Authors: Andrew Peterson
Tags: #Snipers - United States, #Mystery & Detective, #Intelligence Officers - United States, #Intelligence Officers, #Fiction, #Suspense Fiction, #Undercover Operations - United States, #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Undercover Operations, #General, #Espionage, #Snipers
“Essentially, I want you to back up the FBI raid. Things could go badly, there could be a firefight. You guys were the best damned sniper team in the world. The FBI could use—”
“With all due respect,” Nathan cut in, “we don’t do that anymore. We aren’t hired guns. We run a security business. The FBI has its own sniper teams.”
Harv moved uncomfortably in his chair, but remained silent.
“I’m not asking you to be hired guns. I’m asking you to serve as a safety net for the SWAT teams in case things go south. These smugglers are hard-core guys. Elite-trained military. Now they’ve got Semtex. You could save lives. I cashed in a major favor with Director Lansing to involve you in this operation. He gave me the okay, but he’s considering it a don’t-ask, don’t-tell situation. I personally vouched for your integrity. I’m putting my reputation on the line here. If you’re willing to do this, then the trust will have to work both ways. You need to trust me, I need to trust you.”
“Then you must know the potential ramifications of what you’re asking us to do.”
Frank Ortega looked at Harv with a troubled, almost annoyed expression and Greg was gripping the armrests of his chair too tightly.
“I understand the ramifications, McBride. Do you?”
Nathan said nothing.
Ortega raised his voice a little. “There’s more at stake than just my grandson. That amount of loose Semtex on American soil makes this a national security issue as dangerous as any Al Qaeda threat. More dangerous. These guys are Americans, they look, act, and talk like us. They blend in. They’re invisible.”
Over the ticking of the regulator clock, no one spoke for several seconds.
“We have some conditions,” Nathan said.
“That’s right. Conditions. We’ll find your grandson and back up the SWAT teams, but we don’t want to be left standing when the music stops. Understood?”
“And we’ll need complete background and intelligence information on the targets and their compound.”
“Not a problem.”
“One more thing. No armchair quarterbacking. Once you turn us loose, that’s it. No second-guessing our moves. We do this our way, without interference, or we don’t do it at all.”
“Like I said, it’s an issue of trust in both directions.”
Frank pushed the file across the desk.
Nathan didn’t touch it. He knew what it was, what it represented.
“This is everything we have on Freedom’s Echo. Everything,” Frank said. “It’s an exact duplicate.”
Frank kept saying
. Understandable, the man had spent over forty years with the bureau.
“I’m coming with you,” Greg said.
“Out of the question.”
“He’s my son.”
“Out of the question.”
Greg stood and squared off with Nathan. “Listen, you son of a bitch, I don’t care who or what you used to be. He’s
Nathan got up and pivoted toward the door.
“Damn it, Greg,” Frank said. “McBride, wait. Please.”
Nathan stopped but didn’t turn around.
“We’re all under a lot of stress. Please, sit back down.”
Nathan didn’t move.
Please,” Frank said again.
“I need some air,” Nathan said and left the room.
* * *
Harvey stood and lowered his voice. “Damn it, Greg. What the hell was that all about?”
“McBride’s a smug asshole, that’s what.”
“Hey, I’ve known the man through life and death. He has a lot of faults, but being smug isn’t one of them.”
“Sounded like it to me.”
“Well, you heard him wrong. He’s not smug. He’s confident. You can’t see it because you’re too close to this. You’re asking us to risk our lives and if the situation warrants it, you’re asking us to kill. And we’ve said yes. But we can’t have the father of the missing agent involved, much less someone who’s never worked in the field. You’ve never killed anyone, Greg. Trust me, there’s nothing glamorous or exciting about it. This isn’t some half-baked Hollywood movie. We’re talking real bullets and real death. There’s no place for you in this mission.”
Greg looked down but didn’t respond.
“Now when he comes back,” Harvey continued, “don’t apologize. It won’t be necessary. Nathan doesn’t hold grudges and he knows you’re wound-up tight. We all are. When he offers to shake your hand, you take it, understood?”
“Am I getting through?”
* * *
Nathan found Diane Ortega in the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher. “May I trouble you for a glass of water, please?”
