Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas

To all of my brothers and sisters working today - Merry Christmas. Be safe. This short story is dedicated to you.




Feliz navidad, amor,” Officer Karen Sorenson said as she walked toward her police car. The late afternoon San Diego sun shone brightly on the substation parking lot, a deep blue sky virtually devoid of clouds. The handsome man next to her grunted when she bumped shoulders with him. For a moment their dark blue uniforms seemed to merge.
“Christmas at work,” Officer Martin Saenz grumbled. “Bah freakin’ humbug.”
“Want a little cheese with that whine?” she persisted. “Maybe eggnog?”
“I hate eggnog,” Martin muttered.
“So what is your family’s Christmas routine?”
“A quiet morning. Cubans generally feast on Christmas Eve. My parents followed that tradition after they immigrated to Miami.”
“Huh. No eggnog?”
“Coffee. Lots of black coffee.” Martin opened the door of his police car. “Where do you want to have dinner tonight?”
“What’s open?”
“Not much. Burritos at 7/11?”
“Great.” She tossed her gear bag into the trunk. Removing her rifle from its case, she examined the optics to make sure they were in order. Satisfied, she snapped it into the rack. “I brought you a turkey sandwich, just in case.”
“I was hoping to cuddle in front of the fire on our first Christmas night as a couple,” Martin said, loading his own police car. “You know, a couple of margaritas, some salsa music and letting nature take its course. Being the junior cops on the watch sucks.”
“Our evening would more likely be me falling asleep on your shoulder because you made the margaritas too strong.”
“Muy robusto.”
“Is trying to get me drunk part of your usual evening plan?”
“Soro, alcohol is the reason guys like me get laid.”
She laughed, and a refreshing and restorative feeling washed over her. Martin’s chiseled body and ruggedly-handsome face oozed masculine virility – a hot-blooded 6’2” lover carved of mahogany. Dating him started with a flaming-hot kiss and landed them in bed within a week. She hadn’t needed a drink to want him then. She wouldn’t need one now, three months later.
“You’re cute, that’s why we do it,” she said. “Well, I’m not going to complain about spending Christmas night working swing shift. At least we’re together. A lot of cop couples aren’t.”
“Putting our gear into separate police cars doesn’t mean we’re together. I might not see you all night.”
“Call me on my cell and say something suggestive from time to time.”
“Love me?”
“With all my heart.” She walked over to him, pecked his lips and offered a brief hug. “You stay safe, amante. See you out there.”
****
Los muertos no velaron,” Marty muttered, standing over the corpse.
“The unmourned dead?” Karen said, standing in the living room of a modest retirement-community apartment, investigating the death of a man in his eighties.
“That’s him,” he replied as he scribbled into a small notebook. “A man dies on Christmas day and leaves no one to mourn him. He doesn’t have any family that management knows of. This guy was all alone. He’ll just sort of…disappear.”
“Stop it, honey.”
The man lay still on the floor, amid evidence of the paramedic’s unsuccessful resuscitation efforts. A plastic intubation device protruded from his open mouth, pushing aside a purple, swollen tongue. Torn envelopes littered the floor, the EKG patches they once contained stuck unceremoniously on ashen skin. The firefighters left it all behind for the medical examiner, to show what procedures they had used on their patient. They had picked up the sharps – the syringes used to inject pointless drugs into the unresponsive form they had tried to exhort back to life.
“It’s kind of like croaking without anyone noticing,” he said. “There’s an actual day in Mexico, if you can believe that shit, where they put out food for the unmourned. October twenty-seventh, I think. My uncle lives in Cancun, and he once told me--”
“Martin, shut the fuck up, okay?”
“What did I say?” He was more confused than angry. Karen felt things strongly, rising quickly to bristling irritation when he did or said something thoughtlessly. His girlfriend’s passion was one of her best qualities – and most challenging traits. “What’s his name – Tom? Tom’s got no family. No one cares—“
“I care.”
“Soro, what’s got into you? So what if it’s Christmas. It doesn’t matter to him. He doesn’t have a tree, no gifts. He’s just another of the lonely, unmourned dead. We see—“
“Shut up.”
