Monday, September 28, 2009

Onwards and Upwards

Hey everyone,

The folks over at have been kind enough to give The Ryan Report a new home, so you can see all my new posts over there:

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Movies and the Modern Mobster

So, I happen to be a big fan of gangster movies. The Godfather, Goodfellas, White Heat, The Public Enemy… I’m seen ‘em all. Maybe it’s some sort of a detective thing – in-depth research, you know? At least that’s what Esposito and I tell Beckett when we knock off early to catch the latest one opening day. Hey, she’s got her mystery novels, we’ve got our mob movies.

But one thing I learned on the job is that I’ve got nothing on the guys themselves. Mobsters love mob movies. They’re the biggest fans of the genre out there – pull a search warrant on a made guy and you’re gonna find the whole collection. And not only do they love ‘em, they try to live ‘em.

For example, when we pull some of them in for questioning, the paperwork’s a nightmare. Everyone’s got at least five nicknames: Shortstop Johnny, Frankie the Big, Jackie One-Time, Red-Eyes Rudy… The list goes on and on. Now, if that sounds like the restaurant scene from Goodfellas, that’s because it IS like that restaurant scene from Goodfellas. All those palookas saw that flick and started modeling themselves off it.

When you think about it, it’s not entirely surprising. Us cops have to attend the Academy, we have manuals and mentors and procedure – gangsters don’t have any of that. There’s no procedure or code of conduct, because that’s the point of being a gangster. There aren’t any mentors, ‘cause you’re too busy gunning your way to the top. Far as manuals go, there’s Puzo’s original Godfather book and gangsters (like most people) would rather see the movie than read the book…

As result, you’ve got a bunch of swaggering mobsters who model themselves after a bunch of actors. Actors who were just doing what a writer put down for them to do. A writer who was probably just putting down a modern version of those gangster movies he loved growing up. So it’s a vicious cycle of people making it up as they go along. Like making a photocopy of a photocopy of a photocopy.

So when you start dealing with these guys, what you find is a series of DeNiros and Pacinos imitations. Everybody’s full of bluster and big talk, but not the sharpest switchblades in the drawer. I mean, they can quote you lines from those flicks verbatim, but they can’t stop from brag about their crimes or remember not to pull off a truck hijacking in front of a security camera. Good for us, not so good for them.

Me, I think gangsters must have been a lot scarier before Jimmy Cagney and Edward G. Robinson got involved. Back then they weren’t compelled to parade around or talk endlessly about the “good old days.” The real gangsters, the guy who started everything back in the 1920s, weren’t interested in being some movie star ideal, living a glamorous life and getting a book deal out of it. The old-timers, they just wanted to get rich and not get caught.

Once this whole mythology rose up, that’s when things got complicated. See, movies end after two hours (well, three if you’re by Francis Ford Coppola), but real life goes on much longer. So being flashy and living a high-wire life is great for the biography, but they all end up the same place – in jail or dead.

Of course, those same gangster movies always end with the guy either dying or being arrested. So maybe these new guys can’t help it, that’s just what they expect. When’s the last time you saw a mob movie where the mobster got away with it? Result, is they simply couldn’t imagine it going otherwise in their own lives.

That’s probably another reason I dig on those movies – the bad guys always get theirs in the end. Doesn’t happen that way in real life, but I appreciate the movies letting me pretend that it could. And making the bad guys think there isn’t any other way, that’s useful too. Sometimes it makes my job just a little bit easier – when you’re stuck for hours in an interrogation room trying to convince Jackie “Short Eyes” Altasante to confess, it helps to have Hollywood on your side.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The Tie and The Two Week Anniversary

I guess I’m what you might call a romantic. I don’t know if it’s because I was raised with two sisters who forcefed me romantic comedies since I could crawl or if it’s a reaction to working a job that tends to show you the less glorious side of life. Probably both, plus the fact I live in a city with some of the most beautiful women in the world. I'm telling you, when summertime hits, it's a challenge just to drive down the street and keep your attention on the road rather than the sidewalk...

All this is just to say that when I fall for a girl, I tend to fall hard. And fast. Which Esposito pretty much thinks is insane. To hear him talk about it, a relationship is something that fills up your calendar and basically just stops you from having any fun in life. Of course, this is coming from a guy who has girlfriends about as often as we elect Presidents.

