A Christmas Gift for my friends, readers, and supporters. As I have promised, I have created a short story to share for the holidays. I hope you enjoy it.



     It happened in 1998, December 23rd to be specific. It was back when we had two officers assigned to a car and officers still walked the beat. ‘98 was also a tough time for me personally, as my wife of thirty-two years had passed away in late Spring. The only thing that kept me from going crazy was my job—a job I loved almost as much as I loved my dear Sarah. So, when Christmas rolled around that year, I needed something to distract me from my memories and the loneliness. There was no big sacrifice for me to volunteer to work during Christmas week which allowed one of the least senior officers to spend time with his family. In fact, Sarah would have encouraged me.

    I spoke with Lieutenant Williams and he authorize the shift trade. Then he informed me that our precinct would be receiving three trainees who were in the current Academy class and would augment our holiday skeleton crew. As half of the senior officers in my platoon would take off for Christmas, and the other half would take New Years, the less senior officers would have to carry the ball for both holidays. Then the Lieutenant asked if I would partner up with one of the recruits.       

     “Absolutely” I said. Knowing that I could give a rookie some good guidance. “You know, Boss, not everything a rookie learns is taught in the academy.”

    “That’s why I asked you to take one under your wing. I can trust that with you, he won’t be doing anything reckless out there. You have the experience and temperament for this assignment, Bob. And another thing, thanks for switching schedules with Santiago. He’s got a young wife and a couple kids. It would probably be several more years before he would have enough seniority to get Christmas off. That was good of you.” 

    “Thanks, boss. But it’s as good for me as it will be for him. By the way, do you know anything about this rookie I’ll be training?”

    “All I know is what HQ told the Captain. We’re getting three trainees: one assigned to each platoon. I believe their names are Murphy, Hallman, and Taylor. Have no idea which one you’ll get.” the Lieutenant explained.

    “I guess we’ll find out at roll call,” I suggested.

    It was 11 p.m. when the patrol units of the second platoon started to straggle in. By 11:30 our platoon had assembled in the briefing room and were ready to hit the street. The Lieutenant had assigned two officers to the North and South unit. There were also two officers assigned walking beats. 

    “If he ever shows up, you and your rookie will have the West sector.” said the agitated platoon commander.

    “And if he doesn’t show?” I asked.

    “You can ride with me, Bob, and the two beat men can have the West sector car. At least they’ll be warm.”

    As the second platoon relinquished their vehicles to our platoon, I waited. The North and South sector cars had already left the station when the Lieutenant said that he was going to drive the beat men out to their posts.  Then, as I placed my gear in the patrol car and check the equipment, I was startled by a figure walking up behind me.

    “Sorry I’m late. The desk officer told me that you were out here prepping the car and I would be riding with you.” The voice was young and energetic.

    “And what’s your name?” I asked with an authoritative tone.

    “Haltam, Sir. Harold Haltam. And yours?” He responded without hesitation.

    “Robert Hayes. Most of the guys call me Bob. Until we get to know each other better, its Officer Hayes, or just Hayes.”  I motioned for the rookie to get in the passenger side as I took the helm. ”How well do you know the Seventh Precinct?

    “Pretty good.” he answered.” This surprised me as most people had no idea that this area of vacant factories, derelict warehouses, and dwindling residential neighborhood even existed.

    As I pulled away from the station, I made a couple abrupt stops to test the brakes on the snowy condition of the street. Haltam never asked why I was braking for no apparent reason.

     Curious to find out more about the young man, I asked, “Married? Kids?”                           

    “Yeah. We’ve been married two years and have a kid. Harold Junior. He’s going to be a year-old next month.,” the trainee touted.

     I glanced at him to size him up— about six feet tall, athletic build, a good-looking kid, who I figured to be about twenty-five.

    As I drove down South Park, I kept an eye on the infrequent storefronts and alleys, and looked for any movement in the vacant lots in-between. I also noticed that the rookie was aware of my divided attention.

    “Looking for anything suspicious?” he asked.               

    “On the midnight shift anything that moves is suspicious. First of all, there’s not many businesses still in operation in this part of the city. Secondly, any business that is still hanging on, doesn’t work past midnight.”

    Haltam stared out the passenger window as he asked, “And what about you? Married? Kids?”

     “I was married for thirty-two years until Sarah passed away this past May. And we were never so fortunate as to have kids.”

    “So sorry.” He offered. “And is that why you work so much?” the rookie questioned.

    “What do you mean, ‘work so much’?”

    “I’m just saying. The Desk Officer said that you were a workaholic, and that you volunteered to work through the Christmas week so that a junior officer could spend the holiday with his family. I didn’t mean any disrespect. Actually, I think it’s really impressive when someone gives of themselves like you did. It’s kind of a gift—from a Christmas Cop!”   

