Part X – Go BIG, or Go Home (The Conclusion)
Washington, DC/Tacoma, WA
He looked down at his watch and silently swore to himself once more. His brother should have called fifteen minutes ago, which meant he was late, and that could only mean something went terribly wrong.
The American’s, he thought, They must have interfered. A bead of sweat formed on his temple and slowly followed the deep contours of his wrinkles down his bronze colored face towards his square jaw. But is he dead? He wondered. Captured? His mind swam with the possibilities and a fierce anger boiled deep inside and slowly rose to the surface.
Tapping his finger nervously on the desk Levi Sulzer stared intently at his iPhone almost willing it to ring. When ten more minutes passed, and it did not make a peep, he considered his next move. Deep down he knew what must have happened. Even though it was a break of protocol, he needed to place a few phone calls. Knowing the powers of the NSA he dared not do it from his cell phone or land line. Grabbing his wallet and keys he headed out the front door. His destination, a 7-11 only three blocks down the road from the townhouse located right off state highway 50 in West Falls Church, Virginia.
As a teenager, he began smoking. At first, it was to be cool and fit in with the older crowd. Soon he became addicted and was never able to shake the habit as he got older. He admitted to his brother Ami as he got older it was a nasty habit and even figured it would likely be the death of him one day. Now, as he walked down the tree lined block, he pondered whether the Turkish cigarette dangling from his lips wouldn’t be the reason he left planet earth after all. As he took a long drag, he considered the next day and what he must do if Ami didn’t call, which seemed all the more likely as the minutes passed.
Ten minutes later he walked out of the convenience store with five burner cell phones in a brown paper bag. As he proceeded down the busy road, he used one phone after another to call various numbers. Dismay crept up like a stiff wind as none of the people he called answered. Dialing the last number, he was surprised as the line connected and a man answered in a soft tone, almost speaking in a whisper.
“What happened?” asked Levi.
The whispering man initially answered by saying, “You should not have called. It could jeopardize both of us.”
“I’m on a burner, it’s fine. Where’s my brother? What happened?”
A slight pause occurred as the man wasn’t sure what to say. After a few awkward seconds, he replied, “They failed. The American’s recovered the device.”
“Your brother’s dead.”
Even though he prepared himself for the possibility, the stark reality of his brother being killed struck him like a sucker punch to the gut. “Then I know what to do.”
“Do what you must,” answered the man in a low voice.
“Did anyone survive?”
“Yes, there were two men that made it out of Babylon alive.”
“The man with the thick black beard, an associate of your brother’s I believe …”
He knew in an instant the man spoke of Benjamin. Cutting him off he asked, “I know who you speak of. What’s his condition?”
“He was critically injured. I heard they were flying him to Baghdad, but didn’t know if he would survive the chopper ride.”
“And the other?”
“It was the man who purchased the device.”
“Yes, that’s correct.”
“Was he hurt as well?”
“No, he’s fine. The American’s have him.”
“Where are they? The men who killed my brother.”
“I don’t know, they boarded a plane and left very quickly.”
“Parts unknown. Nobody is saying much about them. All I know is they’re pissed off at the Agency.”
Ami’s brother ignored the statement. “Thanks for confirming.”
“I’m sorry for your loss.”
“Not as sorry as the United States will be …” he said before disconnecting the line and throwing the last burner phone in the nearest green trash can on the side of Arlington Boulevard. He then proceeded to light up another cigarette and took a long drag sucking the smoke into his lungs as the sweet aroma aroused his senses. Rage, pure unadulterated rage boiled in the pit of his soul and he knew what the outlet would be. As he passed others on the road he his mind repeatedly said, You have no idea of the inferno I am about to unleash, to each one as they continued on their way oblivious to what would soon occur.
Troy winced as Harry applied the disinfectant to the open gunshot wound near his bicep. His adrenaline had worn off and now he felt the flash of pain every time he made even a subtle move with his arm. Harry bandaged the wound with precision care. “Thanks for fixing me up, Harry,” he said through gritted teeth.
“You still need to be checked out by a Doctor when we arrive in DC; what I did is just a temporary solution. I’m not too worried about an infection, but I still want to have it cleaned out by someone who’s not 34,000 feet in the air working from a first aid kit.”
“I got it, Harry, we have five more hours to Barcelona to refuel, then another seven and half hours to Andrews. I’ll survive until then.”
“More than likely,” responded Harry with a smile.
Troy walked up several aisles and took a seat across from Sam and the Jackal who appeared deep in conversation.
“Am I interrupting anything?” asked Troy as he rubbed his arm gently.
Sam smirked, “Just studly here telling me about the time he took a bullet for you.”
Troy laughed out loud which caused a twinge of pain, “I seem to recall the event slightly different.”
“You don’t say?” asked Sam as she looked over at the Jackal with eyebrows raised.
“Hey, I still have the scar to prove it,” replied the Jackal as he started to lift his shirt revealing his sculpted six-pack.
“Dude, keep your shirt on,” protested Troy with his hand outstretched.
“You afraid he’ll prove he’s right?” asked Sam.
“Hell no,” countered Troy as he shook his head, “I’ve known this filthy, rotten, piece of trash for a while and know firsthand he never takes off just his shirt …”
“That’s me,” replied the Jackal, “A male gigolo.”
Before the conversation could slide further down the gutter the Colonel walked up the aisle and stopped next to Troy.
“How’s your wing?”
“I’ll be fine, nothing a few Advil can’t fix, sir.”
“Good. You up for a conference call?”
“Absolutely, anyone important?”
“Not really,” answered the Colonel with arched eyebrows, “Unless you would consider POTUS, the SecDef, and the rest of the National Security Council (NSC) important people.”
“Sounds fun,” answered Troy.
“Well aren’t you special,” mocked Sam as she gave Troy a big grin.
“Don’t get his head any bigger than it already is,” said the Colonel with a sideways grin as he turned and walked toward the rear of the plane. Half way down the aisle he bellowed, “Shake a leg, Cap.”
Troy stood, “Right behind you sir,” came his reply before he looked over at Sam and the Jackal, “This oughta be fun … not.”
As they got to the back of the plane Troy looked at the last row of seats where Rahman Salek sat slumped against the fuselage. His hands bound and flex-cuffed to the armrests. “What about Rahman,” he asked the Colonel.
“We’ll turn him over to the Feds.”
“His dad know we have him?”
“Not sure, but he’ll find out soon enough.”
“Hard thing to keep from the House of Saud.”
“That’s the Presidents battle to fight, but since every POTUS for the past several decades has been in bed with the Saudi’s I’m sure they’ll let him go pretty quickly.”
“Doesn’t that piss you off?”
“Considering fifteen of the nineteen hijackers on 9/11 were Saudi you bet your ass it does. But again, politics trumps logic in this day and age, Troy. I choose my battles carefully and frankly Rahman isn’t worth the fight.”
“He didn’t have to survive you know.”
“Trust me, I considered putting a couple rounds in his head while we were in Babylon, but then I had a thought…”
“And that was?”
“I’ve got some folks who want to talk with him before we turn him over.”
“Pump him for all his intel?”
“Something like that,” answered the Colonel with a shake of the head.
“You didn’t hear that by the way.”
“Hear what?” asked Troy with a sly grin.
“Wouldn’t most people be thrilled to be on a call with the POTUS and NSC?” asked Sam after Troy had left.
The Jackal shrugged his shoulders, “Not Cap, this isn’t his first rodeo. He has sort of a love vs. hate relationship with the leadership in Washington, no matter which party’s in charge. He spent a lot of time in DC as a kid, rubbed shoulders with the who’s who many times. The Evans family was close with a Senator from their home state. Cap knows DC like the back of his hand.”
“So, you’re saying he’s seen real power up close and personal and he’s a little jaded?”
“I don’t know. Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back?”
Sam laughed out loud and shook her head, “You’re such a juvenile.”
“Girl, don’t you just say the sweetest things,” answered the Jackal with a wink.
“Uh-huh,” replied Sam as she rolled her eyes.
Thirty minutes later the Colonel and Troy walked from the back of the airplane with serious expressions plastered across their faces. The Colonel went straight to Digger.
“What are they saying from the hospital? Did he wake up yet?”
Digger shook his head, “The last report I got said Benjamin is still in surgery and sedated.”
“His odds of making it?”
“The Doctor told our contact at the embassy less than ten percent.”
