Slowly we patrolled the streets and alleys, our cruiser blacked out on a moonless night like a darkened gunship drifting through the mist.
It was two hours past closing and two more before dawn, the time of night when cops and robbers alike prowled the City of Angels while her citizens peacefully slept.
Suddenly, my partner hit the brakes. “Goddamn, look at that!”
Guardians of the Night
It was the early morning shift at Firestone Station and I was riding shotgun. The big man next to me was my training officer. Most called him Wilkie; I just called him sir.
I followed his gaze, looking for open doors or broken windows, any evidence of a crime. He shoved his big finger past my face and aimed it through a barred window. “In the liquor store, dangling from the ceiling.”
He then switched on his spotlight and directed its beam to a pair of legs hanging from the false ceiling inside. At first it seemed surreal, but then the legs began pumping, walking against the air.
A Crime Spree Ended
There had been a series of rooftop entry burglaries in the area. Wilki was a smart and patient street cop with a hunter’s instinct. Every night, once the action settled and streets emptied, he would kill the lights and slowly patrol the streets and alleys of our jurisdiction, and sometimes beyond it. Many times we were rewarded with good, late-shift arrests, and on this night, the payoff was big.
We set up a containment with assisting units and watched as the burglar’s legs disappeared back into the ceiling. The building was tall. Not a two-story, but it was a commercial building and the top was probably twenty-five feet from the ground.
Call the Fire Department
Few things do cops enjoy as much as getting firemen out of bed. It’s part of the healthy rivalry between us. With the use of their ladders, several of us deputies went onto the roof while the firemen waited below in their yellow pants with suspenders over wrinkled t-shirts.
It didn’t take much to coax the burglar out of the ceiling once he realized he had nowhere to go. We may have threatened to unleash a dog as well, though I don’t recall if one was there. I proudly slapped my handcuffs on him. It was a great arrest, and the crook didn’t know I was just a rookie riding my partner’s coattail.
We walked him to the ledge where the ladder waited. A couple of deputies went down ahead of us. Several were now on the ground waiting near the sleepy firemen and our lieutenant who had come out to enjoy the show.
I looked at Wilkie for direction, now at a loss for how we would safely lower our suspect off the roof. He said, “We’re going to have to take the hooks off and let him climb down the ladder.”
Not a Great Option
I’m afraid of heights, so I wasn’t looking forward to climbing down. For me, it’s worse than climbing up. I don’t even put the Christmas lights up at our house; my wife and daughter do that. The last thing I wanted was to stand on the edge of a tall roof with an unrestrained, squirrelly prisoner. I didn’t like it.
I told the arrestee to turn away so I could remove his cuffs. As I did, I lowered my voice so that my watch commander below wouldn’t hear me. “You try anything stupid, I’ll throw your ass off this building.”
My partner stood to one side, grinning. Wilkie seemed to grin a lot. He seemed to grin the most whenever I found myself in undesirable or challenging situations.
After I had reluctantly removed the hooks, I stood ready to give him a quick shove if necessary; I wasn’t going to fight with him on the edge of a roof. He climbed onto the ladder and stopped. Facing me now, he loudly said, “You’re going to throw me off the roof?”
The Flying Burglar
Before I could respond, he launched himself backward off the ladder. With arms and legs spread wide, he plummeted to the earth like a lead balloon, and hit the sidewalk below like a ripe watermelon, flat on his back.
I gasped. That was the last thing I expected him to do.
I looked over at Wilkie, who for a moment appeared shocked as well. But then he began to laugh. The man grinned and laughed at very odd times.
My Future Looked Grim
At least there was a witness who stood next to me and saw that I didn’t throw our suspect off the roof. Wilkie would no doubt testify that this jackass hurled himself to the ground without my help. But I knew it could have appeared to those below—our watch commander, for one, and the firemen who only wanted their ladder back so they could go to bed—that he had been shoved or otherwise assisted in his fall.
“Holy shit!” I exclaimed, staring down at the burglar sprawled on the sidewalk below.
The lieutenant frowned as he looked from the pile of broken burglar up to me and the laughing policeman at my side.
This was it. I was done as a cop, maybe headed to prison for murder.
All is Well . . .
When I stepped off the bottom rung of the ladder, I was glad of three things: I was once again on solid ground, the burglar was not dead, and the watch commander—arguably the most uptight of all of our lieutenants, and one who would not have believed it had he not seen it with his own eyes—told me he saw that the guy had jumped.
I didn’t find it funny at the time, but over the years, I’ve had a few laughs at the memory.
Danny R. Smith – Dickie Floyd Novels
A Good Bunch of Men
Door to a Dark Room