I nodded in understanding and immediately stood up. I looked over at the window and saw Steve’s grinning face. The detective held up a thumbs-up sign, a prearranged signal between us, an indication that our lead federal prosecutor had spoken to his bosses and that the Southern District was going to take the gun case from the state and would prosecute “00” federally.
“Anth, you’re ours now. The Department of Justice has just formally elected to charge you federally. Heed my words — this just buys me time to make certain our broader case against you as the leader of the Newburgh BLOODS is rock-solid. I’m gonna hang your murders on you, and the assaults, and robberies, and that entire network of poison distributors you have working out on damn near every Newburgh street corner. You, most probably, just spent your last night out on the street as a free man. When I walk out of this room, I won’t look back. And your last opportunity to help yourself out will walk right out the door with me.”
He smiled a grim smile and nodded his head.
I paused a beat and then turned on my heels, and strode towards the door. I saw a rapidly expanding group of cops and agents that had found their way to the P.D. as the news of “00’s” collar spread. They were all now patiently awaiting direction and any news from my almost two hour long chat with our primary target.
I reached for the handle, and then…
His voice was softer now, weary even, almost resigned. He hadn’t referred to me as “coach” at any point during our long conversation. The title was a sign of respect. I’d coached many years in Newburgh and much of the citizenry knew me by that moniker. I was “Coach Jimmy” in Newburgh and beyond in the upstate New York region for far longer than anyone knew me or referred to me as “Special Agent Gagliano.” The word was reassuring to me. It really was at the crux of who I was and who I am. Whenever I hear the word on or around a ball field or basketball court or in a local grocery store parking lot, I automatically snap my head around, often embarrassed that the person employing it was directing it elsewhere. But, I offer no apologies for assumptions. The word defined me. Check that — it DEFINES me. I just didn’t ever expect to hear it from HIM…
“Coach, I gotta tell you…”
I slowly turned and looked back at him. My hand still on the knob.
“…I really wish there’d been someone there in my life, like you are there for those kids, back when I was younger. I really had potential as a baller. I could really play, man. You just don’t know. But I didn’t have anyone kicking my ass and making sure I stayed straight. Things could’ve been … should’ve been … so much different. Know what I mean?”
I was stunned. I took in the words, wrapping my brain around the meaning. I breathed in the moment. I was witnessing the immediate “melting” of the icy facade, the purposeful surrender of cool, the retreat from indifference, the transformation from inhuman to human being…
I felt as if I’d had the wind knocked out of me. He’d finished his short soliloquy and looked up at me. His eyes suddenly softer, less cold. The very same man who had mercilessly executed “City” at point-blank range, now, in an instant seemed so … sad. The ruthless, cold-blooded, murderous leader of the BLOODS was suddenly reduced to a tragic figure in a modern-day Shakespearean tragedy set in the 845.
But he was playing me. He had to be. And I wasn’t to be played. Ever. I had seen far too much in an almost twenty-year FBI career. And I’d encountered FAR too many skilled and crafty and desperate manipulators attempting the same diversionary tactic. Why would I allow him to elicit empathy from me. Had “00” shown any of his victims any sympathy?
Er, that’d be a resounding HELL NO!
But my curiosity got the best of me. And the gene within me that countless law enforcement colleagues had called out as too soft-hearted was causing me to waver a bit. I wanted to stride out that door, unfazed, unmoved, and supremely confident in the impending government trial victory over this unfeeling, psychotic career criminal. Hadn’t it been my goal all along to contribute to the clean-up of the streets of Newburgh, a city I loved? And this realization was about to come to fruition with the removal of this critical criminal chess piece from the board — permanently!
“Coach,” he said again softly, “things could’ve been different.”
(continued on next page)