Short Stories 

 

 

 

Sunday
Feb262012

Short Stories by John A. Bray and Warren Bull

John A. Bray

 

The Sergeants’ Club

 

Sergeant Dan Samuels directed his driver to pull to the curb near a dilapidated building in a rundown section of South Jamaica, Queens. The boarded-up storefronts, overturned trash cans, the smell of uncollected garbage, the littered streets, gave the neighborhood an aura of decay and sadness. He unfolded his more than six-foot frame from the radio car, adjusted his uniform cap to the correct angle, and walked to a shuttered glass paneled door. He rapped three times and after a moment’s pause the man inside parted the closed blinds to peer between the slats.

“Open up, Nate. It’s me, your old friend, Dan.”

“Hey, Dan, I see you, ain’t got no time right now, got to tally up, near the end of the day. Got to see who hit the horse today. Can’t keep my customers waiting if they hit, see me tomorrow, OK?”

Nate’s dark face glistened with sweat in the still, muggy air of a humid summer evening. His voice, muffled behind the thin glass, made it obvious that he was reluctant to admit the burly sergeant.

Nate said through the door, “I don’t need nobody messing with my action, man.”

Aware of the nature of the visit, Nate had no inclination to interrupt his tally for the unwelcome Saturday night call, but he knew if he sent Dan away, another of the precinct sergeants would follow up. They made regular stops to pick up their weekly envelope.

The uniformed force seldom had direct contact with off-street gambling activities, but some months earlier a sergeant on routine patrol had noticed furtive activity in and out of Nate’s storefront. He made an accurate guess that it was an active gambling location. He discussed his discovery with the other precinct sergeants; they verified his suspicion with a few discreet inquiries.

 

Andy Pearson, the unit training sergeant and general factotum around the stationhouse for the captain, managed the clandestine operation called “the sergeants’ club.” He made it a practice to give every sergeant an opportunity to pick up from his regular stops.

Pulling Dan aside in their locker room one afternoon before Dan started his four-to-midnight tour, he said, “Hey kid, why don’t you stop by that bookmaker on Archer Avenue and pick up our weekly nut? You know, knock on his door when you’re sure there’s activity inside, introduce yourself and tell him you’re there about business. His name is Nate. He’s been good for it on a regular basis.”

“Right Andy, I’ll do it tonight while I’m on patrol,” Dan said.

 “By the way,” Andy continued, “the division gambling enforcement guys don’t need to know that we take a piece of the pie. Don’t say anything if they ever ask you. They get their own regular envelope. Just lean on Nate a little if he balks. Remind him that we can post a uniformed man in front of his store and screw up his action.”

Dan felt a frisson of excitement at his acceptance into the inner circle and the vote of trust from his brother sergeants. Working in a precinct like this where an envelope with a share of the club proceeds came every month he could pile up a nest egg and buy the extras for his family he had always wanted and could not yet afford.

“Sure Andy, what did we put him on for?”

“About a C-note a week,” Andy said

 

Now Dan came to collect. “Don’t keep me out here, Nate. Open up,” he said.

With reluctance Nate unlocked the door, “Like I told you, man, ain’t a good time.”

Dan stepped into the store front, took note of the chipped, scuffed desks with the antique adding machines, old torn leatherette chairs, some without casters, the dented file cabinets, shoved at random against the paint-flaked walls. The stale odor of dried sweat hung in the air in the unventilated room. From where he stood he could not see the full extent of Nate’s operation, which encompassed not only his own action, but bets laid off to him from smaller bookmakers in the area.

       Dan said, “My man, just put the nice dead presidents in the envelope like always and I’ll be on my way. We wouldn’t want anything bad to happen here, like we send a radio car to sit in front on a fixed post, would we?”

“Wait right here, Sarge.”

He disappeared into the back of the store and returned with an envelope that held a sheaf of twenty-dollar bills.

“Little bit less than usual, I’ll make it up next time, got to give old Nate some breathing room.”

Dan glared at the aging bookmaker with eyes gimlet-hard. His craggy, lined face gave him the aspect of maturity beyond his years. Nate looked away rather than meet that menacing stare.

“Okay, Bro,” the sergeant said. “Somebody be back same time, same station next week.  It had better all be there.”

