When a cop guns down an intruder during a break-in, it seems like another case of a bad guy meeting a bad end—until the owner of the garage being burgled is revealed to be Jerry Vanni, a young man whose trucking empire is branching out into juke boxes and vending machines.
Detroit’s Det. Sgt. “Fang” Mulheisen knows that Vanni’s businesses are normally controlled by the mob—and when a pair of gunmen walks into a bar and fills one of Vanni’s jukes with lead, Mulheisen is sure there’s more trouble on the way.
His investigation leads him into an ever-growing criminal enterprise involving gun-smuggling Cubans, a million-dollar heist, and a gorgeous woman mixed up with both. It’s the kind of trouble that can get a good cop killed . . .
“Few color the police procedural with such bluesy riffs—or make it jump—the way Jackson does.” —Detroit Free Press
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Patrolman Jimmy Marshall sat at the wheel of the squad car parked in a dark alley off Kercheval Avenue. A light October rain fell steadily and coldly. Marshall and his partner, Ray Stanos, watched a young black man across the avenue. The man could not see them. He wore a wool athletic jacket with leather sleeves and on his head was a dark knit watch cap. He paced up and down in the recessed doorway of an abandoned furniture store, hands in pockets and shoulders hunched against the cold.
Marshall and Stanos were beginning to get chilled themselves. The engine was not running, so there was no heater, and they had opened the windows slightly to prevent fogging.
"C'mon," Stanos breathed impatiently, as if speaking to the man across the street. "What's he doing? He buying or selling?"
"If it's dope, he's selling," Marshall said. "If it's guns, he's buying."
"Christ! Goddamn rugheads." Stanos quickly looked to his partner and muttered, "No offense."
Jimmy Marshall didn't say anything. He was used to the mental lapses of Stanos, who often seemed to forget that Jimmy was black.
"I'd give anything for a cigarette," Stanos said. The car was silent then, a silence broken by the rain and intermittent crackle of the radio.
After a while, a small black boy in a yellow rain slicker and wet tennis shoes came squishing along the alley. In the darkness he did not notice the two men in the squad car until he was nearly past them, then he stopped. He stood there, mouth hanging open absently, and stared at the officers. Jimmy Marshall rolled down his window, and without taking his eyes off the man across the avenue, he half whispered, "Go on home. It's late."
"What you-all doin'?" the kid asked.
Stanos leaned across the seat and snarled, "Beat it!" The kid moved away slowly, looking back over his shoulder. He turned past the brick building at the corner of the alley and disappeared. Stanos sighed.
The radio whispered to them, "Nine-three, dispatch."
Stanos keyed the microphone: "Dispatch, nine-three."
"Man with a gun, nine-three," the dispatcher said, as calmly as if he were giving the time. "That's Collins Street. Number 3667, between Mack and Charlevoix. See the lady. Name is Fox."
Jimmy Marshall started the car and put it into gear. They rolled out of the shadows to the mouth of the alley as Stanos jotted the information on the Activity Log clipboard and responded to the dispatcher: "Nine-three en route, ten-four."
The car wheeled right, displaying the words "Detroit Police" painted on the doors. The man who waited by the furniture store turned instantly and walked in the opposite direction.
Stanos craned back to watch and swore, "Shit. Blew a half-hour on that crud."
The squad car sizzled through wet intersections with flashing lights but no siren. Jimmy Marshall did not go to a "Man with a gun" call with sirens wailing. That could draw gunfire.
It was impossible to predict what a "Man with a gun" call would turn out to be. Perhaps a man walking down the street with a cardboard tube under his arm, or kids with broom-sticks shouting "Bang, you're dead!" Once it had been a frustrated factory worker, drunk, firing his deer rifle out his apartment window. That one had put a .30-06 slug into the hood of the squad car. For that he was ultimately sentenced to three months of twice-a-week outpatient therapy at Lafayette Clinic.
