When I became a cop, I was enthusiastic about any case or job assigned to me… no task was too small. Unfortunately as a rookie, not everything went entirely how I would have hoped. That’s why I was extra nervous when I was called into the sergeant’s office one day and instructed to shut the door and have a seat. I remember sitting there as the sergeant discussed every one of my missteps from the past three months, like the time my gun accidentally discharged in the precinct, or the time I was sneaking in the backdoor of a restaurant during an armed robbery and I fell into/pulled the fire alarm by accident. That’s why I was surprised when the sergeant suddenly mentioned that the narcotics division had been looking for someone for months to pull off an undercover mission, and I was their man. I would have liked to be chosen because of my intuitive nature or my innate police skills, but no… it was because I was twenty-four years old, but still getting carded to get into R-rated movies. I had what they called a baby face.
The mission was simple. Jefferson High in Lower Manhattan was an affluent private school whose athletic program had recently been hit hard by steroid use. I was to go incognito as a high school student indefinitely to discover and arrest the dealer behind it. Yes, think "21 Jump Street," except this time starring Kevin Ryan, not Johnny Depp, as the young, good looking “student.” I was given a wardrobe, a class schedule, and a new name Joey Brenna. I was also assigned an extra curricular activity – hockey – a sport I had told the precinct I lettered in. (They didn’t need to know ALL the specifics, like how it was actually only junior varsity and I rode the bench).
On my first day of school, my hands were sweating and my heart was beating fast. High school for me was an awkward time in my life. I never really fit in or found my place, and the thought of repeating it again was terrifying. I stepped off the yellow bus with my new bleached hair, jeans that were hanging far too low, and the new Blink 182 album playing in my Discman (It was the early 2000s). I admit things didn’t go entirely perfect on the first day. I nearly burned down the chemistry lab, kept introducing myself as Kevin, and I learned the hard way that “that’s the bomb” is no longer a catch phrase but a serious threat. Another thing I learned that day was that the jocks ruled the school. Games were attended by literally every teacher, student, and person within a five-mile radius. Each sport was cheered on by the unusual school mascot, Billy the Bumpkin, a freckle-faced overall-clad man equipped with a straw hat and corn pipe.
After a couple weeks, I was still trying to find my groove, my clique, or even one friend, so I didn’t have to sit alone at lunch. Then suddenly there was a surprising turn in my social status after I went to my first hockey practice. My background from the precinct was that I was an allstate left wing from my transfer school in Baraboo, Wisconsin. My coach was skeptical of my “spaghetti arms” and wanted to see these supposed all-state skills put to use in a scrimmage. The whistle blew and the bloodbath began. My skating was a bit wobbly… like a 10-month-old learning to walk. But I pulled it together mainly out of fear of getting hit by what can only be described as an opposing team of Hulks. I weaved in and out when someone suddenly passed me the puck. Remembering my JV skills and also out of genuine fear, I flipped the puck with my stick, and miraculously it slid past the goalie and into the goal. The coach was shocked, and actually, so was I. But that’s all I needed to do to seal my fate into a world of popularity.
I soon was attending pep rallies, late night parties, and even homecoming. I guess you can say I found my swagger, so to speak. I lived and breathed Joey Brenna day and night. The Kevin Ryan from high school was a distant memory who had been thrown away with his prep school tie and pocket protector. All the while, I never lost focus of my objective, and through a chain that weaved in and out of the soccer team, the cheerleaders, and even the marching band, I found myself slowly closing in on the dealer. Then one cold day in November, an anonymous tip came in. After many late night meet ups, envelopes slid under doors, two broken windows, a pogo stick, and one fire escape chase later, I finally caught our man. I never thought that I would find myself handcuffing a man with overalls and a corn pipe, but I guess there’s a first time for everything. Yes, Billy the Bumpkin was the culprit behind the mass influx of roid rage that had swept through Jefferson High. Undercover mission accomplished.
In sports talk I guess I’m what you would call a “natural” at undercover missions. The precinct was so impressed with my ability to completely immerse myself in my alias and environment that I actually never returned to my former position. I became full time narcotics and their go-to guy for undercover missions on future cases. The precinct even gave me a new nickname, The Chameleon. Like few others, I was able to transform into anyone or anything, whether it be a carnie at Coney Island, a clown at a child’s birthday party, and let’s not forget the time I went undercover at the Off-Broadway show La Cage aux Folles. Key lesson learned in that investigation – always wear one-inch heels instead of three. I don’t know how Beckett does it.