Cops and Robbers
You are the cop, I am the robber. You grew up surrounded by bad guys and wrongdoers; I grew up surrounded by the good guys, the ones with the deepest pockets and the shallowest hearts. It’s funny to look back on our two separate lives, complete opposites of each other on the surface but further down, near replicas. We are one book printed with two different covers.
I have plenty of time to reflect now, too much really. My brain has become the psych ward to the ghosts that haunt me and the person I see there most is you. You’re not a patient though, you’re a doctor. I guess in some subconscious way I’ve decided you helped me more than you hurt me. I write this to you hoping that all is well and wanting you to know, I’m just fine.
I was nearing the end of my grade twelve year when we met. You were 24 and into your third year as a cop. I was in the office waiting to talk to the principal for the third time that week and you were getting a visitor’s tag while flirting with the secretary even though one of the fingers you were drumming on her desk had a wedding ring on it. You smiled at me on your way out and I nodded back from under my Chicago Cubs ballcap. Twenty minutes later, I had detention for a week and was going to the gymnasium with the rest of my class to hear a presentation. You were obviously nervous but you collected your dignity before grabbing the mic and proceeding to tell us all about making good choices and all that crap. You were very enthusiastic but I, on the other hand, was rolling my eyes more than my fifth grade French teacher rolled her r’s, which was a lot. You bored the crap out of me but one thing you said stayed with me. You quoted Desmond Tutu saying, “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor” and just like that, I realized that I’d been on the side of the oppressor my whole life. That quote pushed me to find something to stand up for, even if it was illegal.
For the next five years, I conned millions of dollars out of society’s richest, the people I was raised to become. I kept very little of it for myself and gave it instead, ironically, to the sort of people who raised you. The people who were down on their luck and might not ever get back up. In my mind, I was the Robin Hood of Chicago. Understandably in yours, I was just a poor man’s Al Capone. You did after all spend those five years chasing my ass to hell and back. I went to New York, you went to New York. I came home rich and inspired, you came home desperate and tired. I drove to Canada, you drove to Canada. I snuck back with a fake passport, you got stopped to pay duty. Everywhere I went, you went too, and every time you were faced with the worst luck while I wriggled through sticky situations and came out clean time and time again. You’d grown to hate me so much you spit at the sound of my name when meanwhile, I was having the time of my life watching the steam shoot out of your ears as you collected failures almost as quickly as I collected checks. But then finally in Mexico, the tables turned and you were dealt the luckier hand.
It was one of the few times I’d kept the money I’d acquired for myself. I was in Mexico on vacation to get away from a dreadful Chicago winter and so were you. Although as I recall, you weren’t escaping the dreadful winter so much as your dreadful wife. You’d swapped your usual uniform for a horrendous Hawaiian print shirt and cargo shorts and I didn’t recognise you one bit. Fortunately for you, I looked my usual dapper self and you had me pinned from the second you laid eyes on me. You didn’t pounce until the third day and there is no doubt in my mind that you spent those first two trying to think of the perfect thing to say to me when you finally did. You sauntered over to me while I was drinking at the bar and stated proudly, “You know something, Robin? You’re taking too many chances.” You did your research, obviously, using a quote from Robin Hood.
I replied smartly saying, “Then chances are, one more can’t hurt.” I picked up my beer bottle and swung it at your head. Only, it didn’t smash like in the movies, it stayed in one piece and you looked angrier than ever. So, I ran. You chased me across the beach for about a mile, only slowing down once to look at a bikini-clad butt. I, being morally better than you, also slowed down just once but in my case, it was to avoid destroying the masterpiece of a sand castle a little girl had built with her father. Again, you weren’t so kind as you crushed her hopes, dreams, and sand castle by tackling me right through it. You handcuffed me next to her ruined dungeon and led me across the dried-up moat back to the hotel. You laughed, saying that the reward and raise you were going to be getting at my expense was life-changing. You brought me to your room which, by the way, was a mess and you made me sit down while you looked at flight options. Unfortunately for you, your boss didn’t trust me on a plane and the airlines didn’t want anything to do with a criminal anyways. After you’d made multiple angry phone calls, I finally suggested a brilliant idea; “We could drive.”
Always the gentleman, you laughed and told me, “No way am I spending that much time in such a confined place with you.” Two hours later, we were ten minutes into a drive that Google predicted would take us 33 hours. 60 minutes later, I brought up what I thought would be a very entertaining conversation.
“Is it a problem if I don’t have a passport?”
You slammed on the brakes, looked me dead in the eye, and whispered chillingly, “If you’re not joking right now, I swear to God I will have you killed!”
“Don’t get your knickers in a knot, copper.” I laughed as you started driving again, “I’ve got a passport, just not a 100% authentic one.”
“What?” You demanded, slamming on the brakes for a second time.
“You have got to stop doing that,” I groaned, rubbing my neck.
“What do you mean ‘not 100% authentic’?”
“Oh, that’s simple,” I shrugged, “it’s a fake.”
“I can’t believe I’m about to say this, but does it do the job?”
“I’ve been using it for years, we’re in the clear.”
“You are a bad guy, you know.” You shook your head and stepped on the gas.
“Funny you should say that,” I remarked, “because I’ve always seen you as the bad guy.”
“And how is that?”
“You’ve wasted five years chasing me when all I was doing was trying to help people needing it. You arrest people, sometimes innocent ones, and let them rot in jail. Then when you let them leave, you expect them to be great, functional, respectful and respectable members of society and punish them when, not surprisingly, they’re not able to do that.”
