Sunday, May 5, 2024

My Crime Fiction: Officer Mack

 The below short story originally appeared in American Crime Magazine. 

Officer Mack

By Paul Davis

Back when I was a teenager in South Philly in the late 1960s, long before I became a newspaper crime reporter and columnist, some of the boys on our corner at 13th and Oregon Avenue hated cops. 

South Philadelphia was and is the hub of the Philadelphia-South Jersey Cosa Nostra organized crime family, and these teenagers were the sons and nephews of the mob guys. 

I recall that “Crazy Joe” Villotti, the nephew of a Cosa Nostra capo, or captain, refused to go with us and see the film Goldfinger. 

Villotti asked me, “Isn’t James Bond a cop?”   

“No,” I replied. “He’s a British secret agent, a cool spy of sorts.” 

“Yeah, he’s a fucking government guy, so I don’t want to watch the fuck.” 

But for most of the boys on the corner, like me, we saw that there were two types of cops. There were “cool” cops and “prick” cops. 

The cool cops were generally tough guys who could afford to be lenient and understanding at times, while the prick cops were weaker men who we believed made up for their feelings of inferiority by acting stern and officious at all times. 

Police Officer Thomas T. Mack was a prick cop. 

Mack, a short and muscular 30-year-old, began dating Marie Saccone, the attractive elder sister of Chick and Stevie Saccone, two of my friends on the corner. 

Their father was a mob associate and a big-time bookmaker and loan shark. But despite their father being an illegal gambler, Chick and Stevie didn’t hate cops the way Villotti and some others did. 

Mack asked to be transferred to the 3rd Police District to be closer to Marie. He patrolled Oregon Avenue, a four-lane wide street and major thoroughfare in the predominantly Italian American neighborhood in South Philadelphia. 

He often stopped at JP’s Luncheonette at 13th and Oregon Avenue for cigarettes and coffee. He would then come out and gab with Stevie, whom he treated like a younger brother. 

Chick would walk away, as he hated Mack. He hated Mack, not because he was a cop, but rather because he thought Mack was a phony and an asshole. 

Mack’s friendliness with Stevie and the other teenagers on the corner ended the day Marie dumped him. 

That very night he arrested Stevie and two other teenagers for drinking beer on the corner. And from that night on, Mack declared war on us. He harassed us nearly every night. We all hated Mack.

On a Mischief Night before Halloween, Mack pulled up on the corner and shouted through his open passenger window for us to get off the corner. 

“Yes, Sir,” we replied in unison. And in unison, a half dozen of us tossed a half dozen eggs at him through his passenger window. We then took off running but not before I saw the furious look on his face and his cap knocked sideways with egg yolk dripping down his face from the cap’s brim. 

I was laughing madly as I ran away from the corner. 

Mack went crazy and zoomed around the streets hunting us. I ran home after throwing my egg at him. My mother asked why I was home so early, and I told her I was tried and wanted to go to bed. 

Officer Frank Grant was a cool cop. We never would have thrown eggs at him. 

Grant stopped into JP’s nearly every night for a sandwich and a cup of coffee. Grant, a tall, gangly man in his late 20s, told funny stories to the owners of JPs and us. 

I recall him telling a story about a drug raid on an abandoned house in the 3rd District. 

The district captain saw white powder that lay on a sheet of brown paper on the floor in the corner. He wet his index finger and dipped his finger in the powder and tasted it on the tip of his tongue. 

“Is this heroin,” he asked.

He again dipped his finger in the powder and tasted it.

“Is this heroin,” he again asked.     

One of the officers told the commanding officer, “Captain, I think it’s rat poison.”

The captain froze for a moment and then told the officer to drive him to the hospital.

Like many cops I’ve known over the years, Grant was a fine storyteller. When years later I read and enjoyed Joseph Wambaugh, the LAPD detective sergeant who became the best-selling author of The New Centurions, The Choir Boys, and other classic cop novels and nonfiction books about copsI often thought of Grant. 

Another thing that endeared us to Grant was that he hated Officer Mack and often mocked him. 

One night as I sat alone with Grant at JP’s counter, I told the officer that although my Uncle Bill was a police captain, and my father, a WWII Navy chief and Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) frogman, was a strict law & order man, I hated Officer Mack. 

