Luke was barely discernible through the hovering clouds of lingering second-hand cigarette smoke and low-level mood lighting as he sat facing the rear wall.
Propped up by his arms, his vacant red-eyes fell over the six empty and six full shot glasses spread out on the table in front of him.
Luke slipped his gold shield from his belt and slammed it onto the table, right beside the once treasured wallet-sized photo of his fiancée. The two things that he held special in his life, now sat side-by-side on the table in front of him.
He lifted another shot, paused briefly to admire the honey-gold contents while he rolled the shot glass in his fingertips. With a flick of his head he drained the glass in one gulp then returned the empty to the table.
His eyes dropped to the photo on the table; a three inch by two inch smiling headshot of the love of his life, and up until recently, the woman he planned to marry. He lifted the photo and collapsed back into his chair. His shoulders slumped as his glazed eyes never left the small photo perched in his fingertips.
Luke's face tightened. With a defiant shake of his head, he ripped the photograph in half, then flicked the pieces across the table.
Maybe he was reluctantly toasting the sudden end of their relationship, or maybe he simply tried to numb the hurt, but as the fractured photo floated to the table, Luke lifted shot number eight and quickly downed it, then forcefully slammed the empty glass back onto the table.
Luke’s eyes shifted to his gold shield. He lifted it from the table and cupped it in his hand. It was now all he had left, but it too was under threat of being taken away.
He lifted up shot number nine. He rolled the glass through his fingers as his thoughts rewound back to his Lieutenant’s threats. His bleary focus returned to the raised shot glass sitting perched in his fingertips.
His thoughts went blank. ‘Fuck my life…’ he blurted then drained the glass in one gulp.
After he slammed the empty onto the table Luke fell onto his outstretched arms, as the warming liquid slid down his throat. His eyes fell to the collection of empty shot glasses before him. How could everything have turned to shit so quickly?
A deep, but calm voice emanating from somewhere behind Luke distracted his wallowing. ‘That’s not going to help you with your problems, son.’
Luke glanced over his shoulder. An elderly man stood just back, behind him. Luke returned his bleary-eyed gaze to the wall in front, ‘Who says I’ve got problems, old man…?’
The elderly man moved into Luke’s view and stood at the end of the table. Luke slowly lifted his bloodshot eyes to the standing man.
The old man was a typical, but stylish grandfatherly type. He wore a dark grey fedora hat, a full length light weight overcoat over a dark suit and striped tie and carried a walking stick.
‘Do you mind if I have a seat?’ the old man gestured to the seat across from Luke.
Luke extended his open hand. ‘Be my guest…’ Luke said. He watched as the old man slowly lowered himself into the chair opposite Luke.
Once comfortable, the old man leaned his walking stick against the rear wall and removed his hat, which he placed on the table to his left.
The old man’s silver-grey hair was tidy and short, probably barber styled, and it framed his well-weathered, but tanned face. The many lines and wrinkles embedded on his face were characteristic of an elderly man having lived a long and eventful life.
Luke noticed the handle of the walking cane was actually a small skull carved into what appeared to be ivory.
‘Like your handle there…’ Luke said with a lift of his chin towards the propped up walking cane.
The old man turned awkwardly and glanced over his shoulder. ‘Oh, yes,’ he said. ‘It was a gift actually. It sort of grew on me after a while.’
‘Can I get you a drink?’ Luke offered his guest.
The old man raised a hand to Luke. ‘Thank you…but not for me. I’ve had sufficient.’
Luke felt a little uncomfortable as the old man sat silently staring at him. Several seconds ticked by before the old man eventually spoke.
‘You’re not the first person with relationships problems son...and you certainly won’t be the last, but knocking back shot after shot is not the answer to your problems…Take it from someone who knows. Believe me…I have been there, just like you.’
Luke leaned onto his elbows as he regarded his visitor. ‘Who says I’ve got relationship problems, old Man...?’
The old man lifted his chin to the torn photograph on the table. Luke’s eyes followed to what was left of the photo.
‘Well…tonight I don’t think it will hurt...’ Luke said. 'So anyway…to what do I owe the pleasure of your company?’ Luke asked.
‘You’re a young cop, aren’t you…?’ the old man asked, ignoring Luke’s question.
Luke’s concerned eyes dropped to his Detective shield sitting out in the open on the table. He lifted his shield and slid it into his inner suit pocket. His inbuilt safety radar tried to assess any threat from this strange old man.
The old man held up a hand. ’It’s OK…I’m not here to make trouble…I was a cop myself…A Detective—retired of course, from the 90th Precinct. Worked there for thirty-five years,’ he said proudly. ‘Brian Murphy’s the name.’
A slight sense of relief washed over Luke. He extended his hand across the table towards the old man. 'Luke...Luke Fox,' he said.
The old man smiled and lifted his right hand to indicate his swollen and distorted arthritic fingers.
‘Sorry son, my hand shaking days are long gone...I can barely grip that thing.’ He jabbed his crooked thumb over his shoulder at his walking stick.
Luke smiled his understanding. ‘The 90th eh…’ Luke said. ‘Up in Williamsburg…So, where did you work in the 90th?’ Luke leaned back onto his elbows.
'Northern Brooklyn Homicide …for thirty-five years…Been retired now for eighteen years and you know what…? I’m eighty-three years old and I still miss it; the work, the challenges, the chase, the hunt and the camaraderie—everything about it. It was a special life for me, son.’
Luke noticed the old man had a glint in his eye when he talked about his former job. He was impressed by his guest's history.
‘Wow… Northern Brooklyn Homicide…’ Luke said. ‘Tough gig... You must’ve had some interesting cases in your time there.’
