It was almost nine o’clock on a Monday morning when Police Lieutenant
Nick Cisco and Sgt. Kevin McClosky pulled up in their unmarked cruiser
in front of the Broome Street tenement. The meat wagon from the morgue
was already there, its rear doors wide open to accept the latest human
jetsam to be scraped from the Ward’s streets.
The stiff, a Negro man probably no more than twenty-five, was sprawled
across the pavement, feet on the lower tenement step, his head a few
feet from the gutter. The killing was not high profile enough for
Coroner Walter Tomokai to handle so an assistant was given the thankless
task of collecting the necessary forensic evidence.
A brown wooden handle above the man’s chest stood strong against the
mid-morning breeze indicating where an ice pick had skewered his heart.
Blood that had pooled around the body had already begun to harden at the
edges. About a dozen onlookers, young and old alike, displayed the
indifferent curiosity common to those who have seen it all before. A
uniform cop stood between them and the body.
“Jesus Christ, it’s Frank Gazzi. So this is where they buried
him,” McClosky said as he switched off the ignition and stepped out to
“He’s still got his badge,” Cisco said. “Come on, let’s get
The two homicide detectives examined the body while the ghouls from the
morgue snapped their pictures. McClosky turned to Gazzi, “Frank, you
the first one at the scene?”
“Yeah. I was around the corner when I heard a woman scream, so I came
running. Took about thirty seconds. When I got here he was still
breathing, coughing up blood, but breathing. Two uniforms got here a few
minutes later,” Gazzi said nodding over his shoulder to the police
cruiser. “They’re upstairs now.”
“Good luck with that,” Cisco said. “Doubt if they’ll get much.
Whatever it is, we’ll want it.”
“You heard a woman scream, so there’s a witness,” McClosky said.
“Where the hell is she?”
“What you see is what I found,” Gazzi said. “Beats hell out of me
how quick these people can run and hide.”
It took Cisco and McClosky less than an hour to wrap it all up. Nobody
heard a scream. Nobody saw anything. And nobody knew the victim’s name
or where he came from. That was remedied when they emptied his pockets.
There was forty-seven dollars in his wallet along with a U.S. Army ID
card stating that Staff Sergeant Wilbert Locklee was honorably
discharged at Camp Kilmer only two weeks earlier. A 1942 driver’s
license had been issued to Locklee in Clarkdale, Mississippi. There was
an unopened pack of Camels, ninety-two cents in change, and a Zippo
lighter emblazoned with the crest of the 92nd Infantry Division.
“I’ll be damned,” Cisco said. “This guy was a Buffalo
“Yeah there was a big article in LIFE magazine, how the 92nd , an all
Negro division, went all the way back to the frontier Indian wars. Did
pretty damn well this time around in Italy. Quite a history.”
“So what do you think?” McClosky said.
“Hunting for poontang,” Cisco said. “What else would get him up
here on the hill. He had plenty of green, just picked the wrong
“My guess, it was her pimp,” McClosky said. “They love the ice
pick. When his whore screamed, they panicked and hauled ass. Left behind
a stuffed wallet and wristwatch.”
“We’ll contact the cops in Mississippi, see if there’s a Locklee
family still living in Clarkdale.”
“Poor son of a bitch. Put his ass on the line for Uncle Sam and ends
up this way.”
They watched the meat wagon pull away with Locklee’s body, then turned
to Gazzi and the other two uniforms.
“Tell me what you’ve got,” Cisco turned to the two patrolmen.
“James DeAngelo,” the older one, probably about thirty and clearly
in charge, said. “My partner’s Dave Hurley.”
“Come up with anything worthwhile?” Cisco was aware of a common
tendency of street cops to embellish their reports in order to put
themselves in the center of homicide investigations. He had been there
“The same old shit,” Hurley said. “Everyone was deaf, dumb and
“How long have you had a badge?” McClosky said. “Got it all
figured out, do you.”
“Long enough to know there aren’t any niggers in this Ward talking
to cops,” Hurley said.
“Hell, we almost had to kick-in some doors to get them out in the hall
to talk at all,” DeAngelo said.
“Life can be a bitch,” Cisco responded sarcastically. “Just let us
know, do you have anything?”
“Just names.” DeAngelo said. “Had to pry one of them out of the
landlord. Seems a gal named Ruby West was nowhere to be seen this
morning. He unlocked her first floor flat to give us a look-see.”