“It’s no trouble at all.” She retrieved a glass from the cabinet and pressed it into a small alcove in the refrigerator. She had a kind face that reminded him of his own mother. “I heard that last exchange, it was hard to miss. Will you sit with me a minute?”
Nathan pulled a bar stool out from the island for her.
“Thank you.” As they sat facing each other, Diane placed her hands in her lap. “It’s been difficult for Greg, his father being the former director of the FBI and all.”
“I can imagine.”
“You’ve seen the pictures in Frank’s office?”
“The bureau was Frank’s life, still is, I’m afraid. He’s always known it took a heavy toll on his family. I think if Frank had it to do over again, he would’ve spent more time with his family.” Diane’s face clouded for an instant. She looked like she was about to cry, but made a recovery. “Greg is our oldest, so he took it the hardest. I think he understands the sacrifice now, but some wounds never fully heal.” She reached out and held his hand. “Your father’s a lot like Frank, and you’re a lot like Greg.”
“I’m… not sure what to say.”
“Our time on Earth is limited, I’m understanding that now. We can’t change our pasts, but we can guide our futures.”
“I’ve killed fifty-seven people, Mrs. Ortega. It’s taken a long time, but I’ve come to terms with it. Finding your grandson might increase that number. Are you okay with that?”
She held his hand tighter. “I don’t see the world through rose-colored glasses. Being an FBI director’s wife has taught me that much. There are genuinely evil people out there. I’m sure you’re not indiscriminate. I trust your judgment.”
“Thank you for saying so, it means a lot.”
“Frank and Greg know it too, but men have a harder time expressing their feelings. It’s a genetic flaw of the gender.”
“Amen to that.”
“Guide your future, Nathan.” She released his hand.
Nathan reentered the library, approached Greg, and extended his hand. “Can we start over?”
They shook hands.
Everyone sat back down. “Your mother’s a remarkable woman.”
“Yes, she is,” Greg said.
“May I explain my reasoning to you?”
He held up a hand. “There’s no need. I understand why I can’t be involved. We have the same policy in the bureau, and for good reason.”
“We’ll keep you informed every step of the way.”
“I appreciate it.”
“We’ll find your son.”
“All right then,” Frank said. “There’s one more vital piece of information you need to know.” He lowered his voice. “I can’t guarantee the FBI SWAT teams will know you’re there. As you can imagine, it’s a delicate situation with outsiders being involved in bureau business. I’ll do everything within my power to make contact up there, but you should assume they won’t know you’re there.”
Nathan just stared at the man.
“That means anyone not wearing SWAT uniforms will be fair game.”
Nathan nodded. “When is the raid?”
“Tomorrow at fourteen-thirty hours.”
“A daylight raid. One more question. Does my father know of our involvement?”
Frank answered without hesitation. “Yes.”
It was a windy evening in the nation’s capital. The horizon’s last remnant of violet was fading to black. Four miles high, lit from the amber glow of the city, thin clouds drifted toward the east. Fall colors had come early. Red and orange cherry leaves lined the sidewalks and gutters.
The office of the Committee on Domestic Terrorism, or CDT, was located in the Russell Senate Office Building. Its members met in a lavish conference room furnished with high-backed leather chairs surrounding an oval, mahogany table. The walls were adorned with oil portraits of every president. A corner table hosted a pitcher of ice water. In the opposite corner, a matching table supported an elegant flower arrangement that perfumed the air with the scent of stargazer lilies. It was an impressive room, appropriate for the purpose it served: Protecting the nation’s security from homegrown threats.
The moment CDT Chairman Stone McBride strode into the room, all conversation ended. At six-four, the senator had a commanding presence. Like the trained Marine he was, Stone kept his gray hair short and formal. Deep blue eyes complemented a square jawline. The man looked like a career politician because he
a career politician. He offered a friendly smile when he wanted something and an unfriendly smile when he didn’t get it.
Now seventy-eight, the senior senator from New Mexico had earned the nickname “Stonewall” during the Korean War. It happened in March 1951 during the advance to Line Boston on the south bank of the Han River south of Seoul. His Marine platoon had been reassigned to shore up I Corps. They’d been pinned down by machine-gun and mortar fire for half an hour. In an act of rage more than anything else, he’d climbed to the edge of his foxhole, stood up, leveled his M1 at the hip, and emptied five clips at the enemy position. Bullets had thumped the ground in front of him, not one of them finding its mark. Inspired, the platoon to his left added their bullets, giving the platoon on his right the chance to advance and overrun the enemy’s mortar position. Stone had been decorated for that reckless bit of bravery, receiving his nickname in the process.