The old man nodded. 'But what about you…?’ he said. He flicked a finger at Luke.. I see you carry a gold shield…?'
Luke nodded. ‘Yup... Just over six years now,’ he said as he sat back in his chair.
‘But things aren’t going as you planned, are they…?’ the old man asked.
Luke frowned. ‘How do you mean…?’
‘All this…’ The old man waved a hand over Luke’s collection of shot glasses and torn photograph gathered on the table. ‘This can only be because you are trying to numb the memory of something that has gone wrong with your girl and your job. Why else would you be sitting all alone in bar at…’ the old man checked his watch, ‘10.35 on a weeknight.’
Luke shrugged. ‘I’ll be OK...’
‘How old are you, son...’ the old man asked. ‘If you don’t mind me asking...’
The old man nodded. ‘Look…you’ve got your life ahead of you...’ he began. ‘From my experience in life, and as a cop, I’ve always believed that a problem shared is a problem halved. Why don’t you unburden yourself on me...Try me,’ he said returning a comforting smile at Luke. ‘What have you got to lose…? Cop to cop…’
Luke held an uncertain gaze at his guest. His eyes narrowed as he wondered why the old man was here, especially this late at night.
‘Are you sure I can’t get you a drink?’ Luke asked.
‘Positive. I’m good thank you. You’re probably wondering why I’m here talking to you...' the old man said.’
‘The thought had crossed my mind.’
‘There’s nothing sinister going on, son. I just noticed you knocking back shot after shot so I thought I would come over and see what was wrong…see if I could help.’
Luke’s assessing eyes again narrowed at the old man across from him as he contemplated. What the heck. Can’t hurt, can it? ‘You ever have any cases that you just couldn’t solve, no matter what you did, or how hard you tried?’ Luke asked.
The old man's mouth straightened. He firmly shook his head. 'I don’t care what you say, or how many cold cases there are out there…No crook is that clever. There is always an answer out there somewhere. You just have to find it. If you have a murder…then you must have a murderer. Someone had to have done it. Look for the clues. Look for the answers to the puzzle, they’re out there somewhere—you just have to find ‘em. And never, ever give up looking.’
‘Were there any you couldn’t solve?’
The old man again firmly shook his head. ‘Nope,’ he said definitively. ‘There was not a single crook that got away with murder on my watch. It was my job to catch them and god help me, that’s exactly what I did.’
The old man had a calming effect on Luke. He liked the old guy, even though he had only just met him. He looked like someone’s grandfather, but he also give the impression he would have been a tough old bastard in his day. But the retired old cop sitting across the table from Luke was also gentle and caring. He actually helped Luke deal with why he was there and his world of problems.
Luke decided to unburden himself on the old man. He mentioned how his fiancée, the girl of dreams of eight years, suddenly walked out on him and since then, he just hasn’t been able to focus on his cases, his promotion, his life—anything.
Luke mentioned how his Lieutenant gave him a new case, along with an ultimatum—solve this new case, or risk being busted back to uniform.
He told of his frustrations at how he already has three other cases he struggled with—all vicious murders that he has progressed as far as he can and he was unable to find any new evidence, or locate any new leads that will identify the killers.
The old man sat listening to everything Luke said, intently regarding Luke as he spoke.
‘So…’ Luke said after delivering the precis of why he sits alone in a bar drowning his sorrows. ‘There you have it. That is why my life has turned to shit. I have never had problems solving cases. In fact, I can say without any conceited arrogance that I have solved some of the most difficult cases the 84th has investigated,’ he said proudly. ‘But these cases…’ he waved the back of his hand. ‘With all the shit going on...these ones have got me stumped.’
When Luke finished talking the old man sat silent. He allowed several beats to pass while he regarded Luke. He nodded slightly, then said, ‘How bad do you want to stay a Detective, son?’
‘More than anything…’ Luke said. ‘It was my dream…It was why I became a cop. I wanted to be a Homicide investigator…and I wanted to be the best.’
‘OK then…’ the old man said. ‘Firstly, you have to forget about this girl…’ he said. ‘If she can walk out on you after eight years…she wasn’t the one, son. She could’ve walked out on you at any time, even after you were married. She did you a favor, believe me. Close that chapter.’ He swiped a hand across the table, like a blackjack player signaling to stand.
‘You will find a new girl, one that will catch your eye... a girl that will make you happy and will be with you forever...just not that one.’ The old man flicked a finger at the photograph fragments.
‘Next,’ he continued, ‘I want you to walk me through each of your cases--the ones causing you problems. I want to hear the circumstances of each offence, the evidence that you have, the evidence that you need…I want to know everything if I am going to help you.’
Luke watched the old man as he spoke. He suddenly held a controlling presence in the room. The old man instantly commanded respect. He had charisma and confidence, yet he was a no nonsense, take charge kind of guy.
In the short time Luke has known the old man, he had grown to like him and he allowed himself to fall under the old man’s control. He shrugged to himself.
‘Why not…’ Luke said. ‘If you’ve got the time to listen, I would love to bounce my cases off you.’
‘First…’ the old man said. ‘You get rid of those…’ he indicated the shot glasses in front of Luke. 'You don’t need ‘em. Move them over there,’ the old man gestured to the side of the table.
Luke responded by doing as he was told. ‘Now…’ the old man began, ‘why don’t you start with the most recent case…the last chance one the Lieutenant gave you.’
Luke rubbed a contemplative hand across his mouth. ‘OK...’ He began. ‘The latest case involved the abduction of an eight year old girl from her home in Boerum Hill…’