I was just dropping off a mouse, a little mouse: that’s how it started.
I’d caught the mouse in a havahart, and I didn’t want to flush it down the toilet, but I also didn’t want to let it go near someone’s house. So, I let it off at the recycling center, over a mile away, surely a nice place for mice. But, with later mice, when the center was open (Tuesdays, Fridays and Saturdays), I let it off around the corner, near a large brick building with no apparent entrance, no visible human presence.
This incident began for me, when I was told in a recorded phone message to appear at the police station in Winchester.
Being the law-abiding sort, who had no idea that I had done anything wrong, I went to the police station that same day.
When I got to the station, in what looked a bit like a converted metal barn, there was one reporter lounging out front, from Blue Stone, the local gossip rag. A gangly man with a moose-like face, the reporter, Hank Gaines, asked me who I was and why I was coming to the police?
I shrugged. “I’m Donald Trump, don’t I look it? I’m really Joe Smith, and I don’t know why I received a summons.”
“Can I see it?”
That was our entire conversation. I waved him away and went into the police station.
When I told the officer in charge (OIC) that I was David Schultze with an E, his bored expression vanished; he was startled. Then, his eyes were drilling into mine. “You are David Schultze? Do you know why we called you in?”
“No, Sir, I don’t have a clue.”
The OIC squinted at me and then spoke into a mike something I couldn’t hear. After that, he turned to me, smiling benevolently. “You may have a seat in the waiting room across the hall. An Officer Bendix will meet you there in no more than ten minutes.”
It wasn’t really a waiting room; it was a widened space across the hall from the OIC’s counter, furnished with solid, bright blue plastic chairs and yellow plastic end-tables strewn with police magazines.
I took a seat right in the middle of the waiting area, where I could see everybody and they could see me. This was getting a bit scary.
Minutes seem like hours when you wait like this, facing you know not what. I did have a watch, though, so I knew it was more like half an hour, then 45 minutes, at which point I went back to ask the OIC what had happened to Officer Bendix.
He scowled at me: “He hasn’t come yet? I’ll call him again. He’s gotta be somewhere in the building.”
He wasn’t. He had rushed off on an emergency. Police like emergencies; they’re exciting.
“I’ll call Officer Nathan; he’ll be somewhere in the building.”
Officer Nathan was in the building.
I should explain that I’m quite small for a man; I’ve now shrunk to under 5’ 3”. On the other hand, Officer Nathan was in the neighborhood of 6’5,” not lanky, just large, red-faced, puffing as he came up to me and said, gruffly: “Come with me!”
I do not, usually, feel threatened by larger men, but I felt menaced by Nathan, maybe because of his overwhelming bulk, the rigidity I sensed in him and his unfriendly grimace. Or maybe just the circumstances.
He showed me into what I could see was an interrogation chamber: bare walls, large opaque window (probably someone sitting behind it, monitoring us), one table, three chairs. He pointed me to the single chair behind the table.
I sat; he stood and looked down at me, with this look that felt like he was saying to himself: ‘So, you’re the one!’
He finally sat down. “Mister Schultze? Do you know why we’ve called you in here today?”
I shook my head. “As I told your OIC, I don’t have a clue. Is it something I did?”
Grimly, “Denying what’s already happened, isn’t going to make it any easier for you, Mr. Schultze. Whyn’t you make it easy for all of us. Just admit you did it.”
“Did what?” I really did not have a clue, and I must have looked it: confused? Bewildered?
He looked at me for a full minute, without saying anything. Then, he leaned forward, aggressive now. “Let’s stop playing games! You a member of ISIS? Al Qaeda?”
ISIS! Al Qaeda? “What the fuck are you talking about? I’m not a Muslim. I’m not an extremist; I’m an old man, retired; I live a quiet life. Why would I—You think I’m a terrorist?”
“Mr. Schultze, actions speak louder than words; know what I’m talkin’ about?”
“I really don’t. What actions? What have I done?”
