My newest book, Blaze In, Blaze Out, is a departure of sorts for me. Instead of focusing on the kids in the Evans family, I focused on three of my favorite cops: Detective Pat O’Connor, his partner, Detective Paul Eiselmann, and Chief of Detectives, Jamie Graff. I used four boys in the Evans family as minor characters who are affected by events and decisions made by the cops.
O’Connor and Eiselmann are named after two of my childhood friends. At some point in high school, I lost track of them as sometimes happens, even to the best of friends. You see, I went to a boarding school about an hour away from my hometown, so I didn’t have as much contact with them as I would have liked. I had to imagine what they might have become and what they might be like in their early thirties.
Jamie Graff is a friend and former colleague of mine. He is now a Police Chief and has provided valuable insight and information related to my books. For both the friendship and the technical advice, I am grateful. His wife, Kelly, requests that George Clooney portray him in the movie if they ever make one. I told him I’d put in a good word.
In previous books, I alluded to hunting and fishing trips Brian, Brett, George, and Two take with O’Connor, Graff, and Eiselmann. Blaze In, Blaze Out is born out of the isolation and remoteness of Northern Wisconsin. It is sparsely populated and can be rugged. Much can happen in a short, sudden amount of time, and because of the lack of cell towers, one can’t necessarily call for help.
Throw in a vindictive, ruthless crime boss who wants revenge for the testimony O’Connor provided that caused a guilty verdict. As I say in a promo line: Eiselmann and O’Connor thought the conviction meant the end. They forgot that revenge knows no boundaries, vindictiveness knows no restraints, and ruthlessness never worries about collateral damage. A target is a target, and in the end, the target will die.
Here is the first chapter of Blaze In, Blaze Out.
He sat his boney ass on the unyielding wooden bench in nearly the same spot, sometimes for up to six or seven marathon hours give or take, minus a lunch break or whenever the judge decided to give the jury a break. It wasn’t often, but it was enough.
He wondered for the hundredth time if the place was ever cleaned. The same long black strands of hair lay on the floor along with a spent staple, two paperclips, and fingernail clippings. None of it had moved in the three days he had sat there and probably wouldn’t get moved unless someone shuffled their feet along the floor as they filed past aiming for a seat to watch the show. Dust bunnies and a tipped over empty paper coffee cup had been pushed in a corner. All remnants of human filth, dirt and debris. Fitting he thought, considering who had filed into and out of the massive stone structure.
The lone window in courtroom eleven on the fifth floor of Chicago’s Cook County Criminal Court Building overlooked California Avenue. The view through its dirt-smeared heavy glass was a grimy cement five-floor parking garage with a smaller parking area in front of it. Buses dropped off and picked up various characters who took part in the shows in any number of courtrooms. A never-ending parade of miscreants and misfits.
A food truck fought for space between three news vans, all covering the proceedings taking place in Honorable Thomas P. Martin’s courtroom. Though cameras weren’t allowed past the lobby, there were several reporters sitting behind the heavy plexiglass windows separating the actual courtroom from the audience made up of family and associates, cops and attorneys, and one or two homeless folks who wandered in from the outside.
Detective Pat O’Connor couldn’t sit in the courtroom until after he had testified. Until he had done so, he stood out in the hallway staring out the dirty window overlooking the Cook County jail. His testimony over, he sat by himself in the first row behind plexiglass affixed on top of a cheap wooden wall, etched and carved with a ‘there is no hope’ and a ‘FUCK this’ along with various gang symbols.
O’Connor’s control when under cover, and long-time friend and partner, was red-haired and freckled-faced Detective Paul Eiselmann. He sat in the back, four rows behind and to the side of O’Connor by design and out of precaution. They had not interacted or conversed within two hundred yards of the courthouse. Though they both stayed at the Midway Marriott on Cicero, they had different rooms on different floors, and hadn’t ridden together to or from the courthouse. Eiselmann drove his own rental, while O’Connor was shuttled to and from the courthouse by a sheriff deputy assigned to do so. The arrangement made sure no one would be able to connect the two of them.
Both O’Connor and Eiselmann had been on loan to a task force belonging to the state of Illinois, ATF, and FBI working a murder, and gun selling, buying, and distribution ring operating up and down the I-94 corridor in both Milwaukee and Chicago. O’Connor had been recommended by the FBI with whom he had worked several cases, mostly in Wisconsin. Where O’Connor went, Eiselmann went.
The state of Illinois was first at bat, which is why the proceeding took place in Chicago’s Cook County Courthouse. After, and depending upon the outcome, the Feds would have a go at it, hoping to cement Andruko permanently behind bars.
O’Connor was the linchpin in the case against Dmitry Andruko, a Ukrainian gang lord. The Illinois Assistant State Prosecution team of Michael O’Reilly, Daniel Keene, and Heather Sullivan pinned their hopes on O’Connor. They felt he would be enough to put Andruko away after the day and a half of testimony and cross-examination.
