PUPPET MASTER ƉIVINE
PUPPET MASTER ƉIVINE is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright 2008 © by C. Vance Cast
First Mass Market Edition November 2008
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
This book contains excerpts from THEFT OF INNOCENCE and AFTER INNOCENCE. These excerpts have been set for this edition only and may not reflect the final content of the forthcoming novels.
THEFT OF INNOCENCE
Copyright 2007 © by C. Vance Cast
AFTER INNOCENCE¾Sequel to THEFT OF INNOCENCE
Copyright 2008 © by C. Vance Cast
I’d like to acknowledge my mom for helping prepare the details of my manuscript, and for researching vital topics.
Many people helped edit and proofread initial drafts, including Jim Hutton, Leader, Dennis Poseley, Marilyn Boyer, and Mike Anderson.
Thanks to everyone.
To my girls
The Universe is yours!
It is well known that the more skilled and professional an assassin becomes, the closer he works with his targets and the more precise his selection of weapons. Marshal considered himself more than a professional; he was an artist. His targets were the canvases upon which he created his work. He took personal pride in the weapons that allowed him to get intimately close to his targets.
Marshal pressed  as the mirrored elevator doors shut in front of him. His stare shifted from the hotel corridor to his own reflection. He only had twenty seconds to rehearse the rest of his day.
His middle-aged manner and military experience made him mindful and unassuming, taking great care in every detail of his work. His clients were never displeased.
Marshal adjusted the collar of his white hotel concierge’s jacket, then ran his hand over the left jacket pocket, taking a mental inventory of his expertly fashioned weapon. The uniqueness of his current contract required an equally unique set of tools and method of operation.
The ice pick was quiet, easy to conceal, and non-traceable to Marshal. Welded to its tip was a razor sharp, double-edged fishhook barb made of surgical grade stainless steel.
As part of his pretext disguise, he also carried a white, letter-sized envelope, and a small gift box wrapped in red-metallic paper and white ribbon.
The elevator chimed when it reached the thirteenth floor of the Hilton Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah. The doors opened and Marshal stepped out, scanning the hallways for possible witnesses. He took a moment to smell the vase of fresh violets placed in the cleanly decorated hallway. His exhale soothed his nerves and refocused his thoughts.
He didn’t have to search for his target’s room; he had already scouted the room earlier that day.
“May I help you?” asked the gray-headed man through the crack of his room door.
“Doctor Fredrick Cohn?”
“I am. How may I help you, sir?” He read the man’s golden, engraved employee nametag.
“I’m bringing you the schedule for tonight’s events in the Main Ballroom. I also have a package for you to sign for.”
Dr. Cohn opened the door and invited the man inside, then shut the door behind them. Marshal watched as Dr. Cohn adjusted his robe. He looked ready for a shower.
Marshal handed Dr. Cohn the small package. “Personally, I’m taking the evening off because of your speech tonight. I’ve followed your work for many years.”
Dr. Cohn set the box on the foyer’s cherry credenza.
“Here’s a pen, sign here.”
“Thank you, sir.” Dr. Cohn bent slightly at the knees and started to sign for the package. “I’m always flattered when someone takes interest in my research.”
“As you should be, sir.”
Marshal reached into his left jacket pocket and grabbed the wooden handle. He slowly, but deliberately, withdrew his weapon and aimed for the base of Dr. Cohn’s skull.
Marshal’s primary profession awarded him the knowledge of anatomy to know where to strike his target; and the surgical skill to make the hit seemingly effortless.
Dr. Cohn continued, “For years…”
Marshal thrust his blade into the base of the doctor’s skull, exactly where his spine enters his cranium, stopping his words mid-sentence.
The blade popped like a pencil jabbing through a piece of construction paper. Marshal imagined the blade beginning to penetrate the three membranes of connective tissue that protects and separates the brain from the skull. First, the Dura Mater, Latin for “hard mother,” then the Arachnoid membrane that is the spider-like middle tissue, and, finally, the Pia Mater, or “Tender Mother” tissue.
Marshal didn’t think he’d get to see the protein, glucose, urea, and salt-filled cerebral fluid in its clear, colorless form because of the impending blood.
When Dr. Cohn’s face and jaw went slack, Marshal knew he had penetrated the Pons area of the brain that controls motor and sensory nerves to the face.
His work entered a traumatic slow motion as the blade easily slid through the cerebellum, which coordinates skeletal movement. It went through the midbrain and the forebrain, containing the cerebrum, which comprises up to ninety percent of the brain’s weight.
His long jab came to a sudden stop when the blade hit the hard surface of the inside of the forehead and Marshal felt the blade stick into the occipital bone.
Dr. Cohn was still standing. The effects were slightly delayed. Marshal knew he probably missed the medulla oblongata that sits below the Pons. It controls breathing, blood vessel constriction for blood supply, as well as the heartbeat. However, the damage to the brain would cut off blood supply to the medulla region, bringing certain death to his target.
He didn’t want the doctor to suffer anymore than necessary, so he pulled back on the blade, imagining the sharp barbs ripping the brain apart. He pushed forward again and again, ripping, sawing, and scrambling Dr. Cohn’s brain into mush.
Within a couple short seconds, Dr. Cohn collapsed motionless back into Marshal’s arms.
Marshal shoved the blade one last time as deeply as he could into Dr. Cohn’s head where it would stay. He caught the lifeless body and carried it into the bedroom.
He placed Dr. Cohn’s body on the bed and straightened him out. He folded the quilt over his body, leaving his face exposed.
From his right jacket pocket he pulled out a small silver vial and cupped it in his hands. He closed his eyes and mouthed a few inaudible words followed by, “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”
Marshal twisted the vial open and poured a small amount of the newly consecrated oil into the palm of his left hand.
After dabbing the forefinger of his right hand into the palm of his left, he touched his oily finger to the forehead of his target, then placed both hands on the top of Dr. Cohn’s head.
Normally, in his religion, such a blessing is given to the sick and infirm, but in this case he was given special instructions for a specific blessing after the hit had been performed.
“Dear Heavenly Father, my orders are complete. By the authority of the Melchizedek priesthood, bless this man, Doctor Fredrick Cohn, with eternal wealth, strength, and happiness in his divine fellowship, for his work and worth is great. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.”
Marshal removed his hands and covered the doctor’s face with the remaining quilt corner. He solemnly, almost politely, picked up Dr. Cohn’s black grain leather attaché case and left the hotel room, softly closing the door behind him.
Marshal’s trip down the elevator wasn’t as private as his trip up. It stopped on the fourth floor and two young Chinese hotel maids got in. He wondered why the twin-looking girls didn’t take the service elevator, which was SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for the hotel.
The two were laughing and didn’t seem inquisitive about his presence, his fake concierge’s jacket, or the small bloodstain on his sleeve that he tried to hide with a subtle twist of his wrist. He couldn’t understand their native tongue so he had no idea if they mentioned him.
“Infinity,” one of the girls said reverently as she peered at him from under her long, silky black bangs and her chin down.
The statement took Marshal by surprise. “I’m sorry?” he questioned, not really wanting to make too much eye contact.
“Infinity.” She smiled as she pointed to the symbol embossed on Dr. Cohn’s attaché.
“Oh, yes, infinity.”
A nervous breeze chilled the conversation, and the elevator doors opened, saving him from not knowing if he should respond any further or just drop it.
“Have a nice day, Sir.”
“Thanks; you too.”
He hung his head as he scooted past the girls to get off on the second floor. He’d walk the stairs out the back entrance, hoping the girls didn’t pay too much attention to his physical description.
Terrorist Training Camp in Venezuela
“Gentlemen,” he began. The camouflage clad South American militant stood tall in front of his mercenaries. “We will only have one opportunity to make this happen. It’s an all or nothing proposition. If we blow this, the Americans will change their method of operation and we won’t have another chance to strip American citizens of their naive capitalistic arrogance that makes them think they can do anything they want with our small international neighbors. We simply can’t afford to let them in Aruba. Any questions?”
Jason glanced at the eight other terrorists around him then raised his deeply tanned hand.
The leader pointed to him. “Yes, your question please.”
Jason tried to keep his voice strong and level. “Sir, how long will we have to shield the radioactive material before the Americans can track it?”
The speaker looked down and seemed to firm up his attitude. “For security reasons, I must wait until we deploy to discuss target-specific details.” There was a short silence before he finished his statement. “I’m sure you understand. Any other questions?”
A wave of adrenaline surged through Jason’s body. He had just received the information he had secretly come for, but it was more time-sensitive than anyone had imagined. He winced at the situation. He’d have to get the intelligence back to his commander as soon as possible.
He hoped his squinted brown eyes and deep creviced frown convinced the other terrorists in the room that he was totally on board with the plot against his native USA, even though his thoughts were critically against them.
Americans Against Nuclear Establishment (AANE) is one of the most econo-centric, terrorist mercenary groups anywhere, yet its leader just called the US capitalistic and naive. Jason couldn’t help let that irony motivate his next move.
Jason was one of the first members of the Special Anti-Insurgency Terrorist Squad that the US Department of Defense affectionately referred to as the SAINTS. Most of the SAINTS members were recruited from Army Rangers, Special Forces, Navy SEALS, and other Special Operations units. Jason was recruited from the elite Delta Force, partly because of his field intelligence skills and partly because of his political connections.
Even with his advanced military skills, Jason had to be careful; he knew the seriousness of the Americans Against Nuclear Establishment. One month earlier they had earned America’s attention by attempting to blow up Hoover Dam’s four intake towers. Had they been successful, water from the Nation’s largest constructed reservoir, Lake Mead, would have spilled almost uncontrollably through the dam’s generator water system, causing the Colorado River below to double in power and flow.
Laughlin and other downstream towns would have had only three to five hours to react to the oncoming flood scenario.
Such a breach event would have caused water to rush into the protective flood plain located twelve miles below the dam; however, the dispersion of water still wouldn’t be sufficient to slow the water, debris, and silt enough not to cause extreme damage to smaller dams, tributaries, and flood zones.
AANE’s explosive charges used depth and atmospheric triggers that detonated prematurely. Had they used a magnetic trigger the charges might have worked better by detonating the explosives only when reaching the giant metal valves that control the dam’s water intake.
Regardless of the limited damage to Hoover Dam, the terrorists’ psychological objectives were met. America still has huge infrastructure vulnerabilities since the Twin Towers attack. Terrorism reminds the Americans they can’t totally trust their own government anymore, if they ever could. AANE would exploit that ideology to spread their message.
“Gentlemen, since there are no more questions, get some rest over the next two days. We will be departing in approximately thirty-nine hours.” He glanced at his watch.
As the terrorist commander began to mingle with two of his top men in the front of the room, Jason exited out the back, trying to look natural but mentally racing to get back to his quarters.
Jason reached for the doorknob of his bungalow, then paused to breathe in the fresh mountain air. He couldn’t identify the floral aroma, but it reminded him of the honeysuckle vines that covered his childhood backyard.
The AANE training and planning compound was temporarily located less than one-hundred kilometers west, and slightly south, of Venezuela’s capitol of Caracas. Los Teques was a small Village accustomed to visitors because of its remote location and views of the northwest border of the Cordillera de Merida mountain range that runs all the way into Colombia. Jason had read in a briefing that AANE had some kind of operation, though unconfirmed, near Pico Bolivar, a 16,427 foot-high peak in the same mountain range that attracted seasoned mountain climbers from around the world.
This place is just too beautiful for terrorist activities, he thought. He would have rather been there for a vacation.
He slowly opened the door and admired his tastefully, but simply, decorated bungalow. Almost everything was pearl-white linen with powder-blue accents and floral designs that matched the lingering smells from outside.
Jason wasted no time in getting to the bathroom. He lifted the lid to the toilet tank and retrieved his new BlackBerry personal data assistant. He kept it hidden because though it looked like any other BlackBerry it wasn’t. Unlike civilian commercial models of the same PDA, Jason’s version was equipped with a satellite communication chip, encryption software, and an internal digital camera by his US employer. He called the device his SpyBerry.
Closing the door to the bathroom he sat on the toilet, and began to type:
JC: SUBJECTS PLANNING DIRTY BOMB ON USA SOIL.
SUBJECT COMMANDER IDENTIFIED AS…
The sound of the front door opening startled Jason. He used his stylus to depress the Encrypt & Send icon, hoping to finish the message later.
The sounds of sets of footsteps approached the bathroom door as the message was being converted to a cryptogram.
The door flew open as a boot came in, followed by a body slinging a small machine gun in Jason’s face.
“On the floor!” the terrorist yelled. “Now!”
Still holding his BlackBerry in his right hand, Jason raised his hands and dropped to his knees. He was too big to lie down on the small bathroom floor, so he inched toward the door and laid halfway across the threshold.
One of the two other terrorists standing at his head reached down and yanked the BlackBerry from Jason’s hand. He read the screen:
Her freshly washed hair hung and stuck to her lower back, dripping water onto the hotel’s shower floor until she bent over, slinging it over her head in front of her face so she could wring it out. She reached out and snatched a towel from its gilded bar, but she was careful not to let it touch the wet shower door or walls. She was quick and stylish in everything she did while always maintaining decisive attention to detail, especially in matters concerning cleanliness. Her sphere of keen awareness of her environment was that of a heart surgeon maintaining sterility in the operating room.
She wrapped her hair in the towel and stacked it on top of her head. The bundles naturally made an ice cream cone swirl of rich, silky black hair and creamy white cotton.
She carelessly strolled into the bedroom area with only her hair towel. She preferred only patting her body dry, then let the air do the rest. Her cell phone was plugged into the wall so she checked the charge before unclipping the cord. She flipped it open and dialed her colleague, Dr. Cohn.
She felt a drop of water in her ear. She used a corner of her head towel to wipe her free ear, then switched the phone to the other side of her head while the phone continued to ring.
“Hello?” an unfamiliar voice on the other end questioned.
“Oh, I’m sorry; I must have dialed the wrong…”
“Wait!” The man quickly interrupted. “I think you got the right number.”
“Is Dr. Cohn there?”
“So to speak. Who is calling, please?”
“This is his assistant, who is this?”
“His assistant? What is your name?”
A chill teased the length of Natalie’s spine. Something isn’t right, she thought. Then she quickly checked the number she dialed. It was Dr. Cohn’s.
“Who is this?” she re-challenged.
“This is Captain Raines, Salt Lake City police department.”
“Where is Dr. Cohn? Can I talk to him please?”
“I can’t let you talk to him now.”
“Is he being arrested?”
“No, but he is in the custody of our people. What was your name again?”
“I didn’t tell you my name. I just told you I am Dr. Cohn’s colleague. My name is Natalie, Natalie Westin. If he is not being arrested, what’s this all about?”
“Where are you now, ma’am?”
“I’m in my hotel room.”
“Yes, the Hilton. Why can’t I talk with Dr. Cohn?”
“Ma’am, can you come to his room so we can talk in person?”
“I’ll have to get dressed.”
“That would be a good idea, ma’am.”
Natalie hung up her cell phone and reached for the house phone and dialed the front desk.
“Hilton, Salt Lake City. How may I help you?” a woman answered.
“This is Natalie Westin, Room 512. I just tried calling my boss, Dr. Cohn in Room 1366. Someone answered his phone and identified himself as Salt Lake City police. I’m very suspicious.”
“Ma’am, I see you and Dr. Cohn did arrive together.” The woman gathered her thoughts. “And yes ma’am, the Salt Lake City police are on the scene in your boss’s room.”
Natalie felt a paralyzing energy come across her chest. “Can you tell me what happened, please?”
“No ma’am. I haven’t been told what’s going on.” Her voice lowered as she forced out that lie.
The black carbon fiber handcuffs linking Jason’s hands together behind his back were light but started cutting into his wrists as he sat in the wooden chair.
AANE’s commander, Carlos Medina, calmly stood and precisely placed the fingertips of both hands on his oak desk and leaned into his words. Starring down at Jason he asked, “Who sent you?”
“My conscience sent me. You’re mistaken about all this.”
Medina spoke through clenched teeth, “Don’t pull my strings, they are attached to the bomb that’s keeping you alive right now. You know we have to resolve this little issue. I can’t just let you go after infiltrating my training compound as you did. So what’s it going to be? Who sent you?”
Jason looked up and over his left shoulder at his masked escort, then back across the commander’s desk. “No one sent me. Your people recruited me because I despise what my country is doing to its people, and how it imposes its policies on the rest of the world. Nothing more, nothing less.” Jason looked for any hint of approval. “You interviewed me yourself, Sir.”
The commander walked from behind his desk. “Stand up.”
Jason rocked forward and stood. The commander stuck his face in Jason’s. He then studied his captive’s eyes for more than a minute, twisting and turning his head from side to side, never breaking eye contact. Neither man spoke.
The escort’s thick Spanish accent pierced the uncomfortable silence. “Commander Medina is very good at detecting lies, señor. I suggest you come clean.”
Medina looked at the masked man. “Ah, so I am, and I say this man is lying. I too suggest he come clean before I turn him over to you.” He then turned his attention to Jason. “I’ll give you one more chance before I have to leave you with my friend, Hook.”
“Yes. Hook,” the Commander said. “They call him Hook for two reasons. First, because he can fish information out of anyone. Second, because of the dental tools he uses to get that information. It’s not pretty, my friend.”
Jason had heard of Hook’s reputation as an interrogator though he was one of the few terrorists on the compound he hadn’t actually met. AANE kept Hook’s face and identity well hidden.
“There’s nothing to come clean with.”
The commander walked back behind his desk of authority. “How about starting with your real name?”
Hook chimed in, “Yes, señor. How about your real name?”
“You know my name, Jason Davis.”
Commander Medina pointed to his forehead. “Do you see ‘fool’ written on my head?”
“Your name, señor!” Hook snapped.
“Jason Davis,” he said calmly but forcefully.
Medina looked more irritated than mad. “You are a stupid American, just as naive as the rest of your nation. Your arrogance puts you in a poor position, thinking everyone else in the world isn’t as smart as you.”
“Surprise, stupid American!” Hook said.
Medina looked up at Hook and shook his head in contempt at his puppy-like eagerness. In his mind he wished he were a little more professional.
“Mr. American, if you will excuse me, I have some business to which I must attend. I shall leave you and Hook alone to talk things over.”
Hook curled the corners of his lips into a grin and watched his commander politely leave the room.
Natalie found yellow crime scene tape cordoning the entrance to Dr. Cohn’s room. When she approached, two uniformed police officers questioned her.
“I’m here to see Captain Raines.”
“Who should I say is here?”
“I’m Natalie Westin, he is expecting me.” She couldn’t resist knowing. “What’s going on here?”
“Wait here with Officer Dale and I’ll get the Captain.”
She waited and fidgeted in her white Nikes, only glancing out of the corner of her sharp green eyes at the other officer who stoically guarded the entrance without saying a word.
Two men approached¾a short, stocky man and a much taller, lankier man. The shorter man spoke first.
“Ms. Westin.” He extended his hand. “I’m Captain Raines and this is Salt Lake City Chief of Police, Jeff Brandon.”
She took turns shaking their hands, but not saying anything.
“Ms. Westin,” he continued. “I’m with homicide. I’m afraid there was a tragic incident with Dr. Cohn. There was a phone call placed to…”
Natalie felt faint and confused. She made fists and shook them shoulder high.
“Stop! I’m going to be sick. Just tell me. Just tell me if he is alive.” She dropped her head and raised her sad eyebrows in hope.
“I’m afraid not, ma’am.”
“Oh my God, what happened? Can I sit down?”
“Of course,” assured Raines as he escorted her into an adjoining room where other investigators were congregating.
The Chief of Police cleared the others out of the room so he could have some privacy with Natalie and his lead homicide captain.
They all sat before Captain Raines opened, “The hotel received a call about an hour ago that there had been a death in Dr. Cohn’s room. The hotel staff called his room as well as knocked on the door. When there was no answer, they entered the room and found Dr. Cohn in his bed not breathing. They quickly called 911 for assistance.”
Natalie rubbed her forehead. “Who called? How did he die?”
“We were hoping you could help us with that.”
“What do you mean, help you? I didn’t even know he died. He was scheduled for a big speech tonight.”
“We need to know when you talked to him last.”
“About four hours ago. We decided to take a nap before the banquet tonight.”
“Do you know anyone who would want to harm him?”
“Are you saying he was murdered?” Natalie asked.
“His death was surrounded by most unusual circumstances. Was he Mormon?”
“Yes,” she affirmed with a grim nod. “We both belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Why, what does that have to do with anything?”
“Is your trip here Church related?”
“No, not at all. Dr. Cohn was going to unveil a new technological breakthrough in physics. Tonight, he was addressing the International Institute of Physics and the International Counsel of String Physics Theory. He was going to present his latest findings concerning his MEPS technology.”
Chief Brandon wrinkled his forehead. “His M…what technology?”
Natalie took a deep breath. “MEPS¾Material Existence Phase Shift.”
“What’s that exactly?”
Natalie took another breath wondering how much she should reveal. “This is highly secure information, you know. But, let me explain what I can. String theory says that everything we call matter is made up of tiny vibrating elements called strings. They are exponentially smaller than anything we have ever detected before. They are estimated to be only 10-33 centimeters long. Some strings are open-loop, some are closed loop, etc.”
Captain Raines responded, “That’s pretty damn small. You say all matter is made up of these string things?”
“That’s right. In physics we describe four forces of nature: Gravitational, Electromagnetic, Weak Nuclear Force, and Strong Nuclear Force. All of these forces work together to make up the physical rules of our universe. The closest base to explaining most of these forces was Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity, which states that mass and energy are responsible for the curvature of space and time, and ties many of these physical elements together. However, much was left unexplained until String Theory and Super String Theory.”
“This is getting a bit complicated,” Chief Brandon complained.
“My colleague, Dr. Cohn, set out to confirm, through experimentation, some of the elements of Super String theory that others claim are impossible to prove with current technology.”
Chief Brandon seemed interested but a bit lost. “So he could use current technology to prove these theories?”
Natalie giggled, “No. He created new technologies. You see, in Super String Theory the only way things can mathematically be resolved is by having more than a couple dozen dimensions.”
“You mean dimensions like X, Y, Z, and Time?” Raines asked.
“Very good, Captain. Most people only deal with four dimensions, time being the fourth. Physicists deal theoretically with many. Now, here is the important part. Dr. Cohn and others use additional dimensions mathematically to describe parallel universes.”
“Parallel universes? Are you saying I also live in other universes?” Raines questioned.
“How many universes are we supposed to have?”
Natalie went on to explain how there are an infinite number of universes. Every decision we make, every instant in the fabric of what we call time creates a Y that splits into a new universe.
Dr. Cohn, she detailed, surmised that the one way to prove other dimensions and universes would be to trade material between the universes. The paper he was going to present to the two top physics associations that night would expose that he had successfully castrated chimpanzees; then, with his new technology, materially switched them with non-castrated chimpanzees in another universe.
“Wait,” commanded Chief Brandon. “Dr. Cohn switched live chimpanzees with themselves from other parallel universes?”
“Yes sir. That’s right. He was going to present his findings tonight. Before Dr. Cohn, the only breakthroughs in such quantum physics were achieved by the Princeton Institute of Advanced Studies. But its experiments were only successful on the subatomic level. Dr. Cohn was material shifting entire complex organisms between universes. His findings and results were indisputable as far as I’m concerned.”
Chief Brandon sat high in his chair. “May I call you Natalie?”
“Let me ask you this, Natalie. You said you are both Mormons. Do you know any reason why any other Mormons would want Dr. Cohn, or you for that matter, eliminated?”
“No. Dr. Cohn was one of the first Jews to attend and graduate from Brigham Young University. He converted to and joined the LDS Church while working on his Master’s degree. He has always done good work for the Church and represented its principles as truly as he knew how.”
“Well, maybe there is something about him you don’t know,” Captain Raines proposed.
Natalie snapped back. She couldn’t stand an insult at this moment. “Sir, I think I know him better than most!”
“Sorry, I just know people have secrets. Do you think someone in the Church was after his technology?”
“No one, that I know, knew of his breakthroughs but me, that I know of. Why do you keep bringing up our Church?”
Captain Raines looked for Chief Brandon’s nod of approval then pulled a fresh digital print from his file, and laid it in front of Natalie. It showed Dr. Cohn’s forehead with a black symbol Ɖ.
Natalie felt like throwing up. She could barely force her words. “What’s that on his forehead?”
“The symbol is a D with a cross in it. One of our technicians noticed an oily figure on Dr. Cohn’s forehead. We applied some fingerprint dust so we could photograph and preserve the image before it gets rubbed off. One of our officers, who is LDS, has studied Church history. He recognized the symbol almost immediately.”
“What is it?” she asked again.
“This is the symbol of the Danites.”
“You mean the Mormon mercenaries from the 1800’s? The ones that used modern guerilla techniques, intelligence, and sabotage to protect the Mormon Church and its leaders of the time?”
“But they haven’t been around since Joseph Smith’s death.”
“There are a lot of conspiracy theorists who think otherwise, Natalie,” Chief Brandon said.
“That’s just it. Conspiracy theorists.”
Captain Raines questioned, “Does Dr. Cohn have any family around here?”
“No. He has an ex-wife in Arizona, but I have never heard of him talking with her. They separated after their seventeen-year-old daughter died in an auto accident. He has been a recluse, only interested in academia and his work. He doesn’t even have any real close friends.”
Brandon looked at her with careful consideration. “And you? Were you and the Doctor…?”
“No way,” she interrupted. “We were just colleagues. But I’d say I was probably his only confidante.”
“Sorry, I had to ask. I’d like you to look around the room and see if anything is missing. Can you do that for us?”
The two men stood up prompting her to answer.
“Yes, I’m just in shock. This is horrible. How did he…”
“I’m sorry. I can’t give certain details because of the investigation. I hope you understand.”
He opened the door that joined Dr. Cohn’s room, and the three walked in.
They followed as Natalie walked around the suite. She was searching for something specific in her mind. The only thing she noticed was a small bloodstain on the stripped bed. It made her gag.
“Did you guys find a leather attaché case?”
“No. What kind was it?” Brandon asked
“It was a black leather satchel with an infinity symbol carved on the side.”
“You mean like a sideways number 8?”
“Yes. Did you find it?”
Brandon confirmed, “No. There was no attaché case in his room when we arrived. This is strange¾infinity symbols, time travel, and Danites. What do they all have in common, Natalie?”
“First, I said nothing about time travel. Time travel has problems. For example, there is an old paradoxical inquiry that asks what happens if you go back in time and kill your father. Would you still exist, would you have just snuffed out your own future existence? On the contrary, Dr. Cohn worked with material shifting between universes. He can only exchange material, not create it or destroy it before or after its existence. He worked between universes in the here-and-now, not any other time frame. Get it?”
Brandon and Raines knew they had just been blasted by intelligence beyond what they anticipated from such a beautiful young woman. They were a little skeptical in their machismo.
Captain Rains took one last look at the photograph, considering how a supposedly disbanded group such as the Danites could have something to do with Dr. Cohn. What was the relationship? Church, physics, personal, or something else?
The hotel’s main banquet hall held 2,500 guests, and the night of Dr. Cohn’s presentation it was a fire marshal’s nightmare.
Expectations of Dr. Cohn’s scientific paper presentation were on the minds of everyone there. If this banquet were likened to a circus, Dr. Cohn’s presentation would be the awaited grand finale in the center ring.
Banquet tables were lined in tight rows facing the main stage, which held an ironwood lectern and a jury’s pool of matching ironwood chairs for guests of honor.
Dinner started early in the evening to give the wait staff of seventy-three enough time to serve the guests and clear the tables before the formal presentations started.
The room quieted a bit while everyone enjoyed the prime rib and lobster. There were small packs of intermittent chatter over topics ranging from raising children to Super String Theory.
A distinguished man with wire-rimmed reading glasses jabbed his sterling silver fork into a chunk of lobster, then turned to a lady next to him and asked, “Why do they call you Ruth when your nametag says Jennifer Mathers?”
The redhead smiled a beautiful soft laugh, “Last year at the American Academy of Physics Christmas banquet in Las Vegas, I wore green and gold foil ribbon in my hair. Someone called me Mrs. Ernest Rutherford.”
The man laughed back at her. She didn’t have to explain to him that Ernest Rutherford was the one who described atoms like tiny solar systems. At a lab in Cambridge he shot charged nuclei of helium atoms, called alpha particles, at gold foil. Some of the particles shot back at him and some didn’t. From those experiments he surmised a probable structure of atoms.
“I haven’t seen you around any events before,” she said with inquisition.
“Dr. Clark Jennings. This is my first major event. I’m actually a biochemist, so I hang in slightly different circles.”
“Nice to meet you Clark. What brings you to this banquet and presentation, if I may ask?”
“Actually, I read a paper of Dr. Cohn’s several years ago called Genetic Tickle-Foot.”
“Tickle-Foot?” she giggled. “That would be Dr. Cohn. Everything he did had a hint of child’s play to it. I thought I’d read everything of his, what was that paper about?”
“He compared the random, playful reactions of children during a game of tickle-foot with their parents to nature’s random successes of genetic engineering. Dr. Cohn said nature played tickle-foot with molecules to create the genetic codes of life. He claimed that water made possible the immeasurable amounts of random tickles that it took to create life. Water allows suspended molecules to float, twist, and dance¾tickling each other in endless combinations. The random attractions and repulsions of atoms make the likelihood of a random life-spawning sequence taking place. Furthermore, it makes it plausible that the simplest of life-forming reactions would continue to advance into what we now consider advanced life forms.”
“Yes, but Dr. Cohn is a practicing high priest in the Mormon Church. In fact, he currently holds the calling of a Patriarch. I’m shocked he wrote a paper about the randomness of nature.”
Clark lowered his eyebrows into a slight frown. “Dr. Cohn is a Patriarch in the Mormon Church?”
“Yeah, he was selected and ordained by the Church Apostles so he can give patriarchal blessings to members of his stake congregation.”
“You know, now that I think of it, he carefully hedged his scientific analogies with questions of divine intervention.”
“What do you mean? From what you said, it sounded as though he was strictly non-creationist in his approach to that paper.”
Clark looked over the top of his specs, “Cohn did say that perhaps these random tickles were not really random, but divine experiments. He called God a puppet master who may use universal physical principles and technologies to manipulate his creations.”
“Now, THAT sounds like the Dr. Cohn I know, always reconciling physics with his religion. I can see where he’d think of his God as a puppet master divine.”
The sound of a squealing microphone penetrated the air and interrupted their conversation. The hotel’s general manager addressed the crowd.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, may I have your attention, please? Earlier this evening we were called to the room of Dr. Cohn. Unfortunately, there was an accident leading to his passing. We decided not to turn anyone away from this evening‘s event. Instead, if you have any information concerning his death, there will be two police investigators in the lobby.”
A woman in the front row raised her hand to the attention of the Hotel Manager.
“Yes, ma’am. Do you have a question?” He pointed.
She cleared her throat. “Because of the police, are we to assume there was foul play involved?”
He was careful to word his response. “Ma’am, I’m sorry that I can’t give too many details at this time because of the ongoing investigation. However, the circumstances did involve some suspicion that the police need to either rule out or investigate further. So, if you have any information, please help our city’s investigators with your colleague’s death. I’ll now turn the microphone over to your event coordinator. I, the entire hotel staff, and the Salt Lake City Police Department extend our condolences and promise to fully investigate Dr. Cohn’s unfortunate circumstance.”
The entire room went abuzz with instant rumor and speculation as to what happened to Dr. Cohn.
Clark studied Ruth’s face when she quietly turned and queried, “You never did tell me why you came tonight, Clark.”
“I came because I heard rumors that Dr. Cohn was going to unveil his ability to transport complex living organisms through space-time. That’s the most biologically advanced technology ever. I wouldn’t miss that scientific announcement for the world.”
“I see.” She continued to look at him with suspicion. She had to focus her contempt of the loss of Dr. Cohn at someone; Clark was just the closest man to her at the time.
Natalie wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and sat at the desk in her hotel room. She had just finished with the police as the banquet was starting. She wouldn’t attend¾she couldn’t attend.
Her deep breath didn’t clear the heaviness of her chest, nor did it help clear her head enough to make a clear plan. She was lost in the thought of losing Dr. Cohn.
She pulled her leather-bound journal from her briefcase and set it on the desk in front of her. She stared at the cover before she opened it to write her thoughts and feelings, though she didn’t know how to express such numbness, such divestiture of soul.
The only thoughts she could pen were those of confusion of anyone wanting to harm her Freddy, especially the Church. Their Church. The Church they had both been so loyal to. Their Church had represented their God, their Savior, and their moral code of living a life that would bring them back in the presence of their Heavenly Father.
Natalie only wanted answers. She realized the answers probably wouldn’t come from the police whom she waited to hear more from. She felt she’d have to find answers herself, but she knew they lay in Dr. Cohn’s missing attaché case.
Did someone know what was in the case? Was it the case they were after? Question after question ran unanswered through her head.
As she wrote, her mind focused on the technology and secrets Freddy always kept with him in his leather case. She knew she had to find it, and she pictured it in her mind. Its face held an embossed infinity symbol that matched the cover of her own leather journal.
Deep inside the Department of Homeland Security headquarters is SPEAR. The Strategic Planning Execution & Aegis Room supports each division of the DHS, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), U.S. Secret Service, Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, and the Federal Emergency Management Association. In November of 2002, twenty-two U.S. Agencies were merged under the DHS umbrella to foster better post-9/ll Homeland Security. Official DHS objectives are to prevent terrorist attacks within the U.S.; reduce vulnerability to such attacks, and to minimize the effects and damage after such attacks should they occur.
Once locked inside SPEAR, there was no way to tell north from south except for the image of a Magellan navigation compass rose inlaid in the floor at the threshold of SPEAR’s entrance. The compass rose was as much of a reminder to its visitors to maintain true course and direction as the DHS seal etched in the center of the twelve-foot, polished black marble conference table that took up most of the floor space.
At the head of the table stood Richard Sullivan, Deputy Director of DHS. He answered only to the Secretary of Homeland Security and the President of the United States. He was newly appointed because of a personal recommendation from the President of the United States himself.
Sullivan’s look was crafty and wise, as was his reputation as the previous Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
He addressed the entire table of four, “Welcome, everyone.” He then turned to Nancy Weatherby, and personally addressed her. “Welcome First Lady.”
“Thank you, Sir,” Nancy responded, then gave a polite nod.
“As you know, DHS is responsible for securing and protecting our border and public transportation systems, securing and protecting our critical infrastructures, coordinating emergency response activities, and overseeing research and development for all Homeland Security efforts. Today, there is a problem that threatens all of the above. Our intelligence is somewhat incomplete at this point, but it’s imperative I keep you briefed from this point forward.”
Seated at the head of the table was the First Lady and Sullivan’s Chief of Staff, Ms. Tina T. McMurtry.
“Does this have anything to do with my nephew?” asked the First Lady.
Sullivan wanted to state his case on his own time, but the First Lady just challenged him directly. He had to answer her plainly and honestly. “Yes, I’m afraid so.”
“Is he okay?”
Tina McMurtry jumped in, looking across the table from the First Lady. “As far as we know, Ma’am.”
“If I may,” Sullivan continued. “Earlier today we received a cryptogram from Captain Henry Fullerton in Venezuela. He was gathering intelligence concerning the Americans Against Nuclear Establishment. Their group claimed responsibility for the bombing of the Hoover Dam. Luckily, their efforts ultimately failed with minimal damage, but their intent is a devastating threat to U.S. infrastructure assets and American morale.”
Sullivan’s briefing wasn’t scripted so he had to gather his thoughts before continuing. “Everyone in this room knows Captain Fullerton is the First Lady’s nephew. His recruitment into SAINTS was based on his demonstrated anti-insurgency training and experience in the U.S. Army’s exclusive Delta Force. He is the best money can train; however, we realized he is a natural security target because of his relationship to the White House. That was a risk we were willing to take in exchange for his military prowess. We were all dedicated to protecting him as much as possible.”
The First Lady was squirming with impatience for the rest of the story, wishing her husband wasn’t out of town that evening.
Sullivan explained further. “The message we received today was incomplete. By its signature we think he may have been interrupted while sending the message. We haven’t heard from him since.”
“How long ago was that?” another operative asked.
“Over seven hours. But that’s not all. A little over an hour ago we received a cryptogram from Fullerton’s Sat-Link.”
He passed a plain-cover, gray folder to each of the four, and watched as they read the message from the terrorists:
In the interest of the rest of the world, we simply demand that the United States changes its policy and does not install the nuclear facilities in Aruba. The world is not so naive that it doesn’t know the true nature of the U.S. policy in Aruba. Furthermore, your efforts to prevent our cause will result in the collapse of your citizen’s morale, as our plans involve methodical military attacks that will expose your vulnerability to your own policies. You have 48 hours to respond via major network media by rebuking your Aruba nuclear policy. We trust you realize your policies will fail just as easily as your individual operatives The technology that will allow us to reveal U.S. secrets, both past and present, is now in our hands. We will use it to the embarrassment of the President on down. If you want to authenticate our claims, you can investigate the technologies of Dr. Fredrick Cohn.¾Concerned Americans.
Tina McMurtry and Richard Sullivan watched the others as they absorbed the impact of the terrorist message.
The First Lady looked up at Sullivan’s gray goateed face. “It looks as if they were referring to Fullerton when they referenced fallen individual operatives.”
Sullivan lowered his voice, “Yes, it looks that way.”
“First Lady,” Tina McMurtry said. “We asked you here because Fullerton is your sister’s son. We will be working diligently to free him if he is being held captive. I’m, personally, going to follow the Dr. Cohn lead. This may give us a good idea of what the AANE group is up to.”
“Please keep me informed,” the First Lady said. Her deep-set eyes almost begged.
“Yes, First Lady, we will. We have a team reviewing satellite images of the terrorist training camp in Venezuela. We are looking into local HumInt…”
“HumInt?” the First Lady interrupted.
“Human intelligence. We are sifting through assets we currently have in Venezuela to see if we can interdict the group with minimal risk to Captain Fullerton.”
The First Lady spent the last few minutes of the meeting just watching the others discuss their next move. Tina McMurtry was the first to leave the room in response to a page from one of her intelligence analysts.
While those attending the banquet were listening to various guest speakers, the Salt Lake City Police Department investigators were interviewing hotel staff members for possible witnesses.
A small, smooth faced Chinese woman approached a man shorter than her, but about fifty pounds heavier. “Excuse me, Sir. My boss told me I’m supposed to talk to you.”
Captain Raines warmly welcomed the girl. “You work here at the hotel?”
She tilted her head forward so her short dark straight hair fell into her eyes like a small puppy. “Yes, in housekeeping.”
“This afternoon there was a death in Room 1366. Where were you during the afternoon hours?”
“I was preparing rooms with Li Chin, a coworker on the fourth floor.”
“Were you on the fourth floor all afternoon?”
“We only worked the fourth floor today.”
“Where is Ms. Chin now, do you know?”
“She is a friend of mine. She is at home with her family. We plan on a late movie at the theater tonight.”
“Did you see anything suspicious? Anything at all?”
She rolled her eyes up and to the left, which told the seasoned homicide investigator she was trying to recall a memory. “There was one strange thing. When we were finished with our work we took the elevator down to housekeeping. When we got on the elevator there was a man, but he got off on the second floor. He was wearing a hotel uniform but we didn’t recognize him. It looked as if he had wine stains on his coat sleeves. My friend said in Mandarin that it looked as if he had blood on his sleeves. We just laughed.”
Raines wrote on his small note pad. “Was there anything else about him? What color was his hair?”
“I think it was brown and cut real short on the side, but longer on the top. Like a businessman or a Chinese soldier.”
“How tall was he?”
“About six feet maybe. Much taller than me.” She smiled. “I’m short.”
Raines slipped an amused grin back at her. “You said he had on a hotel uniform. What kind of uniform was that?”
“Oh, he had on a white concierge’s jacket. But I never did see him before.”
“Was he carrying anything?”
“Yes. He had a computer case or something.”
“Could it have been an attaché case?”
“Was there anything special about the case he was carrying?”
Raines saw the spark of a triggered memory in her dark colored, almost black, piercing eyes.
“Yes. It had a picture of infinity on it.”
“And you never saw this man before or after this afternoon?”
“No. We never seen him before.”
“My friend Li and me never seen him before.”
Tina T. McMurtry blasted through the door of her ultramodern office. There were two DHS intelligence analysts sitting at a glass table she used for small meetings and sundry discussions. The two twenty-one-inch flat screen monitors sitting on the desk were gleaming with personal profile images, one of Dr. Fredrick Cohn, the other of his assistant, Natalie Westin. The intermittent squeaks in the background told that the laser printer was churning out paper.
“TT”, the young, redheaded, male analyst said. “Look at this.”
McMurtry always smiled a thick, cheeky grin when she heard her nickname. TT, which sounded more like Titty, stuck in her department because of her first two initials, though some people joked also because of her short, soft, womanly figure.
“We struck gold!” his older woman partner added.
“What do you have for me?” McMurtry asked as she looked over and between their shoulders.
“Dr. Cohn is a physicist who consults mostly with government contractors,” the woman explained. “He works with Defense Department research and development in the area of particle physics. His first major project was the Star Wars Defense System during the Ronald Reagan administration.”
McMurtry placed her hands on her chin and rubbed. “Heavy hitter, huh?”
“It seems so, TT. Listen to this. He was working on a new technology called Material Existence Phase Shifting.”
“Oh wait,” McMurtry ordered. “I’ve heard of MEPS. Is this the scientist who is rumored…”
The young man quickly finished her sentence, “…to have pulled life from other universes?”
“Yes. But no one really knows what he accomplished. It’s supposedly all rumor at this point.”
“TT, he was scheduled to present his final results on MEPS tonight in Salt Lake City in front of the two largest international physics associations in the world. People have waited years for this presentation. There is talk all over the Internet predicting what he is going to say.”
McMurtry slapped the woman’s back. “Then lets get ahold of Dr. Cohn. We need to see what he has that the terrorists plan to use against us.”
“There is a problem, ma’am,”
“What is it, Red?”
“We were way ahead of you, in fact we just got off the phone before you walked in. When we called the Hilton Hotel where he is speaking, they informed us that they couldn’t forward our call to his room, so we contacted the local FBI. They told us that Dr. Cohn was murdered earlier today in his room. We asked if there was a suspect and they told us that the hit was clean and very professional. He was killed with a modified ice pick through the brain.”
“No, none, but the killer did call the local police to report his own work. That’s how he was found. The only thing that seemed to be missing from the crime scene, according to his assistant, was his briefcase.”
“What was in the case?” McMurtry questioned.
“We don’t know. His assistant didn’t tell the police and the FBI hasn’t talked with her yet.”
“There was something else.”
“The hit seemed to have a religious undertone to it. The assassin left a symbol scribed on Dr. Cohn’s forehead in holy oil.”
“What kind of symbol?”
“It was a D with a cross in it. Apparently that’s the symbol of a one-hundred-and-fifty-year-old Mormon militia.”
“The Danites?” McMurtry asked.
Both of the analysts turned their eyes from the computer screens and looked at their boss. “How did you know?” they asked in unison.
“Never mind that right now.” She looked as though it was something she didn’t want to talk about. Her voice morphed from soft and direct to commanding and almost militant. “I guess Cohn is out. Let’s concentrate on his assistant. Who the hell is she? We have a missing man in the field¾the First Lady’s nephew¾I want to know everything about this…what’s her name again?”
The two pointed back at the computer monitor on the left. “Natalie Westin. But there is a problem with her too.”
“For God sake, Red. Don’t tell me she was eliminated with Cohn.”
“No, she is alive. We think. It’s very strange.”
“Alive? You think? What DO you know at this point?”
Red simply pointed to the lower half of the computer screen.
McMurtry moved her head closer to the monitor, taking extra time to absorb what she was reading. Holy crap were the two words that silently forced all other thoughts out of her mind in that instant.
Carlos Medina wore a steel gray sport coat and a loosely-buttoned, solid black dress shirt. His olive eyes, looking out from under his Elvis style haircut, and his partially grown-in, but finely-edged beard, gave him more the look of a movie star than a terrorist commander.
His command center resembled any modern military field planning headquarters.
“Apaga la luz, por favor, Sandy.”
Patricia “Sandy” Sanchez, AANE’s chief information officer, reached for the light switch. “Yes, Sir.” She flipped the switch and the room went black except for the glow and dimly cast shadows of the computer in the middle of the room.
Medina depressed a button on his projector and the image of his Outlook email account appeared on the giant white wall in front of the assembled group. He took a moment to focus the image. “Better or worse?” he joked in the voice of a polite optometrist.
Everyone laughed, even if they didn’t get the reference of his wit.
“My warrior of wonder, Tommy Boy, has just sent us the file we have been waiting for. This is the most fascinating technology of our time…of ever. I know you are wondering about our mission in Salt Lake City. It’s now time for Sandy and me to reveal the Trojan horse that will allow us to bring the United States of America to its knees, begging us with their cooperation.”
A look around the room revealed a dozen grins of triumph and wonderment. If Commander Medina says it, it must be so.
“Sandy, brief the team?”
“Yes, Sir.” She stepped to the computer, sat down, and grabbed the mouse.
“As you know, our inside man, Tommy Boy, has completed his mission to acquire the most powerful technology ever created. Dr. Fredrick Cohn, a well-published physicist with many inventions under his belt, developed this technology. Just over a decade ago, a group at Princeton started experimenting with quantum physics. It set out to prove that events could be altered before they occurred. The group also paved the way for legitimizing science experimentation in related time and space management. Dr. Cohn cracked the impossible. He can exchange material between alternate universes. Unlike going back in time, he simply switches material from this universe with material from other universes. We spent the last year confirming the rumors that Dr. Cohn has exchanged complex biological forms, specifically mammals, with their alternate universe counterparts.”
“What kind of mammal?” Hook Castro asked.
“Dr. Cohn castrated chimpanzees, reached into other universes and switched the castrated chimpanzee with chimpanzees that weren’t castrated. When he compared the DNA from the chimp at the start of his experiment with the post-experiment chimp, the profiles were identical.”
“Wow,” Castro exclaimed. “And what will we do with this technology?”
“Are you volunteering as a test chimp?” Sandy joked.
Castro quickly covered his crotch with his hands while the room laughed out loud.
“The possibilities are endless,” Medina added. “We will start by utilizing the technology to exhume US secrets that could damage the reputation of the administration. Once we prove ourselves, we should have no problem convincing the Americans to cooperate with some of the rest of the world’s requests.”
“Bueno!” Hook replied, “Muy bueno.”
Sanchez double-clicked her mouse on the MEPS icon on her screen as everyone watched. “Thank you Dr. Cohn. There’s nothing like securing your place with your Heavenly Father,” she said out loud as the MEPS program loaded and asked for a password.
Sanchez typed a series of keystrokes and sighed, “Si. Perfecto.”
She smiled and the activity of the program indicated that the intelligence provided her was accurate, including the password.
The computer displayed the following:
Welcome to MEPS, Freddy.
Menu: Select Appropriate Menu Number
1) Sequencing Instructions.
2) Enter Subject/Target Data.
3) Resolve Material Shift Sequence.
4) Review MEPS Archive Sequences.
5) Exit MEPS
“Sandy, shall we take a peek at what Dr. Cohn has been up to?” Medina asked.
Sanchez just smiled at him and pressed .
Her smile faded when the computer screen read:
Please Insert Companion Disk and Press ENTER.
“What the hell does that mean?” Medina snapped. Everyone else just studied the wall, waiting for something exciting to happen.
“I’m not sure yet, Sir.” She pressed the ESC key to get back to the main menu. Then she pressed  and waited for the screen to change. She selected to look at the Sequencing Instructions because that seemed to be the most innocuous selection.
Please Insert Companion Disk and Press ENTER.
“Chingado!” Sanchez grunted before speeding up her keystrokes and trying the rest of the menu selections.
Medina crossed his arms in front of him. “What’s wrong Patricia? What the hell is going on here?”
“Sir, it seems Dr. Cohn implemented a fail-safe system to protect his programming code. Not only did we need a password, but it looks like we also need another disk to make it work.”
“I’ll ask Tommy Boy if there were any other computer files.”
Sanchez frowned. “It’s probably no use. The whole idea is to keep the program split. It’s kind of like how a bank vault works. The president keeps one key, while the bank manager keeps the other. They keep the keys split up so that no one person can access the vault. That’s why countries never let their presidents and vice-presidents fly on the same plane at the same time.”
“Enough!” Medina said as he slammed his hands on the small table holding the computer. The audience watched as the image on the wall shook from his fist.
Medina continued. “I’ve heard enough of your stupid analogies. Sandy. Can we get this thing working? Can you bypass the need for the other disk? Maybe alter the code somehow?”
“Highly doubtful, sir. The coders of the MEPS program would have made the code unintelligible without the other disk. Each disk probably has at least a 256-bit encryption code that operates off of each other’s password. In other words, the code on this disk needs a password that the gatekeeper of the other disk has. And the other disk probably decrypts based on Dr. Cohn’s password. It’s a very complex security system,” Sanchez explained.
The room was quiet while Medina paced around rubbing his eyes, as he often did when trying to think out a problem.
“Who is the other gatekeeper?”
Sanchez was thoughtful in her reply, “Probably his assistant.”
“I hoped it wouldn’t come to this.” He paused for a few seconds. “The good news is that we have half the burro. The bad news is that we need the whole burro to take a ride. What do we know about his assistant?”
“Not much, Sir. Her name is Natalie Westin, but when we tried to research her we couldn’t find any college she graduated from, no credit records, no land ownership, and no motor-vehicle records other than a driver’s license. It’s almost as though before she started working for Dr. Cohn, she didn’t exist.”
