Law enforcement speaks
Our book, The Night Police, centers on the war stories that policemen tell... most often over a beer or two or three. As they say in the ‘48 movie, The Naked City, “There are eight million stories in the naked city”. Most of them belong to cops.
Our guest blogger series will feature members of the law enforcement family sharing stories of their time “on the job” and in their own words.
The first in our series is Dennis Baroni. If there was ever a street monster, a bad-ass, dope buyin’ undercover detective this is the guy. DENNIS: At one point, The Menome-Carthage Narcotics Bureau had 10 or so dope buyers, narco agents, made up of deputies and officers from departments throughout the county. The daily life, each individual day of the narco bureau, was always a first-run stage play. Deputies and officers played the roles of everyday dirtbags. Costumes and makeup were at the discretion of each cast member. Dirty, just about standalone in the corner dirty blue jeans, a sweat, beer and other stuff stained leather vest and a pair of boots, stained as above provided a base. Kinda clean t-shirts finished off the costumes.
The agents played different characters as “aliens” from another place leaving their environment and entered into the wide spectrum of the daily dirtbag world. This dirtbag world ranged from doctors, teachers, lawyers, the bad check writing, welfare fraudster down to the lifelong addict financing his need.
Several of the agents were chameleons and could dress, look and act well enough to easily fall into any crank, acid, heroin, PCP or coke buying role that came up. Agents were known as Doc, Two-Round, Cisco, Dime-bag, The Kid. Type-casts included a couple of very convincing bikers, a chunky Mexican with a skinny sidekick, a good looking, greasy bar-fly Italian and a tall, blond, guitar-playing surfer type dude.
Lack of sleep, bloodshot eyes, beer breath, crappy hours and bad hair appeared in each play.
Man, we bought a lot of dope, but man, there was a lot of dope there to buy. They called cocaine the rich mans aspirin. It was so popular in society the district attorney wanted at least two money buys for dope, buys from the same dealer before he’d issue a complaint. Why? Coke for a time was almost acceptable, a friend or even someone you just met at the bar, might give you some. Does that make them a dealer? Oh no, your honor, my client is not a dealer… on and on, but still a common defense. So men, get me two buys first.
All of the agents I worked with had unique “one of a kind” stories”… wait, no, we wore out “one of a kind”, the “one of a kinders", the remarkable, wild stories just got outdone, redone and retold over and over with different players. Sure, there are some stories that will stand on pedestals as the kings and queens of the unique, but unfortunately, most of those tales can’t readily be told (for numerous really good reasons) and will go the way of the aging lawdogs who own them.
One story of my dope buying days I'd like to share involves an informant we used to get to a major heroin dealer, a target for years. During those days, the use of informants to make buys was frowned upon and usually ended up with some defense barrister in court trying to relocate your informants anus.
Most informants were poo-butt dealers that got busted. They were almost useful once in a while. But, once in a while, you'd score a real good one, the type of fella that gets you to that long hunted big shot purveyor of Mexican brown heroin. Back in the day.
My partner Ronny T. and I walked through the sadly deteriorated, 6 car parking lot in front of what used to be the old Russo Hotel built back in the ‘30’s. The building consisting of 12 hotel rooms, was now and had been a last stop, week to week, month to month maybe, a flophouse for at least the last 10 years. Ronny and I heard it coming, saw it coming, but we were still stopped in our tracks as what must have been the Burlington Railway 'Express' roared by the back wall of the hotel. I swear I could see that poor old Russo Hotel shake. The faded imprint of a long-lost number on the door told me we had arrived at Room 3.
I knocked, “Yeah, come on in”. I opened the door about two feet before it stopped. “That’s it, it don’t open more than that, just turn sideways and come on in”. I saw that the door hit the end of the bed. Ronny and I sideways’d ourselves into the dinky ass little room. A single bare bulb on the ceiling provided some light.
We had come to meet with Charley Johnis, a local, long time enjoyer of heroin and as of late, a heroin fella who had lost the love for his present supplier. We were put in contact with Charley by a jail deputy. Charley was a temporary resident of the drunk tank and had told the deputy he wanted to talk with a narc about some heroin dealing. We just about shit brick loads when the jail deputy told us the names Charley had slurred out. We quickly got his heroin suckin’ ass out of jail.
One of the names he drunkenly emphasized was none other than Pete Sutler. I knew of Sutler as a major heroin dealer from my first days in the Narco. The bureau had targeted Sutler for years, but we just couldn’t seem to get to him.
The rarified odor which possessed Charley’s room was the classic sweet shit and sour stank every cop knew. Stale beer, cigarette smoke and the stench of an unbathed, beer-swilling, heroin addict, almost dying every night. An unflushed toilet provided complimentary ambience. A small, pink porcelain sink stood against the wall and a red and white Igloo with a broken lid completed the furnishings. No phone, no pool, no pets.
