Francis McReary sat hunched over a trail of linked paperclips that snaked from one end of his desk to the other; ending in a tiny coil near the multi-lined telephone. It was a habit that had only recently started since his promotion to Deputy Police Commissioner a year ago. The stresses of ridding the city of its criminal element were of greater consequence than when he was just an Officer trying to make Detective. The politics coupled with his ambition to one day have it all; to be the city’s top cop with all the adoration for being the one that had made the sacrifices through his entire career to rid Liberty of the low-life scum that ruined life for everyone else. He sacrificed his family, leaving them when perhaps they needed him the most. If he had stayed closer to his brothers, maybe their father would have had less of an influence on them. His mother couldn’t handle four boys who quickly grew into men way before they were ready. Their father saw to it that his sons knew who they were and where they came from.
Years ago, the McReary name was something to be respected and feared amongst the criminal gangs that ran wild through the city. The Irish Mob, headed by Mr. McReary ruled Purgatory and other areas of the city for years. Eventually their influence dwindled as the Italian gangsters grew in number and strength, soon claiming territory that was once controlled by the McReary Family. Francis wanted no part of his family’s legacy. Believing that the Priesthood would set him apart from his inheritance, Francis dove deep into his studies. But he finally realized that he was more like his brothers than he wanted to admit when he was caught cheating on his final exam, thereby ending any hope of being a Priest.
As Francis set off to begin a new career in law enforcement, he wanted to redeem himself by cleaning the city of its criminal element. However, the gates of H*ll were flung open almost right from the beginning. Waiting inside was the path to a stellar career adorned with fast promotions and commendations for bravery and excellent work as a Law Enforcement Officer. Through his entire career Francis made deal after deal with the devil, believing it to be the right thing. The ends always justified the means. As an Officer, Francis would reach past his authority. He almost never followed police policy. Be it an armed robbery or a homicide; planting evidence at a crime scene was no stretch for his imagination and Francis did it as often as possible. He used the justification that the suspect was guilty of something and this was just a quicker way to get at justice. While his partners questioned his tactics, they were soon convinced to go along to get along.
Francis moved quickly through the ranks, making Detective after having one of the highest arrest and conviction rates in the precinct. With a promotion, came a new partner and another opportunity to reach deeper into the criminal world. His long held belief of ridding the city of crime one criminal at a time took hold once he was assigned to the Narcotics Division. Francis knew the city well, making it easy to locate the pimps and their place of operation. He threatened to shut down their businesses if they didn’t give up information on the pushers that were getting their girls strung out on drugs. Not wanting to deal with an arrest or have their cash flow interrupted, most pimps cooperated and even offered the services of their best girls for free. Once the pushers were found, they were met with a gun to their head if they didn’t give up their dealers. This was a mode of operation for Francis and his partner for years.
After several dangerous encounters with The Spanish Lords and The East Holland Hustlers, Francis was recognized for his bravery and exceptional work as a Law Enforcement Officer. He won several commendations which set him on the fast track to making Sargent. Nothing stood in the way of his ultimate dream of becoming Police Commissioner. He had one foot in the legitimate world while dragging his other through the ditch of the criminal underworld, snagging contacts, informants, and other corrupt officers and politicians along the way. And that’s how one deal led to the next until Francis McReary started dealing with the Gambettis, the most powerful Organized Crime Family in Liberty City.
The Deputy Police Commissioner picked up the tiny rectangular magnetized container, shaking it to free the final paperclip. The loop of metal tumbled around inside the clear container before falling unto his desk. He linked the clip, completing a five foot chain that now dangled over the edge of the desk much like his life dangled on a precarious ledge of deals with almost every hoodlum he could find. Francis coiled the last of the chain into a neat little pile as he caught a glimpse of his reflection staring back at him from his computer screen. He looked awful. He felt even worse. The dark circles beneath his deeply sunken eyes seemed to age him by a decade, making him almost unrecognizable to himself. The deals had finally caught up with Francis. No alibi would save him from the absolute conviction by the Gambetti Family. The terrible mistakes made at the jetty were left at his feet and his feet alone.
Last night was supposed to be without incident; a quick exchange of cash for narcotics in a secluded area veiled by the night sky. But something went horribly wrong and now the Gambetti’s money was gone along with most of the cocaine from a Vice City Crime Syndicate. Francis had few options; either find the money and drugs or pay with his life. Neither being anything that he wanted to contemplate. The drugs and money were all but lost, nearly impossible to recover and his life was not something he was going to give willingly.
The phone had been silent for hours. Russell Cobb had disappeared again, leaving Francis to wonder if he had something to do with the ‘so called’ ambush. He lowered his head in time to see the display of his cheap disposable phone light up. A string of numbers appeared with the letters MC attached to the end. Francis had given Detective Shannon that code for MY COP when the two began their illicit partnership nearly four years ago. The phone chimed a full three times before Francis had the nerve to answer.
“What you got?” He asked, trying to conceal the shakiness in his voice.
“Not a d*mn thing. Cobb is gone. It’s just like the guy vanished into thin air.”
“Well, he’s done it before,” responded Francis with a pinch of bitterness in his tone.
