BITS & PIECES
Right after starting my tour of duty in the mountain community of California Hot Springs, I received a call of a stolen chicken. I recognized the name of the caller, having been warned about this person from the previous resident deputy as making numerous, weird and unusual oddball calls. I presumed that the caller was referring to a live chicken, however, upon arrival I discovered that it was chicken which had been set on the counter on the previous day to thaw in preparation of cooking it. Above the counter was an open window without a screen. The caller felt that a thief had just reached in through the window and had stolen the chicken. I checked outside under the window where the soil was soft and if anyone had stood under the window, they surely would have left tracks in the soft soil, there were no tracks. I asked if any strangers had been seen in the area lately, and was advised two days previously a male, about twenty-five years old, thin build, who was shabbily dressed, wearing a tan backpack, was seen walking east on the roadway towards the community of Pine Flat. The caller felt that this stranger had returned to this area and possibly, being hungry, he came to the house seeking a handout, saw the chicken through the open window and had stolen it. I took down the information for a report and was leaving the residence by a rear door. As I opened the door a large house cat forced its way through the partially open door and brushed up against my leg. I reached down to pet the cat and the owner said, “I wouldn't do that. I think he might be sick, he hasn't eaten anything for two days, and he generally is begging me for food.” “Does your cat have a place it likes to hang out?” I asked. “Oh yes”, said the owner, “we have a young calf out in the barn, and that cat and the calf are the best of buddies.” “Could you show me?”, I asked. The owner and I then walked out to the barn and went to where the young calf was stalled. The floor of the stall was covered with straw, and I took a pitchfork and began to rake around in the straw. Over in one corner there was an unusually large pile of straw. When I raked through this pile, I raked over the carcass of a chicken. The chicken had large portions of flesh torn away by what appeared to me to be the size of a cat's bite. The owner looked at the carcass of the chicken and hung his head. I said, “I think we can call this case closed.” I headed back to my patrol car, followed closely by the owner who apologized profusely for the entire distance between the barn and my patrol car. I got into my patrol car, fastened my seat-belt, smiled, winked and gave the owner a thumbs up as I slowly backed out of the drive. I worked in the California Hot Springs area for fifteen years and I never got another call for service from that person.
~ ~ ~ ~
One day, in the early evening, I answered a knock at my front door. Opening the door I saw a woman, who I estimated to be about fifty-five to sixty years old. The woman was holding a cardboard box in her hands. I asked her what I could do for her, and she thrust the box toward me and said, “I was hoping you could do something for my cat.” I took the box and set it on a table beside the front door. The lid to the cardboard box had been folded over and interlocked. I presumed that the lid had been folded in this manner to keep the cat from escaping. “Can you do anything for my Missy?”, asked the woman. I cautiously began to unfold the lid to the box and opened it just a little to prevent the cat from escaping. As I peered into the box, I saw a cat laying in the bottom of the box. The cat was not moving, its tongue was hanging out of its mouth and its eyes were glazed over. I reached into the box and flicked a front leg of the cat with my forefinger, noting that the cat was stiff. “Lady this cat is dead”, I said. “You mean to say that there is nothing you can do?”, she asked. “Well”, I responded, “I suppose that I can bury it for you.” I might as well have slapped her in the face. The woman began to screech at the top of her lungs, “Oh no! Oh no! Oh no!”, while prancing around in a tight circle in my living room with her arms extended toward the ceiling. I reached out in an effort to calm the woman, but she was able to dodge my attempts. Finally, after at least ten or twelve circles and fifty to sixty 'Oh no's, the woman stopped in front of the cardboard box and stared at its contents for about a minute in silence. She then folded the lid, interlocking the flaps, picked up the box and left without a word. The woman moved off the mountain shortly after this incident and I never found out what she had done with that cat, but it wouldn't surprise me if she had it stuffed.
