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A Murder of Honor

The Washington Post lead story on January 3, 2000, is the murder of Father Robert J. O'Brien. Under a headline reading "Community Activist Slain in Drive-by Shooting," two photos, taken thirty-one years apart, emblazon the front page. In the first, police stuff a slender priest into a paddy wagon. An angry crowd of ragged men and women, black and white, surround the cops. The caption says "1969 arrest of Rev. O'Brien in civil rights protest." In the second photo, a body lies on the sidewalk, arms and legs splayed in the improbable angles of death. It is a night picture. The Capitol dome floats white in the background. The caption says simply: "Murder scene, Pennsylvania Avenue."

In the same edition, on the front of the Metro section, the Post carries a story with the banner "Murder Suspect Killed Resisting Arrest." A photographer has caught Franklin Delano Kearney and Josephus Adams Phelps watching an attendant load a body bag into the back of an ambulance. Frank carries a nasty-looking military assault rifle. José holds a ten-gauge riot gun. Both men are in their fifties; Frank is the rangy, lean white guy, José the heavyset black one. You could get the idea from the photo that both men have been around the block. You'd be right. Between the two of them, they have more than fifty years on the D.C. force, partners all the way.

That Monday morning, a "get your ass down here" call from Randolph Emerson woke Frank Kearney early. He didn't have time to read the Post. He didn't know about the O'Brien murder. That would come forty-five minutes later.

Chapter One

Morning shift was coming on, and Frank wearily pushed through the crowded station house toward Emerson's office. The hallway noise and grab-assing made him jumpy and irritable.

Frank Kearney had become a cop indirectly. His road map started zigzagging in his sophomore year at the University of Maryland, when he decided his sociology major wouldn't get him a job. Nobody ever did sociology, Frank realized, except the professors who taught it, and he didn't see himself playing faculty politics to get tenure so ivy could grow on him until he retired at sixty-five. So he dropped out, intending to drift across the country for six months, maybe a year. See what was going on in Haight Ashbury.

But Frank's draft board was faster than he was, and instead of Haight Ashbury, he found out what was going on in the Iron Triangle as a grunt in the First Infantry Division. Like the rest of his squad, he ricocheted between ironic humor and scorching outrage at the cosmic joke that had stuck him with the nasty end of a very short stick. And like the rest of his squad, he cursed the relentlessly tedious stupidity of the Army by day, and by night the savage cruelty of the Vietcong.

Frank came out of Vietnam with a Combat Infantry Badge, a Bronze Star, and a Purple Heart. He also came out with the realization that he liked keeping bad things from happening to good people. He liked that more than he disliked uniforms. And so when he got back to College Park with the GI Bill, he went into law enforcement and from there made it into the DCMPD, the District of Columbia Metropolitan Police Department.

Now, outside Emerson's office, Frank's stomach flared. With one hand he pushed the door open, and with the other he fished in his jacket pocket for a Maalox tablet.

Frank had known Emerson twenty years, and he'd never known him anywhere but behind a desk.

"Took your time," Emerson said. He sat at his desk, wearing his suit jacket.

Frank took the jacket as a bad sign. Emerson normally worked in shirtsleeves. He wore a jacket only when he was kissing up or kicking down. Frank guessed that it wasn't going to be a kissing-up morning. His stomach was now searing. Half the trouble in the world happened because somebody like Emerson wanted to feel important.

His hand still in his pocket, Frank finally worked the Maalox tablet loose and palmed it.

"I had a booking," he said, trying not to sound defensive.

Emerson had the Post on his desk. He looked down at it.

Frank casually brought his hand out of his pocket and slipped the Maalox into his mouth.

Emerson looked up just as Frank was bringing his hand down. "You and Phelps are regular stars. Metro coverage. Even pictures." He tapped the photo of Frank and José. "You guys have an agent?"

"We took down a bad guy. It happens in this line of work."

"Happens a lot with you two."

"Maybe the rest of the department ought to be doing more, Randolph."

Emerson sighed. "We all did like you and Phelps, we wouldn't have any taxpayers left."

"Taxpayers?" Frank's eyes narrowed. He leaned forward and with an index finger jabbed the body bag in the Post photograph. "Jimmy Foxworth? A taxpayer? In his whole life he never paid tax once. He was supposed to be doing life for raping and murdering a schoolteacher. He served twenty-three months. He goes up before the parole board, does a born-again song-and-dance. They buy it and turn him loose. He was out two days when he shot an old broad in a 7-Eleven." Frank drew a breath. "Courts keep the Jimmys in jail where they belong, we won't have to work so hard on the street."

Emerson wasn't listening. "And then there's the Johnny Sam lawsuit. ACLU's all over our asses."

"Johnny Sam killed two cops, Randolph."

"Manhandling suspects is against regulation. Whether they're jaywalking or killing cops. And Frank, I don't know how to tell you this, but we need evidence to convict."

"We had the son of a bitch. Two eyewitnesses. One just got on the wrong end of a hit-and-run and the other's flown."

Emerson tilted back in his chair and eyed Frank up and down. "You know what the talk is?"

