The Reckoning: Chapter Thirty . . . The National Mall

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the-national-mall

obrien

CHAPTER THIRTY

The National Mall

 

Detroit

Present Day

 

When we finally got out of the fairgrounds, we were a whole lot better equipped than when we arrived—to say the very least. I had been hoping for seven standard issue UZIs. Major Bullock did better than that. Seemed his unit was near the top of the priority list when it came to being issued cool toys. Bullock had a few connections upstairs, as he explained. His outfit was kind of the “testing” unit.

What they were testing right at the moment was the micro UZI, or as it was called much more commonly–the UZI pistol. They were semi-automatic, instead of the fully auto capability of the full-size submachine-gun. That was just fine by me. In my experience, fully automatic machine-gun fire was very impressive–but not very effective. One bullet discharged per pull of the trigger tended to work out a lot better. They were usually much more accurately aimed, and were a hell of a lot easier on the ammo supply.

The micro UZIs came equipped with standard twenty-five round magazines, to keep the profile as compact as possible. Again, fine by me–as long as we had the option for more firepower. We did. Bullock came up with three more thirty-two round magazines for each of us–profile be damned. That was a hundred and seventeen rounds each, about as fast as we could pull the trigger, plus our own belt guns. Not bad. I didn’t see the need for additional armament. If we couldn’t accomplish what we had to do with what we had, we were likely to be in a hell of a lot more trouble than we could shoot our way out of anyway.

The ammo consisted of hundred and twenty-four grain full metal jacketed bullets. They would not have been my first choice, but beat the hell out of throwing spit balls or blowing air-kisses. They weren’t going to expand inside our opponents like hollow points would do, but did have the advantage of being highly penetrative, and were likely to be as smooth as silk functioning in our pistols. I didn’t anticipate any jams. And the truth of the matter is simply this; no bad-guy I had ever come across enjoyed have thirty-eight caliber holes punched in their bodies very much.

Tended to take the fight out of them pretty fast.

After all the hardware was passed out, I was left holding two extra sets. Brick had refused his, just as I knew he would. Old dependable. That was all right. I had another use in mind for him anyhow. Bullock offered us grenades, but I declined. They require a fair amount of expertise in their use that I didn’t think we had, and I felt they might be a greater danger to us than they would be to our opponents.

I asked the Major to give us a few minutes alone. He seemed happy to comply. He had turned out to be a hell of a good man. I intended to write a letter of commendation for him after all this was over—if I lived through it that was. I liked my chances. From what I had just learned, I was pretty sure that the odds would be on our side, outnumbered though we might be. And of course, we did have the element of surprise in our favor.

But as I’ve always said—no future for me as a fortune teller.

My five gathered around me. With all our new hardware dangling from our belts, we looked formidable indeed. The fun part was over. Now the little gang wanted answers.

I hoped I had some.

As usual, Howard led off. “Okay, O’Brien. What you got?”

“Well, I know where Faris is.”

“The phone call?” Brick asked.

“Yeah. She was calling to leave a voice message. She was surprised as hell when I answered. Up to that point, she wasn’t too damned awful sure Brick and I were alive or not. She was even more surprised to learn that the two of us had grown to six. It went both ways. She’s picked up a little help. There’s two of them now—her and a DC cop by the name of Weeks. She didn’t want to stay on the line for long and suggested we meet up.”

“District of Columbia?” Maggie said.

“Yup.”

“Looks like we’ve hit the big-time. Where?” Matt asked.

“The Washington Monument.”

“Not exactly a private location.”

“Exactly why she wants us there. She’s baiting a trap. She says she knows Moradi’s plan, but didn’t want to chat about on an open line. I guess I had to agree.”

“When?” Matt continued.

“As damned fast as we can get our asses over there,” I said.

“Well,” Matt said, “no problem getting there in a hurry, but we aren’t exactly going to go un-noticed on the National Mall.”

“It’s a risk all right,” I agreed. “But it’s one I think we need to take. If she’s right about drawing Moradi in, her and Weeks are going to need all the help they can get—and fast.”

“Agreed,” Matt, Brick, and Howard said, almost in unison. “Really fast.”

“What are we getting ourselves into?” Linh asked.

“What we get paid for,” I said. “Taking in the bad-guys. Taking them out if we can’t.”

“We’re not taking these in, are we?” Maggie said.

“No,” I confessed. “We’re not.”

Maggie looked grim, but not sad. I was happy to see that. The woman had steel in her.

“I don’t think I know enough about the National Mall landscape to guide us in,” I said. “I’ve actually never been to DC.”

“I’m surprised,” Matt said. “I’d a thought a high-powered writer guy like you would have been decorated by the President once or twice in his life.”

“Well you would have thought wrong,” I replied a little testily. “There’s not exactly a Pulitzer Prize category for dime-store detective stories.”

“Well don’t worry, Johnny,” Matt said. “I’ve been there before.”

“For what—a Civil War reunion?”

“Very funny, Johnny.”

“Thanks, Matt. I try.”

Linh spoke up. “Hate to break up the laugh fest, but shouldn’t we be going?”

She was right. We should. So we did.

Go—that is.

faris

 

Washington, DC

Present Day

 

 

     I noticed the cherry-blossoms were really pretty this year as we came in for our “landing.” Wise-ass Matt had been to the Washington Monument before all right, but he had forgotten about the ground slope. Instead of setting down on solid terra-firma, we came in a couple of feet high. We hit hard. And rolled for about a dozen paces. Our UZIs and extra clips were jarred loose, and rolled with us.

So much for not being noticed.

An old tourist couple stared wonderingly at us as we gathered up our stuff and made our way down the rest of the hill. Hey, they had come for a good show, and I guess we were only too happy to provide one. I tipped my homburg politely to them.

Now to find Faris and Weeks.

Taking a quick look around, I spotted a nice little stand of trees near the visitor’s center. I thought it might be a good spot to regroup. Seems I wasn’t the only one to have the idea, as we had barely entered the little woods before Shahida Faris and a young man I took to be Weeks walked up on us.

“Hello, O’Brien.”