“And….” McClosky said, his impatience evident. “Is this Ruby
West a whore or not?”
“With all the trappings,” Hurley said. “Big fancy bed, velvet
sofa, big pillows all around and even carpets on the floor. Beer in the
ice box, gin and rye. Not the best, but pretty good stuff. Fancy duds,
his and hers in the two closets.”
“This bitch looks like a real moneymaker with a live-in pimp,”
“Whatever you’ve got put it in writing, then get it down to homicide
by tomorrow,” Cisco said.
“Frank, it’s good to see that you’re still kicking,” McClosky
said. “Hang in there.”
The two detectives drove away. Their first stop would be the Tenderloin
to see if Ruby and her pimp also worked the downtown streets. Their
curbside space was taken by a Fire Department truck. Two firemen had
already begun unwinding a high pressure hose to flush blood off the
sidewalk and down a storm drain with other gutter debris.
They were waiting for the light to change on Waverly when Cisco broke
open a fresh pack of Chesterfields, tapped one out for McClosky and lit
up for both of them. Cisco took a deep drag and exhaled. “You know,
I’ve just been thinking about Gazzi, from wop golden boy to rousting
voodoo scam artists along the black belt.”
“He’s been around a long time, longer than me, and just as long as
you,” McClosky said. “Clue me in. How was it that he fucked up?”
“Goes back to when the goombahs started flexing their muscles
downtown,” Cisco said. “Gazzi linked up with Tony Gordo’s bunch
from Messina. He saw how Richie the Boot and Longy had divided the city.
Learned real fast how the game is played, and when to put the blinders
on. It seems he took his blinders off at the wrong time and the wrong
“I heard it was a simple vice bust,” McClosky said. “That he had
picked up a whore. Jesus Christ, if that’s all it was, he’s really
paying big time for it.”
“It didn’t end there,” Cisco said as the squad car pulled to the
curb in front of the Picadilly. “In fact, there was a second bimbo,
the same thing, wrong time, wrong place.”
That morning Officer Francis Gazzi had just completed his swing through
his Third Ward beat. After a few seconds at the call box, he was on his
way to Bloom’s Deli for a cup of coffee when he heard a woman scream
from around the corner. Not knowing what to expect and fearing the
worst, he felt for his Smith & Wesson, but left it holstered. He
poked cautiously around the corner entrance to the Zanzibar Lounge. Four
of the bar’s patrons ducked back inside as he brushed past them. He
found the sidewalks and tenement stoops, generally teeming with Negroes
of all ages, completely empty.
Gazzi spotted a man’s body on the sidewalk, and broke into a cautious
trot. He realized, when he was within fifteen feet of the body and saw
the spreading pool of blood, that this was going to be his first
homicide. He turned his gaze back to the corner just as a Negro couple
was leaving the Zanzibar. “Call the police! Do it now!”
The man stopped in his tracks, and turned towards Gazzi. But the woman
kept going as fast as her tight skirt and heels would let her.
“They’s already on the phone inside,” he shouted back, then turned
and followed his lady already a half-block up the street.
Five minutes later the patrol car arrived, followed in short order by
the meat wagon, and Cisco and McClosky.
Gazzi was only the second gentile cop to work a beat that included the
heart of Newark’s Jewish immigrant community, adjacent to the
“nigger belt” with its stabbings, shootings, fire-trap tenements,
voodoo parlors, numbers banks and staggering infant mortality rate.
The beat was the latest price he was paying for screw-ups dating back to
his years as a rookie. His best friend, Lt. Tony Gordo got him into the
department. Tony was like an older brother to him. Their families had
shared steerage from Messina. He was the best man at his wedding. Tony
had joined the force just before the war, and worked his way up. Since
the force was fifty percent Italian, it had been easy for him to pull
Frank along with him. He showed him the ropes and told him to keep his
nose clean, not to rock the boat. He even convinced his uniform boss to
give Frank a soft, downtown cruiser beat even though it would mean
screwing over cops with more seniority.
All he wanted was to do a good job, be a good cop back then. That was
his first mistake. It all turned to shit toward the end of his first
year in the squad car.
Excerpted from "Father Divine's Bikes" by Steve Bassett. Copyright © 2018 by Steve Bassett. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.