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I would be on another special assignment for a federal agency that shall remain nameless. This time I would be working in Central Wisconsin. Another agent and I would work the case together and I was looking forward to being with him. It had been almost a year since we had seen one another, but I was certain he would be happy that we were working together again. I felt we made an extraordinary team.
The people that picked me up when I arrived in town had no details on the nature of our assignment so I sat quietly in the rear of the dark sedan. The feds were like that—everything mysterious, everything confidential. It added to their mystique. Even now, after all these years, I am surprised that I’m writing about it—I have never talked about this case to anyone—until now.
I adjusted the 9 mm Walther PPK in my waistband and eased back in the seat. There was no conversation..
The car snaked along a narrow unlit two lane county highway that paralleled the Wisconsin River to our left. On our heavily wooded right, a light from an occasional residence set far back from the road would occasionally break the almost complete blackness. But when I cocked my head and gazed up, out the window, the Milky Way blazed a path across the sky and created a soft overhead glow, diluted only a bit by a thin crescent moon. It was then I was reminded why I loved the occasional visit here. That, and the fact that I would be working with one of my favorite partners again.
When we reached the strategically located safe-house just north of town I was unceremoniously dropped off by our driver and his assistant. My partner was at the door and I greeted him warmly. Inside were other familiar faces and we nodded in stiff recognition, silent acknowledgement that we would be having no substantive conversation with them. They were strictly support staff for us; providing whatever assistance we might need and freeing us from mundane tasks that would detract from our mission. My partner and I glanced at one another. The others need not know, they must not know, any of the details about what we would be doing the next several days. Such was the nature of this sensitive operation.
It was over two hours, after idle chit-chat an awkward shared meal when we finally found ourselves in a room, alone—able to talk at last. We chattered excitedly about the plans for the coming days—the heavily wooded hills just behind this house, rife with Indian burial mounds—they would provide the landscape where this drama would play out and that was my partner’s expertise. He was raised here and knew the territory well. But just how did these ancient grave-sites come to play such a big part in a criminal enterprise? That was my expertise. Each of us brought unique talents to this assignment and by combining them, we were more than confident about the ultimate success of our mission.
We heard the floor outside our door creak and we stopped talking.
The door to our room, cracked open.
“What?” I said, trying to sound very much annoyed.
“Jimmy! Howie! Quiet down in there. If you two kids don’t shut up and go to sleep, we’ll put you in separate rooms.”
“Sorry dad.” My tone had changed now.
“And Jimmy, you left your toy on the hallway floor and your mom almost broke her neck.”
“That little black plastic gun—it has sharp edges.”
Footsteps walking away from the bedroom door and then silence.
My cousin and I duck our heads under the covers and continue jabbering, but in hushed tones now. I would be here for two weeks—we had a lot of plans to talk about.
Oh, to be eight years old again!
* * * * *
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All police officers run into individuals throughout their career whose stories are unimaginable, their alibis inconceivable, and their excuses are beyond ridiculous. Once you’ve heard it you’re certain you’ll never hear it again. I’m mean, how could more than one person come up with the same asinine story?
The first time I pulled a bag of dope out of a drug dealer’s pocket and he responded with, “Oh man…these are my cousin’s pants,” I just about fell out laughing. You mean to say you have been wearing these pants all day and you didn’t realize you had forty-seven bags of heroin in one pocket and more cash than I make in a month in the other pocket? Give me a break. Now every time this happens and they start with this excuse I just cut them off. “Let me guess, this is your cousin’s (enter article of clothing here)?” They just roll their eyes and stop talking. They know I’m not going to fall for it.
Traffic stops have to provide more excuses than anything else out there. Some are ludicrous, some bizarre and some are just downright outrageous. My personal favorite was not so much an excuse as it was just flat our denial.
I was fresh out of the academy and working 3rd watch with my field training officer. We were driving northbound on Clark St. and right in front of us pulls out a white Chevy Caprice that has two flat passenger side tires. We follow for a short period to run the plate and make sure the car isn’t reported stolen. The car weaves from lane marker to lane marker showing no signs of stopping. As he makes a westbound turn onto Pratt we hit the lights and siren. The Caprice slowly pulls up onto the curb right under the Metra viaduct at Ravenswood. We flood the car with light from our overhead takedown lights and drivers side spotlight. Suddenly, we see the driver turn off the car, take off his seatbelt, slide over to the passenger seat and fasten himself in securely. We both approach the vehicle with flashlights in hand scanning the front and back seats. The clear Dixie cup of brown liquid in the cup holder grabs our attention. As I requested the driver’s license the lies began to spew from his mouth.