”Don’t worry, Sarge,” Nate said.

He closed the door behind the departing sergeant and shuffled back into the rear room with the girls hard at work as they compared the runners’ slips with the day’s results at Aqueduct.

 

Two days later Dan left the stationhouse after a four to twelve tour, headed to the Belt system, the access to the Southern Parkway, and the drive eastward headed home. Southbound toward the parkway on Springfield Boulevard he glanced in the rear-view mirror and noticed a dark-colored Ford sedan maintaining a fixed distance behind him. It sped up and passed him on the left. In his peripheral vision he saw three men in suits, another quick look in the mirror spotted yet another dark sedan, and another still further back. The second car tore past him on the left at speed and the third car took its place in the rear-view mirror. When he changed to the left lane the first car slowed and dropped back on his right. He recognized a leap-frog tail.

Approaching the entrance ramp to the parkway, he looked again in his side view mirror. The two dark-colored Ford sedans closed up as the one in front slowed. Street instinct informed by years of police experience told him that the vehicles that followed him foreshadowed nasty, fateful consequences.

Once he reached the highway the unmarked cars bracketed his red four-door Chevy, front, back and side. The hard-faced man in the passenger’s seat of the car abreast motioned him to stop on the grassy shoulder. The pursuit vehicles slowed and stopped a few feet before and behind Dan’s car. All the occupants of the Fords except the drivers got out and approached from both sides of his auto. The man from the lead car displayed his captain’s shield, directed him to switch off the ignition, and motioned him out of his car. The others surrounded Dan’s red Chevy.

“Internal Affairs,” the captain said. “Stand still with your hands on the roof of the car. We’re going to remove your weapon. “

“Can I ask what this is all about?” Dan said over his shoulder as the men in suits crowded around him.

“Just shut up and get in the car behind yours, you’ll find out in due time.”

“Am I under arrest?”

The captain snapped at him, “I told you shut up, we’re going to our office, you’ll be told what’s going on there.”

The small motorcade sped along the Belt Parkway toward Brooklyn with Dan in the rear seat of the lead car. During the drive he reflected on the dependency long ago left behind when he had joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and the addiction to easy money that had replaced it. His car, driven by one of the investigators, followed close behind. Dan began to sweat, hoping they wouldn’t find his monthly envelope in the glove compartment stuffed with his share of the sergeants’ club proceeds. Confident that similar enterprises existed everywhere in the job, he had never believed that membership in their little scheme would end in a tight spot like this. He had considered it one of the perquisites of his rank and assignment. All the participants rationalized that they only took “clean” money: bookmakers, the numbers racket, small storeowners who paid to have the precinct overlook minor code and parking violations, but no drug or prostitution shakedowns.

When the cars arrived at the 84th Precinct, where the Internal Affairs Division occupied a separate secure wing of the building, they parked and entered through a side door entrance. A flight of steps up a narrow, musty stairwell illuminated by dim ceiling bulbs led to the IAD offices on the second floor. In a large central area, the walls stood lined with locked olive-drab cabinets crammed with archives that contained years of closed cases, and distinctive bright red cabinets with the current active cases. The largest office with its open, glass façade reserved for the commanding officer, Assistant Chief Inspector DiNapoli, permitted a view of the entire floor. The Chief directed Dan to a small, cramped cubicle used as an interrogation room. Some of the other superior officers sat crowded around Dan at the small metal table in the center.

“Let me tell you why you’re here. We’ve been notified of a court-ordered eavesdropping device installed in a bookmaking location on Archer Avenue by Internal Revenue Intelligence.   You, my friend, are on record conducting a shakedown of the surveillance subject. You used words like, ‘put the dead presidents in an envelope’ and ‘we wouldn’t want anything bad to happen here, like have a radio car sit outside on a fixed post.’ That sounds like extortion to us.

       “I’ll explain your choices,” the Chief said.  “We can arrest you right now and you face upstate time for extortion, or you can cooperate with us. Right now we want you to tell us about the set-up the sergeants have for the pick-up and distribution of money.”

Dan knew that long service in Internal Affairs led the Chief to a facile expectation that most cops would succumb to fright at the prospect of arrest and loss of job.

He said, “Not without my delegate or SBA attorney present. If I’m questioned about a crime I have a right not to answer without representation or at least a guarantee of some immunity. What would this cooperation involve, anyway?”