It wasn't far to Collins Street, but the neighborhood changed radically from slummy multiple-family tenements to frame bungalows, owner-occupied homes built in the twenties and thirties to house automobile-factory workers. Marshall figured the neighborhood was 80 percent white. They had fences around tiny lawns and some had side drive-ways. Most had a garage in the rear, accessible from the alley, but it seemed that the garages must be full of something other than automobiles, for the street was lined with parked cars on both sides, leaving only a single lane for traffic.
Marshall cut the flasher as he turned onto Collins, but he did not cut his speed, despite the narrow traffic lane. He prayed that no one would suddenly open a car door or step out from between parked cars. He slowed to forty as Stanos counted down the addresses. A few houses short of 3667, he pulled into a parking spot.
"Flak jacket?" Stanos asked. Marshall thought it would be wise. They struggled into the bulletproof vests. They got out into the rain and locked the car.
A middle-aged white woman stepped from behind the storm door of 3667, wearing a quilted housecoat and slippers, her arms folded in front of her. She stood in the shelter of the porch as the officers approached, Stanos slightly to the rear and to one side, both of them with hands resting on the grips of their holstered service revolvers.
"Mrs. Fox?" Jimmy asked.
"I'm the one who called," the woman answered. She spoke in a hoarse whisper.
"What's the problem?" Marshall asked. He stepped onto the porch while Stanos stayed at the foot of the steps, in the rain, looking about him constantly and intently.
"It's Mr. Vanni's garage, next door," Mrs. Fox said. She pointed toward the rear of a white frame house ten feet from her own. "I saw a man go into the garage and he had a gun in his hand. And Mr. Vanni isn't home."
"You saw the gun clearly?" Jimmy asked.
"Oh yes," Mrs. Fox said. "It was in his hand. Maybe I'm just nosy, but I know it wasn't Mr. Vanni."
"Is the man still there?" Jimmy asked.
"I think so. You can see the garage from my kitchen window."
The two officers entered the house and followed Mrs. Fox through the lighted living room, where a television set talked quietly to itself. It was a very neat, pleasantly furnished home. The kitchen light was off and they did not turn it on. Mrs. Fox pointed to the large window over the sink.
"I came in here, about five minutes ago, to get a glass of water and I saw him. He was as bold as brass. Just walked up the little walk there from the alley and opened the side door of Mr. Vanni's garage and stepped inside. He didn't turn on the light."
There was no light shining through the window of the garage door.
"What did he look like?" Jimmy asked her.
"He was shorter than you," she said, "and he had on a dark windbreaker, but I didn't see his face clearly."
"Was he black?" Stanos asked.
"No, I don't think so," Mrs. Fox said.
"Are you alone here, Mrs. Fox?" Jimmy asked.
She nodded. "My husband works the night shift at Plymouth."
"All right," Marshall said, "I want you out of this room. Stay in the front of the house. We don't want anybody to get hurt."
She was docile and went into the front room, where the television set was. She sat down and looked at the set.
Marshall and Stanos went back to the car. The radio crackled: "Nine-three, dispatch."
"You forgot to give him a ten-ninety-seven," Jimmy said to Stanos. "Ten-ninety-seven" meant "Arrived on scene." On a "Man with a gun" call the dispatcher would periodically check with the dispatched unit. If there was no response, he would alert other units.
"Dispatch, nine-three," Stanos said into the microphone. "That's a ten-ninety-seven. Lady here says she saw an armed man enter her neighbor's garage, behind 3661 Collins. Neighbor is not home. We're leaving the vehicle now, gonna check out the garage. Ten-four."
All over the East Side and down-town, men in various bureaus and offices hearkened to this monitored broadcast from car 9-3. Detectives at Robbery — Breaking & Entering paid special attention, as did the duty officers at Precinct 9, the home of car 9-3.
Stanos turned to Marshall. "Let's arm up," he said.