He squinted at me, and then looked down at a white paper list next to him on his side of the table. “Do you deny that you drove all the way to the Water District Headquarters on…March 20th, 2016, April 15th, 2016, May 5th, 2016, June 6th, 2016, and finally July 23rd, 2016? On July 23rd, there was an attempt to interfere with the water system: do you deny you were there?”
“Wait a minute. Where is this Water District Headquarters?”
“You really don’t know? Do you deny that you were on Canal Street on each date cited, and then you turned onto the private road to the headquarters and—”
“Is it that big brick building to the south of the recycling center, on the same road?”
“Uhm,” Officer Nathan frowned, as if he wasn’t sure. “You turned into the south-side entrance, and then just stayed there? After driving all the way from…” he looked down at his list, “Pine Plains?”
South-side entrance? That place I turned around? Driving from Pine Plains!
So, that brick building was the district water hub, where the water from the reservoir comes into the local water service area? No wonder they were worried.
A camera monitor must’ve picked me up at the same location all those times. There were a lot of mice last Spring.
I am a client of the same water system; my wife and I depend on it. Were they thinking sabotage? Terrorism. From seeing me visiting the same place multiple times, planning trips I suppose they concluded, and then, whatever they found? And, what made me look even more suspicious, because of an oversight at the DMV, they thought I came from far across the river, so it looked to them that I must have come for some reason, other than recycling.
Unbelievable! I shook my head. “First of all, I changed my address with the DMV years ago; you’ve got old info. I live on the road that continues from this one, on the other side of Route 10. Second, this entrance you mention, never looked like it was used; it was a place I could turn around in; it was chained, and weeds were growing in it, so I figured I could stop there for a minute. Third, I never got out of the car, because I was dropping off mice I’d caught in my Havahart trap; just opened the window and shook ‘em out; they ran, not always towards the building—”
“What! Mice? The recycling center?” He stood up abruptly, towered over me. “Schultze!” he thundered, “don’t play games with me! I’m warning you!”
I looked up at him and shrugged. “I’m not making this up. In the winter and spring months, especially, I often catch a mouse or two a week, but if the recycling center is open, I drop it off at the other place.”
Slowly, I looked him in the face, knowing he was trying to intimidate me. “You can check it out with my wife. And from my real address you can see why it makes sense: we live, just over a mile away on a continuation of the same road.”
He looked surprised. “What’s your address?”
I told him, adding, “We’re in the water district. We drink the water; we depend on it. Why the hell would I want to—Omigod, did someone poison the water?” All I could think of was MaryBeth drinking it, maybe right now!
“Why should you care?”
“I drink it! My wife—Did someone—Is the water poisoned? I’ve got to call my wife!”
Officer Nathan looked alarmed. He held out his hands, palms out. “No, no, it didn’t succeed, thank God! A water worker found it in time. Don’t want to spread a panic!”
“Oh, thank God!” I murmured.
He sat down. And looked at me. He tilted his head to the left, then to the right, as if he might see me more clearly that way. Then, he shook his head. Then, he stared at me, again.
Finally, he began to talk: “These photos, from the monitor, and this pattern, and it happening, today, and yet…It isn’t you? I was so sure we had the perp, that we had this great case, and that we could stop the threat, but it wasn’t you? You were just,” he grinned, “getting rid of mice?” He shook his head. “I think that’s a misdemeanor, by the way, transporting wild animals, but I suppose you could just say they weren’t wild. Anyway,” he sighed, “you’re free to go. Meanwhile, there may be someone out there, still, who wants to do us harm. If you see something….”
I nodded, knowing the drill: “Say something. Of course: I’d call 911, right?”
I never did find out what ‘attempted to interfere with” meant, but I hoped the Water District would find a way to warn us, if something actually happened. So far, as far as I know, nothing has happened. In addition, no one has reported what the water tech found that made them suspect there had been an attempt on our water.
I guess I’ll never know.