Authors: Loren D. Estleman
“Hell, I didn’t know you. I guess you don’t remember me either.” Abandoning the safety zone behind the window post, the officer stepped forward and bent down, framing his face in the window. Rick turned on the domelight. A broad face, not young but not yet middle-aged, with a thick brown moustache rounded off at the ends. Rick didn’t know him.
“Roger Kornacki,” the officer said. “I was the officer on the scene on that nun killing at St. Benedict’s.”
Three years ago. “Oh, hello.”
They shook hands. Kornacki’s was twice the size of Rick’s, a big red palm built for wrapping around the handle of a welding torch at Dodge Main.
“That was some kill, that was. I lit a candle every Sunday for a month, but we never got the son of a bitch.” The big face flickered. “I’m sure sorry about that punk crack. I thought you were one of these dumb kids.”
“No, just dumb.”
Kornacki handed back the license and registration. “Saves me a lecture. So what are you doing these days?”
“Piecework. Mechanics mostly.”
After a short pause a throat cleared. “Well. Lay off the foot-feed, okay? We got to set an example, Christ knows why.”
“I didn’t even hear you coming. When’s the department going to install those new yelpers?”
“Commissioner says we’re getting all-new Pontiacs next spring.”
“Just as soon as Rock Hudson gets into Doris Day’s pants.”
Kornacki brayed. “You nailed that one. Well, remember what I said. It was good seeing you, Sarge.”
The light had changed several times while they were talking. When it turned green again Rick went ahead without looking back at the blue-and-white.
It had been ten months and two days since he had been forced to throw in his shield.
very low in that broken-gravel Dylan voice, saying someone was telling him he didn’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction. But the lyrics weren’t audible at that volume, only the buzz of the bass and the thump of the drums, making the tiny illuminated legend FM STEREO on the dial flicker with each note that fell below the staff.
The department band radio was also turned very low. The bored, one-sided conversations that lisped intermittently from the speaker weren’t intelligible to civilian ears. Lew Canada, who had not been a civilian since Corregidor, monitored the calls while watching the fire door in the alley across from the weedy lot where his Plymouth Fury was parked. The car was unmarked, black, with minimal chrome, only the concave grille gleaming softly in the reflected light, like the meshed teeth of one of those undersea predators that swim aimlessly with their mouths gaping, scooping up plankton and small creatures as they go.
The two radio frequencies belched and crackled like the digestive tract of that same animal. It made Canada, who knew nothing of the sea, think of evenings on his Uncle Herman’s beet farm in Mecosta County, lying with his head on the chest of Dolf, Herman’s bull mastiff, and listening to the double crash of the dog’s great heart pumping blood through arteries as thick as packing cord. Dead thirty years now, Dolf, the farm whose boundaries he marked with one leg in the air gone to the developers. But Uncle Herman lived, a hostage to his decomposing body, in a nursing home in Stockbridge, listening to the sounds of his own heart and waiting. When had Canada visited him last? Long enough ago to have forgotten its occasion. Canada had shot Dolf himself when the dog grew too old to walk without whimpering. That was the major advantage animals had over humans.
“You buy that, Inspector?”
He looked quickly at the man sitting behind the wheel. He wondered for a moment if he’d spoken his thoughts aloud. In the shadows, Sergeant Esther was a dark pile of inertia in a coat too heavy for late spring and a hat with a brim too broad for 1966, who always smelled of Ben-Gay. “Buy what?”
The sergeant gestured toward the radio. “What the pukes say. The end of the world and like that. Think there’s anything to it?”
“Kid stuff. They always think the fun’s going to be over before they can get in on it.”
“I don’t know. That thing in Cuba had me scared shitless for days.”
“It came out okay.”
“Then some puke goes and shoots Kennedy.”
“What do you care? You voted for Nixon.”
“Doesn’t mean I wanted some asshole to scatter his brains all over his wife’s dress. Talk about your hard-to-get-out stains.” Esther shifted his weight on the seat. The car leaned over on its springs. “The other day my daughter came home and called me a pig.”
“Did you hit her?”
