The deputies had been warned.
On the eve of Dec. 21, the termination of the Mayan calendar, what some had prophesied as the end of days, there could be trouble. Some would be looking for a last hoorah, which could mean heavy drinking, suicides, looting — who knew? How would people act if there might not be a tomorrow?
None of that fazed Cpl. Norman Gay, a 13-year veteran of the Pasco County Sheriff's Office.
His wife joked about it Thursday before he headed out for his 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. patrol shift. He scoffed.
"Yeah, well, you better be nice to the people you work with," he told her, "because I've got a feeling you'll be going back tomorrow."
By 8 p.m. it was slow. Typical weeknight slow. He turned his cruiser down Little Road. Streetlights trailed past the windows. A calm female voice rasped calls over the radio with the urgency of a waiter going down a drink menu. An incoming list of calls appeared on the in-car computer screen in front of him, glaring off his circular, wire frame glasses.
A disturbance call registered on the screen. He picked up the receiver to say his car was on the way.
John LaSalata stood in the driveway of his Winthrop Drive home in Port Richey and looked angry. He told deputies a young woman in her early 20s tried to break in through his bedroom window and that he chased her and tackled her in the street, snatching her purse before she could flee in her car.
In the garage, Gay emptied the purse with a cheetah-print interior into the bed of LaSalata's pickup truck for processing. Among the contents: gloves, a butter knife, cigarettes, 67 cents and 50 Mexican pesos.
Gay took out a clipboard and began cataloging evidence for what would take nearly an hour. Outside the open garage door, rain came hard, then went, then came harder, then went. Still, he catalogued.
About 10 p.m., Gay left the house, drove to a 7-Eleven on State Road 52 and put the car in park to work on other reports he hadn't been able to finish earlier.
The female voice on the scanner continued, calm and cool. There was a man with a gun behind Acropolis Meats, about a quarter-mile from Gay. "Suspect advised he was going to take himself out the quick way," she said.
The reports could wait. Gay rolled out of the parking lot. Another deputy met him in the median of SR 52. Both rolled down their car windows. They waited for the go-ahead over the radio.
"You ready?" Gay asked the other deputy.
Three more cruisers rolled up. Deputies marched into the wet darkness behind the restaurant, but the suspect wasn't there.
They went down a nearby road and found him, strapped him with handcuffs. He had a can of Steel Reserve beer. No gun. And it wasn't end-of-the-world related.
"This is the holidays, and people get depressed," Gay said as he headed back to the gas station to work on reports. "I won't say it's nightly, but it's very common."
Hot times for criminals, he speculated, are usually weekends around the first of the month when people have the most disposable income. Not like Thursday night.
"Cool weather and rain usually keeps it calm," he said. "They don't like to fight in the rain, and they don't like to fight in the cold."
The parking lot pavement was still wet from the rain. Trees bent in gusting wind as the weekend cold front blew into the area.
The supposed apocalypse drew nearer. Green numbers flashed military time on the dashboard. 23:59. No calls were coming in. The female voice was silent. The clock flicked to 0:00. Gay paid no mind to it and kept pecking away at his reports. It was Dec. 21. The world was still there. And it was slow.
Alex Orlando can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.