Captain Joe Stonetree’s broad smile split his broad face as he chortled with glee. He had great news, and he knew just who to share it with!
He looked out the door of his office into the bullpen, searching for Don Schanke and Nick Knight, his best team of detectives. He called them into his office with a wave of his hand.
"What's up, Cap?" Nick asked as he perched on the corner of his captain's desk.
"It's our precinct's turn to host the Police Raffle." Stonetree paused to let this bit of news sink in. As the beginnings of rebellion formed on Knight's face, he continued. "I'm sure we can raise more money for the Fallen Officers Fund than last year’s Hawaiian Luau, and you two are going to help me do it!" He grinned widely as they exchanged a look of uncomfortable horror. "We're going to have a grand Polka Party! I’ve already booked my church hall for it!"
Stonetree's already wide grin widened further as his two detectives' faces mimicked Greek masks of Tragedy (Knight) and Comedy (Schanke). Both began speaking at once.
"Polka Party?" the two detectives chorused in contrasting emphasis (Knight with dismay, Schanke with delight).
"That's great!" Schanke enthused. "What a great idea! It's been ages since the Department had a Polka Party! I mean, there was one a couple years after I joined the force, but Myra had just had Jenny, and so I didn't go, and I missed out on it...." His voice drifted off as he noticed the anguished expression on his partner's face. "What? I like polka music. So do a lot of the guys. It's fun!"
Stonetree continued to grin, ignoring Knight, his own excitement fueled by Schanke’s enthusiasm. “I’ve been looking forward to this opportunity for a long time,” he said. “After all, it’s not often that I have a chance to show off my accordion skills. My band will absolutely love providing the music for this event. I can’t wait to start practicing, and I’ve already got ideas for the playlist.”
Nick Knight now turned his anguished expression towards his captain. Polka music was bad enough, but in a church? As a vampire, Nick had a problem with churches. He had to think fast, or he’d have to “whammy” his boss into changing his mind. He grabbed at the first idea that came to mind. “Captain, are you really planning to hold the Police Raffle in a church? Even though it’s for a good cause, it’s still a form of gambling.”
“What’s the problem?” asked Stonetree. “You don’t strike me as a religious fanatic, Knight, and my church has already approved the request.”
Schanke was watching his partner with an amused grin on his face. “Knight, a religious fanatic? Are you kidding me? The only time I’ve ever even heard of him going near a church is on a case!”
“Hey, just because I’m not a regular churchgoer doesn’t mean I don’t have religious convictions, Schank. Besides . . . I’m not just thinking about me,” he continued while desperately trying to think of other reasons to change venues. “There are a lot of people who might be offended at the idea of holding a raffle in a church building.”
Schanke laughed. “Oh, I don’t know about that, Knight. After all, our church holds bingo night the second Thursday of every month. Bingo is more like gambling in my book than a fundraising event like the Police Raffle.”
“It’s not just that, though, Cap,” Nick continued, suddenly inspired and getting his second wind. “If you really want to outdo last year’s Raffle, don’t you think a church hall is a little tame as a venue? I mean, you want people to show up, right? Why not try someplace more exciting, someplace people would want to go, even if it wasn’t a polka party? C’mon, Cap, you said you wanted it to be a bigger event than last year, right? Why risk offending anyone? I’m sure we can find another venue.” He paused, then added, “Are you really sure you want to have a polka party?”
“Okay, okay!” Stonetree capitulated, his grin gone. “See if you can find another place to hold the Raffle, and get back to me. There’s a lot of other planning that needs to go into this, and we need to get started right away.”
“You’re right, Cap,” said Schanke. “I’m sure Nick will be able to find someplace exciting and different. In the meantime, I’ve got a few ideas about the party. You say that your band can provide the music? Man- oh-man, that’s going to be great! Who else will be joining you on the accordion?”
“Well, that’s a bit of a challenge right now. I’m the only accordion in the band. I’m hoping to find someone else, but it’s not so easy to find a good accordion player. I wouldn’t be so worried, except that I’m playing an antique accordion that belonged to my Polish grandmother. It’s a great instrument for playing solo, but it doesn’t have much volume with the band behind it.”
Schanke looked thoughtful. “You know, if volume is the only problem, Myra’s got a cousin who’s an electrician. I bet he could turn that accordion into an electric instrument.” Schanke’s enthusiasm returned as he warmed to his own idea. “Yeah, I don’t see that it would be a problem. You could just run a line to an amplifier, and then you wouldn’t need another accordion player!”
“You sure that’s a good idea, Detective?” Stonetree asked, skeptically.