Karen knelt beside the man and rested her hand on his shoulder. Amide the plastic tubes, the torn paper containers and the expended drug vials, she murmured several heartfelt phrases, patted him gently and closed her eyes. She fell silent for a moment, nodded her head and stood.
“I’ll be outside,” she snapped. “You wait with the medical examiner.”
****
Karen stood next to her car, staring west toward the Pacific. A peaceful mood seemed to embrace the waves rolling gently under the pale rays of a full moon. That helped ease her frustration with Martin. A little.
“What’s the matter?” Martin asked, walking slowly up to her. “I’ve never seen you act like that at a DOA. I mean, if we took every one of these personally, where would we be? I know it’s Christmas, but still. What gives?”
“Did you see the plaque on his kitchen counter?” she asked. “The one next to his wedding picture?”
“The thing with the crossed swords? Yeah, he was in the army or something.”
“He was a sergeant in the Tenth Mountain Division. Do you know what that means?”
“He…. I dunno, maybe he hiked in the mountains or something?”
“He trained in the mountains. Trained for war at high altitude in the winter. He was a grunt who dug foxholes, and ate cold food. He probably wasn’t old enough to buy a beer.”
“Where did they train?”
“At the top of Tennessee Pass in Colorado. Camp Hale was built in a valley ten thousand feet above sea level, among fourteen thousand foot peaks.”
“Holy shit.”
“They prepared to fight in winter conditions, in the mountains, because that’s where they were going in Europe. Christmas 1944, he was on his way to war. Maybe on a troop ship at sea, hoping not to be torpedoed.”
“Huh.”
“When he was growing up, street vendors still rode in wagons pulled by horses. My great grandmother used to run out into the street in Philadelphia and scoop the poop for her rose bushes. Horses weren’t lifestyle statements – that’s how people got around. It was a different world.”
“How do you know all this shit, Soro?”
“Dad is an anthropology professor at the University of Colorado. His specialty is military…culture I guess is the best way to put it. He and I roamed Camp Hale one summer because he was writing an article. I heard all of the stories.”
“Are the winters cold up there?”
“Brutal. We camped there one night, a cold clear February, to see what it was like for the troops. It was ten below and we had the best winter camping gear around - Gore-Tex, down, space heaters. We still froze our asses off. These guys had wool and cotton and cork.”
“They toughed it out.”
“Yeah. Then they fought in some of the most rugged terrain in Europe. One night, they climbed up an 1800-foot vertical face in the Italian Alps, in the dark, in winter and attacked a German position with fixed bayonets. Drove the Germans off of the mountain.”
“How many guys did they lose?”
“Over a thousand altogether. Tom’s friends were dying all around him and yet… He got through it and lived to be an old man. He married, he worked all of his life and then one day he died in a little apartment in a modest retirement community in San Diego.” Tears welled in her eyes. “We had the sacred duty to treat him with respect. We had the honor of being with him at a time when the only dignity he had was our prayers. He lived a full life, one that he once offered in the defense of freedom. He was still a teenager when he did that.”
“This guy, esta un guerrero – a warrior.”
“Yeah. This man’s death is worth mourning. When duty called, he answered. He has a warrior soul, just like you and me. He was a stud, a hardbody. Just because he got old and fat doesn’t change that. Once, he could master anything. He endured, he overcame, he prevailed. He sacrificed for us.”
“Faced everything life could throw at him and succeeded.”
“Yes, he did.” She took his warm, soft hand into hers. “Our savior was born on this day. He promised peace on Earth, good will toward men.”
“I wish there was more of that.”
“It’s the great assurance of this season, of the birth of Christ. He intended his message for ordinary people like Tom. Men who have seen war deserve to be at peace.”
“Yeah.”
“I’m sorry we have to work, Marty. But I got the chance to do something meaningful today. I offered dignity to a good man on the day he died. I got to be with you while I did it. I’m blessed.”
Martin turned her around and held both of her hands. The look in his eyes was calm, but around the edges…. He hadn’t given in to keep peace between them. He was reacting to her words as he always did – honestly, without pretense or fa├žade. A tiny smile formed on his lips.
“Merry Christmas, Karen.”
“Merry Christmas, Martin.”

