by Jack Curtin
"Let me get this straight," Marty Craig's voice was rising with every word, which meant to anyone who knew him that he was just this side of exploding. "She's putting those Special Sex nitwits in charge of what should be our investigation?" He punctuated the question by slamming his meaty hand on the bar.
"The good captain said it was absolutely necessary," replied Andy Jones. "She said that this was exactly the sort of situation that warranted her special attention because of the possibility that the perp might be particularly dangerous to women." Jones spoke in a sarcastic, portentous tone, stressing the last four words to mimic their commanding officer's almost daily use of that particular phrase. He was Marty's partner and the only black man among the half dozen Major Crimes detectives who were gathered, as was their habit several nights each week, on a cluster of barstools just inside the front door of Alberto's Café.
Alberto's was the closest watering hole to Philadelphia's famed Roundhouse, the central police headquarters for the city and environs. Over the years, it had become an almost requisite stop for many detectives as they came off duty. The tiny bistro had long since given up the struggle to attract an upscale yuppie clientele and now pretty much catered to its less economically endowed but eminently reliable customer base from just down the block.
"What happened," one of the other detectives asked, "the creep say something dirty to one of the tellers, or what?"
Andy paused to take a sip of his beer, savoring this rare moment as the focal point of the group. It wasn't often any member of the squad had information that the others didn't share immediately. However, since he'd been on administrative desk assignment all day while the others were out on the street, he was alone in having the scoop about the bank holdup that afternoon and, even more importantly, the decision of their controversial new female commander, who was well on her way to becoming Philly's best known cop.
Dubbed "Captain Sensitivity" throughout the whole department during her rapid raise through the ranks, a meteoric climb that was helped by her being regularly featured as a popular and outspoken headline speaker at one feminist event or another, Captain Cynthia Jenkins had instantly become a regular source of irritation to the Major Crimes team upon her arrival as their new commanding officer two months ago. Her strange, if typical, decision about the previous day's big bank robbery would do nothing to alleviate that situation.
"What happened," Andy said when he had milked the situation for all he could, "was that the robber reached over and grabbed the head teller's tit after she handed him the bag of money. Then he ripped her blouse right down the front and ran out."
Marty almost slipped off his stool as he half jumped up with indignation. "Wait a minute! You mean to tell me that just because this joker cops a feel in the middle of a robbery, he'll probably get away clean while we spend all our time trying to work around a pack of incompetents messing up our case? What a crock."
As the others muttered their assent, the grizzled detective sank back down and gulped the rest of his beer. He called to the attractive young woman sitting behind the bar several feet away, who glanced at the men periodically to see if they needed anything but otherwise seemed much more interested in the paperback book in lap. "Gimme a shot and another beer here, huh, Babe?"
Linda, Alberto's night bartender, moved quickly down to draw Marty a new draft and pour him a generous shot of bar whiskey. The young woman was Alberto's second biggest asset as far as the detectives were concerned, ranking only behind the Café's proximity to the Roundhouse. Not only did she brighten the place up considerably more than Lou, the surly and overweight bartender she'd replaced some months back, she also got points for being a good old-fashioned girl rather than a cranky feminist such as the woman who now directed their professional activities. Anyone who called Captain Jenkins "Babe" would have heard about it at considerable length.
Linda managed to be carefully standoffish and not reveal any personal information, not even her last name, yet was never overtly unfriendly. For experienced cops, whose cynical and hard-bitten attitudes made them susceptible to being openly and often cruelly brushed off by women of all sorts, her polite aloofness was almost an act of kindness. And they showed their appreciation with handsome tips at the end of the night. They probably would have been surprised and amused to discover that their generosity had unconsciously and substantially grown ever since Captain Jenkins had come onto the scene to bedevil them.
Once she'd finished and collected payment from the kitty on the bar top, the bartender immediately moved back to the stool where she retreated whenever the detectives came over from the roundhouse to drink away their frustrations. Even this they didn't take as a snub, realizing that an outsider, especially a woman, would quickly tire of listening to their often profane carping. Indeed, It was an unwritten rule in any good cop bar that bartenders did their jobs and got out of the way.
Andy gave his comrades a complete rundown on the decision that had been announced to reporters by Captain Jenkins at a Roundhouse news conference earlier that afternoon. "She said that violent and unacceptable behavior toward a woman at today's crime scene showed that this guy was more dangerous that your average bank robber," he summed up, still mimicking their superior's eternally serious tone and language, "and she wanted to make sure we had our " he paused to stress the word he knew the others would react to, " experts working on the case."