      “Look Harold, you don’t have to kiss up to me. We probably won’t be riding together for more than a couple days, so just listen and learn. This is not about me. It’s about what you can learn in the next couple days that might save your life.”

    “Okay Hayes. I’m all ears.” the recruit responded. “So exactly what are you looking for?

    “When driving on patrol, particularly after a recent snowfall, we stay in the center of the road, trying to always remain in the tracks of traffic or driving over our previous tracks.”

    “That’s so you will see if there are other tire tracks that turn off the road, into a driveway, or leads to a suspicious vehicle, right?” the recruit asked.

    “And we’re looking for fresh footprints in the snow, any flicker of light through a building window, or a door that looks ajar.”

    “I get it.” The trainee said impatiently. “I’ve seen enough of those tell-tale signs myself.”

    “What experience do you have with policing?” I challenged.

    He stammered and then clarified, “Uh… In books and in the movies. You always know what tips off the cops. It’s always some little detail that the patrol cop spots. It’s amazing that the crooks don’t realize what clues they leave behind.

    “Those are the obvious things.” I explained. “Then there are the gut feelings. Like when you see a certain vehicle drive through an area several times. Especially an area like this. It may not be speeding or breaking any other traffic laws, but you know that this vehicle needs to be stopped—to find out who the driver is, and why he’s in the area? You never know, but we may stop a crime from happening with that simple traffic stop. Things like that… gut feelings.”                                       

    “But in the Academy we were taught that it would be a bad stop. No legal justification for a traffic stop. Even you said in that example, the driver did not commit any traffic infraction. So how can you justify that stop?”

    “This precinct is 70 percent commercial and industrial. And the thirty percent that is residential, I know most of the residents and their vehicles. So, anyone cruising through this area several times, particularly after midnight, is either lost or is up to no good, and needs to be stopped. Plain and simple. That’s how the job is done. If you go strictly by what you’re taught in the Academy, you’d not prevent one single crime. All you’d be doing is taking reports after people have been victimized.”

    “I see things haven’t changed much.” The rookie mumbled with a smile.

    “What? You said something?” I asked.

    “No.” he answered sheepishly. “I was just thinking out loud.” Then he perked up. “Is it always this boring on the midnight shift?”                                              

    “You could look at it that way”, I agreed.     “And the other two recruits will definitely have different points of view. The rookie working with the First Platoon, the day shift, will be mostly responding to minor violations like illegal parking, and at most, shoplifting. But a good share of their calls will be to take reports of crimes that occurred during the night and not discovered until morning, like burglaries, vandalism, larcenies, things like that. Now the Second Platoon, they get more of the action calls. There are commercial crimes from shoplifting to robberies, and calls of fights and family disturbances. Most arrests are made on the afternoon shift. Then—there is the Third Platoon, our midnight shift. Here is where we can take our time and be thorough. We can drive through the neighborhoods slowly and be observant. And just when you start to get bored, your eyelids get heavy, and you haven’t had a call for hours, the dispatcher announces ‘Seven-West.’”

    At the very moment I was explaining to the rookie, the radio blared: “Seven-West. Alarm at 1412 Perry Street.” I immediately recognized the address as we’d been there many times before—it was a meat packing plant and warehouse that had train tracks along the rear of the buildings. It was a frequent target of local burglars. And usually, they would attempt entry through the back walls.  I grabbed the mic and acknowledged, “7-W responding.” “Always speak clear and calm,” I instructed.

    The trainee looked a bit disappointed that he couldn’t have responded the dispatcher.  

    As we approached the intersection of Michigan Avenue I directed the rookie to switch on the overhead flashers—without the siren. As routine for a potential burglary call, I scrutinized every foot of area that my headlights cut across as we turned onto Michigan Avenue. Then before reaching Perry I told Haltam, “Quick. Douse the flashers. We don’t want broadcast that we’re coming. If they have a look-out they’ll see us coming three blocks away.”

    Then the radio crackled with other responding units: “Seven-North going,” and “Seven-South covering!” along with other backup units from adjoining precincts.

    “When we get to three buildings before the meat-packing plant, I’m going to cut off all the lights and we’ll roll in quietly. You need to open your window. Listen carefully for any sound. Turn down the car radio. Put your portable on low.”

    Haltam followed the instructions allowing the frigid wind to blow through the car.

    “Half the time we get false alarms here: maybe set off by a rodent, or wind rattling the overhead doors. But sometimes it’s the burglars testing our response time, or maybe they got scared off. It’s hard to tell without evidence. But here we have it— a virgin blanket of snow.”

