by Pam Sears
A law enforcement exhibit means something
|“I dunno, Robert. That thing looks like it could step off the pedestal and start following us around.”
James Tailer warily eyed the FBI bomb suit propped in the police exhibit section of the museum he and his school were visiting that day. Usually school-sponsored field trips to museums ended after high school but this was for the Criminal Justice class he attended at University because the Museum currently had a Law Enforcement exhibit on display. It had various cases -along with replicas of the evidence used in solving them- from all law enforcement agencies. Even agencies from other countries. It really was interesting even if some of the displays were a little on the spooky side.
Like the Bomb Squad suit they were currently in front of. It was a dark olive color with heavy padding all over, a thick vest and a thicker raised collar. A tough helmet with a clear, bullet resistant face shield covered the head. The sign with the suit explained how the suit was designed to shield the bomb tech as much as possible if the bomb went off before it was disarmed. Both young men noted there were no gloves.
“Wonder why?” Robert frowned.
“Because we can’t work with our tools and the wires or other tiny bits of the bomb if we’re wearing bulky, protective gloves.” A man answered.
The young men turned to see a man in his mid-forties standing near the suit, gazing at it a little sadly.
“We?” James repeated.
The man turned to face them and an almost silvery gaze glittered from under a shadowed brow even as he smiled a little. “We.” He confirmed. “I was a bomb tech for a lot of years. Used to work with the FBI, actually.”
“Oh. Then, you’re retired, now?” James faced the man, wanting to learn more. He had dreams of helping people and law enforcement had always seemed like the best way to him.
“Well, it was forced retirement. At least from the Bomb Squad.” The man admitted, holding up his right hand. The two outside fingers were missing completely and the middle finger was gone from the knuckle up. “Now I teach about bombs rather than try to dismantle them.”
James’s eyes were huge as he stared first at the man’s hand, then back to the suit. “So, the protection only goes so far.” And he shuddered slightly.
The man nodded. “It’s a tough choice to make, to be a bomb tech. You go into it knowing you could lose pieces of your body, if not your life, if you do something wrong. Or if the bad guy pulls a trick you’ve never seen before.”
“Does that happen often?” Robert questioned eagerly. “The new tricks, I mean.”
The man shrugged shoulders that were obviously still muscular even if he was no longer in the field. “Not so much.” He lifted his hand to glance at it briefly. “Although it’s how I lost my fingers. It was a new bomb I’d never seen. No one had that we could find. Most bombers repeat the same thing over and over with small variants and bomb techs know if we haven’t seen it, one of our brothers has and can talk us through it. But once in a decade or so…” and his voice trailed off followed by another shrug.
Then he turned to James and smiled. That smile bothered James a bit but he didn’t know why. It was friendly enough. “So, the suit looks spooky to you? Is it because of the way they’ve got it set up? It does look like someone’s inside it but not standing quite right.” He mused.
James looked at the suit again, the unease he’d felt earlier rippling down his spine even though he tried to shrug it off. The suit seemed to give off an aura if sadness but he wasn’t about to admit that. Robert would ride him mercilessly and he didn’t know this man.
“Maybe.” He conceded. “Maybe because it’s empty. If they put a mannequin inside maybe it wouldn’t seem so… ghostly.”
Robert snorted. “Ghosts, now, James? It’s the FBI, I’m sure Mulder and Scully have chased out all the ghosts & aliens by now.” He laughed, referencing an old tv show.
The stranger shrugged again. “If you stay in your current major you’ll likely see all sorts of odd things.”
Robert nodded. “Yep. S’why I want to be a cop. I know it gets weird and I’m looking forward to it.” He sniggered.
The man frowned at Robert although his face remained smooth. How James knew he wasn’t pleased by Robert’s answer he wasn’t sure but he knew it. Then the man looked at him questioningly.
“Is that why you’re wanting to get into law enforcement, James?”
James blinked, wondering how the man knew his name, and felt another chill but answered him honestly. “No. I … well…”
He paused and glanced away a moment. “My mom was killed by a man who broke into our home one day. I… I don’t want anyone else to lose their mom like that. And I don’t want other kids not knowing what happened or why.“ He scowled back toward the stranger, daring him to laugh at his disjointed reasoning.
But the man was nodding thoughtfully. “You’d be surprised how many of us get into law enforcement because of a tragedy in our lives. Tragedy we don’t want others facing. Or, at least, not facing alone.”
Then he smiled that uneasy smile again. “You’ll do a good job, James. Study hard, keep your grades and physical fitness at your peak, and you’ll reach where you want to go. Don’t give up, even when it’s difficult or others laugh.” He glanced at Robert who had turned away, more interested in the next display than the conversation.
“Hey, James!” He exclaimed, loudly excited. “This is the car the Belt Way Sniper used!”
James glanced at his friend, then back to thank the stranger for his encouragement only to find him gone. Blinking, James glanced around but didn’t see him anywhere. He frowned, turning in a circle, thinking he was missing seeing him because the exhibit was dim with spotlights on the displays causing odd shadows. The man was completely gone.
“Ah, Robert?” He croaked.
“Yeah, what?” Robert turned, then glanced around. “Your new pal gone? Well, let’s move on. I want to see the rest. Maybe I’ll be an FBI Special Agent In Charge.” He decided, moving off to smirk at the next display.
James glanced around once more, then back at the bomb suit. It seemed different somehow. A little less saggy. As if the original wearer were now inside and standing proudly before him. He stared a moment into the empty face mask and thought of the strangers last words to him.
“I promise, sir. I won’t quit. And, one day, I’ll be the best law enforcement officer I can be. Thanks.” He murmured.
Walking away to join the rest of his class he missed seeing the suit as it seemed to settle once more, this time with the face mask tilted slightly in the direction he’d gone.
A few minutes later one of the museum docent’s happened by and saw the way the suit’s helmet was tilted. Tsking to himself he stepped closer and readjusted the suit.
“These kids. No respect for anything anymore.” He muttered.
“Not all of them.” Came the whispered reply.
Startled, he glanced around but saw no one. Looking at the suit he saw the helmet once more turned to it’s right. Maybe… maybe it was supposed to sit that way. With a slight shudder he turned and hustled toward the next exhibit display to check on it. Quiet chuckles followed his hurried footsteps.