I lost thought about the man in the wheelchair until I crossed Newstead Avenue just passed the bank approaching the library. Suddenly his silhouette became a live photo of someone who was used to moving about town rolling in his chair. Bright engaging smile, small talk about the game, comments about women and a freedom of spirit uncommon to many in this depressed economic area. He gave me a lively greeting, “good morning, sir, a great day it is”. I waved my normal response to a stranger and walked in the library.
While I read through a few poetry anthologies one of the librarians who was a regular flirt started commenting about all the recent drug arrests in the area in the last month or so. For some reason the wheelchair man came to mind but I shelved the idea. Nope, not him. Could it be he was undercover? I hadn’t seen him around before but so many had moved in and out of the area in recent years I could have easily missed his arrival.
A while or so later on my walk back home I used the other side of the street so I could stop in to speak to Mr. Cox, the ageless tailor and laundromat owner who years ago made shirts and suits for me. His eyes had gotten bad so he stopped making and repairing clothes but kept the laundromat open. Mr. Cox’s figure created a friendly shadow in the doorway as the winter sun beamed through the cold air. How you today young fellow? Out for a walk again? His eighty plus years made just about all of us young fellows to him. After we chatted about basically nothing for a few minutes I resumed my walk toward home with a faint thought of walking around the lake in Fairground Park. I had already covered about a mile and wasn’t in a mood to add another one walking around the lake.
As I approached Fair Avenue I saw the wheelchair man just across from the park. I considered that he had covered at least the same territory as me while vigorously pumping the wheelchair. Something began not to feel quite right about his presence but I couldn’t put my finger on it. I didn’t want to belabor the point but it kept needling at my thoughts. A few years ago while serving on the Police Community Relations Group we used a number of deceptive fronts to lure illegal drug buys and were awarded with a number of arrests and convictions. The whole neighborhood had been quiet and fairly calm since though I had heard rumors about recent activity.
I did walk to the park but crossed the first limestone bridge crossing the lake which reduced my trip by about half. I could still see the outline of the wheelchair east of my location as I made my approach to the western edge of the lake and back to Fair Avenue on my way home. The two blocks from Natural Bridge always was a welcome spot letting me know my exercise for that day would be over in a few minutes.
Once home I had trouble getting the wheelchaired man out of my mind. His image and friendliness almost seemed out of place but I might had become a bit too sensitive after so many years of being a spotter, block unit captain and neighborhood stabilization officer. I heard unfamiliar voices just off my driveway and peeped out the window. There was the wheelchair man lifting his chair into the rear of a black SUV which I recognized as one of the Drug Task Force vehicles. My initial thought was correct especially after hearing him say, “Yep, I had a good day. We’ve got a number of suspects to watch.”