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Cityside

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Once one of New York’s most respected investigative reporters, Pulitzer Prize nominee Heffernan takes readers behind the scenes at a major New York newspaper.

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Chapter 1 of Cityside

New York City
A Monday in May 1975

The woman’s hands fluttered in her lap like the wings of a frightened bird. She glanced at the clock, then lowered her eyes and stared at the hands dancing along the fabric of her dress, almost as if seeing them for the first time, perhaps even wondering if they might belong to someone else. She clenched her fists, ending their flight.

Her eyes again went to the clock on the wall, and she sighed. There were five other people in the waiting room, and she wondered what illnesses had brought them here. They were all reading magazines and seemed content to wait. Perhaps they didn’t want to know, she thought. She understood that. Understood it too well.

She had left her Brooklyn apartment at five-thirty so she could have some time with Roberto at the hospital. She had been forced to leave him sooner than she wanted, just to be on time for this appointment. Then she had sat here, waiting for forty-five minutes now, realizing after the first half hour that she would also be late for work. She told herself that her boss would yell. He always yelled. But he wouldn’t fire her. Not this time. He would dock her pay instead. Just as he always did. He looked for chances to do that. She began to calculate what it would mean to her already stretched budget. But it wasn’t important. She would find a way to stretch it again, just as she always did. Only her son mattered. Now only her little Roberto was important.

Jennifer Wells knocked lightly, then opened the door and stepped into a well-appointed office in the faculty-practice section of the hospital. There was a smile on her young, pretty face, fixed there as it always seemed to be whenever she came near her employer.

Dr. James Bradford was seated behind his desk perusing a real-estate prospectus for a Florida shopping mall. He pulled his eyes away from the figures and peered over the half-glasses perched on the end of his nose. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly at the sight of the young nurse. Jennifer had worked for him nearly six months now, but unlike most of her predecessors, she had failed to become part of the wallpaper. He understood why, as he studied her perfectly fitted uniform. Today she was wearing her one-piece whites. He felt mildly disappointed. Although he appreciated the perfect shape of her legs, he much preferred the uniform slacks ensemble. The woman had one of the most magnificent asses he had ever seen. Bradford raised his eyes to her face. Pretty and pert, he thought, with bright blue eyes that seemed to jump out from beneath tousled blond hair that, in his imagination, always made her look as though she had just climbed out of bed. He chided himself for the thought. As the hospital’s chief of service for cardiac surgery, and the top-ranking member of its university-affiliated faculty, he was expected to be beyond such libidinous predilections. But this woman, he told himself, made all such restraint impossible.

Bradford allowed a small smile to form. “Yes, Jennifer?”

Jennifer’s own smile widened. “Mrs. Avalon’s still waiting,” she said. “You had her scheduled for eight.”

Bradford glanced at his watch. Eight forty-five. “Give me ten minutes, then show her in.” He looked at the corner of his desk. “And bring me a fresh box of tissues,” he added.

He saw Jennifer’s smile vanish. She’s seen the boy’s file, he thought. And she’s acknowledging your compassion.

“Oh, I almost forgot,” she said. “Maggie asked me to tell you Dr. Gruenwalt called to confirm your golf date on Wednesday.”

Bradford snorted. “Yeah, I guess I’ll have to let him win. He’s referred five cases this month.”

Jennifer let out a small, happy laugh. “Oh, and Maggie said your wife called. She wants you to get tickets to that new Broadway show, The Wiz. She said you should call her back right away.”

“Then you better give me fifteen minutes,” Bradford said, the irritation in his voice palpable. Jennifer smiled again. In complicity? he wondered — a signal that she understood his dissatisfaction? She was twenty-five, twenty years his junior. Not much at all — perfect really, he told himself. His wife intruded on the notion. She, too, had once filled his mind with similar thoughts. Now she simply drained his bank account to overfill her very expensive clothing.

Jennifer spun around and started out the door, and Bradford again wished she had worn her slacks. He wondered if he should say something. Perhaps he should. They had known each other for six months now, and it would be interesting to see what her response would be.

