This chapter from my new novel, Early Warning
, was written well before the Times Square bomber made his abortive attempt to bring fiction to life. Remember: everything in it is not only possible but, on some level, probable.
Times Square -
Jake Sinclair’s face was forty feet high on the Jumbotron above Times Square, smiling at some private joke only he was privy to. Since he pretty much owned the media in the U.S.,, that was not an outrageous supposition. Underneath his picture, the Zipper was proclaiming to the world: “WITH BLAST AT TYLER, SINCLAIR HOLDINGS SELLS MANHATTAN HEADQUARTERS TO GERMAN MEDIA CONSORTIUM. CORP. HQ TO RE-LOCATE TO LOS ANGELES.”
Those who looked up at the Jumbotron at that moment would have seen Sinclair, speaking now, praising Tyler’s rival in the upcoming election. “The Tyler Administration,” he was saying, “has forfeited all claims to credibility. The attacks last year on the homeland — the first since September 11th — proved that this administration is not to be trusted with our national security. Despite his gross and flagrant violation of civil liberties, President Tyler has not kept us safe and, in my opinion, it’s time for a change. That’s why every patriotic American should send a message to Tyler and his part at the polls this November. Not just ‘throw the bums out,’ but hell yes, throw the bums out.
” He smiled the oleaginous smile that had made him a favorite of most of the media, for Jake Sinclair had long ago learned the first and most important lesson of Hollywood, which had since translated to journalism: if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made.
“I hate that sonofabitch,” said Morris Acker to his wife, Shirley, as they traversed the new pedestrian zone and waited to cross over to 42nd Street, heading for the theater where Mary Poppins
was still playing. Once upon a time, this had been the crossroads of the world, the place where Broadway and Seventh Avenue intersected, collided, and then split to go their separate ways. In the old days — the very
old days — it had been a concatenation of pedestrians, pushcarts, horse-drawn vehicles and motorcars, but gradually order had been imposed upon civic chaos. Now, where traffic once had rushed, pretty girls sat and gawked at the buildings while the boys sat and gawked at them. Meanwhile, cars fought for space in the few lanes still allotted to them. It was a typically lunatic idea of the former mayor, a nasty little busybody, who had finally been driven from office when he attempted to delink the price of a slice of pizza from the subway fare by raising the former fourfold, on the grounds that would improve the health of the average New York if he ate less pizza. And then he raised the subway fare anyway, on the grounds that people would be even healthier if they had to walk forty blocks instead of spending $5 for the subway ride.
“We should have parked closer,” said Shirley. “If we’d parked closer, we’d be there by now.”
Morris shrugged. He hadn’t gotten this far in life by wasting money when he could save it, and he hadn’t saved it when he could prudently spend it on Mrs. Acker. It was one of the many reasons they had lasted this long together, longer than most couples their age, longer than most couples they knew. An occasional trip to the diamond district nobody knew about, the merchants who conducted their business out of anonymous, well-fortified, buzzer-entry buildings on the west side in the 20s and 30s, not cheap but off-price, not open to the public unless you were mishpocheh
. You didn’t even have to be Jewish, just haimish
— and if you had lived long enough in New York, you probably were.
Anyway, the parking garages around here were outrageous, and for a few bucks a trip uptown to the cheaper lots on the Upper West Side was well worth it, even with the new subway fares. The Ackers were in from Rye for the day to catch a matinee on Broadway, an early dinner and then home to Westchester. Mr. Acker was a recently retired employee of Time Warner, who over the course of his career had managed to upgrade his life by two neighborhoods, four automobiles, one boat and zero wives from his humble beginnings in the Five Towns. In his opinion, if he never set foot again on Long Island, it would be too soon.
“But he means well,” said Mrs. Acker.
“You mean you actually read that scheiss
he pushes?” Mr. Acker spat, symbolically. They were nearing the stairs at 42nd Street and Broadway.
“What’s happened to you, Morrie?” asked Mrs. Acker. “You used to be in favor of social and environmental justice. You used to be for the little guy.”
