Four police officers were surrounding a young man on the sidewalk by the courthouse as I took the corner recently onto lower Church Street. Since Im not above rubbernecking for a good street drama, I pulled into the convenient taxi stand at the side of Manhattan Pizza, cut the ignition and cracked my window.
One of the cops stood face to face with the guy, who was yelling and gesturing forcefully. About 10 feet away, a blonde-haired young woman stood watching with tears in her eyes, hands on her cheeks. All the officers, even the one receiving the brunt of the guys wrath, seemed relaxed, even placid.
Though theyre omnipresent on the streets during the late-night bar hours, the Burlington Police take a mellow approach to law enforcement. Theyre constantly interacting with the young people around them and, when breaking up bar fights, they try to defuse the conflicts rather than enter with guns blazing, so to speak. Ive seen it many times.
Hey, buddy, the cop said evenly, staring directly into the eyes of the distraught young man. Look around. Youre the only one shouting here.
But I told ya what happened! the guy snapped back. I told ya he
I dont wanna hear it, the cop said. You got a choice right now, but the window of opportunity is closing fast. Why dont you grab a cab call it a night and we wont take any further action. Hey, theres one at the stand.
The two of them looked in my direction. Great, I thought, now Ive entered the drama. I nodded my head, and the guy called to the blonde-haired woman, Tina are you comin with me or what?
Tina slowly raised her head from her hands. Sure, Brian, she said hesitantly. Are you sure thats what you want?
Do whatever you want, he replied. Im getting the hell out of here.
Brian crossed the street, Tina following behind. The two of them got into the back of the cab. For a moment neither said a word. Brian was holding his right hand over his nose, and now, at closer range, I noticed blood oozing slightly from a cut under his eye.
Ive had it with you! he yelled. What the hell was that about, Tina? Just what was I supposed to do?
Hey, folks, I interjected. If this was going to be a lovers quarrel, I wanted the ride underway and over as soon as possible. Couldja give me an address?
Williams Road in Malletts Bay, I guess, Tina said.
Yeah, thats fine, Tina. You go home. Cabbie, take me up to the emergency room. My nose is broken.
Brian, she said. What do you mean? Your nose cant be broken. Her voice carried a mixture of wishing and pleading. It didnt sound like she had any idea whether her boyfriends nose was busted. Youre fine, Brian. I know youre fine.
Is that right, Tina? Well, feel this, all right?
He dropped his hand from his face, pointed to and gingerly rubbed a small bone where the nose meets the cheek. It was protruding unnaturally and, if Id had to guess, Id have said he was right about the break. It looked pretty bad.
Well, then, Im going with you.
Wonderful, Tina. Whatever you say.
E.R. it is, I said, swinging the vehicle out into the road.
Why were you kissing that guy? Whats his name Jake? How the hell do you think it makes me feel? I gotta face those guys every day. I look like a freakin moron now!
In the rear-view mirror I saw Tina edge closer to Brian and lift her arms as if to embrace him.
Get the hell away from me! Brian said, shoving aside her arms. Youre a slut; I dont want anything to do with you anymore.
Brian, I told you. It was nothing. Tears were running down Tinas cheeks. What else can I say? It was nothing.
For a couple of blocks, there was no sound from the back except Tinas muffled crying. I was trying to decide who was right, like some hackie Judge Judy. Dont ask me why this scene plays out in your cab, youre going to get involved, if only mentally.
Give me something to work with, Tina, Brian started up again as we passed the university. Thats all Im asking; give me something to work with.
Jakes an old boyfriend, thats all. I was just being friendly.
Oh, thats great. Thats supposed to make me feel better? Ive had it with you, Tina. Youre history.
We turned right into the Fletcher Allen complex. The place is undergoing massive expansion and renovation, and the traffic flow is in constant flux. Every time I take someone there, I have to follow the directional signs to see where the emergency room entrance is that week.
I pulled as close as I could to the door. Thatll be six bucks if youre both getting off here.
You go ahead to Colchester, Brian said, barely glancing at Tina. Its just me getting out.
I dont even have any money on me, Tina said between sobs.
Jeez, Brian said, shaking his head. I thought I detected a small crack in his wall of anger. I guess youre coming with me, then.
Brian paid the fare and, without speaking, the two of them got out and walked side by side toward the E.R. door.
Driving back downtown, I wondered what Brian was going to say when the attending physician began examining his nose and asked, Okay, what happened?
There are probably shorter and longer versions of this old story, but they all begin something like this: Well, doc, I was at the club and I saw this guy kissing my girl