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story.lead_photo.caption Courtesy Photo Early morning "belly-bombers."

Rookie cops are a lot like orchids. They need constant observation and a lot of care. However, the task of acting as a waiter and getting and serving the small little burgers almost always fell to the least senior officer; and that moonless, dark, quiet night on the midnight shift, the job of making a "Belly Bomber Run" fell to Steve.

The police department's uniform division scheduled their officers to work one of three shifts. The shifts, at least as we on the department called them, were referred to as the day shift, the evening shift and the midnight shift.

Uniform officers on the day shift were involved in traffic enforcement duties, answering calls of angry business owners reporting burglaries that occurred the previous night and responding to various other routine calls for police.

The evening shift seemed to offer a somewhat more diverse array of calls for police, such as armed robberies, assaults, etc. However, although the midnight shift officers responded to significantly fewer calls, those assigned were more interesting. There were family disturbances, burglaries in progress and occasionally those reports of a body lying by the side of the road.

There was, however, and more years ago than I care to reveal, a tradition carried on by some of the officers working on the midnight shift. When the volume of calls was exceedingly low and bellies grumbled, someone would make a trip to the nearest White Castle and procure bags of burgers, also affectionately referred to as sliders or belly bombers.

I recall one such midnight shift run more so than any other. It was a very warm summer's night and the hands on my watch had moved to three hours past midnight. It was a relatively quiet night, a Sunday night that had turned into Monday morning. I was a uniform division lieutenant and watch commander.

One of the officers asked if that early morning might not be a good one to make a belly bomber run.

"Why not?" I replied. "Do you want to meet behind the Sears warehouse in about 30 minutes?" he asked.

Many meeting places had been previously used but that dark, quiet night the parking area between the railroad tracks and the Sears warehouse seemed as good a place as any.

"That sounds like a plan. Ask Steve to make the run to the Porcelain Palace."

"Okay, see you there and I hope it stays quiet. I've been craving sliders for days now."

When I stopped my blue unmarked car at the rear of the lot. I saw that six marked police cars were already there. The cops, all friends of mine on and off the job, were talking about calls they had answered that night and how unusually quiet the night had been. Nobody was complaining about the lack of calls, and I think everyone hoped the last three and one-half hours would pass as quietly as the first few hours had.

The conversation paused as the blue police car rounded the corner of the warehouse and the headlights came into view. One of the hungry cops hoped that nothing had been forgotten.

"I hope he didn't forget my fries."

I guess the rookie's reputation for never getting anything exactly right was one that followed him even up to and including the purchase of early morning sliders.

Bags of food were unloaded from the front seat, and that familiar odor of White Castle hamburgers wafted through the dark night air. There was no mistaking that scrumptious smell and it was as if the anticipation was growing in leaps and bounds.

"Hey, you didn't forget my fries did you rookie?"

"No, but there is one small problem. I forgot to get the drinks."

"Are you kidding me? There's no way I can eat four double sliders and a box of fries without a Coke."

Steve continued to unload the bags of food and, without looking at the source of that comment, replied, "Sorry."

As the group talked, laughed and consumed those wonderfully delicious sliders, the dispatcher's voice came over the radio. "361,"

"Damn," Steve exclaimed as he tried to swallow a mouthful of meat, bread, cheese, pickle and those little bits of onion. "361, go ahead."

"361 respond to a report of a man walking in the middle of the roadway on the Highway 270 outer road."

"10-4," the rookie officer responded.

"362," the dispatcher's voice once again came over the radio.

"362, go ahead."

"362 would you assist 361? He's responding to a report of a man walking in the middle of the Highway 270 outer road."

"10-4," the officer replied.

After the passage of no more than five minutes, both officers announced to the dispatcher that they were 10-23 -- arrived at the location. Several more minutes passed and, with the thought of that rookie on my mind, I decided to drive over to Steve's location. Although the officer assisting him was a veteran, one just never knew what kind of trouble a rookie could get into.

When I arrived at the rather deserted stretch of road, I noticed that Steve was standing 20 or so feet from his vehicle talking to the other cop.

"So, what's the story?" Well Lieutenant, when I got here, I found a guy lying on the side of the road. He didn't appear to be injured and there was an empty whiskey bottle lying on the ground next to him. I asked if he was alright, and he said he was but he was a little drunk.

I asked the guy if he could walk and he said sure, so I helped him get to his feet, but he was staggering so I had to help him to my car. I put him in cuffs and placed him in the back seat of my car. I'm going to hold him for a 24-hour detox.

Police officers, at least for the most part, weren't considered to be experts on matters other than the level of inebriation. Those poor souls who had over-imbibed could be incarcerated for 24 hours while they regained, at least temporarily, their sobriety.

"Why did you put him in the front seat of your car and why didn't you cuff him?" I asked. Looking somewhat puzzled, Steve replied, "I didn't. He's in the back seat and I did put him in handcuffs."

Copying the officer's puzzled look, I noted, "Well, I'm looking at your car and there's a guy sitting on the front seat."

I walked around the car, opened the driver's side door and sure enough, there on the front seat was a white and blue bag; you can't miss those White Castle bags.

"I was certain that those little burgers would be cold by the time that other cop got done with me, so I didn't think he'd be too mad if I had a couple," the man, almost apologetic, stated.

"What in God's name do you think you're doing?" Steve shouted.

"Look here officer," the man replied as he held up a handcuffed hand holding a partially eaten burger while the other end of the cuffs dangled unattached.

"I was asleep and feeling no pain, but all of a sudden I smelled something and I got really hungry. I couldn't help but recognize that smell; it was the odor of White Castle belly bombers. Well sir, I noticed that my shoe fell off my foot when you put me in the back of the car. I guess it got stuck in the door jam and kept the door from closing. So, I got out of the car and slid one of the cuffs off my left hand. But don't get the wrong idea; I wasn't trying to escape, I just had to get me one or two of those sliders."

"Man, they were good and really hit the spot, but I gotta ask you something. Why didn't you get a drink; you know something like an ice-cold Coke to wash those belly bombers down with?"

The man spent 24 hours inside a jail cell regaining his sobriety and, although I can't say for sure, he probably didn't remember much about the night before. That morning Steve removed the empty slider boxes from his car and, at the end of the watch, quietly endured the jokes made by other officers.

"Hey, that guy wants to know if you'll get him a Coke to wash your burgers down with."

That was my last taste of early morning belly bombers. A month after the infamous "no Coke" incident, I was transferred to the detective bureau.

As for the rookie, well, Steve considered the level of his aptitude for police work and a few months after the incident, he resigned. Some years later I recall hearing a rumor that he was managing a restaurant. I wondered, surely it couldn't be a White Castle.

Stan Fine is a retired police officer and Verizon Security Department investigator who, after retiring in 2006, moved from Tampa, Fla., to Noel. Stan's connection to Noel can be traced back to his grandparents who lived most of their lives there. Stan began writing after the passing of his wife Robin in 2013. Opinions expressed are those of the author.

Editorial on 09/13/2018

Print Headline: Unmistakable Aroma Of Belly Bombers

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