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Memorial day, p.18
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       Memorial Day, p.18

         Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
 

  Thirty-Seven

  In the mayhem that followed the news that the vessel was already docked in Charleston, lots of important people with fancy titles digressed into a free-for-all about what should be done. Mitch Rapp was all but forgotten as the cabinet-level officials forcefully stated their opinions. Fortunately, two individuals with much lower profiles knew what to do, and given the bedlam around them, didn't bother getting approval to act. The first was Skip McMahon, who was sitting in the FBI's Counterterrorism Watch Center.

  McMahon turned to one of his deputies and told them to get the Charleston port captain on the line immediately. He then called Dick Schoyer, the special agent in charge of the FBI's Columbia, South Carolina, field office. Schoyer and several of his agents were already on their way to Charleston, an hour and a half from Columbia. Their plan was to meet one of Reimer's RAP Teams that was coming up from the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site to help sweep the port. The good news was their sweep would no longer be random.

  McMahon gave Schoyer very explicit instructions on how to deploy his people. By the time he'd finished with Schoyer the harbor master was on the line. McMahon confirmed that the Liberian container vesselMadagascar was in fact docked, and further learned that she was due to begin off-loading her cargo shortly. Without getting into details, McMahon told the man that he should expect to see Special Agent Schoyer standing in his office in approximately twenty minutes. Until then the port captain was to under no circumstance allow a single container to be taken off the ship.

  The second person to act was Paul Reimer. Technically speaking he was not supposed to deploy one of his Search Response Teams unless he received actionable intelligence from the National Security Council. Reimer had been doing this long enough to know actionable intelligence when he saw it, and he wasn't about to wait for the egos to stop their posturing. The scientists and technicians from the Savannah River Site were still gathering their equipment, and once they were done with that it would take them at least an hour and a half to get to the port.

  There was a better option. Reimer's top Search Response Team was sitting on the Tarmac at Andrews Air Force Base in a Gulfstream III ready to go. He called Debbie Hanousek, the senior energy official leading the team, and gave her orders to take off for Charleston Air Force Base immediately. With priority clearance she and her six-person team would be in Charleston in less than an hour.

  Back at Site R, Kennedy got the president's attention and whispered something in his ear. When she was done the president called for order and then said, "General Flood, will the navy or coast guard have any problem interdicting the two vessels that are still at sea?"

  "No problem at all, sir."

  "What about the ship in the Chesapeake? Any ideas?"

  Flood quickly conversed with someone off camera and then said, "This intel is being fed to SEAL Team Six as we speak. They're already on alert status down in Little Creek. They can hit the ship and be in control of it before the crew even knows they're on board."

  "Are they equipped to handle a nuke?" asked the Secretary of Homeland Security.

  "Yes. They're equipped and trained to detect and disable any WMD."

  "Have them ready to go as soon as possible, General," said Hayes.

  "Yes, sir."

  The president began searching the screens for the director of the FBI. "Brian, what's the plan for Charleston?"

  "Boss, if I may." It was Skip McMahon asking Roach for permission to field the question. "Mr. President, I just got off the phone with the port captain down in Charleston. The ship we're interested in is theMadagascar. I told the port captain that not a single container is to be offloaded until he hears back from me. In addition our special agent in charge of the Columbia office is already on his way to the port with a team of agents. A Department of Energy team is also on its way from the Savannah River Site."

  "Correction," said Reimer. "I'm also sending my top search response team. They're leaving Andrews as we speak, and should be there in just under an hour."

  "An hour?" asked the president's chief of staff. "A lot can happen in an hour."

  "Ma'am," said Reimer with one eyebrow raised in a disapproving frown. "It'll take them half the morning to unload that ship."

  "Mr. President," said Secretary McClellan, "We have a DHS Fly Away team ready to go down there and supervise the entire operation. We can have an on-site command post set up in two hours."

