by, if ever, without seeing a headline somewhere about some politician who wants to abolish ice.

I just don’t get it, because I like my drinks cold and I like the way those little hunks of frozen water bring back fond memories of spending time with my grandfather in the ice house.

We. Need. Ice.

My grandfather’s ice pick. Printed on its sides are the company name and a telephone number to call for 24-hour emergency ice service

 

  1. Being a writer is like being a politician. You get to make up @#$! and your fans love it.
  2. Being a writer is like being a plumber. Somewhere around the middle of the job you find yourself elbow deep in @#$!
  3. Writers are like prostitutes. They do it for money but the income arrives in small amounts at random times.
  4. Agents are like pimps without the purple suede leisure suits and feathers in their hats. Oh, wait …
  5. A good book is like a side effect of “the little blue pill.” It keeps you up all night.
  6. Sitting at a keyboard while clacking away at random characters is something an illiterate chimp can do. Much of today’s media is proof that chimps are better at it.

    Wandering Eyes

  7. Spellcheck is great, except when it isn’t.
  8. A great book is a like a fine statue. Their creators started with an idea and then carved away everything that didn’t help tell the story.
  9. Writers are like cops. They like coffee and whiskey and telling tall tales … and whiskey.
  10. A bad story is like a snow skier. They’re both start at out on a slow upward climb toward the summit. Then it’s all downhill from there until they reach the end, which is totally uneventful.
  11. The words of a good book remain forever. The words of a politician remain only until the next big donation comes along.
  12. If real-life bad guys would simply take the time to read a mystery book they’d know the good guys always win in the end.
  13. Good books are like the bed in a by-the-hour motel. Lots of action between the covers.
  14. Great ideas make great books, except when they don’t.
  15. Social media can be like a disease. No punch line. It truly can be like a disease.
  16. The bravest men and women in the world today are currently sitting at home, ranting and raving away on Facebook, telling people just how brave they are. Then they get up and go to their day jobs, greeting customers at Weirdmart, or selling fries at Booger Joe’s Burger Emporium.
  17. Lone literary agents at writers conferences are like the innocent fawns that tiptoe through the forest—they both know the attack could come at moment. This is why experienced agents travel in packs.
  18. A firefighter and a police officer enter a bar at a mystery writers conference. They’ll know better next time.

Finally …

Two drunks and a writer enter a bar during a writers conference. Three drunks come out.

*Have you got a zinger you’d like to share? If so, please do. (no foul language, racism, cop-bashing, politics, etc., please.).

Police Officers are the brave men and women who’s duty is to protect us and to round up the evil folks who commit dastardly crimes against society. They’re enforcers of the law. They run into danger, leaping mud puddles and discarded fast food wrappers along the way. They dodge kids on tricycles and those licking popsicles.

Officers often work during the nighttime among feeding feral animals and smelly winos. Their nerve are cords of steel and their hearts and minds are filled to the brim with compassion.

They train and train and they train, and they’re given all the tools needed to fulfill their duties with the utmost expertise.

Unfortunately, though, cops are human and we all know that humans subject to making mistakes. Cops are no exception. Here, see for yourselves.

Oops!

Serving search warrants and entering homes and businesses to search for killers, robbers, and thieves is risky to say the least.

Before “going in,” though, there’s often a ton of necessary preparation—surveillance, paperwork, briefings, etc, not to mention the hours of training and practice that goes hand-in-hand with being a finely-honed, well-oiled member of police department’s special team. After all, the goal is to make a swift and safe entry, collect evidence, and to bring out the bad guys with no one getting hurt, including the crooks.

But, after all those grueling hours of aforementioned training, often in harsh conditions, repeating the same tactics over and over again until they come as naturally as taking a breath, well, things still happen while executing warrants. Such as …

Knock on Wood

We’ve all seen the TV cops, the officers knocking and announcing their presence and purpose. Bam! Bam! Bam! “Police! Search warrant!” Then the door-kicking starts (battering ram, actually) until the jambs and locks give way. Officers are then able to storm the house like ants on a dropped lollipop.

