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Memorial day, p.21
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       Memorial Day, p.21

         Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
 

  "Yes, Paul?"

  "Nice work."

  "Thank you."

  * * *

  Forty-Five

  SOUTHWEST ASIA

  The CIA's G-V had already reached a cruising altitude of 41,000 feet and left Afghanistan air space. There was no need for Rapp to bring all the files and maps with him. Everything had already been scanned and placed on a disk. He did, however, bring two of the three prisoners and enough morphine to keep an entire crack house happy for a couple days. He'd taken Waheed Abdullah and Ahmed Khalili, the young man from Karachi. Both were currently bound, sedated, and sleeping. It appeared the third prisoner was nothing more than a bodyguard, but Urda would nonetheless hold on to the man and see what he could get out of him.

  Rapp had accomplished what he'd set out to do, and he saw no need to waste a second more than he had to in Southwest Asia. Especially with everything that was going on back in the States. The mere thought of someone like Mustafa al-Yamani loose on American soil was enough to drive him into a fit of rage, which he would gladly take out on Abdullah if he found out the Saudi had lied to him again.

  For now he was stuck on hold, waiting for his boss to come on the line. He used the time to pull up the scanned documents on his laptop. Rapp planned on spending most of the long flight back to the States in search of any clue that would help him track down al-Yamani. He would also have to find the time to get a little shut-eye or he would be worthless when they landed.

  Kennedy finally came on the line. "Mitch, anything new?"

  "No. What's going on with the ships?"

  Kennedy told him everything they'd learned since the last time they'd talked, and then she went on to quietly explain the dissention in the National Security Council over how things should be handled in Charleston.

  Rapp groaned in frustration. "Irene, listen to me. We don't have a lot of time. I need you to cut through all the bullshit and call Skip directly." Rapp was referring to Skip McMahon, the director of the FBI's Counterterrorism Division. "Don't go through Director Roach don't even tell the president you're calling him. This thing is about to blow, and I don't mean the bomb I mean the story, and once that happens these terrorists are going to be gone. Skip needs to get some agents to the ports and find out if anybody is waiting to pick up these containers. They might have people working at the docks."

  "I was thinking the same thing."

  "We're only going to get one chance at this, Irene, and then they're going to be scared off. We need to track the shipments all the way to their final destination and uncover these cells."

  "I'll call him right now."

  Rapp heard a voice in the background and Kennedy said, "Let me call you back in a minute."

  REIMER'S VOICE ONCEagain filled the room from the overhead speakers, but this time there was something noticeably different about it. Homeland Security Secretary McClellan was the only one in the conference room at the Mount Weather site. Treasury Secretary Keane had gone off to speak to the chairman of the New York Stock Exchange, and Vice President Baxter was off licking his wounds somewhere. General Flood and Secretary of Defense Culbertson were busy handling the situation with the other three ships. So that left the president, Chief of Staff Jones, CIA Director Kennedy, Secretary of State Berg, and National Security Advisor Haik.

  Upon hearing Reimer's voice, everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to look at him on the screen.

  Reimer's no-nonsense scowl had been replaced with a bit of a grin. "Mr. President, I have some good news to report."

  "By all means, let's hear it."

  "We've X-rayed the container and believe the device in question to be a naked physics package."

  The term was lost on President Hayes, but he assumed by the broad grin on Reimer's usually dour face, that there was something positive in this discovery. "Mr. Reimer, I have no idea what a naked physics package is, but since this is the first time I've seen you smile all morning, I'm going to assume that in this case, naked is better than fully clothed."

  "You sure could say that, Mr. President," Reimer laughed.

  "So what exactly is a naked physics package?"

  "Sir, it's essentially," Reimer held his hands up to form a circle, "a sphere of weapons-grade nuclear material minus the fire set and explosive material that are used to trigger the implosion."

  Hayes thought he followed it. "So this thing is basically the core to a nuclear bomb and nothing else."

  "For the most part that is correct, sir."

  "So it can't go off."

  Reimer thought of explaining the one exception, but the odds of it happening were so small it wasn't worth getting into. "Without the explosives and fire set, sir, there is no way for it to reach any measurable yield."

  "So we're in the clear?" asked Valerie Jones.

  "That's correct. The nuclear material, as it sits, is no real threat to the city of Charleston."

  The room burst into celebration over the good news. There were sighs of relief, nervous laughter, and even a few hugs. The president and the others on the council congratulated Reimer and his people on a job well done. After just a minute things settled down, and Hayes was about to ask Reimer a question when the door to the conference room opened. One of Valerie Jones's people entered the room and walked briskly to the chief of staff's side.

  Jones listened for only a second and then grabbed the phone in front of her. She stabbed her forefinger at the blinking red light and said, "Tim." She listened intensely for a full ten seconds. Several times she tried and failed to cut the other person off. Finally she said, "Tim, I get the picture. Have him in your office in fifteen minutes. Tell him I'll talk to him directly."

