Authors: Jack Douglas
Kensington Publishing Corp.
All copyrighted material within is Attributor Protected.
Outside the United States Federal Courthouse at 500 Pearl Street in lower Manhattan, Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Dykstra wove his way through the throng of protestors, hundreds of them hefting signs and chanting “Alivi must leave” at the top of their lungs.
But far from the best I've heard outside 500 Pearl.
Nick kept his head down. Not that he thought he'd be recognized; the Honorable Justice Kaye Gaydos had rightly banned cameras from the courtroom for the duration of the case, leaving the public with little more than 1980s-style courtroom illustrations to gawk at when they tuned in to CNN after work to catch their highlights of the day's trial testimony. And the courtroom sketchesâcreated by artists hanging on to an all-but-obsolete tradeâhardly did Nick justice. At least in his opinion.
Besides, it was the defense attorneys who were the glory seekers;
had everything to gain and nothing to lose by grandstanding. Career prosecutors like Nick didn't give a damn what the general public thought of them, so long as their higher-ups caught the full show. Particularly the president of the United States; or
presidents to be more precise. No matter what happened at this trial, Nick thought it was highly unlikely that he would be appointed as a U.S. attorney or federal judge within the next two years. And by January 2017, when the next U.S. president took office, this trial would be long forgotten by everyone but its participants.
Unless I nail Alivi with the death penalty,
Nick mused as he shoved his way through the crowd.
would keep the trial
the defendant in the minds of the American public for years to come. Years of appeals by Alivi and his lawyers would keep Nick's name in the transcripts and the New York tabloids, if not the national TV news.
As Nick approached the makeshift gate, the protestors morphed into journalists, and for a moment Nick wondered which were worse. The protestors at least had a legitimate gripe, even if Nick didn't agree with them. Hell, they were New Yorkers, and Feroz Saeed Alivi was one of the last men to be captured and charged for his role in the death and destruction that took place just a few city blocks away on September 11, 2001. And here he was, Feroz Saeed Alivi on American soil. Here he was, in New York City. In
for Christ's sake, just a five-minute subway ride from Ground Zero. About to receive a fair trial with all the rights and privileges afforded your average American citizen.
The protestors had wanted Alivi to be tried as an enemy combatant in private at Gitmo. Osama bin Laden and the rest of the self-proclaimed jihadists who attacked the United States twelve years ago had been in the spotlight long enough; these protestors wanted them thrust back into the shadows, where they belonged. This trial, they claimed, was opening freshly healed wounds and giving Alivi the world stage yet again. In the realm of radical Islam, Alivi was being heralded as a genuine hero and a martyr to the cause.
I'll make damn
he's a martyr
, Nick thought as he approached the U.S. marshals guarding the gate. There were four of them and they were armed with assault rifles. Just in case someone somehow made it past the line of NYPD officers dressed in full riot gear, which Nick thought highly unlikely, if not impossible. Then again, the Boston Marathon bombing had managed to put New York on edge again, even if its impact on the nation as a whole was relatively minor and short-lived.
Nick Dykstra dipped into his suit jacket and fished out his attorney ID, flashed it to the marshals who parted the gates and allowed him through.
when Nick was finally recognized, at least by members of the press.
The once noble profession was noble no more, in Nick's opinion. Over the past two decades the twenty-four-hour cable news networks had gleefully reduced the profession of Edward R. Murrow to an around-the-clock reality show that better served as a punch line for late-night talk show hosts than as a serious source for information on current national and global affairs. So Nick wasn't the least bit surprised when reporters started barking questions at him as though they were at a mock press conference being held in a high school gymnasium rather than standing in front of a federal courthouse during one of the most important trials of the new century.
“Counselor, what do you say to the hundreds, maybe thousands, of New Yorkers out here today demanding that the defendant be sent back to Guantanamo Bay for a military tribunal?”
Nick turned toward the closest camera and said, “No comment,” then thought,
What the hell
, and spun on his heels to face the music.
Nick raised his voice as much as he could so that he could be heard over the hecklers. “Actually, I say the jury has already been selected and sworn, and that, like it or not, opening statements in this trial begin this morning. I understand the protesters' gripe and certainly sympathize with them, but at this stage in the game I'm afraid it's a moot point.”
“But do you think this is the proper forum?”
Nick strained his voice again. “I can think of no better place to achieve justice for the American public than in a United States federal courthouse, particularly here in New York City where the damage Alivi did was felt so deeply.”
