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Memorial day, p.17
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       Memorial Day, p.17

         Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
 

  The next ship churned its way through the channel, its deck laden with multicolored containers stacked six high over every square foot of the aircraft carrier-sized deck. Its white superstructure was bathed in light and looked like it belonged in the business district of some generic downtown.

  Al-Yamani strained to read the barely lit name on the prow and in the faint light he read the first three letters and knew it was the one he was expecting, theMadagascar. Al-Yamani lowered the binoculars and exhaled in relief. His ship had arrived.

  He turned to his guide, and with genuine happiness he said, "Ibrahim, this is a great day for us."

  * * *

  Thirty-Four

  AFGHANISTAN

  Rapp left the ammunition bunker, grabbed Urda, and quickly explained to him everything he'd just learned from Abdullah. The two men double-timed it back to the intel tent where Rapp called for everyone's attention. This time he would hold off on contacting Washington until he could corroborate Abdullah's story.

  The Saudi's earlier false confession was a setback. How bad a setback Rapp didn't know, but assets had undoubtedly been directed to check international airfreight coming into the U.S. over the last forty-eight hours. Even more harmful, though, would be the loss of confidence by those back in Washington pulling the switches. One more screwup and they would begin to doubt everything Rapp was sending them.

  Just as Rapp was about to speak, his sat phone rang. He answered it reluctantly, and listened to Kennedy explain what was going on. The National Security Council was going to reconvene in a little over thirty minutes and decide on a course of action. Kennedy explained that several members of the council were pushing to evacuate the city, or at a bare minimum close all roads leading into the city and cancel Metro service before the morning commute got underway.

  Once that happened, Kennedy told him what he already knew. They would have tipped their hand and the terrorists would know what was going on. Kennedy's fear was that if the bomb was already in the country, the terrorists would move up their timetable and detonate the weapon before the NEST teams had a chance to find it. Rapp agreed with his boss, but decided not to tell her what he had just learned from Abdullah. He had thirty minutes to confirm that Charleston was the port of entry for the bomb, and if need be he was going to use every last second. He told Kennedy he'd call her back before the meeting started and put his phone away.

  "Everybody listen up," boomed Rapp with Urda and General Harley at his side. "We are looking for any reference to a ship that left Karachi approximately three weeks ago. We think the ship may have been headed for Charleston, South Carolina, due to arrive sometime today."

  As Rapp looked out across the silent faces, he saw one of Urda's people sifting quickly through a stack of documents. There was something about the manner in which the man searched the pile that suggested he knew what he was looking for. Rapp's eyes zeroed in on him. He stopped once and licked his fingers. He quickly flipped over several more pages and then looked up triumphantly.

  "I've got it right here." He pulled a sheaf of documents from the stack and shook them in the air.

  Both Rapp and Urda lunged forward to look at the documents. They were in Urdu, so Rapp understood nothing other than the wordsKarachi andCharleston. The analyst translated the rest of the information. The ship was a Liberian container vessel of no great value or significance.

  Rapp asked the analyst, "Is this a bill of lading?"

  "Yes."

  "Is this the only one you remember finding?"

  "No." The black-bearded man shook his head, and patted the stack of documents before him. "These are all bills of lading. This one," he shook the prized document in the air, "is the only one I remember originating from Karachi with a destination of Charleston."

  "Are there any others that left Karachi approximately three weeks ago?" The smile was now gone from Rapp's face.

  "Yes." The man nodded vehemently "Practically the entire stack."

  Rapp's jaw clenched. He was once again wondering if Abdullah had lied to him. "How many bills are there, and how many left Karachi three weeks ago?"

  The analyst looked down and consulted his notes. "There are seventeen separate bills of lading, with the majority of them leaving from Karachi. Four of those left approximately three weeks ago, and all four are headed for the United States."

  "When are they due to arrive?" Rapp asked tensely.

  The analyst shook the document he'd already pulled. "This one in Charleston today." He set it down on the table, and began rifling through the stack until he found another one. "This one bound for New York is also due to arrive today, and this one bound for Miami is due to arrive today as well." He shuffled through a few more pages and said, "And this one is due to arrive in Baltimore today."

  Rapp began thinking of which finger he would cut off first. "Are there any bills for airfreight?"

  "No." The analyst shook his head and gestured at the entire table where Urda's people were working on the documents written in Urdu and Pashto.

  "All right listen. Here's what I want you to do. Fax all of these documents to the CTC."

  "I already did. About thirty minutes ago."

  Rapp was surprised. "Have you spoken to them about this?"

  "Yeah, but they don't have anybody on duty right now who can translate Urdu."

  "What?" asked an incredulous Rapp.

  "We were told to translate these files on the missing Pakistani scientists."

  The man wanted to explain further, but Rapp cut him off. "Listen right now I want you to focus your attention on these four bills of lading. Translate them immediately, send the information to CTC and then begin on the others. If you need anyone else to help grab them right now. Good job and get moving!"

