The retirement party
I had been married as long as I had been a cop, which at the end of that day would have been thirty years. Most of those years, I had been married to the same woman. Wife one couldn't take the life style, but wife two stood up to the challenge just fine.

Two months down the road we would celebrate our twenty-forth anniversary. It would be our first anniversary ever, on which she could absolutely count on me being home. I would be through with the beeper and the gun. I was retiring that very day.

"So old man, what do you plan to do now that you are free?" my young replacement asked.

"I plan to sleep late tomorrow, then try to find some way to spend the next few years." I admitted.

"I would have thought you had plans," she suggested.

"Me, you know I never was a planner, or maybe you don't. How long have you been working with me?" I asked.

"Just over three months."

"That's right. They say the memory is the first to go," I replied.

"It's not the memory. It's the prick," another detective shouted from across the room.

"Then it must be the second because I can't remember the last time I had sex," I said with a laugh.

"Millie, you going to solve all those old murders Mike is leaving behind," the young detective continued.

"If Mike couldn't solve them, I don't expect anybody will. Unless the mooch walks through the door to confess," she said.

"Got that right," the young detective agreed.

"I suppose that is flattery, but it is misspent. I'm sure you could go back over my open cases and find the killers in a day or two tops," I suggested. "You are after all as bright a detective as I have ever trained."

"Now who's dishing up the crap?" the woman asked.

"Old man, can I have some of that sick time you didn't use," the younger man asked.

"If they will give it to you, you can have it all."

"Not much chance of that this is the cheapest department in the state," he suggested.

The telephone interrupted our friendly banter. "Homicide Mathews," I said into the phone.

I listened to the message then said, "Dispatch has a 911 call about a body over in the projects. Which one of you guys wants to take it?"

"You got the call. It belongs to you."

"Come on guys, it's my last day. I don't want to be late checking out today."

"Crap, I'll take it," A different young detective shouted. All of them seemed so damn young that it was embarrassing.

After he left, I took a look at the clock. Three more hours to go, then I would be out the door for the last time. I couldn't help wondering what my life without the wheel would be like. In large police departments calls were handled in a rotation. The rotation was called the wheel. When the wheel turned to your name, you took the call. Our department was so small we didn't have a wheel type rotation, but everyone called homicide working on the wheel. It had a kind of peasant connotation for us. It was also a status thing. Working on the wheel was the place where the brightest cops found themselves. To be working on the wheel was to have reached the pentacle of your profession. I had been a slave to the wheel for the last ten years.

I took a sip of my cold coffee, then tried to imagine what my life would be like tomorrow. I really would have liked to have stayed on the wheel forever. After thirty years it was time to make room for the younger cops. Besides most of my friends had pulled the plug long ago. Very few cops made it to thirty.\tab

The phone rang again. It was Millie who answered it. "Mike," she said as she dropped the phone into the cradle. "We have a call. It's a simple robbery at Marvin's."

"You take the information, I am going to just listen," I replied. I sure as hell didn't want to get called back to testify. Especially not about yet another robbery at Marvin's.

Twenty minutes later Millie turned the unmarked car into the lot of Marvin's grocery and pawn shop. Marvin got robbed about three times a year. I was waiting for the day that some junkie killed old Marvin over fifty bucks.

"No blood on the sidewalk, that's a good sign," Millie said.

Millie had worked the beat in the area. She knew that old Marvin kept a nasty .357 under the counter. He had been known to surprise some mooch with it. The mooch who was holding a .22 got a rather large surprise, when he looked down the barrel of that cannon. Marvin wasn't shy about putting a hole in the mooch either.

The beat cop met us on the sidewalk outside. "What you got?" Millie asked.

"Some junkie ripped old Marvin off. Got away with about forty bucks according to old Marv," the cop said with a smile.

"Got a description?" Millie asked.

"Five eight or nine, about fifteen or sixteen, black of course. One interesting thing, Old Marv swears it was a girl."

