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Table of Contents
A Preview of Invisible
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The pure products of America go crazy.
—William Carlos Williams
COLONEL DAVID HUDSON leaned his tall, athletic body against the squat, battered trunk of one of New York's Checker-style taxis.
Raising one hand to his eye, Hudson loosely curled his fingers to fashion a "telescope." He began to watch morning's earliest light fall on the Wall Street scene.
He carefully studied 40 Wall Street where Manufacturers Hanover Trust had offices. Then, No. 23 Wall, which housed executive suites for Morgan Guaranty. The New York Stock Exchange Building. Trinity Church. Chase Manhattan Plaza.
Once he had it all vividly in sight, Colonel Hudson squeezed his fingers tightly together. "Boom," he whispered quietly.
The financial capital of the world completely disappeared behind his clenched right fist.
Seconds before 5:30 on that same morning, Sergeant Harry Stemkowsky, the man designated as Vets 24, sped down the steep, icicle-slick Metropolitan Avenue Hill in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn.
He was riding in a nine-year-old Everest and Jennings wheelchair, from the Queens VA. Right now, he was pretending the chair was a Datsun 280-Z, silver metallic, with a shining T-roof.
"Aahh-eee-ahh!" He let out a banshee screech that pierced the deserted, solemnly quiet morning streets.
His long thin face was buried in the oily collar of a khaki Army fatigue parka replete with peeling sergeant's stripes, and his frizzy blond ponytail blew behind him like ribboning bike streamers. Periodically, he closed his eyes which were tearing badly in the burning cold wind. His tightly pinched face was getting as red as the gleaming Berry Street stoplight he was racing through with absolute abandon.
His forehead was burning, but he loved the sensation of unexpected freedom.
He thought he could actually feel streams of blood surge through both his wasted legs again.
Harry Stemkowsky's rattling wheelchair finally came to a halt in front of the all-night Walgreen's Drugstore.
Under the fatigue jacket and the two bulky sweaters he wore, his heart was hammering wildly. He was so goddamn excited—his whole life was beginning all over again.
Today, Harry Stemkowsky felt he could do just about anything.
The drugstore's glass door, which he nudged open, was covered with a montage of cigarette posters. Almost immediately, he was blessed with a draft of welcoming warm air, filled with the smells of greasy bacon and fresh-perked coffee.
He smiled and rubbed his hands together in a gesture that was almost gleeful. For the first time in years he was no longer a cripple.
And for the first time in more than a dozen hard years Harry Stemkowsky had a purpose.
He had to smile. When he wrapped his mind around the whole deal, the full, unbelievable implications of Green Band, he just had to smile.
Right at this moment, Sergeant Harry Stemkowsky, the official messenger for Green Band, was safely at his firebase inside New York City. Now everything could begin.
INSIDE THE FORTRESS that was New York FBI headquarters in Federal Plaza, a tall, silver-haired man, Walter Trentkamp, repeatedly tapped the eraser of his pencil against a faded desk blotter.
Scrawled on the soiled blotter was a single phone number 202–456–1414. It was a private number for the White House, a direct line to the President of the United States.
Trentkamp's telephone rang at 6:00 exactly.
"All right everybody, please start up audio surveillance now." It was early in the morning, and his voice was harsh. "I'll hold them as long as I possibly can. Is audio surveillance ready? Well, let's go then."
The FBI Eastern Bureau Chief cleared his throat self-consciously. Then he picked up the telephone. The words Green Band echoed perilously inside his brain. He'd never known anything like this in his Bureau experience, which was long and varied and not without bizarre encounters.
Gathered in a grim, tight circle around the FBI head were some of the more powerfully connected men and women in New York. Not a person in the group had ever experienced anything like this emergency situation either.
In silence, they listened to Trentkamp answer the expected phone call. "This is the Federal Bureau… Hello?"
There was no answer over the outside line.
The tension inside the room was as sharp as the cutting edge of a surgical blade. Even Trentkamp, whose calm in critical police situations was well known, appeared nervous and uncertain.
"I said hello. Is anyone there on the line? Is anyone out there?… Who is on this line?"
Walter Trentkamp's tentative, frustrated voice was being electronically monitored in a battered mahogany phone booth at the rear of the Walgreen's Drugstore in Green-point, Brooklyn.
Inside the booth, Sergeant Harry Stemkowsky finger-combed his hair as he listened.
