TALES FROM THE BLUE LINE 5

I was devastated. It was a warm, Sunday afternoon, in the middle of summer at about 5:00 p.m., Milwaukee time. I was riding around with a man almost twice my age in a dark sedan on Milwaukee’s South Side. We were relatively quiet, with the older man asking me mundane questions about my life. Slouched in my seat, I gave dull answers in a mostly monotone voice.
I was a cop. A newly promoted police detective, and I was depressed.
Ingrate?
2509Not so fast. Or, “Not so much,” as they say it these days.
Less than a week earlier I’d worn my hair down past my shoulders and had a face with a full if-mostly-patchy beard. Wore blue jeans and lame T-shirts with words like “Twisted Sister” and “Brain Damage” (with a smaller “Pink Floyd” name below it.) I was married, with two kids owned a home, and had been an undercover narcotics cop for seven of the last eight years. Hadn’t worn a uniform in five years. Now, I was full-fledged police detective.
Suit. White Shirt. Tie. Short hair.
To quote legendary author Raymond Chandler from his famous crime mystery novel The Big Sleep: “I was neat, clean, shaved and sober, and I didn’t care who knew it.”
Except for one thing: I did care. I’d expected to remain in the Vice Squad, working in the narcotics division, doing what I’d been trained to do, even if it was off-beat and meant taking a lot of risks.
But on a Friday afternoon I was promoted and on the following Sunday afternoon I was neat, clean, shaved…
My wife at the time loved seeing me all cleaned up and nicely dressed. My kids were too little to notice. I was bummed.
Being on the introductory routine detective assignment, with an older detective assigned to break me in for a day, felt as though I were working for nothing. I mean the old “He who sits and serves is as important as those on the front line…” and all that crap, if I even quoted it correctly, is true and I was just doing my job.
But I was bored. The work was mundane and easy, given what I’d recently been doing on the job. I was twenty-nine-years old; youthful energy was still my friend.
That did not last long.
I was quickly assigned to one of the busiest detective squads in the city, on the 4:00 p.m. to midnight shift. Major crimes division: A place with rotgut booze and warm beer chasers – in a manner of speaking.
My partners and I investigated everything from automobile theft rings to homicides, during various parts of the next twenty-two years I was a cop.
And I’d quickly learned that getting away from the narcotics division was the best thing that could have happened. As one might guess, there is a long, long story about my life during those years.
Police officers – even detectives – on routine patrol have their so-called down time. Nothing is happening. You can, and are expected to, make things happen, such as observing and making traffic stops. Keep an eye out for suspicious characters and activities, the great majority of which turns out to be of no consequence. In smaller cities and outlying precincts in larger cities, that’s pretty much what police work is all about.
In the high crime, high violence neighborhoods, patrol officers and detectives get ambushed constantly with extremely critical work. Major thefts are to be investigated as soon as possible, and the suspects and (hopefully) the property to be tracked down. Then burglaries. Up from there to robberies. That’s where things get intense and all stops are pulled from their here-to-fore comfortable places in the machine. Experienced, hard working detectives (sometimes politics inserts the undeserving) work on those assignments.
I got to the more important investigations soon enough. Spent time in court during the day, investigating heinous criminal activities at night. Attended the occasional autopsy of a murder victim, whatever time the medical examiner wanted.
As all of us in this position do, I got to know lots of people, fellow police officers, business men and women, attorneys (loves me my lawyers!), and criminals. Lots and lots of criminals. It is from that group that cops endure the heavy, life changing attitudes. Which leads some officers to alcoholism, the most well-known difficulty to which cops succumb. There’s more, darker stuff that some cops get into. But you’re a hero, a star, and if you want, you can play it up with any number of easily impressed and downright naive audiences.
My partner and I would see a lot of cops at the head quarters building downtown at the beginning of our shift. There were always men and women from precincts in the Detective Bureau assembly processing their cases. All of the normal, expected human interactions of those meetings and greetings were exchanged every day.
“Hi, guys.” we’d say to others, and they’d all say it back. Maybe some small talk. Then hit the bricks.
There’s one thing you can’t do, and there’s one supreme police experience that underscores the certain “cop attitude” that is often on display from police officers.
One night at about ten o’clock your squad radio suddenly blasts an agonized voice shouting, “We need help!” And then you hear nothing. Seconds go by. You sense the entire force of officers on the street monitoring their police radios, in frozen, agonizing positions.
And waiting.
A half a minute goes by.
Then, you hear –
“- Officer down!”
That only means one thing.
The radio goes quiet once again. It is a time of insanity as you’re forced to wait some more.
A highly stressed, almost nonhuman voice eventually shouts out a location over the radio. Every available squad heads there, double time.
Some officers are only a couple blocks away. When that’s the case (as it was with me) you come upon the scene only moments after the event occurred. We arrived. It was a long abandoned pool hall in the worst part of the city. Police squad cars and their red lights flashing arrive and park willy-nilly. One on the side walk next to the building. An ambulance joins the crowd. Inside the pool hall is an obviously homeless type guy, laying on his back. Paramedics pushing on his chest, fixing an oxygen mask to his face.
Another plainclothes officer, his face spattered with blood, stands a few paces back. He has fixed his half-hooded eyes at the paramedics and the obviously dead man who shot his partner.
The officer has already been conveyed to an ambulance.
A couple other officers in the place – blanched faces, wide eyes, guns drawn. You look back through a window at an ambulance parked outside with paramedics inside pressing on the chest of a fine officer, dressed in plain clothes, as he lay motionless on a gurney. The paramedics press. And they press, and they press…
You remember saying “hi” to both officers earlier in the shift; somewhere on the street, or in a precinct. (You’ll never remember exactly where.)
They take the dead, homeless looking dude who’d shot him point-blank in the chest to another ambulance that arrived at the scene in the street.
Other officers arrive and help work the scene inside the dark, dingy old pool hall..
After a short while, a lieutenant quietly announces, “He didn’t make it.”
Everyone keeps working soundlessly, as though they hadn’t heard him speak the words. Everyone is a professional. Everyone handles their assignments properly. It is quiet. You could hear a pin drop. A couple of hours later you’re finished and you head downtown..
The blood and the spent shell casings and the chalk marks outlining where the bodies had been, and one chalk mark circling a hole in the wall of an errant bullet, mash together in your mind while you fill out your reports. You feel it. Your disbelieving mind. But then you don’t feel anything. And no one says anything. But you feel something build anyway: A hard, dense sensation starting as a small point in the center of your chest, steadily growing larger and stronger. And you know it will never leave.
On your way home from work you stop at a nightclub owned by your good friend and tell him a cop was murdered. He’s staring at your face.
“You investigate it?” he asks.
You answer in the affirmative and he gives you e a large, full glass of rot gut booze. Forget the chaser,. You have another glass of booze. It wasn’t until later, when I was drunk enough to let go that I realized…
…I was devastated.

ROb2This is the fifth in an ongoing series from Rob.

He spent thirty-two years as a Milwaukee police officer: seven years doing undercover narcotics investigations and twenty-two years as a major crimes detective. Writing and reading have been lifelong passions, and he began by writing short stories more than thirty years ago.

Rob is published by Orange Hat Press

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