Shaking his head the Colonel replied, “We need that name. He needs to pull through.”
“Agreed, sir,” said Digger.
The Colonel stood there for a moment lost in his thoughts before he looked back at Digger. “By the way, you ok, son? Taking two in the chest had to hurt like hell.”
Digger pulled up his shirt to reveal two golf ball-sized purple welts above his sternum, “I’ll be fine, guess I got a little souvenir, but it’s not permanent like Cap’s.”
Troy touched his bicep and winced slightly, “They tell me chicks dig scars.”
“False,” yelled Sam from a few aisles behind them. “Chicks dig guys smart enough not to get shot in the first place.”
Troy shook his head, “You’re a real ball-buster. You know that right?”
Sam just smiled and winked but didn’t reply.
“Call the embassy and see if you can get an update from whoever is monitoring the surgical team,” said the Colonel. “They know to call us as soon as he’s conscious, right?”
“Yes sir, they do, but I’ll give them a jingle to get an update.”
“Good,” said the Colonel as he turned to head towards the back of the plane. He stopped next to Sam.
She felt his piercing eyes and wasn’t sure what he might say.
“You made the right call in Babylon, Sam. We protect our own and don’t let anyone give you any crap for doing just that.”
“Thank you, sir,” acknowledged Sam as a sense of pride welled up within her.
“Even if it was just the Jackal whose ass you saved,” he added with a huff before marching down the aisle.
“He doesn’t like you much, does he?” asked Sam a moment later as she gazed at the Jackal.
“We’ve had a few frank disagreements about my behavior on missions from time to time,” he said.
“By a few, numbnuts here means every time we’re on a deployment they get into it over something or another,” said Troy who now stood in the aisle.
“Grumpy needs to chill out,” said the Jackal, “So I like to have a little fun. And yes, at times it might be at another’s expense.”
“And by fun, you're referring to the time you accidentally shot Jesús in the right ass cheek during that mission in Kabul?”
“Oh thanks, you just had to bring that one up, huh?”
“My butt still hurts every time I sit down on the crapper,” exclaimed Jesús from the next aisle.
With his hands put out away from his body the Jackal replied, “It was an accidental discharge, I swear, and anyway Jesús got me back.”
“When?” questioned Jesús in a surprised tone.
“At that chalet in Anzère,” answered the Jackal.
“Where?” interjected Sam.
“Switzerland. That was quite the mission,” recalled Troy.
“I didn’t get you back,” said Jesús.
“Oh, yeah,” retorted the Jackal, “I’ve even got the scar to prove it,” as he started to grab the top of his pants.
“Whoa now,” protested Troy, “Keep those drawers on, dude.”
“I believe you,” snickered Sam as she touched the Jackal’s arm.
The back and forth banter was broken up as Digger, currently on the sat phone, frantically snapped his raised fingers high in the air. Everyone grew silent as they heard him say, “Thanks or the information, Doc. I’m sorry he didn’t make it.”
Troy rushed to his side, “Benjamin? He’s dead?”
Digger shook his head, “Surgery ended about ten minutes ago, he crashed almost immediately and they just called it …”
“Dammit,” interrupted Troy in an angry tone as he swore a few more times, “We needed that name. The alphabet agencies are no closer to finding that nuke based on the data we retrieved.”
“Cap!” exclaimed Digger, “You cut me off man. I didn’t get to finish.”
“Benjamin’s gone, but he woke up briefly before his heart gave out.”
“He gave the Doctor’s a name before he kicked it.”
Troy’s angry expression quickly transformed into an ever-so-slight smile. “And what name was that?”
Dony Miller sat back in his no-frills government issued office chair and let out a loud yawn. As Director of the National Security Operation Center (NSOC), he and his team had been working in conjunction with members of Homeland Security, the FBI, NNSA, and CIA on analyzing the data found on Ami Sulzer’s hard drive. So far, they had uncovered a treasure trove of intelligence, but none of it led them to the location of the nuclear device hidden somewhere within the United States.
With only four or five hours of sleep in the past thirty-six hours, the stress and sleep deprivation started to show. As Dony placed his feet on the desk and leaned back, he closed his eyes and dreamt of his own bed, soft pillow, and hours and hours of uninterrupted sleep. The obnoxious ringtone from his land line jostled him back to reality. Putting his feet back on the floor and leaning towards the desk he answered the call on the fourth ring.
“Dony, it’s William Marshall.”
Miller sighed slightly since he knew why the Colonel was calling. “I’m sorry sir, but we still don’t have any updates for you. Everyone at the NSA and our sister agen …”
The Colonel cut him off before he could finish the word, “I’m not looking for an update Dony.”
“I have a name for you.”
Dony was now fully awake, his heart raced and his body tensed. “Ami’s associate survived the surgery?”
“He woke up long enough to give us what we needed before he passed. He provided a name and we need you to run through it your super-duper computers in Fort Meade.”
He grabbed a legal pad and blue pen, “I’m ready.”
“Amos Zogg, that’s the alias Ami’s brother used while in the United States.”
Dony wrote the name and underlined it one time with a blue pen, “That’s a fairly unique name. Can’t imagine there are tons of Amos Zogg’s in the database.”
“We’ll get right on it,” answered Director Miller.
“Dony, this is Troy Evans,” interrupted Troy who was on the line as well.
“Yes Captain,” replied Dony who spoke with Troy several times on the flight from Accra to Babylon.
“Try having your team run that name through the data we got from Ami’s laptop. Maybe we’ll get lucky and Ami sent something to his brother that’s on an invoice or something. Anything that will help us nail down a location.”
“We’re on it. I’ll call you back in thirty minutes or so with an update.”
The call ended, and the Colonel looked at Troy. “You think this name is legit?”
Troy nodded his head, “We need a lucky break right now. The analysts aren’t finding enough to go on, at least in regards to helping narrow down the location of the device. I have faith we’re gonna find this thing, and my gut says the name will be the catalyst to get the snowball rolling.”
“Well, your gut hasn’t failed us yet.”
“And I hope it won’t start now,” added Troy.
Twenty minutes later the phone rang.
“Yes,” answered the Colonel.
“Find him in the database?”
“No Amos Zogg’s in the federal database. He doesn’t exist.”
“Dammit,” responded the Colonel as he smacked his formidable fist against the flimsy desktop causing it to make a splintering sound.
“But … When we ran the name through the data we collected from Ami’s laptop we got hits, lots of them that are providing us actionable intel. Good call by Captain Evans.”
“That’s great news. Do we have an address?”
“We do. Ami shipped numerous items to an Amos Zogg in West Falls Church, Virginia. That’s very close to the Beltway. Property records indicate the home is owned by an LLC out of Antigua.”
“We have eyes on the house yet?”
“It’s a townhouse actually, and no, not yet. The Bureau has a surveillance team on route. They should be in place and operational in the next ten minutes.”
“Can you get us patched into their feed when it comes online?”
“Will do, Colonel.”
“Good work Dony.”
“We’ll have a real-time data and audio feed setup from the agents on the ground so that every agency involved can be on the same page.”
“Looking forward to it.”
Big box vans, Suburbans, and Crown Vic’s scream FEDS and everybody knows that. Instead, the FBI utilized the 24/7 satellite coverage over Washington, DC to determine what type of vehicles lined the road near the townhouse where Amos Zogg received shipments. They had no intention of screwing things up and getting the car right could be critical. Doctors, lawyers, and business professions lived in the row of houses and drove vehicles respective of those positions
The two FBI agents found a spot across the street from the townhouse and tried to act casual as they leaned back in the leather seats of the plush silver Audi A8 four door sedan with heavily tinted windows. The luxurious sedan belonged to one of the Bureau’s deputy directors who reluctantly loaned it out for such a critical surveillance mission.
Rubbing his rough hands against the smooth leather of the seats the passenger stated, “Not too shabby. A little different from my Camry but I could get used to this.”
“Yeah, well don’t. The SES pay scale is slightly higher than your measly GS 11,” remarked the special agent sitting in the driver’s seat.
“Hey! You’re a GS 11,” said the passenger as he looked over and frowned at the perceived insult from his partner, “So why are you knocking our pay scale.”
“I’m not the one fawning over a ninety-thousand-dollar car I’ll never be able to afford …”
The passenger interrupted him, “We got movement down the block; a man is approaching from the south.”
“Get the camera ready. Take the pics but be discreet.”
