Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Locked Room

It all started with a trip to Mexico. Sue and I had been married for 10 years at the time and we decided to re-visit Cancun, where we had spent our first honeymoon. So, leaving Sarah, our daughter, who was about 9 years old, with her grandparents, we set off; confident in the ability of our teenage sons to act responsibly in our absence. We were half right in our judgment.

What we had forgotten to take into account was that the period of time we would be gone was also the week of “homecoming” for 3 area high schools. Now, for those who don’t know what homecoming is, I’ll explain. For some reason; maybe related to football, or the prom; each year high school students have a weekend of absolute insanity to celebrate. And if your house is the scene of an unsupervised homecoming party while you are away, my advice is to not go home.

Simply put, our youngest son, who shall remain nameless here because he knows who he is, decided to hand out fliers announcing an “open house” at our home. I never saw one of these alleged fliers personally, but I imagine that they said something along the lines of “Come wreck my parent’s house and steal stuff like furniture.” And, friends being friends, the masses happily complied with the request implied by the invitation.

On Sunday morning; early Sunday morning; and I mean very early Sunday morning; Sue and I were awakened in our hotel room overlooking the Gulf of Mexico by a phone call from the Maryland State Police barracks in Westminster, which was located several miles from our house. I immediately declined to make a statement; out of habit; before realizing what I was hearing.

The gist of the matter was that there had been some sort of party at our house the night before; actually I think the State Trooper said for 2 nights before; and that we should come home. We were scheduled to depart the next day for Baltimore and seeing that the event had passed, we decided to wait for our scheduled flight.

Arriving home late the next day we were shocked at two things; the damage that was inflicted upon our humble abode; and the fact that no-one had been arrested. Some furniture was gone, most notably the little Louis XIV end table which my parents had purchased in 1966. We found it by accident several days later, smashed in a roadside ditch. There was not a light fixture in our house that was undamaged, and our neighbors windows had been shot out. But nobody was in jail.

Later descriptions recounted that the police were throwing the partiers out of the front door, only to have the kids going back inside through the back door. And, the fact that the police actually thought that one of the kids had brought a Louis XIV end table to the party, and allowed that person to leave with it; well, that really took the cake.

While cleaning up this unholy mess; that’s right, the kid didn't even try to clean it up; I was livid. And, since I was due back at work at 7:30 AM in the morning and was clearly going to get no sleep, as I cannot sleep in squalor, about every 10 or 15 minutes I was at the door of the younger boy’s bedroom, cursing and generally acting insane. In my defense I would have to say that at the time, and in those circumstances, I was not in a normal state of mind.

The next morning saw me back at work, exhausted from cleaning up. And, to my surprise, everyone at work had heard about the party and the destruction at my house. So, I had to put up with quite a bit of ribbing about leaving teenagers home alone. And to make matters worse, by the time I got home from work, our son had run away. This began a 5 day odyssey which would rival the exploits of Homer’s “Odyssey” as I went in search of him. In addition to feeling guilty about yelling at him; which was absurd, since he needed to be yelled at; I was worried for his safety. And watching Sue live in torment at his absence only made me angrier at him. But clearly he needed to be found.

Though I looked everywhere, I never did locate him and he returned to school unbeknownst to us, on the 5th day. This is the point at which the school authorities got involved and notified DSS. It’s also where this story begins to get interesting, and funny.

I was sitting in my office at Soil Safe, a company I was working for at the time, when I got a call from the State Police, again. The trooper on the phone was extremely courteous and nice, which raised my suspicions immediately. He wanted to know if I could come down to the barracks in Westminster to sign some papers concerning my son’s return home. I asked what kind of papers, and could they be faxed. He fell silent for a moment and then said that I needed to come in or they would have to come get me.

Realizing that our son had been in a locked principal’s office with 2 State Troopers interviewing him; without the presence of his parents or legal counsel; I recalled Hamlet and I, too, smelled a rat.

At the time I used to carry a small handgun with me everywhere. And of course there were always some left handed "cigarettes" to be considered as well. I agreed to meet the trooper at the barracks in about an hour, and then left the office.

