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“Large
button on the very front of the grip—squeeze it with your thumb and hold to
open the seeker-head shutter. Look through the sight and center the target in
the sight.” Hardcastle looked over the sight, first to line up the Cessna, then
looked through the sight. There was a sawtooth frame under a tiny round circle
in the center of the sight. When Hardcastle placed the Cessna inside the center
of the circle, he heard a loud
beep beep
beep beep beep
... “It’s beeping. What next?”

 
          
“Pull
the trigger and kill that motherfucker,” Harley said.

           
Hardcastle squeezed the trigger.

 
          
There
was a very loud
fwoosh!
with very
little kickback. The missile popped out of the aluminum tube and sailed skyward
... and immediately fell to earth about fifty yards ahead of them. A second
later the missile’s motor fired, and it skittered across the ground for
hundreds of yards until it was lost from sight. “Shit! It didn’t track! It
didn’t go!” Hardcastle shouted.

 
          
“It
should’ve
gone
, ” Harley shouted. “We
did everything right.” But Hardcastle was already scrambling to remove another
missile from the Avenger launcher. He removed the launch tube from the shoulder
grip, twisted off the hot battery cylinder, loaded another missile on the
shoulder grip, and twisted on another battery unit.

 
          
By
the time Hardcastle hefted the Stinger onto his right shoulder again, the
Cessna was over the Jefferson Memorial, swooping lower and lower. Its wings
swung wildly as it caught in the hot lower air currents as it passed over the
flaming ground path of the terrorist 747. Hardcastle lined up on the Cessna
once again, flipped the BCU activation lever down, and .. .

 
          
...
as soon as he did so, white acidic gas began streaming out both ends of the
missile. Hardcastle threw the missile and launcher on the ground. The gas was
coming out at high pressure now, and the battery unit underneath the grip was
smoking. ‘The missile must’ve been bad,” Hardcastle said. Harley was already
moving toward the Avenger launcher to pull off another missile, so Hardcastle
opened the second case to get another launcher—and he had a chance to study the
instructions himself.. .

 
          
That's it!
he exclaimed to himself.

 
          
The
missile was pushed out of the launch tube by compressed nitrogen gas, and there
was a 1.5-second delay before the rocket motor fired. The launch tube needed to
be “super-elevated,” or raised high enough so the missile would not hit the
ground before the rocket motor would fire. The last drawing before squeezing
the trigger described the final lineup of the target in the sight and how to
superelevate: after the target was acquired and locked on with the beeping
tone, the Stinger had to be raised until the target nestled into one of the
sawtooth notches on the bottom of the sight, depending on the direction the
target was flying, to lead the target. The missile’s seeker head would still be
tracking the target all the way, and when the rocket motor fired it would home
in and kill.

 
          
By
the time they loaded the third missile and screwed in a new battery unit, the
Cessna was almost directly overhead, flying less than the length of a football
field west of the
Washington
Monument
. Hardcastle could clearly see two objects
under the wings of the Cessna—those had to be the fuel-air explosives. He let
the Cessna fly north of his position, then, as it flew over
Constitution Avenue
, activated the battery unit, squeezed the
seeker head uncage switch, heard the beeping sound, lined up on the Cessna for
the last...

 
          
“Freeze!”
someone shouted behind him. “FBI! Drop that missile launcher
now! ”

 
          
“No!”
Harley shouted. “I’m Harley, Secret Service!” She held up her U.S. Treasury
Department ID wallet, hoping that the FBI agent would notice the standard
federal agent “safe signal”—looping one finger over on the badge side and two
fingers on the ID card side. “We’re trying to stop that plane!”

 
          
“I
said
drop it!"
Obviously he was
too keyed-up to notice Harley’s safe signal. To the FBI agent who had driven up
to the group at the
Washington
Monument
, it looked as if Hardcastle were trying to
launch a bazooka round at the White House or the
Commerce
Department
Building
.

 
          
“No!”
Harley shouted. “I’m Secret
Service! He’s authorized! Don’t!”

 
          
Hardcastle
felt the bullets crash into the middle of his back like two sharp rapid
punches—but the bulletproof vest saved his life. He superelevated the Stinger
launcher, placing the target in the middle notch on the bottom of the sight so
the muzzle of the launcher was raised well over the Cessna, and squeezed the
trigger... just as two bullets hit the back of his Kevlar helmet. The FBI agent
couldn’t get the shooter in the back, so he tried for a head shot, and this
time he got him.

