A Cobra in Times Square

by Bob Cohen 164

The great big city`s a wonderous toy
just made for a girl and boy.
We`ll turn Manhattan
into an isle of joy!


After the war in Iraq started, I spent a lot of time supervising “Cobra” counterterrorism cops assigned to chemical & biological warfare response teams in Lower Manhattan—you know, the guys in the bubble suits that scare everyone half to death? Only our worst-case scenarios would involve actually dressing out, so most of the time we just drove around in standby with all our HAZMAT gear packed away in the trunk. Since I was the captain, I got to do pretty much anything I wanted.

On one chilly Saturday night in April, Harry and I were cruising aimlessly in the vicinity of 40th Street and Eighth Ave debating whether or not to hit Gray’s Papaya to do some real police work, when we’re flagged down by a white male in his early 40s. As he’s telling me about some girl stealing his jacket, the police radio starts broadcasting a “robbery-in-progress” at our location, describing the perp as a female black in a black dress. Sounds kinda like his story, so I ask if he had just called the cops—yep. “Cobra Captain to central, I got the complainant, no robbery, no further units needed here.” I didn’t want any cop cars crashing over somebody’s stolen jacket. The dispatcher asked what the condition was. “I dunno yet, but no robbery. I’ll advise.” One of the petty unfairnesses of police work is that if a cop ever sounded so uncertain there’d be heckling and catcalls on the radio, but if a captain says, “I dunno,” it’s a mark of street savvy.

Paul, our victim, looked reasonably clean and sober, so I invited him to sit in the back of the police car to get out of the cold and tell us his tale of woe. He was visiting from New Jersey and thought he’d take in the sights of the Times Square area. “I was talking to this girl, and I think she needed help, you know, nowhere to go—that sort of thing? She was only wearing a gown, like an evening dress I guess, and she was cold. So I gave her my jacket.” I asked if she ran off with it, but he said no, they continued to talk for a while, and then she just slipped away when he wasn’t looking. Paul was very calm as he was telling me this, almost lovelorn. He seemed like he’d just found out the hard way that the world sucks.

“Paul, were you trying to hook up with her, you know, trying to have sex?” He looked genuinely surprised and said, “No, no, I was only trying to be a friend, I was trying to be nice to her…” Just then, a sector car pulled up alongside us and asked if we wanted them to handle it. I thanked them and said, “Nah, sounds like a pross ripoff. We’ll take care of it.” Truth is, we were bored shitless, and this guy Paul was such a yutz it was entertainment. Hey, gotta pass the time somehow.

“Paul, you come over here. Look at this neighborhood—it’s the middle of the night, and you’re gonna make friends with some chick in the street? C’mon, we’re both adults. Doesn’t that seem a little risky to you?” Wistfully, he shook his head and said, “Yeah well, I can see that now. Damn, my wallet was in the jacket, all my credit cards, my housekeys… I can’t believe this.” I’m actually starting to feel bad for him. Then he says, “And you know what? You’re right, this was a setup. She was hanging out with her friends, just waiting for someone like me to come along. How could I be so stupid?” So, I said, “Let’s take a ride.”

Paul directs us to what turns out to be an all-night porno palace a few blocks away. “You met her in there?” I’m trying desperately not to laugh. “Harry, do me a favor, get all his information, OK? I’ll go inside.” Leaving Harry and Paul in the police car, I stroll into the sex shop, and it occurs to me that maybe I ought to be throwing on a pair of counterterrorist rubber gloves from the back of my car. The guy at the cash register is some greasy-looking foreigner, and there’s a couple of mutants quietly wandering the aisles.

“How you doin? I’m looking for the girl with the black dress, was here a little while ago, what’s her name?” He sorta smirks and says, “The girl?” and I take an immediate dislike to him: “Do I stutter?”

“I don’t know nothing about no girl.”

“What are you, a fuckin’ wiseguy? Where’s the owner?”

“Uh, he’s not here...”

“Then who are you?” He’s getting a little shook up, so I push. “Show me something with the owner’s name on it. Where are your licenses, your permits?” He starts fumbling at the register. “You better show me some fucking thing right now or I’ll throw you the fuck out and padlock this place.” I can’t really do that, legally anyway, but he doesn’t know whether to shit or go blind. “Where’s the girl?” Suddenly, Harry is rapping on the door: “Cap, come out here!”

Who’s slowly walking down the block toward us but the black chick in the black dress, with Paul’s jacket draped around her shoulders? As she got closer, I noticed the narrow hips, the strong features, the Adam’s apple. Uh-oh… shaving bumps. “Ah, Paul here thought you took his jacket, you know, by mistake.” She stares me down with two of the meanest, reddest midnight eyes and growls, “What? He called the cops?” Then she looks at Paul: “I said I’d be right back.” Harry and I look at each other and we’re both wishing we were inside our Cobra suits right about now. “Here,” she says, throwing the jacket at Paul, “Take your shit, bitch!” and stalks away. Before Paul can do anything, Harry tells him to check for his wallet and keys and stuff. Everything is there—lucky for us—but then to our amazement, Paul sets off after her. We’re standing there with our jaws hanging as Paul attempts to patch things up with his girlfriend.

“Oh, I can’t do this.” Gesturing for him to come back, I yell, “Paul!” He walks back to the police car in front of the porno store as she waits for him down the block. “Hey Paul, listen, I’m not trying to tell you how to live your life, but uh, you know that’s not a girl, right?”

“What do you mean?” he says.

“Dude, are you kidding? She looks like Joe Frazier!”

“Nah, get outta here. You’re crazy.” He quickly walks away. As the two of them then continue down the block together, in a touching display of chivalry, Paul again drapes his jacket around her shoulders.

“Central, mark that Cobra job, ah, just a dispute, 10-91, condition corrected.”

© Bob Cohen 2006

Bob Cohen is a retired NYPD cop who is now a writer and photographer.