By Scott Flander
Published by William Morrow
July 2003; 0060188987; 320 pages
Every cop who's been on the job for a while can tell you about the call.
That one call over Police Radio, that if he had to do it all over again, there's no way in the world he'd answer it. Maybe he'd pretend his radio was turned off, or its battery was dead. As a last resort, he might try to leave work early -- Hey, Sarge, I don't feel so good, I've been throwing up, I really think I should go home right away.
It might be an innocent-sounding call, part of the daily routine. Or one that hints of danger, the dispatcher's voice suddenly tense, just slightly higher pitched. A call out of nowhere, out of the air, a voice that breaks the silence as the patrol car cruises through the familiar streets. The cop doesn't know it yet, has no way of knowing, but it's the call. And once he answers it, it changes his life forever.
For me, it came late one night, near the end of my shift. I was already making plans, thinking about seeing Michelle and having that first cold beer.
"Twenty-C-Charlie, we have a request for a supervisor."
No big deal, I thought. It just meant one of my cops needed me, probably for something minor, maybe even idiotic. Uh, Sarge, we just broke up a fight between like eight dogs -- do we got to do paperwork on it?
This time, it was Mutt and Roy who wanted me. Mutt had radioed in, asking for a supervisor at 43rd and Market. The dispatcher, knowing I was the only 20th District sergeant on the street that night, relayed the request to me.
I headed down Market toward 43rd, past the darkened, run-down stores, the Chinese take-outs, the grim bars we were always going into to break up fights. The bars always seemed to have two or three black guys standing out front, hands in their pockets, doing nothing. I never understood that. Why would you want to be outside the bar, rather than inside?
There was no one at 43rd and Market, the intersection was clear. But then I saw, halfway down 43rd, Mutt and Roy's patrol car, overhead lights flashing, pulled up behind another vehicle. It looked like a routine car-stop.
I knew this block of 43rd pretty well, it was a real dead zone. On one side was a long stretch of empty lots, with an abandoned row-house here and there, like some homeless guy with just a couple of teeth left. On the other side of the street was a fenced-in, ramshackle used-car lot with bright plastic triangle-flags strung from pole to pole. As if in this neighborhood, all you needed was a little optimism.
I stopped my car behind Mutt and Roy's. Through the hazy darkness I could see them standing with a man next to his car, a black man in a suit and tie. I got out, and walked up to them, and saw that the man had a bald, round head and a graying beard. And that he was covered with blood.
It was everywhere, over his tailored brown suit, his white shirt, soaking the handkerchief that he was holding to his face.
He seemed filled with relief when he saw me, saw my stripes.
"Thank God someone's here," he said. He looked dazed, not quite sure where he was. He was leaning against his car for support.
Mutt and Roy glanced at me with worried looks.
"What's going on?" I asked them.
Mutt shook his head. "You tell us, Sarge."
"Get them away from me," the man said.
"Who?" I asked.
He seemed baffled at the question. "Who?" he repeated. His eyes flicked from Mutt to Roy, then back, as if he were expecting a punch at any moment.
He coughed and winced, grabbing his left side. Something was wrong with his ribs.
Mutt turned to me, half in panic. "We didn't touch him, Sarge. We found him like this."
The man seemed familiar, I had the feeling I knew who he was. But he still had the handkerchief to his face, and the street was full of shadows.
He looked at me and said in a calm voice, "They think they can get away with this."
He took the handkerchief away, and I could see bloody cuts on top of his smooth head, over his eyes, on his swollen lip.
And in the dim light, I recognized him.
I clicked the shoulder mike for my radio, and tilted my head down to talk.
"This is Twenty-C-Charlie, we need Rescue at this location."
"Councilman," I said, trying to keep my voice steady, "what happened here?"
Mutt and Roy jerked their heads at me, then back at the black man in the suit and tie.
"Oh, shit," said Roy. "This is Sonny Knight."
The man glanced at Roy, then turned to me. "Sergeant, get them away from me. Please."
I motioned for Mutt and Roy to step back.
"Sarge," said Mutt, "I hope you don't think ... "
"Just move back," I said, motioning again with my hand. They obeyed.
"Sir," I said. "Tell me what happened."
He wiped his face again. The bleeding had mostly stopped, but a few cuts were still leaking.
"Those two attacked me," he said, pointing at Mutt and Roy. "I thought they were going to kill me."
"Huh?" said Mutt. "What're you talking about?"
Knight kept his eyes on me. "I want them placed under arrest. Right now."
He rose to his full height. More confident, now that I was there.
I tried to think clearly. Mutt and Roy couldn't have just beaten the shit out of Councilman Sonny Knight. They couldn't have.
Take it slowly, I told myself. One step at a time ...
With Four to Midnight, award-winning crime reporter Scott Flander, author of the critically acclaimed novel Sons of the City, returns with a second explosive novel of justice, politics, and race featuring Sergeant Eddie North.
When a black city councilman is badly beaten on a West Philadelphia street and blames two of Eddie's best cops, they deny it. Called to the scene, Eddie -- uncertain of what really happened -- decides to back his men and finds himself accused of a conspiracy to cover up the truth. The media, the politicians, and the public are outraged. And then a man in a black ski mask begins a campaign to assassinate cops.
As Eddie races to learn what was really behind the beating, more trouble erupts. A fellow sergeant has taken advantage of the tension in the city and formed a ring of corrupt officers that includes one of the two cops for whom Eddie is risking everything.
The widening conflict between the police and the black community is mirrored by the battle of cop against cop. And with the stakes so high, there are no winners ... just those strong enough -- and lucky enough -- to survive.
Masterfully plotted and delivered in evocative prose, Four to Midnight is a riveting story of how hard it is to do the right thing in the midst of a raging battle to maintain brotherhood and morality in a city under siege from within.(back to top)
Scott Flander grew up in California's San Joaquin Valley where his parents ran a weekly newspaper. Flander loves writing of any kind and and over the years has covered all kinds of stories -- politics, organized crime, racial conflict, breaking news, and even a humor column. He has worked on the Charlotte Observer, and before that, newspapers in Annapolis and Havre de Grace, Maryland.
Eighteen years ago he moved to Philadelphia to work as a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News, where he still works. He turned to fiction writing in 1992, when he started working on a long story about how cops do their jobs. While his books are essentially about Philly street cops, they are really about the city, itself, a place he truly loves. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Karen.