Authors: Tom Avitabile
Tags: #Fiction, #Suspense, #Thrillers, #Default Category
“Frighteningly realistic. Most of Washington really works this way. Homeland Security had better read this one and take corrective action.”
â U.S. Ambassador Michael Skol
“Awesome. I could not go to sleep last night because I couldn't put it down!”
â Donna Hanover, WOR Radio 710
“The author weaves a tale that will occasionally take your breath away and then cause you to sigh with reliefâ¦. He is a master wordsmith who knows the value of just the right phrase at just the right moment. His timing will keep you on the edge of your chair.”
â Bill Twomey, CNG Newspaper Group
“A thriller with some insights into human behavior”
â Mel Robbins, CNBC
“I was fascinated. In fact, I had trouble putting it down one night and went to bed late so I could finish the book to see how it came out!”
â Otis Young, “All About Books,” N.E.T. Radio
“A gripping and compelling read.”
The Sun Daily
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of either the author or the publisher.
The Fiction Studio
PO Box 4613
Stamford, CT 06907
Copyright Â© 2012 by Tom Avitabile
Jacket design by Barbara Aronica Buck
Print ISBN-13: 978-1-936558-38-4
E-book ISBN-13: 978-1-936558-39-1
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All rights reserved, which includes the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever except as provided by US Copyright Law.
For information, address The Fiction Studio.
First Fiction Studio Paperback Printing: April 2012
Printed in the United States of America
This book is dedicated to all those who find them
selves in the crosshairs of terrorism, tyranny and totalitarianism purely because they embrace freedom and cherish liberty. And to those who put themselves
in the line of fire to preserve these ideals.
The M1 motorway was already a clogged and congested artery in the awakening heart of London this early morning. Amidst the lorries, panel vans, and a host of imported cars, a small Nissan was wedged, nose-to-tail, between two big cement haulers. Inside, its occupants were finally relaxing after a successful night's work. They even had time to stop along the roadside and unfurl their prayer mats and praise Allah on the occasion of the new day. After the three months of planning and intense training, that led up to last night's successful completion, Hassad allowed his team this earned respite. This break tempered his instinct to tell Doueed, in the back seat, to lower the volume and hence the tinny racket coming from the ear buds of the young Yemeni's iPod.
“Are you pleased with our performance?” Amil asked Hassad, who was driving.
“Very smooth, very professional, all of your time in Afghanistan was good training.”
“I am glad you are pleased: maybe you'll recommend us to another mission. I like the feeling of success.” Amil said.
Hassad let slip a smile but then turned his head with a look of annoyance at Doueed, who didn't catch his stern eye, as he was bobbing with his head to the beat and staring out at the hideous facades of the council flats and other bad English architecture passing by his rear window. “We started a drip; Allah's will be done, it will become an ocean.”
Amil, flushed with satisfaction, commented no further because Hassad, their leader, was the only one of them with field experience and so his compliment was like a graduation to him and the rest of this team.
When the “ocean” was amassed, it would be a tsunami more effective and more devastating than any other to have befallen the pompous, arrogant American bastards. An ordained act of retribution for their defying and defiling the kingdom of Allah. From this triggering point forward, they would have to do nothing. The system would ensure the extermination of at least 10 million, maybe 100 million, of the soulless Infidels.
Hassad focused on the glow of the morning sun rising, inhaled and then said, “It is a divine ironyâ¦”
Amil turned with amazement because Hassad never spoke without first having been prompted.
The leader continued, “The people of the West love their systems; they place their trust in numbers, science, and manmade laws. Soon they would be humbled and learn that a man should only place his trust in Allah.” He looked to Doueed in the rear view mirror, “Doueed! Turn that thing down!” He barked trying to penetrate the headphones, then continued in the somber voice of an Imam at a funeral, “Only the Koran speaks for God, through the laws of Muhammad himself. Solely through Islam lay the one path to God and the glory of his kingdom. All other roads are destined to destruction at the hands of Allah.”
Those in the car nodded in reverence and deep belief. Hassad knew the hand of God had guided them this night, even when, as in this case, Allah was surely working through the unworthy hands of Hassad Baracus.
Now that their mission was complete, all that remained was for Hassad and his team to wait a few days, and then, one by one, innocently leave Britain headed for various “friendly” regimes. In two weeks time, they would all meet in the Sudan, secure in the knowledge that no one in the world would be any the wiser about their part in the mission. Their safe house, the London home of a true believer, proved to be the perfect base for their operation. Their host, not knowing their actual mission, believed them to be students on a spiritual quest with the local Sheik from a Knightsbridge mosque.
In total, the plan was perfection. Allah be praised!
