A VIOLENT BEGINNING:
It was mentioned to all of them at roll call that morning, before they went out to the streets. The duty sergeant said that the latest invention of local bullies was called 'Tweaking the Freaks'. It involved going to the B.O.C.E.S schools areas-- there were three BOCES schools in the city neighborhoods-- and bullying the kids as they were released from school.
"The captain says that he wants this stopped!" the sergeant went on, "So, we're going to deploy in those areas. Ray, you take the north side school. Johnnie, you take the south side school and Andy, you go over to the one on the east side."
There were nods among the policemen that were gathered about those assignments.
"Okay, ladies and gentlemen," the sergeant concluded, "Let's do a line up inspection and then out you go."
They lined up for inspection, their weapons presented in front of them, as the sergeant did the inspection. When they were okayed to go out on patrol, the sergeant went to Ray Bentler and said:
"Ray, you okay with this assignment?"
"Yeah," Ray said, "I'll be cool, Sarge."
It wasn't a very long time before Ray Bentler was near the BOCES, Board of Cooperative Educational Services, school, where he'd been assigned. In order to better run the surveillance, he was using an unmarked car today.
(Ray Bentler had gone to the police directly from the military. He'd been a military cop in Iraq and also did some time in Afghanistan. He found that the pressures of policing that way had abled him to get his mind off of things that he didn't want to think about. That was mainly his little angel, Stephanie. Born with a mental problem; it was as though she was too sweet to live.
Of course, Ray never counted on the effect that the eventual death of little Stephanie would have on Marcie, his wife. She somehow blamed Ray and his family background for the problems that Stephanie had, had and, after Stephanie had died, Marcie was gone. Ray, after a time period, had been served with papers and that part of his life was, in effect, all over. He still had a lonely spot, a warm spot, a secret spot in his heart for his Stephanie, and missed her all the time.
The policing kept his mind active, as well as his body. He made sure that he worked out regularly, had weights at home and kept at them actively. At 33 he was in the best shape of his life.
After the debacle with Marcie and the tragedy of Stephanie's death, Ray moved back home with his Mom and Pop. They lived in a large victorian that Ray loved as much as the older folks, and during that time period, Ray and his Dad, Gus, had the task of nursing his Mom, Marjory through her bout with alzheimer's disease, until she finally passed about three months ago.
Ray and Gus spent a good deal of the free time that they had working on the marvelous old victorian. It was this kind of task that kept Gus active. It helped to ward off the onset of depression, following Marjory's death.
It was also at about that time that, after a lot of conversation, Gus had decided to move to a facility that catered to the elderly. He kept saying, despite Ray's counter insistence, that he didn't want to be an anchor around Ray's neck. He was sure, he often said, that Ray still had a lot of living to do and he wanted to be where he had friends at the facility for the elderly. They were in the process of working on that move these days.)
Ray spent the time that afternoon making sure that he was ready and finally, after waiting for about forty five minutes, the school was letting out. He had positioned himself about three blocks from the school. It was a long enough distance, he said to himself, to allow the kids to disperse.
He sat and simply watched them, mostly with parents walking them, make their way home. They seemed to be a very happy and active lot.
Down the block Ray spotted one of his favorites; it was Amanda Hill. She reminded Ray of his own Stephanie. The Hills, Amanda and her Mom, Judy lived in an apartment not far from Ray's house, and Amanda was a good friend of his. Ray was always open and available to the neighborhood kids.
He noticed, as he watched, that Judy was hurrying toward the school, probably having been delayed a bit. She was going to pick up, meet Amanda.
It was also then that Ray saw the three kids, late teens from the looks of them, cross the street. He immediately didn't like the way that they looked. They were grinning and smirking, as they crossed the street, which put them directly in front of Amanda.
Ray had, ever since he became involved with policing, obeyed his instincts. They kept him from getting hurt time after time. He certainly didn't like the way that this scene was shaping up.
He heard the one kid, the biggest of them, call out to Amanda, about the same time that Judy did, who was approaching behind the kids.
"Hey, freak!" he said, and the three of the laughed.
Amanda, seeing her Momma coming behind them, and not knowing what to do simply called out: "Momma!"
