We rushed through the darkness, eerily dark, in the only way a garbage dump could be at 2 in the morning. The lights of the police car, shone on hundreds of pairs of eyes, ground level, looking up at us.
Hundreds of rats disturbed by this single car, who had the temerity to enter into their feasting playground. A dump with rats is quite commonplace, of course, and the rats would stare normally, but the fact that I was sitting on the hood of the car as we drove, my leg wrapped around the Ford emblem in some weird safety pre-caution, poised with my trusty .38 revolver and firing randomly clearly caused them further discomfort.
The driver was my supervisor, Bob, who took great relish in circling back several times on the dirt and garbage covered dump, trying to run over them as well, as he did not want to be left out. Scaring me was not enough excitement for him. As I slid around on the hood, I could hear him laughing that barrel chested laugh, quite unsympathetic.
If the rats were hit by my bullets, in their death throes, they bounced up in the air, as if in a grisly attempt to not go down without some glory. This would also allow us to claim those that we hit. A way of keeping score.
Then it would be Bob’s turn. Bob was a better shot than I. He always claimed that he kept track of the numbers, and that he always had more than me, and therefore I needed to buy coffee. I always believed him, why would a police officer lie.
Of course, our big game hunt only lasted a few minutes before persons living near to the dump, would call the police dispatch, saying that they are hearing gunfire nearby. We would wait until dispatch assigned us the file, telling them we would handle it, and wait the necessary few minutes to show that we were some distance away, and then tell dispatch that when we got there, there was nothing around, and the file could be concluded. No harm done. Lesson learned.
Bob, my somewhat reluctant supervisor at this time is a 6’3″, dark curly haired fellow with a rudimentary moustache which does not reach the corner of his lips. I am being kind saying that he is 240 lbs. with a little bit of a belly. But somewhat deceptively, farmer strong, with boxer hands, and one of the only men I know who truly had no fear.
He was a practical joker, never took off his patrol jacket, even in the office, feet up, continually laughing or harassing who ever fell under his view. Smoked Players light, as did I, so of course we got along. Always clean, but always a bit scruffy, with unshone boots, and he never wore his hat, explaining that it was “just something to lose”.
He drove with one finger, easily guiding a heavy police cruiser through backroads at 160 kms if necessary, but I had no fear of his ability to keep us on the road. He could have driven at Nascar, but chose the New Brunswick rural roads instead. But, it was at those times that I did put on my seatbelt.
It was Bob that showed me that you could take mosquitos off the windshield of the cruiser with Coke.
It was Bob that showed me how to fingerprint a dead body, which is not an easy task. As rigour had set in on one body, he showed me how he could use the rigored splayed fingers, to hold your cigarette while you went about your task. Good lesson, but one I could never bring myself to fully incorporate.
It was Bob, who introduced me to the Coroner. “$25.00 Cowie” was his nickname, because for $25.00 he would pronounce anyone dead, and it was always the same cause, “heart failure”. Which when you think of it is never far from being the truth.
Bob and I had a call one time of a suicide, a depressed fellow had gassed himself in his own car, and we brought him into the morgue, his skin matched the blue colour of our police cars, and a clear sign of asphyxiation. Bob told the Coroner that we had found him in a ditch rather than in his car in the garage, and Bob had “no idea” how he died; just to test the “heart failure” theory. He came through for us, pronouncing heart failure, but when we told him the actual details, he cursed and cursed at Bob, but changed the cause of death, to one which was more appropriate.
In another call, Bob showed me another trait.
A fellow swinging an axe like Paul Bunyon in the middle of the street had now holed himself up in his residence, and was demanding that the police attend, or he was going to kill someone. As we approached the now quiet ramshackle residence, nothing seemed out of order. I knocked on the door, when a male, clearly distraught, wrenched open the door, dressed as if he had been wrestling on the floor with some imaginary foe, saw me and quickly slammed the door again.
Again I knocked, and again he answered, but this time as he swore and slammed the door, unknowing that Bob had placed his .38 revolver in the door so it wouldn’t close, and allowed me to force the the door. Ten feet back from the door, the male glared, holding the axe with both hands over his head. I held him at gunpoint for a few seconds, and clearly the male did not have any intention of dropping the axe. It was a standoff. After a few seconds, I felt hands on my back, and gently Bob eased me to the side, so that he was the first in line, saying “if someone has to be shooting somebody, it might as well be me, you are just starting your career”. It ended peacefully and we took him into custody, where he lay crying in the back seat all the way back to the jail. No police suicide that day.
It was Bob who summed up who provided a succinct summation of police protocol when it came to officer safety, and threat assessment; “let them always throw the first punch”. Many subsequent mandatory RCMP courses on the same subject never quite captured the simplicity of Bob’s policy. We fought a lot in that detachment, and I was never seriously hurt, but until I caught on a little better, I did get hit a few times. The more times I got hit, the quicker I seemed to learn.
Bob was clearly a street cop, but beneath the gruff exterior was a smart cop. He wrote clear, concise reports in the beautiful long hand of the day. He knew how far he could go, how far the envelope could be stretched, knew when the basis of the charge was there and could be proven. He and I would visit the local Crown on a weekly basis. Not necessarily to discuss Bob and my files, but to say hello, to let them know that there were faces behind these reports. He did it instinctively, I think unaware of how the humanizing of the process could only lead to good things in court, building a trust, and a friendship.
The question I am often ponder is whether Bob would have survived in this current age of policing. I am not so sure. Would he even get into the RCMP today? A Nova Scotia fellow with a high school education, and not fitting any current hiring priorities, it definitely would have taken a long time. And patience was not his virtue.
He lamented and threatened to quit when the Charter of Rights came in. He thought it would disadvantage the cops, the power would go to the wrong side. In his cop world, the police were trusted, but they were even-handed, their respect for higher management authority was minimal, and they had no problem saying what they thought. What was right was right. He did not look for backup, did not rely on or quote policy, common sense was his guide. He wasn’t infallible or ever wrong, but he admitted when he was. The thought of staying away from work for a sprained ankle, or a headache he would not even comprehend. He did not see colour or gender, but he was able to distinguish between right and wrong, and that was all that mattered. The general public if they had been wronged knew they were in good hands.
Bob was diagnosed with a terminal illness a number of years ago which led to him, to liquidate all his assets, getting a permanent tracheotomy, only to find out it was a misdiagnosis, and he is alive and kicking, and maybe just a little gruffer than before.
We have known and kept in touch with each other for close to 40 years now. He is part of me, and who I was as a cop. It is an interminable bond, and when we wordlessly hugged goodbye a year ago, we both knew it. Nothing needed to be said.