The Extortionist

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The subway has an odor distinctly different from death, which stinks. The Metro smells of electricity and diesel and is noisy as rolling thunder.

Death is quiet. Usually, death smells of urine because the bladder muscles relax. Sometimes it smells like shit, depending on whether or not the person used the toilet recently or got gut shot which can spill feces out the wound.

We see both the Metro and death daily, but we don’t play good cop, bad cop, Rico and me. Rico outweighs me by a hundred easy. How he passes his physical every year is beyond me. “I want to be the skinny cop for a change,” he says as we wait outside a turnstile beneath Kings Highway, the Brighton Beach area. Yesterday we worked Bed-Stuy, tomorrow Coney Island, but we never work Manhattan because we’re Brooklyn cops and, like the man said, there’s nobody livin’ what knows Brooklyn t’roo an’ t’roo.

Other side of the entrance where we cannot see them and they cannot see us, we hear a woman’s voice say, “Let me come through with you and save two dollars.” The couple pops out the other side of the silver lacey fingers of the tollgate with smiles on their faces that turn to surprise, fright, then anger and perhaps disgust as we introduce ourselves.

“Pardon me,” I say as the two walk right into us. “We’re New York police officers and we want to talk to you about jumping the turnstile.”

Which is an anachronism if ever I heard one, like calling a music store a record store when there are no records inside. Besides, you can’t jump this type anymore because they’re up to the ceiling. But you can double up and walk through which is what this duo did.

The girl, a not bad looking blonde, says, “You’re kidding, right?” She was the one to react, not her partner who simply stood where we put him, mouth shut. But the blonde. Sheesh.

I have to admit we did not look the part: Rico in short sleeve Hawaiian shirt and khaki shorts resembles Bill Clinton jogging, the pasty white skin of his legs sticking out. Me in jeans and work shirt. It’s hot and humid underground, they didn’t dig the tunnels deep enough to keep naturally cool, and the only reason I’m not dripping is we been waiting on the passenger platform for just this type of fare fraud. Rico goes, “Would you step over here with us? Right, up against this wall here. Don’t move.”

The blonde makes like she might run. I stand in the way of where she has to go since she is not about to drop to the tracks and try and leap the third rail and they just came in an exit on this side which means she only has one way to escape and would bump into me if she tried anything. She didn’t, but she wouldn’t shut up, either.

She says, “This is a joke, right?” Then she sees the badges we pull out that hang around our necks under the shirts and goes all Florence Nightingale on us. “It’s my fault, not his. Come on. I’m the one who came through with him, so why don’t you let him go? I’ll take full responsibility.”

Rico was ready with his hand inside his pouch where he keeps his Smith & Wesson semiautomatic Military and Police Pistol. Me, I like the two inch barrel M & P .38 revolver. Easier to conceal, easier to retrieve.

Rico says, “We’re writing you up, but I have two questions you must answer truthfully. First, have you ever received a citation for beating a fare?”

They say, “No,” in unison.

“Second, have either of you any outstanding warrants?”


I have my pad out and am telling the blonde to produce identification, ask if this is her current address, the essentials. A train on a really bad track joint comes into the station as she answers. Her voice rises, then the train halts and silence ensues, but she’s still talking and I say, “Why are you shouting?”

That shuts her up. I write slowly, deliberately, on a Transit Adjudication Bureau notice of violation and hearing form. She gives me her phone number, her social security number, I check the first box, “Entered without payment,” a violation of Section 21, 4(a) explaining in writing, “Doubled up w/ another at Kings Highway station avoiding legal payment of fare in the NYC subway.” That’ll cost $60 each to beat a two dollar fare. I check that box and explain she can appear in person to contest the citation or mail a check. “You have thirty days to take care of it. Otherwise, a warrant for your arrest will be issued.”

I haven’t been paying attention to Rico who’s on the walkie talkie, something about nearest officers respond.

I ask the man who has stood tight lipped throughout for his ID, begin filling out the form, when Rico says to me, “Got a ten seventy-one upstairs. We gotta go.”

That means I quit what I’m doing immediately, but I’m only half way through with this guy’s tag, so I tell him, “Wait here until I get back. Unnerstand?” Guy nods, I pocket his ID just in case and tell the girl, “You’re free to go. He isn’t.”

Rico and I pull out all the stops and run toward the exit side of the platform. It’s hot and we’re running and the humidity is near ninety percent so naturally I’m breaking out in sweat when we pound our way up the steps, must a been forty of them, taking them two at a time until we’re outside in Little Odessa and in broad daylight on the sidewalk looking for an address dispatch gave Rico.

The area was once very Jewish. Now it’s ethnic Russian and every store, shop and seamstress is a study in Cyrillic.

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