Reports from the covert surveillance teams established at both construction sites identified by LaMoia’s visit to City Hall had already suggested that Delancy Avenue Wharf was the container delivery’s backup location. For the last hour, three cars of Asian males had been observed driving the area, circling like hungry buzzards. Fifteen minutes earlier, two of those men had jumped the fence at the site and had hot-wired and fired up the crane, breaking any number of laws in the process. Boldt allowed himself the faint hope that his team still had a chance.
Boldt had been inside the Port Authority radar facility when LaMoia had called with word of the live news story and how the illegals had fled the container. Not only was the idea of following the SS
Boldt ordered LaMoia to abandon the naval yard and to head downtown. ‘‘Get hold of someone at the INS,’’ he instructed. ‘‘Call Talmadge at home if you have to. Tell him we’re making arrests at Delancy Avenue and that we’d like someone from the INS present at the interrogations so there’s no perceived conflict of interest.’’
Boldt repeated the location and said, ‘‘This isn’t an invitation.’’
‘‘Coughlie?’’ LaMoia asked.
‘‘You can’t fish without bait,’’ Boldt said. ‘‘You don’t expect Talmadge to come downtown this time of night, do you?’’
‘‘You never know,’’ LaMoia said.
‘‘And if Coughlie shows up, stay glued to him, John.’’
As he drove the Chevy toward Delancy Avenue, Boldt remained in radio contact with detectives Heiman and Brown. Sometime in his years of service he had come to visualize the radio traffic-he actually saw the operation in his mind’s eye as officers spoke back and forth.
Heiman was watching the construction site crane. Brown was a loose tail on one of the three suspect vehicles. When Brown reported his mark had just executed a U-turn, Boldt understood intuitively that these guys had been tipped to the live news report. With his car five blocks and closing to Delancy Avenue, Boldt issued the order to arrest while driving at breakneck speeds to join them as backup. The two guys who had hot-wired the crane topped his list of desirable arrests and he made this clear to Heiman. These two had trespassed and compromised machinery. A laundry list of possible criminal charges filled Boldt’s head with delight. Cop work: There was nothing quite like it.
He wanted those two in an interrogation room. Despite the fact that Asian gang members were notorious for refusing to talk, if they were faced with the threat of multiple murder charges that carried the death penalty, Boldt believed tongues might wag.
The radio traffic won back Boldt’s attention. As Brown’s mark sped back toward Delancy Avenue, Heiman reported the two crane operators abandoning the machinery and heading for the fence. At the same time, a radio car recruited as further backup reported itself engaged in a high-speed chase and in need of assistance. The gang members had been smart enough to disperse in different directions, weakening the police. A block from Delancy Avenue Wharf, as Boldt rounded the last corner, a dark figure blurred through his headlights, and he reacted instinctively by slamming on the brakes and yanking the key from the ignition. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Heiman on foot heading the opposite direction. He heard the slowing siren of the remaining patrol car, and the distinctive pop of gunfire. He hated that sound.
Boldt jumped out of the Chevy and took off after that blur. The kid ran fast, turning down an alley into which Boldt followed. Behind him, a patrol car had pinned one of the vehicles, its officers engaged in a firefight. The adrenaline rush warped his sense of time. His gun was out, carried in his right hand. That blur up ahead, just rounding another corner, was all that mattered. Sirens wailed in the distance as additional backup made its way into the area. Boldt didn’t have legs, or lungs, only adrenaline-induced purpose. He shouted a warning. It echoed off the brick and asphalt.
The kid rounded another corner. Boldt heard his own shoes slap the wet asphalt. More claps of gunfire from far behind him. He rounded that same corner and came to an immediate stop. A dead end. Brick on both sides. Concrete wall of a building at the far end. A Dumpster and some junked furniture to his left. A pile of black trash bags and debris to his right. The alley was perhaps twenty yards long. The wrought iron fire escape was empty. Sirens still approaching.
