So last night, Christmas Eve, I’m out doing my thing.
Making traffic stops and laughing with people who are either 1) anxious to get home to see family, or 2) already hellaciously ready to get away from family because…you know…holidays.
So I make a stop and, like always, ask where the lady is heading and why’s she driving so fast.
“Going to church.” She pointed. “Right over there.”
“Yes, I’m running late. I need to get there. It’s Christmas Eve. I play the organ.”
She wasn’t quite laughing but close. Her companion was laughing his ass off. I got the impression that she defined the concept of straight arrow and getting stopped was probably in the top five horrific things she could imagine.
“Ah,” I said. “Gotcha. Well, let me ask you: you have any warrants?”
Her companion, I thought, was well about to pee his pants.
“Warrants? For Heaven’s sake no.”
“No murder? Pillaging? Maybe snatching one of the pipes from the church organ.”
Yeah, she actually said it. Made me laugh.
So I do my thing, warn her to be careful, and send her on her way. I probably only had her stopped for four or five minutes so she was going to be fine. They both chuckled as they drove away.
So twenty minutes later, I’m heading back on the same state highway,the other direction, and I stop a biiiiiiig old Cadillac that reminded me of my Mom’s Buick Electra 225 circa mid ’70s.
I walk up to the lady and ask where they’re going, do they know they have a headlight out, etc.
“Going to church.”
“Really?” I mean, I know it’s Christmas Eve, but two in a row?
“Yeah, just right over there.” She pointed to a church.
I stared. “Right there?”
“I mean that one…right there?”
I laughed. “When you get there, tell C**** D*** hello from Sergeant Barker.”
The lady looked confused. I winked at her and said, “Tell her to slow down.”
I laughed, she laughed, her companion laughed, and I sent her on her way.
So later I’m eating dinner and, I swear to whatever you hold holy, I heard a church organ. And it didn’t creep up on me, it exploded! And not just any church music, but this one
So…just keep in mind that if anything happens to me over the next few weeks, somebody go back through my traffic stops and talk to her…’cause I’m just about sure that it’s probably not good form to get after the church organ lady.
It wasn’t even my case.
I mean…it was…but it wasn’t.
Part of what I do is catch on-line child predators.
I see the absolute worst of what people can do to children and hunt those who want to see what was done. But I also see victims get help. I see bad guys arrested. I see them tried and convicted and sent to prison.
This case was the first I had generated that fell outside my jurisdiction. I had never worked with these particular officers before and had no idea how they did their work.
I showed up for the briefing and got introduced as “…the guy who dumped this on us.” Strained chuckles all around! Cops aren’t stupid, they know child pornography exists, but few want to work a case that could take a year to get to trial. They simply don’t want to swim in the filth that long.
The briefing was…uh…SHORT. Mine tend to go at least an hour but the detective in charge had us in and out in less than five minutes.
“Uh…what about his job? Will he even be home?” I asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe,” the detective said.
“Anybody else at the house?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Dogs? Like vicious Trey-eating dogs?”
I’m a high information detective. I want to know everything about a suspect and location. Who lives there? Children? Weapons? Criminal history? What kind of cars? Where do they work and what hours? Animals? Hell, even what kind of music they like (which can be good to know when I’ve got their computer cracked open searching for files).
This less-is-just-how-we-do-business approach did not make me happy.
When we arrived at the target’s house, we knocked. And knocked. And knocked.
Eventually, a woman answered. We told her who we were looking for, she said he was still asleep, and promptly tried to close the door.
There were four of us. We shoved the door open and went inside, two to the right and me and another guy to the left.
It was then I heard the most ferocious banging I’ve heard since I was marching quads in Drum Corps International in 1982.
My first assumption was that the suspect was throwing crap around looking for a weapon.
My own weapon out, I headed for the bedroom. As I went down the short, narrow hallway, I passed a bathroom and threw an eye in to make sure he wasn’t there.
With his laptop computer.
And a 15-inch crescent wrench.
He was smashing the wrench against the laptop, having broken both corners of the bathroom vanity off while banging the computer against them.
I don’t remember exactly what I said, I’m sure it was pithy and authoritative, but actually probably something like, “What the fuck?”
I grabbed him by the collar and yanked him out of the bathroom.
Note to self: tangled together in a tight hallway, gun in right hand, bad guy in left hand…c-wrench in bad guy’s right hand, still swinging through the air? Bad tactical arrangement.
The detective I was with, thankfully, blasted into the hallway and we snatched both computer and wrench before anybody got hurt.
“What the hell are you doing?” I asked.
And he said? Come on, you can guess this one.
‘Cause I always do nothing with a giant wrench, a laptop bent in the middle, and two broken vanity corners.
