Flash forward two hours. I was seated in my office on the third floor of Headquarters pressing an antiseptic wipe to a shallow cut over my left eye, souvenir of the melee Jillian and I had driven into. She was in the Fleet Services garage downstairs hoping to secure a loaner until they replaced our windshield. As for my exec sergeant, she had been called out to view a corpse recovered from the West Branch. Floaters did not generally fall within the purview of Violent Crimes, but there was an off chance this particular floater would prove to be Syd Weisensel, onetime rising star in the Briganti organization. The Kingfish reportedly caught Weisensel with his hand deep in the till, this after being alerted by his bookkeeper to recurrent shortfalls in gambling revenues from the river wards. According to our sources, Syd's employment and then his life were terminated within an hour. I wonder what the exit interview with Briganti was like.
For the moment I had the squad room to myself. Ellie, the redoubtable overnight steno who functioned as my gatekeeper and occasional informant, had gone home early with stomach flu. Here was an opportune time to update my journal. (Old joke, women keep diaries
, men keep journals
) I disposed of the wipe, unearthed a spiral bound notebook from my lower desk drawer, opened it to a fresh page and began to write.Thursday, October 19th
Two days now since I've had time to myself. I had vowed early on to make at least one journal entry a day, but between maintaining some semblance of a married life and my caseload, downtime and privacy have become precious commodities. I'm reluctant to even be seen with the journal lest someone become curious as to why I am so protective of it.
My sergeant did her best to discourage me from starting a journal in the first place. Following a heated discussion we agreed that in the event I take a bullet for the company some night, she will feed the notebook into a shredder before they get around to cleaning out my desk. Should the contents ever come to light they would cause needless complications for her as well as my wife. At a minimum, this chronicle would mystify and unsettle my brothers and sisters in blue. I expect they would regard it as the ramblings of an unbalanced mind and ask themselves how well they really knew me.
Maury Braverman and his girlfriend the DA are among those few outside the Department who could attest to the authenticity of this account. Whether they would jeopardize their positions by doing so is perhaps a question better left unasked. Maury for one has adapted to life in Saint Laurel faster than I would have thought possible. I guess it helps that he grew up on Chicago's South Side, albeit in the academic environs of Hyde Park and the University of Chicago, and is attuned to the riffs and rhythms of the street. Moreover, he is well-grounded in science fiction, having been exposed to the works of Philip K. Dick and Michael Moorcock as a teen, so when the time came he was actually quite receptive to the brain-bending concept of a concurrent reality.
Voices from down the hall, God damn it. Radovich and Warshaw were back with their arrestee from 52nd and Payne. Based on what we learned from the beat cops on scene before the situation went to shit, she stabbed her wayward boyfriend nine times outside some after-hours joint. At last report the victim was FTD, "Fixin' to Die," as Washaw put it so tastefully when he phoned from the emergency room at Rusch Memorial.
I curled the fingers of my right hand under the notebook cover, ready to flip it closed. Detective Warshaw entered the squad room first, natty as always in snap-brim hat and camel hair coat. An unlit cigarette dangled from his lower lip. No smoke-free workplaces in Saint Laurel. He doffed the coat, which should not have been affordable on a Detective First Grade's take-home, draping it almost lovingly over the back of his desk chair.
Warshaw and I share an intense mutual dislike. He has been wary of me from the start, as if he somehow intuited just how out of place I am. For my part, I strongly suspect him of being on Briganti's payroll. I have suggested as much to the inspector, though at present a bent cop is the least of his concerns.
Next through the door was a black woman, handsome rather than beautiful, wearing sensible tweeds and a look of regal indifference. Her bloodied hands were cuffed together in front. By policy an arrested person's hands must be cuffed behind him/her, so this one must be important enough to rate special treatment. She was escorted by Mary Clare Kiernan, a uniform working out of Garrison Street station. Officer Kiernan steered the prisoner toward a ladder back chair positioned between Warshaw's desk and that of Detective Radovich.
The woman sat and crossed her legs modestly at the ankle. She half-turned, presenting her profile to me, and only then did I recognize her as Leona Joyner--as in Councilwoman Joyner. I now understood Warshaw and Radovich's interest in an AWI they would have ordinarily treated as table scraps for the district coppers. As for what a class act like Leona Joyner was doing on the streets of Bricktown after midnight, I was confident that Harlan had already crafted a suitably intriguing storyline to explain it all.