She tried to run around the three of them but one of them grabbed her by the collar and began to shake her.
"Stay put, freak!" he said, and the three of them laughed again.
It was then, as Ray was getting out of the car, that Judy reached the scene also.
"Leave her alone, damn it!" Judy cried out.
"Oh, a heroine!" one of the three of them said, and grabbed Judy by the collar and kind of pushed her to the ground.
Judy went down, since he grabbed her when she was off balance. The kids were laughing, Amanda was crying and Judy was swearing.
"Hey, lady," one kid said, "Stay put!"
It was then that Ray got to them. He'd pulled the billy, which was no longer standard issue but still came in handy, that he had in the car, as he got out.
"Hey, heroes!" he said.
The three of them turned in his direction. Leaving Judy be for a few seconds, Ray lashed out with the billy and simply broke the forearm of the kid who was holding onto Amanda, and had been shaking her.
The kid gave a huge yell and staggered away a few feet, holding his arm.
"You broke my arm!" he cried out. But by then Ray was dealing with the second of the bullies. He had the billy in his hand but simply lashed out with a left hand and punched the kid, putting him on the sidewalk.
However, at the same time, the third kid, who'd been hassling Judy, was able to pull out a knife, and was about to stab Ray. Judy, however, once his attention was taken up with the big cop, pulled out a pepper spray can and sprayed the kid's face.
The kid shrieked! The blow aimed at Ray went astray and, instead of being able to plan the knife in Ray's neck, the kid stabbed Ray in the arm. But by then, the kid was bent over and sobbing, rubbing his eyes all the while.
Amanda was immediately in Judy's arms. She looked up at Ray, who was busy just then holding his handkerchief over the wound, to stanch the blood, and she said:
"Officer Ray, you're a hero!" She turned to Judy and said: "Momma, he's a hero, isn't he?"
"Yes, love, Officer Ray is a hero!" Judy agreed.
Ray was talking then into his shoulder mike, reporting the incident and indicating that there was an officer injured at the scene. Soon enough two more squad cars were heard approaching and an ambulance.
Ray turned to Judy, who was still there holding Amanda, who was now sobbing.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Yes, thank you," Judy said, "Thanks to you, but you're not."
"It's fine!" he said.
The other police from the squad cars that had arrived, rounded up the three assailants.
"We'll get them in, Ray," one big cop named Harold said.
"Thanks, Harold!" Ray said.
By then the ambulance was there and wanted Ray to sit and have his arm looked at.
"Just a minute," he said, and turned to Judy. "Give me the mace," he said. "It's not legal and I'll just say that I maced the kid."
"Oh, thank you," Judy said, handing the can of pepper spray over to him. He put it in his pocket.
"You take her home now," Ray said. "Give her a treat, when she gets home for being so brave with those creeps!"
"Yes, officer," Judy said, grinning and winking at Ray. She went to him then, before leading Amanda off, and gave him a hug, being careful not to touch his injured arm.
"Thank you again, Ray!" she said.
"Me too!" Amanda said, "I'm going to give Officer Ray a hug; he's my hero!"
Ray bent to her and hugged the little girl then; he simply couldn't keep his mind from remembering the hugs from his Stephanie. It brought tears to his eyes, but he stored the thought back in the back of his mind.
Judy led Amanda away then, with Amanda turning to wave to Ray once before they walked away.
Ray received first aid for the knife cut there at the scene but the attendant told him that it should be properly stitched at the ER. Harold, one of the other responders, told Ray to go ahead with the ambulance.
"We'll take care of your car," Harold said.
"Thanks!" Ray said, going with the ambulance attendant.
The knife cut took four stitches and Ray was given some antibiotics to take for a few days. He stopped in at the station house then but was sent home and told to take a few days, after it was clear that the assailants were being taken care of in the system.
A SPECIAL THANK YOU:
It was a day later, in the evening. Ray was at home. Gus had gone to spend some time at the elderly facility. They were having a kind of orientation aimed at potential residents. Then the doorbell rang.
He went to the door, and, opening it, was surprised and very pleased to see Judy and Amanda Hill standing there.
"Hi, Ray!" Judy said brightly.
"Officer Ray!" Amanda said, with joy at seeing Ray there.
