I lay in bed in the wee hours of Saturday morning, in that semi-comatose state that always descended on me after a late-night session at Machado’s, doing my best to help liquidate the bartender’s inventory. While the usual paralytic symptoms were present, this time I also noticed a strange ringing noise. Mustering brute strength, I managed to clap my hands over my ears, but I could still hear that persistent *ring-ring-ring*. Eventually, as consciousness began to seep into my brain, I realized that it was the telephone. My hand wandered under its own power in the general direction of the night-table, finding, in succession, an ashtray, an empty coffee cup, an alarm clock and, at long last, the phone. Lifting the instrument off the hook, my hand pulled it toward my aching head and shoved it against my mouth. I inquired with something less than my usual coherence, “Humphxx?”
An excited female voice commenced a barrage of inquiries and pleas.
“Hello, Paco? Paco, is that you? Listen, you’ve got to help me. You’ll never guess what happened!” It was Sheila, my gal Friday.
“Listen, Mom’s been arrested!”
The loud chuckle that erupted from my rusty larynx caused me some pain, but it was worth it. The idea of Mrs. Doherty being tossed in the jug was the kind of thing to ease a dying man’s passing, sending him off to meet his maker with a renewed belief in the ultimate fairness of life.
You’d have to know her, of course, to understand why this news flash gave me such pleasure. Mrs. Doherty was a feisty little half-pint who thought that the world was completely devoid of men who were worthy of her daughter’s affection, and the unworthiest of all, in her view, was Sheila’s employer – namely, yours truly. Although I went out of my way to demonstrate that my regard for Sheila was nothing more than brotherly – an attitude that I was determined to maintain, and which had even secretly led me to make the supreme sacrifice of switching from hot to cold showers – Mrs. Doherty had one of those suspicious minds that viewed every man as a potential wolf poised to spring upon her beloved lamb.
Sheila’s agitated voice brought me back from my reverie. “Paco, this is nothing to laugh about! I can’t stand the thought of Mom being in jail!”
Neither could the police, I imagined. She wouldn’t be in stir for more than fifteen minutes before she had organized the inmates and set them to banging their tin cups on the bars, bawling for better grub and clean sheets.
“Ok, ok,” I said. “Take it easy. Now, what happened? What kind of trouble could your mother possibly get into in the middle of the night? She always goes to bed before ten.”
“Paco, it’s nine o’clock in the morning.”
My hand crept toward the night-table again and retrieved the clock. She was right. My hangover and the drawn curtains had simply created the illusion that it was three o’clock in the morning.
“I guess I overslept. So, why did the cops pinch her? Jaywalking? Creating a public disturbance? She wasn’t trying to feed Mexican pesos into a soda-pop machine again, was she?”
“Assault and battery.”
I groaned, but only from the inconvenience of having to get up, not from surprise. One time, Mrs. Doherty, still recovering from knee surgery, had knocked a purse snatcher down with her walker and pinned him to the sidewalk until a concerned citizen had called the police and an officer had arrived. When he got there, the cop found the perp trapped under the aluminum legs of Mrs. D’s walker, his eyes watering from a blast of mace, his legs pulled up in a fetal position, as he tried desperately to ward off the old lady’s vicious kicks to his crotch. I hear that he practically threw himself at the policeman’s feet and begged him, in between gut-wrenching sobs, to carry him off to the pokey without delay or hindrance.
“Where are you calling from?”
“I’m down here at the 3rd Precinct trying to post bail.”
“Which bail bondsman does she usually take her business to?”
“That’s not funny, Paco. Mom’s never been arrested before.”
“What about that incident with the bus driver and the parakeet?”
“That was back in Kansas City, and they tossed the case out.”
“Only because the parakeet perjured himself. If the DA ever finds out…”
“Paco, are you coming down here or not?”
“Yeah, as soon as I gulp down a cup of coffee, I’ll be on my way.”
“There isn’t time. Just eat some coffee out of the can and get cracking.”