Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008
John le Carre once said that history keeps her secrets longer than most of us. But I can tell you with complete certainty that I have a secret that history will never know.
I have been called a cold, bitter man. Personally, I think it’s because I drink too much lemonade. My name is Drew Evans and I work as a cop for the city of St. Paul. I won’t lie: it can be a tough life. About half of the people who become law enforcement officers leave before they have five years on the job. It’s because we carry the job home with us. We remember the tragedies, traffic fatalities, hurt or dead babies, ruined lives, battered wives, bullied kids, suicides, and the insults. We remember. Don’t get me wrong; fighting for truth and justice is the only job I would ever want. What else could I do that allows me to drive fast and carry a powerful handgun?
Tonight, I’m driving around in my Crown Vic, hoping somebody will play havoc with our criminal code and I have something to do. Just before six, it happens. I’m directed to the south side of the city near Ford Parkway to set up a perimeter. Rob Zink, my friend and the other officer working this area, pulls up at the same time. He gets out, nods in my direction, heading off to the left, lighted flashlight in hand. We’re searching for a burglary and assault suspect involved in a brutal home invasion.
I elect to leave my flashlight off. My thought is, that if my fellow officers are walking around waving their flashlights, the suspect will head for the darker, deserted area. Sort of like sending him down a funnel right to me. I slowly pace the dark streets, feeling the vibe, listening to the barking of the spooked dogs. Dogs always know when something’s amiss.
And right on schedule, I hear him. Running footfalls, the sound of movement. My back is against the rear of a minivan parked on the street. I tense, waiting as he approaches from the vehicle’s front. I hit him hard and we both go down, rolling, grappling, punching. We separate and warily rise to our feet. Sizing him up, I see he’s not huge, but tall and lean. Always a little too cocky for my own good, I wave him forward like some ninja in an old kung fu film. The suspect charges at me, letting loose a string of curses and punches. He’s as fast with his punches as he is with his mouth. I try to lock him up, as I am getting tired of being his punching bag.
Between punches, I activate my radio handset microphone, which is clipped to my shoulder. “Officer needs assistance, suspect resisting.”
He lands a hard punch to the side of my head. I still manage to give my location, “Ford Parkway at Davern.” Experience has taught me it helps to give my location if I want help to find me. He lands another punch, this one a glancing blow to my cheek.
My anger growing, I hit him in the belly and he doubles over. I’m wondering if he will go down for the count, making my job easier. The other officers are just arriving as the suspect stands, a knife now in his hand. No hesitation, he lunges at me. I step back, and parry his thrust with my right hand. Grabbing at his wrist, I use his momentum against him, pulling him forward. Caught off balance, he has no chance to avoid my left elbow. It connects with his face, and he drops to the ground, this time to stay. His knife skids across the pavement and I watch it as though it’s moving in slow motion. The knife eventually comes to rest under an officer’s foot.
I’m rubbing the back of my head—must have dinged it on the pavement—as I head back to my unit. “Hey, Evans. Your cell phone.”
One of the officers tosses me a cell phone. I look at it. “Not mine …”
I go to toss it back and pause as I recognize it. It’s the phone I found last week at the Republican National Convention. I spent the entire week working convention crowd control and security at the Excel Energy Center. The RNC was a major undertaking involving a lot of law enforcement and sadly, a lot of protesters. While I support the protesters’ constitutional right to free speech, urine and feces have absolutely no place in free speech. These so-called anarchists travel from city to city with no genuine regard for causes, just the desire to disrupt major events solely for the headlines. Okay, I really hate these guys. They should be dipped in their own urine and force fed their imported feces until they promise to go back to the rocks from which they crawled out.
On Tuesday, I had been with a platoon of officers stationed outside the Excel Center. We were in full body armor prepared for the worst, however it looked like we were sweating in the September heat for nothing. There was a relatively peaceful anti-war protest going on, with the group chanting the usual stop the war slogans and waving their signs for the cameras. The group was large, but appeared to be earnest in their desire to have their message heard by the Republican politicians. This all changed however, with the arrival of the anarchists. These cowards wore hoods and masks, spreading through the crowd inciting a riot. Within minutes, barriers were overrun, shop windows were broken, and we were being pelted with a variety of objects—both painfully hard and foul smelling.
Next, there’s some chick on my back, pounding on my helmet and shrieking about my desire to oppress her. Oppress her? My only desire was to mace her and lock her ass up in the county jail. Hopefully, she received a much-needed shower there. If anarchy means that bathing is discouraged, then they’ll never have my vote. That woman smelled.
