Just before the pick-up truck did a sweeping U-turn directly in front of the cruiser, I told constables Tom O ‘Connor and Stan Carter that I thought I knew how a monkey felt. “This cage is only 12 inches from my face,” I said, crammed into the backseat of cruiser 10- 369, the one with the metal screen between the front and rear seats. It’s supposed to protect the driver from a kick in the head or a spitting, or what bad guys could inflict from the back scat. “There’s no leg room, either.’ I just got those words out when the radio crackled.
It was Corporal Jack Munden back at base. We were to watch for a dark pick up full of kids, eggs and beer; a volatile combination. “ There they are,” Stan said, pointing to the south corner of Bridge and Water streets, just across from the town hall. The truck blatantly turned in front of the cruiser and headed south on Bridge Street, picking up speed. We followed, hitting the tracks at accelerating speed with lights flashing. All I could think of was the banjo music accompanying a chase scene on the Dukes of Hazzard. It was 9:15 pm. Luke needn’t feel threatened; the chase was a short one. The truck pulled over with its load of masked men, cartoned eggs and cold beer; all the ingredients for a night on the town.
The mood around the parked truck was jovial. A couple of the lads wearing rubber gorilla and monster masks smoked cigarettes through the openings. One of them whispered the word under his breath as he saw a six-pack of Labatt’s disappear into the hack of the cruiser. Tom filled out the citation quietly. Stan chatted with some OPP up from Perth, checking to see if Almonte needed help, A crowd was gathering at the end of High Street, where we’d pulled the truck over. It was show time. We heard that a mattress had been set on fire in the middle of Mill Street. Minutes later, I took a chance and decided to walk up to the ‘pool room corner’ after.
Number 369 headed back to the station to drop the confiscated goods off. I was being either very brave or very foolish– and I didn’t feel very brave. It was apparent I wasn’t going to last long at the corner without an egg-shell shampoo. I snapped off some shots of the fire as quickly as the flash would charge, which wasn’t soon enough. Eggs started landing around my feet. The mattress in the middle street burned brighter, shards of glass could be seen in the flickering light. They were from bottles, however. A window hadn’t been torched. The sidewalks were slick with egg and the calvary, constables Gerry Murphy and Greg Dainschinko in cruiser 10-557 (no cage), pulled up
“ Have you got room for three skinned raccoons,” came Stan’s voice over 557’s radio.
Greg looked at Gerry and Gerry looked at Greg. I tried to imagine what three skinned raccoons looked like and I knew there was no room for them. En route to a check behind Lee Pro Hardware, we pulled over a car for a spot check. Nothing transpired, but just before we climbed back into the cruiser, an incredible barrage of eggs rained down on us. It was a well-timed ambush and the projectiles were well-aimed. I ducked behind the cruiser, two eggs brushing the side of my head. Greg was hit in the shoulder, hut the left side of the cruiser absorbed the bulk of the attack. The car looked like a battered omelette, with shell and yoke solidifying on the windshield.
We drove back to the “front” — the terminology the men were using to describe the pool room corner. The fire was rising ten feet high by now, making upper Mill Street with its Shipman building under renovation look more like a section of Beirut than the commercial centre of an Ottawa Valley town. Garbage, pieces of wood and glass were everywhere. More eggs slammed into the windshield as we watched, parked on the corner. Gerry wheeled the car into the parking lot adjoining the Shipman building.
“They’ll have that plywood off the roof before long” he said, Greg said, “ They’re not even , wound up yet.”
We saw three or four youths sprinting away from the building. Just keep them moving, the constables agreed. Herd them like sheep. As long as there’s no rocks or golf balls or gasoline. “ Hey,” I remarked, inspecting my pants and coat, “I don’t believe it. Not even an egg mark.” “Yet,” Greg added.
One of the suspected egg attackers was stopped. “Get in ,” Greg told him . A few minutes later, he said, “give us the eggs’ ‘ and Gerry wheeled the cruiser down Brae Street. “ I haven’t got any,” came the answer from the masked man. “ You can search me if you w ant.” His voice was quivering. They knew who he was. They advised him to can the fun and go home. He was let off three blocks down the street. We drove out of the commercial section, away from the battle scene on Mill Street. The firemen continued to monitor the situation, but did not bring in the pumper. They knew what would happen. Not only would they and the truck pumper be pelted while dousing the flames, but the fire would be started again soon after they left. No, best to let them have their fun. Best to let the fire burn itself out, Greg said, and clean it up in the morning.
The quiet of the residential streets was a marked contrast to the front, but it gave the policemen time to reflect on the evening’s events. “ You know, Joe, we should take our hats off to these kids,” he said seriously. “ Things could be a hell of a lot worse. Give credit where credit is due.” And then he said that: “there is a handful of bad apples,” though most of them, he acknowledged are in the can.”
It was 10:29 pm.
“Where are you Greg? the radio crackled. “We just passed Blackburn’s,” he answered. Stan was on the other end and wanted us to box some kids in an alley beside the Superior Restaurant, “ They’ve got water bombs or paint bombs or something,” he said. The cat and mouse game went on. The kids were long gone, but Greg spotted two of them who looked as if they were squaring off, ready to fight behind the Baker building. Gerry pulled the cruiser up and Greg got out. He asked them about eggs, frisked them and stopped suddenly as if jolted by a bolt of lightning. “ Sorry!” he exclaimed, face blushing. He climbed back into the cruiser. “Make sure you know who you’re frisking,” he said. “ I just made a mistake.” He had been mistaken about a girl dressed as an old man, a hobo. Score one for the kids.