His heart had gone beyond mere pounding; now it was threatening to detonate inside his chest. There were new and unusual pulses beating all through his body, opening and closing with the sharpness of mechanical claws.
This was the long overdue time of truth. There would be no more war game rehearsals for the twenty-eight members of Green Band.
"Hello? This is Trentkamp. New York FBI." The plain black phone receiver cradled between Stemkowsky's shoulder and his jaw seemed to tremble and vibrate on each phrase.
After another interminable minute, Harry Stemkowsky firmly depressed the play button on a Sony 114 portable recorder. He then carefully held the pocket recorder flush against the pay phone's receiver.
Stemkowsky had cued the recorder to the first word of the message—"Good." The "good" stretched to "goood" as the recorder hitched once, then rolled forward with a soft whir.
"Good morning. This is Green Band speaking. Today is December fourth. A Friday. A history-making Friday, we believe."
Over a squawk box the eerie, high-pitched voice brought the unprecedented message the men and women sequestered inside the Manhattan FBI office had been waiting for.
Green Band was beginning.
Ryan Klauk from FBI Surveillance made a quick judgment that the prerecorded track had been purposely speeded-up and echoed, to sound even more eerie than the circumstance made it; to be virtually unrecognizable, probably untraceable.
"As we promised, there are vitally important reasons for our past phone calls this week, for all the elaborate preparations we've made, and had you make to date…
"Is everyone listening? I can only assume you have company, Mr. Trentkamp. No one in corporate America seems to make a decision alone these days… Listen closely then. Everybody please listen…
"The Wall Street financial district, from the East River to Broadway, is scheduled to be firebombed today. A large number of randomly selected targets will be completely destroyed late this afternoon.
"I will repeat. Selected targets in the Wall Street financial district will be destroyed today. Our decision is irrevocable. Our decision is nonnegotiable.
"The firebombing of Wall Street will take place at five minutes past five tonight. It might be an attack by air; it might be a ground attack. Whichever—it will occur at five minutes past five precisely."
"Wait a minute. You can't—" Walter Trentkamp vehemently began to object, then he stopped just as suddenly. He remembered he was attempting to talk back to a recorded message.
"All of Manhattan, everything below Fourteenth Street, must be evacuated," the voice track continued methodically.
"The Target Area Nuclear Survival Plan for New York should be activated right now. Are you listening Mayor Ostrow? Susan Hamilton from the Office of Civil Preparedness?
"The Nuclear Target Plan can save thousands of lives. Please employ it now…
"In case any of you require further concrete convincing, this will be provided as well. Such requests have been anticipated.
"Our seriousness, our utter commitment to this mission, must not be underestimated. Not at any time during this or any future talk we might decide to have.
"Begin the evacuation of the Wall Street financial district now. Green Band cannot possibly be stopped or deterred. Nothing I've said is negotiable. Our decision is irrevocable."
Harry Stemkowsky abruptly pushed down the stop button. He quickly replaced the telephone receiver. He then rewound the Sony recorder, and stuffed it in the drooping pocket of his Army fatigue jacket.
He took a deep breath that seemed to grab into the very pit of his stomach. He shivered uncontrollably. Christ, he'd done it. He'd actually goddamn done it!
He'd delivered Green Band's message and he felt terrific. He wanted to scream out inside the drugstore. More than that, he wished he could leap two feet in the air and punch the sky.
No formal demands had been made.
Not a single clue had been offered as to why Green Band was happening.
Harry Stemkowsky's heart was still beating loudly as he numbly maneuvered his wheelchair along an aisle lined with colorful deodorants and toiletries, up toward the gleaming soda fountain counter.
The short order cook, Wally Lipsky, a cheerfully mountainous three-hundred-and-ten-pound man, turned from scraping the grill as Stemkowsky and his wheelchair approached. Lipsky's pink-cheeked face immediately brightened. The semblance of a third or fourth chin appeared out of rolling mounds of neck fat.
"Well, look what Sylvester the Cat musta dragged in offa the street! It's my man Pennsylvania. Whereyabeen keepin' yourself, champ? Long time no see."
Henry Stemkowsky had to smile at the irresistible fat cook, who had a well-deserved reputation as the Greenpoint neighborhood clown. Hell, he was in the mood to smile at almost anything this morning.
"Oh he-he-here and there, Wally." Harry Stemkowsky burst into a nervous stutter. "Muh-Manhattan the mo-most part. I been wuh-working up in Manhattan a lot these days."
