New York City, 1977: Code Ten-Seventy One

NYPD Lieutenant Luke Cambridge reached out of the car window, slapped the magnetically mounted signal light onto the roof of the car, and gunned the motor. The ’74 Buick shot down Columbus Avenue, headlights and howling siren shattering the night.
“Hey Lootenant,” Detective Ray Carlini called from the back. “Why ain’t we goin’ down Fifth Avenue?”
Cambridge peered ahead, his hands on the wheel. He had to be even more alert than ever; with the electricity out across the whole of Manhattan, there were no streetlights. Trash, broken glass, boxes of all sizes had been strewn across the road, and Cambridge was constantly watching for anyone who might run out in front of the car.
“Got reports that a couple of Over-Heroes are slugging it out with someone on that side of Central Park,” Cambridge said, his eyes not leaving the road. “Sounds like the Starfish going up against Black Mamba again. We can’t go through Yorkville so we’re gonna cut down Columbus Avenue then hang a left at West 34th Street.”
“Yeah, well, I kinda figure the Empire State is too big to miss, Luke,” said Detective Levitt, from the front passenger seat. “Let’s just do the job and get out, I got places to be.”
Luke glanced at his second-in-command. “What’s eating you, Gene?”
“You know my ma and pa run an antique shop over on the East Side. I’m getting worried.”
“They got guns?”
“You bet they have. I took my old man out last year and bought one for him. Got a Smith and Wesson.”
“Nice gun,” Gonzalez said from the back of the car, sitting next to Carlini. “But you ask me, you oughtta get him a shotgun. Not many hoods argue with a shotgun.”
Reni Gonzalez knew what he was talking about. The stocky Peurto Rican’s father had been a gunsmith in St. Louis, and the son had worked in the family shop before he joined the force.
“Yeah, well,” Levitt said. “I’ll tell him next time. We always got room for more guns.”
“They’ll be okay,” Cambridge said. “Your pa’s a good man, he knows how to keep cool when we got shit like this going on.”
“Keep cool?” Carlini wound the car window down even further. “I sure wish we could.”
The heat all that week had been oppressive. Middle of July, 1977. New York City had stewed, locked down under storm clouds, a storm that now blotted out the moon and threatened to unleash its inner fury.
“Nobody knows what’s gonna happen tonight, all bets are off,” Carlini said. “Every man’s gotta stand up and protect its own property. May be some crazy hophead outside lookin’ for some cash out the till, lookin’ to lift some free sneakers, it’s just the luck of the drawer.”
“Luck ain’t got nothin’ to do with it,” answered Gonzalez. “You ask any three-footed rabbit about luck and see where it gets you. If you got the most frackin’ guns in the neighborhood, you don’t need luck.”
“Come on guys, knock it off.” Levitt took off his trilby hat, produced a big handkerchief and mopped his brow with it, smoothing bck his locks of graying hair. “You’re not making me feel any easier. Dammit! I wasn’t expecting this shit on a hot summer night.”
“Nobody was, Gene,” said Cambridge. “Nobody was.”
The Empire State loomed up ahead. It should have been a ground-to-sky Modernist canvas, a geometric neon grid of colors flashing and winking in the night; but like all the Manhattan skyscrapers tonight the straight, majestic lines of its bulk were simple, somber line drawings in the ebony black void of the sky.

