Santa Claus Rides a Harley

Johnny, working his extra job.

Working Narcotics, you meet all sorts. Some of them you don’t want to admit to and others that make you proud of your association.  I worked with Santa Claus for almost fifteen years.  He rode a Harley.

I was first assigned to the narcotics task force around this time of year in 1990. One Thursday night, I discovered that the Chief’s number one “hey boy” had instituted a screw up that had department wide implications.  I documented my findings in a memo and left it for the Chief at 6:00 am when I went home. By 11:00 am I was back in the Chief’s office.

He informed that I was assigned to the Narcotics Task force, effective immediately, report on Monday.  He gave me a rousing send off by stating, “This is the end of your police career, I expect you will be fired, indicted or killed in a drunk driving wreck.” I stuck out my hand and replied, “Thanks for your show of faith in me.”  Throw me in the briar patch!

That Monday I showed up at the Narcotics Task Force.  It was located in a warehouse on the edge of a lumber yard.  Inside I found out that I wasn’t the only new guy, there were six of us.  We stood out, to a man we all had three-day stubble, patrol haircuts and jeans and t-shirts.

The boss called us into some semblance of order and gave us a rousing welcome aboard speech.  He pointed out we didn’t need to grow our hair long or grow a beard or get a fucking earring in order to buy dope.  He scattered some car keys to the new guys and sent us out to combat crime.

I was third in line from the office at the local mall to get my ear pieced.  Ahead of me was Johnny Gray.  Johnny was a deputy from the next county.  We were about the same age. We knew some of the same folks.  Johnny’s hair was snow white.  He was about five ten and was stocky with the start of a belly.

Most patrol cops work “extra jobs”, usually in uniform.  They direct traffic, perform security functions and chase shoplifters.  A transfer to narcotics shut down all of those opportunities.  So, the narcs took a double hit.  No extra jobs and no overtime, compensatory time up the wazoo but no money.

We went about the business of learning how to be hard charging narcotics investigators.  As time went by Johnny’s hair got longer and his beard grew out and longer and whiter.  At some point, somebody pointed out that Johnny was starting to resemble Santa Claus. We joked about outfitting him in a Santa Claus outfit and sending him out to make street buys.  What street level dealer could refuse to sell dope to Santa Claus?

Just about Thanksgiving, maybe a little after Johnny ducked out of work early. This started happening three or four times a week.  Everybody had time to burn so it was no big deal.  He finally snitched himself off when he left early only to return an hour later, on his Harley and dressed as Santa Claus.  Johnny was working Christmas parties, special appearances at hospitals and nursing homes anything that did not involve a department store. I guess he got paid sometimes. 

I remember one incident it was probably 9 or 10 at night, we were standing in the living room of a crook’s place, in the process of executing a search warrant.  Johnny’s pager went off and he answered the page.   A DEA agent had the urgent need of a Santa Claus, right then. His young daughter had been admitted to the hospital. We had enough people to do what we needed to do, so Johnny answered the call. Johnny visited the little girl. The nursing staff recruited him. He made the rounds. One visit triggered another request, which led to another. I suspect we made it home before he did.

He continued to play Santa for the fifteen years I worked with him. We never could get him to buy dope as Santa Claus.  I guess it was a violation of union rules. There are things that Santa just won’t do.  As far as I know he continued being Santa up until the time of his death.

It’s probably been over twelve years since Johnny’s passing and close to twenty since we worked together.  They say cops are a cynical bunch. Not all of them and not all of the time. In my mind’s eye I can still see Johnny Gray.

Merry Christmas!

I wrote this back in 2015. A fellow narc just sent me the picture of Johnny. I decided to update the original posting. Much to my surprise, I discovered that I had already revisited the topic on two prior occasions, At the links are the other postings.

Merry Christmas, 2017 – PORAC Ponders