“Me and Bradley turned his apartment. Even waited around for a while. And nothing.”
Francis sighed deeply, letting his frustration be known. “Were you able to find his buddy Jermaine Andrews?”
“Just left Native Engines and put the squeeze on the guy. He claims he knows nothing. Saw Cobb a couple nights back. Haven’t seen or heard from him since.”
“D*mnit,” exclaimed Francis. Something ain’t right here. What about that guy who came up in place of Jeff?”
“Like I said, we dropped him in Broker. He acted like he didn’t know Cobb but all that could have been pretend. For all we know, they could be on a bus headed to who knows where. This is bad Frankie, and you know why.”
“Yeah, yeah Steve. I know why,” spat Francis, frustration and anger cutting through his usual arrogance.
Francis had every right to be worried. Jon Gravelli lay dying in a hospital bed at Schottler Medical Center, but he wasn’t dying dumb. As the leader of the Gambetti Crime Family he still had the respect and support of The Commission. Francis knew that his life was on the line and if Jon Gravelli wanted to, he would have him killed. A cop that was bad straight from the beginning deserved to be gotten rid of as quickly and mercilessly as possible. He could beg to be spared. What could he loose? He was already a dead man walking. The Gambettis are the most powerful crime family in Liberty and they did not get there by being sympathetic. Francis knew all too well what kind of people he was dealing with; not to mention the Syndicate out of Vice City. Their connections reached to the Cartels in Mexico and that frightened Francis more than any Gambetti hitman.
“Frankie, you still there?”
“Just thinking. You and Bradley get back over to the precinct and get on the clock. If I’m not here, more than likely I’ll be over in Schottler visiting a sick friend.”
“You know what you’re gonna tell him?”
“What can I tell him?” growled Francis. “The boat sank and the f*ckin’ money flew away.”
“Sh*t Frankie, this is real bad. You want me to track down your brother, see if he knows where Cobb is.”
“No, I’ll handle Patrick myself.”
“Alright then. Me and Bradley will head back to the precinct.”
Francis clicked off the line and let the phone drop heavily onto the desk, not caring if it shattered into a thousand pieces much like his life had suddenly fallen apart. He leaned back in his swivel chair and covered his face with both hands imagining how things could have gone so wrong so quickly. He had so carefully built a network of minions that were willing to bend, twist, and break the law for the better good if something was in it for them. His informants wanted to stay out of jail. His corrupt cops wanted a little piece of the action and being on the payroll of the Mafia meant seeing more money than they would ever hope to see being a cop. Sometimes city officials were caught in the wrong place at the right time. To keep their secrets safe, a judge wields a lot of power from the bench. But that power is not nearly as strong as the power of a Mafia Family Don. Even the Deputy Police Commissioner had little or no authority in a world organized and run by men with closely held traditions that ran deep into the past; traditions that would not be altered, even for Francis McReary.
The phone chimed loudly against the wooden desk. An incoming call was something Francis did not want to be bothered with at the moment. He allowed the call to go to voicemail then leaned forward to check the caller ID. THE CLEANERS ticked across the display. A jolt of adrenaline shot though Francis like a lightning strike, making his breath catch in his throat. Why didn’t I call immediately? Thought Francis. He gently placed the phone face down on the desk as he ran through alibis to justify his tardiness. None of the reasons made any sense and he dared not to even try to excuse his behavior or grovel for forgiveness. Roy Zito is the Gambetti Family Underboss and fiercely loyal to Jon Gravelli. THE CLEANERS is the codename Francis uses because Roy owns and operates a chain of Dry Cleaners throughout the city specializing in the removal of forensic evidence. A lump formed in Francis’ throat at the thought of how brutal his life could end. He stood up and pranced around his tiny office to shake the nerves away. He had to call Roy. He just wished he had done it without being prompted to do so. Again, the cheap phone chimed, sickening Francis to his stomach. He quickly snatched it from the desk and saw THE CLEANERS trail across the display. This time Francis inhaled deeply and pushed the call button to answer.
“Hey Roy, I was about to call you,” said Francis, trying to push past the tenseness in his voice.
“I wished you had. Boss wants to know how things played out last night.”
The feeling of defeat sank deep inside Francis’ stomach. He knew what he had to say but the words seem too few to fully explain exactly what happened. Maybe Roy wasn’t the one who needed to hear the explanation. Mr. Gravelli was the one to decide if Francis was going to live or die. He squeezed the cheap mobile phone in a death grip as the silence on the line lingered for a moment too long. Roy chimed in for a second time, demanding an answer.
“So tell me Frankie, is everything good?”
Francis’ heart pounded. His throat tightened with anxiety. He had to say it and just deal with everything that came along with the admission. Finally clearing the stiffness from his voice, Francis answered the question.
“No, everything is not good.”
“I need to speak with Mr. Gravelli.”
“No, you need to speak to me and tell me what the h*ll went wrong,” pressed Roy.
“Look Roy, I’m at the precinct and…”
I don’t care if you’re at your momma’s funeral, you’re gonna tell me what happened last night.”
