Greg Lippert and Robert Haydon Jones

Greg Lippert

By Robert Haydon Jones

Inspiration piece

It was 10 a.m. on Tuesday morning when the phone rang. No big deal. Looking back, I am grateful that the call didn’t come in the middle of the night. I have seven grown children and squads of grandchildren. All of those with licenses, drive way too fast.

The moment I answered the phone and heard that bored, institutional, voice say my name – I braced myself for trouble.

“Are you James J. O’Hara?”

“Yes”, I said.

“Hold on for Captain Suarez,” she said, and banged me into a noiseless hold.

After a 30 second silence that seemed much, much longer, a man spoke to me.

“Are you James J. O’Hara?”

“Yes”, I said. “What’s this about?”

“Mr. O’Hara, I ‘m Captain Francisco Suarez with the Bridgeport Police. I’m Chief of Homicide. I’m calling you this morning because we need your help on a case.”

My gut flipped. “What’s this about?” I said. “What case?”

“This is never easy, Mr. O’Hara.“ the voice said. “But please be assured, this isn’t about a family member.  I’m calling you about Philip Grissom.”

“Who?” I said.

“Phillip Grissom”, he replied.

“Who? I don’t know anyone by that name.”

“Are you sure, Mr. O’Hara? Phillip Reuben Grissom. Born 6/10/37 – that would make him 73. His home address is just a few streets away from you in Eastport.”

Well, I didn’t know who he was talking about. A big sweet gust of relief surged through me – I almost sobbed behind it. “No” I said. “I can’t place him. Why are you calling me about him?”

“Are you sure, Mr. O’Hara? I got your name from Mr. Grissom’s wallet, ID.

He put your name and number under ‘Person to notify in an emergency’.”

“Captain, I can’t understand it – I don’t know him”, I said.

“Maybe you know him from Church,” he said. “Are you a Member of the Unitarian Church in Eastport? ”

Well, the minute he asked the question, I knew who this Phillip Grissom was.

“Yeah, I go to that church,” I said. “And I know Phillip Grissom. But the fact is I barely know him at all. I can’t believe he listed me as the person to call. Anyway, what’s the emergency? What’s this about?”

“Mr. O’Hara I regret to inform you that Mr. Grissom was murdered last night.

We’ve checked his home – and it appears he lived alone. Also, we have not been able to locate any relatives. So, we need you to come in and make an official identification of the body.”

“Murdered”, I said. “How? Where? What happened?”

“Mr. Grissom was shot as he was getting into his car in the underground parking lot for the Majestic Multiplex Movie theatres. We have no other details at this time.

I know it is short notice but could you meet me at the City Morgue at noon so we can complete the identification process?”

“There’s no one else? What about Larry Pearson, the Unitarian minister?”

“He’s out of town for a few days. You know, I’m not sure Mr. Grissom went to church all that often. The church secretary had his name as a small donor – but she couldn’t remember him either.”

So, somehow, it had come down to me. I agreed to meet Captain Perez in two hours at the Bridgeport Morgue.  I entered the address in my GPS. It was 11 miles up 95 and a few blocks over. Just 16 minutes. That was all that separated me and my fortunate neighbors in soft, clean, green, Eastport from the mean, dirty, dangerous, streets of Bridgeport.


You know how it is when someone you don’t know says it is good to see you again.

Two months back, I ‘d been walking my dog, Maurice, at the Eastport Beach.

It was about an hour before sundown; the only people around were an old guy sitting at a picnic table with two women in their fifties. As I got closer to them the old guy started waving at me and then he said, “Hi, Jimmy.” So, I came on over.

When I got to the table, the old guy said, “Hi, Jimmy – hey, it’s good to see you again. I really enjoyed that long talk we had. It really meant a lot to me. I know I haven’t been to the church in quite a while. I don’t know – I like it all right – I really do – but you know I really like to sleep in on Sundays.”

I said it was good to see him again. He introduced me to Betty and Francine. He told me that Betty was a friend he walked with at the beach some times. And Francine was a friend of Betty’s. He told them he knew me and Anne, my wife, from the church.

The women had seemed welcoming to me, even a tad flirty, but when they heard I was married, they quite palpably shifted from me to Maurice, my very fetching Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. That was OK with me. I was amused to have been a potential target, if only for a minute or so.

They were eating potato chips and dip and cheese and crackers. They were drinking red wine. They poured it out into clear plastic cups. He asked me to sit down for a moment and I did. The women were going gaga over Maurice. He’s an absolutely stunning Blenheim; he has never met a woman he hasn’t utterly vanquished.

I nibbled on a cracker and some dip. I told him I didn’t want any wine, thanks.