“Got it,” he said and took rapid snapshots of the man who approached with a cigarette dangling from his lips, “It might be him. He fits the MO.” He zoomed in with the telescopic lens and took one pic after another.
The man in the driver’s side seat activated his radio, “We’ve got a possible sighting of the target.”
A few seconds later the radio came to live, “Copy that, upload the photos and sit tight for further instructions,” said the gravelly voice on the other end.
The man with thinning gray hair kept coming towards them along the opposite side of the street and paused as he reached the steps leading to the red brick townhouse.
Levi Sulzer stood at the base of the steps. He took one more drag from his Turkish cigarette and dropped it to the sidewalk while his left foot ground what was left to a pulp. Taking one more deep breath of fresh air he looked up and down the road. Everything looked normal, nothing out of the ordinary. Ever since he spoke to his brother, he became paranoid that somehow the Americans would discover the plan and stop the attack.
The left side of his brain, where his logic originated, believed his concerns were foolish. Yet, the right side, where his creative juices flowed, imagined all sorts of scenarios where the Americans and their behemoth intelligence apparatus might foil the plot. As he stood on the bottom step and his mind raced he considered indulging in one more smoke, but with so much to do he thought better of it. After all, he needed to complete the tasks that night and stick to his brother’s timetable.
Climbing the stairs, he looked up at the sky and considered his own mortality or lack thereof in light of the events that were about to occur. Finally, after a few seconds, he unlocked the deadbolt, stepped inside, and quickly closed the door behind him.
“Your team did great,” said Pat O’Shea. He had tried to reach Troy hours before but couldn’t get through to him until now.
“Thanks, Pat,” replied Troy, grateful to hear his friends voice, “I’m just glad we retrieved it. One down, one to go.”
“Heard you got shot?”
“Just a graze, actually.”
“Even a bullet can’t stop you, huh?”
“Can’t hurt steel,” replied Troy with a slight chuckle. As he flexed his bicep, a twinge of pain shot up his arm and traveled into his shoulder. Apparently, steel could feel something after all.
“What’s your ETA?”
Troy looked down at his MTM Gray Silencer watch, “Five to six hours till we touch down at Andrews.”
“Did you see the pictures of Levi?”
“Yeah, they sent us several images. We’re told facial recognition software pegs it at a ninety-six percent chance it’s him.”
“The intel is coming in fast and furious now,” replied Pat. “I’m going to be on the NSC call in thirty minutes. Will you and the Colonel be on it?”
“Yes, we will. I’ve heard Operation Rapture is proceeding smoothly.”
“From what I know much of the senior leadership has already left DC. Some are already underground while the others are headed that way. Most of the Cabinet is settled in at Mount Weather. The VP is in Colorado at NORAD while the Speaker is secure inside the Poconos facility. The hardest part is trying to keep the press out of the loop. If they get wind there’s a rogue nuke loose the city would descend into chaos and chances are Levi would set it off.”
Troy didn’t respond and instead asked, “Where’s POTUS?”
“Still in Washington. His family has been moved already…”
“Hawaii?” interrupted Troy with a hint of sarcasm.
“Not this time,” continued Pat, “POTUS plans to stay in DC at least a little longer.”
“Guess you and I will get to die with the rest of the poor schlubs if we fail and the nuke goes off later today,” remarked Troy.
“No way buddy, I’m already back at the Y-12 with the wife and kiddos far away from the blast radius.”
“Seriously?” asked Troy incredulously.
Pat laughed, “No, just yanking your chain. Me? Miss out on another adventure with the famous Troy Evans as he attempts to stop one more nuclear disaster on American soil? Not on your life.”
“You mean infamous, and if I fail, it may cost you yours.”
“Then I’ll die with you, my friend. Can’t think of a better way to go.”
“I can. You could be in the sack with your hot wife and die with a smile on your old, wrinkly face.”
“Well, there’s that,” responded Pat with a hearty laugh. “And Eva still is pretty smoking hot, even, after all these years.”
“This is one screwed up world, Pat,” replied Troy as he considered the state of things, “Doesn’t it freak you out as a parent? Makes me wonder if I’ll ever be able to settle down and bring kids into this chaos.”
“We’ve always had evil with us Troy, and it’s taken on many faces over the millennia. Sure, as a parent it’s disconcerting, but I also see the good in people and truly believe the future of mankind can be bright once more. The shiny city on a hill is not an impossibility, even now.”
“I guess,” replied Troy with little conviction in his voice. He was running on fumes and optimism didn’t rate high on his list when exhaustion set in.
“And as for settling down, I not only encourage you to do so, but I know exactly the right person for you.”
Troy sighed, “Don’t go there, Pat.”
“I think it’s time you stop running around saving the world and settle down with her. You ain’t getting any younger after all.”
“That ship sailed, you know that, Pat.”
“I bumped into her a few months ago, while at the Hoover building for a meeting with the Director.”
Troy felt his pulse race as his face flushed. “Really?”
“Sure did. I wasn’t about to tell you with all these crazy missions you’ve been on lately.”
“How’d she look?” asked Troy before he instantly regretted the question.
“Hot as hell, my friend. Cate’s like a fine wine and is only getting better with age.”
Troy was quiet. His mind went back to ten years before and a flood of memories overwhelmed his senses.
“Earth to Troy, did I lose you?”
A few silent moments passed before he replied, “No I’m here. Just lost in my thoughts.”
“I know it’s not my place to say it but you two have unfinished business. You know that, right?”
“Yes, I know,” answered Troy before a twinge of concern made his body shudder, “Do me a favor.”
“Anything,” answered Pat.
“Make some calls and get her out of DC, ASAP.”
Pat thought about the request. “I’ll see what I can do.”
“Make it happen.”
“I’ll pull a few strings with the Director’s office.”
“We will stop Levi, Troy. Keep the faith.”
“It’s never left me.”
POTUS sat with several of his key advisors in the Deep Underground Command Center (DUCC) far below the west wing and listened as the NSC meeting moved along at a quick pace.
“Mr. President, the NNSA has made two dozen passes by the townhouse with Geiger counters over the past hour and every time the count rate jumps as we approach the garage and drops back down soon after we move away,” stated Pat O’Shea.
“How sure are we that the nuke is in a box truck parked in the garage?” asked the POTUS.
“We can’t be one hundred percent sure, sir. But based on the intel we’ve gathered the consensus is at least ninety percent,” interjected the SecDef.
“And we don’t want to breach the townhouse and take Levi Sulzer down right now?” asked POTUS
“There are too many variables, sir.” Answered the SecDef. “We’ve run through a litany of scenarios in our simulations and feel our best chance to prevent the device from going off is to take it in transit while they are on the move. Thermal imaging confirms there’s two people in the residence. One appears to be near the garage, close to the vehicle. If we move in, there’s a high likelihood they can detonate the device before we can stop them.”
The President considered the words and countered with, “What about just eliminating the entire townhouse?”
“You mean with an airstrike, Mr. President?”
“Yes, take out the entire block if need be. Of course, after the other residences have been evacuated.”
“Too risky sir, plus evacuating area homes may alert Levi to our presence.”
“Then don’t evacuate them,” replied the POTUS off the cuff. “I’d rather deal with the fallout of collateral damage on a small scale then hundreds of thousands or millions of people dying if we fail.”
“We can’t be sure the weapon won’t go off in the event of an airstrike, sir. You know about the incident in 1961 over Goldsboro, North Carolina. The only reason that nuke didn’t go off was thanks to one low voltage switch.”
“But this is different technology from 1961,” countered the POTUS.
“Agreed, Mr. President,” said the SecDef. “And if you give the order we will absolutely level the entire city block. But based on the data we have reviewed I highly suggest we stick with our initial plan.”
“Take them down during transport to Andrews?”
“And which team will be responsible for the takedown?”
“The Omega Group, Mr. President. They are inbound from Iraq and will land in the next several hours.”
Knowing they were on the line the President asked, “William, your team is up for this after all the action you’ve seen the past forty-eight hours?”
“Yes sir, Mr. President,” answered the Colonel, “My men are honored to complete the mission they’ve started.”
A moment of silence passed as the President considered the counsel he received. “Very well, I trust the judgment of everyone on this call. Make it so, recover the nuke. And Omega’s?”
“Yes, Mr. President?” asked the Colonel.
“Don’t fail us.”
“We won’t, sir.”
