Standing By


“10-4, Theresa you could walk out to Whalers Rock right now,” I said over the radio.

“I copy you, Tom,” she replied back. “Keep an eye on the situation.”

“That’s affirmed,” I answered back.

Graveyard shift was not half over and I was hoping for a quiet night as I drove along Crescent City’s Pebble Beach Drive. This was not my usual patrol, however I volunteered to fill in and cover the northern end of the county during the first watch.

The brightness of the moon reflected well from the Pacific Ocean at Pebble Beach. As a kid, I remembered when we used to go down to the beach and collect agates.

In high school, it was a favorite place to take the cross-country runners and the track and field sprints; long open beaches of gray volcanic sand. At the North end of Pebble Beach stood a monolithic rock; Half out of the water and about two hundred yards from shore, it was known as Whaler’s Rock.

Local legend had it that the first white seafarers had used it to spot whales from shore. The native Tolowa Indians had used it as a source of food gathering for hundreds of years before that.

It was still home to a rookery of gulls and seals.

The tide had retreated into the sea. I had never seen a tide go out that far before, so I immediately called dispatch and spoke to Theresa by radio.

And as instructed I planned to keep a eye on the situation, not that there was much I could do about it anyway. The tide was still severely withdrawn and I needed to head out towards Lake Earl on my continued patrol.

As I made my turn onto El Dorado, I saw the cows in the field across the road herded up and running. I stopped and whipped my cruisers heavy spotlight on them.

They continued to run. I thought it was strange to see these normally complacent animals stampeding in their field, especially at this early hour.

My first thought was that a pack of dogs had joined together and were chasing them. I continued to shine his spotlight over them and found nothing.

If there were dogs chasing them, then the mother cows would have developed a more aggressive defensive posture. Yet they were far out pacing their calves.

Slipping my cruiser out of park and into drive, I continued down El Dorado.

“Think I’ll 10-7 at the C-H-P,” I thought.

The California Highway Patrol’s Sub-Station lay jus’ over the freeway over pass next to Highway 101. I could use their restroom and get a cup of coffee while there, then head out towards Fort Dick and the remainder of the patrol.

Slowing my cruiser down to about twenty miles an hour I scoped out the high school parking lot. I saw absolutely nothing.

I did the same at as I passed the track and the district’s administration building.

It was about this time that I first noticed the power lines wiggling back and forth. I stopped and watched them swing.

Suddenly the power poles violently swayed back and forth. The street lamps moved from one direction into the other and trees slapped into one another, making a loud brushing sound.

My mind screamed, “Earthquake.”

I was helpless to do anything about it, trapped in my cruiser heading east, so slapped the gearshift into park and stomped on the emergency brake.

All around me, I could hear glass breaking and see flashes of bright white lights as power lines snapped in two and sparkled away madly. I laid down in the front seat believing that at any time a power pole would come crashing down on me.

The vehicle shook and bounced violently, then I felt it shifting sideways as it started leaning. My imagination ran wild, thinking that perhaps a large hole had opened up beneath me and I was being swallowed up.

Jus’ then the cruiser came to rest, driver’s side down, and the quaking stopped. In the distance I heard several dogs barking and the Tsunami warning sounding.

Everything appeared dark and that added to the general confusion in his head. I was standing on the driver side door hugging the bench seat of the cruiser.

The cruiser’s engine was still running and I suddenly became aware of the radio check that Theresa was calling out for. She called me a second time as I fumbled to find the microphone, which had been tossed from the clip it normally rested on.

I answered her after the third call, hearing and feeling the stress in her voice. She was calm and still professional, yet I had grown up with Theresa and he knew the subtle tones variations of her voice.

“You okay, Tom?” she asked.

“10-4,” I responsed.

“What is your location?” she continued.

“I’m on El Dorado near the school district buildings,” I answered.

“10-4,” Theresa said, “stand-by for further information.”

“Uh, that’s affirmative;” I said back then added, “Could you send a tow truck out here. My cruiser’s on its side and I am standing by — inside.”

There was a long silence on the radio. Every officer on duty and those recalled for emergency duty had heard his call out.

“Are you hurt or anything?” Theresa asked.

“Nope,” I responded to her questioning, “jus’ embarrassed is all.”

“10-4, Tom,” she answered.

About that time I heard a car pull up. Someone climbed onto the cruiser and opened the passenger door.

It was my former partner, Dale. He was laughing.

My cruiser was the only vehicular casualty for the law enforcement community. However the front windows at the sheriff station did shatter during the quake and several prisoners escaped through a gap in the wall of one of the cell blocks.

They were honest and turned themselves in after taking a couple of hours of freedom to check on the welfare of their families.

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