As he stepped off the curb, Mr. Acker looked down so as not to miss the step. His eyesight wasn’t what it used to be, and nothing would be more ridiculous — or would kill him faster — than a stupid pratfall. When you got to be his age, what was once funny was now lethal. “Schmuck,” he said.
Across the street, a pushcart vendor was just setting up at the corner. The man was slightly out of breath from his sprint uptown, but he had arrived in plenty of time, and now all he had to do was wait for his customers. His cell phone buzzed silently in his breast pocket, and he took it out and looked at the display. It was not a caller, but a text message. He read it, then began his preparations…
At that moment, Marie Duplessis, a recent immigrant from Haiti, was trudging up the steps at 42nd Street, heading for one of her three jobs. She had taken the train in from the airport, where she worked cleaning the bathrooms at Terminal Six, and was now headed to the Condé Nast building to perform the same task for the journalistic princes and princesses still lucky enough to have paying jobs churning out copy that instantly outdated long before it achieved print. Luckily, she had had just enough time to stop off at her apartment in Jamaica to check on her pregnant daughter, Eugénie, who was all of 13 years old.
Eugénie’s pregnancy had broken her heart. True, life in America, even in Queens, was preferable to Port-au-Prince, but there were trade-offs, differing social mores being one of them. At the Catholic girl’s school back home, Eugénie at least had a fighting chance to retain her honor, but here… The boys had found her quickly, like predators on a domestic creature that had suddenly been released back into the wild, with predictable results. Back home there had been community, family, language, religion. If you stayed within those boundaries, there was still a chance that a girl wouldn’t have to go the altar with child. Here in America, there only certainty for people like Eugénie was a trip to the abortion clinic, and that was something her mother was simply not going to allow. To Marie, every life was sacred, even this as-yet unborn offspring of her only daughter and some gang-banger, the kind of boy who would never have been admitted into her society back in Haiti. America might still be the land of economic opportunity but the tradeoff in social dysfunction was not worth it. Which is why Marie had just made up her mind to take Eugénie home to Haiti to have her baby. She’d tell Eugénie just as soon as she got home this evening…
Stranded in the middle of the great intersection of Broadway and Seventh Avenue, Uwe, Helga and Hubertus Friedhof watched the crossing signals carefully, awaiting the green light. They had been to the movies where, despite all the years of English they had taken in school in Germany, both east and west, they had hardly understood a single word of the dialogue, which bore not the slightest resemblance to the English they were used to hearing back home. At least the tickets were cheap, just like everything else here for euro-bearing Europeans.
They were discussing this strange new language of the New World as they crossed the street, heading for one of the chain restaurants they had heard so much about back in Wiesbaden, one of those places that made Americans so amazingly obese, which they had to see and experience for themselves.
“Look!” exclaimed Hubertus, who was nearly 19 and about to leave the Gymnasium
for university; with any luck, under the German system, his parents would only be financially responsible for him for another seven years. Which is why they had had only one child — and if they had to do it all over again, they probably wouldn’t have.
Hubertus pointed up at the Jumbotron and to Jake Sinclair’s face. Everybody knew Jake Sinclair’s face, even foreigners, and in point of fact the movie they had just seen and hardly understood a word of had been made by Jake Sinclair’s studio. “… We betray our real values, the values that made this country,” Jake Sinclair was saying, at least according to the Zipper, which ran a crawl in real English across the bottom of the giant screen, “the values that made this country the greatest country on earth…”
Uwe was just about to ask Helga why the Americans were always banging on about being the greatest country on earth when the light changed. The crowd moved forward, in that impatient New York way, but Uwe’s way was blocked by a young man standing stock-still. Being German, Uwe’s instinct was to plow ahead. He was sick of these Americans and their uncivilized ways, and it was high time he showed one of the natives how things were done in Germany. Back home, if somebody was standing between you and wherever you were going, you simply knocked him aside, whether you were a pedestrian with the right of way or a bicyclist zipping down a marked bike path onto which some hapless tourist had inadvertently wandered, or even a speeding motorist, exercising his God-given vorfahrt vom rechts
The pedestrian signal had already turned to the blinking red hand, and the numerical countdown begun. Uwe pressed forward in that familiar way that Europeans have and that Americans, with their greater need for personal space, invariably resented. The young man, however, did not budge. Instead he turned back to Uwe with the most remarkable look of hatred on his face. “What is your fucking problem, buddy?” he said.