    With a gut feeling, I pulled the car into the overgrown drive of 1420 Perry—the abandoned Western Auto warehouse—the closest we could get unnoticed. I motioned for the young officer to follow as I walked as quietly as possible on the crusted layer of snow to the rear corner of the empty warehouse. I waved for Haltam to come up to my side as I peeked around the corner. No activity for the next fifty yards between the buildings and the railroad tracks. Then I told him, “Close your eyes tightly for ten seconds and don’t move a muscle.”

    “Why?” he questioned.

    “To adjust your eyes to the darkness. Don’t put your flashlight on unless absolutely necessary. Just follow me and trust what you see,” I instructed. “Slow and easy.”

    But before the ten seconds had passed, I heard the crunching of tires of several darkened patrol units as they rolled by 1420 and stopped in front of 1412. By the time the back-up officers were exiting their cars, the rookie and I were approaching the closest rear corner of the meat-packing plant.

    “Hear that?” Haltam whispered.

    It was the creaking sound of a heavy metal-clad fire door being pushed open. A short distance ahead I could see at least three set of footprints leading from the rail-line directly to the base of the fire escape.

    “They must have seen the other cars coming. They’re going to make a break for it down that fire escape.” I alerted the recruit. “Get back around the corner, out of sight, and notify the dispatcher that we have several suspects fleeing from a second-floor rear entrance.” I saw the rookie acknowledge with a nervous nod. “Then stay tight to the building and cover me. I’m going directly under the fire escape and will grab the first one that comes down.”

    I could hear the clamoring of feet as three bodies scrambled down the rusty stairway carrying boxes.

    The lead man down the stairs stopped abruptly when he noticed footprints on the ground that were not from the direction from the railroad tracks.

    And before he could warn the others, who were close on his heels, I waved for Harold to advance, and I jumped out in front of the stairway. “Freeze!” I demanded. “Drop the boxes. Hands up!” I ordered.                           

    That’s when things started to go sideways. I could hear the thunder of the cavalry as numerous back-up officers trampled the crusted snow rushing toward the rear of the building, with the beams of flashlights bouncing back and forth. I heard Haltam running toward me with crunching snow beneath his feet. I was jarred off balance by the box that the first suspect threw toward me. As I attempted to deflect the box to one side the first suspect knocked me backward and attempted to wrestle my weapon from my hand. I remember the other two thugs pushing the first guy against me: the next burglar ran past us while the last one stopped and pulled out a silver revolver.

    There was an explosion, simultaneously to the ear-piercing noise was a whizzing sound past my head. As the first suspect maintained a grip on the barrel of my gun, I heard an exchange of several shots. With a strobe of flashes from gun barrels, I saw bodies moving past me as I tried to wiggle out from beneath the suspect who had pinned me to the ground. The thug with the chrome plated handgun was firing shots toward the recruit, and then turned his attention back to me. As I looked down the barrel, I could see his finger tightening on the trigger. And an instant before I anticipated my last breath, the rookie flung himself across my body sprawled at the foot of the stairway. There was one final explosion.  A moment later a herd of uniforms overwhelmed the suspects. Two were cuffed and placed in police cars, while one had to be transported to the hospital in critical condition with two gunshot wounds.

    Lieutenant Williams arrived and immediately took me aside. “What the hell are you doing, answering calls like this alone?”

    I didn’t understand what he was talking about.  My first concern was for my partner. “How’s Harold?”

    “Who?” the Lieutenant questioned.

    “Harold Haltam. The rookie that was assigned to me.”

    “Oh, you mean Hallman. He’s still at the station. I was wondering why you left without him. I told you to wait at the station until your trainee came in.

    “He did come in Lieutenant. And his name is Haltham, not Hallman. He’s right over there.” I explained as I pointed toward the figure standing in the shadow of the metal stairs. But when the figure moved out of the shadows, it wasn’t Haltam. “He was just here.” I insisted.

    The Lieutenant listened impatiently as I rattled off the events that led up to this point. I showed him where I parked, near the old Western Auto warehouse. But when I went to demonstrate the path we took to the meat-packing plant there was only one set of footprints leading away from the car. How could I explain how the rookie saved my life, when I couldn’t even prove that I had a partner with me?  

    Weeks later, I attended a retirement party for another ‘old timer.’ Over a few brews, I relayed the events of December 23rd. The Sergeant, who had a crisp recollection of his thirty-six year career, was taking a lot of memories and stories with him into retirement. He said that he did recall a similar incident that occurred a couple decades earlier. According to him, “There was a cop who was killed on December 23, just before Christmas, and appeared mysteriously to save the life of another copper.”

    After some research, I found that Patrolman Harold Haltam, assigned to the 7th Precinct of the Buffalo Police Department, was shot and killed as he responded to a burglary at a ‘packing-house’ on Perry Street—December 23, 1928. He died exactly seventy years to the day, before he saved my life. My partner, Harold Haltam, is “The Christmas Cop”.