He told me later that he had tried to destroy the computer because of anger issues. He was upset his wife had answered the door. It didn’t have anything at all to do with the copious amounts of child pornography we found on the machine.
Or what about the guy we arrested a couple weeks ago, who blamed his child pornography on arousal problems with his wife? (As though looking at a five-year old could get the machinery working.) Or the guy I had two years ago who, after being convicted as a sex offender and serving his time, sent nearly 30,000 text messages in three months to underage girls? Or the guy who said his brother-in-law had downloaded all that kiddie porn…except for the thousands of images I found on his computer downloaded after his brother-in-law was arrested?
I was thinking about all this today after reading some articles about an editor I once knew who pleaded guilty last December to three child molestation charges. At one time, he had been a well-respected editor in the science fiction/fantasy/horror worlds, but in 2000, he was charged with the three counts.
Yeah, you read that right. Charged in 2000…pleaded guilty in December, 2013.
He did everything he could to delay the trial that he said would clear him of any wrong doing (that’s a clue, people). He found religion, he tried to emigrate to Israel, and he filed more than 370 motions and complaints about how he was being treated. He ended up getting incredibly lenient bond conditions and house arrest (don’t travel out of state, don’t have any direct or indirect contact with minors, and call the authorities once a week to let them know he was still in Atlanta).
But he couldn’t even follow those simple rules. In 2011, he was caught in Connecticut (which, last I checked was not in Georgia), in a hotel room with a 14-year old boy, who answered the door for the police wearing nothing but a towel.
He fought extradition back to Georgia for two years. Two damned years! When he finally arrived back in the Peach State, he pleaded and took 36 months of house arrest (no prison because of massive health issues) and was told, again, no direct or indirect contact with any minors.
Which he allegedly violated again in the last couple of days…hence the new articles.
I look back, from the viewpoint of more than 250 hours of training and two+ years of chasing these guys down, and see all the warning signs. Things that meant nothing to me in 2000 that are red flags and shrill whistles now. Behavior, repeated behavior, excuses and lies, that I’ve seen constantly from all of them.
Every. Single. One.
It’s a tough job, dealing with child pornography and those who travel to have sex with children, but one that I love dearly. Listening to the clickety-click-click of the cuffs being slapped on? Not even Rush live in concert is better than that. I love arresting these guys.
Why? Because, yeah, children need to be protected.
But also? I love the hunt. I love the paperwork and analysis, tracking bits and pieces here to there and back again, figuring out how and where they’re hiding and where they’ll go next.
What did Kilgore say? “I love the smell of napalm in the morning.” Well, I love the smell of the hunt, earthy and dirty, adrenaline-filled. And I love watching their eyes early in the morning when they open the front door and see me and my team. I always see the wheels start turning as they invent the reasons why they did what they did (which they usually blame on the children).
I love hunting those who are hunters. They are predators and chances are extremely high that those who are merely looking at child pornography now will eventually molest children. They hunt for children and I, in turn, hunt for them. Are they smarter than me? Can they slip past me? Yeah, probably some can, but thus far, I’ve done pretty well.
And I’m only getting better.
That’s my first memory of him. I think it was during one of our long runs and we were both done with running. He expressed himself while running so what actually came out was more along the lines of “Fu..u..cki..ng…bull…sh…it.”
My most vivid memory of him? We’d sussed out a local barbeque joint, something we did about every other week or so, and had ordered like pigs: brisket, beer, sausage, beer, beans, beer, coleslaw and cornbread, beer…beer. Yeah, yeah, I can remember him drinking but what I really remember is sauce, deep red and flecked with all manner of black spices, slathered over his chin. Watching his little pink tongue slither out and lick away the sauce was one of the funniest things I’d ever seen.
But my last memory of him?
Draped with an American flag, surrounded by endless bouquets of flowers, his Air Force helmet in the coffin with him, his face much more stern in death than I had ever seen it in life.
Casey was my friend. For twelve weeks at the academy, Casey was my work colleague. For many of those weeks, Casey was my barbeque compadre.
Casey was also a police officer…a canine handler to be more precise.
And now Casey is dead.
Hit by a drunk driver; killed on a rain-soaked stretch of I-55 in north-central Illinois on October 30, 2013.
I’ve not had that many good friends dance with death. I remember when writer Sean A. Moore died in 1998 and how numb I was about that and for how long. I didn’t know Casey as well as Sean, but I can feel that same numbness in my head and heart now.
At the police academy, Casey had first struck me as world weary, unsurprised by anything. But as I got to know him better, I realized he was excitable but when he was dealing with victims and bad guys, with issues and concerns, he affected an outer calm that did an amazing job of calming down both the scenario role players and the other police recruits.
What I didn’t know, until his funeral, was that Casey had decided early on in life he was going to be a police officer. He rode with the local department constantly and then joined the Air Force and tested for the Pontiac Police Department almost the moment he got home.
