Story by Nick Swain
Illustration by Cesar Valtierra
McGraw hated driving. Especially the kind of driving he was doing now. Weaving in and out of traffic, rounding each curve and turn at high-speed, just managing to keep from veering off the road. No siren to warn other drivers (it was off so as not to alarm the suspect). But he was eager to get to Cook’s apartment. He didn’t blame Reed too much for their delay. He’d known Reed for a while. Since before his suspension for killing a bigshot racketeer, since before he’d been brought back and demoted to Sergeant after being found not guilty of murdering Benny Stanton, since before they’d been partnered up. Hell, Reed had already been a plainclothesman when McGraw was still walking a beat. But he had cut out about five minutes of what McGraw considered valuable time – doing whatever. He hadn’t asked; didn’t plan to. He figured Reed wouldn’t have held them up if it hadn’t been important. He might’ve been in the restroom or taking an emergency call from one of those ex-wives he was always aching about. It was the second incident of the investigation that had McGraw questioning Reed’s work. McGraw decided he wasn’t going to go out of his way to find a third. They were on their way to the little man’s place now anyway. The short, mystery stranger placed at the scene of the Giante brother slayings.
McGraw had called Farley from the hospital immediately after Sam Giante died. Farley did as he was told and had the files ready on everyone named Cook in the county – and two neighboring counties, starting with convicts, and possible members of the Turner gang. The pile they arrived to prove that Cook was a common name, but Farley had done well and had two separate files waiting. “No one I could find from the Turner’s named Cook – not even as an alias,” Farley explained. “But I thought about possible connections to the Giantes, and what I found were two different cons who’d served time in Stateville while the Giantes were there: Gregory Cook, released earlier this year after one year for arson; and Emmanuel Cook Jr. released three months ago after five years on B&E charges.” Looking at each of the Cook mugshots, McGraw thought Farley would make a decent detective.
It was simple enough to decide which Cook they were after. All they had to do was look at the listed height of five-foot-two Emmanuel Cook Jr. apartment 4D of 223 Martin St. A thirty-four-year-old man originally from Brooklyn, New York, who’d been working as a janitor at a recreational center since his release from prison. McGraw went to pull the car around, while Reed did whatever for those five minutes. And now there they were.
223 Martin St. turned out to be in the heart of the city’s tenement section. Each building identical, with a dilapidated, crumbling look. If they were still standing and had four walls it was near impossible to tell which buildings weren’t abandoned. The inside of 223 was dark and depressing, with only the glare of a single naked bulb hanging from the ceiling at each floor. McGraw and Reed made their way to the fourth. Reaching under his arm, McGraw unhooked the strap around the butt of his gun. As far as he was concerned this was a murder suspect they were calling on.
The detectives approached apartment 4D, each of them taking a side of the door; Reed hailed far off, his face concealed under the brim of his hat. McGraw knocked at the door. Nothing. His right hand rested on his belly – where it always did when he began to think of quick-drawing – as he rapped against the door with his left. He knocked at the door again. When there was no answer, he started for a third and suddenly the door cracked a few inches. Timid, hazel eyes could be seen just above the doors chain. “Yea?” a sheepish voice inquired.
“Mr. Cook?” McGraw’s hand came out of his jacket holding a shiny gold badge. “We’re with the police. I’d just like to ask you a few questions, I think you could be a big help to us.”
“You’re batty if you think I can help you.”
“Can we come in?”
“Leave me alone.”
“Like I said, I think you can help out. If you can’t, I won’t waste too much of my time or yours. How ‘bout it?”
The dark-eyes fell over the detective, then ran about the hallway. The door closed and was followed by the muffled sound of a rattling chain. It opened all the way this time, and a wiry little man with thinning dark hair and nervous almond-shaped eyes stood before them.
“You said ‘we’?” he asked before Reed stepped into the doorway with his partner. When he saw him, Cook’s eyes looked as though they’d pop out of his skull in an instant. Reed chewed off the end of a cigar and spit the tip out; his eyes cold and unblinking as they set upon Cook. “W-What do you guys want with me! I’ve done everything I was supposed to!”
