Home Frank Driscoll
Arriving at his apartment, Frank feels nearly as achy and worn as anyone approaching the flu. He is thinking of Barrett. Everything is so complicated. He grabs a beer from the fridge, flips the light switch to off, goes to the living room and clicks on the television. He takes off his jacket and belt holster, lets them slip to the floor at the side of the couch, then flops back to listen to the news anchor appearing to him mid sentence: ",,,analyst says it just keeps getting worse, folks, since banks are facing much bigger credit losses than they've reported."
"Christ, what now?" says Frank."
"…says, contrary to others, the economy is about to sink into an early nineteen-eighties-style recession that will nail ten percent of those over-extended during the housing boom."
"Who's running things?" Frank asks the television.
"…sudden downgrading because of Moody's and Standard and Poors' bad calls, with two-hundred and thirty-seven billion in mortgage securities downgraded in the fourth quarter. And are you sitting down? Do you want to hear about the first and second quarters of this year, folks?"
"Hell, no," says Frank, then clicks off.
In his bedroom he takes the last slug from the bottle, removes his clothes and discovers the weapon at his ankle, which he had forgotten. Feeling slightly out of kilter he looks down at it as if it were a malignant growth, and it takes a moment to recover whatever normal brain function he thinks he might be losing. Yawning, he un-straps it and places it on the top of his dresser, then still yawning walks naked to the bathroom.
Most of the tenants have invested in stalls, but for no particular reason he and Anne never got around to doing the same. The shower is in the tub. He reaches and turns the knobs and holds his hand under the spray and waits, then adjusts for more heat. His shoulders hurt. If Anne were here she would massage them with her wonderful fingers. The temp alters to almost perfect. A quarter-inch turn of the knob and ah, yes, that's it. Goldilocks hot. He climbs into the tub and pulls the blue curtain along the oval ring, closing himself in. Yeah, terrific, as the tension eases, moving his back side to side in a swaying motion under the prickly spray. The hell with Hammer and Barrett, especially Barrett. One of life's better moments he tells himself as he empties his mind of all the crap in his life, and begins to feel drowsy from the sheer enjoyment of the shower, as well as from the beer, he corrects. An empty minute passes before he picks up his washcloth and soap at the same moment he imagines that a small unidentifiable sound slips into the kind of slowly reducing level of awareness he experiences on his way to sleep in bed. He becomes motionless, puzzling. Angered by this intrusion into his nothing moment he asks himself if he has really heard something? Shit. Stop with the noises, the paranoia, Frank. Allow yourself a little relaxation.
Or should he check? Should he? He sighs aloud with disgust at himself, but unable to control his impulse he turns off the shower. Waking to life beyond the curtain, he remains quite still, focusing, while the surface of the bar of soap in his left hand turns mushy. The limp washcloth held at its corner by his right index and thumb hangs against his outer thigh, cooling. A neighbor's plumbing rumbles in the wall. His head is down, his eyes staring at the tiles along the tub's inner rim, seeing without fully registering where it needs caulking. A few beads of water drip from his nose, chin, and the tip of his shriveled penis. He shivers from the combination of cold and the notion of danger, and he holds his breath while his thoughts converge to the keenest arrow of concentration… But he hears nothing, exhales, says aloud, "Stupid jerk," and turns on the shower. Ten minutes later, thoroughly relaxed, a dry, naked Frank emerges from the bathroom and freezes one step beyond the door. Something is different. What? The hallway is dark. Didn't he leave it lit? His gaze drifts the hall's length to the kitchen, hearing the same remote sounds he had heard the other day, coming in from West End Avenue and Broadway. Had he actually opened that same window? Has stress made him deranged, forgetful?
