My best friend for eighteen years was a cop named Ken Pierce.
For eight of those years, Kenny P. and I worked together. He was a lieutenant and then a captain on the sheriff's office (and later retired as Major). I was a deputy. We also lived in the same apartment complex where he found each of us poolside accomodations for providing security.
On the street, we served the occasional felony warrant together, with him stepping in once to prevent me from arresting the wrong guy (note to self, written at the time, "remember to look at the age stated on the warrant face. Don't arrest the father by mistake. Especially when father is campaign contributor. Sheriff gets really pissed.")
We also got into a brawl or two. I remember Kenny had a downstairs neighbor who spun records on the overnight shift for a local radio station. The problem was, "Soulful Sunny, Yo' Midnight Honey" always liked to pump up the volume of his tunes while at home as well. Ken had warned him at least a dozen times, as had I, to keep it down.
One evening, while Kenny and I were entertaining female company, "Soulful" must have broken off the volume knob. Kenny and I went downstairs, I thought, to tell Soulful once again to turn the music down.
We knocked on the door.
Kenny broke his nose.
Soon after, Soulful developed a love of Robert Goulet and Frank Sinatra.
Ken and I were returning home one night after imbibing a few cocktails when we noticed a couple of guys acting strangely in the parking lot. We parked in a convenient spot to keep an eye on them. As it turned out, dumb as they were, we could have gotten on the loudspeaker and called, "WE ARE COPS AND WE ARE WATCHING YOU." They began piling patio furniture from two apartments into their pickup truck. We discovered Ken's car radio was broken, so I hurried inside to tell one of the residents of the building to call for backup. Turned out, I hadn't needed to move so fast. As the suspects started to back out of their parking spot, their truck died. So did Ken's squad (150 thousand miles will do that to a patrol car turned detective unit turned crime scene supervisor's car) as he pulled in behind them. Sort of embarrassing to have the drama of lights flashing and commands to FREEZE! going out over the PA and then...nothing. As often happens, though, one of the suspects came out chattering. We braced him on his truck but he couldn't stop talking. The patio furniture belonged to his cousin. The patio furniture was for sale in the paper. We would lose our jobs for arresting them. He and the sheriff were good buddies. His mistake was to make a remark about the "cheap ass cars" they gave us to use. Kenny did not like having his ride insulted.
The suspect stopped talking when he tripped and fell head first into the side of his truck, breaking his nose.
In our early years on the sheriff's office, Kenny worked a second job at a local Pizza Hut. I was hanging out with him one night (though I could never get a freebie out of him) when a very drunk fellow decided he wasn't going to pay for his order. When Kenny insisted, the man muttered he was going to go home and get his gun and come back. At which time, my good friend produced his own pistol, a classic .357 Colt Python, from under the counter and offered it to the guy.
"Here, use mine. It'll save you some time and I'll be able to beat you to death with it when I take it away from you."
Bill paid without further argument and avoiding a broken nose.
Dean Forster, who was closer to Ken than any of his brothers, eulogized Ken by telling the story of how, when he was fifteen, he was already interested in law enforcement. He ran a protection racket in high school, charging fifty cents each to walk the weaker, younger kids home and protect them from the bullies. Of course, if a girl wanted him to walk her home, his "business" would be temporarily suspended.
Kenny was the kind of guy who would say anything or do anything he pleased and usually get a laugh. He's the only guy I know who could be caught in a gambling raid at a rib joint and talk his way out of it, all while munching on the chicken leg he told the raiding agents from the Attorney General's office was his sole reason for coming to the place.
He was my mentor in many ways. As a young guy, I never used the best judgment in the clothing I chose to wear. After six months of being referred to as "Koko the Clown," I agreed to let Kenny offer me some fashion advice.
"You can never go wrong with earth tones," he said. "And for god's sake, always line your tie up with your belt buckle." Advice I follow to this day.
I can think of more than one occasion when something he taught me, either in training class or on the street, probably kept me from getting hurt.
"Never give up your cover!" was one of his mantras. Not bad advice for day to day living, either, when you think about it.
He also taught me to laugh at some of the most inappropriate things and at some of the darkest moments. One of them was during an especially gruesome autopsy when he pretended to drop a piece of gum he was chewing into the cadaver, only to "retrieve" it and go on chewing.
Ken suffered from diabetes. In recent years, doctors amputated two of his fingers and part of his left leg (leading him to tell people afterward that he was planning to work for Long John Silver's restaurant as a pirate). He underwent heart surgery and required kidney dialysis three times a week ("Gives me more time to read," he told me).
He died a week ago Sunday at home, sitting in his favorite chair, watching "Saving Private Ryan" on DVD. Other than going at it with a woman at the time of his demise, I think watching a war movie would have been his choice.
Ken wasn't a great man by any means. His womanizing was legend and probably led more than one furious husband or boyfriend to claim Ken wasn't a particularly good man either. Although, for more than twenty years, he always returned to one woman. Deb Nordt was the "love of his life." I put that in quotes because he never said as much to me but he not only used the phrase in both of their obituaries, but had it printed on their tombstone as well.
Debbie was as much a fighter as Ken was, in fact. For more than twenty years, she battled half a dozen forms of cancer until it finally took her down in 2006. If Kenny ever had a single regret in his life, I think it was that he never married her.
But Kenny Pierce was his own man in every way. In fact, a lifelong Sinatra fan, one of his favorite pieces was "My Way."
I was surprised no one thought to play it at his funeral. Then again, Ken chose his own music for the service. How long has it been since any of you heard, "Rock of Ages" or "The Old Rugged Cross" sung in church? Yep, that's what Kenny wanted. He also requested our friend, Joe Zima, to be sure and loosen his tie in the casket before the funeral so he wouldn't go through the afterlife choking. True story! And in the quiet, after the visitation, Joe complied.
At the graveside, I was again surprised to see just a simple tombstone. Ken always told me he wanted, "Pardon me for not standing" engraved there! I wasn't surprised, though, when, after the bagpiper played "Amazing Grace" and the bugler got through "Taps," that one of his fellow officers cranked up the University of Kansas fight song. Kenny was a huge fan of KU football and basketball.
I haven't shed any tears for my friend and I probably won't. Waste of time. He enjoyed just about every moment of his life and now, with Deb at his side once again, I'm sure he's having one heck of a time in death.
Go with God's Hand on your shoulder my old friend. St. Peter never had a better ass-kicker to help him keep things in order up there.
And you've got the best seats for KU games.