Now, I am not the cleverest of individuals, but, having smelled a rat, I proceeded with caution. At the time I owned no vehicle or even property in my name. The vehicle I did drive was registered to Soil Safe. So, I decided not to go the police barracks, electing instead to park at a McDonald's located about ¼ of a mile down the road. I placed my pistol and cigarettes in the vehicle, locked it, and then left the key under the tire. Then I walked to the barracks.

Entering the barracks I approached the little glass window which separated the troopers from the reception area. I gave my name and was invited inside. As the door closed behind me I was thrust against the wall with my arms wrenched behind me and my jacket pulled up over my head, completely immobilized. The questions came fast and furious; “Where’s your gun Mr. Williams?”; followed by “Where’s the pipe and marijuana?”; and, “ Can we search your vehicle?”

Immediately I realized that they had pumped my kid for every bit of info about me that they could get from him. I was not at all angry with him; he was about 15 and definitely at a disadvantage without some sort of counsel during their interrogation of him. So, it was easy for me to look them in the eye; after they let me down off the wall; and inform them that I had no gun, no drugs and moreover, no vehicle. Of course they did not believe me and frog marched me to the parking lot demanding to search my vehicle. I showed them my keys and there was no vehicle key on the key ring. I also invited them to search the DMV database so as to satisfy them that I did not, in fact, even own a vehicle. Likewise with the gun, as it was not registered in my name, but to one Bob Wilson in Florida, where I had purchased it several years prior.

With these formalities out of the way, I was taken to the top floor of the barracks, placed in a locked room with a Trooper Sargent and a woman from DSS. I was told that I was not under arrest and this was just a routine questioning about my son’s safety at home. I asked why the door was locked if I was not under arrest and was told that this was for my own safety. Then I was handed a form and told that my signature was an acknowledgment of my rights and I was required to sign it. I refused, as it was actually a waiver of my rights, allowing me to be questioned without counsel.

There was a tape recorder present and when it was switched on the DSS lady said, “This is an informal hearing with Mr. Williams and we have requested him to sign an acknowledgement of his rights. Mr. Williams, do you agree to this interview?” I replied, “That is a waiver of my Miranda rights, and if I am not under arrest, why is the door locked?” The DSS lady hit the stop button on the recorder. Take 1.

The Sargent got tough and informed that I was to answer all questions and if I got wise with the DSS lady he was going to deal with me. The tape player was restarted anew with the same preamble by the DSS lady, to which I now replied, “Please note that this is the second attempt to interview me against my wishes and the first tape has been taped over.” This went on for about another 30 minutes, during which time I was asked where my vehicle was and how, if I did not have one, I was able to get from Baltimore to Carroll County in time for the interview. My reply; “I hitched.”

For the next three hours we parried back and forth; I wish I had a copy of that tape. I was like Clarence Darrow, fending off each question with a question of my own. I even found out that the DSS lady was a single mom and that she herself sometimes hit her son, even though that was not an issue  that was ever raised with me. She then threatened to take my children away from me, placing them in the custody of the county. My reply; "Go ahead, they're a pain in the ass; even you hit hour kid. So, you want 'em; they're yours. Where do I sign?" I do believe, that in the 15 years she had been doing this for a living, this was the first time that offer ever came her way.

During the 3 hours, a different officer would come into the room and ask things like, “Whose car is blocking the fuel truck?”, and “What color is your car Mr. Williams?” This only made me tap the microphone in an effort to see if it worked as I had already answered that question several times and now stated that I would not answer that question again.  In fact, I began to ask questions about the actions of the State Police on the night of the party. Things like, “Why were no trespassers arrested at my home?” and “Why were people allowed to leave with my furniture under the eyes of the officers present at the scene?”

After 3 hours I was released from the locked room and followed as I left the barracks on foot. I went to a Burger King nearby the McDonalds where I had left my car, got a hamburger, and waited until my “tail” was gone before walking back to the McDonalds to retrieve my vehicle. Sitting in the driver’s seat I reached down, feeling the reassuring weight of my pistol. Then I smoked a “cigarette” and went home.

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