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 Thirteen will appear Nov. 26.
The knife that was found next to Tyrone T. Washington’s body was the first clue that got Frank thinking about the circumstances of that slaying. To my mind, it wasn’t hard to imagine Hanrahan, or a hired hit man or maybe just a colleague on the force, deciding that a knife was the way to take Frank’s life. Frank’s reporting exposed the police department’s routine racism, its willingness to break the law while pretending to enforce the law, and that kind of truth is always dangerous.
But in reality there was really only one person I knew of in Frank’s life who was an expert in knife fighting, who had the training and the expertise to intentionally take a person out with just a two-inch cut. His name was Sgt. Robert L. Greene, and, truth be told, he may have had his reasons for wanting to take down Frank.
Aside from his stalker, the other complicating factor in Frank’s life after he returned from Ft. Benning was that he had a problematic source at the heart of the story he wanted to write. Lyle had been right—finding Sgt. Greene wasn’t very hard. Getting him to talk wasn’t that hard, either. Frank’s problem was what to do with some of what Sgt. Greene had to say.
When Frank arrived at Ft. Stewart, he made his way to the building that housed the headquarters for the Second Ranger Battalion to begin his inquiries. He found a skinny, pimply white guy sitting at a desk. Back home they had a word to describe his kind, a peckerwood, and Frank, knew just how to proceed.
“I’m looking for a sergeant, a Ranger sergeant, black guy.”
“Yes sir, do you have a name, sir?”
“My name is Frank Angleton.”
“Yes sir, I meant a name of the sergeant, sir.”
“Well, he’s a big guy, big black guy.”
“Yes sir, and his name, sir?”
“Greene, Greene’s the name. Sometimes goes by Lonnie.”
The young private at the desk dropped his jaw ever so slightly before recovering his composure. “Sir, I believe the Ranger you are looking for is Sgt. Robert Greene, sir.”
“OK, and where might I find Sgt. Greene?”
“Sgt. Greene is most likely in his office, sir, which is in the next building.”
“Thanks, thanks very much.”
As Frank later learned, the private’s momentary discomfort came from the use of the name Lonnie, which Sgt. Greene had made it clear was not to be used while he was on duty. Although Frank’s initial impression of Sgt. Greene was of a lovable, overstuffed, gentle giant, there was another side to the soldier.
To advance as far as he had in the Rangers, Sgt. Greene needed to be able exhibit a ruthless, demanding, take-no-prisoners style of command. Although he was most likely to use gruff encouragement to get done what he wanted done, soldiers who had made the mistake of using the sergeant’s nickname within earshot, had been known to set out on full-pack cross country “jogs” that only ended when their legs gave out and they lay sprawling on the side of a country road, puking their guts out and wondering when the sergeant would get out of his jeep and throw them in the back for a ride back to base.
Sgt. Greene was surprised to see Frank appear in the doorway to his office and started off pretending that he did not recognize his visitor.
“Good morning, Sgt. Greene. You may not remember me, but we recently met, when you were home on leave. My name is Frank Angleton.”
Sgt. Greene didn’t say anything, just sat back from his desk and wiped his massive right hand down across his face, starting at with the bald dome of his head and ending with his protruding jaw line.
“I am here in an official capacity, and I think I need to tell you that I am a newspaper reporter, and I’d like to pick up on a conversation that we had back home.”
Sgt. Greene, by just about any objective measure, was far more experienced, more worldly wise, at this point than Frank. He had been in a dozen foreign countries, and probably knew a dozen or more ways to kill a man. On the other hand, he had never spoken with a newspaper reporter before, and there was no way for him to be prepared for that.
Sgt. Greene knew enough from absorbing military culture to know that talking to the press was not a good idea. But this guy standing in front of him was the same young idiot who had passed out from a couple too many malt liquors the other day, and Sgt. Greene had trouble believing that he was in any real danger.
He also didn’t like the fact that someone from his hometown had tracked him down here, to his duty station, and he figured the sooner he got rid of the man the better.
“Sgt. Greene, I hope you can appreciate the gravity of the situation that has brought me here today,” Frank began. He figured that dealing with a military man he should make a play to his sense of duty.
“Whatchuwant?” Sgt. Greene fired back. Greene wanted this over with, as quickly as possible.
“First of all I need to tell you that this conversation is on the record. I need to ask you a few questions, and I intend to provide full attribution.”
“I want you to tell me what you saw when you saw that biker get killed.”
The sergeant gave Frank a stern look that said “What I saw was a damn fool getting just what he was asking to get.”
Then he said it in words: “What I saw was a damn fool getting just what he was asking to get. Some big crazy black guy comes waving his hands at you after hopping off his motorcycle, I’da shot him, too.”
