I don’t know if the ending is sad or happy.

“County, car 12.”

“12, go ahead.”

“12, when you go 10-8, contact the supervisor at 2300 Fernoak Road.”

I stare at the cows I am currently attempting to put back behind their fence. Crap. Crap crap crap.

Twenty minutes later I pull up to the back door of the local nursing home.

I say back door, it is actually a set of French doors on the back side of the dining room/TeeVee room, opening onto a patio, surrounded by a faux wrought-iron fence about eight feet high.

Just inside the fence, a matronly-looking woman in scrubs, body language giving every impression of annoyed impatience I’ve ever seen, looks pointedly at her wrist watch as I park the cruiser.

“It’s five minutes past seven o’clock. I called the sheriff at a quarter ’til. Be sure you put that in your report.”

“Sorry about that, but I was on the far side of the county with a herd of cows when the –.”

“That’s sheriff’s business. Mr. Johnson is missing. He’s ninety-four years old, white, last seen wearing a tartan dressing robe over blue pajamas.”

“Okay, good to know. When was he last seen?” Ninety-plus years old, I doubt if he got further than, say, a mile. Unless someone picked him up…


“When was he last seen?”

“Are you implying something?”

What the hell? I look at her over my Gargoyles in absolute confusion, “When was the last time he was seen? So I’ll have a search limit?”

“Young man, Bugscuffle is not that big.”

I see how this one is going to be played. “Okay, do you have any idea which way he might have gone, or where he might be going?”

“Mr. Johnson has a severe case of Alzheimers. Not only do we not know where he may be going, or which way, but he doesn’t know either.” The ‘you idiot’ was unspoken.

I’m trying not to show teeth in a smile that neither one of us is going to believe is friendly. “I understand. Can you tell me what kind of footwear he’s wearing?”

“You, young man, should be looking for Mr. Johnson, not standing here, conducting what my lawyer will probably tell me is an illegal interro –.”

“Madam. These are dirt streets. We haven’t had rain in months, and there’s a good layer of dust everywhere. I can track Mr. Johnson quite easily — if I know what I’m looking for. Now. Am I looking for slippers, am I looking for sneakers, am I looking for bare feet, what?”

She looks at me for a long moment, no doubt cataloging my series of sins and trespasses in her mind.

“I’m sure that an aide will be able to help you. I’ll send one out. You are planning on looking for poor Mr. Johnson sometime today, I hope?”

The amount of saccharine in that one little sentence would probably kill half a lab quota of rats, and I feel my jaw muscles knot up as I gravely incline my head, “I’ll certainly do my best. May I see Mr. Johnson’s room?”

“He’s not — oh, bother. Very well. 105.” With that, the supervisor throws up her arms and stomps back into the facility, me taking the moment to slip in the self-locking door behind her.

A couple of moments later I’m at room 105.

I’ve been here before. About three weeks back, half-an-hour before end of shift, the ambulance was paged out to the nursing home. As was our policy, I had responded, had come to this room from the other direction to find it full of aides and nurses. The bed just inside the door had been empty, bedclothes thrown back as if the occupant had been taken out of the room. The far bed had had two of the staff attempting to resuscitate a tiny figure; then two of our local paramedics had button-hooked the door and taken over, only to gently shake their heads after a brief exam.

What was her name … Viola Faye Carter Johnson. I worked the escort for her funeral later that week. I close my eyes and I replay my courtesy at the service in my mind:

Walked in through the side door. Waited at the door while my eyes adjusted and spoke with the funeral director about the route and location of the grave site. Walked through the line … grandchildren, grandchildren, daughter, son, son, ah-hah. Tall, barrel-chested, big-boned, but no muscle over the bones. Natty bowler hat on top of thin white hair, incredibly bright yellow-and-red feather tucked rakishly in the hat-band, white moustache, good grey suit, malacca cane leaning forgotten against the pew.

Complete and total dazed incomprehension in the blue eyes.

Got him. Now I know who he is.

Out of habit I look under the bed — hey, it’s happened before. No such luck this time, though.

