Once Were Cops by Ken Bruen

 Kurt Browski, built like a shit brickhouse and just as solid. A cop out of Manhattan

South, he was having a bad day.

Much like most days.

His heritage was East European but contained so many strands, not even his parents knew

for sure it’s exact basis

And cared less

They wanted the American Dream

Cash………….and cash…………and yeah, more of same

They didn’t get it

Made them mean


His mother was a cleaner and his father had been a construction worker but had settled

into a life of booze, sure beat getting up at 5.00 in the morning

His father beat his mother and they both beat Kurt

Somehow, he, if not survived them, got past them and finished High School, joined the


He wanted to be where you gave payback

That was how he saw the force, emphasis on force. He was certainly East European in

his view of the boys in blue, they had the juice to lean on ……………..who-ever-the-

fuck they wished

And he did


His early weapon of choice was a K-bar.

Short, heavy and lethal and you could swing it real easy, plus, they rarely saw it coming.

They were watching your holstered gun and wallop, he slid the bar out of his sleeve and

that’s all she wrote

His rep was built on it and over the years, he became known as Kebar.

Did he care?

Not so’s you’d notice. He didn’t do friends, so what the fuck did he care.

Sometimes though, he longed to go have a few brews with the guys, shoot the shit, chill.

He adored country music, that sheer sentimentality was a large part of his nature and he

kept it hidden. His fellow officers, they went to the bar, got a few put away then played

country and western till the early hours

He loved Loretta Young, Ol Hank of course and then Gretchen Peters, Emmylou Harris,

Iris de Ment, Lucinda Williams, they were his guilty pleasures. All that heartache, it was

like they know him

His partners in the prowl car rarely lasted long, he took so many chances, they either got

hurt real fast or transferred

And now, you fucking believe it?

They were giving him some snot nosed kid,

O’ Brien, his commanding officer, a Mick, those guys, they still got the top jobs, had

summoned him

Anyone tell you the Micks were a thing of the past in the force………….take a look at

the roll call

You think they were letting that lucrative line of not so equal oppotunity slip away.

O’Brien didn’t like Kebar, knew the guy was unhinged but he sure got results and like

O’Brien, he adhered to the old idea

“Justice was dispensed in alleys, not courtrooms.”

He said to Kebar

“Have a seat.”

“I’ll stand Sir.”


O’Brien wondered if the guy ever eased up, said

“Suit yourself.’

He took a good look at Kebar

The guy was all muscle, rage and bile

Perfect cop for the times

His face was a mess of broken nose, busted veins ( he liked his vodka, straight) a scar

over his left eye, he looked like a pit bull in uniform.

O’Brien said

“Got you a new partner.”

Kebar growled

“Don’t need no partner.”

O’Brien smiled

This is where it was good to be chief, flex that muscle, asked

“I ask you what you needed?………..did you hear me do that, yeah, it’s not what you need

mister, it’s what I tell you’re getting, we have a reciprocal arrangement with The Irish

Goverment to take twenty of their’s and twenty of ours go over there

Kebar had heard all this crap before…………yada yada, he sighed, asked

“Who am I getting?”

O’Brien was looking forward to this, opened a file, took out his glasses, all to annoy the

shit of Kebar, pretended to read

“Matt O Shea, did a year on the beat in Galway”

He paused then added

“Galway, that’s in Ireland.”

Kebar would have spit, reined it in a bit, sneered

“A Mick, no disrespect sir but a green horn, gonna have to break his cherry for him?”

O’Brien was delighted, better than he’d hoped, he said

“Actually, he seems a bright kid.”

Kebar was enraged, rasped

“In Ireland, they don’t even carry freaking guns, they’re like …………….

He couldn’t think of a suitable degrading term, settled for

“Rent a cops.”

O’Brien smiled again, he was having a fine morning, said

“I’ll expect you to treat him properly, that’s all, dismissed.”

Outside the office, Kebar spat, a passing cop was going to say something, saw who it was

and kept on moving

Kebar went down to the car pool, rage simmering in his belly, leaned against his car, got

his flask out, drank deep. A young guy, in sparkling new uniform approached, put out his

hand, asked

“Officer Browski?”

Kebar stared at him, the new uniform was blinding, the gun belt neon in it’s newness, the

buttons shining on his tunic

He belched, grunted

“Who’s asking?”

The kid still had his hand out, his eyes full of gung ho bullshit, said

‘I’m your new partner, Matt O Shea, they call me………”

Before he could go any further, Kebar said

“Shut the fuck up, that’s your first lesson, I want to know something, I’ll ask you, can

you follow that?”

