The bag was just left unattended by the clock in Grand Central for hours…The police should have caught it. But they didn’t. The officers on duty said they just hadn’t noticed it, while dozens of travelers said that they remembered the briefcase being there even hours before the tragedy. The stories just didn’t add up. The date was December 9, 1954. The best detectives of the decade were brought in, but no one understood how the bomb had gone unnoticed. An explosive in the briefcase had killed seven commuters near the clock in the main concourse. Three had been injured, all of whom remained in critical condition in a nearby hospital. Eyewitness accounts described an explosion of sorts. Despite hundreds of witnesses, nobody interviewed seemed to know who had put the bomb under the clock in Grand Central.
Jack Thomas, a tall and lanky boy of 23, was an apprentice to Detective Flynn O’Brien. The detective was a big man with no hair, but had an incredibly large moustache. He was known throughout the city as the best detective around, and Jack, a schoolboy, had only been able to get an apprenticeship because their fathers had been friends as boys. Jack was a smart fellow who had what many called a knack for trouble. Talking to people came easy to him; he had spent much of his childhood convincing people that they should allow him to bend the rules. Although he was becoming a more serious with age, his mind worked like a trickster’s and he could always tell when somebody wasn’t telling the truth. When Jack answered Detective O’Brien’s telephone in the late morning on Thursday, he was expecting a call from the detective’s wife, as she always called around that time.
Thursday December 9, 1954
42nd Street Precinct
“Hello, you’ve reached the office of Detective Flynn O’Brien, Jack Thomas speaking, how may I help you?”
“Good morning Jack, it’s Mr. O’Connor from Grand Central’s security department.”
“Hello Mr. O’Connor, what can I do for you?”
“Put me on with Mr. O’Brien, please? Something has happened at the station.”
“Yes sir, please hold on one minute.”
Jack’s instincts told him that something was very wrong. He packed the detective’s bag of tools and gadgets, and got his boss’ coat ready. Detective O’Brien hung up the phone, snatched his bowler hat off the rack, put on the coat, and told Jack that they had to hurry.
In the taxi, Detective O’Brien filled Jack in on what he knew about the case. When they arrived at the terminal, Jack stared at the main concourse, transfixed by the sheer size of the place. The only noises were whispers of NYPD officers and the wail of ambulance sirens from the emergency vehicles parked on the street. He had been there a dozen times, but this was the first time that he had seen it empty. He had little time to gaze at the sight, however, for Detective O’Brien nudged him to descend the stairs. Where the famed clock had once stood, rubble, body parts, and cracked marble floor remained.
Jack’s heart began beating twice as fast as normal. What had happened? He wanted to know.
Detective O’Brien walked briskly to where ten police officers were huddled, whispering. Each man stood up straighter and smoothed his tie at the sight of the famed detective. Mr. O’Connor stepped forward and shook Detective O’Brien’s hand. They walked over to the bodies, saying things inaudible from Jack’s distance. He watched, thinking of what the old Jack would have done. The old Jack would’ve marched right up to the bodies and done his own investigation- dropping the detective’s jacket to the floor, checking out the bodies, ruthlessly questioning victims, not taking no for an answer. However, the new Jack held himself to a higher standard. Today’s Jack stood, holding the coat and assuring himself that the detective would ask him for input if he saw fit. Although Jack’s new personality was quite a relief to his mother and father, he missed the the thrill of being a troublemaker. It took every ounce of self-control Jack possessed to stop himself from returning to his old ways as he waited patiently for an order from his boss.
“Jack, take notes on this meeting,” Detective O’Brien instructed.
“Yes, sir,” he replied, reaching into his messenger bag for a notepad and pen. He scribbled away as the two men discussed the situation.
“At exactly 10:42 a.m. today, an explosion took place right here. The victims closest to the bomb were killed within minutes, and three critically injured survivors were rushed to the hospital. Each body that you see here hasn’t been so much as touched since the explosion. We have a list of witnesses and would be happy to show you said list for any questioning you might do. All trains have been stopped and the premise has been cleared. No one remains but the officials you see in this room” said Mr. O’Connor. Little did he know that one very important person still remained on the premise. As Detective O’Brien and Jack left Grand Central, a memory stirred inside the apprentice’s head. The crime scene oddly reminded him of something he had read a few years earlier.
11:25 a.m., Thursday, December 9, 1954
Hiding in the bathrooms, a man named Greg Mallite chuckled as he heard Mr. O’Connor say that no one remained on the premises. Without a sound, George left the men’s room, exited that terminal from the back, and walked onto the sunlit, busy street. He parted his teeth into a sickening smile, and for the first time in ages, he wasn’t frowning. The “Mad Bomber” had just completed his first killing.
