Cutting Room Excerpts #4
One more in our series of chapters that didn't make THE NIGHT POLICE final cut. This may have been round filed, but like all the rest, it's a true account fictionalized, only names and places have been changed to protect identities. Sometimes these excerpts aren't "publish-ready" as they were drafts, but you'll get the drift.
When you were a narcotics detective in a mid-size city, you might take part as a generalist as well. Along with a group of other detectives that chased robbers, bad check writers, hookers, burglars, your basic murderers and every other miscreant type you could think of.
As opposed to TV, there weren't huge teams of detectives chasing every category of crime. Detectives were always under-manned and only the sexiest misdeeds had bulked up teams. Apparently a squad of sex crimes guys could have a lot of resources. They were ugly crimes and the city administration focused on them. That focus was more based on the press and how they'd look if a sex crime case devolved into chaos or in some other way went awry. City's also staffed by frequency of event, if you routinely had a bunch of homicides, you'd have a more fully staffed 187 team. Trust me, the motivation for detectives was not the same as the motivation for the political and administrative types.
While the narcs played in the same sandbox, in fact, we were outliers from the detectives in slacks and sport coats. While we'd often support their efforts, if they needed some undercover skill sets, there was often a palpable distance. Hey, we got along, counted most of our counterpart detectives as friends, but it wasn't uncommon to hear a murmur of disaffection of our remit.
One detective I knew told our Detective Bureau Chief "fucking narcs are all dirty, keep 'em away from me". The quality of that statement spoke to three things in my mind. First was a total ignorance of what narcotics enforcement was really about. And not just ignorance, but this guy was so intimidated by the men and women who were narcotics agents he was absolutely not going to ask a question or learn a thing about our world. In today's world we'd call him an ignorant hater...aren't they all?
Second, in this dip shit's case there was an obvious lack of self confidence that preyed on him. I'm just guessing here, but I'll bet he'd been tuned up by a playgirl less than impressed with his genital junk. Just a guess.
Last, I believe it was a "little man" jealousy of the sexy narcotics detective role and the appearance that we always bent the rules and avoided the consequences. None of that shit was true. Ok, some of it was true, but Hollywood had more to do with that perception than any truth in advertising. The point I'm making with all this is that there were detectives that looked down their snoot on us whether or not they had a reason to. Our role, to some, was always suspect. Some of the uninformed amongst us perpetuated the myth. I think it would also be fair to say that to each and every narc I know, not one of us gave a rat's ass about this melodrama.
In my experience, there are supervisors that are shit and a few that are okay enough and there are a very few whom you'd follow into hell. Lieutenant Bob Sellers was of the last descriptor. He was so freaking smart. Honest, compassionate and a true street monster on his own. Bob backed his guys to the hilt if they were right, and sometimes even if they weren't. We all busted our butts for him. We trusted him, and he was a pure joy to work for. Coincidentally, he was well respected by the brass and had a lot of pull. You wouldn't guess that would all come together, but in Lt. Sellers' case he pulled it off.
During one of our morning detective's briefings, he put it out to us that the burglary guys had worked up a sting operation in the South End Borough. Opening within a week, was Gumpy's Discount Appliances. It was only in place to be a front for stolen merchandise of all kinds. They set up the store front, put in CCTV cameras and a back room built for surveillance and audio monitoring. The reason Sellers shared that with us was that he wanted to put out a challenge. First detective that could bring a crook and their attendant stolen property into Gumpy's and sell it to our undercover detectives would earn themselves a steak dinner. Now before you go big fucking deal a steak dinner, know that it wasn't the steak. Ok, the steak was important, but it was the challenge. I was one of only three full time undercovers at that table that morning, and I took it upon myself to take that challenge. Then I forgot all about it.
For a period, they assigned me to a pure intelligence function. In those days it wasn't very well defined, but basically they wanted you out amongst the crooks, trying to develop intel and to make contacts. This had an obvious nexus to my narco role, so I had no bitch. It manifested itself as basic detective work, following leads or developing them, just in the setting of our most offensive. I thought of it as bar hopping with a focus on pool and liar's dice.
On a very warm summer morning, maybe ten-ish I strolled into the Bent Fox. The Bent Fox was what is typically referred to as a dive bar. Actually, this wasn't really nice enough to be a dive bar, I'd guess it was more of an upscale latrine that sold bottom shelf booze, usually watered down. You know when you've penetrated the inner sanctum of a saloon like this, when the following two realities smack you in the face. First the jukebox is typically playing something akin to Lefty Frizzell's, 'Long Black Veil' and of course that's topped by the infective stench of effluent that's been brewing in the shitter for twenty years.
