Remembering an old friend.
He had no sense of fashion, often pairing plaid pants and striped shirts. He didn’t bother much with his hair, and his skin was sallow. His smile, one he showed often, revealed nicotine stained uneven teeth. He could sometimes laugh at tragedy, but more often he would become quiet, turning his head so you couldn’t see the pooling in his eyes. He was a co-worker, a teacher and mentor…he was a friend.
“I’m putting you with my best guy,” the Captain said, “Keep watching and learn.” Nodding his head toward the door, he went back to the paperwork that cluttered his desk. It was my first day as a Detective and although I had heard of Frank, I had never met him. Walking out into what was called, “The Bullpen,” I saw Frank seated at his desk, head lowered into a blue criminal investigation folder. As I walked to him, he raised his chipped coffee mug and said, “Get me a refill,” then began to shake the cup like a beggar asking for spare change. I could feel eyes burning holes in the back of my head. Without looking up he said, louder, “Get me a refill, no cream.” Reaching, I took the cup from his hand and walked around to the other side of his desk and dropped the stained mug into the waste basket; it landed with a dull thud. There was a chorus of laughter that made Frank put the folder down. Looking at me with narrowed eyes, a smile opened up on his face, just above his stubbled chin. “Welcome to the club,” he said, and put his hand out to shake mine.
We quickly became friends, working cases together, watching out for each other in dangerous situations, and Frank teaching me all the time.
“Don’t be afraid to call a suspect a liar during an interview,” he once said, “the guy knows he’s lying.” I’d watch in awe as he obtained confessions from suspects involved in serious crimes, and the whole time they talked to Frank as if he were a close friend. He could do that, not with charm, he wasn’t all that charming, but because when he spoke to you the smooth friendliness in his voice came through, and his demeanor was never threatening. He once told a suspect, his arm around the guys slumped shoulder.
“I want to help you get this off your chest, I know it’s been hard keeping it inside all this time.” Then gave the man’s shoulder a squeeze while he confessed to Murder. When he was done he looked at Frank and said, “Thank you!” I couldn’t help but respect the way he conducted himself.
Working together for three years created a bond that often links police partners together, and we soon shared everything with each other. He was the person I went to when I had a problem or needed advice, always trusting his word. And I was the person he trusted to bring his guilt over a long affair he was having with a younger woman. A trust I never took lightly. He had fallen in love with another woman but also loved his wife and two daughters. As wrong as that may sound, I saw the guilt in his eyes when he would discuss how he felt about his infidelity. My advice was always for him to go home and stop the affair, but he told me that other issues were involved.
“What possible issues could keep you from doing the right thing?” I would ask. He’d lower his eyes and drop his normally loud voice.
“She’s pregnant with my baby,” he said, barely above a whisper. “I can’t walk away and leave her like that.” Before the baby was born I convinced him he had to discuss it with his wife.
“She’s going to find out, Frank,” I told him, “You can’t hide a baby.” He did tell his wife, and to our amazement she accepted the situation, and after the birth, even welcomed the baby as if it were hers.
The phone jolted me from a sound sleep, a frequent event in my line of work. Listening to the words coming through the phone, I thought I must be dreaming.
“They found Frank last night,” the Captain said, “In a motel room in Ft. Lauderdale.” Silence. I sat up in bed, letting the possibilities run through my mind.
“Who was he with?” I asked, thinking—no, hoping, it wasn’t what it sounded like in the captain’s voice.
“He wasn’t with anybody,” he said. And with a catch in his voice said, “He’s dead.” I sat there in disbelief. How could that be? I saw Frank yesterday afternoon.
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
“They found him dead last night, he killed himself.” There was a long pause matched by my own silence.
“The police down there want you to come down, talk to them.” I thought about yesterday afternoon. Frank had been quiet lately, and I knew problems had cropped up between his wife and the baby’s mother, but I knew when he needed to talk to me, he would. When he left the office about 3 pm., I thought he was working a case and asked if he wanted me to come along.
“No, I need to go do something,” he said turning back to me. Those were the last words Frank spoke to me.
His funeral was well attended; Frank was well known, and well liked. As I watched the flag-draped coffin lifted from the hearse, a vision of Frank’s friendly smile flashed in my memory. I remembered something he said during one of our frequent stake-outs, telling me how fortunate he was that his wife hadn’t divorced him.
“I hope when my time comes I’m not alone.” As it turned out he was.
Watching Frank’s casket lowered into the cold, open grave I knew I would miss him.
Word Count 994
January 15, 2011