She was trying to be formal, just like a good bureau agent should do, but I wasn’t having any part of it. We had all been through too much together to not be just a little touchy-feely, so when she tried for a handshake, I pulled her in for a brief hug. I saved the handshake for Weeks. He looked like he had had a couple of passes through a meat grinder himself, with his well bloodstained tee-shirt and slacks. Weeks had pulled a police jacket over it all, but it wasn’t doing a very good job of covering up the fact that this young man had recently seen a world of trouble.

I couldn’t help but notice that all the department patches had been pulled off his jacket. Clearly this guy was not advertising his profession.

“Officer Weeks, I presume?”

“Yes sir, Mr. O’Brien.”

“If we’re going to be friends, young man—you can drop everything except ‘Johnny.’”

He smiled. Didn’t look like he’d been wearing a lot of them lately. “Thank you, Johnny,” he said. “I’m Dallin.”

“I understand you saved Agent Faris’ life. Is that correct?”

“Yes, I guess it is. Me and my partner Trey Wiggins.”

“Well, thank you, Dallin, for everything you did. I also understand your partner and friend has been killed.”

“Yes sir. And his grandfather Harold severely injured.”

I was still holding his hand in a handshake. I drew him a little closer and looked him straight in the eye. “Last warning, my friend. Drop the ‘sir.’”

He grinned a little more easily this time as he replied. “Yes sir.”

We both smiled a little at that one. “Well, Dallin, I used to be a cop myself. I just want you to know that I understand what you’re feeling right now. Not much more in the world that hurts like hell than losing a partner. The only way I know of to ease the pain at all, is to get your ass in gear and go kill a few of the dirt-bags that was responsible for it.”

“That sounds like a plan, Johnny.”

“It is, son. And I’ll give you the opportunity, and damned soon, to do just that. Are you in, Dallin?”

“Yes.”

“All the way?”

“Yes.”

“Unto death?”

“Unto death.”

“Then I make you a member of our little group of madmen, Dallin. I’d knight you, but I forgot to bring along my broadsword, so you’ll have to settle for this.” I pulled him into me and hugged him hard. Like a long lost brother. I whispered in his ear. “We’re going to go and kick some terrorist ass, and we’re likely going to die for our efforts. I’ve only known you for a couple of minutes now, Dallin, but sometimes that’s long enough. I’m proud to serve beside you, and I’ll be proud to die there as well, if it comes to that.”

I finally let him go. He took a step back, and just wordlessly nodded his head yes. It was settled then. We were all family. Just like we had been born that way—like blood.

One for all. All for one.

“Welcome to the Kung-Fu panda village,” I said with a grin. I handed him his UZI and clips. He stashed them under his jacket.

Our group closed ranks then as introductions were made all around. Weeks volunteered to bring the gang up to speed with all that had happened. I figured I’d get my updates from Shahida as we walked a short distance off. She sounded like a scorned lover catching me red-handed and cheating, as she spun around and shot me an accusing look.

“You were in Detroit when I called?” she said.

“Yes.”

“And now you’re here in DC. That doesn’t quite compute, Johnny. Not nearly enough time. Not even by super-sonic transport, even if that still existed.”

“Hey, I’m a no nonsense kind of guy—and fast.”

“Not that fast.”

“Yeah, Shahida. That’s a little something I need to talk to you about.”

“I can hardly wait. How about dropping the bull-shit and starting with the truth?”

I hesitated a few seconds, then waded in. “Okay, Shahida. I have certain abilities. So does Brick and McCabe. That’s the only reason I was selected for this assignment. The rest of them just kind of tagged along with me.”

“Your abilities, Johnny—or your extra-special, handy-dandy, magic pocket watch?”

“You’re a quick study, Shahida.”

“Not really. I had the President of the United States explain it to me.”

“How detailed?”

“Not much. Pretty much he said you had the watch—and therefore he wanted you. So what’s the deal?”

“It’s a time machine. Also a pretty damned good mode of instant transportation.” There—I said it.

She looked at me like I had just stepped off a spaceship.

“And you seriously expect me to believe that.”

“Yeah—pretty much.”

“Let me see it.”

“Can’t.”

“Why?”

“Don’t have it anymore.”

“Lose it?”

“Nope. Hid it.”

“Where?”

“If I told you that, Shahida, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore.”

“How you been doing your time and space traveling without it?

“Been getting a lot of practice recently. Don’t really need it anymore.”

“Have you seen a doctor lately?”

I laughed. “Matter of fact, yes I have. He said he couldn’t help me.”

“I don’t doubt it.”

“You think I’m insane.”

“You bet I do.”

“Then how do you think we got here so fast?”

“Don’t know. But it sure as hell wasn’t a magic pocket watch.”

I smiled—thinking back to the days when I felt exactly about Matt McCabe as she did about me right at the moment. Matt had rather rudely jerked me out of my disbelief, knowing that I didn’t have a lot of time to waste. I decided to do the same with Agent Faris.

“Where were you born, Shahida?”

“Why do you want to know?”

“Humor me.”

“Tehran.”

“Been back lately?”

“No.”

“Want to go?”

Hell, no.”

“Fine then,” I offered cheerfully. “Let’s do it then.” I took her hand. She was too taken by surprise to pull it away in time.

We traveled.

Far—and fast.

arm-and-gun

I was able to bring us into a large green area. Since I didn’t have an idea in the world where I was going, I considered myself to have done well to not plow us into a tree. Instead, it was a wide open area of a city park. And a beautiful one at that. Ab-o-Atash park as I would learn later. I didn’t know if it was anywhere near where Shahida was born, but nonetheless, there was no way she was not going to recognize it as being Tehran, with so many spires reaching for the sky all around us, of a decidedly Middle-Eastern design.

Shahida fell hard on the ground as she finally was able to jerk her hand loose. She stayed where she fell. She reminded me a lot of Capone, as her head swiveled around and her eyes grew big.

Hell of a lot better looking though.

“Where are we?” she nearly shouted.

“I think you know, Faris.” Seemed like a good time to get formal again.

“Who the hell are you anyhow—Captain America?”

“Not quite. O’Brien. Just Johnny O’Brien.”

What are you?”

“Just a low-paid government employee—same as you.”

“Is what you’re doing some kind of secret government program or something?”