"Hell no," he whispers as he realizes the lighting in the living room and bedroom has been altered. The living room light is on, the bedroom light is off. He distinctly recalls the reverse. He is not crazy. Someone has been here; maybe still—in one of the rooms. As if psychically drawn, even before he can turn his head, his attention shifts to the door to his apartment; and when his eyes catch up to what his brain intuits, they see a fine vertical crack of light, indicating to Frank, it is fractionally ajar. Fuck. Now as if revved on Speed he ticks off his options rapid fire: His holstered 9 mm is on the living room floor next to his jacket and a few newspapers, part of the casual heap. His ankle weapon is on his bedroom dresser, and his Dad's old 38 Special is locked in the drawer of his night table. His mouth goes bone dry as everything he has experienced, everything he knows, tells him he is not alone; and his jaw juts twice, as if punched, while his body chills from the clammy sweat now coating his body. Does he go to the living room or the bedroom? For which pistol? And what if both are gone? Okay, but if he goes for the locked 38, the bedroom is dark. So now what, asshole, yell for help? Move! He is offended by the indignity of his nakedness, considers for an irrational moment reaching back for a towel, then reminds himself that intruders are not polite society and terry doesn't ward off bullets. So, seconds used up and options duly noted, he finally moves, takes a step toward the lighted living room and halts.
Though the hallway is dark he has spied a black object on the floor along the baseboard, halfway between himself and the kitchen; the thing barely reflecting what little light seeps in from the living room. Glancing around like a thief he hurries forward, stops, looks down, says, "What the hell?" and picks up his Dad's 38 Special. Riveted by this ordinarily familiar and non-threatening item, his lips part but the words don't come, as if his brain has turned to stone—a notion shattered in an instant as Frank reacts to the kitchen light flicking on with a man, his grinning face fully lighted, stepping boldly into view and aiming a handgun at Frank, whose every primal impulse combines to propel him into a left-moving semi-crouch, his index pulling the trigger as the barrel completes its swing and levels at the man who side-steps to invisibility before the explosion; and in the scrap of time it would take Frank to compute what has happened, the door to his apartment slams with a frightening report behind his back, causing him to swing with his arm still extended and fire into the closed door. In another moment, as if waking in a nightmare, he finds himself outside his apartment door, still naked, staring for seconds into the eyes of two terrified neighbors before they slam their door with a bang nearly equal to the detonation of his Dad's 38 Special.
The grinning face of the man he'll never forget—Nikita Botkin!
He knows the frightened couple will dial 911, but placing aside what he understands will be the result of their panicky call, it's first things first. He goes to his night table, lifts and rattles it and hears and feels the thing inside slide and bump. It is still locked. He slips the key from under the mattress at the foot of the bed and opens it. "God dammit!" What it contains is grey, rough-edged and decorated with bits of mica.
A fucking rock.
From the last break in, clever bastards; found the key, replaced it. Why? Well, for one, it was placed where he'd pick it up and shoot at phantoms. But what else, if anything?
Still naked, sitting on the edge of his bed he shivers uncontrollably and shakes his head, comprehending Botkin's setup, knowing the suits up the chain will have a hard time believing him. "What a mess! How could—" he says to the ceiling as if God were plastered there to accept recriminations for having so seriously let down—no, slapped down—this well meaning, albeit lapsed, Catholic. "Fuck!" he says. But being his father's boy, he looks up again, thinking not you. As he finishes dressing, his regular cell rings. Where is it? His jacket. He rushes to the living room and slips it from the pocket. 'Hello?"
Definitely not a friend. "Got no time for your bullshit. Who's this?"
"Just thought I'd call you, Red, to tell you we know all about you."
Frank snaps into his cell: "Oh yeah? Listen, moron—."
The unfamiliar voice is soft and chatty: "We know you're a good ol' boy, Red, but you know you really did lose it years ago when you beat the shit out of Binky Novak." Then not so friendly: "But you're losin' it again, Red. Your seams are opening wide, motherfucker. Poor ol' Binky."
"Listen—." He stops himself—knows it's Botkin—realizes he is supposed to do just that—come apart. He closes his cell and tells himself, Cool it, Frank, not another word. The worst is yet to come.
