Friday, February 14, 2014

Sergeant Finley - Days 34-52

As I slowly became aware of sounds around me, I realized I was lying in a bed, not sitting in a corner in the drunk tank. What was going on? What was I doing here in this place? Where was I anyway? 

The sounds reaching my ears seemed to be muted, as if they were plugged with cotton. 'What gives?' I thought. 'Where am I?' 

Slowly trying to sit up, I was aware of pain in my head and as I moved my feet, I realized they had something on them. Were they bandaged? I could feel the pain in them as I moved them in the bed. 

"There, there, Mr. O'Hanlon. Don't move about so much. You've suffered a concussion. You should lie still for a while longer."

Looking up in the dim light of the night light in the room, I saw the face of a nurse bending over me.

" did I get here? How long have I been here?"

"About twenty-four hours, sir. They brought you here from the jail, unconscious and unresponsive. They found your identification in your empty billfold. When they realized your condition yesterday morning they immediately got help for you. A good thing they did, too. You were in a bad way. Now, you just lie back and rest. It won't be long until you can have some breakfast."

Before long, a doctor came to check on my progress. I inquired of him about how long I would be staying. 

"Oh, probably another twenty-four hours for observation. I also will write orders for the nurse to check your feet for infection. Apparently, that was quite dirty glass you must have stepped on. Nasty stuff, infections. I'll look in on you later, to check your progress." 

"Thank you, Doctor."

I lay back and thought about my predicament, yet, I knew I was blessed. I could be dead now, I realized to myself. I thanked God that He had taken such good care of me. 

Chuckling to myself, I remembered how my Da had called me hard-headed. Right at that moment, I was right glad for how right he was, although he had meant stubborn.

I remembered then that I no longer had a coat or shoes. Winter was still upon us, and I was now in a tighter situation than before. With my coat, my map disappeared.  But the map situation could be remedied. 

Wait a minute! I just happened to think that perhaps Anne and Jackson had other siblings, and perhaps he might have gone to another sibling for assistance when Anne turned him out.

My plan had certainly taken on a down-turn. Here I was, conjecturing with no real facts to go on. I had to go back as soon as I could to Miss Olivia for more information. 

I lay there wondering how I was going to get there, and how it was all going to come together. 

I drifted off to sleep.

I awakened to see the shadow of someone in my room. 

"Are you a doctor," I asked. 

"No, just a friend." 

"A friend? But I there's no one who would know I'm here. How did I get here, anyway?" 

"Didn't anyone tell you, you were brought in from the jail?"

"Oh, oh, yes, now I remember."

The blinds on the windows were half closed, so I couldn't tell who it was in the chair. He sat awhile longer and then left.

The nurse brought in some medication and gave it to me, along with some juice and jello.  Soon afterwards, I went back to sleep, still not knowing who had been sitting in the chair. 

I awakened to the aroma of coffee and saw the same chair occupied. This time, the blinds were more open, and I recognized that someone who looked very familiar, but there was something odd about his appearance.

"Hello, Zeb," he said, leaning forward, smiling at me.

I sat up quickly, then grabbed my head. 

"Careful, you don't want to do that."

Leaning back carefully, I realized it was my friend, Sergeant Finley.

"How...who...what..??" was all I could utter.

"I saw you in the drunk tank and recognized your curly red hair in an instant. When I investigated, I realized you were there by mistake. I was afraid at first that you might have taken up your father's habits, but was pleased to see that you had not. I called the ambulance and had you transported to the hospital." 

"Why were you at the police station, Sergeant?" 

"Listen, Zeb. Why don't you just call me by my given name of Jackson, like an equal? Okay?"

I agreed that would be okay.

"I work there; I'm an undercover detective, working among the homeless. I've brought you a heavy coat and a pair of shoes, so that when you can leave here, you won't freeze to death. What are you doing here in Bankton, anyway? I must say it was really a surprise to see you in jajl."

"I came here to find you. I just returned a few months ago from four years in Vietnam, and felt restless. I've thought of you often, and felt you might be in need of a friend, especially after I heard you had been shot and retired from the police force up in Pennsylvania.

Then when I heard you had lost your wife and your home, and been burned in the process, I followed a trail to find you. But, you found me first. Will you tell me about the fire?"

He hung his head and I could see how it hurt him to even think about it, but he went ahead and told me. 

