seaslug

Laissez les bon temps roulez

It was a slow night. Officers David Winters and Brad LeTourneau were driving down Napoleon Ave., on their way back to the Second District station to drop off some paperwork before heading uptown to have a coke or two and check out the girls at some of the college bars.

Although not close friends, Winters and LeTourneau had been in the academy together. Both were in their first year on the job. While still in the academy, on the advice of a veteran officer, they had both contacted the captain of the Second District and had asked to be assigned there.

Both officers had come to be grateful for the advice and were enjoying their first assignment. The Second District was an oval shaped slice of uptown New Orleans with a variety of neighborhoods, both rich and poor. Tulane and Loyola Universities were in the district, as were some of the best bars and clubs. Tipitina's was just down the street from the station and both Winters and LeTourneau had often wandered down to chat idly with the officer working the detail there and listen to whatever band was playing. When working the day shift, Winters would go down to Audubon Park and watch women jog past. He had dated a zookeeper for awhile and sometimes strolled into the zoo to have lunch with her.

Winters and LeTourneau didn't spend all their work hours bar hopping or trying to meet girls. It being their first year on the job they were both eager to make a name for themselves and two man cars were expected to make stats. The Second District wasn't like the Sixth, which it bordered. The Second had zero housing projects to the Sixth's four, but a quick trip to the corner of Leonidas and Green Streets was a guaranteed arrest. Drugs were sold on that corner, stolen cars were driven through that neighborhood, and in a pinch a stupid white boy from Jefferson Parish, just a few blocks away, could often be found with a newly purchased baggie of pot as he made his way down Claiborne Ave. toward the border. A long standing offer at the Second was "one day off for every gun taken off the street." No up and coming rookie hot-shot was above slipping across Louisiana Ave. into the Sixth District to score a quick day off from the Magnolia or St. Thomas projects. Winters and LeTourneau were no exception.

Winters thought back to his first two weeks in the academy. A female sergeant had been teaching spelling and grammar, a necessity given that a college education wasn't necessary to be hired for the New Orleans Police Dept. The sergeant had taken pride in her street upbringing and had regaled them with tales of her adventures and toughness. Winters, an avid reader who's best school subject had always been English, had done well with the spelling and grammar instruction and had clearly demonstrated his grasp of the language. The sergeant, obviously unimpressed with Winter's education, had laughingly said, "I can't wait til you get out on the street." Winters had determined right then that he would show that sergeant what he could do.

Tonight, though, Winters and LeTourneau were more interested in college girls than guns, or stats, or making a name. It was a summer night in New Orleans the likes of which had been written about in a dozen books. It was warm but, without the blazing sun, still comfortable enough to roll the car windows down. The smell of magnolias was in the air and Winters could hear streetcars squealing and grinding on the tracks along the neutral ground as they crossed St. Charles Ave.

"Whoa!"

"What?"

"That car has its back window busted out."

Winters looked over into the right lane of Napoleon Ave. Sure enough, they had just pulled even with a red Cadillac and the little opera window in the back was broken. The occupants, two black men, both looked rigidly straight ahead and did not glance at the police car in the lane next to them. Winters took his foot off the gas and coasted in, behind the Cadi. Almost immediately the Cadillac's right turn signal started flashing.

"204."

"204." The scratchy response of the dispatcher's voice came over the radio.

"We're behind an older red Cadillac, occupied two times, license Zebra Alpha Charlie 1 4 9. The back window is busted out. Can you run it, see if it's stolen?"

"Why don't you just pull it over and find out?" Mike Evans and Mike Moreau in car 202, called Mike & Mike, or sometimes Batman & Robin, had just emerged from the ether and made their presence known.

Winters should have told Mike & Mike to make their way over and assist but their challenge, and the possibility of scoring a stat on a stolen car, had his blood up. The Cadillac made an exaggeratedly slow right turn off Napoleon Ave. and Winters flipped on his red and blue flashers. Immediately the Cadillac sped ahead.

