This excerpt contains language that some readers may find offensive.
Sunday night, April 18, 1999. The P.A. system is thumping out rock beats and blaring the usual pre-game NBA promotional announcements at the America West Arena in Phoenix. Spectators filling the endless sections of purple seats pay little attention to the man in the light gray referee shirt and dark blue pants standing at midcourt near the gaudy Suns logo, a big painted orange basketball blazing amid streaks of yellow and amber.
He appears short and anonymous, compared to the towering million-dollar players taking their warmup shots at each end of the court. But if you saw him on the street, he would stand out with his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame, chiseled facial features and Kirk Douglas chin dimple, slicked-back, graying hair, and light blue eyes that can instantly shift from warm and affable to smoldering and tough.
Those eyes have seen a lot as an official in the National Basketball Association by 1999, his twelfth season in the league. But nothing, not even the most intimidating glare from a Shaquille O'Neal, Michael Jordan, or Phil Jackson, can compare to what they witnessed in another time and another life. What he experienced as a young man forever changed him, nearly made him unravel in the aftermath. He lost touch with the person he had been and grappled with the same kind of post-traumatic stress a soldier faces after years of combat. But he found his way back from the darkness — virtually willed his way back with the same strength it took to survive in it — and discovered a new path in the world. He is always aware that his life is in danger, yet he refuses to be ruled by fear or to change the way he wants to live.
Many of his closest friends, even family members, wonder why he would ever take the chance of being singled out in public, let alone an arena packed with twenty thousand people before a national TV audience.
They worry that some people from that other life, no matter how long ago, will never forget . . .
From the time I was twelve, an outgoing Irish kid growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, in the most tightly knit Italian neighborhood you can imagine, I loved the feeling of stepping onto a basketball court. It was a surge I felt even on the imaginary court in my back yard after, much to my disappointment, I got cut from my seventh-grade team. My dad, who was rising up the ranks of the New Jersey State Police, put up a hoop behind our house on Maitland Avenue. He knew how down I was about not making the team, even though it was the first time I'd picked up a basketball. I became obsessed. I'd shoot baskets for hours every night, even shoveling snow off the concrete if I had to. My game improved in a hurry, and the magic of stepping onto courts kept growing stronger — as an All-State forward who scored more than a thousand points at my all-boys Catholic high school, Blessed John Neumann Prep, or during my two years at Jersey City State College in the early 1970s.
And you know what? It's no different for me as a referee. When I'm changing out of my street clothes into my NBA ref's uniform, I get this overpowering sensation of wanting to get out of the locker room and onto the floor. It's a big adrenaline rush, with the same butterflies in the gut felt by any player in any sport — a charge that tells you it's game time. Of course, I can't be like a player, running and jumping up and down and screaming so I can release that adrenaline. I have to be in control. That's what a referee is to the sporting event: control.
It's a lot like life. To be your best, to do your best, you have to stay in charge of your emotions, stay constantly alert. In my world, I've had to be able to spot trouble in a heartbeat, recognizing the people who violate the rules and disrupt the orderly flow of things. Believe me, I know what it's like to be in control — and I also know what it feels like to almost lose it.
As an NBA ref, you have to remain focused in the most grueling of circumstances, like the three miles or so I run up and down the court in a single game. Not to mention the collisions with 7-foot, 300-pound centers that, in my case, have resulted in broken elbows, torn ligaments, and enough bruises and contusions for a lifetime. You have to keep your composure, with players and coaches getting in your face over calls they don't happen to agree with, and that lovely chorus of comments coming at you from the fans. You hear just about everything and, truthfully, you grow numb to it all pretty fast: "Hey, ref, get it right for once!". . . "Hey, ref, your fly's open!" . . . "Hey, ref, eat me!" . . . "Hey, ref, you suck!" . . . "Hey, ref, don't quit your day job!" . . . and one I have to give points to for creativity: "Hey, Delaney, I've seen better referees at the Foot Locker!"
