Written, and conceived by Prentice Crawford, Night Walker, Copyright 2011.
Some nights are inviting enough to take a walk down the dirt path to the lake. A warm breeze left over from a hot day is a familiar companion much like the glass of wine I usually sip on as I go. Merlot fits the palate, and the mood with the air often being as thick as one of those famous grilled steaks that I cook on the fire pit at the edge of the lake but this wasn't one of those nights.
No one in their right mind would be strolling through the hell of gunfire that was peppering the path, and lighting up the woods with muzzle flashes but here I am on that path. I'm not exactly strolling, I'm doing whatever jinks the aim of what appears to be a small army of ghosts. I'm zigzagging, monkey rolling, and coming back up running for all I'm worth. Worth, now there's a word I should weigh when I get a chance. If I get the chance. Is it worth this?
I can't see who's shooting at me, and even if I could I wouldn't know who they were but I know who sent them. If I get out of here with a breath of air left in me I'm going to make sure he feels it on the back of his neck. It will be the last thing he feels but I have other more pressing things to think about right now, like why am I running away from my house? A house that's secure, and has my cell phone setting on the nightstand with a .357 magnum; you know, things that could go a long way in helping to save my ass tonight. It's not to be however. I mean with the wind, and wine I couldn't carry all that crap with me when I went for a walk earlier. Well, I could have, and obviously should have but I didn't. I guess I've been out of the game too long.
Now I'm running toward a lake, and when I reach it there is going to be nothing there; not even a freaking rowboat. The thing is even if there was a speedboat with a machine gun mounted on it just sitting there waiting for me they would just shoot me as soon as I popped out into the open on the shore. I'm not swimming out of this. You know the saying, you can run but you'll just die tired? I hate that damn saying.
New plan: I can't get to my gun or get away so I need to borrow one of their guns. When I hit the ground again I'll crawl off the path into the sinkhole that lays off to the left; it's chocked full of dead limbs, and fallen trees. I wish I would have kept that wine glass, I could have broken it, and at least had a cutting tool. Not to worry, a good stick snapped off, and peeled down the right way leaves you with a nice point to stab someone with; now all I need is a ghost to materialize so I can shove it into his throat.
This just keeps getting better all the time. I should have been sound asleep when these guys came up. They could have killed me in my bed then just like that it would have been over. Suffer, and die big guy, I've gotten myself into this situation, now I have to do what I can to bring it to a happy ending. I'll tell you who is not going to be happy; one of those ghosts just tripped over me.
Please don't be a fighter. Don't be a fighter, don't be a fighter. Shit. He's a fighter. He's not using that watered down stuff either; I've slipped two neck cranks just because my head is wet with sweat but he was doing it right, and he's strong enough to make it work. Snapping a neck isn't as easy as they make it look in the movies but this guy had my jawline locked against the blade of his forearm, and was about to crack something just before I popped out. It didn't take him long to isolate my hand with the pointy stick in it either. I'm guessing Russian Sambo, and Brazilian Jujitsu, so that means this isn't some run of the mill Cartel mule. He's Mexican Army, Special Op's trained, and the fact that I have a grenade sticking me in the rib cage right now tells me that my man Jose, wants me dead in a big way but that's for later, right now I've got to get this guy taken care of before his buddies show up and start slapping him on the back joking with him about how close he came to dying tonight then in the meantime they'll be cutting my head off and taking pictures with it.
Here we go, he just made a mistake trying to post up to get a full mount, as he did it he placed his hand down on a blackberry brier or something. Welcome to Kentucky hombre, and with that painful distraction I get a rear naked choke. Nice AK dude. Compliments of Operation Fast and Furious?
All that C.I.A. training I had in the past, getting familiar with enemy weapons, breaking them down then putting them back together with a blindfold on just paid off. I found the selector switch by feel, and put the gun on squirt. Actually any ten year old gamer could have done that but I'd like to think that some of that stuff was worth the effort. Anyway, these old boys have come a long way to meet up with me, and I'm ready to go headhunter on them now.
They were probably staging for their raid, and saw me leaving the house for my late night walk. The dude that tripped over me must have been shadowing me down the path while the others cut through the woods to ambush me. When he saw me slip into the woods off the edge of the path he did the same but not knowing the nature of the sinkhole lost track of me, and was caught up in the jumble that finally dropped him on me.
A good choke hold clamps off the arteries in both sides of the neck, and stops the flow of blood to the brain. It didn't take but a few seconds for him to lose consciousness. Had I held it for a few minutes that would have killed him but I don't have time for that. I need to be up and out of this hole before they hem me in. His friends up top have figured out by now that I didn't continue on down the path to the lake and their trail man is missing, who by the way is also starting to wake up.
I take the grenade off Trail Man's, vest and set him up in front of me then from there I stand him up keeping him propped from behind. His buddies are up on the path shining flashlights down into the sinkhole now and they can hear me breaking branches as I steady up and get the AK ready. As soon as one of the lights hit us I squirt a burst from the AK up at them and then immediately fall behind a downed tree leaving Trail Man, standing there. They open up on Trail Man, while I low crawl down behind the length of the tree and away from the area. I want to say something like "Happy trails, Trail Man!" but that would just be mean.
They are coming down the bank off the path, and with all the noise they're making I'm able to cover ground without worrying too much about it but the going is still slow with all the timber. It's decision time, do I want to keep going and make a try at the house or stay in the woods, hide and wait them out? It won't be that much longer before daylight. Even as remote as we are I'm sure they don't want to stay in the area after all that gunfire. Then there's still the psycho option; I could end it right here. I hate it when I think too long because I always end up determining that the solution to the problem is the one that will most likely get myself killed. I don't know... I do have that grenade. If I can get up above them while they are still in a huddle over Trail Man's body I might have the advantage.
Regardless of all that I still need to get out of this hole. As I start up the bank I've found a tree with some low limbs that looks climbable. If I keep going up the bank by the time I get to the top the guys will be spread out again looking for me. This is really my only shot. It's been a long time since I've climbed a tree and after slinging the AK over my back and jumping up to grab a limb I'm beginning to remember why it's been so long. It's only now too that I'm noticing that my body is on fire with pain from all the cuts and scrapes that are being bathed in sweat. I really wasn't ready for this! A tee shirt and short pants isn't battle gear. Yes, the shirt is black and the shorts camo but my legs are so white I'm surprised they're not glowing in the dark. I don't even want to think about what this would have been like had I worn my flip flops. I'm thirty feet up this tree now which puts me about eye level with the path we were on. The team down below has figured things out to some extent and are turning their flashlights off.
Way back when I was a pup, long before my job with the D.E.A. and way, way before the C.I.A. recruited me for work in Afghanistan, I was in the Marine Corps. From boot camp I still remember the drill, it went: Thumb clip. Pull pin. Prepare to throw grenade. Throw grenade.
I did. I positioned myself behind the main trunk of the tree from where the blast would come from but the concussion still nearly knocked me out of my nest. I had tossed it right into the sweet spot as the last flashlight went out. I hope that was all of them, and that there aren't anymore waiting back at the house. Now, I need to climb down then back up the bank so I can get to my cell phone. I'm suddenly feeling a little sick about calling this in. The mess at the bottom of that sinkhole is going to make for a long day.
"9-1-1 what's your emergency?"
"Yes, my name is Jack Lewis, I live at 101 Cane Creek Road. I need you to contact the County Coroner's office and the State Police to have them come out to Simpson Lake. They are going to need a crime scene unit out here and a State Police detective. Let them know that there are several casualties as well." Jack said.
"Sir, what is your emergency?"
"I was attacked last night by a drug cartel hit team. I'm a former D.E.A agent, and I think they were sent to kill me because of a case I worked on several years ago."
"Sir, the address you gave me isn't in our system and I can't verify your location from the number you're calling from. Can you explain why that is sir?" Asked the 9-1-1 operator.
"Oh, sure. Yes. I just bought the Simpson Lake property, and built a new home on the access road that went out to the old water plant. It's been renamed Cane Creek. I guess your 9-1-1 system hasn't been updated to show that."
"Sir, you do understand it's a crime to make a fraudulent call to 9-1-1?"
"Look lady, this isn't a crank call." Jack said, with some irritation.
"Sir, a sheriff's deputy will be out there shortly but be aware that we do prosecute people that make false reports, and we can identify you from your cell phone number."
"O.K. fine, just send someone so we can get things started."
Jack ended the call started the coffee pot in the kitchen then went through the living room to the bathroom. He laid his cell phone and .357 magnum on the toilet seat then turned on the shower. He didn't bother to take his clothes off he just slipped off his running shoes stepped in and placed his head under the cold water. He leaned forward and held himself up with one hand on the shower wall. He was exhausted but forced himself to pull off the tee shirt and shorts. He came out of the shower and quickly toweled off. He briefly looked at his face in the mirror as he opened the medicine cabinet and shook his head in disbelief. How the hell did they find me? He grabbed a tube each of triple antibiotic and anti-itch cream then doctored himself up.
He collected his phone and gun and went to the bedroom to dress. He knew it would take awhile for the deputy to arrive. The place was off the beaten path and at this time in morning he doubted the Sheriff's Department had anyone on patrol. They mainly served warrants and transported prisoners during the day then had certain deputies on call at night. The dispatcher woke someone up for this. Jack finished dressing put his cell phone on his belt and tucked the .357 in his waistband, down the small of his back then went to check on the coffee. He poured a cup and went out the front door and sat down on the steps to wait for the deputy.
He had already checked the area around the house for more bad guys after getting out of the sinkhole then he cleared the house by checking room to room until he was satisfied there wasn't any threat. After that he armed himself with his own pistol and took the AK out to his car and locked it in the trunk. He didn't want it unsecured because it was evidence but he didn't want to put it in his gun safe because then they might take all his firearms as evidence. The sun was coming up now and Jack could hear the cruiser coming up the lane, he got up and stepped back into the house then took the pistol from his belt and put it in a lock box in the coat closet then came back out and sat down again.
Deputy Jillian Cooper, could see the man sitting on the front steps of what was a beautiful home. He looked to be in his forties maybe fiftyish. Good looking guy, I wonder if he's available? Jillian is thirty eight grew up an Army brat, her dad retired from the military and settled in near Fort Campbell. She had served as well; as an M.P. but got out after her first enlistment. She's been with the Dell County Sheriff's Department for eight years and was a Constable before that.
Jillian pulled up at the end of the sidewalk then called dispatch to let them know she was making contact with the caller. She open her door and stepped out then shouted from over top the car, "Are you the one that called for assistance?"
"Yes." Jack said, then stood up.
"Okay, then I'm going to let you come to me so we can talk, is that alright?"
"Sure deputy." Jack replied, as he got up walked down the sidewalk toward Jillian.
"I'm Deputy Cooper, and you are?"