"We wanted to come by and say a proper 'thank you' for what you did for me and Amanda!" Judy explained.
Ray smiled at that, really pleased to see the two of them.
He tried not to stare at Judy Hill too intently. At 31 years, Judy Hill was a treat! She worked at keeping herself in shape and her duties as a surgical nurse, kept her busy much of the time. That evening she was wearing a long tee shirt and a pair of skin tight workout capris, black, and running shoes. She also had, hand in hand, Amanda with her.
Once Ray had the door opened, Amanda Hill was active and almost sprang at him and was hugging Ray for all she was worth.
"You were so brave!" Amanda said, hugging him. "Hero!"
"Makes it worth it!' Ray said, smiling at an also smiling Judy.
"Come in!" he said.
As soon as they were inside the door, Judy said: "Ray, this is a lovely, lovely home!"
"Thank you," he answered. "My dad, Gus, and I have been rehabbing it for years."
"Oh, it's lovely!" Judy said again. "Is he here? We'd like to meet him."
"No," Ray said, "He's at a meeting at the Shepherd Center; he's decided that he's going to move there and give me the house. He has friends there. I tried to talk him out of it but he's set in his ways."
Judy was carrying a package, and once she was inside, she indicated that she and Amanda had baked a cake for the 'thank you' celebration.
"A cake!" he said, "How marvelous!"
"I helped bake it," Amanda said proudly.
(Amanda Hill was born with a severe mental and learning disability. She was totally sweet and a really loving child. The BOCES people devoted one of their special schools to children like Amanda, helping them to learn skills for living. But Amanda was an angel!)
"Well come on in and we'll have some cake. I bet that I have a coke that you can have with your cake, Amanda, unless your Momma wants you to have milk," he said.
"I believe it'll be milk!" Judy said, smiling.
"Good, exactly what I'm going to have!" Ray said then.
"Lovely home!" Judy said again, looking around, as they went into the house.
"Thank you," Ray replied, as they got Amanda settled at the table.
"We've been thinking about a house for us, move out of the apartment; get Amanda a kitten or cat but it's a 'one of these days' kind of project."
"Yep," he said, "A 'one of these days' kind of project."
"Maybe after the cake and milk, I could show you around," he said.
"We'd like that!" Judy said and turning to Amanda asked: "Wouldn't you like to see more of this lovely old home?"
"Oh, yes, Momma," Amanda said, "I really like Officer Ray's house."
He fetched plates for them and milk for him and Amanda, with a cup of tea for Judy and the three of them settled down for the 'thank you' treat.
It was then that Amanda received the evening's main treat for her. While they were having their cake and milk, a long, tabby cat came wandering into the dining area. It paused and stretched and gave a huge yawn.
"I was wondering where you were sleeping!" Ray said with good humor.
"Ohhh, Momma, a kitty!" Amanda said.
She turned right away to Ray and said: "May I pet him?"
"Well, it's her," Ray said, "But, yes, Samantha would love to have you pet her."
He turned to Judy then and said: "She's the world's gentlest cat! She'll be fine."
Once Amanda had finished her cake and milk, she went into the living room, followed by an already adoring Samantha. She sat on the couch with the cat and played with her a bit and gave her special scratches. Samantha lay there and simply purred.
Meanwhile in the kitchen, where Ray and Judy had gone to do a little clean up, Ray was telling her about Stephanie, his love, and Marcie's abandoning of him, once little Stephanie died.
"Oh, what a sad story!" Judy said, with a tear already in her eye. She just looked at Ray and said: "How in heaven's name could that woman, or anyone abandon you!"
She got red with blushes immediately from what she'd said but Ray simply smiled at her and said: "Thank you for that. It took all the life out of Marcie, and, for that matter, all the life out of our relationship. So, here I am an old bachelor, living in a big, lovely house with his adoring cat.
"Who now has one fast friend in Amanda!" Judy said.
She told him then about the death in Afghanistan of her husband, Carl.
"It happened about the same time that Amanda was born," Judy said. "He never go to know what an absolute angel she is!"
"She is that!" Ray agreed.
They spoke briefly about the incident by the school that day.