"I was sleeping beside my wife, Shirley, when I heard a noise. It must have been around midnight. All at once, I felt heat all around me and realized the bed was on fire. Smoke was filling the house and it was hard to see through it. Apparently fire was burning in other parts of the house as well. I flipped over and picked up Shirley, ran out of the house and saw that the house was enveloped in flames. I placed her on the ground and saw she was covered in blood. In the light of the fire, I realized her throat had been cut. She had been murdered as she lay beside me and I never knew when it happened." 

By this time, he was sobbing uncontrollably. I felt awful, having asked him about it, but he soon was wiping his eyes and in control again. 

"I'm sorry, my friend, for bringing the sorrow back into your mind," I said.

"That's okay, Zeb. It really does help for me to talk about it. Please don't apologize."

We spent the next few hours talking and I told him all about my time in service and how I thought I would like to become a policeman. 

"We are looking for some new recruits, but you would have to take some tests and meet the requirements. You did complete hjgh school, didn't you? What have you been doing since then?"

"Well, when I served in Vietnam, I learned a lot about discipline. I don't mean to boast, but I became somewhat of a marksman while there."

"Hmm. I see. Well, I think you might do well, then. We'll see."

"Hopefully, you'll be able to leave here tomorrow. You can stay at my place for the time being. It's small, but will be okay. I'll be back this evening and bring you a sandwich and a police manual. I know the food in here is not always what we would choose for ourselves."

He said this because my lunch had been some kind of nondescript meat and overcooked vegetables, and I sent about half of it back.

"Thanks, Jackson." I lay back down and soon was asleep again. 

Once again, I was awakened by the scent of food, but it was the odor of french fries that caught my nostrils and brought me from my slumber.

True to his word, Jackson had returned with food and a police manual. This time, however, he looked like a homeless person, so that I almost didn't recognize him. He soon left on his way to spend the night in the streets of Bankton. 

I read through the manual as carefully as I could, trying to remember what I considered the most important portions of it, and at least absorb the rules it presented. I believed I could do well on a test over its major facts.

That night, I had dreams that made me restless, and was back in Vietnam. I awakened screaming, and the nurse came in and awakened me. She gave me a sedative and I went back to sleep and the rest of my night was quiet and dreamless. 

The next day, he came early and after I had my breakfast, I got dressed and we left. I was eager to get to the police station and fill out an application. 

As we were ascending the steps to the police station, we met the two men who had brought me to the station earlier in the week. They were on their way down.

They stopped me and one of them said, "Say, buddy, we're sorry for what happened with you. Just doing our job, you know. Hope there's no hard feelings." He held out his hand to shake mine.

"Of course. No hard feelings." I smiled and held my hand out to his and shook it.

As we continued mounting the steps and going inside, I heard a snicker coming from the two men and realized their apology lacked sincerity.

I looked at Jackson and he shook his head, apologetically grim.

The inside of the station house was a beehive of activity, with officers getting coffee, filling out reports, answering phones, and just generally greeting each other as the day for the day shift began. Others were leaving to go home to rest after a night's work.

Jackson took me to a door that had the words, "Captain Robert Shannon" etched upon it. 

Hearing the knocking on his door, he grunted, "Yeah." 

We went in, and I was introduced to the Captain. Leaning back in his desk chair, he looked me over with a sharp evaluating look. 

"Captain, I'd like to formally introduce Zebulon O'Hanlon. He is a fine young man who just recently returned from four years of active duty in Vietnam, and came out as an experienced marksman."

"I hear you think you'd like to become a policeman. You think you've got the stuff to make it?"

"Yes, sir, I believe so, sir."

"I hope you understand that my men were just doing what they considered their job the other night when they brought you in."

"Yes, sir. I understand."

"Well, I'm sure Finley will get you set up for the exams, won't you, Fin?"

"Yes, sir."

Just then the door opened and a young woman came in holding a baby. 

"Oh, I'm sorry, Robert. I needed to speak with you. I didn't know you were busy."

"Gentlemen, my wife, Laura, and our son, Michael."

"Glad to meet you, ma'am. Thank you, sir." 

We left and went into the outer room where people were busy answering phones and doing paper work. 

Jackson got me set up with a desk and brought a bunch of papers for me to fill out, some of them tests that I had to take. I sat down and began working. The coffee from the breakroom tasted terrible, but actually not much worse than I had had while serving in the army, so I drank it and worked. 

A couple of hours later, leaning back in my chair , I laid down my pencil, and stretched my neck and shoulders, trying to work the kinks out of them.

Just then, Jackson came up behind me and asked, "Do you have any questions for me, Zeb?"

"Only one. I have to write down my residential address, and I don't have any idea what to write."

Chuckling, he replied, "Oh, yeah, here you go." 

