A Novel by Steve Burns
Editor’s note: Steve Burns is a former cop for the San Diego Police Department and first introduced himself to the Free Press as a Sex in San Diego contributor. His 32-chapter novel, The Dove and the Cockerel, is set in the late 80s and takes place over the 72-hour period of an investigation of some murders. A new chapter will be published every Saturday.
Nothing can convey the impression of that overwhelming darkness. It was not just the absence of sunlight, for the sun had never touched this spot. The top of a mountain, the middle of a desert have their stars, wind, dawn, their feel of space. Here was nothingness. Eternity passes our comprehension, but in that forgotten pit I think I had a flash of what it might be like …. Then as I climbed higher I heard the faint rat-tat-tat of a drill machine. Above me and off in a side tunnel, men were working. I scrambled on; the sense of mystery fell away, and my pit became what it properly was — a hole in the ground. Even so, I climbed out of it a little wiser than I had been. I doubt me now if there is any such a thing as complete self-sufficiency. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we travel with the inbred knowledge that somewhere others of our kind are waiting. Were it not so, we would lack the courage to travel at all, and hell is a place where man is alone. — One Man’s West by David Lavender
Man is born crying. When he finishes crying, he dies. The Fool, from Akira Kurosawa’s film Ram
The vibram resole on his black leather, steel-toe boots barely made a sound on the aging, cracked concrete sidewalk adjacent to the 800-block of “G” Street. The leather of the boots had been oiled and polished so many times it had long since forgotten to squeak with his steps — steps which carried a cautious authority well learned and developed through 18 years as a street patrolman. There was not the politically correct “Police Officer” found on the badges of his newer coworkers — those with less than 15 years — but “Patrolman,” now almost worn from his brass badge.
Keeping the badge had been a costly battle, he thought to himself. He had fought bitterly with his then-sergeant to keep his original badge, “1369,” when the department reissued them a few years ago to appease those vicious bitches in the Women’s Police Officer Association.
Sergeant Dockerty had demanded he turn in his “Patrolman” badge. He refused, citing, in private, that Dockerty shouldn’t really be conducting his Christmas shopping while on duty, adding that the Polaroid photos of Dockerty copping a few “Z’s” in the station during night shift weren’t in line with department policy. The most convincing negotiating tool was a splendid black-and-white photo of Dockerty whizzing against the side of the Chief’s company car when they had been patrolmen together in the early days.
Negotiations having been successful, Peter Ernesto Castillo kept his “Patrolman” badge. Unfortunately, it had been a case of winning the battle and losing the war. Dockerty, now a commander, had been in a position to turn down every request he had made for a specialized assignment. Dockerty was the only Irishman he had ever met that he did not like, which led him to believe Dockerty was probably adopted. No Irishman could ever be that big of an asshole.
The one thing Dockerty couldn’t take away from Pete was his preferred shift status. The three stars on his name tag indicated at least 15 years of service with the San Diego Police Department. At that point, he could pick whichever shift he wanted to work. For the past three years that shift had been day shift: 6:30 a.m to 4:30 p.m.
A couple of weeks ago, however, Terry Bates had approached Pete to switch shifts for two days so he could attend his nephew’s christening in Fresno. Bates had been Pete’s trainee when he came on the department five years ago. He had been a good trainee, receiving commendations twice from the department for particularly good police work, and a life saving medal for pulling a young girl from a burning car on the I-8. Bates had also driven Pete home a couple of times from the infamous “Beachcomber” after Pete had consumed just the one too many “B.C.’s,” the nickname given by the locals to the standard cocktail: Bacardi light and Coke.
So tonight, as a favor to Bates, Pete was working his second night shift in more than three years. And frankly, it sucked. After arresting a drunk driver around 11 .p.m, the early Tuesday morning in downtown San Diego had become the dullest shift he could remember.
The drunk driver, a law student working as a law clerk for one of the larger downtown firms, had been entertaining enough. After driving his red convertible Mazda Miata into a dumpster at one of the numerous construction sites downtown, Clarence Edward Taylor, Jr., had made the second in a series of grievous tactical errors. The first was getting behind the wheel about ten minutes earlier. He then proceeded to call 9-1-1 on his cellphone to report the accident, demanding a full report be taken in order to file a lawsuit against the parties responsible for creating such a hazard.
