Two weeks ago this evening, I was sitting at dinner when the conversation somehow turned to speculation about police interactions. My roommate insisted that she would rather be arrested than receive a fine—we pushed back on this, I think fairly—and she admitted that her inclination toward incarceration was because that would make a better story. We all laughed about this, but then acknowledged the motivating power of the do-it-for-the-story mentality.
An hour after this conversation, my aforementioned roommate, Erica, and I were on our bikes, wrangling a few more of our friends to come down to the ocean with us. We were going out into the night and pursuing that flighty temptress, Adventure, but I’m not sure we totally pulled off the aesthetic. The moon was full, but I was wearing my headlamp, and Erica—whose bike is a single-gear situation with foot-brakes alone—was wearing a helmet.
We were the last of our friends to arrive at Simpson’s Point. I turned too early and we ended up on a winding scenic route that cut through the woods before opening onto rolling fields that were eerily beautiful in the dim light. The boys were all lying by the water with their faces inches from the waves, literally watching the tide come in, when we arrived. They gave that up eventually and we sat on the rocks yelling over the wind. When they announced they were leaving for campus, Erica and I pretended to follow them before turning around and heading back to the shore.
We were sitting right next to the water, hidden from sight by the slope of the concrete boat ramp. When we heard a car pull up, our first instinct was to lurk out of sight until they left. We decided very quickly that whoever had intruded on our quiet evening was up to no good; nothing less benign than prostitution, although what we really suspected was a massive drug or human trafficking deal.
Another pair of headlights brought temporary relief when we realized that the new vehicle behind the trees was actually a police car—the law was there to protect us! It then became possible that we had unwittingly stumbled upon a web of police corruption, and we were now in acute mortal danger (dirty cops would not leave witnesses alive).
We acknowledged that this was extremely unlikely. First, they would surely have scouted for other people before beginning their nefarious exchange, and second, there was no way corrupt cops would go about shady business in their official patrol cars with the lights on. I wish I could say that this fully assuaged our irrational fears, but that would be a lie. So we stayed put, torn between trying to continue the conversation we’d been having before this disturbance and completely unable to focus on anything else.
After hours and hours of waiting in the darkness—it was probably about twenty minutes—one of the cops noticed us and unhurriedly came over to where we were crouching by the water. He began pleasantly enough, asking us where we’re from. After telling him she is from Oregon, Erica noted—a bit mournfully—that she was “a long way from home.”
Our answers confirmed what he probably already suspected, that we were Bowdoin students. He asked how old we were, and when we both responded 21, he seemed momentarily crestfallen, recovering only to warn us that there are still open container laws in Maine we should be abiding. This seemed unwarranted, as there was no evidence that this is what we had been doing. He then turned and walked back up toward whatever action was still underway by the cars, without dismissing us or otherwise telling us to make ourselves scarce. I raised my eyebrows at Erica as he walked away.
“Long way from home, really?” She shrugged.
“I was going for sympathy points, the old, ‘sittin’ on the dock of the bay’ melancholy card.”
We huddled there for another half an hour. Our now unnecessarily covert peeks up toward the cars disappointed our fantasy that this might be some kind of high-value bust. There were two cop cars and a small throng of police on one side and a big black pickup on the other. The truck’s driver had disappeared from our field of vision, but the youngish woman who had been in the passenger seat was standing by the back of the truck with her arms folded protectively.
Now that danger seemed averted we were getting restless. We half-heartedly tried to raise our voices to try to provoke one of them to come back over to us and tell us to beat it. We went back and forth about whether or not we could leave. If there had been a time to get away, it was the minute we noticed the headlights. But that window of opportunity was long gone; our bikes were sitting immediately behind the truck. A covert escape was impossible, and we were also getting hungry. Erica was incredulous that I had the foresight to bring a light but not snacks. I asked her to cut me some slack.
After another gruesomely long time, the same cop finally came back over.
“You’re free to go, ladies,” he snapped.
Had we been held there under suspicion of some wrongdoing for which they had just cleared us? As we jumped up to leave, he added that he knew it was a beautiful night, but really, we shouldn’t be down there after dark.
“It’s actually illegal. And it’s not safe. Those guys were up there shooting heroin.” And for the second time that night, he turned his back on us and walked away.
We raced back along the moon-dappled road. The lack of houses now seemed sinister and threatening. Headlights loomed slowly behind us and we started to pedal faster, convinced that the “heroin killers” were coming to “deal with” the witnesses. Erica was all for diving into the ditch on the side of the road to hide. I had just read “A Good Man Is Hard to Find” for my short fiction class and vetoed this plan, adamant that being in the ditch would lock in our impending demise. We both agreed later that seeing “Brunswick Police” emblazoned on the side of the car as it drove by was one of the greatest reliefs we have ever experienced.
The story essentially ends there, which weirdly felt both like a letdown, and a perfect ending to the course of events. Nothing actually happened to us, we were involved in almost no action, and we were—in every way—on the periphery of whatever was going down at Simpson’s Point that night. But how do we tell that story?
Erica and I biked down to Simpson’s Point last Friday night partly because we wanted to tell a different kind of story in response to the inevitable Saturday brunch question of “what did you do last night?”
A week later, we faced the inevitable question of how much we should follow-up with the night’s happenings. A quick look at the Forecaster’s police scanner came up empty. The diligent journalist would have made calls and investigated, but finding out more about the incident we stumbled into forces us to remove ourselves from the center of this story. The big revelation—which in retrospect seems like the most salient detail of this story—came at the very end of the night. Our story was almost over when we found out about the heroin; we had already constructed its anecdotal value. We were lucky that nothing bad actually happened to us down there. But since that was the case, the story can be the one we started rehearsing when we were crouching by the water. It can be the screwball series of unforeseen things that happened to us as well as cautionary tale.