Authors: Stuart M. Kaminsky
“Everything is fine,” said Howard softly, moving to the door.
“Saw someone going in there,” said the man. “I'm with campus security.”
“It was me,” said Howard. “I live here.”
His cousin was no longer snoring.
“How do I know you're not a burglar just telling me everything is fine?” said the man in the hallway.
“My name is Howard Ramu,” Howard said with exasperation. “I live here.”
“Could have gotten the name from the bell downstairs,” said the man. “I'll have to ask you to open up.”
Howard's cousin was clearly awake now. The snoring had stopped and the bed springs vibrated as if he were rising.
“How do I know you are campus police?”
The man shoved a card under the door. Howard picked it up and examined it. It was a photo ID of a heavyset man with a dull American face. Howard adjusted his wig, put his gun back in his pocket keeping his hand on it, and opened the door except for. the chain link. Behind him, Howard heard his cousin's door open and his voice sleepily saying in a heavy accent, “What on earth is happening?”
Before Howard could answer, the chain link snapped and the door flew open, sending Howard backward into a small table. A man came in, neither in uniform nor resembling in the least the photo of the heavyset, dull American. The man, whom Howard Ramu well knew, held a weapon in his hands, a weapon Howard recognized. The man closed the door.
“Where?” asked the man, stepping into the room with a decided limp. “I saw you come in with it.”
Howard said nothing. His cousin stood frozen.
“Where?” the man with the automatic weapon repeated.
Howard's hand came out of his pockets. He did not think nor pray nor hope. He knew the man meant to kill him and that his little gun was no match for what the man carried. Before his hand cleared his pocket, the intruder fired, the sound breaking a still-night silence, tearing into Howard Ramu, who dropped his pistol and fell backward, dead.
Howard's cousin turned back to his bedroom and the intruder fired, tearing red-black dots into the white pajamas. The gunman moved toward the closed door of the second bedroom. He kicked open the unlocked door and fired as a voice cried, “No.”
In spite of the noise and the certain arousal of neighbors, the murderer put down his weapon and began looking under the small secondhand sofa. He searched quickly, determined. Gunshots were not new to this neighborhood; neither were they likely to be ignored. Someone would call the police.
The gunman threw open the closet and immediately saw the oversized Reebok bag on the shelf. “Found it,” he said to himself. He unzipped the bag, folded the metal stocks of his weapon and put the compact gun on top of the Torah, then zipped up the bag. The bag was even heavier now, the zipper beginning to tear, the seams already tearing. He hurried to the front door, his limp made more pronounced by the weight of the bag. At the door, the killer stopped to pick up the fake ID from the floor and pocketed it. He pulled a small, black yarmulke from his pocket, knelt at Ramu's body, and touched the little cap to the blood. Printed inside the cap, black against white lining, was “Temple Mir Shavot” with the temple's address. He stood up and dropped the yarmulke in front of the body of Howard Ramu.
He left the apartment, closing the door behind him, not worrying about noise. He had already made ample noise but no doors opened. Everyone was afraid to look. The man ran down the stairs and out of the building as quickly as his heavy bag and limping leg would allow. The streets were still clear. A drunk tottered toward him. He was black and ragged, humming to himself. The man brushed past him and the drunk sullenly shouted, “What the fuck you think you are, goddamn Newt Gingrich?”
He had parked illegally next to a fire hydrant. He placed the gym bag on the back seat, slid behind the wheel, closed the door and moved into the night. He had only a few blocks to go. He made it without lights on and, he was sure, without being seen. He pulled into the campus overnight parking lot using a key code card, parked in the rear where most people preferred not to leave their cars, and hurried out, carrying the heavy bag.
He moved quietly up the rear stairs in his sneakers and stopped at the second floor to rest his leg and shift the bag to his other hand. He unlocked the door to his apartment on the third floor, stepped inside, put down the bag and reached back to lock the door behind him.
Outside a police siren cut the night.
“You got all six?” said the man with the shaven head.
