Captioned photo credit: The Untouchables (1987), screenplay by David Mamet
Copyright © 2016-2020, Larry Lambert, all rights reserved
This is a component of a fictional law-enforcement related story that I started in 2016 and it appeared on the blog back then. I’ve since spent some time fleshing it out into a novelette length in my spare time, but frankly, there hasn’t been much of that. It’s the journey of Police Sergeant Michael Francis Xavier Muldoon and his journey through the dystopian world of law enforcement, set sometime in the future.
I hope that you enjoy–
Just because the curtain is drawn inside the bordello’s window doesn’t mean that you don’t know what’s going on inside.
The gas lamp sizzled to life in the corner of the damp basement. Black water condensed and dripped from a corner, pooled and then migrated to drain through a rusted grate in the floor. From there it slurped slowly into the sewer. John Dewey didn’t care because the basement offered him one thing he could get nowhere else. Genuine privacy.
Nobody else knew that the room existed beneath the vault of the aging First Interstate Bank. Well, not until he told me about it and I didn’t say a word to anyone else.
He surmised that it had been constructed as a furnace room for the dry goods store that Tavagleone & Sons ran back before Third Interstate Bank showed up and built a bank and then an office building on top of that at the conclusion of the Second World War. When they installed the depository, the contractor walled up the entrance and the presence of the hidden room passed from memory.
Dewey found it by accident seven decades later when the building superintendent hired him on to swamp the floor and maintain the hallways of the executive condos stacked twenty stories over the top of the bank. The stairway down had been turned into a broom closet and the air gently blowing through the wood slat wall at the back alerted him to something that wasn’t quite what it seemed. He pushed one plank out. Nails in damp wood resisted with an audible groan but they gave way with very little effort. The space beyond, black as a crypt, had been left unseen by human eyes for nearly a century, but sets of tiny red rodent eyes reflected back when he shined his flashlight down the rotting stairway. It was damp, the result of a pipe in the process of falling apart, spraying a fine mist into the void.
For the next several weeks, he improved the stairs leading down, replacing rotten steps with new planks. He cleaned out the room itself to the extent he was able, and plumbed in a natural gas line from the main that led to the bank’s heating unit. The energy heated the dank room and provided weak light to a room that would otherwise have existed in eternal inky darkness. Dewey thought about stubbing in an electric line, but the place was wet enough and his skill at dealing with electricity inexpert enough that he knew would just as likely electrocute himself. John Dewey had some experience with water and electrical current, as will be explained fully.
The stairway led straight down, however, in his exploration, Dewey found a vent that led to the outside. He enlarged it, camouflaged the entrance, and then sealed off the top of the stairway thoroughly so that nobody else was likely to discover or duplicate his path.
After he completed the project he quit his night janitorial job and opened a small storefront pawnshop down the street between Girls-Girls-Girls, and Indian Food. Before it was a pawnshop, the place had been a dry cleaner owned by a succession of Korean proprietors. Inside it smelled strongly of perchloroethylene and the smell drifted into both Girls-Girls-Girls and the Indian food restaurant, though nothing could be done about it. John Dewey never seemed to care one way or the other about the smell. If he did, I never heard him comment and I never asked him.
On the day that seemed to start it all, I walked into Dewey’s Pawn and Loan wearing my uniform with my badge shined to a high luster, since I was on duty.
“Michael Francis Xavier Muldoon!” Dewey shouted from the back office, using my full name.
“Sergeant Muldoon to you, John Howard Dewey. How’s my favorite shylock?”
He came out of his den like a lion strutting on the veld with a precisely cut, gently spiked, mop of lion colored hair and a very closely trimmed beard. Dewey stood three or four inches shorter than me, which put him at about six feet. His face had an unremarkable cast. His nose might be a bit too long and his ears might have stood out slightly more than what one would consider perfect, but his eyes were bright blue with mirth and there were wrinkles that radiated out from the corners.
A large puddle of water filled the floor of the pawnshop, at least half an inch deep.