Grant laughed and said most of the 3rd District cops also hated Mack.       

Although we had some tough guys on 13th and Oregon, like my older brother Eddie, Joe Villotti and the Saccone brothers, we were more of a party corner, as we hosted various crews of pretty girls that hung out with us 

But the street gang blocks away at the corner of Dalton Street and Oregon Avenue, called the “D&O,” was a crazy crew of violent, drug dealing teenage hoodlums. 

The D&O street gang hated Officer Mack even more than we did. Like us, Mack rousted the D&O teenagers for no reason other than hating them. True, they were hoodlums, but Mack often went overboard, roughing them up after handcuffing them. He then threw them out of his patrol car without even bothering to arrest them.

I suspect that because he was rejected by a beautiful Italian woman, Mack hated Italians. He called the D&O boys and the 13th & Oregon Avenue teenagers “dagos” and “wops.”

But the D&O teenagers fought back.

I heard Mack went batshit crazy when he drove down Oregon Avenue and saw that the D&O boys had spray painted on the side of a building in very large letters, “OFFICER MACK BLOWS.”

The painted message was the talk of the 3rd District cops. Mack was widely mocked by his fellow officers.  

One night Officer Mack pulled up to 13th & Oregon, jumped out of his car, leaving the driver’s car door open and the patrol car running. He dashed into JP’s and shouted to the dozen or so guys and girls on the corner, “Be off this fucking corner by the time I come out, or I’ll lock up all you up.”

I saw his patrol car door open and the car running, so I seized the day and jumped into the driver’s seat and took off. I drove across Oregon Avenue and jumped the curb of Marconi’s Park. 

I looked for, but could not find, the siren. As I drove through the park wildly, I glanced in the rear-view mirror and saw Mack running and shouting like a crazy man across Oregon Avenue, his service revolver held up into the air.  

I put on the brakes halfway into the park and jumped out running. I ran right into the beefy arms of a Fairmount Park Police Officer, who twisted me around and handcuffed me. He held me for Mack. 

Mack came up huffing and placed his service revolver back in the holster. He took out his “sap,” a short steel rod covered in black leather, and he slapped the sap across my knees. 

The pain was awful, but the worst thing was that I could not clutch my aching knees, as my hands were handcuffed behind my back. I leaned down as the Park cop held me.  

The Park cop asked Mack if he wanted to arrest me, and Mack said no. 

“Do me a favor and drive the kid down to the river and let the punk walk back home.”  

I had to walk from the river on Delaware Avenue and Front Street back up to 13th and Oregon with swollen and throbbing knees. 

But it was worth it, as I was the talk of the corner that night and Thomas Junior High School the next day. Everyone thought I was a cool guy. The wild hoodlums from the D&O slapped me on the back and called me a “crazy motherfucker,” which was a high compliment from them.

Grant came to JP's the following night and told me that I was lucky that Mack didn’t arrest me or shoot me. He said that Mack didn't probably hoping no other cops would hear that a teenager stole his car.

But the Park cop hated Mack and he called a friend at the 3rd District and told him the story. The cop in turn told all of his fellow 3rd District officers. Mack was ridiculed once again.         

Some months later, Officer Grant came into JP's and told me that Mack was fired for beating the son of a South Philly councilman. According to Grant, Mack cuffed the Italian American politician’s teenage son and beat him as he held him against the side of the patrol car. 

The son was what we called a “square” kid, and what the adults called a “nice Italian boy.” He was a good student who didn’t drink beer or smoke pot on the corner with us. 

We didn’t know why Mack singled him out. Mack handcuffed him and threw him against the side of the patrol car. He slapped the teenager in the face repeatedly and delivered a severe punch to the teenager’s stomach. 

The noise and flashing lights on the patrol car drew the attention of several neighbors who called 911 and reported the brutal treatment of the teenager. 

The councilman called the captain, who then ordered an investigation. Mack was subsequently fired. He also faced assault charges from the District Attorney’s office.

“Good riddance,” Grant said.

I laughed and said, “So even in South Philly, there’s some justice. 

© 2024 By Paul Davis  

Note: You can also read another crime fiction short story, The Big Move, via the below link:

Paul Davis On Crime: My Crime Fiction: 'The Big Move'

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