The guys from the 20th Precinct show up. Not knowing the shooter is a cop, they arrive with guns drawn. Frank knows their adrenals will be pumped and so he pulls the door gently toward him saying, "I'm a cop," while his right hand is up displaying his badge, and he is stepping back and raising his left as the door swings wide, telling them, "Cop, Sergeant Driscoll." On the spot explanations are very difficult. Beyond the unknown perils of heart palpitations, no one is hurt, but shots have been fired. Discharging a weapon is serious business. One slug embedded itself in the tough old plaster of the kitchen wall, but the other tore through the front door and ploughed into the outer hallway wall, also plaster, and luckily did not penetrate through to the apartment beyond. One of the detectives knows Frank, and after he looks and listens and sees the empty beer bottle in the bedroom, he says, "What the fuck, Driscoll? You ain't been drinking, have you?" The 38 Special is collected as evidence and Frank is then invited to the 20th to elaborate. Whenever possible, cops take care of cops, especially good, stand-ups like Frank, but his story raises a lot of eyebrows. On the other hand, crazy as it appears, there is no credible reason not to believe him; so after Frank's precinct is alerted he is released—without him having mentioned Botkin. There is a rat in his precinct and he will play it as close to his vest as feasible. Zero trust.
Having been up most of the night, he sleeps fitfully until ten a.m. when Lieutenant Regan and Cannella, looking like a couple of pallbearers at a friend's funeral, arrive with the very bad news that a newly-dead Binky Novak has come back to haunt Frank Driscoll. They follow Frank, who's dressed only in his briefs and a pair of socks. He goes to the bedroom and they're right behind him.
"They found him yesterday morning with one in the temple, near the Port Authority," says Regan. "And they figure a thirty-eight slug."
"God, I can't believe this," says Frank, immediately grasping the connection and feeling like Job. "Fucking Binky Novak?" He shivers and reaches into his dresser for a sweatshirt; slips it on and grabs jeans from a closet and slips into them. "Time of death?" he asks.
"Estimated" says Cannella, "between eight and ten p.m., night before. The problem as you know, is that you beat the dickhead pedophile good enough to send him to the E.R. It's in your record. So the slug in Novak's head and your dad's thirty-eight, put together, Frank, is why they're checking out your Dad's, which you just used. Since there's no safety, you usually keep it loaded, or no?"
"Well," replies Frank, "five cartridges in the cylinder, with the empty chamber in line with the hammer. That's my safety. The sixth cartridge was stored in the same drawer." He is feeling dumb and bordering on mute as he tries to recall where he was between eight and ten.
"So," Regan puts in, regretfully, "what grabs ballistics, is your thirty-eight holds six rounds, and there are only three in the cylinder. You fired two, here. Two plus three, leaves one missing. So see what I'm saying, Frank? They're wondering about the sixth. One in the drawer means squat, to them."
Frank, close to being nauseous, merely nods, trying to unclog his brain. They trail after him as he goes into the kitchen and draws a glass of water, while his friend Cannella says, "What pisses me an' the boss, here, is who the fuck's gonna even miss the evil prick?"
An apologetic Regan says, "Captain requested you hand over your weapons for the time being, Frank. You got two…or more?"
"Requested?" Frank utters something between a chuckle and a snort. He can see that they don't know what to believe. "Funny man. Anyway, how come? I mean my pieces weren't used. You got my dad's thirty-eight, the weapon in question. And yeah," he lies, "I got two, primary and ankle," as he visualizes his maid's room closet, behind a loose board in a floor-level cabinet that is stuffed with cleaning rags and old sponges. "You taking my badge, too?"
"Hell, no, Frank. It's just routine. They have to check you out, as usual. You understand, right? I mean, you and Al had the shootout. Not an easy thing. And you know better than me, putting holes in someone can rattle a guy."
"Yeah," says Frank, becoming a little defensive now, "but I—Al and me—didn't kill the fucker, so I wasn't that rattled. Right?" knowing he's stretching the truth as he recalls two cold-sweat nightmares following his putting those holes in Mackay; not from worrying about Mackay, but about himself just missing getting plugged.