Monday, November 30, 2009

Coffee Talk

All of us do it - get together with our friends, drink a cup of coffee and yack. We call it the Sergeant's Meeting, and we hold it at a local indie shop. Yeah, we watch people come and go but we're talking, laughing, looking at our iPhones. We're not expecting someone to kill us. We certainly never thought we'd have to tell our friends - the owner and her barristas - what to do if someone starts shooting at us. It isn't fair.

But, we all know that two things are true. Life isn't fair, and we aren't safe. I wear a uniform that clearly identifies me as a police officer, No one has to ask what I do for a living. If someone hates police officers and wants to kill one - there I am. It's not fair and I'm not safe.

I grieve for my brothers and sister and their families. I hope for a quick conclusion to the hunt for a man who should already have been in prison. I pray for my friends, who surely will suffer more loss, more death, because we are police officers.

It isn't fair.

Friday, November 6, 2009

It's What Cops Do

As I write this, not all of the facts are in regarding the shooting at Ft. Hood. Calm, rational analysis of the murders awaits a painstaking investigation. It seems apparent, as this moment, that the law enforcement community can be proud of Sgt. Kimberly Munley, first officer on scene. Initial reports suggest that Sergeant Munley confronted the active shooter and neutralized him despite gunshot wounds of her own.

It's what cops do. Good job, Sergeant.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My first fiction work

My first work of fiction will be available on Wild Child Publishing on October 27th. A woman police officer is faced with a crisis - what does she risk to do the right thing? Give it and the works of other WCP authors a chance.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Nothing to Celebrate

The end of a life is rarely a celebratory event. Regardless of the person's lack of character or depths of depravity they often leave behind family as befuddled as the rest of us. Who among us can cast an eye through their own family and not find a member whose conduct has not been at least puzzling. Hence, you will not read anything here that gleefully recounts the demise of a former Grand Junction officer accused of criminal conduct. That his suicide ended the criminal case against him merely concludes the governmental inquiry into his actions. His friends, his family - those who are left wondering if they had failed him in some way - will struggle with his decisions always. Both the alledged criminal conduct and his decision to end his life did not occur in a vacuum. Good people surrounding him, who did nothing wrong, will recount the conversations and ask themselves if they could have intervened somehow.

While we're thinking of the other victims, including the young woman whose complaint began the chain of events that ended in a Jefferson County hotel room, let's remember the men and women in Grand Junction who acted to end his career. Don't think for a second that they look upon this outcome dispassionately. Taking steps to rid their organization of an employee who uses his authority improperly is one thing. That has to be done. But no one celebrates when the employee then takes their own life.

Here, in this space, I'm looking on with sorrow. He is at rest. His victims are left to wrestle with one of life's most unsettling imponderables - what could I have done to have avoided this whole thing. Those of us who are outside observing can assure them that the answer is - nothing.

And then we tell them that they are in our hearts and prayers.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Just Another Bowl of Oatmeal

Mindlessly surfing the net, I came across a story that quoted the Secretary of Transportation's harangue about distracted drivers. He promised action! The administration is on it! No more texting while driving on this guy's watch. Etc.

Uh huh.

If I had a nickel for every accident I've investigated that resulted from distraction I wouldn't be dragging my dumb old ass to work at five every morning. I'd be sitting on a beach.

