Short Story: Testing 1..2..3..


As a group of recruits, this one had not seemed exceptional, but the test was reaching the third hour. Someone had always bailed by now, so the money in the office pool was getting bigger odds every ten minutes. Someone was going to win a big pot.
Every fifteen minutes to half an hour someone had made the rounds and challenged each of the recruits with another task. As they were out of sight of each other, none of them knew that the others were having the same difficult or embarrassing things assigned to them. Every cop that participated came back chuckling, and I have to say that the rest of the office got a few jollies out of it, too. They were all watching out of the corners of their eyes.
That’s the way it goes on a slow day in this police station, we play jokes on each other, even in 2036 when we are all (HA!) adults. But this joke playing on the new blood was deadly serious. There was a lesson to be learned, and hopefully, the point would be made to one or more of the recruits. Most would not get it, but they would get the opportunity. No test would be able to reveal whether or who got it, but the lesson was valuable enough to do the lesson, regardless of the results. The ones that lasted in their job, usually advancing to higher ranks, were always the ones that made the connection.
I was sitting at my desk, kicked back and enjoying a conversation with the Irish bus driver that had delivered the fresh meat several hours ago, the bus driver also being one of their tougher instructors. We were sharing war stories, always a good time to pass the time waiting. But after three hours, we were starting to have some silence between tales. I really didn’t want to get to the point that we started to show each other our scars. It had happened before and O’Connor had one that he was particularly proud of in a place I would rather not see.
I saw the kid first. He had been escorted on arrival to some back corner of the station and told to stand in it. You would not believe how much work it is to find corners for seven recruits. Once in the corner, a dunce cap was placed on his head… and so it began. Now, a young man stood in the doorway with lipstick smeared on his face and something erotic super glued to the zipper of his pants, which strangely seemed to work even though they were on backwards.
Angry, smoldering eyes met mine as his teacher droned on about some drug bust that had gone south. But behind the anger, the kid was also embarrassed. He was the first to break, and he knew it. I interrupted the story to indicate the kid, and O’Connor casually spun around with a look of disdain on his face. Without a word, he pointed to the conference room, and the kid fairly marched in. He was trying to make the best of his disgrace, and like many young men would, show some disdain for anyone that would call him on it. But he was embarrassed, you could tell.
I remembered the words O’Connor had thrown at the newbies on arrival.
“There’s a special place in Hell for the first of you that break. The first determines what the rest get, and get it themselves, double.” The big man fairly singed the recruits with his burning gaze. “You will do everything you are told to do. You will do it as instructed down to the period on each sentence. If a uniform approaches you, you will turn and bow and address that person as “Sir” and never as anything else. It does NOT matter what you are instructed to do. It does not matter what you are asked to do. It does not matter if you are spoken to in Greek, or Swahili, or sign language. YOU WILL figure it out and DO IT!”
O’Connor did not need to add, “Am I clear?!” The recruits were clear. Thus began the hazing ritual and one of the learning experiences that would forge a cop.
Five young men and two young women filled the seats. The rest of us surrounded them, milling about on the edges of the room and giving all of them the evil eye. This was part of it, letting them know that we were disappointed. But this time the kid that was first was pretty much shrinking into his seat. The room got much quieter when O’Connor entered.
“We have a winner!” The teacher emphasized the word ‘winner.’ The kid cringed and hung his head. O’Connor moved behind him and gripped the back of the kid’s shoulders. “Lucas here couldn’t take it. He jumped out in record time. What do you think of that? Do you have any idea what his performance has cost you?”
The group, all with hanging heads and heavy frowns, glanced from under lowered lids at Lucas. Some shook their heads, perhaps some answering O’Connor’s question, but some in anger or embarrassment.
“Anything any of you want to say to this panty waist?” The big man looked around the room, striking each newbie with a frown. “Now’s your chance. Any’a you want to work with this guy? To pull a shift, share a squad car, or get in some heavy shit?”
One of the kids raised his hand.
“WHAT, BARKLEY!?!?” thundered O’Connor, as though ready to pop the kid’s head between his fingers like a grape. “WHAT have you got to SAY!?!?”
To give the kid credit where credit is due, he pinked up even before he spoke. “Pardon me, sir, but I was just going to say that I never thought it would be Luke. It coulda been me as easy.” He was angry, a little, which might account for the pinking face after he had paled under O’Connor’s heavy notice.
“So you want to make excuses for him!?” bellowed O’Connor. He gripped Lucas’ shoulders in huge hands and looked ready to choke him. Everyone in the room noticed. “What else does anyone have to say?”
“I think he shoulda manned up and grown a pair.” This from the dark-haired woman. “We gotta have each other’s back, don’t we?” She wore too much eye make-up, and the lipstick on her face was mixing with it as she perspired.
“Yeah,” said a kid with hair like dirty dish water. “Nothing was so bad that he couldn’ta taken a few more licks. We all did it.”
“I agree,” grumbled the big kid, obviously a weight lifter. “When I get through probation and assigned I’ll be watching who I get partnered with.”
A couple more comments flowed, two of the recruits markedly silent. One was Barkley, the other a small woman with mouse brown hair. She was normally quiet, and this time was no exception. While Barkley was diminished by O’Connor tongue lashing him, the woman seemed to be studying the situation.
