Why I am Not a Cop, Part One

January 26, 2014

Monkey note: Sometime contributor Dale Smith sent this along. He says its a made-up story. He’s working on Part Two, so publishing it is demonstrative of no small faith on my part. But I’m intrigued.

By Dale Smith

I left LSU after my junior year and turned pro. I shot an 83 in the third round of Spring tour school at Walt Disney World, missed my card by a bunch and spent about six months trying (unsuccessfully) to Monday qualify.

entrance-1I gave it another shot that Fall school at the aptly named Waterwood in Huntsville, Texas, but my nerves were shot from the beginning. Still, I sort of held it together until the sixth and final round. I pretty much thought I had my card locked up when when we got we got to the 17th hole, a 230-yard par three with water on three sides — essentially an island green. A knee-trembler on a perfect day when you’re swatting it around with your buddies, when we came up to the tee there were five groups already waiting.

We waited more than 45 minutes. Then I stepped up, swiped a tentative one-iron and drowned a Titleist.

I hit from the drop zone next, and my wedge hit a stone wall at the back of the green and ricocheted into the water. I put my fifth shot 20 feet from the hole, lipped out the putt and backhanded my seventh stroke six feet past. Then I rallied. I drained the comebacker, birdied 18 and waited around for three hours to learn I’d missed my card by a stroke.

So I limped home and took a job in the pro shop of the third-best country club in our town.

When I say third-best, I’m talking about the ascribed status of the place. I took the job there because it had the best course, or at least the best shot values, and because I knew a few of the members could really play. This was important to me, I still thought I was just a bad break or two from making it on the tour. In high school I’d been the second best player in the state, and the guy who’d been the best was now the best amateur in the world, with his picture on the cover of Sports Illy. They wanted to know if he was “the next Nicklaus?” and though I figured he wasn’t, I figured he might be the next Hale Irwin. Which might make me the next Rod Curl. Or something.

Anyway, I was young enough to believe I could still get better, and I didn’t want to take a job — even one that paid better — where I’d mostly be giving lessons to matrons and selling cashmere cardigans to old doctors and their youngish wives.. My duties at Third Best weren’t all that clearly defined — there were times when I’d be expected to cover the register, but most afternoons I was free to roam over the course in a chart, chatting up the members and maybe dropping a few balls here and there, jacking up a few approach shots on an open hole. I’d hang out at the range and give pointers, watch a few swings, show someone how to cut a pitch shot. Nothing too strenuous. When Pete the Pro hired me, he didn’t figure me to be a lifer — I had too much game. And he liked having a guy on staff who could challenge the course record every fourth or fifth time he circled the course.

Having players was a point of pride for Third Best, it was by far the golfiest club in town — the initiation fee wasn’t too steep and the membership committee was flexible, so on any given weekday afternoon there were probably more than a few guys who weren’t exactly current on their dues scraping it around out there. While the membership was salted with doctors, lawyers and banker, mostly we had small-business owners and accountants. We had some civil servants. That’s how I met the cops.

Elton, Ted and Tuck were actually all sheriff’s deputies — Elton and Ted were detectives, while Tuck was the department’s public affairs officer. Of the three, Elton was the real player, a tall lean Cajun of about 50 who had a homemade swing he could repeat and the country strength to lay it out there about 270 yards. (Boys and girls, this was before the age of titanium drivers and hopped-up golf balls. Elton wasn’t as long as me, but he was really long.)

Ted was the smart one, one of those booky guys you sometimes run into, like the auto mechanic who reads À la recherche du temps perdu in the original. He was, I guess, nominally Elton’s boss in that his title was Chief of Detectives, but he deferred to the older man. Ted’s game was sketchy, but he could chip and putt and when he got hot he could run off three, four or five birdies in a roll. He usually had a big number waiting for him out there, so he never scared par — he hardly ever broke 80 — but he was a good man to have in a scramble, especially if you could slot him as your “C” player.

Tuck was an aspiring comedian who, had he been from any town bigger than ours, would have probably headed out for L.A. when he was 16. He was a genuinely funny guy, and his impressions — he did the police in different voices, you might say — were at least Baton Rouge comedy club caliber. (He ended up years later as a TV meteorologist in New Orleans, but I’m getting ahead of the story there.) Tuck was like a pocket John Candy, and it was kind of a shame that he was mostly stuck introducing McGruff the Crime Dog at the fair or warning middle-schoolers not to huff so damn much airplane glue. As far as golf went, he couldn’t play ukulele if you tuned it to an open chord, but I understood why Elton and Ted liked to play with him. He was just a fun dude to be around.

Anyway, the cops had standing early Saturday and Sunday morning tee times when I got there, but their regular fourth got mouth cancer from dipping and had to drop out. So old Harold the starter had been improvising, sometimes letting them go off as a trio, sometimes sticking a single with them. The week I arrived I showed up Saturday morning looking for a money game and Harold more or less begged me to go off with them instead, I think he was suspicious about whether they observed proper cart etiquette or whatever and he wanted someone to spy on them.

