Monday, June 27, 2011

A Night on the Hill with Abner

First time I met Abner I didn't know what to expect. He and I would be partners doing night security in a big motel. I reported a little early and the night desk clerk paged him. In came an old man in a rumpled pair of pants and a mismatched jacket. He had on a pale green shirt buttoned at the collar but no tie. His hair needed combing and he was wearing white socks. He had a long nose and the set of his mouth and general appearance said "Hick".

We worked together for three years and I learned otherwise. He held a commercial pilot's license and occasionally would rent a plane and fly to the Bahamas, no one knew why. He once rode shotgun for a bootlegger delivering the stuff in barrels. He rode behind the truck in a car to ward off any trouble. I got to know him as a good friend over the years we worked together.

One night in particular stands out in my mind. It was a humid summer evening and the two nightclubs and a meeting hall were packed. Two bands and a Mexican trio were playing and the place was throbbing. We talked a little on the bridge that separated the lower area from the hill. There were 13 1/2 acres and 329 rooms. Thirteen acres of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abner called it.

Just as we were about to part company to work our areas, my belt radio went off. A woman on the top story had tried to kill herself. An ambulance was on the way. In fact the medics got to the room before we did. Someone had called for them before the desk was notified. She had been taken away just before we arrived. We decided to check her room. She had stayed behind while her family was using the pool. There were four empty aspirin bottles on the bathroom counter. In the sink was a mound of aspirin powder mixed with blood.

"Couldn't keep it down," said Abner. "Anyway, it wasn't a suicide attempt," he continued, "just one of those calls for help."

We saw her two children as we left the room. The girl was about fourteen and the boy about ten. They were standing by the rail, waiting to come in to get their things so they could leave. "Well, she's done it again," said the girl. She and the boy didn't seem upset, they wore sullen expressions, as if they were resigned to their mother's behavior. "She always does this," said the boy.

"Must be a full moon tonight" said Abner, "we're off to a bad start." Once again I started for the bridge to go to the lower area.

But before we parted Abner got an urgent call. Someone had gone ballistic and among other things had spit in the face of the young cashier. We both hated to hear that, Julie was young and innocent, with a fresh appearance, she had the kind of face that didn't need makeup. As we entered the club, she was coming out of the ladies' room. She had been scrubbing her face and her eyes were red from crying.

"Who did this?" Abner demanded? The lady manager said, "A young guy, one of the executives. He's up on the stage now, 'singing'". We went through the doorway and there he was, wearing a suit, young and lean. Everything about him looked fine except his wild eyes. He was waving his arms while he tried to sing in an operatic style. No words came out of his mouth, just weird sounds.

We walked up the steps and showed our badges, he pushed us away and continued his wild sounds. Abner and I each grabbed an arm and dragged him backwards off the stage and into a hallway. Members of the audience started booing. "Let him alone," someone yelled. The police had been called, we were told, but we knew from experience there could be a long wait until they arrived. Meanwhile our subject was screaming incoherently and thrashing about on the marble floor.

"Speed freak?" I asked Abner. "I don't know," he said, "but he's on something, just look at his eyes."

The young man's voice was hoarse from screaming. "Kill me," he yelled, "why don't you kill me!" These were the first words he had spoken. He grabbed hold of Abner's ankle and tried to bite him. "Kill me," he screamed again, "please!"

I saw Abner reach for his big hogleg .38 and start to pull it out of his holster. I put both my hands on his arm. "Don't do it Ab," I said, "he's not worth it." Just then two cops arrived and one started spraying the young man with mace. His actions only became more violent and he was yelling again as they cuffed him, pulled him to his feet, and led him away.

Later, when things finally got quiet, we started walking to the lower area, towards the pool. "Tonight's the end of the work period," I said. "I need to make out a time sheet."

"I've got one in my damned car," he said. He always called it his damned car. It was an old, dirty, white Plymouth. He popped the trunk and handed me two sheets. "I'm giving you two of them.You always mess up one before you get it right."

"It's that 24 hour time system," I explained, "it's confusing."

"I better get my raincoat while I'm here," he said. His yellow raincoat was wadded up under a half-full bag of Sac-Crete mix. He pulled it out and shook off the dust.

"Were you really going to shoot that guy?" I asked him.

"No way," he replied. "He wanted me to, that's why I wouldn't do it."

We sat on some lounge chairs by the pool. The underwater lights cast a moving blue glow on the concrete trunks of the fake palm trees. A gentle summer breeze made the vinyl leaves rattle. We were quiet for awhile, then Ab spoke again. "People are awful, you know it? I wonder why God even messes with us."

I lay back in the chair, watching the pattern of lights on the surface of the pool. When I looked over at Ab, he had tears in his eyes. I had never seen him cry. "What is it Ab?" I asked.

"I was just thinking about what they did to Jesus, he said. Did you ever really read it? They whipped and beat him before he died 'til he didn't even look like a human any more. He did all that for us."

Then Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his heard, and they put on him a purple robe, And said, Hail, King of the Jews! And they smote him with their hands.
John 19:1-3

1 comment:

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