City of Sinners*
by D. C. Iannuzzi
The crackpot was supposedly a group calling itself TEFF: The Ethnic Freedom Fighters. Their most recent message to Montreal Police Detective Johnny Emory was an angry raving against Quebec’s current ruling party and, in particular, its leader. The charismatic premier had just been elected on the platform that he would uphold and even tighten the language laws restricting the use of English in Quebec. He also promised that he would hold yet another referendum on the mandate to separate Quebec from the rest of Canada. These were the two biggest sore-spots that the English community had complained about and fretted over for the last 30 years. The thought of another referendum was especially threatening now, with a popular premier making a Yes-victory seem more likely than ever. This was causing tremendous angst in the anglophone community that was still smarting from the “money and the ethnic vote” comment made by the losing premier after the last referendum.
“Gentlemen, Johnny Emory. I hope we haven’t kept you waiting long.”
“Good morning, Lieutenant, just got here ourselves. I’m Sergeant Gilles Marcotte,” answered the crew leader. He wiped the sweat from his brow with a white handkerchief and introduced the other two team members.
“I bet you guys would rather be in there instead of climbing up this tree,” joked Johnny, pointing to the inviting clear water of the public swimming pool only seventy feet away.
“No kidding,” one of the young squad agents answered.
“Well, boys, let’s get this over with before we all melt out here,” said Johnny, eager to move on with the exercise.
One of the two younger men leaned the extended ladder against the trunk of the leafy thirty-foot tree and proceeded to climb the rungs. At the first sturdy branch he hopped off the ladder and continued his ascent, quickly disappearing into the thick foliage.
“See anything, Andy?” shouted Marcotte from the ground, straining his neck to catch a glimpse through the leaves.
“Nothing yet,” came the reply from above.
It only took a couple of minutes of snaking through the maze of branches and twigs for the tree-climbing bomb expert to find what he was looking for.
“Pay dirt! We got something here, boys!”
About a quarter of the way up the most dense part of the tree, two green thin-walled plastic grocery bags were secured to a branch with sturdy string. A careful, meticulous inspection of the string revealed there were no booby traps to worry about.
“It’s all clear, Sergeant.”
“OK, bring them down one at a time,” ordered Marcotte.
Johnny waited anxiously by the ladder, not saying a word.
Andy removed a box knife from his pant pocket and slowly began sawing away the string holding the larger, heavier-looking bag. He carefully unwound the string and then descended from the branches to the top of the ladder in slow, deliberate steps. He handed the fifteen-pound bag to the other crew member and climbed back up to retrieve the second bag, which seemed to weigh about ten pounds.
The two bags were placed on the flat open tailgate of the pick-up truck while everyone waited for Andy to climb all the way down the tree.
“Well, let’s open them,” said Johnny, exhaling a nervous sigh.
“Here?” asked Marcotte.
“Yes, right here,” answered Johnny. Johnny was stalling, directly defying the captain’s instructions. He wanted to stay in the park a little longer, trying to buy his detectives some time to spot someone who might seem a little too interested in the proceedings at the south end of the pool.
Marcotte opted to open the heavier bag first. Using their trusty knives, the bomb experts worked together to cut open the plastic bag and get at its contents. His own palms covered with sweat, Johnny was amazed at how cucumber-cool these guys were. Always wary of booby traps, Marcotte lifted out of the open bag a towel-wrapped cube the size of a gallon of ice cream. He removed the white towel and revealed the booty.
“Oh, shit,” were the first words uttered simultaneously by the bomb experts.
“Merry Christmas,” blurted Marcotte to Johnny, “here’s your little gift.”
It was a large chunk of RDX explosive. Not the kind of construction-site dynamite anyone can steal, but a very expensive, very powerful military-type plastic explosive. RDX has long been the favourite weapon of professional bomb makers. The stability of this explosive makes it ideal for smuggling by any means of transport, even a student’s knapsack. It’s also easy to conceal because it can be moulded like silly-putty into virtually any shape, a convenient feature when trying to pack dynamite into a hollow object like a gutted camera or plastic doll.
“Don’t worry, though,” continued Marcotte, “there’s no detonator and no fuse attached. But I can only guess that’s what’s in the other bag.”
Marcotte ordered one of his men to wrap the RDX back up in the towel and place it on the truck’s front seat as he began carefully slicing open the second bag. This one concealed two objects, each wrapped in its own white towel. They tackled the larger of the two first.
“I was right. Here’s your detonator, Lieutenant. High quality. Expensive. Again, no need to worry, it’s got no fuse to set it off. The fuse must be in there,” said Marcotte, pointing to the remaining unexposed parcel.
Whichever crackpot wrote that letter was at least true to his word – the package was simply meant as a warning, not to cause harm.
The next parcel would provide the most telling information. The type of fuse employed in any bomb reveals the resources available and the bomb maker’s level of expertise. The union of explosive, fuse, and detonator is the test of a perfect bomb – and this anonymous bomber was clearly at the top of his game.
Wrapped inside the third towel was a state-of-the-art battery-powered radio fuse, the final component required to make a radio-fired bomb. It gives the bomber complete control, giving him the advantage of deciding exactly when the explosion is going to take place by allowing him to advance or delay the timing to make adjustments for unforeseen circumstances. And all this can be done from a safe distance, out of sight, with nothing connecting the bomber to the explosion. He could be reading a book under a tree, sipping a cup of coffee across the street, or perched high up in an apartment overlooking his target. All he has to do is flip a switch and the bomb goes off.
“Wait a minute. What’s this?” mumbled Sergeant Marcotte. He had peered in to get a closer look at the wiring of the fuse and had noticed an LED attached to the mechanism. An LED, or light emitting diode, is the raindrop-sized light bulb found on the face of almost any piece of electronic equipment, like a stereo, for instance, that indicates that the power is on. Marcotte reached out his finger and was about to touch it when suddenly the LED lit up.
“Son of a bitch!” yelled Marcotte, jumping back. “He lit the fuse! He’s watching us right now!”
All four cops instinctively looked up and made a futile 360 degree visual scan of the area.
Johnny hurriedly grabbed his police radio.
“Parent! Juneau! He’s here. Do you see anything? Anything at all?”
“Sorry, Johnny,” came the response. “We got nothing.” And no wonder, by now there were at least two hundred people in the park.
Johnny and the crew from the bomb squad stood in silence as the gravity of the situation dawned on them. This was an expertly orchestrated play, and the warning hit home. Loud and clear, TEFF was calling – “Take us seriously, we’re a lot more sophisticated than you think! And by the way, you’re all vulnerable...”
Had the fuse been attached to the detonator, and the detonator attached to the plastic explosive, the carnage would have been unprecedented. More importantly, whoever was willing to go through all this trouble just to make a point must have had expertise, deep pockets, and some kind of game plan.
Even in the sweltering heat and under the dazing effect of a burning sun, it only took Johnny a couple of seconds to realize that “Crackpot” was no longer an appropriate label. His anonymous correspondent, TEFF, suddenly fit into a more disturbing category: “Terrorist.”
“Oh, fuck,” said Johnny with a deep sigh. “There go everyone’s summer vacation plans.”
*Excerpt from City of Sinners (Longbridge 2008) by D.C. Iannuzzi.
D. C. Iannuzzi is a Montreal writer and an unabashed news and history junkie. Born and raised in Montreal’s Italian north-end, he brings a unique perspective to the political and language debate that has raged in Quebec since the 1960s. He holds an MBA from Concordia University, and when he’s not contemplating the darkness that lurks in men’s souls, he earns his living as an investment advisor.
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