The other day, driving home from my latest nuclear melt-down at the radiation oncologist’s office, Husband and I happened to pass an Oswald County deputy on his motorcycle.
It hadn’t been a good day. In fact, that day was just the latest torture-tipped taunt in a string of miseries that, had the experiences taken on a physical form, I have no doubt they would have uncannily resembled a length of barbed wire.
I was sporting a thick, papular rash all over my face which gave me the overall appearance of a medieval plague victim. Additionally, I was sporting a fiendish, oozing radiation rash all across my neck and “decolletage”, which gave me the overall appearance of a medieval plague victim who fell through the space-time continuum and landed at Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945. (Of course I had opted to accentuate my old-testament-style suffering by wearing a long, black dress topped off by a hooded, black leather coat… and, naturally, I kept the hood up and my head down so I could just barely be glimpsed giving the world a shifty-eyed glare from deep within my torment… I could have taught a class to teenage goths.)
Anyway, I had just howled my latest “What-the-fuck-have-you-DONE-to-me” at my terrorized doctor, who responded by throwing his hands up in a defensive block and telling me that my complaints were actually NORMAL and EXPECTED side effects in a treatment regimen such as mine. I had responded by wiping my nose, snapping at the nursing staff and stomping out of the office with Husband apologizing in hushed tones behind me. I flung myself into the passenger seat of our car and proceeded to wallow the whole way home with such flair as is only seen in Greek tragedies and swimsuit season.
It was then that I spied my cohort, the Oswald County Sheriff’s deputy cruising along on his county issued motorbike… just going about his business… just doing his thing.
I stared, wistfully, at him for a moment and felt my outrage and discomfort dissolve into a bitter longing.
“I miss the cops.” I found myself bemoaning to Husband.
“I REALLY miss the county deputies.”
It’s true. I miss the Oswald County Sheriff’s deputies. I’ve often remarked on how much I like the deputies. But in that moment, and since then, I have to admit that I really, really miss those guys.
So in their honor, two small songs of heroism and humor that have, thus far remained unsung:
-I WAS HOPING FOR A HEAD-
I love to snoop.
I count myself extremely lucky to have landed a job in which I am paid to go through other people’s stuff. There are some who feel as though snooping is an unforgivable offense and they will end a relationship if they find that snooping has taken place. To those people I tend to say “snooping is only wrong if you DON’T find anything.” As evidence, I offer the fact that, by snooping, I discovered my one-time fiancee was cheating on me. Did I feel guilty about it? Fuck no! Did he try to turn it around on me and make it seem like I was the one in the wrong for going behind his back and invading his privacy? Of course he did. Did I point out that he had been invading the “privacy” of his alleged EX-GIRLFRIEND roughly 3 times a week since we had gotten engaged? At the top of my lungs, I did.
Anyway, these days, I get to go through everyone’s stuff because it’s an integral part of understanding who they were, and therefore, why they’re dead. It’s also lots of fun… except for when it’s dangerous… then it’s downright exciting.
I had been called to a scene in which the deceased was found flat on his back in his bedroom with a large supply of methamphetamine nearby. The Sheriff’s deputies knew it was methamphetamine, in part, because they had one of those little drug-testing kits in their car. They also knew it was methamphetamine because both our dead guy and his brother looked like they had just walked out of a concentration camp. Meth tends to inflict a very specific array of symptoms on its users. They tend to be extremely thin with dull, flaking, pock-marked skin. The eyes are shrunken and recessed back in the orbits. The cheekbones are sharply pronounced with folds of soft tissue hanging limply from their crests. Most notably, the teeth look like shriveled up crisped-rice cereal. This dude and his sibling (who was standing on the front porch with a cigarette and forcefully disavowing ANY knowledge of his brother’s drug use) the two of them were like the freaking “Doublemeth” twins. The only symptom they DIDN’T have in common was the fact that one of them wasn’t dead.
Anyway, the deputies and I were busy tossing the house for any other illicit substances when we noticed the dead guy had a small mini-fridge placed next to his dresser in the corner of his bedroom.
The mini-fridge had a pad-lock on it…
a BIG one.
Now, if there’s a heaven for law enforcement and investigative professionals, then that heaven is a magical place- full of rusty safes and suspicious lock-boxes. Every corner of this paradise is crammed thick with file cabinets of questionable character and glove compartments of ill-repute. When such an inquiring saint enters the into this happy hunting ground, they are greeted at the gates, not by Saint Peter, but by Saint Anthony, the patron saint of lost items. Saint Anthony hands each of these souls a bright shiny pair of golden bolt-cutters or a chrome crowbar and whispers into their ear: “Gooooo…. FIND IT!”
