First Edition: Prose | The Terrorist Next Doorby sheldon siegel
|Follow j. on||and|
To the tourists strolling down Michigan Avenue on that hazy summer morning, he looked like a homeless blind man sitting on a urine-soaked cardboard in the doorway of the T-shirt shop across the street from the Art Institute.
Except he wasn’t homeless. And he wasn’t blind.
The waif-thin young man with the wispy beard and the sunglasses nervously fingered the prepaid cell phone buried deep inside the pocket of the dirt-encrusted overcoat he’d purchased at a Salvation Army thrift store two days earlier. Cheap, easy to program, and readily available, the throwaway phones were popular with everyone from globe-trotting corporate executives to budget-conscious college students. They required neither a contract nor a credit card and were virtually untraceable, making them the tool of choice among drug dealers and terrorists. With a few strokes on the Internet, a high school kid of reasonable intelligence and modest technological savvy could turn a cell phone into a detonator.
His lungs filled with fumes from the #14 CTA bus idling on the southwest corner of Michigan and Adams. At 8:45 on Monday morning, the thermometer already had topped ninety degrees, and there was no breeze in the not-so-Windy City.
Still a lot cooler than Baghdad. And considerably less dangerous — for now.
He was still in his twenties, but his battle-hardened face and the flecks of gray in his beard made him appear older. His intense eyes moved behind the dark glasses as he silently repeated the mantra his instructors had drilled into him from his first day of training: Meticulous planning is the key to success. That explained the bulky raincoat, the soiled denim work pants, and the heavy boots, despite the intense heat. Repulsed by his stench and shoddy appearance, the passers-by kept their distance — just as he had planned it.
The annual summer carnival on Chicago’s grandest boulevard was in full bloom, but he barely noticed. Young couples sipped lattes from Starbucks cups as they pushed baby strollers down the sidewalk. Tourists conversed in Spanish, French, Japanese, German, and Russian as they looked in the windows of the upscale stores.
The young man looked up Michigan Avenue at the Wrigley Building, the white jewel of the Magnificent Mile on the Chicago River. It was dwarfed by Donald Trump’s ninety-story monstrosity on the site of the old Sun-Times building. He turned his attention across the street to the Art Institute, the Beaux Arts masterpiece on the edge of Grant Park. On those rare occasions when a Chicago team made the playoffs, the two bronze lions guarding the museum’s doors would be decorated in the team’s uniform.
He watched a dozen cops cordon off the steps of the museum. A tightly wound woman from the mayor’s office barked instructions to a group of sweaty city workers setting up a microphone beneath the limp flag of the City of Chicago hanging above the archway marked “Members’ Entrance.” He felt bile in his throat when the police chief and the head of the Chicago office of Homeland Security emerged from a black van. The chief was elevated to the top job because he was the former mayor’s best friend when they were kids on the Southwest Side. The Homeland Security guy was a retired investment banker who lived in the leafy suburb of Kenilworth. His sole law enforcement experience had been a brief tour of duty with the Kenilworth Police Commission.
The young man craved a cigarette as he glanced at the ’94 Camry he’d stolen two days earlier and parked in a handicapped space on Adams, just west of Michigan. He commended himself for taking a car with a blue placard and no alarm.
Attention to detail.
He looked down Michigan Avenue for the unmarked police unit carrying the guest of honor to the ceremony across the street. The security of America’s third largest city had been entrusted to a pencil-pushing cop and a pencil-necked political appointee. That needed to change. He would show everybody just how easy it would be for one man to shut down a major U.S. city.
* * *
“I’m glad it’s over,” Gold said.
“So is the entire City of Chicago,” his new partner replied.
Detective David Gold was sitting in the passenger seat of an unmarked Crown Vic inching north on Lake Shore Drive alongside Soldier Field, just south of downtown. The South Chicago native was sweating through the navy dress uniform that still fit him perfectly even though he’d worn it only a handful of times since he’d become Chicago’s youngest homicide detective ten years earlier. The air conditioner was losing the battle against the beating sun and the eighty-eight percent humidity that made the Second City such an inviting tourist destination in late July.
“How long will this take?” Gold had spent his life on the Southeast Side, but he spoke without a Chicago accent. If an interrogation called for a local touch, he could flatten his vowels and swallow his consonants to sound like his neighbors.
“Fifteen minutes,” his partner said. “You’re getting a Medal of Valor. Accept it graciously.”