"We were warned in our pre-work get together that some bullies were targeting the special ed kids at the BOCES' schools. They had me there to watch, once the kids got out of school. It's just my good fortune that I was assigned to Amanda's school.
"Our good fortune," Judy said, putting her hand on his face and stroking his cheek.
"You know," he said then, "It's getting quiet in there. Maybe we'd better go and see what's up."
They went into the living room and found Amanda curled on the couch asleep, with her arm around a very comfortable Samantha.
"Oh dear!" Judy said. "She's asleep."
"Come," he said, "I'll carry her. You can take the cake back with you."
"I'll leave you a piece, if I may!" Judy said.
"Excellent," he said, as he gathered little Amanda in his arms. Samantha moved away but sat purring, as Judy paid some attention to her.
Amanda immediately threw her arms around Ray's neck, as soon as he picked her up. They walked companionably to where Judy had parked her car, and he got Amanda settled in the car.
"Good night, Officer Ray," Amanda said in a sleepy voice. "Thank you for being my hero! I love you! And I love Samantha too!"
"Well, you need to come back and visit again, now that you know where Samantha lives," he said.
"You have such a touch with her," Judy said, after Amanda was snuggled into the car.
"She's special!" Ray said.
"Reminds you of Stephanie?" Judy asked softly.
"Oh, she does!" he said.
"That's a good thing!" Judy said, and she moved to him then.
He simply was looking at her, when she got to where he was.
"You look so beautiful tonight!" he said softly.
"Exactly the correct thing to say!" she said, and pulled him into a hug.
"Thank you for being so special for Amanda," she said, "And for being her, our hero!"
"You're welcome," he said, looking down at her.
"This is what our hero gets as a reward!" she said.
She kissed him then. He was initially taken back by it but soon enough leaned forward and returned the kiss. They kissed for many minutes.
"Shall we get together again soon?" she asked.
"Yes, I'd like that, and so will Samantha!" he answered. "Can you two come for dinner soon?" he asked then. "I'll make sure that Pop is here to meet you two."
"Oh, you're a cook?" she asked with a grin.
"A good one," he said, "My family was been in the restaurant business for years."
"We'd love to," she said.
"Sounds good to me; we'll plan." she said. She thought for just a moment and said to him: "One more kiss please!"
They embraced and kissed again. This kiss was not a 'thank you for being so nice' kiss at all. This was strictly a 'this is how I feel right now' kiss.
She ended with her head against his shoulder.
"Ray, thank you again, for all of it," she said finally.
He smiled at her and brushed her lips with his.
"I need to go and ponder this," Judy said, "Being taken by storm like this wasn't part of tonight's agenda for me."
He simply looked at her, waiting for her to finish.
"Grand isn't it though?" she said, giggling.
"It is that! Good night!" he said, shutting the car door, and watching her go.
PROTECTING, SERVING AND DINNER:
(Ray made it his business from that day on to be on hand, whether on duty or not, near the BOCES school, where Amanda went. She began to look forward to seeing him.
During the next week, he ran into Judy and Amanda both, when school was finished. They began a kind of schedule of taking Amanda out for treats after school.
For Amanda, seeing both her Momma and Officer Ray, whom she simply loved, was a treat every single school day. When they met, and he had time, they often went for a treat together during those days.
It worked out well for Judy also, for on any day, when she was going to be late or something prevented her from being there on time, she told Ray and he made sure that he was there.
He became a favorite of the various students coming out of school also. Ray was the popular policeman that waited outside of the school, waiting for Amanda Hill but having a kind word for everyone coming from school and going home.)
By the time their dinner plans rolled around, Amanda was simply antsy from wall to wall, since they were going to Officer Ray's house for dinner and she knew, from her previous visit there, that Officer Ray had Samantha, the cat. Amanda was simply gleeful about the prospect of seeing Samantha again.
When the doorbell rang, Ray met them at the door. He got a hug from Amanda immediately, who was pleased to see him.
"Officer Ray!" she said with positive joy.
"Hi honey," he said, hugging her back and smiling at Judy, who was standing there and waiting for her turn.
"Pop couldn't make it tonight," Ray said. Then, thinking about it he went on: "Actually, what he said was that he didn't want to be in our way! I'll make sure that you meet him soon."
