The Rocket watched carefully. His target was near. Once again his skill and his daring would be their undoing. A young man who went by the moniker The Rocket was feeling a need: a need to take. He watched as a slightly older than middle-aged woman stopped to root in her purse for something. With a quick glance around him he darted out from his hiding place between the buildings. He stopped only for a smile, to tip his hat and to say “thank you” as he relieved the shocked individual of her purse.
As The Rocket darted away down the street he was laughing at his daring. It never failed to amuse him that it was so easy to swipe a purse in broad daylight. His feet had carried him a mere 10 feet before they betrayed him. Without time to understand what was happening to him The Rocket watched as the pavement rose up to meet his face. He dropped the purse he had just liberated in an attempt to protect himself. Just before he reached the ground, he heard a voice.
“Once you’ve finished your fall I would suggest you stay there.” An ominous voice instructed.
“What the . . . !”
“Watch your language young man. There are ladies present.”
The Rocket tried to sit up but realized that there were something sticking in the middle of his back keeping him down and it hurt. As a matter of fact most of him hurt. Someone had tripped him!
A moment went by as The Rocket collected his thoughts.
“That’s better Richard. You might want to get up off the pavement. It is a little undignified.” That voice again!
“That’s not my name!” As he stood up, the boy known as The Rocket looked at the man who seemed to be the cause of his most recent fiasco.
“Your name is Richard Dunston. You are 14 years old and have been in and out of juvenile hall for two years. Your mother is so worried that she asked me to take you under my wing. So why don’t you sit down here and we can get to know each other a little better.”
The newly identified Richard stood staring at this old man with a cane and dog. He couldn’t think of anything to say. So he said nothing. He also wanted desperately to run away but he realized now who exactly was sitting on the park bench. This man probably had Richard’s future in his hands. So Richard, formerly known as The Rocket, sat down.
If anyone had bothered to look they would have seen an elderly gentleman of some distinction sitting quietly beside a young boy. At the feet of the gentleman was an obviously excited dog. It seemed as if everyone was waiting for something to happen.
Not a moment later the woman who had previously been relieved of her purse approach the park bench. She was smiling. She retrieved her purse from where it had fallen on the sidewalk and nodded her head at the two men.
“Good job done Superintendent, you were right. Shall I leave him in your hands?”
“Yes thank you Constable. I’ll call in my report later.”
“Good luck kid. You’ll need it.”
The now identified policewoman took her purse, straightened her back and walked purposefully away. Richard a.k.a. The Rocket stared at her retreating back with something akin to horror. He had been set up! By an old man and a girl! He would never live this down.
“How? How did you know?” He just kept repeating one word: how?
“Well son, do you know what a modus operandi is?” Richard just looked blank.
“I’ll take that as a no. I guess I should introduce myself.” So for the next few minutes Brett did just that. As Richard listened he felt more and more at a loss. His life was changing drastically.
Brett Bramwell Kirkland was a retired Police Superintendent. He had worked for 37 years with a near spotless record. The only complaint ever made against him simply reinforced his image of impartiality and of doing the right thing regardless of cost. Four years ago his wife of fifty two years had died. He kept in touch with his four children and their families but he lived alone except for Ten-four: a small West Highland Terrier. His name Ten-four, in police language means everything is fine. The dog was given to Brett by his grandson.
Nowadays Brett could be found walking his dog in this neighbourhood almost every day or lounging on this particular park bench. Which is how Richard’s mother knew where to go when she needed help.
Richard was on a path of destruction. He fought, he drank and he stole. He had been in trouble with the police and his next step would probably land him in a penitentiary. So Brett had been prevailed upon to help.
“You make a lousy criminal kid.” Brett spoke quietly. Richard balled his hands and looked as if he wanted to start a fight.
“I can keep you from jail and alive, but you have to do something for me.”
“I don’t gotta do nuthin you say!” Richard was definitely spoiling for a fight. He jumped up from the park bench and turned to face his accuser.
“Oh sit down. You give me a hard time, I call the cops, you go to jail. How long you go to jail will depend on what my mood is. So it is in your best interest to do as I say.” The quiet authority with which this man spoke caused the young criminal to re-think his situation.
Richard was starting to understand that he was stuck between a rock and hard place. So he sat down, he figured it wouldn’t hurt to listen.
First of all, you are going to return all the items still in your possession that belong to other people. Next, you are going to meet the principal of the high school and make arrangements to get back in school. Then you are going to write letters to all the people whose names I will give you, that you have stolen from. The police keep very good records. And finally, you’re going to get a job. That job is to be my assistant. Ten-four needs to be walked regularly and I’m sure I can think of a great many other activities to keep you out of trouble. I’ll pay you what you’re worth so you had better do a good job.
Poor Richard looked as if he were ready to cry. All the fight had gone out of him. He had met his match. He reached down to scratch the silly white dog’s head. Maybe things weren’t that bad. The old man had a cute dog.
“Hey mister, how’d you know I’d be here today?”
“Modus operandi. It is a Latin phrase that means method of operating. People do the same thing out of habit. It’s those habits that make criminals easy to catch. People do the same things the same way almost every time.”
Richard thought for a moment and then realized he’d just been taught a life lesson. People were predictable. It’s what made understanding them a possibility.
“So what’s your modus operandi?” Richard asked of the older man.
The retired superintendent smiled, “I catch thugs for breakfast.”
The two men sat beside each other on the park bench. Each set in their ways but ready to face the changes the world would force upon them. At their feet quietly sat a small white dog, he too was waiting for a change.
“How about a walk in the park?”