Excerpts from my Novels and Works in Progress
9 Lives of Badge 656
A Policeman's Memoir
Why did I become a cop? People often ask me that question. A simple answer is because I wanted to help people, but I think it’s a lot more complicated than that.
My grandfather, Manuel, emigrated from the island of Sao Miguel in the Azores, the islands belonging to Portugal. He proudly became a U.S. citizen, learned English, and worked a plethora of jobs, including a Constable who walked a beat on the wharf in the tough whaling town of New Bedford, Massachusetts. His son, my uncle George, grew up to be the Chief of Police. So, there are some blue bloods on that side of my family. However, I cannot point to them and say, “They are why I went into law enforcement.”
Perhaps, it was my youthful experiences on the other side of the law that influenced me? As an eight year old, I stuffed a baseball down the front of my pants and tried to flee the minimart but was apprehended by the owner who knew I had put something down the front of my pants. “Okay, you little punk! What do you have there?” he growled as he squeezed my bicep a little harder and pointed to my bulging crotch with his other hand.
“Balls!” I shouted as I broke free from his grasp, ran out of the store, and tossed the baseball back at him.
“You little smart ass! I know who you are!” he yelled. “Don’t come back!”
I never did go back to that little market, and I never tried to steal anything ever again. It wasn’t the fear of getting caught, but the realization that it was downright wrong to take something that didn’t belong to you.
Several years later, I was a senior in high school. A two-tone red and white ’58 Chevy Impala my dad bought me for Christmas a month earlier was proudly parked in the driveway. I had just begun fixing up the Chevy with the money I had earned from doing odd jobs after school, and it was my pride and joy.
The golden California sun had just set over the rooftops in my quiet suburban El Monte neighborhood, as I sat at the kitchen table and completed my homework. “Finished,” I said aloud and slammed the book shut with a sense of accomplishment. The thought bounced through my head like a melodic nursery rhyme, “Just a few more months and…no more high school. Just a few more months and…no more high school.” A loud knock on the front door suddenly brought me back to reality. “I got it, mom!” I yelled, and bounded to the front door and abruptly swung it open.
“Bobby! Do me a favor! Can you do me a favor?” frantically whispered Garry. Garry Welsh was one of my many high school buddies. We weren’t the best of friends, but we weren’t the worst either. He was the only ‘friend’ that smoked, which wasn’t something that I liked to be around, or tolerated for that matter. He always wore a white t-shirt with a pack of Camels rolled up in the sleeve, blue Levi’s and black penny-loafers. His long, dark brown hair was always meticulously slicked back on the sides and fell like a waterfall over his forehead. Garry looked older than his eighteen years, and he often was the one chosen to buy the beer at Little Five Points Liquor. I was only seventeen, a full year younger than my classmates due to skipping a grade in grammar school.
“What’s the matter? What is it?” I asked, expecting the worst.
“Oh, it’s not an emergency or anything like that,” assured Garry. “Can you give me a ride?”
“A ride?” I asked as I looked out to the curb and saw his gray, ’32 Ford Coupe with the big ’56 Oldsmobile V-8 engine parked out front. It was one of the fastest cars in town, but it sucked up the gas like a Hoover sucks up dirt.
“Oh, I’m outta gas,” replied Garry when he saw me look over his shoulder at the Ford
“Why didn’t you say so? Here, I got some gas money,” I offered as I reached into my pocket and pulled out a five-dollar bill. “Here.” After all, gas was only eighteen cents per gallon.
He could fill his tank easily.
“No, no, I don’t want your money. Keep it. Look, there’s this old truck parked in the alley over there,” he advised, and pointed off into the distance. “It’s been there a long time. Nobody’s using it. It’s just sittin’ there. Well, I checked and it’s full of gas. Just gimme a ride over there, I’ll jump out, siphon out some gas…I got a couple of gas cans, and…we’ll be outta there.”
“Garry, I got some money, man. Here, take it. I don’t want to siphon any gas.”
“You don’t have to do nothin’. Just sit in the car. I’ll get out and get the gas. No problem,” guaranteed Garry. “Besides, the truck’s been just sitting there for months…not bein’ used.”
“Here, take the money,” I insisted.
“Come on, man, just drive me over there. It’s no big deal,” begged Garry.
“Okay, okay. Let’s go. But, I’d rather just give you the money,” I acquiesced.
Garry loaded two empty gas cans into the back seat of my Chevy, and we had soon driven down the alley past the old truck. He got the two gas cans and made his way to the old truck while I stayed in the car with the engine running, and listened to KFWB’s Bill Ballance as he spun some rock and roll on the radio. Garry wasn’t gone but a few minutes when he ran and jumped into the car in a panic, tossed the empty gas cans back into the car and yelled, “Punch it!
I floored the Chevy and burned rubber out of the alley. In the rearview mirror I saw the red lights of a police car hot on my tail. “Oh, crap!”