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Authors: Tom Avitabile

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BOOK: The Eighth Day
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CHAPTER EIGHT
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BILL ENTERED HIS OFFICE and there on his desk was a huge, enormous gift basket. He pulled the card.

“Mr. Hiccock?”

Bill turned as he finished reading the card, “Yes.”

“Joan Duma, from the Office of Protocol.”

“Hello, Ms. Duma. What can I do for you? Would you like a dried fruit or nut, I seem to have a ton of them?”

“Actually that’s why I am here.”

He smiled as he read the signatures, Shelly and Mario Singorelli. “I’m sorry, I am not following you.”

“White House protocol forbids any member of the administration from receiving gifts without full disclosure and receipt of value authorized.”

“Wow.” Then Bill got deadly serious. “You’re talking forms to fill out, right?”

“Actually it’s more like a small booklet with addendums to the GAO, IRS, and eventually the Mitchell presidential museum.”

“Okay. So what’s the alternative?”

“Alternative?”

“Come on, Ms. Duma, all a terrorist would have to do is send spiced hams or fruitcakes to every member of government, every day. The whole thing would grind to a halt in forms and rigmarole.”

“I don’t think I like your tone, Mr. Hiccock.”

“Sorry. What’s my option? How do I get out of this nightmare?”

“Well, you could donate the basket to a food bank or to the homeless.”

“Done. They’ll be eating dried apricots and almonds by this afternoon.”

“Good. And, I assure you, we in protocol would never be party to any terrorist action.”

“You don’t laugh a lot, do you, Ms. Duma?”

∞§∞

“Seventeen events in two weeks,” Wallace Tate, the Director of the FBI said. “No credible group claiming responsibility. No rhyme or reason to the targets, no escalation. Seemingly isolated incidents.” A fifty-five-year-old, well-tanned, and taut-skinned former Boston police chief, he was a political survivor of two administration changeovers. Where former directors administrated their way through their tenures, Tate ruled over his bureau with a dictatorial style not seen since the iron-fist days of J. Edgar Hoover. The combination of his police training and his executive acumen made him a field agent’s worst nightmare: a boss who might be in your face or looking over your shoulder at any time.

Ray Reynolds, Press Secretary Spence, and Hiccock listened intently to the report.

“What about the terrorists?” Reynolds asked.

“Wrong handle, Ray,” the director said. “Terrorists have a cause, a common belief that binds them. All these acts were carried out by people posing as homegrown U.S. citizens.” He inserted a CD into his laptop and punched the pad. He preferred to use a laptop when he made these White House briefings. It was HASP and password protected and if someone tried to monkey with it, a program shredded everything on the hard drive, insuring FBI secrets wouldn’t be compromised. A screen came up containing Professor Holm’s uncomplimentary driver’s license photo, next to which appeared a black-and-white security video made virtually unwatchable by a blizzard of static.

“Prior to this mangled security tape, which provided enough evidence to prove him guilty in the destruction of the Intellichip building, this man’s most violent behavior was slamming the side of his computer when it locked up on him.”

He hit the touch pad, bringing up Martha Krummel’s photo. A picture of a smoldering freight train pileup was displayed in an adjacent box on the screen.

“Martha Krummel, a grandmother, derailed an eighty-car train. As far as we have learned, the only thing that seemed to make her angry was the weeds in her garden.”

Displayed next on the screen was Doris Polk. “This woman was a secretary and taught Sunday school. After she opened two valves as if she were a trained technician, the entire Mason Chemical Plant dissolved into liquid muck.”

Her photograph was replaced by that of a young boy. “This Boy Scout merit badge holder started a fire that destroyed the corporate office of the number two accounting firm in the country. On his FaceBook page he said he wanted to be president someday.”

Tate clicked repeatedly now, his point made. “And thirteen others, every single one of them exhibiting no known ties or sympathies to any group, real or imagined; just average citizens.”

“You said imagined?” Hiccock questioned.

“Mr. Hitchcock, I don’t have the time …”

“It’s Hiccock,” Ray Reynolds said. “I asked Bill to attend because he was there when Intellichip blew. Ever since, he has been weeding through any science issues and advising us on policy.”