“Where is she now?”
“She is still in Salt Lake City.”
Medina squinted his eyes and nodded his head. “Good. She’s probably busy with the cops. This might work, people. This just might work.”
“We could move up our target schedule by two days, Sir. We are ready to go now.” Hook suggested.
“Yes, but we need to stay focused. We can’t jeopardize our bombing operation because of this little snag. It’s disappointing, but we might be able to kill two birds with one stone on this mission.”
“That’s it, I have nothing more for the group at this point,” Sanchez informed.
“Okay, Sanchez, thank you. We still have the little issue of our American POW.”
“Stupid American?” Hook questioned in jest.
“Yes, Stupid American. We need to find out who he is, who he works for, and what information he has passed on to his people. Sanchez!”
“I want you and Hook to good-gal-bad-guy him. He could have put our work at risk.”
“I’d love to talk to this guy, Commander. I assure you, we will do our best.”
“Great. I have high expectations.”
“What is it, Sandy?”
“We’ll find Dr. Cohn’s assistant and we’ll get the other half of the burro!”
Medina gave his commander a nod, turned, and left the room alone.
“Age before beauty,” Captain Raines joked as he pulled open the glass door for his Chief of Police.
Jeff Brandon looked down at his ranking homicide investigator and stepped from the cool air-conditioned hotel into its breezy underground parking lot. Raines followed behind his boss.
The two looked around the garage, letting their pupils open up to its dimness.
“I can’t believe our bad luck,” Brandon complained.
“Who would have thunk it, Chief?”
The hotel manager had explained to them that the parking garage cameras worked for the entire sector, but the video-taping equipment had been dysfunctional for the past week.
“Having a tape of this exit would have been nice.”
The garage was as quiet as it was dim except for a young mother with her pre-school age boy at an ATM. Brandon and Raines watched her hold her son up so he could press the buttons.
“Press nine,” she told her son.
The boy, slightly uncoordinated, seemed to use his whole body to press the keypad.
“Which one is that mommy?”
“This one here.” She balanced him on her lifted knee and pointed.
“It has an O and a K¾OK.” The boy got excited, “I can read!”
His mother laughed, “Yesss. You are learning lots of things.”
As Brandon and Raines stepped off the curb, a car squealed around the corner and came into their view. The car’s engine roared and accelerated directly toward the men.
It came closer, but didn’t slow down. It only sped up, not changing direction.
“Cover!” Brandon yelled at Raines.
The men jumped backward. Brandon jumped behind a giant, square pillar and reached into his jacket to pull out his pistol.
Raines tripped on the curb and fell. He looked up and the car was within striking distance. He scrambled on his knees to get behind the pillar with the Chief.
The driver came within a car-length of the pillar and Raines’s exposed legs then turned sharply to the left, forcing its tires into a shrill cry of rubber against concrete.
As the car passed, the men saw a young man driving with a court jester smile and a fighter pilot’s concentration. Rock music blared from the open windows.
They only noticed the beads of sweat breaking and their hearts pounding when they realized they were safe.
The little boy reached up and grabbed the money that the ATM spit out. He and his mother seemed unmoved by the young man’s driving, and unaware of the presence of the cop.
“We can go shopping now, mommy?”
Raines climbed to his unstable feet and twisted his hands to examine the bloody scrapes. Chief Brandon handed him a handkerchief from his breast pocket.
“Is this thing clean?” Raines asked.
“It’s just for decoration. I haven’t blown my nose on it, if that’s what you want to know.”
He took the blue, decorative hanky. “Thanks, Chief.”
Dabbing his palms, Raines thought out loud, “The ATM…”
“Good thinking, Raines.”
The men walked toward the ATM and passed the young mother and her son. Raines made eye contact and greeted her. She returned his smiled and continued walking. He looked over his shoulder and admired her presence.
Brandon put one knee on the ground, and closely surveyed the ATM, front, sides, and back. “Yes, it has a camera lens. Right there, Raines. Look.”
Raines leaned his face toward the ATM. “Do you think there are tapes, or is this thing just for show?”
“Let’s hope so. For God’s sake, let’s hope so.”
“Yeah, let’s hope so.”
I should throw this thing out the damn window, Natalie thought as she yanked the quilt off of her hotel room bed.
She had read that many hotels don’t change their quilts very often. Then she had watched an investigative report on 20/20 a couple years ago that took test samples from hotel rooms around the country. The report said the bed quilts were usually dirtier than the toilet seats. Most quilts they tested housed everything from traces of urine, semen, and feces, to really nasty stuff like MRSA, a strain of Staph infection that is highly resistant to antibiotics.
Ever since she saw that report, she removed quilts as soon as she checked into the room. It totally disgusted her that every day the maid replaced the quilt from the floor back to the bed while she took her morning shower. The maid even left clean towels on top of the bed. Natalie planned on throwing those towels out and getting a new set. She couldn’t stand the thought of touching anything that touched the bed quilt.
Wrapped in her damp bath towels, she muted the TV, sat at the desk, and dialed her cell phone.
A shrill voice answered. “Salt Lake City Police Department. This is Officer Jensen. How may I help you?”
“This is Natalie Westin. I’d like to speak to Chief of Police Brandon, please.”
Natalie crossed her legs, tucking the damp towel between her knees as if she were in a room of strangers. She heard the lady at the other end cover the phone with her hand, “Is JB in his office? He’s not answering his page.”
“Ma’am, Chief Brandon is in the field right now. Would you like to leave a message?”
“No, thank you. He didn’t answer his cell phone earlier. I left a message there. I’ll just wait for him to call me back.”
“Anything else I can help you with?”
Natalie flipped her phone shut and dropped her hands down, letting her wrists hang limply over her knees.
She hunched her shoulders and hung her head. She wasn’t sure what she was going to do next. She didn’t feel like doing anything, not even lying down.
Chief Brandon and Raines walked into the Bank of America, less than two blocks away from the hotel. They went directly to the customer service desk.
Raines spoke to the high-school-age looking girl, “We’re here to see the branch manager.”
“Are you Mr. Brandon?”
Raines stammered a couple seconds. “I’m Captain Raines. This is Chief of Police Brandon.”
“She’s expecting you.” The customer service lady said as she looked over her shoulder to see the manager approaching. “Oh, here she is now.”
The manager wore a green dress with white trim. Her lofty heels forced her to walk even taller than either of the two officers.
She extended her hand as she approached. “I’m Linda.”
Raines shook her hand and eyed her nametag. “What are the chances?”
“You noticed,” Linda said.
Her nametag read: Linda Raines.
She turned to Chief Brandon and shook his hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you both. If you will follow me.”
The three walked to a small office in the far corner of the bank. Linda motioned them to sit in the chairs in front of her desk while she walked behind it. She picked up a remote control and pointed it at the TV on top of her credenza. The screen flashed and the tape started rolling.
“We have a complete tape of last night. As you can see each frame is time stamped. Around what time are we looking for?”
“Sometime between 2:00 PM and 5:00 PM,” Raines said.
She fast-forwarded the tape until she reached 2:00 PM. Then she ran the tape at several times its normal speed. Each time a person entered the frame she slowed the tape and they recorded the time stamp.
“Here is another person,” she said as she slowed the tape again.
“Stop. Stop the tape!” Brandon howled. “There it is!”
“That’s him. That’s got to be him,” Raines added.
On the screen was a man carrying a black leather briefcase with an infinity symbol on the side.
“I’ll rewind it a bit.”
She slowed the tape and they watched as the man came into the frame, stopped, and looked around a bit.
“Did he forget where he parked his car?” Brandon asked.
Linda responded, “He may have come in a different entrance and is just getting his orientation.”
The experienced officers looked at her. She blushed. “I do a lot of shopping at the mall. I’ve seen that look on people’s faces before.”
They laughed in amusement.
Brandon scooted closer to the TV. “Turn you, son of a bitch. I want to see your face.”
The man then looked straight into the camera.
“Oh my God. Stop!” Brandon almost collapsed in his chair. He couldn’t believe his luck. “I know him. I’ve known him for years.”
“You know him, Chief?”
“That’s what I said, Raines. You hear worse than you walk. That’s Marshal Preston.”
“Why do I know that name, Sir?”
“He owns a funeral home. I used to arrange escorts for his processions. I know him well.”
“Is he a Mormon?”
“Yes. He’s very much LDS. That’s how he built his business.”
Captain Raines studied the picture. “Oh, that’s why his hit was so precise.”
“A jab to the brain is about as clinical as you get,” Brandon mumbled.
“A jab to the brain?” Linda asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry. You didn’t hear that. We can’t let that information out yet.”
“I understand,” she affirmed.
“Chief, what about the Danite symbol? Do you think…”
Brandon interrupted. “I don’t know. But I do know its not making any sense. Marshal Preston was in the Army for a few years. I just thought that’s where he learned his trade.”
“Which trade, hit man or undertaker?”
Richard Sullivan ordered two medium cups of almocca flavored coffee and sat at a table facing outside so he could see Tina McMurtry park her bright red Mustang and walk inside to meet him.
Her heels clicked at a fast pace for her short legs. With each step, her neck-length, bleach-blonde hair bounced, flashing her dark roots.
Cute, Richard noted. He liked the contrast of her bright hair, dark eyes, and ruby red lipstick that seemed to outline her full round face and straight gleaming smile.
“Over here,” he waved.
She placed both hands on her hips and didn’t miss a step. “As if I can’t see you in the ten-foot picture window. I might be a girl, but I am a Federal agent, you know!”
“A little defensive today, TT?”
“Not really. I’m too busy to be defensive.” She grinned and tossed a folder on the table. “You should see this, Sully. I was up all night sorting things out.”
“You don’t look like you worked all night.”
“Don’t worry, I’m not bucking for comp time.”
“Great. What do you have for me?” He pulled a small stack of papers from the folder and slid his half-rimmed reading glasses up his nose.
“Sir. I already briefed you on Dr. Cohn’s basic research. We also found there are several rumors floating around that he has experimented with humans.”
“Are you saying he is suspected of shifting humans between universes?”
“Yes, but there are no specifics, so it’s probably just wishful speculation in the pseudo-science and conspiracy theory communities.”
McMurtry smiled, “I didn’t know you were religious.”
“Thanks. Now for the real beef…I really focused on Dr. Cohn’s assistant. I found that her social security number matched a Natalie Westin who died at nine months. I couldn’t find education records, active credit files, or any other similar records.”
“An assumed name?”
“Yes, Sir. Whoever his assistant was, she has assumed a name and social security number of a person who died very young. I made a few phone calls, and my sources said Natalie mostly paid for things with cash. When she did use a credit card, it was Dr. Cohn’s.”
“It’s common for criminals to assume such names. Using the identity of someone who died very young is less problematic because there is no conflicting history.”
“But its unlikely Natalie was on the lam, especially since she was associated with such a high profile physicist.”
Sullivan picked up a picture of a dark-haired woman in a woven wool business suit and skirt “Is this Westin?”
“Yes. She’s a doll, isn’t she?”
“Doesn’t look like a criminal to me.”
“I decided to put Acker on her trail. What do you think?”
“I’m with you. Tell Jade I want to talk to him privately within the hour. Then I want his ass on a DHS plane ASAP.”
“To Salt Lake City?”
“You got it.”
Jade Acker worked directly under Tina McMurtry, which made her protective of him. She didn’t like the thought that Sullivan would keep a secret from her.
“What do you want to talk to Acker about? Shouldn’t I just relay the message?”
“No. I want to have a private conversation with him.”
“Don’t you think I should be in the loop?”
“What I think is that I just said I want to talk to…”
She interrupted. “It’s just that this operation is critical to…”
“Tina!” He put his hand up in front of her face.
She backed down. “I’ll call Flight Ops first, then Acker.”
You should hear from him right away.”
Sipping her coffee, “Ummm, tasty. Nutty-mix?”
“Almocca. Better luck next time, TT.”
“I never get it right.”
A brown van, which could easily be mistaken for a UPS delivery unit, pulled into the parking lot of a west Salt Lake City pancake and waffle house followed by three unmarked police cars. The van stopped and flashes of the overhead noon sun danced off its chrome trim. Two cars flanked the van, and the third, the Chief of Police, parked behind.
As soon as the three cars stopped, the rear door of the van rolled up and five men from the cars slid inside. Immediately, someone slung the door back down, concealing the van’s contents.
Chief Brandon moved to the front of the Mobile SWAT Command and Delivery Center. “Team, this morning I personally received a call from the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. For some reason this operation is critical at the highest levels of the US Government. Let me introduce FBI agents Brooks and Tracy. They’ll be operating in an observation capacity. I have assured the FBI we will cooperate with them fully.”
The fifteen-member SWAT team sat a little higher in their seats, all eyes forward. There were a couple nods of affirmation at the Chief’s words, but they were hard to distinguish from the nods of approval of Agent Tracy’s strong look. She was much taller than her male partner and stood, hands on hips, with her legs shoulder-width apart, much like a posing body-builder. Her Germanic figure was hidden under her Kevlar vest and sidearm.
“Let’s stay on task and professional in this operation. Let’s show what we are here for.”
“Oooorah!” one cop grunted.
“Now, let me explain what we are up against. We will be serving an arrest warrant on a homicide suspect, Mr. Marshal Preston. He is a 45-year-old male, 6’6” tall, 220 pounds, brown hair, and brown eyes. He has a tattoo of an American eagle holding olive branches on his left forearm. On his right forearm, he has a heart with a blood-dripping bayonet through it. Mr. Preston is the owner of a funeral home, but his past is what makes this warrant service dangerous.”
The crew listened to their Chief as they thumbed through the package of descriptions, aerial surveillance photos, and building plans.
“He is an ex-military operative who was recruited directly into the CIA, and has more than ten years of Foreign Service in combat theatres. He is a trained sniper and we think he is experienced in high-profile targets including politically sensitive dignitaries and leaders.”
“Sir?” a dressed up officer asked.
“Sir, obviously this man is dangerous. Are we ordered due force?”
“Absolutely. Contain him with whatever force is necessary. Do not let him go. We may not get a second chance once he knows we are serving him.”
The Chief continued to outline the complete Operations Plan. They would serve the warrant at Preston’s funeral home. He ended his briefing with: “I have known this man for years. I’ve arranged many police processions for his business, which is one of the largest in this city. Let’s keep this as clean as possible, but let’s not let him get away.”
As the back door rolled open, agents Tracy and Brooks continued taking notes on their small spiral note pads, barely looking up until they were done. They closed their pads and put them in their left breast pockets and replaced their pens in the same pocket. They operated as identical images, well poised though a bit stiff-necked and poker-faced. Typical FBI.
Chief Brandon waited as the two agents climbed from the back of the van before ordering his team leader inside to shut the door.
Jade Acker wiggled in his lush leather seats and looked out his window. He was thousands of feet above the layer of cumulus clouds that obstructed his view of the ground as well as his ability to judge speed.
He admired DHS’s new Citation X, the fastest private business jet in the world. He could see the pilots in the cockpit flipping switches, and talking into their headsets, but he couldn’t hear what was being said.
In front of him hung a twenty-one-inch LCD screen showing a map of the United States and an airplane depicting their current position and route of travel. It also displayed weather information along their route and destination, as well the other vital statistics of the flight, like airspeed, direction, altitude, and ETA.
Acker leaned forward and picked up the envelope that was sitting on the table in front of him. He untwisted the red string from the giant buttons, and opened the flap. He pulled out a stack of papers.
What a beauty, he thought. It was picture of a lean woman with long jet-black hair and green eyes that had splashes of blue and gold. He studied her full lips, high cheekbones, and slight widow’s peek that matched the arch of her eyebrows. He couldn’t tell if she had a hint of American Indian or Oriental influence in her genes. He was looking forward to meeting his new DHS project.
His job was to gather intelligence concerning Dr. Cohn’s work and relay that information back to DHS headquarters. His best lead was Natalie Westin, Dr. Cohn’s assistant.
The more he read the file, the more questions he had. He typed notes on his laptop while examining the file for details.
Who is this woman? Why is she using an alias of a girl who died as a child? He quizzed himself. If I were a young, sexy, smart assistant to a physicist who is rocking the scientific community with borderline science-fiction technology, why would I want to hide my true identity?
He put his mind into hers: I’m Mormon. My boss was Mormon and he was just killed by Mormons. How do I feel right now? What will I do for a living? Do I continue his work, or am I too heartbroken? Do I just steal his work since he hasn’t had a chance to release it publicly? Will I sell it?
He leaned back in his chair, closed his eyes and tried to imagine what he was going to do.
Oh Shit, he thought.
Jumping up from his seat, he had to stand half hunched over. He dialed his satellite phone.
“Sullivan,” the harsh smoker’s voice answered.
“Hey boss, this is Jade. I’m somewhere over Iowa right now.”
“I know. My flight-tracker has you over Waterloo, Iowa at flight level three-four-zero. What’s up?”
“I was looking at the Ops’ Brief. Do you think Natalie Westin could have arranged the hit before Dr. Cohn’s announcement so she could sell the technology to terrorists? It makes sense. Why else would she have hidden her identity so well for so long?”
Sullivan thought about it in silence.
Acker continued, “She could be the only thing that Dr. Cohn, Mormon assassins, and terrorists could have in common. Since Dr. Cohn was such a recluse, no one would press the issues surrounding his death. It’s a perfect plan to line her pockets, disappear just as she appeared, and, voila, she’s set…Her and her lovely little self!”
“I suppose so,” Sullivan admitted.
“Maybe even lovers,” Acker added.
Sullivan shot him down, “I doubt it.”
“I’ll get TT to…”
“No!” Sullivan stopped him. “Don’t tell TT anything of importance. Just feed her enough details to keep her satisfied until I tell you otherwise. Capiche?”
Acker didn’t understand but knew better than to question his boss.
“What do you want me to do with the interview files you personally briefed me on?”
“Send them to me directly. As far as McMurtry is concerned, they don’t even exist.”
“WILCO. I’ll send them directly to you. I’ll be as non-com with TT as possible.”
“Anything you tell her, let me know so I can keep the intelligence dissemination to her straight.”
“I understand, Sir.”
Acker finished the call; he was satisfied he convinced the director that Natalie might have something to do with Cohn’s death, but unsatisfied with the fact that Sullivan was acting so suspiciously.
Why would he not want McMurtry knowing the status of her own operation, especially the interview records?
Sullivan had asked Acker to secretly record all of his conversations with Natalie and send them directly to him for lab analysis. Acker had never heard of the forensic lab analyzing regular interview voice recordings other than for stress. When interviewees tell lies their voice demonstrates stress signatures, indicating deception.
The problem in Acker’s mind was that, in those cases, the questions and interview sequences are carefully scripted for the voice stress analysis. Random field contact recordings were never used.
The plane took Acker by surprise when it hit an air pocket. His head went down, then slammed against the ceiling of the jet. “Ouch! Damn, that hurt.”
The plane started shuttering in moderate turbulence.
“Jade,” one pilot said over the intercom. “Get belted in. Sorry, that bump snuck up on us.”
Jade took his seat, wrapped the lap belt around himself. He snapped it shut and tugged the loose end to tighten it. He prepared for a bumpy ride, hoping it wasn’t indicative of his mission.
He reclined his seat and laid back for a short nap.
The funeral home was located on a business corner. Its front entrance had a red ceramic tile pitched roof underpinned by six immensely imposing colonial columns. The rest of the twenty-thousand-square foot building gleamed with Mediterranean style whitewash. The building resembled a typical governor’s mansion as much as it did a southern mortuary.
The SWAT van parked on what was considered the side street. Two of the escort cars parked a couple car lengths behind the huge brown van. FBI agents Tracy and Brooks got out of the second car and slammed their doors, scanning the area before they walked to the first car containing Chief Brandon and Captain Raines. Mark Mason, the SWAT operations coordinator, parked his car behind the van, just in front of the other four associates.
Mason cleared traffic in his rear-view mirror, then cautiously jumped out. “Chief, permission to execute?”
Brandon glanced at his flanks, the FBI agents on one side and Raines on the other. “Are you sure you want to go this one alone, Mason?”
For many reasons, mostly for safety and intimidation factors, normal police procedure is to execute an arrest warrant involving at least two officers. Because they wanted to avoid conflict, the department decided to let Mark Mason attempt to deliver the warrant alone.
“Yes. I shouldn’t have a problem, Sir.”
Brandon breathed a sigh of determination. “Godspeed, Mason. Do it!”
“Yes sir, Chief.” Mason pressed his Bluetooth tactical radio microphone unit tighter to his ear. “Men, get into position.”
No sooner had the words left his mouth when the back of the van flew open and the team jumped out, like an orderly line of marching ants. They surrounded the mortuary, hiding behind bushes and around corners. All weapons were pointed at various doorways and windows.
Mason listened for his team leader in his headset. He heard: “Bravo-One to Charlie-One. Bravo-team is in position.”
Mason responded, “Bravo-One, serve the warrant. Bravo-team, stay alert.”
“Wilco, Charlie-One. Bravo-One serving warrant now.”
The team leader, who was dressed in a royal blue suit and tie, adjusted his chest-plate and felt for his holster, then calmly walked to the front of the funeral home and disappeared inside. His radio was set to a dual-channel band that allowed him to broadcast his environmental sounds to the rest of the group while they could still talk among themselves.
“May I help you?” a young redheaded woman asked.
“I’m here to talk to Marshal.” He tried to sound as informal as possible.
“You mean Mr. Preston?”
“The one and only,” he winked.
The receptionist, admiring his boyish smile, picked up the phone, pressed a button and waited. “Mr. Preston. A gentleman is here to see you.” She paused again, then continued to talk, but in a lower voice with her head slightly turned. “I don’t know. He seems to be a friend of yours; he asked for Marshal.”
She replaced the phone to its cradle. “Sir, he’ll be right with you if you’d like to make yourself comfortable. Care for something to drink?”
Mason knew make yourself more comfortable really meant, sit down so you don’t make me nervous, so he sat at the edge of a white and gold Queen Anne chair. “I’m fine. I just had lunch.”
No time had passed before Marshal Preston walked around the corner. Mark recognized him from the Operations Plan photos and stood so he could reach out in a friendly handshake. “Mr. Preston.”
“I am.” He instinctively noticed the bulge of the bulletproof vest, but returned the handshake anyway. “Have we met?”
“No Sir, I’m Mark Mason of the Salt Lake City Police Department.”
He seemed to relax and cordially invite Mason in with his eyes. “What can I do for you, Mr. Mason?”
“Actually, I am here to serve an arrest warrant. If you will come with me, we can handle everything out of sight of your customers.”
Marshal was unaware of the SWAT team around his building, being more than obvious to any approaching customers. “What am I being arrested for?”
“Sir, please turn around so I can cuff you. I’ll be as discrete as possible. It’s for both of our protection.”
Preston turned around and placed his hands behind his back, while Mason stepped forward and placed his left hand on Preston’s wrists. With his right hand, he reached under his jacket. He unsnapped his handcuff holder and removed the metal cuffs.
Preston lowered his head slightly in submission. Then with a burst of power, he slung his head backward, smashing into Mason’s face.
Mason stumbled backward, unable to see anything other than a forest of black. He automatically reached for his nose, which was spewing blood before he changed his mind and reached for his gun.
The handcuffs fell to the floor.
Preston spun around and lifted his leg high above his head and delivered an axe-kick with his heel, snapping Mason’s collarbone. Mason’s shooting arm fell limp in numbness and his legs wobbled.
He still couldn’t see. The only thing he could think to do was reach for his gun with his other hand and yell, “Stop!”
The girl behind the desk silently ran for the front door, not looking back at all.
The Chief didn’t have time to second-guess or rethink his original strategy to attempt a casual arrest. He had to react. He commanded, “Bravo-team, move in!”
The rest of the SWAT team ran toward the building¾two toward the front doors, several others to the side and back entrances. SWAT sharp shooters covered every corner of the building.
Preston delivered a knife-edge kick with the side of his foot to Mason’s knee, knocking his leg out from under him.
As Mason reached for the ground his world remained dark, all sound ceased, and he felt nothingness when the last blow from Preston’s foot struck his temple. His body almost bounced as it hit the marble floor.
Preston patted Mason’s body and took his gun and ammunition. He put the extra bullets in his pocket and ran from the room.
Natalie drove a red Ford Mustang to the county courthouse.
Earlier, the Chief had tipped her off that Dr. Cohn’s killer would be arrested and arraigned within a couple hours.
She couldn’t get there quick enough to see the face of her boss’s assassin. She’d resent every minute in his presence. Really, she didn’t know what to expect.
Her concentration on the unfamiliar road was distracted by the jingle of her cell phone. “Hello?”
“Is this Natalie Westin?”
“Maybe, who is this?”
“This is Jade Acker. I’m with the Department of Homeland Security. I just flew in from Washington DC. I’d like to meet with you and share some information about Dr. Cohn’s death.”
“I’m sort of busy right now. Didn’t the police find his killer, anyway?”
“Yes, they did, Ms. Westin. He is going to be arrested soon. I’d like to meet you before then, if I may.”
“I’m really not familiar with Salt Lake City…”
“Chief Brandon suggested I meet you at the Crepe Café. It’s located on the southwest corner of the courthouse, just across the street. Will that be okay?”
“I suppose so. But I can’t miss the arraignment.”
“I don’t want to miss it either. Perhaps we can just plan on meeting Chief Brandon there together, if that’s not too presumptuous.”
“I’m about ten minutes away,” she guessed.
“I’m about the same. See you there?”
“Sure,” Natalie agreed, not feeling too keen about the idea of meeting a man she’d never heard of two minutes ago. She’d call Brandon to authenticate Jade Acker’s claim.
“Great, Ms. Westin. See you there. I’ll be in a white car with government plates.”
She hung up her phone and dialed Chief Brandon’s cell number.
As the SWAT members ran toward the front door, they met a bright redheaded girl with wide, fearful eyes.
The first man reached for her and she avoided him, running straight into the arms of the second SWAT member.
“They’re fighting,” she cried. “They’re fighting!”
“See that van? Run over there! Fast!” he gave her a shove so hard she had to take an extra step to catch up to her own body.
She spotted Captain Brandon waving her over to him.
The officers found Mason inside, radioed for an ambulance and confirmed he was still alive before continuing on.
Smashing through a back door, two officers radioed, “Back entrance¾clear.” They continued to the next room.
The front door officers worked as a team, leapfrogging and clearing room by room. The entire mortuary had a silent deathly sound to it as the officers worked from the outside toward the center.
Preston made it to his office. He stripped off his formal jacket and reached into a closet. Then he pulled out a small machine gun. He checked the clip to make sure he had enough bullets, then snapped it back in the gun. He pulled the slide back to load the chamber. He felt for the safety and moved it to the off position. Then he hunched down and looked out the office window. He could see the brown van and three cars parked outside, no more than twenty-five yards away. This isn’t going to be fun, he thought.
Outside Preston’s office, two officers heard the sound of him cocking his weapon. One of the men yelled inside. “Preston, the building is surrounded. Put your gun down and come out.”
Preston responded by raising his machine gun and firing one shot through the wall.
The officers heard the bullet whiz between them. One of them ran to the other side of the doorway and fired a shot into the room as he passed.
Before hearing the second gunshot, FBI Special Agent Brooks felt a sting to the side of his neck. He suddenly felt faint as blood dripped onto his hand. “Tracy,” he said.
Tracy turned and her eyes widened. “Oh shit! My partner is hit.” She grabbed him and helped him to the ground.
Chief Brandon reached out to help her settle him. “Charlie-One, Officer down!” Brandon yelled.
Agent Tracy didn’t realize her partner had just been shot with a stray SWAT bullet. She left the safety of the cars and ran toward the building, directly to where she heard the shot come from. She reached Preston’s office window and crouched below it. She listened.
Preston fired another shot into the wall and ran across his office and out a side door, into a small empty hallway.
Agent Tracy popped her head up to look through the window. She saw an empty room and a door close behind Preston. Then she saw a gun barrel come through the doorway, followed by a flash of fire shooting out in her direction.
The officer’s grenade slammed into Preston’s desk and fell spinning on the floor, releasing its smoky gas.
Tracy ducked back down and felt Chief Brandon’s hand land on her shoulder.
“The room is empty, Chief.”
Brandon relayed to the crew. “The room with the gas is clear. Preston’s not there.”
Tracy jumped through the window and Brandon followed close behind. She opened the door to the small hallway where she saw Brandon escape. There were several doors off of the hallway. Which one did he go through?
Brandon stayed at the end of the hallway next to Preston’s office. He closed the door and slightly choked on the teargas coming from underneath it.
He watched as Agent Tracy went through the third door.
She jumped as the door’s spring shut the door behind her, leaving her in a room of bodies lying on stainless steel prep tables. Their heads were propped up with plastic neck braces. They were in various stages of make-up and embalming. She picked up her pace and walked straight through the room to the opposite door. Morbid.
Once outside the embalming room, she gasped for the air her stress had stolen from her.
Brandon felt a slight increase in airflow but didn’t notice the door open behind him until he felt the point of Marshal Preston’s gun in his back.
“Don’t move. Don’t even flinch.”
Brandon froze, thoughts of escape racing through his head. A hand appeared over Brandon’s shoulder. “Give me your gun.”
Brandon lifted his arm and the hand snatched his pistol. “On the ground,” the voice ordered.
Brandon sank to his knees and Marshal spoke again. “So we meet as adversaries this time, Chief.”
“Yes. I suppose we do, brother.”
“I suppose you are ashamed of me at this point,” Marshal surmised.
“Not really. I still owe my life to you.”
“Ah, but you realize our time in the Army doesn’t count today.”
“I suppose not,” Brandon said. “So what does count to you, Marsh?”
“Today? Getting away clean.”
“And yesterday when you killed Dr. Cohn?”
“Salvation, Brother. My salvation.”
“What do you mean your salvation?”
“I suppose you deserve to know, and I’ll tell you. But first we…”
Marshal’s words were interrupted by the point of Agent Tracy’s gun to the back of his head. “Freeze, FBI!” She had doubled back just as Preston had.
Brandon quickly twisted and knocked Marshal’s gun to the side just as a SWAT officer came into the doorway behind Agent Tracy.
Marshal tried to pull his weapon back and the SWAT officer fired.
Marshal felt the thud of two sharp TAZER spears stick into his back followed by jolts of electricity dropping him to his face.
He shivered and flopped on the floor as the electricity drove through his body.
Chief Brandon jumped on top of Marshal, put his knee on Marshal’s neck, and pulled his hands behind his back. Agent Tracy cuffed him.
Standing up, Chief Brandon stated, “I’ll take him in my car. We need to chat.”
Tracy turned to the SWAT officer. “Take this man to the Chief’s vehicle for transport.”
She then turned to Brandon. “Chat?”
He just nodded, “Yeah. Chat.”
Albeit she was hungry and tired and in need of a caffeine boost, Natalie waited in her car outside the Crepe Café until she saw a plain white car with government plates parked two spaces away from her. She had never seen Jade Acker before but she instinctively knew this was her contact. He just looks like a G-man, she almost vocalized as she opened her car door and shot her long legs toward the pavement below.
Acker used his key to lock the driver door. When he turned around, he caught a lovely hand with his.
“I’m Natalie Westin. Nice to meet you.”
“I know,” he said. He held up her file. “I mean I know you are Ms. Westin, not that I know it’s nice for you to meet me.”
Her smile was even prettier than her picture. She stood taller and more confidently than he expected. “No need to explain, Sir. You hungry?” she asked as she led him to the café.
He followed her but wondered how he was going to take the upper hand. This was a slightly less than pushy woman who didn’t seem to be the least bit intimidated with his governmentness.
The interior walls of the café were filled with French murals, featuring the Eiffel Tower and several Champs-Elysées scenes. The ceiling was painted sky blue with fluffy, three-dimensional clouds. The entire motif gave the patrons the feeling they were walking on a Parisian boulevard.
The counter girls wore French maid outfits, complete with the pearl white, doily apron, and maroon-colored velvety beret. The male crepe cooks had matching berets and neatly pressed white silk, widely cuffed, puffy-sleeved, swashbuckler type shirts.
Acker ordered a Greek Crepe, a vegetarian dish featuring olives and grape leaves. She ordered a Mexican Toro Crepe, a hot spicy dish with three different cuts of beef chopped up inside.
“I’ll order the coffee, but you can’t hear what I order,” she demanded.
Acker didn’t understand her intentions, but he complied by taking himself to the washroom.
The young crepe cook helped Natalie carry their lunch to the table so that when Acker returned everything was ready for them.
Natalie reached out and grabbed a highchair and pulled it from the table, waved her hand over the seat, “Let me get this for you, Mr. Acker.” Before that moment, Jade had never had a woman pull a chair out for him. He didn’t quite know how to take her determination and male-type chivalry, but again he complied.
“Thank you.” He sat and scooted his chair for a closer look at the meals. “What did ya order for us to drink?”
“You tell me, Mr. Acker.”
“What do you mean?”
“Take a sip and you tell me what I ordered.”
She didn’t poison my drink did she? He wondered if he should reach over and drink her drink, not his. No, that’s stupid, he settled. Besides, he had seen this new-age coffee shop game played from time to time between TT and Sullivan.
“Well, Mr. Acker?”
“Okay.” He picked up his drink “You can call me Jade.” He took a sip and slightly swished it in has mouth trying to distinguish the flavors. “Peanut Butter Delight?”
They laughed, “No, really.”
“Well, it’s nutty, a little fruity, a hint of chocolate. How about Macadamia Cluster?”
“Time’s up, Mr. Acker. You are drinking Pecan Mint.” He was all but confounded with their first meeting. He thought her an odd mixture of entertainment and sex appeal. Guilt about his mission crept into his thoughts. He was there to find out all he could about Dr. Cohn’s technological capabilities and secrets, and she was befriending him.
Though her apparent openness and childlike approach might make gaining intelligence easier, it wouldn’t make his heart feel any less heavy.
He lowered his voice to a professional tone. “Ms. Westin. The Department of Homeland Security sent me to help protect you. We have reason to believe that someone or some group of people is after Dr. Cohn’s technology. That’s why they killed him. There are many unanswered questions, so until we work things out, I’m here to assure that you are as safe as possible.”
“Oh, really? Was that speech supposed to make me feel like a damsel in distress or a damn soul in a dress? We both know you are here to protect the technology. It could be damaging to the US if it’s in the wrong hands. Don’t try to BS me, Mr. Acker. I’m not an idiot. So, knock the bats out of your belfry and think before you speak!”
The two continued to stare at each other across the table in silence for more than a couple bites of crepe. Then he took a sip of his coffee and spoke.
“You are right, Ms. Westin.”
“Oh, so you are just going to concede the point?” She paced her voice for maximum drama. “Just like that you are going to concede the point…no fight…no denial?”
“You are right. In the wrong hands, the technology could be damaging to the US. DHS wants to make sure such technology isn’t wrongly exported, against US policy.”
“Exporting is a bit of wimpish nomenclature for MURDER and ROBBERY, Mr. Acker. Not unless you think it was an inside job for pay. In which case, your mission is probably done here.”
It was obvious he’d have to watch his words. Had she been playing him the whole time with her polite, exotic charm? Jade was completely off balance with his approach. Just when he seemed to hone in on her style, she switched.
She looked him right in the eyes. He hadn’t seen a military drill instructor with such penetrating realism. “I have a built in bullshit meter, Mr. Acker.” She tilted her head and slung most of her black silky hair to one side. “Tell me a little about yourself.”
Cybal came to Jade’s mind. Natalie switched gears faster than a drag racer. “I work for the DHS now, but I started out as an Army guy.”
“That’s what I’m asking, Mr. Acker,” she teased a bit. “What did you do in the Army?”
“I was a 54-Bravo, a combat engineer. I mostly built stuff, then blew it up. After a couple years of that, I joined the Light Fighters, as RDF¾Rapid Deployment Force¾specializing in mountaineering and urban warfare. We were also skilled in anti-insurgency operations and foreign force training. Kind of like a hybrid form of Army Rangers and Special Forces.”
“Interesting. You were an all-around expert, eh?”
“Well, kind of. We didn’t do everything that the other Special Operation’s units did, but we did a little of each. We were less specialized, but more rounded. We were often used to quickly fill in the blanks until the appropriate specialist could step in and take over. We’d then move to the next theater.”
She acted impressed. “Wow. So, you fly out on a moment’s notice and protect people such as helpless women? Where did you learn all this? Not just in the Army, I’m sure.”
“Probably the same place you learned to order drinks and pull chairs out for men.”
“So, what kind of cool shoulder patch did you have as a Light Fighter―a scorpion, a dragon, or something like that? My dad used to collect them.”
Jade took note that she was talking about her past. “It was a circle with an hourglass in it, like a black widow!”
“What, no knives or guns?”
“Nope. But our code was: Order of the Bayonet!”
“So, you were trained to solve problems with violence?”
“Only if necessary. It’s more of a strict code of brotherhood and discipline. What about you?”
“I didn’t wear an Army patch.”
He laughed, knowing she was pulling his chain. “No. Tell me about your past.”
“I’ve just spent the last few years working twenty hours a day with Dr. Cohn. I mostly wrote and tested computer code for him, and transcribed his experimental observations statistical program for analysis. I also ran all his errands. But mostly he accused me of slacking off all the time.”
“That’s too funny,” he grinned as his eyes lit up.
“What’s so amusing?”
“That’s my name¾Acker the Slacker.”
“Slacker, eh?” She scanned him over with her eyes, bit her bottom lip, then nodded her head. “It fits.”
Acker didn’t have time to respond to her comment before her cell phone jingled.
“Hello?” she answered.
Acker watched her mostly listen to the caller on the other end. She rolled her eyes a couple times, but other than that she showed no emotion.
“Okay. We’ll be right there.”
She put the phone back in her gray linen jacket pocket, having a little trouble with the flap.
“That was Chief Brandon. He just took Dr. Cohn’s assassin to the county jail. They expedited the booking process so they could see the Magistrate for arraignment. They will be at the courthouse in twenty minutes.”
“Did he have any other information?”
“Not really.” She didn’t tell Jade that Brandon said the accused’s name was Marshal Preston, or that Preston once saved his life in Nicaragua, or that the SOB didn’t have anything at all to say on their ride to the County jail.
Natalie picked up the empty food containers and shoved them in the trashcan before Jade had a chance to help.
The walk to the courthouse was just a couple hundred yards away. They had agreed it would be easier to leave their cars parked where they were.
“Go ahead, I have to hit the latrine. I’ll catch up with you in a minute,” Jade suggested.
Natalie agreed and walked out, making sure not to walk too fast if Jade were to catch up. She glanced back over her shoulder as if to say Hurry up, Mr. Acker.
Jade closed the bathroom door, pulled out his recording device, plugged it into a port on his BlackBerry, to send the voice file of Natalie and himself to his boss in Washington, saying out loud “I’ll just click on email to send this message.” As he waited for the file to enter cyberspace, he muttered to himself The only thing you’re going to find is that this woman is crazy. A fox, but crazy!
His BlackBerry beeped three times and read:
EMAIL SENT: 1 ATTACHMENT
Richard Sullivan’s office was filled with furniture. Every piece was deep, rich black lacquer trimmed in stainless steel that shone like silver. The bookcase held a collection of oriental vases and fans adorned with all sorts of colorful floral designs and Japanese lettering. The art reminded him of nicer, less hectic times in his life. It comforted him while working behind his desk at all hours of the night.
While typing a monthly expense report, the email icon at the bottom of his computer screen started blinking. Sullivan clicked the icon and his email appeared on his screen. He noticed the attachment and knew Jade Acker had sent him the first voice recording.
He downloaded the recording into his personal high-tech voice transposition program. For years Sullivan had made promotion after promotion based on what others thought was his superior intuition. For years he kept a secret from everyone he ever worked with. He secretly recorded conversations and intelligence interviews. He would run them through his voice analysis software and find details that others had no knowledge of. He’d then wait until the time was right to put the tidbits of information to good use.
The new technology he used is known by different names, including Voice Transposition, Reverse Speech, and Back-Talk.
A key assumption that underpins Voice Transposition (VT) is that language is omni-directional. That is to say, it’s not just useful forward and linearly. It’s also useful backward or even jumbled.
A reader may read words or letters out of order, but the mind can quickly put the words in place. As long as key words and letters were present, it didn’t matter what order they were in to make sense to the reader. Sullivan often recalled a message he once read that demonstrated that concept:
A cihld plyas ftooabll in teh srteet at nihgt jsut to hvae a good tiem. But wehn prarnets call tiher cihldern for dnnier tehy coem rnnuing hmoe fsat.
The concept works the same for someone speaking. VT theory says that people will send one message while talking forward with their conscious minds, while their unconscious minds often create hidden messages in their speech, but in reverse. These messages, often-true intentions, can be heard clearly when the original message is played in reverse.
Since the 1980s, an Australian pioneer in the field of Reverse Speech technology has found thousands of examples of messages hidden backward in public voice recordings. He rightly claimed that a former U. S. President’s public talks were laced with revealing admissions about his intentions of war with Iraq such as, Rule the planet, Dad, and We will sit in Baghdad. The Australians even thought he had perhaps unknowingly uncovered the secret code word for Operation Desert Storm before it was formally declared. The word Simone, which is an Arabic expression for A dust storm in the desert, was heard in several public addresses by the President months before the war with Iraq. The controversy that surrounded the Australians quickly limited his lecture tours and ultimately resulted in his leaving the United States for his own protection. That’s when Sullivan contracted with a trusted CIA computer programmer to help him develop such a system for his own use.
Sullivan pulled a remote control from his desk, pointed it at the door to his office and pressed a button. The door’s lock clicked shut. He could review the tape he had just received without fear of being walked in on.
The voice recording Acker sent was almost an hour long, and Sullivan listened to every word of it, BACKWARD, adjusting the speed to reveal audible unconsciously contracted backward phrases.
In one point of Natalie’s conversation, she had said, “…knock the bats out.” When the area of that phrase was played backward a message was uncovered:
Who killeth Cohn?
Complete examination of the tape led Sullivan, so far, to believe Natalie didn’t plan Dr. Cohn’s death.
What was baffling to Sullivan was the analysis of Acker’s voice during the meeting and after. Acker had recorded his voice up to the point where he said out loud in the bathroom, “I’ll just click on email to send this message.” That short phrase raised many points of concern for Sullivan when it was backward analyzed to a whole new meaning:
I know killer.
Sullivan’s eyes were watery and red from his long day of endless work, which yielded more questions than answers.
Natalie thought the courtroom was much smaller and less adorned than other courtrooms she had been in. Grand, ornate furniture was obviously missing, as were the normal rows of plush jury chairs. Juries are not needed in a magistrate’s courtroom. His job is simply to formally read the charges to the accused and ask for a plea of guilty or not guilty. If the alleged offence is subject to bail, the magistrate may also set the bail amount and conditions. The murder charges brought against Marshal Preston, especially considering the aggravating circumstances, do not normally allow for bail according to Utah State law.
The judge’s bench looked like a cheap laminated countertop. The gallery chairs were cheap folding chairs. The prosecution and defendant tables were cheap folding units, with fake wood-grain tops, which were nothing more than paper overlaid on flimsy pressboard.
Natalie watched the constant bustle of people coming, going, and mingling in the courtroom. Several detainees stood before the judge, whose charges against them ranged from drunk driving and petty theft to murder. One young woman in a bright orange jumper was accused of child endangerment and animal cruelty when she allowed her nine-year-old-daughter to help her drown a half-dozen puppies in a wheelbarrow full of water.
The woman tried to explain to the judge that she was a dog breeder and the puppies had heartworms beyond recovery, but the judge wasn’t looking for explanations. He was patient, but direct. “Ma’am, I have read the charges brought against you. I am not in the position to hear your argument. I simply need to know how you are pleading.”
The woman ran her hands through her matted brown hair and spoke, “Not guilty, Your Honor.”
“Let the record show the accused has entered a plea of not guilty. Bail is set at five-thousand dollars.”
“Five-thousand?” the woman clarified.
The judge looked over her paperwork in front of him and explained, “Yes, five-thousand dollars. But, because of your community ties and lack of prior criminal history, I will allow you to sign a PR bond, secured by personal property with a value at least equal to the bail amount.”
“PR bond, Sir? I’m not familiar.”
“Sorry, Personal Recognizance. That’s a promise entered before the court by you to appear back before this court as per this court’s instructions. Any variance from my orders—in other words, if you miss a court date or any other court order—the bond can be revoked, and you will end up back in jail. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Sir. That will be fine.” She was relieved to get out of jail. She had been there two days already. To escape the nasty, noisy conditions of county jail she would have signed anything.
“You will be escorted by the bailiff to the Court Clerk’s office where you will sign the appropriate paperwork.” He dropped his gavel to symbolically end that case.
An older, gray-headed gentleman came into the room and sat in the chair next to Natalie.
She scooted her chair over a few inches to give the man more room and put her chair more in line with Acker’s and whispered, “What’s up with this junky courtroom?”
Acker shook his head. “It looks like a temporary set-up. Maybe there is some renovation going on. Maybe the county is broke. Who knows?”
As the woman was escorted out of the room by one bailiff, another bailiff escorted Marshal Preston into the room. He was still in his street clothes, but with his hands cuffed behind him. Chief Brandon entered the courtroom from the judge’s chambers.
Marshal stood in front of the judge with Chief Brandon on his left. They waited as the judge thumbed through an inch-thick folder.
The judge took a sip of water and looked up just in time to see the gray-headed man, who was sitting next to Natalie, stand up and dash over behind Marshal and Brandon. It happened so fast, he could only point and hope that the bailiff would catch the action.
In the man’s hand was a knife with a blade as long as a hunter’s knife. It was made of Kevlar so that it easily passed through the courthouse metal detectors. Its edge could cut rice paper.
He raised the knife with the efficiency of an Olympic fencer, only high enough to reach his target’s neck. There were no wasted slicing actions; he thrust the blade straight ahead and into the back of the neck of Marshal Preston.
The judge stood in self-defense, while the bailiff pulled his Glock and pointed it at the assailant.
Natalie screamed while Chief Brandon took one step backward and yelled, “Bishop, No!” He then grabbed the shoulder of the knife-wielding man, pulling him away from Preston. As Preston fell forward, the knife was pulled out of his neck and clattered to the floor.
The judge watched Preston’s eyes roll in confusion and imbalance with his hands still cuffed behind him. Preston’s face broke the crash of his body to the hard tile floor.
Jade Acker stood to protect Natalie from any possible danger. He kept his eyes on the action in full combat concentration.
Brandon landed on top of Preston’s killer and easily flipped him onto his stomach to cuff him while the bailiff held him at gunpoint.
Brandon recognized the man, and though he could barely speak, he addressed him by name, “Bishop Mallard, don’t move! What the hell is going on?”
“This is going to be a long day,” Acker complained to Natalie.
Natalie could have responded with a more appropriate answer had she not been so shaken by what just happened. Her whole body shook. “Oh my God, he just killed him.” She didn’t like the scene but she couldn’t help but watch the blood flow from Preston’s body. “He killed him… ”
Patricia Sanchez and Hook Castro burst into the dark, stale smelling basement room that held Jason. His legs were shackled and his shoulders ached because his wrists were cuffed behind his back to a six-foot chain that was bolted to a wrought iron shelf attached to the twelve-inch thick concrete wall. He was able to lie on the soft, quilted bed underneath him and he could even sit up on his own whenever he wanted, but he couldn’t really rest.
“So, this is the Dumb American that won’t talk.” Patricia scowled at him with nothing but scorn; then her eyes softened into a sincere smile. “Are you hungry?”
Hook kept his chin high, looking down his nose while Jason calmly answered, “Not much.”
She sat on the bed next to him and he sat up. “I’ll get you something to eat in a little while. I have to be honest with you. We are here for information. I don’t want anything unpleasant, but that’s up to you.”
Jason was surprised her English was so clean and concise, just a hint of Spanish accent that complimented her Venezuelan beauty. He knew that her hair was bleached because of the black roots peeking out of her scalp and her dark eyebrows outlining her perfectly shaped cat eyes.
Looking at Hook was another matter. His hair was black and curly, but unkempt looking. It was hard to tell if he just had an exceptionally high forehead or if his hairline was receding. Maybe a little of both, Jason thought. Hook’s mustache extended past the corners of his mouth, reminding Jason of an East Los Angeles car salesman, complete with aviation glasses, five o’clock shadow, and smoke-stained teeth. It would have been hard to take Hook’s efforts as an interrogator seriously if it weren’t for the fact his goofiness was indistinguishable from his craziness.
“I don’t plan on making anything harder on you than is necessary,” Jason said.
“Good. Castro and I just want to talk with you. As you know he is a bit crazy; that’s why I came too.”
Jason shrugged his shoulders in indifference.
Sanchez continued, “Let’s start with an easy question. What is your name?”
“My name is Jason.”
“No. Your name isn’t Jason. I’ll try again. What is your name and who do you work for?”
He acted disgusted. “My name is Jason, and I work for the same organization as you.”
Hook Castro jumped a step forward and grabbed Jason by the collar and backhanded him across the face. Then yanked his hand back to let Sanchez persist, “Look, I can’t keep Hook off you forever. Would it be better for you if he left the room so we could spend some alone time together? Maybe you’d feel more comfortable talking directly to me in private.”
“I don’t think so. Your good-guy-bad-guy routine is pathetic. Maybe you should just try asking me what you want to know. I’m on your side.”
“Jason, whoever you are, today we have had a little problem with one of our operations. Commander Medina is not in a good mood and has little tolerance for your games. You have information we need to know.”
“I only know what you know,” he claimed.
“Bullshit!” she screeched as she moved her face closer to his, before lowering her tone back to one of calculated control. “What have you told your people about our intentions?”
“What do you mean? You are my people,” he insisted.