“Not hard enough. If I ever called my old man a name like that I’d still be walking funny. That cocksucking Spock book Beth brought home when she was pregnant screwed us for life. The scroat raises his own army of spoiled little sons of bitches, then marches them on Washington to protest the fucking war. It’d do the little bastards good to ship out and worry about getting their balls shot off.”
“I wouldn’t wish combat on Khrushchev.”
Esther cleared his throat. “Sorry, Inspector. I was just talking.”
“They’re just kids. They like to listen to that monkey music and light up reefers and get their little carrots dipped. They’ll grow out of it.”
“You got kids, Inspector?”
“Not in my worst nightmare.”
“I got three, and the only time they grow out of anything is when they grow into something worse.”
Canada made no response and the pair settled into a mulch of silence. They had been watching the alley for an hour and a half. Two stray dogs had entered it an hour apart, sniffed around the base of the two painted trash cans standing by the fire door, then moved on. In between them an emaciated Negro in a streaked World War II army coat whom Esther vaguely recognized from some time or other in the squad room at 1300 had stumbled in, taken something from one of the cans the dogs had snubbed, and stumbled out after a minute wiping his hands on his coat. There had been no other activity. The alley ran behind an auto parts store on Gratiot.
The sergeant’s Ben-Gay burned Canada’s nostrils. The inspector had a sensitive nose, made more so by his personal cleanliness. His nails were always pinkish white and his black hair, barely splintered with silver at forty-nine, glistened, although he used nothing on it but hard water and Lifebuoy soap, a lot of Lifebuoy soap. His dark inexpensive suits and white shirts were never anything less than immaculate. “You could eat off the son of a bitch,” he had overheard his wife complaining to her sister on the telephone shortly before she walked out on him. She’d told him then that if she wanted to live in a bandbox she’d have married a haberdasher, and advised him to see a psychiatrist. He didn’t need to see a psychiatrist. He knew why he was the way he was.
“This snitch of yours reliable?” asked the sergeant.
“How reliable is a snitch?”
Esther didn’t answer. “Nineteen years I been a cop, I never saw a tip come to anything but crap. Tips don’t compare with good police work.”
“You know the drill. We run ’em out.”
“What I don’t know is what an inspector’s doing on a nickel stakeout like this. Day I make lieutenant I put my feet up on my desk and don’t take them off till the department buys me dinner.”
“That’s the day LBJ makes Eartha Kitt ambassador to South Vietnam.”
“I still think we’re—”
Canada touched Esther’s knee.
A late-model Pontiac had coasted to a stop in the alley just under the edge of the light from the lamp on the corner. The door on the passenger’s side caught the light on its markings when it opened. DETROIT POLICE.
The sergeant said shit.
The door on the other side came open almost simultaneously and the officer who had been driving moved to the back of the car. That end was in darkness, but the flatulent creak of a trunk hinge in need of oil reached the men in the unmarked Fury. A moment later the officer came back into the light carrying a chrome-plated pinch bar.
The sergeant said shit again.
Both officers were at the fire door now. Canada thought he knew which was which. Their faces were out of focus at that distance and they were built similarly, but he knew there was a fifteen-year difference in their ages, and older officers always carried themselves the same way; a legacy of the automobile industry’s inability to design a seat that didn’t ruin a man’s back after years of eight hours’ daily contact. The man with the wrecking tool—it would be Wasylyk, a year or two behind Canada at the Academy—slid it between the lock hasp and the jamb and tore the screws out of the wooden frame after two tries. He tugged the door open by its handle. He handed the pinch bar to his partner, accepted a black rubber police flashlight in return, and went inside. The other officer leaned his shoulders against the door and crossed his ankles. He flipped the pinch bar end over end twice and slid it into the loop on his belt designed for his baton.
“Cool as a can of Schlitz,” Esther said. “I wrote that little fucker Drachler up for a commendation two years ago.”
Canada said, “He probably earned it.”
“When do we go in?”
After a few minutes the younger officer stirred from the door and Wasylyk pushed it open from inside, stooping to prop it in place with a box the size of a beer case. He went back inside and came out carrying another box, which Drachler took from him and carried back toward the rear of the patrol car. By the time he returned empty-handed, Wasylyk had another box for him.