Distracted driving takes every form known to humankind. One of our officers was looking at an attractive jogger one sunny afternoon and plowed into the car in front of him. Spilled drinks, kids fighting, dogs, radios, CD's.... If a driver can think about it while driving, it has distracted someone enough to cause a wreck. So I understand the problem. Sign me up to be part of the solution.

But the Feds have no police powers over this kind of thing. Who's gonna enforce the Secretary's demand for action, the FBI? Special no texting police? Even if it was constitutional - it probably is not - the Feds would have to invent someone to write the tickets. Not that this group has much trouble doing that, but they already have someone out there. Me and mine.

If they do anything but talk, they will take a classic carrot and stick approach. They withhold highway dollars if a state doesn't hit some nonsensical target number of texting tickets, and then offer us thousands of borrowed dollars to set up checkpoints, to have officers come in on OT and other gimmicks that put numbers on the board but accomplish nothing longterm, sort of like a spring training game.

It's like the seatbelt campaign every year. No one argues that seat belts save lives. But - you'd be amazed how many people put their seatbelts on only when they perceive that the middle-aged man on the mountain bike is a uniformed police officer. That's after years of enforcement.

People will multi-task. It just is. When I was just starting my career in the late Seventies, I heard a sheriff's deputy tell a story. He was driving a marked patrol car one morning, minding his own business, and someone broadsided him. Plowed right into him. He got out to see if the other driver was hurt and saw all kinds of goo on the windshield. Figuring that the driver had hurled all over the car, he opened the door slowly.

It was oatmeal. The young driver had looked down into the bowl for another spoonful and...

I get it. When I see a driver texting I pull them over and write them a ticket. The Secretary of Transportation must have bigger fish to fry. He doesn't have to get into the weeds with us about distracted driving. We're the ones who see the accidents, the hurt and dead people, the destructive power of a motor vehicle. You had me at hello.

But you're arriving at a party that I've attended for years. Hey - thanks for your input. I'm doing the best I can balancing the needs of my community with the resources I have. Don't throw borrowed money at me so you can announce "mission accomplished" with a fistful of texting tickets. Not everything is solved when Washington suddenly discovers a problem and mandates solutions. To those guys, it's an epiphany. A crisis. Mobilize the power of the government.

To me, it's just another bowl of oatmeal.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Not Ready for Winter

I hear it from many of my non-cop friends - don't you just love Fall?

No.

As is traditional, Winter follows shortly thereafter. Here in Colorado, it often follows THE NEXT DAY, with mild temps on Tuesday and a foot of wet snow on Wednesday. Legend has it that Thursday can bring golf weather and that is often true. But...

There is still the day of snow to contend with. Icy roads, wet feet and in and out of the warm car to the point where my old, cranky body has no idea how to react. In the course of my career I've directed traffic for two straight hours in an October blizzard, worked in temperatures approaching 20 below and seen nearly three feet of snow accumulate from the time I got to work until the time I left for home.

Now I know what you are thinking. "Bitch, bitch bitch. A good cop never gets wet, cold and blah blah blah." Fine. Be that way.

I'm just saying - if you see me around, don't tell me how pretty Fall is and ask me if I'm ready for Winter. We'd have to be sitting on some beach somewhere for me to say yes.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Training Vendor Take-it-or-leave-it

There has to be a benign expression for a training vendor that discovers a niche and becomes a sole source provider. You know, the kind of organization that "certifies" professionals to perform a skill or function, dangling in front of departments the cover of "liability protection." It's one thing when the subject is firearms. It's quite another when it is about a bike.

I tried to apply for an instructor class at an internationally-known bike training entity and.... The application package was more daunting than the one I completed for admission to the New York bar. Among the documents I needed to submit was the reccomendation of the geu who conducted the training class I attended in 2001, and proof that I passed the written test with a 90%.

Are they on crack? I have no idea where to find the guy, who has left law enforcement to pursue other interests. And how the hell would I know what I got on a written test eight years ago. I passed, okay? You gave me a certificate, all right? So, what's all the other stuff about?

