Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Requiem for a Fallen Star by Shane Gericke

Shane Gericke has been held at knifepoint, hit by lightning, and shaken the cold sweaty hand of Liberace. He was born to write thriller novels! His latest is Torn Apart, a finalist for the Thriller Award for Best Novel, and a Book of the Year at Suspense Magazine. Shane, whose last name is improbably pronounced YER-kee, spent 25 years as a newspaper editor, most prominently at the Chicago Sun-Times, before jumping into fiction. An original member of International Thriller Writers, he was chairman of the ThrillerFest literary festival in New York City and founding director of its agent-author matching program, AgentFest. He also belongs to Mystery Writers of America and the Society of Midland Authors. His novels—available in print and e-books—are in translation worldwide, and his national bestselling debut, Blown Away, was named the best first mystery of 2006 at RT Book Reviews. He lives in the Chicago suburb of Naperville, the home of world-famous detective Dick Tracy, with whom Shane shares no resemblance except steely jaw and manly visage. Check him out at, and on Facebook and Twitter.

Requiem for a Fallen Star
By Shane Gericke

People ask why I write.

I respond with a variety of answers, all of which are true:

Satisfaction. Money. The nobility of honest work. The fact I’m happy when I write and I’m cranky when I don’t.

But there’s one big reason that dwarfs everything else:

I want the good guys to win.

That doesn’t always happen in the real world. In real life, evil triumphs and goodness gets its lights punched out. Not always, but often enough to discomfort and sadden. To make us reflect too often on the what-might-have-beens of decent lives snuffed too soon.

But in fiction, I rule. From a moon made of green cheese to bullets that bounce like sponge rubber to heroes that run seemingly forever, I can make anything happen.

And I do.

In my fictional world, heroes win and villains get what’s coming to them. That can be jail. More often, it’s death, usually painful, always creative. 

Because in real life, the good die too tragically and too young. Here is how it happens in real life, when you’re a cop in Chicago . . .

You’re born. You grow. Your family adores you. So do your friends. Likewise the neighborhood that shaped you, and you in turn helped shape.

When you’re old enough to know what’s what, you decide to join up, give a little back. Two tours in Iraq; Army green, hoo-ah! Breaking the bad guys, defending the good.

You survive the killing sands, move back into the ’hood. It’s changed. Once vibrant and free, it’s slouching toward Gomorrah, infected with killers and dopers, bangers and thieves. Good people run. More run scared.

You decide to join up again; this time the cops, Chicago blue, hoo-ah! Just like your Pop, retired now, but then, as now, a hell of a sergeant-man. He’s not scared like the other good folks. But he’s worried. And if he is . . .

You decide to double down.

You could live anywhere in Chicago: Downtown. Uptown. A safe-as-the-suburbs neighborhood of cops, firefighters and politicians: Mount Greenwood. Sauganash. Edgebrook. Beverly. But you chose the ’hood because you want to make it better, and only personal commitment counts. So you find a place, start working with the children, the ones that can still be swayed, still be saved. Become guardian of your neighborhood park, the one named after Nat King Cole.

You step up to community leader, then to president of the local advisory council. All the while you’re driving that CPD blue-and-white, a cop three years next month, working your snitches, warning the bangers, swinging a stick, keeping it real, hoo-ah! Telling anyone who’ll listen, and a bunch of knuckleheads who won’t, that your Chatham neighborhood’s gonna be great again, just you wait and see. 

You love the work and it loves you back. You become good at it. Become exceptional. The ’hood starts believing and begins to rally. Some long rows to hoe, no argument. But you’re 30, you’ve got the time, you can hack it. You’re son and soldier, cop and protector, and the good start breathing again. You’re happier than don’t know when . . .

It’s May 19, 2010. A nothing-special Wednesday, day floating by, plunging into night. You hop on your motorcycle. The shiny one you bought ’cause you’re young and you’re single and you survived and you can. 

You’ve pocketed the pictures you just snapped at a D.C. memorial service for fallen police, knowing Pop’ll like them. 

You roll over to your parents’ home. You park at the curb, admire the neat, meticulous brickwork laid by your grandfather. You’ve got your own place, sure. But home is where you grew up, where your ancestors’ spirits breathe, where Mom and Pop still live. 

You’re home.

You walk inside and have a chat. You can tell Pop’s proud. Of your shiny new ride. Of your decision to put on a uniform and fight for your country, then strap on a gun and fight for your city. Of going to the police memorial in your nation’s capital. Of bringing home the pictures.

Of you. Pop is proud of you.

Police Officer and Iraq combat veteran Thomas Worthham IV

You talk about everything; gas about nothing. Before you know it’s 11:25. Time to get gone ’fore night slides back to day. Smiling, you walk to the curb, swing your leg over your steed. Pop’s waving from a front window. You’re waving back . . .

