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Table of Contents
A Preview of I, Michael Bennett
A Preview of Bullseye
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LIKE THE LUXURY CO-OPS and five-star French eateries located in Manhattan's Silk Stocking District, Benchley East Side Parking was outrageously exclusive. Tucked side by side and bumper to bumper within its four temperature-controlled underground levels beneath East 77th Street were several vintage Porsches, a handful of Ferraris, even a pair of his-and-hers Lamborghinis.
The out-of-the-box midnight blue SL550 Mercedes convertible that squealed out of its car elevator at three minutes past noon that Saturday seemed tailor-fit to the high-rent neighborhood.
So did the lean forty-something waiting by the garage's office when the sleek Merc stopped on a dime out front.
With his salt-and-pepper Beckham buzz cut, pressed khakis, silk navy golf shirt, and deep golden tan that suggested even deeper pockets, it was hard to tell if the car or its driver was being described by the purring Merc's vanity plate:
"With this heat, I figured you'd want the top down, as usual, Mr. Berger," the smiling half-Hispanic, half-Asian garage attendant said as he bounced out and held open the wood-inlaid door. "Have a good one, now."
"Thanks, Tommy," Berger said, deftly slipping the man a five as he slid behind the luxury sports car's iconic three-pronged steering wheel. "I'll give it a shot."
The fine leather seat slammed luxuriously into Berger's back as he launched the convertible with a high-torque snarl down East 77th Street and out onto Fifth Avenue. The crisp, almost sweet smell of Central Park's pin oaks and dogwoods fused harmoniously with the scent of the hand-stitched leather. At 59th Street, the park's treetops gave way to the ornate fairy-tale facade of the Plaza Hotel. Moments later, along both sides of the upscale boulevard, glittering signs began to flick past like a Vanity Fair magazine come to life: Tiffany's, Chanel, Zegna, Pucci, Fendi, Louis Vuitton. Outside the stores, swarms of summer Saturday tourists took pictures and stood gaping as if they were having trouble believing they were standing in the very center of the capital of the world.
But the world's most expensive avenue might as well have been a dirt road through a shit kicker's cornfield as far as Berger was concerned. Behind the mirrored lenses of his Persol aviators, he kept his gray eyes locked level and forward, his mind blank.
It was his one true talent. In his life, every victory had come down to singleness of purpose, his ability to focus, to leave out everything but the matter at hand.
Even so, he felt his pulse skitter when he finally arrived at his destination, the New York Public Library's main branch on the west side of Fifth Avenue between 41st and 42nd Streets. In fact, as he slowed, he felt his adrenaline surge, and his heart begin to beat almost painfully in time with the car's indicator.
Even Olivier had stage fright, he reminded himself as he carefully turned onto East 43rd Street. Jack Dempsey. Elvis Presley. All men felt fear. The distinction of great and worthy men like him was the ability to manage it, to act despite the fact that it was breathing down their necks.
By the time he tucked the Merc into a parking spot in front of a Carvel ice-cream truck half a block farther east, he felt somewhat better. To ground himself completely, he patiently watched the hardtop hum into place over his head, precise, symmetrical, a glorious harmony of moving parts. By the time it locked itself down, his fear was still there but he knew he could man it.
Move it, Mr. Berger, he thought. Now or never.
He lifted the heavy laptop bag from the passenger-seat foot well and opened the door.
Now it was.
PASSING UNDER THE GRAND BEAUX ARTS arched portico and through the revolving door of the library, Berger immediately noticed that the steely-eyed ex-cop who usually worked the front hall on Saturdays wasn't there. Instead, there was a young summer-hire slouch in an ill-fitting blazer. Even better. The bored-looking bridge-and-tunneler waved Berger through before he could even lift a finger to his bag's zipper.
The hushed Rose Reading Room on the third floor was about the size of a professional soccer field. It was rimmed with ten-foot-high caramel-colored wooden shelves and lit by brass rococo chandeliers that hung down from its fifty-one-foot-high, mural-painted coffered ceiling. Berger stepped past table after long table of very serious-looking thirty-and forty-somethings, earbuds snug in their ears as they stared intently at laptop screens. Graduate students and ardent self-improvers. No Hamptons this summer weekend for this studious bunch.
He found a seat at the last table along the north wall, with his back to the door of the Rare Book Division of the Brooke Russell Astor Reading Room. He pretended to play Sudoku on his nifty new iPhone until the only other person at the study table, a pregnant Asian woman in a Juicy tracksuit, got up twenty minutes later.
As she waddled away, Mr. Berger took one last deep breath and slowly released it.