~ ~ ~ ~
Everybody called her, “The Dog Lady.” She was an elderly, overweight Caucasian female who lived in a small one-bedroom house built on the side of a hill. The house was completely surrounded by a six-foot chain-link fence on what appeared to be a half-acre of ground. The house was located in the small community of White River, which during the 1850s, in the gold rush days, was called Tailholt. If one was to drive by the residence, they would not see anything out of the ordinary. However, if one would pull up to the gate and honk their horn, the house would explode with approximately forty to fifty dogs, of all sizes, breeds and colors. She once told me that the most dogs she ever had was fifty-eight. The Dog Lady would call me for assistance on a variety of chores which she was incapable of doing due to her age and weight. For instance, she once called me to light the pilot light on her water heater, and another time to change the filter on her water system. I answered many similar calls over the years and each time I was greeted with a smile and a pleasant attitude. When I would do these odd chores for her, she would give me something, no matter how much I protested, she would insist that I receive these small tokens of gratitude. I soon learned that it was easier to take the gift, thank her profusely and go on my way. The gifts were of little or no value, except for the knives. On several occasions the gift was a half dozen cookies, which she had baked. On close examination I could see dog hairs which had been baked into the cookies. Needless to say, I never made it home with the cookies and somewhere along the road the cookies would fly out the window of my patrol vehicle and feed whatever animal that came upon them first. The Dog Lady's husband had passed away several years before I met her. Her husband collected knives of all descriptions. The Dog Lady did not like to have the knives around, saying that she was afraid that some unscrupulous character would break into her residence and stab her with one of the knives. Her husband, knowing she was afraid of the knives, would hide them around the house. Whenever the Dog Lady would find one of the hidden knives, she would call me to come to dispose of the knife. She would never touch a knife when she found it, she would call me and tell me she had found another knife. When I arrived, she would take me to whatever location she had found the knife and point to it. I would then take the knife and dispose of it. Most of the knives were cheap knock offs, which appeared to have been ordered from an ad in a magazine. Of course, she was grateful that I would dispose of the knives and would insist I take another little gift.
One day after I had accomplished one of her little chores with the numerous dogs barking and circling around me, I asked her why she had so many dogs. She then told me a very touching story. The Dog Lady and her husband lived in a rural area near Portland, Oregon. Her husband worked in another city, so each Monday morning she would drive her husband to the train station in Portland, where the train would take him to where he worked, and then on Friday evening she would pick him up and they would spend the weekend together. One cold winter's day she drove her husband to the train station and then did some grocery shopping before she headed back to her residence. The road was icy, and she skidded off the road and down an embankment. She was only slightly injured; however, she was unable to get out of the wrecked car. The passenger's side window was broken out, however, because of her girth, she could not squeeze through the window. Occasionally she would hear cars passing on the road, but because she was over the bank, no one could see her. And because they lived in a rural area and seldom had visitors, there was no one who would miss her. It was bitter cold and although she had some food to eat, she was sure she would die of exposure before anyone would find her. She had spent one night in the freezing weather and doubted that she would survive another night. On the second day around noon, she heard a strange noise, which she thought was a bear. She could hear the footsteps of the animal approaching the car, she looked around for something, anything she could use as a weapon, but found nothing. The footsteps drew closer and suddenly the head of a Saint Bernard stuck its huge head through the broken window and looked at her with its big brown eyes. Then the dog crawled into the car with her and lay down next to her. She could feel the warmth of the huge animal and drew him close to her. She spent two more nights in the car with the Saint Bernard keeping her warm. Then on the next morning, she saw that the dog perked up its ears and cocked its head to one side. The dog then crawled out of the broken window, leaving her alone. She was sure the dog had abandoned her and that she would again be exposed to the bitter cold weather. It was not long before she heard footsteps approaching her car. She looked out the broken window expecting to see the dog return, but instead she saw a man's head peer into the window. The man told her to be patient and he would return with some help. She could hear the man walking away from her car and wondered how long it would be before help arrived. The man had left, but the Saint Bernard crawled back into the car and stayed with her. As it turned out, the man was the owner of the Saint Bernard and when the dog had not returned home, he went out searching for it.
The Dog Lady was sure that the dog's actions had saved her life. Because the dog had saved her life, she made herself a promise that she would save the life of any dog that needed saving. If she came upon a stray dog, she would coax it with food and take it home with her. It wasn't long before she had numerous dogs and sometimes people would abandon a dog near her residence, knowing she would take care of it. She didn't mind when people would do this and would take the dog in to add to her canine menagerie.
