A Matter of Friendship
By SJ Stiers
Day Watch started off slowly as more dry, hot air drifted into the smoggy city. By mid-morning the bothersome heat had made itself at home in L.A., settling in like an unwanted houseguest. It wasn't an unusual occurrence in southern California, but a cool break in the weather would be a welcome change. Officer Jim Reed squinted against the intense sunlight, trying to catch the temperature flashing on the exterior of Western Superior Bank.
"You're going to go blind if you keep staring into the sun." Pete Malloy glanced over at his younger partner.
"I thought I'd just check and see if it's hit 100 degrees yet."
"Why? Hot is hot. Do you think it's going to make any difference to the criminals out there if it's 99 degrees or 100?"
"I don't know," Jim answered, trying to catch a last look over his shoulder. "Maybe."
"I read where it's been documented that as the summer heat increases, so does criminal activity. Did you know about that, Malloy?"
Pete didn't need to look at his partner to know what kind of expression was being directed at him. If he turned just slightly or shifted his line of vision to his right, he knew he would see the inexperienced face transmitting an eagerness and enthusiasm that Pete himself almost remembered. Almost. Continuing to focus on the traffic around him, he answered, "Sure, Reed, I know about that. My question is, what are you doing about it?"
Pete slowed the squad car down, then stopped as the traffic light ahead turned red. He turned and looked at the rookie, who, sure enough, was pinning him with an expectant gaze.
"How are you going to notice the rise in criminal activity if you're too busy checking out the latest temperature reading?"
"Oh," Reed replied, sheepishly. "Right."
Pete quelled a smile as Reed straightened up in his seat and returned his attention to the sidewalks and street in front of them.
"1-Adam-12, 1-Adam 12, see the owner. A 415, at the corner of Crestwood and Hill."
"1-Adam-12, roger," Jim answered, then glanced at Pete. "Isn't that a bar about three blocks from here?"
"Yup. And not one of the more superior establishments," Pete answered wryly as he hit the lights and the gas pedal.
The squad car pulled up to a windowless brick building where a gaunt looking man stood, flapping one arm at them. A cracked neon sign spelled out "Joe's Bar" and hung precariously over the door. Another one in the shape of a tilted martini glass was mounted on the outside wall. Before either Pete or Jim could exit the car, the man scurried over and grasped the edge of Jim's door. He released his hold just as quickly as his bony hands came in contact with the hot surface.
"Sir, please step back," Jim advised.
"Yeah, yeah, okay. But hurry!" The scrawny man moved away from the vehicle. His voice sounded weak and raspy but still relayed his agitation.
Pete approached him, taking note of the sign above the man's head. "You're Joe, the owner?"
"Yeah, I'm the owner. But my name's not Joe. It's Lou. Lou Bantowsky."
Jim joined the pair, looking pointedly at the sign as well. "But..."
"I know, I know, the sign says Joe's. That was the original owner. Do you have any idea how much it costs to replace neon?"
"Well, too much! Besides, the inside is more important than the outside. And right now, the inside's being torn up by two crazy dames! You gotta stop 'em."
"Come on, let's go check it out," Pete said, motioning to his partner, who was now beside him.
Inside the lounge, a smoky darkness hit their eyes and shrill yelling assailed their ears. In a far corner of the dim room, two women were literally rolling on the floor, arms and legs flailing wildly. A few other patrons sat around, nursing their drinks and nonchalantly watching the melee.
"You take the red-haired one, Reed. I'll take the blonde. Or silver. Or whatever hair color that is."
Each officer ran to split up the two females, grabbing their arms to pull them apart. However, both middle-aged women continued screaming at each other when they could no longer make physical contact. The haze inside the tap room turned blue with the imaginative expletives spewing from the women's mouths.
"Hold it, ladies,!" Pete loudly emphasized the last word.
"Tell her to keep away from my boyfriend and maybe I'll let her live!"
