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Memorial day, p.27
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       Memorial Day, p.27

         Part #7 of Mitch Rapp series by Vince Flynn
 

  When they pulled into the clearing, the sun was already peeking over the tops of the easternmost stand of tall Georgia pines. Al-Yamani got out of the car wearing a cheap pair of sunglasses that he had bought to help shield his increasingly sensitive eyes.

  Two men came out of the construction trailer with broad grins on their faces.

  Al-Yamani took this as a good sign. He quietly embraced each of them, relieved beyond measure that they had made it. He pointed to the trailer and all four of them went inside where they could talk more freely.

  "Imtaz," al-Yamani said, as he took off his sunglasses. "This is Khaled and Hasan."

  The three men exchanged greetings. Al-Yamani had thought of his two old friends often since he last saw them in Cuba almost a week ago. He was relieved that they had avoided detection by the Americans.

  "Have our shipments arrived?" al-Yamani asked.

  Hasan, the taller and older of the two men answered. "Yes, the main component arrived yesterday."

  "Take me to it. I wish to see it."

  All four men went outside. Hasan led them to the back of a pickup truck and lowered the tailgate. A wooden crate approximately three feet square sat in the middle of the coated bed. Hasan climbed up and offered a hand to his weakened friend. He then pried the top off the crate with a crowbar and unpacked a balled-up canvas tarp. The two men stood there for a moment looking at the object of destruction that they had worked so hard to acquire. Basking in the warm sun they looked up at one another and shared a smile. They were about to do something great.

  Zubair, standing on the ground below them, was like a child trying to see what the grownups were looking at. His contribution to the project had been to design the fire sets and help shape the explosive charges. For security reasons he had been kept at a separate location from the nuclear material, and had yet to lay eyes on it. Unable to hold back any longer he climbed up into the truck bed and looked into the crate.

  What he saw horrified him. Zubair had expected to see a shiny, stable core of nuclear material in a properly shielded case, but was instead greeted with the sight of a corroded hunk of metal the size of a basketball. His eyes opened wide with fear, and he jumped from the back of the truck, almost spraining his ankle in the process.

  Zubair scurried to his feet and ran back toward the construction trailer, leaving the other three men staring after him in surprise. "You need to get away from that object right now." Without the proper equipment, Zubair had no idea just how hot the nuclear material was, but he guessed it was extremely dangerous.

  Al-Yamani glared at the cowardly Pakistani. He was just like the other three. The Saudi had recruited all of the scientists and killed each of them as soon as he had completed his task. He had hoped this one would show a little more bravery in the face of such magnificence, but it appeared he was as weak as the others.

  "What are you so afraid of?"

  "That is extremely unstable material, and it isn't even shielded. How did you get it into the country?"

  Khaled, who was standing between the scientist and the pickup, pointed to the trailer that the semi truck had delivered yesterday. "We hid it in a shipment of granite."

  Zubair spun around and looked at the truck. Of course. Not only would granite shield the device, but it emitted natural radiation that would confuse any sensors. He looked back at al-Yamani and said, "I'm not joking. You need to get down right now."

  "Stop overreacting. It cannot do any more harm to me than has already been done."

  "Oh yes it can. If you stand up there much longer you'll be dead before the sun sets."

  Al-Yamani looked down into the box and decided to hear the scientist out. He climbed down from the truck and Hasan followed.

  "Explain to me your fears."

  "That has no shielding and it is showing signs of severe deterioration. Anything other than brief exposure could be fatal."

  "I am already dying."

  "But that will hasten your radiation poisoning. In order for us to transport and assemble the weapon it must be properly shielded or it will kill us all."

  "How quickly?" asked al-Yamani. All he cared was that they made it to their target.

  "Most likely before we reach Washington."

  Al-Yamani frowned. "So what do you propose we do?"

  "As I said, we need to shield it properly."

  "Is that difficult?"

  "Not with the right material either lead or depleted uranium will do."

