It was a small office . . . just three people. Clients came for artificial limbs – prosthesis is the term. They were proud of their work, helping others. Then, came an exception.
One morning, the toilet stopped working. Marge told her boss about it when he arrived for work. Rob was good at fixing things. He went to see what he could do.
“Guess what?” he said when he returned. “The tank was plugged with this.”
He showed Marge a plastic bag. It was heavy gauge plastic and taped up tightly. More wide strips of duct tape hung down. Water dripped from the bag onto the reception area’s new carpet.
“Can you guess what this is all about?” Rob asked.
“No idea,” Marge replied. “You?”
“I think so,” Rob said, hesitating. “This is like on TV. You know, when the cops show bags of drugs they’ve seized. This looks just like one of those.”
“Good Lord!” Marge said. “What should we do?”
“I’m going to make a call,” Rob said, heading for his office.
Three months earlier, Jeffery Randolph had arrived in a wheelchair. He was young, handsome and a real charmer. His face displayed all the signs of a tough life. Marge remembered him well.
Jeffery lost his left leg a year earlier in a foolish accident . . . not a surprise for the likes of him. The tall 32-year-old drifter got drunk one night and passed out on his way home. He tripped and fell while crossing some railway tracks. One leg rested across a rail.
It was early morning and he was lucky – three times over. First, the high-speed commuter train only took off his right leg just above the knee. In his drunken state, his whole body could have ended up sprawled across the tracks. Second, it was the middle of winter and he’d been lying there, leg up, for hours before the train came along, so the circulation in his leg was less than normal. Otherwise, he might have bled to death. And third, the EMT who found him . . . just by chance . . . in the darkness . . . had been waiting at the crossing in her car for the train to pass. She’d been sent home early from her overnight shift with the flu. The experienced EMT applied the tourniquet that surely saved his life. She’d left her cell phone at home . . . as regulations required . . . so she drove him to the hospital in the back of her van.
When Jeffery first arrived at their office about an artificial leg, he was quiet and withdrawn. But he couldn’t hide his charm or the sense of devilry that smoldered just beneath the surface. During this visit, initial measurements were taken and a cast was made of the healed stump where his right leg now ended. Getting an artificial limb was a long process and would take numerous visits.
Although somber, Jeffery turned on the charm in the waiting room for the attractive young Marge. Her well-honed instincts, however, told her to have no part of his overtures. She had that confirmed after he wheeled over beside her desk and struck up a conversation. It was obvious he was craving female contact. Marge felt a bit sorry for him. But then, he said:
“It might be a while before I get back here for my next visit. I’m in court next week . . . probably going to jail.”
Marge was stunned. She didn’t expect this . . . or, maybe down deep, she really did.
“I’m sorry to hear that,” she said. The sentiment was genuine. “Want to tell me why?”
“I did something really stupid,” Jeffery replied. He didn’t elaborate.
“Jeffery?” Rob called out, standing at the door of his large office. It also served as an examining room and fitting room.
Jeffery wheeled in and the door closed.
A month later, Jeffery showed up for an appointment. He’d missed three. This time, two armed men in uniforms accompanied him. The shoulder patches identified them as prison guards. They flanked his wheelchair as he rolled across the reception area to Marge’s desk.
Jeffery was just starting to turn on the old charm when Rob appeared at his office door and called him in. Rob had been listening for Jeffery’s arrival. He knew Marge would be relieved at not having to fend off Jeffery’s habitual but unwelcome overtures.
Thirty minutes later, Jeffery wheeled out of Rob’s office. The two guards stood. He stopped at Marge’s desk. She prepared herself for another unwanted advance, then relaxed when he said:
“Do you have a restroom I can use?”
“Sure,” Marge replied. “Over there.”
She pointed to a partition that shielded the restroom door from the waiting area. It was built to accommodate wheelchairs, for obvious reasons. Jeffery wheeled over. Five minutes later, he and the two guards were gone.
Over the next few months, he made regular visits for fittings. Each time, he asked to use the restroom just before leaving. Marge thought nothing of it. By now, he was using his artificial leg, with a cane. She was impressed with how well he was doing so soon. She guessed he had lots of time to practice, in jail.
Fast forward to the present.
As Marge thought back over those past experiences, it was all coming together now.
After Rob had made his call about the package plugging the toilet, three men came to visit. Two were dressed in well-used sport jackets and ties. They showed identification. Both were city cops. They didn’t identify the third man, who’d hung back. He wore faded blue jeans and a scuffed nylon jacket, and sported a week-old unkept growth of beard.