Then he slipped on a pair of rubber surgical gloves under the table and slid the bomb out of the laptop bag.
It looked exactly like an Apple MacBook seventeen-inch laptop except that there was a hollowed-out space where the keyboard, mouse pad, and computer guts had once been. In their place now sat two kilograms of T4, the Italian version of the plastic explosive RDX. On top of the pale vanilla-colored plastic explosive sat another two-inch-thick layer of barbed stainless-steel roofing nails, like a double helping of silver sprinkles on the devil's ice-cream cone.
There was a gel-like adhesive already attached to the device's bottom. He pressed the bomb firmly down in front of him, gluing it securely to the library desk.
The detonator cap had already been inserted into the explosive and now merely awaited the final connection to an electrical charge, which would occur when someone discovered the laptop and made the mistake of opening the cover. Tied just inside the cover with a snug lanyard knot made of fishing line was a mercury switch, an ingenious little thermometer-like glass tube that was used in vending-machine alarms. When the lid was closed, you could play Frisbee with the IED. Once the lid rose two inches, however, the liquid mercury would spill to the switch's bottom, cover its electrical leads, and initiate instant detonation.
Mr. Berger imagined the bomb's massive shockwave ripping through the crowded Rose Reading Room, blowing apart everything and everyone within forty feet and sending a killing wall of shrapnel in every direction at four times the speed of sound.
He peeled off his gloves and stood with the now-empty laptop bag, careful not to touch anything. He crossed the room and stepped quickly out the exit without looking back.
It was begun, he thought with a feeling of magnificent relief as he found the marble stairs. From here on in, it would be all about timing. A race against the clock, so to speak.
On your mark.
"Blow," Mr. Berger whispered happily to himself, and began to take the stairs down two at a time.
DOWN BY THE SEA
"UNDER THE BOARDWALK, down by the sea," I crooned in a high voice, really getting into it with my eyes closed. "On a blanket with my ten big fat babies is where I'll be."
It seemed to me like an appropriate song for walking along a sandy dirt road beside the blue-gray Atlantic. Unfortunately, I was the only one who thought so. A split second later, a fusillade of groans and boos and Bronx cheers sailed back from all ten of my kids.
Still I bowed, displaying my trademark grace under pressure. Never let them see you sweat, even on summer vacation, which is really hard when you think about it.
My name is Mike Bennett, and as far as I know, I'm still the only cop in the NYPD living in his own private TLC show. Some of my more jovial coworkers like to call me Detective Mike Plus Ten. It's actually Detective Mike Plus Eleven if you include my grandfather Seamus. Which I do, since he's more incorrigible than all my kids put together.
It was the beginning of week two of my humongous family's much-needed vacation out in Breezy Point, Queens, and I was definitely in full goof-off mode. The eighteen-hundred-square-foot saltbox out here on the "Irish Riviera," as all the cops and firemen who summer here call it, had been in my mom's family, the Murphys, for a generation. It was more crowded than a rabbit's warren, but it was also nonstop swimming and hot dogs and board games, and beer and bonfires at night.
No e-mail. No electronics. No modern implements of any kind except for the temperamental A/C and a saltwater-rusted bicycle. I watched as Chrissy, the baby of the bunch, chased a tern, or maybe it was a piping plover, on the shoulder of the road.
The Bennett summer White House was open for business.
Time was flying, but I was making the most of it. As usual. For a single father of double-digit kids, making the most of things pretty much went without saying.
"If you guys don't like the Drifters, how about a little Otis Redding?" I called up to everyone. "All together now. 'Sitting on the Dock of the Bay' on three."
"Is that any example to them, Mike? We need to pick it up or we'll be late," Mary Catherine chided me in her brogue.
I forgot to mention Mary Catherine. I'm probably the only cop in the NYPD with an Irish nanny as well. Actually with what I pay her, she is more like a selfless angel of mercy. I bet they'll name a Catholic school after her before long, Blessed Mary Catherine, patron saint of wiseacre cops and domestic chaos.
And as always, the young, attractive lass was right. We were on our way to St. Edmund's on Oceanside Avenue for five-o'clock mass. Vacation was no excuse for missing mass, especially for us, since my grandfather Seamus, in addition to being a comedian, was a late-to-the-cloth priest.
What else? Did I mention all my kids were adopted? Two of them are black, two Hispanic, one Asian, and the rest Caucasian. Typical our family is not.
