“The Showstopper!”: Chapter 6

6

 

“You spineless bunch of layabouts! Are you trying to make this precinct a laughing-stock?”

The senior officers of the 43rd stared at the floor uncomfortably, cringing under Calvin’s verbal assault.

“It’s not like that, Chief,” came the sullen mumbling from Captain Robert Decker, the precinct’s second-in-command. “We’ve all thought it over, and on the whole, we just don’t really care for the idea of…”

“Of what, Captain?” Calvin demanded, the vein in his forehead starting to swell. “Getting off your fat, lazy ass and doing something for a change, or of actually obeying an order given to you by your commanding officer? Which one sounds better to you?”

“But Chief…”

“Can it!” the burly man roared, glaring around at his officers. “This is outrageous! I ask my best people to cooperate on an assignment that could be crucial to the survival of this house, and all you can do is make excuses? Did you all lose your manhood on the way to work this morning?”

“What the Captain means, sir,” Sergeant Lawrence jumped in, “is that you asked one of us to take charge when really this case is too much for one person to handle. This Showstopper thing has been going on for months, and we still don’t have a single solid lead. Where would we start, sir?”

“Not to mention that it’s going to be a press circus, sir,” added Lieutenant Martin, the precinct’s ranking detective. “Whoever’s in charge will be stalked by reporters at all times. With such a high-profile case, there’s no telling how much worse a slip-up could make things, even a minor one. The news hawks would have their scandal, and the public would eat us alive.”

“So you see, Chief,” said Decker, trying to reassert some semblance of authority, “we think the best idea would be for you to petition the council and see if we can get any support on this. If we don’t have their backing before we dive into this, it could be a public relations disaster.”

“Petition the Council?” Calvin snorted. “Wouldn’t that be nice. They’ve been looking for an excuse to eliminate this precinct for years and extend the 85th’s authority over Broadway just so they can cut corners on their precious budget. And I’ll be tarred and feathered before I let Marcus Blakely, the council’s favorite lap-dog, take over my beat. That incompetent bungler wouldn’t know a clue it walked up and smacked him in the mouth. No, begging for help is exactly what they want us to do, and I’ll be damned if I give them the satisfaction. They think they’ve got us with this ridiculous case, but by God and all that’s holy, we’ll show those suit-wearing apes.”

He turned his glare back to his troops.

“That is, if one of you can manage to step up and take charge. Well? Who’s it going to be?”

What Calvin didn’t know was that exactly at that moment, a solution to the problem at hand was walking through the office door.

That solution’s name was Officer William Patrick McKenna, ironically among the lowest level of officers present in the precinct on that fateful day. He loved the law and took great pride in wearing the uniform, especially at home where Molly and his children could see the sleek blue jacket, the starched black slacks, and gleaming brass buttons.

What McKenna didn’t like to talk about was that after nearly three years of work in the 43rd, he had yet to be partnered with even the lowliest of beat cops, and the most important task he had been entrusted with to date was bringing Chief Calvin his morning coffee. It was a simple exercise to be sure, as the Chief never deviated from his order of steaming hot, as black as humanly possible, and never sullied with the moderation of cream and sugar.

He was almost positive that it had to do with his being Irish. As the first generation of the McKenna family to be born in America, he had yet to lose many of his people’s traditional ways, including but not limited to a heightened taste for alcohol, sailor-caliber language, and a County Cork accent to boot. Such characteristics frequently made him a subject of amusement for his well-adjusted New York colleagues.

These petty matters, however, did not sway his devotion in the slightest.

“The Lord works in mysterious ways, dear,” he would say to Molly roughly three to four times a day while perusing the contents of his family’s heirloom King James Catholic Bible. “As long as I labor faithfully and in good cheer, there’s a chance that God will smile on me and the Chief will offer me a promotion. Stranger things have happened, you know.”

And roughly three to four times a day, his wife would sigh, throw up her hands in and get back to washing clothing, doing dishes, or caring for the tykes, muttering under her breath, “I honestly don’t know how I went and married such a fool,” and McKenna would be left wondering what all that was about anyway.

So for the sake of himself, Molly, the tykes, the Chief, the coffee, and all others concerned, McKenna kept bringing the Chief his morning cup of caffeinated auto fuel, even as each day his hope took one step closer to being lost.

By what McKenna would himself call divine providence, and what historians years later would refer to as a simple case of being in the right place at the right time–or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on which historian you asked–the Irish officer strolled into Calvin’s office that morning and had a head-on collision with destiny.

In this instance, destiny took the form of Captain Decker, who intended to turn around and release some of his frustration on his subordinates. This single event would become a hallmark in police history comparable to the capture of Al Capone and the appointment of J. Edgar Hoover to head the infant FBI.

The only immediate consequence, however, was a grunt of surprise as McKenna collided with Decker, steaming hot coffee flying from the mug in his hand and splattering across the front of the Captain’s immaculate uniform.

“You blithering idiot!” Decker roared, hopping about as the liquid stained his shirt and burned the skin beneath. “Watch where you’re going! Do you have eyes? Assault! You’re a public menace, that’s what you are! Damn it all, this will never come out!”

McKenna froze, horrified, as beads of cold sweat broke out on his brow and began to stick his close-cut red hair to his forehead. He didn’t understand how this could have happened. Not after everything.

“You damned careless lot of Irish sewer rats!” Decker spat. “It’s no wonder this city’s in such a state with all you useless loafers blundering about! I don’t care if you make a dog’s wages, but you’re going to give me every last cent you earn until you pay for this uniform!”

