Case #5.21: "A Bad Day at Blackburn"

There's a prison close to my hometown by that name, so I think it's safe to say every day there is a bad day. Anyway, we begin with Cap'n Rufus enjoying some free time in the department gym. While he works out, he catches up with George, a buddy of his from the police academy. George seems to be feeling unwell but trying to act like nothing's wrong; he suggests they go out for steak so Rufus can meet George's new lady. George gets a cup of water from the cooler and suddenly collapses. "Call 911! He's having a heart attack!" shouts Rufus as he starts CPR. Theme song.

At Blackburn High School, Coach Coswell finishes up a practice for the boxing team. I know schools do wrestling, but boxing seems like a no-go, what with the possibility of early-onset Parkinson's and/or pugilistic dementia. Coswell counsels an athlete named Jamie, telling him to stick to the sport. He asks if the bullies are leaving Jamie alone. Jamie plays dumb. "You're gonna stick with not bringing charges?" asks Coach Coswell. This must be some Cobra Kai level bullying. Jamie puts on his coat and leaves.

A guy with pantyhose over his face slowly exits the coach's office. There are two other guys with pantyhose masks waiting by the gym entrance. One cuts the lights and they rush into the gym and catch Coswell by surprise. They start beating the daylights out of him with their fists and what appears to be a billyclub.

The next morning, Mac rifles through Rufus' papers looking for his evaluation form while Judy tells him to quit. Enter Cap'n Rufus. Judy, sporting a hideous side ponytail, is sorry to hear about George dying. Cap'n Rufus reveals that George was only 45. He assigns them to investigate the beating of Coach Coswell, who's currently in a coma. Blackburn High isn't in gang territory and nobody reported anyone suspicious hanging around the school. Coswell had reported concerns to the principal about the possibility of an extortion ring on campus, but there wasn't enough evidence to talk to any of the kids.

At school, the 3 guys from the school gym harass a girl named Sandy. They reason that if she has enough money to put gas in her BMW X7, she's got enough to give to her "old pals." "It's a black one, parked third row from the end, right?" asks the heavyset guy in a hideous Cosby sweater. Hey, It's That Guy! Sweater Boy is Michael Cudlitz, perhaps best known for playing "Bull" Randleman in HBO's classic miniseries Band of Brothers. More recently, he played pill-popping Officer John Cooper on Southland. According to IMDb, his character's name here is Dennis.

Sandy can't believe they're threatening to vandalize her car. "We'd just hate to see you walking home at night," says Dennis/Bull in a falsely casual tone, "You know, it gets so dark so early." "Bad things can happen after dark," adds another guy. Dennis/Bull snatches Sandy's purse right off her shoulder. Cap'n Rufus orders him to give it back. 

Dennis/Bull claims Sandy agreed to loan him $10. Cap'n Rufus asks if that's true and of course Sandy says yes out of fear. Dennis/Bull is careful to take no more and no less than $10 out of the purse. Sandy leaves, so does Dennis/Bull. You know what? I'm just referring to him as Baby Bull from now on.

Cap'n Rufus introduces himself to the other boys as Mr. Coswell's replacement. "We'll be seeing you around," says Maroon Shirt Jerk in a tone that carries just a hint of malevolence. 

In history class, Mr. Fulton AKA Cap'n Rufus gets ready to lecture on the events leading up to the shelling of Fort Sumter. Jamie is in the class. Mac and Judy are students too. Baby Bull and Company look bored in the back row. Rufus gives the class a pep talk. Mr. Coswell was a popular teacher and they must all be upset. The best get-well present they could give their absent teacher is high test scores. 

The principal's voice comes over the intercom with sad news: Mr. Coswell has died. His funeral is on Friday and students who want to go will be excused from school. Jamie turns around to glare at Baby Bull. The principal encourages anyone who may have information about who killed Mr. Coswell should come to him or any other teacher. Baby Bull looks bored blows a bubble with his pink gum.