The mood lightened in the cruiser, though it had never exactly taken on the air of a well-played police drama. These guys knew what to expect and little of what happened this night was going to be a surprise. It was shaping up to be an evening of the usual harmless hijinks. And that’s how it went, for the most part. Back at the front, the shouts and screams were dimming, though the mattress and boards were still burning on Mill Street.
“What are you doing here John ?” Gerry asked a young fellow picked up after he was spotted carrying a real estate sign to add to the fire. The youth, over from Carleton Place for the evening, said he was just there for a few laughs, no harm meant, “And no harm d o n e ,” Gerry said matter-of-factly. “ But I think you’ve had your fun tonight, don’t you?” John admitted yes. He was let off at the next corner. We returned to the pool room.
Greg looked non chalantly at the fire. “Do you know if they celebrate Halloween in Ireland?” he asked. People must be saying, ‘look at those cops sitting there not doing a damn thing,’ ” said Gerry surveying the activities at the front behind the wheel. I thought, those are the same people who would be the first to call a cop if they were pelted by an egg. It was 11:06 pm and the fire was still burning well. By now, bales o f hay had been added to it. Six minutes later, after another in a continuing series of egg barrages, I was with Stan and Tom again.
We took a quick drive to Almonte Motors, where a car was being reportedly tipped over. We saw the kids sprinting from the scene, but there was no sign of damage. At 11:30, we were making our way down a quiet residential street. “ You know ,” said Gerry, “they used to kick the s— out o f that place on Halloween,” gesturing to the house of a prominent Almonte citizen. “There’s nothing this year though.”
We turned the corner, the styrofoam coffee cups on the floor rolled, and he described an incident six or seven years ago that unnerved more than a few townsfolk. As they were this year, the kids had been throwing eggs at cars. They hit one, the driver stopped got out, and brandished a gun. Halloween had become a serious game. And how did he, I asked, compare Halloween to the others? Tom answered, voice rasping, “ exceptionally quiet. There’s usually a lot of calls in, but there’s not that many this year.” Later I’d found out there had only been one all night. Members of the local radio club were helping out in the surveillance o f the town, and alerted the base to any goings on.
We met some of the crew about every ten minutes, parked silently in a shadow or driving through and past the front. It was past midnight and the carnival-like atmosphere that prevailed on Mill Street for much of the night was dissolving. But as we sat directly across from the Royal Bank, another ambush transpired. This time Constable Tom O ’C o nnor, whose window was open, caught an egg on the shoulder. The night wasn’t over yet. A half-hour later, I was again riding with 557. Shortly after leaving the station, Greg spotted someone he knew. “ Stop there a sec,” he said quickly. “That kid’s been carrying eggs around all night.” When he was searching him , he accidentally broke an egg in the young fellow’s pocket. The teenager muttered something I couldn’t make out. Greg got back in the car and we left.
“Hey, Mister, don’t you think it’s past your bed time?” Gerry Murphy asked a youth hanging on to the beer store sign post. “You’re on probation aren’t you?” The kid nodded. “ If I see you out on the street again,” he told him as we drove past the probation office.” And then he added, “ Y ou’ve been drinking too? Underage?” But he let the lad off with a warning; it probably would be enough. “ He’s basically not a bad kid ,” Gerry said as we drove off. “ They’re just like little lambs. They’s got to be led. But this one is not a bad kid at all. He got into some trouble at the arena a little while back.”
On our way back downtown, I remarked about the number of smashed eggs around town. “ The old chickens must be working overtime tonight,” Gerry joked. We pickced up Greg, who had been on foot for about a half-hour checking out the alleyways and doorways downtown. The two policemen compared notes and swapped names of kids they’d spotted. No sooner had they finished, when one of them saw a youth holding what appeared to be eggs.”Are those golf balls he’s got?” Gerry asked. “ Yeah, let’s take a run over.” Three or four were hanging out on the steps of the Royal Bank, still wearing the identity-hiding masks. “ Isn’t it past your bedtime band Tito ?” Gerry asked one dressed as a Mexican bandit: I stepped on an empty coffee cup. The night was getting old. The kids moved on.
“Just make sure,” Greg said, noticing me taking notes, “that you put in there just how good the kids are in this town. It’s been a long year, and they could’ve gotten even lots of times. ” It was true. Tonight could have been a disaster, as it had been a number of years ago. Even those kids we just stopped could have told the police where to get off. Or, they could have broken a few hundred windows. Or they could have made life generally unpleasant for the merchants.
“Stop here at this truck,” Greg said as we passed a black four by four. It was 1 am , early Thursday morning. For the first time that night, Greg took out the A L E R T , a small box-like device used to determine whether a driver should be driving or not after drinking. He explained carefully and purposefully to the driver what the device did, and asked him if he understood what it was to be used for. The driver nodded yes. “ That’s a warning,” he told him after the driver blew into the tube. “Under the Highway Traffic Act, that means I can seize your licence for 12 hours.” The driver understood, and was cooperative. The only problem was, he couldn’t find his driver’s licence.
For me, that was the last, first hand ride of the night. It was well after 1, and police work was becoming tiring. Back at the office, Jack Munden poured another coffee. “It’s fresh out of our new coffee maker. Sure you don’t want any?” I declined, having already ingested enough that night to float a ship. The base radio was inactive. Jack was happy. Halloween, once a feared evening in this town, passed without a single serious incident.
To show for this year’s antics, the detachments had seized dozens of cartons o f eggs, some barbecue starters and beer. There wasn’t a soul in the lock-up. Detachment number 10-60 Almonte, with all four constables and a corporal on duty, had coped. For an Ottawa Valley town of Almonte’s notoriety on Halloween night, to an outsider, that might seem remarkable. But to those who know better, Almonte’s notorious reputation is now a thing of the past, a story to be remembered by yesterday’s youths when they swap lies with their friends in bars. The image, certainly for me, had been laid to rest
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