Detective First Grade
By Dan Mahoney, George Witte
St. Martin's Press Copyright © 1993 Dan Mahoney
All rights reserved.
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. (Continues...)
Excerpted from Detective First Grade by Dan Mahoney, George Witte. Copyright © 1993 Dan Mahoney. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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