Two young skinnies pop from nowhere, screw a gun in your ear: Gimme the motorcycle, fool! Pop sees ’em from the window, belts a holler: Leave my son alone!

Punk turns, busts a cap.

You might have waited this out. No choice now with bullets flying. Scream you’re Chicago Police. Pull your gun from under your shirt, open fire. Banger-man pulls his trigger. Metal craters your head. You tumble off the bike, blood showering asphalt. Your brain says you’re dying. Your body won’t accept it. Your fingers crawl toward your gun. But metal’s a wolf pack and brains are bleating lambs . . .

Your lights are winking out.

Pop charges from the house with his own cop gun. A red Nissan getaway screeches into the curb. Four skinnies now, two in the car, two in the street, their kill-gun hunting fresh meat. Pop fires. One’s dead. Pop fires. Second’s crippled. Pop’s going for the triple then the grand-slam . . . 

The two in the car roar off. They run you over. They drag you a quarter-block, over asphalt and garbage and glass. Finally you fall off, roll unceremoniously into the gutter.

Sirens shriek. Blue lights flash. Shots fired. Officer down. Sirens shriek. Blue lights flash. Shots fired. Officer down. Officer down. Officer down . . .

Pop races to your side, kneels on the cold unfeeling street . . . 

The officer's motorcycle and the sheet-covered body of one of the robbers—who was shot dead by Wortham’s father moments after his son was slain by four men trying to steal the motorcycle—are seen at center. (Chicago Sun-Times photo)

Your name is Thomas Wortham.
Your Pop is Thomas Wortham.
His Pop is Thomas Wortham,
and so is Grandpa’s dad.

Four generations,
from a Chatham once so lovely,
they’re gathering ’round an angel now,
blood dripping from his hands.

They’re praying for a miracle
they know will never find you,
’cause you’re gone now, dead and gone now,
’cause four killers didn’t care.

You’ve been dumped into a gutter
cold and lonely, garbage mounting,
and only God can mourn you,
’cause four killers didn’t care. 

Because that’s how it happens,
when you’re a cop in Chicago.
When murder’s in four shriveled hearts,
your blood drips on your hands . . .

On May 19, 2010, a Chicago Police officer named Thomas Wortham IV—an Iraq veteran who came home to police one of the toughest neighborhoods in Chicago, the South Side’s Chatham, because he loved the good people still living in the ’hood—was gunned down in front of his parents because four young robbers wanted his motorcycle. It was an outrageous symbol of a deadly year for American law enforcement: line-of-duty deaths leaped 37 percent from the previous year, according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, to 160. Five of them were Chicago cops: Worthham, Thor Soderberg, Michael Flisk, Michael Bailey and Alan Haymaker.

I can’t keep them safe. I can’t keep anyone safe. I don’t have that power. Nobody does.

A police squad car sits in front of the home of Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham IV's parent's home, as residents do their morning walk at Cole Park. (Chicago Tribune photo)

But what I can do is create an alternate world for my readers to slip into when the real one overwhelms. A world where good guys win and bad guys don’t, where decency is rewarded and jerkdom slapped. Where tension and trauma and crazy and outrage and love and caring and hope reign just like the real world, but at the end, justice triumps.

For everyone.

And that, ultimately, is why I write crime fiction.

So the Thomas Worthams can live. 

Thomas Wortham III (center) salutes as the casket of his son, Chicago Police Officer Thomas Wortham IV, is brought out following funeral services at Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago. Wortham was shot to death May 20, in a robbery attempt across from his parents' home in the Chatham neighborhood. (Chicago Tribune photo)


Kaye Wilkinson Barley - Meanderings and Muses said...

Shane - Welcome!

This is lovely.

and heartbreaking.

You have written a thoughtful, and beautiful tribute to a young man who sounds like someone who was making a difference. Someone who made his family proud, and his fellow officers.

I appreciate you sharing it here at Meanderings and Muses - Thank you, my friend.

Shane Gericke said...

And thank you, Kaye. For having me here to share this with your readers., for the selfless work you do supporting all us writers, and for being my friend. I've been out of Internet range all day and just getting to see this.

Bobbie said...

As you say, Shane, this is why you write it. And I'll say, this is why I read it. I gave his coffin photo a civilian's salute. You did a moving and honest and proud post, about good. And why we seek it, because life and death often happens by far the wrong way. We readers all know this, and use words like yours to make us see justice done right. I am going to find a book of yours to read, and think of this piece while reading it. Thanks Shane. And thanks Kaye, for having him post here on this wonderful blog of yours.

EileenHamer said...

Thanks, Shane. Great story, and since I lived in Chicago for over twenty years, it had special meaning for me. I' going to look up your books, as soon as I sign off. . .