The streets of Chicago, in the early 1900's, were crowded with shoppers trying to get back and forth between the sidewalks. Mud from the rain drenched fall weather didn't help. Women stopped right in the middle of the street to lift the hems of their skirts. Squealing children darted in and out of the traffic, causing parents to shout out all sorts of terrible phrases.
Thomas O'Leary was just a child in those days. Any free time he had, he hung around the 21st Precinct police station, watching the comings and goings amid the cacophony of human voices, horses neighing, and the loud ahh-oooh-gahs from the auto horns. He shook his head, and listened for any exciting news.
Bank robbers were his favorite, stirring his imagination to endless heights of fantasy. He often dreamed at night, of being the greatest hero in all of downtown Chicago. He could hear the voice of his mother in the background. “Your da were the best Copper on the beat,” she would say, a hanky to her eyes. “Ya do him proud, son.”
His da had been Sergeant Colin O'Leary, both respected and feared. Loved by his family and the many friends in their neighborhood, he took no guff from those who dared to defy the authority of the police force. He would catch thieves by surprise and cuff 'em before they knew what had happened to them.
“Just who do you think you are, copper?” They'd yell at him.
“Name's Sergeant O'Leary, if ya please,” he'd say with pride.
He never knew how his da had died. “In the line of duty”, was all he was ever told. After the funeral, his mother clipped the story about the incident from the local newspaper. She cried for days, holding the paper next to her heart. Then one day, she folded it, placed it between the pages of a black Bible, and packed it away in a trunk. Nothing more was said. Thomas let it be. His da was his hero; he couldn't have died any other way. “And I'm gona be just like him some day!” Thomas promised himself.
Thirty years later, Thomas lie in a hospital bed. When he opened his eyes, the room blurred, and he felt a sharp pain in his ribs. He watched his mother take a seat beside his bed. They talked a bit, and then she took a black Bible out of her purse, and laid it within his reach. Patting the cover, she said there was something inside he might like to have. Along with it, she placed a copy of the latest Chicago Tribune.
“Twas a brave ting ya did, son. Savin' that girl in the bank an all.” She kissed his forehead and whispered proudly, “Ya done yer da proud, Sergeant O'Leary.”
After his mother left, he opened the Bible, and stared at the newspaper clipping. The headline read: “Local Hero. Our Own Sergeant O'Leary, If Ya Please.” It went on to tell how his father had surprised a would-be bank robber. In a desperate move to escape, the man pulled a hidden gun from his coat. His father, seeing a young girl was in danger, flung himself at the thief and was shot instead. But before he died, Sergeant O'Leary had handcuffed the man, and with his life ebbing away, made sure everyone in the bank was safe until help came.
Thomas closed his eyes. “I knew it, Da.” He held the paper against his chest, close to the wound, where a bullet had narrowly missed his heart.
A nurse came into the room just then. She picked up his clipboard. “And who do we have here today?” She asked, scanning the chart. "Let's see...Thomas O'Leary, is it?"
The young man placed the clipping next to the morning newspaper with the headline: “Local Hero.”
“Name's Sergeant O'Leary, if ya please.”
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