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McKlaric: A Short Story
The man's name was McKlaric, a veteran Major Case Squad man with the San Francisco Police Department. The kid sitting across from him was called Donnie Flanders. On the force three years. A brand new detective this very day.
Ever since McKlaric turned fifty, he'd taken to calling everybody younger than him 'Kid.' The Kid Donnie Flanders. His new partner.
McKlaric said, "How's your steak, kid?"
The Kid had to restrain himself from saying: "Heavenly," which it was. The best steak he'd ever had. Hands down the best steak in San Francisco. And the beer. Dark Spanish beer: Dos Equis.
What was that commercial? 'The most interesting man in the world' sitting at a table with two hot women. He turns to the camera and says, 'I don't always drink beer. But when I do, I prefer Dos Equis. Stay thirsty, my friends.'
He would have to remember that: Dos Equis. And this place: Best steak in San Francisco. He managed a shrug. "Not bad at all."
McKlaric grunted and went back to digging into his own.
The Kid was a cool customer, alright.
That very day, before he'd started his shift, the captain had had a word with the Kid in his office.
The captain said, "I'm going to pair you with McKlaric. He's my best detective. You pay attention and you'll learn a lot from him. If the man has a private life, I've never heard anything about it. But he'll teach you how to do the job the right way."
They shook hands. "Thank you, sir."
"Good luck, son."
A few minutes later, the Kid had met McKlaric for the first time. They shook hands. The older man gave his name as McKlaric---nothing else, just McKlaric.
"How do you spell that?"
"M-little 'c'-big 'K'-l-a-r-I-c."
McKlaric, hunh? That your name: McKlaric. I never got your name the first time we met!
"A pleasure," McKlaric said.
McKlaric proposed a toast. "To law and order."
"To law and order."
They clinked bottles and drank.
The Kid proposed a toast. "To blind justice."
"To blind justice."
They clinked bottles and drank.
When they had been finishing up their first day together---McKlaric showing him the ropes---McKlaric said, "You wanna grab some steak and beer later?"
That sounded good to the Kid. "Barney's?" On Cooper and Anderson.
"No." The rejection was emphatic.
"What's wrong with Barney's?"
Barney's was a cop bar. Bar and grill, to be fair. Anyway, McKlaric didn't like cop bars.
"Its not that I don't like 'cop bars,' per se... Well, actually, I really don't like the idea of them. I don't like the idea of any... assemblage of people where they are all of the same kind. I don't like being in cop bars because they make me feel like a zoo exhibit: 'See the cops in their natural habitat!' No thanks. I need diversity. I don't mind a few cops. But I also need there to be firefighters, school teachers, street sweepers.... old, young, black, white, Hispanic, Arab, English-speaking, non-English-speaking, rich, poor, middle-class... Standardization de-humanizes me. Do you understand?"
The Kid nodded. He understood perfectly well. He just felt the exact opposite way. He loved the feeling of belonging that came to him from mingling with people who were like him in one way or another. Cops understood other cops. Cops could feel your pain in a way that civilians never could.
But, he was in McKlaric's hands. His senior partner. His teacher. His mentor, perhaps.
McKlaric had a better idea. "The Slurpy Dawg." On Randall Street near waterfront.
The Slurpy Dawg. Good food, good beer. Good people. A good diversity of people. Pool tables, video games, big screen TVs tuned to sports. A sports bar, of sorts. But the owners didn't obsess over it. The televisions might just as likely be tuned to Spanish-language soap operas.
McKlaric had followed sports, somewhat, as a younger man. The older he got, the more impatient he grew with the constant stopping and starting of the action you got with football and basketball. He liked soccer. Tennis was okay, hockey, boxing. You have to play through. If you get into trouble, the momentum swings the other guy's way, you have to deal with it. You have to play through.
Baseball? Shoot, you watch the grass grow, waiting for something to happen.
"The Slurpy Dawg isn't an anything place. It's a people place. All kinds of people."
Best steak in San Francisco. The Kid had to give the man that.
As they had been driving to their first call of the day, McKlaric said, "I like Major Case. Its basically 'Homicide,' but with a little difference. In Major Case, you're dealing with a different class of criminal than you do in straight Homicide. In Major Case you have a murder and whoever did it is merely trying to get away with that crime. You don't expect and you usually don't get additional violence connected with that act. You know what I mean? With straight Homicide, you have to expect anything: the murder can be drug-related, or done in the commission of armed robbery, or something like that. You're dealing with violent, working class/poor, often career felons.
"If it becomes necessary, from the point of view of 'blue-collar' felons, if they have to, if it means avoiding decades of jail time, they usually will not hesitate to add to the body count. In Major Case, your dealing with suspects who have confidence in their expensive lawyers. Its a different world."
McKlaric excused himself from the booth. He had to pee. Old man's enlarged bladder.
You really don't remember me. Do you, old man? But just you wait and see, it'll all come back to you---but good!