"Fuck! What street are we on!" Different in this, as in everything else, New Orleans' streets were marked by white strips with the street names printed on them, fastened to telephone poles. In many neighborhoods the strips had been pulled down requiring that officers memorize street names and remember at all times where they were.

"I think we're on Camp St."

"Alright, dude, you watch what streets we're on." Winters got on the radio, "204, 10-28!"

"Unit with the 10-28?"

"204! That car is refusing to stop. We're going uptown on Camp St. from Napoleon." Winters turned on his siren and rolled up both his and LeTourneau's windows so he could hear the radio. The Cadillac quickly accelerated to 50 miles per hour with Winters and LeTourneau right behind it. They passed through one stop sign. Then another. Winters' hands tightened on the steering wheel. The street was narrow, with cars parked on both sides. Either vehicle could crash out at any moment. Winters had eyes for nothing but the car ahead of him.

"202 enroute!"

"201 enroute!"

Other units announced their intention to join the chase. Suddenly, the Cadillac slowed and turned right.

"Upperline!" shouted LeTourneau.

"Lake bound on Upperline!" shouted Winters into the radio. The Cadillac accelerated again and Winters hit the gas to keep up. Ahead, another police car passed by on Prytania St., lights flashing. The Cadillac missed it by inches as it crossed.

"Fuckin' shit, man!" shouted Winters. He keyed the radio mike again, "We're crossing St. Charles on Upperline. We're backing off to get him to slow down. This is too dangerous." Winters remembered the admonition at a recent roll-call about high speed chases, and their cost in lives and damage, but Winters had no intention of actually doing what he had just radioed. Winters had taken his foot off the gas when he had seen the near miss on Prytania St. and the Cadillac had pulled ahead. There was no moon and few street lamps. All he could see was the red glow of the Cadillac's taillights. Winters slammed his foot down on the gas pedal again.

Still pulling away, the Cadillac reached another intersection and hit a steep hump where the streets crossed. For a moment the Cadillac was airborne, then down again in a shower of sparks. Winters watched the taillights bounce wildly from side to side in the dark. "He's going to lose it!" shouted Winters. Suddenly, the taillights disappeared ahead in a huge flash of flame. LeTourneau got on his radio, "Ooooh, they 20'd out, they 20'd out!"

Winters practically stood on his brakes to avoid the hump at the intersection and the crashed Cadillac just beyond. Winters pulled up mere feet from the wreck and LeTourneau was instantly out his door and running toward the Cadillac, gun drawn. Winters got out as well and quickly looked for a house number. The street was weirdly lit with the flashing red and blue lights of his police unit and the rapidly dwindling fire from under the hood of the Cadillac.

"What's your location, unit?" crackled the dispatcher.

"204, they 20'd out in the...uh...uh...1900 block of Upperline! 1900 block of Upperline. We're going to need fire and ambulance." Winters ran around to the driver's side of the Cadillac. The door was wide open. LeTourneau was trying to open the passenger door but both officers quickly saw that the car was bowed into a U shape from its impact with a tree at the curb. Other police units were already arriving. Winters shined his flashlight into the car and saw two bodies, limbs entwined and torsos weirdly contorted. The passenger was crumpled onto the floor under the dashboard and Winters wondered, briefly, how the passenger's whole body could fit in that space. The driver moaned and moved, feebly. Winters, his body still rushing with adrenaliine, handcuffed the driver's wrist to the steering wheel. Then, realizing that there were cops all around now, and that a fire engine was already pulling up to deal with the still burning car engine, he took the handcuffs back off again.

Mike Evans from unit 202 rushed up to the Cadillac. "I hope you die! I hope you fucking die!" Evans shouted at the two black men in the Cadillac. Winters was startled and amused at the same time by the outburst. He turned to LeTourneau and gleefully high-five'd him.