Charley was high. We learned later that Charley was always high. He got money from an aunt's estate, a small amount, a monthly stipend, but it paid for his hotel room and kept Charley’s supply of heroin regular. I never saw Charley eat anything. He never had food in his room. Only beer, warm beer. He never had ice in his busted Igloo, just beer, warm fucking beer. Charley was a happy heroin addict. He was always happy, mostly because he was loaded just about always. Charley also loved the county’s Methadone program. He called the mix of methadone and heroin “special”. We made a point of taking Charley out for a decent meal every time we could. We brought food to his room, good heroin addict food like pizza and moon pies, but Charley would not eat in his room. Charley only kept beer, warm fucking beer in his room.
One grand thing only a few knew of the life of long-time heroin addict Charley Johnis was that he played the violin. I mean, he played the violin as if he’d never used heroin in his life. Charley was actually an extremely talented violinist and had toured the US as a young adult with a big-time orchestras. He played his violin one night for me and Ronny T.
Damn it all to hell, and fuck god damned heroin!
Charley was fucking good, really, really fucking good. Charley made that violin sing like a young virgin. “Holy god damn shit” Ronny T. said as Charley finished his third song. I saw the big, gnarly, cigar chewing Ronny T. wipe his eyes. Couldn’t fault Ronny, Charley Johnis was good, really, really fucking good. For over an hour, Charley played great standards like Blue Moon of Kentucky to a tune Charley said was his rendition of Nicolla Paganini’s version of something I could not pronounce. Pronounce it or not, it was good. Charley played that fucking violin.
God damned fucking heroin.
We never got to hear Charley play his violin again after that night. We asked him to play for the rest of the guys at a casual dinner and drinks thing. We bought him new clothes, shoes, all the stuff. Charley wouldn’t do it, said he was done. I wish we would have had cell phones back then. Later on, during the times I was feeling low, I would have really enjoyed firing up a recording of the free, private concert Charley and his singing violin gifted to me and Ronny T. that night.
Fucking shit heroin.
Charley told us he could go to Sutler’s house "right now" and buy a spoon of heroin from him. In fact, Charley had already contacted Sutler and was supposed to go to his house in an about an hour. Ronny T. and I looked at each other, damn, here it was, a straight shot at Mr. Heroin. Living the good life in the only decent neighborhood in Menome. Nice fucking house. Fucking Sutler, fuck you,
I grew up in Menome, moved there from Richmond in 1956. My folks still lived there just a mile or so from Loyola Corners, just down the street from Sutler. We never had no fucking heroin sellers in our neighborhood. Fuck him.
Ronny T. added his usual wisdom, “yeah fuck a bunch of Sutler”.
We wanted this Sutler fella pretty bad. Long story short, Charley buys the heroin from the Sutler at Sutler’s house. We get a search warrant and damn, we find a half-pound of dark, dark heroin. Later lab tests tell us we can stretch that half-elbow into 16 pounds of street heroin. That heroin dealing shit Sutler has about 20 pounds of cut in his house.
Prelim day comes quick. Charley met with the DA a day earlier to go over his testimony. He was loaded as usual. Ronny T. assured the young, fairly new and nervous Deputy DA, “Charley is going to be OK. We will make sure he is ready for court”.
As it usually goes, we pick up Charley on court day and he is totally fucked up. Freshly pasted. Worse than ever. No choice but to bring him to court. Well, I thought the DA was going to cry. The poor guy just about did as we walked into a meeting room, side by side with Charley, each of us holding him up.
We sat Charlie down. He shook his head, ran his fingers through his greasy hair and in an all of a sudden, sober voice firmly stated “alrighty then, this is what I am going to say”. Charley fired off each step of the day that lead to him purchasing heroin from Sutler.
“Damn, let’s get him on the stand while he is still able” the DA announced.
Charley held his mud on the stand. He was sweating so bad that you could see the steam floating off him. The defense fella could not break Charley.
“Have you bought heroin before Mr. Johnis?” Charley sat up straight. I think he liked being addressed as Mr. Johnis.
Oh sure, every day for the last 8 years or so.
So Mr. Johnis, you are a heroin addict?
Oh yes, I think I qualify as a heroin addict.
Tell me Mr Johnis, are you on heroin right now?
Oh yes, I certainly am.”
That fuck Sutler is still in prison if he ain’t fucking dead by now. They found Charley dead two months later. Heroin overdose the coroner said.
Ronny T. and I went to the Russo Hotel to find Charley’s violin. No luck. Just as well, Charley didn’t have anyone to leave it to.
The Night Police are hoping we can get Dennis back every now and again to share another of his street monster stories.
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