The whole city sees the plane circling: an ancient B-17 bomber flying inches above the tops of Manhattan’s skyscrapers. As it nears Midtown, its bomb-bay doors creak open, giving the citizens a terrifying view of its five-hundred-pound bombs. No one knows why it’s there. As city officials attempt to identify it, the B-17’s pilot issues his demands. He wants five million dollars in unmarked bills, or Manhattan will burn. Reasoning with the strangely calm pilot is impossible. To attack the plane is madness, for the pilot would have time to release his payload before going down. They have to get him out of the sky—but how? Told in retrospect, through the documents and interviews of an official commission of inquiry, Target Manhattan is a chilling story of what can happen when America’s military might turns against itself.
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About the Author
Garfield served as president of the Mystery Writers of America and the Western Writers of America, the only author to have held both offices. Nineteen of his novels have been made into films, including Death Wish (1972), The Last Hard Men (1976), and Hopscotch (1975), for which he wrote the screenplay. To date, his novels have sold over twenty million copies worldwide.
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By Brian Garfield
A MysteriousPress.comCopyright © 1975 Drew Mallory
All rights reserved.
Your name, please?
Walter F. DeFeo.
Will you read your official title and position into the record, please.
I'm the director of the New York Civil Defense Emergency Control Board. Our office is at Three Oh Five Broadway.
You understand the purpose of this inquiry?
I understand it, Mr. Skinner. I'm not sure if you do.
I see. What is it you think I don't understand?
Officially you're supposed to be doing an in-depth investigation of the disaster to find out how we might have done a coordinated job of heading it off. You're here, ostensibly, to find some way of insuring that this kind of thing never happens again. That the idea?
That's the avowed purpose. Actually you're looking for scapegoats. The mayor's got his tail in a wringer and he needs to find somebody he can pin it on. Get rid of the stink. Pass the buck.
You think I've been commissioned to create a frame-up or a cover-up?
I wouldn't say that. I don't know you ... only by reputation. Your reputation's good enough. But I still think some poor bastard's head is going to roll when you get finished with your investigation. Maybe it'll be my head—who knows? I'm close to retirement, it wouldn't do me much damage if I had a can tied to my tail. Am I the sacrificial goat?
Mr. DeFeo, you're only the fourth witness who's appeared here. I've got weeks of interviews ahead of me.
Then maybe you'll listen to a word of advice from an old hand in the business of political legerdemain. You're an academic, not a politician. That's why I think you probably don't understand this kind of operation. I'm not impugning your sincerity. I'm only pointing out that mayors and governors and presidents devote half their time in office to the assembling and appointing of commissions of inquiry, and that the only invariable rule of politics is that nothing ever comes of these inquiries. Except for the occasional rolling of the occasional head. The whole ritual is an exercise in waving the right hand violently in front of the public eye in order to distract attention from what the left hand is doing under the table. In a case like this one, of course, the left hand is doing nothing at all. That's exactly what it should be doing, but the public wouldn't go for that. The public wants to know how it happened and why it happened and why somebody didn't have an instant solution to take care of the problem the minute it arose. The public wants blood, Mr. Skinner. That's why the mayor needs a scapegoat, and that's why you're here, and I doubt you really understand that. I doubt you understood it before, and I rather doubt you understand it now.
I don't think we're getting off on the right foot. If it will reassure you, I've received no instructions—either explicit or implied—to pin blame on any individual or group of individuals. My job, quite specifically, is to determine whether there's any way we can prepare better preventives for future contingencies of this kind.
You can't, Mr. Skinner. But of course that's what the public won't buy. We live under the constant threat of instant extermination. Emotionally nobody but a suicide can contend with that. We want guarantees. We want them, but of course they don't exist. How could they? Look, it's meaningless trying to pin the blame on anybody or trying to forestall future wild-card attacks. This kind of thing falls under the classification of acts of God. You can't expect anybody to anticipate every wild delusion of every deranged mind out there. My civil-defense office has a handful of employees. Our area encompasses nearly twenty million people. Do you think we can read twenty million minds? There was no way to predict that a kook in a thirty-year-old bomber would circle over Manhattan Island threatening to demolish the city if we didn't pay him five million dollars' ransom. Somebody could do exactly the same thing again tomorrow over Washington or Philadelphia or Los Angeles and we'd be no better prepared for it than we were for this one. It's a hurricane, Mr. Skinner, it's a tidal wave, an earthquake. Don't you see, it's simply a crime—and the only way you can prevent a crime is to know in advance that it's going to take place.
Not necessarily. It's possible to look at this kind of behavior as a disease. We've found preventives for a good many diseases.
You won't find any for this one.
We won't know that until we've tried, will we?
I've said my piece, Mr. Skinner. Let's get on with the questioning.