Boldt understood he was going to have to do this alone. He thought of Miles and Sarah and how much time he owed them, how many years they all had yet to go. He thought of how much he and Liz had been through together, how far they’d come. He moved quickly to his left until his shoulder brushed the cool brick wall, his right hand ready with his weapon. He smelled urine and stale beer and garbage and oil. He heard the firefight in the distance like a neighbor’s TV through the wall.
‘‘Police!’’ he announced sharply, very much aware that calling out made him a target, standing at the open end of the alley as he was.
The air was suddenly incredibly still. The distant sirens formed an uneasy curtain behind him. All else was silence and the beating of his own heart. Sweat prickled his scalp; his mouth was dry. He’d spent his life in this city; he had no intention of dying here. He saw the open graves at Hilltop. They seemed to call to him. All the petty politics suddenly seemed just that. This was the real police work. This was The Moment, and nothing else, the steady ticking off of seconds, each worth a lifetime. It was raw, visceral terror.
‘‘We’ve got two options,’’ Boldt announced, not wanting anything to do with a firefight. ‘‘One is you stand up with your arms high and walk out of here. The other is you come out feet first in a body bag. There’s nothing in between. You hear those sirens? You think a couple hotheaded young uniforms just dying to try out their weapons are going to improve your situation any? Listen to me! I’m the best chance you’ll ever have of walking out of here alive.’’
Silence. Had it been a few grunts, a few complaints, there would have been a dialogue started.
He took a series of deep breaths. He was guessing behind the Dumpster or hidden in the pile of bags and debris to his right.
He crept forward, eyes shifting: Dumpster, debris, Dumpster, debris. Every darkened shadow filled with an imaginary shape. He wanted none of this. He wanted to turn and walk away. The kid could be anywhere, most likely in the one place Boldt had not yet considered. He wanted to talk the kid out. He feared it wasn’t going to happen.
His hand sweated against the gun’s knurled stock. The sound of blood pumping clouded his ears. It was too damn dark in this alley.
He reached the Dumpster and wedged himself into the corner against the wall. He was in a full sweat. He hadn’t heard the kid jump into the Dumpster but couldn’t discount the possibility.
He glanced toward the mouth of the alley, ten yards behind him- thirty feet, most of it unprotected.
‘‘Do you have any brothers?’’ he called out. ‘‘Sisters? A mother? Anyone who matters to you?’’
That same sickening silence.
‘‘You don’t show yourself, make yourself known to me, I’m likely to shoot you. You understand that? I don’t want to do that, but I will. You’re not coming out of there. You’re not getting past me.’’
Fast footsteps. A dark blur from the pile of trash bags. He ran low and incredibly fast.
Boldt had only one chance to intercept that blur. He lowered his shoulder, judged the distance and charged behind a loud scream meant to distract the kid. They made contact on the far side of the alley, Boldt just getting a small piece of the kid. They both spun like pinwheels and crashed down several feet apart. The kid came to his knees. Boldt lunged toward him and swatted. The kid went down a second time. Boldt scrambled forward, catching a gray glint of a metal blade. He fired a warning shot as he rolled out of the way and the blade came down where his chest had been. Boldt kicked out. The kid fell back. The slash of a flashlight beam painted the opposite brick wall. Backup was close.
The kid stood quickly and cocked his arm back, intending to throw the knife. Boldt fired once and missed. Fired again. Missed. That blade tumbled through the air end-over-end and clattered into the brick somewhere in the narrow space between Boldt’s shoulder and head. The kid ran five paces, saw those flashlight beams paint him with their light and threw himself prostrate into the alley’s urine-soaked litter, hands and legs outstretched.
‘‘You’re under arrest,’’ Boldt called out, making himself known to his own people.
‘‘I not do nothing,’’ the kid called out.
Boldt checked his right ear to make sure it was still attached to his head as he reached for the handcuffs. This collar was his, no one else’s.