Of course, all this happened almost forty years ago. Yet, their faces, the men I served with, are right there before me though some names will escape me. When I see them at the reunions, it all comes back, our history. As I work the room this night, I tread my way among several hundred guests till I sit down with Lou Hunter, who confides he has neuropathy in his hands and feet, that’s why he’s on a cane (as I am). No need to commiserate, instead we laugh about kicking looters’ asses on Broadway during the Blackout Riots, July 13, 1977. Dominic Bjelobrick (“B.J.”), our perennial PBA Delegate at the Eight-Three in the 1960s , 1970s and 1980s, admits to being 80-years-old. We assure him we can see it in his old wrinkled mug, although he stands as straight, solid as a brick shithouse still. Scandinavian genes.
I corral Mike (can’t recall last name) by the aluminum chafing pans lined up on folding Bingo tables at the back of the Hall. The food is always the same—several kinds of pasta in a sauce thick as red paint, sausage & peppers deliciously swimming in its greasy pool, fish-in-a-white sauce, mounds of fresh Italian loaves, but I’m not here for the menu. Mike was a Lieutenant in Public Morals after the Eight-Three, so I figured he might know somebody in Missing Persons who’d be willing to talk to the mystery author, Allison Gaylin, for her new novel. (She’d asked me and I said I knew somebody.)
“Bobby, I retired 23 years ago,” Mike said, “I know nobody who’s still there!” I inquired of other detectives I’d worked with. Same response. I could have asked the only woman I was introduced to, Cookie Kunkle, former Chief of the Narcotics Bureau, but by then I was too depressed, contemplating that I no longer had contacts on The Job. (Sorry, Allison.)
At long last, I came upon two of my partners from the Eight-Three Conditions Car, the kickingest-ass team that ever patrolled the mean streets of Borough Brooklyn North. As fate would have it, John Medina and Louie were at the same table with others from the Old Days, but not talking to one another. You should know this: that John and Louie were on the outs since Louie had lied about John to the FBI on the occasion of Louie’s being arrested as a member of a big-time drug-dealing gang in Bushwick and environs. Louie was retired from The Job at the time while John was a Detective Second Grade in the Eight-Three Squad. Louie was facing serious time in Federal prison that could only be reduced by his “cooperation” with the U.S Attorney, meaning: Rat out some higher-up, a criminal of significant stature. Louie swore to the Feds that John was dealing drugs. (A drug-gang-affiliated NYPD Detective qualified.) And so began a year-long investigation by the FBI and the Department’s Internal Affairs Bureau—a source of endless harassment and embarrassment to Det. John Medina. John had a chest-full of medals for bravery, a ‘Supercop’ in everyone’s estimation, far and away the best street cop I’d ever seen. I like to think that’s why Louie, in a moment of desperation, pointed a finger at John: Because he knew it would never be believed, never stick, in the end. It didn’t, and Louie went to a Federal pen for seven years.
So tonight we all are sitting at this round table with cake and coffee in front of us. Then some wag says, “Remember Troutman Street!” Everybody laughs and points at me.
John points at Louie and says: “You fired shots!” Louie says, “If I didn’t, that mob would have had your asses that night!” The truth. We were making an arrest for drug sales in a tenement hallway on Trautman St. when the guy, a Puerto Rican, resisted and I had to pound him into bloody submission with my heavy-duty 5-cell metal flashlight. As we left the hallway with my prisoner, we were confronted by an irate mob of his countrymen who were intent on his liberation. John, me and my handcuffed prisoner in tow made for the safe haven of a bodega directly across the street, while Louie, protecting our backs, emptied his service revolver in the air to scatter the crowd in front.
Once inside, John called a “10-13” (Officer Needs Assistance) on his portable radio, and within minutes the cavalry arrived to rescue us and restore order. We all had a good laugh, basking in the warm glow of our shared, ancient camaraderie.
The best part for me was to see them reconciled, Louie forgiven. TV, civilians don’t understand. Not all “rats” are equal. For a cop, the ultimate terror is jail; cops don’t jail well. The choice is often: “cooperate” or suicide. In the end, Louie did his time and was pardoned in the eyes of his comrades.
© 2014 Robert Knightly