So the truth is that night in Phoenix in April 1999 was pretty much just like any other day at the office for me. I didn't expect anything that I hadn't experienced before. I was simply gearing up for another intense, high-pressure NBA game. We were on an abbreviated schedule at the time, thrilled to be back at work after a lockout had almost wiped out the 1998–99 season altogether. A new, shortened season had begun on February 5, 1999, and two and a half months later here I was in Phoenix, having officiated a Trail Blazers–Spurs game in San Antonio two nights before. The Seattle SuperSonics were visiting, trying to even their record at 20–20, and the Suns had just won two straight to reach 20–20, each team already with the playoffs on their minds.
As usual, while dressing in the locker room with my crew, Terry Durham and Kevin Fehr, I couldn't wait to get onto the floor. There was that same familiar rush when I got to midcourt, looking out at the packed arena. One of our responsibilities is to be out on the floor when the first team comes out, which is usually with about eighteen minutes left on the game clock prior to the opening tipoff. The players start going through their warmups, taking their three-point shots. Like clockwork, my thoughts zeroed in on the players I'd be dealing with this day, guys like 6-foot-10 forwards Danny Manning and Tom Gugliotta of Phoenix, along with 6-foot-4 playmaking guard Gary Payton and 6-foot-9 forward/center Detlef Schrempf of Seattle.
I watched the players at each end shoot and move, focusing my eyes on the flurry of action, making sure none of the players started hanging on the rims and that there was nothing unusual going on. I went through a routine of my own, looking at the pivot foot of the players and mentally reffing the little one-on-one games various guys on each team were playing. Contrary to the popular belief that we in the NBA don't make any traveling calls, we're constantly working on picking up pivot-foot violations. In the game of basketball, you're allowed to pivot your foot, but you can't pick that pivot foot up before you release the ball from your hand to either dribble or make a move. So as a ref, you're always keeping a sharp eye out for violations, even practicing that during warmups.
All the while, I acknowledged the players on the court but, as always, was careful not to act too friendly. You can't, because if you shake hands with a player from one team, the other team will be watching. Players have a built-in suspicion — a paranoia that an opponent may gain an advantage.
At ten minutes before game time, Fehr approached the scorer's table, making sure the game clocks were running correctly, while I fixed my gaze on the red light behind each backboard to ensure that they were in sync. Those were the "old days," before the 2002–2003 season. (Until then, so many last-second shots were taking place that it was difficult to determine if they were late or good. That prompted the league to install LED lights all around the backboard and along the scorer's table, so we could easily see when time ran out at the end of each period and the end of the game. In addition, instant replay was introduced — all to help us do a more effective job.)
Now the five-minute mark was approaching. We gathered the team captains for a quick meeting, and stood at midcourt waiting for the game to start. I could hear the usual stuff from some of the fans who were just getting warmed up like everyone else. "Be fair, ref, call 'em at both ends," and other lines with choice adjectives and nouns attached. As always, I refrained from looking at or acknowledging any of it, because that only adds fuel to the fire. I make it a practice not to get into banter with them or make eye contact. But then I heard something at my back, coming from the stands.
"Hey, Bob . . . hey, Bob . . . hey, Bob!"
The tone of the guy calling out my name didn't sound sarcastic or nasty. So I did a partial turn, giving a nod to be polite without really looking and then turning my eyes back to the court. Again, I was standing there going through the normal pre-game motions; and then all of a sudden this same voice I'm hearing yell "Bob," I hear yell something else.
Well, that changed the whole picture. When you hear a phrase that instantly jars you into the past, your mind momentarily freezes, the muscles in your body tense. In my case, the past was defined by danger and the constant threat of violence. My hair-trigger reflexes immediately seized on those words: Alamo Trucking. All I could think was: This person has more information than the average fan, and that might be a very bad thing for me. Slowly, out of the corner of my eye, trying as hard as I could not to give attention to the comment with any obvious movement, I began to turn in the direction of a voice that, while oddly calm, thundered inside my head and made my pulse start to race.
"Alamo!" I heard it again. I was fully turned toward the stands now, my heart beating hard, my eyes scouring the faces thirty or forty feet away trying to locate the voice that had yanked me so swiftly from my world of control and equilibrium.
Suddenly I was looking right at the man behind the voice, sitting just one row up from the mega-expensive courtside seats, and he's calling out "Alamo! Alamo!" He looked at me, and I stared right into his eyes, and it wasn't connecting. I had no idea who he was or why he was baiting me in public with a loaded reference to a time almost a quarter-century before and a place nearly three thousand miles away on the New Jersey waterfront.