Berk had left his tiny, neat, cell-like apartment minutes earlier to buy a cup of coffee at Denny's and stand at the phone booth in front of the restaurant. No one would bother him and no one would try to use the phone if he indicated to them that he was waiting for a call. He was not tall but he was broad like a wrestler and in good condition. In fact, when he hung up, he planned to go back to his apartment and continue his workout. He had finished 110 push-ups and four hundred sit-ups before he put on his jeans and a T-shirt and ran the two miles to Denny's, which he would have done no matter what the weather. He planned to run back home after the call came.
William Stanley Berk wasn't worried about his phone being tapped. One of his men had worked for the phone company and checked it out regularly. Besides, if they had been tapping, theyâthe cops, FBI, whoeverâwould have pulled him in by now and played him the tape to break him. The line was safe. Tuckett would tell him if and when it wasn't. Even so, Berk never called or received a call at home that might incriminate him. At the end of each call, they would designate who would initiate the next call and at what time. The person to receive the call would give the number of a public phone where he would be waiting. It was awkward, but it was safe. Some people, in fact, were too safe, like the man he called Mr. Grits. Mr. Grits would never use the telephone like this as safe as it seemed. Mr. Grits made it even more elaborate. When Mr. Grits and Berk spoke on a phone designated by Mr. Grits, Mr. Grits was always pleasant, reassuring, and matter-of-fact. There was only one clear rule. Berk was not allowed to see Mr. Grits.
But the man on the other end of the line now was not Mr. Grits. He was an Arab fanatic named Massad, whom Berk treated with what seemed like true respect.
“All six,” Massad said proudly, breathing hard.
“And the prayer thing?” Berk said. He knew it was a Torah. He knew what to call it, but he had an image to present to his caller and he didn't want the caller to think Berk was as smart as Berk knew he was. Berk was a reader. Berk had educated himself, like Gary Gilmore.
“The Torah, got it,” said the man.
“What's the problem?” asked Berk, sensing something in the man's voice.
“I had to kill Ramu,” he said.
“Couldn't have been any other way,” said Berk. “I told you.”
“And two others who were with him,” Massad went on.
“Arabs,” said the man softly. “More Arabs have died. Three Arabs and not a single Jew.”
“Breaks,” said Berk. “We'll talk later. We stay with the plan. Give me a number and a time.” The man gave Berk a number and a time. Berk said the number was fine, but he would call him at seven, not midnight. If Massad could not get to the phone, he would call at seven the next morning.
Berk almost added, “Put the guns somewhere safe,” but that was a given and he didn't want the man looking down on him for suggesting the obvious. Berk hung up and looked to see if anyone was watching him, was fairly certain there was not, and threw his empty plastic coffee cup into the nearby garbage before running home.
When he got to the small apartment, he was greeted on one wall by a large poster of George Lincoln Rockwell. Once he had put up a photograph of Adolf Hitler taken from an old
magazine he bought legitimately from an old bookstore on Damen, but now Berk had read a lot of Hitler, his life, his speeches. No substance. All ego. He had seen movies. Hitler was a great speaker, probably the greatest, though Berk couldn't understand German, but putting his picture on the wall had been something a kid went through. Berk was no kid. Rockwell had been calm, held a pipe in his hand, wore a Nazi uniform, always sounded reasonable even if he proposed cutting the balls off a Jew politician.
Berk didn't like dealing with the man he had spoken to on the phone in front of Denny's, but he had no choice. It was part of Mr. Grits's plan. Bruce Willis in one of those
movies would call it a double-cross, but Rockwell would have understood. Expediency. He would make it work and he would convince others to help him make it work.
Berk had risen fast. He had gotten in trouble as a kid, petty stuff, snatch-and-grab, a few purses. His father had always given him mixed messages. Once, when they caught Berk, he couldn't have been more than ten, his father had come to pick him up and had hit him on the side of the head, but not as hard as Berk had expected. His father was a sober, hardworking Irish fireman.
“You know why I'm not beating you, William?” his father had asked.
Berk had said “no” softly as he sat next to his father in their shit-brown Mustang.
“Because you stole from a Jew lady,” he said. “I don't want you stealing. I don't want you breaking the law, but if you got to do it, do it from a nigger or a kike or any colored bastard who should never been in this country in the first place.”