While interviewing the two of them and their technician, Albert, about Jeffery’s visits, one of the cops made an off-the-cuff remark about “the feds”. She sensed the third man stiffen ever so slightly. So did Rob. They decided later that “Scruffy”, as they’d nicknamed him, had to be an undercover fed.
During the interview, one cop asked Marge whether anything unusual had occurred in the course of Jeffery’s visits . . . anything that was different from before he began coming.
There was one thing, Marge said. Two men in their mid-30’s, both dressed in blue jeans and jackets, had been coming in regularly to use the restroom. They had east European accents, maybe Russian. Marge said she assumed they were workers. Lots of construction was going on in the neighborhood.
When asked by the cops, she agreed the two men seemed to have started showing up regularly about the time Jeffery began the process of getting his artificial leg. The more she thought about it, the more certain she was. Marge didn’t want to get Jeffery into any more trouble, but that seemed to be where this was heading.
The cops sat down with them and devised a plan for Jeffery’s next visit. It was a week away.
The day came and Jeffery arrived with two armed guards. No cane! Marge was impressed. She told him so. He beamed. Minutes earlier, two other men had arrived and were seated in the waiting room. One man was in a wheelchair, his lap covered with a blanket. It looked like he had only one leg. The other man’s left arm was in a sling. It was bandaged and appeared to be shorter, as if his hand was missing. Marge and Rob agreed later the second man looked a lot like Scruffy.
Rob called for Jeffery. He and Marge exchanged glances. As Jeffery headed for Rob’s office, the other two men in the waiting room made loud grumbling noises. They sounded unhappy that Jeffery had been called in first. Jeffery looked pleased about it. It was obvious he felt privileged. He bought the ruse.
Rob had Jeffery sit on the examining table as usual and remove his artificial leg. He checked the latest fitting and was proud of how well it was coming along. Jeffery was pleased too. They agreed he should continue with his regular visits. The next would be in a week.
Jeffery walked out into the waiting room and asked to use the restroom. Marge said yes, pointing unnecessarily toward it.
When he emerged five minutes later, the two other men in the waiting room were standing, weapons drawn, police identification hanging from chains around their necks. The fake infirmities were gone. The two armed jail guards stood to one side, hands on their weapons. They’d been briefed after Jeffery went into the restroom.
A look of surprise and . . . Marge was sure . . . relief, spread across Jeffery’s face as he raised his arms and locked his fingers behind his neck. He knew the drill.
The cops found three flat plastic bags taped to his abdomen. Tests later showed the bags contained almost a quarter of a kilo of cocaine. That meant Jeffery would be receiving even more, free room and board.
Jeffery’s arrest was kept quiet. He was not returned to the prison, but housed in a city hospital, under police custody. This was not unusual for prosthesis clients. Infections occurred sometimes. That was the rumor police deliberately whispered to prison guards, who were certain to spread that tidbit of gossip among the prison population.
For the next week, the two arresting officers staked out the waiting room, their fake infirmities on display again. ‘Scruffy’ was indeed one of them. During the week, he’d become quite chatty. Both cops were talkative and relaxed when the waiting room was empty, but were all business the moment the outer door opened.
The week was almost over when two men in blue jeans and jackets walked into the waiting room. Marge recognized them. They greeted her like a long-time friend. They were the eastern Europeans she’d seen earlier. One asked to use the restroom. Marge said, “Sure,” and pointed. He smiled and nodded, heading for the restroom. The other sat.
Marge got up and went into Rob’s office, as instructed by the cops. It was the signal. Rob closed the door. Albert was already there, looking bemused and just a wee bit uneasy.
They were told later, after the first man went into the washroom the cops pulled their weapons and arrested the second. They found a Glock .45-caliber semi-automatic handgun tucked in the back of his belt.
When the first man emerged from the restroom, the cops were waiting, guns drawn. He protested innocence as he was handcuffed. While one of the cops kept watch on the two prisoners, ‘Scruffy’ checked the restroom.
Scruffy found a large plastic bag tapped to the underside of the toilet tank lid. The police forensic unit recovered two excellent sets of fingerprints from the bag. They matched both men. The bag tested positive for cocaine.
The Tale of the Troubled Toilet was over.
Marge admitted later she kinda missed all that excitement . . . sort of.
Author’s Note: ‘Tale of the Troubled Toilet’ was inspired by a true story.