Short Stories 

 

 

 

Thursday
May312012

Cold Initiation by John A. Bray

COLD INITIATION

By John A. Bray

 

Assignment from the Academy to the 116 Precinct in Queens launched Steve Dunning into the arcane world of the New York City Police Department. Among the first recruits sent there in years, the aloofness among the veteran personnel toward new arrivals had a chilling effect. Despite his uncertainty, he knew from conversations with friends who had become patrolmen that arrest and summons activity on foot patrol could win him a seat in a radio car, a step up from constant foot patrol. He dreamt about earning the cachet of riding in a sector of his own just like the cops in his neighborhood that he had envied from childhood.

 

His first tour of duty, a four to midnight on an evening late in autumn, began with an assignment to a foot post just three city blocks long. It took several minutes to walk there from the precinct stationhouse. A mixture of small apartment buildings interspersed with wood-frame private homes gave the neighborhood its distinctive flavor. The approach of dusk had swept the streets clear of people, while gusts of wind scattered fallen leaves along the sidewalk. He patrolled the length of the three blocks and noted that Hopedale General Hospital occupied most of one side of the street. Even as a rookie, Steve could visualize the deadening routine that lay ahead.

 

The hours dragged on until, leg-weary and stiffened with tedium, he once again passed the entrance to the hospital. Through the glass façade illuminated by recessed fluorescent lighting, an emergency room orderly motioned to him with frantic gestures. He pointed to a rumpled figure lurching toward the emergency waiting area near the admissions desk. Steve pushed through the door.

 

“Please get this guy out of here, he’s disrupted everything. The nurse in charge wants him out.” the orderly said.   

 

“Is he drunk or what?” Steve asked. “Maybe he’s a psycho and needs help,”

 

“Nah, he’s drunk and scaring people.”

 

The new patrolman caught up with the man and took note of the odor on his breath. Unfocused eyes, shirttail pulled out of his trousers, a cloth cap askew over mussed, thinning hair, all testimony to his intoxication.

  “Let’s go outside, they don’t want you in here unless you’re sick.  You’re not sick are you?”

 

Disheveled and incoherent, the man hiccupped, “Not going anywhere, wanna stay here.”

 

 “Come on, let’s go outside and we’ll talk about it,” Steve ordered.

 

Disoriented and off balance, the man staggered again toward the emergency area. Using his new Academy acquired techniques, and a lithe six-foot frame, Steve grabbed the drunk’s jacket with two hands, pivoted him in the other direction and managed to shove him through the exit door. The drunk careened and stumbled to the sidewalk, sprawling onto knees and hands. He attempted to regain his feet when the cop jerked him upright.

 Remembering the cautionary words of an Academy instructor, Steve said, “Anytime I have to use force on someone he gets arrested.”

 

The patrolman steered the unsteady man down the block to a call box attached to a telephone pole and called the stationhouse. The sergeant answered the switchboard.

 

“I’m on Post 22,” Steve said, after identifying himself. “I have one arrest for transport. It’s a disorderly conduct. Right now I’m in front of Hopedale General Hospital.”

 

“We’ll send a sector car to pick you up,” the sergeant answered.

 

The drunk seemed impervious to the piercing wind that rattled the limbs of the leafless maple trees standing like sentinels at the curb. He reeled in an attempt to turn again toward the hospital entrance. Steve pulled him back and braced him against the wall before he either fell flat or wandered away. In his inexperience Steve neglected to handcuff his prisoner.

 

Ten minutes later, the men who manned the sector, Polchak and Vecchio, pulled their radio car up to the curb near the call box. Dunning guided the drunk to the rear door of the car and opened it.

Polchak, the officer on the passenger’s side, got out of the car and asked, “What do you have?”

 

“Disorderly conduct,” Steve answered.

 

Polchak turned to the prisoner, “Okay, what’s going on?”

 

There ensued a disjointed conversation while Polchak tried to determine where the man had been drinking.

 

Finally the drunk mumbled, “The bartender threw me out, said I made too much noise.”

