Tonight I met a killer.
He was sitting in handcuffs in the back of a police cruiser with no shirt on. He was wearing nothing but baggy jean shorts, tattoos, and a fresh coat of sweat. This was peculiar because it was a cold and damp January night. There was steam rising off his slick shaved, scarred scalp and blood trickling down from the corner of his eye into his carefully manicured pencil thin moustache. He had a split eye the way you see boxers get when they are punched too many times in the eye area. He was mess, but determined to control the situation.
“Hey man,” I opened with, “I’m not a cop, I’m a paramedic and I don’t care what the hell happened, I just want to check you out and make sure you are not hurt. Is that OK with you?”
“Whatever, I aint sayin’ shit.” He replied with a dead forward stare.
I questioned him over and over again and he just kept throwing out inappropriate answers to common questions. Name. Date of birth. Address. All came back with non-sense answers, just as the police had told me when I first rolled up. I sensed he was not actually mentally altered, but more enjoying this game of cat and mouse with the police and now me. He wanted us to think he was crazy and give up, which would land him in the hospital and ultimately the psych ward instead of jail. But he was different from the typical nut, his eyes were too sharp and calculating, not vacant. This was a ruse.
“Look buddy, I’m not trying to come down on you, but if you don’t start answering these questions appropriately, I am going to have to assume you have brain damage and you are going on a backboard and getting an IV. When we get to the hospital they are going to have to go through all kinds of tests and scans for possible brain bleeds or concussions. They usually start with a finger up the butt. That’s the best part. It gets worse from there.” I was lying, but he straightened up and from that point forward answered all questions appropriately. Of course he still wouldn’t budge on why he was bleeding or what circumstances led up to us meeting this chilly winter night.
I approached the police officer, leaving the patient in the patrol car.
“So why is this guy being written up on a 5150 again and what do you know about him?” A 5150 is a psychiatric hold you place a patient on when you feel they are a threat to themselves or others. Usually the person needs to make suicidal or homicidal statements or attempts to qualify. In this case, the police didn’t want to deal with him so they were throwing him over the fence to the ambulance crew to take away instead of taking him to jail. Probably because they had nothing to hold him on and he knew it.
“Says his name is Ed, no ID. Neighbor called saying they found him sitting on the curb all sweaty and bloody so they called. He’s going on a 5150. He’s a danger to himself” the cop stated in that bravado way cops talk.
“Did he say anything to make you think that?” I dug a bit deeper.
“He’s just not making sense so he’s going with you guys,” the cop replied, punctuating the sentence by ripping off the duplicate of the form and handing it to me with a smile. He was obviously irritated with where I was going with this and the conversation was over.
“OK, I’ll take him,” I conceded, as if I had a choice. It wasn’t worth the battle. It wouldn’t be the first time I have taken a healthy, mentally sane person to the hospital on a 5150 hold and Lord knows it won’t be the last.
En route, the patient did not talk to me much but was generally cooperative. I kept prying. His body told a rough story of life lived hard. He had gang tattoos all over him and obvious scars from bullet and knife wounds of various ages. I wanted to hear the story from his mouth.
“Can you run the siren?” He broke his silence in an almost a childlike tone. “I like the siren” he smiled through bloody gold teeth.
“Sorry Ed, it’s not that kind of emergency”.
“Well then take me out of these restraints.” He tugged at the leather restraints on his wrists and ankles.
“Sorry again man. It’s procedure. Just go with the flow and it’ll be over soon. You’ll be out in no time.” I half lied. I knew there was no way this guy was going to be a treat and release. They would hold him to run warrants and photograph his tats and try and get some info out of him. They would try. If he was lucky, he could slip through on the psychiatric path and the law would forget about him Seventy two hours later, if he could prove to doctor he was sane, he would be free. In the meantime he would have a safe place to sleep and eat. Not a bad deal. Beats jail.
Once at the hospital, we were stuck in the triage plenum, a room with locking doors on either side where the ambulance crew waits while the ER staff are preparing a bed for the patient, or in this case, when they don’t have one available. You can wait there for hours on a busy night. Tonight was a busy night. The ER was buzzing; people were swarming in every direction with equipment, clipboards, and gurneys. A triple shooting had just come in and two of the victims didn’t make it. The third was in critical condition and all hands were on him so I had to wait. I was fine with the wait until Ed started talking.
“Man, you like this job?”
“Sure, it’s fun.” I replied into the screen of the laptop I was writing my report on.
“So you like tying up people and being the cops’ bitch?”
“It has its good days and bad days.” I replied flatly. I knew where this was going. I was not taking the bait and addressing the slur.
“Do you ever think about this stuff at home? I mean do you have nightmares about all the people you kill?” He asked. I think he was serious so I bit.