Uwe stopped, taken aback. In Germany, nobody spoke back. They simply got out of the way. But these rude Amis
were a different tribe. Well, their days of strutting around the globe as if they owned it with their no-long-almighty dollar were over. “Ja, OK
,” said Uwe, “so now we can go, yes?” If Uwe had given it a moment’s thought he might have composed a more elegant valedictory.
Ali Ibrahim al-Aziz had come to America on an express visa from his native Saudi Arabia. It amazed him that, even after 9/11, Americans were still so friendly, so trusting. Part of that friendliness, true, was owing to the country’s desperate need for oil, which ensured that the old partners in Aramco would still have need for each other’s goods and services, and a little thing like 3,000 dead people and a gigantic hole in the ground in lower Manhattan would not be allowed to come between them. As long as America ran on oil — and as long as the Americans, unaccountably, tied both hands behinds their backs by not drilling for it in their own country — Saudi-American friendship would go on and on.
It felt good to be standing here, just a few miles north of where his holy brothers had accomplished their spectacular act of martyrdom. Before he embarked on his own martyrdom, he had made sure to tour the holy site, still essentially empty after all these years. It was typical of the degenerate state of America and its inhabitants, he thought, to still be squabbling about something unimportant like a memorial when there was work to be done. They could have shown the world that even a grievous blow such as 9/11 would not stop them in their godless pursuit of commerce and harlotry, but instead they reacted just as the sheikh had predicted, in sorrow and fear.
When the Towers fell — something not even the sheikh had predicted — there was much joy across the ummah
. But in the succeeding years, as blow after blow was plotted and then failed, the opportunity to bring forth the tribulations was slipping away. What was needed now was a killing blow. Beneath his breath, he began to pray.
And then he felt a tap on his back, more of a bump, and he began to fear that his prayers were not sincere enough, that he had been discovered by the enemy. He slipped his hand inside his jacket and felt the grip of the gun as he turned to see what was the matter.
The taxi let Hope and her children off at the corner of Eighth Avenue and 42nd street. To the east, a series of multiplexes beckoned. They weren’t the kind of theaters she was used to back home — for one thing, there was no place to park — but she’d heard that once you were inside, it was like being at an especially nice shopping mall. Behind them, the ugly monstrosity that was the Port Authority bus station loomed. The Gardners had no way of knowing that at this intersection a century ago, one of the great gangland shoot-outs had taken place, the battle of Nash’s Cafe, which had taken three lives and spilled out into the street, bullets whizzing in all directions. Had Hope known that, she would have offered up a silent prayer of thanksgiving that New York was no longer like that, this part of New York at least, that the wild West Side had long since been tamed, made safe for tourists and families and Disney shows.
“What’s that?” cried Rory, pointing across Eighth Avenue at something called Show World Center. “Never mind,” said Hope, grabbing him by the arm and dragging him east along 42nd Street. He would learn about porn soon enough, if he hadn’t already. Up ahead, the legit theater marquees beckoned…
The man blocking the Friedhof family had not budged. Instead, he was staring at his cell phone, as if waiting for a call. He was also cocking his head to one side, as if listening for something, but the only thing he could possibly hear, besides the traffic, was the rumble of the IRT subway under the ventilation grate beneath his feet. In any case, he wasn’t moving.
Uwe pressed forward again, deliberately bumping into the man. Pedestrianism was a full body contact sport in much of Europe, especially Germany, so what Uwe was doing was, by his lights, a perfectly reasonable way to show one’s displeasure and to remind the fellow to get a move on. Unfortunately for Uwe, the man did not see it that. Ali Ibrahim al-Aziz turned back to him, but instead of speaking he pulled a revolver from beneath his windbreaker and shot Uwe Friedhof right in the face.
