Bumped in the Night By Marcus Hook
Bumped in the Night
By Marcus Hook
You know how you hear something in the middle of the night and you think ah, it’s nothing. No big deal. It’ll go away. You turn the pillow over and go back to sleep. Well, this wasn’t going away. God damn it, somebody or something was making a determined ruckus out back in the alley and there was no going back to sleep. What woke me was a long metallic ratchedy noise that would have made Marley’s ghost proud. It had stopped and now something else was happening.
There were all kinds of stories about this old limestone building on Oak Street in downtown Hicksville, built in 1880 when mules and oxen pulled buckboard wagons through the mud and the dust of what was then a small Texas city with three cotton gins and a train station. The streets were wide so wagons could be turned around and the curbs were high to make it easier to unload onto the sidewalk.
A hundred years ago there’d been 10,000 people living there. Now, there were maybe 1,500. At night, we had the whole downtown to ourselves.
The building had been a mercantile and then a furniture store run by Clyde Barrow’s uncle. Back then they sold coffins out of places like that and the back room had served as a mortuary. When I was up on a ladder hanging lights back there, I found old handwritten signs with old fashioned numerals still up in the rafters.
I’d spent most of a week sleeping there alone before Penny came down from Dallas and I’d heard plenty of strange noises. I don’t believe in ghosts at 3:00 in the afternoon, but ask me at 3:00 in the morning and we can talk. This noise I was hearing now was no ghost. Some asshole was pounding the meat of his fist against that back door. I should have just stayed in bed, but I didn’t know what was going on and I put on my bathrobe and stood by the bed thinking what the hell?
Zuni the cat, still curled between Penny’s feet, had her head up and her ears twitching. I snore so Penny always wears earplugs and sleeps hard. Zuni looked at me as if to say this is all you, man.
I went to the back room and yelled who is it? More pounding.
Who is it?
Open the door!
I turned on the lights.
Who is it?
Open the door!
More pounding. This guy was good. It sounded like he’d had training.
Who is it?
What do you want?
Open the door!
So I opened it.
Back then, I was just getting to that age where so many people like doctors and politicians and cops start to look like children. These cops looked like Boy Scouts to me. All three were skinny and shorter than me. The shortest one was a little older, like maybe 16, and seemed to be in charge. The other two wore gray one piece jumpsuits with the words County Undercover Narcotics Taskforce in gold letters across their shoulders. One of them was standing by the driver’s side of our beat up little Jetta with a flashlight.
Whose car is this, sir?
That’s mine. Is it illegal to park in the alley?
No, sir. Are you from Washington State?
I was. We just moved back. I’m going to change the plates soon.
Sir, we have determined that there are drugs in this car.
You gotta be kidding me.
What are you talking about?
Thing One shined his light through the window on the carpet by the brake pedal and, sure enough, there was a little burnt bit of paper from a roach and the stem off a bud from a week earlier when I’d rolled a joint in a Dallas parking lot while waiting for Penny to come out of a drugstore.
The car was parked near my neighbor’s rear overhead door. She was always leaving it open and I knew that’s what woke me up. It was them closing it. Then they spotted those Washington plates and they thought they were onto something big.
Thing Two had his very own flashlight and, from the passenger side, he lit up the funny little tray on the lower part of the dashboard. There for all to see was Penny’s little “road pipe.” Damn.
Sir, we need to search this vehicle.
There’s nothing else in it.
We’ll need to verify that, sir.
OK, I’ll have to get my keys.
Thank you, sir.
I stepped back inside and started to close the door behind me.
Sir, we’ll need to step inside.
Do you have to?
OK, just a minute.
They stood by the door of what was now my welding shop and surveyed my collection of scrap metal and several sculptures lined up against one wall.
When I got my keys I flipped on the overhead lights. Penny sat up in bed. She said what’s going on?
You won’t believe it.
I went back to the trio by the back door and unlocked the car. They went to town on that car. Even had me pop the hood. The guy in charge stood back. I think the other two thought they were going to find kilos in there. When they were finished they had a bit of paper, a stem, and a small pink pipe.
Do you have more drugs, sir?
No. I have little more weed. That’s it.