Then, just before Judy and Ray hugged, and kissed, Samantha wended her way into the hall, to the absolute joy of little Amanda.
"Samantha!" Amanda was with positive abandon.
Then, while Amanda was kneeling to scratch and pet a very grateful Samantha, Judy finally made it into Ray's arms.
"Hi there, Officer Ray!" Judy said, licking his lips with her tongue.
"Hi yourself, beautiful Judy!" he responded, "So nice to see you again, and," he whispered, "To feel you again! Hope I gave you enough thinking time."
"Yes," she said, "It's time for us to be together again."
"You're still gorgeous, I see!" he said with a grin.
"Glad you noticed!" she said to him. Then she gave him a serious look and said: "Ray, I appreciate you being there to look out for Amanda by the school. I've also heard from other parents who appreciate you being there. It has almost stopped those incidents of bullying totally."
He smiled at her and said: "Just protecting and serving!"
(In fact the downturn in those kinds of incidents was noticed at the precinct house and the same pattern that Ray had used at Amanda's school was followed at the other BOCES schools in the area with similar results. There were yet a few incidents where the 'bullies', mostly younger kids, were stopped and, at times, taken in to the station house but the obvious greater police presence did the trick. It also had the same effect as Ray's presence near Amanda's school had. The policeman on the scene became a very popular figure with the kids getting out of school, and certainly a popular figure with the parents meeting the kids.)
She kissed him then.
Amanda looked up at them, with Samantha still on her lap, as they nestled together on the floor and asked: "Momma, is Officer Ray your boyfriend?"
Judy giggled and Ray smiled: "Oh, honey," Judy said to Amanda, "I think that he is! Isn't that nice?"
"Oh, yes," Amanda said with enthusiasm, "I love both Officer Ray and Samantha! I wish we lived with them at their pretty house!"
"I know, honey," Judy said, going from Ray to give Amanda a kiss on the head. "You simply need to let us work on that idea as things develop."
"Yes, Momma," Amanda said, "But I still wish it!"
"I know, love," Judy said, kissing the little girl on the top of the head.
"Dinner?" Ray asked then.
"Yes," Judy said, "I'm hungry and I bet that Amanda is also."
Ray had made sure that he prepared, for the dinner, one of Amanda's favorites, spaghetti. He used an old family recipe and made meatballs to go with the spaghetti. He tied a large napkin around Amanda's neck and she was both pleased and engrossed in her spaghetti.
Judy smiled at him across the table and slid her hand on top of his.
"Good, sweetheart?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, Officer Ray!" Amanda sighed.
It was ice cream then for dessert and the three of them settled down, in Ray's living room, for an evening of some television, with Samantha taking her place on Amanda's lap for the duration.
By the time that the tv show was finished, Amanda's head was leaned back against the couch, and she was sleeping.
"She looks like an angel!" Ray said and then followed that with: "No, I take that back; she is an angel!"
Judy smiled and leaned over to kiss him. During the kiss, he pulled her closer to himself, to feel her pressed against him. She accompanied the kiss with sighs and little throat noises.
"Next time," she said, "Be it at our place or here, we'll stay!"
"Both of you!" he whispered.
"Oh, yes, both of us!" she said. "That time is coming, Officer Ray!"
"Want to come to dinner at our place?" she asked.
"Lovely invitation," he said.
"How about Wednesday?" she asked. "Good for my schedule., and the thinking time period is definitely over and done."
(Judy had enough seniority at the hospital that she had been able to work shifts that enabled her to take care of Amanda's timings for school. It was complicated at times but it worked for them, and her devotion to Amanda was total and she didn't mind the bother and craziness of her schedule.)
"Fine," he said, "What can I bring?"
"Maybe a bottle of wine?" she suggested.
"Done!" he said.
AN INCIDENT NEAR THE SCHOOL:
It was the Tuesday prior to the Wednesday dinner to which Ray was invited, not only to dine but to 'stay over'. He was cruising near the school, since it was time for Amanda to be coming out of school.
As he came down the street, he noticed, however a crowd that had gathered only about a half a block from the school. He pulled into the curb and ran to the crowd. There, as he had feared in his strongest nightmares, in the middle of the crowd was Judy kneeling over the prone figure of Amanda.