That’s how it’s supposed to go, right? But then there’s this …

Officers kick and kick and kick, and pound and pound and pound, trying to get inside a crack house. But the door won’t budge. They’re frantic that evidence is being destroyed with each passing second, so one cop decides to break a window when he suddenly hears a voice calling out from inside the home. “Use the door knob, dumbass. It’s unlocked.”


Lookin’ Through the Window

It’s mid July and a baby is trapped inside a locked car. The motor’s running and the mother is hysterical. She accidentally hit the lock on the driver’s door as she was getting out. “Please hurry! My baby’s so scared, and it’s really hot inside. Hurry!”

The responding officer peeks through the glass of the driver’s side window and sees that all four doors are securely locked, so he uses a Slim Jim to try and pop open the latches. But it just doesn’t seem to work this time and he curses those “newfangled” electric locks and all the wiring that becomes tangled around his cardoor-unlocking device. Precious minutes tick by as the temperature climbs past 90. The baby seems to be okay and the ambulance and fire crews are on the way. Another five minutes of jabbing the metal tool inside the door panel passes before a fire truck finally pulls up. Whew! They’ll have the right equipment to get the kid out safely.

The fire captain hops out of the truck and walks up to the car. He steps around to the passenger door and calmly reaches inside through the OPEN window. Then he gently scoops up the cooing baby and hands her to her sobbing mother.


The Old “Mattress as a Shield” Trick: Please Help Me I’m Falling

The prison Emergency Response Team has been called to extricate a suicidal inmate from his cell. The prisoner is extremely violent and he’s well known for hurting staff members. He’s also built like a bulldozer and is as strong as twenty men.

The team assembles at the cell door waiting for the command to go in. The lead officer, typically the largest of the group, is in charge of a cot-size prison mattress. His assignment is to hold the mattress in front of his body, vertically. The idea is to rush the guy and pin him to the rear cell wall with the padded shield. Doing so allows the team to easily restrain the guy. No problem. They’ve used the tactic several times before with great success. Never had an injury, either. When everyone is ready, someone begins the countdown. One. Two. Three. Go!

The door opens and the 6’4, 250 pound ox of a man, the officer who’s wielding the mattress makes his move. The only job for which he’s responsible, to be a human battering ram. However, he steps on the bottom corner of the mattress and tumbles inside the cell. The rest of the team fall on top of him while the inmate looks on. He slowly begins to laugh and then starts to chuckle uncontrollably as the team scrambles to get to their feet. The prisoner, of course, is laughing so hard he has tears streaming down his cheeks.


Slim Jim

Before the introduction of electronic locks, it was a simple matter of slipping a Slim Jim between the window glass and rubber weather strip, feel around until the tool hit the “lock rod,” and wiggle it around a tiny bit until the lock knob popped up.

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So presto, bingo, all was well and the happy citizen went about their daily routine.

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Slim Jim

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Notches used for “hooking” the lock rod and other mechanisms

After electronic locks replaced the simple, manual ones, things changed. No longer was unlocking a car door an easy task. In fact, it was quite the opposite and many officers, especially the old-timers, found themselves jabbing Slim Jims inside car doors while pushing and pulling and pumping the darn things in and up an down motion that brings to mind a frazzled grandma in the kitchen using a hand-mashing implement to frantically and wildly smash the heck out of a pot full of potatoes.

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Grandma pounded out a week’s worth of frustrations using one of these things while preparing Sunday lunch.

Sometimes during a particularly violent Slim-Jimming session, the device became entangled in the nests of wiring, rods, gadgets, and connections inside the door. When this occurred it sometimes was impossible to remove the “Jim” without damaging an entire network of electrical, well, car stuff.

Therefore, it was not all that unusual for an officer to leave the device protruding from the door of a high-end vehicle while the owner called a professional for help. Then off they’d drive (the car owner), heading to the dealership with long, flat piece of metal flapping in the breeze.

Has political correctness gone amuck in the world of cops and robbers?  After hearing this radio transmission, I’d say yes.

