A simple car accident opens NYPD Detective Ray Fisher’s eyes to a shadowy elite who uses people like pawns. But knowledge can be fatal when Ray discovers that his life is worth much less than the price of silence and so he runs, but when running isn’t enough he realises that the only way to be truly free is to give up his humanity.
“Riveting from beginning to end, Rats in a Maze is a one-of-a-kind noir read.”
Feathered Quill Book Reviews.
The car was a piece of crap designed for suburban moms to ferry their ungrateful brats around. The inside was several acres of wipe-clean plastic pockmarked by cup-holders. The outside was all curves and rounded edges, as if the car had been drawn by a pre-schooler with a fat crayon.
Noob had reluctantly agreed it was just what they needed. First, Ric knew how to disable the alarm in under two minutes. Second, it was blandness on four wheels, no-one would look at it twice except to see it had a ‘My child is an honor student’ sticker on the back (it did). Its only good feature was that it had a pretty good sound system with speakers in the doors, dashboard and, for all Noob knew, under the floor.
On the way into the sleeping city, Noob had the volume control nailed to maximum, ramming the car full of angry guitars and screamed vocals. When they hit Riverside Drive, he turned the volume down so as not to attract attention, but the music was just the smoldering fuse for the evening’s entertainment. Tonight, they would leave their mark on the city like a swing with a baseball bat to the face of a pretty woman. In the morning, the headlines would scream louder than 911, moms would hide the paper from their kids and bar the news channels. He ran a hand over his groin, and he was harder than steel. He lifted his head and howled like a wolf.
“It’s going to be a hot time in the city tonight!”
Ric glanced over from the driving seat, and his face twitched just the slightest amount. A stranger would have missed it. Ric didn’t do emotions; Noob had never seen him laugh or cry. He was a rock, or a monster; Noob was never sure which.
Ric parked carefully, the same way he did everything. He turned the car off, and sudden silence flowed in like oil stopping up their ears.
Noob rapped out a drumbeat on the mom-mobile’s dashboard.
“We’re going to have fun, fun, fun, and ain’t nobody gonna take the T-bird away!”
Ric’s face twitched
Noob checked his gun, safety off and five rounds of shock and awe all ready to go. He looked over at Ric. “Got what you need?”
Ric pulled a fat roll of cloth from his pocket and unrolled it across his knees. The bottom half of the roll was slim pockets holding a gleaming scalpel.
“Yes.” His voice had less emotion than a speak-your-weight machine.
“If you know what you’re doing, it’s all you need.”
Ric touched one of the blades like an alcoholic reaching for the last bottle of booze in the world. Nothing else mattered to him now. Noob thought he could have filled the car with naked supermodels and Ric would never have noticed, not that he cared about that sort of thing. His face was attentive, as if he were listening to what the scalpels had to say. Ric traced his finger down from blade to handle and then onto the next scalpel, up from handle to blade and down the next. Blood began to trail Ric’s finger as he followed the shape of each scalpel.
Sometimes, Noon thought that when Ric was still in the womb, the creator had been holding the instructions the wrong way and missed out some features. Ric didn’t play well with other people; a crowded room would make him hyperventilate, ordering a burger could take him an hour. He didn’t understand pain. Noob thought he could feel pain, but the signal didn’t mean anything. Noob had seen Ric stabbed and he’d just looked thoughtful, as if waiting for some vast revelation, and then he’d taken the knife from the other guy and stabbed him over and over and over like a machine. But on the plus side, just being with Ric was a wild ride. Noob helped him pick up girls – as long as he got to play with them first before Ric used them up.
Noob punched Ric in the arm. “C’mon, dude, we’re over the drop zone! Whoop! Whoop! Whoop! Let’s go go go!”
Ric looked up; his face was dreamy and thoughtful, as if he’d been woken from a wonderful dream. He kept watch while Noob got ready, then Noob did the same for him. The masks muffled their voices, but they could see perfectly, and they wouldn’t need them for long anyway.
They came out of the car together. Noob got the bag out of the trunk, and they walked towards the entrance. Just another couple of guys out late in the Big Apple. Ric moved his hand, as if checking his hair, and took out the camera. The doors slid open, and they stepped inside. Noob was almost trembling with excitement. They’d worked for this moment, planned every step, and now it was Christmas all over again, on steroids.