In the trunk of the squad car was a wooden box known as the coffin. It contained two Remington 12-gauge automatic shotguns, with ammunition: double-ought magnum loads, each containing nine pellets of approximately .33 caliber. Also in the coffin were two SN Speediheat gas grenades for outdoor use, two EN blast dispersion gas grenades, or "soup cans," for indoor work, plus gas masks.
"I'll take a shotgun and cover the alley," Stanos suggested. "You go to the door. He won't be able to see you so easily."
"Gee, thanks," Marshall said.
Stanos missed the sarcasm. "All right, then, you take the alley and I'll go in. I don't care."
"It's all right," Jimmy said. "Let's go."
Stanos picked up the shotgun with relish and loaded it with six shells. He walked down the street three houses, then cut through to the alley, holding the shotgun at port arms.
Jimmy Marshall carried a six-cell flashlight in his left hand and his .38-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver in his right. When he was sure that Stanos was in position, he walked slowly and quietly through the back yard of the Vanni residence until he came to the side door of the garage. The door was not completely shut. He stood to one side, then kicked the door open.
"Police! Come out!" he shouted.
There was immediate movement within. Someone ran to the alley door and began to slide it upwards on its tracks.
Marshall dropped to his knees and thrust his upper body into the side door opening. He flicked on the powerful flash-light. He saw a man, stooping to duck under the half-raised garage door.
"Hold it!" Jimmy shouted.
The man stretched an arm toward Marshall and there was a terrific blast of light and thunder from a pistol in his hand. The noise rang in the hollow spaces of the garage. The bullets sang off the concrete floor near Jimmy's head and whacked into the rear wall. Jimmy threw the flashlight away from him. It skittered under a vehicle parked in the other bay of the garage.
From the cold concrete floor, Jimmy saw the man perfectly silhouetted by the alley light. The man stooped under the door. Jimmy cocked the hammer on the .38, but he did not fire.
The man ducked outside and ran.
"Stop!" Stanos shouted.
A second later ... BA-WHONG! the shotgun roared. The alley resounded. Then it was silent.
"Jimmy! Jimmy!" Stanos shouted.
Marshall lay on the concrete floor, listening. He could hear doors opening nearby and windows being raised. "I'm all right," he yelled to Stanos. He scrambled under the vehicle and retrieved his flashlight. Then he stood and turned on the garage lights. The vehicle was a bright-red Chevrolet sports van. The walls of the garage were hung with fishing poles, a ladder and snow tires. Jimmy hoisted the garage door the rest of the way and stepped outside.
A body sprawled face down in the alley, in the rain. Stanos stood casually over the body, the shotgun cradled in his left arm. He looked up at Jimmy. "You okay?" "I'm okay," Marshall said. He stared at the body.
"I thought he got you," Stanos said. "He shot twice."
"He missed," Jimmy said, still staring at the body. Then he looked at Stanos. "You okay?"
Stanos looked surprised. "Me? I'm fine." Then he looked down at the body. "He ain't, though. I was only a couple feet away when I let go." He took a deep breath. "It was easy," he said.
Jimmy Marshall looked at him sharply. "What do you mean?"
"I thought it would be hard," Stanos said. "But it's easy." He was a young man, tall and broad-shouldered, but now his face looked hard and older. "Guess I got a vacation coming," he said. He referred to the department policy of an automatic three-day suspension (with pay) that came when an officer shot a citizen. It was for the protection of the officer. Sometimes the officer was transferred to another precinct.
Marshall wondered if he had seen the last of Ray Stanos. It depended on who the dead man was, he supposed.
"I'll go call in," Marshall said. He ran to the car. "Dispatch, nine-three. I need a wagon."
That would wake them up. The Detroit police operated its own ambulance. Immediately one rolled out of the 9th Precinct, lights flashing and siren climbing.
"In the alley, between Collins and Goethe, north of Charlevoix," Jimmy told the dispatcher. Then he added the phrase that would bring them all to the scene: "Possible fatal." It was clear to every listening official that someone was dead in the alley behind Collins Street. But that was not for a patrolman to determine.