“Are you kidding me? It’s a great idea! Myra’s cousin has already converted a couple of violins and an acoustic guitar. I’m sure that an accordion would be no trouble at all. I’ll give him a call and find out how long it would take him. It shouldn’t be any problem to get it converted in time for the Police Raffle. I’ve even got an old guitar amp from my old rock ‘n roll days that we could plug it into. We could wire it right into the sound system.”
Knight had his doubts that such a system would work. He turned his own skeptical eye on Schanke and, in a conscious parody of his captain, asked, “An old guitar amp? You sure that’s a good idea, Detective?”
“Well, why not? Why wouldn’t it work? It’s just an electrical impulse relayed through an amplification system, right? Simple! Geez! You act like nobody’s ever seen an electric accordion.”
Stonetree and Knight exchanged questioning glances. Neither had ever even imagined an electric accordion. Further discussion was impossible as Stonetree’s phone rang. He shooed the two detectives out of his office. Schanke lingered long enough to use hand gestures to get approval for his electrifying scheme before shutting the door.
Later that week, Schanke and Knight gave Stonetree an update. “Bad news, Cap. I can’t find anywhere else to hold the Police Raffle. I’ve tried all the usual places: convention centers, ballrooms, banquet halls, even a couple of community centers, but everything is booked. Apparently that is a very popular weekend for weddings, among other things.”
“You’ve checked all the usual places, Nick. Why not some of the unusual ones?” Schanke asked his partner.
Knight had an idea of where Schanke was going, and he wasn’t happy about the destination. Schanke saw the look on Knight’s face and knew they’d both arrived at the same conclusion.
“Oh, no, no, no, no, no,” Nick said quickly. He needed to derail this idea, and fast. Janette’s nightclub (aka her home for wayward vampires) was not going to be a good place for a bunch of cops to party, polka music or no.
“C’mon, Nick! It’d be great! The Raven is perfect! And you know the owner. She’ll do anything for you. Am I right?”
“Non! Non, non, non! Bien sûr que non!” Janette told Schanke emphatically. “C’est impossible!”
Schanke was not so easily deterred. “C’mon, Janette,” he wheedled, much to Nick’s amusement, “just think about it!” He ticked off the advantages on his fingers, rapid-fire. “There’s a dance floor, and a sound system, and a bar already in place, and there’s room for a band, there are tables around, and
everything’s already there! Didn’t you tell me the place was just recently renovated? So it’s clean. It’s fresh. It’s a great opportunity to show your civic-mindedness. Besides, you’ll be guaranteed a full house. What could be better? It’s a win-win situation!” He grinned confidently at her, seeing her resolve begin to waver.
“You sure this is a good idea, Detective?” she asked Schanke. He said nothing, but gestured to his partner for confirmation.
“Yeah, Janette,” Nick continued, “you’ve been wanting to show off your new décor anyway. Besides, I’ve checked, and everywhere else is booked.” He narrowed his eyes, letting her know his words had more than one meaning. “If we can’t hold it here, I’ll be forced to host it in a church hall.”
She shuddered slightly, and relented. “D’accord. Alright. I will make all of the necessary arrangements. Just remember, Nicolas, you owe me.”
“Just make sure all of your usual ‘guests’ have somewhere else to be that evening, eh, Janette?” Nick said privately as he was leaving.
“Now that is a very good idea, Detective,” she demurred. “Don’t worry, I will send them all out to play while your cops have their little party.” She smiled thinly when Nick raised her hand to his lips in thanks and farewell.
In the weeks before the Police Raffle, Captain Stonetree delegated more and more of the actual planning and coordination to Detective Schanke and focused solely on the music. The playlist was shaping up nicely, and the electric accordion idea actually worked, much to his surprise.
In the meantime, Schanke hired a caterer and recruited decorators. The drinks would be provided by the Raven’s bartending staff, except for the Polish Punch, a vodka-based concoction that Schanke swore was an “old family, old-country” recipe. The youngest rookie would be detailed to serve the punch, right next to the Raffle ticket sales bucket. Everyone who bought a Raffle ticket would get a serving of punch. Schanke hoped that the punch would loosen the wallets of the attendees, assuring a successful Raffle. After reviewing the recipe and the serving plan, Janette asked him, “You sure this is a good idea, Detective?” but Schanke talked her into it, and preparations for the event continued.
The night of the Police Raffle finally arrived. Banners were up. Festive decorations were in place, provided by the Police Auxiliary (formerly the Wives Club, now proudly boasting one male member, a Constable’s husband!), the caterer was busy with the food, the band was setting up on a small stage, and Raffle tickets were being sold to a few early arrivals stopping on the way to or from their shifts, and those who were curious to try the punch.
Schanke was trying to be everywhere and see everything at once. He was driving everyone crazy with his devotion to detail. When he discovered that the program for the evening hadn’t been printed, and that the Raven's printer was on the fritz, he personally went behind the bar with the bartender to try to fix it.
