Reporter turns to fiction with gritty cop novel
'Sons of the City'
July 28, 1999
(CNN) -- As a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, author Scott Flander has explored the gritty intricacies of the urban landscape. Out of his edgy travels comes his first novel, "Sons of the City," a gritty look at how every cop must decide whether getting the job done means crossing a line that could cost him his career and his freedom.
I was hoping to have a quiet evening, no shootings, no foot pursuits, no 302s taking off their clothes in the middle of Baltimore Avenue and claiming to be the original Adam from the Garden of Eden. But this was the night that Mickey Bravelli was holding his big fund-raiser at Lucky's Little Italy, and my brilliant lieutenant wanted me there.
Somehow his tiny brain remembered that I had come to the 20th from the Organized Crime Unit. Eddie, you know their names and faces, he said.
Yeah, unfortunately, I said.
So instead of leaving me in peace, he told me to spend the night outside Lucky's, keeping an eye on things. Never mind that plainclothes guys from my old unit would be there, which meant we really didn't need a uniformed presence. Never mind that I was a sergeant, and had a whole squad to watch out for. The lieutenant didn't care.
Just sit in your patrol car across the street from the restaurant, he said.
Just bend over so I can stick my foot up your ass, I didn't say.
Lucky's was in the heart of Westmount, an Italian neighborhood of narrow brick row houses and corner stores in West Philadelphia. Whenever anyone in Westmount wanted to throw a big party-a wedding reception, a fiftieth anniversary-they booked the Roma Room at Lucky's.
Tonight, it was reserved for Bravelli and his friends. One of his guys was being tried for the fourth time for bribing a judge-the first three cases had ended in mistrials-and he had run out of money for lawyers. Bravelli was holding a $250-a-plate dinner to help him out, and who was going to say no?
I decided to take Nick along for the ride. Nick was my younger cousin, and he was also in my squad. You're not supposed to supervise your relatives, but the bosses conveniently forgot that when they decided to dump me in the 20th.
Throughout the evening, Nick and I watched a steady stream of Bravelli's pals arrive at the restaurant. Most of the younger guys wore black-black suits, or black sports jackets with turtlenecks. Their girlfriends were all wearing short, supertight dresses with beads and rhinestones, with slits all over the place and necklines so low their breasts were practically hanging out.
The older guys, with their thinning hair and bulging jowls, looked like they had just thrown on whatever was handy in their closet- rumpled blue or gray sports jacket, white shirt, no tie. They generally walked in together in groups of three or four, like ducks heading for the water, their bellies sort of leading the way.
I was hoping the mob fashion show would cheer Nick up, but he was only half paying attention. He seemed lost in his own world, the way he had been for the past six weeks, ever since his father-my uncle Jimmy-had tripped over a bucket of tar on a row house roof in Westmount and cartwheeled over the edge. Nick had been on the roof, he had seen it happen. And he blamed himself for not being able to save his father, in the way people are always blaming themselves for things they can't control.
"Hey, Nicky," I said, "you know any of these guys?"
He shrugged. "Yeah, some of 'em. At least the young ones. We all sat next to each other in homeroom at West Philly."
"These lowlifes actually went to high school?"
"That's where the girls were. That's why we all went."
"And you became a cop, because we all know how much the girls like a man in uniform."
Nick gave me a small smile, then glanced over at the people going into Lucky's.
"What the hell we doin' out here, Eddie?"
"Watching the evening's entertainment.
"I don't mean just tonight," he said. "I mean every night."
A big Cadillac was pulling up to the red canopy that led from the sidewalk to Lucky's front door. Some young guy I'd never seen hopped out, ran around to the passenger door, and opened it. This girl got out, this beautiful girl, maybe twenty-four, with long brown hair. She was wearing a short, light blue dress, it just made you fall in love with her. As she got out, and her boyfriend was closing the car door, she turned away from him, toward the street, where she thought no one was looking, and spit our her gum.
Nick was staring at his feet. "You ever sorry you became a cop, Eddie?"
"C'mon," I said, "you can't be tired of the job already, Nicky, you've only been a cop for four years. Most guys don't get bitter and cynical for at least five years."
Nick gave a laugh. His mother and my mother were sisters, but when people saw the two of us together, they couldn't believe we were related. Nick's father was Italian, and that half had gotten the upper hand when Nick was born. He had a dark face, jet black hair, and big round brown eyes, the kind girls loved.
My father, on the other hand, had given me his thick brown hair, green eyes, and square jaw. I was also a hell of a lot taller than Nick, and more inclined than he was to get a little exercise once in a while.
Nick turned to me. "It's all your fuckin' fault, you know."
"You're the one who said I should become a cop.
"I never said that. You came to me, you said, What's it like being a cop?"
"And what'd you say, Eddie?"
"I don't remember."
"The fuck you don't. You said it was like being part of a big family. Where everyone takes care of each other."
"Well, maybe I did say that."
Nick shook his head. "It's all just bullshit, Eddie. Guys don't watch out for each other here.
"Some of them do."
"What about Henry Bowman? You think he cares?"
Bowman was our pea-brained lieutenant.
"People like him don't count," I said.
"What about Joe Gorko? I'm gettin' my ass kicked in front of a house on Pine the other day, I call for an assist, Gorko shows up, sees he'll actually have to get in a fight, and then he drives right by, pretendin' like he doesn't even see me. Fuckin' coward."
"People like him don't count.
"Yeah, well, who fuckin' does count, Eddie?"
"How about your partner? Steve would do anything for you.
"Yeah," Nick said, looking down. "He would."
Neither of us said anything for a couple of minutes, and it was Nick who finally spoke.
"Don't you ever clean out your fuckin' car?" He was looking at the trash around his feet. There were Dunkin' Donuts bags, and McDonald's wrappers, and a grease-soaked paper bag that probably once held a cheesesteak.
"Aw, Thompson left his shit here again?" I said. "That fat fuck."
"He eats this much every day?" Nick was stirring the pile of trash around with his left shoe.
"That's nothin'," I said. "That was probably just breakfast."
"You know, Nicky, when you first become a cop, you think you can clean up the city. Then after you're here for a while, you realize you can't do that, so you say, I'll just clean up my district. But you can't do that either, so you say, OK, one corner, I know I can keep one corner clean. Finally you get to the point where you say, Screw it, all I'm gonna do is keep my car clean. And you can't even fuckin' do that."
Nick put on a thin smile. "But it's like a family, right?"
Everyone going into Lucky's had to walk past the overly excited TV reporters who had set up camp next to the red canopy. It looked like a Hollywood premiere-the TV reporters had absolutely no idea who was connected and who wasn't, so they filmed everybody coming in. It could have been a waiter late for work, the TV cameras suddenly turned on him like he was Al Capone.
Copyright © 1999 by Scott Flander
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