"Bob . . . it's me . . . Pat from Alamo."
Like that, hearing the name, the picture snapped into focus. I absolutely couldn't believe it. It was Pat — Pat Kelly! I hadn't laid eyes on him in twenty years. In fact, the last time I had seen him, he had been in a federal court testifying against the Mob and about to enter the federal Witness Protection Program.
Now it's about four minutes away from when they're going to send the teams off the court to get set for the introductions. And I'm just looking at him. He's sitting there smiling. So I give him a smile and a nod. In the moment it takes to get my bearings, I can see the resemblance to the old Pat I knew — my old partner in crime, so to speak, Patrick John Kelly — the Mob consigliere for the DiNorscio Family. Think of a young Robert Duvall, as Tom Hagen, the Irish consigliere for the Corleone Family in The Godfather.
Pat had been overweight back then, but had covered it well with his dapper style of dressing — expensive suits, monogrammed shirts, silk ties, Italian leather shoes. I remembered him with neatly coiffed brown hair, baby-blue eyes, and a big, friendly grin that seemed to connect with everyone he met. Now he appeared to have trimmed down a bit. He was gray on top and was wearing a golf shirt — senior leisure lifestyle all the way. His engaging smile hadn't changed a bit, though, nor had his taste in women. I couldn't help but notice that he sat beside a well-tanned, attractive woman who appeared mildly curious about the spontaneous reunion occurring in her presence.
My mind was still spinning, like "I cannot believe this." I mean, this guy was in the Witness Relocation program and here he was sitting courtside. I called the ball boy over and said to him, "See that gentleman sitting over there? Tell him at halftime you're going to bring him a note." He went over and Pat nodded his head. Meanwhile, in the midst of everything that had just happened, the horn had sounded to start the pre-game introductions. It was all I could do to muster the concentration skills from my training and get my thoughts straight. Next thing I knew, the house lights were going down and the place was revving up like a rock concert — strobe lights flashing in the darkness, cheerleaders doing their moves, and the P.A. announcer booming out the names of the Suns players as they jogged onto the court.
"Who is that guy?" Durham whispered in my ear.
"Just an old friend I haven't seen in a while," I answered.
Then it was time for the National Anthem. Something felt different about it this time. While it was being sung, I looked directly across the court, past the honor guard holding the flag, right at Pat. A thought kept running through my mind during the whole song that what he and I had done — even though we came from totally different ends of the ethics spectrum, and for a good while distrusted each other intensely — was as patriotic as you could get. It gave me a chill as I thought back to my other career — the one as a New Jersey state trooper. And to the double life I had led, as an undercover agent who infiltrated the Mafia for three years as part of an FBI–State Police operation that overlapped — and even had me crossing paths with — the Mob investigation of Donnie Brasco fame.
It was called Project Alpha, one of the nation's first major undercover investigations of the Mob, and Pat and I had been smack in the middle of it all. I was a young trooper who wanted to take on the bad guys; he was a slick Mob associate who had a decision to make — go to jail or flip over to our side. Pat chose us. And there we were, dealing every day with what they call "capable" guys, meaning guys that are capable of putting a bullet in your head if you make one small slip.
The game started, and I focused on what I had to do. At halftime, I got a piece of paper and jotted down the name of the hotel NBA officials always stayed at when we did games in Phoenix, the Marriott Mountain Shadows. "See you in the bar after the game. Just let me know if you can go." The kid delivered the note to him, and, as we started the second half, Pat just nodded to me and I could make out the words "I'll see you there."
A couple of times during the game we made eye contact. At timeouts, I winked over at him. He was yelling things like "Good call, ref!" It ended up being a pretty good game. Phoenix won, 99–93. Afterward, I drove back to the hotel and walked into the lounge.
I spotted Pat right away with his lady friend, and pulled up a chair. "Pat, how you been?" I asked. Of course, I had to be cautious about what I said to him, because I wasn't sure what, if anything, he'd told people about himself. I mean, I had been with him through all the testifying and I knew that he now had a new identity and life in Witness Protection.