“We’ll talk later. Come on, Castro.”
The two stood up and walked out of the room so that Jason could not hear Sanchez speak. “Castro, we have two major problems. First, Tommy Boy only delivered half of the computer program for the Material Shifting Technology. Secondly, we must complete our mission to get the nuclear fuel.”
“If the Dumb American leaked too much information, the US might figure out our target. You think so?”
“That’s not likely, but you never know. After all, Dumb American did manage to infiltrate our group. He got past all of our security checks. He is either very high on the government’s totem pole, or very low.”
“We have to be careful, Sanchez. Dumb American knows the code name Tommy Boy.”
“I don’t think that’s a problem, but you never know,” Patricia noted.
“Sanchez, we have less than two months to turn American opinion about their Aruba policy. Congress is slated to approve the budget to install the nuclear plant. If that happens, we lose.”
Sanchez brushed some hair from her face with her hands and speculated more with Hook. “This man is a liability. We can’t take him with us. At this point we don’t even know his name. The question is: Do we need him alive for any reason at all?”
Hook thought for a moment. “Medina is working on it. For now, we wait.”
After they finished their statements to the police, Natalie and Acker slowly walked back to their cars, which were still parked by the Crepe Café. She walked stiffly, looking at the ground. He walked loosely, not quite planting his feet in a straight line.
The first couple minutes were silent. The stabbing of Marshal Preston conjured up vivid visions in Natalie’s mind of what Dr. Cohn’s death must have been like. She didn’t know that Dr. Cohn had felt no pain and never had a chance to comprehend what happened. The direct trauma to his brain instantly quelled his mind from all thoughts, pain, and finally consciousness of life. He never had a chance to watch his own life-blood seep from his body as Preston had. Still, the courtroom murder stirred her mind into confusion and horror.
Then she spoke, “All he wanted to do was save the world from itself.”
“Who?” Acker asked.
“Of course. It must have been marvelous watching his technology in action.”
“Actually, I never saw it in action, as you put it.”
Acker stopped on his next footstep and folded his face in misunderstanding. “What do you mean you have never seen his work in action? I thought you were his assistant.”
“I was his assistant, but I never saw his experiments directly. I created all of the programming sequences except for one part. I used to measure and record pre-experiment quantifications…”
“The pre-experiment quan…what?”
“Quantifications. His experiments were empirical and highly quantitative in nature. That means there is a large set of observable data that can be quantified, or measured with specific values. I also helped with experimental preparation. But, when he ran the sequences, I wasn’t allowed to be in the DZ.”
Acker was smart but his head was beginning to spin with the nomenclature and acronyms. “DZ?” he asked.
“Delivery Zone. That is the area of the lab where he sent and received—where he shifted material between universes. After the Shift sequence, I would help measure and record the results. I also designed and performed S/A in SPSS.”
Acker clarified “Statistical Analysis in Statistical Package for Social Sciences?”
Her eyes lit with an impressed twinkle. “Ah, you know a little about statistical procedure, Mr. Acker.”
“A little,” he grinned. “So you never actually saw the experiment take place?”
“Nope. He said it was for my own benefit. I only measured pre- and post-experimental samples.”
“What did he mean for your own good? Was he protecting you from something? And you said you programmed part of the sequences. I’m not clear.”
“I don’t know what he meant. I asked him once. He just told me that I already have the answers to my questions. I just have to find them when the time is right. He used to say that a lot to most of my questions. Then I’d ask what I should do when I found the answer. He’d say, Keep it recorded for posterity.”
“Yeah. He was really big on genealogy and journaling. He even got me into keeping a detailed daily journal. At first it was a part of the job, then it became habit and very important to me. It’s a Mormon thing.”
He thought back to their conversation in the café. He had seen something. He had seen what might have been her journal in her purse. He wondered when he’d have an opportunity to look through it. Instead of pursuing that line of conversation he decided to change the subject. “How concerned are you with Dr. Cohn’s stolen briefcase?”
“I need to get it back.”
“Because it’s dangerous in the wrong hands?” he asked.
Natalie wondered how specific she could be with Acker until she decided he was her best hope to accomplish her needs. She reluctantly opened up a bit. “No. What was stolen is useless to whoever has it. It is only half of the encoded MEPS program. Freddy kept a password that only works with my password. As far as his disk, it only works in tandem with my disk. If anyone tries to manipulate or re-engineer the programming code, it changes itself and turns into electronic gibberish—just a pile of useless ones and zeros.”
“You have the other half of the key, so to speak?”
“Yes, but my half is useless without his.”
“You don’t have copies?”
“Yeah, we have copies, but…”
“But I don’t know where they are. Freddy insisted on maintaining as much security as possible until after his formal presentation at the convention.”
“Did he really shift live biological elements between universes?”
She thought about not answering his question, but did anyway. “Yes. The rumors are true. He did shift large mammals, chimpanzees to be specific.”
“And what about the rumors of humans?”
Again she paused and looked down. “Mr. Acker, your more ridiculous questions are making me nervous. All I can say is that I have got to find the other disk. Either the one that was stolen or our backups!”
“Continuing his work is very important to you, isn’t it?”
“More important now than ever, Mr. Acker. You have no idea what it means to me.” She didn’t explain any further when images of the courtroom flashed in front of her mind’s eye. “Mr. Acker, I’m sorry for freaking out when Preston got stabbed in the neck.”
Acker put his arm around her shoulders and squeezed, offering a comforting word. “I understand. It’s all very strange¾Dr. Cohn’s death, then the alleged assassin getting killed. The Danites. You have a right to be freaked out.” He let her shoulders go.
“So, soldiers can be sensitive?”
“Soldiers who have a Ph.D. in operational psychology,” he joked.
“So that’s how you know about SPSS. I was wondering.”
He didn’t respond verbally. Instead, he gave a small glance at the clouds coming in and listened to her.
“It’s nice to know you don’t resolve all your problems at the end of a bayonet!”
“Not all of them,” he confirmed. “Say, what do you know about the Danites? I read a briefing on them on the plane flight in, but I’m wondering about the local buzz.”
“That’s easy Mr. Acker. The local buzz is what it is and nothing more.”
“Is that a Dr. Cohn riddle?”
“No. The Danites were a secret group established in 1838 by a man who professed to protect the Church from mob persecution. It soon became apparent that he wanted to use the group as a means of power for retribution and other violent motives. The group was abolished in the same year, as soon as Joseph Smith, the founder and first president of the Mormon Church, found out about it. Today, many anti-Mormon critics falsely claim that Joseph Smith supported the Danites in secret operations that benefited the Church. They also claim that Danites are still around to perform assassinations of Church opposition. The Danites, at least in the form as some claim, did not exist as a part of Church leadership. In fact, the group didn’t even adhere to Church principles while the Church was battling mobs.”
Acker listened intently and interjected a question from time to time. “Do you think there is any form of modern-day Danite?”
“I don’t know. All I know is that if the Church sponsors a group of Danites now, they are hidden very deeply within the Church, and their methods of operation cannot possibly be as they were when they were a bastardization of Church morality and form.”
“What about the Battle of Crooked River?” Acker quizzed.
“I read about it as a teenager. Because of a small conflict allegedly involving the Danites, Governor Boggs of Missouri issued his Extermination Order of October 27th. He ordered the Missouri State Militia to drive all Mormons from the state, or eliminate them. Colonel William Jennings then led the Haun’s Mill Massacre, killing seventeen men and boys in their quiet settlement. These attacks were unprovoked and some say largely due to untrue rumors.”
“Pretty deep,” he said as he shook his head.
She looked at him with a critical eye. “You seem to know more about Danites and Mormons than you let on, Mr. Acker. Am I missing something?”
“I’m a fast study, and I pay attention to detail.”
Her, I see, didn’t convince him of her trust. “Look, Natalie, I’m here to help you recover the backup disks so that you can do whatever it is you plan on doing. But, I’m also here to protect you because there are some pretty nasty people out there who are probably looking for the same thing you are. They have guns and experiences you can’t even imagine. It’s my job to protect you and America’s interest.”
It seemed to Natalie that Acker worked way too hard to sell his worth to her. She felt he wasn’t coming totally clean, but she also realized that it might be the guilt of what she wasn’t sharing that made her more than suspicious. Either way he seemed to be her best asset, even if they were really just using each other.
“I see, Mr. Acker. We’re a team.”
Bishop Jerry Mallard had spent over ten years on the Salt Lake City counsel before attacking and killing Marshal Preston in the courtroom. He was LDS, and the Bishop of his local ward, as well as faithfully married for over twenty-five years. He had four children and four grandchildren. By all accounts he was a happy, responsible family man, Church member, and community leader, similar to Marshal Preston. Like Preston, he revealed nothing to Chief Brandon about his murderous motives upon his arrest and drive to the county jail.
Because the Bishop was booked during dinner, a jailer ordered a food tray, and walked to his holding cell. She stood in front of the vertical bars that now separated Bishop Mallard from his freedom and the happy life he had lived just hours before.
“Bishop Mallard. I’ve brought you dinner.”
The cell was frigid and the Bishop was lying still on the hard concrete bench with his jacket over his head.
“Bishop Mallard,” she said much louder when she got no response. “Are you sleeping?”
Still, there was no response.
She sat the plastic food tray on the floor and carefully reached through the bars. She had to stretch as far as she could to tug on his jacket.
“Bishop Mallard,” she repeated as she accidentally knocked his jacket on the floor.
“Oh my God!” she yelled before she reached for the radio hanging on her black utility belt.
She pressed the red emergency response button on top of her radio to alert the Special Response Team to her location as soon as possible.
Chills shook her spine at the sight of his dress sock still wound around his neck, the tourniquet that cut off all blood flow to his brain until he expired. Her first instinct was to open the cell door and try to help him but she caught herself and followed procedure. Only when the response team arrived did she open the door.
The officers confirmed Mallard had no pulse or respiration. They started CPR, but knew it was of no use.
On the floor, a note had fallen from underneath his jacket.
The jailer picked up the note. She unfolded it, and read the Bishop’s last words that only half explained seemingly crazy behavior.
For the love of God, I had to conceal the interest of his work in the Church. Brother Marshal Preston’s deeds were necessary to protect the infinite work of our Father in Heaven. His Terrestrial secrets end with me until He picks His time of revelation.
God Bless, Ɖ
The Venezuelan airport had one small runway nestled in the valley. Every pilot that had ever departed from there commented on how close the mountains look in clear weather. On days like this, when the mountains were totally obscured by clouds they felt dangerous. Beautiful, but dangerous.
As part of the normal departure procedure, pilots are required to make a ninety-degree turn to avoid running into the mountaintops. Nobody really complained; it was just a hazard of flying into such a beautiful Venezuelan location.
The GulfStream pilot had just finished his preflight inspection when Commander Carlos Medina, Patricia Sanchez, and Hook Castro met him outside on the tarmac. They pulled their cart filled with luggage up to the opened cargo door on the side of the plane and worked as a group to load. Sanchez picked up each piece of luggage from the cart and handed them to Castro. Castro, in turn, handed them to Medina, who neatly stacked them in the cargo bay.
“Sir.” The pilot yelled up to Medina. “He’s here.”
Medina pulled his head from the cargo bay to see a couple golf carts approach with the rest of the AANE members. Jason was with them, his hands cuffed behind him, but sitting comfortably.
Sanchez smiled when she saw Jason. “Medina, he’s kind of cute. Can I keep him for myself?”
“I’m not sure he’s housebroken, Sanchez,” Medina joked.
The pilot didn’t comment; he had his mission on his mind. He couldn’t be distracted from planning his critical departure into the clouds. He climbed the steps, crouched to the front of the plane, and settled into his cockpit.
The passengers loaded themselves, as they always did, while he completed his engine start checklist and prepared for taxi.
The last two passengers to load were Medina and his prisoner. They sat in the front of the plane so Medina could secure the cabin door. As they sat next to Sanchez, she taunted, “Come on Dumb American! Or should I call you Captain Henry Fullerton?”
He tried not to look at her directly. She had just identified him.
“Don’t try to ignore me, Captain Fullerton. Tommy Boy told me your name.”
Everyone buckled their seatbelts. The pilot rolled to the head of the runway. He checked his instruments one last time, then pushed his throttles forward as the plane accelerated down the runway, past the giant white numbers painted on the asphalt.
In just a few seconds the plane lifted from the asphalt and climbed, disappearing into the clouds that were just a couple hundred feet off the ground.
The passengers could only see white out of their windows, but felt the jet make a sharp turn.
“I love the smell of burning kerosene in the morning!” Medina said.
“Me too,” affirmed Sanchez. What she really wanted to say was she liked the smell of Captain Fullerton.
Fullerton caught her looking him over from head to toe as if she were determining how much to pay for him. He knew they must have someone inside the government. They had no way of identifying him without such a mole. Who was this Tommy Boy? And how had he fingered him?
In the cockpit the pilot turned a few knobs once he was clear of the mountain. He pushed the microphone button on his control yoke to talk to air traffic control and open his flight plan.
ATC responded, “GulfStream-November-Six-Niner-Tango, you are cleared as filed to Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Turn left heading Three-One-Zero, and climb to flight level Three-Three-Zero.”
The pilot read back the instructions, “Cleared IFR direct to Honduras as filed, initial heading Three-One-Zero, flight level Three-Three-Zero, GulfStream-November-Six-Niner-Tango.”
The moan of the jet engines was interrupted when Fullerton asked Medina where they were going.
The response was less than favorable when Medina answered, “You really are a dumb American, aren’t you?”
“Thanks for coming to my office so quickly,” Chief Brandon said as he leaned forward in his burgundy leather, high-back executive chair to greet the two.
Natalie scooted her chair against Jade’s, and relaxed her arms on the softly, padded armrests. “What’s going on?” she asked.
Brandon leaned way back and put his hands behind his head, noticing how comfortable Natalie and Jade seemed together. “Bishop Mallard is dead.”
Natalie couldn’t believe her ears. “What?” Her mind was in conflict. The man who killed Dr. Cohn’s killer is now dead. “Who killed him?”
Brandon handed her the note from the Bishop’s jail cell, and she timidly took it from his hand. “He killed himself, Ms. Westin.”
She read the note in silence then handed it to Jade Acker who was kibitzing so close over her shoulder she could smell coffee on his breath.
Everyone remained silent as Jade studied the words, paying particular attention to the Danite symbol at the bottom of the note. He looked almost as if he recognized something, but he said nothing revealing. Jade asked, “How did he die?”
Brandon put both hands around his own neck. “He strangled himself with a sock fashioned into a tourniquet.”
Brandon instantly got more serious and intense. “Look. We have no idea what’s going on here. There seems to be a surprise around every corner. We are not so sure there isn’t going to be an attempt on your life. If there is anything we left out of our previous conversations, please let us know. Your safety is a primary concern.”
Natalie thought for a moment. She shrugged her forehead and shook her head. “No. Nothing. I can’t imagine why the Church would be after me, or why they killed Freddy.”
“Well, they certainly seem hell-bent on covering their tracks. What is God’s infinite work? Was there not an infinity symbol on Dr. Cohn’s briefcase?”
Brandon was reaching for any understanding he could find. He needed a place to anchor his investigation.
Natalie explained, “Dr. Brandon’s work involved scientific assumptions. All things are locked into infinity because time is just a parameter we devised to order or organize any observable phenomena. Every decision from the beginning of time—which outside the parameters of time has always existed—branches and creates a new universe so that there are an infinite number of universes parallel to what we call our existence. You see, there is a universe out there where Dr. Cohn still lives. One where he is not a scientist. One where he is still six years old. And one where he is much older than when he died. Theoretically, there is a universe representing every situation you can imagine and then some.”
“I just can’t wrap my mind around that,” Brandon stressed.
“That’s because you are thinking in terms of the physical. We are not really physical beings. We are spirits manifested in the flesh. That means anything we can imagine exists as we imagine it. We are only limited by how we limit our spiritual existence in the physical. Dr. Cohn transcended the physical with what turns out to be very simple; beautifully elegant technology.”
“What do you think that has to do with God’s work, as Bishop Mallard’s note says?”
“I don’t know. God doesn’t operate within the parameters of time; His work is infinite according to our convention of time. There is nothing Dr. Cohn’s technology can do to limit God. How can murdering Dr. Cohn, his killer, and his killer’s killer protect God?”
Brandon was not prepared to answer that question any more than Natalie was.
“I can’t imagine, but I promise you we have our best working on it. We are also working with the FBI to find answers. In the mean time, be safe and keep a low profile. We’d hate anything to happen to you, Ms. Westin.”
Jade spoke up in defense. “I can assure you, Chief, Ms. Westin is in good hands with me.”
“I’ll bet,” Chief Brandon blandly said, though his face smacked of sarcasm.
The pilot leaned forward and flipped a switch marked: IC/CABIN. He then leaned back in his seat and adjusted the boom of his earpiece microphone closer to his mouth.
After a small burst of static, Medina heard the pilot.
“Commander, are you there?”
Medina briefly looked out his window at the clear sky and thought it amazing that the weather could be so different just halfway across the Caribbean. “Loud and clear.”
“Sir, we’re ten minutes from approach into our filed destination. As soon as air traffic control hands us off to approach I’ll cancel the flight plan and we’ll continue under visual flight rules.”
“Good. What altitude do you plan on taking?”
“We’ll immediately drop to fifty feet above the ocean, turn out to sea for twenty minutes then file a new flight plan to America under our real tail number.”
Medina needed to make sure their operation wouldn’t be compromised. “Do you still think that will keep us safe?”
“Yes. They can always reconstruct our flight path, but it will be too late for them. Hindsight is 20/20 they say.”
“I suppose so. Just as long as we clear customs in the US.”
Jade Acker comfortably adjusted his seat to get more legroom, then reclined the seat to lie back for the ride. He was just enough forward to see out of the rented Ford Mustang’s passenger window. He seemed to trust Natalie’s driving, even though she was busy behind the wheel, juggling driving tasks with finding a classical radio station, and talking. He figured she was subconsciously trying to distract herself from the violence of the past few days even though they were on a fact-finding mission.
“How much is this thing?” he asked Natalie.
She reached her hand into her cup of ice and shoved a pile in her mouth, then spoke as if she had a quarter in her mouth, “I got a deal. It works out to twenty-four dollars a day.”
He listened to her crunch her ice a bit. “You like it?”
“I don’t drive anything but Mustangs when I can help it,” she explained as she pressed the switch to open her window. “I have one at home just like this one, except the top is black.”
Jade raised his eyebrows when she spit out of the window onto the passing highway below. “A black top? You live in New Mexico, isn’t it hot?”
She pushed another hand full of ice in her mouth. “Not really. Los Alamos is in the mountains, so it’s pretty cool there. Now, if I still lived in Tucson, it would be another story. And, you know, I always rent Mustangs when I can because they don’t feel like rented cars. It helps me feel more comfortable in new environments, a little stability in my transient-physicist lifestyle. I like to run my life the way I troubleshoot problems; I change as few variables at a time as possible. Consistency is the key to keeping my mind safe and sound. I’m not one for a lot of change at once, you know, so driving the same type of car all the time is just one of my little security blankets.” She suddenly switched subjects, “Look there!”
Jade looked around but didn’t see anything special.
“That was the turn off to where they had the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics a few years ago.”
“I missed it. Did you go?”
“No, I’ve never been to an Olympic Event, but I hear you can ride the bob sled run there now. That sounds like fun.”
Jade didn’t mind her being somewhat of a thrill seeker. He was one himself. He started analyzing their trip in his mind. “Do you think we’ll find more information about the Danites at Granite Mountain? If my boss couldn’t find anything else, do we really have a chance?”
“Right now, I think it’s the best shot we have. If there are any current records at all on the Danites, they will be there somewhere.”
“And you can get your hands on them? What makes you think you can find what we need?”
She spit out of the window again and reached her hand back into her cup for more ice. “What makes you think your boss has exhausted the available information?”
Jade was getting nervous and wished she would quit chewing ice and spitting out of the window, but he opened up a little anyway. “Well, to tell you the truth, Director Sullivan is a bit Bet Noir. There is definitely a dark side to him, but he has just about any intelligence available to him you can imagine.”
“Can you trust Sullivan and your agency?”
“Sullivan is always working an angle and he doesn’t show all his cards at once, but I think he’s pretty straight about this operation. Can you trust the Church?”
She glared at him as if he had slapped her face. She hid every admiration she could possibly have for him. “And you? What kind of angle are you working with me?”
“None,” he stammered. “I mean, with all that has just happened. Can we trust the Church?”
“As I explained, Jade, Granite Mountain archives and stores everything concerning Church history, including family extraction records for genealogy, Church historical documents. It’s my understanding that they house all current Church records, contracts, plans, etc.”
“Well, we’ll know in an hour.” He watched her spit out the window again. “You like crunching and spitting that ice, don’t you?”
She looked over at him and her bright white smile contrasted against her jet-black hair. There was a small drop of ice water on her lower lip. “Just a little habit I’ve had ever since I can remember.”
Tina McMurtry disappeared behind the glass door leading into Richard Sullivan’s office. He was sitting behind his desk, talking on the phone.
He looked up to gauge the importance of Tina’s visit in her deep-set, brown hawk eyes. “Let me call you back,” he said before setting the receiver gently in its cradle.
“Sir, our HumInt tells us that the AANE’s plane departed from Venezuela and filed a flight plan with Caracas ATC to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.”
He rubbed his nose. “Are they in route now?”
Sullivan looked as though he just stepped off a treadmill. His brows were damp with sweat and his golden face was flushed.
“They were scheduled to land thirty minutes ago, but they canceled their flight plan in the air just off the eastern coast of Nicaragua.”
“Sounds like they are trying to sneak in somewhere.”
“That’s what it sounds like, I already have NORAD tracking all flights coming within two-hundred miles of our borders. If they are headed here, we’ll scramble the Air Force and intercept them.”
“Great job, TT.”
“One other thing. Acker called. He is on his way with his target to research this Danite group.”
He pretended he didn’t know Acker’s status eventhough he had already received two more taped conversations to analyze. “Didn’t we send him everything we had?”
McMurtry still suspected her boss wasn’t telling her everything, but she trusted his intentions. Still, she wouldn’t press the issue. She’d just keep her mind alert to contradictions and ruses outside his normal “Slick” Sullivan self.
She relayed what she knew. “Apparently Natalie Westin talked him into going with her. He felt if he didn’t go, she might question his integrity.”
“Good move. Keep me posted on anything Acker reports.”
“Will do, Sir.”
He watched her swish out of the room, not suspecting she suspected anything.
The front of the Granite Mountain Record Vault looked like four small, arched traffic tunnels built into the north face of Cottonwood Canyon. The mountain rock was rough cut, reflecting a light shale color. It seemed a world away from downtown Salt Lake City, which was just twenty miles northwest.
“Wow,” Natalie noted as she climbed from her car. “I’ve never been here before.”
Jade shut the red passenger door and looked over the mountain. “It doesn’t look as impressive as I thought it would.”
Natalie met Jade at the front of the car and chastised him. “First impressions can be deceiving. After all, you’re a bit different from how you first presented yourself.”
He started to point his finger at her, then put his hands back in his pocket. “What do you mean by that?”
Natalie smirked and walked close to his left side. “Don’t worry about it.” She looked back at the mountain. “Actually, the Vault, as insiders call it, reaches six-hundred-feet into the Wasatch Mountain Range. Between 1958 and 1963, at a cost of two-million dollars, the Genealogical Society of Utah excavated and built the repository to house genealogical and historical information, usually archived on millions of rolls of microfilm.”
On the walk to the front entrance, she continued to explain that the administrative office complex, laboratories, shipping and receiving, analysis workstations, and microfilm processing stations sit beneath three-hundred-feet of thick protective granite. The area called Vault Proper is hidden deeper in the mountain where the above-head stone is often more than seven-hundred-feet thick.
“The main vault area was built to withstand a direct nuclear blast,” she added.
Jade just listened as they waited for the staff to answer the visitor buzzer. This was one time when he didn’t have much information to offer the conversation.
A metal door opened and a middle-aged woman welcomed the two. “Hi. You must be Ms. Westin and Mr. Acker.”
It was hard to tell her age. Her hair was short and wiry. Her crow’s feet and deep smile marks outlined her straight, full teeth, and slight overbite. She was attractive and professional but slightly weatherworn. Perhaps she spent a lot of time outdoors gardening or camping.
“We are,” Natalie answered, grabbing the woman’s hand. She noticed it was strong, tan, and slightly leathery. Not what she expected from a woman’s handshake.
“Very well, Ms. Westin. I’m Lucy Hutchinson, the archive curator. Call me Lucy. I’ll be showing you around.”
Lucy then shook Jade’s hand. “Mr. Acker. Welcome.”
Natalie and Jade followed the curator into the slightly arid, small lobby area. The heavy steel door closed behind them automatically.
The room was well lit but very harsh in furnishings. Everything was dark gray leather and gray stone. Quite appropriate for the inside of a mountain, Jade thought. On the polished stone wall were round, black quartz clocks from each world time zone. A copper-leafed water fountain adorned the corner. It made soft white noise, soothing the quiet air.
Not so soft was the armed guard sitting behind the desk. He looked more like a soldier than a receptionist.
At his waist-high granite desk, Lucy slid a leather-bound logbook and pen to Natalie. “Just sign in here. From here on out there are no pens or electronic devices of any kind allowed.”
“We left everything in the car,” Natalie assured her.
They both signed the book with their names, addresses, and telephone numbers. They were required to leave their IDs with the receptionist while Lucy led them deeper into the mountain.
Instinctively, Jade counted the dozens of security cameras positioned around every corner as they navigated a rat’s maze of walkways. While Jade counted and tried to memorize his track, Natalie thought the lady walked fast and hurried in her casual leather flats. The two awkwardly paced the woman.
“How will we find our way back?” Natalie joked, “breadcrumbs or cheese?”
Lucy turned back and laughed out loud. “Strictly the smell of fresh air. Working in this cave for thirty years, I can smell my way to sunshine.”
They walked to the back of a room filled with analyst tables and laboratory equipment. “We’ll start here.” She pounded her hand solidly on a tall slab of polished steel. “Beyond this fourteen-ton Mosler door is the main entrance which leads to two smaller passageways, which are guarded by two nine-ton doors. This entrance was designed to withstand a direct nuclear blast.”
Jade looked at Natalie as if he were going to see an I told you so in her eyes, but she didn’t return his stare.
“Then behind the smaller corridors are six storage chambers. Each chamber measures 190 feet in length; 25 feet in width; and 25 feet in height. If you do the math, that’s 118,750 cubic feet of storage space in a terrestrial-controlled environment that maintains constant temperature and humidity levels perfect for document storage.”
Jade studied the door then asked, “You have a lot of space. That’s an awful lot of Church business, isn’t it?”
Lucy heard this before and was ready for a quick explanation. “Well, there are certain details that are considered sensitive. But, I can tell you, as of 1995, we stored over two million rolls of microfilm in ten-foot-high steel cabinets that line the walls of two of the six chambers. Much of that information is strictly genealogical, such as birth certificates, marriage certificates, death registers, census reports, probates, and wills. We also have dozens of other types of documents and registers that are used for identification and tracking family pedigrees from all over the world.”
“All that information is used for your Temple work?” Jade asked.
“The Church does have ordinances performed in the Temple which are necessary for salvation of the dead. It’s an important aspect of…”
Before she could finish her sentence, there was a loud explosion, which was felt more than it was heard. The ground shook. Then the lights went out, leaving the entire room dark.
Jade felt for Natalie and pulled her to the wall until he could assess the situation.
“It’s okay, kids,” Lucy said. “We are blasting rock for a special project we are breaking ground on. The…”
Just then, the room lit up. “There it is. The circuit breakers had to be reset. This happened last week when they were blasting. Something about the electromagnetic pulses causing a circuit overload of some type, but no one was willing to explain exactly what happened.”
Natalie noticed the sweat on Jade’s face as they stepped from the wall.
“Let’s go to the document review room,” Lucy suggested.
As they walked back the direction they came from, Lucy asked, “What exactly are you looking for today?”
“We would like some information on the Danites,” Natalie said.
“The Danites, eh? I get that request about once every six months. I have some documents prepared and assembled already.”
Lucy pulled the small radio from her belt and requested an assistant to bring the main Danite file to the document examination room.
The room was filled with tables and “document-friendly” lighting. On each table, there was a microfiche viewer, a spiral notepad, and a set of sharpened No. 2 pencils.
They picked a table and sat on the padded stools.
“You know, the Danites were ended darn near before they began. Joseph Smith disbanded them as soon as the rumors started about their mercenary capabilities.”
“Have you seen this before, Lucy?”
Natalie picked up a pencil and carefully drew a Ɖ, the Danites’ symbol.
“Oh my!” Lucy exclaimed in a voice much higher than her talking voice. Then she stared at the picture as Natalie laid it on the desk.
“Do you recognize it?”
“No. Not really, but it does look vaguely familiar.”
She lied. She had just seen the symbol in a box she found earlier that day. A box that she found misplaced in a Church document vault when it was marked to be specifically stored in the Presidential & Counsel vault.
“May I ask where you got that symbol and what you think it means?”
Natalie took the lead. “Sure. My colleague, Dr. Cohn, was killed earlier this week. Murdered by someone who left this symbol on his forehead written in olive oil. This was the symbol for the Danites. I intend to find out why a Danite would kill him.”
A young man approached Mrs. Hutchinson with a brown expandable folder filled with papers and microfilm.
“Thank you, Gregg,” she said as he left the room.
“She sat the file on the table. This is everything our archives have on the Danites. I hope you find what you are searching for, but I must tell you that many people come looking for information on Danites and, so far, I haven’t seen anyone find anything of use. The only thing about Danites that still exists are the conspiracy theorists and anti-Mormon groups that profit by striking fear into the hearts of those who are susceptible.” She pointed to a button on the table. “Just press this when you are finished; a vault worker will escort you back to me.”
Lucy made a quick exit.
“Jade, did you get the feeling she was hiding something?”
He nodded. “Yeah. She didn’t seem to want to stick around for questions, did she?”
The two dug through the folder reading and taking notes as quickly as they could. He used the microfiche viewer on one table while she used another.
She pushed back from the desk in thought. “Jade.”
“When I mentioned Dr. Cohn’s name, what did you think of Lucy’s reaction?”
“It looked as if his name rang a bell with her, but it also looked as if she couldn’t fully recall why.”
“I thought the same thing.” She picked up a small packet of three papers that were paper clipped together and flipped through them. “Jade, it confirms here that the Danites got their name from the Book of Daniel, Chapter 7, Verse 22 where it says the Saints shall take the kingdom and possess it forever.”
She flipped the page and instantly noticed something out of place. “Check this out, Jade.”
He looked over her shoulder at an old faded picture of three men standing in front of an apothecary. The caption said they were leaders of a disbanded Mormon militia group called Danites. “They look distinguished.”
“Look at the picture closer. Either they are not Danites or the group wasn’t abolished when everyone said it was.”
Jade figured she caught a detail that he missed. “These guys are in front of a store.”
“Look at the flag. What state are they in?” She pushed the picture closer to his face.
“It looks like the Utah flag,” he said.
“Exactly. It is a modern Utah flag. Utah didn’t enter the union until January 4, 1896. If these guys are Danites, it means they weren’t broken up in 1838 when everyone claims. And if they were still around in 1896, then who knows…”
“They could still be active, doing the Lord’s work.” Jade mocked.
“Don’t be so blasphemous!” Natalie blasted back.
The GulfStream V swiftly taxied and parked outside a large metal hangar. The passengers could plainly see a black Lincoln stretch limousine inside as the jet engines wound down.
The pilot dropped the stairs and hunched over to climb out of the door. He exited the plane and stretched out his cockpit stiffness like a cat after a noon nap. As the passengers unbuckled and gathered their personals, he looked around to clear the area before anyone else would deplane.
The air was a good twenty degrees cooler than when they departed South America, and much less humid. There was nothing threatening in sight.
He looked up into the plane to see Hook slap cuffs on Fullerton’s wrists and poke him in the ribs with his bony finger. He then cleared his scratchy voice. “Commander, let’s go.”
No sooner had the words passed his lips, when he saw Medina guiding Fullerton by the arm down the stairs and onto the tarmac.
Fullerton didn’t ask where he was. He recognized the skyline instantly.
The trees were thick and tall, but through two of the tops were clear blue sky and a steeple. The golden spire held an angel blowing a horn. It was the angel, Moroni, who had appeared to Joseph Smith on September 21, 1823, as a messenger from God. Joseph described Moroni as a bright personage, whose feet did not touch the floor. He wore a loose robe of most exquisite whiteness and brilliance beyond anything he had ever seen.
Fullerton couldn’t see the Temple underneath its spire but he knew it was there. And, according to the location of the late afternoon sun almost directly over the Temple, he knew he must be at a small airport a few miles east of Salt Lake City, Utah.
Fullerton sighed a bit of relief on his way into the hanger. His situation wasn’t good, but at least he was finally back on American soil.
Everyone filed into the hangar. The pilot opened the limo doors and they all climbed inside.
Hook Castro got into the driver’s seat, accompanied by Patricia Sanchez riding shotgun.
The pilot closed the doors and waved the limo out of the hanger. He’d stay there to unload, service, and hanger the plane while the rest of the crew established their headquarters for the most important mission of their existence yet.
After showing Natalie and Jade to the front door, Lucy Hutchinson walked as fast as she could to the rear of the Granite Mountain vault. She wanted to find the Danite document she had seen earlier. She couldn’t tell Natalie and Jade about it because it was labeled to go into the Presidential vault. Anything marked Presidential was highly sensitive. Even the curator wasn’t supposed to read them unless it was essential to her job performance. Presidential material was strictly need-to-know.
Once in the back, Lucy slid her ID card through the security reader hanging on the wall. The large metal door opened and she stepped into a small corridor with smooth, white walls. The only items adorning the walls were the framed original Church Declaration of Family Values on one wall and framed copy of the United States Presidential Genealogical History that the Church researches, compiles, and prints for each new US President on the other.
At the expansion of the corridor were two smaller, nine-ton security doors. She swiped her card and opened the door on the left. Inside the vault area was yet another hallway that exposed three independent storage-vault tunnels. Lucy walked the small path that led to the rear of the middle vault. At the end was a series of metal shelves littered with file boxes.
Built into the wall, next to the shelves, was a door with large hinges and two combination lock dials, one on top of the other. Lucy only had the combination to one of the dials; a courier for the Church Presidency had the combination to the other. The Presidential Archives could be opened only when the holders of both lock combinations were present.
Lucy knelt down on one knee and read the label on the white box on the bottom shelf.
PRESIDENTIAL ARCHIVE STORAGE
She remembered the Church courier placing a set of boxes on the shelf three days earlier and figured he just forgot to place this one safely inside the additional fireproof security of the vault. When she had found the box earlier, she thought it might have been emptied, so she peeked inside and saw a file labeled:
Dr. Fredrick Cohn: Presidential Danite Order
Now her curiosity drew her to find out more about the contents of the box. With the two main vault doors closed behind her, she was sure no one would interrupt her. She lifted the half-full box from the shelf and placed in on a waist-high shelf. She removed the box top and rifled though the contents, which were four folders. Each one of them contained the word Danite on their labels.
She opened each of the folders and let her strong sun-torn fingers scan the length of the secret pages. As she read, her concern grew deeper. All she had learned about the existence—or non-existence—of modern Danites was now shattered.
She put the folders back in their box and replaced the lid. Her stare was only faintly focused, as if she were looking through the walls of the tiny passage. She didn’t know if she felt more betrayed by her own Church or more sympathetic to Natalie and Jade who seemed to be right about the danger they faced, and the power behind it.
Her confused daydream was interrupted by her radio. “Mrs. Hutchinson,” it squawked.
Lucy pulled it from her belt. “Yes?”
“I was just making sure you were all right ma’am. You’ve been inside a long time.”
“Everything is fine, Carol. I was just looking for something.”
“Anything I can help you find, ma’am?”
“No, thanks. I’m on my way out now.”
Lucy made her way back through the twist of security doors and halls into the administrative area of the facility, then finally to her office.
She sat behind her desk and thought of replacing all of her southwestern and American Indian decor with something fresher and contemporary, but she didn’t have anything specific in mind yet. Perhaps a trip to the art museum might spark some ideas, she said to herself out loud.
She picked the phone up off her desk and pressed 01#, the extension for the front desk officer.
“Front Security Desk,” he answered, looking down to the phone to see that the only other button lit up was the curator’s office line.
“This is Lucy, can you get me the home numbers off of the guest register for Ms. Westin and Mr. Acker, please? They left just a little over an hour ago.”
The officer reached over the reception desk and relayed the numbers to her. She thanked him before hanging up.
She pulled a white, lined steno pad close to the edge of her desk and bullet pointed a talking script. She wanted to meet Natalie and Jade to tell them what she found out. But she needed to be careful over the phone. Too much information right away and they might get suspicious. Too little and they might not take their situation seriously enough to meet her.
She was truly concerned with their safety, but couldn’t afford for them to leak how they learned the information. How could she meet them without being seen?
Maybe I should just leave this one alone, she considered. The personal risk was just too high.
After work, the curator drove her BMW 725i sedan to a parking garage in downtown Salt Lake City. She wound her way to the fourth level and scanned the floor for Natalie’s car. The western sunset beaming and popping through the small slits between the floor and low ceiling made it hard to see in the dim garage.
When she lowered her driver and passenger tinted windows to get a better view she heard a faint whistle. Jade and Natalie were standing in a parking space next to the elevator. They waved for her to park there.
Lucy popped open her door locks. “Thanks for saving me a space,” She said as Natalie crawled in the front seat and Jade in the back.
“’Twas nothin’,” Natalie smiled.
The atmosphere in Lucy’s car resembled a Mexican standoff. Lucy wasn’t sure she could totally trust Natalie and Jade. They weren’t sure Lucy wasn’t up to something. So some ice-breaking small talk ensued when Lucy raised her dark tinted windows.
“Someone said your maiden name is Lucy Smith. Any relation?” Natalie asked.
Lucy put on a jovial face and flicked her head back and forth. “Oh, I used to get that all the time. Every Mormon with the last name Smith must be related to the Prophet Joseph, you know?” Then she paused and rethought her reply. Not knowing what Natalie might or might not know about her, she explained further. “Actually, yes. The Prophet Joseph Smith is a great uncle a few generations back. That is why the integrity of the Church is so important to me.
Natalie was impressed with Lucy’s candidness. Most descendants of high-ranking Church leaders are either braggarts or secretive of the fact. Lucy definitely wasn’t a braggart. “And that’s why you called us here today?”
“Yes, kids. After you two left, I did a little investigating. But, before I tell you what I found, I need you to agree not to reveal it to any one. You can use the information for your safety, but please don’t repeat the exact nature because it will implicate me.”
Jade didn’t have to think very hard to agree to Lucy’s terms. “Ma’am, you have our word.” They all looked at each other in agreement.
Lucy sucked in a couple deep breaths before she began her explanation. “At first I thought you two might be just another set of crazy anti-Mormon conspiracy theorists. But, when you mentioned your connection with Dr. Cohn, it reminded me of something. Something I had accidentally seen mentioning Dr. Cohn and Danites in the same document¾internally classified documents.”
“You mean secret documents,” Natalie clarified.
“Well, I suppose you could put it that way,” Lucy quickly admitted and continued. “In the tenth chapter of the book of Revelations, in the New Testament, it says that in the days of the seventh angel, when he is about to sound, the mystery of God would be finished, as He declared to His servants, the prophets.”
Natalie and Jade nodded in understanding.
“After you left, I read a Church Presidency document. It said that during a recent prayer session in the temple, the President received a personal revelation from God to be used in his capacity as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the LDS Church.”
Natalie asked, “Was this a witnessed revelation?”
Lucy explained that the President’s counselors witnessed, scribed, and authenticated the Prophet’s revelation and subsequent directives.
“In the document, the Prophet ordered the Danites to secure Dr. Cohn’s technology. It also mentioned that Dr. Cohn lived in Los Alamos, New Mexico.”
“That’s where we both live, yes,” Natalie confirmed. “What did they mean by secure his technology?”
Lucy shook her head. “I’m not totally sure. The declaration was quite brief. Apparently, the details are so strict the President didn’t want them documented at all. I’m surprised the Danites were even mentioned. This is the first document in thirty years I’ve ever seen mentioning them or authenticating their latter-day existence.”
“Wow. This is big. What else was written?” Jade added.
Lucy pulled a copy of Revelations 10 from her pocket and pointed to the passage. She explained it was revealed to the Prophet that the mystery of God speaks about and deals with the nature of time, and that God will remove all constraints of time from mankind.
For many years, many of the issues of content among different denominations, and even people within a particular denomination, are because of misconceptions of time. Time is often used as the basis of logical argument. The Prophet’s revelation removes any doubt as to what God intended.
Lucy used, as an example, the issue of creationism versus evolution. Arguments over these two theories are fueled by our understanding of time. In fact, these two concepts are not mutually exclusive, meaning that they can actually coexist.
The creationists say God instantaneously created man from dirt or other material; therefore, evolution didn’t take place. The evolutionists argue back that man evolved over many thousands or millions of years; therefore, God didn’t create man in the blink of an eye.
However, since God operates outside the parameters and restrictions of time (always and forever), there is no such a thing as instantaneous, nor is there such thing as a billion years.
Lucy concluded, “Therefore, my friends, if we remove our limited assumptions about time, then perhaps…just perhaps, God used evolution as a tool for his creations.” She smiled and tilted her head in triumphant understanding.
“I never learned that in Church,” Natalie admitted.
“Of course not, the concept is deceivingly simple. Plus, the emotional defensiveness of what we typically deem as pseudo-evangelistic would create such a disturbance that these points need not be widely publicized until the public is ready for logical and emotional understanding.”
Natalie looked concerned. “Are you saying the Church withholds important revelations like this?”
Lucy thought out her answer carefully. “In Deuteronomy 29:29 it says that the secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but those things which are revealed belong unto us and our children for ever, that we may do the words of his law. But, on the other hand, the revelations the Prophet receives from God don’t have to be revealed to the Church as a whole until God tells the Prophet we are ready.”
Natalie wondered, “But if you really think about it, as long as we understand God created man, then it really doesn’t matter what tools he used, magic, evolution, or whatever, to do so, does it?”
“Not really, my dear. That’s why the secrets of the Church are not revealed until the Presidency receives revelation from God to do so.”
Natalie smiled. “And you have the calling to be the keeper of those secrets in your vault?”
“I am privileged, but even I don’t see everything that is written. The Presidential Seal keeps my prying eyes out of most things I secure in the Presidential archives.”
Somehow Natalie and Jade weren’t convinced she wasn’t more in the know.
Lucy lowered her voice as if to tell even a bigger secret. “You know, when God speaks of the end of time in the Book of Revelation?”
“Yes,” Jade said.
“Well, he wasn’t talking about everything coming to an end. He was actually talking about God removing the constraints of time from mankind, giving him the ability to experience and understand as God himself does. The end of time is not a constraint; it’s actually a liberation of the flesh, not a death of any kind.”
Natalie excitedly expounded: “I’m a spiritual being imprisoned by time…wow! The dimension of time was invented for this Earthly experience. God’s test for graduation is how we deal with these shackles of time. I always believed that time is the dimension that separates us from God.”
Jade suddenly woke up from his spinning thoughts and asked the profound question, “Didn’t God begin in Genesis dealing with light? If light underpins the space/time continuum, then God started off using time as a universal tool.”
Natalie and Lucy smiled at him, respecting his budding insights.
“This is why I believe you, Natalie, and why I also believe you are in grave danger. The Presidential order said that Dr. Cohn’s technology concerning material shifting is actually God’s tool for performing miracles. Now the President stated God has commanded him to protect this technology from the public at all costs. He has an entire Presidential Order just placed in the Church Archives that commands the Danites to carry out this directive.”
Natalie almost spoke without thinking first. “Yesterday I questioned how killing Dr. Cohn would protect the Church from anything, but his murder wasn’t to protect the Church, was it?”
Lucy furrowed her already wrinkled forehead. “What do you mean, Natalie?”
“What I mean is, killing Dr. Cohn wasn’t to protect the Church, it was to protect people, mankind, from knowledge God wasn’t prepared to give yet. Knowledge which could maybe be harmful if misused.”
Lucy hadn’t put all the pieces together in such a tight package, but immediately understood what Natalie said. “So what are you going to do now, Natalie?”
Natalie knew in her mind that she had to try to get Freddy back with his own technology, but she couldn’t say so. She also knew she wanted to continue his work, but she couldn’t yet admit that to Lucy, who just exposed so much about God’s intentions.
Natalie looked as if she took a temporary trip away from reality, but she simply said, “I’ll do what I think is right.”
The morning after their meeting with Lucy, Jade piloted the relatively small plane while Natalie enjoyed her view from the co-pilot’s seat. The sky was deep blue and bright with thin, wispy, layers of clouds scattered thousands of feet below them. The air was smooth at their altitude of 23,000 feet. Jade pointed out the lenticular shaped clouds that loitered above some of the peaks on the Wasatch Mountain Range below. He explained that those clouds indicated a certain type of turbulence.
“So, is flying close to mountain ranges dangerous?” Natalie asked.
“It can be if you don’t know what you are doing.” Jade adjusted his body straight up in his seat as if to give a great lecture. “For example, as wind hits the windward side of the mountain it rises, forced over the range. However, on the leeward side, the air that had been pushed over the mountain is sucked back down to the mountain. The downdrafts might be as fast as a thousand feet per minute. So, if you are flying a real small plane that only climbs at a maximum rate of five-hundred-feet per second, you could get into some real trouble.”
Natalie laughed at his enthusiasm. “And this excites you?”
“Natalie, everything about flying excites me. It’s my passion…”
She looked at him over the top rim of her limited edition Oakleys. “It is your passion, your only passion?” She then reached into her glass and crunched some ice.
He took his eyes out of the sky for a moment to appreciate her blue jeans and t-shirt wardrobe. “Well, not my only passion, but it’s certainly high on my list. Maybe not as much as you like your ice.”
“I see,” she said before she looked away from him and back out her side window, then crunched another hand full of ice.
“Natalie, I know we have to get to Los Alamos, but I want to stop and share something with you.”
“Share something? What?”
“I just want to share something with you. We’ll only be on the ground about two hours. We can have lunch, and then get to New Mexico before two o’clock.”
“Sure, why not?”
Jade smiled. He had managed to find the Piper Malibu at the Ogden airport, and since the Department of Homeland Security was picking up the cost, the plane’s six-hundred-dollar-an-hour rental fee didn’t concern him. He was just happy to be flying, and even happier to share the experience with such a pretty woman as Natalie.
Jade looked at his maps and dialed a set of four letters into his GPS and a new radio frequency into his secondary radio.
He pulled the throttle back and the engine quieted. He didn’t slow the engine too much because he didn’t want to shock-cool it. Cooling an engine too quickly can cause the metal to rapidly contract, possibly crack, and eventually fail.
As the airspeed indicator needle started dropping, Jade pulled back on the wheel, maintaining altitude and slowing the plane even more. Once he got to his desired air speed, he dropped the nose of the aircraft and started his descent. He was still a little high and fast, so he deployed his speed brakes, small paddles that pop out of the wings disrupting their airflow.
The airplane started to shake a bit as the plane left its calm air into rougher and rougher turbulence.
“Damn, what’s that?” Natalie complained.
“Thermal and terrain turbulence. Basically heat coming off of the ground, and wind being deflected by terrain elements.”
“Wow! Look at that!”
The Grand Canyon was only a couple miles away and coming into full grand view.
“Yeah, I’m amazed every time I fly over it,” Jade said.
“Look at the red rock. The beautiful layers of billions of years. The…”
“I know. It’s just gorgeous. Look at the way the Colorado River has carved its signature on nature.”
Jade was happy with the plane’s performance. “Ah, there we go.” He stabilized his descent and retracted his airbrakes about four thousand feet off the ground.
Natalie still didn’t know exactly where they were, even as Jade made his radio approach calls into an untowered, uncontrolled airport, which she hadn’t yet spotted.
As they became closer to the ground Natalie had to ask, “Where’s the airport?”
Jade pointed directly in front of them. “Right there. See the runway?”
In front of them about a half-mile was a tiny single strip of asphalt. “That’s a runway? It looks like a mall parking lot.”
Jade chuckled. “Those are hangars, not shoe stores.” He then pointed to the moving map display on his GPS. “See that line? You are looking at the runway. We’ll be on the ground in a couple minutes.”
She still didn’t know why they were stopping.
There were only three Danites on the small twin-engine business jet, the pilot and two operatives. This particular model of Citation was rated by the FAA for single-pilot operations. Therefore, it was convenient for quick flight plans and dynamic missions.
Mark, a black Danite operative, wore short hair and a pencil-thin mustache. If it weren’t for the half-carat diamond stud in his ear and the skimpy patch of hair on his chin, he’d look like an Army sergeant. He sat in the co-pilot seat and monitored the FLIR, Forward Looking Infrared system.
Natalie and Jade had no idea that they had been stalked by the Citation since they departed the small Utah airport. Every turn they made was easily tracked by the heat-sensitive FLIR screen in the cockpit. The closer the Citation was to their plane, the whiter their hot engines glowed on the FLIR screen. Farther away, their heat signature showed up as one big dot, but very visible even a few miles away.
The other operative, Aaron, had finger-length, thick, black hair that was usually a bit uncombed with patches sticking straight out from his head. His face was constantly rough shaven, but his smile was bright against his tan complexion. He shuffled around in the club seats in the back of the plane. On the foldout table, he had spread out maps and other documents, trying to anticipate Natalie and Jade’s next move.
