Back in the late 1980s, a friend of mine with the Knoxville (TN) Police Department had my dispatcher at the sheriff's department radio me and ask if I could meet him at a Denny's Restaurant that sat just inside the city limits near the county line.
It was not unusual for officers of our departments to meet for the official exchange of criminal intelligence -- or to just drink a cup of coffee and shoot the breeze. You know the drill. Officer Bob Wooldridge, who eventually grew up to be Lieutenant Wooldridge, was an old friend and neighbor of mine. I took care of his miniature schnauzer, Heidi, when he was out of town and he took care of my Pit bull, Rocky, when I was away.
I stopped at a little market for a cup of coffee and a few minutes later pulled into the Denny's parking lot to wait for Bob. I popped in a bargain table cassette with songs from the 1960s. I can remember what it was because all my music was bought from the bargain racks and came from the 1960s. In fact, I had kept my 8-track tape player until all the tapes began to break and fall apart.
Before I could take my first sip of coffee, the dispatcher told me to see Officer Wooldridge at the Dew Drop Inn (we'll call it that). Puzzled, I drove to the tavern, which was only a couple of blocks away.
Bob was sitting out front in his cruiser with the dome light on, filling out a report. In the back-seat was a man in an authentic-looking police uniform. He was disheveled and obviously angry and was shouting something. The sleeve had been pulled loose from his shirt.
He wasn't wearing the navy blue of the sheriff's department and city police, but he looked like a special officer, bonded to work security. I glanced at Bob and raised my eyebrows. The man obviously wasn't a real police officer but many special officers belonged to our reserve units and we worked closely with a lot of them.
"I went in for a walk through on my way to meet you," Bob said, "and this guy was inside staggering around. When I tried to get him outside quietly, he decided that he wanted to scuffle. Look closely at his uniform."
As I got closer, I heard that the prisoner was shouting the usual threats of lawsuits and other horrible repercussions that would follow his arrest because he knew important people. Leaning down for a closer look, I saw that his badge was not real and that the patches on his sleeves were not the kind used in our area by special police. I also noticed that the sleeve that had come loose from his shirt had been attached with Velcro.
"This guy's a male stripper from a traveling group that's appearing downtown," Bob told me, holding up a small revolver. "Look here. I thought this pistol was a toy at first but it's a real Saturday night special, .22 caliber. It's not loaded but it's real."
Both of us smiled widely. In the State of Tennessee at that time, carrying a weapon was a misdemeanor but carrying a weapon into an establishment that sold alcoholic beverage was and still is a felony. Strangely enough, the law didn't specify that the pistol had to be loaded to support the charge. As a matter of fact, it didn't even have to be functional. The pretend policemen would not be able to pay a small fine for being drunk and go on his merry way the next morning. He would have to make bond and appear in court.
Of course, when it got to court we both knew he would be released with time served and the judge would either dismiss the felony charge or reduce it to a misdemeanor because our jails were under a federal cap. But that was all right. It a was Friday night and there wouldn't be any court until Monday afternoon. Justice had been served in curbstone court and the man would think twice about ever impersonating a police officer again, even as a joke.
During a lull in his shouting, Bob turned around and said to stripper in the police uniform: "This officer right here is a famous author and he's going to write a story and have cops all over the world laughing at you."
Bob was wrong about the famous part. I never did really become famous outside police circles, but I have written about the male stripper in the cop suit several times now. And cops never fail to laugh, no matter where they live and work.
David Hunter is a retired detective and the author of several books. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org