Hours passed and Natalie had been working non-stop. After researching news reports, talking with Don Crass’ ex-wife and checking in with her usual informants around the city, sources led her to the Fordham Road section of the Bronx. There is a six-story abandoned apartment building numbered 696, what locals have labeled as the neighborhood crack house. Faded bricks and broken windows from top to bottom. Brown grass sprouted from the courtyard. Rats can be seen scurrying across the lobby behind the dated graffiti smudged on the plexiglass front doors. Unshaven mugs with sunken eyes popped out the second-floor window every few minutes like a bird in a cuckoo clock.
Supposedly, after accidentally killing a kid one night on patrol a few years ago, Don developed a drug addiction, contributing to the end of his marriage. Since Don needed to stay below the radar, he figured the local cops would
never come to this side of town. “Perfect cover,” Natalie thought as she walked through the unsettled neighborhood.
She downed her outfit for this hunt, wearing a fitted black hooded sweater, black jeans, and a gray trench coat. Her long wavy hair was left undone. Believing she’d be doing more running this time, she had black Nike’s strapped on her feet. She parked her car several blocks away. Walking to the building, she threw the hood over her head to avoid unwanted attention. Without making it halfway through the courtyard, a Mexican crackhead already started hissing at her. She got verbally attacked by a lame come-on line.
“Oye, mami!” the crackhead hissed through his teeth. “That’s what I’m
talkin’ ‘bout: tall cup o’ coffee with jus’ the right touch of cream. All dem curves an’ me with no brakes. Conyo! Tell me whatcha lookin’ for an’ I’ll give it to you, mama.”
“Sorry, but I ain’t old or ugly enough to be your mama.” She snapped back, pushing him aside to enter the building.
Walls were covered in chipped paint and caked-on filth. Lobby stunk of an atrocious odor of urine. Flames from the crack pipes provided the only source of light in this dismal setting. Three drug dealers stepped down the raggedy
lobby staircase, the self-proclaimed landlords of the building. Most of their sales were made elsewhere, but a handy portion of their product was kept on them
for emergencies. When the product runs out and addicts start begging for more, these three dealers want to be the first to give it to them, for the right price of course.
While the two bigger guys stayed in the background sharing a joint, the head dealer, a five-foot scrawny-looking baldy, looked up at the private eye and said, “Ya got a lotta nerve showin’ yo’ face ’round here, Mercedes.”
“You got a lot of nerve showing your face anywhere,” she snapped again. Background dealers reached for their weapons but the boss waved them off.
“Check this out.” He clapped his hands together. “You oughtta be grateful we
don’t split yo’ wig right now. Talk to me like that again and that’ll change real quick, ya heard? Your boy Tyrone is tha only reason ya still breathin’. He and
I got an understandin’: I’ll tell ’em what he needs ta know and he stays out my business. Know what that means? You ain’t welcome here.”
“Whatever arrangement you have with Tyrone doesn’t have a damn thing to do with me. With that said...where is he?”
“Do you really wanna go there?”
The short dealer giggled relentlessly as if he heard the funniest joke ever. He turned to his boys and heckled, “Man, this chick be buggin’ yo!” He faced Natalie. “Are you smokin’ the la-la? Check it out, there’s a nice lil’ dark corner ova there with yo name on it. Be our guest! Need some more?” He slapped his chest. “Ya man’ll hook ya up. I got that good stuff ta have ya sky-walking for
weeks, ya heard?”
His boys held back their guffawing, trying not to cough out the week smoke. Natalie took a deep breath and asked again, “Where - is - the - cop?”
The three dealers paused. “Don’t know whatcha talkin’ ’bout,” the short dealer uttered. “Better get up outta here with that.”
Natalie smiled. His hesitation was the proof she needed. “Okay. Now comes the fun part. We can do things the easy way or we can do things the hard way. Which would you prefer?”
The dealer whipped out his pistol and aimed it at Natalie’s chest. “Wanna say that again?” he taunted. “Wanna tell me ’bout the hard way before I blow your brains out?!”
