by Det Benoit
A female detective begins her career with a murder in New Orleans,
|July 14th 1976.|
Chief Henderson, The 42nd precinct chief detective's, office was spacious when compared to all the other offices and work areas. The Chief quietly sat behind his desk browsing her service file. Even though the office’s window air conditioner hummed noisily, the machine did little to cool the air, which didn’t seem to both the chief in the least. The Chief was conservative, in his dress, his business practices, and politics. If it was a workday, he was in a customary, long sleeve, buttoned to the neck, white cotton shirt, dark trousers, and black hard-soled shoes. In spite of the current record high temperatures, the Chief appeared to be cool as a cucumber, carefully examining officer Benoit’s personnel file.
Rather than feeling relaxed and cool, Detective Benoit felt as if she were captive in some kind of Turkish spa. She could feel rivers of perspiration run down the back of her neck. Suddenly even the breezy tan linen suit-jacket and slacks she wore, felt as they were made of lead. Even her white silk crepe blouse clung to her, and felt as course as grain sacking. The heat gave her a miserable headache, which added to her feeling slightly clautraphobic, uneasy.
Over the past three years, she had busted her ass as a uniformed police officer, dealing with the crappy assignments, tolerating the sexual harassment, the leers, and the stares. For the past sixty days, she had tutored under the direction of a senior detective, learning the ropes of the trade of criminal investigation. Today, would be her first day as a detective / investigator, if the chief signed-off on her personnel file. Chief Henderson’s scratchy signature was the only thing that separated Detective Benoit from her dream job.
“Evangeline, I have to admit – I never believed I’d see the day that the N.O.P.D. would promote a woman to detective.” He paused. “Times are a changing…” The Chief Detective commented, almost to himself. The police department let alone the city’s detectives had been until recently, an all male fraternity.
“I don’t go in for playing politics,” the chief lied straight faced. “Clearly, you’ve made friends inside the city’s political structure. Somebody’s been keeping an eye on you girl… I ain’t seen anyone fast track this job quite as quickly as you have. But I can promise you, it ain’t going to save your ass if you screw-up.” The chief sermonized.
“Just because you went to college for political science doesn’t mean shit to me! I’m proud to say – I graduated high school, which was plenty good enough when I became a cop.” He told her, well hidden behind her folder, making it difficult to judge if he was being sarcastic, or not. “The world is going to hell.” He concluded as he placed the point of his pen against Detective Benoit’s fitness report. The sound of the pen scratching against paper elicited an involuntary response from Detective Benoit, as her nipples hardened in almost a sexual anticipation.
At almost the same instance, cheering erupted in the bullpen, just outside the chief’s office. Apparently, the guest of honor, retiring Detective “Dutch” Schnellar, had made his appearance. Clearly, no actual police work was going to occur while Dutch was in the office. Privately, Detective Benoit doubted any had occurred while he was on active duty. For the past two months, Officer Benoit had acted as student to Dutch’s masterful insights to criminal investigation.
Evangeline Benoit sat-up straight in her chair and attempted to conceal her excitement. The promotion to Detective, was going to change her entire life! The three thousand dollar increase in salary would bring her yearly earning to nearly $26,000, she’d never be able to spend that kind of money, no matter how hard she tried. This meant she wouldn’t have write another parking ticket! There would be no more breaking-up domestic disturbances! In a word, no more shit work! A feeling of ecstasy filled her, and was only interrupted when Chief .Henderson stood-up and reached-out across his desk.
"Officer Benoit, surrender your badge.” The chief intoned solemnly.
Evangeline Benoit sprang from her chair and withdrew her police identification and silver shield., which she hesitantly offered them to her boss.
The chief flamboyantly removed the silver crescent shaped badge and replaced it with a gold one, identifying her as a New Orleans Detective. “Evangeline, you are now a criminal investigator! Your job won’t always be easy and workload will be more than you’ve ever experienced as a patrolman. I want you to know that if you ever have a problem, my door is always open.” The chief inspector told her as he returned the new credentials.