  "How long will it take?" Al-Yamani had some extra time built into the schedule but not much.

  Zubair thought about it for a minute and said, "A couple of hours."

  "Do we have an alternative?"

  "Not if you want to take it all the way to Washington."

  There was a backup plan to detonate the device in Atlanta, but al-Yamani was not willing to settle for that. Especially after listening to the president this morning.

  * * *

  Sixty

  WASHINGTON,D.C.

  It was standing-room-only in the bar at Smith and Wollensky's and every table in the restaurant was occupied. Pat Holmes sat at his usual corner table with his back to the wall looking out onto as much of the restaurant as possible. As chairman of the Democratic Party he needed to see and be seen. On a normal night, a half dozen people would have already stopped by to shake hands and say hello, but not this night.

  Holmes had a pretty good idea why, and it involved one of the two women at his table. Valerie Jones had the unique ability to repel people by her mere presence. She was, to put it bluntly, a ballbuster of the first order. Jones had religion when it came to her beloved Democratic Party. So thorough was her commitment that there wasn't a Republican who she liked, and she made no effort to hide her feelings. She even despised independents for their spineless inability to pick sides. Her behavior toward the so-called enemy was more characteristic of a fanatical campaign volunteer than a senior White House official. Her pugnacious reputation caused the more civilized players in town to steer clear of her.

  Truth be told, when the cameras weren't around, and if it wasn't election season, the vast majority of Democrats and Republicans got along, and in most cases actually liked each other. Holmes fell into that majority. When he had to, he could get out in front of the camera and accuse the Republicans of outlandish selfishness and incompetence, and then go play a round of golf later the same day with his Republican counterpart.

  Sometimes he wondered if the president's chief of staff even noticed that she was so disliked by reasonable people. He doubted it. Jones was a very focused person, who had great organizational skills and uncanny political smarts, but who was severely challenged in the people skills department. At the end of the day, though, he supposed every administration needed someone like Jones-a pit bull to keep people in line.

  Peggy Stealey was an entirely different story. She had that star quality about her. She had classy good looks; she was smart as hell; she was cunning, and he guessed very dangerous to be on the wrong side of. He wanted to get her into bed in the worst way, but he'd experienced enough dickteases over the years to know the best way to do that was to make her chase him.

  The waiter approached, and before he got too close, Holmes gestured for another bottle of Silver Oak. Given the delicate nature of their current conversation, he didn't want anyone coming within ten feet of the table.

  "I have no objection to anything I've heard." Holmes leaned in a bit closer and lowered his voice. "I think it will energize the party."

  "I agree," said Jones, as she attacked her steak with a knife.

  "Vice President Baxter is a dud," Holmes continued. "Stokes is younger, he's better looking, and he's got a pretty wife. He's a little light on experience, but all in all I think he'd be a nice addition to the ticket."

  Stealey was about to take a bite of her Chilean sea bass when her fork stopped inches from her lips. "His wife isn't pretty."

  "Sure she is." Holmes grabbed his glass of wine. "She's very attra
ctive."

  The sea bass was now in her mouth so Stealey just shook her head forcefully.

  Holmes took a swig of wine. "Unless you're a lesbian, Peggy, I think I'm in a better position to judge this one. She's a good-looking woman trust me."

  Even though she wanted to argue with him, she knew it was unwise to let her hatred of her boss's wife be known. "Just a difference of opinion that's all." She took a sip of water and then stabbed a green bean with her fork. "So we have a deal."

  Holmes looked at Jones and wondered if they'd bothered to include the president in any of these discussions. "Robert's on board with this?"

  "Absolutely. You know he hates the little weasel."

  "All right, I know they're a bad fit, but I want to hear it from him personally."

  "Why?" Jones took a sip of wine. "You don't trust me?"

  "I trust you I just want to make sure he's thought this all the way through. It isn't every day the president bounces his vice president off the ticket."

