Thursday, June 13, 2002

Sleepless knight

Suspicions of plot afflict chief, wife

        They exist on cigarettes and cola. Three packs of Marlboros and 24 cans of Diet Pepsi a day.

        Nights are mostly sleepless. And silent. Small talk is non-existent. He retreats downstairs to the family room. She lies in bed upstairs and watches TV.

        Pounds fall from their frames. He's lost 25. She's shed nine.

        They joke about being on the conspiracy diet.

        But they're not laughing.

        The laughter left Duane and Michelle Pelfrey's life in April, when he discovered five teen-age boys had allegedly conspired to kill him.

        Arrests were made. But, the case was dismissed in late May. The five teen-agers — including one of Michelle's cousins — are back on the street. No wonder Duane and Michelle can't sleep.

        “I'm afraid somebody's going to come back for revenge,” Michelle said, “and take away my knight in shining armor.”

        Duane is the police chief of New Miami, a Butler county village boasting, by the last census, a population of 2,469.

        “It's an amazing place, with good people,” Duane said this week as he and Michelle sat at opposite ends of a sofa in the living room of their Hamilton home.

        “I was born and raised in New Miami,” Michelle added while keeping watch on the street. Her eyes nervously checked out every passing car.

        “Everyone,” she said, “knows everybody.”

        Duane noted: “It's like Mayberry.”

        Except that in the fictional TV town, teens were never accused of planning to kill Mayberry's top lawman with a sawed-off shotgun.

Quiet thoughts

        Late at night, alone in the family room, Duane recalls the conspiracy case that has caused divisions in the village, in his wife's family and in his home.

        The case is fodder for an already argument-prone Village Council. Michelle has had to defend her husband to her relatives. The stress shows at home.

        “We used to have so much fun,” Michelle said. “Now, we look twice before going outside. When I go to work, I wonder if someone has messed with the brakes on my car.

        “And, I can't get close to Duane. He says I'm smothering him.”

        Duane said: “She knows I love her. I tell her every day.

        “But, I need to be alone to work this case out in my head. Figure out what happened. Get help for those kids. All these things are eating at me.”

        Michelle gazed at Duane.

        “I want,” she said, “our old life back.”

        So does Duane. He's tired of the basement. He's also just tired.

        “I sit down there and think about that case until I reach the point of exhaustion,” he said.

        Long after Michelle has turned off the TV and cried herself to sleep from worry, he quietly climbs the stairs and collapses in bed. He's able to sleep for only an hour or two.

        Then the alarm sounds at 6 a.m. Another day begins.

Not selfish

        The chief says there is a lesson to be learned from this case.

        “But, it's not about me,” he said. Or his wife or their life.

        It's about New Miami. And the people he serves and loses sleep over.

        “The lesson,” he said, “is that nobody in the big cities should forget about the small villages.

        “Don't forget about the kids in these villages. They have nothing to do but get in trouble.”

        Late at night when he can't sleep, when he's smoking Marlboros and drinking Diet Pepsi in his basement, he thinks about the people in the village and how to help them.

        Upstairs, his wife dries her tears in the dark and wonders when her knight in shining armor is going to come to bed.

        Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; e-mail


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