Woman in Custody 

Officer in Extremis

The Girl in the Light Summer Dress. Could he possibly use that title?

It is summer. She is in a light summer dress. If only he were a writer like Irwin Shaw.

Too bad. He's only a cop in one of those county agencies no one ever takes seriously, not even people who get stopped for traffic.

She's driving a little red Mustang. Do they ever drive anything else? He pulls her down on a forest preserve cutoff road. Trees, flowers, birds. Homosexuals waiting around for their dates. Pulls down this little red Mustang and out she steps in her light summer dress. You can almost see through it. You can see through it, her dainty bra, her darling panties, her smooth, lovely legs. "Oh! Officer! Did I do something wrong?"

Who would arrest such a creature? A stern warning, that's the thing. "My dear. We have a speed limit in here. Harumph. Harumph!"

Luscious. Delicious. Delectable. And then it happens, just as it always happens when you're not thinking right--you revert straight back to the stuff you were taught at the police academy. "May I see your driver's license?"

There's a ritual people go through when they know they cannot possibly fulfill this request. Much fumbling through wallets and pockets, talk of things left at home. Possibly some readers understand what I am talking about. With women the routine of course involves emptying a purse. The contents, all those lovely feminine things, combs, cosmetics, scented tissues, pins, brooches, memo pads, key rings, whatnot, cover the hood of the Mustang. A major search.

He loves it. She drops things, bends, he can see into her dress, can see her dainty little bra, can see her dainty little breasts; he almost hopes she never finds her license--no, scratch that, she had better find it. He doesn't want to arrest her. No, no, no, that is very far from his mind.

At last she looks up. What a pretty face. So innocent, so trusting, Here is a woman who could make the right man happy. Here comes the confession. "I don't seem to have it with me."

"Don't you worry! I'll just call in a radio check." It's the academy again, doing his thinking for him. She has a state ID card; he reads from it, calls her name and date of birth in to the dispatcher.

"But my license is from Florida!"

"Not to worry, my dear. Our computer reaches all the way to Florida." He says this even as he remembers why people carry state IDs instead of driver's licenses, and it's too late now. Electricity is racing through wires, over airwaves, across the continent; bytes and kilobytes and maxibytes are lining up and matching with other bytes and kilobytes and maxibytes and here comes the tough mannish voice of the dispatcher, sternly delivering the news. "Is Jennifer driving?"

"Yes," he croaks. He could have said no but you can't just lie to a dispatcher, especially this one, she would know the truth.

"Suspended," the dispatcher says with a womanly snort of satisfaction. "Out of Florida."

"Ah, ah, ah . . . " The cop tries to think. He wasn't even going to give this girl a ticket, now she's in his custody. Ah, that light summer dress. That stunning neckline. "Ah, ah, ah. My dear. They're saying your license is suspended."

Impossible! Shock and denial. Jennifer's license has never, never, never been suspended.

And, because he is a cop, he's heard it all before.

"Well, my dear. I'm afraid we're going to have to straighten this matter out. Do you think you will be able to come up with one hundred dollars?"

Her innocent eyes narrow. "For what?"

"The bond is a thousand, but you only have to put up 10 percent . . . "

"Wait a minute. Are you saying I'm under arrest?"

It's such a beautiful day. The birds. The trees. The flowers on her light summer dress. "My dear. I have no choice."

A traffic arrest. No big deal in the big bad city, but out here, among the birds and the flowers, we "bring 'em in in handcuffs!" That's Sergeant Stout's go-by-the-book approach. The cop looks at his prisoner, her wrists thin and delicate. Handcuffs? He could never do such a thing. The last time--and that one had been chunky and pimply and a little bit drunk--he had gotten an erection. Shame, shame, a uniformed officer of the law.

"What do you mean you have no choice?" the girl in the light summer dress cries. "You could let me go!"

He thinks of the dispatcher, of Sergeant Stout; he thinks of his own arrest count, which is shamefully low. "I'm sorry, my dear. It's all gone over the air."

"And who put it on the air?" She's angry, which should make things easier, but she is also beginning to weep, which certainly will not. Weeping women, almost as bad as handcuffs. Erections are like bad companions. At the worst possible moments, they're sure to show up.

