Authors: David Simon
“Well,” says Pellegrini, squeezing behind the wheel of an unmarked Chevy Cavalier, “so far so good.”
Landsman laughs. “This one will go down, Tom.”
Pellegrini shoots back a look that Landsman ignores. The Cavalier slips past block after block of rowhouse ghetto, rolling down Druid Hill Avenue until it crosses Martin Luther King Boulevard and the Western District gives way to the early morning emptiness of downtown. The chill is keeping them in; even the drunks are gone from the Howard Street benches. Pellegrini slows before running every light until he catches the red signal at Lexington and Calvert, a few blocks from headquarters, where a lone whore, unmistakably a transvestite, gestures furtively at the car from the doorway of a corner office. Landsman laughs. Pellegrini wonders how any prostitute in this city could fail to understand the significance of a Chevy Cavalier with a six-inch antenna on its ass.
“Look at this pretty motherfucker,” says Landsman. “Let’s pull over and fuck with him.”
The car eases through the intersection and pulls to the curb. Landsman rolls down the passenger window. The whore’s face is hard, a man’s face.
The whore looks away in cold rage.
“Hey, mister,” yells Landsman.
“I ain’t no mister,” the whore says, walking back to the corner.
“Sir, would you have the time?”
“Go fuck yourself.”
Landsman laughs malevolently. One of these days, Pellegrini knows, his sergeant will say something bizarre to someone who matters and half the squad will be writing reports for a week.
“I think you hurt his feelings.”
“Well,” says Landsman, still laughing, “I didn’t mean to.”
A few minutes later, the two men are backed into a parking space on the second tier of the headquarters garage. On the bottom of the same page recording the particulars of Rudy Newsome’s death, Pellegrini writes the number of the parking space and the mileage on the odometer, then circles the two figures. Murders come and go in this town, but God forbid you should forget to write the correct mileage on your activity sheet or, worse yet, forget to note the parking space so that the next man out spends fifteen minutes walking up and down the headquarters garage, trying to figure out which Cavalier matches the ignition key in his hand.
Pellegrini follows Landsman across the garage and through a metal bulkhead door to the second-floor hallway. Landsman punches the elevator button.
“I wonder what Fahlteich got from Gatehouse Drive.”
“Was that a murder?” asks Pellegrini.
“Yeah. It sounded like it on the radio.”
The elevator slowly ascends, opening on another, similar corridor with waxed linoleum and hospital blue walls, and Pellegrini follows his sergeant down the long hall. From inside the aquarium—the soundproof room of metal and plate glass where witnesses sit before being interviewed—comes the sound of young girls laughing softly.
Hail Mary. Here be witnesses from Fahlteich’s shooting at the city’s other end—living, breathing witnesses brought forth by the gods from the scene of the new year’s fourteenth homicide. What the hell, thinks Pellegrini, at least somebody in the squad had a little luck tonight.
The voices in the aquarium slip away as the two men move down the hall. Just before turning the corner into the squadroom, Pellegrini looks into the darkened aquarium’s side door and glimpses the orange glow of a cigarette and the outline of the woman seated closest to the door. He sees a hard face, the deep brown features fixed like granite, the eyes offering only seasoned contempt. Helluva body, too: nice chest, good legs, yellow miniskirt. Someone probably would have said something by now if she wasn’t all attitude.
Mistaking this casual assessment for genuine opportunity, the girl saunters from the aquarium to the edge of the office, then knocks lightly on the metal frame.
“Can I make a call?”
“Who do you want to talk to?”
“No, not now. After you’re interviewed.”
“What about my ride?”
“One of the uniformed officers will take you home.”
“I’ve been here an hour,” she says, crossing her legs in the doorway. The woman has the face of a teamster, but she’s giving this her best shot. Pellegrini is unimpressed. He can see Landsman smiling at him wickedly from the other side of the office.
“We’ll get to you as fast as we can.”
Abandoning any thought of seduction, the woman walks back to join her girlfriend on the fishbowl’s green vinyl couch, crosses her legs again and lights another cigarette.
The woman is here because she had the misfortune to be inside a garden apartment in the Purnell Village complex on Gatehouse Drive, where a Jamaican drug dealer named Carrington Brown played host to another Jake by the name of Roy Johnson. There was some preliminary talk, a few accusations delivered in a lilting West Indian accent, and then a considerable amount of gunfire.