I had a quick image of the old Steve Martin movie My Blue Heaven, where all the old Mob guys wind up in the Witness Protection Program in Arizona. And here was Pat, in Phoenix! I figured he was about sixty-three now. It occurred to me that the last time I'd seen him, in 1979, we had been doing our best to slip unnoticed out of the Federal Court Building in Manhattan. I was helping U.S. Marshals get him safely on his way before some Mafia guy had a chance to shoot him. We made it look like Pat took off heading north in the first car, but he was actually lying down on the back seat of the car behind it. That one headed south, and the deception worked. Pat was gone.
Now, twenty years later, he and I had to talk cryptically, the way we always had when we were around the Mob guys. Finally, when his friend got up to go to the ladies' room, I said, "What the hell are you doing?" He started smiling. "I've been thinking of you, and following your NBA career," he said. "Ever since I've been with her, she has season tickets, so I've been going, hoping to see you."
"Does she know?" I asked.
"No, of course not, she doesn't know," he said. "I just told her you were a friend of mine back from the days I used to live in New Jersey. She only knows me by my Relocation name. I didn't tell her the whole thing."
"The whole thing." That phrase floated in my mind for a moment. I couldn't be sure of what the words meant to Pat, but I definitely knew what images they conjured up for me. How do you tell people so they understand the constant fear that wrenches your guts in spite of your cool, calm facade; how it feels to immerse yourself in a world filled with risks and peril so that you actually become a different person? How do you tell them about the ways the street pulls you in and changes you, so that many of the criminals you are investigating suddenly don't seem so very different from you after all? How do you tell people that you once contemplated crossing a line that should not be crossed, and then struggled to cross back over to the nice, neat world you had left behind?
Pat excused himself. When he returned alone, I asked where his friend was. "Sent her home in a cab," he answered. So we were free to talk, which we did for almost two hours, until the place had emptied out. When it was time to go, we hugged like two guys who have been to war together.
Only the two of us truly understood what we'd lived through.
Seeing Pat that day triggered a flood of memories and emotions from a time that changed the person I was and ultimately pushed me in a new direction in life. And I never saw it coming, certainly not on the day back in 1973 that was easily the proudest moment I'd ever experienced.
That was the day my dad, Robert D. Delaney, a lieutenant in the New Jersey State Police, gave me my badge. I was thrilled to become a link in the long chain of the state police's history dating back to 1921 — the year it was founded by Colonel H. Norman Schwarzkopf, whose famous son and namesake went on to become a heralded U.S. Army general and hero of the 1991 Gulf War.
My father wore badge No. 978 — a sequential number that equated to his overall seniority — and I would be No. 2853. It was a formal ceremony, the kind of thing you remember your whole life. In fact, a photo of that occasion hangs on my office wall to this day. I'd left college at Jersey City State a year early because I'd heard the troopers were looking for new recruits. That didn't happen every year, and I made the decision to go for it when there was a chance. And after sixteen weeks of intense West Point–type training, I was following in my father's footsteps and starting my own State Police career.
I got my uniform and was assigned to the rural areas of the state, since we provided police services in locales where there was no local police department. We patrolled the highways as well. I was stationed in Flemington, a prime State Police barracks that had been made famous as the center of the investigation of the Lindbergh baby kidnapping in 1932. We had about six different townships for which we were responsible — handling domestic disputes, drunk drivers, barroom brawls, break-ins at homes — all kinds of police work.
I loved putting on the uniform — the blue-and-gold suit and military-type hat with my gold badge prominently displayed. Everyone in law enforcement feels that pride. You graduate from the academy and you hit the streets. And all of a sudden you think you're better looking because everybody's staring at you and wants to talk with you. You've got instant status and stature. It reminded me of how I had felt as a basketball player in the spotlight during high school and at Jersey City State. Only this was bigger, much bigger.
At night in the barracks, I was always cleaning my gun, boots, leather holster, and badge. I lifted weights to stay in shape, and I kept up basketball as much as I could. In my off hours, I played on the State Police basketball team and refereed games for some area fifth- and sixth-grade teams. When it came to socializing, I'd usually hit the local taverns to drink beer with other troopers, firemen, and everyday guys.
