Copyright © 2014 by Frank Hickey
reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilized in any form or by
any means, mechanical or electronic, including manual re-input, photocopying,
scanning, optical character recognition, recording or by any information
storage and retrieval system without permission in writing from the copyright
is a work of fiction. All characters and events described herein are fictitious
and wholly the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to events
or actual persons, living or dead, is unintentional and coincidental.Published
by Pigtown Books, an imprint of
Hidden Pearl Books L.L.C.
First Edition / First
To Jane Hickey Sexton,
dancer, singer, actress, sister and friend, who began performing in Flatbush.●
After roll call, we flowed down the
Flatbush precinct house steps. My legs shook from fear in the rookie blue
The burly black Captain Asphar pulled me
“Royster, you got three civilian complaints
in just two weeks after the Academy,” he told me. “The Internal Affairs rats
will grill you about these charges. They can find you guilty of not combing
your hair. Or anything else they want. You’re still on probation. I’m betting
that you will be thrown off the NYPD and probably jammed by the Feds for civil
rights violations. FBI already called me to say that they opened a case on your
My legs wilted. I turned from him and
coughed and retched and spat a dry heave into the gutter.
He nodded to himself.
“On paper, your arrests look solid,” he
said. “I don’t know what happened out there. But all three mutts say that you
stopped them for Walking-While-Black and then beat them for no reason.”
“I got two guns and crack and a
switchblade off them, Captain,” I said. It was the truth. My voice cracked.
“All three fought me. One bit my neck.”
Even to me, it sounded like I was lying.
The Captain made a face.
before that, you got to appear before a Citizens Against Police Abuse meeting.
This is a new wrinkle. This Flatbush, Brooklyn, precinct here is ninety-eight
percent black. The meeting judges if white cops like you belong in Flatbush.”
“Never saw nobody get that many complaints
so fast,” my Captain said. “You got a problem with us black folks, Royster? Do
you use the n-word about us?”
“I call all criminals ‘clients’, Captain,”
I said. “No matter what race. The clients here ruin lives of honest black
families. Murders every week. Crime causes tragedy. Not racism. But nobody
wants to hear that.”
“Patrol tonight, but do nothing,” he said.
“Nothing, do you hear? I got to put you out there for our patrol stats. But
leave us black fools alone.”
minutes later, I was freezing in the chill fall night. The cold cut through the
dark blue NYPD uniform right through it to my skin.
They had given me a meal period. But I
forgot what time the period was. Stress could do that to me.
This could be my last night walking around
free, I thought. The FBI wanted to have me walking a prison yard in a different
shuttered Flatbush shops in gray-black city shades mocked me. They remembered
happier years, of a safer neighborhood.
midnight now, everyone was shut tight. Rap music pounded somewhere.
My shaky legs brought me across Empire
Boulevard and up a side street.
A black man strode in front of me. He
chanted something. Then he ripped off his white T-shirt.
Huge gladiator muscles bunched and
swelled. He looked like a super-hero on the back page of a comic book. He stood
at least five inches over me. His shaved head and thick torso said
Tearing off clothes meant he was on PCP.
That drug gave the user superhuman strength.
“Seven-One David,” I sputtered into the
radio. “10-85 on Sullivan and Washington. Possible PCP suspect. Request a Taser
and a sergeant-”
The radio squealed.
This was a dead zone. Nobody could hear me
Huge apartment buildings loomed above me.
They blocked my radio signal. The NYPD never spent cash on things like radios.
My belly heaved again. I wanted to run
away. Let black cops bust black clients here. There was no reason for me to get
bitten again and called a racist and sent to die behind bars.
This client saw me.
“Wawwww!” he hollered.
He charged at me.
I skipped backwards. Everything in me
The law said that I could not shoot him. I
had to arrest him without hurting him. Let the lawyers try it.
made me hop sideways. My fingers tore the OC teargas from my belt and manage to
spray above his screeching mouth.
he shouted in a Jamaican accent “That’s nothing but cheap aftershave!”
He knocked the can from my hand.
My other hand drew the plastic baton. It
slammed into his thigh with everything that I had.
The Academy had taught us this thigh shot.
They said that it would drop anyone.
It did not drop him.
I hit him again.
“Get back!” I shouted.
He was on me. I smelled the PCP chemical
odor and his sweat. We went down together.