  "It's been done before," Jones replied airily, trying to stress that it was no big deal.

  Holmes knew it had, but it had to be done right. "I said I think it's a good idea. It just needs to be handled right. The last thing we need is Baxter airing our dirty laundry during the middle of a campaign because he feels we gave him the shaft."

  "We are giving him the shaft," said Stealey. "And I don't see how he'll view it any other way."

  "The party is bigger than any one person," said Jones. "He'll understand that, and if he doesn't, we'll just have to make it clear that if he decides to go crying to the press we'll bury him."

  "You're absolutely right," said Holmes. "We play to his party loyalty, and if he doesn't get on board we'll let it be known that things could get really tough. It's absolutely crucial, though, that we get him to go quietly."

  Holmes reminded Jones of something and she pointed her fork at him. "Do you know who else needs to go?"

  "Who."

  "Mitch Rapp. That's who."

  Holmes almost choked on the piece of New York strip that he was trying to chew. When he'd chased it with gulp of red wine he said, "What are you talking about?"

  "You know who Mitch Rapp is don't you?"

  "Of course I do. He's a walking legend, and he's married to that beautiful NBC reporter Anna Rielly."

  "Have you ever met him?"

  "No, but what's your point? Why in the world would the president want to get rid of him?"

  "The man is a ticking bomb," answered Jones. "Sooner or later he's going to embarrass this administration, and I don't mean some little scandal I'm talking full-blown Congressional investigation people being fired and people ending up in jail."

  She had gotten the chairman of the DNC's attention. Holmes set his fork down and wiped his mouth with his white linen napkin. "You're going to have to give me specifics, Val."

  "I could go on for hours, but for starters, you're not going to believe what happened at the White House this morning. We're sitting in a National Security Council meeting and out of nowhere he starts attacking Peggy."

  "About what?"

  "He demands that we start torturing the American citizens that we arrested yesterday in connection with the terrorist plot."

  Holmes was immediately suspicious of how Jones was relaying the facts. "Val, Mitch Rapp is a pretty serious guy. I doubt that he just out and out demanded that we torture American citizens."

  "He pretty much did," Stealey weighed in.

  "That's not even the half of it." Jones looked at Stealey. "Peggy, I was waiting to tell you this. Remember when the president, Kennedy, Rapp, and I left the meeting?"

  "Yes."

  "Well, we went into the Oval Office and things got really hot. The president told Rapp he would no longer tolerate any more of his outbursts and the abuse of his staff and do you know what Rapp said?"

  "I can't wait to hear."

  "He went on to tell the president that the only reason we found out about the impending attack was because he flew over to Afghanistan and lined up five al-Qaeda terrorists and started executing them one at a time until they talked."

  Peggy Stealey's blue eyes were bugged in disbelief, "You can't be serious."

  Holmes looked on with a furrowed brow.

  "He told the president that he put a gun to their heads and blew their brains out, and that he didn't feel an ounce of guilt or shame about it. I kid you not. Now if that isn't reckless I don't know what is."

  "He admitted this in front of you?" Stealey asked in shock.

  "Yes, and the president and Kennedy."

  "It's not only reckless, it's illegal. He's a federal employee. He should be in jail."

  "Well that would be one way to get rid of him."

  "Slow down, you two." Holmes placed an elbow on the table and looked from Jones to Stealey and back again. "Are you both out of your minds? Do you two have any idea who you're messing with? You're talking about locking up an American hero."

  "He's anassassin in a suit," snarled Jones.

  Holmes pointed at the president's chief of staff. "There are people in this town very powerful people who will have your heads on a platter if you even think about attempting something so foolish."

  "Pat, did you hear anything I said?" Jones was clearly irritated. "We're not the ones running around breaking the law and risking the future of this administration."