“Are you promising New Yorkers here that you'll win a conviction?”
“I'm promising that I will damn well try.”
Nick had turned and started through the gate toward the concrete steps when he heard one last question he felt compelled to answer.
“How confident are you that Alivi will receive the death penalty?”
“Confident enough,” Nick shouted back over his shoulder, “that I've already picked out the suit I'm going to wear to his execution.”
There's your sound bite
, he thought as he hurried up the steps toward the heavy double glass doors. He turned once more to take a look at the scene. A mob of New Yorkers gathered in front of 500 Pearl for a good (albeit misguided) cause. He glanced up. The sun had already risen high over the skyscrapers and it was promising to be another perfect autumn day.
If only they knew
, he thought. If only they knew that Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Dykstra had as much riding on this trial as anyone. And that the stakes for Nick had absolutely nothing to do with his career as a federal prosecutor. If only they knew that among the nearly three thousand victims at the World Trade Center on that hellish day twelve years ago was Sara Baines-Dykstra, Nick's late wife and the mother of his only child, his beautiful seventeen-year-old-daughter Laurenâthe only light left in Nick's life.
Nick had been downright ecstatic when the U.S. attorney general announced that Feroz Saeed Alivi would be tried on American soil, following his capture fourteen months ago by authorities in Yemen. Even more so when his boss, U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara, called Nick into his office and told him that Nick would serve as lead counsel if the case ever made it to trial.
Because for AUSA Nick Dykstra, this defendant wasn't just another criminal. He wasn't just another terrorist. For Nick Dykstra, the case of
The United States of America versus Feroz Saeed Alivi
wasn't just another trial. For Nick, this was personal. And Nick had months ago vowed that he would
send Feroz Saeed Alivi to his death, in order to avenge his wife, Sara, and to finally gain a scintilla of closure for himself, for his beloved daughter, Lauren, for his city, and for the rest of the nation.
The courtroom was packed but under control. Dozens of voices competed for vocal superiority, but not one exceeded the decibel level appropriate for a federal courtroom. State courthouses in New York City all but invited chaos; judges shouted, court officers dozed, lawyers often arrived at court disheveled and unshaven, reeking of alcohol, dressed in suits they'd probably slept in. But federal courthouses commanded respect. Even with no judge sitting at the bench, lawyers refrained from shuffling newspapers; journalists chatted as softly as though they were in a church; and the public spectators sat quietly with their hands in their laps, feeling lucky simply to have gotten a seat to the show.
By the time Assistant U.S. Attorney Nick Dykstra walked through the tall, mahogany double doors, most of the stage was already set. The wood was meticulously polished, the marble almost sparkling. The fine maroon carpet appeared as though it hadn't been treaded upon by a single pair of shoes, let alone the dozens of spectators who had entered the courtroom before him.
Nick's second seat, AUSA Wendy Lin, stood at the prosecutor's table sorting through the massive file, much of which remained classified. Two prosecutorial assistants, one male and one female, sat just behind her, alternating between anxiously tapping their feet and biting their nails.
Nick walked slowly up the aisle of the public gallery, the briefcase in his hand largely for show. Inside were some handwritten notes, which he'd neither need nor use in his opening statement to the jury.
The moment Nick stepped past the rail he was accosted by Kermit Jansing, lead counsel for the defense. Jansing was a smarmy character who looked as though he just stepped out of a Grisham novel. At five and a half feet, his eyes always seemed to lock on Nick's throat, which never ceased to send a shiver up Nick's spine. Meanwhile, Nick could almost check his reflection in Jansing's shiny scalp.
“Good morning, counselor,” Jansing said loud enough for the press in the front two rows of the gallery to hear. He stuck out a sweaty palm and Nick grudgingly took it in his own.
“Kermit,” Nick said, unable to mask his distaste. “Nice suit.”
Jansing took a step back to allow Nick to take in the entire package. The suit, which was a charcoal three-piece with thin pinstripes, would have better befit a wiseguy on his way to getting made than an officer of the court about to deliver an opening statement in defense of one of the world's most notorious terrorists. But Nick let the little guy have his moment. The suit probably cost Jansing a couple grand, or two hours' work on behalf of one of his many white collar clients on Wall Street, depending on how you looked at it.
Jansing turned back toward the defense table, where a young female associate sat waiting. She was at least four inches taller than Jansing, beautiful, with long, shimmering blond hair and a pants suit two sizes too tight. Nick guessed she was probably just out of law school. Given Jansing's track record, she wouldn't last the month before the
factor kicked in and she ran for the hills, a victim of one of Jansing's impromptu attempts at a neck massage.