It makes my heart hurt a little, just thinking about it.
Anyway, when we spied the little fridge, squatting there with an impish little smirk on its face, both the deputy and I caught our breath a little. We glanced surreptitiously at each other for a moment.
“Do you think we should open it?” the officer asked, only partially joking.
“Oh, you bet your shiny black pistol we’re opening that thing.” I crowed.
None of the police at the scene had a pair of bolt-cutters and so we raised the fire department on dispatch and had them roll over in their truck with the required equipment. When the hose-haulers showed up, they were followed by no less than 3 other local police officers who had heard the call for bolt-cutters go out on the radio. It seemed our pad-locked mini-fridge was the hottest thing going that night… and everyone wanted to see what was inside.
Since the bolt cutters were the property of the fire department, it was generally assumed that they would be the ones doing the honors. And with much acclaim, the ranking lieutenant stepped into the bedroom brandishing the massive tool as though he was carrying a sacrificial knife up a Mayan pyramid or something. It was at that moment that suddenly, my survival instincts kicked in. Drug addicts tend to be… unpredictably unpredictable. On one hand, you can pretty much count on them to chase their particular fix with a mindless, dogged drive. But that’s really the only generalization that can be made. Some drug addicts can be woefully dull creatures of habit, or, sometimes they can do some really crazy shit- and there’s not really any way to predict what could be coming. In that moment, as the fireman knelt in front of the mini-fridge, a tiny little flare of alarm shot off in my head.
If this guy was careful and industrious enough to keep something in a locked refrigerator, who’s to say he WASNT paranoid enough to also booby-trap that refrigerator?
I’ll admit it, this was kind of a silly thought. But all the same, I’ve seen some pretty wacky shit as both a paramedic and a medical examiner…. so in the split second as the fireman positioned the clips around that pad-lock, I vaulted over the futon that was in the middle of the guy’s room, leapt over the dead body and dove behind the fireman who appeared to have the most body mass and would therefore make the best human shield.
(What was even stranger than my sudden outburst, was the fact that no one in the room seemed at all surprised or taken aback. I figure either they all had the same nagging fear and I was the only one who acted on it…. or nothing I do or say shocks these people anymore.)
There was no explosion, obviously, and the lock gave way with a loud “SNAP”.
The fireman looked around at the gathered company with a grin and swung open the little door to reveal….
… a six-pack of Canada Dry Ginger Ale.
In less than 5 minutes, I was once again alone in the apartment with the dead guy and the original deputy who had discovered the existence of the offending mini-fridge with me.
I was finishing up my photos and already had a funeral home on the way to transport the body, while the officer was investigating each soda can to make sure that none of them was one of those novelty decoy cans with the un-screwable bottom so you could further conceal your loot.
“Man, what a disappointment…”he grumbled as he scowled repeatedly at the dead guy on the floor, who was probably having a really good laugh at us… wherever he was.
“Yeah,” I agreed, “I totally thought there was gonna be a head in there or something.”
“Me too,” the deputy pouted, “or at least…. a chemistry set… or a cat… or something.”
“Well, they can’t all be Freezer-Frank.” I said, in reference to a gentleman who had been found, dismembered, in a freezer chest in his garage last year.
The deputy sighed again and glanced at the ginger ale in the ‘fridge, then he looked at the floor. Undoubtedly, he was mulling over the rest of his night, and how nothing fun or interesting had happened and, now, probably wouldn’t. He glanced back at the dead guy, gazed back into the ‘fridge and then I heard him mumble, “Man…. fuck this guy.”
Then he proceeded to remove every can of soda from the fridge, shake each of them up as hard as he could, then put them back.
-Strike A Pose-
I was going to die,
I was pretty sure.
I don’t even mean in a sudden, crazy “what-if-the-mini-fridge-is-booby-trapped” kind of way, or “Oh-my-God-I-have-cancer” kind of way.
I had put some serious, rational thought into it and came to the conclusion that I could actually be driving to the scene of my own death.
I had gotten a call from the local city police force (NOT the county deputies) and they had asked me to do a death notification for them. Now, this might not seem like an unusual request, seeing as how I’m the Oswald county medical examiner, except for the fact that Lincolnville police officers always did death notifications themselves. What’s more… the death notification that had to be done was IN Lincolnville so it’s not like they had to go out of their way to get it taken care of.
Confused? So was I. The call I received went something like this:
“Hey this is the medical examiner returning a page.”
“Um… yeah, this is the Lincolnville P. D. staff sergeant. I was wondering if you could do a favor for us.”
