The memories were swirling through Schrank's mind as he walked down the hall. Right now, encountering anyone else—especially the officers who seemed not to know what to think of him—was the last thing he wanted. He hauled open the back door and managed to get outside without being seen. Sighing, he headed for his and Krupke's squad car. Moments later he sank into the driver's seat, staring off into the distance.
A knock on the window suddenly startled him back into the present. Krupke was leaning down, regarding him in concern. Schrank rolled down the window with a sigh of resignation.
"Lieutenant, are you okay?"
Schrank gestured at the car. "Get in," he said.
Krupke went around and opened the passenger door, easing his big frame into the vehicle. Schrank rolled up the window.
". . . Captain Black wanted to talk to me," Krupke ventured. "He wants to talk to you too."
"I'm sure he does," Schrank grunted.
"He believes you didn't beat up anyone," Krupke hurried to say.
A half-smile of dark amusement crept over Schrank's features. "I figured on that from him, at least," he said.
He pushed his hat back. "You know, it's funny," he mused. "They're spreading rumors around that I'm racist, but that kid Jimmy—he was a Puerto Rican. And he was the one I probably got on the best with out of any of 'em."
Krupke frowned. "And then he left and went back to the gang," he remembered. "Did you feel . . . I don't know, betrayed or something?"
"Betrayed. . . . Yeah, I guess I did." Schrank's features darkened. "I'd looked after him, treated him good, tried to show him a better life. . . . And he acted interested. Then, just out of the blue, he wrote me that letter saying the gang was his family and he was going back to them.
"Carlos Rodriguez left with him. I always figured Carlos'd talked him into it. Carlos never was too interested; he was always gung-ho about the gang and talked about them being family and all that trash."
He shook his head. "I guess if I'm honest, I've gotta admit that I've been pretty angry since then. Maybe sometimes I've taken it out on the PRs. They haven't helped the crime wave any."
"And this thing with Jimmy just makes it worse," Krupke added in understanding.
Schrank fell silent in agreement. ". . . People have said I'm racist before," he mused. "And if I get right down to it, I'm not sure what I am. Maybe I'm ticked off at the PRs. But I don't feel much better when it comes to any of the other groups, either. Everybody who moves in has some kids who want to get in on American society—and they think that street gangs are a part of that, so they make a new gang and the problem gets worse. Now I'm just sick of anyone moving in, no matter who they are. If that's racism, I'm guilty as charged."
Krupke hesitated. "You're not racist," he said at last. "You're just . . . I don't know. . . . You've seen too much stuff most people never have to see." Slowly, he reached and laid a hand on Schrank's shoulder. The other man gave a violent start. Krupke jerked his hand back.
"I'm sorry," he stammered. "I didn't mean . . ."
"I'm just not used to that, from anybody," Schrank said. He hesitated a long moment. "You're fine." He glanced to his longtime partner. "Thanks. It's good to know I've got two friends on the force, anyway."
Krupke perked up. "Three," he said. "Officer Keaton was standing up for you too."
Schrank slowly nodded. ". . . Did the Captain want to see me right away?"
"He's talking to Ann right now," Krupke said. "So maybe after that. . . ."
"That could take a while." Schrank reached for the seatbelt. "Come on. We're due on the beat."
Krupke pulled down his own seatbelt. It was good to see Lieutenant Schrank a bit less discouraged, anyway.
Patrol did not go as well as they had hoped. The street gangs were out and about, causing their usual commotion of painting walls with graffiti and roughhousing with each other. Schrank and Krupke were forced to break up two of the gangs. And as usual the kids clammed up, refusing to speak of either their battles or give any information they might know about the recent burglary ring operating in Manhattan.
The law-abiding citizens were not much more cooperative. The ones with whom the policemen spoke were often close-lipped and filled with suspicions. The uncertain, unfriendly manner in which they stared down Lieutenant Schrank was all too familiar. He had seen many hoodlums give that look to their rivals—and some others had given it to him. If he had to guess, these people had probably heard the rumors about him beating up the Hispanics and were not sure what to make of him. Even Doc seemed colder than in general. But Schrank was not willing to sit back and take it from him.
"Alright, what's the deal?" Schrank demanded, leaning on the counter with his left arm. "I know we ain't bosom buddies, but you don't usually treat me like I've got the plague, either."
Doc stiffened and looked back from where he was cleaning a glass. Business had been slower and sadder since Tony's death. And though he had tried to move on, there were still times when it hit him worse than at other times. Right now was one of those times. In the past it would have been Tony cleaning the glass. And Schrank coming in at this point was reminding him of the last twenty-four hours of Tony's life. Schrank had been there the night before his death, too.
"I'll make it easier for you," Schrank went on while Doc was still searching for his voice. "You heard about me really giving it to a couple of Hispanic thieves. Right?"
Doc set the glass down, hard. "Yes," he admitted. "I heard that."
"And you believe it?" Schrank persisted.
