AuthorStephenWhite.com
Stephen White's Facebook page

Excerpt of The Siege

     You may be tempted to ignore these words. Do not. You were not chosen to receive this at random.
     Do not discard this note. At some point in the near future, you will be desperate to reach me.
     Do not share the contents of this message with anyone. I commit to you that the consequences of breaching my trust will be more severe than you wish to endure.
     Blue will indicate that I am content. Orange will show my disappointment.
     What do I want? I cannot answer that.
     What do you have to offer? Give that question some thought.
     When the time comes, we will reach an understanding. Despite all appearances, I am a reasonable man.

April 19, Saturday midday
New Haven


     The building on the edge of campus could be mistaken for a mausoleum erected beyond the boundary of the cemetery across the street.
     It's not.
     Some assume it is a mock courtroom for the nearby law school.
     It's not that either.
     Although the structure's ionic columns might suggest the imperial, like a treasury, or evoke the divine, like a temple, the word "tomb" is the tag attached by the community. The building puts out no mat and welcomes no stranger—the classic style was chosen not to invite attention, but rather to feel as familiar to passersby as the profile of the elm tree that shades the marble steps leading up from the street.
     The scale is deceptive. The neighboring edifices are large and imposing, with Gothic flourishes or neo-classical grandeur. In comparison, the tomb feels more stout and diminutive that it actually is.
     The building's unadorned back is the only face—a calculated snub—that it reveals to the college. The sides are rectangular planes of marble blocks staggered in a brick pattern from ground to roof. There are no windows. In front, paired entry doors are recessed below a shallow gable at the top of eight stairs. That portal, trimmed in stone, framed by columns, overlooks the ancient plots of a graveyard that counts among its ghosts the remains of Eli Whitney and Noah Webster.
     An iron fence, the posts smithed in the form of slithering serpents, separates the building from the public sidewalks on the adjacent streets.
     The architecture is symbolic. The few decorative elements are symbolic. The site is symbolic. What happens inside the building is, at least occasionally, symbolic.
     This fine spring day, though, the crowds gathering behind the hastily established police lines aren't gawking because of any symbolism.
     The curious are gathering because of the rumors of what is going down—that some students might be locked inside the mysterious building.

The spectators don't know it yet, but the reality is they are there because the building is a damn fort.

     A door opens and closes rapidly. When the young man emerges in front of the building his appearance appears to have been part of an illusion.
     His eyes blink as they adjust to the light. Across the street he sees a crowd contained behind red-and-white workhorse barricades stenciled with the initials of the campus police. At the periphery, on both sides, are television cameras. Nearest to him, cops, lots of cops. Many have just raised their guns.
     The young man jerks his head, startled. "Don't shoot! Don't fucking shoot!" he says.
     He lifts his arms high before he takes two cautious steps forward. He stops two feet in front of the row of columns. It is the spot a politician might choose to make a speech.
     His eyes close for two seconds. When he opens them again, his irises—the same shade of green as the leaves budding out on the elm tree near the curb—are so brilliant they look backlit.
     The brilliance is generated by the terror churning in his cells.

     Two clusters of cops, one huddled group on each side of the building, begin to edge toward him in measured steps. The police are in full body armor and have raised guns. Some carry shields.
     "No! Don't come forward!" he yells, matching their adrenaline drop for drop. "Don't! Don't! Do not come near me! I am a bomb."
     The cops slow at that caution.
     The young man is dressed in worn jeans and an un-tucked striped dress shirt over a t-shirt. He is barefoot. His chin and cheeks are spotted with stubble. Other than the absence of shoes, his appearance is not unlike that of many of his peers on campus.
     He lowers his arms before he lifts the front of his shirt. "See that! It's a bomb. I'm a bomb. I . . . am . . . a bomb. Stay where you are."
     On his abdomen, below his navel, is a rectangular object the size of a thick paperback book. It is held in place with tape that wraps around his hips. On the tape are handwritten block letters that read, "BOMB ."
     A few wires are visible at the top of the bulge.
     The device appears about as threatening as a burlesque prop.