Maria Avalon sat in the visitor’s chair, staring anxiously at the doctor, waiting for him to raise his eyes from the chart on his desk. He seemed so self-assured, so successful, so different from the doctor at the clinic who had referred her here. This man wasn’t as pleasant, she decided — he was much more distant — but he looked more like a doctor. His hair was gray at the temples, and he wore those half-glasses, just like the doctors she had seen on television. He even dressed like those doctors. His blue shirt was starched and crisp and clean, and she could tell the striped silk necktie he wore was expensive. Even his long white hospital coat was starched and had his name embroidered on the breast pocket. Maria only wished he would look up and speak to her, but she was too frightened to say anything.

Bradford let out a weary sigh, then closed the chart he had been reading. He glanced up and was genuinely surprised by the beauty of the woman seated across from him. He had been concentrating on the medical file when she had entered his office, and he hadn’t really looked at her. Now he took in her very-light-coffee complexion, the large almond-shaped brown eyes and full lips, which together made her seem both alluring and vulnerable. He removed his glasses and smiled. Her dark brown, nearly black hair, hung to just above her shoulders, and it gave off hints of red in the harsh fluorescent light. She was quite appealing, he thought, as he discreetly took in her demurely crossed legs. A bit older than his nurse, Jennifer. Late twenties, he guessed. But every bit as lovely.

Then he changed his mind. No, not that lovely. Not on second glance. It was the woman’s hands that had forced him to reappraise — rough and work-worn and bearing the marks of small, partially healed cuts. And then there was her clothing — a simple flower-patterned dress that was really quite cheap, probably homemade, and her plain, plucked-from-a-bin tennis shoes. Definitely discount-store variety.

“I’m afraid the news isn’t very good,” he began. He watched her hands close into fists, the knuckles turn white. There was a tightening at the corners of her mouth, and he suddenly feared she would begin to cry. “Let me try to make this as simple to understand as possible.” And as quick, he added to himself. “At your physician’s request, I examined your son and confirmed the initial diagnosis. What . . .” Bradford hesitated and glanced at the chart again to check the name. “What Roberto has is a congenital defect of the heart. Basically, he was born with a small hole — only a pinprick, probably — in the chamber of the heart that pumps blood back into the body. It’s grown over time, which is why he’s shown a gradually increasing weakness and loss of energy.” He drew a deep breath, preparing the worst news. “The child is dying, Mrs. Avalon. It’s only a question of time. And surgery is the only way to reverse that process.”

He watched the woman’s lips begin to tremble and glanced at the corner of his desk to make sure the fresh box of tissues was in place. He hated crying in his office. It was disruptive, and he was never certain how to deal with it. He struggled to look as reassuring as possible, then hurried on. “Now, this is far from hopeless. It’s 1975, and open-heart surgery is quite advanced and quite effective. The heart is no longer the mystery it once was. We’ve even been doing transplant surgery for the past eight years, and that’s far more complicated than the procedure your son would need.”

“But he’s only five,” Maria whispered. Her jaw trembled, and her eyes were suddenly awash with tears. She seemed to struggle with it, then fight back the emotion.

Bradford twisted in his chair, discomfited by the threat of further tears. “Children handle this surgery far better than older patients. I’ve performed dozens of these procedures, some on patients even younger than your son. They all survived, and every one is doing quite well.” He paused as if weighing his next words. “But it is important not to wait any longer than necessary. Your son’s condition is deteriorating, so it would be best to move ahead quickly.”

Maria bit her lip, uncertain about how she should respond.

Bradford glanced at the chart again, his eyes narrowing with disapproval. “I don’t see anything here about insurance,” he said. “And I must point out that this is a rather expensive procedure, both from the standpoint of the surgical team and the hospital. Even before surgery, a great many tests are required, and” — he glanced at the chart again — “Roberto would have to remain hospitalized throughout that period. Then there’s the postsurgical care — fairly long in itself — and some rather expensive medication.” He shrugged, watched her chew on her lower lip. “Do you have any insurance?” he asked.

Maria shook her head. She hesitated, as if struggling for the correct words. “But I have a job, and I can get another one, too. I can pay you. I can give you money every week until everything is paid. The hospital, too.”