  She listened for another five seconds, shaking her head the entire time. "That's a bunch of crap, Tim, and you can tell him I said that. If he can't wait fifteen minutes, I'll make sure he never gets another interview with anyone involved in this administration again, and then I'll call his boss and have the story stuffed right back down his throat. Now have him in your office in fifteen minutes and call me back."

  Jones slammed the phone down and looked up at the president. "TheTimes is about to break the story that you and your entire cabinet were evacuated from the capital last night."

  * * *

  Forty-Six

  CHARLESTON

  As the clock ticked past nine in the morning, Ahmed al-Adel grew increasingly nervous. He'd made hundreds of trips to the yard since taking over the trucking company, but this was without a doubt the most important, and hence stressful. More often than not the trips went smoothly. Al-Adel would leave early from Atlanta so he could avoid the horrendous traffic, and arrive at the port of Charleston before the gates opened at 7:00 a.m.

  Everything was legitimate. It had to be that way. Al-Adel was a thorough man, and he'd discovered that the transportation industry was not as rife with corruption as he had once been led to believe. This was not a problem for him, however. Al-Adel planned on playing by their rules right up to the very end.

  The international transportation industry was dominated by large multinational corporations with billions of dollars at stake, but as always there was room for small players to carve out a niche. Al-Adel's niche was importing items to Atlanta's burgeoning Muslim population. As long as he paid his bills and followed all the rules laid down by U.S. Customs, the multinationals would continue to ship his goods, and he would continue to pick them up.

  He'd done that for a year now. He had a nice little business going for himself. He wasn't turning a profit, but that was because there was no real incentive to. The business was only a short-term cover, so he made almost no effort to get costs under control or expand his distribution. Three times a week he made the trip from Atlanta to Charleston, twice to pick up inbound containers from India and the third time to meet the weekly ship coming from Pakistan.

  His fastidiousness had been his salvation. As a Saudi immigrant, and owner of a trucking company that did international business, al-Adel had attract
ed the attention of the FBI. At first he had cooperated, mostly because he saw no other way, and he knew he had covered his tracks so well he had nothing to hide, but as the FBI's probe into his professional and personal life ground on, al-Adel grew irritated, and then worried that they might actually find something. After many months his Arabic pride emboldened him. He'd lived in America just long enough to understand what to do.

  The idea came to him while watching TV one night. There was a panel on one of the cable talk shows and they were discussing the Patriot Act. One of the guests was a civil rights attorney from Atlanta. Al-Adel had heard of him before. The man's name was Tony Jackson, but he was more commonly known by his nickname, the Mouth of the South. A convert to Islam, Jackson loved taking on causes that garnered media attention. After listening to Jackson passionately argue that the Patriot Act was an affront to the Bill of Rights, al-Adel paid him a visit the next day. He explained his situation; that he was an American citizen trying to run a legitimate business, and that the FBI was harassing him at every turn. Jackson took the case and instead of using the courts, he used the media to get the FBI off his client's back.

  Al-Adel was very proud of himself for outsmarting the Americans. During his cultural isolation, he had begun to see himself as a solitary, righteous warrior standing up for his faith in the midst of corruption and evil. This feeling of moral clarity and superiority served to sharpen his already quirky awareness of the great cultural and religious divide between his native Saudi Arabia and the decadent American landscape. He would stay one step ahead of the Americans right up to the very end.

  He was truly on a mission from God, and he doubted Allah would let him get this far only to fail in the final days of his journey. This thought was foremost in his mind when he was given permission to enter the yard and pick up his container. Al-Adel turned and looked at his companion. Both men exchanged looks of relief. It was so hot and humid they were beginning to worry that the truck might overheat. They had a long drive ahead of them, and the last thing he needed was for the rig to break down on the highway and invite the scrutiny of the police.

  The parking brake was released and the truck put into gear. As he drove, al-Adel sat hunched over the large steering wheel and looked around for signs of anything unusual. So far everything appeared normal. The gigantic blue cranes were swinging cargo off the ship, and the rude longshoremen, who were prone to bark at him if he made any wrong move, seemed intent on their own business.

  Al-Adel drove through the yard behind another truck with a naked trailer. Both vehicles eventually came to a stop between some orange cones. Quickly and efficiently one of the big containers was maneuvered into position and al-Adel and his associate watched intently as it was lowered over the chassis of the truck in front of them.

  SCHOYER AND HISmen put their plan together on the fly. McMahon had called from D.C. and reiterated Rapp's concern about someone waiting to pick up the nuke. Upon checking with Port officials they discovered that a truck was in fact waiting to pick up the container that had just arrived from Pakistan. Schoyer saw no reason to complicate the matter. A quick surveillance told him that there were two men in the vehicle.

  One of his agents suggested calling in a tactical team for backup, but Schoyer dismissed the idea after only a second of thought. He already had six of his own people on-site and another dozen local cops armed with shotguns and submachine guns. If for some reason the two men in question didn't surrender easily Schoyer felt they had enough firepower on-site to handle the situation. Time was the bigger factor. They'd created a backlog of rigs waiting to pick up containers. If they didn't let those trucks in the yard pretty soon, the suspected terrorists might get suspicious and make a break for it.

