::Literate Blather::
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
The Case of the Flying Mechanic

Completely True, But Utterly
Exaggerated Crime Stories

(Call me Carter. I’m old now and I’ve got the ulcer-inducing divorce and the gray hairs to prove it. I was an ink-stained wretch in the 1980s scribbling about crime, drugs, murder, rape, and unfortunate deaths in the rusty, old mill cities of Central Massachusetts, a mostly forgotten and generally ignored region of the state. This is the place where I pour out my guts and empty the remnants of my moldy reporter’s notebooks. These are the stories that made headlines.)*

The Case of the Flying Mechanic

Snow fell like confetti. It piled up in the dark, but the street lamp outside my window let me watch it grow. The wind stirred it up like a swizzle stick in a gin and tonic. It was cold and the snow pinged the frosted window above my desk. I hate snow.

I ate a six-inch BMT sandwich from Subway. The only sounds in the deserted news bureau were my jaws grinding meat and cheese and the scrape of the occasional snowplow. Then there was the static from the police ban.

I was melancholy, a goddamn modern day Scrooge. I kept waiting for the ghost of my dead career to come knocking – maybe strangle me with its long chain. Put me out of my misery.

I wiped my fingers on an oily napkin and leaned back in my swivel chair. There was a stain on my tie and a small dot of olive oil on my khaki pants. Oh, well. My body craved nicotine, but it was too cold to go outside for a cigarette. I shot the “No Smoking” sign a disdainful glare.

It was then I noticed more than the usual noise on the police radio. A serious wreck on Route 295; the highway that slices Central Massachusetts in half. Squad cars and an ambulance dispatched.

So I went. What else could I do? It was my job.

My old Toyota rumbled over the snow. It was like driving in a tunnel. I could barely see and the defroster had a difficult time keep the windshield clear. But finally blue lights flickered ahead. I pulled over, bundled up, and stepped into the blinding snow.

It was an odd scene. A van had smashed into the back of a Ford Mustang, but it appeared to be nothing more than a bad fender bender – a few thousand in damage. Yet, the driver of the van wept uncontrollable in the back of a police car.
Patrol Officer Daniel Roddy greeted me. His face was ashen.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

He told me the Mustang hit a patch of black ice under the snow and skidded to the side of the road – smacking the guardrail. The driver, a mechanic named Mick Peters, got out to assess the damage. Headlights washed over him and he looked up and saw the van.

The van lost control on the same black ice and headed right at him. Mick realized that he was standing between the van and his car. If he didn’t move, he was going to be crushed. But the van wasn’t going that fast – he had time. He glanced to the side and then ran and jumped over the guardrail.

“So where is he?” I asked.

Roddy beckoned with his flashlight and we walked to the guardrail. He flashed the light into the blackness. The ground was 100 feet down –a harrowing plummet. Unbeknownst to me we were standing on an overpass. Mick Peters’ body lay at the edge of a rail track, almost completely covered in snow.

“Can you imagine what he was thinking?” Roddy said. “He expected a nice soft landing in the snow and suddenly he’s falling through space and he realizes that he just made the biggest mistake of his life.”

To make matters worse, Peters landed on a stump – which punctured his chest. He was the father of a 3-year-old girl. Her picture hung from the rearview mirror in a plastic sheath.

I wrote the story, of course. It ran on page one.

Later that night, I sat in my rented room, in the dark. The snow had stopped and the cold seeped through the glass of the window I stared out of. I thought about Mick Peters – ready to land in a puff of snow – and then falling, falling, falling to his death.

Air and snow rushing by him. Did he think of the little girl in the plastic frame? Did he think of his wife? Vacation days at the park? Watching football games with his friends?

Or did he just scream all the way down.

I didn’t sleep. I couldn’t sleep. So I drank. Drank until dawn.

The next day, I went back to work, and my story was above the fold. Co-workers slapped my back and congratulated me. One man’s death is another man’ victory.

*Names, dates, and locations have been changed to protect the innocence and the guilty.

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