 

“And where’s this bar you say you were in?”

 

“It’s a few blocks from here.”

 

Polchak turned to Dunning, “Put him in the car.”

 

Steve slid his now compliant prisoner into the back seat. Polchak reentered the front seat and told his partner to find the bar nearest the hospital.

 

“That’ll be Johnny Jay’s, it’s about four blocks away,” Vecchio said.

 

The drunk slumped in the back seat like a pile of discarded laundry.

 

“What’s this supposed to be, anyway?” Vecchio asked his partner.

 

“The kid says it’s a disorderly conduct, let’s go to the bar and find out what’s what.”

 

They drove the four blocks and stopped. “This is it,” Vecchio said, “Johnny Jay’s. Hey, you back there, is this the place you said you were in?”

 

The drunk snored in response.

 

Polchak got out, and opened the rear door. “Let’s go, wake up,” he said, shaking the somnolent prisoner. “Let’s find out what happened in there.”

 

They disappeared together into the crowded bar. Dunning remained in the rear seat and stared out the window in bewilderment. Minutes ticked by until Polchak reemerged alone. He got into the radio car and directed Vecchio to pull away.  

 

“What happened to my prisoner?” Steve asked.  

 

“What prisoner?” Polchak said with a snide edge to his voice.

 

Dunning’s face flushed, hot prickles crept over his skin. Stunned but not knowing how to respond, he rode without protest while the radio car sped along the desolate street.

 

“We’ll drop you off on your post,” Vecchio said.

 

At the end of the tour, Steve dragged himself back to the stationhouse, chagrined at his own naiveté and chastened by the rude introduction to the treacherous currents into which he had plunged. Another cop clued him in later that the sector car team had probably sold his petty arrest in the bar by threatening the bartender with a summons for running a disorderly premises. His first effort at showing arrest activity had disappeared into the void. The thought of the verbal reaming he would get from the desk lieutenant when he couldn’t account for the arrest he’d called in weighed like an anvil on his shoulders.

 

The crusty old lieutenant lectured him, “Did this guy cause a public disturbance? Cause a crowd to collect?”

 

“No,” Steve answered in a subdued voice.

 

“Well, you didn’t have a ‘dis con’. Besides which, you’re not their bouncer. They have their own security to deal with that. If he acts up on the street, then you take action. Don’t be going into places and doing them favors, only gets you in trouble.”

 

Steve passed through the next crucible during his first February on the job. At eight o’clock one frigid morning at the completion of a midnight tour, he made his way from his foot post back to the stationhouse. The blood had congealed in his veins and the circulation to his feet had all but stopped. The day-tour sergeant, brusque and purposeful, strode toward him as he stood in line at the desk to sign out.

 

“Did you know there was a front break on your post?” the sergeant asked. “A burglar smashed in the door of a stationery store down there, rifled the cash register.”

 

The words immobilized the rookie as he did a quick mental review of an uneventful tour. A massive snow fall had smothered the city during the previous twenty-four hours. Sanitation plows had built glacial mountains and left narrow passageways in the streets. Some homeowners and store proprietors had dug footpaths that snaked between the building lines and close-packed hillocks of soot-encrusted snow.

 

Despite the constriction in his throat Steve managed to keep his voice level. “Where was that, Sarge?”

 

“It was down near Corona Avenue on your post. The owners just called it in a few minutes ago. Apparently they don’t speak English too well. They waited for someone to translate and make the call.”

 

The sergeant then restated the Department policy about front breaks on a foot post. The man assigned should find the open or broken front door if he checked the stores during his tour, failure could mean departmental charges.  

 

Steve told him, “I did check the post,” but his excuse that the post extended for ten blocks and took almost an hour to patrol down and back seemed not to register with the sergeant.  

