ONLY A PAWN IN THEIR GAME
by Jack Frayne-Reid
“You hit something.”
“Yeah. Heard it thump on down the stairs.”
“Well, let’s go see–”
A woman screamed.
“He ain’t breathing!” she cried, crouched at the bottom of the stairs that connected floors eight and seven in the New Alamo tenement building. She was 20-something and black, and knelt over the body of a man of the same sort of demographic, the flickering of the stairwell’s dilapidated lightbulb bringing her teary eyes and his empty ones into sharp focus for split-seconds at a time. Officers Lawton and Mazursky edged down the stairway, training their 9mm service revolvers on her. Lawton’s foot brushed past a stray Brooklyn Dodgers cap. “Fuckin’ pigs!”
“Stay on the floor! Don’t move!”
“Why? What did I do? What did he?”
“Why d’you run?” Mazursky said, repeating with vehemence. “Why d’you run?!”
“We wasn’t runnin’! I don’t know what you’re talking about! He bleedin’!”
“You were running! We could hear your footsteps! Now I wanna know if either you got any drugs or weapons on you?”
“He’s bleeding. I think maybe he dead! Look what you done-”
Mazursky had knelt down opposite the woman and was patting the man down. He pulled his hand out of the guy’s jacket pocket and grimaced, shaking warm blood off his hand.
“Looks clean.” He stood up and gestured towards Lawton, who walked over to the corner of the stairwell with him. “Dead as a dinosaur’s dick”, he whispered “thought he might have a piece on him, but nothin’.”
“What the fuck am I gonna do?” hissed Lawton.
“You need to call an ambulance!” the woman screamed.
“Look, we gotta follow protocol, ok? We ain’t even reported back to command yet. Give us time to do things by the book, goddamnit.” said Lawton, who then resumed his hushed conversation with his younger colleague. “Look, you ain’t gonna hear the end of this. No point pretending you didn’t fire the gun; there’s enough fuckin’ do-gooder liberals and bureaucrat assholes out there already who’ll wanna string you up for this fuckin’ bullshit. Just remember I got your back and so’s just about all NYPD. We stick together here. You just gotta get your story straight and your reasoning sound.”
“I couldn’t f…it was dark, I couldn’t fucking see his face.”
“And that is not gonna be your excuse, unless you been considering quitting the Big Apple so’s you can police 1960s Alabama. That shit don’t fly today. You tell Antonioni that you thought you heard the click of a pistol bein’ loaded…’cause I heard that click.”
Lawton nodded and whipped around, facing the woman.
“Where were you going? Why were you running?!”
“We was going to the movies,” she sobbed “we were, like, a quarter hour late for the shit. And we weren’t even running, just walkin’ quick.” She was overcome with a sudden surge of emotion. “Now where the fuck that ambulance at?!”
A mechanical squawk came from Mazursky’s belt; “619 at 8th Street, requesting 10-46, multiple units for a 10-10, shots fired on Levinson and 3rd. Sounds like a 10-54, so bring an ambulance. Call came from the tenement block, the New Alamo…”
Mazursky looked at the woman. “Looks like someone beat us to it, huh?” He picked up his walkie-talkie. “10-4, 755 already at location. Stairwell, eighth floor.” He placed it down again.
“Seventh,” the woman pointed out.
“It’s the seventh floor.”
“619, got a 10-7. Seventh floor, not eighth.”
“Alright, 10-4, received.”
“How the fuck they onto this already?” panicked Lawton.
“You!” Mazursky spun maniacally around to admonish the woman. “Who’d you fuckin’ call?”
“I don’t got no cell phone on me. Walls made of paper up in this motherfucker, you think nobody hearin’ this?”
The elder cop raised his fist at the wall lamely, beginning to shout some expletives but spluttering prematurely to silence.
They had not heard the door swing open, but a small gaggle of residents were watching the commotion from up the stairs, squinting in the poor light. One stood almost precisely in the spot where Lawton had fired his weapon. Soon enough, a wealth of law enforcement began to arrive on the scene, shooing away the voyeurs and cordoning off the bloodied stairwell.
“Was he GM?”
“No gang history.”
“No concealed weapon.”
“Just DOA, then, I guess.”
Sergeant Antonioni roughly slapped a hand around Mazursky’s shoulder and led him out to the seventh floor landing.
“Between you and me, Mazursky, letting that fucking rookie fire his gun was extremely – perhaps criminally – fucking negligent.”
“Aw, come on now, don’t use that word…”
“The heat’s on, Zursk. No fuckin’ around here. NYPD got the life of another citizen to answer for. And did he have to be,” he lowered his voice “a fuckin’ moulie?”