"Would ya look at that," Seamus said, standing on the sandy steps of St. Edmund's and tapping his watch when we finally arrived. "It must be the twelve apostles. Of course not. They'd be on time for mass. Get in here, heathens, before I forget that I'm not a man of violence."
"Sorry, Father," Chrissy said, a sentiment that was repeated eleven more times in rough ascending order by Shawna, Trent, Fiona, Bridget, Eddie, Ricky, Jane, Brian, Juliana, my eldest, Mary Catherine, and last, but not least, yours truly.
Seamus put a hand on my elbow as I was fruitlessly searching for a pew that would seat a family of twelve.
"Just to let you know, I'm offering mass for Maeve today," he said.
Maeve was my late wife, the woman who put together my ragtag wonderful family before falling to ovarian cancer a few years later. I still woke up some mornings, reaching out for a moment before my brutal shitty aha moment that I was alone.
I smiled and nodded as I patted Seamus's wrinkled cheek.
"I wouldn't have it any other way, Monsignor," I said as the organ started.
THE SERVICE WAS QUICK but quite nice. Especially the part where we prayed for Maeve. I'm not in line to become pope anytime soon, but I like mass. It's calming, restorative. A moment to review where you've gone wrong over the past week and maybe think about getting things back on track.
Call it Irish psychotherapy.
Therapy for this Irish psycho, anyway.
All in all, I came back out into the sun feeling pretty calm and upbeat. Which lasted about as long as it took the holy water I blessed myself with to dry.
"Get him! Hit him harder! Yeah, boyyyyzzz!" some kid was yelling.
There was some commotion alongside the church. Through the departing crowd and cars, I saw about half a dozen kids squaring off in the parking lot.
"Look out, Eddie!" someone yelled.
Eddie? I thought. Wait a second.
That was one of my kids!
I rushed into the brawl, with my oldest son, Brian, at my heels. There was a pile of kids swinging and kicking on the sun-bleached asphalt. I started grabbing shirt collars, yanking kids away, putting my NYPD riot police training to good use.
I found my son Eddie at the bottom of the scrum, red-faced and near tears.
"You want some more, bitch? Come and get it!" one of the kids who'd been kicking my son yelled as he lurched forward. Eddie, our resident bookworm, was ten. The tall, pudgy kid with the Mets cap askew looked at least fourteen.
"Back it up!" I yelled at the earringed punk with a lot of cop in my voice. More in my eyes.
Eddie, tears gone, just angry now, thumbed some blood from a nostril.
"What happened?" I said.
"That jerk called Trent something bad, Dad."
"An Irish jig."
I turned and glared at the big kid with the even bigger mouth. Trent was even younger than Eddie, an innocent seven-year-old kid who happened to be black. I really felt like knocking the fat kid's hat back straight with a slap. Instead, I quickly thought of another idea.
"In that case," I said, staring at the delinquent, "kick his ass."
"My pleasure," Eddie said, trying to lunge from my grip.
"No, not you, Eddie. Brian's not doing anything."
Brian, six foot one and on the Fordham Prep JV football team, smiled as he stepped forward.
At the very last second, I placed a palm on his chest. Violence never solved anything. At least when there were witnesses around. Twenty or thirty loyal St. Edmund's parishioners had stopped to watch the proceedings.
"What's your name?" I said as I walked over and personally got in the kid's face.
"Flaherty," the kid said with a stupid little smile.
"That's Gaelic for dumb-ass," Juliana said by my shoulder.
"What's your problem, Flaherty?" I said.
"Who has a problem?" Flaherty said. "Maybe it's you guys. Maybe the Point isn't your cup of tea. Maybe you should bring your rainbow-coalition family out to the Hamptons. You know, Puff Daddy? That crowd?"
I took a deep breath and released it even more slowly. This kid was getting on my nerves. Even though he was just a teen, my somewhat cleansed soul was wrestling valiantly not to commit the sin of wrath.
"I'm going to tell you this one time, Flaherty. Stay away from my kids or I'm going to give you a free ride in my police car."
"Wow, you're a cop. I'm scared," Flaherty said. "This is the Point. I know more cops than you do, old man."
I stepped in closer to him, close enough to head butt, anyway.
"Do any of them work at Spofford?" I said in his ear.
Spofford was New York's infamous juvy hall. By his swallow, I thought I'd finally gotten through.
"Whatever," Flaherty said, walking away.
Why me? I thought, turning away from the stunned crowd of churchgoers. You never saw this kind of crap on TLC. And what the hell did he mean by old man?
"Eddie?" I said as I started leading my gang back along the hot, sandy road toward the promised land of our saltbox.
"Stay away from that kid."
