“Meet me at the Royal Cincinnatian, Jake. There were serious fireworks at the hotel. There’s a guy on the second floor with his rocks shot off.”
“Ouch. He was shot in the groin, Sam?” I asked.
“Yep. The guy is lying on the bed naked. There’s soft music playing and rotating colored lights on the ceiling. He’s got a hole in his head and his groin looks like Swiss cheese.”
* * *
My name is, Jake Laird. I’m a trained lawyer, but instead of hanging a shingle I chose to join the Cincinnati Police Department.
I’ve been in the department for the last twenty years and to be honest if it weren’t for my street partner, Sam, I’d be gone tomorrow.
Sam Ferris, my street partner, is a forty-year old Irishman who dresses like he just got out of bed. He’s losing his wavy hair and combs what’s left of it with a towel. Originally from
New York, he came to Cincinnati when his partner, Christopher Epstein, a dress buyer with Macy’s department store, was transferred here.
That’s right, I said partner. Gay detectives on the New York police force may be the norm, but here in Cincinnati, it’s as unusual as a virgin hanging out in the Playboy Mansion.
When some of the boys in blue heard a gay officer was being assigned to this division, they planned to have some fun at his expense. They backed off when they met a 240-pound six-foot-four weightlifter who bench presses 425 pounds. I only know a couple of gays. What
they do in the privacy of their bedroom is their business. Me, I like the warm, soft feel of a woman.
Sam joined the Cincinnati Police force three years ago. He likes to say Mayor Bloomberg sent him to Cincinnati to keep the local hoods from stepping up the felony ladder to commit crimes in the Big Apple.
Sam likes to call me Tracy. He thinks it’s funny referring to the famous cartoon character. I call him Catchem, Dick Tracy’s partner.
Two Years Earlier
The guy is one tough cop. It was routine enough; Hot for a May afternoon. We had just pulled away from District 1 in a decoy cruiser.
That day we were working one of the predominately rundown section of the city. With so many robberies at this location, Commander Cohen had to resort to unusual tactics to keep the hoods guessing.
“This cab is the best idea Cohen’s had since he’s taken over the district,” Sam said.
“Yeah, using an old yellow cab to cruise the neighborhood, and taking turns playing driver and passenger is genius.”
Sam asked me to pull in front of the Bernstein’s place. “I need a couple of cartons of cigarettes for Chris.”
“Good idea. I promised Carol we’d go to an early movie and a late dinner to celebrate our anniversary. I hope Ira’s got some of those Whitman’s Samplers. She loves those damn things.”
Bernstein Tobacco Company was located in a shabby building just off the corner of Rockdale and Reading. The building was an old long, narrow loft. Its crowded aisles and
shelves were stacked high with candy, cartons of cigarettes, and cigars that were sold wholesale to the local retail shops.
As wholesalers, the brothers Ira and Jacob Bernstein didn’t sell to the public, but they were glad to see cops on this beat. It wasn’t due to their good will. Doing a cash business, in
a robbery-prone location, they were happy to see the men in blue enter their place. To the Bernstein brothers, it was cheap insurance.
We knew that Friday afternoons was a good time to do stickups. Receipts are usually heavy before the weekend and some businesses have their payroll on hand.
When we entered the store the place looked busy. Clerks were running up and down the aisles moving stock around.
Ira Bernstein greeted us. “Fellas, whatever you need today is on Bernstein Tobacco.”
“No Ira,” I said, “We’re on duty and the eye in the sky is watching us.”
“My son Herman has just turned thirteen, and according to the rights of Jewish law, he’s become a man. His Bar Mitzvah is tomorrow. Please, my treat.”
We paid for what we came in for wished him and his son well. Sam and I were about to get into our cab when I noticed two guys loitering a few feet away.
“Sam, those two guys wearing wraparound sunglasses and wide rimmed hats look out of place.”
“Yeah, it’s eighty degrees. My guess is they’re up to no good.”
“Get into the cab, Sam. Those guys are watching us. We can pull up to the corner, turn right at Rockdale, and double back.”
We hopped into the cab as if we hadn’t noticed the two men.
By the time we drove passed Bernstein’s place there was no sign of the bad guys.
When we got out of the cab, Sam said. “The blinds on the windows were up when we left, but now they’re down.”
Something was wrong. We placed our gold badges on our vest pockets and drew our Glocks.
“There could be a robbery in progress, Sam. Call it in.”
After Sam called for backup he said, “One of those guys could be crouched out of sight. If we barge in some bystanders could get hurt. It will end up much cleaner if we get them leaving. Move to the left of the door. I’ll take the other side.”
Then a shot rang out. With that sound, everything changed. It was no longer a routine robbery. Someone may have been shot.
Aiming my Glock at the font door, I kicked it open and ran in. One of the stick-up men stood next to the office.
With my 9mm in hand and the gold badge on my coat pocket, the guy couldn’t help but know I was the law.
“Don’t shoot,” the gunman pleaded. “I give up!” He let his .38 fall to the floor and thrust his hands in the air.
That was my first mistake. I should have kicked it away. When I saw him drop his gun, and heard it clunk to the floor, I raced past him toward the back, where I thought I heard the initial shot.
What I didn’t know was that when I raced past the gunman, he reached down, and picked his gun up off the floor.
I sensed it, but there was Sam, as he should be, right behind me. Hearing the gunman move, I wheeled around, and dropped to the floor. Sam fired off three shots into his chest. The second gunman came out of the back, gun in hand, aiming it at Sam. I pumped four rounds into him.
There were two bodies on the floor of Ira’s business. One was lying dead on his face. The other one was laying face up, his eyes open, just as dead as his partner. Ira must have had a weak stomach, because when he stared down at the bodies of the gunmen, he threw up.
“Jake, you should have blown his head off right then and there. It’s the safest way to deal with a nut job.”
“He gave up, Sam, I can’t shoot an unarmed man.”
“I mean before he dropped his piece. We were taught, at the New York police academy, when you come face to face with an armed gunman you shoot the bastard before he shoots you.”
“You’re right, Sam. Call District 1 again and make sure Westrope is on his way to take control.”
“Ira, go back and tell your brother and the help that it’s okay to come out. Keep them together in the back of the store until one of our men can come to the back and interview them.”
I knew it would be only moments before uniform men and other detectives will begin pouring into the place.
Sam looked over at me. “We’re going to have uniforms and brass here any minute now. We don’t want the press, and the nightly news barging into the store like a bunch of women heading for the shoe rack at Macy’s.”
This place had to be preserved exactly as it was, two dead gunmen, shot by two city detectives. The Enquirer would have a field day if we didn’t contain the crime scene.
But it was too late. A crowd started to develop, but within minutes Commander Cohen and Phil Westrope arrived. They stepped into the store with the press, just as Sam predicted, right behind.
That hot afternoon in May, Sam and I became real partners.