Conduct Unbecoming, Part One:

Central City Books Police Car-by-jason-dent-QDTFZCo1Z3g-unsplash

5:18PM, October 28th, 1970

Captain Garcia spoke while standing, head down, his fingers flipping through the forms and reports littered across his desk. “We’ve got a man running for office who needs an escort. He’s doing a talk at the VFW off Hill Avenue down in St. Patrick’s. You two pick him up in the lobby of the Davenport at six, drive him down to his thing at St. Pat’s, which is supposed to start at seven thirty, then bring him back to his hotel afterward. Swing back here to check in with dispatch. If it’s a quiet night, you can finish your shift on light duty and get home early. Any questions?”

Vincent Bayonne leaned against the door jamb with his hands folded across his chest and waited for his partner Murray Bungartz to acknowledge the assignment.

Bungartz, who stood in front of the Captain’s desk, stuck a Marlboro between his lips and used an old army Zippo to light it. The Captain glanced up at the Sergeant, sighed, sat down, and slid a Camel out of a soft pack. Bayonne uncrossed his arms and lit his own nail. He didn’t feel like a cigarette, but he didn’t want to stand around with the question hanging in the air.

Bungartz said, “What’s our VIP’s take on the issues?”

The Captain exhaled a cloud of smoke. “You’re going to love this guy. He’s all heart.”

“Scrooge before or after Christmas future?”

“My guess? Before, but you wouldn’t know it unless you asked for a donation. He’s the type who accepts his nephew’s invitation and then ghosts. He’s a lot like you, Bungartz.”

Bungartz nodded to Bayonne, signaling that he’d made his point and it was time to go. “I keep Christmas all year. I keep it to myself.”

The Captain set his smoke on the edge of his ashtray, scooped up a few papers clipped together, stood, and held the papers out to Bungartz. “Here’s an outline of the detail and the press release on Edward Harrington. Keep Christmas however you want. Just keep your mouths shut, keep Harrington safe, and get back here as quickly as possible. Now get the fuck out of my office.”

****

Bungartz drove the squad car downtown to the Davenport. The temperature had dropped, and a few flurries floated through the air. Bungartz said, “I should probably be thanking you. I think we got this detail because you’ve never worked one of these before.”

Bayonne stared out the window at the skyline and thought about their detail. He knew patrolmen worked the fairgrounds during the state fair or the Chateau during a Spirits game, especially now that the Spirits were winning. Guys sometimes were assigned security detail as a favor to somebody in office or a political boss. Bayonne only knew what he’d heard. He’d only been on the job a little over a year and had spent that time driving patrol in Waite Park, cruising the mall parking lot, citing occasional traffic violations, breaking up bar fights, and canvassing crime scenes or working their perimeters.

Bungartz said, “Sometimes I feel like I’m talking to myself.”

“I’m listening.” Bayonne had been paired with Bungartz right out of the academy. Bungartz had passed his sergeant’s exam years ago and received his pay increase but had never been moved to a desk. He’d continued to work patrol and train the new guys. He was known as a methodical cop, cool in tough situations but no mastermind, a bit of a prickly pear. He would never be a detective and didn’t want to.

“Why don’t you ever say anything?”

Bayonne shrugged. What was he going to say to a guy like Bungartz?

“You’re not the only one who went to war.”

“I never said I was.”

“I guess you didn’t.” Bungartz turned up the heat and tilted the vent toward his face. “What does the file say?”

Bayonne flipped through the file a second time. “Harrington’s family owns several farms, a grain elevator, and a construction company upstate. I think they homesteaded the original family farm.”

Bungartz snorted. “You’re saying he inherited every penny he’s got.”

“He served in the Air Force during Korea and then ran the family construction company for the last eighteen years.”

“Why do you think he decided to get into politics?”

“According to the press release, he wants to make the world a better place.”

“I’m sure he wants to keep the world safe for democracy, at least his style of democracy.”

Bayonne folded the pages of the detail and press release and shoved them into the glove box. “Is there more than one style?”

“Right and wrong, seems like.”

“I’d never thought of it like that.”

“Bayonne, I can never tell when you’re joking.”

