Behind every skyline there are neighborhoods, relationships, people, and stories …
By Dave Jackson
CINDY KAPLAN PULLED THE UNMARKED CRUISER into the lot behind Chicago Police Headquarters and found a parking space. She left the engine running, the whine of the air conditioner cycling on and off to beat the summer’s heat. Still, sweat glistened on the bald head of the older black man sitting beside her. In the four years they’d been the salt-and-pepper duo in the elite anti-gang unit, she’d seen the frown lines between his eyebrows deepen into permanent grooves. They’d watched each other’s back, covered for one another on little things, and saved each other’s life more than once, but now she was afraid she was losing him.
“Harry,” she sighed, brushing back the shock of straight, ash brown hair that fell perpetually over her right eye, “you know you don’t have to do this. What’s to be gained? Really … think about it. Even if you make your case against Fagan, your career’s over the moment anyone finds out you blew the whistle.”
She saw him glance at her out of the corners of his eyes, then he sighed. “Cindy … in all the time we’ve ridden together, when was the last time I backed down over somethin’ like this?”
She shrugged. “Well, when was the last time we ever faced something like this? I know you’re a straight-up guy, but this is different. Different than anything we ever faced before. Fagan’s popped guys for less.”
“Oh, come on.” He tugged at the vest under his shirt that always seemed to too tight in hot weather. “Don’t inflate on me now, partner. We don’t know that for sure ’bout Fagan.”
“Maybe not, but we’ve heard it more than once. Why take the chance? I mean, given what we’ve actually seen Fagan do, why wouldn’t he smoke you if you tanked his little racket?”
She watched the big man lean forward again, cradling his head in his large hands, his elbows on his knees, face inches from the air conditioning duct in the cruiser’s dash. She could imagine him sitting like that in his little apartment for hours struggling over what to do, and she knew if she talked him out of it now, she might save his life but crush the self-respect he had rebuilt.
When he leaned back again, he stared straight ahead. “Look, Cindy. I’m goin’ on up in there to make my report like I said. I’m a lot of things, but I ain’t no quitter. What Fagan and his crew been doin’ ain’t right, and someone’s gotta shut him down. You young. You got your whole career ’heada you, and I wouldn’t be s’pectin’ you to put that on the line. But me? It don’t matter what happen to me no more. This is just somethin’ I gotta do. Know what I’m sayin’?”
He turned and looked at her, dark eyes glistening. She could tell his emotions were churning when his speech got “a little homey,” as he called it. She broke eye contact, not wanting to embarrass him.
“Don’t worry ’bout it,” he added, his voice growing husky. “No way am I gonna drag you into this. I’ll make sure of that.”
“Harry, that’s not what I’m saying. It’s you I’m concerned about.”
“I know, and I ’preciate it. But I gotta do it. No way ’round it.”
She heard the door click open. He turned once more and gave her a little mock salute, grinning like a school boy. “See you. I shouldn’t be too long.” Then he stepped out of the cruiser and headed for the Office of Professional Standards.
“DETECTIVE BENTLEY, please sit down.”
It was a warmly decorated conference room, not a police interrogation cell like so many in which Harry had spent hours questioning suspects. But as he took his seat on the other side of the polished mahogany table from the three “suits,” he felt like he was as much on the grill as any perp.
“I understand from this report, that you feel there’s been a few problems in your Special Operations Section.”
“That’s what it says. But …” Harry looked back and forth at the three of them. “Perhaps you gentlemen would be so kind as to let me know just who I’m speaking with before we dig in too deep.”
“Of course. I’m Captain Roger Gilson, chief investigator for the IPRA. And”—motioning to the man to his right—“this is my assistant, Carl Handley.” He turned to his left. “Bill Frazer sits in on these hearings as counsel for the city. And that little tape recorder between us is here in place of hiring another court recorder… Tight budget, you know.”
Harry Bentley slid his chair in a little closer. “You did say this was the IPRA, the Independent”—he emphasized the word as he raised one eyebrow—“Police Review Authority, right? Even though two of you are from the department and Frazier, here, represents the city?”
“Entirely independent.” Gilson waved both hands over the table like an umpire signaling safe. “We have no contact with any of the line officers, completely insulated. And we take orders from no one, not even the mayor’s office.”
Harry rolled his eyes … not in Chicago, but he took a deep breath and plunged on. “As you can see from my report, I’ve been in the SOS for six years. At first we were doing a lot of good putting away dope pushers and gangbangers. And there are still good men and women in the unit, don’t get me wrong. But it’s been taken over by rogues, particularly …” Harry took a deep breath. “Particularly Matty Fagan.”