As the line clicked off the SecDef leaned over to the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (CJCS) who sat to his right and whispered in his ear. “I want an AH-64 Apache in the air following the box van after it leaves. If we get even a sniff of this takedown going south, I want that vehicle blown to hell.”
The CJCS nodded, “You got it. And what about if the airstrike detonates the bomb?”
“We might need to roll the dice if it looks like they’ll blow half of DC to hell.”
“Very well,” acknowledged the CJCS.
Across the street from Levi Sulzer’s townhouse stood a three-story sandstone colored apartment complex. The two bedroom, eleven hundred square foot apartment on the top floor had two bay windows that gave a perfect vantage point overlooking the townhouse. Twenty federal agents comprised of various agencies crammed into the apartment. They set up countless technological gadgets in order to record every piece of audio and take a plethora of photos and video.
Every word uttered by Levi and other man was recoded and scrutinized by floors of analysts in various buildings spread throughout the DC metro area. One thing for sure, they confirmed not only the target but the delivery method. Conversations uttered inside the house even discussed the route they would take. That invaluable intel made its way to everyone that needed to know including the members of the Omega Group who were currently at cruising altitude soaring above the dense clouds over the Atlantic.
Levi poured himself another espresso and savored the sweetness and aroma of the EL Injerto Guatemalan coffee. A wide smile formed as he took his first sip.
“You’ve had quite a lot of those, have you not?”
“Hmph!” exclaimed Levi as he looked at the short, balding Pakistani man before him with a derisive facial expression. “Why the hell should I deny myself pleasure right now? We’ll both be dead in a few hours, anyway.”
Tahir nodded his head and looked towards the ground, “I guess I see your point,” he said as strands from his thinning combed over hair drifted down towards his plump face.
“Have you talked to your family?”
“No, I’ll call them soon.”
“I want you to know my brother was a man of his word, the money transfer has already taken place. Your family will never want for anything ever again.”
“It makes me happy knowing my sacrifice will provide them with a life I could never offer while we were together in Karachi.”
“The passports have been sent as well. They will be free to leave Pakistan and travel anywhere they like very soon,” added Levi.
“My wife always wanted to visit New Zealand. She is fascinated by those Lord of the Rings movies,” remarked Tahir. Although Levi couldn’t see it a tear formed in the corner of the man’s eyes. Knowing he would never again feel the touch of his wife’s brown skin cut him to the quick. He missed the smell of her hair, the softness of her skin, and the flavor of her lips as they tenderly pressed against his own. As his mind returned to the present he finished his thought, “I hope she gets to visit all the places I couldn’t take her in this life.”
Levi could sense the man’s emotions well up, “She will get to do that and more Tahir. All thanks to the sacrifice you’re about to make.’
“I know,” answered Tahir as his voice lowered and he blinked rapidly to keep the tears from escaping.
Knowing it would be wise to change the subject Levi steered the conversation back to the bomb. “Let’s go downstairs to the van. Show me once more how the mechanism works. I want it to be second nature to me as we approach the main gate.”
“I understand,” replied Tahir.
“Also, show me the switch on the center console. Is it simple to operate?”
“Designed it myself, there’s not much to it. You simply depress the button on the switch and the nuke detonates. Can’t get more straightforward than that.” Images and memories began to flood his mind as he considered the totality of what he was about to do. The nuclear physicist pushed the thoughts of his wife and children to his subconscious, stood up, and headed for the back stairs.
Levi took a long sip and finished the rest of the espresso and placed the ceramic white glass on the bar then followed Tahir towards the stairs. Before he made it down the first step, his taste buds told him it was time for another one of his Turkish cigarette. For whatever reason, coffee and cigarettes always seemed to go well over the years.
As they made their way down the stairs Levi asked, “So the blast radius, you’re sure it will cover the area we discussed?”
“Without a doubt,” answered Tahir. “This bomb is quite large; the fallout will be tremendous. Loss of life will be on a scale the United States cannot even fathom.”
“Go big or go home,” muttered Levi to himself.
“What?” asked Tahir in a quizzical tone.
He started to repeat himself, “Go big …” then stopped in mid-phrase, “Never mind, just a stupid American phrase I must have picked up.”
As they reached the last step Tahir turned to Levi, “Are you afraid to die?”
Levi did not want to make light of the question but merely shrugged in his response at first, “Not really. After all, everybody dies eventually.”
“But you are young, still have much life inside you.”
“I’ve lived more lifetimes than most Tahir. I’m at peace with my decision to see my brother’s wishes carried out. I’m ready to rest.”
“And the afterlife?” asked Tahir digging furthers.
“There is no afterlife,” snapped Levi as a fit of anger burst from his mouth and his skin visibly turned a shade of red, “All we are is flesh and blood.”
Tahir didn’t utter anther word, but his soul wrestled with the statement. Not necessarily a religious man, he wasn’t an atheist either. Once the call came the day before a palpable uneasiness stirred deep inside, he felt torn like a piece of frail cloth. His scientific oriented mind questioned the possibility of a afterlife while another part of him struggled with the concept that after death came nothing but a deep, dark void. Something within him wrestled with the actions he set in motion and his thoughts focused on his wife and family. He missed them so much and it caused his heart to ache knowing he would never have the chance to be with them.
The G450 was on final approach over Virginia airspace. As the jet cut through the clouds and peeked out from the billowy, white void above. The greenery of the landscape revealed itself in a magnificent array of colors and shapes.
Troy knew he needed rest eventually, his muscles and joints cried out for relief. He could sleep for a week straight if the opportunity presented itself. Standing up he raised his voice and with an authoritarian tone said, “Ok, peeps. Let’s go over this op one more time…”
Before he could get out another word out the Colonel walked out of the back and room and made his way down the aisle. His heavy footfalls echoed down the fuselage. “Keep talking Cap, don’t let me interfere with what you have to say,” replied the Colonel as he took a seat a few rows back next to Harry.
“Everything still on schedule, sir?” asked Troy as he looked at his commanding officer with a quizzical look on his face.
“Correct, no changes in intel. We proceed as planned.”
“Very good,” answered Troy, “The 11th wing has a hangar all ready for our arrival and we’ll meet up with the other members of our strike team at that time …” He went for a few minutes and covered a few changes that came up during the final call he had with the Colonel and the NSC. “Any questions?” he asked.
“What’s the significance of 3:33?” asked Terrence in his deep baritone voice.
Troy shook his head, “They don’t know yet why Ami wanted the nuke to go off at that time, but we’re lucky the FBI caught that audio soundbite from the feed. Knowing the specific timeframe is invaluable.”
There were a few more questions before Captain Messick came over the PA and instructed Troy to take his seat for landing.
Ten minutes later the team deplaned and made their way across the tarmac and inside the cavernous hangar. Troy was the last one to leave and stopped at the cockpit before descending the stairs.
“Thanks for the ride, Mickey.”
“You got it, Cap, my pleasure as always.”
“Can I have one last request?”
“Of course, anything.”
“Take this jet and get the hell out of DC airspace as quick as possible.”
Mickey looked at Troy with his eyebrows raised and a look of concern plastered all over his face, “And why would I do that?”
“In case we fail.”
“You won’t!” exclaimed Mickey. “You can’t. There’s too much at stake.”
“That’s the plan, but we both know this mission is no slam dunk.”
“I appreciate the concern, but I’ll be right here at Andrews waiting for you guys to get back so I can fly the whole team to Joint Base Lewis-McChord.”
“Look, my friend, you’ve got a wife and two kids just down the road. Pick them up. Bring um’ somewhere safe, just in case. Humor me, at least.”
Mickey shook his head, “No can do, Cap. We’re all in this together. Besides, I sent the wife and kids down south yesterday to be with her family. They’ll be safe. I’m relying on you to do the same for me.”
“You’re stubborn,” retorted Troy with a warm smile spread across his face, “But I do appreciate the vote of confidence.”
“That bottle of Woodford Reserve is waiting for us when you get back.”
“Sounds like a deal.”
Troy nodded, turned, and proceeded down the stairs to join the others in the hangar. As he reached the base of the steps, his eyes glanced to his right and he saw the distinct blue and white paint job of SAM 2800, better known as Air Force One when the President was aboard. The 747-200B was parked inside the adjacent hangar to where he walked. With his gaze squarely on the massive jetliner, a pushback tug began to pull the plane slowly from the hangar to the tarmac as a frenzy of activity and agents scurried about in every direction. The flurry of movements reminded him of countless ants running around their hill completing tasks. Clearly, POTUS will be on the move soon, thought Troy. It appeared to be chaotic, but Troy knew better. Anytime the President moved the motions by those around him were well-choreographed actions with one stated goal behind every move. Protect the Presidency at all costs.