I open the closet door — no Mr. Johnson there — the clothes are hung with almost military precision, no gaps to show missing clothes. I’m looking at a tiny framed pen and watercolour portrait of a woman on the bedside table when two younger women step through the door, one of them carrying a red, blue and green check robe.

Well, he’s not wearing a tartan bathrobe after all. Hope he’s still wearing the blue pajamas.

The portrait is a bit smudged and looks like it was bent or folded a time or two before being framed. It is a blonde woman, young, who is pulling a blue ribbon from her ponytail while looking levelly at the artist. It is well-done, drawn with love as well as skill. Dollar to a doughnut says Mr. Johnson was the artist — it has that feel.

The aides are clearly upset — Mr. Johnson seems to have been a favorite. He is a white male, tall — they’re not sure how tall — and he’s nice. And never a problem.

That’s nice to know.

The only thing they think is missing from his room — aside from him — is his cane. The side door alarm beeped at the supper meal, at five. They think that was him, but truth be told, nobody is really sure when Mr. Johnson amscrayed.

Yeah, this one isn’t going to be easy.

I tip my hat to the aides and start walking around outside the home, checking the dirt at each door. At the side door, I find it. It’s not much — a circular imprint a little bigger than the diametre of a quarter in the dirt — but in my memory I see the tan rubber after-market tip someone had slid onto Mr. Johnson’s cane. With the cane imprint as a marker, I can see the shiny spots where his cloth-soled slippers pressed into the caliche and it’s fairly easy to track Mr. Johnson to Muir Road.

I mark the spot, hurry back to the Super Scooter and call in a BOLO (Be On the Look Out) for Mr. Johnson to Dispatch, then a run the cruiser up to my mark and start slowly idling east on Muir road, head hung out the window, watching the little rounds marks.

Six blocks later, I’m starting to get worried. Muir Road goes straight east into Old Town, the original location of Bugscuffle. In the early 1900’s, maybe teens, something had happened in Old Bugscuffle — fire, tornado, I’m not sure. Whatever it was, that entire section of town had picked up and moved west to it’s current location, leaving behind stone foundations and a few low ruined walls, overgrown in eighty-some-odd years of salt cedar, pecan trees, ornamental trees run amuck, cane breaks and other tree-type growth. Worst of all, Old Bugscuffle had red brick streets. Which New Bugscuffle happily — and mindlessly — runs a street sweeper down every other week.

Two blocks later, and I watch helplessly as the little circles and the small shiny spots turn into red brick streets. Dammit, dammit, dammit … “Car 12, County.”

“Go ahead, 12.”

“County, I’ve lost track of that BOLO at Muir and Pecan. Might be a good idea to turn out the VFD.”

“10-4, car 12.”

“10, dispatch.”

“Go ahead, 10.”

“What’s 12 got?”

I climb out of the car as Dispatch fills the Sheriff in on our Missing Person, hoping that Mr. Johnson had veered from his course and had climbed up into the grass. No such luck — but I honestly didn’t figure a 94-year-old man to get off on uneven grass when there was a perfectly nice brick road right there. Dammit. My walkie-talkie crackles into life.

“Car 10, car 12.”

“Go ahead.

“You know that foundation slab about a block and a half east from your current location where the high school kids go to party?”


“That’s the old Carter place. Next door to the east is the old Johnson place. Comprende?”

Bingo. I feel my chest ease a bit. “10-4, car 10, I’m en route.”

“Good. Car 10, Dispatch, tone the fire department and have them meet me at the corner of Muir and Pecan.”

Three quick breaths later and I pull the cruiser to a stop on the red brick street. North of the road is a huge lot waist-deep in vegetation — where it isn’t shoulder deep or worse in salt cedars, rioting pyracantha — and a narrow path wending it’s way through the undergrowth. I scoot along the path, anxiously looking for — and not finding — those little rounds marks, but checking anyway. At the end of the patch — almost fifty yards back — is an enormous stone foundation slab.

