Authors: David Simon
“How the fuck can you eat after handling this call?” asks Dunnigan, genuinely amazed.
“Roast beef, rare,” says the cop, displaying the second half of the sandwich with pride. “Hey, you only get one lunch a shift.”
For summer, you need a scorecard to keep the lineup straight. Put Constantine and Keller in Pigtown, working a bar murder where the suspect turns out to be a kid who beat the robbery-murder of an elderly schoolteacher four years ago. Put Waltemeyer and Worden at a reggae dance club near the Metro tracks in the Northwest, its front walk covered by a dead Jamaican and a dozen spent 9mm casings, its interior cluttered by about seventy other Jakes who swear to Jah himself that they see not a blessed thing, mon. Put Dunnigan down in the Perkins Homes for a body in the closet; Pellegrini in the Central for a body in the gutter; Childs and Sydnor in the Eastern for a female skeleton beneath a rowhouse porch, a skeleton that is finally matched to a missing persons report three weeks later. She was the tiniest thing, barely eighteen and a hundred pounds dripping wet, and her bastard of a stepfather waited only long enough for his wife to go out of town for a week. He brought three friends home for Saturday night and after a six-pack, the four of them took turns on her, then strangled her by wrapping a towel around her neck and pulling in different directions.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked, pleading.
“Sorry,” her stepfather told her. “We got to.”
The shouts and screams and curses rise and fall with the temperature in the stagnant, fetid air. The crescendo comes in the last and hottest week of July, six straight days of boiler room heat that makes the citywide police frequency sound like an endless tape:
“Forty-five hundred Pimlico, odd side in the rear, for a woman screaming … Thirty-six hundred Howard Park, for an armed person … Twenty-four fifty-one Druid Hill, for an assault in progress … Signal thirteen. Calhoun and Mosher. Signal thirteen … Fourteen-fifteen Key Highway for a man beating a woman …”
And then, the dispatch call that everyone most fears, the dayshift broadcast that only comes when the heat has truly touched the wrong nerve in the wrong man in the wrong place.
“Signal thirteen. Seven fifty-four Forrest Street.”
It begins with one inmate and one guard mixing it up in the security booth at the end of the No. 4 yard. They are joined by another inmate, then another, then a fourth—each one wielding an aluminum softball bat. Riot.
Detectives fly out of the homicide office in bunches—Landsman, Worden, Fahlteich, Kincaid, Dave Brown, James—heading for the Maryland Penitentiary at the eastern edge of the city’s downtown, the gray stone fortress that has served as the state’s maximum security prison since James Madison was president. The Pen is the end of the line for every lost cause in the state corrections system, the final repository for the men who somehow can’t live within the limits of the prisons at Jessup and Hagerstown. Home to Death Row and the gas chamber, the Maryland Pen warehouses human beings who are facing an average sentence of life imprisonment, and its antiquated south wing has been called “the innermost circle of hell” by a state attorney general’s report. By any reckoning, the population of the Maryland Pen has nothing whatsoever to lose; worst of all, they know it.
For fifteen minutes, the Pen correctional officers lose complete control of the recreation yards to more than three hundred inmates armed with homemade knives, clubs and every other available weapon. Two guards are beaten with bats in the No. 4 yard, another is bludgeoned with a metal cross bar from the weight room. A fourth is chased into the prison shop building only to find that the security area gate is locked shut. Unwilling to risk unlocking the metal gate, a female correctional officer watches, terrified, from the other side of the partition as six or seven inmates beat and stab the guard to within an inch of his life. Twenty other inmates drag another female officer out of a counseling clinic at the southern edge of the recreation yard, beating her badly, then rush into the clinic to batter a prison psychologist. Before being repulsed by a detachment of guards rushed through the Madison Street entrance, the inmates
set fire to the clinic, torching as many psychological evaluations as they can find. Led by a deputy warden, the reinforcements arrive to retake the clinic and rescue the female officer and the psychologist, who has fallen to the floor of his office beneath a rain of blows from a metal pipe. The prisoners are pushed slowly back toward the yard—a retreat that only becomes a rout after two guards fire their shotguns from the clinic door. Two inmates fall wounded on the asphalt.