They teamed me up with a senior trooper, Bobby Scott, who was not just my partner but my mentor. He was a great uniformed cop and later became one of the best homicide detectives in the history of the New Jersey State Police. Bobby had just left turnpike duty and was also stationed at Flemington. He's told me that when we met, he liked that I was so energetic, a real go-getter. Bobby could tell I was just as fired up about law enforcement as he was, about protecting the world from the bad guys. He took me under his wing and tried to teach me as much as he could. We got along great.
Back in those days, we slept at the barracks, working fifteen days on, fifteen days off. Bobby joked that he spent as much time with me as he did with his wife. I wasn't married, except to my new job. The married guys would go home when they weren't on duty, but this was my full-time home, like an apartment. I'd go to my parents' home and my mom would wash my clothes, and then I'd go back. A lot of guys couldn't wait to get out of there, but on my days off, I wouldn't even leave.
I remember one night when I got back to the barracks after a late night out, having a few beers with some buddies. I was coming in to go to bed, and I saw this one drunk guy, about to be cuffed, who was beginning to give Bobby a hard time. I was bigger and younger than Bobby, so I grabbed the drunk by the collar and held him up against the wall and said, "Listen, don't be giving my friend any bullshit. Now be nice." It was just a little intimidation technique and it worked. He got quiet fast. So I sat him back down and went upstairs to bed. At the time, I was just trying to help a friend. It wasn't until years later that I realized that it had been the same kind of intimidation technique used by the Mafia, making me acutely aware of the fine line between the good guys and the bad guys.
I guess it was about three months into the job that I really came up against the brutal reality of criminals and their victims. Until then, I'd been handling accidents and Peeping-Tom kinds of law-breaking. But now I was about to get involved with my first major crime. It was the case of a girl named Debbie Margolis, a sixteen-year-old farm girl. Bobby and I went out to investigate. She'd been missing for ten hours and the search was on, with different law enforcement agency teams coming in. We found her body, a shocking and tragic thing. She had been horribly sexually mutilated before being killed. I was a twenty-one-year-old kid, and seeing that, all of a sudden, reality set in for me. For the first time, I truly grasped the victimology of crime — the suffering of innocent victims and the pain inflicted on their families and friends. My understanding of what it means to be bad, really bad, started at that point. We caught the guy who did it. His name was Frankie Miller. He had told her that one of her cows had gotten loose. She apparently got in his car and was never seen alive again.
I moved to my second station a few months later, in Newton. I was still getting an education, learning something every day. Just when you think you're starting to understand the job, a new challenge arises and makes you realize that you still have a long way to go.
I was out on my own one day and got a call to investigate a breaking-and-entry of a home. When I went in, the house was pretty well cleared out of jewelry, TVs, anything the burglars could fence. I did the preliminary investigation until the detectives got there. After about a day, I learned that I hadn't done a good enough job — I'd missed the most important clue. As a young kid, four or five months as a trooper, you may start to get cocky and think you know what you're doing, but I learned that I didn't really know that much.
What I missed, one of our senior detectives, Lieutenant Chuck Musselli found. He picked up some paint chips on the fencing in front of the house, left by a car that brushed past as it was exiting. It was an unforgettable lesson, reinforcing that I needed to pay greater attention to detail. It turned out that the house had been robbed days after the husband had been killed by a drunk driver.
The thing that really got to me was that the house still looked as if the family was about to have dinner. They never returned home after they learned the husband had been killed. Then, the obituary in the paper mentioned the time of the funeral, letting the bad guys know exactly when the family would be at the service. They just walked in and stripped the house of its belongings. But the paint chips from the getaway car — the crucial detail — eventually led to their capture.
After about a year on the job, I began to feel pretty good about things. I'd spent six months in Flemington, six in Newton, and now I was stationed in Somerville. I had my own apartment in Hawthorne, New Jersey, about forty-five minutes away. One day when I arrived at the barracks for work, I found a note in my box to call a Sergeant First Class Jack Liddy of Division Headquarters. I'd never met the guy, but of course I called him back. Everything is very military-style in the "Outfit," as we always refer to it, but on the phone he never addressed me as "Trooper." He just said, "Delaney, you workin' tomorrow?" I said, "Yes, sir." He said, "I'm gonna be up at the station. I need to talk to you."