“Why do you need my license?”
“Because you were driving.”
“No I wasn’t.”
“Yes you were.”
“No, I’m just waiting for my friend.”
“We saw you driving, pull over and slide into the passenger seat.”
“You didn’t see me driving, officer.”
“You’re the only one in the car.”
“I know, I already told you, I’m just waiting for my friend.”
I don’t know if I was so frustrated with the lies that were coming from his mouth or with the fact that he had me so engaged in this ridiculous conversation. As we had the driver exit the vehicle the smell of booze, the bloodshot eyes and inability to stand without holding onto the car confirmed what we had suspected. I placed handcuffs on this guy which seemed to shock him. He couldn’t understand why he was being arrested. As we drove him closer towards the station he became angrier and angrier. He even explained to me how in Haiti, his native land where he used to be a police officer, this would never have happened. Silly me just wanted to hear him say it.
“Listen; just tell me you were driving.”
“I wasn’t driving, officer.”
After processing him for driving under the influence I began to lead him into lockup. As our journey together came to an end he assured me that he would be placing a Haitian curse on me. I explained to him how much I appreciated our time spent together and bid him farewell. Ten days later while sitting at a red light off duty, I was rear-ended by a drunk driver who had passed out behind the wheel. I suddenly found myself sitting in the back seat of my car. Did the Haitian curse ring true?
Months after that incident I was working as a one man car on Sheridan Road watching traffic go by. It wasn’t long before I saw the black Jeep Wrangler misjudge the yellow light and sail right through the solid red. I curbed his vehicle near the Loyola El stop and flooded his car with light. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The driver, the one and only occupant in the car, climbed over the center console and planted himself firmly in the passenger seat. “Here we go again,” I thought to myself. I approached the passenger side of the vehicle and shined my flashlight into the car. The driver just sat there and continued looking straight ahead. I tapped on the window and the driver acted startled. He rolled down the window and it began all over again.
“Can I have your license and insurance please?”
“Why do you need my license?”
“Because you were driving.”
“No I wasn’t.”
“Yes you were.”
After much back and forth I think he figured out I wasn’t giving up. He finally admitted that he was driving. He said he got scared because he didn’t have his license on him and didn’t know what else to do. He couldn’t stop apologizing and just kept telling me what an idiot he was. I let him know that honesty goes along way with me; I verified that he had a valid license and sent him on his way.
Now I would like to say that this next incident was the final time this happened to me, however, I cannot be sure that it won’t happen again. This was the third time it happened. My partner and I were driving northbound on Ridge Blvd and we pulled up behind a small silver Honda that was stopped at a red light. As the light turned green the Honda didn’t move. I tapped the air horn and still nothing. By this time the light had changed back to red. I exited my squad car and walked up to the driver side window. He was knocked out cold, eyes closed, head tilted back and mouth wide open. I went back to my squad and waited for the light to turn green. One thing I’ve learned is that you never wake a sleeping driver until he has a green light. You never know what they’re going to do when they wake to the air horn of a police car. Some immediately hit the gas and some get out of the car without putting it in park.
So the light turns green and I really lay on the air horn and the driver wakes up. He drives slowly from the intersection and makes a left hand turn onto a side street. We light him up and watch him slowly pull to the curb. Again, the sole occupant in the car puts it in park, slides over to the passenger seat and waits for us to approach. Same conversation. Again, bloodshot eyes and smell of booze. After failing the field sobriety tests my partner and I cuff the suspect and place him in the back of our squad car. Now I’m going to drive the bad guy in to the station and my partner is going to drive his car in but we have one problem. We can’t find the keys anywhere. We search the suspect, the car and the surrounding area. Nothing.
“Forget it,” I tell my partner.
We take the bad guy into one of the district holding cells and conduct a more thorough search. I have the bad guy spread his legs as far as he can, I grasp him firmly by the back of his belt and I give him a good shake. Sure enough the keys fall from his rear end down his pant leg to the floor. It gave me a bit of satisfaction to find the keys and realize I wasn’t going crazy.