This was definitely not what Frank was prepared to hear, and he looked up at Sgt. Greene in stunned silence.
“Fool don’t know not to go after po-lice. I heard that’s what he was on TV. That’s just some dumb shit there.”
“Well he didn’t know he was a cop. The shooter was in plain clothes.”
“That’s even worse. You gotta learn to leave them undercover guys alone. They’re the really dangerous ones.”
Frank was dumbstruck. He didn’t have any idea what to say, which in this case was just the right reaction. The silence made Sgt. Greene nervous, and when he was nervous sometimes he coudn’t stop talking.
“Now throwing that knife, that wasn’t right. Y’know what I’m saying. Didn’t need to get that knife out his car and throw it on over next to him. Man was dead. See what I’m sayin’?”
“Are you saying the shooter had the knife?”
“Course he had the knife. Dead man got no knife. He dead.”
“Are you absolutely sure that’s what you saw?”
“That’s what I saw, and, you know what? That’s all I got to say to you. Why don’t you all get yourself out of my office and take yourself home? I am finished talking with you, and I am finished with you.”
“Yes sir!” Frank said, trying to keep a smile from breaking out over his face. He had it: on the record: quotes from a reputable source who had a full name. This was going turn the Hanrahan story completely around. This was no justifiable, self-defense shooting. It was murder.
Officer Hanrahan, of course, had no idea about this witness coming out of the woodwork, but he had heard the words of Gaye Rushton, radio talker and shaper of public opinion extraordinaire, and he had taken those words to heart. This wasn’t the same city that he had grown up in anymore, and he was at risk.
It was at times like these that he took his greatest comfort at home. Far from a castle, it was still a place of safety and settled expectation. In the kitchen, as in the bedroom, his wife did not have the widest repertoire. What she did was what she did, nothing fancy, but Joey Hanrahan felt that he got what he deserved.
She was in the kitchen, winding up another session of couponing, sorting through the slips of paper she had cut out and placing them carefully in the envelopes that she carried with her when she went shopping. A police officer’s salary needed as much supplementing as it could get, and she figured this was something she could do to help stretch their dollars.
Joey’s marriage had gotten to the point where the called his wife by the same name that his kids did. “You know, ma, there’s something we should discuss.”
“Let me just finish up here. I did really well tonight. We’ll save a lot of money at the SuperCenter this week.”
Officer Hanrahan crossed the kitchen to the refrigerator, where he found a Busch beer, and then circled back to the cupboard over the sink, where he pulled down to highball glasses, which he used to split the contents of the can.
He sat at the kitchen table with a drink in each hand, placing one at this place and, once his wife had put her things away, one at hers.
“One of the guys came by the shop today, and he told me that there’s word coming from downtown that they might be coming after me.”
“How can that be?” his wife asked, a hint of panic showing in the way the register of her voice rose at the end of her question.
“This isn’t the city we grew up in, ma. The colored people, they got control. And the mayor is worried that he needs ’em to get re-elected.”
“They always vote for the mayor. He goes to their little festivals, and their block clean-up parties. I see that on the news all the time. He spends more time in the ghetto than he does out here, where the whites live.”
“Well, that may be. But what I’m hearing is that they’re gonna say I shouldn’t have discharged my weapon. It’s not a murder charge, but if they get me on that, I’ll be off the force. No retirement money, nothing.”
Officer Hanrahan looked up from the table, where he had been shredding up a piece of newspaper with his fingers, tearing one three-inch strip after another, working his way from the outside edge to the hole his wife had created by removing a coupon.
She narrowed her eyes and fairly spit the words: “You’re not going down, Joey Hanrahan. Not for this, not for this town. We’re gonna get you that nig lawyer who’s on TV all the time. He says he can defend anyone. And this is his chance.”
The esteemed barrister she referred to was Willie Winkins, aka “Wee” Winkins. A former state judge, he had stepped down from the bench after he realized that the money he was making sentencing the criminal element of his fair city was a tiny sliver of what he could earn fighting for their freedom as a defense attorney.
From a financial standpoint, this had proven to be a spectacularly good decision, putting his kids into those mostly white prep schools on the outskirts of the city and allowing him to drape his thickening frame in custom made Italian suits. It didn’t hurt his political standing either, starting with the name recognition that his carpet-bombing ad campaign brought him and including a turn or two every couple of months in the headlines when he took on a high-profile cases that solidified his image, he imagined, as the defender of the innocent.
“Yeah, yeah. That’s what the guys are saying I should do. I just don’t know.”
“What do you mean, Joey? This is our life, our kids.”
“I ain’t no criminal, and that’s all he works with. You know that. The kind of people I try to get off the streets are the people who pay his way. You know that’s just not right.”
“What I know, Joey, is sometimes you gotta look past those things if you gonna get what’s right.”
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.