“Is that dog friendly?” asks the kid who’s spent the past half hour working his way around to the question. In that time, he quit the monkey bars in Addams Park’s broken-down jungle gym, did a few laps on the paved path between Ashland Avenue and the CHA low-rises, acted like he was interested in a nearby transformer bank, and finally got up the nerve to come over and ask.
In that half hour, Pete Murphy threw a tennis ball to his partner Butch about a hundred times, getting him some exercise after a long shift, and maybe showing off a little.
“He’s friendly,” Pete says. “You want to throw the ball?”
The kid shrugs and looks down at the grass, which is about like the condition of his pants: anemic-looking, worn away in places. He’s got light-black skin and black hair wrestled into tight, dirty braids. He probably has a nice smile and it probably doesn’t get used too often.
“Here,” Pete says, retrieving the slobbered ball from Butch and tossing it in the kid’s general direction, since he won’t want to get too friendly himself, Pete’s uniform and all. The kid catches the ball, easy, turns it around in his hands.
“What’s his name?” he asks, a drawl you don’t pick up in the city.
“What’s your name?” Pete asks right back.
The kid looks over his shoulder, watches a couple of old-timers wander toward the abandoned oak-tree trunk inexplicably set in the middle of a double block of nothing taller than weeds. It’s a park fixture more popular than the playground, since most of the folks who hang out here mean something different when they talk about getting swung.
Pete figures the men must see him which means they aren’t up to anything or else they’re already high, and anyway he’s off the clock, so to each his own. He says to the kid, “I’m Officer Murphy. And this is Butch.”
“Butch,” the kid says.
Butch cocks his head, attention on the ball.
“My name’s Ralla,” the kid says, tough lip. He squares his shoulders and winds up, a few years too young for an arm, and throws the ball. It pops up, short, and Butch catches it before it hits the ground—his skill erasing any worry the kid might have had about his own.
“Damn!” Ralla says. “He’s badass!”
Butch returns and leaves the ball exactly halfway between Pete and Ralla, his version of diplomacy. Ralla hangs back, waiting for the okay.
“Units in Eleven and all units citywide,” the dispatcher announces from the radio clipped to Pete’s shirt. He turns down the squelch and tilts an ear to listen to the rest: “Anonymous 911 caller states there will be a shooting at Madison and Hamlin. Caller claims the offenders are Four Corner Hustlers. No further description or details.”
Butch looks over at Pete like he wants to know if they’re going back to work. They could; they’re only a bowshot from Eleven. But they’re also on target for a good three days off and anyway, Pete’s not going to be the guy to bite into that gang beef. Been there, not doing that.
He nods toward the ball, tells Ralla, “Go ahead.”
Ralla’s next throw sends the ball over Butch’s head, but the dog’s still quick enough to catch it before it bounces.
“Damn,” he says again, extra as.
“So, Ralla,” Pete says, “you live here, in the Vill?” Not the best of what’s left of Chicago’s public housing but not the worst, either.
The kid checks Pete sideways like a pitcher would a man on first. He eyes the radio. “Do you?” Turning the question around, same game as Pete’s.
“We do not live here, no. But our office is close by, and Butch is always hounding me to stop.”
Ralla looks skeptical, like he doesn’t get the play on words. Or else he got it all right, but what he’s also got is hood smarts. That means he knows the closest police station is two miles away with a good twenty city blocks and as many parks in between. Nicer parks. Parks people use to enjoy sunny days. Not parks where people use.
That makes this park a pretty questionable choice for a game of fetch.
“I was only asking,” Pete says, “’cause we come here a lot, and I’ve never seen you before. And I like a guy who can throw the ball.”
“You looking for somebody?” Ralla coming straight in now, the same way Pete’s son Joel would if he thought he was being sugared.
“No,” Pete says, quitting the ripe smile.
“You looking for trouble, then?”
“No, kid,” Pete says. “I’m looking to get lost.” It’s a truth he’d never tell his son.
“Everybody lost around here,” Ralla says. He looks over his shoulder at the low-rises. “I know where I’ma go, though. I’m just staying by my uncle’s right now.”
“Your uncle lives here?”
“In the Abbotts.” Ralla throws the ball again and then rolls up his throwing arm’s dirty sleeve and that’s when Pete sees what look like cigarette burns: hot, pink scars polka-dotted from the inside of his wrist to the crook of his elbow.
No way there’s a happy ending there and Pete knows better than to ask, any question from him too official. Then again, the kid is the one who presented the evidence, so: “Your uncle. Is that your mom’s brother?”
“My mom’s boyfriend’s dad.”
“Well, family’s family,” Pete says, realizing the abandoned trunk isn’t the only strange tree in this hood. “Do you get along pretty well with your uncle?”
“Yeah. Only met him once, though. He stays by his grandma’s.”
“So you live with your uncle who isn’t your uncle who doesn’t live there.”
“Yeah,” Ralla says, like it’s perfectly reasonable.
Pete decides to drop it, the line of questioning gone crooked.
Butch brings the ball back to Ralla and he throws it low and fast, a worm burner. The dog goes full-throttle to get on top of it, nose in the dirt. His return is a wide, proud canter, the ball held high.
Ralla says, “I used to have a dog.”
“Oh yeah? What kind?”