Bradford stared at his desk and blew out a long stream of air. Then he looked at the woman and smiled. “Mrs. Avalon, let me try to explain. This is a private teaching hospital. That means it’s supported by the university and the medical school with which it’s affiliated. Unfortunately, neither the university nor the hospital is designed to take on patients who present this kind of financial risk. And neither looks very favorably on surgeons who impose that type of risk on them.” He raised his hands and let them fall back to the desk in a gesture of helplessness. “There are public institutions, of course, places like Bellevue and Harlem Hospital. Their function is to treat uninsured or charity patients.” He let his hands rise and fall again. “Regrettably, public hospitals do not have the facilities for this type of advanced cardiac surgery. They can treat your son to some degree — provide medication, monitor his condition, and so forth. But I won’t mislead you. Surgery will be needed eventually. There is no other hope. And for that a teaching hospital is really the only choice. It’s why the doctor at your clinic sent you here. But . . .” He paused, extending his hands out to his sides. “A teaching hospital cannot function as a public hospital. We do some charity work, of course. But we simply cannot afford to assume the costs of these types of very expensive procedures.” He sighed. “So . . . simply put, the money would have to be guaranteed in some way before we could even schedule the surgery.”

Maria stuttered momentarily. “H . . . H . . . How much money?” There was a look of fear in her eyes, and her fists were held even more tightly in her lap.

“We’re talking eighty or ninety thousand dollars,” Bradford said. “Probably closer to ninety.” He watched the woman’s face fall, seemingly crushed beneath the weight of his words. “And I’m afraid at least eighty percent of that would have to be guaranteed in some way before we could begin.” He paused a beat, then went on to ask what he knew was a useless question. “Do you have any relatives or friends who could help?”

Maria Avalon shook her head. “No. But I will find the money,” she said. “I promise you I will find it.”

Bradford smiled. It was the kind of smile one gives a small child who has said he can fly. He nodded. “When you do, please contact me immediately, and I’ll get things rolling. In the meantime I’ll authorize your son’s release from the hospital. You can take him home tonight. Just try to keep him as inactive as possible.”

When Jennifer entered Bradford’s office a half hour later, he handed her Roberto Avalon’s chart. “The mother has zip for insurance,” he said. “I doubt we’ll be hearing from her again, but file this as an ongoing case anyway.”

“Should we be expecting the results of any tests?” Jennifer asked.

“No, no tests. I didn’t order any.” He noted the surprise on her face. “I’ve given her a free consultation. I can’t give her free tests, too.” Bradford gave a regretful shrug. “In fact, the child is being sent home today. The hospital’s already absorbed the cost of a bed for three days. And that’s about as far as they’re willing to go. So just file it and we’ll see what happens. Who knows, maybe the mother will come up with the money.” He sat back, allowed the look of regret to fade. Jennifer tucked the chart under her arm and turned to leave. Bradford’s voice stopped her.

“Before you go, there’s just one other thing.” He smiled as she turned back to face him. “I wanted to talk to you about your uniform,” he said.

“My . . . my uniform?”

“Oh, it’s nothing to worry about,” Bradford said. “Just something I thought we might agree on.”

Tuesday, 3 a.m.

Frankie Fabio, affectionately known to friends as Don Cheech, waddled up the wide marble steps of Brooklyn’s 78th Precinct. He was short, perhaps five-seven — and plump, about a hundred and eighty pounds — but he walked with a swaggering arrogance that few short, fat men ever achieved. To do this he held his head tilted slightly back, which allowed him to look along his nose at whomever he encountered. The pose was augmented by a permanent smirk that complemented the arrogance reflected in his eyes. It told all he met that he knew they were full of shit.

Frankie swaggered toward the high desk that dominated the dingy, dimly lit waiting area. He was dressed in a tan sports jacket over sharply creased brown trousers, with a wildly patterned sport shirt open at the neck. A gold cross was visible against his hairy chest. As he moved forward, he took in the name tag of the sergeant who occupied the desk, trying to recall if he knew this gray-haired, balding old hairbag. Frankie had spent twelve years of his newspaper career as police bureau chief for the New York Globe. Now, as an assistant city editor, he liked to intimidate young reporters by claiming that during that time he had spoken to every cop above the rank of sergeant. But this hump — this Kowalski — didn’t ring any bells at all. He pursed his lips with displeasure. Tonight of all nights you gotta run into the one fucking Polack you missed, he told himself.

