When the H.R. director calls to rhetorically ask “can you come to my office for a chat… right now,” the conversation that follows rarely goes well. When one gets that call, goes to the office, and then finds two uniformed officers waiting, that conversation almost certainly never goes well. It sure didn’t for Steve.
“You’re Steve, Steve McDowan,” asked the younger, clean-shaven officer with a buzz cut. Steve nodded nervously. The officer ruffled through his notepad and continued, “that’s Steve McDowan, at… let me see here… 4875 East Bridge Street?”
“Uh huh,” Steve replied, “that’s, um, me.” Sensing the quickly growing tension in the room, the H.R. director excused herself, leaving Steve and the two policemen sitting in her cramped office.
“Let me ask you Steve,” the young detective asked, “how do you know William Cutter, aka ‘Big Willie’, aka ‘The Cutter’, aka ‘Cut Man Bill’, aka —” he paused and leaned in, “Steve, are these names ringing a bell?”
“Uhhh…,” Steve hesitated, trying to jog his memory for every ‘Bill’ he knew, “uhh, I, umm… err, no?”
“Steve! Come on now,” the officer lit up, “we know that you know him! And we’re pretty sure that you know exactly what happened to him! All I’m asking, Steve, is how… do… you… know… him. What is your relation?”
“Heh,” Steve nervously chuckled, trying to lighten the air a bit, “okay, I know this is cliché, but I think you’ve got the wrong guy –”
“What, is this funny to you, Steve,” the officer shouted, “as I’m sure you’re well aware, Cutts was violently murdered just after he sold ten kilos of grade-A to someone, and you were the one who called him over and over and over that day. Why, Steve? Were ya’ buyin’? You’re involved in this, and I’m gonna find out how!”
Steve just blankly stared. He wasn’t quite sure what to say, but nonetheless managed to mumble, “I, uhhh, don’t, errrrr… know?”
The younger officer scowled, leaving the older, somewhat disheveled officer to speak. “Okay Steven, try to look at it from our side,” he calmly explained, “the phone records indicate that you called Mr. Cutter many, many times—”
“Yeah,” the young cop interrupted, “fifteen times in one day, Steve. Fifteen times!”
The older detective cleared his throat, “unless, of course, 520-833-0000 isn’t your cell number… but then again, you’ve been paying the bill for a few years now.”
Steve’s mind raced to come up with an answer. 520-833-0000 certainly wasn’t his number… but it sure sounded familiar. Maybe it was an old number? Maybe it was a – and then it dawned on him. “Actually sir,” Steve cautiously replied, fighting a quickly growing knot in his stomach, “that number is my son’s.”
As a father, learning that your teenage son might be involved in a murderous drug ring ranks pretty high on the list of experiences you don’t want to have. Almost immediately, a torrent of thoughts fills your head. Did he really do it? How am I going to afford a lawyer? It’s all that Derrick kid’s fault! What will I tell my boss? Oh my god, what will I tell my wife!? Then, one by one, every hope and dream for your son quickly rots: goodbye graduation, hello visitation; goodbye college, hello GED; goodbye decent job, hello work release. And finally, there’s the fact that the people delivering this horrible news aren’t exactly the sympathetic type.
“Well Steve,” the young cop smirked, “we’re gonna need to take you and your son downtown for some further questioning. I’ve already told your boss that we’ll be a while, so let’s get going now.”
What followed was the longest car ride Steve had ever taken. Sitting in the caged back of their police cruiser, Steve and the two officers drove to his son’s school. Steve had absolutely no idea what he’d say to his son. Could he trust his son? He had been a bit distant lately, did that mean he was caught up this drug mess? Would his son trust him?
When they finally arrived at the school, Steve waited in the car while the officers went in and escorted his son out. Then, the four of them traveled to the downtown station. The only noise that broke the complete silence was the occasional “647 reported on Broadway and Sterns” over the radio.
“Dad, what’s going on,” Steve’s son whispered as they exited the police cruiser and walked in the station.
“Well,” Steve whispered back, “these officers just want to chat for now.”
Steve and his son were led into a small, windowless room with a few chairs, a table, and a large mirror. The younger officer told them to stay put, and left the two alone for a few minutes.
“Okay seriously,” the son asked in half-concerned/half-jovial tone, “what the heck is happening?”
“Look,” Steve replied, “apparently, you’ve been calling this drug guy, uhh, Big Willie, and now he’s dead. What I need to know right now is, do we need to get a lawyer. That’s it, yes or no.” He subtly gestured towards the large mirror.
“Huh, lawyer,” Steve’s son responded defensively, “what are you? Huh? Drug? Willie? What?”
“Lawyer or no lawyer – that’s all I need to know right now. You need to tell me, we can figure this out, no matter what. Just tell me—”
Steve paused when he heard the door open. The older officer looked at Steve. “Okay Steve, here’s what we need to do. I just want to chat with your son, alone, a few minutes,” he glared at his younger partner, “just me. You can even watch. And then, we can figure this whole thing out, and see what we need to do.”
Steve looked at his son, who simply gave an approving shrug. “Okay,” Steve said, “five minutes, okay?”
The younger officer led Steve to the observation room. As Steve watched the interview – a much gentler version of what he had gone through earlier – the younger officer watched Steve like a hawk. A few minutes later, the interview was over. The older cop joined Steve in the observation room.
“Steve,” the older cop sighed, “we have a problem. Your son is really insistent here that he never made these calls, but the phone records just don’t lie. He said he’ll ‘prove me wrong’ by logging into the cell-phone website, but quite frankly, I’ve heard that a hundred times. I’m just saying, this might get a bit ugly.”
Steve, his son, and the two detectives walked over to a computer workstation. Steve’s son started typing away on the keyboard. “See,” he said, “here are the all calls I made. I told you, I didn’t call this William guy. It’s not anywhere on my list! ”
The two officers looked at each other, puzzled. “Hmmm,” the older cop said, “I think we better verify this with the phone company.”
They called customer service, got transferred around several times, waited the requisite forty minutes on hold, and finally a tier-3 tech support technician answered the phone.
“Yes,” the younger officer said into the speakerphone, “I’m investigating a homicide here and need to know, why are some outgoing calls not recorded for 520-833-0000? We have a record of the incoming calls from that number… could someone be hacking into your computers or something”
“Ha,” the technician snorted, “no. This happens sometimes. If the calling party blocks their caller ID, it’ll show up as 520-833-0000 instead of ten-zeros. We’re working on it!”
The two detectives glared at each other, flabbergasted. “We’re uhh,” the older officer stumbled, “we’d like to thank you for coming down, and apologize for any, umm, inconvenience.” The ride back was much less akward... at least, for Steve and his son.