We hung up. Talk about what? What the hell had I done? I asked some of the guys, "Who's Liddy?" Someone said to me, "He's in the criminal investigation section assigned to the organized crime bureau. Maybe you gave a ticket to a Mob guy and he wants to talk to you about it. Don't worry." But I kept wondering, what did I do wrong?
The next day, I told my sergeant, Gabe Simonetti, that I had to talk to a sergeant from division headquarters. He said no problem, just come in off patrol when he gets here. The next day, I got a "Signal 30" on the radio — which meant come back to the station. I drove around back where we had this big garage area and headed to the steps leading into the station. Right in the hall by the door, Jack Liddy was waiting for me. Jack was a big man, two or three inches taller than I am with meat hooks for hands. A thick, powerful guy, he was probably in his late forties or early fifties at the time. He wore a sport jacket and slacks — not a suit — with a tie that was always loose because he couldn't button the collar. He may have looked a little disheveled, but he had a quick mind and was all business.
When I came in the back door, he said to me, "I'm Liddy." We shook hands and he said, "Come on downstairs." We went down to the kitchen area, which was empty at that time of the day, and he didn't even sit down or anything. He said, "I need to talk to you. There's a job we're thinking about taking a look at you for, if you're interested. It's an undercover job. It'll be six months. We know your background. We know you're active in arrests. It seems like you might be a kid that would be good for this. Are you interested?"
My thoughts were reeling. Relieved that I wasn't in some kind of trouble, I was also thrilled to have the chance at a special assignment so early in my State Police career. But I didn't want to look too excited, so I kept my answer brief: "Yes, sir, from what you're telling me, I'm interested."
Then, totally matter-of-factly, he said, "You tell anybody that I talked to you about it, you're out of the running. It's got to be completely quiet. Now that I know you're interested, I'll get back to you."
As he turned to walk out, I remember asking, "Sarge, what is it, drugs?" All he said — without even turning his head to talk to me — was "I'll get back to you." It was as if he was already focused on the next thing, and then he was gone.
Just like that, I went from exhilaration to "what the hell is this?" He hadn't spent five minutes with me, and I didn't even know what he was talking about. I was thinking, "This isn't the way it's supposed to be. I'm supposed to be all happy and jumping up and down and high-fiving." Now I couldn't say a word, not even to my own sergeant.
It was three weeks before he contacted me again. The next meeting was at the Golden Star diner on Route 46 in Little Falls. We went to a back booth, and he laid it out a little bit more. What I learned was that the New Jersey State Police had joined forces with the FBI and were going to start an operation called Project Alpha. It would be funded by the elite Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), a federal government organization that only existed from 1968 to 1982. What's more, it was going to be a long-term, six-month investigation of corruption on the Jersey waterfront, focusing on organized crime's infiltration into legitimate businesses. Like the 1954 Marlon Brando movie On the Waterfront; times had hardly changed. The Mob guys were still running the docks. We'd investigate them with three undercover agents from the FBI and two from the State Police. One of them could be me.
I listened to it all over dinner, and Liddy set up another meeting with me. It began to look as if I had a good chance of being one of the two troopers selected. The suspense kept building, as I realized that this assignment was made for me. Finally, Jack told me that we had a noon meeting scheduled for the next day with Major Bill Baum, who was in charge of the Criminal Investigation Section in Trenton, where our headquarters was located. I couldn't wait. I pulled in around 11:30 a.m. and spotted Jack right away. He came up to me and said, "The major can't see you until about two o'clock. You want to go to lunch with me?"
We got to this restaurant, a nice place where businessmen, politicians, and higher-ranking cops would go. As soon as we walked in, he said, "What do you wanna do, kid, eat it or drink it?" "Whatever you do, boss," I answered. We sat down at the bar, and he put three beers in me. After almost two hours, we drove back to headquarters and he announced, "Okay, we'll go see the major."
I had a little buzz when we arrived at our rescheduled meeting at 2:00 p.m. with Major Baum. The major went through a couple of things and then told me, "One of the concerns we have is that your father is a lieutenant in the State Police and I don't want to catch heat from the union." To be honest, that really got my back up. I didn't get disrespectful, but I quickly responded, "Excuse me, sir, um, I've never asked for anything because my father was in the Outfit but I sure don't want to be held back because my father is a trooper. If that's the case, maybe you're telling me I need to go find another job."
