“It’s the police.”
After my brother and I had gotten home from our sleepover, we had a bowl of cereal and had crashed out for a few hours before loud knocking woke us up. I had gotten up and staggered over to a window. It was raining very hard and that’s when I saw the police officer standing outside knocking on the door. Worst than that, it was the Chief of Police, Rudy Sapienza.
“The police?” my brother asked, rubbing his eyes and looking out the window.
Without even having to open the door I knew I feared the worst. Andy had gone ahead and poured sand in the gas tank of that car.
“Jeffrey Miller, right?” asked Rudy Sapienza.
“We have reports that you and your brother poured sand in the gas tank of an automobile.” Sapienza said flipping through some rain-splattered pages of a small notebook.
Think fast Jeffrey. You’re being blamed for something you didn’t do.
“It wasn’t us. It was some other kids,” I said. Better off not to mention any names; didn’t want to have that hanging over me—that I ratted someone out. “Talk to Jim Black. He’ll tell you the same story.”
“Well, I just came from Jim Black’s house,” Sapienza said. “Dale and another kid, Andy Smith said you and your brother did it.”
That figures. I see how this was playing out. My brother and I were being ratted out and it all came down to geography. Jim and Andy lived next door to each other; we lived farther away. The buck was being passed and it was right in our hands, so to speak.
“Your mother is at work now, right?” he asked.
“Yes, she is.”
“There’s going to be an emergency city council meeting this evening with the mayor, myself, aldermen, and the parents and children involved in this. You can tell her or we can tell her.”
“We’ll tell her.”
“That’s good,” Sapienza said. “We’ll send a squad car around 6:00 to pick you and your Mom up.”
I slowly shut the door and turned to my brother who hadn’t fully grasped the situation at hand here.
“We’re in for it now Randy.”
Of course we hadn’t done anything wrong. It was our word against their word and once the truth was known we would be spared any punishment, at least that is what I hoped would be the outcome. However, what scared me most—and not the “I told you so” I knew I would eventually hear—but having to tell our mother that we had to go to the police station and that we would go in a squad car. She was really going to appreciate that kind of “to serve and protect” service from our local law enforcement agency.
We tried calling our grandparents hoping they would know what to do but we could not reach them.
We were on our own.
I figured that we were going to be punished no matter what, but it might be in our best interests for a preemptive strike by cleaning the house from top to bottom and cooking dinner, actually heating up some leftovers from the other day. Not exactly what you would call going down without a fight, but instead hoping that it would soften up mom a little when it came time to tell her that we would have to go to the police station that evening.
For the record, mom was impressed when she walked in that afternoon and noticed how clean the house was and I thought she was going to let out a shriek when she saw the table set. If she knew something was up she wasn’t going to let on and spoil the moment. She took a bath and put on some clean clothes. That should have tipped my brother and I off that the police had called her. Maybe she was just waiting to see how far we would run with this.
“How was your sleep over?”
“It was fine. We listened to some music, drank some Cokes. Set off some Cherry Bombs,” I said.
“I never want to catch you setting them off around here,” she said.
“Sure Mom. Wouldn’t want to get into trouble,” I replied. “Oh and one more thing, we have to go the police station this evening.”
I liked how I slipped that in there not realizing the irony.
Yes, if there were a pin and it was dropped you would have been able to hear it.
“We have to go to the police station,” I said. “They’re sending a squad car to get us soon.”
That’s when I knew that she had known all along that we had gotten in trouble. However, she hadn’t been told a police car was going to pick us up. That’s when she hit the ceiling.
But she didn’t have time to get too angry, not then because the police car had just pulled up outside. She would have time to be angry later; now it was just being embarrassed for having to get in the back of the police car with a couple of our neighbors standing around and watching this drama unfold.
When we filed into the city council chambers, we passed Andy who was sitting in the front row. Sitting next to him was a large, rough-looking man with a crew cut and nautical tattoos up and down his arms. That must have been his father. Behind him were Jim, Dale and their mother and right across from them was the other kid we had seen with Andy and his parents. Later we found out that this new kid, Johnny Jurkas had just moved into town that summer. He hadn’t wasted any time making a name for himself and getting us in trouble.
After the mayor introduced himself and the members of the council he went on to say that there had been a rash of complaints from residents about children getting in trouble—from breaking curfew to soaping windows and tipping over garbage cans. And in light of this recent event, pouring sand into the gas tank of a car, it was time according to the mayor “to do something to put an end to all this and send a strong message to other parents and their children.”
This was not looking good for us.
“Mr. Smith, I understand your son has something to say,” said the mayor.
Andy’s father grunted and gave his son a hard nudge in the ribs to stand up.
When Andy stood up, we could see that his eyes were red. Here, before all of us in the city council chambers, Andy Smith undoubtedly one of Washington Grade School’s toughest and rebellious kids had been broken. It wasn’t a pretty sign and portended doom for the rest of us.
“I did it,” Andy said in a low voice. “Johnny Jurkas and I poured the sand in the gas tank. We are sorry.”
There it was. The truth was out. Hallelujah!
“Thank you Andy and Johnny for confessing. However, in light of the serious nature of this act of vandalism, the rest of you boys could have stopped them or you could have told your parents,” said the mayor. “Had it not been for Jim’s older brother warning the owner of the car, more serous damage could have occurred. You are just as guilty.”
We’re just as guilty? And how did Dale know?
“There will be no record of this. The owner does not want to press charges,” continued the mayor. “She does however want you kids to pay for having to clean out her gas tank. I think that’s fair.”
Each parent would have to pay around 50.00 each to have the gas tank cleaned.
Now, we were in trouble.
“Now folks, I don’t want you to go home and punish your kids. You know what they say, ‘boys will be boys,” said the mayor. “I think they all learned a good lesson here tonight including ourselves.”
And that was that.
My mother made us wait until the other parents and their children had filed out of the room along with the alderman.
“Would you and your boys like a ride home Mrs. Miller?” asked one of the police officers.
“No, thanks,” our mom said. “We’ll walk home.”
I didn’t like the sound of that –“we’ll walk home.” It would end up being the longest walk of our lives and we didn’t live that far from the police station. To avoid any further embarrassment, we stayed off the main street and walked down an alley that ran parallel. We tried to walk as slowly as we could to delay the inevitable to no avail.
To say we got a good whipping when we got home would be an understatement; one thing is for certain the rod was not spared. My brother got off easy. I wish I could say the same for myself.
The next day my brother went to our grandparents for the remainder of the summer vacation whereas for all my pestering and promises that I would not get in trouble, I was grounded for the rest of the summer vacation. No television and I had to go to bed at 9:00.
Jim and I never hung out again. Andy Smith moved away the following year, and Jim’s brother finally ended up serving time for breaking into a liquor store.