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"Full of raw intensity...Mahoney's gritty description of what it's like to be a big-city cop— the dangers, the fears, the pressures and the politics— makes for some fine reading."— Booklist
"Mahoney proves that New York's finest can put pen to paper with terrific results."— Publishers Weekly
Detective First Grade
July 9 3:30 p.m.
Yogi was no dope, Detective Brian McKenna thought as he drove along Empire Boulevard. This is déjà vu all over again.
McKenna looked at his partner, Richie White. Stuck in deepest, darkest Brooklyn again and working with another hoople. No more bright lights for me for a while, no fine restaurants, no high-fashion good-looking women. How many times have I been sent down? Four? Five? How many times have I been caught breaking their rules?
McKenna was bored and began feeling sorry for himself again. Seven-one Detective Squad. Certainly not very glamorous, the main mission being to keep the Hasidic Jews and the Blacks from killing each other or burning each other out. Angelita disgusted with both me and the police department and threatening to leave. Not much to smile about. And nobody to blame except myself for this current state of affairs. Myself, and those jerks in the FBI. They don’t appreciate anybody doing the “right thing” when it conflicts with their plans.
But the worst thing about banishment to Brooklyn is the boredom: there isn’t enough worth doing. Nothing important anyway. After all, it’s only Brooklyn. Who cares what happens here? Nobody I know.
McKenna drove what the New York City Police Department called an unmarked car. The car fooled no one in this neighborhood. Everyone knew that two white guys wearing ties in a four-door Plymouth were the “DTs,” the detectives, “the Man.” They might as well have been in full police uniform driving an ice cream truck.
It was a hot and muggy July afternoon and the streets were packed with the darker and poorer shades of humanity. McKenna and White were stuck in one of those Brooklyn traffic jams that occur for no good reason and only end by Divine Intervention. McKenna observed the difference between this particular jam and typical midtown Manhattan gridlock. Nobody was blowing their horn here, probably realizing that a show of annoyance could upset the crowded and delicate balance and could lead to a serious confrontation with fellow motorists. Confrontation was more dangerous here than in the Bright Lights. This was a notoriously well-armed neighborhood.
But the healthy fear evaporated as soon as anyone noticed that the police were around. The middle-aged, well-built black man in the car on McKenna’s left started blowing his horn and gesturing in an attempt to get McKenna’s attention.
McKenna smiled and stole a quick glance at his fellow motorist. Everything about the man was big and solid, including the chunky Buick he was driving. Their eyes met while the big man simultaneously leaned on his horn and shouted in McKenna’s direction. McKenna couldn’t understand because the big man’s windows were closed.
Perfect! McKenna thought. A way to break the boredom. He faced forward and made a pretense of studiously ignoring the big man. This implied insult enraged the man and he continued blowing his horn and shouting at McKenna through his closed window. McKenna continued to ignore him. Finally the man leaned over, rolled down his passenger window, and yelled, “Hey, Officer, why don’t you get out of your car and do something about this traffic?”
Rising to the occasion, McKenna answered in his best LAPD-Adam 12 voice, “Excuse me, sir, but I just happened to notice that you aren’t wearing your seat belt. Do you realize that, in the event of an accident, you could be seriously injured if you were ejected from your auto? Not to mention the fact that you are currently risking being cited for a fifty-dollar fine and two points on your license, if any. I remind you that a conviction for this violation would automatically entail an increase in the amount of automobile insurance that I am sure you know you are required to pay by Section sixeleven of the New York State Vehicle and Traffic Law.”
“If, by your present conduct, you are going to force me to start doing my sworn duty of enforcing the law, I feel that I must start on the first violation I encounter, which is the violation that I have just finished discussing with you, sir.”
“Huuhh?” Confusion was engraved all over the big man’s face. McKenna watched as this confusion was slowly replaced by resentment.
McKenna smiled, leaned out of his window, and said in a stage whisper, “I sure hope this bullshit works on you, pal, because, just between us, I don’t have any summonses and I think I forgot how to write one anyway. So, please let me slide on this one so this knucklehead sitting next to me doesn’t call me a pussy and break my balls for the rest of the day. How about it?”
Finally he got it. The big man smiled and said, “Ain’t this a bitch, Officer!”
“Thanks, pal. By the way, would you mind saying that once more, but a little louder so the knucklehead can hear you?”
The big man leaned forward in his seat, looked at Richie White, and agreed with McKenna’s assessment of his partner.