“Loyal dogs.” As far as general observations go, Pete might as well have said four-legged, but: “What was his name?”
Tyson was the name of one of the torn-up dogs Pete found when he was in tac a few years back and the team busted a dog-fighting ring in Stoney Island, at a day care of all places. Tyson and five other pits named George, which was supposed to be funny. None of the dogs looked like it had ever won a fight. Neither did the guy running the ring, once Pete and company were through with him.
“I guess you had to leave Tyson behind, when you came here?”
“Nah. My dad had to get rid of him.”
“That’s too bad,” Pete says, wondering who got rid of Dad.
Ralla throws the ball again. This time when Butch fetches it he turns, drops it at his own feet, and waits—the start to a little game Joel calls Butchie Ball. Curious, Ralla approaches. Butch waits until the kid’s just close enough before he snaps up the ball, spins around and darts off, putting another ten feet between them.
Ralla plays along twice more before he says, “Hey! You the one supposed to fetch!” Then he follows Butch again anyway.
Watching them chase back and forth, Ralla’s spirit transformed, Pete is thankful for the dog. Has to be. He’s a hell of a work dog, sure, but he’s also a facilitator. He starts conversations. He eases tension. He gets people on the level.
Well, most people. The cops who think Pete was merited the K9 job can’t seem to rise above the ‘dog and pony show’ jokes.
“All available units in Eleven,” the dispatcher says. “Intelligence confirms the 911 call that a faction of Four Corner Hustlers called the BFMs, Boy-Frank-Mary, will retaliate against other Hustlers in the area of Madison and Hamlin. Caller states there are four BFMs, all young black males, sixteen to eighteen years of age, riding in a maroon Dodge Caravan. Retaliation is for the shooting of Cashual Betts, IR number 1968696 shot on 07 July this year in disputed drug territory. All units be aware: they are armed and extremely aggressive—”
Pete turns the radio down two more clicks. Seems like territory is always the issue with these kids. Strapped and dead-serious, pushing one another off corners like a city-block-size ghetto-rules game of Risk.
After a while Ralla gives up and returns to Pete’s side while Butch settles on a thin patch of dry grass, ball between his paws, face to the sun.
“Butch is the only one who wins that game,” Pete says.
“I know a game,” Ralla says, angling his chin toward Pete. “You got five dollars?” Not quite a demand, but maybe an early try at a grown man’s scam.
“What do you need five dollars for?”
“School,” Pete says, having already wondered why Ralla isn’t there right now, a Thursday past 9:00 A.M. “Where do you go to school?”
“Ralla,” he says. “Same as my name.”
“Ralla from Ralla.” Pete guesses North Carolina but wherever it is, the bus ride might as well be to Mars, as far as it must seem from here. “Is that where you’re going when you get out of here? Home?”
“I guess you don’t want to play my game,” Ralla says, toeing the dirt.
“I’m sorry,” Pete says, “I don’t have five dollars.” Truth is, he doesn’t want to see the kid try to swindle.
As if on cue to bridge the silence, Butch gets up and comes over and drops the ball in front of Ralla’s feet. Ralla picks it up, turns it over, fingers the faded brand name.
Pete says, “You look like you’re about my son’s age. His name’s Joel. He’s real good at history. Memorizing names and places and such. You like history?”
Ralla looks down at the ball, and Pete gets the idea he probably can’t read let alone understand that history, around a place like this, is too often destined to be repeated in the police blotter.
“I hope you get to go home soon,” Pete says.
“Hope don’t help.” He throws the ball as hard as he can.
This time Butch doesn’t fetch because he’s fixed on pack of older boys who’ve appeared, creeping into the park from the public housing.
“Butch, fuss,” Pete says and the dog obeys, heeling to his owner’s left.
“That’s Dontay,” Ralla says. “My mom’s boyfriend.” And then he goes to fetch the ball himself.
From this distance, Pete can’t see the boys well enough to tell any of them apart, all of them black-skinned and dressed in blues; even if he had them in a lineup, he guesses they’d still look like cards from the same deck.
He’ll bet they’ve picked him out already, though—his own blues—because the five of them simultaneously shift course and head north toward the blind alley that cuts in at Roosevelt, their collective strut scattered.
“You good with Dontay?” Pete asks when Ralla returns with the ball, waving it in front of Butch, a tease to play.
“How come he won’t do nothing?” Ralla asks, ignoring Pete’s question.
The dog’s hocks shake—instinct urging him to get up on his feet—but not because he wants to fetch. Dontay and company have flipped his work switch.
And now Pete’s, too.
“Butch wants to know your answer,” he says. “About Dontay.”
Ralla steps back and looks Pete in the eye and it is not rehearsed when he says, “We good.” But the way he stands there, arm held close to his side, wounds guarded, makes Pete realize the response is as learned as Butch’s sit, stay, and heel.
Pete reaches out and takes Ralla’s hand—still clutching the ball, wet and slimy—and turns his arm open, to the cigarette burns. “Is Dontay the one who gave you these?”
Ralla pulls his hand away. “I thought you wasn’t looking for trouble.” He looks out across the field as the boys approach a dark green midnineties Impala that’s either parked or broken down in the alley. He tosses the ball to Butch and it rolls past his feet, the dog’s attention still fixed on Dontay’s gang. He says, “I don’t want to play no more, either,” and starts back toward the Abbotts.