Putting her on the ground, I happily put the woman in restraints and hauled her over to a makeshift holding area. She was swearing at me the entire time. I kept repeating over and over to myself, “I love my job. I love my job.” Believe me, there are some days on this job I pray for spontaneous combustion.
Wednesday however, was not one of those days. Wednesday is the day I first came across the phone—and its mysterious owner.
After the events on Tuesday, the RNC task force officers who had been working outside were rotated inside to work security during the Alaskan Governor’s speech, the higher ups no doubt realizing our patience had been strained to the breaking point by the events of the night before. Apparently, having officers implode on national television was a scenario to be avoided at all costs. And from a cop point of view, watching over her is the best assignment of the RNC.
There was a tremendous amount of excitement for the debut of the Republican vice presidential candidate. This was to be her first time in front of the cameras and the buzz was that she would be a star in the Republican Party for years to come.
So, there I was, hanging out with the festive Republican delegates, the mood jubilant as the Alaskan governor took the stage. I found her to be folksy and likable, though I’m unsure if she’d be intelligent enough to run the country should something happen to the president. She has nice legs, though.
Scanning the crowd, I looked for any potential threats, however everyone looked far too giddy to be causing problems. After the speech ended, the place cleared out quickly, with just a few pockets of people lingering. I found myself drawn to a solitary man seated in the first row of the elevated section closest to the platform. As I approached him, I noticed there was something a bit off about him. An experienced patrol officer will often see a vehicle and just know that something isn’t right and pull it over. Subtle visual cues trigger red flags in most officers, and as I’ve always said, the ability to justify our instincts is what makes a good cop. I studied him, raising my red flag.
The man wore a gray pinstripe suit with a red, white, and blue tie. He appeared to be in his mid-forties, with salt and pepper medium length hair and glasses. I looked down at his shoes noticing they were not the typical conservative loafers being worn by the rest of the delegates; they were different somehow, boxier maybe. He was wearing the decorative pin—our visual cue that he was an authorized RNC delegate and belonged here. But thinking back, he didn’t look as if he belonged. Imagine a person trying to blend in with the local population of a foreign country. The person would be close, but not quite there. That’s how he was.
I decided to engage him and stepping closer, I asked him if he enjoyed the governor’s speech. He looked at me with raw emotion on his face. “She’ll make history, you know.”
I nodded, still unsure if it will be for something positive or negative. “I’m sure she will.”
The man looked convinced as he nodded. “You can count on it.”
Nodding, I offered, “It’s said well behaved women rarely make history.” Okay, I had read that on a bumper sticker, but it was all I had. It appeared to make him happy though. He stood up and mumbled something about the time. I watched him amble off towards the far side of the arena floor. He appeared harmless enough—no throwing feces for him. I glanced back towards his seat and saw something. Something with a metallic glint on the floor under his seat. Oh, oh.
For a moment there, I was thinking terrorist—one who had left us a parting gift. Moving closer, I saw that it was just a cell phone. I fished the phone out from under the chair, noticing it was of a make that I hadn’t seen before. However these days, new cell phones are a daily occurrence as each manufacturer is trying top the other. I started after the odd man figuring I might still be able to catch him and return his phone. Except that’s when I heard the shouting.
It was coming from behind the stage: strident voices breaking up the calm of the emptying arena. I shoved the phone into my vest, planning to drop it off later at the facility’s lost and found. I hustled for the backstage area, seeing several other uniformed officers descending on the area as well. The two men quickly calmed down when they saw the police were headed their way in big-time hurry. They were having a disagreement about the Republican position on immigration reform and both men emphatically elaborated their opposing positions to us. I found myself agreeing with the older of the two men, while Davies, also from the central district, was agreeing with the other man. It wasn’t long before we were all arguing with each other for the next hour. Isn’t politics fun?
Meanwhile, I completely forgot about the phone in my pocket—until tonight.
I had slipped the phone in my vest, forgetting to turn it in to the lost and found. As the convention had ended last week, it was too late now. Lucky for the odd RNC man, I am quite resourceful. If I just call the last number dialed, I can ask whose phone this is. Simple enough.
I arrive at my unit and say, “see ya” to Rob. Leaning against the squad car, I study the phone under the streetlight. It is different from the other phones I have seen before. There isn’t a brand name on it and everything has a brand name on it these days. The phone is made of polished metal and has three large buttons, plus the usual numerical keypad. The two top buttons are colored green and red, but not labeled. My cell has these marked as TALK and END. This phone also has a long black button running horizontally across the bottom that is marked LOCATION. The phone must be GPS enabled. Nice.