“Shut up and let me finish,” the Chief said, “We want you to wear a body wire and record everybody you work with in the precinct, the other sergeants and anyone else you share money with. Your other option is to go to jail.”

Dan steeled his nerve and did some quick calculations. “Did you say an eavesdrop by a Federal agency on a bookmaker, for what, tax evasion?”

The Chief’s face grew hostile, “Don’t take that tone with me, Sergeant. You do what you’re told. If you don’t cooperate now, we’ll get you and everyone else eventually. You can think about your right to remain silent when you’re doing upstate time.”

Dan visualized his career disintegrating as he sat there and faced the decision of a lifetime. This time there would be no rescuer like the department chaplain who had sent him to rehab for those years after a night of drunken violence that had ended in his arrest. He had saved his job then, with the monsignor’s intercession. Now this looked like a dead-end. He ran the odds through his head and thought, “Don’t get too cocky, they take offense easily and could give me charges just for being a smart ass. On the other hand I can’t do this to the other guys in the precinct.”

       “You don’t have a lot of time to make up your mind. You decide now or we take your gun and shield, suspend and arrest you,” the Chief said with a harsh snarl.

Dan balanced his options with a quick mental calculation: I just look stupid---maybe I talk stupid, but…

He said aloud, “With all due respect, Chief, no Federal agency would release the contents of an ongoing investigation just to hang a cop, and they won’t let a bookmaker roll over on a cop that quickly either, while their own case is ongoing. Even if you only give me charges, you would still need a witness, or at least the tape for evidence. So I think I’ll take a pass on your offer for now. If you’ll just have someone return my weapon, I’ll be on my way.”

“OK, wise guy,” the Chief said. “When we get the full transcript and not just excerpts, we’ll have our evidence. We’ll see how clever you are when we put the cuffs on you. There’s always tomorrow. Cops like you put their own head in a noose in the end.”

He motioned to a subordinate sitting in the room. “Sgt. Jones, give this clown his weapon and escort him to his car.” He glowered at the target of the investigation and snapped, “Remember what I just said, Samuels, there’s always tomorrow.”

As Dan waited for his weapon, his instinct told him the Chief would plan to land hard on the precinct. They’ll want to start tailing people and figure out where we make our pick-ups. They could even bug the locker room. I wonder if the other guys will have sense enough to lay low.

Dan found the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway a quick route east to the Island. He sped along in sparse late night traffic and watched for the merge onto the Long Island Expressway and the long drive home. It was agony to think about how to explain all this to Jenny, his wife of ten years, who had stood by him through all the rough spots. He took his first deep breath in hours: Dan, my man, the time has come to resign from the now very risky sergeants’ club. I’ve got to pass the word to the guys about possible surveillance.

 

On his next day tour, Dan made a point to find Andy Pearson.

“Look, Andy, I got to tell you, I was stopped by IAD on the way home a couple of nights ago.”

Andy looked at him with a cautious expression, “Yeah, and…?”

“They picked me up on an eavesdrop the Feds have on that bookmaker down on Archer Avenue when I made that stop last week. They wanted me to wear a wire against the guys in the precinct.”

Andy’s face grew hostile, “So what did you tell them?”

“I told them no, of course.”

Andy spun on his heel and snapped over his shoulder, “Yeah, I’ll bet.”

“Wait there’s more to the story, Andy. I wouldn’t tell you all this if I rolled over, would I?”

Andy kept walking with a dismissive wave of his hand over his shoulder.

Aware that he was compromised at both ends of the spectrum, no longer considered an insider in the precinct and a target for the vultures at IAD, Dan would be a pariah no matter which way this mess went. His anxiety began to build as he pondered the inevitable.

When he mustered the courage to discuss it at home, he sat head in hands and explained to Jenny, “I know those IAD snakes will be back for me when they flip that bookmaker. It goes against everything I believe in to roll on my friends but there comes a time to save my own skin.

“I can’t face state time and the precinct guys are going to freeze me out anyway. Wearing a wire now is futile but I can give IAD the collection lists and who makes the stops, maybe save me from some of the impact of a sentence.”