It's about the sole-source scarcity mentality. It's about income for the organization. It's about elitism.

I have no quarrel with a company trying to be profitable. It employs folks and provides valuable services to consumers. That much I understand.

But, in this case, police departments are the consumers and by definition so are the communities we serve. It is a standing joke that the way to increase the price of something is to stencil "police" on it. I bought a pair of gray gloves at Home Depot the other day for ten bucks that are virtually identical to a pair of $30 dollar gloves I bought for work. The difference? My work pair are black and say "Police" on them.

I ride my road bike about 3000 miles a year, and spend ten or more duty hours a week patrolling on a mountain bike. It is in my department's best interest to have an experienced bike trainer to mentor new riders and provide leadership to officers trying to use the bike to effectively patrol their beats. It shouldn't be this hard to find the training necessary to accomplish the goal. The training organization should be finding ways to help.

How is this serving the greater good of policing a free society?

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Fox News has a report of an Ohio police chief who retired when he was caught kissing and "caressing" a female officer in a police car. Happens.

He was transporting a prisoner.

An anonomous tip directed the department to review the in-car camera.

Okay, this is what we call felony stupid. Chief...dude...I supposed the prisoner's credibility is an issue, and who's the young lady gonna tell, but.... In a car with a dash cam?

Unbelievable.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Awesome - got jerked around today. Me and a riding partner went to back up another cop at a call. Most of the way there (maybe 1.5 miles) dispatch says "The reporting party says if you don't get there soon he's gonna take matters into his own hands." Pedalto the metal, which is a trick on a 25 pound mountain bike. Did I mention that is was 85 degrees and I'm wearing a police uniform? Body armor? We get there and the dispatcher tells us the RP gave the wrong location. So, back where we came from, BTTW, and get there in time to make an arrest. Still almost two miles from the station.

And I volunteered to be a bike cop.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Free Short Story

Here are several pages of a short story. If you want to read the rest, please e-mail me at James.greer2@comcast.net and I'll send you the whole thing. Karen is the main character in a short that Wild Child Publishing is considering for publication. Wish me luck!

The handsome man looking at Deputy Karen O’Neil smiled broadly, and chuckled in a way that sent a chill through her. With deep brown eyes, rich milk chocolate skin and two hundred twenty solid pounds on a six foot frame, he was a hunk in any language. There had been a time in her life, not so long ago, that she would have said something suggestive to him. He would have responded in kind, and at some point after work they’d have found themselves naked, entwined – totally immersed in giving, and receiving pleasure.
But, she had married the next man in her life, not him.
“Marty,” she said to him from inside her police car. “Stop. It’s not funny.”
“Let me get this straight, amigo,” Martin replied from inside of his police car, deep voice and Cuban accent tickling her funny bone even as he made sport of her. “It’s a soft, lovely, seventies February here in San Diego and your husband’s going to drag you to Wisconsin? To do what? Ice fish? Who fishes for ice, anyway?”
“He says he wants some privacy. He thinks I’m too distracted here.”
“What’s wrong with Cabo San Lucas, then? Rent a place and sit in the sun. When your hair is all bleached out… There’s no blonde as pretty as your hair when it’s been in the sunshine.”
“He doesn’t speak Spanish. He says it makes him feel subservient when I have to translate for him.”
“That isn’t your fault. I tried to teach him. He doesn’t really want to learn.”
“I think Spanish, um… It’s what you and I speak to each other. He gets jealous.”
“No way a man can erase his wife’s past. He should thank his lucky stars that it’s him you married.”
“He loves me. I know he does. If it’s Wisconsin he wants, then I’ll do my best to make it a fun trip for him. It’s what I signed up for.”
“My ass. He treats you--”
“Please don’t. I know what you think of him. You don’t have to make an issue of it. Come on, let’s talk about something else. I don’t want to be mad at you again.”
“I don’t like him.”
“Please? The last time we did this I couldn’t face you for weeks. Let’s change the subject.”
“He doesn’t treat you like you deserve.”
“Marty…” The secret she’d kept from him for almost two months wouldn’t make him happy. He would be angry, and she would get defensive and Marty’s friendship meant too much to her. “This trip isn’t entirely about privacy. There’s an opening for a control tower supervisor at the airport in Madison. He’s competing. We’re going there to check it out.”
“You might move?”
“Sorry.”
“From here? You might leave California?”
“I’ll follow my husband. That’s my role.”
“Jesus.”
“You can visit. I hear it’s—“
“No. No. You can’t leave. I’m getting used to having you just as a beat partner.”
“We’ll always be friends.”
“As though your jerk husband will ever let us really be friends.”
“I’m finished talking.” She sat up straight, all six foot one of her. Direct eye contact ensured that he was listening, not just hearing. “If you can’t be supportive, then at least shut up about it. I don’t need you to scold me because I fell in love with someone else.”
“He treats you like dirt.”
“He loves me. I love him. It’s as simple as that. I gotta go, Martin.”
“I ain’t done.”
“Yeah you are. Totally. You’re my friend, but sometimes I hate you. You just can’t ever be happy for me. It’s always gotta be about you and what you want.”
She drove away, before the angry tears betrayed her.