On the towers at the penitentiary’s east and west walls, guards try to fire their shotguns over the heads of the rioters—which only adds to the carnage by striking several guards as well as rioters. Just outside a west wall tower, yet another correctional officer is felled by shotgun pellets fired by an east wall guard two hundred yards away. There are no attempts to escape, no effort to take hostages, no demands, no negotiations. It is violence for its own sake, the mirror image of the summer that exists in the city that surrounds the penitentiary walls. You can lock them up and you can lose the key, but the men inside the fortress on Forrest Street still march to the rhythm of the streets.
Fifteen minutes after the last prisoner has been hauled out of the yard and dragged to a tier for lockdown, Jay Landsman walks across the No. 3 and 4 yards, mentally noting the bloodstains that represent a half-dozen crime scenes. From the south wing tiers immediately above him, the focused rage of the prison comes down on him like rain. Walking alone in the open yard, Landsman is made for a city detective immediately, perhaps by prisoners who have been among his clientele.
“Yo, you white bitch, bring yo’ tight ass up here and drop them trousers.”
“Get out my yard, you fuckhead cop.”
“Don’t be down there after dark, yo, we’ll fuck you good.”
“Eat my shit, cop. Eat my shit.”
The last comment catches Landsman’s ear; for just a moment he pauses, staring up at the south wing tiers.
“C’mon up here, faggot. We’ll fuck you like we fucked them bitch guards.”
“Bring yo’ white ass up here, faggot.”
Landsman lights a cigarette and waves cheerfully at the stone facade, as if it were some kind of cruise ship pulling away from its moorings. In its moment, the perfect gesture—better than a hard look or the standard finger—and the catcalls fall away. Smiling maniacally, Landsman waves again and the message becomes clear: Yo, assholes. My white bitch ass is
going home tonight to an air-conditioned rancher and a woman and a dozen steamed crabs and a six-pack of beer. You’re going to a 98-degree prison cell for a steaming week of lockdown. Bon voyage, you simple motherfuckers.
Landsman finishes his tour of the yard and confers with the deputy warden. Nine correctional officers are hospitalized; three inmates have also been sent to emergency rooms. The prison authorities are responsible for security, but homicide will handle the prosecution of those inmates named as being part of the riot. That’s the theory anyway. But it’s hard for any guard to remember a single face when a crowd of men is beating on him with aluminum bats; after an hour, the tentative list of suspects stands at only thirteen inmates positively identified by authorities.
Landsman and Dick Fahlteich, the primary detective for the riot, have those suspects brought to the deputy warden’s office. They come in one by one, shackled and cuffed and devoid of expression. A quick survey reveals that every last one is a product of Baltimore, and all but four are down on a city murder charge. In fact, every other name on the list manages to trigger a memory in some detective’s mind. Clarence Mouzone? That crazy bastard beat three or four murders before Willis finally got him on one. Wyman Ushery? Didn’t he kill that boy at the Crown station on Charles Street back in ’81? Litzinger’s case, I think. Fuck yeah, that was him.
The accused shuffle into the office and listen impassively as Landsman tells them they were seen assaulting this or that guard. Each inmate listens with practiced boredom, glancing back and forth among the faces of the detectives, searching for anything that seems familiar. You can almost hear them thinking aloud: That one I don’t remember, but that one was there for my lineup, and that one in the corner took the stand on me in court.
“You want to say anything?” asks Landsman.
“I don’t got shit to say to you.”
“Okay,” says Landsman, smiling. “See ya.”
One of the last men to saunter down memory lane is a thick-framed nineteen-year-old monster, a kid with the kind of prize-fighter physique that can only come from a prison weight room. Ransom Watkins begins shaking his head halfway through Landsman’s speech.
“I got nothin’ to say.”
“But I want to know one thing from this man here,” he says, looking hard across the room at Kincaid. “I bet you don’t even remember me.”
“Sure I do,” says the detective. “I got a good memory.”
Ransom Watkins was all of fifteen when Kincaid locked him up for the Dewitt Duckett murder in ’83. Watkins was a smaller piece of a man then, but just as hard. He was one of three west side boys who shot a fourteen-year-old in a hallway at Harlem Park Junior High, then yanked a Georgetown athletic jacket off the dying kid’s back. Other students recognized the trio as they ran from the school, and Kincaid discovered the missing jacket in a suspect’s bedroom closet. The next morning, Watkins and the others were cracking jokes in the Western District lockup, charged as adults.
