On the day after Thanksgiving the first bit of scary New Year’s poetry, printed by computer on plain white paper and enclosed in a plain white envelope, arrived at the office of the New York City Police Commissioner. Here’s what it said:
Happy New Year, New York!
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
When the ball drops,
So will you.
Cancel the New Year’s celebration in Times Square or thousands will die.
The NYC Police Commissioner broke this news to the world four days later at a Tuesday early-morning press conference held at One Police Plaza in the city. He said that, other than a Chelsea postmark, there was no evidence of where the letter came from.
The details of the press conference were reported by many media outlets throughout the world. Happenings in Times Square always made the news. Even more so when they were planned for New Year’s Eve.
Like so many others, Michelle Harrington, a 28-year-old administrative assistant to the police chief in Northchester, NY, a village 15 miles north of New York City, was outraged when she read the stories on her office computer. How dare some idiot, already nicknamed the TST (Times Square Terrorist) by the New York press, attempt to take over the city on New Year’s Eve.
The threat chilled her to the bone. Like the World Trade Center, Times Square was New York. And look what had happened at the World Trade Center. Michelle had grown up in The Bronx and had rung in more than one New Year in Times Square. The thought that someone might be contemplating a terrorist act there made her almost physically ill. This was personal. If that happened, it would be like part of her past being ripped away.
She tried to tell herself that it was just an empty threat. Sadly, intuition told her that it wasn’t. And it looked like the perp was smart enough to send a threat containing not one scintilla of evidence.
Michelle noted that there was the old “investigation’s ongoing” claim but very little real information in the story. The Commissioner said he was confident that the NYPD would catch the person responsible, but he asked for the public’s help in reporting to authorities the actions of anyone whom they deemed suspicious.
The whole thing was weird. Not even a demand for money or anything else – at least not yet. If she were in charge, she’d consider this threat an ominous one. But then again, what did she know? Except for working for a police chief, she wasn’t in law enforcement at all. She was a night student at a local college where she had completed 3/4 of the credits required for a degree in criminal justice. But that didn’t qualify her as an expert in law enforcement. She sure wished, though, that she could enforce the law against someone who threatened a happy night – a traditional night of joy and hope – for millions of people.
The timing could not have been worse, she was thinking. After all, the eyes of the world would be on Times Square on New Year’s Eve night, with probably about a million real-life revelers and many million more glued to their TVs watching the dropping of The Ball and other festivities.
She looked at the computer screen and did what she always did when she was nervous: fiddled with her tiny gold earrings and tightened the scrunchi on her long blonde ponytail. She read the message again and again.
Only when she knew the poem by heart did she pull her eyes from the screen and look at her To Do List. It was a long one. This was a busy time of year in the office and she really needed to pursue her own work and not that of the NYC Police Department.
Her job was challenging and fun. Most of the time. Doing community liaison work, keeping the chief of police organized (at times, the hardest part of her job), dealing with the press, and lots of other things besides. She never knew exactly what she’d be doing from day to day; she liked it that way.
Michelle worked at her own desk for an hour on some reports, then she was summoned to the office of her boss, Northchester Chief of Police Jim Cunningham. A former Texas Ranger, he was a huge man in his sixties and had been Chief in Northchester for 15 years, but he retained a lot of the southwestern ways (some good, some not-so-good, Michelle had decided) of his former home. His grizzled face broke into a smile when he saw her. He said, “You’re looking mighty fine today, little lady.”
She liked her boss (at least most of the time), but Michelle could have done without that kind of greeting. She sat in the straight-back chair across from his desk and merely said, “Good morning.” Cunningham immediately looked apologetic, as he said, “I know, I know, you don’t like to be called a little lady. I forget. I should know better, since you’ve worked for me for more than three years.” A pause. “ But y’know, you are little and you are a lady.” He shrugged and extended his hands, palms up.
Michelle sat up straighter, pulling her 5-foot-1 frame up as high as she could. She felt like screaming a response, but knew it would do no good. So she just sighed and said, “I’ve heard it all before.”
He smiled and accepted the rebuke. “Okay, okay, but I hope you won’t consider it harassment if I tell you that I meant it when I said you are looking mighty fine today. Michelle stifled a smile, as she plucked a speck of lint from her sleeve. She had just bought the black pantsuit she was wearing (a designer one, 70% off at a local discount shop) two days ago, and it was on its maiden voyage. As was the white clingy blouse that she was also wearing. The Chief sometimes annoyed her, but he did have a good heart and was fair. And he was good at smoothing over a misstep with a quick compliment.
Back to business. Michelle said, “What do you make of that NYC New Year’s Eve threat? It sounds kinda scary.”
The Chief shifted his huge frame in his chair, gave his gray moustache a little twirl and said, “Lots of nuts spring from the woodwork around the holidays, then they go right back in when the new year starts. The New York guys will handle it. We have enough on our plate. What about that PowerPoint presentation for the Chamber of Commerce speech I’m giving on Friday? Is it ready to go?”
They became immersed in the daily grind of work and Michelle gave little thought to the TST for the rest of the day. That was as it should be, she reasoned. She probably couldn’t do a thing about the New York City thing anyway.
Or could she?
Part II unfurls on Wednesday, December 27, 2017 @ 9am EDT
Author Gail Farrelly grew up in The Bronx and now resides in Bronxville, NY. Having a doctorate in accounting from George Washington University, she’s taught in several universities and published numerous articles in business and academic journals. Learning about the murderous politics of academic life turned her mind to crime. The fictional kind, of course!