For the most part, the houses on Belmont Lane look alike. They are all two stories with barely detached one-car garages at the end of their brief driveways The owners display their individualities in their choices of paint and fences and flowers, but on the day in question, only one house stood out in marked contrast. On the lawn of Number 609 there was, in no particular arrangement, a brown couch, a green leather armchair, a wicker magazine holder, a glass-top coffee table, a cat tree, a loosely rolled-up mauve carpet and an even more loosely rolled-up ochre carpet pad.
Number 609, with the name Hogan on the dented mailbox, was from where the call had originated. And it was up the rumpled brick walkway to the door of Number 609 where Officer Carmichael went, sidestepping the furniture.
"Good afternoon, Mrs. Hogan," he said to the white-haired lady in the housecoat who answered the door. "I'm Officer Carmichael. We had a call that someone needed the police."
To Officer Carmichael, Mrs. Hogan looked remarkably like his maternal grandmother, a woman who was prone to smile at the slightest provocation. Unlike the policeman's grandmother, Mrs. Hogan's smile exposed teeth that hadn't the privilege of surrendering to dentures.
"Please come in, Officer," she said, methodically unlatching the screen door. "I'll have to find you somewhere to sit."
The door opened on flight of stairs and the skeleton of a room, empty but for mauve curtains and exposed carpet strips along the perimeter. "What seems to be the problem, Mrs. Hogan?" he asked, using his standard method of getting to the point.
"It's my handyman, Mr. Mays," she said. She smiled at the policeman and took him by the hand to a small closet beneath the stairs. "Could you help me with these, Officer?" She opened the closet and waved her spotted hand toward two metal folding chairs. "I usually only take them out when I have company."
Officer Carmichael scratched his chin. He was twenty years on the force and knew all too well the irritating confusion between a legitimate need for law enforcement and a simple need for attention. He took the chairs and set them up in the middle of the vacant room. He waited until she sat before taking off his hat and sitting across from her. "What about your handyman, Mrs. Hogan?"
"Mr. Mays?" Her eyes twinkled behind her large trifocals. "He's had such a time working for me! Oh, my, I can't begin to tell you. May I get you some cookies? I'm afraid I can't offer you any milk or tea."
"No thank you, ma'am. We have some very important cases we're working on down at police headquarters, so we'll have to get right down to your complaint."
"Oh, no, I don't have a complaint. No, not at all. Mr. Mays did his very best. I can't complain about a thing."
"Then I'm not sure what I can do for you, Mrs. Hogan." He stopped his hand from drumming on the edge of the chair seat
She giggled lightly, shakiness the only thing that distinguished it from that of a child. "I suppose I should start from the beginning," she said. "It was my commode. You don't mind me discussing my commode do you?"
If he hadn't been an officer on duty he would have smiled. Instead he said, "Not if it's relevant to your case, ma'am."
"My case! I like that sound of that. That's exactly what this is. It's a case."
"Your commode, Mrs. Hogan?"
"Yes, I only have one. It's in the bathroom upstairs." She giggled again. "Of course it's in the bathroom!'
"You see, over the years the seat -- the part you sit on -- it had worked its way loose, and I can't fix things myself, so I called Mr. Mays. I got his name out of the phone book. He has the cutest little ad. 'It Pays to Hire Mays.' I don't know if you've seen it."
"You see, I really needed a whole new commode anyway. I told him that when he cracked the bowl trying to loosen the seat. And it couldn't have been more than two or three days until he came back with a replacement."
"Two or three days?"
"At most. Maybe two. Or three, I can't remember. You could ask the Thompsons next door. I'm sure Mr. Thompson could tell you exactly. Oh, that man keeps me laughing, putting a check beside the door every time I came over to use their bathroom. And I know he didn't mean half the things he said." She held her hand to her mouth. "It was just at night, you know, when they locked their doors. Are you too young to know what a bed pan is, Officer?"
"You only have one bathroom, Mrs. Hogan?"
"I said to him, 'Mr. Mays, I think Mr. Thompson has had just about all of me that he can stand for a while. I don't think I can impose on them to take a bath.'"
"What was wrong with your bathtub?"
'My bathtub? Oh, not a thing. It's a fine bathtub. The first thing I thought when Mr. Mays told me about having to turn off my water on account of his breaking a water pipe was that it would be just like when I went off to church camp as a child. I went days without bathing then. Oh, how I hated that part of church camp!"