“You remember me, detective?” Watkins says now.
“I remember you.”
“If you remember who I am, then how the hell do you sleep at night?”
“I sleep pretty good,” says Kincaid. “How do you sleep?”
“How do you think I sleep? How do I sleep when you put me here for something I didn’t do?”
Kincaid shakes his head, then picks a piece of lint from his pants cuff.
“You did it,” he tells the kid.
“The hell I did,” Watkins wails at him, his voice cracking. “You lied then and you lyin’ now.”
“No,” says Kincaid quietly. “You killed him.”
Watkins curses him again and Kincaid looks back placidly. Landsman calls to the outer room for the escorting guards even as Watkins begins to argue his case.
“We’re done with this asshole,” he says. “Send in the next guy.”
It’s another two hours before the detectives begin making their way back through the labyrinth of steel grates and metal detectors and checkpoints, back upstairs to the visiting area and the lockers in which their service revolvers have been stored.
Outside the main gate, the television reporters are doing standups for the early afternoon broadcasts, just as representatives of the guards’ union show up to criticize prison administrators and demand yet another investigation of conditions at the Pen. Halfway down Eager Street, a young boy on a ten-speed stops at the wrought-iron gate to listen to the shouts coming from the inmates in the west wing tiers. He stays for a minute or two, soaking up the catcalls and obscenities, before punching the Play button on a tape machine wedged beneath his handlebars and pedaling toward Greenmount.
It takes two to make a thing go right
Beat, scream, beat, scream. A mindless liturgy of another Baltimore summer, a theme song for a city that bleeds.
It takes two to make it outta sight
Landsman and Fahlteich climb into the dry heat of a Cavalier’s interior and roll slowly toward the expressway with the windows down, waiting on a breeze that just won’t come. Fahlteich flips the AM radio dial to 1100 for the all-news station, where these and other stories are coming up on the hour.
Twelve seriously injured in
disturbance at the Maryland
Penitentiary. Night watchman found slain in North Howard Street
tomorrow’s WBAL forecast calls for partly cloudy and hot, with
highs in the mid-90s
Another day for bagging bent blades and chalking sidewalks. Another day for pulling semi-wadcutter projectiles from drywall, for photographing blood at the broken edge of the bottle. Another day’s pay on the killing streets.
Another hot, humid night wears out its welcome in a South Baltimore rowhouse, where violence takes as its servant a lovers’ quarrel. Edgerton walks the crime scene and sends a couple of witnesses downtown before jumping into the crowded rear of the ambulance.
“How you doin’, Officer Edgerton?”
The detective looks down at the gurney to see the bloody face of Janie Vaughn smiling back at him. Janie from the Patch, as the locals call South Baltimore’s Westport. A goodhearted kid, twenty-seven years old, who when Edgerton last knew her was running with a boy by the name of Anthony Felton. Felton’s problem was his propensity for killing people, shooting them for money or drugs, mostly. The boy beat two of those murders, then went down for fifteen years on a third shooting. From the look of things in the ambo, Janie’s new boyfriend wasn’t exactly the epitome of self-control either.
“How you doin’?”
“Do I look real bad?”
“You’ve looked better,” Edgerton tells her. “But if you’re breathing now, you’re gonna make it … They sayin’ your boyfriend Ronnie cut loose.”
“Yeah he did.”
“He just went off or what?”
“I didn’t know he’d go this far.”
“You really can pick ’em, huh?”
Janie smiles, her white teeth shining for a moment amid the bloody wreckage. A tough kid, Edgerton thinks, not the kind of girl to go into shock. Stepping deeper in the ambo, Edgerton looks closely at her face and notices the stippling—dirt and metal residue from the gunshot—embedded in her cheek. A contact wound.
“Did you know he had the gun?”
“He told me he got rid of it. Sold it.”
“What kind of gun did you think he sold?”
“A little cheap one.”
“Okay, honey, they’re getting ready to head for the hospital. I’ll see you there.”