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Authors: Christopher Reich

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The Patriots Club (7 page)

BOOK: The Patriots Club
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It was still night when Thomas Bolden left the Thirty-fourth Precinct. At six
, the sky was somber and dark, daylight not due for another hour. Seated in the front seat of a police cruiser, he rolled down the window. An icy gust lashed his cheeks, bracing him. The temperature had dropped since he’d been inside the station. The air had a bite to it. Scattered snowflakes drifted past. The long-promised storm was on its way.

They traveled down Columbus Avenue, then cut through the park at Ninety-fifth Street. Bolden stretched, then pulled his jacket tight around himself. His body was sore, his muscles groaning from the beating he’d taken. But his mind was alert, resilient, tracing a path back through the events of the night: the interrogation at the police station, the fight on 145th Street, Guilfoyle’s questioning, the ride with Wolf and Irish, all of it beginning with the attack itself. Somewhere a million years ago, he’d been standing on a podium inside a packed ballroom, accepting the most meaningful honor of his life. Closing his eyes, he could feel the audience’s applause—not hear it, but
feel it
. Three hundred pairs of hands. A tidal wave of appreciation.

Nothing happens without a reason,
he was thinking.

Six years he’d worked for the Boys Club. In that time, he’d spent countless evenings and Saturdays at the facility. He’d raised over a million dollars in contributions. He’d started a successful gang-intervention program. It wasn’t in any way arrogant to say that he deserved to be named Man of the Year.

It was a rule of his that nothing happened of its own accord. That things happened that were meant to happen. It had nothing to do with fate or predestination or karma, and everything to do with cause and effect. A real-world application of Newton’s Third Law. There was no action without a reaction.

Conversely, there could be no reaction without an action.

If he was in trouble now, it was because he’d done something to deserve it.

And yet, he could think of nothing he’d done that might have brought him to the attention of Guilfoyle and the organization he worked for.
Civilian contractors,
Detective Franciscus had said,
the more active side of things.

Several of Bolden’s clients were active in the defense industry, but they were hardly the type to send out armed crushers to do their bidding. They were large multinational investment firms peopled by the superstars of the financial world. Corporations whose boards of directors boasted former heads of state, Nobel laureates, and corporate chieftains of companies like IBM, GE, Procter & Gamble—companies that functioned as states within a state. In six years, he’d never known their conduct to be less than strenuously scrupulous. To the best of his knowledge, none owned any companies that could be labeled contractors.

Come on. Think.

Bolden sighed. They had the wrong man. That was all there was to it.

He sat up. He was no longer so tired. “Wired” was more like it. His eye wandered to the bank of hardware installed beneath the car’s dashboard. Some kind of computer equipped with a keyboard, a color touch screen, and a two-way radio that looked powerful enough to pick up the Reykjavík PD.

“Pretty nifty,” he said to his driver, a Sergeant Sharplin. “What do you got in here?”

“It’s a Triton Five-Fifty. She’s a sweet piece of work. A mobile data terminal’s the heart of the system. It connects me to whatever law-enforcement database I need. I can plug in a name, a vehicle-identification number, and see if my man’s got a warrant outstanding or if a vehicle is stolen.”

“Just local databases or does it go national?”

“We’re tapped in at the federal level, too. Just think of it as an Internet terminal. We got access to TECS, that’s the Treasury Department, DEA, even the National Crime Information Center. If you’ve got the right clearance, you can even tap into the FBI.”

“All from this car?” It was a far cry from the last time he’d ridden in a cop car. But then his view had been from the backseat.

“You betcha.”

Bolden wondered what he’d get if he punched in Guilfoyle’s name. There was no point. Guilfoyle. Wolf. Irish. All of them were aliases.

Bolden yawned and looked back out his window.

Nothing happens without a reason.

He wasn’t just thinking about his present circumstance, but about the past.


It was ten o’clock and the bell for second period had already rung, but Tommy Bolden, fifteen, a tenth grader at Oliver Wendell Holmes High, was nowhere near school. Sitting at a table in Burger King, he took a bite of his double-cheese extra onions and chased it down with a gulp of Coke. It was Thursday, and he was serving the second day of a three-day suspension.