“Had nothin’ to do with it…”
“You turned on the TV lately? It’s all chokeholds and SWAT vans and big cops loomin’ over dead black bodies. We’re hated. Fucking hated. And you know who hates us the worst?” once again, his voice dissolved into an acid hiss. “the fuckin’ blacks. Don’t look at me like that, I ain’t bein’ racist – not that you’d give a fuck. It’s true. They fuckin’ hate us. And maybe,” his timbre rose “you know, maybe it’s got something to do with the fact we keep killin’ ‘em.”
“Hey!” Mazursky pulled his gun out. The only ray of light in the corridor came from a safety-shuttered window at the far end. Somebody was edging along, cloaked in the shadows. He thought he saw an alarming outline; “Is that a gun?”
“Police, don’t move!” yelled Antonioni, spinning around with his revolver outstretched to keep all angles covered. “Fuck,” he breathed heavily. “This could be Biallo all over again…”
Something metal crashed to the ground. The elevator repairman let out a little squeal and dropped to his knees in the flittering light, begging the police not to shoot. In his hand was a spanner.
“Hey baby, how was w-“
“Motherfucking paid leave!” Lawton grabbed a vase from his front windowsill and lobbed it at the kitchen doorframe.
“What?” asked his wife, Betty. “How have you gone from overtime to leave in the space of a day?”
“Because of some fucking stupid shit! I’m fucking fed up with it!” bellowed Lawton in no particular direction. “Some fucking-” Seemingly poised to yell some more, Lawton abruptly dropped the tough law enforcement officer’s macho façade and broke into anguished sobs. “Some fucking kid’s dead and it’s all my fault.”
“No…oh my god,” Betty went and hugged him. “Were you in some kind of a chase? Did they point a gun at you?”
Lawton, slumped against his front door, only began to sob harder.
“No. Neither. I fucked up. Made a mistake.”
“And…” she paused, taking a deep breath, trying to compute it all. “…they put you on paid leave?”
“Yeah. I kinda expected, maybe…oh, I dunno…”
“Maybe just desk duty. What the fuck am I gonna do with myself now?”
“God…shit, well,” she tried valiantly to highlight the bright side of the situation. “at least I’ve got you at home with me.”
Lawton pulled himself up off the floor and began to pace around. Betty was still sat where he had been a minute previously.
“Are you…? Hm…”
“What?” he snapped.
“Are you ok? I mean, really.”
“Do I look fuckin’ ok?”
“Jesus, Mike, you know what I-”
“I got mandatory weekly meetings with the police psychologist. Don’t worry, NYPD aren’t gonna just hang your little psycho killer out to dry. Qu’est-ce que c’est.”
He cracked open a beer. From then on, it was TV day in, day out…
“…if they’d’ve only called an ambulance, done something to help, then maybe my baby might’ve lived. But they didn’t do nothin’ ‘cept stand there talkin’…”
“…and after the cop had beaten me he, uh, sodomised me with a broken broomstick handle. Whilst he was doing this he was shouting ‘It’s Giuliani time, nigger!’”
“…the study shows that in one year at least 136 unarmed African Americans were legally shot – now that includes by police, Zimmerman-style vigilantes, and private security. It’s 313 if we include the ones that, like half of America, were carrying guns…”
“…of course the police aren’t wholly responsible for racial discrimination, nobody’s saying that! But what they are is a cog in the machine of disenfranchisement, in the…in the system that keeps black men and women impoverished and without a political voice…”
…naturally, not everybody was on the same page…
“…and, y’know, I think these people looting and pillaging like darn Vikings are doing a grand disservice to the constitution upon which this great nation was founded…”
“…look, I’m sorry, but you cannot just demand respect – you need to earn it. If you don’t wanna get in trouble with the police, it’s advisable to curb your criminality…”
“…you know how many brave men and women in law enforcement give their lives every year in service of we American citizens? Well, I could show you figures…and all you seem to be hearing at the moment from all sides is ‘Eff the Police’…”
…even the Chief Commissioner himself showed up on the airwaves…
“…now, there’s nothing to suggest that this fella’s record was as clean as you folks in the media are making out. Time and time again, he was busted for selling untaxed cigarettes…”
…plastered in front of that television, Lawton’s life was starting to resemble a bizarre media collage; images fluttering by in front of him as he half-registered the avalanche of information, sometimes catching a glimpse of his own face. They’d revealed his name to the public within two days of the shooting and now he wasn’t leaving the house. Betty taught at a local public school during the days and was growing equally worried and frustrated with him for sinking only deeper into his malaise, always to be found in the same place when she returned, goggle-eyed and slumped in the couch potato position like a slovenly sack of shit.