“Not exactly,” I deadpanned impatiently. “We might not want to stick around here for a very long time, Shahida. Are you satisfied I can do what I say?”

She looked around again. “Yes.”

“Then I promise I’ll tell everything to you in extremely excessive detail in the very near future. That is, I’m alive to explain, and you’re alive to listen.”

“Sounds like a deal,” she said. “Now let’s get out of here—fast. You’re right, I’m not especially welcome in this town.”

We did.

We were back in a moment—looking at the Washington Monument.

“What do you want me to do?” she said, a complete believer at last.

“Walk with me,” I answered. “And tell me everything you know.”

“Where do you want me to start?”

“With the President.”

“He’s a bastard. And a treasonous one at that. He thinks Moradi works for him.”

“Thinks?”

“Yeah, Johnny. Moradi was hired to stage a fake Islamic terrorist attack. Several in fact, in DC and New York. The President then calls a joint emergency meeting with Congress, and before you know it, most everybody gets dead, courtesy of Mr. Moradi. The President is supposed to survive though, but the whole things gives him the legal right to declare martial law and hang onto the big desk in the Oval Office.”

“But there’s more to it than that—right?”

“You know it. Moradi’s going to kill the President too.”

I whistled softly. “Double, double-cross. Sweet. Why all the trouble of the children’s academy smokescreen?”

“To get you here. And your watch. Now I know why. That thing could give the President the world. You say you got it hid?”

“Yes.”

“Hid good?”

“Yeah, pretty good.”

“How long?”

“Going on a century,” I said. I figured it was time to try to focus her. “Where’s he going to hit them? The Capitol Building is way too well protected.”

“It is,” she said. “But not the tunnels going out of it.”

“Tunnels,” I replied. “Pretty low-tech.”

“Yeah, but they work. They run for about a quarter of a mile and come out under an unused parking garage. There’s a helicopter pad on top.”

“Complete with a bird?”

“Don’t know for sure, but I’d bet on it. It’s for the personal use of the prez—as in allowing him to escape in case of an attack. You know, like in a war or something.”

“That could be a handy fact to know.”

“You fly?”

“No. But neither will the President if I can get my hands on that bird.”

“I like it, Johnny. The President almost gave me a fatal case of lead poisoning. I owe him something in return.”

“Always nice to repay a debt,” I agreed. “Let’s see what we can do to make that happen.”

Before she could answer, her phone went off. She hesitated.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“It’s not my phone, Johnny. Belongs to Harold Wiggins.”

“Why don’t you answer it, Shahida? I’m pretty sure Moradi already pretty much knows where we are.”

“You want to add to that information?”

“Yeah, I do. If it’s him—let him know exactly where we are and exactly what we’re up to as well.”

“Ballsy.”

“Thanks—I get that a lot. Let’s get it over with. If we’re standing between him and what he wants, he has no choice other than to try to roll over us.”

“Can we stop that, Johnny?”

“We can give it a damned good try.”

detective-2

She looked at me for another second or two, and then she answered the phone. After about a full minute, during which time she said nothing at all, she slowly lowered the phone to her side. She did not wear a happy expression on her face.

“It’s Wiggins. He’s in the hospital. He says the tooth-fairy has paid him a personal visit, and he didn’t bring good news.”

“The what?” I said.

“An FBI snitch. That’s his code-name.”

“Will Wiggins talk to me?”

“That’s what he wants to do,” Shahida said, handing me the phone.

I took it. “O’Brien here.”

“Harold Wiggins, O’Brien. Good to speak to you.”

“Same,” I replied. “Who’s the tooth-fairy?”

“If I told you that, O’Brien, I’d have to kill you. Then I’d have to kill myself.”

“I hear Moradi almost did that for you.”

Almost only counts in horseshoes. I’ll survive, minus a couple inches of leg bone. Bastard got my grandson though.”

“I heard. Sorry.”

“You want to make me feel better, arrange for me to go to Moradi’s funeral.”

“I can do that, Wiggins. What news you got?”

“Three items—and they’re all bad.”

“So what else is new?—story of my life. Talk to me.”

“You guys are out of time. There’s bombs going off right now in New York City. Attacks in DC are probably only hours, or maybe minutes away. The country’s going nuts.”

“I don’t doubt it. What else?”

“Calvert Cliffs is melting down.”

“What the hell is Calvert Cliffs?” I asked.

“A nuclear power plant. About forty-five miles upwind from where you’re standing right now. Someone blew up the water pumps that suck water out of Chesapeake Bay and keep the damned thing cooled and all in one piece. It’s Mount St. Helens in a cheap tin can. The President has already called the joint session. They’ll be meeting within the hour.”

“That’s fast for a bunch of politicians.”

“For once the weasels have got a good reason to be in a hurry. In a total melt down, the Cliffs will kill everything stone-cold dead within a fifty-mile radius.”

I whistled softy through my teeth. This was just getting better and better all the time.

“There was no emergency plan for a nuke plant that close to the nation’s capital?”

“Kind of, O’Brien. The Cliffs has a pretty rock-solid containment building around the core. It’s designed to hold the worst of it, but the engineers are still going to have to bleed off a lot of deadly radiation.”

“You said there were three things.”

“I’m saving the best one for last.”

“Just spit it out, Wiggins.”

“Okay—I will. It looks like Moradi has a nuclear bomb of his own.”

Man—I sure wished he hadn’t said that.

It was turning out to be a real shitty day.

     Thanks so much for reading. See you next week with a new       installment of THE RECKONING.

Dumb Joke of the Day:

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The Reckoning: Chapter Twenty-Nine . . . State Fair

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CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

 

STATE FAIR

 fairgrounds

Detroit,

Present Day

Things started moving pretty fast after we left Virginia Park Street, our rest and relaxation apparently over for good.

Brick really had a pretty damned good idea, sitting us down in the middle of the old abandoned fairgrounds. Trouble was, we all forgot that Detroit was still in no small amount of turmoil after the big terrorist attack that had occurred. As it turned out, the national guard had been called out by the governor to keep order, and yes, just as you have probably guessed by now, they were stationed right in the middle, of that old great big open space known as the Michigan State Fairgrounds.

We appeared right in the center of them.

