JAIMIE VERNON – CEMETERY COP 2 – Chapter 6 (excerpt)
BILLY GOAT GRUFF
Billy was the security guard that trained me. I got to know him, not in person, but through his legend. When I worked, he was off, and vice versa, so we rarely ever crossed paths. Occasionally, he’d pop by on his day off to say hello to the staff, and would come around to see how I was doing. I was the newbie, and he wanted to make sure that a) the staff was treating me well, and b) that I wasn’t fucking anything up.
He’d been a soldier in Desert Storm during the Gulf War. He suffered serious health issues that often kept him off work for long periods of time. He’d been away from the job for nearly a year just before I was hired and was in the middle of another health crisis shortly after I started working there. The staff at the cemetery feared that if the various ailments didn’t kill him the work hours at the cemetery would. He wasn’t able to handle more than two 15-hour shifts each week because it would take him five days to recover.
The security company rode his ass about it all the time. He was really good at what he did, and the epitome of every security guard training video. He was meticulous and fastidious, and didn’t put up with bullshit from anyone. To that end, the security company wanted to rely on him more than he was able to offer. His illness had made him frail and prematurely old. I had assumed he was a senior just trying to put a little extra coin in his pocket on top of his pension. Turned out he was only a year older than I was.
The manager of the cemetery hated him with a passion because he had become a close personal friend with many of the staff members there. This was considered a conflict of interest. Should management ever fire a staff member at the cemetery, it would be incumbent upon us as security guards to escort them off site. Billy argued that being impersonal to the staff would create tension. If he were ever required to escort one of his friends off the property, he could do it with empathy – and would probably get less resistance from someone he could deal with on a personal level. Loyalty and trust is a two way street, and the staff trusted Billy with their lives.
Despite his by-the-book exterior, he was also a big teddy bear. He was my role model and changed the way I approached everything I did. One of those ways was to detach from the emotional and focus on the mechanics of an incident or an encounter. As was explained in True Tales From a Cemetery Cop, that was easier said than done. You can’t stand among grieving people all day long and not get the feels. I am not a heartless bastard, and neither is Billy – despite his best efforts to make people believe otherwise.
BILLY LOSES HIS MIND
On one of the rare days when I saw Billy on his day off, he arrived at the cemetery not long after I opened up. He was frenetic as I saw him jump out of his SUV and run into the office to see Emily. I pulled my patrol car up and went in to see what he was doing there. I had a suspicion he’d forgotten something. It was not unusual for someone at the cemetery to find the house keys he’d left in a break room or at a workstation in one of the buildings. One night, he got all the way home after a shift and had to drive all the way back to the cemetery to get his keys because he’d locked himself out – that was a four hour round trip. I immediately presumed he’d done it again.
“Whattdya lose this time, ya codger?”
“My iPhone. I had it right up until the end of my shift last night. The fucking thing’s worth $600 and if the wife finds out, she’ll have my nutsack.”
Emily burst out laughing, which made me laugh.
“Oh, sure. You two fuckwads can laugh. I like my nutsack. It’s the only thing that didn’t get blown off in Kuwait.”
“Well, Billy, I’ll come with you. We can retrace your routine when you started locking down the buildings last night. It’s gotta be somewhere.”
Emily jumped in. “I’ll send an email out to the staff and tell them to keep an eye out for it.”
Billy turned on his heel and headed to the kitchen down the hall in the office. He popped back out a few seconds later with a coffee in hand.
“I take it the phone wasn’t in there?”
“I didn’t look. I just wanted a coffee. My nerves are shot. I gotta find this thing before Mary wakes up. She’s gonna call me on it looking for me and I won’t be answering it because it’s FUCKING LOST!”
“Calm down. We’ll find it.”
We got into his SUV and headed to the Visitation Centre. We blew into the lobby like Batman and Robin. There the receptionist greeted us. We gave her the whole song and dance about the phone, and then headed to the garage where the hearses were parked.
“I washed the patrol car last night in here. Maybe I left it in one of the hearses.”
“What the hell were you doing inside one of the hearses.”
