Lights, Sirens, and Angels

Chicago, 1967

Roy Pedersen found himself alone for the first time the entire week-end. Alone alone. His parents had driven him in from central Iowa early Saturday morning. When they arrived at the Moody Bible Institute there were back to back activities—a welcome luncheon, afternoon family prayer meeting, and an icebreaker reception with all the other new students along with their parents. A late afternoon somewhat tearful farewell to family was followed by an upbeat evening meal with songs of prayer and rejoicing. By the time he fell into bed he was exhausted both physically and emotionally. Early Sunday morning breakfast and church services were followed by detailed tours of the facilities and more fellowship activities for the new students.

Evening found him sitting alone on the edge of his bed. He was a more than successful farm boy from an even more successful farming family. But his great-grandfather had been a country preacher and Roy felt a calling, a calling that lead him to this place. However, this day, his eighteen year old bones began to feel the first twinge of doubt.

• • •

Roy entered the County Fair auction pit with mixed emotions and his blue ribbon sow. The auctioneer spoke a few sentences in plain English:

“This is Roy’s last year with the 4H—he’s goin off to that bible school in Chicago—let’s do right by him—give him a good send off. He’s from the Pederson Farm, east a town.”

Roy heard it all but he kept his head down, face expressionless, concentrating on guiding his nearly 300 pound hog away from a collision course with one of the three ringmen. It was a bittersweet moment; it would indeed be his last appearance in this place. He almost wished the auctioneer hadn’t emphasized that, but deep down he knew that the man was just trying to garner him top dollar that might even cover his first semester tuition.

“Okay folks, this is a 295 pound blue ribbon winner here, do I hear…” the auctioneer began his rapid chant

The bidding opened with a rapid staccato of competition. The ringmen called the bids at a pace that surprised even Roy. The community was clearly voting their approval of Roy, his prize winning animal and perhaps even his chosen vocation.

“Going once, going twice, sold!”

Suddenly it was over; the winning bid was a record for the day, far above any reasonable market value. Roy allowed just a hint of a grin to cross his face. He liked this and everything that had led up to it. He enjoyed the science and challenge of raising high quality livestock. He loved the unique combination of physical labor and brainpower required to be a success. Still… there was this other voice deep inside his soul.

• • •

Roy stood up slowly from his bed. He needed to get outside to clear his head. “Lord, will I ever get used to spending this much time indoors?” he thought to himself. It was nearly dusk when he hit the Chicago streets on a cool late summer evening.

He walked north on LaSalle and looked curiously at the neighborhood around him. A mixed bag, he thought. Not real good, but not real bad. But when he crossed Division Street he found an oasis of white upscale buildings. He cut east through the area and noticed a sign, “Sandburg Terrace.” He was on Clark Street now, heading south, deep in a mental inventory… home… school… his calling…

He didn’t notice the deteriorating neighborhood and when he crossed Chicago Avenue, deep in his own thoughts, he was definitely in an area that just didn’t register with anything in his prior experience. Drunks lay in the curb littered with wine bottles, the wind blew trash about and he noticed for the first time it was dark out. A man approached him with a determined look in his eye walking on a collision path. Roy made a tactical error and sidestepped toward the building side of the walk. The man grabbed Roy’s jacket and pushed him into a doorway. His face was just inches away from Roy’s and he smelled his putrid breath of stale wine and cigarettes. They were face to face, chest to chest now in the doorway as the man wrapped his arms around Roy pinning his arms at his side, reaching for Roy’s back pockets in search of his wallet.

• • •

The Police Chaplain once said, “Sometimes angels come with lights and sirens.” Now my tactical partner John and I considered ourselves good cops, however I doubt that we would ever have used the term angels. But the Lord works in mysterious ways and I always liked that phrase about lights, sirens and angels.

Early evening found us in the second floor tactical office of the 18th District on Chicago Avenue between LaSalle and Clark. We were working soft clothes and our unmarked sedan was parked at the front curb. Completing the office duties of the moment, we bounded down the front stairs of the station to hit the street. I drove the 50 yards east and then headed south on Clark for no particular reason. We traveled less than a block when John called out to me.

“Jim! Doorway!

I glanced to the sidewalk to see two figures, one pushing the other into the doorway, obviously in some kind of struggle. I nosed the squad into the curb, hit the doorway with our spotlight and activated our bright lights which began the trademark alternate flashing. John was out of the car before it stopped moving. As I opened my door, from across the street came a short burst of a siren and a blue mars light began to flash as a northbound squadrol crossed oncoming traffic and nosed into the curb next to us for an instant assist.

Bad guy took one look and threw his hands up in exasperation, turned to the wall and assumed the search position.

“He was trying to get my wallet!” exclaimed Roy.

“We got him, we got him” I said as I covered John while he searched one pissed off offender. We cuffed him and marched toward the squadrol and the wagon men had a momentary look of uncertainty.

“You guys got the paper on this, right?” asked one of them.

“Yeah, yeah, we got the paper. But you’ll have to write the Honorable Mention.” They laughed.

“Meet ya in the tac office.”

Up in our second floor office things moved rapidly. Roy agreed to sign complaints but he expressed reservations about how he would do in court. Not to worry we told him, we would tell him what to say.

We called the Robbery Unit and they told us to charge him with misdemeanor strong-arm robbery and book him for local court, Branch 29, right here in our building.

“But I won’t know what to say,” complained Roy from a chair in the far corner of the room.

Bad guy shot him a look.

“Wait ’til we get yo-yo to the lock-up,” we said. “We’ll tell you what to do in court.”