An hour later, Karen’s mobile computer in her police car chirped that she had received a call, this time to back up another officer. A domestic – a woman complaining that her husband had hit her, thrown a picture at her and had been drinking. Dispatch was sending her to cover Marty. Wonderful. Like she ever wanted to see him again. Like she ever wanted to talk to him again. When she arrived at the house, he was waiting by his car.
“I apologize,” Marty said.
“If this was the first time, I’d accept,” she replied. “It’s been almost four years since we broke up, but you still think I’ll come back to you.”
“That’s not it. If you’d married a nice guy, I could handle it. At least, I’d have lost you to...una persona que es muy amable.”
“He is kind, in his own way. If you can’t accept that, then I want you to stay away from me.”
“I can’t.”
“Let’s get this over with, huh? We can say our good-byes later.”

Karen stood in the cramped, dingy living room that smelled of stale cigarettes and spilled beer and hopelessness. It was furnished in a late twentieth century hand-me-down style, every stick of it worn, faded, mismatched reminders of other people’s generosity. The domestic violence victim sat, with closed and distrustful body language, on the edge of a lonely kitchen chair stuck arbitrarily in a corner. When Marty asked her a question she said “huh?” so he would have to repeat it. It was as though she needed time to assume a properly respectful tone before delivering the next evasive answer.
“I’ll just take a quick look around,” she said. “Just to make sure her husband didn’t come back.”
“Always anal about safety,” Marty replied as he sat on a thread-bare green sofa to write some notes. “That’s why I love you.”
“No, it isn’t, either.”
“Suit yourself. When you’re done, go ahead and split. I’ll write this report.”
She turned toward the kitchen. To her right, a noise came from a hallway leading toward the bedrooms. It was the same sound her door knob had made at the Pi Phi sorority house, when she was trying to quietly sneak her boyfriend out after curfew.
“Ma’am, how do you spell your last name?” Marty asked, his attention focused on the woman across the room.
The footfalls and the raised baseball bat arrived in her conscious mind at the same moment the intruder entered the room. He didn’t appear at a dead run – he probably wasn’t sure where anyone was. He was responding to the voices. He was attacking their voices. He held the bat high; it looked like he was up at the plate.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Urgent request for back-up

No, not the kind where we fight with the external hard drive. I'm a new author and brand new blogger. Oh, I've read a million blogs - some pretty good, some pretty stinky. I've gotten some good info and some real crap, and watched some of them devolve into giant...peeing contests.

So, got any good tips?