 
          
The
missile popped out of the launch tube and sailed high overhead, nearly out of
sight—but nowhere near the Cessna. Hardcastle thought it was flying out of
control again.
It was our last chance,
damn it,
he thought as he fell forward on his face, dazed and immobilized
by the shock.

 
          
Our last chance . . . God, no . . .

           
He looked up toward the White House
when someone shouted, “Look!” Two quick puffs of fire could be seen on the
wings of the Cessna as the fuel-air explosives canisters released, just as the
Cessna passed over the Zero Milestone - at the north end of the Ellipse and
continued on toward the White House.

 
          
“Everyone
get down! Get down!” Hardcastle murmured. “The bombs ... the bombs are going
... going off...” But he couldn’t seem to make his mouth move anymore.

 
          
Just
as the Stinger missile started to nose over and head back to earth, the rocket
motor ignited with a bright orange tongue of fire, and a split second later the
missile arched gracefully and smoothly right into the front left side of the
Cessna’s engine compartment, near an exhaust stack. The one-and-a-half-pound
warhead exploded on contact, and the Cessna nosed over, spiraled down, and
crashed on the south lawn of the White House.

 
          
But
as the canisters began to disperse the deadly high-explosive mixture, the
Stinger missile exploded. The cloud of explosive vapors had no chance to
properly disperse and mix with the air that would have given it its tremendous
explosive power. The fireball that erupted just over the south lawn was still a
thousand feet in diameter, large enough to blacken the entire south lawn and
blow out windows at the
Old
Executive
Office
Building
and the Treasury Department. The
polycarbonate antisniper windows of the White House rippled and shook from the
explosion, but remained intact. Harley could feel the intense heat of the fireball
a half-mile away. There were several loud explosions as the bomblets from the
fuel-air explosives harmlessly hit the ground, tossed several hundred feet away
by the force of the blast.

 
          
Harley
and the FBI agent ran over to Hardcastle together. The agent had his gun out
and aimed at Hardcastle’s head, but Harley shoved her badge and ID in the guy’s
face. “Call an ambulance, you idiot,” she ordered. “He just saved the White
House. The Director is hurt too—she’s over there.” “The Director ... of the FBI?”

 
          
“No,
the damned director of ‘I Love Lucy.’ ”

 
          
“Well,
Jesus, Agent, how the hell am I supposed to—” “Just get an ambulance, damn it!”
Harley yelled. She carefully unbuckled the helmet—it fell apart in piecesrin
her hands. “Ian! Are you all right? Can you hear me?” There was no response.
The back of his head was covered with blood, the glistening red blood
contrasting well with his thin gray hair. “Ian? Stay with me, stay with me!”

 
          
“All
right, all right, Deborah,” a subdued, strained voice murmured into the ground.
“Just answer the damned phone, will you please? The ringing is driving me
crazy.”

 

 
 
        
Epilogue

 

 
          
The Next Morning

 

 
         
The
closest undamaged airport to
Washington
that could be totally secured was Naval Air
Station Patuxent River-Trapnell, about forty miles southeast. The airspace for
fifty miles in all directions was closed from the surface to infinity, secured
with rapidly reactivated Patriot and Hawk surface-to-air missile sites and
constant fighter patrols. At precisely
nine
a.m.
,
Air Force One—the
real
Air Force One—touched down on Trapnell’s two-and-a-half-
mile-long runway. A formation of three VH-53 VIP helicopters was waiting, and
the President of the
United States
, the First Lady, and a group of Cabinet
members boarded the middle one, ignoring the small knot of reporters and
photographers that had been allowed to cover the President’s arrival. It was
obvious to all that the President didn’t feel like talking to the press.

 
          
After
lift-off, the three Marine Corps helicopters did an aerial shell game, changing
position in the formation so that no one on the ground—no gunner, no terrorist,
no assassin—could tell which one carried the President. They flew high and
fast, heading first toward
Arlington
to trace the final flight path of the 747 as it crashed into the city.
The, only planes allowed to be anywhere near the President were three F-16
fighters—one was on high patrol at twenty thousand feet, the other two orbiting
at low altitude, separated from Marine One by three miles. They had orders to
shoot any aircraft that strayed within twenty miles of the President, no
questions asked, no warnings issued.

