Strange morning. But then, that’s redundant since my entire life has taken a turn into strangeness.
The cops were here about my brother. They suspected him of turning off a neighbor’s gas as retaliation for her ignoring him after he called her a lewd name. (When my father took a turn for the worse and my sister came to help out, it seems as if my brother had what appears to be a psychotic break from reality. He does things that he completely believes he never did, such as slashing my sister’s tires or calling people awful names.) His turning off their gas created problems with the water heater — which doesn’t make any sense to me, but that’s what they said — and the heater had to be replaced. He’s also made forays into other neighbors’ back yards. All that in addition to his “poltergeist” activity around the house, such as banging on windows, incessantly ringing the doorbell, calling through the locks.
The cops wanted to talk to my brother, but I didn’t feel up to dealing with his reprisals, so I said he wasn’t here. The truth is, I knew he wasn’t here — at the first sight of a cop car, he runs and hides, usually some place where he can hear what is going on. They asked if they could come in, and I said no. They seemed surprised at that. There isn’t anything to hide here in the house, but wasn’t a social call, and they hadn’t been invited. So I went outside.
They explained the problem and asked for his last name. I didn’t tell them — it’s not my name to give. Then they asked for my name. I said “Pat.” They wrote that down, then asked for my last name. I didn’t want to give it to them. I explained I was in no way responsible for my brother’s acts, was in no way responsible for him, that he was 64 and a grown man. They said they understood, and asked again for my last name. Again I hesitated, and they said they only needed it for their records to show who they talked to. I told them that in all my dealings with the local cops up to that point, my first name had been satisfactory, and they retaliated by telling me those were not criminal investigations, and this one was. If I didn’t give them my name, I could be arrested for impeding a criminal investigation. So I gave it to them.
Then they asked for my birth date. This really sent alarms through me. My stress level, for reasons I cannot fathom, reached critical levels, and I could feel the tears gathering behind my eyes. (Tears seem to be how I process changes and stress.) I said, “So, are you going to be investigating me now?” They said no, and again told me that I could be arrested if I didn’t give them the date. I said it wasn’t fair. Suspects could lie. Cops could lie. But as a bystander I couldn’t. They said that it wasn’t a criminal offense if I lied about checking to see if my brother were in the garage, but that it could be a criminal offense to lie about my birth date.
In all such discussions about my brother with the local cops during the past year, and especially during the past weeks after I began writing my book about a murder at a dance studio, I’d never paid attention to their uniforms, and that would be an important detail for the book. So I studied them. Dark green slacks. Light olive drab shirts. Yellowish-gold “Sheriff’s Department” insignias on their right upper sleeves. Gold deputy stars above their left pockets. Black rectangular nametags above the pocket on the right side. Heavy black equipment belts.
Then I started asking them questions. I figured it was only fair. I told them I was writing a book about a murder that will take place at a local exercise studio and asked what would happen after we called 911. They said officers would show up fairly soon, and the number of officers would depend on how busy they were. They said they’d remove us from the scene, take personal information and fill out a detailed report about our relationship with the deceased, what we’d been doing just previously, if we knew what any of the others witnesses had been doing. Then they’d probably take us to the police station to be questioned by detectives. I asked if we’d each be in a separate car, but they thought we’d probably be taken in pairs with warnings not to talk to each other. I asked if the radio would be on, that in movies, the police radio is always squawking. They said it would be silent so that we wouldn’t be able to get any information. At the police station, we’d probably have to wait for an hour for the detectives to arrive.
I asked for a description of the interrogation room and about the color of the walls. (Cream.) I said one of my detectives would have a lovely first name that I wanted to use for the story, but I noticed they only used the first initial on their nametags and business care. They said it was up to the detective whether she’d give her name or not.
I guess about the only other thing I needed for a sensory description was how the cop car smelled, but I wasn’t about to ask them to let me sit in it to find out. For all I know, they could have used that as an excuse to take me to the station.
One cop told me that as much as he would love to talk about police procedure, he had to get back to business. He said at some point I’d have to have my brother evicted, but as we talked, I learned what I already knew — that in the end, they couldn’t do anything. They would remove him from the premises after the eviction went into effect, and when he came back, they would arrest him, let him go, and when he came back, they’d arrest him, let him go ad infinitum. They told a story about a guy with mental problems who sounded much like my brother. The panhandler had been arrested and let go on a regular basis. This went on for many years without his ever having served jail time. Eventually, the family begged for the cops to arrest him and take him to a penal mental institution.
Luckily, long before we would reach such a point, my father will be dead, and I will be out of here.
But for now, I’m very proud of myself for turning things around and questioning them.
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.