Encounters | An occasional feature

Making sense of a sneak attack

TAMPA — He sneaked up behind her, reached up and SPLASH!

A giant cup of water, right over her head.

The graying woman kept walking, straight-faced and silent, and the man marched off with his empty cup.

That's when I turned around.

What was that about?

It was an unusual scene on my otherwise normal morning bike ride down Davis Islands. The birds were chirping, the sun was rising, and there, on the pavement, the puddle.

Evidence.

I circled around, and the man did, too, shaking his finger and yelling something I couldn't hear through my headphones. The message was clear, though — get out of here.

So I did. For a moment. But I couldn't leave. When the man turned, I pedaled back to the woman, who was sitting on a bench facing Seddon Channel, shaking.

"Are you okay?" I asked.

She said nothing.

"Ma'am, can I call someone for you?"

Silence.

This is how it starts, I thought — all those gruesome news stories I've written about domestic violence. Maybe this guy has been terrorizing this woman for years. Maybe next week I'll be writing about her murder.

I pulled out my phone and called 911. "We'll send someone out," the dispatcher said.

Down the road, I ran into my friend and fellow reporter, Justin George. "You won't believe what just happened," I told him. Justin agreed with my theory that this woman's days were numbered. We went back.

The woman was still on the same bench as we approached, still staring straight ahead, still sopping wet.

Justin asked again, "Ma'am, are you okay?"

She turned her head, closed her eyes, and said nothing.

"Call the cops again," Justin said. "This woman is unresponsive."

As I dialed, a truck pulled up beside us.

"That's him!" I told the 911 dispatcher. "Chevy truck, grayish in color, white male, 50 to 60 years old, just under 6 feet tall, with a gray mustache and ball cap."

I've read a lot of police reports.

As the truck stopped Justin asked, "Sir, did you pour water on this woman?"

The man climbed out, meekly. "I'm not even going to try to explain it to you," he said.

But he did anyway: That morning, when he was getting his newspaper, a woman walked by holding a full cup of water. He told her "Good morning."

SPLASH!

He looked up, shocked.

Then she threw the empty cup, too.

Anger overwhelmed him. He went inside, grabbed a cup — a big one — and filled it to the brim.

What I had witnessed was the payback.

At this point in the story, the woman finally opened her eyes and let out a long, loud cackle.

"It's okay," the woman said. She figures her husband hired the man to do this. She's been doused once before, at Mardi Gras.

We looked around at each other, confused.

The woman rattled off more stories: She worked at Tampa International Airport. She's met a bunch of transvestites. She always loved eating at the Cafe Con Leche, an old Tampa restaurant.

Turns out, she's a longtime resident at Hudson Manor, an assisted living facility on the island. Her name is Jane, she's 77, and she's always back before lunchtime. A quick call to the Manor confirmed this.

Jane corroborated the man's story. She threw water on him first, she said.

Why?

"He annoyed me." She couldn't really say how.

"I'm really sorry," the man said, taking a seat next to her. He could see Jane wasn't totally cognizant, and what seemed so odd that morning suddenly made sense. "I'm not proud of what I did."

No problem, she said. She wasn't holding any grudges.

But we still had to deal with the cops.

Two officers pulled up, and we told them what happened.

"Did you throw water on this man?" one officer asked Jane.

Yes, she said, and she'd do it again. This was the most fun she'd had in years. "It's nice having all this company!"

Case closed. The police left, and so did we.

The man did, too, heading off to buy new tires. But before he did, he offered Jane a ride.

Times staff writer Justin George contributed to this report. Kim Wilmath can be reached at kwilmath@sptimes.com or 813-226-3337.

Making sense of a sneak attack 10/31/11 [Last modified: Monday, October 31, 2011 9:57pm]

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