So yeah, he was a good cop, even as a recruit. And yeah, he was a great cop on the road. A k-9 officer, a member of a multi-jurisdictional task force, had detective’s training. He was a monster and I’m sure he did great things for people that I’ll never have any idea he did.
But all his good cop-ing aside, what I remember most, next to the barbeque sauce, was how his calm helped me get through something new and alien to me. He’d decided young to be a police officer but I’d decided young to be a writer. I had no experience in law enforcement at all when I hired on at the Sheriff’s Office. After three years in the jail, which was small and rarely had any problems at all, they put me on the road.
The situations those instructors talked about – barricaded subjects, hostages, shoot-outs, domestic violence with knives and guns, murders, sexual assaults – were completely new to me. I was absolutely out of my element.
Casey helped me get through many of those scenarios. He, a 22-year old kid, taught this 40-year old almost every time we went out together.
And we ate a crap load of barbeque.
Can’t ask for much more, right?
I have no idea what the count was at his funeral. I heard from a couple of people that 1,000 police officers attended, that there were more than 600 squad cars in the mile-long processional. Do I believe that? Maybe…maybe not. But regardless of the number, it was an impressive turnout.
During the procession to the cemetery, we snaked back and forth through town. Every intersection was closed, nearly every business with a temporarily closed sign hanging in the door. There were, no hyperbole, thousands of civilians along the route. Many saluted, many waved American flags, most filmed the procession. Some just stood, looking stunned at their hometown hero, had been snatched out of their collective hands so senseless and quickly.
Casey was imbued with the terrible ferocity of duty and the horrific beauty of service. He wanted to serve his town and his family and friends and even people he didn’t know. He knew that serving, and that duty, carried a terrible price. Not always death, but in what he saw, in what he learned about the human condition and both the amount of suffering, and amount of love, humans bestow on each other as every second ticks past.
From the first moments I knew him, Casey wanted to serve and to help, as much as a cliche as that sounds like. Yeah, he wanted the adrenaline calls and the excitement of being a police officer. But mostly he wanted to help those around him.
Which is why it hurts so badly to know that when he needed help, when his SUV had been crushed by a man who’d spent better than five hours, according to the video footage, drinking at a bar, I wasn’t able to help. I wasn’t able to warn him off of that particular stretch of road, or have him pull just a little further into the turn-around where the drunk hit him.
He probably wouldn’t have listened to this old man, anyway. Out on that highway, with his canine partner, being a police officer and serving his city, was the only place he wanted to be.
Godspeed, Casey, we’ll all miss you dearly.
It’s the end of the novel. George Webber has been to New York, Paris, Berlin. He’s spent the entire novel searching for his childhood, for what he lost when he moved to the sophistication of elsewhere.
He says, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood … back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame…back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time – back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
I went home to Midland recently and I became, for a few hours, George Webber, the protagonist of Thomas Wolfe’s brilliant novel, You Can’t Go Home Again.
It’s been a tough year and I needed to get some distance and just…play…for a while. I’m not going to crybaby about how hard it is to be Trey R. Barker ’cause I got a pretty damned good life, but I did need some downtime.
So that last morning, before I drove north to Lubbock, I spent nearly three hours driving through my childhood.
The three hours put me in mind of not only George Webber, but also Leonard Cohen’s song, Tower of Song. “Well my friends are gone and my hair is gray, and I ache in the places I used to play.”
Webber was right; you cannot go back to that childhood. I knew that, intellectually, but I don’t think I did in my heart. Maybe my heart was in a different place than it was three years ago when I visited. Maybe my head was in a different place. I know for sure my soul was…it’s been a long three years since that last trip.
When I was growing up, my neighborhood was lower middle class at best. There was some money toward the end of the early 80s oil boom, but Mama and I never lit cigarettes with $100 bills. She worked incredibly hard and I started working when I was 10 years old.
But now, every street of my childhood, every house and business, was steps below where she and I had been. So many houses were tired, in desperate need of paint, their breath less a second wind than a rattling, hopeless exhalation. Cracks spidered some windows, some storm doors hung crooked or stood open, other doors had holes in them just about the height of a swung foot.
Every lawn, and I mean every single lawn, was a sea of dead grass or had already given up completely and let the blowing dirt take over and return those lawns to the very picture of what greeted visitors 150 years ago even before Midland was called Midway.
Midland has been in the midst of a harsh drought for better than three years and some projections have it going until 2020. It is horrifying enough that people are talking about turning sewage into potable water. Add to that a town that is dead center of the current oil and gas boom, a town that has swollen to 120,000 on an infrastructure built for far fewer than that, a town that cannot even begin to handle the vehicle traffic and transient workers, a town that cannot house everyone it needs to work its industry.