“That doesn’t make me a bad guy, it makes me a man who does his job. But you, you steal from people, you commit crimes, you are a bad guy.”
“Your problem, copper, is that you see everything as black or white. I don’t mean racewise, that’s another question all together. You believe that everything and everyone fits in to one of two categories but you forget about all the grey in the middle.”
“Fifty whole shades, right?” You chuckled, “anything else you wanna tell me about me?”
“Well you do tend to be, as the Spanish say, a ‘viejo verde’.”
“And what the hell is that?”
“It means you’re an old pervert. You look at girls in bikinis the way you should only ever do when you’ve got sunglasses on covering your eyes.”
“And you don’t?” you smirked
“No, I don’t. I’ve got manners and good form, like a gentleman.”
I’d caught you, I was right and you knew it. “So, you speak Spanish?”
I smirked, noting the deliberate change in conversation and answered, “I took it in high school but I don’t remember much. You didn’t?”
“Nope, my high school barely taught English.”
We talked about our schooldays until the Mexican border and then changed things up.
“What’s your family like?” I asked, not knowing at the time that the conversation that would follow would eventually change my life.
“I’ve got a wife, but you already knew that. We’ve got two sons and if I’m lucky, we still will by the time I’m back.”
“Why wouldn’t you?” I prompted, confused by the suddenly morbid twist.
“My younger son is three years old, he’s a really great little kid, smart too.” You smiled to yourself thinking about him, “but he’s not doing so well and he needs surgery to be able to keep chugging along like he is, maybe more than one. He had one right after he was born that drained my wife and I both emotionally and financially. We didn’t think he’d need any more, the doctors said that surgery would do the trick, but it didn’t and we just can’t afford the rest.”
“Wow,” I breathed as the information sunk in.
“I know,” you nodded, “it’s a tough one, no doubt about it.”
“So, I don’t mean to pry but, if money’s tight, why are you vacationing in Mexico?”
“My boss has been very supportive,” your way of saying you were sleeping with her, “and so when I told her I needed a break, she sent me on a case in Mexico.”
“Was I the case?” I asked timidly, hoping I hadn’t been so predictable.
“Oh no, you were just a nice surprise.”
“Good,” I sighed with relief, “you had me worried for a second there.”
“And you? Any kids? A wife?”
“Nah,” I told you. “It’s best I go it alone. I don’t exactly lead a life that’s very kid-friendly.”
“No Maid Marian to your Robin Hood?”
“No, I’m not so lucky.”
After a few more hours, we stopped at a rundown motel on the side of the road and hit the hay for the night.
Morning came early and we were out of there too soon for the sun to see us off. Once again, we spent the drive talking much more amicably than would be expected. As the cop in this situation, I can only assume that you were watching and listening attentively, trying to analyse me further. I can say for a fact that I was doing the same to you. By the time we reached Illinois, I had enough information to write your biography. Growing up, you never had much money but your parents made up for that by being the nicest ones in town, and you were happy. As you grew older, you started to see flaws in them, big ones that you didn’t like, and you swore to yourself that you would grow up to be more than them. You often saw crime around you but it wasn’t until you saw your best friend get gunned down right in front of you that you decided to do something about it and become a cop.
You loved your wife when you married her but your son’s condition was taking a toll on both of you and your relationship, and she had become someone you no longer recognised or liked, never-mind loved.
On the flip side, I had told you about my materialistic childhood full of plastic houses to play in and plastic cars to drive, and plastic hearts in the people that surrounded me. My parents were uninterested in me so they bought me everything short of Toys R Us itself to keep me entertained. I grew up hating them and everyone like them; the ones whose vision was shaded by dollar signs. My hatred longed for revenge and I found it in the form of robbery. Just little things at first, a watch when we were at so and so’s function, a bracelet at what’s her name’s banquet, and so on. After you came to my school and quoted Desmond Tutu, I got smarter and more ambitious. Robbery then became an art.
We stopped at another cheap motel that night, four hours short of Chicago. The plan had been that you’d bring me to the police office in the morning and that would be that, but between Mexico and Chicago, something had changed. Before getting out of the car, you leaned over and undid the handcuffs. “You were right all along,” you told me. “You are a better man than I am and you have helped people, people I used to know, people I used to be, so much more than I can. You don’t deserve these.” You attached the handcuffs to your belt where they belonged and concluded, “I want to tell you to stop committing crimes, to swear on your life that you’ll stop if I let you go, but I know that they need it just like I used to. So just go.” You pushed me towards the door, “I’m turning my cheek, take your stuff from the back, there’s a bus station nearby.” You got out of the car and shook my hand, “Until we meet again. It has been a pleasure.”
I just stood and stared. I may not have looked it, but I was on cloud nine and eternally grateful. I didn’t want to spend so much as a day in jail nor did I feel I deserved to. In one short minute, you saved me.
I felt the rolled-up bills in my pocket I hadn’t yet spent in my pocket and threw them in the trunk of your car. I hoped the cash could help your son, but I knew very well it wouldn’t do much. You turned your back and walked into the motel. I turned my back too, but I didn’t go to the bus station.
You were awakened that morning not by your alarm but by the phone, “Looks like you’ll be getting that raise and reward after all. Your robber turned himself in.”
From behind bars, I watched you walk into the police station and back out shortly thereafter. Years later, I’m still here, but I’m proud to be. I’ve finally oppressed the oppressor, just like you said.