“Take it easy, Cook,” Reed grunted through clenched teeth. “Like my partner said, we just want to know a few things. No one said you did anything wrong.”
Cook’s eyes remained glazed with fear. “I-I don’t know anything.”
“Don’t you want to hear the questions first?” McGraw said briskly.
“I just want to be left alone.”
McGraw ignored him. “What were you doing at the Giante liquor store this morning?”
If this caught Cook off guard, McGraw didn’t see it; Cook’s eyes hadn’t left Reed since they’d found him. He watched as the detective marched around his apartment, puffing away at his Corona as he examined the shelves, his hands stuffed into his pants pockets with the flaps of his jacket brushed back, the .38 at his waist exposed. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I was here all day.”
“So, you didn’t know Anthony or Sam Giante?”
McGraw nodded slowly. The way he did when displeased. “How’s parole been going, Cook?”
“Fine! I’ve been doing fine,” he said, still watching Reed.
“That’s nice. The Giantes didn’t quite get a chance to do as well as you. About fifty rounds of .45 slugs made sure of that.”
Cook didn’t answer.
“Were they not very nice to you in the clink, Cook?” McGraw smirked slyly. “Play a little too rough for a fella your size? That what you had against them?”
Cook turned from Reed to McGraw, his face a pale, painful twist of fury and indignation. “Shut up!”
“I don’t think anyone could blame you for wanting to cap them if that was the case – “
“Shut up!” Cook cried. “You’re not gonna pin anything on me!”
McGraw carried on. “– Both Giantes got it. Guess that was the plan though, huh? But how ‘bout the girl?”
“What girl?” Cook growled, his attention back on Reed.
“Her name doesn’t matter. It might’ve once, but not anymore. Guess you didn’t stick around to see your pals’ handy work, did you?”
“I told you – “
“Going somewhere, Cook?” Reed asked jumping back in, cocking his head toward the direction of a pullout bed, where a half-packed suitcase lay open.
“You know,” McGraw said, “parole violation can be a serious thing; even without a murder-rap to top it off.”
Cook’s lips curled into a nervous little smile. “No, no, no.” He laughed at the end of each word, backing away from McGraw and maneuvering from Reed, who seemed to be circling him. “I wasn’t going nowhere! As you guys can see, I don’t have much furniture. Where else am I supposed to keep my shirts?” He tittered, hand trembling as he worked a cigarette into his mouth; he was by the bed now, pulling one shirt after the other out of the suitcase. “See, just my shirts…” This was when Cook turned so that his back blocked-off sight of the bed. McGraw, jaw shifting, watched as Cook’s short arm plunged deeper into the suitcase; exploring blindly, groping for something.
Before he could think of doing any different, McGraw shoved his unwary partner across the room, spilling his cigar and hat; Reed hit the wall and crashed behind a dresser as Cook spun around on the detectives, a tiny black automatic in his hand. He let a shot loose, the bullet ripping past McGraw as he dove to his own side of the room, right hand traveling up his belly and under his arm as he went. Cook was already darting into the short hallway in his apartment; Reed – up and with the program by now – unsheathed his .38 and fired twice as he trailed the little man, missing each shot and shattering a window with one.
McGraw, back on his feet, cannon in hand, followed Reed toward the hall. They could just see the door closing. McGraw started forward, but Reed pulled him back. McGraw looked to his partner and saw his index finger against his mouth. Not understanding, McGraw took another step and heard the shrill, muffled voice on the other side of the door.
“…What…What’re you doing here… No, no I did everything I was supposed to… NO!”
Reed took his partner by the collar and yanked him back. McGraw was behind cover not a second before a burst of machine-gun fire came tearing through the door, ripping away at the panels; the force of the volley splintering and spitting large, varying pieces of wood out into the hall. A river of lead flew past the detectives and tore into the far wall. McGraw watched the sinuous streaks of holes being drilled into the plaster; the wild, vertical patterns told him the shooter was dipping the machine-gun up and down as he unloaded.
