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A LIFE OF PAIN
The day Ortega left office, shortly before Rocky Anderson was elected mayor, then-acting chief Mac Connole reinstated Heaps.
Willard Heaps believes the trial “destroyed [Lane’s] police life.” As Lane sits across from him in the living room of the senior Heaps’ Alpine home, several boxes of officer shields’ gleaming in the cabinets, Willard tells him, “It was like you were paralyzed.” Lane agrees. “I wasn’t one-tenth of the cop I was before. I was so worn out, so beat, I didn’t hurry to anything.”
Dobrowolski wonders if Heaps would “still be with us if it wasn’t for Roslyn [Rainey],” his wife. But Rainey struggled increasingly to cope with Heaps’ demands, saying she effectively became his caretaker. “It was like he pulled me in and strangled me.” Heaps could not overcome “the sense of unfairness,” she says. “He never got payback.” If only, she says, someone on “the eighth floor said, ‘We blew that, we should have investigated, you got screwed over royally,’ it would have been different. Instead, it was, ‘here’s your job back, you should be grateful, you’re on probation.’ ”
In 2006, Heaps had an operation on his lower spine to realign a vertebra. Scar tissue buildup around the spinal cord, however, resulted in constant, chronic pain.
“I’ve never known anyone for whom things go more badly,” Rainey says.
Before Christmas 2010, Rainey asked Heaps for a divorce. “I can’t live with him,” she says. He retired with a pension of half his salary, but with no health insurance. The divorce means he will lose Rainey’s insurance. “I’m afraid of all the hoops he will have to jump through,” she says, to get the medication and help he needs, and the choices he might then make.
HOLD MY HAND
When an officer retires from the force, Dobrowolski says, “you’re on your own.” While he notes that “not all retired officers are basket cases,” that most enjoy their retirement, Heaps, for one, says he understands all too well the officers and retired cops who kill themselves. “I know six or seven suicides,” he says. He recalls a young man who had parked his car, run a hose from the exhaust to his car, and tape-recorded his last moments. “You could hear the hiss of the CO coming in. He had a surprised look on his face.”
When Heaps found himself parked in his car, waiting for hours for a final answer in the darkness, he thought about that young man. “I’ve tasted the oil on my gun barrel more times than I care to remember,” he says.
Heaps’ life goes in three-day cycles of increasing physical pain. Catch him on the wrong day, and it’s hard to imagine a man closer to the floor of despair. He can barely stand up and struggles to make coherent sentences. “Goddamn, what’s happening to me?” he mumbles. “I’m getting weak, I used to be strong.” He bangs his head against a car door to try to overcome the agony in his lower back.
He rocks back and forth, desperate, almost panicking at being unable to escape his own skin. “I don’t want to cry like a little girl,” he says.
In his Murray apartment, he half-falls, half-flops back into the easy chair where he now spends so much of his life, and drags into his arms his cat, Molly, a feral kitten he raised by feeding her with an eye-dropper, only for the animal to growl, whine and finally squirm out of his arms.
“I hope to have a natural death and run away clean,” he says. “That’s all I care about.”
He lies back and closes his eyes. As his breathing deepens and he sinks, mercifully, into the too-brief oblivion of sleep, he holds his open hand out, like a child looking for a parent’s reassuring touch.