They came out thirty-five minutes later. All the emotion had left Noob’s face, leaving behind a pleasant, smiling man who might have been a small-town librarian. Behind him, Ric’s smile looked like something badly cut out and pasted on. Their expressions didn’t flicker as they walked quickly back to the car. Behind them, someone sobbed.
Noob opened the cars back doors and then took his place in the passenger seat. Ric fired up the car, and the sound system came alive with a blast of sound. Noob jumped like he’d been hit with a cattle prod and slapped the sound system off. He put his hands neatly in his lap and stared at infinity as Ric pulled out of the parking space.
Ric drove urgently in that narrow band of speed between ‘driving fast’ and ‘fast enough to be noticed’. He jumped red lights, but only a moment after they’d changed. He bounced from lane to lane but never crowded the other cars. They stopped briefly, before they moved on, they lowered both front windows.
Each streetlight they passed lit up the inside of the car with a slow, regular pulse, as if they were glowing inside. The only sound was the roar of wind from the open windows and the hum of tires on asphalt. Ric made a sharp turn. The car lurched violently as sparks flew up from under the car. The engine roared, and there was a moment of weightlessness as the car flew through the air. They landed with a thud that threw them against their seatbelts.
Noob’s feet went numb, as if he were dissolving like a sugar cube dropped in a drink. It was almost pleasant; he couldn’t think why the idea had seemed so strange. The numbness ran up his legs. When it reached his groin – the unused erection had long since disappeared – he let out a long hiss. The feeling ran up his chest until it reached his neck. If Noob could have laughed, he would have. He’d always wanted to be ahead of the pack, and now he was only a head.
He started to choke, and every muscle went tense, holding him in his seat. He breathed in, and a bomb went off, filling his head with white light. He saw all the people waiting for him. The man with a slashed neck, the disemboweled girl, the stabbed man, the shot woman. They reached up with their cold, dead hands, pulling him down.
Noob died trying to scream.
Jacob’s features crawled into something that, in a charitable light, might have been called a smile. Ray wasn’t feeling very charitable and ignored the almost-smile as he sent the briefing sheet back across the desk.
“It’s a traffic accident.” He’d said the same thing before, but he clung to the hope that, like hammering a nail into concrete, repetition would get the job done. Of course, that only worked if the concrete wasn’t pushing back.
Jacob’s almost-smile vanished as he slid the briefing sheet back across the desk.
“It’s not as simple as it looks. There’s some weird shit with this one.”
Ray slapped the page down like an annoying insect.
“It’s still a traffic accident.”
Around them, the buzz of the third-floor detective’s office was seriously muted by the attention directed towards the events in Jacob’s glass box of an office. Detectives were only called in there for punishment or reward. Ray had been in there for ten minutes and still didn’t know which it was.
Ray sent the briefing sheet back across the desk. “Last month, me and Rodriguez broke up a carjacking ring. Now you want me and the new guy to investigate a bad driver? What’s next? Handing out parking tickets?”
Jacob put both hands flat on the desk. “But this is a” – he took a deep breath – “necessary part of the educational process for the graduate intake to allow them to become familiar with NYPD working practices.”
Ray’s mental lightbulb went on.
“This has come down from above, hasn’t it?”
“Yup! From so high up you’d need oxygen equipment to survive there. Brad is the first of the university graduates, straight-to-detective intake, and they want him to be a success. These guys are the future. One day, they’ll write an app for their phones that they can wave at a scene, and it’ll tell them who to arrest while we’re playing shovelboard in a Florida rest home. But until then, we have to show them how to do things, how to cuff a suspect that’s whacked out of their gourd and the correct way to roust drunks.”
Ray made a laugh into a cough. It had been a long time since Jacob had tackled anything more dangerous than a stapler.
“And I’m the teacher.”
“Yup! We must pass on the torch of knowledge and light the path of the future. Or some shit like that.”
“This is all bullshit, isn’t it?”