  Holmes looked at Jones in utter disbelief. He threw his napkin down on his half-eaten steak and said, "Investigating Mitch Rapp is one of the dumbest ideas I've ever heard." He glanced at Stealey and then back at Jones. "You two need to take a step back and look at the big picture. Stop worrying about theparty base and thePatriot Act and start thinking about just who in the hell you're fucking with."

  Jones started to speak, but Holmes cut her off with a harsh glare. "Don't say another word. There are things you two don't know things you don't want to know. People you don't want to cross. Drop this nonsense right now, or our deal is off. In fact, drop this nonsense right now, or I'll make sure you're both out of a job by tomorrow morning, and I am dead serious."

  * * *

  Sixty-One

  VIRGINIA

  Mustafa al-Yamani looked forward to dying with each passing mile of road. There wasn't an inch of his body that didn't hurt, and more and more his thoughts turned to giving up-to letting the others see it through to the end. He couldn't quit, though. There was still too much to be done, and he could not trust this weak Pakistani scientist to light the fire. He would pee down his leg like a scared child at the first sign of trouble.

  Al-Yamani could ignore the pain for a little while longer. A few days of agony were nothing when compared to the struggle of his people. He was on a crusade, a continuation of the thousand-year-old battle between the Arab people and the infidels. Never at any time in history, though, had so much been at stake. It was time to ignite a true global jihad and show the other believers that America could be brought to her knees.

  Al-Yamani could not do it alone though. He barely had the strength left to walk, and his vision was getting worse by the hour. He hated to think what would have happened if he hadn't met up with Hasan and Khaled. His fellow warriors were a great comfort to him. They had been through so much together. Their devotion was unflinching. They would do everything in their power to make sure this mission reached its glorious conclusion.

  Even Zubair, despite all of his worrying, had proven useful. Al-Yamani was not a man of science. He had no medical knowledge of how radiation affected the human body-only practical knowledge. He had watched as dozens of his devoted Muslim warriors fell victim to the unseen killer. They had dug for months in that barren wasteland at the north end of the Caspian in search of crumbs discarded by a careless Soviet giant. The cost had been great, but in the end it would all be worth it.

  Having seen firsthand what the unseen killer could do, al-Yamani listened to Zubair's warnings. The Pakistani's estimate that it would take two hours to shield the weapon h
ad proven wrong. It had actually taken six hours, but al-Yamani saw the wisdom of their actions from more than just a health aspect. Washington, D.C., was ringed with sensors that detected radioactivity. Every bridge that went into the city and every major road was equipped with the sensors. If al-Yamani wanted to get the weapon to the point where it would do the most damage he would need to get past them, and to do that the weapon would have to be shielded. He had originally thought that traveling by water would prevent detection by the sensors, but Zubair had now made it clear, that this bomb would never escape detection without proper shielding.

  Under the direction of Zubair, Hasan had tracked down a sizable amount of depleted uranium in the form of discarded elevator weights. The scrap yard where he found them was unfortunately on the other side of town. While Hasan went to pick up the depleted uranium, Khaled escorted Zubair to a medical supply store where the Pakistani scientist purchased four lead aprons, of the variety used by X-ray technicians, some heavy-duty chemist's gloves, and a batch of dosimeters or film badges for measuring the doses of radiation they were receiving. As a further precaution an enclosed trailer was rented using Hasan's pirated credit card.

  At a nearby Wal-Mart they purchased water, soap, new clothes, and a massive white fishing cooler. Back at the construction site the fishing cooler was lined with the elevator weights, and then Zubair used blocks of foam picked up at a packing store to create a nest for the nuclear material. From a safe distance the scientist watched as Hasan and Khaled transferred the nuclear material from the crate to the cooler, and then covered it with foam and more depleted uranium. Zubair repeatedly told them to work quickly but carefully. When they were done, the cooler was placed in the trailer and everything else was discarded, including their clothes. Zubair made the now naked Hasan and Khaled wash down behind the construction trailer with the water and soap they'd purchased. After they'd put on their stiff new clothes, they all left Atlanta.

 
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