Well, I got the undercover job. And I found out later that one of the reasons I got it was that I had had enough moxie to speak up. They liked that. And that noon meeting I was told to show up for? It had always been planned for 2:00 p.m. Jack had set me up, getting a few beers in me to see how I'd handle myself, because when you work undercover, you're going to be stuck in these situations. It was an ingenious plan — let's see how well the kid does when he's had a few and he's under pressure.
Things moved quickly after that. They decided I would be leaving the Sommerville station on April 9, 1975, at around 10:00 p.m. Everybody else was out on patrol. I was called in by Sergeant Simonetti. When I got there, Jack Liddy was waiting for me on the same back step where we had talked at our first meeting. I was in full uniform, and he told me to go up to my room and leave all my gear. I went up, got into my civilian clothes, and put my uniform and gun on the bed. Then I went back downstairs as another trooper went inside the station and removed my uniform and all my stuff. Outside, it was just a typically cool April evening. I had a windbreaker and a pair of jeans on, and I climbed in my 1973 Cutlass Supreme, a two-tone car with a tan body and dark brown roof. All Liddy told me was "I'll be in touch with you tomorrow." I left for my apartment in Hawthorne, not knowing what lay ahead.
The very next day, a personnel order was issued stating that I had resigned from the New Jersey State Police. Instantly, the stories about what had happened to me started swirling — that I had gotten jammed up, smacked a woman around, had stolen drugs confiscated on busts, lost my temper and killed a man. It was amazing the things that were said about me. It was worst of all for my poor partner, Bobby Scott. He had been out of town for a week and came back to hear not only that I had resigned, but that I had gone to Miami with another trooper and got arrested for murder. Bobby knew I was the kind of kid who wouldn't take any shit from anybody, and he pictured some situation where that happened and just got terribly out of hand.
He took it really hard. Right away, my father told me, "You have to talk to Bob Scott. He's too good of a cop, and he's going to keep investigating. You're better off short-stopping him than letting him dig into what's going on." I said, "I can't talk to him." But my father set it up for Bobby to call my parents' house at 8:00 p.m. a week or two later when I would be there. The phone rang and my dad answered it, and he handed the receiver to me.
"Listen, I talked to your father and he's not telling me anything," Bobby blurted into the phone. "All I know is that something's not good in your life right now." And when I think of what he said next, I still get choked up. He told me he had talked to his wife, Fran, and they had decided to offer all their savings to help me out of whatever trouble I was in. Here was a guy with four young children; he didn't make much money on a trooper's salary; and he was offering me his life savings. His words came out steady and slow, sounding almost like an older brother.
"Look, you're going to need it for lawyers," he said. "And I'll be a character witness for you at your trial."
It was an incredible gesture of friendship, because testifying in a criminal case on my behalf would very likely have gotten him fired for breaking State Police regulations. I responded by doing one of the hardest things I had ever done: nothing.
I said, "Bobby, thanks, but I'm okay."
"No, you're not okay," he snapped, the agitation returning to his voice. "I know that you need help and I want to help you."
All I could say was, "Okay, thanks. I'll see you." And I hung up. I put the phone down, feeling absolutely horrible. But in a way, it was my first undercover test. And I had passed — starting down a path of telling lies and convincing people that they were truths.
I knew it had hurt Bobby deeply; he had extended a helping hand and I'd shut the door in his face. But the fact was, I knew it would probably make him so mad at me that he'd never bother to investigate further. He didn't. And I never called him back. I couldn't, because doing anything like that might have jeopardized the operation. When I hung up the phone with him that night, there was no way I could tell him that I had tears in my eyes.
The whole thing was really hard on my parents, too, especially my mom. They'd go to State Police functions and hear all the whispering about me. Eventually they stopped going to them altogether.
Just like that, I was gone from the face of the earth, about to enter the dark side.
COVERT: My Years Infiltrating the Mob," copyright (c) 2008 by Bob Delaney. Excerpted with permission of Union Square Press, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.