The pilot spoke over the intercom. “It looks like they are landing in Meadview.”
The man in the back asked, “Meadview? What’s there?”
The pilot banked to the left to put a little more time between him and his target. “Who knows? There’s nothing around here but a mile deep hole in the ground.”
Mark leaned back and looked at his partner in the cabin. “Guess it’s show time.”
Everyone double-checked their seatbelts and prepared for landing.
Jade borrowed an airport crew car. It wasn’t anything special, just a twenty-year-old K-car. Most airport operators have loaner cars reserved for pilots so they don’t have to call a cab or go through the hassle of car rental. They are usually allowed to keep the cars out for a couple hours or so. Sometimes, with late night arrivals, pilots keep the cars all night if the airport isn’t too busy.
Shrub brush and random ocotillo plants decorated the dry, sandy landscape as they drove the slightly winding road. They passed a small clump of Joshua trees, a type of yucca plant that Mormons named because it was said its spread arms would lead them to the promised land. Then a sign came into Natalie’s view:
Grand Canyon Skywalk
Hualapai Indian Reservation
It was an interesting sign, but Natalie had never heard of the Skywalk, located just 120 miles from Las Vegas. As they pulled into the parking lot, Jade explained that the Hualapai Indian nation was creating an entire multi-faceted tourist resort on the Western Rim of the Grand Canyon. In fact, they are one of the few tribes to create a successful revenue stream not dependent on gambling and casinos.
Jade paid for their tickets and they were given two sets of cloth booties.
Natalie bent over to secure the booties over her shoes and joked with Jade, “Are we going to view an operation?”
“Not hardly. Wait till you see this.”
“You’ve been here before, Jade?”
“No, I just saw it on TV.”
He took her hand and led her out of the door and onto the all-glass walkway. The structure was built in the shape of an oval racetrack. The eighty-yard, semicircular walk jutted out seventy feet over the edge of the canyon wall, like a giant horseshoe.
When they stepped out onto the Plexiglas structure, Natalie realized why they were wearing booties. It was so they wouldn’t scratch the clear floor that was about four-thousand-feet above the Colorado River.
Natalie felt queasy looking down through the glass beneath her. She felt the 1 1/2 inch glass creak and moan. Her feet looked huge compared to the tiny river and rocks at the bottom of the canyon. She looked for a safe place to step but every thing around her seemed to be delicately and dangerously suspended in air. The massive amounts of Plexiglas somehow gave little comfort.
Jade noticed her breathing shallow. “Are you okay, Natalie?”
“Yes. It’s just…” She was at a loss for words.
“Overwhelming?” Jade suggested.
She pointed at the canyon floor. “Yes. It’s a long way down there.”
“Over three-quarters of a mile,” Jade said. “Don’t worry, though. This walkway was built to withstand gale-force winds and an 8.0 magnitude earthquake.”
“With my luck the earthquake that’s coming in a minute will be an 8.1 on the Richter scale. What then, Mr.?”
“Then I suggest we enjoy our last carnival ride together.”
She looked at him as if he had just told a thirty-year-old, stale knock-knock joke, but he continued anyway. “Really, this bridge is a giant cantilever design, built of more than a million pounds of steel beams. It’s much stronger than it looks. They say it will hold a 747. This is going to be a wonderful resort.”
Natalie wasn’t sure what he meant, so he explained. “The Hualapai are building an Old West village near here with a prestigious resort, campground, cabins, campsites and all kinds of activities and local attractions. When they are finished they…”
His words dropped off as he noticed two well-dressed men flank him and Natalie. One was black, the other white, and they both looked out of place in their sport jackets among all the casually dressed tourists. The two hadn’t spoken yet, but Jade still noticed the telltale outline of pistols in body holsters underneath the men’s sport jackets.
Jade also noticed Natalie’s eyes looking down at the men’s hands. They both wore matching white gold rings that resembled a class ring. They had a blood red ruby set in the center but the sides had very specific engravings.
One side said CTR and the other side had the now familiar D with a cross.
Natalie’s eyes met Jade’s as they both backed away from the edge of the walkway walls into the center. They tried to walk away cautiously so that the two men wouldn’t follow.
Natalie took Jade’s hand and stepped up their pace to a brisk walk. “Did you see the rings?”
“Yeah, the Danite symbol. I saw it.”
“And CTR,” she added.
“It means Choose the Right. It’s a common Mormon saying that reminds us Saints that we have Heavenly Father’s gift of free will, and that we should choose to do what is right in the face of all adversity and temptation. Kids wear CTR rings all the time.”
Jade grinned. “I get it. A take off on WWJD!”
Natalie snapped back with a little pride, “Not hardly. I think CTR came along well before WWJD.”
“Oh, sooor-ry.” Jade jibed.
When they looked back, the men were following them. As they increased their pace, the men sped up as well. They transversed the entire length of the walkway and got caught up in the crowd gathered to enter back into the main building. Terra firma was still ten feet away.
When the men caught up to them, Aaron, the white man, grabbed Natalie’s elbow from behind. Mark grabbed Jade’s arm and tugged backward as if to muscle control over him.
Jade relaxed his arm and Mark spoke, “Just relax, you two need to come with us. Please don’t cause a scene.”
Jade responded while the four waited to get back into the building. “What do you want?”
“You’ll find out soon enough. For now you need to come with us,” Mark said as he patted the bulge at his hip.
Jade started to take a step forward with the man, then shifted his weight backward to spin around and slam the palm of his hand into the man’s face. Mark fell backward. Before he landed on the floor, Jade swung his right arm and hit Aaron square on the jaw, but he didn’t fall.
Aaron pulled Natalie in front of him to use her as a shield against Jade. He put his left arm around her neck and pulled her against him. As he reached his right hand into his pocket, Jade grabbed Natalie and used her shoulders to spin her to the side so he could deliver a devastating kick to Aaron’s ribs.
Aaron loosened his grip on Natalie to try to protect himself, but Jade was too quick. Jade jumped up and faked a kick. With the other foot following close behind, he kicked Aaron in the back of the head. He fell to the ground, blinded and stunned by the impact of Jade’s foot.
Mark was struggling to get back to his feet. Halfway to his feet, he reached inside his jacket. Jade grabbed Natalie and shoved her through the crowd in front of him. He looked back just in time to see Mark pulling his pistol out. Jade lifted his leg high above Mark’s head then dropped his foot like a hammer. Mark’s neck cocked to one side as he fell back to the floor.
Jade and Natalie ran through the crowded building. It seemed, with each step, they had to push someone out of the way. Finally, they made it outside to their car.
Natalie and Jade jumped inside and sped out of the area, heading back to the airport. When they looked at the road behind them, they didn’t see anyone following, but they knew they had to hurry. Jade looked over at Natalie “Choose the right? What the hell are they thinking?”
“I don’t know, Jade. You’ve got to get me home.”
It didn’t take them long to get back to the airport. Once they parked the car, Natalie ran to the airplane parked on the tarmac. She instinctively started untying the plane. She removed the chains from under the wings and the tail.
Jade ran inside to return the car keys. He threw a twenty-dollar bill at the young woman attendant. “Is the plane topped off?”
“Yes sir. Three-hundred-and-fifty-dollars worth. We ran your card.”
“Great, thanks.” An airplane caught his attention. He knew the only way he could be followed was if the Danites flew behind them. He pointed with his chin. “That Citation. When did it land?”
“About five minutes after you, sir.”
“They are my friends. Did you see a black guy and a white guy get out?”
“That would be them. They have our other crew car. Their pilot just ran outside to preflight the plane. He seemed to be in a hurry. Something wrong?”
“No, kid. Everything’s fine. Thanks.”
As Jade ran outside, he heard the whine of the jet’s engines spinning up.
He couldn’t be sure the pilot hadn’t seen Natalie yet. Damn! He thought. They must have phoned ahead.
Jade could see Natalie waiting in their plane no less than fifty feet from their enemy’s plane. When he ran past a mechanic’s hanger, he had an idea.
He ran inside and looked around until he spotted a canvas tool bag. He ran over and snatched it from its bench as a confused mechanic watched, not daring to confront Jade.
Instead of running to his own plane, Jade ran straight for the jet. He saw the baffled look on the pilot’s face through the windscreen as he leaned back and heaved the tool bag directly into the right engine of the jet.
The engine sucked in and shredded the bag. Sparks flew and filled the intake port to the engine as the tools bounced around, slamming and doing untold damage to the turbine blades. The loud crunching and clanging seemed to temporarily amuse Jade. He felt himself smile.
He ran away from the jet as quickly as he ran to it. He jerked open his pilot’s door and jumped inside with Natalie. He didn’t bother to buckle his seatbelt when he saw the Danites run outside toward them. He pressed the starter and watched the propeller spin as the engine’s RPMs grew. He released the brakes and they both watched their plane begin to outpace the Danites who then ran to their own plane.
Jade approached the runway and pressed his throttle all the way forward to get a rolling start. “We’ll head northwest like we’re going back home, then we’ll turn and get to Los Alamos ASAP.” He concentrated on the takeoff, hoping he hadn’t forgotten anything in his haste to get off the ground. This was one time he didn’t follow any checklist other than the one etched into his mind.
It was hard to judge Natalie’s growing concern. Her voice shook when she asked, “Won’t that jet out run us?”
“Not now, it won’t!” He wondered if she had even seen the spark show when the tool bag hit the engine.
Natalie and Jade landed their plane in Los Alamos, New Mexico at 1:45 p.m., local time, relieved that they made it away from the Danites. It struck Jade that the landscape was so different from where they had just fled. Arizona was a dry, hot, dusty, desert, while Los Alamos was a mountain forest with a cool, fresh smelling breeze.
A bright yellow taxicab delivered them from the airport to Natalie’s neighborhood. Jade thanked the Jordanian driver in his native tongue and handed him a twenty-dollar bill. He never ceased to amaze Natalie with his many skills. Where did he learn Arabic?
Natalie took the lead and pulled Jade from the sidewalk up the red-stone walkway that evenly divided her full, plush lawn. The walkway was lined with purple flowers and white daisies. Jade admired how her yard matched the neatly-primped yards of the other family homes nestled among the tall, green trees on her street.
The fluffy, fat white cat acted as if she had been waiting inside the front door to greet Natalie for the whole week she was gone. She tossed her tail, hunched her back, and rubbed her face in and out of Natalie’s legs. Her purr was as loud as an old refrigerator.
“She must miss you,” Jade commented. “It looks like she’s gonna eat your leg.”
“You don’t know much about cats, do you Jade?”
“Not really. I’m a dog man.”
“Did you say you are a dog man or that you are a dog?”
“Maybe a bit of both, to tell the truth.”
“Cats have scent glands next to their mouths. When they rub on you like that they are just marking their territory,” Natalie explained.
“Kind of like a dog pissing on trees and car tires, eh?” Jade asked.
Natalie scowled at him. “All I know is by the time we leave Los Alamos, I don’t want to find out you own half the fire hydrants around here!”
While her white cat danced around, trying her best to trip Natalie, her solid black cat acted as if she didn’t know her owner was back, or that she had even been gone. Natalie admired the independent nature of cats.
Jade surveyed the living room and as much of the rest of the house he could see. “Damn, you’ve got more plants and flowers than a Godfather’s funeral.”
“I like them. They brighten up the place. They remind me of where I came from.”
“Where did you come from?” Jade was fishing for her exact meaning. He knew he didn’t even know her real name yet. Natalie Westin was a woman without a past, taking the name of a dead child.
“My parents split when I was young. To me it was as if I died. After a few years, I reunited with my father. That was like being born again. Every season my flowers bloom, reminding me that there are cycles and seasons in life.”
Jade empathized, “It keeps you grounded?”
“Yes. I guess you could say that.”
Jade followed her into her kitchen, and spotted a small animal cage. “What’s that?”
She walked to the cage, opened it, and stuck her hand inside. Two foot-long rats ran up her arm and perched on her shoulder, snuggling against her neck. She pulled her silky, black hair back and exposed a white rat with devil red eyes. “This is Jewels. I named her that because of her ruby eyes. And this…” She untangled her hair out of the other rat’s paw. “This is Sapphire. She’s a blue-gray brindle rat.”
“You have rats as pets. I thought that was a geeky boy thing.”
“They go with me everywhere, actually. Rats are very social. In fact, they say rats are the most intelligent rodents next to squirrels. Mine know their names and everything.”
Jade looked down at the white cat looking up from Natalie’s feet. “Haven’t the cats eaten them yet?”
Natalie bragged that the cats and rats play like siblings. When one of them gets irritated, it’s actually the rats that snap out and put the cats in their place.
“Who fed and watered your jungle while you were gone?”
“My neighbor’s kid. It doesn’t look as though I’ve had any intruders.”
They both jumped when someone loudly pounded on the front door.
“Maybe you spoke too soon.” Jade said as he made his way quietly to the front door.
Natalie’s heart thumped and her body felt a jolt of adrenaline as she watched Jade peek through the tiny peephole of the door.
She wanted to hurry him by asking who it was, but she didn’t want to make a sound. He was taking way more time than she wanted him to, especially when the knocks got much louder.
Jade turned and whispered, “It’s some girl. There doesn’t seem to be anyone else with her.”
“I’m sure it’s my neighbor. Let her in.”
Jade opened the door and a sixteen-year-old, blonde girl looked up at him bewildered, “Is Natalie here?”
Jade moved to the side and Natalie came into the girl’s view. She walked in past Jade. “Hi, Natalie.”
“Hi Jen.” Natalie gave her a big hug. “How was everything?”
“Fine. But, two days ago, there were two men walking around in your back yard. When they saw me changing the cat’s water, they ran through the back gate.”
“What did they look like?”
“They had on white shirts, suits, and ties.”
“Was one of them black?” Jade asked.
“No. They were both white. One had dark hair and looked a little scruffy. You know what I mean?”
“Yeah,” Natalie said. “And the other?”
“He was real clean cut with glasses. He had short, curly, auburn hair. They both looked like salesmen. They carried small notebooks or something.”
Natalie looked at Jade and their eyes were discussing the possibilities. “Jen, did you ever see them again?”
“No. But they left on mountain bikes.”
Jade thought he may have heard her wrong and asked for clarification, “Did you say mountain bikes?”
“Yes. They both had chrome, Mongoose mountain bikes, like the one my little brother has.”
Jade was confused, but Natalie instantly put the pieces together. “Did these guys have jewelry or name tags?”
Jen thought for a moment. “I don’t remember any jewelry, but now that you said something, they had on square, black name badges, but I couldn’t read them.”
Natalie had spent her life in the Church and she knew that Jen was describing a pair of Mormon missionaries.
“Oh, there was one other thing,” Jen said.
“They put on backpacks when they rode away.”
“Yes, Jade¾Mormon Missionaries,” Natalie confirmed.
The limousine pulled into a large, private garage next to a forty-foot motorcoach after about a thirty-minute drive. Hook Castro jerked the black blind bag from Fullerton’s head once the garage doors completely shut. As usual, Hook was rough. He didn’t even bother to loosen the drawstrings all the way, so the bag scraped Fullerton’s nose and ears.
“Welcome to our safehouse,” Hook growled in a not so hospitable tone of voice.
“Thanks,” Fullerton crabbed back.
Hook and Patricia Sanchez led Fullerton into the attached house and to the den area. Inside was a giant, metal cage made of inch diameter welded bars sitting on the tan, pile carpet. Inside the cage sat a studio sofa and pillow.
“Get in, my pet,” Sanchez ordered in a playful way.
Fullerton bent over to walk through the cage door. Hook slammed the door, placed a titanium security padlock through the latch and clicked it closed.
“Hey, Dumb American,” Hook said. Fullerton didn’t answer.
“Don’t try anything stupid. We have this entire house rigged! Now stick your hands through the bars.”
Still Fullerton didn’t answer, but he complied and stuck his hands through the bars. Hook fumbled with the key a bit before removing the cuffs from his wrists. Fullerton stretched out on the couch and watched Hook and Sanchez calmly walk out of the room.
In another part of the safehouse was a planning room, set up very similarly to the AANE’s strategic room in their Venezuelan camp. Computer monitors, whiteboards, and maps lined the walls.
Hook and Sanchez walked into the planning room and sat in front of the other seven members who were watching Commander Carlos Medina prepare for a talk. At Medina’s back, hung a large, magnetic white board overlaid with a map of the United States. More than a dozen bold red lines depicting interstate arteries spider-webbed the board and led to a central focal point of the map northwest of Las Vegas. This point was marked with a giant star and the words, Yucca Mountain. Several magnetic vehicles were stuck to the board along the red lines.
Medina anxiously scanned his audience of soldiers. “Let’s get started.” He picked up a blue marker and started writing notes on the board. “Americans enjoy their conveniences and luxuries without regard to the aftereffects¾that is, unless it annoys them. For example, Americans are all too quick to consume energy, but when it comes to nuclear waste, they don’t want it near them. Our job is to exploit that, not-in-my-backyard, bullshit.”
He pointed at the giant, red star. “This is Yucca Mountain, located on public land that’s a part of the Nellis Air Force Base, but only an hour or so away from Las Vegas. The average Joe-Citizens, scattered across this huge country, consider the dumpsite remote enough for their concerns. They don’t stop to think that over 100,000 shipments of highly radioactive waste coming from these seventy-seven sites across the country will be shipped down their local highways and through their small towns.”
The group studied the small, red dots and highway routes most likely to be used for waste transport. They watched as Medina wrote a blue number on the board, then explained it.
“Currently the US Congress has approved 107,500 metric tons of commercial and Department of Energy nuclear waste to be stored at Yucca Mountain. This spent fuel is a highly radioactive isotope of several different elements broken down from the rod assemblies of uranium that power nuclear plants. After the rods are used, they are placed in on-site pools to cool off. Every reactor has a limited amount of pool space to store spent fuel. When that space is used, the nuclear waste has to be moved somewhere else for long-term storage.”
Sanchez raised her hand and was allowed to ask her question. “Sir, just how dangerous is the fuel coming out of these pools?”
“Good question, I was getting to that. A ten-year-old fuel-assembly unit will deliver a lethal dose of radiation, over 500 rem, in less than three minutes to a person standing three feet away. At the same distance, just a thirty-second exposure will significantly increase the risk of birth defects, genetic damage, and cancer.”
Most of the members already knew the facts-at-hand concerning nuclear operations and waste; a few were experts in the field. Still, Medina wanted to discuss the issues to enforce nuclear dangers and their plan to make their attack wake-up-call to the American people more of a psychological operation than a physical threat.
Sanchez answered Medina’s cell phone when it chimed, then indicated to Medina that it was the call he was waiting for.
Medina clapped his hands together like a judge dropping a gavel. “Let’s have lunch and get back here in an hour. We’ll lay out the whole operation at that time.”
The group stood and left Hook, Sanchez, and Medina alone in the room.
Medina avoided the pleasantries on the phone. “What the hell is going on?”
Tommy Boy was patient and methodical in his words. “Sir, I been quite successful in eliminating and isolating the chain of operation. There is just no way to track the operation back to us…”
Medina snapped at Tommy. “What about the technology? Did you get the rest of what we need? Look, I have to attend to the Yucca Mountain operation. I really don’t need the waters muddied by worrying about your inability to deliver your promises!”
Tommy slowed the pace of the conversation. “I have to tie up the loose ends first. Now, the only person who can provide the missing security to the technology is Dr. Cohn’s assistant. She apparently doesn’t have it herself, so we need to be patient and let her figure it all out. Right now she is hell bent on what happened to Dr. Cohn, but she’ll come around.”
“You need to take the horse by the reins, Tommy. Get her going.”
“Yes, but I also have to be careful about it. Go ahead with your current plans and give us just a couple days. I’ll deliver. Don’t worry about anything.”
Tommy Boy’s words sounded more like an order than a plea to Medina, but he didn’t object. He needed to hear the confidence in Tommy Boy’s voice.
“Tommy, does Washington know where we are?”
“No. They lost you under the radar in the Caribbean. They are actually tracking another plane they think is you to Florida.”
“Nothing like an accidental scapegoat.”
Tommy thought of their captive Fullerton, then tried one more time to console Medina. “We’ve done a good job at neutralizing our opponents. There are no first-hand witnesses left on my end. Dr. Cohn’s assistant will lead us to what we need if we don’t get too aggressive.”
“I’ll trust you, so you better be right this time.”
Medina flipped his phone shut, smiled, and gave the orders. “Sanchez, go have lunch with the Dumb American. Hook, you come with me.”
Natalie’s car was just as she described it to Jade, a red mustang with a black ragtop. Its 5.0-liter engine had the signature Mustang low rumble that sounded exceptionally sweet over the jazz playing on her radio. With the top down, the mountain wind whipped her hair around the entire five-minute drive to Dr. Cohn’s home office and private lab. The tall pines were so Los Alamos.
Natalie walked past the front door to the side of Dr. Cohn’s two-story colonial style home. Jade followed her to a small door next to the side of the garage. She rifled through the keys on her key chain, sticking one of them into the house’s dead bolt.
Once inside, Natalie climbed the dark-stained, hardwood stairs directly to Cohn’s laboratory and office. Jade peeked over her shoulder as she opened the door at the top of the stairs. “Oh Shit!” She yelled.
Jade appraised the extremely clean room. The wooden floors were highly polished, and each wall, except one, was painted ivory and was adorned with black and white framed photographs of landscapes and space. The lone far wall was painted a contrasting light olive drab and contained no art. Not determining anything amiss, Jade asked, “What’s wrong?”
She pointed. “That wall. That’s where Freddy kept his file cabinets. They’re gone. They are all gone.”
She opened an adjoining door and looked inside his lab. “Double Shit!”
“What?” Jade wondered.
“His computer CPU usually sits under his desk. It’s gone. Nothing but the cables are left! Oh, my God!”
“Do you think they got what they were looking for, Natalie?”
“No way. Freddy was always careful about bit signatures on his hard-drive.”
She inhaled and explained. “When you save something on your computer’s hard-drive it is stored as ones and zeros, called bits. When you subsequently erase the information, you don’t really erase those bit signatures, you are just erasing an index that points to the location of the electronic file.”
“Let me guess. That information can be retrieved even if the address pointing to it is erased.”
“That’s right. Freddy was careful not to copy his MEPS software to his hard-drive. He said something can’t be retrieved if it was never there. Besides, they are missing my disk, not Freddy’s. He’d never copy my half to his computer. I suspect the killers took his computer to remove and search the hard-drive for anything they could recover. They are not going to be happy when they find out they are SOL.”
“SOL? I didn’t think you Mormon girls cussed so much.”
“Mr. Acker, us Mormon girls can do lots of things you can’t imagine when provoked!”
He apologized with his smile. “Is there any chance they have the MEPS program?”
“I highly doubt it. Even if they did manage to find my half of the program, they would still need both the passwords.”
Natalie pushed her hand through the air like a cop stopping traffic. “Let me think for a minute.”
Inside, she was overcome with emotion and what felt like unidentified guilt. She thought about how Freddy managed to bring back chimps. She knew from Freddy that he had managed to reach into other universes and snag life, even when he didn’t have a complete body to exchange. The details of what Cohn had outlined to her were something that he swore her to secrecy. No matter the rumors of his work, she was sworn to neither confirm nor deny his true scientific abilities. Not until his announcements were public at least. She had to figure out a lot of things, including how to bring Cohn back, but she had no idea how to do that without a body.
“Jade, I’ve got to find his pass-code and disk.”
“Don’t worry, we’ll get it. We’ll get it all,” he assured her.
Jade glanced out the window, overlooking the street. “Natalie. Look at that car down the street.”
Natalie came to the window and peered out. “It looks like they are watching the house. I wonder when they are going to make another move.”
“Are they Danites or your everyday, normal missionary?”
“Why are you such a smart ass, Jade?”
“Hey. I heard that the CIA and the NSA actively recruit young Mormon Missionaries for government service.”
Natalie looked at him with judgment. “Actually, they do. Organizations like the Central Security Service recognize the high-caliber language skills of returned missionaries. The American Counsel of the Teaching of Foreign Language says ninety-three percent of RMs score advanced or higher on their Oral Proficiency Interview, compared to forty-seven percent of the average liberal arts college language graduates.”
Jade was a bit surprised at her detailed knowledge. “What do you know about the Central Security Service?”
“Maybe more than I’m supposed to. They are our country’s top code crackers.”
“Yeah. Probably more than you should know, all right. The CSS is highly classified.”
“What else did you want to know, Jade?”
He thought of several things, including her true identity but focused his comments to just one thing. “I heard that quite a few Mormon chapels in Chile, Peru, and Bolivia were bombed by communist forces a couple decades ago, killing at least six missionaries. They suspected that the missionaries were really covert CIA agents. Do you think there is any truth to this?”
“No. Some anti-Mormon jerks started those rumors. Some of them were excommunicated from the Church for pretty serious moral offenses and decided to get back at all Mormons. Although it’s true the government recruits return missionaries skilled in language from universities like BYU, there is no way the Church would partake of political and military operations abroad. The missionaries are out to spread the gospel, period.”
“You sound offended.”
“I am…I mean, not at you, but at vicious people who would put thousands of missionaries’ lives at risk by publicly accusing them of being CIA operatives. It’s just cruel and selfish.”
“Well, Natalie. One thing is for sure. We’ve been chased across two states by the Church’s best. Those guns strapped to their bodies were real.” He pointed to his finger. “And you saw the rings yourself.”
Natalie backed up from the window and stared at the floor. “I see the problem. I just don’t have the solution¾yet.”
The natural sunlight that usually brightened his office through the giant plate-glass windows was falling under the horizon. Although Richard Sullivan considered bright light his daily anti-depressive therapy, he was content to enjoy the quietly growing dimness against the glow of his computer screen. He reached for his mouse then double-clicked to open an email entitled:
Unbelievable, he said to himself.
Earlier that day, Jade removed a fingerprint from one of Natalie’s glasses of ice. He scanned it into his BlackBerry and sent it to Sullivan, along with a new voice file, for analysis. Sullivan submitted the fingerprints to the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), the national repository of fingerprints.
After waiting all day for the results; he was quite surprised reading them. Natalie’s prints didn’t match any fingerprints in the IAFIS or NCIC databases.
This girl is a ghost, he thought after considering she hadn’t been arrested, joined the military, or garnered a security clearance. Who is she?
Sullivan considered calling Jade about the results, but stopped short of picking up the phone. He had learned that haste makes waste during his years working in the intelligence arena. Besides, there were things he couldn’t tell Jade, Tina, or anyone. Things that would jeopardize his position.
He reached for his Slinky. For over ten years, he kept the same toy on his desk. It was the original metal Slinky that left black residue on his neatly manicured hands after fondling it, but he had never found any better worry beads.
Holding each end of his springy bauble, he bounced it back and forth while herding his thoughts into concepts and then into plans to gather more information before making any big decisions. There was too much that didn’t make sense.
It would be better if he didn’t tell Jade anything at all. If Jade asks about the results, he’d say he hadn’t received them yet. Jade might get suspicious because their office usually had priority on fingerprint results, but Sullivan would deal with that later. Maybe he wouldn’t have to deal with it at all if his plans work out.
Sullivan would spend the rest of the evening using Reverse Speech to analyze Jade’s latest conversations with Natalie. He’d work for a while and stop to play with his Slinky, then work some more. He wasn’t sure if Jade suspected Sullivan was analyzing his speech just as much as Natalie’s, or if Jade yet knew he was a target for Sullivan to neutralize.
Jade Acker finished his phone call while leaning so far forward his head was between his knees. He was trying to avoid the wind and highway noise bouncing around in the red Ford Mustang while negotiating with a pilot friend to fly the Piper back to Salt Lake City, while he and Natalie were on their way to Tucson, Arizona in her car.
“It’s all handled,” he said when he hung up his phone.
Natalie wiped a hunk of black hair from her face. “Great, but I still think we should have taken the plane.”
Jade shook his head. “It was only rented for two days, and we don’t know how long we’ll be.”
“I guess you’re right.” Natalie resigned before sticking a handful of ice in her mouth. “If Dr. Cohn’s ex-wife cooperates, hopefully we’ll find what we need quickly enough to get back.”
Jade could see the determination on her face. She was like a bulldog with a bone. Even though there was much more involved than finding Dr. Cohn’s software and passwords, Natalie didn’t seem to think past her first mission.
“You are very focused, aren’t you, Natalie?”
“I’ve been told that before, why?”
“Well…It’s just that we are being chased by a mercenary group that isn’t supposed to exist, and you are still hell-bent on solving Dr. Cohn’s mysteries.”
Without bringing attention to himself, he reached down to his pocket and turned off the digital voice recorder through the cloth. He was about to embark on a conversation he didn’t want to record. “So, why isn’t a woman like you married?”
Natalie’s forehead instantly wrinkled in question. “What do you mean?”
“You know what I mean. You are smart, beautiful, well balanced¾just about everything a man could want in a woman. Why aren’t you married?”
“I haven’t had time yet. Besides, all men want the same thing.”
Jade pretended he didn’t know what she was talking about and threw in a heart-pulsing jibe. “Like what, multiple wives like Joseph Smith? Or are you one of those blind followers that believe his public denials of his exploitation of women?”
Natalie wasn’t impressed. For years, she had heard just about every anti-Mormon conspiracy and propaganda one could imagine. “You are such an ass. Get your facts straight. Joseph Smith did practice plural marriage, but later the Church formally changed its views in accordance with revelation from God. It is clearly written and declared in our Doctrine and Covenants.”
Jade acted as if he had trapped her. “So why did Joseph Smith lie about his polygamy?”
“History is filled with religious men denying truths because of fear of prosecution. Martin Luther told his mentor, Phillip of Hasse, to take an additional wife, then later denied it. Even Peter was avoiding unnecessary consequences when he denied Jesus three times. In Old Testament times, Abraham said his wife was only his sister in Egypt and Canaan.”
Jade was inspired at her candor and discipline not to try to defend her religion. It reminded him of childhood times when his father called a spade a spade. Somehow, Natalie reminded him of the strength of his father, who he had always tried to emulate by joining the Army and taking positions that were considered tough and manly.
Natalie continued. “You have to remember that all but God are just men. Even prophets are just men. God used his men-children who were sinful to illustrate redemption. He used fearful men to demonstrate growing courage and even martyrdom. No man is greater than Jesus; he was the only man perfect according to God’s laws.”
“Well, since we are on the subject, I heard there are lots of strange things that happen in your Temples. Do they really baptize the dead? How do they get away with that? Is that where they keep the bodies when they die?”
Natalie laughed out loud. She imagined his visions of robed priests dunking dead bodies under the water, trying to overcome their natural propensity to float. “No, Jade. We baptize by proxy. That’s why Granite Mountain and genealogical records are so important. God has certain ordinances He has required us to perform according to our best ability to do so. Baptism is one of those ordinances. So when someone has died and never had a chance to accept the Gospel and be baptized, we do it for them. A person takes a slip of paper and claims the name of the deceased person, then acts as a stand in for him to perform the required Baptism.”
Jade was too proud to admit thinking anything other than what Natalie just explained, “I thought so,” he simply stated.
“So, let me ask you this, Natalie. When we were talking with the Curator of Granite Mountain, you explained how you reconcile evolution with creationism. Is that how you and Dr. Cohn balanced his science and religion as well?”
His question wasn’t very well-formed but she understood his meaning. “Yes, pretty much. The Material Shifting Technology allows us to trade material between alternate universes. The science behind it deals with string theory, which states that everything is made up of very tiny vibrating strings. I explained this to the police right before I met you. These strings, if you will, take various shapes and forms. Dr Cohn realized that this scientific model is how mankind can explain things according to our limited thinking capacity. No one has ever really seen a string, the fabric of all matter.”
“So, Dr. Cohn just accepted that what he knew as science might not really be exact.”
“That’s right. He called scientific models a practical representation for application use only. Once he had a full understanding of how to apply the theory to manipulate matter, he used to say God just pulls the strings, kind of like a puppet master.”
“A divine puppet master,” Jade added.
“A lot of things about God’s words and actions are commonly misunderstood. Take the creation in Genesis. It is commonly accepted that God created everything from nothing. Actually, the correct translation for create is organize. If you use the correct word it brings a whole new meaning to commonly misunderstood notions from creationism in Genesis to the Beast in Revelation.”
“So you believe in the beast too?”
“Of course, but probably not as you are thinking.”
Jade listened as Natalie explained any educated biblical scholar knows exactly what the mark of the beast is. The Greek word mark used in Revelation 13 is charagma. Translated correctly, it simply means engraving, etching, or stamp.
In Roman times, in order to sell anything, one was required to have an Imperial seal stamped on an official Imperial document. If someone wanted to purchase something, it had to be purchased with an official Roman coin with the Emperor’s image engraved on it. This means that the mark of the beast was the engraved image on the Roman document seals and Roman coinage.
The mark on the right-hand and the mark on the forehead simply referred to the right-hand tax and head tax that was paid with coins bearing the image of Caesar.
Jade was still amazed at her knowledge. This was the first time he had heard a plausible explanation that made sense, so he wanted to know more. “What about 666? What’s that?”
Natalie spit a chunk of ice over the side of her car then checked the rearview mirror. “Oh, that’s easy too. The numbers 666 stood for ‘KRN KSR’, or Neron Kesar.”
“Neron Kesar? What’s that?”
“Not what, who?”
“Okay, who is that?”
“Nero Caesar, the beast whom Christians feared. The beast that advanced on Rome through frightful inquisitions. Rome, the seven-headed beast with ten horns that arose from the sea.”
“I don’t get the connection.”
“Rome was built on seven hills, and there were ten Caesars from Julius until Nero. Connect the dots, Jade.”
Jade noticed how she even taught like his father, with an indignant nature. The lessons she taught wouldn’t soon be forgotten. “So why don’t we hear of these explanations more?”
“It is widely taught, Jade, just not by your typical evangelistic breed of preacher, and that probably has something to do with the profitability in providing you with uneasy mysteries. The goal of many Churches is to make you addicted to their snake-oil brand of salvation. Fear of what the beast might be and the disaster he might deliver are key to the problems these false Christian churches convince you they can solve. Things are really much more documented than people often suggest. Heck, the literature even makes it clear that the second beast, known as the false prophet, was the Samaritan who hypnotized people and made busts of Caesar appear to speak and move. His name was Simon Magnus.”
“Follow the money, my father used to say.”
“That’s spooky,” Natalie’s spine chilled.
“My dad used to say the same thing.”
They only had another five hours to drive, but since they needed fuel, Natalie gave Jade’s mind a break and pulled into a small convenience store.
The sun had dipped below the Tucson mountain range, casting vibrant reds, oranges and purples against the skyline. The tall, Saguaro cacti were just sexy dark silhouettes sticking up among desert trees not much taller. The downtown buildings reflected shiny beams of light, teasing the eyes.
The Catalina Mountains on the north side of town and the Rincon Mountains on the eastside of town reflected a deep red, almost purple, cast, which reminded onlookers of the words to the song America the Beautiful.
Natalie and Jade didn’t see the late middle-aged woman peeping through the white oak window blinds at her visitors. Her half-Japanese eyes squinted into thin slits as she watched the two approaching the front door. She’d wait until they rang the doorbell before answering.
“May I help you?” she asked as she took in the first glimpses of the young woman and man on her doorstep.
Natalie looked into Mary Greystone’s olive eyes and admired her black, silky hair. The woman seemed much shorter than she remembered, but still a healthy five-foot-five. “Hi, Mary. I’m Lisa.”
The woman took a step back and studied Natalie from head to toe. At that moment, she almost didn’t realize Jade existed.
Natalie continued, “…your daughter.”
Jade watched as the woman’s eyes started tearing and her naturally tanned face flushed a soft white tint.
“You can’t be. My daughter died in an accident many years ago.”
Mary wondered if this was some kind of sick joke. She could do nothing but deny her eyes.
“I am, mom. I’m sorry.”
Mary wanted to throw her arms around Natalie’s neck when she began to realize she was looking at her only child, but she invited the two inside instead. Natalie and Jade sat on a brown leather couch while Mary sat close by in her Queen Anne chair listening to Natalie’s experience.
“Mom, it’s true I was killed in a car wreck. But as you know, Freddy worked on technologies that allowed him to manipulate matter.”
Mary’s arms were shaking while she fought the tears that seemed to flow out anyway. She used to call her husband Freddy when Natalie was a child, but quit soon after Natalie’s funeral tore the two apart.
“Dad used his technology to bring me back from another universe. I don’t remember the crash because, as dad explained, I was never actually in a crash. Not this me, but the me that you knew.”
Both Mary and Jade were having a real problem comprehending what they were hearing.
Jade asked, “Is that why you have such strange quirks like pulling chairs out for men and chewing ice?”
“Yes, and others.”
Jade couldn’t resist. “Like what?”
“Like sleeping with a pillow under my legs, not my head. Like having to have flowers all around me. Like my strange taste in elevator and classical music. Is that enough for you?” she asked as she smiled a big grin before looking back at her mother. “It’s been hard to stay away, because I remember my mother in my universe being just like you.”
Her voice shook, “Then why did you stay away?”
“For the same reason dad hid me from you. I was only supposed to be here a while. I was going to be leaving back to my universe soon¾just after dad announced his full capabilities to the world.”
Mary’s body shook. Her eyes poured tears. “I went through hell over your death. I had a breakdown and went to the hospital for months. I didn’t even get to see your body. I couldn’t even have another kid to help ease the pain.”
“I know. That’s why I had to stay away. I couldn’t put you through losing me twice in the same lifetime.”
“Then why now… after Fred was killed?”
“Because I need to find some of his missing things so that I can bring a form of him back. And, eventually, so that I can return to my universe and whatever I left behind there.”
Mary was happy but shaken. “I’m so happy to see you.” She broke down crying as she reached out for Natalie.
Natalie jumped from her seat and embraced her mother for a long time and they both cried while Jade felt as though the breath had been kicked out of his chest.
Jade was relieved to find out Natalie’s true identity and wondered if he should call Washington immediately, but then second guessed himself. He had a funny feeling about Sullivan lately and didn’t want to alert him to the news yet. He’d wait. Something just wasn’t feeling right.
Jade stayed downstairs while Mary showed Natalie her room. She had left it virtually untouched since her death. A canopy bed with pink and white ruffles sat in the corner surrounded by French Provincial-style, ivory furniture. Stuffed animals adorned her old room like the plants and flowers adorned her house. They were all over the place.
Natalie picked up one of her old diaries, and flipped to the inside front cover page. It read:
Your life is within. Record your legacy as inheritance eternal.
She hadn’t realized that her father had given her diaries as a child too. When she came to this universe, her diary was his first gift to her to record her experience here in this universe. She hoped to take it back home with her.
Suddenly it struck her. Dr. Cohn had always kept a journal as well. Sometimes they went to a park or sat at the side of a local lake and wrote in their journals together. His journaling was the biggest constant in their lives, one thing they intimately shared.
He had always told her that he had never done anything of significance without recording it for historical purposes. His journal must have the answers, she thought.
When Natalie and Jade finally left Mary Greystone’s house, the wild desert sunset was replaced with a clear, deep, black Arizona sky that hung stars like lamps of life. Every constellation in the sky that time of year seemed to jump out of the sky. The heavenly bodies looked almost close enough to touch. The universe seemed much smaller to Jade now than it had just a couple hours before.
“Boss. We’ve got to move, now!” Tina McMurtry said as she burst through Sullivan’s office door.
Sullivan lifted his hands and patted the air. He was never in too much of a hurry. “Slow down Tonto. You know the saying…”
She cut him off with a snide caricature of him, “The hurrieder I am the behinder I get.” Her voice rose, “We don’t have time for that now.”
His long, early-morning stretch and yawn behind his desk made her think he still didn’t grasp the urgency. “It’s only eight in the morning, TT, what’s up?”
“We just figured out that the AANE group is going to hijack a load of nuclear waste.”
He sat straight up in his big, black leather executive chair. “When and where?”
She softly sat across from him in a matching client chair and brushed her bobbing, blonde bangs from her eyes. “We think they will be striking in Colorado in one to two hours.”
He admonished her strongly, “Be careful, TT, this could be a diversion, or an outright set-up. What’s your chain of intelligence?”
“Sir, we received an untraceable email from someone claiming to be a spokesman for AANE. They said that if the President doesn’t hold a press conference denouncing America’s plans to build a Nuclear Power Plant in Aruba they will secure enough spent Uranium to—and I quote—make our point clear to the American people. They are serious.”
“What’s their point?”
“That they don’t want nuclear reactors in their backyard. They set out to show how unsafe the waste is.”
Sullivan took a couple notes on his yellow pad, “Continue.”
“We checked all of the shipments of Nuclear Fuel in the States today. There is only one shipment all day long. Within the one-to-two-hour-time frame, that shipment will be somewhere between Glenwood Springs and Grand Junction, Colorado, on Interstate 70. According to the Department of Energy, that just happens to be the shipment’s most vulnerable point of attack.”
“Who are you talking to at the DOE?”
She took a spiral pad from her shirt pocket. “Ahhhh. That would be Jeff Spielmann.”
“Good. Jeff knows his stuff.”
As usual, Sullivan threw in a vague comment that threw McMurtry off track a bit. She tried to clarify, “Any special significance to who is providing us intel from DOE?”
“No, nothing really. What’s your next move?”
“Right now, Sir, we are negotiating with Ft. Carson in Colorado Springs, Colorado. They can perform aerial surveillance and keep an assault team close enough to engage a terrorist theatre in minutes.”
He looked at her cock-eyed. “Right now, TT?”
“Yes Sir, as we speak?”
Sullivan’s face showed concern and defensiveness. Tina knew his pre-chastisement look well, so she braced herself for the tongue-lashing.
Sullivan simply asked, “Don’t you think I should be informed before you commit resources to such things?”
It surprised Tina that he didn’t expound on his comment, so she felt comfortable stating her case, “Sir, you gave me the ball a few days ago. And I am…”
“I realize that, but when things escalate I want to be informed immediately, Okay?”
“Yes Sir, that’s what I’m doing now.”
“What are they going after?” Sullivan asked.
“Spent fuel rods, Sir. Like I said…”
Sullivan snapped back to clarify his question, “No, Tina! How much is the shipment?”
“Oh, sorry. Surprisingly small, Sir. One-fifth of a metric ton.”
“How much is that in pounds?”
“One metric ton is about 1.1 tons, or 2,000 pounds. So one-fifth of that is about 440 pounds.”
He shook his head at her usual detailed analysis and complex explanation. “That doesn’t sound like much. Why didn’t they wait for a larger load?”
Tina put her elbows on his desk, cradled her chin, and broke off into another diatribe. “Well, Sir, probably for several reasons. First, the security level on nuclear waste shipments increases with size. Second, 440-pound fuel assemblies only require a new style, smaller shipment cask that can be hidden in the bed of a conventional pickup truck or cargo van. Third, the smaller weight requires fewer people and equipment to handle. And finally, there is still enough material there to make several suitcase dirty bombs for small, well-placed terrorist attacks.”
“Tina, are you sure the pieces fit for a high-jacking attempt today?”
Tina outlined the coincidence that the shipment of waste fuel was from a Department of Defense Naval Nuclear Research and Test facility. The fuel rod assemblies are exactly the same configuration that will be used in the Aruba project. These facts, combined with the timing of the AANE’s demands and threats, are too obvious to dismiss as pure chance. The strike had to be that day’s shipment through Colorado.
Instead of one large nuclear plant, Aruba’s strategy was to use several smaller plants on an island grid. The smaller plants are modified versions of what the U.S. Navy uses on their large nuclear submarines and aircraft carriers. They are mobile, easy to install, and easy to maintain. They also have a calculated ten-year return on investment and a twenty-year, three hundred percent profit margin over the country’s current, conventional, fossil fuel generation plants.
The fuel rod assemblies are small and manageable, six inches square by thirty-nine-inches long.
Sullivan was skeptical. “TT, I thought the fuel rods were much bigger than that.”
“No. That’s it. They are only about four hundred and forty pounds and small enough to fit into a duffel bag. But, they have to be carried in a safety cask. Previously, those casks were thirty-five hundred pounds. Now they are only seven hundred and sixty pounds and a quarter the size. That makes the entire hijacking target twelve-hundred pounds.”
Sullivan looked away and thought out loud, “That means they can hoist that load with a simple one-ton cable or chain hoist that weighs less than ten pounds.”
Tina agreed, “Now you get the picture, Boss. Should I tell Jade Acker about this?”
“No!” Sullivan was more than emphatic. “This doesn’t concern his mission.”
“The group that is planning this hijacking is the same…”
“Let me make that call, Tina. I told you before, do not share intelligence with Acker without my prior approval.”
She suspected Sullivan knew far more than he was sharing, and she couldn’t possibly imagine what he was keeping from her. She even thought that he was letting her spit out nuclear statistics he already knew. She left his office wondering who her boss was protecting or setting up.
Natalie and Jade stopped at an outdoor taco stand on the corner of Valencia and Houghton, located on the far, southeast corner of Tucson. The stand sat on a cleared-off desert patch surrounded by small desert shrubs and tumble weeds, and was nothing more than a small mobile home outfitted with a kitchen and a rollout shade canopy. Scattered under the shade and in the sun were a half-dozen, white plastic picnic tables and chairs, like the kind you might find at a church picnic or by a neighborhood swimming pool.
“I’ll order for you,” Natalie said.
“Dos tacos con chile verde, por favor,” she said to the small, fat Hispanic woman peering down on her from the wheeled taco stand.
After their order was filled they set their paper plates of food on a shaded table facing the traffic so that they could watch the cars go by. Jade looked over the colorful food. The two tacos were small pan-fried yellow corn tortillas filled with beef and green chile peppers. The rice was brown with red, yellow, and green peppers. The small pile of limes added a nice green garnish.
“Here, do this,” Natalie suggested as she squeezed the lime all over her food, and even into her Diet Coke.
Jade mimicked her in preparing his food, then carefully picked up a taco and sampled a bite.
“Wow. The lime really brings out the flavor,” Jade noted.
“That’s the way they do it in the southwest. Lots of good Mexican tricks of the trade.”
Jade was about to open his mouth when he spotted a car with a rental sticker on its bumper drive by. He recognized the two in the front seat. “Did you see that, Natalie?”
“That car. Those two Danites we ran into on the Skywalk are in the front seat.”
He squinted his eyes as he tried to see them better. He briefly wondered why squinting sometimes brings things into focus.
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. The Black guy was driving. I’d recognize him anywhere.”
“Why don’t we set a trap?”
“Set a trap? That’s as well-thought-out and original as Dr. Martin Luther King’s doctoral dissertation… NOT!”
Natalie suddenly felt offended. “What do you mean by that?”
“You don’t know?”
She caught some ice with her teeth and started to crunch. “Obviously not if I’m asking. What was wrong with King’s dissertation?”
Jade continued to watch the traffic and dreaded making the Dr. King comment, knowing he now had to educate her.
“When I was working on my Ph.D. I had to take an Ethics in Research class. I learned that Dr. King’s dissertation is used in academics as an example of the worst kind of plagiarism possible. Not only was he accused of stealing the main idea underpinning his work, it was calculated that over eighty percent of his work was directly copied.”
“I don’t believe that. Why didn’t the university do something?”
“They tried. They thought about revoking his degree, but his name was such a politically hot topic at the time, it was thought better to just leave things alone.”
“I can’t swallow that, Jade. I never heard that before?”
“Yeah, and before yesterday I never thought I’d meet a woman from another universe. But if you don’t believe me, you can Google Dr. King + Plagiarism + Dissertation and read about it yourself.” Jade thought she was a bit protective of Dr. King’s memory and then the obvious struck him. “Say doesn’t your Church exclude blacks from membership?”
“Wrong again, Sherlock. Most of what you hear about how the Church treats its black members is nothing more than misinformation and folklore. It’s unfair to black Mormons to have to deal with these kinds of myths and lies. In 1832, Elijah Able was the first black man to be given the priesthood in the Church. Then, in 1836 Elijah was ordained as an elder, some say by Joseph Smith, himself.”
Jade looked surprised, “I heard Joseph Smith was a bigot.”
“Actually in 1842, Joseph Smith wrote about slavery: It makes my blood boil. He had even made public statements about the souls of black members. Later, the Ku Klux Klan telegrammed J. Golden Kimble that they were going to tar and feather all of the Mormon elders in the country if they didn’t leave immediately. Obviously the KKK didn’t agree with the Church’s openness to non-white members.”
Natalie went on to explain that, over a period of time, the views about blacks in the Church changed a bit. Until, in 1949, the First Presidency of the Church clarified that while blacks were welcomed members of the Church, they were not entitled to the priesthood at this time. In 1958, it was stated that blacks could be members in good standing and be qualified to enter the celestial kingdom of heaven, but may not ever receive the keys to the priesthood.
Jade interrupted her when she took another bite of her taco, “See. That’s what I’m talking about.”
“Well, in 1978, the Church priesthood ban was lifted. Now the Church has many well-respected black members worthy of the priesthood who support the Church and remain in good standing.”
Jade used his eyes to point to the street in front of them. “Look. There is one of your good-standing, black Church members there…hunting us down like apostates in the Inquisition.”
Natalie tilted her head down and looked at the car over her sunglasses. “You’re right, that is them. I still say we trap them.”
“Not until you can convince me how we are going to overcome their guns. The whole damn Church is trying to put us in the ground!”
“You are quite the conspiracy theorist, aren’t you mister—or should I say doctor—Acker?”
“Yes, when it comes to armed Danites. And wait until you hear what I know, but can’t say, about the World Trade Center collapses on 9/11.”
Fort Carson is nestled in the hills around Colorado Springs. Close by, Pikes Peak, at a smidgen over eleven-thousand-feet, is a popular Rocky Mountain destination. The entire area is a kind of playground for poor youngsters and rich retirees alike. The city of Colorado Springs is known around the country for its military offerings and for its large concentration of civilian alternative lifestyles.
