2.6. Wish You Were Here

Van was awakened by his cell phone ringing. He realized he’d fallen asleep at his Vans deskdesk again, working late into the night on his notes from the Winston Moseley interview. He glanced at the clock – it was 6:20 am. Van looked at the number, and saw it was from a Queens exchange. He was worried it might be Catherine, breaking their date again. She’d left him a message when he’d gotten home yesterday, saying something had come up and she needed to postpone their dinner once again. He pushed the answer button. A scratchy voice on the other end said, “You Van Collins? The writer?” Van replied, “Yes, I am. May I ask who’s calling?” “This is Jack Peters. Mary Ann said I should call you and talk to you about Kitty.”

Van sat up, and moved over to his leather chair. “Yes, thank you Mr. Peters. Or should I call you Detective Peters?” The voice replied, “I’m long since retired. I’m just Jack now. He gave a low chuckle. “Yep, just Jack now.” If Van didn’t know better, he’d swear the man was drunk. At 6 in the morning? Van said, “I’m working on an article about Kitty Genovese for The New Republic‘s October issue. Mary Ann suggested I talk with you, as you were likely the only police officer left that was connected to the case. Do you think that’s so?”

Jack replied, “Yes, I guess. I don’t know – maybe Pete …” Jack seemed to be searching for Pete’s last name … “is still around, but I lost track of him after he moved west. What do you want to know?” Van replied, “I’ve talked with Bill, Kitty’s brother, Mary Ann and Winston. I am interested in speaking with you and Sophia Farrar and then I think I’ll have a pretty good idea of who she was and how it happened. Jack replied, “Man, I think that Sophia died…I’m pretty sure. She was an old woman back in ’64 when it happened. But you can talk to Michael, her grandson. He lived with Sophia – across the hall from Mary Ann and Kitty. He might be able to help you.”

Van said, “Thank you for that tip – I’ll follow up on it. In the meantime, can we get together to talk?” Jack seemed to respond with some kind of growl. Van was pretty sure now he was drunk. “Uh, I like hangar 11Hangar 11 – that’s a sports bar over on Metropolitan and Lefferts. I can meet you there at noon when it opens.” Van said, “That sounds good – I’ll see you then.” Van jumped in the shower, and fixed himself some eggs, bacon and toast, since he’d skipped dinner the previous night. Two cups of coffee later, he was cleaning up the kitchen when his phone range again. He answered, thinking it was Jack again. “Hi, Van, it’s Catherine. I was just checking if we’re still on for tonight.” Van said, “Ah, sure – sorry, I must have misunderstood your message yesterday. I got home kind of late from DannemoraPlattsburgh, and maybe I was confused.” Catherine replied, “No, I left it open-ended because I wasn’t sure what my Dad’s plans were. He left this morning, so I’m free – and I’d really enjoy having dinner with you – same place OK?” Van said, “Sure – how about 7 – Queen Italian RestaurantQueen Italian restaurant on Court, right?” Catherine replied, “Right. I’ll see you there at seven. I have some more stuff to bring you that might help you with your article.” Van replied, “Great – I’ll see you tonight.”

At noon, Van was at the Hangar 11, which was apparently walking distance from Jack’s home. All of it was quite close to death localeKew Gardens and the scene of the crime. The bar was deserted, except for a waitress and the cook staff. Van waited twenty minutes, and feared that Jack would be a no-show. As he was taking his cell phone out of his pocket to phone Jack, he saw a Jack petersdisheveled man coming through the front door. He waved, and the man walked over to his table, and literally fell into the chair across from him. “You Van? Van nodded, trying hard not to react to the body odor of the individual sitting across from him. The waitress came over and set a beer down in from of this person he assumed was Jack Peters. She looked at Van. “Can I get you something?” Van said, “I’ll have a cup of coffee, please?” The waitress left and returned with a surprisingly good cup of coffee, and brought a carafecarafe as well for refills. He drained the cup, and poured another while Jack drank most of his mug of beermug of beer in one swallow. He set it down and waved at the waitress. She brought another. Van realized this was going to be a very interesting interview, and hoped Jack wouldn’t pass out before he’d gotten everything he needed.

Van opened his leather binder and took out some questions he’d prepared before he fell asleep the previous night. “Can you tell me what your role was in the Genovese murder?” Jack stared into his beer mug, then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “I was just a cop on the beat then. I was at the precinct station that night when the call came in. But it wasn’t my beat, so another cop responded to the call. I just heard about it later on.” Jack polished off that mug, and pulled out a cigarette. His hand shook so badly, Van took the bic lighterBic lighter out of his hand and lit it for him. Jack said, “Thanks,” and blew a cloud of smoke over to the left. He sat there, enjoying his cigarette and sipping at the dregs of this second beer. Apparently he had standards regarding letting some time elapse between beer 2 and 3 … 4 … and however many would follow.