An unease encircled Levi’s waking thoughts. He couldn’t place why he felt that way all of a sudden. The townhouse which for so long felt like a sanctuary suddenly felt restrictive. Knowing they still had at least forty-five minutes before they needed to leave for Andrews his skin felt like it was crawling with bugs. An intense desire to leave and get on the road washed over him like a cold, stinging wave. Without hesitation, it was clear what needed to be done.
Levi yelled down to Tahir who worked diligently down at the van a floor below making final preparations. “Tahir!” he exclaimed, “It’s time to go.”
Tahir looked at his watch and shook his head, Something isn’t right, he thought before he verbalized those concerns, “But we still have time, it’s too early to leave,” echoed his voice up the narrow stairway.
“Change of plans, we leave now,” he commanded. “Is everything ready?”
“Yes, I guess,” bemoaned Tahir whose pulse, which was already racing, quickened even faster. He climbed out of the passenger seat of the vehicle and came face to face with Levi who bounded down the stairs and wore a concerned look on his face.
“What is it?”
Levi shook his head, “I don’t know. Don’t ask me to explain it. I just know we need to leave now.”
Tahir tapped his watch, “We’ll arrive much sooner than 3:33 if we go now.”
“That doesn’t matter right now, the only thing that concerns me is completing our task. My brother is dead as we’ll be soon enough. The time at this stage is less important than success.”
Swallowing hard Tahir nodded, “As you wish. I’ll arm the device and then we can be on our way in ten minutes or less.”
Pain shot through Troy’s arm like an errant hammer that strikes a thumb instead of a nail head. He visibly grimaced and his arm involuntarily pulled close to his torso as a self-defense mechanism that turned out to be woefully too late. “Ahhh,” he said out loud, as the pain radiated from his fingertips to the ball of his shoulder.
“Oh damn,” said the man whose firm grip eased off his thick bicep, “Is that where it hit you?”
Troy turned his head to see the sheepish expression plastered all over Pat O’Shea’s face.
“I’m so sorry about that, Troy,” pleaded Pat in full sincerity.
“Thanks for reminding me that the two Advil must’ve worn off.”
“You got shot in the arm and all’s they gave you was a couple ibuprofen?”
Troy’s face wore a What do you think, dumbass? expression as he simply looked back at his friend and nodded. “Good to see you too Pat, even if you are an inconsiderate dick at times,” he uttered followed by a slight chuckle.
“Seriously, my bad,” replied Pat, “And if I had known it was your bum arm, I would have gripped it with both hands.”
“Sure you would’ve,” answered Troy as he raised his still throbbing arm around his friend’s shoulder and pulled him in closer as they walked towards the rear of the hangar where a large group of people gathered. The longtime friends exchanged a few more words before they arrived at the mass of men and women from an assortment of agencies. Troy affectionately called them, “The alphabet soup,” as he and Pat approached.
A surprised expression formed on Troy’s face as he saw the SecDef step out from the group and meet them.
“Good to see you again, Captain,” said the SecDef.
“Sir,” answered Troy as he gave the SecDef a salute, “I figured you’d be gone by now.”
The SecDef nodded, “My ride is close by,” he said as he gestured behind Troy and towards the hangar doors. “And there’s another person who wants to have a word with your team before we leave.”
Troy turned to see the beast, as the Presidential limo is affectionately referred, come to a stop just outside the huge hangar doors. Once the Secret Service confirmed the area was clear they opened the heavy eight-inch thick armour plated doors and out stepped the President. He walked with an air of authority and confidence towards the group of people near the rear of the hangar. His oversized ears, his most prominent feature, and a wide smile displayed clearly on his face as he approached.
“Where’s the Omega Group?” he yelled in a slow methodical tone as he got closer.
The Colonel and the team stepped out from the others and joined Troy. Pat moved back leaving the eight team members in a somewhat straight line. The president went straight to Troy.
“Captain Evans, it’s a pleasure to finally meet.”
“An honor Mr. President,” replied Troy. Truth be told, Troy didn’t care much for the man who currently sat behind the resolute desk. But what he did revere was the office and he would always show proper and utmost respect to anyone who served in the hallowed role of President of the United States.
“This nation owes you and your team a debt I fear we will never repay.”
“Just doing our job, sir.”
“Well, we have one more task for you to complete today.”
“My team won’t fail the American people, sir.”
The President didn’t answer and instead turned his attention to the Colonel. “William, good to see you again.”
“Likewise, Mr. President,” he answered.
One by one the President made his way down the line, shook hands, and thanked each member of the team. As he reached Sam, his smile grew wider and his contact a little elongated. A minute later he turned away, “I must be going, don’t want to keep my pilot waiting.”
The Jackal leaned in close to Digger, “Jeez, I figured Barry would’ve been long gone by now?”
Digger shrugged his shoulders and rolled his eyes, “Me too.”
The SecDef followed close behind the President and within a few minutes both men climbed the air stairs and disappeared deep inside Air Force One.
The entire incident felt surreal to Troy as he watched the swirl of people make final preparations to get the President out of Joint Base Andrews and into the perceived safety of the skies above. The Omega Group and the others in the hangar watched without a word as the well-oiled machine worked at a frantic pace to usher the President out of Washington to parts unknown.
A couple minutes later the plane taxied away from the hangar, and the Omega Group joined the others in the hangar as they formed an oblong circle shape. Pat moved towards the center of the group and began to relay instructions one after another. He was tasked by the SecDef to lead the strike in his absence. Close to sixty people stood around him and listened intently as Pat spoke. Members of the FBI, Homeland Security, CIA, NSA, NNSA, and other obscure departments were represented.
Six members of DEVGRU, or Seal Team Six, stood just to the right of Troy. Lieutenant Commander Ryan Fitzgerald led the red squadron and had worked closely with Troy over the years during joint operations. When Troy was asked to pick a team to back them up, he didn’t hesitate. Ryan and his team were the best in the business and Troy trusted them implicitly.
Pat quickly went over the plan quickly but with a tremendous amount of details. As he wrapped up the specifics he let everyone know they needed to be out of Joint Base Andrews and in their designated places along the Beltway within thirty minutes.
Then Pat’s phone rang, and the bottom fell out of the well-choreographed plan.
The junior FBI agent shook his head wondering if he just heard what he thought. As he glanced at his watch, he knew the timeframe they planned for was about to go to pot. “I think they are getting ready to move,” he said over his radio.
The person that replied, who happened to be several pay grades above him, scoffed at the statement, “It’s too early. You must have misheard them.”
“Listen. I’m telling you they are leaving now. Something has spooked Levi. He just said they needed to go.”
“Standby,” responded the skeptical voice on the other end.
The pause seemed like forever but it turned out to only be a minute. Everything changed during that brief interlude. The sound of an engine turning over bellowed from the garage and a moment later the heavy wooden garage door made its ascent upward as it rolled along the metal track towards the ceiling in one smooth motion.
“Damn, they are early,” responded one of the spotters who had her gaze fixed on the townhouse.
“Told yeah,” answered the junior agent.
“Get the team at Joint Base Andrews on the line,” hollered the special agent in charge, “They need to move now or they’ll never make it in time.”
Organized panic set in when the hood of the box van slowly emerged from the garage. Rays of magnificent sunlight came down and shone upon the white hood.
Fear sprang to life within Pat’s eyes as he heard the words from the agent in West Falls Church.
“Listen up,” he yelled to the throng of people around him, “Levi’s early. The vehicle is starting to leave the townhouse right now.”
“Dammit,” answered Troy in a frustrated tone, “We’ve got to mobilize all the units.”
“We’ll never get to the South Van Dorn Street interchange in time,” said Digger.
“Is everybody else in place or in route?” asked Troy as he stared intently at Pat.
Pat shook his head, “Not yet. The sharpshooters and TAC team just left the command center, nobody’s ready.”
“Everybody, get in the vehicles,” bellowed Troy, “We’ll have to improvise on the fly and take them in transit further down the Beltway than we planned.”
Like a school of fish when someone sticks their hand in a shallow pond, everyone scattered all at once and made their way to their vehicles.
Pat grabbed Troy’s arm as he moved away, careful not to reach for the injured bicep a second time. “You need to know something.”
