Chapter Sixteen: Officer Hanrahan is forced to make a confession

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The following is an excerpt from A Special Detail: The Untold Story of a Reporter’s Suspicious Death, a work of fiction that the Oshkosh Independent is presenting in serial form. If you can’t wait to get to the end or would like to read the story in book form, it is available on Amazon. Chapter Seventeen will  appear Dec. 24.

When he got back to his desk, Frank was in a daze from his encounter with Corker. It was a white woman who as after him, not the other way around.

The phone rang, and it was the man with the drive-away car business (and the private jet that brought Frank back from Georgia).

The conversation started out on a friendly enough note but soon turned testy. Frank had little interest in writing the story that supposedly had taken him to Ft. Benning and after the dressing down from Corker, he was in no mood to make nice.

“It would have been better if I had just hung up on the man, slammed the phone down on his ear. That would have been better,” Frank told me later.

Instead Frank tried to parry the man’s insistent questioning about when he could see the story in print, a line of questioning that is almost sure to elicit a defensive reaction from a reporter.

“I started out trying to be polite, explaining how reporters work and how sometimes different priorities have to be recognized. But he wasn’t buying it. He was a salesman, and he was determined to get his way.”

At some point Frank thought he was being pressed just a little too hard and reacted the way most journalists would, by reminding his questioner about the First Amendment, the free press, the public’s right to know—and a reporter’s right to decide how and when the public would get to know what they know.

Before long Frank and the businessman were really going at one another, trading arguments and insults until finally the man dropped the Big One: “Look if you’re not going to write the story, that’s fine. But shouldn’t have taken that free plane ride.”

Frank was not about to be cowed. “Well that’s just fine. Why don’t you send me a bill and we’ll call it even.”

Frank’s mistake was thinking that the airplane ride would cost only about what a commercial airline ticket would. He was about to learn about the economics of maintaining a private jet.

“Would you like me to send you a bill? Would you?”

“I think that’s what I just said.”

“Well let me tell you something, Mr. Bigshot Reporter. The cost of keeping a private jet like mine up in the air, on a per hour basis, is pretty a good chunk of your annual salary.”

Over the telephone line, Frank could hear an adding machine clunking through some calculations, and then with satisfied finality, the man spoke: “On your say-so, I will be putting an invoice in the mail to your employer today, in the amount of four thousand, eight hundred, and seventy-five dollars.”

Now Frank was in shock. “I hit the old Trifecta that day—got my big scoop shot out from under me, got accused of chasing white pussy, and ran up a bill for nearly five grand.”

It was the matter of a sizable bill that finally brought Officer Hanrahan around to admitting the truth about the knife. Even after his wife’s kitchen dramatics, he had found himself unable to admit to her what had happened that morning after he shot Tyrone T. Washington.

“I acted in self-defense. That’s all I’m gonna say. Don’t ask me any more questions, hon.”

Officer Hanrahan had been terrified. Washington towered over him, the sweat came dripping down the black man’s face, and when he raised his arms and approached, a powerful earthy odor enveloped Hanrahan. The urban jungle that Gaye Rushton so often talked about on the radio had transformed from metaphor to reality, its danger and stench filling his eyes and nose and choking off his oxygen.

Jim Black would have nothing of it.

“Trust me, Officer Hanrahan, I understand that part of your story. We have already gone over it. What I need to know is: Where did the knife come from?”

“I acted in self-defense. That’s all I’m gonna say.” Hanrahan sat in Black’s cramped office. It was in a Class B building with creaky elevators, weak fluorescent lighting, and window air conditioners wheezing out their best imitation of cool air.

“As you know, Officer Hanrahan, a knife was found alongside the corpse. But the corpse was carrying no sheath. With no sheath, the corpse, that is, the corpse before it was a corpse and was still a living, breathing human being, had no way of carrying that knife.”

“I acted in self-defense. That’s all I’m gonna say.”

“Officer Hanrahan, the facts that I have just recited are well known in the district attorney’s office, let me assure you. Those facts will need to be addressed in some way at trial, most assuredly to your detriment. As your attorney, I am at a severe disadvantage if you, my client, are unwilling to share with me a complete accounting of the facts as you know them.”

“I acted in self-defense. That’s all I’m gonna say.”

It might appear that Officer Hanrahan was being stubborn, but he thought he was just being logical. He was sure that he had acted in self-defense, and the presence of the knife proved his point. But if the knife did not belong to the dead man, then perhaps Officer Hanrahan had not acted in self-defense. And Officer Hanrahan knew that he had acted in self-defense.

“Officer Hanrahan, it is my intent, and my fervent desire, to mount an aggressive defense on your behalf. Although as of this moment, no charges have been filed in this case, I have, based on my years of experience in matters like these as well as my contacts in the district attorney’s office, a very high degree of confidence that charges will be forthcoming and that you will soon find yourself sitting before a jury drawn from all parts of this fine city that will in turn sit in judgment of you.

“I cannot mount that kind of defense unless I have am able to enjoy the complete and total trust of my client, the kind of complete and total trust that allows that client to know that what he tells me here in this office will be held in the same sacred and inviolable state of confidentiality that surrounds the confessional of the Roman Catholic Church.”

