A drizzly morning in the spring of 1995. It was close to 1 a.m. and I’d been in a downtown bar most of the night drinking high-end Pabst Blue Ribbon.

I’d been running my mouth about a recent stabbing murder that had not been solved. Everybody knew the killing was related to the local crack trade but the police were telling us nothing. It irked me. I was a young reporter, neck-deep in the police beat, and I was desperate to crack this one and make a name for myself.

I got a tip. So-and-so, an ex-girlfriend of what’s-his-name, steered me over to a table of drinkers to introduce me to a bug-eyed little fellow who claimed to have intimate knowledge of the killing. There was a boozy conversation in the corner of the room, near the pool tables. Names were uttered, details shared. I scribbled notes on the back of a coaster and, just before last call would chase us all from the premises, out I went into the gloom.

A smoky hallway in an apartment building above the Lisbon Street social clubs. Squinting through one reddened eye, I peered at the numbers on the doors and, when I found the one I was looking for, I began a-pounding. After several minutes, a baggy-eyed woman in a housecoat answered and the game began.

I flung beer-soaked questions at her, she flung beer-soaked denials back. After several minutes of this, a man appeared behind her, shirtless and staggering. More questions, more denials. Doors up and down the smoky hall began to open as the volume of the conversation went up.

Soon, the hallway was filled with a variety of sleepy souls, groggy men and women who had spent long hours in the bars downstairs. It turned into a weird little scrum, with half of us shouting about the murder, the other half descending into strange quarrels that had begun hours, days or years before on various bar stools around the city.

It was a strange scene and an ugly one, with some pushing, some shoving and the usual array of name-calling and threats. A few useful details emerged from all that, but mostly what I got for my efforts was grief. The woman in the housecoat complained to the newspaper about my behavior and the impromptu interview would come back to haunt me in little ways.

My shame was great and I regretted it, of course, but I’ll tell you this: Had the admittedly clumsy approach to news-gathering resulted in one significant break in the case, I could have lived with it. Instead, I got essentially bupkis and here we are 20 years later, that Lewiston murder still unsolved.

Although, pretty much everybody knows whodunnit.

For one reason or another, I was thinking recently about some of the regrets I have from the beat. The example above is a tiny one — I mean, come on. I got yelled at, frowned at and shoved around a little, but in those nascent police-beat days, yelling and shoving was part of the fun.

I have other regrets.

Like the time an old man burned to death in a kitchen. The tragedy happened late and we got it in the paper just ahead of deadline. The following morning, my phone lit up, angry calls from relatives of the man who had learned about his grisly demise, not through a soft-voiced call from a police officer, but through a newspaper headline. Not my fault, really, but I’ve always felt bad about it.

Like the nasty motorcycle crash on Route 4 which I wrote about with perhaps just a few too many details describing the carnage. Did those extra details serve much purpose in a journalistic way? Not really. They were mostly salacious, and when I read my own story in the paper the following morning, I cringed; cringed and added another page to my book of regrets.

Like the time I could have legitimately shouted, “Stop the press!” out in the press room but instead muttered something like, “Hey, fellas. The copy desk wants to replate because we’ve experienced a spot news event of some import. Could you please accommodate this request by ceasing your printing operation?”

Like the incident with the Big Apple clerk, the bag of Doritos and the awkward conversation with a police lieutenant.

Like describing the colors of the Boston Bruins as “black and yellow” one hockey season when I clearly meant “black and gold.” I’ve been a hockey fan all my life and that one error alone cost me 47 hockey man-points. It also earned me about 6,000 angry emails. Again, my shame was great.

In the final tally, I think it works out this way: For everything I regret doing on the cop beat, there are 100 things that I should regret but don’t. The back alley meetings, the weird nights, the creative methods I used to cultivate sources. There are some great stories in there — some truly squirm-worthy stories — and I wish I could tell you, but I can’t.

I just can’t bear it when you frown at me.

Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer. Nonjudgmental emails can be sent to [email protected]


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