Fabio removed his press card from his wallet and held it up. “Frank Fabio, assistant city editor for the Globe,” he said. “I understand you got one of my troops upstairs.”

The sergeant looked up, glanced casually at the press card, then looked down again. “That’s right,” he said.

“So, I wanna see him,” Fabio said.

“Good luck,” Kowalski said. “Take a seat.”

Fabio’s cheeks flushed. “Take a seat? A seat? I don¹t think you understand me. I wanna see him . . . like now!”

The sergeant looked up and sneered. He was fat and unnaturally pale, and his cheeks were filled with the thin red lines of burst capillaries. “Fuck you. You’ll sit and wait like everybody else.”

Fabio’s jaw dropped in disbelief. “Listen, you hump, maybe somebody didn’t explain something to you.” Fabio began jabbing a finger to emphasize certain words. “Right now, you have got one of my people in custody. Right now, I’ve got the deputy commissioner on his way down here to sort this bullshit out. You play this fucking game with me, when he gets here I¹m gonna have him sort you out.”

Kowalski glared at him. “Hey, big shot, you want my ass, you got it. Next week I got my thirty years in. You can come down here and watch me throw in my papers. Then you can plant a big guinea kiss on both cheeks.” His lips curled into a snarl, and he spoke through his teeth. “Until then, it’s like I said: Fuck you.”

Fabio’s face turned scarlet. “You son of a bitch! You don’t think I can find a way to rain on your fucking parade? You just watch me, you piece of shit.”

“Frankie, Frankie, take it easy.” Fabio turned and saw Mike Murphy hurrying toward him. Murphy was deputy police commissioner for public affairs, and an hour earlier Fabio had awakened him and told him that he had better get down to the Seven-eight. Murphy was in his late thirties, a big and once beefy Irishman, with a red face and now doughy body, each the result of an ongoing love affair with Jack Daniel¹s. Before accepting an appointment as one of the city¹s pseudo cops, he had been a political reporter for the Globe, and, as such, he had little doubt about what Fabio could and would do if provoked.

Murphy stared at the desk sergeant in disbelief. “What the fuck is the problem here?” he snapped.

“This guy’s telling me he wants to go upstairs,” Kowalski said.

“So let him upstairs,” Murphy snapped again. “What the hell’s the matter with you? We’re not goddamn enemies here.”

“Policy says no unauthorized personnel beyond this area, unless escorted on official business,” Kowalski said. The sergeant’s tone had become calm, cool, and indisputably unctuous. Fabio could feel the smirk hiding behind the deadpan exterior.

“So I’m escorting him,” Murphy growled. “You have a problem with that?”

“Whatever the commissioner wants,” Kowalski said. He glanced at Fabio, allowing the smirk to enter his eyes.

Fabio turned to Murphy as he pointed a finger toward the desk. “You know, it’s bad enough one of your clowns rousts one of my people. Now I’ve got this hairbag giving me shit. But, hey, why not? I’m only an editor for the biggest fucking tabloid in this country.” He glared at Murphy. “I thought we could work something out here, Mike. But this whole damned thing is taking a very ugly turn.”

Murphy raised his hands, as if trying to fend off Fabio’s anger. “Frankie, calm down. We’re going to work everything out if it’s at all possible. Let’s just go upstairs and see what the story is.” He drew a breath, as if dreading his next words. “And we’ve got two reporters up there, not one.”

“What?”

“Whitney Morgan was with Burke when he got busted. They busted her, too.” He drew a breath. “Apparently she didn’t want to notify the paper. I guess she figured Burke was already doing that. She used her call to get hold of her old man’s lawyer. He’s supposed to be on his way in from Long Island.”

“Jesus fucking Christ.” Fabio stared at the ceiling, rolling his eyes. “And what did your resident geniuses charge her with?”

Murphy studied his shoes. “Same as Burke. Disorderly conduct, resisting arrest, and assaulting a police officer.”

Fabio looked to one side and started to chuckle. “Little Miss North Shore Wasp? Little Miss Vassar graduate? A broad whose rich little ass has never passed so much as a fucking fart? She assaulted one of your cops?” The chuckle turned into a full-throated laugh. “Jesus Christ. When your humps decide to fuck something up, they don’t go halfway, do they?” Fabio shook his head in disbelief. “Maybe I should just call it in to rewrite now. Tell the desk to save some space on page three.”