Detective Benoit exited her boss’s office and walked towards her new desk in the investigator’s offices. A burst of muffled laughter came from the 5 detectives huddled around Dutch Schnellar, who undoubtedly was bragging how many times he had gotten into “the chick’s” pants. Silently Detective Benoit thought, “…And they wonder why people called THEM PIGS?”
“Evvie, Honey…” Dutch called out as she walked past the group of investigators.
Evangeline Benoit couldn’t think of any nickname she hated more than Dutch called her by. That was all it took though, to make her snap at him, “It’s Fucking Evangeline!!! What is so fucking hard about that name Dutch? Do you need me to write it down for you?” She bellowed.
Although it was barely 10:00 in the morning, Retired Detective “Dutch” Schnellar was clearly intoxicated, staggering slightly while maintaining his position. As Detective Benoit walked around the group of celebrating detectives, Dutch reached-out and grabbed her by the arm, pulling her close, as if to kiss her.
In the blink of an eye, the athletic female officer reacted. In a single motion, she savagely stomped on the offending detective’s inner foot, as if she were killing a giant cockroach. With a surprising power and agility, Detective Benoit drove her two inch heal into the top of Dutch’s foot. The intoxicated assailant yelped and release her arm. Evangeline simply turned about face and continued to her desk, unflustered by the experience.
The room broke out in laughter, at Dutch’s predicament. They razzed him for his performance against “the chick” as he hopped up and down on his good foot. Before Dutch was able to regain his composure, Chief Henderson’s office door sailed open. From within the office the chief called-out, “Where’s that ugly dog who’s calling it quits after only 30 years of service?”
Meanwhile, downstairs events were developing that would further change her and the course of her life forever. In the dispatch office, line 26 lit up and began flashing. The dispatcher reluctantly fingered the button for the phone line. The address and phone number for a pay phone on North Salcedo Street appeared on her display. Another desperate call from an equally desperate section of the city, the dispatcher thought.
“Police Department, is this an emergency…?” The sweltering heat made even those few words difficult to say as the operator adjusted her uncomfortable headphones.
Briefly, the phone-line was silent, except for background street sounds and the mechanic beep emitted by the city’s recording system, indicating the call was being recorded. The caller had a deep southern accent and a soft, feminine quality, yet not exactly female. The dispatcher was reminded of a gay impersonation of Scarlet O’Hara.
“I think she’s dead…” The caller sobbed in a shaky, frightened voice, with a flair for drama that most 13-year old girls could only pray to one-day master.
“You could hear him beatin’ on her all night long… Then about 15 minutes ago, I heard her door slam shut and there hasn’t been another peep since. I’m telling you, Miss Jessica is dead…” The caller sobbed.
The dispatcher rolled her eyes and silently mouthed the word “fairy!” as she prepared to take the required information from the caller. “I need for you to calm down and tell me who's dead…” The dispatcher instructed the caller.
The police dispatcher began writing down the time and the phone number on her display. The heat wave that gripped the city had left the dispatcher feeling like the walking dead. Even the slightest effort on her part was exhausting.
“What’s the address?” Claris asked wanting to keep the caller on the line and in so doing confirm his story. Some people called the police emergency line just to see the flashing lights of the police car. The NOPD was too understaffed to chase every drunks or drug addict’s wild story.
“743 North Salcedo Street, you best do something!” The lithe voice pleaded with the operator.
Without warning, the line went dead which left the dispatcher with choices to make. She could, file the call as a hang-up, or request a patrol car to check the address for a possible 10-103 - a domestic dispute. Perspiration built on the dispatcher’s brow as the metallic fan in the cramped office continued to squeak and clatter in its pitiful attempt to provide air circulation.
“Dispatch - Bravo One Five... Possible 10-103. 743 North Salcedo Street.” The call went out.
“Bravo One Five, 10-4” The patrolman acknowledged several seconds later, after rousing himself from his cap-nap. Experience had taught him how to snooze while still able to hear the dispatcher, after all, he had every parking space in town available and his police cruise’s A.C. system produced the coldest air imaginable.
Seven Thirty Four Salcedo was a run-down single-family shotgun style cottage. The front of the house had a front entrance door framed by two windows. The front door was nearly 3 feet above street level accessed via a set of wide wooden stairs.
