Officer Clark towered over the window of my car.
Before he slammed the door to his vehicle and approached me, I had my forehead on the steering wheel, screaming in my mind, “THIS CAN’T GET ANY WORSE!” Shelby sat in the passenger seat and panted her agreement.
I was forced to look above me to see his square, chiseled face. The bright blues strobing from the top of his car lit up his dark eyes under the brim of his wide hat, and the state patrolman was finishing a sandwich as he stood beside my door.
Glancing up to the rear view mirror, the blues caught my attention and I retreated into the dark caverns of my mind for a moment, allowing my consciousness to whisk me elsewhere. How awesome would it be to take off running and see if he can catch you. I needed an escape. I needed a break. A vacation. Something different. His arrogance oozed from every pore, and his Goliath presence was unnerving. I swallowed hard at every possible thought, and winced when contemplating each path the night could take me from there. By default, I anticipated the absolute worst.
Well, you did it, pal. You’re going to jail.
At least you’ll have a place to live. An upside to every downside, right?
How many times do I have to tell you to shut up!
“License, registration, and proof of insurance.” He stood at my side, chewing a mouth full of mushy food looking up and down the street to either side of us, and patiently waited for the documents. Once he snatched them from my hand, he returned to his vehicle. Shelby barked once at the stranger as another human dared to touch her owner’s skin.
I looked to my loyal friend and whispered, “It’ll be alright, girl. He’s just doing his job.” She relaxed and returned to panting when I scratched behind her ears.
After what seemed like hours of making me sit there and stew in my seat, the hulky officer returned and handed me back the paperwork. “So… where’s the fire?”
I dropped the documents into the cup holder, “No fire, sir. I’m just in a bad place right now, and I thought a drive might help clear out some of those cobwebs. It looks like it got away from me. I’m sorry. I’ve never been in trouble with the law before.”
“That’s what I see too. No record. I do see a fine paid for an outdated registration, a couple of accidents, no fault. You’re as clean as a whistle. That means there’s something wrong with you.”
Having been pulled over a couple of times in the Old Life, I was somewhat privy to the routine, “I haven’t been drinking, officer, and there are no guns or drugs in the car.”
Officer Hulk bent down and looked into the back seat, “Are you in the process of moving?”
“You can say that.” I faked a smile and looked to the dog again.
“Well, Jeremy, we have some bridges to cross tonight and some choices to make. The obvious one is to run you through the routine and eventually take you to a holding cell, but I’m guessing there’s a better route to take this time around. What do you think? Want to avoid jail? Want to keep that record blemish free?”
“More than anything, sir.”
He held up a finger, “First mistake. You never want to say that. Ever. Never say, ‘I want something more than anything.’ You’ll never see the consequences coming. Trust me.”
I scrunched up my face and pondered his statement. What the hell are you talking about?
“Kick on your four ways, and join me over here.”
I snapped on the hazard lights, opened the door and stood outside the car on shaky legs. My guess was a sobriety test and I needed to find some focus and get my shit together. Good thing you don’t drink anymore. He approached the hood of the cruiser and leaned on it, keeping his back to the camera inside the vehicle. His meaty leg blocking one headlight.
I approached him slow. Every possible negative outcome raced through my mind and I couldn’t make it stop.
He’s going to shoot you and leave you on the side of the road, dead in a gutter. Then he’ll take out the dog and do the same. Then, with his corrupt buddies, he’ll ditch the car off a quarry edge somewhere and destroy all trace you ever existed. Then he’ll be the one to tell my family I’m missing.
I need to get out of here.
Officer Hulk pulled a box of playing cards from his breast pocket and divided the cards into seven individual stacks on the hood of the car. I came to stand behind my vehicle and crossed my arms as he kept his attention on the piles. He recounted the configuration, hands now empty, and said. “Jeremy, choose one deck and flip over the top card.”
I chuckled and kept my defensive posture as I neared the piles. I glanced over the seven deck options and chose the one closest to Officer Hulk. “This one.”
“Are you sure?” He replied and turned his head slow towards me.
“Yes. This one.” I pointed again and he smiled.
“Okay, flip over the top card.” I reached down and flipped it over. Eight of diamonds.
“Tell me your card.”
“Eight of diamonds.”
“We can both see it, correct? No funny business?”
“Correct. No funny business.” I took a step back.
“Flip it back over, return it to the deck where you found it, pick up each individual deck one-by-one, and create a single pile.”
He had his arms crossed, nonchalantly sitting on his car as I gathered up each of the seven stacks and created one individual pile. I ensured my eight of diamonds was at the top. I could keep a better eye on it that way.
Having not touched the piles since joining him, he crossed his arms and said, “Cut the deck. Go as shallow or as deep as you want. Then once done with the cut, do it again, and again, and keep going until I say stop.”
I shrugged halfheartedly and cut the deck in half, and I cut it again, and again, and again and continued until he instructed me to quit. I attempted to maintain my eye on the eight, but it vanished inside the pile.
Once the singular stack was centered on the hood, and the final cut completed, I tapped the deck into a neat pile and stepped away. The eight of diamonds now lost within. Officer Clark removed his backside from the vehicle and stood beside me. We both stared at the red deck, and as I wondered where all of it was heading, he began talking.
“Nine years ago, I had a problem. I was hooked on gambling. I couldn’t get enough of the cards. Every waking moment, when not on the clock, I was gambling our money away. Online bets. Sports. Our weekend getaways were spent in local casinos. It was an obsession. Have you ever gambled before?”
“Spent a weekend at Foxwoods a few years ago. I actually made some money right before leaving. A slot jackpot of $357.00. Pretty exciting.” I continued staring at the deck.
