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Authors: Stuart M. Kaminsky

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BOOK: Lieberman's Law
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The small chapel was only a few feet from where they stood and the doors were not particularly thick. There was only silence and a few sobs from behind that door.

“I'd better go in with them, Abe,” Bess said, touching her husband's arm, kissing his cheek, and turning to the Chens. “You're all welcome to join us, but I thought you might feel more comfortable at the T & L.”

Howie nodded and said something to his family in Cantonese. They answered and began to leave the temple with Maish and Yetta.

“I'll stay,” said Howie, heading for the small chapel.

Bess moved with him and glanced at her husband. He nodded.

Maish, his wife, and the Chens filed out past Bill Hanrahan, who nodded at them as they left. Lieberman had seen his partner coming in moments earlier and caught the look that made it clear he knew or had discovered something.

When the corridor was clear, Lieberman could see a pair of unmarked cars pulling up in front of the door. The FBI.

“Rabbi,” Hanrahan said, glancing at the cars out of which men in dark suits were emerging quickly. “I think I've found a witness.”

Abe moved toward him. This was not their town, not their jurisdiction, and legally not their investigation, but it was Abe Lieberman's congregation. He followed his partner out the door as the FBI men moved briskly past them as if they knew just where they were going.

It had been a busy night and there had been too few of them. Most of the Arab students at the universities—Chicago, Northwestern, DePaul, Loyola—had simply refused to join in the desecration and the older Muslims in the city had categorically said that they were Americans and had no intention of breaking the law.

“If you do this, they will blame us, punish us,” Mohammed Ach Bena, a highly successful rug dealer in the Loop, had told the young man who had tried to enlist him or at least make a donation. “I am not a terrorist.”

The group, which called itself the Arab Student Response Committee, had wound up recruiting a total of fifteen to join them in their night of desecration, the anniversary of the date the madman had murdered innocent Arabs at prayer. Even so, when the moment came to attack the Jewish temples, some of the active members of the committee chose not to show up.

Those who took part were mostly young men and a few young women. After the coordinated attack at the Jewish houses of worship, they sat in the meeting room the University of Chicago provided for campus groups. About half of them were, students. They were tired. A few were unsure. A few closed their eyes. A few smiled at their success.

“And no one was seen?” asked the young woman, a graduate student, who stood before them. “Except those we wanted seen.”

Heads nodded. A few voices said, “Only the ones you wanted seen.”

At her side stood a tall Arab in a gray suit and tie. He was well groomed, clean shaven, and very big. His face showed nothing but a broken nose and scar tissue that bolted over both eyes. He was clearly a man who had seen and suffered violence.

“The scrolls?” she asked the man. “The Torah? Where is Howard?”

“Safe,” Massad said. “The Torah is safe.”

“The call?” she asked.

“Made,” he answered.

She nodded and told the group that they should leave, a few at a time, quietly carrying the books that were provided at the door if they did not have books of their own.

One hour earlier, the big man with the broken nose had made two phone calls, one to the FBI and one to the Chicago police in South Rogers Park were they had struck two of their five targets. He had called from different phone booths, speaking quickly, calmly, and precisely to the person who answered the phone and saying the same thing: “We have struck our next blow to free the so-called United States and bring down the corrupt government run by Jews and their money. In the name of the memory of our too-long-dead Führer, we will bring the Jews and those who support them to their knees and shoot each one of them in the back of the head as they shot Adolf Hitler. We are his ghosts, his new army. Heil Hitler.” And with that he had hung up, wiped the telephone clean with a handkerchief and gone to his nearby car.

They would wait a week, maybe more to be sure they hadn't been seen and then take the next step. She had already planned it, had already imagined the frightened faces of the Jews. She was concerned that Howard had not come to the meeting as he was supposed to have done, but she would deal with him later. The attack appeared to have been a complete success. If so, this was but the start.

It would be almost twenty-four hours before she realized what Massad had done, what he had not told her or the committee, and why Howard Ramu had not been there.