When he came back he told the Kid to enjoy his youthful bladder control while he still could. The Kid said that he would.
As McKlaric was saying, having picked up from where he had left off, much earlier that day, "The scenarios Major Case deals with lend themselves to cool, deliberate, logical analysis. You have to be cool, deliberate, and logical in Major Case because the... 'clientele' we deal with tend to have money and clout. They can go from upper middle class all the way up."
"What about 'blind justice'?" the Kid said.
Without missing a beat, McKlaric said, "Yes, you caught me in an inconsistency."
"The inconsistency being?"
"Let's just skip a few steps," McKlaric said, "and agree that although justice may be blind, she is not deaf and dumb as well." He took another sip of his beer. He didn't really like it when newbies, who were supposed to be accepting the wisdom he poured into them like the grateful acolytes they were supposed to be, challenged him with such impertinence.
Anyway, making our way back to what McKlaric was going on about, he attributed his success at detection to the fact that he had been an English major in college. It was that course work, more than anything else, that he believed accounted for it.
"You learn to read the story the killer is trying to tell in the commission of his crime," McKlaric said. "The difference between the story he's trying to tell and the way the story actually lays out. Therein lies the proof of his guilt."
McKlaric had had an affair with a professor in college. She was thirty to his twenty-two. Usually in situations like that, the genders are reversed. But it had happened to him. She had that certain, special something. He would have asked her out, if she hadn't beaten him to the punch and propositioned him first.
One evening they had been lying in bed together, basking in the afterglow. He was on his back, with his left hand, palm down over his stomach. She was on her side, with he right hand over his stomach, their fingers intertwined. She said, "What will you do after you graduate?"
"Probably be a cop. It runs in the family." Most of his uncles, and a few aunts, were either firefighters of cops. Both his grandfathers had been cops. His own father was a police officer.
She told him that he had a beautiful mind, and that he should not waste himself on such pedestrian pursuits. He had tried to take her advice, had experimented with being his own person. He had briefly gone the academic route, taking a master's degree, and teaching English at the community college level.
He had enjoyed the teaching. It had been fulfilling, 'shaping young minds,' and all that good stuff. But the call of the blood had been too strong, after all. When he graduated from the academy, his old man had thrown him a block party the likes of which people 'round those part had never seen before. As though his boy had just come back from the Moon.
One time McKlaric had owned a motorcycle, many, many years ago. He'd gotten it banged up and took it to a shop for repairs. The only one around, he could see, and who seemed to be in charge, had been a carrot-topped kid with severe acne. McKlaric asked how much it would cost to fix his bike.
The kid took it into the back, where the garage was, and examined the thing himself. Apparently, he was a whiz who knew his stuff. After a little under a half hour, the kid came back and quoted a price that McKlaric found outrageous---an opinion that he failed most magnificently, to keep to himself.
"For that amount of money, the bike should be riding me!" McKlaric said, storming out of the establishment, leaving behind the motorcycle.
Shortly after that, McKlaric moved out west, on the trail of a woman who had him whupped. He was in love. They were going to get married. They were going to have babies. She was going to have the babies.
But almost as soon as he got there, she had sat him down for the "Its not you, its me" talk. Heartbroken, desolate, convinced that he would never love again. But at least he was in California, and that wasn't a bad thing. The weather was much nicer than back east where he was from, which was Baltimore.
The two partners shot a game of pool, played a round of darts with some other patrons, caught a little bit of the Westminster Dog Show on one of the big screens, before McKlaric suggested they call it a night.
"Would you mind coming by my house," the Kid said. "I'd like to show you something."
"What?" McKlaric said, yawning.
"A surprise for me, on our first day?"
"Well, I think you will find it surprising."
"Right, but let's make it quick, okay?" McKlaric said with a yawn and a stretch. "I do need to get my beauty rest."
"Won't take a minute."
The Kid led and McKlaric followed him in his car. They wound up in a neighborhood that was nicer than one would have expected the Kid could have afforded on his salary. They parked, got out of their cars, and went over to the Kid's garage.
The Kid opened the garage and said, "Voila!"
They were looking at a candy apple red motorcycle. A sweet ride and McKlaric told him so. He had had a bike like this one a long time ago.... Wait a minute!
McKlaric scrutinized the machine. When he was sure, he said, "This is the bike I owned... must have been twenty-five years ago. What a coincidence."
"Its no coincidence," the Kid said.
"Sure it is, I just told you---"
"Don't you recognize me?" the Kid said. "Don't I remind you of anybody, the least little bit?"
McKlaric looked at Donnie Flanders. Really looked at him. Something clicked and the Kid could see it in McKlaric's eyes.
"I guess I look considerably different with the acne cleared up. And my hair. No longer the carrot-top."
"Well I'll be. Was that you?"
The Kid came over and stroked the top of the bike lovingly. "I fixed your bike."
"How's she run?"
"Like silk," the Kid said. "I hope you don't mind I kept it, with possession being nine-tenths of the law and all."