Meanwhile the whirlwind of notoriety continued to whoosh around them. A prominent film director had gone vigilante and tweeted what was supposed to be the Lawtons’ home address, but turned out instead to be that of a pair of retired 70-something paediatricians, to whom he had apologised and offered financial compensation for the deluge of racially charged hate mail they had received, and the hawkish journalists who lurked outside their house digging for reactions even after it became apparent that neither of them had shot Allen Render.
Allen Render. Allen Render. Allen, Allen – Al for short, just like the Civil Rights leader who seemed so omnipresent in the media in the days following the shooting, although Render’s weeping parents showed up on CNN to set the record straight on the matter, divulging that he was, in fact, named for the New Orleans R’n’B singer-songwriter Allen Toussaint. Render was the man of the moment. His was the name on everybody’s lips; cops, activists, politicians, supposed witnesses, neighbours and friends, serious journalists and populist pundits; everybody was talking about him and everybody was outraged about something. If Render was the man of the moment, outrage was the flavour of the month. Everybody was feeling the heat. Corrupt police. Those unpatriotic, un-American protestors. Common criminals. Nobody was absolved of the blame in this nationwide rupture – at which point it was impossible to deny that something in America just wasn’t working; that the post-racial dream of 2008 had been placed in a firm and fatal chokehold. The grandest canyon of all was widening. America’s most deathless debate raged on with the same facts and factoids, arguments and names repeated in perpetuity until they started to feel mantraic in nature, and the names dropped the most were Render, and…
“…Michael Lawton needs to go public and tell his side of the story. Michael, if you’re watching, please get in contact with us…”
…he switched to the commercial music station. Remarkably, it was actually playing music, rather than reality television. But it was hip-hop; not Lawton’s kind of scene. Moreover, rather than the bastardised mainstream blend of product placement and casual misogyny it was the hip-hop that Chuck D would recognise as “CNN for black people.” The MC was explaining that he didn’t “give a fuck” about anything until he too switched on his TV and saw “cops chokin’ and smokin’ niggas” – now, newly politicised, his intention was to “tear shit up.”
“How many of my brothers must
Go from ashes to ashes, dust to dust?
Before we get a police we can trust,
Protectin’, servin’, lookin’ out for us.”
This was the final straw. Lawton chucked his beer bottle at the TV screen, leaving a gaping hole where the rapper had been delivering his undeniably rock-hard bars.
“FUCK!” He screamed. “I need to get back on the job, man!”
“How the fuck did we get into this state after the days of Giuliani?”
“The golden days.”
“These ‘I Can’t Breathe’ motherfuckers make me sick. I wish they couldn’t.”
“Have a doughnut.”
“Mm. Who says cops are bunch of stereotypes?” Mazursky chuckled, his cop moustache dripping with coffee. “You know the thing I like best about this new situation? I’m partnered up with real police such as yourself. A member of the old guard. Strong values. Knows when to dive in, when to turn away. Paid-up Republican. Good taste in doughnuts. We’ll go far.”
“Glad to hear it, Zursk.”
“Desk duty was a pain in the ass. Command knows I’m made for these streets. Can’t even hardly read anymore. I always felt the lawman starts to lose a bit of his mystique when he dons a pair of glasses. Look at – Hey, Steve!” Officer Steve Marks gave a bespectacled smile and waved from across the room. Mazursky grimaced. “Total pussy.”
“You’d take a bullet for the guy, though.”
“You’re damn right I would,” Mazursky coffee-toasted Detective Ornolino. “He’s NYPD. Without solidarity whadda we got?”
“Mm. Shame what happened to your boy, speaking of which.”
“Oh yeah, I don’t s’pose he’ll be making Detective anytime soon.” they strode out to their patrol car. “I failed him, you know. I should’ve trained him up. Had that responsibility.”
“Where he’s at now, y’know…we’ve all been there.” Ornolino got in the driver’s seat.
“Yeah, but I hope he’s smart about it. No doubt I can vouch for him when they call me forward, but…” Outside the gates of the 67th precinct the crowd that had amassed over the last week showed no signs of thinning; recalcitrant African Americans and Hispanics lined the street, joined by the usual ragtag hippie-hipster students, and even some earnest, besuited liberals – this was the anti-police lobby out in force. “Fuck you.” drawled Mazursky, sticking his middle finger up at the protestors. “Run ‘em down.”
Ornolino gave a muted guffaw as the crowd reluctantly parted to make way for the squad car. “Fuckin’ animals.” He scrunched his brow, eyeing them suspiciously in his rear-view mirror.
