Tales From The Blue Line 3

Carl didn’t like new guys comin’ to the crib. Didn’t like it at all.

When I knocked on the door I was expecting to see his brother, Eddie. Carl was too high to deal at night. That’s what my reliable, drug addicted police informant had told me. Go figure.

“Wha’s your name?” he asked while I stood in his door way. It was late: 8:00 p.m.

His basement living quarters were a dimly lit mess. Typical of those that littered most of the tall, early 20th century homes that stood about fifteen feet apart in the sagging, South Side neighborhood.

The doorway was shorter than a man six feet tall; like me. I had to stoop to get a better look at Carl. He’d clearly intended to keep me from entering, squaring himself off before me in a defiant manner. The look in his eyes was defiance plus: the plus being hatred and the glaze of someone high on heroin. No doubt he’d been high all day.

“That Joe?” I heard Eddie yell from the other side of the basement. “He’s been here before!”

I stood on the stairway, watching Carl, listening to the voice from the dark behind him.

Carl didn’t know me. Eddie had been there the first time I showed up with my police informant, Ray, and bought heroin from him. Ray had been taking me – a long-haired, bearded, undercover cop – into one of the hottest dope dens in the city of Milwaukee. This time I had gone alone to visit, with no appointment.

My commanding officer was eager to get heroin delivery cases on all of the dealers living at Carl’s place as soon as possible. He was happy to have me take big risks.

Carl had been slouching, and was a bit wobbly. He straightened and looked toward the other side of the basement. He stared for an uncomfortably long time. He shook his head and grumbled unintelligible words. Then he looked at me.

He was not happy.

I cautiously stepped down the creaking wooden stairs and followed when Carl shrugged and walked toward a small wooden table shoved against the wall to my left.

Eddied had probably talked me up to Carl, but Carl hadn’t expected to see me. He obviously hated surprises. Being a heroin dealer, certain surprises could land him in prison for ten to twenty.

I followed him to the table, straining to see anyone in the dark rear part of the basement….no luck.

“No noddin’, Dude,” Carl said to a large young man who was deeply slouched in an old kitchen chair near the table. He’d been sunk so low I hadn’t seen him. Carl stepped toward the snoozing big man and kicked him in the leg…hard. He had to. The big man had just shot up, and had the reaction time of a corpse.

The young man obviously wasn’t “in” with the regular cabal of addicts who visited this particular den. Only regulars got to stay after doing their bag.

I looked more closely at him while he stirred and pushed himself up from the chair. He wore a dark knit hat pulled down to his eyebrows, and a filthy green army jacket. Something was familiar. Suddenly I recognized him. Ah! He’d been an all-city tackle in high school. I had also played football in high school. I remembered his face from his photo in the sports section of the local newspaper. He still looked like his photo in the sports section of the newspaper. I’d studied those photos when the paper came out. I’d been envious.

The football star-turned-junkie had been given a football scholarship by the University of Wisconsin when he graduated from high school. This was no longer that star.

It was a sad, watershed moment for me, among the first – and most dreary – of my police career.

The big junkie roused himself a little more, stood, and walked straight to the exit. No ‘thank yous’ or ‘good-byes’ could be heard. Just an unspoken Get the fuck out.

Carl looked at me inquisitively.

I said, “Three.”

He raised his hand over his head, with three fingers sticking up. A dark figure on the other side of the basement stood and moved toward a side room. Eddie! A moment later Eddie came out and walked toward us. He smiled, with droopy, unfocused eyes.

“What up, Bro?” he asked, unable to raise his head high enough to look at my face. But he knew me. Good for him.

I was “Joe.”

Eddied handed three small foil packets to Carl, who took them and looked at me.

“Three for a quarter?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Three for a quarter meant three ten-dollar bags of product for $25. I always marveled at the unique turns of phrase created by street thugs and dopers, and the like.

He gave me the three bags.

I gave him a twenty and a five. He grabbed them without looking at me or saying anything.

It was my turn to get the fuck out.

Which I did, and quickly. I had my “buy” in my tight fist and was headed back to the narcotics detectives who were “covering” me, where they’d parked their vehicle two blocks away.

Four days later I reported for duty at the narcotics squad.

“Hi, ya, killer,” Detective Lee said to me as I walked through the door. He was a wide man with a big belly and a big laugh. “The Bureau’s checkin’ you out; see if you’re an accomplice.” He sat back in his chair, behind the desk that stood a few feet away from the entrance of the room.

I stopped in place and smiled back at him. I had no idea what he was talking about.

Killer? Bureau? In the parlance of the Milwaukee Police Department, that meant the Detective Bureau- where the homicide squad was.

I felt my face turn hot, and the red glow that was growing on my cheeks.

“You’re supposed to be on the run. Everyone else from 6th Street is.”

Carl and Eddie lived on 6th Street. Their place had it’s own name. Everyone who did drug investigations in the city knew what you meant when you said, “The place on 6th Street.” Carl and Eddie’s house of heroin.

Bill “Donuts” D’Amato came to the room from the hallway behind me.

“Okay, Lee,” he said to Detective Lee. “Tell the kid what’s really up. No bullshit.”

“You were ‘made’ the other day,” the detective said. “A guy in back – name of Dennis Strakowski – knew you from Junior High School…knew your name was Robin Riley…had heard you’d became a cop.”

“He didn’t say anything.” Stating the obvious is normal when you’re in a state of shock.

“Guess he was stunned. Figured there might be more cops right outside the door. After you left he told Carl and Eddie who you really were.”

“So why am I on the run?’” I asked. “You guys aren’t gonna protect me?” I chuckled, trying to appear hip and play along with the joke being played on me. Ha ha, and all that.

“Strakowski and other guys – we know it was Carl and Eddie, but can’t prove it – went to Ray’s crib last night,” Lee said.

“To get even with ’em?” I interrupted. “What – and someone says I was with ’em”?

“Just a joke, ya little shit,” Detective Lee said. “Calm down.”

“Ray’s wife was at work, and Ray was home baby sitting their infant,” Detective Lee continued. “A neighbor across the hall saw three guys go in – they’re all still on the run – and leave about a half hour later. He heard the baby crying and crying. Went in and found Ray dead…laying on the floor. Some empty heroin bags and street needles were on the table, in plain site. Arranged, like as a message for whoever found him. You know, snitch to the cops and they’re gonna kill ya.”

“The dude’s been I.D’d?” I asked.

“Workin’ on it. But the homicide squad’s been digging, and some of the people who were there when you scored your dope have been talked to and one of them gave up Strakowski’s name. He, Carl and Eddie fit the descriptions of the guys who came to Rays’ place.”

We were all silent for a long moment.

“And…?” I asked.

“Don’t look good,” Donuts said. “The witness never saw their faces. Claims he never got that good ‘a look.”

The coroner had quickly confirmed the cause of death: Massive heroin overdose with a single fresh injection site. What they call a “Hot Shot” in the streets.

All three of Ray’s visitors that night eventually showed up at homes of relatives. Never gave statements to the police. Never got charged with Ray’s murder…or any crime.

Ray’s wife told one of the investigating detectives she was glad it was all over with. She could take her kid and go home to her mother’s.

The other guys in the narcotics office went to their desks. Same old, same old.

Except for me, the new guy. A huge increment of change had invaded my headspace. I didn’t like it.


This is the third in an ongoing series from Rob.

He spent thirty-two years as a Milwaukee police officer: seven years doing undercover narcotics investigations and twenty-two years as a major crimes detective. Writing and reading have been lifelong passions, and he began by writing short stories more than thirty years ago

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