Very similar to cities like Asheville, North Carolina, Colorado Springs had its share of free loving, hippie migrants, college students, and lesbian movements. The interaction between these types of groups, with the military and what you would consider conventional lifestyles, is what gives the city its appeal. Its unique aura. Its charm. Everyone is welcome, so it’s a place to go to regroup or start your life over.
On this particular day, there wasn’t much going on except for live fire urban training by a couple Special Forces teams from another Army post. The soldiers were taking a debriefing break where they analyzed videotape of the training operation performed just minutes before.
The group sat in a small conference room and watched the television screen as their company commander, Captain Thomas, demonstrated the good, the bad, and the ugly of their latest efforts.
The tall, lean, clean-shaven Thomas pointed to the board. He didn’t yell but was angry enough that it wouldn’t have mattered. “This is unacceptable, soldiers. When Rodgers came through the doorway behind Larson, his weapon was pointed at his back and head several times. I NEVER want to see a muzzle sweep like this again! This is how people get shot in the back by their buddies, men.”
He stopped the video. On the screen was another soldier pointing his tactical combat rifle directly at the head of the guy beside him. Thomas’s face turned beet red and he raised his voice, “And here it is again, boys. I’d call you men, but only boys make mistakes like this. Tighten it up before I have to tighten it up for you. I’ve never seen such a shoddy effort from any of my Special Operations teams.”
The group took in a deep breath and shouted back, “WILCO, SIR.”
Before anything else could be said, a young woman stuck her head and half her body through the door. She was fully clad in desert camouflage and held a black beret in her hand. “Excuse me, Captain. General Ranier is on the red line.” She pointed to a bright red, rotary dial phone sitting on a simple desk in the corner of the room.
His facial expression dropped. “Thank you.” Then he turned to the small group of men in front of him and gave an order, “Okay, men. I want you waiting for me in formation outside. We’re going to cover a few life lessons today.”
Thomas picked up the bright red receiver, “This is an unsecured line, Captain Thomas speaking, how may I help you?”
A voice at the other end corrected him, “Actually Captain, this is a secure line, and you can help me by getting your men to the parade field immediately, you’re going live.”
“Right away. What is it sir?”
Thomas heard several helicopters pound out a military war song as they passed overhead. Their blades slapped the air so close and so hard he could feel his chest absorb the vibrations.
“These orders come directly from Washington. The First Lady’s nephew, who is assigned to the SAINTS unit, was infiltrating a known terrorist group in Venezuela then he lost communication. His unit hasn’t heard from him at all. They know the group had breached his cover, but they are not sure of his vital status. That same group is now somewhere in the US planning to hijack a shipment of DOD nuclear waste. It’s your team’s job to intercept them.”
“Yes, sir. We are on our way now. Anything else?”
“No. Just get your team to the parade field. We’ll have things ready.”
Captain Thomas arrived at the parade field in a Hummer. As soon as he crawled out of the passenger seat and set his foot on the grass, a short man brandishing two shiny stars on his collar and beret reached out and pulled him to the side. Thomas watched his men file out of the back of a green truck while General Ranier briefed him on the operation.
It was hard to hear because of the five combat helicopters positioning to load the troops. The General had to yell in the Captain’s ear. “I’ll be monitoring the action and making the tactical calls from here. I have an eye in the sky over the target shipment right now. Once I give the orders, you intercept and arrest the terrorists. You’ll be on your own then. Be careful, we are dealing with nuclear waste, and we are still missing the First Lady’s nephew, Captain Henry Fullerton. We doubt he’ll be in theatre, but keep your eyes peeled for clues.”
Thomas saw his twenty-five men walking past weapons and equipment crates, picking up ammunition and supplies and stuffing them into large canvas bags. His men split up as the General’s team sorted and loaded them into the choppers.
Four of the choppers departed, and one stayed behind waiting for Captain Thomas to finish briefing and climb aboard.
“God speed, Captain. This is a big one,” The General said.
The two shook hands on the General’s lead. “Thank you, Sir. My team will get it done.”
Captain Thomas hunched his back and jogged to the waiting helicopter. Two of his team helped pull him aboard.
The seasoned pilot didn’t even give Thomas time to sit and buckle his seat belt before lifting off the ground, rotating his craft, and shooting off into the morning sun. The departure was so fast Thomas had to grab onto cargo netting to stabilize himself in his seat.
The co-pilot was a fifteen-year veteran Warrant Officer, W-4. He shouted calmly through the intercom flight headsets, “Welcome aboard, Captain. I’ll open a radio channel so you can brief your team. We will be flying approximately two miles adjacent to the target shipment. When our surveillance plane spots positive enemy engagement, we’ll move in for countermeasures. We will have approximately one and a half minutes from notification to engagement, so it’s a pretty dynamic situation. Are you ready to talk to your men?”
“Yes sir, let’s do this!” Captain Thomas yelled back.
Natalie and Jade finished their tacos and tossed the trash into the plastic can next to the front of the stand.
Once in the car, the small, electric motors moaned as they pulled the black top up and into place. Not only would the top-up configuration keep the hot sun from penetrating their brains, it would also add an additional level of privacy in case they met up with the Danites.
The Tucson laboratory that Dr. Cohn had used as his personal “getaway” was less than five miles away. Natalie had no way of knowing if the Danites knew of the lab or not. Either way, she’d play it as safe a possible by turning west on Valencia road instead of heading directly south on Houghton.
“Let’s see if we can throw them off a little,” Natalie said.
Jade didn’t respond out loud, so she wondered what he was thinking—exactly. She often wondered what he was thinking—exactly.
Though Jade wasn’t necessarily what you would consider a quiet person, he stayed true to the typical Federal agent’s profile by not showing his full hand. Hell, even when he did show his full hand, you’d still suspect he was holding something back.
What is he not telling me? Natalie wondered, to the point that her forehead wrinkled up.
On one hand, Jade seemed to empathize with her, while on the other hand, he seemed to be more interested in getting on with business. Then, one side of him treated her like a woman, and the other seemed to look at her with utter contempt, as if she were keeping him from his other life.
Jade broke through the silent rumble of the road underneath them with an almost comical statement, “Soooo. Dr. Cohn was your father!”
“Dr. Cohn is my father. But, if you want to confuse the issue, you could say that the Dr. Cohn you are familiar with isn’t my father, because he is from another universe. My father is actually in my old universe, maybe waiting for me to get back to him.”
“What do you mean, maybe waiting for you to get back to him. Don’t you know what you left behind?”
“No. I don’t actually remember anything from my universe.”
“That’s strange. Why don’t you remember anything?”
“Freddy told me that even memories are relative and relational to your actual state of being within the multiverse system. If a biological organism is moved between universes, its relative perspective and memory matrix—physical, emotional, and cognitive—shifts to establish a balance in the new universe.”
Jade’s mind churned and ground out a quick answer, “So that means the Dr. Cohn I know really is your father after all.”
“Perhaps,” she admitted, throwing her head back and cracking her neck from side to side. “But, I prefer not to bother with such mental gymnastics. Some things are just as God intends them to be, nothing more, nothing less.”
“Just when I think I have you pegged, you flip the script on me,” Jade complained with a smile.
“Like-wise, I’m sure, Jade. Like-wise.”
Natalie turned back south on a road adjacent to Houghton. She’d come to the lab a back way so that she was pretty sure the Danites had lost their scent. She shifted both gears―the gears in her Mustang and the gears in her mind. She went back to wondering what Jade really thought of her.
Perhaps, she thought, Jade was just as mystified about her inner thoughts and motivations.
“Jade, why is my father’s technology so important to the government?”
Jade had already explained it to her, but he’d do so again in a smaller format. “If you can transverse universes then it may be possible to steal information. In the wrong hands, important secrets could be used to destroy entire empires…nations even.”
“You mean like the United States?”
“What secrets are really that important Jade?”
“Probably the same kinds of secrets your Church keeps from you, and people like you and your father kept from the rest of the world.”
“That’s not fair, my father’s intentions were good. He just had to play by certain rules of convention and protection created by others who aren’t as altruistic.”
Then Jade said something she’d never considered, “Don’t you think the same might hold true for your country?”
Commander Carlos Medina rode shotgun in the first of three vehicles that followed a flatbed convoy west on I-70. They were just about fifty miles west of Glenwood Springs where the interstate runs back over the Colorado River when Medina made the call to his two other vans. “On the count of three… One… Two… Three… Go!”
The flatbed tractor-trailer containing the cask of nuclear waste was sandwiched between two, small economy cars, one leading and one trailing. Both cars had the signature yellow-flashing lights on top to warn traffic of wide loads and dangerous cargo.
Quickly, Medina’s middle van sped up and passed to the front of the lead vehicle. Medina’s van moved to the left flank of its target. And finally, the third van boxed in the trailing escort.
Each van’s passenger windows simultaneously opened and men fired their weapons, exploding the left-front tire of each of the shipment vehicles, including the semi. Each hit car swerved a little, then straightened out control before slowing and coming to a stop at the gun points of the obviously stronger force.
The terrorists ignored the other traffic passing, considering them insignificant to the operation and a non-threat.
Medina yelled, “Cuff them all to the back of the rig!”
The group led each of the drivers and escorts to the back of the flatbed trailer, but on the side opposite of the traffic, to minimize the rubbernecking that already started. One member held the six cuffed men at gunpoint, while the other members ran to their duty stations.
Seven members retrieved Light Anti-Tank Weapons, called LAWs, from their vans. Three members grabbed a small hand wrench and connected it to the transportation cask, which resembled a big dumbbell. Medina monitored the entire operation, ready to give a helping hand when needed.
In less than two minutes, the terrorist crew heard the whoop-whoop of the chopper blades chopping the air while descending over a small hill directly at them.
Medina shouted again “Here they come, gang. It looks like five of them. Left to right, pick your targets!”
The men lined up, taking cover behind the flatbed trailer and opened their LAWs by pulling on the ends and telescoping them. They flipped the sites to open position and placed the launch tubes on their shoulders, and took aim at the oncoming choppers.
The helicopters didn’t seem to sense any danger as they came closer and closer. A couple of the men instinctively cleared the back-blast area behind them, the area that gets hit with the tail end of the rocket’s blasting flame as it shoots out from its tube.
Medina glanced at his watch and surveyed the area. “On my command!”
He waited, like any good commander, for his targets to get within the kill envelope; the area where they are so far within striking range that it would be hard to escape, but not so close as to be able to respond with necessary skill.
The armed men held their fire and waited, getting more nervous each second that passed. The loaders were picking up the cask with the winch. They ratcheted the winch as fast as they could. The clicks of the winch couldn’t be heard because of the approaching aircraft.
“Fire!” Medina yelled.
Each man squeezed his trigger and the rockets looked as if they were racing straight to their prospective targets. The five men who fired threw down their LAWs and picked up another one, while the two who hadn’t fired, kept aiming straight ahead, ready for engagement.
Everyone, except the loaders, watched five rockets with long tails of fire stream across the sky, then slam into the five black targets. They watched five fireballs explode in the sky, showering burning debris over the grassy field less than a hundred yards in front of them. The Army helicopters were destroyed.
Several cars stopped on the side of the road and watched the lumps of fire shoot off giant sparks and small mushroom clouds of billowing black smoke.
Medina looked back at the jammed up interstate and couldn’t have been more pleased. The fewer cars that passed them, the less likely they’d encounter a John Wayne looking for a civil service award for heroism.
The cask was loaded into Medina’s van and the doors shut before each of his men regrouped to their own vans.
“Let’s go, men,” Medina ordered. He’d save the attaboys until later. They weren’t out of the woods yet.
The crew left the drivers cuffed to the Kenworth and sped away. Patricia sat in the back of Medina’s van with their cargo so she could disable the government GPS tracking device it puts on all nuclear waste transports, a device some jokingly called Glow Jack. Not only would she disable it, but she had a pre-programmed route it would transmit back to its tracker to throw them off. The search and rescue team wouldn’t know they were tracking a ghost transmission.
The Staff Sergeant who was sitting in the corner of the operations room turned to face his colleagues, “General Ranier, I just lost communication with the team. They were approaching their targets at an altitude of two-hundred-feet and ninety knots. Everything was going fine, then I got a frantic radio transmission.”
Ranier grew more and more impatient each passing second with the slow talking Sergeant’s speech. Why wasn’t his favorite communications guy continuing to talk? He couldn’t take the long pause anymore. “What the hell is going on? What was the transmission?”
“Sir, one of the pilots said, “Oh shit, Flares! Now!”
“Who was it?”
“I couldn’t tell, Sir. We will analyze the tapes.”
The General’s voice became gruff, “How about our eye in the sky?”
“Sir, we scrambled the surveillance plane with low fuel. Then we couldn’t get the tanker in the air before the pilot would have to go to reserve tanks, so we recalled them once the helos made radar contact with their target.”
The Sergeant lowered his head knowing that the news wasn’t good. It was a kill the messenger situation.
General Ranier had spent twenty-five years in the Army before he was granted his second star. It was an Imperially granted star he’d often say, realizing Generalhood was a political position: not what you know, but whom you know, and every other associated cliché you could think of, except for one. Ranier was not a man who was inclined to kill the messenger.
His communications Sergeant was just the messenger at this point, safe from his wrath. He was more interested in holding his decision makers accountable. “Who made the call to pull off the cameras so soon?”
Gasping in his mind for another I-don’t-know breath, “I don’t know, Sir. But, my guess is that the call was made in part because the GPS location system attached to the shipment container, the cask, sends a signal that was overlaid right on the helicopter’s navigation screens. The shipment wasn’t going to outrun our forces.”
“What did you say their last received transmission was, again?”
“Oh, shit! Flares! Now!”
Silence captured the room. The General paced a five-foot crop circle. His fists were pumping air. He analyzed out loud, “Why would they call for flares?” He answered himself, “The countermeasure software could have alerted them to a missile locking on them.”
He knew the flares produced heat to attract a heat-seeking missile. Once the burning phosphorus flares were deployed the missiles would track them instead of the cooler aircraft until impact. He also knew that there was one other possibility, perhaps the pilot visually identified an approaching missile. Perhaps from a shoulder launched LAW or some sort of old Soviet Rocket Propelled Grenade.
Whatever his troops encountered, whatever it was, it must have knocked out five of the most highly sophisticated combat aircraft of all time. He realized that even if the pilots all deployed their flares, the high explosive rockets from shoulder launched weapons weren’t heat- seeking. They would ignore the flares and continue on their original trajectory. The only way a flare would bring a projectile like that down is sheer luck.
The General looked at the Staff Sergeant who was still wearing his head set and talking from time to time. “Nothing yet?”
“Sir, we have intelligence from local 911 operators that more than a dozen witnesses at the engagement zone reported seeing several low-flying, black helicopters explode and fall to the ground in flames. There are mixed reports, some people say four, some say at least six, but most confirm five helos were terminated.”
“We are gathering as many details as we can. I’m just monitoring the calls.” He pushed the headphone to his ear as if he was listening to a whisper. “Here we go, Sir. Some of the reports were from cars close to the scene. They say several men had shoulder launching rockets, and two retired Army grunts on a fishing trip identified them as American made Light Anti-Tank Weapons.”
This was the biggest Army loss on civilian soil ever, and Ranier felt responsible. He was in charge. He was the kind of commander that gave both responsibility and authority. He often lectured his troop that responsibility without authority is like a bull in a chastity belt. He also lectured that authority without responsibility is like his mother-in-law. He never fully explained the latter though. He didn’t have to, in order to make his point, which was the crux of one of his other commandments, “Say the minimum to make your case, then shut up.”
Now he’d have to live up to his own words, as he had done many times through the years. His responsibility was to accomplish his mission. He used his authority to command the mission details, which leads to disaster. Now he’d take responsibility for his authority. It was a never-ending circle of behavior. He’d accept his mistakes, make no excuses, point no fingers, just try to rectify the trend and mitigate the losses, and get it right the next time. That was his style.
Ranier sucked in a Major General sized breath. “What the hell happened? This looks like a damn setup to me. They knew we were coming before we did!”
Out of respect and total admiration—Ranier was as close to a God as he knew—the Staff Sergeant knew exactly what to say next. “Sir, what do you want me to do?”
He didn’t have to think twice about his answer, “Get me the Department of Homeland Security on the line, ASAP! Ask for Director Richard Sullivan!”
The van swerved slightly to miss a jackrabbit that had already been hit and killed. When Patricia Sanchez bobbled in the back of the van, Hook Castro grabbed her waist and stabilized her, but not before she accidentally jerked the computer cable from the cask’s GPS transmitter.
“Damn!” She quickly shoved the cable back into the device, and turned her attention to her laptop screen that displayed a picture of the United States and the moving location of the nuclear waste in their van.
She thought about Fullerton back in his cage at the safehouse in Salt Lake City. She kind of missed him. She found him charming, intelligent, and skilled at his career. She knew if AANE didn’t have Tommy Boy, there is no way they ever would have suspected Henry Fullerton wasn’t Jason Davis, the aliased pretext he used to infiltrate the terrorist group.
Too bad I can’t keep him around, she pondered amidst her current task. She knew she couldn’t keep him, though. They were supposed to be adversaries. No matter what happened, she’d do what she could to keep him alive after every thing was done. She’d do what she could to convince Medina that Fullerton was a worthy opponent and deserved to live to fight another battle.
She sequenced the computer’s phantom GPS track with the GPS locator on the transport cask and waited for the exact moment to employ the wild goose. She called it that because it would put the Feds on a wild goose chase.
While double-checking her software, her mind drifted between Fullerton and her childhood. Maybe Fullerton reminded her of her father. He taught her how to be brave, and how to use her head, not brawn, to achieve her goals. Her pappa use to take her to bull fights in her small home city in the center of Spain.
She vividly remembered her pappa’s special narration during each of the fights. He’d start off telling her that the Toreros are the first men—or these days sometimes women—to enter the ring with the specially bred fighting bull. There were always three of them carrying huge capes to entice the bull to charge and dance. This was especially useful to the Matador because it gave him an opportunity to study the bull’s movements, especially his charging characteristic.
Next, the three Picados rode in on horses. They attempted to stab the bull’s neck muscles with steel tipped lances to make him more sluggish. However, they had to be careful not to stab the bull too far back or the bull would lose his belligerence. She had once seen a crowd of fans¾aficionados—witness such a bad stab. The bull was so docile he could have kissed his adversaries. The air was filled with boos, no one was happy at all. The entire Plaza de Toros yelled and screamed profanities, dissing the Matador.
Once the Picadors leave the ring the Banderilleros run in on foot without capes. They allow the bull to charge, so they can thrust barbed darts called Banderollas in the bull’s back. The long darts are colorful and flagrant, hanging from the bull’s back. This makes the bull ferocious so the Matador can put on a good show.
Finally, her father explains, the Matador enters the ring. He entices the bull to make passes, charging runs just narrowly missing the elegant Matador. With his red cape, the Matador would make beautiful flourishes and her pappa would say, “Here we go, honey, watch this. Here it comes. The moment of truth!” Then he’d prompt her to sit a little higher in her seat, which was almost always primo, first row, box seating.
The Matador then dedicates the kill to someone special in the crowd. He then secures a smaller cape—his muleta—and draws the bull closer and closer. Dangerously close. So close he can smell the bull’s breath. As the small fanena passes and charges get exhilaratingly close, the bull is worn down.
Now the moment of truth. The Matador raises his long sword high into the air and pulls the bull in close. Just as the bull lowers his head to gore the Matador, he pivots on his feet, raises the blade over the bull’s back and thrusts the blade deep between the bull’s shoulder blades. If he hits his mark, the bull dies in seconds to the roaring sound of “Ole! Ole!”
When the bull is confirmed dead, the Matador customarily cuts off the bull’s right ear as a trophy. Sometimes the bloody stumped trophy is given to a beautiful woman in the crowd, and sometimes he keeps it.
However, if the Matador is injured or he doesn’t fight the bull with appropriate bravery and skill, the bull keeps his ear, and maybe even his life to fight another day against another wanton Matador.
Patricia considered her temporary pet, Henry Fullerton, a brave bull, worthy of keeping his life and his symbolic ear. Now she’d just have to convince Medina. She didn’t really consider that too much of a problem considering how important her opinion was to Medina.
Suddenly she laughed.
“What’s so funny?” Hook asked as he watched her now triple-check her wild goose program.
“Nothing,” she said as she continued to smile.
Hook knew it was a typical woman’s nothing, which actually was something, though not always earth-shattering. He didn’t know she had just run through her mind an old story her father used to always tell.
The story was about when her pappa had dinner at a small restaurant in Spain. As he ordered his food, he noticed another man being served a plate with two giant chunks of meat on it. The meat smelled as good as it looked. It looked dripping with flavor.
“What’s that that man ordered?” Her pappa asked the waiter.
“Ah, Señor. There was a bullfight in the pueblo’s arena today. The bull lost the fight and so his family jewels—if you know what I mean—were cut off and brought here and served to the first patron in line. It is a custom here, Señor. If you want this most scrumptious dish, you must be first in line tomorrow.”
So it was. The next day her pappa waited outside the restaurant to be first in line. He was then able to order the daily bullfight special. However, when the platter came, it had two very small, chicken-nugget-size pieces of meat on them. So he summoned the waiter, “Señor, I beg your pardon, but why did the man yesterday have such large portions and I have such small portions?”
The waiter took one look at the platter and simply said, “Señor, sometimes the matador defeats the bull, and sometimes the bull defeats the matador!”
Her pappa always ended the story with the waiter smiling and walking away.
The story always made her smile, even in times like this. Times when she had to perform. She smiled even though she knew the story was a fable told by many fathers.
Medina’s crew was fifteen minutes away from their turn off, so it was time for Sanchez to redirect the GPS tracking. She clicked the ACTIVATE icon and the GPS on her screen briefly flashed. Even though their group turned left on a side highway the GPS indicated that they remained on I-70, traveling straight ahead.
“Good job, Sanchez!” Hook gloated.
“If I don’t say so myself. They ought to catch up with this goose somewhere in Southern Utah.”
Hook laughed. “Damn, by then we’ll be ready to fly to main stage.”
Medina craned his neck to look in the back of the van. “How’s the GPS track, Sanchez?”
She turned the screen so that he could see the phantom route the GPS was transmitting.
“Remind me to put you in for a bonus!” Medina was always impressed with her abilities.
The lab was located in Vail, a few miles southeast of Tucson. It had been a couple years since Natalie had been there, but not Dr. Cohn. Her father was there for three weeks solid before their trip to Salt Lake City.
She hit the garage door opener and watched the door inch up high enough to park inside. On their way inside, she hit the button to drop the garage door. She would have parked out front but the Danites obviously knew her car on sight. She unlocked the door leading from the garage to the inside of the house and walked inside, Jade close behind.
Natalie froze. “I can’t believe this.”
Jade wanted to ask what was wrong, but he didn’t have to when he turned the corner. The house was turned upside down. Trash everywhere. Every closet, drawer, and cabinet had been opened and dumped.
The scene resembled a DEA drug bust, a total ransack.
Just like her father’s lab in Los Alamos, this lab was stripped of all research files and computer CPUs. Nothing was left but insignificant papers and trash, strewn about in piles and what she’d consider non-piles.
She didn’t say anything else. She knew right where to go. Straight to the smallest bedroom located on the opposite side of the house from his main office lab.
Jade followed, but he wasn’t sure where she was going. He was sure she had something in mind, she always did. He was even starting to learn that she usually knew what she was doing.
She pushed a pile of clothes that had been knocked off their hangers out of the closet. She got on her hands and knees and felt the carpet. She tugged and felt with her fingertips, then she flattened her hand and ran her palms over the entire floor of the closet, before she looked over her shoulders at Jade.
He stepped back when she jumped up and ran to the small room next door. She again headed straight for the closet, got down on all fours and searched the floor with her hands. She felt something. Then she tugged a square piece of carpet from the closet floor. Under it was a flat piece of sheet metal with a hole in it the size of a fat finger.
Jade held back his comments as she put her finger through the hole and removed the cover to a hidden safe. Just as Jade wondered if she knew the combination, she spun the dial to the right, passing zero a couple times. She stopped on 36. Then she turned the dial to the left passing 36 once but stopping on 24. Then she turned the dial back to the right stopping on 36 again. 36-24-36 was a combination her father often used for personal things. It wasn’t until two years ago that she noticed the significance of the numbers.
The safe clicked when she turned the handle.
“Whew. That was easy,” she said as she lifted open the hinged safe door. “My father keeps his most sacred personal things here. It’s fireproofed, you know?”
Leaning over her shoulder, Jade was as anxious as she was to see what was inside.
“This is it,” she said.
“Not just any books, Jade. This is something I’ve longed to read. His collection of personal journals.”
There were several of them neatly stacked in the safe. She set the books on the floor and sat next to them. She picked up the top journal and opened it. Her eyes brightened, “This is amazing Jade. Look at this.”
Jade squatted, then relinquished to a full-fledged, Indian-style cross-legged seat next to her.
She showed him the personal inscription to her:
Natalie, my love,
The key to life is the frequency I play my favorite tune,
over and over again.
“What does that mean?” Jade quietly questioned.
“His favorite tune was The Gambler, by Kenny Rogers. He sang it and hummed it all the time. I always heard him in the shower…you’ve got to know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. He says something about it being the key. I bet it is his pass code key to the material shift software.”
“Yeah, but what’s the code?”
“I don’t know yet, but it has something to do with his favorite tune, The Gambler. I don’t have that CD, but we can buy one and listen to the song. His secret has to be there, somewhere.”
“So, you think this message was directed at you, like he knew something was going to happen to him?”
“Jade, look. The message has my name on it. What else could it be?”
He didn’t have an alternate answer so, for now, he’d accept Natalie’s assumptions. “Very well, let’s check the rest of the house…just in case they missed something.”
As they stood up, something caught Jade’s eye¾a small, blue light reflecting off the bathroom mirror. He investigated.
“Natalie!” He screamed as he ran out of the bathroom. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
“What’s wrong?” She yelled back.
“A bomb. Come on!”
He met her at the doorway and pulled her through the house, not realizing they could run much faster if he’d just let her hand go. When they made it to the garage, she hit the button. It seemed to take forever for the door to open. Her car was already started and in reverse before the door raised high enough to let them through.
Once she could clear the door, she dropped the clutch and the car squealed backward out of the garage and into the street. She didn’t bother checking for traffic.
Their heads jerked backward when she slammed on her brakes, threw the car in first, and dumped the clutch again to get away from the house.
They felt the explosion and wind from the rapidly expanding gas.
“That was an HE¾high explosive¾connected to an incendiary charge. We were almost killed!”
No sooner had Jade said that than the Danites passed them going the other way. Natalie pushed her throttle all the way to the floorboard and sped away the same way they had come, watching in her rear-view mirror for the Danites. But something struck her as strange. “Jade. Why were the Danites going to the house if they blew it up instead of away from it?”
He wasn’t quick to answer that question, but he eventually did. “Probably to make sure we were dead.” Their eyes met in a morbid conclusion¾they were lucky¾or blessed.
They could see the plumes of smoke rising from the incendiaries burning every fiber of the house. The flames rose so high that, even three miles away, she could make out where the fire was, precisely.
Thinking about it still didn’t sit right with her. Why would the Danites set a bomb, then go back so close to make sure their victims were indeed victims? Why? And why would they blow the house up if they had already taken everything out of it?
They both looked in the floorboard, at the pile of journals, wondering what secrets they might contain.
She needed an escape. “This isn’t really happening, is it Jade?”
He put his hand over hers on the stick shift. “Yes, it’s really happening…to both of us. It’s all really happening.” He squeezed her hand lightly, but lovingly firm.
Richard Sullivan and Tina McMurtry were thirty-two-thousand-feet above an overcast Nebraska. Tina was inherently afraid of heights, but flying was different. Thousands of feet in the air, the ground just didn’t look as intimidating as it did from the top of a six-foot ladder. In the sky, she lost her perspective of danger.
She had always thought she was strange in some sort of way, until she read an article about a veteran Air Force fighter pilot who said he was terrified of heights. Not only that, but he was also deathly afraid of small spaces. He had dreams of crawling into a hole and getting stuck. The pilot didn’t fully articulate how he was so comfortable in the cockpit for hours at a time. He simply said, “It’s just one of those things, I guess.”
Finally, Tina identified with someone and adopted his theory as her own, It’s just one of those things, I guess. She’d say that about lots of things.
Next to her sat her boss, Richard Sullivan. He was asleep. How can he nap at a time like this? She thought. Maybe he isn’t really napping. Maybe he is just studying secret plans imprinted on the insides of his eyelids. Or, maybe…
Since they were flying in a private government jet, she kept her satellite phone on. She didn’t hear it beep, alerting her to a new text message because of the whine of the jet engines, but the flash of her display caught her attention. She didn’t reach for it at first, then figured she had better. Just in case. In case of what? She didn’t know. Just in case.
She thumbed through her messages until she got to the new one. When she read the message she instantly knew it was a good move by Sullivan to fly to Nellis Air Force Base to investigate the Yucca Mountain shipment, the terrorists’ target de jour.
Ms. McMurtry, General Ranier called for Sullivan. The interception mission was countered. We lost five helicopters to missiles. No survivors. The shipment was hijacked. Call Ranier ASAP!
Tina hesitated in awaking Sullivan. She wanted to think this through. His call on this one was amazing. Maybe too amazing. They were flying the DHS Citation X to Nellis Air Force Base to meet a Nuclear Regulatory Commission representative.
They could have stayed in Washington DC and followed up on things after the terrorists were intercepted and taken into Military custody. But that didn’t happen. The terrorists weren’t stopped so they weren’t arrested. They defeated a planned surprise interception by a top US Army Special Forces team. They successfully overtook and hijacked a load of spent Uranium rods.
She wanted answers.
“Sullivan,” she whispered in his ear as she poked his shoulder.
“What?” He didn’t bother opening his eyes.
“General Ranier’s operation was a disaster. He left a message for you to call him as soon as possible.”
He still didn’t open his eyes. “The intercept didn’t work?”
“No, Sir. We lost five helicopters to missiles. It sounds as if the terrorists were waiting and prepared. An ambush.”
Sullivan sat straight up in his seat and finally opened his eyes. “What are you saying, TT?”
“I don’t know. It was too easy…” She paused midstream, then clarified. “The intelligence; it was way too clear. It’s like AANE set a trap and we jumped right in it head first.”
Sullivan remained still as a stalking cat.
She wanted to question him, but could only come up with, “But you did warn me, didn’t you?”
“I suppose I did.”
Since Sullivan warned her not to move too hastily, that would exonerate him of responsibility. After all, he did warn her it could be a set-up. No matter what, more than two dozen top-notch soldiers lost their lives. Someone was to blame. There was someone on the inside, working like a giant bulldozer excavating piles of information to the terrorists to be used against the government. She just knew it.
“Boss, who is our contact at Nellis?”
“The Colonel Blakely?”
He got grinny, “Yuppers. Ol’ Don, himself.”
They had both worked with Colonel Donald Blakely before. He was known for clearing up messes. Big messes. At all levels of government, if Blakely wanted assets—resources for a mission—he got them, no questions asked. It didn’t matter the cost or even perceived liability, when Blakely spoke, people responded, fast. Now they were going to meet Blakely at Nellis with the NRC.
“Did I mention, Sir, Ranier wants you to call him ASAP?”
She was sure she did but couldn’t be one hundred percent sure she wasn’t distracted in the conversation and in her own thoughts. It’s times like this that she wished she had a transcript. Sullivan wasn’t himself. Maybe I didn’t mention a return call, she second-guessed.
Her thoughts continued to nag at her conscience. No. Something isn’t right. There is an elephant-sized rat way too close for comfort, and Sullivan doesn’t seem too concerned. At least not concerned enough to even mention it to me.
If he didn’t say anything, she wouldn’t either. That’s how she’d play it.
The words to The Gambler played through her mind over and over again. Not all the words, mostly just the chorus. As many times as she had heard her father singing the damn song, she couldn’t remember all the verses. She tried, though. She searched for the words, and couldn’t find them any easier than she could find the hidden meaning revealing her father’s secrets¾his pass code and the location of the extra copy of his component of the software. She realized she wasn’t even sure she knew the questions, much less the answers.
Jade was no help at all. He just sat in his seat repeating the same mantra: The key to life is the frequency I play my favorite tune, over and over again.
“Did your father play music?”
“He listened to it all the time. He loved music.”
“That’s not what I asked you. Did your father PLAY music?”
His meaning hit her, “Yes, he used to play the violin.”
“Did he ever play The Gambler on his violin?”
“No. He quit the violin many years before I was old enough remember. Every now and again he’d pick it up, tune it and squeak a few notes of a common classical piece.”
“I don’t know the name of the piece or the composer. I probably can’t even hum it.”
Jade stretched back out and pondered Cohn’s words.
The speed limit ought to have been higher because Natalie was ignoring it anyway. She couldn’t get to Tucson fast enough and mingle—try to hide—within the traffic. Them Danites were vicious, to use Natalie’s favorite term for anything notable.
Bad guys were vicious. A great meal could be considered vicious. If she saw a good chick-flick and cried, it would be, in Natalie’s book, well, vicious. She even thought Jade had been vicious a time or two since they had met.
Right now, though, just the Danites were vicious, and she wanted to get away from them.
“Let’s retreat, lick our wounds, make a plan, and go again,” Jade said in a real casual tone, just a mumble above the roar of her engine.
“Is that some kind of Army saying, like Kill them all, let God sort them out?”
“Not really, but we need to take a break and rethink our position.” He raised his hand to point at a service station. “In fact, I need that rest area right there.”
She didn’t want to stop because every time Jade went into a public restroom she always wondered the same thing: Did he fall in?
Maybe he just cleaned the facilities well before he used them. Or maybe he used the throne to think. Whatever the reason, he was always in there way too long for Natalie’s patience.
Jade ran inside to get the key. She laughed when she saw him exit and turn the corner to the outside men’s room. It wasn’t him that was so funny it was what he was carrying.
In his right hand was a key attached to a small, silver colored chain, attached to a full-sized toilet plunger. As he passed around the corner, he held up the entire trinket by just the key. Obviously no one would mistakenly put the key in their pocket and drive away.
On second thought, it wasn’t a bad idea. If the bathroom was clogged, as they often are, he wouldn’t have to return to the office for a plunger either.
On the other hand, YUCK!
Nevertheless she’d have time to scan through her father’s journals as Jade would be awhile.
She started with the last journal first, the most recent. It told of many things, from his thoughts of his upcoming scientific presentation in Salt Lake City, to his feelings about his only daughter getting on with her life, like maybe getting married and having his grandkids. He felt that he was selfish, holding her back.
Her father always had time for sensitivity, but didn’t like to burden others with his internal demons. Every other page, at least, bore Natalie’s name. Always good! The pride in his daughter shone through the pages. Now the pages of time. His legacy.
For the first time, she fully comprehended that dedication he had penned on the first diary her gave her as an adult. The inscriptions inside the front covers that always told her basically the same thing: To record her words, thoughts, and feelings for posterity. Her legacy.
Her lower eyelids dammed the tears. Just a thin layer of skin and a couple tiny lashes separated her tears from her cheeks.
Then they fell, steaming down to her chin.
Forcing her eyes to focus through the salty fluid, she continued to read on, scanning page after page for new knowledge. Knowledge she didn’t know existed.
There it was. Something she had wondered for years. Something she needed to know in order to bring her father back. More tears flowed.
In her father’s journal, written by his own pen, was a secret— bigger than life itself.
Dr. Cohn detailed how he might explain to his daughter that he used a hair—a single hair from her old hairbrush—to extract DNA. Then replicate it’s sequencing to create a DNA BLOB large enough to exchange it with a Natalie from another universe. Apparently, he knew the question would eventually rise.
It was a matter of time, Dr. Cohn wrote, before his daughter would confront him on how he material shifted her between universes without a body. Did he dig her up? Could he exchange for a body without actually having one? Not possible as far as she knew.
But here it was, the answer. An answer that opened a Pandora’s box to many more questions. What did she leave behind in her other universe? Was she the Natalie her father knew before she died? How stable are our universes? The questions raged on, and on, and on, and on. Multiverses were too multi-complex to even think about.
More tears flowed as she read about her father’s concerns. Should he tell her the story, or not? What would the implications be? For some unknown reasons to her, he felt a huge amount of guilt and resisted telling her the stories of her past. I would have understood, dad, she mouthed to herself, wishing they would have shared this moment together, but happy he at least recorded his thoughts for her to hold onto forever.
Her thoughts were so lost she didn’t see Jade reach for the door handle. He was inside her car before she had time to wipe her face.
He pretended not to notice her flooding emotion. “Reading anything interesting?”
She forced a smile. “Yeah. I’m reading the truth behind the World Trade Center collapse.”
He chuckled a deep, manly type chuckle. “You like secrets, don’t you?”
“I think we all do, Jade. What are you hiding?”
“When you’re right, you’re right,” Natalie eventually conceded to Jade. He was right. They needed a breather. They needed a night off to relax, to quell the endless flits of thought spinning and twisting about in their minds, the stress.
She was purposefully there to destress; he might be there to get lucky, she couldn’t be sure. She didn’t care. They were at Cats, her favorite musical.
They rented a hotel room downtown for fear the Danites knew where her mother lived. They couldn’t take that chance. It was there they cleaned up and changed into fresh attire before going to the play.
The Tucson Convention Center, often called Tucson Community Center, was packed with patrons. Music lovers. Art lovers of all kinds. You couldn’t tell them apart because they were all formally dressed. In Tucson, especially, that was unique. Normally, formal dress in Tucson—The Old Pueblo—just meant you wore shoes and socks. But tonight, black and white penguin suits with bow ties was the code.
Natalie and Jade were obviously underdressed with their business attire. She had pulled her hair back into a ponytail creating a long, thick, jet-black rope. Jade couldn’t keep his eyes off her and neither could other passing men. She was unaware though. She just felt self-conscious because her dark, gray business skirt suit wasn’t a mama goes to the opera evening gown. She was ignorant to the fact. Jade was quite proud being seen with her.
The young, volunteer usher showed them to their seats. They had to slide past two couples already seated, but the view was good. Just above the orchestra pit.
As the players tuned their instruments, Natalie told about how she and her father used to see a play, opera, musical, ballet, or concert at least once a month.
“We always got there early enough to hear the orchestra tune and…” She suddenly stopped dead in her tracks! “Oh my God, Jade. Oh my…” the word rode on forever, “Gawwd!”
She reached into her pocket and pulled out a piece of paper she had scribbled on earlier that day. The fires in her eyes lit. No mistake, she had a brain-gain.
“When my father took me to my first play, I asked him what the orchestra was doing. He explained that the strings tune their instruments to the A above middle C. It’s called A440 because the string vibrates at a frequency of 440 vibrations per second. Then daddy laughed and said, A440, my favorite tune.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Jade said.
Natalie had too. Every live show she had ever been to since that night she heard at least one person say, “Ah, A440, my favorite tune.” She always wondered if the idiots who said that thought they were original, or cute even. After all, her dad said it first in her eyes.
Jade didn’t make the connection until she showed him the note:
Natalie, my love,
The key to life is the frequency I play my favorite tune,
over and over again.
“Noooo!” He said. “No way.”
“Yes way, Jade. Yes way!”
“A440 is the password?” Jade asked.
“Not quite,” she admitted. “His password is nine characters long. A440 is 4.”
Jade thought for a moment, “Yeah, but it says over and over again,”
Natalie matched his pensive expression. “Also there are no letters, only numbers. So…“ She took a breath. “…if you write 440 over and over again you get 440440440. That’s nine numbers, no letters.”
“That works,” Jade whispered.
“Let’s go. We’ve got to go, Jade.”
He tried to convince her that nothing would change in the next two hours. They may as well stay and enjoy the show. She didn’t agree. How could she enjoy the show now? How could his mind rest until she checked her theory?
Jade had to concede that it was time to go.
They wouldn’t be going back to the hotel as he had secretly counted on earlier. Natalie had a secret. Just a small one in her mind. She’d drive but she’d take him some place other than the hotel.
The US Government couldn’t figure out where AANE got most of its financial support. Speculations ranged from Syria and Iran to the other side of the world, possibly, North Korea. The group’s focus on keeping nuclear power out of Aruba supported the theory that Venezuela was a large sponsor. Their demands, combined with their primary training camp, increased the argument that Venezuela, perhaps even Cuba, financed their operations.
Whoever backed the group had money. Lots of it. Enough to build an underground facility in Colorado to process the nuclear waste into small dirty bombs. The two-million-dollar subterranean warehouse was just a forty-foot square with a ten-foot ceiling. The walls were two-feet-thick layers of concrete and radiation blocking material. The top of the ceiling was eight feet underground and had a four-foot-thick plate of the same material as the walls.
Over one-hundred-pounds of refined Uranium could sit undetected in that room. Carlos Medina had taught his troops that a man with a Geiger counter could stand over their facility containing exposed nuclear fuel and still register a reading no higher than the surrounding area.
From the outside, the entire warehouse’s construction was hidden from side or aerial view. It was built in a small neighborhood auto garage. The garage remained a working garage. As the terrorists worked on making dirty bombs, directly above them the open public garage worked on brakes and transmissions. A perfect cover.
Two members of the AANE team used the garage hoist to lift the transport cask containing the nuclear waste out of the back of Medina’s van. The hoist was connected to a large iron I-beam running along the ceiling that looked as if it could lift a house.
As they pulled the hoist’s chain, the cask rose into the air. The back of the van popped up to its original position, probably relieved its oversized springs were getting a break.
The entire group escorted the two technicians as they slid the cask along the I-beam for the length of the garage until they got to the far back corner. They stabilized the cask from its desire to swing back and forth from the ten-foot-long chain while Medina pushed a small green button on the wall.
The cargo lift was hidden underneath a large air compressor. When Medina pushed the button, the entire compressor system, pump and all, slowly slid to the side and exposed a hole in the floor. Medina thought the designer of the hidden space was quite clever.
Pulling the other side of the chain, they lowered the cask down through the hole and gently placed the unit on a heavy-duty, rolling, flat cart. Hook was already below to unlatch the cask so the chain could be lifted back up through the hole.
A nuclear work chamber separated the radioactive fuel from the technicians who used robotic arms to pull the 6x6x39 inch fuel assembly from the cask. Carefully, they used robotic tools to separate the fuel assembly by sawing open the casing, and removing the actual fuel rods. The military-grade fuel rods.
The fuel assemblies contained four thirty-nine-inch long fuel rods that are made of 2 1/2-inch square stacked wafers. Each wafer is a sandwiched layer of 1/32-inch thick sheets of Zirconium, Uranium, and Zirconium. Between the Zirconium layers are 1/32-inch channels for water.
The whole fuel assembly wasn’t that complex, but the handling of the material was. The terrorists had to take extreme care in disassembling the fuel rods and extracting the Uranium. Piece by piece, they removed the uranium wafers with a robotic arm, then stacked them in separate small containers filled with a water and Barium slurry.
After disassembly they robotically used a small rock cruncher to grind up the Uranium into a fine, soft, sandy material they affectionately named Pixie Dust.
Without contaminating their own dirty-bomb, they began the next step of the process, which was considered the most critical. If they screwed up, they would fail their mission. They had to get it right. They had to get the Pixie Dust into a sealed, two-inch thick container that would sit perfectly in the bottom of a standard laptop case. The rest of the case was filled with Composition 4 plastic explosive—military C-4.
The idea of a dirty bomb is not to create a nuclear reaction, which requires a critical mass of nuclear fuel and a sophisticated nuclear trigger. Instead, a dirty bomb uses conventional explosives to explode and spread radioactive material around a small area.
Within the short-range blast perimeter, the radioactive spread might poison a few people, and shrapnel from the blast might injure or kill a few people. In a larger perimeter, the radioactive contamination wouldn’t be concentrated enough to kill. The idea wasn’t to kill large numbers of people anyway. The whole idea behind terrorism is terror. Strike terror in the hearts and minds of your enemy. Medina knew this philosophy well.
Along with the terror of a dirty bomb is the economic blow. The decontamination of radiation spread about a city block could cost several million dollars in emergency procedures, cleanup, and the like.
Economics be damned, it was terror the terrorists were after. More specifically, political influence derived from terror.
For thousands of years, combatants—and governments—have understood the power of the Stockholm Syndrome. It didn’t have a name until the twentieth century, but it existed. And it was used to influence billions of unsuspecting citizens over centuries.
The concept is simple. When a victim identifies with his victimizer, that is Stockholm Syndrome. Kidnappers often find that their victims quickly grow to identify with them. Emotional chains that develop when the victim’s mind starts justifying the kidnapper’s behavior can replace the metal chains and handcuffs that bind the kidnapped. For example, when they sympathize with the kidnapper’s cause or when they admire and sometimes fall in love with the kidnapper’s strength.
In every subculture of society, the Stockholm Syndrome runs rampant. Drug pushers bind the minds and hearts of the drug user to a point of utter loyalty, which is bred from fear and maintained by personal emotional identification. Husbands beat wives into submission. Parents control their children to the point of turning them into emotionally wounded adult children.
When the victim identifies with the victimizer, Stockholm Syndrome has been woven into a fabric of control and influence. That is the terrorist’s nature. It’s the nature of mankind, his communities and his governments.
They worked into the late evening.
Medina ran a couple errands away from the site but called in periodically to check progress. “How are things going?”
“Fine Sir,” Patricia Sanchez reported into her cell phone. “Much quicker than expected. We are almost finished with Curly.”
Larry, Moe, and Curly were the pet names she gave the three dirty bombs. Sanchez put her personal touch to everything she did. Almost everyone admired her for it. It gave her a certain amount of sex appeal.
“When can we hit the airport?” Medina asked.
“Give us an hour, Sir. We need to test and remove Moe and Curly through the contamination chamber.”
“How did Larry check out?”
“He was totally clean. No outer contamination and no radioactive signature.”
“Great, make sure the other two are 20/20 as well, and we’ll be in business.” Sanchez heard the squeak of a straw in a plastic cup as Medina sipped his coke.
“Oh,” Medina interrupted. “Did the remote detonators fit?”
“Like a glove, Sir. Everything fit perfectly.”
“Perfecto. See you in about an hour.”
Happy wasn’t even close to expressing Medina’s pleasure in his team. When he hung up his phone, he had a stitched smile embedded in his face. The anticipation of succeeding in his biggest mission yet made him tremble with energy. Then he wondered how Tommy Boy was coming on the Material Shifting software chase, but he had to let that thought go until this mission was in the can. He crunched some ice with his straw and took another sip.
The stars were so close you could touch them, or so it seemed, as Natalie drove Jade across town. She wouldn’t answer his questions about where they were going. “It’s a surprise,” she’d say.
“Well, if your surprise is going to be too much further, can we stop so I can tinkle?”
She took her eyes off the road to kid him a little. “You mean one of your famous thirty minute pisses?”
He shook his head, “You are just way too funny, Natalie.”
“No. You’re funny. You and your man-sized toilet plunger key ring!” She laughed before she spotted and pointed out an open pancake and waffle house. “How’s that?”
“That’ll work. I wonder what they’ll have chained to their bathroom key.” They both knew there probably wouldn’t be a key, but they laughed together anyway.
Inside the restroom Jade slipped his BlackBerry out of his jacket pocket then typed a message:
It’s time. Track my phone’s GPS locator and move in.
He pressed SEND and put the device back in his pocket.
Outside Natalie planned on a long wait, but didn’t mind. It would give her another chance to read her father’s journal in semi-private. She was looking for something specific. How did he calculate how much DNA material is needed to make the DNA BLOB she read about?
She flipped through the pages, just scanning for the keywords DNA, BLOB, REPLICATION, RNA, SEQUENCING, CHAIN, PCLR,…anything related to DNA processing. The task would have been easier if other things that caught her eye didn’t constantly sidetrack her. Her name was attached to almost every page. She liked that. It showed her how much her daddy cared.
She didn’t get frustrated. She just accepted the fact that it might take some time to find.
A page flipped and a thought flipped with it: Why is Acker taking so long? What does he do in there?
More pages flipped and she found her answer, sort of. Dr. Cohn didn’t say how much he used, but speculated a person could use a DNA BLOB of about ten grams. She quickly imaged ten grams in her head, about as much as two packs of Sweet N’ Low, just a pinch over 1/3 oz. It wasn’t much material and could be derived from the root matrix of a single human hair.
Then the question came to her, If I am here, what has happened to the DNA BLOB my father sent to the other universe? If it was destroyed there, can I get back home?
The question was something she had never considered before. As far as she knew, Dr. Cohn never switched any biological element, much less a chimpanzee, back to its original universe. Everything had been a one-way trip.
How could such an obvious question be overlooked? She didn’t know. She simply never considered it before now. Again, it’s probably just one of those things, like the reconciliation between her fear of heights and love of flight.
This time she saw Jade approach the car, so she slid her father’s journal between other journals so he wouldn’t ask about what she read and she wouldn’t be tempted to tell him yet either.
He got into the car and asked, “More secrets?”
“No, I was just thinking about what you said about bringing my father back.”
“What’s that?” He had forgotten his earlier comment and was now distracted by the outline her breasts made through her shirt.
“About how things might be better left alone.”
“So, what was your conclusion?”
She was honest, “I don’t know yet. I’m still working on it.” She started her Mustang with a varoooooom, and backed out of the lot, looking only in her rearview mirror, not once turning her head over her shoulder.
A plain white sedan drove Sullivan and McMurtry from Nellis Air Force Base runway directly to a waiting Colonel Don Blakely. Although they arrived early afternoon, the meetings would take all evening and into late night.