He wrote down an address for me and I copied it to my application. 

"We'll head over that way before long. First, we need to get these papers turned in. Then we need to see about some food. You must be getting hungry; I know I am. There's a little hole-in-the-wall near where I live. It will be a few days before you will be notified of your passing or failing. Then, there'll be an interview for assessment of your skills, followed by the drug testing. It can be a fairly long process. New classes at the academy begin at intervals; so there is that, as well."

We had been walking while discussing the situation, and it wasn't long before we were on our way to the eatery.

It came to my attention that Jackson Finley had a drag to one of his feet. When he saw me looking at his gait, he told me that there was a story behind his hitched gait.

"You're wondering about my leg and how it got injured, I'll bet. That happened up in Pennsylvania; and it is why I wound up back down here in Bankton, where I was born."

"Well, yes, I guess I was. I didn't remember you walking like that when I knew you," I admitted.

"It happened during a hold-up of a pawn-shop, that was also used as a fencing operation. My partner and I had the guys cornered, or thought we had, and he wound up getting killed and I was shot in the stomach. The crooks got away. They had outsmarted us. I was close to death for several days; and when it all came to a finish, the department retired me and sent me home." 

"Oh, I'm sorry. That must have been awful for you."

"Yeah, I really wanted those crooks. They had pulled several jobs, and it seemed like they always had inside information; like they were always expecting us, but I had no way to prove it. You need to watch who you trust, Zeb, anywhere you go. Even in the police force, there are unreliable people. They are just people, after all, and although we try to weed out the undesirables, we are not always successful."

We talked more as we walked along. It was so wonderful to see my friend again. I determined I was going to help him find the people who had killed his wife and set his house afire. 

"Say, Jackson, can I go along with you as you mingle with the homeless? You realize I was shortly one of them before you found me."

"Are you sure you want to do that? It is a hard life, even though I have a place to go when the necessity arises."

"Well, at least while I am waiting to know if I pass the requirements for becoming a policeman. Could I?"

"Hmmm. Let me think about it, and tell you some of the things that it requires. Okay?"

I was filled with excitement, and couldn't keep it from showing on my face.

Jackson looked at me and just shook his head in wonderment. 

I just laughed, and said, "What can I say? I don't want to just hang around and do nothing. At least, I can begin to get a feel for what you do. I promise, I won't get in the way. I might even be of some help to you."

"Well, we'll see." He realized I had the eagerness and energy of the youthful, and that I could possibly get into some kind of trouble on my own. 

By this time, we had arrived at the Seven Sisters. It was simply a converted railway car diner. The owners had added a room to the back of it for preparing the food. The diner really was just a hole in the wall, so to speak. An elderly couple were apparently the owners and operators, with only a young woman to wait the booths. 

We sat down at the counter and Jackson spoke to the old woman.

"Hey, Mama Nina! How ya doin' today? This is my friend, Zeb. We'd each like one of your burgers with fries and a coffee to go with it." 

She wrote the order and put it on a little rotary gizmo so the old man in the back could see what was ordered.

"What are you fellers up to today? Headin' fer trouble, no doubt. Jackson, are you sure you should be out and about in the daylight? That sun on your burns can't feel too good."

"I'm fine, Mama Nina! You gotta quit worryin' about me, y'hear? Besides, this weather is still too cold to bother them."

"Zeb, I've known Mama here for a long time. She and Pop opened this diner just a short time before I went north with Shirley. They were in their thirties at the time, and they've been operating this diner ever since."

Within minutes our food was brought through the window and placed before us. It was some of the best food I have ever eaten. I looked around us and at the booths I saw a few other people who looked like they were down on their luck. It made me wonder, but I held my questions till later. 

Within minutes, we were saying goodbye to Mama and Pop, and were on our way to Jackson's small apartment. 

After another fifteen minute walk, we were in a place that looked like a rabbit warren. We went through a gate, and then to the back entrance of the building, into a dark hallway, and down a flight of stairs, to apparently what was a basement apartment. 

"You're wondering why here, right, Zeb?"

"Well, yeah. I'd sure never have found this on my own. How do you stand the darkness, the isolation?"

"It's facilitates my undercover activities. It is a haven, a safe place for me. I'm always careful not to lead anyone to it. My rabbit hole, so to speak."

Unlocking the door, he flipped on the overhead light. 

Suddenly, it was not such a bad place. There was an end table near the wall, a sofa, a single bed, and a bathroom off to one side..a book case with paperbacks, and a table lamp to add more light. Near the end table was an easy chair.  Beside the table lamp was his Bible. On the wall was a large landscape painting.