  Rapp wanted to scream. This entire thing was going to turn into a circus. He desperately wished he was in the room with the president so he could state his case more forcefully. Other than screaming, he had only one other option right now. In an ominous voice Rapp said, "Mr. President, there's something else I haven't told you."

  Everyone fell silent almost immediately. "We believe Mustafa al-Yamani, one of the chief architects behind the African embassy bombings, the Cole, and 9/11, entered the U.S. yesterday evening, possibly somewhere along the Florida coast. He came to America in order to personally direct the attack. We're finding evidence that points to multiple cells within the U.S. Financial transfers, e-mails, airline reservations, passport applications for at least a dozen countries we've just barely scratched the surface."

  "What's your point?" asked the president's chief of staff.

  "It's this let's take a step back and gather ourselves. We have a good handle on these four ships, but there are bills of lading for thirteen other ships that we haven't even begun tracking. There are an undetermined number of terrorist cells operating in the U.S., we have missing Pakistani nuclear scientists, we have one of al-Qaeda's top lieutenants entering the country, and most importantly the terrorists have no idea we're on to them."

  "What do you suggest we do?"

  "I think we should keep a low profile and see who shows up at the Port of Charleston to pick this thing up. And then "

  "I couldn't disagree more," said the Secretary of Homeland Security. "We could at this very moment have a twenty-kiloton nuclear warhead sitting on the docks of a metropolitan area with a quarter million people. We need to lock that city down and find out what it is exactly that we're dealing with. The Department of Homeland Security is "

  "Mr. President," shouted Paul Reimer, the man in charge of the Nuclear Emergency Support Program, "would you mind if I cut through all the bullshit?"

  Hayes looked up at the screen. The former SEAL had one of those voices typical of an officer who had led an elite fighting unit. It was efficient and precise and it demanded attention. The president liked his proposal and said, "By all means, please."

  "The absolute last thing we need right now is for you to lock down Charleston. Let my people and the feds down there do what they're trained to do. We should give them whatever it is that they need and other than that we should just stay the hell out of their way."

  The president found himself nodding in agreement as Reimer spoke. He turned to look at Kennedy, who concurred, and then at his chief of staff who reluctantly did the same.

  Hayes stood, signaling to all that the debate was over. "Here's what we're going to do."

  * * *

  Thirty-Eight

  CHESAPEAKEBAY

  The six helicopters flew across the dark water like a pack of hunting dogs stalking a large beast. They approached from the stern of the ship, skimming the surface of the relatively calm Chesapeake and slowing their speed as they neared the target. The entire horizon to the east was a mind-numbing gray and to the west a blanket of darkness. It was twilight, a time when the water could trick the eye with relative ease.

  A quarter of a mile out they reported visual confirmation of the specific high interest vessel and were immediately given the green light to proceed with the takedown. The first two helicopters continued their course and heading, while the other four helicopters broke formation and increased speed. They would encircle their prey, and when everyone was in position they would strike.

  The two MH-6 Little Birds moved in almost silently from the stern, the
massive container ship towering over them as they approached. Three black-clad SEALs sat on the specially outfitted platforms on each side of the two birds. Each man carried a H&K silenced MP5 submachine gun. The helicopters moved quickly into position, one on the portside and the other on the starboard. No longer able to see each other, the pilots stayed in constant radio communication calling out course, speed, and heading.

  They paused for only a second and then the two Little Birds rose simultaneously, passing the rusted hull of the ship and up the towering superstructure to the illuminated bridge. Once they cleared the observation decks on either side of the bridge the pilots did the unthinkable and closed in on the bridge, the rotor blades of their machines coming to within a mere foot of the bridge's glass windows. Matching speed, they expertly set their landing skids down on the observation deck railings, and gave the go word to the men. The pilots were so focused on nursing the controls as each man departed that they didn't even notice the man standing behind the ship's controls a mere forty feet away. Not more than five seconds after the skids had touched the railing their task was accomplished, and each bird deftly slid away from the ship and pealed off.