Jacob lowered his voice, as if the rest of the office could hear every word. “You know it’s bullshit, I know its bullshit, so treat it that way. Follow all the rules, dot the I’s, cross the T’s and maybe have a few photos taken of you both pointing earnestly at a monitor. The upper management will tell each other what a great job they did, then maybe we can get back to some real work. Go with the flow – just for a change.”
Ray sighed deeply. “OK, I guess.”
Jacob slid the sheet back to him. “Trust me, it won’t hurt much.”
As Ray stood up, the glass wall showed him much too clearly: pro-footballer build, but beaten down by time and too many donuts into coat-hanger shoulders with a slowly expanding paunch. His eyes had changed as well. Polite people called them intense; Jimmy Crantie had called them psycho eyes, and Ray had silently stared at him until Jimmy suddenly needed to be someplace else.
The detective’s office was a maze of fluorescently lit desks, separated by green, waist-high partitions, which did nothing to dull the clamor of ringing phones, staccato bursts of typing and conversations one step away from an argument. In summer, it smelt of coffee from the Starbucks down the street; in winter, it smelt damp and mold grew in the corners.
Ray had climbed the greasy pole of NYPD promotion just far enough that he had his own glass-walled cube in the corner. It had been his and Rodriguez’s until he took early retirement. Now it was his and Brad’s. He was already in there, probably re-programing the computers or something.
Brad stood up so quickly his chair slid back across the room. Ray thought he’d only just managed to avoid a smart salute or clicking his heels together.
“Good morning, sir!”
“Ray will do just fine.”
Brad reclaimed his chair and sat down, almost unconsciously smoothing his shirt until it was nice and neat. Everything about Brad was nice and neat. When Ray had first met him yesterday (it seemed longer), he’d thought how neat Brad was, as if he’d just stepped out of a box labeled ‘fully posable graduate figure with realistic hair’. His shoes were black, lace-up brogues which gleamed like mirrors; his trousers had razor-sharp creases. His shirt was so white it was hard to look at under fluorescent light.
The HR department probably had a small party when they found him. He was a university graduate, black, Muslim, and to complete the package, he was gay. HR was probably working hard to see if he could be classed as autistic, dyslexic or some other ‘ic’, then they could add ‘disabled’ to his list of attributes and finish off their diversity quota for the year. His real name was Bhavika, Ray had mangled that just once before he’d quickly said, ‘Most people call me Brad.’
“We’ve got a case,” Ray said, handing him the briefing sheet.
“Someone drove off Pier fifty-four? It’s a traffic incident; why are we getting involved?” Brad said instantly. Whatever else he was, he wasn’t slow.
Ray felt like he’d just given a kid a broken toy. “Well, apparently it’s got some weird aspects. We’ll go take a look and see what’s going on.”
Midway between Greenwich Village and Chelsea, Pier 54 stuck out into the Hudson River like a stained concrete finger flipping off the planes landing at JFK. Its brief moment of glory had been the arrival of a few bedraggled survivors from the Titanic, but now, warped by time and neglect, it was sinking slowly into the river. Its entrance from Eleventh Avenue had been closed by a line of giant Lego blocks for alleged heath and safety reasons – but probably to prevent free parking. Some of the blocks had been moved, and Ray showed his badge to the patrolman guarding the gap. He waved them through and then resumed his vitally important job of guarding the entrance.
The area inside resembled the parking lot for all the emergency services. Fire engines, police cars, forensic vans and a solitary ambulance, with its blue light turning. The only thing they didn’t seem to have was air support. As Ray parked between a fire engine and the ambulance, he heard the whump-whump of a helicopter beating the air into submission. OK, they had everything.
The sky was low and heavy. Out in the river, a flat barge was fishing with a thumb-thick line into the water the color of lead. In the distance, the jagged outline of New Jersey was a cyclopean wall wrapped around the city. The wind coming off the river had an ice-cold edge that sawed at Ray’s ears, and he flipped up his collar. It didn’t really help and made him feel like an idiot, so he put it back down. There were lots of people in attendance, but most of them seemed to be waiting for something rather than doing something. Ray buttonholed the nearest, a fireman in full emergency gear.
“Who knows what happened here?”
“Patrolman Schofield.” The fireman pointed at a huddle of people. “He saw the whole thing.”