Stemkowsky tapped his index finger against the tattered cloth tag sewn into the shoulder of his jacket. The patch said VETS CABS AND MESSENGERS. Harry Stemkowsky was one of seven licensed wheelchair cabbies in New York; three of them worked for Vets in Manhattan.
"Gah-gotta good job. Real job now, Wah-Wally… Why don't you make us some breakfast?"
"You got it, Pennsylvania. Cabdriver special comin' up. You got it my man, anything you want."
AS EARLY AS 6:15 that morning, an endless stream of sullen-looking men and women carrying bulging, black briefcases had begun to rise out of the steam-blooming subway station at Broadway and Wall Street.
These were the appointed drones of New York's financial district; the straight salary employees who understood abstract accounting principles and fine legal points, but perceived little else about the Street and its black magic.
By 7:30, gum-popping secretaries were slouching off the Red and Tan Line buses arriving from Staten Island and Brooklyn. Aside from their habitual gum-chewing, several of the secretaries looked impressively chic, almost elegant that Friday morning.
As the ornate, golden arms on the Trinity Church clock solemnly reached for eight o'clock, every main and side street of the financial district was choked with thick, hypertense pedestrian traffic as well as with buses and honking cabs.
Over nine hundred and fifty thousand people were being melted into less than half a square mile of outrageously expensive real estate; seven solid stone blocks where billions were bought and sold every workday: still the unsurpassed financial capital of the world.
The New York police hadn't known whether or not to try and stop the morning's regular migration. Then it was simply too late—the slim possibility had disintegrated in a frantic series of telephone calls between the Commissioner's office and various powerful precinct chiefs. It had petered out into a nightmare of impossible logistics and mounting panic.
At that moment, a wraithlike black man, Abdul Calvin Mohammud, was very calmly entering the bobbing parade of heads and winter hats on Broad Street, just south of Wall.
As he walked within the spirited crowd, Calvin Mohammud found himself noticing corporate flags waving colorfully from the massive stone buildings.
The flags signaled BBH and Company, the National Bank of North America, Manufacturers Hanover, the Seaman's Bank. The flags were like crisp sails driven by strong East River winds.
Calvin Mohammud continued up the steep hill toward Wall Street. He was hardly noticed. But then the messenger caste usually wasn't. They were invisible men.
Today, like every other workday, Calvin Mohammud wore a thigh-length, pale gray clerk's tunic with a frayed armband that said VETS MESSENGERS. On either side of the capitalized words were fierce Eighty-second Airborne fighting eagles.
But none of that was noticed either.
Calvin Mohammud didn't look like it now, but in Vietnam and Cambodia, he'd been a Kit Carson Army scout. He'd won a Distinguished Service Cross, then the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry at the risk of his life. After returning to the U.S. in 1971, Mohammud had been rewarded by a grateful society with jobs as a porter at Penn Station, a delivery boy for Chick-Teri, a baggage carrier at LaGuardia Airport.
Calvin Mohammud, Vets 11, unslung his heavy messenger's shoulder bag as he reached the graffiti-covered newsstand at the corner of Broadway and Wall.
He tapped out a Kool and lit up behind a plume of yellow flame.
Slouched in a nearby doorway, Vets 11 then casually reached into his shoulder bag and slid out a standard U.S. Army field telephone. Still concealed in the deep cloth bag was a sixteen-inch machine gun pistol, along with half a dozen 40-millimeter antipersonnel grenades.
"Contact." He moved back into the cold building shadows, then whispered into the field telephone. "This is Vets Eleven at the Stock Exchange. I'm at the northeast entrance, off Wall… Everything's very nice and peaceful at position three… No police in sight. No armed resistance anywhere. Almost looks too easy. Over."
Vets 11 took another short drag on his dwindling cigarette. He calmly peered around at the noisy hustle and bustle that was so characteristic of Wall Street on a weekday.
What an amazing, completely unbelievable scene, just to imagine the apocalyptic firelight that would be coming down here at five o'clock.
At 0830, Calvin Mohammud carefully wound a tattered strip of cloth around a polished brass door handle at the back entrance of the all-powerful New York Stock Exchange—a proud, beautiful green band.
GREEN BAND STARTED savagely and suddenly, as if meteors had hurtled themselves with malevolent intensity against New York City.
It blew out two-story-tall windows, and shattered asphalt roofs, and shook whole streets in the vicinity of Pier 33–34 on Twelfth Avenue between 12th and 15th streets. It all came in an enormous white flash of painful blinding light.
