The Quality of Life Task Force: four sweatshirts in a bogus taxi set up on the corner of Clinton Street alongside the Williamsburg Bridge off-ramp to profile the incoming salmon run; their mantra: Dope, guns, overtime; their motto: Everyone's got something to lose.
"Is dead tonight."
The four car-stops so far this evening have been washouts: three municipals - a postal inspector, a transit clerk, and a garbageman, all city employees off-limits - and one guy who did have a six-inch blade under his seat, but no spring-release.
A station wagon coming off the bridge pulls abreast of them at the Delancey Street light, the driver a tall, gray, long-nosed man sporting a tweed jacket and Cuffney cap.
"The Quiet Man," Geohagan murmurs.
"That'll do, pig," Scharf adds.
Lugo, Daley, Geohagan, Scharf; Bayside, New Dorp, Freeport, Pelham Bay, all in their thirties, which, at this late hour, made them some of the oldest white men on the Lower East Side.
Forty minutes without a nibble...
Restless, they finally pull out to honeycomb the narrow streets for an hour of endless tight right turns: falafel joint, jazz joint, gyro joint, corner. Schoolyard, crêperie, realtor, corner. Tenement, tenement, tenement museum, corner. Pink Pony, Blind Tiger, muffin boutique, corner. Sex shop, tea shop, synagogue, corner. Boulangerie, bar, hat boutique, corner. Iglesia, gelateria, matzo shop, corner. Bollywood, Buddha, botanica, corner. Leather outlet, leather outlet, leather outlet, corner. Bar, school, bar, school, People's Park, corner. Tyson mural, Celia Cruz mural, Lady Di mural, corner. Bling shop, barbershop, car service, corner. And then finally, on a sooty stretch of Eldridge, something with potential: a weary-faced Fujianese in a thin Members Only windbreaker, cigarette hanging, plastic bags dangling from crooked fingers like full waterbuckets, trudging up the dark, narrow street followed by a limping black kid half a block behind.
"What do you think?" Lugo taking a poll via the rearview. "Hunting for his Chinaman?"
"That's who I'd do," Scharf says.
"Guy looks beat. Probably just finished up his week."
"That'd be a nice score too. Payday Friday, pulled your eighty-four hours, walking home with what, four? Four fifty?"
"Could be his whole roll on him if he doesn't use banks."
"C'mon, kid"the taxi lagging behind its prey, all three parties in a half-block stagger"it doesn't get better than this."
"Actually, Benny Yee in Community Outreach? He says the Fooks finally know not to do that anymore, keep it all on them."
"Yeah, OK, they don't do that anymore."
"Should we tell the kid? He probably hasn't even heard of Benny Yee."
"I don't want to come between a young man and his dreams," Lugo says.
"There he goes, there he goes..."
"Forget it, he just made us," Daley says as the kid abruptly loses his limp and turns east, back towards the projects, or the subways, or, like them, to simply take five, then get back in the game.
Right turn after right turn after right, so many that when they finally pull someone over, and they will, it'll take a minute to get their legs under them, to stop leaning into their steps; so many right turns that at three in the morning, six beers deep at Grouchie's, everybody silently, angrily watching the one lucky bastard getting a lap ride in a banquette by the bathrooms, they'll be canting to the right at the bar, then, later in bed, twitching to the right in their dreams.
At the corner of Houston and Chrystie, a cherry-red Denali pulls up alongside them, three overdressed women in the backseat, the driver alone up front and wearing sunglasses.
The passenger-side window glides down. "Officers, where the Howard Johnson hotel at around here..."
"Straight ahead three blocks on the far corner," Lugo offers.
"What's with the midnight shades?" Daley asks from the shotgun seat, leaning forward past Lugo to make eye contact.
"I got photosensitivity," the guy answers, tapping his frames.
The window glides back up and he shoots east on Houston.
"Did he call us officers?"
"It's that stupid flattop of yours."
"It's that fuckin' tractor hat of yours."
"I gots photosensitivity..."
A moment later they're rolling past the Howard Johnson's themselves, watching as the guy from the Denali makes like a coachman, holding the door for all the ladies filing out from the backseat.
"Huggy Bear," Lugo mumbles.