“Ralla,” Pete says, wallet from his pocket. Maybe he’ll only make himself feel better, but five bucks and some fetch is all the kid wanted, not twenty questions and a forced confession. “Before you go. What about your game?”
Ralla stops, turns, considers the wallet. “You said you didn’t have no money.”
“I said I didn’t have five dollars.” He takes out a ten. “I have this.”
“Yo, Rall!” one of the boys calls from outside the Impala, its doors open now, the driver climbing inside. The boy who called out raises his hand, a salute of sorts—which is, when Ralla repeats the gesture, the worst sort: a flash of three fingers, thumb curled over his index finger—a gangbanger’s goodbye.
Of course. The New Breeds run the Abbotts. And that one getting into the backseat of the Impala—presumably Dontay—must be balls over brains, throwing up signs in front of a uniform. Pete wasn’t looking for trouble but there it is, right there, and any cop worth his star would go over and show him and his boys how difficult it is to represent while handcuffed.
Except doing so would only put a ding on Dontay’s rap sheet, and a dent in both their afternoon plans. It’s clear Dontay isn’t afraid to mark his territory; that makes Pete the one who would spend a long time after that worrying about Ralla’s other arm.
Pete feels the familiar weight of Job-impotence as he watches the Impala, blue smoke curling from its tailpipe as it idles at the curb, a taunt. If he wants to do anything for Ralla at all, he can’t do anything at all. Without any hope, and without real help, cash is the only thing of value he can offer.
So he tucks the money in his shirt pocket and says, “What’s the game.”
“Okay. The game is, that if you give me your last name, and I could hold your hand, then I bet that I can spell your first name. And when I do, I win, and you give me ten dollars.”
“Ten dollars now? What happened to five?”
“You got ten dollars. You said.”
“What if you don’t guess right, though? What do I get?”
Ralla sticks his hands in his pockets like he’s got something to give. Turns out all he can find is a cross-toothed smile as says, “Don’t worry. I’ma guess right.”
Pete’s pretty sure his first name was Officer when he introduced himself, so he’s kind of interested to know how Ralla plans to pull off the trick. Butch’s growl is low in his throat when the Impala pulls out of the alley and Pete tries not to feel like a complete mark as he says, “Last name’s Murphy.”
“Murphy,” Ralla says, as if it’s a clue. “Okay, Officer Murphy: lemme hold your hand.”
He takes Pete’s hand between his flat, grimy palms, then asks, “Ready?”
“Okay, lemme see…” He closes his eyes, lashes fluttering. “Murphy … Murphy…”
Pete closes his eyes, too, and as they stand there, he hears the dispatcher on his radio, a whisper about the BFMs that reminds him about the savagery of this world—the gangbangers and backstabbers, the people who play the game and the people who get pawned.
He bends his fingers around the edges of Ralla’s slight hand and tries to tune out the noise. He thinks of Joel; he can’t remember the last time he held his son’s hand. Or McKenna’s, either—and she’s at the coming-of-age now where she probably wouldn’t want to anymore.
Or maybe she wouldn’t want to because she’s old enough to realize Pete’s missed more than a ball game, or dinner again. Could be that she knows more than she lets on about Pete’s job change, or about why they moved.
Or maybe she senses that Butch isn’t the one with his tail between his legs.
“Your first name…” Ralla says, “is spelled … y-o-r … f-i-r-s-t n-a-m-e!” Ralla lets go of Pete’s hand and he says, “Your first name! Get it?”
“I got it.” And also the fact that Ralla missed the u.
Pete thinks about renegotiating the deal, about telling the kid he can’t spell and so he can’t have the cash; he could offer to buy lunch instead, take him across the way to Captain Hook’s.
But what’s a plate of fried shrimp going to do? Pete needs to see his own kids. Try to make that world right.
“I got another one,” Ralla says. “You want to play again?”
“No thanks,” Pete says, handing him the ten. “We’ve got to go.”
“Aw, you mad ’cause I fooled you? That there was legit!”
“I’m not mad. I can’t afford to play anymore.”
“But wait—” he says, pinching the bill by its corners, showing it off, “this time you could win.”
“Yeah,” Pete says, same as no, “I don’t see that happening.”
“But you could! This time, you get to guess. Don’t you want your money back?”
Pete’s sure it’s a variation on the scam and it does make him mad, a kid this age working on him like some street-worn bum, but the thing is, he is a kid, and even if the game isn’t fair, it looks like Ralla’s been on the losing end for a while now.
Pete faces him, square. “What do I guess?”
Ralla crunches the bill in his hand and rolls up his other shirtsleeve. Then he tucks his elbows to his ribs and turns his palms up and he shows Pete the burns, both arms. He doesn’t smile. “Where I got these.”
Pete hears himself say, “Jesus Christ,” which was not his answer so he says, “That’s not a guess. I mean, I don’t—” and then he is fumbling with his wallet, opening it and pinching all the cash that’s in there between his fingers, and he looks back out across the field, and he wishes he would’ve intervened, talked to that motherfucker Dontay who just took off, because it was him, wasn’t it? “Are you—” Is he telling him it was Dontay? Is he asking for help?