Hey—nobody can be right all the time.

The first thing I heard after we landed, was the shouted command to “freeze!” It wasn’t said in a very friendly tone of voice—so we did. The sight of about two dozen semi-automatic rifles trained directly at the center of our chests did a lot to help us along in the decision making process.

There was no bull-shitting ourselves out of this one this time, Howard Carter notwithstanding, so we just all kept quiet as we were quickly disarmed, put in handcuffs, with our hands behind our backs, and escorted to a makeshift holding area. We didn’t even get to pass go.

Or collect two hundred dollars either.

The commander’s name was Bullock, as we were informed. Apropos, I thought. I supposed him to be probably about as dumb as a steer. All six of us were unceremoniously herded into one of the old buildings. I was pretty sure it had once been used to house cattle, or perhaps pigs. There was still a faint aroma, even all those years later. It did not smell like French perfume.

We had a while to stew before the big guy arrived.

“So how long we gonna sit around here, Johnny?” Brick innocently asked.

“What else you want to be doing, Brick?”

“Oh, I don’t know, Johnny—maybe trying to find Faris. Just—you know, for laughs or something.”

“Where do you want to start?”

“You tell me. You’re the big-name, hot-shot detective, O’Brien.”

Brick had intentionally used my surname, I realized—just to show his displeasure.

“Well, Wahl—matter of fact, I do have an idea.”

“Want to share?”

Carter answered, his facial expression displaying no small amount of annoyance. “I can tell you what he’s doing, Brick. Exactly what he been trained to do as a police officer. He’s gathering all the information that he can get out of our present situation. We all know we can walk out of here anytime we want to, but if we did, we might be passing up some nugget of info we could really use later on.”

It was Brick’s turn to look annoyed. “Let me explain how this all works, Carter—since you’re just a little bit outside your area of expertise right now.”

Carter has been leaning against an old wooden animal enclosure of some kind. At Brick’s words, the big man uncoiled and straightened out, ready for action. Howard Carter was not the type of guy to take a lot of guff off anyone—not even an old friend. And he sure as hell didn’t like being told he didn’t know what he was talking about. I had known Howard a long time, and even I wouldn’t have tried it.

“You want to illuminate me, Brick?” Carter said.

“Settle down, slugger,” Brick replied. “You just might need to use some of that energy in a few minutes. Besides,” Brick grinned, “you’d have a hell of a time swinging on me with your hands manacled behind your back.”

Carter brought his hands out in front of him, the unlocked handcuffs dangling from just one wrist. His very large hands were balled into fists.”

Brick whistled softly. “Very impressive, Howard.”

“Childs play. Go on, Brick.”

“Ok, I will,” Brick replied as he brought his own hands around to the front, his own cuffs dangling. “How many of the six of us time-travel?”

“Two,” Carter replied, a small smile playing on his lips. He was clearly enjoying the exchange. The game up, Matt, Linh, and I produced our own hands. Maggie was the only one in our group that was still constrained.

“Hey, how’d you guys do that?” she asked.

“Old police trick,” Howard mumbled.

obrien

“And how many of the six of us can dodge bullets?” Brick continued, as though nothing odd had happened.

“Three,” Howard replied. “How’s my math so far, Brick?”

“Perfect, Howard. Now let’s see if you can keep it going. How many men are going to come to question us?

“Probably one. Bullock.”

“Great, Howard. You’re still getting an A+,” Brick replied.

“Keep going, Brick.”

“Okay, I will. Now the sixty-four-thousand-dollar-question. Bullock won’t come alone. How many armed men do you think he’s going to bring along with him?”

“I don’t know,” Carter replied.

“Neither do I,” Brick said. “And neither does Johnny or Matt.”

“So what’s the point?” Carter challenged.

Brick looked disappointed. “You just flunked the course, Howard. You want me to explain this to him, Johnny—or do you want to do the honor?”

I grinned. “I’ll do it, Brick. We were going to have to get around about to this pretty soon anyhow.”

“Around to what?” Carter asked.

“More mathematics, Howard. And being on the wrong side of them.”

“I’m all ears,” Howard said.

He was right—he really was. They were big.

“It goes like this, Howard. I can dodge bullets. So can Matt and Brick. We do it by hovering a split-second forward in time. We are thus able to see our opponent lining up his shot, and we simply move out of the way. It’s all way too fast for the eyes of our opponent to see. Or for that matter, anyone else either. That is, unless you happen to be one of the very few people that have this ability. Then, you probably are able to discern what is actually going on.”

Brick smiled.

“That’s how Brick was able to tell that I was messing with Capone back at the Stone House. Matt would have been able to pick up on it as well, but right at that particular moment, he only had eyes for Linh.”

Matt grinned like a school boy. “Guilty as charged.”

“And this tidbit of information affects us how?”

“Just this Howard. This little bullet dodging dog and pony show only really works very well if it’s just one on one. In other words, one shooter—and one dodger.”

“Why?”

“Well, little grasshopper,” I deadpanned, “that be because if you got more than one person shootin’ at you, you might very well step out of the way of the bullet of opponent number one, and directly into the path of the bullet of shooter number two. The more people shooting, the more the odds in your favor will decrease—and real damned fast.”

The consternation showed plainly on Carter’s face. I guess maybe he thought that beating the bad-guys was going to be a cake-walk. Don’t suppose he remembered he was in the middle of a Johnny O’Brien story. In other words—nothing was ever going to be that easy.

“So what you and Brick are telling me is that if an armed Bullock and three more armed guards show up, all of your much vaulted time-travel skills are going to be worth about as much as a pitcher of warm piss.”

“Poetically, and eloquently stated as always, Howard—and just about one-hundred percent correct.”

“What about Moradi then?”

“If it’s just him and the Ice-Queen, we’ll have them. The odds of it all actually working out that way though, are about the same as me winning the National Miss Congeniality Award this year—in other words, just about absolute zero.”

“Some bunch of super-heroes.”

I shrugged. “You get what you pay for, Howard. I told you back when you gave me this assignment that you’d be a lot better off hiring someone out of the phone-book.”

“Yeah, Johnny—I probably would have. I’ll stick with you though. I hate changing horses mid-stream.”

“I’m touched.”

