Unlikely Hero
By David Boyle
Patrolman Harry Forester awoke at three o’ clock in the morning, his week-long battle with the flu was still
raging. Sleeping pills from the previous night left him groggy and congestion prevented him from getting a sound
sleep; he felt exhausted. He pulled the blankets away from his slim frame, shivering in the chill of his drafty
apartment. His steady contractor—who always fixed his heat—was on vacation for two weeks, forcing him to
endure the cold until his return. Harry sat up straight, placed his feet on the floor and rubbed his eyes. Sirens
bellowed in the distance, growing louder as the seconds passed. He worked the kinks from his neck and gingerly
rose to his feet. The sirens were closer now and the car’s twirling lights skimmed across his apartment window.
Another Friday night was crippling Dreyer City, a city suffering plight it hadn’t seen in years; a place with the
third highest crime rate on the east coast and the worst pay scale for police officers. One of every three crimes
committed in Dreyer was a felony. Harry was soon reminded of that fact when, a minute later, gunshots
crackled blocks away. It was the kind of ruckus that typically disturbed his sleep and it was always followed by
a succession of sirens en route—often his.
It was Harry’s night to patrol; illness would not get in his way. He would not allow such paltry matters to stand
between him and a perfect record: three years on the force, no sick calls, no personal days taken, six weeks of
vacation accrued yet unused. He planned on taking time off soon, eager to spend it with his girlfriend. He and
Paula had been together since his divorce last year. His ex-wife left him—consumed with jealously. Harry’s
former partner Victoria was a tough cop with the looks of a cover girl. His ex-wife couldn’t deal with their
professional bond and accused him countless times of having an affair. Despite Harry’s vehement denials, she
left him a month before his promotion to sergeant. As far as he was concerned that little setback was par for
the course, just another in a series of failed police marriages. Half the force had marital issues.
Harry walked to the bathroom, his steps slow and calculated. He put on the light and braced his body against
the vanity, glanced in the mirror. A pale, withdrawn face was staring back at him. The veins in his face were
pronounced, his eyes watery and it was difficult for him to breathe cleanly. Harry opened the medicine cabinet
and reached for a bottle of Tylenol extra- strength and chased two down with water. He ambled to the toilet to
take a leak. Standing there he heard sirens again. He thought about how those sounds would never cease. As
long as garbage walked the streets people like him would be needed to clean the mess, rid the city of its
decay.  Maybe if he worked harder the sirens would be silenced forever, he thought. He stared through the
window above the toilet, watching ambulance lights flicker on the brick façade of the warehouse opposite his
apartment. Just below the roof canopy large, painted letters spelled: Take a Bite Out of Crime. Smiling wearily,
Harry washed his face and brushed his teeth.
He returned to his bedroom and began getting dressed. His entire body ached as he applied each layer of
clothing and then he pondered making a sick call, getting back in bed and sleeping it off. But Harry Forester was
a determined man who didn’t give in easily. His job was his life and he never neglected his duty. As soon as he
was dressed he made his way outside into the frigid early morning.
The street was quiet now. On the other side of 26th Avenue a garbage can had been tipped over, a variety of
loose debris was sliding along the walk in the breeze. The wind was ice-cold and bitter, stinging his face,
aggravating the symptoms of his flu. He got in his patrol car and drove a few blocks, then took a right down
Spencer. Yawning, Harry looked around as he drove the city streets. The scenery never improved, only
worsened with time. Windows were smashed in apartments and storefronts. Hydrant caps had been removed.
Potholes, once small, were growing wider and deeper. After another turn he caught a glimpse of a homeless
man in the street, drinking from a bottle of whisky, his eyes bloodshot as always. Cars were double-parked in a
few spots, but Harry had neither the time nor the energy to write tickets now. He just wanted to get to the
station and ease into his work.
His radio light started blinking wildly. Cars were being dispatched to various hot spots: a break-in on 85th
(Carlson was on that one). A fist fight on 125th and Concord (Andrews was breaking it up) and on Broadway
and 2nd Avenue two prostitutes were loitering (Robertson would soon be sending them home). A lot of action
for this early morning hour, Harry thought.   He cruised a few more blocks and saw a man running into an alley
with something in his hand.  His headlights detected something shiny, but he wasn’t sure what it was. He hit a
switch on his dashboard and a spotlight beamed with potent candlepower.
