Authors: David Simon
More often than not these days, Worden found himself talking seriously about packing it in. But a large part of him didn’t even want to think about retirement; the department had been his home since 1962—his arrival in homicide marked the last curl in a long, graceful arc. For three years, Worden’s work in the unit had sustained and even revived him.
The Big Man took particular delight in his ongoing effort to break in the younger detectives in his squad, Rick James and Dave Brown. James was coming along all right, but in Worden’s mind Brown could go either way. Worden never hesitated to press the point, subjecting the younger detective to a training regimen best characterized as education-by-insult.
The least experienced man in the squad, Dave Brown tolerated the Big Man’s bluster—in large part because he knew Worden genuinely cared whether Brown stayed a detective, in smaller part because there was no real choice in the matter. The relationship between the two men was perfectly captured in a color photograph taken by a crime lab tech at a murder in Cherry Hill. In the foreground was an earnest Dave Brown, collecting discarded beer cans near the shooting scene in the vain and excessively optimistic hope that they might have anything at all to do with the killing. In the background, sitting on the front stoop of a public housing unit, was Donald Worden, watching the younger detective with what appears to be a look of unequivocal disgust. Dave Brown liberated the photograph from the case file and took it home as a memento. It was the Big Man that Brown had come to know and love. Cantankerous, annoyed, ever critical. A last, lonely centurion who sees both his affliction and his challenge in a younger generation of menials and incompetents.
The photograph showed the Big Man at the height of his powers: abrasive, confident, the nettled conscience of every younger or less experienced detective on the shift. And, of course, the Cherry Hill case went down, with Worden getting the tip that led to the murder weapon at the
home of the shooter’s girlfriend. But that was when Worden still felt some delight at being a homicide detective. That was before Monroe Street.
Climbing into a Cavalier on the mezzanine level, James decides to risk conversation one more time.
“If this is a murder,” he says, “I’ll be the primary.”
Worden looks at him. “You don’t want to see if someone’s been locked up first?”
“No, babe. I need the money.”
“You’re a whore.”
James rolls the car down the garage ramp, over to Fayette, then north on Gay Street to Greenmount, preoccupied with the complex computations of anticipated overtime. Two hours at the scene, three hours of interrogation, another three for paperwork, four more for the autopsy; James thinks about how sweet twelve hours of time-and-a-half will look on his pay stub.
But it is not a murder on Greenmount; it isn’t even a straight shooting. Both detectives know that after listening to a sixteen-year-old witness rattle through an incoherent three-minute monologue.
“Whoa, start from the beginning. Slowly.”
“Derrick came running in …”
“That’s my brother.”
“How old is he?”
“Seventeen. He come running through the front door and upstairs. My older brother went up and found him shot and called nine-one-one. Derrick said he was at the bus stop and got shot. That’s all he said.”
“He didn’t know who shot him?”
“No, he say he just got shot.”
Worden takes the flashlight from James and walks outside with a patrolman.
“Are you the first officer?”
“No,” says the uniform. “That’s Rodriguez.”
“Where is he?”
“He went to shock-trauma with your victim.”
Worden shoots the patrolman a look, then walks back toward the front door of the house and turns the flashlight on the floor of the porch. No blood trail. No blood on the door handle. The detective scans the brick front of the rowhouse with the light. No blood. No fresh damage.
One hole, but too even to be from a bullet. Probably an old drill hole for a light fixture.
Worden takes the flashlight back down the front walk toward the street. He walks back inside the house and checks the rooms upstairs. Still no blood. The detective walks back downstairs and listens to James questioning the sixteen-year-old.
“Where’d your brother run to when he came in the house?” Worden interrupts.
“There’s no blood upstairs.”
The kid looks at his shoes.
“What’s going on here?” says Worden, pressing him.
“We cleaned it up,” the kid says.
“You cleaned it up?”
“Oh,” says Worden, rolling his eyes. “Let’s go back upstairs then.”
