Eight months later
It's called Terror Town.
No one remembers how it got the name. Probably a cop, maybe a frightened resident.
The residents, almost all black, face the reality of drive-by shootings, prostitution, intimidation, extortion, and drug dealers who rule and terrorize the South Side neighborhood.
Terror Town is roughly bordered on the north by Seventy-fourth Street, on the south by Seventy-ninth Street, and on the east and west by Yates and Exchange.
Residents are eleven times more likely to be victims of violent crime than those living in the rest of the city. More than half the men in Terror Town are unemployed. More than 60 percent of the children in Terror Town are born to unwed mothers, and the infant mortality rate is double that of white Chicago.
The Black P Stones have ruled Terror Town for almost half a century, their leaders going to prison, being released, being replaced. Their life spans are shorter than the Chicago mobsters' of the 1920s. They call themselves The Nation.
The symbols of the P Stones' graffiti cover the cracked walls of six-flat apartment buildings, billboards, and abandoned storefronts. The pyramid with an eye and the rising sun, the number 7, the crescent moon, and the five-pointed star. Big bad brother is watching you.
Branches of the Stones roam and ride. In Terror Town and nearby neighborhoods are the Apache Stones, whose mark is simply the letters APS; the ElRukns; the Jet Black Stones; the Titanic Stones; the Ruben Night Stones; the Jabari Stones; and the Black Stone Villains.
The police enter the streets of Terror Town with the same foreboding as Marines in Baghdad. Police have been ambushed and gunned down in this city within a city.
There is a Muslim presence on Kingston Street that distributes food and clothing monthly. There is a library on Seventy-fifth that provides sanctuary for those who seek safety for a few hours.
There are businesses and banks and churches that struggle to prosper, provide, and prepare.
And there are the police, who simply try to keep the sky from falling.
Terror Town at twilight. A Friday afternoon. Anita Mills, her baby in her arms, stepped out of the bank on Seventy-fifth Street.
The cash was folded and tucked into her pocket, deep. She knew better than to put it in her purse, which could be ripped from her arm.
The street was busy. Across from Anita, a group of loiterers in front of a video shop, men of all ages, talking, laughing, smoking, or standing sullen and watching the cars go by. Coming toward her from the right, a mother or grandmother, shopping bags in one hand, a little girl at her side. The woman, heavy, bulbous legs, each step limping agony.
The cab was waiting at the sidewalk. Anita had paid him for the trip there and would pay him for the trip to Royal Murtagh's office. The driver had a thick Jamaican accent and a nervous smile. It was late spring and warm but not warm enough to bring on the beads of sweat on the man's ebony forehead. Drugs? Nerves? Who knew? Who cared? Anita was about to escape.
Carmen stirred, asleep on her shoulder, nine months old, lighter than Anita, lighter than the man who was the baby's father. She knew that people often thought she was the babysitter of a white child when she took Carmen out of Terror Town.
Five steps, maybe six.
And they were there. In front of her. Anita stopped. Two men, both lean, both wearing Halloween masks depicting George W. Bush, both holding guns pointed at Anita.
"Now, fast, bitch," said the man on her left. His voice was young.
The cab she was heading for tore rubber and pulled away, clipping the walker of an old man crossing the street, sending the walker flying in the air like a rocket toward the cluster of men in front of the video store.
Anita didn't, couldn't, speak. She clutched her sleeping baby, and shook her head "no."
The man spoke again: "Give now or I shoot the fuckin' baby in the fuckin' head. I mean it."
He pressed the gun against the top of Carmen's head and put his face inches from Anita's.
Anita was light-headed. The woman with the bad legs and the child shouted, "Leave the baby be."
The second gunman turned his weapon on the woman with the bad legs.
The man with the gun to Carmen's head ripped the purse from Anita's shoulder.
Now run, she willed. Not her. Them. Run. No one's going to chase you. Run and find out that you got twenty-eight dollars and change. Run, damn you.
The second gunman turned toward Anita again. Anita was aware of people watching the show, something to talk about, to witness, better than television in a dark room.