Dick Fahlteich, a balding, bantam-size veteran of Landsman’s squad, got the call minutes after the dispatcher sent Pellegrini and his sergeant to Gold Street. He arrived to find Roy Johnson dead in the living room with more than a dozen gunshot wounds afflicting every conceivable part of his body. His host, Carrington Brown, was on the way to the University Hospital emergency room with four chest wounds. There were bullet-holes in the walls, bullet-holes in the furniture, automatic .380 casings and hysterical women scattered across the apartment. Fahlteich and two crime lab techs would spend the next five hours pulling evidence out of the place.
That leaves Landsman and Pellegrini to sort through the witnesses sent downtown. Their interviews begin reasonably and orderly enough; taking turns, the detectives escort each witness into a separate office, fill out an information sheet and write out a statement of several pages for the witness to sign and date. The work is routine and repetitive; in the last
year alone, Pellegrini has probably debriefed a couple hundred witnesses, most of them liars, all of them reluctant.
The process abruptly enters its second, more intensive phase a half hour later when an enraged Landsman hurls a four-page statement to the floor of a back office, slams his hand on a desk, and screams for the girl in the yellow miniskirt to get her ugly, untruthful, drug-ridden self out of his office. Well, thinks Pellegrini, listening at the other end of the hall, it isn’t taking Landsman long to get down to business.
“YOU’RE A LYING BITCH,” Landsman shouts, slamming the office door against its rubber stop. “DO YOU THINK I’M STUPID? DO YOU FUCKING THINK I’M STUPID?”
“What did I lie about?”
“Get the fuck out of here. You’re charged.”
“Charged with what?”
Landsman’s face contorts into pure rage.
“YOU THINK THIS IS BULLSHIT? DO YOU?”
The girl says nothing.
“You just got a charge, you lying piece of shit.”
“I didn’t lie.”
“Fuck you. You’re charged.”
The sergeant points the woman toward the small interrogation room, where she slumps into a chair and stretches her legs up over a Formica table. The miniskirt rides down toward her waist, but Landsman is in no mood to enjoy the fact that the woman wears nothing under her skirt. He leaves the door slightly ajar as he yells to Pellegrini across the squadroom.
“NEUTRON THIS BITCH,” he shouts before closing the soundproof door to the small interrogation room, leaving the girl to wonder what sort of technological torture awaits. A neutron activation test requires only a painless swab of the hands to determine the presence of barium and antimony, elements deposited after a handgun is fired, but Landsman wants to leave her stewing on it, hoping she’s in that box imagining that someone’s about to irradiate her until she glows. The sergeant slams his open palm against the metal door one last time for proper emphasis, but the rage is gone even as he walks back into the main office. A staged performance—more vintage Landsman—delivered with gusto and sincerity for the lying bitch in the yellow miniskirt.
Pellegrini comes out of the coffee room and closes the door.
“What does yours say?”
“She didn’t see it,” says Pellegrini. “But she said your girl knows what happened.”
“I fucking know she does.”
“What do you want to do?”
“Take the statement from your girl,” says Landsman, bumming a cigarette from his detective. “I’m gonna let this one sit for a while, then go back in and fuck with her.”
Pellegrini returns to the coffee room and Landsman slumps into a desk chair. Cigarette smoke slips from the side of his mouth.
“Fuck this,” says Jay Landsman to no one in particular. “I’m not gonna swallow two open cases in one night.”
And so a graceless, nocturnal ballet resumes, with witnesses gliding past one another beneath the washed-out glare of tube lighting, each flanked by a tired, impassive detective cradling black coffee and enough blank statement forms to record the next round of half-truths. Pages are collated, initialed, and signed, Styrofoam coffee cups are refilled and cigarettes bartered until the detectives again assemble in the squadroom to compare notes and decide who’s lying, who’s lying more, and who’s lying the most. In another hour, Fahlteich will return from the murder scene and hospital with enough details to vouch for the one honest witness brought downtown that night—a woman who happened to be walking across the parking lot and recognized one of the two gunmen as he entered the apartment. The woman knows what it means to talk about a drug murder and soon wishes she could take back everything she said to Fahlteich at the scene. Sent downtown immediately, she has been kept at a distance from the occupants of the apartment and is interviewed by Landsman and Fahlteich only after the detective returns from Gatehouse Drive. She shakes violently when the detectives bring up the subject of grand jury testimony.
