by Wayne Zurl
I hated the place at first sight; a narrow enclosed stairway with a slight dog-leg to the right obscuring a door at the top. A bare forty-watt bulb hung above the landing, casting an eerie light over the scene. Once we started up the steps we were in a tunnel—sitting ducks. I looked at Louie. He looked at me. I shrugged.
“You’re the one high on the sergeant’s list,” he said. “I’ll follow you, my leader.”
“Nothing like an ambitious partner to make you feel secure,” I said.
He grinned and I pushed the safety on the Remington pump shotgun to the left. A round of magnum double-O buckshot already sat in the chamber. Louie drew his Colt Trooper and we started up the stairs.
* * *
Ten minutes earlier we sat in a dark spot on the eight-hundred block of Taylor Avenue. A 5th Squad detective told me about a new felony warrant for a burglar named Glenwood Orange. Most everyone called him Pee-Wee. He weighed a hundred-and-ten-pounds soaking wet.
Pee-Wee wasn’t good at hefting TVs or stereo sets, but being skinny enough to fit through the smallest window, he excelled at stealing cash, guns, and small valuable antiques. He really knew his antiques.
We waited across the street from his mother’s house, watching. Sooner or later Pee-Wee would show up. He always did.
Then the dispatcher interrupted our meaningful work.
“Unit five-oh-three, five-zero-three, handle a 10-17, possible gunshot, upstairs, 752 Bellport Avenue, off Brookhaven. Complainant Mayo is in the first floor apartment.
“10-4, headquarters,” Lou said, as I hit the gas and steered our big blue and white Plymouth away from the curb. “We have back-up?”
“Negative, five-oh-three, closest car is on the other end of the precinct.”
“10-4, headquarters,” he said, and then turned to me. “Saturday night and everybody but us looks for a DWI. We end up with a gun call and nobody’s around when you need them.”
“That’s why we get the big bucks, partner.”
I made a left on Brookhaven Avenue and switched on the flashing red lights. It was a short fast drive along a main drag. When I crossed Station Road, the primary north-south route between North Bellport and another classy community called Eagle Estates, I killed the lights and slowed down, coasting up near the address the dispatcher gave us. Evil Estates, as the cops called it, occupied a piece of another precinct—someone else’s headache.
Number 752 on Bellport Avenue was a ramshackle two-and-a-half story Victorian; senior member on a block littered with post-war cracker boxes built on fifty-by-a-hundred postage-stamp lots. They all looked like they had seen better days and were long overdue for their twenty year reunion with a paint brush.
The night was damp and the autumn air felt cool on my face. Everything around us looked as dark as an abandoned cemetery. Unknown vandals shot out the corner street light earlier that week. A crescent moon cast only a ghostly glow from behind some high cloud cover.
We walked up to the front door of the complainant’s house, keeping an eye on the upstairs entrance and an ear open for anything we could hear.
A wizened old party named Sefus Mayo answered the door. He was the owner and landlord of the place and a common fixture in the neighborhood for decades. In a hushed conversation, he told us he thought he heard a shot fired in the upstairs apartment.
“Why do you think it was a shot, Mr. Mayo?” I asked. “Why not a car backfire outside or some other noise?”
He spoke in clipped, staccato sentences, with an accent I took to be South Carolina, mixed with too many years in New York.
“Cause I knows what a shot sounds like. I heard a damn shot, son. A .22 mebbe, nuthin’ big. Saturday-night-special be my guess.” He finished that thought with a quick and decisive nod to punctuate his last statement.
A large gray-haired woman in a house dress sat on the couch inside the living room watching television. I heard the theme from The Rockford Files.
I took his date of birth for my field report and his pass key to open the downstairs door to the upstairs apartment. I told him to stay inside and if he heard any more gunfire to call 9-1-1 again. It was 1974, before the days of miniature portable radios and cell phones. We relied a lot on good citizens to do the right thing.
Lou and I walked quietly to the door and slipped the dead-bolt. I winced as the hinges creaked. I remembered my mother listening to a radio show called Inner Sanctum. The sound of a creaking door began that program every week.
We looked up at the dim fly-specked light bulb at the top of the stairs. What I presumed to be Caribbean music came from inside the apartment, not overly loud, but audible from the ground floor.
We began our slow ascent, hoping the door remained closed until we reached the top. We walked softly, but the old boards groaned beneath our steps. I felt prickles go up my spine.
It was October 14th. Two weeks earlier we had gone back to long-sleeved shirts and put on our ties. The tight collar annoyed me. I reached the half-way point up the stairs and I felt like I needed a drink.
At the top of the staircase we looked at each other again. Lou nodded. He stood ready at my back. I slapped the door four times.
“County police, open the door!”
Nothing. The music played on. I knocked again.
What sounded like a small caliber handgun popped behind the door.
Lou said, “Son of a bitch!”
I braced myself and hit the door with my shoulder. The frame cracked; the door swung inward.
Six people with chairs drawn in close, sat around a cocktail table. One man held a two-dollar bottle of champagne tightly around its neck. His smile of only moments ago turned to a look of fear. Everyone froze with their glasses held over the center of the table.
Copyright 2008, Wayne Zurl