“Thank you all for coming on such short notice,” Stone said. “I apologize for the late hour, but the subject matter demands it.” He made eye contact with everyone seated around the table. “I’ve called for this meeting because of a critical new development. I’ve already been briefed, but everyone here needs to know about the new threat.”
The CDT consisted of a hardworking group of five men and four women, all handpicked by the senator. Each of them represented a federal law-enforcement agency. It was the first group of its kind. A prototype. In theory, having a representative of each agency encouraged mutual cooperation and sharing of information. In reality, tension often filled the room. But despite their many differences, they all shared one thing in common: loyalty to the United States of America. Without exception, everyone seated around the table shared a strong resolve to defend and protect the security of the nation.
Stone turned his radar toward his right-hand man, the FBI’s member, Special Agent Leaf Watson. Watson was a career fed who’d entered the FBI academy after spending seven years in the Air Force as a herky bird driver. He was a no-nonsense guy who didn’t mince words. In his mid-forties, he walked with a slight limp from a helicopter accident dating back to his Air Force years.
Watson shuffled some papers and cleared his throat. “The FBI has had an undercover agent on the inside of an arms-smuggling group called Freedom’s Echo for several months now. Until now, Freedom’s Echo has dealt in small weapons. Many of the guns aren’t even illegal until they’re modified to fire on full auto, which this group does. The group’s located in Lassen County in Northern California and operated by two brothers, Leonard and Ernie Bridgestone. You can read about this pair in your briefing packet, if you haven’t already. To summarize, they’re both in their mid-forties and the older brother, Leonard, is a trained Army Ranger, retired. Ernie Bridgestone was a Marine drill instructor and got himself court-martialed for killing a pedestrian while driving drunk. He spent five years in Fort Leavenworth. Both brothers had plenty of disciplinary citations in their files, and both left the military without looking back. Neither they nor their younger brother, Sammy, who works for them, got much attention from law enforcement until they came into possession of a large quantity of Semtex.”
Stone McBride nodded for Watson to continue.
“Semtex was originally manufactured in Communist Czechoslovakia. As some of you might recall, when that regime toppled the new government gave the world some very bad news. The old Communist regime had exported at least nine hundred tons of Semtex to Qaddafi’s Libya and similar amounts to rogue states such as Syria, North Korea, Iran, and Iraq. Worldwide, there could be as many as forty thousand tons of Semtex out there.”
While Watson let that sink in, Stone got up, walked over to the corner table, and poured himself a glass of water. Even though he’d been briefed on all of this earlier, the number still seemed outrageous. Forty thousand tons translated into eighty million pounds. Eighty million pounds. How could that be? Who besides the military or mining companies needed even ten tons of the stuff, let alone a thousand tons. But forty thousand tons? Where was all of it? How much had terrorists already stockpiled?
Watson resumed. “We think Leonard Bridgestone made a connection with a Syrian official when he was stationed on the northern border of Iraq. He and his brother appear to have obtained around one ton. As you know, Semtex is extremely potent. In 1988, less than a pound was molded into a Toshiba cassette recorder and used to bring down Pan Am flight one-oh-three over Lockerbie, Scotland, and an undetermined amount was used to bomb the USS
when she was moored in Yemen. Semtex was also used to bomb our embassy in Nairobi.”
“Now,” Stone McBride said, “we come to the point of this meeting. Our missing man is Special Agent James Ortega. All you recognize his last name because his grandfather is former FBI Director Frank Ortega, who served in that capacity under two of the portraits on these walls. Among other things, Frank Ortega is a lifelong friend of mine. We were in the same unit in Korea. James Ortega is the third generation to serve with the bureau.”
“He volunteered for the job,” Watson added. “When he failed to make a scheduled check-in and officially became MIA, the FBI had to assume the worst. In his last report, he saw several pallets of Semtex being unloaded from a rental truck and stacked inside the compound’s main building. We’ve had the compound under constant surveillance since his report. As far as we know, the Semtex is still there.”