Harry shined it at the man, rolled down his window and yelled, “Hey, stop right there!”
The man ignored his order and continued running, so Harry sped up and followed him deep into the alley. His
blood was really pumping now; illness was making matters worse and chasing down a possible felon was not
typical for the first call of the day, especially before arriving at the station. The man was still blazing up the
alley and approaching the next intersection. Harry was keeping pace with him as he put on the cherries.
“Freeze!” he shouted at the man.
The man ignored his command again. Harry had no room to drive around him and impede his flight so he drove
as close as he could without touching him. As they drew nearer to the next intersection the man looked back at
Harry for a fraction of a second and lost his footing, falling to the ground. Harry slammed on the brakes and
jumped from his car. The man squirmed in pain on the pavement. Harry kept his distance, standing behind the
car door. Suddenly it was becoming harder for him to catch his own breath since the adrenaline of the moment
made his anxiety level rise. The man was wearing a dark puffy jacket and had his hands hidden inside the
pockets. He had a cut above his right eye and the wound was bleeding. The man was Caucasian, thirtyish.
“Stay right there, sir,” Officer Forester said. “Put your hands where I can see them.”
The man wasn’t responding, his eyes locked on Harry’s. Harry took a step toward the man. “Look, just tell me
who you are and what you’re running from. Let’s make this easy.”
“I aint runnin’ from nothing, copper,” the man answered, his eyes lowering to his jacket.
Cautiously, Harry took a step back. “I wanna’ see your hands, sir. Let’s go!”
Harry started coughing, but kept his focus on the man. Officer and suspect were about ten feet apart. The
suspect grinned, fidgeted with something in his pocket, his eyes shifting back and forth. Harry saw the man’s
hand moving inside the jacket pocket. He wanted to charge the suspect and put an end to the situation, but
what if he had a gun? Some other weapon? Harry had to know what the man had in his possession before
taking further action. He stepped back behind the door for protection. The man remained on the ground. Harry
coughed again, harder and deeper than before and his eyes pooled. The wind kicked up and slapped his face.
Harry decided to call for backup before matters escalated. Still his attention remained on the suspect as he
reached for the radio. The man suddenly rose to his feet.
“Don’t move,” Harry said.
The man advanced a step toward Harry. Harry pulled his revolver. “Stop right there!”
For a moment Harry was uncertain. He planted his feet firmly in position with his gun aimed and ready. He felt
the cold channeling through him, weakening his body, his head started pounding.
From above he heard a man’s voice shouting, “Get that pig, man. Get that pig.”
The commotion failed to distract him. The man smirked. He began sliding his hand from the jacket pocket. It
must have been a deep pocket because Harry watched the man’s arm move a few inches before he caught a
glimpse of his wrist. The perpetrator pulled his right hand out of his pocket. Harry was prepared to pull the
trigger, but he kept his wits about him. The man’s hand was covered with a rubber glove.  A white container
emerged from the pocket. It was not a gun. Harry sighed at the sight of a bottle with a tiny nozzle. The man
held it up to show him.  
“See, pig, you chased me for nothing.”
Harry released one hand from his pistol and wiped his eyes. “Why are you wearing rubber gloves? Take your
other hand out of your pocket…slowly,” Officer Forester said.
The man took out his other hand. It was empty.  Harry took a step back.  
“Throw that container away from you, now! I wanna see empty hands.”
The man took a step toward Harry. Harry back stepped.
“What did I say? Don’t move. I’m not playing with you. Come any closer and I’ll be forced to take action. That’s
your last warning.”
“You think I care?” the man said. “All you cops are the same. You’re just looking for an excuse to rough me up.
Some of my boys can back me up on that one…you think that badge makes you special.”