Bungartz pulled their cruiser to the curb in front of the Davenport, and the two officers walked into the lobby. Bungartz had put on a few pounds as he’d neared retirement, but he wasn’t quite fat, mostly wide. Bayonne, who stood a few inches taller than the five foot ten Bungartz, couldn’t gain weight if he tried. His pale blue uniform hung a little loose on his rail thin frame, and the two men looked like the almost complete opposites they were. In the lobby of the Davenport, where the uniform was a business suit, two officers of the law might as well have worn tuxedos or penguin costumes, and the concierge, when he saw them, waddled across the room.

The man spoke as though choking on a nasal decongestant. “Has there been some sort of disturbance?”

Bungartz spoke with his hands gripping his utility belt. “We’ve had a report of an employee running through the lobby?”

The concierge glanced around to see if any of the guests had noticed anything. “I’m not sure what you’re implying, officer. I’m merely wondering if there have been any issues.”

Bayonne, having studied the photograph in the press release, recognized Edward Harrington the second the politician stepped off the elevator. “Murray, here’s our guy.”

“Surely Mr. Harrington hasn’t done anything wrong,” The concierge said.

“Would you know if he had?”

The two patrolmen left the concierge and walked toward the elevator. 

When he saw them, Edward Harrington’s face lit up. “This must be my escort. It’s an honor to meet you.”

Harrington pumped the officers’ hands vigorously and introduced his campaign manager, Charles Shaw. Shaw’s smile was short and to the point.

Shaw said, “If you don’t mind, gentlemen, I’d like to get moving. We’ve been running behind all day.”

Bungartz led the way to the patrol car.

Harrington laughed as he followed the two policemen. “I don’t know how we could be behind. All we’ve done all day is shake the hands of businessmen. We’re not ahead or behind. We’re exactly where we started.”

Shaw nodded. “That’s your job, Ed. If you’re elected, it’ll be all you do.”

“Let’s hope I don’t get elected.”

“Let’s not act like you don’t enjoy the attention.”

Bayonne thought the two men sounded like an old married couple. The second they stepped outside, Bungartz lit a cigarette and told Bayonne he should drive. Bungartz climbed into the front seat, and Bayonne held the back door for Shaw and Harrington.

Bayonne spun a U-turn and headed into midtown to take Hill Avenue south. 

Harrington said, “Officer Bayonne, you’re a young man. What made you choose a career with the Central City Police Department.”

“I was in the service.”

Harrington smiled and nodded as though that answered his question. “I suppose a number of people leave the military and pursue a career in law enforcement. Did you serve in Vietnam?”

Bayonne nodded.

“I served in Korea, you know. That was a difficult time, but we did our duty.” Harrington paused for effect. “What about you, Officer Bungartz?”

“What about me what?”

“What made you choose the CCPD for a career?”

Bayonne had slowed for a traffic light, and Bungartz let his cigarette slide out the crack in his window. “I was in the service too.”

“Were you in Korea?”

“France and Germany.”

“A different time.” Harrington nodded. “A nobler time.”

They drove in silence for a few blocks, and what had been a few flurries in the air began to accumulate. Bayonne turned the nob, and the wipers squawked and slowly waved. It was a little early in the year for snow, but Bayonne remembered a couple of Halloweens as a child when he’d worn his costume beneath his winter overalls, and the party for the kids in the basement of the parish church had ended outside in a snowball fight. He pulled into the parking lot behind the VFW, and leaned forward to look through the windshield. He’d heard on the radio they might get several inches, but Bayonne had learned not to trust the weather service this close to the lakeshore. 

Harrington asked, “Are either of you members of the VFW?”

Bayonne shook his head. Bungartz said, “I play bridge on Wednesday nights at the VFW up on the Hill where I live.”

Harrington clapped Bungartz on the shoulder. “Good man. Let me buy you a drink.”

Bayonne and Bungartz slid out of the cruiser and closed their doors. They stared at each other over the roof of the car, knowing Harrington and Shaw couldn’t open their doors from the inside. Bayonne said, “I didn’t know you played bridge.”

“Should we tell them we can’t drink because we’re on duty or do I need to explain to this guy that I don’t drink at all?”

“I think you should explain to me why you don’t drink. I’ve never understood that aspect of your personality.”

“What aspect of my personality do you understand?”

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