Routine Car Stop
Officers Nebsky and Hallahan retrieved the money during a routine car stop, down Ocean Parkway coming off the Belt, heading west towards Coney Island. The car had been going 70 miles per hour at the end of the avenue, running three red lights. They had been nearly off-duty—they were already on their way back to the precinct—Officer Hallahan had never been in this situation before, and he did what Officer Nebsky told him. The money was in a black garbage bag in the trunk of the car. The driver, a lean man about 6 foot one, 6 foot two, from what they could estimate when he folded out of the car, was cool and collected, even when they asked to see license and registration, even when they asked if he minded if they took a look in his trunk. His name was Paulson Denihew, and he was, in fact, 6 foot four, according to his license. While Officer Nebsky ran Denihew’s license back in their squad car, Denihew asked Officer Hallahan if he might take off his suit jacket, though it was winter, the end of a day of cold sun. Officer Hallahan obliged this request, and Denihew carefully removed his jacket, revealing a perfectly pressed white dress shirt underneath it, the pearly textured kind that Officer Hallahan knew must have cost at least 400 or 500 dollars—he had uncles who worked on Wall Street. Denihew folded the jacket over his wrist and he and Officer Hallahan waited for Officer Nebsky.
If Officer Hallahan had to estimate, he’d think that there must have been 200,000 dollars in the garbage bag. The man Denihew didn’t ask any questions, and when Officer Nebsky didn’t return the bag, he got in his car and continued on his way. Officer Hallahan watched him run a yellow light on Neptune Avenue. The money was wrapped first in Ziploc bags and then a clear plastic one like maybe you put leaves in on an autumn afternoon; and then the garbage bag, angry and drab.
While Officer Nebsky drove them back to the precinct on West 8th and Surf Avenue, Officer Hallahan felt the bag’s presence there in the backseat, looming, behind the rattling cage.
At the precinct Officer Hallahan took a secondary role again, as they went through first one door and then another, into a basement painted with cold white walls. Officer Nebsky had nine more years experience than Officer Hallahan. He’d signed up for the force not long after 9-11, while his brothers had done the Marines. Both had come back. Officer Hallahan had met one, who worked in a hardware store on Ave U. Officer Hallahan and Officer Nebsky sat in the rec room briefly, and when Officer Hallahan asked if they might leave, Officer Nebsky shook his head. Eventually they were called into the lieutenant’s office, wide desk and pictures of his first wife, where the lieutenant had been sitting with a haggard portly suited man. The bag of money was on the far side of the table. The lieutenant pushed it towards Officer Nebsky, with a piece of paper and a scrawled address. As the bag made the journey across the desk, a curled corner of it tipped over one of the small plastic picture frames.
In the squad car, Officer Hallahan looked at the address, somewhere he wasn’t familiar with in Marine Park. He pulled up the GPS on their dashboard, and started to plug in the numbers 14—17—, but Officer Nebsky noticed and pulled the machine out of his hand. He placed it carefully back on the dashboard, on top of the suction cup holder. I know the place, Officer Nebsky said.
They drove down Ocean Avenue to the water, where there was a small roundabout surrounded by condo towers. Officer Hallahan remembered going to the beach here when he was younger, piling out of the car and dragging coolers onto the sand, the lazy depression of a slightly windy day. Now there were volleyball courts, and still the old immigrants sitting in plastic beach chairs, looking at the winter concrete. Officer Hallahan turned to Officer Nebsky. Yes, Nebsky asked? Officer Hallahan wasn’t sure what to say.
Eventually, the squad car pulled out from the dead end by the beach, and Officer Nebsky turned onto Brighton Beach Avenue, under the tracks of the Q. They crept slowly here, because there was hardly enough room for two-way traffic between the green columns supporting the subway tracks. It was dark, shadows filtering down through the rails above. When trains went by, everything else stopped. Pedestrians slunk into stores off the sidewalk, Russian grocery stores that in the summer served fruit and strange kinds of pastries, the bags of which could be found scattered around the sand in the evenings. Officer Hallahan, even with a gun at his side, snug against his seat, was glad when the Q tracks diverged north towards the lettered avenues. They continued parallel to the water.
There were other sites, which Officer Hallahan kept track of through the window while his partner drove. It wasn’t a high-crime area. The lonely apartment complexes approaching Sheepshead Bay had been dens, briefly, of prostitution. Officer Hallahan had been on a few busts—women coming to the door with coat, jacket and scarf already on, ready to be led into the night. The movie theater, a sometime-beat on weekend nights for Officers Nebsky and Hallahan, for little things mostly like minor scuffles, or teenagers trying to push their way into the main entrance—once they were in, no tickets were checked. Down Knapp Street there was a baseball field where, one afternoon, the officers
had broken up a knife fight between two twelve-year-olds, small and glaring, blood on one of their wrists, their parents half a block away, stoned on their front stoops. The officers took them all to the precinct. The Key Food, right on the corner of the park, had been robbed at gunpoint a few years back and Officers Nebsky and Hallahan had gotten there just too late to engage in the high speed chase, down Avenue U and onto the highway, which ended in the pursued being captured in New Jersey, by state troopers there. Officers Nebsky and Hallahan drove by a particular house, on Fillmore and Gerritsen Avenue, where they’d been called in along with an ambulance, for a man who had killed himself in the bathroom, but lay there for a couple of days before anyone knew.
Then they arrived at the address, not far from the park, where not the train tracks but the mutant trees covered the street and everywhere around them by this time was darkness. Officer Nebsky parked the car, doubleparked it, and he and Officer Hallahan got out. Officer Nebsky carrying the garbage bag like an offering. There was a smell coming from the house, as they stood at the door waiting, like dust or soil or food that has sat too long, emptied flowerpots in the middle of the floor. There were sounds as something approached them, and the door opened slowly and then quickly, and a shadow blocked the entrance as Officer Hallahan sucked in breath and muttered, Good God.
Many years before it would become appropriate, Hallahan had been cognizant of his own death, he felt it coming. He preferred the company of others, crowded streets. Years early, before his peers began worrying about nursing homes, gunshot wounds, the light slowly setting, faded windowpanes into upsetting rooms, he had a picture of it all in his head, the advent of his mortality. Some moments he was able to forget it, but it always returned. It came to him that way, slowly and then quickly, the way a door in an old house might open.