Neither the house nor the neighborhood appeared out of order, giving Patrolman Phillips the feeling that the call was bullshit. Reluctantly, he exited his vehicle as the tropical air met him outside his ice-cold patrol car. The officer bounded up the front stairs and loudly banged on the battered wooden door.
“N’awlins Police … Open-up!” The Patrolman loudly commanded several times as he continuously banged on the cottage’s door, demanding the occupant’s attention. Each time the officer banged on the door, it would bounce within the doorframe. Unexpectedly the door lazily creaked due to the officer’s continued pounding. The patrolman realized something was wrong! The midtown section of the city was not a place where people left their door unlocked.
Ducking beside the doorframe, Officer Phillips extended his left arm until his palm rested hesitantly against the door. He applied pressure against the open door while remaining solidly against the dark wall, out of the possible line of fire. The door creaked open wider. “Police - don’t you move none!” Instinctively he called out in a loud authoritarian tone to the apparently deserted room.
The cottage was dark and silent and smelled like an open dumpster. The windows were closed and the curtains covered them, which made the cottage dark. There was no breeze so the air was stagnant, making the small cottage feel oppressively hot and confining. He grasped the heavy metal flashlight and illuminated the small stifling front room. The flashlight revealed overturned furniture and other debris scattered throughout. Patrolman Phillips drew his service revolver to meet whatever awaited him inside the darkness.
Cautiously the officer entered the cottage and with each step, something cracked or broke beneath his feet. He peered into each room observing the ramshackle condition of the cottage. Debris was scattered throughout the apartment, indicating either a struggle of a complete disregard for cleanliness. The policeman’s search continued until he reach the rear bedroom. In the center of the bedroom was a twin bed with a lone figure on it. The body remained motionless, partially hidden beneath a threadbare blanket. A bare foot stuck out from one side of the tattered blanket, hanging motionlessly.
Officer Phillips lowered his revolver, but did not immediately holster it since he needed the security if gave him. The figure on the shabby bed showed no signs of life. The patrolman lifted one corner of the green woolen blanket to reveal a motionless nude Caucasian female laying face-up. He placed his fingertips to the victim’s neck to check for a pulse only to feel to steely coldness of death. It was only then, the patrolman replaced his service weapon in his holster. He keyed the microphone attached to his left shoulders’ epaulet of his uniform to update dispatch of his status.
“Bravo One Five – Dispatch... Be advised - 10-15 at Seven Four Three North Salcedo. Female Caucasian, unknown age, multiple contusions, probable 10-30 at this locale.” Officer Phillips announced without the slightest hint of interest or emotion.
The radio crackled for several seconds before the police dispatcher replied, “Received Bravo One Five, one Caucasian female DOA, 743 North Salcedo Street. Advise Watch Command possible 10-30. Unit will be Ten Fifteen…” Several more seconds passed until the dispatcher returned and added, “Bravo One Five - watch Command advises you to wait for a detective to complete their investigation before the body is moved.”
“Roger dispatch. Bravo One Five – is code 13.” Phillips replied. After all, he was stuck waiting for a hotshot detective to confirm he had discovered a dead body. The apartment was empty with the exception of the corpse and the roaches that could be heard scurrying about. He was sweating simply breathing, it didn’t take him long to decided to retreat to the coolness of his squad car.
While Officer Phillips relaxed in his cruiser, a dozen homeless men and women lounged a small carpeted area of The Church of the Good Sheppard . A young dynamic priest had established himself as a source of help to anyone who wanted it, no questions asked. Reverend Scallia had managed to acquire, as a donation, a once abandoned warehouse, which he converted into a help center. From his humble church, Anthony Scallia offered food, shelter and spiritual aid to all who sought it. This morning, it was a simple meal of fruit, granola, and peanut butter sandwiches. Dressed in little more than a Hawaiian shirt, shorts, and leather sandals, Reverend Scallia moved among the people, seeing if they needed anything. Before he began his meal, he prayed aloud, “Thank you Lord God for the many blessings you have bestowed before us. We ask that Jesus Christ will come into all our lives and share the love that God has for us…”
The congregation quietly ate and quietly spoke among themselves. As the meal concluded, Reverend Scallia spoke above the din of the room, “Some mornings, I wonder why – God WHY, do you do some of the things you do to me? Who else has mornings like that?” He asked the group.
