Thursday, September 8th, 1978: 6:57p.m. (on the eve of the hottest day in the city’s history)
On the twelfth floor of a high-rise office building in the heart of downtown Chicago, the stage for the filming of a segment of the CBS Evening News with anchor Morton Dean, is being set.
A statuesque, dark-haired, fair-skinned, professionally attired, young woman three minutes early for her scheduled interview, is captured by the cameraman’s lens as she enters the room. The skyline of America’s fourth largest city is seen behind her. The camera crew is nervously awaiting Mr. Dean’s arrival, making last minute adjustments, moving subconsciously to a song on the radio — an oldie but a goodie.
JOHN SEBASTIAN (of The Lovin’ Spoonful, sings)
Hot town summer in the city. Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty…
Michaeline Westgate, or “Mike,” as she is known to friends and colleagues is a woman at the forefront of a new age in American culture, a deviation from what had been the norm for more than two hundred years. And if nothing else, she is most certainly a breath of fresh air in the fifty-year tradition of the J.Edgar-Hoover-led FBI. Following the death of the gender-biased director five years prior, on May 2nd of 1972, Mike became the first woman since Alaska P. Davidson in 1922 to become an official, gun totting, Special Agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Proving herself to be an invaluable asset, within her first two years, Agent Westgate’s research and analytical skills supplied key pieces of missing evidence in the Bureau’s investigation into the largest cash robbery in Chicago’s history, the infamous Purolator Vault Heist. Mike determined that the perpetrators used time-delay fuses on gas-filled grenades to serve not only as a distraction but to distort the time-line of the robbery. Employing a stopwatch and a metronome — having estimated the height of each burglar and with that, determining their stride — she rolled back the clock on the surveillance cameras, ably demonstrating to her superiors the actual moments in which the perpetrators escaped and thereby, the route they took. Both were crucial pieces of evidence that ultimately lead to the robbers’ capture and the recovery of all but $1.2 million of the $4.3 million taken.
Mike then gained national attention three years later, capturing headlines on August 27, 1975, when she single-handedly disarmed the fourth in a series of bombs strategically placed by Palestinian terrorists along Chicago’s L-Line. Initially reported as a discarded piece of luggage, a large suitcase strategically placed on the tracks outside the main entrance to the Standard Oil Company’s office building contained enough C-4 explosive to collapse the entire sky-scraper onto the commuter line. With the bomb squad reporting four minutes out and the timer on the now opened suitcase reading under one, when all around hesitated, Michaelene acted. For her act of unparalleled courage, this self-effacing, rising star was awarded the Bureau’s highest accommodation, The Medal for Meritorious Achievement. The story, along with a captivating photo of the “beautiful and gutsy” Chicago FBI Agent, titled “The Bureau’s First,” was leaked to the press.
The face of one of their own and a woman no less, plastered on the front of a newspaper was an extraordinary breach in traditional FBI protocol. Newspaper accounts that lauded the effort of a specific FBI Agent, had been banned by Hoover, since 1934. That was the year “Melvin Purvis, The Man Who Got Dillinger,” received nationwide fan mail that included more than a hundred marriage proposals. Infuriated Hoover, who wished to garnish all such glory for himself and the institution he founded set out to undermine Purvis. With Hoover’s passing, newly minted Director Kelly, a pragmatist, was looking to upgrade the Bureau’s stodgy, old-boys-club image. He was looking less for the right person than the right opportunity. Seizing upon her public persona, Kelly offered Michaelene Westgate, a temporary duty assignment as Acting Special Agent in charge of the FBI’s Northern Illinois bureau. Mike jumped at the chance.
The next day, Friday September 9th, 1978:
“What was that?”
Like a giant, flame-belching, carnivorous animal set free from its bounds, once-interconnected, underground cement-lined gasoline containers burst, shooting skyward from beneath the earth. Erupting balls of gasoline bluster and boil, exploding in ranting gusts as they make their way to the nearby oil refinery. Once merged, oil and gasoline fill the sky with a stunning display of black, red and yellow torrents of devastating mayhem, devouring everything in its path.
The station pumps, the free-standing structure, its tire warehouse, its signage, the tractor-trailer servicing depots, the automated car wash, nearby street lights, the sidewalks, a light tan Ford LTD wood-paneled station wagon — having been relocated to the far side of the Shell Super Service Station — and the Chevy convertible, together, form a hail of molten fragments that first shoot up, then rain down across the neighborhood, sparking hundreds of tiny brush fires and igniting wooden roofs. With a single shot, a 2.1 square mile “war zone” of scorched earth has been created over the nearly four-square-miles of the Chicago suburb of Belmont-Cragin.
By way of the exceptional talents of his hired gun, the spotter — the mastermind — just minutes ago, successfully executed Act Two of his deceptive plan, ultimately leading investigators into a multi-faceted rabbit hole from which he is convinced they may never emerge.
“And if by some twist-of-fate they do, the swiftness of my actions will have eroded any chance of stopping what I will soon unleash. Jimmu has placed his faith in me. To succeed is my destiny. It is what I alone have been called upon to do.”
The mastermind’s version of his father’s Operation No Pa, a terror campaign thwarted by the Allies during World War Two, aimed at ultimately ridding all who dare to live and breathe free is now set to advance once again, this time on U.S. soil, unnoticed.