Det. Sal Trevino visits an old friend in lock-up. Part of a larger story.
Sal Trevino shivered as he lit his cigarette, cursing both the sub-zero temperatures and the laws that wouldn't let him smoke in his office. It had been a good twenty years since that regulation had passed and he still hated it, especially in the winter. When indoor smoking in public places first became outlawed, he figured it was gonna be the kick he needed to quit but found out rather quickly how wrong he'd been. The addiction was far more powerful than any wind chill Mother Nature could throw at him. So, there he was, at fifty-four years old, standing on a sidewalk in front of the downtown police headquarters freezing his balls off while sucking down as much nicotine as he could before the bone-chilling temperature forced him back inside.
He'd been a cop for over thirty years, the last fifteen of them spent in the detective bureau. He viewed it as mostly thankless work but kept himself going by believing that he was doing some good for the community. He thought back to when he'd started, a bright-eyed kid right out of college who was ready to grab the world by the nuts and twist until it bowed to him. That never happened, and the spark that was once very present in his eyes had faded like his hairline. He thought every day about putting in his papers and calling it a day but he stayed on simply because he didn't know what he'd do with himself if he retired. He wasn't married any longer, and his kids were well out of college and he rarely spoke to them as it was, so there wasn't any family to spend time with. It would just be him alone, on his couch, watching TV and maybe taking the random security guard gig at banks and department stores around the city. The thought of that appealed to him about as much as his annual prostate exam, so he kept going. He remained on the job, investigating burglaries and murders which seemed to be happening at a much higher frequency than when he'd started.
"Yo, Trevino, they brought your buddy in last night," Billy Stewart shouted as he came walking down the sidewalk.
"What?" Sal asked, having no idea what the young uniformed cop was talking about.
"They caught him pissing on the bank. Nabbed him for exposure."
"Who are you talking about?" Sal asked as Billy headed for the main door.
"The homeless guy. The one they call Pops. Isn't he one of your charity cases?"
Billy held the door open for Sal, who dropped his smoke onto the icy sidewalk and put it out with his shoe.
"I help the guy out sometimes. He's harmless," Sal said as he went in through the door. He waved to the security officer who manned the metal detectors and walked by. He went down the hall, to the left and up the flight of stairs that led to his office with Billy following.
"Where they put him?" Sal asked as he took off his coat and put it on the rack at the top of the stairs.
"He's down in holding. Gave him his own cage and everything," he said.
The detective bureau was large, taking up half of the second floor of the building. Sal entered through the glass door and hung his coat on a wall peg just inside. He maneuvered through the array of desks until he got to his, which was against the wall by a window which overlooked Main Street. Aside from his computer and an array of file folders, his desk was bare save for a small cactus that someone had given him because it was pointed out that his workspace lacked any "personality". He didn't see the point of decorations. He liked it organized and figured all that other stuff was clutter. He didn't mind the cactus because it was self-sufficient and didn't require a lot of attention. He grabbed a file and opened it in front of him.
"Anything new on that?" said Mike Sikorsky as he sat down at the desk facing Sal's. He'd been partnered up with Mike for the better part of two years, and even though he was about ten years his junior Sal liked him. He was a good detective - smart, fair, and didn't give him a hard time. He respected Sal for his seniority and experience.
"Nothing yet, but they'll hit again soon. I'm gonna go over the security tapes again later and see if we missed anything."
Mike nodded and said, "I'll go over the interviews we did. There's gotta be something in there that we're not seeing, something that'll give us a lead on who these guys are. You don't commit four robberies in three weeks and not leave anything. They all slip up."
Sal knew that was true, but they didn't have much. Four convenience stores on the lower east side had been hit and it was the same every time: Two guys in black masks came in with guns, one stuck his in the cashier's face and the other worked as lookout. They took the cash from the drawer and a carton of cigarettes- Marlboro reds. They left as quickly as they came and hadn't left a clue and they were always in and out in a matter of minutes so nobody on the scene had time to recognize them. Sal figured they had to be local because they knew the layout of the shops they hit and exactly where the cameras were, managing to stay off the tapes as much as possible. The only images they'd been able to capture had been of their backs.
"I want to get somewhere on this before they stick up another one," Sal said, "You been outside? I think I've got frostbite on my joint."
"What, you pissing outside now like Pops? Should I start calling you Fido?"
"I prefer Cujo," Sal remarked.
Mike laughed. "What you got on your plate today?" he asked.
"I gotta go to lockup and pay Pops a visit. Make sure he's okay."
"You really care about that old guy, don't you? Who knew? Sal Trevino has a heart!"
"Keep that quiet," Sal said as he stood up, using the top of the desk for support. His left leg had been bothering him recently, and he chalked it up to his arthritis being agitated by the cold.
"He, Sal," Mike called as he was walking away. He stopped and turned.
"Why don't you stop by on Christmas? Maggie and the kids would love to see you."
"I got plans," Sal said, and walked toward the door that led out of the office.
