Stop! In the Name of Love
My truck had started making this unnerving rattle whenever I braked. I sat at a red light, puzzling over the clatter coming from God knows where, trying to decide whether the noise was worth spending money for repairs. The brakes worked just fine. I had no “check engine” light on. I’d been ignoring the tires lately, but that solution seemed too convenient to be likely.
As the light turned green, I took off and got on the highway, gunning the engine hard. I reminded myself that I was bringing in thousands of dollars in big chunks now, and the cost of repair would barely set me back. But I was still stingy; I didn’t want to spend a lot and the money felt nice sitting in the bank as a fat nest egg.
I spun the dial on the radio, trying to find a station that wasn’t crap or static. Maybe I could take the car in for a simple tune up, and if the rattling persisted, I could bring it up to the mechanics like they’d screwed something up. But that sounded asshole-ish even to me, and the truck deserved some proper care. I was fond of my truck, or else I’d just pick up some snazzy sports car.
I gave up on the radio and stared down the highway. It was sunny for a day in February, but I figured spring was on its way. So sunny, in fact, that I was slow to notice the flashing lights in my rearview mirror. A dark car I’d just passed had strobes on its grill and dashboard, and as I stared at the car in dawning horror, a squeak from its siren let me know I was truly in trouble.
An unmarked police car. I ground my teeth together as I changed lanes and prepared to pull over. I guess I’d been speeding, but I still felt a burst of unease like another bullet in the gut. I carried no cash or anything suspicious in the truck with me. When I did gang operations, I usually took one of Dick’s cars. I had a gas tank and other tools in the trunk, but those were the kind of items you could pick up at any store like the Lowe’s I just passed. I had my handgun in the glove compartment, but I could explain that. As I tried to think of anything that might incriminate me, I parked the truck and watched as the car behind me did the same. A plainclothes officer climbed out, maybe fifty years old with a beer belly and puffy red cheeks. I rolled down my window, laid my hands on the wheel, and waited.
The officer sauntered up to my window and showed a sugary smile that made me loathe him instantly. He said, “Sorry to bother you, sweetheart. License and insurance, please.”
“Yes sir,” I said. My hands trembled as I brought them off the wheel, and I paused, clenching my fists to steady them. “For your information, I have a legal handgun in the glove compartment.” I tilted my head that way and the man’s eyes widened. Moving slowly, I reached into a pocket on the driver’s side door and held up a folded sheet—my insurance information. The officer was silent as I fished out my wallet and offered that next.
“Sit tight for a moment, will ya?” He gave me a strange smirk and plodded back toward his car.
Considering I was a felon and this guy might be a detective, things were going well so far. I’d been unfocused, probably speeding, and maybe I’d gone through a speed trap. Unmarked cars didn’t usually pull over people, but they would if they found a driver endangering others. That meant I was probably in trouble. Or maybe this cop bored, and I was unlucky. I waited, tapping my fingers against the wheel. I’d been pulled over once before, as a teenager late to high school and speeding. I doubted the cop would let me off with a warning, but I’d see about taking defensive driving and getting the ticket off my record.
After a bit more worrying, I realized the cop was taking a long time; I’d been sitting and waiting for at least seven minutes. I actually sighed with relief as he approached my truck again. But the cop looked odd now, his back straight and fists clenched.
The man came to my window again and said, “Step out of the vehicle, please.”
“What? Why?” I said. This wasn’t just unlucky; this was damned. I’d offended the Lord, probably by missing church for the last twelve years, and now I would suffer for it.
The cop said, “Step out of the vehicle. I’m not gonna ask again.”
He hadn’t asked in the first place. I said, “Okay. Coming.” I opened the door and climbed out, meeting his eyes. The moment I shut the door, he seized my wrist and twisted it behind my back. I yelped, and he had me against the side of the truck before I could even kick him.
He said, “Barbara Lenton, you’re under arrest. Now if you’ll relax—”
“What the fuck!” I said, jerking against the press of steel on my wrist, but the handcuff clicked shut. He had my other wrist, too, and I gave one good yank before he cuffed that one as well.
“You have the right to remain silent. If you choose to ignore that right—”
“What the fuck? Why are you doing this?!”
“Anything you say can and will be used against you. You have the right to represent—”
“What’s the fucking deal?! Why am I under arrest?”
The cop spun me around by my shoulder and showed me that same sugary smile, but he had a glint in his eye, something vile I’d missed before. He gave me a look, from my face down to my waist, that made my stomach turn. “You’re suspected of criminal involvement with the Blackbird Gang.”
