March 28, 2013

"Another Day at the Short Stop" - Leroy B. Vaughn

I met Don Winslow in 1975 about the time I first started hanging out at the Short Stop bar, near an area of Los Angeles that used to be called Chavez Ravine, before the L.A. Dodgers came to town.
The Short Stop was and may still be in Echo Park, part of the L.A.P.D. Rampart Division. The Rampart Division became well known to television viewers when Jack Webb produced his show, Adam 12.
This is the same Short Stop bar that Joseph Wambaugh, one of the best known writers of books about real police work was known to frequent.
L.A.P.D. old timers will tell you that Joseph Wambaugh spent countless hours sitting at one of the tiny tables in the Short Stop sipping beer, and taking notes while he listened to the other cops from the Rampart Division tell their stories.
I was not an L.A.P.D. Officer, but I was a peace officer with another agency and a former military policeman, so I was accepted at the Short Stop. I knew and worked with Darrell Jansen, after he retired from the L.A.P.D.
Darrell never told me, but I heard it from Don Winslow and a few other people that knew Darrell that he was the cop that Joseph Wambaugh modeled his fictional lead character Bumper Morgan after, in his book, The Blue Knight, in 1973.
I do know that Darrell Jansen was one of the original Metro cops in Los Angeles. He was the one that was walking a foot beat alone one night in the early '60s, when a Folsom prison escapee came up on him from behind and ordered Darrell to hand him his gun, without turning around.
The escapee got the gun all right.  Darrell had a hideaway gun in his inside coat pocket and he was able to slip it out and shoot through his jacket, killing the crook without turning around.
It was about one year later that Darrell Jansen became a legend in the Rampart Division. There was a series of liquor store robberies in his beat and Jansen and his partner were ordered to stake out a liquor store in plain clothes that had been hit several times.
The brass figured that it was just a matter of time before the store was robbed again and Jansen positioned himself on top of the beer coolers with a 12 gauge pump shotgun, watching the front door, while his partner waited in the store room with a shotgun.
Jansen spotted the bad guys before they hit the front door of the liquor store. Two robbers armed with sawed off shotguns wearing Bugs Bunny masks came in yelling, “This is a stick-up.”
Jansen’s partner told everyone at the Short Stop the next day that he heard Jansen yell, “That’s all folks,” just before he heard the first round of buck shot kill the first bandit. Within seconds, the second bandit was dead on the floor also.
Don Winslow and I were standing at the bar and Don was telling me about the sign above the bar that said, “Use a gun, go to jail.”
The sign was L.A.P.D.s latest effort to try to stop the rash of robberies in the area. I asked Don if he thought anyone would be crazy enough to try to rob the Short Stop. There was always at least 15 off-duty cops in the joint and sometimes there was a motor officer in uniform drinking out of a coffee cup at the bar.
As the bartender walked away to serve another customer, Don pointed at him and said, “The bartender took out some clown not too long that tried to rob the place. He came in off the street with a towel wrapped around his hand, pointed the object at the bartender and told the bartender to give him the money.
The bartender reached under the counter, pulled out a .357 magnum and shot the punk from three feet away.
After that, the saying around here changed to use a "pick comb, go to heaven." That’s what this moron had under the towel, one of those big afro pick combs.
I looked at Skip the big retired Marine bartender with his gray crew cut and the tattoo of a mean looking red woodpeckers head, smoking a cigar on his bicep. There was no doubt in my mind that no one could get away with robbing this bruiser.
Don Winslow began to talk a lot after his third beer and I asked him, “So why did you leave the L.A.P.D.?"
He replied, “I was a real hot-dog, fresh out of the academy and assigned to the Rampart Division. We were working the day watch and my training officer and I went over to the Short Stop one afternoon, after we got off work.”
They drank a couple of beers and the training officer suggested that they head down to Tijuana for the evening.
Why not? Winslow thought. They were both single men and this was the end of the workweek for them.
They headed for the red light district as soon as they crossed the border. They started out at the Chicago Club. The place was packed with Marines and Sailors from San Diego and Camp Pendelton.
They hit another dive before deciding to go to the Blue Fox. The Blue Fox made a lot of money selling t-shirts that said, “Eat at the Blue Fox.” They didn’t serve food at the Blue Fox.
It was strictly a skivvy bar. Some of the “dancers” that worked there didn’t even bother to wear street clothes or a costume. They worked the tables in bras and panties.
The pimp/doorman stood at the front door inviting servicemen to come in to see the donkey show that would be starting soon.
Winslow and his training officer found a seat near the stage and watched the dancers bump and grind in their underwear, while they drank inexpensive Mexican beer.
They were both getting a little tipsy from all the beer they were pouring down, when a Chiquita approached them and offered to take them around the world.
The training officer had his eye on another entertainer and told Winslow that he would meet him back at the table in about 15 minutes.
They both left their beers on the little table with instructions for the drink girl to watch the beers, as both cops were lead out the backdoor, to the cribs.
Winslow finished with the woman and was heading out of her crib, when two street punks with knives stepped out of the shadows and demanded his watch and wallet.
Winslow wasn’t packing. Both of the cops had left their guns in California. He pulled his wallet out of his pocket and handed it to one of the bandits, before reaching into his other pocket and pulling his L.A.P.D. badge out.
He flashed the badge at both punks and said, “L.A.P.D., you’re under arrest.”
One punk laughed at him, while the other punk touched the blade of the knife to his chest and said, “We’ll take that too,” as he took Winslow’s badge and put it in his pocket.
The next day, Don Winslow was called into the Internal Affairs office and was asked about the lost city property report that he had filed.
He was terminated that afternoon.

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

Click here to get his short novel, The Free Lancers, from Smashwords for free for a limited time.

Two of Leroy’s Fingerprints crime flash stories have been recorded on the crime podcast, To listen to these stories, click here to go to episodes #35 and #32.

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