Friday, January 20, 2012


Mikey Paquette was a mentally ill and homeless man who lived in the city where I used to work as a police officer. He was generally harmless, but sometimes his eccentricities would cross the  line into the realm of criminality. That line was kind of fuzzy in his mind but sharp and clear to the rest of society. He always seemed genuinely surprised when the police showed up and carted him off. The look on his face seemed to say, "What could possibly be wrong with walking into the pizza place, sitting down at a booth next to a horrified family and helping himself to fistfuls of pizza and a swig of a little girl's root beer."  I remember that he also had this bizarre and comical habit of admitting to crimes before he was ever accused of them. Sometimes he would call, other times he would show up at the front desk with his belongings piled on top of an old backpack in the corner, and in a round about way make his confessions. For example he would say things like, "Ossifer Tate, I just wanted you to know that I did not take twenty dollars from my sisters purse. If she calls and says I did that I want you to know it ain't true," or maybe "Ossifer Tate, I wanted you to know I was not drinking behind the library yesterday. If that library lady, the one with the glasses, tells you that I was back there drinking beers she's lying. I just wanted you to know, Ossifer." In this manner Mikey would inadvertantly keep me informed of his criminal conduct by giving me periodic updates on what he wasn't doing. For whatever reason I was his favorite "Ossifer" at the department. He would even go so far as to wait until my shift began to call in and report what he might, potentially be accused of in the coming days, but, of course, he was innocent, or so he assured me. I was never sure if I should feel touched or burdened by Mikey's attachment to me. It was actually kind of a mystery why he sought me out. In truth, nobody had arrested him or detoxed him more than I did during those years. Once I caught him in the very act of smoking marijuana while I was out on foot patrol in Taylor Park, and when he realized I was standing directly behind him he threw down his pipe, and declared, "I was not just smoking marijuana!" Nevertheless if he shuffled up to the front desk and learned that I was not coming in that day he would leave and come back the next day, or he would sit in the lobby and wait patiently for my shift to start. He seemed to like me, but I was never sure why.

I remember one day I was called in to assist with the investigation of an attempted murder. A mentally ill woman named Sherry Bevins had walked up behind an elderly gentleman who was out walking his dog on High Street in the early morning hours and had plunged a kitchen knife into his back eight times before fleeing the scene. The man did not know Sherry, and sherry did not know him. There was no motive apparently. Captain Renaudette summed up the question of motive by saying that Sherry was "nuttier than squirrel s**t." The elderly man was rushed to the hospital but would eventually die from his wounds.

The stabbing was big news in our sleepy town and everybody and their Uncle was called in to assist with the man hunt. The next day we were still looking for Sherry. As I was on patrol driving up Congress Street I remember Mikey flagged me down. "Not now, Mikey," I muttered to myself. I very nearly drove past without stopping, but Mikey seemed so desperate to get my attention that I pulled over to the curb and asked "What's up, Mikey?"

He leaned in through the passenger window, his eyes as big as coffee cups, his foul breath filling the cruiser, and breathlessly said, "Ossifer Tate, I wanted you to know that Sherry Bevins did not spend last night with me at my camp up on Hardack."

"Thanks, Mikey. That's good to know. Sherry's a dangerous lady. You let me know if you find out where she's at, okay?"

"Okay, Tate. I will, but she did NOT spend last night at my camp."

"Yeah, I know, you told me. Where is your camp anyway, Mikey?"

(For the rest of that bizarre story click here.)

Mikey was denied housing assistance because he had burned bridges with every homeless shelter and halfway house in the county. The last time the state had paid for an apartment for him he set his mattress on fire, seemingly on purpose, and he had been homeless ever since. He was a difficult case. Finally, at the police department's urging, the city petitioned the state to give him a second chance, and the state once more rolled the dice and paid for a small Section 8 apartment on Upper Welden Street. A week after he had moved into his new digs his sister stopped by to check in on him and found him passed out and unresponsive on the floor. By the time I got there along with the paramedics he had passed through the veil and was gone. It was later determined that he had overdosed on an ill-advised mixture of prescription drugs and alcohol.

Back in my cruiser I saw his sister, the one who had found him, walking away down the sidewalk (nobody in his family owned a car). I pulled up alongside and offered her a ride home, which she accepted. We drove across town in silence, but as I dropped her off she said, "Thanks for always being so nice to Mikey, Tate. He always told me how much he liked you, and how you treated him good and everything." I said something lame like, "I'm sorry for your loss." Then she got out and went inside.

Mikey's death touched me more than the other "untimely's" I responded to. I have never been able to explain why, but I felt a strange tenderness toward Mikey, almost like an older brother. I actually attended his funeral at the big Catholic church down on Lake Street. I was on duty so I stood in the back where the crackle of my radio wouldn't disturb anyone. The place was basically empty except for Mikey's two sisters, a couple of guys I didn't recognize, and the priest.

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