“Don’t know what the hell you’re talking about, man,” Harry said. “I don’t know your boys, but I will do what I
have to do if you refuse to cooperate. So toss that bottle aside and turn around, don’t make this situation any
The man pulled the trigger on the spray bottle and a stream of chemical shot Harry in the face. It was a
scorching chemical…acid. Instinctively, Harry fired a shot that grazed the assailant. The man fled the scene,
disappearing down the alley. Harry was in extreme pain, felt like the skin was melting underneath his right eye,
down his cheek to his neck. The excruciating sensation brought him to his knees. He took deep breaths and
attempted to regain his balance.  Although none of the acid entered his eyes his vision was blurry from the
fumes. He collected himself and gave chase. He drew his flashlight and broke for the alley. The street was
virtually lifeless, except for a blinking parking garage sign on the north end and the distant remnants of his
cruiser flashers massaging the brick building facades. Harry went another twenty or thirty feet: stopped, stood
and listened. He heard nothing; no breathing, no moving, not even blown garbage scuffing the sidewalk. He
pointed his flashlight at doorways and onto apartment balconies, up and down fire escapes and toward roofs.
Harry started walking again. This was far from over. His face was still burning and he had no idea of the extent
of his injuries. He would do his job, apprehend the suspect. About fifty feet down the alley, he heard a door
slam shut to his right. He pivoted to appraise the sound. With his flashlight beam shining on the knob he slowly
approached the door. Upon closer inspection he discovered it was made of thick metal, scratched and covered
with graffiti. He jiggled the knob a few times, but it didn’t open. That was the only door within sight (except for
the loading dock door across the street), so he knew someone or something was on the other side.
He knocked on the door.  
“Hello, Police, open the door.”
Silence. Harry was in great pain. His face felt as though it were peeling off, like a flame was being held against
his skin. The constant throbbing began to steal his air and with each attempt at a deep breath he was
becoming increasingly woozy. Desperate, he pounded the door again with his bare knuckles.
“Open this damn door…or I’ll kick the fuckin’ thing in!”
The knob turned. The door began to slowly squeak open.
Pain overwhelmed Harry. He tottered forward, finding purchase with his left hand against the wall, but jarring
loose the flashlight. With his right hand he tried to tighten his fingers around the gun. Now he took deep
breaths which failed to reward him with any air and then everything was spinning. Harry’s grip faltered and he
dropped his flashlight. It rolled a few feet away and, in motion, shed light on work-boot-covered feet in the
doorway. A sudden chill surged through Harry’s body like electricity…and he collapsed.
When Harry regained consciousness he was in a hospital bed being intravenously pumped with fluids. Bandages
covered his face to the point that he could only see through one eye. The room was a bit blurry, but the sun’s
rays found access to the room between the folds of the drapes. Aside from a hint of fatigue, he was feeling
warm and comfortable. Minutes later a nurse entered his room, propped up his head with a couple of pillows and
handed him two pills.
“One’s for pain, the other is to fight the infection,” she told him.
“We’ll see if we can get some solid food in you today. You vomited quite a bit last night.  The doctor will be
here shortly to talk with you.”
Harry swallowed the pills, drank the water. The nurse was on her way to the door.
“Excuse me, nurse,” Harry said. “How did I get here? I don’t remember much, except for a lot of pain, and then
I fainted.”
The nurse nodded sympathetically.  
“I can’t imagine what you’ve been through, Officer Forester. I, for one, am glad you’re okay. Doctor Williams will
explain everything. Once he returns from ICU he’ll brief you on your condition. Relax for now, sir.”
Harry lay quietly in bed, his eyes roaming the room. The medication was strong, already he was feeling loopy, in
a numb, light-headed way. He arched his neck and stared at the ceiling, listened to the commotion in the hall.
With his door ajar he couldn’t see much of the goings on outside his room, although the six inch opening was
just enough to watch personnel passing by—entertainment for the meantime—something to keep him alert.
Nothing interesting was happening, but what did he expect to find aside from a blur of people doing their jobs,
striding past his room attending to another hectic shift. A few minutes later, Harry was tired of staring through
the cracked door. The doctor hadn’t yet arrived. Through the walls he heard a female voice speak.  
“All right, Sorensen, give me his vitals again.”
A male voice then provided the nurse with the necessary information. Through the open door Harry watched
intently again, finally finding something that captured his attention: a gurney stopped outside his room and the
patient’s face was looking back at his. Harry instantly recognized the eyes. He’d seen them before and was now
trying to process who they belonged to.  Who the heck is that? he thought. It was just the other day that he
was staring into those eyes during a routine traffic stop. Son of a bitch. It was Renaldo Gonzales (known on the
street as the finisher). The gurney was pushed away and now Officer Forester’s mental gears were grinding.  He
had pulled Gonzales over two days ago for speeding. He remembered the size of him; Gonzales was imposing,
six-two with a scarred face and a square jaw, curly hair down to his shoulder. During the traffic stop he had
given Harry a hard time. In fact, Gonzales was warned about his foul mouth and gruff attitude. Harry
approached the car that night and asked for Renaldo’s documents.