Anyhow, I recently started seeing this girl and… well… I fell like I always do, hard and fast. We’ve only been out about four times, maybe five if you count the night we met, but apparently people don’t count that. But I think you could. Anyhow, it’s going really well. She’s smart and she’s funny and she’s really, really cute… and even though it’s only been, uh, two weeks we’re already doing the whole girlfriend and boyfriend thing.

So when she gives me a tie to celebrate our (two week) anniversary, I’m going to wear it – even though it’s not really my usual style. It’s sort of more… risk-taking than my normal wardrobe. By which I mean it’s bright neon blue with rainbow dots. Explosive might be a polite term to describe it. It’s not the typical thing I, or anyone who isn’t employed at the circus, is gonna wear to work.

So, of course, when I show up the next day I immediately get busted on by NYPD’s finest fashion police. By Beckettt, by Esposito, hell even by Castle – which is pretty rich coming from the guy who showed up on a recent raid wearing a bullet-proof vest with “WRITER” stenciled across it. They’re giving me static not just about the tie, but about the fact that I’m getting an anniversary gift for being two weeks into a relationship. Apparently the gift at the two weeks is being whipped and blah blah blah. But I ignore them. And you know why?

It’s ‘cause if there’s anything I’ve learnt on this job, it’s that life is short and unpredictable. One day you’re on top of the world and the next, you’re a corpse found rolled up in a rug. One moment you’re talking with your best friend in the laundry room, the next she’s stuffing your dead body into a dryer. Or maybe you’re just that person who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and never came home again.

Point is, when you meet someone you really like, you gotta to go for it. ‘Cause who knows what the hell will happen tomorrow. And if the cost of having somebody special is wearing a tie that’s so bright it gives off radiation, so be it.

Besides, despite all that crap I took off him, Esposito’s the one asking if my girl has a hot sister or hot roommate or hot co-worker. And that’s how Mr. I-Don’t-Need-A-Relationship got scheduled for a double-date with me this Friday. He may talk a tough game, but at the end of the day he’s a little bit of a romantic just like everybody else.

Well, the sort of romantic whose idea of a perfect double-date is us all hitting the racetrack to lose a few hundred bucks. But hey, it’s a start.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Telling From The Tells

My dad used to say you can learn a lot about someone by knowing their poker tells, but I never really bought into that. I mean, you can learn how to take their money, sure, but other than that I have no idea what you’d learn. I’m guessing Dad mostly used that line as a way of explaining why he spent so much time at the poker table – he was just “learning” about people. It wasn’t, however, a line that Mom bought much either.

Our regular poker game the other night got me thinking about that little theory of his. Castle had us all over to his loft – which, by the way, makes me wanna get into the bestseller business – and as a result, we got to do our game in nicer digs than the usual locale of Esposito’s bachelor pad. Plus, there was the added bonus of seeing Castle’s live-in mother, Martha, embarrass the hell out of him. Was almost enough to make me feel okay about having Captain Montgomery bluff me into folding three queens with his pair of fours.

Was ruminating on Dad’s theory because, even though I’ve picked up a tell or two of my poker buddys’, I couldn’t say a thing about what it ‘revealed’ about ‘em. The tells, however, are amusing enough in and of themselves.

Castle’s tells become obvious pretty early on in our game, since Martha had a nice habit of letting us exactly what they were. Clearly, the man has a nasty tendency to blink when he’s got a bad hand and to tap when he’s got a good one. Funny thing is, even though Martha was spilling the details to us, Castle got so worked up shushing her that he couldn’t focus on stopping from doing them.

‘Course Martha’s not one to brag either, her tell's an easy one to figure out – it’s whether or not she’s in the hand at all. She folds early on anything that isn’t good. So if she’s staying in, she’s got the goods and there isn’t any bluffing her out of the game. She’s in ‘till the bitter end, no matter how high you raise her.

If you’re playing with Captain Montgomery, you just gotta keep a look at the expression on his face. The man loves to pull one over on any of us – it’s his way of reminding us who’s in charge. So if he’s got a smile on his face, you know he’s bluffing. The Captain just can’t restrain his pleasure at knowing that he’s about to smooth talk you into throwing down your perfectly good hand. Of course, he’s sometime slick enough to wait until after you’ve folded to pull it out. Last game, I didn’t even need to see his cards. When he got that grin on his face after I folded, I knew I'd been conned.