Gold felt a shooting pain in his left shoulder. At thirty-eight, his wiry body felt like the car’s overworked shock absorbers. His closely cropped hair was more gray than brown. He had a balky knee, a scar along his jaw, and countless aches and pains from almost two decades of award-winning police work in the South Side’s toughest neighborhoods. “This is just a photo op for the mayor and the chief.”
“Welcome to Chicago.” Detective A.C. Battle was a burly African American in his late fifties whose melodious basso voice combined the dialects of his native Mississippi with the ghettos of Chicago’s South Side. He had grown up in the projects across the Dan Ryan Expressway from old Comiskey Park. The first Mayor Daley had built the Robert Taylor Homes in the fifties to house thirty thousand African Americans, many of whom — like Battle and his parents — had fled the Jim Crow South.
Battle looked up at the ornate columns of the iconic stadium where the not-so-monstrous Monsters of the Midway had plied their trade since they’d moved from Wrigley Field in 1971. “Are you going to the Bears’ game next Saturday?”
“The exhibition games are a waste of time.” Gold’s family had held season tickets since George Halas had stormed the sidelines and Sid Luckman had run the T-formation.
“Think the Cubs will make a move before the trading deadline?”
“Doubtful.” Gold had little patience for small talk, but he had met Battle for the first time twenty minutes earlier, and he knew they would be engaged in the mating ritual for several months. “You’re a Cubs guy?”
Gold sighed. The long-standing animosity between the fans of Chicago’s baseball teams was as much a tradition as the St. Patrick’s Day parade and corruption in City Hall. “Your guys haven’t won a World Series since 1908.”
“Every team can have a bad century. Besides, we have a nicer ballpark.”
“That’s another reason the Cubs keep losing. Sox fans won’t pay for an inferior product.”
They turned onto McFetridge Drive. In Chicago, the street next to the stadium where Gale Sayers, Dick Butkus, and Walter Payton had played honored the longtime head of the Chicago Park District, who had doled out patronage jobs to his political cronies.
“How’s your shoulder?” Battle asked.
“Fine,” Gold lied. The heat outside would subside in a few days. The pain in the shoulder he’d separated a month earlier would take longer. “I’m cleared for light duty.”
“Why the big rush to get back to work?”
Gold planted his tongue in his cheek. “So many criminals, so little time.”
The corner of Battle’s mouth turned up. “I guess everything I’ve heard about you is true.”
“Depends what you’ve heard.”
“You don’t take money.”
“And you have a chip on your shoulder the size of a four-by-four.”
Here we go. “Actually, it’s no bigger than a two-by-four.”
Battle glanced at his new partner. “For what it’s worth, my sources told me you never quit and you’ve got my back.”
“For what it’s worth, my sources said the same thing about you.”
* * *
The young man’s stomach churned. He hadn’t slept in two days. His heart beat faster as he looked down Michigan Avenue for an unmarked Crown Vic.
Where the hell is Detective David Gold?
* * *
“What does A.C. stand for?” Gold asked.
“Aloysius Charles,” Battle said. “I’m named after my great-great-grandfather.”
They were heading north on Michigan Avenue. To their left were shiny condos, hotels, and office buildings in an area that had been the South Loop’s skid row. On their right was the serene greenery of Grant Park, and, in the distance, the shimmering water of Lake Michigan.
Battle pulled a toothpick from the ashtray. “Mind if I ask you something?”
“Sure.” It was better to play it straight on their first day together.
“Why do you still live in South Chicago?”
“It’s home.” Gold was fiercely proud of his lineage as a third-generation native of the hardscrabble neighborhood of smokestacks and steeples wedged between 79th Street, the Skyway, the Indiana state line, and Lake Michigan. “Why do you ask?”
You’re more than just curious. “Are you asking me why I still live in a neighborhood where all the white people left thirty years ago?”
Battle kept his eyes on the road. “I realize it isn’t politically correct.”
“We were there first.”
“What do you mean?”
“My great-grandfather moved from Russia to South Chicago in 1894. I realize it isn’t politically correct, but there weren’t any black people in the neighborhood back then.”
“You don’t have to stay.”
“Yes, I do.” Gold looked at his new partner. “A couple of years ago, I moved in with my father after my mother died. It was supposed to be temporary, but then he had a stroke, and now somebody has to stay with him. For the foreseeable future, that’s going to be me.”
“Why didn’t you and your parents move when everybody else did?”
“My dad taught science at Bowen. My mom was the librarian at the South Chicago library. They had this crazy idea that it was our neighborhood, and we weren’t going to leave. Why’d you transfer down to Area 2?”
“I live over by South Chicago Hospital. I wanted to work closer to home.”