I looked around the small store. Everything he had taken in could be summed up in a single word. Junk. He took in junk and handed out money. Dewey didn’t have any family money of his own. He worked with me on the Police Department until the day came when they told him that he either joined the Party, or he’d be discharged with prejudice. Dewey lost his pension, his benefits, his career and his income that day because he didn’t join. I wasn’t as strong as Dewey. I had a wife and three children to support whereas he had three ex-wives who hated him and no ex-kids. I’m not offering it as an excuse. Dewey was the better man that day, as with most days.
With no income from the State, he took odd jobs and one day to the month after the big 7th Avenue armored car robbery, he opened his pawn and loan store. From that point on, he took in goods and handed out money to those in need. I made the connection but I don’t know that anyone else did. The detectives looked for members of a local mixed gang consisting of black males and Cambodian females, as the culprits because the only lead they were able to develop came from me. They weren’t ever able to positively connect the Thirtieth Street Mafistos with the robbery. What do I know? I’m the downtown walking beat supervisor on swing shift. I’m definitely not a trained investigator.
As usual, Dewey gave me an appraising glance and a wink, glancing toward the coffee pot. I nodded casually and he said, “I hope you don’t expect me to buy you a cup and pour it for you.”
My china mug with the Police Department’s logo on it sat next to the Silex where it always did. I toggled the handle and filled it to the brim. Even though sugar shortages meant that nobody had sugar, Dewey had not only sugar, but cubed sugar. I dropped a lump in the coffee and then, on second thought, added a second. Why not? Live large!
“If you want cream, it’s in the ice box,” he offered.
“Cream? I said that I’d take coffee with sugar, not pudding.”
“Whichever way you want, Michael.”
“How do you find cream these days, do you have a cow somewhere?”
“Ah,” Dewey said, giving me a sideways glance, “you just need to know where to get it and have to be willing to exchange a favor or two.”
I heard from my parents that there was a time when you could go to the public store and buy cream, or milk or even buttermilk, but that hadn’t been the case in my lifetime. Maybe a Party store for the very elite would stock a luxury item of that sort, but that class of goods had was denied to the rest.
“There are ham sandwiches with Switzerland cheese in the ice box too, on the black bread you like. I made them for you and your wife. Come by when your shift has ended and take them home.”
I shook my head. The nest thing he’d offer would be a beef steak.
“You spoil me, John Dewey.”
“Nonsense, the scarce items are the best and they are available at times.” The bread available to the public tasted a lot like sawdust sweepings and I suspected that it may have been more than half comprised of that very thing. As a Party member, I could go to the lowest class of store for officials but there was not often much on the shelves, and never real bread, cured meats, or the Switzerland cheese that John knew that I favored with my ham.
I sipped the coffee slowly, savoring its taste with the sugar.
The armored car had been carrying the Party’s squeeze, and though the reported amount was high, I expected that the actual numbers involved were not fully disclosed. I took another drink, and filled the mug again, adding a cube of sugar.
John Dewey picked up a push broom and started moving the water puddle toward a drain.
“Did you have trouble today, John?”
“Weren’t much trouble, Mike.”
I knew Dewey from the old days. He was a black-glove cop and he didn’t tolerate much misconduct on the part of people. Though he was a man of generally pleasant disposition, he could be mean as a cobra when crossed.
“Something I should know about?” I pulled out my 245 Gonzales Sap from the sap pocket of my trousers. Dewey and I were about the only officers who carried saps, and now he left the department it was only me. The younger officers favored electronic disablers, which I liked as well. A stun gun is effective, I guess, but I have always favored the sap. There is something about eight ounces of lead spring weighted inside a leather sheath.
“Just the usual thugs from the ISEU coming by to coerce me to become a union store.” John lifted his hands in supplication. “I told them I’m a one-man show and don’t need to join the union.”
The International Service Employees Union operated as the enforcement arm of the Party. When somebody got out of line, they usually ended up on the wrong side of bare-knuckle fighters from the ISEU. I worried about Dewey when it came to the ISEU. The Party is polite on occasion, the ISEU isn’t ever. The Party screws you with paperwork and the ISEU busts in your head with a truncheon. I took note once again of the water on the floor and the heavy rubber boots that Dewey wore.
“Two guys come in here into my house and say that a one-man show like mine needs to hire some people from Local 5424 in order to make sure that all this inventory doesn’t walk away. They said it as if a man like me needs protection.”
