Chapter 1

Of Time and Light

 

 

Chapter 1

September 5th, 1970

Our story begins at the ending or starts where it should probably finish. This story ends with an unknown drifter lying dead on a downtown street. Nearby, a young girl is crying while being held tight in her mother’s arms. The mother is hysterically screaming at the sight of the dead man, and the horrific event that occurred just moments earlier, which led to his awful demise.

A curious crowd was beginning to gather near the commotion, while other horrified witnesses quickly moved away from the gruesome scene. One man and a woman began pushing a distraught mother with her nine-year-old daughter away from the scene, further down the sidewalk while trying to console them both. Other men gathered around the body, blocking the view of the curious, although distant, audience of onlookers. 

The men nearest to the body were able to see the massive head wound, the bright crimson blood pouring out onto the pavement and into the gutter. Those closest would always remember the sight of his open forehead, eyes closed, and a slight smile seeming to show enlightenment on his wise weathered face. No one touched the stranger; everyone knew that he was gone. Someone took the red and white checkered picnic blanket that the traumatized mother had just unfurled onto the ground for her family moments earlier, draping it over the corpse along the curb. The blanket hung in the calm air for a moment before gently settling across the unknown vagrant’s body. The air was usually still, for being along the wide-open waterway whose waters remained placid and mirror-like in the mid-morning sun. Sounds of raw sorrow, not just from the mother and child, but also from the other witnesses, held in the atmosphere until the sounds of sobs, were overtaken by the wail from a siren coming from a few blocks away. 

At about the same time, the pop and then groan of a truck door opening awoke several bystanders from their shock of seeing a stranger dead in the road. The driver of a worn and rusted tow truck, sitting in the middle of the street, slowly emerged from the cab. The rather rotund man, pale-faced and sweaty, was dazed and expressionless. His filthy coveralls bearing the name patch of “Martin” matched the name on the truck door: Martin’s Towing and Scrap. A trail of dark blackened lines contrasted against the gray pavement behind the truck, marking a memorial of the incident that would last for months after. 

“He, he just jumped out in front of me,” Martin tried to explain softly to no one in particular. 

Several men said reassuring statements to Martin as they directed him onto the other side of the street, out of the view of the checkered blanket with a body underneath. About the same time, the loud siren coming from a polished police motorcycle, shut off as the first officer approached the scene. 

The officer dismounted his motorcycle, wearing an immaculate dark dress uniform with its sparkling badge and a name tag that read: Officer M. Henley SAPD. He looked up at the large digital clock atop the towering Exchange Bank Building and noted the time: 9:42 AM, 74 degrees. A well-dressed man standing nearby the covered body stepped forward to address the policeman. 

“This man here is a hero. He saved my little girl,” gesturing to the blanket on the curb, with its crimson stain expanding. He then pointed to his wife and young daughter, still crying and being consoled close to the seawall. 

Henley quickly glanced over the scene. The officer looked across to the truck in the center of the road with its trail of black skid-marks. Then he walked towards the curbside at the blanketed body.

The police officer spoke to the man, “Struck by the tow truck?” 

“Yes sir,” the man answered with tears welling up in his eyes, “This man dashed out into the road and pushed my daughter out of the way.” 

The officer walked over and stood over the blanket, “And your name, sir.” 

“Richard Weston,” he answered solemnly and then looked away, towards his wife and daughter, as the officer lifted the blanket. 

Henley let out a low murmur, as he looked at the sight before him, observing the peaceful expression of the man’s face, wearing a dirty white untucked shirt, dinghy khaki pants, and bare feet. 

“I spoke with this man only a few hours ago,” Henley declared to no one in particular, “He was asleep against a gas pump earlier over at Mick’s Gulf Station, just across the bridge.” 

He let the blanket fall as he continued speaking, “He was a most peculiar vagrant. After I woke him up, he asked me about the parade. I told him that I wasn’t sure that there would be a parade today. That last night’s storm had downed a few trees, blocking part of the parade route.” 

Officer Henley continued as he looked towards the bridge, “I remember thinking, why would this guy care about the Founders Day Parade? I joked with him. Asking him if he had a float to catch; if he was Ponce De Leon. Then I sent him on his way and watched him head for the bridge.” 

Now dazed, Henley roamed slowly back to his motorcycle and radioed for an ambulance, stating that the victim, an older white male, was deceased. In the radio exchange, he received confirmation that the Founders Day Parade was now officially canceled. 

The small crowd of onlookers began to disperse as a white ambulance arrived and groaned to a stop near the checkered blanket. Two middle-aged men stepped out of the white Cadillac station wagon; one lifted the blanket to assess the victim, while the other opened the back door of the car to retrieve the gurney. 

Mr. Weston was still nearby, explaining to anyone who would pay attention, including the ambulance driver, about the heroism of the dead man before them. The driver listened to Weston and preformed the ghastly deed of turning the body on its side, checking all of the dead man’s pockets for any identification. Every pocket was empty. 

Two more disheveled police officers pulled onto the scene in a squad car, speaking with Officer Henley before he walked across the street to talk with the tow truck driver. About the same time, a newspaper reporter from The Record walked up as the men lifted the body, laying it to rest on the gurney.  

The seasoned reporter introduced himself to Weston, as Lance Jenkins, “Call me LJ,” Jenkins would always say to everyone he met. 

Weston explained what he had witnessed, pointing over to his wife and daughter, now both sitting on a stone bench at the seawall overlooking the calm water, with their backs to the traumatizing accident scene. 

The demise of an unknown shoeless man, along with the gale force storms of the night before, caused the cancellation of the Founder’s Day Parade, celebrating the 405th anniversary of St. Augustine, Florida on Saturday morning, September 5th, 1970