“I don’t have time to talk, what is it?” questioned Troy knowing time was working against him.
“You better take them down before the van reaches the Potomac.”
Troy saw the look on his friend’s face, “Drone or chopper?”
“Not sure, maybe both. All I know is there’s a standing order to not let that vehicle cross the river.”
“Will a direct hit from a hellfire set off the device?”
“Nobody knows for sure and let’s make sure we don’t need to find out.”
“Hooah!” replied Troy.
“Good luck,” said Pat.
“You’re not coming?”
Pat shook his head, “No, I’ve been told to stay here and coordinate the movements of the team.”
“Understood,” answered Troy as he sprinted for his vehicle.
Pat watched as the convoy of vehicles squealed their tires and barreled out of the hanger seconds later.
The white box van pulled onto Arlington Boulevard. Levi drove with Tahir anxiously sitting in the passenger seat. The air conditioner pushed cold air into the cab yet still beads of sweat poured down Tahir’s face in a constant stream.
“Take deep breaths, breathe in and breathe out slowly,” instructed Levi as he looked over at the heavyset Pakistani man. “It will all be over very soon. For both of us.”
“I know and we won’t feel a thing,” Tahir muttered.
“The device is armed? You double checked everything?”
“Yes, of course.”
“And the biometric switch?”
Tahir touched his chest with a gentle tap at the breastbone. A wire stuck out from his shirt sleeve and led down to the ground. There it coiled up like a viper before it led towards the back of the vehicle and out of sight. “It’s all plugged in.”
“Don’t have a heart attack before we arrive,” he stated as he looked over at Tahir.
“I’ll try not to,” came the reply from the man who quite literally felt like his heart was trying its damnedest to jump out of his chest with every frantic beat.
Levi nodded and then looked at the side mirrors. Nothing looked out of the ordinary. Truth-be-told he was quite surprised. He fully expected the American’s to make a play for the weapon. Even though he didn’t have any concrete proof to indicate they knew he assumed in the deep recesses of his mind they had found out. Somehow, they had to have known. Yet, as he pulled onto Arlington Boulevard then a minute later onto the 495 Outer Beltway a calm enveloped him. Surely, they would have taken us out by now? he thought to himself and accelerated while quickly merging into traffic heading east.
Looking down at his watch Levi knew traffic would be fairly light at that time of day. Only thirty-four minutes, he said to himself. Be proud brother, he thought as he touched the necklace that hung around his neck; it had been a present from Ami on his twenty-first birthday. They’re about to pay for what they did to you.
The activity level inside the Strategic Information and Operations Center (SIOC) at the FBI headquarters in Washington, DC could best be described as organized mayhem at the moment. Real time images, video feeds, and all communications from the various agency members involved were routed through the large room filled with wall-to-wall digital displays. The staff members who were on site 24/7 acted as a central clearinghouse for all intel. They then routed pertinent info straight to the agents in the field.
Pat acted as the central link between the SIOC and the boots on the ground and wore two earpieces. One was a direct feed from SIOC while the other relayed the comms from his teams converging on the Beltway. His brain was being pulled in two directions as voices came at him from both ears and converged in the center. He did his best to piece together actionable intel versus just plain chatter. One of his biggest struggles was activating the correct mic every time he needed to speak.
His iPhone ringing on his hip brought a new layer into the chaos. He knew the number and whipped the SIOC earpiece out of his left ear at the same time he answered the call.
“Kinda busy at the moment Dave. What is it?”
“Just found something on Ami’s server,” said the analyst who had been pouring over invoices and shipping manifests with countless others for almost forty-eight hours straight.
“I’m listening, talk faster.”
“An item was shipped to Levi’s townhouse that piqued our interests.”
“What type of item?”
“Easiest way to describe it would be a biometric dead man’s switch.”
“Listen clearly,” explained Dave, “What I’m about to tell you may make the difference between the nuke going off or not.”
Pat immediately pulled the second earpiece from his other ear, “You’ve got my undivided attention, David …”
Troy would have rather been in a Charger SRT or something that didn’t scream the word FEDS as they barreled down the Outer Beltway at an obscene rate of speed in the black Suburban.
“Try not to kill us,” he barked at the Jackal from the second row of seats.
“You mean before the nuke vaporizes us?” came the sarcastic reply from the driver’s seat.
“Touché,” answered Troy.
A constant chatter came over the comms by the various team’s converging on the new intercept location. The interchange at Telegraph Road was where they now planned to acquire the device. Sharpshooters would be in place in time, but the only question remaining was would the Omega Group make it there? If they couldn’t the TAC team would have to step in and take their place. Troy didn’t like that one bit. No disrespect to the TAC team, but this was their mission he wanted his team to see it to the very end.
“On second thought,” said Troy, “Drop the pedal through the damn floor.”
“Now you’re talking,” replied the Jackal who did as instructed.
Terrance sat in the front passenger seat while Sam sat next to Troy. Behind them, Jesús, who appeared lost in his thoughts, had the third row all to himself.
Sam saw the concerned look spread over Troy’s face and nudged him with her elbow, “We’ll get there in time Cap, and stop this thing.”
He smiled back, but it was clearly a nervous smile, “No doubt,” he uttered in response.
A second, identical vehicle followed directly behind with Digger, Harry, and the Colonel who had his cell phone glued to his head as he made one call after another as the vehicle weaved in and out of traffic along the Beltway headed west.
The airspace around the Beltway was cleared of all air traffic. Three helicopters and four drones monitored the progress of the van and even beamed high-quality images of the cab back to the various teams for constant analysis. Unbeknownst to any of them, there was also two AH-64 Apache attack helicopters hovering close by with explicit instructions to not allow the white box van to reach the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.
“They just crossed the 395 interchange,” interrupted a voice on the comms.
“Copy that,” replied Troy.
“You’re two and a half miles from the crossover just past the South Van Dorn Street exit. Take that and step on it. That should put you right behind them.”
The next thirty seconds remained quiet until Pat’s voice broke the silence.
“Yeah, Pat,” he answered.
“We got a problem.”
“What kind of problem?
“We just confirmed they have a second dead man switch.”
“You mean Levi and the other guy each have one?”
“It’s more complicated than that, we know they have one switch in the cab. The drones recorded an image clear enough to show that it’s attached to the center console. Close enough for either man to reach.”
“Right,” answered Troy, “We know about that one. We need to kill them before they can click it.”
“But there’s a second switch, and it’s biometric.”
“What’s that mean?”
“It means the switch is physically attached to one of them and continually monitors their vital signs. If whoever wearing it dies, the device will go off.”
“So which one is attached to it?”
“Don’t know yet, we are re-positioning the drones to give us a better angle into the cab.”
“Well there goes the plan of slowing them down and giving the both of them a rat-tat-tat-tat,” commented Jesús from the back seat.
“Yeah, this just got a hell of a lot more complicated,” added Sam.
Another voice interrupted everyone, “They’re just passing you guys headed eastbound.”
Troy stared intently as he watched the white box van approach and then whiz by in the opposite lanes. “Saw them,” he acknowledged then noticed the crossover one hundred and fifty yards ahead, “There’s our turn Jackal,” as he pointed ahead.
“Roger that, Cap, I see it.”
“How many surveillance vehicles do we currently have?” asked Troy to whoever would answer.
“There’s three of us in front of them and four tailing them,” answered one of the agents fifty feet in front of the van. “There are four lanes. They just moved from the far-right lane to the second lane from the right a few miles back.”
“Roger that. We are taking the crossover now,” said Troy as the sound of tires squealing drowned out most other noises. “Clear the right lane, we’re headed towards them and coming in hot.”
One of the agents tailing the van replied, “We’re on it.”
“Pat,” pleaded Troy, “We really need to know which one has the biometric device.”
“I know, they’re working on the images as fast as they can.”
“We can try non-lethal shots to both of them but I can’t guarantee it will stop either one from hitting that center switch.”
“Understood, wait for my word before you take them down.”
“Only a few miles from the Potomac,” reminded Troy.
“We know,” answered Pat in a distressed voice.
“I need an answer,” demanded Pat.
“Understood, my team just got fresh images in from the drones and they’re analyzing them now,” came the voice from the SIOC.
“No time left to analyze them. We must know right now whether it’s the driver or passenger that’s hooked up to the biometric device.”
“I know, give us sixty seconds.”
“You’ve got thirty before my team arrives,” answered Pat.