“I acted in self-defense. That’s all I’m gonna say.”

“Officer Hanrahan, let me be blunt. I am a damn fine defense lawyer, and I believe that I can win your case, just so long as one thing is true—that I know the complete, the full story of what happened that day. And if I win the case, then the next thing you and I will do, in an official capacity that is, not including the beers we will hoist in celebration, will be to file an appeal for administrative reimbursement.

“Do you understand what that means? It means that if we win this case, we can ask the city to pay your legal bills, which, I have to tell you, are mounting by the minute while we talk this afternoon.

“But if we lose this case, you not only face the likelihood of significant criminal penalties, you will have no fallback for your legal bills, which, as I said, are likely to be substantial and are likely then to rest with your wife and family, since you will be in jail and unable to assist.”

Black started to go on, to explain how he there might be any number of ways to handle the knife issue, but Hanrahan stopped him. The idea of leaving a huge legal bill for his wife to deal with got through to him the way none of the other arguments had.

“”OK, OK. It was my knife. It was in the car, and I threw it down on the street. Are you happy now?”

“I am happy to know that we trust each other. The knife might be a problem, but it might not. We shall see.”

For Officer Hanrahan, not only was the knife a problem, but so was the prospect of returning home and confessing to his wife, telling her that he did throw the knife after all and trying to explain why he had misled her.

The truth was that he was sure had acted in self-defense both in shooting Tyrone T. Washington and then in throwing that knife up against the dying man’s boot. In the first case he was defending his physical safety, and in the second case his reputation as a police officer. But his wife knew that there was more to the story than what she had heard from him.

She was sitting on the front steps as Officer Hanrahan slid the family sedan into the driveway, the heel of his right hand hard against the steering wheel, turning it slightly to the right and then letting the wheels straighten.

She was taking a break from the kitchen, catching a bit of the breeze and absently, lazily, tapping the wooden bowl of a kitchen spoon in the palm of her left hand. Hanrahan thought, but only for a moment, that this might be the time to come clean, while the kids weren’t around, and outdoors, where the watchful presence of the neighbors would force her to keep her voice down and her tongue in check. Turning the key in the ignition to silence the engine, he thought better of the idea—better wait until later.

Dinner was one of his favorites, a homemade meat sauce over pasta noodles with a green salad and garlic bread. “You know that’s why we never get down to Little Italy,” Hanrahan said as he pushed back from the table after cleaning his plate. “Why should we when we can eat like this at home?”

She cooked for him, kept the house, and kept the kids out of his hair, at least most of the time. She was the kind of old-fashioned wife that was hard to find these days, and he knew that he was fortunate.

The bedroom excitement was gone, but with three kids already, that was probably just as well. The temper, though, that had been getting worse, especially the last few weeks. Telling her what he had told Black was sure to set it off.

He thought about bringing it up over dinner, while the kids were in the room. But he realized that wouldn’t be fair to them, to have to hear their parents screaming. One thing and then another and the evening was gone, and Hanrahan still hadn’t found the right time, the right way to bring it up, to tell her that he might be going to jail after all—not because, or not just because, he killed a man, but because he had tried to cover it up.

“Obstruction of justice” is an ugly term, especially for a cop, and it would make all his cop buddies look bad, too. Their wives would never speak to his wife again.

Finally as they lay together on their bed, the lights off, Officer Hanrahan, spoke the truth that he had been avoiding. He started to explain that he didn’t think it had been a lie to think the way that he did, that he had acted in self-defense.

One thought came out after the other, how the city was no longer the city they grew up in, and how Gaye Rushton was right, and how it hadn’t even occurred to him that someone would question how the knife had gotten on the asphalt.

He kept talking, and he kept waiting, waiting for the anger to rise up, the accusations, the threats of what she would do next, and the demands to know why, why, why he had done these things.

But the screams and the demands and the accusations never came. The only thing he heard was the sound of her breath, interrupted by a sniffle, and then another sniffle and a sob. “Oh Joey, oh Joey,” she cried.

Officer Hanrahan propped himself up on his elbow so that he could look down on his wife, trembling and weeping in their bed. “I’m so happy you told me. I was worried, that you would keep it to yourself.”

She craned her neck to look up into his face, and then she too rolled up on one elbow so that they were facing each other in bed.

It had been a long time since the two of them had spent the night in any way but as brother and sister, sleeping chastely alongside one another. But this night Officer Hanrahan found himself slipping over on top of his wife as she rolled back underneath him and pulled his hips securely between her thighs.

A Special Detail is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental and completely unintentional.

A Special Detail is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental and completely unintentional.

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About Author

Miles Maguire

Miles Maguire is the author of Advanced Reporting: Essential Skills for 21st Century Journalism. He was the founding editor of the Oshkosh Community News Network, a nonprofit online news organization whose work was cited as a notable innovation in journalism in the 2005 Knight-Batten Awards. Send questions, comments and suggestions to miles.maguire@yahoo.com.

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