"Now that's a twist. We don't usually get a girl doing an armed robbery," Millie said.

"Old Marv swears that's the only reason he didn't shoot," the beat cop informed us.

It was true that we usually had the morgue take away the suspects in a robbery at Marvin's. It was interesting, but it wasn't my problem. I ignored it all.

"Son of a bitch," the patrol officer said after answering his radio. "Mike you better get to your radio."

"What's going on?" I asked.

"It is a hostage situation at the NCNB on first," he said as he rushed to his car.

"601," I said into the car radio.

"601, you are requested at the NCNB on first and ward. They have a hostage situation." Not on my last day, I thought.

"10-4, please send a detective unit to this scene to finish up the reports," I didn't really ask. It was a demand.

Millie had heard it all. She rushed to the car. Since Millie was the officer assigned to the car, she was the driver. She immediately tore from the parking lot spinning wheels.

"Take it easy Millie. The situation isn't going to go away," I said quietly. I really wanted to scream, first at her, then at God. "Do you know this is my last day?"

Five heart stopping minutes later she screamed to a stop in the parking lot of the bank. I had barely made it out of the car when the shift lieutenant approached me. "Mike, I'm sorry as hell to drag you into this but Amos is on a fishing trip."

"I guess you guys better spring for someone else to attend the hostage negotiating school after tomorrow." I suggested it sarcastically. Our department was known statewide for being cheap.

"Now is not the time to discuss that. See if you can do anything with the mooches," he ordered.

"Lend me your cell phone, I turned mine in yesterday," I replied. With the phone in hand I asked. "Does anybody know the number in there?"

Nobody answered, "Hell, what is this bunch going to do without me." I called dispatch and had them look up the number in the yellow pages.\tab

I dialed the number. K then I waited while it rang. I actually waited while it rang about fifteen times. I forced myself to remain calm. Everybody else was a nervous wreck. Somebody had to keep their head.

"Yeah," a voice growled over the phone.

"Hey man, what's happening?" I asked.

"Who the hell is this?" The voice asked.

"Sergeant Mike with the police," I replied.

"What you want man?"

"No man, you got it wrong. You are supposed to tell me what you want," I replied.

There was no answer for a long time. "Hey man you still there?" I asked.

"Yeah, I'm thinking," he said.

"While you're thinking, tell me is everybody all right in there?"

"Nobody's been hurt yet. If I see a cop anywhere near here, we are going to waste everybody."

"Just calm down. What's your name?" I asked calmly.

"Why you want to know my name?" he asked.

"I need to call you something. If you don't want to give me your real name then make one up for me."

"Eddie, you can call me Eddie."

"Okay Eddie, while you are thinking about what you want tell me how many people you are holding," I suggested.

"Why man?" he asked.

"Come on Eddie, I have to have something to tell my boss.".

"I gots two managers, three tellers and two customers," he said. "Now call me back in five minutes while we talk this over."

"Sure man, you just stay calm. Is there anything I can get for you?"

"Like what?"

"I don't know maybe some cokes or something."

"Not just yet. Let me go talk to my men," he said it like a man in charge.

When I was sure the connection was cut, I asked the lieutenant. "How many are there?"

"Three and they are heavily armed. One of the customers got out before they noticed him. He said they all had M16 rifles."

"Would the customer know?"

"He was in desert storm, or at least he told me that half a dozen times," the lieutenant stated.

"I suppose you ran the plates on all these cars?" I asked it as I swept the parking lot with my arms.

"I was just about to do that," he said.

Sure you were, you dumb son of a bitch, I thought. I looked at the bank wishing I had some of the toys the FBI had at their disposal. Fibbie had cute little TV cameras and tiny little microphones. Greenpoint had crap.

"Mike," Millie called. I turned to her. She had a vest for me. "You might need this. It is after all your last day."