Jenny tried hard to stem her tears. “There comes a time when you have to think about us and the kids. You know, Dan, you had a close call when the monsignor salvaged your job years ago. No one is going to save you now, but yourself. You’ve warned the other guys, now it’s up to them to save themselves.”

Offered immunity from prosecution during the ensuing investigation, and permitted to take early vested-interest retirement in exchange for his cooperation, Dan reluctantly agreed for the sake of his family. The subpoena from the Special State Prosecutor investigating police corruption was delivered to Dan at his home. He slumped on the sofa and opened the paper he had been handed. You are hereby commanded by the Supreme Court of Queens County to appear and give testimony in the criminal trial of Sergeant Andrew Pearson…

 

Some months later, the Suffolk County Homicide Squad took a statement from a horrified witness at a grisly scene: “I was stopped at a traffic light on Bay Shore Road and I watched a pedestrian begin to cross the wide intersection a block away. A dark station wagon shot past me with its lights doused. It struck him full force as he jogged across. His body bounced on the roof of the car and landed head first on the pavement. The car fish-tailed around the next corner and was gone.”

The Queens Homicide Squad has never located the vehicle or the driver and did not spend more than perfunctory effort. The case of the vehicle homicide of former Sergeant Daniel Samuels is still open.

 

John A. Bray is a former police officer. He is the author of two full length novels, "The Ballad of Johnny Madigan" and "The Confidential" published by BeWrite Books. A third novel, "Code Name: Caleb," is awaiting publication by BeWrite.

He is also the author of several short stories published by on-line magazines including digitaldragon.com and sexandmurder.com.

 

Warren Bull

 

Lucky Streak

 

            I am seated in Mindy’s restaurant about one thirty in the morning trying to make myself invisible, responding to greetings from my friends and associates, but  not initiating contact.  I have done something that would arouse their disapprobation. I hope it does not show.

        

             We are, by and large, an amiable group, quick to condone almost anything.  If Pig Iron decides to employ his sap on a fellow who is sappy enough to attempt to transport a pocketful of moola through a dark alley, who are we to criticize him?  Given the chance we might do the same. Maybe the sap will learn something important for the low price of a sore head.

             If some yokel chooses to play cards with Lefty Tucker’s deck, we are not hoity toity enough to tell him that all the cards are marked. He could just play the hands dealt with the numbers facing outward to make it easier on both of them.  Maybe the yokel will wise up enough to join our game, where he will have an actual, albeit slim, chance of not being cleaned out completely. After all, everyone needs to make a living.

            What worries me is that I can usually consult with Gentleman Johnny or the Professor about unexpected events.   This time I am not certain who to talk to. The problem I have is so unusual that I could only think of one man with similar experiences.

             For the past two weeks I have been hitting daily doubles and trifectas more than half the time.  Lady Luck took my side in the sport of kings. I accumulated so much lettuce that I ran out of places to stash it.  Maybe I was selfish, but I did not see the point of financing the likes of Pig Iron and his brethren.  Finally, I got up the nerve to talk to Mindy himself --  not only the soul of discretion, but also the only man I knew who goes to bed every night richer than he was the morning before.

            Mindy walked me into his bank —without guns or disguises, in broad daylight.  The clerk behind the cage explained that if I put the cash in, I can take it out whenever I want (as long as the bank is open). He said the bank will even give me more money to keep my money for me in what he called a savings account.  I asked about robberies but the clerk assured me my loot will be guaranteed.  Before I could get detailed information about the alarms and the armored car delivery schedule, Mindy hustled me out.

            I know my reputation would be ruined if anyone found out I was a solid citizen so I search intently for a way to redeem myself.

            A few tables away, Canvas Kelly is having a heated discussion with a fine figure of a young man.  Canvas used to be a welterweight boxer. He earned the moniker Canvas from being knocked out and kissing the floor of the ring so often. Then he wises up and becomes a manager.  He knows every punch so up close and personally that he actually manages fighters well. Canvas has cauliflower ears and a flattened nose. He looks even uglier than usual sitting next to a man who could play the romantic lead or even a singing cowboy in the movies. When Canvas puts his head in his hands, I slip over to the unlikely pair.

              I introduce myself.

            “I’m delighted to meet you, sir,” says the young man. “I’m Conrad Whitman.”

            Canvas lets out a low groan.