“Oh, no!” I gasped.
buildings spun on top of me. This was not supposed to happen. Cops were not
supposed to be on the ground.
“Po-po getting done up!”
Black men shouted. They gathered closer.
They watched. I smelled beer and a cigar.
The client grabbed my throat. I swung the
baton’s butt against his skull. Blood flew. He kept squeezing. I swung it
again. He blocked it with his free hand. He tore it from me. It flew away into
My thumb went into his eye. He kept
squeezing. I twisted my head and broke his grip.
“Help me!” I rasped out.
I did not care that I was a cop. He was
“Help yourself, po-po!” a black man
A window went up.
“Somebody help that officer!” a man
bellowed from the window.
A foot crunched against the client’s
cheek. The kicker kicked again. Spit flew from the client’s mouth.
The kicker was a black guy, short and
stocky. He kicked again and scored on the client’s eye.
“Don’t help him!” the cigar smoker hollered.
“Uncle Tom!” his buddy added.
“That’s slave stuff right there!” another
man said, waving a fat book.
The client tried for my throat again. His
hands caught my neck and banged my head KLUMP! against the pavement.
“Don’t mix in it!” the cigar smoker
shouted. “Big boy come looking for you later, if you do!”
“No court for me,” the man with the book
don’t be helping no white po-lice!” the cigar man shouted.
Hands from the crowd got my belt. One
tugged at my gun. I squealed in terror.
“This is worse,” I whispered.
“Get that gun!”
I swung an elbow and hit the gun-grabber.
But the client had heard. He let go of my throat. He unsnapped the gun from my
holster. He held the black Glock.
Both my hands grabbed his hand holding the
gun. We rolled over each other. I banged his gun hand against the sidewalk. He held
onto the gun.
The kicker karate-chopped against the
client’s neck. I could feel the shock. The client still held the gun. He
pointed it at the kicker.
We rolled against a stone plaque set on
the sidewalk. I slammed his wrist against the stone. He gripped the gun. His
finger went to the trigger. I beat his wrist against the plaque again with
everything that I had.
He yelped. The gun dropped. I let it go
and head-butted him against the plaque. More blood wet me. His head lolled
back. I butted again. His eyes closed.
My handcuffs spun out of my new belt and
onto his right wrist. Then I crammed the left one on. It caught his skin and
tore it. But it clicked shut.
He was cuffed.
My fingers found the Glock and shoved it
down into the holster. The holster closed and locked around it.
plaque stood above a square of concrete with the words:
On This Site Was
Ebbets Field Baseball Park
1913 – 1958
This was the park where Jackie Robinson
had played for the Brooklyn Dodgers. Flatbush had been safe then. The locals
nicknamed the area “Pigtown”. Some had raised pigs in their backyards here.
My kicker was pulling on my arm. His young
black face twisted, searching me.
“I couldn’t let him kill you!” he shouted.
couldn’t let him kill YOU!” I screamed back into his face. “We only got
Years later, I was in the rich Manhattan
neighborhood that I called “The Playpen.” It ran from 59th Street to 96th
Street on the Upper East Side.
Playpenners danced in the basement of St.
Jean Baptiste Church, on 76th Street at Lexington Avenue, home of Stephen
Dane’s Manhattan group. I often went there to dance.
Cooper, a woman I knew only from dancing,
had just finished a rumba when I came in. She wore a silk-smooth evening dress
that echoed her ebony hair. Sinatra sang a slow foxtrot over the speakers, “All
“May we dance?” I asked her.
“Okay,” she said. “It’s my first night
dancing this month. I just moved to Flatbush in Brooklyn.”
Her pure white teeth split in a grin. Dark
blue eyes heated. Dancing, she leaned her slim strong frame back. Her evening
dress molded to her figure. The tip of her nose showed a spring sunburn. It
gave her a wilder look, like a forest animal.
Her fingers gripped mine. I could feel
their strength. When she inhaled for the next step, the suntanned skin between
her breasts showed.
to look away from this stranger and think of loves gone sour in the past. Avoiding trouble was becoming my
“Flatbush is a cool neighborhood,” she said. “Stately old
buildings. Great architecture, wonderful friendly people, next to Prospect
Park. Each street and each house has a unique personality.”