 
          
The
group of three helicopters flew over the impact area near the Lincoln Memorial,
then traced the two-mile- long path of destruction across the Reflecting Pool,
the
Kutz
Bridge
, the
Tidal
Basin
, and south
Washington
to survey the damage. The burned, twisted
hulk of the 747 was still piled up against the
Case
Memorial
Bridge
, but cranes had already been put in to
start removing the wreckage—the blue-and-white Air Force One paint scheme could
clearly be seen. Fireboats were still spraying water on smoldering boats and
buildings at the Capital Yacht Club, the Washington Marina, and other buildings
along
Water
Street
, and a thick rainbow of spilled jet fuel could be seen streaming down
the Washington Channel toward the
Potomac
.
The Auditors’ Building, the Sylvan Theater, and the
Holocaust
Museum
were heavily damaged. The southwest corner
of the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, the Outlet Bridge, the Kutz Bridge,
most of the cherry trees on the east side of the Tidal Basin, the Japanese
Lantern, the John Paul Jones Memorial, and the Tidal Basin Paddle were
completely destroyed. Army and National Guard troops had been dispatched to
seal off the Bureau of Engraving and Printing to protect against anyone looting
the valuable currency and note plates inside. A few large-scale fires had
broken out near
Southeastern University and Sixth Street
, and the area was alive with emergency
lights and streams of water being pumped onto apartments and high-rises.

           
The three helicopters then flew over
to the White House, all three coming in together in formation a thousand feet
in the air on a fast, high approach west of the Washington Monument, north over
the Ellipse toward the south lawn, duplicating the flight path of the Cessna on
its computer-controlled bomb run. The westernmost helicopter touched down
first, discharging ten heavily armed Secret Service agents and lifting off again,
before the middle helicopter came in, bringing the President and the First
Lady, followed by the third helicopter with other presidential advisers, a few
reporters, and more Secret Service agents. Army gunners with Stinger missiles
and machine guns were deployed on the roof of the White House and in several
nearby buildings, scanning the skies in all directions for any sign of trouble.

 
          
The
White House didn’t look so white that morning.

 
          
Its
front had been slightly damaged, with some missing stone and long streaks of
black and gray across the south side. The
Old
Executive
Office
Building
, the
Treasury
Department
Building
, and the south lawn were battered and
heavily blackened, with trees and gardens still smoldering in all directions. A
steel helicopter combat landing zone mat had been anchored to the south lawn
for Marine One, and a raised walkway had been set up so the President would not
have to walk across the scorched earth. A wooden platform had been set up for
the members of the press, about sixty yards from where the President would be
walking toward the White House.

 
          
The
Q & A podium had been set up near the press pit, but the walkway did not
extend over to it and no one expected the President to make a statement on this
very grim occasion. But as he emerged from Marine One, several heavily armed
Secret Service agents took positions in front of the press pit, facing toward
the crowd with weapons highly visible at port arms, and the President walked
across the scarred earth to the podium, with the First Lady on his right side.
The bulk of the bulletproof vests they wore under their business suits were
obvious to everyone.

           
“I’m not going to take any
questions,” the President said solemnly, “just the following statement: I wish
to convey my sincere condolences to the families of all those who lost a loved
one in this ... this devastating tragedy. I share their pain, and the pain of
all Americans as they try to comprehend this disaster.

 
          
“I
wish to thank the federal agents, District of Columbia Police, and the members
of the military who responded when the disaster struck, especially FBI Director
Lani Wilkes, who was wounded in an exchange of gunfire with Henri Cazaux
himself. The disaster would have been much worse if it had not been for their efforts.

 
          
“Finally,
I want to ask for the cooperation of all Americans as we work toward rebuilding
the capital and as we intensify our efforts to bring those responsible for this
disaster to justice. I pledge—”

 
          
Suddenly
he stopped as something caught his eye and a stirring in the crowd grabbed his
attention. The President was staring at...