“They’ve got the best stereo systems out of all the fleet vehicles. I’m not washing a car without some major tuneage, c’mon.”
“Did you wash the patrol car in slow motion and spray water all over your heaving breasts to get rid of the soap? Were you wearing Daisy Dukes?”
We laughed and laughed, but there was no sign of the iPhone.
Next stop was the Gothic Mausoleum. Aside from the utility buildings it was the first building on the grounds that security opened and closed every day. Billy would have started his evening rounds of shutting down the cemetery from here. Public access was through the front doors near the chapel, but our access started through the loading dock where the bodies were brought in for cremation.
Alonso was the staff administrator and undertaker for the crematorium. He was at his desk doing paperwork when we barged in. Aside from securing the doors, and setting the alarms from the loading dock entrance each night, or turning the alarm off in the morning, we weren’t supposed to be in there. Ever. Billy and Alonso were good friends, and when Billy wasn’t feeling well or tired of chasing dogs and children around the cemetery all day, he’d hide in the break room where he could get a good cup of coffee.
“What’s going on, boys?”
“Lost my fucking iPhone.”
“Again? Mary’s going to kill you.”
“Did you leave it in the can?”
“Heading there now.”
Off we went, down a long utility corridor and through a set of oak wooden doors, into the witnessing room for families who were there to have their relatives cremated. It was a completely normal looking sitting room with couches and chairs and paintings on the wall and carpeting and, oh, an eight-foot-long stainless steel pedestal with a coffin sitting on it, ready to be pulled by a conveyor belt into a gaping furnace of hell. Nothing to see here.
An identical set of doors greeted us at the opposite end of the sitting room that led out into the bottom floor of the mausoleum. Directly across the hallway was the men’s and women’s public washrooms. Billy hunted high and low. There was no phone in either. Our jobs require careful searches in women’s washrooms as a preventative measure against assault. You can never be too careful.
We headed upstairs from the basement to the main floor and past the chapel to the other public washroom that was an old unisex bathroom built completely out of the same marble interior as the crypts in the mausoleum. There was no phone in the bathroom. Next to the bathroom is the sacristy or vestry. It’s a room where a priest or minister can go and prepare for a service in the chapel. It has a chair and a desk in it, and occasionally got used by the janitor to store supplies. I unlocked the door and Billy took a quick look around. I didn’t ask him why he would have been in there the night before. I assume it was another oasis to either sleep in or relax. It has no CCTV cameras near it so no one would know he was in there.
We headed through a back door in the chapel and did a quick once-over of the pews to make sure he hadn’t set his phone down absent-mindedly while resting. Billy had to rest a lot, poor guy, and he sat down right after we finished sweeping the chapel.
“I feel a hundred years old. I have a lot of energy in the morning, but I need a nap most days now. Don’t let them catch you sleeping anywhere on site, man. They’ll fire your ass.”
“Duly noted,” I said.
We headed back downstairs and said goodbye to Alonso. The small utility shed was next door to the mausoleum. It was a short flight up the stairs into the change rooms and kitchen. I took one side of the building and he took the other. We met back at the staircase.
“You see the ghost yet?”
He was referring to what everyone believed was a spirit that turned the motion detectors on in the building every night.
“I don’t believe in ghosts, Billy.”
“You should. I’ve seen some horrific shit on the battlefield but there ain’t nothing like the shit I’ve seen in some of the buildings here. I can’t say they’re ghosts specifically, but the CCTV cameras have caught some weird stuff I can’t explain. They only come out when all the lights are off. Go sit in Alonso’s office some night after you’ve locked up the Goth mausoleum and watch the six CCTV video feeds. Pay close attention to the basement hallway between the two fire exits. It’s why you’ll find the exit doors unlocked sometimes.”
I never did look at the video feed. I was always too busy locking up the cemetery. But he was right. The basement hallway fire exit doors were always a problem. Sometimes they couldn’t be secured, and the alarm couldn’t be set. I once spent an hour trying to bypass the system just to get the alarm to lock-in. I had maintenance come in and look at the door. It was wood and had swollen from the constant moisture in the mausoleum, so they shaved down one side and the alarm strip fit better against the doorframe. Problem solved.
