The radio asked us to "ten-one the house," so we stopped at the diner and I used the phone to call in. It was hot but not crazy, summer and very busy, but workable, just after dark on a Tuesday. I listened to the lieutenant, hung up, and called central. "Seven-Adam’s going to be out on a job from the house," I said, "we’ll advise."
The rumor had flowed through the department an hour ago, the way it always does when a cop gets shot. A rookie in Manhattan was all we knew, but as we always tried to do, we’d all stopped and called home. The "I’m ok," call because the rumors spread through cop families, and spread fast.
I was home one night, sitting watching TV with Carolyn, and at 9:45 during a commercial break the news guy came on with his teaser. "Cop shot in The Bronx, details at Eleven." I looked at Carolyn and she looked at me and I understood something I simply hadn’t before.
I told Colin what was going on and we headed north toward the edge of the city. We’d only gotten a couple of blocks when Sergeant Hobart called us on the radio and said to meet him at 223rd Street. He immediately started yelling. "We’re holding twenty jobs and you guys are putting yourselves out on bullshit?" "Hey Boss," I looked at him, "C’mon, who are you talking to? We’ve got to go grab some super radiologist out of Eastchester and bring him down to New York Hospital for that kid who got shot." The Sergeant’s face went from red to white instantly. "Shit," he stumbled, "I’m sorry guys, get the fuck out of here."
We drove on. We crossed from the gray of The Bronx to the verdant green of Pelham Manor, back into the dull colors of the dirt-poor suburb of Mount Vernon, then back into the Republican-wealth of Eastchester. The passage through these zones of economic success and failure grimly dramatic on this night. The radiologist climbed in and we sped south, lights flashing, down the Bronx River Parkway, winding onto the Bruckner Expressway, blowing through the tollbooths on the Triborough Bridge, and rolling down the FDR Drive. There was small talk. Meaningless chatter filling vast empty places.
One of the tricks to being a rookie is the belief that you are safe, that nothing will happen to you. You are, as they say, too smart, too good, too young, too important, to fall victim. It doesn’t even cross your mind. Then, one night, it happens to a friend, or in a precinct near you, or in a place that looks just like where you work, or in a situation you’re in ten times a day, or, you find yourself on a wet sidewalk trying to push the brains of a friend back into a torn skull. And then you start to get afraid.
The radiologist asks us to come up with him, so we climb into an elevator that rises fast and opens into a corridor with a huge window looking into the operating room. The kid is on that table, his chest cut open, a machine doing his breathing. The medical team moves just slightly too quickly and nervously. Near the window a line stands: pregnant wife, father and mother, squad members, sergeant, lieutenant. Faces blank. No words. Our passenger leaves us and we stand there as well, and because we are new, the line of mourners turns and looks at us.
It was his first month out of the academy. He was on a ‘quality-of-life’ patrol in the north of Central Park by the lake called the Harlem Meer. Lots of New Yorkers know the park from the reservoir south, many fewer north of there, especially back then. His rookie squad had been told about a bicycle theft, and this guy, the new cop, the new husband, the soon to be father, walked up to a fourteen-year-old boy and asked a question. The boy pulled out a nine-millimeter and shot.
We’ve handled lots of things. We’ve seen lots of things. Been involved in thing — worse things. But we cannot handle this. If we knew him we might be part of it. But we don’t. If it was five days from now — if he dies and there’s a funeral then we’ll be welcome. But now we are simply intruders. We have stepped into a private grief too deep. Our eyes flash from the operating table and across the faces of those watching. Then we hear the "bing" of the elevator and we step back out of this event.
The night is cloudless and there is no breeze. The East River lies perfectly flat reflecting a moon just past full, the city’s lights drifting along the water’s surface. Three times on the way back Colin turns to me to say something, but there are no words until we call the dispatcher and say we’re available again.
- Ira Socol
- Photograph by Susan Candelario