Turned out, we all hit it off. They were all older than me — Tuck by only two years — but we shared a sensibility. We were serious about our golf, but we weren’t like the jerkwad doctors who kept copies of the rules of golf stuffed in their leather staff bags. I didn’t give a rat’s ass if Tuck hit a second tee ball on the third hole or if Elton raked back the occasional three-footer. I didn’t care what they shot, though after three or four holes I found myself rooting for them to play well. We established a comfortable flow — they stayed out of my way for the most part, though they weren’t afraid to needle me (especially when I’d cuss a shot that didn’t quite meet my elevated standards) and I really believe that playing with me raised the level of their play. So when they asked me to join them the next morning, I did.

And by the next weekend, we pretty much had a regular thing.

•••

Of course, we talked when we played.

And there being three cops in the group, and only one golf bum, things almost always eventually got around to cop stuff. So over the course of a few weeks, I learned a bit about the cases they were working. Elton was primarily homicide, but he had some drug cases working too. Ted had general responsibility for all the cases, of course, but the department wasn’t so big that he was strictly an administrator. He caught cases too — and liasioned with the state police investigators who worked our parish.

Tuck’s job was different, but even he would go out on busts when they needed manpower. He was actually the only one of the three who’d actually fired his weapon at a perp. Soon after he’d become a deputy, when he was working patrol, he’d had answered a domestic disturbance call that ended when a some bad wired coonass junkie started to think about raising the knife he was holding in his right hand to the throat of the baby girl he was holding in the crook of his left arm. Tuck shot him in the right eye. He slumped to his knees and Tuck gently took the little girl from his arms. Daddy was dead before he made it all the way to the ground. His daughter didn’t even

Tuck didn’t tell me this. I heard it much later from a Jennings cop who’d made it to the scene in time to watch the William Tell act.

“It was like a scene from a movie,” he told me. “That chubby little bastard is badass.”

So after a month or so of being golf buddies, Ted asked me over to his house, for supper. I went, met his wife and kids. I started hanging out with Tuck and his wife Julie — a strikingly pretty girl from New Iberia, the daughter of a federal judge who obviously thought Tuck was bound for greater things than the Jefferson David Parish Sheriff’s Department. Elton never had me over to dinner — he lived out in the country aways, with a big family he took pains to insulate from his unpleasant profession — but every now and then I’d see him at the Holiday Inn bar, and he’d nod and raise his Dixie beer at me, which was enough to let me know he liked me. Which was a good thing, because Elton was one scary old dude.

One Saturday after our round they invited me to go with them to the police firing range, an outdoor facility that, along with the expected targets backed up against an earthen retaining wall, also had a number of junked cars, refrigerators and plastic soda jugs filled with water.

I’d shot rifles and shotguns before — I’d even gone duck hunting a time or two with my father before he’d died. But I’d never experienced the exhilaration that comes with firing a fully automatic AK that had once belonged to a cocaine dealer. Ted and Tuck kept handing me what I perceived as exotic weapons (Glocks and Mac-10s mostly, which I now understand are pretty run of the mill firearms) and I kept blowing things apart.

Ted and Tuck seemed to get a big kick out of watching me blast away at taxpayer expense. Elton just stood back and sucked on his Dixie, clicking his wedding ring against the neck as he watched we with his dead calm olive eyes.

•••

It was a week or two later that Ted showed up at the course on a Tuesday morning, when I was hanging around the pro shop, checking the lofts and lies on some used Ben Hogan Directors one of the members had recently traded in.

“Can I borrow Hot Shot here?” he asked Pete the Pro. “Official business.” He winked to let us both know it was nothing of the sort.Pete looked over the top of his bifocals and made a motion with his head that indicated he had no real need for me at the moment so I put down the seven iron and walked out and got in Ted’s unmarked vehicle — a piss-colored Plymouth Reliant K.

“You taking me to lunch?” I asked him.

“Sure, later. First I’ve got something I want to show you.”

Weatherrice1We took a state highway a few miles east of town and turned onto a dirt lane that bisected a rice field. We drove about 700 yards, to the middle of the field, and Ted stopped the car. He cut the engine, then reached beneath the driver’s seat and pulled out an upturned Frisbee, with a baggie containing a green, leafy substance and a pack of rolling papers.

“Why don’t you roll us up one?” Ted asked.

“You’re kidding, right? You’re the po po. And I don’t even know what that is.”

“Shit, I’m not trying to trick you. Let me see you roll one up.”

“I’ve never done that before.”

“Noted.” He waited a beat. “Give it a try? For Uncle Ted.”

I shrugged and tried to do as he’d asked. I didn’t have to feign awkwardness. I’d rolled one, maybe two joints in my life. I wasn’t a pot smoker — not really. If someone was passing around a spliff, I’d take it just to be neighborly, or to signal I was “cool,” but I’d never bought a bag of dope in my life.

After a minute or two or fumbling, I produced an obese, loosely rolled cigarette that resembled a pregnant cockroach. I handed it over.

“Best you can do?”

“It is. Now are you satisfied I’m not a doper?” I said in a tone that was lighter than what I was feeling.

“Sure,” Ted said as he took the misshapen doob in his lips and lit it. He sucked and the tip glowed red and he held it in his lungs for a few long seconds. “Too bad,” he croaked as he exhaled. “Elton had an idea.

“But you’re going to have to get better at rolling joints.”

•••


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