“Very well,” Tate nodded to Ray stiffly. “Field agent reports have indicated …”

“Excuse me,” Bill interrupted again, “a moment ago you said ‘imagined.’ I would still like to know what that means in this context.”

Suffering fools was not the director’s strong suit, and he sized up this science whiz as being nothing short of a nuisance. “We have teams at Quantico that stay up all night thinking up the wildest scenarios, and this one’s got them stymied.”

“Okay, but this level of devastation isn’t something you learn on the Discovery Channel or in a YouTube video. In every case these people knew something intimate about the means of destruction.”

“We know that,” the director said. “We utilize cutting-edge modern police procedure and we show nothing, nothing in common.”

“Except one thing.” All heads turned to Hiccock. “They’re all dead.”

There was a perceptible smirk on the director’s face as he punched the pad once more and Martha Krummel’s photograph reappeared. “Except her.”

“Are we talking suicide terrorists now?” Reynolds asked. “How do they get these people to do this?”

“Because these perpetrators all have squeaky clean backgrounds, we believe they are deep-cover moles. Agent provocateurs lying quietly until they are called on to act.”

“How could you possibly reach that conclusion?” Hiccock said agitatedly.

The director closed his eyes for a second and swallowed deeply. “Deep cover. We have recognized and prepared for the possibility for years. The Russians were constantly getting caught trying to plant moles in the United States. In fact, they even had an American town built in Russia where they would train their agents to live in our society without raising suspicions.”

“Does the Office of Homeland Security concur with your scenario?” Ray asked, prompting a confident nod from the director. “Then that’s good enough for me. Let’s go see the president immediately and inform him of your investigation’s focus. Hiccock, you can go back to your office.”

Hiccock was about to say something but held his tongue.

“Ray, I’ll get started on background so when, and if, the boss decides to share this we’ll be ready,” Spence said. She left, followed by the two men.

Hiccock just sat there stewing, an argument raging in his head.

∞§∞

The President’s Council on Physical Fitness would have to rewrite its bylaws if it saw what the president of the United States was doing in the White House gym. James Mitchell, a younger-looking man than his fifty-eight years, was working out on the rowing machine. A cigarette dangled from his mouth as he strained on the oars while receiving the report from Tate and Reynolds. The man’s own doctors had of course warned him about his smoking, but he had been a fighter pilot and an ace in both Vietnam and the first Gulf War. He was shot down deep in Indian Country in the former and managed to evade the enemy, in their own backyard, for a month, ultimately returning to America a true hero. A little thing like a cigarette wasn’t going to land him in Arlington National Cemetery.

James Mitchell was probably the most surprised man in America on election night. Although he had been the popular favorite early in the campaign, he was nearly ground up in the political machinery. The party bigwigs thrust their will on America and limited the field of who
could
become president to two—and Mitchell wasn’t one of them. The millions of dollars in each party’s war chest were bequeathed to the two prep school boys who were groomed for presidential service since they were still shitting in their diapers.

Failing to get his party’s nomination meant he was boxed out of the big money and the essential television time those dollars bought. He and Reynolds revised their goal to achieving a decent enough double-digit independent turnout in this election to possibly pave the way for another run in four years. Mitchell’s little fledgling campaign turned to grassroots town meetings and tried to make the most of the Internet, including a personal blog he hammered out every day between campaign stops. But gaining a ten to eleven percent foothold into the next election wasn’t the way it played out. Because a
fourth
candidate, a Democrat from way out left, siphoned off enough votes that when the counting was over, the scrappy little fighter pilot with no money became President elect of the United States.

The big three networks spent all of election night reporting that the vote was too close to call between the Democrat and Republican, with Mitchell not even breaking into his vaunted double digits. Their prognostications came back to bite them in their collective rear ends, when the actual vote tally came up in Mitchell’s favor.