Canada handed Sergeant Esther a pair of binoculars. “Can you make it out?”
“Disk brakes. I’d have picked radios.”
“They don’t stock them. I checked.”
“Let’s take ’em down.”
“Hold your bladder. Let me know when they unprop the door.” The inspector slumped down and tilted his narrow-brimmed hat onto the bridge of his nose.
“They got more horsepower than us. If they get out of that alley—”
“Don’t let them.”
Esther watched for a few more minutes. “There goes the door.”
Canada sat up and pushed back his hat. He’d actually been asleep. “Well, don’t wait for Christmas.”
The sergeant dumped the binoculars and hit the ignition. The Fury’s motor gunned, its rear tires kicked up divots of grass laced with condoms and broken beer bottles, and they shot across Gratiot behind a Sinclair oil tanker with a brontosaurus painted on its side. Esther jerked on the lights just as they entered the alley. The high beams washed the blue-and-white and the brick wall on either side in blinding platinum. Quick-frozen in the glare, the two uniformed officers stood white-eyed, holding on to both ends of a box of disk brakes.
The crunch of the Fury’s tires as Esther braked ended that. The box hit the pavement with a crash and Drachler and Wasylyk scrambled for the doors of the marked Pontiac. Canada piled out of his side an instant ahead of Esther and locked both arms across the top of the open door with his blunt-barreled Chief’s Special clenched in both hands.
“Guess who, motherfuckers!” he shouted.
The sergeant had assumed the same stance with his own revolver trained across the top of the door on the driver’s side. “Police! Hold it right there!”
Halfway across the front of the patrol car, Drachler faltered, then stopped and threw his hands straight up. “Jesus, don’t shoot me!”
Canada lost interest in him then. He was watching Wasylyk’s face behind the patrol car’s windshield. A pouchy face, grayish in the light—probably in any light—looking years older than Canada’s. It sagged before the inspector’s eyes like a tent collapsing. Slowly an arm came out through the open door with the departmental Smith & Wesson dangling by its butt from between thumb and forefinger. The hand kept going up and laid the gun on the roof of the car. Wasylyk started to get out.
“Now the throwaway,” Canada said.
In a moment a nickel-plated Browning .25 automatic with black sidegrips had joined the revolver on the roof. Wasylyk came out with his hands over his head and the two plain-clothesmen left cover. Sergeant Esther flung Drachler facedown across the hood of the patrol car, handcuffed him, and relieved him of his sidearm and the pinch bar on his belt.
“I’ll call it in,” Esther said, panting a little.
“Not yet.” Canada, who had not cuffed the older officer, put away the Chief’s Special and told him to lower his hands. When he obeyed, Canada touched his arm and they moved away from the car.
“Piss-poor, Ed,” Canada said. “Break in someplace and loot it, then call it in as a B-and-E. I’d have thought thirty years with the department would teach you something more original.”
“Twenty-nine,” corrected Wasylyk. “Feels like fifty.” His voice, coarse and thick with phlegm, sounded like a flooded carburetor.
“I pulled your jacket. You’ve got commendations up the ass. I’ve got to ask why this.”
“You know what the job pays.”
“Screw that. A street cop can pull down a thousand a week just by knowing what doorways to stay out of. A couple of hundred in parts? Don’t insult me.”
“Let’s just get to the booking. I got the same rights as any asshole junkie and one of them’s to keep my mouth shut.”
“If I wanted to book you, you’d be on your way downtown by now. Answer the question, shithead.”
Wasylyk looked down the alley. There were white whiskers in the creases of his cheeks. “They passed me over for detective again. My wife and I were counting on that promotion for a decent pension when I retired next year. Then she went and died.”
“You son of a bitch.”
“I don’t mean bullshit she died. I mean bullshit you don’t care any more. You just got too lazy to do the job by the numbers.”
“What would it take to light a fire under your lazy butt?” Canada asked.
Tobacco teeth showed in Wasylyk’s sneer. “You recruiting me to spook for Internal Affairs?”
“I’m not with Internal Affairs.”
“The hell you’re not. Everyone knows you run it.”
“Some college punk with a slide rule runs it. I work for the mayor.”