Pat could hear the chatter from his right earpiece and knew the Omega Group was almost even with the van. He knew it would be close, maybe too close.
“We need an answer now,” pressed Pat.
A few seconds of silence greeted the request, “I think we got it. There’s a wire coiled on the floorboard between the two men. But we can just make out which person the wire leads to.”
“Driver or passenger?”
The Telegraph Road interchange was less than a quarter mile away. Troy knew they were just about out of time.
“Which one, Pat? Time’s up. We’re stopping that van.”
“Hold on Troy, they’re confirming who has it now, ten seconds is all we need. Slow down the traffic, the answer is coming.”
“You heard em’ fellas,” said Troy to the surveillance vehicle teams, “Grind the Beltway to a halt.”
On cue one of the FBI agents directly in front of the van who drove a silver Toyota Highlander cut his wheel hard to the right and made solid contact with the red Nissan Altima in the next lane driven by another agent. The sound of crunching metal and the screeching of locking brakes disturbed the commute in a fraction of a second.
The Jackal now had the black Suburban matching speed with the box van. He looked over and could see Levi and the fat Pakistani who appeared to have beads of sweat rolling down his face soaking his shirt.
The drive had been uneventful for Levi. The uneasiness he felt at the townhouse slowly dissipated as they made their way east along the Beltway. An inner peace overcame him as the miles clicked along. He was sure to keep the vehicle at or below the posted speed limit and stuck to one lane while rarely deviating from it.
Tahir acted like a nervous wreck the entire drive and Levi kept assuring him they were almost at the base. More than once he thought, This fool is going to have a stroke or heart attack before we even reach the Potomac. His assurances seemed to be of little or no help to the Pakistani who clearly looked like he was having second thoughts. Too bad, thought Levi to himself, Your fate is sealed. As is mine. His eyes stared ahead as the traffic slowly built up around them.
Then he saw it. His brain recognized the errant swerve before his hands could react. Fool, he thought as he watched the silver SUV slam into the car directly in front of them. What’s he doing? his mind screamed. Instinctively he pulled his foot from the accelerator and mashed hard on the brakes while at the same time he swerved the wheel to the right to avoid the two vehicles. The brakes ground to a halt and the van shimmied as they quickly went from sixty-five miles per hour down to almost nothing in several seconds. Behind them, he heard similar screeches as everyone tried their best to come to a sudden stop.
The black Suburban next to them came into his peripheral vision as he heard them lock up their brakes as they attempted to slow down as well. As they came to a stop, the sudden opening of the front and rear doors startled him. His mind, confused by the accident before them, grappled with the commotion that ensued just to the right.
Troy lunged out the rear driver’s side door just as Pat’s voice reverberated through his earpiece for everyone to hear, “Take out Levi, the biometric device is attached to the passenger. Repeat do not shoot the passenger.”
With his weapon raised Troy saw Levi’s eyes register the threat and reach for the center console. The three-round burst spat out of Troy’s weapon at the speed of sound and shattered the passenger side window spraying the inside of the cab with shards of glass. All three rounds found their mark and Levi’s head exploded like a melon sending pieces of his skull and brains all over the white wall of the cab.
For Troy, the events seemed to happen in slow motion. He had run through the takedown dozens of ways and visualized each shot he may need to take.
The passenger’s hand left his lap and moved out away from his body. Thinking he may be reaching for the switch on the center console Troy fired a burst into the man’s wrist which shattered like a clay pigeon. Behind them, from the overpass, a long-range rifle shot cracked as a bullet punctured the man’s left shoulder and blood sprayed out in a fine mist.
“Cease fire,” screamed Troy as he saw the Pakistani grimace in pain, “Cease fire,” he repeated once more.
He had the passenger’s side door opened a fraction of a second later and grabbed the badly mangled left hand which was hanging by just strands of loose skin. He pulled what remained towards the man’s lap while at the same time grabbed his right hand. “Flex cuff him,” he screamed to Sam who stood just to his left, “And tie it off above.”
Blood flowed freely from the wounds. Sam used the zip-tie like flex cuff’s and looped them into the assist handle above the passenger side door. This elevated Tahir’s hands above his head and kept him from being able to reach the switch mounted on the center console.
“Harry get a tourniquet on that left arm stat and keep this piece of filth alive until the NNSA team arrives to defuse the bomb.”
“On it,” answered Harry.
“Status?” asked Pat on the comms.
Troy quickly looked around the cab as a myriad of agents swarmed the vehicle from every side. “Passenger is alive at the moment and we’ll keep him that way. Levi is dead.”
“And the device?” asked Pat.
“Making our way to the back of the van now.” There was a pause as Troy and the others ran to the rear of the vehicle and flung open the doors. There in all its glory lay a perfectly intact nuclear device. The sister device to the one Troy and the team recovered less than twenty-four hours before in Babylon. “We have it,” said Troy as he let out an audible sigh. “The weapon appears undamaged, and I can confirm it’s armed. Get your team here to disable it right now.”
“Chopper is sixty seconds out; our response group is on board.”
The next ninety minutes passed like a blur.
Troy found himself finally alone with only his thoughts as he was back at Joint Base Andrews in the rear of the dimly lit hangar sitting on a metal folding chair. With his head firmly in his hands, he leaned forward and took deep breaths. The adrenaline high of the past few hours wore off, and he had a few minutes of relative silence to think about what occurred.
The respite was short lived as the Colonel made his way back to him with a wide grin on his face.
“You ok back here?” asked the Colonel.
“Yes, sir. Just thinking.”
“Thought I saw smoke.”
“Hardy, har, har.”
“As always, you and the team performed flawlessly.”
Troy ignored the compliment, “Can we head home now?”
“Sorry, Cap. Not yet. After action review at the Pentagon for the Project Nebuchadnezzar mission, and before that, we need to get your arm looked at and the wound cleaned out.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Troy as he rubbed his bicep gently.
“It wasn’t a question. A helo is standing by. You and I will head to Walter Reed then they’ll get us over to the Pentagon after they clear you.”
“Gonna be a long night, huh?”
“Always is, but I think I can get you and the rest of the team home by mid-day tomorrow.”
“What about you?”
“I’m staying in DC a little longer.”
“You have to deal with Rahman?”
“Yes and no. I have something else to take care of while I’m here besides him. Trust me when I say it’s for the good of the whole team.”
“No, just necessary,” said the Colonel as he changed the subject, “You’ll be ok after what happened?”
Troy was quiet for a moment, “Yeah, I’ll be fine, just don’t want to see another nuke as long as I live.”
“Third one wasn’t a charm?”
“Something like that,” answered Troy lost in his own thoughts as his mind drifted back to the year 2002.
It had been a long twenty-four hours for the entire team. Finally, they were back on the G450 and cruising above flyover country headed west. Their destination Joint Base Lewis-McChord southwest of Tacoma, Washington.
An hour into the flight Sam came over and sat in the empty seat beside Troy.
“You look like crap,” she said with a slight smirk peeking out from the corner of her lips.
“Thanks, feel like it too,” countered Troy. “I was surprised to hear you were coming back with us.”
“Well, Division S is based at Bragg. Figured you’d be heading back to them now that the mission is over.”
“They said I deserved several days of extended leave and I’ve got somebody I promised to see out West. Thought I would bum a ride.”
Troy shook his head, “Smart move I guess.”
“Plus, I’m ready for it.”
“Ready for what?” questioned Troy.
“The long answer …”
“About Cate, ring any bells yet Sherlock?”
“Jeez, you’re persistent.”
“You seriously want to know what happened?
“Yes, and you promised to give me the full scoop.”
Troy sighed, “Alright Martin, I’ll lay it on you, but I might need a few drinks to lubricate the old memory bank.”
“I’ll take a few rounds if you’re pouring, Cap,” replied Sam.
“Of course, you will,” retorted Troy who stood suddenly, “I’ll be right back.”
Troy made his way to the cockpit, “Knock, knock,” he said while he simultaneously rapped on the side of the cherry cabinet just inside the flight deck.
“Whatcha need Cap?” asked Mickey who turned around in his flight seat.
“Can I borrow that bottle of Woodford Reserve? I’ll replace it when we land. You didn’t open it yet did you?”
“I might have had a sniff,” came the reply as he held up his index finger and thumb with a small gap between the two.
“By a sniff you mean you drank half the bottle right?”
