(Note: IE and Blogger are fighting again. This should work in Firefox until the problem is solved. If you can't see the sidebar, scroll down to the end of yesterday's post, click on the keep reading button and it should appear. Gotta learn more code, I guess. Me and technology)
Yes, I know tomorrow is Valentine's Day. So why a Christmas story? I can't say there's anything romantic in today's post from Detective Hussey, but you'll have to agree, there's a lot of heart. And, if you're new here, I don't write these. I merely post them with Detective Hussey's permission. The credit for the stories goes to him.
Christmas is a magical time of year for most people. The problem for cops is, after a few years in the business, the magic goes out of everything. We forget that the public is not exposed to all the horror and inhumanities of man. Most cops see more terrible things in a few months than most people see in a lifetime. Christmas, even for most cops, remains though, a beautiful, heart-warming, family time of year. It can be a sad time for many people, a depressing time for those who are forced to spend the holidays alone, it can be a time to do more crimes, for those opportunists who don't care who they hurt. It can be a time for some people to believe in something again, just when life seems hopeless. Even for cops.
Janice Foster had moved to Lakeland a year earlier from rural Illinois. Her husband had been killed in a farming accident and left her to raise two boys alone. His parents had been good to them, but she wanted to stand on her own two feet. Besides, she hated the long, cold dismal winters. The boys always had colds and she herself never seemed to feel very well. The farm reminded her of Sam, her husband and childhood sweetheart, and that made her even more depressed.
One year in the mid-seventies before they were married, Janice and Sam had visited Lakeland in the spring, to see Sam's favorite baseball team, the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers played their spring training games in Lakeland. They had loved the little town so much and vowed to return after they were married. It just never happened. Nicholas came along just nine months after the wedding and then there was that terrible drought. Oh they always had enough to eat, but vacations were luxuries they could not afford. So when Janice decided to leave Illinois, Lakeland seemed a perfect destination. Even though Sam was dead, it would be like the fulfillment of a promise they'd made to each other.
In September it began to get cold in Illinois and Janice began to get depressed. She made up her mind to make her dream come true. She told Sam's mother and father of her plans and gave notice at the cafe where she was a waitress. Janice rented a small U-haul trailer and loaded up all the family's possessions. The trailer was hitched to the old Buick station wagon, and Janice, Nicholas and Tommy headed south on the first great adventure of their lives.
When they got to Lakeland they got a hotel room for the first week. Janice got hired at the first place she applied, the Pizza Hut restaurant on Memorial Blvd. She wasn't making the kind of money she had made in Chicago, but the apartment she found a week later was a lot cheaper than it would have been back home. The boys settled into the new school. The school bus picked them up and dropped them off near the apartment. Janice's job was within walking distance. The car died in November and Tommy broke his leg the same month. The little bit of savings they'd had were gone. Still the weather was beautiful. They had gone to the beach in October. It was unbelievable. In short, things were up and down. Most of it seemed good, the bills were paid and they seemed to be getting ahead.
Well it was December 23, Christmas Eve, Eve. The weather was in the 70's, and not a cloud in the sky.
My partner Tom Brown and I had just finished booking a shoplifter from the mall into jail. "Tis the season," Tom said as we left the police station and headed north toward our zone. It was after 5:00, 1700 for all you para-military personnel, and I suggested we eat. A few minutes later, we were sitting in our local Pizza Hut being waited on by a pleasant, slightly overweight, waitress. The name tag said Janice. She and Tom cut up as she brought us our dinner.
"You must be new," I said.
"Yes, I just moved here from the Chicago area," she said, smiling.
"Kinda cold up there," I said.
"They don't call it the windy City for nothing."
Tom and I talked a little more, then got up to leave. We left the standard cop tip of a dollar on the table.
"Be Safe fellas," Janice called after us.
About 2310 hrs, the tone alert sounded and the dispatcher's voice crackled across the old Motorola radio. "One-oh-six-alpha, signal 29 personal with a gun, rear of Pizza Hut on the Boulevard."
I put my foot in the carburetor of the Plymouth Fury and arrived behind the restaurant in less than thirty seconds. A female in a pizza hut uniform was sitting on the curb with her head in her hands and several other Pizza Hut employees were standing nearby.
"What happened here?" I asked, as I got out of the car?
