All this talk in the news lately concerning overzealous police, with itchy trigger fingers and a willingness to act like Stormtroopers in their day to day existence, has me thinking about my own experiences in dealing with law enforcement. And I've had a few, some more deserved than others... But there is one that sticks to mind... It's an amazing tale of violence and vendettas... And it all started because of some goddamned pirate...
Long ago, in a city in Central Florida...
So I'm chasing a pirate down seventh avenue in Ybor, the bar district of Tampa if one was so inclined to give it such a designation; the pair of us darting between tight pockets of slow walking drunks littering the sidewalk before us. I could hear his ridiculous boots whooping and flopping over the booming bass of nightclubs whisking by as he stepped hard onto the wet floors, his pace slowed by the busty bubble heads he had been trying to keep close. He gave up on them a hundred yards into the chase, their high heels and tight dresses slowing their escape. I blew past them as well, the stink of my prey heavy in the humid night air.
I could see his pace starting to relent a little, no doubt his legs burning as badly as mine were. He was running out of real estate and, given his chosen attire of a complete Pirate outfit (think Cap'n Morgan), hiding was not an option. He approached the corner, slowing down to a trot. He bent over a little, sucking in air as my footsteps thundered closer. He moved to straighten up to greet me but it was too late; my knee driving hard into his contorted chest as I took my final steps, crashing into him.
His legs buck under the force, giving way as my leg pulls back, dropping the pirate face first into a puddle of muddy water. I kicked his side hard, hearing him groan a little as my sandaled foot kicked hard into his soft chest. Metal buttons and brass buckles dug into my skin as my foot dug into his clothes with the strike, hurting me enough to keep me from continuing.
"Two dollars, asshole," I say to him, thankful my "scary voice" is masking my own heavy breathing. I smoke too much.
"What?" He whimpers, slightly stunned I was making such an odd request.
"Two dollars motherfucker. I told you I wasn't drinking with you..." I said checking over my shoulder as I bent over the heap of a man. He winced a little as I drew close to him, my racked callus fingers snapping by his face.
"Don't make me take it from you..." I warn, waving my fingers at him urgently.
"Fine, fucker... Here..." He dug into his pocket, tossing a weathered wad that looked like a five at me.
I ask him if he wants change, unballing the bill. He waves me off, slowly starting to get up.
"Dude," I hear my friend call over my shoulder.
I tell him I am settling up, but he was insistent.
"Cops are coming," he continues, tugging at my shirt a bit as we hear police radios drawing close.
"You're lucky," I tell the guy, leaving his side and turning tail back to the Boneyard, hoping to fade away in the gathering packs of wandering drunks.
We weave in between the wandering packs, tucking in and out of groups as invisibly as we could; turning into the Boneyard as we approached it.
The bar howled as we entered, heralding us as conquering heroes. We quickly move past some friends by the door, headed to the back of the bar.
"You guys find him?" Diedre asked, looking up at us as she poured a beer for a barfly.
"Yea. Now we're hiding from the cops." My friend says, half teasing as I am watching the door over my shoulder.
"Well then, sit down and don't look so obvious," she says, motioning to two empty stools along the back. We take them, myself sitting at the end. I watch as a pair of cops run by the door, my heart thundering in my ears as I hear their footsteps clipping past. I let out a slow relieved sigh, thinking the worst was past, but my eyes grew wide as another cop wanders in. He walked in slowly, a few snickers as his black polished boots clipped into the bar.
"Help you officer?" Diedre asks, setting two foamy glasses before patrons.
"Looking for a runner... Have a feeling he tucked off in here."
"Noth-" she started, interrupted by the crackle of his radio. He lifted his finger to pause her, pressing his earpiece tighter into his ear. He says something into his mike, turning his attention back to her.
"You were saying..."
"Theres nothing in here but regulars. Ain't seen anyone come in here in a few." She replied to him, immediately turning her attention back to her work.
"Well I'm gonna have a look around..." He said, moving deeper into the bar; eyeballing everyone as he stepped closer.
I watched him moving close, tight snake eyes glaring at all with a deep suspicion. He was a short man, with a small shaved head and narrow predatory eyes. He had short, formless arms, hanging loose off his sides with thin, white thumbs digging into his uniform belt; the thick black leather strap hanging heavy and awkward off his thin waist. He looked like Barney Fife to me, snuggly taking in air as he strolled to the back of the bar. He walked past me, heading to the bathroom. I could hear him kick open the bathroom door aggressively, giving the secluded room a quick glance.
He walks back from the secluded hall, footsteps clipping loud as he walked behind me. I could feel his eyes dig into my scalp as he stared at my head.
"Find anyone?" Diedre interjected, walking over and handing the officer a bottle of water.