“Sure, Officer. AIN’T THIS A BITCH!”
“Thank you, sir, and happy motoring.”
“One second, Officer! I just got to know your name.”
“Brian McKenna, expert detective at your service, sir,” answered McKenna with a salute and a smile.
“Pleasure to meet you, Detective McKenna. I’ve got to catch you at a party sometime,” the big man said as he returned the salute and rolled up his window.
“I just love that seat-belt law,” McKenna said to White.
White didn’t look the slightest bit disturbed about McKenna’s disparaging characterization of him. “Let’s keep this straight, McKenna. You have to play by the rules and be consistent. Call me either a knucklehead or an asshole in your stories to these guys. One or the other. Otherwise, the bet’s off.”
“OK, knucklehead. Let’s add it up. Correct me if I’m wrong, but so far today I’ve got three Ain’t that a bitch’s, eight Say what’s, and three Damn’s. Subtracting that ‘Officer, you ain’t nothing but a nogood motherfucker,’ I figure you owe me thirteen dollars.”
“Settle for five bucks?”
“For you, anything,” McKenna replied. Sucker, he thought. This guy belongs in Brooklyn. He even likes it here. He’s just like the Eskimos. They think they’ve got a great place, too. Richie White and the Eskimos just don’t know any better.
McKenna’s eyes were drawn to the pulled, frayed thread hanging from the elbow of White’s jacket. He couldn’t help himself.
He doesn’t even know it’s there, McKenna thought. A 100 percent no-wrinkle, no-iron polyester sports jacket. What a buy! Looks like one-size-fits-all. I can’t even tell what color it is. How can we possibly get any respect for this police department when it looks like our detectives get dressed in the dark? These Brooklyn detectives don’t know that this job is 50 percent appearance. If you look good, people want to talk to you. If people want to talk to you, the rest of the job is easy. Now, who would want to talk to this guy? It’s not that he’s a bad guy. It’s just that he hasn’t learned the tricks to make it easy.
White caught McKenna staring at the jacket and said, “Like it? My wife got it for me for my birthday. She’s a great shopper. Most comfortable jacket I’ve ever had. And it never wrinkles. I took it right out of the dryer before work today.”
“Yeah, it’s nice. I’d like to get something like that for myself. It looks like it goes with anything. You can wear it anywhere,” McKenna said.
“The great thing about it is that I can wear any tie I want with it.”
“That’s great,” answered McKenna. Any tie but that one, he thought.
“I’ll bring you in the catalog tomorrow, if you like. Then I can have my wife put you on the mailing list.”
“Great, thanks,” McKenna said. If my mailman sees that catalog, I’ll have to move.
The auto air-conditioner was going full blast. McKenna looked at White, who was rolling up his window to keep the July heat out. He disapproved, but didn’t say anything.
“McKenna,” asked White, “How about rolling up your window before we roast in here?”
“Sorry pal, but I prefer to hear all the good things that our citizens are saying about us. I never miss an opportunity to make sure that we’re still winning their hearts and minds.”
They were headed eastbound in the stop-and-go traffic, slowly approaching the intersection of Bedford Avenue.
McKenna had never been able to suppress the warm feeling of nostalgia that swelled inside him every time he had to pass this place, now the site of the Ebbets Field Houses. He thought back to his childhood, when the city had been different. Many times his father had brought him here to watch Duke Snyder, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and those other Boys of Summer. “Dem Bums,” he remembered his father saying. Won the National League Pennant in ’52 and ‘53 and did it again in ’55 and ‘56. They even finally beat the Yankees and won the World Series in ’55, and suddenly Brooklyn wasn’t good enough for them. They started looking around and after the 1957 season they took the money, packed up, and went off to the sunshine. They were the first to leave the neighborhood.
McKenna took another look at his surroundings. Of course, he thought, anyone with sense and enough money took the hint and soon followed them out.
Look what they did to this place, McKenna thought. The site of the famous ballpark, once the home of the Brooklyn Dodgers, was now occupied by six separate twenty-three-story buildings that comprised the Ebbets Field Houses, a low-to-moderate-income New York City housing complex famous only to the cops who spent a lot of time trying to catch the assortment of robbers, drug dealers, rapists, and murderers who lived in these high-rises among their victims and customers.