 

 “I’ll investigate, and write it up for the Captain.” the sergeant said with a casual shrug. “Let him decide,”

 

After changing into street clothes, Steve set out to visit the scene for himself. When he got to the street he had patrolled, he found a hollowed out niche in the snow bank and parked. In the store, magazine racks, stacks of the morning’s newspapers and a waist-high counter crammed with candy, gum and blister packs of assorted stationery articles left a cramped aisle for customers. Empty cigarette racks on the wall behind the counter gave their own silent testimony to the smash-and-grab burglary. The “mom and pop” owners didn’t speak English well enough to understand the cop’s questions, but a bilingual customer fluent in English and Spanish came in to make a purchase. With the customer’s offer to help, Steve asked the proprietors what they saw.

 

The customer translated their rapid Spanish. “They live in the back of the store with their children. About two this morning the sound of breaking glass woke them up. They watched from the back as the guy took cash from the register and stuffed his pockets with packs of cigarettes. Too scared to move, they waited for him to crawl back out through the hole in the door.”

 

The proprietor glanced between Steve and the man translating, trying to follow the English words. Then he continued with his story in Spanish.

 

The customer interpreted, “Then he,” indicating the owner, “took a cardboard Coca-Cola poster and taped it over the inside of the door, swept up the glass, and waited for morning until someone came in who could call the police for them and report the crime.”

 

In a recessed doorway, in the dark early morning hours, a red and white cardboard sign had disguised the break. Now in daylight Steve could see the gaping hole where the burglar had kicked it in. No broken glass lay on the ground outside the store. He jotted some quick notes and drove back to the station house to find the sergeant, but he had gone out on patrol. Steve left his note in the sergeant’s message box and went home. Until the sergeant had completed his investigation and gave his recommendation to the captain, Steve could only wait. Precinct gossip had it that formal charges on his record would damage any chance for a better assignment in the future. He also realized, given the climate of the department, no one would care whether a patrolman’s career got sidetracked.  The Commanding Officer wouldn’t give a second thought to a decision to charge him with dereliction. The skipper could then justify himself with the division office upstairs. Taking measures against the man on post might also placate irate residents in the Corona sector where the captain had caught heat because of several recent burglaries.  

 

Even though exhausted after a tour on foot patrol in single-digit temperatures, Steve tossed and turned in bed for an hour before he dozed off. Midnight to eight tours always disturbed his sleep patterns. While asleep, he had a nightmare that the captain had given him charges and he wanted to quit the job.  

 

That night in the station house while Steve changed into uniform, Polchak, a few lockers down from his, yelled over, “Hey Dunning, you got that Corona post again tonight?”

 

“Yeah, I do,” he called back.

 

“Just between you and me, watch what yourself down there. The Skipper’s on the warpath. He’s under pressure from upstairs because of so many burglaries. He’s liable to stick one in you to show he took some action in that neighborhood, just a word to the wise, kid.”

 

Vecchio called from a few rows over, “I heard there was a burglary on your post last night.”

 

“Yeah, that’s right,” Steve said.

 

“You’re gonna get it n-o-o-w,” Vecchio howled in derision.

 

“It’s all part of the job,” Polchak snickered.

 

Others cops chimed in with cynical laughter from the dim recesses of the musty locker room. The casual banter sent a wave of jitters through Steve’s gut. Later in the muster room, when the outgoing platoon lined up for roll call, the thought of another eight-hour tour on a solo foot post in near polar conditions sat like a stone on Steve’s heart. He hoped the sergeant would get back to him with the results of his investigation before too much time passed, but without much confidence that this mess would turn out well. Steve’s tendency to conjure up worst-case scenarios exacerbated his premonition of calamity on the horizon. Days and nights of monotonous routine on low activity foot posts made the future look even bleaker.

 

The graveyard hours in the residential neighborhood dragged on, silence enveloped the streets, the temperature plummeted, Steve’s sagging spirits worsened with the numbing cold and dismal piles of frozen snow. The cop on the adjoining post had a key to the movie theater on Corona Plaza, closed when the last show ended at eleven. They used it to find occasional refuge from the arctic express swirling down the deserted avenues.