But my sadness was because there was no color, literally or figuratively. I saw were houses that, when painted, were painted the same color – tan, beige, sandstone, eggshell – as the surrounding desert. They seemed to disappear into the dirt, the sand and caliche.
When I was a child, my world was afire with color.
“Sure, Trey, but back then, you had no responsibilities.”
Straight up. I had a job early on and we were poor but my only real responsibility, other than baby sitting my younger brother and terrorizing him, was to be a kid. To the degree she could, Mama made sure of that.
Every house had color. Ours was a charcoal gray and I remember at least two greens, at least one chocolate brown, a kind of pink thing, and for some reason, I want to say a kind of orange thing…though I might be making the last one up, and a few houses roofed with red shingles.
Every yard was green and Saturday mornings were like freakin’ Grand Central Station with people outside up and down the street. Working in their garages or on their yards or walking the dogs, nearly all of us kids playing tackle football in the street ’cause a little blood was cool, right?
But when I drove down those streets on that Saturday mid-morning, past the houses where I could still hear each kid’s voice and remember damn near every kid’s name, they were empty. No one outside, no dogs barking, no TVs or stereos blaring.
Nothing except the color of the desert. None of the vibrancy of my childhood. None of the color of my childhood.
It’s possible that my childhood haunts hadn’t lost their color. It’s possible that seeing them through eyes brimming with adult responsibilities and bills and dreams not broken but certainly redirected, had stolen the color that I remember.
“You can’t go back home to your childhood…back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time….”
So said George Webber, or Thomas Wolfe if you prefer, and maybe they were both right.
On the other hand, the trip home was effing awesome and exactly what my soul and heart and head and love needed…with the exception of three lonely hours on a Saturday morning.
Come back in a few days, kiddies, and we’ll talk to drunks and cops, we’ll see the aftermath of a cop getting shot multiple times, we’ll do some shooting, we’ll have our flight canceled and we’ll eat at all the best places.
Best…by my definition.
I’d heard of exactly…one…of the bands on the bill.
Out of four.
That’s pretty bad for a guy who’s spent as much time and money as I have going to concerts and discovering new bands.
A friend of mine who is absolutely not into metal or modern rock has a 14-year old daughter who is into metal and modern rock, and who absolutely adores Pierce the Veil.
PTV was on the bill that night.
Remember the Bob Geldof (of Boomtown Rats fame) story? About how all he remembers of his Beatles experience, when he saw them in the mid 1960’s, was the girls in the audience pissing themselves.
That night, with two 14-year old girls totally obsessed over PTV, wasn’t quite that bad but for a few minutes it was close.
My friend asked if I’d take her daughter and another girl to a concert in Bloomington. Her daughter’s very cool and it’d been a while since I’d been to a show and I digged the one bands I’d heard of so….
“Yeah, I’ll take ’em. It’ll be fun.”
And it was.
Dude, I’m getting old.
It wasn’t too loud; wasn’t Rush or U2 or Stones loud, but there were four damn bands. The shows started a bit after 6:30 Thursday and went on until…well, Saturday afternoon it felt like. So the cumulative loudness nearly broke me. I’ve been noise drunk before and will be again but holy balls, that night actually hurt a couple times.
That’s a first. Never, ever have my ears actually hurt at a show. Come on, I’m a drummer. I’ve been banging skins and going to shows for nearly thirty-five years. The only difference is…well, I’ve never been 46 going on 93 before.
But also, these was modern rock and these bands were way, heavily, massively into bass drums. Bono has a line about how U2 drummer Larry Mullen has tremendously heavy foot and singing in front of him and his bass drum night after night is like getting punched in the chest.
This show, with The Wonder Years, All Time Low, Pierce The Veil, and A Day To Remember, was like getting slugged in the chest.
And then, just for fun and variety, getting my ears boxed and occasionally having someone slam my teeth together.
So the volume let me know I was old, much as I hated to admit it. But there was something else.
Remember when you and I were hitting the shows? Remember when, during the power ballads and the epic stadium anthems, we’d yank out our lighters, flick them to life, and wave them back and forth? Sure, you remember…and you know if you’d had a chance to see the original Skynyrd, you’d have cranked that damned thing during ‘Freebird’ until your damn hand caught fire.
It ain’t lighters anymore, kids.
In the sea of maybe 5,000 people, I saw three lighters.
The geezers waved them.
I didn’t actually have a lighter, having not been a smoker since junior high school when I was trying desperately to unbutton a particular girl’s Levi 501s and she smoked. Ergo, if I smoked….
And if I’d had a lighter, I probably wouldn’t have cranked it up, but what struck me was that the entire arena lit up, just as if everyone had lighters.
Every bit of it. Well, except for the three geezers. It was exceedingly odd. Sure, I know phones are everywhere and in fact I teach my police recruits to remember that everyone now has a camera and videocamera with them at all times.