“Be on the Lookout for a morally challenged subject who’s a rube-esque prone repetitive exterminator of respirations and pulse. Subject described as follicularly challenged and metabolic phenomenon. Use caution. He is a person with a flesh perforating corpuscle leaker.”

10-2. Morally Challenged Subject: Bad guy

10-3. Person of Unsavory Qualities: Crook

10-4. Understand Request/Statement: Okay

10-5. Residentially Challenged Individual/Displaced Homeowner: Homeless Person

10-6. Authenticity Challenged Subject: Insane Person

10-7. Exterminator of Respirations and Pulse: Murderer

10-8. Repetitive Exterminator of Respirations and Pulse : Serial killer

10-9. Rube-esque Prone: Redneck

10-10. Sexually-Focused Intelligence Gatherer: Peeping Tom

10-11. Mechanically Challenged Automobile: Disabled Vehicle

10-12. Intra-Species Diner: Cannibal

10-13. Living Impaired Upon Disembarkation: DOA (Dead on Arrival)

10-14. Aquatically Challenged Subject: Person Who’s Drowning 

10-15. Chemically Challenged/Inconvenienced: Drug Addict 

10-16. Life Inhibited: Dead

10-32. Person with Flesh Perforating Corpuscle Leaker: Man with Gun

10-33. Crisis Insistent Situation: Emergency

10-36. Appropriate Allotment on Chronograph: Correct Time

10-37. Involuntarily Terminated: Assassinated

10-38. Undocumented Apothecary: Drug Dealer

10-39. Undocumented Acquisitions Expert: Burglar

10-40. Temporary Guest of Government Housing: Prison/Jail Inmate

10-41. Wealth Redistribution Expert: Robber

10-42. Public Service Bonus: Kickback/Bribe

10-43. Population Control Expert: Mass Murderer

10-44. Unplanned Retrospection of Recent Meal Selections: Vomiting

10-45. Metabolic Phenomenon: Fat

10-88. Follicularly Challenged: Bald

10-100. Urgent Need to Eliminate Food and Drink Byproducts: Restroom Break

*Please remember that 10-Codes vary from one area to another. 10-4?

Also, let’s hope that neither of these goofy codes are in use, but these days, well, you never know what to expect. 

 

The 38th parallel, where perhaps 1 million soldiers faced each other across an area boobytrapped with over a million land mines, was the line drawn in the sand during the Korean War. Cross it and a soldier could quickly die in a hail of bullets.

My uncle, Pete, was there in the 1950s, stationed just across the 38th parallel. And during his entire 26-year career in the U.S. Army, the time he served in Korea was possibly one of the worst times of his life. More on this in a moment.

Now, after turning 82 just last month, my uncle is in a Philadelphia hospital where doctors recently performed emergency surgery on his already weak heart. When I left the hospital last Thursday, well, things looked pretty grim. He hadn’t been awake since surgery the previous Monday, and his vital signs were diminishing, along with the function of his kidneys which were heading into a slow downward spiral.

Denene and I traveled back to Philadelphia last Saturday morning, just two days after the doctors’ pessimistic opinions regarding recovery, we found him sitting up in bed chatting with a neurologist. No ventilator, no more blood transfusions, no mechanically-forced inflation of his lungs, etc.

He was fully conscious and alert, and extremely hungry. So the nurse ordered him a solid and nutritious lunch.

His kidney functions were back to nearly normal. Heart rate and blood pressure were absolutely fine. Although, he was was experiencing a bit of numbness along his right side, possibly caused by compression of fluid on a nerve in the neck. Other than that, though, he was doing well, considering.

Actually, he was feeling well enough to be frantically searching the TV for his favorite show, SpongeBob (Don’t ask me). SpongeBob, golf, Jeopardy, and The Wheel of Fortune. Those are his “can’t miss” programs.

After having no luck with the TV our conversation turned to the days “back when,” and the topic of Korea came up. He told us about standing guard at night, hearing the enemy soldiers just across “the line” yelling, firing their weapons, and banging on things, an effort to prevent sleep for our soldiers. Then, suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, groups of them charged across the line, firing their rifles and pistols in short bursts aimed at the U.S. soldiers. Then they’d run back from where they came. This occurred night after night after night.