They met in what used to be a Federal Prison Camp operated by the Bureau of Prisons. McMurtry wondered, “Don, what happened to the Prison Camp?”
“Oh, that’s a long story.” He sat on a table next to her. “But it’s pretty funny.”
“Go on…” Tina said.
“The last warden got into a tiff with the base commander over inmate security. When the prisoners were on work detail on the base, the Correction Officers used to harass them. The military personnel were fed up with the BOP Correctional Officers acting like Army Rangers.”
Tina tried to imagine the scene as Blakely told the story.
“Then, one day, the General wanted to prove a point, so he had two of his SPs pick up the warden and deliver her to his office. He reamed her out up one side and down the other. He told her she better make sure her idiots realized they were nothing close to military caliber, and that they better realize Air Force has final authority, blah, blah. He called her correction officers nothing more than unqualified babysitters with penis envy, even the women COs. Less than a year later, funding for the Camp was eliminated and forced to disperse.”
“What happened to the Warden?”
“Nothing, really. She was moved to some other crappy Federal Prison. Somewhere in west Texas I think.”
They all laughed at Blakely’s distaste and contempt for the BOP employees. He even laughed himself before telling another story.
“Yeah. The inmates used to think the warden was a drunk. They called her Our Lady of Perpetual Inebriation.”
McMurtry asked, “A real lush, eh?”
“Actually, I don’t think so. That’s the funny part. She was a diabetic. One day she went into a diabetic stupor and passed out during a prisoner town-hall meeting.”
Blakely chuckled as McMurtry stated, “She sounds like a lovely Warden.”
“The Air Force had its own name for her. We used to call her Truck, even though she chain smoked like a damn train.”
“Truck?” Sullivan grinned. “Why, Truck?”
“Because she was short and stocky, and her name was Warden Linda Kenworth.”
They chatted for just a few minutes before they got down to business. Blakely was getting a lot of pressure from General Ranier at Fort Carson, Colorado.
“As you know, Rick, I’m the Air Force Attaché to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. My partner will be here in about an hour, but we can talk until then.”
Sullivan had talked to General Ranier, but it took Blakely to fill in the blanks on how much Uranium had been stolen and its potential for contaminating thousands of people if distributed in the right—or in this case wrong—place.
“General Ranier is pretty upset. He feels the mission was compromised internally. When he first called me…”
Sullivan butted in, “Excuse me, Don. Can I have a word alone with you for a moment.” He excused himself and Blakely, but Tina started to follow them. “Tina, can you give us a moment, please.”
“Sure,” she confirmed externally. Internally she wanted to ask what the hell was so secret that she couldn’t hear.
Several times during this entire AANE investigation her boss cut her off at the heels, overrode her authority, and confounded her trust.
She watched their body language, especially Blakely’s squinting eyes, responding to whatever it was Sullivan had to say. Sullivan spotted her trying to read his lips and covered his face with his clipboard.
When they returned to Tina’s presence, Sullivan offered no explanation. They just continued to talk.
Blakely stated his concerns about the sophistication of the terrorist’s operation. “They left the LAWs on site. We are trying to trace their origin now.”
“I thought they were confirmed ‘American Made’,” Tina said.
“They were, but we are still in the dark about their chain of custody.”
“I see. Of course.”
Blakely continued. “The other thing is that when we tracked the GPS transmissions from the shipment there was nothing there. The GPS transmits a signal within one meter of its location. We tracked the signal right into Utah for several miles, but there was nothing there. Somehow, they transmitted a phantom signal which sent us one way while they went another.”
“Any loss of signal? That might be where they separated the shipment from its tracking signal.”
“No, Tina, there was no interruption of signal at all. Just straight down I-70. No turn offs, no stops, no fluctuation in speed. Nothing to go on. They could be anywhere by now. They probably took a plane out of the area.”
Sullivan was concerned for Fullerton. His reputation and career were on the line with the First Lady of the United States, if anything happened to her nephew. “We haven’t heard from them either. Do you think we should issue a public statement? The President is standing by, just in case.”
“No. Not yet. I think they will contact us before they do anything. The nuclear waste is too complex to handle. They probably don’t have time to really do anything with it so soon. They’d need a pretty sophisticated facility.”
Sullivan agreed to wait it out.
Blakely suggested they wait a couple hours until he received the results of the ongoing nuclear signature search. Any trace of nuclear radiation would be investigated. Finding that shipment was critical to everyone’s future. Then they’d make a more specific plan; hopefully, it wouldn’t involve a public statement by the President.
Sullivan turned to Tina, just a bit out of context, and asked, “Have you heard from Jade today?”
“No, Sir. Not at all, have you?”
Sullivan hesitated, pulled out his phone, peaked at the display, and said, “No. I sure haven’t.”
For some reason, she wasn’t convinced.
After driving thirty minutes, Natalie turned onto a dirt road several miles northwest of Tucson. In the darkness, the moon and the stars were the only visual navigation instruments available to Jade. Then he noticed the soft reflection of the moonlight off of the north side of the Catalina Mountains. He still didn’t know exactly where they were going or why they didn’t stop by the hotel to change first. All he knew was that Natalie was in a hurry to get somewhere after making the mental connection between her father’s words and the orchestra’s tuning.
The third dirt road they turned on was a mess. Nothing but ruts and potholes. Every turn of her tires smacked against the ratty washboard ridges that vibrated the entire car up to the metal-framed ragtop.
“We’re here,” she said when she hit the end of a small driveway.
“Here where?” Jade said.
Jade stared at the polished silver fifth-wheel sitting atop cinder blocks. There were two blinding spotlight reflections off the mobile house from her car lights. They illuminated their path to and up the steps. Jade was thankful because in the desert it’s pretty important to see where you are walking. Lots of nasty things lurk in dark driveways such as rattlesnakes, scorpions, and rabid furry things.
He stood behind her on the tiny stoop but moved to one side so the lights from her car could unfold onto the doorknob where she was trying to fit her key. She shoved it in the lock and turned.
Before peeking inside she reached around the corner with just her arm and flipped on the 1ight.
“Another lab?” Jade asked when he saw the desks and file cabinets that vaguely reminded him of the other labs they had visited the past two days.
The obvious question was probably more of a rhetorical confirmation than anything, “Whose lab?”
She watched his eyes slowly dart around the room. “My lab.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about it?” He was almost hurt about her holdout.
“You are familiar with Need to know protocol, aren’t you, Mr. Light Fighter?”
He smiled and swung his arm in a giant Zorro move. “Touché.”
The answer to her questions wouldn’t have been found there, so she felt no need to tell Jade about the lab. It was just a fail-safe backup of everything she worked on. Her father insisted that she not even tell him where it was or anything else about it. For all Cohn knew before he died, her back up lab was in Los Alamos.
She used to say she was going dancing when she would visit her private study lair. Sometimes her work would take her into the early morning hours. Cohn just thought she was having a great time with some handsome young cowboy. In fact, she wasn’t slinging her arms and legs in dance, she was singing bits and bytes of ones and zeros. She called her programming efforts her algorithms of love.
The inside was pretty much gutted except for a small bathroom and shower in the back of the unit. Everything else was contained in one big room with a kitchenette in one corner and a studio bed in the other. She had a heavy, green metal desk that obviously came from a government auction. The file cabinets didn’t match, but she didn’t care. They were functional.
Even though she didn’t have Cohn’s entire program, she could test and authenticate his password on her computer. The one she used to back up her development programs. She didn’t take the time to explain that to Jade. Her mind was too busy racing with 440440440. That’s got to be it.
She pulled out a laptop from her desk and sat it on top. After turning it on, she pulled her CD from her pocket and shoved it through the little slot. The computer gulped it in. She continued to wait as the computer booted up.
The Window’s logo flashed on the screen and she saw a shadow in the porthole window on her front door. She quickly ducked behind her desk, dragging her laptop with her.
She heard the front door get kicked and two shots fired. She didn’t see Jade fall to the floor, but she felt the thud when he hit.
Then the footsteps plodded closer.
Colonel Blakely sounded solemn but sure when he pointed to the planning board and addressed his small crowd of military and government officers, “Ladies and gentlemen, the hijacking took place here.”
He fingered concentric circles around the red dot on the board as he outlined the search procedures. The Department of Homeland Security had four aircraft crisscrossing the skies in a giant grid, desperately trying to locate a nuclear signature, any trace of radioactivity indicating the location of the hijacked waste. The grid pattern started at the red dot and worked its way out over five hundred miles.
A dainty brown hand was raised to get Blakely’s attention. “Sir, have we detected anything yet?”
“No, not a thing. We haven’t even detected a glow in the dark wrist watch.”
Brainstorming only produced two ideas. The terrorists might have a local storage area to hide the load. But that’s highly unlikely because they would need to have sophisticated nuclear shielding. The second idea is that the waste was put in a larger transport vehicle, taken to an airport, and flown out just ahead of the search planes.
“The bottom line is this, my friends. If the terrorists got out of our dragnet, the only hope we have is to hope they are taking the fuel out of the country. Hopefully one of our maritime and border control sensors will pick them up.”
This was the first time anything like this had happened in the United States. The governmental agencies had spent years since 9/11 to convince its citizens that spent nuclear waste is carefully controlled and is not much of a threat even if someone were to get their hands on it. Now, the government was scampering like hungry wolves looking for food. They needed to find the nuclear waste before the terrorists blew the lid off their propaganda machine. Everyone in that planning room felt the pressure in their helplessness.
Blakely turned to Sullivan, “How about Acker? Would you like to brief the team on what’s going on there?”
Sullivan glanced at Tina McMurtry, but not directly. He was just put on the spot. He had to answer the question without lying, but he hadn’t told Tina everything. “Acker is working on making contact with the terrorists. They just haven’t bitten yet.”
Tina’s eyes went ballistic, then she spoke her mind. “You are using Acker and the civilian he is with, as bait?”
Sullivan hadn’t yet thought through his answer before she spoke again, “I don’t care if you use a hook with liver hanging on it or you’re just chumming, the bait always gets eaten, you know that!”
His tone switched to indicate she was out of line. “Mrs. McMurtry, Jade Acker is one of the most competent operatives we have.”
She snapped back, “So was Fullerton and we don’t even know if he is alive!”
She realized her emotions were getting the best of her. She had to refocus. “I’m sorry for the disruption. I’m just a bit stressed,” she admitted to the group.
Luckily, Sullivan wanted to cover for her, not destroy her credibility.
“McMurtry is right. We have been working on this case for a while now. We have two very competent operatives in the field. One was compromised in Venezuela and is now missing. The other is working on another part of the case we didn’t realize was related until recently.”
As Sullivan fed the team piles of information about Dr. Cohn’s technology, Tina wondered how he had gotten so much detail. He seemed to know things she hadn’t told him. Where did he get this information? How was he so briefed on such intimate details of quantum physics and the like?
Relying on the many taped conversations Acker secretly sent him, Sullivan continued talking for an hour about string theory and how it is the basis for Dr. Cohn’s ability to move, or shift material, from one universe to another. He talked about parallel universes¾multiverses¾and how the Mormon Church is convinced that God wants to protect such technologies because God uses such technological concepts as tools to create miracles, and go about his Godly business.
The deeper Sullivan got into his talk about reconciling God’s laws with science, McMurtry’s eyes widened. All this knowledge was coming to light that he hadn’t shared with her. Furthermore, she instantly realized that this intelligence must have come from Jade Acker. Why hadn’t he told her himself? Why was he briefing Sullivan and not her?
Sullivan made the connection for the listeners, “The terrorists sent us an email warning that the MEPS technology they acquired, presumably via Cohn’s murder, was going to be used against the US to expose secrets. These secrets will change American’s trust in government. They warned that they would use this technology and perform other terrorist operations if we don’t denounce our plans to contract with Aruba’s nuclear program. This hijacking is obviously one of their related attacks.”
Finally, he talked about the Danites. “We are not sure how this disbanded militia group of the Mormon Church is related, but I received intelligence that they were probably hired by the terrorists to kill Dr. Cohn and deliver his technology to them. My analysts think that something must be wrong, because they seem to be after Cohn’s assistant for something else, but we’re not sure yet.”
Tina held her tongue at this other withheld fact while the rest of the room was left breathless when Sullivan told them the punch line. “I was asked by the Secretary of State to keep as much intelligence as possible compartmentalized.” He paused to make sure he wouldn’t have to repeat himself.
“Henry Fullerton is the First Lady’s nephew, the nephew-in-law of our Commander in Chief.”
Nothing more needed to be said as everyone mentally filled in the blanks.
The sound of Jade’s body flopping to the floor heightened her senses. She could have peeked around the corner of her desk to see what was stepping toward her, but she didn’t have time.
She often worked on high-tech projects all night long, alone. Cohn had warned her that no matter where her office was located, a plan for a quick escape was necessary. It was times like this she knew that she should have always taken his advice to heart.
The two gunmen kept in visual contact with each other while patiently stalking the floor toward Natalie’s big green desk. They pointed their military style pistols and slowly looked behind and under the desk. They’d be disciplined but ready to shoot at any quick threatening movement.
She wasn’t there. The desk was empty.
One of the masked men silently made a peace sign with his hands and pointed to his eyes with his outstretched fingers. Then with the same motion, he pointed toward the only hiding place in the lab, the closed bathroom door.
Like cougars after a wounded deer, they pounced through the bathroom door shouting, “FREEZE!”
There was nothing but a toilet, sink, shower, and small towel rack. No Natalie.
While initially taking their time and engaging Jade at the front door, Natalie had jerked up a trap door under her desk that she designed and built herself for such a situation—Daddy’s orders. The gunmen in their caution had given her enough time to slip through the hole and replace the cover, allowing her a few extra moments to escape.
Under the fifth wheel, she looked toward the cars. She was somewhat blinded by the headlights of her own car, but there didn’t seem to be any activity. She knew she was at a distinct disadvantage. They could have night vision goggles, infrared, who knows. Her only hope was to run for her car and race away. Her Mustang was fast and she could drive.
She ingested a gasp of air and exhaled. Then she took in another breath and slid from under the giant silver bullet. She ducked and ran as fast as she could to her car. The three-inch heals didn’t help matters but she left them on. She could endure any run for just fifty feet or so, even while carrying her laptop. Survival was on her mind, consuming her. She had all but forgotten about Jade. He wasn’t there to help her now.
She just threw the laptop in the passenger floorboard and gently clicked her door shut. She reached for the keys that were still in her ignition and twisted.
As her car came to life so did a voice that seemed just inches from behind her ear. It whispered, “Going somewhere?”
San Manuel, located an hour northeast of Tucson, is an old mining town. It still has an active smelting company that processes ore for several different mining operations around southern Arizona.
The town’s small airport was small and remote, just the place for kidnappers and local drug dealers to operate out of. The tall smelter smokestacks could be seen off the end of the runway. Red lights on top of the stacks flashed warnings for the approaching and departing aircraft of their presence.
The gunmen considered themselves fortunate that Natalie decided to visit her lab, and that it was so close to the lazy, remote airport. Their jet was the only plane on the abandoned tarmac, but Natalie couldn’t see it; she was blindfolded with a black bag over her entire head. She’d stay that way the entire flight.
When the plane took off from the relatively short runway Natalie felt the smooth energy lift the plane off the ground. She felt the rumble of landing gear retracting into the wheel wells. Then her left shoulder pressed against her seat’s window as the plane made a sharp right-hand bank to avoid the red blinking eyes of the smokestacks.
It wasn’t until then that she realized the full impact of Jade’s absence. They had spent days together and she took the time to reflect on things. Sometimes he stressed her out, though she wasn’t sure it was because of her overall situation. The death of her father, the reunion with her mother, the lost technology, the Danites. All of the things forcing her life in directions she might not want to go. In all, his presence was pleasant to her. At least she had someone to go through it with. Someone to support her. Someone who showed some compassion.
Besides, she thought he was cute. She’d secretly hoped she’d have the chance to get to know him better, under normal circumstances.
The plane was full, and she felt the others sitting around her, but had no idea who they were or what their intentions were. No one was talking out loud. No interrogation. No celebration. No threats. Nothing out of the ordinary other than she was sitting on a plane with a black bag over her head, and her hands loosely cuffed in her lap.
A whisper caught her ear, bit it was too low and the engines muffled the voices.
“Are you hungry, Miss Westin?” a deep voice asked.
“No,” she confidently answered with the black bag still over her head.
“It’s going to be a couple hours. I’ll get you a sandwich anyway. It will be here if you want it. Just let me know.”
Just having food offered to her made her feel more comfortable and less in real danger. She’d take a chance, “Where are we going?”
“I can’t tell you. All I can say is that if you cooperate and give us what we need, you won’t be harmed in any way.”
That’s supposed to make me feel better? She thought. Her partner was just shot, and they are trying to convince her of their innocuous nature.
“What about Jade?” she asked.
“Don’t worry about Mr. Acker. He is in a much better place now.”
She wasn’t comforted. “And me?”
“As I just said, if you cooperate with us, everything will be just fine.”
Just fine? What does that mean? Natalie weighed the fact that they probably didn’t know she was trying to get back to her own universe, trying to bring her father back, and trying to save her father’s life’s work. How could they say everything will be just fine?
She felt she had no choice but to sit back and get some rest. For now, she was safe. Later might be a different story.
Clouds suddenly hid the bright moon above as the plane descended through them. Natalie’s ears popped and she yawned before feeling the bumps and jolts. The turbulence was caused by the thermal air mass that lifted and molded the clouds, turning them from thin flat clouds into thick cotton balls. The landing was much softer than the descent.
Three men climbed off the small jet and left in a black SUV. That’s when a large Hispanic bodyguard type removed the black bag from Natalie’s head. She lifted her cuffed hands and straightened her locks, removing a strand of hair that was stuck to her lips.
He helped her out of her seat by her arm and led her to the front of the plane. “Let’s go, Ms. Westin.”
When she looked out of the door, she immediately knew where she was. In the distance, she saw the same scene Henry Fullerton had seen when he arrived at that exact same spot. The golden Moroni was a shining beacon against the night’s sky. It was lit up with several floodlights for visitors to Salt Lake City to see for miles around.
Just the sight of the flagship ‘Angel of Mormonism’ brought comfort to Natalie. Stepping down to the ground, her thoughts turned from her situation to Exaltation. She had been taught, in the Church of Latter-Day Saints, that Jesus said there are many mansions in his Father’s house, and that the Apostle Paul mentioned he knew a man that was “caught up in the third heaven”. She knew her destiny was with her Father in Heaven, whatever happened in her life at this time.
Between the teachings of Paul and Latter-Day revelations, the Church teaches there are three kingdoms of glory in heaven. The Celestial, Terrestrial, and the Telestial kingdoms. And within the Celestial kingdom there are three degrees of glory—fellowship and responsibility with God the Father. Natalie’s heart was like anyone else’s. She fought thoughts of sin and desire, but knew her sins were relatively benign in comparison to the big picture. Her heart was in the right place. In fact, so much so that she didn’t have to work at being good. It just came naturally. Someone once told her that you know when you are truly living a Christian life when you don’t have to TRY anymore. It all just comes naturally. Sure, from time to time you need re-grounding, but for the most part it comes naturally.
The man drove her to the AANE safehouse and marched her inside the command post where Patricia Sanchez and Carlos Medina were waiting for her arrival.
Patricia held up Natalie’s CD. It was just a silver-colored CD with no label or writing. “Is this yours?”
She hesitated admiring Patricia’s soft Spanish accent then answered the tanned blonde. “Yes, it is.”
“Is it what I think it is?” Sanchez queried with a kind grin that didn’t look as fake as Natalie figured it was.
Natalie knew she knew but feigned dumb, “I don’t know. What do you think it is?”
“I think you know.” She stared into Natalie’s eyes and twisted her head in curiosity. “Look. I don’t have time for word games right now. You can spend some time with my pet and think things over. When I get back, we’ll talk.”
It was an interesting sight to Natalie—a man in a cage. The childlike interest soon turned to concern when she realized the Terrorist with curly, black clownish hair was going to shove her inside too.
“Make yourself at home,” Hook commanded as he shut the door and replaced the titanium padlock.
Natalie silently tossed herself on the cage’s couch until Hook left the room. The obstacles seemed too big to overcome. “Where are we?” she asked.
The caged man extended his hand to her. “I’m Henry Fullerton. We are in a safehouse of a terrorist group called the Americans Against Nuclear Establishment.”
“Funny, they don’t look American. But it’s nice to meet you anyway, Henry.” She shook his hand and watched his eyes scan her body.
“South American. And it’s nice to meet you, Natalie.”
She squinted her eyes to form two green slits. “Ah, I don’t remember telling you my name.”
“You didn’t, but I know who you are. You are Dr. Cohn’s assistant.”
“You are partly correct. I’m also his daughter. And how do you know us?”
“You could be why I’m here. I work for the US Government. These terrorists are the ones who bombed the Hoover Dam. Their next target is to hijack a shipment of nuclear waste. It was my job to help stop that from happening. Whoever was providing them with high-level government information is somehow connected to Dr Cohn. From what I put together from bits I’ve heard the last few days, their inside guy who fingered me is the same one that was used to hire whoever robbed and killed Dr. Cohn. They were convinced if they stole his technology they would have something to hold over our government’s head.”
“Are you talking political blackmail?” She crossed her legs and tugged at her shirt loosening it from her waist. Henry smiled.
“Exactly. On an international scale though.”
“Why, what do they want?”
“Their biggest client right now wants them to stop America from building nuclear plants in Aruba.”
“Why? It’s clean, cheap, energy.”
“That’s not the point. Aruba is only a few miles off the coast of Venezuela. The new dictatorship there doesn’t want America to have any more political influence over Aruba than necessary. Strategically, Aruba could provide an excellent listening post for America to keep tabs on Venezuela.”
The clarity in his statement overcame her mind. The Russians have Cuba just miles off the Florida coast. The English have the Falkland Islands off Argentina. The list goes on and on. Since the beginning of international trade, countries have fought over island-bound strategic points.
She also saw the military application possibilities of Cohn’s Material Existence Phase Shifting. Technology—from ships to sate1lites, from fire to computers—has driven war and politics. MEPS would be to intra-universal travel and time strategies, what the atom bomb was to TNT, a literal NUCLEAR TIME BOMB.
“The terrorists used some Church militia group to kill your father and steal his work.”
“Danites,” she clarified.
“Danites. They were thought to be a disbanded Mormon militia group that protected the Church from persecution in the eighteen hundreds.”
“Well, they seem to be alive and well. And whoever recruited them for this project was called Tommy Boy. Ever heard that name before?”
“No. I don’t know that name. I’m Dr. Cohn’s only daughter and I was around him all the time. I’d know the name if he knew the name.”
“I thought I overheard one of these guys say Dr. Cohn’s only daughter died in a car accident when she was a teenager. But I could be wrong.”
Natalie shot him a pirate’s eye, “You are right. I did die when I was a teenager.”
“So you…” he was speechless. “You…”
“Yes. My father brought me back from another universe with his technology.”
“So it does work.”
“I’m here, aren’t I? My dad was great.”
Fullerton didn’t think before he spewed the first thing that came to his mind, “He doesn’t sound so great.”
“What?” She was a bit taken back by his comment.
Crap, he thought as he realized he’d now have to explain himself.
“What I mean is that it seems pretty selfish to me that he’d rip you out of another universe to satisfy his own desire to regain his loss. What did he take you from? Isn’t that a bit selfish?”
Natalie pondered the implications. It seems there were many things she hadn’t thought through before. She had always relied on her father’s words and opinions. Now that he was gone, she was quickly finding holes in what she was living as truth.
Her analysis didn’t stop there. How selfish would she be if she replicated her father’s DNA then brought him back from a universe where he wasn’t killed? What would she be destroying in the process?
“I never really thought of it like that before, Henry. I always wanted to get back to my other life, but I never thought about it from my father’s perspective.”
“Oh, so it’s that easy?” Henry said.
“Is what so easy?”
“I threw out an idea and you concede the point. No argument, no defensiveness. You just concede the point.”
She didn’t waste any time confirming, “When you’re right, you’re right.”
“See. That’s what I mean. Where do they make women like you?”
She laughed and made him realize the error in his comment, “Not anywhere near this universe.” She then looked around at her captive state and gave him a kind smile anyway.
Temple Square in downtown Salt Lake City was surrounded with an ornate fence. Inside were the Mormon Tabernacle, the Salt Lake Temple, the Conference Center, and several smaller support buildings and offices. The grounds were filled with plants and flowers that brought peace to the surrounding air.
Floods of people entered the gates as soon as they opened. Almost everyone was dressed in their Sunday suits. It wasn’t Sunday, only Saturday. But the day was very special. It was Annual Conference, the largest event of the year. The conference lasts the entire weekend, with high-level Church speakers, including the President and Prophet, himself. Members didn’t have to visit Temple Square because it was broadcast live across the world via satellite. But any member who could go in person usually would.
The conference had always been held in the Tabernacle that formally seats 5,000 guests. There was nothing quite like feeling the huge, organ pipes bellowing in your gut in the halls of the most famous choir in the world—The Mormon Tabernacle Choir. To the families piling in there was nothing like spending a weekend dedicated to worship and fellowship among members from all over the world. But since the year 2000 the annual Church conference was held in the new Conference center which seats 21,000 people, perhaps the largest theater-style auditorium ever built.
This year the opening ceremonies of the conference would be held in the Tabernacle at the Church President’s special request. No one was sure why, but rumor had it he had received special revelation from God to limit the opening day to the Tabernacle.
The crowd was oblivious to the terrorist group mingling among them. Bomb-filled computer cases didn’t particularly stand out in the thousands of people rushing around.
In the Tabernacle, Hook Castro used his black, Mormon missionary leader badge to make his way into the organ pipe room. It was huge with more brass and intricately polished wood than he had ever seen. There was no one there, so he stealthily climbed a tiny set of stairs, then a maintenance ladder that led to the higher pitched pipes. He held the rungs with one hand and the heavy computer bag in the other. When his foot slipped from the ladder, he changed things up a bit. He slung the bag over his shoulder and used two hands to climb.
Hook wanted the first dirty bomb, LARRY, to be as high as possible. That would ensure maximum radioactive exposure to the seated guests. All 5,000 of them.
Outside, the other two bombs, CURLY and MOE were planted. One of them was placed in the hedges in front of the Temple. Large numbers of people often gathered in front of the Temple to take family pictures and to gaze at the beautiful quarried granite facade and tall spires reaching into the sky. The Temple was still as polished and beautiful as it was when the cornerstone was first laid on April 6th, 1853.
Members who have been to the Temple reflect on their Temple experiences: the work they have done for redeeming the dead, baptisms, and the promises they made to God during ordinance ceremonies. One of the most memorable ceremonies is a Temple marriage. In the LDS Church, marriage and families are forever. Making a commitment to your spouse for eternal marriage is one of the most sacred events anyone in the Church could ever do in the Temple. Kids not yet old enough to attend such temple ceremonies get antsy thinking about their turn to do God’s work.
Non-members study the beautiful structure and speculate about what goes on inside. Why are Mormon Temples so sacred? Is there any truth to the anti-Mormon propaganda they hear about strange things going on inside their Temples? Usually though, once their minds have gotten past the silly stuff, they realize the significance of having a sacred building that is dedicated to God, where only the worthy can enter to do their heavenly Father’s work.
The bomb would bring those onlookers and picture-takers to their knees.
The last bomb was planted between the front gate and the north Visitors’ Center. During the conference there would be people coming and going. Thousands would mingle around and be subject to the thermal blast and spreading radiation. Simultaneous detonation wouldn’t garner worldwide television coverage and a political backlash the US couldn’t afford.
At least, that was AANE’s plan.
Natalie remained seated next to Henry and looked toward the door, hoping to get out of her cage and back into the room where Patricia Sanchez had first taken her. She had watched Sanchez place the CD in the desk drawer, and she planned on getting it back.
“What’s their next move, Henry?”
Fullerton didn’t want to tell her, but really had nothing to lose. “They are on their way now to the Salt Lake City Temple with three dirty bombs.” He looked down at his feet and she looked at his face.
“Oh, no. It’s annual conference week. Thousands will be killed. What do they have against my Church?”
“Probably nothing.” Henry said matter-of-factly. He looked back into her eyes.
“Then why are they trying to destroy it?”
Choosing his words carefully, he almost mesmerized her with his piercing blue eyes, “Natalie, they say the best alibi is a well-placed scapegoat to take the heat.”
“This was all just a set-up?”
“Think about it. The terrorists wanted Dr. Cohn’s technology. He was Mormon. His killers were Mormon. It’s only natural for everyone to blame the Mormon Church. I don’t know anything about these Danites you are talking about, but I’m sure they will be blamed for the bombing at Church headquarters. At the very least they will be labeled as the ones who were convinced for some selfish reason to pull the trigger on Cohn.”
“You seem to be a bit sensitive about selfishness, Henry.”
“I am. Selfishness drives every horror I’ve ever seen in one way or another. If narcissism were eliminated, the world would be a peaceful place. One you could raise your children in. Self-love and adornment destroys the fabric of our society.”
His little speech made Natalie think even more about her own motives. “Do you think bringing back my father is narcissistic?”
“What do you think?”
“Probably so. But have you ever felt bound by your family legacy?”
“Of course. I am the nephew of the First Lady of the United States.” He continued to explain how much of a disaster this is for him, how his kidnapping was a much larger security risk than it would have been had he not been related to such world leaders.
As Natalie listened, she reached her hands into her pocket and felt something that had not been there before. She felt its sharp edge and wondered how it had gotten there. Then she remembered Sanchez bumping into her. She pulled it out.
Henry spotted it in her hand. “What’s that?”
“I think that lady put it in my pocket. It wasn’t there before.”
Disbelief was the look they shared when he took the key from her and walked to the front of the cage.
The lock popped open.
“Why would she give you the key to our escape?”
Natalie raised an eyebrow. “She said something about you being her pet.”
“She called me that once before when every one else called me Stupid American.”
“Well,” she said. “I don’t care why, I just want to get my disk and get out of here.” Then she stepped out of the cage.
He ran behind her as she burst into the room with the desk. She opened the drawer where she had seen Sanchez place her CD. It was empty, so she opened another drawer. Nothing there either.
While she went through the entire desk, Henry checked the garage for a car.
“Natalie, come on,” he yelled.
She ran empty-handed to his voice. He had found a small Toyota pickup truck, and its keys were in the seat. While he got in and started the smoky engine, she looked out the garage door window. All clear.
She pressed the garage door button and Henry backed out, motioning for her to close the door. She hit the button again and ran for the door as it descended. She squatted and slid underneath as the bottom of the door brushed her back.
When she sat in the truck, Henry handed her a dirty, broken pencil he had found in the glove compartment. Henry admired her bright white teeth when she had to gnaw the end to expose a little graphite. Just enough to scribble the house address, 1666 Empire Drive.
“I don’t believe this address,” she said.
“What’s wrong with it?”
She had already told Jade all about the words in Revelation. Now she’d explain it again to Henry. “666, the mark of the beast, it’s the symbol representing Nero Caesar, leader of the Roman Empire. 1666 Empire Drive. Wow!”
They raced down the road as fast as the old rusty truck would go without drawing attention to themselves. They really didn’t know where they were, but every now and then they’d see the downtown area peeping from the scenery. Henry just kept the truck pointed in that general direction.
“Let’s stop for directions,” Natalie suggested, knowing he was probably a typical man who would rather drive in circles for hours than ask for directions and get there in half the time.
He quickly agreed. “Let’s do.”
He shocked her as he took her advice and whipped into a convenience store. They both went inside.
While Natalie asked for directions, Henry picked up a pay phone and dialed an 800 number to Washington DC.
“Department of Homeland Security. How may I help you?”
“This is Captain Henry Fullerton. I need to speak to Sullivan.” Based on her lackadaisical patter, she was obviously just a phone clerk, not familiar with the situation. “I’m sorry Sir, Director Sullivan is not in right now.”
“Then patch me through. This is a matter of national security.”
“I’m sorry, Sir, but…”
He quickly stopped her from her rehearsed blow-off. “Look, young lady. You work for me. If you want your job when I get back to the office, you’ll patch me through to Sullivan right now. If you don’t know how, then find somebody who does.” He couldn’t see her sleepy reaction on the other end, but felt her mulish “Hold please.”
The two short minutes that passed seemed like hours to Fullerton. Then a voice came on the line. “Henry?”
“Yes, Sir. It’s me.”
He could envision Sullivan’s face smiling. His voice almost cracked, “Are you okay? Where the hell are you?”
“I’m in Salt Lake City. I have Natalie Westin with me.”
“What the hell? Have you seen Jade Acker?”
“Bad news, Boss. Natalie said he was shot last night in Arizona. She tried to run and almost escaped, but they nabbed her and flew her here. She never saw Acker again.”
Now Sullivan’s emotions were mixed. “Damn. That’s bad. I’m glad as hell you are doing well though.” He exhaled relief. “Where are you so I can send someone to get you?”
“We are on our way to Temple Square. We have to stop AANE. They planted a bomb there.”
Sullivan jumped in. “Henry. I can’t let you do that. It’s too dangerous.”
“Sir, they have dirty bombs from stolen nuclear…” Fullerton started to explain before he was cut off again.
“I know. It’s a mess, Henry. Are you sure they are going to Temple Square?”
“Positive. I’ve heard most of their plans myself while captive.”
“You stay put, and let me handle this,” Sullivan ordered. “I’ll command everything from here.”
“Nellis Air Force Base. The hijacking took place in Colonel Blakely’s territory.”
“Is Tina there?”
“Yes, but she’s busy. Look, Henry, until I tell you otherwise, I don’t want you to talk to anyone else, including TT. No one! Is that clear?”
Henry wasn’t sure where his boss was going with this line of orders. “Is there something wrong I should know about, Sir?”
Sullivan’s tone lowered as he tried to back-peddle a bit. “There is nothing for you to worry about. It’s a very dangerous situation and I don’t need you putting yourself at any more risk than necessary.”
He heard his boss’s words, but wasn’t taking whatever bait he was casting. Before Sullivan could get in another word, Fullerton rattled off, “Got to go, Sir. I’ll call you when I can.”
The phone went dead at Sullivan’s end.
Tina McMurtry watched Sullivan on the phone. He took the call and walked outside of earshot.
“What was that about?” She asked when he closed his phone.
He shilly-shallied to answer, then tried his best to be upbeat with her, “That, my dear, was Captain Henry Fullerton on the line.”
She knew better than to get too excited until she knew the facts. “They let him go?”
“He hung up before I got the details, but he says he’s safe and sound.” Now her eyes lit the olive drab room. “Where is he?”
Sullivan lied. “Somewhere in Arizona. He is on his way to an Army post now. He’ll contact me later so we can bring him in.”
“I knew he’d get away,” her smile grew. “Speaking of Arizona, I don’t suppose you’ve heard anything from Acker yet.”
She was hopeful.
“No. I haven’t heard a thing. Have you?”
“Not yet, Sir. I hope everything is all right with him.”
“Why, TT? Is it because he is a time-honored American hero, soldier, fighter man?”
She gave him the what-the-hell-are-you-talking-about look.
He responded with more venom, “Or is it because you used to be lovers?”
She didn’t think he knew. He seemed to know a lot lately. Much more than he was letting on. MUCH more than he was letting on.
“Because he is on our side!” she growled.
He lowered his head and looked down over his glasses like a pissed-off schoolteacher. “Are you sure, TT?”
“Yes, I’m sure. Besides, how do you know about our little thing together. That was years ago.”
“I can’t tell you, but let’s just say I have the tape.”
He indeed had the tape, but not anything like she was thinking. During one of his sessions, reverse-speak analyzing a tape Jade had sent of him and Natalie, he picked up an anomaly. Actually, the computer picked it up. In backward talk Jade had said, “My ex-lover Tina.” That comment was closely followed by, “Didn’t marry TT. Mother too fat.”
Not only did Sullivan hold his techniques of internal inquiry close to his vest, he could never tell TT that Acker dumped her because he was afraid she’d turn out like her mother, fat.
“Tapes?” she said. “There were no tapes.”
“I have the tapes is just a metaphor for mounds of proof. You know, TT, people talk. You could have never kept a secret like that from me.”
“It wasn’t a secret, Sir. I just didn’t think it was important to jeopardize my position over.”
“My NOT knowing could have jeopardized us all.”
He didn’t need to say anything else. She understood clearly. If anything, this conversation put her in a position where she didn’t feel she had the right to question her boss about anything at all. Perhaps it was some sort of guilt, but the air was out of her suspicious sails even though, she still knew all wasn’t right with Sullivan.
Was he acting strange lately because of her little secret about her and Jade’s past? Was he mad at her? Did he just distrust her now that he knew she withheld potentially damaging information from him? No matter what it was, she didn’t feel inclined to press the issue right then. She’d wait and think about things for a while.
They mingled around a bit, then she asked Sullivan another sensitive question. “Should we tell the White House that Fullerton is okay?”
If looks could kill, Sullivan would have been her grim reaper. “No. Not yet.”
She wanted to ask why not yet, but didn’t. Not out loud, anyway.
Her eyes must have begged the question because Sullivan answered. “This is a need to know situation. Any premature release of information could compromise the dirty bomb recovery operation and/or give the White House false hope.”
“False hope?” she asked.
“What if Fullerton is still captive and was forced to make that call I just got?”
“I suppose, but isn’t that a little far fetched?”
Sullivan took her aside to make sure no one could hear what he was about to say. He even led her by the arm. She resisted a little but didn’t want to make a scene.
“Look. He failed the challenge.”
“But he’s been gone for a while.”
“He knows the protocol and he failed the challenge.”
In military type operations, the challenge and password method is how authority is authenticated. Each day, two new words are distributed, the challenge and the password. If the challenge is the word “wild” and the password is the word “cola”, a gatekeeper would issue the challenge hidden in a phrase like, “You may want to hurry inside Sir, there are lots of wild animals out here.” The challenge has been issued, now the person being challenged must respond with the appropriate password disguised in a sentence like, “Cool. I’ll have some cola once inside.” If the password is given before the challenge or if the person doesn’t recognize the challenge when given, the gatekeeper knows something is wrong.
If Sullivan said Henry missed the challenge, it means he either intentionally was telling Sullivan something was wrong, or he simply missed it. Either way, Sullivan had a reason to question Henry’s communication.
“I understand,” Tina resigned.
She certainly didn’t want to give the White House false hope by telling them Fullerton was safe when he wasn’t. It seemed again that her boss was two steps ahead.
I guess that’s why he’s the boss, she thought.
Henry and Natalie drove straight to Temple Square. Crowds of people were passing through the gates and filing into the Mormon Tabernacle. They walked past the end of the line that extended almost all the way to the gate. They scanned the grounds for anything that looked out of place. The morning was arid and the normal humidity was conspicuously missing. Natalie’s lips felt chapped.
“Let’s not lose each other,” Henry told her, primarily because they didn’t have any way to communicate with each other. No walkie-talkies, no cell phones.
“Okay.” She followed him as he jogged around the corner to look at the front of the Temple. To the multitudes of people, it just looked as if they were searching for someone. They actually were.
“I don’t see anything,” she complained.
“Me neither. Keep looking, they have to be here.”
A well-dressed man—a terrorist—hit a button on his cell phone. “They are here,” he said, then listened.
“Right, I don’t know how they got out, but I’ll follow them and neutralize them if necessary.”
He pressed END, then stuck the phone back into his jacket pocket.
Natalie tugged on Henry’s shoulder. “We’re spinning our wheels this way. Let’s split up and meet back here every five minutes.”
“I don’t like it, but I guess we could double our efforts.”
Natalie disappeared around a corner and Henry went the other way.
Henry found a small building that looked like a prime hiding place for anyone up to no good. As he eased the spring-loaded door open and walked inside it was distinctively darker. Everything seemed to get real quiet as his eyes adjusted to the lack of light. He didn’t want to bring attention to himself by turning on the lights, so he didn’t even bother looking for a switch.
Things slowly came into focus as he snuck around the inside of the gardening shack. There were rakes and shovels lining the walls. There were more than a dozen lawn mowers and trimmers organized in neat rows.
He turned a corner and tripped, catching himself by grabbing onto a support beam. He looked down at his pants. He had ripped them on a lawn-edger blade.
The more he looked, the less he found. Nothing. No bombs, just lawn equipment.
When he turned to leave he felt the shoulder of his jacket snag something else. He immediately stopped and slowly turned his head to see a hand pinching his padded shoulders.
“Don’t move, stupid American,” the huge man ordered.
Fullerton recognized the face though never knew the name. He had seen him at the safehouse shortly before Natalie arrived. Maybe he was the one who caught Natalie.
The gun pointed in his ribs convinced him to follow the man’s orders, and let him lead him to the darkest, farthest corner of the building. Henry would wait and take the man by surprise.
As they approached the corner, the man pulled out a stun gun and placed it directly to Henry’s solar plexus.
“That won’t be…”
He never got a chance to finish his sentence before the man pulled the trigger and he felt every muscle in his body go into uncontrollable spasms.
He fell to the floor.
“Sorry. I couldn’t take any chances,” the man said as he straddled Henry’s recovering body and pulled his arms around a supporting beam that resembled a telephone pole. He locked his wrists in the handcuffs and asked his question, “Where’s the girl?”
“I don’t know. We split up. She wanted to see the Prophet speak, and I’m not Mormon.”
“Like I believe that. It’s no accident you are here. How did you get out of your cage?”
“I was tired of being a pet! Really, we just came here so she could attend the Conference.” He knew he wasn’t very convincing. “If you don’t believe me, then why don’t I have a weapon?”
“Maybe because you didn’t think you needed one.”
The man left the building talking on his phone, “Fullerton is neutralized. Let’s find the girl.”
Colonel Blakely raced into the room. “McMurtry, Sullivan. Come here.”
He would have just called them Tina and Richard, but other dignitaries had come to the meeting to offer, in his opinion, their version of stupidity.
“We have a hit. There is a nuclear signature smack dab in the middle of Salt Lake City. NORAD had picked up two distinct dirty-bomb profiles just a few yards apart.”
“Temple Square?” Sullivan asked.
“Exactly, how did you know?”
Sullivan gave Blakely the look. The look that he’d tell him later, but not in mixed company, if that’s what he considered TT. Mixed company.
The corners of Tina’s mouth dropped in disappointment. Things were happening and her boss still wasn’t leveling with her. Why the hell was she even there?
“Were sending a team there now to sniff out the fireworks,” Blakely almost bragged.
“Be careful, Temple Square is full right now.”
“On a Saturday?” Tina asked.
Sullivan pursed his lips in annoyance at her. “Yes, on a Saturday. It’s Annual Conference. Every Mormon and their brother…and their many wives will be there this weekend.”
“Good intel’ Sullivan,” Blakely complemented.
Tina thought the same. And she should have been complimentary herself if she hadn’t felt so disrespected at that moment. In the years she knew and worked with Sullivan, she had never been treated like an outsider. She didn’t like it one bit.
She let the men walk off on their own and engage in their private little powwow, while she snuck outside and dialed her phone. She was calling the First Lady.
Once she had her on the line she opened with, “I’m breaking the law by telling you this; but, considering the circumstances, I’m willing to take a chance.”
It wasn’t a very graceful opening, but it worked. The First Lady knew who she was dealing with and promised under no circumstances would she ever repeat that conversation.
She informed the First Lady that her nephew, Henry Fullerton, had contacted Richard Sullivan less than an hour ago. She got the feeling Sullivan lied about where Henry was or where he was going.
She had a little trouble justifying why she suspected Sullivan was deceiving her about Henry and the rest of the operation, but soon found out she didn’t have to. The First Lady empathized with a little complaining of her own. The “almighty” President of the United States keeps secrets from his wife all the time. Things that she thinks shouldn’t matter soon become secrets of epic proportion. World-rocking events.
“It’s their runaway egos,” the First Lady guessed. “Don’t worry, I won’t say a word and I’ll hold my celebration until we formally hear from Henry.” All was agreed, and what started out as a heart-pounding call for Tina, ended in an eased conscience. And she could still look Sullivan straight in the eyes if necessary.
The eastside of the Tabernacle had a big gathering standing around an exhibit of some sort. Natalie made her way to the front of the pack and realized she had seen this exhibit before. In fact, Dr. Cohn had worked on a part of it a couple years earlier.
She took a few moments to scan the faces around her and re-familiarize herself with the genealogical display outlining several fascinating facts about the pedigree history of the family of mankind.
Mankind is a huge, tightly interwoven matrix of relationships much closer than most American’s realize because of political and religious misgivings.
From 1550 to 1917, the Catholic Church put a ban on marriages less than third cousins. Why? No one seems to know the real truth for the ban, but many refer to the fact that most European royalty families marry very closely to maintain their Royal Bloodlines, and to keep their political power and wealth closely held. Many have speculated that the Catholic Church strategy was to demoralize such close marriages to reduce the royal power and threat to the growing Church.
Contrary to popular belief, the hemophilia of royal blood has absolutely nothing to do with inbreeding, though it is genetically relayed from generation to generation. The inbreeding myth exists, in part, because at least nine male descendants of Queen Victoria have been bleeders. The myth was rejuvenated in 1938 when the Prince of Asturias had a car accident, then hemorrhaged to death. The seclusion of notable royals was such that only bad news was spread readily, adding to the mystique of a royal disease and its origins.
Today, most geneticists agree that mathematically no human can be any farther than fiftieth cousins from any other human. This is proven from both modern genetics and mathematics. Natalie performed a simple math problem to prove many of her ancestors must have been shared in closely-related marriages. She multiplied her two parents by two to get the number of grandparents. Then she multiplied that number by two to get the number of great grandparents. She kept doing that for thirty-five generations to get a final population of over 34,000,000,000. Then she assumed each generation is twenty-six years long, so thirty-five generations were a little over nine hundred years ago. Comparing the two calculations, she noticed something was wrong. There weren’t over thirty-four billion people on earth nine hundred years ago. Therefore, she assumed some of those people had to have shared close relatives.
In fact, most societies were limited to traveling by foot, thus limiting their bride selection. Many societies through history had arranged marriages for first cousins. And still today, it’s considered very honorable in some societies to marry close relatives, including uncle-niece partnering.
The Mormon Church is clear that it doesn’t promote such unions, but it is obligated to recognize the facts so that accurate genealogical data can be collected by its members and by other sources, then processed through its extraction processes. The interesting thing is that to reduce the probability of duplicate name registries, the names and vital identification information such as name, birth date, marriage information, and death dates are fed into the Church’s Genealogical Information and Names Tabulation system. GIANT, as it’s called inside the windowless brick walls of the document-processing center, has an algorithm for finding duplicate entries based on uniqueness probabilities. Records that fail the uniqueness tests are then closely screened by hand.
Valid records are then added to the Church archives that eventually end up in the Granite Mountain Vault for later reference and use.
Natalie was always enchanted that the world was so closely related. She thought that just one marriage of an Asian to a Nordic several hundred years ago could have established a permanent relationship between all Asians and Nordics today. Wow! She thought. The considerations are mind-boggling.
Natalie lived the marvels of science and God’s gifts. She knew what it was like to carry around secrets of the universe—or universes, as it were. Multiverses as we now know them.
She waited for the time when God’s gifts of simple things like gravity were going to be finally harnessed so that mankind could enjoy free power, and endless energy travel. She pondered all kinds of possibilities, but remained humble of her own unique experiences and special knowledge, even the knowledge that everything is entangled in a giant electrical system.
Then she noticed a statement she had overlooked in the past. In fine print at the bottom of the display, she read that it is highly probable that over seventy-five percent of the world’s marriages throughout all of history have been between second cousins or fewer. Double wow! Seventy-five percent.
As interesting as the display was, it was time to meet Henry Fullerton. None of her fiftieth cousins—or less—standing around her looked out of place or looked as if they were carrying a light nuclear device, except for one woman who had a big, round basketball-looking bulge under her dress. On second thought, she was probably just pregnant.
Natalie eased her way back out of the stash of people and made her way back to their meeting spot. Henry wasn’t there, so she waited. Still, no Henry.
Ten minutes had passed, and about the time she started getting concerned, two young men flanked her.
They tried to act as if they were just looking around, but she spotted something. Something she had seen before at the Skywalk over the Grand Canyon.
They were each wearing a ring. CTR on one side of the ring and a Ɖ on the facing side. The stone in the center was the same beautifully set deep red ruby.
Danites! Damn! She thought. Then she got a twinge of guilt for thinking Damn on such sacred ground.
For several seconds she shifted her weight from foot to foot, trying to decide if she should walk away, run away, or stay put. They shifted and paced in place trying to decide how to usher her away.
Where’s my partner? She had flashes of Fullerton meeting the same fate as Acker. Had the Danites gotten to him already?
Her visions were mixed with regrets of not looking back to see Jade when she escaped from the silver fifth-wheel lab back in Arizona. But how would she have handled it? She didn’t even know how badly he was wounded. Was he shot in the head? The chest? Why did he just instantly fall with no sound except for that memorable THUD that haunted her mind?
As one of the Danites moved close to her, she didn’t wait for him to speak. She just used his chest to push off and run.
She bolted through a small gathering of a couple dozen camera-wielding Orientals.
The Danites began to follow her, then backed off when she scooted up next to a Salt Lake City police officer.
She got the officer’s attention, “Excuse me, Sir. Can you tell me where the genealogical extraction building is?”
The officer turned and pointed in the direction of the Danites. “Right there, ma’am.”
The Danites turned away. Hiding their faces, they slipped into the crowds walking toward the Tabernacle. They didn’t know she hadn’t just pointed them out to the police.
“Thank you very much.” She was proud of her quick thinking in bringing attention to the direction of the Danites.