“I know,” I said. “I used to
“Really, Max? What did you do?”
“I was a gandy dancer on the choo-choo
train of justice.”
“Are you ever serious, Max?”
“I tried being serious once. All I could
get was a job as a handgun target paster for the Ku Klux Klan.”
“You never give straight answers. Every
time that I dance with you, you say funny things that I can’t quite figure
“Me, neither. Why Flatbush?”
you and I agree that it is a great neighborhood. Beauty and dignity and magic
from years past. Ebbets Field baseball stadium, home of the Brooklyn Dodgers,
known worldwide as ‘Dem Bums’.”
“So we both see Flatbush the same?” she
I paused, spun her and stepped into
“But Flatbush suffers,” I said. “The honest
black folks live behind chains and locks. It may be Brooklyn’s most dangerous
neighborhood. Murders run rampant there. After dark, the crack gangs run it.”
We danced some more.
Good cooking smells wafted from the
kitchen in back.
“You see the faded glory in those old
buildings on Flatbush Avenue, near the Prospect Park stone gates,” I said.
“Even the street names have magic – Empire Boulevard, Beekman Place, Lenox
“Is this an obsession?” she asked me.
The dance ended.
Another man, white-haired, dressed in a
blue Hawaiian print shirt resplendent with golden surfboards, took Cooper to
dance an American waltz.
Sgt. Al Lipkin came down the staircase,
wearing a light grey suit and a tight look on his elfin face. Sandy hair
crested back in an old-fashioned pompadour. His nose crooked, broken in street
fights as a young patrol cop.
“Why the heck do you twist my arm to get
me here?” he asked. His high voice roiled a city accent.
“You need to unwind after working One
Police Plaza all week. Politics, back-stabbing captains, meetings, chest pains.
“So here I am.”
“And the women are waiting to unwind you,”
I said. “Slowly and gently. You’re not wearing a hip holster, I hope. They’ll
feel that old .38 Colt Detective Special of yours.”
“Ankle holster,” he said. “What-the-Christ
kind of people come here, richy neighborhood, and why am I here, dancing inside
a Catholic church, a Jew like me?”
“Just New Yorkers who like to dance,” I
said. “Secretaries, nurses, college couples, aging showbiz types, gigolos posing
as dance teachers with older women.”
are your other friends that help you clear cases?” Lipkin asked. “You know.
Barkeeps. Crazies. Good-time ladies.”
those Playpen Irregulars, are dancing through the doors now,” I said. “Here’s
Tisa and her husband, Ivan.”
black hair, sleek and long, twirled around the high cheekbones of her laughing
tan face. Her pearl teeth sparkled. Her smile echoed in her brown eyes
Ivan’s bulk would make two of her. Jazzmen
would call him “Mister Five-by-Five.”
“She’s beautiful,” Lipkin said. “Mexican?”
, senora,” Lipkin said. “I’m new in the Playpen Irregulars. So I
don’t know everybody yet.”
“We Irregulars laugh together through
everything,” Tisa said. “Unemployment. Heartbreak. Cancer. No matter what.”
Her husband, Ivan, a bulky youngster built
like the village blacksmith, drew her into a waltz. Curly hair and glasses
framed his cherub’s face.
“That’s her husband?” Lipkin asked.
save you time,” I said. “Ivan is around twenty-two, Jewish like you. From Far
Rockaway. Tisa is ageless. Some Indian women are like that. Maybe forty. They
seem very happy together.”
group,” Lipkin said. “Don’t Irregulars sometimes bail out of your group?”
“Some do, sure. Some join looking for fast
sex. Or to network with the rich. Or something darker. They forget how to
relax. They don’t last long.”
“And you all dance?”
“Look around at them,” I said. “A cop like
you watches people for a living. Some dancers here are twenty-one. Others are
pushing eighty. Some are beauties. Others look like me. Hopefuls who want to
learn dancing. Uptight supervisors like you. Battered ex-cops like me.”
Lipkin hunched his shoulders like a shy
teenager at the prom and walked around the dance floor, scanning.
“Max! Mister Royster, sir!” Nancy said.
Her sky blue backless dress emphasized her
tigerish shoulder muscles. Nancy stood about five feet tall, ninety-eight
pounds of steel-wire strength. Her blonde hair lay brushed back from a
heart-shaped face. Cherry-red-rimmed glasses gave her a small-town girl look.
