by Curtis Fesler
I should have titled this story "I Never Drink in Uniform; I always take my Badge off."
Yesterday I received notice that Fred Cook died, a partner from my rookie year in the Los Angeles Police Deptartment.
After working night watch for my first two months in the field, they stuck me on morning watch (Grave Yard) with one of the crustiest old curmudgeons ever to grace the streets of Los Angeles, Fred Cook. We worked two-man patrol units on this watch, and I'm sure they stuck me with Fred because no one else would work with him. Me being a probationer, I didn't have a choice. One slip-up during that first year and they could fire me without cause.
As a new kid entering Central Division, I was under suspicion as a potential "rat." This came about when we were in the Police Academy doing weekend ride-alongs in police divisions. When we were back in the Police Academy on Monday morning, everyone told the class about all the thrilling police work they did working the street, from arrests to shootings. My classmate Bob stood up and complained about his partner visiting various girlfriends during the night. The instructor noted the violation of conduct and notified the Division. This happened to be in Central Division, the Division they transfered me to fresh out of the Academy.
So when I entered this crusty group of old timers and met my new partner, Fred, I was not one of the boys by a long shot. Fred was not thrilled in the least to have me for his partner. All of us were under suspicion. The first question the men in Roll Call asked me was, "You're not Bob, I hope."
Fred was an imposing figure, standing at least 6' 2" with his gray hair cut short. He had the body of a football lineman. He wore three hash marks (over fifteen years of service) on his arm, meaning he was long overdue for getting a better job than that of a Patrol Officer. He was the oldest man in the Division still working the street in a patrol car, and he wasn't happy.
When we hit the street there was no doubt Fred was in charge and I was to do as I was told. He drove every night and I kept books, which meant I did all the paperwork. What made it even worse was the Sergeant was a buddy of Fred's, and he followed us around, wanting to have coffee and shoot the shit. My goal at this time was just to make probation and move on to something better, away from old coots like Fred. The suspicion of the other men on the watch and not being one of the boys also wore on me.
Fred used his head and said he would have a vodka, but I can't remember what he mixed with it. The bartender mixed Fred a super tall drink with a splash of mix and then made me a whiskey drink the same size that only a true alcoholic could love. What do I do now? If the Sergeant should come in, I'm dead meat. We've been on the call far too long already, and if I'm caught with this drink in front of me I'm done anyway.
I used the lousiest reasoning in the history of law enforcement and decided to toss the drink down in hopes Fred would leave. Fred was sipping his and I chugged mine down. The bartender quickly mixed me another one even stronger and Fred also had a second vodka. I knew I was in big trouble, but there was nothing I could do. Finally Fred decided it was time to go.
We cleared the call and drove around the rest of the night in a very happy mood, half gassed I would say. The Sergeant never came around, and we didn't get a call, which made me very happy because the discovery of booze on my breath would have also finished my career. I went home from duty that night vowing never to be placed in that situation again. But one thing I accomplished was this: I was now one of the boys.
Fred retired to Springfield, Missouri, only three hours away from where I now live. He worked his 20 years and 20 minutes and left. I'm sorry I never stopped by to visit him. Rest in peace, you old bastard.
“Police officers are simply a cross section of the general public with all the character flaws, emotions and a little excess baggage. They are far from perfect but most of them try,” writes Fesler, a "regular" on the USADEEPSOUTH Porch message board, where he fascinates Porchers with his wonderful stories.
Read more of Fesler's stories at USADS!
The Great China Town Gambling Raid
Germany by Auto, September ~ 2010
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