"IT ISN'T OVER"
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 colorful baby strollers down the sidewalk. Stylishly-dressed tourists conversed in Spanish, French, Japanese, German, and Russian as they looked in the windows of the upscale stores. College kids in tank tops, T-Shirts and royal blue Cubs caps made their way toward Millennium Park. Lawyers, accountants, and brokers in charcoal business suits and subdued rep ties pressed smart phones to their ears as they strode deliberately into the Loop. Students from the Art Institute lugged bulky portfolios and painting supplies to their classes. Fast food employees, security guards, and construction workers walked alongside office workers, retailers, and librarians.
The young man looked up Michigan Avenue at the Wrigley Building, the white jewel of the Magnificent Mile on the Chicago River, a half-mile north of where he was sitting. 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 western 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 had earned his stripes in Personnel. He was elevated to the top job because he was the former mayor's best friend when they were kids on the Southwest Side. The DHS guy was an even bigger disaster. The retired investment banker lived in the North Shore suburb of Kenilworth, a leafy enclave of gated mansions along Lake Michigan. His sole law enforcement experience had been a brief tour of duty with the Kenilworth Police Commission. To his credit, there had been no terrorist attacks in the affluent hamlet on his watch.
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 Chicago's signature skyline. 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 overburdened 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 asked. He'd spent his entire life on the Southeast Side, 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. He was also fluent in Spanish.
"Fifteen minutes," his partner said. "You're getting a Medal of Valor. It would be good form to accept it graciously."
Gold nodded grudgingly. He felt a shooting pain in his left shoulder as they barreled over a pothole. 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 line, and countless aches and pains from almost two decades of award-winning police work in the South Side's toughest neighborhoods. "This is a photo op for the mayor and the chief," he said.
"Welcome to Chicago," his new partner replied.
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. It was also a blatant attempt to segregate them from the terrified white people in the mayor's neighborhood west of the highway. The Taylor Homes devolved into a cesspool of poverty and violence until the second Mayor Daley finally ordered their demolition in the nineties. Before he was promoted to detective, Battle had spent twenty years patrolling the high-rise shooting galleries of his youth.
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. In an ill-conceived remodel, a soaring ultra-modern bowl had been shoe-horned inside the historic shell, making it look like the Millennium Falcon had landed inside the Roman Coliseum. "Are you going to the Bears' game next Saturday?" he asked.
"The exhibition games are a waste of time," Gold said. His family had held season tickets since George Halas had stormed the sidelines and Sid Luckman had run the T-formation. Except during his four years at the U. of I. in Champaign, Gold hadn't missed a regular season or playoff game in three decades.
Battle nodded. "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 of new partners for several months. "You're a Cubs guy?"
Gold pushed out a melodramatic sigh. 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. Sox fans tended to be open and notorious about their contempt for their North Side counterparts. Cubs fans were a more civil bunch; they simply refused to acknowledge that there was a team south of Madison Street. "You're a South Sider," he said. "How did this happen?"
Before Michael Jordan, Ernie Banks had been Chicago's reigning sports idol. "Your guys haven't won a World Series since 1908."
"Every team can have a bad century. Besides, we have a nicer ballpark."
Yes, you do. "That's another reason the Cubs keep losing. It's a quality control issue. Sox fans won't pay for an inferior product."
"You like new Sox Park?"
"I didn't say that."
Even though the White Sox had won the 2005 World Series after a brief eighty-eight year drought, Gold hadn't forgiven his favorite team for replacing the crumbling old ball yard where Shoeless Joe Jackson had played with a soulless structure bearing the name of a cell phone company. His disdain for the park's aesthetic shortcomings didn't prevent him from picking up a few extra bucks working security on weekends. He was also grateful for the modern plumbing.
They turned onto McFetridge Drive, which ran between the stadium and the Field Museum of Natural History. In Green Bay, the roads adjacent to Lambeau Field were named after legendary coaches and players. 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 thousands of patronage jobs to his political cronies.
"How's your shoulder?" Battle asked.
Feels like a rusty hinge. "Fine," Gold lied. His left arm was jammed against the shotgun bolted upright between them. 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 firmly 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," Gold said, "it's no bigger than a two-by-four."