So it wasn’t that I wasn’t aware of cells, nor that they could be used as light. Hell, I’ve used mine as a flashlight in my own house before. But it was the application of something ubiquitous – the cell phone – to a ritual of nearly every concert I’d ever been to – lighting the place up for an emotional high.
Totally caught me by surprise. I leaned over to Makenna, my friend’s daughter, and said something about lighters versus cell phones and swear to all that’s sacred, she looked at me with a completely blank look on her face.
It was a look that said, “Holy balls, I didn’t realize you were that old.”
It was at almost that exact moment that my back started hurting, and my hearing started to go a little bit, and I wondered if maybe my pizza should be pureed so it’s easier to chew and if my next Social Security check would come in spite of the government shut down.
In other words, that’s when I felt old. Those damn kids with their pesky cell phones and their loud music. And look, just look, at those clothes!
Believe it or not, there was a plus side to all this. Makenna and her pal Amber had never been to an arena show before. They had no idea that the rain that soaked us to the bone while we waited for the doors to open was fun. They had no idea that knifing through the crowds standing at the merch tables, and yeah, having to elbow some of them out of the way, was fun. They had no idea that dodging and weaving through drunks to avoid their vomit was fun.
But the most fun for me was discovering that Makenna was just as big a music geek as I was, liked her music just as tough and hard as I did, and got just as excited when her band – Pierce The Veil – hit the stage as I still do when Rush or Buddy Guy or Dave Brubeck started playing (rock, blues, jazz…come on, expand your horizons).
She stood up when the second band came on and didn’t sit down until she got in the car to leave hours later. Her arms never came down. She never stopped screaming every word to every song for three entire bands. She never stopped cheering and clapping. And she never once, not once, looked like she wanted to be anywhere else.
And yeah, when PTV came out, that’s when I thought of the Geldof story. Thought I might have to strap her to the top of the truck coming home because I wasn’t going to sniff piss all the way home.
So some of the night I spent feeling old; out of the loop and two or three steps slow. But some of the night I spent feeling like a veteran; experienced and knowing and a jump or two ahead of my concert mates.
Two sides of the same record, I guess.
Hell, even writing that makes me feel old. No one does records anymore. It’s all downloads and this song or that song but definitely not that other song.
Though truth be told, Makenna did talk about PTV in terms of albums, and that’s what she called them…albums. So that made me feel slightly better.
As did the crowd surfing. There was a ton of it going on and as old as I am, more than once I thought about ditching the girls, hopping the railing, and doing me some surfing.
I could totally do it.
Well, I could if I’d taken my back pills. And gone to the bathroom first. And made sure someone knew where I was…just in case.
And for those interesting in such trivial matters, I never did get to touch those Levi 501 buttons. Damnit.
Okay, well, what you have to understand first is that I am car-stoopid.
I don’t even know how to spell ahtow-mowbill –
What I know about cars can be summed up in the following passage:
See what I mean?
So, understanding that, here’s the story.
It was late on a Saturday night and I was patrolling, doing my thing, catching bad guys. Had some music going, probably a Dr Pepper or two. A standard night.
Then, out of nowhere, my car got smarter than me (yeah, yeah, supply your own joke). The dashboard panel gave an ominous message: “0% oil life remaining.”
I knew I was getting close to time for an oil change and when I saw that, I freaked out. Again, knowing exactly nothing about cars, what I saw was something closer to: “0% oil remaining…and if you don’t get some oil in that crankcase…NOW…your car will explode and that would probably be bad for your career.”
So I hot-footed it to the local Wal-Mart, parked in the lot, and immediately checked the dipstick.
Now, I hadn’t let the motor settle down at all because, again, I know squat-all about motors. So I checked the stick and couldn’t really tell how much was in, but hey, the computer had told me there was nothing left so get some oil in that puppy, right?
I dug out the book and it said 6 quarts. I snatched up 6 quarts, got it all put in, and felt much, much better. Oil in the motor, no chance of exploding the motor, and my career is still good.
Yeah…except…that pesky dashboard message remained.
“0% oil life remaining.”
Something about that pesky message ate at me but I couldn’t quite figure out why. I mean, I was good, right? I’d replaced the missing oil so there was nothing to worry about.
I cranked my crime cruiser up, banged the stereo and my music and headed down the road. Except…it was odd. The crime cruiser, I mean. Out of sorts. Off-kilter. It shook in a way it never had before. Not a ginormous shake, just a little tremor that the car had never had before. Knowing that I knew nothing and that the shake probably meant someting – maybe even something important – I headed back to the jail. I told one of the jailers, who knows a bit about cars, the story, and….
…I’ve never seen anyone laugh so hard.
“Wha’choo laughing at?” I said.
