It was on a Christmas Eve when it happened, my regular partner was off that night, and the captain gave me a partner whom we all called Bookie. As some of the older police remember, Bookie smoked cigars. He kept one in his mouth about all the time. There is nothing quite as bad as a wet cigar in a closed car.
It was Christmas Eve, and everything was quiet. Most people were at home setting up Christmas for their little ones. Everything had closed at midnight, so when I first came on, I had gone by Krystal and picked up a couple of sandwiches. I had about all the wet cigar smoke I could take. I went up to the Civic Center where I was going to eat my sandwiches.
I made the turn on the lot from the road, and as I did I saw a movement in one of the windows. I gave the car the gas and drove up to where you go beside the building on the duck pond side. I jumped from the car and began to check the windows and the door. All was secure, and I went back to the car.
Bookie sat in the car puffing on the wet cigar. Bookie knew my name but never called me Lonie, it was always Lonzo.
“What you looking for Lonzo?” he asked.
“Santa Claus,” I replied.
I made another round checking the windows and doors again. I couldn’t find anything out of order so I went back to the car. I reached in and got my sandwiches from the seat and placed them on the hood. I started to eat, never taking my eyes off of the Civic Center. Bookie sat in the car puffing on his wet cigar.
I was looking at the window on the end of the building when I saw it again. I didn’t say anything but walked over and looked into the building. Nothing moved, but I knew that I had seen someone or something move. I walked back over to the car and opened the door to get in and started to sit down but changed my mind. I reached and got the microphone.
I remember the conversation as if was yesterday.
“Car two to headquarters” I said.
“Go ahead car two” the dispatcher said.
“Headquarters call the city custodian and tell him to bring the keys to the Civic Center,” I requested.
A slight hesitation then, “you know this is Christmas Eve?” I was beginning to get a little irritated with the radio and Bookie’s wet cigar.
I remember with the irritation showing, I said “life goes on, tell Paul to get over here as soon as possible.”
Car one, having no calls, pulled on to the lot. I went over to the car and told them what I had seen. They pulled to the end where they could see half of the Civic Center. I picked up my cold sandwich and coffee. I ate and drank coffee, smelling Bookies’ wet cigar.
It seemed that Paul would never get there, but finally I saw his headlight as he came off of the road on the lot. I motioned for the officers in the other car to come with me to help search the building. I went through the door with the others behind me. We searched every corner of the building even looking in the refrigerator.
Nothing seemed to be out of place and no one could be found. The room had been set up for a party the next day. A Christmas tree was sitting in the front of the fireplace. Gifts were scattered around the tree. Sitting in the fire place was a bag of gifts. The bag looked out of place. The other officers had gone back to their car leaving Paul and I alone. That is all except Bookie with his wet cigar.
I started to go toward the door to leave when a thought came to me. I motion for Paul to wait.
“Bookie,” I said pointing to the fire place.
A surprised look came on Bookie’s face. He laid his cigar on a table and with his gun in hand we approached the fire place. I stepped to the side and pulled the sack from the fire place. Nothing was in the fireplace, it was empty. I remember that a thought came to me.
“Hey Paul,” I said “is it okay if I shoot up this fireplace to make sure that no one is hiding in it?”
“Fire away,” he yelled loud enough for everyone to hear.
A faint voice came from the fireplace, “don’t shoot mister, I am coming down.”
“Come out showing me empty hands!” I ordered.
I watched as a pair of shoes came into view, but I could not believe my eyes when the rest of him slid from the chimney. I will try to give you a description.
First, a pair of shoes that looked to be about 14 in size came into sight. Then, the shoes came sliding from inside the fireplace with the longest body attached to them that I have ever seen. He had to be over six feet tall and weighing less than one hundred pounds. I wanted to laugh but knew this was no laughing matter. He had soot all over him and with his hand sticking up in the air was the funniest sight I remember seeing.
“Face me,” I said, “with your hands held high!” Bookie took his cuffs and put them on him. We led him out to the car and placed him in the back seat. In those days there were no cages in the car; when someone was placed in the back seat, someone got in with them.
Bookie started to get in then got out hollering at Paul. “Don’t lock the door. I got to get my cigar!” He went back into the Civic Center and retrieved his wet cigar stub.
This fellow went by the name of Suge and in later years had half of the police department chasing him for burglary. He did time for the Civic Center burglary but came out and started up again. I always wondered if he thought he could get the big garbage bag up the chimney. The bag weighed as much as he did, if not more.
I know that old Santa Claus can carry a big bag of toys down the chimney, but I would just bet that a six foot fellow weighing less than a hundred pounds could not make it up the chimney with a bag of toys as big as Suge had.
Lonie Adcock of Rome is a retired Rome Police Department lieutenant. His latest book, “Memories of an Old Geezer,” is now available.