At approximately 9:20 that morning, Pier 33–34—which had once hosted such regal ships as the Queen Elizabeth and the QE II—was a sudden fiery cauldron, a crucible of flame that raked the air and spread with such rapid intensity that even the Hudson River seemed to be spurting colossal columns of flames, some at least four hundred feet high.
Dense hydrocarbon clouds of smoke bloomed over Twelfth Avenue like huge black umbrellas being thrown open. Six-foot-long shards of glass, unguided missiles of molten steel, were flying upward, launching themselves in eerie, tumbling slow motion. And as the river winds suddenly shifted there were otherworldly glimpses of the glowing, red hot metal skeleton that was the pier itself.
The blistering fireball had erupted and spread in less than sixty seconds' time.
It was precisely as the Green Band warning had said it would be: an unspeakable sound and light show, a ghostly demonstration of promised horrors and terrors to come…
The dock for the Mauretania, for the Aquitania, the Ile de France, had been effectively vaporized by the powerful explosions, by the sudden, graphic flash fires.
This time, one of the thousands of routinely horrifying threats to New York was absolutely real. Radio listeners and TV viewers all over New York would soon hear the unprecedented message:
"This is not a test of the Emergency Broadcast System."
At 10:35 on the morning of December 4, more than seven thousand dedicated capitalists—DOT system clerks, youthful pages with their jaunty epaulets and floppy Connecticut Yankee haircuts, grimly determined stockbrokers, bond analysts, bright-green-jacketed supervisors—were busily, if somewhat nonchalantly, promenading through the three jam-packed main rooms of the New York Stock Exchange.
The twelve elevated ticker-tape TV monitors in the busy room were spewing stock symbols and trades comprehensible only to the trained eyes of Exchange professionals.
The day's volume, if it was only an average Friday, would easily exceed a hundred fifty million shares.
The original forebears, the first Bears and Bulls, had been ferocious negotiators and boardroom masters. Their descendants, however, their mostly thin-blooded heirs, were not particularly adroit at moneychanging.
At 10:57 on Friday morning, "the Bell"—which had once actually been a brass fire bell struck by a rubber mallet, and which still signaled the official beginning of trading at 10:00 sharp, the end of trading at 4:00—went off inside the New York Stock Exchange. "The Bell" sounded with all the shock value of a firework popping in a cathedral.
Absolute silence followed.
Then came uncontrollable buzzing; frantic rumor-trading. Almost three minutes of unprecedented confusion and chaos on the Stock Exchange floor.
Finally, there was the deep and resonant voice of the Stock Exchange Manager blaring over the antiquated p.a. system.
"Gentlemen… ladies… the New York Stock Exchange is officially closed… Please leave the Stock Exchange floor. Please leave the trading floor immediately. This is not a bomb scare. This is an actual emergency! This is a serious police emergency!"
OUTSIDE THE HEAVY stone and steel entranceway to the Mobil Building on East 42nd Street, a series of personal stretch limousines—Mercedes, Lincolns, Rolls-Royces—were arriving and departing with dramatic haste.
Important-looking men, and a few women, most of them in dark overcoats, hurriedly disembarked from the limousines and entered the building's familiar Deco lobby.
Upstairs on the forty-second floor, other CEOs and presidents of the major Wall Street banks and brokerage houses were already gathered inside the exclusive Pinnacle Club.
The emergency meeting had commandeered the luxurious main dining room of the private club, which was glowing with crisp white linen, shining silver and crystal set up and never used for lunch.
Several of the dark-suited executives stood dazed and disoriented before floor-to-ceiling nonglare windows, which faced downtown. None of them had ever experienced anything remotely like this, nor had they ever expected to.
The view was a spectacular, if chilling one, down uneven canyons to lower Manhattan, all the way to the pencil pocket of skyscrapers which was the financial center itself.
About halfway, at 14th Street, there were massive police barricades. Police department buses, EMS ambulances, and a paradelike crowd could be seen waiting, watching Wall Street as if they were studying some puzzling work of art in a Midtown museum.
None of this was possible; it was sheer madness.
Every rational mind in the executive dining room had already reached this conclusion privately.
'They haven't even bothered to reestablish contact with us. Not since six this morning," said the Secretary of the Treasury, Walter O'Brien. "What the hell are they up to?"
Standing stiffly among four or five prominent Wall Street executives, George Firth, the Attorney General of the United States, was quietly relighting his pipe. He appeared surprisingly casual and controlled, except that he'd given up smoking more than three years before.