“Under what grounds?” I said. I wished I’d been shot instead. At least I knew how to deal with that.
“Oh you’ll see,” the cop said. “Let’s just say you’ve had a heap of bad luck here this morning.” He tugged my shoulder and, when my feet stayed planted, gave my back a hard shove that made me stumble. Along the highway, passing cars slowed as their drivers watched, but I stared straight ahead, wearing a defiant scowl as he marched me toward the unmarked police car. Had I expected to be arrested at some point? Sure. But this was like Al Capone indicted for tax evasion. The cop opened the car’s back door, grabbed me by the hair bun, and shoved me aside. “You have the right to representation by an attorney. If you can’t afford—”
“Bullshit. This is utter bullshit,” I said. “And who are you, anyway? Some fucking ace detective?”
The cop seated himself behind the wheel, then twisted around and gave me a wink. “Detective Lyle Glass, Major Case Squad. You’ve landed in a world of trouble, sweetheart. Now, can I finish?”
My body was a lead weight, stiff and unyielding as the handcuffs on my wrists. I had found no comfortable way to place them, no way to lay my hands so that the cold, frustrating bite of the cuffs faded away. I’d worn handcuffs before, but never in circumstances like this, and I have never, at any point I can recall, particularly enjoyed trying new things.
Glass was in the interrogation room with me, propped against the wall and smiling at me with his arms crossed. I suspected he was checking me out, and I imagined stabbing his eyes with a screwdriver. Yet, when imaginary Glass was bleeding and screaming on the ground, I was even more aware that the real one was there, watching, smiling.
Thankfully, someone else was between me and Glass. A well-dressed man with a perpetual scowl was seated across the table from me. I knew from every cop show ever that the walls around me were probably one-way mirrors, so who knew how many others were watching. Was I just an incidental arrest, or the target of an investigation farther along than we’d ever known? Was there an entire squad of triumphant detectives watching behind that glass?
The surly guy, who was at least sixty, laid a few crowded sheets of paper on the desk in front of him. He said, “Barbara Suzanne Lenton. This is your name, correct?”
“The one that Mom gave me,” I said. I found it easier to ignore the thought of a long prison sentence when I had someone to glare at.
My interrogator said, “And what do you think about why you’ve been brought in here today?”
Glass opened his mouth to speak, but I beat him to it. I said, “Well, I was heading to I-84, trying to make an appointment, when Officer Handsy over there—”
“That’s a fuckin lie,” Glass said, stepping toward the table. The older man held up a hand.
“Settle down, Detective. Please, continue.”
“—when the detective pulled me over,” I said. “I guess he thought I was speeding, but he decided I was suspicious or something. Said I was part of the, what was it, the Blackbeard Gang?”
“The Blackbird Gang,” Glass said. I guessed he was the “Bad Cop” part of this routine.
The surly guy said, “And you hold that you have no connection with the Blackbird gang?”
I said, “Excuse me, Officer…”
“Sergeant Brown,” the surly guy said.
“Sergeant. I’ve never heard of the Blackbird Gang before today. I’m certainly not a member of any gang, avian or otherwise.” I looked at Glass again. “I don’t even know why I’m being suspected.”
Glass said, “She’s listed as a ‘consultant’ under the employ of Dick Garett.” Brown arched his eyebrows. “She had a loaded firearm in her vehicle and presented herself similarly to other members of Garrett’s organization.”
“Now hold on,” I said before Brown could speak up, “what the hell’s that supposed to mean?”
“Well…” Glass hesitated, then gestured in my general direction. “The attitude, the suit, the smarts, the… uh. Sergeant, you know what I mean. She’d fit in with any of Garrett’s boys.”
I said, “You know a lot of twenty-six year old female crime lords?” I sat up and leaned toward Glass, though the handcuffs were linked to the table and I couldn’t get very far. “I wear a suit because my workplace has a dress code. Are you suggesting I should be wearing a skirt instead of pants?”
Glass said, “I’m—You know I wasn’t!”
Brown steepled his fingers on the tabletop and said, “Ms. Lenton, what about the firearm?”
“Second amendment,” I said, repeating how Dad would end any conversation on the topic. “I’m ex-military, and I got a license. You can check my wallet for it.”
“You do?” Brown said, and he glanced at the wall, probably to signal someone outside. The cops had emptied my pockets before the interrogation began. “You have a license to carry a concealed firearm in the state of New York. Is that correct?”
