The Old Santa Sailor


Christmas Eve With A Twist

It never fails. In the steamy heat of July and August, I’m working on the Christmas Gift Guides for GUNS and American Handgunner, and finding it tough to feel all Christmasy while sweatin’ and broiling. But my thoughts do turn to Christmases past, so many of them spent far from home or on duty. Some of the worst were those I spent as a cop, even worse than those in combat because so often I could see “normal people” enjoying Christmas all around me while I spent it wrestling pukin’ drunks and fighting feral crooks; dealing with horrific traffic collisions and overdoses. But there was one exception.

Between service in the Marine Corps and being a “contracted representative of US and Western interests,” I served over 10 years as a big-city cop. If you didn’t know that, now ya do. The best you could hope for was to have a slice of either Christmas Eve or Christmas Day off with your family. Never much and never both. The city is too busy.

For one, more people drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs on Christmas Eve than on New Year’s. There’s been so much emphasis on DUI enforcement and “designated drivers” on New Year’s — and virtually none on Christmas — that the 24th is the more dangerous driving night. Second, the crooks go nuts! All that extra stock in the stores and those piles of festively-wrapped presents in homes, much of it nice, expensive stuff, is like ambrosia to scumbags. Or, like cocaine in a candy bowl, whatever…

As Christmas approaches, I’m working a “crime-specific” team, doing special requests from Patrol and Investigations. If the problem is skyrocketing auto thefts in one area, we stalk and hammer the thieves. Street dope dealers outta control? We dog their heels 24/7 and take ’em down in the act. String of liquor store robberies on the West side? We dress up as clerks, with short-barrel shotguns under our aprons. You think you’re the Bad Boys? Bring it! In our “spare time” we hunt down felony fugitives tagged armed & dangerous with no-bail warrants. Best cop job I ever had, all guns and bad guys, speed and darkness and violence; no “Officer Friendly” crap, “scratching coupons” (writing traffic tickets) or domestic-disturbance calls, and the best part — every cop in the unit feels the same way; no career ladder-climbers or suck-ups dreaming of a desk job in Community Relations.

The Christmas Clowns

Crooks were ripping an area of older residences, small businesses and light industry. They operate late, in teams, one or two guys on bicycles, mostly stolen from “Pampered Sissy University” nearby (the students never lock up their expensive bikes — Mommy and Daddy will replace ’em), roll down streets and alleys looking for ripe pickins’. Accomplices sit in a van or truck in a parking lot, smokin’ dope and giggling, waiting to be brought in to load up the loot and scoot.

We take unclaimed rusty old “found property” bikes from the HQ Property Room and have the garage crew repair ’em and rig ’em for silent running. They look awful, but so do we, scummy and stubbled in the funkiest Salvation Army clothes we can find, but they — and we — roll quiet. We borrow two “dirtbag undercover vans” from the narcotics division to circle at a distance until we call them in for backup, transport of prisoners, and impounding evidence. Four of us will roll solo down the dark streets and alleys.

One group had upped their game. They were also pulling blitzkrieg armed robberies of late-strolling couples and drunks toddling home from the bars, routinely delivering unresisted savage beat-downs, and some gratuitous shots had been fired. We wanted them badly.

At about 0100 Christmas morning, I was rolling down an alley with businesses on my right and the back lots of older homes on my left. My 4-inch Model 19 was in a hip holster, and a Browning P-35 rested in a shoulder rig under a tattered, tape-patched parka leaking tufts of down from a dozen rips. I spotted a guy bending at the back of a camper unit on a pickup, shoving a big box through the rear hatch. My silent approach startled him.

An old guy; a halo of wild white hair poofing out from under a watch cap; a big nose that’s been busted once or twice looms over a walrus mustache; sleeves rolled up over almost comically thick Popeye forearms, complete with a rope-fouled anchor tattoo. The back of the camper is plastered with GO NAVY stickers, a big battleship graphic, “BB62 – USS New Jersey,” and some dates. I peep inside. The galley and bed are loaded with smaller wrapped gifts. Four big ones await loading. I almost miss a subtle move under his sheepskin vest.

Einstein & The Scumbags

“Easy, mister,” I tell him. “I’m a cop,” and flash him my badge. I explain myself. We chat.

Across town are his married daughter and three grandkids, two girls and a boy. His place here is the storehouse for Santa presents, and being a mechanical type, he’s in charge of “some assembly required,” including two new bicycles, a Big Wheels and “A dolly-house dang near big as a hot-dog stand, I swear,” he tells me. He just finished gift-wrapping; wanted to load up, then grab some Zs before the dawn trek. I ask if he needs help.

“Could use it,” he says, “Not so heavy but clumsy ya know,” and his eyes pop wide, “Whoa, whoa,” and brakes screech behind me.

An old crookmobile has coasted up, lights out, engine off, two dirtbags piling out, the passenger already waving a pistol, the driver just rising with another, both loud but not screaming “Hold still ya f****s!” and other pleasantries. I draw down on the driver and shout, “Police! Freeze!” and like an echo, a half-second behind me, another voice booms, “Police! Freeze!” My dirtbag freezes, shocked, and his sidekick Tweedle-Dum almost falls flat from stopping too fast. He’s scared spitless, looking to my left. I glance there.

It looks like Albert Einstein’s older, tougher brother is crouching, with a .38 snubbie in a two-hand hold. His watch cap has popped off, and his white mane billows. His muzzle is locked on Tweedle-Dum’s forehead. It’s over in seconds. Tweedle-Dee dropped his pistol. When it hit the deck, the magazine popped out, and rounds flew as the follower and spring spooled out of it. Tweedle-Dum laid his gat on the deck very, very slowly, his eyes locked on the mad scientist. These guys are done.

I only have one set of handcuffs, so I cuff ’em to each other, running the links through a steel cargo door handle across the alley while my new partner covers me. I get the Motorola “Murphy Brick” from my bike bag and call the van. They’re already overloaded. “Hang tight. It’ll be a while.” Einstein and I relax against their car. I crack up laughing and ask about that “Police! Freeze!” business. He smiles wide.

“What was I gonna say? Retired Machinist’s Mate First Class! Freeze!? Or maybe, Grandpa! Freeze!? Hey, two guys, two guns, I hadda back your play, right? How ‘bout Old fart! Freeze!?” That got me. We both laughed like hyenas … And I thanked him.

A truck with its lights out turned into the alley. A second later, a van followed with high beams on, sweeping the truck with a red spotlight. A siren blipped. Their truck and their pals, looking for their tardy buddies. Our van. Four dirtbags total go in the bag, good for many, many crimes.

“Better put your Roscoe away,” I told Einstein. “Am I in trouble, like, about the gun?” he asked. “What gun?” I said. He smiled, big, and elbow-poked me. “Dam’ fine Christmas,” he declared. “That was fun.”
“For me too,” I said.

This article originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of GUNS Magazine. To download a PDF version of this or other past issues, visit the FMG Store