The holding cells were down in the basement, and Sal had to sign in with the guard in order to get in. They knew who he was, so they didn't give him much of a hassle. He had to leave his gun, which would be locked in a safe until his return, but he didn't mind. He didn't figure he'd need it down there. He was buzzed through two sets of gates and led to the area where they were keeping Pops. He was at the end of the hall in an area that was lovingly referred to as the "drunk tank," which was surprisingly empty. Pops sat inside his cell on a metal bunk against the wall, clad in a blue hooded sweatshirt and dirty jeans. He wore tan work boots that looked as if he'd fished them out of a dumpster.
"Hey, you ok?" Sal asked through the cage door.
Pops looked up and grinned.
"Sal! How you been, my brother?"
He got up and walked over to the set of iron bars that ran from floor to ceiling and leaned in toward Sal.
"What was going through your skull, whipping out your piece where people could see?" Sal asked him. The violated building had been the Key Bank near the outdoor ice rink.
"I was drinking, not thinking," he told Sal.
Pops was a fixture in the community, a black man in his early seventies who'd been living on the streets for as long as Sal could remember. He was friendly and never aggressive in his panhandling tactics. He liked to hang out outside the coffee shops in the summer, striking up conversations with the local college kids and whoever else would spare him a moment. He accepted change and cigarettes but never asked for it. These things were just given to him because everyone liked him, including Sal. He seemed to appreciate conversation as much, if not more, than the donations.
"You gonna be alright in here? I could call in a favor and get you out."
"No! Don't do that!" Pops answered, "It's colder than Hillary Clinton out there! I'm fine right where I'm at!"
"You sure?" Sal asked, "You piss on that wall on purpose so you'd have a warm place to stay?"
"I'm not saying I didn't," Pops said with a laugh, "But I'm not saying I did, neither."
"You could go to one of the shelters. They love you there."
"Screw that, man. If I have to listen to those whiners one more day I'm gonna lose my mind. That's all them folks do in there, you know. Bitch and moan about how bad they got it and not appreciatin' what they do have."
He shook his head and Sal laughed.
"And you can, huh?"
"Sure do!" he said, "I'm alive. I'm warm. I got friends. Hell, I got the legend of the detective squad comin' and checkin' up on me. That's pretty good, I say."
"You got a better attitude than most of the jagoffs upstairs," Sal told him, "Maybe I should hire you and put you on the job. You think you could handle being a cop?"
"Hell, naw. I ain't workin' for the man, even if that man is you."
"I hear that. I wouldn't want to work for me, either. I've heard I'm kind of a prick."
"You look stressed, Sal, what's that all about?"
Sal sighed, "It ain't really stress. Just more annoyance. I got called in on those robberies that've been going on for a few weeks now. You hear anything about them?"
Pops thought for a minute, then said, "Yeah. They got old Herman down on Peace Street. Old man probably shit himself when they came in waving those guns around. Nobody bothers Herm, man. He's been running that store since the sixties. He gets respect."
"Yeah, that's what I was thinking. That's why I'm assuming these are kids. Bangers probably. They don't give a damn about respect."
"It's gotten bad down there, man. Kids shootin' kids. I stay out of the old neighborhoods now. Not safe there."
Sal nodded in agreement. The east side had always been a problem area, but it had gotten progressively worse in recent years. Sal blamed it on the economy, because no jobs equaled more crime. He got frustrated because he couldn't fix it. All he could do was make arrests and get as many guns off the streets as he could. But there were always more guns and more people using them, and most of the time they were just kids - teenagers who didn't know any other kind of life. He felt bad for it, and he wished that there was a solution, because locking these kids up didn't make any difference. He wished that there was something he could figure out to make it all go away. He wanted to show those kids that there was a better way of living that didn't involve looking over your shoulder waiting for that bullet to find you. That's how they lived, though, and even though he saw it with his own eyes almost every single day he didn't understand it.
"I felt safer in Saigon, man," Pops said, "At least there you knew who your enemy was."
"I didn't know you were in 'Nam, Pops. I was in the army for awhile out of high school. They kept me stateside, though. I did four years then came out of it and went right into the academy."
"You're lucky," Pops said, walking back to his cot and sitting back down, "I saw some fucked up shit over there. I came back different than I went in. I think the heat got to me."
"Yeah, I bet it did. What did ya do when they shipped you back? Did you have any family?"
"Nah, man, my momma died when I was a teenager. She raised me alone. I flew back and I came home to nothing. Just a country that didn't seem to give a shit. I blew through my savings pretty damn quickly. I had to do everything for myself. No help from nobody. You see how that worked out, huh?"
Pops laughed and Sal found himself wondering how the guy could keep his sense of humor with the hand he'd been dealt. But he did, and that's what made him Pops. Sal wanted to be able to do more for him, but he'd never accept more than a few bucks of charity from anyone. He was proud and tough and Sal respected him for it.
"Good news is you're probably gonna be out of here by tomorrow," Sal told Pops, "You make sure you got a place to stay, alright? Go to the damn shelter."
"I promise," Pops said.
"I'll be here when they let you out. I'm driving you to the place in case you forgot where it is."
"You do that, then" Sal said before he walked away, knowing full well he'd be taking care of it himself in the morning.