Soon the shooting ceased. There was a dull thud from the other side of the door- quickly followed by footsteps, and as McGraw peaked around the corner, he could see a figure disappear past the ragged, spiked mass of holes in the door. Keeping low, he dashed into the hall; Reed followed close. The door was unlocked, but there was dead weight on the other side. McGraw looked through the hole and saw the bloody legs and feet at the foot of the door. He rammed it with his shoulder and the body tumbled lithely as McGraw came in low, his sights set down the eight-inch barrel of his Smith & Wesson, covering the empty room. The billowing drape at an open window caught his attention, and he sprung as Reed entered the room.
Cannon first, McGraw peaked out of the window and down the fire escape; the figure was moving with such haste the stairs shook as McGraw climbed out onto them. Skipping two stairs at a time McGraw caught flashes of a white hat through the stairs and could see that the man was already to the first floor. Bending as far as he dared over the rails, McGraw took aim and blasted at the bottom of the staircase the man (whose face was masked under the wide brim of his fedora) was half-through descending. The slug ricocheted off the second-to-last step, sparking and sending the man stumbling backward – McGraw could actually see the Tommy slip from hands as he tripped up, but before he could shoot again the man was crawling back up the stairs, and out of clear sight; the foregrip and Cutts compensator of the machine-gun disappearing with him, creeping up the stairs seemingly on its own.
And then lead poured from below, the sound of bullets bouncing all around him was more deafening than the blast of the weapon spitting them out. All McGraw could do was back against the railing and cover his face. He felt a slash across his temple and collapsed as the sound of dry fire came. Pulling himself up with blood already seeping into one eye he saw a man in a white hat and black overcoat scurrying across the street, a Tommy gun cradled in his arms. A black sedan waiting for him.
McGraw sent a shot across the street; the impact of the large caliber bullet seemed to slam the car door shut after the man had already crawled inside. Rubber screamed as the sedan pulled into the street. McGraw aimed for the tire, vision blurred by his own blood. He saw the bullet drill through the top of the passengers’ door; the shadow of the driver hopped a foot in his seat; the bullet must have planted itself beside him. A shot blared out from above; Reed had made it down the fire escape. McGraw didn’t see Reed’s shot land, but his fourth and final one blew out the back window as the car sped off, swerving and disappearing around the closest corner.
The echoing of the cars’ motor faded quickly, the city-silence deaf-like for the two detectives. McGraw gazed gravely at the street corner, his jaw jutting.
“Jesus, George!” Reed exclaimed seeing his partner’s face.
“I’m all right,” McGraw grumbled, accepting a handkerchief and splotching around his eye. “What took you?”
“You didn’t expect me to stick my head out the window when that lead-storm started, did you?”
“You were still inside then?”
“Thought I’d see how well Cook could soak up slugs.”
“Hell, I could’ve told you not to bother. He got the same dose as the Giantes. ‘Cept he got it point blank.”
“I’ll put in the call,” said Reed.
McGraw watched the corner a minute longer. Traffic in the street had resumed as though there hadn’t just been a shootout. Any potential witnesses who could’ve provided a description of the gunman moved along; as though it hadn’t been enough for McGraw that they’d braked so successfully, not running the gunman down in the street. He spilled the spent casings of his .44 revolver, replaced them, snapped the cylinder shut, and stuck the gun back under his arm. After that, he started back up the fire-escape to clean up what was left of their only lead.
Big Chief Undger
Another murder scene. Another machine-gun killing. This time the police had even been present for it and had been able to do exactly nothing about it. Emmanuel Cook Jr. – the only lead in the Giante liquor store slaying, which had resulted in the death of two brothers with ties to an old gang who’d been cut down in a gangland massacre, and a young, innocent woman whose biggest mistake in life was not being early or late for work that morning – lay dead in his own apartment, full of the same brand of .45 slugs that had raked the Giante storefront. Cook was still slumped against the open door when the first responding unit arrived, less than fifteen minutes after the shooting. The macabre scene of the little man’s bullet-riddled body, overwhelmed with tiny, coagulated holes peppered about his face and torso, proved to be the perfect atmospheric shot of brutality and apparent force of gangsterism the unnamed detectives had allegedly allowed; the few camera-vultures and ink-pushers that were somehow permitted to be there ate it up. Bulbs flashed and smashed, and questions flew.
