Rodney was a burglar. He wasn’t a very good burglar, which is why all the precinct cops knew him.
And he was not the most detailed of planners. Along with a hefty substance problem, Rodney just didn’t like planning out things — like his escape. One night he burglarized a liquor store, then celebrated by sitting on the cardboard boxes behind the store enjoying the fruits of the crime. We found him passed out with an empty bottle of Prince Ivan Vodka in his hand and $27 in his pocket — all the money that was left in the till.
Every time he was arrested, Rodney would claim his innocence and then, after the laughter, he’d proclaim that he was done with crime and would get his life in order. That was met with a stark silence — then more laughter.
He tried his hand in residential burglary. The first arrests came after a local drug store called the cops to report a roll of film that contained pornographic images. The detective went by, looked at the film, then called the burglary detectives. Rodney was arrested a day later after detectives matched the film to the person who dropped it off. It just so happed that the owner of the film had been a recent burglary victim. Rodney had forced the back door to the home open, entered and bagged up a few items. When he saw the camera, he decided to do some X-rated glamour shots. He later told the detectives that he intended to steal the camera but forgot to pack it.
Later, Rodney was suspected of attempting to rob a man after the man left a check-cashing store and was walking to his car. The robbery victim said he was approached by a man who had his hand in his coat pocket as if he had a gun. The victim said he punched the gunman in the side of the head and he ran off. There was no gun. Coincidentally, Rodney claimed he had hit his head against the bathroom sink the night before the detectives came to see him. He was never charged with the attempted robbery, mostly because the victim left town and had no interest in pursuing the case.
Over the years, Rodney tried his hand at many things, few of them legal, and failed at most of what he did. He tried his hand at stealing from cars, but landed in the hospital after he broke a car window, reached in and, when he opened the door, he was bit on the face by the dog that had been left in the car to ensure no one broke in. Rodney was well described by witnesses who saw a man “bleeding profusely from the face. “
Rodney, No. 1 on the list of “usual suspects,” was picked up and later charged with the theft after detectives failed to believe that Rodney suffered a deep bite to the bridge of his nose “during rough sex.” The case detective did allow Rodney a tiny piece of dignity when he didn’t confront a piece of the confession when Rodney said he was bitten by a pit bull. The detective knew all along the dog was a small mutt, about the size of a large purse.
Futile attempts at going straight
Rodney tried his luck at legitimate work, but successfully ended up fired from all, mostly from stealing from the till or the product. On Saturday nights he would often end up at one of the old all-night diners, drunk, mad and loud. His tirade scared the hell out of the customers, but he always surrendered to the officer who responded to the call.
Many times I found him standing on the table screaming racial obscenities to a terrified group of late-night semi-drunken customers in the wee hours of the morning. Rodney would finish his last bitter, obscene comments, and then he would step down. I would cuff him, and off we would go.
I took him home more times than to jail. But, God forbid, if he interfered with my Waffle House break, I would send him to the clink.
Rodney always said he was going to get straight, but he never did. He never improved his trade, either, logging arrest after arrest for petty crimes, including the age-old faking-the-choking episode in a restaurant. Rodney would choke and then collapse. His plan was to recover in time to shake the owner down for a few bucks, threatening a call to his lawyer. Once the 9-1-1 center dispatched a “person choking” call at one of the restaurants, we knew it was most likely Rodney.
We’d find him on the floor, sometimes giving a slight kicking of his feet to heighten the effect of his pending death. Amazingly, Rodney would cheat death and return to the living after the arriving officer stepped outside, squirted a tiny bit of Mace on his finger, and then returned — holding the finger under Rodney’s nose while softly telling him he would next open Rodney’s eyes with the same finger.
Rodney would rise from the dead and curse his way out of the door and into the patrol car.
Like cockroaches and Keith Richards, Rodney refused to die. He had many chances to die, including the time his girlfriend set him on fire after he passed out in a chair — revenge for beating her up a week before. She waited for him to drink himself into a stupor, then poured lighter fluid on him and lit him up. He woke up in flames and ran out of the door, then right smack into a phone pole. He said later she had a bad temper but a good heart.
She left him after she got out of jail.
Eventually, Rodney’s lifestyle caught up with him. He died one night in the back of a car, in a car-repair parking lot. We knew he and several other homeless often slept overnight in unlocked cars when the weather was cold. He didn’t like homeless shelters because they wouldn’t let him drink. And they would put them out early in the mornings. He liked to sleep late.
There was no happy ending involving some social worker who turned Rodney’s life around. He didn’t meet the right girl and got straight.
Sometimes there just is no happy ending.