I could see how it would be a refuge, and I would come to know it quite well in the future. 

Turning to me, Jackson said, "You get the bed, I quite often just lie down on the sofa and sleep. As you can see, I'm no where near as tall as you. The sofa would wind up killing you, and we can't have that, now can we?"

We sat for a few minutes and talked about my Da. 

"Jackson, when I went back to Pennsylvania, I found out what had happened to my Da. Dooley explained to me that my Da had owed money for gambling debts to Rafferty. Rafferty had him beaten and killed as an example to others who owed him money. People that knew were afraid to let on. I owe you my life for getting me out of running number slips for him."

"No thanks needed, Zeb. My conscience wouldn't let me allow you to get mixed up in that shady business. It would have been a slippery slope for you to get on. I found out after your family left town what had happened to your father, but had no way of knowing how to contact you. Where did you and your family disappear to? It seems you have a lot to tell me."

We sat there for about an hour while I related our life in Kentucky to him, all about the farm and my grandparents. I told him my Ma was still living on the farm, and my brother was in school. 

"Didn't you have a couple of sisters?"

"Yes, I'm not quite sure where the older one is, though. My Ma was not very forthcoming with that information. I'm thinking she must have run off somewhere. The younger one is still on the farm."

"What about your mother? Did she ever remarry?"

"Yes, she married a really nice guy named Jake. We all really love him, and he is super good to my Ma."

"That's wonderful! I'm so glad to hear it. She deserves happiness after what she went through."

Jackson reached into his pocket and took out a key ring; removing a key from it, he handed it to me.

"This will get you into my apartment when you need to use it. If you happen to not know where I am, and you come back here, please give a gentle "shave and a haircut, two bits" knock on the door, so that if I am here, I'll know it's you. Otherwise, you might get your head blown off. This is a dangerous neighborhood and I can't take any chances. Understand?"

I gulped. "Yes, sir. I'll be sure and always knock."

That day my eyes were really opened for the first time as to what I was letting myself in for. I asked myself if I really wanted to do this, then I remembered the four years in Vietnam. This should be a cakewalk compared to that, I thought.

Jackson went to a small box of dirt and began smearing it on his face and hands, and changed into a dirty shirt and pants, putting on a pair of old sneakers, then adding a cap with a wig inside it.

"You need to stay here tonight and if I decide to let you come with me tomorrow evening, we'll need to get you some old clothes as well. None of mine will come anywhere near fitting you. Nobody knows about this rabbit hole of mine, so you'll be safe here. Get a good night's sleep and I'll see you in the morning. Okay?"

"Sure, Jackson. Is it okay if I read your Bible over here? Mine is with my things at the Mission."

"Sure. Hmmm. Maybe we can go see about getting those from the Mission tomorrow. Good night."

So saying, he left, and I was alone, once again in a strange place, with only my thoughts and a Bible for company.

I sat in the easy chair, and opened God's word to Psalm 23.

I awakened to the sound of a door opening. At first, I didn't realize where I was, but after glancing around, I realized I had gone to sleep in Jackson's easy chair and the Bible was still in my hand, open to the Psalms.

I couldn't believe it...I had slept the night in the chair and now I had a crick in my neck. But I had slept without bad dreams of killing and gunfire exploding around my ears and in my brain. For that very thing, I was thankful.

Jackson entered quietly and went into the bathroom. I heard the shower running and within about 15 minutes he emerged in clean clothes, and wiping his hair with a towel. He hadn't much hair; it was just beginning to grow back from where he had been burned. 

Looking at him from this vantage point, I could see he had extensive burns on his arms. He was wearing a tee shirt and blue pants. 

He noticed my inspection and just kind of chuckled. 

"Due to my burns, I have been given a nickname by the people of the homeless variety. Would you like to guess what it is?"

"Well, no, I can't imagine...maybe 'Red Man'?"

"No, they call me 'Krispy'. It really doesn't bother me. In fact, it just helps me fit in better as a misfit, don't you see?"

"Ah, yes, I do." I was slightly embarrassed and couldn't think what else to say.

"I'm thinking you're the one who'll be called 'Red Man'" He smiled again.

I know my eyes must have lit up, because I realized he was going to let me go along with him, at least while I was waiting to hear if I had been accepted or not. I still had the drug testing to take after the drugs I had been given during my hospital stay had had time to leave my body. 