"This lady was robbed," a man in a white shirt and tie replied.
"Is she hurt?" Tom asked.
"I think her arm is broken," another woman said. Then the lady lifted her head and looked up at me.
"Hey you're our waitress from dinner," I said. She just nodded and continued sobbing. Tom called the ambulance and I got what description I could.
It had all happened pretty fast. A young, thin male, race unknown, had come at her from behind, she thinks out of some bushes. The "perp" had grabbed her purse and attempted to run. Because the purse was precious to her, Janice did not let go without a fight. The man had kicked her in the ribs after knocking her to the ground, and dragged her until her arm snapped and the purse slipped off her arm.
Tom and I were silent as we drove the mile and a half to the emergency room. When we got there, Janice was being cleaned up and a doctor was preparing to set her broken right arm. The uncontrollable sobbing had stopped, but she was still crying softly to herself. "I just don't know what I'm going to do", she said as Tom and I entered the treatment room. "All the money I had was in that purse," she said. "My whole paycheck."
"Well if it was a check, I'm sure Pizza Hut will replace it," I offered.
"The manager cashed it for me so I could pay off the boy's bikes and take them off layaway in the morning and get a Christmas tree and buy things for Christmas dinner," she said. My boys, there'll be no Christmas for them at all." She began sobbing again.
"Don't you have any family here who could help?" Tom asked.
"I don't have anybody here," she replied. "Just me and the boys since Sam died."
"Where did you have the boy's bikes on layaway and how much did you owe?" I asked.
"They are at Woolco at the mall and I owe $50.00 on each one.
Tom and I finished getting the necessary information for the report and headed for our cruiser. We were already an hour late getting off. "Are you thinking what I'm thinking partner?" I asked Tom when we were back in the car.
"I think so." Tom and I actually had come to know one another to the point that we knew what each other was thinking. It sure paid off sometimes. Other times it was scary. We had been in so many tight situations, that we knew each other's next move and what to expect. "We could hit up the briefings tomorrow for some donations, and I've got a little extra," Tom said.
"Me too.Let's do it".
The next morning I was already up, when Tom rang my phone. We made the seven thirty briefing and after explaining the situation, we collected $48.00: not too bad for short notice. We collected another $20.00 from the manager at Pizza Hut and when we got to Woolco and explained the situation the manager knocked $20.00 off the bill for the bikes. Tom and I made up the rest, including tax. After getting the bikes loaded in the back of my truck, we stopped at a Christmas tree lot. We badged the owner and explained the situation to him. We picked out a nice large tree and loaded into the back of my truck.
"Merry Christmas, officers," the lot manager said as we drove away.
Our last stop was at the market on the Boulevard. We bought all the trimmings for a top notch Christmas dinner. We knew the manager and he threw in a pre-stuffed turkey, absolutely free.
Tom and I were having too much fun. We also bought two Santa hats and some fake beards. We drove to the apartment complex behind the Pizza Hut, found apartment 261 and knocked. I was so exited, my heart was beating so hard, I thought someone could hear.
We heard the lady call "who is it?" from inside the apartment. I guess she looked out the peephole and saw two guys with disguises on and thought the robber from last night had returned. I had to produce my police ID before she reluctantly opened the door. She was still somewhat suspicious.
We asked her where she wanted the tree, and the food. She just kind of pointed, in shock. I don't think she could believe it. The two boys had come sleepily out of a bedroom by now and were also looking suspiciously at Tom and me.
"I think there may be something in Santa's truck—I mean sleigh—for you guys too," I said.
We walked the boys outside and unloaded the bicycles. The kids whooped and hollered as they rode them around the parking lot. Janice walked out in her bathrobe, tears streaming down her face. She had one arm in a sling, but she hugged each of us with her good left arm. "Nobody has ever done anything like this for me, this is the best Christmas I've ever had." She choked back tears.
Tom and I agreed it was the best Christmas we'd ever had too. We went home that year and really enjoyed Christmas with our families more than ever.
I hoped the scumbag who stole Janice's purse bought Christmas dinner with the stolen money too. And choked to death on the damn wishbone.
Whether Valentine's Day is special to you or not, I hope you'll have a nice weekend. We'll be out of town visiting family and maybe doing a little celebrating of our own. Oh, and for today: Happy Friday the 13th.