Can you get that for me, sir? And I will need to see your driver’s license.
Yes. I’ll be right back.
A cop car pulled into the alley. It wasn’t until then that I realized my new friends were on foot. It made sense, the cop shop was right around the corner. There was a German shepherd in the back seat of the car.
I went back into the big front room which was the whole rest of the building. Penny, although not quite awake, was now wearing her bathrobe and standing in the kitchen. She said what’s going on?
There are cops out back and I’m being busted for marijuana.
She had been a nice church-going sorority girl when I met her, but that had been 20 years back and she said you have got to be fucking kidding me!
I shit you not. This is actually happening right now and I need you to get the mother lode.
Nope. We’re back in Texas, baby. Just do it.
What time is it?
It’s three thirty in the morning.
Now, I hadn’t used a Frisbee to clean pot on since I’d been in college, but this cheap Mexican pot we were getting in Dallas had seeds in it and a Frisbee with three joints worth on it is what Penny took off the top of the refrigerator and that’s what I carried into the back room.
Thing One said is this marijuana from Washington State?
No, that’s not BC bud. I got that in Dallas.
The top guy asked where from?
A friend of a friend. I didn’t even get his name.
Do you live here alone?
No, my wife is inside.
I’m going to need to talk to her, sir.
OK, but look, she doesn’t have anything to do with this. In fact she’s been after me for years to quit. Can we just leave her out of this?
I’m going to need to talk to her, sir.
OK, come on in.
Thing One stood by the alley door and Thing Two held the spring door to the back room. I don’t think Penny was really believing this whole scene until I walked in with my miniature police officer in tow. He said Ma’am, I’m placing your husband under arrest.
She said you’ve got to kidding me.
He said no Ma’am and then he read me my rights. I had the right to remain silent.
Penny let out a sigh that rattled in her throat and sat down at the kitchen table. Zuni was standing on the bed with a bushy tail.
I was standing where I could look right out into the alley. There was an enormous age-appropriate honest to God Texas lawman standing by the cop car. He was a big dude and he was shaking his head.
The small cop asked if we minded if they brought the dog in. When we had packed up in Seattle we had an O-Z and we put little stashes of weed in various boxes as little presents to our future selves. Now, after just a week in Hicksville there were as yet unpacked boxes all over the place. I envisioned that dope dog running himself ragged until sunrise.
I said I don’t think that’s a good idea. I’ve given you everything I have and we have a cat in here. Penny later said that she’d never been so proud.
After some more rigamarole, the small cop told me that he would be in touch and that I should get Texas plates and that I should not leave the state. We did not sleep again that night. At around five I began opening boxes and didn’t quit until I found one of those stashes.
Penny asked is that smart and I said this is Texas, everyone knows you’ve got to get right back on the horse that threw ya.
We lived in kind of a limbo for several weeks until one Friday night when we were watching “Homicide.” Someone was pounding on that back door again. It didn’t sound quite as adamant this time, but it didn’t sound good either. I opened up and there were my little friends. This time we sat on the rock wall along the alley and I was informed that I was going to the county jail 20 miles away.
I managed to talk them into letting me turn myself in the next morning. I had to be there at 5:30am or they’d come looking for me. So I put on a tie and we drove down there. When I stepped up to the bullet-proof glass, the young woman at the desk was watching an old episode of “Three’s Company.” I did not have her full attention.
I was finger printed, photographed, and placed in a cell by the fattest man I’ve ever seen in uniform. He told me the judge was sick and might not be in for several days. I was allowed my book. I was reading about Lincoln at Gettysburg. I deliberately didn’t look at the graffiti on the white walls. I figured there’d be time for that. It was quiet in there. Ninety minutes later, the door opened and the fat guy whispered you are so lucky.
I stood at the counter while the fat guy passed papers to the skeletal judge for his signatures. Evidently the small cop had put in a good word for me. The judge never looked up once. He leaned hard against the counter. I never saw his face.
Then the fat guy took me back out to the lobby where a rather forlorn looking Penny sat on a blond wood bench. I asked the fat guy what’s going on and he said you got O.R.ed.
All these years later, I’m still on my own recognizance and I still don’t vacuum my car as often as I should.