“The answer is easy!” Ralla says. “You know it. Come on, Mr. Murphy. Guess where I got these.”
“No.” Pete takes out a bill and he doesn’t look at it and he hands it to Ralla and he says, “I don’t want to know.” Then he puts his wallet away and says, “Bringen,” to Butch, who picks up the tennis ball and falls in line with Pete as he turns to leave.
When Pete gets a good ten yards out, as angry at himself as he is at this world—this fucking world—he hears Ralla call after him, “My arms! Hey, Mr. Murphy! The answer is my arms!”
Pete feels Butch looking up at him, but he keeps walking. Because sometimes he just has to walk away.
* * *
Pete rolls down the windows while he waits for the light to change at Ogden. He could save a few minutes backtracking to the lake, taking the Drive north, but this time of day, it’ll only take a half hour to get home going straight up Western. He’ll always opt for the direct route, no matter how many extra stoplights.
Besides, there’s no sense in driving the empty lakefront when it looks like it’ll rain, a cloud cover now pushing the sky toward the same dull gray as the water. He doesn’t mind the rain, but he hates the gray. It feels like waiting.
If it does rain, he’ll bring Butch into the house; they’ll have the place to themselves today—kids at school, Sarah at her temp job. Temp: an actual word. Pete said it wasn’t, told Joel it was an abbreviation, but of course Joel looked it up, informed him that while it can be an abbreviation for temporary or temperature, it’s also a word—both a noun and a verb, in fact. Pete conceded, but later told Sarah that even if it’s a word, it’s no way to live. When she sighed her objection, he cited her refusal to make a single plan beyond the foreseeable future. She said, once again she said, that what she refused to do was to make unrealistic promises.
Anyway, when they get home the place will be empty and if it rains, maybe Pete can really take the day off—no fixing shit around the house—he’ll read the sports pages, catch a nap. Also he should get online and check the latest airfares to Anaheim. He’s been watching the rates for months—ever since Sarah booked a solo trip there to bury her brother Ricky and, while deflecting death questions, told Joel about Disneyland. Joel has since worked Tomorrowland into his vocabulary.
The thing about Disneyland Sarah didn’t tell Joel is that it doesn’t seem to have an off-season. Pete thought prices might come down after spring break, and then certainly once summer was over but so far, they’ve held steady—as has Joel’s interest in an attraction called Innoventions, where a robot-host leads a tour through the Dream House of the Future. It figures.
Still, given the temp of things, Pete’s been reluctant to let go of the dough. There isn’t a side job in the world that’ll make up for missing his promotion, or selling their old place. Still, even though it’s a fucking cliché, he’d like to take his kids to see the happiest place on earth while they’re still kids. Even if he has to drag McKenna by her terrible bone-straightened hair.
He’s about to turn right at Western and go straight home to complete Mission: Mickey Mouse—that’s the plan—until he sees the maroon caravan pull out of the White Castle on the corner and roll right through a late yellow light.
The BFMs. Typical fucking bangers: they’ll stop for sliders on the way to kill someone, but not for the traffic signal.
Pete turns the squad’s cherry lights a few times and burps the siren, edging around the left-only lane to muscle through the intersection.
As he rolls up on the van, tight, Butch stands up in the back and barks in sharp clips like he knows the vehicle. What he actually recognizes is the change in his master’s temperament; sometimes he acts as though it was as obvious to him as a tug on his leash.
“Platz,” Pete commands, because everything’s going to happen fast now, and they’ve both got to beat back instinct and rely on the language and training they share.
Pete turns the lights around again and signals the driver to pull over as he runs the plates through ICLEAR and when he takes another look, he wonders if the van is more red than maroon; then, when he gets Dispatch on the line, he counts three heads in there, not four, but by that time he’s in the middle of telling the dispatcher, “I’ve got a possible stop on that Dodge Caravan, Roosevelt Road just west of Campbell,” and then—right then as he’s saying it—he realizes the van is not a Dodge Caravan but a Ford Windstar. But he’s already pulled up behind the van, parked curbside—its turn signal and both brake lights operational, tags up-to-date—and Dispatch is radioing for backup.
Then the plates come back clean, the vehicle registered to a man named Jeffrey Edwards, no record, and what all that adds up to is zero reason to stop the car.
Pete’s about to tell the dispatcher to forget it, and to get out and say sorry to Mr. Edwards, to send him on his way, but then he sees the guy in the backseat toss a burger box out the window into traffic. The first passing car swerves to miss it; the next one doesn’t swerve, and doesn’t miss.
The nerve: Pete can’t believe it. Doesn’t he have to do something, now?
But what? He doesn’t even carry a ticket book anymore; is he really going to get out and cite the guy for littering? I’m sorry, but you are in violation of city ordinance 10-8-480, casting refuse in a public way. Does he have any self-respect left?
No. It’s not him. It’s the other guy. A guy like this—and like Dontay—who have no respect. They’re the people trashing this city. And tormenting the good people—and the young people—who live in it.
Butch whines from the back.
“I know, boy,” Pete says, finding him in the rearview. “If only there were an asshole quota.”