"Brian?" I said a few seconds later.
"Keep an eye on that kid."
AN HOUR LATER, I was out on the back deck of my ancestral home, working the ancestral grill full-tilt boogie. Dogs on the warming rack. Cheese slices waiting to be applied to the rows of sizzling, freshly ground burgers. Blue smoke in my face, ice-cold bottle of Spaten lager in my hand. We were so close to the water, I could actually hear the rhythmic roll-and-crash of saltwater dropping onto hard-packed sand.
If I leaned back on the creaky rail of the deck and turned to my left, I was actually able to see the Atlantic two blocks to the east. If I turned to the right, to the other side of Jamaica Bay, I could see the sun starting its long descent toward the skyline of Manhattan, where I worked. I hadn't had to look in that direction for over a week now and was praying that it stayed that way until the first of August.
No doubt about it. My world was a fine place and worth fighting for. Maybe not in church parking lots, but still.
I heard something on XM Radio behind me. It was the eighties song "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears. I laughed as I remembered dancing to it with Maeve at our wedding. I cranked it. You better believe I was preoccupied with 1985. No Internet. Spiky, gelled hair. Weird Al Yankovic. John Hughes movies. If they build a real hot-tub time machine, I'm going back.
"Bet's to you, Padre," I heard Trent say behind me.
Inside at the kitchen table, a tense game of Irish Riviera Hold 'em was under way. A lot of candy had been trading hands all evening.
"All right, hit me," Seamus said.
"Grandpa, this isn't blackjack," Fiona complained with a giggle.
"Go fish?" Seamus tried.
I thought about what my new young friend Flaherty had said about my multicultural family. It was funny how wrong people got it. My family wasn't a Hollywood social experiment. Our gang had come from my cop cases and from my departed wife Maeve's work as a trauma nurse at Jacobi Medical Center in the Bronx. Our children were the survivors of the most horrible circumstances New York City had to offer. Drug addiction, poverty, suicide. Maeve and I were both from big families, but we weren't able to have kids. So we took them in one by one by one. It was as simple and crazy as that.
I turned as Trent opened the sliders to the deck.
I was prepping my father-son sit-down about racist dumb-asses when I saw that he was holding something. It was my work cell, and it was vibrating. I threw a panicked glance back toward the Manhattan skyline. I knew it. Things had been too good for too long, not to mention way too quiet.
"Answer it," I finally said to him, pissed.
"Bennett," Trent said in a deep voice. "Gimme a crime scene."
"Wise guy," I said, snatching the phone out of his hand.
"That wasn't me," I said, turning down the radio. "And you can keep the crime scene."
"Wish I could," my new boss, Inspector Miriam Schwartz, said.
I closed my eyes. Idiot! I knew we should have gone to the Grand Canyon.
"I'm on vacation," I protested.
"We both are, but this is big, Mike. Homeland Security big. Just got off the phone with Manhattan Borough Command. Someone left one hell of a bomb at the main branch of the New York Public Library."
I almost dropped the phone as a pulse of cold crackled down my spine and the backs of my legs. My stomach churned as memories of working down at the World Trade Center pit after 9/11 began to flash before my eyes. Fear, sorrow, useless anger, the end-of-the-world stench of scorched metal in my clothes, in the palms of my hands. Screw that, I thought. Not again. Please.
"A bomb?" I said slowly. "Is it armed?"
"No, thank God. It's disarmed. But it's 'sophisticated as shit,' to quote Paul Cell from Bomb Squad. There was a note with it."
"I hate fucking notes. Was it a sorry one?" I said.
"No such luck, Mike," Miriam said. "It said, 'This wasn't supposed to go boom, but the next one will.' Something like that. The commissioner wants Major Case on this. I need my major player. That's you, Mickey."
"Mickey just left," I groaned. "This is Donald. Can I take a message?"
"They're waiting on you, Mike," my boss urged.
"Yeah, who isn't?" I said, dropping the spatula as my burgers burned.
A DAY OR TWO AFTER 9/11, a dramatic photograph of a firetruck crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on its way to the burning Twin Towers was splashed across the front page of the Daily News. It's an incredible shot, even before you learn that every fireman on the truck, Ladder 118, ended up dying in the subsequent collapse.
As I rolled my beat-up Suburban along the same route under the famous bridge's arches back into the city toward my date with a bomb on 42nd Street, for some strange reason, I couldn't stop thinking of that picture.