“Good for you. Good for you. For me, that was the dream. Once I knew it was possible to make money, all my attention was devoted to figuring it out. Have you been back since?”
“Good, good. That was my problem. I knew I could do it. I won money on numerous occasions, so I pursued that dream. It was a rush of possibilities. The sky was the limit. As long as I could pay in, I was searching for that rush. I couldn’t stop.
“Then things got ugly. I was secretive. Calculating. When I failed at my dream, I started drinking, hiding, and gambling harder. I back stabbed the ones who loved me. I took out loans and cash advances and got so down in the hole, we were forced to sell our personal items and eventually our home. My gambling addiction led to financial ruin, suspension at work, and one cruel afternoon, divorce. I lost everything. My sense of purpose. Contact with my children. I spent weeks in rehab centers and support groups. I had a handful of therapists and few friends to lean on. My family considered me the black sheep and no matter where I turned, I felt defeated.”
“So what did you do?” I asked, keeping my focus on the cards.
“I found something new to pursue. I discovered a new dream. Something out of my comfort zone. Something unique. Something different to focus on? Something I knew I always wanted to do, but was too afraid to try.”
I nodded and looked to the pavement below my feet. “How did you find what you were looking for?”
“It wasn’t easy. I had to endure some pain, and some suffering. I had to go back to the source of my problems and look at it a different way. Have you gone to the source of your personal conflicts, and the problems that brought you here tonight?”
“I’d like to think so. Sometimes it’s all I can think about. What’s wrong with me? Where did I go wrong? Life shouldn’t be this way…”
“See? That’s your problem. You say it shouldn’t be this way, but never once accepted the fact… that it is this way. Life is hard. Life is a struggle. Filled with ups and downs, hardship and strife. Conflict and fighting. Devastating possibilities. Trust me, I know about devastating possibilities. I never once considered through it all, that my dream would becoming the source of all my problems.”
“Are you saying, don’t follow your dream?”
“No, I’m saying think good and hard on it. Make sure your dream is something worth looking for. It took me years to find mine. I stumbled around it. I debated it’s purpose and how it would affect my self worth.”
“What is it?”
Officer Clark half smiled, shifted his weight and looked at me, “You know those shops along the coast. Those made in Maine businesses. The arts and crafts shops?”
“Well, I do woodcarving and make trinkets for the shops to sell. Eagles perched on trees. Dolphins jumping through water. Little hand carved wooden frogs, hummingbirds. All that stuff. I suppose the side money is good, depending on the tourist season, but yeah… I do that. Besides being a cop.”
I chuckled and looked his way, “What does this have to do with the cards?”
“Funny you should ask that. The point of the cards is, nothing is ever what it seems. You will always believe one thing, and the turnout will always be unexpected. And it will catch you off guard, take you by surprise and throw you off balance. Don’t take life at face value. There’s always something below the surface. Sometimes it just takes a long time to find. For me it was nine years. I had to search, in order to heal. I’m still healing. Each day is better than the last.”
“I appreciate you sharing that with me, officer. I really do… So… does this mean I’m free to go?”
He laughed, “Yes, you’re free to go with a verbal warning, this time. But first, I want you to flip over the deck, take your eight of diamonds out of there and consider meeting me, a life lesson. There are still some good folks out there who can say they’ve been there, done that, and are doing it right now. Life is all about change and adapting to the change. Will it be a challenge? Yes sir it will. But regardless of any challenge, always stay on track. Keep the focus narrow. If you don’t keep that focus narrow, you’ll get lost among the chaos. Now, get out your card, and go to wherever it was you were fleeing and hiding from. Hit that problem head on and change your life.”
I nodded my head in agreement. It was time for a change, but I was unsure how to change my life for the better. Each card seemed to be against me. The only advice I could go on was to retrieve my eight of diamonds, and head on back to the place of my invitation. Time to sit with family and have some conversations, despite the fact I wished to be alone.
I rooted through the deck three times and came up empty handed. I checked for adhesives, tallied the number of cards and the count remained at fifty one with each count.The eight of diamonds had disappeared.
Officer Clark reached into his breast pocket again and withdrew a business card. The only writing was a name and phone number in black ink on white paper. He held it between his ring and forefinger, “I know a guy if you want someone to talk to. Someone who can be non-bias and provide you a chance to be yourself. I’ll call him in the morning and plant a seed and if you wish to pay him a visit, just give him a buzz. He’s been a lot of help to me over the years. Life is never what it seems, Jeremy.”
Officer Clark scooped up the cards from the hood, dropped them back in the box and opened the door to the cruiser. The policeman smiled and said, “Slow down a little, will ya? You’re lucky to be alive.” He sat in the seat, pulled the safety belt across his uniformed chest, closed the door and turned the wheels to the road. The officer zoomed away from us and the blues disappeared around a corner, before he switched them off.
Surrounded by the silence of the back woods of Maine, I looked the business card over in the glow of the tail lights, and Shelby barked once. Should let her do her business while I’m out here.
I let the dog wander the side of the road and thought on Officer Hulk’s “life lesson.”
The words that repeated over and over, “Slow down a little, will ya. You’re lucky to be alive,” resonated in my mind. I couldn’t shake the phrase from memory.
Shelby took care of her business and we reentered the car. I pulled out my wallet from my pants pocket and reached into the cup holder to return my driving documents to their proper spots.
Inside the plastic, which housed my insurance information, was a red card.
My stomach dropped to the floor pedals. With quivering fingers I reached into the sleeve and withdrew the card from inside. Hesitant to know more, I turned it over and to my complete surprise, it was the eight of diamonds.
Written with black marker, taking up the space around the white of the card surrounding the diamonds, “Slow down a little, will ya? You’re lucky to be alive.”
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