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Screen Test, A Short Story
It was a late night in early November 1975 and Sgt. Jim Brockman was driving the patrol car through downtown Lancaster, S. C. when the call came in. Domestic calls are the most dangerous calls cops handle. This one came from a trailer park nestled next to the creek. Brockman had a trainee with him who had just completed six weeks of classroom training and was eager to please.
"Wonderful," Brockman thought.
"Want me to hit the blues?" Officer Randy Tidwell asked. He rubbed the peach fuzz that might be a moustache in ten years or so and licked his lips.
"Wonderful," Brockman said under his breath, but he grinned when the kid flipped on the lights and bumped the siren to clear a path.
The trailer was sitting up on cinder blocks as were two of the three vehicles in the yard. A bone skinny german shepard was chained to the oldest car, a four door chevy with more rust than paint. The dog crawled out from under the car when they pulled up, but just stared and didn't bark.
Brockman motioned Tidwell to step to the side of the door as he knocked. Loud country music boomed through the thin sheet metal while they waited; Waylon Jennings wondering if Hank really did it this way and Linda Ronstadt asking when she would be loved. An icy chill blew up the back of his police jacket and then Brockman pulled the screen door open and banged louder on the hollow inner door.
The door finally opened about four inches and the right side of the woman's face filled the crack. "Yes?" she said.
"You all right, Mrs. Smith?" Brockman asked.
"Why wouldn't I be?"
Brockman and Tidwell exchanged a glance and Tidwell stepped up to the door. "Would you step out on the porch and talk to us a minute?"
A depressed demeanor suddenly changed to a trapped one and Brockman gently pushed on the door. The lady stepped back. Her left eye was swollen almost shut, the side of her face that had been hidden by the door bore a clear hand print in bright red on a cheek that would be blue by morning.
"Where's your husband?" Brockman asked. He stepped into the room, eyes scanning the darkened areas, finding no one. Tidwell followed him in and moved a few feet to the left toward the hall.
Mrs. Smith motioned to the back but said in a loud voice "Stan's at work, haven't seen him all day."
"Just give my partner your information," Brockman said. "We'll file our report. Let's step out on the porch."
Tillman led the woman outside and when he came back in he whispered to Brockman that Stan Smith had indeed slapped his wife, punched her in her eye, and kicked her a couple of times in the ribs.
They found Stan, half drunk, fully mean, and hiding in the shower behind a green tarp that hung in place of a shower curtain. "Hey," he said when Tidwell jerked the tarp back, clearly surprised that his excellent hiding place had been discovered.
"Step out, Mr. Smith," Brockman ordered. Smith spit tobacco juice into the tub and shook his head.
Smith was wearing a stained white #1 Harley-Davidson T-shirt with the sleeves cut out, bell bottom jeans and steel-toed biker boots. He had a folding knife in a case on his belt and a wallet secured with a chrome chain. Tidwell thought he looked like a guy who could have easily played a part in that movie “Deliverence”, and he wasn't thinking about Burt either.
"Paddle faster, Sarge," Tidwell said. "I hear banjo music."
Smith took a swing in the general direction of the two officers, came close to hitting neither, burped and then fell out of the tub on his face. Tidwell, dying to make his first arrest, jumped on the man's back and struggled to get the cuffs on. Brockman jerked Smith's knife out of it's case and waited for Tidwell to get the man cuffed. They each grabbed an arm and stood him up.
"Hey, I know you!" Smith sprayed into Tidwell's face. "You used to bag my groceries down at the Winn Dixie." Smith began to laugh and Tidwell flushed with anger and embarrassment.
"You're under arrest for assault and battery," Tidwell said.
"Clean up on aisle four," Smith said and Brockman quickly looked away so neither man would see him smile.
"Let's roll," Brockman said. Tidwell grabbed the cuffs and began walking Smith down the hall back to the den where Mrs. Smith had turned off the music and held a dishtowel full of ice to her cheek. She said nothing as they walked out, just looked down at the floor and whimpered when her husband veered a couple of steps toward her. Tidwell none too gently jerked him backwards by the cuffs.
"Watch your head," Tidwell said as he opened the back door of the squad car.
"Screw you, bag boy. I ain't getting in there." Smith stiffened up as Tidwell pushed, grunted, and shoved at him trying to get him in the car. When nothing else worked, Tillman reached for the mace on his duty belt.
"Whoa," Brockman said. "We don't want to smell that stuff all night. Let me try."
Tidwell moved and Brockman stood toe to toe with the prisoner. "Get in the car, Smith.”
Tidwell watched as the two men stood staring at each other. Seconds stretched into a minute, then two.
“ I won't tell you again," Brockman said.
Finally, Smith sat down on the back seat and pulled his legs in.
When Brockman dropped the big Ford into drive, Smith started up again with Tidwell.
"You might as well let me out, bag boy. That bitch ain't going to sign no warrant. She knows better."
Tidwell looked straight ahead out the windshield.
"You hear me, bag boy?" Smith asked. "Yeah, I remember you. Know where that cute little wife of yours works too, pizza place down on North Main."
"Shut up, Smith." Brockman warned then keyed the mike. "Headquaters, we're 10-67 from the location and 10-76 to LPD." They pulled out of the trailer park headed north toward the by-pass, but Smith wasn't done. Not by a long shot.
"I bet that little red head gets lonely at night, you working third shift and all," Smith said sliding up on the back seat directly behind Tidwell.
Tidwell turned to look back at the prisoner. "Leave my wife out of this, Smith. You're not going to get my goat with a bunch of made up BS."
"Oh I’ve seen her around, all right," Smith slid back but couldn't get comfortable with his hands cuffs behind his back. He slid up again and as Tidwell turned back to the windshield he spit tobacco juice through the metal screen. Tidwell screamed and wiped the mess on the back of his neck with his hand.
Brockman goosed the Ford as they turned onto the by-pass and Smith slid back in the seat, laughing.
"Paper towels in the glove box," Brockman said quietly as he reached for the shoulder harness and buckled up. Tidwell got the mess off his hand, then wiped his neck with another towel. "Buckle up, partner." Brockman said under his breath.
"Hey bag boy, you taking care of that little woman like you should or you want me to come by one night while you workin'?" Smith slid back up. "I could drop by the house, y'all still over on Elm?"
Brockman knew by the expression on Tidwell's face that Smith had everything right.
"Why don't you just sit back, Smith, and take it easy. You need to let it go." Brockman glanced down at the speedometer as he eased the car up to sixty.
"Screw you," Smith yelled and he slid across behind Brockman. His voice made an exaggerated growling noise as he prepared to launch another hot missile through the mesh screen.
"Deer!" Brockman yelled and slammed both feet onto the brake pedal.
Tidwell, thrown against the confines of his shoulder strap, threw his hands up. Then he snapped around to look at Brockman who released the brakes, hit the gas and seconds later hit the brakes again.
After Smith's face slammed into the screen the second time, he slumped back into the seat. Tidwell turned to look and saw that Smith was out cold.
"Damn deer are a real nuisance," Brockman said. Tillman just stared at him.
After roll call that morning, as Brockman was heading to his car out back he passed Tidwell talking to a couple of other recruits.
"......and that guy Smith is ready for Hollywood now," Tillman said. "He's already passed his screen test."
Brockman simply shook his head and kept on walking.