Tales From The Blue Line 2

Riley2“I’m famous,” the short old woman, wearing a thick scarf and a long, worn out overcoat said.
She was standing straight, but leaning slightly against a concrete street light pole. It was dark. It was cold. Too cold outside for an old woman to be standing motionless for any length of time, even if her head was covered, and she was wearing a worn out overcoat.
“That’s not what I asked you,” I said, standing behind her.
Cars whirred past on South Kinnickinnic Avenue, in a section of Milwaukee known as Bay View. Some of them slowed, their passengers straining to look at the woman and me. Tiny snowflakes flitted past the overhead street lamp, and then out of sight, the way they always do when it’s snowing at night. But they were falling. Falling onto me in my blue, winter police uniform, and onto the famous old lady standing before me.
She did not respond. I touched her lightly on the shoulder. “Are you alright, ma’am?” I asked.
She was not all right. The smell of alcohol wafted from her to me, in unpleasant waves. She was, in fact, drunk. Hammered would be the better word.
She’d been standing that way since I’d first seen her, about a block and a half away, while I was walking my police beat. I walked straight to her. She didn’t move an inch. While trying to communicate with her, a couple of somewhat sober men approached. They’d been in the tavern a few doors away. I heard yelling inside the tavern while one of the men held the door open. A small group of men squeezed together to stare out the window at the odd scene.
A lighted Pabst Blue Ribbon beer decoration slipped from the window. The men who’d been standing there scuttled away, and now there was yelling and swearing coming from inside the tavern- didn’t need the door open to hear it.
“Purse!” the woman shouted. Large drops of spit flew from her mouth when she spoke.
“She wants you to look in her purse,” one of the now-annoying men said while the small group inched toward me. A couple of them started laughing.
The old woman was standing still, her forehead seemingly glued to the pole. She was more than just drunk.
She was blotto.
I ignored the men and slid the purse from her shoulder. She leaned to let it slide off, and then amazingly righted herself. She was a professional drunkard; one who could still handle slight movements before they finally caved in and fell to their inevitable dark stupor.
She’d obviously been through this before.
“She’s been doing this stuff for long as I remember,” one of the men said. “Drinkin’ all night, and stumbling out here.”
I looked at him. “And you’ve been helping her as long as you remember, too,” I said.
I was a twenty-three-year-old police officer, but I’d quickly learned the sarcastic tone one must take in order to let potential trouble makers know you were “on their case.”
The man stepped back, lowered his head, and raised his hands. He was a good boy, been around cops dealing with drunks for a long time. Undoubtedly he was one of those drunks on some occasions. But he knew his place when a police officer uttered a wise remark. And that was walking backward with your head down, arms up, and most importantly, your mouth shut.
His comrades held out their arms and embraced him when he returned to their pack. They all moved together, shuttling away from the woman and me.
I began looking through the woman’s purse. Usual stuff: make up equipment, a couple of pens, and a smaller, clasp purse. No wallet.
“Paper,” the woman said, while attempting to turn toward me. She began to fall. I caught on to her but we both went down to the sidewalk.
I stood and pulled her to her feet. She was small and not too heavy. But she had that mushy feel that all inactive people have, and the odor of alcohol burst into my face when she coughed. I managed to prop her against the light pole, and stood close to prevent her – and me, damn it – from falling again.
She groaned as she tried to speak. I waited. Looking up at the streetlight, I could tell the snow was falling more heavily. Damn! I started digging into her purse again, looking for identification. While digging I noticed her take a breath, hold it, and lean toward me.
“Newspaper in the purse,” she shouted. It had taken all her energy to speak.
She was blotto plus.
Newspaper in the messy purse? What the hell…
A folded, yellowed and flimsy piece of old newspaper was tucked into her coin purse. Nothing else- certainly no coins, or money in any form, just the relatively neatly folded newspaper clipping.
“Ha!” she shouted when she saw that I’d found it. She was grinning…sneering.
While beginning to unfold the paper I sensed a man walking toward us. He was coming from the direction of the tavern. He was nimble and stepped quickly. He was not drunk. I was glad.
“Excuse me, officer” the man said, and stopped several steps away from me. He was being respectful. Polite. I kept my guard up, anyway.
“Yeah,” I said, looking at him.
“That’s Mary,” he said. He was wearing a heavy coat with a fur-lined hood, which he kept down from his head. He was balding, graying, average height and build.
“Yeah?” I said again, with a slight tone in my voice.
“She’s got that old newspaper clipping,” the man said. “Carries it everywhere. Especially for stuff like this.”
Stuff like what? I did not ask.
I looked back at the newspaper clipping, which was quite old and flimsy, and saw the large, dark print at the heading:

Woman Saves Family From Fire

I didn’t need to read the accompanying article to figure out what was going on.
“’Bout ten years ago she was walking to her then-favorite tavern, couple blocks from here,” the man continued. “Smelled and then saw smoke coming from the window of a house. It was dark and late, so she went up and pounded on the door. Screamed and yelled. Neighbors heard and looked out their windows, called the police.”
The man had memorized the story he was telling. I checked the clipping and saw verifying words in the story.
“She lives a block from here,” the man said, pointing across the street. “Go through that yard and her basement flat is right there.”
I thanked the man. “I own this place,” he said, pointing at the tavern behind him. “Stop in next time you’re on this beat. We’ll have a beer. Or something a little more, if you want.”
“Thanks,” I said while gathering Mary and her purse and her newspaper story.
“Lotsa’ coppers have walked her home from places around here over the years. They all know her. She shows that news clipping to the new guys, so they don’t throw her in jail.”
I was definitely a new guy; my first time on this particular beat. And this was definitely the most unusual thing I had come upon. Bay View was a fairly tame, family-friendly area, even at night.
Mary had gathered some strength and began to move. I put one hand in her armpit and held on tightly. The street was clear of cars and we started walking across. She’d gained energy and was doing fairly well. Her balance failed her a couple of times, but walking with her was easier than I thought it would be.
We finished the block-long trek and approached her home. It wasn’t what I’d call a home, but she was obviously limited. Her abode was in the back of the building, and after going down the concrete steps leading to an old wooden door that was barely six feet high, she grunted while pulling away from me and pushed open the door. The house beyond was completely dark, and the odor of household neglect wafted out.

It was snowing heavier than ever, and my nice blue uniform was turning white with snowflakes.
I felt good, walking back toward Kinnickinnic Avenue. I mean, here was this poor old woman who obviously was drinking herself into a grave, who badly needed medical attention, but I’d managed to help her. Saved her from falling and freezing in the street that night, or worse. It was a moment in time, a moment where I felt as though I’d done one of the most important things a policeman can do..


This is the second in an ongoing series from Rob.

He spent thirty-two years as a Milwaukee police officer: seven years doing undercover narcotics investigations and twenty-two years as a major crimes detective. Writing and reading have been lifelong passions, and he began by writing short stories more than thirty years ago

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