“Don’t be, glamour-boy. Soon as this is over I’m firing your ass.”

“Can’t. You didn’t hire me, Howard. I’m FBI.”

“Oh the hell you are, Johnny,” Brick chimed in. “I wish I had a dime for every time some poor slob like you got sucked into that old ‘you be working for the bureau now’ bullshit.”

“A scam?”

“You bet it is. They suck you in like a teeny-bopper on prom night. They use you, abuse you, and then leave you to twist in the wind the first time the going gets rough. And all without even a box of candy, flowers, a movie, dinner, or for that matter, even a decent amount of personal lubricant.”

“How do you know?”

“Been there, done that, Johnny. Many times. Did they promise you FBI credentials?”

“Yeah.”

“Ever see ‘em?”

“Son-of-a-bitch.”

“Bingo, pal. First time they don’t need you, they suddenly don’t know you from Adam. It’s one of the oldest tricks in their book. They do it all the time, and not just to best-selling, time-travelling, handy-dandy private investigators either. They run the same scam on low-level government whistle-blowers, public foundation CEOs and CFOs, and even nameless and faceless accountants and book-keepers in private business.”

“Wow.”

“Sorry, Johnny. You’re nothing special. It’s always better to know the truth.”

“I’m sorry too, Johnny,” Howard contributed. “I’m basically just a small-town cop. When the bureau said you were going to be good with them, I took it all in—hook, line, and sinker.”

“It’s okay, Howard. I’m not exactly a schoolboy either. Shoulda known better.”

“We’re on our own here, guys. Get used to it,” Brick said.

Our discussion about blame placing was cut short with the creaking of the door at the far end of the building. In walked three soldiers. Jar-head and barrel-chest were on the wings, with no-neck in the middle. I took him to be Bullock. He wore a holstered .45, while the two at his sides carried short barreled semi-automatic rifles.

Three.

Just three.

We were in luck.

We all quickly placed our hands behind our backs again.

And I decided to have a little fun.

4 (2)

Five of our little group faced them directly. Maggie, bless her heart, kept herself turned slightly to the side, clearly displaying her still cuffed hands. No one had told her to; she did it on purpose, by instinct—knowing that it helped considerably with maintaining the illusion that we were all still safely shackled. Smart girl—with a damned good head on her shoulders. Once again I marveled at my amazing good fortune.

The little military parade finally reached us. Howard and the ladies wisely hung back. Matt and Brick flanked my sides. No-neck addressed me directly. Why they always start with me is a mystery. I guess they just somehow know, gut-level, that I’m going to be the one to mouth off.

And, they’re almost always right.

“Who are you?” Bullock began. His tone of voice did not seem to have been improved much by the hour or so we had been here patiently waiting for him. It was plain that he was a guy that expected to be answered, and obeyed fully—and fast.

So sorry to disappoint.

“Dr. David Bruce Banner,” I deadpanned, giving the formal full name of the human and mortal version of The Incredible Hulk. “Please don’t make me mad either, soldier-boy. You wouldn’t like me very much when I’m mad.”

Bullock’s face instantly seared hot beet-red. I had taken him off guard—and disrespected him. Apparently not one to much like to play verbal patty-cake, he instantly un-snapped his full-flap hip holster and placed his hand on the butt of his .45 automatic.

“Try again, ass-hole,” he spit out. “And do better.” He paused. “Or I’ll put a slug right in the middle of your fore-head,” he added for emphasis. It was plain that Bullock did not like to be trifled with.

So I didn’t. Trifle, that is.

I answered as casually as I knew how. “Right while you have your hand on that pistol,” I began, “why don’t you just pull it the rest of the way out of the holster. Just two fingers, mind you. Then turn it around butt forward and very carefully hand it over to me. We don’t want it going off by accident or anything.”

It had the desired reaction. Bullock pulled the big automatic about two or three inches out of the holster, and not with two fingers either. He was simply wrapping his big right hand more firmly around the handle. His eyes had grown larger at my words. He had almost ceased to breath—a sure sign that he was preparing for lethal action. And soon.

“And just what happens if I don’t?” he softly asked, conserving energy for the gun-play he knew was coming. He was a genuine tough-guy all right, but I detected a split-second of uncertainty in his voice. It was enough.

“Then I take it away from you and shove it up your ass, big-guy. That’s what happens.” I didn’t watch his hand. I kept my eyes bored into his. His eyes would be my tip-off.

Both our lives hung suspended for several seconds.

“Last chance, fat-boy,” I softly said. I threw in a smile and a wink for extra effect. That was all it took. His eyes telegraphed his intentions long before his hand. I had no idea what the other two soldiers were doing. That wasn’t my department. I had all I could handle right in front of me. As I slipped forward in time a split-second, I was surprised that Matt and Brick were apparently even a little faster than me. They both had moved too. I hadn’t actually seen them do it, but I knew they had. It was like a small and brief flash of light at the corners of both my eyes. Similar to the brief blip of light off an automobile’s windshield as it turns a corner fast on a sunny summer day.

Bullock jerked the gun. He was fast all right—but I was a lot faster. I had the thing in my hand before his arm even half straightened out.  I could tell he couldn’t believe his own eyes, and had no idea what had just happened. I have to give the poor slob credit though. He recovered quickly and drew back for a punch. He never threw it though, as I smashed his own pistol into his face. It was a good old-fashioned solid steel handgun, weighting probably three pounds fully loaded. It knocked him flat on his behind—and did leave a mark to boot.

Matt was holding the second soldier at gunpoint, with his own rifle. The shocked man’s hands were high in the air. Brick had also disarmed his guy, but true to form had tossed the weapon away. This gave the soldier the mistaken impression that he could duke it out with Brick for the championship. He cascaded to the floor right next to Bullock. The man was lucky. I knew Brick hadn’t even returned a half-power punch.

The fight, such as it was, was over. Matt politely asked his man, the last one standing, as it were, to kindly take the handcuffs off Maggie. He seemed happy to comply.

Bullock was regaining his senses. “How in the bloody hell did you get out of the cuffs?” he asked with amazement.

“Old police trick,” I muttered.

His shirt pocket began to ring.

“Is that your phone?” I asked.