We left the utility building and sat in Billy’s SUV. He pulled out an iPad.
“I have my iPhone GPS synchronized to the iPad. I was told to do it just in case someone stole my phone. I’ve never actually tried to use the tracking device. I should have thought of this earlier.”
I was intrigued. He got on the radio to Alonso who had set the system up for him and got instructions on how to activate it.
“Unless the battery is dead in my phone I should be able to ping it and get a rough location on this map.”
“Here’s hoping someone didn’t find it and walk off with it.”
“Shut up, you.”
“Hey, I’m just saying…”
He got the iPad’s GPS up and, sure enough, there was a red dot flashing on the screen – except it was showing the thing right where we were sitting.
“The phone isn’t in this vehicle is it?”
“Wouldn’t that be funny.”
We both got out and tore apart the SUV looking under the seats and in the trunk. Nothing. We drove around for a bit to see if the image moved on the screen. It didn’t. It was still showing the phone in the spot where we were sitting.
“Have you tried zooming in closer on the map? Beacon Hill is big but relatively small when looking at a satellite image.”
Billy ran two fingers over the map and zoomed in as close as the image would allow. Now we could see the road detail on the map to within a few feet.
“It looks like the phone is in the ravine! Did you drop it while locking the gate down there?”
“I don’t think so. I lock that gate first before sundown, then do all the others. I had the phone almost until the very end of the night. Then I can’t remember what I did with it.”
We drove over to the ravine and sat at the end of the road leading into it.
“The phone seems to be closer to this end and not down by the gate.”
“I’ll get out and walk along the grass, and you follow in the car. Let’s see if we can’t get a visual on it.”
As I got out of the car I could hear a dinging noise like when a car door is left open. There was a couple standing on the grass near a grave.
“Hey, do you hear a dinging sound?”
The couple looked at each other and they pointed to a spot on the ground about halfway between them and me. I walked over as Billy followed in the SUV close behind. Sure enough, there, in a small mud trench beside the edge of the road where the grass began to slope up a hill, was his phone pinging loud and clear.
I picked it up. It was covered in mud. I pulled out a cloth that I normally used to keep my glasses clean and gave the iPhone a once-over. I pushed it through the driver’s window and dropped it onto Billy’s lap. “Your phone, sir.”
He yelled for joy, threw the SUV into park and jumped out. He ran over and squashed me in a massive bear hug. The couple on the grass just stared at us.
“You’ve just saved my fucking life, man. This phone is my life line. Phone numbers and videos and pictures of my daughter. I don’t know how to thank you.”
“Just tell me why was the phone in a trench, next to the road leading into the ravine?”
Billy had to think about it for a minute, “I must have left it on the roof of the patrol car when I was washing it. I didn’t want it to get wet. Then I did the ground sweep patrol every hour once the gates were all closed as you do. It must have finally fallen off when I came down here to patrol. Jeesuz. That’s a great fucking phone, eh?”
“Billy, you really gotta focus more. That’s an expensive gadget to lose.”
He went quiet and contemplative, “Having a hard time remembering shit, Jaimie. Little things. I’m like the absent-minded professor. Chemo. Radiation. It’s all wearing me down.”
“Get some vitamins into you. B-complex stuff. Especially B-12.”
He nodded and we headed back to get my patrol car so I could carry on with the rest of my day.
The Cemetery Cop 2: More True Tales From A Cemetery Cop book by Jaimie Vernon will be released December 12. Pre-order autographed copies from http://www.cemeterycop.com/purchase
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Jaimie “Captain CanCon” Vernon has been president of the on again/off-again Bullseye Records of Canada since 1985. He wrote and published Great White Noise magazine in the ‘90s, has been a musician for 33 years, and recently discovered he’s been happily married for 16 years. He is also the author of the recently released Canadian Pop Music Encyclopedia and a collection of his most popular ‘Don’t Believe A Word I Say’ columns called ‘Life’s A Canadian…BLOG’ is now available at Amazon.com http://gwntertainment.wix.com/jaimievernon