Tough on soda

I was just thinking it was going to be another quiet day when the code 30 came in over the radio. Lafferty slapped my shoulder.

"That's just a couple of blocks from here. Let's go!"

I hit the lights and the siren and we took the corner on two wheels. When we got to the bodega, there were already two cruisers on the block, and the uniforms were out and ducked down behind the doors, weapons in hand. I threw open my door and crouch-ran across the street, pulling my Glock from my shoulder holster as I ran.

"What've we got here, patrolman?" I asked as I ducked into cover. The cop turned to me and I recognized him as a rookie called Kowalski. Nice kid. He'd make a good cop some day if the street didn't get him first.

"I'm glad you're here, detective," he said. "It's a bad one. Owner sold a 64oz cola to some woman. A civilian called it in."

"Sixty-four ounces." I whistled. A soda that big could trigger a massive sugar rush. The victim was probably feeling it already. She'd be hopped-up. Energetic. Tingling. Slightly gassy. I'd seen it all before.

Behind me, Lafferty was getting the shotgun out of the trunk. I hoped we wouldn't need it, but I knew how this kind of scene tended to play out. When deli owners went bad, they went down fighting.

"No chance it's diet?" I asked. Kowalski shook his head.

"Guy's a serial offender," put in the other uniform from the far side of the car. "I pulled his rap sheet. He's got priors as long as your arm. You name it, he's sold it. Sprite, Coke, Fanta. Sonofabitch even let some fourteen-year-old kid walk out with a super-size Pepsi."

The door of the deli opened and the buyer rolled out. She was a big woman, squeezed into jeans and T-shirt that looked like she had to be sewn into them every morning. I guessed this wasn't her first sixty-four ouncer. I grabbed the dash mike from Kowalski.

"This is the police," I shouted. "Stay where you are, and keep the beverage where we can see it." Her meaty hand tightened convulsively on the outsize paper cup and the plastic lid popped. A sudden gush of brown liquid poured out like a tidal wave, splashing into the gutter, sweeping everything in its path away. Beside me, Kowalski shuddered at the sight of the deadly torrent. I knew what he was thinking. The stuff was laden with high-fructose corn syrup, coloring, natural and artificial flavorings and God knows what else. Good luck getting the drinks companies to tell you what goes into those things. Give me half an hour alone with some of their executives and I'd soon know what their 'secret formula' was, but even the PD can't fight the kind of lawyers those guys had on retainer.

The big woman started to make a run for it, but her foot came down on an ice-cube and she went full-length on the road. The remainder of her drink sloshed across the sidewalk like a river in flood.

The owner chose that moment to appear in the doorway. At first glance, you could take him for an ordinary Joe. Hispanic, probably Dominican in this neighborhood. I've got no problem with these people. They work hard, raise their kids right. They know me, I know them. But I knew this guy too and I knew he wasn't what he seemed to be. Our eyes met for an instant and I could read it on his face. He knew he'd been busted and that he was going down. I felt no pity. So what if he was selling sugar water instead of crack? He was still a pusher in my book. He had it coming.

There was a sharp crack behind me as the other uniform snapped a shot, followed by the double boom of Lafferty's shotgun. The front window of the bodega blew apart, the detergent bottles leaping and spewing their contents across the storefront. The pusher turned and dived back through the doors but then we were all firing at once, the bullets hurling him back into the dim interior to crash among the tins of cat food and the candy bars.

We moved the body before the investigators got there, dragging it a little closer to the soda machine. Lafferty found a whole stack of giant cups behind the counter, dropped one down by his hand with some crushed ice, to make it look like he'd been getting ready to pour another one when we took him down. I don't like messing with a crime scene, but sometimes you have to paint a better picture. Besides, all the evidence we needed was out there on the street.

I stopped outside to talk to Kowalski. He was a bit shaky, but I could tell he'd be alright. I slapped him on the shoulder.

"Tough day, kid," I said. "First time?"

He nodded.

"Don't let it worry you. That was a righteous kill. The mayor knew what he was doing when he decided to get tough on soda. As far as I'm concerned, you just helped make New York a little safer for everyone."

I lit a cigarette and walked back to the car, taking care not to step in the sticky puddle that stretched like a bloodstain across the dirty sidewalk.