She slapped away his wrist and twisted it like a bottle cap, forcing him to drop the gun. She then bent his arm behind his back into a chicken wing. “Who else wants to know about the hard way?!” she grunted while slapping on a
rear-naked chokehold. Looking at their boss flapping around and sobbing like a lawyer behind bars, the background dealers dropped their weapons and ran back upstairs. “I’m only going to ask you one more time,” She tightened her grip. “Where. Is. The damn cop?”
She eased off the pressure, but his constant sobbing made it hard to understand what he was saying. “HE…(sob)…HE UP THERE, YO! ON TOP, IN THE BACK...I-IGHT!! I’m...(sob)...sorry, man...jus’...lemme go, i-ight?”
Natalie slammed him down to the floor and said, “Thanks for your
cooperation. I’ll tell Tyrone you said hello.”
The sixth floor was just as hideous as the lobby, polluted with empty pipes and rusty needles. Junkie-filled apartments were seen from every door she passed down the narrow hallway. Her eyes got adjusted to the dark, but still had trouble weeding out Officer Crass through the sea of addicts. She figured his pudgy structure should stick out like a sore thumb unless he was dumb enough to still be wearing his uniform. Since Midget Scarface downstairs said that Don was in the back, Natalie assumed he meant the last apartment at the end of the hallway. She’ll start her search there.
Going from room-to-room, an overwhelming sight of lost souls wasting
their lives away, both young and old. Convulsion fits. Sleepwalking. How can they show loyalty to a substance they’ll die from in a year? What bad experience has happened in their lives to make them want to further punish themselves?
She wished that she could talk some sense into them, but they’d be too far gone to listen. More of the same behavior spotted in the kitchen, bathroom and small bedroom. But the master bedroom was unusually quiet.
She peeked inside. It looked to be a heavyset fella asleep on a bed, covered with dirty blankets. Dark-colored shirt sleeves. Could be black. Navy blue. Is that him? Natalie crept into the room and pulled back the covers, unveiling a greasy mechanic sleeping next to a hooker. Her mistake.
Suddenly, a pudgy man ran out behind her and swung a splintered piece of wood against her shoulder blades. She collapsed onto the side of the bed, grunting in pain. Wearing a black beanie hat with a matching sweater and decorated in layers of filth was Don Crass. An anxious look on his face. Scared. Feeling like his last moments of freedom were slipping away. He picked up the private eye by her trench and tossed her into the bathroom. Two addicts were lying in the bathtub, dazed and oblivious to the ongoing ruckus.
Natalie rolled around the ceramic tiles, fighting to regain her bearings. Seeing Don towering over with a ceramic tank lid in his hands, she fired a kick to his gut that knocked him back out to the kitchen. Don rushed to his feet and pushed passed the druggies to run out of the apartment. His pudgy body trotted down the stairs as fast as he could. Natalie leapt down a few staircases to catch up.
Running down to the third floor, Don failed to see an addict lying across the top step. He tripped over the body and tumbled down to the second floor as if
the building was under demolishment. Panting in agony while tasting the dirt- covered floor, Natalie jumped on his back and whipped out her .357 Magnum revolver. She pointed it right between his eyes and said, “Do you want to know if pigs can fly?!”
Her eyes motioned toward the fire escape window inches away. Knowing what the irate private eye had in mind, Don raised his hands in surrender. “Get up,” she ordered, keeping her weapon drawn on him while stepping back. As Don slowly climbed against the banister, Natalie got out her cell phone and speed-dialed Jill.
“Are you gonna bust me?” Don shakingly asked.
“I’m gonna bust your ass if you ever pull another stunt like that again!” Jill answered the call. “Hey. Need another favor from you.”
“What’s up?” said Jill, always willing to help.
“I need you to find a spot in the Bronx where I won’t see a cop for miles.”
“Also, inform Tyrone to stay away from Fordham Road for a few days.” “Uh...okay. Is there a reason why you can’t tell him that yourself?”
“Not sure if he’ll want to talk to me after finding out I just beat down one of
“Oh! I see. I’ll get right on it.”