A karmic retribution of sorts ensued as the whole affair sent tremors throughout the media elite who earlier cast their “big vote” pronouncing Mitchell’s campaign as “dead on arrival” in Iowa. The first shock was felt in cable where many a verbose and traditionally aligned pundit found himself now out of favor and out of work. A new political reality swept its way onto the deeply rooted, bipartisan American scene on President Mitchell’s independent coattails.

The cable news channels reengineered themselves, practically overnight, as the suits in those cable network’s executive offices unceremoniously jettisoned the established, venerated pillars of the conservative and liberal status quo. They immediately embraced anyone who ever hesitated long enough to utter, “um” when asked, “Are you a liberal or conservative?” Big salaries and signing bonuses soon followed. This newly hatched brood of “indies,” realizing that their newfound wealth and fame were directly connected to James Mitchell’s success, cut him slack, running interference on his behalf whenever some righty or lefty tried to convince the American people that being politically ambidextrous was some kind of deep character flaw.

In this volatile environment, the entrenched broadcast networks and newspapers, which had long since plastered their political leanings across their front pages in 90-point type and evening lead stories, had but one recourse—attack. They argued that, since Mitchell’s name never registered on any of their beloved exit polls, the election had to be fixed. This accusation was easy to prosecute, because in any national election millions of ballots were cast and some voter irregularity was to be expected. The networks jumped all over these even though, statistically speaking, the numbers were miniscule making the allegations insignificant enough to be practically a myth. But good myths sell papers and commercial airtime.

For the first six months of his administration, reporters investigated every ward and precinct. The news corporations dispatched them with an implied warning: “Do not come back empty-handed.” Every allegation or actual fact of irregularity was scrutinized and reported with an intensity that in and of itself screamed “scandal.” Even inconsequential screw-up’s that normally would never pass muster with a small town paper’s editor were now suddenly being served up nationally as potential “smoking guns.”

Eventually, two factors defeated the media’s onslaught. For one, the many false alarms and cries of wolf started to dilute the public’s interest. But more importantly, Mitchell’s middle-of-the-road brand of politics and quiet ability to get things done with both parties were getting noticed. Slowly, over the next eighteen months, his approval numbers crept up.

That was in the good old days of two weeks ago.

Now acts of domestic terrorism, the magnitude and frequency of which this country had never known, were challenging Mitchell’s administration midterm. The frequency and randomness of the events of the last few weeks were more heinous, more terrorizing, and more devastating to the national psyche than even the unbelievable destruction of 9/11. Mitchell was the man the entire nation now looked to as the only person who could stop the nightmare. In fact, for the majority of Americans, it was the first time many bothered to look in his direction at all.

Deep in his bones, James Mitchell knew that this kind of crisis could either make or break a presidency. The connection with the American public that any White House resident needed to govern and improve the nation was based on the way he performed in a crisis. In a warped manner of thinking, the smartest thing Ronald Reagan ever did was get shot. His political capital went through the roof when he uttered to his wife, “Honey, I guess I forgot to duck.” Legislatively he became unstoppable with that one-liner.

The decision he made today would be seen by history as Mitchell’s defining moment. As he listened to the head of the FBI and his Chief of Staff, he realized that the solution they came up with was really going to be his solution. If the FBI was right, then so was he. He would become a powerful force that his congressional enemies would disagree with at their own political peril. It was called “bounce,” the political lift an officeholder gets when he comes up on the right side of a critical national issue. As was the case with George W. Bush who limped into office after a messy election only to enjoy peak, albeit short-lived, record approval ratings in the wake of his handling of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, leading the country out of this crisis would be all Mitchell needed to hold sway on important issues like welfare, education, deficit control, and arms. If the FBI was wrong, however, the whole kettle of rotten fish heads would follow just as assuredly. He planted his feet firmly on the floor and set his backbone absolutely straight, a trick the fighter jockey learned in the preflight briefing rooms that helped him focus on every minute detail of the mission.

His was either a yes or no vote. It would probably be yes because, although he was the most powerful man in the world, he really hadn’t been given any choice. To vote no would be to vote for inaction until another plan was submitted. He continued to focus acutely on every word the FBI director said.

BOOK: The Eighth Day
5.89Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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