Pete was assigned the call. He arrived at the accident scene to find that Mr. Taylor had driven through a set of barricades and yellow warning tape, across a 2-foot trench and through a chain link fence before hitting the dumpster and knocking it about twenty feet. The steering wheel had been pushed to the back of the driver’s seat, knocking the seat from the slides and bolts that fastened it to the floor of the car. The bucket seat now rested in the small storage area behind the seats, bent beyond repair. The impact would have killed a sober driver. But Mr. Taylor, like most drunk drivers involved in such accidents — or “on purposes” as Pete referred to them – was uninjured.
Upon Pete’s arrival, Mr. Taylor committed his third blunder of the evening. He advised Pete that he was aware of his rights, and stated that unless Pete wanted to be a party of the pending lawsuit, he had better do an extremely good job of investigating the accident.
This said, Mr. Taylor then engaged in one of the many sophisticated behaviors common to all drunks: he vomited the entire contents of his stomach on himself.
Pete had smelled the alcohol oozing from Mr. Taylor as he walked up, and now he had no doubt as to Mr. Taylor’s condition, marble mouth and all. Pete advised Mr. Taylor of his right to remain silent and strongly suggested he exercise it. Mr. Taylor ignored the admonition and continued chipping at Pete. He had to hand it to him; men of lesser stock would have probably conceded defeat, but not this kid.
There was no need for the formalities of a field sobriety test and Pete arrested Mr. Taylor on the spot. Arriving on the scene, a Prima Dona from traffic division grudgingly agreed to complete the accident investigation. This was only after Pete pointed out that the accident involved city property, and as a common patrolman he was unqualified to make the report.
It has always been a sore spot that the weenies from traffic division were better qualified to determine whether or not an accident scene required their expertise to complete the report, something a six-week rookie could do as well. The accident victim could have been decapitated and Pete would have to wait for a traffic officer to evaluate the severity of the accident.
No use dwelling on it. Pete handcuffed Mr. Taylor and drove him to Central for the blood/alcohol test and Duty Lieutenant’s approval for the eventual booking at County Jail — also informally known as Duffy’s Grey Bar Hotel in honor of the late Sheriff John Duffy.
The State of California provides that those arrested for driving under the influence have an option of a blood, breath or urine test to determine the percentage of alcohol in their blood. The presumptive blood-alcohol level in the system that constitutes under the influence of alcohol for the purpose of driving is .08 percent. This is not generally drunk, as most believe, merely impaired.
Mr. Taylor opted for a blood sample, to be taken by laboratory technician Mary Francis, known to many as “Vampira.” Her moniker was well earned based on her expertise and the more than ten thousand blood samples she had drawn in her tenure with the Department.
Taking the blood sample would preclude Pete from knowing Mr. Taylor’s “BA” for several days. Although it would not effect Mr. Taylor’s eventual destination this particular evening, Pete convinced Mr. Taylor to take a breath test; allowing Pete to compete in the nightly pool, winner decided by the highest BA at time of arrest. Mr. Taylor’s arrogance sealed his fate when he turned in a whopping .22 BA, and also placed Pete in solid contention for drunk of the night.
Mr. Taylor then further dug his hole, and jeopardized his chances forever practicing law. When Pete asked for Mr. Taylor’s driver license, which he had refused to furnish at the accident scene, Mr. Taylor insisted on removing his own wallet — a none-too-simple task with his hands cuffed behind his back. What happened next may never have happened if Mr. Taylor had allowed Pete to remove the wallet.
In retrieving his wallet from his left rear pant pocket, Mr. Taylor dropped it. The contents spilled out upon hitting the ground, and there in front of God and everyone — well, at least Mary Francis and two other officers — were three white, paper bindles neatly folded into rectangles, about 3/4 quarters of an inch by 1.5 inches.
There was not too much doubt as to the contents, but another quick presumptive chemical test indicated the paper bindles contained cocaine. For recreational use or otherwise, cocaine was still a controlled substance in the State of California and a felony to possess, contrary to the popular belief of some. While one bindle would pass for personal use, three bindles and the right Duty Lieutenant might allow Pete to add the charge of possession for sale. Also known as “stacking charges,” it allowed the District Attorney’s Office greater leverage during the eventual plea bargaining process.