“Yes sir.”


Kebar thought it was going to even worse than he’d imagined

He asked

“Can you drive?”

“Of course, I…………”

“Then get in the fucking car, get us out of here.”

Kebar looked at his sheet, the assignments they’d pulled and said

“Head for Brooklyn, can you find that?”

Shea was going to tell him he now lived there but buttoned it, just nodded, thinking

“Holy fook, I get a psycho on me first day.”

They were passing an area of deserted lots, mud on the ground, no signs of habitation and

Kebar said

“Pull up here.”

Shea, nervous, before he could stop himself, went


“Deaf as well?”

He pulled over

Kebar got out, said

“You hear of backup, get out of the fucking car.”

Shea got tangled in his safety belt and harness, all the frigging equipment and it weighted

a ton, plus, the uniform, Christ, how hot was it and it itched

Kebar said

“Before the weekend, maybe?”

Shea, finally out, waited and Kebar said

“Go, I’m behind you.”

And for a wild moment, Shea wondered if the mad bastard was going to shoot him? The

other cops had already told him of how Kebar’s partners never lasted

Before he could think beyond this, he got an almighty push in the back, sent him

sprawling in the mud, covering his brand new blues in crap and dirt.

He rolled round, temped to go for his piece, Kebar was slugging from a flask, said

“Now that’s more like it, you don’t look like such a freaking virgin, we go into the hood,

they see that shiny new blue, we’re meat.’

And then he turned back to the car

Shea watched his retreating bulk and hated him with a ferocity of pure intent

As they drove off, Kebar was chuckling and Shea asked

“You going to share the joke?”

Kebar looked at him, said

“First day on the job, you’re already a dirty cop.”

They did a full day, settling domestics, leaning on dope dealers, cop stuff, some of it

wildly exhilarating and most, boring as hell

And Shea, he never attempted to change his uniform or even brush the mud off it

Kebar was impressed, he didn’t let on but thought

“Kid has cojones.”

Even better, he didn’t whine or complain, whatever nasty task Kebar set him and he sure

had some beaut’s, the kid just went at them, head down, his mouth set in a grim smile

End of the shift, Kebar was tempted to say

“You done good.”

Went with

“Early start tomorrow, don’t be late.”

The kid looked out on his feet, asked

“You want to grab a cold one?”

And for a moment, Kebar nearly said yes, then reined it in, said

“I don’t drink with the help.”

Everyone has their Achilles heel, the one area that makes them vulnerable. From Bush to

Bono, there is something they dont want known

Be it pretzels or lack of height

Kebar’s was his sister, Lucia

She has a serious mental handicap and never aged past five, now in her thirties, she still

had the face and mind of a five year old

Their parents had been horrified and regarded her as a curse

They had tried to beat it out of her, literally

Now, she was in a very expensive home, where they treated her well, and she seemed if

not happy, at least less terrorized

Out on Long Island, it cost a bundle to keep her there

Kebar poured every nickel into her upkeep

He was losing the battle

The thought of her being put into one of the State institutions filled him with dread

She’d been there already, courtesy of her parents and suffered serious setbacks on every


Soon as Kebar could, he got her out of there, and into the new home

The freight was killing him, he didn’t go to ball games, or buy new clothes,

every damn dime went to her

It wasn’t enough

Enter the wiseguys

A particular slice of Sleaze named Morronni, feeling Kebar out and finally putting it to


“You need some serious wedge and we can give it to you.”

How the fucks knew about Lucia, he didn’t even ask, that was their gig, secrets.

He wanted to get his K-bar, ram it down the cocksucker’s throat but it was a week when

he couldn’t make the payments for Lucia so he asked

“What I gotta do?”

His heart in ribbons, he hated dirty cops with a vengeance and here he was, joining the

ranks of the damned

Morronni smiled, said

“Hey, no big thing, you let us know when the cops are gonna make a bust, whose phones

are tapped, small stuff, you know, nuttin to get in a sweat bout.”


Lure you in

They did

And progressed

Bigger stuff

The money was on a par

He was able to guarantee six months ahead for Lucia

The proprietor of the home, a sleek suit named Kemmel, said

“Mr Browski, we don’t usually take large sums of money, cheque’s, credit cards, they are

the norm.”

Kebar gave him his street look, the one that had serious skels look away, said

“Money is money, you telling me you cant do off the books, you want me to get a

sanitation crew out here, give your place the once over.”


He took the money

And in a sly tone, asked

“You need a receipt?”

