For the life of her, Jane Castor cannot understand what the fuss is about.
She is the police chief in Tampa, a good-sized town with all the ensuing city issues. And actual news is taking place hereabouts, like a Florida governor's race that just officially got interesting and sister city St. Petersburg electing itself a mayor.
But did you hear about the chief's new finger?
In defense of those of us who think this newsworthy, the right-hand index finger — which she lost a pretty good part of this summer — was her trigger finger. And firing a gun — a critical skill if you happen to be a police officer — would be impossible without a trigger finger with which to do this. One would think.
One would be wrong.
It was a Sunday, and Castor was prepping her boat for a nice ride down the Hillsborough River to breakfast when she did something she'd done a thousand times before: She tried to unstick the flywheel and a belt and promptly lost her finger from below the nail. (Into the Hillsborough River, since you ask.)
"Did you cry?" one of her two teenage sons asked (after the collective eeeeeeeww.)
"No," she said. Pause. "But I wanted to."
By that Tuesday she was practicing firing with her middle finger. "There's always a solution," she says, this one involving endless repetitions to train muscle memory. The police spokeswoman, former TV reporter Laura McElroy, knew this story had legs, but the chief wasn't interested. People are coming home from wars with real injuries. "It's the tip of my finger," she said.
It is no testament to my own investigative skills that I stood talking to her for a while one day oblivious to her bandaged, noticeably shorter finger. I can only defend myself by saying another reporter did not inquire through an entire lunch, one that presumably involved Castor holding a fork.
So by the time a TV reporter called to say that word on the street was the police chief cut off a finger and could no longer be a cop, Castor had already qualified to shoot again. No biggie.
"If it were up to Jane, no one would know," says Mayor Bob Buckhorn. "She just did what she had to do, no complaining, no whining."
By now she's heard all the jokes — the discount she'll get on manicures, the requests that she count to 10, oh, wait, never mind. "None of them better quit their day jobs," she says, though she is not above a joke herself about her dream to play the piano. She does not intend to play the piano.
(The serious police chief can be funny, though so dry you might miss it. Back when the department got an offer to swap out their 9mm guns for free .40-calibers, she said to tell them the department couldn't afford the holsters. They threw in the holsters. "Tell them we can't afford police cars," she said.)
If you searched "Jane Castor" and "finger" before all this, the story might have to do with gestures of protest when the Republican National Convention was coming to town. Though when it got here, protesters were more likely to want their pictures taken with the police chief.
Her finger was news again this week when she got a seriously real-looking prosthetic fingertip with its nicely buffed-looking nail. The cameras homed in for that last shot. And the police chief did not roll her eyes, not officially, anyway.