At lunch, Baby Bull and friends go over to Jamie's table, accusing him of staring at them in class. "Didn't your mother ever tell you it's impolite?" asks Baby Bull, which is such a Biff Tannen line. Jamie glares at them; he knows they're the ones who attacked Mr. Coswell. The other boys start pushing Jamie and throwing the contents of his lunch tray on the floor.

"Think I better get over there?" Mac asks Judy. Uh, yeah? Judy reminds him they have to keep a low profile. Cap'n Rufus comes into the cafeteria and asks what's going on. Baby Bull makes out like Jamie is just clumsy and spilled his lunch, then doubles back and says it was an accident. Rufus sends Jamie to get another lunch tray. He orders Baby Bull and friends to clean up the mess.

Friend A argues that they have class. "Then you'll do it after class," says Cap'n Rufus. Friend B says they all have after school practice. "Then you will do it after practice." Rufus isn't accepting any excuses. He's even writing their names in his appointment book.

That night, Rufus is sitting alone in the cafeteria when Mac joins him. "You're here late," Cap'n Rufus observes. There's a mop bucket waiting for Baby Bull and the others. Mac doesn't think it's smart to be around suspects without backup. Cap'n Rufus appreciates the concern, but he's been doing this a long time. As Baby Bull approaches, Rufus pretends Mac was just asking him questions about today's homework.

The third boy isn't with Baby Bull, supposedly due to a family emergency. Cap'n Rufus expects the absentee to bring in a note from his parents. "His folks are divorced," says Baby Bull. Rufus will accept the note from either one of them.

Before the boys can start mopping, the fire alarm starts ringing shrilly. I have no doubt that Mac pulled it, but, no it's the missing cafeteria bully. Cap'n Rufus chases him down the stairs. The kid plows right into the janitor and his cart, though he manages to untangle himself and get out the door. Rufus follows and is stopped by the chainlink fence the kid easily scaled. As Danny Glover once said, "I'm getting too old for this shit."

Back at the Chapel, they try to figure out their next move. Cap'n Rufus is upset that Judy and Mac think they're his babysitters. Baby Bull and his friends are the best suspects they have. Mac asks the obvious question: What if they're innocent? Then Mac is free to look for other suspects. Cap'n Rufus can handle himself even if he's outnumbered. He goes into his office and looks sadly at the framed picture of his academy class.

During a stupid montage set to a country song, Judy and Mac have no success getting other students to talk about who might have killed Mr. Coswell. The cops talk it over in a bar. Classic nobody knows nuttin'. Judy remarks that she hasn't had so many doors slammed in her face since she sold Girl Scout cookies. 

Cap'n Rufus hasn't had much better luck with the teachers. Mr. Coswell started a boxing club mid-semester and had talked about the extortion ring to his coworkers. The other teachers won't name any of the suspected students because they don't wanna get sued. Cap'n Rufus plans to take over as the new boxing club coach. 

At boxing practice that night, Cap'n Rufus puts Mac in the ring for a demonstration. Baby Bull wants a turn. His friends help him glove up. Rufus thinks the kid look like he's sparred before, but they're just going over basics tonight. Baby Bull gets increasingly frustrated that he can't hit the older man.

Cap'n Rufus works Baby Bull's mistakes into the lessons. Moving too fast in one direction makes you predictable. Ducking a wild haymaker, Rufus remarks, "See, throwing wild punches is the worst thing you can do." Baby Bull is knocked into the ropes. He sneaks up behind Rufus and his next several punches connect. 

Cue the slow-mo fight scene. Cap'n Rufus has a fiery look on his face. Baby Bull finally has the sense to look intimidated. Rufus connects with the kid's face, but you can't bring down a bull that easily. Mac jumps into the ring to break it up. Baby Bull angrily tosses his gloves to the gym floor.

At the bar, Judy is concerned. She's never seen Cap'n Rufus like this. Baby Bull went to the principal and the principal wants Rufus out of the school. He doesn't seem to have a choice, so the rest of the investigation, they're going totally rogue.

In the school hallway, Mac puts on a show like he's shaking Judy down for money. Judy, near tears, says she left her wallet at home. Mac doesn't believe her. Baby Bull observes from a distance. Mac decides to accept Judy's heirloom watch in lieu of cash; he might even let her buy it back. Judy runs off.

