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The Suburbanite
  • Jim Hillibish: Red and the toughest man in town: ‘Here’s the dough’

  • A tough cop and a cub reporter make the rounds on Christmas Eve.

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  • I’m not using his name here. I’m scared he’d come after me. He’s dead, but that makes no difference, so quit twisting my arm.
    The toughest man I’ve ever met was a cop for 30 years. He said his job was like working for the garbage department.
    “Every day, pickin’ up trash off the street.”
    Tough guy. He was in a struggle with a guy trying to rob the A&P. The robber pulled a .38. He saw the trigger move and grabbed the gun’s cylinder. He felt the man trying to fire as he ripped it out of his hand.
    He stopped a suspicious car. The driver jumped him with a gun. He heard the click of hammer against cartridge. The bullet misfired. Tough man kept it in his shirt pocket under his badge.
    He had a lot of arrests. The prosecutors told me they were ironclad.
    Somehow, we became friends. He hated cop reporters and hated to see his name in the paper, hero or not. He was a fluent source of crime stories, only if you knew him and did not interrupt and perhaps bought him another Scotch.
    The day before each Christmas, I expected his call.
    “Let’s go, Red. Get out front.”
    He’d pick me up, and I always hoped we were going on a raid or something. He made a left turn into the Fishers lot on Cherry.
    “OK, Red, here’s the list, and here’s the dough. I’ll be back in 45 minutes.”
     The list: 12 pounds of bacon, 12 dozen eggs, 12 loaves of bread, and on and on, ending with 12 hams and 12 boxes of Hershey bars.
    The haul filled his trunk, back seat and between my feet in front.
    He fishtailed in the snow as we plowed eastward into what he called “the tenderloin.” He drove up to a house with plywood over the windows and a tricycle on the porch. I had a delivery to make.
    “They’ll ask you who this is from. Say ‘Santa.’  They’d think I’m after somebody, probably jump out the windows,” he said.
    Tough man didn’t need any public relations.
    We stopped at 12 houses, not randomly. I noticed he had a list of offenders he sent to prison that year. I recognized some of the names of murderers, child molesters, burglars. All had wives; some had kids.
    I’ve noticed this before. Christmas’ true gift is that we suddenly feel one with each other. I’ve seen many of you do things for people you might not even know. It’s a very personal thing, done without recognition, like those Secret Santas who pay off layaway bills at Walmart.
    Page 2 of 2 - “Kinda glad this is done,” tough man said, wheeling me up to the door at The Rep. Me too. He blew his nose and his eyes were red.
    “Gettin’ a damn cold,” he said.
    “Yeah, right,” I said.
    This is the Spirit of Christmas. Don’t be shy. The Spirit of Christmas can melt the heart of the toughest man in town.