Very well. I have the feeling the interviewer has just been interviewed, but let's try to get back on the track. Perhaps you could give me a brief summary of what part you took in the events, and then we can go into detail.
Well I'll make it very brief, and you can call for expansion on whatever details you want. I'd just returned to my office from lunch. I had a call from Joel Azzard of the FBI. He was downtown at the Merchants Trust Bank. He told me what the situation was. I only half-believed him. I had to go over and look out the window before I was convinced.
And you saw the plane?
Damnedest thing I ever saw. I'd seen the things in newsreels during the war and I don't suppose I'd thought of them since then. It looked so close you could almost reach out and touch it. Right over the rooftops.
What did you do?
I notified various appropriate authorities.
Well, air-traffic control at the three New York airports, for example. And the police department, division of harbor patrol. I mean, the police were in on it by then, but evidently it hadn't occurred to them to notify the harbor division. I did so, and they made every effort to clear the harbor of traffic. Barges, pleasure craft, that sort of thing. There wasn't time to clear the liners and big freighters out, of course. But there was some talk of trying to shoot him down into the Hudson or the East River and we attempted to clear those bodies of water.
Successfully, I gather.
Yes, we had all traffic off the rivers by about half past three. And air traffic had been put on stand-down. Outgoing flights were postponed and remained on the ground. Incoming flights were diverted to Boston and other airports. You can imagine the number of irate passengers. But that was the least of it. Christ, it's been weeks and you can still smell the smoke uptown.CHAPTER 2
Your name, please?
Philip B. Swarthout.
You reside at Two Eighteen East Forty-ninth Street in Manhattan?
That's right, yes.
Your official position, Mr. Swarthout? This is for the record.
Assistant Deputy Mayor of New York. My job is to coordinate operations of the various security and emergency departments in the city government. And maintain liaison with outside agencies that function in the city—the FBI, the Narcotics Bureau, that sort of thing.
You understand the purpose of this inquiry?
Do you have a prepared statement you'd like to offer at this time?
No. Was I expected to prepare one?
Not at all. A few witnesses have asked to read their statements into the record. I thought you might....
I'd like to try to help clear this thing up. I came here to answer questions. It's your investigation, Mr. Skinner—you ask them, I'll try to answer them.
The commission appreciates your cooperation, Mr. Swarthout. All right, let's begin with the chronology. When did the incident first come to your attention?
You mean the time of day.
The time and the circumstances.
I was ready to go to lunch—it must have been about twelve twenty. I had a call from the Police Commissioner's office—Deputy Commissioner Toombes. He said he'd been on the horn with the president of Merchants Trust—he said they had this nut on their hands.
By "this nut" you mean Harold Craycroft?
No. Craycroft was the one in the airplane. The one in the bank was Charles Ryterband, but we didn't know that at first. He'd given his name as something else—William Roberts, something like that.
According to Deputy Commissioner Toombes' log, the call to your office was placed at eleven minutes past twelve. Does that jibe with your recollection? Just now you said it was about twelve twenty.
It probably took a few minutes to get through to my desk. I had a lot of calls that morning.
What I'm trying to get at, Mr. Swarthout, didn't your switchboard break in and tell you there was an emergency?
No? That's all—just no?
Nobody said anything about an emergency. When Andy Toombes came on the line, he said just what I've told you. He said, "We've got a nut on our hands, Phil."
In other words nobody seemed to be taking it very seriously at that point, is that right?
Mr. Skinner, you're not a police officer. I understand the Mayor's intentions—setting up this independent review commission—but I think you're going to have to accept the fact that those of us who are involved full time in security procedures have to contend with cranks and nut cases all the time. Most of them are just trying to attract attention, in their warped way. They threaten to assassinate the mayor or pollute the Central Park reservoir or off the pigs. They're crazy people—they wouldn't have the slightest idea how to go about actually doing what they threaten to do. I don't know what motivates them—you'd have to ask a psychiatrist—but in my experience nearly all these crazies are attention cravers. Who knows? Maybe they're just lonely—they want to be arrested so they'll have somebody to talk to.
Then you're saying neither you nor Deputy Commissioner Toombes took the threat seriously.
We take every threat seriously, Mr. Skinner. That's our job.
Isn't that a contradiction to what you just told me?
Not at all. Toombes took Ryterband seriously. Seriously enough to call me.
But not seriously enough to instruct his secretary to make it an emergency call?
It wasn't an emergency yet. Look, every time there's a parade down Fifth Avenue we get crank calls threatening to snipe at the parade from the rooftops. We have to sift every call, post men on every rooftop sometimes. But it's not an emergency unless you actually find a guy up there with a rifle. Do you see what I'm trying to get at?
In other words you'd heard Ryterband's threat but you didn't know whether there was any truth in it.
