Tuesday, April 17, 2007
I was working my second double shift in a row and I was tired. I parked my cruiser in the vacant parking lot behind the court house. It was 1:30 a.m. on a slow, boring Tuesday night. I had four more hours to go before I could punch out, drive home, and fall asleep in my bed.
I was afraid that if I stayed in my warm cruiser I would fall asleep, so I radioed dispatch and advised our new dispatcher, Jen, that I would be out on foot patrol downtown. “10-4 seven-two-eight,” came her reply.
As I stepped out of the warm cocoon of my cruiser, my boots crunched on the frozen surface of packed snow and the cold night air cut through my uniform and made me shiver involuntarily. I was tired and cold. I felt soft. A cold wind was whistling through the buildings and whipping the flag in front of the courthouse. Across the street an empty beer can, driven by the same wind, rattled along the curb of the deserted street.
I started walking. I was a believer in foot patrol, and I tried to get out of my cruiser every shift and walk around downtown. I liked doing the unexpected things like getting the door for somebody, picking up a piece of litter, or asking the kids in the park if I could play hacky-sack with them. I believe it was a valuable exercise, but this was 1:30 in the morning on a cold Tuesday night in Northern Vermont. It wasn’t fit for man nor beast, and I felt soft.
I hadn’t walked far before I was tempted to scrap the whole thing and scurry back to the warmth of my cruiser. A savage wind howled across municipal parking lot #1, making my eyes tear up. The tips of my fingers, as well as my nose and ears, were beginning to hurt a little too. I retreated out of the parking lot into the alleyway by the Moose Lodge where I could stand out of the wind. I was standing there trying to make up my mind whether or not to go back to my cruiser when I saw a pair of headlights making their way lazily down Federal Street. As they turned onto Kingman Street I saw that it was a Sheriff’s Cruiser. I watched as it pulled to the curb. A second later Deputy Theberge got out and walked towards the Samaritan House. Even from across the parking lot I could hear his boots clomping their way up the sidewalk and out of sight behind a row of buildings.
The Samaritan House was a homeless shelter located right in the midst of the bar district. They had strict rules, and their staff were a very caring and conscientious bunch, but a list of their residents would have read like a who’s who of our regulars. We did a lot of business there. I assumed that Deputy Theberge needed to serve paperwork or question somebody inside.
Theberge was a buddy of mine. We had gone to the academy together and our rooms had been next to each other. He had been in the military before joining the Sheriff’s department and he flew helicopters on weekends in the summer looking for Marijuana growing operations. Our agencies worked together a lot, and we patrolled some of the same area, so we had occasion to rub shoulders a lot.
I decided to play a prank on him. It was a juvenile thing to do. It wasn’t even creative or clever. I decided to wait around the corner until he came out, and then when he started to walk back towards his cruiser I would jump out and yell something at him.
That was my plan.
I hustled across the barren landscape of municipal parking lot #1 and took up my position around the corner from the Samaritan House. My hiding place was exposed to the full brunt of the merciless wind, and my teeth chattered as I waited. It seemed like forever before I heard the Samaritan House’s door open onto the street, and a pair of boots began clomping their way in my direction. The sound of the boots grew nearer and nearer, and I grinned in anticipation. Just when I thought he was right on top of me I sprang from my hiding place, bared my teeth, and yelled “AHHHHHHHHHH!” directly into the face of the most bewildered and frightened homeless man you have ever seen.
I don’t know if he was the sort of homeless man who is mentally ill and who thinks the Government is out to get him, but if he was, I could only of confirmed his fears that night. He stared at me for a moment…petrified… a look of naked horror on his face…and then he retreated back into the homeless shelter with a yelp.
I turned and fled. My feet, numb within my boots, fairly flew over the arctic expanse of the parking lot. They nimbly raced through the alleyway by the moose lodge, and back across Lake Street. I ripped my glove off of my hand with my teeth and fished my keys out of my pocket. With cold, red fingers I unlocked my cruiser door and slid into the driver seat. Breathing heavily, I watched as a staff worker from the Samaritan House peaked around the corner where I had been hiding.
A little embarrassed, but definitely awake, I radioed dispatch and advised Jen that I was back in my cruiser. “10-4 seven-two-eight,” came her reply.