“No—it’s yours,” he answered.

“Then hand it over,” I replied. “Don’t you know it’s not nice to take other people’s stuff?”

He did. I took the call and walked away from the group to talk. After a couple of minutes, I returned.

I addressed Bullock. “Where’s the rest of our belongings?”

“In my office.”

“Well, we’re all going to go get them. Real nice and friendly like. Brick, would you please be so kind as to unload all three weapons and give them back to these gentlemen?”

“What’s your plan, Johnny?”

“Just head over to the COs office, re-arm ourselves and do a short plan re-assessment.”

“Like what?”

“You have any bull-pups over at your office, Bullock?” I knew the short-barreled 9mm sub-machine guns would probably be standard issue armament for his unit under the circumstances.

“Sure,” he answered.

“Six?”

“More than that.”

“Ammo?”

“Plenty.”

“You’re being mighty co-operative, all of a sudden, Bullock.”

“All of a sudden I’m getting an idea that you all probably aren’t the bad-guys.”

“Evidenced by?”

“The fact that the three of us are still alive.”

“Smart-man,” I observed.

“Sometimes,” Bullock agreed. He held out his hand. I thought it over for a second or two, and then helped him to his feet.

What’s going on?” he asked.

“Plenty, Bullock. But it’s not going on in Detroit. What happened here was nothing but an elaborate smokescreen. You’re right, Commander—we aren’t the bad-guys. But we need to stop them. And I don’t have a world of time to do that, so I need an honest, straight-up answer from you. Will you help us?”

It took Bullock a few seconds to think it over too. I had to change my mind about him. He was a hell of a lot smarter than I had first given him credit for. He did his own quick set of mathematics—and came up with the right answer.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“O’Brien,” I answered. “Johnny O’Brien. Just Johnny to my friends.”

“Well, Johnny, sorry I jumped to the wrong conclusions,” he said.

“That’s okay, Bullock. I know you guys have been through hell here.”

“I’m going to trust you, Johnny, and I’m putting the rest of my career in your hands as well. From what I just saw, that might not be such a bad place for it to be.” He hesitated for a couple of more seconds—and then he smiled. “Let’s go get you guys properly outfitted.”

We did.

obrien-and-faris

Thanks so much for reading today. See you in a few with another installment of THE RECKONING.

 

dumb-joke

The Reckoning: Chapter Twenty-Eight . . . Tontine

Cover Design by Laura Shinn
Cover Design by Laura Shinn

Tontine Hands

 

PART FOUR                     

 TONTINE

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

 

Cape May Beach,

New Jersey

Present Day

 

 

It was growing much colder on the dark shore, as yet no hint of dawns light. The Ice Queen, her name notwithstanding, shivered a bit in the inbound breeze.

Moradi sneered at her. “What happened to the famed ice-water in your veins, Sandra, dear?”

“I’m tired, Saal. That’s all. It was a long night. A long drive.”

“Suck it up, princess. There’ll be more—maybe.”

“What are we waiting for?”

“The last cog of the wheel, dearest. The last piece of the grand, complicated, and marvelously complex puzzle that is Saal Moradi.” Moradi scanned the horizon carefully, glancing at his wristwatch as he did so. “The final act of my,” he paused for effect. “Magnum opus.”

“Your what?”

“My masterpiece, my dear,” said Moradi, derision in his tone.

“The Queen looked doubtful, as her skin crawled slightly.”

“You frighten me, Saal.”

“That is good, my lovely. I should.”

Another minute and a half passed before the Queen picked up the sound of an approaching helicopter in the distance. It neared swiftly, low in the sky, seemingly almost touching the water, without lights, its blades whipping up tiny waves in the mostly calm sea. It circled once, checking out the scene below, and finally set down lightly on the sand, nearly into the water. It was plain that the pilot wished to avoid detection as much as possible from a row of houses several hundred yards away.

As the blades of the bird began to slow their rotation, Moradi unbuttoned his light weight jacket and strode forward toward the machine. The Ice Queen held back, preferring to watch the proceedings from a distance, the crawling of her skin not yet subsided.

In a few moments the pilot emerged from the helicopter and strode forward to meet Moradi. He carried a large suitcase in his hand. Meeting Moradi halfway to the chopper, he gestured toward the suitcase and spoke in a thickly accented Arabic language. The Queen, although understanding a bit of the language, was unable to make out the individual words.

Moradi nodded several times in apparent understanding, and then took the suitcase, turned and started back the way he had come. The pilot did the same. Suddenly, about a dozen paces from each other, Moradi set the suitcase down as he spun around, pulling his stainless revolver as he did so. He called to the pilot in the same language. The pilot turned toward the sound, and as he did so, Moradi fired several times, killing the man instantly.

Calmly, Moradi ejected the three empty shell casings from the cylinder of his gun, and just as calmly inserted three fresh cartridges from where they had been. Replacing the pistol into its holster, he casually looked over his shoulder to the Ice Queen and motioned for her to come to him.

The Queen obeyed, her feet, although unwilling, somehow moving forward. Passing the fresh and bleeding corpse of the pilot, she wondered just how long it might be before the same fate would be hers.

“He peeved you,” the Queen said.

“Not at all,” Moradi replied. “I simply did not need him anymore. I do however, have a need of his helicopter.”

“I didn’t know you flew them.”

“I fly everything, Sandra. It would be most foolish for a man in my business to not have mastered all the tools of his trade. A maxim Mr. O’Brien will soon come to wish he had observed and practiced.”

“Where are we going?”

“Not very far, Sandra—but very fast. We have much work to do.”

“What’s in the suitcase, Saal?” asked the Queen, even as she dreaded the answer.”

Moradi smiled wickedly as he reached the chopper.

“A reckoning, my dear. That’s all. Just a reckoning.”

 

4 (2)

Detroit

1940

 

When my I finally came awake the next morning, it was to the not unpleasant smell of bacon frying below. I had retired after all to the last upstairs bedroom. After what had transpired the night before, I decided that the living room easy chair was just a little too close to the nursery door. Didn’t want Teresa making a return appearance in the wee hours. Meeting her had been great, but I didn’t want to make a habit of it. Once in the bed, I had slept later than I had intended. But that was all right. The night before had been a busy one.