Then it happened. There was a break in the traffic and the vehicles all picked up speed. Doueed put the ear buds back in and turned it up. Rounding a bend, with the morning sun obliterating the windscreen, Hassad went to turn to admonish the youth again about the racket, when he caught a glimpse of a brake light and reacted quickly â and just in time â as the truck ahead had hit its air brakes and lurched to a stop. His fast reaction narrowly avoided wedging the nose of the Nissan under the rear of the truck's carriage. Unfortunately, the truck driver behind him wasn't as quick. The rule of maximum gross weight being what it is, the one-ton Nissan collapsed from the impact of the 30-ton cement truck. The jolt shattered the windscreen and side windows as the car's frame buckled from the front and rear as if in a giant vise. Hassad was bludgeoned by the air bag exploding out of the center of the steering wheel as the engine compartment accordioned into a flattened hulk. Amil, next to him, was knocked unconscious by a similar concussive blast from the passenger bag. Sarim and Doueed in the back were crushed by the flattening of the Nissan's rear under the wheels of the huge truck. The pressure of the back seat folding in on them, made them explosively vomit blood and parts of their intestines, which sprayed all over the front seat and its occupants.
The two truck drivers ran to the car crushed between their vehicles. Quickly surmising that the two in the back were dead, they felt the necks of the two in the front seat. The driver was dead but the passenger was still breathing. The trucker held the passenger's face into the airbag until he too stopped breathing. The other one reached into the front seat and removed the map of Liverpool and the thermos bottle from between the seats. He climbed up the back of the mixer and threw the thermos into the aggregate mix, sealing in cement its deadly viral residue forever. They then feigned panic. Flagging down anyone to help.
Traffic was at a standstill for more than two hours.
In Liverpool that morning, the plant opened promptly at 8:00 a.m. Production was fully underway as it had been for most of the year. The big pharmaceutical contract had given new life to the factory and most of the local workforce. Bryan Jennings, the plant manager, expected a routine day. His calendar showed a morning visit by the Ministry of Health's inspectors. Same as every week for the last 20 weeks of production. Jennings was proud of his line: 100 days of two-shift, full-run production, and not so much as ten minutes lost. That was because he ran a tight and clean ship. He instituted work rules that called for the periodic maintenance and sterilizing of the line at half-shift intervals. He doubled the number of quality control samplings and created a worker incentive program to keep things running smoothly and efficiently.
It was around 11 a.m. when the inspectors arrived. He led them right to the QC lab. Midway to the clean room, inspector 537 asked, “May we sample right from the line this time?”
That request threw Bryan a bit. For the last twenty weeks, the inspectors were satisfied that his quality control lab held more than adequate daily samplings for them to test. Although couched as a request, Bryan knew that it was actually an order. To maintain decorum, he acquiesced, holding himself back from inquiring about the change of procedure. Bryan knew the inspectors were not bound by law to offer him an explanation or a reason. In fact, they had been very reasonable in not springing any snap inspections or undercover investigations on him thus far. He watched from his office overlooking the floor as the line was stopped, while the inspectors withdrew and sealed samples of the serum from three points along the manufacturing process.
When they finished, a claxon sounded. The next 100 bottles would have to be trashed as a precaution against any variation in the process that came from restarting the line. Bryan didn't give a moment's thought to the waste. He did, however, continue to wonder about the change of pattern of the inspectors. Later that day, as he was compiling his daily report, Bryan mentioned this anomaly. But he was confident of his workers, machines, and systems, so the mention was merely a footnote.
At the morgue, the London police were baffled that no relatives came forward to claim the four deceased Middle Eastern men from the wreck the day before. A check of their papers indicated that one DOA was Egyptian and another Saudi. The two men riding in the front were both Yemeni. The Knightsbridge address that one of them had on him was the only available information about their local whereabouts. Immigration confirmed that they gave the same address on their entry forms when they disembarked their various aircraft.
At around six p.m., the owner of the house at that address returned to find a car from Scotland Yard idling by the curb. All Mustafa Nasser could tell the authorities was that the four men lived in the apartment downstairs for two months and were religious students. A search of the apartment led to nothing with which to notify next of kin. It was decided that the entire matter would be turned over to the Office of the Foreign Secretary. The two drivers of the cement trucks did not have their status questioned and so it was never discovered that the company they drove for was connected through circuitous routes of finance to Bin Laden Construction.
Those reviewing the case decided it was nothing more than a most unfortunate accident. And so it was entered into the official coroner's records and police files. Sealed in that file, destined never to be opened again, was any hope of the authorities divining the men's true reason for being in Liverpool that night.
Edicts from the office of the Surgeon General of the United States tend to cause havoc or calm in a medical community comprising doctors, nurses, and hospitals, as well as major multi-national corporations, governmental industrial policymakers, and a wide variety of others with financial and social interests. “Take nothing lightly” was the oath that supplanted the Hippocratic Oath for the doctor who became Surgeon General. So it was with more than mild interest that Judith Pearson, the current occupant of the office, read the final report from the “guessers.” They were advocating a major focus on a strain of
as the epicenter of this year's flu vaccines. Every year the flu virus metamorphoses into strains different from the year before. Using worldwide data ranging from random blood testing to the mortality rate of sparrows in Asia, the “guessers” guess which strain will take the lead in this year's round of epidemiology. Impressively, the prognosticators at the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta had a good track record of nailing the ever-changing bugs.
Judith initialed the document and put it in her outbox and then went on to review a report on new techniques for laparoscopic surgery. It would be a day of reading and catching up on “the pile.” The only other thing on her calendar was dinner tonight with the President's science advisor, William Hiccock.
A few blocks away at the White House, Bill Hiccock's day was filled with committee meetings and one-on-ones with various members of the scientific community, each auditioning some new innovation, discipline, or discovery for Bill's (and, by extension, the President's) blessing. Bill used to look forward to high-level discussions and theoretical postulates like these. But ever since he became the sharp end of the scientific stick for the government, he could no longer enjoy the pure science of it. The “political science” of it had contaminated the game. Now he needed to identify the underlying agenda of the presenter. Bill could only set science policy and fund internal administration policies. He couldn't muster a dime for a third-party test tube without Congressional funding. This was where the politics really came in. There were only three men of science in the entire body, two MDs, long out of practice, and a former civil engineer. Most of the rest were lawyers. As far as Bill knew, none of them was ever elected for spending money on “Big Science.” That meant that even a cure for cancer would have to undergo the political proctoscope.
A welcome interruption was the call from his ex-wife and current girlfriend (not to mention head of psychology at George Washington University), Janice Hiccock.
“Don't forget we have dinner with the Pearsons at eight.”
“No problem. It's a regular day, so I should be home by seven or so. Should I pick up anything?”
“No. I have everythingâ¦ maybe some white wine. We only have the two bottles left from last month.”
“Got it. See ya laterâ¦love you.”
“Love you tooâ¦”
As Bill hung up the phone, his aide Cheryl entered his office and announced it was time for his next meeting, handing him the briefing folder. He started to leave his office, then abruptly returned to his desk and jotted “Pinot Grigio” on his desk calendar.
There was a noise in the outer corridor, but Bill barely paid attention to it â until his national assets monitor went off. He never did learn all of the code words, but the CRT that listed each member of the administration indicated that Phantom (the President's Secret Service name) had switched from a green “OK” to a red “down.” Bill barely had time to register this before a Secret Service agent entered his room flashing his ID.
“Sir, I am Agent Somers; you need to come with me right now.”
“Now, sir.” The agent put a vise-like grip on Hiccock's arm and led him down the hall to the elevator. To Hiccock's surprise, the elevator went down.
“Now can you tell me what's going on?”
“We're in lockdown, sir. You hold an NCA ranking and need to be made nuclear safe.”
The words “nuclear safe” didn't have as much of a chilling effect on Hiccock's spine as he would have imagined. His first thought was whether he told Janice that he loved her at the end of their phone call. The elevator landed and opened to an antiseptic hallway. There, another agent waited with his hand on an earpiece. Agent Somers handed Bill over.
“Follow me,” the new agent said. He turned and walked to the end of the hall. “May I see your ID, sir?”
Bill fished it out of his wallet. The agent inspected the green dot added to his card after President Mitchell and he had an adventure aboard the
. The man then checked the photo against Bill's face in the most non-personable way Bill had ever seen.
“Look in here with your right eye, sir. Focus on the red spot in the center and hold it there till it beeps.”
Bill knew the device was scanning his retina. The agent then spoke into his sleeve-mounted microphone. “Sitch Room entrance; Quarterback confirmed.”
Bill had never heard his Secret Service code name spoken aloud before. There was a mechanical sound and the door before them unlatched. Behind it was a marine with his hand on the butt of an M-4 in a quick-draw holster. The agent held up Bill's ID to the “gyrine” who used his own retinas to scan Bill's features and make the low-tech decision that Bill was not a duplicitous foreign national or some such dime novel bullshit. The little portico they stood in opened onto the world's most dangerous conference room, located in the Situation Room in the basement of the White House.
A woman he had not met before greeted Bill, introducing herself as Assistant National Security Advisor Reese.
“Mr. Hiccock, sit here please.”