One by one, he counted the cigarette burns decorating the tabletop. The knuckles of his right hand were covered with scabs, his lower lip swollen from where he’d gotten hit. Next time, he’d go for the knees earlier, he decided. It was stupid to trade punches with a guy who outweighed you by fifty pounds.

“Dude, you’re sitting on our bench. Move it!”

This time it had been a bench. Last time it was a locker. Everyone had their turf, and the new kid had to learn a lesson.
Screw ’em all,
he thought. He would sit where he wanted. He would use the locker assigned to him. If they wanted to fight about it, that was their problem. The thought of Kuziak, lying there on the ground with his jelly belly and his jarhead’s crew cut, wimpering about his busted knee, made Bolden even angrier. Served the Polack right. Yet, it was Bolden who had been suspended because he wouldn’t walk away from a fight.

He slammed his fist on the table, and when the manager came over, he stared at him until he went away.

A kid could learn to count going through all the schools he’d attended. River Trails. Aurora Elementary. Jackson Middle School. Frazier Heights. Birmingham. Eighteen schools between second and ninth grade.

Prior to second grade, he’d been homeschooled by his mother. Every morning he’d sit at the kitchen table and do his reading, writing, and arithmetic, his mother coming in every half hour to check on him. It was just the two of them, and he liked it that way. Liked the attention. Being the man of the house. He also liked how she tickled his feet when they lay together on the couch watching TV. He didn’t want to share her with anyone.

They moved constantly, not from county to county, which is what happened when you were in foster care, but from state to state. California, Arkansas, Missouri, New York. Often, they’d leave in a rush, packing quickly and driving off in the middle of the night. Once they didn’t even have time to gather up his toys, not even his Green Beret GI Joe.

The thought of his mother left him unsettled. It was her energy he remembered most. She was always on the move, constantly in motion. He wasn’t even sure what she looked like anymore, other than that she had long auburn hair and pale skin that was soft to the touch. He’d lost all his pictures of her, along with his clothes, his comic books, and his hockey cards, during a messy escape from one of his foster dads. Mike, the auto mechanic, who liked to wrestle a little too intensely for a ten-year-old’s taste. He couldn’t remember the color of her eyes, or how she smiled, or even the sound of her laugh. The years had left her hardly more than a blur, a shadow dashing out of arm’s reach.

Scarfing the rest of his burger, Bolden left his wrapper and what remained of his drink on the table and went outside. He was finished with school. Finished with foster care, too, for that matter. He’d had enough of the quarreling and the fights. He was sick of 250-pound men who got hard-ons when they played tackle football.

Tiny Phil Grabowski was waiting at the corner. “Hey, Tommy!” he called.

Bolden gave him a high five, then wrapped his arm around his neck and brought his head to his chest. “Noogie, dude. Noogie,” he said, razzing his hair.

“Cut it out, man,” said Philly, fighting his way loose. “You’re embarrassing me.”

Phil Grabowski was a sad kid, way short and skinny, and always in some kind of funk. He didn’t look old enough to have such a terrible case of acne, but the guy’s face was one big zit. His personality wasn’t much to write home about either. Mostly, he pouted about his parents getting divorced, or talked about what he was going to eat when he got his braces off. Still, he was here—and not in school, where he was supposed to be—and that made Phil Grabowski his friend.

“We really gonna do it?” Philly asked. “I mean, you’re not serious, are you? It’s too hairy, even for you.”

“How else you plan on earning a hundred bucks? Concert’s Friday. I, for one, am not missing the Stones.” Bolden started playing the air guitar, singing “Brown Sugar.” He was dressed in Levi’s and a Rolling Stones T-shirt, the one with the pair of flaming lips that was the logo for the ’74 North American tour. His jeans were pressed. The shirt was old and fit snugly, but it was clean. Bolden did his own laundry, made his own meals, and generally looked after himself. His newest foster mom had said from the start she “wasn’t there to be no one’s slave.”

No, thought Bolden, she was just there to collect her four hundred dollars a month from the state for giving Tommy a cot to sleep on in the same room as six other kids. White trash. Soon she’d be nothing more than a figure in his rearview mirror. Her and everybody else in the Land of Lincoln. He didn’t need the money to go see the Stones. He needed it to get the hell out of Dodge. He was leaving Chicago, once and for all.