Battle shot a glance 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," Gold replied, "my sources said the same thing about you."
* * *
The young man's stomach churned as he strained to see over the buses on Michigan Avenue. He hadn't eaten since the previous night. He hadn't slept in two days. The stench of urine and his own sweat made him queasy. He checked the Camry again. He looked across the street at the Art Institute. The mayor adjusted his tie, the chief tested a microphone, and the idiot from Homeland Security chatted amiably with the strident woman from WGN. 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 replied. "I'm named after my great-great-grandfather. He was the first member of my family born free after the Civil War."
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 and inserted it into his mouth "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 answered quickly. He 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," Gold said.
"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."
"I didn't know there were any people in South Chicago back then."
"Oh yes there were."
Battle waited a beat. "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. My brother lives in Lake Forest. He's a hotshot mergers and acquisitions lawyer. He's good about paying for caregivers, but he won't come down to South Chicago unless it's an emergency."
"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." Gold decided it was his turn to ask a few questions. "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 on the East Side, a few blocks from the Indiana border. He and Gold had played basketball against each other in high school, and they'd become fast friends as rookie cops at South Chicago station. They spent their free time shooting hoops at the South Chicago Y, where they were usually the only white guys in the gym. The cerebral, lightning fast Jewish guard from Bowen, and the tenacious, lumbering Catholic forward from St. Francis de Sales complemented each other on the court and watched each other's backs on the street.
Battle tried again. "You did everything by the book. That's why you're getting a medal."
"Yeah." Gold closed his eyes and 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 chain link 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 even rate a line in the SouthtownStar. 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. whose family owned an investment firm in Riyadh. The Saturday Night Special used to kill Jones was found in Al-Shahid's pocket. The two-flat housed a sophisticated bomb factory. A search of Al-Shahid's elegant 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 the unlikeliest of locations: South Chicago.
The FBI and Homeland Security had trumpeted Al-Shahid's arrest as a great victory. Gold had a decidedly 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 plain truth: if Gold and Paulie hadn't pursued the investigation into the death of Udell Jones, 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. Gold recoiled when the mayor clapped him on his left shoulder.
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 wasn't listening. He was thinking about Katie Liszewski, who was now the single mother of boys aged nine, seven, five, and four. He had visited her almost every day since Paulie's funeral. He felt a lump in his throat as he recalled the advice of his first partner as they'd driven the hard streets of South Chicago: a cop never cries.
Gold was watching a young mother walking hand-in-hand with her daughter across the street when he felt a nudge from Battle's elbow. The small crowd was applauding. He adjusted his collar and walked toward the mayor, who smiled broadly and handed him a medal.
"The people of Chicago are very grateful for your heroism," he said. "Because of your bravery, the people of Chicago are able to enjoy the cultural treasures of this great museum."
"Thank you," Gold replied. He 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 ignored the pedestrians as he watched the ceremony across the street. As the applause reached a crescendo, he pressed Send.
* * *
Gold was still forcing a smile for the cameras when a Camry parked on Adams exploded. He recoiled as the ground shook and the vehicle was consumed by thick orange flames. The car lifted off the ground, then landed hard on its tires. A fireball roared up Adams, which filled with black smoke. The area was rocked again when the gas tank exploded. The impact blew out the windows of the high rise on the corner, showering the ducking pedestrians with shattered glass.
Gold's ears rang and his shoulder throbbed. The heavy air smelled of burning gasoline as smoke billowed toward the Art Institute. Car alarms screamed and traffic stopped. Pedestrians stood transfixed for an instant, then they ran across Michigan Avenue toward Grant Park. The cops in front of the Art Institute moved across the street, first at a jog and then at a sprint.
* * *
The young man watched the pandemonium he had created from the smoke-filled alley behind the T-shirt shop. He made sure nobody was looking. Then he tossed his overcoat and pants into a Dumpster. He pressed Send once more. He turned off the cell phone, set it on the ground, smashed it, and dropped the remains into a sewer. Now sporting a Cubs T-shirt and khaki cutoffs, he joined the crowds jogging west on Adams toward Wabash.
* * *
Gold and Battle were standing in front of one of the bronze lions when Gold's BlackBerry vibrated. He had a text message. His stomach tightened as he opened it.
It read, "It isn't over."