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Working the first 240 minutes of the graveyard shift—the equalizing hours—when the crazies come out to play and when many normal and sane folks allow alcohol and drugs to take over the part of the mind that controls mean and nasty, is a timeframe where the two come together to take on similar roles, spilling many a tale from the mouths of crusty old retired cops who sometimes gather at pancake houses to share breakfasts with their remaining former brothers and sisters in blue. The ones still alive and who care enough to talk about the good old days, that is.

Like weekend fishermen sometimes do, these antecedent cops tell and compare stories filled with run-on sentences detailing events of the “big ones that got away,” and of times when bullets zinged and pinged off the pavement around them as they rushed to capture wanted criminals who’d popped off those rounds before disappearing into abandoned warehouses or alleyways during nights as black as ink with air so still they could hear their own blood zipping its way through the convoluted paths of veins and arteries as nervous hearts worked in overdrive mode to keep up with the amount of adrenaline racing through their bodies.

Yeah, those kinds of jittery and sometimes PTSD-infused run-on comments about remarkable accomplishments and incredible feats of top-coppery. They’re the sort of stories that take center stage while the sounds of sizzling bacon and spattering sausage patties provide the soundtrack to the morning gatherings.

As the scent of warm toast wafts through the air, the men and women who’d instantly shed twenty-five pounds when they handed over their bulky gun belts on the day they’d received their “Retired” badges, fawningly speak of the days before semi-automatics and Kevlar vests and of car radios that weren’t capable of sending or receiving signals out in the distant areas of the county, leaving the solo officers on their own to handle whatever came their way.

The old-timers compare scars—the raised marks on the hands, arms, and faces they’d   earned when arresting the tough guys who loved to slash at cops using razor-sharp blades. Of course, occasionally, one of the balding and wrinkled retired patrol cops shows off a zig-zagged raised area on the cheek, a disfigurement caused by being on the receiving end of a downward-plunging ice pick or screwdriver.

It was early morning—2 a.m., according to the portly fellow whose once rock-steady hands tremble unmercifully these days—when he and the others stood on the non-moonlit side of a house deep in the heart of the worst area in town, waiting for the signal to kick the door, and of hearing nothing but the clicking and ticking of dried and crunchy fall leaves as they tumbled and danced their way across cracked pavement. It was cool out, but beads of fear-sweat the size of garden peas wormed their way down his spine, slipping through that void between the waistband and the hot flesh at the small of the back.

The night animals. Those three-legged dogs and wiry cats with matted fur, washboard ribs, and gangly, crooked tails and jagged, fight-damaged ears. Raccoons with eyes that burned yellow, or red, when met with the bright beam of the car-mounted spotlight. Possums that hissed and bared pointy teeth when cornered.

The old wino, the guy who wore nine layers of clothing, a filthy watchman’s cap, and toeless boots and who reeked of body odor so horrific that jailers hosed him down before fingerprinting him. He’s the guy who often had maggots wriggling around inside his ratty underwear, the BVD’s he rarely bothered to remove before using the bathroom. A waste of time, he’d said. Why bother? Yes, they’d all seen and smelled the funk when they’d arrested him and those just like him for breaking into cars or stores late at night.

A turn onto main street after checking the alley between the hardware store and the Five and Dime. Storm drains at the curbs spewed wispy tendrils of sewer steam that melted into a dark sky spattered with thousands of pinpoint lights.

Stoplights as far as the eye could see, all winking and blinking. An ill-timed discord of reds and yellows and greens.

The street sweeper who passed by, holding up a single finger as a sleepy acknowledgment that he, too, was out there in the night making ends meet the best way he knew how.

Drug dealers and prostitutes melted into darkened storefronts as the patrol cars slowly rolled past.

Yes, a refill, please. No cream. No sugar. Just like the thick jailhouse coffee that kept their motors running back in the day. Then it’s time to take the spouse’s car in for an oil change, or to stop by the market for bread and milk and eggs. One had a doctor’s appointment. The ticker’d been acting up a bit lately.

Back to the stories. There’s always time for one or two more before the lunch crowd began to drift in, those wanting to beat the mad rush, especially on Thursdays when chicken and dumplings were the $4.99 special du jour.

The radio crackles and the dispatchers’ voices that cut through the silence. A monotone voice that could’ve just as easily come from the bowels of a machine. They all remember and nod.