Ray pushed his way into the crowd until he heard a voice saying “… but that didn’t stop him.”
Ray moved the last person out of the way and saw the speaker. Patrolman Schofield looked about twelve, fresh-faced and frighteningly enthusiastic. He probably still believed in Truth, Justice and Santa Claus. Ray flashed his badge, partly at Schofield, but mainly at the crowd.
“Detectives Fisher and Lahoti, can we have a few minutes so we can find out what happened?”
The crowd got the message and lost interest in Patrolman Schofield. He didn’t look happy at the loss of his audience, but he brightened up when Brad got his notebook out. The patrolman began to talk quickly, as if reciting something he’d told many times before. Ray thought he’d be telling the story for years.
“Patrolman Joe Schofield. I saw the whole thing with my partner Larry Belanger. It was three a.m., and we were parked across the road by the junction of tenth street and Eleventh Avenue. The traffic lights were red, and this black Chevrolet Cruze stopped just a few meters away. The driver was about thirty, heavy-set, Caucasian, dark hair; the passenger we couldn’t see so well, but he was Caucasian, kinda thin. The lights changed, and they pulled away.”
“What were they doing that was so suspicious?”
“Nothing, it was just another car.”
“But you noticed them enough so you could give a pretty good description of them and the car.”
The patrolman shrugged. “Well, it was what they weren’t doing. They weren’t talking or looking at each other; the windows were down, so we knew they didn’t have the radio turned up loud; and they didn’t look at us. We were right under the streetlight, so they must have seen us, but they didn’t do the whole ‘I’m trying not to look because that might be suspicious’ routine. They might as well have been two tailor’s dummies.”
“Then what happened?”
“The lights changed, and the Chevrolet Cruze turned right onto Eleventh avenue, then there was a scream of tires, which made us look up. The car was doing a U-turn across all six lanes of Eleventh and over the central reservation in a cloud of sparks that must have ruined his suspension. We figured it was someone that had just seen they were going the wrong way on Eleventh and didn’t want to wait to the next junction. But before we could put the lights on to pull him over, he didn’t finish the U-turn and went right across the road to the river side. He was up on the sidewalk then, on the river side of the barrier blocking the entrance to the pier. He must have been a hell of a driver because he managed to turn onto the pier without slowing down. He drove all the way down the pier and straight off the end into the river. There was a huge splash, and it sank like a stone. We ran to the end of the jetty, and Larry dived in, couldn’t even see the car. We called it in; the dive team turned up and found the car sitting on the riverbed with some junk blocking the doors so they couldn’t get the guys out. They called in a floating crane.” He pointed at the barge. “And that’s about where we are.”
“Where’s your partner now?”
“Hospital,” and added quickly, in case it dimmed his glory, “but it’s just a routine check-up after being in the water.”
“When the car was on the pier, do you think it made any attempt to stop?”
“Wasn’t even the slightest flash of its taillights. If anything, the driver must have had his foot hard on the gas. It was going like a bat out of hell when it reached the end of the pier.”
Ray thanked him with just the right tone, which said he’d heard enough, and the patrolman went in search of an audience.
A few minutes later, the barge emitted a low hooting noise. The line dipping into the water went tense and lifted a black shape to the surface. Ray thought it had been a nice, late model Chevrolet Cruze when it went into the water; now, both headlights were smashed, its hood had popped open, and its muffler was hanging loose. The crane pulled the car clear of the surface and blades of water sprayed out like a defective showerhead. The shower ran dry and the trunk spat out a last gulp of water. The crane swung the car over to the pier and set it down close to the end. Brad reached the car first, so he got to open the door, and two gallons of ice-cold Hudson River dumped all over his shoes. This got a round of ironic applause. Ray caught up with Brad and looked over his shoulder.
The driver was folded over his seatbelt with his head resting on the bottom of the steering wheel. He was young, neat black hair and wearing jeans and a black T-shirt. Ray’s first thought was that he was a bodybuilder. He had the right muscular thighs, straining the fabric of his jeans, egg-crate abs, clearly defined under the wet T-shirt and bulging biceps with a crude tattoo of a bird. But the face was wrong. Bodybuilders had wrinkled faces from straining to show just how much weight they were lifting; the driver’s face was smooth and unlined. No laughter lines or frown marks. Ray saw him as someone completely emotionless; ordering a beer and punching someone would have the same emotional weight to him.