“Yeah, so, I can speak for the kid, but I don’t know if he can speak for himself. He’s only been 18 months on the job – might even get me into some shit without knowin’ what he’s doin’.”
“He’s a good kid. Probably just a shock for him, everybody bustin’ his balls like this.”
“All’s I know is he can’t tell ‘em what he told me – that he couldn’t see the guy properly ‘cause it was too dark.”
“But those buildings in the projects, half of them got no lights. Those vertical patrols, man, they’re a fucking killer. Could’ve been a situation like, uh, Bia-”
“Biallo, yeah. I thank God there was no crack dealers around to ice one or the both of us. There’s a big chance Mike’s telling the truth, I’d say. Kid’s never shown any inclination to be a bullshitter. Or much of a gunman, for that matter. But you can’t word it like he did. People start to think we got a problem…”
“…748 to 757, got a 10-10S on Wexler Avenue – suspect is an African-American male, young, 20s-ish, likely armed. Got, uh, curly black hair and…uh…last seen fleeing on foot in an easterly direction…”
“Take a left turn here, should get us to Wexler in half the time,” Mazursky suggested. Ornolino hit the gas and skidded left, through a wide-berthed alleyway and back out onto a high street. Mazursky was overcome with adrenaline, and he dramatically loaded his gun under the dashboard, readying himself for urban warfare. The squad car shot down the high street and took a sharp turn onto Wexler, both cops frantically scoping out the street in the hope the suspect might avail himself to them.
“No sign that anybody took a bullet,” pondered Ornolino.
“Guess the scum squeezed off a couple shots then ran. Probably didn’t connect with nothing. Hm…”
Mazursky’s eyes turned to a sweat-drenched man in a tracksuit, running in what looked to all intents and purposes like an easterly direction. He nudged his partner and pointed.
“He fits the description.”
“Eh? Wasn’t much of a description.”
“Aw, c’mon, Lou, don’t go soft on me.”
“You think that’s the guy?”
“That’s the fuckin’ guy.”
Their siren screeched to a halt as Ornolino swerved messily over the side of the curb. The car stationary, Mazursky was the first out, leaping onto the sidewalk with his gun outstretched. The runner turned his head, saw them, and started to back very slowly away from the advancing officer, raising his hands in submission. Mazursky did not slow his pace, tackling the man to the ground and giving him a couple of punches in the gut to keep him down.
“Where’s the gun? Where’s the fuckin’ gun, motherfucker?”
“Get the fuck off me!” screamed the winded suspect.
“Gimme the fuckin’ piece, asshole.”
Ornolino weighed in physically, helping drag the man up off the floor.
“I ain’t got no gun, man…”
“Oh, hear that? He ain’t got no gun.”
“…the fuck you want with me, man?”
“You ever been a gangbanger?” asked Ornolino, cuffing the suspect as he struggled. “like to throw your weight around, do you?”
“I ain’t no gangbanger, man, I work at the post office-“ he tugged away, but Mazursky only tightened his grip. He did his best to be reasonable. “Shit, man, I’m too old for that shit anyway. Little motherfuckers would eat me alive…”
Mazursky punched him in the stomach. “You think you can resist arrest, you fucking thug?”
“Arrest? Why you wanna arrest me? I ain’t no ‘thug’. I never done nothin’; not to you, not anybody.”
“Bundle him in the back,” Mazursky instructed Ornolino. “This time I’m drivin’.”
“Where we going? You taking me to the precinct?”
“Shut up a second,” snapped Mazursky, concentrating on his route. The presence of a third party had stopped the flow of the partners’ easy rapport, and they sat in stony silence as evening began to fall on New York, darkening the skies but accentuating the city’s neon glow.
“C’mon, man, we passed the station already.”
“I said shut it, or I’ll dump you in the fuckin’ Hudson.”
“Man, this is some bullshit…”
“The bullshit ain’t even started yet, boy.” he stared ahead with abject concentration.
“Who the fuck you calling boy?” silence. “I mean it – where you get the idea you can call me that?” more silence. “Man, you cops think you run the game. I know my rights. You may be the law, but you ain’t above it. This ain’t gonna be the last you’ll hear of this time-wastin’, harassment bullshit. Naw, I’m tellin’ you, this is some Civil Rights shit. You gonna be hearing from Farrakhan, nigga. Rev Sharpton gonna be kickin’ down your door.”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP,” Ornolino turned and yelled. “Fuckin’ moulinyan!”
