Just one more thing
A short story about Columbo! Dedicated to the wonderful man who played him. Peter Falk passed away today (24th June 2011) but his spirit and joy shall live on in the form of that curious little lieutenant who could never stop asking for just one more thing…
A child sat in a small back alley in the centre of LA on a dark, lonely night in June. He leant against a heavily graffiti covered wall, bouncing a worn tennis ball against the opposing brick surface. It bounced wearily, sometimes lightly hitting the flickering posters that hung on the wall so that they fluttered in the evening breeze, and other times, making an almighty clunking bounce when hitting the brickwork that was so familiar in this part of LA.
Oscar had been sitting there for about an hour. His parents were having an argument about something or other and he had needed to get out. He hated to hear them shouting. Two people who were supposed to love each other so much arguing just broke his heart. And so he had ran. Picked up the nearest thing to hand and ran here. To this safe little place, where nobody would find him. A safe haven amongst the busy streets and warehouses of Los Angeles. The sirens of police cars racing around the city echoed around this small alleyway. The noise reminded him of anger and frustration. The blaring sounds of a busy town, chaos ensuing, but in the small alleyways, the calm hung silently for anybody who needed it.
He heard something unusual. Footsteps, getting closer and closer. He stopped bouncing his old tennis ball, catching it keenly between his hands. He turned his head and standing about eight feet away from him was a small, shabby looking man in a beige raincoat. Oscar couldn't quite see him properly. The orange light hanging from a nearby building cast dark shadows over the stranger's face. But he can just make him out. His hair is dark, but he can see whispers of white and grey creeping through it like ivy. His face is harsh, but friendly. An adoring uncle that the Oscar would long to have on his side in the middle of one of his parent's arguments. A lightly burning cigar hangs between the man's fingers, which he puffs at a few times before noticing the little boy in the bleak alleyway.
'Hey. Are you supposed to be out here at this time of night?' Came the stranger's voice. The little boy nodded. Trying to hide his face in the shadows of the alley, he didn't want to show he'd been crying. 'Geez. It's mighty late. When I was a kid, my parents didn't let me out past 8 o'clock, let alone…' he pulled up the cuff of his mac and suit to look at his slightly battered watch '…, 10 o'clock. Your parents must be mighty swell. You're lucky to have 'em.'
'Don't see what it's got to do with you, mister' The little boy replied. Being protective was his speciality after all the fights his parents had been having recently. It was his first and only defence. He leapt from the floor so that he stood facing the stranger. He was roughly the same height, but the boy reckoned the man was much older than him.
'Now there, ya got me. Nothing to do with me, son. Nothing at all. I'm just, part of the L.A.P.D…' he started rifling around in the multiple pockets on his rain coat, mumbling to himself, and produced a police badge. The boy stepped forward, to share the light with the man, and saw that he telling the truth. In this light he couldn't quite read the name, but the badge spelt out fact. 'Name's Lt. Columbo. Homicide..'
'Homicide?' Asked the little boy. 'Ain't been no murder around here has there?' Columbo stared at the little boy enquiringly.
'Why, no sir. I was just taking a stroll down the main street out there. Wanted to take advantage of this wonderful evening beneath the stars.' He was gesticulating madly. His arms waving around like he was trying to swat flies. He looked up, squinting slightly, he could see past the rugged buildings that imprisoned the sky and could see the stars twinkling in the distance. Just waiting. 'And I heard you bouncing that tennis ball. Thought I'd come and check you were alright. D'you mind if I have a shot at that?' He pointed at the tennis ball, which lay silently in Oscar's hands. The little boy threw the tennis ball to Columbo, who fumbled it slightly before being able to catch it safely. He watched as the aging detective started bouncing the ball at the wall, just as he had done a few minutes before. Hitting the light posters to release a low crackling sound into their ears and hitting the hard brick, allowing a shrewd harsh bounce to overshadow the other noises of the night.
'You're not bad.' Oscar tried to say without sounding condescending. Columbo kept bouncing the ball, uncertainly, as if it were a wild animal ready to break from its strict routine of bouncing and run off into the night.
'Why thanks, kid. When I was stressed or down in the dumps, I used to bounce tennis balls against the walls in my little house. Well, that was until my wife told me I was making marks on the walls. Ah, my wife, most wonderful woman in the world, but she's a fussy lady when it comes to cleaning. Oh, you wouldn't wanna mess with her when she gets the mop and duster out.' Columbo chuckled as he caught the tennis ball and handed it back to its owner. 'Thank you. Must invest in some tennis balls for the office. They work wonders.' He smiled and so did Oscar.
'So what you doing out here on a night like tonight? Doubt kids your age come out to enjoy the atmosphere nowadays, what wi' your computers and game station things. Could never get the hang of those things. My nephew got one for his last birthday, and I don't know what to do with it. Instructions may as well be written in Japanese upside down.' There was a short silence. Columbo was a strange little man. Certainly one who Oscar would not have expected to be a police officer. But he was honest and kind, and a laugh, which is what Oscar needed right now.
'Parents were having an argument. Needed to get out of the house.' Another silence.
'Well, I'm sorry to hear that. Parents argue for all kinds of things, y'know.'
'I think it's about me. They do that a lot.' Oscar could remember them bickering about his grades or about how they both wanted custody of him if they were to split. Something a kid of Oscar's age seldom enjoyed hearing.
'Parents only argue about you when they have love to share. They're probably arguing for you, not about you. When I meet parents in my job and there is a kid, just like yourself, in the mix, they always want the best for 'em.' Columbo smiled. Even without kids of his own, he could understand that if a relationship was going badly, then both sides would want to fight for the best thing to come out of it. A child was always more precious.
'It's just getting the timings right to go back in. Never good with timings.' Replied Oscar quietly, toying with the tennis ball ins his hand.
'Only you can make that decision. Just remember what I said. It's because they love you, not because you're just there to be argued for.' He smiled again. Those eyes twinkling like the stars. Columbo rolled up his sleeve again to stare at the old watch. 'Boy! I gotta be getting back. Mrs Columbo will be wondering where I've got to. Gosh, she's a worrier, is my wife.' His arms raised slightly as if he were going to go to hug Oscar, he began to back away slightly towards the way that he had first entered the alleyway. He turned and looked towards it, back onto the street, back into the busy world.
'Thank you, Columbo, sir.' Oscar stepped forward and took one of the lieutenant's hands and shook it firmly. His run in with this dishevelled detective had been an eye opener.
'My pleasure, kid. Anyway I can help.' With one last smile he turned to Oscar, patting him on the back, reassuring him that all would be fine. 'See ya 'round.' And the little lieutenant began to jog out of the alleyway, his rain coat flapping in the night breeze behind him. Oscar watched after the little man and grinned. An opportune meeting that had made him feel a whole lot better about his situation. He heard running footsteps again, this time coming in his direction. Columbo popped back round the corner. '
'Oh, just one more thing?' The boy nodded. 'Have a good evening and I hope everything sorted out with your folks. Night kid.' The childish grin plastered across the detective's face enlightened the alleyway more than the dull orange haze of the warehouse light. Oscar chuckled and waved at Columbo, as this time, he left the alleyway for good. Running off into the dark to go back to his wife whom he loved dearly. His steps could be heard as the sound merged with those of sirens and the sidewalk. Walking out of the light and into the dark, where adventure and enlightenment stood waiting, because wherever Columbo was headed, Oscar knew that everything would be alright in the end.
Thank you for reading