The dream came back to haunt me the night they threw me in jail. No, not a dream. More like a Technicolor reenactment. There was nothing surreal or false about it; the facts were always the same, always accurate. It’s night. I’m moving up on the scene. The armed suspect steps out of the convenience store. I see him. He sees me. I say, “Police. Drop the gun. Put your hands in the air.” He raises his gun to shoot me. I fire first. The force of the 12-gauge hurls him back against the glass doors. Over and over and over again. I dreamed the dream quite often after the shooting, sometimes twice a night. Later, it became a couple of times a week, then a couple of times a month. I couldn’t remember the last time I had the dream. Not for a few years anyway. Then they put me in jail.
What happened was I got lost. I was trying to navigate the residential streets of Coon Rapids, a third ring suburb north of Minneapolis. Meyer wanted to sell his seventy-five-year-old eight-chair, hand-carved dining room set with matching buffet, and I wanted to buy. I needed a dining room set. I liked throwing elaborate dinner parties for my friends, but I always had to squeeze them around a small kitchen table, and I wasn’t so good a cook I could keep getting away with it. Only the directions Meyer gave me were confused. Either that or I was confused. It was hard to tell which.
I was cruising slowly, trying to find a street sign that would match the words written on the crumpled piece of paper in my hand, when a woman appeared in the street, waving her arms frantically. I stopped. Of course I stopped. I’m from Minnesota, and like most Minnesotans, I’m a helluva nice guy.
The woman staggered to my open window. She stood with both hands pressed against the side of my silver Audi. I powered the window down.
“Help me,” she said.
“Help me, please.”
“Help you what?”
The woman was small and thin, in her forties, with dull brown eyes and long stringy hair that might have been brown. She looked like she hadn’t bathed in weeks. Smelled like it, too.
“It’s my boyfriend,” she said.
“What about him?”
“Really?” I couldn’t believe she had said that. “Are you sure?”
“I don’t know. I think so. Could you look for me?”
Hell, no! That’s what my inner voice screamed. Usually I listen to it. This time I didn’t. You know why? Besides being a helluva nice guy, sometimes I’m quite dim.
“Listen,” I told the woman. “Just stay there, okay? Don’t move. Just stay there.”
I parked the Audi on the wrong side of the street in front of the house the woman pointed at.
“He was so good-looking,” she said. “And charming. Very nice manners.”
It was seventy-four degrees inside my car and ninety-seven degrees and humid outside. The difference snapped my head back.
“We were going to be married,” the woman added. “I guess the wedding’s off now.”
“Where is your boyfriend?”
She sat down on the grass boulevard facing my vehicle and pulled her knees to her chest. “I thought he was the one.”
She began rocking from side to side while she stared at her distorted reflection in the door. She was wearing white pants and a white shirt. Both were stained with feces, urine, and, I was guessing, dried blood. There appeared to be feces and blood on her bare feet as well.
She flung a hand over her shoulder toward the house. It was one of those $120,000 starter homes that people stay in for thirty years, a rambler with attached garage. I left her sitting by the Audi and followed the narrow, S-shaped concrete path to the front door. The door was open. A heavy odor of decaying garbage greeted me six paces before I reached it. I looked inside through the screen. A body dressed in blue jeans and a red T-shirt was sprawled in the center of the room in plain sight. No, it wasn’t red. It was a white shirt soaked in dried blood. I had an unobstructed view of the man’s bearded face. It seemed to be moving. I squinted. Maggots. And flies. Flies everywhere.
My gag reflex kicked in hard. I put my hand over my mouth and turned away.
The police cruiser came to a sudden halt behind my vehicle, the officer stomping on his brakes as if he were making a pit stop at Talladega. He was out of the car before his siren died away. The only thing that slowed him down was the immense wall of heat that smacked him upside the head the moment he opened the door. It had been only four minutes since I used my cell phone to call it in and already the back of my polo shirt was saturated with sweat.
“Baumbach, APD,” he barked.
APD? my inner voice asked.
“I called the Coon Rapids Police Department,” I said.
“This is Anoka, son.”
No wonder I couldn’t find Meyer’s house. I was in the wrong city.
Baumbach swelled his chest and tugged at his gun belt. “What have you got?”
A cowboy, I told myself. I need this, I really do. Worse, he was young. He looked like a batboy for a minor league baseball team, yet he was calling me son?
“You have a first name?” I asked.
Baumbach glared at me as if I had just questioned his mother’s occupation.
“Boyd,” he snapped.
“Well, Boyd, it’s like I told dispatch.” I used my chin to point at the woman. “This woman wants to report a dead boyfriend.”
The woman was still sitting on the grass, still staring at her reflection in my car door.
“Ma’am?” Baumbach asked tentatively.
The woman didn’t answer.
“What’s your name, ma’am? Ma’am? You reported a dead body, ma’am?”
“Do you live here, ma’am? Is the body in the house?”
Baumbach glanced up at me.
“I think she slipped into a fugue state,” I said.
“A pathological condition in which a person is conscious of her actions yet has no real control over them. Kinda like sleepwalking.”
“What do you know about it?”
From Baumbach’s expression, you’d think I had just confessed to downloading kiddie porn. He turned toward the house.