Pete gets out, pops the trunk and straps up: his belt, his gun, then his vest, and all the while he feels that old rookie rush wash over him; he’s been at this game ten years plus and the car stops still call it up. Maybe because they’re the most dangerous part of a cop’s job; maybe because the only knowable thing on the way up to a driver’s window is the risk. Or maybe because when he was a rookie he stopped a guy for a broken taillight but the guy was high on meth and had just beaten the hell out of his girlfriend. Pete didn’t know it, but he was in for shit, head-on. He took home a black eye that night.
He shuts the trunk, rounds the squad, sizes up the area. They’ve stopped alongside a cracked-up sidewalk that borders a fenced-in grass lot where somebody parked a fleet of old semi trailers and storage containers. Traffic chases back and forth in four lanes but there’s also a bike lane, a driver’s-side cushion.
The minivan’s side windows are tinted, but through the back Pete can see the three occupants inside, the asshole sitting directly behind the driver. There is no side passenger door on the driver’s side and the window is sealed, which makes Pete both more and less safe since the asshole can’t get to him, but could exit the other side and try disappearing in the storage lot.
Pete approaches straight up the bike lane, caution giving way to a show of confidence, and taps on the driver’s window.
The window comes down incrementally as the driver—presumably Jeffery Edwards—thumbs the button one, two, three.
Edwards and his front-seat passenger are in the middle of lunch, a half-dozen small paper boxes of sliders and fries in each’s lap, the passenger with at least one whole burger stuffed into his mouth.
“Hi,” Edwards says, which he must be, judging by the way his eyes are glazed. “What’d I do?”
Besides the obvious, Pete doesn’t know what else the guy has done, or how he plans to explain the obvious, so he decides to let Edwards confess. He asks, “Do you know why I stopped you?”
“No.” Edwards glances over at his passenger. “Cedric, you know why?”
Cedric looses his wet lips around the straw of his giant Coke to say, “I ain’t ’bout to guess.”
Edwards turns to Pete, says, “Cedric don’t know neither.” He tilts his chin back, looks in the rearview. “Whitey, you got some idea?”
“Got some,” says the kid in the backseat, and then Pete angles in to get an ID and no shit: it’s Ja’Kobe White, the haunting, spitting image of his twin brother, Felan.
“Do tell, Mr. White,” Pete says, because now there’s got to be a good reason, nothing but trouble happening with this gangbanger in the car.
White says, “You stopped ’cause of me.”
“Oh yeah? What is it you did?”
White leans forward, eyes half open, halfway to gone. “I ain’t done shit. It’s because who I am. You know me, and you mean to fuck with me.”
A backup car turns the corner and parks behind the squad and the driver cuts its siren and Pete gets the feeling this is about to turn into a real shit show.
“I know you,” Pete says to White, “but the first I saw of you today was your left hand when you threw that trash here on the street. So I think that means you mean to fuck with me.”
“For real: he know you, J.K.?” Edwards asks the rearview.
“Doesn’t matter if I know him or not,” Pete answers. “What matters is if you boys are breaking the law. Sit tight.”
Pete turns to meet his backup and he’s thinking fuck, fuck, and then he sees it’s Frank Majette getting out of the car, which makes him think worse, think, I’m fucked. That’s because the last time they saw each other, Jetty was the architect of a long-running investigation that Butch dismantled in a matter of minutes. It was a drug case at a westside dive where a bartender was allegedly moving crack through the joint with money from the nightly drop. Jetty had a warrant and he was ready to tear the place apart; naturally he was pissed when his sarge pulled rank and decided Butch should give the place a once-over first.
It was also natural that he was more pissed when Butch didn’t find anything.
After the search, Jetty cornered Pete and went into this whole thing about how he thought K9 was nothing more than a public relations unit the bosses liked to parade around—to schools, the occasional crime scene, and, well, parades—so that moms and kids in nice neighborhoods thought the police were nice, too. That’s magic, he had said, except that the real part—the work part—might as well have been part of the act. Butch was trained above all else to please his master, and would sooner have sniffed out a packet of mustard than come away with nothing.
Pete said Jetty’s argument was backward, because what it implied was that Butch would find something that wasn’t there, and in saying so, he realized that what Jetty was actually pissed about was that Butch hadn’t found the drugs that Jetty didn’t have the chance to put there.
Everybody knows Jetty is loyal to the blue, third-generation CPD, all that. They also know he thinks a junkie he talked to six years ago qualifies as today’s snitch if he’ll help move a case. But until that night, Pete didn’t know evidence was as adaptable, and that Jetty was the one planting the mustard.
“Pony,” Majette says, stalking brick-shouldered toward Pete, hands in fists, eyes dilated, the Job his drug of choice. “What the hell are you doing police work for?”
“Vehicle matched the description for the Hustler car that Dispatch put out citywide. Turns out the bangers inside are just regular assholes.”
Majette looks at the van. “It’s not them.”
“I just said.”
“So you stop them and what, you’re waiting around for them to get themselves arrested?” Jetty’s being a dick, but he knows—hell, every cop who works the street knows—that all it takes to arrest a guy like Ja’Kobe White is a little time. And that’s because a banger is always up to something; it’s just a matter of waiting long enough to catch him while he’s up to it.
The rub of the Job, once again, is that Pete can’t do anything. A badge doesn’t give him the right to stop White from doing wrong; a badge only gives him the so-called privilege to go get the guy after he’s done it.