"They certainly were damned clear when it came to stating their deadline. Five minutes past five. Five minutes past or what? What do the bastards want from us?" The Attorney General's pipe went out in his hand and he relit it with a look of exasperation.
What they'd experienced for a decade in terrorist-plagued Europe. But never before in the United States.
A somber businessman named Jerrold Gottlieb from Lehman Brothers held up his wristwatch. "Well, gentlemen, it's one minute past five…" He looked as if he were about to add something, but whatever it was, he left it unsaid.
But that was the unlikely place they had all entered now. An unfamiliar territory where things couldn't be properly articulated: the uncharted territory of the unspeakable.
"They've been extremely punctual up to now. Almost obsessive about getting details and schedules perfect. They'll call. I wouldn't worry, they'll call."
The speaker was the Vice-president of the United States, who'd been rushed from the U.N. to the nearby Mobil Building. Thomas More Elliot was a stern man with the look of an Ivy League scholar. He was a Brahmin who was out of touch with the complexities of contemporary America, his harshest critics carped.
For the next hundred and eighty seconds, there was almost uninterrupted silence in the Pinnacle Club dining room.
This tingling silence was all the more frightening because there were so many highly articulate men crowded into the room—the senior American business executives, used to having their own way, used to being listened to, and obeyed, almost without question. Now their voices were stilled, virtually powerless.
Their power, normally awesome, had distilled itself into a sequence of small, distinct, noises:
The scratchy rasp of a throat being cleared.
Ice cracking in a glass with an almost glacial effect.
The tapping of fingers on the bowl of a dead pipe.
Madness. The thought seemed to echo in the room.
The most fearsome urban terrorism had finally struck deep inside the United States, stabbing right to the heart of America's economic power.
There were anxious, repeated glances at the glinting faces of Rolex, Cartier, and Piaget wristwatches.
What did Green Band want?
Where were the final demands? What was the no-doubt outrageous ransom for Wall Street to be?
Edward Palin, the seventy-seven-year-old Chief Executive of one of the largest investment firms, had to slowly back away from the darkly reflective picture windows. A few of the others embarrassedly watched as he sat down in a Harvard chair pulled up beside one of the dining tables and, in a gesture that was almost poignant, put his head between his gray pinstriped knees.
There were less than twenty seconds left to the expiration of the Green Band deadline.
"Please call. Call, you bastards," the Vice-president muttered.
What seemed like thousands of emergency sirens were screaming, a peculiar high-low wail, all over New York. It was the first time the emergency warning system had been seriously in use since 1963 and the nuclear war scares.
Finally, it was five minutes past five.
The sudden, terrifying realization struck every person in the Pinnacle Club's dining room—they weren't going to call again!
They weren't going to negotiate.
Without any further warning, Green Band was going to strike.
"A fast recap for you," said Lisa Pelham, who was the President's Chief of Staff, an efficient, well-organized woman who spoke in the clipped manner of one whose mind was used to making succinct outlines from mountains of information.
"By twelve noon, all trading had been halted on the New York and all regional exchanges in the U.S. There is no trading in London, Paris, Geneva, Bonn. The key New York business people are meeting right now at the Pinnacle Club inside the Mobil Building.
"All the important securities and commodities exchanges have ceased trading around the world. The unanswered question is the same everywhere. What's the nature of the demands we are secretly negotiating?" Lisa Pelham paused and stroked a strand of hair away from her oval face. "Everyone believes we're negotiating with somebody, sir."
"And we are definitely not?" President Justin Kearney's expression was one of extreme doubt and suspicion. He had discovered the awkward fact during his term of office that one branch of government all too frequently didn't know what another was doing.
"Which we are not, Mr. President. Both the CIA and FBI have assured us of that. Sir, Green Band has still made no demands."
President Justin Kearney had been rushed, under intensified Secret Service guard, to a windowless, lead-shielded room buried deep inside the White House. There, in the White House Communications Center, several of the most important political leaders in the United States were standing around the President in a manner that suggested they intended to protect him.
From the White House Communications Center, the President had been put into audio and visual contact with the Pinnacle Club in New York City.
The FBI Chief, Walter Trentkamp, stepped forward to appear on the monitor screen from New York. Trentkamp had short, silver-gray hair; time and his job had also added a tough, weathered policeman's look and a harassed attitude to match.
- On Sale
- Jul 1, 2007
- Page Count
- 480 pages