“Oh, gee,” he said, “I should have remembered – I’m sorry – I hope you understand – I just forgot.”

I told him it was no big deal. The sun had started to accelerate on the last phase of its perfect 10 dive into the water. The air around us was soft. It felt tinged with red. Everything was waiting for the dive to conclude. My younger brother, George, used to collect sunsets. George died in hospice two years back. The day he died, he had the nurses prop him up so he could see his last dawn come up.

Well, I didn’t feel much like talking through this sun down, but your man was banging on. For the life of me, I could not recall meeting him, let alone having a “long talk” with him. He was a gaunt, hollow-eyed man in his mid seventies. He had a New York accent. He looked a little Jewish. About six feet, slender, but with a pronounced pot belly. Frizzy graying hair circling a large bald spot. Big knobby hands, long fingers, overlong nails in need of attention. Under his chin were heavy wattles.

“…never forget”, he was saying, “just wonderful talking with you that time. I just felt you were really listening, that you really understood. I really feel bad that I don’t go to the church more. I like Larry – he gives a great sermon. I certainly wanted to see you again. I’m just used to being by myself. I met Betty in line at the Stop N Shop. We go walking once or twice a week. Been doing it for five years but that’s it. “

He leaned toward me and lowered his voice. “Can you believe it? Walking is all.

I don’t think Betty believes it – she has quite a rack doesn’t she – I think she keeps expecting me to make a pass at her. I know she’s lonely. She tells me she hates being alone. Her husband died of a heart attack seven years ago. No kids.

I don’t like being alone either – but I’m used to it, you know. Got divorced 29 years ago. She took the money and the kid and ran out to California. Got married again three years later. I lost track of them. I used to send my son birthday cards, but they started coming back address unknown.”

He took two swigs of his wine and poured more in his plastic glass. He started to pour the wine in a fresh glass for me but then he stopped. “You know, he said, “ I know I drink too much. I went to AA a few times and they seemed nice. Like you told me, they’re regular people with an alcohol problem. You were right. I liked those AA people OK. But I didn’t go back to the meetings. You know, I drink a bottle of wine every day. That’s probably too much, right?”

I told him it was probably too much. “Yeah, I know it is,” he said. ”I know my liver is going to go and it screws up my thinking. Betty says it depresses me, that it ruins my libido. But when I only drink a half of the bottle – that depresses me. I think of all sorts of regrets, I get so sad – and I can’t sleep.”

I told him I understood. I told him there were treatment programs that could help him ease off. I told him that I could get him info on the programs or take him to a meeting any time. I gave him my card.

“Thanks,” he said. “You gave me your card last time. But I’ll keep this one too just in case. I’m Phil Grissom, in case you forgot. Look at the ladies loving your dog.”

Maurice was on his back. The women were taking turns feeding him bits of cracker. Maurice was taking little guilty peeks at me. He knew he was being a bad dog.

I told Phil that Maurice and I had to resume our walk and get home. I had more or less missed the friggin sunset.  “You know, “ he said, “I’ll bet a dog would help me with the loneliness. I think about getting one a lot. But then I think I would have to take it out for walks in cold weather.”

I agreed that when it came to a dog, a daily walk was definitely a consideration.

I walked over and leashed up Maurice. The women crooned their goodbyes to him. Betty said she was sorry if she was doing wrong giving Maurice crackers.  She wasn’t at all sorry.  Then Maurice and I walked away. Phil waved at us as we went. “So long, Maurice”, he said. “So long, Jimmy. I’ll call you one of these days.”


I followed the GPS straight into the parking lot of a big municipal building complex.

I used my “Lifetime Handicap” sticker and parked right next to the main door. Captain Suarez was there waiting for me. He shook hands with me and asked how I liked my S550 Mercedes. “I’ve always wanted an S Mercedes,” he said. He was a handsome Latino in his middle forties. He was wearing a tailored Italian sports coat, 360 slacks and Mephisto shoes. He looked terrific. I told him I always wanted to wear clothes like his. He laughed and said, “I believe you.”

The morgue was pretty much standard. I had done quite a few ID’s on various slabs back in the day. Right before the attendant pulled the drawer out, Suarez warned me the “Vic” was in bad shape.

It turned out, that was putting it mildly. He had been shot in the face four, maybe five times – there were heavy powder burns on his face and neck.  One of his ears was missing; there was a jagged line where it had been severed. The letters, “BSB”, had been scrawled in lipstick across the wattles on his throat. It was pretty bad all right – but I had seen worse.

“He’s pretty messed up,” I said. “It’s hard to tell. I didn’t really know him.”

“Don’t worry”, Suarez said. “This is just a formality. His prints are in the system.