Uwe Friedhof never had time to realize what had happened as he toppled and fell. Helga started to scream and then she, too, dropped with a bullet in the chest. Hubertus, who had dreamed of studying the law in Munich, had just enough time to register a dark beard and a pair of piercing brown eyes when the next shot hit him in the gut. He collapsed into the street, where he was hit by a speeding taxi anticipating the change of the light. His body flew into the air as the cab stopped, then landed on the windshield and rolled off and onto the ground.
The cabbie, a recent immigrant from Bangladesh, jumped from his cab, recoiling in horror as he realized what had happened. Three young women dropped their ice cream cones as the enormity of what they were witnessing overtook them. Others screamed, cried, fled. The gunman, however, never moved, but instead seemed to be talking to himself, muttering really, as the roar of the Seventh Avenue express train approached. As the brakeman slowed the train, the roar changed to a screech, and Ali held his cell phone aloft in the air for all to see, and bear witness.
At that moment, Marie Duplessis decided that her Metro Card needed a refill, and that as long as she was here, she might as well go back down the stairs and put some more money on it. She hated running for a train only to realize she was short of funds, so while she had money in her pocket and plenty of time to get to her next job she could take care of it now and not have to worry about it later. She turned and headed back down the stairs. She stuck her card into one of the addfare machines, punched in how much she wanted, and inserted a $20 bill.
Hope and her children were moving east on 42nd Street, savoring the marquees of the theaters on both sides of the broad crosstown street, trying to decide what to see. This was not like even the big cineplexes back home. This was a veritable feast of cinematic choices There were a couple of vulgar sex comedies, which she was under no circumstances going to allow them see, along with the usual assortment of full-length cartoons, vampire movies, gruesome slasher flicks, and movies about giant robots that could turn into cars and other heavy machinery. She and Jack had not been to the movies on a regular basis for years, and from the choices available, she could see she wasn’t missing much. Why couldn’t they make movies like Tender Mercies
any more? Well, she supposed those days were long gone; not enough sex, and nothing to blow up. It was going to have to be the talking cars.
They went inside the AMC Theaters complex on the south side of the street and bought their tickets. Even though she was expecting the worst, Hope was still amazed at how expensive they were, twice as much as back home. How in the world could people afford to live here was beyond her.
They took a series of endless up escalators, higher and higher, until she was sure they were heading for the top of the Empire State Building, which she knew was around here somewhere. At last, they got to the top floor, where a giant candy counter practically begged them to spend some more of their money, but Hope steered Rory clear of temptation and pointed him and Emma toward the theater. She was about to wonder what had happened to grownup culture suddenly the whole building shook and everything went dark.
A car bomb is no ordinary bomb, nor even an enhanced Improvised Explosive Device (IED). In fact, it is three bombs in one. The first bomb is the one packed tightly in the trunk or under the vehicle — Semtex, or C-4 plastic explosive. Detonating with the force of 150 pounds of TNT, it will destroy everything within a 100-foot radius, shattering glass, penetrating and exploding brickwork and masonry, tearing and rending flesh. Its fireball will incinerate everything it touches and, as the blast radius extends outward, it will singe all living creatures within a tenth of a mile. But that is just the beginning.
The second, and worse, effect is the air-blast shock wave, which causes devastating failure in exterior walls and interior columns and girders, causing floor failure. The third effect is shrapnel. For, packed tightly into the plastic explosive, is an array of common objects — nails, screws, ball bearings, washers — that turn suddenly lethal when propelled at several hundred miles an hour. They rip through flesh and bones effortlessly, hurtling outward like some ontological recapitulation of the phylogenic Big Bang. And, in a confined space such as a movie theater on a New York city street, the amount of damage they can do to human beings is almost incalculable.
