“Hell City” Chapter One

A look inside “Hell City“:


The crowd grew steadily, becoming almost scary, electric. A languorous model peered westward from the Lancome billboard, framed by Pepsi and Target, concealing the ghosts of Maxwell House cans and Camel smoke rings of another Times Square, one of war reunions and women in rats and rabbit coats.

A million were sequestered in pens from 42nd Street to Carnegie Hall. For now, the pent-up flock was left to meditate on Playland Gifts, Ernst and Young and the Tenderloin-turned-mall of the Gap, Foot Locker and KFC. Or, the leftover sleaze of Flashdancers and Tad’s, the shuttered diamond district and musicians’ row.

Rookies fresh from the academy were shepherded by cops from Midtown North and the Mayor’s Bureau of Counterterrorism. Police Commissioner Dempsey himself patrolled the cleared security canals, commanding his men with sharp glances, hand signals. Plainclothesmen in ponytails and piercings disappeared into the human clutches, distinguished only by their loneness.

Tow trucks cleared the last of the illegally parked vehicles, lugging them south to the police impound lot on Pier 76. A white van that had put fear into the nation just a day earlier was finally on its way. The tarp-lined truck had been the subject of a live-cam feed on CNN as city bomb-squad personnel sealed the area and searched its innards. CNN reporter Nance Dupuy had issued awkward play by play as she was scuffled by harried cops and pedestrians.

Now, the New Year’s ball-in-waiting — its 2,688 Waterford crystals — reflected the proceedings from atop One Times Square. The LED Jumbotron, clad to the once home of The New York Times, jumped from Sydney to Rio to Paris, scenes changing like a penny-arcade Kinetoscope.

Jack Oldham was fairly invisible. He wasn’t the first person noticed in a room, but his quiet confidence and tall stature inevitably drew inspection as did his sturdy face, which seemed carved from the same granite as his beloved city. Tonight, he raised his hood against the occasional northern gust and checked odd revelers for uncharacteristic electronics, too-bulky headgear, bloated undergarments. It was his last year on the Joint Terrorism Task Force. Fuck the pot. Now it was all about profiling and plot busting. Wasn’t a week before an al-Qaida operative boarded a plane in Frankfurt and pulled a Richard Reid over Chicago. Like the country didn’t have its hands full with the recession that wouldn’t die.

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