"Jack Lewis, deputy good to meet you." He said as he reached the car.
"Well Mr. Lewis, you don't look like a head case but the dispatcher seemed to think you might be. She also said something about casualties? Would you like to tell me about that?"
Jack explained the events quickly then pointed across the lane to the path going down to the lake. Jillian rubbed her arm and said, "That's quite a story Mr. Lewis, now I need you to step around to the back of my car. You're not under arrest but for my safety and yours I need to pat you down and check some ID." Jack moved to the back of the cruiser and as he did Jillian asked, "Do you have any weapons or sharp objects on you at this time?"
"No." Said Jack.
"And is anyone else in the home?"
"Okay, I need you to face the car and put your hands on the trunk please." Jack complied then Jillian checked his waist and pockets first. She told him he could keep the cell phone on his belt then checked around his neck and collar, finished by checking both arms then patting down the legs, checking the ankles. She noticed him tensing up from time to time and remembered him saying he'd been scraped up during his ordeal. "Sir just stand up straight but don't turn around yet and get your license out." Jillian check his information then stepped over to the side of the car and open the backseat door. "Sir I'm not going to cuff you but I need you to sit in my car while I check your information out. Is that your vehicle in the driveway?"
"Yes that's mine... but deputy I'm a former law enforcement officer myself is this really necessary?" Jack asked uncomfortably.
"It won't be but a second, just while I run your plate and then you can hop right back out, okay?" Jillian had taken him by the arm at this point and guided him to the door. "Now watch your head.", and with that she shut the door.
Jillian scanned the area around the house then walked up to Jack's blue sports car. I have got, to find out if this guy is available. She jotted down the plate number and shook her head when she saw the MARINES bumper sticker. On a Vett? Why didn't he just key it? She returned to the cruiser and ran the plate using the laptop mounted on the dash. "No Wants. No Warrants. You've been a good boy Mr. Lewis."
Jack wasn't amused. Jillian then got back out of the car and told Jack to set tight she'd be right back. "What?" Jack said and was visibly upset. "You said you were going to let me out."
"And I will." said Jillian, "Soon as I check things out."
"Listen lady, you need to call the the State Police out here and the Coroner and just wait till they show up!" Jack was tired and fed up with pleasantries.
"Sir, I have a job to do. Now, are you going to make me regret not placing handcuffs on you?" She could tell Jack was about to lay into her again but couldn't muster the energy and she watched as he sat back against the seat again. "I'll keep you in sight, I just need to take a peek and see what's what before I call a bunch of people in. They'd be really angry at me for dragging them all the way out here so early in the morning just to find out you had been sleepwalking and killed some cows or something."
Jack was fuming. Daylight was streaming through the trees and the temperature was already 80 as Jillian crossed the road and started on the path. It was fairly broad and she had a straight line view all the way down to the lake about three hundred yards away. She walked at a normal pace several yards in then slowed as she spotted a wine glass laying off to the side. She turned and looked back at the cruiser and saw Jack watching from the back seat then continued on.
She could see up ahead that the ground was disturbed and as she got closer could see it had some furrows cut into it that looked like bullets had plowed up. She saw more evidence of gunfire on the trees next to the path, they had chunks of bark torn off them exposing the wood. This must be the place.
Walking on she moved over to the left side of the path and searched for a drop off that would signal that the sinkhole Jack told her about was really there. She finds the edge then looks back again toward the cruiser. It's standard procedure to not to leave anyone alone after being detained and Jillian was starting to become uncomfortable being this far away from Jack. She just wants to take a quick look over the side into the sinkhole and see if she can verify Jack's story and then call it in. The place was starting to give her the creeps. Jillian places her hand on a tree trunk to support her weight and grabs a branch to hold onto as she leans over to get a clear view down the bank. Without warning a violent force ripped her off her feet and she was free falling weightless in flight then hits the bank tumbling nips over hips into the sinkhole.
Jack had been watching as Jillian made her way over to the path. Even in the state he was in he couldn't help noticing that Jillian was what in his younger days, he would've called: stacked, racked and packed. He found himself wondering if she was married or not. No ring. Jack was thinking this while admiring her butt going down the path. Then Jillian suddenly turned, and looked back at him. Damn, nothing like getting caught gawking. He continued to follow her progress down the path and chastised himself for even thinking that someone probably twenty years younger would be interested in him. It still doesn't hurt to imagine them naked. With that thought hanging in Jack's mind, Jillian had reached the sinkhole and turned to look at him again. Can you read my mind Deputy Cooper? Then Jillian disappeared. "Shit!" Jack said out loud. Then thought. What is she doing? She knows better than to go down there.
Jack really couldn't tell if she went down the bank intentionally or fell. Either way it was a dumb move. He kept an eye on the spot holding out the hope that she would reappear just as fast as she had vanished. He remembered his phone and almost hit the button to call 9-1-1 again but thought better of it then called directory assistance and had them to connect him with the State Police. I should have done this in the first place. Jack, was kicking himself. He continued to watch the path as he asked the operator to have a trooper sent out from the local post and then he had them to switch him to a detective. The call went right to voice mail and Jack left a message advising the detective to send a team out as soon as possible.
"4-1 what is your status?" the police radio in Jillian's cruiser woke up. "4-1 do you copy?"
Jack hit the button for 9-1-1, he had decided he had waited long enough on the deputy to show back up. She could be hurt or get turned around in the woods and get lost real quick. Suddenly, Jack saw movement at the edge of the path then watched in total disbelief as Trail Man hitched himself up, pulled a handgun out of a leg holster and started up the path toward the house.
"9-1-1, what's your emergency?", responded Jack's phone.
Jillian was gasping for air. The impact not only knocked the breath from her lungs it paralyzed her diaphragm. Tears streamed from her face involuntarily and the pain seared all thoughts from her mind. Slowly the spasm began to relax and she gulped small amounts of oxygen until she finally was able to take a reasonable breath. It came just as she was replacing the pain with panic. Relieved that she could now breathe she sat up and attempted to orient herself. A burning ache coursed up her neck into her brain and rang in her ears. Out of a muddle of thoughts she was trying to catch up to what had just happen and like her lungs her brain was slow to release and function normally but her presence of mind was coalescing. So that's why they call it getting your bell rung. Jillian had taken some brutal shots sparring in kickboxing class but this was exponentially worse than those.
Jillian had gathered her faculties and directed them toward getting back up the bank. Things were starting to click again as she surmised that one of those dead bodies Jack told her about hadn't stayed dead. She was bruised and addled but as she clawed at roots and small trees to wrench herself up the bank, the panic from before was coming back. Jack is up there locked in my cruiser with someone that wants him dead.
Jack had quickly laid over in the seat out of view when Trail Man had appeared. He spoke into his phone in a harsh whisper, "Officer down! Officer down! Get everyone out here to Simpson Lake now. Deputy Cooper is down." Jack didn't wait for a reply, he ended the call then went into full survival mode. He knew that trying to get the door open or kicking out a window would be futile and any movement of the car might give him away. Jack was taking inventory of his options and found he really only had one viable one and that was to wait to die. If he was lucky maybe Trail Man didn't see him before he ducked and if he stayed still he might not check the back seat either. At least he had both hands free, and Deputy Cooper hadn't taken his phone or the contents of his pockets. He still had his car keys, and with that realization he remembered the AK 47 in the boot. So close. Then Trail Man appeared at the window looking in on Jack.
Jack was startled, and braced himself for the end then decided he wasn't just going to lay there, and be shot. As Trail Man brought the gun up Jack pushed the car alarm button on his key chain. The Vett came alive with the horn blowing and lights flashing. Trail Man reacted with a jolt, and as he did Jack lunged at the window with his key in an attempt to punch it through. It didn't crack. He hit it again. Not a scratch. Trail Man composed himself and raised the weapon level to Jack once more. Jack heard the gun fire but didn't feel being hit. Even the glass didn't shatter. Suddenly Trail Man's face was replaced by Deputy Cooper standing with her service pistol trained on the now fallen Trail Man.
"Get me out of here!" Yelled Jack.
"O.K. give me a sec~." Jillian said as she came up to the heap on the ground.
"Watch him he's trai....", Jack was cut off mid word as he tried to warn Jillian that this guy had skills. Trail Man rolled over onto Jillian's feet as she had started to roll him off the car door then he grabbed the end of the barrel, and slide of her weapon then tried to twisted it from her grip. "Shoot him in the head! He has body armor on!" Jack shouted as he realized the problem. Jillian fell backward yanking the gun free then it went flying across the blacktop to the path. Trail Man stayed with her struggling to pin her down and stay on top. To Jack's surprise Jillian had skills as well. She managed to establish guard position, wrapping her legs around her opponent's waist then she placed her arms around his neck, pulling him in tight to her. Trail Man was weakened but still had plenty of juice and was starting to peel Jillian's arms away, sitting himself up to pound her head into the pavement. Jillian simply let go causing Trail Man to lurch forward and put out an arm to catch himself with. Jillian moved her body quickly to the left out from under him, pulled the tactical knife she kept in her pocket, then went between his legs with it, stabbing him inter thigh severing his artery. Trail Man fell over on his back trying to staunch the flow of blood. He was dead in seconds. Jillian picked herself up and walked over to Jack and let him out of the back seat as three more deputies blasted onto the scene, their sirens blaring loudly. Jillian, hugged Jack as he stood up then just held him for a moment. "Happy trails, Trail Man." Jack said.
"What?" Jillian tried to yell over the din of noise coming from Jack's car and the deputies cruisers. "What did you say?"
"I said, you look like hell!" Jack shouted.
"Thanks!" Jillian smirked as she yelled back. The deputies had killed their sirens at this point. "Could you shut that off?" She said, pointing to Jack's car. "I have a headache."
Soon, a small army of L.E.O.'s and emergency personnel had flooded Jack's little road and swarmed the woods and property surrounding his home. Jack turned over the AK, gave a brief statement to a State Trooper then was transported to the hospital with Jillian to be checked out. Jack had protested at first but when he saw he would be able to talk with Deputy Cooper on the way, he conceded. From the hospital they were taken to the State Police post in Watson, the County's Seat. Jack was read his rights then they were separated and asked to write down what took place. Jack was then interrogated for about 45 minutes and placed in a office area and told that they were waiting on someone else to arrive to ask him a few more questions. Jack fell asleep sitting in a chair placed against the wall.
"Deputy Secretary Williams' office, can I help you?" The receptionist tried to sound crisp, and efficient for the analyst from the Office of Intelligence and Analysis, sitting there. Jim Anderson, sat on the outer office couch waiting for a spur of the moment meeting that he had been summoned to with the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security. Meetings of this kind were unusual, and Anderson wasn't sure if he was in trouble for something or being transferred out to some other area.
"You may go in now." Said the receptionist as she rose to open the door.
"Jim! Just the guy I needed to see." Said Williams as he looked up from his desk with a big smile. "Have a seat."
Anderson squeezed in between the two chairs and sat down on the edge of one, with his back straight and eyes trained on the wall behind Williams.
"Relax Jim. If I was going to get rid of you I'd just send you an e-mail." Williams chuckled, as Anderson broke an uncomfortable grin. "I've got a job for you. I need you to go down to Kentucky, and check on a few things for me. There was an incident that took place sometime last night, early this morning outside a little town called Watson. It's fairly close to Fort Campbell, so we're flying you down there then you'll have to ride a pack mule or something on into to Watson." Williams laughed again. "Seriously, we've got a former D.E.A. slash C.I.A. agent down there that had some kind of death squad sent after him. He seemed to think that a former informant from a drug cartel was exacting some revenge on him but when the locals checked the name, I have it somewhere..." Williams ruffled through some notes. "Ah, yes it's Jose Verduzco; anyway he died in a Mexican prison two years ago. Now what caused them to call us is when they ran a thumb print of one of these hit men, it came back flagged for Homeland Security. So, I'm giving you the packet to read on the way, the car is waiting to take you to Reagan, to fly out. Happy trails, and expect to run into a C.I.A. agent or two down there. Oh, and the locals don't know about this guy being a former agent so don't 'out' him. He worked on some operations that are still active so he can't go public yet even though he's retired. So, he's just D.E.A. to them, okay?"
Anderson was giddy, A real mission! I'm on a jet getting the hell out of Washington, and that boring shit hole cubical I've been in for the last three years.
Jack had been cat napping for a couple of hours when a trooper woke him to ask if he'd like something to eat. Jack was starved at this point and the only thing he wanted more was his bed. The trooper handed him a sack lunch. "The deputy you came in with got this for you and said she'd contact you later on in the week. Some things have changed while you were waiting too. Someone from D.C. is coming down to talk to you. They decided not to send anyone down from the Fusion Center in Louisville." The trooper said.
D.H.S. has these Fusion Centers all over the country where Local, State and Federal agencies share information and work cases involving disasters, security issues, and terrorism threats. Jack could understand their interest in this but thought that they would send someone from I.C.E. the Immigration and Customs folks. Actually Jack thought he was waiting for another State detective to interview him.
"It's going to be awhile before they get here and I was told to offer you police protection if you wanted it but you are free to leave. Your property is still a crime scene and you'll have to wait until that's cleared before you can go home. You probably know what the motels are like around here. If you want, I can pull out a cot?" Shrugged the trooper.
"I've got to be here to meet with this guy from Homeland anyway, so the cot sounds fine. This sandwich will hold me for awhile but it'll be O.K. if I go out to eat later won't it? Jack questioned.
"Sure, since the County Attorney was finally talked out of prosecuting you, you can do pretty much anything you want." The trooper grinned at Jack's reaction as Jack took a bite of his turkey and cheese.
"You're kidding!" Choked Jack.
"Nope. Why do you think we read you your Rights?
"Well I don't know, that's normal procedure for something like this." Said Jack. "What was he going to charge me with?"
"Multiple counts of manslaughter I believe. I don't think the County Attorney liked waking up to a sinkhole full of bodies this morning. Oh, and the Coroner asks that the next time you blow a bunch of people up, that you do it on level ground, and not down a sinkhole." Said trooper, and smiled.
"So, we have a Coroner with a sense of humor." Replied Jack.
"Not really." The trooper shook his head. "I don't know when this D.H.S. guy will be here but hopefully it won't be much longer, you take care now, I've got to go write some tickets. I'll pull that cot out and leave it in the hall and if you need anything just tell the dispatcher. I'll be in and out most of the night, I'm Trooper Henson." He turned to leave then turned back to say, "That was a real spot you were in out there, you're lucky to have made it out. I just wanted to tell you I served as a Marine too, they put something in us that just won't let us quit didn't they."
Jack guessed that Jillian had told the trooper from the conversation she had with him on the ride in. "Well that or they took out anything that could stop us." Jack said with a smile and stood up to shake hands with Trooper Henson. The trooper left and Jack finished his snack then setup the cot and crashed.
Jim Anderson had finally arrived at the State Police post and after a brief introduction and a cup of coffee Jack suggested they go have dinner before the only restaurant in town closed. Jack’s body was sore and weakened by his ordeal but the few hours of sleep he had gotten on the cot had him feeling better and he knew a good meal would bring his energy level back. Jack wanted to stretch his legs and maybe get some of the soreness out so he told Anderson he would rather walk than drive. Anderson had checked out a government vehicle at the base and with the aid of GPS mapping and a few stops to get directions due to a lack of road signs, had made the trip without too many problems. He became painfully aware that he didn't blend in with the local populace when at every stop the person he spoke to would say, “You ain't from around here are you?”
“A walk sounds good to me Mr. Lewis.” Anderson welcomed the idea after the flight and drive. “Let me put my briefcase in the trunk, all I really need is my laptop.” The two men left the building and after depositing Anderson’s briefcase walked through the parking lot to a side street that ran through a neighborhood and into the downtown area of Watson. Main Street was void of traffic and all the businesses closed. The town was a mix of buildings from the 1800’s to new office buildings that housed mostly local government offices and City Public Works like the Water Department. There was a barbershop, a guitar and music store, a consignment shop and the rest were mainly lawyer offices and real estate concerns. As they passed by the County Courthouse Anderson remarked on how nice the town looked and how empty it was.
“They received a grant a few years ago to restore some of the old buildings and turn downtown into a historic district, then they spruced it up a bit to draw in tourists." Jack, related. "It was almost a ghost town after the highway bypass and a Wally World super center wiped out all the old stores. It has come back fairly well actually, and even before the super center came in the town always rolled up the sidewalks and closed all the shops at 6:00 PM.”
“Small town life as normal, huh?” Anderson threw out.
“Yeah, it’s kind of nice but boring for the kids that live around here.” Jack said as they arrived out front of the restaurant. “Well here we are, the best and only restaurant in town.”
They entered and the hostess ask, “Table for two?”
“Can you make that a booth?” Asked Jack, thinking of privacy for their talk.
“Give me a hammer, and a saw, and I’ll make y’all a swing set out of it if you want.” Quipped the hostess.
Anderson laughed out loud, and Jack turned to him and said. “Looks like we’ve got a live one here.” Then he turned back to the hostess said. “Lead the way.”
“Okay, you fellas have yourself a seat. Can I go ahead and get your drinks? I’m going to be your waitress too, the other girls have already gone home. You boys are eating late.”
“Sure, I’ll have draft beer.” Said Jack. The hostess jotted it down.
“Will this be on one ticket?” She asked.
“Yes” Said Anderson. “This one is on me, and I’ll have a bottled water at room temperature.”
“You ain't from around here are you hon? You down here for a wedding or a funeral?”
Jack stepped in and said. “Oh, he’s just in town on business, he sells toilet paper.”
“Is that right? Well it’s amazing how many different ways there are to make a living." She said as she swung away from the booth and tossed it over her shoulder. “With all the bull being slung around here, you’ll be a millionaire by the time you finish looking at the menu.”
Anderson looked over at Jack and said. “Wow. She’s a pistol isn't she? He adjusted himself in the seat. “Toilet paper salesman? Really? If I need another a cover, next time you let me pick it, alright?" Jack just grinned and looked at what the special was.
They were served their drinks and the hostess took their order then Anderson pulled his laptop out and brought up the file he had started on Jack. “Now, Mr. Lewis, while we have a second I’m going to give you some information to chew on while we eat. This is all classified and I know you still have clearance; I also know you worked as an operative for the C.I.A.” Jack was stunned by that last revelation, and Anderson could tell. “You see sir there’s a lot more going on here than anyone at the top can figure out, that’s why the Deputy Secretary of Homeland sent me down here. I report to him and no one else, my job is to collect as much detailed information as I can then do my analyst voodoo on it to see what kind of scenario we’re actually dealing with. Normally I would do all this from my cubical in D.C. but there’s a lot of sensitive info, and details such as your operative status that they didn’t want compromised. Besides, they knew you wouldn't reveal any info from past operations in Afghanistan, and now it seems there might be a connection to some of those.”
Jack was taking this all in but still couldn't put together how an old case from when he was with the D.E.A. would link with anything else. “So what has led them to believe that?” Asked Jack.
“Well, we have a I.D. on the guy you called Trail Man, in your statement they sent to me. Turns out he’s not from Mexico, hell he isn't even Hispanic. He was Fouad al Hariri, a Lebanese national, and member of Hezbollah, and also on our No Fly list, which is why when they ran his print through the system they were directed to contact Homeland Security. Not only that, the other five, who are Mexicans, haven't been linked to any cartel yet but we’re still waiting on the Mexican Government to track that down. You’ll be happy to hear that the guy you thought was trying to kill you had his throat cut in a Mexican prison a couple of years ago. So, we have pretty much eliminated this being a cartel hit, and now we think this was an Iranian backed assassination attempt on you instead.” Anderson finished just as the hostess returned to ask if they needed another drink. Jack sat there expressionless but Anderson could imagine Jack’s mind turning at warp speed.
Jack diverted enough cognitive energy to tell the hostess he was fine with the beer then went back into his head. He looked up at Anderson and said. “I think it’s time for us to be on a first name basis. That alright with you?”
“Sure Jack. Jim is fine with me. Oh, I should tell you Homeland has put a hush hush on what went on out at your place so if anybody asks it was just some teenagers doing some shooting last night. It didn’t sound like a believable cover story to me but some deputy put it out before I got here.” Anderson took a drink from his water bottle, cold as ice.“So, what are you thinking?” He asked.
“Well Jimmy, I’m thinking I should have ordered fish, I need some brain food because I can’t think of a single thing that makes any sense out of this." Jack rubbed his eyes and continue. "I was in Afghanistan before 9/11, I had worked there as D.E.A. supervising the eradication of poppy fields and finding the smuggling routes and arresting the dealers. The C.I.A. recruited me because I had contacts with the locals, had been in and out of a lot of different areas and had picked up a little of the language. When the government was in the planning stages of launching our attack on the Taliban and going after Osama Bin Laden, the Agency didn’t have but a handful agents that knew anything at all about Afghanistan, so I left the D.E.A. and went in with the troops as a C.I.A. operative. Now, how any of that ties into Hezbollah and the Iranians and them going way out of their way to kill me~ I mean it doesn't make any sense.”
“Here’s your food guys, make some room.” Said the hostess as she set down a prime rib in front of Jack and a vegetarian plate for Jim. “You know I think you’re only about the third person that ever ordered one of those veggie plates and the two other ones had oxygen hoses in their nose. You sick or something? I’m just kidding, at least five or six people has ordered that.” Then with a quick change of subject. “Did y’all hear about those idiot kids out at Simpson Lake, shooting all those cows?"
“Jillian.” Jack said under his breath.
Jim Anderson and his dinner guest finished their meal. In passing, the hostess asked Jim if he was staying at a local motel. He told her he might need to but wasn’t sure. She in turn, told him her aunt owned a bed and breakfast just a couple of streets over from the restaurant and that this time of year was always slow for her. She gave him a card with the address and phone number on it. Jack broke in and said, “I’m in town for the night as well. How many rooms does she have?”
“Plenty, and she’s a good cook too, you fellas will enjoy having breakfast out on the patio watching the humming birds feed.” The two men thanked her and Jack gave her a tip.
“I need you to do me a favor.” Jack said as he handed her a ten. “I’d appreciated if you didn’t tell anyone we might be staying there, could you do that for me?”
“Oh sure hon, it ain’t nobody's business anyhow. Now you give my aunt a call here pretty soon or she’ll already be in bed. Y’all have a good night, y'all hear?” Jack, and Jim said goodbye.
Outside the two men turned back toward the downtown area and headed back to the State Police post. Anderson called the bed and breakfast on his cell phone, and the lady seemed surprised and very happy she was getting guests for the night. He told her it would be awhile before they arrived and she said that would give her time to have their rooms ready for them. At $75 a night, Anderson thought it was a bargain and it would be a good place to continue to debrief Jack instead of at the post.
Jack was feeling better, and was glad of it. He knew they had to figure things out quickly, and his mind needed to be sharp. By now the bad guys probably knew they had lost their team, and would be covering their tracks; the National Security Agency would be monitoring the wires for any contact between known operatives overseas, and the U.S. Jack was sure that the State Police would be looking for the vehicle these guys used to get out to his place in. There are a dozen back roads that weave through that area of the lake, and they could have hid it in the woods then walked in, or they may have been dropped off, which means there could still be some of these guys in the area. It would be nice if they could nab someone that was in on the raid. However, all that was for other people to deal with. Jack's piece of the puzzle was to figure out why they came after him, how they found him, and what their next move was going to be. One thing Jack knew for sure was that the Iranians had an operation under way, and the attack on him was just a small part of it. Either they thought Jack knew of some way to stop it once the operation was implemented, and wanted him eliminated first or somehow he was a threat to them of even getting it off the ground. Jack, had made a lot of contacts over the years, and any one of them could be connected to this somehow. He just needed the right piece of info to point him in the right direction, and right now he had nothing.
The two men had returned to the State Police post; Jack pushed the call button on the security door and the dispatcher allowed him in. Jim retrieved his car from the parking lot, and brought it around too the front of the building. Jack explained to the dispatcher his plan to spend the night at the bed and breakfast and asked him contact trooper Henson and make him aware of his location. The dispatcher also told Jack that a meeting had been set up for 10:30 in the morning between the State detectives, the Sheriff's department and the FBI and that he was to arrive at 11:30 to speak with the FBI, who evidently was taking over the case; he said someone from Immigration and Customs would be here as well.
Jack left the building then drove over to the bed and breakfast with Jim. When they arrived they were greeted by Norma Smith the owner, and were shown to their rooms.
"I can serve breakfast as early as 7:30 AM or as late as 9:00 AM, what would you prefer?" Asked Ms. Smith.
"About 8:30 would be great." Said Jack. "We will be up working on a business presentation for awhile tonight, and might want to sleep a little later in the morning."
"That will be fine, just make yourself at home, and I'll see you in the morning." Said Ms. Smith. "Is there anything special I can fix for you in the morning?"
"Hash browns would be nice." Said Jack. "With bacon and eggs?"
"Sure." Said Ms. Smith. "And you?" She asked looking at Jim.
"A whole wheat bagel and cream cheese, will do me." Said Jim.
"You ain’t from around here are you son?" Ms. Smith observed. “I'll see what I can do. Now don't worry about making any noise, my living area is in the basement." With that, she left the two men alone.
Jim’s room had a corner desk with a swivel chair, and a easy chair set next to the bed with a reading lamp. They decided set up shop there, Jim hooked up his power cord to his laptop and opened his briefcase and handed Jack a notepad and pen.
“I want to be thorough” Said Jim. “But we need to do this quickly. I have a high level security clearance but I am authorized only to question you about contacts and events that may have a connection to this incident. I am the government's lead intelligence analyst, I have a PhD. in computer science and I design algorithms and other interpretive computer programs to analyze intelligence information. This is going to be a process of elimination, I want you to start with the first operation you worked on in Afghanistan. Think about the operational details and who was involved, then I want you to write down any names you can remember from that operation and any details that could have the slightest link to Iran, Syria or Lebanon and the Hezbollah or why anyone from back then would want you dead. Then repeat that process for each operation you were involved in.”
"That's going to take a while.” Said Jack.
“Yes it is and while you do it, I’m going to take a shower. Have fun." Said Jim.
It was 2:30 by the time Jack exhausted all possibilities and Jim entered the information into his computer. Jim sent the encrypted information via a secure link to the NSA and then downloaded it to his program for analysis. They wouldn’t have any results until the morning so they turned in for the night, something Jack had been looking forward to. Jack didn’t feel like they were any closer to finding a connection after racking is brain. If he had had all the reports from all the operations they may have came up with something, of course it would have taken days or even weeks to have gone through all of it.
The next morning Ms. Smith had coffee ready when they woke and the two went out on the back patio to wait for their breakfast. The hostess wasn't kidding about the hummingbirds, they were everywhere. Jim commented on how much fighting the little birds were doing. They were spending more time chasing each other off than they were feeding on the nectar.
“I looked at the results from our session last night and we only had one hit on a name that can be linked to Iran and it seems to be a weak one.” Jim said.
“Who was it” Asked Jack.
“Khalid al Habib, he was Egyptian and was al-Qaeda’s field commander in southeast Afghanistan back in 2005.”
“I recognize the name but that wasn’t one I gave you last night”.
“Sure you did, al Harbi.”
“Al Harbi was my contact to a number of Afghani informants.”
“And did they produce any actionable Intel for you? I’m guessing no because recently it was discovered that Habib had assumed this identity while overseeing al Qaeda’s internal operations. I hooked up my printer and downloaded the only photo we have” Jim pulled out the picture and handed it to Jack. "Look familiar?”
“I’ll be damned, I can tell just by the eyebrows, that’s him.”
“He’s connected because he is an acquaintance of another Egyptian; one quite famous in C.I.A. circles I would imagine, Ali Abdul Saoud Mohamed.” Jim said as he watched Jack’s reaction.
“The double agent, of course I know about him.”
“Not just a double agent" Said Jim. “He worked for Zawahiri as a translator when he was in America touring mosques to raise money to fight the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan years ago. After that, one day he just walked into the CIA office in Cairo and offered his services. The CIA had him infiltrate a mosque in Germany, with ties to Hezbollah, but he revealed to the cleric there that he was recruited as a spy for the U.S., luckily a member of the congregation was also a spy and turned him in. The CIA dismissed him and banned him from entering the U.S. then for some reason Army Special Forces picked him up and sent him through the Special Warfare School then had him training Afghan fighters going against the Soviets. He actually trained Bin Laden and wrote al Qaeda’s terrorist training guides; of course later on in 1998 he was convicted for the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.”
“I still don’t know how that makes me a target.” Jack said, as Ms. Smith brought out their plates.
Jim watched in amazement as Jack smothered his hash browns with ketchup then mixed the eggs and bacon in with it. He snapped out of it and restarted their conversation after Ms. Smith left them to their meal. "Maybe it's something that you know but don't understand as being significant." Said Jim.
"Maybe." Said Jack. "If that's the case we're screwed because my head is full of crap that is of no significance at all."
Jim broke a smile. He was beginning to appreciate Jack's sense of humor but Jack was right about being screwed, the clock was ticking. The only thing worse than no information, was wasting time on old information. "What about the informants? Does anything stand out about them?"
"Not really. You called it right last night about actionable intelligence, I didn't get anything from them." Said Jack.
"So, nothing unusual?" Asked Jim.
"Well, one of them was a kid that the Taliban put into service at age 14. He was 17 when I met him. He had gotten away from the Taliban and somehow returned home. He could speak some English and he was more interested in listening to my CD player than he was talking to me about the Taliban and he kept after me about getting a job with us as an interpreter. I went to his home a couple of times and met his parents. He wasn't giving me much information that I could use, but the family was friendly and I thought they would be useful for local information if nothing else. I had contact with them for three or four weeks then one day the kid just left and I never saw him again. A couple of months went by and I went back to the parents' home and found out that their son had been killed but they didn't know the details of his death."
"And that's all?" Asked Jim.
"Yeah, pretty much, they gave me back some paperbacks that I let the kid borrow to work on his English with." Said Jack.
"I don't guess he wrote a secret coded message in one of them telling you why they’re trying to kill you?" Said Jim, in an attempt to show his own humor.
"Actually, there was a bookmark in one of them, with Arabic writing on it. I can’t read the language but one of the guys translated it for me. They said it was something like, 'glowing colors'."
Jim suddenly set his coffee cup down and leaned in on Jack. "You mean like iridescent?" Asked Jim.
"I guess it could be. Is it important?"
"I've had less to go on. What does the bookmark look like?" Asked Jim
"It’s a thin piece of Brass, about 2 1/2 inches long and there's a tassel thingy attached to the end of it." Answered Jack. "What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking we found something of significance." Said Jim. "I probably would have missed it if it hadn't been for the hummingbirds. Their feathers are iridescent and when the sunlight reflects off them they glow in that emerald green color, so I already had it on my mind. Awhile back there was a lot of chatter and intelligence reports generated about a computer virus called ‘Iridescence’. The Syrians had been working on it for quite some time. The chatter stopped when the Israelis bombed a suspected nuclear weapons research site in Syria. The uptake on that is that it was actually a computer lab where this virus was being developed. Supposedly the Iranians wanted to retaliate against Israel, and the U.S. for the cyber attack on their nuclear plants, and the centrifuges that they were using to create enriched uranium. They received some help from the North Koreans, and China. China had launched a number of cyber attacks on the U.S. and they shared information with Iran from those attacks, giving them some of our own technology that they stole. Syria is closely aligned with Iran; the Syrians already had a project underway so the Iranians fed them this new material. Now get this, the Syrians were also said to be training al Qaeda fighters from Afghanistan, on how to build roadside bombs and other IED’s; it was Hezbollah that was training them in Lebanon. What might tie all this to you is there was one report that before that lab was destroyed by the Israelis, a prototype bug was made and given to those al Qaeda fighters heading to Afghanistan, with the idea that they would test it by having one of their operatives get a job with the U.S. Military or with the Embassy in Kabul and have them download it into the first computer they had access to.”
