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Authors: Stuart M. Kaminsky

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BOOK: Lieberman's Law
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“Jara, run,” he shouted as he rushed toward the man in the road.

The Jew fired, bullets chopped up the ground in front of Ali who realized that his run was less than a run. His left leg had been hit. But he moved forward firing his pistol again.

And then there was a second figure behind the Jew, or Ali imagined a second figure, another attacker, as if another was needed.

The figure spoke in the dark in clear, precise Hebrew. His voice was young. His voice was loud and demanding.

“Stop,” the figure shouted.

The Jew heard, turned.

The figure, a young border guard, was faintly visible in the now flickering light of the wrecked van. He held a weapon at the ready.

The Jew gave him hardly a glance and turned again to fire at Ali, a new burst from within two dozen yards. But this time it was the Jew who fell to his knees, dropping his weapon and saying something unintelligible, something that sounded like the beginning of a prayer. And then the Jew fell forward on his face.

The border guard moved forward into the light. He was very young, maybe nineteen or twenty, and wearing glasses. The world had changed now for Ali, the gluer of photograph frames. He had been warned all of his life that this moment would come. Now he saw not a border guard but another Jew. He limped forward and aimed the gun at the young man in uniform who shouted, “Stop,” first in Hebrew and then in Arabic.

Ali's madness drove him forward, amazed that he had any bullets left. He fired one into the body of the fallen Jew who had murdered his wife and maimed his child and then he turned on the young border guard.

As he pulled the trigger on an empty chamber, the guard fired. The bullet struck Ali in the chest, turning him around in surprise. He faced his fallen daughter in the distance, She crawled toward her father as the border guard stepped forward.

The guard watched, himself shaken and trying not to show it. As Jara reached the body of her father, the guard tried to mouth an apology but none came as the girl looked up at him with hatred, the hatred of more than two thousand years.

Jara could not know that Tsvi Ben Levitt, an off-duty border guard on his way home, the Jew who had killed her father, had also saved her life, and that of her brother. She did not know that the dead Jew was the half-mad fanatic cousin of Tsvi Ben Levitt from the nearby kibbutz. And now the boy soldier would have to explain that he had killed the beloved physician of the commune to save the lives of Arabs.

The eyes of the girl and the young soldier met: his in sadness and confusion, hers in hatred. In the instant of silence, there came a distinct frightened moan from the van.

The border guard motioned to Jara to remain where she was and he hurried to the vehicle, reaching it just as the single flickering headlight died.

ONE
Chicago, Today

T
HE MORNING RUSH HOUR
at the Edgewater Restaurant, which was little more than a small diner, was over. Traffic hurried by in the late spring rain. People scurried with and without umbrellas down Lawrence Avenue. There were only three customers in the diner; two of them were Korean businessmen who owned shops in the area, one a cleaning store, the other a shoe store. They were sitting in a booth finishing a late breakfast and arguing in Korean about something. The only other customer, a burly, weary-looking white man, sat in the booth behind them drinking coffee from a white mug and reading the
Sunday Times.

The old counterman in a white apron filled white ceramic containers with packets of Sweet'n Low, Equal, and sugar. When the diner door opened, letting in the sound and smell of falling rain, the counterman barely looked up. The burly man sipped his coffee and turned to the sports pages in back. But the two Korean businessmen turned, rose from their unfinished breakfast and hurried to the counter to pay. One of them placed a ten-dollar bill near the cash register.

The other businessman, the one with the shoe store, tried not to look at the trio who had come into the restaurant, one of whom was now closing the door behind him.

“I'll add it up,” said the counterman, putting aside his packet container and wiping his hands on his apron.

“No need,” said the cleaning store operator. “You keep change.”

“Suit yourself,” said the counterman with a shrug and reached for the ten spot while the businessmen made their way around the three men who had just entered.

The three were in their twenties, Korean. Two were dressed in black jeans, nicely laundered white button-down shirts, and identical leather bomber jackets. The third Korean was slightly older than the other two and wore a black London Fog raincoat and sunglasses. The three moved to the counter and sat as the old counterman smoothed his white mustache and asked, “What'll it be, gentlemen?”