We swayed into the waltz.
My own body arched down to hers.
Lipkin danced with another woman, across
“Why are Civil Servants so horrible to us
taxpayers?” Nancy asked.
“Your lovey-dovey man busted again,
“Worse than that. I got jury duty! Did you
ever hear of anything so stupid? I’m trying to run my own business. You think
that it’s easy to get a school like that up and running with students that pay
their dues? If I get stuck on a trial, I could lose my school.”
Kansas drawl honeyed her words, even when she was mad.
there’s an easy way to get you out of jury duty,” I said. “And without you informing
on Santiago, your little honeybunch, slinging crack outside the fertility
clinic, the angel that he is.”
“No, my way is different,” I said. “Nancy,
you remember that I used to be a cop?”
“How could I forget?”
“And I know that you love me” I said. “I’m
your old honeybunch. With every
and corpuscle. Even though your heart belongs to that celestial little
“When you’re in court, tell them that you
love an ex-cop,” I said. “That ex-cop is me. Because of that, you would be
biased. You think that every cop is a great guy who would never lie. The
lawyers, defense or DA’s office, will break their legs running to drop you from
that jury pool.”
“Oh, that’s so neat!”
“And we love each other,” I said. “That’s
the whole truth and nothing but right there!”
She hugged me. Those muscles crunched
mine. Everyone on the dance floor eyed us.
For a minute, I forgot Nancy’s last name.
Maybe my memory was going.
The dance ended.
Lipkin chatted with his dance partner, a
patrician woman in a green flowered dress.
Cooper smiled and nodded her head with a
young blond man. It made me feel pudgy and old.
A Business Type, dynamic and strong,
liquor blowing near me, took Nancy’s arm as an invitation to dance. His hair
appeared razor cut, designed for power breakfasts. His healthy face looked
destined to rule. His eyes said that he knew it.
Nancy smiled her glowing cat smile at him
and shook her head. He made a face and stepped away.
“I know that smile,” I said to her. “It
means that you are vexed with that gentleman for touching you.”
“A woman’s body is a woman’s business,”
your training, you could smile sweetly,” I said, “then take off his head and
make him eat it with Brussels sprouts.”
smile glowed again.
“It IS tempting,” she purred.
“But that would hurt Stephen Dane’s
Manhattan Ballroom friends. You wouldn’t want to do that.”
way. Stephen hosts the best ballroom in Manhattan.”
watched Stephen, agile and cheery, bring shy couples together to dance. He
never stopped teaching, spinning around the floor behind his smile and immaculate
The music changed to an Argentine tango,
something slow and gliding. Violins pealed in the song.
Cooper appeared again.
“I’d be a fool to say no.”
Nancy smiled and moved off.
“How do you know my Flatbush so well?”
“I told you,” I said.
She went into my arms.
My belly sucked in. She smelled of scented
soap and light perfume. Cooper looked like a young and lithe thirty. I was
hoisting forty-eight years around with me like a broken suitcase.
220 pounds on six feet of old injuries weighed me down. The injuries had
scarred me as a knock-around guy first and then as a cop.
“Hey, Patso,” I said.
A burly man with a sagging choirboy’s face
lit by baby blue eyes lurched onto the dance floor.
“Another Playpen Irregular comes to call,”
I told Cooper.
“What’s ‘the Playpen’?’” Cooper asked.
“The Upper East Side, from 59th Street to
96th Street,” I said. “One of the richest and safest neighborhoods in the universe.
Protected like a baby’s crib. You could live and die here without ever seeing
the outside world.”
“So he’s another one of your secret club
members?” Cooper asked. “Maybe I should join.”
We danced more.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked.
Someone tapped my arm. Business Type
leaned in closer, blowing Scotch breath on us both.
“I’m cutting in,” he slurred.
Cooper shook her head.
“Sure you are,” I said. “But some other
dance, some other place, some other partner.”
“I’m in software,” Business Type said,
touching Cooper’s shoulder. “Been up for three days for today’s conference. Had
some dinner, drinks. Now I want to dance. And I’m going to. With you.”
stepped away into the tango basic, holding Cooper. Then we went into the movement
called ‘an ocho’. Her heels spun.
Type touched my arm.
“Now you got me mad,” he said.