Jack was taking it all in but there were some blank spots in his understanding. All, in all though, he was starting to see this as a real possibility. "So, where is this prototype now?” Asked Jack.
"That bookmark with the tassel thingy might hold the key." Said Jim.
There are three basic forms of computer bugs: Virus, Worm, and Trojan Horse. The virus attaches to a program or file and is spread by user actions. Worms are like a virus that attaches to transport features in a Computer System. It can spread by itself and it can replicate itself and be sent out to everyone in an e-mail address book, then do the same to each of those individuals and their contacts. Worms can consume large amounts of system memory and can allow others to control your computer remotely. A Trojan Horse, is often disguised as some type of useful software that you download to your computer. These can be used to delete files and can be used as a back door to access your Computer System. A computer bug that represents the biggest threat is the one that is designed as a blend of all three types of virus. These can attack a Computer System in a combined way; being spread by user actions, replicating itself, deleting files, and creating back doors in a variety of ways. New technology such as nanotechnology and holographic memory can enhance these complex bugs to the level of a super virus. Jack’s tassel thingy, contains a holographic Nano worm just waiting to be released.
He was dressed in a manner common in Lebanon for Hezbollah military parades. A white hood over his head, and suicide bombers vest on; he had marched in many of the parades before, people cheering and waving banners of support calling for the destruction of Israel. The sense of elation was very powerful and he could feel it rise as he walked along silently reciting a prayer. There was a buzz and a click as the door unlocked. He had timed it perfectly as Louise Carter arrived for work at the State Police Post; he now shoved her through the door and ran with her past the dispatchers desk into the central office area. A number of uniformed officers and men in suits and ties turned to see what had interrupted their meeting when the man yelled out at them, "Death to America! Death to Israel!", then he detonated the vest.
Jack Lewis, and Jim Anderson, had decided that they needed to check the bookmark as soon as possible so they were on their way back to the State Police Post to see if they could get permission to return to Jack’s home. They turned off of Main Street into the neighborhood behind the post and had to wait for a church van sitting on the wrong side of the street to move out of their way. As they were coming up the street toward the post, Jack could see a number of Sheriff's department cars in the parking lot. The thought of seeing Jillian again lifted his spirit’s some but was distracted from the idea when he noticed a distortion in the building up ahead. At first he thought there was something wrong with his eyes, then the roof lifted and the windows blew out with flames licking out from under the eves of the building, belching black smoke into the sky. The explosion was powerful as it ripped through the parking lot, overturning cars and sitting them ablaze. The sound of the explosion and the shock wave reached Jack at the same time. The car went out of control and slammed into a telephone pole. Jack, lost consciousness, his nose was bleeding from the airbag being deployed. Jack, finally stirred, and came too seeing Jim, unconscious behind the wheel but breathing. He unhooked Jim’s seat belt, then his own, got out of the car, went around to Jim’s side and opened his door then pulled him out onto the sidewalk. Jack could feel someone grab him by the shoulders from behind and it was trooper Henson.
"What happened?" Ask trooper Henson.
Jack’s hearing was like he was under water but he could make out the question. "The building blew up!" Answered Jack.
"I know that, but how?"
"I don't know, just get on the radio and call the emergency vehicles out here." Requested Jack.
"They’re already on their way; is this guy okay?"
"Yeah, he's starting to come around now." Jack helped Jim sit up. "Are you alright Jim?"
"I think so." Answered Jim. "Where am I?"
Trooper Henson wanted to bring Jack up to date on what had transpired overnight but Jack was already running toward the post to see if there were any survivors. The thought of Jillian being in there was tearing through his emotions. The trooper ran after him and caught up to him just as a car exploded. Both men went down to the ground. "Listen Jack, I don't think we can do anything here but we have another situation we might be able to do something about." The trooper yelled.
"What's that?" Asked Jack.
"I went out to check on your place this morning before the end of my shift, and when I came back out on the main highway I got behind a white pickup truck. I ran its plates and it was a stolen vehicle. When I turned my lights on he ran and I chased him all the way into Watson. He lost me when when we got into town but then I saw it parked next to the old lumber warehouse. That's when I heard the post blowup and saw the smoke, I just came straight here."
Jim had caught up to Jack and trooper Henson as they were picking themselves up from the ground. "What do we need to do now?" Asked Jim.
"I think we have another bomber on our hands." Said trooper Henson.
"Where at?" Asked Jack.
"The white pickup I was telling you about." Trooper Henson said in a raised voice; he was irritated and didn't like being out of control. It was everything he could do just to hold it together, knowing what had happened to his friends and fellow officers in the building. "I got up alongside and could see two guys in the cab as we entered an intersection coming into town and one of them pulled up his vest and showed me a bomb. I backed off and that's when I lost them."
"You said you saw the pickup parked at the old warehouse?" Jack asked.
"Yeah, I'm sure it was them but if we corner them they'll just blow us all up."
"I think I can get us some help with that." Said Jim. "Let me get my laptop and I'm going to need an address on the building."
A fire truck and two ambulances showed up as the men walked back toward trooper Henson's cruiser. Jim retrieved his laptop from the back floorboard of his wrecked vehicle hoping it wasn't damaged. He was able to establish a satellite link and sent an encrypted message to the NSA with details of the bombing of the state police post and the location of the suspected bomber. He received a message back that read, Action Pending.
"We need to go and keep an eye on the pickup truck and make sure it's still there." Said Jim.
The men got into trooper Henson's cruiser, Jack opting for the front seat, they drove over to an area where they could watch the building. The pickup was still there. Jim received another notification on his laptop that read, Surveillance Approved.
Fort Campbell received flash traffic directing them to launch Predator drones, the operation was underway quickly because a training mission was already in progress. Jack watched as two men got out of the pickup and tried to enter the building through a side door. They were unable to break in so they got back into the truck and drove to the front of the building where they got out again and squeezed through an opening of a large sliding door. They reemerged shortly carrying weapons. They got back into the pickup truck and drove away. Jim quickly sent another encrypted message confirming that the men were wearing bomb vests, that they were armed and leaving the area.
Trooper Henson slowly pulled out to follow the white pickup truck as it left the building. Jim warned him to stay back from the truck as they turned onto the street. From a secure site in Nevada, where drone pilots normally flew missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, the authorization came in to take out a target that was practically in their own backyard. Two miles above a small Kentucky town, a Predator drone locked onto its target. Trooper Henson caught a glimpse of the pickup on the straight stretch ahead when a fireball erupted and obscured the view. "What the f#ck!" Exclaimed trooper Henson. "It blew up!" Jack looked over the back seat at Jim and Jim nodded back. "One of the vest’s must have detonated accidentally." Jack said.
"Holy cow, that was massive." Observed Henson. "They could have killed a lot of people with that." The men drove up to the site of the explosion where the shell of the pickup truck was still burning.
"Well that takes care of them, now we need to get back to the post to see if we can help." Said trooper Henson.
"I know you want to get back there but Jack and I have something we need to do back at his place involving national security, and I don't have time to explain it to you." Said Jim.
"That's fine by me but you will have to find your own ride." Answered Henson
Trooper Henson turned his cruiser around and headed back toward the post. When they arrived Jack was happy to see Jillian standing on a sidewalk looking on as firefighters continued to douse hot spots with their hoses. She was in civilian clothes but Jack could see that she was armed with a pistol, tucked in the small of the back holster on her belt. She looked devastated. Jack got out of the cruiser and approach Jillian while trooper Henson allowed Jim out of the back seat.
"What the hell is going on around here?" Jillian asked, holding back tears. "Who did this? Does it have something to do with the attack on you?"
"I'm afraid so." Answered Jack. Jack quickly filled Jillian in on what had taken place with the white pickup truck and the explosion of the post. He also told her that it was important that he and Jim return to his place to check on a possible lead that had National Security implications and asked if she'd could drive them out there and she agreed to it. "I thought you were in that building this morning when it blew up." Said Jack.
"I probably would have been but they put me on administrative leave because of my concussion, and its standard procedure for any officer involved in a lethal force incident as well. I was at home and heard the call go out on the police scanner. I can't believe they're dead." Jillian said, as she was about to break down again.
"I'm sorry about your loss but we might be able to prevent more loss of life and catch the people behind this. Are you up for it?"
"You damn right I am, whoever did this is going down." Said Jillian.
Jack, introduced Jim to Jillian as they got into Jillian’s, compact 4 wheel drive SUV. Jillian, had asked Jack to drive. On top of still having headaches, she now had the added burden of dealing with her emotions and the lost of so many people she knew. The highway exit was blocked so they had to circle back through town and came out to the highway next to the supercenter. Jim quickly spoke up and told them he had something he needed to pickup at the store before they left town. Jack and Jillian, waited as Jim, enter the store.
“So where did you you learn the martial arts?” Jack asked, as an icebreaker. He knew Jillian was having a tough time trying to cope with the situation and wanted to give her a distraction. Besides, he was genuinely curious; he had seen women train and spar at various events, but never at the level of Jillian’s skill and never in a real fight, let alone one that ended with a female killing a guy in hand to hand combat.
“My father was in the Army, and I grew up on military bases. We lived in Japan for a time, then my dad was promoted, and became the Commanding Officer, at the base in the Philippines. He had to keep me busy somehow, so he would enrolled me in any martial art school that would teach girls, which there wasn’t many of, and those weren’t very good. Then he started having teachers come on base to give demonstrations, and classes to the troops. He managed to get some of them to give me private lessons.” Jillian shook her head and grinned as some memories from those days flooded into her mind. “These guys were some of the deadliest people on the planet but they were terrified of my dad, and me too. I had a hard time convincing them that I really wanted to learn how to fight but they treated me with kid gloves and spent a lot of time apologizing for any little bump I took. They thought dad just wanted me entertained and that I was just some spoiled American kid. I finally got a guy that thought he could make me give up trying to learn if he was really tough on me. I had dad schedule him for every other day. He finally recognized me as a serious student and that gave me a solid base to build on and I’ve been training in different styles ever since.”
“Impressive.” Said Jack. “Maybe we can train together sometime."
“Yeah, well, it will be awhile, this concussion of mine is being a bitch.”
Jim had left the store, and was returning toward the car pushing a cart when Jack noticed a cashier running out of the store after him, waving her hand over her head. She caught up to him as he reached the car.
“Sir, you forgot your receipt!” She exhaled out, then gulped in some more air.
Jim reached for it and thanked her.
“That’s okay.” She said. “Enjoy your new laptop.” Then she turned and headed back through the parking lot.
“Something wrong with yours?” Asked Jack.
“Ah, no. Maybe. I just needed it to test mine and make sure the wreck didn’t damage anything. I want to make sure it’s actually sending email’s out. I can’t risk using someone else's computer because of the sensitive information on the government laptop.” Jim lied.