We didn't have any confirmation. Not that early. It was just another crank at that stage. Every business day somebody walks up to a bank teller in New York City and hands over a note saying, "I've got a gun in my pocket. Clean out your cash drawer." Ninety-nine percent of the time there's no gun in his pocket.
But it's standard procedure for the tellers to hand over the money anyway, isn't it?
Sure. He might turn out to be the one percent who's got a real gun. We've got camera surveillance in the banks. Silent alarms. It's SOP to let the guy walk out with the money. Nine times out of ten he's nabbed before he gets across the sidewalk, or identified from the photograph and arrested within twelve hours. We'd have done the same thing with Ryterband except his demands were so outrageous.
Could you explain that a bit more?
If a guy walks up to the teller's window and hands over a note that says, "I've got a gun in my pocket. Give me five million dollars in cash," I mean, let's face it, you're going to have to see the gun before you think about handing over that much money, even if you were able to. And you couldn't anyway, obviously, because nobody's got five million dollars in cash lying around, have they? You've got to be certifiably crazy to make demands that can't possibly be met.
All right, let's move ahead. The Deputy Commissioner called you. What action did you take?
Well, the first thing I did was to ask him what action he'd taken. There's no point in duplicating effort. Toombes told me he'd already notified the FBI, and he'd dispatched a team from Special Investigations down to the Merchants Trust to talk to Ryterband. The bank's own security guards were holding Ryterband in custody in Maitland's office. He wasn't going anywhere. I told Toombes I'd get back to him, and he said he'd get back to me as soon as he had further word from the SI sergeant on the Ryterband interrogation. Then I got on the horn to the Port Authority security office and told them to check out the airplane.
By "check out the airplane" you mean give it a close looking over?
No, Mr. Skinner, by "checking it out" I mean finding out whether the airplane existed at all.
Couldn't you see it? Hear it?
We work in sealed offices you know. Like this one. Air-conditioning, climate-control ventilation systems. The windows don't open. They're double-pane thermal glass. Look out that window, Mr. Skinner. What do you see? A steel-and-glass egg crate just like this one. You'd have to crane your neck and push your nose against the window to get a glimpse of a patch of sky. No, I didn't hear anything and I didn't see anything. I asked the Port Authority people to send one of their helicopters up and have a look.
Tell me this. How much time passed between Ryterband's first appearance on the scene and the Deputy Commissioner's call to you?
That would be hearsay, wouldn't it?
We're not in court.
I know. But I also know what you're getting at.
I'm not trying to trick you, Mr. Swarthoui.
You're doing your job, Mr. Skinner. Your job is to find out whether we made mistakes in handling the situation. To find out how efficiently or inefficiently we handled it. That makes it a sensitive question, from my point of view. You see that? That's why I'd just as soon not make guesses at how long it took. I wasn't in Maitland's office. I don't know how long Ryterband had been there before they called me. All I know is what they told me, and I'd just as soon you got that information from the people who were actually there. Maitland talked to Ryterband, then he called in his own security people, then they called the police, and it went up the ladder of command in the PD, and at some point the police called me. That was the order of events. It's standard. Now as to how long it all took, I'd rather not speculate. I'd prefer to testify to my own participation and the things I observed firsthand. Is that unreasonable?
Would you like a cup of coffee?
Yes, thanks.CHAPTER 3
Could you give us your name and title please, for the record?
Paul Bankhead Maitland. I'm fifty-four. I maintain residences in Brewster in Putnam County, and at Sixty-two Sutton Place. I'm the president and chief executive officer of the Merchants Trust Bank. Our head offices are at Sixty Beaver Street.
In the Wall Street area.
I mention that because the threat must have been particularly menacing to you in that area, where so many tall densely populated buildings are crowded so close together.
It would have been menacing enough in an open cornfield, I can assure you.
We're very grateful you volunteered your time to assist in this inquiry. Can you tell me what happened on May the twenty-second, beginning with the arrival of Charles Ryterband in your office?
Actually it would be better to start at the beginning, wouldn't it?
Excuse me. I thought that was the beginning.
I'd rather be precise about it. The man made an appointment with me for that morning, but the appointment had been made two days earlier—on the Monday. Indicating, you see, that they had planned it with some care.
Someone—I assume it was Ryterband—called our public-relations office on the Monday. The twentieth of May that was. He gave his name as Willard Roberts and identified himself as a journalist with Business Week.
And he asked for an interview with you?
Yes. He evidently said the magazine was doing a cover story on the subject of the prime rate. He must have impressed our public-relations people with his plausibility. An appointment was arranged through my secretary.
Excerpted from Target Manhattan by Brian Garfield. Copyright © 1975 Drew Mallory. Excerpted by permission of A MysteriousPress.com.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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