On the eve of his second wedding anniversary, Chris Anastos feels secure in his marriage and in his work with the NYPD’s anticrime unit in the South Bronx. A summons to the downtown headquarters of the Intelligence Division spells trouble, however. Links between the Italian mob and a Greek criminal network in Queens have been discovered, and investigators want the Greek-American cop to go undercover.
Reluctantly, Anastos agrees. For five years he plays his role to perfection, moving back and forth between his comfortable home life and a murky, underground world of wiseguys, pimps, bookies, racketeers, thieves, and heroin dealers. But when the happily married cop falls in love with the beautiful, raven-haired daughter of a Long Island capo, he faces his gravest threat yet.
From the acclaimed author of A Death in Canaan and A Death in California, this is the unforgettable true story of a good man torn between passion and principle.
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Love or Honor
The True Story of an Undercover Cop Who Fell in Love with a Mafia Boss's Daughter
By Joan Barthel
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1989 Joan Barthel
All rights reserved.
Liz raised her head from the pillow when the alarm buzzed. She groaned, and folded the pillow in half, covering her ear. "Don't forget to comb your hair," she said in a muffled voice.
Chris was out of bed quickly; years of cop's hours had trained him to come instantly awake. When he emerged from the shower, his hair was still wet, flinging drops of water across her pillow as he leaned down to kiss the top of her head. "Comb your hair," Liz murmured. "I will," Chris promised. "See you tonight." Then he remembered that she had a weekend booking at a club in the Catskills. "See you Monday," he said.
In the kitchen, he poured a glass of orange juice, but he didn't bother making coffee. There'd be plenty downtown. Brass or patrolmen, hairbags or rookies, cops survived on coffee.
He stood at the kitchen window, looking down at the quiet courtyard. Three young children, holding hands, were walking along the pathway to the street, with two mothers behind them carrying lunchboxes. An elderly man in white shorts and windbreaker was jogging on the opposite path, taking high, lengthy strides, as though in slow motion.
Watching this peaceful picture, Chris felt peaceful. As he set out from his apartment in Forest Hills to take the subway into Manhattan, he felt settled and comfortable. His second wedding anniversary was coming up; he was happy in his work with the street unit, doing "buy and bust" with drug pushers. After some rocky times in both his personal and his professional life, he felt he'd straightened out. He felt good about himself.
Still, he couldn't help worrying, as the train rumbled through Queens, into the city, about why he had been summoned to a meeting at the Intelligence Division. He hadn't a clue. He'd been working the street when the message had come clattering over the teletype at the station: P O ANASTOS REPORT INTEL DIV 0900 HRS FRI.
All afternoon, cops passing in and out of the station had speculated and gossiped. The teletype directive couldn't mean a simple transfer; that order would have been spelled out on the wire, and wouldn't have involved the Intelligence Division. Anastos wasn't due for a promotion; in his seven years with the New York Police Department, he'd gone quickly, within the first eighteen months, from uniform into plainclothes, and was successfully settled in the anticrime unit. It was too soon for another step up, even for a guy like Anastos. More likely, he was in trouble, some cops thought. Some of them hoped so.
Christian Anastos was thirty-three years old. He had a mop of black curly hair, bright dark eyes, a playful sense of humor and a flaring Mediterranean temper — once, when he was losing a burglar who was escaping over a fence, Chris had smashed the concrete wall below the fence so hard, in frustration and fury, that he'd broken his hand.
That had happened in his early days at the 40th Precinct — the 4-oh — when he'd taken every chase, every case, very personally, when he'd viewed it as his specific mission to save, maybe not the whole world, but this sordid wedge of it in the South Bronx. In that desolate neighborhood above Harlem, where the neighboring 41st Precinct was "Fort Apache," the 4-oh was "The Alamo." The label was not just a romantic flourish; the station house was often besieged, its doors barricaded against invaders, and buckets of water sometimes dumped from a second-floor window on the enemy below. Once, Chris was walking along the sidewalk when a garbage can filled with bricks was rolled off a rooftop, thundering to the pavement only about ten feet in front of him. When Chris and his partner Phil emerged from an apartment building where they'd spent about twenty minutes on a domestic dispute call, they found their radio car ablaze from a Molotov cocktail.
Even in quieter seasons, when the police themselves were not barraged, the South Bronx trembled. Every crime invented by man was practiced there, by experts and amateurs alike; only prostitution was uncommon, the neighborhood being too poor to support such a relatively expensive occupation. Armed robberies, rapes, and murders were abundant; more than once, during Chris's time there, the 4-oh recorded the first homicide of the new year. Cops came to expect that, a minute or two after midnight, somebody would be dead. On a day-to-day basis, people routinely wrapped thick chains around their television sets, then wound the end of the chain around the radiator. But there was not really a crisis of crime in the community. It was worse than that. Violence had passed beyond crisis, to become accepted as part of the tattered fabric of everyday life.