The United States military calls them “VBIEDs,” or “Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Devices.” When there is someone at the wheel, willing to die for his cause, they are referred to as SVBIEDs, the “S” standing for “suicide.” They are often referred to as “the poor man’s air force,” for they accomplish on the ground what cannot be managed from the air. But the effect is the same.
Ali Ibrahim al-Aziz heard the explosion. In fact, he could see it, across Times Square to the west. That would be the signal to the others, the sign that the glorious strike was beginning. They had planned this martyrdom operation for years, since right after 9/11, but the Americans had been too quick for them, had reacted too fast. They had instituted all sorts of safeguards, been aggressive in their counter-attack, disrupted the domestic cells, shut off much of the funding. What the movement had hoped would be a killing second blow had been on hold, first for months, then for years.
But then they had learned how to penetrate the defenses, how to hack the security codes. Not on their own of course, but with the help of their friends in Russia and central Europe. Left to its own devices, the ummah
would never be able to create even a single computer, much less a network. The only proper study in a university was the study of the Holy Koran, the divinely revealed word of Allah to Mohammed, his Messenger. But he and the others were no longer students, they were holy warriors, jihadis
; no longer dwelling peacefully in the dar-al-Islam
but fighting the infidels in the dar-al-Harb
, the territory of war and chaos, where the final battle against the West would be fought and won: on its turf.
It was true: so decadent had the West become that there were many who actively supported the jihadis and their networks, not men of Islam but men of no faith at all. Men who would be among the first killed when the final triumph was proclaimed, men who cared so little for themselves, their wives, their families and their decayed culture that they would rather submit to the holy blade than raise up among them a Martel, a Sobieski, a Cid. They deserved nothing less than scorn, and death.
The subway train beneath his feet had stopped. He could hear the conductor’s voice over the loudspeaker. He said a quick silent prayer and then pushed the talk button on his cell phone just as he shouted “Allahu Akbar!”
Marie Duplessis waited for the machine to spit back her card at her. She was old enough to remember the days of tokens, and she guessed that, on balance, the present system was better than the old one. But still, it was a racket, since a lot of times you never quite managed to use every dollar of your fare before you bought a new card. Marie, who had a head for figures, reckoned that the MTA made millions a year in unused credits on the fare cards, but somehow it was still always broke, always asking for fare increases, and usually getting them. The days when a slice of pizza and subway ride used to cost the same, and moved in lockstep, were over.
The card snapped back out at her and she took it. There were plenty of rides on it now, and when she got home she would give it to her baby to let her take a ride out to Coney Island to get some sea air and some exercise before the baby started weighing her down. Then, before she really started to show, before the other kids in her school started making fun of her, before the boy who had knocked her up started bragging all over Jamaica about how he’d treated this “ho,” before the other pregnant girls could start in on Eugénie, making her weak and soft, making her think that it was okay to do what she had done, they would catch a flight home, maybe leave the child with her mother to be raised properly, maybe put it up for adoption with the church. It would all work itself out, and they could get on with their lives.
Alas, Eugénie would never learn of this plan because these, as it turned out, were the last thoughts Marie Duplessis ever had.
At the sound of the explosion Ben, the hot dog vendor, pulled out his AK-47 and opened fire. God, but it felt good to finally be able to strike back. All the years in Green Haven and other prisons had hardened him, made him even more vicious and relentless than he had been growing up in Brownsville/East New York, Brooklyn. Guys from Brownsville prided themselves on how tough they were, how relentless, how remorseless. They had to live up to the standards of the old neighborhood, the place that had given America Murder Incorporated, guys who would put your eyes out with ice picks, who would hang you from meathooks and leave you there to dangle until you finally died, guys who ambushed you from behind and emptied a .22 into the back of your head as you were on the way home to the wife and kids with flowers in one hand and a box of chocolates in the other. Who shook you down, set your stores on fire, stole your vehicles, slashed your tires and stole every cent you had.