“Morning, Wendy,” Nick said to AUSA Lin as he set his briefcase down on the table. “Wedding day jitters?”
She forced a smile at the inside joke. Her fiancÃ©, Brett, hadn't thought it so funny when following the U.S. attorney's office softball game, she admitted (after three too many drinks) that she was more excited and better prepared for Alivi's trial than she was for her own nuptials one month later.
“I was listening to the news on the way into the city this morning,” she said. “The NTAS issued an elevated alert for the metropolitan area.”
Homeland Security's National Terrorism Advisory System (NTAS) had replaced the color-coded Homeland Security Advisory System a couple of years back, and while definitely an improvement, it still managed to rattle citizens even when there was no credible or imminent threat. New Yorkers, Washingtonians, and now Bostonians were particularly frazzled by such announcements. And this one was no doubt precipitated by the mere fact that Feroz Saeed Alivi's trial was beginning in earnest today. The elevated threat level gave ammunition to critics who warned that Alivi's trial in a civilian court would jeopardize the lives of millions of Americans. No doubt the advisory had also served to further fuel the protests Nick had passed through outside the courthouse.
“I don't think there's anything to worry about, Wendy,” Nick said. “The most significant threat to our national security is about to be escorted into this courtroom in shackles by six armed U.S. marshals.”
No sooner than Nick said it than the side door from the lockup area opened onto the courtroom. In the center of the half-dozen marshals staggered a dark, bearded man of six feet and maybe a hundred and fifty pounds soaking wet. Either Alivi had gone on a hunger strike, or the Metropolitan Correctional Center had severely cut back on the portion sizes of prisoners' meals. The religious robe Alivi wore could have fit both him and his lead defense counsel at the same time.
“There's your boogeyman,” Nick said to Wendy. “Still worried?”
As though Alivi heard him, the terrorist turned his head and leveled his gaze on the federal prosecutor across the aisle. Nick held his stare, his eyes narrowing, neck reddening in unadulterated hatred.
Looking forward to seeing those eyes while they stick the needle in your arm, you vicious little bastard
, Nick thought.
Then he cleared his throat, looked away, and took a seat next to Wendy. Having seen Alivi again up close, Nick couldn't help but think of his wife Sara's final moments on the eighty-fourth floor of the South Tower. For the past twelve years, they'd flash uninvited in his mind like summer lightning. He'd hear her voice as he had through the phone that morning while he sat in his office. His pulse would race and he'd become short of breath and he'd begin to sweat as though he was once again rushing across town in a futile effort to save Sara.
Just as suddenly he'd snap out of it.
“Please rise,” Justice Gaydos's clerk intoned from in front of the bench.
Nick and Wendy stood as one as the courtroom fell silent.
“The United States District Court for the Southern District of New York is now in session. The Honorable Justice Kaye Katrina Gaydos presiding.”
Regal in both posture and black flowing robe, Justice Gaydos blew into the courtroom like a hard wind, her face completely devoid of emotion.
“Be seated,” she said as she climbed to the bench.
Nick made the mistake of again glancing across the aisle. Once more he caught the malevolent gaze of the bearded defendant, Feroz Saeed Alivi, and once more he froze as visions of the Twin Towers crumbling before him came unbidden into his mind.
“Nick, we can'tâ” Sara's voice cut in and out. “We're too high up. We can't evacuate. Oh, God, Nick, the office is filling with black smoke. There's a fire. . . .”
Nick could never remember what he said in reply to her. He could only remember how he felt. As though someone had reached inside his chest and with all their strength squeezed his racing heart.
“I love you, Nick. I love you. I . . . have to go now. P-please, please tell Lauren I love her, and that I'll always be with her. . . .”
Sara had trailed off, her voice replaced by some monstrous sound Nick now knew to be the bendingâthe shriekingâof immense beams of steel in unthinkable temperatures and under an unfathomable weight.
And then, nothing.
Justice Gaydos asked the clerk to call the first case.
The clerk rose and said, “
The United States of America versus Feroz Saeed Alivi.
Justice Gaydos said, “Attorneys, please make your appearances.”
Nick steadied his legs and rose to his feet, summoning all the power he could muster to strengthen his voice.
“For the United States government,” he boomed, “Assistant U.S. Attorney Nicholas Michael Dykstra.”