Tuesday, February 3, 2015

The Old Black Guy

Periodically I re-post this short, true story from my time in Norfolk. Today; with nothing better to post; is one of those times.

I entered the Steak and Eggs for a bite on a slow summer night. It was one of those sultry, sticky, Southern nights - like an old movie loaded with intrigue and suspense.

The restaurant was empty with the exception of the one guy working the counter and mopping the floor. There was also an elderly black man pacing up and down the aisle between the counter and the row of tables by the window.

I was working on the USNS Sirius during the day and driving the cab at night to ward off the boredom of Norfolk. Late at night I would go to the Steak and Eggs place located off Granby Street at the Greyhound Terminal for a bite to eat. The following events took place there one night in July.

I ordered my steak and eggs and noticed that the elderly black guy was really agitated, pacing up and down while opening and closing his fists. He was also talking to himself. He was dressed in the typical fashion for older black men of that time. Suit trousers pulled up high, almost to his chest and a white dress shirt with no jacket. On his wrist was one of those hospital bracelets that indicated he had just come from an emergency room or been released from the hospital after a stay.

His ranting was repetitive and consisted of one or two points- mainly that “Lord, Lord, I cain’t go home- no suh! They watching me- I tol’ dem I weren’t saying nuthin’- but Lord, Lord, they don’t believe me….” He was sweating profusely as he continued his pacing. The cook and I were beginning to get nervous.

Slipping from behind the counter the cook sidled over to the pay phone on the wall and I heard him call the police. The old man was too busy to notice this and kept on pacing and talking.

Within 3 minutes an unmarked car pulled up and 2 white men got out. They were dressed in suits- minus the jackets. They had what appeared to be some kind of walkie-talkie with them.

Walking up to the old man and with a nod to the cook and myself they addressed him, “Okay old man- time to go.” They put their hands on his shoulder and started to guide him to the door and their vehicle. The old man protested loudly, “I ain’t gonna say nutthin’- no sir- I swear!” The reply, delivered gently, in retrospect was chilling. “We know that old man, just come with us.” They steered him out into the parking lot and the waiting car.

It all seemed so natural- 2 detectives picking up this old man in response to a call from the cook…

As they loaded him into the car a marked Police cruiser pulled in and 2 uniformed cops entered the restaurant. “What’s the trouble?” they asked.

The cook and I exchanged horrified glances and began to yell, “Stop that car! Stop that car!” The 2 cops ran outside just as the unmarked car had pulled out of the parking lot and were stopping for the red light.

One cop ran toward the vehicle while the other got in the squad car. The driver of the unmarked vehicle took off through the red light with the cop car now in pursuit- lights and siren splitting the heavy air. The unmarked car headed straight for the tunnel to Portsmouth with the Norfolk Police car close behind. When they emerged from the tunnel in Portsmouth the unmarked car had vanished.

The police returned to the Steak and Eggs where they interviewed the cook and I. It was impossible for me to finish eating so I left and hit the streets for a couple of hours before returning the cab and heading back to ship.

The following evening I was watching the local news in the ships lounge when a story came on that chilled me to the bone.

“An elderly African-American man was found in Portsmouth this morning. He was pronounced dead at the scene. The body was located at the edge of the river near the entrance to the Portsmouth tunnel. No clues and no suspects have been located. Anyone with information on the identity of this man please contact the Portsmouth Police Department.”

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