"I always forget how hot it gets in these hallways," I said, opening my eyes. "It's like they save the heat they need in winter for the summer months."
Pearl smiled. "You should have worn shorts. Maybe even a cutoff T to match and a pair of flip-flops. They would have never fingered you for a cop, decked out like that."
I glanced at Pearl and returned his smile. It was a smile I had known since my first week at the police academy, the two of us sitting next to each other, doing our best to listen to a too-eager instructor alerting us to the fact that "there is a ninety-five percent chance the majority of the recruits in this room will go their entire careers without once firing their weapon." Pearl had turned to me and flashed his megawatt smile and whispered, "I guess that means we're all going to be working out of a Staten Island precinct."
"No fun in that," I said. "Might as well put in our papers now, save everybody the trouble."
The friendship started that very minute and has never wavered, the Italian kid from Greenwich Village and the African American from Harlem doing the job we had dreamed of doing since we were old enough to distinguish good from bad. We were both parochial-school boys, from grammar straight through high school; he was happily married and I was even happier being single. We were instant friends and, over time, proved to be the best of partners. Pearl and I worked as one. I trusted him with my life and he put his in my hands every day.
And never once did we let the other down.
We were an effective team from the start, and it didn't take long for the brass to notice. We were assigned to foot patrol, first out of the 10th Precinct in Chelsea and then up to Harlem. From there, we quickly graduated to the night watch dispatched out of a squad car. We worked our sector hard, were on a first-name basis with the area merchants, and began to build a solid network of trusted informants, from the hookers on the Eighth Avenue line to the dealers who claimed the after-hours clubs on Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues as their private terrain.
Those connections led to busts, and those busts led to a rapid succession of promotions—a boost to second grade and slots in a plainclothes unit out of Washington Heights. From there we were assigned as detectives in the South Bronx, where we bumped heads with Luther Wiley and his "Pain Train" crew of drug dealers, up to today, where we were both gold-shield first-graders in an elite narcotics unit going up against the top-tier Colombian drug outfits working Manhattan's upper rings.
During those years and through all those busted-down doors and volleys of bullets aimed our way, Pearl and I grew to be more than partners, more than mere friends with a badge and a gun dependent on one another to survive.
We were family. As close as any two brothers could ever hope to be.
Off the job, we had much in common. We loved sports, jazz, Sam Cooke, Leonard Cohen, and museums—though I preferred the literary bent of the Morgan Library, while he liked the exhibits at the Museum of Natural History. We liked wine and we loved to read—he tilted toward John Grisham legal thrillers intercut with an occasional attempt at a Charles Dickens novel; I read any biography I could get my hands on, tossing in a Linda Fairstein mystery to the mix.
Pearl was married to a terrific young woman in her first year as a resident at Roosevelt Hospital. Her hours were about as long as ours, and while their time together was limited, Pearl made the moments count.
I was just starting to keep company with a lady who co-owned and managed a restaurant a short walk from my brownstone. We cared for one another and gave each other the space required to keep our relationship on solid ground.
Pearl and I complemented each other. Our humor blended with our street savvy, our instincts with our skills, and we each maintained a keen understanding of what day-to-day life was like inside neighborhoods where the criminals often made the call as to who lived and who died on any particular day.