He told of having very little to eat except rice. Rice, rice, rice, and more rice. After he left Korea he swore he’d never touch rice again. Just the thought of it turns his stomach.

He recalled nights when soldiers were forced to burn drums of alcohol to keep warm during -60 degree temperatures. They’d remain huddled around those barrels, moving away only to start the tanks every thirty minutes to prevent the grease in the gun turrets from freezing solid. If that happened the tanks would only fire once since the frozen grease would prevent recoil of the tanks’ gun barrels.

He told war tales that would curl the toughest and straightest of toes. Then he switched to stories about other assignments around the world, from different bases where he was stationed throughout his career. His favorites were in Germany and a long term serving at the Pentagon in Washington D.C.

Back then, he said, D.C. was a fun city and his job at the Pentagon was quite rewarding.

On January 20, 1961, Uncle Pete was one of the sixteen thousand U.S. soldiers who marched along Pennsylvania Avenue in President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade. It was a proud moment for him when he passed the reviewing stand, seeing out of the corner of his eye, President Kennedy; First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy; the President’s parents Rose Kennedy and Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.; Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson; and Lady Bird Johnson and other dignitaries. He also received an invitation to the president’s inaugural ball. This was a high point in my uncle’s life.

But there were times when things in Washington weren’t so rosy.

In November of 1963, Uncle Pete again marched as a soldier along D.C. streets for President Kennedy. This time, though, the march was for President Kennedy’s funeral procession after he was assassinated.

My uncle has seen and done a lot in his day. He’s been “there” when times were tough, and he’s been practically on top of the world.  He’s a fighter. Always has been.

Today, Uncle Pete is receiving physical therapy to help him walk again, and to help regain the use of the muscles on his his right side. He’s very weak but his spirits are high and he grows stronger each day. He thanks you for your prayers and well-wishes, as do I.

*Remember, I said my uncle’s appetite is back and he’s now allowed solid food and that the nurse ordered him a nice hot lunch? Guess what they brought him … turkey, and a steaming mound of RICE!

Needless to say, he sent it back untouched.

 

I’ve never been fond of working traffic details—running radar, crash investigations, issuing parking citations, standing in intersections during the pouring rain, wildly waving my arms and hands to send vehicles on their way, all while blasting tweets from a tin whistle, and the like.

Patrol was an assignment I preferred and I suppose that’s because of the diversity of calls. One minute you’re helping an elderly person who’s locked himself out of his house, and the next you’re wading chest deep into a pile of brawling drunks, or searching an abandoned and crumbling warehouse for a murderer on the run.

I suppose one of the major reasons I grew to despise stopping cars due to high rates of speed, recklessness, and the general failing to obey traffic laws, was, well, the outright lack of common sense of some drivers. I’ve long thought that Driving While Stupid (DWS) should be included among the many traffic laws in the books.

A motor vehicle, while traveling along the roadways, is basically a great big, fat, projectile that’s just as capable of killing people as any gun. In fact, the chances of survival are perhaps a bit greater when hit by a bullet. Don’t believe it? Try standing in the path of a car roaring at you at 80 mph and see how well you fare when it strikes you, even with a glancing blow. A bullet, on the other hand, may simply pass through a drooping love handle leaving you with nothing more than a couple of stitches.

But let’s back up a bit to stupid drivers. In fact, let’s narrow the category down to distracted-stupid drivers. I once saw a headline in the San Jose Mercury News that read, Woman Painting Toenails Gets First Prize For Distracted Driving. To quote the writer (Gary Richards – Mr Roadshow), “I saw a woman PAINTING HER TOENAILS as she drove eastbound on the 237 freeway. She had her left foot up on the dashboard in front of the A/C vent so the cool, dry air would blow across her toes, and she was painting her toenails as she drove during the afternoon commute.”

And you thought texting while driving was bad!

