Passing Paper



Neighborhood: West Village

Back in the late 80s, my friend worked as a narcotic detective for the NYPD. The 27 year-old Brooklyn native belonged to an elite squad, trained to raid crack houses and dealers’ apartments in the Red Hook Houses, Brooklyn’s biggest housing project. His job was simple, but dangerous.

Once their battering ram smashed down the door, Rocco dropped to his knee with a shotgun seeking any threat. Most suspects froze in his sights, although some perps fled through elaborate escape routes chopped through the walls of buildings. The undercover officer was infamously known as ‘Dead-eye’, although he swore to me that he had never pulled the trigger on a fugitive. Rocco earned $27,000 a year without OT. His salary wasn’t much after taxes and he was always short of cash.

At that time, I was working at the Milk Bar on lower 7th Avenue. The triplex was filled with models, artists, musicians, criminals, dancers, and stars. No photos were allowed inside the club and Rocco only got through the door because we were friends. Once a week the young detective would stop by after work. 

“This is pleasure, right?” I had to ask. My boss hated the NYPD. They were aways shaking him down.

“Nothing but pleasure. I’m off-duty,” Rocco liked his drink.

“Make sure.” I didn’t want him arresting aynone on the premises and Rocco obeyed my edict to the letter, however every time he visited the club, several drug dealers left in a hurry. Even in his street clothes they read Rocco as a narco cop.

One night he arrived at the club and asked to use the office. I told the bouncers that I was taking a break. Rocco occasionally swiped some blow from a crime scene. He didn’t do any zoot himself, but the detective liked to be in my good books. I told the bouncers I was taking a break and shut the door behind us. We sat down at the desk and Rocco pulled a paper bag from under his jacket. It was packed with cash. $20s. All very crisp.

“What you think?” He handed me a bill.

“It’s good.” The touch was silky smooth and the images were clear to the eye. I held it up to the light. Something wasn’t right. Jackson’s eyes were off. “It’s a fugazi. Where you get them?”

“I was raiding a dealer’s apartment in the projects. We knocked down the door. I covered the room with my shotgun. The perps scooted out the windows. My boys chased them. I was left in the apartment by myself. There were paper bags in the corner. I looked inside and I found this.” Rocco took back the bill. “I thought I’d give myself a raise.”

“How much you think is in there?”

Cops are honest whenever there’s more than one of them around, but like everyone else in the world, no witnesses to a crime breeds larceny in the hearts of honest men.

“Only one way to find out.” Rocco dumped the phony cash on the desk.

We counted out just under $5,000.

“You know someone who can rid of this?” Rocco only believed in breaking one law at a time. He had done his share, now it was my turn.

“I can get you 50 cents on the dollar.”

“Then do it.”

I stashed the money in the safe and told Rocco, “Don’t tell anyone about this.”

And he didn’t.

Later in the week we split the money. He never asked who bought the fugazis. I never said who, because secrets are easier to keep when no one asks questions.

OPEN CITY declared Peter Nolan Smith an underground punk legend of the 1970s East Village. In the last century the New England native spent many years as a nightclub doorman in New York, Paris, London, and Hamburg. More recently he was appointed the unofficial writer-in-residence to an embassy in Mittel Europa. The constant traveler has lived for long periods of time in Tibet and the Far East; he is currently based in Fort Greene, New York and Thailand researching the secrets of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as well as putting the final touches on BACK AND FORTH his historical, semi-fictional book about hitchhiking across the USA in 1974.

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