Nodding his head, he led the way up Brookhurst. The sky was overcast, threatening rain. A chill wind blew a crumpled pack of cigarettes down the sidewalk. Bolden scooped it up to check if there was anything inside. “Dud,” he said, and chucked the pack over his shoulder.

A few miles away, he could see the redbrick towers of the Cabrini-Green projects. He knew well enough not to cross Martin Luther King Boulevard. You didn’t go north of MLK if you were white. His own neighborhood was bad enough. Clapboard houses in varied states of disrepair lined both sides of the street. This one missing a front window, that one with a hole in its roof, the next needing new front stairs. Every one of them painted in the same shade of neglect.

It was mid-April. The last snow had fallen three days earlier. Patches of the stuff mottled with mud and grime dotted the sidewalk. Bolden made a game of hopping from one to the next, calling out the names of islands in an archipelago. Midway, Wake, Guadalcanal, Tulagi. Or the central provinces of Vietnam. Quang Tri. Binh Dinh. Da Nang. He thought a lot about joining the marines.

“My mom will kill me if she finds out I’m ditching again,” Philly Grabowski said, hopping behind him.

“I can’t believe you’re scared of your mom,” said Bolden. “You’re fifteen. You should be telling her what to do.”

“What do you know about it?”

“A lot. Like everything there is to know. I’ve had like thirty moms.”

“Not real moms.”

“They must be pretty real, because they sounded a lot like yours.”

“It’s just because she cares about me.”

“Then stop complaining,” Bolden said angrily, stopping in his tracks to confront his friend. “Maybe she’s not so bad.”

“Maybe not,” said Philly. “At least she didn’t dump me.”

“My mom didn’t dump me either.”

“Why did she take off on you? You never told me.”

“She had stuff to do.”

“Like what?”

“I don’t know, but she said it was important.”

“How do you know? You were six.”

“ ’Cause I do.”

“Maybe you were just a royal pain in the ass. That’s what my mom says.”

Bolden considered the remark. There wasn’t a day that passed that he didn’t ask himself what he might have done to make his mother stay. If he could have been more lovable, more obedient, more playful, smarter, taller, faster, more handsome, more helpful, more anything that might have convinced her to hang around. He shrugged. “Probably.”

Bolden shoved his hands in his pockets. They walked for another twenty minutes. Only when they neared the spot did he slow down and lay out his plan.

“The guy gets to the house every day at eleven,” he said, “and he leaves at eleven-oh-five. Just enough time to run inside, pick up the cash, and run out again.”

“He’s alone?”

“Always alone.”

“How do you know?”

“Because I know. Do you think I just sit around wasting my time all day?”

“And the guy has money?”

“That’s what he’s doing there. Collecting from the dopeheads who’ve been there all night long.”

The man Bolden intended to rob was a drug dealer, and the place he ran in and out of was a crack house that was the subject of a bunch of frightening stories at school. Some said it was a flophouse for Mob hit men, others that an exorcism had taken place there. Bolden had cased the house for a week, and come to a less threatening conclusion. Between thirty and fifty people visited the place each night. Some bought at the door. Others disappeared inside to get high. Hits of crack cost ten bucks a pop. He guessed that each customer bought between ten and twenty hits. Any way you looked at it, there had to be upwards of three thousand bucks inside that house.

“What do we use?” Phil asked.

“Fighting sticks,” said Bolden.

What, are you kidding? All drug dealers carry guns. Everyone knows that.”

“They’re fighting sticks,” he said. “They’re all you need if you know how to use them.”

Lately, Bolden’s identity had become a source of increasing concern. This stemmed in part from his inability to fit in with any one group at school, and in part from his confusion about his heritage. He wasn’t black, Latino, Chinese, Jewish, or Polish. If anything, Bolden was an English name. In Chicago, where everyone was from somewhere, that left Irish as the closest viable ethnic group to which he might reasonably attach himself.

Perusing the stacks of the nearest public library, he had come across a book about Irish Stick Fighting. The book had convinced him that when properly used, fighting sticks could be every bit as lethal as a gun. He knew he had to take into account the fact that the book had been written a hundred years ago, but he believed surprise would give him the advantage he needed.

BOOK: The Patriots Club
7.03Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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