A moment to think.

They share silent memories, like it was just last night when they’d each slipped on the uniform and badge and gun and shiny shoes. A pen in the shirt pocket and a slapjack in the right rear pants pocket.

Sirens and red lights.

Wife beaters. Robbers, Rapists.

Murderers.

Three cups of joe in, the old timers reminisce about their war-wounds.

The missing bit of earlobe. The punk was, of course, a biter.

The loss of vision in the left eye. A 2×4 to the head, a blow delivered by a beefy, tatted-up redneck who didn’t want to see his brother carted off to jail.

The lifetime limp. A drunk driver who swerved right while the officer helped an old man change a tire.

The disfigured hand and burn marks. Rescuing a little girl from the burning car.

Closing their eyes and seeing the face of the dead guy floating in the river, the one whose eyes became a tasty snack for turtles and fish.

The decapitated head at the side of the railroad tracks. Headphones prevented him from hearing the train approaching from the rear. They were found dangling from a thin tree branch along with a clump of hair still attached to a small bit of flesh and shattered skull.

The teen with the punctured carotid artery that spurted long arcing jets of bright red blood all over you and your partner’s faces and hands and arms and clothes as they tried to help him live.

The punches, the bruises, the kicks.

The foot chase between the houses.

The struggle.

The gun.

The shots.

The blood.

The coroner.

The nights.

The long, lonely nights

The nightmares.

And then morning comes and it’s time to do it all again.

It’s all they have left.

Memories.

That, and those broken lives and bodies.

And a cup of joe.

Black, no sugar.

Just like the good old days.

 

Murder: Really bugs me

Many useful items fill an investigator’s toolbox—interrogations, fingerprints, footprints, informants, fibers and, well, the list goes on and on. But there’s one group of extremely important tools that are often overlooked—the squiggly and wiggly and fluttering and flittering and sometimes even slimy crime-solving creatures known simply as, well, bugs.

Yes, we step on them and we swat at them and some people even eat them. But as investigators, in spite of the creepy-crawler’s often stomach-churning menu selections, cops must often sign them on as partners when attempting to solve murder cases. Like detectives who specialize in certain areas—rape, robbery, narcotics, and homicide—insects, too, have their own areas of expertise, and they each arrive at various times during the course of the investigations to do what is it they do best. For example …

Maggots are event crashers by nature. They’re clueless when it comes to dinner party etiquette. In fact, they barge right in on unsuspecting hosts, the dead bodies du jour. Their manners are atrocious, actually. They never bother to wait for bacteria to complete the service settings, the breaking down of complex molecules through respiration or fermentation, before storming the scene.

The tiny and gross little squirmers who eat with one end of their bodies while breathing through the other, are the Animal House-type partiers of death. As disgusting as they are, however, they are useful as tools for solving homicides because …

When investigators find maggots on a body that are in their early larvae stages, when they’re 5mm in length, well, officers then will have a pretty good idea that the victim has been there for only a day and a half, or so.

Even the mere presence of certain insects is quite telling.

Dermestidae Beetles have better things to do than to show up early at parties. They’re a bit snobbish, preferring to wait until everyone else had had their fill—the time when the body begins to dry out—before making their grand entrance, at which time they’ll gorge themselves on drying skin and tendons.

Green Bottle Fly

These guys are the drunk uncles of the party. They show up to first to begin drinking the fluids found in and on decaying bodies. Then, after they’ve had their thirsts quenched they’ll often dive into a hearty meal of decaying tissue.

Green Bottle Fly ~ Calliphoridae

  • One of the first insects to arrive on the scene/body
  • Lays eggs in wounds or openings such as the eyes, ears, mouth, penis, and vagina

Rove Beetles

Rove beetles are late arrivers to the party and this is so because they’re scavengers whose meal of choice is the larvae of other insects, those who lay their eggs in and on decomposing corpses. They’re one of the “buzzards” of the bug world.

Ham Beetles are also scavengers, but they find the tougher parts of the decaying body to be the tastiest, such as skin and tendons.

Rounding out today’s lunchtime guests are the Carrion Beetles. These gourmet insects absolutely adore dining on the larvae of other insects, but also enjoy a scrumptious appetizer of decaying flesh.

Now, please do enjoy your own dinner!