Summers in St. Louis can be oppressively hot.
Even under the best of conditions, such as while wearing a loose t-shirt, shorts and flip flops, the humidity still clings to you like a thick fog you can’t see, but it’s definitely there.
Throw on a twenty-five pound bullet resistant vest and several more pounds of gear around your waist to go for a bike ride in such heat and you’re bound to be miserable, but that was how I rolled, literally, for a couple of years every day.
I enjoyed my short life as a bike cop because it allowed me to more easily stop and talk to the people in the community who weren’t committing crimes or weren’t presently aggravated because they’d just been in a car accident or had something stolen from them. It does wonders for a cop’s sanity to talk to happy, regular people from time to time, and stopping to make contact with people on a bicycle is much easier than it is in a car.
On one particularly brutal August day though, I’d had the feeling I was being watched.
I rode from call to call and stopped to talk to several business owners and each time I’d return to my bike, I could just sense that somebody was somewhere nearby watching me.
It went on all morning that I had this sensation of being watched and even followed.
Finally, I was riding in a more secluded section of the neighborhood, where tree branches hung over the sidewalks and road and offered a tiny bit of shade to this weary police officer, when the feeling of being followed became so intense and obvious that I suddenly jerked the bike to the left and did a near instant 180 degree turn. I looked quickly and saw his backside as he was darting into a nearby gangway.
I’d never seen the boy before. He was a big guy, so I was sure that I’d have remembered him had I seen him before.
He was a good 35 yards away from me and no threat that I could tell, but I caught him following me several more times that afternoon after lunch before I became concerned enough to confront him.
It was one thing to be interested in what I was doing, lots of folks are curious about the police, but when I saw him approach my bike from a window while I was inside a restaurant and he didn’t think I was looking, I knew I needed to figure out what his deal was.
I walked out of the restaurant and immediately recognized him sitting behind a bus stop shelter eyeing my every move. There were other people out, but he didn’t seem interested in them. I put my helmet on, pretending I didn’t notice he was watching me. I watched as a nervous woman intentionally crossed the street to avoid him, but he didn’t care that she was there.
I rode back to the more secluded area of the neighborhood, where I could confront him without making a scene and drawing a crowd, just in case.
Sure enough, he followed me. I pedaled more quickly and was not surprised to see him pick up his pace as well. He was on foot, but still moved pretty quickly. I slowed down enough that he could get back to the distance he was most comfortable with, and made my way into a large clearing. He’d have no place to hide if he wanted to follow me from one side of the giant clearing to the other.
He didn’t at first, so I called to him.
“I see you, boy! I know you’re there!”
Nothing. He had to be right behind the wooden fence where I’d entered the lot.
He finally peeked from behind the fence and frowned.
I shrugged my shoulders in a “what the fuck is your deal” sort of manner and he finally emerged completely from behind the fence.
I was admittedly nervous because I’d already decided he was mentally unstable. He was acting strangely, even if he was homeless. He maybe had the mind of a smart child by my guestimate, and I’m sure he was strong as an ox.
I never carry a taser and I’ve never had to shoot anyone. My words and calm demeanor have always served me well, but sometimes, they don’t want to hear what you have to say.
“I’ve never seen you before. Are you from around here?” I asked politely.
I got nothing but a blank stare.
After several moments of staring at each other like idiots, I took off my helmet and started walking towards him.
He didn’t back down, but I was comfortable with the fact that he didn’t have any weapons on him that I could see.
I got within about ten yards and told him that I had to go home pretty soon and that I didn’t have any time to putz around with him, so if he had something to say, he should say it.
He cocked his head and I could feel sweat rolling down my cheeks.
I was hot. He was clearly hot as well. He was tense; I could tell. I put my hand out as a friendly gesture, and he finally relaxed.
He came right to me and was a very friendly boy. He had a bandage around a paw that looked as though it had long been healed, but wasn’t wearing any sort of collar.
We sat down on a concrete slab to ponder what to do with each other. I’d already decided he looked like a Charlie and that’s what I was telling my new friend as a man suddenly approached asking me what I was going to do with that dog.
“I don’t know yet,” I said. “I hate to have to call animal control. I was thinking about taking him home. If he doesn’t have a chip and nobody claims him after I put up some signs, I’d maybe keep him.”
“I saw him following you a couple of times,” the guy said. “Would you care if I kept him? I promise I’ll take him to a vet and try to find an owner. I’d keep him otherwise. I live over there.”
He pointed to a nice house on a corner lot.
I was seriously thinking about taking the dog home, but I didn’t think JoJo (my dog even then) or possibly my wife, would be too keen on it, so I was happy to have this man take Charlie in.
That was nearly eight years ago. A couple of weeks ago I was in that area when I saw that man walking that very same dog so I stopped to talk to them.
The dog was still friendly towards me and I was surprised that the man remembered me since I wasn’t wearing a uniform.
We talked for a bit and it sounded like this man and dog were meant to be together.
Before I got back into my car, I remembered, “hey, I forgot to ask, what’s the dog’s name?”
“Charley,” the guy said.
“Charlie with an ie at the end?”
“No, Charley with an ey at the end.”
“Damn.” I said. “We almost had a thing there.