Berk nodded and listened. He had heard it before. The United States had been ruined by people who didn't belong here, colored people. Berk's father could be colorful and inconsistent on the subject for. hours. Recent immigrants from Europe, any country in Europe as long as they weren't communists or Jews, were fine. White. Always dealt with him straight enough. Berk's mother knew enough to mind her business when this subject came up. She went to watch television or call her sister when Berk's father got on the subject.
Meanwhile, Berk did some juvenile time, not much, for breaking into a coffee shop at two in the morning. He and his buddy had found thirty-six dollars and some change and loaded up a bag of getting-stale donuts. They were barely out of the broken window when the police picked them up.
When Berk got out, he played his father's boy, did reasonably well at school, announced that he, like two of his brothers, wanted to be a firefighter. While he prepared himself for the job, with the help of his father and his skeptical brothers, he was very selective about the crimes he committed at night, well-spaced robberies of women alone on dark streets. He worked alone then and always wore a ski mask.
He had actually apprenticed as a firefighter in Chicago when he made it through high school. His father had some clout and it was clear that Berk had already been well prepared by his family. He had been assigned to the same station as his brother James W. Berk, Jr.
One night he had gotten back to the station after a massive blaze at a building on the South Side where his unit had been sent as backup. A whole block was on fire. Stores. Flames threatening to jump the street. Looters running right past the firemen and the few cops and grabbing what they could.
Berk, covered in dirt and smoke, smelling like death, had called his father, woke him from a sound sleep and said, “They shot at us. They fuckin' shot at us. The niggers shot at us. Jimmy has a bullet in his foot. We're puttin' out their fire and they're shootin'. And this guy on the sidewalk with a bullhorn and one of those velvet hats on his head, black son-of-a-bitch is telling the people to stop us, to let the Jew stores burn. A bullet came this fuckin' close to my head. For what? To protect a bunch of Jew and Korean stores?”
“To pick up a good paycheck, make a living, and retire young,” his father had answered. “Which hospital did they take Jimmy to?”
Berk had told him, hung up, quit the department, teamed up with four friends and convinced them to shave their heads and put on leather jackets after he read about skinheads in England. Skinheads were pure white and took no shit. Their group had grown. They started as vandals, joined up once in a while with some neo-Nazi groups and a handful of Klan guys for joint marches and rallies, but Berk soon realized that he was bigger, smarter, stronger, and a better speaker than any of those guys, and by the time he realized it, he had more than two dozen young men who had joined him. And there were girls. He stayed away from the ones who wanted to be hurt. He didn't want that kind of trouble. There were plenty of girls who were happy with what he gave them. He stayed nice to the Klan and the neo-Nazis who gave him a little money. They didn't seem to have all that much, though they claimed rich backers out of state. One of the television station commentators, an old fart, had given Berk's group a name, the Chicago Skinhead Hate Mongers. Berk liked it. It sounded like a hockey team. Eventually, they became known simply as the Mongers.
When something else wasn't going on, Berk's Mongers wore baseball caps and delivered pizzas or dished out pieces of fried chicken.
One night on television, Berk had seen the nigger in the velvet hat, the one with the bullhorn who had egged on the crowd at the fire, the one who had gotten his brother Jimmy shot. The nigger's name was Martin Abdul. Berk knew the name. Abdul had risen fast, started a Muslim church, pulled in big bucks, built a big mosque, appeared on talk shows with Jesse Jackson. Martin Abdul was one dangerous nigger, but a smart one. He had big bucks.
Ever since Mr. Grits had shown up, Berk's financial prospects had risen considerably. He had first been contacted by Mr. Grits the night after he had spoken to the Mongers, their girls and some people, many of them older, some of whom he knew were friends of his family, in the park not two blocks from where he had grown up. The police were there. They were always there. They always found out, showed up, ready to break up the crowd if they got the call from a sergeant watching from a car that it was getting too big or surly. They could always stop him for lack of a public permit, but it was easier to let him speak, even come close to inciting riot, though there was no one within miles of the neighborhood whose family wasn't Irish, Polish, German, or British. There was a family of Indians who ran a 7-11 on Oakton, but they weren't worth the trouble of bothering. Not yet anyway.