There were two other men in the room, the Secretaries of Treasury and Homeland Security. Bill looked at the seat at the head of the table. The desk plaque read, POTUS. The current designee of that seat, the
tates, had survived a historical Congressional challenge in the aftermath of an election scandal that Bill had revealed. But James Mitchell's luck never failed him as a fighter pilot during Desert Storm and it didn't fail him in the trenches of possible impeachment. The main witness in defense of Mitchell was Professor Robert Parnes, the architect of the Internet process that had millions of Americans unintentionally vote for Mitchell. He testified that at no time was Mitchell or his campaign aware of or in any way involved in the process. At the same time, the American public considered Mitchell the heroic leader who stopped the worst wave of terrorist attacks that had ever beset the country. There wasn't a drop of public sentiment looking for his head on a pole. Congress, not being deaf to this public adulation, quickly mopped up the proceedings after Parnes' admissions. The country then went back to its business and Mitchell went back to work.
The door opened again and the Secretaries of Defense and State entered to the same scrutiny that Bill received, despite their internationally known visages. In front of Bill was a booklet entitled “Crisis Team Management.” He noticed it had been updated a week earlier and below the date read, “#26 William Hiccock.” The number related to his ordinal ranking in the echelon of succession to the President in terms of the National Command Authority. Despite the constitutional order of succession for actually being President, the Cold War architects of Mutually Assured Destruction decided to mix up the deck a little by allowing the creation of the NCA, peopled at the pleasure of the President. Technically, the Chief Executive could appoint any U.S.-born citizen, from the Vice President to a dogcatcher in Duluth to the order of succession to “the button.” Therefore, if the twenty-five people on the list ahead of Bill were to meet their maker as nuked crispy critters, the decision and authority to launch a nuclear war or retaliation would fall to him. Billy Hiccock, the kid from the Bronx, who could throw a football well enough to win a Heisman at Stanford and throw numbers around well enough to earn a Doctor of Scientific Methodology from M.I.T. and become the President's trusted science advisor, was now in line to destroy the world. Wouldn't mom be proud! The awesome powers of that responsibility made the number twenty-six seem as daunting as if the number were two.
Within five minutes, there were fourteen key NCA designees in the room in addition to staff and technicians. Bill knew that six other NCA assets were linked to the room from various “safe locations.” The Vice President called in from his ultimate nuclear-safe perch, Air Force 2, at 35,000 feet above Indianapolis.
The Chief of Staff entered and took his seat in the chair reserved for the President. He quickly scanned a clipboard, nodded, and then removed his glasses.
“First let me tell you that this is a drill. The President is fine and in no danger. Second, our response time is up from the last National Emergency Simulation Exercise. We beat our old mark by a minute and a half with eighteen NCA members secured within four minutes of the emergency action message transmission. For those of you who have been through this a couple times, thank you, and you can return to your duties. For Mr. Hiccock, Mr. Rassing, and Mrs. Chulk, I am going to ask you to stay and let the team familiarize you with what happens when we crash the White House like this.”
Hiccock breathed easy. The world was safe for now. No attack/counterattack scenarios to wipe out all life as we know it. Just a few more procedures for him to learn and, no doubt, a few more nightmares to have. He spent the next forty-five minutes learning about SIOP, Pave Paws, authenticator codes, and other stuff most people thought went away with the Cold War.
Meanwhile, Surgeon General Judy Pearson was studying a report titled
The Treatment of Infant Pancreatic Cancer through Genetically Engineered Cell Remanufacture
when her deputy barged into her office.
“What's up, Bob?”
“Bad news, boss.”
When her deputy finished giving her the details, Pearson's immediate instinct was to call the White House. Instead, her eyes fell on her calendar and her impending dinner. She decided she'd prepare for dinner early.
“Bob, get me a copy of H.R. 7631 â stat!”
It was no ordinary jar of cold cream. The Princess Briana label insured that only the faces of the most well-to-do women would ever feel its deep-cleansing emollients tingle as it beautified, moisturized, and rejuvenated their already too-well-pampered skin.
Chang Su admired the work of her team. They were specially chosen to make this jar by the commissar of the village who was also the head of the factory. It was an honor to serve the PRC in this fashion. Normally she would copy lesser brands and then the factory would run thousands of cases. In this case, though, her instructions were to make only twenty-four of these. They were perfect replicas of the actual jar in every way except that they were 1/32nd of an inch smaller than the original because they were made from a different material. The label was easier to resize but the unique jar required three attempts to get just right. Capitalism not being embraced in China, she never calculated the cost per unit benefit of such an intense effort to derive so few jars. The intended customer however, was glad to pay as much for two dozen jars as others paid for a whole truckload of the knockoffs that had become the stock in trade of the new Chinese economy. The amber colored jars were packed for shipment and tomorrow would be driven by truck four hundred miles to the provincial capital where they would then be sent by airplane to Beijing.
Another job well done.