May 7, 2012

"The Bag" - Leroy B. Vaughn

The rookie could feel his stomach turn sour, as the watch commander called his name. This would be the second week in a row that he had been assigned to ride with the old guy, and he was hoping to get a new training officer for this week.

He had already spent one week riding with the old harness bull, and he couldn't wait until his probationary period was over. The rookie knew that he would be treated like this, until he paid his dues, which usually took about two years as a cop.

For six nights now, the new guy had walked out of the briefing room and picked up a shotgun at the armory, while Earl had gone to his old Pontiac to remove a big canvas bag from the trunk of the dented car and place the bag in the trunk of the San Jose police cruiser.

No one ever asked him what was in the bag. Earl never bothered to volunteer any information about the contents of the bag to anyone.

They left the yard, headed to their beat, and the old guy said, "You know what I like best about riding alone."

The new guy knew better, but he fell for it and asked what.

Earl passed gas and stated, "You don't have to share your farts with anyone."

It was the 1970s, and San Jose, California, was not one of those cool, laid back bay area towns that the hippies had come out west to hang out in.

San Jose was a gritty, working-class city with a high crime rate. Besides the bay area working stiffs, San Jose had street gangs, outlaw motorcycle gangs and Black Panthers - to name a few of the trouble makers in the city.

Besides those denizens, "now we got this disco shit," Earl told the new guy as they watched a group of men and women in outlandish suits and dresses. They walked in front of the patrol car, at a stop light.

Contrary to the popular song of the 1960s, no one appeared to want to know the way to San Jose, except for its residents.

The rookie pretended to be interested as Earl mumbled on about his time in the Marines, during the Korean War, and about all the
Chi-Coms he had sent to the promised land during the battle at the Chosin Reservoir.

The old harness bull was in good shape for a man of his age, the rookie had to admit to himself. He just needed to shave off the white, dictator-style mustache that he had worn since being promoted to Lance Corporal at the end of the war.

Before they left the station, the watch commander had advised Earl and the new guy to be careful. There was a lot of Black Panther activity in their beat.

The harness bull was telling the new guy about a problem that he was having with his live-in girlfriend. He always referred to this woman as his aunt when talking about her with the other cops.

The rookie pretended again to be interested when he heard something make a zinging sound. It ripped across the roof of the squad car.

"What the hell," Earl said as he heard a second shot. He looked towards the second story of a rundown apartment building.

"Sons of bitches are shooting at us," the old timer said to the new guy as he slammed the cruiser to the curb, jumped out and crouched behind the rear passenger fender.

The rookie started to pull the shotgun from its rack, but Earl yelled, "Leave it, they're outta range." The rookie did not understand why they didn't drive out of the ambush, but he did not waste any time joining the old timer behind the rear fender. They both knew that one of the safest places in a car to be during a firefight was behind a wheel.

"Looks like two guys with hand guns," the old timer said. "Call it in."

There were no hand held radios at that time. The rookie carefully pulled the mike out through the open passenger door and called the station for back-up.

"OK," Earl told the new guy, "Cover me when I say go. Lay down some fire power while I get the bag."

"The bag," the rookie said to himself as he popped up to get a quick glance at the window. The two Black Panthers unleashed a lethal dose of fire at the squad car when they saw the rookie's hat pop up.

The harness bull slapped the rookies hat off before making his move. He gave the signal and the rookie placed six shots into the window, trying to give Earl enough time to get to the trunk and open it. The rookie was amazed. Earl had taken the keys to the car with him, before bailing out.

Earl was back, next to the rookie in no time flat, as the Panthers sent another deadly fusillade into the side of the patrol car.

The rookie had reloaded and was returning fire when he heard the thumping sound of a heavy-caliber automatic weapon. The harness bull knew how to handle the weapon. The rookie never took his eyes off the window until both Panthers went down.

The watch commander rolled to the scene, code three with two squad cars behind him. Under his command, four officers crossed the street and approached the apartment where the shooting had come from.

The rookie was reloading for the second time when the watch commander put his hand on his shoulder and said, "It's all right, Johnson, why don't you hand me your weapon."

Johnson was confused, but the old timer told him that it was OK. The old timer knew that it was standard procedure to take officers' weapons after an officer-involved-shooting. He also handed his weapon over to the watch commander.

"Holy shit, Earl, is this a B.A.R.? the watch commander asked as he accepted the Browning Automatic Rifle from the harness bull.

"Sure is," the old timer replied. "I lugged this baby all the way across North Korea. It's what you might call a war souvenir."

"Well, Earl," the watch commander said. "There's two dead suspects upstairs, and the good news is that you have enough time with the department to retire."

"I'd like to have my B.A.R. back," Earl said as the watch commander carried it to his police vehicle.

"After the coroners inquest Earl," the watch commander replied.


Leroy B. Vaughn is a retired law enforcement officer from Southern California. He has written several short stories, true and fiction. He has had stories published in 10 magazines in the U.S. and Mexico. 

Image from Wikipedia

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