"Okay, we need to be going and get you some clothes this morning. There is a charity thrift store where the homeless go to get clothing. We'll check there first. Then breakfast. Later, after I check in at the station, we'll see if we can get your belongings from the Wayfarer's Mission."

"What about sleep? Aren't you going to at least take a few hours to sleep?"

"No, I got a few hours on the street in a doorway last night. I have to do that to really fit in as a homeless person. Otherwise, as the saying goes, the jig would be up. Let's roll, Zeb!"

So, off we went, and as we did, I considered how very blessed I was to have found my friend and perhaps a future.

Looking closely at Jackson's attire, I realized he was wearing a high necked sweater and a cap. Along with his long sleeves and the heavy jacket, he looked nothing like his evening persona. No one would recognize the two as the same person. In the evening, he had worn a long scraggly wig inside a stocking cap. Jackson had become a master of disguise.

It made me wonder how I could disguise myself to keep the homeless from knowing me in the daytime. Perhaps he would help me with mine. My red hair was going to be difficult to miss. 

Within a few minutes we had reached the charity thrift store since we were living very near the streets occupied in the night time by the homeless. It soon occurred to me how very difficult Jackson's job was, keeping his daytime anonymity and succeeding in his nighttime task.

Entering the thrift store was like going into another world. I had never been in such a place, and was amazed by the racks and tables of miscellany. 

I thought, 'Wow! One could purchase anything here from salt shakers to something to sit on. What a place!'

Jackson headed over to a table with shirts folded and we looked for my size. Then after finding pants and socks, we looked for shorts and undershirts. They were in scant supply, and I wasn't sure I wanted to wear any previously worn of those. 

"Listen, Jackson, let's go see if we can get into the Mission today. I really need my duffel bag of belongings. It's got my Yankee's cap and I don't want to lose that."

Looking at me in amazement, he stopped in his tracks. 

"You still have that same cap you used to wear bicycling around town?"

"Well, yeah, I do, as soon as I can get it back from the Mission. I'm just glad I wasn't wearing it the other night when those guys jumped me and took my coat, and shoes."

"Why is that cap so important to you, Zeb? After all, it is just a cap like thousands of others."

"My Da bought it for me the only time we ever went to a game together. It was a World Series game and we actually had a good day together, along with my little brother, Les. It's one of the few happy memories I have of my Da."

"Ah! I see. Well, by all means, we will get it back, somehow. I may have to use a bit of influence, but I can do that. Don't you worry."

By that time we had made our purchases (actually, he had paid what little they cost), and were on our way to the diner, then we would head to the Mission.

Upon our entrance to the diner, Mama was wiping down the counter and we plopped down. 

"The usual?" she wanted to know. 

"Yes, please," Jackson replied. "And please bring my friend here the same. I know he'll like it, too."

Turning to him, I asked, "How do you know I'll like it? Are you perhaps a mind reader, since I met you years ago?" Of course, I was only joking with him and did not utter the words in a combative manner.

"Ah, just wait! Nobody could turn this down." 

We sat there drinking the coffee she had poured for us when she saw us coming in. 

Within about ten minutes, she was carrying two plates in our direction and placing them on the counter in front of us. 

My eyes must have gotten as big as saucers when I saw the food. There was country ham, biscuits, eggs, and red-eye gravy. I was back on the farm again in my memory. I got all choked up at the very sight of the food. 

"How did you know?" I asked him. 

"You're a Kentucky boy, aren't you? That's what they eat, I reckon, right along with Tennessee boys. Eat up, Zeb, we got a lot to do today, and you're gonna need all the energy you can muster."

I did my Ma back home right proud, and dug into that food. I polished it off with another cup of coffee, put on my cap and I was ready to get on with the day. 

As we walked toward the Mission, my friend talked to me about one of the major problems that the police and citizens were subjected to, that of street drugs. 

Now, those of you reading this, will realize that the 1960's were the prime beginning of the widespread use of drugs. Back then it was LSD and other enhancement drugs, along with morphine and cocaine. Many of the returning veterans used the drugs to forget and sometimes just to get through the nights. They were suffering from PTSD. They just didn't have an official name for it back then; they just called it nerves. 

Sorry to say, the problem has become tenfold since the 1960's and now in the twenty-first century, it remains a challenge to peace-keeping in our world today.

But I digress. 

We reached the Mission and were surprised to see the door was unlocked. Opening the door, we entered.

We were greeted by an older man who had his sleeves rolled up and was wearing an apron. He had obviously been sweeping since he was holding a broom. 

"Can I help you, gentlemen? Are you seeking shelter?"

