Real life police story
|"Charlie one-fifteen, Charlie one-fifteen and a backer, ten seventy-nine, 3000 East Pine," the dispatcher's voice crackled over the radio. "Witness reports a motorcycle collision, with injury. EMSA and fire are en route."
I glanced down at the clock on the dash: 0325. Shit, if I'd just gone to lunch at three instead of trying to stretch out the shift I'd have missed this call. Ten-seventy-nine. That was an injury accident. Which meant there was going to be paperwork. A shit load of paperwork. On top of that, we had an arrest warrant service planned for six a.m. I sighed and peeked over my shoulder before flipping a u-turn and accelerating towards the call. I guess that warrant wasn't gunna happen after all.
I approached the on-ramp to the highway and heard Charlie one-oh-four come on to back me. James was a hard worker and a good cop. I felt a mild resurrection of hope that maybe we'd be serving that warrant after all. Working together we could knock this thing out and be knuckling someone’s door at six.
I raced down the highway, zipping past a lumbering semi then opening up the engine. The Charger’s wheels thrummed along the empty freeway, the only travelers on the road were a pair of winking tail lights in the distance and the dwindling semi-in the rear view mirror. The strobing streetlights ticked off the miles before I drifted onto the long, curved exit ramp to my destination. I tapped the brakes and shot a look to my left before flying past the stop sign and whipping onto Pine street.
Flipping up the lid of my laptop, I verified the address, before easing off the gas. I was getting close. I leaned forward to scan the empty avenues. I didn't see any flashing lights. No waving onlookers or steaming wrecks. The road was empty of cars, bordered by a tired strip mall with crumbling asphalt parking on the right and overgrown and rotted privacy fences on the left. Maybe this was a bogus call. I smiled. Bogus calls don’t require any paperwork at all.
Then I saw the shadow in the street. I slowed and canted the cruiser along the twin eastbound lanes. I could tell from where I sat it was a motorcycle, a big one. I jammed my ride into park and flipped on the overhead lights, the twitching red and blues bathing the street in ghostly, pulsing shadow. Thin wisps of smoke curled from the wreckage as I trapped it in the beam of my spotlight. I could tell right away this thing was mangled. In fact, where was the front wheel? Where were the handlebars…the rider? I crawled out and shook my head, this mangled heap was nothing more than the rear wheel and engine.
My eyes scanned the road and spotted two more lumps further east. Probably the gas tank and some baggage. I pulled the flashlight from my belt holder and panned it along the grassy strip separating the cement sidewalk from the pot-holed asphalt lot and glass paneled store fronts.
In a handful of paces towards the smoldering debris, the enormity of the call hit me like a punch. In the grass, thirty feet from the rear of the bike were the handlebars, the front wheel, and the rider. Well, part of him.
Have you ever seen Jaws? Not the Jaws II or III, but the first one. Remember that scene where Chief Brody walks along the beach and finds the woman’s body being feasted on by crabs? All that's left is her chest, one arm, and the head? Well, I understand Brody's shock. Fortunately for me, there were no crabs. Lying there, pinned in my light, was a leather-jacketed torso, one outstretched arm and a head slumped crookedly on the shoulder.
Thankfully, his helmet was on and I was saved from seeing his last expression. I've seen bodies, plenty of em'. It’s never pleasant. When you come on the murder victim or the suicide or the dead old lady whose daughter called you to find out why mom hasn’t returned her calls, it's the eyes that get you.
Let me tell you they're never closed. You find them with their heavy lids half closed, as if they were caught in a photo mid-blink. If you meet those eyes, hold them like you would anyone you meet for the first time, you can feel the tug of death on the other end of that psychic line.
I stepped further up the road. I'm thinking the bundles in the road aren't just baggage. I'm thinking maybe they're something far more macabre.
I stand before the first pile and my stomach tightens like a fist. It’s wearing a boot. I walk to the second heap and discover the same thing, only there’s an ass attached to this one.
Like a Barbie, I think. Like an angry child took her Barbie and snapped it to pieces and scattered the toy on the floor. The thought comes out of left field, unbidden. Maybe it makes the horror easier to absorb. Not a man...a Barbie, a broken Barbie.