"Let's show some professionalism, gentlemen. There are people watching." Sgt. Craig, the shift supervisor, was glaring at Winters and LeTourneau from a few feet away. Winters looked around and saw people standing on their front porches, watching the scene. Winters sobered quickly and began the work of collecting information for his report. The tree struck by the fleeing Cadillac had a gouge carved out of it but otherwise seemed okay. The same could not be said for the Cadillac itself. In the roiling multi-colored light Winters could see a huge gash in the passenger door clearly showing the interior of the car.

Gary Bevins from Unit 201 walked up to Winters, "That car was stolen just a half hour ago from the Fifth District. The owner didn't even know it was gone. They woke him up out his house."

The police stood by as the fire and rescue workers extracted the two men from the Cadillac and transported them to Charity Hospital. Winters and LeTourneau followed, leaving a one man unit to deal with the tow truck that would remove the stolen car.

Winters and LeTourneau drove up the emergency room ramp at Charity and parked behind the ambulances carrying their two car thieves. Charity Hospital was the state hospital in the city that dealt with the indigent and all those who couldn't afford better care. The building had been built decades before and had the forbidding and institutional look of something from a Tim Burton movie. The weight of all the bas relief carved cement and the palpable suffering echoing through the wide linoleum floored corridors pressed on Winters' psyche on every visit and he was always glad to get away from the place. Winters knew of only one reason he would want to be admitted here and that was if he was shot. Because the city was then the murder capital of the country, the emergency room staff knew more about gunshot wounds than anyone in the area and Winters would be happy to let them work on him and then have himself transferred to a better hospital later.

The officers walked through the always crowded waiting room, past the crying babies, the exhausted looking families, the homeless, smelling very ripe and trying to sleep in the uncomfortable plastic chairs. They passed through the double doors and into the treatment rooms. Immediately Winters saw doctors and nurses working on the driver of the stolen Cadillac. LeTourneau wandered off to find the passenger. A nurse turned to Winters, "This guy is deaf."

"Can anybody translate?" Winters asked. The nurse shook her head.

Winters called Sgt. Tom Darby, the on call translator for the department. While he waited for Darby to arrive LeTourneau came back and said, "The other one is 20F." Winters felt nothing for the dead man in the room down the hall. Just another criminal come to a bad end.

When Sgt. Darby arrived, Winters asked him to go in and talk to his surviving prisoner. Darby exchanged hand gestures with the seriously injured man while the doctors continued to treat him. Winters stood in the doorway and watched.

"He admits they took the car just to go joy riding. He keeps asking about his brother." said Darby

"The other guy in the car is his brother?"

Darby confirmed it with another sign language exchange, "Yep."

Savagely, Winters said, "Tell him his brother is dead."

Darby looked at Winters for a moment, then turned and signed what Winters had said.

"Whuuuuh, muuuuhh!!!!" The man thrashed on the table and was held down by the hospital staff. Tears streamed from his eyes and he groaned incoherently.

Winters had lashed out at the man for taking them on such a dangerous chase, but now immediately regretted what he had done. Guilt, sorrow, and yet a hint of remaining satisfaction all flashed through him in an instant as he watched the man grieve the death of his brother. Later, Winters learned that the brother had been deaf, too.

Winters and LeTourneau were in no mood for college bars when they left the hospital. Their shift had ended long before, anyway. The death of the man was now weighing on Winters' mind. Two deaf brothers, out for a joy ride. Now one was dead and the other soon might be. Somewhere a mother was in for a rude awakening. Voices argued back and forth in his mind,

"If you had just passed them by they would have dumped the car, safe and sound, after their ride and they'd both be alive right now."

"Nobody told them to take off like that! All they had to do was pull over!"

"You killed that guy."

"His brother killed him by hitting that tree!"


"Fuck this!" thought Winters. Tomorrow was another day and would bring the same again, or worse.

"You want some breakfast?" LeTourneau looked at Winters over the roof of their squad car.

"Yeah, let's see if we can get into the Camellia Grill. If not, we can just hit the Bluebird." As the sun began to rise the only thing on Winters' mind was some eggs followed by an iced mocha at PJ's and then bed. Tomorrow was definitely another day.