“What do you mean, ‘taken over’? This Fagan, he’s your boss, isn’t he?”
“Yeah, Lieutenant Matthew Fagan. Irish, you know. Likes to be called Matty. But … well, if you read my report, it details three raids where we had no warrants but broke into citizens’ homes anyway. On two of those occasions we found large quantities of drugs, cash, and weapons. We confiscated them all but did not make any arrests—probably couldn’t have made them stick without warrants. But a short time later, all that contraband disappeared, back onto the streets. Then—”
“Mr. Bentley,” interrupted Frazier, the lawyer, “you lost me there for a minute. How do you know this money and dope and guns ended up back on the street?”
Harry rubbed his hand across his smooth head. “I don’t have any proof about the drugs, but they did disappear. And I’m sure the money went into the pockets of a few members of the unit, because they talked about it—”
“Wait, they talked about it? And you think they’ll admit to that?” Frazier snorted.
“Course not. But the guns … now there I have evidence. I recorded the serial numbers from those guns, and three weeks later I pulled one off a perp. The number matched! It’s even in my arrest report.”
The three investigators looked at one another. “Harry,” said Captain Gilson, his voice confidential, “would you consider any of the men in your unit your enemies? Any racial problems going on?”
Harry’s gut clinched. He wasn’t about to dignify that one with a direct answer. “Captain, look at my report again. We had no warrant for the third incident, either. Didn’t find any drugs or weapons. But we did find $6,420 in a Ziploc bag in the back of an old woman’s freezing compartment. Fagan walked out of the house with that woman’s money in his pocket. No criminals apprehended. No arrest. Just a raid!”
“Why didn’t you say something at the time?”
“Oh, I did. But Fagan shrugged it off. ‘It’s drug money, Bentley. Those gangbangers do it all the time—stash their cash with grandma, auntie, or their girlfriend, wherever they think we won’t look. Well, we looked and finders, keepers!’ That’s what Fagan said.”
Gilson leaned toward his assistant and mumbled out of the side of his mouth, “Fagan’s probably right.”
Harry heard him. “You think so?” Intensity furrowed his brow even deeper as he hunched forward over the table. “You think I don’t know that happens all the time? I’m no rookie. But that’s not what happened this time. I’m tellin’ you, this old woman wasn’t holdin’. Even if she was—whether that was drug money or not—Lieutenant Fagan had no right taking it for himself. This kind of thing happens all the time with him. The guys talk, but on these three occasions—the ones in my report—I was there. I saw it go down. And I’m willing to testify.”
Captain Gilson busied himself flipping through Harry’s report. “Okay, okay, Bentley. Let’s say everything in your report’s accurate—”
“All right.” Gilson held up his hand. “I just want to ask why are you entering a complaint now?” He turned both palms up in a helpless gesture. “A lot of people might consider your unit a service to the community even if it does cut a few corners, know what I mean? They’re happy for an all-out war on the scumbags. But here you are, turning on your own. Why?”
Harry leaned back in the chair. Good question. He had a lot to lose. But he shook his head. “I … I got a kid—or at least I had a kid—who I lost to the streets. I joined the SOS to make a difference … but what do I find? The SOS is at the rotten core of the whole problem. That’s why!”
CINDY WATCHED HARRY BENTLEY push open the glass door of the office building and stride across the parking lot, his tread heavy, head forward. Uh, oh. Didn’t look like it went too well. What would Harry do now that he had made his play?
“Hey, Partner. How’d it go?”
“Eh. Okay, I guess. Let’s roll.”
“Nah, nah, nah. You don’t get by me with that.” She put the cruiser in gear and turned to back out of the parking spot. “Come on. Spill it. What’d they say? They gonna open an investigation?”
“Yeah, but …”
“Yeah, but what? Didn’t they believe you? What happened?”
“They probably believed me, but I’m not so sure how eager they are to bust it open. They’re more worried about the bad press it’ll give the whole department.”
“But they’re gonna do it? Right?”
“They gotta do it since I made a formal report. But …”
“But what? Come on, man, don’t make me pull thread by thread. What happened?”
Cindy watched Harry out of the corner of her eye as she turned into traffic along 35th Street. He leaned back against the headrest. “They want me off the force.”
