Authors: David Simon
“First of all, I take it you are of the Roman Catholic faith.”
“And proud of it.”
“Fine. Then let me ask: Do you accept me as your true and only begotten lieutenant?”
“And thou shalt have no other lieutenants before me?”
“And thou shalt forever keep this covenant and worship no false lieutenants?”
“Very good, sergeant,” says D’Addario, extending his right hand. “You may now kiss the ring.”
McLarney leans toward the large University of Baltimore band on the lieutenant’s right hand, feigning a gesture of exaggerated subservience. Both men laugh and D’Addario, satisfied, takes a cup of coffee back to his own office.
Alone in the coffee room, Terry McLarney stares at the long white rectangle, understanding that D’Addario has already forgotten and forgiven the wayward memo. But the red ink on D’Addario’s side of the board—that’s cause for some real concern.
Like most supervisors in the homicide unit, McLarney is a sergeant with a detective’s heart, and like D’Addario, he sees his role as largely
protectionist. In the districts, the lieutenants can order their sergeants and the sergeants can order their men, and it all works as the general orders manual says it should—chain of command is suited to patrol. But in homicide, where the detectives are paced as much by their own instinct and talent as by the caseload, a good supervisor rarely makes unequivocal demands. He suggests, he encourages, he prods and pleads ever so gently with men who know exactly what needs to be done on a case without having to be told. In many ways, a detective sergeant best serves his men by completing the administrative paperwork, keeping the brass at bay and letting the detectives do the job. It is a reasoned philosophy, and McLarney holds firm to it nine out of ten days. But every tenth day, something suddenly compels him to attempt a pattern of behavior consistent with the sort of sergeants they warn you about in the academy.
A heavyset Irishman with cherubic features, McLarney drapes one stubby leg over a desk corner and looks up at the white rectangle and the three red entries below his nameplate. Thomas Ward. Kenny Vines. Michael Jones. Three dead men; three open cases. Definitely not the best way for a squad to start a new year.
McLarney is still staring at the board when one of his detectives walks into the coffee room. Carrying an old case folder, Donald Waltemeyer grunts a monosyllabic greeting and walks past the sergeant to an empty desk. McLarney watches him for a few minutes, thinking of a way to begin a conversation he doesn’t really want to have.
“What are you looking at?”
“Old case from Mount Vernon.”
“Yeah, William Leyh, from eighty-seven. The one where the guy was tied up and beat,” says Waltemeyer, shuffling through the file to the five-by-seven color photos of a half-nude, blood-soaked wreck, hog-tied on an apartment floor.
“What’s up with that?”
“Got a call from a state trooper in New Jersey. There’s a guy in a mental institution up there who says he tied up and beat a guy in Baltimore.”
“Dunno. Me or Dave or Donald is going to have to go up there and talk to this guy. It could all be bullshit.”
McLarney shifts gears. “I always said you were the hardest-working man in my squad, Donald. I tell everybody that.”
Waltemeyer looks up at his sergeant with immediate suspicion.
“No, really …”
“What do you want, sergeant?”
“Why do I have to want anything?”
“Hey,” says Waltemeyer, leaning back in his chair, “how long have I been a policeman?”
“Can’t a sergeant compliment one of his men?”
Waltemeyer rolls his eyes. “What do you want from me?”
McLarney laughs, almost embarrassed at having been so easily caught playing the role of supervisor.
“Well,” he says, treading carefully, “what’s up with the Vines case?”
“Not much. Ed wants to bring Eddie Carey back in and talk to him, but there isn’t much else.”
“Well, what about Thomas Ward?”
“Talk to Dave Brown. He’s the primary.”
Pedaling with his feet, McLarney rolls his chair around to the side of Waltemeyer’s desk. His voice drops to a conspiratorial tone.
“Donald, we’ve got to make something happen with some of these fresh cases. Dee was in here looking at the board just a few minutes ago.”
“What are you telling me for?”
“I’m just asking you, is there anything that we’re not doing?”