Several of the people in the small congregation mumbled agreement to the laid-back priest’s question. “Ya! Why ME?” a voice responded from the group. Slowly but surely more people began participating in the dialogue, until the priest began steering the conversation again.
“Of course, a lot of people today think that they too will be happy, one fine day, when everything goes their way. Sometimes we may even say something like ‘’When everything’s going my way, I will be happy.’’ But life is like being on a treadmill. We can run all our life but we’ll never reach the point where everything’s going our way. And I’m sure you have all experienced this first hand.” He continued as he closely examined his small audience.
“There is no possibility in this life of everything going our way. However, the good thing is you don’t need to have everything going your way to be happy. Let me show you why.” The priest continued as he broke out with a beaming smile.
“God’s way of making men happy is very much different from what we know. We normally associate happiness to comfort, peace, and victory. God’s way, however, of providing happiness is sometimes found in sacrifices, discipline, and humility.” The priest countered.
“Certainly some of you may have had a taste of poverty here ... it is a crippling force ... it seems unconquerable ... it seems overwhelming ... when we see poverty and the consequences of poverty ... we are tempted to turn away in horror, disgust ... and despair ... what are we to do about poverty and human degradation in the world ... “ Reverend Scallia continued.
“Poverty is troubling issue for humanity ... we see the suffering in our communities and around the world ... and it troubles us ... as it troubled Jesus ... and we, the disciples of Jesus, wonder what to do about the beast of poverty and we look to Jesus for help ... and we are met with these words of Jesus ...”
"And, raising his eyes toward his disciples, he said, "Blessed are you who are poor; for the kingdom of God is yours."
The priest continued his sermon another twenty minutes then concluded with, “In God’s kingdom all that destroy human life, human dignity and human freedom will be removed. This expectation has been fulfilled with the coming of Christ. In the synagogue in Nazareth, Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah and announced, ‘Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing’.
The Sermon on the Mount is about life in the kingdom. The Beatitudes summarize the nature of the kingdom. "Blessed are you who are poor." In this world, in our society, the poor will always remain poor. They will always be hungry. The meek will always be persecuted and those who weep will always weep and no one is going to comfort them. This is the way of the world. In our society, ‘Blessed are the rich, for they will receive more wealth and influence.’
The coming of the kingdom of God creates a crisis in human society. It challenges our accepted political, economic and social order. In the kingdom of God, the tax collectors, the sinners, the prostitutes, the Samaritans and the Gentiles are accepted. When the Pharisees and the Scribes murmured saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them’, Jesus in reply told the parable of the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. ‘There will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.’ Jesus accepted the hospitality of a tax collector and when the Jewish leaders complained that he had gone to be the guest of a man who was a sinner Jesus replied, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, since he is also a son of Abraham’.
This is the new thing about the kingdom of God. When the kingdom comes, the foundations of the old order will crumble. The mighty will be cast down and the lowly lifted up. Blessed are those who are poor, hungry and those who weep. They will all be satisfied. But, ‘Woe unto you that are rich, for you have received your consolation; woe unto you that are full now, you shall mourn and weep’.
‘Blessed’ means that the poor, the hungry and those who mourn are the favored people. It is the task of the followers of Christ to care for them and struggle for a social, political and economic order which is just and participatory. Blessedness also refers to the joy which springs from within, which is completely independent of the changes and chances of the situation one may be in. The beatitude also speaks of that joy which sorrow and loss, pain and grief, are powerless to touch. It is a joy which nothing in life or death can take away."
"The wealthy and the mighty of this world depend on their wealth and influence. They have their reward in this world itself. The poor have nothing to depend upon except on God. Their joy and blessedness comes out of their utter dependence on God; it is the joy of walking in the company of God. This is what happens when we live in the kingdom of God. This is a new thing. The poor are favored in the kingdom not only because injustice is done to them in this world, but also because they trust in God. ‘This poor man cried and God heard him.’"