Detective Tom Sweeney smiled. He still couldn't believe he was having dinner with the great Dan Loftus.
His mind went back to his younger days, days when he'd played street hockey with his friends in Dorchester. And pretended he was Dan Loftus, his black and gold number 51 jersey stretched over his ski coat.
Now, here he was treating the second-best defenseman to ever put on a Bruins uniform to a Thanksgiving dinner at a greasy spoon, a block away from his precinct.
That's after Sweeney had found Loftus in a holding cell.
Oh, what I would pay to see my father's face when I told him this story, Sweeney thought.
It had been an average day until then for Sweeney.
Along with his partner, he'd finally arrested the perv who'd been showing off his (little) manhood to unsuspecting women in downtown parks. Sweeney had setup an undercover operation with a female patrol officer. She dressed up as a jogger and ran around the Common, trying to draw the man out into the open. When he did, at dusk, Sweeney took him down.
After his partner had gone home for dinner with his in-laws, Sweeney was left alone to book the perpetrator.
As he was taking the man to his cell, Sweeney peeked into another cell and saw a familiar face. It took him a while to put a name to the face, as the man had aged considerably and put on some weight since his glory days, but Sweeney was elated to meet one of his boyhood idols.
The desk sergeant told Sweeney that Dan Loftus was going to be charged with breaking and entering.
"Who brought him in?" Sweeney asked.
"Lemore and Jackson."
Sweeney laughed. Those two were the Abbott and Costello of the precinct. Clowns.
The charge against Loftus was probably a load of crap.
"Let me have your keys, Sarge," Sweeney told the sergeant.
It took a little convincing - and the promise of apple pie - but Peters finally let Sweeney take Loftus out for dinner.
"This is great," Loftus told Sweeney as he chewed on a piece of turkey. "Thanks."
Sweeney smiled. "Glad you like it," he answered through a mouthful of mashed potatoes. He put down his fork. "Can I ask you a question?"
Loftus froze for a second, but whatever bothered him passed, and he nodded.
"Why did the Bruins trade you? It still doesn't make sense to me."
The man sighed, and took another bite. While chewing, he shrugged. "Long story short, I boinked the coach's wife during a Christmas party, and Tim Thompson - fucking jerk - ratted us out."
Sweeney burst out laughing. "Really?" His eyes were sparkling, like a kid unwrapping his favorite toy on Christmas morning. "Well, I hope you enjoyed it, because you broke a lot of young kids' hearts when you put on that Chicago sweater."
Loftus shrugged. "It was okay, I guess."
Sweeney couldn't believe this.
Thirty minutes ago, Loftus was sitting in a holding cell, waiting to be arraigned on breaking and entering charges. He was going to spend the night in jail, but he acted like it was just another day. The man's calm demeanor was astonishing.
"Did you do it?" Sweeney asked as they kept eating.
"I told you I did."
"I'm not talking about screwing the coach's missus," Sweeney replied. "Breaking and entering."
Loftus swallowed and took a sip of a diet Coke before answering.
"Should I be talking to you about that? That's how the cops on TV do it, ain't it? Soften the guy up with dinner, then make him confess."
Sweeney shrugged. "I'm not here to entrap you, Dan. I was just wondering why Dan Loftus is sitting in jail on Thanksgiving night."
"Things happen," Loftus explained.
"Really? I know people, and I don't think--"
"You don't know me."
Loftus looked defiantly at the detective, daring him to go on.
Sweeney figured it was best to change subjects. The last thing he wanted was to argue with him.
"I was at the Garden the night you knocked out that guy from the Flyers. One punch."
"Pete White," Loftus replied. "Never played again."
"Did you ever speak to him?"
Loftus nodded. "I went to see him in the hospital that night. His coach got up in my face the second he saw me. He was yelling, cursing. Fucking Loftus this, god damn Loftus that. All I wanted was to talk to Pete and apologize."
Tears pooled in the big man's eyes, and he looked away.
Sweeney shoved his empty plate aside. "I don't think I'll eat another thing until Sunday," he said. "That was enough food for three."
Loftus was still soaping up the extra gravy on his plate with a slice of bread. "Better enjoy this, I guess, seeing how I ain't gonna get no real meal for a while."
"Do you have a record? If this is your first offense, you'll probably get off with probation."
"With my luck, judge's gonna be a friggin' Habs fan." Loftus laughed, and wiped his mouth with a paper napkin. "Time is it?"
He tried to look at Sweeney's watch, but the cop waved him off. "Let me worry about that. You want dessert?"
Loftus shook his head. "Only a cup of coffee. Black. Can I go to the can?"
"You're a free man."
The big man stood and walked to the back of the restaurant. Watching him go, Sweeney noticed his limp for the first time. Now he remembered why Loftus had retired so early : his second year with the Blackhawks, in a game against Buffalo, he chased a loose puck into the corner, and his skate got caught in a crack. His body twisted, but his leg did not. Tore his MCL and ACL for the second time. Good luck coming back from that at 33.
Loftus did try, but he'd lost a step, and opposing forwards were skating around him like he was a traffic cone. So he handed in his papers. And fell off the face of the Earth.
The waitress had just set two cups of coffee and a bowl filled with tiny cups of milk and cream on the table when Loftus returned.
The men drank their coffee in silence, deliberately, watching through the diner's dirty windows as the night people took over the downtown streets.
A woman dressed in bright running gear sprinted by, and Sweeney smiled, proud of himself for having made her run a little bit safer.
"Ready to go?" Loftus asked as he set down his empty cup.
In the car, Sweeney tuned the radio to the local jazz station. They were playing Miles Davis' classic record, Kind of Blue. The DJ came on between tracks to give some information on Davis.
"I saw him play one night," Loftus said suddenly.
Loftus nodded, smiling widely. "My rookie year, in 79. We were playing in Detroit, and some of the veterans on the team went out to this jazz club. I tagged along. I'd never heard of him, didn't know jazz from a chorus of roosters. I didn't listen to anything else from that night on."
Sweeney laughed. "That's great. My father knew Miles from his days working as a janitor in a nightclub. I met him once, apparently, but I was a baby then, and I cried when he played."
They were three blocks from the precinct now. Sweeney slowed the car practically to a crawl, not wanting this moment to end.
"I tried playing the trumpet in junior high," Sweeney continued, "Deaf people ran for the hills. So that was that. I'd be a listener only from there on in."
Loftus laughed heartily, his broad shoulders shaking.
Sweeney watched him out of the corner of his eye. His decision was made.
When they came up on the precinct, Sweeney stepped on the gas and sped right by the building.
"Where are we going?" Loftus asked with a hint of worry in his voice.
"I can't bring you back," Sweeney explained. "You deserve better."
"You don't need to do this."
Sweeney looked into Loftus' gray eyes. "Yes, I do."
After changing the sheets on his bed, Sweeney returned to the den. Loftus was browsing through his record collection. In his hands, a first-pressing edition of a Sonny Rollins record - Saxophone Colossus, with Max Roach on the drums.
"This any good?" he asked.
Sweeney smiled. "Only one way for you to find out."
He dropped the needle onto the record and waited for the first notes of St. Thomas to pour through his Warfedale towers.
The men sat on the couch, drinking Diet Cokes and listening to jazz records.
Sweeney's smile never left his face that night.
Not even when the phone rang at 3 a.m., sergeant Peters screaming his lungs out, wondering where his prisoner was.
Nothing could ruin Tom Sweeney's mood right then.
© Seb Duper 2015 - All rights reserved
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