Pete thought the peroxide blonde was probably forty pounds overweight, yet he had no doubt she could hold her own in a bar fight. Which, indeed, was what she had been doing.
"Oh, yeah, you big cow? Maybe you better ask him what he wants! 'Cause it sure ain't you!"
"Look, ma'am, you're not helping the situation..." Jim offered, his hands already growing weary as he restrained the flaming redhead's twisting arms.
"Who asked you, Mr. Po-lice-man?" The woman in his grasp turned to look up at him, screwed up her heavily made-up face and attempted to jerk away. "Lemme go or I'll report you! Manhandling a woman...of all the nerve!"
"If the two of you don't settle down, we'll book you for assault and battery," Pete said, firmly. "As it is, you're already disturbing the peace and the owner here might want to press further charges for damages." Judging from the sparse, used furniture in the place, he wasn't sure what could have possibly been damaged in the two-bit bar. But he was relieved to see that his warning had the desired effect. The women stopped resisting them. Nodding to his partner, he cautiously released the woman and Jim followed suit. Poisonous glares from both females were the only response they received.
"Uhhh, er, Officers?" Mr. Bantowsky shuffled hesitantly across the floor, stopping a few feet away from them.
"Yes, sir?" Pete asked, still keeping one eye on the women.
"Well, you got them to stop fighting. That's all I wanted. You can go now."
"Sir? You don't want to press charges?" Jim asked, surprised.
"Hey, bozo, the man said he ain't got no problem with us. Stinkin' cops, always lockin' up respectable citizens. I'll tell you what I think of that,..." she mumbled, the words becoming unrecognizable. A second later, one of her high-heeled shoes stomped down on Jim's right foot. He winced as she lost her balance and fell back against him. Taking advantage of the close proximity, she hurled the rest of her venomous opinion at him in the form of saliva. Jim's badge took the direct hit with the woman's drool dripping across the metal shield. Both females began to laugh hysterically, forgetting their earlier animosity toward each other as they discovered a new common bond.
"Okay, that's it," Pete said, pulling out handcuffs. "You're both under arrest."
"Like I said, disturbing the peace. And we may just add assaulting an officer." Disgusted with their behavior, Pete watched as Jim finished cuffing the other woman.
"Mr. Bantowsky? We're going to take them in and book them now," Pete said, turning to the owner. "You do have the right to press charges."
"No, no," Bantowsky shook his head, averting his eyes from them. "Just get 'em outta here."
Getting the suspects outside and into the car proved to be a lot easier than either officer expected. The female prisoners sat in the back seat, docile and conversing like old neighbors. Pete waited as Jim removed a handkerchief from his pocket and carefully wiped off his badge.
"Are we really going to book them for assaulting...me?"
"We could, ya know. How's the foot?"
"It's okay. She didn't have much leverage so it didn't really do a lot of damage. It's not like she really attacked me," he paused. "I'm not crazy about what she did. But she doesn't even know me. And you told me that I can't take it personally. Right?"
"Right," Pete smiled. Progress!
"Anyway, Jean met one of our new neighbors yesterday...and you're never going to guess who it is," Jim continued, trying to contain his obvious excitement as he scanned the quiet residential street.
"You're not going to try and guess?"
"Why? You said I wouldn't be able to guess."
"Oh, yeah. Well, okay, it's a guy that used to live next door to us. My parents, I mean. When I was a kid. How about that?"
Pete nodded, giving his partner an amused smile . "You're right."
"I would have never guessed."
Suddenly, the screeching of tires hit the air, followed by a heavy clash of metal. A warbling car horn began to blare obnoxiously. Stopping at the intersection ahead, Pete searched his left as Jim checked the opposite direction.
"There," Jim pointed to his right.
Two cars were stopped in the middle of the street, their front fenders snarled and jammed together. A eruption of white mist sizzled from the front end of the older blue sedan. A man stood outside the other car, already yelling at the other driver.