There follows an awkward little scene in which he convinces his prisoner that she is indeed under arrest and that she indeed must come with him. Her car, he generously states, need not be towed, it can be locked and safely left--

"You would tow my car!" she screams.

Meanwhile two homosexuals, parked under a flowering hibiscus tree, watch with more patience than interest. No, they would never harm Jennifer's car.

Forget handcuffs. It's bad enough that she has to go into the cage. The cage cinches it. Here comes the erection. At least she's weeping too hard to notice, but the homosexuals--even at this distance--they probably do. He slams doors, crawls behind the wheel, speaks into his radio. "I'm bringing one in for bonding," he says, and because his prisoner is a female he gives the exact mileage on the car. "Ten-four," comes the dispatcher's icy voice. "Your time is 1512 hours."

It's a brisk little drive to the county lockup. In the rearview mirror he sees that Jennifer has somewhat regained her composure and is no longer weeping. Instead she has assumed a sullen look.

"Where am I going to get a hundred dollars?" she asks.

"You must know someone you can call."

"Who? Who?"

What a horrible thought. Suppose there is no who?

The lockup belongs to another department. There is a good deal of sharing of facilities out here in the boondocks. You see officers from the state police, from the sheriff, from the forest preserve, even from Immigration and Naturalization in here. You also see a very surly lockup keeper who believes in keeping all these people in line. "What the hell are you bringing her in here for?"

The cop takes Jennifer to a desk. "There's the phone. See if you can get someone."

"Who, who?" Again the tears. There's a guy from Immigration with six prisoners, all Mexicans, hooked up to the wall. They all turn, stare. The cop grits his teeth.

"You can't leave her here," the lockup keeper says. "We ain't got no matron working today and you can't leave no female unless there's a matron."

Things are never so bad they can't get worse. Jennifer slams down the phone. "There's no one there," she wails.

If only she wouldn't weep so! "Please, please, my dear. We'll take care of everything."

"You already have taken care of everything. And will you stop calling me 'my dear'?"

"Give her an I-bond," the lockup keeper snarls.

I-bonds are personal recognizance bonds, granted only with the approval of a judge, a judge who, it goes without saying, is not reachable on Sunday afternoons.

"Then call your supervisor!" The lockup keeper is all snarls today. You'd think he'd be happy to have such a lovely visitor.

The guy from Immigration and all his prisoners look as if they would be glad to invite her into their parade.

The bad part is that the watch supervisor today is Sergeant Stout. You do not have to meet Sergeant Stout to know him.

"I-bond?" he says over the phone. "But I can't approve an I-bond. What if she doesn't show up in court?"

"What am I going to do with her? They won't take her here!"

"Well, you'll have to find someplace that will house her."

"I'll have to find . . . I thought you were the supervisor!"

A simple I-bond. Sergeant Stout refuses to approve it. Why speak further of this man?

The lockup keeper senses difficulty. "You're not leaving no female in my lockup. This is all men back here. I ain't getting involved in no lawsuit."

This lockup keeper has never finished high school. He knows nothing about lawsuits except they exist. But he does run this lockup. The Mexican prisoners, clearly concerned, speak among themselves in their soft mysterious language. They would gladly help Jennifer if they could.

The cop picks up the phone. There must be a police station around here with a woman on duty. "Take her into the county jail," the lockup keeper suggests. The cop, who once visited this excellent facility, feels his hair stand on end.

Slowly, Jennifer is beginning to get the idea. "You're going to lock me up?" You can tell that she hardly believes this possible. The cop, knowing better, grits his teeth.

A voice on the phone. The River Grove Police Department. Sorry. No female officers on duty today. Next, Shiller Park. Sorry, no female officer. Next, Maywood. A black woman answers, but she's sorry too. We don't do that here.

"You're going to put me in jail!" Jennifer cries. She's in tears. She's angry. She is looking at the cop with horror and loathing; in her eyes he is a creature far beneath consideration as a member of the human race. "Why did you stop me? Why? Why? If you hadn't stopped me, none of this would have happened!"

