A close call

I got up at the crack of 10, refreshed, renewed and ready to fly over the asphalt.

OK, maybe “fly over” is too strong a term. How about “hobble sorta quickly”?

Normally, while I want exercise, I don’t really push myself on my daily constitutional. And why would I, since I don’t push myself at anything anymore? But today was different. What with my Summer Get Thin and Beautiful Campaign in full swing, I was now ready to see how fast I could cover my route.

At 1 o’clock sharp, I jetted out my driveway and tore down Route 3, full speed ahead.

I was cooking. At the half-mile mark, I checked my time — way faster than I’d expected. I kept up the blistering pace about a quarter-mile into Ampersand Ave., when both my dreams of glory and my chubby corpus were stopped in their tracks by the cellphone.

Not my cellphone — I keep that relic, an ancient flip phone, in my car. This was the cellphone lying right there in the middle of the road, a newfangled one I have no idea how to use. I picked it up and felt a sharp prick on my finger. When I turned the phone over I saw the screen was cracked, and I’d gotten a small cut from it. No biggie … or so I thought at the time.

I looked for a name, but there was none, so I did the only thing I could — put the phone in my waist pack and took off.

My pace had been slowed down by the phone’s weight. Not the weight of the phone itself, but the weight of my being responsible for it. I decided I’d turn it into the police department. And then, to hedge my bets, I’d put an ad in the Enterprise, and then post on Facebook a picture of it and where I found it. The weight was lifted for a while. But by the civic center, I remembered something — something terrifying.

The weight came back, in spades.

Jen-X constantly listens to podcasts and tells me about them. They’re all about serial killers, psychopaths. mashers, muggers and drooling lunatics of every stripe. I usually turn a deaf ear or two to the details, but there on Ampersand Ave. I remembered one I’d wished I’d forgotten. It was about the Spokane Slasher.

Ground down by the wheels of justice

Sometime in the mid-’90s, a mild-mannered, middle-aged English composition teacher went for his daily walk and found a cellphone on the road. He picked it up, and being the good citizen he was, he took it to the police department.

And that was that … until the next day, when he was arrested for murder.

It turned out the phone belonged to his ex-fiancee’s husband, who’d been stabbed to death the day before in the woods just off that road.

Long story short, they found the teacher guilty. The prosecutor spun that he was jealous of his fiancee’s new husband, so he decided to do him in. And beyond that, there was incontrovertible proof — the teacher’s DNA in a microscopic bloodstain on the cracked screen. The poor slob said he’d cut himself when he picked up the phone, but to no avail. The jury rendered its verdict within minutes: guilty as charged.

The poor sod did a bunch of years in the slammer before some whiz-bang of a law student tore into the case and found out the real story. It was, of course, the same old story: The new husband had been killed by the ex-fiancee’s new back-door man … after hubby had first signed a $500,000 double indemnity life insurance policy.

The teacher, though fully exonerated and all, ended up a broken man. He was so dispirited he went back to teaching English composition.

Once I’d run the tale of the Spokane Slasher through my mind, even though the day was hot, I broke into a cold sweat. The parallels were terrifying.

A good deed, gone bad?

What if the phone I’d picked up belonged to a murder victim? And I turned it over to the police, with my DNA and bloodstain on it?

By the time I was by Lake Colby I thought I’d throw the phone in the lake and be done with it. Then I realized that wouldn’t work, either: There were too many people around. I’d be like that luckless putz Billy Joe McCallister, who with Magnolia Lee Beauregard, or whatever her name was, got spotted throwing whatever it was off the Tallahatchie Bridge. You can’t get away with anything in a small town.

Since it was the right thing to do, I knew I’d give it to the cops. But just in case things went sideways, I’d first seek the finest pro bono legal advice available — I’d call My Nephew the Lawyer and leave a message detailing my dilemma. Then I remembered that my nephew, a 21st-century guy for sure, never listens to voicemails, much less returns them. And since I’m the only person who leaves voicemails on his phone, before I’d ever hear back from him, I’d be in Attica, making little ones out of big ones.

I got home, changed my clothes and was about to go to the cop shop when the cellphone rang. Actually, it didn’t ring. Instead, it blared out that country classic — “Take This Job and Shove It.”

I about jumped out of my skin. It was like a hand grenade had gone off in my hand. Then I looked at the phone. There were some icons, one of which said “Accept.” I pushed it. Nothing happened. I pushed it again and again, with the same result. Next, a printed message appeared that said to sweep the screen. I didn’t know exactly what that meant, so I just ran my hand over the screen — up, down and all around — and a lady’s voice spoke out.

“Earl? How ya doin?”

“Uh, I’m not Earl,” I said. “I just found his phone.”

And after I explained my story, she told me the phone belonged to Earl Brown, who drove the Franklin County bus. I then told her to please tell him I was taking his phone to the police department right away and he could pick it up there. She said she would, we said our goodbyes, and I hopped in my car.

A not-so-fond farewell

When I got in the parking lot, I figured maybe today was a lucky day for all lost-and-founds. See, a few weeks ago, I’d lost a set of car keys, so I thought I’d see if anyone turned them in. I was greeted at the cop shop door by Patrolman Cromp.

“Did anyone in a set of car keys with a Sylvester charm on it?” I asked.

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Matter of fact, we haven’t had any keys turned in for two or three months.”

He paused, and said, “You remember where you left them?”

It’s what we all say, trying to be helpful. Of course if you knew the answer, the thing wouldn’t be lost. When it dawned on him, he started laughing, and so did I.

After that, I told him my cellphone tale and he said, “Well, at least you’ve done your good deed for the day.”

“You obviously don’t know me,” I said. “That’s my good deed for the year.”

And then the county bus drove in.

As I walked toward it, a man got out. He was a 40-ish, good-looking fellow with a wide, friendly smile. Didn’t look much like a serial killer, I thought. Then I reminded myself, neither did Ted Bundy. But it was too late to turn back.

He was indeed Earl Brown, there to get his phone, which I handed to him.

Earl thanked me repeatedly, and I you’re-welcomed him. Then we shook hands and said goodbye.

On his way out of the lot, he lowered his window and thanked me yet again. He was clearly happy to have his phone back.

And I’ll tell you this: I was at least twice as happy to be rid of the damned thing.

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