THREE

“I
DRINK TEA BUT I
don't like it,” the old woman said, pouring a cup for each of the policemen who sat in her small studio apartment on small unmatching furniture. The furniture was of acceptable size but not texture for Lieberman. Hanrahan chose to squeeze himself into one of the chairs near the window that the woman had offered and to take the tea.

“Thank you,” said Lieberman, taking a sip of the tea as he stood looking at rows of mounted photographs on the walls. “Very good.”

“My departed husband was a photographer as a sideline. They are good, aren't they?”

Lieberman had meant that the tea was good.

“You'll notice there are no people in Carl's photographs. No animals either for that matter. Trees, flowers, empty parks and playgrounds, buildings.”

“Interesting,” said Lieberman.

“You sure you wouldn't like more sugar? I like lots of sugar.”

Lieberman drank tea socially when it was offered to him by strangers but he didn't like it. Coffee was his drink.

The old woman, whose name was Mrs. Ready, Anne Crawfield Ready, was covered in a flowered shift. Her hair was dyed an odd reddish orange and she looked far too overweight for any of the frail chairs. “Noisy out there this morning,” she said, nodding at the two windows of her apartment.

The apartment was across the street from the front entrance of Mir Shavot, in a small square above a real estate branch office that wouldn't be open for another hour, a photography supply store, and a baseball card shop.

“Yes,” said Lieberman. “My partner tells me you have trouble sleeping?”

“Insomnia,” Mrs. Ready said, touching Lieberman's arm and speaking quietly as if the condition were something to be kept secret. “I watch television, read.”

“I know what you mean,” Lieberman said. “I have insomnia, for years. I take hot baths. I read. I watch AMC, nothing works.”

“Tea is no good,” she said.

“Never helped me,” Lieberman said, turning his baggy eyes down to the dark brew. “Detective Hanrahan says you saw something last night.”

“About three in the a.m.,” she said, moving to the third and last chair in the room and easing into it. “Heard something. Usually quiet out there except for the cars on Dempster. I like the rushing of the cars. Soothing. You know the wind sound, changes when they pass the street. It's like a what-do-you-call it, a meditation. Relaxing. I read a book on it. Buddhist. I'm an Episcopalian myself.”

“The sound you heard that was different?” prompted Hanrahan.

“Oh,” Mrs. Ready said as she downed her tea in a single long gulp. “Like something breaking. I looked out the window and saw him coming out of that Jewish church where the bank used to be. Jews are quieter than the bank. Surprised me when they moved in, but they're quieter and I don't mind listening to them on Friday night and Saturday morning.”

“What did you see?” Lieberman asked.

“Young man, leather jacket, bald head,” she said. “One of those German swastikas on the back. I turned my light out so he couldn't see me, but he looked right up.”

“And you said he was carrying something?” Hanrahan asked.

“Yes, something that looked a little heavy and maybe blue. Street lights are not the best, but I'm not complaining.”

“Where did he go?” asked Lieberman.

“Down the street, right below me. Watched till I couldn't see him. Then I thought I heard a car start.”

“And that was it?” Lieberman asked.

“Bank was here for more than ten years and never got robbed,” she said ruefully. “I watched, hoped I'd be able to identify a bank robber, but this is good too, isn't it?”

“Very good,” Hanrahan said, sipping his tea.

“You'd know him again if you saw him, the bald man in the jacket?” Lieberman asked.

“Can't be one hundred percent,” she said. “But I watch television, CNN, WGN. He was one of those skinheads.”

“We'd like to tell the local police about this, have them come and talk to you,” Lieberman said, rising.

“The FBI too?” Mrs. Ready asked excitedly. “I saw those cars pull up. Look just like the FBI guys on television.”

“Probably,” Hanrahan said, also rising. The chair beneath him creaked in relief.

“I don't get out much anymore,” the woman said. “Embolism in my left leg. Friend of my daughter from college days does the shopping for me and takes me to the doctor. Almost all my family is in Salt Lake City. A few are Mormons. Well, tell the other police and the FBI to come on over. I've got lots of tea, herbal and otherwise.”

