(Author’s Note: Appearing in the San Joaquin and Sacramento Valleys after significant rainfall, usually during the cooler months, Tule Fog is described as a low fog. What that means is that the heavy, thick cloud is barely higher than the top of a sedan. Seriously. Drivers in big rigs can see over it. Their lights sometimes shine above it. Drivers in cars are blind in it.
When I was in my twenties I drove a junky, but much loved Volkswagen Beetle. The floorboard on the driver’s side was mostly missing. There was enough foot space to drive safely, but I could see the road fly past underneath my feet. Lucky for me. One foggy day, I was driving to San Francisco through the Valley when Tule Fog appeared. It was bad. I was scared, so I turned around and headed home. It got worse. The only way I could see the road was to look straight down through the floorboard as I drove. That’s Tule Fog.)
Senior Inspector Jackson Tyler and his partner, Junior Inspector Tomio Dubanowski had worked together only six weeks, but it didn’t take a genius to figure out that Tom preferred to drive. He had been a pilot in the Air Force before becoming a cop, and missed having his hands on the controls of a plane. Street driving was pale in comparison, but at least he could feel the power of the machine when he drove, or so he said.
“Tyler, Dubanowski,” said Chief Tyrone Jamison, of Precinct Twelve. “Missing paraphernalia at the Outdoorsman. Get on it.” The Outdoorsman was a shop for all things camping, someplace Jack imagined Tom would enjoy, even if it was for a possible robbery.
Silent as a stone, Tom stood up, gathered his equipment, and handed the keys to the Expedition to Jack.
Jack cocked his head, a silent question, “Why?”
Tom shrugged, and sullenly walked to the garage.
The drive seemed longer than it really was, because Tom did not talk. Instead, he leaned against the door of the car, pressed his cheek against the windowpane, and watched the city roll past them. One block away from the camping store, he blurted, “Jack. Have you ever wondered what it feels like to die?”
“Uh, why are you asking?” said Jack. There had been no deaths on the force, and the department hadn’t shown any films about handling contentious situations, or what to do if shot or otherwise injured on the job.
“Well, I just think that as police officers we should expect it. I want to know what I am getting into, how it’s going to feel.”
At that moment, Jack drove past the Outdoorsman, turned right, and pulled into the lot behind the store. “Tom, I would love to be there for you, but right now….”
“Yeah, okay,” said Tom, putting on his ‘time to be a cop’ face.
That evening they stopped for burgers and fries. At the table, Tom said quietly, “What do you think it feels like to get mortally shot or stabbed? Do you think the body shuts off the pain centers? I don’t want to know pain.”
“Why are you thinking of this. Did you see something? Did somebody you knew in the Air Force pass?” Jack spoke very softly.
Tom deflated. While he stared at his lap, he said, “I’m sorry. I guess this anniversary has always fallen on a day off.”
“Anniversary?” said Jack, looking at him warily, knowing he was about to hear about something devastating.
“Three years ago, while I was still in the Air Force, my parents celebrated their forty-second wedding anniversary. It was foggy, that horrible Tule fog in the Great Valley – they were heading home to Turlock from San Francisco. The officers at the scene said that my father jerked the wheel and sent the front of his car under…uh…an eighteen-wheeler. It was passing on the left. The front of the car…uh…was crushed….” Tom couldn’t finish the description. “The officer said it was quick.”
He swiped his nose. Then he whispered, “I felt them scream, Jack.”
Jack was horrified. How did he not know this about his new partner?
Tom continued, “I don’t think about it most days, but for the last three years, I’ve thought about it on this day, you know? Their anniversary.”
“And wonder what they went through.”
“Yeah. Sometimes I think about dying. Does it hurt? Will I be afraid? What if I’m not ready? I want to be ready, so if it happens, I’m not caught off guard. How do I do that, Jack? I…I don’t know how to get ready.” He sighed. “I was given a book to read when I joined the Force. It was about dying and what to expect, mostly about what happened after, notifying family, handling effects, but there was some information about how the medics would respond, what the body would do, what they would do to it.” He shivered. “It was supposed to relieve fear, but it just created more for me. I skimmed it, and then planned to live.”
“Maybe that’s what you should do now?” Jack shoved his hand across the table, but then retracted it when he realized Tom didn’t want it.
Tom sighed. “I miss my parents, Jack. I miss my dad. When stuff happens, I reach for my phone to call, and then realize there is no one there.” Tom’s eyes filled with tears, which he quickly wiped away.
Jack’s eyes filled in response. He also wiped them away. “I am so sorry, Tom.”
“I didn’t want to make you feel bad. I…like I said, I think this is the first time I haven’t wallowed in this alone. Every other anniversary has been a day off.”
Jack grabbed his phone, opened his calendar, and set a reminder on yesterday’s date.
“What are you doing?” asked Tom.
“I’m setting a reminder for next year. ‘Remind Tom to call in sick tomorrow. We have plans.’ Does that work for you?”
“Um. Yeah. I think that will work.” Tom accepted his hand this time.