The second gunman tugged at the sleeve of the first, the talker.
"What? Let's go."
The second gunman reached for the pocket of Anita's jeans. She turned away. The first gunman grabbed her hair and turned her toward him. Carmen woke up and began to cry. Anita felt the hand go into her pocket, plunging deep, violating her body, her future, her hope.
"No," she shouted, pulling herself away.
The man with his hand in her pocket almost fell over, the gun in his right hand giving off a popping sound that she recognized.
"Fuck," said the first gunman.
"Oh, no, dammit, no," the second man said. It was the first thing he had said. She recognized the voice.
She went back hard, dragging the man with his hand in her pocket to the ground. She held the baby to her chest as she fell on her back, her head hitting the sidewalk with a thunk.
Too many things to do, to think about. No time. The baby was crying harder. That was good.
The twilight was turning black. The hand came out of her pocket.
"You got it?" asked the first gunman.
The second man didn't answer.
Anita blinked. Something warm and wet was in her eyes but she thought that the second man, the one whose voice she recognized, was holding the envelope he had taken from her pocket.
The bullet had entered her left cheek just below the eye. It didn't hurt. She tried to hold out her hand. The second gunman hesitated. She could see his dark eyes looking down at her through the dark wetness.
"I didn't--" he started to say.
"Move ass," said the first gunman.
The bank door opened.
It had been no more than fifteen seconds since Anita had left the bank. She couldn't see it, but the old man in the blue uniform stepped out of the bank, crouching low, gun extended.
She heard the shot, sensed the robbers running. Heard another shot.
Voices now. Anita couldn't see.
"Oh, Lord," said a woman, the woman with the bad legs.
Her name was Etta Bartholomew. The frightened child at her side was her granddaughter Dinah.
Anita tried to speak, to say something over the crying of her baby. A name. Anita wanted to hand Carmen to the woman whose voice she had heard, but her arms no longer worked. She repeated the name and then another name.
"Rest easy," said Etta, knees already in pain from the act of kneeling. "Ambulance be here quick."
The woman took the baby gently from Anita's arms. Anita wanted to kiss her daughter. It would be the last time. She knew it. She was vaguely aware of Carmen being passed from the woman kneeling next to her to the young girl who had been at the woman's side.
"Your baby'll be fine," said Etta.
Anita said the name again. She was twenty years old. She would be dead in seconds. That she knew. It definitely wasn't real and there was not nearly the pain she might have expected.
Anita said the name again.
The woman next to her repeated the name.
Anita felt the woman's hand in hers. As the world flickered light to dark to light again, she tried to tighten her grip. And then she died.
The woman touched the dead woman's check and struggled to her feet, reaching out to take the crying baby from her granddaughter.
"What did she say?" asked the girl.
"Sounded like she said, 'Abe Lieberman,'" said the woman.
Spaulding Minor, lean, stoop-shouldered, dark Pakistani brown, had said that the crazy man had come every Thursday for the past five weeks just before six. It was just before six.
And through the door walked the man.
Spaulding Minor, whose real name was Anwar Mushariff, looked through the window of the Dollar-Or-Less store he owned at the old man across the street eating a hot dog and talking to the short, fat pushcart vendor, who was wiping his hands on his white apron.
The crazy man stopped a dozen feet from the counter behind which Anwar stood.
When Anwar Mushariff bought the Dollar-Or-Less six years earlier, he had inherited the name that went with it. The Pakistanis in the Devon Avenue Community called him Spaulding Minor as a joke. The Indians in the neighborhood called him Spaulding Minor as a bigger joke. Anwar's grandchildren, those old enough to talk, called him Spaulding Minor because everyone else did, the Bangladeshi, Thai, Croatians, and the others.
Only the sad-looking policeman had called him Mr. Mushariff.
Though he corrected family, friends, and customers with a weary resignation, Anwar was of a mixed mind about the name. It sounded American, which he now was, but it belonged to someone else, not even anyone in the family of the woman and her father from whom he had bought the store. Spaulding Minor Dollar-Or-Less stores were, for a few years, a franchise of little success, with four stores, one each in Detroit, Dayton, Topeka, and Chicago. All had failed. The one in Chicago had been purchased by a woman and her son, Jews named Goldfarb, who then sold it to Anwar, who was told that no one had ever called the son Spaulding Minor.
