Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Door to the Past

I put the bullhorn to my mouth and closed my eyes as I recited a prayer in my head. Sweat dampened my collar, and the ulcer eating away at my stomach burned a hot lump in my belly. I had to make him listen—without telling him what I really wanted him to know.
“Mr. Richardson! We can stay out here all night, and you can stay in there. But whether it’s five minutes, or five hours, or five days, won’t make a difference. It won’t change anything. Come on out so we can talk.”
The door mocked me with its silence. No response came back, just as I knew none would. I studied the pattern of grime on the white paint around the door handle, where the hand of a mechanic had left greasy evidence of his daily life.
Bob Richardson had spent the last forty years living the same day, over and over. He got up in the morning and ate the same breakfast of grits, sausage, and coffee. He went to work at Reddy Automotive and fixed cars. He came home, read the paper while he ate his Hungry Man TV dinner, watched a few shows, and went to bed. Grocery trips happened on Wednesdays, to catch the market’s double-coupon day. The barber down on Franklin Street cut his hair every third Saturday without fail. His routine didn’t change one iota from the age of twenty-six to sixty-six.
Until yesterday.
Yesterday, Mr. Richardson bypassed Reddy and drove to the other side of town. He parked in front of the home of a Mrs. Thornton. He walked to the door and knocked. When the woman of the house—Estelle Thornton, a plump but buxom widow of sixty-two—answered the door, he lifted a shotgun and blew a hole through her abdomen the size of a dinner plate. Then he drove home and locked his door. When we arrived, he yelled out to us to stay away because he had guns and wasn’t taking calls.
As a detective, and the only trained negotiator in our department, my efforts to communicate with Mr. Richardson with a bullhorn were nothing out of the ordinary. We responded to a dozen of these kinds of incidents every year.
This time was different, but I was the only one who knew that.
Last week, I’d received a letter from a stranger. Mrs. Estelle Thornton had written to tell me she was my biological mother. She explained she had married too young and wasn’t happy. When she found out she was pregnant, she left her husband without a word about the pregnancy, got a divorce, and put the baby up for adoption. I had known I was adopted since I was nine, but I hadn’t looked for my birth parents until last summer. I submitted paperwork to the adoption agency, and they said they’d forward it to my mother, and she’d respond if she wanted.
I waited. For six months I waited without hearing a thing, wondering who she was, if I looked like her, why she’d given me up. I’d figured she decided she didn’t want to connect with me. That hurt, but I had come to accept it.
Until last week.
Mrs. Thornton’s letter also stated the name of my birth father, which she hadn’t given the adoption agency. One Robert Richardson, last known address at 845 Denmark Street, apartment C.
My eyes touched on the tarnished brass letter tacked to the door, and I blinked back the sting of tears. I had a pretty good idea why he snapped. She’d said she sent him a letter, too.
“Mr. Richardson…please,” I swallowed to suppress the catch in my voice, “put down your weapons and come out.”

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