The kid takes the stairs two at a time, then turns into the clutter and disarray of a teenager’s room, replete with pinups of models in bikinis and posters of New York rappers in designer sweats. Without further prompting, the sixteen-year-old pulls two bloodstained sheets from a hamper.
“Where were those?”
“On the bed.”
“On the bed?”
“We turned over the mattress.”
Worden flips the mattress. A red-brown stain covers a good quarter of the fabric.
“What jacket was your brother wearing when he came in?”
“The gray one.”
Worden picks up a gray puff jacket from a chair and checks it carefully, inside and out. No blood. He goes to the bedroom closet and checks every other winter coat, throwing each on the bed as James shakes his head slowly.
“Here’s what happened,” says James. “You were in here playing around with a gun and your brother got shot. Now if you start telling the truth, you’re not going to get locked up. Where’s the gun?”
“Jesus Christ. Where’s the goddamn gun?”
“Don’t know about no gun.”
“Your brother has a gun. Let’s just get the gun out of the way.”
“Derrick got shot at the bus stop.”
“The fuck he did,” says James, simmering. “He was fucking around in here and you or your brother or someone else shot him by accident. Where’s the fucking gun?”
“Ain’t no gun.”
Classic, thinks Worden, looking at the kid. Truly classic. A prime example of the Rule Number One of the guidebook of death investigation, the page 1 entry in a detective’s lexicon:
Murderers, stickup artists, rapists, drug dealers, drug users, half of all major-crime witnesses, politicians of all persuasions, used car salesmen, girlfriends, wives, ex-wives, line officers above the rank of lieutenant, sixteen-year-old high school students who accidentally shoot their older brother and then hide the gun—to a homicide detective, the earth spins on an axis of denial in an orbit of deceit. Hell, sometimes the police themselves are no different. For the last six weeks, Donald Worden has listened to a long series of statements by men wearing the uniform in which he has spent a lifetime, listened to them as they tried to get their stories straight and explain how they couldn’t possibly have been anywhere near that alley off Monroe Street.
James begins moving toward the bedroom door. “You tell us what you want,” he says bitterly. “When your brother dies, we’ll be back to charge you with the murder.”
The kid remains mute, and the two detectives follow the uniform out the front door. Worden holds his temper until the Cavalier is rolling back down Greenmount.
“Who the hell is this guy Rodriguez?”
“I guess you’re going to have something to say to him.”
“I’m gonna have a lot to say. The first officer to arrive protects the crime scene. And what do they do? They go to the hospital, they go to headquarters, they go to lunch and let the people pick the scene apart. What good he was gonna do at the hospital, I don’t know.”
But Rodriguez isn’t at the hospital. And there is no satisfaction for Worden in a brief discussion with the victim’s distracted mother, who sits with two other children in the trauma unit’s waiting room, clutching a tissue.
“I don’t know, honestly,” she tells the detectives. “I was sitting with my other son, watching TV, and I heard a noise, like a firecracker or the sound of glass breaking. Derrick’s brother James went upstairs and said
Derrick had been coming home from work and got shot. I told him not to play like that.”
“Mrs. Allen, I’m gonna be frank with you. Your son was shot in his room, more than likely by accident. Except for the bed, there was no blood anywhere, not even on the jacket he was wearing when he came in.”
The woman looks at the detective blankly. Worden continues, explaining her children’s effort to conceal the shooting scene and the probability that the handgun that has sent her son to surgery is still in the house.
“No one is talking about charging anyone. We’re from homicide and if it’s an accidental shooting, then we’re wasting our time and we just need to get it straightened out.”
The woman nods in vague agreement. Worden asks if she would be willing to call home and ask her children to turn over the weapon.
“They can leave it on the porch and lock the door if they want,” Worden says. “We’re just interested in getting the gun out of the house.”
The mother abdicates.
“I’d rather you do that,” she says.
Worden walks into the hall and finds Rick James, who is talking with a medical technician. Derrick Allen is critical but stable; in all probability, he will live to fight another day. And Officer Rodriguez, says James, is back at homicide, writing his report.
