He flicked on his windshield wipers.
Funny how he'd never gotten used to the sight of blood.
He recalled vividly another rainy night, and his first fatal.
How his pulse had quickened in a crazy combination of dread and excitement when the call came through... 12-16-A (a fatal accident.)
He swallowed hard remembering.
There was no way he could have been prepared for the actuality.
Maimed metal, so twisted it didn't even resemble a vehicle any longer; shards of broken glass glinting wetly in the red revolving lights.
And so much blood.
When they loaded her body into the ambulance, he had turned aside and vomited, as much from despair as horror.
It was all so needless.
But that was the name of the game.
He squinted through the lines of rain that blurred his windshield.
If there was anything he hated about his job, it was the sense of futility, of not being able to change what he saw:
Abused children, addicts, drunken drivers, child molesters....
The difference was with some it was a matter of choice.
He lit a cigarette.
Then again, he wasn't there to judge. Just to do his job.
His radio blared suddenly, the flat precise voice of the dispatcher loud in the quiet.
--- There's a 12-29 in progress at 574 West Third. Do you copy?
--- Copy, he replied--I'm enroute.
He swung the patrol car in a tight bootlegger's turn, and flipped on the overheads. No siren, though, in a family beef that might just make things worse.
His hands tightened on the steering wheel.
White knuckle time.
The woman's smile was a grimace, her swollen eye purpling under the yellow porch light.
-- No officer, she insisted--there's no problem.
Relief and frustration mingled as he watched the door go shut.
Strange how the sidewalk seemed shorter going back down it.
He reported back to the desk man and dismissed it from his mind.
He smiled wryly.
It was not possible.
Twenty-five years of Christmas dinners gobbled on a half hour lunch break; of vacations postponed and plans canceled.
Of 3 A.M. phone calls with the terse two-word command to "suit up"
But it hadn't been all bad.
He must have fed ice cream to a score of lost little kids, and rescued innumerable motorists from flat tires, blizzards, and empty gas tanks.
He glanced at his watch.
Time to head for the barn, he thought, and for an instant, that first fatal flashed against his inner eye.
He saw again the quiet house, darkened in sleep, the porch light snapping on at their knock, the bath robed mother's face blanching as she saw the two uniformed troopers on her doorstep.
--- We're sorry, ma'am.
He had not known until they got into the car that the wetness on his cheeks was not rain, but tears.
Now he pulled into the patrol office parking lot.
As he yanked his keys from the ignition, he realized with a pang that he wouldn't be needing them anymore.
They'd be turned in along with his uniform, his service revolver, and the remainder of his standard issue.
No more patrols. No more wary approach of the traffic offender inviolate in his own car. No more court dates on days off.
No more letdown when someone copped a plea and got off.
No more exhilaration when he saw his influence weigh a youngster away from trouble.
He had made it to the end.
Not like some, going out in a box.
He sighed wearily, then grinned as he pulled the mike towards him and signed himself out.
Linda Syverson Dent
(Linda Dent is the
sister-in-law to Oregon State Police
Senior Trooper (Retired) Robert Dent of Bend, Oregon)
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