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A loss too poignant for words

When someone dies, little mementos carry meaning beyond words.

Brendan Arlington, 25, a rookie Largo police officer, could only cry when he opened the Christmas gift from his mother: a miniature New York City police badge bearing his grandfather's shield number, 12705.

He immediately saw his father, Charlie, who died Aug. 10 after a long fight with cancer. He thought of his grandfather, also killed by cancer, and of his uncle, a police officer who had worn the same badge number.

Tears kept coming.

This badge, this small trinket found among his father's possessions, made it seem as though Charlie were sitting right in the room.

"To me, it is my father," Arlington said. "It's all the good that was in him and my uncle and my grandfather. It's my little guardian angel."

Four days later, it was lost.

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His mother, Betty, an Irish woman who believes in luck, had told him the badge would protect him. She had found it among her late husband's things and had it "spiffied up," along with cufflinks and an engraved money clip.

She delivered the gifts to Arlington on Christmas Eve, wanting to give him something that would keep his father close.

Charlie died on a Wednesday. He was 74.

When his father's health declined, Arlington and his fiancee, Gina, decided to move their wedding day from November to April 16, so Charlie could attend. Two weeks later, Arlington was hired by the Largo Police Department.

"He was able to see those things, and it just meant everything to me," Arlington said.

He pinned the small badge on his new uniform, just above his name.

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Then, a week ago today, Arlington responded to a call of a domestic fight at Westgate Mobile Home Park on Belcher Road. A 17-year-old had punched his father in the face 10 times and took off running before police arrived.

He was seen nearby a few minutes later, and Arlington gave chase over a 6-foot wire fence. He tore his uniform and ran through brush, pausing for a moment to look down at his grandfather's miniature badge.

It was still there.

"I made sure it was on," he said.

The teenager sprinted east across Belcher and collapsed from exhaustion. Officers Albin Soto and Elizabeth Stevens reached him first and handcuffed him. Arlington slowed to a jog as the teen was escorted to a squad car.

"Then, without a care in the world, he's running across traffic again," Arlington recalled.

The handcuffed teenager darted across Belcher Road, weaving between cars as the officers chased. Passers-by cheered the officers, shouting, "Get him!"

When they reached the other side, the teen gave up. Soto, Stevens and Arlington locked the teenager in leg restraints and put him in the back of a cruiser. Out of breath, Arlington looked again at his chest.

The badge was gone.

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Arlington returned to Belcher Road at the end of his shift, looking for the badge until it was too dark to see.

He talked with a witness who said she had seen a woman bend down and pick up something from the sidewalk. The witness was not sure what the object was.

Arlington left empty-handed.

He dreaded having to call his mother and say he had lost the badge.

"I knew she'd be very upset," he said.

His mother is praying to St. Anthony, the patron saint of lost objects. Arlington is just praying someone will return it.

If, by luck, somebody turns it in to the Largo police, Arlington wants to thank them. He is not sure how to put it in words, but he'd try to explain what that miniature badge means to him.

Jacob H. Fries can be reached at jfriessptimes.com or 445-4156.

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