Twas a summer evening in Melbourne, Florida, 2015. We were at home watching TV when the phone rang. I took the phone to another room, so as not to disturb Suzanne. I said, curiously, “Hello?”
After a short pause, the woman said, “Marshall?” She had a soft whispery voice. I knew who it was. Actually, I recalled that voice as far back as 1961 when she worked for the Dade County Sheriff’s Department as a station-house secretary. No words were needed. There was only one reason that Lynda Black would be calling me. I erupted into a cry, barely able to talk. I felt the depth of her heart.
“Is he gone?” I asked.
“Yes,” she replied, now crying as well. Then she said, “Last night, I got out of bed around 3 a.m. to use the bathroom. Charlie was sound asleep, snoring. When I returned, he was not snoring.”
Such is the way Charlie Black would do almost anything: The right way. His credo always stood, “There IS no other way but the right way.”
I first got to know Charlie Black as my trainer in 1961. He had a fast step and a fluid mind that was a challenge to keep up with. His nature was distant, as though it was a nuisance to be training new officer.
Charlie rose through the ranks quickly, passing every promotional test at the top of the list. He made a mark in every assignment as the department fell into an abyss after a series of corruption scandals, none of which involved Charlie. He worked mostly in the Intelligence Units. Shortly after the new Director E. Wilson Purdy (former FBI agent) was installed in 1968, Charlie was elevated to chief of detectives at the age of 32. Purdy was squeaky clean and known to thoroughly vet everyone he promoted to the nth degree. He had made a powerful impression on the department and everyone in it.
I was already working in Homicide. To me, Black was a tough to keep up with and a hard-ass authoritarian. He made many friends, but also some enemies who did not work for him very long.
I never knew he even noticed me, until early in the 1970’s, when I sat high on the Lieutenant’s list. My Homicide boss hollered at me, “Hey Frank, Major Black wants to see you.”
Charlie was being promoted to a division chief in charge of Communications, Records and the Crime Laboratory. He smirked, then popped the question: “Marshall I want you to be my right hand man. Come work for me, and if you score well, you’ll be a captain in no time.”
Thus began 45 more years of close friendship and deep respect. By virtue of being at his side, he taught me about getting a job done by-passing bureaucratic red tape. He stood up for me and helped me through some tough times, on a personal level. Yes, as the saying goes, he was my Rabbi.
One day, he called me into his office and said, “I want you to bring these papers to the Sheriff of Monroe County. Now!”
“Okay Boss, it’ll take a few hours to drive to Key West and back.”
“Forget driving. I’ve arranged the police aircraft to take you down now. They’re waiting for you at Opa Locka airport.”
I would compare Charlie Black to the likes of Donald Trump. Yes, he could be pompous at times, bull-headed, domineering and self-ingratiating. But his sights were always lasered on his police agency, to make it the very best it could be. And, he was passionately loyal to the people who worked for him. Being among those, was a privilege.
Charlie also personified a term known by many in the Spanish community, he had a set of “cojones.” Intimidated by no one.
Charlie and I remained friends for life. He and his bride lived in Western North Carolina during retirement. He was extremely devoted to his Lynda.
Though I could probably write a book, there are many stories I omit here. Yes, he was imperfect. But this should not be the forum to discuss those bumps in the road. He was there for me, and many others, to a fault.
Thanks Charlie, for being my buddy.
And by the way; Happy 85th Birthday.