Friday, September 25, 2009
Life on Two Tracks, Michael Black, Guest Blogger
Michael A, Black has been a working police officer in various capacities in the south suburbs of Chicago for over thirty years. He has a BA in English from Northern Illinois University and an MFA in fiction writing from Columbia College, Chicago. The author of 14 books, his first novel featuring Chicago based private detective Ron Shade, A Killing Frost, came out in hardcover in 2002. It was subsequently released in paperback in 2007. He's written two novels with television star Richard Belzer (Law & Order SVU). Black also writes a police procedural series featuring the investigative team of Francisco "Frank" Leal and Olivia "Ollie" Hart. The second book in that series, Hostile Takeovers, came out in September 2009. He has been a friend of Sara Paretsky and other members of the Chicago Outfit for years and says he is honored to take Sara's spot with this guest blog.
When you’re a cop your life is lived on two tracks. There’s the long haul track that stretches out over time, pausing occasionally to twist you into the knots that everyone is subjected to during the trials and tribulations of modern living. Then there’s the short track, which unfolds in little vignettes, often tragic, often funny, and sometimes violent. When I wrote Hostile Takeovers I had hopes to capture a cop’s view of those two tracks. Sometimes these vignettes can unfold in an instant, and sometimes in bits and pieces leading up to a confrontation. But you know they’re coming, you just don’t know when.
I’d been working midnights and the roll calls over the past few weeks had briefed us on this robbery crew. Three male blacks that were hitting guys as they were coming out of bars, taking their wallets and forcing them into the trunks of their cars. The bad guys then drove around for a while and then abandoned the cars, with the victims still inside. Like most such briefing notices, I filed this one away and went out on patrol. This particular shift unfolded into the usual Saturday night activities: suspicious autos, loud subjects, bar disturbances, domestics, traffic accidents . . .
It was about three-fifteen in the morning and the bars were letting out. Traffic had picked up slightly and I was parked in a closed gas station on a rather busy street, finishing an accident report, with two motorists in the back of my squad car. It was late autumn and the night was cool, but not yet settling into the winter chill that was just around the corner. Suddenly a guy came running up to my squadcar with a panicked look on his face.
“Officer, I’ve just been robbed,” he said.
I asked him where this had happened and he pointed toward the street. About 100 yards away, under the train viaduct, I saw a car sitting in the middle of the street.
“That your car?” I asked.
“No, it’s theirs,” the victim said. “They rear-ended me and took mine. And I think there’s somebody in the trunk.”
I ordered the two guys from the traffic accident out of my squad and I called it in as went down to check the other ride. Sure enough, the car that had rear-ended this new guy had someone in the trunk who quickly related that three black guys had come up to him as he was leaving a bar, robbed him, and made him get into the trunk of his car. The informational bits from the past several roll calls came rushing back to me and I knew who these guys were. Moreover, this had just happened so I was sure they were still in the area.
As more units arrived at the scene we spread out, setting up a perimeter and slowly closing the circle. As I rode down those deserted side streets looking for the car with the smashed-in trunk everything felt intensified . . . Silent, yet teeming with deadly potential. Down the street I heard the distinctive sound of several shots. I zoomed forward. It was our robbery crew, and after a brief shoot-out they surrendered. I still had the adrenaline rush as I moved up and handcuffed one of them. The guy looked to be only about seventeen or eighteen. We had recovered their gun, the proceeds, and the second victim’s car in about ten minutes. I didn’t see the robbers again until the case came up in court, and then it was rather brief. They were wearing DOC orange and took the plea bargain for a couple of years in the joint.
I still remember how that little vignette unfolded, with crisp images and sudden violence on that fast track. I wanted to try and capture that, as well as the trials and tribulations of the longer track of life in a book. Like my previous Leal and Hart novel, Random Victim, Hostile Takeovers contains a lot of stuff that happened to me and to officers I know. One of the highest compliments paid to me was from another copper whom I greatly respect.
“You got it right,” he said.
I hope that those of you who read the novel will think so too.
PS Having included one of his short stories in the anthology Chicago Blues, I can attest that Mike gets it right... all the time!