  The officer at the helm of the gigantic container vessel hadn't even noticed the two small helicopters that had set down on his starboard and portside observation decks. Part of this was because prior to this calm morning he didn't think such a feat possible, but it was more directly due to the fact that his attention was focused on something else. A large gray helicopter had suddenly appeared directly amidships, and was noisily hovering above the neatly stacked multicolored containers.

  The helicopter's door was open, and two men dressed in black were pointing guns at him. The officer froze, not quite believing what he was seeing. He momentarily thought of changing course, and then noticed a flash of red light on the windscreen of the bridge. The diffused red light tightened and formed a red dot on his chest, and he suddenly realized its significance. Out of fear for his life, he threw himself to the deck, seeking cover behind the controls of the helm.

  The HH-60 Seahawk came in and held a position above the cargo area to provide sniper cover for the Little Birds and another helicopter that was coming in at the front of the ship. The fourth helicopter, another matte-gray Seahawk, flared in over the bow of the ship and came to a hover five feet above a relatively small area that was clear of wires and other obstacles. Twelve SEALs leapt the short distance to the deck and took off in pairs to secure preassigned areas of the ship.

  Even though they'd had less than thirty minutes to plan the op, each man knew his responsibility and moved with efficiency and assuredness. They had conducted this maneuver hundreds of times on a variety of vessels in both training and real life. The key, as with most things the SEALs did, was to move with lightning speed and overwhelm the opposition before they knew what hit them.

  Up on the bridge a man-portable mobile phone jammer was set up and the radio shack was secured and locked down. One of the commandos took the helm while the rest of the strike team began working its way down the superstructure to the crew's quarters. They moved silently, with no shouting and no intent to use lethal force unless they were met with like resistance. Every crew member who was encountered, with the exception of the ship's captain who was brought to the bridge, was forced to lie face down on the deck and bound by the wrists with plastic flex cuffs. In less than five minutes the ship's vital areas were secured and every crew member accounted for.

  A fifth helicopter approached the ship out of the darkness at a much safer altitude and speed than the others had. It went into a slow-moving circular pattern a hundred feet or so above the superstructure. The commander of SEAL Team 6 looked down at the ship and surveyed the situation. Now that his men were in control of the ship, he ordered the sniper platform into a holding pattern at a thousand feet. He doubted they would be needed for the remainder of the operation.

  Lieutenant Commander Andy Lynch adjusted the microphone arm on his bulky headset and said, "General Flood, the ship is ours, without incident. I'm sending in my WMD team. You can tell the president we should have confirmation for him shortly."

  * * *

  Thirty-Nine

  CHARLESTON

  The pilots of the Gulfstream III ran the engines all out to get to Charleston as quickly as the executive jet could fly. When the plane finally touched down just before 6:30 a.m. local time two extremely anxious FBI special agents were waiting. The first person off the plane was Debbie Hanousek, the team leader. The forty-two-year-old health physicist and mother of three hurried down the steps and approached the two agents.

  Hanousek was barely five feet tall, with kinky short brown hair. She was dressed casually in jeans and a white T-shirt. A lifelong physical-fitness nut and marathon runner, she extended her hand and sized up the two six-foot-tall bookends. They were dressed in matching FBI windbreakers, and looked fresh out of the FBI Academy in Quantico, Virginia.

  The introductions were quick. Hanousek looked them in the eye and gripped their hands firmly. As the six people on her team poured out of the executive jet, laden with equipment, she looked up at the two agents and said, "You guys mind doing me a favor?"

  "Yeah sure," one of them answered.

  "Lose the windbreakers, and while you're at it lose the ties too."

  The two exchanged unsure looks, and then one of them asked, "Are you serious?"

  "You guys ever been to the docks before?" They both nodded. "You see a lot of people walking around in ties and FBI windbreakers?"

  This time neither man answered.

