Office Jake straightened his uniform hat as he passed the hallway mirror on his way out the door. Snapping the lock behind him, he briskly walked the four blocks to the station, automatically counting off each of the 1,147 steps under his breath as he proceeded along.
He would retrace the same route after punching in at headquarters, for this was his beat . . .his territory . . . his destiny. Twenty days from retirement, he was looking forward to morning sleep-ins and having the freedom to tackle projects he had been putting off for years, although he would miss the camaraderie and fraternal bantering of fellow officers.
He loved the feeling of ownership he felt guarding this neighborhood, and the friendships that had matured through the past thirty years. It was sad how many people had moved to “better” lives in distant cities and states. The ones who remained obtained fragmented families as they stubbornly “stayed put” while their grown children went off to large state universities and then chose jobs in impressive, urban areas.
Jake had fired his weapon on three separate occasions during his tenure while on duty; the most recent time, to frighten away some punks who had broken into Miller’s abandoned warehouse on their way to terrorize a more vulnerable community several miles east.
“I should have done more than just scare them off,” Jake lamented whenever he reminisced about this incident.
The time before that, he shot a wild dog that had wandered into the middle school’s playground, frightening teacher aides as they scrambled to get everyone inside. The dog had just lunged at little Max Cooper, who was trying to get away when he stumbled and fell.
The very first time he had fired his gun was as a green rookie who had grandiose ideas of catching hardened criminals, rescuing victims and hostages from peril. In reality, bank teller Maggie Southern had panicked when inebriated Charley Foote was shooting the ATM machine with his hunting rifle. Jake rushed on the scene with pistol drawn only to find passed-out Charley on the sidewalk; in an effort to protect his town, Officer Jake chased after an imaginary accomplice, shooting into thin air at what turned out to be an alley cat.
“What an amateur I was back then,” Jake mused, as he shook his head in wonder.
Now, three decades later, he had learned how to temper justice with mercy as he handled difficult situations with compassion and a diffusing hands-on approach that did not often require force.
As he advanced to the outskirts of the town square, Officer Jake stopped to answer the insistent beeping of his cell phone. Harriet Parker had put in her weekly request for his assistance with Mandy, her 15-year-old cat, who had escaped the confines of the front porch.
“She’s probably celebrating her freedom by curling up under her favorite rose bush, as usual,” Jake chuckled as he changed directions to reach Harriet’s little duplex on Main St.
Toward the end of his shift, Jake was notified of a brush fire at the old Wilkin’s property, a neglected parcel of land where transients often congregated with their cardboard shelters and “campfires”. He called his deputy, requesting a pick-up so they could go together to assess the situation.
By the end of the week, Officer Jake had accumulated over twenty separate incidents to report, none of which could be considered “true crime”. While laboring over the necessary forms, Jake allowed himself to daydream that there were escaped convict or murder cases that he single-handedly had resolved, and he was awarded a hero’s plaque in a ceremony that made state and national news.
That same evening Jake slowly made his way home for the weekend. Suddenly, massive waves of excruciating pain forced him to stagger and then drop to his knees. While groping for his cell phone, he was overcome with a loud ringing in his ears that caused him to gasp in agony as he fell over, losing consciousness.
Matthew Heller found Officer Jake approximately an hour later as he walked his dog, Radley.
Past and present community members mourned as the news of his demise quickly spread. A regal memorial service was conducted by fellow officers and state officials. Commendations were presented to his children and a tombstone was donated that read as follows:
Police Officer Jake L. Reesner
April 6, 1930-October 2, 2000
“He Was Always There”
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