"God, please don't let it end with me actually needing this piece of crap." I struggled into the heavy armor-plated vest. Our vest had pieces of heavy armored steel in them. The newer ones were either kevlar or ceramic plates. The piece of crap I wore must have weighed thirty pounds. Before anyone put on one of our armored vest, he had to be in real danger.

A restaurant down the street had sent coffee to us. I took a cup before I made the second call. The phone rang only three of four times before I heard the familiar voice. "So Eddie what can I do for you?" I asked.

"We want a cop car filled with gas," he demanded.

"That's doable, what else?"

"We want a million bucks," he said.

"That is not doable. There ain't a million bucks in this town. You should know that, I expect you have been through the vault in there. Nobody keeps that kind of money. If it is a deal breaker, I am going to have to ask the bank president to get it from Charlotte. That is going to take five or six hours minimum. Do you really want to hang around that long?"

"Let me talk it over with my people, call me back in five minutes," he suggested.

"Okay, but you be thinking about what you are willing to give me next time I call,"

"What you talking about man?" he asked. "I ain't givin' you shit."

"Then I reckon I can't help you with the car. You see I have to convince the chief to give you the car. If I just go ask him, he is going to say no. If I tell him, you want to make a trade, then he might go for it. You think about it. Don't make any hasty decisions. I'll call back in a few minutes."

"Have you got that witness looking at mug shots?" I asked the lieutenant.

"Yeah, we should be hearing something soon," he replied.

"I hope it's real soon. The more I know about the mooch the better chance I have to assess the threat."

"The FBI team is on the way," the lieutenant informed me.

Ordinarily I would have been pissed, but on that day, I couldn't wait for them to arrive. I wanted no part of this crap, not on my last day.

Time seemed to stand still. I put off calling the bank for ten minutes. I hoped the FBI team would arrive before I had to deal with the men in the bank. When I could put it off no longer, I called.

"Okay Eddie, what about it? Do you still want the car?"

"Yeah, we want the car and an airplane," he said.

"The plane may be a problem. I will have to call around to the airport. That's going to take a few minutes. How about you give me something?"

"Why should I?" he asked.

"Because if I am going to call the airlines, I have to give them my word that you aren't a crazy killer. They don't want to risk a ten million dollar plane on a crazy."

"What you want man?"

"First your word that none of the hostages will be harmed."

"If you do what we want, they be okay," he replied.

"Okay, then send out one of them," I suggested.

"Why the hell would I do that?" he asked.

"So that I can see for myself that everyone is all right. You send out a hostage and the hostage tells me everything is cool. Then I can reassure those fat cats with the plane."

"Give me a minute to think that one over," Eddie said.

"Not a problem, but the longer you think the longer it's going to be before I can get you that car and plane," I replied.

"Call me back in five minutes," he said.

"Not a problem," I said it breaking the connection.

"So, will he go for it?" the Captain asked from behind me.

"I must be getting old. I didn't hear you walk up," I said extending my hand to the man.

"Lousy way to spend your last day," he remarked.

"You got that right. Is the car ready?" I asked.

"A car is always ready." He said it with a smile. The car was a new Ford. They always were. It had a cop radio rigged to only one channel. The microphone was always broadcasting so that we could hear what the mooches were saying. The gas tank held about a quart of gas. The gauge read full, but it lied.

The trick was to give them the car. Then to make damned sure they had no hostages when they used it. With a little luck, the bad guys would make it out of town, before they ran out of gas.

"Man, I know I'm getting old. I have to find a bathroom. That damned coffee ran right through me," I said it as I began looking for a restaurant or something akin to one. The restaurant which had sent the coffee was a half block away. I walked the half block with the cell phone in hand.

When I arrive back at the bank, I found the FBI was on hand. I was glad to see them. The agent had been briefed and he was ready to take over. For the very first time, I didn't mind handing the assignment over to the arrogant pricks. I expected to stand around drinking coffee and shooting the bull while the FBI worked on the problem with all their high tech crap.

"The com. center will be here in half an hour," I overheard one of them say to the captain.