Radovich was the last to appear, impossibly broad shoulders filling the doorway. Upon reaching his desk he struggled out of his topcoat and settled ponderously into his swivel chair. Without Ellie to stitch his field notes into a coherent affidavit of probable cause on her IBM Selectric (Microsoft Word being one of many things we make do without in Saint Laurel), he was obliged to complete the form in pen and ink. That would require the better part of an hour, even with coaching from Warshaw. Secure in the knowledge that I would not be disturbed I pivoted my chair toward the window with the journal open in my lap. Lightning etches itself luridly against the skyline. Curtains of rain sweep across Tierney Plaza. My attention is drawn to a couple standing near the base of the famous statue, which affords them scant protection from the elements. They are locked in passionate embrace, sweetly oblivious to the downpour. I stood on the same spot my first night here, gazing up at the statue and marveling at the sculptor's ability to capture in bronze the sloe-eyed beauty that so troubled the sleep of another cop decades ago and a universe away. After that it was no longer possible to doubt who had brought into being this place called Saint Laurel.
My heart seized. The pen in my right hand slashed a jagged line across the notebook page. I spun around to find Police Officer Kiernan standing in the doorway, uniform cap tucked under one arm. She appeared so ill at ease that I gave her what I hoped was a reassuring smile, even as I cursed myself for risking exposure so I could scribble a few lines no one else will ever read. What the hell had I been thinking?
Mary Clare took a step back. "Sorry, didn't mean to sneak up on you like that."
"I wasn't startled, more like embarrassed. I was half-asleep, you want the truth."
She relaxed visibly. Fighting to stay awake on the Dog Watch was something she could surely relate to. It must have consoled her to hear a detective lieutenant admit to the same human failing.
I waved her inside. "So, what can I do for you?" I asked a trifle too brightly.
"Lieutenant, about the other morning--"
"What about it?"
"The old man--the one from the rail yard, I mean."
"You're wondering how I wrote it up."
She flushed prettily. "We
were wondering. Ray and I."
I selected a file folder from the tray on my desk. "It's all in here. Go ahead, read it for yourself."
There was a second's hesitation before she accepted the folder. Violent Crimes detectives did not, as a rule, allow mere street cops to peruse their work product. As Mary Clare opened the case file with unsteady hands, I casually tossed my journal back in its drawer. Another disaster averted.
"I can give you the short version," I offered.
Mary Clare glanced up from the face sheet. Her wide-set eyes were hazel in color, nicely set off by an ivory complexion. As usual when in uniform she wore her thick coppery hair in a braided ponytail. The bright green ribbon she tied it with was decidedly non-regulation, but her superiors had yet to make an issue of it at roll call or in the field. She was, after all, the daughter of Black Jack Kiernan.
"All right," she said presently. "What's the short version?"
I cleared my throat. "On the sixteenth of October," I recited, "Police Officers Kiernan and Cipriano were on routine patrol in sector Eleven David. At oh-four-thirteen hours, they checked an abandoned engine shed on the perimeter of Inman Yards, acting on information that transients known to pilfer from freight cars were using it for shelter. Once inside, they came upon the remains of a white male later identified as Joseph R. Creed, age fifty-three, no fixed address. Body was cool to the touch. There was some post-mortem lividity present but rigor had not set in. No outward sign of trauma."
"Except for the tire imprints," Mary Clare said in a stricken whisper.
"I'm coming to that. The officers radioed for a sergeant, who in turn called Violent Crimes. Lieutenant Stallard responded. He located a railroad brakeman, one Artis Mims, who recognized the decedent as a vagrant he'd found inside an empty boxcar shortly before eleven PM. Mims admitted to feeling sorry for Creed and had concerns he would be beaten if caught by the yard detectives." I paused. "How'm I doing?"
"Mims stated further he warned Creed to lay low inside the old engine house and hop the next train out if he knew what was good for him. He last saw Creed walking toward the shed where he was later found by the officers. An autopsy conducted by Dr. Ottinger, deputy medical examiner, determined that death resulted from a cerebral embolism--in short, a massive stroke." I lowered my voice. "In short, Officer Kiernan, the son of a bitch was dead by any medical or legal standard long before you backed your squad car over him."
"And the tire tracks?"
"Weren't you listening? He died of a stroke. The tracks aren't germane to the cause of death. If it's not germane, it doesn't go in my report."
"Is that what we tell our captain?"
"You don't have to tell her a goddamn thing. I've already signed off on the report. This case won't make the papers and it sure as hell won't be lead item on McCaffrey's show tonight. I'm sorry the man is dead; it's sad and even tragic, but we see it twenty times a day. Learn to deal or you won't last long as a copper."
