By Barney Fife
Was it an HRP SWAT team speeding through the streets of Dartmouth to take a bite out of crime or were Halifax Regional Police racing against time on a dramatic rescue mission to save two of their own?
And what dastardly vile villain had chained the two HRP officers inside what was presumably their own unmarked police car in the first place, in broad daylight?
Wednesday morning, February 12, started off like any other winter’s morning on the North Atlantic at 193 Portland St., Dartmouth for popular denturist Gabe Wortman, 50ish, and for decades the owner/operator of Atlantic Denture Clinic.
Gabe was feeling good.
Not bothered by the usual age-driven downturn in his eyesight and still as fit as a fiddle.
He had a few appointments on this morning, but not a heavy slate. The temperature was getting up to “0,” the sun was shining, not sure if the birds were singing. But why not, in this case, in between bookings, grab that snowblower once again and give the property another touch-up.
More snow was in the forecast, and after all, that’s a pretty big lot Gabe’s got there. You’ve got that long driveway coming up the side of the building. It’s a big old house goes way up the back of Portland Street with his denturist shop stuck out front pressing up against the sidewalk.
You might know the place, or certainly remember it, it’s the building with the colossal set of dentures bolted on an outside corner of the joint. A fellah doesn’t see that very often.
Then there’s the driveway, and then there’s the Atlantic Denture Clinic parking lot. You can probably get 10 cars in there.
It’s not as expansive as the Tim Hortons parking lot just three doors up Portland on the same side. But it’s paved, clean and wonderfully convenient for customers.
It’s fenced off nicely, just to right of St. James United Church Hall and it’s clearly marked by a sign - Atlantic Denture Clinic Customer Parking Only!
It’s a splendid wooden sign, in fact, pink, black, white, with a vintage western or “Old Story” type face. Not as striking as the colossal set of dentures hanging off the building, of course, but still a large sign, a pretty sign, and a very, very readable sign.
So, it’s getting on to 11:30 a.m., and Gabe and his trusty snowblower are high atop his dead-end driveway. He has his parking lot clear, that always has to be done first, for obvious reasons.
He can’t see into the parking lot due to the elevation, but he does hear two car doors slam tight, simultaneously.
As he comes down the driveway, he spies a sliver Chevy four-door sedan parked in his parking lot. He doesn’t think much of it at first. Might be a church lady going over to St. James, something he doesn’t mind, or somebody coming into his clinic to make an appointment.
Gabe goes into the clinic and back to work.
He finds out that Chevy sedan doesn’t belong to a church lady, a customer, or his staff.
And there’s something about the way the car is parked. Well, it’s not so much parked as it looks like someone just put in there in a hurry, smack in the middle of the parking lot, just behind the shrubbery enough that, say, a man with a snowblower atop the driveway couldn’t see it.
All very strange.
Finally, Gabe says the hell with this, goes back outside pulling the chain across the entrance to his parking lot and locking it. There’ll be no coming - or no going - now!
Time ticks by. Slowly. Ten minutes, 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes…
It’s now 12:30 p.m. An hour has passed.
There’s a man and a woman, casually dressed, coming down the sidewalk. Maybe v. early middle age.
She’s doe-eyed and cheery, or something like that, he’s square-jawed, distinguished by grey around the temples. They could be man & wife, or boyfriend & girlfriend, as far Gabe knows.
The man is carrying a large Tim Hortons cup — from three doors up the road.
They are a bit put off that Gabe has chained them in the parking lot.
The man asks, “Why didn’t you stop us when we drove in? We thought you were closed? You must’ve seen us drive in?”
Gabe tells the pair he didn’t see them drive in on his private property.
The man is not impressed.
He swings his coat open serving up something for Gabe to see — it’s the HRP police badge on his belt.
The man is plainclothes Detective/Constable Duane Stanley and the lady in question is plainclothes Constable Tracy Longpre. Both HRP.
He’s a homicide detective, she’s commercial crime. Or so Gabe is told.
Not that he cares, he’s got a client inside, and just wants this episode over with.
Soooo, Gabe sez give me 20-bucks and I’ll unlock the chain.
Homicide Detective Stanley sez no way, I’m not paying that.
“You can’t keep us, here!”
“Sure can,” sez Gabe.
“You’re on my property.”
Constable Longpre says very little. Detective Stanley tell Gabe he’s phoning the station for a set of bolt cutters.
It’s getting chilly.
“I’m done talking to you,” snaps Gabe. “If you want me to have you charged with destruction of private property, I can do that.”
Gabe goes back to work.
He looks over his shoulder. He sees Det. Stanley and Const. Longpre standing outside the car. Det. Stanley is on his cellphone.
Gabe takes a second look from inside the clinic and sees them both sitting in the front seat of the car.
Eventually two marked HRP sports utility vehicles pull up.
So now, we have five HRP officers.
This is getting expensive. This is a high burn rate for Halifax taxpayers.
It’s Const. C. (Craig?) Conrad and Const. Jay Walsh. They are joined, no less, by Staff-Sergeant Tanya Chambers-Spriggs.
Conrad & Walsh are at about $100k each. Spriggs at $120k. Stanley at about $115k and Longpre also cracking the $100k barrier.
Either Conrad or Walsh, whichever one is the bald guy, has a menacing look on his face and is carrying a pair of large bolt cutters as ordered by Det. Duane Stanley, who by the way is also a former HRP Criminal Investigation Division Ribfest Champion.
While Stanley & Longpre remain locked in the parking lot in their car, Conrad, Walsh & Chamber-Spriggs go inside the clinic to talk to Gabe.
He gives them shit for not wiping their feet and for keeping the door open. Gabe does not want to heat all of Portland Street, for pete’s sake.
He also realizes that this friendly visit is beginning to attract some attention. There are heads peaking out from behind curtains, rubber-necking motorists are going at a snail’s pace, folks are refusing to get on their Metro Transit bus. His elderly customer in the chair doesn’t know just what to think.
Oh, my word!
Having a gaggle of police come to your workplace when you’ve been robbed is a good thing. Not so good when five show up uninvited at your business with bolt cutters. Never a good thing.
One of the constables, Gabe thinks the bald guy — the other guy sees some humour in all of this and looks like he really doesn’t want to be there — threatens the business owner with obstruction of justice, or some damn thing. Gabe is getting more and more pissed off.
Finally, leave it to a level-headed woman to calm everybody down and defuse the situation.
Tanya Chambers-Spriggs, Staff Sergeant since 2014, apologizes for the errant parking on behalf of Det. Duane Stanley and Const. Longpre. She assures Gabe that it will never happen again. Now, please unlock the chains and set my heart, er, set my two officers, free!
Grudgingly Gabe agrees.
But he tells Uncle Frank he never did get a satisfactory explanation as to why Det. Stanley & Const. Longpre parked in his lot and not the spacious Tim Hortons lot just three bloody doors up the road.
Of course, it’s not out of the question to ponder that the pair were working on something highly sensitive which required the added cover.
At any rate, denturist Gabe Wortman is left with a lot to chew on.
He sez the episode hasn’t shaken his belief in police services. Not terribly. Although he did find the experience smacked of arrogance and entitlement.
To make matters worse he got a speeding ticket driving to his cottage that same night but it was issued by the RCMP.
STOP PRESS: Minutes before my deadline, my organ received the following communique from HRP spokesthingy Const. John MacLeod.
“In relation to our conversation from earlier today we can confirm that the investigators parked in a private lot while they were in the area canvassing local business for evidence in an ongoing investigation.” (Target of probe: Why no Roll Up The Rim this year? — ed.)