Pete sighed, turning the squad neatly to the right. "Better call us in code six."
Jim nodded, picking up the mic as he noted the street sign. "1-Adam-12, code six at...1200 block of Dinsmore Ave. Traffic accident has just occurred. Request an AI."
"Roger, 1-Adam-12, code six. Will dispatch AI to your location."
As Pete opened his door, all he could hear was the baritone rampage of the guy standing near a souped-up GTO. At least someone had disconnected the wires to the broken horn. Or maybe it had simply decided to quit on its own.
"Well, whaddya know? The cops show up when you actually need 'em. This must be a first."
Disregarding the comment, Pete looked at the other driver, who was still seated behind the wheel. "Sir, are you hurt?"
"No, officer, I'm fine...just a little shook up." The bespectacled little man exited the car carefully, as though afraid to risk any further damage. "I'm Ned Jenkins. I live right here," he stated, indicating the house behind him.
"He's shook up?" The big guy folded his immense biceps across his chest, growling at the little man. "I'll show him shook up! Look at this!"
"Mr....?" Pete asked, patiently as Jim took Mr. Jenkins to the other side of his battered car.
"Mr.Beaumont, may I see your driver's license?"
Digging into his jeans pocket, Beaumont jerked his head toward Jim and Ned Jenkins. "You're going to ask him for his, too, aren't you?"
"Yes, sir. Now do you want to tell me what happened?"
"Isn't it obvious? The little weasel drove out right in front of me. Just like that!" Tad Beaumont groaned, "Man, all the work I've put in to this baby..."
Pete took another look at the front of both cars, noting the crumpled bumpers and twisted grillwork. Looking at the placement of impact, it was feasible that Beaumont was telling the truth. "It's pretty extensive. But you're lucky neither one of you were injured."
Tad Beaumont made a face at the remark and watched Jim return, leaving Jenkins back at his own car.
"Mr. Beaumont, wait here a moment," Pete instructed.
Pete and Jim joined up on the passenger side of the black and white, each holding a driver's license.
"Well?" Pete asked, seeing the thoughtful look on the younger man's face.
"Mr. Jenkins says that he came to the end of his driveway....this is his address on his license... looked both ways and was sure it was okay. The next thing he knows, there's an flaming orange 'hot rod' smashing into his car. He can't imagine how he'd miss seeing a thing like that. And he insists that he always backs his car into his garage...so he can have a clear view of the local traffic."
"Hmmm. And Mr. Beaumont says Mr. Jenkins is the one that came out of nowhere. So what do you think?"
Jim studied Beaumont, then looked back at Jenkins. "I want to show you something."
Pete followed as Jim led him to the back side of the sports car and gestured toward the pavement. Thick, black skid marks trailed behind both back tires. He bent down for a closer look, touching the substance that was already gooey from the extreme heat.
"What do you think?" Jim asked.
"Whew...that's some heavy tread."
"That's what I thought. And we heard the squeal from our location as well."
Pete stood up, noting that Beaumont was becoming increasingly impatient as he watched them. He walked back to the squad, with Jim right behind him and motioned to both drivers to join them.
"So are you gonna arrest him or give him a ticket or something?" Beaumont flexed his muscles, glaring at Ned Jenkins.
"Mr. Beaumont, how fast were you going when you came down this street?" Pete asked.
"What's the difference? He's the one that just came outta nowhere!"
"It matters if you were exceeding the speed limit, sir." Jim interjected. "Your tires left excessive skid marks."
"Is that what you were looking at? Hell, I had to slam on the brakes! Of course, it's gonna burn some serious rubber!" Beaumont's last sentence was uttered with a sarcastic whine and a patronizing glare meant solely for Jim.
"But if you were going the posted speed limit...which is 25 miles per hour in a residential area...such an extreme reaction wouldn't have been necessary."