I stood within earshot while he called the bank. "Eddie this is special agent Jenkins with the FBI. I just want you to know everything is the same as before. Just tell me exactly what it is that you want."

\'93Listen, you slimy prick, I want to talk to Sergeant Mick." He said it loud enough for me to hear even without a phone.

"I'm afraid he isn't here right now," the agent tried.

"Then get his fat ass. If he doesn't call me, I am going to send out the hostage he wanted, only she is going to be dead." I heard the phone slam down.

"Crap," the agent said.

If he thought he was pissed, he should have heard what I was thinking. After a consultation with the captain the agent came to stand in front of me. "You are going to have to talk to him. He has developed some kind of dialogue with you."

"Bull, he just thinks since I am a local, I am stupid. It is a common misconception among crooks and FBI agents," I replied. I wanted out of it but I couldn't pass up such and easy shot at the fibbies.

"Mike," the captain said. "This is not the time."

"Right, let me calm down our mooch before somebody gets hurt." I dialed the number, then said into the phone. "Sorry Eddie, but old men like me have to use the bathroom a lot." The prick actually laughed.

"Well next time just tell them to wait till you get back. I don't like talking to the FBI. Why did you call them in?" his voice had risen with the last question.

"Me, I hate the pricks. The bank must have called them. You know bank robbery is a federal offense. That never did make much sense to me. You can stick up a company payroll of a million bucks and the FBI could care less. You steal ten bucks from a bank, and they are all over your ass."

"You right, it don't make much sense, do it?"

"Not a bit," I agreed. "So what did you decide about the hostage?"

"We gonna send out one. I think I might send out this pregnant bitch," he said.

"Don't much matter to me, but it might be easier on you if you did. I mean pregnant women have to use the bathroom almost as much as old men." I forced a laugh.

"That be a fact. She done been twice," Eddie said lightly.

"So, how so do you want to do it?" I asked.

"I think I will send her out the front door, but Mike, I don't want to see no cops." Eddie said.

"How about, we put one on the walk just to help her? She might fall, her being pregnant and all."

"Okay, one cop, but no guns." He said it nervously.

"That sounds more than reasonable to me. Eddie this is going to go a long way helpin' me get you that plane," I said.

"Yeah, well you call me when you got it.\'94 He said it breaking the connection.

"Mike, bad news." the captain said. "The customer who got away has picked them from a mug book. All three of them have rap sheets. Mostly small stuff but one of them has an ADW charge in there."

"Could be worse, They could be mercenaries," I replied with a sick smile.

A couple of minutes later the very pregnant woman opened the door to the bank, then quickly waddled out. A young patrolman took her by the arm then led her away. She was immediately whisked into a squad car, then driven away. She was headed for the station and a debriefing. Her story would be relayed to us just as soon as she had finished telling it.

The debrief was not done in my presence. The negotiator had to remain unemotional. I wanted to hear the details from a professional, not a hysterical victim. I couldn't afford to allow my passions to be inflamed.

"I called Eddie fifteen minutes later. Eddie, I have your car," I explained.

"How about the plane?"

"Come on Eddie you know how those fat cats work. They have to get twenty people to sign off on that. It's going to take a while. In the meantime, is there anything I can get for you?" I asked.

"We are gettin kind of hongry in here. How about some cheese burgers and Cokes?" he asked.

"Sure, how many?" I asked.

"Just send in a dozen of everything," he suggested.

"You got it. Just in the spirit of give and take how about you give me a hostage?" I asked.

"Sure, whose body do you want?" .

"I'm sorry?" I asked in return.

"Next hostage comes out without the plane is going to be dead. So who do you want me to kill?" he asked angrily.

"Eddie my man, you don't seem to understand. One gunshot and we storm the bank. You might kill all the hostages, but I give you my word, we will kill everyone of you at least once," I said it in a cold cruel voice. "I promise you. There will be no trials for you to use to wiggle out of the death penalty. We are going to kill everyone of you."