Lieutenant Woodruff was one such D.L. A 23-year veteran of four administrations and almost every assignment offered by the Department, Lt. Woodruff listened patiently to Pete’s rehash of the circumstances of the arrest and the earnest explanation of his expertise and training indicating the amount of cocaine was not simply for personal use, but for sale. Pete also answered in the affirmative when Lt. Woodruff asked him whether or not Mr. Taylor had failed the “asshole test.” That said, Lt. Woodruff approved the booking of Mr. Taylor for DUI, possession and possession for sale of cocaine.
Up to that point Mr. Taylor had been annoying, but when informed of the charges on which he was to be booked, he became a raging dickhead. For the most part, Pete ignored the insults against his integrity, masculinity and ethnic background. Mr. Taylor then stepped way over the line, and there was no going back.
Mr. Taylor had overheard Pete talking with Maxine Charleston, another Central police officer. She and Pete had dated briefly about four months back. The split had been amicable and the two shared a good friendship. During their relationship, Maxine had met Pete’s 15-year-old daughter Theresa from his first marriage. Maxine and Terry had hit it off very well, and Maxine always asked Pete about Terry. Mr. Taylor had heard enough to know Terry was Pete’s soft spot.
Driving the short distance from Central to County Jail, Mr. Taylor told Pete he was going to look up Terry when he was released in an hour or two. He then described in lurid detail every aberrant sexual act he would perform on Terry.
Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord, except on the street, and then it’s the cops’. The public has never quite understood the effects of wading through the seamy under belly of the beast 10 hours a day, 40 hours a week, 50 weeks a year. The bottom line: emotionally, cops are a little shy of plumb.
Mr. Taylor’s last little outburst pushed the wrong button. Pete, however, lived by the rule, “don’t get mad, get even.” Mr. Taylor was his.
At County Jail the booking routine began with waiting in line behind one or more police cars from various county police agencies preparing to disgorge their prisoners. Driving down a ramp that ended at the entrance of County Jail, the arresting officer parked and took his prisoner into a secured sally port to begin the booking process. Once inside, the arresting officer handed the jail deputies a written booking slip identifying the prisoner and the charges. The prisoner’s handcuffs were then removed and his hands placed against a door leading to the phone tank. After a final pat down for weapons, the deputies instructed the prisoner to put his left hand through the bars of an adjacent jail door. The prisoner was then banded with a hospital-type wrist band on which certain identifying information was written. This accomplished, the prisoner, or “fish,” was then given final instructions before the door to the phone tank slid open and the prisoner entered to make telephone calls to friends, family or the various bail bond agencies listed on the wall. On a busy night, as many as 40 prisoners with varying degrees of social status, emotional stability, criminality and personal hygiene shared this room until they were summoned for the subsequent booking procedure and placement.
At best, County Jail’s receiving area resembled the fourth level of Dante’s Inferno. In order to maintain control, Jail Deputies responded to any sign of trouble quickly and decisively. Those who disrupted the order were generally pounced upon, subdued, stripped naked and placed alone in a safety cell, a 10- by 10-foot room covered floor to ceiling with beige latex padding. The only amenity was a toilet hole in the center of the room. The offender was then left to contemplate his transgression until the deputies deemed him safe to return to the jail population.
Pete knew the routine. While they waited in line behind two other police cars, Pete was able to calm Mr. Taylor enough to listen somewhat. Pete had determined that Mr. Taylor had never been to jail before, and played upon the television-based fear of having a cellmate named Bubba with whom he would play house, Mr. Taylor playing the role of “wife.” Pete explained that due to County cut-backs, the Jail Deputies were nothing more than security guards and really very wimpy. Should the other prisoners observe him obeying the guards, they would automatically assume he was new meat and Mr. Taylor could very well become a part of the Holland Tunnel West. Resistance to the guards was the key to survival.
Mr. Taylor arrogantly told Pete that he knew how to take care of himself. Pete replied he was sure he did as they stopped in front of the Jail entrance. The huge beige steel door slid open and they stepped in as it closed behind them with a resounding thud and clank.
Just keep up your part, Mr. Taylor, and you are going to regret every indiscretion of this night, Pete thought to himself.