“I’ll drop you at the office. If I go back now I’m going to jump in someone’s shit,” says Worden. “I’ll take another trip by the house for the gun. Don’t ask me why I should care whether they keep the fucking thing or not.”
A half hour later, Worden is rechecking Derrick Allen’s bedroom and finds a hole in a back window and a spent bullet on an outside rear porch. He shows the slug and the window to the sixteen-year-old brother.
The kid shrugs. “I guess Derrick got shot in his room.”
“Where’s the gun?”
“Don’t know about no gun.”
It is a God-given truth: Everyone lies. And this most basic of axioms has three corollaries:
A. Murderers lie because they have to.
B. Witnesses and other participants lie because they think they have to.
C. Everyone else lies for the sheer joy of it, and to uphold a general principle that under no circumstances do you provide accurate information to a cop.
Derrick’s brother is living proof of the second corollary. A witness lies
to protect friends and relatives, even those who have wantonly shed blood. He lies to deny his involvement in drugs. He lies to hide the fact that he has prior arrests or that he is secretly homosexual, or that he even knew the victim. Most of all, he lies to distance himself from the murder and the possibility that he may one day have to testify in court. In Baltimore, a cop asks you what you saw and the requisite reply, an involuntary motor skill bred into the urban population over generations, is delivered with a slow shake of the head and an averted stare:
“I ain’t seen nothing.”
“You were standing next to the guy.”
“I ain’t seen nothing.”
Worden gives the kid one last, steady look.
“Your brother was shot in this room with a gun that he was playing with. Why don’t we get that gun out of the house?”
The teenager barely misses a beat.
“I don’t know about no gun.”
Worden shakes his head. He could call for the crime lab and spend a couple hours tearing the place apart in a search for the damn thing; if it were a murder, he’d be doing just that. But for an accidental shooting, what’s the point? Pull a gun out of this house and there’ll be another in its place by the end of the week.
“Your brother’s in the hospital,” say Worden. “Doesn’t that mean anything to you?”
The kid looks at the floor.
Fine, thinks Worden. I tried. I gave it a shot. So now keep the goddamn gun as a souvenir, and when you’ve shot yourself in the leg or put a round through little sister, you can call us again. Why, thinks Worden, should I waste time on your bullshit when there are people waiting in line to lie to me? Why hunt for your $20 pistol when I’ve got the quagmire that is Monroe Street on my desk?
Worden drives back to the office empty-handed, his mood even darker than before.
On the long wall of the coffee room hangs a large rectangle of white paper, running most of the room’s length. It is covered by acetate and divided by black rules into six sections.
Above the three right-hand sections is a letterplate bearing the name
of Lieutenant Robert Stanton, who commands the homicide unit’s second shift. To the immediate left, below the name of Lieutenant Gary D’Addario, are the three remaining sections. Underneath the nameplates of the two lieutenants, affixed to the top of each section, is the name of a detective sergeant: McLarney, Landsman and Nolan for D’Addario’s shift: Childs, Lamartina and Barrick for Stanton’s command.
Below each sergeant’s nameplate are brief listings of dead people, the first homicide victims of the year’s first month. The names of victims in closed cases are written in black felt marker; the names of victims in open investigations, in red. To the left of each victim’s name is a case number—88001 for the year’s first murder, 88002 for the second, and so on. To the right of each victim’s name is a letter or letters—A for Bowman, B for Garvey, C for McAllister—which correspond to the names of the assigned detectives listed at the bottom of each section.
A sergeant or lieutenant trying to match a homicide with its primary detective, or the reverse, can scan the sections of the white rectangle and in a matter of moments determine that Tom Pellegrini is working the murder of Rudy Newsome. He can also determine, by noting that Newsome’s name is in red ink, that the case is still open. For this reason, supervisors in the homicide unit regard the white rectangle as an instrument necessary to assure accountability and clerical precision. For this reason, too, detectives in the unit regard the rectangle as an affliction, an unforgiving creation that has endured far beyond the expectations of the now-retired sergeants and long-dead lieutenants who created it. The detectives call it, simply, the board.