They moved around to the passenger side. This time, Brad stood well back when he opened the door. The passenger slumped sideways with only his seatbelt stopping him from falling out. He was about the same age as the driver, also wearing a black T-shirt and jeans as if it were a uniform. He was handsome in a quiet, understated way, maybe a former high-school football player that hadn’t taken too many hits to the face and could still produce a charming smile on demand. The only flaw in the clean-cut image was dozens of tattoos on both arms and around his neck. Maybe a football player that had run with the wrong crowd.
Ray reached down into the passenger’s footwell and came out with a large stainless-steel revolver. He popped out the cylinder.
“One shot fired, could have been today, could have been a week ago. Everything smells of river now.”
He checked both footwells with a penlight torch, then the backseat area and finally the boot that had a canvas gym bag in it. The bag contained some power tools, screwdrivers, knives, a lump of modeling clay in a plastic bag and some rubber tubing. Ray unwrapped the clay, sniffed it and wrapped it back up carefully.
“Seen enough?” he said to Brad.
Ray crossed over to the forensics team.
“OK, I want both of them printed, photographs of everything, but before you do anything” – he looked back at Brad and scribbled something on a Post-it note and passed it to the nearest tech – “we need this.”
The tech glanced at the note; his eyes widened as he took a step back.
“Are you sure?”
Ray walked back to Brad. “OK, what do you make out of that?” He pointed to the street end of the pier. “We’ll wait over there while they work.”
“Suicide,” Brad said confidently. “They both had their seatbelts still on, the windows are open, and the car made no attempt to stop before it left the pier. I’d say they were both ex-cons, probably met in prison. They couldn’t manage life on the outside and took the easy way out.”
“OK, you’re gonna have to unpack that for me.”
“The driver went to a lot of trouble to get the car in the water. I guess he wanted to go straight on from Tenth Street, but there was a barrier across the pier to stop just that, so instead, he drove past the end of the barrier then turned back to get around it. As for the ex-cons – the passenger had a whole bunch of badly done tattoos, some old and faded, some that looked pretty new. But he was wearing a pair of limited edition, Nike trainers, which go for four hundred dollars a pop. So, he had plenty of money but had spent a long time somewhere it didn’t matter how much money you had; it was still going to be difficult to get a tattoo. That means prison. The driver had just one tattoo, but it was also old and badly done. So, he’d done just one period in prison and either gone straight or straight enough, so he was never caught again.”
“And the gun?”
“Probably been in the car for months and they’d just forgotten it was there.”
“OK, just a few points. First off, you said they took the easy way out by driving into the river. Have you ever thought you were drowning?”
“I have. We were on vacation, and I knocked the snorkel out of my mouth.” And that night, Sofia said he was an idiot but he was her idiot and kissed him. “And when I breathed in water, it didn’t matter that I was only a foot down and a strong swimmer, there was just complete panic. One of the most common ways to drown is to try and help someone that’s already drowning. They’re so panicked, they’ll cling onto their rescuer and take them down. But these two guys didn’t even try to undo their seatbelts as the water rose up over their legs, over their chests, and into their mouths.”
In the distance, there was the wailing scream of sirens.
“Second, the gun. If it had been in the car for months, then why had one shot been fired and never replaced? Nobody wants to pull a trigger and find out the gun is empty.”
The sirens were very close now.
“But those are both minor things. Maybe they were drugged up and didn’t even notice they were drowning. Maybe someone fired off a shot a week ago and just forgot. The big thing was what we found in the boot, and what did we find there?”
Brad checked his notes. “Power drills, duct tape, knives, rubber tubing, and some modeling clay.”
“The tubing was a stethoscope, just like the ones Marcus Welby used each week.”
Ray translated for the twenty-first century. “Like doctors use. The stuff in the bag looked like modeling clay, but it smelled of engine oil, and that means it was plastic explosive. That’s why the bomb squad is on the way.”
Brad looked around and saw everyone sheltering from the car.