"I know all kinds of talk. What brand you got in mind?"

"The talk is that we need some new faces in Homicide."

"Oh?" Frank raised his eyebrows. "You getting reassigned?"

Emerson shook his head as if he'd heard an old joke badly told. "The talk is that you and Phelps are cherry-picking. The talk's that you're retired on the job. Keeping your score up by going after pissants."

"Murder's murder, Randolph."

"But all murderers aren't the same, Frank. Some of them have 'Here I am' signs hung all over them. Like Jimmy Foxworth. A pissant. You and Phelps seem to be bagging more than your share of pissants. And the Johnny Sams of this city sue because you guys give away knuckle sandwiches."

Frank felt a sour acid burn. The Maalox wasn't working. He thrust forward across the desk, bringing his face close to Emerson's.

"Just a damn minute, Randolph," he said. "Eleven-thirty last night, José and I are getting shot at. Six-thirty, we get off shift. I'm in the rack for all of an hour, I get a call from you to get my butt down here. What for? To rehash Johnny Sam? Or discuss that rat Foxworth's virtues? Or debate the degree of difficulty of our case load?"

The outburst momentarily rocked Emerson back. He took a deep breath, then put on a glare. "You're right, Detective Kearney," he said in a low voice. "I didn't call you down here for any of that." He thrust the front page of the Post at Frank. "You and your pal read the rest of the paper? Or just the parts you're in?"

We gotta what?"

José stood in his living room. He wore a pair of baggy white boxer shorts that hung beneath a heavy gut. With the gut and the cross frown and the thick ridges of scar tissue over his eyes, he looked like a grizzly disturbed in hibernation.

José had grown up in Washington, the oldest of five boys. His father, a lay preacher, managed a garage six days of the week and on Sundays regularly brought down your basic hellfire and brimstone at Bethel AME. His mother taught seventh-grade math at Browne, out on Benning Road.

José went to Howard to major in accounting and get into professional football. He made the varsity team, but never as a starter. He wasn't big enough for the line or fast enough for the backfield. In his junior year, he said to hell with it and tried boxing.

The moment he stepped into the ring, he felt at home. At two hundred six pounds, with a thirty-eight-inch reach and a rock-hard belly, he survived the early matches with more experienced fighters until he found his own style. José's fighting was straightforward enough: Take the offensive and never let up. Crowd, push, punch. If an opponent lands one or cuts you, never show you're hurt. Get back up on your toes, bore in. Crowd, push, punch.

Though tempted to turn pro, José stayed in college. He was big, he was hard, but it didn't bother him to admit his mother and father scared the shit out of him. And Mama and Daddy said stay in school.

Afterward, he realized, Mama and Daddy'd been right. His ring career following graduation lasted just eleven months. That's all it took for him to realize that a pretty good college boxer didn't go very far against pros who'd been in the game since they were nine.

He'd been living at home only two weeks when his father waved the classifieds at him and told him two things: one, get a job, and two, get out. Three weeks later, José answered a Metropolitan Police Department ad. Two weeks after that, he moved in with another recruit, who had stuck an index card on the bulletin board advertising for a roommate. A white guy named Frank Kearney.

After leaving Emerson's office, Frank drove to José's home in Washington Heights. He leaned on the doorbell until José opened the door.

"Here." Frank handed the Post to José, who scowled at the front page for a moment before lumbering over to a desk, where he found a pair of glasses. He scanned the paper, then, still scowling, looked up at Frank.


"So, Hoser, we gotta take over the O'Brien case," Frank repeated.

"From who?"

"Milton and a rookie."

"Well, why aren't Milton and his rookie working it?"

"Emerson says we're cherry-picking."

José looked down at the picture of the dead priest and then at Frank. "A fucking drive-by," he muttered.

Frank walked over to his chair, the one he sat in when he and José watched the Redskins. He sat down, threw a leg over one arm of the chair and waited. He and José had been over the hurdles together. Frank figured he'd gotten the better deal in the relationship. It'd been José who'd seen him through the divorce, the self-pity, the booze, and helped him out the other side.

José shook his head. "Fucking drive-by," he repeated.

Frank nodded. Drive-bys you solved by luck. And mostly, the luck ran against you. Usually, shooters in drive-bys didn't know who it was they'd shot. Didn't care before, didn't care after. Seen all the flicks, done a little crack, had yourself a woman-what else to do on a Saturday night when all you had left was a Glock and a stolen set of wheels?

"You know what the king of cops is trying to do, don't you?"

"Put us in a trick bag," Frank said. "Milton's too junior. Emerson wants two names to throw to the wolves if he has to."

"Emerson's basic one-time good deal," José said. "We're lucky and get the shooter, Emerson gets the credit. We fuck up-"

"-we fuck up and Emerson gets us," Frank finished.

Excerpted from A MURDER OF HONOR (c) Copyright 2001 by Robert Andrew. Reprinted with permission from the publisher, Putnam, an imprint of Penguin Putnam. All rights reserved.

A Murder of Honor
by by Robert Andrews

  • Genres: Fiction, Thriller
  • hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Putnam Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0399146849
  • ISBN-13: 9780399146848