I said, “Anywhere but schools, hospitals, and NYC.” Glass cringed. Brown’s lip twitched in what I think might have been a smile.
Glass said, “Sergeant, her employment under Garrett is enough to suspect her by itself. We could get a warrant to search her home. We already have her phone. I bet we’d find plenty on there.”
I said, “Don’t you need a warrant for the phone, too?”
“Not until the Supreme Court makes their decision.”
Of course I kept no gang-related messages on my phone, and my contacts were listed in code, though I was starting to wish I’d bought a second phone for work. I glanced at Sergeant Brown, worried I’d slipped up somewhere. Brown laid his chin on his hands, brow furrowed and covered in wrinkles.
“Let’s hear it from Ms. Lenton herself,” Brown said. “Ma’am, are you aware that your employer Richard Garrett is suspected of gang-related activities and affiliation?”
“Yes sir,” I said. To say otherwise would be willful ignorance, and they could already tell I had a brain on me. “But that has nothing to do with my job. I only do consulting for electrical work on the properties he manages.” That was the answer Bollocks had made me rehearse, and his people would corroborate the story. “Dick Garrett pays me well and my work involves nothing illegal. I just do my job.”
Glass said, “Bullshit. A little digging and we’d find plenty to dangle over her head.”
Standing from his chair, Brown said, “Detective Glass, why don’t you handle the rest of the discussion. I’ve got other business to address.”
Glass said, “Sir—”
“Handle this,” Brown said. “And come by my office at your earliest convenience.” He made for the door behind me, and its shutting click echoed in the small room.
I stared at Glass expectantly, though I wanted to grin at him. Handle this, you cocky, smarmy asshole. Glass seated himself in Brown’s chair and said, “Alright. Let’s keep this up. Got a lot of questions for you, lady.” He gave me a smile, and I wished I could hit him. Stupid handcuffs. “We could be here for hours. I think you’ve got plenty of secrets to spill, and I’m the man to make you spill them.”
I jumped as the door opened, and a voice said, “Oh for goodness’ sake! Glass, what is this?”
“Vargas,” Glass said, and I swung my shoulders around to look. Detective Vargas, wearing a suede coat and bent like he was about to throw a punch, leered at Glass. “Been watching so far?”
“You’re damn right I have!” Vargas said, though I noticed his voice quavered like he wasn’t used to shouting. “What the heck are you trying to pull here, Glass? What do you have to go on? You can’t just arrest every person in a suit who’s driving over the speed limit!”
Glass said, “I had probable cause. Sergeant Brown seemed fine with it.”
“Sure you did!” Vargas said. “She—what was it you said, that she ‘looks like a gangster?’” Vargas was barely threatening with his lip pushed out, but he glared at Glass all the same. “Where do you get off thinking that’s reasonable? We’re hunting white-collar criminals, not electricians!”
Glass said, “I’m pursuing leads on the Garrett case, bringing in suspected Blackbird members, as is my job. You, on the other hand, are just getting in my way and making us both look incompetent.” Glass’s teeth ground together as he stewed, and in my mind it sounded like glass scraping.
Vargas said, “No, you’ve arrested a woman without probable cause, and without any crime or evidence to indict her. Do the right thing, Glass. Cut her loose.”
The two men went silent and stared at each other. It occurred to me that this might be an act, that Vargas might be the “Good Cop” and was interfering to keep me from filing a lawsuit. Either way, he was helping me, and I was grateful.
Glass said, “The sergeant will hear about this.”
“Let’s not waste any more of Ms. Lenton’s time,” Vargas said. “Gimme the key.” Glass lobbed a set of keys his way and Vargas caught them. “Pardon me, ma’am,” Vargas said, taking a gentle grip on my wrist as he unlocked one cuff then the other.
“Thank you,” I said, flashing him a wide cheerleader smile. “I really appreciate it.”
Now I sat with Vargas by reception, glancing around at the cops writing and typing and jabbering across their precinct. Vargas had put a cup in my hand, and I sipped water while I tried to control my nerves. I felt like a sheep hanging out in a wolves’ den, though perhaps this sheep had a talent for escaping the wolves.
Leaning against the wall near my chair, Vargas said, “I’m sorry about this again, Ms. Lenton. I hope you won’t let Detective Glass color your view of our staff and efforts.”
“It’s no big deal,” I said. “Though you seem to care about my perception of the department quite a bit considering you just chewed out one of your own people.”