“Dude, think about that message. 0% oil life remaining.”
Son of a bitch. 0% oil life remaining…not 0% oil remaining.
He kept laughing. “Yeah, you added 6 quarts? Then I’m guessing you have about 12 quarts of oil in your little crime cruiser.” Another laugh. “Ain’t cruising much tonight.”
“Because the problem is….”
“Well, you could blow the motor up. Seals and gaskets. Too much pressure.”
I think of it like this: if my head were full of entirely too much brains, my eyeballs would be the seals and gaskets (sort of) that sealed it all up inside my skull. So all that massive brain power, and the sheer pressure it caused, would eventually sploosh my eyeballs right outta the sockets into some old lady’s lap on the bus or something and that, obviously, would be a problem.
The drawback to that scenario being…a lack of massive brain power.
Car stoopid or not, I felt like the world’s biggest fool. Really I did. In trying to keep the motor from blowing up because of no oil, I’d put myself in a situation where I could blow the motor up for having too much oil.
There’s an odd sort of Penzoil-lian karma in that, I think.
Except now I was a bit freaked because of course we didn’t have the tools to drain some oil and it was 10 at night, which meant no one was open. I called a few friends, none of whom were able to help because they either didn’t have the equipment or didn’t have it empty and available.
And then, for some unknown reason, I called Princeton FD. Got the one guy on the phone who’s a firefighter but who, in another life, had basically been a car mechanic. Tried to explain it to him and while you’d think that was an easy explanation, I completely lost him in the weeds of covering my own assininity. He didn’t have clue one what was going on except the motor was about to explode and we both agreed that would be bad.
So he told me to come to the fire house and it was absolute car motor nirvana. Turns out Princeton FD does many of their own small engine repairs. I’m guessing because they’ve got small engines galore, engines that run brush trucks and generators and jaw of life and chain saws and crap knows what else.
That small engine repair includes oil changes. So they had everything needed. This particular fireman cranked my crime cruiser up on some jacks, shoved an empty oil pan underneath, slipped the drain plug off and boom! was off and running.
Now, here’s a physics lesson for you. When you stuff 12 quarts into something designed to hold 6, and then want to drain it…you should probably stand clear.
It was like a freaking oil tanker exploded in San Francisco Bay or something. That crap came shooting out of the motor faster than BP’s oil spewed out of the hole in the bottom of the Gulf. The fireman had expected it to drain – down – from the oil pan. Uh…no. It shot out in damn near a straight line toward the back of the car.
The stream was probably five feet long and lemme tell ya, if you’re Peter North that’s impressive, but if you’re staring at $40,000 of county property that’s in your name, it’s a bit unnerving.
And, sadly for the fireman, I’m fairly certain he drank down a gallon or two while he was laughing.
Mmmmmm…a warm oil toddy. Just the thing on a cold winter night.
The upshot is we – and when I say we, I mean he – got the car put back together and all was right in my world again.
But here’s my problem, aside from yeah, not knowing to let the motor settle a bit before checking the stick and knowing exactly what “0% oil life remaining” actually means: if putting 12 quarts of oil in the car will cause all sorts of havoc, then why in hell can 12 quarts of oil fit in the crankcase?
It never once overflowed. It wasn’t like putting in too much gas where you get a stream of it down the side of the car and puddling on the ground. It all went in, slick and slippery as…well…you get what I’m saying. Seems to me the crankcase shouldn’t be big enough to get double the oil in the thing.
‘Cause after all, I’m pretty sure I’m not the only person in the world who doesn’t quite get the modern-day phraseology.
0% oil life remaining…indeed.
The joke is…those who end up on jury duty are those not smart enough to get out of jury duty. But sometimes, someone doesn’t try and get out of jury duty. Sometimes, a person wants to do it. Either because they’ve never done it and want to see behind the curtain, so to speak. Or because they feel like it’s their civic duty…which it is, as far as I’m concerned.
Sandy Smith is a relative of mine who looms large in my own personal mythology. He and I are not that far separated in age and way back in the day, just as Rush’s ‘Moving Pictures’ was first making noise, he turned me on to music that was heavier and harder than what I’d been listening to. Specifically, I remember discovering Tom Petty and The Heartbreakers through Sandy. In fact, there might even have been a poster on his bedroom wall. Of the ‘Damn The Torpedos’ album? Can’t remember for sure.
Anyway, Sandy lives in a major American city now and spends his time building and rebuilding Harleys. He had felony jury duty recently and not only did he do it, he wrote the family about it. I asked if I could post his short email and he was good with that.
It’s an interesting look inside the part of the system that I rarely get to see because most of my cases get pleaded out or dropped long before we get to trial. Even the largest case I’ve so far had, a sexual predator with multiple counts of grooming, of criminal sexual abuse, of various other felonies, was negotiated (because, I believe, the bad guy didn’t want to sit in front of a jury of parents and have me explain why he was having sex with young girls).