Dozens of burn marks show where decades of high schools students had started campfires, various names and statements were written onto the stones with pens and markers; sprayed on in every conceivable shade of Krylon; or carved into any available surface, while scads of empty beer cans, liquor bottles, fast-food containers, and empty condom wrappers give mute testimony to what the kids were doing when they weren’t indulging their artistic and literacy Muses.

But not one sign of Mr. Johnson. I lope back to the street and walk slowly along the edge of the road, looking … got it.

Right in the middle of the lot that the Sheriff had called “the old Johnson place” I find two parallel lines maybe a handspan apart, where the leaves had been moved and turned over, their damp bottoms dark in the sunlight, as if by someone walking through in a shuffle. Say, an elderly man. I kneel and brush gently to the right of the trail, and am rewarded when I come across a round impression — a little larger than a quarter — partially covered by a leaf.

“Car 12, car 10.”

“Go ahead.”

“I’ve got tracks at the old Johnson place.”


Out of habit I stay to the left of the tracks, but I move quickly — the sun is going down and night won’t make this any easier. The tracks lead through the brush and up onto a foundation slab, straight up the center of the slab for several yards, before making an abrupt left turn, marching off the slab, then angling northwards of the Carter place.

Five minutes later, as the sun is going down, I find Mr. Johnson.

There is a low — no taller than the middle of my thigh — fieldstone wall separating the two lots, and sometime in the past there had been a pecan tree next to the wall.

He is sitting on top of the wall, back against the stump, his spiffy feather-adorned bowler hat a sharp contrast to his neat blue pajamas, a rusted metal box sitting in his lap and the cane leaning against the wall.

“Car 12, County. Code 4.”

If one were to squint real hard, it would be easy to believe that he’s lost in thought, or maybe napping.

But I can tell from ten feet away that he’s not.

“Car 10, car 12, do you need Rescue?”

I take my hat off and put it on the wall, then I strip off my gloves and drop them into the hat. His right hand is resting on top of the metal box and I slip my fingers to the inside of his wrist to check for a pulse.


Looped around his index finger, held in place by his thumb, is a ribbon, badly faded to a dove grey, but probably once the cornflower shade that might have been used to tie back the hair of a blue-eyed blonde girl.

“Car 12?”

I gently place my fingers on the side of his throat. He’s cold and there hasn’t been a pulse there for some time.

“County to car 12.”

Funny how there seems to be a hitch in my throat. I squeeze the fragile shoulder softly, then hit the ‘send’ button on my walkie-talkie, “County, negative on Rescue. Signal 9.”

A long pause before the County Dispatcher replies, “10-4, 12.” She’ll be calling a Justice of the Peace to come pronounce — there’s going to need to be a path cleared for that, and for the funeral home, but it just doesn’t feel right to leave that old gentleman alone again. Not in the dark.

The Sheriff and the volunteer fire department will be here soon enough.


Can someone tell me ...

91 thoughts on “I don’t know if the ending is sad or happy.”

  1. I prefer to think it a happier ending. He strolled back to his roots, surrounded by many memories, perhaps sitting on the stump of the tree he watched many sunsets with his wife. It sounds like he passed peacefully in a place of his choosing.

  2. I’m with geoff on this one.

    He went back to his old home and got out the one item he treasured most in the world, and let the memories take him back to a happy time.

  3. I’d go with happy ending too, brought tears to my eyes.

    Randy in Arizona

  4. I think I’ve said this before, LawDog: Would that we could clone you.

    How many other men would have done much more than scan the road as they drove by?

    How many more would have stayed with Mr. Johnson until the JP arrived?

    You, sir, are one of the good ones.

    I’d tip my hat to you, if’n I wore one…

  5. What a way to start a vacation. Smiling and with a tear in my eye. Thank you for sharing that Lawdog.

  6. Darn. I’m rather glad I have a cube space to myself. It would be rather difficult to explain why my allergies suddenly got so bad…

    I appreciate you, Lawdog!

  7. Law Dog,

    One of your best stories yet. I know that we all wish that life had happy endings. But the reality of it is that life comes at us hard sometimes. I found this out quickly when I lived my younger years in Africa.