Hearing the anger build in Roy’s voice, Francis moved away from his office door. Even though the door was closed, his office was small so he wanted to keep his voice low and measured. Francis sat down in his chair and swiveled around, putting his back to the door before he began explaining the events of the previous night. Roy listened without interrupting once. This made Francis more panic-stricken. The violation was so egregious that there was no hope of any reconciliation. There would be nothing that he could do to even come close to setting thing right. It was his crew and his idea to choose the locations for the drops. No past good deeds could buy Francis out of this situation. All debts were paid and the Gambettis owed no favor to a corrupt Deputy Police Commissioner.
“You need to talk with Mr. Gravelli,” said Roy, his voice now calm and absolute. “Come over to the hospital by 10am Frankie, and don’t be late.”
The call ended before Francis could agree to the time. Things were out of his control now. He felt like a criminal, trying to avoid a warrant for his arrest. He could leave right now. Disappear, never to be seen again. Was Roy giving him a head-start or did he just need time to speak to the old man first? The clock on the wall read a quarter after 7am; nearly three hours before he had to meet Gravelli. Wild ideas played through his mind like quick bursts of electric shocks. He had time to close his bank account, go see his mother for the last time, and then be at Francis International Airport purchasing a ticket to Ireland before anyone knew the difference. His heart pounded louder than thunder, sending sonic booms to the tiny bones of his inner ear. The pain pulsating through his head soon became unbearable, making Francis slap at the side of his head until the agony subsided.
How desperate Russell Cobb must have felt nearly two years ago when he was pinned against the reality of a warrant for a murder he did not commit. Russell must have felt he had no other choice but to flee the city as fast as possible knowing that he was being falsely accused of murder; knowing that he and Jimmy D. had been stealing cars and funneling the money from their chop shop back into their drug dealing operation for years. Late one night, Russell’s desperation got the better of him. He decided to leave the city he loved, his friends, and Carlie; the one true love of his life. He packed a small bag of his most precious belongings and slipped out into the cover of darkness. It took almost two years, but the law showed up on his doorstep in Vice City demanding that things be set right. Now demands were being made of Francis that he’s not so sure can ever be made right.
The guilt of how many young lives Francis had so cruelly destroyed in the pursuit of his own selfish ambitions suddenly swept over him, snatching breath from his chest, nearly bringing tears to his eyes. The guilt ran especially deep for Russell Cobb because he was a good kid once, with a promising future until his parents were killed on the Algonquin Bridge in 2002. Their death sent the young man spiraling out of control which eventually led to a reconnection with his childhood friend, James D. Bataglia and the start of a criminal career. Francis turned his gaze to the 60 Diner across the street from the precinct. He imagined that Russell must have felt the same kind of guilt believing he was the one that caused his best friend to be murdered.
Jimmy D. had been street savvy since he was fifteen, getting into trouble with the law and spending days at a time locked up in Juvenile Detention Centers. Jimmy did not let a few nights away from home deter his ultimate goal of earning fast easy money. He soon graduated from petty crimes such as purse snatching and shoplifting to committing more sever offenses as car-jacking and moving packs of dope for neighborhood gangsters. Jimmy was a quick study when it came to being street wise. Older, more experienced gangsters took notice and soon began using him for their own benefit. Jimmy’s reputation as someone that could be trusted grew stronger with each passing year. He became well known to those who had the power to make things happen. His network of connections to the criminal underworld stretched all the way to Hong Kong when he met and befriended a spoiled rich kid by the name of Huang Lee at an illegal street race in Meadow Hills in 2002.
They became fast friends, making the rounds on the party circuit throughout Liberty. Huang eventually confided in Jimmy D. that he was a Triad member, though not fully participating, but reaping the benefits granted through his father who is the head of the Lee Family. Jimmy did not care. He saw it as another opportunity to earn money. A month into his visit to Liberty City, Huang found himself in the unusual position of being arrested for grand theft auto. He and Jimmy were working on a high-end score in Dukes when the sight of red flashing lights appeared in the rearview mirror. Not knowing the city that well, Huang pulled over, hoping his quick wits could spare him an arrest. Unfortunately, Francis McReary and his partner made the collar that night. Where Huang’s cockiness had failed, his family’s influence succeeded. He was released from custody almost immediately after placing his one and only phone call to his uncle. Jimmy, on the other hand, spent ten days in jail. While Jimmy D. saw his time in custody as a way to rest up before the next score, Francis McReary saw an opportunity to enlist another stoolpigeon into his ranks by making sure that this would not be the last time that he and James D. Bataglia would meet.
Francis looked up at the clock. The hands seemed to be frozen in place. He had filtered through the last ten years of his life, trying to justify the decisions he had made, the lives that he had destroyed or had attempted to derail, all in the name of Law Enforcement. Russell Cobb, the last life he had tried to ruin, had vanished, leaving him holding a heavy bag of regret, fear, and panic. If Russell could disappear not once but twice, Francis began to believe he could do it twice as fast and ten times better. After all, he is an officer of the law and knows all the tricks to disappearing better than anyone. Francis pulled on his slicker, grabbed his car keys from the desk drawer, and slipped from the precinct out into a dark rainy Liberty morning.