A night at the office
Snow was drifting through the streets of LA. Tonnes and tonnes of the stuff. The main highway looked like a beaten forest track, flanked by deserted buildings rather than its usual bustling crowd of cars and angry motorists. Snow always did something to a place. It was the signalling of winter as the season blasted its way across the USA. It signalled a holiday, the Christmas holiday in which humanity declared that it was half way out of the dark and moving back towards the lights of Spring.
Tonight was Christmas Eve and even at this late hour, work was still being done in the cold, darkening buildings. No rest for the wicked. The LA police station was still open for business. A desk sergeant called Larry De Santos sat sentry on his night watch. He resented the late nights. His wife's family were coming all the way from Portland for Christmas to see the children. It would be nice to see them after such a long interval, but settling in was always a hassle and never his forte. He'd leave it to his more than capable wife to get them sorted out, ready for a perfect Christmas as it always was with her. Meanwhile, he would sit at his desk, manning the phones, reading his fishing magazine and waiting for enough time to pass by until he could see his lovely wife and kids again and that time couldn't come soon enough.
Only one other person was at the station that evening. From the outside looking in, the only lights were coming from the ground floor where Larry sat reading and the third floor. A single room shining a light out on the rest of the dark street. In this room sat a small man in a long raincoat. A dishevelled lieutenant with a cigar hanging limply from his fingers. Almost out. His desk was covered in papers from the day's work. He'd fallen asleep in his chair. It had been a long day, running about interrogating witnesses, getting almost nowhere. Christmas time was always a hard one for the police. People were reluctant to speak in case it harmed them and meant that Christmas would be cut short. Nobody ever wanted that. The little policeman was snoring a loud, low pitched, continuous babble. Coughing every so often as if a dream was interrupting his well-deserved snooze.
The lieutenant's head snapped up as the noise rang around the room. He looked around. His head twisting and turning in any direction in case it was a fire alarm and, with his luck, he'd set it off with his cigar…again.
But the sound wasn't penetrating like a fire alarm. It was much more centralised. Closer. The policeman leaned forward to his desk, moaning slightly as his body seemed to creak, and started to shift some of the papers and documents that had accrued over the last few days. Finally after shifting a few neatly into piles and throwing the others on to the floor, he found the source of the ringing and picked up the phone. Slumping slightly on the desk, leaning on his elbows so as not to use too much energy, the policeman began to speak.
'Lieutenant Columbo speaking.' He groaned. Each syllable a chore.
'It's Sergeant De Santos, sir. It's…ermm…nearly midnight…'
'Quarter to.' Replied the desk sergeant, who sounded a lot chirpier than Columbo thought possible at this time in the evening. 'You asked me to call to wake you up at quarter to.'
'Wake me up? I wasn't sleeping. Just…thinking.' Columbo declared. Knowing that he wouldn't be able to deceive the young desk sergeant. He knew the old lieutenant too well after so many similar events over the last year or so.
'Yes, sir.' Came a stifled chuckle down the phone line. Columbo chuckled too and grinned. 'Got any further with the Delaney case, lieutenant?'
'No, Larry. No further. There's something missing. It's something to do with the table lamp, I'm sure of it. But for the love of Pete, I couldn't tell you what.' Columbo said. Pushing his black, tousled fringe from his eyes with his free hand. His eyes felt tired and he was slowly going to fall asleep again if he wasn't careful. He pushed aside some more files and folders on his desk and found the small clock that his wife had given him especially for work. A small grey table clock, which was always buried under his work, but even now it made him feel happy and think of his wife. It was beautiful craftsmanship. Beautiful. It was only a pity she insisted on him having it at work where he'd 'lose' it every other day. But that's how Columbo felt nowadays. Like he was losing time. Whether on a case where the answers eluded him or with his wife, whom he was almost constantly apart from.
'It'll co… to y.. Lieutenant.' Larry remarked in his usual manner. Columbo could just picture his face. A mixture of anguish because he hated a man to get confused and ravelled in his self-thought mysteries, and a smirk of a smile as he knew he could depend on Columbo.
'Yeah, I hope so, Larry. I hope so. You know what, this damned phone lines being mucked about by the snow. I'm coming down.' Columbo hung up, thinking of Larry on his own downstairs. He stood from his desk, stepped back from it, surveying the damage his phone search had caused and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him. The chaos would be sorted after Christmas, maybe.
A few minutes later, the dishevelled lieutenant stepped into the small lobby at the front of the station. 'The complaints department' as all the other officers called it. Larry sat behind the desk, a cardboard cup of cooling coffee on the table in front of him and a fishing magazine was displayed wide open on his lap.
