My partner and I were on night duty in our squad car when a call came for us over the radio. It was a dispatch of an anonymous report of a dead body being found in a house at 1116 Cemetery Lane. Cemetery Lane got its name for the small old cemetery there, in which lie the earthly remains of the town’s founders, their relatives & several lesser folks. Like I said, the cemetery was small, so it was by that time full, and no one had been buried there for many decades. It wasn’t well kept and the weeds had taken over.
We were only five blocks away when we took the call, so we were there in minutes. I stepped into the street. It was black. No moon. Across the street lay the cemetery, some railroad tracks just beyond, and the river levee just beyond the tracks. I couldn’t see any of these landmarks in that darkness, but I guess I sort of sensed them, as I breathed in a deep breath of the night; you see, I knew that neighborhood: that was my patrol, my beat, and I had been down that road literally hundreds of times.
We got our flashlights and walked up the sidewalk to the rundown old house. I rang the doorbell, but we didn’t stand there waiting too long for anyone to answer, because it was plain there was no one living there. We would go around to the backyard. At the side fence a dog was inside the gate, sort of scratching at the bottom of it while barking softly and unconvincingly, and crying a little. He seemed friendly. The gate wasn’t locked, so we pushed it open. The dog playfully jumped up to my partner’s waist.
There was a flat tray filled with what looked like enough dog food to last that little fellow a week. Suddenly the dog let out a low growl and hurried past us to the pitch darkness of the backyard. He stood there, still growling, staring into the blackness. What an eerie feeling that gave me—this dog staring like that, being certain of a presence, someone or something out there, which was beyond the range of my human senses. I set aside my fear and walked, guided by my flashlight, all the way back to a low wood fence. There was nothing there. I looked over the fence into the backyard behind the fence, waved my light around and saw nothing there either. “Silly boy,” I said to the dog, as I walked back to the back stoop where my partner stood pointing his flashlight at the back door. “It’s open.” he said.
And so it was. A screen door was in place and closed, but the back door was standing open. We went inside. I felt for a light switch. The power was turned off. The darkness continued. The door opened into the kitchen. In the hall just off the kitchen was a body hanging. Suicide. We were both startled. We took a closer look. An elderly black woman with lifeless, gazing eyes. Her tongue protruded from her mouth.
Somehow this poor old creature had pulled down the stairs that led to the attic, climbed up and tied off an end of an elastic rope up there, come back down, and then tied the other end around her neck. A footstool, upon which she must have stood, was several feet down the hall as if kicked there by her as she stepped off it. She didn’t leave herself much line and her toes touched the floor; her slippers lay beside them.
We talked it over. We figured the person who reported the body must have been burglarizing the place; and then, finding this frightening corpse, he must have changed his mind, because a quick walk through of the place revealed nothing had been disturbed. What a scare that burglar must have had!
My partner radioed the station to confirm there was indeed a dead body at 1116 Cemetery Lane. I thought how I had just seen a dead body the night before, a convenience store robbery victim; I wondered how many dead bodies would accumulate over a career.
A further search of the kitchen produced a suicide note lying on the stove. It said, “They have done turned off my lights. I can’t SEE to do NOTHING for myself now. I can’t do NOTHING! And God help me, there is NOBODY to help me.” She closed simply with her name: Genia Johnson.
Well, the power company had turned off her electricity. I wondered how much her bill was. I cursed the power company. It was obvious Miss Johnson had set out plenty of food for her dog because she knew she wasn’t going to be around to feed him in the future.
I went out to the trunk of the patrol car while my partner remained to secure the house. What was taking him so long? I wondered. I could see the beam of his flashlight moving haphazardly behind the curtains in the front room. Then, without any warning, I heard a deep voice right behind my neck, asking “Do you know where the dead body’s at?”
I nearly jumped out of my shoes, I was that startled. This person seemed to have appeared from out of nowhere. I wheeled around, acting on pure survival instinct and adrenaline, and grabbed whoever it was by the collar while shining my light in his face. His eyes grew to the size of saucers. It was a young black man who had recently signed on and was there to fingerprint the body at 1116 Cemetery Lane. I had scared him as badly as he had scared me.
You have to believe me that I have never been the fraidy-cat type. There was just something about that night. It must have been a combination of things: the cemetery, the dog staring off that way, the corpse. Anyway, I have never forgotten that night. I guess nothing much good can ever happen down on Cemetery Lane.
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