“I can’t do that,” she says, breaking into tears.
“There’s no choice.”
“My children …”
“We’re not going to let anything happen.”
Landsman and Fahlteich leave the office to talk softly in the hallway.
“She’s fucking terrified,” says Landsman.
“We gotta grand jury her first thing tomorrow, before she has a chance to start backing up.”
“We also got to keep her separate from the others,” says Fahlteich, throwing a finger toward the witnesses in the fishbowl. “I don’t want any of them to get a look at her.”
By morning, they will have a nickname and general description for the missing gunman, and by the end of the week, his full name, police identification number, mug shot and the address of the North Carolina relatives who are hiding him. A week more and the kid is back in Baltimore, charged with first-degree murder and a weapons violation.
The story of Roy Johnson’s murder is brutal in its simplicity, simple in its brutality. The shooter is Stanley Gwynn, an eighteen-year-old moon-faced kid who served as bodyguard to Johnson, a New York cocaine connect who had armed his true and loyal subordinate with an Ingram Mac-11 .380 machine pistol. Johnson visited the Gatehouse Drive apartment because Carrington Brown owed him money for cocaine, and when Brown wouldn’t pay, Gwynn ended the negotiations with a long burst from the Ingram, a weapon capable of firing six rounds a second.
It was an impulsive, awkward performance, the sort of thing to be expected from a teenager. The attack was so clearly telegraphed that Carrington Brown was afforded more than enough time to grab Roy Johnson and use him as a shield. Before the scene in front of him registered in Stanley Gwynn’s brain, he had machine-gunned the man he was supposed to protect. The intended target, Carrington Brown, lay bleeding from four bullets that had somehow found their way past the dead man, and Stanley Gwynn—who will later take a second-degree plea and twenty-five years—ran in panic from the apartment building.
When the dayshift detectives bring early relief at 6:30, the Roy Johnson murder, case H88014, is tucked neatly inside a manila folder on the administrative lieutenant’s desk. An hour later, Dick Fahlteich is headed home for a quick shower before returning downtown to attend the autopsy. For his part, Landsman will be in his own bed by 8:00
But as sunlight and the sounds of the morning rush hour seep through the sixth-floor windows, the flotsam and jetsam of H88013—the murder at Gold and Etting—are still scattered in front of Tom Pellegrini, a coffee-logged wraith who stares vacantly at the first officer’s report, at supplementals, evidence submission slips, body custody and fingerprint forms for the person of Rudolph Newsome. Fifteen minutes either way and Pellegrini could have been dispatched to the Gatehouse Drive shooting, where a living victim and living witnesses were waiting to give up a murder and add one more to the list of clearances. Instead, Pellegrini
went to Gold and Etting, where a twenty-six-year-old dead man stared up at him with sudden, silent comprehension. Luck of the draw.
After Landsman’s departure, Pellegrini works the edges of his little disaster for another ten hours—pulling the paperwork together, calling an assistant state’s attorney about a grand jury summons for the Thompson woman and submitting the victim’s effects to the evidence control unit in the basement of headquarters. Later that morning, a Western District patrolman calls the homicide unit about some corner boy who got locked up for drugs by the midnight shift and claimed to know about the Gold Street shooting. Seems the kid is willing to talk if he can make a lower bail on the drug charge. Pellegrini finishes his fifth cup of coffee before going back out to the Western to take a brief statement from the boy, who claims to have seen three men running north off Gold Street after hearing shots. The kid says he knows one of the men, but only by the name Joe—a statement just specific enough to match the true scenario, just vague enough to be of no practical use to the detective. Pellegrini wonders whether the kid was even there or whether he picked up what he could about the Gold Street murder while sitting in the lockup overnight, then did his best to turn the information around and try to barter out from under the drug charge.
Back in homicide, the detective slips the notes from the interview inside the case file for H88013 and then slides the folder underneath the Roy Johnson file on the desk of the administrative lieutenant, who has come and gone on the eight-to-four shift. Good news before bad. Then Pellegrini gives a man on four-to-twelve the keys to his Cavalier and goes home. It is a little after 7:00