“They were terrorists?”
“A few ounces of C4 won’t cause much damage, but along with the power tools and the stethoscope? That sounds like a kit to break into a safe, and the gun, knives and duct tape were there to keep the people that own the safe quiet while they worked.”
“So, they were on their way to break into a safe and decided to kill themselves instead?”
“But the gun had been fired, so maybe they set out to break into a safe, but something happened.”
Ray shrugged. “Maybe there was a third person and an argument. Maybe someone stopped them getting to the safe, but there’s more to this than two hardened ex-cons who suddenly decided to kill themselves.”
The bomb squad arrived in a flurry of flashing lights and sirens.
“I think we should get a drink while these guys work. There’s a bar and a coffee shop over there. I’ll leave the choice to you since you’re paying.”
Ray had a large black coffee; Brad had a venti soy quadruple-shot latte with no foam.
Ray was on his second coffee when a refrigerator-build man with no neck came in. He was wearing a T-shirt with the message Bomb Squad: If you see me running, try to keep up. He looked around, saw Ray and sat down at their table.
“Thought you’d be in the bar.” He glanced at Brad and it was a whole second before he had a knowing look. Ray thought some people had very finely developed radar. “Mitch Bryant, good call on the find in the trunk.”
“It was something?”
“About three ounces of C4.”
“How much damage could that cause?”
“Not much. It would ruin your day if you were holding it when it went off, but in the trunk of a car, it would just blow the lid off.”
“What would it do to a safe?”
“You saw the stethoscope too. Used properly on a safe, it might open it, but all the drills in the bag were regular metal drills, not the diamond tipped ones they’d need to get the C4 inside the containment. I think the two charmers in the car were amateurs who’d watched too much TV and believed what it told them about safe cracking. They’d probably have wound up sticking the C4 to the outside of the safe and just making a mess.”
“Any idea where they could have got the C4 from?”
“These days, probably Amazon. Everything else seems to come from there. But really there’s the Dark Web, demolition companies, someone in the army looking to make a few bucks. Just about anywhere, in fact.”
“Thanks for that.”
“No problem. We’re all done with the car. Your guys are busy printing the stiffs. Well, I say stiffs, but they’re still a bit floppy yet.”
As Ray and Brad walked back to the car, they had a perfect view of one of the forensic team sashaying across the jetty, hips swinging, hands on hips. Ray knew the type: a solid childhood of tying M80 to the tails of cats, teen years of extorting lunch money, before maturing into an all-round asshole. He’d probably have a whole library of jokes about every ethnicity and sexuality, and how to tell them so the target would hear, ‘but hey! It’s just a joke, right!’ Ray put him about an eight on the jerk-o-meter, just below Justin Bieber.
The rest of the forensic team looked at Brad and suddenly needed to be somewhere else. The comedian didn’t. He stared at Brad, and Ray could almost read the master/slave, bully/victim signals flowing between them. Ray waited for Brad to do something, anything, and he completely ignored what was happening. Ray saw he was going to have to step up to the plate.
“Just a moment.”
He walked quickly over to the comedian. Ray noted the name on his badge: Larry Coker. Knowing someone’s name when you were threatening them made it so much more personal.
“You like jokes about gay people, Larry? Then you’ll love this one. It’s all about the technician who made offensive and degrading gestures in front of a superior officer. The only thing I’ve not figured out is the ending. Maybe it finishes with an official complaint of a hate crime, someone losing their job and maybe going to jail. Or maybe it’s the happy ending where someone treats superior officers with dignity and respect without the slightest trace of a smirk. I’ll leave the ending for you to work out shall I, Larry?”
He walked back to Brad with angry clicks of his heels on the concrete.
“You needn’t have done that. It didn’t really bother me,” Brad said quietly.
“Then it should bother you. This time it was just an idiot messing around, next time it’s somebody spilling your drink, then maybe, one day, you call for urgent assistance and it takes a long time to get to you.”
The comedian walked over to them. He was clutching a few sheets of fax rolled up like a baton.
“Your reports, sir.”
Ray held eye contact with Larry. His face was an expressionless mask. Ray waited until Larry had gone before he started to read.
