Dorothy Cannell here: Bleak confession: Unlike my longtime amateur sleuth Ellie Haskell and, more recently, Florence Norris, I’ve never had any desire to stick my nose anywhere near police business, even if it involved nothing more ominous than a lunch break. The thought of a personal brush with The Law fills me horror, dread, panic and at least a dozen other (even loosely synonymous) emotions. Cowardice, not virtue, has kept me on the straight and narrow.
This goes back to my childhood when I was convinced that if I dropped a candy wrapper in the street a policeman would materialize out of thin air to clamp a hand on my shoulder and march me off to prison. After which I would find myself in the dock at the Old Bailey being pronounced guilty by the jury – to the hand-rubbing delight of the bewigged judge who would then don The Black Cap. This being the tip-off (I’d read mysteries with British courtroom scenes) that I was to be taken to a Place of Execution to be hanged by the neck until I was dead – as opposed, I supposed, to be left with a bit of a sore throat.
This past Tuesday morning began pleasantly with no foreshadowing of what was to befall – the fear, the ignominy, the shame. The blow fell when my husband Julian suggested we take our eighteen-year-old grandson Jack (staying with us for a few days) out for breakfast.
“We could go into Rockland,” he said, “you have to go in anyway to renew your driver’s license.”
True. My birthday is coming up and this was the expiration year. Or so I had thought. It occurred to Julian that it might be possible to take care of the matter on line. A task he kindly offered to perform. This necessitated my handing him my license with its hideous photo. A bellow followed.
“Expiration date 2O14!”
“Oh, surely not,” I soothed, as yet unable to face the severity of the case against me.
“You’ve been Driving Illegally for a year!
“Consequences?” I squeaked.
He disappeared to return with a fat manila folder and began rifling through the contents.
“What are you looking for?”
“Proof of citizenship.”
“This will necessitate starting from scratch, going through your entire life with a fine toothcomb. You’ll need your birth certificate, passport, proof of residence.”
“Will it help that I know my mother’s maiden name?” I strove to remain upright as we made for the car. I knew I didn’t deserve to be carried and did not relish being dragged by my feet.
During the drive to the Driver’s License Offices in Rockland (Julian at the wheel) I persuaded myself that a prison sentence was unlikely, but this optimism was dashed when we pulled into the parking lot and saw that the Department of Corrections was located next to the Department of Motor Vehicles.
“They may give you a break,” Julian consoled when I pointed this out, “and let you off with a heavy fine.”
“Or just make you take the test again,” said grandson Jack encouragingly.
“The driving part?”
“Perhaps just the written.”
That was the moment of true horror. The ultimate penalty. The Rules of the Road was not a book I had enjoyed and the thought of having to re-read it made the idea of incarceration quite pleasant.
As it turned out, all fears were for naught; when my number was called a very pleasant
woman informed me there was a grace period for late renewal. I even passed the vision test without being required to wear glasses. But on leaving I did assure Julian I had learned my lesson. My new photo was even more dreadful than the last. This seemed to cheer him a little although I did experience the dark suspicion that that it would have given meaning to his day if I’d been marched off in handcuffs.
Life should never be dull even in the non-fiction world.