"Well," Cannella puts in awkwardly, just wanting to explain to his friend, "they probably figure you might be a little jumpy from that, since you put two holes in the walls last night, and no one but you saw the intruders."
He remembers: "I was eating, sitting at the bar, at a place on Columbus Avenue, when Novak was whacked. The barkeep's a witness."
* * *
At the start, the two guys from Internal Affairs were not the least bit friendly, whereas neither were they hostile. But in the last ten minutes hostility has been winning out. Frank, looking hung over, is being repped by Hank Mason, a peer councilor from his union who is alongside him at the table, sitting directly across from the two I.A.s. They've not been buying his alibi, and the barkeep's on vacation, location unknown, with Cannella doing a search.
One of the I.A, guys is short and bald. The other is tall, sporting a full mustache: Holier than thou Jeff Burns. Frank is remembering his recent conversation with Joe Hecht, about seeing Burns with Will Jackson, from Robbery. Questions: is Burns a crook, and is Jackson a rat, with the two men fucking him over? Though neither Burns nor Frank say a word, the two well remember each other from years ago at Narco. Jeff, in Frank's opinion is a hair-shirt perfectionist who Frank always imagined employed self-flagellation if he missed scoring points; was a man who despised the wiseass Frank, and complained about him for occasionally bending a rule while managing never to cross the line. The mustache is new. Anyway, Mutt and Jeff, thinks Frank.
In the beginning, an earnest Frank was polite and cooperative. After an hour of endless questioning, of now being sick to death of explaining, he rests back, giving up.
"You look a little tired, Frank," says the tall, mustachioed Jeff. "You want a glass of water?"
"Water's gonna make me less tired of listening to all this bullshit?" says Frank, who is hostile now, as well s, yes, tired.
"C.mon, Frank," says Mutt. "Be nice."
Frank displays his middle finger.
"And," for the sixth or seventh time he is asked by Jeff, "who are these shadowy characters that can disappear before your very eyes?"
"Like smoke puffs," adds Mutt.
Under control and by rote, Frank replies, "Thugs who work for the people who don't want me to solve Nadia Petrova's murder, and whatever else is connected to it," knowing how incredibly lame it all sounds. Saying it anyway, followed by a gentle: "And fuck you both."
"Ah, yes, once again, the conspiracy theory," says Mutt.
Frank decides he is too tired to crawl across the table to strangle the other, while at the same time realizes if he were in Mutt's shoes he'd probably have the same reaction.
"Look, you dickheads," says Mason, his union rep. "Frank's told it all, up and down and sideways. What the fuck do you want? For the tenth time, guys, the crime scene boys found evidence of forced entry on the kitchen door. And Frank's got no history of reckless discharge of his weapon."
"Except for reckless working over the victim—."
"He didn't shoot the sleazy pedophile, he beat him. Like you would've. Years ago. Because the prick set him up to be murdered."
"And Frank lost control," says Mutt. "And it's strange, isn't it, how the same vic turns up dead years later with a slug in his head from the sergeants'—his father's gun? With nobody's prints on it but Frank's?"
"That's been explained ten times over. These intruders are pros. They replaced the piece with a rock."
"Yeah, crept into the house like two spooky ghosts—how many times?" asks Jeff. "And placed that rock?"
The two I.A.s look at each other, then at the rep, smiling, as if he has just told them a charming children's fantasy. But it's an act, forced, having connected every dot but one, trying to save face because they have come up with zero. Though Jeff, just because he can, lands once again on the single unknowable dot, telling Frank: "So still, nobody really knows where you were, and you haven't produced a witness for your whereabouts at the time of the murder," saying this with squeezed out pleasure as if hoping, if Frank were innocent, which he was, he may never be able to prove it, a fact which may stain Frank.
"You don't have squat," says Mason, telling the truth, glancing at a sleepy Frank with satisfaction, then back to them with, "No matter how you try to paint him, Sergeant Driscoll's clean."