“You sure that’s a good idea, Detective?” the bartender asked in heavily accented English as Schanke started making adjustments, seemingly at random, in the printer’s settings. Just as he finished speaking, the printer started up with a grinding sound that suddenly morphed into a series of loud staccato blasts that sounded alarmingly like gunshots!
Throughout the nightclub, cops dropped flat, taking spouses and dates to the floor with them. They then popped up, one at a time, weapons out and searching for the source of the gunfire. Schanke quickly yanked the printer’s power cord out of the socket, quieting the machine but shorting out the power supply to half the club. He stayed low behind the bar, holding the bartender down as well. Cautiously, he called out, “Sorry about that, folks! Just a small mechanical failure! Nothing to worry about! We’re coming out now! Please. Don’t. Anybody. Shoot. Us.”
Slowly he raised his hands over the level of the bar and followed them cautiously, peeking over the edge into the business end of a half dozen handguns of varying sizes and calibers. The bartender copied his movements and stood slowly beside him.
“Geez, guys! It was only a printer gone haywire! Put those things away! You look silly and you’re scaring my friend, here, to death!”
A chorus of held breaths giving way and muttering from the guests still on the floor greeted Schanke’s announcement. Schanke emerged from behind the bar and began to help those nearest to him to their feet.
“Is everyone alright? Hey, no harm done, right? C’mon, have a glass of punch on me. You’ll feel better, I guarantee it.”
Soon, everyone relaxed and the party got going. There was no time to get an electrician in to repair the short, so all of the band’s electronics, speakers, and amplifiers ended up plugged into one lonely outlet behind the stage.
“You sure that’s a good idea, Detective?” asked the drummer as he watched Schanke rig yet another extension cord to connect yet another device to the outlet.
“Hey, no problem,” said Schanke, “I did this all the time when I played with a band back in High School.” His eyes got misty with remembered glory. “We traveled all over the area, playing parties and all kinds of gigs. Of course, it was mostly garages and things, for our friends, you know? But sometimes we even got paid.” His attention returned to the electric outlet in front of him. “Nah, that’s not a problem,” he concluded, and wandered away to get another glass of punch.
The punch did seem to soothe stressed nerves, and soon it was time to replenish the bowl. The bartender discovered, to his dismay, that the Raven was out of vodka, a result of a short shipment in the past week. He consulted Janette, who signaled Schanke and Knight to join them. Schanke wasn’t too terribly concerned over a lack of vodka. He’d freely indulged in the punch himself after the printer disaster, and was in no condition to be terribly concerned about anything. He suggested they use Everclear® as a substitute for the vodka in the recipe. Knight joined Janette in asking, incredulously, “You sure that’s a good idea, Detective?”
“Do you have a better one?” Schanke asked, a bit defiant in his slightly drunken state.
They didn’t, so they proceeded with the recipe change. The punch grew even more popular, as the polkas got livelier, and the dancing got sloppier.
The Captain’s band was a big hit with the cops and dignitaries in attendance. The electric accordion could be heard down the street, and the money flowed out of the pockets of the attendees as quickly as the punch soothed their thirsty throats. The bucket of raffle tickets slowly filled, along with the raffle treasury.
The electrical system, overloaded by the demand upon it, finally had enough, and during an especially challenging accordion riff, sent a surge of power through the ancient guitar amp to Stonetree’s newly electrified antique instrument, causing it to send showers of sparks in every direction.
Things rapidly fell apart. Stonetree dropped the now flaming accordion and stumbled over the amp, sending it off the stage, where it crashed into one of the speaker trees and exploded. The rest of the band scrambled over and around one another in their haste to get out of the way of the now flaming speaker system. In the process, they knocked the other speakers over, not to mention the flying confusion of folding chairs, sheet music, and music stands which littered the air over the stage. The speakers began to explode, one by one.
Someone noticed that the electric socket which powered the sound system and lights was emitting both sparks and dark, pungent smoke. There was just enough presence of mind during the chaos to unplug the electronics, but the damage had already begun, and was far from over.
Schanke, trying to get from the dance floor to the stage in order to help his captain, knocked over the table holding both the raffle tickets and the over-spiked punch. Tickets and money joined the paper mayhem above the stage as he tried unsuccessfully to prevent their loss. The high proof punch erupted in flame as sparks from the sound system and the doomed accordion came into contact with its explosive fumes.
The fire spread in a flash. Soon sheet music, paper money, and paper raffle tickets were all in flames and being sent in all directions by the fleeing band and partiers. Someone pulled the fire alarm, adding claxon noise and flashing lights to all of the confusion.