"Who the fuck puts a Howard Johnson's down here?" Scharf gestures to the seedy-looking chain hotel, its neighbors an ancient knishery and a Seventh-Day Adventist church whose aluminum cross is superimposed over a stone-carved Star of David. "What was the thinking behind that."
"Twenty-eight flavors," Lugo says. "My dad used to take me every Sunday after my game."
"You're talking the ice cream parlor," Scharf says, "that's different."
"I never had a dad," says Geohagan.
"You want one of mine?" Daley turns in his seat. "I had three."
"I can only dream of a dad who'd take me to a Howard Johnson's after my game."
"Hey, Sonny." Lugo catches Geohagan's eye in the rearview. "Later tonight, you want to have a catch with me?"
"Pokey as fuck out here, huh?" says Daley.
"That's because it's your turn to collar," Lugo says, waving off some drunk who thinks he's just flagged down a taxi.
"Somebody up there hates me."
"Hang on..." Scharf abruptly perks up, his head on a swivel. "That there looks good. High beams going west, four bodies."
"Going west?" Lugo floors it in heavy traffic. "Think thin, girls," as he takes the driver-side wheels up onto the concrete divider to get past a real cab waiting for the light, then whips into a U-turn to get abreast of the target car, peering in. "Females, two mommies, two kids," passing them, hungrier now, all of them, then Scharf ahoying once again: "Green Honda, going east."
"Now east, he says." Lugo does another 180 and pulls behind the Honda.
"What do we got..."
"Two males in the front."
"What do we got..."
"Neon trim on the plate."
"Right rear taillight."
"Front passenger just stuffed something under the seat."
"Thank you." Lugo hits the misery lights, climbs up the Honda's back, the driver taking half a block to pull over.
Daley and Lugo slowly walk up on either side of the car, cross-beam the front seats.
The driver, a young green-eyed Latino, rolls down his window. "Officer, what I do?"
Lugo rests his crossed arms on the open window as if it's a backyard fence. "License and registration, please?"
"For real, what I do?"
"You always drive like that?" His voice almost gentle.
"Signaling lane changes, all road-courteous and shit."
"C'mon, nobody does that unless they're nervous about something."
"Well I was."
"You was following me."
"A cab was following you?"
"Yeah, OK, a cab." Passing over his papers. "All serious, Officer, and no disrespect intended, maybe I can learn something here, but what did I do?"
"Primary, you have neon trim on your plates."
"Hey, I didn't put it there. This my sister's whip."
"Secondary, your windows are too dark."
"I told her about that."
"Tertiary, you crossed a solid yellow."
"To get around a double-parked car."
"Quadrary, you're sitting by a hydrant."
" That's 'cause you just pulled me over."
Lugo takes a moment to assess the level of mouth he's getting.
As a rule he is soft-spoken, leaning in to the driver's window to conversate, to explain, his expression baggy with patience, going eye to eye as if to make sure what he's explicating here is being digested, seemingly deaf to the obligatory sputtering, the misdemeanors of verbal abuse, but... if the driver says that one thing, goes one word over some invisible line, then without any change of expression, without any warning signs except maybe a slow straightening up, a sad/disgusted looking off, he steps back, reaches for the door handle, and the world as they knew it, is no more.
But this kid isn't too bad.
"This is for your own benefit. Get out of the car, please?"
As Lugo escorts the driver to the rear bumpers, Daley leans into the shotgun-seat window and tilts his chin at the passenger, this second kid sitting there affecting comatosity, heavy-lidded under a too big baseball cap and staring straight ahead as if they were still driving somewhere.
"So what's your story?" Daley says, opening the passenger door, offering this one some sidewalk too, as Geohagan, all tatted out in Celtic braids, knots, and crosses leans in to search the glove compartment, the cup caddy, the tape storage bin, Scharf taking the rear seats.
Back at the rear bumpers, the driver stands in a scarecrow T looking off soul-eyed as Lugo, squinting through his own cigarette smoke, fingerwalks his pockets, coming up with a fat roll of twenties.
"This a lot of cheddar, cuz," counting it, then stuffing it in the kid's shirt pocket before continuing the patdown.
Excerpted from Lush Life by Richard price © 2008 by Richard Price. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Blood at the Root
"A gripping, timely, and important examination of American racism."
- PW Starred Review
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