As I pulled on my outer clothes and made my way downstairs, I wondered which of the two ladies were cooking, or if it was a joint effort between the two. As it turned out, it was a joint effort all right, but there were no women involved. Howard and Matt were busy in the kitchen, while the ladies sat at the dining room table quietly chatting. Brick stood in the doorway to the kitchen, looking on.

Hey—every job needs a supervisor.

Maggie spoke up. “Hello, sleepy-head. I thought we were going to have to bring a bucket of ice cold water upstairs.”

“Not far from it,” I allowed.

“Couldn’t get to sleep?”

“Not too fast. Some late hour meetings.”

Maggie looked puzzled.

“Where’s the Kid, Johnny?” Linh asked.

“The Kid won’t be joining us, Linh,” I answered. “He has another place he needs to be today.”

“Where’s that?”

“The Tuller Hotel. He has a lady waiting for him. Probably a child too.”

Both Linh and Maggie raised an eyebrow on that one. “Must be pretty important people,” Linh said.

“They are,” I replied.

“Puts us down to six.”

“Yeah, I know. Seven would have been better, since we really don’t know what we’re facing—or how many.”

“Just who is the Kid anyway, Johnny?”

“Long story, Maggie—I’ll tell you all about him when we’re back home and on our honeymoon.”

Maggie smiled mischievously. “Well I hope you’ve done something by then, Johnny, to take my mind off the Kid.”

I grinned back. “I’ll do my best,” I said, in my best John Wayne ‘little lady’ imitation.

Matt and Howard entered the dining room carrying a huge platter of fried meat, eggs, hash brown potatoes, and even pancakes.  Brick followed with a steaming coffee-pot.

“You two need to knock it off,” Matt said. “You’re sizzling more than the bacon.”

“So what did you two do to get kitchen duty?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Genius boy here suggested that Linh and Maggie make breakfast,” Howard explained.”

“Ouch. You know, for or a guy of your advanced years, Matt—you’re not a particularly smart man,” I observed.

“Yeah,” he agreed, grinning widely. “Now tell me something I don’t know.”

“I’ll tell you two things. You don’t know where Moradi is, any more than I do, and just like me—you don’t know what he’s up to either.”

“Right, Johnny. Got a plan?”

“Matter of fact, yes. Give me some of that bacon and eggs.”

“I mean after you fill your face.”

“Find Faris. She may have a lot more information that we do, and if we’re really lucky, she may be a step or two ahead of Moradi as well.”

“Right, Johnny,” Brick contributed sourly. “If we’re really lucky.”

 

Virginia

Present Day  

Shahida came fully to her senses slowly. She could not seem to decide precisely where she was, or for that matter, what condition she was in. She was alive—that she knew for sure. No dead person could hurt that badly. The blast had thrown her against a wall—hard. Her left shoulder ached wickedly, and her right knee was keeping it company.

The room was dark, and wet with mist—a result of the ruptured water barrel. A single small blue bulb burned in a corner from its recessed and protected niche. Thank god for generators and emergency lighting, Shahida thought to herself, as she called softly to her companions. There was no answer. In the dim light she could just make out the trap door, blown from its hinges, and lying in a corner. From one end she could see the protruding lower legs and shoes of a man. Shahida managed to roll onto her knees and work her way slowly to the prostrate form.

It was Harold Wiggins. Shahida was able to push the door off him and get him turned onto his side. It was plain that the older man was having a fair amount of trouble breathing. Even at that, he forced himself to speak.

“Where’s Trey and Dallin?”

“I don’t know yet. How bad are you hurt, Harold?”

“Leg’s broke. I know that for sure. The damned door.”

“What else?”

“How much more do you want? I can feel the bone sticking out of the side.”

“I guess that’ll do, Harold. I’m going to find the others.”

“Go ahead. I’m fine. Not going anywhere.”

Shahida stood on wobbly legs and made her way slowly to the gaping hole in the floor where the trapdoor had once been. Kneeling down and peering inside, she was surprised at the amount of ambient light that was coming from Dallin Week’s belt flashlight. It was doing a fairly good job of faintly illuminating the entire room. Shahida’s heart sank at what she saw. She knew she would never forget it.

Not if she lived forever.

The scene was wildly reminiscent of Michelangelo’s Pieta. Dallin Weeks cradled a dying Trey Wiggins in his arms. Shahida remained frozen where she was, as it was obvious that there was nothing to be done for the young man. The force of the blast had shattered the inner door and water barrel, along with the wooden gun and food storage racks. Several large pieces were grotesquely sticking out of Wiggin’s body. One of the larger ones had impaled the young man directly through his back and partly exited the center of his chest. His legs and arms were twisted at odd angles, broken beyond repair. One half of his face was burned darkly. Wiggins’ eyes looked directly into those of his friend, even as his lips were struggled to form words, but as she watched, his chest heaved twice and he died.

Weeks drew the horribly broken and bloody body of his friend tight against his own chest, and gently rocked the young man for a few moments. Then he lowered him to the floor and straightened out his arms and legs as well as he could. Looking up for the first time he noticed the figure of Agent Faris above him. Shahida could see his tear streaked face as their eyes met.

“Help me get him out, Shahida,” Weeks said with a broken voice. “I don’t want to leave him down here alone in the dark. He deserves better than that.”

Faris shook her head yes as she reached down to receive Wiggins’ body. Weeks hoisted it up to her, and together they were able to maneuver him out of the lower chamber. In the blue light of the emergency lights, the wounds to his body looked even more ghastly.

Harold Wiggins had managed to work himself up and into a sitting position. He was able to see his dead grandson clearly. No explanation from Shahida and Weeks was needed. Tears ran unabashedly down the old man’s cheeks.

“I’m so terribly sorry, Harold,” Shahida said.

“He knew,” Wiggins said. “Moradi knew everything we were going to do, even before we did, and just exactly where I would go. I completely underestimated him. I was stupid—and I’ve just killed my grandson.”

“No Harold. That’s not true. Your grandson was an officer of the law. Risking his life everyday was what he did for a living. What he chose to do for a living. Every time he walked out of the door in the morning he knew there was a good chance he wouldn’t return. He was a cop. A good one. It’s what they do, Harold. It’s what they do.”

