Oh, dammit. I knew that this was a bad idea. I stared at the huge, imposing man, praying that he somehow wouldn’t remember me from the dozen collars, all those searches. Please, I thought to myself, let him only think of me as “faceless drug dealer number twenty-three.”
And then his eyes fell on me. His face lit up in furious, scowling recognition, and I felt my heart sink down into the ground through the soles of my police regulation boots.
The man came stomping over, and I had to consciously squash my instinct to turn, sprint away, maybe hop a hedge or two or look for one of my friend’s houses to duck inside. Instead, I forced my back to stand up straight, to gaze ahead and waiting to be addressed. Never mind that I was shaking in my stupid uniform.
“You!” The man’s roar was filled with disbelieving fury. “What in the nine bloody hells do you think that you’re doing here?”
Now that he addressed me, I returned his gaze, forcing my eyes not to pull away. “Here to protect and serve, sir!” I called back, desperately willing my voice to remain strong.
As the man chewed his jowls, his face growing red with apoplectic fury as he searched for words powerful enough to convey his displeasure, I suddenly flashed back to when a Mexican gang had attempted to move in on my selling territory. I’d been snatched off the street, blindfolded, and hauled before their jefe, a hulking man in an ill-fitting suit.
That jefe had tried to intimidate me, too, to scare me off of “his turf.” I hadn’t backed down. I warned him that my bosses wouldn’t tolerate his intrusion. I had stayed strong, and four days later, the darkly tanned man grabbed someone that he shouldn’t have touched and “mysteriously vanished” in the middle of the night. He didn’t even have time to grab his product or his cash.
This was no different. So despite the quaking in my bones, I stared evenly back at this huge, hulking police sergeant as he panted in my face.
The man was still struggling for words. “But, you can’t be a damn officer,” the man finally spat out. “You’re a criminal!”
I felt a couple of the other recruits in my line shifting their eyes over to me, and groaned internally. I’d known that it would come out at some point, but I had hoped for more time to bond before it was revealed. “He’s scum!” the instructor continued. “Listen up, recruits, because this is your first learning experience!”
The man stepped back and stabbed his thick, meaty finger out at me. “This man,” he went on, “is a small-time drug dealer, and has been busted on many occasions, often by me personally!”
“But never charged.”
Whose voice was that? Wait a minute, it was my own! What in the world was I doing?
“You never convicted me, never pressed any charges,” I went on, my voice only quivering slightly. “And every time the police needed a lead, I always helped out. I did my part – and now I’m going straight. Is it so bad to want to join the good guys?”
I glanced around at the other men standing on either side of me. Their eyes were lingering, but I caught a couple faint nods. Maybe they were, just the slightest bit, impressed.
The sergeant had gone bug-eyed at my little speech, and as he looked at the rest of the recruits in the line, he could see that they weren’t turning against me as he’d hoped. “Well, maggot, I hope you’re ready to have every last ounce of that old life beaten out of you,” he snarled. “Because I know you, recruit. I know that you’re scum. And I’m gonna punish you for every single plastic baggie you’ve pushed!”
For a long minute, the man held my gaze. I forced myself not to break eye contact, not to look away. And finally, almost reluctantly, he stepped back and surveyed all of us in the line. “As for the rest of you,” he announced, “don’t expect me to go any easier on you, just because you weren’t drug-dealing little punks in a past life! Now, fall in, and get into that classroom!”
We fell in, trooping into the indicated room. I glanced around at my fellow recruits, half expecting to see the same angry stares that the sergeant wore. And there were a few. But there were also some nods of comfortable acknowledgment, even a couple quick little grins.
Maybe I could do this, I thought to myself. Maybe the leopard really could change his spots. Maybe I could really leave my old life as a dealer behind, become an officer – go legit. I certainly knew what to look for, how to deal with the gangs and the pushers!
I was certainly going to try.