"No, thank you. We have come to pick up my belongings that I left here when Pastor Andy was in charge. It was going to be my job to sweep up each day, but...well, it's a long story. Needless to say, I didn't get back here because of his death. I had no way to get in. I left them in a small room close to his. Is it okay if I go back there and retrieve them? I have a key to the room."

"Ah, so that is the solution to the mystery of the locked room! I see! I was going to have to get a locksmith to come in to open it. Oh, I'm Stanley Jones and I've been sent here to keep the Mission open for the homeless. I just arrived here last evening."

He looked at us expectantly, waiting to hear our names, I supposed.

"Er, ah...I'm Zebulon O'Hanlon, and this is my friend, Jackson."
I offered no more information, because I didn't know how much my friend would want me to divulge. He was working undercover among the people Jones would be serving, after all.

We all shook hands and he led us back to the room so I could get my duffel bag.

After retrieving my duffel, we shook hands once again with Stanley Jones, and left the Mission for what I assumed might be the last time. Little did I realize how important the Wayfarer's Mission could become in my life for years to come.

"Listen, Zeb...I've been thinking about your hair and how distinctive it is. It's going to be quite difficult to disguise it. Do you have any suggestions?"

"Well, in the army I had a military cut and it kept my curls from growing out. I could maybe even get it all cut off, like I did then." 

"Hmmm. Yeah, I guess it would. With a hat, no one would be able then to notice it. Okay, to the barber shop it is. Let's go right now."

Upon arriving at the Barber shop, Jackson decided he needed to run an errand, because it looked like several customers were ahead of me. So he left me and took off.

He came back an hour later, and I was just putting my toboggan on my head as he walked in the door. I smiled at him and said, "Okay, Sarge, I'm ready to go."

I picked up my duffel and we headed for the police station, where I was going to study the manual some more while Jackson did the paper work he always had to do every morning. 

Upon our arrival at the station, I took off my coat and placed it on the chair I was going to sit in. However, I had decided to just keep my toboggan on my head for the time being.

"Let me see your haircut, Zeb, and see if it passes for helping to disguise you."

Well, I thought Jackson's eyes were going to pop out of his head when he looked at my haircut. 

"" he stammered.

"You mean you don't like it?" I looked as if I were dismayed at his reaction. Inside I was chortling. I was having a good time.

"You look like a. a. a. convict!"

His reaction elicited a loud laugh from me. 

"I guess you think it makes a good disguise, then?" 

"Well, it would certainly throw me off! What ever made you think of doing that?"

"I realized that the distinct color of my hair would cause people to remember me. The lack of hair is more common among some street folks, especially those who are just out of jail. If people think I am a felon, they will steer clear of me. If my cap accidentally comes off my head, no hair color, no I.D. I believe it will help me blend in. I wore it this way some in Vietnam, because I could smear mud on my face and head and wade through water, to stay hidden on patrol." 

"Ah, I see. Well, it is a good idea. You have great instincts, Zeb. I know you're going to do well on the police force. Let's go, kid!" 

Replacing my cap and picking up my duffel bag, I followed him out the door of the shop. It was just a short trip to his place, so we dropped off the duffel and were on our way to the police station. 

"I want to introduce you to some of the guys," Jackson told me. "No doubt, one of them will be assigned to train you when you graduate from the academy after your four weeks training."

(A note here: Training in police academies has much improved since I trained. They are now of longer duration, the methodology of crime solving has had to keep up with the times, and it has become a part of some college courses. Now a degree in law enforcement is encouraged.)

Needless to say, I was excited - an understatement to the nth degree. 

"You mean you won't be my partner?"

"I'm afraid not. Since being shot a while back, and having had surgery, they wouldn't qualify me for that kind of active duty. I still have some shrapnel in my body that can keep me from being in tip top shape. They weren't able to remove all of it, and it sometimes causes me great pain. That is why I'm on undercover duty, along with the fact of my burns, making some people uncomfortable with my appearance. I'm just thankful to still be alive and to have a job doing what I love."

To say I was disappointed would have been an understatement, but I understood. 

"Well, maybe I can go with you sometime." 

I stopped, because I realized I sounded like a child begging. 

He just smiled at me, and said, "We'll go out at night together until you start your training, and maybe sometimes on the weekend. Okay?" 

It was as though he had just remembered my journey to find him. 

We walked up the steps into the police station. 

True to his word, Jackson began introducing me to the others working that day. 

We  began by my meeting the desk sergeant, a forty year veteran on the police force who had trained with Jackson. 