     An officer barks an order. The approaching cops stop in their tracks. A few take a step or two back.
     The young man releases his shirt, covering the apparatus at his waist. All eyes are on him. He waits until there is complete silence.
     He opens his mouth to speak, but his throat is so dry he coughs. Finally, he manages to say, "I— . . . He wants the . . . cell towers . . . turned back on." The young man's voice catches on the word "back." He pauses, as though to think. "The news cameras stay in place. He says you have five minutes." He lifts his wrist and looks at his watch. "Starting right now."
     Near the police barricades two men in suits begin conferring with a woman wearing khaki pants and a simple top. She has a badge clipped to the front of her trousers.
     The younger of the two men is telling the woman that they know nothing about a cell tower shutdown.
In an even voice, the woman says, "Then how about somebody finds out?" She takes one step forward.
     She has been planning for this moment for hours. She is thinking, Finally, let the show begin.
     "Hi," she says addressing the hostage. "My name is Christine Carmody. I'm a negotiator with the New Haven Police. I know you're scared."
     She waits for his eyes to find her. To pick her khaki and pink out of the sea of blue. She is eager for this young man to make her his personal oasis. "I just requested that an order be given to get the towers working."
     She is choosing her words carefully, beginning to communicate to the unseen subject that there is an active chain of command, that things will proceed in a certain way, that everything that happens going forward will take time. Mostly, she wants anyone inside the tomb to begin to understand that she is but a conduit, that she doesn't run the world of blue uniforms and blue steel guns he sees around her.
     "Please . . . please tell . . . him? Is that right? . . . It's a him? If he has a name, I'd love to know it, so I know what to call him . . . Five minutes? Please tell him that we can't do it that quickly. Not quite that fast. It's just not possible."
     She has no intention of cooperating with this first demand on the hostage taker's timetable. Certainly not yessir, right away, sir. One of the initial goals of her business—her business is hostage negotiation—is to make contact with the hostage taker and to begin to establish rapport. Talking through this hostage, or any hostage, isn't what she has in mind. Her response to the first demand reflects her underlying strategy. She will use this preliminary request to begin to set the piers for the bridge that will lead to direct discussions with the still-unseen hostage taker.
     Sergeant Christine Carmody has an African-American father and a Puerto Rican mother. She grew up on Long Island after her father died during the fall of Saigon in 1975. Her life has not been easy; it's been about always being tough enough to take it and about trying to be smart enough not to have to fight about it. She's been talking her way out of tough spots since the day she stepped off her first school bus.
     Consonant with her desire to be invisibly obstreperous with the unseen hostage-taker, at least at first, her voice is level. She makes sure that the lilt in her tone exudes respect and the promise of cooperation and conciliation. She is also trying to make certain that they begin to understand that the current situation has real limitations.
     Carmody is cognizant of the bomb.
     She says, "Don't get me wrong, I'm not aware of anything that will keep us from working something out about the phones. It must be some kind of technical problem. But we're on that. Nothing makes me think that will turn out to be a big concern. He—you said 'he,' right?—can . . . call me. We can talk directly. He and I. That's probably the best way to get all this worked out. He and I can begin to solve this problem."
     A uniformed officer hands her a scribbled sign. She holds it up so that it is facing the young man. "As soon as we solve the cell tower thing, this is the number that will get through directly to me. Me, personally." She holds her mobile phone aloft so the young man can see it. "Like I said, it shouldn't be an issue. His? . . . It's a he? I have that right?"
     The young man does not react to her words. He does not reply to her questions.
     "Okay. Like I said, his request is . . . something to discuss. Absolutely. I'm ready to talk about it, explain what's going on at my end, what we can do to solve this. Would you like a radio that will work until the cell phones are up again? We'll give you one of ours—for him to use to talk to me in the meantime. We will work this out. Absolutely."
     She emphasizes, "will."
     The young man doesn't acknowledge her. He doesn't move.
     She waits. The frittering away of seconds doesn't concern her. Time is on her side.
     The young man closes his eyes.
     She waits almost ten seconds for him to open them. "Okay, first things first," she says. Her confidence has grown a tiny measure because her initial entreaties haven't been shot down. She leads with the most basic of offers. "Would he like to come out? We're ready to end this right now, before things go any further."
     The hostage doesn't reply.
     Always worth a shot, Carmody thinks. "Okay. Is anyone hurt inside? Let's start there. Does anyone need medical attention? I am ready and eager to provide help to anyone who might need it."
     The young man raises his head, looks at her. "He—" His voice breaks. " . . . Is—" Fresh tears make his eyes glisten. He looks down, then back at her one more time. " . . . Not here—" The young man swallows, then he purses his lips and blows.
     A little whew.
    "He is not here"? What?
     Carmody notes that red bands encircle the young man's wrists. The kid has been shackled. Shit.
     The young man grimaces, squeezing his eyes together in concentration, or consternation. " . . . To negotiate . . . about . . . anything." He chokes back a sob. "Anything. Please."
     He is not here to negotiate about anything. Anything.
     Carmody glances to her left. In a low voice she says something to the two men five feet behind her. The ones in suits. The men turn their backs, step away, and raise their mobile phones. Behind them, a dozen or more officers maintain their positions. Their weapons remain raised. Aimed.
     Carmody checks her own cell. No bars.
     "You mean the phones? Well, it turns out that some things just aren't possible," she says. "Not instantly, anyway. Everything takes time. Right? We'll get it done." Despite her self-discipline she knows that her voice has changed, belying her fresh, creeping awareness that the circumstances confronting her are different than she anticipated. Minutes earlier she wasn't even convinced that she indeed had a hostage situation. Now? Her pulse is popping on her neck.
     She knows that without contact with the subject—the hostage taker—she will be at a significant disadvantage going forward in this negotiation. She needs direct communication. She needs an opportunity to build a relationship.
     She needs to feel his anger. To measure his fear. To establish rapport.
     She needs the freedom to barter. Phones for hostages. Smokes for hostages. Pizza for hostages. Hope for hostages. Almost anything, for hostages.
She needs the Hostage Negotiator Bazaar to be open for business.
     She needs the chance to relieve the short-term pressure of time, to begin to string this event out. She needs minutes to become inconsequential. Hours to accumulate. If it proves necessary, she needs for days to pile up to induce fatigue.
     Once, after Christine explained her job as a hostage negotiator to her daughter, the thirteen year-old concluded that "basically time is your bff, mom."
     Christine thought, damn straight.
     Whether the hostage taker knows it or not, time is his mortal enemy.
     As time passes, people get hungry. People get tired. As day becomes night, the reality of the predicament they've created takes on a truer focus. As time's horizon recedes, the hostage taker's adrenaline seeps below the low-tide line. His initial inflated sense of control begins to lose some of its buoyancy. 
     In most hostage situations what she just heard from the young man on the steps—he is not here to negotiate anything—would present an obstacle to be cleared by the erosion that accompanies persistent negotiation.
     But this situation—only minutes old—already feels different to Christine. She senses control slipping away before she ever even gets a grip on it.
     She prides herself on her ability to forecast the end game before the opening has been completed. She is finding it difficult to inhale.
     This isn't going to end well, she says to herself.
     The young man's voice interrupts her musing. He says, "I will . . . die. I . . . will . . . die . . ."
     The tip of the Lieutenant Christine Carmody's tongue wets her upper lip. She is preparing to comfort him, to disagree, to reach out and yank back some control. You will do no such thing, is what she is thinking.
     But before she is able to speak the young man glances at his watch. "In four . . . minutes," he says.