Slowly the crazy man started moving again toward the counter behind which Anwar was standing.
Anwar made the store profit by getting about half the items he sold from the overstock and unwanted, unsalable inventory of the store owners on Devon and the other half from dollar stores on the South Side where he bought batches of items on sale for as little as a quarter each and sold them for the dollar.
As the crazy man moved yet closer, Anwar rang up the purchase of three plastic cameras for a grim, fat white woman with stringy hair and missing teeth. The woman was jabbering something in an American accent that Anwar had difficulty understanding. At the moment, he wasn't even trying. He simply said, "Oh yes," when she spoke.
Across the street he saw the thin old man with white hair and a matching mustache. The man was not impressive. He looked like a sad baggy-eyed spaniel. He doubted if the man could deal with the problem. Anwar was certain that the police had assigned the relic of a man because they had little consideration for a Pakistani storekeeper. But, perhaps, he should be grateful that they had assigned anyone at all.
The fat woman with stringy hair and missing teeth didn't see the crazy man behind her. She jabbered on.
Had it not been for Mr. Habib, the president of the Merchants Association, it was likely that the police would have paid no attention to Anwar's complaint and that of the other merchants on the North Side neighborhood known as Gandhi Marg or Mohammed Ali Jinnah Way, as it had been known as Golda Meier Boulevard when it was the main shopping area for Jews who lived on the North Side.
Anwar was sure that Mr. Habib, who owned the largest sari shop in the neighborhood, was acting out of both a paternal concern for a local merchant and a fear that the person Anwar and the others had described might extend the number of shops he regularly visited, extend them right up the street to Mr. Habib's own sari shop.
Anwar, however, was not going to risk all that he worked for on the protection of Mr. Habib and the skinny man across the street. He owed it to his family, to himself, to his pride to be prepared. Was he afraid? Certainly, but he was also determined.
Determination faltered when Anwar looked up at the crazy man, who now stood directly behind the fat woman, who said, "So I says to him, Barton, like you know the difference between a box with a little pinny hole and a Germany camera."
Anwar's eyes met those of the crazy man. The man was tall, taller than the son of Kareem, the man who owned the DVD, video, and CD store a block away. Kareem's son played basket-ball for the University of Illinois in Chicago. It was a game Anwar did not understand, but he knew that it required tall people like Kareem's son.
The crazy man was also wide, like the chest of drawers that stood in Anwar's bedroom, the chest his wife had brought with her from Pakistan.
The fat woman stopped in mid sentence, looked at the shopkeeper's eyes, and then glanced over her shoulder to see what the man she knew as Spaulding Minor was looking at.
Behind her, no more than three feet away, stood a huge bald man in a floor-length coat that looked as if it were made of the same pale brown material they had packed the onions in when she still lived on the farm in Wrightsboro back in Tennessee.
The bald man smiled at her. She didn't like that smile. He blocked her way. She would have gladly been almost anywhere else, with the possible exception of Wrightsboro.
Around the man's neck a rough black cord held a wooden cross the size of a small book. The cross lay flat against the man's chest.
She couldn't tell how old he was. She didn't care. She just wanted to escape. The man said something to her. He was bending over, his face a few inches from hers, his breath warm and not much different from rotting onions.
"Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?" the man whispered.
"Have you accepted Jesus as your one and true savior?" the man said.
The woman backed into the counter, knocking over a display of bags of salted peanuts. Anwar caught the display before it fell and the woman shuffled sideways in the space between the counter and the bald man.
Anwar looked out the window again as the fat woman waddled toward the front door with her plastic bag containing three plastic cameras.
"Repent and be saved," the bald man said to her.
She banged through the door and hurried to her left down Western Avenue.
Across the street, through the window, Anwar could see the old man eating another hot dog.