One mustn't forget the obligatory black spray painted cottage cheese ceiling or the coin operated pool table, often just missing one or two balls. You can count on it being dark, really dark, way beyond dim. Each time the door opens, a blinding light burrows into the darkness and illuminates a bad looking flock of over-ripe winos, tramps, derelicts, barflies, drifters, grifters, deadheads, hoboes and hepcats.
When I pulled up to the bar, the morning bartender, a battered ex-Nam vet, who went by the name of Hitman, recognized me with a sociable "mornin' dude". I ordered a red beer and shot the shit with Hitman 'til my eyes adjusted to the dark.
There were about seven or eight at the bar including a skanky, blonde crankster chick whom I was most pleased to see. Jeanine McAllistar was a 38-year-old, convicted felon who was the old lady of Steve "McQueen" Nobanion, an Outlaw motorcycle gang associate from the Menhome Chapter. "J" as she was known by most, spent 3.5 years in Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women in St. Gabriel, Louisiana for stabbing her ex-husband in the eye with a screwdriver. Her current boy toy had a long history of dope and weapons and was currently on parole behind a dope deal that went bad. Nobanion was definitely my target, if I could get him dirty.
A couple red beers in I went to the jukebox, punched in B-7 and waited for ZZ Top's 'Tush' to kick in. Before I could make it back to the bar, J, in her very short cut-offs and an, unfortunately, revealing halter top, intercepted me, splashing her vodka soda down my chest. It appears her time at the bar this morning was already enough to significantly enhance her gravity. Seems J was a ZZ Top fan and that kept us talking through the next couple rounds. Of course, I was buying.
Before the noon whistle barked, I watched a disheveled, very unkempt and very senior derelict stagger down the bar in a circuitous B-Line for J. I always found it interesting that a lot of these aging derelicts seemed to be missing teeth, in his case the top four right in front and one on the bottom. I was reasonably sure he wasn't on the current roster of the Boston Bruins. The poor old fuck had long ago had his last productive day. He was on the downslope, but he was still up for a little romance. Even with someone as skanky as J.
As he slid in next to her at the bar, he put his hand on her bare leg. With his filthy, bony finger he slid it to the spot where she sported the tattoo of two musical notes on her knee. "I din't know you had tattoos" he slurred, a thread of spittle spilling out of his toothless muzzle onto J's leg. "Oh yeah, I got tattoos. Wanna see?" J asked. The old man mumbled something that must've sounded affirmative because she got up from the bar and turned towards the old man. She unbuttoned her cut-off jeans and unzipped. In that way that women do, she pushed down on the shorts and shimmied her hips 'til they and her pink granny panties slipped to the sticky, grimy floor. Already hard to watch, she proudly pointed out the tuna can size, bright red crab tattoo nestled in her pubic bush. As much as I desperately want to make the obvious tuna connection right now, I'll refrain and leave that up to you. I turned to Hitman, "It's now officially time for a vodka grapefruit, a double". He just raised his Eyebrows and shook his head.
The geezer eventually realized he needed another drink way more than romance, he tottered back down the bar. J sat back down, "He loves me." Yeah, whatever.
As we chatted over the next hour or two we got into a conversation about obtaining certain items, difficult at times to resell. The code was poorly veiled to explain that she had some quantity of stolen property and needed a fence to "off it". She mentioned that her "guy got busted last week" and he was going to be out of commission for a while.
Every once in awhile, a synapse will struggle to fire, then smoke and sizzle a bit in the brain before it gives up the information we're so desperately trying to recover. In this case, Gumpy's Discount Appliances seeped in through the fog in my brain and formed an actual idea. I told J I had a couple of electric typewriters I was going to get rid of, "I had a guy". If she wanted, she could bring her fence-able items and go with me to Gumpy's. I offered to intro her, essentially providing her the credentials needed to fence stolen property there. She was all in. She gave me her phone number when I asked, easy peasy.
Following up a few days later while at the PD, I gave a heads up to the two undercovers that worked Gumpy's, letting them know I was bringing them a client. It was good for them to have the heads up on the off chance they had a conflicting operation, or perhaps the sting was down for the day.
I left them and went downstairs to the property room, where the department's evidence was housed and wrapped on the steel cage window. Natty Gould, a civilian employee, known for having the most gigantic ass on any person who could actually stand, answered up just the way he always did. "Hola!". I told Natty that I needed a couple of electric typewriters that didn't look brand new for an operation. As typical of his style "No problem amigo". By the way, Natty was not and never was a Mexican or of latin descent, in fact I think he was some sort of Scandinavian fella. Why he chose to play mock-Mexican was beyond me, but it did amuse me.