“Now it’s all comin’ out. ‘Moulinyan’ – for the Italian-American gentleman too pussy to say ‘nigger’ when he’s thinkin’ it.”
“Just- just shut the fuck up a second,” Mazursky interjected. “We’re almost at our destination. Just let me concentrate worth a fuck.”
“…you leave fuckin’ Italia outta this, eh.”
“LOU,” said Mazursky. “you’re my brother in arms but you can shut your goddamn trap too. Please. And you,” he turned to the suspect. “I oughta bag up your head. Keep it the fuck down back there.”
They had arrived at the epicentre of a neighbourhood in disrepair, their headlights shining off the peeling exteriors of schools and medical clinics that looked like they had felt the wrath of considerable funding cuts. One such structure reared above them, looking, with its redbrick blankness and roll-up aluminium doors, like a warehouse or a deindustrialised factory, but for the entrance to the street, upon which sat a yellow barrier, adorned by a sign that read ‘ROAD CLOSED TO THRU TRAFFIC’. An officer took a look at the passengers of the car from her checkpoint;
“Identification, please, gentlemen.”
“You know me, it’s Zursk!”
“Mazursky, it’s a formality. IDs, please.”
Sparsely lining the chain link-fenced car park were unmarked cars and forensic service vans; one of the few giveaways that this building was police property, beyond the man who smoked as he paced the perimeter in a black windbreaker jacket backed with the word ‘POLICE’. As they neared a parking space close to the entrance, it became apparent that some of these vehicles were such muscular machines of brutality that they would be better suited to application in the steamrollering military campaigns of the War on Terror than to the free and liberated streets of New York City. Yet, aside from these incongruously high-tech bits of gear, from the outside it looked no more like a state-of-the-art policing facility than the past-its-prime station house besieged on the last night before its closure in John Carpenter’s 1976 thriller Assault on Precinct 13.
Floodlights shone down blindingly from the roof as Ornolino and Mazursky hauled the suspect out of the car and into the building. The place was quiet – there mustn’t have been ten cops on the whole floor. Guided by Mazursky’s dead-set determination that he’d got his man, he and Ornolino took the suspect in to be photographed for the biometrics database.
“Alright, your name’s Gregory Thomas?”
“That’s right, now you wanna tell me where my attorney at?”
“Date of birth?”
“May 19th 1981. Now you wanna t-”
“No, I don’t. We’re done here.”
“We done?” Thomas asked hopefully.
“Stand up.” Mazursky turned to Ornolino. “Point him in the right direction.”
Ornolino grabbed Thomas by the shoulders and turned him towards a door at the back of the room. The officers marched him down a long, draughty cinderblock hallway and into a room that proved chain-link fencing to be not merely the domain of the facility’s exterior. It held five 12x12ft chain-link cages that stretched from the floor to the ceiling, containing only a cold, hard metal bench, and with narrow latticework that would render the brightly lit but windowless outside a blur to the occupant; not that there was much to see anyway in this frankly cage-centric room. Mazursky cuffed each of Thomas’ wrists to the back of the bench, which was bolted to the floor. Together, they inhabited the cage like a boxing ring, only Ornolino wasn’t much of a referee.
“So, let’s start at the top, boy…”
“Fuck you!” Thomas lashed out, yanking his bondage.
“Hehe, I bet you don’t like that the way things’ve turned out involves me locking you up in chains.”
“Don’t fuck with me, man…”
“You thought it’d go a bit different, didn’t you? You thought, that ain’t the way things go today, nuh-huh. I can fire off my gat wherever I goddamn well please because I’m a bad motherfucker. Bet you thought that, didn’t you, huh?”
“No,” he sighed. “I did not think any of those things.”
“Well now we got you shackled up. And, you know, that’s the way I like it. The natural order of things. Now, if you ever wanna see the light of day again, you’re gonna answer our goddamn questions.”
“I still ain’t got a fucking clue what you’re talking about.”
Mazursky spat in his face. “Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” he roared. “We’re police! You don’t wanna help the police? Are you fuckin’ crazy? Are you a fuckin’ socio-psychopath? You little bastard, what part of obstruction of justice sounds to you like a grand fuckin’ plan? If we don’t get answers we gotta start bustin’ heads. How many heads you see, Lou?”
“None, Zursk, besides you, me, and this sorry ass, ugly motherfucker.”
“Then yours it’ll have to be,” he told Thomas. “You want a busted head?”
“Can’t say it’s on my list of priorities.”
“Smart kid. Now, who d’you run with?”
“Who I run with? You want me to name all my boys?”
“Maybe. You in a gang?”
“Man, I’m a grown-ass man in the postal service. I ain’t got time to run with no gang.”