            “There appears to be some disagreement between you and Canvas.”

            “Canvas is my manager and I have a six-round fight with Dave Sharkey tomorrow.”

             “Why are you here and not home in bed?”

            “Canvas brought me here to meet some tough guys,” says Whitman.  “He hoped they would inspire me for the fight. I’ve met them but…” He shrugs.

            Canvas raises his head and looks at me, “You’re not tough.”

            “I never said I was,” I reply.

             “Look at this kid.  He’s handsome. He’s built like, what was the name of that Greek statue you showed me?”

              Whitman looks embarrassed. “Adonis.”

              “He can avoid a punch. He can take a punch, but he can’t box,” says Canvas.

            “Why not?” I ask.

            “He’s got the first name of Connie, like a girl, and the last name of a poet. He’s afraid he’s gonna’ hurt the other guy if he really lets loose.”

            Whitman’s face reddens. “The one time I got angry and struck someone as hard as I could, he sustained considerable damage.”

             “So why fight at all?” I ask Whtiman.

            “My father played the stock market, badly.  The more he lost, the more he borrowed from an unsavory individual.  I fear the man he is in debt to does not listen to reason.  The, excuse my language, ‘gangster’ may even cause him injury. I dropped out of university to try to hold father’s creditors at bay.”

            “I know people like that, personally,” I comment.  “I am not offended. So what happened that time when you got angry?”

            “A man, uh, made certain disparaging remarks about a young lady of my acquaintance.  We were in a place she wanted to visit that was full of colorful characters. I wasn’t wise to take her there, but when that brute made his remarks. I lost my temper.”

            “And that’s when I happen to see what a right hook young Connie has,” says Canvas.  “Bam! One punch knockout. I know he is a natural so I offer to sign him to  a contract and train him.”  Canvas shakes his head. “We get to the first fight and he plays paddy cake for four rounds.  The bum he’s fighting can’t touch him so he wins, but the crowd hates him.”

            “Nevertheless, I won enough money to stave off disaster at least  momentarily,” says Whitman.  “I paid interest on the loan.”

            “Yeah, Jersey John Ferrara says the dough covered the old man’s vig, but he still owes the original amount he borrowed. So I get Connie another fight and it’s another game of tag. Connie wins and the crowd hates him even more than last time.”

            “That money paid down the principal,” says Whitman.

            “Yeah,” says Canvas, “Three more fights; same story. Now everybody in the fight game hates him.  They think he’s a highbrow spoiled rich kid making a joke of mugs that gotta’ fight to earn a living.  They want to see someone mess up pretty boy’s face. Jersey John sets up the fight tomorrow and choses his opponent, Dave Sharkey.”

            I whistle. Dave “the shark” Sharkey goes wild at the sight of blood. He has been suspended for kneeing an opponent in the groin, for hitting after the bell and once for hitting a man during the handshake before the fight started.  The mob kept bringing him back. Jersey John set up the college kid for the beating of his life. Whitman will be lucky if he can understand kindergarten classes after the fight. He will come out looking like Frankenstein’s monster after a bad day at the laboratory.

            “I know Mr. Sharkey is supposed to hurt me to please the crowd,” says Whitman.  “But Mr. Ferrara promised if I win he will reduce my father’s debt to five thousand dollars. I have to take the fight regardless of the risk.  I might be able beg or borrow that much.”

            “His brain’s gonna’ be oatmeal after the fight,” moans Canvas.

            “My father’s health is at risk if I don’t,” says Connie.

            “Have you told him about the shark?” I ask Canvas.

            “No. He’d be petrified if I did,” says Canvas.  “He might run out on me. If I don’t deliver him, Jersey John will come after me.”

            I wonder if Lady Luck is still hanging to my coattails. There is one way to find out.

            “Canvas, sell me half of Connie’s contract,” I say.

             “You’re nuts,” says Canvas.  “Tomorrow it won’t be worth a plugged nickel. I’ll give it all to you for a dime.”

            “I will give you a hundred dollars, cash, for the full contract, right now.”

            “Done,” says Canvas.  He writes it on a napkin. Whitman, Mindy and Gentleman Johnny sign as witnesses.  After learning where and when the fight will take place, I promise to show up in the dressing room ahead of time. I send Whitman and Canvas home to bed.