Soon a burly man sauntered into the apartment. An imposing figure – standing at nearly six-five, even with hunched shoulders. Below eyes that held a lurking fury – along with a flicker of something enigmatic – a thick mustache, that may have once been a feathered-brown, was now streaked with the same iron-gray present at his temples. The thick heels of his Oxfords resounding with purpose in each step; an air of draconian authority in his stride. More cameras went off as he entered the room and studied the body. “Chief! Chief!” the reporters called out.
“Chief Undger, is this a mob-killing?”
“Chief, is this related to the drive-by shooting this morning?”
“Chief, is there a new gun in town to take Stanton’s place? Was this killing some sort of message? Is Detective McGraw working the case?”
“They got their pictures, get them out of here,” the chief snarled sonorously to a uniform who promptly directed the pack of newsmen out into the hallway.
When they were out of the room and the door was shut the Chief said, “Where are they?”
None of the officers answered him.
“I said, where the hell are McGraw and Reed?”
Finally, a young uniform braved-up and said, “They weren’t here Chief. We don’t know where they are.”
Just then the door opened, and another uniform came rushing in, the cameras of reporters who’d been absent minutes before flashed behind him in a desperate attempt for a shot of the mangled little man, retreating only when they realized the policeman would close the door on their arms if they didn’t pull back. The officer leaned over Chief Undger’s shoulder, and spoke low, “Chief, we just found a wagon burning in an abandoned lot off Berkley that fits the description of the car from the Giante drive-by. It’s even got a few bullet holes and empty shells casings inside.”
“Any word form McGraw?”
The Chief puckered his lips and rubbed at his forehead. When he spoke, each word rose with his agitation. “Find them. Find them. FIND THEM!”
When their only lead was torn to pieces, and after McGraw narrowly avoided the slab himself, there was little time to act. Reed had done just as he’d said and phoned the station. A responding unit would be there soon; also, the Chief wanted to see them, he was on his way, too. McGraw started rifling through Cook’s drawers and suitcase, dismissing Reed’s questioning and recommendations of stopping to clean the blood from his face. There was no time for that thanks to Reed. He knew the only time the Chief ever wanted to see him personally was when he had something he could lay into him about. Finding nothing, he started digging into the dead man’s pockets, ignoring the extra blood he was getting on his cheap-suit sleeves. Tossing aside most of the contents – including a pack of Chesterfields and nine-dollars and some change, he came across a book of matches from a hotel called the Reserve; inside the book, in quick-hand scrawl, read ROOM 235.
“You coming or not?” was all McGraw had to say when Reed began to almost insist that they stay and wait for the Chief, saying they’d only bury themselves deeper in shit if they kept on this way. He only conceded when McGraw turned his back and started off without him.
“All right, all right, you stubborn bastard. But I’m driving, use those extra handkerchiefs in the compartment and clean yourself up.”
The manager of the Reserve was a short, sheik-looking fellow with huge spectacles who, at the sight of the detectives and their shields, immediately insisted they provide a warrant before searching any of his rooms; capriciously changing his mind only after a cold-eyed stare-down from a man he soon recognized from the papers as “Six Shot McGraw.” They found nothing in room 235, except a still burning cigarette left behind in the ashtray, and a drink with ice that had only just begun to melt. They learned from the manager that there were two men, each had checked themselves in under the name of Smith, claiming to be brothers who’d left the hotel in a hurry only ten minutes before. McGraw cursed out loud and asked the manager to describe these “Smiths.” The description he gave was quite vague, however, one detail he included was useful enough: one of the Smiths donned a white hat that was always cocked at a rakish angle.
They gathered a few more facts about the “Smiths” brief and uneventful stay at the Reserve, and, after making it clear to the manager what would happen to him if either of the “Smiths” returned and he did not inform them, left for the station.