"Man, I don't like to be threatened," he said nervously.

"I'm not threatening you. I just want you to know the score, so let's stop talking about shooting hostages. Okay?"

"We gonna shoot them, if we think you are comin in," he said to save face.

"We understand that. That's why nobody has come near the place. Just don't go shootin' nobody over a cheeseburger."

I waited while he digested that, "So do I get a hostage or not?" I asked it as though there had been no death threats on either side.

I held while he talked it over with his people. When he returned, he still wasn't quite decided. "Come on Eddie, you got more hostages than you can possibly use when you leave."

"Okay man, I'll give you one, but this is the last one until the plane gets here."

"Fair enough," I replied.

Twenty minutes later the exchange took place. We passed in a dozen cheeseburgers from McDonalds and they passed out an older woman. She was again rushed off to the station.

"We got a problem Mike," the captain said as he and the FBI agent approached.

"What kind of problem?" I asked.

"We have to end this real soon. It seems the mooches have been talking about raping the women. Four of the five hostages left are women. This is going to look bad, if we don't do anything while women are raped in the bank."

"If we go in there now, they are likely to be killed," I replied. "But captain it isn't my call."

"Thank God it isn't mine either," he said. "Try to say something to keep the women from being raped."

I called the bank. "Eddie, do you know what a red tag on a prison record is?" I asked in a cold voice.

"No man," he admitted.

"It means whenever a prisoner gets in a fight, or whenever the guards see a prisoner being gang raped, they look the other way. Now don't go doin' nothing to get one of those on your file. The way the prisons are over crowded, even if you give up, you might do a couple of years for the bank. If you do anything to the hostages, you are going to do twenty five flat. You are going to have one of those red tags on your file. It is going to be a long twenty-five," I replied. I didn't have to say anything he knew what I was saying.

"I'm going to be sitting on some beach somewhere so it don't matter none," he replied.

"I hope so, let's just understand each other," I said quietly.

"How's that plane coming?" he asked.

"We got as far as a vice president with Eastern Airlines. He is trying to find his boss. It shouldn't be too much longer."

"We gettin' awfully impatient in here," Eddie commented.

"Well Eddie just hang on. I'm doin all I can," I replied. When I disconnected the phone, I said to the captain. "It's time to kill the power."

The power truck had been standing by for some time. The captain gave the crew the word. A couple of minutes later the bank was plunged into darkness. I allowed Eddie to ferment a few minutes before I called the bank.

"What the hell you doin'?" he asked before I could speak.

"The FBI just killed your power. I have been working like hell trying to get them to turn it on. They just won't listen to me. You want to talk to them." I was trying to hand Eddie off to the Fibbie negotiator.

"Hell no, I'm just goin' to send out a body," he replied.

"Up to you Eddie, the other cops want to come in anyway. You will just be giving them the excuse. Tell you what let me talk to them again. If I can't work out something then you do what you got to do." I said to break the connection. I really hadn't lied the assault team was ready to storm the bank at the first sound of gunfire. The assault plans were laid and ready.

Time dragged on. I called the bank after twenty more minutes. "Eddie the FBI is harder to negotiate with than you. The chief tells me that he will only restore the power, if you release the remaining hostages."

"That ain't gonna happen man. We turn over them hostages and you gonna storm this place," He said.

He knew the score so I said, "You are probably right about that, but there is nothing I can do about it." I paused a long minute. "How about I try to get them to do it for half the hostages? I might be able to sell them that."

"You try man, it's startin' to get cold in here," Eddie said. "But I ain't gonna send them all out."

I wasted another twenty minutes before I called. "Okay Eddie, you send out half of them and the FBI will turn the lights and heat back on,"

"Okay, but this is the last time I'm sending out anyone alive," he said.

We took the two hostages, one man and one woman. I immediately called back into the bank. "Eddie that ain't half, you only sent two."

"I kept three so that we would each have a shield to use when we leave," he said. "Besides did you want half a hostage?"