Toenail painting is definitely not an activity that should take place while driving to work. But this lady is not the only commuter guilty of driving while distracted. I, as well as other police officers, have a ton of “distracted driving” stories we could share, and they’re not all about cellphones. A few of the ones I’ve seen and issued a summons for, include …

  • Pouring milk and cereal into a bowl and then eating it while driving in heavy traffic. All while driving beside my marked police car.
  • Eating a bowl of ice cream at 75 mph.
  • Applying full face makeup with one hand while holding a large mirror in the other.
  • Reading a book (the book was propped against the steering wheel). This, at speeds varying from 45 to 80 mph, on a major interstate highway.
  • Two nude couples having sex in the same car, while driving at speeds over 60 mph. Yes, the driver was one of the four people in the car.
  • One totally nude man … um … enjoying his time alone.
  • A man driving his expensive car while a nude woman stood on the seat with a leg on either side of him, with the top half of her body through the sunroof. She smiled and waved at us. II was training a rookie at the time. He was driving when we switched on the blue lights.
  • A man wearing a corrections uniform driving a car late at night on a deserted stretch of interstate. His passenger, a totally nude (male), was handcuffed to the car door. His uniform was on the backseat in a crumpled pile.
  • A teenager sat on the top of the backrest with his upper body through the open sunroof. He was using his feet to drive while a buddy operated the gas and brake from the passenger side. There were four other teens in the backseat, along with a cooler full of cheap beer and a rear floorboard littered with empty bottles.
  • A teen driver passed by me doing a little over 100 mph. On each of the passenger window sills (windows down) sat a teen (boys and girls) with their bare rear ends hanging outside for all the world to see.
  • A car zipped by me traveling well above the posted speed limit. What really caught my eye was the large German Shepherd behind the wheel. When I stopped the car I was somewhat relieved to see a very small human woman situated behind and beneath her “lap dog.”
  • The passenger of a small pickup truck who wore a horse’s head (mask).

  • The nude couple having sex in the rear area of an SUV, with back door in the up position. By the way, the description of the back door in the up position fits both the vehicle and one of the parties engaged in the public sexual activity. It was not a pretty sight.

Finally, the day I learned that Santa no longer employed reindeer as part of his holiday staff.

How about you? What’s your worst stupid driver story?

It was many years ago when I worked in Virginia’s state prison system, back before I began my career as a certified law enforcement officer. I’ve done a lot of unpleasant things in my day, to make ends meet, but working in the prison was truly one of the worst.

When I say to make ends meet I’m speaking about being a single dad raising a daughter while earning little more than peanuts. At my first state job my salary was $6240. per year. When I moved up the ladder a bit the pay moved up to $6700. Then it grew to a whopping $8320. Then I transferred to a maximum security prison, one that housed the worst of the worst inmates., those that other prisons didn’t want. My  pay increased to a little above $12,000 annually.

So, for less than six bucks an hour I had to pay for housing costs, car payment, food, clothing, phone bill, heat, school costs, and the health insurance premium and retirement were deducted from the salary. Therefore, as everyone knows, paying the bills and supporting a child is tough. Those of you who’ve done so as a single parent, as I was, know how difficult and extremely challenging it is simply to hold your head above water.

When I spoke about unpleasant things I’d done I was speaking of the part-time jobs I held to supplement my income. I continued working part-time jobs for my entire law enforcement career. The pay as a police officer in the early days, unfortunately, was not great.

A Twist in this Tale

Oh, there’s a twist to this story. One of these part-time jobs is not true. The rest are fact.

You’ve all read my blog and social media posts over the years. Many of you have met me and had conversations with me. So let’s see how you fare at picking out a falsehood. Of course, all could be true or they could all be false. I’m just sayin’.

Here’s a list of those jobs … maybe.

