I had gone almost a full ten-hour shift without one radio call. I was working radar on Jackson Creek Parkway when I was directed to cover a county unit on a domestic violence call. I used my car's computer GPS to locate the call address. It would be a ten minute ride into a dirt road canyon of the Rampart Range, north of the U.S. Air Force Academy. With the aid of a satellite, hovering many miles above the earth, I was able to track my position in relation to the call location all the way. I was also able to tell that the county unit I was going to provide cover for was many more minutes away from me. I might be on this call, alone, for quite a while.
The extended response time allowed the dispatchers to dig a little deeper and learn a little more. A deputy had been at the same location five days prior, on a similar call for service, had determined that the female caller had Alzheimer's disease.
I picked up the cell phone and called the number provided. A man, clearly shaking off the effects of sleep, answered. I identified myself and my reason for the call, that I was a police officer responding to a domestic violence call, was there anything he could tell me about the situation in the home. He told me what I had already been led to understand, that his wife who was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer's believed that her husband was planning to kill her. The man told me he would dress and meet me in front of the home, for I was still a few minutes away.
I drove onto the property and in the midst of the rustic Colorado canyon, with native scrub brush, tall grass, and trees, was an artistic, white, stucco building perhaps what a designer would have called futuristic, some 30 years ago. Standing before me was Andre (not his real name) who, although 78 years-old, stood an inch taller than my six-foot self. His French-accented English told me that he was not native-born, but I would learn more about him later. I tried to set his initial concerns aside, telling him I knew of the prior call and his wife's condition. We agreed I would speak with her, to try and determine what path to resolution my presence there would dictate, if any.
I entered the kitchen and introduced myself to Bette (not her real name). Her eyes were gray and set back into her face. Her skin was pale. Although bent over at the shoulders, had she stood up straight she would have been a foot smaller than me. Her hair was mostly hidden under a fringe purple cap, but a wisp of gray had escaped from above her right ear to announce her hair color. When we shook hands, her touch was cold.
I asked Bette what I might be able to do for her. Bette first needed me to know that she was from Texas; as though that was a fact I would need to determine who was to be taken more seriously at this call. Without hesitation, Bette then looked me square in the eye and asked me to perform two tasks. She wanted me to neuter Andre, and then drive myself to the nearby town and kill Andre's ex-wife in the residential two-room bordello she runs.
I had to inform Bette that both of these tasks were well beyond the scope of my training and skill level (as well as my desire to provide quality service to the public), and that we needed to talk more about the reasons she wanted me to perform these two tasks. Bette told me that in their 16 years and four months of marriage, Andre had been plotting every day to kill her. Bette was convinced that, if neutered, Andre would cease his plotting of her death. The death of Andre's ex-wife was needed to keep the plot from ever re-surfacing. I repeated to Bette, my regrets of not being able to fulfill her request.
I was then joined by a young deputy from the county, who accompanied me with Andre to Andre's office down the hall.
Entering Andre's office, I learned more about him. A survivor of the German occupation of his homeland, and a decorated U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, who had contributed to the U.S. space program (and perhaps, based upon the autographed shuttle pilot photos and the very large computer, still did). Andre told me that he and Bette had found and married each other later in life; both were in their late 50s. Bette had no children, and had been a beauty queen in her youth. Displayed photographs showed Andre and Bette in much happier times. Travel, science, and art were very much parts of their married life. The outdoor sculpture on the property I had seen on my arrival first made me think I had responded to an artist's residence. It was now clear that art was appreciated on an equal par with science.
We reviewed what we could do in regards to Bette. In the end, there was nothing we would do. Andre was already planning to review Bette's case with her doctor and caseworker. Andre needed me to know that he and Bette had been married 18 years, not the 16 years and four months Bette now seemed to be stuck on. Bette did know the year. She knew her address, but she did not know who the president was a fact which Andre said says much about how her deteriorating condition had affected her. She had not only met the current president, but had also met his father. Sadder still, Bette was not able to identify one of her own two brothers from a recent photograph which had arrived in the mail.
I turned my concern from Bette, to Andre. Bette had mentioned that Andre required neutering. Andre had long ago unloaded any firearms in the home and hidden the ammo. He had also decided to sleep in another bedroom with a lockable door. It is at this point in the conversation, where a man who had survived a brutal Nazi occupation, a man who had become a decorated Air Force officer, now began to weep. He wept for the woman he loved, a woman who might soon view him as a complete stranger.
Composing himself, Andre accompanied the young deputy and I back to the kitchen where we engaged Bette in another round of conversation. It was as though Bette had recharged. She had discarded some of her illusions about Andre's murderous plotting and Andre's ex-wife's running of a house of ill repute. Bette no longer required that we render Andre sterile, or that we eliminate the pesky ex-wife.
As we parted, I turned to Andre and mustered up the words, "a bon chance, mon ami." I wish I could have said more. Andre thanked me both for my concern and my attempt at his first language.
Exiting the home a approaching our cars, the young deputy thanked me for taking the lead on the call and diving into the conversation with Bette. He said he would not have known what to say to either party, as he had not had much interaction with Alzheimer's patients. For a moment I stared at the deputy, mindful of my own age and experience. I had been a cop probably before the day his dad mustered the courage to ask his mom out for the first time I felt old.
I drove away, watching myself on the computer screen, still tracked by the satellite. It was then and now as I sit here at this keyboard where I see the final irony.
Andre, as I said earlier, had either nurtured or maintained the very technology which allowed my car's computer to work its magic in regards to maps and tracking. Ships at sea, planes in the air, and even bumbling policemen were now able to find their way with help from above. And all the technology at our fingertips cannot, at this time, return Bette to where she knows real life from delusions. She is becoming lost inside her own body, soon to be lost to those she loves and those who love her, all the while standing right in front of them.
Unable to do anything about Andre and Bette's fate, I had to ask myself what lesson was I sent there to learn. I know, sitting here now, what I want it to be. To be at or near 80, and to love deeply and intensely enough to weep, in front of total strangers, at the mere thought of losing the woman I love.
Kieth W. Moreland is a Los Angeles native who retired from the Los Angeles Police Department after 30 years of service, ending as a sergeant in the Rampart Division. In August 2007, he relocated his family to the Front Range of Colorado, where he now serves as a patrol officer in an agency about 1/1000th the size of LAPD. His first solo call after completing field training was "loose cow in the roadway." That didn't happen a lot in LA.