It had taken two months of painstaking study and observation to infiltrate Andruko’s gang. O’Connor ostensibly wanted to purchase high-end semi-automatic weapons. He approached Anton Bondar in a Ukrainian bar that had been watched by the ATF. Equipped with a wireless microphone inserted into the collar of O’Connor’s favorite Cheap Trick t-shirt, the transaction was recorded. The game was for O’Connor to play coy until and unless he met with Andruko, who the feds knew was in charge. He had $400,000 to spend and was not going to bargain with a peon.
Andruko took the bait. While O’Connor sat in the back-corner booth of the bar, he heard Andruko, in English, order the hit on a rival. Instead of the task force swooping in right then and there, the decision was made to wait to see if the hit would be carried out. Before the feds had the chance to intervene, the intended victim was shot in his own home, along with his wife. That was when the task force swooped in, rounding up the boss and five underlings.
The hit and the inaction of the feds complicated the case. There was a demotion for one and transfers for two others. However, the defense attorney couldn’t use the ‘You didn’t protect Bogdan and Nastia Yevtukh!’ card because that would be an admission of complicity and guilt.
It was after the arrests when it got messy.
One of the five slit his own throat at some point after deposition and lockup. Two of the others died in lockup after their deposition. Because the three had died, their depositions couldn’t be used.
That left two, Andrii Zlenko, Andruko’s right hand man, who refused to answer any questions. It was Zlenko through Anton Bondar who O’Connor initially approached in the Ukrainian bar. And of course, Dmitry Andruko.
Ostensibly for Zlenko’s and Bondar’s safety, and for Andruko’s safety, they were locked up in separate facilities. Zlenko and Bondar were somewhere downstate miles away from Chicago, while Andruko was held in Joliet, but moved unceremoniously to Cook County jail for the trial. All three were kept out of general population and placed under twenty-four-hour watch as a precaution.
Zlenko and Bondar were brought in as hostile witnesses. Their attorneys had advised them to plead the fifth. However, their depositions were read into the record, and O’Connor’s testimony established that both were the initial contacts. O’Connor also stated that Zlenko introduced O’Connor to Andruko. O’Connor further established that Zlenko was present during the negotiations with Andruko, making him an accomplice in the sale of illegal weapons without a permit. Most importantly, O’Connor testified to the hit ordered by Andruko made in the presence of Zlenko.
O’Connor glanced at his watch. Nearly ten, which was the appointed time to get this show started.
Michael O’Reilly turned around and nodded at O’Connor. He kept his eyes away from Eiselmann.
O’Reilly, a short and slightly built man, had silver hair, cut short and neat. O’Connor had never seen the prosecutor without a Windsor knot in his tie, without a dark suit, or without his shoes polished. For all of that, O’Reilly had a quick sarcastic wit. He had a love for his city, and he viewed his role as bringing peace and justice back to it.
Daniel Keene was taller and younger than O’Reilly, a bit doughy and rumpled. Personable, but more on the quiet side. O’Connor was slightly smitten with the third member of the team, Heather Sullivan, and couldn’t guess her age. Attractive with long dark hair, solid and strong. She was never without a Diet Mt. Dew, often drinking from two different bottles at the same time.
Sullivan had provided a grand slam closing. She brought a smile and chuckle to O’Connor during the defendant’s closing, offered by Peter Van Druesing. He was a high-priced attorney who most prosecutors felt was in the back pocket of the mob. Some stated in hush tones that Van Druesing had his head so far up Andruko’s ass, he tasted the food before Andruko did.
Van Druesing argued entrapment, to which Sullivan threw her head back and slumped in her chair, as if to say, ‘That’s all you’ve got? Really?’ Then she shook her head as she took a long pull of her Dew.
Andruko was led into the courtroom through the defendant’s entrance by three Cook County Sheriff Deputies, one in front, two behind. He was dressed in an ugly light-tan jail jumpsuit. Quite the difference from the navy-blue pinstriped suit and starched white shirt with a navy-blue tie he wore during the trial. He stopped midway, caught O’Connor’s eye and mouthed something to him. O’Connor assumed it wasn’t an invitation to dinner, and happy the courtroom had security cameras.
Andruko stood behind the defendant’s table, took one more look at O’Connor and then turned around and caught the eye of a heavy-set, bullet-headed middle-aged man in an expensive suit sitting left of the aisle on the defendant’s side of the gallery. O’Connor didn’t bother to look right away, knowing that Eiselmann had already taken note of him. Casually, as O’Connor reached down and grabbed his bottle of water, he turned to see the man Andruko stared at.
Their eyes met briefly, before the big man returned his gaze to the courtroom.
Judge Martin entered and the court clerk announced, “All rise!”
The last to get up was Andruko, and he did so casually, disrespect intended. “Deputy, can you bring the jury in, please.”