"Extreme reaction? Are you trying to tell me that I don't know how to drive?" Beaumont's astonishment was quickly replaced by a growing animosity toward the dark-haired officer.
"Look, sonny-boy, I know cars like the back of my hand. And I'm sure I know more than some wet-behind-the-ears recruit," Beaumont sneered as he glanced at the black and white, "who doesn't even drive."
"Mr. Beaumont, were you speeding?"
Fuming, Beaumont worked his jaw for a few seconds before responding to Jim's question. He pointed to his car, stabbing the air as emphasized his words. "That is a '64 Pontiac GTO. It is...was...a piece of art! Look at it! It was born to be driven fast. It'd be a crime not to!"
"Not this time, Mr. Beaumont," Jim replied, pulling out his ticket book.
"What are you doing?"
"He's citing you. You're at fault here," Pete answered, noting the relieved expression on Ned Jenkins' face.
"Why, you little...," Beaumont clenched his fists as he watched Jim's pen continue to move. His suntanned face started to develop a layer of bright crimson.
Pete took a half-step forward, giving the large man a hard stare. "Mr. Beaumont, you don't want to make this situation worse than it is, do you?"
Tad Beaumont gritted his teeth, his breath hissing like the GTO's punctured radiator. He growled and spun around, venting his frustration by slamming a knotted hand against his own car's hardtop. Ned Jenkins stepped hastily to his own vehicle, seeking refuge inside.
"That'll really help," Jim muttered softly as he finished his task.
"Better his car than your face, partner."
"Okay, you have a point." Jim smiled briefly at Pete, then obtained Mr. Beaumont's signature just as quickly.
Tad Beaumont stewed quietly and Ned Jenkins mouthed a silent thank-you to them through his fractured windshield. The team from AI arrived a few minutes later, allowing Pete and Jim to finally leave the scene.
"You handled yourself pretty well back there, Reed," Pete commented.
"Thanks. I just thought those tire marks seemed squirrely."
"Well, that, too. But I was referring to the way you dealt with Mr. Indy 500."
"Oh, yeah," Reed shrugged. "Well, I knew he was wrong. And not just about the speeding."
Jim paused as he viewed the passing scenery, then looked at his partner. "Contrary to what some people think, I do know how to drive." He grinned.
Pete couldn't resist a small grin of his own.
"I can't get over it." Jim's enthusiasm for a certain topic had not waned with the continuing heat wave.
"Can't get over what?" Pete divided his attention between his partner and the only woman they'd seen in the last twenty minutes. This particular intersection had become a favorite haunt for purse snatchers recently. If there was an up side to stakeouts and extra patrols, Pete concluded that the attractive scenery might be it.
"You know. That our new neighbor is my old neighbor."
"That is pretty weird, I guess," Pete nodded slightly. The brunette with big dark eyes nodded and smiled as she walked past the black and white.
"That's what I thought, too." Jim's head swivelled momentarily, then returned to Pete. "She's not carrying a purse."
"I know. So you want to put those shelves up in the garage after work?"
"Yeah, if that's still okay with you."
"Even with it being so hot?"
"Hey, I said I'd help, didn't I?"
"Great! Oh, Joe said he might be able to come over and help, too. The new neighbor."
"You mean the old neighbor?" Pete cracked a smile.
"Yeah," Jim chuckled. "You don't mind, do you?"
"Hey, the more help, the faster it gets done."
"Yeah, that's what I thought. Besides, I'd thought it'd be good for the three of us to get together for awhile. I'd really like you to meet him and all. I told him about you. He was pretty excited when he heard that I was on the force."
"Sounds fine to me."
"Did I tell you he played football in high school? I thought he'd go pro but he said he decided to go into business for himself instead. I think he suffered an injury and just didn't want to talk about it, though."
"Restaurant. But he was in real estate first."
"Really? Why'd he quit that?"
"He said he wasn't making anything and he wanted something with a future. He figures they'll always be a need for good restaurants."