The 4-oh was not a plum assignment, so a guy who had screwed up somewhere else — too much drinking, too many times caught cooping — sleeping on duty — maybe suspected of taking payoffs — was likely to be "dumped," moved from a quiet precinct to a high-crime post. It seemed a curious rationale, considering that such a desperate neighborhood called for the best men, not the misfits; considering that in the barrooms and back alleys, numbers runners and drug dealers were more than willing to cooperate with the police. In such a grievous climate, a man with a drinking problem was likely to find more sorrows he needed to drown. Sometimes, though, a man who was dumped into the 4-oh was indeed shocked into good behavior. One boss was famous for his ritual of bringing out a full bottle of bourbon every morning and setting it on his desk with an emphatic thump. The bottle was taped shut, with wide brown masking tape. For years the lieutenant kept the bottle on his desk to remind himself never to take another drink, and as far as anyone could tell, he never did.
Chris liked the 4-oh. He'd asked to be assigned to either the South Bronx or to Harlem — definitely a quirk, some guys thought — where he'd have real work to do. He wasn't a bleeding heart; he was tough when he had to be, and stubborn when he didn't have to be. But he didn't become hardened, as some cops did, defensively. Where poverty bred despair, and despair nurtured criminals, he considered the plight of people in the neighborhood as a crime in itself. "They're trapped. They're victims," he said. "I really believe that! Maybe one out of a hundred can make it out of here, with some kind of talent, but the others are trapped here forever. If they have jobs at all, they're low-paying jobs, in a factory or in a sweatshop or washing dishes. They have nothing to look forward to. You could stand on a street corner for a year and ask every person who passes, 'Did you see the play, A Chorus Line?' and not one of them would say yes."
He was particularly aware of the problems of families, when he saw the long lines of women at bus stops, early in the morning, never any men. The women were more employable as chambermaids, in sweatshops, while the men stayed behind to linger on stoops, nowhere to go. It was destructive to the family, Chris knew, and he was careful never to degrade a Puerto Rican man; if he stopped a guy for speeding and saw a woman and some kids in the car, he called him "Mister." In fact, Chris gave out fewer than ten traffic summonses in seven years, and one of those he paid himself. He'd written a ticket for double-parking, one Christmas Eve; when the man came out of a store, children in tow, his face crumpled in such dismay that Chris took it back. He didn't void it, which would have looked suspiciously like a payoff; he got a money order and mailed it in.
He didn't perceive himself as a social worker, just as a guy who had the authority and sometimes the power to help. He knew how to get heat turned on in a building where families huddled around the gas burners on the kitchen stove for warmth. He knew where to call when a tenement's water pipe burst and the slumlord was not to be found. He was annoyed at cops who refused to do these things, who pointed out that it wasn't their job. "We're the authority figures on the street," Chris argued, "sometimes the only ones they can turn to. Why not make a phone call?" And they, in turn, were annoyed at him, for sometimes making them look lazy or indifferent.
He liked working the streets, getting to know the people, and he had become so experienced that he was once called to a meeting with the brass to discuss a bizarre problem. A street gang, a fraction of the Young Lords, had taken over a park at 145th Street — literally taken it over, erecting a sign that said PEOPLE'S PARK, then stationing two guards at the entrance so people couldn't come in, turning it into their private preserve for smoking pot, drinking wine and planning revolution. Storming the park was ruled out. "Heads would be broken," the chief of the Bronx, Tony Bouza, warned. "Go in and see what you can do about it, Chris."
At the stone steps leading up into the park, the guards looked at him with tight suspicion. "I don't have my weapon," he told them. "I want to talk to Frenchy." The guards huddled, then led him into the center of the park. Frenchy knew Chris from the street. Although Chris had locked up a few of the gang members, he'd gotten jobs for a couple of them, too, and had enticed one fellow into entering an addiction treatment center. Chris and Frenchy weren't friends, but there was a degree of trust. "I felt like John Wayne meeting with the Indians," Chris said, back at the station.
He and Frenchy negotiated a truce: The gang could use the park, undisturbed, from six to ten A.M., then they were to clear out, leaving it to the neighborhood kids from eleven to four. All summer Chris visited the park twice a day, maintaining that fragile but workable peace. No heads were broken. He didn't delude himself about his relationship with the gang, at least not after his picture turned up in their newsletter captioned PIG OF THE WEEK. But he didn't take it personally. He felt they were just gloating in the knowledge that they could finger him as a cop, even when he felt so thoroughly disguised: in that photo, wearing a raincoat and a floppy hat, leaning against a lamppost, smoking a cigar.
In spite of such successes, and partly because of them, Chris was not the most popular cop at the 4-oh — although he was not deeply disliked, and he'd made some close friends, especially his first partner, Phil. But quite a few of the guys on the roster regarded him with puzzled skepticism as a loner, an oddball, hard to figure out. It didn't help that he was a Greek among Irish, he opposed capital punishment, he carried Bulfinch's Mythology in his car at all times, and his heroes were Thomas Jefferson and Alexander the Great.
