Monday, April 15, 2013

The Cop and the Jailbird

"You sure you want to do this?" Sergeant Steve Baker asked me.
Oh my, he was gorgeous, dressed in his policeman uniform—a gun, handcuffs, and what all hanging from the black belt circling his slender waist.
"Positive," I said. "Jail first. Then after I'm paroled, the dunk tank."
He smiled, a dimple punctuating his left cheek, and my heart beat a little faster. "All right," he said. "Let's lock you up."
The lockup Officer Baker led me into was a mock jail cell set up in the St. Alphonsus Parish parking lot. This was the Saturday of our parish Summer Festival: Great food and beverages. Fun games for kids and adults. Bounce houses of all kinds. Musical entertainment. Simply a marvelous time for everyone on a bright sunny day.
I was the principal of the elementary school. I agreed to be a fugitive to raise much-needed money for school supplies. Hopefully, good-hearted parishioners would pledge enough money to meet my five-hundred-dollar bail and spring me from jail. So that everyone would be generous and so that I could surely raise the money, I agreed to do a forty-five minute stint in the dunk tank if and when I was released. For a dollar, a person could buy three tennis balls to throw at a bull's-eye that—if hit—would drop me into 100 gallons of water.
Sounds crazy, right?
But I thought it would be fun.
And it was certainly a worthwhile project.
So there I sat on a stool, locked behind bars, looking very much like a prisoner, I thought, while parishioners swarmed the parking lot, enjoying themselves.
Officer Baker, looking handsome and official in his uniform, sat outside my cell at a table, collecting pledges.
"Either people are feeling sorry for you," he said, "or they can't wait to see you plunged into the dunk tank. Pledges are coming in at twenty-five, thirty dollars a clip. You'll be out of there in no time."
I'd met Officer Baker, a widower, three years ago when he enrolled his daughter in first grade. I liked him at first sight, but I told myself, Don't even think about it, Clare. I frequently saw him in church, and we'd stopped to chat briefly several times. A month ago he called me at school and suggested the police cell as a fundraiser at the upcoming festival. I later volunteered for the dunk tank. Didn't take long before we were Steve and Clare to each other.
"Look, Clare," he said now. "You've been in there two hours. You've got maybe an hour to go before you meet bail. You want something to eat?"
I smiled. "My, how thoughtful, Officer Baker. Bread and water, I suppose?"
He smiled back. I swear, I could stay in jail forever gazing at that dimpled smile.
"I'll see what I can find," he said.
My jailhouse fare was a pulled pork sandwich, chips, dip, and a monster piece of apple pie. Forty-five minutes later I made bail, and Steve released me amid cheers from the crowd for my turn on the platform above the dunk tank.
"You ready for this?" he asked, gripping my hand—a tingle rippled through me.
I gulped. "I'm not sure."
He led me to the dunk tank as a crowd of mostly kids followed. They cheered and laughed, itching to see Ms. Clare Iverson soaked in the dunk tank.
Before I climbed the short ladder to the tank platform, Steve told me that waiting for the first dunk was the tough part.
He'd throw the first tennis balls, making sure I got dunked right away. The rest would be easy.
Sure enough, he tripped the bulls-eye on his second throw, and down I splashed. I bobbed up sputtering and spitting water and reminded myself to keep my mouth closed. Maybe twenty dunks later, soaked and bleary eyed, amid more cheers from the crowd, I climbed down the platform ladder dripping wet and stumbled toward Steve.
Holding me at arm's length by my shoulders, he said, "You okay?"
"Now I know what a beached whale feels like."
We both laughed.
I'd brought towels and a change of clothes in a gym bag. I hurried off the women's restroom, and when I ambled back outside into the sunshine, Steve was waiting for me, looking solemn. "I have good news and bad news."
"Good news first," I said, frowning.
"You earned over a hundred dollars in the dunk tank."
"That's great! Bad news?"
"I'm your parole officer," he said. "I've been ordered to spend the rest of the day with you and to see that you stay out of trouble and of jail."
I smiled. "Ordered by who?"
"By me."
Oh my!
Now I grinned. I slipped my hand into his. "That sounds like even more good news to this jailbird," I said, as we strolled into the crowd.
The End
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