Fire in the Belly
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The conditions created by the cult produce vehement complaints by neighbors, conveyed via block captain Benjamin Jamin Baker. Their clamor heavily chafes against city authorities, including the License and Inspections (L&I) Department. War's open display of weapon-carrying guards also draws the attention of police, the press, and the entire city. Back in '78, the cult was involved in a shootout with the cops. An officer was killed, for which five War members were sent to prison and its headquarters demolished. Now, Jackie wants them freed. Meanwhile, the city wishes it would all go away.
By the early 80s, Jackie moved operations to a new neighborhood and began his campaign to free the five black brothers, claiming the cop was killed by friendly fire. He is willing to use his black neighbors as pawns to meet his objective. He's skilled at exploiting the city's racially sensitive, hands-off tack that resulted from police use of force during the '78 melee, even as the cult now makes a fortress of their new home, anticipating another confrontation. But the neighbors are fed up, as are the police.
Jamin Baker unsuccessfully attempts a peaceful sit-down with Lucinda War. Stakes escalate when his adopted niece, the daughter of his brother whose death Jamin caused, becomes enamored with the cult and seduced into joining.
He tries working within the system, taking the problem to L&I where he is befriended by district rep, Don Slade. Jamin is dismayed to learn L&I's hands are tied, but Slade and a detective friend, Dave Hemmings, have their own plan to dispatch Jackie War. The cop killed in the '78 shootout was Dave Hemmings' gay lover. Jamin wants no part of it but works with Slade and Hemmings to provide intel on the cult's activities.
Authorities passively acquiesce as the city watches War fortify its new home with steel plates and railroad ties. Jackie becomes more vocal, publicly demanding release of the imprisoned members. Racial tensions and administration incompetence, combined with private political ambitions, impair the city's capacity to constrain War's increasing militancy.
However, an accumulation of bodies-- an Assistant District Attorney, a mob hitman and drug dealer doing business with War, and Jamin's niece--coupled with War's amplified rhetoric and display of weapons, mean police can no longer remain benign. Visible bunkers constructed on the roof of War's house seal the decision to act. Police Commissioner Frank Stenna, aka the anvil that breaks hammers, takes control. He also has mayoral ambitions for which he cultivates a tough-cop image with a 30 x 30 framed photograph originally appearing in papers nationwide: Philadelphia Police Commissioner Frank Stenna--at a society function in a tuxedo with a billy club stuck in his cummerbund. But his tactics in the 1978 Project War shootout got the job done. By 1985, same problem, same perps, same tactics--but with substantially graver consequences.
The story's climax is the confrontation between the dug-in cult and Philadelphia police. Cops are killed and fire ensues from a bomb dropped from a helicopter on War's house. Through misjudgment as well as animus, it's allowed to burn. Inside the house, people burn to death and the entire block set aflame.
Media Type: Paperback
Publication Date: 11-04-2022
native mid-westerner where he lived in Detroit and Chicago, Lanny has been a Philadelphian for thirty-five years. After a long, varied, and successful business career, his love of language and the power of stories led him to writing fiction. He is a committed city guy, constantly cruising the urban landscape for the eccentric characters who populate his stories, and incidents that defy any strangeness a fiction writer could conceive. He and his long-time companion, Jackie, a painter, wile away hours over food, martinis, and wine, talking about family, dogs and art. Lanny is also the lucky father to a daughter, Amanda, who is married to a wonderful husband. Their three beautiful, talented little girls are a grandfather's delight