Donald Worden checks the mailbox for the apartment number, looks up the three-story metal stair and instantly blames his partner for bringing him here.
You should be ashamed makin' me climb all these stairs at my age."
"Oh, it's my fault," says Kevin Davis.
He's on the lower landing when he looks up to see that the door in question still has its Christmas decoration affixed. He looks at Worden and rolls his eyes, as if the red ribbon wreath is a harbinger of things to come.
"She must be some real piece of work," says Davis.
She is, in fact, a witness -- a woman to be interviewed on a two-year-old Baltimore murder, and perhaps the last witness on the last case for two men who know that it is time to go. Worden, 55, has been a policeman for 33 years; Davis, 46, has two `D decades to his credit. Both have worked homicide for the last 12, learning everything there is of their craft, reaching the top of their game, acquiring legendary status around the stationhouses and courtrooms. They are the best this city has; this week was their last.
"Police," yells Davis, listening as someone inside pads toward the door.
"Yeah. From city homicide. Can we come in?"
"You're here to talk about Paul Moroz," she says, opening up. "Ain'tcha?"
Make no mistake: They could've dogged this last case. By their sergeant's reckoning, they should've dogged it; short-timers don't need to be out there on the street working. But with five days left to a couple of Baltimore police careers, these two are rapping on one last door, looking for a woman who might just close the case on a Highlandtown stabbing from '93.
They pretend that they could care less, that they're only running out a lead because a state's attorney asked, that if it were up to them, the last five days would be spent as last days are usually spent in the police department -- with legs crossed atop their desks, reading ball scores and comics.
For his part, Davis will be leaving with a plan; he's going to the state attorney general's office. He'll be working bank fraud. But Worden isn't sure yet how the story ends. In the homicide office, he's the Big Man, the last natural-born police detective in America, a huge, gap-toothed, Hampden-born polar bear blessed with instinctive street moves and an elephantine memory. He's walking away from a life he's known since 1962, from a department that raised him from a pup. He'll end up God knows where, but what the hell. It's time.
"Yeah, it's Mr. Moroz again," Davis says. "How'd you guess?"
"Anytime I get good-lookin' detectives like yourself out here it's about that sonofabitch," she says, leading them into the kitchen. Worden shoots a look at Davis. Not exactly a credible witness if she thinks they're lookers.
"I'm making eggs and sausage. You want some?"
"No, thanks. Smells good though."
Skill and simplicity
With Worden and with Davis, it isn't a matter of making the work look easy. Police work is never easy, though for anyone on the outside looking in, there is the crippling problem of expectation, of television, of the Hollywood version that subsumes all others. Forget the tough talk and the gun and the fingerprints and the fibers. Forget science and deduction and everything you ever read by Agatha Christie.
What's left for the reality is getting out of the office, talking to people and listening to people. Davis can talk, running wild with his Brooklyn accent, making suspects and witnesses and lawyers play to his profane, poetic wit. And Worden can listen, moving through the murmuring crowd at a crime scene or filling an interrogation room with so much silence that confession seems a reasonable form of relief.
For the last decade or so, Worden has been a force unto himself in city homicide, with a half-dozen younger detectives orbiting his desk, case folders in hand, seeking help or advice or approval. And Davis, too, was at the center of the other shift, working so many cases to their conclusion that he came to be regarded as certain, fixed and timeless. To them, solving murders could be precise, sometimes complicated business; but never was it predicated on any anti-rational hunch, or worse, on some climactic act of sleuth-like genius.
Get it straight: You get a murder. You work it. You do the right things in the right order and you do them in the right way. And if that sounds too simple, it isn't -- it takes years of experience and talent and desire to get it right.
And now Worden and Davis are leaving; going out on the same day as partners should. Donald Waltemeyer's retiring this week, too. And with all this experience walking out the door of city homicide, all hope rests with new blood. Among the younger detectives, Bobby Patton is now the best in the rotation. And Ritz is doing good work. So is Cheuvront.
"It'll go on," says Worden. "It doesn't end with us."