Mickey smiled, “Something like that,” then looked at his watch, “You’re not usually a daytime drinker.”
“I need to have a little chat with Sam and might need a little liquid courage.”
“I promised her on the way to Ghana I’d give her an explanation of what happened with you know who.”
“That may take the rest of the bottle,” answered Mickey with a growing smile on his face. “And why would you make a stupid ass promise like that?”
“Women,” answered Troy as he sighed and didn’t answer the question.
“Ain’t that the truth,” replied Mickey with a chuckle. “And hey, Cap?”
“You guys did great out there. I know you’ll never get the appreciation you deserve but millions of people are indebted to you and the rest of the team. I for one am grateful.”
“Thanks, Mickey. Sometimes we’re more A-team than an elite fighting force, but we seem to get the job done when it’s all about to hit the fan.”
Mickey passed the bottle to Troy, “I’ll drink to that. Bottoms up my friend.”
Troy smiled and replied, “Thanks.”
“So how do you do it every time?” asked Mickey.
“Succeed when the cards are stacked against you?”
With a shrug of his shoulders, Troy answered, “I honestly don’t know.”
“Is it fate? Divine intervention? Or just plain dumb luck?”
With a laugh, Troy said, “Probably the latter, but I tend to think the Man upstairs has our six, as well.”
“Whatever it is, I’m glad you guys have it and hope it never leaves you.”
“Me too,” replied Troy as he let the words sink in, “Catch you later, bud.”
Troy sat down next to Sam and placed two shot glasses on the table. After filling them with the amber colored nectar he said, “Bottoms up,” as he lifted the glass.
In one smooth motion, before Troy could react, Sam grabbed her glass and pounded it down, “Ahh that’s smooth!” she exclaimed.
“Impressive,” remarked Troy as he watched her take the first shot. “Where should I start?” he asked responding by taking a shot of his own.
“Start where all stories should begin silly,” answered Sam, “When a boy meets a girl…”
“Ray. The dog.”
“Not now, I’m watching the game.”
A few seconds passed before the voice inflection turned up a few notches and the tone turned less than what any man in his right mind would discern as cordial, “Raymond B. Surrey, the dog.”
His wife used his full given name, which meant if he didn’t respond in the affirmative there would most likely be hell to pay. “Yes, dear,” he finally relented. Ray grabbed his coat, put on his boots, and clipped the leash on his Jack Russell terrier named Rufus.
It was almost midnight; the moon lay hidden behind a thick cover of clouds and the temperature hovered in the low forties.
Ray stepped outside, silently cursed Rufus and his limited bladder retention and started down the road away from his house in a quickened pace. The damn dog would never piss in his own yard, always had to go down the road to the far light pole to lift his leg.
A minute later a black Audi quietly approached from behind. As the sleek vehicle hugged the curb it stopped just to Ray’s left. He paused, looked over, curious as to why he didn’t recognize the vehicle.
The passenger window lowered and a firm yet non-threatening voice called out, “Hey, pal. I think I took a wrong turn, and every road looks identical at this time of night. Can I bother you for directions?”
Ray sighed, he wasn’t interested in acting like google maps at that moment. Nevertheless, he approached the vehicle and ducked down to look into the open window. As his eyes focused on the darkened interior his body involuntarily jerked as he realized he was staring down the barrel of a large caliber handgun. Instinctively he reached behind his body to the concealed Glock 19 clipped to the waistband of his pants.
With a stern yet calm tone the man inside the Audi said, “Ray if you draw that Glock your wife Mellie will be scrubbing your brain matter out of Rufus’s fur with a fine tooth comb later tonight.”
He withdrew his hand and brought it back into view, “Who the hell are you and what do you want?”
The ambient lighting came on illuminating the inside of the plush car. Clear as day the driver’s face and also the full view of the HK45 were on display. The recognition within Ray’s eyes was difficult to mask, even for someone that worked at the Agency.
“You know who I am,” said the man in a matter-of-fact tone.
Try as he may, Ray knew there would be no way to deceive the man before him. He swallowed hard, “Yes, I know who you are Colonel.”
“Then you also must know why I’m here?”
Ray played stupid, “No, sir, I don’t.”
“I need you to get in the car, we need to chat.”
“And if I refuse.”
“Your wife will become a widow, your children fatherless. Rufus will have to find another dude to take him out for his damn piss every night.”
“You’d shoot me right here in the burbs?” asked Ray.
“Try me. You ratted out my team to Alexei Petrikov.”
“It’s not as simple as that,” retorted Ray. Damn, how does he know it was me, he thought to himself.
Ray knew he couldn’t talk his way out of this. Reluctantly he climbed into the vehicle and his body sunk into the upscale leather seats. He left the door still ajar, “What about Rufus?”
“He looks like a smart dog, he’ll find his way home,” said Colonel Marshall before he added, “Close the door, Ray.”
He did as instructed and pulled the door shut. “My wife will wonder what happened to me if Rufus returns without me. She’ll call the agency number ASAP.”
“Mellie is the least of your worries. And as for the tracker, all you spooks have implanted in your body …” The Colonel flicked his wrist and the knife in his other hand opened as the blade locked in place with a distinct click, “I know where the chip is and how to remove it.”
“This is a dangerous path you’re headed down, William. You still have time to let me go and I won’t breathe a word of it to the Director.”
“You’re in no position to negotiate with me, Ray. And besides, don’t be a dick. There’s no reason why you can’t make it out of this alive.”
“If I tell you what you need to know, that is.”
“Me? No, you won’t be talking to me, Ray.”
Ray never saw the figure who had been hidden low to the floorboard in the back of the vehicle. The person dressed in all black rose up quickly and silently reached over the seat then plunged the syringe into Ray’s exposed neck. The warm liquid filled his body and an instant later everything faded to black.
“How long we have?” asked the Colonel.
“He’ll be out for at least ninety minutes,” answered the man with a raspy voice in the rear seat who sat back.
“We better get moving then,” answered the Colonel, “It will take us an hour to reach Culpeper.”
Five and a half hours after they left Washington, the six members of the Omega Group were back where the mission began, at Terrance’s house. Sam said her goodbyes to the team on base. They tried to convince her to come by the house but she declined. She did promise to meet up with the team real soon which would have to be enough for the time being.
It was just the guys, a mountain of pizza boxes, and more beer bottles than any of them could count. Around 11:00 PM the Jackal got a text. Troy watched him from the other side of the room as a smile encompassed his face. As the Jackal put down his cell phone he stood up and headed for the door.
“Where you going?” asked Troy.
“Gotta bounce, Cap. Have something I need to do.”
“At this time of night?” questioned Troy with a surprised look on his face, “I thought we all agreed to crash here?”
“Yeah, I know but I’ve had a slight change of plans.”
“You’ve had a few cold ones.”
“Only a couple and I’m good to drive. Trust me. Oh and don’t wait up for me.”
“You’re not falling back into that, are you?”
“Nothing like that Cap, I’ll be a good boy, I promise.”
“Ok,” answered Troy reluctantly as he watched the Jackal walk outside and climb into his 4X4 Tundra. A minute later the truck taillights disappeared into the darkened night.
“What’s that all about?” asked Terrance after Troy closed the door and came back inside.
“Not sure,” answered Troy.
By 2:00 AM they all gave into their exhaustion and passed out in various rooms throughout the house. Sleep came to Troy, like the others, but it was an uneasy rest. He had crashed on the couch in the front living room closest to the front door.
At 6:00 AM he was startled awake as a car door slammed outside. Reaching for his Kimber on the end table he hopped off the couch and made his way towards the front door. Without looking through the peephole he thrust the door open, his hand firmly gripping the 1911, with a round in the chamber he clicked the thumb safety off.
A shocked look formed on his face as he watched the tender kiss between the Jackal and Sam conclude.
“Good morning, Cap,” said Sam as she smiled and stepped away from the porch. Halfway down the walkway she looked back and made eye contact with the Jackal, “I’ll call you soon.”
“Can’t wait,” answered the Jackal as he watched her climb into the rental car and drive off.
As soon as she was gone, the Jackal let out a short whistle, turned around, and made his way through the ajar door. A smile from ear-to-ear covered his face, and he had an unmistakable glow about him.
Troy grabbed his shoulder, “What the hell was that all about?”
With a devilish grin the Jackal replied, “Sorry Cap, but a gentleman never tells.”
“Since when are you a gentleman?” questioned Troy.
THE END (Is Where We Begin...)