“Ah, it kinda makes sense. They say if the time comes I have to testify, I’ll be seen as a more independent witness … nothing to gain or lose.”
“So, how’s that gonna happen?”
“Take early retirement. I got twenty years in, so they can put out the word that I was ‘encouraged’ to retire because of … of …” He turned and stared out the side window.
“Because of what?”
“Because of the problems I was havin’.”
“You mean the drinking? But you’re on top of that now! You’ve been in AA for over a year. Everybody knows that.”
“Yeah, I know. They’re just saying it’d be a good cover. No one would suspect me of being the whistle-blower until the hearing. But believe me, Cindy …” He shook his head. “I don’t wanna go out with a cloud hanging over my head either way—for still having a problem or for being a whistle-blower.”
“But Harry, it’s not a bad plan. It might keep you alive, you know. And besides, you’d have your pension. You’re not that old. You could start over, new career, whole new life. It’d be like a second chance. Man, you oughta go for it! And you know I’d come around and check on you from time to time.” She grinned.
Cindy looked over at him. It was a good plan, but she knew the downside. Even if Fagan and his gang got sent up river, Harry had broken the blue code of silence. Once it got out that he was the whistle-blower, there wouldn’t be a precinct in the whole city where he could go in and get a cup of coffee.
EIGHT MONTHS, AND HARRY STILL HAD TO THINK TWICE before automatically strapping on his Glock when he got out of bed each morning. But he was beginning to adjust to his new job as doorman for Richmond Towers, an upscale high-rise on Chicago’s lakefront. Occasionally he could read on the job, and now that he had landed the day shift, he could relax and get other stuff done in the evenings. “Copacetic” is what his old grandmama would have called it—with just enough “characters” around to stave off boredom.
Like now. He watched through the rain-streaked floor-to-ceiling windows as a hunched figure dragged something toward the door. A second figure emerged out of the mist, limping along behind. Harry stepped quickly around his chest-high desk to confront them both just as they came inside the revolving door.
“Hey! Get that rickety cart outta here,” he barked at the homeless derelict hauling all her worldly possessions. “You can’t come in here. Residents only!”
But the person behind the frizzle-haired woman looked slightly familiar—late-thirties, attractive, in spite of the dripping ringlets hanging down around her face. She grimaced and waggled her fingers toward him in a tentative wave. “Uh, she’s with me, Mr. Bentley … I’m Mrs. Fairbanks.”
Fairbanks? Harry looked more closely. “Fairbanks? Penthouse?” He nodded toward the old woman, frowning as deeply as ever. “Whatchu doin’ with this old bag lady?” Then he noticed a bloody rag around the younger woman’s bare foot. “Are you all right, ma’am? What happened to your foot?”
“It’s all right, Mr. Bentley. I, uh, we just need to get up to the, uh, apartment and get into some dry clothes.” She smiled and flipped up her ID card with a ta da flourish, then swiped it through the scanner that opened the glass security door leading to the elevators.
Harry walked back around his crescent-shaped desk and settled onto his high-backed stool. Some of these rich people were a piece of work. He could keep the riffraff out of any place, but making nice to the residents at the same time could get complicated. Like the kid on twenty-two who kept bringing in his punk friends, smelling of dope and banging their skateboards against the walls. Harry raked his knuckles over the wiry gray horseshoe beard that ran along his jaw line and wished the management would create clearer guidelines.
The house phone rang, and he picked up the black receiver. “Richmond Towers. Can I help you?”
“Is this Harold Josiah Bentley?”
He hesitated. “Who’s askin’?”
“My name’s Leslie Stuart, and I’m calling from the Department of Children and Family Services. I need you to verify whether I’m speaking to Harold Josiah Bentley.”
“I’m Bentley. But did you say DCFS? I don’t have any kids.” He pulled the receiver away from his ear and frowned at it, the grooves in his forehead growing deeper. “How’d you get this number, anyway?”
The woman was quiet for a moment. “Do you have a son named Rodney?”
Rodney! Harry stiffened. It had been years. What had Rodney done now? Hearing someone coming through the revolving door, Harry swung around on his stool and lowered his voice. “Look, can’t talk now. Got people here. Besides, this phone’s supposed to be for internal use only. No personal calls.” He slammed down the receiver and stood up with a placid smile on his face.
“Oh, Mr. Bentley, I’m so glad you’re here,” said a white-haired woman. She was probably the same age as Harry, but he thought of her as much older. “I forgot my cash. Could you run out and pay the cabby for me? I’ll take care of you later.”
