I cut the lights a block before I arrived at her house. I hate this part. It was almost 2 AM and like my father always said, “Nothing good ever happens between midnight and four in the morning.” I quietly pulled up in front of the house, turned off my car and silently closed the door. I was palm sweaty nervous and the pit of my stomach was heavy as I again rehearsed the upcoming conversation.
A wide porch ran the front of the house, an old beat up car was parked in the gravel driveway to the right. A single bare light burned above the front door, dangling from two black and white wires and no fixture. As I walked up the porch steps, each one creaked despite my best effort. I knew I would scare her at first sight, but didn’t want to do anything to make the confrontation any worse. There was no doorbell, just an old bell with a tattered rope tied to the clapper. Gently, with a trembling hand, I gave the rope a gentle shake.
After a few moments she opened the inner door, but left the screen closed and locked.
“Yes? What is it?” She said quietly, looking me up and down. After a few moments she added, “Is it Tommy?”
“Ma’am,” I said softly. “Are you Peggy Williams?”
Her eyes widened as she pulled her light night dress tight around her worn nightgown. “Yes, I am,” she answered. Concern filled her face. ”What happened to my Tommy? Where is he?”
My eyes followed hers as she looked past my uniform and the police cap under my arm, towards the patrol car parked on the street. She turned back to look at me, the badge on my chest and ID now opened under the glare of the light for her to read.
“Ma’am? My name is Officer O’Hara. May I come inside? I think you may want to sit down.”
Peggy nodded, unhooked the screen door, backed inside, and flipped the light switch in the living room. As I stepped through the door my mind raced back down the highway were I spent the last few hours.
The call came in around ten. A man, driving home on County 18 came across an accident. A solo car hit a bridge parapet.
After giving dispatch his name and location he added, “It’s bad. Hurry.”
I was just a few miles away on a local road, so I took the call, hit the lights and pulled a u-ey, spitting gravel behind me. I arrived at the bridge within five minutes of the call, took one look, and called for an ambulance.
A car had crashed into and wrapped around the end of the bridge. A second car, with flashers on, was parked across the road. A man crouched in the ditch to the right of the crash. As I approached I saw he was crouching over a body laying in the ditch.
He looked up at me as he said, “Thank god you are here. We need an ambulance.”
“I’m Officer O’Hara. I already called for one, sir. It will be here soon.”
Jaw clenched, he growled to me only, “We don’t have soon, officer. This young man is bad, real bad.”
Now that I was close, I could see the man had the victim’s head resting in his lap and was gently stroking his hair as he talked softly, comforting him.
I knelt down in the dirt and asked the young man if he could talk.
“Yes,” he said with a gurgling sigh. “But not much. I have no breath.”
I looked down at his body. There was blood everywhere. He lay on what was once a windshield, now shattered and scattered all over. The full moon, reflected in the shattered glass, sparkled like stars in heaven glittering in the dirty ground. Blood trickled from his lips and I could hear bubbles in his throat. The man was right. The victim was hurt bad.
Peggy motioned for me to sit in the large easy chair but instead I took one of the hardback straight chairs and turned it to face her as she sat on the sofa with her knees pressed together, long light brown bed mussed hair hanging on her shoulders, eyes red on the verge of tears and terror.
“W..w..what happened to my Tommy?”
“I am sorry Ms. Williams,” I said softly. There was an accident down on the county two way between here and Weybridge.”
“Is Tommy ok? Is he in the hospital?” Peggy said, becoming more desperate.
I hate this part. I could see her verging on hysteria and knew I had to calm her down before she lost it altogether.
“It was bad, Ms. Williams. I can I only tell you the facts I know right now. Would you like a glass of water?”
She nodded and got up to move towards the kitchen. She was a small, young woman, barely more than a girl, barefoot, alone and scared. I followed her into the kitchen, as my mind raced back to the bridge.
The ambulance arrived and the med techs took over. The man who reported the accident stood by, sobbing silently. I went to him and gently put my arm around his waist, guiding him away and back towards his own car.
I looked over my shoulder as the techs started to move the young man. As they lifted him his shirt flopped open giving me a clear view of his ruined chest and abdomen. I tried not to retch as I tightened my grip on the man and guided him away, blocking his view. He didn’t need to live with that vision.
“Sir? I will need your name and address and your statement for my accident report. The techs will take the young man to the hospital in Riverside.”
“But he is so young. I have a son his age,” said the man, wiping his eyes with the back of his hand. “He asked me to help him, but there was nothing I could do.”
“I know,” I said weakly. “Calling the accident in was the best thing you could do and staying with the victim helped him more than anything else you could have done. But these techs are the best and they will do all they can. What is your name, sir?”
