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By Jay T. Harding
He told me about the amnesiac cop on the way to Flint, and fifteen years
later it still sticks in my mind like dirty nails. I think it was more the way he said
it than the story itself; his slow, black, southern bass rising and falling over
the highway whistles coming through his taxi’s windows seemed a mystical
chant. It was more like a dream then than now.
“Don't know if I should tell you about the worst thing ever happened to me in
my years on the force, but since you write and all, I reckon I might as well.
Maybe you could put it on one of your books.”
I sat behind him, could see his mud-brown eyes and bushy white eyebrows
in the rearview. He would often look at me this way, sometimes for so long I
would break from his gaze and crane over his shoulder to see the traffic
ahead. His eyes would always be waiting for mine to return, his words never
“I'd been on the force twenty–six years when it happened.” The plexiglass
behind him was scratched with undecipherable symbols, creating a mosaic of
anarchy between us. “Joe Lorenzo – may the Lord bless and keep him – was
my partner then. He took one over on Cicero just a month later, right in the
chest, by some punk nigga’ kid with a forty-five. Did'nt even get to testify at
the trial for the one I’m about to tell you.”
The skin on the back of his neck and head wore the etchings of time like old
leather left out in the sun. “We were on Charles and Forth at the station,
waiting for our shift to start when this call comes in to dispatch about a
domestic disturbance a block down on Fifth. Joe and I hopped up from our
seats, jumped in our patrol car and headed on down there, after the
dispatcher told us he'd send help soon as they showed up.” He paused while
a semi growled by in the passing lane.
“Before we were half way there, this old lady came running up the street in
her nightgown, hollering and carrying on about someone getting killed, so we
humped it the rest of the way there. Let tell ya, it doesn't matter how many
years you're on de force, every time you get a call like this, your heart gets to
pounding like it wants to jump out of your chest. I didn't know what to expect,
so I grabbed my gun just in case.”
For a full minute the only sound came from the clicking meter, the taxi’s tires
on the highway and the steady whistle from a window not entirely up. His
reflected eyes bored into my head like he was trying to determine whether I
would be able to handle the rest of the story, so I sat quietly, patiently, all the
while screaming at him in my mind to continue. At last he spoke again, his
voice slightly lower, causing me to lean forward just to hear him.
“We came upon this young man standing on the sidewalk holding a little
baby next to him like this,” he curled his right arm as if he were holding a
football in front of him “and had a big old butcher knife in his other hand,
waving it around like he was trying to cut up the air around him. There was a
woman behind him standing halfway up a set of rowhouse steps screaming
‘My baby! My baby!’. Man, there was blood everywhere! On the woman, on
the steps, on the sidewalk, on the man, on the baby, everywhere.
“Joe and I both started yelling at the man ‘Put the knife down!’ but I could tell
he wasn't about to, because his eyes were wild-looking. Just seeing how he
was acting, the first thing I thought of was PCP.” His eyes furrowed in
disgust. “Whenever somebody's on the PCP, there ain't no reasoning with
them. Theh go crazy, I tell ya, get as strong as ten men, can even break
handcuffs! I've seen it with my own eyes!
“Joe and I looked at each other for a second, and we both knew what we
had to do. We both started edging toward the man and split up, me on the
man’s knife side, and Joe on the baby’s side. All the whie that woman on the
steps kept screaming ‘My baby! My baby!’ and now the old lady who we first
saw was coming up yelling ‘O Lord! Jesus have mercy!’ The scene was
getting hectic, I tell ya.
“The man swung the knife at me and started hollering ‘Leave me alone! It’s
my baby!’ and I began talking to him all calm like, saying ‘Man, you don't want
to hurt that little baby, jus't throw the knife over there and we’ll all be ok’. I
moved a little bit closers, all te while keeping my eyes on that knife.
“The man had all his attention on me, and that's just the way we wanted it,
because all of a sudden, Joe snatched hold of the baby's legs and pulled..
Except only the bottom half of the baby came away – the man had cut that
baby clean in two! Just as soon as Joe pulled away, his eyes fixed on his half
of the baby and then it was just like someone had turned a switch off inside
him, because he kind of flopped down where he was and just sat there,
holding the baby's legs in his lap.
“The man lunged at Joe and I shot him without thinking, actually emptied my
clip in him and then stood over the man still thinking I was still shooting him. I
later told the investigators I thought the man was trying to get away, even
though the coroner said my first shot probably killed him. All I remember is
thinking ‘mother fucker’ over and over again.
“When the reinforcements got there, they had to pull me off of standing over
the man, pulling my trigger on empty chambers. But I swear as God is my
witness, when they lifted Joe up off the sidewalk, he dropped the bottom half
of the baby and just strolled back to the station, went and changed out of his
bloody uniform into a clean one, then sat in the lobby chatting wit everyone
like nothing had happened. When I showed up, shaking like a leaf and about
as sick as a man can get, Joe jumped up out of his chair and said ‘Its about
time you showed up! Lest's get rolling!’
The air in the taxi felt heavy and static and I suddenly had the taste of
copper in my mouth. The cabby fixed me again with his eyes, and they
shined with a glaze of tears. “From that moment on til that bullet killed him a
month later, old Joe never remembered a thing about that night.” After a brief
pause he added, “Wish I had been that lucky.”
The rest of the trip was shared in silence.