“Did you ever?”
“Did I ever?” he said. “Yeah, maybe I did run with a crew once or twice in my youth. Not a gang like you’d think of it. Nowadays I’m busy bein’ 34.”
“Do you sell drugs?”
“Do I sell drugs? What part of ‘post office’ do you motherfuckers not understand? There ain’t enough time in the world to sort through letters all day and run a crack empire…”
“Crack empire?” Mazursky’s eyebrows twitched.
“We never said nothin’ about no crack,” warned Ornolino.
“Man, it was a figure of speech, I was-“
“Who’s your distributor?”
“Man, I ain’t got no distributor…”
“Do you use the stuff?”
“No I don’t use crack goddamnit! Do I look like a crackhead to you?” The policemen did not respond. Thomas realised he already knew their answer to his rhetorical question.
“Do you use marijuana?”
“Maybe I been known to puff a bit of the collie from time to time, but that’s all behind me, y’know…I turned over a new-“
“’Empire’s very, uh, grandiose language, is it not?”
“Man, there ain’t no fuckin’ empire!”
“It’s just street-level?”
“There is no crack business I am involved with.”
“So who is?”
“Who is what?”
“Who’s running the crack game?”
“Man, it’s your job to know that shit, not mine.”
“So you just know the street dealers?”
“Are we goin’ round in circles? I don’t know anybody who’s into crack. I work at the post office.”
“What were you running from today?”
“I was going for a jog, man. Told you, I’m turning over a new leaf. No more drink, no more bud, gettin’ into a physical state I can feel proud of.”
“Ok.” shrugged Mazursky.
“Ok, sounds fair. We’ll check back in an hour or so. See how you’re holding up.”
It was jarringly sudden, but Thomas was grateful for a respite from the rapid-fire interrogation. He was starting to feel a little weary from the awkward upright position his chains kept him in, and he wanted to close his eyes, but even through the narrow slits of his fencing the lights burned down unrelentingly. After an hour and a half of fleeting attempts at rest, Mazursky and Ornolino re-joined their captive, their moustaches dusted with doughnut sugar. They were filled with energy, which Mazursky demonstrated by punching him three times in the face.
“Welcome to New York, boy! Where’s the gun?”
“What gun?” he spat the blood out of his mouth.
“The one you fired into the liquor store on Wexler.”
“That weren’t me, man. I only ever ran past the place.”
“Look, I don’t get it. Supposedly I fired bullets into this liquor store – why didn’t I go in? Did I rob the store? Did I…hurt anybody?” The loquacious cops once again gave him the silent treatment. “I’m tellin’ you, I don’t know anywhere near enough about the shit to have done it.”
Ornolino laughed; “That’s what they all say.”
Mazursky nodded; “All the guilty motherfuckers. They all try and claim innocence through ignorance. But, us, see, we’re veterans – we know the drill. Sooner you point us t’wards the gun, sooner we all get outta here.”
“You know’s well as I do that if I point you t’wards a gun, I ain’t never gettin’ outta here.”
“Sounds like a man with a gun to me,” piped up Ornolino.
“Like a man with somethin’ to hide.” added Mazursky, who kicked Thomas in the groin, holding him up against the fencing with his foot as he squirmed in his chains.
The questions and the extraordinary rendition techniques continued for seventeen hours, with a break of a few whilst the officers went home to sleep, and Thomas, chained by the wrists and ankles, was kept from doing likewise by stifling heat and the dazzling visual stimuli of the chamber’s lighting. The officers pushed him about and repeatedly tightened his constrictive cuffs. He was thrust into two line-ups, and no witnesses recognised him in either. When what little evidence that might somehow have held up in a court of law was proved wholly inconclusive, he was turfed out of the station the following afternoon, staggering towards the nearest bus-stop with Mazursky and Ornolino standing in the cloistered station’s doorway, waving goodbye and blowing kisses.
They offered him six figures, so Lawton obligingly met them in an upscale Manhattan hotel room;
“We don’t have an agenda with this, you know – we just wanna tell it how it is,” the host dripped with Californian smarm.
“That’s why we were prepared to part with such a hefty sum,” said the producer, “so’s we could hear it from you yourself, not some second-hand shit.”
“It’s gonna be, like, such real reportage,” squealed the host; a onetime investigative journalist whose network’s corporate reorganisation had seen her come to afford more journalistic scrutiny to the true artistry of Beyoncé’s latest audio-visual spectacular than the Crimean situation or the rise of Isis. “There’s no way I can thank you enough for this scoop, Mr Lawton. I don’t mean to sound hyperbolic, but you might just’ve saved my career.”
