My initiation experience as a rookie police officer...
There is a certain unwritten code that the new recruit, work colleague, player, group member, or whomever in whatever assemblage you consider, is oftentimes made to go through some type of initiation ceremony or event. It’s all about making him or her feel “part of the team” or ”one of the guys”. When I joined the Police way back, this practice was very common and as a 19 year old, wet-behind-the-ears rookie, I was introduced to my new team in just such a way. Let me tell you all about it.
Coming out of police training school, I had been warned by a training Sergeant to expect an initiation of some description when I arrived at my first posting. I was okay with that, and to some degree I even welcomed the opportunity to become part of a close-knit group of officers all with a common goal, no matter what it took.
First week on the job
I had joined with 8 other recruits, of which myself and one other had been posted to a city of 65,000 people right on the coast. One other new recruit, Officer Curtis, had arrived on the team the week prior to us, so the stew of potential for initiations was bubbling nicely and all three of us were on our guard to avoid such perils. Day two into our first week, the first initiation struck. The poor 22-year old who arrived with me was sent out on a call to the dunes at the beach to look for a body that had reportedly been spotted amongst some bushes. He was forced to park his police car at the end of a dead end street and walk across the dunes to the reported area. After hunting for an hour or so, he reported back in to the dispatcher that he was unsuccessful.
“Okay then, the Sergeant says to return to base”, was the instruction.
As the young, frustrated officer came around the corner to where his car was parked, he was greeted by the sight of his police car driving away up the street at high speed! In a panic he immediately called in the theft and the short version of events was that he spent his whole 12-hour shift hunting for the stolen car and doing copious amounts of form filling to record the theft and the events surrounding it. It wasn’t until 10 minutes from the end of his shift that the Inspector on duty came to him and led him out to the rear compound to show him his patrol car, which had been parked there using the spare keys kept in the station.
One down, two to go, I thought.
"I can do that Sarge..."
The rest of that week passed without event. It was in the middle of the following week that my own Sergeant, a large, burly man with whom I had immediately connected from day one, came to me and pulled me into his office.
“I need your help to carry out an initiation on Officer Curtis. Are you willing to help us?” He asked me.
What was I going to say? Of course I had to help. Firstly, I was a new recruit and this was my Sergeant asking and secondly, it would mean that if they were playing a prank on him then they weren’t on me.
“Sure Sarge”, I answered eagerly.
He proceeded to outline the plan to me.
“You will go to the city morgue and we are going to lay you on one of the pull out slabs in the cooler. Officer Curtis is going to be sent there to confirm the identity of one of the bodies in the morgue. The mortuary technician is in on it and will pull your slab out for Officer Curtis to see. When he does, you are going to jump up from under the cloth and scare the living daylights out of Curtis. Got it?"
“I can do that Sarge”, I said, even though my head was racing with thoughts about poor Curtis and what he was going to have to experience. Those thoughts were quickly brought in check by the overriding thought that if it was him, then it wasn’t my turn. The relief of that thought set in and I resolved myself to do as my Sergeant had asked.
The scam was set up for the following day. My Sergeant and I drove down to the morgue where we were greeted by an odd looking older gentleman who introduced himself to me as the mortuary technician.
“My job is to cleave ‘em and freeze ‘em, and tag ‘em and bag ‘em”, he said to me once the formal introduction was made. His demeanour was unusual to say the least but they say working with the dead can cause all sorts of weird character traits in a person. This man was no exception to the rule. His wiry grey hair was disheveled and his steel rimmed glasses were bent and perched precariously on the end of a bulbous nose. When he smiled, his teeth were uneven and stained.
“I’ll leave you with Roderick,” my Sergeant said, “He’ll get it all set up. Remember to jump up and yell so that he messes his pants with fear, okay?”
“Okay Sarge,” I said as I considered being left with this strange Roderick/Dr. Jekyll character.
“Come through here,” Roderick said and proceeded to lead me through some double swinging doors into a large rectangular room. Along one side were a series of small metal doors with handles, lined up in rows four doors high. The top doors would have been about my head height. There were maybe twenty horizontal rows, each of four doors in height.
Roderick walked over to the 3rd door up on the 4th row in from the wall and pulled on the handle of the metal door. The door slid out towards him and it revealed a metal slab on which was the naked body of a dead male person. I had already seen a dead body during my training because we had to visit a different mortuary and watch an autopsy being performed. That had turned out to be not so much an issue with the sight of the procedure but more of the smell. There is no smell that is like that of a dead body.
I looked closer at the body on the slab that had been pulled out and saw that there was a small tag with writing on it that was tied to the big toe of the cadaver’s right foot. “Tag ‘em and bag ‘em”, I thought to myself.
“Sergeant Bugg told me all about the plan,” Roderick said with a wry smirk on his face, “You are going to find it a little chilly in here though. This cooler is set at between two and four degrees Celsius. It slows down the decomposition of the bodies until they are taken for burial or cremation. SO long as I don’t forget about you everything will be fine for hours. I suggest you wriggle your fingers and toes to keep the blood flowing there as a precaution.”
A mental picture of my frozen fist hammering against the inside of the small metal door flashed through my mind, but I dismissed it as quickly. They’re not going to let me freeze to death. Besides, Curtis is coming here soon anyway and then the door will be opened and I will be brought out. I transferred my mind to what I would do when they slide me out. I mentally rehearsed my frightening yell and the zombie style I would adopt like the ones I’d seen in Zombies: Dawn of the Dead.
My reverie was broken by the monotonous voice of Roderick, the mortician.
“Okay, hop up on this slab,” he said as he slid out an empty one a few doors down that was on the 2nd row from the bottom. The height was perfect for me to sit down on and pull my legs up until I was lying on my back with my head at the door end. Then the phone rang and Roderick left me lying there to go and answer it.
Lying on a cold metal slab in a silent room, knowing that your companions were all dead was an eerie feeling to say the least. I struggled to keep my mind focused on the task at hand and not let my imagination run away with me. I am not too proud to say that I was regretting my willingness to embark on this endeavor, but it was too late by then. Perhaps two minutes passed before Roderick returned.
“Your colleague is on his way. He should be here in less than five minutes,” he told me as he lifted up a crisp white sheet. “I’m going to lay this over you so that he cannot see you as I pull you out. Would that be okay?”
For a man who usually talks to dead people, he had an excellent bedside manner, which I found settling in an odd way.
“That’ll be okay. Just don’t leave me in here,” I joked.
“I’m not usually forgetful Officer, not usually."
The sheet came down over me in one swift movement and I felt the mortician grasp the door handle and begin to slide me inside the cooler. The darkness closed in until it had successfully enveloped me and I was lying still on a slab in complete blackness. I could feel my heart racing from the mix of adrenaline, fear and cold. I told myself to relax and spent the first 30 seconds wiggling my fingers but trying to remain silent. I had no way of knowing when the door would be opened and I didn’t want to be seen moving when it was. Lie still, I told myself and proceeded to do just that. After all, five minutes isn’t long to wait. I began to count in my head… one-and-two-and-three...
I was doing great, counting steadily, fully relaxed, waiting for the door to open when all of a sudden a voice in the dark from the slab next to me said calmly, “Cold in here, isn’t it?”
I screamed so loud I think if the dead could be woken, that would have been the day. I stopped only when the door was opened and my slab was pulled out. I was greeted by my whole team standing around doubled over with laughter, coupled with that of Roderick the mortician and loudest of all was Curtis as he climbed down from the slab next to me.