Catalina

Catalina Montez watched with excitement as the familiar gray Dodge Durango emblazoned with the words Denver Police pulled up by the basketball courts. Her teacher reminded all her students that this afternoon was the day Chief Brown would be coming to Cesar Chavez to play basketball at the park with some of his officers and any student who wanted to play, could. The Denver Chief of Police wasn't like any other police she knew. El Jefe, the kids called him, Chief Brown, he was different. He was interested in them, their families, how they did in school, and what was going on in their neighborhood. He cared.

Brown got out from the passenger side of the car. From the driver's side, his aide Sergeant Jerry Abbey, did the same. Both Ed and Jerry wore Cesar Chavez Eagles T Shirts, dark brown with a gold Eagle with red and green wing feathers, its head facing out determinedly on the world, blue jeans, and sneakers. They greeted the kids with smiles and high fives. From the back of the Durango, Abbey brought out bags full of balls and books and Denver Police souvenirs. Taking one of the balls out, he called to one of the boys; "Hey Juanito, m'man, think fast". Juanito grabbed the thrown ball and ran for the court, dribbling at full speed trailed by his friends. Chief Brown and Jerry corralled the stragglers and walked them to the court, Catalina walked behind them. She was tall and gangly for her age but she wasn't good at sports and at eleven years old, she knew she liked books, but there weren't many in her home. She was hoping that el Jefe or Jerry would see her and remember she was the one who liked books and stories. But she doubted it. There were so many schools and she never played ball.

Catalina found a place to sit up in the top of the bleachers above the court where she could watch her friends play Jerry and the Chief. Soon they were joined by other young officers and all the courts were full of kids playing cops. She liked to watch the game, and would cheer good plays. Today though, she wanted to do something else. Opening her notebook, she began to draw. Her dream was to tell stories and make the pictures that went with them and sell them. A writer is what her teacher called it. Catalina's story would be one her Navajo grandmother used to tell her about the Great Coyote and how he, along with First Man and First Woman and the Holy People, created the stars by filling a blanket with rock mica and carefully placed them in the sky. But Great Coyote became impatient; he grabbed the blanket First Woman had so beautifully woven throwing all the mica into the sky where they became the stars of the night. Under the pictures, she began to write down the story just as her grandmother had told her many times. She missed her Grandmother and her stories so much.

She lost herself in what she was doing, forgetting the game and the time. Looking up and around, she saw everyone had left and it had started to get dark. The streetlights were coming on. Her mother would be worried about her daughter being kidnapped or hurt and her father; Catalina didn't want to think about the anger he would show. She gathered her things and jumped off the balcony steps. As she turned the corner of the bleachers, she ran squarely into something soft and yielding and heard a muffled groan as she fell on top of the object. To her horror she saw she'd knocked a woman down in the dirt.

"Lo siento señora. I didn't mean to knock you down," she said horrified as she scrambled to her feet.

The woman smiled and got to her feet, dusting off her jeans clad backside as she rose. "No problema. Estoy bien chica. Y tu?" The woman assured her it wasn't a problem and that she was ok and wanted to know if she was also ok.

"Si, bien."

"Como te llamas joven?" What do they call you?

"Catalina."

"Catalina... Montez?" the woman asked.

"Yes" Catalina nodded dumbly. How did she know who she was?"

"Ed!" the woman called out. "I've got her. She's fine."

Who was this Ed who wanted to know if she was fine?

"C'mon Catalina. It's time for you to get home. Sus padres están preocupados por ti."

Her parents were worried. How much time had she spent here at the park?

She followed the woman and turning another corner, she realized who wanted to know if she was fine. Still wearing his now sweaty and dirty Cesar Chavez t shirt, it was her hero, el Jefe.

"Catalina, your folks are pretty worried about you. You ok?" He asked.

"I, I was writing Jefe. I forgot the time. And you brought books today. And I didn't get one. My father will be angry with me and I'm going to be punished because I'm late." Her sentences tumbled one over the next.

Ed briefly frowned. His officers in Lincoln Park had dealt with people like her father before. Montez was like so many in the neighborhood, struggling to make a living, barely making ends meet and more than once drowning his sorrows in the local bar; getting into a fight with the first man that disagreed with him; getting arrested for drunk and disorderly and spending a night in the city jail. He looked at the girl and smiled.

"Well Catalina, would you like a ride home? We'll talk to your dad. I'm sure he won't ground you forever. Your mother must be terribly worried and I know you missed dinner. I'll call them and let them know you're ok. We'll stop and get something to eat, then we'll get you home. Sound good?"

She nodded. Wait until the other kids heard about this. Dinner with the Chief. Who was this woman? Another policía? A friend?

Ed Brown anticipated the question. "Catalina Montez, this is my wife, Fran."

Catalina felt her cheeks flush. She'd knocked down the Chief's wife.

Fran smiled at her. "El Jefe no sabe lo que paso'. Es nuestro secreto."

Catalina breathed a sigh of relief. The Chief didn't and wouldn't know.

Jerry Abbey had taken the Chief's car back to the station and the only vehicle in the lot was a Ford F-150 truck. Fran tossed her keys to her husband. "You drive Ed. I want to get to know Catalina better, but first I'll call home and let them know she's ok." Fran and Catalina got into the backseat of the truck's cab. Ed slid behind the wheel and started the truck.

Fran pulled her phone out of her pocket and asked for Catalina's number. There was a rapid fire conversation in Spanish. She heard Fran repeatedly say, most likely to her father, "She's fine. She's a child who lost track of the time is all. She doesn't need to be taught a lesson. She's learned one already. She feels badly about being late. We'll get her home as soon as she's eaten."

Catalina heard Fran release a long sigh after she disconnected the call. She knew her father had told her he was her father and would make sure this never happen again and most likely she would get the backside of his hand as well as get grounded. "How come you speak such good Spanish?"

"My mother was Mexican. We spoke it all the time in the house."

"Does the Chief speak Spanish?"

"Enough to get by sometimes." Ed broke in. "When I need an interpreter, I sometimes will ask her to do it, especially like tonight. It saves someone else coming out for just a little bit and I trust what she says."

"Are you a police officer too?"

"Not anymore. I work at the Art Museum. I fix paintings now."

"You're an artist?"

"I paint and I used to sell my work so I guess that makes me an artist."

The truck stopped. "Who's hungry?" The Chief asked.