It’s late Friday afternoon, June 14th, and I’m on the last stretch of a nineteen-hour drive from Estes Park, Colorado to our home in Houston, Texas. It’s just me and Tommy and our luggage and four half-gallon jugs of cherry juice in the Mini Cooper. There’s a good audio book on and I’m mulling over the possibilities of setting a standalone mystery in one of those near-ghost towns I’ve driven through between here and Dumas, and this is what happens in the next three seconds—the pickup in front of me swerves, a huge pipe dances down the highway to meet me, bam, and then I’m on the inside verge of 45, eighteen wheelers thundering past with enough force to rattle my teeth. The pipe takes out four cars behind me. A guy gets out of his truck and drags some of the debris off the road. Everybody checks that everybody is okay, shakes their head at the smashed fenders and shattered headlights, and gets back on the road. Except me.
Now, no complaints. My little bitty Mini Cooper took a direct hit from what turned out to be the pole of a downed Texas Highway sign and came out with nothing worse than a mangled tire. I never took physics, but I know enough about speed and solid objects and the meeting of the twain to know that Tommy and I could have been pavement jam and I’d have lost all that lovely cherry juice, too. But there I am on the wrong side of the freeway, miles from any kind of service station, and Texas is having one of those searingly hot days when you’re pretty sure God is giving us some payback for that disproportionately large share of the greenhouse effect that Texas may (or may not—I don’t want to argue the point) be responsible for.
That’s when Officer Guyton pulls up and makes me glad to be a Texan even though it’s absurdly hot and Tommy can’t find a green blade to tinkle on.
He told me to tell AAA that I was taken care off and then I was. He got that car to the other side of 45 (“When I say so, you go. Don’t worry about the sound your car is going to make. Just go.” I went) and then he figured out how to change a Mini’s tire (this is some kind of British IQ test designed to make Americans feel stupid—I flunked but Officer Guyton got top marks).
I didn’t have a cold drink to offer him but I gave him the books, not a great substitute at the time. And the man very graciously posed with them.
You know what? He didn’t have to help me. That’s not really his job. And he got very hot and dirty and suffered Tommy’s attentions, and my near constant assurances that it hadn’t been my fault, and he never once lost his cool.
Mystery writers love a bad cop—they’re so great in stories. But if you’re stranded on the side of a Texas Highway in the heat, you’re going to be very grateful for a good one.