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Bill Hanrahan had been in Cleveland only once before. That was about ten years ago, when he and Maureen were still married. A Cleveland cop, a detective named Morello, had remembered when Bill was a young football hero with bad knees that had kept him out of the pros.
Three decades ago Hardrock Hanrahan had been the fastest lineman on the Chicago Vocational High School football team. Dick Butkus, who had graduated from CVS a few years later, told Bill at a reunion that Hardrock had been an inspiration to him. And then the knee went in a practice game and so did the speed and any chance at Notre Dame or Illinois or even Wisconsin. He lasted two years at Southern Illinois University and managed a Parade magazine second team All-American spot. But the knees wouldn't hold. He gave up to join his father as a Chicago cop, as his father had joined his grandfather before him.
Morello, who followed college football down to the Division III teams, found out that Hanrahan was passing through to Chicago and had a few hours between planes. Morello, a guy in his late fifties maybe, with lots of dyed too-black hair and the face of a Coke can run over by an eighteen-wheeler, had driven through Cleveland showing Hanrahan the sights, apologizing here, showing pride there. Hanrahan, who had been drinking hard then and hated flying, would have preferred being in the airport bar, but he couldn't hurt the man's feelings.
So he had seen Cleveland and had a few drinks on the plane.
Morello was dead now, his name on a plaque. Line of duty. Shot by a sixteen-year-old drug dealer in a stolen car. According to Morello's partner, the detective's last word was "son" before the kid in the car shot him in the face. Morello's partner had shot the kid four times. The kid died. Morello's partner had faced charges and been put on unpaid leave for sixty days.
Now Detective Bill Hanrahan was back in Cleveland, but he wasn't going to have time for any sightseeing. His knees were no better but he was sober and meant to stay that way. He had gone to AA after he had let an informant die while he was drunk in a restaurant across from her apartment building. Hanrahan's partner, Abe Lieberman, had covered for him, but Hanrahan had been a Catholic, a lapsed one to be sure, and guilt was his lot.
A few years later he had seriously considered sliding back to the bottle when he killed a young lunatic named Frankie Kraylaw whose wife and child he had been protecting in his house. Hanrahan had set up the lunatic and lured him to the house, knowing that if he had not killed the man, the man would surely have killed the young woman and the boy.
With the help of a young Catholic priest, AA, Iris Chen, and his partner, Abe Lieberman, Bill had slowly, shakily come through it still carrying guilt.
Now the divorce from Maureen was complete and Bill Hanrahan hoped and expected to marry Iris Chen in a few months. He was also slowly and with some caution returning to the church. The assignment he was on was Captain Kearney's way of giving Hanrahan a few days away from the city, away from the reminders of the past.
It was early October. A bit cold for fall in Ohio. Hanrahan had watched the Weather Channel and was prepared with the zippered lined jacket Iris had given him. The job was simple, even boring.
He sat in the car he had rented, heater on low, radio on an oldies station he had found by pushing the right button. The Beatles were singing "Help."
Hanrahan was a burly man who looked like a cop and didn't find it easy to hide, but that wasn't a problem on this one. Back in Chicago a mob witness, an accountant named Mickey Gornitz, had agreed to talk about his boss's highly illegal operation, but only to Hanrahan's partner, Abe Lieberman, with whom Gornitz had gone to Marshall High School. No surprise. Abe was easy to talk to, and Abe and his brother had been basketball stars in a basketball school. Articles had been written about the brothers, who were both starting guards on the same team, a team that won the city championship the three years they played. Besides talking to Lieberman, Gornitz had several conditions. One was that his ex-wife and his seventeen-year-old son should be protected until Mickey finished testifying and went into witness protection. The assistant Cook County state attorney didn't think it was necessary. Gornitz hadn't seen his wife or son in fifteen years, when she had walked out on him, changed her name and the boy's, and moved to Boston. Mickey hadn't spoken to either his son or his ex-wife since they went out the door, but he had sent her money, plenty of it. The assistant state attorney gave in. This was a big case and watching a couple of people, humoring his witness, was a small price to pay.
A Boston cop named Persky, weary and yawning, had come on the flight to Cleveland from Boston with Gornitz's ex and the kid. They didn't know he was there. Persky knew a Chicago cop was going to take over, and he had found Hanrahan waiting for him when the crowd came off the plane.
Hanrahan had shown the man his ID, but Persky had waved it away, saying "They're yours. I'm headin' for the bar. Got a plane back home in about an hour."
So they were Hanrahan's. He had a recent photograph of the woman and the boy. They were easy to spot. She was about Hanrahan's age, in good shape, not bad looking if a little hard around the edges and a little loud. The kid was little, thin, and wore a gray sports jacket, tie, and slacks. His hair was dark and combed straight back. He was wearing glasses and looked like a classic case of what Lieberman's grandson called "the nerds."
Hanrahan had done his footwork before they arrived. The Boston and Cleveland police had helped. The mother and son had a rental car waiting. They were on their way for a trip to four colleges in Ohio that were all interested in the boy, who was a straight A student with an interest in computers and theoretical mathematics. Hanrahan had their itinerary from the Boston police and had made reservations at the same motels as the mother, Louise Firth, and her son, Matthew.
