"PEOPLE WILL DIE"
"We need to talk," Gold said.
Chief Kevin Maloney lowered the megaphone he'd commandeered in a futile attempt to bring order to the intersection of Michigan and Adams. "Not now," he snapped.
Gold and Battle had found Maloney at the center of a dozen uniforms who had surrounded the Camry. The two hundred and sixty pounds he carried on his six-foot-four-inch frame were considerably softer than during the days he'd played offensive tackle at St. Rita. His older brother still ran the tavern at 37th and Halsted that his grandfather—the longtime chairman of the Eleventh Ward Central Committee—had opened the day after the repeal of Prohibition. His traditional crew cut and perpetual half-grin gave him the appearance of a guy who bought the first round of Old Styles for his softball team at his old man's saloon.
Gold tried again. "Chief—"
Gold's lungs burned as he surveyed the scene. Sirens wailed. Police cars, ambulances, and fire engines struggled to navigate the gridlock. Pedestrians with soot-covered faces covered their mouths as they made their way to the east side of Michigan Avenue. An overmatched uniform perched next to the traffic signal tried to steer the traffic to one side. An ambulance lost precious seconds as it inched along the crowded sidewalk.
Maloney raised the megaphone again, but Gold reached over and pushed it down. He spoke directly into the chief's ear. "I just got a text from the asshole who set off the bomb. He said it isn't over. He blocked the return number, and our carrier couldn't trace it. Our best tech guy in Area 2 thinks he used a throwaway cell phone with no GPS."
"Why the hell did he contact you?"
"It must have something to do with the Al-Shahid case."
"Did you call the FBI?"
"Not yet." I wanted to give you a chance to step up to the plate.
The chief frowned. "We need to get them involved right away."
This response came as no surprise to Gold. Maloney was a political animal who kept his superiors happy and deflected blame when things went wrong. If the feds identified the bomber, he would magnanimously take credit for putting the interests of the city ahead of his personal glory. If they couldn't, he wouldn't hesitate to throw them under the #14 CTA bus idling in front of them.
"I'll handle it," Maloney said. "In the meantime, I need you and Battle to help us secure the scene and look for witnesses."
"We're going to take the lead in this investigation, right?"
"We'll talk about it later."
"We should talk about it now."
They were interrupted by the reporter from WGN who had pushed her way to the front of the yellow tape. Carol Modjeski was a red-haired fireball whose father had run a chop shop on Milwaukee Avenue. "Mojo" had cut her teeth as a fact checker for Mike Royko, and later became the Trib's lead crime reporter. Eventually, she took her act to WGN-TV, where her series on payoffs in the First Ward garnered a Pulitzer nomination. She shoved a microphone in front of the chief's face. "Is this a terrorist act?" she shouted.
Gold had been on the receiving end of her inquisitions on numerous occasions. Don't engage, Chief.
"The situation is under control," Maloney insisted. The word "the" came out as "duh." "We are personally taking charge of this investigation." He pointed at the Art Institute. "We are setting up our command center across the street."
Battle leaned over and whispered into Gold's ear. "What are we doing?"
"We are telling the bad guys where to find us," Gold muttered. "There wasn't anything in the playbook in Personnel about dealing with a terrorist attack."
Maloney's syntax became more tortured. "Additional emergency personnel is on the way. We ask the good citizens of Chicago to remain calm, cooperate with the police, and disperse in an orderly manner. We guarantee that we will find the people responsible for this senseless act." He tried to disengage, but Mojo kept firing.
"Are there other bombs?" she shouted.
Maloney froze. He didn't want to start a panic, but he was reluctant to lie, so he opted for obfuscation. "We're taking every conceivable precaution."
"Yes or no: is the public in danger?"
"We will use every available resource to protect the citizens of Chicago."
"Has anyone claimed responsibility?"
He shot a look at Gold. "Not to my knowledge."
Mojo's eyes narrowed. "I saw you talking to Detective Gold. Does he have any additional information?"
Maloney thought about it for an instant, then he motioned to Gold.
Battle muttered just loud enough so that only Gold could hear, "No comment."
"No comment," Gold repeated into the microphone.
Mojo was undeterred. "Were you targeted, Detective?"
He didn't pull my name out of a hat. "No comment."
"Did someone threaten you?"
"No." Technically, it wasn't a lie. The text wasn't exactly a threat.
"Has anyone contacted you?"
Mojo's green eyes gleamed. "Has the FBI been called?"
Maloney answered her. "Yes," he said, "along with Homeland Security."
"Doesn't that suggest this is a terrorist act?"
"It's a criminal act." The chief pushed out his jaw. "We aren't going to let some nutcase set off bombs on Michigan Avenue. That's it for now." He pointed at Gold and Battle. "I need to talk to you," he said, "in private."
* * *
In his Cubs T-shirt and khaki shorts, the young man blended in easily with a dozen employees and a few early-morning shoppers watching the chief's impromptu news conference in the sports bar in the basement of the Macy's in the old Marshall Field's flagship store. Some people held cell phones to their ears. Most stood in grim silence. The air conditioning was a welcome respite from the blistering heat and the thick smoke outside. The young man's demeanor remained impassive, but he was nonetheless pleased to see the fear in Maloney's eyes and the troubled look on Gold's face.
Your stress is just beginning.
His stoic expression belied a sense of satisfaction bordering on elation. Maloney's mealy-mouthed reassurances had been a bonus. He would begin the next phase immediately. The police would be on high alert, and the FBI would be called in. He would contact Carol Modjeski. It would enhance his stature if he communicated through the legendary "Mojo." Above all, he confirmed that his instructors had been right: meticulous planning is, indeed, the key to success.
He pulled out another throwaway phone and discreetly pressed Send. He turned it off and tossed it into a trash can as he headed into the subway.
That should get their attention.
* * *
Gold was standing next to Maloney when his BlackBerry vibrated. He had received another text.
It read, "Free Hassan Al-Shahid or people will die."