By BEN R. WILLIAMS
Note: The following is a true story. The names have been changed to protect the guilty.
Back when I used to be a full-time journalist, I would routinely go to the Henry County Sheriff’s Office to write down the police reports. One day I was sitting in the Sheriff’s Office copying the reports into my notepad when the door burst open and a man walked in.
The man was wearing jeans, a T-shirt, and a leather vest with a huge patch on the back featuring a majestic bald eagle soaring in front of a Confederate battle flag. That was the second thing I noticed, because the first thing I noticed was that he was profoundly drunk.
He sat down heavily at the table across from me and lit a cigarette.
“Hey boss,” I said, “You can’t smoke in here.”
He stared at me, his eyes red with drunken rage.
“How the #!?@ d’you know?” he snapped.
I was tempted to reply, “Because it isn’t 1987 and you can no longer smoke literally anywhere up to and including grocery stores and nurseries.” Instead, I just said, “Man, it’s the Sheriff’s Office.”
He nodded, clearly seeing the logic in my statement. And then, without ever taking his eyes off mine, he reached up, plucked the burning cherry off his cigarette with his bare fingers, and tossed it across the room before putting the cigarette back in his vest pocket.
It was a power move, I’ll admit.
I tried to continue writing the police reports, but he just sat there staring at me. Several minutes passed. Finally, it clicked.
“Hey,” I said, “I don’t work here. If you need something, you need to talk to the lady at the window.”
He grunted angrily, heaved himself from his chair as though he weighed 800 pounds, and staggered to the receptionist’s window.
“How can I help you?” the receptionist said.
“P’lice repor Frank Crumman,” he said.
She paused a moment.
“What?” she said.
“Peece rapport Fank Corbun.”
He pounded his fists on the counter.
“PLEECE REGORP FRENK GORMAN!”
The receptionist, a very nice lady who had the patience of a saint, said, “Sir, I’m sorry, I can’t understand you.”
“WELL #!?@ ALLA YA’LL!” he shouted, and then staggered to the door.
Before the door was fully closed behind him, a deputy had darted into the lobby from the back.
“What was that all about?” he said.
“I think that man was very sick,” the receptionist said.
“Nah,” I said, “he’s just really drunk. At 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.”
“Where did he go?” the deputy asked me.
I pointed toward the front door.
“He’s walking back to his truck,” I said. “He ain’t moving very fast.”
As if on cue, the drunken man nearly tumbled into a bush before catching himself. The deputy stepped outside and chased him down before he could get back to his truck (and by “chased,” I mean the deputy walked at a somewhat brisk pace and had plenty of time to spare). The receptionist and I watched as the man was cuffed and led around to the back of the Sheriff’s Office.
“Could you make out what that man was saying?” the receptionist asked me.
“I think he was saying “Police report Frank Corman,” I said. “I guess he wanted a copy of his rap sheet. Maybe he has a job interview coming up.”
A couple months later, I was about to walk into the Food Lion in Stanleytown when I saw Police Report Frank Corman coming out. He was easy to recognize because he was wearing the exact same clothes as the last time I saw him.
He stopped and stared at me for a second, a puzzled look on his face. I could tell that he recognized me but he couldn’t place where he knew me from. I’m guessing that particular memory was a little fuzzy around the edges.
I watched him walk back to his truck, a plastic bag swinging from his hand. A couple of seconds after he climbed into the truck, I heard the distinctive hiss of the pop-top off a cheap 22-ounce can of beer. He took a long slug and then started the truck and drove away.
A few months after that, I was sitting in the newsroom working on a story when the police scanner crackled to life.
“We’ve got an incident over at (address),” the dispatcher said. “Need a unit to respond.”
“What’s the incident?” a deputy replied.
“Lady said a drunk guy just walked into her yard and started throwing empty beer cans at her son. Said his name was Frank Corman.”
I shot up from my desk.
“MY MAN!” I said.
A few months after that, I was sitting at my desk proofreading the obituary page, and there he was: Police Report Frank Corman. I’d have recognized him anywhere.
The stars that burn brightest burn briefest, and I hope that Frank Corman died as he lived: extremely drunk and incredibly angry.