            I sit and go over every angle in my head.  If betting a trifecta is risky, my scheme is close to insane.

            Early the next morning I meet with Inky Swartz.  He gets me what I need.  Then I call Jersey John and introduce myself.

            “Why should I care who you are?” he asks

            “I own Conrad Whitman’s boxing contract,” I say.

            “Whatever you paid for it, you got gyped. Don’t even try to cancel or postpone the beating that boy’s gonna’ get.”

            “I would like to meet with you after the fight,” I say.

             “Why?”

            “He’s going to win. His father will be part way out of debt.  I want to buy the rest of the old man’s marker.”

             Jersey John laughs. “That’s a good one.  You just made my day.  If Connie boy beats Sharkey, I’ll sell his daddy’s marker to you for five thousand dollars cash.”

                                                                 …

            I gather my papers, clean out my bank account, and go to the Garden. Whitman’s fight is on the undercard, but there is a good crowd gathering there to watch him get butchered. In the locker room he looks pale and resigned.

            “I have things to show you, Whitman,” First I take out the money.  “I have enough money to pay your father’s debt in full if, and only if, you win this fight.”

            He looks at me uncertainly.

            “I know you can win.  Whether or not you do is up to you. After you win, I will pay off his debt and I will give you fair terms to pay me back.”

            “Any terms you want,” says Whitman.  “It’ll protect my father.”

            “I know you worry about hurting your opponents,” I say.  “I want to let you know about Dave ‘the shark’ Sharkey.” I show him a copy of every newspaper article that had ever been written about Sharkey.

            I start with the terrible things he had done in the ring.  Then I go through his criminal history and I end with Sharkey’s evident pleasure in beating up women.

Whitman becomes more and more angry.

            “That is the man you will face tonight.  Your future, my future and your father’s future all depend on whether or not you are willing to do anything it takes to defeat him.”

            Throughout the introductions and referee’s instructions Whitman looks dazed.  Sharkey looks fat and out of shape. He yawns. Evidently he expects to hand out a beating without any problems.

            The bell for the first round rings.  The shark runs into a killer whale.

                                                                          …

            I meet with Jersey John afterwards. I hand him five thousand dollars in cash and he gives me the marker.

“You know you’ve got something worth a lot more than this money,” he says.  “You’ve got the college boy’s boxing contract.  Let’s talk about that.”

            “I am sorry, Mr. Ferrara, but I do not think that the kid will fight any more.  He only fought because his father was in trouble.”

            “Think about it.  Even if he fights just one more time, the gate for the rematch with Sharkey could be tremendous.”

            He leans forward. “The word is you didn’t even bet on the fight. I admit after your phone call I laid off my own bets so I didn’t risk any money.  Why didn’t you put yours up?”

            “Well, I promised you five thousand right after the fight and that is all I had. I knew you wouldn’t want to wait. Besides I’m working another angle.”

            I tip my fedora and leave.  In the dressing room Whitman is battered, but triumphant.  “Boy, I’ve never been hit that hard.  He was tough.”

            “You were tougher,” I say. “I have your father’s marker. I rip it in two. He is clean but you better keep him away from stock brokers.”

            “Mother now has full control of family finances,” says Whitman.  “Now tell me your terms and I will agree to them.”

            “Okay, kid. It is what they call a long-term investment. You go back to college and finish your degree in whatever it is.  Once you start to work, you can pay me back over time at the current bank loan rate of interest.”

            “Really?”

            “I do not think you would make as much clerking in a store or sweeping streets. Do you?”

            “Well, actually I might,” said Whitman. “I didn’t mean to mislead you but I have my heart set on a ministry with youth from the slums.”

            I feel the heavy chains of respectability drop from my shoulders. I am broke again. I am no longer a solid citizen.  I can hold up my head at Mindy’s. If any mug tries to put the bite on me I can tell him I only have lint in my pockets.

            The three of us have a good laugh, me, Whitman and Lady Luck.

 

 

Warren Bull is an award-winning author of Abraham Lincoln for the Defense, (Smashwords, 2010 http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/13700) and Murder Manhattan Style, (Ninth Month Publishing Co., 2010 http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/13700) as well as more than thirty short stories. His new book, Heartland  is currently available in paperback by Avignon Press.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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