Yet he wasn't a philosopher or a scholar; he'd scraped through high school — three schools in four years — mostly because of his splendid memory, paying attention only to the subjects that interested him: history, music, and art. He was sentimental — an operatic aria could bring tears to his eyes — and a romantic, though not in a conventional sense. When he got his first maternity call and had to deliver the baby, all went well — he wiped the baby when it emerged, hit it on the back until it began to cry, laid it on the mother's thigh until the ambulance arrived, and the mother vowed to name the baby after Chris — yet he never liked to talk about it. He'd felt dizzy and lightheaded, and he thought it had been an awful sight.
He had a reckless streak and, in the beginning, a capacity for serious drinking that enabled him to hold his own, and then some, with other cops at the end of a shift. He'd been a street kid in New York, and he was not naïve.
But the streets he'd grown up in, in the 1940s and 1950s, were not the streets he patrolled in the late sixties and now, in the seventies. Street life for Chris had meant stickball, stoopball, peashooters, and skelsey, a game like shuffle-board: You drew boxes with chalk on the pavement, filled bottlecaps with melted wax, then tried to knock other kids' bottlecaps out of the squares. He wasn't a sissy: He belonged to a tough-enough gang, the Dukes of Manhattan, for about a year, wearing a black-and-yellow sweater with his name stitched on the pocket. He'd pulled fire alarms and opened fire hydrants. He'd broken off car aerials to make weapons for use against a rival gang, The Sportsmen. On a dare, he'd sauntered into a Woolworth's, grabbed a red-and-yellow magnet from the toy counter and dashed out of the store. He hadn't been caught, but he hadn't ventured back into that Woolworth's for two months; he was sure the manager would recognize him from the guilty look on his face. One summer he and a pal, Carlos, had made regular trips to a leather factory, where they'd scaled the high fence, dropped down into the yard and snitched scraps of leather. But they'd used the scraps to make wallets and wristbands, cutting their own patterns and sewing them by hand, with a commitment that would have warmed the heart of a youth worker. He was an innocent in a thoroughly innocent time.
When he came to the 4-oh, a street kid was one who used dope or sold it or both; heroin was the choice, then. A street kid no longer stole dime store trinkets, but television sets, and the store manager had reason to be afraid of him. The carpet guns of Chris's boyhood, though not innocuous — a piece of wood whittled into a gun shape, and a heavy piece of linoleum latched into place with a rubber band — were no match for the pieces flaunted by teenagers in the South Bronx.
In the twenty years between Chris's boyhood and the time he was sworn in, the world had changed. He found it amazing that the change had come so swiftly — not gradually, so a person could see it coming and maybe have time to prepare, to come to terms with it, but drastically, overnight. Innocence was trampled on streets that had been playgrounds and were now battlegrounds, sometimes killing grounds. In one short period, four bombs were discovered, planted in police cars. So many police call boxes were booby-trapped that the order came down not to use them; patrolmen were to carry a dime pasted in their memo books at all times, so they could telephone the station. A New York City Councilman asked the Governor to send in the National Guard at least part-time to supplement the police who, just after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., were put on emergency schedule; twelve hours a day, six days a week.
Although it seemed to be the worst of times to be a cop — a season of pervasive despair — it was, in a way, the best of times for Chris. A season of possibilities. The need for law and structure was so visible that it gave him the sense of purpose he'd never known in his first assignment, the Rockaway Beach precinct, where his main job was chasing unlicensed vendors off the beach. He didn't care that the young hustlers were selling beer from coolers, but the merchants along the boardwalk complained so vigorously to the precinct boss that Chris had been given a quota: "If you don't give out ten summonses a day, I'll know you're taking a payoff," the boss warned. So Chris had no choice but to stalk the guys on the beach, who would hastily close their coolers and sit on them, trying to act nonchalant, when they saw him coming. He hated seeing that guilty look on their faces. He hated the tediousness of writing out each two-dollar summons. He hated getting sand in his shoes.
Chris didn't feel like a cop, and he didn't even look like a cop, much of the time; with a shortage of lockers at the station, he had to carry his uniform back and forth from home. He was so aggravated at the whole setup that he didn't bother with a garment bag; he just folded the uniform and carried it in a brown paper grocery bag in the trunk of his car.
He got so fed up with answering endless questions — "Where's the Ferris wheel?" "Where's the subway?" "Where's the toilet, Officer?" — that he filled out a Form 57, Request for Transfer, specifically asking for assignment to either Harlem or the South Bronx. Hearing stories of the work other cops had done there, or the work that cops they knew had done, made him envious; by comparison, he felt he wasn't doing police work at all. "If I'd wanted to spend my days on the beach, I'd have gotten myself a wagon and sold ice cream," he grumbled to guys at the precinct, who usually told him to shut up and count his blessings, usually in more colorful terms.
Excerpted from Love or Honor by Joan Barthel. Copyright © 1989 Joan Barthel. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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