Kebar wasn’t used to being threatened, least not by pricks in suits, unless they were

pimps and certainly, never twice.

Kemmel was sitting behind a large mahogany desk, smirk in place, not a single paper on

the desk, a framed photo of his shiny wife and shinier kids facing out to the world,


“See, I’m a winner.”

Kebar leaned across the desk, deliberately knocking the frame aside, grabbed Kemmel by

his tie, pulled him back across the desk, asked

“You like fucking with me, that it?”

Kemmel, who’d never been manhandled in his life, was terrified, he could smell garlic on

the cop’s breath, he managed to croak

“I think we might have hit a wrong note.”

Kebar put his thumb up against Kemmel’s right eye, said

“One tiny push, and you’ll see things in a whole different light.”

Then he let him go, stood up, asked

“You were saying?”

Kemmel, struggling for his dignity, adjusting his tie, said

“No problem Mr B, I’ll see to your


Kebar edged the frame with his worn cowboy boots, his one indulgence, bought in the

village and custom made, said

“Real nice family, tell you what, I’ll drive by, time to time, keep an eye on them, call it a

personal arrangement.”

Next day at work, Kebar was leaning against the car, hoping the kid would be late

He wasn’t

And the uniform, still mud encased.

Kebar asked

“How’d the roster sergeant like your uniform?”

The kid said

“He gave me a bollicking.”

Kebar liked the term, had a nice ferocity about it, said

“Tore you a new one, did he?”

The kid went

“Tore what?”

Kebar laughed, he was going to have to teach him American as well as everything else,


“Asshole, we say, he tore me a new one, means you got reamed.”

If the kid appreciated the lesson, he didn’t show it.

Kebar was enjoying himself, it had been a long time since he enjoyed being buddied up.

He turned towards his door when he got an almighty push in the back, jammed him

against the roof and then his arm was twisted up his back, the kids arm round his

windpipe, he heard

“Let me teach you something smartarse, The Guards, no matter what you think of them,

they never forget…………….ever………….and you ever push me in the fucking back

again, you better be ready to back it up.”

Then he let go

Kebar was stunned, no one had the balls to come at him like that in a long time and he

debated reaching for his bar then began to laugh, said

“You’re a piece of work, you know that, let’s roll.”

The days surprises weren’t over yet, they answered a call to a domestic, and Kebar said

“Don’t get between the couple, nine times out of ten, you subdue the man, the freaking

broad will gut you.”

The kid said

“Believe it or not, we have wife beaters in Ireland.”

Kebar took a quick look at the kid, he was wearing a real serious expression and Kebar


“What you’d do, call the priest.’

Without changing his look the kid said

“Often, tis the priest doing the beating.”

Kebar liked that a lot, he was warming all the time to the punk, despite his best efforts.

They got to the scene, and Kebar led the way, His hand on his holster, the door of the

apartment was open and a skinny white guy was whacking a woman like his life

depended on it

Kebar said

“You want to stop doing that sir?”

He didn’t


“Fuck off pig, family business.”

Kebar shrugged his sleeve, the bar sliding down and he moved forward, missed seeing a

side door open and a shotgun pointing out

Two shots nearly deafened him and a body tumbled out, a guy moaning, he’d been hit in

the shoulder and leg. Kebar looked at the kid, his smoking gun sill leveled. Kebar moved

to the guy on the floor, kicked the shotgun away, said

“Move and you’re fucking dead.”

The guy who’d been beating on his wife, shouted

“You shot my brother, you cocksucker.”

Kebar took him out with the bar and then the woman started so she joined the bodies on

the floor.

The kid still had the gun pointed

Kebar said

“You can put it down now.”

The kid’s eyes were clear and he nodded, said

“Guess we better call it in.”

They did

Kebar moved to the kid, said

“I owe you.”

The kid gave him a look, said

“Just back up, that’s all, what is it you guys say? No biggie.”

The brass arrived and re-assured Shay it was a good shoot and even though Internal

Affairs would be talking to him, he had nothing to worry about, they actually clapped

him on the back, said

“You did real fine.”

Outside, as they got into the prowl, Kebar said

“Pretty fancy shooting.”

The kid shrugged

“I was aiming for what I figured was his head, need some practice I suppose.”

They got out of there and back to the station house, Kebar broke his rule, asked

“Can I buy you a brew, shit, lots of brews and what that’s stuff you Micks


Shay stood for a moment, looking at the ground, then

“No thanks, I’m the help…………that’s what you said……….right.”

And he was gone

Kebar felt let down, like he’d failed the kid.

What was for damn sure was, the kid hadn’t failed him.

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