I once held a part-time job as …

  1. An electrician for a county government. I rewired part of a jail where I worked as a deputy sheriff. I also rewired parts of a courthouse where I testified in many felony cases. The head cook at the jail made and served delicious liver and onions.
  2. A maintenance person for two hotels, performing jobs such as painting, plumbing, etc. I once saw rocker Joan Jett sunbathing by the pool.
  3. A woodworker for a casket company, where I repaired high-end wooden caskets. The job even once required me to travel to Miami to repair a $30,000 casket, one that had been damaged during transit. On the way down, I drove a pickup truck carrying six additional wooden caskets.
  4. A bricklayer’s helper working on a 300-foot-tall chimney. The bricklayers were relining it and my job was to haul the bricks up by rope and then feed them down inside the chimney using a second rope. I don’t like heights, by the way.
  5. A lead bouncer in a hip-hop/rap-type nightclub. At the time, I was bench pressing just under 400 lbs. and had earned two black belts. There was a stabbing on my first night there. The club is where I first heard TLC’s hit song Waterfalls, written by Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez. I still like the song. I don’t like rap or hip-hop music. I don’t like opera either.
  6. A housepainter working on a crew with six professional painters. I was assigned to most of the grunt work—painting shutters, closets, and ceilings. All by brush. No spraying or rollers allowed in those days.
  7. As a laborer for a concrete company. My job was to use a wheelbarrow to roll in load after load of wet, fresh concrete to the men working inside an open courtyard between buildings at a retirement home.
  8. I worked as a desk clerk at a hotel owned by a Chinese couple who spoke very little English. They offered me $5,000 if I’d marry one of their cousins so she could become a U.S. citizen. I did not.
  9. I worked as a part-time estimator for a major steel company, where I sat at a drafting table figuring the amounts of steel and correct pieces needed to construct large commercial buildings. I even calculated the numbers and sizes of individual nuts, bolts, and washers.
  10. While working night shift as a cop, I taught business math and drafting at a high school during the day for an entire school year. I was offered a full-time job teaching but I felt that police work was far safer, so I declined the offer. One year was all I could take.
  11. Each weekend, three of us, all deputy sheriffs, installed roofs—tearing off old shingles and replacing them with new ones after repairing damaged plywood, etc. Then we loaded the old worn-out shingles onto pickup trucks, by hand, and then hauled them to a county dump where we emptied the trucks. Again, all by hand. I did this every weekend, for a long time. It was backbreaking work but it kept a roof over my head.

Bonus – I taught beginning, intermediate, and advanced guitar at a college. Later in life I became the student and was taught intricate lessons by a guitarist who’d played in bands that opened for The Who and Lynyrd Skynyrd, and many more. He’d played with legendary guitarist Joe Satriani and even replaced Satriani as lead guitarist in the popular 80s group, The Greg Kihn Band.

So there you go. Is one of the above not true? Are all of them false? Just one lie? Or, are each of them absolutely factual?

Here are a couple of tunes to enjoy while you decide.

The Greg Kihn Band

Joe Satriani

Every department has at least one officer who doesn’t quite beat the same drum as the others. His, or her, rhythm is slightly off. They can’t quite fit in no matter how hard they try. Sure, everyone likes this person, and they don’t really do anything that’s too weird, yet they always seem to do, well dumb stuff.

Enter my friend Franklin and his first experience with, well, this …

The honky-tonk nightclub was situated just outside the city limits. They were open for business on Saturday nights only and the place was so popular it didn’t take long for the gravel parking lot to fill to capacity with souped-up cars and dented and dusty pickup trucks with gun racks mounted in the rear windows.

Male patrons slicked their hair with Brylcreem or Butch Wax and they wore their best jeans, Stetson hats, dinner-plate-size belt buckles shaped like the state of Texas or a gun of some sort, and spit-shined cowboy boots made of cow, snake, or gator hide, or a combination of two or more. Sometimes the fancier snake hide adorned boots were reserved for Sunday attire along with a store-bought Sears and Roebuck striped suit and pearly-white socks. Many strapped hunting knives to their belts—their handles carved from deer antlers or hunks of wood cut from trees that once stood on family land.

Women curled and teased their hair until it reached heights only before seen by birds, power company linemen, and airline pilots, and then they loaded it with enough Aqua Net to keep it tightly in place for an entire evening of two-stepping and do-si-doing. They slipped into their finest square-dancing dresses and they waited on their front porches for one of those gussied-up farm trucks to pull into the driveway, and when it did … well, “Yipee ki-yay” the night had begun.