 
          
...
a paper airplane that had sailed over the reporters’ heads, bobbing and
flitting directly for him. Four Secret Service agents grabbed the President and
pulled him and the First Lady toward the White House, and suddenly unmarked
Secret Service trucks and D.C. Police cars were racing for the group of
reporters from parking areas near the
Treasury
Department
Building
. The reporters and cameramen were instantly
surrounded by armed agents. “Wait a minute! Wait!” the President shouted,
twisting in the Secret Service agents’ arms. “I want that note! I want to see
it!” But the Secret Service hustled him and the First Lady away to safety.

 
          
The
entire twelve-square-block area around the White House was sealed off by the
Secret Service and D.C. Police, and all streets were cordoned off. As the D.C.
Police got more units into the area, the dozens of Secret Service agents
deployed were able to withdraw into the White House compound itself, leaving
the D.C. Police and National Park Service officers to deal with the sudden
crunch of traffic and the flood of curious onlookers. In the confusion, no one
noticed one of the Secret Service agents standing in the shadows near the statue
of Alexander Hamilton as he removed his earpiece, then his jacket and tie, and
casually walked off down the street toward the Hotel Washington and a waiting
limousine.

 
          
“That
was a really silly thing to do, Henri,” Gregory Townsend said as the limo headed
off down
Pennsylvania Avenue
. He lowered the Browning Hi-Power
semiautomatic pistol he held. “We should be a hundred miles from this bloody
city.”

 
          
“I
like Washington, Gregory,” Henri Cazaux said with a glint of humor in his eyes,
adjusting the bandages that were tightly wound around his chest and ribs to try
to make himself a bit more comfortable. “I think we will set up our new base of
operations here. What do you think?”

 
          
Townsend
motioned to a metal suitcase on the seat
1
across from them. “I think
you should take your cash, use all of the survival skills you possess, and get
out of this country as fast as you can,” Townsend said. “You know where
Lake
’s ranch is in
Brazil
, you can access his Swiss bank accounts,
and you must have a plane or boat stashed somewhere—go to
Brazil
and relax for a while. The Americans will
go back to business as usual soon, and that’s when you can consider coming
back.”

 
          
“The
Devil never takes a holiday,” Cazaux said. “My work is not finished, Gregory.
You noticed how easy it was to slip into a closed presidential press conference
as one of their own Secret Service agents? They are calling in even more
agents, unrecognizable to each other. My goal is to get inside the White House
itself, perhaps into the First Lady’s bedroom, fuck her, and finally destroy
that place. Nothing will stop me.”

 
          
“Henri,
the business accounts and contacts
Lake
set up
for you are worth billions to us,” Townsend insisted. “If we go back into
business, we’ll be the toast of the international arms market. We’ll command
top dollar, and no one will screw with us. You are the top dog, Henri. Why
waste all that on a scheme like buggering the Steel Magnolia?”

 
          
“Because
I have a score to settle, Gregory,” Cazaux said, wincing as a muscle in his
chest pulled one of the gunshot wounds wider. “Because I have been blessed with
immortality. The money doesn’t matter, don’t you see that? Madame Vega was
right—why waste my gift on selling a few weapons or smuggling drugs, when I can
use my powers to destroy the greatest nation on earth? No, I have big plans for
us, Gregory. I will have hundreds of soldiers that will rally to my side. I
will destroy this entire city, and by doing so bring an entire nation to its
knees. I will...”

 
          
“Oh,
bloody hell,” Townsend muttered, rolling his eyes. “Henri, I’ve had enough.” He
turned the Browning on Henri Cazaux, pulled the trigger, and squeezed off a
halfdozen rounds. Fortunately, the Black Talon super-expanding low-velocity
bullets did not bust out of the armored side doors of the security stretch
limo. Cazaux looked at the glistening red bullet holes in his chest and
stomach, and Townsend saw his eyes flare in red-hot, intense anger as he drew a
knife from his behind-the-neck sheath—but Townsend was able to easily deflect
Cazaux’s weak stab, disarm him, put one more bullet into Cazaux’s forehead, and
topple the body to the floor. Townsend then calmly raised the privacy screen
between the cabin and driver and aimed the smoking Browning at the driver.

 
          
“Who
do you work for?”

 
          
“I
work for Captain Townsend,” the driver replied immediately.

 
          
“Correct,”
Townsend said. “Now find me a nice, quiet place to get rid of this mess.”

 

 

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