“I don’t believe you guys,” she finally spoke up quietly, “We all got the same treatment, and I know for a fact that any one of the barbs that got slung at me, in the right light, could have pushed me over the edge.” She lowered her voice even more, knowing that the rest might be looking at her with predatory eyes and ready to pitch her into the same pit as Lucas and Barkley. “If I was ready, so were others here. Lucas just got the particular thing that set him off first.”
Glowering, the instructor bored into her and she quailed ever so slightly. Then she came to a decision and sat up straight as though proud of her statement. She glared right back… but meekly, lol.
The comments continued, sometimes at the urging of the instructor.
Mouse Hair took some heat from the others. Even Lucas spoke up and apologized to her and the rest, saying that she should be harder on him. Saying that there was no reason for her to make excuses.
I was standing to one side of O’Connor when he spoke next, so I could see Lucas’ face.
“Okay, so that’s how it is, eh? This is where the rubber meets the road, and all of you have taken a side.” He continued, “So is that it? You have your opinions, and you’re all willing to stick to them?” He panned the room and the recruits all nodded.
Grinning, the Irishman said carefully, “This has been an exercise, and as such you should expect the unexpected.”
The recruits didn’t yet know what he meant, but a couple looked up and studied their teacher’s face.
“The problem is, all of you are wrong to make up your mind. You aren’t a jury, a judge, or a victim… or even a witness. You have no investment worthy of making a judgment against, or in favor of, another person. Not to mention someone you work with. I’m going to ask you to make that distinction, to prioritize a neutral attitude unless you are directly involved in actions by a subject you are observing or interacting with.”
Something had changed, and none seated at the table understood where this was going.
Reaching into an inner pocket, O’Connor displayed a fan of what looked like tickets to an event.
“These are dinners at a restaurant, and the six of you,” he indicated everyone except Lucas, “get a free meal from one of the sponsors supporting us.” He let it sink in, wondering if anyone would bite.
“You said that the first out would get double,” the weightlifter spoke in an unusually soft tone. “I don’t get it.”
“Yes, I’m glad you asked,” said the instructor, “and Luke here will be going for a one night stay at the same resort where your meal will be served, and the rest of you can either pay for a room or drive home since you weren’t first.”
“Wait a minute.” The dark-haired woman was upset. “How does he get a pass and even get rewarded for going out first?”
O’Connor hesitated. He wanted their full attention.
“Look, we aren’t looking for Navy Seals. Some guy that will step into the hole in an outhouse with a shit eating grin on his face, all to hide from an enemy so he can kill the guy. We’re looking for people that are smart enough to prioritize and not put up with too much shit.”
I always appreciated that particular part of O’Connor’s speech and I grinned at the metaphors.
“We aren’t here for anger management, either. Each of you had a right to get pissed off. We wanted to push your buttons, and remember… we have detectives to investigate your pasts. We have things on all of you. Believe me when I tell you that you will continue to hear about whatever we found.”
A couple of the people looked a little guilty. Dark hair girl and the dishwater hair kid. I would have to find out why.
“You are not required to take crap. But just as important, you are not required to act on it. Lucas here was tough enough to hold out for three hours, so were all of you… but he was also smart enough to quit a uselessly demoralizing situation with no real value. YOU… ,“ and here the Irishman was very clear, “are expected to do what is right. THAT is the job more than anything else. When you think you can get someone off the streets by becoming a mentor and ignoring some minor indiscretions, do it. If you think that someone needs to feel the weight of a heavy hand, make sure you leave no marks. But most importantly, just as in this situation, don’t expect any scenario to be what you expect. People will lie, but not all people. Some people will look dangerous and will BE dangerous… but there will be people that you expect to take a side against you and they will do the opposite, and there will be old white grandmothers that will pull a blade and try to gut you.”
This talk was good for everyone in the room, I was thinking. We, those that had been on the job, knew what was being said.
“You have to see what’s in a kid’s hand before you make a decision. No excuses. You have to do the right thing, because that is the job. If you don’t think your pay compensates you enough to do the right thing, then you are in the wrong profession. We set an example.”
Listening, I had to think about what the cops of several years ago went through with the Black and Blue Lives Matter riots. Those cops in the teens had been angry, and it all got out-of-hand. I remembered what my mother had said about the situation, as she stood on the front lines behind her badge and a plexi-glass shield. If the police chief from that city on the east coast hadn’t stood up and said that they were looking at it wrong, there would have been more deaths than there were. Attitudes didn’t change overnight, but once the good cops stopped protecting the bad cops… well maybe the cops that made bad decisions, and they started to fire and even prosecute depending on the severity of the breach of trust things changed. That was the turning point. 
It didn’t hurt that several well-respected people in the black community came together to form the Show Respect movement.
And then, once the police departments followed the east coast chief’s lead, they set an example and a slow decline in crime was easy to accept. I hear that there are some prisons being mothballed soon, even with an expanding population.
So that was it. One, take responsibility. Two, reestablish trust. And three, mutual respect.
I hear there is a similar movement in the medical profession. And teachers’ unions have changed their tune and are now weeding out the ones that have been getting paychecks even though they can’t be trusted with kids. Judges are treating sports figures and celebrities like they should be examples and role models. Who knows where this might lead? Now, if we could only get a responsible Congress.
Naw… it’ll never happen.

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