Van said, “Well, now I’m confused. The original story was that there was no call that came in, at least none in a timely fashion. Is that not true?” Jack seemed to consider Van’s question carefully, and then he gave a heavy laugh, which led to a coughing fit. Jack pulled out a dirty handkerchief, and spit into it. He thrust it back into his pocket. He inhaled deeply, and gave a crooked smile that showed a mouth full of green-tinged teeth. “There was a call. The guy that called didn’t leave his name, but he called. But when he called he said he thought there was just a lover’s quarrel going on – nothing to worry about – nothing serious. So we were kinda slow to respond. A lover’s quarrel? Shoot – if we jumped for every one of those, we’d a had to have a thousand cops on the beat. Hmph..lover’s quarrel. Guess he was wrong about that, huh?”

“Van said, “We were slow to respond? You said ‘we’ were slow to respond. I thought you said it wasn’t your beat. What was the situation, Jack?” Jack inhaled deeply, then crushed his cigarette out. He waved his hand, and within seconds a third beer arrived at the table. He took a delicate sip. Again he inhaled deeply. “I was at the station that night. No, it wasn’t my beat. But the guy’s partner was out that night. I’d just stopped by to drop something off, and Pete asked me to fill in. I could use the O.T. But you understand it wasn’t really my responsibility. It was Pete’s. But Pete was a real slacker. You know the kind? Only out for himself…didn’t give a shit about anybody else, and had a real bad attitude about women, blacks, your Portaricans – you know anybody that wasn’t Polish like him. Like a real version of those cops you yousta see on TV. That guy Andy …what’s his name..you remember.” Van replied, “Yes, I recall that character. AndyAndy Sipowitz.” “Yeah, that was him.” Jack lit another cigarette, successfully this time. He blew out the smoke and took another sip.

“I told Pete we should go. But you know what he said? He said, “Ah it’s probably those … you know – the ‘N’ word…’s just fuckin’ and fightin’. That was his favorite phrase – fuckin’ and fightin’. He said that’s what everybody in New York did, and that made our job real hard. You’re too young to remember what it was like in the 60’s and 70’s. It was a God damn war zone all the time. Drugs. The mob. Eventually crackcrack – boy, wasn’t that a mess?” It was tough, really tough…” Van nodded, and poured himself another cup of coffee. He was starting to get the sense that Jack was about to spill his guts, and he was going to be the one to get the scoop. That sense of excitement came over him again. He decided to push Jack a little.

“So Jack, what you’re telling me is that a call came in shortly after Kitty’s first attack by Moseley, but your buddy Pete decided there was no hurry, and you didn’t do anything to get him going to the scene of what became a horrible murder of an innocent woman? Am I hearing you right?” Jack became agitated, looking around at the empty bar. “God dammit, fella, you don’t understand. Do you think a day has gone by since then that I don’t think about what happened? Don’t you think if I could change what happened I would? This thing has haunted me ever every night since it happened. My drinkin’ got out of control – my wife left, took the kids and moved in with her sister in CanarsieCanarsie. I’d drink until I could sleep, and then Kitty’d come and talk to me in my dream. She’d always ask me the same thing. ‘Why didn’t you come? Why didn’t you come?” Jack assumed a falsetto voice, like the wwwwicked witch in The Wizard of Oz. “Why didn’t you come and save me? Save me? Save me? I’d wake up in a cold sweat. I thought about eatin’ my service revolver – more than once. Finally, I took early retirement in ’82. Faked a back thing. I couldn’t make it in to work anymore. Do you see?”

Van looked at the wreck that Jack Peters had become. He began to feel sorry for him – wondering what he himself would have done in a similar situation. Maybe he wouldn’t have been any different. Maybe it was easy for a cop to get burnt out, taking calls that just turned out to be domestic disputes – nothing too serious. But then this – all the publicity – all the emphasis on the apathy of Kitty’s neighbors. Van could understand how it could be too much for Jack. Nonetheless, Van felt compelled to ask his final question. “So why was it nobody ever knew about this call that came in? I’ve read hundreds of documents on this case, and there’s never been a mention about it. How can that be?”

Jack took the last, long drag on his cigarette. He seemed hesitant to speak. “Mary Ann said you were a good guy. That you wanted to tell what Kitty was really like – not talk about the neighbors. I’m glad you’re doing that. Maybe if her story comes out, she’ll leave me the hell alone. So I’ll tell you how that can be. Back then, there was no 911. If you wanted the police, you dialed “0” and the operatoroperator connected you to the cops. Yeah, the calls were taped. But it was just a reel-to-reel recorder…not like how things are today, all high tech and all. So it was easy to fix the problem. The call came in to Pete directly – no dispatchers then. After all hell broke loose over this thing, he got the tape and just erased that part. Just erased it. Boom. Gone. Just like Kitty. Boom. Gone…She shouldna died…it was our fault. We shoulda been there. I am so sorry. I wish she was here right now, and I’d tell her how sorry I am. But man, how long can a guy pay for one little mistake? I got cancer, you know. Lung. Not gonna last much longer. I’m kinda glad. Then it’ll be over, and there won’t be no more dreams. Thanks for listening.” With that last statement, Jack walked over to the bar, handed the waitress a $20, and shambled out. She came over, took the empty glasses and wiped the table. “Can I get you anything else?” Van replied, “No – thanks, I’m good.” She walked away. Van went home.

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