Which is what had gotten him into trouble. It was easy to leave Brownsville, but it was impossible to leave it behind. The only rules Ben Addison ever knew were the rules of the street, the law of the jungle. School held no interest for him, and when his mama managed to scrape together enough scratch to send him to that Catholic School one year, he never got along with the other kids, mostly Latinos, never liked having to wear a uniform, and seriously disagreed with the turn-the-other-cheek tenets that they preached there.
One hot summer night Ben and some of his crew had gone into the city — gone into New York, as some Brooklynites still said, to see what was up. Even after one of the former mayors had cleaned up the place, there were still parts of Manhattan that outsiders were well advised to stay out of, and when they found a group of smashed college kids bar-hopping along the old gangland main drag of Allen Street, near Rivington, they decided to mug them. The boys gave it up quick, but one of the girls had mouthed off to him, called him out, dared him to do something, and so he did. He shot her in the head and then, because the guys had seen them, he shot the rest of them too. One, though, had lived, and it was his testimony that had sent Ben to the slammer. The mouthpiece had managed to negotiate the beef down to manslaughter, on the grounds that the kids had provoked him, and that they reasonably should have known that a man with his underprivileged background might react violently to any perceived assault on his manhood. At sentencing, Addison’s court-appointed shrinks made the pitch that “black rage” had contributed to the events of that night, that Ben was not solely responsible for his actions, which were practically Pavlovian, and the judge basically saw it their way. Ben got eight-to-twelve years, was out in seven.
And that had been the only break he had ever caught in this life until he got to Green Haven, which was where he met the Imam. It was not until then that he learned what the words mercy and compassion truly meant — not weak weasel words, the way the Christians used them, but strong, muscular language that befits a warrior race. Courtesy of the people of New York State, and cheered on in the editorial pages of the New York Times
, the Imam came regularly to minister to his burgeoning flock. He was so much more compelling than the pallid padre and the rabbi, both of whom spent their time trying to understand the men and their crimes, to “work with them,” to tell them that God forgave them. Well, the hell with that.
Most of the converts were, like Ben, African Americans, but there was a smattering of white boys as well, guys looking for something better than passivity and forgiveness toward others, cons who regretted their time but not necessarily their crime. In Islam, they found a new way of looking at the world, at their society and at themselves, and they liked what they saw. The Imam Abdul never forgave anybody; forgiveness jive was not what he was selling. Instead, the Imam was selling punishment, misery, pain. The Imam didn’t want to understand the old you: he wanted him to die, and be reborn, not as a sap Christian but as an ardent fighter. You died in Christ, but arose again in Allah, whose plan for mankind required killers, not healers. “We love Death as you love Life,” the Imam taught them to chant in Arabic, after he had trained them in the recitation of selected verses from the Holy Koran. Ben’s childhood Christianity, what little there was of it, had sloughed away like an old skin, to reveal the proud Islamic warrior beneath
And so Ben Addison, Jr., had become a new man, with a new name. He was now Ismail bin-Abdul al-Amriki, Ishmael the American, son of Abdul, and his vengeance on the society that had spawned him would be terrible. Once he had nothing to live for; now he had everything to die for.
“You know how I hate that word, schmuck,” said Shirley Acker, just as they heard the shots behind them. Not that they recognized them as shots. Like most New Yorkers, the Ackers lived in a gun-free world, at least as far as their social circle was concerned. They were against firearms in all forms, didn’t see why a little thing like the Second Amendment couldn’t easily be ignored, failed to understand why anyone would hunt for food when you simply buy it at Fairway, and were quire sure that, were they ever to encounter a gun, one of them would quickly kill the other, or perhaps him- or herself, entirely by accident. And should there ever be trouble in a post-Giuliani New York (they hated the sonofabitch, but had to admit that fascist had cleaned up the town), they would simply call 911 and the cops would come running.
“Look, Morris, there’s a Sabrett’s guy,” said Shirley. “I could use a nosh. How about you?”