No trouble. They would make their rounds in three days, wind up at a motel in Dayton near the airport, and catch a plane back to Boston where Persky or someone would be there to meet them. It was almost a minivacation on the State of Illinois. Football on television at night with his shoes off, dinner watching the mother and son—at a table discreetly far away—back to bed and early to rise, providing Mom and son didn't decide to take in a movie.
Hanrahan followed the pair in front of him to baggage claim. He had only a carry-on. A skycap helped the woman and boy to the Hertz minibus, and Hanrahan got back in his rented car parked illegally at the curb and followed them.
Now he sat outside the Hertz gate listening to "When My Dream Boat Comes Home" by Louis Prima and Keely Smith.
First day went easy. About forty miles to Oberlin, tour around the campus with Hanrahan a safe hundred yards behind, back to administration for talk, and on to the motel where he had a room next to mother and son.
Because of his size, Hanrahan had learned a great deal about being inconspicuous. Most of it depended on staying as far back as possible and never doing anything to call attention to himself. It was especially easy when the people he was following had no reason to think they were being followed. Like today. In any case, knowing that they were going to colleges, Hanrahan had brought his briefcase, which he found dust-covered in the back of the bedroom closet. He filled it with papers, wore his suit, and tried to look like a college professor.
Food the first day was ribs. Drink was diet root beer. It was a Monday. The Bears were playing the Bucs silently over at the bar, and a juke box played Sinatra. The mother and son ate, looked like they had a disagreement about something small, and went right to the motel with Hanrahan behind them.
He was up well before them the next morning and had already eaten when they came down. He read the paper in the lobby to find out what, if anything, the Cleveland Plain Dealer said about the game. Hanrahan had watched. The Bears had lost, again. And to the Bucs. The glory days of Payton, Butkus (Hanrahan's idol), MacMahon, and the rest were long gone.
The next two days were about the same. Kenyon, Wooster, and finally Wittenberg. The campuses didn't look very different from each other. Small, right out of a movie about small colleges. Hanrahan liked Wooster best, but his experience had been at Southern back in Illinois, a state school already grown to the size of a small metropolis. These schools were no bigger than CVS, his old high school.
After each tour and interviews, the son had come back to the car burdened by catalogs, flyers, and copies of who-knows-what. The Wittenberg visit was last. Mother and son had gone to that motel near the Dayton airport, and Hanrahan had bedded down in the room next door. His plane was about two hours after theirs in the morning.
The walls were thin in the motel, but not thin enough to hear what they were saying. They didn't seem to be arguing. Hanrahan would have been happier if the rooms had been on the second or third floor with no entry possible from the outside, but they were on the first. No big problem. The windows were thick and didn't open, and bushes, dense and deep, stood before each window. He was just a professional wanting everything to be right, which it was till just before three in the morning. Hanrahan leaped up at the sound, unsure of what he had heard. He looked at the television screen. A man was talking silently. No doubt about the second sound, a shot, followed by another. In shorts and a Southern Illinois T-shirt, Hanrahan rumbled for his .38, found it, went into the hall where a few brave souls were opening their doors. Hanrahan went for the door of the room next to his. When the curious in the hall saw the gun in the big man's hand, they retreated, closed and chained their doors.
Hanrahan crashed his fist into the door once and shouted, "Open up. Police."
He didn't expect an answer and didn't get one. Weapon held high, he threw his shoulder against the door. He tried three times, failed to budge it, and finally shot the lock open. It took two bullets.
The lights were out and the light from the hallway sent a path of yellow to the nearest bed. Nothing moved. No one spoke. Crouched, Hanrahan went for the switch, which he assumed would be in the same place as the one in his room. It was.
White light from the lamps on the table snapped on and Hanrahan pointed his weapon at the figure on the closest bed. It was clearly the mother though there wasn't much left of the top of her head and there was a hell of a lot of blood. She was wearing pink pajamas and a surprised look; her remaining eye was open. They didn't usually die with their eyes closed. Not like in the movies and on television.
The second bed was empty.
"Matthew?" Hanrahan said, looking around.
No answer. The bathroom door was open. The room was empty.
Hanrahan felt the night breeze from the broken window and stepped on a shard of glass. He knew what had happened before he could put it into words. He ran to the light switch, clicked the room back into darkness, and went for the window, ignoring the glass that cut into his bare calloused soles. The mother's rented Hertz car, which had been parked in a space a few cars down, was still there. He listened and thought he heard a car pulling out of the hotel parking lot.
Hanrahan went through the window, plowed through the bushes, and ran, leaving a bloody trail of footprints. He was in reasonably good shape and didn't get winded easily, but the knees, the knees would make him pay later, the joints scraping against each other, the cartilage long gone. He didn't even think about or really feel the cuts or even anticipate the slings and arrows he would have to face from Kearney.
When he reached the front of the motel, a large white car, maybe a Buick, pulled out of the lot onto the six-lane street that would be packed if it weren't the middle of the night. It was hopeless. By the time he threw on his pants and got to his car, whoever it was would be long gone in who knows what direction with the kid.
