On the day I took Anna Kayser to the insane asylum, I was first obliged to catch a thief.
I say “obliged” as if it were a hardship, but in fact I enjoy a good chase. A man fleeing a crime scene presents any sworn officer with the rare gift of an easy win. Nothing is more heartening than a solid arrest, made after a little gratifying physical exertion, particularly when the thief is caught in the act and there are no bothersome questions later about a lack of evidence or an unreliable witness.
My duties are hardly ever so straightforward, and my victories rarely so decisive, as Anna Kayser’s case would demonstrate. Perhaps this is why the business with the thief lingers so clearly in my memory.
The scene of this particular crime was the Italian butcher where I liked to stop for my lunch. The proprietor, Mr. Giordano, put out a kind of Italian sausage called salsicciotto on Tuesdays that he seasoned with salt and peppercorns, then smothered in olive oil for two months, to extraordinary effect. He could sell every last one in an afternoon if he wanted to, but by doling them out on Tuesdays, he found that he could lure people into his shop once a week and make sure they left with all manner of goods imported from Italy: soap, perfume, hard cheese, enameled plates, lemon candy. The profits from those trinkets helped compensate for the cost of shipping over the extravagantly priced olive oil in which he aged the salsicciotto. I was but one of many willing participants in his scheme. Along with the sausage I took a bag of lemon candy weekly, finding it useful to dispense during interrogations.
The man ran out of the shop just as I rounded the corner onto Passaic Avenue. Mr. Giordano gave chase, but the thief had the advantage: he was young and trim, while the butcher was a rotund gentleman of advanced age who could do little more than stump along, huffing and shaking his fist.
He would’ve been out of luck, but there I happened to be, in my uniform, equipped with a gun, handcuffs, and a badge. I did what any officer of the law would do: I tucked my handbag under my arm, gathered my skirts in my hands, and ran him down.
Mr. Giordano heard my boots pounding along behind him on the wooden sidewalk and jumped out of the way. I must’ve given him a start, because he launched into a coughing fit when he saw who had come to his rescue.
In giving chase, I flew past a livery driver watering his horses, a druggist sweeping out his shop, and a boy of about twelve staring idly into a bookstore window. The boy was too engrossed or slow-witted to step out of the way. I’m sorry to say I shoved him down to the ground, rather roughly. I hated to do it, but children are sturdy and quick to heal. I raced on.
The thief himself hadn’t looked back and had no idea who was in pursuit, which was a shame, as men often stumble and lose their resolve when confronted by a lady deputy. I was always happy to use the element of surprise to my advantage. But this one ducked down a side street, deft as you please, no doubt believing that if he stayed on bustling Passaic Avenue, more passers-by would join the chase and he’d soon be caught.
The detour didn’t bother me, though. I preferred to go after him on a quiet tree-lined lane, with no more danger of loiterers stumbling into my path. I rounded the corner effortlessly and picked up speed.
He chose for his escape a neighborhood of large and graceful homes that offered very few places to hide. I closed the distance between us and was already looking for a soft patch of grass ahead on which to toss him down, but he saw an opportunity ahead. He’d done this before?—I had to credit him that. He hurled himself over a low fence and into a backyard.
Here is where an agile man of slight build has the advantage. I was forced to abandon my handbag and to heft myself over the fence in the most undignified manner. Hems caught on nails, seams split, and stockings were shredded into ribbons. I landed on one knee and knew right away I’d be limping for a week. It occurred to me, at last, to wonder what, exactly, the man had stolen, and if he was really worth catching. If I’d abandoned the chase at that moment, no one—not even Mr. Giordano— ?would’ve blamed me.
But no matter, I had to have him.