    What we have here are two thing. First, we have a man – whom I see as having checked out the way HE wanted to. He checked out with good memories of his loved one – his sweetheart if you will. While he was sitting on that old stone wall there is no telling what was going through his mind. Maybe they had often sit there together years gone by. Second, I see a man (LD) who has not become jaded by his profession. A man who respects his elders and knows what it means to see and experience loss.

    Law Dog, Bravo. You write a really good story. Thanks for sharing this with us your readers.

    Best Regards
    Dr. Joe

  8. I agree with Geoff. And, dammit, I think I’ve got something in my eye.

  9. I have a suspicious wettness coming from my ocular regions.

    Thanks for a poignant and yes, happy story. God bless that dear man. I know he died with happy memories coursing through him.

  10. One more thing, LawDog.

    Need an informal “permission to use” for my Forensics team to use this.

    It’ll be edited a bit for length–must fit an 8-minute window.

    But we won’t hurt the story.


  11. Happy ending, definitely. He died where he wanted to, not in a nursing home.

  12. He’s gone home to be with his wife. How could that not be a happy ending?

  13. I am in the happy ending group, he went his way surrounded by his happy memories. Seems like a nice peaceful way to go to me.

  14. Oh, absolutely a happy ending. He went home before he went Home. Godspeed to him, on his way.

    Now, just to be sure no one thinks I’ve gone all soft, I’d have to tell you that as soon as Missy Snark-nurse bristled and thought that there was a hint of accusation of neglect, I’d have been…harsh. I’d have made her eyes roll the hard way.

  15. (I assume that this will go in to your book, along with the…ahem….ending to the pink gorilla suit story?)

  16. Dammit Dog! How can someone who can make me bust a gut laughing make me cry just as easily?

  17. Damn, LawDog…A grown man is not supposed to cry at work…

    Next time put “Fine Writing Alert…Not Safe for Men at Work” at the start of the page, will you?

    Doug in Colorado

  18. Damn, I hate it when my eyes get like this.

    But I’m glad the story had a happy ending.

  19. LawDog, you HAVE to write a book.

    It’s an imperative that your scribblings be preserved in print.

    Must, must. must.

    Hell, I’d agent it for you, and I haven’t agented in three years.

  20. I have to wonder if the lady in the bed the week earlier was the same in the picture.

    That would be a reason for him to have found his way back to his happier time.

    And I can think of alot worse ways to go then remembering a lovely, blonde woman that loved me almost as much as I loved her after 94 years on the Earth.

    Hell, I’ll be lucky to make it 94 years as will most of us and shoot, look how far he walked!

    I’ll put this one down to happy LD. He went with quiet dignity, remembering pleasant thoughts about someone he clearing cared alot about if not loved.

    Not too shabby a way to go ya know?

  21. I’d rather go sitting there on the wall and respectfully attended to after the fact by you, than in that room with Snarknurse drumming her fingers on my bedrail.

  22. “mr johnson”
    “fair winds, following seas, and safe harbour at voyage’s end”.

  23. Damn you, Dawg!

    Not for one minute do I believe he was suffering from a loss of mental faculties. He got up from his bed, grabbed his hat, and walked home. He had to get home because she was waiting for him.

    God bless him, and you. I don’t think there are many cut like you at all. Of those that are, you are their voice. Thanks for the story.

  24. Beautifully told.

    Alzheimer’s is a thief and destroyer of dignity. I think the honor, reverence and respect you used in telling his story may have somehow restored some of that dignity to Mr. Johnson.

    I don’t think it’s as black and white as sad or happy, it’s both. But I am glad he went on his own terms, so to speak, and with happy memories. And, he was fortunate to be found by someone who treated him the respect that he deserved to the very end.

  25. Sounds like a happy ending to me. Beautifully told, Lawdog. Both of my grandfathers died from complications caused by Altzheimer’s, so this really struck a nerve. I’m glad I’m not reading this at work. Altzheimer’s patients sometimes have fleeting moments of clarity during which they suddenly realize what is going on. This was clearly the case here, or he would not have been able to find his way home. What, pray tell, was in the case? Did he find the case there, or did he bring it with him as he escaped his place of captivity?