Four cars in front of the detectives a man exited the rear seat of a taxi. He walked to the sidewalk, looked around, and started strolling in their direction. McKenna’s instincts startled him out of his daydreams. He sized up the man instantly. Male, probably Hispanic, about forty years old, five feet nine inches tall, medium build, one hundred and sixty pounds, mustache and goatee, swarthy complexion, well dressed, wearing green snakeskin shoes, green pants, a white shirt, and an open green nylon Windbreaker.
It was the shoes and the Windbreaker that caught McKenna’s attention. The shoes were out of place in this neighborhood. Too expensive. And it was too hot to be wearing a Windbreaker. As the man approached, McKenna saw that as he walked his left shoulder was slightly lower than his right shoulder and that he also swung his left arm slightly away from his body.
Without moving his lips, McKenna said to his partner, “Don’t look now, but get ready! This guy’s got a gun in a shoulder holster.” The man was now about ten feet from the front of their car.
Naturally, White turned his head and looked right at the man as he approached. Why do I bother talking to this guy? McKenna wondered.
So McKenna also turned and his eyes locked with the man’s as he passed their car. He was right; the guy was definitely one of the piranhas. In that instant McKenna saw recognition, fear, and apprehension in the man’s eyes. Although McKenna and this man had never seen each other before, they recognized each other. The hunter was about to become the hunted. They both knew their roles and began formulating their plans. The game had begun.
The man turned his head forward and continued walking. McKenna saw that his gait had picked up almost imperceptibly as he continued down Empire Boulevard.
“Are you sure?” White asked. “I didn’t see it.”
McKenna ignored the question. “Let’s get him,” he said as he slipped his 9-mm Glock semiautomatic from the holster on his belt, turned off the car, removed the keys from the ignition, and handed them to White. He was relieved to see that White had finally caught on and was removing his own pistol from its holster.
“Don’t forget the radio,” McKenna said, meaning the police walkietalkie. They both took a deep breath and opened their doors.
Their quarry was sharp. He was thirty feet behind the detectives when they got out of the car. As soon as he heard the sound of the doors opening, he took off. He was fast and he wasn’t looking back. Leaving their car right in the middle of traffic, the detectives gave chase. The race was on.
The piranha ran across Empire Boulevard through the lanes of stopped cars and headed toward the Ebbets Field Houses.
McKenna was delighted. Now there would be no need to tell any little lies in court about this upcoming arrest. Flight of a suspect was one of the mitigating circumstances that, in the eyes of the courts, justify an officer’s action when he stops and frisks a person before he arrests him for unlawful possession of a firearm.
It never even crossed McKenna’s mind that this man might get away. For the past ten years he had run in three marathons a year. He was fond of saying, “They might be faster for the first block, but to get away from me they have to run twenty-six miles in under three hours fifteen minutes.” They never could.
The detectives were fifty feet behind the man by the time he reached the first building in the housing complex. He hadn’t slowed down a bit. McKenna judged the man’s pace and started to pull a little ahead of White.
“Should I put it over?” White yelled, meaning, Should he transmit this foot pursuit over the police radio he was carrying?
McKenna looked over his shoulder at White and saw that he was red. Looks like I’m going to be on my own in this one in a little while, he thought.
“Not yet,” McKenna answered. He figured that he might want to have a little private chat with their man when they caught him, and he wouldn’t want to have any other officers present during this “interview” who could be called to testify against him later.
The chase continued through the sidewalks of the complex of buildings. McKenna slowly narrowed the gap while White fell farther and farther behind. The suspect made a series of right or left turns at the corner of each building, so that by the time McKenna was twenty feet behind him, they were at about the same point as when they’d first entered the housing complex.
By now, this foot pursuit had attracted quite a bit of attention in the crowded neighborhood. McKenna felt as though they were running across the infield of Ebbets Field on opening day. People were everywhere and they all stopped whatever they were doing to watch the game. Both officers knew that the police weren’t considered the home team here.
The man now heard McKenna’s footsteps behind him and he pulled a large, ugly-looking automatic pistol from his shoulder holster. McKenna saw the weapon and slowed down a bit.
Not just yet, McKenna thought. He didn’t want to risk a gunfight on these crowded streets.
The suspect ran toward a group of tough-looking Spanish punks wearing gang colors and yelled to them, “¡Ayúdenme, hermanos!” imploring them for help.
The group gave the man a cheer as he passed through them. McKenna followed and one of the aspiring gangsters stuck his foot out as McKenna was passing, catching the instep of McKenna’s left foot while he was in midstride. The result was spectacular. McKenna sprawled face forward on the concrete and slid into second base.
