67: Riding with Mark

67: Riding with Mark

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Angels and Miracles

Riding with Mark

Some of the bravest and the best men of all the world, certainly in law enforcement, have made their contributions while they were undercover.

~Thomas Foran

In the spring of 1987, I was selected to begin training at the police academy. On that day, the first person I met was Mark. Mark was a jovial guy who had served in the Army and was now changing careers. He and I would go through the next eight months as probationary friends, studying and supporting one another. On the day of graduation, we were assigned to different parts of the state and went our separate ways.

Two years later I had taken a desk job at Headquarters, in an attempt to get back to my hometown. It was the wrong move. I was miserable in the role and questioning my career. Unbeknownst to me, Mark was working upstairs. When we happened to meet in the cafeteria. I told him of my plight.

“Why don’t you join me at the Traffic Branch?” he suggested. Mark and I shared a lunch as he told me that he had met Jenny, whom he planned to marry and have children with. I had recently become a new father myself, so I applied for the transfer.

On the first day at my new assignment at Traffic Branch, Mark again met me and introduced me to everyone. As the newest arrival, he and I worked together sporadically, until I had enough seniority to partner with him. When we rode together, he started every shift by putting a photo of his daughter Elise, and later, his next daughter, Meghan, on the dashboard in front of him.

“This is why I am a police officer,” he said. “This is my reason, to make it safer when they ride with me.”

Mark and I had happened to solve a significant case. We put together a brief of evidence so compelling that the Superintendent wanted to showcase our work. He scheduled a press conference for the day before court.

“I can’t,” I told my boss. “It’s my wedding anniversary, I’ve asked for the night off.”

Mark was assigned a new recruit that night while I went to dinner for my anniversary. Later that night, a violent storm hit the city. We were home asleep when we were awoken by a lightning flash followed by an incredibly loud clap of thunder.

I arrived at work the next morning and walked into the office. Some of the other officers who would accompany us in court were unshaven and looked disheveled.

“Did you guys work all night?” I asked. “You have court this morning with Mark and me.”

One of the police motorcyclists took me aside and broke the news. Mark had been killed in an accident the night before. The accident report would later surmise that he had been driving during that violent thunderstorm, had been startled by the lightning, and careened off the wet road into a tree. The officer riding with him was thrown clear upon impact — not a scratch upon him.

The rest of the morning was a blur but somehow I found myself visiting Mark’s wife Jenny. She met me at the door and we cried together. Through my tears I could see Mark’s daughters inside the house: two-year-old Elise sitting bewildered on the couch and eight-week-old Meghan lying in her crib. They wouldn’t remember their father.

“He was here last night,” Jenny said. “After the crash.”

Huh?

Jenny said that shortly after midnight she woke and saw Mark standing beside Meghan’s crib. She reported that Mark was quiet, just looking down at Meghan. She said that she could tell he had been in the rain as he was still in a wet uniform. Jenny said that she told him to come to bed before she rolled over and went back to sleep. At 3 a.m., when my colleagues arrived to deliver the grim news, she had not believed them and returned to check their bed where she thought Mark was sleeping.

“It was him,” I reassured her. “He would never have left without seeing the girls.” Mark loved his daughters more than life itself.

Mark was buried with full police honors; I was one of the pallbearers. The passing of Mark shattered me. I was unable to get past the thought that it could have been me with him. Who knows what would have happened? I moved away and distanced myself from everyone, including Jenny and the girls.

About six years later and three hundred miles away, I was on patrol when I came upon a single-vehicle accident. A car had careened off the road in a storm, the female driver trapped inside. She was in bad shape when I reached her, and she knew it.

“Please,” she begged of me. “My daughters, I want to see my daughters.”

I looked in the back seat of the car and saw two empty child seats.

“Where are your daughters?” I asked the driver.

She struggled to speak. “The other police officer has them. The other officer said he would take care of them. He said his name was Mark.”

I looked around; there was no one. But off to the side, leaning against a gray gum tree, were two little girls. They were uninjured—not a scratch on them.

I collected the daughters and brought them to their mother. She passed away holding her children’s hands. I kept the driver’s last conversation out of my report. There was no police officer named Mark in the district.

Unlike Jenny, I never got to see Mark again, but I always sensed that he was still around. Every time I arrived at an accident and found an uninjured person surrounded by carnage, I always wondered if I was still riding with Mark.

~Grant Madden

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