"Maybe. This guy seems to fit the description." He said, pointing me out. He taps me lightly on the shoulder. I feel my skin freeze as his fingers punch my skin. I'm fucked.
I slowly turn around, my nerves making me jittery and wobbly.
"You couldn't want him for anything past half hour ago. He's been passed out for a bit. Sitting right there." She pointed at me. I did my best to act the part, hanging my jaw a little loose as I did my best half cocked stare (It wasn't that far off, truthfully...) He stared at me with a knowing gaze...
This wasn't my first meeting with this officer, his pointed head and thin voice almost a prerequisite to any good weekend.
He had searched me for drugs a few times, each time finding little more than cigarettes and a few disrespectful lines concerning his ideas of efficient time management. But our run-in a few weeks prior cemented his resolve to fit me in state's jewelry. I had been walking out of a bar on the other side of seventh, going to meet a few other friends in the gay bar across the street. Like any drunk, I couldn't be bothered with waiting on a crosswalk and just made my way across as traffic permitted. It was a near flawless jaywalk... Right up to when the cop whistled for me to come by.
"Yes?" I say, smiling like a cad as I turn to see the diminutive officer, proudly standing, flanked by his fellow boys in blue. They were in their Jump Streep clothes that night, standing tall as their badges dangled off their necks on long thin silver chains over tech vests and tight t-shirts.
"They make crosswalks for a reason, son." He calls to me, his thin voice barely heard over the passing cars and thundering music.
"What's that, sir? It a little loud up here." I reply, not intending to insult him. But I did, him being no different than any other short guy and being hopelessly self aware of his diminutive stature.
"Watch it, punk. I'm just looking for an excuse..." He snarled.
"Don't you have a ring you need to be tossing into a volcano or something, Mr. Frodo? Wasting my time for jaywalking while the Fellowship waits on you..."
I could see steam flow out of his ears as my words landed on his ear, driven ever more enraged by the chuckle of his fellow officers than the guff of the daring drunk; snickering at his humiliation. He went to move towards me but one of the other cops grabbed his shoulder.
He turned to his fellow cop, cursing him with his eyes.
"Do you really want that line repeated in court records?" He asked, ushering me off with his eyes as he distracted the officer. I get dragged into the gay bar while the shrimps cop was ushered off, eyeing me over his shoulders; no doubt swearing his vendettas....
And there I was, served up to his vengeance. I know he still heard those words as he stared into my eyes in the bar that night, his thin fingers resting lightly on my shoulders.
"That true, buddy?" He asked me, staring at me as I leaned half slumped on the stool.
I did my best drunk impression, loosely nodding as I stumbled over word noises, choking down fake vomit burps as I did. It was fine acting work,
"Nothing smart to say today, drunky?" He goaded.
"This fucking punk...," he said, nodding at me as he spoke to Diedre,"Called me a hobbit once..."
"That sounds about right for him." She said, nodding agreeably as she smirked slightly; adding up the percentage increase on the tip hiding out from the cops would bring.
"Get this drunk in a cab if he's out. Get him home." He said, giving me a hard alpha male slap across the back.
He walks out of the bar, no doubt picturing himself like Wyatt Earp walking out of Owens' Saloon; immediately giving a rambunctious pack of teens shit as they crossed his path. Jeers of "cracker" and "peckerwood" (which I, for one, am glad has come back...) echoed his commands, the universe setting back into place as it knocked its bald headed nail back into place.
I wish I could give this a more climatic ending, but that's not what happened... We crossed paths a few times following that incident, truthfully the whole ordeal scaring me straight as it were. He threw me against the walls a few more times, egging me on to hear some more of my near legendary wit. But I never bit, knowing he was looking for an excuse to complicate my life beyond simply turning out my pockets or a few minutes. It wasn't long after that I stopped going out to Ybor very much at all, the combination of increased personal responsibility and imposed sobriety dulling the luster of the night life.
Wheel of Morality, turn, turn, turn...
What are we to learn from this (beyond my having once been a rather nasty, violent drunk)...
That one should know not to speak or conduct themselves disrespectfully when finding themselves approached by officers of the local Law Enforcement?
Or that the mindless nihilism, senseless violence, and potentially life ruining chaos spurned by addiction can is never as fun when you look back upon it???
No... I think the lesson for today is a simple one:
If you're going to be disrespectful with Law Enforcement, remember that a punch will get you cuffed and shot but a well timed line may very well get you off...
Certainly worked for me (granted, it did buy me months of unnecessary and unwarranted attention by a cop with a bit of a vendetta [and, if we are being honest, the absolute worst timing... He always caught up with me once I was closed for business.]...)