Retired cops reminisce
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ONE OF US
A Tale from the House of Ashimbabbar
Woodward waited at the table with our drinks, early as always. I greeted him and sat down, surreptitiously inhaling the familiar, loathsome cigar smoke, so delicious since I'd had to give up my pipe. Constant punctuality is more obsessive than laudable, I decided abruptly.
We both listened dutifully as the waitress recited the specials of the day before we ordered the same meals we've ordered at this same table the second Friday evening of every third month for nearly five years.
I sipped sparingly at my weekly weak whiskey, wondering if total abstinence wouldn't be easier, then asked, "Hear about Mac?"
Woody nodded, took another swallow of his double scotch, and replied, "Yeah. Poor son of a bitch: retired four months and Poof!" he snapped his fingers, "Heart attack – never even made the hospital."
"I guess we're the last of the squad now. I mean, Manny's still on the Job, but he wasn't really part of the team; only there the last few months, after Emile went down; missed all the wild times."
He nodded, then swallowed again, deeply, before saying, "Angie's still breathing but that's about it: last time I went out, he didn't even know me – thought I was his kid brother got killed in Iraq."
"Christ, and he was always the brain! We wouldn't've made half our busts without him."
"Yeah, but it wasn't all him. We were the real team, Art: you, me, and Emile. Then the rest after we started getting results. Ended up the hottest narc squad in the city, best arrest record ever. Man, we had us some times!"
"That we did," I agreed wholeheartedly, "While it lasted."
"Yeah. Poor Emile. When he bought it, that broke us up."
"No, it really ended before that. When the kid got stabbed, that turned everything around. We tried to keep it together, but it was never the same afterward. Then Emile, and we all knew it was over. Even though they didn't split us up for a few months, we just marked time."
"But Jimmy wasn't really on the team," he protested, "just helping on that one sting 'cause he spoke Spanish. I mean, damn shame, him only a year off probation and ending up crippled like that, but he wasn't one of us."
"No – but whoever blew his cover was."
"What? You believe that shit? I know the Captain thought so, but..."
"I always did, too," I interrupted.
"But who? Why?"
"I figured Emile for it."
"Emile!" he exclaimed, "Why him? Of all of us, he didn't need the money – if that's what you're thinking he did it for."
"No, I don't think he even meant to. Remember that snitch, what's her name? Sheila? Shirley? You know, Garcia's girl – gets pissed 'cause he's screwing some stripper and gives us a few tips to get even?"
"Stella. Her name was Stella Martin. Yeah, I remember."
"That's her: Stella. Well, I figure Emile was banging her. She was so mad at Garcia, what better way to get back than screwing a cop? Emile always chased everything that looked halfway decent anyway, and she was a real doll – and available."
"Yeah, she sure was," he nodded solemnly, then exclaimed, "So, you think he sold us out to get in her pants, for Christ sake?"
"Not on purpose. He probably let something slip, you know: pillow talk. He never thought any woman could resist him – wouldn't imagine she could be just waiting for something juicy to bring home to Daddy, make him forget his new young thing."
"Damn! Remember Emile being real shook up over Jimmy. I mean, it got to all of us, but he acted like it was his own kid or something."
"He started drinking again, too," I added, "Heavy. The way IA kept sniffing around, it was only a matter of time till he broke."
"Good thing the shooflies didn't get on to Stella. If she gave up Emile... What a stink! Would've splattered all of us."
"She didn't have much chance. Apparently Garcia's not the grateful type: she disappeared right after, didn't turn up till some hunters upstate stumbled over her next fall. If not for her dentist, coroner never would have ID'd what was left."
"Yeah – heard about that; think I was working sex crimes by then." He drank again, then shook his head sadly, "Real shame. I mean, she gave us some good busts before she turned. If she did."
"Oh, she did. And Emile knew what he'd done." I took a small sip, nursing that one damn drink, then continued, "In fact, it might even have been him that wasted her: he was that far gone."
Woody stared at me intently, "Damn, man – way you put it, it's like you think it was a good thing he got killed!"
"Good for the rest of us. A tight squad like we had, that kind of shit would've stuck to all of us, and it don't ever come off. Good for Emile too: another month, maybe two, and he'd've been singing to IA or eating his piece. The way it went down, his family can hold their heads up and Sue gets his pension. Maybe she wouldn't starve without it, but it still helps."
"Damn, Art, you make it sound like one of us might've shot him," Woody's voice quavered, "On purpose. Like you could've done it yourself, for Christ sake!"
I let him squirm a few seconds before saying, "I did."
"What? Oh Hell, man, we all thought we could've. Shit, surprised we didn't all get shot that night! Just unlucky he was undercover, the only one couldn't wear a vest. It was one hell of a shootout, and us all spread out: suppose any of us could've shot him – accidental, ricochet, or something. No way of knowing with the bullet all fragmented."
"No. No accident; no ricochet. I shot him. On purpose."
"Wha – you..." he sputtered, "That's crazy! You don't know what you're saying, Art."
"Yes I do. I figure you ought to know. Never have told anybody else; never will."
"Can't believe it! You shot him? No way. Impossible!"
"Not impossible. Fact. One time, dead center. Used a scored load to be sure it would fragment."
"But... but, the autopsy said he was shot twice: heart and a through-and-through in the shoulder."
"Three times, actually: heart, shoulder, and inside his left arm. But that last one barely touched him, and in those raggedy street clothes, another tear wasn't noticeable. The coroner didn't even figure that scratch for a gunshot wound, especially after I told her he'd scraped himself that morning in the gym. Anyway, that shot might as well have missed and the shoulder wound wouldn't have been fatal." I drained my glass and shrugged, adding, "But then, you always were a lousy shot, Woody."