 

Well into the small hours of the morning Steve made a routine sweep of the long post. From a block away he heard the distinctive explosive sound of plate glass shattering. Steve started to run toward the noise, got within a half block of the store that had been broken into and caught his foot on a rut in the clotted ice. He tripped but regained his footing just as the burglar bolted from the broken glass door. Weighed down by his winter overcoat and extra clothing, Steve could only lumber after him while the fleeing thief tried to negotiate the turn into the side street in his rubber-soled sneakers. His feet flew out from under him on the ice and he hit the ground at full speed. Breathless with exertion, Steve tried to close the gap. The dread of having to report another burglary on his post lent urgency to his efforts to stay upright. A blinking red turret light flashed past him as the burglar regained his footing and disappeared around the corner. The radio car made the turn, slid sideways, fishtailed and continued down the side street trailing flickering crimson reflections on the mountains of ice.

 

Steve reached the corner where the burglar had failed to keep his footing. He slowed, careful not to skid on the same ice slick. When the radio car drew abreast of the fleeing culprit he reversed direction and headed back toward where the rookie stood waiting. He ran while looking over his shoulder and didn’t see the foot cop until Steve’s forearm slammed into the burglar, knocking him flat on his back. With the impact of the collision and his sudden meeting with the sidewalk, the cartons of cigarettes he carried in each hand sailed several feet behind him. From the side street the radio car reappeared driving in reverse, turret light still revolving. The driver stopped the car abreast of where Steve hovered over the supine thief. He yanked the burglar to his feet and made sure he handcuffed him.

 

“You ought to practice your sprinting,” cop on the passenger’s side said, “You almost went on your ass just then.”

 

Steve had to blink for a moment to focus on who spoke to him, he recognized Polchak and Vecchio.

 

“Hey kid, you want this collar?” Polchak asked as he leaned across to the near side window.

 

“Absolutely, I’m taking this. It happened on my post.” He muttered half aloud, “I’m not letting you guys grab this one. Who knows where he would end up?”

 

Steve opened the door to the back seat of the radio car, ducked the prisoner’s head and sat him inside. He went back to where the thief had fallen, retrieved the cartons of cigarettes he had dropped, then got in next to him. “Thanks for being close by,” Steve said.

 

 Polchak responded with a smirk, “No problem, kid. You know we’re always ready to help.”

 

Steve suppressed momentary cynicism. Yeah, as long as it doesn’t involve money, he thought.

 

“We’ll notify the sergeant covering this zone,” Polchak said. “We can’t leave a broken door unattended. He’ll get someone to cover it until the owner arrives. The bosses will be happy too, not to have another unsolved burglary down here.”

 

“By the way,” Vecchio said over his shoulder. “This may change the Skipper’s mind about sticking one in you for missing the last front break. Hey, you never know, this guy might be the dreaded ‘Corona Burglar’.” Both cops chuckled at their little joke.

 

With a more optimistic attitude Steve hoped an investigation by the detectives might prove that snide assertion true. This arrest could help their clearance rate, as well. Maybe it would even wipe the slate clean with the CO. On the ride to the house to book his prisoner, visions of someday riding in a sector car of his own wafted through his head.

 

 

 

 

John A. Bray served for seventeen years in the New York City Police Department and took early retirement with the rank of lieutenant in 1976. While in the Police Department, he acquired a Bachelor of Science degree from John Jay College and a Juris Doctor degree from Brooklyn Law School. After admission to the Bar, he worked for four years as a lieutenant prosecutor in the Department’s internal disciplinary system.

 

After leaving the NYPD, Mr. Bray practiced criminal defense law on Long Island and in New York City for 30 years. In 2004, he received a Master of Arts degree in Theology from the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, Long Island. Now fully retired, he lives with his wife Vera in Williamsburg, VA, where he currently serves as Immediate Past President of the Chesapeake Bay Writers Club. He has recently become a member of The International Thriller Writers

 

John Bray is the author of three novels published by BeWrite books of Vancouver, Canada: The Ballad of Johnny Madigan, a historical novel of the Civil War era, and The Confidential, a police procedural/thriller, and Code Name: Caleb the sequel to Johnny Madigan.

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