The Man in Orange

Author of THE SECOND GIRL, David Swinson, shares a story from his time as a detective in Washington, DC.

Posted on June 3, 2016 in Guest Author
Tags: police procedural

Several people have told me, after reading The Second Girl, that it felt so authentic. I always tell them that I can thank the Metropolitan Police Department, in Washington, DC for most of that. I gained a lot of life experience there. Here’s one small story:

A couple of years before I retired I was a detective assigned to the now defunct Career Criminal Unit. A part of my job was to debrief prisoners through the US Attorney’s Office, and then, if they were willing to cooperate, pick them up from prison for what we called a “drive-around”. The defendants would direct me to certain locations where either they committed crimes or they knew of crimes that were committed. I felt good about what I did because it gave closure to a lot of victims. Part of me also loved getting to know some of these defendants, not only their motivation behind committing certain crimes, but about their personal lives too.

There was one defendant that has always stayed with me. I don’t advocate what this man did nor can I get into the circumstances involving the nature of our meeting. I can only say that I picked him up at DC Corrections. He was dressed in orange and shackled at the feet, his fat-fingered hands cuffed in front, and held tight against his belly because the cuffs were secured to a chain wrapped around his waist. When he moved he hobbled like a clumsy, unprepared ghost of Christmas past.

A button pushed, then a loud sound of steel against steel, and we were allowed out and into the open air where my partner and I had a vehicle parked in an equally secured area. The average person on the street would never know of the man in orange sitting in the back with my partner, hidden by heavy tint.

We drove around. Places. We talked. I watched him through the rear view mirror. A look of uncertainty. A racing mind.  A man who was sitting with purpose. I saw hope – something based on information offered – another man’s head on a platter, maybe a few men, and throw in a friend for good measure. Consideration for time.

I stopped at a local coffee spot. The man in orange liked good coffee. This particular coffee shop had a specialty – a deliciously rich, French toast muffin. I bought him one. I offered him cigarettes too. Stuff like that can soften even the hardest man.

When we were done, I decided to take the long road back, give him more time. But the more time that passed, the more he seemed to shrink in the back seat. I realized that I was only prolonging the inevitable. That was the reality of the return.

‘I’m not feeling so good,’ he said.

‘What kind of not feeling good?’ I asked.

‘I think I’m going to puke.’

‘Let me find a safe place.’

‘I can make it back, puke in the cell.’

‘You don’t look like you can make it back,’ I said, and so I found a safe spot under a bridge near a wooded area.

My partner and I stepped out and watched him vomit what looked like French onion soup, nothing of substance.

He heaved and gagged for several minutes, apologized between breaths, between sudden convulsions.

‘I guess I’m more nervous than I figured.’

‘It’s the cigarettes and coffee, and the rich muffin,’ I assured him. ‘Your body’s not used to it.’

‘Yeah, it’s used to bologna sandwiches,’ my partner said.

‘Yeah,’ he tried to smile.

He stood there, bent over and after a while, could only heave air – gasped for breath in-between.

Here is a man.

Four days before Christmas, and I stood before a man who was puking whatever hope he had left out of his mouth.

Maybe the cigarettes and the French toast muffin. Maybe that added to the sense of loss he was about to face. Maybe it was just the feeling of the breeze through the open window against his face.

I don’t know. I only know I wasn’t responsible.

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