This club, the 95 Dance Hall, allowed brown-bagging (bring your own liquor), otherwise known as BYOB—bring your own bottle—because they didn’t have a license to sell alcohol. but they did supply ice and various mixers/chasers. The ice was freshly cracked from 50 lb blocks purchased that afternoon from the local ice and coal business.

Club workers filled galvanized washtubs with the ice and it was free for the taking, with the price of admission. In addition to counter-wiping and keeping a layer of freshly-scattered sawdust on the floor (the ground wood made for a nice “slicker’d-up dance surface, so I was told), the dancehall staff—the wife of the club owner, their kids, and the wives of the steel and banjo platers—refilled the large metal containers throughout the evening as the frozen chunks of water melted.

By 10 p.m, the 95 Dance Hall was flat-out jumpin’. The house band, the Virginia Barn Dance Boys, was in high gear—fiddling, steel-guitaring, banjo-pickin’, and yodelin’ to all get out. Fancy dresses twirled. Scuffed boot heels clicked and tapped against the wood flooring. Drinks disappeared. Bottles emptied. Vision blurred and speech slurred. Voices and laughter grew louder and louder. The music became more frantic. The drummer rat-a-tatted at machine gun pace … And then the inevitable happened.

Somebody winked at somebody’s best girl and as quick as a fresh green grass goes through a goose, the place erupted into a free-for-all. Fists. Chairs. More fists. More chairs. Then, a knife. And then some blood. And then a call to the sheriff’s office. “HELP!”

Now’s a good time to introduce you to our department’s “one guy.” Remember the description above … doesn’t quite beat the same drum, etc.?

Okay, this is Franklin (not his real name, of course), a thin black man who was was quiet and somewhat shy, especially around women. He rarely spoke unless spoken to. He wore thick glasses with black rims and his uniform, the brown over tan, was always, without fail, neatly pressed with creases sharp enough to peel an apple and shoes so shiny they reflected moonlight on a cloudy night.

Franklin did not like to get his clothes dirty. In fact, he freaked out if a speck of mud marred the surface of his shoes and stopped whatever he was doing to clean and polish them. He wore a tie even when it wasn’t required. And he did not, absolutely did not, would not, nor ever, exceeded the speed limit. Even when responding to the worst of the worst emergency calls. 55 meant 55 and by God 55 is where the needle stopped. Dead on the double nickels. Not one mile per hour more.

Franklin was my friend. A good friend too. But he was a bit quirky, to say the least.

I’d seen Franklin heading to murders-in-progress with red lights flashing and spinning and flickering, with siren wailing and screaming like a baby with a handful of thumbtacks in their diaper, but the posted speed limit was 45 mph so …

Franklin was an extremely cautious driver in other ways too. He utilized every safe driving tactic taught to him at the academy and he always drove with both hands on the wheel, one positioned at ten and the other at two. His seat was pulled nearly all the way forward and even then he leaned forward so close to the steering wheel that it nearly rubbed his chin at every curve and turn (he couldn’t see very well at night was his explanation for leaning close to the windshield). Blind as a bat is what we all thought.

This particular night there were four of us working the late shift—Franklin, two others, and me—and we were all dispatched to the “fight with weapons call.” Having been to a few of those calls at the nightclub over the years I knew we’d be outnumbered and I knew we’d have to fight, going toe-to-toe with practically every bumpkin in the county who used the opportunity as a free pass to punch a cop . Therefore, since I’ve never been all that fond of pain, or bleeding, I requested backup from the state police and from a nearby city.

By the time we arrived, the fight had spilled out into the parking lot. So we, three deputies and several backup officers from surrounding jurisdictions, began the task of breaking up the massive brawl, which quickly turned into a “them against us” battle.

We were well into the thick of it when we heard a squalling and yelping siren coming our way. A few seconds later a brown sheriff’s office patrol car rolled slowly into the parking lot with siren and lights still in full “I mean business” mode. It was, of course, Franklin, the fourth member of the night shift.