“I’m all busted up inside, Shahida. I can’t even go after Moradi now.”

“I can, Harold. Your grandson saved my life. At least I can get the man that killed him. I promise you I’ll get the son-of-a-bitch. I promise that I’ll get him if it’s the last thing I do on this earth.”

Weeks spoke up. “You won’t be alone. I’ll be with you. Trey was my friend—and I loved him.”

“I know you did, but you can’t go with me, Dallin. You’re still an officer of the law too. I’m going to be going a long way outside of that law now. This just got personal for me.”

For an answer, Weeks began to pull off his uniform shirt, carefully removing the badge and handing it to the older Wiggins. Underneath was only a blood soaked white A-shirt. Shahida and Harold watched as he further removed his duty belt, containing handcuffs, pepper-spray and flashlight holder, and tossed them on the floor. Removing it from its black leather basket-weave holster, he tucked the Glock 9mm pistol into the back of his waistband and the two extra magazines into his hip pocket. The blood and water had plastered the undershirt close to his well-muscled chest. Shahida noticed once again the young man’s odd good looks. Weeks ran his right hand through his well-combed short sandy hair, leaving a streak of Trey’s blood in it.

“Guess I’m not a cop anymore.”

Shahida looked him over for a few seconds. “No, Dallin—I guess you’re not.”

“We need to get going,” Dallin said.

“Yes we do,” Shahida agreed. “Harold—we need your help.”

“What can I do to help?”

“Tell us what to do. You’ve forgotten more than Dallin and I know.”

“Don’t know about that, Shahida—but here’s what I’d do.”

Shahida shook her head yes.

“Take my phone. Call this in to 911 when you are well out of the area. Leave another message for O’Brien. Set up a meeting with him. An exact location. It’ll have to be close to where all this is going to be going down, so I’d suggest the Capitol Mall. Maybe the Washington Monument. It’s an open and straightforward location. Moradi will have to respond because it’s too close to the Senate and House for his comfort. He’ll guess you’re onto his plan. Trouble is of course, that in all likelihood, O’Brien’s not going to be there, so it’ll just be you and Weeks up against God only knows what. It’s going to be your last stand, but you’ll know he’s coming, so maybe one of you will get lucky.”

“We don’t know what he looks like,” Weeks said.

“Don’t worry about it too much, kid. Moradi will be a stand-out. He’ll be the one trying to kill you.”

“We’ve got to get you out of here, Harold.”

“Leave me. Just tell the cops to come into the room through the fireplace. No need to try to protect this ‘secret’ any longer.”

Shahida looked doubtful.

“It’s okay, Faris. I need a little time to talk to my grandson. I need to tell him I’m sorry—for a number of things.”

Shahida started to say something, but changed her mind.

“One more thing, Faris. There’s a code on the back of my phone. Key it in before you do anything else. It’ll disable the GPS. No sense having any more company on the mall that you’re already going to have.”

“Got it, Harold.”

Wiggins shook Shahida’s hand, and then Weeks. “Thank you for being a friend to Trey. Shoot straight—and keep your head down, young man.”

“I’ll do my best, sir.”

“And both of you—don’t hesitate to shoot. Not even a second. America is depending on you.”

“What about the President?” Shahida asked.

“Forget about him. You’d never get close anyway. Focus on Moradi. You’ll have your hands full enough with just him. Karma will take care of the Prez. Karma always does. She’s one relentless bitch.”

Shahida and Weeks smiled a little at that.

“Indeed she is, Harold. You get well, all right? I want to see you again.”

“The same to you two. I want to see you both again too.”

The three looked silently at each other for a few seconds.

“Later then,” Wiggins said.

“Later then,” Faris and Weeks repeated.

They left then.

In a hurry.

 

Black Rose

Detroit

1940

 

      Breakfast was over pretty fast. We had all been more hungry than we thought. Maggie and Linh offered to clean-up the kitchen, but I told them not to worry. The Kid wouldn’t be coming home again—at least not to this house. Everyone looked a little quizzical, but no one asked questions. I was glad of that.

I told my little gang to get everything together that they wanted to take back with them. We wouldn’t be coming back to Virginia Park Street again—at least not in 1940. Gathered together again in the living room a few minutes later, I told them this was about it.

Brick spoke up. “Where are going to end up?”

“You tell me. You’re the Detroit guy.”

“The old fair-grounds. It’s been largely deserted for a long time now. Wide open, and at the same time, kind of secluded. I don’t think we’ll stir up much notice there.”

“As I remember, Brick, it’s just around the corner from the Stone House Bar. Maybe we should stop in for a shot when we get there. See how much it’s changed and all.”

Brick grinned. “You might find Capone sitting there, Johnny—still trying to figure out what hit him.”

I grinned back. I guessed Brick had probably been paying more attention than I thought.

Maggie looked at me and spoke up. “I’m going too, Johnny—all the way.”

“Damned right you are, Maggie. I love you, but I wouldn’t even ask you to stand down. We come through this clean, Maggie, you and I, or we don’t come through at all. Together, even-steven, and completely equal partners in every single thing we ever do—including this. That’s my marriage terms. We’re all in larger hands than our own now.”

Maggie nodded her head yes. She knew she didn’t have to say a word. She knew we understood each other perfectly. We were risking a lot, including the life of a precious unborn child. Yet none of us spoke up against it. We all knew what was at stake, and we all knew what was right. Sometimes, you just have to trust in God. Why not? —everything else was way beyond our control.

We all stood in a small circle, hands linked. I assumed the position of leader, although I didn’t really think our group needed one. I asked Linh to offer a short prayer, and she did.

After we all said Amen, I made my small contribution. “I don’t know what we’re going into,” I started. “But it’s pretty likely to be unholy hell. I don’t think anyone here needs a pep-talk, so I’ll make this real short. Everyone has each other’s back. One for all—all for one. Even unto death. Simple as that.”

Everyone nodded their heads yes. It was our poor man’s tontine. It would have been a good spot for a boozy toast, but nobody had any.

So we simply went back.

Lady Detective

 

Thanks for reading. See you all in a few days with another installment.

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