Therefore, I don’t get to see the jury part of criminal justice too often. So here is a quick look. Enjoy.
I got called into jury duty at Dallas county court house last Tuesday.
After I got there I got assigned with the first group of 65 people to a court room. We all got assigned seating in the audience area of the court room, I was in the very back row.
The prosecuting attorney got up and started speaking to us about the felony murder trial that was about to take place. Later he called the process of picking jurors deselecting.
Both the prosecuting and defense attorneys ask us specific and individual questions about our ability to be open minded and fair. They had us fill out a questionnaire and they started crossing out the names of the potential jurors on the assigned seating charts they were marking on according to the answers they were getting from people.
A lot of people were bailing out due to religious, health, personal and other reasons. Anyway I got picked as juror #11, Yay me!
All that took from 8:00am till about 3:00pm Tuesday and they cut us loose for the day.
Wednesday morning at 9:30am the trial started.
The Judge started by reading the charges and letting us know that the defendant elected to have the jury decide the sentencing if there is a guilty verdict.
Right off the bat I was surprised to find out this 29 year old son is being accused of killing his 58 year old mother!
The prosecuting attorney tells us the story of how he attacked her from behind in the kitchen. He took a braided leather belt, wrapped it around her neck twice, looped it through the buckle and started strangling her. During the struggle she ended up on the floor on her back, they were looking at each other in the eyes while he held her down by standing on both of her arms and pulling tight on the belt for approximately 2 to 3 minuets until she was dead.
For the rest of Wednesday and all day Thursday the prosecuting attorney brought in all kinds of witnesses and specialists. There were the first responder police officers and EMT’s, Garland and Dallas county dectives, field evidence techs, lab evidence techs, dna evidence scientists, coroners and lots of other people with great big brains.
He showed us about 150 photos of all kinds of stuff. The house and every room in it, the crime scene, the evidence of the struggle in the kitchen and the body! Yuck! Lots of pictures of the body! Lots of close ups of the ligature marks on her neck and the shoe prints on her arms. Close up pictures from the coroner’s lab of her eyeballs showing the red spots on her eyeballs and eyelids that happen when someone is strangled and tiny blood vessels pop in and around your eyes.
Yuck! Double yuck!
He brought in about 15 people as witnesses, submitted over 150 photos and a big box of stuff like the belt, the shoes, the shirt with blood on it, broken jewelry and other stuff.
Friday morning the Prosecuting attorney gave his final thoughts and turns it over to the defense…
Crickets and tumbleweeds, this guy’s got nothing.
Throughout all the prosecuting attorneys evidence the defense lawyer has plenty of oppertunies to cross examine the witnesses. All he can do is try to place a shadow of a doubt into our heads. He keeps suggesting to all the scientists and lab techs that there is a probable chance of their dna swabs and other evidence being corrupted by mishandling and contamination.
Nobody’s buying it.
He only brings in 2 pieces of physical evidence and 1 witness. One is an independent lab testing results of the belt that showed inconclusive evidence of dna on the belt.
There are several kinds of test results you can get from dna testing depending on how extensive the testing is. The defense attorneys testing was done in a way to show the least amount of dna results.
The prosecutor cross examined and brought one of his big brained witnesses back to shred the defenses lab report to pieces. The other was a picture of the body in the morgue where the shoe prints on her arm were not visible the next day.
The coroner never did see the shoe prints in person, he was only able to examine them from the photos taken at the crime scene.
Well the prosecutor whipped out the pictures of the shoe prints on her arms and the shoes for everybody to look at again. Yuck!
I don’t know why but the defense brought in the lead detective on the case as his only witness. It completely backfired on him and he had to excuse the witness before the hole he was digging got any deeper.
They both gave their final arguments and shuffled us off to deliberate whether he is guilty or not guilty.
Oh hell yea, he’s guilty!
It took us about a half an hour to come up with a guilty verdict.
We went back into the court room we gave the bailiff the verdict, the judge read the charges again and the guilty verdict.
Almost immediately it was like another mini trail started when the sentencing phase started. Now we are getting the entire back story from different kinds of witnesses. Family, friends, teachers, counselors, doctors, preachers. Nothing scientific at all, it was all emotional.
A felony murder penalty is anywhere between 5 and 99 years or life in prison and we had to decide what it will be.
There wasn’t enough time to finish everything Friday afternoon so they cut us loose and we were told to come back Monday morning.
Monday morning both attorneys gave their final thoughts and arguments and we were sent to deliberate on the sentencing. It took us about 2 hours to come up with 99 years in prison.
Back to the court room again and the judge read the charges again and then the sentence. Nobody in the audience really seemed surprised.