“Sure, man, what do you need?”
“Well… did you know about that officer-involved shooting we had last night?”
Although I had not been working, I had heard about it during shift change. A car-full of guys had been pulled over and when the Licolnville P.D. started making moves towards searching the vehicle and running the identities of the occupants for warrants, some dude in the backseat burst out into the street with guns blazing. The Lincolnville officers put him down in a matter of moments and that had been that. Except for the fact that, apparently, the dead guy’s family had not, yet been officially notified of his death. It was entirely possible and even likely that they already knew…. but that didn’t change the fact that someone official had to look them in the eye and deliver the news.
Apparently that “someone official” was going to be me.
“You see, the thing is….” the staff sergeant stuttered uncomfortably as he revealed the situation, “we don’t think Lincolnville P.D. should be the ones to notify since… well… even BEFORE this happened, we kind of have a bad history with this family… We think they would react with a lot of hostility if a Lincolnville officer came to the door….”
I couldn’t believe it. “So wait…” I stopped him, mid-sentence. “YOU guys killed this dude in a shootout…”
“But even before that, Lincolnville P.D. had history with this guy and his family.”
“But you want ME to walk up to their front door and tell them that their boy was killed in a fire-fight with Lincolnville P.D. …”
“… because you guys are afraid of what they’ll do TO YOU…”
“You should take a chaplain along,” the sergeant continued as though there was nothing at all unreasonable about this request. “And maybe a county deputy or two.”
So THAT’S how I found myself on my way to my own death. I had arranged for a sheriff’s chaplain and the recommended “couple of deputies” to meet me in a parking lot near the family’s house so we could all touch base and figure out how best to minimize casualties. And a few minutes after everyone’s arrival, I couldn’t help but notice that I was the only one without a bullet-proof vest. Admittedly, I had driven by the house in question on my way to the rendezvous point just to check and see if there was an active wake taking place at the locale- complete with drunken mourners shooting guns in the air and everything. Our decedent’s family home had been dark and quiet…. but that could have been because they were in the basement, plotting t blow up city hall.
“Ummm… so….” I announced as I approached the deputies. “As I understand it, we’re all about to die.”
“Yeah!” shouted deputy Scheller. “Talk about getting thrown under the bus!” -and THAT’S how I knew it wasn’t just my own suspicion and it actually WAS total and complete bullshit that Lincolnville had chickened out like that.
“I don’t suppose you guys have another vest in your trunk or anything, do you? I’m feeling a little…” I shrugged, “… left out.”
The other deputy, Dobber, shrugged.
“I have one, but it’s a tactical vest… it’s for SWAT. I doubt it’ll fit you, but maybe you can cover it with your coat.”
The tactical-grade vest was marched out and the deputy strapped it on me. I went from “business casual” to “storming the gates” in about 15 seconds. The vest itself was massive, easily doubling the circumference of my torso. Furthermore, I had wrist restraints, flares, tear-gas cannisters and extra ammo all hanging off the front of my chest. I definitely looked less, “I’m-here-to-convey-the-county’s-regrets” and more, “I’m-here-to-escort-your-convoy-to-Falluja.”
“Uh…” I grunted as I tried in vain to look downward at my whole…. situation, I realized I strongly resembled the character of “Randy” from the movie “A Christmas Story” in that I was so packed into my armor that I couldn’t quite put my arms down. “I think this might send the wrong message…”
I glanced up at the deputies and the chaplain, all of whom were valiantly trying not to laugh out loud.
“Would you mind taking a picture for my mom?” I asked them.
And the next thing I knew, all four of us were doubled over, laughing our assess off. Dobber pulled out his cell-phone and , obligingly, took about a dozen photos of me doing my best “America’s Next Top Shooting Victim” as I used Scheller and the chaplain as props.
In the end, I doffed the vest and opted to stand behind everyone else as we knocked on the dead guy’s door to deliver our unfortunate news. It turned out okay. The house was, in fact, the residence of our dead guy’s ex-wife and she was able to give us the location of the decedent’s actual blood relations…. all of whom lived out of state, so we got to pass the buck on to another law enforcement agency. Therefore, we all got to live to see another day…
… more importantly, I got to live to see the email appear in my inbox- the email which opened to reveal the fruits of my very first, on-the-job photo shoot. And when I look at those photos, I can still hear the hoots of laughter and the shouted coaching from my “artistic director”, Deputy Dobber:
“Okay… now show me ANGRY! YES! That’s it… You’re ANGRY that you have to do this notification… okay now cheat your face to the left a little…. PERFECT!”