“You've been very helpful,” Lieberman said, taking her hand in both of his.

“I've seen you go in there more than once,” she said. “I've got 20-20 without glasses. You're a Jew.”

“One of the chosen people,” Lieberman said, with a touch of irony that only his partner caught.

“My husband, Carl, rest his soul, wore thick glasses and had swollen toes. Stuck it out at the postal office never letting on his constant pain to a soul. Died two months after he retired, leaving me the pension and Social Security and the photographs.”

“Anything else you think of, tell the local police or the FBI,” said Hanrahan. The two men moved to the door. Lieberman opened it.

“Aren't you going to ask me about the girl?” the old woman said.

The two policemen turned toward her, door partly open.

“Girl?” asked Hanrahan.

“Pretty, standing at the door right under the night light. Bald guy moved right past her. She was back in the shadows. Then when he was gone she looked back into the glass door and moved the same way the bald guy had gone. She was dressed all in black. Looked pretty from what I could see. Long, black hair, turned once to look up at my window, but I still had the lights out.”

“And you'd recognize her again if you saw her?”

“Yes,” said the old woman. “I figured she was out late, heard the noise, and tucked herself back in the dark so she couldn't be seen by the bald guy when he came out. Pretty girl. I hear there've been rapes within blocks of right where I stand.” She pointed at the floor and badly faded gray carpet.

When the policemen were down the stairs and in the curious bustle of gawkers who knew something was happening even if they weren't sure what, they spoke as they walked back toward Mir Shavot. “How do you figure it, Rabbi?” Hanrahan said. “Skinheads like the lady says?”

“Could be, Father Murphy,” said Lieberman. “The girl worries me.”

“If there was a girl,” said Hanrahan as they crossed the street. “And if Mrs. Ready really can identify her.”

“And if there was a bald young man,” said Lieberman. “A bald young man carrying something heavy and blue.”

“The Torah,” said Hanrahan.

Lieberman glanced back across the street toward the window of the old woman. She was looking down at them with a proud smile. She was perfectly clear and so, he was sure, were they, even in the rain, but in the middle of the night it might be different. Lieberman had the feeling that the woman was reliable. Maybe because he wanted to believe that she was.

Howard Ramu had stuffed his skinhead jacket and the Torah in the oversized Reebok gym bag and put on his wig as soon as he had gotten back into the car. He had driven home carefully, not too slow, not too fast, sticking to streets that were reasonably busy even at three in the morning—McCormick to Devon, Devon to Western, Western south, avoiding the expressways.

He went back to the apartment he shared with two other Arab students, one of whom was his cousin and both of whom disapproved of the Arab Student Response Committee and Howard's participation in it. They had, in fact, asked him to leave the apartment at his earliest convenience. He had readily agreed.

It was a little before four in the morning when Howard Ramu parked on Woodlawn, picked up the bag, and locked the car doors. He was lucky to find a space so easily. Bag in one. hand weighing heavily and his other hand in his pocket holding a small gun, Howard hoped that he would not be confronted by one of the wandering bands of black teens who came into the university neighborhood during the night and sometimes during the day looking for some student or faculty member to trap and rob. Woodlawn was an all-black neighborhood surrounding Hyde Park and the University of Chicago, an unofficial boundary that was not always respected.

Howard made it back to his room in the six-flat brick building, opening the locks as quietly as possible. The living room was dark as he entered. Even through the closed door he could hear the loud snoring of his cousin. He placed his gym bag on the top shelf of the closet near the door, confident that his roommates would not touch it, and then he felt very, very tired. The bag contained not only the heavy Torah but six lightweight Israeli Uzis, but lightweight or not, the bulging bag had been extremely heavy and straining at the seams. He had taken no more than four steps from the now-closed closet when he heard the tap at the apartment door. He froze. It came again. A voice whispered.

“Everything all right?” came the man's voice still in a whisper. “Can you hear me in there?”

Howard stood still, gun now out and in his hand. The man knocked harder. Howard looked toward the closed bedroom doors. His cousin snorted but continued to snore.

BOOK: Lieberman's Law
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