Organ music stopped echoing off the acoustically balanced venue. It was then the annual conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints opened with an invocation by one of the senior Twelve Apostles.
The inside of the giant oval dome was packed as Natalie peeked around the room during prayer. She had always done that. Maybe it was the rebel in her, but every service prayer she’d sneak peeks. She couldn’t resist knowing who else was peeking. Sometimes her eyes met with other peekers. This time, though, she wasn’t peeking for fun or rebellion. She was peeking, looking for any suspicious movement.
The giant golden organ pipes acted as a majestic backdrop for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir that was spread out over the stage. The singers stood tall and balanced their songbooks in the palms of their hands, waiting for their cue to sing. Most of the choir members not only loved to sing, but were very proud to serve God in front of the millions of conference viewers around the world.
President Clark sat in the VIP section of the stage with his First Counselor and Secretary, enjoying the spiritual feeling of the event.
Speaking first about Women’s Role in Supporting the Priesthood, the Relief Society President, Mrs. Lindianna Jamerson, was passionate. Her golden blonde hair shone in the stage lights as she told the women of the crowd to always support their husbands by providing a safe haven at home. She told the husbands to let their wives support them.
“Your men are out there fighting against other warriors of the world. They work hard to bring home the spoils: food, shelter, and security. Their proverbial armor gets dinged and danged on a daily basis. Their swords get nicked and dull.”
Taking a moment to look out over the crowd, the speaker raised her hand and pointed to various women in front of her.
“It’s your job, women, mothers, wives, daughters, to support the men in your lives. Polish their scratched and muddy armor. Help sharpen their swords. Treat their wounds without fear!”
Silence abounded as the audience was captured by her words.
“If you will do that, my dear fellow women, your men will be there to fight another battle. To love and provide. To love and to hold you. They will appreciate your every effort because they will know you appreciate them!”
In the middle of her speech, a black man quietly came onto stage and whispered into President Clark’s ear. Immediately the Prophet’s smile dropped from his face. Natalie watched as the black man exited the stage, leaving Clark with grim concern.
She knew it. That’s him! What is he doing on stage talking to the Prophet, the President of the LDS Church? He’s a Danite. First of all, Danites are not even supposed to exist. Then they attack me in Arizona. Her thoughts reeled, as she recounted her recent contact with the Danites and the death of her father.
Now, the Danites are talking in public with leaders of the Church. Were their actions really Church sanctioned as the curator of the museum had suspected and warned her? It just didn’t make sense.
When Mrs. Jamerson finished, she left the audience stunned with new thoughts of family togetherness and love. Music began to play the popular Mormon hymn, “Thank Thee, O God, For Our Prophet.”
If the Prophet himself was enjoying the words, you couldn’t tell. He seemed to only half mouth the words. Deeply in thought. Deeply troubled.
Organ pipes chanted out a massive sound and the entire place stood to sing along with the choir.
Taking the opportunity, Natalie walked to the lower level still disturbed about not finding Henry Fullerton. When she found a small stairwell leading down she took it. There was a rat’s maze of maintenance corridors and utility rooms.
Pacing slowly through a thin hallway, she thought about the human nature of thought and current neuroscience developments that further explained differences between humans and animals.
The human brain, she had just learned, is never at rest. Brain scans have proven this time and time again. The question Natalie always wanted answered is, What happens in your brain when you think you are doing nothing at all?
Recently some neurologist researchers answered that question. They think that when we are doing nothing, we are time traveling. They claim a major difference that sets a human brain apart from lower level intelligent animals is the ability to move forward and backward in time in our brains. As our physical bodies travel through time at a rate of one second per second, our thoughts can skip and bounce through time at any speed and in any direction. They call the concept Thought Velocity, because velocity in science is described as speed and direction.
Not only can the mind work travel though time in any direction, it can also think and analyze data out of order.
Close observations and quantitative studies have shown that time travel is the human brain’s normal mode of operation. People spend far more time “out of the moment” than in the moment. They think about things that were, and plan things that are to be. They usually daydream until something snaps them back into the moment. But why? How can people function so well so far removed from current reality?
It seems the answer is even more obvious than the question. Because the mind can shoot forward and backward through time faster than the speed of light, the human receives what scientists call an experience surplus through the learning process. The learning takes place due to two uniquely human mind abilities: The ability to relive life experiences and lessons, and the ability to rehearse those experiences in future plans.
Natalie thought about how she constantly rehearsed future conversations. What will I say when I see Henry? Hi, Henry. I was so scared for you especially after Jade got shot. I’m so glad to see you, Henry, I was afraid you snuck out on me.
What would she say to him? That is, if she ever saw him again. Her thoughts even skipped to another, less practical place in the universe. Henry, the first time you looked at me with those beautiful blue eyes of yours I melted. Hold me.
The nice thing about thoughts is that you can always reel them back in no matter how far out they get. Psychosis occur when someone can’t manage their brains’ time travel or gets stuck, not remembering the past, or being able to think clearly about the future. Some people stay lost in the past or future, not being able to understand the reality of now.
Natalie often considered what would happen if she weren’t able to learn from experiences. What would happen if every experience was a new exercise in trial and error? What if people couldn’t profit from the lesson payoffs each experience provided endlessly in the future? She even considered how she could think about all these thoughts in the middle of searching the Tabernacle for answers. Possibly dangerous answers.
Just then, something caught her ear. Something that dragged her back from her mind’s time travels into the strong realities of the present.
She looked behind her. Her body shuddered and her knees went weak when she saw the black Danite’s face, then his hand raise. He was so close she could read the CTR on his ring. The ring that was on his hand. The hand that was holding a pistol pointed right at her face.
She saw the flash and winced. Then she heard the pop of the silenced weapon.
She saw, and she heard, but she didn’t feel a thing. No sting. No pain.
Her mind went into slow motion trying to quickly survey her body for damage as the giant black man moved toward her, pointing the gun toward the ground next to her.
There was still no pain. No hard hitting slug. She wasn’t even knocked down.
In that time—less than a simple second—she couldn’t reconcile the fatal shot until she heard a body drop behind her.
When she looked back to the direction she was originally walking, she watched Patricia Sanchez on the floor, blood flowing from the hole in her forehead, a short machinegun by her side. She watched Sanchez take her last breaths. Short shallow breaths like a big dog on a hot day. Her breaths became even shallower as her breathing became obstructed from the flow of blood. Then, one large exhale when her body blew out its last evidence of stress… of life itself.
The Danite grabbed Natalie by the arm and pulled her toward him. “Come on with me. I’m your friend. No time to explain.”
Stumbling to catch up to his pace she brushed his hand off of her shoulder, breaking his grip on her. Why do men always think they will travel faster if they drag a woman? Is it some leftover caveman gene?
As his hand fell off her shoulder, he looked at her and quickly raised his gun toward her again and squeezed the trigger, and snatched Natalie by the shoulder again, pulling her behind a partition in the room. When she looked over her shoulder, she thought she saw…
No way! She thought.
She thought she saw Jade Acker duck away from the shot.
“Oh my God!” she cried into the Danite’s face, frightened of what was happening. “Was that…”
“I don’t know what you are talking about. Shhh.”
“But…but…but…” she stuttered.
“No time to explain. I’ve got to get you and your partner to safety right now.” He studied his exit. A doorway. The problem was that it was across the aisle from where they were. He’d have to sprint for it, hoping Jade wouldn’t take a shot.
Natalie’s eyes were huge. “But that is my…”
A black finger the size of a sausage gently pressed against her lips. “Shhhhhh, no. He is your enemy. You need to trust me.”
She couldn’t discern if Jade was there to save her or to destroy her, so her mind quickly took a break from reality and did a little travel back in time. Back to the desert lab where Jade was shot. Now she REALLY wished she had taken a look from behind her desk before she tried to escape through the emergency trap door. Was Jade not really shot? Did he fake it? For whose benefit, the gunmen or his?
In the end it didn’t matter, she can’t read minds. She had to trust someone, Jade or the Danite.
She’d go with the Danite.
Above them, the music started playing again. It was loud. Very loud.
“Look, Natalie. There are bombs all over this compound. There is one in the organ pipe room. It’s just above us and next to where we are now.” His eyes interrogated her. “Are you with me?”
“Yes,” she confidently agreed by shaking her head.
“Let’s go!” He snatched her shoulder again and they ran for the door.
Natalie and the black Danite ran into the organ pipe room. They knew that just one wall separated them from the thousands of people in the Tabernacle and even more millions watching on Satellite around the world. She would have preferred to be sitting in the audience. Her conference experiences were always so spiritual, especially since she knew some of God’s little technological secrets.
The two quickly found the dirty bomb because somehow Jade Acker had beaten them into the room. He hadn’t climbed up the ladder to retrieve the bomb, but he was looking up at it.
The Danite pointed his weapon at Jade. “Stop. Don’t move!”
Jade returned the order, “No. Don’t you move!” He raised his hand to show a small remote control. It was the detonator to the bomb. It had two LED lights, a green one and a red one. Other than that, it looked as if it would control a small TV. It was a Mexican standoff. “If you even look like you’re going to shoot me I’ll press this button.” He put his thumb on the round black button.
“You are going to detonate this bomb anyway. Why not get it over with now?” the Danite argued.
“Because it isn’t time yet.” Jade kept his finger on the button.
Jade and the Danite slowly walked toward each other in little strategic circles, like two gaff fitted cocks in a fighting ring. They studied each other’s steps and each other’s looks. Both of them had their fingers on the trigger, ready to squeeze.
You could see Natalie’s heart breaking. She was betrayed. “Why Jade? How could you?” She screamed.
Jade glanced at her trying not to lose concentration as he continued to get closer to them. “You don’t have the full picture, Natalie. I’m not the enemy here.”
“Then who is?”
Jade’s irritation bounced though at her. “Not now, damn it, Natalie! Not now! Stop right there. Stop!” He held his remote detonator higher and shook his hand at Natalie and the black Danite.
The Danite didn’t stop nor did Natalie. “Jade, you’ve got to put that detonator down.”
“Hush!” He yelled back at her as he took a step back from the Danite.
The Danite jumped forward and took a swing at Jade. Jade blocked it and returned the punch, slamming the palm of his hand into the man’s nose. Blood shot out and the man fell, clutching his face with both his hands.
With fists of rage, Natalie ran toward Jade and slugged at him, but he didn’t bother blocking her. Her fists landed on his hard chest and just stopped as if she were hitting a brick wall. She hit again. “You bastard!” she yelled.
No reaction. She wondered what was going on in his head. He didn’t smile and he didn’t frown. His face was expressionless. A poker face.
She took another swing, this time at his face. He barely weaved backward and the open hand slapped the air in front of him. Quickly she reversed directions and backhanded him across his cheek. She didn’t see if it turned red or not. Everything was red in front of her. Rage. Black and red. Nothing but black and red rage.
“Acker! Put the detonator down!” a voice ordered from the doorway.
It was Henry Fullerton and the Danite that had found and unbound him from the tool shed. The same Danite he had knocked out on the Skywalk, right before ax-kicking his partner.
The black Danite, still on his knees trying to regain his vision and senses, slid a few feet away from Acker.
Acker replied, “No!”
Acker reached out and grabbed Natalie. He put his arm around her neck and pulled her close, using her as a shield between him and the others.
“You shouldn’t have come here, Henry.”
Henry yelled back, “Jade! Put the detonator down and let her go. We’ll leave quietly.”
Jerking her tighter, Jade made the point that he was in control of her and the detonator.
Returning from her call to the First Lady, Tina McMurtry didn’t feel the ping of guilt in her gut until she saw Sullivan. Perhaps he wouldn’t ask her where she’d been or who she was talking to. Had he asked, it wouldn’t have been out of the ordinary during a highly sensitive field operation.
If he did ask, she’d lie. Not a direct lie but a lie through deception and omission nonetheless. She just hoped he wouldn’t ask.
Her boss motioned her over to him and Colonel Blakely, “McMurtry.”
She held her head high and confidently. Her blonde hair bobbed up and down with each step. Act naturally she told herself. He didn’t ask. Good.
“Tina, you, Blakely and I are flying out in five minutes.”
“Salt Lake City. Temple Square.”
The government team had realized that they were walking a tightrope. Balancing the forces involved would be crucial. When they broke the situation down into its simplest components, they recognized several things. They had two top officers in the field¾both were either compromised and kidnapped or shot. One of them escaped and was now running against Sullivan’s direct orders, dragging along a girl who was considered one of the terrorist’s prime targets. Her father had been killed already. The terrorists had some very sensitive technology that could expose government secrets or possibly be used as a weapon in some way. How? Who knows?
Now the terrorists had several pounds of radioactive material somewhere. Where? Who knows?
They didn’t know how big the dirty bombs are, but with that amount of nuclear waste the bombs could—if engineered correctly—radioactively contaminate a couple square city blocks.
Depending on how large the explosives behind the bombs were, dozens, possibly hundreds of people could be killed by the explosion alone in the now crowded Temple Square.
The team would much rather confront the terrorists and stop the bombing. If they didn’t act in time, their interdiction operation could quickly turn into a nuclear decontamination operation. No one wanted that.
A young officer ran up to Colonel Blakely while he was briefing Tina on some details of the nuclear signature tracking. “Problem, Sir.”
“What is it, Smith?”
“The Citation, Sir. We don’t have enough seats to get the whole team onboard.”
“How many over are we?”
“We are short four seats, and the weight is close to maximum take off weight with full fuel.”
“Tell the pilot I will sit on the floor.” He looked at Sullivan and got the nod. “So will Director Sullivan.”
“Sir, I’m not sure the pilot will…”
“He will,” Blakely interrupted with more force than the young butter-bar officer wanted to challenge.
“Yes, I’ll tell him right away. Transport is waiting, Sir.”
The group exited the building, jumped into a couple Hummers, and sped off to the runway and the waiting jet. Everything happened too quickly for Tina to further consider the many mixed messages her boss had given her over the past couple of days. There were just too many to keep track of, even in her steel-trap mind.
Being so close to Jade, Natalie breathed in his cologne. That’s it, she thought. On the airplane she recognized something, but it simply didn’t register. She had smelled Jade’s cologne behind her. That’s why they bagged her head, so she wouldn’t see Jade. That’s why they were so quiet. How could she have missed it? How did she not recognize his smell?
Henry Fullerton was struggling with his own mind. He had known Jade Acker for much of his career. He never would have expected Jade to switch sides, though they had both seen that from many before them.
“Why, Jade? Money?” Fullerton asked.
“Not as much as the war,” Jade answered.
“The war, which one?”
Jade spit when he opened his mouth. “All of them. The war on drugs. The war on crime. The war on terror. All of them! While I put my ass on the line, the whole damn political system is profiting on these so called wars!” He loosened his grip on Natalie but took another step back. “Bullshit. All bullshit! We have more people in American prisons than any nation in the world. More Americans are in prison per capita than China, a goddamned Communist country! It’s all bullshit!”
Henry wanted to soften him a bit. “You have to stand for something, Jade. We all do. Remember that time in Nicaragua when you…”
“Stop. I know what you are trying to do Mr. Master negotiator. It’s all bullshit. Even your pathetic attempt to stop me here.”
Just keeping him talking was progress enough. That’s all Fullerton could hope for while trying to work out a plan. “So what’s bullshit about the war on terror?”
Jade had an answer ready on the tip of his tongue. “Look. All these pseudo-wars are doomed for failure except for the profiteers.”
“And why is that, Jade?”
Jade looked into the eyes of the two Danites, black and white. He actually admired their persistence in what they believed in. Jade wished he still had that kind of faith in the government he had always defended and sometimes aggressed for. Then he looked at Fullerton, thinking that he really did wish he hadn’t come to face him off. “The war on terror is self-defeating. Just by its definition, it’s a losing dog. After 9/11 the public responded emotionally, not thinking of any other consequence than to blame someone and go after them. No real plan just chaos against an abstract idea. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, Hamas, and everyone else can’t be thrown into the same ideological pool of terrorists. Then, going after that pool, forgetting about specific political relationships. Hell, we can’t even identify the terrorists on their own grounds.”
Fullerton’s voice softened, “You’re losing me, Jade.”
Jade’s voice followed, “We go after terrorists because they kill innocent people on our soil. We hunt them. But, in the process, we kill hundreds of thousands of innocent people on their soil. Get it?”
Fullerton gave a slight nod and continued to listen to Jade’s oral manifesto.
“The terrorists hide within the borders of their home countries, then provoke us into taking military actions where political negotiations should prevail. We do EXACTLY what they want us to do. Become so afraid we lose our minds and react out of emotion, constricting ourselves like suicidal pythons, until we can’t breathe!”
Fullerton just let Jade talk.
“Finally we become the predators and perpetrators of violence and fascism. Take the war on drugs.”
“The war on drugs has put our police, judicial system, and prisons up in arms against the constitution and civil rights. While the government claims it supports families, all you have to do is open your damn eyes and see the government supports just the opposite. Every policy is one of laziness, complacency, and destruction of the family and just about every other human value you can name. Indeed, the public only hears the sound bites of deception, hypocrisy, and lip service, but still, its all lies bred of tragedy and perpetuated out of fear for profit. Think about it, Henry. You know it. You’ve been there when the media has reported just the opposite of truth.”
“Yes, Jade. But those were matters of national security.”
“NO! Excuses to make a buck and have millions of misled lambs of society clambering at their feet as though they are rock stars giving away free money…and I’m sick of it! It stops here and now!” He raised his hand to show his finger on the button.
The white Danite spoke up. “You’re right. It does end here and now. We found the bombs, and by now they have been disabled at the source, Mr. Acker. Game’s over.”
Jade pushed Natalie away. She stumbled and almost fell, but recovered to scamper to Henry’s side. He then looked the Danite dead in the eye, “Okay, Sir. I call your bluff.”
Everyone watched as his thumb pressed down on the red button.
No Boom. No Click. Nothing but organ music bellowed and bounced through the Tabernacle’s undercroft.
Bombs didn’t blow, but guns flew. Jade Acker was instantly surrounded by Danites who threw him on the floor, bound his wrists with cuffs. They would take him to an onsite security vault that they could use as a makeshift holding cell.
Out of character, Natalie grabbed Henry Fullerton’s hand, raised it to her lips and half breathed it in and half kissed it. He pulled her close, brushed the black locks from her forehead and kissed it.
The euphoric but exhaustive release of adrenaline was short lived before Henry dragged Natalie to their little Toyota truck. He started the engine and it backfired with a pop. He put it in gear and raced off in a hurry.
“Where are we going?” Natalie asked.
“There’s something I didn’t tell you.” Downshifting to second gear, he dumped the clutch and the truck backfired again, and he made a tight left turn. “When the terrorists stole the disk from your father it was emailed to them while they were still in Venezuela. They don’t have a hard copy, just electronic versions. I helped set up their computer network in their training camp down there. They had one main PC acting as a data server. It was connected to a wireless network so that their computers and laptops all over the house could access it. Every computer program they worked with was loaded on that central computer.”
Her heart fell. “You think…”
“I know! It was the only clear-sided computer case they had. It was set up in the attic of this house. If we beat them back there, we can access it.”
Trees lined the neighborhood roads as they twisted and turned their way back to 1666 Empire Drive. Majorly concerned with meeting up with the terrorists, Fullerton knew they would have to hurry. Natalie agreed.
“You know, Natalie, the Danite that freed me from the tool shed told me he was the coordinator that was assigned to protect you. He knew that the government also sent someone to protect you.”
“Yeah. But the Danite said they somehow knew Jade was a rogue agent. A scoundrel. When they approached you at the Grand Canyon, they were just going to take you away from him. They were after Jade, not you. They thought he wasn’t on the up and up, but they didn’t have any proof he had anything to do with the terrorists who killed your father.”
Concerned with whom to believe she asked the obvious, “Do you believe them?”
“Right now, Natalie, I only totally trust you and me.”
Again, she agreed, “Me too. You said they knew. How did they know?”
“He didn’t fully explain. He said the President of the Church, quote, got word.”
“That’s what he said, but he didn’t explain from whom.”
“I know from whom,” Natalie said.
“Yeah, I do.” She theatrically paused. “From God.”
Henry’s voice descended in tone, “From God?”
“Yes. The curator of the Church Archives came to Jade and me and told us the President and Prophet of the Church received revelations that my father’s technology was something to protect. He issued orders for the Danites to handle the situation. The curator thought we were targets of the Danites, in grave danger from them. Their orders were to protect Dr. Cohn’s creations at all cost.”
His eyes could have told an hour-long story, but he simply said, “Are you not one of Dr. Cohn’s creations?”
Thinking about it deeply then smiling, “I suppose I am.”
With the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, creation is an overriding concept. God creates, his creations create, and so on. His desire is that his children learn and accept responsibility to marry and have children. It’s all a part of creationism. Natalie could see how easily the Church President could have ordered his men to protect Dr. Cohn’s creation—her. It made total sense to her now.
“I should have seen it,” she said. “It took a non-member to open my eyes to it.” She was convinced she had a special place in God’s work. She was a protected child of God, her heavenly father, and of Freddy, her terrestrial father.
Trust wasn’t in the air. When Natalie asked Henry if they should contact someone about going to the safehouse, he once again took a stand. “Look, Natalie, we can’t trust anyone right now. Our enemies seem to have turned out to be our friends, and our friends our enemies. Jade probably isn’t the only one in my organization that turned.”
Natalie looked around wishing she had some ice to chew and asked, “You think there are more?”
“Yes, Jade was close to me. I think I know how he operates. He didn’t do all this alone. The leader of the Danites told me that there is someone the Terrorists call Tommy Boy.”
“So, you think someone else in the Department of Homeland Security is involved?”
“I’m not sure. But the only people in the world who knew I was in Venezuela were part of the DHS. Someone fingered me. I’m just not sure who it was. My job now is to help you get your technology back so you can try to bring your father back, then get back to where ever you came from.”
Knowing she had soft-peddled her true intentions, she was a bit taken back by his bluntness. “What did you say? I never said that was my intention.”
“You didn’t have to. I can see it in your eyes. I’d probably do the same.”
For the first time in her life, she felt understood. Truly understood, as a woman longs to be. All this time, he knew her deepest desires and just went along with them, not challenging her or saying too much about it. She thought back to his comments about Freddy’s selfishness, but she knew he was just giving her the opportunity to test her own heart. To think it through.
Changing the subject, she felt compelled to reconcile something about Jade. “Henry, I watched one of our labs blow up. When Jade and I narrowly escaped, we saw two Danites going toward the house. Something wasn’t right in my mind. I just figured out what it was. I saw a tiny light reflecting off of the mirror in the bathroom when Jade walked in. It wasn’t blinking. After Jade ran out, it was blinking. So you think he set the bomb?”
“We might never know, but it’s possible. By the way, how did you recognize the Danites?”
The long fingers on her right made a circle over the ring finger of her left, “Only by their rings. The ones that we ran into on the Sky Walk had those rings.”
“What’d they look like?”
“Gold. Probably an ounce or so, shaped like a class ring. They had a beautiful ruby in the center. On one side of the ring was inscribed CTR and on the other side there was a D with a cross in it.”
“The Danite symbol?”
“Yes.” Her eyes started to tear up thinking of her father’s forehead. The tears turned to stressful anger.
Extending her words in a melancholy voice, “Choose The Right. It’s real common in the LDS Church. We make a commitment to God to choose the right…the right thing all the time, no matter the adversity or temptation.”
Something struck a chord deep inside Henry. “I’ve seen it before, Natalie.”
“That ring. I’ve seen the ring before, but I can’t place where. It’s so familiar. I’ve seen it a thousand times. Damn.”
She thought he finally clicked as to where he had seen it. “Damn what?”
“Damn. I hate when my brain cramps up like this. I know I’ve seen a ring like that before.” He stressed to recall the hand the ring was on. The harder he thought about it the less he could remember.
“It’ll come to me. I just have to relax and quit thinking so hard.”
He read the street sign: EMPIRE DRIVE
Five houses down the cul-de-sac on the right side he read the address painted in yellow caution letters on the curb: 1666.
“You can use your phone now, Director,” the pilot said over the intercom.
Normally, under ten-thousand-feet the pilots like to maintain a sterile cockpit, a cockpit void of any extraneous activity. Above ten-thousand-feet they could relax a little more and allow for things like telephone calls, passenger movement about the cabin, and a few pilot stories about close calls and the women they met on their last layover.
Takeoffs and landings are the most critical times of flights. Anything below that critical altitude, a jet is either configuring for landing or configuring for the planned flight ahead. Either way, there is lots of talking to the air traffic control, radio tuning, navigation operations, etc. It’s no time to be dealing with potential complications.
Getting the go ahead, he reached under the seat next to where he and Colonel Blakely were sitting on the aircraft floor since the flight planner had told him, the seats were all full. It wasn’t comfortable. But they were all soldiers, used to—at least during some time in their lives—the discomforts of makeshift situations. He pulled out his mission planner. Like a day planner, a mission planner is a portfolio of calendars, schedules, to-do lists, and detailed project management and resource tools. Inside Sullivan’s was a place that held his mobile phone.
A little bar of green dots showed the phone’s signal was strong. He made the call.
“I’d like to speak with Prophet Clark, please.”
Others in the plane couldn’t hear the woman on the other end of the line say, “I’m sorry. President Clark is not available right now. Can I take a message?”
“This is Richard Sullivan. Please check your CallDex. You’ll see me listed. The Prophet is expecting my call.”
Excusing herself, she remained away from the phone for a moment or two, then the phone went dead.
Lots of scenarios passed through Sullivan’s mind when he saw, Call Ended on his phone’s display. He redialed.
The lady answered immediately, “Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. How may I help you?”
“This is Richard Sullivan, I just…”
“I apologize Mr. Sullivan, I hit the wrong button trying to hurry.” In no time, she patched him through to the President of the Church. After a short polite exchange, Sullivan relaxed. His heart raced when he thought about talking to the President, Prophet, Seer, and Revelator of the Church.
“When will you be here?” Clark asked.
“We’ll be on the ground at the airport in forty-five minutes. We have a helo waiting, ready to take us to your location.”
“Let me fill you in on what’s important now,” Clark advised. “Our men have neutralized three dirty bombs and your DHS operative, Jade Acker.”
“Where is everything now?”
“Jade is locked in a wall safe. It has ventilation, so he should be fine until we are done with him. The bombs are still scattered around the grounds. We have cut the conference short without spooking or alerting anyone, and we are attempting to evacuate all visitors and unnecessary staff before we move the bombs.”
Sullivan didn’t like the idea of a non-military group touching nuclear devices. His thoughts were that they could be booby-trapped or…or…who knows what?
“Don’t touch them, sir. My team can take care of the devices when we get there.”
“We also have capable security staff for such situations, Sir,” the Church President assured him.
“I realize that, and I mean no disrespect, but this is a matter of national security.”
“And this is sacred Church ground. I will take your advice into consideration, but I can’t promise anything. We will do what God moves us to do. Fair enough?”
No choice but to agree, Sullivan agreed, “Fair ‘nuf. What about Natalie Westin?”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know where Ms. Westin went. A security officer said she left the grounds with one of your men.”
“I’m sorry. He didn’t know the name. They left rather quickly in a small Toyota pickup. I used to have one of those…” Sullivan waited for Clark’s non-urgent tangent to end. “…It was a great truck. I bought it new and put over three-hundred-thousand-miles on it over the years. It was a rust bucket when I put her down, but her motor was strong. All I ever did, really, was regular maintenance, brakes, tires, oil, gas. You know. Good truck. Great truck. But back to the topic at hand.”
“I assure you, my men have everything contained.”
“If you hear from Westin or Fullerton, please call me ASAP.”
“I’ll have someone have a talk with Mr. Acker. Maybe he can provide us with some information. My men will be on it.”
Busting through some clouds, level at thirty-five-thousand-feet heading east, the Citation X—fastest private business jet in the world—gained speed and just blew past Mach 0.75 on its way to Salt Lake.
No need to worry, Sullivan realized he trusted the Church President. He was always prepared. The Church was always prepared. He understood a lot of misconceptions about the LDS Church. One in particular always made him laugh.
Church members are advised to keep a year or more supply of food storage and water on hand. This, over the years, has given a lot of ammunition to anti-Mormon propagandists. They have spread the rumor that the Mormons are required to keep food supplies, guns and ammunition, hoping to someday take over the United States and eventually the world to usher in an end-times apocalyptic anti-Christ era. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Within the Church, many practical principles are taught. Among them are work and personal responsibility, service to others, personal health, charity, honesty, obedience, and many, many more. Keeping an adequate storage of food fulfills a small component of these practical concepts. Families are prepared in case of loss of income or other family tragedy. They are taking personal responsibility.
When Katrina blasted through southern Louisiana, it was the Church that gathered thousands of tons of food storage from its members and sent it to help the hurricane victims. At least two higher purposes were served. Families were helped to subsist, and the Mormon families were given an opportunity to serve others through charity. The concept of It takes a village to raise a child was extended to a national level. All over the world, food storage is used in times of emergency and need.
Sullivan understood preparedness and social responsibility, even when he had trouble applying it in his own life.
He leaned back and rested his head against the cushion of Tina’s seat. He didn’t relay any messages to her from the President of the Church. He’d first ponder them.
There weren’t any cars at the house, so Henry whipped in the driveway.
Nothing happened when he pressed the garage door opener that was clipped above his head on the sun visor. He pressed it again. Still nothing.
Natalie reached up and ripped it from the visor, opened the back.
“There’s no battery. Wait here.”
No time was wasted opening her door and running around the side of the house to the back yard. Luckily, the gate wasn’t locked. She wasn’t in the mood for jumping the fence in broad daylight anyway.
There was only one back door under the small patio. It was locked. She twisted a little harder. Nope. Still locked.
Whoever owned the house liked gardening. The patio was filled with bags of potting soil and red clay flowerpots of various sizes. Some of them empty and stacked, some of them filled with various annuals and other plant cuttings. This one will work. She looked at it, then at the small window in the back door. Then she looked at the pot one last time before smashing it through the glassed portal.
Glass shattered and fell. A few jagged edges were sticking out of the opening’s edge, but there was still plenty of room for her to reach through and unlock the door.
That was quick! Henry thought when the garage door started raising from the ground. He pulled in and turned off the engine. Not a thing had changed in the safehouse. It was just as they had left it.
“Good. It looks as though no one has been here,” Henry said as Natalie pulled the small string that dropped the attic stairs from the ceiling and started to climb. “I’m right behind you, Killer,” he continued to joke, appreciating the perfect view from below.
When her head popped above the floor, Henry heard her tell him, “You were right. It’s here.” Natalie climbed to her feet and ran to the computer, keeping her head down to avoid the roofing nails poking through the low ceiling.
Watching over her shoulders, Henry admired her intensity. “Windows. Great. That’s what I designed the MEPS program for.”
Henry acted concerned and a bit hurt. “Are you going to leave me now?”
She sank her head and reached for his hand. “What would you do?”
“I understand.” He gave her hand a quick squeeze.
“You are right though. It would be selfish to try to bring Freddy back.” The keyboard was just a blur under her fingers. It was hard for her to see through all the tears. They flowed freely, but she felt almost enchanted with Henry’s hands on her shoulders trying to comfort her in his own way.
A screen popped up confirming the entire program was present. Dr. Cohn’s part, her part, everything. It was all there.
An additional button press and the prompt appeared:
PLEASE ENTER YOUR PASSWORD:
Hesitation took over as she stared at the flashing cursor. “Go ahead, Natalie, try it,” Henry said.
Her fingers searched the numbers above the letter keys. She pressed them, 440440440.
A new screen appeared. One she wasn’t familiar with. “What’s this?”
“My Dear Natalie,” the letter started.
“If you are reading this message it means that something has happened. Something terrible.”
Eyes glued to the screen, they read the letter together.
“Oh my God!” She screamed. “Oh my God!” She pushed away from the desk and shook her hands as if she were trying to shake off a wad of gum. “Oh My God!” She cried hysterically.
Henry read the letter. He reached out to her, and pulled her to his chest, not knowing what to say. His knees were as weak as hers.
“Oh My God, Henry. My life was a lie, all a damn lie.” The tears flowed from her eyes to his chest. He felt drops streaming down to his waist.
“I’m so sorry,” he said. That’s all he knew to say.
Dr. Cohn explained to his daughter that so far his technology wasn’t as advanced as he led her to believe. He had only been able to material shift tiny particles at the atomic level. He had never advanced to any biological complexity at all. Among the postmortem apologies, her father explained how after her accident she was in deep coma; he removed her from the hospital and took her to his home to die in peace. He had already been separated from her mother for two years before the accident. A friend of his covered for him and issued a death certificate. Dr. Cohn claimed to her mother, who was still mentally broken down, that Natalie’s body had been cremated.
But Natalie didn’t die. She recovered with his nursing and care. He had no choice but to cover up his deplorable actions with lies. The lie that he had exchanged her for another Natalie in another universe. His whole life was overcome with his conspiracy to hide the truth from his daughter and anyone she ever knew as a child.
All the little idiosyncrasies she had were not from another universe but from her hospital stay and recovery. Her ice chewing was from the year of nothing but ice chips. Her pillows under her feet while sleeping were from the hospital comforting her bedridden body with support. Her love of elevator music¾again¾hospital environment. Her love of flowers—hospital. Her need to not be alone—hospital.
Everything in her life was now explained. Things she had overlooked in the past. Little clues, little inconsistencies with her father. Just stuff. Lots of stuff. She felt she probably wouldn’t ever bother to explain them to anyone. She’d try to forget them, the lies.
Her life of lies led to deaths of lies. Terrorists were killing over the lies about her father’s technology. What else in her life were lies?
In the middle of her inner turmoil¾the digestion of life¾she heard cars below, and saw Henry peek out of an attic window.
“They’re here, Natalie.”
“The terrorists?” She almost didn’t care.
“No. The Feds. We’ve got to try to get out of here.”
She knew he was right, but all she wanted to do was lie down and die. She knew they couldn’t trust anyone right now. After all this time, she found out she couldn’t even trust her father—her hero for the past few years. Her heart was empty except for the betrayal she felt. But she was quickly becoming numb. It was as if she had drunk a cocktail of Novocaine.
Then she wanted to barf, but held it back.
Henry backed away from the window and ran toward the stairs. “Come on, follow me.” He could tell the federal agents outside were not going to be friendly by the way they approached and parked their cars.
If it were a casual visit, there would have been no more than two cars. But there were over five, parking in an urban tactical formation. The only officer he saw wore full tactical gear. The helmet, the Kevlar turtle shell armor, and the weapons, all high-tech stuff, meant for an all-out assault and overwhelming takedown.
Head down, seeming to ignore him, Natalie pounded the keyboard.
Stopping with his body already halfway disappearing from the dusty attic, “Come on. Hurry!” He waited until she ran toward him with a casual smile on her face.
Outside, a megaphone shouted loudly enough for the whole street to hear, “Attention. Attention. This is the Department of Homeland Security. Come out with your hands free and in the air!”
Running past the room with the cage into the adjoining kitchen, Henry pulled back a colorful throw rug on the floor. “This is our only chance to side step them.”
Wine cellars weren’t very common in Salt Lake City, but this house had one. Just a small door under the decorative rug.
Walking past the rear window were shadows. Silhouettes of soldiers that seemed to be ten times the size of normal men. Natalie climbed down into the cellar first, then Henry. On his way down, he reached up and pulled the rug over the edge of the door and lowered the door back into place.
“Crap.” The rug had stuck in the door, so he cracked open the door and shoved the rug back out.
“Attention. Attention. This is the Department of Homeland Security. Come out with your hands free and in the air!” the voice commanded again. But this time, from within the cool, damp, and totally dark wine cellar, it was more muffled.
Wrapping his arms around her for comfort, Henry softly spoke, “I think I remember where I’ve seen a ring like that before.”
“Where?” she whispered back.
“Let me check something out first. I’d hate to be wrong.”
Just then, they heard a POP. Not quite a regular shot from a gun but a distinctive shot of some kind. Then a second later, a window shattered.
“Damn, they are serious!” Henry said as they listened to a metal sounding object hit the parquet floor, bounce around a bit and roll to a stop. He knew what was next.
The explosion was loud and a flash of light zipped through the crack in the door seal. They both saw it, and they felt the percussion in their chests.
“That was a flash bang,” Henry said as he felt in the dark and grabbed a bottle of wine. It could have been a bottle of Montrachet 1978 from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, or it could have been vinegar. He didn’t care as he used his teeth to rip into the foil seal.
The distinctive sound of the pneumatic grenade launcher was familiar to Henry. He was well-trained and an expert shot in more than a dozen military grade tactical weapons. Three more shots were fired, followed by the sound of glasses shattering, and a tiny pop when Henry removed the cork from the neck of the wine bottle.
Before anything else happened, he wiggled out of his jacket and poured the wine all over it, saturating two sleeves. He handed one sleeve to Natalie. “The gas is next. Keep your face covered and breathe through this. If some of the gas gets through, breath out of your mouth and just let your eyes and nose run all they want.”
“Gas?” She put the wet sleeve over her face, covering her mouth, nose, and eyes.
He reached for another bottle and opened it too, just in case. “Yes. Tear gas. Standard Procedure is to follow the flash bangs with tear gas, then a raid.”
“Will it hurt?” She sounded like a young child about to receive a shot at the doctor’s office.
“No. It’s all in your head. We were trained to breathe this stuff in the Army. Whatever you do, remember to breathe through your mouth. Clench your teeth if you can. Don’t open your eyes and don’t breathe through your nose. Just let them run.” He paused, knowing he left something out. “Oh, if you taste gas, don’t swallow. Just let yourself drool. Spit, don’t swallow.”
She giggled, thinking it would be the last time she ever heard a man say, “Spit, don’t swallow.”
Sure enough, he was right. Hints of gas came through the floor, not enough to choke them, even if they weren’t breathing though the wet sleeve. Henry even tested the air by opening his eyes. They burned just a little. The cellar was good protection.
“Shhhh, keep your face covered,” he whispered to her when he heard the dozens of footsteps running in and yelling. “You’re just watching a bad movie scene,” he tried to comfort her.
The floors shook with action. Men seemed to be running randomly everywhere above them, but actually, they were very methodical in their approach, clearing the building from the outside in. Each room was searched and cleared before the team leap-frogged into the next.
“Check the attic. That’s where Acker said the server is!” one of the troops yelled.
Henry winced when he heard it.
So did Natalie.
“They just mentioned Acker,” Natalie’s voice cracked. “Is he cooperating with the DHS or are they in on this? Did your people kill my father?”
“I don’t know, Natalie. I really don’t know.” He wished he did.
She knew he was telling the truth. She felt it.
“I’m scared,” she finally admitted.
“Don’t be. We’ll get through this.”
Henry concentrated on keeping her quiet and as calm as possible. It would be a waiting game. He urged her to keep her face covered. He even rested her face into the small of his neck.
It seemed to take forever, and then they heard something else.
“Captain!” The voice shouted from what sounded like the attic, but they couldn’t be sure from their muffled cellar. “You need to come see this.”
“What is it?” another voice yelled back.
“The computer! I think they did it. They are gone, Captain. You’ve got to come read this.”
Sticking his head up through the attic opening, then crawling to his knees, the Captain asked, “What’ up?”
No less than seven Ninja Turtle looking guys stood around a glowing computer screen. “Check this shit out,” one of them said.
Their team leader couldn’t imagine what could be so interesting that everyone in the room just stopped and stood around drop-jawed—stunned almost.
When he got close, he could read the simple message Natalie had left them on the screen on her way out.
MATERIAL SHIFT COMPLETE
TWO SOULS SENT
“The two souls must have been Fullerton and the girl,” a rookie surmised to his boss who hadn’t yet fully taken in the message.
“Perhaps. Or they could have just gotten away.”
“Where, Sir? We cleared the whole house, and we have men outside.”
None of the people gazing into nowhere knew that if a material shift had actually taken place under Dr. Cohn’s description, there would have been something in the place of where Natalie and Fullerton had been. And they certainly didn’t know that it was all a lie anyway. The proverbial tangled web that Dr. Cohn weaved after caring for his dying daughter, then protecting his poor decisions to stage her death.
“Let’s bag it…all of it!” the Captain ordered.
“Yes, Sir,” They all said in unison.
Below deck, Natalie and Henry heard lots of rummaging. Then Henry recognized the clicking of container lids. Whenever the DHS gathered evidence, they used various sized plastic containers that had flip latches on the lids. The sound they made when flipped closed was unique.
“It’s the clean-up squad,” Henry told Natalie in her ear.
She pulled the sleeve from her face realizing there was just a slight lingering sharp smell. “A what?”
“A clean-up squad. They won’t leave anything in this house if it’s not bolted down. And then again, they have been known to take kitchen sinks.”
Natalie wasn’t what you’d call a nationalist in the common understanding of the term. She was quite cynical of her government and its increasing grip on its free citizens. “Oh, so the Patriot Act has done us some good, eh?”
“What do you mean?”
“What I mean is now the Department of Homeland Security just shoots in and cleans up the scene. Taking everything so that no one can ever know what really went on here.”
Henry understood what she was getting at, “Yup. That about sums it up. I just hope they leave us here this time.”
“You know. Germany had a Department of Homeland Security once. They called it the SS. Oh, and the Soviet Union had a DHS too. As far as that goes, so does China.”
He touched his finger to her lips and just breathed the words, “I get it, Natalie. I’m on your side.”
In front of her eyes flashed a thought. The memory of the Danite symbol on her father’s forehead. The quiet time, while waiting for the movement above them to stop, allowed her to process everything that had just happened. The truths she just found out about her past. The flashes of ideas she had for her future.
Bitter-Sweet would have to be how she thought of her new life. Her new truths.
Soldiers who were part of the local Army Reserve unit and specialized in nuclear biological and chemical warfare waited on the Temple grounds. They weren’t yet sure what their orders were going to be or why they were there. Some had been called while with their families, and some while they were at their regular weekend jobs. None were sure what was so important. All they knew was that they were alerted and activated for a live-fire exercise. “Real world shit,” as one soldier put it.
Black futuristic helicopters approached the grounds, five of them, captivating the waiting soldiers. “They will brief us shortly,” the Sergeant told his troops.
Sullivan, McMurtry, and Blakely went inside to talk with the Church President and his counselors, while others on the team assembled with the local reserve unit. They would check the security of the dirty bombs and prepare them for removal and inspection.
“I really wish your team hadn’t moved the devices,” Sullivan said to President Clark.
“Elder Sullivan,” Clark called him. “We thought it necessary to put the bombs in our bomb shelter just in case there was a timed fuse or something just as despicable.”
“I suppose it worked out. The point now is where do we go from here?”
Tina noticed that President Clark called her boss “Elder”. That title, she thought, was only for holders of the priesthood within the Church. She expected “brother”, “my friend”, or some such nicety, but not “Elder”.
Temple Square’s bunker was built to withstand a nuclear blast outside a mile radius of the center of the square. Since the dirty bombs didn’t pack a nuclear blast, just a relatively small common explosive blast, it should have been able to contain the radioactivity and protect the public, or anyone outside the bunker from exposure. It certainly would have reduced the cost of decontamination by millions of dollars.
Sullivan asked President Clark, “Have you heard from Henry Fullerton or Natalie Westin?”
“No, Elder Sullivan. But my men are working on it now. They should be making contact quite soon.”
“How about Jade Acker?”
His voice was authoritative and calm. “As you know, Brother Acker is currently held in custody in my private safe. We did let your people talk to him while you were on your way here. We learned that he has been working with the terrorist group, AANE, for about six months.”
“Did he mention his time with Ms. Westin?”
“All he said about Ms. Westin is that she is innocent. Please don’t hurt her.”
Tina’s face went flush, “Don’t hurt her? What makes him think we are going to hurt her?”
Clark looked at Sullivan as if they were going to speak in another language but then spoke clear English, “I’m really not sure. He didn’t explain himself any more than to say, ‘Please don’t hurt her’.”
Sullivan’s phone rang. “Sullivan.”
Everyone waited while he finished his conversation and hung up. Sullivan turned to the Church President and informed him, “That was the Decon’ team. They said there are only two devices in your bunker, not three.”
Clark and his counselors returned glances among themselves. No one let on to knowing anything.
“Are they sure?” Clark asked as a matter of necessity.
“They said there are only two devices. One of your people who moved them underground confirmed that one is clearly missing.”
President Clark interrogated the small group. “Does anyone here know what happened to that third bomb?”
“No Sir,” everyone agreed.
“Then we need to find out,” he ordered just a second before Sullivan’s phone went off again.
“Hello?” Sullivan said.
This time the call was from a liaison at NORAD informing him that they had just picked up a radioactive signature from their aerial unit. The signal was leaving downtown Salt Lake City. They didn’t have any more details than that, but said he would keep Sullivan posted.
“I know where they are going, Elder,” Clark advised.
“The airport they came into.”
“Are you sure?”
“As sure as you are that a bomb is missing.”
The team in the shelter used instruments to check for radiation leaks and any other contamination possibilities. They talked among themselves to figure out how they would remove the bombs and transport them to a local facility.
A few calculations revealed the fact that about two-thirds of the stolen nuclear fuel was used in these two bombs. That is assuming an eighty-percent efficiency profile on the terrorists’ disassembly and build of the devices. Most of the weight of the stolen nuclear fuel rods was the zirconium wafers, the control rods, and the assembly’s casing. Those items wouldn’t be a part of the bomb itself, only the actual uranium alloy.
“Elder Sullivan, what do you make of Jade Acker? Is he stable?”
That seemed like a stupid question considering the circumstances. Who in his right mind would help terrorists hijack uranium for a dirty bomb? Who would try to steal technology from a girl whose father was just murdered?
Sullivan humored the Prophet in his own home, “I don’t know how stable he is. Why do you ask?”
“Because when we were talking to him he referred to himself in the third-person, like a crazy man in a bad B-Movie. He referred to himself, not as Acker or Jade, but as Tommy Boy.”
Much of the rummaging above had stopped. Natalie and Henry heard the Feds moving boxes and cases of evidence out of the house. The footsteps that were coming in and going out were becoming fewer and fewer. But the footsteps that remained were getting closer and louder.
One set of footsteps walked directly over the cellar door and it sounded as though it was dragging a dolly or some other wheeled carrier behind. The next set of footsteps that approached above their heads tripped on the rug covering the door. Whoever it was fell. “Shit!” was all Natalie and Henry heard as the voice suddenly became quiet then summoned its friend, “Dave. Come here.”
Another set of footsteps approached, “What’s up?”
“What is this?” the voice asked. It was very clear because it was directly above Natalie and Henry, standing in the center of the door.
“I’m not sure. It looks Jordanian or maybe Saudi Arabian. I’d say by the gold leaf stitching in the border, it is a Saudi Arabian piece.”
“Looks nice.” The floor creaked as the man bent over. “Maybe it has a label.”
Henry picked up a bottle of wine and braced himself for a fight. It was the only weapon he had.
“Nope, not Saudi Arabian.”
“What is it?”
“Looks nice for a knock-off piece.”
As the two footsteps walked away, they could still be heard. “Probably made in China—go figure.”
“Whew. That was a close call, Henry.”
He wished he could see her in the dark cellar, “No doubt. Too close.”
They waited in the dark listening for anything they could detect. In the distance, they heard cars pull away, but couldn’t tell if everyone was gone. There could still be a few people poking around outside. Or even inside where they couldn’t hear them.
They’d wait a little while longer, then slowly climb out of the cellar, careful to pay close attention around them. Henry knew how detailed the cleanup teams were so he knew not to even bother checking around the house for anything. They’d just leave as soon as they could. Maybe their car was still there—the little Toyota truck.
There it was, the little truck, keys still in the ignition and no sign of the Feds. “Let’s go, I’ll drive this time,” Natalie advised.
She put her arm over the back of the seat and cranked her head like an old farmer backing up a John Deere tractor. She backed out into the street and threw it into first gear. It backfired. Pop!
“Man,” Henry commented. “You can really drive this thing!”
“Yep. Freddy taught me when I got here. I mean, after I got better.”
“Yeah.” He noticed the way she had caught herself mid-sentence.
Before she reached shifting speed, two cars she didn’t recognize whipped around the corner and slid to a stop right in front of her. There was no way around them. They couldn’t go forward and behind them was the end of the cul-de-sac.
“We’re trapped, Henry.”
“Just play it cool. The driver has a ring. I saw it in the windshield.”
“Let’s hope so, I think.”
Neither one of them was sure about what was going to happen next. A passenger in one of the cars, came running toward them, holding his hands in the air as if he was surrendering to a foreign army. He was showing he wasn’t armed or a threat.
Her window was already down so she could hear him speak. “Ms. Westin. We are your friends. Come with us, please.”
“Why should we?”
That was her way of playing hardball.
“We just got information that the terrorists are on their way to the airport you flew into and they have a radioactive bomb.”
She thought she’d test him, “Which airport is that?”
He told the truth, “I don’t know. We weren’t told that.”
She described the airport, its trees, its buildings, then asked which airport it was.
The Danite knew, “Oh, that’s the Frazier Executive Airfield, a new private strip.”
“How do I get there?” She demanded.
“I think you should come with u…”
She cut him off. “No. We are going to the airport. Now tell us how to get there.”
He explained the directions to her, but then said, “Hey, we are going there now ourselves. Take my cell phone so I can call you if need be.”
He handed her his phone and smiled. “If anyone asks me, you stole the phone and refused to let us escort you back to Temple Square.”
She took the phone from his hand and said, “That about sums it up, doesn’t it?”
“Just do me a favor and don’t make it too obvious. I could lose my reputation.”
“Don’t worry big guy, we’ll stay out of your way.” She gave a not so convincing wink before he turned and ran toward his car and they all sped away.
“He was kind of cute,” she said. “Probably a returning missionary.”
“Are you trying to make me jealous?”
