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In the Line of Duty

I shared my hopes and dreams with my partner, while we patrolled the streets of New York City.

Illustration by Mark Thomas

Florida was a long way from New York City, where I’d lived most of my life.

This was a big change. Getting out of my car I had to remind myself that despite the heat and the palm trees, Christmas was almost here.

With the stress of moving it was easy to forget. How could I feel that old reliable Christmas spirit when everything around me was 100 percent new?

I went inside the bank to set up a safe deposit box. Shaking hands with a bank employee, I glanced at her name tag: Ms. Soto. “My old partner in the NYPD was named Joseph Soto,” I said.

“What a coincidence!” the woman said. “Joe was my uncle.”

What were the odds that here in sunny Florida I’d run into the family of my old partner from New York City? Partners got to be family, almost. The longer you worked together, the closer you got.

Joe and I had patrolled the streets of Glendale, Queens, for 11 years. When you spend hours together in a patrol car you do a lot of talking. Joe and I shared our hopes and dreams, and protected one another.

“We lost touch after he retired to Kentucky with his wife,” I said. “How is he?”

Young Ms. Soto looked away. “Uncle Joe died,” she said. “Alzheimer’s. My aunt is having a hard time.”

“She was the apple of his eye,” I said.

I should write her a letter, I thought. Tell her what a great man her husband was.

I finished up my banking business and promised to see Ms. Soto soon.

As soon as I had a quiet moment to myself, I sat down to write. I was back in my patrol car, listening to Joseph talk about his unending love and devotion to his wife and family.

“My wife is a strong person,” he’d always say, “and that’s what makes me love her deeply.” I wrote down everything I could remember.

On my next visit to the bank, I sought out Joseph’s niece, a white envelope in my hand. “Would you see that this gets to Joseph’s wife?”

“Of course,” Ms. Soto said. “Have a merry Christmas.”

I walked out of the bank feeling like it was Christmas after all—no matter how hot it was.

Somehow that old reliable spirit found me and made me a bit more settled in my new surroundings. That weekend, the telephone rang. “Hello?”

A woman was crying. “It’s Mrs. Soto,” she managed. “All his life, my husband was an expressive man. Always kind and generous with his feelings to everyone. But toward the end of his life Alzheimer’s stole that from him. From us. For so long I’ve missed him telling me he loves me. Your letter was the best Christmas gift I could have ever received.”

I hung up the phone feeling like something special had happened. Miles from home, in a new town, I’d gotten the chance to play Santa for an old friend. That old reliable Christmas spirit had found me.

Palm trees or not.

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