But Lawton didn’t want to save anybody’s career – he wasn’t even sure as to the condition of his own; whether he was ever going to patrol the streets again with this epic besmirchment on his record. All he wanted to do was put the story out there the way he remembered it; the way it really went down. He wanted to reassure the American public that he was more than just some trigger-happy KKK lackey. The small fortune certainly did nothing to dissuade him from trying.
The makeup girl attended to his face, whilst the interviewer seemed to have a somewhat larger team doing likewise, manually airbrushing every last blemish from her doting visage;
“You ok over there, Mr. Lawton? Everything fine? You want a cup of coffee?”
“No, uh, I’m ok, thanks…” he mumbled.
“C’mon, baby,” she clapped her hands together. “Let’s make this TV presenter a journalist again.”
“A federal Grand Jury has ruled that NYPD Officer Michael Lawton will not be charged in the fatal shooting of Allen Render. CFBC have obtained an exclusive interview with Lawton, whom we have here today to tell us his side of the story. For the first time, a nation hears from the officer at the centre of the case that has divided it. Mr. Lawton…”
“Hello,” Lawton intoned politely, folding his legs.
“So, this verdict must have been a big weight lifted off your shoulders?”
“It was very relieving. Extremely so. I mean,” he paused. “you could say that the unknown is now known.”
“Were you not worried that it might go in the other direction?”
“You know, I considered it…but I have nothing but faith in this great country’s extraordinary justice system.”
“And now you’re a free man, with nothing hanging over you.”
“I wouldn’t quite say that. A lot of people still hate me.”
“But, legally, you’re exonerated.”
“Do you want to tell us what happened, step by step?”
“Well, are you familiar with the concept of vertical patrol?”
“Would you like to explain it for our viewers at home?”
“I think the name is a fair giveaway. A vertical patrol is when two or more officers go up to the top of a residential building and then descend vertically from the roof to the basement, apprehending and questioning anyone who looks suspicious.”
“And you were on vertical patrol on the night of the shooting?”
“Yes. We were patrolling the New Alamo housing projects in Brooklyn.”
“Myself and my professional partner at the time, Detective-Inspector Ed Mazursky. We were on patrol in the New Alamo and were walking down a stairwell – and it was dark,” the moment he opened his mouth to say it, he could feel Zursk’s spirit close to him, cursing him out. “the place needs new lights, y’know. We couldn’t see anything. And then, y’know” he straightened out his story, “the both of us heard some kind of clicking sound, like somebody loading up a firearm. We heard footsteps; heading off away from us in a rush. And I, uh, I reacted.”
“You killed Allen Render in a single shot.”
“From what I’ve been told, the bullet pierced his lung as he was turning the corner at the bottom of the staircase. Hearing these scattershot footsteps, we assumed he was running away from us, and was gonna escape because of the constant twists and turns of the stairwell. So time was of the essence.”
“Did you intend to kill him?”
“I intended to disable the suspect. But I knew there was a chance the shot might connect more seriously.”
“And Detective Mazursky did not fire?”
“Ed is blameless in the whole thing. All he did was try to keep the peace.”
“This was the first time you ever fired your weapon in the line of duty?”
“How long had you been on the job?”
“Does that not seem to you like the NYPD are placing a lot of responsibility on the shoulders of relatively inexperienced officers?”
“Look, uh,” Lawton stammered. “the least experienced officers are often assigned to vertical patrol. Admittedly, it’s not without its dangers, which is why our service weapons are drawn – four officers have been killed on vertical patrol in the last twenty years…”
“But does that not pale in comparison to the number of African-Americans killed by police over the same period?”
“I haven’t seen any figures for that.”
“And you’re telling me that, if Allen Render were white, nothing would have happened differently?”
“Nothing whatsoever. That’s the wrong way to look at this case, y’know – it was an accident. The instincts I’d been instilled with in training kicked in at the wrong moment. And now it’s over. I just want my life back.”
Mazursky was sat on a brittle plastic chair outside Antonioni’s office, drumming his fingers on his leg from nicotine withdrawal. He felt like a naughty kid called to see the headmaster; that wop bastard, who’d joined the force with him back in the golden years – a different force, long before Rodney King made them as concerned with PR as with keeping the streets clean – and risen from detective to sergeant while Mazursky was still out there busting his ass collaring street scum. Zursk had been waiting on that promotion for years, sweating it on vertical patrols with pig-ignorant rookies whilst his hair greyed and his gut ballooned and his back and his temperament got seriously bent out of shape, and now Antonioni was keeping him waiting some more, the fucking cheek of it.
