I know it sounds cliché, but it was just like any other Friday night at the Falls. I was in the weeds by eleven. It was wall-to-wall by midnight. At quarter after three, I was splitting the tips with Rebecca, the other bartender. By 3:45, I’d closed in on the finish line—the organization of a small mountain of credit-card slips—when I decided to take a bathroom break. The bar was close to empty, but en route, I noticed one of the last patrons: She was sitting alone at the far end of the twenty-foot oak bar, very erect in her chair. I remember thinking how strange it was to see a dainty little girl sitting alone at the bar, talking to no one. But I had a routine, business to finish. The last chore was in the basement. At around 4 a.m., as I was counting my drop in the office below, the girl, like any other patron at closing time, was asked to leave and escorted out by the doorman. Later that day, the dead body of Imette St. Guillen was found in an abandoned field in East New York.
I met Darryl Littlejohn three months ago, when he was hired as a doorman. But I didn’t know him by that name; I knew him only as “B.” I was outside grabbing a quick smoke, sparking up some conversation with Kwan, our regular bouncer, who introduced us. I asked the obvious question: What does B stand for?
“Brother,” Kwan replied, smiling. “He’s my brother.” Kwan was six-four and built; B was five-seven but broad-shouldered, with a back that engulfed his body like a turtle’s shell. He wore clear-lensed wraparound glasses and military garb, which added to his intimidating presence. Obviously not related by blood, they claimed to be partners: federal marshals who hunted fugitives by day and moonlighted together at night. The two of them would stroll into work sporting what we all thought were their clothes from the day job: fatigues tucked into combat boots, bulletproof vests, handcuffs dangling from their belts, and U.S. marshal caps and T-shirts. They even had shiny gold badges.
When it was slow, I would hang out with Kwan and B while they checked I.D.’s. Kwan, unlike his quiet partner, had the gift of gab. He would wax poetic about their exploits. Prisoner transports were probably my favorites, but I also enjoyed the occasional house-raid story. There was a great one involving guns ablaze at a bust in the Midwest.
I was the fun Irish bartender who made them laugh with my corny jokes and wet their whistles at the end of the night with snifters of Hennessy. If anyone ever bothered me, B and Kwan were my protection. And I wasn’t the only one who bought their act. Tim, the other bouncer, hated to work with cops; and the manager, Danny Dorrian, truly believed that since B and Kwan were the law, their presence made the Falls a safer place.
It wasn’t until Wednesday that St. Guillen’s credit card was traced to the Falls. The following Saturday, I was working with B again. Kwan wasn’t at his shift; he had been on vacation since before St. Guillen was murdered. It was just as well. Business was a disaster. At about one—usually the height of the craziness—B, my fellow bartender Andy, and I were sitting at the bar, watching the police lights flash through the windows. We were in a gallows mood, joking and bitching about the media clowns camped outside. At one point, I looked B directly in the eyes and said, in jest, “The cops asked me for your phone number.” Andy picked up on the joke: “Actually, they’re looking for yours, Chris!” B just looked at us and shook his head in disgust. Throughout the rest of the evening, B and I exchanged several more glances, all of which culminated in the same gesture.
The cops didn’t contact me until Sunday morning, eight days after the murder. When I finally got the visit, a detective loaded me into an unmarked tan police car and brought me to the 75th Precinct for questioning: “Welcome to East New York, the armpit of America,” he said.
I spent the next ten hours in a concrete room with a dwarf-size bench and a pinned-up notice of the new juvenile-interrogation procedures. I dined on some suspect Chinese food and paced myself through a two-day-old Newsday. At 10 p.m., they shuffled me in to give a taped statement. Two detectives and the assistant D.A. asked me to go over the entire evening in detail. There was one uncomfortable moment: I told the interrogator about B and Kwan’s exploits as U.S. marshals, and the assistant D.A. just glared at me, like I was the last kid in the family to hear about Mom and Dad’s divorce. Then I was asked to give a DNA sample: It was a relief to rub that cotton swab across the inside of my cheek and finally be done with it.
Afterward, I was ushered to a metal folding chair to join Tim and Andy outside the detectives’ office. We were waiting for Felix, the porter, to make his statement before we could hitch a ride back to Manhattan. When I sat down next to Tim, he turned to me and said, “The cops think B did it.” Holy shit.
It was like a Joe Frazier right hook. When the pain faded, I just felt like a patsy. Someone had slipped a magical moron pill into my soup. I was conned, we all were, by Kwan—who never came back from his vacation—and his “brother,” Darryl Littlejohn.
I still work at the Falls. A lot of my job involves deflecting the media (“No comment … It’s an ongoing police investigation … No, I can’t give you my name”) and answering the phones. We get a lot of crank calls: “When is that nigger Darryl coming in?” But the most disturbing is the old lady who sits on the line slowly chanting “killers, killers, killers” in a raspy voice.