“Is there anything
not doing?” says Waltemeyer, standing up and grabbing the Leyh file off the desk. “You tell me. I’m doing everything I can, but either the case is there or it isn’t. What should I be doing? You tell me.”
Donald Waltemeyer is losing it. McLarney can tell because Waltemeyer’s eyes have begun to roll up into his forehead the way they always do when he gets steamed. McLarney worked with a guy in the Central who used to do that. Nicest guy in the world. Pretty long fuse. But let some yo with an attitude ride him too far, those eyeballs would roll up like an Atlantic City slot. It was a sure sign to every other cop that negotiations had ended and nightsticks were in order. McLarney tries to shrug off the memory; he continues to press the point with Waltemeyer.
“Donald, I’m just saying it doesn’t look good to start out the year with so many cases in the red.”
“So what you’re saying to me, sergeant, is that the lieutenant came in here and looked at the board and gave you a little kick, so now you’re gonna kick me.”
The whole truth and nothing but. McLarney has to laugh. “Well, Donald, you can always go kick Dave Brown.”
“Shit rolls downhill, doesn’t it, sergeant?”
Fecal gravity. The chain of command defined.
“I don’t know,” says McLarney, backing away from the conversation as gracefully as possible. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen shit on a hill.”
“I understand, sergeant, I understand,” says Waltemeyer, walking out of the coffee room. “I been a policeman a long time now.”
McLarney leans back in his chair, resting his head against the office blackboard. He absently pulls a copy of the police department newsletter off the top of the desk and scans the front page. Grip-and-grin photographs of commissioners and deputy commissioners shaking hands with whichever cop managed to survive the last police shooting. Thank you, son, for taking a bullet for Baltimore.
The sergeant tosses the newsletter back on the desk, then gets up, giving one last glance at the board on his way out of the coffee room.
Vines, Ward and Jones. Red, red and red.
So, McLarney tells himself, it’s gonna be that kind of year.
Harry Edgerton begins the day right, his freshly shined loafer narrowly avoiding a piece of the dead man’s ear as he pushes through the screen door of a Northeast Baltimore townhouse.
“You just missed his ear.”
Edgerton looks up quizzically at a ruddy-faced patrolman leaning against a living room wall.
“What was that?”
“His ear,” the uniform says, pointing down at the parquet floor. “You just missed stepping on it.”
Edgerton looks down at a pale lump of flesh next to his right shoe. It’s an ear, all right. Most of the lobe and a short, curled stretch of the outer ridge, resting just beyond the welcome mat. The detective glances at the dead man and the shotgun on the sofa, then moves toward the other end of the room, choosing his steps carefully.
“How does that line go,” says the uniform, as if he had practiced it for a week. “Friends, Romans, countrymen …”
“Police are some sick fucks,” laughs Edgerton, shaking his head. “Who’s handling this one?”
“Straight-up suicide. She’s got it.”
An older patrolman points to a younger uniform sitting at the dining room table. The officer, a black woman with delicate features, is already writing out her incident report. Edgerton makes her immediately for a uniform new to the street.
The woman nods.
“You found him? What’s your unit number?”
“Did you touch him or move anything around?”
The woman looks at Edgerton as if he’s just dropped in from another solar system. Touch him? She doesn’t even want to look at the poor bastard. The woman shakes her head, then glances over at the body. Edgerton looks over at the red-faced officer, who understands and accepts the detective’s silent plea.
“We’ll walk her through it,” the older uniform says quietly. “She’ll be okay.”
The academy had been turning out policewomen for more than a decade and as far as Edgerton was concerned, the verdict was still out. Many women had joined the department with a reasonable understanding of the job and a willingness to perform; some were even good cops. But Edgerton knew there were others out on the street who were absolutely dangerous. Secretaries, the older hands called them. Secretaries with guns.
The tales became worse with each telling. Everyone in the department had heard about the girl out in the Northwest, a novice who got her gun taken from her by that mental case in a Pimlico convenience store. And there was that female officer in the Western who called in the Signal 13 while her partner was getting the shit kicked from him by a family of five in a Sector 2 rowhouse. When the radio cars came racing up the street, they found the woman standing at the curb, pointing toward the front door of the house like some kind of crossing guard. Stories like that could be heard in every district roll call room.
