One of the many things I wanted to be when I grew up was a police officer. On recruiting posters they were straight and narrow, like justice itself, but even the fat ones I'd seen in person walked with their chests out, heads high.
I held onto the fantasy as I grew up, even as I bent more rules than I followed. The more I bent, the more I enjoyed sitting in cop bars.
"Hey, buddy, buy you a drink?" The man offering was out of uniform, off duty, but his badge was still clipped to his hip. I often wore my flight jacket, cap, or both, for similar recognition.
I glanced the badge before saying, "Sure."
I ordered a dark beer. My new friend slipped a $5 between his fingers for the barkeep. "Make it two."
He sat squarely next to me. Maybe three inches taller and wider than I, with close-cropped sandy hair and blue eyes overcast with experience.
"C.J. Stone," I volunteered.
"Army?" he asked.
He complimented me on a wartime victory I had nothing to do with. I smiled shyly as if I had.
Halfway through his bottle of beer, two shots of whiskey thrown in, I'd learned his name was Will Wheeler. "I was ready to go," he blurted, "but didn't get the call."
I looked over as if to hear him better.
"Guess somebody had to keep the streets safe back here while you blew the Krauts out of the sky," he went on.
I chugged my beer for only the second time. "If it's any consolation, I always wanted to be a cop."
I allowed myself a longer look at his badge. Answering my silent request, Wheeler unclipped his badge and set it on the bar. I picked it upCITY OF NEW YORK POLICE DETECTIVEset it down.
"Lemme ask," Wheeler said, "now you've been over there, seen action, you gonna sign up for more?"
"I'm keeping my options open."
"Well, hell. We can always use more cops." He punched me in the shoulder. I pretended it didn't hurt. "You look like you can take it."
"I'll think about it."
Wheeler wobbled to his feet and patted me on the back. "Do that."
I watched him saunter away, his badge left on the bar.
"Will," an old man called from behind the bar, Wheeler turning at his voice, "your brass."
"Shit," Wheeler said. "Thanks, Mick."
Mick saluted and moved down the bar.
As Wheeler reached for his badge from my right hand, I covered his wrist with my left. That steadied him and steered him toward the door. He made it out this time. I finished my beer and hailed a cab.
Flashing Wheeler's badge, I said, "Got a tip on a fugitive at LaGuardia Field. Step on it."
Copyright © 2014 Gerald So.
and fiction editor for The Thrilling Detective Web Site. His ebook Stones collects three earlier C.J. Stone stories.
Gerald So edits The 5-2: Crime Poetry Weekly. He was previously a founding co-editor of The Lineup: Poems on Crime chapbook series