“Mr. Park,” said the one in the middle, the one wearing sunglasses.

“Park's sick,” said the counterman. “You wanna start with coffee?”

The three young men sat silently, barely wet from the pouring rain, their car probably parked within a few feet of the diner. The three men watched the old man pour them coffee. Their cups sat untouched. The old counterman put out the sugar and sugar substitutes and a small metal pitcher of milk.

“When will Mr. Park return?” the young man with glasses said, without a trace of accent.

The old counterman shrugged his thin shoulders and said, “Couldn't say. Pretty sick. Something with his stomach. Hypotonectosis. I'm talking over the place for a while, maybe a long while.” The counterman heaved a heavy sigh and looked around the place. “Thought I was safely retired, but … what'll it be? Hotcakes, eggs, fruit and yogurt cup? Strawberries are fresh.”

“Fruit and yogurt,” said the young man, removing his glasses to clean the rain off with a napkin.

The old man looked at the flankers who shook their head without speaking. The old man shrugged and called the order back to someone in the kitchen. Then he moved from behind the counter with the coffee pot in his hand to give a refill to the burly man who grumbled something about the Cubs having no pitchers again, about someone named Dickerson giving up two runs in the eighth.

The old man shook his head sympathetically as he retreated behind the counter and returned the pitcher to the hot plate. He picked up the fruit cup and delivered it to the young Korean whose glasses were now cleaned to his satisfaction and back on his nose.

“We have come to collect,” said the young man. “I am sure Mr. Park informed you that we come in every other Friday to collect.”

The old man looked puzzled. “Park got sick suddenly. Rushed to the hospital. I talked to his daughter, said I'd take over. Park's an old friend. How's the yogurt cup?”

“These strawberries are not fresh,” said the young man. “They were frozen.”

“I swear on my mother's life,” the old man said shaking his head. “I thought we had fresh strawberries. You want me to take it back? No charge.”

He reached for the cup. The young man grabbed his wrist and held it tightly. One of the other two men looked at the man reading his newspaper. The burly man didn't seem to be paying any attention.

“We collect one hundred dollars every two weeks,” the man in the glasses said softly. “Today is collection day.”

“Collect?” said the counterman, trying to pull his arm away. “For what?”

“Protection,” said the young man.

“From who, what?” the old man said, still trying to free his arm.

“From us,” the young man said softly. “Park pays. We don't break his windows. We don't mess the place up. We don't mess up Park or his family. What we could do to Park, we could do to you. Hypo …”

“… tonectosis,” the old man finished.

“You'll wish you were in the hospital with it next to Park. You understand?”

“This is a shakedown,” the old man said, frightened but also angry. “This is blackmail.”

“Now you understand,” the young man said, letting go of the counterman's arm. “Every other week we collect one hundred dollars from every Korean business in the neighborhood.”

“I'm not Korean,” said the old man.

“As of right now, till Park returns, you are acting Korean,” said the young man, adjusting his dark glasses as the counterman rubbed his wrist and looked at all three of the young men. The one on the right smiled slightly.

“Blackmail,” repeated the old man.

“Extortion,” the young man with glasses corrected.

“I'm not paying,” said the old man, backing away from the counter.

The young man in the middle, the leader who had grabbed the old man's wrist, put his palms together and touched his hand to his lips as if in prayer.

“Then,” he said, “we will begin by breaking two of your fingers and destroying the kitchen.”

The two young men flanking the leader got up from their stools. One of them moved around the counter heading for the counterman. The other headed slowly toward the kitchen.

“You hear all that?” the counterman said.

“Clear as spring rain,” answered the burly man, still looking at his newspaper.

“Leave now,” the young man with glasses said to the burly man. The man who was heading for the kitchen paused at the customer's table and a knife suddenly appeared in the young man's hand, a long, thin-bladed knife. He pointed it at the burly man.