McKenna got up as quickly as he could and turned in time to see White grab the owner of the offending foot. The rest of the pack was giving a demonstration of the Big Bang Theory, scattering to all corners of the universe at close to the speed of light.
McKenna shouted to his partner, “Let him go and put it over!” The suspect was now about one hundred feet in front of him.
He heard White shout into the police radio the New York City Police Department code call for “Officer needs assistance.” “Tenthirteen. Ebbets Field Houses. Officers in civilian clothes chasing male Hispanic armed with a gun.”
In the nine radio cars then on patrol in the 71st Precinct, eighteen hearts skipped a beat and the adrenaline started flowing. In one instant, nine hands reached for the dashboard and turned on roof lights and sirens. All assignments were put on hold. Nothing else mattered. A fellow officer was in trouble and requesting assistance. Within five seconds the front of every police car on patrol in the 71st Precinct was pointed toward the Ebbets Field Houses.
McKenna heard the wail of the sirens and wondered, How many collisions did I just cause?
He poured on the speed and as he ran he heard the sound of White’s footsteps behind him. He felt pain in his right knee, looked down, and saw that he had torn the pants knee of his Botany 500 suit. For the first time McKenna felt anger. Man, do I want to talk to this guy!
The gap was quickly beginning to narrow. He’s finally getting tired, McKenna thought. Thank God!
The man made a left when McKenna was once again fifty feet behind him and, gun in hand, ran into the lobby of 277 McKeever Place in the heart of the housing complex. In the lobby were three middle-aged black women from the building Tenants’ Safety Committee, sitting behind a desk placed near the front of the inner lobby door. Their mission was to screen all nonresidents entering the building, an attempt to keep criminals from using their building as a place of business. The gunman rushed past them and tried the inner glass door of the lobby. It was locked. He was cornered.
In unison, the three ladies resigned their position of trust, got up from their chairs, and headed for the front door.
The gunman turned. “Stop!” he yelled, and the three ladies froze in the doorway. They were between McKenna and the gunman. The gunman raised his weapon and placed the short barrel on top of the shoulder of the closest woman. McKenna dove behind one of the thick, old, pollution-scarred sycamore trees that dotted every New York City housing complex in the city.
The gunman fired a four- or five-round burst. McKenna heard the outer glass doors shatter as the rounds slammed into his tree. The volley of rounds hit the tree with repetitive thumps.
Christ, full automatic! McKenna thought. Thank you, God, for this tree.
McKenna peered around the tree and saw that the three ladies in the lobby were frozen in terror. He couldn’t shoot.
“Get down!” McKenna yelled. Everyone in the lobby, including the gunman, instantly dropped to the ground. From the prone position he fired another burst at McKenna’s lucky tree. Each round hit the tree, but this time the rounds struck closer to the ground, very near where McKenna had just shown his face.
McKenna looked behind and saw that White had also dropped to the ground about one hundred feet behind him. He was yelling excitedly into his radio.
The sound of approaching sirens promised that help was very close.
McKenna heard another burst of fire from the lobby and dug himself deeper into the pavement. This time the bullets weren’t meant for him. He peered around the tree and saw that the gunman had fired into the heavy inner glass door, shattering it. He was gone.
McKenna ran in a crouch into the lobby of the building. The three ladies still lay frozen on the ground.
“Which way?” he asked, and three index fingers pointed up.
McKenna stepped through the blasted door and ran toward the two elevators in the inner lobby. The floor-indicator lights showed one elevator on the tenth floor and the other on the seventeenth.
No way he’s in the elevators, thought McKenna. These elevators were notoriously slow, when they worked at all. He couldn’t have gotten so high so fast in these elevators.
McKenna ran to the stairwell, opened the door, and heard the sounds of his man running up about three floors above him. The stairs were made of steel, and in the enclosed stairwell the footsteps rang like coins dropping into a tin cup.
McKenna started up and noted with alarm that he was making as much noise as the gunman. He counted twenty-four stairs between each floor. There was a small landing after every twelfth step where the stairs performed a U-turn on their way up to the next floor. He took the steps three at a time. When he got to the fifth floor the gunman’s footsteps sounded louder, maybe just two floors above.
This guy’s good, McKenna thought, but he’s getting tired now. I’ve got him.
