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Memorial day, p.19
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       Memorial Day, p.19

         Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
 

  When the Search Response Team showed up at the harbor, he was more than relieved to turn things over to people who actually knew what they were doing. Debbie Hanousek was escorted to the observation deck by one of Schoyer's agents. The introductions were quick and then, thankfully, Hanousek got right to the point.

  "I assume," she pointed beyond the observation deck, "this is the high interest vessel that has everyone so excited?"

  The port captain handed her his binoculars. "We've been picking around the container for the last ten minutes or so. It's that red one six rows back from the bow sitting all by itself."

  "We didn't want to move it until you got here," added Schoyer.

  Hanousek nodded. "Well if she didn't blow on a transatlantic ocean crossing she isn't going to blow getting unloaded. Why don't you have the crane grab it and set her down where my people and I will have some room to maneuver."

  The Customs official moved in and pointed to a tentlike structure set up in the yard. "We have the VACIS ready to go."

  VACIS stood for Vehicle And Container Inspection System. It was a portable system that measured the density of objects. Hanousek shook her head. "I'd rather check it for a radiation signature first."

  She turned back to the harbormaster and Schoyer. "Do you have any place where we can look at it away from prying eyes?" She noted the FBI man's windbreaker, but decided it was probably not a good idea to say anything in front of the others.

  "Yep." The port captain put a two-way radio up to his mouth and called the stevedore. "Hank, pluck it and have one of the longshoremen drive it over to 105 for inspection." The man in charge of coordinating the unloading confirmed the order and a few seconds later the big crane swung in over the red container.

  While the others nervously watched from the observation deck, Hanousek grabbed the agent who had picked her up at the airport and said, "Let's go."

  On their way downstairs the agent said, "Aren't you going to give my boss a hard time for wearing his colors?"

  Hanousek laughed. "Nope, I know better than that. You guys get a little sensitive about that stuff." They hustled down the first flight. "I was thinking it would go much smoother if you called him, and told him what I said."

  Hanousek had found out on the way from the air force base that the young agent was in fact only three months out of the FBI Academy. She could tell he was more than a little nervous about telling his boss to do much of anything but the urge to tease him was irresistible. "I sure hope this damn thing doesn't blow up when they move it."

  The guy looked at her with wide eyes as he raced to keep up. "Are you serious?"

  Hanousek just laughed and kept going. She could never understand why people got so nervous around nuclear weapons. In comparison to other bombs they were amazingly stable. Well, sort of.

  * * *

  Forty

  The South Carolina Aquarium parking garage afforded the best view of the Columbus Street Terminal. Al-Yamani sat in the front seat of the car and watched what was going on below with great interest. The morning rush hour was in full swing, and the downtown area was teeming with traffic and action, which only served to conceal his presence. Ships and tugs were coming in and out of the port, trucks and trains were bustling through the yard, and the gigantic cranes were moving the omnipresent steel containers around like toy blocks. The sheer volume of commerce was both impressive and comforting to the Saudi-born warrior. In the face of all this frenetic movement, he could not see how the Americans could possibly detect one particular shipment. There was so much happening, so many things coming and going, that the odds were surely in his favor.

  Al-Yamani knew that somewhere in the line of trucks waiting to pick up containers were two of his fellow warriors. They had no idea that he was watching them, and he had no intention of alerting them to the fact. So much was riding on this bold plan that he had decided to come to America himself to make sure it worked. None of the cells in America had been alerted to his impending arrival. The others had argued with him, they did not want him to go, but in the end they had relented. He knew it was in part pity for his terminal condition that had caused them to give in, and he felt no shame for that because he believed he was doing the right thing.

  Several of them argued that it was too big a risk. If he was captured, the Americans could make him talk. The entire operation would be compromised, and for what? Al-Yamani had greeted this concern with laughter. He'd told the others that he was not afraid to die. The Americans could do their worst and he would not talk. Yes, if they had weeks or perhaps months to work on him they might break him, but al-Yamani would not live long enough for them to get their chance. He had forfeited his life months ago.

  No, he had invested too much in this grand plan to simply turn it over to men who he had never met, to men who had proclaimed their devotion to the cause, but who were nonetheless untested. They were Muslims who had been living a much different life in America than their brothers in the cradle of Islam. Yes, they said all the right things and vociferously proclaimed their hatred for America and its lack of modesty and diluted moral behavior, but were they men who would be devoted enough to see the attack through to its glorious and fiery conclusion? It was on this point that the others eventually agreed with al-Yamani. The seriousness of the task at hand, combined with the personal sacrifices that he had made, left the others no choice but to grant his final wish.

  Al-Yamani looked down at the yard through the binoculars. Now that the blue cranes were snatching containers from theMadagascar he should relax a bit, but he still couldn't quite shake a slight sense of unease. It had started over an hour ago when the ship had docked and then simply sat there. Something didn't seem right. Al-Yamani had asked his Kuwaiti accomplice if this was normal and the young man just shrugged his shoulders. Apparently no one had given him orders to watch how quickly arriving ships were attended to.