“All the muthas who get smoked because of you askin’ all these questions. Trying to get people to talk. When someone talks, someone dies. Fat Face is a killer and didn’t even know it.” He chuckled. “That’s OK, I am too. We are a lot more alike than you thought, huh….”
I stopped typing. Ed had my undivided attention. This was the kind of perspective I was looking for. I just wasn’t sure why he was turning the tables on me as a perpetrator. I don’t wear a badge. I don’t wear a gun. I don’t chase the bad guys, I just patch them up after the excitement is over. He continued, now aware that I was listening.
“Man you are out here in this game and completely unaware of the game you are a player in. How is that possible?” His tone and cadence were now ratcheting up. He was feeling it. We both were. “I know, I know, just doing your job. Right? WRONG! Your job is getting people killed. And not just killers like me…mothers, kids, brothers, we get the family if we can’t get the guy. I do it with a gun, and you do it too with your bullshit snitch questions.”
He was rolling now, and I was not going to stop him. Morbid curiosity assured that much. The bulging veins on his forehead and neck backed up his harsh words.
“You have no fucking idea what you are doing out there. Every day I smoke mutha fuckas and you come pick up their almost-dead asses and drag them here. But you never see me on that gurney, do you? Look at this tattoo. Look at it and read it!”
“1 8 7 – Fuck a ho, kill a bitch.” I read. Charming. “That’s nice work, where did you get it done? San Quentin?” It wasn’t nice; I was trying to change the subject and feign interest in his ink. Maybe we could stop talking about “smokin’ bitches”.
“It’s professional, this aint no jailhouse gank.” He was more amused than offended. “You stupid. Now you look at this scar from where I got shot.” It was a dull red scar from the bottom of his rib cage to below his belly button. He wore it like a badge. “Every time, you see. Every time. Ev-A-Ree time I get shot but I keep living and the other mutha fucka dies. That’s what happens. You can’t kill me. I do the killing. I end up here and they sew me up. I don’t die but the other guy does. Every time. Just like those guys in there.” He was pointing towards the direction of the trauma rooms where the dead gunshot victims were lying. He knew this place.
“Mmmmhmmm,” I was now looking through the little window out to the rest of the world. The world that was not in this box with this maniac.
“You listening to me fat face?” Apparently I had a new nickname. “I will fuck you in the ass and kill you if I want to. It’s the way it is. I decide! Let me outta these restraints and we’ll see what’s what.”
“Whatever you say.” He was getting overly agitated now, I didn’t want to probe further. I was done with my little foray into his world. I wanted back into mine.
“We have a bed for you” The nurse popped in not a second too soon.
“Hear that Ed the Killer?” I teased. Two could play at the nickname game. “You have a bed.” I had a new sense of confidence. I was back in a routine I was comfortable with and had the support of the staff there. It would be OK form here on out.
“Haven’t you been listening to me?” he snorted. “I don’t need a bed, I need to get outta here so I can get back to work. I have mouths to feed and people to smoke.”
I left Ed the Killer with the nurses in the psych section of the emergency room. Ed was not a psych case, he was a killer. A triple shooting had taken place 3 blocks from where he was found about 15 minutes prior to finding him. It was likely he was involved somehow. I didn’t understand how the connection was not made, but police work is not my job. I take patients to the hospital regardless of their indiscretions.
Some hours later, I was at the psychiatric hospital talking with another crew as we waited to unload our patients. The psych center only takes one at a time and the lengthy admissions process ensure we have plenty of time to chew the fat with the other ambulance crews. One of the other guys was telling me about their patient they had just brought in. A transfer from the hospital psych unit. Apparently they had a live one.
I told them about my deceptive killer I had earlier and said the name Ed.
“What a coincidence, our guy is Ed too” said the EMT.
“No way!” I looked at my partner. We had to look. We went around to the back of the ambulance and peeked in the window. Sure enough it was Ed. He was smiling back at me. With those gold teeth. He had convinced the hospital that he was in need of psychiatric care and was going to be able to hide out at the psych center. He had succeeded in his plan.
After that shift I was driving home. The commute offers me a bit of solitude to decompress and prepare to enter what I call “the real world”. This day I was rehashing what Ed had said to me earlier. It was sticking with me for some reason and I had to work through it. In his insane ramblings there was a bit of truth. Newton’s law states that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. I believe that law can also apply to social situations. There were actual consequences to all of my actions, as clearly as there were to Ed’s. I sometimes take the job lightly, not considering the world I am operating in, where a moment of weakness can mean your untimely death or someone else’s. Is it possible that in our zeal to do what is right, to tell the truth, to try and help people we could actually be making it worse?
Not a chance, I decided. I didn’t choose the life Ed or his targets chose. They chose that life and understand the consequences of that choice. Likewise I chose my path and it is a path that leads me to the other side of the fence from Ed and his pals, the fence that separates us from the killers.
copyright 2010 Jon Kuppinger