Murphy took Fabio’s arm. “Come on, Frankie. Let’s just find out what happened before we do anything. Okay?”

“Of course.” He laughed again. “I can’t wait to see what else these assholes did.” Fabio’s eyes snapped back to the desk sergeant. “And don’t think I’m forgetting you, you prick.”

Kowalski fought to keep the deadpan in place. “I’m here till next Wednesday, sir. I’ll be happy to help you in any way I can.”

Fabio sneered at him. “You’ll be fucking amazed at what I can do in eight days,” he said.

Murphy and Fabio entered a windowless interrogation room, further crowding the space already taken up by a uniformed sergeant and four patrolmen. Billy Burke sat in a straight-backed wooden chair, his hands cuffed behind his back. There was an abrasion on his left cheek, but he was otherwise unmarked. He also appeared to be sober, something Frankie Fabio was relieved to see. Whitney Morgan occupied another chair a few feet away, her hands cuffed in front. Her very lovely face glowed with mortified rage.

“What is this shit with the handcuffs?” Fabio demanded. He turned on Murphy, feigning outrage.

Fabio knew very well why handcuffs were in place — at least on Burke. Burke was six-two, an easy two hundred ten pounds, and even at thirty-eight very little of it was fat. Years ago he had been a starting safety in the Big Ten, and had been known as a ferocious hitter. Fabio had seen that ferocity only once. But it had been enough. An Aussie correspondent had gone after Burke in Costello’s, a major newspaper watering hole. The Aussie, a hulking asshole who turned bullyboy whenever he was drunk, had tried to take Burke’s head off with a roundhouse right. It had proved a serious mistake. Burke had left him on the barroom floor, unmoving for almost five minutes. Fabio had been certain the man was dead.

“Take the handcuffs off,” Murphy growled. He glared at the uniformed sergeant.

Fabio walked over to Whitney as the cuffs were removed. She had short, dark hair, cut to accent high cheekbones, vivid green eyes, and a small, straight, very patrician nose. She was beautiful in a very definite Waspy way, with a trim, slender body, about which Frankie had enjoyed untold fantasies. Office rumor claimed that she had been sharing that body with Burke for the past six months.

“Are you okay, Whitney?” Frankie asked.

“I just want to get out of here,” she said through clenched teeth.

Frankie noticed that the tailored, dark blue suit she wore showed barely a wrinkle, even after hours in this hellhole precinct. He touched her shoulder reassuringly. “It won’t be long.”

Turning, he went over to Burke. “Billy, my lad.” He raised his chin, indicating the abrasion on Burke¹s cheek. “They do that to you?”

Burke gave him a small, bitter smile. “The arresting hump. After I was cuffed.”

“That’s a fucking lie.” The words came from a heavyset cop, about Burke’s size. He had thinning hair that was turning gray — about forty, Fabio guessed — and there was heavy swelling on the right side of his jaw. From a very good left hook, Fabio decided.

Frankie turned to Whitney. “You see this clown hit Billy?” he asked.

Whitney nodded. “Yes, I did.”

“Was Billy cuffed when he hit him?”

“Yes.”

Frankie turned and walked over to the cop. His name tag identified him as Grady. Fabio’s head was tilted back, giving Grady the full value of his “you’re full of shit” look. “So it’s a fucking lie, huh?”

Grady glowered at him. “That’s right. It’s a fucking lie.”

Fabio took a step back as though he had been struck. Then he started to laugh. “Hey, Commissioner. Come over here and get a whiff of this hairbag. He smells like he’s been sucking on a bar rag.”

Murphy closed his eyes and shuddered. Then he turned to the uniformed sergeant. “Did you test Burke and Miss Morgan for alcohol?” he asked.

“No, sir,” the sergeant said.

“You’ve had them here for — what — three hours now? So why didn’t you test them?”

The sergeant’s jaw tightened. “There didn’t seem to be a reason to, Commissioner.”

Fabio had gone back over to Burke. He turned toward the sergeant, then inclined his head toward the arresting cop. “Did you test Grady?”