That satisfaction diminished in traffic court a month later when the judge stated that I had no probable cause to pull over this poor driver. He had convinced the judge that he wasn’t passed out, his car had just died at the light and he was trying to start it up again. Now I know that judges aren’t supposed to consider anything after the traffic stop when trying to determine the validity of the initial stop, but come on! A drunk driver who climbed into the passenger seat and hid car keys in his butt walked out of court that day because the judge believed him over me. I’ve learned to sleep well at night knowing that I did what I was supposed to do.
So these are just a few examples of instances that I foolishly believed to be unique. Now it’s your turn to share in the comment section that recurring episode that you mistakenly believed to be one of a kind.
As we start the new year, Jay and I would like to thank all of you that helped make the release of our book, On Being a Cop, a resounding success. We are both gratified and humbled by your response. Your overwhelming support has brought us to the point were we will be planning a second printing very shortly. But before we give the printer the go sign, we are asking that you tell us about any errors, typos or other issues that you may have found in the book (both hardcover and eBook additions). We are aware of only three minor errors, but there may be more. Leave a comment below so we can make any necessary corrections and BE SURE TO hold onto your present copy… the existing errors prove that you have a book from the first printing!
One more favor: One of the harbingers of success for any new book is reviews. Reviews do not have to be lengthy… just give us a star rating and a few sentences about what you thought of the book. As of this writing, we have just over a dozen reviews and we’re hoping to at least double that in the next month. Point your browser to http://amzn.to/19Rs1N1 and click on “Create your own review.”
2013 was another banner year for the blog. There were over 35,000 views and the last week of the year saw us surpass 100,000 all-time views from 82 countries! If you’re a number cruncher, you can view the full report here: https://jimpadar.wordpress.com/2013/annual-report/
Apologies are due to the loyal blog readers. There is no doubt that the last few months of the year, blog postings lagged behind the two per month goal. Getting the book that my son and I co-authored launched took an inordinate amount of our time and admittedly, the blog suffered. But we’re hoping to make it up to you in 2014. First, notice the use of the “WE” pronoun. I am happy to announce that son Jay is joining the blog as a regular contributor. Between the both of us, postings should become more regular once again. Secondly, we’re changing the target date for new posts to the first and third Monday of each month. The first posting of the new year is scheduled for Monday, January 6th. Jay and I are looking forward to keeping the blog an active source for stories over the coming year.
Never-the-less, some minor changes are afoot. At the present time, the blog exists in two places, the original site and now also as part of the OnBeingACop.com website (https://onbeingacop.com/blog/) which is the main site for the book. While the posts are identical, the comments do not carry over between the two and that is a less than desirable situation. It appears that the best solution may be to consolidate both sites to the new book site. We’re working on it and when any changes occur we’ll give you plenty of notice.
Thanks for your continuing support!
I was the Operations Manager at the new 911 Center the October 1996 night that Officer Jim Mullen was shot, the bullet severing his spinal cord at the neck. The paramedics updated us on his condition as they were en route to the hospital, the code they used translated to “extremely critical” the very worst classification. They did not expect him to make it to the hospital. Jim somehow survived, a quadriplegic on a respirator.
Jim gets around—local parades, speaking engagements, but I have never had the occasion to run into him even though he lives nearby.
It was a nice day, in the 70’s. I walked to the bank to make a deposit and talk to a banker and inside was Jim Mullen also waiting for a banker. In a wheelchair with a portable respirator, a thick translucent tube running from the respirator mounted on the back of his chair into his neck. Two attendants waited with him.
“Hi!” he said with a strong voice.” How’s retirement treating you?”
“I’m doing great.” I said. “How are you?” regretting the cliché as soon as it left my lips.
“I have never been better!” he said. The sparkle in his bright blue eyes told me he was more than sincere.
“You were a Lieutenant weren’t you?” he said.
“Yes,” I said, “but the night you were shot I was the Operations Manager at the 911 Center. Scary times”
“Yes they were.” he replied.
We chatted for several minutes. He’s selling applesauce, his mother’s recipe and it’s starting to take off. (http://www.mullenfoods.com/)
He’s at the bank today to try to eliminate some of the new service charges the bank has instituted in recent weeks. Me too.