  Al-Yamani's suspicions grew when a police officer took up position at the bottom of the gangway and then two men boarded the ship. Again the Kuwaiti failed to shed any light on this practice other than the fact that the two men were more than likely customs officials. After almost thirty excruciating minutes the cranes finally swung into action. Al-Yamani told himself all was well, but something was still bothering him.

  Yacoub excused himself from the vehicle so he could go to the bathroom. Al-Yamani used the opportunity to get out and stretch. They were parked on the second to the top floor of the aquarium parking ramp. It afforded a good view of the Columbia Street Terminal and the surrounding yard. Al-Yamani leaned up against one of the outer structural supports of the garage and took a sip of water. From this new position he could see a bit more of the yard. He looked out at the endless sea of containers stacked in long rows waiting to be loaded onto either trains or trucks, and some he supposed, back onto ships.

  A few hundred meters beyond where theMadagascar was berthed, al-Yamani noticed a squat three-story building. He raised his right hand to block out the rising sun and squinted to try and make out the details. It looked like the building had some type of observation deck on the top floor and there appeared to be several people up there. With a frown, al-Yamani grabbed the binoculars from the car. He held them up and began scanning the yard. A second later he found the building, and a split second after that he was looking at the group of people standing on the observation deck.

  Al-Yamani swallowed dryly and counted five of them. Three of the men were in uniforms of some sort and two were in regular clothes. Several of them were talking on phones and all of them, it seemed, had their attention focused on theMadagascar. Al-Yamani chastised himself for not noticing them earlier. Lowering the binoculars he looked up and down Concord Street. There were no police cars or any other obvious signs that the Americans knew the lethal cargo had arrived at their doorstep. Using the binoculars he began to search beyond the immediate area of the dock.

  He was at a slight disadvantage because he had very little idea what the normal operation of the
port consisted of. Other than the policeman standing at the bottom of theMadagascar 's gangway and the men on the observation deck nothing appeared unusual, and those two things could be explained easily enough. Al-Yamani checked the men out again. They were still focused on theMadagascar. All of them turned around as a man and woman came outside and joined them.

  Al-Yamani watched as the woman was introduced to the group. One of the men turned to talk to her and there on his back were three bright yellow letters that caused al-Yamani to grip the binoculars tightly. His breathing ceased as he watched the man wearing the FBI jacket point at theMadagascar. The woman listened to him for a moment and then shook her head. After checking out the ship with the binoculars she pointed at the stacks of containers that the cranes were off-loading. One of the other men said something to her, and then he pointed to another spot in the yard. The woman nodded this time and then went back into the building quickly.

  Al-Yamani took the binoculars away from his face for a second and took in a deep, tight breath of humid air. He fought off a wave of nausea and brought the binoculars back up to his eyes. This time he zeroed in on the ground level of the building he'd been watching. Almost immediately he didn't like what he saw. A large black SUV was parked in front. One of al-Yamani's chief responsibilities for al-Qaeda had been to conduct research on potential targets. He had looked into assassinating the president and the director of the FBI along with several other key American figures. While checking news footage he found that the Secret Service and the FBI loved to drive these big black SUVs. Never having been to America before, al-Yamani had no idea how common these vehicles were, but there was something about this one and the sedan parked next to it that looked different from the other cars parked near the building.

  The woman he had seen on the observation deck exited the building with another man, and they got into the black truck. Al-Yamani followed them as they drove across the yard to one of the warehouses. The car he had noticed followed closely behind. Both vehicles stopped in front of the warehouse and people started getting out. Al-Yamani counted nine total and noted that four of the individuals were carrying guns. Things got worse as he watched them unload a bundle of black cases.

  Al-Yamani could scarcely believe what he was watching, but still he held out hope as he watched the people shuttle back and forth, bringing their equipment into the building. Hope was all he had. He had come too far, and sacrificed far too much, to watch things fall apart this late in the attack, but then in a single moment he saw his entire plan crumble.

  A truck with a naked chassis pulled to a stop in the area where the cranes were offloading theMadagascar 's cargo. It was the first time al-Yamani had seen this done all morning. A rusty red container was plucked from the ship's depleted cargo area and delicately placed on the frame of the trailer. A group of men in hard hats locked the container down, and then the truck swung around and eased itself into the warehouse.

  The woman with the curly brown hair stood in front of the open warehouse doors talking on a cell phone, watching the truck as it slowly made its way toward her. Once the truck was inside, she stepped out of the morning sunlight and gestured for the doors to be closed.

  As al-Yamani watched the large doors inch toward each other, he knew with absolute certainty that the container they had just brought in was his. The very device that had stolen years from his life, the device that dozens of his men had died in the search for, was sitting in that building. Just like that, it was out of his control, and his plan was crumbling before him. For the first time in his adult life al-Yamani felt as if he might cry. How could this happen at his finest moment?

  The footsteps of someone approaching from behind pulled him from his morose thoughts. He turned quickly, still holding on to the binoculars with one hand and reaching for the hilt of his knife with the other, but it was only Yacoub returning from his trip to relieve his bladder.