Martin was a thin, late middle-aged man, gray at the temples, who peered over his glasses to look out over the gallery and the witness. He had been clearly annoyed with Andruko’s attorney, Van Druesing, who had objected to most everything the prosecution team presented, to what O’Connor stated, and at the harsh, condescending cross of O’Connor as Van Druesing tried to poke holes in the testimony. Martin wasn’t having it, his disdain if not contempt readily apparent. He was, however, careful not to cross the line that might cause a mistrial.
The jury had been out since mid-afternoon the previous day. They had deliberated late into the night, were brought in early in the morning, and it was only an hour later when they had reached a verdict.
The prosecution team and O’Connor didn’t know what to think. The jury had sent three questions to the judge that he, the prosecution team, and the defense attorney had to confer on and then answer together. One, who was going to protect them in the event of a guilty verdict? Another, at what point did Andruko’s culpability begin: during the offer of weapons for money or during the initial negotiations between O’Connor and Zlenko? The last, did the order for the hit make Andruko accountable for the actual murder of the man and his wife? Those three questions pointed towards a conviction, but the length of the deliberation threw them.
“Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, did you reach a verdict?” Martin asked.
The foreman, an older lady with longish dark hair streaked with gray, stood up and said, “Yes, we have, your honor.”
O’Connor counted six sheriff deputies in the courtroom, and another four in the gallery. They tried to remain unobtrusive, but it wasn’t possible.
One of the deputies took the folded paper from the foreman and brought it to Martin. He read it quietly and without expression, and then handed it back to the deputy to take back to the foreman.
“Would you please read the verdict?” Martin asked.
O’Connor noticed that the jury didn’t look in Andruko’s direction, but rather towards the judge, the floor, or the wall behind the judge. All good signs in O’Connor’s mind.
“On the first count, we the jury find Dmitry Andruko guilty of the illegal sale of weapons and ammunition intended to cross state lines. On the second count of murder in the first degree, we find Dmitry Andruko guilty.”
Van Druesing stood and said, “Your Honor, I request a rollcall vote.”
Rather than use the names of the jurors, the clerk used the number assigned to each of the jurors as a precaution, for protection, and for anonymity. One by one, each juror was queried, and each responded with ‘Guilty’ to each count
“Sentencing is scheduled for October 27th at 9:00 AM in this courtroom. Until then, Mr. Andruko will be held without bond in a maximum-security federal penitentiary.”
“I object, Your Honor! Mr. Andruko is a prominent member of the community. He has a loving wife and three children. I request that he surrender his passport and driver’s license and remain at home.”
“Your Honor,” O’Reilly said, “we’ve already had four deaths related to this case. I would not want anything to happen to Mr. Andruko. For his own safety, I request that Mr. Andruko be held without bond in a maximum-security penitentiary.”
“I object. Surely, you aren’t blaming Mr. Andruko for unrelated deaths, are you?”
Sullivan stifled a laugh with a cough.
Before O’Reilly could answer, Martin said, “Objection overruled. The defendant will be held in a maximum-security penitentiary. Members of the jury, I thank you for your diligence, your service, and your time. Deputies of the Cook County Sheriff department will escort you to your vehicles should you so desire. Have a good rest of the day and a nice weekend. This court is adjourned.”
“All rise,” the clerk said.
Martin left through the door behind his bench. The prosecution team shook hands, and O’Reilly, Sullivan, and Keene turned around, nodded and smiled at O’Connor.
O’Connor nodded, but didn’t smile. He did what he did because that was his job. It was the right thing to do. He would return for the sentencing, and then he would take on the same role for Zlenko’s and Bondar’s upcoming trials, and then all three trials in Federal Court.
Andruko turned around, stared at O’Connor, and said something in his native tongue. Because of the heavy plexiglass window, only a few in the gallery heard or understood what was said. Andruko was then grabbed by the arms by two sheriff deputies, and pulled or pushed to the defendant’s door leading to a van that would take him away to wherever.
The bullet-headed man with whom Andruko had spoken to before the proceeding locked eyes with O’Connor before he turned to leave. There was a message in that look, one that O’Connor knew well.
I hope this sparks your interest in Blaze In, Blaze Out. As the story unfolds, O’Connor, Eiselmann, and Graff are left to fend for themselves and their families, and somehow protect the four kids they brought along on a hunting and fishing trip. None of them knows what the plans are for them or just how much danger awaits them.
I received one review already. She wrote:
“Just finished the book and had to let you know how VERY MUCH I enjoyed it! Another fantastic read! Could not put the book down—as usual. It always amazes me — the imagination writers have to come up with all these different story lines and make them so interesting. Kudos to you once again. Absolutely loved it!” – F. Y.
Blaze In, Blaze Out is available for preorder NOW at https://www.blackrosewriting.com/mystery/blazeinblazeout. Purchase prior to 1-6-22 to receive a 15% discount. Use the promo code: PREORDER2021