Suddenly the footsteps above him stopped. McKenna heard the sound of metal hitting metal and it echoed down the stairwell. He recognized the sound. The gunman was reloading. He had just dropped his used magazine from his weapon and was inserting a loaded clip of ammunition. McKenna heard the distinctive sound of the bolt snapping closed on a fresh cartridge.
He kept climbing until he estimated that he was one story below the gunman, who, he knew, was waiting for him. The sounds of many footsteps from the floors far below him meant his reinforcements were arriving.
Let me try this one, McKenna thought. He yelled up the stairwell, “Give it up, hombre, so we can both walk out of here.”
The gunman’s answer was swift and unexpected. McKenna heard the sound of rapid gunfire, saw the sparks of ricochets striking the steel and concrete of the stairwell, and staggered from the force of one of these rounds hitting his bulletproof vest.
McKenna cried out, more from surprise than from pain.
The gunman yelled down the stairwell, “How do you like that, maricon? Did I get you?”
McKenna resented the gunman’s Spanish insult, which implied that McKenna’s sexual orientation was a little off. He could also hear in the man’s voice that he was tired and breathing heavily. Making his voice sound like he was in pain, McKenna shouted up, “Just a scratch, partner!” using his best patent-pending John Wayne imitation. Regretfully, he ripped open his white-on-white custom-made shirt, popping all the buttons, and with his left hand felt his chest under his vest. No blood. Much of the force of the bullet had been spent during its course of flight when it had ricocheted off the stairs and walls of the confined stairwell.
Thank you, John and Yoko, he thought. McKenna had received one of the one hundred vests that John Lennon and Yoko Ono had donated to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association in 1977, in the time before the Police Department gave free vests to its officers.
McKenna realized that he was up against the best he had ever seen. Skip shooting was something one learned only during intensive military training in house-to-house combat.
The way this guy banked his bullets in the stairwell, I’m glad that I’m not playing billiards against him, McKenna said to himself.
For the first time the thought crossed his mind that he might not win this one.
At the sound of the gunshots the footsteps below him had stopped. McKenna breathed a sigh of relief when he heard their noise resume. At the same time he heard the sounds of the gunman’s footsteps as he continued his climb.
McKenna took off his shoes and placed them on the stairs. I should have done this before, he thought. He noticed with some satisfaction that the sound of his footsteps was now indistinguishable from the racket that his fellow officers were making about three floors below him.
McKenna kept himself two floors below the gunman as he continued his now silent pursuit. When he reached the tenth floor he heard the squeal of the stairwell door opening on the twelfth. He could tell by the sound that the gunman’s footsteps made on the concrete of the building hallway that he had finally left the steel stairwell.
McKenna climbed until he reached the access door on twelve. He could hear the gunman banging on one of the apartment doors and yelling, “Open up, Paco. It’s Rico.”
The stairwell door was half open. McKenna hesitated a second and then slipped quickly and silently into the hall.
The gunman was twenty feet away. His back was toward McKenna. He pounded on the door of the end apartment in the hallway with the butt of his gun.
McKenna raised his pistol and lined up his sights on the middle of the gunman’s back. He savored the moment of victory and said, “Surprise, partner!” As the gunman started to turn with his gun hand raised, McKenna fired three quick shots. The force slammed the gunman flat against the apartment door. He dropped his gun and his feet slipped from under him as he slid slowly to the floor. He moved slightly as McKenna cautiously approached him. When McKenna was standing over him, the dying man tried to push himself up off the floor. He managed to turn his head and face McKenna.
McKenna looked into the man’s eyes for the second time and saw that he was right. It was a surprise. He died just as the first uniformed officers, led by Detective White, reached the twelfth-floor stairway door.
“Police officer!” McKenna yelled to them. “It’s all over!”
It was then that he saw the hole in the apartment door that one of his bullets had made after it had passed through the body of the dead man. And it was then that he heard the moaning coming from the other side of the door. McKenna knew he was wrong. It wasn’t all over.
Detective Second Grade Brian McKenna had just fired his weapon in the line of duty for the second time in his twenty-three-year police career, a career during which he had effected more than eighteen hundred arrests.
McKenna took quick stock of his situation as he was surrounded by a sea of his fellow police officers. He smiled slightly as it dawned on him that he was barefoot and without a glove in left field of the Ebbets Field Houses.
DETECTIVE FIRST GRADE. Copyright © 1993 by Dan Mahoney. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin’s Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010.
Posted October 15, 2002
Posted September 18, 2001
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