"He broke a water pipe?"
"Really, the water wasn't off for long. The firemen called him to come fix it."
"Yes. When I had asked Mr. Mays about taking a bath, he told me that there was probably enough hot water left in my tank for one a bath. He was right."
"What about the firemen?"
"They were so nice. Two young men. One was blonde with an Irish name. Maybe you know him. I told him I didn't know much about electricity so I really couldn't understand why a hot water heater without water in it could start a fire, but there you go. It can."
"What did Mr. Mays do?"
"Well, he had to turn off the electricity. It simply wasn't safe with all those wires burned. I hardly minded going to bed when it got dark. Just like church camp, only then it didn't get dark so early like it does these days. And there we had kerosene lamps. I told Mr. Mays, I didn't need half the stuff in my refrigerator. Mr. Thompson just loved getting all my frozen steaks. He said it helped make up for Mr. Mays cutting his cable cord by mistake."
Officer Carmichael looked out the window. "Why is your furniture out on your lawn, Mrs. Hogan?"
She giggled again. "Oh, Mr. Mays was nice enough to carry it all outside for me. I was getting my hair done at Gail's. It's that place on Bellevue Street with the potted plants in the window. You probably have seen it. Gail's Cuts and Styles."
The seat of the metal chair was feeling too unyielding for his comfort. "No ma'am, I'm afraid that's not in my precinct."
"Was I surprised when I came home! There must have been eight inches of water on the floor. You see, Mr. Mays forgot that there was an open pipe in the bathroom when he turned on the water before leaving for the day. Oh, my! Well, my furniture and my carpet did need a good cleaning."
Officer Carmichael knew before he looked that there would be a sagging hole in the plaster ceiling.
"Mr. Mays was very apologetic about it. Especially after what happened to Princess."
"She's my cat. No," she said, the sparkle leaving her eyes. "She was my cat. Poor dear."
"So what did happen to Princess?"
"Well Mr. Mays opened up all the window to help dry out the living room. I know what you're going to ask, Officer. Poor Princess was an inside cat. I suppose she wasn't accustomed to being outdoors. It must have been a terrible fright for her."
The policeman didn't bother to ask another question. He just raised an eyebrow.
"Those big trucks, like the one Mr. Mays drives," she said, "No wonder he has trouble seeing when he's backing up."
"I'm terribly sorry, Mrs. Hogan," he said, standing. "I really feel sorry about what happened to your cat. It's a damn shame. The whole thing is a damn shame, but I'm afraid this isn't a police matter. You might want to get yourself a lawyer."
She looked up at him, her eyes huge and bright behind the window of their lenses. "A lawyer? Piddle! I couldn't afford a lawyer, and besides it doesn't matter now anyway. Not after the accident."
"I'm sure he didn't mean to run over Princess." He put his cap back on and began to fold up his chair.
"No, not that accident, officer. I mean the one when I came home this morning. It was really the silliest thing when you think about it. I just got the gas pedal mixed up with the brake pedal. Right away I knew I must have hurt him very badly because of the way he fell down."
The policeman looked at her again, this time with intent. "You hit Mr. Mays with your car, Mrs. Hogan?"
"He was inside my garage getting a ladder to fix the living room ceiling. It was so dark that it just startled me out of my wits when I suddenly saw a man in the shadows. Then, of course, the sound of it -- that terrible thud -- that I'm afraid I became terribly rattled. I certainly didn't mean to step on the gas again!"
"So you ran over him after you hit him?"
"As soon as I realized what I had done, I backed up, Officer. Only by that time he was beneath the car. I think that was when I heard him scream. I thought that perhaps he was pinned under the tires, so I went forward again. I guess, looking back on it now, that wasn't the best thing to do. He was quiet after that, though."
Office Carmichael couldn't prevent himself from thinking again about his maternal grandmother. He reached in his pocket for his walkie-talkie and started to call in a Code 30 Henry: Homicide. He decided instead he would call it in as a simple Code 20F. Fatal Accident. "You'll have to take me to see Mr. Mays, Mrs. Hogan. After that I'm afraid I'm going to have to take you down to the police station, but first let's get all your furniture back inside," he said pleasantly.
-- Jonathan D. Scott