The sergeant stared at him, his eyes blank. “No.”

Fabio turned to Murphy. “Who was riding shotgun?”

Murphy turned back to the sergeant for an answer.

“Officer Muldoon,” the sergeant said.

A young, slender officer took a step forward. Fabio looked him up and down. No more than a year out of the academy, probably less, he decided. He also noticed Muldoon was wearing a different precinct insignia, indicating he had been “flown in” for the night, either because Grady’s regular partner had been off or — as sometimes happened with trouble-prone cops — because nobody else in the precinct would ride with Grady.

Fabio put on his glasses and looked at the insignia more closely. “You work out of Coney Island?” he asked Muldoon.

“Yes, sir.” To Fabio, the young cop looked as though he wanted to be there now.
“You get flown in here regularly?”

“Just this week, sir.”

Fabio turned toward the sergeant. “If the Globe’s lawyers check the patrol sheets, you think they’re gonna find that somebody gets flown in every time Grady’s on patrol?”

The sergeant’s jaw tightened, but he maintained the blank stare. “I wouldn’t know, sir.”

Fabio laughed. “Yeah, I bet you wouldn’t.” He turned back to Muldoon, noticed that the young cop was standing as far away from Grady as he could get. “You see what happened tonight?” he asked. Fabio had removed a reporter’s notebook and a pen from his pocket. Had he pulled a pistol, the effect on Muldoon could not have been greater.

“No, sir,” Muldoon said. “I was in the patrol car, trying to raise the precinct on the radio.”

From behind Frankie, Billy Burke let out a low laugh. “Jesus, I thought I remembered you standing right next to that clown. I even thought I remembered you grabbing him when he went for his gun after I knocked him on his ass.”

“No, sir,” Muldoon said. “I was in the patrol car. I didn’t see anything.”

Burke let out another laugh, and Frankie turned toward him. He raised one finger to his lips. “Not another word, my troop,” he said.

“Yes, my Cheech,” Burke said. He grinned at the floor and shook his head.

Frankie turned to Murphy. “You wanna dance this fucking dance some more, or should we just leave now and maybe — just maybe — forget it ever happened?”

Before Murphy could answer, a tall, gray-haired man was led into the room. He went immediately to Whitney. Frankie watched them confer in whispers, then turned to Murphy, keeping his own voice as low as possible. “Of course, it may be too late.” He watched Murphy’s facial muscles dance against his cheek. “But if you want, I’ll see what I can do?”

Murphy turned away from the roomful of cops, took Frankie by the arm, and led him out into the hall. “What’s it going to cost me?”

Frankie inclined his head toward the interrogation room. “A minor contract on Officer Friendly in there,” he whispered. “And another small one on that hump desk sergeant.”

Murphy drew a deep breath. “See what you can do.”

Outside on the sidewalk Billy Burke placed a hand against the small of his back, arched his shoulders, and stretched. He was dressed in jeans and a houndstooth jacket that looked as though he had slept in it. Three buttons had been torn from his blue checked dress shirt. “Sorry you got dragged out of bed, Cheech.” Burke glanced at Whitney. The look on her face forced him to turn away.

Whitney’s lawyer had gone to retrieve his car so he could drive her home, but Frankie glanced around just to be sure. “It’s not a problem, but Murphy may decide to bend some ears at the paper, just to cover his ass. So you better tell me everything that happened.”

Billy shook his head. “It was stupid, Cheech. This cop, Grady, was half in the bag. I think he spotted the press plates on my car and decided he was going to break my chops. Anyway, he pulled me over and told me I¹d run a red light. Then he started mouthing off — said he was sick of newspaper and television assholes who thought they could do whatever they wanted. Before I could say anything, he started ranting about that cop in Brownsville, the one who shot that black honor student last month. He said the kid was a scumbag junkie and that we ruined the cop’s life by playing him up as some trigger-happy kid killer.” Billy rubbed his eyes. “Hell, I should of just kept my mouth shut and taken care of it the next day. I knew then he was half loaded. His damn breath almost knocked me over. Instead, I told him where to get off; told him I was going to let his captain know he had a drunk working for him.” He gave Fabio a regretful look. “That’s when he really lost it. He grabbed me by the throat and pulled me out of the car, spun me around, and started patting me down.” Burke let out a low laugh. “All this time his partner — this young kid he’s riding with — is begging him to cool it. I think he could see his brand-new cop career headed straight for the toilet.” He shook his head again. “That’s when Whitney got out of the car to find out what was happening. She came up behind Grady and asked what was going on, and he turned around and belted her. One shot, right to the chest. Just like they teach at the academy. Knocked her ass over teacups.” He let out a long sigh. “And that’s when I lost it and decked him.”

