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Book Excerpt: Cop without a Badge

Editors Note: Known for his work on two of the longest-running cop franchise shows ever — Law & Order and Columbo — writer/producer Charles Kipp has won multiple awards for his realistic portrayals of fictional police and has mastered the true storytelling of police work. Below is an excerpt from Cop without a Badge: The Extraordinary Undercover Life of Kevin Maher.In this first meeting between Sergeant Jim Doherty and Kevin Maher, who would later become Doherty’s most valued CI, Maher asks Doherty to get him out of jail. But Doherty wants a worthy piece of information in return. Kipp's novels can be purchased here.

Maher wracked his brain. What could he give Doherty? Maher realized he better come up with something because he was a two-time loser and, considering the fact that he had been charged with burglary and Grand Theft Auto, he had really screwed himself to the cell block wall this time. Suddenly it struck him. The rug guy. Nobody likes him anyway, always whining about how cold it was on the cell block. I'll give up the rug guy. And Doherty will think he's got the bust of the century.

Maher looked directly into Doherty's eyes. Doherty stared back with equal intensity. Finally Maher spoke: "How about a rug?"

Doherty rolled the concept over in his mind for a moment.

(Photo courtesy Charles Kipp)
(Photo courtesy Charles Kipp)

"A rug?  What kind of rug?"

"Persian. Supposed to be worth seventy-five hundred dollars."

The corrections officer standing nearby was surprised.  He had seen a hundred cops try to pull information out of Maher with no success.  Now this guy Doherty waltzes in and gets something right away, even if it was just a rug.

"Okay," Doherty said after an appropriate pause. "Let's talk about this rug."

Actually, there were many levels of interplay between Maher and Doherty and none of them had anything to do with a rug. On Maher's part, he still believed he had found an easy mark and could parlay almost any crumb of information into some kind of concession. On Doherty's part, he felt that the baby-faced Maher just didn't belong in jail and if the conversation yielded anything, anything at all he could use, then he would see what he could do for the kid. But underlying that noble thought, there was a motive.

Doherty was a methodical investigator who was used to building cases one piece at a time, and he speculated that Maher's jailhouse contacts might reap a bumper crop of leads on unsolved crimes. The trick was to lure Maher into the game. 

Beyond the objectives, however, there was the immediate bond between the two, a spontaneous connection that transcended logical explanation. Something they saw in each other fit together.  The underdog and the hero, happening upon each other in a concrete room. 

"A guy asked me if I knew a rug dealer," Maher told Doherty.  "Said he wants to sell this Oriental carpet."

"Maybe he owns it," Doherty said matter-of-factly.

"No," Maher insisted, jumping from his chair. "He stole it from Sloane's furniture store. And he's been hiding it in the Bronx."

Doherty sat silently for a long moment as Maher squirmed.

"And what do you want for this rug?" Doherty asked.

"I want to get out of here until my trial. I want my bail reduced."

Doherty looked away for a beat then stared back at Maher.  "What are you in for?"

"Auto theft. Three counts."

That was no problem. In New York, everybody walks on stolen car raps. 

"And then I've got one count of burglary."

Now that was a problem. Not only did the courts look at burglary as a serious felony, Maher already was a convicted felon, which exacerbated the situation because of a statute called the Rockefeller Law. Simply put, the Rockefeller Law -- also known as the Predicate Felony Offender Law -- stated that anyone who had been convicted of a felony during the previous ten years must serve half the maximum jail time on any new felony conviction. In Maher's case that would be one and a half years of a three year sentence for burglary. Doherty knew that the only way to get around that provision was to plead the charge down to a misdemeanor. But this was no simple task. Once a suspect had been indicted, as Maher had been, the law prohibited any plea arrangement that reduced a felony to a misdemeanor.

Doherty was suddenly troubled.  Maybe he was wrong about Maher.  Maybe Maher was just a punk after all.  Snatching Hot Rods was one thing, but burglary?

"It was an auto supply house," Maher elaborated. "I needed parts."

"Sure," Doherty said, "that explains it."

Maher smiled.  Doherty appeared deep in thought. 

"I'll see what I can do," Doherty said, knowing full well that the chances of extricating Maher from the mess were almost nonexistent. "All right, give me a name."

Maher hesitated. "There's something else."

Doherty rolled his eyes. Something else? Weren't three counts Grand Theft and one count burglary enough?

Maher explained to Doherty that he had served thirty-two months of a four year sentence, the last sixteen months being suspended via good behavior. But now, after three more car thefts and a burglary, he had been notified by the parole board that, despite the absence of a conviction, they were deeming him in violation of the conditions of his release for 'failure to lead a law-abiding life.'  

"I'm not surprised," Doherty laughed.

Maher laughed too. "So I need you to go to the parole hearing with me and put in a good word."

Doherty stopped laughing. All this for a rug?

"Where?" Doherty wanted to know.


"Greenhaven?! That's in Stormville! Four hours upstate!"

"Yeah," Maher acknowledged.  


Maher took a deep breath. "Friday."

"Which Friday?" Doherty was incredulous. "Not this Friday?"

Maher nodded.  

"It's Memorial Day Weekend," Doherty bellowed.

"I know," Maher sighed, "but if I my parole is revoked I'll have to go back and serve the sixteen months I owe them."

Maher sounded desperate, even pathetic, and Doherty felt queasy. As much as Doherty had wanted to lure Maher into his game, the opposite had occurred. Indeed, Doherty was suddenly fretting over Maher's well-being. 

"Will you come with me, Sergeant Doherty?" Maher asked.

Doherty could, of course, turn and walk out of the room. But he saw too much of himself in Maher. The patter, the nervous energy, the smile, all reminded Doherty of his younger self.  

"Okay, Kevin," Doherty said softly.

Maher broke into a broad grin. "Thanks, Sergeant Doherty.  Thanks!"

Doherty didn't know whether to feel warm and fuzzy or like a complete sap. After all his years on the force, what was he doing in a Norman Rockwell painting?

Something suddenly occurred to Maher.

"Oh yeah," Maher said, "I almost forgot. I have a few speeding tickets. Can you take care of them too?"

Doherty held his hands to the sky.  "Why not?"

"Thanks, Detective."

Doherty had to ask. "How many tickets we talking about?"

Maher stared away, thinking, then looked back at Doherty.  "Seventy-one. I think."

Doherty couldn't help but smile. "Seventy-one?"

Maher nodded.

Doherty shook his head then stood to leave. Maher seemed surprised.

"Don't you want the name of the rug guy?" Maher asked.

Doherty frowned. Rug? Jesus, that's right. This whole thing was about a goddam rug!

A Cop without a Badge: The Extraordinary Undercover Life of Kevin Maher can be purchased here.

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