“He is not a victim,” he growled at me. “His name is Tommy. I am Harry Donnelly, officer. I live in Riverside. I was driving home from my swing shift at Papa Joe’s All-night Diner. I am the front manager there. I saw flames when I rounded the corner towards the bridge and slowed way down. When I approached, I saw the car wrapped around the end of the bridge. The windows were all blown out and the engine was on fire. As I went towards the car to see if anyone was still inside I heard Tommy moaning for help down in the ditch. I went down to him and saw he was covered in blood and laying on shattered glass.”
“Did you know the victim, Mr. Donnelly? You said his name was Tommy. Do you know his last name?”
“No, he only told me Tommy. He asked me to help him. He called me “sir” and pleaded for me to help. I knew I shouldn’t move him but I couldn’t just leave him there alone. I gently lifted his head and placed it in my lap, trying not to move any of his body. His chest was covered in blood. I wish the moon wasn’t full. I can never un-see that image.”
“What else did he tell you Mr. Donnelly,” I asked
“He lives with his girlfriend, Peggy Williams. They were high school sweethearts and have been together since graduation. They rent a small house on River Road in town. It’s all they can afford. Tommy is an auto mechanic in Weybridge. He worked a double shift today to try to make a little more money.”
“Thanks for the info sir. It’s a big help. Now, is there anything else you know that I should add to my report?”
“No, Officer, I’m sorry. I can’t think of anything else. I can only see that young man, lying among the stars in the dirt and mud.”
The med techs finished loading Tommy into the ambulance. One of the techs looked over at me, held out his hand and rocked it back and forth indicating that Tommy had a chance, then slowly turned his thumb down, further indicating it was not a good chance.
Peggy sat in one of the four mismatched kitchen chairs carefully arranged around a vinyl gingham covered square table. After she took a sip of water Peggy murmured, “Officer, tell me what happened.”
“Ms. Williams,” I began.
“Please call me Peggy, Officer O’Hara.”
“Ok, then Peggy,” I responded. “Tommy was in an accident on County 18. Apparently he was on his way home, lost control of his car going around the corner approaching the bridge.”
Peggy’s eyes welled up and a tear started down her left cheek.
“It’s not good, Peggy. Tommy is bad. Real bad. The ambulance came and took him to Riverside. I saw them drive away, then I came here.”
“So, he could talk? He told you about me?”
“Not really. A man stopped to help him and Tommy told him about you and the man, his name is Harry Donnelly, comforted him until the ambulance and I arrived. He was a godsend to Tommy, staying with him like he did. By the time I arrived Tommy couldn’t talk much.”
Peggy stood, looked me square in the face and asked, “Then Tommy is still alive, just hurt bad?”
“I don’t know, Peggy but I will check before I leave you tonight.”
Harry sat in his car for a long time after watching the taillights of the ambulance disappear over the bridge. A tow truck showed up to pull the wreck off to the side of the road. The car was too smashed to be towed and they will have to haul it away with a flat bed, probably in the morning.
Finally, Harry turned off the flashers, started his car and drove towards home. He thought of his son, off at his first year of college and wanted to call, but knew it was too late and the call would just upset him. He thought of his wife, no doubt asleep by now and decided to just go home.
I excused myself, stepped back into the living room, called the hospital, identifying myself as the officer in charge of the accident, and asked about Tommy. A moment later the ER nurse told me the worst possible news.
Walking back into the kitchen, I looked at Peggy, unable to say the words, unable to say anything. Tears welled up in my eyes as I sadly shook my head.
Peggy just broke down and wailed a long painful cry.
I went over to her, wrapped my arms around her and pulled her close. Without my police cap on, my long blond hair cascaded down my shoulders and now fell across Peggy’s head and shoulders as we wept together.
Harry pulled into his driveway, killed the engine and silently closed the door. He entered the house through the back door, as usual, removed his shoes and carefully climbed the stairs to the second floor, avoiding the third step that always squeaked. The bedroom door was open. He walked past, peeking in where his wife was sleeping on her right side, facing away, towards the window. Slowly he continued on to the bathroom where he undressed, brushed his teeth and took his evening meds. Before returning to the bedroom he looked at himself in the mirror. Eyes red from crying, hair an angry tangle and face streaked with mud, he looked exactly as he felt, a mess. He washed his face and hands, turned off the light and headed to bed.
Harry slowly climbed into bed lay on his right side, rested his head on his right hand. He lay there for a long time just looking at his wife, watching her breathe, before he slid across the bed, put his left arm over her waist and carefully spooned her trying to touch every point of her body with his.
Sleepily she murmured, “Are you alright, Harry? It’s late. I was worried.`”
“Go back to sleep darling. I was delayed on my way home, I will be ok in the morning.”