Steve Alba- Howard Johnsons
“Dangerous men. You have to keep an eye on dangerous men.” The police officer shifted in his seat, uncomfortable and suddenly wary. He had been having coffee when this old man started babbling on and on … “What particular dangerous men are you referring to” -the uniformed cop asked. He ran an experienced eye across the crowd in the diner. Nothing out of the ordinary. People eating, reading newspapers… nothing. He turned his attention back to the old man and examined him closely. Rumpled. Filthy. He looked like a dirty cigarette butt. The old bearded man wouldn’t meet his gaze. He mumbled into his coffee… “They are every… everywhere. Those men.” The police officer told the man to relax. “I’m on the job. There is nothing to be worried about.” He felt a bony hand grabbing at his. Immediately, he twisted around and held the old mans arm down tight against his side. The old man glared at him. “You have to watch! You must!” The officer walked the man to a booth and sat him down. “You cannot be putting your hands on me or anyone else! What is wrong with you?! What men?” He bristled through clenched teeth, looking daggers at him. The old man glared at him then looked away. They sat in stony silence.
The officer checked his ID and saw a County Mental Health appointment card in his pocket. The other diners went back to their morning coffee. Just a harmless old psycho, they thought. The officer warned him about his conduct as the old man took a piece of paper and wrote something on it. He folded it & handed it to the officer. He then smiled a gap-toothed grin and apologized. On the paper was a line from Faust. “Two souls dwell- Alas! – in my breast!” He shrugged and frowned at the old weird fellow. Leaving, the officer threw a few dollar bills on the counter and hitching up his belt and sidearm, he stepped outside. A call came into his radio as he opened the door to his cruiser. “All Units. 10-66. Suspicious Person” He flicked a toggle and lit a path through morning traffic. He passed an old run-down hotel on his left. He had pulled a few squatters and drug dealers off of the premises. He saw a guy in a green Toyota truck, wearing a beanie walking out in front. He was removing buckets and a broom from the bed of the truck. He looked familiar for some reason. He passed by and made a mental note of it…
Responding to the Suspicious Person call, he found himself too late. Officers from another unit had cleared the scene. “Just a few kids acting up. No drugs. No weapons. No outstanding warrants.” It was growing hot. The sun cut a sharp glare off the wind sheild and hurt his eyes. He climbed back inside the cruiser. The AC felt like a balm to his brain. His cell phone rang and he took the call. It was an old friend from the Academy. He had bad news. “Hendricks took one last night. His wife is pregnant with their first, man…” He sighed and clenched a fist. “Damn…” Scumbags. “It was a routine traffic stop. Turns out it was one of our old arrests. Remember Mathesson?” How could he forget. Tom Mathesson was a drug menace and God knows what else! They never could make anything stick on him and he walked. Seems like he didn’t lay low for very long. His friend went on… ” Mathesson shot Hendricks. We should’ve kept a closer eye on that one. We should’ve really kept on Mathesson.” He had a sick feeling in his stomach… he turned off the phone and sat for a long while.
After some time, he headed back to the precinct. As he drove past the old abandoned hotel with its boarded up windows, he saw the young man in the beanie again. He pulled in. Something didn’t seem right. The officer heard the sound of others behind the concrete wall of the property. “What’s going on?” – he asked the man standing beside the Toyota truck. The young man appeared about 40 years old. From his position on the curb, the officer could see a shovel, some buckets and a skateboard in the bed. The young man in the beanie appeared calm. He smiled- “Do you want the truth or the smoke- up -the- ass version?” He looked him straight in the eye. The officer asked him again–firmly– “What are you doing here?” The young man pointed to his skateboard and motioned for the officer to follow him. Keeping at a safe distance and staying wary, he walked back along the hotel. As they rounded a corner, all previous activity ceased. They saw each other simultaneously. The officer took a quick glance and saw all he needed to see. Empty pool. Skateboarders.
“You guys don’t really have permission to be here, do you?” Again, the young man he first encountered spoke for the group. There were five others and they had come out of the pool to stand sheepishly on the deck close by. “No Sir. We keep the area cleaned up, we keep squatters out and the mosquito water emptied. Our presence here keeps druggies and looters out as well… It’s kind-of a Win/Win situation.” He shifted in his shoes & smiled at him. The officer walked over to the pool & looked in. There seemed to be no damage and they were all somewhat older. The officer looked over at the six of them. “You know, I skateboarded back in High School. There was this one guy- Tony Alba or Steve Alva. I can’t quite recall his name, but he could ride. That guy was something else… we would ride our bikes over to the skate park…” – he smiled at the memory. The skateboarders relaxed and laughed among themselves. Steve Alva indeed! The officer told them they had to leave and not to come back. They weren’t to be here. He had better things to do with his time, than to harass a bunch of guys having fun. After all, he was supposed to uphold the law and maintain peace. He watched them gather their things and leave. He liked how–for a brief minute–he was one of them. His talk of skateboarding and Tony Alba, let them know that not all cops are bad guys. After all, he had to keep an eye on dangerous men… Thank you to Rhino for the image. Skate- Ozzie