All Is Bright (19)
A Christmas Eve story in 24 installments
He can’t quite comprehend what he’s seeing. He’s only been on the job for four hours, so he isn’t tired enough to be hallucinating, but outside the front window there appears to be a police officer holding what looks like a bag of food, and gesturing toward him as if the bag is his. Yes, he ordered food from that diner, and somebody had to deliver it, but a cop?
It almost seems like a setup from some old movie, where two gangsters put on cop uniforms and knock on somebody’s door, and the unwary victim just unlocks the door and lets them in—except that this is a courthouse and there’s nothing here to steal.
He steps out from behind the desk and walks cautiously forward. The uniform looks real, which relieves him, and when he gets near the window the woman again raises the bag, and through the glass he can just make out her voice.
“For you. Two burgers and chips.”
He stares in silence.
“From Marquette Diner?”
He nods and reaches for the keyring attached to his belt, unlocks the handicap-accessible door and opens it partway.
“I’m Officer Pearson,” she says. “Reggie. I volunteered to bring over your food. The owner’s the only one working there tonight.”
“Really?” Jim Brock says. “I mean, thanks and everything, but delivering food, on the job? Can’t you get in trouble for this?”
She smiles. “Maybe, but I could get away with it. Can we step inside? Cold out here.”
“Yeah, of course. Jim Brock, by the way.” He steps aside, closes the door behind her, and locks it. He gestures toward the security desk, to show his welcome.
“I have a good excuse,” she continues, standing in front of the desk, her hands resting on the front edge, as he returns to his chair. “I’m on patrol, and downtown is my beat—all of it, including the courthouse. I had to come here anyway, to check out the plaza and those weird corners that you can’t see from the street.”
He knows those corners, and has seen homeless people sleeping there during the warmer months.
“I’m here to check the outside, you’re here to check the inside, so it’s inevitable that our beats would intersect.”
He smiles, admiring her assuredness, her confidence. “At least I get to be in a warm building. Cold night out there to be on patrol. And Christmas Eve, no less.”
“Yeah, I’m a newbie, the low man—woman—on the totem pole. Everybody else pulled rank on me tonight, so I had to work. It’s okay, I don’t mind. Just how it is with the police. My dad and my brothers—they’re all cops, too—went through the exact same thing.”
He can see her being from a police family. The confidence, assertiveness, even her upright posture which probably first came from her childhood, and only later from standing at attention at the academy.
“I remember how that was,” he says, and instinctively opens the bag, lured by the delicious smell from within. “Do you mind if I...” He nods toward the bag. “I’m starving. Skipped lunch today.”
“No, please, go right ahead.”
“So, yeah, I remember,” he continues, his voice muffled by his first large bite of burger. “Guys with seniority always had holidays off, and I had to work.” But he falls silent as he realizes his implication. Five years into his security career and he’s still working nights. He’s no longer a newbie, paying his dues, but instead is well on his way to being a night shift lifer. Probably never a bailiff or a jail guard.
“That’s how it is with me,” she says. “But I don’t mind. I have to start somewhere, and work my way up.”
He is suddenly saddened by her optimism, wondering what if she never works her way up, what if she ends up always working nights and holidays? His sadness comes from the realization that he was just like her once, before things went bad—or actually, not bad, just nowhere. He finishes the first burger and starts on the second as she tells of her family’s police careers and how they all moved up, to sergeant and lieutenant, and one brother who even made detective. Their stories, told by her with such eagerness and warmth, slowly encourages him, and by the end of the second burger he has come to believe she’ll do well.
And who knows, maybe he’ll do well, too. Maybe he’ll apply for that guard job at the county jail, just for the hell of it. The worst that can happen is that they say no. And it also occurs to him that it would be smart for him to stay in touch with this officer. If she moves up someday, she’ll probably get in good with powerful people, and maybe that could open doors, or even just a single door, for him.
“But wait a minute,” he says. “How do I pay for this? I thought the owner would be the one delivering, and I’d just pay him.”
“All taken care of,” she says. When he gives her a questioning look, she adds, “On me.”
Embarrassed, he quickly pulls a ten-dollar bill from his pocket and tries to hand it to her across the counter, but she refuses.
“Just a favor. You can do me a favor back, sometime.”
He is even more embarrassed, almost ashamed, by her generosity. Just when he was thinking that she might open doors for his career in the future, here she is, not only delivering his dinner but also paying for it, with him offering nothing in return.
“I should really get back to work,” she says.
“But I thought this was work,” he says. “Our work just happening to intersect here at the courthouse.”
“Yeah, right. I forgot. Intersecting beats.”
He unlocks the door and pushes it open for her. “Thanks for dinner. I owe you one.”
“Yes, you do.”
“Well, then, Merry Christmas, officer.”
“Okay, Merry Christmas, Reggie.”
“Merry Christmas to you, too, Dave, and good night,” she says, waving as she turns away.
As he locks the door he sees her recede across the empty plaza, toward the squad car. He returns to the security desk, to work.