Everybody turned toward Marty expecting another outburst. As the oldest and most experienced of the Major Crimes team, he was not only their leader, but also the most articulate in expressing the all too regular frustrations that marked their professional and personal lives. And the ongoing success of the mysterious bank robber who'd been plaguing the City of Brotherly Love on and off for the past several months was about as frustrating as it got at this point, especially with the local press in an uproar about a "crime wave" and their superiors in the Roundhouse looking for scapegoats. It would help things not at all that this latest caper had come scarcely a month after the previous one, and taking the case away from them now was a pointed slap in the face.
Rather than becoming even angrier, though, the veteran detective just slumped back and shook his head slowly. The resignation in his voice when he finally spoke was so unusual that the rest of the team exchanged surprised glances.
"It's like this guy know everything that's going on before it even happens and then figures out how to take advantage of it," Marty said softly, almost as if trying to explain matters to himself. "A month ago, when we had that scam set up at this same bank, just waiting for him, he didn't bite. What he does, he hits a branch over in the Seventh Precinct where we were short-handed 'cause the Commissioner had moved their guys over here to set up the sting. The way I see it, he knew exactly what we were doing and he was doing. We should be trying to find out how that could be, especially since the guy now turns around and hits the very place we just quit watching.
"Instead of working the case the way we should, though, we gotta spend half our time sitting around listening to the Captain tell us how we should be more in touch with our feelings. We got a real wise guy who's managed to stay a step ahead of us for months, and we're gonna turn the whole thing over to a pack of rejects and politically connected jokers who got drummed out of real police work and wouldn't know how to solve a crime if it happened right in front of them "
Marty's voice trailed off and the whole group silently followed his lead in tossing back their whiskeys and washing them down with gulps of beer. They mulled things over to themselves as the pretty bartender hurried up to refill their glasses. No one said anything until she had moved away again, then Andy finally muttered the response to their leader's muted tirade which was burning in all their minds: "It's almost like he has somebody on the inside."
This was the worst possible scenario for a cop under any circumstances, and the implications in this particular case were something none of them really wanted to confront. The best, maybe the only, source of information about the case was Major Crimes itself. If somebody was feeding their elusive prey inside stuff, it almost had to be one of the men gathered there at the bar.
The detectives all avoided looking at one another for the next several minutes. "Thank God the perp is white," Andy thought to himself, always aware that at least two of his comrades would have been a lot happier if he hadn't been made part of the team at Marty's insistence. For that matter, he knew that at least two of the guys were up to their eyeballs in debt and might .he stopped the train of thought in its tracks. Either you trusted your team or you got out. That was the way it worked, and he wasn't about to get out.
With the unsettling notion of treachery hanging over their heads, the detectives started getting more morose and depressed with each drink. By 2 AM closing time, though, they had each, as usual, pretty well rationalized the issue to decide that rather than one of them betraying the others, the more likely answer was that they were up against a mastermind who was just plain smarter than they were. Hardly a comforting thought, but at least better than casting suspicious sideways looks at each other every day. The bartender was back and forth along the bar to fill empty glasses so many times that she finally remarked at closing that she could just skip her daily run the next morning. It was probably the most personal thing she'd ever shared with them, but they hardly noticed as they staggered out into the night.
As had been her custom since her first night on the job, Linda played the night's conversation over in her mind while she cleaned the bar and straightened the place up. Rather than being out of earshot, the fact was that when Alberto's was empty, a state that it enjoyed more often than the owners might desire because the boisterous cops were so often on the scene, she could easily hear their every word from where she sat.
She couldn't wait to get home and tell Benny how things had gone. He would be fascinated, just as he'd been by all the interesting tidbits she'd carefully collected over the previous months. The imminent appointment of ardent feminist Cynthia Jenkins to the top spot in the local precinct had been a topic of conversation for several weeks, and some of the jokes the Major Crimes guys had told the night after the captain had taken command left Benny laughing so hard tears had come to his eyes. And they'd both really cracked up over tales about the ineptitude of the Sex Crimes Squad, another recurring topic for the hard-bitten detectives.
Linda knew Benny would especially get a kick out of Marty's saying it was almost as if the robber was aware that it was going to screw up the investigation of the robbery when he groped the teller. Yeah, Benny would definitely like that, just as he definitely must have liked it when he grabbed the woman's breast. Well, he'd better not have liked that last too much, she decided as she locked the door behind her, or today's holdup was the last one she was ever gonna help him plan.
Copyright © 2000 Jack Curtin
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