Even as other sections of the department became grudgingly familiar with the idea of women officers, the homicide unit remained a bastion of male law enforcement, a lewd, locker room environment where a second divorce was regarded almost as a rite of passage. Only one female detective had ever lasted for any length of time: Jenny Wehr spent three years in homicide, time enough to prove herself a good investigator and
exceptional interrogator, but not long enough to begin anything that could be considered a trend.
It was only two weeks ago, in fact, that Bertina Silver had transferred into the homicide unit on Stanton’s shift, making her the only female among thirty-six detectives and sergeants. In the judgment of other detectives who had worked with her in narcotics and patrol, Bert Silver was a cop: aggressive, hard, intelligent. But her arrival in homicide did little to change the prevailing political view among many detectives, who regarded the decision to give badges to women as unequivocal evidence that the barbarians were rattling the gates of Rome. For many in the homicide unit, the reality of Bertina Silver did not contradict the established theory, she was simply an exception. It was an unjustified but necessary contortion of logic that kept her out of the accepted equation: The women officers are secretaries, but Bert is Bert. Friend. Partner. Cop.
Harry Edgerton would have been the last person to complain about Bert Silver, whom he regarded as one of the unit’s better recruits. This opinion held despite a continuing campaign of aggression and hegemony being waged by Bert for partial control of Edgerton’s desk. After years of having a place to call his own in the homicide office, Edgerton had been told at the beginning of the year to double up with Bert because of a space shortage. He did so grudgingly and soon found himself on the defensive. Once such innocuous additions as family portraits and a gold statuette of a policewoman were granted space on the desktop, they were followed by hairbrushes and loose earrings in the upper right drawer. Then came the unending assault of the lipstick canisters and the arrival of a perfumed scarf that kept finding its way back to the bottom drawer, where Edgerton kept his suspect files from several previous drug investigations.
“That’s it,” said the detective, pulling the scarf out of the drawer and stuffing it into Bert’s mailbox for the third time. “If I don’t fight back, she’ll be putting curtains up in the interrogation room.”
But Edgerton didn’t fight back, and eventually Bert Silver had half the desk. In his heart of hearts, Harry Edgerton knows that is as it should be. Then again, this young thing writing an incident report at the dining room table is no Bert Silver. Despite the older officer’s assurance, Edgerton takes the uniform aside and speaks softly.
“If she’s the first officer, she’s going to have to wait for the crime lab and then do the ECU submissions.”
The comment is almost an open question. More than once a medical
examiner has turned a seeming suicide into a murder, and God knows it won’t do to have some recent academy product tangling up chain-of-custody on every item submitted to evidence control. The uniform understands without another word spoken.
“Don’t worry. We’ll walk her through it,” he repeats.
“She’ll be okay,” the officer says, shrugging. “Hell, she’s more on the ball than some we’re seeing.”
Edgerton opens his small steno pad and walks back into the dining room. He begins asking both uniforms the standard questions, pulling together the raw material for a death investigation.
On the first page, dated 26 Jan. in the upper right corner, the detective has already recorded the details of his own notification by a police dispatcher at 1:03
.: “1303 hours/Dispatch #76/serious shooting/5511 Leith Walk.” Two lines below that, Edgerton has recorded his time of arrival at the scene.
He adds the name of the young female officer, her unit number and time of arrival. He asks for the incident number, 4A53881—4 representing the Northeastern District, A signifying the month of January, the remaining digits the basic tracking number—and writes that down as well. Then he records the number of the city ambulance unit that responded and the name of the medic who pronounced the victim. He finishes off the first page with the time of the ambo crew’s pronouncement.
“Okay,” says Edgerton, turning to take his first interested look at the dead man. “Who do we have here?”
“Robert William Smith,” says the red-faced officer. “Thirty-eight, no … thirty-nine years.”