A light rain starts, angling off Jetty’s balding head, and Pete knows he should cut them loose—Ja’Kobe and friends, because they’re more trouble than the bust is worth and Jetty, because he’d base a narc case on the munchies—so he says, “I’m going to let them slide.”
“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” Majette says. “Is this how it goes with you? You stop them. You’re the one with the dog. And you’re going to waste my time?”
“You can go, Jetty.”
“What I mean is, I’m on this BFM case now three weeks, and I come over here, and you’re not going to take your dog for a walk around the vehicle?” He licks a raindrop from his upper lip. “What. Is he still afraid of the rain?”
“Butch is fine,” Pete says. It’s Jetty who’s jonesing for a bust, and he must figure Pete owes it to him.
“Then how about you get your sidekick, and I’ll get mine.” Majette waves a stiff hand toward his squad, summoning a young cop Pete doesn’t recognize. He gets out, gets rain gear from the trunk.
“Who’s that?” Pete hopes it’s somebody who doesn’t recognize him, either.
“Name’s Bellwether. Comes over here from Twenty-three after the redistrict. Curious as a retarded cat.” Majette has a habit of saying everything in the present tense. It bothers some people, mostly the kind of people who pick a stupid thing to get bothered about and then let it be important enough to be the basis of an opinion about the guy, an opinion which can’t be any good, especially if it’s based just on the one stupid thing. What should bother them is that talking like that makes him sound like he’s telling the truth—the story as it happens, facts over recollection or hearsay—and that seven times out of ten, he’s good and full of shit.
Still, he’s here, now, so this story remains to be told. And since it’s well within the law for Butch to sniff the exterior of a vehicle, and a positive alert equals probable cause for a search, Butch’s nosing around could confirm what Pete already knows—that Ja’Kobe and his pals are up to something. Or at least buzzed up on something. And it could also provide Jetty with a reason to make an arrest.
And that’s all Jetty wants: a reason. Then maybe he’ll have a good story, and he’ll quit being such a prick. Now or later or whenever.
And right now, White won’t get away with being an asshole.
So, okay. “I’ll walk him around.”
“Do that,” Majette says, a shitty smile before he goes back to meet Bellwether.
Pete gets into his trunk again to retrieve Butch’s leash and blue KONG—his find reward—which he pockets before he releases the rear locks and opens the back door.
“C’mon, Butch,” Pete says, hooking the lead into a pinch collar.
Butch sits there, his most pitiful face. It’s true, he is not a rain dog—but there’s a reason he doesn’t like rain, and that reason is thunder. And that’s because when Butch first came to the Murphy household, Sarah accidentally left him in his run during a storm. In her defense, the front came in quickly; the sun was out when she went to the Jewel. But while she was in the store comparing hot dog prices, Butch was going batshit. When Pete finally rescued the dog, he’d torn all the siding off the garage.
“C’mon,” Pete says to him. “You won’t melt.”
The dog looks up, blinks away raindrops, and damn if he doesn’t nearly shake his head no.
“Fuss!” Pete commands so that the dog understands it’s time to work; there are no fear words in their shared language. “Hier!” he says, and Butch obeys, his front paws hitting the pavement just as a band of lightning cuts across the western sky. He heels to Pete’s left, hindquarters trembling.
“Pass auf!” Pete says, demanding Butch’s attention. He shouldn’t be so skittish; Pete’s been too easy on him lately.
“Okay, Pony,” Majette says on approach in wide steps, making room for himself while his partner trails behind, “Bellwether here hasn’t seen your magical show. So how about you and your nosy dog get on with it?”
Pete’s neck goes tight: a nerves thing. He is so sick of the nickname, and the way any cop thinks he can use it.
He looks down at Butch, sitting at attention, tail sweeping the rain-spotted street, an eye on Jetty. It’s as though he gets the subtext: that there’s some kind of challenge posed. But what’s he supposed to do? Of course he wants to please his master. And he won’t lie—can’t—it isn’t in his makeup. And he won’t feel bad whether he alerts or not. So why should Pete give a rat’s ass?
He decides he won’t, and offers a hand to Bellwether. “Pete Murphy.”
“Jim,” Bellwether says, shaking his hand and then self-consciously running knuckles over his mustache, awkward and thin and probably kept in protest of last week’s rank-wide reprimand about sideburns, beards, and goatees.
“This is Butch,” Pete says.
“What kind of dog is he?”
“Oh boy,” Majette cuts in, “here we go with the questions. You bring hula hoops for him to jump through, Pony?”
“He’s a shepherd-Malinois mix,” Pete tells Bellwether.
“Is it true they can find things under water?”
“Jesus, you’re a regular Jeopardy contestant,” Majette says. “Listen, you think we could do some work here? I mean, I’m happy letting these assholes squirm, but I think it’s really going to storm—”
“Butch is trained for narcotics,” Pete says, ignoring him. “But I do know a search-and-rescue dog who found a body in a seam below the Yorkville dam.”
“Because searching downstream is counterintuitive.” Majette again.
“Kendall County sheriffs had been looking for weeks. They were ten miles downstream from where the dog alerted.”
“Wow,” Bellwether says, “that’s unbelievable.”