Jim was beginning to appreciate the difficulties of being an agent and keeping secrets. Jillian, wasn’t in his mind a security threat, but still they couldn’t tell her about the bookmark and the flash drive it might contain. At least Jim was hanging all his hopes on it being a memory stick, if not they would be at a dead end again. Something big was happening; people just don’t show up with suicide bomber vest’s on and blow up cops in no-whereville USA. If Jim did find a something then he needed to find out what it was, and what it could do real quick. The safest way was to download it on a computer that wasn’t Internet enabled, and had nothing on it.
Jack drove away from the supercenter, and onto the main highway, heading to his place. As they arrived Jack notice as he drove down the lane to his house that there wasn't any crime scene tape up anywhere along the edge of the woods above where the sinkhole was or the path going down to the lake. He mentioned his surprise at that, and Jillian told him that investigators had finished late last night and decided to go ahead and clear the scene this morning, to allow him back home and to prevent sightseers from finding the location where cows had supposedly been shot. Jillian was up most of the night herself because she had been covering night shift for about three months and was accustom to sleeping during the day. Other deputies had kept her updated overnight as to what was going on.
Jack guessed he would have been informed of this at the meeting he was to attend at the post. It was difficult for him to assimilate everything that had transpired in such a short amount of time. Now he was back home where it had started just the night before. He pulled into the driveway next to his car still setting where he had left it. Normally it would have been in the garage but he had backed it out into the drive to give him more room to replace the front brakes on his pickup and change the oil. He had everything done except for putting the tires back on.
Jim, and Jillian got out and followed Jack up the steps to the front door. Jack unlocked the door then quickly stepped inside to punch in his security code to disable the alarm. He was glad to see that all seemed normal with the house. He was still concerned that whomever was after him would also be after the bookmark or whatever else they thought he had. The police presence was probably enough to keep the place safe while he was gone and with the elimination of the guys in the pickup, it was his hope that there wasn’t anyone from the assault team left in Kentucky. However, there was something amiss; there was the strong odor of coffee in the air.
“Damn it. I left the coffee pot on.” Said Jack as he took off toward the kitchen. “You two come on in.” He said over his shoulder.
Jillian, and Jim came into the living room and were immediately entranced by the artwork and displays of ancient artifacts. There were Chinese, and Japanese paintings with warriors, and Samurai in full regalia. Bronze horse heads sat on a mantle, depicting them rampant with nostrils flared, and mouths open their manes tortured, and flying as if running through battle. Anywhere Jim, and Jillian set their gaze there was an exquisite piece to marvel at. Small mosaics from ancient Rome, Greek vases with depictions of opposing Hoplite warriors in phalanx marching into each others line, spears, and shields at the ready, ancient swords hung in lighted cases, the metal incrusted with the ages, and spear points turned green with age that once shined in the sun thousands of years ago.
Jack reappeared from the kitchen wiping his hands with a towel. “Well that could have been worse; at least there was enough coffee in the pot that it didn’t over heat.” Jack then saw that Jillian, and Jim were looking at him oddly then back at the room. “Oh, my collection; I get that reaction a lot. Interesting isn’t it?”
“Beautiful is more like it.” Replied Jillian.
“Yes, it is." Said Jack, "It proves that beauty is in the eye of the beholder as well. Most of these things were just common place objects that the owners tossed out because they were broken or worn out. Now they seem to be works of fine art, and they are. I appreciate them for their beauty as well, but it’s their history that attracts me.”
Jack went over to a glass wall cabinet and withdrew a small display case. He handed it to Jillian. “Those are coins minted by Alexander The Great, some show him as being Heracles with a lion's head shrouded over his own head. The one in the middle shows him mounted on his horse Bucephalus, reared up in battle against a war elephant, and Alexander with his spear ready.”
“This is all very interesting but I really need to do some work with my computer and there’s that other thing we need to check on Jack.” Jim said, as he stepped up to take a look at the coins.
Jack reached into the cabinet again, and then handed Jim a brass bookmark, with a tassel thingy attached.
“There’s a bedroom down that hallway, on the right, you’re welcome to use it.” Jack pointed the way and Jim quickly turned and headed off with his government laptop slung over his shoulder, the new one under his arm, and the bookmark clutched in his hand.
Jack looked at Jillian after watching Jim leave, and notice she seemed a little woozy. “Are you alright?” Asked Jack.
“I think so but my head still has this dull ache, and I haven’t eaten anything since last night. I really need to get out of here and see if I can help out at Sheriff's Office.”
“You’ve been up all night, you have a concussion, and your blood sugar is so low you’re about ready to faint. I really don’t think you’re going to be of any help right now.” Jack took the case back from Jillian and placed it back in it’s spot. “Look, I want to help too but right now there’s really nothing we can do. Why don’t you set down (Jack motioned toward the sectional couch), and call into the office for an update, then just rest a moment while I fix you something to eat and then maybe you’ll be able make it home and get some sleep.”
“OK, I know you’re right but I feel so bad for those guys at the post and their families. I know their wives and kids, their parents. It’s just unbelievable that this is happening. I’m afraid there’s more of these psychos still running around.” Jillian pulled out her phone and sat it down on the arm of the couch, then removed her SOB holster from her belt and placed it and her weapon on the coffee table and plopped down on the couch to make her call.
“Jillian, you know as well as I do that the State Police and the F.B.I. are going to flood this area with manpower. If there are any of these guys left, they will find them. The families are going to have a tough time of it and I’m sure that you and the rest of the community will see to them but there’s nothing you can do to fix this.” Said Jack.
“I know that.” Said Jillian, “But it doesn’t make it any easier.”
“You make your call, I’m going to whip something up for you.” Jack said as he left for the kitchen.
Jim was plugged in and had the new laptop booting up while he examined the tassel. He found that it was made of wood and had a number beads strung on cording attached to one end and then a hole drilled through the other end with a cord through it and attached to a hole on the brass plate, which had Arabic writing on one side. He noticed there was a brass band just under where the beads where attached so he twisted the top around thinking it might screw off, but it just turned. He then pulled at the string of beads and with a pop the cap came off like a cork in a bottle. As he held it up to look he could see the shiny pins of a USB connector inside the hollow wooden dowel.
Jack turned on the small flat screen TV in the kitchen to catch up on the news, then placed a wok on the stove top and turned the setting to high. Pouring in some oil he swirled the wok to cover the bottom. In the fridge he had a variety of vegetables already cut and some thin sliced venison tenderloin. He started with the veggies first then the venison and added rice wine and a touch of soy, as the contents of the wok sizzled and cooked. “I hope you like stir-fry; it’s the only thing I can fix in a hurry.” Jack said, calling out from the kitchen. Jillian was on her cell, being filled in by another deputy as to who had been killed at the State Police post; she held the cell phone to her chest as she told Jack that anything would be fine. When she put the phone back to her ear she thought she heard the deputy say something about a gas line explosion.
“What was that again?” Queried Jillian.
“They think it was a faulty hot water heater that caused the explosion.” Said the deputy.
“What? Who is saying that?” Asked Jillian.
“That’s the preliminary finding of the Fire Department, and what the F.B.I. has approved to be released to the media.”
Jillian held her tongue as she was about to say bullshit out loud. I can’t believe they are still trying to keep this quite. “Well don’t let anyone drop their guard, there’s more to this than a gas explosion.” Said Jillian. “Listen, I should let you go back to work. I’ll be in later but if anything else happens you call me, okay?”
“I’ll let you know if something comes up but the Sheriff already told me that you are not allowed back on duty, so you need to talk to him about that; I don’t want to get in the middle.”
“Yeah, I was afraid of that. Just keep me up to date and I’ll talk to him later. Bye.” Said Jillian, as she ended the call and slumped back against the couch. Her head was still hurting and she closed her eyes for just a second and could feel her pulse beating from behind them. She called out to Jack and asked for a glass of water as she dug into her pocket for one of the pills she had been given to ease her headaches. It wasn’t time for another one yet but her headache didn’t care about that. Jack brought her a bottle of water and let her know that all he had to do was put her food on a plate and he would be done. “That’s great.” Said Jillian. “They told me not to take this on an empty stomach. I’m going to owe you one after this.”
“You’re kidding, right?” Jack scoffed. “As I have it, you saved my life the other day and besides that you gave me a sandwich too.” Jillian smiled, twisted off the bottle top and popped the pill. Jack went on into the kitchen, and prepared Jillian’s plate, then returned.
“I can eat this in the kitchen.” Offered Jillian.
“I eat most of my meals right where you are setting, so don’t worry about that. A house is meant to be lived in and if you get half of that in you without dropping any you’ll be way ahead me.” Jack said, as he placed it on the coffee table. “You enjoy, and I’ll go check on Jim, okay?”
“Sure.” Answered Jillian. "What is he up to anyway?"
Jim had the new laptop configured as he wanted. The basic programs were already pre-loaded, and he was ready to download the flash drive to a file. He plugged the memory stick into a side port and as soon as he did so the computer screen doubled in brightness then went black. What the hell?, he thought. Jim hadn’t been particularly impressed with the cheap laptop to begin with but seeing it blank out so suddenly made him think the hard drive just crashed. He tapped the on the power button with no result then checked the cord to make sure it was still plugged in. The power light was on and he hadn’t given the battery much of a charge so the charge light was lit as well. He was about to remove the memory stick when his cell phone vibrated and he answered the call.
“Please hold for the Deputy Secretary.” Said the voice on the other end.
“Jim, you there?”
“Yes sir.” Answered Jim.
“What the hell are you thinking, calling in an airstrike on American soil?”
“I just asked for surveillance sir, the strike was somebody else's call.” Jim set the laptop over to his right on the bed and stood up. “For the record I believe it was the right call to make; they could have killed a lot of people and started a panic across the country.”
“There’s not going to be any record, you idiot! The General at the Pentagon that made ‘the call’, as you put it, retired ten minutes ago and the rest involved were told this was done to add realism to their training mission. The whole idea of sending you down there was to limit our exposure and keep this in a tight loop. Are you tone death to the political fallout from this Anderson? The citizens let the government slide on 9/11 for not protecting them but if they find out a terrorist attack was launched across our undefended border with Mexico, this Administration is done. We'll be forced to seal the border then there goes the Hispanic vote.”
“Is that what you’re worried about? Really? I don’t think this is an isolated incident. There is something major in the works…” Jim was cut off.
“Hold it right there mister! Let me tell you what’s in the works. You have some dead cows, a very tragic gas line explosion, and some redneck’s pickup blew up. I’m sure that shit like that happens everyday in Kentucky. You don’t understand the big picture or how much good we can do for this country and the changes we can make, but we can’t do anything if we are not in power. Now, I want you on a plane back here now!”
“But sir…” Jim was cut short again.