~ ~ ~ ~
Somehow, over the years I had gained the reputation of being a jokester, perhaps it was because I loved to pull pranks on friends, relatives and co-workers. One day when I was driving to Porterville to turn in some paperwork, I chanced to see a Mexican Brown Tarantula walking across the road. This was a rather large specimen, which I estimated to be about three and a half to four inches long. The tarantula is a docile invertebrate not prone to attack or bite humans. It was mating season for the tarantulas and the males would come out of their burrows and wander around looking for a suitable female. I would see numerous tarantulas wandering across the road from about mid-September to late October. They are a rather slow-moving creature and very easy to catch. I had several small paper sacks in my patrol car which were normally used to bag up evidence, however, on this occasion I placed it in front of the tarantula and with a little coaxing from a stick, he obliged by walking right into the paper sack. I then folded over the top of the bag several times and placed a paper clip on it to keep it closed. I then continued to the Porterville substation to turn in my paperwork. On my way, I remembered an incident when I was around ten years old, where I teased my cousins with a tarantula in a sack. I thought I would put a little spin on that incident to prank my fellow deputies. On arrival at the substation, I collected my paperwork and the paper sack containing the tarantula and went into the substation. It was near the shift change, so the station was full of deputies. After turning in my paperwork, I began going from deputy to deputy, showing them the contents of my paper sack. I even showed the clerks and secretaries the tarantula in the paper sack. After I had shown everybody in the substation the tarantula, I left the sack on one of the secretary's desks and then I went into a back room where I obtained another paper sack of the same size and shape. I tore a tarantula sized hole in one of the bottom corners, making it appear that the hole was made from the inside out. I folded the top of the sack and placed a paperclip on the folded top, so that it was identical to the one containing the tarantula and placed it under my jacket. I then returned to the front office where the paper sack containing the tarantula was sitting on a secretary's desk. I waited until no one was looking and exchanged the sack containing the tarantula with the one with the hole torn in the corner, placing the one with the tarantula under my coat. After waiting a few minutes, I told those present that I was leaving and heading back to my beat area. As I headed towards the door, one of the deputies said, “Hey!, aren't you forgetting something?”
“No, I don't think so”, I responded.
“What about your little tarantula friend?”
“You can have him; I don't want him.”
“I don't want that thing.”
“Neither do I!” responded the secretary.
“Well, if no one else wants it, I'll take it”, said another deputy.
“He's all yours, enjoy.”
I saw the deputy move over to the secretary's desk where the paper sack was. I then turned and went out the door, but before I could make it to the parking lot, there were three or four deputies rushing out of the back door, one of them saying, “That damn thing has escaped.”
“Who escaped?” I asked.
“That tarantula, look here, it's not in here!” he said, as he thrust the empty paper sack with the hole torn in the corner, toward me.
“Well, I'll be darned. I wouldn't have thought that tarantula could have chewed its way out of that sack, but then again, it does have those big fangs.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
“Me, it's not my tarantula, it's yours. Remember, I gave it to you.”
“Well, we have got to do something about that tarantula, the secretaries are flipping their wigs.”
“Okay, okay, I'll help you look for it.” We then went back into the office where I saw both secretaries standing up on top of a desk, they were embracing one another while nervously looking all around.
“Don't you worry ladies; we'll find that spider.”
All of the deputies, including me, then began a search of the office, during our search the secretaries never got down from the top of that desk. After about fifteen minutes, I decided the prank had gone far enough. I reached inside my jacket and pulled out the paper sack and said, “Well looky here, I have found the tarantula.”
“How'd you get it into that sack?”
“It's never been out of this sack. The empty sack with the hole it, was just that, an empty sack, it never had a tarantula in it, the tarantula has always been in this sack.” I then went on to explain how I had made a duplicate sack, tore a hole in it, and exchanged it for the sack with the tarantula in it. I also explained that a tarantula was just not capable of tearing a hole in the paper sack. After hearing this, the secretaries climbed down off of the desk, and both shot daggers at me.
“Aw, come on ladies, can't you take a joke? You were never in any danger.”
“If you ever pull another stunt like that, you're going to be the one in danger.”
“I'm sorry ladies, please accept my apology and forgive me for being so inconsiderate.”
“Okay, but you have to promise not to bring any more spiders in here.”
“Okay, I promise, no more spiders.” My mind was already thinking about where to get a small garter snake and just what to do with it.
After this incident I could not get any takers on the tarantula, so I decided that on my way home, I would turn it loose in the place I had captured it.