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 3 will appear Sept. 17.
HANRAHAN HAILED AS HERO
Standing at the counter in the paper’s library, Frank unfolded the clipping and smoothed it out on the white Formica surface. So our shooter is a star, he thought to himself as he dug into the details of the four-year- old story that had appeared on Metro Page One under that four-column headline.
The same article, mounted and framed in a mahogany shadow box, hung on a wall in the garage Officer Hanrahan rented behind a commercial strip in the northeast part of the city. “Special Detail” was the name that he used for this business, which he said he did to supplement his department paycheck but that also gave him an excuse to be out of the house. All three kids were past the wailing baby stage, but they always seemed to want attention just when he was settling in for a little relaxation of his own, a ballgame on TV or the latest issue of Sports Digest. There was no TV in the garage, but there was a radio, and that was enough for him.
Some people thought that detailing cars was the same as washing and shining them, but there was much more to it than that. For Officer Hanrahan, it felt like a calling because it appealed to his sense of how things ought to be. Making things right, that’s what his life was about, he often felt, whether it was here in his garage, or talking to his wife over a late-night beer at the kitchen table, or cruising the streets of the city in a patrol car.
His aim was always the same—making things right.
Now making a car shine like new was not a simple matter of a bucket of suds and a tin of wax. To do it right, you needed first of all the right attitude. You needed to believe in your ability to get the job done and the patience to keep going over the same spot until you got it right. Next you needed the right tools—cloths and brushes for different surfaces and Q-Tips to get into those hard to clean places where the gunk loves to hide. You also needed just the right cleaners and polishes. Different surfaces— paint, chrome, or glass—responded differently, and you had to know how to bring out the best in each one. Putting things back to the way they were when the car rolled off the dealer’s lot—that was his goal, and if he didn’t say so himself, Officer Hanrahan was a bit of an artist.
One thing that helped him stay focused on the task at hand, oddly enough, was a distraction—the radio. Officer Hanrahan almost always tuned in to local talk. The ideas were never challenging, and he liked the friendly, throaty voice of Gaye Rushton. He would often chuckle to himself when the host would sing out, “And don’t worry if you think I’m gay, I’m not. This is Gaye Rushton, coming to you with Today’s Top Talk.”
As a police officer who had discharged his weapon in the line of duty, Hanrahan knew he would be on routine administrative leave for a
while. The other cops were supposed to steer clear while he was away, but
he also knew that at least some of them would have their wives or sons drop off a car for a detail job, a way of showing support and putting a few bucks in a fellow officer’s wallet just in case he was going to need a lawyer.
Another benefit for Officer Hanrahan was that the detailing helped him keep his mind off the shooting Justified or not, it was still a helluva thing to take a man’s life. Gaye Rushton’s take on what was really going on around town, the stuff they would never print in The Star, that’s just what Officer Hanrahan wanted to hear. And no one was better than Rushton, in giving it to you straight and clear.
“S-C-A-P-E-G-O-A-T. I am spelling it out to you ladies and gentlemen, because I wanted you to understand what I am saying, and to mark my words. A scapegoat is what this city wants, and what this city is going to get.”
Officer Hanrahan liked it when Rushton got going like this. He was like a wily old lefthander, looking over the bases, and then leaning
around into a deep behind the back windup before uncoiling his arm and releasing a little white pill of wisdom whistling down toward the strike zone. Only this time that pill of wisdom came sailing in like a brush-back pitch that forced Officer Hanrahan to straighten up with a start. What Rushton said next was something Officer Hanrahan hadn’t really considered.
“Joseph Patrick Hanrahan is a third-generation city cop, a decorated hero of this city’s war on crime, and he is going down, ladies and gentleman. Down, down, down—that I can promise you. I just hope his wife and kids and the rest of the family aren’t listening to me today, because I hate to be the one who’s breaking the news. But in this city, at this moment, there is no way that a white cop can get justice. And justice will not be had by Joey Hanrahan. Mark my words.”
Knocked in the head was the way Officer Hanrahan felt when he heard these words, and their essential truth was overwhelming. The drop knife technique was something he had learned during his early days on the force—if you ever had to use your weapon, it was always smart to have a knife handy that you could drop by the body to bolster your argument of self-defense. But that’s not the way Gaye Rushton saw things.
“Open-and-shut case, ladies and gentlemen, open and shut. Man comes at you with a knife, and you shoot to protect your life, to uphold your way of life, to try to restore some sense of life to this dying city, and what happens? I’ll tell you what happens—your life gets turned upside down and you get made into a scapegoat. And that my friends is what you are about to see happen to Officer Joseph Patrick Hanrahan, a man who risked his life just three years ago to save the life of a child who was caught
in a crossfire, a firefight between some of his police brethren and the Bro’s, the so-called protectors of the street, who really are nothing more than a gang of cocaine-snorting drug pushers.
“Starting tomorrow morning, the power brokers in this city, the ones down in City Hall and up in the city room of The Star and everywhere in between are going to start telling you a different story about Officer Hanrahan. How he killed a man in cold blood, how his white skin is a sign of all that’s wrong with this town, how he is an enemy of the black majority that owns and runs our city.”