  Schoyer thought his chances of arresting the two men without harming anyone else were best if he let them enter the yard. It would be like letting a bull into the pen. With the cooperation of the harbormaster, a stevedore, and two of the crane operators, a quick plan was devised.

  The six FBI agents were waiting out of sight behind containers on either side of the truck lane. Schoyer watched them get into position and then passed on the word to let the trucks enter the yard. From the observation deck Shoyer had watched as theMadagascar and another ship to the north were unloaded. The blue cranes that moved the large forty-foot containers were almost impossible to ignore. Their hypnotic movement gave the special agent in charge of the Columbia, South Carolina, field office an idea.

  When the first semi stopped in the loading zone, Schoyer brought his digital two-way radio to his mouth and told his people to get ready. What the drivers of the truck couldn't see was that as the vehicle in front of them was being loaded, a second crane was swinging in a container and setting it down behind their empty trailer to pen them in. Schoyer could clearly see the faces of the suspects as they looked skyward watching the container intended for the truck in front of them swing into place.

  Schoyer waited until the timing was just right and then told his people to go. Three agents assaulted each side of the truck. The first agent on each side yanked open the door while the next agent in line pulled his man from the cab and threw him to the ground. The third agents on each side covered the other two from a distance of ten feet with their weapons drawn. The two suspects were subdued and cuffed without even the chance to protest.

  * * *

  Forty-Seven

  WASHINGTON, D.C.

  The Sikorsky S-61 Sea King helicopter raced in over the capital city faster than usual. The pilots of Marine One didn't share the president's confidence that it was safe to return to the White House, but they weren't in the habit of telling the president what to do, so, like the good Marine aviators that they were, they followed their orders and performed their duties to their utmost ability. The Secret Service, however, behaved slightly differently. Jack Warch, the special agent in charge of the presidential detail, had protested fiercely, first to Valerie Jones and then almost as fiercely, but certainly more respectfully, to the president himself.

  Warch and the president had a good working relationship. The president almost always listened to the agent's security concerns, and would often do what he could to ease Warch's fears, but on the issue of going back to the White House in the midst of the crisis, the president could not be swayed. Warch put up a fight, but he knew when to quit. Just like the Marine aviators, when the president gave an order, you were expected and conditioned to follow it. Warch did officially state that he thought the move was premature and ill advised, but then went about arranging the president's departure.

  Irene Kennedy had watched the proceedings in her usual silent but perceptive way, reading between the lines and looking for the political motive behind each rationale for returning to the White House. Having worked her entire adult life for the CIA, Kennedy believed in keeping secrets. There was little doubt in her mind that it would be better if the American people never knew what had just happened down in Charleston. Life was difficult enough for the average person without having to worry about nuclear annihilation.

  Unfortunately, burying the entire matter, while a nice thought, was for all intents and purposes no longer an option. The press was onto the story. She herself had implemented Operation Ark with the expectation that they wouldn't make it past noon the next day before the press broke the story, and she was right. Not only had the reporter from TheTimes refused to back down when Jones spoke to him, but two additional reporters were now on the story. Poor Tim Webber, the White House press secretary, had his finger stuck in a dike that was about to lose all structural integrity. If they didn't get back to the White House quickly and help him field questions, there was going to be a flood.

  Kennedy was a person with high standards but realistic expectations. Concealing from the press, and the American people, what had taken place over the last twelve hours was hopeless. The more rational course was to get out in front of the story and manage it. This was where Kennedy agreed with both the president and his chief of staff
. She would have preferred to keep the president securely tucked away at Site R until they had a better understanding of what they had just thwarted, but there were huge economic and political issues at play.

  The economic issues were easy enough to understand. Financial markets thrived on stability. If the announcement of a hike in interest rates, or an increase in unemployment, could send the stock market plunging, it was not difficult to imagine how news of the evacuation of America's political leadership from Washington would be received. Hayes didn't mention the political repercussions, but Kennedy knew what he was thinking. He was not going to sit safely in a secure military bunker while average citizens went to work, thus opening himself up to charges of cowardice by his opponents.

  Hayes had been very adamant that the quickest and best way to avoid any type of panic was for him to be seen behind his desk at the White House running the country. For the most part Kennedy agreed, and when asked by the president she said so. An impromptu plan of sorts was then initiated by Hayes. He ordered the vice president and the Secretary of Homeland Security to stay put at the Mount Weather facility and Treasury Secretary Keane to meet him at the White House. Secretary of State Berg was to remain at Site R with National Security Advisor Haik, and Kennedy and Jones were to accompany him to the White House.

  Kennedy couldn't remember how many times she'd been on Marine One, they were too numerous to count, but she could tell they were flying faster than normal as they came in low over the National Mall. She looked out the small window at the World War II Memorial. Workers were busy erecting bleachers and getting ready for the dedication ceremony on Saturday. Rapp was already on his way back, expected to arrive sometime this evening. In the morning she would have him start looking for any possible link between the thwarted attack and the ceremony.

 
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