After the sentencing was read the judge let 3 family members read several impact statements to everybody. It got real emotional, lots of people crying and upset.
When the younger brother was reading the last statement the defendant started getting mouthy and belligerent. He was yelling, cussing and saying “Y’all all full of shit! I don’t know who killed her!
It was the first time he said anything or showed any type of emotion. The bailiffs had to cuff him and carry him out.
We got to speak to the Judge and prosecuting attorney for a little while before we all left.
It took 5 days start to finish and was kind of draining.
I didn’t think it would be hard for me to make those kinds of decisions but I get wrapped up in the whole situation and all the raw emotions of everybody involved including the other jurors.
I’m glad it’s over.
It was late, a quiet night filled with complete emptiness.
And then this: “BU10…Bureau County.”
“Go ahead,” I said.
A woman called, my dispatcher said. She was being held against her will…by her husband. He had her locked up in a room and was coming back in a few minutes and would probably take the phone away from her.
I had an instant adrenaline dump. Yeah, the call was probably bogus, someone drunk and trying to get a spouse or an ex in trouble, or just calling for shits and giggles, but we have to take them seriously. Because there’s always the possibility the call is real. There is always the chance that someone actually is being held against their will. And when it does happen, it’s almost always a spouse. Sadly, unlawful restraint is just another part of domestic violence.
And frequently, unlawful restraint ends in bloodshed. Do a quick Google search and tell me what you find.
I start making calls and getting the pieces in place for whatever might happen and the entire time, my brilliant dispatcher is on the phone with the woman, getting more and more information.
As we get closer, we find out, from her, that she’s by herself at this very moment but that moment might not last long.
It was a long drive to the address and the entire way, with each new bit of information, with each new word and plea, my heart cranked up even more. My skin broke out in sweat, my head pounded and I felt the visual distortion, the auditory exclusion, that comes with an adrenaline dump.
“Bu10…she says it’s not just her husband. His friends are helping him.”
Another mile down the road.
“BU10…she’s says she can hear them moving around in the next room.”
Another mile and a half down the road as I sped up.
“Bu10…I lost her.”
I almost screamed. The most precious commodity law enforcement has is not the gun or the purty marked cars with them purty flashing lights. Our most precious commodity is information.
And we were going to get no more from her because she was deep in a domestic situation.
Google something else for me. Google officers killed at domestic problems. Go ahead…I’ll wait.
Done? Okay, so now you know those calls are amongst the most dangerous, and that if they’ve gone as far as restraint, then we’re probably in for a bloody night.
That’s what my partner and I were headed into.
Except that’s not at all what we were headed into.
When we arrived, we surveyed the place. It was dark and quiet. I banged on the door while my partner was around the side, both with guns drawn and ready to war if we needed to.
An older man answered. He’d been sleeping in the living room with a very old dog. Both stared at me confusion ripe and pungent on their faces.
“Sir, are you here alone?”
“You don’t mind if I look around?”
He blinked rapidly. “Why? What’s going on?”
“We got a call that you’re keeping your wife locked up…against her will.”
I will never forget the look on his face. His eyes became the saddest song I’ve ever heard, his entire body slumped into a beaten state, a battered shell of what had once been a strapping man.
He said it simply and easily.
He let me and my partner search the house. My partner talked to him while I went room to room, even rooms that had been closed for years upon years. It was an old farmhouse and it might have been magnificent back in the day. But at that moment, it was cluttered and dirty, frozen in some ageless time. It was filled with the accomplishments of a couple’s life. Awards and pictures, books and furniture, with the scent of a life-well lived.
They’d been professionals. They’d worked around the world, he as an engineer, she as a cartographer. Her maps were everywhere. Both elegant and stunning.
Ultimately, he told me that he’d recently had to put her in a nursing home, probably for good. She’d been calling him incessantly, crying, wanting to come home. She’d said she was being held against her will and she was. She wanted nothing more than to come home but he was unable to take care of her anymore.
I called dispatch and had them call the home. While my dispatcher was on the phone with the home, they went to her room and made sure she was at least physically okay.
He was crying when we left and I almost was, too. The pain in his voice, the longing for his wife and best friend, for his partner and lover, was palpable.
It crushed me. I never want to be that lonely in my life, but at the same time, he was only that lonely because he’d had so many wonderful years with the person he loved more fiercely than anyone else he’d ever known.
It was a terrible night for all of us, but then it was done, as calls always are. A few weeks later, a very dear friend of mine told me her family had just put her grandmother in a home and, again, the woman just wanted to go home.
I can’t imagine being physically separated from someone you love that dearly; being trapped behind walls that will never come down. I hope that if I ever have someone in my life that dear, that important, that loved, that I can crash the walls between us.
And if not, then I can at least trap us together inside those walls.