"Bringing in new blood for us, eh, Fin? Good. Since he's a friend of yours, I know there's a story behind it. I wanta hear it someday." 

"Sure, Hicky. Zeb O'Hanlon, this is Fred Hicks, one of the best partners any cop could have. Fred, meet Baldy O'Hanlon."

"Baldy? What kinda moniker is that, anyway?"

"Take off your cap and show him, Zeb! This young man, so eager to fit into life on the streets, had his head shaved! Can you believe it, HIcky?"

Hicky doubled over with laughter. When he finally recovered, he said, "Welcome to the precinct! I know you're going to fit in just fine." 

We left him shaking his head and wiping his eyes.

Next, Jackson took me to a desk where another cop was talking on the telephone. His desk was facing another one, where a cop was working on paper work and fussing a blue streak. I met him first.

"Hey, Johnson, take a break from that paper work and meet my friend who has applied to become one of us."

Johnson looked up briefly and said, "Hey, boy, I reckon you don't know what you're lettin' yourself in for, gettin' mixed up with a bunch like us. Welcome. What's yore name?" 

"Zebulon O'Hanlon, but you can just call me Baldy, I guess."

"Glad to meetcha!" So saying, he just shook his head and went back to work.  

His partner, who had been on the phone, hung up, and said, "We gotta roll, Drin, trouble over on South Main, again."

"Hey, Bent, you and Adams, come with us!" shouted Johnson. 

We watched them go, and Jackson said, "Well, you almost got to meet most of them that were here today."

"Who are the two that work on the night shift that arrested me?"

"That would be Murray and Phillips; of course they're off during the day hours. I see them quite a bit in the evenings and so will you."

Oh, boy. I reckoned that would be the fly in my soup. I knew that I would be working with some who were difficult to deal with. It was a fact of life, and had been while I was in the Army as well. 

While Jackson (Krispy) Finley worked on his reports, I sat there flipping again through the police manual, my mind not really on it, but instead on the shrapnel that he had said was still in his body. 

Later that evening, after the day's activities, we smeared our faces with dirt,  mussed up our clothes to look dirty and unkempt, and completed our disguises by adding caps and old shoes. The pair of shoes I put on had cardboard in a couple of holes in the soles. I really felt homeless.

Out we went into the night, and I got my first real taste of being a policeman on the hunt. 

'Krispy' had told me we were looking for drug dealers among the homeless, and we had to be very careful and stay in character. He had noticed how slick my head looked when I put the dirt on it, and had made a comment about it. 

"How about calling me 'Slick' instead of 'Baldy'?" I had asked him. "You know the name Slick could infer I belong to the criminal element."

"That's a great idea! I knew you could probably come up with something better than Baldy. Good for you, Slick!" 

I laughed at his response and knew this was going to work out well. 

"Now, the idea, Slick, is to just get the information, and we won't be apprehending anyone. That will be left for the uniforms to do. We don't want to blow our cover; just gather information. We do that by observation." 

"What if we get into a jam? Do you have any protection for us?" 

"You mean a gun?" he whispered.

"Yeah... or a knife...anything to defend ourselves with. I have a pocket knife. Those guys didn't get it a couple of nights ago when they got my coat and shoes."

"I do have a gun in an ankle holster, so yeah, I do have something. Don't worry, just stay on alert to anything going on around us." 

Staying alert was nothing new to me, but I was definitely in new and strange territory. 

The night was dark; there was no moonlight, and many of the streetlights were no longer lit in the area we were strolling along. Then we heard shouts coming from a side street.

We ran toward the sound, and my heart raced as my blood pressure raised. My first action was about to take place!

In the glow of a single streetlight, we saw three men beating an old man. He was on his knees, begging for mercy. We immediately jumped into the fray; the three ran away, leaving the old man weeping and bleeding. 

I began to give chase and 'Krispy' shouted, "Let them go; this fellow needs help, 'Slick'. They know these streets like the back of their hands and you'd soon lose them and then your way."

We helped the old man up; we guessed he must have fractured or broken ribs.

"What were they after, mister?"

"My money, that's what... what little I had anyway. They were jist beatin' the stuffin' out a' me, cause I didn't have much, I guess. What I wanta know is - where's a cop when a feller needs one, anyhow?" 

He was grunting in pain, but still able to complain about the lack of protection. I thought it rather incongruous that he was actually being helped by the police but had not a clue. 

We helped him to his feet and asked did he want to go to the hospital. 

"Nah, I don't want none a' them sawbones a workin' on me. Jist leave me be, I'll be okay." 