“A Ten-Seventy One,” muttered Levitt irritably, fanning himself with his handkerchief. “We got ourselves a goddamn Ten-Seventy One.”
Ten-Seventy One; the NYPD code for a city-wide emergency. What every cop hoped he would never live to hear.
At 8:37 PM, the electrical substations across Manhattan had failed, and everything had ground to a halt. There was no electrical power in New York City, apart from southern Queens and parts of the Rockaways. The TV news shows had already put it down to lightning strikes and were calling it an “act of God”.
Carlini leant forward in his seat. “What was it like back in ’65, Lootenant?”
They had reached the turnoff into West 34th Street. Cambridge saw his own frown in the windshield glass. “Things were different,” he said.
November, 1965. JFK voted back in for a second term. Talks with the Soviets had reached some major concessions. Crime rates were still going down thanks to the Over-Heroes and E.A.G.L.E. operations in Vietnam had rooted out the worst of the rebels. The UN-supervised construction of Moonbase One was on schedule.
All of that was before the assassinations of Luther King, Nixon, Dylan. All of that was before the explosion that took Philadelphia off the map.
“Things were more peaceful,” Cambridge said. “People co-operated. To tell you the truth, with the lights out, most people had a ball.”
“Makes you wonder what happened,” said Levitt.
“They tried to turn the USA into Utopia, but they turned it into a crock of shit. That’s what happened,” said Carlini.
Cambridge remembered.
He had just moved into a new house in Brooklyn with Pam and their son Melvin – Rick hadn’t been born yet. When the lights failed they thought a fuse had blown, until the heard the neighbors out in the street talking to each other. Cambridge had gone outside with his wife and kids, and the whole of the street got together with candles, chairs, tables, barbeque grills and cooler boxes full of beer to have an impromptu party. Nobody had really cared that Luke and his family were pretty much the only African-American family in the street.
Watching the Over-Heroes light up the sky, dazzling like fireworks, their capes fluttering like flags in the wind. Soldier Blue. Overman. The Future Five. Gauntlet. Giant-Killer. The Morrigan. Things had been so simpler then. The public had expected them to watch over the city like modern day gods. Utopia, they had said. They would lead us to Utopia.
Now here he was, in another blackout, with a cold hard feeling in his gut that told him there would be no party tonight.
Movement up ahead. Dark, running figures bolted out of a doorway on the left and ran across the road. Cambridge swerved the car, pumped the horn and quickly looked back; the open doorway was a jewelry store. Just been looted.
“Go back and bust them?”
“No time,” snarled Cambridge. “That was a priority call we got from the Chief.”
As they approached the concourse in front of the skyscraper’s main entrance, Cambridge saw the flashing red lights of the patrol cars, fire trucks and ambulances forming a cordon across the street. The Buick screeched to a halt and the four cops bundled out. The second car stopped right behind them, and Rizzo, Scarfe, Broadhurst and Cochese got out to joint the esr of their squad.
“Jesus Christ, Cochese,” said Carlini, “what’s up with your necktie? It looks like you’ve just barfed.”
Cochese looked down at the wide kipper of swirling paisley patterns over his gut. “Birthday present from the wife.”
“Her next birthday, you get her a dog and a white stick.”
“Listen up,” said Cambridge. “Scarfe and Cochese, you stay here and secure the perimeter, make sure no reporters get through.”
“Can’t hear you Lootenant, that tie’s too loud.”
“Fuck you, Carlini!”
“Okay, guys, knock it off. We got a long night ahead.”
Cambridge jogged up the stone steps to the lobby, his leather jacket flapping in the sudden hot breeze.
The Empire State Building reared above him. He knew it well; he’s been here a few times as a kid, and after starting a family, he and Pam had taken Melvin twice. Promised to take Rick when he was old enough.
Now, the jewel in Manhattan’s crown was dark and silent, as somber as a tower in a fairy tale.
The eight cops switched on their flashlights as they entered the lobby, and waved the beams of light ahead to take in the situation. In the strange half-light, the atrium that rose three floors to the high tiled ceiling looked more like a cathedral. In front of them, past the ticket office and the velvet rope railings and the scale model of the building in its glass case, Cambridge and his men saw a small group of figures near the unmoving escalators, standing and sitting and talking in low, echoing voices.
“Hey.” A uniformed figure strode towards them, a helmet under his arm, boots ringing on the marble floor. Cambridge held up the flashlight to see a man in a fire-fighter’s uniform, and recognized his short blond hair and piercing blue eyes.
“Hey, can you get that torch out of my eyes?”
Cambridge swung the beam away and introduced him and his men.
“O’Hallorhan, Captain of Ladder 36 Unit,” the fireman said.
“So what’s the situation, Captain?”
“The situation is, we don’t know what the situation is. All the elevators are out of action, and we have at least a dozen people trapped inside some of the cars. There were about fifty people still on the two observation decks when the power cut off. Some of them are walking down, but some of them aren’t – they don’t feel healthy enough to handle it, and they’re rather stay put ‘till the power comes back on.”
When it comes back on, said a little voice in Cambridge’s head, and how long’s that gonna be?
“That’s bad enough, but there’s something else going on,” continued O’Hallorhan. “Something weird. The civilians who’s walked down from the observation decks so far said they saw some kind of smoke in the stairwells – but none of the fire alarms or sprinklers have gone off, and nobody’s seen any flames, from inside the building or outside. I sent a crew of five men up the east staircase to take a look.”
“What did they say?” asked Cambridge.
There was an elusive, worried look in O’Hallorhan’s eyes. “They haven’t reported back yet. I’ve tried getting through on the radio, but there’s nothing but static.”
“Goddamn storm coming up,” muttered Carlini.
“You sure you’re not jerkin’ my chain?”
O’Hallorhan studied Cambridge’s face. “Sure, I’m jerkin’ your chain. The whole city’s out of power and I’ve got nothing better to do than stand here and make up fairy stories.”
“Okay, okay. I’m on it.”
Levitt got into a discussion with O’Hallorhan about the technical aspects of opening the elevator cars, and Cambridge swung his flashlight beam around the lobby, taking stock. The scared voices of the rubes who’d already been rescued, their footsteps, everything echoed and played tricks with the ears. The shields and plaques on the wall glittered metallically like the cogs of a giant machine.
The walkie-talkie clipped to his jacket crackled into life.
“Luke, do you copy?” It was Captain Sullivan’s voice, fighting to be heard over waves of static hissing and spitting.
“Luke, are you on site?”
“No, chief, I’m sitting at home with my thumb up my ass.”
“Copy that, wise guy. Stay put and keep me informed of the situation.”
“Chief, I got a bad feeling about this.”
The noise was either a cough or more static. “Since when have you ever had a good feeling?”
“But Chief, this is something the Fire Service can handle, not Homicide. We’ve got a city going crazy and with all due respect, there are other places we need to be right now.”
“Negative, Luke. Shut up and listen. I’ve had a call from the Mayor’s office. E.A.G.L.E is sending an incident squad and I’m ordering you to assist in forensic and other scientific observation. They have declared a Code Resurgam situation. Repeat: Resurgam. ETA ten minutes from now … have reports from other …”
“Am I in goddamn charge or not?” Cambridge yelled, but it was too late. Sullivan’s words had dissolved in static. He lifted his flashlight, and illuminated the faces of the other three cops, watching him.
“What’s goin’ on, Lootenant?”
“E.A.G.L.E are sending in a team and we’re supposed to fetch and carry for them.”
“Bull! Shit! Like hell we are.”
“Gene,” said Cambridge, “you ever heard of a Code Resurgam?”
“Means diddley squat to me.”
“Means nothing to me, too.”
“What the hell’s goin’ on, Lootenant?”
Cambridge didn’t answer, but turned back to look at the oblong of chiaruscuro sky framed in the open doorway. As he watched, a fork of jagged lightning danced for a split-second above the city, then was gone.
“Resurgam …” he whispered.


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About J P Catton

Speculative storytelling and skewed fiction: the blog and website of author John Paul Catton.
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