  * * *

  Thirty-Five

  MARYLAND

  The secure video teleconference was up and running. The National Security Council wasn't due to reconvene for another fifteen minutes, but more than half of the principal players were already seated, including the president. On the big screen at the end of the conference room, aides and deputies could be seen coming in and out of the other off-site locations, bringing their bosses information and whispering instructions in their ears. The conference room at Site R was no different. People were coming and going at a feverish pace.

  Valerie Jones, the president's chief of staff, was sitting directly across from Kennedy talking on a secure phone and eating a powdered donut. Kennedy watched her with the aim of getting her attention as soon as she hung up. It appeared from the conversation that she was talking to the White House press secretary. Thankfully, it appeared thus far that the media was in the dark. They all agreed, however, that would not last forever. Kennedy doubted sincerely that they would make it to nine o'clock without word somehow leaking out.

  Washington, like most centers of power, was an environment dominated by meetings. Breakfast meetings, morning meetings, midmorning meetings, lunch meetings-it went on and on from predawn all the way into the night. A lot of very important people would be missing their breakfast meetings this morning and it would not go unnoticed.

  Jones hung up the phone and exhaled in relief. "So far, so good," she said to the president. "That was Tim." Jones was referring to Tim Webber, the White House press secretary, who had been given the unenviable task of pulling duty at the White House. This had been Jones's decision. Most of the TV reporters began showing up around 6:00 a.m. with print media coming in around 9:00 a.m. It would be much easier for Webber to deflect questions and deal with any rumors in person rather than over the phone.

  "Not a call from the media yet," the chief of staff added.

  The president looked at a string of clocks on the wall and noted the time on the one marked Washington. It was a little past five in the morning. "The media isn't even out of bed yet."

  "I know that," retorted Jones, "but they have plenty of sources in your administration. I'm amazed no one has called to tip them off." Jones had a bit of an ed
ge to her, which in a way was a prerequisite for her job. Even when dealing with the president she could be harsh.

  Kennedy placed a hand on the president's arm and said, "I need to discuss something with the two of you." She leaned in and the president and Jones followed suit. "I think I know what their endgame is." Like everyone, Kennedy had been stuck in the moment and hadn't really had the time to step back and look at the big picture. Since her last conversation with Rapp, however, something had occurred to her.

  "If they in fact have a nuke, it's only logical that they use it for maximum effect. This should be no surprise to you," Kennedy looked at the president, "but one of the terrorists told Mitch that their plan is to kill you. The man also said something strange. He said they wanted to kill you and all the generals. When Mitch told me I thought it sounded a little funny, so I asked him if that was exactly what the man said, and it was. At the time, I wrote it off as one of those statements of exaggerated bravado that Arabs are so fond of making. Taken literally, the statement is ludicrous. Killing all our generals would be impossible, but then I got to thinking that a word that to native English speakers has one meaning in this context might have a subtle but different meaning to them."

  "So what did he mean?" asked Jones.

  "I think by using the wordgeneral the man may have been referring to leaders in general."

  "What kind of leaders?"

  "Yourself, the Congressional leadership, the vice president, your entire cabinet. They want to decapitate our government in one fell swoop."

  "How could they be guaranteed to get everyone in the city at the same time?" asked Jones.

  Kennedy turned her address book around so the president and his chief of staff could see the calendar. "I'm embarrassed I didn't see it sooner, but here it is. Everyone is in town this week for the dedication of the new World War Two memorial."

  The president looked at the calendar. "Memorial Day."

  "The festivities actually start on Saturday, and," said Kennedy, "it's already Wednesday, and the heads of Britain, Russia, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and a dozen other countries are due to begin arriving on Friday. If you wanted to hit us hard, this would be the time to do it."

  Hayes looked at the calendar, his eyes locked on Memorial Day. After a few seconds he looked up at Kennedy and said, "How could we have not seen this sooner?"

  "Well, at least we have a few days before we have to cancel the damn thing," said Jones.

  "We don't have a few days," Kennedy said firmly. "We're going to be lucky if we make it to noon." With a raised brow she added, "The press is going to demand to know where you are, sir."

  Hayes understood. "Lying to them won't work and putting them off won't work. They'll just make wild assumptions."

  "Logical assumptions," corrected Kennedy. "Why would the president, his cabinet, the supreme court, and the Congressional leadership all be evacuated from the capital in the middle of the night?"

  "Only one reason I can think of," said the president.

  "We might be able to buy a little more time by appealing to their patriotism," offered Jones weakly.

  Hayes shook his head. "We'd be better off if I called the owners of the networks and papers and asked them personally to sit on it."

  Kennedy viewed the entire enterprise as rather hopeless. Certain things had been set in motion, and no matter how much clout and power the president had, he would not be able to keep this story from the public. They were quickly headed to a juncture where only one move would calm the press and buy them time. It was a move that was fraught with risk, and one that she didn't dare mention unless it was a last resort.

  * * *

  Thirty-Six

  Due to the high value of General Harley's mission, he was set up with a secure video teleconference facility so he could interface with his bosses back at Central Command, Special Operations Command, Joint Special Operations Command, and even the Pentagon if needed. Rapp wanted to use the facility. Understanding all too well how Washington worked, and fearing that certain key points would be missed or improperly stated if he didn't contribute, Rapp told Kennedy that in five minutes he wanted to brief the National Security Council himself. Kennedy hesitated, only because she worried about Rapp's famous temper.