I skipped the backed-up FDR Drive and took the side streets, St. James to the Bowery to Park Avenue South. Half a block west of Grand Central Terminal, wooden NYPD sawhorses had been set up, cordoning off 42nd Street in both directions. Behind the yellow tape, a crowd of summering Asian and European tourists stood front-row-center, cameras aloft, taking in some action.
After I badged my way through the outer perimeter, I parked behind a Seventeenth Precinct radio car half a block south of 42nd Street. As I was getting out, I spotted a shiny new blue Crown Vic and a couple of tall and neat-looking guys in JTTF polo shirts sitting on its hood, talking on their cell phones.
I doubted they were here to play polo. Calling in the Joint Terrorism Task Force Feds at the slightest hint of the T word was standard operating procedure in our jittery post-9/11 metropolis. The Feds didn't seem too impressed with me or my gold shield as I walked past them. I knew I should have put a jacket on over my Hawaiian shirt.
When I arrived at the corner diagonal to the library, I could see more barricades far down 42nd Street at Sixth Avenue and three blocks in both directions up and down Fifth Avenue. The silence and lack of traffic on what was usually one of the busiest intersections on earth was zombie-movie eerie.
"¿Sarge, qué pasa?" I said, showing my bling to the Hispanic female uniform at the inner perimeter's aluminum gate.
"Seems like some skell forgot his overdue books so he returned a booby-trapped bomb to the library instead," she said as I signed into her crime scene logbook. "We got the place evacked, including Bryant Park. The Bomb Nuts are inside. Midtown North Squad took a bus of witnesses and staff back to the precinct, but I heard it ain't looking too good."
Among the library's columns and fountains, I passed nervous-looking Midtown North Task Force and Seventeenth Precinct uniforms. Some of the cops were holding what appeared to be radar guns but were really radiation detectors. An unmarked van geared with god knew what kind of testing equipment was parked at the curb.
At the front entrance of the library, a redheaded guy in a white marshmallow-man Tyvek suit was walking out with a yellow Lab on a leash. The Labrador wasn't a seeing-eye dog, I knew, but an EDC, an explosive-detecting canine. I loved dogs, just not at crime scenes. A dog at a crime scene means bombs or dead bodies, and I wasn't particularly jazzed about seeing either one.
Ain't looking too good seemed like the midsummer evening's theme, I thought as I climbed the stairs between the two giant stone lions.
A BIG BALD GUY with a twirly black mustache and tactical blue fatigues met me beneath the landmark building's massive portico. With his mustache, Paul Cell bore a striking resemblance to the guy on the Bomb Squad's logo patch, depicting a devil-may-care Red Baron–looking guy riding a bomb in front of the skyline of Manhattan.
"We got the parked cars and street furniture sniffed, so I'm pretty sure there aren't any secondary devices," Cell said. "Think about it. Draw in the first responders with a decoy. That's what I'd do. Look at all these windows. Some jihadist could be behind any one of them right now with his finger on the button, watching us, aching for that glorious thump and flash of holy light."
"Christ, Paul, please," I said, clutching my chest. "I skipped my Lipitor this morning."
Cell and his guys were the world's elite in bomb handling, as tight and quick and efficient as an NHL team. More so probably since the penalty box on this squad was made of pine. All cops are crazy, but these guys took the cake.
"Fine, fine. You ready to see the main attraction?" Cell said, ushering me through the library door with a gracious wave of his hand.
"No, but let's do it, anyway," I said, taking a breath.
We passed another half dozen even more nervous-looking cops as we crossed the library's monster marble entry hall to a flight of stone stairs. More bomb techs were helping their buddy out of the green astronaut-like Kevlar bomb suit in the ostentatious wood-paneled rotunda on the third floor. Another guy was putting away the four-wheeler wireless robot and the X-ray equipment.
"Uh, won't we need that stuff?" I said.
Cell shook his head.
"We already deactivated the device. Actually, we didn't have to. It wasn't meant to go off. Here, I'll show you."
I reluctantly followed him into the cavernous reading room. The space resembled a ballroom and was even more impressive than the entry hall, with its massive arched windows, chandeliers, and nineteenth-century indoor football field of books. The last library table in the northern end zone of the elaborate room was covered by a thick orange Kevlar bomb-suppression blanket. I felt my pulse triple and my hands clench involuntarily as Cell lifted it off.
In the center of the table was what looked like a silver laptop. Then I saw the nails and wires and claylike plastique explosive where the keyboard should have been, and shivered.
On the screen, the chilling and redundant words I AM A BOMB flashed on and off before the scrolling message:
- On Sale
- Apr 2, 2013
- Page Count
- 432 pages
- Grand Central Publishing