He’s gotten into computers since he was shot, never knew a thing about them before but he’s pretty good at it he says… “I use the voice recognition software and it works very well for me.”
He finds the Chicago winters difficult because his system has trouble regulating his body temperature when it’s cold.
His dad, former Chicago Police, is 91… has been retired for 34 years.
His daughter, an infant when he was injured, turned 17 this year.
Idle chit chat, but his inflection was spirited, his voice strong.
He finished first and called a greeting to me as they wheeled him out.
A few moments later one of the attendants returned. “Are you Jim?” she asked. “Here, he wants to give you this.”
A jar of applesauce.
So you think you got problems bunky?
Author’s note: I learned recently that an organization named Kickstarter is facilitating a campaign to raise funds for Jim Mullen to take his applesauce business to the next level. He’s just shy of his next milestone and the campaign ends November 30, 2013. Point your browser to http://tinyurl.com/kaubgkp and read more about this project, then make a donation to this exceptional venture.
Note: This story was first posted here in Oct 2012. We repeat it here in honor of Veterans’ Day
I lifted the frame reverently from the wall—I was holding a bit a family history and I knew it. The custom antique gold frame held ribbons, medals and a citation mounted on a green felt background. They had been awarded to my wife’s cousin Ralph almost 67 years ago. I only knew Ralph in his later years and he was a character with character. He was without a doubt one of the most interesting and honorable men I have ever met.
* * * *
Pfc. Ralph Meinking crouched low in the snow and bitter north wind. He was just a few miles from the town of Bennwihr in the far northeastern corner of France, over 4,000 miles from home sweet home Chicago. Just ahead was the 254th Infantry Regiment’s objective for the day, a giant mound of earth that would become known as Bloody Mountain. This day however, Tuesday, January 23, 1945, it was simply known on the military charts as Hill 216.
Ralph was 31 years old and he was a Conscientious Objector. During World War II, under the law, objectors had two choices — they could go into the military but serve in the medical corps or other non-combat duties, or they were required to do “alternative service” here at home that was “work of national importance.” Ralph chose to serve in the medical corps and he wore the white arm band with the bright red cross of a Combat Medic. He was assigned to the 254th Infantry Regiment, Company D and they were preparing to assault Hill 216.
Today an American flag flies 24 hours a day atop the hill at a monument erected by the Rhin -Danube Association. Known as the Sigolsheim, France Memorial, it honors the soldiers of all American units that fought alongside of French Soldiers in the First French Army. But this bitter cold January day the Germans occupied a heavily fortified position at the top of the hill. It afforded them a commanding view of the surrounding country.
At 0645 hours, 15 minutes before “H” hour, our supporting artillery began firing in preparation for the assault. Minds and bodies became tense as the troops awaited the signal to move forward. They had seen some of war but it always had been they who awaited the enemy in their defensive positions; now it was the enemy’s turn to wait in a hole—theirs to attack. At 0700 hours they silently and unseen began to move through the deep snow, their snow capes blending in perfectly with the world of white which surrounded them.
For a few moments after they heard the dull explosions and saw their comrades lying on the ground, they did not realize what was happening. No shell scream, no mortar whistle accompanied the bursts. Then their minds began to work once more and they recognized the barrier the crafty Germans had erected—a field of the tiny, foot-shearing Schuh Mines. The heavy snow fall of the preceding days coupled with brisk winds had perfectly hidden the mines and the footprints of the soldiers who laid them. Pfc. Ralph Meinking had his work cut out for him as the assault continued and dead and dying soldiers littered the battlefield.
Besides wreaking physical havoc on the advancing troops of the Regiment, the mines served a second purpose; the sound of them exploding alerted the German soldiers that they were under attack. Mortar fire began to pour into the minefield, quickly followed small arms fire as well as machine guns. The concentration was extremely heavy and the assaulting force began to receive even larger numbers of casualties from this shelling as well as from the Schuh Mines. Medic Meinking was working feverishly to aid as many soldiers as he was able when he felt a searing pain in his buttocks. Shrapnel from a mortar had ripped into Ralph’s backside, but he continued to work as rapidly as he could. One, two four, then it was ten other members of his unit were triaged, treated and sheltered as best as Ralph could accomplish before he himself fell to the pain and loss of blood from his wounds.