“OK,” said the old counterman, wearily stepping back in front of the bespectacled Korean.

The young man smiled and then, to his total surprise, the old counterman reached over, grabbed the front of his jacket, and with an unexpected strength yanked the young man onto the counter, overturning the yogurt plate and one of the cups of coffee. The young Korean was appalled to find the barrel of a pistol pressed up against the right lens of his glasses.

When the other two young men moved to help their leader, the burly man lowered his newspaper, revealing a pistol in his hand. “Stop there,” he said.

The two ignored him and took a step forward. The young man looking into the gun barrel shuddered.

“I said ‘stop' in clear, plain, loud English,” the burly man shouted, firing his weapon into the ceiling.

This time, the two men stopped.

“You OK, Rabbi?” the burly cop said, sliding out of the booth, weapon aimed at the frozen young Koreans.

“Lovely, Father Murphy,” said the old man, releasing the young man with the glasses but keeping the gun leveled at his head.

“Tape?” asked the burly cop, knocking the knife from the hand of the young man nearest him.

Gun still leveled, the old man reached beneath the counter and pulled out a small tape recorder. “I'll leave it running in case these gentlemen have anything more to say.”

None of the three Koreans spoke as the two policemen handcuffed them behind their backs.

“Let's set a record booking 'em,” said the burly man, pushing the two young men toward the door. “Iris and I have an appointment with Father Parker about the wedding.”

“You could've told me earlier,” said Lieberman, removing his apron and pocketing the tape recorder.

“Slipped my mind,” said Hanrahan.

“Slipped his mind.” Lieberman said to the bespectacled young man as if they were friends. “You believe that?”

The young man said nothing as Lieberman guided him around the counter and had him join his partners at the front door. The young man was known only as Kim to his small gang and to the Korean businessmen he robbed. Kim's goals in life were to look as dry as Clint Eastwood and as cool as a young Robert Mitchum and to become very wealthy and respected. He and his gang had been at this extortion game for almost a year. They had done well. Until now. Kim was humiliated, beaten by a skinny old man.

“I'll get the car,” Hanrahan said, putting his gun back in the holster under his jacket.

“I'll entertain our visitors,” said Lieberman.

Hanrahan opened the door, looked at the downpour and turned to say, “I'll have the door open. Get 'em in fast.”

“Like the Flash,” said Lieberman, and his partner dashed out into the rain. “You know the Flash?”

The question was directed at the three handcuffed young men. The one nearest Lieberman was having trouble keeping his glasses on his nose with his hands cuffed behind him.

“The Flash was in the comics,” said Lieberman with a sigh at the lack of education of the young. “When I was a kid he wore a tin helmet with wings, like Mercury. Then they stuck him in a tight red suit.”

The Koreans seemed even more bewildered.

“OK now?” came a timid voice behind Lieberman.

“OK now,” Lieberman answered.

From the kitchen two people emerged. Park and his wife. They were in their fifties and held back in fear, not completely sure that what they had done was the right thing.

“We will talk again,” the young man in glasses said to the couple.

“That would be a bad idea,” Lieberman said, moving to Kim's side. He moved close enough to whisper in the man's ear. “Much to my regret and in the hope that God has forgiven me through my prayers, I have killed four people and cooperated in doing very unpleasant things to about six others. If anything happens to the Parks, if anything happens to this diner, if he even tells me that you or one of your gang has returned here, I'll find you and I'll shoot you.”

The young man twitched his nose trying to keep his glasses on. Lieberman helped him by pushing the glasses back with the barrel of his gun.

“You believe me?” asked Lieberman.

Kim didn't answer.

“You know the Tentaculos?”

The three men looked at the skinny cop with the almost white hair and the white mustache. He looked a little like an undernourished old dog, one of those dogs with the sad, tired faces. They didn't answer, but Lieberman knew the answer.

“You get in touch with El Perro,” Lieberman said in his ear. “Tell him that El Viejo said he would shoot you. Ask him if you should believe me.”

BOOK: Lieberman's Law
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