Renaldo cussed at him, “You’re a pain in my ass, pig, you know that.”
Harry told him to watch his mouth and now remembered that he was going to cut him a break until he started
to flip his mouth off. Consequently, Harry wrote him a ticket for the maximum fine, which enraged Gonzales.
Renaldo Gonzales warned him, “If we ever meet as civilians, you better be at your best.  Got me?”
After the stop Gonzales sped away and Harry was dispatched on a domestic dispute call which ended in an
arrest. Harry wondered what a big man like Gonzales was in the emergency room for. Who could possibly hurt a
man of his size and stature? He was a brute with obvious connections. Harry lay there in deep thought, his
eyes fixed on the ceiling now. In walked a tall man with glasses and neatly-combed hair, mid-thirties, wearing a
white lab coat.
“Hello, Mr. Forester. I’m Dr. Williams. How are you feeling, sir?”
Harry lifted his head from the pillows and wiped his eyes, “Just fine, Doctor. A little banged up, concerned about
my face and all. You can understand that, I’m sure.”
Doctor Williams gently clutched Harry’s wrist, “I most certainly can.  I have some reassuring news.”
“What might that be, Doc?”
The doctor pulled a pen from his pocket and pointed at the clipboard dangling from the foot of the bed.  
“Your chart outlines what has happened to you. I’ll get to the point. You were sprayed with acid, Mr. Forester.
The chemical is highly toxic. Your face is badly burned. With surgery I believe the majority of the damage can
be remedied and, with extensive medication, the swelling will subside. Scar tissue is normally a concern for the
patient. However, in this case, I suggest we cross that bridge when we come to it. My priority at this time is to
get you healthy. Any questions so far, Mr. Forester?”
Harry’s eyes began to water. He shook his head no.
“I can imagine how you’re feeling, sir,” the doctor said. “Revealing a patient’s prognosis, regardless of how
promising, can be a bit trying. If there’s anything you need, or if you need someone to talk to, our staff is here
for you. Please keep that in mind.”
Harry nodded twice. The doctor pulled up a stool and sat next to Harry’s bed.
“Look, Mr. Forester, about fifteen minutes ago I was called to another room to treat a patient. He claims to
have brought you here earlier, said that he didn’t leave his name with anyone at the time. One of the nurses
and an ambulance driver took care of you. The station called looking for you. I spoke with a…”  
The doctor squeezed Harry’s hand, noticing the strain in his patient’s face, “Are you all right? I can come back
later and finish.”
Harry squeezed the doctor’s arm in return and shook his head.
Doctor Williams smiled reassuringly, “I had a conversation with your Captain and briefed him on your condition.
They’ll be here later. I told them at the moment that you were under treatment, but as soon as things were in
order they could stop by. Now...” The doctor took a breath, “The gentleman who brought you in will be here
shortly. He wanted to tell you how you got here. Will that be okay with you?”
“Yeah,” Harry answered.
“Good,” Doctor Williams said. “Give us a few minutes to sort this out.”
Fifteen minutes later the nurse came through Harry’s door pushing an occupied wheelchair. Harry’s eyes gaped.
It was Renaldo Gonzales, The Finisher, sitting in the chair: arm in a cast, chest wrapped in bandages and his
face terribly bruised. Harry’s eyes met Renaldo’s, their stares were deep and intense.  
“I take it you two know each other,” the doctor said.
“We had a run in recently that ended not so nicely,” Harry said. “Let’s hope this one goes a little smoother.”
Gonzales mustered a weak smile. “You have my word, Officer Forester.”
Where is this headed? Harry thought.
Gonzales wheeled himself up closer to Harry’s bed and looked at the walls with a strained expression, as if he
was searching for the right words.  
“Look, man, I’m sorry about what happened between us. What matters now is why I’m here…and how you got
Harry looked him in the eye. “I’m all ears.”
The doctor folded his arms in front of his chest and leaned against the wall, listening to the conversation,
hoping to learn something more.