“Mr. Anderson, I have a lot on my plate right now and the only reason I’m not suspending you is because we’re experiencing some anomalies in our computer systems and so far, no one can figure out what the problem is.”
Jim suddenly forgot about the ‘take your job and shove it up your ass’ spiel that he was preparing to unload on the Deputy Secretary. “What kind of anomalies?” Asked Jim.
“The kind that makes our new stealth drones fall out of the sky in Afghanistan, and the Patriot missile batteries in Israel, to lock on to an empty spot in the sky and fire all their rockets.”
“Sir, I’m on my way back.” And Jim ended the call.
Jack knocked on the bedroom door and Jim told him to come on in. “So let me guess, I went to Afghanistan and all I brought back was this crappy bookmark.” Said Jack.
“All true.” Said Jim.
Jack’s expression changed to one of frustration. “Well I didn’t really think we would find anything.” He said as he shook his head.
“Well, it is a crappy bookmark. However, the flash drive I found in it is quite fancy.”
“No kidding? Where’s it at?” Asked Jack
“It’s plugged into the laptop but I had a problem with it and then the Deputy Secretary of Homeland called, then you knocked. (Jim threw up both hands.) Now I’ve got to get back to D.C. as soon as I can, and I’m not sure what to do with this piece of junk computer.”
“Well, we need to find out what’s on that stick before you go don’t we?”
“Yeah.” Answered Jim, as he turned to pick the laptop up off the bed. “Hey here we go, it’s working again.” The laptop had a number of different programs running and several tabs up on the screen.
“What’s it doing?” Asked Jack.
“I’m not sure but it’s really busy. It’s changing the font size right now but I don’t know how that’s possible. It acts like a remote user is reconfiguring all the settings. (He turned the screen so Jack could see.) It would have to be connected to the Internet for that to happen.”
“And you’re sure it’s not?”
“Yeah… wait a second.” Jim clicked on a tab to bring it up on top. “It’s got the Wi-Fi connection box up but it can’t up link without a service.”
No sooner had the words left Jim’s mouth that three different Wi-Fi accounts appeared in the box showing the green bars of active signals. The top account was highlighted by the computer and a security code box appeared. Another search box appeared next to it and a series of codes began streaming on the line.
“It’s trying to hack into a Wi-Fi account on it’s own!” Said Jim.
“Don’t let it.” Jack reached over and jerked the power cord out of the side of the laptop. The connect Wi-Fi key activated on screen and then started connecting the up link. “It’s still going, pull the stick out.” Demanded Jack.
“The battery! Pull the side clips back and I’ll pull it out.” Said Jim, as he raise the bottom of the laptop up toward Jack. Jack found the clips and Jim yanked the battery free.
“Did we get it in time?” Asked Jack
“I’m pretty sure it didn't have time to send anything out.” Jack tossed the battery onto the bed, and set the laptop down on the dresser, then pulled the flash drive out. “What this thing just did was impossible.” Jim was shaking his head in disbelief as he stared at the plastic genie in a bottle he held in his hand.
Anderson, filled Jack in on the situation with his boss and the problems with the military aircraft and weapon systems overseas. Jack wasn't surprised by the intrusion of politics in the situation but in light of what happen on 9/11, he still marveled at how the priorities of ideology and the protection of normalcy, had relegated the basic Constitutional duty of the government to protect the Nation, to the level of an after thought. He had dealt with it as a D.E.A. agent and it was the deciding factor in his early retirement. When C.I.A. operatives started being investigated for human rights violations, possible war crimes and then pressured to testify against fellow agents as part of a political witch-hunt; it had caused a number of top agents to leave the agency. Following those departures, a number of security breaches have resulted in the deaths of several agents as well as compromising some special operation teams causing them to be set up for ambushes because of information being fed to them by enemy agents posing as informants. All this being due to the lack of intelligence that had been coming from enhanced interrogations, and the proper vetting of contacts.
Jack had seen first hand what real torture looked like, the Taliban were experts at it and most of their victims died as a result. As for what American interrogators were doing, he had gone through much worse during Marine Corps boot camp and water-boarding had only been used on two high value al Qaeda captives that are today fat and sassy. The Media and Press of course hyped and redefined what torture was and used that as an excuse to reveal the secret program that had been vital to America’s national security interests. Jack had also came to the understanding that political corruption, corporate greed and socialist radicalism had a number of America’s institutions and leaders all too willing to sacrifice not only the security of our military overseas, but also put their fellow citizens at risk at home, all just to further their own agendas. Jack thought it ironic that even though he was retired now he was still dealing with the consequences of all that. He gave Jim the keys to his Vette and told him he would pick it up later. Jim wasted no time gathering up his equipment to leave for the base. He would have to get help dealing with the virus; it might hold the key to stopping the virus that was already in some of the military systems. Maybe that's why they were after it to begin with. As they came out Jack noticed that Jillian had fallen asleep on the couch; he didn't wake her. He walked Jim out to the car and told him to keep in touch.
“Hey here’s one of my friend’s business cards, he owns a bar in D.C. you should stop in and see him sometime.” Jack handed Jim the card. “Take care of my ride, I hear it’s a chick magnet but I haven’t had time to find out.” Jack smiled and waved as Jim backed out and drove away. Jack notice the change in weather as he turned to go back to the house, the end of Summer and beginning of Fall in Kentucky, could leave you not knowing what to wear for the day. You could have record heat one day then need a jacket the next. There were some mares tails in the sky, these are the wispy clouds that usually announce a front coming in. Rain would probably be here in a day or so. Jack went into the house then made his way to the door going into the garage. Now that his car was gone he needed to get his truck back together.
Jack had taken his time putting the wheels back on his truck and decided to bleed his brake lines and refill the fluid. He checked a few other minor things before finishing up and as he was doing so received a call on his cell phone. He didn't recognize the number but since it had a Virginia area code he took the call.
“Yes Mr. Lewis, I think it would be a nice night for a walk. Don’t you?”
Jack immediately knew he was talking to someone from the Company. Night Walker was Jack’s old contact name. “They are calling for rain tonight but tomorrow should be nice.” Said Jack.
“I tell you what, I’m playing second base at the game tomorrow.", the voice said. "Why don’t you come out and watch the Humming Birds beat the Robins?”
Looking at a ballpark as a clock, second base was 12 noon and the reference to humming birds, meant he was staying at the bed and breakfast. “Sure.” Answered Jack. “I’ll be there.” Then he ended the call.
Spooks thought Jack, I was a spook and they still give me the creeps.
The agent wasn't just setting up a meet, he was showing Jack his bona fides by letting him know they had been keeping up with his location and they were now somehow in the loop about the memory stick. Jack figured that Jim probably had a secure cell channel to the National Security Agency, and was already giving them information about the Iridescence Virus.
Jack was suddenly feeling restless, he knew that there was little he could do right now but he didn’t want to just sit on his hands and let things happen to him either. He decided to do what he always did in these situations; go shoot a few targets and hone his skills. He had been feeling rusty anyway, it had been a month or or two since he’d last been shooting. There was no excuse for it, that’s why he had put the range in to begin with so he could go out behind the house and shoot whenever he had the chance. He had it done pretty cheap too. The guy that dug the basement and pool for the new house just piled up the dirt and leveled a load of gravel out for him then the builder poured a concrete pad and had his carpenters build some shooting benches then put a metal roof over it. Now that a little time had passed since his brush with death and he had time to beat himself up a bit over being caught with his pants down, he was determined not to let that happen again.
Jack cleaned up after finishing in the garage then went into his study and opened his gun safe. He was going to just work with his .40 caliber handgun but decide he should check his rifles out and make sure they were ready to go. He didn't relish the idea of going up against fully automatic weapons with just a handgun. He wanted to at least have a fighting chance. Jack thought that was what the Founding Fathers had in mind when the Bill of Rights was adopted. Not just from the second amendment to keep and bear arms but the entire Bill of Rights was a free man's fighting chance.
If a man could find a way to make his peace with God then he had a fighting chance to redeem himself; if he could speak up for himself he had a fighting chance of convincing others of the worth of his ideas; if he could plead his case in a court of law he had a fighting chance of showing his innocence. With these rights, a man even has a fighting chance against the government. If you exaggerate any of them or water them down or put one above the other or try to make them a collective right instead of an individual right then you’re missing the whole point or intentionally undermining individual freedoms and liberty. This is where Jack’s loyalty was and anything that threaten it had better watch out.
He peeked into the living room area, and saw that Jillian was still sound asleep then he continue through to the kitchen and out onto the back deck. He walked down the steps to ground level then around the pool and out the back gate. The gun range was about fifty yards from the house so Jack put his range bag and gun cases on the back rack of his 4 wheeler then drove down to the site. He set up shop and loaded some magazines, put up some new targets and then warmed up by shooting at the plate rack at about 25 yards then he started practicing mag reloads with the .40 caliber, putting three rounds in each of the three magazines he had, and switching them out as quick as possible then getting back on target with good hits. After a few runs with that he began shooting on the move and making transitions from standing to kneeling to prone. He was starting to feel the edge come back and that made him happy.
Jack practiced for about an hour with the handgun then moved over to the strip of logging road that he had fenced off and secured as a rifle range. He had metal targets place from fifty, out to three hundred yards. He had brought his .223 semi automatic and his 30-06 bolt action. Both were accurate weapons. The .223 could shoot tight one inch groups at a hundred yards and Jack emptied a thirty round mag on the man size target at three hundred yards without a miss. The 30-06 could just about rival the .223’s one inch group with about a 2 inch group at two hundred yards.
After shooting he decided to go ahead and clean the weapons there at the range before heading back. He was putting his handgun back together when he looked up and saw Jillian walking down from the the house.
“Did I wake you up with all the gunfire?” He asked as she approached the shooters bench.
“No. I didn’t hear a thing until I went into the kitchen to get a class of water. Then I heard you, and saw the 4 wheeler down here when I looked out the window.”
“You had a pretty good nap; feeling better now? How’s your headache?”
“Oh I’m fine, and that nap was more sleep than I usually get. You should have woke me up. That was rude of me just falling off like that. Oh, and that steak was good in your stir fry. Thank you for that.”
“Glad you liked it, and you needed that rest; a concussion is nothing to play around with, you need to take it easy for awhile.”
“Where’s that Anderson guy?”
“He had to head back to D.C., I let him borrow my car.”
“You let him drive your Vette back to D.C.?”
“No, of course not.” Jack couldn't help but laugh. “He’s leaving it at the base and flying out; I’ll get someone to take me out later and pick it up.”
God he’s going to think I’m blond after that one she thought then quickly shrugged it off. “Well, since I’ve got some free time, I could probably help you out with that. I need to go by my parents and pick up some stuff they got at the PX for me. They live about mile from the front gate.”