Pete removed the handcuffs from Mr. Taylor and placed his hands on the Plexiglas cover on the door leading to the phone tank. He had already handed the booking slip to the deputy at the gate. The wrist band now prepared, the deputy, politely, but all business, asked Mr. Taylor to place his left arm through the bar of the door.
Turning with his fists on his hips, Mr. Taylor replied slowly and concisely, “Fuck off, faggot. Why don’t you come out here and make me, you little pussy.”
There was a moment’s silence. Pete stepped back from Mr. Taylor. The lock of the door released with a loud metallic clank. Then the heavy steel-barred door flew open.
Mr. Taylor never really saw their faces as six arms came through the door grabbing him by the hair, neck, arms, waist, legs and feet. He hit the ground with a sickening thud. He was then dragged down the corridor to safety cell No. 3. As he screamed for mercy, the hands with rapid efficiency removed his suit, tie, suspenders, shirt, shoes, socks, boxer shorts, watch and class ring. Lying on his back on the floor, now naked, he was unceremoniously airlifted into the cell, and the door slammed shut.
When the deputies returned to Pete, he looked incredulous and explained sheepishly how he could not understand why Mr. Taylor had suddenly gone off like that — he’d been such a gentleman up until that point. Their raised eyebrows told Pete they doubted his credibility, but there was simply not enough to convict.
Have a nice evening, Mr. Taylor … you little prick, Pete had thought to himself as he returned to his car to resume his shift.
But that had been almost two hours ago. Pete looked at his digital Casio wrist watch which informed him it was not quite 3 a.m. He still had three-and-a-half hours to go and was putting up a valiant struggle to keep awake. Rather than find a hiding place to sleep, Pete had decided to park and patrol on foot.
The Gas Lamp District of downtown San Diego was becoming very upscale. Pete’s lifestyle did not include the theater or the chic dining establishments popping up and disappearing at the rate of about four per month down here, so he actually enjoyed walking around at night checking out the changes to the area.
Only the homeless minions were still out, sleeping in doorways or wandering about talking to themselves and their imaginary demons. Even the prostitutes had called it a night by now. Pete had the street to himself as he headed east, shaking door handles and shining his mag-lite into the various businesses.
Pete approached the small alternative clothing store, aptly named “The Spike.” The front windows were slightly smoked and difficult to see through during the day. At night a flashlight beam would not penetrate the interior darkness. The square glass panels of the front door were also made of smoked glass. This was probably why Pete did not notice that the glass panel next to the door latch was missing.
The first surprise to Pete came when he turned the door latch and pulled. The unlocked door opened toward him, as he stood slightly off balance in the doorway. Pete’s second surprise was the beginning of the end of his life.
A bright yellow and white flash exploded directly in front of Pete. As the double 00 buckshot tore into his left leg he began to crumple to the sidewalk. He was dimly aware of the flesh and muscle tearing away just above his left knee. As he fell, he saw the second flash almost in front of his face. This time the buckshot hit him just above his bullet proof vest, ripping into his throat and chin, severing both jugular veins and carotid arteries. His jaw was a bloody mass as the impact threw him backward onto the pavement.
Death is rarely instantaneous from a gunshot wound. Dying and disoriented, Pete rolled onto his side, his hand instinctively trying to reach his still-holstered revolver. He was eye level with the pavement now, watching his blood drain rapidly from his limp body, unable to even cry out. He focused on a round piece of metal a few inches from his disfigured face.
Was it a penny, perhaps? Pete wondered. Find a penny …. How does that go? … Pick it up, all the day you’ll have good luck …. Did I ever teach that rhyme to Terry? I must have. Oh Terry, mi corazon, mi vida, I must be such a mess. I’m so very sorry, forgive me … so sorry. This damn ringing in my ears, make it stop. Oh please, God, make it stop. Oh Terry, te amo, Palomita. I must go away now. Please, God! I’ll be good, make the ringing stop. Oh Terry … mi Palomita ….
Pete’s body tried for one last breath and he was gone, lying alone on the cold concrete. Alone except for his murderer who stood over him. His murderer, who grinned and chuckled softly before walking deliberately east on G Street, turned south at the corner, pausing only to light a cigarette before continuing toward the San Diego Bay.
Continue to Chapter 2
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