  26. I’m ex LEO. One of the ones who didn’t escape becoming cynical from what I saw over the years. You see so much bad you don’t recognize the good anymore. Needless to say I haven’t cried in twenty or so years…until tonight. Thank you for being who you are. Son, you’re a gift to the world. Don’t loose that compassion. If the job ever starts to make you cynical, QUIT!!

  27. His sweetheart was waiting for him at Home and that’s where he went. Just three weeks later. I would have loved to see that homecoming. Sheesh. If only it could be like that always. Thanks for the tenderness.

  28. As my beloved Uncle Edward was wont to say, you’re a good soul, Deputy. Thank you for your kindness to Mr. Johnson, and thank you for telling us the tale.

  29. Reminds me about a movie called Bubba Hotep.

    “What is the best death?”
    “The unexpected one.”

  30. Very nice Lawdog.

    Theres’ something so poignant about someone taking the long journey to get home.
    I can understand how you wouldn’t want to leave him alone in the dark. I too would have waited. He’d been alone long enough I reckon and decided it was time to get along to where he belonged.
    Home is sometimes just a word, but its the place that a man, mortally wounded will think of with his last thoughts. A place where we long to be, though some of us have to travel pretty far to earn our keep.
    Its another word for love. I’m glad to see he made it.

  31. Beautiful story – made my day, and such a pleasant change from reading about all the unpleasantness we see today.
    Glad I had you on my favourites – many thanks.

  32. I’ve tried to read this story three time and for some reason it keeps getting blurry at the end.Thank you Lawdog for sharing and welcome home Mr. Johnson.

  33. Sir, I feel a bit awkward to inform you, but that is a happy ending.

    It’s just a bit harder to see than most, because it was an Ending.

    But any ending met with a smile is always a happy one.

    Thank you, sir. A finer story would be tough to find.


  34. It was with reason that old train stations look like cathedrals. Leaving is always a solemn time.
    If he sat and had his thoughts in a place that had resonating memory for him, it is as much as any of us could hope for.
    And who’s to say that when he drew his last breath, she wasn’t standing there to take his hand?

  35. Well. Good. At least I wasn’t the only one with a trickle and a sniffle.

  36. My, my, Lawdog, you can write!!
    And thanks to your tracking skills, and caring, you found him. There are, perhaps, many people who would have stopped working on the case after requesting the BOLO.

  37. Got me right *there* reading that. Sometimes being a copper ticks all the boxes, and sounds like this was one of those times.

    I’d be happy to have you arriving as back up to any scenario you care to mention!


  38. LawDog, I wish I could have worked with you when I was “On the Job.” You have a fine flare for description and a true Gentleman’s heart.

    Thank you for all you do for us on the net and for those in the communities you serve.

    You are truly an example of all that is fine about Law Enforcement.

  39. Certainly a happy ending, he didn’t die wasting away in the nursing home with attendant who sounded like she was only concerned with keeping her job not the welfare of Mr. Johnson. From your description sounds like he passed away peacefully and on his terms. I believe if it was left up to us on how we went out then that is how we would all like to go. After losing several friends and co-workers before even hitting the prime of their lives there seems to be a romantic feel to how Mr. Johnson left this life. My hats off to you LawDog for showing me that there are still some out there with a heart.

  40. Oh, Dog, sitting here at work, weeping. I’m so glad it was you – with the skills to track and the heart to care. You, sir, are a Southern gentleman of the old school. I’m sure Mrs. Johnson would agree and thank you for the way you saw her beloved Home.

  41. Oh, yeah, cranky had it spot-on: the book. And we want Nana’s pink Swarovsky crystal story there, too, along with the pink gorilla suit.

  42. I choose to think of it as a happy ending. As many have said before me, he died at peace, holding the ribbon she wore in the painting he made for her. It’s how he remembered her and he died with a piece of that memory in his hands.

    My grandmother did something like this when she passed. She held on for dear life until either my mom, my sister or I called her. After 4 days of surviving, she died 5 minutes after my sister called.