  The Kuwaiti noticed the look of concern on the face of this man he had known for less than a day. "Is everything all right?"

  Al-Yamani didn't answer at first. He was still reeling from the harsh realization that somehow his mission had been compromised. Then, concealing his fury and his sudden suspicion of the young man, he said, "Everything is fine."

  Yacoub joined him at the wall and looked out across the yard. "It shouldn't be long now. The ship is at least halfway unloaded."

  "I think you are right." Al-Yamani offered the man the binoculars. "What is that building over there used for?"

  Yacoub took the binoculars and looked through them. "Which one?"

  Casually, al-Yamani stepped behind him and pointed over his shoulder to the building with the observation deck on the top floor. "That building right there. The one with the men standing outside." With one hand still pointing, al-Yamani reached under his shirt and grabbed the hilt of his knife again, only this time he drew the weapon from its leather scabbard. The hand that had been pointing was gently placed on the Kuwaiti's shoulder and then without warning it clamped down firmly. Al-Yamani plunged the knife into the unsuspecting man's back with great force.

  The binoculars crashed to the hard ground breaking into several pieces. The Kuwaiti's body went rigid in response to the unanticipated assault. He arched his back and his mouth opened wide to let loose a scream of agony, but al-Yamani was too quick, too schooled in the art of killing. His free hand moved from his fellow warrior's shoulder to his mouth, stifling the cry.

  The struggle only lasted a few more seconds, and then the Kuwaiti slid to the ground, his eyes open and still seeing, his brain still registering images, struggling to comprehend why this fellow Muslim had just killed him. Al-Yamani loosened his grip and withdrew the knife as the body went limp. He let the man fall the last several feet to the ground and then in a crouch, barely peeking over the roofs of the cars, he quickly scanned the parking garage. He half expected to see a bunch of FBI men rushing toward him, guns drawn, screaming for him to drop the knife, just as they did in the movies. Al-Yamani's mind raced ahead for a way not to escape, but to kill himself before they got their hands on him. He could jump.

  But they never came. The seconds passed, and he remained alone on the second to the top floor of the parking garage. Cautiously he bent down on one knee and wiped his weapon on the dead Kuwaiti's shirt. Al-Yamani took a moment to study the dark, innocent-looking eyes, having not the slightest clue if the man he had just killed was guilty of treachery, stupidity, or nothing at all. It didn't really matter.

  Everyone was expendable in this just cause, from the greatest of Allah's warriors to the most inconsequential. The facts were stark. Something had gone wrong, what al-Yamani did not know for sure, but it only proved that he needed to be extra vigilant. He would not allow the Americans to capture him, and he couldn't take chances with the Kuwaiti. He was better off on his own. Al-Yamani dragged the body to a corner of the garage where it would be mostly hidden by a parked car. He grabbed the man's wallet and then ran back to the Kuwaiti's car. The most important thing for him right now was to get away from this forsaken city.

  * * *

  Forty-One

  "Paul," said Hanousek as the yard tractor rumbled past. She couldn't hear her boss's reply, so she waited a few seconds and said, "We're about to start."

  "What's the status?" asked Reimer who was still holed up at the Department of Energy's facility in Germantown, Maryland.

  Hanousek walked into the warehouse as the big cargo doors began closing behind her. "The container was just off-loaded and brought into a Customs warehouse." She continued walking through the cavernous space to where her team was setting up their equipment.

  Clasps were being popped, cases opened, and equipment unloaded. Hanousek's team had been together almost two years. The many drills, false alarms, and random searches had made this activity routine. Never in those two years, though, had they been given such specific information. They all understood, without saying it, that this one was different. All of Washington had its eyes on them
right now, and she could tell by watching her people set up that they were a little tense.

  As she neared her team, one of the techs tossed her a headset to plug into her secure satellite phone. Hanousek caught it with one hand and looped the tiny device over her left ear. After she plugged it into the phone she adjusted the lip mike and clipped the sat phone to her belt.

  "We're setting up the secure satcom right now and should have a preliminary reading for you in " Hanousek checked on one of her techs who was donning a backpack that contained a sensitive gamma neutron detector, "about sixty seconds."

  Her other five people were busy setting up laptops, unwinding cables, checking on secure com links, and powering up other vital equipment.

  "Harry, are you ready to go?" she asked the tech wearing the backpack.

  The man fumbled with an earpiece that protruded from the backpack. A moment later he had it in place and flashed her a thumbs-up sign.

  Hanousek watched him begin walking the length of the metal box. "Here comes the moment of truth," she told Reimer as the tech slowly marched toward her. At the midway point the man looked over at her and raised a concerned eyebrow.

  Hanousek stopped breathing for a second. The tech made it to the end of the forty-foot container and started back. At the midway point he stopped again and listened to his earpiece. After a few excruciating seconds he turned toward his boss.

  "I have a gamma nine, a neutron five hit."

  Hanousek waved him toward her and repeated the reading to Reimer back in Washington. The news was met with a groan from the former SEAL. She helped the tech take the backpack off and said, "You know what to do."

 
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