What about my boy Esposito? Well, he never met a terrible hand he didn’t like. Or, to put it more precisely, he never met a terrible hand he wasn’t convinced that he could remake into a terrific hand by waiting for the flop, the turn, and the river. He’ll be holding a 2 and a 4, off-suit, and be convinced that he’s somehow gonna spin that trash into gold. All you need to watch for is that intense look he gets in his eyes as he stares at the cards – it’s him imagining the magical series of events that will occur to turn his useless pair of cards into a game-winning hand. And once you see that look, you can be assured that you’ll be making a nice chunk of change betting against him.

Which brings us to Beckett. Now, to be honest, I didn’t figure out her tells until recently. Every other time I think I’ve got them figured out, she takes a whole stack of my money and proves me wrong. It’s been a damn expensive learning process, I gotta say. Just last week, I was convinced that she was bluffing whenever she would glance down and tug on that oversized wristwatch of hers. So I put my money where my theory was… and came away fifty bucks poorer.

But by the end of the game, I think I’d figured out her “real” tell. See, she has this habit of glancing down twice at her cards whenever she had a real set of cards… and glancing down just the once when she had a hand that she was bluffing on. So next week, I’ll be smiling over a mountain of chips if my hunch proves right. Of course that’s what I said last week…. And the week before… And the week before that one too. Huh.

On second thought, I’m starting to think Beckett may have figured out my tell. It’s whenever I’m convinced I’ve figured out her tell. Hmm… Maybe this week I’ll keep that Beckett theory of mine on the theoretical level. And just fold whenever she stays in. But man, where’s the fun in that?

Y’know, maybe Dad was onto something…

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Sister Effect

It’s not something I’m gonna talk about down at the sports bar, but more and more I’ve realized that growing up with two older sisters was incredibly useful. I mean, it’s certainly helped me understand women and that comes in handy every single day. Being able to read subtle mood differences… Understanding that asking a question don’t necessarily mean you want an answer… Knowing that salmon is a different color than pink. All that stuff. It’s helpful in dating, it’s helpful in getting that old lady at the shoe store to give me 10 percent off, it’s even helpful when I'm working.

It’s an approach vector thing. Most of the guys I work with come into a situation at Mach Ten, and it gets them nowhere. They’ll be talking to a female witness or informant, but doing it all wrong. They'll push and they'll threaten, but all they’re doing is digging a deeper hole. Me, I try and look at it from her point of view. I make these women feel at ease and safe, then explain to them why this information is so important. It’s not really that complicated a method, but it works. See Karen and Stacy – your little bro was paying attention!

And it’s not just useful out in the field, but also in the precinct. A lot of cops, when they work with a strong, intelligent woman like Beckett it goes one of two ways. Either they resent the hell out of her or they fall in love with her. Neither approach tends to end well.

But for me, Beckett’s just another sister. Someone for me to give crap to, get dating advice from, and figure out how best to catch the bad guys. And if any dude tries to mess with her, I bring out the baseball bat. Y’know, your usual sister/brother relationship.

Ninety-nine percent of the time it works out perfectly. Like with my real sisters, I don’t ever ask Beckett about her dating life or how she spent her weekend. And unlike my real sisters, she never feels the need to tell me about any of that.

But… there are times where I somehow, some way, end up seeing Beckett in a different light. And it’s awkward. ‘Cause the fact is she’s not my sister. And she is, how do I put this, a very attractive woman. I mean, y’know – so I’ve heard.

Take this week. We’re out doing our job, scouting for the bad guys at a fancypants gala, and Beckett shows up in this… dress. Which, uh, didn’t leave much to the imagination. And Beckett, she’s not someone I tend to use my imagination on. As in, I don’t think about her like that. Naked, I mean. I don’t ever think about her naked.

You know what I’m trying to say here.

Anyhow, next day, we’re at the office, and she comes in as I’m trying to scrub that image out of my head. For a moment, it just feels... weird. Then, like any other day, she starts giving me a hard time, bashing the salmon (not pink) tie I've got on. And, just like that, we’re back to the usual. Just a couple of siblings out to save this city.

I tell ya, I must be working at the right place if Beckett can make my morning by telling me my tie must have been on sale at the dollar store.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Fashion for the Single NYPD Detective

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life, it’s that everybody’s got their own way of doing things… and they’re gonna keep doing it that way, no matter what you’ve got to say. You just can’t tell anybody, especially not your friends, how to do anything. Nobody really wants to hear anybody else’s advice, whether it’s how to play foozball or which Rolling Stones album is the best (“Sticky Fingers,” btw). So when it comes to our different approaches on women, I gotta let Esposito do what he does. Trying to give him advice on that subject is like trying to stick the pin back in a grenade – I’m gonna look silly doing it and I’m gonna get blown up in the process.

