My name is Oskar von Vermin. I’ve elected to tell you about the time I was arrested last winter, and shall do so now.
My trans-Atlantic flight out of Antonio Mohammed International was late and looked to be later still. Peals of thunder kept rolling in off the prairie, rattling the terminal’s glass and steel envelope like a drumskin. The snow outside was falling so thick that the lightning itself could only be seen as a vague pulse carried across the glowering orb of the world. The airport PA system’s fearmongering tactics were laced with the crackle of lightning interference. As if in mockery, I thought.
I looked up at the flight announcement board. Departures canceled down to the last flight. The snowy veil that hung over the tarmac and the runways beyond was pierced by red and white globes that trailed the fire trucks and plow vehicles like moving ciphers, meaning unknown. I looked around the seatrows of the gate. Everyone was collapsed into quiet recumbency or sprawled out by a power outlet. No one addressed his neighbor. All that could be heard was the broadcast drone of mind softerner and the building’s occasional tremble in the wake of every thunderclap shear and boom.
I took my briefcase in hand and began walking down the terminal. There were a few people gathered in the airport bars, clusters of drinkers lined up along the oak to soak up holiday spirits. One named Flanagan’s had a decor straight out of the Irish bar catalog, with bland patrons to match. The Mexican joint’s bar was lined with stunned drinkers gazing into screens and pecking away at handsets. There was a vague smell of rancid fat and the body odor of the international itinerant. I pushed on and felt my gaze led naturally to a set of imposing oaken doors.
It was the airport Brigadier Club. Turning the handle, I put on my most haughty air, tinctured it with the trace of a smile. Face control was rarely a problem for a man with my features – a good thing, given that my budget wasn’t built to deal with the cost of admission just then.
Minutes later I was holding court to a group of stranded business travelers about the semiconductor fab cycle. There was a guy from Omaha, George I think, another from Akron, Tom, and a couple of women from Portland. Drinks were free at the Brigadier Club, a fact of which I and my little group at the end of the bar took flagrant advantage. It was not long before inhibitions were overcome. Voices rose to a level befitting the high drama of the spectacle of snow and lightning playing out on the club’s bay of windows. Jokes were told, numbers exchanged, season’s greetings traded. Ours was the fleeting camaraderie that has been all but extinguished from the country’s public places.
Takeoffs had not resumed when midnight rolled around. The bartender slapped his hands down on the table and said he was packing up. We were welcome to stay, but there would be no more drink service. I guess my account of what the bartender said is more of a surmise, as by that point I was four or five old fashioneds into my session–I like to be lit up for a flight. He may as well have said I’m going home, help yourself to all the drinks you want. Which is basically what I did. I let a few minutes pass before, at no outside prompting, I stood up and made my way around the bar. The beer fridge had been padlocked, but the full complement of rack bottles was right there for the taking. “Who’s having what?” I asked. “All right. Tom from Akron with a Tom Collins. Suits you well. Kristi from Portland with a scotch, neat. I like your style. Omaha George with a vodka and soda. Good choice.” I mixed myself another old fashioned and, judging by the red shade my lips had assumed on the mug shot I have to remember the night with, added a squirt of maraschino syrup. The business of recollection is always a metter of probabilities, some times more than others. I must have served up three more rounds of drinks by the time another hour had passed.
I remember looking up at the flight monitor and noting with great satisfaction that my trans-Atlantic departure would be lifting off just before dawn when a pair of Antonio Mohammed precinct patrolmen came swaggering through the doors.
“What have we here?” the big one asked.
“What does it look like?” asked Omaha George. “Just a couple of weary civilian airmen trying to pass the time of day.”
“Smart guy huh?” asked the cop. “If I was you I would cut that act out right now. To me it looks like what we have here is a disturbance, and an unauthorized raid on the Brigadier Club’s liquor supply. Who’s responsible for this?”
Meanwhile I was gently at work slipping away ever so deftly from behind the bar. I had almost cleared it when the little cop wheeled on me.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Ever one to bring things to a head, I asked him point-blank if I was under arrest. “You just stay put.”
I asked again: “Am I under arrest?”
“Thinks he knows his rights,” the little cop said with a rueful smile for his partner. Without further preliminaries, he put his hand on my neck and smashed my head down into the edge of the bar. My one eye clouded with blood as the cuffs went on. The last thing I saw before he dragged me away was Omaha George also being fettered.
I remember coming to a little bit in the back of the squad car. I’d been handed off to another cop who was driving too fast and tearing through all the red lights with his siren wailling. I told him he was a hypocrite for enforcing the law with one hand and breaking it with the other. He turned around and gave me a long look. The course of action he at last settled was to drive 15 miles below the speed limit, looking around for dramatic effect every time he came off the line into an intersection. As we neared the hospital where my laceration would be treated I told him that I had been scheduled to cross the Atlantic to attend my mother’s funeral. He said that was too bad. I asked what law I had broken. He rattled them off: Disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest. I asked him if he wasn’t ashamed of his evening.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
“I mean aren’t you ashamed of making a guy who wasn’t doing anything wrong miss his own mother’s funeral?”
He looked up at me through the rearview and held my gaze. “I’m just doing a job here buddy. Far as I know you were breaking the law tapping into that supply. What the hell were you doing getting lit up like that before your mother’s funeral anyway?”
“Wouldn’t you feel like a touch if you were in that situation?”
“I guess you got a point there.”
By the time we pulled up at the emergency room my shirt was drenched in blood. My hand was cuffed to the bed while an intern laced a few stitches into my brow. No one spoke and everyone frowned at my alcoholic breath.
It was midday by the time I had been processed at the precinct and released on my own recognizance. I managed to parlay my hospital discharge papers into a free replacement ticket issued as a courtesy in recognition of the medical emergency I had been faced with at the airport. My relations were all laughing at me when I showed up for the service with seconds to spare and with a shiner that marred me from cheek to hairline.