Chapter 23 The Dreamers
Ben picked me up at 7:30am the next morning and we rushed down to breakfast. The menu was much like the ala-cart menu I was used to in the service. I took a large glass of orange juice, two eggs over easy on a piece of wheat toast, two slices of French Toast, and a cup of coffee with sugar.
Ben’s breakfast was considerably larger considering the personal “engine” he had to fuel. We sat at a small round table alone. “You going to eat all that yourself, or is your immediately family inside you coat,” I asked with a smile on my face?
“No this is just for me,” quipped Ben.
I had slept like a rock and felt invigorated and ready to tackle what was going to be the beginning of a great challenge and adventure. Ben began the conversation.
“My Uncle has been so looking forward to you getting here,” said Ben. “This idea of trying to help these inner-city kids has been driving him crazy. He thought he had a number of “candidates” for your task, but none of them ever seems to be the “right” one for him. It is hard to say why, though my Uncle is a great judge of character. He can be very demanding, but also very compassionate. As long a people give 100% he’ll walk through fire for them. Lazy people drive him crazy. Unfortunately, many of the people you are going to try and help are just that, lazy, and are followers not leaders.”
Ben continued. “Most of the instigators who form this core of this negative sphere of influence are just users and can only be defined a maliciously lazy,” added Ben. “I don’t mean to sound too judgmental, but there are realities about this you must accept. The trouble makers are more than just evil. People get hurt moving in on their “turf”. Make no mistake about that.”
“Ben,” I said, “I appreciate your concern. I don’t think I have some pie-in-the-sky notion about this program. I will keep a reasonable level of concern, but I can’t become afraid of my own shadow about this project. If I do, the paranoia will drive me nuts. I have to trust the Lord to keep me safe and go on from there.”
“Bob,” added Ben, “I just want you to succeed and stay alive while doing it, that’s all. This will be no walk in the park at times. I have asked my Uncle to let me help you if you want, and he has agreed. But, he did say that would be up to you, though. He is not going to tell you what to do or how to get the job done. Who you work with is up to you. He made that clear.”
“I will take all the help I can get, Ben,” I accepted. “Let’s eat and get to our first meeting. The sun has already beaten us to the punch.”
With that said Ben and I finish our breakfast and made our way across campus. Father Spencer and Sergeant Jenkins were already there, standing at the far end of the room in the sunshine, talking. Three priests were seated at a large nine-foot wooden conference table; one was sipping a cup of coffee poured from a white carafe.
As soon as Ben and I arrive Fr. Spencer brought Sergeant Jenkins across the room to be introduced. The room appeared to be some sort of multi-purpose room with twelve-foot ceilings, about thirty feet by forty feet in size.
“Bob,” announced Father Spencer, “I’d like for you to meet Jim Jenkins, Sergeant heading up the Youth division of the Metro Police. Jim, this is Bob Lollar, the young fellow I have be telling you about.”
We shook each other’s hand as we exchanged smiles.
“Good to meet you Bob,” said Sergeant Jenkins. “Father, here, has been driving me crazy to get on with this project, just waiting for Mr. Right to show up. I guess you are HIM,” as Jenkins warmly slapped him on the back of the shoulder.
“I’m not so sure about that,” I reply, but it is good to finally be here at Moody. I wasn’t quiet expecting to be spending half of my classroom time in the field, so to speak, but as long as you are my personal bodyguard, I feel better already.”
“In your dreams, preacher boy,” shot back Jenkins. “It’s much too dangerous out there in the playground these days. A pair of Air-Jordan’s and a 9 mm are all too available today. When they tell you that you need to be tough to “play-in-the-paint”, around here, they are not kidding.”
“All right Jim,” chimed in Father Spencer, “let’s not give the guy a heart attack his first day. What do you say?”
“I suppose you’re right,” softened Jenkins. “No need to send him off on the first flight out of Chicago, I guess.” Jenkins smiled as he motioned for everyone to head to the large conference table. “What do you say we get started?”
We all moved to the table and took seats. A three inch black binder with the City Seal and the circular wording, “Youth Division: Metro Police” was centered on the cover. Across the bottom it said: Confidential.
“Gentlemen, let’s get started,” began Sergeant Jenkins with a very business-like tone in his voice. The binders before you are for your eyes only. You are to share none of the information within this binder no one, not even friends, roommates, no one. Everyone in the Department who has access to this information has a security clearance and accepts the fact that this is sensitive information that “the street” would love to have. They do not need to know how much we know about them. We know considerably more than they would like. Plea bargaining does serve us well with intelligence. Most of it pans out to be true and verifiable.
Turn to page six.”
We all open our binders and did as Jenkins instructed. The page was headed: “Operation B-Ball”.
“What we have learned over the last few months,” Jenkins continued, “is that a number of key drug dealers and bookies have infiltrated the city-sponsored midnight basketball league. Twenty-four teams compete and it has become a web of gambling and drug trafficking. The pages marked ten through sixteen give bios on the kingpins of this activity along with the most recent photos of each.”
“We are not sure at this point how much the league’s players are involved, but we do know that much of the “action” is spectator-related and we have begun video-tape surveillance of every game over the last month,” continued Jenkins. “I need to also tell you that there have been 7 known homicides we believe can be directly traced to this activity. We know more are to follow. The money is now into the tens of millions of dollars. This is not going away.”
I sat almost stupefied as Jenkins continued his presentation. What had I gotten into I began thinking. Just listening to Jenkins made me all too aware of what this really was all about. This was organized crime all right, just missing the spaghetti sauce and a different and much younger set of players. There were no “fronts” like garbage or food service; this was all cash and small bills. Just lots of them.
I took a deep breath and decided that I was still committed to try and make a difference. I would surely find out just how much faith I really had.