"But we--no, I ran over him like he was road kill," she faltered. I was alarmed to see her eyes brimming with tears. Mad Dog Kiernan, scourge of the river wards, weeping for a dead hobo?
"Mary Clare," I said softly, "it's not as though you planned this. You and Ray had no way of knowing his corpse was behind your car. All you wanted was a place to hide out and get some sleep. We've all been there."
"And that's supposed to make us feel better?"
"Yes. Yes, it should. You're honest cops, and Christ knows this city could use more of you. I define 'honest' as doing the right thing when no one is there watching. 'Honest' means being truthful even when it doesn't reflect well. You and Cipriano could have motored off and never called this in, but you didn't. You could have tap-danced in front of me at the scene, but you didn't. I never worked with your father, but based on what I know of him he'd be very proud of you right now."
Mary Clare's eyes dropped to the sunburst design gleaming on her left breast, the same number badge worn by her father when he walked a beat. The commissioner personally pinned it on her at the graduation ceremony for her recruit class. Braverman recounted the moment in a column so moving it later garnered him a Press Club award. Never mind that Kiernan Senior stole anything that wasn't bolted down and a few items that were.
I tugged a clean handkerchief from my pocket. "Trade you." She returned the file folder, took the hanky and started dabbing at her eyes. Warshaw stared openly from the doorway. Christ, what an asshole.
"Where's Officer Cipriano, by the way?" I asked.
"Downstairs in the squad. He was afraid to come up, afraid of what you might say to us."
I surmised they must be partners off-duty as well. Theirs would not be the first romance to flourish in the close confines of a black and white. "Tell him the next time I need a couple uniforms to help execute a warrant, I'll ask for the two of you by name. Now get back to work, Officer Kiernan. You can keep the handkerchief."
She flashed a grateful smile. The memory of it lingered long after she left the squad room.
I turned to the window again. Four stories below the young lovers, still heedless of the rain, clung fiercely to one another in the middle of the plaza. They were limned briefly in the headlamps of a yellow taxi splashing past. The cab slowed, its driver doubtless eyeing the besotted couple hopefully. He tapped his horn.
"Musta been that time of the month for Kiernan," Warshaw drawled behind me.
It was a tossup as to what infuriated me more, the interruption itself or his snide tone of voice. I glared at him over my right shoulder. He stood with hands thrust deep in pockets, wearing a smirk I would have gladly slapped off his ferret-like face had it not been a violation of General Orders.
Warshaw arched his brows suggestively. "Or maybe you said something that upset her."
"Or maybe it's none of your goddamn business," I snarled.
"Sure. Only it surprised me seeing her go all to pieces that way. I was there the night she shot Bonaparte Jones, y'know. Eight months on the force, she's got the baddest pimp west of Division comin' at her with a straight razor. Her partner Hurda, the worthless sack of shit, stayed in the squad car. Told the trial board he wanted to see if she measured up to her old man. Was I happy they fired his
"I hear he was about as useful as a screen door on a submarine." Warshaw and I agreed on that much anyway.
"Her first shot went wild, but then she got a good sight picture and put the next four through his lungs and spleen. Bastard had so much momentum he just kept going. He was right on top of her when she blew his knee open with her sixth round." Warshaw chuckled at the memory. "He'd a been a pimp with a limp, had he lived."
I nodded distantly. Mary Clare's encounter with Bonaparte Jones preceded my arrival in Saint Laurel by thirty-six hours but was already enshrined in cop folklore. A racially mixed grand jury required all of one hour and ten minutes to return a verdict of justifiable homicide--ten minutes to deliberate, the remaining sixty to enjoy a catered lunch at County expense.
"Not like her to get all weepy," Warshaw persisted. "Guess it's true what they say. You can give 'em a Glock, put 'em out on the beat, but they're still broads."
I had never counted myself as one of those touchy-feely feminist males, but Washaw's use of the term "broads" rankled all the same. Harlan may have been the rules so women could be prosecutors and police officers, thereby defying the conventions of the noir cinema he and Briganti were both so enamored of, but they still had to contend with all manner of condescending bullshit. I happen to like women, and one of my most profound culture shocks since washing up on these shores was hearing them referred to variously as dames, broads, frails and even cupcakes, for Christ's sake.
Washaw kept probing; I kept ignoring him. He finally muttered something unpleasant and slouched off. Safe to say Jillian and I would not be on his Christmas card list this year.