The time to hesitate was through. Mazursky stood up and barged through the unlocked door, spitting blood at Antonioni and his guest;
“What kind of a motherfucker do you take me for? Havin’ me sittin’ outside your office when all units are out hunting the cuntbag who sparked Steve Marks…you’re a real motherfucker, you.”
“Siddown, Mazursky.” said Antonioni. “I got someone to introduce you to.”
“No doubt you just wanna give me it to me about that fuckin’ parasite I roughed up and you got some fucking brass in here to gimme the lecture on civil rights, and human rights and all that crock of shit – well fuck you, a soldier is dead, I ain’t your performing monkey-”
“Mazursky…shut the fuck up,” Antonioni shot back, and the stoic guest coughed. “This is Don Alexander. He’s with the government.”
“Please,” indicated Alexander. “shake my hand. I’m here in my capacity as Senior Security Coordinator with a US military Join Task Force. Some of our people have been observing the methods you’ve applied to your policing for some time and we have to say we’re very impressed – particularly with regards to your highly sophisticated grasp of enhanced interrogation techniques.”
“Well, what can I say?” I’m just,” Mazursky blushed “…old school.”
“Oh, your old ways haven’t dated as badly as you might think. I just don’t think they’re welcome in New York anymore.”
“Oh no, he sure as fuck isn’t.” added Antonioni.
“You’re a bachelor, Zursk.” Alexander said. “We know all about you. You haven’t got shit all else in your life but policing, and if you hated desk duty, wait ‘til you see the career you got on the horizon if you spend one more minute in the NYPD. Oh sure, after your period of paid leave your case’ll go before the grand jury and the jury may well acquit your white ass…”
Antonioni nodded, “…such is the way of things. But holy fuck, and you’re hearing this from me, even if you ever do somehow get back on the force, hell will fucking freeze over before you’re back on active duty. You understand me, dickface?”
“Couldn’t have put it better myself.”
“Thank you, Don.” said Antonioni. “Now would you kindly take this fucking public image liability to whatever fucked up corner of the globe you’re doing all your shady shit in, and let him wallow in the filth and dogshit of his own natural habitat.”
“Err, gladly,” Alexander turned to Mazursky. “Well – do you want a job?”
20,000 blue uniforms blurred into one in the dying light of the Brooklyn day as they gathered to honour their fallen comrade, American flags billowing in the pissing rain. Mazursky was comforting a weeping officer when he noticed somebody standing across the road from him, dressed in full uniform.
“Sorry, let me just… Mike,” he shouted. Lawton noticed and walked over towards him, meeting him halfway. “How are you, buddy? Long time no fuckin’ see. Saw you on the television. Sweating. ”
“Oh, uh, yeah…that was, well…this is the first time I’ve worn this thing in a while, I can tell ya.”
“You resigned, didn’t you?”
“Mhmm. I could’a gone back, but…” he paused, stumbling on a thought. “I don’t think I’m police, man” he whispered. “I mean, I don’t feel at home with anybody but these fuckin’ guys here but, y’know…I know for certain the mayor of this city and the president of the United States both think I’m a murderer. I can’t represent New York on the streets, man.”
“The mayor’s a liberal cocksucker with his dick lodged up cop killer ass and the president…where to start with that fuckin’ commie? Who gives a fuck? You’re an American hero.”
This energising rhetoric may once have inspired Lawton, but all he could muster now was a “thanks, Zursk. How you keepin’ yourself?”
“Not so bad, not so bad, Mike,” he told him. “Ran into a bit of trouble with the brass…”
“…fuckin’ A, and now I been sorta…reassigned.”
“What, drug squad or something?”
“Nah, not quite, not quite. Something a little more of an adventure for my creaky old ass. With the services.”
“The services!” Lawton slapped him on the back with bonhomie. “Fuck, Zursk, don’t tell me you gone military?”
“Military, schmilitary – it’s all public service.”
“Man, how is that for a turn of events? Old Zursk off flyin’ the flag for our American freedoms. Shit…well I never…”
“And what about yourself? The fuck you gonna do now you ain’t wearin’ blue no more?”
“Guess I’m gonna keep living off that severance package ‘til I’m forced to become a private investigator or some shit – just gotta pray I never have any African-American clients…”
“Hold, up, hold up – that fuckin’ windbag de Blasio’s stepping up to the stage. Alright, boys and girls,” said Mazursky, addressing all the cops in his vicinity as the mayor approached the microphone, his image projected onto video screens. “Backs turned! C’mon everybody – let’s get ‘em turned on this motherfucker!”