The Meanest Cop in Town
V. B. Tenery
Most small southern towns have a ritual teenagers follow on Friday nights. A place they gather to see and be seen. In my small town, it was the parking lot of a small shopping center that included various retail stores and fast food restaurants, then down the street four blocks to Braums.
Excited kids old enough to drive filled cars with friends and made a continuous circle through the shopping center, down the street to Braums and back again at the pace of a slow moving turtle.
One police office usually stood by his black and white in the parking lot like a tall blond Viking reviewing ships as they passed, making sure no laws were broken.
In the Christmas Season of 1989, I was the divorced mother of a teenage daughter who had turned fifteen the previous February and couldn’t wait to get her driver’s license.
We lived on a twenty-acre track that included my mother and father. I’d given Holly driving lessons since she turned twelve, using the private road between her grandparents and our home. She was a responsible driver and often drove her go-cart or my car on our property to visit Nanna and Pops.
On the Friday night before Christmas that year, we were visiting my sister who lived in town, and my daughter pleaded for me to let her take my car and join the throng at the shopping center. Making the dumbest decision of my life, I agreed, reasoning that she was a good driver. Bad choice I know.
An hour later, my sister and I sat in her kitchen with a fresh pot of coffee when the telephone rang.
It was Holly. Hysterical. “Mom, I wrecked the car . . . come as quick as you can. Please hurry.”
“Are you or anyone else hurt?”
“N-no, Mom. I’m okay. Just please hurry.”
“I’m on my way. Where are you?”
“In front of Braums.”
My sister drove me to the accident scene, and as we pulled to the curb, my heart tripped like a Chihuahua on speed. Broken glass littered the street, glittering like jewels in the streetlights, the pavement wet from busted radiator fluid. Oil and anti-freeze fumes filled the cold night air.
My car sat in the left lane, its nose buried in the rear of a VW bug, whose front-end had melded into the back drivers-side of a black pickup truck.
I spotted Holly on the sidewalk with a group of friends. She ran to me as soon as I stepped from my sister’s SUV. “Mom, are you mad at me?”
I pulled her into my arms. “No, I’m not angry. Just thankful you weren’t hurt. Have you spoken to the police yet?”
Eyes wide, she shook her head.
“Tell me what happened.”
She inhaled a shaky breath. “The black truck pulled out in front of the Bug to make a left turn. The Bug hit the truck and I hit the Bug.” She bit her lip and tears rolled down her face. “That truck came out of nowhere. It just darted right in front of the Bug. I couldn’t stop.”
Her hand trembled as she nodded toward the cop interviewing bystanders. The big Viking I remembered. “Mom, that’s Officer King.” She groaned. “He’s the meanest cop in town. He’s going to put me in jail.”
“No, darling. You don’t have to worry about that.”
But without a doubt, we were in a heap of trouble, and it was my error. Not Holly’s. Mine alone. I shouldn’t have let her take the car until she was licensed to drive. Even though it wasn’t her fault he would ticket her for rear-ending the VW and it would go on her permanent driving record.
We waited on the sidelines and after a while, Officer King strode over to Holly. “I need to see your driver’s license.”
She turned wide frightened eyes on me.
I steeled myself for what would come next and stepped closer to her. “She doesn’t have one.”
I nodded. “Yes, but there wasn’t a licensed adult in the car with her.”
“Did she have permission to take the car?”
I nodded again.
He looked at me like lady-are-you-trying-to-redefine-stupid
“Do you realize your insurance company won’t cover damages with an unlicensed teenage driver behind the wheel?”
“Yes, I know.”
He gave me that look again, then turned and walked away.
“Officer, are we free t go?”He hadn’t told us to wait, or even that he’d be back.
Hands on his hips, he turned back to me. “Leave before I jail you for stupidly.”
For a moment I just stood there, unable to believe he hadn’t given me a ticket.
He didn’t move, still glaring at me.
“Y-yes sir. Thank you. I’m gone.”
A few months later I was having breakfast at a local coffee shop when officer King walked in. He bought a large coffee to go. We made eye contact and he walked over. He pulled out a chair at my table and sat down.
He grinned. “Has Holly been out driving lately?”
Heat crept up my neck and onto my cheeks. “Well, yes. But she has her license now.”
“How’d it go with your insurance company?”
“They totaled the car. But thanks to you and your accident report, they paid off the balance on the note.” My throat tightened and tears stung the back of my eyes. I was about to seriously embarrass myself by getting overly emotional. My voice cracked. “I-I really can’t thank you enough for your leniency that night. Holly’s driving record would have been ruined and my insurance rates would have more than doubled. Not to mention I would have had to pay off the balance of the car note. It was truly the second most thoughtful Christmas gifts I’ve ever received.”
"What was the first?"
"The birth of Jesus," I said.
He rapped the tabletop with his knuckles, and stood to leave. “I can't top that one."