NIGHT TRAIN BY MARTIN AMIS
NIGHT TRAIN BY MARTIN AMIS
felo de se
b l o w b a c k
I am a police. That may sound like an unusual statement—or an unusual construction. But it’s a parlance we have. Among ourselves, we would never say I am a policeman or I am a policewoman or I am a police officer. We would just say I am a police. I am a police. I am a police and my name is Detective Mike Hoolihan. And I am a woman, also.
What I am setting out here is an account of the worst case I have ever handled. The worst case—for me, that is. When you’re a police, “worst” is an elastic concept. You can’t really get a fix on “worst.” The boundaries are pushed out every other day. “Worst?” we’ll ask. “There’s no such thing as worst.” But for Detective Mike Hoolihan this was the worst case.
Downtown, at CID, with its three thousand sworn, there are many departments and subdepartments, sections and units, whose names are always changing: Organized Crime, Major Crimes, Crimes Against Persons, Sex Offenses, Auto Theft, Check and Fraud, Special Investigations, Asset Forfeiture, Intelligence, Narcotics, Kidnapping, Burglary, Robbery—and Homicide. There is a glass door marked Vice. There is no glass door marked Sin. The city is the offense. We are the defense. That’s the general idea.
Here is my personal “ten-card.” At the age of eighteen I enrolled for a master’s in Criminal Justice at Pete Brown. But what I really wanted was the streets. And I couldn’t wait. I took tests for state trooper, for border patrol, and even for state corrections officer. I passed them all. I also took the police test, and I passed that, too. I quit Pete and enrolled at the Academy.
I started out as a beat cop in the Southern. I was part of the Neighborhood Stabilization Unit in the Forty-Four. We walked foot patrol and did radio runs. Then for five years I was in the Senior Citizens Robbery Unit. Going proactive—decoy and entrapment— was my ticket to plainclothes. Later, another test, and downtown, with my shield. I’m now in Asset Forfeiture, but for eight years I was in Homicide. I worked murders. I was a murder police.
A few words about my appearance. The physique I inherited from my mother. Way ahead of her time, she had the look now associated with highly politicized feminists. Ma could have played the male villain in a postnuclear road movie. I copped her voice, too: It has been further deepened by three decades of nicotine abuse. My features I inherited from my father. They are rural rather than urban—flat, undecided. The hair is dyed blonde. I was born and raised in this city, out in Moon Park. But all that went to pieces, when I was ten, and thereafter I was raised by the state. I don’t know where my parents are. I’m five-ten and I go 180.
Some say you can’t top the adrenaline (and the dirty cash) of Narcotics, and all agree that Kidnapping is a million laughs (if murder in America is largely black on black, then kidnapping is largely gang on gang), and Sex Offenses has its followers, and Vice has its votaries, and Intelligence means what it says (Intelligence runs deep, and brings in the deep-sea malefactors), but everyone is quietly aware that Homicide is the daddy. Homicide is the Show.
In this second-echelon American city, mildly famed for its Jap-financed Babel Tower, its harbors and marinas, its university, its futuristically enlightened corporations (computer software, aerospace, pharmaceuticals), its high unemployment, and its catastrophic inner-city taxpayer flight, a homicide police works maybe a dozen murders per year. Sometimes you’re a primary investigator on the case, sometimes a secondary. I worked one hundred murders. My clearance rate was just above average. I could read a crime scene, and, more than once, I was described as an “exceptional interrogator.” My paperwork was outstanding. When I came to CID from the Southern everybody expected my reports to be district quality. But they were downtown quality, right from the start. And I sought to improve still further and gave it a hundred percent. One time I did a very, very competent job, collating two rival accounts of a hot-potato homicide in the Seventy-Three: One witness/suspect versus another witness/suspect. “Compared to what you guys give me to read,” pronounced Detective Sergeant Hen-rik Overmars, brandishing my report at the whole squad, “this is fucking oratory. It’s goddamn Cicero versus Robespierre.” I did the work as best I could until I entered my own end-zone and couldn’t do it anymore. In my time, I have come in on the aftermath of maybe a thousand suspicious deaths, most of which turned out to be suicides or accidentals or plain unat-tendeds. So I’ve seen them all: Jumpers, stumpers, dumpers, dunkers, bleeders, floaters, poppers, bursters. I have seen the bodies of bludgeoned one-year-olds. I have seen the bodies of gang-raped nonagenarians. I have seen bodies left dead so long that your only shot at a t.o.d. is to weigh the maggots. But of all the bodies I have ever seen, none has stayed with me, in my gut, like the body of Jennifer Rockwell.