The inside of Precinct 13 was a palpable atmosphere of solemn discomfort; each detective and uniform nodded respectfully as McGraw made his way out of the station bathrooms. He’d already had Doyle, a fellow Sergeant and former army medic, patch up the slash above his eye, and he changed from his blood-stained clothes to a clean shirt and black jacket (that didn’t quite match his brown hat or trousers) that he kept in his locker. The tie was salvageable; there was hardly any blood on it. He found Reed waiting at his desk, but before he could open his mouth the Chief emerged from his imperial cave of an office and barked out in front of the entire room, “McGraw! Reed! Get the hell in my office!”
Instead of meeting McGraw’s gaze, Reed lit a cigar, shrugged, and started into the office. McGraw loosened his tie even more and followed.
Chief Undger loomed over the seated detectives from the other side of his desk. “You should’ve checked in with me before you followed through with this lead. This Cook thing might’ve been prevented. Now, where are we? One dead parolee and God knows how many murderers free. No closer to knowing anything about this morning’s shooting.”
“Look Chief,” said McGraw, “I’ve never had to ask permission to poke around before – especially when it comes to a killing and some trigger-happy birdies on the loose with a fifty-round typewriter, and I don’t see why I should’ve in this case. We have good reason to believe that Emmanuel Cook was the third man spotted at the liquor store this morning, and just as good a reason to believe he was in on the shooting.”
“Good reason?” the Chief scoffed, no humor in his face, all his attention on McGraw. “You mean that so-called witness of yours? Some gutter-punk who spends his school days on a street corner? HA! How reliable can you possibly believe that to be?”
“Considering he was standing just a few feet down the sidewalk when the whole thing went down, I’d say pretty goddamn reliable,” McGraw said matter-of-factly, slipping a cigarette into his mouth.
Chief Undger’s lips pursed, then tightened. His face flush with anger. Detective Reed sat quietly, smoking his cigar with his ring hand, observing the exchange.
“And we’re not exactly where we started on this thing either, Chief. I saw this guy; not his face, but his build and dress. Watched him climb into the same Ford described at the Giante scene. Managed to find out where he and his pal had been staying and got the same description of the birdie in the white hat.”
“You got a description of an outfit that fits Capone’s and every other half-ass wanna-be wise guy like him!” the Chief continued his rebuke as McGraw ran a match across the bottom of his shoe; only he didn’t bring the flame to the cigarette in his mouth. His eyes were hard on the Chief’s pointing finger.
The Chief saw this, drew his hand back and ran his sweating palms against his trousers. “You’re off the case, both of you.”
McGraw’s eyes trailed back to Undger’s. He dropped the match and snapped the cigarette in his mouth, speaking incredulously. What’s that?”
“As far as I’m concerned this was just another gangland hit. Scumbags killing scumbags. Can’t even say for sure they’re related because of the way you went about it.”
McGraw’s face took on an even colder demeanor, but he said nothing. Though it was Undger speaking, Reed’s attention was firmly on his partner.