April 17, the previous Thursday afternoon
Sam Purdy

     I thought the plane had landed in the wrong country.
     Miami's airport was my first experience with international air travel, and I didn't even have to leave the good old U.S. of A. to do it.
     After a ground hold at LAX for fog and an extra hour in the air dodging spring storms that were carpet-bombing most of Texas and Oklahoma with tornados and hail, the plane arrived way late in Miami. I stepped off the jetway into a concourse brimming with an effervescent energy that almost buckled my damn knees. At first I felt assaulted by the sounds and the smells and the colors and the people and the languages, but by the time I'd meandered past a couple of dozen gates full of travelers flying to or arriving from exotic destinations and finally began to find my bearings on the sidewalk in front of the terminal, the place was beginning to infuse me with something that I had to admit was making me kind of happy.
     It was possible that the next four days would be all right. Okay at least, maybe not a disaster.
     I had a message waiting on my cell phone. A woman with a gorgeous island voice had apparently been tracking my flight.
     I returned the call. She let me know, with a swell of apology in her tone, that if I wanted to make the first party—I didn't, but I was expected to, and this trip was all about meeting expectations—I didn't have time to check into the hotel. I had to go straight to the marina. Did I mind taking a cab?
     I mentally counted the twenties in my wallet, and hoped the marina was nearby.
     I said, "No problem."
     I'm not exactly a marina kind of guy. In my life I've tended to get into boats from a rickety dock near a buddy's crappy summer cabin on the shore of some Lake Noname in Minnesota. Or from a boat ramp. I'd done boat ramps a few times. The boats I've been in were never anything special. Outboards mostly. They held maybe two or three guys—two if the other guy was as big as me—our tackle, and a couple of coolers. One cooler was for our catch, the other was for our beer.
     I went water skiing once in high school. On the Mississippi, of all places. The water was cold. I never quite made it up on the skis.
     That's the complete and true history of me and boats.
     Oh, I took a ferry once too. But I didn't get out of my car and spent most of the time sleeping in the backseat. So I don't think that counts.
     No marinas. I promise.
     The taxi driver was from El Salvador. I gave him the name of the marina. He said, "Si." Traffic was god-awful the whole way, but he displayed no impatience. He pulled into the marina, stopping the car near a building. He looked at me in the mirror. He said, "Donde? Aqui?"
     I knew both words. He would probably be disappointed to learn that he and I had just covered about thirty percent of my usable Spanish comprehension, excluding nouns related to food and drink, of course.
     I said, "Why not?"
     He laughed, exposing a set of sad yellow teeth. He said, "Porque no?"
     I laughed with him. I gave him a thirty percent tip and threw in an extra ten bucks that I figured would soon be making a Western Union journey to El Salvador. I watched him drive away.
     Almost immediately, I regretted my largesse. I was unemployed and basically broke. I should have maybe given him an extra five instead, I thought.
     I looked around the marina. There were like a million boats.
     Only one had a live band playing thumping Latin music on its spacious stern.
     I pulled up the handle of my borrowed carry-on suitcase and began walking toward that one.
     It was only April. But it was already hot in Florida.

 

The Siege paperback (USA)

Signet (USA) Paperback, 2010, ISBN: 0451228480

Read An Excerpt

Read Reviews

Read An Interview

A Letter From Stephen

June 23 Note

3D Drawing of Beinecke Plaza