Monday, February 24, 2014

Reunion III: All’s Well That Ends

My third biannual reunion with the cops with whom I’d patrolled the streets of Bushwick, Brooklyn, in the 1970’s was held in the VFW hall (as always) in Valley Stream, Long Island late last September. I’ve always thought it odd that Brooklyn cops had to travel to Nassau County to get together; then I remembered again it’s because most of them still live out there as they did back then, but now have no reason to go into Brooklyn, or anywhere in the City, for that matter. Truth is, the younger ones had no liking for the City in those crime-filled days and fled back to East Cupcake as soon as they’d finish their tour. But not so my partners, the hell-raisers of the 83 Precinct Conditions Car.

We weren’t young. All of us had more than eight years on The Job, having survived the layoff of 5,000 cops as the City teetered on the brink of bankruptcy in February, 1975. (Last On, First Off, the Rule). Consequently, we had no illusions about being indispensable or highly-valued by our masters. Truth is, we just loved the work. Of course, it was dangerous; some of us died from gunfire, from ambush. But being in our thirties, none of us yet forty, we knew in our hearts we were immortal, not about to die that day or any day.

No one, no Internal Affairs spies, were looking over our shoulders as we worked the streets. When a Precinct was dangerously high-crime, an “A” house--as the Eight-Three was in the mid-1970s—IAD (“shoeflies” we called them) tended to keep their distance. Dante had it right: When you served in hell, life was simpler.

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

1 comment:

  1. Beyond wonderful... can't wait to see the autobiography... tjs