  "The idea here is to keep a low profile," she said. "Get in and locate this thing without anyone knowing we're here. You got it?"

  The two bookends nodded.

  "Good. Let's load up, and get to the docks."

  The members of the Search Response Team stuffed all their gear into the back of the big black Chevy Suburban and the trunk of the Ford Crown Vic and then everyone found a seat and they left for the waterfront.

  DICK SCHOYER LOOKEDdown at the yard through a pair of binoculars and watched as two U.S. Customs officials approached theMadagascar. He was standing on the observation deck of a three-story building not far from where the ship was docked. With him were the port captain, the chief of the Port Authority Police, the area port director for Customs and Border Protection, and the commanding officer of the local U.S. Coast Guard station. Schoyer had made it clear to all that no person or thing was to leave that ship until he got the nod from Washington.

  As a somewhat standard precaution a Port Authority police officer was put on "gangway watch" to make sure no one left or boarded the ship without their knowledge. The Customs officials made their way past the police officer and up the gangway into the belly of the giant ship. They were under orders to find out the exact location of the container in question and then stall, drag their feet, and in general, do whatever it took for them to buy some time until the Search Response Team arrived.

  After twenty tense minutes they radioed the port captain that the container they were interested in was buried in the stacks. Upon consultation with the stevedore it was decided that it would take approximately one hour using two cranes to get to the container, and about forty minutes if they used three cranes. Schoyer made a quick call to McMahon up in Washington, who in turn asked Reimer over at the DOE what they should do. Reimer told him it would be easier for his people to assess the situation if they had access to all four sides of the container. When pressed by McMahon on what to do, Reimer told him to take the container off the ship so that it was waiting for his team.

  Two of the giant six-million-dollar cranes went to work almost immediately. Upon confirmation that the Search Response Team had landed at the air force base a third crane joined in. Under the close supervision of Customs officials each container that came off the ship was placed in a specific part of the yard.

  Special Agent Schoyer watched all of this with a mix of excitement and dread. He liked his job in e
very sense of the word. Columbia, South Carolina, was not a glamour posting like New York, Miami, or L.A., but that was just fine with Schoyer. Glamour was something that had really never interested him. He was just competitive enough to rise through the ranks at the FBI, and just smart enough to realize a good thing when he'd found it.

  That good thing was Columbia, South Carolina. His government salary went quite a bit further down here than it did in New York or Washington, and his wife and five kids loved the place. The people were nice, the climate was wonderful, and the terrain lush. They'd turned into a golfing family, with the kids caddying on the weekends and during the summer, and he and his wife had joined leagues at a public course that was nicer than most of D.C.'s private clubs. After one year his wife told him if he accepted another promotion he could plan on seeing her and the kids when he came home on the holidays.

  Over the past two years he'd grown used to the slower pace of the southeast. He was no longer the action junky that he'd been in his early twenties and thirties. He'd started out as a Detroit cop working nights in one of the worst parts of town. That was when he got hooked on the adrenaline. No job since then had compared. Every night it was something. Usually they were domestic calls, which were wildly unpredictable, often violent, occasionally hilarious, and sometimes deadly. After two years it was on to the Bureau and a different type of action. The job entailed more legwork, paperwork, and patience, but when an investigation hit, the feeling of accomplishment was huge. Locking up bad people for a living was immensely satisfying to the forty-six-year-old agent.

  Dick Schoyer liked making a difference. That was why he'd gotten into law enforcement, and as he looked out at the massive container ship that had just traveled from the other side of the world he sincerely hoped they were all going to make a difference today. Whether he liked it or not, he was under a microscope. McMahon had told him the president and his National Security Council were monitoring the situation very closely, and if that wasn't pressure enough, somewhere amidst the maze of metal containers was a possible nuclear weapon that could level the entire historic city of Charleston. Schoyer had no fear of taking on the most hardened criminal, but a nuclear bomb he was out of his depth.

 
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