Our man Epsosito likes to swagger in with a full head of steam to the girls who take his liking. He’s not afraid to show off the badge or tell a few war stories, even within the first five minutes. I like to say he comes from the S.W.A.T. school of dating – break down the door with excessive force and get ‘em before they even know what’s happening.

Me, I aim for the Homicide school of dating – no, not courting dead bodies. I’m talking about taking a slow and steady approach and spending time on the necessary research. Which is why my coffee table contains a Vogue here, a Vanity Fair there. ‘Cause, let me tell you, a little knowledge of the fashion world goes a long way in conversation with the New York girls.

So, yeah, I’m probably the only guy in the NYPD who can tell you the stylistic contrasts between Chanel and Fendi. Or why Kate Spade is different from Kate Moss. Or explain how they can sell those Gucci handbag knockoffs on Canal Street (‘cause they use “CC” for the initials instead of “GG” -- it's a homage, dude).

What can I say? It’s really fascinating stuff once you start looking into it…

But, yeah, I still get that “you-are-one-strange-dude” look from Esposito whenever I accidentally bring fashion stuff up in conversation – it’s not the sort of thing he’s ever gonna get. I could tell him that’s why I end up talking with the hottest girl in the bar all night while he’s stuck polishing his badge once the girls get tired of hearing his boring old war stories. It just doesn’t compute – I might as well be speaking Mandarin for all Esposito’s gonna hear about it.

That said, he didn’t complain too much when I used my fashion knowhow to bluff us into those Fashion Week parties this year. To him, all those out-of-town models were perfect – a group of pretty girls who hadn’t heard his war stories yet. So, yeah, even Esposito gets to benefit from it sometimes. ‘Course, I spend the whole party talking with an English designer about whether the pleated skirt would ever stage a comeback. Guess all those fashion magazines ended up getting under my skin more than I thought.

Monday, April 6, 2009

In The Land of Lost Things

So, the majority of the time doing my job means solving a Whodunit. When you show up to a crime scene, it’s typically pretty clear how the vic died. The big mystery is Who Did It – followed closely by Why and Where Can We Find Them Right Now?

But every once in a while we get a Howdunit or, more accurately, a What-The-Hell-Happenedit. In these cases the first priority isn’t tracking down who did the deed, but figuring out what actually occurred.

These are missing persons cases where the person doesn’t turn up dead, didn’t run away, didn’t pretend to be dead to avoid alimony – just straight up disappeared. I mean, most of the time, the vic turns up alive and gambling their savings away in Vegas. But every so often, you get a mindbender. A case where no warning was given, no note was left, no reasoning makes sense. And they’re the strangest calls I’ve worked.

I’m talking about cases straight out of a philosophy class. We show up and find the apartment deadbolted from the inside, windows closed and locked, the shower still running, and toast still in the toaster. If someone disappears and nobody can figure out how it happened, did it really happen at all?

It’s pretty hard for civilians to grasp, but this sort of thing occurs more often than you’d think. A case where there just isn’t any explanation. Just today, Esposito and I gave Castle the details on Dana Sullivan, a missing persons file we worked a year or so back.

Dana and her boyfriend leave a club in Soho around midnight on a Thursday. He’s a couple steps behind her ‘cause he’s talking on his cell, so when she turns the corner he’s just a few seconds before him. But when he comes around the corner, she’s gone. Street’s empty – no cars pulling off, no footsteps running away. Nothing.

Castle pinged on the boyfriend – clearly the likely suspect. But, like I told Castle, we brought the guy in, went over his story for hours. Examined every inch of their apartment, spoke to their friends, family, co-workers. Every angle we could think of. Then we pulled footage from a couple bank cameras that were located across the street where she disappeared.

First camera has her rounding the corner, then him doing the same. He comes into view of the second camera, but she never does. In the space of a few feet, she up and vanishes. That’s all there was to see.

In the end, everything corroborated the boyfriend’s story. Dana Sullivan just up and disappeared. We never figured that case out, never found an explanation where it all made sense. And if you go through our missing persons files, you’ll find hundreds of cases like that one.

I don’t know, maybe these people vanish to the same place where all those lost pens, remote controls, and socks go. That floating vortex of things that were here just a moment ago and aren’t anymore. Disappeared, vanished, never to be found again.

It’s enough to have you start believing in alien abductions, metaphysical wormholes, and little green men. One moment you’re hanging out at Quiznos, the next you’re in an intergalactic stadium waging combat against six-armed gladiators.