The following Tuesday, in the early afternoon, J and I pulled into a slot at a nondescript and grim shopping strip off the Pension Bridge. Amidships was Gumpy's Discount Appliances, a seedy storefront that fit right in. In my trunk were two IBM Selectric III's with the 15 inch carriage no less. Although they were evidence, we had a chain of custody and they were going right back to the cops running Gumpy's, so there was no issue with using them.
J on the other hand, had a box of miscellaneous and hopefully stolen shit in my back seat. If she fenced this to our guys, they had her for possession of stolen property at a minimum. With her record, it would be good hammer on her.
Opening the screechy glass door revealed what appeared to be a typical pawn shop inside. Glass cases filled with other's cast-off possessions. Watches, jewelry of every description, and of course guns. Hand and long guns of every size and description. There must have been fifty knives, including a couple with enormous blades and slotted "gut pullers". The walls were ornamented with all sorts of musical instruments, banjos, guitars, racks of dusty stereo gear, a huge very cool Burgermeister Beer sign and even three mounted deer heads. The place was dusty, grimy, and altogether disreputable.
Jim "Pogue" Bannister and Sergeant Jeff Melmon fit disreputable to a tee. They were both rattier and more slovenly than I'd ever seen them. Normally their dockers and Men's Warehouse sports coats were the dress of the day. And that made me smile.
Fencing, the art of buying and reselling stolen merchandise wasn't an assignment taken lightly. The detectives assigned to a sting are really pointed in one direction. They wanted to be the recipients of stolen merchandise with three goals in mind. They obviously want to identify those who are actively fencing. They want to recover property for its rightful owners and they hope to identify all manner of crooks and build cases against any of them they can.
In the fencing business prevailing market conditions are used to determine fair pricing. You're essentially balancing the risks of both the thief and the fence, unless of course you're the cops running a sting. Ten to twenty cents on the dollar is a typical payout to your basic doper shit head or burglar.
Melmon and the Pogue had to pay a perceived fair price so that their douchebag customers would come back to them again with even more booty. A good fence (and these two became legendary) dominates the relationship with crooks, normally because they need cash and they need it quickly. If your options are few, you're likely going to take the fence's offer. Let's not forget crooks also feel the pressure to get rid of their stolen merchandise before it comes back to bite them right square in the ass cheekial area.
Running a sting is also a dangerous business. Imagine that most of those dragging their stolen loot in the door are criminals, most probably with a booze or dope problem. Many of them armed. These detectives need to be understanding of the business at a minimum but they also need to be on their toes, they're dealing with bottom feeders. Like most police specialties, these detectives are sent to schools to learn the trade, but it's experience and expertise that gets them home at night.
Over the course of the next twenty minutes or so, Melmon bought my typewriters for fifty bucks a piece (a bit of a premium, just for J's benefit). I made it clear that the shit I had was stolen. Not so clear that it was obvious, but clear enough for J to get the drift. Melmon paid me with a flourish, the flash of cash used as chum.
I introduced J as a friend, I told them she "was cool". Pogue and Melmon were mock circumspect, but they gave her enough rope to give her comfort. In pretty short order, she plunked her cardboard box of goodies on the counter. Melmon went through her valuables, picking and choosing only the shit he knew might be identifiable. It made little sense to be the fence for items we couldn't identify and hopefully trace to the rightful owner. They ended up buying two watches, a unique piece of jewelry, a brooch I think they call it, and of all things two antique candle holders. She pocketed 250 greenbacks and left with a smile on her face.
On the ride back to the Bent Fox, the appreciative J pulled out a bindle of crank and offered it up. I declined, telling her I had a shift to pull at work and couldn't go wired. I did ask her for a rain check. Oh, I also offered up if she knew where I could get an ounce or greater quantities, I'd be interested in that.
Two weeks later, while sitting at the Bent Fox yet again, the phone rings and Hitman stretches it across the bar and hands it to me. I answer and it's J trying to round me up. She said she'd just made another run to Gumpy's and was headed to the bar. She added she wanted to talk with me.
I'll admit, at first I was a bit wary of her advance. I wondered if perhaps there'd been some kind of shit show at Gumpy's that might present risk for me. I wasn't wholly comfortable with her trying to locate me through Hitman. It seemed out of character. I solved the first question by giving Melmon a call at Gumpy's. Nope, all was good on his end. He confirmed J had been in and had hocked two TV's. He said they were almost positive Nobanion was in the car in the parking lot.