* * * *
Some thirty-five years later I had occasion to meet Ralph for the first time at one of his well-known annual birthday parties. I was a newlywed, my wife being a former Daughter of Charity as well as Ralph’s cousin. At the time I was working homicide for the Chicago Police Department. Ralph always held his parties at local German restaurants along Chicago’s Lincoln Avenue. He insisted on just one mandate for his parties—he designated where and who you sat with. To say his group of friends was eclectic would be a gross understatement. At my first party, I found myself sitting directly across from an attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union. My bride, the former Catholic nun sat across from an Episcopal priest. Ralph, as always, sat at the bar, peering over his brood with his cigar and double martini. Both my wife and I vowed to never miss one of his parties.
We took to inviting Ralph to our home for dinner with our family. It gave us more time to visit on a personal level. Ralph was an avowed Socialist but vehemently anti-Communist. (There’s grist for spirited conversations!) He was a faculty member at Roosevelt University. He had been regular at Chicago’s “Bughouse Square” where he often mounted a soapbox to espouse his political views. Politically, he and I were about as diametrically opposed as possible. He was both articulate and good-humored and I always looked forward to his visits… and his birthday parties.
He was self-deprecating and totally without ego or arrogance.
“Ralph, I hear from the relatives that you got a Purple Heart in World War II… what was that about?” I asked one day.
“Ahhh… I got shot in the ass kid, nothin’ to talk about,” he answered.
“You were a medic?”
“Yeah!” he laughed. “Hey, did they tell you about the time I was running from one guy to another in the dark when I suddenly realized that everyone around me was speaking German? I kept my head down, finished one more and then hightailed it back to where I thought our lines were.”
He laughed heartily at himself and took a long drag on his cigar and sip from his martini.
My mother-in-law was a favorite of his and as he aged he confided to her that he was dying.
“There won’t be anything to leave you… I wish there was.”
“Ralph,” my mother-in-law replied, “The only thing I want is your Purple Heart and ribbons.”
“Now why would anyone want that!” he replied.
Never-the-less when he passed sometime later, there was an envelope with my mother-in-law’s name on it. Inside she found not only his campaign ribbons and Purple Heart medal, but also a Silver Star medal along with the citation for “magnificent courage and outstanding gallantry under fire” during the assault on Hill 216.
Pfc. Ralph Meinking: Patriot, Conscientious Objector, Combat Medic, Silver Star recipient… and oh yes… a Socialist.
“Ahhh… I got shot in the ass kid, nothin’ to talk about.”
We miss you Ralph… you were indeed one of the most fascinating persons I have ever known and at the time I didn’t even know your whole story.
Authors note: Details of the battle for Hill 216 and snow capes picture are from the 254th Infantry Regiment’s website and are used here with the gracious permission of the webmaster of the 63rd Infantry website, Fred Clinton. In email correspondence Fred also indicated that he served in the same company with Ralph and further that the 254th Regiment received a Presidential Unit Citation for their heroic actions in the battles for Colmar, France. The regiment also received a French Croix de Guerre with palm for actions in the Colmar Pocket.
I don’t like non-story posts, but I did want my regular readers to be the first to know; the stars are aligning more rapidly than we had anticipated and it now appears that a release date for the book might be as early as December 1st—in time for the holiday season. Since things are moving so quickly, we have established a web page (www.OnBeingaCop.com) where individuals can register to receive information. If you are an email subscriber to this blog you will automatically be registered to receive occasional updates. No spam! Promise. Just a couple of emails to announce the release date as it draws closer and also to alert you to a special pre-release sale at a one-time special discount price, as well as the location and time of the Chicago launch party.
On Being a Cop (the book) is coauthored by my police officer son Jay and me. About half the stories have been adapted from this blog and the rest are never before published stories by Jay and me, a total of fifty-three short stories in a hardcover book that will run about 400 pages for your enjoyment.
If you are not a blog email subscriber, point your browser to http://www.OnBeingaCop.com and register your email. Facebook users can also visit On Being a Cop and “like” the page to keep abreast of the latest information.
Jay and I hope you share our excitement… the books are on their way!