Officer Hanrahan slumped against the wall of the garage and felt a widening hollowness in his chest. He’s right. That is what’s going to happen to me. When Rushton got revved up, there was a gleeful little tickle in his voice, and that’s what Officer Hanrahan heard now.
“Wait till you hear what they make up about Joseph Patrick Hanrahan, how he’s got a nickname, ‘Hangover’ Hanrahan, and how he was probably drunk when he shot Tyrone T. Washington. None of it’s true, my friends, and none of it is to be believed. But those are the lies that will soon come tumbling out.”
HANRAHAN HAILED AS HERO
Officer Hanrahan looked up at the clipping on the wall and wondered how Gaye Rushton had found out about the drinking and whether anyone had told him what really happened that summer morning three summer’s ago in the McKinley Park section of the city.
According to the version of the story that The Star had printed, the one that Frank Angleton found in the newspaper library, Officer Hanrahan had selflessly swooped in to the rescue, grabbing a young girl from the sidewalk where she lay wounded by gunfire, placing her in the back of his squad car, and then driving fearlessly through a hail of bullets to take the girl to the emergency room.
Much of that was true, but there was more truth as well, a larger truth that Officer Hanrahan had known would have to come out if he were to make this thing right. The full story was that he was hungover that morning and that he had made a wrong turn on McKinley Street instead of stopping a block sooner behind the shooting scene. When he swung his car onto McKinley, he had immediately drawn fire from the drug dealers up the street, who thought Officer Hanrahan was part of a flanking maneuver by the city SWAT team.
Bullets flew, none of them particularly well-aimed, and some ricocheted off Officer’s Hanrahan’s squad car. He immediately put the car in reverse to get off the street and just as quickly realized that a crowd had gathered at the end of the street, blocking his way. This part of Officer’s Hanrahan recollection was a little hazy, truth be told. In the confusion, people were banging on the roof and sides of his car until he opened up the back door. Next thing he know someone had placed a wounded girl in the back and shouted, “Drive, you fool, drive.”
Hanrahan slammed the gear shift lever into Drive and stepped on the accelerator, racing down the street past the drug dealers in a house on the north side and police positions in a couple of houses on the south side. A few shots skittered around his car, but he had soon cleared the block and was headed to St. Mark’s/Holy Memorial Hospital.
Frank had written enough stories like the one spread out before him to know that when things seemed to fit together a little too neatly, they probably didn’t really. But on a daily paper there was hardly ever time to check beyond what official sources told you, and so the story that The Star had told was that Officer Joseph Patrick Hanrahan was a hero, the rare city cop who would risk his white life for a black one.
But the Tyrone Washington shooting was one story where Frank felt he couldn’t just go along with the official line. This was a story worth a little shoe leather. When he had been hired, he was told that the paper wanted to open its pages to what used to be called minorities but were now the majority population of the city. He didn’t have too much trouble convincing the city editor to let him do some digging.
“Before you spend too much time on this,” the editor had warned. “You better check the clips. I remember this guy Hanrahan. We ran a story about him. He seems like a stand-up guy.”
Officer Hanrahan had often wondered how many people knew the real story of his famous trip down McKinley Street. His wife did not. Her sweet smile had long been one constant in his life, and he was grateful for that part of his marriage.
He could still make out the smile that she had worn when they had first met in high school, even though both of them had put on some poundage since then. The officer had grown round in the face, round across the shoulders, and round around the middle.
The wife had thickened even more, to the point that Officer Hanrahan sometimes had to look closely to see where she had gone to hide under all that weight. The smile he could still find, but the hips and the waist, the legs, the torso, they seemed to have swollen together into the same round mound. But no matter what, she still believed in him, and she would take his side even if Gaye Rushton turned out to be right.
Rushton’s rant was something that Frank might have heard, but most likely not. Two of Rushton’s favorite punching bags were The Star and any one who might be holding a job that could be tied to minority status.
Frank paid such criticisms little mind, although in this case Rushton’s sources were right. Officer Hanrahan’s personnel file had already been forwarded to the mayor’s office, and the debate was at full pitch as to whether to hang him out to dry.
And so without benefit of Rushton’s reporting, Frank was left going door to door up and down the streets around the scene of the shooting. Most people he talked to said they knew nothing of the shooting. The few who let on that they might know something all seemed a little too shady to build a story around, and so Frank was just about to give up for the day. There was one more house to check, a place on the corner that was a little bit bigger than the other buildings, which is probably the reason why it has been split up into individual apartments.
The front door was propped open with a hubcap, and so Frank let himself into the first-floor hallway. No one was home at the first apartment, or at least no one was coming to the door. And so he strolled towards the back of the building, where he could hear the sound of two women’s voices.
Just as he was about to rap on the door, it opened. And there she stood, a vision of Farrah Fawcett loveliness, blond ringlets framing her face and flowing down her chest, a chest that was just as devoid of a thread of cloth as every other inch of skin on a body that Frank would later describe as the white man’s idea of every black man’s fantasy.
“Another hot one, today,” was the line that Frank had been using successfully as a conversation starter all day, but he knew that he had better try something new.
“I guess you were expecting somebody else,” he ventured, trying to keep his eyes from drifting down to her midsection.
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.