It was Christmas Eve morning, and Tashawn’s family was acting coy.
Four siblings and their mother, Marquita, looked like they had a secret, but no one shared it with their middle brother/son, 15-year-old TaShawn. Still, he noticed that his family seemed a little happier than usual.
“What is up?” he finally asked especially when the 7-year-old twins_ TaLeah and TreMon _ looked at him, grinned and giggled, before running out of the living room.
“Oh TaShawn,” said Marquita, trying to sound convincing. “It’s almost Christmas and you know, presents and all. Besides, we’re all so thrilled you’re home.” And she hugged her son tight, being careful not to pull out his oxygen tube.
TaShawn was happy. For the last few days he’d actually felt like a normal kid, not an ill one. Last Christmas, he was stuck in the hospital. In fact, most Christmases and Easters and Thanksgivings he was in the hospital. Sickle Cell Anemia sucks, was all he would say. He sometimes thought that he spent more of his life in the hospital than home.
But TaShawn rarely complained, always trying to see the positive. At the hospital, he made the best of that experience too. “It feels like a second home, with a second family,” he said.
When he was home, he was an especially gifted listener and supported his brothers and sisters, even if it was just a word of encouragement or complimenting them on something they did well. His siblings were certain he was wiser than most adults.
They also knew he could tell they were all fibbing. But it wasn’t long until their secret revealed itself, unfolding with a knock at the door.
It was a young girl, about 10-years-old wearing an Elf hat. She handed a letter to TaShawn and darted off.
It was a letter from Mayor Sly James.
I have received a call from an old friend who lives up north. He was very upset. Gifts that he needs to deliver today and one of his sleighs has been stolen. Knowing your passion for police work, I’m calling on you to help him. I’ve talked with Police Chief Forte and he has promised to put his best people on the case. They will be contacting you soon. I would like you to be the lead investigator on the case. Please help us.”
TaShawn looked quizzically at his mom. She had a big smile on her face.
Another knock at the door. This time it was a policeman.
“Hi, are you TaShawn?”
TaShawn can only nod.
“I’m Sgt. Hernandez with the KCMO Police Department. I’ve got a message for you from a very important person.”
He hands an iPhone to Dashawn.
It was Santa Claus asking TaShawn a favor.
“All the Christmas toys at Children’s Mercy Hospital were stolen, along with one of my sleighs,” he said. “I need you to help the police department find them. The police need your expertise in this.”
TaShawn’s eyes grew big. Ever since his fourth birthday he’d dreamed of becoming a police officer. They were strong and authoritative, traits he admired. But each year his dream seemed farther away because of his illness.
This year at Halloween he was able to Trick-or-Treat so he went disguised as a Red Power Ranger because, “Power Rangers fought crime,” he told his Mom. He didn’t feel strong enough yet, to be a police officer.
But now, his crime-fighting dream was back. Before he could wonder “How?” another knock, and a Kansas City Police Officer named Sgt. Hernandez was standing there, asking to come in. In his hands was a uniform that looked to be TaShawn’s size, along with black police shoes, and on the shirt pocket was an embroidered name, Thompson.
The 15-year-old started to cry, but his big brother quickly urged him to stop and just go change. “Santa needs you!” he said. His big brother helped him adjust his travel back-pack of oxygen so it would be as discreet as possible.
When TaShawn emerged, he stood tall and erect in the crisp blue police shirt and pants. The only thing missing was a police hat, which the officer was hiding behind his back. Sgt. Hernandez unwrapped the new hat and placed it on TaShawn’s head.
“A perfect fit,” said TaShawn with a grin. The Sgt. also had a letter from the Chief of Police. He asked TaShawn to read it but his voice began to tremble. Sgt. Hernandez finished reading the letter that included the words, “we need the best people on this case and it’s you.”
TaShawn started to cry again.
Before he could begin his mission as an official police officer, he had to take an oath at the precinct. So, Sgt. Hernandez and the KCPD’s youngest recruit left for the station in police cruiser 848. TaShawn’s family followed the police car close behind, not wanting to miss a moment of TaShawn’s big day.
At the station, TaShawn held up his right hand and repeated the oath promising to do his best. The Captain pinned a mirror-shiny badge on TaShawn and shook his hand.
“I’ve been waiting my whole life to do this,” TaShawn told the officers who crowded around him. “I played at being a police officer a lot but now it’s coming to life.”
With his badge, his uniform, his hat and new self-confidence, TaShawn and Sgt. Hernandez climbed back into the cruiser waiting for a lead in Santa’s case. Hernandez showed TaShawn all the gadgets inside.
“These are our two spotlights…This is our computer….That’s our radio, communication, and where we get our assignments…Another thing, inside the car partners keep things real. Treat people right. Always remember to do the right thing and you’ll be okay.” TaShawn nodded and kept smiling.
The radio suddenly crackled with a female dispatcher’s voice. Suspects were spotted by two police units in the Crossroads District. Sgt. Hernandez reached over, clicked a button and spoke to the dispatcher. “Roger that.”
He turned to TaShawn.
“Well partner, apparently, our mission is already underway. The canine unit tracked down two suspects to a warehouse. Alright man, let’s do this.”
He flicked on the red strobe lights of the cruiser. TaShawn straightened his hat and sat just a little taller in his seat. He was grinning but he could feel his heart fluttering.
In minutes, the police car was in downtown Kansas City, cruising slowly on an empty street with blighted buildings. Sgt. Hernandez pulled up to another cruiser and parked. An officer filled the two partners in. “We believe the stolen toys are inside this building. We’re waiting for back-up because we believe the suspects are still there,” he whispered.
TaShawn peeked around the corner. A garage door was up. Inside, he could saw a ginormous sleigh with glowing Christmas lights, along with two scruffy-looking people lounging on a broken-down couch. Trash was strewn on the floor.
When the people saw TaShawn they took off running. Although they escaped, Sgt. Hernandez called for more help. A police helicopter appeared circling the area. A crowd of civilian onlookers formed, too.
The police went inside the abandoned building to inventory what the thieves left behind. Inside Santa Claus’ amazing sleigh were 19 bags of wrapped presents.
“It looks like all the hospital presents are here, Officer Thompson! Great work!” said Sgt. Hernandez. “We should deliver them now because the children are expecting these gifts.”
“TaShawn nodded. “We don’t want to disappoint them…not today.”
The officers on the scene especially thanked Officer Thompson for his quick work on his very first case. The helicopter above dipped to one side in a sky salute as the radio crackled with their words of congratulations.
TaShawn beamed and waved skyward. “This is the best day of my life!” he said. “When I grow up, I still want to be a police officer.”
It took just a few minutes to load up two squad cars with the presents, then drive to Children’s Mercy Hospital.
But someone tipped off the television stations about the missing loot, now found. Officer Thompson became a media darling. Reporters interviewed him, took photos and zoomed in video cameras as the Kansas City Police Department’s youngest recruit just shrugged and smiled.
But he didn’t forget his sense of humor.
When asked by one reporter why he wanted to be a police officer, he looked straight into the camera and with a serious look on his face, said: “Well, I love donuts. And I heard police officers get free donuts, so….”
Then TaShawn threw his head back and laughed.
And TaShawn himself, in his police uniform, tipping his police hat in courtesy, delivered the presents to the children he knew so well. "I hope you have a happy, merry Christmas and I hope you get better real soon."