TTND
  Chapter 3 of The Terrorist Next Door, 2012 Sheldon M. Siegel, Inc.

3

"THAT'S THE WAY THINGS WORK IN SOUTH CHICAGO"

            Maloney's round face was bright crimson. "Did we get a trace on the second text?"

            "No, we didn't," Gold snapped. We're wasting time. "Our people and the FBI are working with our carrier. We should know more shortly."

            "Dammit." The chief had convened a summit conference around the mahogany table beneath the skylight in the Ryerson Library in the Art Institute. It was a high-brow setting for a hastily called strategy session including Gold, Battle, an assistant chief, a commander from the bomb squad, a captain from the Area 1 SWAT Team, and the head of the Chicago office of Homeland Security. The room was hot, and tempers were short.

            Maloney held up a meaty hand. "Our people have secured an eight-block perimeter. We're reviewing surveillance tapes. The museum has been evacuated. We're going door-to-door in search of witnesses. The FBI is analyzing the remnants of the detonator."

            Analyze faster, Gold thought.

            The head of DHS looked up from his BlackBerry. Talmadge "Chip" Blankenship III tried to sound as forceful as a rotund investment banker could. "The federal government is prepared to make every resource available," he intoned.

            Gold looked down at the table. Just like Katrina and the BP oil spill. Somebody set off a bomb across the street and we're having a meeting.

            The double doors swung open and a diminutive, well-dressed FBI agent marched inside, followed by two taller, equally well-attired G-Men-in-training. The leader's dark brown eyes blazed as he tugged at the lapels of his pressed charcoal suit, put his mirrored sunglasses inside his breast pocket, and strode purposefully to the head of the table, where he placed his laptop, a legal pad, and three sharpened #2 pencils. "Supervisory Special Agent George Fong," he announced in a forceful staccato. "I'm taking charge of this investigation."

            "You've got to be kidding," Gold muttered.

            Fong ignored the dig. His jet-black hair, boyish features, and rail-thin torso made him appear younger than forty-eight. "Nice to see you again, Detective Gold," he lied.

            As if. Gold turned to the chief. "Was this your decision?"

            "It came straight from the head of the Bureau's Chicago office. Not my call."

            "It sure as hell is your call."

            "Special Agent Fong is the point man on the Al-Shahid investigation. It makes sense to take advantage of his knowledge and expertise."

            "His knowledge and expertise got my partner killed."

            Fong responded before Maloney could answer. "We've covered this territory, Detective Gold. We did everything we could."

            "Except figure out that Hassan Al-Shahid was building bombs in South Chicago."

            "If I could do it again, I would have informed you about our investigation. I've already told you that I'm very sorry about your partner. We can sit here and argue, or we can get to work. We already know that the bomber is using Motorola throwaway cell phones purchased for cash at various locations over the past six months. He bought the detonator at a Radio Shack in Des Plaines. The phone that initiated the call to the detonator and the first text to you was acquired at a Target on the Northwest Side. He sent the second text using a phone purchased at a Wal-Mart in Evergreen Park. In each case, Verizon was the carrier. The same type of phones were used in the Madrid train bombings. Readily available. Easy to program. Hard to trace—especially since there's no credit card or contract. We've contacted the stores, but the security tapes have been recycled. We'll talk to the employees, but it's unlikely that they'll be able to identify the purchaser." Fong arched an eyebrow. "You still want me to leave, Detective Gold?"

            "Not yet." Gold's neck was burning. "Where was the call to the detonator initiated?"

            "We can't tell. The cheap disposables don't have a GPS, so we can't get a precise location. We can narrow it down substantially if you can send a reply that goes through. We know that it pinged a tower downtown. He could have been anywhere within a ten mile radius of Sears Tower." Fong pulled out a new BlackBerry and slid it across the table to Gold. "This is an FBI-issue phone that will work on your existing number. If he contacts you again, I want you to send a reply immediately. Don't even type a message. Just hit Reply and Send. Got it?"

            "Got it." So much for the Bureau's state-of-the-art technology. "We should get Verizon to block access to all throwaway cells."

            "Working on it." Fong looked at Blankenship. "An order from Homeland Security would help."

            "I'll see what I can do."

            "Do it fast." Fong turned to the head of the Bomb Squad. "Tell me about the bomb."

            Commander Mike Rowan was a veteran of Kuwait, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Chicago's gang wars. He moved his aviator-style glasses to the top of his shaved dome and spoke in a clipped cop dialect. "Regular gasoline in generic "jerry" cans set off by a detonator made from a throwaway cell. Impossible to trace."

            Fong nodded respectfully, then turned to Gold. "What do you know about the car?"

            "The Camry was reported stolen Saturday night from 36th and Lowe. The owner is a nurse at Rush Hospital who's been at work since six o'clock this morning. She isn't a suspect."