“If you’d kept quiet in the first place, you wouldn’t have had to play Sir Galahad.” Whitney was staring into the street as she snapped out the words.

Billy let out another breath and looked to the heavens. Frankie ignored her, thinking, And if you’d kept your cute little ass in the car, I’d still be in bed. He glanced at Billy. And you probably would be, too. With her.

Frankie stared at Burke, wondering how long it would take him to mend fences with the lady. He was a good-looking guy — wavy black hair with a few flecks of gray starting to show through, soft green eyes contrasted against rugged features that seemed a bit world-weary. Frankie had known Burke for seven years, and not only liked the man but respected him. Early on he had made Burke his protégé considering him the best reporter he had ever encountered. Until a few years ago there had been no question in Frankie’s mind that Burke would be the paper’s next city editor. But when his chance came, Burke’s life had been falling apart, and any hope he had of running the city desk fell apart with it. And his life was still falling apart. You could see it in his face. It was a deep, personal pain that seemed to sit behind his eyes. Frankie understood that pain, knew what had caused it, and he silently prayed it was something he would never experience himself.

He forced the thought away. Right now there was a more pressing problem. He took Billy’s arm and led him a few steps down the sidewalk.

“I need you to listen up a minute,” he began. “You know and I know that a certain city editor is gonna ask some very pointed questions about this tomorrow. And he’s gonna be hoping for answers that will put you in a pile of shit.” Frankie raised his hands as though speaking a regrettable truth he wished he could change, but a truth nonetheless. “Look, if this had happened to one of his fucking pets, he wouldn’t give it a second thought. But it happened to you. So if he doesn’t get the right answers, he’s gonna jump all over your ass, and he’s gonna love every fucking minute of it. Now, you got two choices. You can tell him to fuck off and end up working in Queens for the next three months, or you help me put together a story he’s gonna buy.”

Billy stared out at the traffic moving down Flatbush Avenue. “What do you need to know?”

“First, tell me what the hell brought you two out to Brooklyn.”

“Fate,” Billy said. He gave Frankie a lopsided grin. “Actually, we came out for a late dinner at Monte’s. Whitney heard it was a wiseguy hangout and wanted to see it.” He grinned again. “She said it would be interesting to eat with a bunch of hoodlums.” He let out a short laugh. “Those were her exact words.”

“Jesus Christ.”

“Hey, she works for the Sunday Magazine.” He laughed again. “I think she expected to see the Godfather scarfing down a plate of scungilli. Anyway, we were heading back to Manhattan when that clown pulled us over.”

Frankie turned and beckoned for Whitney to join them.

“Billy says you came out here for dinner,” Frankie said when she reached them.

“That’s right. Coming to Brooklyn was my second mistake of the night.” She gave Billy an icy look, making it clear what her first mistake was.

Frankie ignored her and pushed on. “The copy of the report Murphy gave me says this happened a little after eleven. Why’d you both wait so long to call the city desk?”

Whitney’s face turned a deep red, and she looked away.

“That’s the way Grady played it,” Billy said. “He took us to the central booking station, had us strip-searched, booked, then put in holding cells for a while before they brought us here to the Seven-eight. We weren’t allowed any calls until we got here. I think his sergeant was pissed when he found out that happened — I could hear him snarling at Grady out in the hall — but by then there was nothing he could do.”

Frankie glanced at Whitney. Her back was rigidly straight, and she was still staring into the street. The revelation of the strip search had deepened the color in her face. He tried to visualize her being told to bend over and grab her ankles. He couldn’t quite manage it. And the female holding cell, given the area, had probably been loaded with the evening’s collection of skags and hookers. He fought off a grin and decided it might be quite a while before Billy again climbed between those lovely legs.

