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Behind the Badge Justice — a dish best served hot, with a side of turkey

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Lt. Chris Piombo

Posted: Monday, December 19, 2011 12:00 am

The story you’re about to read is true. Nothing has been changed to protect the innocent.

Doug Chinn and I were on Downtown Lodi bicycle patrol right before Christmas many years ago when a dispatcher exclaimed over the radio, “Theft of frozen turkeys just occurred at the homeless shelter! Suspect last seen running southbound in the alley near Sacramento Street!” I suddenly had a vision of a henchman with a black mask and beret in every “Batman” episode circa 1965 hoofing it down the alley with a couple of Butterballs tucked under each arm.

We rode over to the shelter and saw the manager was frantic. Some guy snuck into the kitchen and ran off with two frozen turkeys. Each of the pilfered poultry weighed 23 pounds. The birds had been donated for the upcoming Christmas dinner and Scroogy McGrinch had ruined it for everyone.

Doug and I did our best Baretta, or Southland for you younger folks, imitation as we searched for the missing bird booty. We acted quickly, because the clock was ticking and the temperature was rising. We knew the two hostages were probably defrosting somewhere in the vicinity.

We leaned on every Downtown denizen we could find. We talked with the down-and-outers, the up-and-comers, the pensioners, the barkeeps, the cons, the hypes, drunks, and ladies of the evening. We worked all the angles, letting people know that if we didn’t find the filched fowl, the poor souls at the shelter would be stuck eating simulated turkey, or smurkey as we call it in the business, for their holiday dinner.

Eventually we discovered the culprit resided in a local hotel. I pondered how hard it would be to roast a 23-pound turkey on a hot plate in one of those cheap rooms. Didn’t think that one through, did you, Al Capone?

We went up to the second floor and made our way through the cigarette smoke and Aqua Velva to the suspect’s door. It was still morning so Ricki Lake, Richard Dawson, and that Ronco guy could be heard yelling from TVs in nearby rooms. I guess insulation wasn’t a priority in hotels built in the 1910s.

No answer at the door. Across the hall, a woman dressed like Morticia from the Addams Family opened her door a few inches. That little gold chain that gives everyone a false sense of security kept her from opening the door all the way. She pointed at the suspect’s room and whispered, “They’re in there.” I blurted out, “The guy or the turkeys?!” She whispered, “The turkeys,” and gently closed the door.

Still no answer so we went to speak with the hotel manager. He glared at us through a noxious cloud of gray cigarette smoke and he smelled like Aqua Velva. At least one mystery was solved.

We checked the hotel register to see who lived in the suspect’s room. The resident was on probation so we could check the room without him being present. We made our way through the nutty, curiosity-filled characters who now lined the hallway. It was like being in the Rose Parade without the floats.

Doug unlocked the door and there, bathing in a shaft of early winter light, was one of the frozen turkeys, lying in the middle of the floor. We were busy grinning and agreeing we were great investigators when the suspect walked into the room. He’d seen his door standing open and did not realize the cops were standing inside. Oops, you’re under arrest. It’s a Festivus miracle!

He eventually admitted he’d swiped the birds and given one to a friend who lived a few blocks away. No one was available to take the recovered roaster off of our hands so I tucked it under my arm and tried to pedal to the other suspect’s house. Fun fact: A frozen 23-pound turkey makes a loud “clunk” sound when you drop it on the street. It also has a tendency to skid for about three blocks before it comes to a rest. Hey, you try to pedal a bike with a turkey the size of a third-grader under your arm. You’ll see.

A woman answered the door and her jaw dropped like the Oakland A’s attendance after opening day. I asked her where the other turkey was and she led us into the kitchen. She opened the refrigerator door and pointed to the grifted gobbler on the shelf. She said, “You mean this one?” We took the bird and carefully made our way back to the shelter. The manager was ecstatic. The terrific toms had been returned and there was going to be real turkey for the holiday dinner courtesy of the Lodi Police Department. True story.

Have a merry Christmas and a happy New Year.

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