            "Casualties?"

            Gold pointed at the walrus-like assistant chief sitting to his right. Harvey Simmons was a droopy-eyed native of the Pullman district whose primary objective was to keep his nose clean as he counted the 212 days until his retirement. "No fatalities," he said. "Fifteen injured."

            Fong nodded. "We're monitoring the usual terrorist channels. Lots of chatter, but nobody's claimed responsibility. We haven't ruled out the possibility that this is being orchestrated from overseas. We're also talking to our sources in the Muslim community. I've assembled a team here, and I have a group standing by at Quantico. We will, of course, be setting up our local command center at FBI headquarters."

            "I'd be happy to brief your people," Gold said, "but we'll be setting up our command center at police headquarters. He set off the bomb during my award ceremony. He's already contacted me twice. You can't expect me to let you run my investigation."

            Maloney spoke up. "Gold," he said, "after 9/11, we developed a protocol for potential terrorist events. The Bureau takes the lead with assistance from us. Special Agent Fong will keep you fully apprised."

            "Just like he did last time."

            "We don't have time for a turf battle. Our immediate priority is the security of our citizens. Besides, it's inappropriate for you to handle this investigation."

            "Why the hell not?"

            "It isn't a homicide."

            "It's a serious felony."

            "But not a homicide."

            And you're covering your bureaucratic ass.

            Simmons's BlackBerry buzzed. The assistant chief held it to his ear and listened. He nodded twice, pressed Disconnect, and spoke to the assembled group in a subdued tone. "A young woman named Christina Ramirez bled out in the ambulance. Student at Chicago State. Address is 8745 South Manistee."

            Gold's throat tightened. "It's a homicide case now," he said to the chief, "and I should handle the notification. The victim's mother is one of my father's physical therapists."

            "We need you here, Gold. There must be somebody else."

            Gold quickly considered his options. "I'll find somebody." He would visit the victim's mother later that night. "Given this new information, I respectfully request that you assign Detective Battle and me to head the investigation of the murder of Christina Ramirez." He emphasized the word "murder."

            Fong spoke up first. "That's not the way things work in a terrorism case."

            "That's the way things work in South Chicago."

            Maloney addressed Fong in a library-level whisper. "Detective Gold is correct. This is now a homicide."

            "Terrorism is a federal crime. He'll be prosecuted under federal law."

            "And state law. The State's Attorney is prosecuting Hassan Al-Shahid under the Illinois death penalty statutes even though he's also charged under the federal anti-terrorism laws. He'll prosecute Ms. Ramirez's killer under the same Illinois statutes."

            "How can you be so sure?"

            "He's my brother-in-law."

            Fong wasn't giving up. "That still violates our protocol."

            The response came from an unanticipated source. Battle placed his large hands on the table and spoke to Fong in a hushed tone. "Detective Gold and Detective Liszewski uncovered the Al-Shahid terror plot while they were investigating the Udell Jones homicide. Detective Liszewski was killed in the line of duty after you negligently failed to notify us about your investigation of Hassan Al-Shahid."

            "We weren't negligent," Fong insisted.

            "You weren't wildly forthcoming, either." Battle turned and spoke to the chief. "I respectfully request that you assign Detective Gold and me to lead this murder investigation."

            "Ms. Ramirez died in Area 1. I need to assign a team from Area 1."

            "I'm still assigned to Area 1. I'm only on loan to Area 2."

            Technically, it was true.

            Maloney made the call. "You and Detective Gold will lead the homicide investigation," he said. "You will cooperate fully with the FBI." He darted an icy look at Fong. "If your superiors have a problem, have them call me."

            "I will." Without another word, Fong led his minions out of the library.

            As soon as the door had closed, Maloney addressed Gold and Battle in the plain-spoken vernacular he'd learned in his grandfather's bar. "Everybody tells me you're two of my best detectives. This is your chance to prove it. I don't care how many rules you break. I want this asshole off the street before anybody else dies."

* * *

            The young man emerged from the El, hurried across the platform, and jogged down the rickety stairs two at a time. He pulled his baseball cap over his eyes and kept his head down to avoid the video cameras. He ducked into a nearby alley and took out another throwaway cell. He looked around to make sure nobody was watching. He pressed Send, then he turned off the power and set it on the ground. He smashed it with a stomp. He put the remnants into a Dumpster behind a Mexican restaurant, then he made his way down the alley.

            The stakes are going up.

* * *

            Gold and Battle were about to leave the library when Simmons's BlackBerry vibrated again. The assistant chief motioned them to stay put as he held the phone tightly against his ear.

            "What is it?" Gold asked.

            "He just set off a bomb at the Addison Street station. He shut down the El."

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