James pulls onto Pine further up the road and I reach for my shoulder mic and hit the talk key. "James, stop there and block the road. This guy is spread out all over. Dispatch, cancel fire and EMSA but start me a traffic investigator. And start a supervisor."
"Charlie one-fifteen, ten-four," the dispatcher acknowledged.
I hurry back to my trunk and yank out traffic cones and flares. I string the cones in a line behind my cruiser and spark up the flares. I sprinkle them among the cones to make the road block more visible. In the heavy, summer air the sulfurous tang of the flares is sharp and stinging and a cloud of fumes boils across the scene.
I see James’ light panning the scene and I join him next to the torso. When I walk up James shakes his head and spits. His face is white as he examine the carnage. I imagine my face is as pale as his.
"He had to be doin' a hundred when he hit the pole," James said.
"How do you know he hit a pole?" I asked.
"When I walked up from my car, you can see the skid marks starting at the corner. Looks like he laid it down right after crossing the intersection. Then he hit the telephone pole....and this happened," he waved a hand across the body.
"Have you seen his back or stomach? Or his other arm? Both his legs are in the street," I flash my light like a pointer, "but I can’t find the rest of him."
James nodes at me and gestures to a brambly hedge growing at the base of a tall oak thirty feet away. "His other arm's over there, but I haven't seen anything else. "
Other police cars arrive and park at the end of the road. Cops are notorious voyeurs of the grotesque, the macabre, but most return to their cars and drive away when they discover the mutilation. There are those who stay. Huddled in whispering groups, some take pictures, others make jokes. I tell myself they laugh to blunt the horror but for some, I know that’s not true.
James and I walk the roadway, piecing together the last seconds of a man’s life. The black skid of rubber is fresh and clear on the pavement below the stop lights. On the other side of the intersection, the metal on concrete gouges are obvious, hard scrapes of white on the cold gray surface. We follow the chatter of scored pavement until we reach the pole. There's bright, blue paint slashed across the wood, and a fresh, white chunk shows a spot ripped away by the impact. Nothing more. No blood. No indication that a life ended here. No sign of the missing parts.
I pan my light, and for the first time notice the smaller pieces. Dozens, if not hundreds of thumb sized, red and white chunks dot the grass, the sidewalk, the road.
Sergeant Rhodes came on the radio and ordered people out of the scene and back to work. "If you're not part of this call, you need to go ten-eight, " he said. "If you are assigned to this call, make sure you do a supplemental report before the end of shift. Charlie one-fifteen, and one-oh-four, please advise if you need help with traffic. "
He was talking to me and James.
"Charlie one-fifteen," I said, " I've got Eastbound lanes blocked. I don't need assistance."
I throw James a wave and march back to my car. I flipped another flare into the road and drop into the driver’s seat. A long swallow of the lukewarm coffee from the cup holder helps. With each swallow, I can feel the tension in my shoulders ease.
Traffic investigators arrive and I watch them pace the scene. They are doing the same thing James and I were doing except they’re getting paid time and a half to do it. I sigh and thumb through my CD collection. It looked like this was going to be a long shift after all. I shove in Led Zeppelin, then flip open my laptop and tap out the commands to begin the report. I had just started typing when movement along the roadway catches my eye.
A tomcat, fat, and black with a creamy chest and white paws struts into view. His usual routine disrupted by the flashing lights, he paused and scanned left and right the before rushing across the street. Being a cat, he was too cool to sprint but too street savvy to dawdle, his legs formed a fast-walking blur as he scurried across.
Until he hit the center of the road. I knew what caught his attention. I willed him to keep going. Leave the dead in peace I thought. Instinct, however, proved stronger. He paused and dropped down. He sniffed at the tantalizing discovery. Then, in one fluid movement, he snapped up the piece. It dangled from his jaws like a dead mouse and he disappeared into the shadows.
I sat bewildered, unable to process what I’d seen. Fortunately, my stomach wasn't affected. That is until he came back for seconds.