  Rapp and the president got along well, and he had no problem with General Flood, Secretary of Defense Culbertson, or National Security Advisor Haik, but when it came to the president's chief of staff, the two hated each other. In addition, Rapp had no respect for the vice president, barely tolerated Secretary of State Berg, and did his best to avoid anyone who had anything to do with Homeland Security or the Justice Department. On one hand, having him brief the council could result in a major clash of egos and agendas. On the other hand, due to the gravity of the situation and the time constraints they were up against, Rapp had the potential to cut through all the bullshit and move the president to quick and decisive action.

  This was what swayed her, ultimately. The president had publicly acknowledged Rapp's sacrifice and accomplishments, but it went much deeper than that. Rapp was the president's man. When Hayes really needed to get something done, he turned to Rapp. He had proven his worth and effectiveness time and time again, and if there was anyone who could get the president to move decisively and shut out the rest of the clamor it would be Rapp.

  Instead of being divided in three the large screen at the front of Site R's command center was now split into six different pictures. Rapp in Kandahar had been added, and at Rapp's request, Skip McMahon and Jake Turbes at the Joint Counterterrorism Center and Paul Reimer at the Department of Energy's Germantown facility were all also included in the meeting.

  Kennedy quickly announced the addition of the four new attendees and then told Rapp to begin.

  Rapp's attire was strikingly different from the others involved in the meeting. Although no one had had the time to put on a suit or proper business attire, they were all dressed in civilian clothes, with exception of General Flood, whereas Rapp was wearing combat fatigues and a tactical vest. He also hadn't used a razor in more than two days and his face was covered with a thick black stubble.

  "Several hours ago," Rapp started, "we were led to believe that a nuclear device was brought into the country yesterday by airfreight somewhere on the East Coast." Rapp paused and held up some documents. "In the face of contrary intelligence, the terrorist who gave us that information has since admitted this was a lie." Rapp wasn't about to get into the specifics of how he got Abdullah to admit this, and he doubted any of these people would want to know the gruesome details.

  "We now have good intelligence that the device in question left Karachi, Pakistan, twenty-two days ago by container ship."

  "Mitch," said the president, "please tell me this ship hasn't reached our shores."

  "General Flood has the Coast Guard checking into that as we speak, sir, but I can tell you that according to the bills of lading we discovered, the ship is due to arrive at the port of Charleston sometime today. In addition," Rapp said quickly before anyone could interrupt, "there are three other ships that have us concerned. All of them originated from Karachi approximately three weeks ago, and all three of them are due to arrive today in Miami, Baltimore, and New York."

  Before Rapp could continue, Secretary of Homeland Security McClellan cut him off and said, "Mr. President, we need to shut these harbors down immediately."

  "I would agree," seconded Attorney General Stokes.

  Rapp had met Secretary McClellan before. The former two-star Marine Corps general was the exact opposite of the notoriously indecisive civil war general whose name he shared.

  "Mr. President," interjected Rapp loudly. "That is a terrible idea."

  "Excuse me, son?" retorted a red-faced Secretary McClellan.

  Rapp had wanted to handle this briefing for two reasons. The first was that he knew how important nuances got lost as information was kicked up the chain of command, and secondly he knew there would be those who would want to use a
bulldozer to do a job that required only a shovel.

  "The worst thing we could do right now is lock those harbors down."

  "I beg to differ," said McClellan. "Our first priority is to protect the American public."

  Rapp wasn't even the slightest bit deterred. "And the best way to do that is by letting the NEST people and the FBI locate this device."

  "Mr. Rapp," said McClellan in a condescending tone, "you're very good at your job, but you're eight thousand miles away. I don't think you have a very good handle on the situation here in Washington. Now, Mr. President, we have rehearsed this "

  "Secretary McClellan," interrupted Rapp, "You're sitting in a damn blast-proof bunker under a mountain two hours outside of Washington." Rapp's bold rebuke took everyone aback. "So don't start telling me you have a better handle on the situation. The situation in Washington is the same as it is every Wednesday morning fifty-two weeks a year. People are going to get up and go to work, and if you try to lock down any of these ports you're going to create a nationwide panic, which is going to, a) interfere with the NEST people trying to find this thing, and b) alert the terrorists that we're onto them."

  "Mr. President, if I may." It was Paul Reimer, the former SEAL team commander who ran the Nuclear Emergency Support Teams. "I couldn't agree with Mitch more strongly. Any type of lockdown will only hinder the search."

  "Excuse me, everyone." It was General Flood. "The Coast Guard has just verified the location of the four high interest vessels." Flood was reading from a sheet of paper. "The one headed for Miami and the one headed for New York are still out at sea and aren't expected into port until this afternoon." Flood studied the information. "The vessel destined for Baltimore just entered the Chesapeake and," he looked up with a grim expression, "the fourth vessel is at the docks in Charleston."

  * * *

 
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