Seriously, you’ve got to picture this to appreciate it. Fifteen cops and forty or so cowboys going to it in the parking lot. Fists flying, books kicking, handcuffs clicking, batons swinging, clothing torn and dirty, heads bruised from contact with our lead-filled leather saps and wooden nightsticks, faces bruised and jaws stinging from fists covered with brass knuckles. And Franklin, calmly exiting his police car, then smoothing the wrinkles from his pants before slowly walking toward the massive battle.

Suddenly, it was like he, shiny-shoed Franklin, was sucked into a vacuum. In the blink of an eye, he was pulled into the fracas and was doing his best to restrain, arrest and, well, he was basically doing his best to stop people from hitting him.

We eventually gained control and arrested every fool we could lay our hands on and those troublemakers were hauled away to jail. Those of us who remained on the scene went inside the dance hall to speak with potential witnesses to a couple of pretty nasty stabbings. Franklin was one of the deputies who accompanied me inside.

We were a motley crew to say the least—clothing dirty, shoes scuffed, blood stains here and there, and cut and bruised and sufficiently battered.

Franklin looked as if he’d been dragged through a hog pen, beaten by club-wielding cave people, and then run through the hand-cranked wringer of his grandmother’s antique washing machine. His glasses sat slightly askew on the bridge of his nose. His upper lip was cut and the lower bruised and swollen.

When we stepped from the darkness into the festive interior of the 95 Dance Hall, the lead guitar player of the Virginia Barn Dance Boys was in the process of calling a square dance. Dancers on the floor dipped and swirled and twirled and ducked and hopped like their lives depended on their actions. They paid no attention to what had taken place outside.

The music, if one could call it that, was horrible. The fiddler was busy sawing away at the strings, producing screeches that would cause Poe to lose sleep. The drummer’s timing was off. Way off. First he was a half beat too fast, then his sticks tapped slightly slower than the rest of group’s caterwauling. His right foot pushed the pedal against the bass drum in total out-of-syncness with what his right foot and hands were trying to do. It was almost if that foot had a mind all it’s own.

The guy on the acoustic guitar apparently had never learned to properly tune his instrument. As a musician myself, the sound tap-danced on the raw ends of my nerves. But the crowd did not care. They were gettin’ it done like dancing was their nine-to-five job. Like the world would end if they didn’t go at it like politicians at a debate.

Franklin did not move into the club any further than five feet from the front double wooden doors. He simply stood there blinking his eyes as he looked at the spinning and blinking colored lights. At the dancers. The condensation-covered ice tubs that were now half full of water. Franklin looked like a kid at the circus for the first time.

When we finally wrapped up our investigation and were standing outside in the parking lot beside our respective patrol cars, I asked Franklin if he was okay. His battered lips split into a slightly crooked smile before he said, “I’m fine. It’s just that I’ve never seen so many white people at one time in their own environment. And they were Huck-a-Bucking their asses off. This (he pointed to the club) is just bizarre.”

Franklin shook his head from side to side and turned to walk away, but stopped to look back over his shoulder. He said, “You know I’m going to have nightmares over this, right?” Then he playfully two-stepped back to his car and just before climbing in he raised an arm over his head to give a thumbs-up. He let out a loud, “Yee-Haw!” as he slid into the driver’s seat.

We each stood in silence, and disbelief, that Franklin had displayed some sort of emotion and a bit of humor. It was way out of character for him.

We watched Franklin pull out onto the highway where he sped away, at no more than 45 mph, of course. He tooted his horn twice before rounding the curve that took him out of view.

To this day, whenever I see someone square-dancing on TV I immediately think of Franklin’s descriptive term for those specific gyrations and swirls and twirls.

Huck-A-Bucking, according to Franklin: a traditional dance where participants spin, twirl, stomp, duck, and bow to their partners while semi-following the instructions yelled out to them by a band leader who’s sometimes referred to as a caller. When mixed with alcoholic beverages, huck-a-bucking can quickly switch from fun to fighting. Although, fighting is sometimes considered fun by avid huck-a-buckers. 

Yee-Haw, y’all!

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