It wasn't a hot dog. Detective Sergeant Abe Lieberman was eating a knockwurst at Leo's stand.
Through the evening rush-hour traffic, Abe stood in his knee-length camel-color wool coat. Abe's eyes met those of Anwar Mushariff, aka Spaulding Minor.
The Pakistani was not smiling. His eyes were pleading. Abe knew why. He had seen the big man enter the shop.
It was Abe's second sandwich in the last forty-five minutes. Onions, mustard, celery salt, relish, tomato on a warm bun. Forbidden food. Almost anything Abe enjoyed eating was forbidden. His cholesterol was coming down. His blood pressure was coming down.
His pleasure in food was now minimal. His desire was enormous.
To look at him, one would be unable to detect the joy he was taking. Lieberman was five-seven, weighed a possible 140 on a good day, and wore a nearly perpetual look of resignation on his spaniel face. Abe looked at least seventy though he was about to have his sixty-second birthday. He had a full head of curly gray hair and a thin mustache to match. His wife, Bess, thought he looked like Harry James. His grandchildren thought he looked like the dog in some cartoon they watched. Abe had watched the cartoon with them once and admitted the resemblance.
Abe finished his knockwurst, wiped his hands on a napkin, brushed a speck of green relish from his sleeve, and threw the napkin into the small trash basket on top of Leo's stand.
Abe waited till the light at the corner changed to red and the traffic halted. Then he began to wend his way through the waiting cars.
Abe knew the neighborhood well. His brother Maish's deli, the T&L, was a mile away right on Devon just past California Avenue, one of the last holdouts of the old Jewish community. Abe and Bess's house was less than ten minutes away just off of Touhy.
Devon had been built in the 1850s, but it hadn't been Devon. It had been Church Road. It was renamed by English settlers for their native county of Devonshire.
Now, it was the center of trade and culture for the more than four hundred thousand residents of the Indo-Pak community of Chicagoland.
When Abe entered the Dollar-Or-Less, the big man in what looked like a burlap coat stood erect in front of the counter, his right hand grasping the wooden cross, his left hand at his side.
Anwar Mushariff was definitely frightened, but Abe could see that the shopkeeper would not back down.
"Excuse me," said Lieberman, looking past the big man. "Do you sell antacid pills?"
Anwar was bewildered. The big madman hovered over him. He could see the dark hair on the back of the man's fingers as he grasped the cross. He was counting on the old policeman, who, instead of trying to arrest the crazy man, which Anwar doubted he could do, was asking for antacid pills.
"Yes," said Anwar.
Lieberman moved next to the big man at the counter and, as Anwar hurried off to find the pills, said, "Knockwurst."
He shook his head.
"Doctor tells me. Wife tells me," Lieberman said with weary resignation. "But if I listen to them, I'll be reduced to cottage cheese and tomatoes. You like cottage cheese and tomatoes?"
The bald man was looking straight ahead, not turning toward Lieberman.
"Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?" the man said.
"Washed?" said Lieberman. "I guess once in a while when my wife makes lamb chops there might be a drop or two of blood, but washed? No. You? You been washed in the blood of the lamb?"
"I've been washed and saved," the man said, still looking forward.
"From what?" asked Lieberman, his hand in his pocket. "When they say everything's a dollar, they don't count the tax."
He pulled out a handful of coins.
"So, what have you been saved from?" Lieberman asked as Anwar returned with a plastic bottle of multicolored tablets.
"From eternal damnation," the man said as Lieberman put the coins on the counter.
"How'd you manage that?" Lieberman asked.
"I accepted Jesus," the man said, now facing Lieberman, who opened the bottle and popped four tablets in his mouth.
"Want some?" Lieberman asked, holding the bottle out to the man.
The bald man didn't answer.
"Suit yourself," said Abe, holding the bottle out to Anwar, who shook his head "no."
"You are mocking the Lord," the bald man said.
"No," said Abe. "I'm mocking you. Big difference."
"I'm a messenger of the Lord," the man said, putting his left hand heavily on Lieberman's shoulder.
"What's the message?"
"The hour is coming for the new Crusade," the man said. "We are gathering an army to take back Jerusalem."