“Absurd is the word I think you mean,” Majette says. “Or implausible. Or preposterous, maybe—”
“If I ever need a thesaurus,” Pete says, but still to Bellwether.
Bellwether tugs at the corner of his moustache. “The Job would be a hell of a lot easier if we could smell shit, don’t you think?”
Pete isn’t sure if the comment is directed at Jetty or what, but the jab never connects because thunder rolls in and drives Butch into high gear, the end of his leash. “Fuss!” Pete commands, striking the dog’s right flank twice, directing him toward Edwards’s van.
Bellwether asks, “Is that German?”
Majette says, “You can pet the fucking dog after he’s done, okay? Do your job, Bellwether. Get the traffic.”
“It’s German,” Pete says to Bellwether, glad the cop’s curiosity got him some grief instead of Butch, who, given the option, would probably be searching for a place to hide.
Pete eases off the leash, says, “Butch! Rauschgift. Suche!”
Butch barks once and takes the lead.
Bellwether reroutes westbound traffic while Jetty follows the team from about five paces back; he’s watching out for Pete because Pete’s watching Butch, putting much of the big picture out of focus. When they reach the van’s back bumper, Pete begins to direct Butch by hand: “Check here,” he says, pointing to random spots on the vehicle as they round the driver’s side. “What about here?” They work at a quick pace; as Butch takes prompts, Pete watches the dog to see if he begins to follow his own nose instead.
The rain stops but when thunder comes again, a low rumble, Butch stops to look at Pete, ears back. “Check here,” Pete commands, directing him to the front wheel well. Butch gives it his best shot, but he’s visibly distracted, his outstanding ball drive no match for bone-deep fear.
If only he understood thunder as a warning for a storm’s real dangers.
Pete leads him around the van. “How about here.”
Butch runs his nose over the front grille though his ears are back, submissive. In front of the headlights, Pete glances up, two pairs of eyes watching from the front seat, a captive audience—literally.
He looks again. Two pairs of eyes. Two and not three.
Pete backs away from the van and he says, “Jetty—” or he starts to, but then Butch gets what’s going on and drives right toward the van’s side door at the same time as Ja’Kobe White rolls it open.
Pete jerks back, pulling the dog off his forefeet; as he resists, the leverage in his strong hind legs drives him up, standing, barking at White, inches from his ghost-face.
Majette yells, “Stop, asshole! Do not move!” as Pete gets weight on his back leg and enough slack on the leash to turn Butch sideways, and then back onto all fours, and then so far behind the van that all Pete can see is Ja’Kobe’s red Adidas dangling above the curb, tongues out.
“Stay in the vehicle!” Majette warns, approaching Ja’Kobe gun-first.
“You all gonna search in here anyhow,” he says, “why can’t we get out?”
Majette nods toward Butch, who’s still barking. “Because he said so.”
Bellwether comes from the street, stands with Pete. “Is he giving us the go-ahead?”
“You mean Butch, or the animal?” He pulls up on the leash. “Fuss!”
Butch takes it down to a growl, to let Pete know there’s still a threat.
“Ruhig,” Pete commands, to silence him.
“C’mon, man,” Ja’Kobe says, “there’s no A/C up in here.”
“You want to come out of there, man,” Majette says, “you put your hands on your head and you turn around real slow and face the vehicle.”
Ja’Kobe gets out, hands up; he is taller and better built than Pete remembers, though last he saw of the kid was in a news clip, where he got himself featured because of Felan.
“Slowly, man,” Majette says as he moves up to meet him. He motions Bellwether to the other side of the van: “Get the driver.”
It’s clear Ja’Kobe is under the influence, but he’s still able to manage a steady glare at Pete. “This here’s some bullshit, isn’t it, Officer Murphy? You doing dirt for the judge?”
“Shut the fuck up,” Majette says, but now he’s looking at Pete, too.
“I know my rights,” Ja’Kobe says, “I ain’t got to remain silent about this.”
“Turn around,” Majette says, holstering his weapon.
As Majette frisks Ja’Kobe another band of lightning is a live wire overhead and Butch gets up on his feet, nose pricked, nervous.
“Sitzen,” Pete commands; Butch keeps his attention on Jetty and Ja’Kobe while he turns a circle and tries to sit down. He doesn’t; he can’t. He’s picked up a scent.
“What is it, Butch?” Pete asks. “Rauschgift?”
Butch sits down and barks once: affirmative.
“Fuss,” Pete commands, and “Nein,” because he must be mistaken; they’re ten paces back from the men and the van, so either he’s stressing about the storm or the tension in Pete’s voice or both.
Pete moves Butch up along the chain-link fence behind Jetty, a better vantage point as Bellwether rounds the front of the van and takes position facing the windshield, hand on his holstered sidearm. “You two,” he says to Edwards and Cedric, “I’m sure you saw we got a big fucking dog out here. Get your hands up and out the window.”
Cedric extends his hands and an uneaten slider out the passenger window. “What you want with us?”
“I told you,” Ja’Kobe says as Jetty checks his basketball shorts, “they want me. This copper’s the one raw-dogging that bitch Crawford.”
“No shit?” Cedric slides his forearms out the window, looks back at Pete. “That you, with the judge?”