“I’m going in,” he announced.
“Yeah? You do that. I’ll see ya around.”
“Where do you think you’re going?”
“Hey, man. I’ve got places to go, people to see.”
“No, no, no, no, no. You stay right here.”
I was afraid he’d say that.
I attempted to lean against the Audi, but the surface was far too hot, so I just stood there, arms crossed in front of me, and waited while Baumbach followed the sidewalk to the woman’s house. He opened the front door, stared for a few moments, then quickly closed it without going inside. A moment later he crossed the lawn, moving quickly in a straight line, stopping only when he reached his police cruiser. He braced himself against the hood with both hands, ignoring the heat. He seemed to have trouble catching his breath. Beads of sweat trickled from his hairline and down his jaw. I was willing to bet that the Kevlar vest he wore and the nineteen pounds of equipment he carried were beginning to feel very heavy indeed.
Officer Baumbach stood that way for a full thirty seconds, trying to fill his deflated lungs with air. Finally, he turned to look at the woman. His mouth worked as if he wanted to ask her something. She was still staring at her reflection. Silent. I watched a maggot slither across her bare foot. Baumbach saw it, too. It was too much for him. He moved between the police cruiser and the Audi. Using the bumpers for support, he hurled both his breakfast and lunch into the street.
“You okay?” I asked.
“No, I’m not okay.” After he stopped retching, Baumbach wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. He glared at the woman. “What did you do?”
The woman glanced up at him, shielding her eyes from the bright sun with the flat of her hand.
Baumbach swooped down on her, grasped her shoulders, and yanked her to her feet. “What did you do?” he said.
“Hey,” I said.
Baumbach shook the woman fiercely. “What did you do?” He shoved her backward. The back of her head thudded against the Audi, and she slid slowly to the ground. She didn’t make a sound.
“What are you, nuts?” I pushed myself between them. “Stop it.”
“Don’t interfere,” he shouted back, shoving me hard for emphasis.
“Do it by the book. Secure the scene. Call CID. Then get the hell out of the way. What’s the matter with you?”
“Did you see that guy? Did you?” From the look on his face I guessed the closest Baumbach had come to real tragedy was watching driver’s ed films in high school.
“He could have died of diphtheria, you don’t know,” I said.
Baumbach grabbed the woman’s collar and dragged her away from the car.
“Why did you kill him?” he said.
The woman didn’t say.
When she didn’t, Baumbach gave her a quick backhand across the mouth. It wasn’t a vicious blow, but it certainly got my attention.
“That’s enough,” I said.
I chopped hard at his wrist with the edge of my hand, and Baumbach released the woman. He stepped back and rubbed the spot where I hit him, his breath coming hard, an expression of utter astonishment on his face.
“I’m a cop,” he said.
“Really? How long have you been on the job? Six minutes? Kid, you’re out of control. Think about what you’re doing.”
Baumbach rested his hand on the butt of his gun.
“No one is going to hold it against you if you just sit tight and wait for the adults to arrive,” I said.
“I’m the police officer,” he said. “I’m in charge. Now turn around,” he ordered.
“Look, pal, I’m trying to help you. I really am.”
His fingers tightened around the butt, and for a moment I thought he was going to pull it.
“I said turn around.”
I turned. He shoved me hard against the Audi.
“Assume the position.”
I assumed, pressing my hands on the hot roof of the car.
“You’re under arrest,” he told me as he wound the cuffs around my wrists, pinning my arms behind me.
“What’s the charge?”
“Assaulting a police officer. Obstruction of justice.”
“Oh, for chrissake.”
“You think this is funny?”
“A little bit, yeah.”
“You won’t think it’s so funny when you’re locked in a cell.”
“Seriously, kid. How long have you been on the job?”
“Three weeks, if you must know.”
“And they let you out alone?”
“Three weeks since my probation period ended.”
Somehow I didn’t think his field-training officers had given him a lot of sevens.
“Let me guess,” I said. “You’re bored, right? You thought the job was going to be like Law & Order or CSI, or maybe even NYPD Blue, right? Yet all you do most days is sit on the shoulder of 169, shooting your radar gun at passing motorists, hoping you can find just cause to make someone blow into the PBT. Right? Only now you have something worth doing. You’re thinking, yeah, the guy in there, probably he’s just a medical—someone who woke up dead—unless maybe, just maybe, you caught yourself an honest-to-God homicide. Only real homicides aren’t like TV. They’re not neat like TV. You weren’t prepared for it. You blow chunks. That’s embarrassing enough, but you do it in front of the woman and me and now you’re pissed off. Well, welcome to the real world, kid, only stop behaving like a jerk. You don’t touch the suspect. You don’t violate her rights like that.”
The woman was still sitting on the grass, watching us. I don’t think she heard a word we said.
“She could confess to whacking the guy in there, to killing a hundred more, and most likely you won’t be able to touch her because you violated her rights.”
“Look, kid, be smart. You can still fix this, you can still make it go away. Start by removing the cuffs. Think about it.”
He did. For about ten seconds. Then he said, “You’re going to jail.”
Copyright © 2007 by David Housewright. All rights reserved.