Sure. “The powers-that-be didn’t send you to babysit me after I got my partner killed?”
“Of course not.” Battle removed the toothpick from his mouth. “Stop beating yourself up, Dave. You and Paulie stopped a terrorist attack. You sure as hell didn’t get him killed.”
“Tell that to Katie and her kids.”
“I did — at Paulie’s funeral.”
Detective Paul Liszewski was the eldest of eight brothers who had grown up a few blocks from the Indiana border. He and Gold had played basketball against each other in high school, and they’d become friends as rookie cops at South Chicago station. The cerebral, lightning fast Jewish guard from Bowen, and the tenacious, lumbering Catholic forward from St. Francis de Sales watched each other’s backs.
Battle tried again. “You did everything by the book. That’s why you’re getting a medal.”
“Yeah.” Gold replayed the events in his mind for the thousandth time. It had started a month earlier when the bullet-riddled body of a crystal meth addict named Udell Jones was dumped next to the rusty fence enclosing the long-abandoned U.S. Steel South Works site. Jones was a forgotten man from a forgotten corner of town whose death didn’t rate a line in the Southtown Star. To Gold and Paulie, he was still a South Chicago guy entitled to an investigation.
A snitch told them that Jones had mentioned a potential new source of crystal meth in a boarded-up two-flat at 84th and Mackinaw. They pulled a warrant and kicked in the door. Paulie never knew what hit him when a fire bomb detonated, killing him instantly. Despite suffering a Type 3 shoulder separation, Gold tackled a young man fleeing the building. He was later identified as Hassan Al-Shahid, a grad student at the U. of C. The Saturday Night Special used to kill Jones was found in Al-Shahid’s pocket. The two-flat housed a bomb factory. A search of Al-Shahid’s condo on Hyde Park Boulevard uncovered plans to set off a bomb at the Art Institute. That’s how the War on Terror had found its way to South Chicago.
The FBI and Homeland Security had trumpeted Al-Shahid’s arrest as a great victory. Gold had a cooler take after he discovered that the Bureau had been monitoring Al-Shahid for months — a detail they hadn’t mentioned to Chicago PD. Gold blamed the feds for Paulie’s death — a contention they disputed. They couldn’t deny one truth: If Gold and Paulie hadn’t pursued the investigation, Chicago may have borne the brunt of the worst terrorist attack on American soil since 9/11.
* * *
The young man watched the Crown Vic pull up in front of the Art Institute. A uniform escorted Gold up the steps, where he accepted handshakes from the chief and the imbecile from Homeland Security.
He clutched the cell phone more tightly.
* * *
Gold looked across the street at the high rises lining the west side of Michigan Avenue. The mayor was speaking, but Gold was thinking about Katie Liszewski, who was now the single mother of four young boys. He had visited her every day since Paulie’s funeral. He felt a nudge from Battle’s elbow. The crowd was applauding. He adjusted his collar and walked toward the mayor, who smiled and handed him a medal.
“The people of Chicago are grateful for your heroism.”
Gold stepped to the microphone. “This is dedicated to the memory of Detective Paul Liszewski.” He swallowed and added, “I’m glad it’s over.”
* * *
The young man watched the ceremony across the street. As the applause reached a crescendo, he pressed Send.
* * *
Gold was forcing a smile for the cameras when a Camry parked on Adams exploded. He recoiled as the vehicle was consumed in flames. A fireball roared down Adams. The area was rocked again when the gas tank exploded. The impact blew out the windows of the high rise on the corner, showering pedestrians with glass.
Gold’s shoulder throbbed. Smoke billowed toward the Art Institute. Car alarms screamed. Pedestrians stopped for an instant, then they ran toward Grant Park. The cops in front of the Art Institute sprinted across the street.
Gold’s BlackBerry vibrated. He had a text. His stomach tightened.
It read, “It isn’t over.”
Sheldon Siegel is the New York Times bestselling author of seven critically acclaimed courtroom dramas featuring San Francisco criminal defense attorneys Mike Daley and Rosie Fernandez. This excerpt is from his latest novel, The Terrorist Next Door, featuring Chicago homicide detectives David Gold and A.C. Battle. Sheldon wrote his first novel on a laptop computer on his daily ferry commute from Marin County to San Francisco. Sheldon, who earned a law degree from Boalt Hall at U. C. Berkeley in 1983, specializes in corporate and securities law with the San Francisco office of Sheppard, Mullin, Richter & Hampton LLP. His books have been translated into a dozen languages and have sold millions of copies worldwide. His web site is http://www.sheldonsiegel.com.
Be the first to comment!