The story for May 2023
This story was written for an anthology about systemic racism in policing, and was not accepted because it’s not really about that. Thankfully, Todd Robins at Vautrin liked it, and was happy to publish it. It is my last published story. and it’s been at Vautrin a year, so I can share it with you. It’s about the rivalry between firemen and police officers, and I hope you like it.
by Thomas Pluck
“You're not always happy to see a cop, but you're always happy to see a fireman,” Grandy said in a moment of punchy clarity brought on by the desire for his customers to shut up and talk sports instead of their lifelong argument. Ford or Chevy. Giants or Jets. Yankees or Mets. Anything but this again.
Grandinetti’s Tavern didn’t cater to cops and firemen, but it was a working man’s gin mill in Newark opened by a retired boxer who sold one pound burgers for five bucks, so the red and the blue were bound to join the dock workers, cable guys, the gas and electric—anybody who still got a lunch hour thanks to their union—because Grandy’s burgers took time to cook, and were worth the wait.
Normally he stayed out of their disputes, but like most old Newark Italians, or anybody who stepped into a boxing ring, he didn’t do make a profession out of getting punched because he had better options. Grandy was touching eighty, and the cops had been mostly Irish when he was coming up. One rung up the immigration ladder and eager to kick the faces below, after absorbing kicks of their own. He became a boxer after a big Irish cop broke his hand on his skull. Grandy didn’t have any aptitude in school or the patience to work masonry like his old man, but he could take a punch.
And he’d taken too many. Grandy knew better than to take sides in this argument, but his particular form of dementia knew how to flummox his internal referee, like he had in the ring on his good days. So he’d been off in a daydream and let the boys get out of hand.
And boys they were. All men. Once in a while a lady cop showed up for a celebration—Grandy knew you didn’t call them that, but he still called women who drove trucks and taxis “lady drivers”—like boxing, this was a boy’s game.
Women had made headway, and Grandy thought maybe if there were more of them around, the boys might behave. Be that as it was, there wasn’t a gal in the joint the night that Horace Youmans said that the cops in his old precinct called firefighters “wellers,” after the deep-fried hot dogs at Rutt’s Hut. Horace was retired from the precinct but stayed in the game, his fade gray at the temples.
Kasey Halligan, the sun-spotted walrus ex-powerlifter of Fire House 51, retorted that firefighters around the nation called cops Blue Canaries.
It wasn’t being called a bird that set them off, it was finding out why.
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