Welcome back to the continuing saga of Homicide Detective Hussey. No, it's not Christmas, but since we're in the midst of a major cold snap, I thought this was a fitting post.
One Christmas I remember in the early-eighties, started Christmas Eve when my partner and I responded to a "police service" call in Zone 1. Now a police service call can be almost anything. It means the dispatcher couldn't really get any information regarding the nature of the call, and most cops get a little nervous when they get these, because there is no way to prepare yourself mentally for a situation you can't visualize.
The complainant was a regular, a guy named T.R. Tremble. T.R. wasn't short for anything, his mamma just named him "T.R." He was an elderly black man who would drink anything that would alter his perception of reality. Mostly he drank Thunderbird purchased out the back door of the Sixth Street pool hall, usually after hours.
He would get roaring drunk then walk around getting into anybody and everybody's business. He'd been beaten, stabbed and shot on various occasions for his trouble.
Many a rookie policeman on the scene of a robbery or a murder would ask, "Did anybody see anything"? You always got the standard answer from T.R.
"Sho did, I was right der." Usually the account of the incident would be so incredulous that before he finished his statement, even the rookie would realize that he was dealing with a nut case. Sometimes, however, the statement would be taken and T.R.'s name would appear on the witness list. T.R. Liked nothing better than to walk into a courtroom at a high profile trial, with the cameras flashing and tell the whole world he didn't remember a damn thing.
"I been drinkin' for years," he told a judge once. "Sir, I jes be talkin' stuff and lookin' round, I ain't seed nothin'." T.R. would be dismissed and be sent home to plan his next big caper.
Christmas Eve was incredibly cold for Florida that year. The citrus and strawberry industry had suffered greatly, and winter wasn't even over yet. As we arrived at the two room frame house in the 600 block of West Fourth Street, we noticed a light on. We got out of the car and walked toward the front door, and I could hear laughter coming from inside. The distinctive smell of kerosene burning, floated through the thick, quiet night air. I knocked on the door and heard someone yell, "Ya'll c'mon in."
As we opened the door, the stale smell of human perspiration, stale alcohol, urine and kerosene hit us like a wall. Inside the little shack was a kerosene stove burning red-hot. The stovepipe disappeared through a hole in the roof, around which some old rags had been stuffed.
"A fire looking for a place to happen," I thought. The furniture consisted of an old sofa, sweat stained and threadbare, with a hundred cigarette burns at various places on its arms and cushions. The wood floor had squares of plywood nailed in several strategic spots where the floor had given way. There was an old wooden cable spool turned on its side and used for a table, and two folding chairs where T.R. and another old black gentlemen were seated, playing cards. A single light bulb hung on a long drop cord over the table. The other end of the cord ran along the ceiling and down the wall to an electric receptacle where too many cords had been plugged in. I guess in a place like this, fire hazards are the least of your worries.
The most curious thing about the room, however, was not readily noticeable. As my eyes adjusted to the light—or lack of it—I noticed another human being over in a darkened corner. A woman. She was not moving, but something else near the person was. I squinted in an effort to see better. I realized that there was a small animal pacing back and forth in front of the motionless figure. It was too big to be a cockroach, although I had seen some big ones. As I moved closer to the woman on the floor, a small dog began to bark and growl. I tried several times to get near the old woman, with no luck. I finally took an old blanket, which covered one of the broken front windows and kept out at least some of the cold. I slowly approached the tiny terrier mix dog and when I was close enough, threw the blanket over him. I was now able to examine the female. As I was doing this, my partner was carrying on a conversation with the players.
"What's up T.R.?" my partner asked.
"We jis playin' some hearts, offica'," he replied. He laughed in his raspy voice, "We was jis callin, cause' dat lady ova der be's sick. We's tried but we can't wake her up."
"How long she been sick?" I asked.
"What time it is now?" the other man asked.
"About 12:30," I replied.
"Sheeeeiit, she been sick since dis evnin' around about five."
As I approached the female, I caught a whiff of vomit and saw that she was lying on one side, one leg behind the other, with her arms outstretched and encircling a galvanized washtub. She had apparently emptied her stomach contents, which by the smell, likely consisted of some steamed blue crabs from "Baker's Crab Crib," and some fine wine, aged since last week.
I reached down to the elderly lady's shoulder, in an attempt to wake her up and ascertain the nature of her illness. It was then I realized that even in the intense heat of this little house, her skin was cool to the touch. I tried to pull her toward me but gravity and rigor mortis held her firmly to the floor. As I lifted her partially, I could see the dark color of post-mortem lividity in her face. I grinned evilly to myself as I walked back over to the two card players, who up until this point, barely knew we were there.
"How she is?" my partner asked.
"Not too good." I smiled. Tom looked at me with a puzzled look on his face.
"Hey T.R., that girl ain't sick," I said, looking over at the pile in the corner.
"She ain't?" He didn't bother looking up from his game?
"No, she ain't sick, she's dead." Before I could get out the last part of my sentence, T.R. and his partner had kicked over the folding chairs and thrown their cards into the air. They almost ran over Tom getting out of the house.
After telling us what they remembered, which wasn't much, T.R. and his partner went to hang out in front of Harris' Grocery. They weren't about to go back in that house.
"Merry Christmas, Thomas," I said as we watched the medical examiner drive away. "Know where we can get some crabs this time of the morning?"
"Of course," he replied wryly. "Baker's Crab Crib, whose motto is...and I joined in the recitation of the advertisement which appeared on the side of Mr. Baker's building, "When they hot they hot and when they cold they hot too"!
MERRY FREAKIN' CHRISTMAS!
Have a great weekend, everyone. I'll be at my RWA chapter meeting tomorrow, and will share any notes of interest on Monday. Tuesday my Guest Blogger is author L. C. Hayden who'll tell us about how she takes some very special cruises -- without paying for them.