Doc sighed, suddenly looking so tired. "I don't know," he said in all honesty. "I've never seen you attack anyone physically. I don't want to think you'd do it. But I can't say what you'd be capable of."
Schrank looked into Doc's eyes, his brown gaze insistent and unapologetic. "I didn't do it," he said. "Do you believe me?"
Doc looked away. "I believe you," he consented at last.
Schrank straightened, satisfied. "Good," he said. "I wish everyone else around here believed it too. I've got enough trouble right now without this adding to it."
Doc leaned on the counter, giving a weary nod. The people would believe whatever they wanted, no matter what he or Schrank or anyone else did about it.
"I'm still trying to find out who's spreading this garbage." Schrank reached into a candy bowl at the edge of the counter. "Do you mind?"
Doc glanced up, just briefly. "No," he said with a wave of his hand. "Go ahead."
"Thanks." Schrank took out some sort of chocolate candy and crossed to the door. "I'll see you around."
Doc sighed, watching as Schrank left the shop and headed down the sidewalk to rendezvous with Sergeant Krupke. They spoke for a moment, then walked across the street and split up again.
Doc leaned back. He had never wanted Schrank to die. He had been glad to hear that the embittered police lieutenant was going to live after being shot down by that gang member. But that did not mean he liked Schrank any more than he had before the shooting. Schrank's sharp tongue appalled and astonished him. He had never been sure whether Schrank was racist or not, although Schrank himself had once indicated instead that the long years of trying to deal with the gangs had weakened his temper and his patience.
Had it weakened them so far that he would beat up someone? Doc was not sure of that, either. But one thing Schrank was not, was a liar. When he had looked into Doc's eyes and proclaimed his guiltlessness in the matter, Doc had known it was so.
The rest of the day did not proceed much better. The only positive occurrence was that Captain Black believed Schrank and Krupke were telling the truth. He launched an investigation into locating the others Schrank had once mentored, based on Ann's words that one of them was out to get Schrank. The search turned out to be in vain; none of them could be found.
The next week was more of the same. The rumors continued to spread, cruel in their intensity. Schrank had been short on patience for years, and the longer this went on, the less he had.
Krupke could see how it was tearing him up inside. He snapped, growled, and glowered at the slightest provocation. All of his attempts to find out who had started the rumors were in vain.
At least they had support. The increased number of stories in such a short time period, instead of making the other officers more suspicious, made them all the more certain it was a bunch of fiction. But Schrank was not comforted. "That's what it takes to believe me?" he snarled.
Of course, some of them had indeed believed him from the start, Officer Keaton foremost among them. Keaton lobbied in the neighborhood, insisting that Schrank was not guilty of any of the accusations. Schrank and Krupke were grateful for that, although the good it did was minimal. Some of the people sneered, certain that Keaton was just doing his part to protect a fellow policeman. Some felt he was sincere but probably did not know the truth. Some did not care. The remainder believed him and decided to give Schrank the benefit of a doubt.
The day a battered and bruised Puerto Rican burst into the precinct, pointing at Schrank and screaming that Schrank had threatened and then beaten him, was the last straw.
"It was him!" he yelled, waving his forefinger at the astonished and angry Lieutenant while the others gaped. "He's been telling me for days not to park my car so far into the street. Finally he threatened me and said if I didn't move it he would beat me. Today it was back, but I didn't put it there! When he found it he did just what he said. He beat me!"
Captain Black had come out of his office upon hearing the commotion. "These are serious charges," he frowned. "Do you have any witnesses to prove what you're saying?"
"No witnesses!" the man retorted. "He made sure to do it when no one was there! He probably had my car moved himself so he would have an excuse to beat me!"
Schrank stormed over, his eyes flashing. "Who put you up to this?" he demanded. "I've never seen you before in my life. Somebody must've told you to bust in here throwing accusations around. Who was it?"
"No one!" was the angry response. "You beat me, Lieutenant. Now you're denying it!"
Schrank's tolerance was gone. He reached out, grabbing a handful of the man's shirt before he could be stopped. "Now you listen to me," he said, his voice dangerously low. "Somebody's been telling garbage about me for the past week. I don't know if it's you or if it's someone paying you. But I can tell you here and now that I ain't gonna put up with it. Whatever you're trying to do, you won't get away with it. I'll see to that personally!"
"He's threatening me again!" the man cried.
Captain Black laid a firm hand on Schrank's shoulder. "Let him go, Lieutenant," he said. "Don't make this worse than it already is."
Schrank jerked his hand away from the dirty, torn T-shirt. "I didn't do anything to him," he said through clenched teeth.
There was nothing the police could do but to let the man go. But Captain Black ordered a tail to be put on him. Perhaps he would lead them to whoever had hired him to spread lies, if anyone. Neither Schrank nor Krupke were eligible; if the tail was seen, it had to be someone the man did not know. Two plainclothes detectives were assigned to the task.
"They'll find out what's going on," Krupke tried to console Schrank as they prepared to leave that night.