On the way back to his room to call the airport and the state police, Hanrahan wanted a drink, wanted a drink so badly that he prayed silently for Jesus to show mercy and have a large double bourbon on his nightstand when he got back to his room.
There was no bourbon, but there was a telephone and he followed procedure, feeling in his gut that some of Jimmy Stashall's coke-filled piss-heads had the boy and were heading with him toward someplace he felt was safe. Hanrahan had the feeling that place would be in or near Chicago. All feelings. Little thought. He had lost another witness. His job was supposed to have been easy. The stakes had been high, but the police had put the mother and son on low priority in spite of star witness Mickey Gornitz. And now ...
While he sat on the bed removing glass from his feet, two uniformed policemen suddenly appeared at his open motel room door. Their guns were drawn, their faces serious and scared. One of them looked at the bloody trail of bare footprints that led to the man seated on the bed who was pulling glass from the bottoms of his feet. Hanrahan figured they had visited the room next door. He figured they saw the .38 next to the big man sitting on the bed. He figured they took him for the killer. Well, so did Hanrahan.
He put up his hands and said, "Hanrahan. Chicago police. Wallet's in my jacket. I just called in to the state police. Woman was with her kid. Someone took the kid."
The uniformed cops had heard many stories, none this big. Their guns stayed out and focused. One of them checked Hanrahan's wallet and I.D. and said, "William Hanrahan? Aren't you the football player who—"
Hanrahan stopped listening and supplied his own ending to the sentence. His ending wasn't filled with the admiration the cop was probably giving. It was supposed to have been easy.
"Aren't you the cop who keeps fouling up," Hanrahan thought, and reached for the phone to call Chicago while the two cops who were way over their heads wished for someone to come fast and take over.
Hanrahan hobbled to the bathroom, ignoring the pain. He would wash off his feet till the bleeding stopped and then bandage them as well as he could. Then he would put on two pairs of white sweat socks to cushion the pain.
He didn't want to think about anything else. Not now.
"You're lucky," said the big man in the overalls to the ancient little woman in a white wig tilted slightly to the left.
The big man was filling out papers at a dining room table across from the woman who kept offering him things—coffee, tea, cake, candy. The big man accepted some cake and coffee and finished making out the document. He examined it and handed it to the little woman, who kept putting her glasses on and taking them off to find the best way of reading what was in front of her. It really didn't matter. She had no way of understanding the complicated words written on page after page. But the big man with the smiling face had been very patient in explaining everything to her.
"It's a good thing my assistant spotted your driveway, Mrs. Lawton," said the big man. "You were lucky. Another week, maybe even a day or two and it would have collapsed."
"You don't think I should call my grandson in Houston?" she asked, looking at the confusing document before her.
"Frankly, I think we should get started on that driveway tomorrow. I'll have to pull a few men off of other jobs, but this is an emergency. Don't worry. There won't be any extra charge."
"Thank you," the woman said. "You said three thousand dollars?"
"Total cost," the big man said. "You can pay it all up front. You've got my guarantee and I'll give you a receipt. I'm sure your check is good. If you want to put up two thousand till we finish ..."
"No," said the old woman, adjusting the front of her dark dress. "My husband knew how to do things like this. That's him."
She pointed at a large photograph on the wall, a couple in their thirties. Both of the people in the picture stood erect, smiling. The man shorter than the woman. He was thin, wore a light-colored suit, and had a head of curly black hair.
"A fine-looking man," the big man said, admiring the photograph.
"A saint," the woman whispered reverently. "Didn't fool around. Worked hard his whole life. Never hit one of the kids. Never. Not once even when Tony took the car without permission."
"Kids," said the big man. "Got two of my own."
Excerpted from The Big Silence by Stuart M. Kaminsky. Copyright © 2000 Stuart M. Kaminsky. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Posted November 11, 2000
Chicago police officers Abe Lieberman and Bill Hanrahan are partners affectionately dubbed by their peers as the ¿Rabbi and the Priest¿. Their latest case involves mob accountant Mickey Gornitz willing to testify against his boss if certain conditions are met. Mickey insists he will only talk with Abe, who was a high school classmate several decades ago. Mickey also demands that his ex-wife and teenage son receive full protection though he has not seem either of them in fifteen years until the informer disappears into the witness protection program. Reluctantly, the Cook County District Attorney¿s Office agrees. <P>However, almost immediately after the moment that the Boston cop handed over the former wife and son to Bill, thugs kidnap the duo. When the abduction includes murder, Bill blames himself and not the brass who thought the wife and kid were low priority. As Abe works on a couple of cases and some personal shtick, he tries to help his partner deal with a severe case of depression caused by deep feelings of guilt. <P> The Abe Lieberman police procedural series is constantly one of the best the sub-genre has to offer. The current tale, THE BIG SILENCE, is an intriguing look at Chicago, various ethnic groups, and relationships. The police investigation is engaging because no great revelation occurs, just hard work. Stuart M. Kaminsky other sleuths (see Rostnikov and Peters) are very good and deserve fan accolades, but clearly neither one holds a candle to the Lieberman books. <P>Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.