“Yeah, well…” Vargas shrugged and chuckled. “Someone has to be willing to stamp out bad habits on the force. It hasn’t earned me a lot of friends in the department, but I get by.”
“I can relate,” I said, and I found I could. I didn’t have any work friends except Bollocks.
Vargas let out a strange little laugh and went silent. We were both waiting for them to bring my truck out front. Trying to sound casual, I said, “Haven’t I seen you before? Didn’t you come by my apartment the other month?”
“Did I?” Vargas said. “I don’t quite remember.”
“You did. I remember.” I gave Vargas what I hoped was a charming smile, and his cheeks flushed. “You came by my apartment to ask if I’d seen the bar fire outside.”
Vargas snapped his fingers. “Yes! You were wearing a—”
“A bathrobe,” we said at once, and I chuckled. “So that’s what you remember about me.”
“What? I-I didn’t—” Vargas said, but I laughed and he looked away, chuckling to himself.
I said, “I’m kidding. But I read about the bar burning down later.” What was I doing? Why was I talking to him? “I read that your people suspected arson?”
Vargas shook his head. “I can’t say one way or another. Ongoing investigation and all.”
“I understand,” I said. I was cruising for a bruising here, and I knew it. “Still, I heard that people suspected it was the—what was it—the Blackbird gang? The gang Glass thought I was in. Do you know anything about them?”
Vargas sighed and nodded. “Don’t ask me any secrets. But I can tell you a bit. We’ve gathered that it’s a group of people around age thirty to fifty, with low turnover. Even the lower members have proved remarkably difficult to catch. Dick Garrett is the name that keeps popping up, though we don’t have anything on him yet. They generally have dark suits, ties, sort of a new money bearing about them. They’ve been busy with white-collar crime: laundering, business management, extortion, protection rackets. Someone in their organization has some serious business chops. But lately we think they’ve been getting violent; we’ve had a few shootings. Really bad ones.”
I said, “And I look like a member?”
“Nah.” Vargas shook his head. “Well, maybe. That is a nice suit you’re wearing.”
“But no, you don’t look like a member. And you’re an ex-servicewoman; I don’t know why Glass overlooked that. We’re—” Vargas swallowed. “We’re under a bit of pressure to send the case upstairs. Glass overreacted. I’m sorry you had to get involved.”
I said, “Thank you. It’s no big deal.”
“You mean that?” Vargas said.
“Uh-huh,” I said, because it was exactly what he wanted to hear. Sure enough, Vargas smiled, and I wondered how much of his nice guy routine was just to manipulate me.
Before Vargas could speak again, an officer came out the elevator and waved at us. Vargas said, “Looks like your car’s here. Want me to walk you out?”
I said. “I’d like that, thanks.” I hopped up and tossed my empty cup into a trash can. “Looks like everyone’s forgotten the speeding charge.”
Vargas said, “Call it recompense for the faulty arrest. Again, I’m sorry for all the trouble.”
“That’s sweet of you,” I said. “Thank you for the help, Detective, and for keeping me company.”
Vargas said, “No problem at all, Ms. Lenton. And it’s Anthony. Next time we accidentally bump into each other, you can call me Tony.”
“Tony.” I gave him a warm smile. “You can call me Barbara. I’ll see you when I see you.” A whim played on the edge of my mind. Something stupid I could do, something dangerous and fun, more so than the entire conversation I’d just had. I winked at Tony and said, “I bet we bump into each other again sometime soon. Good luck bagging the Blackbird gang.”
Tony opened his mouth and shut it again. Something changed in his eyes, like a TV flickering on. He gave a mindless wave of his hand and stared after me as I strolled into the elevator. Of course he didn’t know a thing; I wondered what he suspected. In any case, I’d dodged a bullet. Leaving Vargas behind, I walked right out of the precinct and climbed into my waiting truck.
The license and insurance card were still waiting on the seat where they’d been left. I put them back into place, then set off down the road away from the precinct. The morning was entirely wasted, but I was in a good mood. Tony Vargas was plain-looking but a little charming, easy to tease.
Then I thought of the hint I’d left, the innocent suggestion that was sure to leave him thinking. I—a gangster, arsonist, and murderer—had just taunted a police detective actively pursuing my gang. It made me feel hot all over. As I drove off toward the highway, I burst out giggling, and laughed until my throat got sore and I wished Tony was on hand to bring me another cup of water.