"You're sure?" Krispy asked him. 

"Yeah, yeah... go on about yer bizness." 

We continued on our way. 

"Did you smell the liquor on his breath?" I asked my friend.

"Oh, yeah, right now, he's feeling not much pain, but I imagine when he sobers up, if he does, he'll probably just self-medicate with more." 

"Listen, I think those three guys beating him up were the same ones who took my coat and shoes a few nights ago. I don't think they would be so tough if the two of us could get hold of them."

"I have a feeling, Slick, that they may be involved in the drug business. I think they may be selling the stuff around those trash cans. They light the fires to not only keep warm, but to let their customers know where they are selling. I've told Murray and his partner, Phillips, about my suspicions, but so far, they say they haven't been able to catch them at it."

"Do you trust them?"

"Listen, my young friend, you have to be able to trust your teammates until you see something that proves you can't. You might not like someone very much because of their obvious prejudice, but when your life depends on them, well, you just have to."

"Yes, sir. Sorry, I didn't mean to step on any toes."

"That's okay, son. That doesn't mean you blindly trust; keep your eyes open and stay alert, lives depend upon it. That is a lesson I learned some years ago. I'll tell you about it sometime." 

It seemed that Sgt. Finley had a lot of stories rolling around in his memory; I was anxious to hear them, and hoped I'd get a chance soon. 

As we rounded the corner, we saw our three guys standing and talking to a fourth. They were standing around a trash can, with the sparks from a fire, flying up into the sky like lightning bugs. 

"What are we going to do, Krispy?" I whispered, as we backed up around the corner so they couldn't see us.

"We're just going to see if we can get a little closer so we can hear what they are saying, and see if we can identify them later on. Let's stay against the wall, out of the firelight, in other words, hug the wall like your life depends on it."

I realized our lives could very well depend on it. My Army training was going to come in quite handy, it seemed.

Cautiously, we crept around the corner once again, walking silently and keeping our eyes open. As we drew closer, we could hear the murmur of their voices. 

I thought I could hear one of them say something about angels and rainbows. I couldn't believe it, why would they be talking about such heavenly subjects?

In the firelight we could see money and small objects exchange hands. 

All at once, I stepped on something sharp, that went through the cardboard in my shoe. A swift intake of breath on my part was heard by one of the men. 

"What was that?!!" 

He turned around and I thought our goose was cooked, but Krispy let out a low 'meow' that I would have sworn was a cat, except for the fact I knew it was him.

"You're lettin' your nerves get to ya, Dopey. Ya been samplin' yer merchandise agin, ain't ya? Quit poppin' them Red Devils, er' they'll kill ya."

I soon realized we were in the same alley where I had been attacked. In fact, the three men talking to the fourth were the ones who had beaten me up and robbed me. 

But why were they talking about angels and rainbows? Not a subject to ordinarily be discussed in an alley at night. 

I pulled my foot up to look at the bottom of my shoe. I felt till I found the shard of glass and pulled it out of the bottom of my foot. Krispy poked me gently in the side and then took my arm and indicated we should go. 

We crept silently back around the corner and resumed our whispering. 

"Now what?" I asked. 

"We're simply going to wait here and see what happens next. They may not stay there very long, or they may have other customers that will show up. We need to find a better place to hide and watch."

"I think this is the same alleyway where I was beaten up. Why can't we just cross the street and sit down like we don't have any place left to go? Then we can just pretend to be asleep against the wall."

"Good idea, Slick!"

Krispy looked down and saw a bottle on the sidewalk.

"Ah, even better, here is a whiskey bottle and we can pretend to be a couple of drunks, sleeping it off. Let's go."

We crossed the street, bottle in Krispy's hand, and found a place against the building to prop ourselves up, then sat ourselves down to watch and wait.

It wasn't long before the one guy left and then after another few minutes a couple of young people approached us and stopped. 

"Hey, Billy, look at these two drunks, can't hold their likker. Haw, haw!" He kicked at us, disdainfully. 

"Aw, leave 'em alone, Sammy. They ain't hurtin' us none. Let's go get the angel dust. There's our fellas across the way, there." 

As soon as they crossed the street, Krispy turned to me. 

"Listen, Slick. I have an idea. I know about where Johnson and Murray should be right about now. It isn't far from here, and I think I have time to go get them. You wouldn't be able to find them, so just hang tight here and wait for me to return. Don't.. do... anything... Period. Understand? Don't try to follow them if they leave. Just stay here and pretend a drunken stupor. Okay?" 

I shook my head in agreement. 

 (To be continued)