He was an Air Force ROTC officer for four years. “

“So, even though you have his prints, you need someone to ID him?”

“Yeah, that’s the protocol we follow whenever we can.”

“Okay, as long as the prints say it’s him; it’s him. What’s the BSB insignia about?”

Suarez motioned for the attendant to push the body back in – and we walked away.

“Let’s go to my office,” he said. ” It’s just down the hall. You can sign the ID paperwork there.”

“That BSB on him?”

“That’s the tag for the Broad Street Boys. They’re a spinoff from the Latin Kings.

We think this is probably a gang initiation hit. The new guy has to kill someone to be accepted as a member.”

“For real?”

“For real.

Here, I want to show you something.” We were in his office. He unlocked a closet and took out a gun-case.  He opened it up. He had an M16 – a full automatic, military style, version.

“I’m also head of the Gang Squad here. The Federal Government just purchased 10 of these for me and my team. We need the firepower. Without it, we are totally outgunned. Here, you want to dry-fire it?”

I hefted the weapon. It had a black stock. It was definitely designed to kill people.

“You look like you know this weapon,” he said.

“The Marines,” I said. “Long ago and not so far away.”

“Well,” he said, “I came here from Cuba when I was eight years old. My family were boat people. When we got to Bridgeport, I thought we were home free. If you had told me that someday I’d need an M16 to be a policeman here, I would have said you were crazy.”

“Why did they kill him?”

“Wrong place, wrong time. He went to a late movie that was sparsely attended. There were no other cars on that level of the garage.”

“Here, he said. “Take a look at these.” He had a 3-ring binder with booking photos of maybe twenty Hispanic men – ranging in age from about 16 to 30. Each face radiated evil. I actually felt big time fear just looking at the photos.

“Christ,” I said. “These guys all look like the friggin devil. You know, I mentor a sixth grader up here. He’s a Latino kid – his father was killed on the street. I’ve warned him against hooking up with a gang. I know he’s being recruited.”

“I’d go easy with that, “ Suarez said. “These guys are bad – you don’t want to give them cause. You know what happened to that poor guy’s ear? They fed it to their pit bull. It’s part of their thing.”

“Christ”, I said. I was feeling fear. A lot of fear. I went ahead and signed the papers. Phillip R. Grissom was officially dead. I signed six documents affirming that fact.

“Well, thanks for coming up and helping us out. Too bad about your friend. We’ll let you know if anything breaks on this case – but frankly I doubt we’ll get much. This is an ‘in-house’ job. So, no snitch. Your friend was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.“

He walked me out to my car. “Helluva of a sweet piece of machinery”, he said. “Thanks again.  Don’t forget, go easy on the gang stuff with that kid you mentor.”

I promised him I would go real easy on the gang stuff with my kid. And I have.


  1. Posted November 12, 2010 at 12:51 am | #

    A nice story about how imbalanced social connections can be. For one man an encounter holds deep meaning; for the other man, the encounter is barely remembered. For the one man it seems he’s subconsciously reaching out for help with his alcoholism, but his affliction is stuffed with denial; of course the encounter is long remembered for him. Also, nice overtones of classic pulp noir mean streets tales.

  2. Posted November 12, 2010 at 12:56 am | #

    Nice story about how deeply imbalanced social encounters can be. For one man his encounter was vivdly rememberd and valued; for the other man, the encounter was just barely remembered. Also overtones of how alcoholics tend to subconsciously reach out for help while their affliction stays stuffed with denial. Senseless random violence, and nice over tones of classis, pulp noir fiction.

  3. Posted November 12, 2010 at 6:56 pm | #

    A troubling glimpse of the under-belly of society, a part I never think about or more honestly stated “afraid to think about” A very solid story that churns up some “curious” feelings.

  4. Posted November 15, 2010 at 9:46 pm | #

    Only a supple short story can manage etherial events like this — “aloneness” (if not loneliness) is best explored in relationship to those we scarcely or not at all. This narrative pricks every nerve. (And — btw, Bob. Are you sure that one-breasted gamin did not have a black beard? I seem to remember otherwise. Time for another story).

  5. Posted November 17, 2010 at 1:25 am | #

    Its odd the way this story makes drabness come alive.Faraway violence seems more threatening and that a man harmless drunk should be a victim.Makes me think I should do something good this day

    Well done & up to standard

  6. Posted November 17, 2010 at 3:28 am | #

    Interesting stuff, Bob. I’ve heard tales of the fetching qualities of Maurice that go beyond the short form. The ear is a nice, odd touch that lends a real underbelly to the scene.

  7. Posted April 12, 2011 at 2:43 am | #

    Hey Bob you definitely have an ear for authentic dialogue … stuff that makes a story crackle … that is what keeps me reading.