“You’ve been able to keep an eye on things so far.” I said.
“That’s what I told those fellas. And the big guy, a high yellow nigger who bounces for Willy’s Tavern part time—.”
“Freddy Dill,” I added, correctly identifying the guy.
“Yeah, that’s his name. Freddy. Anyway, Freddy tells me that I can’t live on past glory, and says that he and his buddy, who I’ve never seen before, are going to show me by example how easy it is to steal from me. The other guy has a handgun and he pulls up his shirt to show it to me.”
I slapped the sap I held in one hand into the palm of the other. There were some ISEU guys who were going to need some educating.
“Freddy comes around and grabs the register to punch the cash drawer open.”
I interrupted. “But none of them noticed the water on the floor?”
“They asked about that. I told them that I couldn’t afford a union plumber. But I didn’t say anything about a union electrician because who can afford one of them?”
“So Big Freddy Dill grabbed the register?”
“Yeah,” Dewey smiled. “He completed the circuit. 220 volts. And he couldn’t let go, so this other shifty looking guy tries to rescue him and he completes the circuit too. It will teach them to wear wingtips into my store when they should be wearing rubber boots.” Dewey laughed a wicked laugh. “I thought it would turn out to be an accidental death situation but both of them survived.”
“How long did they sizzle?”
“Big Freddy bit his tongue something horrible and I let him keep biting until the tip fell off. Then I thought it was time to rescue them but as you know, there is no way to do that unless you hit them with something non-conductive like a baseball bat and break the circuit.”
“You could have turned off the power.” I added dryly.
“Rules require a union member to do that. It’s organized labor’s prerogative.” Dewey said, quoting the spirit of the regulation.
“So I saved them.”
“How long did it take?”
“I went for the bat, taking care not to injure myself, and found an old axe handle so I used that instead. One solid hit on Big Freddy broke him loose from the register.” Dewey smiled like a shark. “They always come in fours. There were two more guys next door in Girls-Girls-Girls shaking down Silky Jackson. They came over and asked what happened. I said that Freddy, he who now missed an inch-and-a-half of tongue, was kind enough to look into my electrical problem for me since he was a union member and ended up hurting himself and his friend.”
“They bought it?”
“Sure, I gave them the hundred that I told them I had promised Freddy if he’d fix my electrical. They palmed it and hauled away Freddy and his friend. They said they’d make sure Freddy got the cash. I believed them. I don’t know about you.”
I summarized, “Sounds like you were lucky to have union guys here to work on your electrical. I presume it’s fixed?”
Dewey affirmed, “Whatever they did must have fixed the problem—for now.”
“When did the water leak start?”
“When I saw the thugs go into the Indian restaurant next door.”
The Party had rules about naming businesses. If you were a Party member, you could give your business a fancy name. If not, you could only identify the service offered. All it said on the outside of Dewey’s pawn and loan was ‘Pawn & Loan”, written on the glass window. Likewise, the restaurant next door had ‘Indian Food’ written on the glass. It misled many people because they went in expecting curry or saffron rice. Nelson Begay didn’t serve that kind of food because Nelson and his wife are feather Indians, not red-dot Indians. Speaking of which, I told John, “I’m hungry for some of Nelson’s green chili stew and fry bread.”
I polished off the coffee, wiped out the cup and replaced it in is perch of honor, as Dewey grabbed a key to lock up the business.
Dewey and I have been eating Nelson and Mitzie Begay’s cooking for at least a decade and never tire of it. They hired a union cook years before. He never showed up for work. They pay him for not showing so the ISEU guys don’t bust up the place. It doesn’t keep them from trying to get him to hire another union worker who does a no-show. Nelson goes along to get along but he’s a solid guy. He has a small, private, pistol range in the basement of the store and only shoots when there is roadwork or a thunderstorm since firearms ownership is strictly forbidden for non-Party or non-union members. Dewey and I have a longstanding deal with Nelson and Mitzie. We don’t pay cash for food, but I bring ammunition. Nelson comes out way ahead because he trains the common people who can’t afford to buy themselves into the Party or the union, to shoot. Dewey sells pistols and I hand over the ammo that I take for free from the police department’s arsenal. This time I brought two boxes, twenty rounds each, of .357 Magnum riot control rounds.
