Baptism by Fire by James Gilletti

Saturday, August 16th, 1952 — 12:45 a.m.

     The room sweltered like a sauna. My temples ached and my throat was bone dry, but I wasn’t about to walk out of there, not until I got what I needed. After four hours of listening to this punk shuck and jive I’d had enough. I leaned across the table and spoke low.
     “It’s over, Sol. We collared your crew tonight and every one of those bums just rolled over on you. Why don’t just you just come clean?”
     “Come clean with what?” he shot back. “I already told you what happened, heavy. I called the orders in and I showed up at Schoenfeld’s with the truck, right? And I told my guys to load up the sofas.”
     Solomon Offerman was a real piece of work. He was a drifter who’d run just about every scam you could think of since he was a teenager. How this goof wound up in Tacoma I’ll never know. Maybe he thought he’d have better luck flying under the radar if he set up shop outside a big city. He was only twenty-five when I busted him, but he looked like he was pushing fifty. I don’t know if he was originally from Brooklyn or if he just used that damn accent to try and sound like a gangster. Either way, it didn’t matter. Everything about the guy was a ruse, right down to the permanent smirk on his chipmunk face.
     “Then what?” I pressed.
     “They started to load the stuff up, right? And then all of a sudden, this chump comes up and he starts gettin’ in my business. He wants to know what vendor we’re with. And I told him, ‘Nelots Imports and Exports. We’ll be wrapped up in a few minutes.’ And then he says to me, ‘You’re not leaving with my furniture.’ So then I said to him, ‘Relax, pal. You’re gonna get what’s comin’ to ya. Just send out an invoice and I’ll cut you a payment later.’ But he wouldn’t back off. So I told him, ‘Listen, jerkoff. You better get in the wind while ya got the chance. Otherwise, when I get through with yas, they’ll have to scrape your face off the pavement with a putty knife!”
     When he ran out of gas, I lit up a Lucky and stared him down. “I’m curious about something you said just now. That import-export vendor. Nelots? How’d you come up with that?”
     “What do you mean, how’d I come up with it? They’re one of my wholesale outlets. What’s it to ya?” he barked.
     “You do know that’s ‘stolen’ spelled backwards, don’t you?”
     “So what?” he snapped. “Police is an anagram for ‘cop lie.’ I don’t see nobody bustin’ your chops for that.”
     “What’d you do with the truck, Sol?” I demanded.
     “I already told yas. It’s in safekeeping,” he squawked.
     “I gotta hand it to you, pal. You picked a one-of-a-kind racket. Most fences go in for jewelry, garments, anything easy to — ”
     “Who says I’m a fence?” he butted in. “That’s a beef-stew word. I’m a broker! I deal in merchandise, right? I arrange the transfer and then I collect a commission. Look. You like movies, riiiiight? You know how Warner Bros. loans out one of their mugs to Metro from time to time? That’s what I do with furniture. You can’t bust me for that!”
     “How come you didn’t get a receipt?”
     The accusation made his pupils implode. “’Cause I was gonna give ’em better than money! Even if I had to promote them on radio or in the Daily Ledger, right? What business turns down a free plug? You know, I had a clockwork operation going. It took me all summer to put the whole thing together, and then you and your roughnecks had to come swoopin’ down like a buncha fuckin’ vultures and screw it all up!”
     The second he started running his mouth, I stood up and gave the two-way mirror a couple quick raps. Five seconds later, Mike Benchley came in.
     “Is that it?” I asked.
     “Yeah, that’s it. What now?” he whined.
     “Right now you’re under arrest for fraud, theft and possession of stolen property with intent to distribute. Now, stand up and put your hands behind your back.”
     Of course he tried to put on a pussycat act like a lot of them do, but he’d already played his last ace.
     “Look, it’s part of the routine. You know who I am. I’m Suave Sol,” Offerman tried to brag before Benchley spun him around and cuffed him.
     “If you have a lawyer, now’s the time to let us know. If not, we’ll send for the public defender.” I turned to leave, but stopped myself in the doorway. “Say, Sol. You like movies, right? In case they ever make one about you, I’ve got the perfect title: King Con. Take this clown downstairs.”
     With an eager “Yes, sir!” and a calm “Let’s go,” Benchley escorted Offerman to his new digs as I headed straight for the water cooler. After gulping my third cup, I glanced at my watch. One a.m. Jesus. Had I really been at it for sixteen hours?
     The squad room was a madhouse that night. The phones rang off the hook and the typewriters clacked away at ninety miles an hour while every cop on duty hauled enough bums in to fill a soup kitchen. On top of that, everybody and their brother was lined up out the door and around the corner waiting to scream their beef in someone’s face.
     You get a shift like that every once in a while. Burglars break into shops, drunks get into fights, and just about every reckless little shit in Pierce County decides to raise some kind of hell. Everything was coming unstuck, and all I wanted was to go home and hit the sack … but my night was just getting started.

James Gilletti is an actor, playwright and voice-over artist. He’s presented work at Creative Colloquy in Olympia and Tacoma since August of 2016. He lives in Lakewood with his wife, Trina.