“Eat your burger.” Majette takes Ja’Kobe’s wallet from the front pocket of his shorts and gets a look at his ID. “Ja’Kobe White,” he says, and again looks back at Pete. He knows.
“Look just like my brother,” Ja’Kobe says over his shoulder, “in’t that right, Officer Murphy?”
Pete doesn’t answer, because he knows whatever he says will sound like an argument, which will sound too much like denial.
“Who’s his brother?” Bellwether asks, the dumbass.
Cedric says, “How you ain’t heard of Felan?”
Majette puts Ja’Kobe’s wallet back in his pants. “Stay,” he says, like he’s the one handling a dog, and moves over to the passenger window to point his finger at Cedric’s face. “I think I told you to finish your lunch, you mouthy motherfucker. This is not a conversation.”
Then Jetty turns to Pete, same finger, and he’s about to say something, probably pointing out that this is some coincidence, stopping the twin brother of the kid who got killed and thereby killed Pete’s whole career trajectory, but before he does, Cedric drops his burger, the square bun an instant wet sponge on the sidewalk.
Majette looks down at the slider, up at the heavens. “Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Are you trying to get arrested?”
“Lost my appetite is all.” Cedric folds his arms on the window ledge, rests his chin there. “Maybe your dog wants it.”
From the driver’s seat, Edwards says, “Careful, they gonna say we’re trying to bribe them.” He’s holding up his phone. He’s taking video. How long has he been taking video?
“What is this,” Majette wants to know, “a fucking reality show now? Turn that off.”
Cedric asks, “There some law against it?”
“Listen to you,” Majette says, “like you give a shit about the law.”
Edwards turns the camera on him. “How come you stopped us, anyway?”
And then Ja’Kobe says, “Smile, Officer Murphy—smile and tell ’em how come you stopped me.”
Majette steps between Pete and the van, blocking Edwards’s view. “I said turn that off. Bellwether, will you—” He swats a hand in Edwards’s direction, some goddamned fly, and then Bellwether is on his way back around to the driver’s side to try to handle the cameraman.
Thunder comes once more and Butch gets up and starts barking, the leash taut, a yo-yo, and Pete’s thinking, This is fucked, because what he’s doing—all the barking—is no alert.
But it could be.
And maybe it has to be. Because what else can Pete do here? The stop was a mistake, not a conspiracy. And what came before, with Kitty Crawford? Well, it doesn’t matter. These guys are still the gangbangers. And Pete is still the police. He deserves some respect.
“Butch: fuss,” he commands, taking his leash by the traffic handle to get him in heel. Then he says, “Jetty, we’ve got it.”
“Magic!” Majette says, mugging for the camera. “Let’s get on with the show.” He steps up next to Ja’Kobe, who hangs there, fingers hooked overhead in the door’s rubber seal, to say, “Mr. Edwards, the dog indicates that there are narcotics here, in your vehicle. If you or your passengers are in possession of any controlled substances, you should turn them over, because we are going to search the vehicle now, and the simpler you make it for us, the simpler it will be for you.” He opens the passenger door and tells Cedric, “Let’s go.”
Bellwether taps on Edwards’s window: “Step out, sir.”
Pete figures he should reward Butch—if only for show—so he reaches into his pocket for the KONG, but then Ja’Kobe stands up and says, “Fucking cops—” and lets go of the door and Pete says, “Hey!” to alert Jetty as Ja’Kobe is reaching into his shorts, inside the waistband, and Butch is there—fast, faster than a reaction—the leash through Pete’s hands as he’s yelling—
The command must sink in just before Butch’s teeth do, because he releases immediately and comes away with a piece of Ja’Kobe’s shorts, and maybe some skin.
“Oh my god!” Ja’Kobe howls, falling, ass and elbows. Some blood.
“What?” from both Majette and Cedric. They didn’t see.
And Bellwether, from the driver’s side: “What happened?”
“The dog attacked him!” Edwards says, camera still rolling.
“Fuck!” Ja’Kobe wails, bunching his shorts into a compress.
Pete gets Butch by the scruff and drags him back toward the fence and he feels the rain starting again and he hears Majette saying, “Murphy, take your dog, Murphy, get him out of here—”
And so he keeps going, he takes Butch back to the squad, and he opens the door to put him in his cage, but then Butch sits, he sits down in the rain and he barks once more, his eye on Pete’s pocket. He thinks he’s done his job. He expects the KONG.
“Butch,” Pete starts to say, to correct him.
Even as the rain comes harder now, thunder cracking, the dog closes his eyes and winces, like he’s about to get cracked himself, but he stays. Stays right there.
“Schlechte hund,” Pete says as Butch trembles, waits. He doesn’t understand; he shouldn’t. He is not a bad dog. Butch did his job. He recognized threat. He defended his handler. And lately, it seems like he’s the only one who will.
“Box,” Pete says anyway, and loads the dog into the back, no reward. Then he stands there in the rain and he knows there’s a lot more about to come down on him, the whole thing on film. And all this story needs is one frame: one with Pete, and Butch, and White.
Pete gets in the squad and wipes the rain from his face and he feels like he should explain. He tries to see Butch in the rearview but sees himself first and then he realizes.
Says, “Looks like we are going to have to put on a show.”
Copyright © 2013 by Theresa Schwegel