When I handed Nelson the two boxes of pistol cartridges, back in the kitchen, he whistled low. “The Party authorized us to use magnum rounds with Teflon coating over a steel core for riot control because one bullet will go through two or three people, thus ultimately saving on the number of rounds we need to fire. Hollow points just take out one rioter and they feel it’s a waste.”
“Are you expecting a riot, Sergeant Mike?”
“I’m not, Nelson, but the Party lives in fear so they’ve been stocking up with these new revolver rounds in addition to all the other equipment we have.”
While we were talking in the kitchen, Dewey started eating a burrito in the front of the house. When I walked through the door to the front of the restaurant, I saw a person who did not ‘belong’ in the neighborhood through the glass. He gave off a vibe that was not in keeping with people who lived and worked around there. The guy was vaguely familiar and I racked my brain to figure out where I’d seen him before.
Before I could investigate further, two guys from the Brotherhood of International Workers walked through the door of Nelson’s Indian Restaurant. The Brotherhood of International Workers is not to be confused with the ISEU. I knew both of them. Ivan Brock, a red haired man with fetal alcohol syndrome features who worked the docks as a stevedore until he moved up in the union and Greaser Morris, also a former longshoreman and even more of a thug than Ivan.
“Ivan, Greaser.” I said in a barely civil tone.
Ivan took in my police badge with its prominent emblem of the Progressive Party and then looked at the array of weapons I carried.
Greaser just said, “They call me Todd now, not Greaser. I don’t lube crane jacks anymore.”
I ignored them. “Freddie Dill and a new guy were by here not two hours ago. The ISEU beat the BIW yet again. You union guys need to get together on who you’re leaning on and when because you’re interfering with the lawful business of the Police Department.”
Ivan and Greaser were stupid, but they did understand the system. Sergeants and above belonged to the Party, which means the money they beat out of businesses was kicked up through the department with everyone taking a taste. From there the squeeze went to the Progressive Party’s Leadership. Union members, who interfered with the police, found themselves dropped from union rolls, forced to compete with the citizens, usually landing in jobs where labor was arduous and the compensation small. There were also recently enacted laws authorizing the police to shoot non-Party members who were interfering with “lawful business”, which meant squeeze. Both Greaser and Ivan knew that too. As Brotherhood union underlings, they did not belong to the party and were fair game. There was a pecking order in the labor unions and the BIW were bottom-feeders.
I pointed to the door and both Ivan and Greaser turned and left in search of more vulnerable prey.
Back in the days of credit cards, people came to rely on plastic over cash. Those days vanished with the political majority of the Progressive Party in the People’s Congress. Credit cards allowed one’s political rivals to count how much money went where. They enacted a ‘fair tax’ in response to political pressure to do so, but quietly instituted the squeeze system because it netted them more profit without bothersome accountability to other politicians. I haven’t even seen a credit card in ten years, and there is scant need of them since all serious business entertains some form of barter and black market dealing. We live with it whether we like it or not. I’ve been told the Europeans still use credit cards but who knows if the reports are reliable? I haven’t seen a European in a decade either.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I’m as bad as the other Party guys because I didn’t have the guts that Dewey had to tell them to shove it. As much as I might beg to differ, you’re right.
I supervise a foot beat because I’m inept at collecting. I’m simply not a very good earner, and neither are the guys and gals who work for me. The good earners gravitate to vice, narcotics, intelligence and traffic enforcement where the big money is raked in. The elite executive protection and Party Liaison squads who protect police commanders and Party officials and provide drivers and bodyguards to the great and near great don’t have to be good earners. They simply need to be brutal. In the past year we’ve seen slots in Party Liaison go to leading members of the Brotherhood of International Workers and the International Service Employees Union rather than to trained and vetted police officers. One sergeant’s billet in the Public Control Bureau went to a member of the National Transportation Worker’s Local 919 last month, but I think that he landed that because his father is an alderman in the Twenty-Fourth Ward.
Continued tomorrow, Part 2, finishing the first chapter of Vigilante Moon