A hokey sort might call it Christmas magic. Devilish boy meets earnest police officer, and they hit it off. But what really bonded 10-year-old Edgar Probst to Baltimore City Police Officer Jon Walter yesterday was good old-fashioned capitalism: trading cards, video games and Bloomin' Onions.
Edgar and Walter, however, met through the noblest of efforts, the Shop with a Cop program, in which local Optimists Clubs arrange to have police officers take nearly 50 disadvantaged kids holiday shopping. Afterward, everyone eats lunch together.
The kids bring home presents they might not otherwise be able to afford. The officers, taking a cue from the Optimists, hope that the kids also learn that people with badges aren't all about handcuffs and Miranda rights.
A cold morning rain bounces off Walter's hat and puddles around his shiny shoes as he waits with a brigade of his uniformed peers in the parking lot of the department's Southern District station in Cherry Hill. Edgar and the kids stay dry in vans.
Edgar and his Medfield Heights Elementary School buddy, Clay Kerin, 8, finally spill out. Edgar, a small boy with long eyelashes and a gap-toothed grin, waits about 10 seconds before launching into a chirpy, cocky monologue that will run, nearly uninterrupted, for the next four hours.
Fortune has matched him with Walter, a mustached 39-year-old with an easy manner and patience to spare, honed by raising three kids of his own.
As Walter and Officer Doug Gibson belt Edgar and Clay into the back seat of their squad car, Edgar informs anyone listening that when it comes to video games, the more shooting the better. And when it comes to his outfits, there's no such thing as too baggy. He's got six crowns and a retainer, which he chipped last week eating an Airhead candy. His mom used to date a sheriff.
"Police are cool," he says as they pull into the Port Covington Wal-Mart, part of a long line of black-and-white police cruisers, lights flashing for effect, snaking into the lot. "They get bulletproof vests. I wish I had a bulletproof vest."
While some kids are using their $100 donated by Wal-Mart and the Optimists to buy lockets for their mothers or Barbies for their sisters, Edgar's got big plans for his money, and his name's on all of them. He'd like more baggy sweats, some cool Under Armour-style thermal sports jerseys and as many Yu-Gi-Oh! trading cards as he can carry. But -- trust him -- he's not leaving the store without the video game Ghost Recon 2.
Edgar authoritatively hustles a shopping cart to the boy's clothing section. Walter holds a pair of sweat pants up to him. They're taller than Edgar's head, but apparently too small, and Edgar shoos them away for two pairs in the next size up. Next come the jerseys -- two of those go into the cart. And sweat shirts.
"Do you like SpongeBob?" Walter asks, pointing out a cute top with the cartoon hero. "Uh, um, well," Edgar hedges, then all but jumps when he sees "the one." "I want this!" he yelps, mooning over a shirt depicting a muscleman with weapons who looks like he'd happily eat SpongeBob for breakfast. "It's perfect," Edgar says.
Walter, trying to silently count the cost of what Edgar's grabbed, nudges him on to other list items. "We can always come back if you don't find anything else," he says, "though I don't think that's going to be a problem."
It's been mere minutes, and already trading cards, a fishing lure and the sought-after video game lie clumped in the cart with the clothes.
Edgar steers the cart of bounties, his sneakered feet padding along the linoleum aisles. He suggests checking out the paintball selection. "No way. No paintball," Walter says quickly. "Nothing that shoots projectiles."
"Ooh, I know what I want!" Edgar blurts, unfazed. "I want walkie-talkies!" One set claims to cover a three-mile span. He asks Walter how far that is.
"Three miles would be to downtown," Walter answers. "Yeah," Edgar says, "I'm getting that."
When they pull over to total the damage, it is, of course, over the limit. Everything goes but one jersey, the walkie-talkies and a few packs of trading cards in order to keep the video game.
After checking out, Edgar and Walter reunite with Clay and Gibson. They join the other kids and officers at Outback Steakhouse in Canton, which picked up the check for the lunch and served plates of deep-fried, battered whole onions, called Bloomin' Onions.
With Edgar out of earshot for a second, Walter confides that, after shopping, the boy told him, "I felt like a superstar walking around there with you guys."
As everyone files out after lunch, someone asks Edgar and Clay whether they want to take the van home. They say nope, they'd rather ride with Walter and Gibson.
"Why?" Walter asks.
"Cause," Clay says. "It's fun with you guys."