"Make it a big army," said Lieberman. "The last Crusade was a bust."
The big man's fingers began to tighten on Lieberman's shoulder.
"We need money to raise an army, a big army of the believers," the man said. "We need ships, weapons. We shall wash in the blood of the barbarians at the gates."
"You know what the word barbarian means?" asked Lieberman.
The first hint of confusion touched the big man's face.
"It's Greek," said Lieberman. "I've got insomnia. Watch the History Channel. Barbarian means anyone who isn't Greek. Now it means anyone who isn't like us, whoever us is. So, technically, if you start a new crusade and make it to Jerusalem, you'd be the barbarians to them and they'd be the barbarians to you. It's a lose-lose."
The man's grip grew even tighter. Lieberman didn't wince. He pocketed the antacid pills and said, "Funny neighborhood to raise money for a new crusade."
"They took the Holy City from us," the man said. "They should pay to return it to us."
"They?" asked Lieberman.
"The Muslims," the man said, glancing at Anwar.
"I'm a Hindu," Anwar said.
"You are a nonbeliever," spat the bald man. He turned back to Lieberman and said, "Are you a nonbeliever?"
"I'm Jewish. I don't think we've got time for me to explain what I believe. So, two things here. First, you want this man to give you money for your crusade."
"I have already given him money," Anwar said.
"What if he says he won't give you any more money?" asked Lieberman.
"He will suffer at the mighty hand of the Lord," the man said.
"The mighty hand of the Lord? That'd be you, right?"
"I'm but his instrument."
"Second, you remember I said there were two things," said Lieberman. "I'd like you to take your hand off my shoulder. Now."
The man's grip tightened.
"Look down," Lieberman said. "What do you see?"
The man looked down. Abe had a gun in his hand pointed at the man's belly.
"Who are you?" the man asked.
"A police officer who just heard you confess to extortion. The hand on my shoulder. Now."
The grip tightened even more. There would be a bruise or worse. Lieberman lifted his gun quickly, hitting the bald man's wrist, hitting it hard.
The man let go and gave up a short gasp between his teeth. Lieberman pulled a pair of handcuffs from his pocket and snapped one end on the wrist of the big man, the same wrist he had possibly just broken.
"You are under arrest," said Lieberman. "And now I need a bottle of Tylenol."
"We have generic," said Anwar.
"It'll do," said Lieberman, reaching for the bald man's other hand.
The man pulled away, knocked the gun out of Abe's hand, and grabbed the detective's neck. Anwar Mushariff launched himself over the counter and onto the big man's back.
Abe hit the bald man's wrist with his fist. Anwar, who realized that there was no hair to pull, put his arm around the man's face and pounded on his nose. The bald man released Abe and reached up to his bleeding, broken nose. Abe clasped the other end of the cuffs on the man's free hand.
Anwar sat back on the counter, panting, as Abe picked up the gun and aimed it at the bald man.
"I'd say he's been resisting arrest," said Lieberman.
"Most definitely," said Anwar.
"I'd say he's planning to attack us again with intent to do us bodily harm. What say you?"
"Most definitely," said Anwar, trying to catch his breath.
"No," said the bald man, his cuffed hands on his nose.
"Sit on the floor," said Lieberman.
"My nose is broken," the man said. "I can't feel my wrist."
"Congratulations, you're a martyr," said Lieberman, pulling his cell phone from his pocket, holding it up, and saying, "Hanrahan."
While he waited for his partner to answer, Lieberman looked at Anwar.
"Who said Jews and Muslims can't work together?"
"I'm a Hindu," the shopkeeper reminded him.
"Rabbi?" came a voice on the cell phone.
"Where are you, Father Murphy?" asked Lieberman.
"Walking the dog."
"Walking the dog?"
"It's a long story," said Bill Hanrahan.
"Tell me later. I'm at the Dollar-Or-Less store on Western near Devon. Think you can meet me at the station in twenty minutes?"
"Fifteen," said Hanrahan.
Copyright © 2006 by Stuart M. Kaminsky