42nd Street Precinct
Thursday December 9, 1954
Jack walked out of the detective’s office and on to the street, his warm coat wrapped tightly to keep out the cold. He would normally head back to Connecticut on the train at this time, but Grand Central remained closed. Instead, he walked to the New York Public Library to follow a hunch that had been nagging at him since visiting the crime scene. He asked the librarian where he could find newspaper articles about New York City bombings from the last fifteen years. Jack did this because he remembered reading about similar bombings all over the city when he was still in school. The article from his memory had mentioned that one man was probably responsible for all of the bombings, nicknamed the “Mad Bomber”. Jack had an idea that maybe the Mad Bomber was responsible for this attack.
9:03 a.m., Friday December 10, 1954
“Good morning, Detective O’Brien,” Jack said cheerfully to his boss on Friday morning.
“‘Morning, Jack. How are you today?”
“Not great, sir, something had been bothering me. It’s about the Grand Central case.”
“Well,” Jack explained, “when we went to the crime scene yesterday, it really reminded me of something I had read a while back in the newspaper. The crime scene made me think of an article about a man called the Mad Bomber. Last night after I left here, I went to the library and read everything I could about bombs in New York City. I think our case sounds like a feat worthy of the Mad Bomber.
“Tell me more about this guy,” said the detective, intrigued.
“Okay, so, he’s lived in the city for years and has planted dozens of bombs all over! His attacks have only injured, never killed so far, until yesterday. It looks like they were all definitely intended to kill, though. The police have a file on bombings that are related to him, but they don’t know who he is or any other suspect information. Whoever he is, this guy is good, and he’s just finished his first killing. Who knows when and where he will strike next?” said Jack.
“Sorry, kid. I don’t buy it. Mr O’Connor told me that this incident is unlike any he’s ever seen, and I know that the Mad Bomber wrote a note to the police department saying that he was done bombing.”
“But Sir, it all adds up!”
“That’s enough, Jack. The Mad Bomber isn’t responsible for this,” the detective said, quite harshly.
Jack turned around, stung. He had always known that the detective seeked glory, but to ignore basic evidence because his apprentice had come up with a valid theory instead of him? That was too far. Once again, Jack was forced to control himself. Jack struggled to stay silent as he prepared Detective O’Brien’s coffee. The detective knows best. Listen to him. You aren’t the big man around here. No one cares what you think. Just keep it inside.
Saturday December 11, 1954
16 Riverside Ave, Fairfield, CT
The ring of the telephone woke Jack up with a start. He sat up and sighed. Who could be calling at 9am on a Saturday? Detective O’Connor. He woke up at 6am each day, even on the weekend.
“Jackie boy! You’ve got it!”
“The answer to the Grand Central case, of course!”
“You really think it was the Mad Bomber?”
“Definetly! I called a friend of mine in the office, and he told me that the note they received from the Mad Bomber said that he wouldn’t bomb during the war. The war is over and so is that truce. Only problem is, nobody has any idea where he is. Got a solution to that too?”
“I’ll work on it,” Jack replied, laughing.
“See you in the office on Monday, Jack.”
“Okay, goodbye, sir!”
Jack fist pumped the air and rolled over to go back to sleep.
Monday December 13, 1954
42nd Street Precinct
“Good Morning to you, Jack. How are you?” Detective O’Brien said to his apprentice as he walked into the office on a particularly cold morning.
“Good morning, Sir! I’m great, thanks! My younger sister Gracie is home for Christmas vacation and I can’t wait to see her over lunch break,” Jack replied.
Both men were particularly cheerful that morning; they were rested and ready to track down the Mad Bomber. However, when the two men sat down and called everyone in their contact list for help, they came up dry. Jack was about ready to give up, but something told him that Detective O’Brien wouldn’t approve of that. When they took the midday break, Jack headed downtown to his favorite sandwich shop to meet Gracie for lunch. While eating his turkey sandwich and orange juice, they conversed. Gracie told Jack about how her first year of college was going, and Jack told Gracie about the case.
“It sounds like your boss was jealous. He drew a blank, and after a few hours you had an entire theory! He probably wished he had come up with it,” Grace said.
“Yeah, I guess. He was really mean about it though! Okay so Gracie, I can’t seem to find out where the Mad Bomber went after the attack, though. We’ve called everyone and nobody knows anything.”
