November 14, 2016
It was a long day of work. I knocked off at two and drove to the Godfrey Walmart to get a prescription filled. And then I walked back to the car, drinking in the day, 70 degrees, breezy, sunshine.
As I opened my car door, a middle-aged woman ran up to me, her arms open wide, me thinking who is this, and she hugged me and patted my shoulders.
“Oh,” she exclaimed, “my old patient from Alton Memorial. I saw you limping, and I remembered you, I was your nurse, Marsha – what was it – a couple of months ago? Honey can you help me?”
Oh, yes, I thought, in the .3 of a second I had to react, I remembered her: My nurse.
“Honey, I ran out of gas, and my truck broke down. Could you lend me forty dollars? I will have my mom send you a check tonight.”
And then she pulled a cell phone from a jeans pocket, and made this call: “Mom? Marsha. You don’t have to worry, I’m safe, and an angel of mercy is helping me out. You know that check you cashed? Put – Gene can you give me sixty? – he says yes, Mom. Now you put that envelope in the mail today! Thanks, momma.” She hung up.
“Poor mom, she lives out in Greenville, and so do I, and driving back and forth to the hospital burns up so much gas, so the hospital said ‘Marsha, work three twelve hour shifts a week,’ and that is what I do.” The she made another call. “Rick? Marsha. I’ve got the money for you, we’re headed for the ice cream store. Thanks, Ricky.”
Me driving, nodding, feeling warm that I am doing something for someone.
We pulled into the Godfrey Road Casey’s, and I withdrew sixty dollars from an ATM, and Marsha got a soda – which I paid for. Then we drove to Alby and Elm Streets because Marsha’s friend was going to meet her at the corner ice cream store (closed for the season). And out she bounded, yelling, “God bless you, Gene!”
I pulled away, headed west on Elm Street, when – I’m not kidding – I had a thought: Marsha, if you conned me, I will not hate you. Because after all, what would Jesus do?
And then I glanced in the rear view – sorry, Jesus – and Marsha was hauling her fat ass east on Elm Street in a dead sprint. I pulled over, turned the car around and pursued the perp. I caught up with her just as she turned down a street, and I slowed and stayed a block behind. Now I was in “Person of Interest.”
In the next block, she ran into the second house on the left. I parked. I was Humphrey Bogart’s Phillip Marlowe, keeping an eye on a dame. I called the coppers on my cell. “I’ve been conned by a broad. Send some boys over.”
Three police cars drove up, two white guys, one black guy, and they were grinning. They were certain that I solicited Marsha’s services and the deal went sour. “You can get a lot for sixty dollars around here,” one cop said.
I am no damn Boy Scout, but I have never – uh, paid for it. “If I was going there,” Marlowe told the officers, “it wouldn’t be with a middle-aged plump lady with dyed red hair.”
Snickers all around.
The cops went to the house and knocked. A guy who looked like a meth addict opened the door, and they all talked. Then the cops walked away and came back to me.
“The thing is, there was no crime committed here,” another cop said. “You allege that you gave Marsha money. She didn’t rob you, she” –
“Conned me,” I said ruefully.
“Right, you gave her a present.”
The cops walked back to the house and knocked again, and Marsha, my Marsha bounded out and waved to me. She handed the cops my sixty bucks. She tried to shake hands, but Alton’s finest passed. And back they came to me.
“What did we learn today?” the third cop said.
“You want me to say I was a fool,” I said. “Maybe I was, but I was helping an unfortunate.”
“You write for The Telegraph,” the cop said. “Come along and ride with us some time, and maybe we will enlighten you.”
I had my sixty bucks. I had my dignity. I was completely out of smarts: a con woman sold me, Genehouse, a sob story. Alton Little Theatre should sign her to an exclusive contract.
Was I kind? Was I kind of a jackass? Whatever: “I did not have relations with that woman.”
Do you feel me, Jesus?