“I asked you first?”
“Maybe, but I’m the one behind the wheel.”
“Is that some sort of metaphor for a pushy broad?”
“No. Just answer the question. Does my noticing a handsome, young, spiritual, successful man with a bright, healthy smile, able to produce nice offspring give you a twinge of jealousy deep in your bones?”
“You lie.” She said.
“Only when I have to.”
Natalie was able to keep him entertained while following the two carloads of Danites until they saw the sign:
Airport Exit Right
“Okay, Okay. I’ll admit it did send just a little tingle of jealousy down my spine. Just a little. After all, we just met under harsh circumstances.”
Natalie took her eyes off the cars ahead of her to make a point, “Maybe it’s just Stockholm Syndrome.”
No more explanation was needed. Henry knew exactly what she was talking about. Sure, not only can a victim gain a tight bond of admiration with her victimizer, but the same principle can hold true between any two people in stressful or exciting circumstances. And these circumstances were stressful in even the loosest application of the word stress.
Besides, Henry’s bright blue eyes against his dark black hair rivaled her bright green eyes against her ebony silk. She could almost see her own sexiness in him.
“Excuse me.” He punched a few numbers on the Danite’s cell phone and stuck it to his ear.
He’s always so polite, she thought as she listened to his half of the conversation.
“Hi Tina. Where are you?”
Obviously she said, “Temple Square, Salt Lake City, Utah” because he replied with, “We left there, oh probably, a little over two hours ago.”
He took lead of the conversation, knowing if he didn’t, Tina would, “Hey look, I just got word that AANE is on their way to the Frazier Executive Airfield with one of the bombs. Do you know how many they had?”
Natalie leaned closer to hear the conversation, so Henry stuck his finger to his puckered lips to give a Shhhhh signal and placed the phone on speaker.
“Henry,” Tina said. “As best we can figure out, there were three dirty-bombs about equal in nuclear fuel. That estimate was authenticated with Jade Acker’s statements. You know Henry, he almost got you killed?”
He sidestepped her comment with a quick, “Sure. Did you find out who else Acker was working with in the DHS?”
“What do you mean?”
“I know Jade. He wouldn’t have done this without someone else in the department as his ally. At least, I don’t think he would. There just has to be someone else there on the inside.”
Natalie drove the truck as hard as she could to keep up with the increasing speed of the Danites in front of her. Don’t they realize we are in this out-dated, used-up plug? As a child, her father taught her that an old horse that had been doggedly used around the farm was called a plug. She supposed that same term could be applied to almost anything that had a much livelier past, even their little Toyota pickup that seemed indestructible.
“I know it seems as though Acker was doing an awful lot on his own, but he claims he was working alone in the Department. Working for what was right. Or what HE considered right. We think he was fully capable to do all this alone.”
Henry didn’t quite succumb, “Capable? Yes. But motivated? I still think he had some help.” Henry replayed her last statement in his mind. “Who is we?”
“What do you mean by that?” Tina really didn’t know.
“You said, ‘we think he is fully capable.’ Who is we?”
“Oh. I’m talking about Richard, myself, and the rest of the team with us. But mostly Richard and myself.”
“Tina, there is someone called Tommy Boy. He could be on the inside. In fact, I’m sure he is.”
“Oh, he is,” she assured him.
“Yeah, Acker. Acker is Tommy Boy. The Church President said so himself.”
“Why would Jade talk so much to the Church? Why would he admit openly to being Tommy Boy? Does that sound right to you, Tina?”
Silence. Henry heard the phone go quiet on the other end. “Tina?” He waited a few seconds, “Tina?” He waited a few more seconds then there was a scraping sound on the line.
“Henry, you still there?”
“Yes, TT. What was that?”
“Sullivan came by and caught me on the phone. It just so happens it’s my sister’s birthday today, so I told him I was talking to my sister for a moment and she was telling me how she and her husband aren’t getting along today.”
“I’m impressed. When you lie, you go for the gold, don’t you? But you need to remember the old adage that says good liars can weave complex tales, but the best liars don’t.”
“I couldn’t let him know I was talking to you. He told me if I heard from you to let him know so he could trace your call, and to not let you know about it. So, I didn’t talk to you, okay?”
“Agreed. So why are you talking to me?”
“Henry, something isn’t right. From the time you were compromised and Jade made contact with Natalie Westin, Richard has been hiding things from me. He never has done that in the past. He’s acting very strangely.”
“Do you think he is in bed with Acker?”
“I don’t think so.”
Natalie pulled into the airport parking lot and drove to the area next to the employees’ gate that led to the airplane hangers, maintenance, and runways. She didn’t want to park close to the Danites who stopped by the main building entrance.
Tina continued explaining that Richard Sullivan hadn’t talked directly to Jade Acker yet.
The Church staff had done most of that. It was the Church staff that had reported Acker’s statements. ‘However, Acker did talk to a local Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agent before we arrived. We were still in the plane.”
“Why did he talk to ICE? What did they want?”
“Well, ICE is the biggest unit the DHS has in Salt Lake right now. Sullivan wanted the local director to talk with Jade to find out where you and Natalie could have gone. After Acker’s conversation with ICE, Sullivan has allowed no one to talk to Jade except for the Danites.”
That seemed to back up a thought Henry had earlier that day concerning his boss. He considered dropping the topic for now because Natalie was still listening on the speakerphone. He could just turn off the speaker, but then Natalie would wonder what he was hiding from her. He didn’t want to do that either.
Besides, if he turned off the speaker he still couldn’t ask the question he had in his mind in private. She’d hear him.
His pause let Tina McMurtry know he was contemplating something. She had worked with him long enough to read his mind¾almost.
“Henry. What’s up?”
After careful consideration he decided to let the question rip, “Tina. Take a look at Sullivan’s right hand. Does it have a ring on it?”
“He just left, so I can’t take a look.” She hesitated. “But I can tell you without a doubt he does have a ring on that hand.”
“Do you recall what it looks like?”
She couldn’t imagine where this line of questioning was going or what Sullivan’s ring had to do with the price of rice in China. She was a bit hardheaded that way. “Why?” she asked.
“Come on, TT. Just tell me, do you know what the ring looks like?”
“Of course I do. I’ve admired it for years. He never takes it off.”
Henry couldn’t take his own impatience sometimes. “Damn it, TT. What does it look like? Is it a class ring?”
“It looks like a class ring. It has a ruby in the center, and the letters CTR on one side. You know, I’ve never figured out what school has the initials CTR. Maybe it was some sort of club he belonged to in college. I never asked.”
Cutting her rambling short, “TT, does it have anything else on the other side?”
“Yeah, but it’s pretty worn down. It looks like a D. Which makes sense because he graduated from Dartmouth.”
The stare from Natalie looked more like a child lost in a grocery store than anything else. She raised her eyebrows to Henry as if to ask, “Is everyone crazy, or is it just me?” But she didn’t say a word.
Henry asked Tina not to mention his ring again, but to be careful. All isn’t as it might seem. Sullivan had closer connections to the Church than he admitted. In fact, he hadn’t mentioned any connection to the Church at all.
Tina McMurtry agreed to not say a word about their phone call or her director’s possible ring.
When Henry hung up the phone he knew his suppositions were correct. He had seen that ring before—on Sullivan’s hand. The question now was if Sullivan had anything to do with Dr. Cohn’s killing, AANE, or Jade Acker’s efforts.
The small, private airport was untowered and, as on most days, the FBO—Fixed Base Operator—wasn’t even manned. The fueling stations were self-service and usually more than a dollar cheaper per gallon than gas at Salt Lake City’s largest airport.
This Saturday, there was just a handful of people cleaning their planes and working in their privately rented hangers. There was no airport staff so to speak.
Natalie and Jade looked for a way into the hanger area at the front security gate while the Danites looked through the chain link fence with binoculars just one hundred or so feet away.
Since 9/11, the security gates were locked and the combination to the small pushbutton security access latch was not posted. Most airports used to post the combination so that pilots would recognize it, but non-aviation visitors wouldn’t have a clue that it was in front of their eyes. Sometimes there was even a sign telling the combination in aviation terms, like: Access code is Published Elevation. That would tell anyone who had a map, approach plates, or airport directory for pilots what the security code was. For anyone else it would be too much to bother with.
Though he looked around for the combination, Henry didn’t find it.
While he was looking for an easy way to drive in the gate, she was forcing herself not to deal with her past at the moment. It was just too much. She never did actually barf at the idea of her father’s lies as she wanted to but she still felt sick. She needed to concentrate on what was going on right then and there. No time for humanistic time travel. Stay in the present she told herself. Pay attention. Deal with the other crap later.
Her self-talk only partly worked. It took Henry’s idea to bring her back to reality.
“Let’s get close and wait until someone drives out. We can squeeze in if we are quick enough.”
It was a good idea until a car from the road, an unknown pilot pulled up to the gate. “Let’s go behind him, hurry!” Henry yelled a little louder than he had intended.
As the car in front of them pulled through the gate, Natalie spun out, throwing bits of gravel behind the truck. She made it through and stopped as the gate slid shut behind them, and the two cars with Danites calmly pulled up to the gate.
The driver of the front car hung out the window and pressed a few numbers and the gate slid open so that they could drive through.
The Danites raced past Natalie and Henry, spreading out over the hangar area, looking for any signs of a GulfStream V. Natalie pulled the Toyota between two hangars, close to a fuel station, so she could see most of what was going on.
There didn’t seem to be any signs of the Terrorists yet. They should have been there by now.
Henry poked her in the arm, “Look.”
A man with a gas can was approaching them, so Natalie rolled down her window, wishing it were electric instead of an old hand-cranked type. But then again, she thought, if it were electric it could be broken. She was starting to second-guess every thought that ran across her mind.
“Excuse me,” she said, taking a big chance. “Have you been here long?”
The elderly man spoke in a soft southern accent, Georgian, like Jimmy Carter. “Yes, ma’am. I beeen haera all daaay.” His words crawled out of his mouth in slow motion.
“Have you seen a GS-V depart within the last thirty minutes?”
He looked off into the distance, toward the small runway. “Hmmmm. Cain’t say as I haaaave, ma’am. Ida heard thatun even if I hadn’t seeen it. Perdy hard ta miss sump’n like daaaat.”
She thanked him and he tilted his hat to her and finished fetchin’ his AvGas in his red two-and-a-half-gallon can that looked like a fireman’s can of some sort.
On his way back past them, he tilted his hat again, figurin’ theys just a waitn’ on a friend er two, whats got a big and purdy jet.
“Felt like we pulled into Jed Clampet’s place there for a minute,” Henry joked.
“Jed Clampet. Beverly Hillbillies.”
“Oh yeah. Sorry, my mind didn’t make the connection.”
“Cool,” he assured her. “You probably shouldn’t be here. This could be too dangerous.”
“Sorry, you can’t get rid of me. Someone killed Freddy and turned my life upside down. I don’t intend to go anywhere until I find out who was behind this.”
Her determination was admirable, but Henry realized his emotions and probably his fatigue was getting the best of him. He wasn’t making good decisions as far as he was concerned. She shouldn’t be there. He should have left her some place safe. Then he thought, Where?
“They haven’t left yet. So they must not have gotten here yet either,” Natalie surmised.
“Probably stopped to pick up some Plutonium and a cup of coffee.”
She laughed out loud, “That’s funny.”
They continued to watch the Danites drive around, trying to act unsuspiciously. Wondering if their intelligence was right. Were the terrorists coming there? If so, when?
NORAD, from 18,000 feet in the air, was feeding live video back to Sullivan’s team who were packed into three flat-black Army Humvees. The armored cars were equipped with communication antennas, huge bumpers for battering their way through blockades, turret-mounted 50-cal machineguns, and grenade launchers.
The size and weight of the tactical vehicles were deceiving. The convoy could reach speeds over one-hundred-miles an hour and still shoot the eyes off a gnat at a thousand yards, so some Army cats liked to brag. In any event, the Hummers were the best the Army had to offer.
“Sullivan!” Colonel Blakely looked back over his shoulder waving his arm. “Come here.”
“Yeah,” Richard said, weaving his way in the rocking truck to see what was on the video display.
“Do you have DHS people on the ground I don’t know about?”
Pointing to the screen, “This right here is the uranium signature we are tracking—the terrorists. They are entering the airport now. These are twelve individuals strategically placed around the airport grounds, looking an awful lot like law enforcement of some kind. Now, unless you have some people there—I know I don’t—we have more terrorists to deal with than we know.”
“We don’t have anyone on the premises, Sir. No one at all.”
The aerial surveillance that NORAD had in the sky was tracking the dirty-bomb, and now several individuals on the ground. They had no idea Fullerton and Natalie were there, or that five Danites were there as well.
Sullivan thought he’d put the Colonel’s mind at rest with a confirmation from Tina McMurtry. “Tina. Do we have anyone at the airport right now that you know of?”
Tina’s look turned stone cold. She took her time to answer. “No, Sir.” she lied. “I don’t know of anyone except the helicopters that are on their way there now.”
Her mouth filled with nervous saliva. She gulped, grinding her back teeth, forcing a sticky swallow of nerves.
As the terrorists’ SUV pulled into the airport, the Army choppers were still five minutes out, about the same distance Sullivan’s team was. The helicopters were armed much like the ones that first engaged the terrorists when they hijacked the load from Interstate 70. But, this time, they would be more cautious, via Blakely’s commands. The pilots didn’t know the details of what happened, but they were warned against shoulder-launched rockets. “Take extra caution,” were the words one pilot recalled hearing in his three-minute pre-flight briefing from Blakely.
The NORAD plane continued to feed updates to Sullivan’s team below, trying to identify every possible threat on the ground. Finally, they ruled out five of the people as mechanics taking a break from work. Still, though, there were seven unidentified possible targets.
The five Danites, Natalie, and Henry never saw the surveillance plane flying at the edge of Class A airspace above them, nor did anyone think to look. Communication was limited because, as far as the Danites knew, their Prophet was the only one who knew they were there.
They were there as a precaution. To do whatever was necessary to protect Dr. Cohn’s “creations”, and prevent the Terrorists from escaping.
Their leader had total faith in their abilities, or he wouldn’t have sent them. Their faith was unquestionable, their skills almost divine.
Their equipment was also top-notch in both personal armament and offensive weaponry. If it had a trigger delivering a big bang, the Danites had it. Not because they were expecting an apocalypse or any other religious nonsense, but because every now and then there were forces, extremist forces, who pushed the envelope in terror. This was one of those times.
The Danites hid their existence in part because they were not after glory or recognition from the masses. They did their small part to serve and protect where others failed. Even in New Orleans. When the local police had trouble maintaining order, there were Danites. They tenderly tended to small children, quietly distributed food and clothing without mentioning the Church or any agenda other than true concern.
That was their job, to serve and protect. Nothing less and nothing more. Just as they had been doing since Dr. Cohn’s death. The killing that bore their mark on his cold forehead. The mark that haunted Natalie, and undermined her true trust in the Danites, an organization she was always told didn’t exist.
A hand reached from the Terrorists’ SUV and typed in the security code that operated the sliding gate. They drove through looking for anything out of place.
Hook Castro sat in the back seat. His hair was more windblown and out of place than usual. The curls on one side of his head were pressed flat. On the other side, they sprang free, making his head lopsided. His aviation sunglasses, car salesman mustache, and grin added to his goofy appearance. His boss sat in the passenger seat running the plan through his head over and over again.
Apologizing to Carlos Medina, “Sorry boss.”
“About what, Hook?
“Patricia. She shouldn’t have been inside the Tabernacle. We just didn’t think…”
“Hey. I feel the same way, but in this business these things happen. Nothing we can do about it in the end except make sure we succeed in our task some kind of way. That’s how we honor the fallen—we must succeed on their behalf.”
Hook put his hand on the door handle, ready to jump into action even though they weren’t at the hangar yet. “Yeah, we have to do this right.”
Plan B was their mission now. In Phoenix, the Suns and Los Angeles Lakers were playing basketball to a sold-out crowd. Such a game in Phoenix had been their original target until the link to the LDS Church was so much a part of their cover. They couldn’t resist the opportunity to make a statement and have such a reputable group take part of the blame.
Months earlier AANE had cultivated relationships with a couple coliseum vendors so they’d have easy access to the event, plus center court courtside seats. Plan B might not be so bad after all.
This night they could get to the game, smuggle in the one remaining dirty-bomb, and take their seats. At halftime no one would be suspicious if they left their seats and left the case containing the bomb in their seat. They would use a cell phone as a timer. Patricia Sanchez had devised a unique safety for the detonator. The bomb would go off when it was called but only if the Caller ID displayed the first number in the phone’s internal phone book. That way they could change the trigger phone number on the fly. They didn’t want a remote detonation on just any call. That would be quite unsafe. The phone could ring because of a wrong number or any such unfortunate event. It was the little touches to their operation that made Patricia Sanchez—the late Patricia Sanchez—a Patron Terrorist Saint in the group’s eyes.
The half-time show was scheduled to feature blues maestro, B.B King. When the players left the court, the fifteen-minute time clock would start. In the first thirty seconds the Sun’s dancers would run into place and dance for the next three minutes while a stage high above their heads would descend around them. They would jump up on stage and finish their routine for the next minute. When they ran off, B.B King and his band would take their place and play for the next nine minutes.
Rumors on the Internet say the King of the Blues would be playing The Thrill Is Gone followed by a special live medley version of Payin’ the Cost to Be the Boss and Lucille.
After B.B. King’s band left the stage, the stage would retract back, high into the ceiling and the players would return after their fifteen-minute break.
The game’s entire format for the evening was perfect for AANE to plant the bomb, leave during halftime, then prepare for detonation. All they had to do was get away from the sports arena and turn on the live televised broadcast of the game. When the time was right, maybe at a key tied score, or something just as riveting, detonate the bomb. The country would be watching.
Hangar doors opened when the dark SUV approached. The driver waited, parked in front of the adjoining hangar while the co-pilot used a small tractor to pull the jet out by its tow assembly.
The GS-V jet parked parallel to the hangar and the pilot started the engines while the co-pilot disconnected the tow-bar and parked the tractor inside the hangar. The driver of the SUV parked next to the tractor and everyone jumped out and hustled to the jet’s waiting stairs.
Hook was the last to board, carrying the case containing their only remaining tool of terror. He set the bomb on the floor between his and Medina’s seat.
The pilot started to taxi while his co-pilot and everyone else buckled up. He pressed his microphone button and spoke, “Crew, prepare for departure.” Then he repeated the instructions in Spanish just for fun, “Crew, prepara para salida.” His broken Spanish wasn’t always correct, but understandable.
Medina double checked the seal on the door and sat back down in his seat. He clicked his seatbelt, adjusted it by pulling on the loose end of the belt, and pulled out his phone to read an incoming text message:
Phx hotdogs ready for grilling.
Cooks on standby.
The message was clear. The food vendor in Phoenix was in place to help the terrorists deliver the bomb past perimeter security. And the driver was already waiting for them at Phoenix Sky Harbor airport at the business terminal.
Scanning his messages, he decided to clear a few out of memory, including one from Tommy Boy the night before:
Track my cell phone GPS.
Then make your move.
The plane stopped on the first taxiway to complete the pre-flight check-1ist.
“Flaps,” The co-pilot said.
“Set for take-off,” The pilot read back.
The co-pilot pointed to radio one. “Departure frequency.”
The pilot double-checked the reading, “Check.”
“Engine temperatures,” the co-pilot called out as he continued through the rest of the modified check-list.
Adam, the youngest of the Danites, had medium length auburn, tight naturally curly hair, and red freckles covering his face. His round, professorial glasses matched the round shape of the hair that outlined his cleanly shaven face. He resembled a Boy Scout more than a highly trained Danite. Actually, he was an Eagle Scout when he was younger. Then he attended the Missionary Training Center and studied Spanish before going on a two-year mission in Nicaragua.
When he returned home, he attended BYU and majored in military history and communications. His efforts garnered his several offers from international companies and the US Government. He turned them all down to serve a higher purpose, his Heavenly Father and His Church, and civilization. Now he found himself chasing terrorists at a private airport.
“Time to neutralize the plane,” Adam yelled into his radio for the others to hear from their concealed positions in the small ditches that lined the taxi ways no more than fifty yards from where the jet stopped to do his check-list.
Natalie and Henry were spotted by the pilot, but not recognized, so were paid no attention. They parked the little truck at the gas pumps and pretended to look under the hood. Though pumping the high octane AvGas into private vehicles was technically against the law and punishable by some arbitrary fine and threat of imprisonment, many people did it anyway. It made good engines run like a bat out of hell and prevented those nasty knocks and pings in older engines. Often people who were selling their vehicles would use aviation gas to make their cars perform better for test drives, leaving the poor suckers who buy them wondering why the car suddenly runs like crap after its first pit stop.
The Danites followed Adam’s orders. Their task was to use the grenade launchers mounted under their M-l6s to lob a couple high explosive grenades under the plane’s belly.
The explosions should take out the landing gear, rendering the plane useless. They would make their presence overwhelming on the side of the exit door so the terrorists would resist exiting and fighting.
At best, they would contain the terrorists and eventually wear them down into submission. At worst, the terrorists would toss out and explode their dirty-bomb. At least it was a remote location; fewer possible casualties, and a less expensive cleanup.
No matter what the outcome, it had to be better than the terrorists picking their own ground zero.
The publicity could also be contained a little better if the shoot-out took place at the remote airport than in a populated public location.
As the two Danites took aim and calculated their trajectory, Adam’s cell phone rang. “Hold fire!” he ordered into his radio while he answered his phone. “Hello?”
It was the First Counselor to the President of the Church. “The Prophet has ordered us to stand down.”
“Stand down?” Adam questioned.
“That’s right. The US Army is seconds away. Stand down and egress the theatre immediately.”
“Yes, Sir! We’re standing down and leaving now, Sir.”
Adam yelled into his radio, “Stand down, stand down! Depart, depart!” Each of the two Danite teams confirmed their orders with a simple, “WILCO.”
They ran to the edge of the ditch to where their cars were parked They didn’t understand their new orders, but complied without question. If Adam ordered it, they did it.
Natalie’s cell phone rang. “Yes,” she answered. Having a fleeting thought about cell phones and fueling operations. Was there any validity to the myths of exploding gas tanks and cell phones?
“This is Adam, we need to leave right now, follow us out.”
She wasn’t as trusting or obedient as his fellow Danites, “Why? What’s up?”
“I don’t have time to explain it now. You need to get in your truck and follow us. Come on. We need to hurry.”
Either she’d follow or not. He didn’t give her time to argue with him before he quickly hung up the phone.
The two Danite cars and the Toyota truck raced toward the entrance gate but remained between the hangars to avoid observation from the airplane.
Natalie was driving, but heard something, “What’s that?”
Henry knew the thump-thump he heard, but looked back anyway through the truck’s tiny rear window. “Army helicopters.”
“This should be interesting,” she said.
Henry recognized the flying armor. “Apaches. The most heavily armored flying platform in terms of Army helicopters. It’s body armor made it affectionately known to its pilots as aerobatic lead-sleds—hard to fly and maneuver, but stable and jam-packed with all sort of blow’em up stuff goodies.”
Missiles hung from the dangling arms of the helicopters making them resemble giant flying insects.
Looking in awe, Henry commented with a childlike enthusiasm, “Straight predator!”
Natalie grinned, “Let me find out you dream of being a killer chopper pilot!”
He wished he could see the fireworks. He knew after what happened on I-70, the Army wouldn’t be so light on the trigger finger. “No. But I like the way they look.”
The Danite cars disappeared behind a hangar when Richard Sullivan’s team appeared speeding toward the same front gate.
“Go through it” Sullivan ordered his driver.
The Hummer sped up even faster and hit the gate, knocking it off its sliding rails and flinging it to the side. The truck didn’t even hiccup as its back tires crushed a corner of the gate and continued toward the taxiway.
The Danites emerged from behind the hangar and went back out the same broken down gate Sullivan’s team had crashed through. Henry’s face was glued to the rear window trying to watch the action.
The helicopters stopped above the runway and just hung there, keeping their noses pointed right at the jet. No more than five seconds passed before a laser-guided AGM, Air to Ground Missile, shot out from under one of the black assault crafts. The thirty-foot tail of fire pushed and slammed the rocket into the taxiway spraying debris several feet into the air and leaving a hole twice as deep as the aircraft’s wheels were tall.
Hook Castro stuck his head into the cockpit and looked through the windscreen, “Go around it!”
Both pilots turned to look at him in question. There was a hole in front of them and ditches on both sides.
“We can’t,” the pilot resigned. “They’ll blow us to kingdom come.”
Hook was determined, “We can…and we will!”
He stuck a pistol to the pilot’s head with no further word.
The pilot pushed the throttle full-forward and the engines spooled up, screaming. That would be the only way through the edge of the ditch, full power. He then stomped on the right rudder as hard as he could to turn the plane to the right. There wasn’t much room to skirt past the hole. The pilots worried about side loading the landing gear to the point of collapse.
Over the local UNICOM frequency, the commander of the helicopter squad ordered the jet to stop: “Under the authority of the United States of America, stop your aircraft where it is and remain in your seats!”
No acknowledgement from the jet as it continued to slide through the edge of the grassy ditch. Its right wing clipped the ground but it didn’t cause any visible damage as far as the co-pilot could tell.
The pilots kept running through their procedures even though inside they knew they were a doomed flight. Either the choppers would stop them on the ground or blow them out of the air. They didn’t know which, but one of the two fates seemed certain.
“Get to the runway!” Hook screamed like a crazy man with half a head of hair still plastered to his face and the other half carelessly dancing about.
“Stop your craft or we will fire!” The Army chopper commanded.
“Keep moving!” Hook countered.
The pilots obeyed the gun pointing at the back of their heads, while the choppers fanned out in a sideways hover.
The small airport was rural, a little more than ten minutes from any densely populated areas, so the Danites rushed to get away from the airport as ordered.
On the winding road, Natalie received a call from Adam. She was driving, so Henry answered the phone.
“Go get some rest while we sort this out,” Adam said.
“Why were you ordered to leave? Was it because the Army was on its way?”
Not knowing the total answer he said, “Apparently so. That’s one thing I’m going to find out. There’s no need to put ourselves in jeopardy. We’ll give you a call if we find out anything. In the meantime, don’t let anyone know in your camp that we’ve been associating.”
Henry couldn’t argue with that logic, and he didn’t even have to consult with Natalie to know she felt the same way. Their aim now was to get out of the area immediately.
None of them had any reason to suspect that they were being watched. They had carefully watched for a tail in all directions except thousands of feet above them.
The NORAD aircraft tracked their three vehicles and transmitted their exact locations to the attack helicopters that could launch a guided missile from several miles away and be accurate within one meter, about three feet square.
The lead Apache helicopter radioed Colonel Blakely, “Apache One, Colonel Blakely.”
Blakely answered, “Go ahead Apache One.”
“There are three targets leaving the airport on our target screens. Permission to engage. Over.”
“Stand by Apache One. Stand by. Over.”
Blakely wanted to get more information from the air-support team before making that call.
“Apache One, standing by for engagement orders. Over.”
Air support reported that the targets had another five minutes remaining inside the Safe Fire Zone, the area where the target could still be successfully and accurately engaged with minimal civilian casualties or civilian collateral damage.
“Do you have a recommendation for engagement?” Blakely asked the NORAD team.
“First things first, Sir. Let’s halt this plane, then assess the other targets.”
That sounded like a reasonable plan. Blakely reported back to the Apache leader to concentrate his efforts on the jet and wait for instructions on any other target. Apache One agreed and complied.
Sullivan overheard the last transmission from Blakely, “What other targets?”
“The three cars leaving here when we came in. The air-support team had them on their screens. We must have missed them somehow.”
“What three cars? Do they have the makes?”
“Two late model sedans of some kind and a small red pickup truck. I’ll give orders to engage when we get this plane stopped.”
Sliding sideways in the sloping grass, the pilot slammed down the left rudder once past the huge gaping hole in the taxiway. In a plane like that, too much sideways momentum, called side-load, could collapse the landing gear. Hitting the left rudder would help straighten it out and put the majority of the load back centerline.
The throttle was still full-forward so the plane wouldn’t get bogged down and stuck in the moist grass. Suddenly the nose of the aircraft bounced up a couple feet off the ground when it hit the edge of the paved taxiway.
“Get us back up!” Hook yelled at his pilot.
The plane lurched back onto the asphalt and the pilot straightened the plane out and put it on the centerline. The plane gained a little speed and there was still one corner to make to get the plane on the runway, so the pilot eased back on the power. Again, too much side-load around the turn and he could destroy his plane’s undercarriage. He was pushing the limit as it was.
He’d take a rolling start, let the plane make the turn and align down the middle of the runway, give it full power, then fly as soon as possible.
The whole time the pilot was concentrating on the plane, the Army pilot was yelling commands to stop or be destroyed, so Hook reached over the pilot and turned the radio off. “Such a pain!” he said. “If they were going to shoot they would have already done it.”
Somehow the pilots didn’t feel as certain, especially when one of the helicopters broke formation, and dove low to the deck of the runway directly in front of them, playing an aviation style game of chicken.
The jet’s airspeed indicator read eighty knots when the flash from the helicopter almost blinded the pilot.
Out of the smoke, Hook could see a missile coming straight at them. “Oh shit!” he yelled as he stood frozen in the cockpit gangway bracing himself for whatever was about to happen.
In Sullivan’s Hummer, he watched as the missile took only a couple seconds to snake its way to the plane. Then the explosion. The missile blew the Gulf Stream’s tail to smithereens. No tail. No rudder.
The plane fishtailed a little and there was a loud shrill squeal as smoke bellowed from its brakes and tires while it slid across the black asphalt.
The Hummers raced down the runway to catch up with the plane. Men jumped out and took positions around the plane, trying to get the best tactical advantage.
The plane came to a stop half on and half off the runway. The pilot lost all directional control without his tail. The door opened and the steps came down to the ground, though not evenly. Some of the crew jumped out of the plane, missing most of the steps. They scattered, heading an all directions, hoping the US Soldiers wouldn’t be able to catch everyone.
The air was filled with yelling and screaming. The US military and DHS tried to avoid violence, but a couple of the AANE members opened fire. They had no choice but to fire back.
Medina dove into the ravine on the opposite side of the runway. Staying flat, he dragged his belly across the slick groundcover, looking for a clear escape past his pursuers.
He made it about fifty feet before a helicopter alerted a ground troop of his presence. A helmeted soldier ran on the runway behind where Medina was crawling, then, when the chopper pilot gave the command, he jumped over the edge and pointed his gun in Medina’s back. “Stop or I’ll shoot!” he yelled.
Medina, weaponless, stretched out in a spread-eagle posture, face first on the ground. The soldier put his black boot in the center of his back and radioed for support. He wasn’t about to try to handcuff him alone, even though he didn’t know he just bagged the head honcho.
Hook Castro stayed onboard with the bomb and was clearly visible from the outside through the cockpit window. Sullivan tried talking to him through the bullhorn in the Hummer. “You in the plane, wave your right hand if you hear me.”
Hook heard him but did not reply.
He tried again, “You in the plane. Wave your right hand if you hear me.”
Hook didn’t even look up. He was fumbling with something in his hands.
“You in the airplane…”
Sullivan didn’t get all his words out when Hook climbed halfway into the cockpit and reached for the pilot headsets. He flipped on the main battery power, then reached for the radio. “This is AANE,” Hook raised his right hand, but just his middle finger waved at Sullivan. “Do you hear me?”
Sullivan reached for his handheld aviation radio. “This is the Department of Homeland Security. What is your name?”
“My name is not important, only my message!” His authority was as strong as his Spanish accent.
“Okay. What is your message?”
“I will detonate this bomb if you do not immediately leave this area and let all my people go, then denounce your position on nuclear power in Aruba.”
Sullivan was ready to play hardball. “That’s an awful lot to ask on such short notice, don’t you think?”
“I think not. I think you Americans should listen to your citizens and stop your Gestapo regimen of bullshit. You are poisoning your own citizens, but if that isn’t bad enough, you are terrorizing the world with your own econo-politics. Your so-called democracy is just an old-fashioned oligarchy dressed up as a holiday turkey. You only give just enough to sink your rusty hooks in the jaws of your unsuspecting American citizens who are blinded by your false patriotic rhetoric.”
Sullivan thought quickly. “You know. The last person who tried to make such a statement by killing hundreds of Americans died in prison for the Oklahoma City bombings.”
“I don’t plan on frying in prison. And maybe you should have listened to his point, instead of turning him into a traitor.”
“Maybe. But on the other hand, maybe he should have made his point in a less hypocritical way…not by killing innocent people.”
Hook was frustrated. “You knew the attack in OKC was coming. Why else were certain government agencies not in their offices that morning when they normally would have been?”
Hook’s words were quickly becoming an embarrassment to Sullivan. Obviously, he had done his homework; otherwise he would have not known such hidden truths about how the DHS and other government agencies covered up the true nature and intelligence of the OKC bombing and 9/11.
All of the AANE members were gathered to the side by the US on various parts of the airport. The only one left was Hook, who was now showing off the remote control he was holding in his hand.
“I’m serious. I’m going to blow this thing if you don’t stop your idle chatter and back off. All demands must be met.”
“Sorry, I simply don’t have the authority to promise you that now. It will take some time. You should know we have all your people in custody right now. You should surrender. There is no one left to back your cause. You are all alone.”
“You lie as always. Show me.”
“That I can do.”
Sullivan assembled all the captives and marched them into view of the cockpit’s side window for Castro to see. It was something to take Castro’s attention off the other tactical measure his people were taking.
“You see. I wasn’t lying.”
“I see. But, you must still meet my demands. No matter how many of our people you capture, there will be more to follow until the problem no longer exists.”
“I think the only problem here is yours. You are alone now. You don’t want to die alone, do you? That’s what you are threatening. If you blow that bomb, no one will believe in your cause. They will just pass you off as some crazy terrorist. You know how the American public can be swayed. It won’t work, man. It just won’t work.”
Everyone around Medina wondered how hard he could push this guy. Would he blow everything up just out of spite? They were confident in Sullivan’s master negotiation skills, but it had been a while since he had actually used them in the field. They weren’t up for dying for no reason either. Sullivan’s words got to them as they realized they were also fighting a fight and they might lose their lives. For what?
He was buying time, actually, as a sniper worked his way in front of the plane, out of the view of Castro. He calmly set his rifle’s bipod on the ground and lay down behind it, grasping its wooden stock in his hand. He pulled the bolt back, sat a cartridge in the chamber, and closed the sliding bolt. He flipped off the safety and put his ungloved finger on the trigger. With his other hand, he pressed his radio button. “Target identified. Ready to fire.”
Sullivan spoke back, “Fire on your option.”
“WILCO.” My option.
Sullivan distracted Hook, “Sir. Do you really think your plan will work? I mean…”
Sullivan knew he probably wouldn’t get to finish his thought as he spoke.
The shot rang out, putting a single bullet hole in the cockpit windscreen.
“Move in!” Sullivan ordered as all the armed troops stormed the aircraft, Sullivan not far behind.
“Clear!” A soldier yelled out.
Sullivan stood on the aircraft steps and looked inside. The soldiers were checking the body of Castro. One of them had the remote control in his hand. It belonged to the TV in the back of the plane. The bomb sat strapped to the floor and undisturbed.
As Sullivan let go of the handhold and stepped back to the ground he heard Colonel Blakely give the command. “Engage the runaways!”
“No!” Sullivan yelled.
“What?” Blakely asked.
“Those are my people in those three vehicles! Stop your order.”
Just then, he looked up to see three missiles depart their helicopters in the direction of town.
Blakely wasted no time screaming into his radio. “Apache One. Apache One. Those are friendlies, abort. Abort.”
“Apache One. Understand abort engagement.”
“Affirmative. Friendly fire. Abort engagement. Now!”
“WILCO! Aborting now.”
The pilot reached up and flipped a red switch that had no label. Instantly there were three explosions in the distance. He had remotely detonated the guided missiles the air support had laser-locked onto the Danites, Henry Fullerton, and Natalie Westin.
Richard Sullivan finished his conversation with Tina McMurtry with the strong mandate: “No! Go see them in person; find them now!”
Henry pointed toward a grocery store that housed a Bank of America, “We’ll need some money.” Natalie followed his finger, pulled in the parking lot, and they went inside together.
Henry didn’t have any identification. Everything was lost. Besides, he didn’t carry his own ID while on an operation. He carried the ID of the fictitious Jason Davis. Nevertheless, writing a counter check at his bank had never been a problem. ID or no ID, his signature, picture, and fingerprints were on file at their central office.
The grocery store was big and airy. The smells from the deli and bakery captured Natalie’s attention while the cute redheaded bank tellerette counted out four fresh one hundred dollar bills and five twenties into Henry’s hand.
“Thanks,” he said as he quickly recounted the money in front of the teller, folded it, and shoved it in his shirt pocket.
When he twisted the button of his pocket through its hole he noticed the teller looking oddly at his chest. He looked down and chuckled, “Don’t worry that’s not blood. My lady and I had a little fun with our wine.”
“Looks like it was fun,” she gladly commented with her bank tellerette I’m-so-happy-we’re-doing-business-together smile.
“It was. You don’t know the half of it. Have a great day.”
“You too, Sir.” She looked behind him and gave a tiny wave, “Next Please.”
Natalie talked him into browsing the fresh fruit section. She really wanted cherries but they were out of season and the ones on display were pathetic. They looked like cherrasins, so she grabbed some grapes and stuck them in a plastic bag, the kind you have to fight to get the end open.
When she threw them on the scale, mostly out of curiosity, not budget, a voice came from behind them.
They both turned to see Tina McMurtry standing there with her hands on her stunning but slightly oversized hips.
“TT,” how did you find us here?”
We’ve been tracking you from the air since you left the airport. She didn’t tell them they almost got their asses blown off.
Henry wondered why she was there, but played casual, “What’s up?”
“The terrorists were neutralized and arrested. The bomb was recovered, and they’re bringing in a blast container now to transport it.”
A woman shopper walked up, so the three stepped to the side for privacy.
“What’s up with Sullivan?” Henry whispered directly into TT’s face.
Tina hesitated, searching for the right words. “I was wondering the same. It turns out Sullivan knew he had a turncoat on the inside, a modern-day Benedict Arnold. He just didn’t know who. He suspected Acker after he sent him to cover Ms. Westin here.” She gave Natalie a glance as one woman would her feminine competition.
They listened as Tina outlined how, a few days before Fullerton was captured, Sullivan had received a message warning him that the Mormon Church was about to be involved in stealing technology in Salt Lake City that was very important to US security, and potentially damaging to presidential policies. He didn’t mention it because it had come from an unnamed source and didn’t seem credible.
She continued, “When the terrorists compromised your cover, Henry, and sent that message back to Washington DC, it hit Sullivan pretty hard. He didn’t want to tell anyone he had received a tip that he ignored, especially since it involved the First Lady’s nephew. He immediately notified the Church Presidency in Temple Square only to find out he acted too late. The terrorists had already killed Dr. Cohn. The Church set out to do damage control by investigating the situation and protecting Natalie, Dr. Cohn’s only remaining creation.”
Natalie felt ill being reminded of her father’s brutal death. She wanted to ask, but almost couldn’t. “Tina, why did a Danite kill my father if they were trying to protect us?”
“That’s just it. Those weren’t Danites. Tommy Boy…” She corrected herself, “Acker was hired by the Terrorists to recruit a couple high profile Mormons who had combat experience. They were told they were working on a contract basis for the Danites and their mission was to destroy technology that was offensive to God and His plans. We don’t totally understand everything right now, but they were almost brainwashed in the process.”
“I should say so,” Natalie spouted off.
Tina said that Marshal Preston, the funeral director, was hired to eliminate Dr. Cohn and bless him, placing a Danite mark on his forehead. The real purpose of the blessing had nothing to do with blessings, as Preston was led to believe, but the terrorists wanted evidence to mislead the police. Then Acker hired Bishop Jerry Mallard to kill Preston under the guise that Preston was a rogue Danite, and that Dr. Cohn’s secrets needed to be protected.
“So why did the Bishop kill himself,” Natalie wondered.
“Guilt. The guilt of what he had just done overwhelmed him for some reason, we think.”
The loose ends were nice and tidy for the terrorists.
Henry pondered what was being said and had a few questions of his own. “How did Sullivan finally ferret out Acker, and why was he so secretive?”
Tina’s face went a little flush with little red splotches. “Actually, he didn’t tell me because he found out I dated Acker several years back. Sullivan didn’t want to compromise my position. He thought my behavior might warn or tip off Acker if I knew. He didn’t want me to know until he had a smoking gun.”
“So what did that gun look like?”
“He never actually found it, but he did share something with me.” She recalled it was okay to tell. “He had Acker send him all of his conversations with Natalie for analysis. He has this reverse speech program that reveals hidden messages in our speech. Apparently Acker said some things that exposed his true nature, but Sullivan hasn’t said what yet.”
“What was his relationship with the Danites?” Henry asked.
Tina smiled and answered back in her best sarcastic voice, “You saw the ring.”
“Sullivan grew up Mormon, which I never knew. He went on a mission to the Middle East. When he returned, and was attending Dartmouth, he was recruited by the Danites. He spent three years training with them to protect foreign missionaries. That’s when he got a job offer from the Department of Defense. He’s been weaving and bobbing his way around DC ever since.”
“I guess that explains a few things. I never did see him break the Mormon Words of Wisdom¾much. He never drank liquor, but he did like coffee. But then again I never did hear him talk about the Church either,” he noted.
“He just told me that’s because after a missionary kid got killed in Bolivia, he blamed himself. That young man was his best friend’s oldest son. Sullivan never did forgive himself.”
“So he just gave up the Church?”
“Pretty much as far as I can tell. But I think this little experience got him thinking again.”
After briefing the two of all she knew, Tina left the store, leaving Natalie and Henry to finish their shopping. Her final words were: “Sullivan told me to congratulate you on a job well done. He said for you to get some rest, you deserve it…both of you.”
Two double beds almost filled their entire motel room. It certainly wasn’t as nice as the Hilton downtown, dingy in comparison. But somehow the filth didn’t bother her. Maybe it was because she now knew her source of germ paranoia and all her other post-hospital idiosyncrasies.
She sat on the bed facing Henry who was sitting on the other bed.
“Did you ever date Tina?” Natalie asked.
He held back a smile, “Never, why?”
Natalie recalled picking up on TT’s cattiness, “Just curious, that’s all.”
Moments passed, absent of any sound other than Natalie crunching ice. She let her hair fall in front of her soft eyes to hide the tears that were starting to stream down her face, but Henry knew. He moved next to her, put one arm around her back and held one of her hands.
“I know my father loved me, even if he was selfish. I guess you just go ahead sometimes and get into situations that are hard to get out of.”
For the first time in her life she understood one of her father’s big outlooks on society.
He always said that pleasure and pain are not opposite as people think. They are not mutually exclusive. They coexist. People tend to think finding pleasure will make them whole, make them happy, when in fact, the chase just leaves you tired, frustrated and bitter because it doesn’t really exist in pure form, except with God. The very nature of the search for pleasure brings pain. Painless living, he used to say, could only be achieved if you resist the urge to search for it.
Likewise, when you constantly seek wisdom, you find pain in the realization of your ignorance and more unanswered questions. The search for fullness gives the realization of emptiness.
Natalie could see how everyone’s search for pleasure and resolution brought strife. From Dr. Cohn’s protection and nurturing of his daughter, to the terrorists’ pursuit of changing American policy for Venezuela’s benefit. The pursuit of pleasure often creates the very pain it is intended to circumvent.
She kept her head down, “Henry. My father used to say that the promise of greener pastures arouses our sense of larceny and we open ourselves to an endless cycle of blind manipulation.”
“I can see the irony in that. I work for Uncle Sam.”
Again he made her smile. She softly told him, “I want to go back to Tucson and spend some time with my mom. I’d like you to come.”
“Is that an invitation to greener pastures that your father spoke of?”
She pulled him down flat on the bed, rested her head on his chest, and closed her eyes, “Yes, but without all the manipulation stuff.”
They drifted off to sleep.
When she awoke, he was still sleeping. The top two buttons on his shirt were ripped open and pulled slightly to one side. She noticed a fading mark on his chest.
A ‘D’ with a cross in it.
Turn the page for an excerpt of
- Vance Cast’s heart-pounding novel
THEFT OF INNOCENCE
A Novel of
American Draconian Law,
Survival, and Devotion
When young Cody Brikker is forced to fatally confront his father’s physical and mental abuse, he finds himself in a fight for his freedom against the Federal Government and a relentlessly manipulative Assistant U.S. Attorney. She will use little-known laws to prosecute Cody beyond what seems fair and just. Cody’s aunt and childhood friend work frantically to love and support Cody in his journey of violence, pain, loneliness, and uncertainty.
THEFT OF INNOCENCE
The tall man pointed at the tiny blood spatter on the sleeve of his perfectly pressed Army dress jacket. Rage built in his eyes until he finally screamed at his wife as she slid her back down the kitchen wall trying to catch her breath through the shock, “Look what you’ve done now!”
She knew the blood was hers, but didn’t dare check to see where it came from. Her nose? Her lip? It didn’t matter anyway, they were both as numb as her heart was at the moment.
Mrs. Brikker wanted to check on her twelve-year-old son who was also beaten down on the kitchen floor, but doing so was certain to show more concern for her son than for her husband. Experience told her that she must guard against antagonizing her husband any further. Still, her crying eyes called to her son, Cody, are you okay? However, her mouth remained silent.
“I’m going to change my jacket and go to work. We’ll discuss this after dinner.” He slid his jacket off his shoulders, down his arms, and held it by the collar.
Cody jumped up from the floor, “No, we won’t!” he yelled, barely looking at his mother. His voice wasn’t any deeper than his female classmates at school.
“We won’t what, young man?” his father taunted.
Without hesitation, Cody snapped back at him, “We won’t talk!”
Cody didn’t know what he resented more, the disgrace his father brought to his shiny, colorfully decorated Army uniform, or his mother’s complacency and cowardice toward HIM.
“I said, AT-EASE BOY!”
Cody snatched a six-inch knife from the wooden block of knives neatly displayed on the kitchen counter. His eyes seemed to soften and calm, so did his voice. “We won’t talk. You are going to have to do better than this if you want to keep us down. You’ve hurt us for the last time, you…” He cut his own words short when he lunged at his father’s gut with the thick, sharp blade.
Inches before the tip of the knife could reach his father’s stomach, Cody saw something from the corner of his eye. His father’s huge fist. A fist as big as Cody’s whole head. It was also the last thing he felt before collapsing on the floor at his mother’s side. His world instantly went black and quiet.
Mrs. Brikker cradled her son’s limp head in her lap.
Both parents looked at the knife that had fallen unstained, to the floor. Mrs. Brikker turned her head away as Mr. Brikker reached down and picked it up. Somehow, she didn’t care to wonder what he was about to do.
She hardly noticed that he politely picked it up, wiped it off with a dishtowel hanging from the refrigerator door, and placed it back in its wooden holder with the other knives.
As usual, her fight ended in a mental fog as her husband casually walked out of the room.
Read a preview excerpt of
- Vance Cast’s exciting next novel
Sequel to THEFT OF INNOCENCE
His tired, bloody hands reached for the phone, pressed 911, and listened.
“911. What is your emergency?”
His lips moved in response to the woman’s gravelly voice on the other end, but nothing came out. The struggle left his chest tight, and his voice weak.
“911. What is your emergency?” She repeated, this time sounding irritated, probably used to silent calls.
“There’s been an accident. I think he is dying.”
The operator sensed panic in his voice. “Please remain calm, sir. What kind of accident are you talking about?”
“My boss, he’s been stabbed. I think he is dying.”
“Did someone stab him or did he stab himself?”
“Someone stabbed him.”
“I’m alerting the police and the paramedics now to your address. Are you safe? Is the assailant there now?”
“Yes, I’m safe.”
“Are you sure, sir?”
“Yes, I’m sure.”
“Good. I need you to stay on the line until the police get there. Is that a problem?”
“No problem, ma’am.”
“Is the victim breathing?”
“Jerry bent over to look at the lifeless face. “I don’t think so. There is bloody foam coming from his mouth, but the bubbles aren’t moving. It doesn’t look like he is breathing to me.”
“Is he on his back?”
“No, ma’am. He is on his face.”
“Do you know CPR?”
“No, not anymore.”
“I’m sorry, did you say Not anymore?”
“I used to be certified, but I don’t think I remember much.”
“Let me walk you through what I can, okay?”
“First, roll him on his back if you can”
Jerry examined the body, wondering how he could roll him on his back. “I don’t think I can do that.”
“Sir, we need to try to establish a clear airway. Why can’t you roll him on his back?”
“Ah,” he paused. “There is a knife stuck in his back. Should I remove it first?”
“No!” She snapped, then calmed. “I mean, no. Don’t remove it, leave it there.” She scanned her computer’s First Response Screen for clues as to what to do next. “Turn his head to the side.”
“It is sideways.”
“Do you know how to feel for a pulse?”
“The carotid artery?”
“Yes, I’ll try.”
Jerry extended his first two bloody fingers and placed them on the man’s neck. He repositioned his fingers to find the elusive pulse.
Suddenly, the body belched and spit bloody froth on Jerry’s wrist. “Holy shit!” he yelled as he jumped away from the body.
“Are you okay, sir?”
“Yes. He just belched and blew blood everywhere. But he still isn’t breathing, and I can’t find a pulse.”
The 911 Operator had a clear picture of the situation. Then she heard the sirens arriving outside the victim’s house. Thank God, she thought to herself. Her job was done on this call. The paramedics and police would sort out the rest. There was nothing more she could do.