“That would be great.” Said Jack. “There’s a few things I planned on doing before going to get the car. I've got some security cameras that I want to set up around the place and I just wanted to do a check on things.”
“You think they’ll be back don’t you?”
“Well they seemed pretty determined the first time around to kill me and I don’t think they got the result they wanted.” Jack took a deep breath and wagged his head, he wasn’t sure how much to tell Jillian. “I get the feeling that they thought I was there at the post and that’s why they attacked it.”
“Why are they after you? If you know something about this that you’re not saying, you had better spit it out!” Jillian was quickly getting emotional again about the bombing.
“That’s just it Jillian, I don’t really know what’s behind all this yet.” Jack only half lied. “I just know that it’s not over and we need to be ready for anything.”
“I’m sorry.” Said Jillian. “I’m just having a hard time dealing with all this; it doesn’t even seem real.” She brushed back the auburn hair from her face then put both hands on her hips and composed herself. “Well, I wanted to look around the area too; Bill, the deputy I was on the phone with earlier, said that a church located just over the hill from here, had it’s van stolen and I thought I’d drive over that way. Then I need to check in with some of the families that lost lost people today. I’m dreading that one.”
In his mind, Jack instantly replayed the church van pulling out of their way and going by as they waited on it this morning going back to the State Police Post. What did it say on the side of it? HURRICANE RIDGE 1st CHURCH OF GOD.
“What was the name?” Jack broke in.
“The church, what’s it called?”
“It’s a Church of God. Hurricane Ridge, is what they call the area over there. Why?”
“I saw it this morning, leaving the neighborhood just before the post blew up.” Said Jack.
“Christ, they’re still here. What do we do?”
“Call your department and let them know about it. I’m still going to set my cameras up and check the place. I want one on the road going around the lake and one out by the old water plant.”
“You can get it done twice as fast if I take one of the cameras with me. I’ll put the one up at the old plant, it will be on my way going over to the church.”
“Listen, I don’t like the idea of you running up on some of these guys by yourself.” Said Jack.
“I can take care of myself. After all I’m the one with a badge here.” Came back Jillian.
“Easy deputy, I didn't mean to offend you but you know these guys will have you outgunned. At least take my .223 with you and I’ll hang on to the 30-06.”
“Alright, I see your point. Now let’s get moving." Said Jillian.
Jack put a 30 round magazine in his .223 then handed it to Jillian along with two more magazines. Jillian had mistakenly called it a miniature 14 and thought that one more miss statement like that would be proof enough for Jack to think she had brain damage. Jack hadn't given it a second thought. He had heard avid hunters call a side by side big game rifle, a shotgun before. No one bats a thousand, and at least she had known it was a rifle. Jack showed her where the safety and the mag release was, then showed her how to work the slide bolt to chamber a round. Jillian was most familiar with the M16 family of weapons, but this rifle was simple to operate, and it just took her a moment to figure out. She popped off a couple of rounds at a target down range and nail it. The weapon felt good to her, just enough kick to let her know she had a powerful little weapon in her hands. Jack pulled his 30-06 back out of the tactical bag and introduce it to Jillian as Teardrop.
“You named a gun? What, you couldn't at least buy a fish for a pet?” Jillian asked, only half jokingly.
“Are you kidding me?" Said Jack. "The poor thing would drown itself before I could starve it to death. I can barely remember to feed myself. Now let’s get back to the house and pick up the cameras and get some things done.” Jack was tired of having things just happen to him, he was ready to take it to them again.
It didn't take long to grab the cameras and get underway. Jack gave Jillian an idea of where to place the camera at the old water plant so it would cover the road coming in from the other side of the lake. These were high-tech wireless cameras and Jack would be able to monitor them on his computer. He would place the other two himself; one on the road up toward the main highway, then the other one on a access road that meandered around the lake and ended down where the path came out on the shoreline.
Jillian headed out first and Jack only had to place his rifle in the cab, raise the garage door and back his pickup out and he was on his way as well. Jack could have used the 4 wheeler but he wanted to check his handy work out and test his brakes. He placed the first camera on a tree about thirty yards from the highway turnoff, and tried to make sure it wasn't too obvious, so it wouldn't be stolen. He then came back and turned down the path to the lake. He drove the pickup part way down the path almost to the lake then parked and got out. He wanted to walk the road on foot to check the area out, and if there was someone back in there he didn’t want the sound of the truck to warn them that he was coming. He checked his .40 cal and re-holstered it, then put his rifle sling over his shoulder, snatched the camera off the seat and began his hike.
Jillian was coming up on the water plant and turned the camera on to test it. Basically it was like any other camcorder but it was WiFi enabled. Anybody could be 007 these days, thought Jillian. She pulled off to the side of the road and got out. The old plant looked like someone was in the process of fixing it up. Some new paint was halfway up one wall and she could see that a new window had been installed. There was a new electrical box on the wall as well, right next to an old one that had been gutted. Copper thieves no doubt.
Jillian put her mind back on the business at hand and started to walk over to the tree line in front of the plant, then thought better of it for some reason, and went back to her SUV and pulled Jack’s .223 out of the back seat. She was sure that the place had been checked out over the last day or so but she didn't like the idea of being out in the open and not checking things out for herself. Better safe than shot in the back.
She walked around the large settling tank to the front of the building. She switched between watching the area around the building to looking up as she went, being fully aware of the catwalk crossing from the second story over to the tank. She came to a lower level window and looked in. She could see some graphing meters on the wall inside, some control panels and large wheel valves on pipes back in another room that she could see that was further into the plant. She moved over to the front entrance and checked to see if it was locked, and it was. Next she went over to the overhead doors of the truck bay where the treatment chemicals would be unloaded. There she could see through a gap between the metal door and the building. At first she could only make out a red reflector in her view, then as she re-positioned herself she saw that it was the taillight of a white van. The adrenaline rush brought her headache back in an instant.
Jack had walked about halfway around the lake on the old road and had came to the connecting road coming into the backside of the lake. He placed the camera on an old fence post that was in a wooded area between the lake and where the two roads intersected. He turned the camera on and was adjusting the position so that it had a view that would show any vehicles coming in or out from that side of the lake. As he did so there was the sudden sound of gunfire coming from just over the knobs that bordered the lake.
Jack quickly slung Teardrop back on his shoulder, crossed back over the road then began his climb up the steep hillside. He knew exactly what was on the other side of the knob, the water plant. He was able to get to the top of the ridge line within a few minutes but it seemed to him that he couldn't get there fast enough. All the while sporadic gunfire had been drifting and echoing through the hills. Jack recognized the sound of the .223 that he had loaned Jillian, by that he at least knew she was still in the fight.
He still couldn't see the plant from where he came up on top of the hill at, so he followed the ridge line and finally found a gap through the trees where he could look down on it. He estimated that it was about 800 yards as a crow flies from his vantage point, then looking at the jagged hillside leading down to it Jack knew it would be a time consuming trek picking his way through the woods.
He looked through his rifle scope trying to locate Jillian’s position. He could see the SUV parked at the side of the road next to the plant but no sign of her or anyone else at this point. The gunfire had subsided for the moment and all Jack could do was watch and wait for any movement from down there. He reached for his cell phone but it wasn't on his belt, then he remembered taking it off to put the extra magazine pouch on. The phone was still lying on the bench at the gun range.
Jillian could hear anxious voices coming from inside the building. Until now she had been carrying the camera in one hand and the rifle in the other, with the barrel pointed up and the butt resting on her hip. She laid the camera down and put the weapon up to her shoulder. She began to retrace her steps back toward the SUV. She got pass the front entrance and back to the window where she had first looked in. As she continued on to the settling tank she kept an eye on the window. She saw someone come running out of the back room and raise a weapon up at her through the window. She quickly got back out of his line of sight as the gunfire erupted, and shattered the glass. She was cut off now from making it back to the SUV so she started to turn and run across the parking area in front of the plant and make for the drainage ditch that bordered it. As she did this she heard a door bang against metal railings above her, she turned and open fire on a man with an AK up on the catwalk hitting him twice.
She continue to fire at the building’s windows and doors as she backpedaled away. When she made it close enough to the ditch she turned and went to her knees then fell forward using the butt of the rifle to break her fall. After she hit the ground in the ditch she rolled away from where she landed. A second later a burst of bullets peppered the ground where she had been. She kept low to the ground and turned around to face the building again. She could see the guy she had shot, laying up on the catwalk. He looked dead but since he could shoot down into the ditch at her Jillian decided to make sure of it. She snapped off two quick rounds into him and he tried to bring his weapon back up before dying. So, you were playing possum.
The door to the front entrance opened and heavy fire came in on Jillian's position in the ditch. She was effectively pinned down. On either end of the ditch are culverts that are too small to crawl through. There wasn't anyway out of the ditch without exposing herself to fire from the building. Even worse, she had left the extra mag’s in the SUV, all the ammo she had left was about ten rounds in the rifle and what was in the pistol stuck in her waistband. She raised the rifle above the edge of the ditch and blindly fired a couple of rounds at the building. A hell of gunfire was the response.
There’s quite a bit that goes into making a long distance shot; on the far end of the shot, wind velocity and bullet drop are the major factors that have to be compensated for. The longer the shot the more prominent these factors become. Anyone that does a lot of long distance shooting will tell you that knowing the distance to the target and wind speed is critical to making the right adjustments to the scope left or right according to the direction of the wind and how high you hold aim on the target. Time also equals distance which brings us to a factor that renders all long shots a matter of luck. The thing is you can accurately compensate for all the variables at the time you break the shot but it takes time for the bullet to arrive at the target. The more distant, the more time it takes, and during that time things can change. Winds can suddenly drop to nothing, change direction, increase or the wind can even be blowing in two different directions between you and the target. Also, a human being is not a fixed target on a rifle range. People can move, and one step left or right will jinx the shot.
On the other end of the shot of course is the loaded weapon and the shooter. The major factors on the close end of the shot are too numerous to even list but for the sake of at least giving an idea of how critical a few of these factors are here we'll assume that most people already know that things like sneezing or having an ant crawl into your ear at the moment of truth can spoil your shot as well as having a bent barrel or bad ammunition. A couple that aren't so obvious are linked to how much a tiny fraction of movement on this end of the shot will be exaggerated into missing the target by inches or even feet down range. The slightest tug on the weapon as you pull the trigger, your breath going in and out of your lungs, and even your heart beat can put enough movement into the gun to cause a miss. At short range these things will keep you from shooting a nice tight group but you will still hit the target. At long range the bullet will continue on it’s divergent path away from the target center and by the time it reaches the target it will be so off track that it will completely miss.
Again these are things that can be controlled and compensated for through training, but it’s by no means easy and even the best can make mistakes. One final factor that even the best shooters have a problem with is one that also happens after the shot breaks. It also involves a question of time but it’s of a short duration and distance