"Yeah, maybe," Schrank grunted. "Or maybe the guy who hired him will do something smart and stay out of the picture. Maybe that creep doesn't even know who it is."
"I wonder who really did beat him," Krupke frowned. "Those bruises didn't look fake."
"I wouldn't really care if I wasn't being blamed for it," Schrank growled. "He deserved a beating."
Krupke bit his lip. "How's Ann?" he asked, deciding a change of subject might be in order.
"Her hearing's coming up," Schrank said. "I'm supposed to testify at it. And if we can't get this mess cleared first, the D.A. might end up deciding I'm no good as a witness."
Krupke paused. "You don't think that could be the reason it's going on, do you?"
"Huh?" Schrank looked to him with a surprised blink. ". . . I guess it's possible," he conceded. "But Ann said someone was after me when she first showed up."
"Yeah," Krupke said slowly. "That's right." He surveyed his longtime partner. "I'll drive you home," he offered. "I just need to change."
Schrank was further surprised. He opened his mouth, intending to turn him down, but then stopped. Maybe it would be better if he wasn't left to get through the Manhattan traffic on his own tonight.
"Okay," he said. "I'll meet you outside." He headed through the doors, trudging to his car.
The figure stepped out of the shadows without warning, approaching him from the opposite direction. "Lieutenant Schrank, is it?"
Schrank frowned, straightening to look. "Who are you?" he grunted. This was one more delay standing between him and home.
"That doesn't matter as much as what I have to say," was the reply.
Schrank pushed back his hat. "Just what's this all about?" From the guy's smooth tone, Schrank disliked him already.
"I belong to an organization that would be highly beneficial to you, if you were to . . . give us some assistance."
"What are you talking about?" Schrank glared. He had already been suspicious. This was not helping any.
"We have the same feelings on certain very important subjects." The man handed him a pamphlet.
Schrank looked at the front and stiffened. "I know about your group," he said. "The FBI's out to get all of you."
"With your help, we could prevail," said the stranger. Now his excitement was plain.
Schrank regarded him in disgust. "Look, I don't know where you get off thinking we have the same belief system, but you're wrong." He shoved the pamphlet in his pocket. "My problems are with all kinds of people, including your group and others like it. You guys are just as disgusting to me as the street gangs killing themselves off in their rumbles."
The man was genuinely surprised. "But . . . you hate the mongrels too!" he exclaimed.
"I'm sick of everybody moving in," Schrank growled, "but just because they're all making the crime rate go up. And so are you."
The man sputtered. "I . . . I don't understand. How could I have made such a mistake?"
"Maybe because you're listening to rumors instead of checking the source," Schrank retorted.
"But I have checked the source!" he protested. "I've personally heard some of the things you've said through the years!"
"Yeah, but you don't know what was in my head when I said 'em," Schrank said. "And guess what? Now you're under arrest. Trying to solicit a bribe to a policeman. And I know some G-men who are gonna bust their buttons running to talk to you." He grabbed the stunned guy's wrist, snapping the cold metal handcuffs around it and his other. "You've got the right to remain silent."
Getting the creep booked and filling out a report took up more than another hour. And the FBI did indeed come down as soon as they were called. Talking with them ate up the remainder of the second hour. By the time Schrank was actually on the road home, he was not only angry but exhausted.
Apparently some of what had happened tonight had been his own fault. Well, he had always known he was making quite a bad reputation for himself with his angry comments. But if it had not been for the added fuel from the rumors flying around, that nut probably would not have approached him. He supposed he should be grateful; maybe now the FBI would be able to crack down on that group. But overall he was more furious than ever.
Who had started these rumors? And why? Was it connected with what Ann had told him? She had told the same stuff to Captain Black, nothing varying. Maybe whoever was gunning for him was starting out by wrecking what was left of his reputation. It was logical enough. What wasn't logical was why any of those kids he had mentored would be this mad at him. He had been over it and over it and had never hit on a logical explanation.
He looked up at Krupke's voice. They had stopped in front of his apartment building. "Oh. Thanks, Krupke." He started to get out of the car. "You didn't have to wait around like that at the station."
Krupke just shrugged. "Well, I said I'd drive you home," he said.
"Yeah. I'll see you tomorrow, I guess." Schrank stumbled on the sidewalk but righted himself, heading for the door. He pulled it open and walked in, rubbing his eyes. If there was ever a night he needed a drink, it was tonight.
He climbed the stairs, fishing in his pocket for his keys as he came to stand in front of his apartment door. But then he stopped short, staring in disbelief.
Tacked to the door was a note, written with pasted newspaper letters.
This is only the beginning, Lieutenant.
I've ruined your reputation and I'm after your life.
I'll never forgive you. Jimmy's death was your fault.
It was unsigned.
Schrank swore under his breath. Jimmy's death? Of all the things to blame him for, it was Jimmy's death? Jimmy had gone off by his own choice, against Schrank's wishes, and returned to that gang. How was Schrank at fault for that?
He pulled out his phone, calling the precinct.