Jun 3, 2009

Accident man

He couldn't draw people. He could draw cars, though, and anything geometric. Captain Cash liked cars and he drew cars and crashes. He would draw them with circles and squares, rectangles, triangles, and oblongs. He liked to graph the simple shapes onto the accident reports. When Captain Cash was called out to a scene -- midnight on the highway, dusk on a backroad, Friday evening at a red light or Saturday across a median -- he'd measure everything and draw it all. He'd sit in his cruiser with the dome light on and he'd graph it all out.

He was a lanky old man with long teeth, big hands and glasses exaggerating his eyes. He had a country way of shouting. He'd get excited and say "ha!" really loud. Sometimes he'd get excited by accidents, especially if something strange happened, like a little Honda was cut in half by a speeding BMW, or a pickup hit a sedan and bounced and hit both sides of a bridge and flipped exactly like a pool ball in a trick shot. He'd get excited. He'd say, "look at that!" And the other officers at the scene always avoided him. The commanding officers looked at him, ecstatic over the wreckage, and they would think there was something really wrong with him. He got off on accidents; it was unsettling. The younger officers always thought of the captain as someone who was sick from all his years on the job, gone loopy and morbid with all the crashes he'd seen. Captain Cash was just a little too gleeful or giddy or something, standing there with his accident graph, grinning and saying "see this?" So they avoided him. It was like he didn't know accidents were awful, but of course he did, it was just that of all the accidents that make up life, these were the ones where he could calculate everything, shout "ha!" and say, "see?" It wasn't that he liked the mess, but that here, at these scenes, he could be in control.

Captain Cash didn't set out to be an accident man. But he liked accidents, liked understanding them, and he was never very good with people. He couldn't handle confusion, ambiguity and feelings. He needed the explanations of points of impact, mass and speed and malfunction. For him, anything that wasn't physics was "operator error," and fault was always officially assigned.

He'd show up at the scene, any scene that was serious, and he'd measure everything, fill out the report and make an accurate accident map. He'd show driver one and driver two, who was where and what went wrong. He'd put in the details for the report for the files and he'd draw it all. All the chaos, all the physics of rubber smearing on the road and metal twisting into metal, the science of glass smashed, pieces flung, plastic cracked and air bags exploded, all of it he graphed with simple shapes. All of it he understood. All of it he measured, recorded and calculated. He'd start with the simple shapes and make all of it make sense. He couldn't draw people though, so he'd draw stick figures to show where they were when they died.