"Can't argue that. Sounds like quite a guy."
Jim smiled, slightly embarrassed. "Oh, you know, he was the high school football hero...and I was the freshman kid down the street. The first time he waved at me, I thought for sure he had mistaken me for someone else. I just stood there--probably looking very dazed and confused."
Pete smiled to himself as he visualized a gawky, 14-year old Jim Reed with that particular expression. It felt strangely familiar. He realized that it hadn't been that long since a certain gawky, 23-year old green rookie stood outside the police station...with much the same look on his face.
"1-Adam-12, 1-Adam-12, see the woman. A 311 at the Laundromat. 1633 Prescott Boulevard."
"1-Adam-12, roger," Jim responded promptly.
"It had to happen," Pete said, pulling out into traffic.
"This heat," Pete sighed. "Someone just had to take their clothes off in public."
Jim chuckled. "I guess that's better than barroom brawls or crashing their cars into each other."
"Oh, ye of little experience....you have no idea."
Thankfully, the three-eleven turned out to be a false alarm. Of sorts. A two-year old had decided that shedding his clothes was the best way to cool off. Unfortunately, another patron threw a fit about it, the mother got mad and the owner decided the police should settle everything. It only took a few moments with some calm words to get it all under control. It also helped that both women were done with their laundry and just wanted to go home. And so did both officers.
"So you'll be at the house later?" Jim asked, shoving his shirttails into the waist of his dark slacks.
"As soon as I can go home, change into some other clothes. Oh, and I've got to stop and see my landlord for a minute."
"Nope, just dropping off the check for the rent." He patted his pocket, making sure he had his wallet with him.
"You should think about buying a house."
"No, thanks. I'll just help you with your home projects, okay?"
"Okay," Jim laughed as he closed his locker.
"You want me to pick up anything?"
"No, definitely not. The least we can do is feed you."
"Fine by me. See ya later, then."
Pete knocked on the Reed's front door, hugging a brown paper sack in one arm. The door opened and Jean Reed greeted him, a cheerful smile on her face. He'd only met Jim's wife a few times but she already made him feel comfortable and welcomed in their home.
"Pete, hi! Come on in."
"Hi Jean." Pete walked inside and headed for the kitchen. "How are you feeling?"
"I'm fine," she answered, patting her round belly. "And so's the little one."
Pete chuckled, placing the bag down on the kitchen counter.
Jean peeked in the sack. "I'll put these in the fridge."
"No way, I'll do it." He retrieved the sack and stowed them inside the refrigerator.
Jean spoke quietly, pushing a strand of long brown hair behind her ear. "I'm really glad you're here. Especially now."
Pete raised his eyebrows, somewhat bewildered by her remark. "What do you mean?"
"Well, it's Jim."
"Something happened after he came home...," she hesitated, her hands resting on her expanded waistline. "He's out in the garage."
"Is he okay?"
"He will be," she smiled. "Once he talks to you."
Pete gave her what he hoped was a reassuring smile, then made his way to the outside patio. Closing the glass door, he could already hear the steady pounding of a hammer against a solid piece of lumber. The poor wood sounded like it was getting more than its fair share. He stopped at the entrance of the garage, just in time to see Jim hit the board with forceful precision. The wood split instantly.
Startled, Jim nearly lost his grasp on the tool but caught it just in time. His sour expression mutated into something more neutral. "Hi, Pete."
Pete slowly walked inside, narrowing his eyes as he inspected the battered wall. "Hmmm. I can see why you need my help, partner."
"Oh yeah, well...guess I hit it too hard, huh?"
"I'd say just a little." Looking around casually, Pete asked, "So where's Joe?"
"Been here and gone," Jim replied, his jaw tightening. He wiped the moisture from his forehead with the back of his hand.
"So he didn't want to spend his time sweating in a hot garage?" Pete joked, hoping to lighten Jim's mood.