"I guess you got a point, let me see what the FBI agent has to say," I shrugged when the agent looked at me questioningly. The captain waited a few more minutes then restored the power. The power crew was held on the scene. If we stormed the place after dark, we wanted the bank to be in the dark.

"You know captain. This place is going to be lit like daylight with all those parking lot lights."

"I know we have been talking about killing those lights after the sun goes down. We still have a couple of hours for you to work your magic," he said with a grin.

"I don't know about magic. I have pushed those guys pretty hard. That red tag crap may come back to bite us on the ass." I replied.

"You had to do something," he said.

"I sure as hell would hate to lose anyone on my last day," I said hoping he would relieve me.

"I know Mike, but you are doing great." He stopped then smiled. "I don't give a damn what the FBI says."

The captain went off to talk to the chief on the radio. When he returned, it was with more bad news. "One of the last women to come out says she thinks they have raped a woman. One of the them took a woman into the vault. The others heard her scream, then she's been kind of whimpering but she hasn't come out of the vault. Mike, we are going to have to do something quick. Now that we know the chief doesn't want us to look like wimps. You know his John Wayne image."

"I expected it to come to this. One thing on our side is that these guys aren't terrorists. If the shooting starts, they are going to be too busy with the cops to execute hostages. If we don't kill the hostages by mistake, they got a pretty good chance to live."

"How do you plan to do it Captain?" I asked.

"First thing we have to do is knock out the power again. We want those parking lot video cameras off. Then we slip up to the blind side of the building. After that I guess we just charge the building."

"The bank has two sets of double glass doors. Our guys are going to be in real trouble when they charge through them. It may wind up being a shooting gallery. If they don't get them on the first try, those guys will kill the hostages."

"How about a little diversion?" I suggested.

"What you got in mind?"

"I'll tell them everything is set. We pull the escape car into the drive through so that they can see it. Then while their attention is on the car we storm the other side of the bank."

"It might help, but the first man through that door is going to be a dead man for sure,' the captain said sadly.

I knew he would never approve of what I really planned. I also knew that I would never have done it had it not been my last day. When the captain left, it was to move everyone into place. Everyone was busy as hell when I slipped into Millie's car. They were so busy in fact that they didn't even notice me pull away.

Everyone was in place when I made the call from Millie's phone. "Eddie your car is on it's way. I have a plane for you. You just tell them at the airport where you want to go. I am going to personally deliver the car to you." I quickly drove the car into the customer parking lot before anyone could stop me. I could only hope that the cops were smart enough to follow me quickly.

I swung the heavy police car in line with the door, then I gunned hell out of the engine. It would never do to get stuck in the door. I saw the storefront type doorway rushing toward me. I had to fight the urge to duck when I impacted the glass. It made a hell of a racket as the car broke through both sets of glass doors. I didn't even try to slow down as I tore through the counters across from the door. The car stopped only when it came to rest against the wall containing the drive through window. It took a couple of seconds for the shock to wear off everyone. I heard the sound of automatic gunfire as the car began to shake slightly with the hits. I was on the floor. There was a zero chance of me surviving in a gun fight with three M16s.

The firing continued but the car stopped vibrating from the hits. After a very long few seconds the firing stopped. Suddenly the door of the smashed patrol car opened.

"Are you all right?" the voice asked. It took me a second to realize that it was Millie asking. At first I thought it was my wife.

"Hell, I don't know. Let me get out of here and I will tell you," I replied.

"Be careful there is glass everywhere," she said with tears streaming down her face.

"You son of a bitch," the captain said with a laugh. "You just had to go out in a blaze of glory didn't you."

I almost dreaded to ask, "What's the body count?"

"Two dead. It could have been a lot worse," he said. "Fortunately it was the bad guys. They were so busy shooting your car full of holes. They didn't even notice us come in."

I was walking with weak knees into the parking lot when the FBI agent caught up with me. "Man. They are going to be talking about this for years."

"I hope not." I replied quietly. the end