After Mom passed away, I got rid of all her belongings, except a cedar chest that dated back several years before my birth. That old dust covered scarred wooden box held documents she saved for all those years. I stored it for future reference in the back bedroom of my apartment. After my retirement a couple years ago, I sorted through her disorganized mess searching for her memories.
I removed a packet labeled with my name. Inside I discovered my adoption papers; something I had never suspected. With a feeling of restless curiosity, I emptied the cedar chest digging through anything and all things until another packet revealed a legal paper with the name of my birth mother; Mary R. O’Neil. My birth father was identified as, ‘Unknown’.
Growing up as the only child of a faithful mother and father, I had just discovered I was a fatherless child. Born out of wedlock? A one-night stand? To a? To a whore? A prostitute?
I shoved the papers back inside the cedar chest and then spent many restless nights agonizing over the meaning of my discovery.
I couldn’t let it rest. On a cold Sunday afternoon, I used the library’s computer to search for, ‘Mary R. O’Neil’. Nothing showed up through search links or census data.
Stymied by my limited knowledge, I put the papers away for several days; several haunting days. I wondered if Mom and Dad had met her. Is that why they never told me about my adoption? Protecting me from my birth mother’s seedy background?
After another week of sleepless nights, I decided I had to find out why I had no known father. Maybe he was just as bad as she was.
I ran a new search on a lawyer named in the adoption document.
I got a hit. But as I dug deeper I discovered that lawyer had died almost fifty years earlier. His law firm closed its doors about ten years later.
His city was listed in the search file, so I placed a request in that city’s newspaper; the personal section; for anyone who might know or remember the name; Mary R. O’ Neil. I listed my telephone number and apartment address, but I received no reply.
No response, that is, for almost a month.
She showed up at my door flashing a police badge in her hand and wanting to know why I was looking for ‘Rose’.
“I don’t know a Rose,” I said. “Never heard of her. Why?
She opened the newspaper section with my article. “That’s Rose. She was known as Rose. Her middle name.”
I invited the officer into my apartment and dug out the adoption papers. She sat on my sofa in silence scanning through the pages.
“I have to know what it means. My mother? My father? Who I am?”
Officer Williams; her name was Vesta Williams; Her eyes were focused on the past with a voice that spoke to herself as much as it talked to me.
“She worked North Rainbow near her home; an old section of town that was rapidly becoming a haven for drug dealers, dope addicts, whores, prostitutes, and several gangs of thugs. It was an active part of the commercial district. Crime and commerce. The Weldon gang took control of crime with public assassinations and well-known intimidation.
Rose worked in that mess from its beginning.”
Her eyes seemed to glow. Was it hate?
“The public clamored for protection. The department assigned their three best detectives to get the Weldon gang and put them away. It took time to gather the goods, but after a few months they had enough to arrest the gang.
Those three detectives headed up North Rainbow to pick ‘em up. The gang got word from inside the department and set up an ambush just south of the City Bank.
When Rose heard the shots fired, she ran up 27th to Rainbow. As she came around the bank she saw the three detectives out of commission in the middle of the street. The Weldon brothers were moving in for the final kill. Rose ran into the street, scooped up Murphy’s pistol and started firing. She took down two of the boys.”
Officer Williams drew a deep breath, held it for a long while, spoke again in a low voice.
“Those two survived to spend the rest of their lives in state prison.”
She sniffed. I think she was crying inside.
“Murphy’s pistol had four rounds left when she nabbed it. Rose used ‘em up on those two. “
The officer drew another deep breath while looking around my apartment. She coughed and stared at the floor for some time before continuing.
“Rose grabbed O’Neil’s gun. Fired it once. Just once. The last Walden shot her. Rose went down with a fatal bullet in her chest.”
I couldn’t believe it. This police officer was fighting back tears. Tears for a prostitute? She got involved. Okay. But a good prostitute? Why the tears?
She spoke again, but it was more like a murmur. “Weldon turned and ran off to the north. He escaped. But a sheriff’s deputy found his body next to a stolen car in an off-road ditch thirty miles north of town. The coroner said he bled to death inside the gut, from a single bullet wound.
He killed Rose. She died. But she got him too.
Two of the detectives spent some time in a hospital but returned later to duty. Williams spent the rest of his life in a wheel chair.”
“Why would a prostitute give her life—”
“Prostitute? Prostitute? Where in the hell did you ever get the idea Rose was a prostitute?”
“You said she worked the streets. I didn’t have a father?”
“His name was William Henry O’ Neil; son of detective John O’ Neil: husband of Mary Rose O’ Neil. You were adopted after her death. I guess no one bothered to find out who he was.
He would never have known. You never met him.”
Officer Williams pulled a hanky from her breast pocket to wipe her eyes and blow her nose.
“She was pregnant when MacArthur sent the Marines to Chosen Reservoir. Fox Company, 3rd Battalion. 1st Marines. Check it out sometime. He died a hero. The ground was frozen, so they buried his body in a basement somewhere in North Korea.”
She, the police officer, blew her breathe long and loud, before she continued, “Prostitute?”
“She was a working woman. She was a Meter Maid. A Meter Maid. That’s all a woman could be in those days. A Meter Maid.
The department never taught her anything more than how to slap a ticket on an over-parked windshield. They figured women were too unstable to put on cop clothes back then. That was her father and her father-in-law in the street. They were the ones who taught her how to use a gun.”
Vesta Marie Williams, the grand-daughter of Detective Williams faded away into obscurity for a long, long, moment. From somewhere in the distant past, she said, “She was the beginning. A woman can be a cop now. A detective. Because Rose was a cop.
A top cop all the way.”