"So's a toilet when you spray it," says Jeff, causing a look of open-mouthed shock on the face his partner, a resonant "Hey!" from Mason, and Frank's remarkable gravity-defying lunge across the table ending in four wild swings, two connecting, the important one landing squarely in the center of Jeff's face. Both men flop to the floor, Jeff on his back, Frank on top.
Pulled away to standing, not giving a crap, Frank smiles with delight as he sees the blood from Jeff's nose saturating his dumb mustache.
He leaves the room utterly composed.
* * *
No surprise to Frank, his friend Cannella perseveres and locates the bartender on Cape Cod. The man says he knows Frank and supports his alibi and says he will swear to it. Also, no surprise to Frank, the firing of his weapon is somehow leaked by unknown, decidedly unfriendly, parties, but only the New York Post gives it a minor mention. When questioned, while failing to mention that Frank was discovered naked outside his apartment, the female Department P.R., under the editorial direction of Chief Hawkes, stated that Sergeant Driscoll had simply been the victim of a home invasion. Though the intruder escaped, she said with an ironic smile, he'll probably check twice to make sure he's not breaking into the home of an experienced police officer like Sergeant Driscoll. Vague, satisfying, if short of all the facts.
* * *
Psyche Services interrogates him and then he his handed over to a consultant shrink. At first a pleasant chat about everything short of the weather, but including his family, before the shrink says to him, "On top of discharging your weapon, you really lost it with the fellow from Internal Affairs, didn't you."
"Not at all," says Frank smoothly, having decided to not make excuses, to not fudge a story, to not use foul language; and while he is totally pissed he does not show it, his anger now rigidly governed by the force of his will to not self-destruct. He speaks as he would in a courtroom setting, giving testimony, relaxed. "I knew exactly what I was doing. I tried to hurt him, not kill him, which in my estimation was not excessive, considering he referred to me as a toilet."
"Why do you think he did that?"
"You'll have ask him about his motives. I don't know. We knew each other from years ago, and we didn't like each other. But that's long past. And the other day he was in a responsible position, representing the authority of the NYPD. When examining someone, it's not unusual to reasonably provoke the subject, but Jeff Burns, for whatever reason, seriously crossed the line. He has the problem. Not me. There were two witnesses to this man's behavior, one of them his partner. And both of them thought I was justified." Having said this, he suddenly comes to the conclusion, Jeff Burns is moonlighting for someone on Oleg Davidenko's payroll; that he, Frank, had been set up.
"You've got my history," he goes on. "Yes, back in the seventies when crime was rampant and every cop was stressed, I beat up a man who tried to have me murdered. That's thirty years ago. The rest 'til now is by the book with several favorable citations. Regarding my discharging two rounds the other night. My explanation, which you're now familiar with, though unusual, has been accepted by my superiors."
"No doubt they want to support a fellow officer," the doctor says. "I understand you sometimes stray, pursue things on your own, go round the rules a bit."
"I'm sometimes more determined than others," Frank replies, wondering who the prick is, the good doctor is quoting. "I care about the victims. Putting bad guys away is important." He wonders about enemies.
And it goes on:
Gently he is asked, does he want to reform the world? He doesn't laugh. He says he's not that unrealistic, while thinking to himself, it's not a bad idea. Maybe he's a little too dedicated, he admits. Or is there more compulsion than dedication involved in his methods, the doctor wonders? To which Frank replies rather sensibly that he can't see the difference, if one feels compelled to do what's right. Mmm, murmurs the doctor as he then wonders if Frank might have a perfectionist personality, which exhausts him? Probably, Frank thinks, if you go in for this Freudian bullshit. But no, he says, he just believes in getting things right while not saying, when everyone else has his head up his ass. Though he does admit he's a little tired. Well, does he occasionally sense he has an overblown notion of his own powers? He laughs this time and admits the opposite, that he occasionally senses he's feeling a little ineffectual; careful not to add he'd have to be fucking superman to be more effective, and that if the doc, or any other official, knew just how angry he really is they'd have him chained to the wall.
* * *