Three months ago I started a new job selling jewelry on the Upper East Side. I came highly recommended by diamond dealers on 47th Street. My boss Jeri trusted me with the store and her million-dollar merchandise.
One September morning I spent an hour setting up the jewelry. Jeri liked the way I displayed her goods. About 11 a young black man in gleaming white sneakers knocked on the glass door. He was looking for studs. His girlfriend supposedly worked at Bloomingdale's. I showed him a pair of diamond earrings and wandered over to the front door, speaking on the phone.
"I've got to go. I be back in five."
He didn't show in an hour and Jeri returned to the store.
"A young man wanted a pair of studs. He said he'd be back in five. That was an hour ago."
"A waste of time."
Jeri was right, but worse I later noticed a $27,000 diamond bracelet missing from the front case.
"Are you sure?"
We went to the video machine and the CCTV caught the black man forcing open the case, while I dropped my head to check the price of the diamond studs in my hand.
"Damn." I had been barely working a week. A mistake this costly was grounds for dismissal in many diamond businesses. "Fuck."
I hadn't worked in three months.
Jobs were impossible to find.
I started to hyperventilate.
"Calm down," Jeri admonished me. "He could have shot you and no piece of jewelry is worth dying for. We have to call the police."
I dialed the 19th Precinct. This was not a 911 call. The desk sergeant predicted that someone was on his way to take our statements. Two uniformed 30ish policemen arrived thirty minutes later. Neither was a steroid junkie and they actually treated us, as if we were citizens rather than the PLO. We reviewed the tape together.
The theft had occurred at 11.21am.
The younger cop said that I had left the window case open.
"I see the thief pushing open the window."
"I guess it all depends on how you look at it."
Nothing in the world would change the facts.
The cops wrote up the report and said that a detective would come by later in the afternoon to take prints.
"Don't touch anything in the meanwhile."
A female officer showed at 4 pm. The Puerto Rican Tech pulled several prints from the window. She liked her job, even though she commuted two hours each way from up north. She was in a hurry to leave. Her daughter was waiting at home in Dutchess County.
"We'll check it against any known felons, but I can't promise anything."
"I understand." 95% of cases are solved when someone snitches out his or her friend. They asked me questions. I told them what I knew. We watched the video. Neither said they had seen the thief before, but the taller detective with a crewcut said, "These people are professionals. They look for a soft spot and hit you when you least expect it. These days we have a lot of crimes like this. Jewelry and high-end clothing and luxury bags."
They said they would be in touch.
I waited for Jeri to say I was fired. Instead she invited me to dinner at her home.
"This could happen to anyone and I'm insured."
"I've been robbed more times than I like to think." Her husband had supermarkets in Harlem and the Bronx. Gunman knew he carried cash. They had hit him on fat Fridays. "You're lucky he didn't shoot you."
After dinner I slept at Jeri's. I was in no mood to head back to the Fort Greene Observatory.
In the morning I woke and we went over to the store with her two pugs; Samson and Delilah. They didn't have a care in the world. Not like us and that week not a single customer entered the store, although we sold a few pieces over the phone. Jeri's clientele lived in enclaves of the rich from Florida to California.
We filed insurance forms.
The broker wanted a full inventory.
It took us three days to enter every item into the computer.
We sent in the forms and Jeri waited for a check.
A few days before Thanksgiving a detective visited from the Grand Larceny squad.
The tall officer took my statement and asked, if I could come up to 126th Street and look at faces.
"We have a few more complaints about this theft. Your help would be greatly appreciated, although we want you to be 100% positive about the ID of this theft. None of us want an innocent man to spend Thanksgiving in Rikers."
A week before Turkey Day I headed up to Harlem with a monstrous hang-over. Weird Womb had played at Shea Stadium and I drank too many PBRs. That beer was a criminal in its chemistry, but a steal at $3 a can. I had about ten.
I fell asleep on the A train and woke at 125th Street.
It was a cold morning. I thought about stopping at Sylvia's Soul Food Kitchen for breakfast, but decided to do what I came to do. The Grand Larceny offices were next to the precinct house. Cops were gearing up in riot gear. People were protesting the grand jury verdict on the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island. The people had ruled that the choke-hold was not the cause of death. The cops were off the hook like with Michael Brown in Ferguson or Sean Bell or thousands of other blacks and whites shot or brutalized by the police without any justice.
I shot the departing officers a hard look.
They were ready for a fight. Their honor had been besmirched by accusation of brutality. In their eyes everyone was a perp some way.
I climbed the decrepit stairs to the second floor.
Several officers sat around aged computers and the tall detective waved me to an empty desk.
"Can I get you something?"
It was 8:30. My head pounded with bad beer. I needed a bacon-egg-cheese sandwich. The Grand Larceny Squad wasn't offering getting room service this morning and I listened to the officer's explanation about viewing their files.
"You'll see the same person over and over again. Some of these men have been arrest over fifty times."
"For jewelry theft."
"No, for most anything."
"So I'll be looking at a heavyset dark-skinned male in his 30s?"
"Maybe." The detective shrugged and I began shuffling through the faces.
Not all of them were black. Some were women. I flashed through hundreds. I hit over two thousand without spotting anyone resembling my thief. Some of the men were battered, probably while 'resisting arrest'. Some wore guilt on their faces like they had been born accused of something. This was a waste of time, but I kept going, as the Grand Larceny Squad changed into riot gear. I spotted one male that might have been the thief and almost called to the detective, except a musclebound co-workers said, "I can't stand these protestors. They don't even know what they're protesting about."
"A bunch of sheep out to shout about 'us'."
They went on for several minutes and finally I broke through my hazy hangover.
"These people know what they're protesting about. Every day of the week the police harass everyone in New York. Your white-shirted captains order you to write summons, get arrests, give people fines, bust young people for marijuana, search people in violation of the Constitution, so the rich don't have to pay taxes. It's all revenue piracy set up by Commissioner Bratton's failed broken window police. He's almost as bad as the previous commissioner."
Ray Flynn was from Boston. He believed in old-time police work. A good beating never went to wage of his shift.
"So don't tell me we don't know why we're protesting. You are working for the rich against us and if that makes me a commie, then I'm a commie. It's time for the police to do police work and not rape New Yorkers for fines."
None of the cops said anything.
"Sorry, but that's how I feel and I have a hangover." I shut off the computer and shrugged to the tall detective. "Guess I'm done. I appreciate your help, but the only way you'll find my thief is if someone rats him out."
"You should be so lucky." He wasn't liking me at all.
"Lucky? The insurance company is paying us for the theft. Replacement value, so we even make a profit. Hell, I wish he robbed the entire store."
"I'll keep that in mind." The detective pulled off his tie. He was heading downtown to tail the protestors.
"All the best."
I left the squad room and headed over to Sylvia's.
Most of the male clientele looked like the faces I had seen on the computer screen. They were laughing and having a good time. I ordered bacon, eggs over-easy, and grits. The coffee was hot and the food smoothed out the ravages of my night at 169.
I was no criminal. Neither were many of the faces on the PD computer. They were men caught, because they looked alike and everyone is guilty of a crime no matter how innocent you are when the day begins, because no one in this world is without sin.