Now, Janette, being a vampire, had a pathological fear of fire, as it was one of the few deadly threats facing her kind, who not only frequented the Raven, but many of whom also lived in its basement. She had installed the latest in fire suppressant technology when renovating the Raven, including an Aqueous Film Forming Foam (AFFF) system. As soon as the fire alarm was activated, so was the AFFF system. Incredible cascades of white foam capable of putting out jet fuel fires now fell from reservoirs in the ceiling, drowning the flames and sparks and soaking everyone and everything in a slick coating designed to prevent air from reaching any available surface, flammable or not.
The fire was out. The foam kept falling. So did water from the sprinkler system, which had yet to be disconnected after installation of the AFFF system. The water hit the hot spotlights suspended above the stage, and they noisily exploded, sending shards of glass and steam in soggy arcs towards the stage.
People screamed, or tried to scream anyway, only to be silenced by the deluge of foam and water. Drunken cops, their spouses and dates all helped one another, staggering and soaked, from the club. Nick Knight scampered around, making sure that none of the exits was obstructed, and guiding people to them.
The fire department arrived, and tried to tie into the hydrant conveniently located right across the street from the main entrance. Unfortunately, Schanke, who had borrowed Stonetree’s minivan to haul party supplies, had chosen to park right in front of it, blocking access to the water line (Schanke had asked himself at the time, “You sure this is a good idea, Detective?” but had talked himself into it. After all, it was a party full of cops. What could go wrong?). Undeterred, the firefighters broke out the side windows and ran the sturdy hose through it to get to the hydrant.
The scene that met their eyes when they forced their way into the Raven almost defied description. A thick layer of foam covered everything, and water from the sprinkler system only made it foamier. The foam and water had so quickly filled the basement spaces (AFFF apparently doesn’t drain easily), that it sent unsecured objects floating up into the main floor areas. A coffin bobbed near the bar, along with many empty wine bottles, and, inexplicably, several crates of little yellow duckies sporting bright red Canadian maple leaves on their backs.
The firefighters fought through the foam and used their keys to shut off the sprinklers and the AFFF system. There was not much more they could do until the foam-water mixture slowly drained away.
The true cost of the event quickly made itself known. Damages to the Raven were extensive. Fabric soaked by the foam was deemed hazardous material and had to be destroyed. Much of the paper money had burned, leaving a dent in the Police Raffle treasury, and so few raffle tickets survived that no winner could be declared, but all recovered proceeds were donated to the Fallen Officers Fund anyway. Fortunately, no lives had been lost, so there was no need to call on the fund for any support.
Stonetree refused to even speak with Schanke for over a week, mourning the loss of his antique accordion, the sound system for his band, the cost of replacing the side windows of his minivan, and the ruination of his lederhosen and his wife’s newest polka dress.
Others in the precinct blamed Schanke for the disaster as well, as leaks from the fire inspectors’ investigation placed much of the blame for the disaster on him. Finally, the collective cold shoulder became too much for him to bear, and, without telling his partner, he quietly submitted a request for transfer to another precinct. There was no action on it, however.
Weeks slowly dragged by, and the Raven reopened with a flourish, featuring new wall murals and furniture. To celebrate, there were rubber ducky races and special discounts for anyone who could prove he or she was in attendance the night of the Polka Party Panic, as Janette had dubbed it.
The next night, Stonetree pulled Nick into his office for a private consultation.
“Did Schanke tell you he put in for a transfer?” Stonetree asked.
“No, Cap, he didn’t,” Nick replied, “but I can’t say I’m surprised. He’s been getting a lot of flak about the fire, and not all of it is justified.”
Stonetree said simply, “I asked around, and no one wants him.” When Nick began to protest, he continued, “The word is out that he was the one responsible for ruining the Police Raffle. He’s jinxed, a Jonah, persona non grata.”
“Tell you what, Cap, put out the word that I’m willing to go with him, if you think that’ll help. After all, it’s not good to stay in one place for too long. It’s time I moved on, too. I’ll have the paperwork in to you by the end of shift.” He turned to leave, and Stonetree stopped him.
“You sure that’s a good idea, Detective?” he asked, intently.
“Yeah, Cap, I am,” Nick said, lightly. “Just don’t tell Schanke. I’d like to surprise him and be at our new assignment ahead of him.” When Stonetree looked skeptical and likely to argue further, Nick continued, “After all, we’re partners.”
Captain Stonetree had to smile at that. He’d made the right decision pairing those two. Their homicide-solving success was a team effort, and he would do what he could to find that team a new home. He’d talk with Amanda Cohen over at the 96th. She’d certainly be able to handle those two, and her precinct sure needed the help.
Yes, perhaps this was a good idea, after all.