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"I'm Proud of You, Son."

Note: I have recorded an audio version of this story. Download it here -- enjoy!

Deciding to be a cop was the scariest thing I've ever done. I've known plenty of cops who were bullies; plenty of cops who just don't give a shit anymore, and plenty of cops who get paid off to shut their eyes and pretend they can't see nothing. There's a lot of bad cops out there, and it wouldn't've been difficult at all to become one of 'em. I could just -- get too tired, someday. Run out of juice, and let a couple scumbags go just because it's not worth the sweat to go after them.

It can happen. It does happen. Hell, I've helped drag some guys like that into the brig -- and the funny thing was always how normal they looked. No ski masks. No knives hiding under their coats; just the gun, shoulder and ankle holster, like I've got, which they almost never reach for. I've seen maybe one guy actually try to get away, but that's 'cause he's the only one I knew who actually had a family to think about. The rest of 'em -- they just sort of crumple, like they know they can't get away. They have these wrinkled faces, like they've been crumpling up all their lives, and they look a little proud of me when I testify. It's a hell of a thing, when the guy you're testifying against is prouder of you than your old man is.

Point is, I knew about bad cops before I even started in the Academy. Hey, you live in Chicago, you see it. If you're me, you start looking for something or somebody to keep you safe, like a -- talisman, or something. Somebody like Stella, because back when we were nineteen, there wasn't a chance in hell that she'd let me go that way. I used to think she'd keep everything from going wrong -- like if maybe I could hang on to her, the scum wouldn't even get anywhere near me.

That worked for maybe a month; the perps didn't give a shit about who I was married to. Took a year or so for me to get my first undercover as Gary Smith's newbie partner, and started rooting around in his personal files. Stella didn't keep me from finding the kilos of heroin stashed in the supply closet, though -- and maybe now I'm glad she didn't, but back then it was like somebody'd stabbed me in the back with a butterknife.

After that I figured Stella wouldn't put up with me if I screwed up, which is pretty much true -- not to mention that I wouldn't screw up, just because I had her. Those other cops, see, they didn't have Stel to come home to. They didn't have nobody to fight for, right? They just did it 'cause they had to, and that's not enough. You can't put your neck on the line just because you get paid for it. You've got to have somebody back home who'll hate you when you fuck up and kiss you when you make it.

Yeah, I was pretty stupid back then.

Anyway, Stella ended up leaving, which -- yeah. It took me maybe a year or two to convince myself that she'd left me 'cause I was a doof, and not 'cause she thought I was a dirty cop. She helped, a little; told me I was like a goddamn stupid puppy, anyway, and when was the last time you saw a corrupt puppy? So I got another undercover, figured I could at least keep doing what I was good at -- and just my luck, I get saddled with Vecchio. I got saddled with Fraser. The early days sucked, 'cause for a while there, it looked like Vecchio was a dirty cop -- and fuck, but if he's gone under and he had Fraser and I didn't even have Stella anymore, then I was done.

Turned out, though, that Vecchio wasn't dirty and Fraser's got this thing where he believes in people, and it's kinda hard to let him down. So I was good. I was really good there for a while. Fraser was keeping me outta trouble, keeping me on the right side of the law, and not having Stella was just -- not having Stella. Which, yeah, sucks -- but she's just Stella, and that I'm gonna get over eventually. I think.

I thought I had it all worked out.

I thought I was flying so high that I didn't even have to worry about it anymore -- and then I flew so high that I shook Sam Franklin up, and a whole shitload of stuff fell out. Normally this'd be a good thing.

But it's Sam. Sam's like me. Sam's exactly like me. Sam's who I was gonna be when I grew up -- that's what he always said. He always said that, he --

And it's even true. I mean, I ended up where he went, good places and bad places. He used to get the highest solve rate in Chicago, I ended up making Detective and jacking up the solve rate with Fraser. He's been divorced for years, used to joke about being jealous of me; now I've got an empty apartment too.

He sent Beth Botrelle to Death Row, even though he knew -- he knew -- that she was innocent. And I'm gonna have to arrest him. I know that. Hell, if I don't, somebody else will; typical Fraser's brought way too many guns and shields here for the job. Sam won't fight. He's a cop; he knows when he's been caught. It's probably the only difference between him and the perps, now. I want it to be the only difference, anyway.

The thing is, I'm standing here and watching him give up. I'm taking his gun. I'm taking his shield. And I'm hoping, hard as I know how, that he's not gonna look up at me. I am hoping that he's just gonna turn around and get cuffed by somebody with cuffs and go. I don't want him to give a damn about me.

Sam looks up at me, and for a minute I don't even know what his face is saying -- and then he gives me this little grin, and raises a hand to pat the side of my face. It's like I'm still just a promising rookie, and he's still just the detective on the scene that's taking a professional interest.

It's a hell of a thing when you're arresting the guy you used to count on to be proud of you -- and it turns out he still is.