“We get a couple of these shootings every week. Oh, I’ll admit it was rather unfortunate about that young girl getting caught up in it. But if you look at history, you’ll see that’s nothing in comparison. Hell, you should have seen how many civilians got it the first year the hoodlums got hold of a Tommy gun. No, there are too many more promising cases that need working to let this mess go on. It’s partly my own fault, it was too soon to let you back on the job, McGraw. You’re still caught up in that Stanton killing. Reed even said that kid-witness of yours recognized you as “Six Shot McGraw.” How’re you supposed to move on to the next case when the public won’t let you out of the last. Now I’m not saying that you’re entirely to blame, just that – “
“All right, that’s enough,” McGraw said gruffly, standing fast enough that his chair went rocking precariously on its back legs. One hand was buried deep in his pants pocket, holding his jacket flap back so that his magnum, sheathed in its leather shoulder-holster, showed clearly. His other hand outstretched, index finger aimed at Chief Undger in a mirroring way. “I don’t know why you’re jumping down my throat on this thing – at first, I thought it was because of the heat I brought down when I popped Stanton, but now I’m not so sure. Yea. Yea, I plugged that crumb; it happened just the way the board said it did, too. I shot him down because no one else would, and every time we made a move on him, he’d buy his way out of it, thumbing his nose at us as his shyster lawyer walked him out of the jailhouse, free to go rub out every poor bastard we’d convinced to become an informer after offering our protection. Now, I looked the other way when you tried talking the commissioner out of reinstating me, I even let it go when you got me demoted to Sergeant – but now you’re trying to hang the death of a murder suspect on me because I was there looking for answers? HA!” He barked the Chief’s nasty, humorless little laugh back and went on. “Look here, Undger. Whoever that birdie was in Cooks apartment was ready and waiting for him. I don’t know if he’d already been there, or if he snuck in the window while we were grilling Cook, but it’s clear enough that the little guy was a dead man walking, and that he knew it, too. Yea, it’s tough we couldn’t have done more, but there wouldn’t have been an opportunity to do anything else except clean up the mess if I’d done it your way and stopped to ask you to hold my hand. And as far as it being over, you’re right.” McGraw’s hand shot into his jacket as though he were drawing on the Chief, instead, brushing over the butt of his gun and coming back out with his golden badge. He let it clunk against Undger’s desk and turned for the door.
Reed finally stood and spoke. “Now hold on a second, George. Let’s not lose our heads on this thing. You’re taking this all way too personally.”
“Bullshit,” McGraw snarled. “And I felt bad about being suspicious of you; thinking it was strange how you seemed to be going out of your way to slow our roll down on this thing by putting it off as incompetence. Well, now I know. When’d you get a chance to talk to Undger about the kid, Mike?” McGraw’s brows rose, Reed recognized the familiar slick gesture as something McGraw would do to a suspect. “Was it after we got Cook’s address? Did you not know where he was before that? And I’ve got kind of a hard time believing you didn’t mention to Undger where we were going. Was he the only one you told?”
Reed only stared at first. His dark, beady eyes lost whatever affability had been in them. “Don’t go stepping too far, George. We’ve both got shields, we’ve always gotten along. Why should that end because ‘a couple of hoods got themselves mowed down? You of all guys should feel that those mutts had it coming.”
McGraw had fished out another cigarette, managing to light this one. He drew a deep breath of smoke in, letting it pour from his nostrils as he looked to his former partner. His eyes colder than ever before, but his voice noncommittal. “Mike… I don’t know why you’ve been shrugging off our leads all day… I don’t know why you had to stop to fill Undger in about what we knew before we went to Cooks – and I’m not sure why he’s making out like he didn’t know…” McGraw’s gaze only briefly fell over Undger at this point; searing stares of contempt passing between the two. “…And I don’t know how that gunzo made it there when he did as if he’d learned where he was going the same time we did… There’s something else too, Mike… Earlier, back at the liquor store, how did you know who the second Giante brother was before O’Bryan ever even named him?”
Reed’s eyes grew lazier; his glare more hateful. Seething rage becoming visibly harder to control as his lips tightened to guarantee silence.
“Yea, that’s something I don’t know either… I’d just figured you’d run into the pair before, as a cop… but now… now I just don’t know, Mike. But I know that if I think about it too hard, I might come up with something I don’t want to know… That’s the biggest reason it’s over. I might be known as the guy who goes around capping gangsters, but there’s at least one big difference in this whole set-up, Mike. And now that I know you can’t see it – or maybe just don’t care – It’s better that I’m not in this picture.” McGraw turned his back to Reed then, opening the door.
From behind his desk, Unger called out frantically, “What about your gun, McGraw!”
“Fuck off, Undger! The cannon is mine.” And with that, McGraw left the Chief’s office, shutting the door on a budding partnership, and unwrapping a stick of gum. He had to get the bad taste out of his mouth.
— ♦♦♦ —
“Someone’s coming for us,” Calvin said as he sat down opposite Algernon Brook’s padded brown armchair, searching the shadows behind the looming bookcases in the study as though they might hide paper-thin assassins. “They killed Cameron and we’re next.”