Knowing he hadn’t been “cared for” since the last time, Harry still smiled broadly and said, “Happy to, Mrs. Worthington. How much does he need?”
“Oh, I think it was fifteen-something. But be sure to give him a dollar tip. You know, Mr. Bentley, I want to thank you so much. That kid who works here on the weekends when you’re gone would never be so nice.”
Harry went out and tossed a twenty through the window of the cab and came back in before his shiny dome could catch too many raindrops. The phone was already ringing again. He reached over his counter and picked it up more slowly this time. “Richmond Towers …” He emphasized the name. “Can I help you?”
“Mr. Bentley, I do need to speak to you today. If this phone’s not good, do you have another number where I could reach you?”
“Yes, but I’m on duty right now. Can’t this wait? Couldn’t you call me some other time … like on Saturday? I’m off Saturday.”
“I’d rather not work on Saturday if I don’t have to, Mr. Bentley. Look, we need to talk ASAP, so can’t we just do it now?”
Harry blew through pursed lips and gave her his cell number. Within a minute his Law and Order ring tone sounded.
“Now, Mr. Bentley, if you would just confirm your birth date for me, we can—”
“Wait a minute. Before I confirm anything, what’s this about?”
There was a deep sigh on the other end of the line. “It’s about your son, Rodney. With him not making bail, he’s likely to be in Cook County for—”
“What’d he do?”
“Well … for now he’s pled innocent, so his case will take at least six months. In fact, it could be a couple years before he’s sentenced. And who knows what after that. So we’ve gotta place your grandson in foster—”
“Grandson? What grandson?”
“Rodney’s nine-year-old, DaShawn … You do know about DaShawn, don’t you?”
Harry’s shoulders slumped. Rodney had a kid? “Uh, I kinda lost touch with Rodney some time ago.”
“Listen, Mr. Bentley, I do need you to confirm your date of birth before we continue. Confidentiality, you understand. Wouldn’t want to be discussing these matters with the wrong person. So when were you born?”
Harry Bentley swiveled around on his stool so that his back was to the revolving door. He sighed again. Dealing with Rodney always meant drama. “February 23, 1948. When did he have a baby?”
“February 23, 1948? Okaaay”—she dragged out the word as though she were writing down the date—“and you are Harold Josiah Bentley, right?”
“Yes, yes, and I was born on the south side and served as one of Chicago’s finest for twenty years. You wanna do a background check on me?” He cringed as soon as he’d said it. He didn’t need anyone plowing through his past, turning up the supposed reason he’d been encouraged to retire from the force.
“A background check won’t be necessary at this time, Mr. Bentley, but if you could come down to DCFS tomorrow, we’d like to talk about the possibility of you taking the boy.”
“Wait a minute. Wait a minute. What about the mama? Why don’t she take the kid—hold on. I got a call on the other line.” He laid down the cell and spun around to pick up the house phone even though his cell continued to emit the tinny scratch of Ms. Stuart’s voice as it lay there on the desk.
“Yes.” At least this call was an internal one.
“Uh, it’s, uh, Mrs. Fairbanks. Top floor. Do you know the whereabouts of a homeless shelter for women in the area?”
Harry chuckled to himself. The “pet” she’d brought home wasn’t working out so well. “Yeah, I think there’s one just a couple blocks from the Sheridan El stop.”
“Is that nearby?”
Harry began to give directions when Mrs. Fairbanks cut in again. “I’m lost. Could you just call a cab for my, uh, friend? We’ll be down in a few.”
Harry hung up and glanced at his cell. He was tempted to close and forget it, but he picked it up. “You still there?”
“Hang on. There’s somethin’ else I gotta do.”
He laid it back down and called the cab.
Finally, he picked the cell up. “Okay, Ms. Stuart, now … Oh, yeah. Why isn’t that boy with his mother?”
“She’s in rehab. Crack. So, can you come down?”
Harry rested his elbows on the counter, head in hands. “Ms. Stuart, I’m not off until Saturday—”
“Then Saturday’ll have to do. I’ll come in on my day off. You be here—100 West Randolph—at 10 A.M. and give the security my name, Leslie Stuart.”
She hung up before Harry could object. He slapped the desk. He’d left himself wide open for that one, mentioning he’d be off Saturday. Maybe he shouldn’t show up … but he knew he would.
In a few moments, Mrs. Fairbanks came down with the bag lady in tow and handed him a ten to put the old woman in the waiting cab.