I looked out over Tierney Plaza one last time. The young man, drenched but chivalrous to the last, stood at the open door of the waiting taxi. He helped his companion inside, diving in after her. The lighted VACANT sign on the roof winked out, and off they rode into the night. Their entrance and exit had been too well timed to be coincidence; I sensed that Harlan would see to it their lives intersected mine again. Foreshadowing was among his favorite plot devices.
My telephone shrilled. Accustomed as I was to phones that purred, it was still jarring to hear one ring.
Time to earn my keep. I swiveled away from the window, lifted the receiver and clapped it to my ear. "Division North, Lieutenant Stallard."
"Yeah, Hanaway up in Dispatch," rasped the overnight radio room supervisor. "Your floater in the river turned out to be a false alarm. Marine Patrol checked in just now, says it's not Weisensel."
"Has that been confirmed?"
"Victim's female, for one thing. Uh, let me check my notes here...white, early thirties, shabby dresser. We're betting she's the one jumped off the Kingsgate night before last. I was able to raise your sergeant on the air and call her off. Figure it's something they can handle at the district level, am I right?"
"Right," I said with some reluctance. A despondent woman who flung herself from the center span of the Kingsgate Bridge would be of no consequence to Violent Crimes. At most she would rate a corporal's guard of uniformed cops, a forensic photographer from Ident, and some luckless detective, all of whom would far rather be in a nice, cozy station house or police car. After viewing the deceased with professional detachment (read: boredom), the detective would wave over the ghouls from the morgue wagon. The vic would be bagged and tagged, filed and forgotten. I grimaced and shook my head at the realization that I was obsessing over a dead nobody, precisely what I had counseled Mary Clare Kiernan against no more than five minutes earlier.
I thanked Hanaway for the update and replaced the handset. Two desks away, fedora pushed back on his balding scalp, Radovich was still scrawling away. Councilwoman Joyner leaned over to proofread his narrative, pouncing on each misspelling and grammatical atrocity. Warshaw, his back turned pointedly toward me, was brewing a fresh pot of coffee. Staccato voices drifted from the radio speaker on the wall. One was that of Officer Ray Cipriano, advising Dispatch that Car Eleven David was back in service from Headquarters and returning to its assigned sector.
There was brief lull in radio traffic. Somewhere not far off a steam locomotive whistled, two short blasts to signal it was getting underway. With the possible exception of a police siren, nothing mechanical sounds as mournful as a train in the night. There were no passenger runs leaving at this hour, so it could only be a slow freight pulling out of Inman Yards.
On impulse, I opened the Joseph Creed file and skimmed the typewritten pages until I found the passage I was looking for: Mims then urged Creed to hide in the engine shed until the next train departed at 12:40 AM.
Departed for where, pray tell? There was in theory no exit from the recursively defined continuum that was the City of Saint Laurel. Not for the first time, I recalled the HO gauge railroad in my Uncle Blake's basement. The layout was so sprawling you could not see it all at once, preserving the illusion of trains bound for distant places instead of traveling in circles on a plywood sheet. The breathtaking scope and intricate detail of this rail empire in miniature impressed even a diffident teenager like me. But then, I was one of the few people who ever made time for Blake.
"It's kind of a world unto itself,"
he mused one winter evening as I helped him lay track for a spur line. "Only much more ordered and predictable. And I regulate everything that happens in it. I suppose it's rather like being God."
Did the freights I saw steaming daily through Saint Laurel reenact the coming and going of Blake's model trains, but on a far grander scale? The notion of a metropolis reduced to tabletop dimensions was no more fantastic than the alternate theories I had formulated while lying sleepless in bed, Jillian nestled warm and fragrant in my arms. No doubt Harlan could diagram the physics involved in ballpoint on the back of a cocktail napkin, assuming that is I ever got my hands on him. For now, he was as untouchable as Damiano Briganti in his fortified manse. Harlan Eisele did not need a phalanx of gunsels and shysters to shield himself from me, for he dwelled in a place so remote and inaccessible it could just as easily be Shangri-La--a place that had once been my home. A place called Wisconsin.So now you know what I've been doing the entire month of March: editing
Blue Avenues so I can present it to you a chapter at a time, provided there is sufficient interest. For some years now I'd contemplated writing a story about two honest and conscientious cops (who just happen to be newlyweds) trapped in an alternate reality--an Otherverse if you will--where the traits that made them good cops in our reality could very well get them killed. Creating the metropolis of Saint Laurel is almost as much fun as breathing life into the characters of Detective Greg Stallard and his lady love, Police Officer Jillian "The Brit" Kensett. I am most anxious for any input from my faithful Watchers.
Thank you as always to Daniel of for rendering Greg, Jillian and Mary Clare so faithfully.