“It’s all screwed up, man,” Gonzales said, speaking through swollen lips. “When you pulled me over the other
day I was runnin’ a package to my main guy across town. I was pissed off and afraid. The main guy is not a
patient man…if you know what I mean. Even though I’m a big guy I still look over my shoulder. The situation is
this: if you knew who I answered to you’d be shaky too, badge or no badge. Where I come from you listen good
or off comes your ears. You starting to get the picture now, cop?”
The doctor sat on a nearby stool. Harry sat up straight in bed. “And?”
“I’m gonna come clean with you, copper. I know the dude who got you with that acid. He works for the guy I
just told you about, the bad ass I was running a package for. I tell you this now, and only once: I jumped the
guy who attacked you in the alley. I dragged him inside where that door was you knocked on. When I opened it
you were unconscious and more boys were on their way to clean up the mess, if you know what I mean? I
roughed up that punk bad and left him there. But he never saw my face, doesn’t know who I am. I’d like to
keep it that way. I saved your ass out of respect. I saw what you did, copper.”
“What’re you talking about, Gonzales? You saw what?”
“I watched you in the alley. You had a chance to cap him, man. You could’ve shot his brains all over the place,
but you didn’t. My boss hates you cops, man. Hell, I thought all of you sucked too because my boys say you’re
always picking on them.”
“Yeah, it’s called doing my job,” Harry snapped back.
“They’re wrong, copper. You gave that thug a chance to come clean, bro. Nobody was around. You could’ve
wasted him and made an excuse like the other cops have been doin’ for years. I respect that, man. It’s why I
saved your sorry ass in the alley.”
Harry arched a brow.
“Well, Renaldo, thanks, I guess.  Now what? Where do we go from here?”
“With a few maneuvers I can put you cops in a better light…you know…keep the peace between us. I’m done
livin’ that other life, copper,” Renaldo said.
“Give me names and I’ll bring them all down,” Harry said.
“That’s something I’ll never do. Just be thankful you’re alive, copper. This easily could’ve been much worse.”
Doctor Williams shifted on the stool, placed his clipboard on the floor.  
Renaldo held his index in Harry’s face, “One more minute, got me? One more friggin’ minute in that dark alley and
we wouldn’t be having this conversation and you’d probably be in a box. Shit, word got out quickly on the
street that I helped a black and blue. Made it a few blocks from here, but the big man had me tracked down.
He sent the cavalry. Where I come from you fuck up, you pay up.”  
Gonzales pointed his head toward Dr. Williams. “The doc here’s probably patched up a few of them.”
“Who’d he send after you? What did they look like?” Harry asked.
“You nuts?” Gonzales asked. “Been listening to what I’m sayin’? Even if I did I wouldn’t tell you shit. Those are
the rules. They had masks on anyway. They beat the crap outta’ me, knocked me senseless, left me in the
street choking on my own blood. All that shit I got for helping the pigs. Somebody called an ambulance, don’t
know who. So I bet you can respect where I’m coming from and that I’m not a rat. I gotta’ protect my shit.
Just leave it alone. Do you read me, man?”
Harry raised his hand to speak.  
Gonzales shook his head, “I said, do you read me, man?”
Harry cracked a smile, “Loud and clear, Mr. Gonzales.”
“Good. I can keep them off you, that I can do. You stick your nose in their business—or mine—and someone’ll
see to it that,” pointing to Harry’s face, he continued, “one side matches the other.”
Doctor Williams was speechless. He stood and approached the bed. Gonzales extended his hand and Harry met
his halfway.   
“This ends here. I go my way…you go yours when we’re outta’ here.  Truce,” Gonzales mumbled.
Harry nodded. The men shook hands. “Truce, Renaldo.”
Renaldo rolled his wheelchair away from Harry’s bed, stopping before the door. He spoke, but never spun to look
at Harry, remained facing the wall.  
“Do the right thing, Officer Forester.”
Harry heard a voice in the distance, knew instantly who it was: his girlfriend, Paula. His captain was coming
too. He heard the noisy radio. Dispatch’s voice was loud and distinct.  Seconds later Paula entered his room and
went to his bedside, clutched his hand and squeezed.  Captain Beatty arrived a minute or two later.  
“A few of the guys are going to swing by, Harry. How are you holding up?”
Officer Harry Forester gave a thumb’s up.