A couple of hours later J walks in the door trailing our biker friend, one 'McQueen' Nobanion. McQueen looked like a biker, sans his colors. Today in a pair of pre-greased jeans and the obligatory black biker boots complimented by a bright yellow t-shirt sporting the words "Not Everyone In Life Is Gonna Like You...Fuck 'em!". He was a short scrawny little turd, with wild yellowish hair springing in every direction. His dirty, yellowish beard looked like someone had shit it on him. He had the compulsory chain wallet stuffed in his pocket and keys banging at his hip. He was the poster boy for methamphetamine sales. How could he not be an endearing character for a professional narcotics officer?
While I knew all about McQueen, he didn't know that and either did J. What I was about to learn was that she had obviously heard me when I mentioned purchasing some quantity crank. Surprising me, J and Mcqueen walked right past me. I'm sure they didn't see me in the smoky, murky darkness, they settled in mid bar. Hitman poured them each a drink to the sounds of the Thorogood version of "Move It On Over".
The bar was pretty busy for three in the afternoon and it was about ten minutes before I noticed J, leaning out behind the line of bar stools, and recognizing that I was just down the bar. She wheeled her scrawny, saggy ass up from the bar and walked directly over to me. Small talk ensued, but since she'd just called looking for me, I knew she had something up her track marked sleeve. I knew she'd get to it eventually. I also knew she was flush w/Gumpy money and she was flying. She was sooo cranked up and repulsively affectionate. All of a sudden we were best of friends.
You know when you went to high school and you spent all that time faking your way through algebra 1 and 2, knowing all along you would NEVER use it again. And then life just proved your point. Well, it's not the same for specialized law enforcement training. It's not all good, but a lot of it is and it's mostly when it's based on real operations with real results. Not always good results, but always good lessons.
When you go to school for undercover operations one of the things they teach you is to target the woman. By that I mean, if your target suspect is a man, first target his wife, mistress or girlfriend. Make her like you, make her the one that's pulling for you. If the male target gets hinky or for some reason has a suspicion about you, your female friend can often reel him in. She can often talk sense into him or soften his suspicions. J was the perfect example of this.
I went out to my car ostensibly to find a business card of a contractor I was going to share with Hitman. What I did in fact, was get on the radio and request some assistance from my task force partners. I told Robby Webner I was at the Bent Fox and could use a couple of guys, in case this grew into something worthwhile. I knew he'd pull it together and I also knew I could take my time.
I was having another longneck when J and McQueen pulled up next to me. Introductions and some initial butt sniffing ensued. I bought them both drinks, still from the bottom shelf. Unremarkable is how I'd characterize our conversation which never hit the topic of methamphetamine. Another biker type walked in and wagged a finger at McQueen. He got up and joined him in an animated conversation.
I left J and got on the pool table. During the second game I noted Webner and an intel Sergeant we called "The Hankster" at the bar. I knew I had back up if it was needed. And if not they'd likely collect further intel on J and McQueen that could only assist in the future.
I wrapped up my game and headed back to the bar, I sidled up next to J. It wasn't half a beer later when McQueen walked up, he put his hand on my shoulder and said "J mentioned you might be up for a little business" Well this sounded too easy to be true. I said noncommittally "Maybe". He responded, "You want to go talk about it?" "I might be. Let me go take a piss first" I said.
I gave a prearranged high sign and saw Robby get up and head off to the can. I drained the last of my bud and headed there myself. In the shitter I gave Robby a quick update, told him I was going to go outside with McQueen, but was not going to "trip with him." In civilian parlance, I just told Robby I wasn't going to get in the bad guy's car and drive to some unknown location where he might have the opportunity to kill me completely to death for the dope money he'd presume I had. Implicit was that there was no way I was going to drive away with this guy without a whole lot of preparation completed first. I surely didn't know what biker boy was planning but I felt pretty confident it was the discussion about ounces of crank.
Outside, McQueen and I, our cocktails still in hand, headed for a midnight blue '57 Chevy Bel Air, four door wagon with lots of chrome. Now I don't know shit about cars, don't care about cars, would rather have a drano enema than have to listen to car shit from car guys. For this event, I was easily the most interested car guy McQueen was likely to run into this week. Oh, we talked about manifolds and pipes and cubic inches. He might as well have been speaking Babylonian.
Finally he pulled open the back door and motioned me inside. The gawd damned car reeked of crank. From under the front seat he pulled a backpack. It looked plenty heavy enough to have a gun in it. I just didn't think he had any reason to take me on in the middle of some parking lot, hell he and I hadn't even discussed dope yet.
With his cocktail wedged between his thighs he unzipped the backpack and shocked the shit out of me by pulling out a plastic bag that easily had a half pound of crank in it. He seemed sort of proud of his supply and he let it lie there, like a centerfold had been opened up. He asked, "How much you looking for?".