THAT SATURDAY, THE BRISK and business-like Leslie Stuart—pale eyes, long, straight dishwater blond hair tucked behind one ear—asked a lot of questions: Yes, he had a pension from the police department, and he also worked full time. No, he wasn’t married. His ex—her name was Willa Mae—left him ten years ago because of the pressures of being a detective. No, he didn’t know where she was or whether she had gone back to using her maiden name of Taylor. And Harry didn’t offer the information that back then he’d also had a little trouble with the bottle because all that was behind him now … at least as long as he attended an occasional meeting. His apartment was small, but, yes, there was a second bedroom. No it wasn’t empty; it was his den and gonna stay that way!
“Listen, Ms. Stuart, I haven’t agreed to take this kid, so I don’t know why you’re asking all these questions.”
“I’m asking all these questions so I can know whether we even want to consider you for custody of your grandson. Our first goal in a situation like this is always relative foster care. But I need to know whether you qualify.”
Qualify? Why wouldn’t he qualify? But then he felt a stab in his gut: He hadn’t been there for Rodney, and now his son was in jail.
Ms. Stuart wanted to schedule a home visit.
“A home visit?”
Somehow, Harry managed to get out of her office without making any commitments, but the persistent Ms. Stuart wouldn’t let him alone. She called every other day and finally said she would be by to see him on Saturday.
“It’ll be a waste of your time. I won’t be home!”
“Listen, Harry, DaShawn’s got promise. He’s a good student. Don’t lose him in the system.”
“Yeah, and whose system is that?”
“See you Saturday, Harry.”
“Don’t think so.”
But on the off chance she’d show up anyway, he decided not to be there. He did his grocery shopping at Dominick’s down the street from Richmond Towers and went around back where his nephew worked stock, wasting as much of his time as he dared. Then he drove up to Evanston to check on his elderly mother—boy, he already had a “social work” job with her. He’d have to find more support soon, maybe a retirement home.
Still killing time, he decided to drive down to the south side. At the very least he ought to visit Rodney at Cook County. Online he’d discovered Rodney was in Division 9, but the charges against him were not listed, just that he had been denied bail. Denied bail? The social worker had only suggested that he hadn’t been able to make bail, but if he had been denied, his offense—or charge, Harry reminded himself, since he hadn’t been convicted yet—must’ve been pretty serious. Where had he failed in raising that kid?
Harry hated this kind of drama. He stood stiffly in line at the jail along with all the wives and mothers and girlfriends and children who’d come to visit inmates. Not many visitors looked like fathers. No wonder most of the children in the room were completely out of control. What was the chance Rodney’s boy “had promise” coming from a home with a crack addict for a mom and a con for a father? Maybe Stuart had just been selling him on taking the boy to make her own job easier with a quick placement.
The overweight deputy behind the window clicked through the computer screen when Harry told him who he wanted to see. “He doesn’t have anyone on his visitor list,” the man said without looking up.
“Yeah, yeah … visitor list! I know the routine. But I’m his father.”
“Sorry. If he didn’t list you, he doesn’t want to see you.”
“He didn’t know I was coming. Look.” Harry pulled out his membership card for the Retired Chicago Police Association and pushed it through the opening to join his driver’s license he’d already submitted. “I’m CPD, retired. Can’t you just call him down here?”
The deputy shoved the cards back without even looking at them. “I’ll put in the call, but he don’t have to come down. Step into the room to your right. Put all your personal items, including your belt, in a locker and wait until your name is called.”
Harry waited for three hours while groups of about a dozen people at a time were buzzed through the heavy steel door into the next room for visitation. When his name was not among the last batch, he headed for home.
Before he knew it, he was pulling in behind his apartment building with no memory of the drive. It was as if he’d been totally drunk, blacked out. But his mind had been busy reviewing his own life as a father—him working too many hours, coming home wound tighter than a guitar string … when he managed to come home at all, so determined his kid wouldn’t end up on the street that he often came down too hard. Not a good scene! He swallowed hard as he got out of his black and silver RAV4 and wiped his eyes, looking around to be sure no one noticed.
Well, what’s done was done. You can’t change the past.
Nevertheless, on Monday he wired $100 by Western Union to the commissary account of Bentley, Rodney, jail ID #2006-0008021 at CCDOC, Illinois. Then he wished he hadn’t. It was probably just throwing good money after bad.
© 2013, Dave & Neta Jackson