“Excuse me! Who are you and what have you done with Jack Thomas?” Gracie asked, “Just think, where did you always go after performing one of your famous pranks at school?”
“To see it through–follow my victims and watch how they react to it. Oh! The hospital! To see the people who were severely injured! Thanks Gracie, you’re a genius.”
“Anytime, big brother,” she said
“All right Gracie! I gotta go. Love you and see you tonight in Connecticut.”
Monday December 13, 1954
Jack anxiously climbed the stairs to the Bellevue Hospital. He was visiting the victims of the bomb. He had called the detective before coming, and O’Brien had told him that he could give it a try, and that he would join Jack in a half hour when he was done with lunch.
“Hi I’m Jack Thomas with the NYPD, I’m looking for the beds of the victims of the Grand Central bombing.”
“Rooms 204, 205, and 214. Knock before you enter,” replied the secretary at the welcome desk.
“Thank you!” Jack exclaimed, he had been unsure if they would disclose the room numbers.
At room 204, Jack knocked nervously and was told to come in. An old man sat in the bed, hooked up to many machines and surrounded by two nurses. People who looked like his wife and son sat in armchairs near his bed.
“Hello, Sir,” he said, “I’m Jack Thomas from the NYPD. I’ve been told that a victim of the Grand Central bomb is in here?”
“Yes, that damned bomb blew my leg off. Could’ve been worse though, I suppose,” the old man said, with some difficulty.
“Yes darling, you’re the lucky one,” his wife said, “Those poor seven people, dead! And the other two survivors, the nurses say they won’t last a week with those wounds!”
“Is that so?” Jack said.
“Oh yes, dear. A young lad and a middle-aged lady! Both unable to so much as speak,” said the wife.
“Well, I hate to ask you this in a time of trauma, but did you see the bomber? Know anything about him?” Jack inquired.
“Not a thing. All we know is that he is a terrible man. Give him a punch for us, eh, boy?” the old man said.
“That man is going to get whatever he deserves. You can count on me that I’m going to find him.”
Jack, significantly more motivated, left Room 204. He was about to go to the office, but decided to stop in the men’s room first to wash his hands. The hospital had made him feel a bit dirty and germ-infested. On the way to the bathroom, Jack passed an enormous cart of blood samples, and it gave him the chills.
He opened the heavy door, and a tall, skinny man was looking at himself in the mirror. He had gray, frizzy hair and electric green eyes. As he looked, he mouthed words to himself, not understandable to Jack. He nodded to the odd man, and went on to wash his hands. The man’s words became louder.
“Kill… Kill… Kill… Must finish… Finish what I started…” He muttered, barely audible to Jack.
HOLY CRUD! Could this man was the bomber? Right here in the bathroom? Plotting to kill the old man… But how to catch him? If I try to arrest him, he may know I am not certified… Let me trap him in here…
Jack slowly left the men’s room, doing his best to stay calm. Inside, though, he was absolutely panicked. He sprinted to the blood samples cart, rolled it to the men’s room, propped it up to stop the bathroom door from opening, and hoped it was heavy enough. Then, he had a decision to make: Go warn the old man, or find a telephone to call the police station. It had sounded as if the old man was safe for a while, so Jack ran to a telephone a few yards away. He dialed the station, and told them he had found the Mad Bomber, that he was in the men’s room on the second floor of the hospital, and plotting to kill the lone surviving victim. Jack then went to the men’s room, and stood against the door so that the Mad Bomber couldn’t escape if he tried. A minute later, Detective O’Brien showed up on the scene. He found Jack and helped hold the door closed, without saying a word.
Monday December 13, 1954
Five armed NYPD officers showed up on the scene, one handed O’Brien a gun, and the six of them went into the men’s room and arrest the man.
Jack watched as he is put into the police car. One of the officers came up to him and smiled.
“You did a darn good job, son,” he said. “You can be sure everyone in New York will know your name once the press gets wind of this.” And with that, the cars drove away, leaving just Detective O’Brien and Jack in front of the hospital.
“Do you want to go upstairs and tell that old man that you just saved his life?” the detective asked.
“How do you know that?”
“The officers you called told the guys who just left, and they told me.”
“I’ll save him the stress of knowing someone was plotting to kill him,” Jack said.
“That’s my boy,” Detective O’Brien said.
Jack just grinned.
This short story was inspired by George Metesky, better known as the “Mad Bomber”. My character Greg Mallite’s story was influenced by Mr. Metesky’s, but they are not the same. As the author, I changed many details, both small and large. All other characters, including Jack and Detective O’Brien are entirely fictional.
Thanks for reading,