With a muzzle velocity of 2,346 feet per second, and a 40-cartridge magazine, you could fire 600 rounds per minute and pretty much hit everything within 300 meters. Unless you were a sniper, in combat you were basically firing at a man standing right in front of you, and the Kalashnikov was designed to be operational in all kinds of weather and under all kinds of conditions. There might be better assault rifles — and there were — but none could touch it, even today, for ease and reliability.
Death from a weapon like the AK-47, even the cheap Chinese-made imitation of the Soviet original, was not like it was in the movies. The impact of the bullets did not lift you off your feet and knock you back 25 feet. Instead, it put you down, hard. One shot might shear off the top of your skull. Another might drill a hole in your forehead and blow out the back of your head like a pumpkin, but in either case you dropped, dead.
At the training camps in Pakistan, Ismail had learned to shoot. Not for him was the gang-gangers spray paint job, stylin’ as they shot and pretty much missing everything except babies in their carriages and nuns on their way to Mass. With the AK-47, you fire either semi-automatic — one trigger pull, one shot — or full auto, but Ismail had learned to husband his ammo, and make every shot count. Besides, he wasn’t alone. From all over midtown Manhattan, Chelsea, the Flatiron District and Hell’s Kitchen, more holy warriors had converged and were in place, freshly armed and thus far undetected. In fact, he could hear them firing now.
The first people the former Ben Addison, Jr., killed were an elderly couple, who were heading for him, right in the line of fire. The old man never saw him so intent was he on not falling on his face as he stepped into the street and the woman only had time to allow a fleeting look of understanding flit across her face and then she, too, went down.
Then he opened fire in earnest. At first he fired single-shot, semi-automatic. It was fun to see how well he had been trained, to watch the enemy — he didn’t think of them as “victims,” since everybody was a victim these days, most especially himself — fall, ripped apart, just as first the paper targets had shredded and then the metal targets had clanged and finally the live-fire captives, scrambling desperately for their worthless lives, had been cut down in a burst of well-place fire.
Now people screamed and ran. But withering fire came from everywhere, from all directions, high and low. The brothers, activated by the sound of the explosions. Gunfire came from everywhere, from several stories high in some of the surrounding buildings, from the streets, even from the storm sewers. Screams rent the air as bodies dropped. Panic broke out. Nobody knew where to run, where it might be safe. There was no place to hide. Vehicles collided, pancaked. And still the gunfire continued, a rain of fire from hell.
Phase one was now well and truly underway. And then the ground beneath his feet rippled, buckled and exploded.
The No. 3 train was just starting up to leave the station for its run uptown to 72nd Street when Ali Ibrahim al-Aziz pressed the talk button on his cell phone. The resulting explosion sent several cars of the train hurtling skyward, ripping apart the street where the ancient cut-and-cover was at its shallowest. Immediately, the signal shorted out all along this stretch of the line, which meant that the trailing No. 2 had no way of knowing that the station wasn’t clear. The resulting collision forced the cars from the demolished No. 3 train up and out into the street, carrying a load of incinerated corpses into what had become a running gun battle.
The force of the car bomb that had struck the AMC Theaters on 42nd St. was nothing compared to this. Triggered by the cell phone call, more than a 1,000 kilos of plastic explosive had obliterated much of Times Square. A giant sinkhole washed across the famous intersection, swallowing up cars, buses and small buildings alike. The military recruiting center above the station was one of the first to go, collapsing in upon itself and tumbling into the abyss. Beneath the ruined train, tunnels fell in upon themselves, then plunged down, into the network of other tunnels — electrical, steam — that had run beneath the streets of Manhattan for more than a century.
The ripple effect was terrible, as electrical systems failed, manhole covers were blown 50 feet into the air dozens of blocks away and scalding steam flayed alive anyone unlucky enough to be near a vent when it sundered. Chunks of pavement became lethal weapons, buried electrical wires became snaking, spitting instruments of death. Worst of all were the ruptured gas lines, which quickly ignited and set ablaze the buildings directly above. The air quickly filled with acrid, lethal smoke.
And still, gunfire from all directions continued to rake the killing field that had once been Times Square.