It’s like an itch halfway down your back. It’s like a sliver of popcorn kernel stuck between your teeth or microscopic debris under an eyelid. You can feel it but you can’t quite reach it.

Welcome to the world of hunches.

The crime beat is like that sometimes. You know something is happening or about to happen. You sense something is simmering, stewing or sizzling. You just don’t know where or when.

Maddening. Like a pebble in your shoe.

They say house pets can feel an earthquake or a storm coming long before we are aware. The beasts detect slight, unseen shifts in the atmosphere or subtle electrical currents. They begin running around, acting strange for no reason you can understand.

I feel like that crazed house pet now and then.

Some nights, you can just feel it in the air. It’s like standing next to a power station. There are no sirens wailing or screams from the dark. No snap of gunfire or squeal of brakes. Just that feeling – as hard to ignore as a toothache – that crazy things are happening just beyond your peripheral vision.

Monday night. A night like any other. Yet there it is – that nagging sensation that mayhem is afoot. Maybe the voices over the police scanner have reached a certain, solemn pitch. Maybe it’s an empty street corner where there should be hordes. Maybe it’s nothing more than some primitive instinct refueled in people who work with cops and criminals.

The cops were up to something and I knew it. Contrary to what some people suspect, it’s not as easy as asking a nearby officer. Cops are generally good about answering specific questions. Approach one with a question like: “Say, what’s happening tonight that I can feel but not see?” and you’ll usually get a wry smile or a stern frown.

Something was up. I drove up one street and down another, maneuvering through downtown Lewiston like a mouse in a maze. Nothing. Business as usual, everywhere.

Nights like this, I’m intolerable. Even a mundane matter broadcast on the scanner will make me stop in my tracks. I cock my ear like a dog bothered by a faraway screech. Cops heading to College Street? Yeeha! This must be it! This must be my hunch come to fruition!

It’s not. It’s a cat stuck in a tree or a loud stereo complaint.

I was in a stir Monday night. Somewhere, cops and others were swarming and preparing for something big. It took me hours to find them. Certain key words over the scanner tipped me off. I found them crowded in a parking lot planning their strategy. I made calls and the pieces began to fit. All that was outside my vision was now something I could see.

It’s like finally tearing that popcorn kernel loose with your tongue. Or getting a long stick to scratch your back. Satisfaction.

Not that anything became of it Monday night. No, the big showdown never happened. Certain persons were not found where they were expected to be. But that was fine. My hunch was true. Had the situation unfolded it would have been big news. It may happen yet in coming days.

I went home, tired from the chase but sated by discovery and knowledge. I kept the scanner very close, cocking my ear every now and then.

When things got crazy, it wasn’t in downtown Lewiston at all. It was in Mechanic Falls and on the dark road leading away from it. A fire and a standoff between cops and an armed suspect. High drama and big news on deadline.

Had this been the cause of the jumpiness I’d suffered all night? Is this where that nagging voice (it sounds like a dentist’s drill) had been leading me? Was this the figurative pebble in my metaphorical shoe?

You will write to scoff at my talk of intuition. You will call to brand me a fool or a hyperactive simpleton. One way or another, you will deride me. I know. I can feel it.

Mark LaFlamme is the Sun Journal crime reporter.

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