Baby Bull asks what Mac thinks he's doing. It's a nice school and that kind of thing is frowned on. "Not by you guys," says Mac, "That's what I hear." Baby Bull tells Mac he heard right; his crew doesn't have any competition. Mac will keep doing what he wants. Baby Bull says kicking his ass isn't worth it, at least not this time.

Jamie asks Cap'n Rufus when the next boxing club meeting is. Rufus doesn't think the club is such a good idea anymore. Jamie disagrees; things changed for the better after Mr. Coswell started the club and changed for the worse until Rufus taught Baby Bull a lesson.

Cap'n Rufus says that what he did to Baby Bull was wrong; he's just a kid. Jamie argues that Baby Bull hurts people...and worse. Rufus asks if Jamie can connect Baby Bull's crew to Mr. Coswell's death. Jamie won't testify. Cap'n Rufus can protect Jamie. Not according to what Mr. Coswell taught the boxing club: You are your own best protection. Cap'n Rufus needs to keep teaching the students how to defend themselves.

Cap'n Rufus hosts another boxing club practice. Judy and Mac come into the gym after the boys leave. The captain expects them to stick to their assignment and not hang around looking for Baby Bull. 

When Cap'n Rufus goes out to his car, he finds Jamie in a bloody heap on the ground. In addition to the nosebleed he got during boxing practice, Jamie's got cuts on his face and one arm is broken. Cap'n Rufus asks if Baby Bull did it. "If it was, he's in jail tonight," Rufus promises.

At the squadroom, Cap'n Rufus gives Judy an update from the ER. Jamie should be fine, but they're keeping for overnight observation due to the head injury. He wouldn't say who did it, but Rufus knows who it was. Judy thinks Rufus's edgy attitude has to do with the death of his friend. She knows he feels out of control and is sure he'll find a way to help the kids.

At school, Cap'n Rufus puts up a flyer advertising the boxing club. Baby Bull doesn't think he'll have much of a turnout: "Word is you can get hurt. Boxing's a dangerous sport." Rufus wants to have a word in his classroom. 

Cap'n Rufus pushes Baby Bull into the wall. Baby Bull threatens to pursue charges. Cap'n Rufus responds by grabbing the kid by the throat: "No witnesses, man. Just like Jamie Barkley and Brian Coswell." Tightening his grip, he adds that he'll get Baby Bull and his friends sooner or later. He'll find somebody who's not scared to testify. Cap'n Rufus lets go and shoves Baby Bull out of the room.

Mac witnesses the tail end of this. Baby Bull is pissed that Cap'n Rufus wants to shut down their "collection business." He doesn't plan on letting that happen. Mac offers to help. "This might get rough," warns Baby Bull. Mac doesn't mind. Bull agrees to meet him at 7:00 that night.

In the gym, Cap'n Rufus gets his backup gun ready. Elsewhere, Mac checks his watch. It's 7:20 and Baby Bull still hasn't shown up. Baby Bull parks where Mac can't see him and gloats that he'll be waiting there all night. He doesn't trust the kid; he's too eager to get involved in their "business." 

At the school, Cap'n Rufus practices with the speed bag. Downtown, Mac jogs over to Judy's unmarked car. He knows they've been made. Judy heads in the direction of the school.

Back to the gym. Enter Baby Bull and the Unnamed Accomplices. 3-on-1 may have been tough odds for Jamie, but not for Cap'n Rufus. He asks about Mr. Coswell. One of the guys says it wasn't supposed to go that far. Baby Bull barks at him to shut up. The Unnamed Accomplices hold Cap'n Rufus up while Baby Bull punches him.

Suddenly, the gym door opens. It's Jamie, armed with a baseball bat. "You gotta be kiddin' me," chuckles Baby Bull. Then he looks around and sees a dozen other boys holding bats. Jamie smiles proudly at Cap'n Rufus. That's pretty much the end of the plotline, so I'm not bothering to recap the Chapel scene where Judy wants to box.

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