I started out my law enforcement career in a smaller town. Of course, being a young pup I didn't think that there was enough "action" for a stud like me in that one horse town. I wanted to be out chasing bad guys all the time.
On reflection however, I think I learned a great deal in the almost two years that I worked there. Mostly about myself, as well as about my fellow man. I was lucky enough to be able to bring that knowledge with me as I continued my career and I firmly believe that it made me both a better cop as well as a better man.
In small towns, you have contact with what you could consider a "cast of characters", locals that you had dealings with day-in, day-out. Most of these interactions were harmless, and happened so frequently that you learned the names of the people and they learned yours. Let me tell you a story of one of these folks, a fellow named "Big Boy" Mason.
Big Boy was a African-American street person, who as you have no doubt figured was a fairly good sized individual. He stood about 6'2" and seemed to be as wide as he was tall. I never learned his first name. Every one, including his only living kin, a aunt he stayed with when it got cold called him Big Boy. As I said, he was big but he was a gentle giant. In a cruel twist of fate that nature sometimes plays on us, Big Boy was mildly retarded. Not enough to stop him from being able to get along, but it did give him a child like quality. I guess these days he could have been put into a program or have a social worker to keep a eye on him. But in those days, we didn't have any thing like that.
Big Boy would spend his days on main street looking for work to do. He would either work for cash or food and did a good job on whatever he took on. He washed dishes, swept, picked up trash, whatever anyone would let him do. When he swapped his labor for food, he always had one of two meals, either three fried fish sandwiches or four hotdogs "all the way" (mustard, slaw, chilli and chopped onions) washed down with a quart of chocolate milk. Big Boy also liked his wine. He was just as happy as a clam when he had a bottle of Richard's Wild Irish Rose wine. But he never let it get the better of him, nor did he ever drink in public. He always went into the bushes or behind buildings. So I never had any problems with him, he was fairly harmless and as I said, just a part of main street.
Big Boy did have one habit that made him stand out. Every one or two weeks he would take whatever money he had earned and saved and go down to a small mom and pop hardware store we had in town on Friday afternoon and buy himself a "Let's go fishing!" kit. I seem to remember it had a Zebco 303 fishing rod with various other odds and ends in it. The idea was that you could buy the kit and have everything you needed to fish but the bait. With that kit and a tub or two of nightcrawlers Big Boy would announce to all that he was "goin' fishing" and would disappear for the entire weekend, only to return to his routine on Monday morning, sans rod. I have no idea what happened to all those rods, but he would always have to pick up another one when the urge to go fishing struck him.
I was patrolling the town about 2 AM on a Saturday morning and it was very quiet, nothing going on but rain. I ain't talking about mist or sprinkles, I am talking good ol' Baptist gullywasher. I cut through a strip mall parking lot and saw a hulking figure standing in the middle of the lot. Now this parking lot was know for it's settling so every time it rained real hard, a big puddle would form. Of course, the hulking figure was Big Boy out in the driving rain, fishing in the puddle. I rolled down my car window and yelled at him inquiring as to" just what the ever loving hell he thought he was doing?" Big Boy very calmly replied "Fishing, Boss"
Now I knew that if a taxpayer saw Big Boy and called it in, that I would be forced to take formal action so I thought real fast and told Big Boy that hole had been fished out for a while, but that if he would come with me, I would take him to a place where I thought that he would have better luck. That seemed to make him happy so he piled into my patrol car and I drove him to a small creek about 1/2 a mile from main street. I put him out and told him to be careful, he thanked me multiple times and that was that. Or so I thought.
Fast forward about a month or so. There was a fellow named Shorty who ran a boarding house in town. Well, I call it a boarding house, he just emptied out two rooms and put in a bunch of army cots and rented them out to drunks, street people, people on the run from the law or anything or anyone else that had the cash for a place to crash. Shorty was a real piece of work. He took out insurance policies on the street folks, (Naming himself as the beneficiary) just in case anything MIGHT happen to them while they were his guest. He also had a refrigerator on his back porch full of beer, wine or anything else a person might want. Of course he also had a log chain padlocked around the fridge, because Shorty was strictly a cash and carry kind of guy. He was also one of the biggest fences around which led to our interest in him. One of our investigators had real good information that Shorty had several handguns that had been stolen from a local gun store and obtained a search warrant for the premises.
This was my first raid/search warrant so the powers that be, posted me watching the back yard. Again I was a young pup and fell into the same trap that new fighter pilots sometimes fall into. I focused on the threat to my front, not my surroundings. I forgot to check my six, as they say.
This fact was brought to my attention when I heard a loud "thump" behind me. I spun around and saw a man laying on the ground with a busted beer bottle in his hand and standing over him was Big Boy with a big piece of wood in his hand. Big Boy was looking down at the individual on the ground and said "Mutha F***a, don't you try to hurt that white boy, he's my fishin' buddy."
Believe you me, from that point on, Big Boy didn't have to worry about getting rides to the fishin' hole or working too hard for hotdogs. Strangely enough he never ever mentioned saving my ass, he seemed to have forgotten all about it. But I never did.
I left that agency about a year later. Bigger and better things I figured. The little town continued on, since it was real close to where my new job was and where I lived, I sorta kept up with what was going on. Then one night I ran into one of my old co-workers and was catching me up with the latest news and he told me that Big Boy was dead. His aunt had gone out of town to visit some relatives and it had turned cold. Big Boy went to the local junk yard where he sometimes slept in the wrecked cars, took a hubcap and filled it with charcoal, lit it and took it into a car with him. Carbon Monoxide got him.
To this day, when I go to Walmart or any other place where they sell fishing gear and I spot one of those "Let's go fishing" sets, I think about Big Boy and how someone on we consider the fringes kept a still wet behind the ears kid in a uniform from getting seriously hurt or worse. Maybe I will see him again in the beyond.
If so, I owe him a fishing trip.