“OK, the driver was Richard Parker, thirty-eight. Address: The Hartley Hotel in Brooklyn. One prison sentence for assault. The passenger was Newton ‘ Noob’ Reed, forty-three. Same address. Spent time in prison for rape, assault, aggravated assault, sexual abuse, and theft. Good call on their prison history. The car is registered to Jonah Cook in Levittown, and it’s not been reported missing or stolen. Let’s go have a talk with him.”
They left the pier just after midday, the perfect time to join the combat between the office workers who just had to be back to their desks ten minutes ago and the tourists doing a drive through of the Big Apple and Gee Abner, isn’t that the Empire State building? Slow up so I can take a photo. It was never the Empire State Building. Every year, thousands of photos were taken of random buildings and displayed as proud mementos of a visit to New York.
Brad was very quiet as they fought the traffic. He didn’t want to talk about the case, about the continuing failure of the Mets, or even just how much of an idiot the taxi driver was that had stopped in front of them to pick up a fare.
Ray was pretty sure what was bothering him and decided he was going to have to give him The Talk.
“You’re very quiet, and I’ll bet you twenty bucks I know what’s bothering you.”
“Nothing’s bothering me.”
“Yeah, it is, and twenty bucks says you didn’t think it was going to be like this. You did the reading, did the research, had the interviews, and the reality is very different from what you expected.”
Brad’s mouth dropped open.
“That’s twenty bucks you owe me. Let me just say” – Ray took a deep breath – “the NYPD is fully committed to a workplace where all employees are valued, included and empowered, enabling them to achieve their full potential regardless of age, race, gender, nationality, sexual orientation or physical ability.”
“Sure, but that’s the management crap they roll out to tick all the boxes. But back at the pier—”
“Back at the pier, Larry was an equal opportunity asshole. He’d rag on you if you were tall, short, fat, thin, white, black or brown. He knows just what buttons to press to get a reaction. And he’s not alone, so you have to learn how to deal with them.”
Ray tapped his fingers thoughtfully on the steering wheel.
“A few years ago, Katelyn joined the force. Nice lady, but she was a lesbian. Not in your face, but not hiding it either. And because of that, she had a lot of trouble.” Ray looked thoughtful. “A great deal of trouble. Then, one day, some guy told her that she just hadn’t had the right dick. She looked at him deadpan and said, ‘Have you had the right dick?’ And everybody laughed, but with her, not at her. Of course, that wasn’t the end of her troubles, but it was the moment the tide changed. And when she got married to a nice accountant called Sue, most of the squad were there. Some of them were there to hit on the women, but they were there. You see what I’m saying? People like Larry are a fizzing stick of dynamite. Ignore them, and they go off. Stamp on them, and they go off, but if you can get people on your side – then they stop. So, when Larry was doing his hilarious walk, you should have said—”
“You haven’t really got the hips for that.”
“Not bad. I’d have gone with ‘didn’t I see you working the bar district last week?’ But it’s an answer, and you have to have an answer. It’s like a game of tennis; someone lobs a ball to you; you smash it right back.”
“But what if that doesn’t work?”
“Then you’ve got what’s technically known as a major league asshole, so you either put up or shut up. I saw on your file you know Krav Maga. You any good at that?”
“Brown belt,” Brad said, proudly.
“I’ll take it that means good. So, when someone doesn’t back down, you say you should fight it out like men in the ring. Mention you know karate and make sure you do a few phony karate chops that will make people laugh. But when the bell goes, you kick them all over the ring, try not to break anything, but when it’s all over, you should be bouncing around like Mike Tyson on speed while the other guy is still trying to stand up.”
“That could work.”
“It’s worked in thousands of schoolyards. If you can’t make them back down, then knock them down.”
A mile hummed by in silence before Brad said, “And now I know exactly what you’re thinking. You’re thinking why didn’t he know this already, and I bet he went to some expensive school where they called everyone sir and were icily polite to each other.”
“My father was a janitor, and I went to Saint Joseph’s School of having your knuckles rapped. But when you’re the slightest bit different, you spend a lot of time in the library. I read a lot about the law, and I saw what I wanted to be. What about you? Did you always want to be a policeman?”
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