Two detectives were on their way from Homicide, down-town. A man was en route from the Central Photo Bureau, another from the Wayne County medical examiner's office, and a whole van of them from the Scientific Bureau. The "blue" lieutenant from Precinct 9 responded, along with any loose detectives. Several blocks away, a large black Chrysler bearing four huge detectives — "The Big 4" — whipped a U-turn on Mack Avenue and came rocketing back toward Collins. Down-town, the man from Robbery — Breaking & Entering sat back in his chair: this sounded to him like a job for Homicide.
Within minutes the alley was full of flashing lights and sirens winding down. Neighbors looked out of upstairs windows or stood in the rain with coats held over their heads like tents. The police allowed no unofficial persons into the alley.
Jimmy Marshall squatted in the empty bay of the garage and made notes on a "Preliminary Crime Report." Ray Stanos walked aside with the "blue" lieutenant from the 9th. The ranking Homicide detective, Lt. "Laddy" McClain, stood in the open entry of the garage and watched the medical examiner and the photographer at work. The men from the Scientific Bureau carefully dug out the bullets embedded in the garage wall. Brilliant lights on stands had been set up to assist them.
The Big 4 was present. The boss of the crew, Dennis "the Menace" Noell, all six feet and seven inches of him, surveyed the scene placidly, hands in pockets. After a few minutes he said something to McClain, glanced again at the body and shooed his boys back into the Chrysler cruiser.
McClain looked at the body, which had been rolled onto its back now. "Don't look like a punk to me," he said to his partner, Joe Greene.
Joe Greene said, "A pain in the ass."
The two of them looked around for a precinct detective, somebody on whom they could palm off what was likely to be a difficult case to close if the dead man couldn't be identified. They both spotted their man at the same time.
Detective Sergeant Mulheisen, from the Chalmers Street Station — 9th Precinct — picked his way slowly through the crowd of onlookers and police personnel. He was a six-foot tall man, well built, nearing forty and thickening at the waist. He had sparse, sandy hair and wore no hat, despite the rain — he held a folded newspaper over his head and he smoked a long cigar. He had a mild, pleasant face, but what most people noticed was that his teeth were long. They weren't bucked, just slightly longer than average, and they had distinct spaces between them. Because of this he was known on the street as Sergeant Fang.
"Mul," McClain said affably, "come in out of the rain."
Mulheisen stopped and looked down at the body, then he stepped into the shelter of the garage.
"You got another cigar?" McClain asked.
Mulheisen fished out a leather cigar case and handed a large cigar to McClain. He offered one to Joe Greene, but Joe Greene shook his head. Mulheisen handed McClain a small, shiny Italian cigar cutter. McClain clipped off the end of the cigar and returned the clipper.
Mulheisen looked around the garage and noticed Jimmy Marshall, who nodded to him. Mulheisen nodded. At last he turned to McClain. "Looks like you got yourself a queer one, Lad," Mulheisen said.
"Nah, it's a grounder," McClain said. "A thief. He made a mistake and shot at one of your boys there." He gestured toward Marshall. "So your other boy" — he pointed a thumb at Stanos — "opens up with the duck gun and what you got is your limit."
Mulheisen smiled vaguely but said nothing. He watched the medical examiner turn the dead man back onto his stomach. The back of the windbreaker was torn and bloody.
"This'd be a good one for you to take, Mul," McClain said. "A grounder. Look good on your record."
"Hah!" Mulheisen shot back.
"I got a couple dozen murders on my back, Mul, no lie. Your boys did this, anyway. What are you doing these days?"
"Mutt and Jeff," Mulheisen replied, referring to a long string of armed robberies that had plagued the 9th Precinct for months.
"Mutt and Jeff! You shouldn't be doing crap like that, Mul! Look, I'll fix it with your lieutenant, what's his name, Johns. And I'll get you some slack from that jiveass inspector of yours, Buchanan."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Blind Pig"
Copyright © 1978 Jon A. Jackson.
Excerpted by permission of Grove Atlantic, Inc..
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