'So y'like fishing?' Larry nodded, rolling up the magazine as he saw Columbo come closer to the desk. The raincoat symbolising the policeman he had come to know over the last year. 'I was never much of a fisherman myself. I used to go with my pop on Sunday mornings. Five hours every Sunday for about four years he'd take me. We'd rent out this little boat and bob in the middle of the most beautiful lake you've ever seen. Gorgeous. And in the morning….awh…it was terrific. Winter mornings were the best 'cos the sun would bounce off the thawing ice, scattering it everywhere. We'd have good times and all, but we'd never catch a damn thing, which was a pity and so we stopped fishing all together. Only found out a few years after we stopped that there were no damn fish in the lake. Four years, we'd been going to that place. Four years of seeing the same people and not one of them ever told us that there wasn't any fish.' Columbo laughed. 'Ah, but it was fun. Some of the best times I can remember. It's good to have a hobby like that y'know. Helps keep you active and awake when your job is less than exciting. Not that this isn't…er…thrilling.' Columbo joked.
'Tell me about.' Larry considered, staring at his cold coffee.
'How's it going anyway?' Columbo asked solemnly.
'Ah, it's not too bad. Got the in-laws coming tonight. She'll probably have settled them in a few hours ago and be waiting for me in the morning.' He stared at the clock on the desk. It was 11:50.
'When do you get off?'
'Seven o'clock tomorrow morning.' Larry sighed.
'Seven? But that's Christmas…'
'Don't I know it. I'll get home at about half eight and by that time Kyle and Amy will have opened their presents already. They're ever so keen on Christmas morning.' Larry thought of his kids, inwardly hating himself for not being with them already. Unable to help set out the milk for the reindeer and the cookies for Santa. He was missing his kid's Christmas and as he'd heard from many of his friends 'once they've grown up, you never have those Christmas' again.'
There was a short silence where neither man spoke. Larry kept his head down. Staring dejectedly at the fishing magazine. His only distraction from the pressing guilt. Columbo meanwhile was looking from the young desk sergeant down to his shoes before finally speaking.
'You know what Larry, let's get out of here.' The lieutenant announced. Hands coming out of his raincoat pockets.
'What? But, sir…I can't leave. I've got to make sure the station is safe. It's important.'
'And you're really doing that sitting here reading your magazine, as every other desk sergeant over the years has done.' Columbo walked closer to the desk. Leaning forward on it, closer to Larry.
'You've got a wife and a family out there. What's more important than that, eh?'
'I'll be reported by senior management.' Larry said, thinking of all the possible bad things that could come of this, but still standing up and putting the magazine and coffee cup into the bin.
'If anything bad happens, put the blame on me.' Columbo pointed to himself. His eyes almost glistening in the lamp light of the station lobby.
'I couldn't let you do that, sir.'
'I'm too old a man to be hurt by petty reports. And it's Christmas. What can they do to me?' Columbo declared, flinging his arms out wide as if addressing the senior management themselves in the heavens. Larry looked back down at his desk once more and walked away from it. He picked up his coat from the back of the chair he'd been sitting on for the last few hours and wrapped it around himself.
'That's the spirit.' Columbo said, patting Larry on the back as they walked to the main entrance of the station. They both walked out into the cold night and stood in the open air. Larry bought a set of keys from his pocket and locked the many doors that kept the station safe. After the final *click* had been heard, Larry turned to Columbo who had walked on a bit and stood under the flickering light of a street lamp, smoking a cigar, which seemed to have come from nowhere. The young sergeant walked up to the old lieutenant and shook his hand firmly.
'Thank you Columbo. Thank you!' He smiled and began to walk to the car park around the back of the station, where his small red box on wheels sat alone. 'Hey, Columbo. Don't you have a car?'
'Drove it home earlier. Felt like a walk. Feel like another.' Columbo smiled under the lamp light. 'N'night Larry.' The little man called from the street light and waved.
'Night Lieutenant.' Larry walked closer to the parking lot as his chariot home came slowly into better view.
'Oh and one more thing…' Larry turned back and stared at Columbo. 'Have a Merry Christmas.'
'And you Lieutenant.' The desk sergeant waved back and smiled as he bid the lieutenant farewell. He ran to his car, opened it, slammed the door and drove away as fast as he could. Back to his little house just in time for Christmas. All the way home he thought of Columbo and how good a man he was. A man who had seen the world and understood that it didn't revolve around authority and order, but that human lives and little acts of kindness were what really made the world go round.
Thank you so much for reading and I hope you enjoyed it. xxx