On my phone, if I hit the green TALK button twice, it redials the last call made. So, I press the green button once, twice, and listen. There are a series of tones that quickly speed up. They crescendo in speed to an almost constant tone. Suddenly, I’m feeling disorientated. My head spinning, I put my hands on my knees, hoping the vertigo will pass quickly. Fortunately it does.
However when I lift my head, things are different. My patrol car isn’t behind me, and now I’m leaning against a dumpster in an alley. I am overwhelmed with the surrealness of the moment as I take in the fact that I am now somewhere different—someplace I wasn’t just seconds before. Could this be a dream? The smell of overripe garbage comes wafting in my direction. Are you supposed to smell garbage during waking dreams? It’s ludicrous to believe I’m dreaming when I look down, seeing I’m wearing the same sweat soaked uniform I was when I was leaning against my squad. Okay, for the moment I have to assume this is real. But now what?
Looking around, I’m drawn to the bright lights at the entrance of the alley. There is a group of people passing by. Stepping out of the alley, I scan the area. This is downtown St. Paul. What the hell? Had I hit my head that hard on the pavement? My patrol car had been parked at Ford Parkway and Davern—at least three miles west of downtown St. Paul. Stunned, I fall in and walk with the group. Some of the group turn, looking at me with what—anger, resentment, possibly contempt? I’m not exactly sure, but I know I’m in the ballpark. They seem bothered by my uniform.
The group slows, meeting up with the crowd that is congregating in the plaza by the Excel Energy Center. It’s like the Republican National Convention all over again. Of course, the RNC had ended last Thursday. This didn’t make any sense. I would have known if something this large was going on in St. Paul—again. That was a week I wouldn’t want to relive. Yet the feeling of deja vu persists.
I look around. It is anything but quiet. There’s a lot of commotion: bright lights, a vocal crowd, and at least three helicopters circling overhead. The police presence is immense, with armed police carrying protective riot shields. Media trucks line the curb along Kellogg Avenue. The more vocal members of the crowd are chanting about ending the war. The volume quickly grows as more members join in. But why repeat the anti-war demonstration a week after the convention is over, a week after the media spotlight has left downtown St. Paul? Why is this happening again?
I move toward Kellogg, separating from the mob. A camera crew is setting up for a live shot. The spotlight comes on, the pretty Asian reporter turning toward the camera. I move closer, wanting to hear her report.
“The scene here in downtown St. Paul is chaotic, with thousands gathering outside the Excel Energy Center. Authorities believe the protesters will make every effort to be heard with the national media covering the much-anticipated debut of the Alaskan governor. Ramsey County Sheriff Bill Sutton said that while he hopes the protests will not be a repeat of yesterday’s violence, he has prepared for the worst.”
The lights on the camera are turned off, the reporter relaxing. I turn away, stunned. I can’t be back here again. Maybe I’m lying on the ground near Ford Parkway, bleeding out from the stabbing. Maybe the knock on the head left me with severe brain damage and this weird scenario is just running through my damaged brain. Except, I don’t think so. I can see, hear, smell and feel my surroundings. This feels real.
Yet the experience of it is so odd. What I remember about this night was not being out here, but being inside. At this very moment, I’m inside the Excel Center providing crowd control. Nothing too odd about that. However, I did meet an odd man during the Alaskan Governor’s speech. An odd man that left without his phone. The phone I’m holding.
I look at it again. Touching the green button, the display shows a long series of numbers. 200809031900. Too long to be a phone number. The first four digits: 2008. The year? The next four digits: 0903. September 3rd was the date of the Governor’s RNC speech. The last four digits: 1900. Military time for 7:00 p.m.?
The implications are staggering. Did I call the past, bringing me here in the process? If this is a call I made—a call to last week—I want it to end. Right now. On my cell phone, I just push the red END button to hang up and end the call. I have to try it.
Holding the phone up, I push the red button. I hear the tones, the progression speeding up. The vertigo kicks in—welcome this time—doubling me over. And just that quick, the call is over.
As the feeling passes, the first thing I notice is the quiet. The crowd is gone and I’m back leaning against my squad. I look up to see Rob is just pulling out, leaving the scene. I’m back right where—and when—I was before I fell down the rabbit hole. Curiouser and curiouser.
Continue reading with CHAPTER TWO.