Sunday, March 13, 2016

A Friend for Karen

Daughter Katy, who lives in Perry Hall, MD, had arranged the ride-along with her friend. "He says to bring your vest," she wrote in a Facebook message. "The loaners aren't very comfortable."

She wasn't trying to be funny.

It probably seems unlikely that a thirty-plus year cop would take time out of a badly needed vacation to ride with another police department. Getting out of town, away from the hustle and bustle of work... Just to ride in a police car?

I have my reasons. Sometimes, I pick up something I can bring home, like a warrior mindset in an unusual context that saves lives. I meet good people, and get to see how they do the cop thing in their town. I love this profession, and I get to rub elbows with some superior officers.

Also - did you read the acknowledgments at the beginning of The Heart of the Matter? Heart finds Karen and her husband living in Florida. She begins her career with the Collier County SO. They live in a small house, in a place called Naples Park, and she works out of North Naples Substation. I won't spoil the rest.

The beginning pages of Heart had taken shape (Riley is almost killed in a helicopter crash) when I went on a ride-along with a Collier County corporal named Vinnie (really). His nickname was "Skinny Vinnie" because, so the story went, there was a not-so skinny Vinnie. He was a great guy, a fabulous cop and a perfect friend for Karen. All I had to do was put them in proximity to each other, give them something to do and - sha-bing - they hit it off. The rest, as they say, is $5.99 at Wild Child Publishing (Amazon and B&N, too). Riley's accident? Maybe she'll have it in Karen 4. Or, Riley 1.

I hit Katy's friend Amos up in a text message and made all of the necessary arrangements. Vest on, flashlight in pocket... I was ready upon arrival at the cop shop.

Amos turned out to a delightful police officer. He works in a decidedly difficult part of town, known for abandoned buildings, street crime (including broad daylight, in public shootings). The violent nature of the sector led the sergeant on duty (a serious, no nonsense guy I would follow anywhere...which, in fact I did) to snap at me about not having a sidearm with me. Did I have a flashlight? Yes, my duty one. A radio? No. The LT (the watch commander) lent me his. Did I know what to know...if? Amos had a shotgun in the trunk of the car. I could always "access" it.

Roll call? It began with a salute and moment of silence in the direction of photos of fallen officers (a beautiful gesture). The sergeant introduced me, to dispel any notion that I was from internal affairs, or maybe a Fed. I was "OK," a cop just like them. If you've read the papers lately, you know what that would mean to a room full of Baltimore officers. 

Room full. The exact numbers are not relevant, but they are working short. Very short. I expected them to be dispirited, aloof and not especially interested in doing police work. They would do what they had to do to get home, and that was about it.

Nothing could have been further from the truth. Every one of them was solid. They raced to calls, looked out for each other and did their dead level best. They were professional, even when laying down the law with street crooks. Amos was sincere and empathetic with a widow whose home had been burglarized. He asked good questions, did a thorough investigation and treated her as though he had nothing else to do but take care of her situation.

In the meantime, his radio blared with serious calls. We ran hot, we blew through red lights. Amos missed a box spring set in the road as we hustled to an armed robbery. Later, dispatch sent a car to take the "mattress" out of the road. We both howled, laughing even harder when my car partner pretended to radio dispatch "It's actually a box spring."

Karen finds herself in Baltimore, of course, her next adventure. A Baltimore officer is detailed to assist her.

Any guesses? He'll be a character based on a guy I'd work with, in real life, without hesitation. Only, on the next ride-along, I'll bring my Glock 34. That way, when I'm his cover, I won't be regretting the shotgun being not quite at my fingertips.

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