"No, he didn't want to spend his time sweating in a hot garage with a cop."
Uh-oh. Pete had a feeling he knew where this conversation was headed. He watched as Jim methodically placed the hammer back into his toolbox and dug out a handful of tenpenny nails from a metal can.
"I felt pretty good about dealing with people...thought I had it figured out. Some of them give us a hard time, don't try to hide their dislike for us..."
"Yeah, like today."
"And what about Joe?"
"Pete, he's standing there...right there," Jim pointed to a spot on the floor near Pete's feet. "We were talking about what I wanted to do with the garage, both of us cracking a few jokes. And the next thing I know, he's asking me if I can return the favor."
Pete remained silent, waiting for Jim to continue.
"He pulls out wads of paper from his back pocket. Tickets. Lots of them. A few for speeding, some illegal parking."
"And he wanted you to take care of them for him."
Jim shook his head in disbelief. "Yeah. And he even threw in 'for old times' sake'."
"And when you told him no..."
"He thought I was puttin' him on at first. When he realized I was serious, he got mad. Can you believe it?"
"Yeah, I believe it."
"Then he said he'd misjudged me. Suddenly remembered a previous commitment. And left. Just like that."
Pete watched as Jim dropped the nails back into the can, one by one. "It's never easy, Jim."
"I guess I just expected more. It's one thing out on the streets but..."
"It's different when it's closer to home," Pete said, spying an empty bucket and turning it upside down to use as a chair. "I'll never forget the first time it happened to me."
"Really?" Jim's eyes sparked with interest as he sat down on a nearby crate. He leaned slightly forward, his forearms resting on his knees.
"Her name was Charlotte Anne Mays. I was 24 and 'in love.' After three dates." Pete smiled wistfully and leaned back against the garage wall.
Jim listened intently, amused at this bit of new information about Pete Malloy.
"She invited me to a party at her folks' house. They were big socialites so I was absolutely petrified. But they were very nice to me. Then her father invited me into his study for a little talk. I was sure he was going to ask me what my intentions were toward his daughter! As it turned out, he politely asked me if I could talk to my supervisor and take care of a DUI for his wife."
Pete shook his head.
"What happened then?"
"Nothing. I explained that I couldn't do what he asked, he said he understood and that was the end of our conversation. Very civil."
"That's it?" Jim's voice carried a note of disappointment.
"Well, except that Charlotte Ann always seemed to be unavailable for a date after that. Eventually I got the message."
A few seconds of quiet passed before Jim asked, "So what does that tell us, Pete?"
Pete shrugged. "I guess...it tells us who our real friends are." He stood up suddenly, eyeing Jim's handiwork again. "So are we gonna get this thing finished tonight or what?"
Jim stared at Pete, still hearing his partner's words, then grinned broadly. "Yeah, sounds like a good idea."
"Jim?" Jean appeared at the garage entrance, her hands behind her back and a mischievous smile on her face.
"What is it, honey?" Jim asked as he and Pete both stood up.
"Thought you two could use these. Pete brought them." She waved two bottles of beers in the air. "And they're ice cold!"
Jim laughed and retrieved them from his wife, kissing her on the cheek. "Thanks, Jean."
"Have fun!" Jean paused before she left. "And thanks, Pete."
Jim handed one of the bottles to Pete. "Yeah, thanks for bringing the beer. He hesitated a second. "And for coming over."
"You're welcome." Pete raised his bottle slightly before taking a sip.
Jim did the same, taking advantage of the opportunity. "Here's to...real friends."
Pete blinked, swallowing hard. He nodded to his partner, clinking the glass container against the one in Jim's hand. "Real friends."
This was just my own little effort to explore the "What is a Cop" speech through the eyes of Pete Malloy and Jim Reed.
As always, thanks to my gurus, Cathy and Karen. Your support and insights are invaluable to me.
Behind the badge there is a real person with real feelings.