    I don’t think Alzheimer’s or senility truly rob people of their senses. I think there’s still a lot going on in those heads, science just hasn’t caught up with this fact yet.

    Beautiful story, well told and with the respect and honor it deserves.

  43. My goodness your heart was surely in the telling of that story, the story of Mr. Johnson, and his love for Mrs. Johnson. I can only imagine they are together now, someplace where they are again as young as they were when that drawing was done, and I would think that the ribbon in her hair is as blue as it was on that day long ago.

    All the best,
    Glenn B

  44. Thanks LawDog for being one of the good ones. Way too often I see the bad ones. You stayed with him as you were taught the old way to respect the dead. Respect begets respect. God be with you and may your duty always be peaceful.

  45. Sir, I respecfully suggest you submit your story to Reader’s Digest.

    A true story written this well should be shared as much as possible.

  46. Thank you for caring. I’ve met too many officers on a scene that don’t care. They don’t even want to help us when we get there. They want to know why we want them to help with CPR because there’s no one else to help.

    Beautiful. I agree with the idea to send it to Reader’s Digest.

  47. I’ve done a couple of those searches and neither ending was pleasant or peaceful. Thanks for giving me one to remember that was.

  48. Brilliant! LD, told with compassion.
    I will point people this way for sure.

  49. Thanks, LD. For your writing, which continues to produce gems of the “Hey guys, you gotta read this,” variety… but also for your work.

    Too often cops are either subjected to demands or treated as nuisances, which adds insult to the difficulty and pains of the actual job. So thank you for what you did, and what you do.

    I only hope that when my time comes someone with as much compassion, whether cop, paramedic or nurse, can defend my dignity.

    Indeed, should that task one day be mine, now I have an example to follow.

  50. A happy ending. Death is an integral part of life, LD – it comes to all of us. He died at his old home, surrounded with his memories… and the man who found him stood vigil with him until his remains could be taken care of. Well done, sir.

    I haven’t been following you lately (been away on vaca without access to a computer), so I’m catching up on reading on a lazy day, and I have to say, reading this post makes me hope that you’ve given up the idea of working for a Big City department – you’d be wasted there. I think that you’re doing good right where you are.

  51. LawDog,

    I’m late coming in on this one, but can’t help but comment. Real life isn’t going to sit on nice, neat shelves but rather those ambiguous shelves that decide to lean one way one day, another the next. Thank you for sharing this story with us. Happy? No. Sad? Yes. Affirming? Most definitely.

    Keep fighting the good fight. You’re one of those LEO’s who hasn’t managed to let all the ugly harden him with more calluses than are necessary in a decidedly stressful occupation.

  52. Excellent job LD. If these tales are a glimpse into your world, then the Mrs. LD is one lucky lady. 🙂


  53. Thank you for sharing this, LD. You’re the kind of LEO I grew up with in my small home town. And you and your town are the kind of place I’d like to spend the rest of my years in.

    Godspeed and blessings on you, LawDog. You’re good folk.

  54. You got me misty there, Lawdog. You, sir, are indeed a gentleman. Once again, you have made me proud of our law enforcement in Texas.

  55. Book?

    Oh, my yes!

    You have the technical writing skills.

    You certainly have the stories.

    And you have the Gift of telling the story.

    In short, write the damned book!

  56. This story made me cry. I can tell you were touched deeply. Thanks for the post.

  57. Had to re-read this one aloud while wife’s playing on the other computer.

    Dammit, but I don’t hitch-up when reading aloud.


    Dammit again.

  58. Well my girlfriend walked in as I finished that and asked me what was wrong. I had her read the story and we agree that Geoff is correct.

    Fair winds Mr Johnson.

  59. One thing’s for sure. . . I ain’t to proud to admit I’m wiping a tear.

    Good ending I think. Thank you indeed LawDog.

  60. He went back to his old home, found his totem, sat on the wall and waited for the love of his life to come get him.

    Not a bad ending.

    Who is cutting dusty onions in here?

  61. A bittersweet ending, I’d call it. A powerful story and well-told, thank you for sharing it.

  62. Peaceful and comfortable. And with his loved one. Nobody can ask for more.

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