There is something to what she says. "Just doing my job," the cop mutters, the ancient alibi of his profession.

At last, success on the telephone. Let's call this department "Badminton Hills." They have a female officer on duty and will be glad to house the prisoner. A mere 20-minute drive.

Not easily explained. "What's wrong with this place?" the girl in the light summer dress asks. "Why can't I stay here?" The Mexicans all lean forward anxiously. A good thing they are handcuffed to the wall. In their country this cop would be skinned and quartered and set out for the goats.

"There is no place to house you here, my dear," the cop explains.

"I told you to stop calling me 'my dear!'"

Badminton Hills is the most expensive suburb in the county, populated exclusively by doctors, lawyers, professional athletes, and mafia dons. People raise horses in Badminton Hills and hide their $900,000 homes behind groves of ancient oaks imported from England. The police department has a lawn and requires all squads to be kept out of sight when not actually in use. Even though the cop has been here before he drives by several times before recognizing his destination.

Jennifer is too distraught to be impressed by such opulence. She has gone back to the weeping, and now that she is so close to an actual cell, the cop finds himself again fighting that erection. Women are right about men. Sadomasochistic pigs.

The lady police officer is at the window. She is young, and the correct word would be comely. Short dark hair, perfectly in place. A perfect complexion. Uniform tailor-fitted to her figure.

"Ah," she says. "You're the one with the female."

"I wish people would stop calling me a female," Jennifer complains.

"It's just the way we talk, my dear," the cop explains.

"You can take your 'my dear' and shove it."

"Listen, honey," the Badminton Hills lady cop says, her voice dropping half an octave. "We don't allow that kind of talk around here. Step around and we'll take care of you."

Everything's modern in this police station. Everything new. Clean. Potted plants in the halls. A 70-gallon aquarium with tropical fish. Oil paintings signed by European artists. A bulletin board with notices for next Saturday's softball game, the Wednesday brunch, how to sign up for the new free dental, optical, and foot-care plan. Soft music plays.

"Has she been searched?" the lady cop asks.

Searched? The cop fights his erection this time by holding his legs tight together and breathing through the nose. The girl in the light summer dress--good heavens, why search when you can see right through it!--seems beyond further words. Tragedy has suddenly and fully enveloped her and she weeps.

Fortunately the search does not take place in the presense of our hero. He waits in the company of several Badminton Hills cops, tough young guys untroubled by unwanted erections. They sip coffee and chew gum and ask, "What did you get her on?"

A mere suspended license. A foolish indiscretion committed in the state of Florida. Possibly a computer error, who knows about these sunbelt departments. The Badminton cops run Jennifer again. The computer gobbles up her name, date of birth. My God. She's only 26. A baby. About to be locked up for the night. Just as the Badminton lady cop brings her back from the search--was it a strip? did she do body cavities?--the computer spits out the information.

Suspended. State of Florida. The cop does not recognize the statute. Probably ran over an alligator.

"Well, my dear," he says, and corrects himself, "Well, Jennifer. I'm sure that you will be comfortable here. Why don't you get on the phone while I'm working on this paper. I'm sure you'll find someone."

"You old fart!"

The Badminton lady cop leaps to her feet. "I warned you about that talk!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am," Jennifer sobs. Tears are streaming down her cheeks. She dials and she dials and she listens to unattended telephones ring. The cop writes and writes and wonders how he will hide his erection when he leaves this place. Police work. It has a nasty way of showing you who you really are.

But is it really so bad? He thinks about this driving back toward his beat. Better to know than to spend a lifetime fooling yourself. A shame about the girl, though. Someone will have to take her into bond court tomorrow morning and the judge, outraged, will quickly approve her bond. Who is to blame? Sergeant Stout. Start there. And yes, the girl herself. Whose idea but her own to go driving--and speeding--on a suspended license?

So he feels a little better. A lot better after he signs out and crawls into his personal car and heads for home. Not only better, but horny. At his age horny is something to think about. He pulls up at the corner White Hen, goes inside, picks out an overpriced bouquet of carnations. "What's this," the kid behind the counter asks. "Your wife's birthday?" The cop grins. "Something like that."

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustration/David K. Nelson.

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