“Okay, let’s go home and forget about it. Leave the damage control to me. This moron, Grady, did enough things wrong I should be able to bury him with our fearless leaders.”

“What’s going to happen with us?” Whitney asked. “Will we have to go to court?”

Frankie shrugged. “Grady says he won’t drop the charges, and even his bosses can’t make him if he wants to play hard-ass. But I’ll call the Brooklyn DA. He’s a politician. He knows better than to play games with us. Don’t worry about it. The worst that’s gonna happen is he’ll ask the judge to adjourn the case in contemplation of dismissal. That means you’ll appear in court, you’ll go home, and six months later the charges will be expunged from the record. I’ll take care of any questions at the paper. But if anybody there asks you about this, you make sure you don’t tell them any more than you told me. The cop was a drunk who had a hard-on for the media, and you two were just innocent bystanders. That’s it. End of story. You got that?”

“I’m not sure I want to let it drop,” Billy said. “I think Whitney and I should file a complaint with the Civilian Review Board.”

Frankie stared at him, blinked, then let out a barking laugh. “Bullshit.” He tapped one finger against Burke’s chest. “You listen to your Cheech, my boy, and just let it die. The powers that be are not gonna be happy about this. Just keep our beloved city editor in mind. You are not one of Lenny Twist’s favorite people. And your star isn’t exactly in the ascension with the other editors either. So drop it and let me handle it.”

Billy drew a deep breath. “Cheech, if that drunken asshole stays on the street, sooner or later he’ll kill some poor bastard. Christ, if he did this to a newspaper reporter, what the hell do you think he’ll do to some black or Hispanic kid who happens to piss him off? We¹ll have another Brownsville all over again.”

Again Frankie tapped Burke’s chest, emphasizing each word. “That . . . is . . . not . . . your . . . problem. You let me take care of Grady.”

“What are you going to do?” Whitney asked.

Frankie stared at her, as if she, too, were about to propose something stupid.

“I’m not disagreeing with you,” she said quickly. “In fact, I agree with you completely. I just want this whole thing over with, and I certainly don’t want any trouble at the paper.” She paused a beat. “But . . . well . . . I am curious.”

Frankie nodded. “Okay. But this is for our ears only.” His lips formed a self-satisfied smirk. “Let’s just say that later this morning, our good friend the deputy commissioner just might run a little check with personnel to find out where Patrolman Grady lives. Then, later, he just might have a little talk with the chief of patrol and express his concern about the horrendous understaffing at whatever New York City precinct is the farthest one away from Grady’s house.” The smirk disappeared, and he let out a sigh and shook his head in mock sadness. “It wouldn’t surprise me at all if that Irish asshole ends up working as the broom in that precinct.” Fabio’s smirk returned, decidedly evil now. “A few days after that happens, I think Patrolman Grady also just might get a little phone call. And when he gets that call, somebody just might ask that Irish prick how he likes sweeping floors and cleaning locker rooms and if he ever thinks about us when he drives his fat Irish ass all that way to work each day.” Frankie’s smirk grew. “There’s also a certain bigmouth desk sergeant who’s supposed to retire next week. Except I think his paperwork just might get lost. Maybe for a couple of months. In the meantime he might be doing a little foot patrol with all the skells in Times Square.”

Billy studied Frankie and found himself enjoying the man’s outrageous bravado. Fabio looked quite pleased with himself. His dark hair was slicked back, accenting a sharp widow’s peak, and his head was tilted so he could look at them along the length of his nose. His pudgy body seemed puffed up like a victorious rooster, Billy thought, one who fully expected to have his way. He glanced at Whitney and knew his own plan for Grady didn’t have a prayer. There would be no chance with the Civilian Review Board without her corroborating statement. The look on her face told him not even to ask.

He shook his head. “Okay, Cheech. We’ll play it your way.”

Frankie glanced at Whitney to confirm what he already knew — that there would be no opposition in that corner either. Satisfied, he turned back to Billy. “That’s a good troop,” he said. “Where’s your car?”

“They left it on the street where they busted me.”

“When Whitney’s lawyer gets back, I’ll take you over there.” He grinned. “With a little luck, some of it might still be there.”



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