Once we got the arrest report completed along with the signed complaint, we were able to get the prisoner out of the room and down to a cell. We briefed Roy on the court procedure and he promised us he would appear. We drove him safely back to his dorm. A 30 second robbery had taken almost three hours to process and we felt that we had done a very respectable job.

• • •

With the “normal” delaying tactics on the part of the defendant, it was over four months before the defense answered ready for trial. Roy was present at each hearing and it became readily apparent to the public defender that he wasn’t going to go away.

The trial was quick and certain. The prosecution presented only two witnesses, Roy and me. The verdict was guilty of a reduced charge of attempted strong armed robbery. The judge indicated that Mr. Robber was about to be sentenced to 4 months in the House of Correction. Since the defendant had been in custody the entire time awaiting trial, that meant he would walk out of court today, time considered served. But apparently he wasn’t listening or he couldn’t do the math.

“Is there anything you would like to tell the court?” asked the judge.

“Yes sir your honor, there is. That officer there,” he said pointing to me, “told him how to testify so I would be convicted,” now pointing at Roy.

That got the judges undivided attention.

“Young man,” said the judge addressing Roy. “Step back up here and let me remind you, you are still under oath. Did this officer tell you how to testify?”

“Yes sir, he did,” answered Roy in his most sincere Midwestern bible student voice.

My mind raced, my pulse quickened. What the hell had I told him? For the life of me, I couldn’t remember. I recalled that Roy was anxious about his testimony, but what had I told him? It was all Roy’s show now and I knew for certain this Moody Bible Institute student would take his oath most seriously, and rightly so… still… The courtroom was dead silent, all eyes were on him.

“And just what did he tell you, son?” said the judge, now peering over his glasses, directly at the young man.

“He told me…” Roy turned and looked directly at me now. “…he told me to just tell the truth. Don’t add anything and don’t leave anything out.”

“That’ll be all son.” said the judge as he turned to the defendant. “Make that 6 months in the house of Corrections. Mister Bailiff, take him away.”

Out in the hallway Roy looked me in the eye and shook my hand with a firm grip, his left hand just as firmly grasping my shoulder as he thanked me profusely. At just eighteen and with just a few months under his belt at Moody I almost got the sense that he was ministering to this urban cop ten years his senior. He had the gift.

“You guys just swooped down out of nowhere. It was like you were… you were…” he was at a momentary loss for words.

…like we were angels? I couldn’t bring myself to say the words but I knew I felt good about my job and the work we did each day. I smiled broadly.

“Lights and sirens.” I said aloud.


“Lights and sirens, Roy. We come with lights and sirens.”


26 Comments on “Lights, Sirens, and Angels”

  1. Brennan says:

    Great story with a happy ending, keep it up. Hope to see a new story soon!

  2. T Gainer says:

    Thank you for sharing; the tale does make me wonder about Roy. These forty plus years later, what became of him? Your attention to duty that fall evening led the young man where? Who did he touch, what trees did he plant because of you and your partner? I am happy to know some about you, who you became, the type of detective you were, your success as a father, husband, partner, where is Roy?

    • jimpadar says:

      I also wondered about Roy as I wrote this story. You and I and all of us were privileged to work in a profession that brought us face to face with real life each day.

      Peggy Taber Millen said “We never touch someone so lightly that we don’t leave a trace.”

      We were honored to have daily opportunities to do just that.

  3. Cindy says:

    What a joy that you share your considerable writing skills with all of us, Jim!

  4. Sandy Luedtke says:

    GREAT story!!

  5. Ed Franzak says:

    Jim—-I just loved this story. I was so afraid that it would have an unhappy ending.

    All the best.

    Ed Franzak

  6. Your usual great job. It’s amazing how you can turn something that appears to be unexceptional into a terrific story.

  7. jim brown says:

    Great story. It makes a reader feel good.

    jim brown

  8. Pat Cronin says:

    What a really great read. Very well crafted.

  9. Ann says:

    Just goes to show you; angels come in all shapes and sizes. As do wonderful writers. Thanks, Jim.

  10. Darlene says:

    Another great story. Do you know what became of Roy?

  11. Joanna says:

    Lovely story, Jim, we don’t get the chance to often to hear the small but important ‘good’ stories. I love it.

  12. Mike Walsh, MM says:

    I like your stories. Thanks. Thanks also for your service.

  13. Barb says:

    Sorry, Jim, I didn’t read this sooner. It is a wonderful story. I too would like to know what happened to Roy. If you knew his last name I am sure we could find out. Thanks, Jim. Love your stories.

    • jimpadar says:

      Thanks Barb. No I don’t recall Roy’s full name. The incident happened over 40 years ago and it got no news coverage. The Case Report is on file in the deep dungeons of the police department, but it would take an act of congress and some very time consuming research to retrieve it. I don’t know the exact date either. It will remain one of the mysteries of times gone by…

  14. Joe Hartford says:

    I spent 13 years in 018 and can remember a number of times when the farm boys from Moody Bible administered some street justice upon finding somebody messing with other Moody students

  15. Dave Joseffer says:

    Hi Jim, Just finished reading Lights & Sirens. For some reason I missed it earlier. Then I went back and re-read “Mike” and “A Head Is Highly Portable”. Now here’s my dilemma: On one hand your gift inspires me to write again, and on the other hand I think I should just give you my pencils and paper! As usual, your writing is compelling and above all, human.


  16. Dave says:

    Excellent story, Jim. Thanks so much for sharing it. I will be sharing it with my co-workers here. Keep up the good work! I’m looking forward to reading them all.

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