At that moment, an image flitted through McKenna’s mind of his wife and children, deprived of his meager police salary, hollow-faced and starving on the street. While a person in a more stable state of mind would no doubt dismiss such a panic-induced fantasy, the heart-wrenching vision, combined with McKenna’s pent-up disillusionment, anger, and stress were more than enough to rouse his mighty Irish temper. He then proceeded to let loose one of the longest and loudest set of put-downs and insults in New York City history. And as said history is a storied one to be sure, you can imagine what this particular incident was like.

In keeping with the professional nature of this record, specific details as to the content of Officer McKenna’s outburst have been omitted. What little can be written was instead gathered from witness commentary after the fact.

Mrs. Millicent Francis, an elderly woman waiting for assistance on the matter of her missing tabby cat that morning, said she heard the tirade from clear across the lobby of the crowded precinct.

“Oh yes. It was terrible to hear a man say such things in public,” she said. “Language like that could curdle all the milk in a field of cows and peel the bark off a tree at fifty yards. I certainly hope he doesn’t kiss his children with that mouth.”

Sheldon Lawrence, a former officer from the 43rd Precinct and one of those present at the time of the incident, was of the opinion that Decker had it coming.

“Personally, I think he deserved every bit of it,” he said. “Decker was a snob and a boor, and none of us liked him much anyway. He had no right to go off at McKenna like that, but it didn’t matter on account of that paddy ran him down like a freight train over a bicycle. Not sporting at all, that, but very entertaining.”

Lawrence also said that McKenna’s rant utilized colorful language of a sort rarely seen, even in immigrants, along with several choice references to Decker’s mother, his family, his masculinity, and his relationship to certain four-legged canine animals and various subspecies of primates.

In any case, it is not the intention of this writer to digress, but merely to provide adequate background information for the undoubtedly educated and discerning reader.

***

The senior staff stood in thunder-struck silence as McKenna, red-faced and panting, felt his stomach drop into a bottomless pit. He winced as his shell-shocked haze was invaded by the sound of Calvin roaring in the background, no doubt demanding his resignation.

Hanging his head in shame, the Irishman silently cursed the temper of his forefathers and his own stupidity as he turned to the Chief to hand over his badge and quite possibly beg for forgiveness. It was then that he realized Calvin was not shouting. In fact, he was not even angry. The Chief was leaned back in his chair, purple-faced and laughing hard enough to burst an artery.

“Brilliant, man!” he cried, smacking his desk with a fist for emphasis. “Absolutely fantastic! You’ve hit the nail right on the head!” He composed himself with visible effort and rose to his feet, scratching his head as if trying to remember something he had misplaced.

“Errr…McKendrick, isn’t it? The paddy lad who brings me coffee?”

“It’s M-M-McKenna, sir,” McKenna stuttered through a mouth that seemed full of sandpaper. “Sir, I apologize. I’m so terribly sorry. Let me explain…”

“Explain nothing!” Calvin shouted, slapping the officer’s back with such force he nearly fell over. “You just said everything I’ve ever wanted to say to these fair-weather fellows. Not many men would have the guts to do that. And if there’s one thing I hate,” he growled, surveying the sheepish group of officers, “it’s a yes-man. Boy, I wish I had a dozen like you.”

McKenna considered telling Calvin that he was getting on 30 years old and was therefore no longer a boy, but decided not to press his luck.

“Yes, sir,” the Chief mused, stroking his chin thoughtfully. “If only more people around here had the courage to say what they mean. I could use someone like that.”

Suddenly he froze, a light bulb forming in his mind. It was, granted, perhaps not the brightest in the history of such light bulbs, but it was a light bulb nonetheless.

“Say, McClellan…”

“McKenna, sir.”

“Whatever.”

Calvin rested a meaty hand on the Irishman’s shoulder and looked him straight in the eye.

“I think I may have a use for you after all. What do you say?”

McKenna shrugged, trying his best not to offend.

“You’re the boss, sir.”

“Now what kind of an answer is that, man?” asked the Chief, frowning.

McKenna realized the bind he had placed himself in. Now that Calvin thought he was outspoken and tough, he had to keep up the act, or he could very likely kiss his job goodbye.

“Sorry, sir,” he said, attempting to look more confident than he felt. “What I meant to say was that I’d be very interested.”

As the rest of the senior officers listened attentively, Decker sulked in the background and glared at McKenna, his distaste for the Irishman blossoming into instant hatred. All this funny business was definitely going in his next letter to the council.

“That’s better,” said Calvin, thumping McKenna on the back and not noticing the younger man’s grunt of pain. “Now then, boy, what I had in mind was putting you on a case. A case of great importance that’s been giving me a good deal of headaches lately.”

McKenna’s breath caught in his chest. Had he heard right? Did the Chief want to put him on a case? Was this the Lord’s call he had awaited for so long?

“But I’m only an officer, sir,” he blurted out. “Only ranked staff members are allowed to take cases.”

“A detail,” said Calvin. “Can I count on you, lad? Are you the kind of man who will see this through to the bitter end, no matter how difficult the going gets? Or will you let me down? Well?”

McKenna weighed his options. On one hand, he knew he was inexperienced, unprepared, and criminally under-qualified to take on a major investigation. It was obvious to any sane man what his answer should be.

But on the other hand…

Well, to be honest, he wasn’t really sure what the other hand was. His attention-starved imagination, however, was more than happy to jump in, filling his head with ludicrously exaggerated and highly improbable visions of parades, fame, fortune, and all the whiskey he could ever drink.

So in the end, the decision was what would be referred to in the parlance of modern times as “a real no-brainer.”

Calvin was watching him closely.

“What manner of man are you, Sergeant McKenna?”

McKenna crossed himself, asking for divine mercy and praying that God, or whatever other deity took pity on fools, was listening.

“I’m your man, sir,” he said. “What case did you have in mind?”

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