An ugly job, but it’s a living

Dead Man’s Hand


A fit of home renovating and repairing has seized me, and the kitchen has been unusable for the last two days.  Getting one’s grub on has been moved temporarily to the local fine dining establishments.

For the last two evenings, police officers were among the patrons of the restaurants I have visited.  I made some observations regarding officer safety practices on both occasions.

Most people know about Wild Bill Hickok, the legendary army scout, lawman and gunfighter of the American West.   Bill was the namesake of the Dead Man’s Hand – aces and eights – because that’s what we was holding when he died at a poker table in Deadwood, Dakota.

A lot of cops can also tell you that Hickok died with this back to the door.

Wild Bill was known to frequent those establishments that summer, in particular to join a card game on a regular basis. He was always careful to sit with his back against the wall as there was always someone looking to make a name for himself by ending the famous gunman’s life.   Around the table sat Carl Mann, Captain Massie and Charles Rich, leaving one seat open, back to the door.   Bill asked Charlie Rich to change places, but he laughed and refused as he was winning and had no desire to change his luck, so Bill sat down on the fated stool.

Crooked Nose Jack McCall took advantage of Hickok’s poor tactical situation and shot him in the back of the head with a 45 round from his Colt Peacemaker. 

There was an obvious unmarked police car parked near the front door of the restaurant where I ate last night.  When I walked in, I scanned the interior as I always do, but this time, in addition to looking for any likely threats, I was also looking for the cop that belonged to the car I had seen. 

Despite the small number of patrons present, I could not pick out the cop at first glance.  One guy sort of fit the bill, but he was the dude sitting with his family with his back to the door and cash register.  I automatically ruled him out – because no cop would ever take such a bad seat. 

You’re probably already way ahead of me in this story so I’ll just skip to the meat – yeah, it was Mr. Back to the Door.  I recognized him because at one point he got up and I saw his badge clipped to his belt and openly displayed. 

I don’t know the man, and was too far away to distinguish what agency’s badge he was wearing (other than I am damn sure it wasn’t my own Some City PD).  But upon realizing he was the cop, my first thought was, “what a dumbass”. 

Most smart crooks can recognize an unmarked police car as well as I can, and if some smart bad guys would have had bad intentions toward that restaurant that night, they would have switched objectives after spotting his car.  But the world has more than its share of illiterate morons who take to crime, and while restaurant takeovers are still a rare occurrence, they most assuredly do happen.  If that happened, this schmuck would be stuck like Chuck because his wife and two sons had a better view of where the danger was. 

Sitting down in a public place makes you vulnerable.  And it’s not exactly some new crazy phenomena that this guy might be unaware of.  Hickok got wasted by Jack McCall in the 1870’s, and here locally we’ve lost officers in similar situations as far back as a century ago.

Friday April 1, 1910 [Some City] Deputy Chief [redacted], acting as Night Chief, was on break and walked to the nearby Acme Restaurant at …[He] had finished his meal and was sitting at a table rolling a cigarette when [the bad guy] entered the restaurant holding a gun.  [The bad guy] shot [him] one time and fled on foot. He was arrested a couple of blocks away.

The cherry on top of the cake was the fact that I never saw a weapon on the officer I saw last night.  It might have been concealed somewhere weird, like in an ankle holster, but that leads to the obvious question of why someone would hide their weapon while openly displaying a badge. 

Fast forward to tonight’s dinner where we sat on the patio near the water and enjoyed the mild weather as we ate.  At one point I glanced inside and saw a uniformed sergeant from the police department here in my suburb.  He was eating alone and I noticed that while I thought my spot was better, he had opted for a good seat that placed him in a tactically sound position.  His back was to the corner and he could see the cash register, all three doors and almost all of the parking lot. 

I noticed that that I was repeatedly glancing in his direction.   Something kept making me look that way, and it happened a couple of times before I figured out what was happening.  The sergeant was reading some paperwork as he ate his dinner, but even so, he was attuned to what was going on around him.  Whenever someone entered the restaurant, or moved around in the interior, he would glance up to appraise them and their actions.  It was funny because the reason why I kept looking at him was that every time he looked at someone else my peripheral vision noticed his movement, and my unthinking response was to look that way to appraise what was going on. 

It’s a cop thing.  Always sit with your back in the corner and keep an eye on everyone.


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