The National Mall
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.
“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.
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.
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?”
“All the way?”
“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.
“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.”
“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.”
“Let me see it.”
“Don’t have it anymore.”
“Nope. Hid it.”
“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?”
“Been back lately?”
“Want to go?”
“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.
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 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.”
“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?”
“Yeah, pretty good.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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.”
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: