I made arrangements to meet with Wiggins at the hospital as soon as I could get there. There were certain things that neither one of us felt comfortable discussing over the phone. I spent a brief minute and a half or so with the group going over what was likely to happen next. I felt we had some extra time before the action would commence, but at what cost I shuddered to think. Moradi with a nuke was something that certainly wasn’t on my radar screen just a few hours ago when I was thinking we were pretty well set-up with just UZIs.
It was clearly time to go back to the drawing board.
Moradi was one smart son-of-a-bitch. There was little doubt about that. He always seemed to be ahead of us, and he always seemed to know exactly what we were up to, and what we were likely to do next.
It was almost as though he were watching us from an eye in the sky. Creepy, although I didn’t believe for a second that he was either omnipotent nor omnipresent, so I was starting to suspect something a whole lot closer to earth, and the mortal realm. Like a kick-butt network. He could have the backing of a good sized terror cell, I reasoned— But still, it was pretty damned sophisticated for that.
What it could be kept niggling at the back of my brain, but I just couldn’t seem to get my head wrapped around it.
I still expected the assault on congress, but didn’t think anymore that Moradi was going to play a personal role in it. He was clearly up to something else—and he was somewhere else. He had another target in mind, and God only knew what it was. The master of smoke and mirrors had created yet another grand illusion, in three different places; New York City, Washington, DC, and Calvert Cliffs. The Cliffs were on the verge of producing a nuclear disaster all of its own, so I didn’t expect him to linger there. There he had done his damage and moved on to greener pastures. He was likely going to use his newfound toy to destroy one of two major cities.
My job was to figure out which one. Laying waste to DC would certainly be symbolic enough—the seat of power of the free world—and it would certainly take out the President as well. But then, New York, with its large Jewish population was always a terrorist’s favorite. A bonus was the fact that Wall Street was the financial nerve-center of the United States. It would take a generation to overcome the damage that its destruction would create. Symbolism counts for a lot, so I tended toward thinking it was going to be the district—but what the hell did I really know.
I hoped Wiggins could help to sort it out.
Telling the gang I’d be back shortly, I left them cooling their heels in the little grove of trees, and walked in on Wiggins in his hospital room about a minute later. I announced who I was and flashed my identification to prove it.
For some strange reason he seemed surprised.
“How the hell did you get here so fast, O’brien?” he said. “I barely just got off the phone with you.”
“Traffic was pretty light the way I came, “I explained. “And you must have drifted off for a while.”
“Yeah, I guess so,” he shrugged. “Damned pain meds are hell.”
“How bad’s the leg?”
“They say I’ll keep it, but that’ about all they’re promising. Looks like a stint in a wheelchair for me.”
“I’ll try to make it worthwhile for you,” I said. “Tell me the stuff you couldn’t say on the phone.”
“Start with the tooth-fairly. Who is it? We’re alone now.”
Wiggins sighed. “Oh, why the hell not? My career is over anyhow. After this, I’m taking up permanent residence in a rocking chair.”
“Yeah, I’ll bet. I’ve got a police-chief friend that keep telling me the same thing.”
Wiggins grunted for a reply. “The tooth-fairy is the Vice-President.”
“The hell you say. Watkins?”
“Don’t be. He’s a good man. I wasn’t a bit shocked when he walked into this room. He’s been keeping an eye on the President for a long time now.”
“All by himself?” I asked.
“Not quite,” Wiggins replied. “The FBI director too. They work together.”
“Well, come to think of it, it makes a lot of sense,” I said. “There’s an old saying about vice-presidents.”
“Yeah,” Wiggins agreed. “The two main duties of the vice-president of the United States are; first—attending the funerals of heads of state and dictators all over the world.”
“And second,” I continued, “enquiring after the health of the president daily. I guess that includes his political and criminal health as well.”
“Exactly,” Wiggins agreed. “Watkins takes down the crooked President, he gets to step into his shoes. Instant promotion, and no sticky little details about having to go through the voters to get there.”
“He may wish he wasn’t in either the President’s shoes or his own if Moradi blows up the whole city.”
“Moradi can’t blow up the whole city,” Wiggins said.
“The bomb he has isn’t that big.”
“You said it was a nuke.”
“Nukes come in all sizes, O’Brien. This one is battlefield size. What they call a tactical nuclear weapon.”
“What does that mean, Wiggins?”
“It means it fits into a suitcase—that’s what that means. It’s a mini-nuke. Maybe fifty pounds, tops.”
“Yeah, O’Brien—and big piles of it. Pretty hard to detect.”
“I’m guessing he didn’t exactly get this from the local Nuclear Bombs R Us?”
“You say Soviet—not Russian?”
“Right. This particular bomb is almost longer in the tooth than we are.”
“How much longer?”
“Plenty—probably built in the eighties. It’s an old bird that’s come home to roost. Only it’s picked out a new nest—the States.”
“Tell me it’s history—short form,” I said.
“Okay. They were created during the cold war. The Soviets made theirs, called RA-115s, and we made ours—called W-54s. Another name for the American made were Davy Crocketts. I’ve often wondered what he would have thought of one if he were able to see it.”
“He would have probably have wished he had it at the Alamo,” I replied. “Would have been the end of his little problem with the Mexican army.”
“Sure enough that,” Wiggins replied.
“Like I said, small enough to fit into a rather large suitcase. Rumor has it that Israel has made a few that will go into a backpack—or even carry-on sized luggage. In intelligence circles, they call them pocket-nukes.”
“Lord help us,” I said.
“He seems to be on an extended vacation sometimes, doesn’t he, O’Brien?”
“Johnny—to my friends. And yes he does—sometimes.”
“Johnny then,” Wiggins replied softly. “I’m Harold. Quite a number of the Soviet bombs disappeared at the end of the Cold War. Disseminated to terrorist groups—like several ones in Iran. Like I said, now they’re coming back. There’s been a Russian submarine parked off the East Coast for a few days now. No doubt waiting to deliver a certain deadly something.”
“How far off the coast?”
“Far enough to be legal, but a short chopper ride.”
“The President has one of those.”
“He does—but it’s a pretty good guess this one is Iranian.”
“You sound sure.”
“That’s what the VP said. I guess they found a fairly well know Iranian pilot and terrorist stone-dead on the beach. Had several slugs in him. Three-fifty-seven size.”
“Nope. But Moradi’s a pilot.”
“I hate to repeat myself,” I said, “but shit again.”
“Yeah,” Wiggins agreed.
“How powerful is the nuke?”
“Well, generally speaking, they’re around six kilotons. That’s roughly a third the size of the atomic nukes that took out Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
“It is,” Wiggins agreed. “But at least it’s not hydrogen. In either DC or New York, no matter where it actually detonates, it’s going to kill a hell of a lot of people instantly, and God only knows how many more due to radiation.”
“The crime of the century,” I said.
“The crime of the century,” Wiggins repeated.
“That’s what motivates Moradi, Harold. He doesn’t care about anything else.”
“I agree, Johnny.”
“You, me, Watkins, and a few others in the intelligence community—starting with the FBI Director and the CIA head.”
“Anybody in favor of going public?”
Wiggins shook his head negatively. “Not unless you want to start a blind panic like this country has never seen. Wouldn’t help a damned bit either. Nobody can run that fast.”
“So what’s the plan?”
“We don’t have one, Johnny. The Air Force has been alerted to look for an unknown helicopter over both cities, and airports have been ordered to keep local birds on the ground. But still—it’s a needle in a haystack, and the sky over two cities of that size is a pretty damned big haystack.”
“Do we absolutely know he’s going to fly it in?”
“Not for sure, Johnny—but it seems likely. It’s the only edge we’re got.”
“Could be another red-herring too. Moradi doesn’t seem likely to have made as big a mistake as leaving an identifiable pilot on the beach. Why not just pick the body up after he kills him and drop it in the ocean?”
“Can’t we just hope for a mistake, Johnny?”
“Yeah, we can hope. But we can’t depend on it. Tell me this—if the fly-boys are lucky enough to spot him before he gets to the target—can they shoot him down without detonating the damned thing?”
“That’s affirmative, Johnny. The package goes off via code. Probably delivered by satellite and cell phone. All nicely updated for the twenty-first century. Nothing else will set it off. We can drop him if we can see him in time.”
“I don’t know, Harold. Sounds way too easy. I think he’s creating another illusion. While we’re watching the skies, he may sneak into town in a car.”
“Got any better ideas?”
“Not right off the top of my head I don’t. But I’m working on it.”
“Better work fast. That joint session is almost underway. Which party you planning on attending, Johnny?”
“Both—if I can swing it. I’m known for getting around pretty fast sometimes.”
“Well this should be one of them. You better get your ass out of here.”
“I’m on my way. I hope we meet again, Harold.”
“Me too, my friend. Me too.”
Leaving Wiggins room, I turned left and headed toward the elevator. I knew there was a smallish supply room on the first floor where I would be able to disappear without a lot of attention. I had used it just a bit earlier. Stopping at the elevator door, I stood poised with my finger over the down button.
And there it stayed.
A little voice in my head spoke up. Oh, not a burning bush moment, and not even a still, small voice. Not actually a voice at all—but a clear and distinct feeling that my business with Harold Wiggins was not at an end yet.
I was in a hurry. A really damned big hurry. Washington, DC was just about to come apart at the seams, and my friends, not to mention my brand-new wife to be, were going to be needing my help very soon. I didn’t have a moment to lose. And yet I remained where I was, standing in front of the stupid elevator, frozen, unable to move, unable to shake the deadly sinking feeling that all was not right. That I was missing something.
And that something was for all the marbles.
. . . And then, suddenly, I knew.
I returned to Wiggins room. He was on the hospital phone. He looked up at me with annoyance. “What the hell are you still doing here, O’Brien? The entire congress is session. Bombs have already gone off at the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, not to mention at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Crowded places. There’s nearly a hundred dead. Moradi’s men will be getting into place. As soon as they attack the Capitol Building, everyone inside is going to be heading into the tunnel. It’ll be a killing field if you don’t get between them and Moradi’s men. There’s no time to waste.”
“There’s always time, Wiggins. Always time enough to die,” I deadpanned.
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Just another shell-game. Just another puppeteer. That’s what I’m talking about. Who’s on the phone?”
Wiggins looked at me like I was insane. “Watkins—that’s who. I’m getting updates in real time.”
“Ask him where the sub was.”
“What?” Wiggins nearly shouted.
“Just do it, Harold. Just do it.”
I watched him as he spoke into the phone. In a few seconds he pulled it away from his ear and answered my question. “Off the New Jersey shore.”
Wiggins spoke into the phone again.
“Cape May Beach.”
“Bingo,” I said. “Moradi’s finally made his mistake.”
“Hang up the phone, Harold.”
“What’s Cape May closest to to—New York or DC?” I asked.
I could see Wiggins doing mental calculations. “About the same either way. Maybe a tad closer to DC.”
“What’s closer yet?”
Wiggins looked puzzled.
I continued. “What’s a short helicopter ride due west across the rather narrow state of Delaware?”
“Yeah, and what’s on Chesapeake Bay?”
Wiggins still looked puzzled.
I waded forth. “Calvert Cliffs.”
“The Cliffs are contained. They’ve got it under control, Johnny. It’s probably never going to come back on-line, but it’s not going to kill anyone either.”
“Contained by what?”
“A big-assed containment building. It’s one of the few nuclear plants that have one. It was the one concession to building the thing so close to DC.”
“How tough is the building?”
“Plenty. It’s made to withstand a naval bombardment. Even a bunker-buster bomb won’t breach it.”
“How about a six-kiloton nuke?”
Wiggin’s eyes locked with mine, beginning to show a trace of panic. More internal calculations.
“Probably, Johnny. It probably would, if he could get it close enough.”
“What would the result of that breach be?”
“The world’s biggest dirty bomb. Everything dead within fifty miles. Everybody dying within a few hundred more. Half of the eastern seaboard and half of the Midwest, gone in the twinkling of an eye, or dead shortly thereafter. It would make post-war Japan look like the site of a Sunday school picnic. Those bombs didn’t have a fraction of the radiation of the Cliffs reactors. God Almighty, Johnny—that is some of the heaviest populations inside the United States.”
“How do you suppose he got to the underground water pumps?”
“The sub, of course. The intakes are outside of the sea wall. Low-yield torpedoes. It’d take divers to know for sure, and that takes time.”
“What would it take to get a suitcase nuke up close and real personal with the seaward side of the containment building?”
“A rowboat. A damned rowboat would do it. And pass right under all the sophisticated security out at the cliffs. Pretty damned low-tech way to commit the crime of the century.”
“World War III, Harold. The crime of all the centuries,” I corrected him. “Moradi and the Russians—all snuggly and warm in bed together. And he the beneficiary of their spy network. Small wonder he keeps ahead of us.”
“I see it now, Johnny. First, the sub takes out the pumps. The authorities out there have been too damned busy trying to containing a nuclear disaster to stop and take a good look at what caused the damage to the pumps. Second, Moradi flies the chopper across Delaware before anyone is even aware there’s any danger and parks it somewhere on the shore. There’s some pretty rocky cliffs out that way where it could go a while unnoticed. Third, he rows in the nuke, places it, rows back out to the bird and flies away clean. Detonates by cell phone.”
“I’m guessing there were two subs just off Cape May,” I said. “One parked on the water, and another that never surfaced. Probably sitting just under the other. The surface sub sails away, while the other works its way silently up Chesapeake Bay. Works its magic on the pump inlets and before leaving, off-loads a boat for Moradi. Probably a heavy-duty rubber raft, complete with outboard, instead of a rowboat. Fast, quiet, mighty hard to spot—black rubber on a night sea. A perfect plan.”
Wiggins continued on. “With DC and most of the government dead and the country in disarray, Russia moves in for the kill. As you said, World War III—over in just a few days, and unlikely even a shot fired in return. After all, by the time the overburdened and overwhelmed military gets a clue as to where all this is coming from—it’s pretty much all over.”
“All over but the shouting, as they say—and the surrendering,” I added.
“Jesus.” Wiggins said.
“Can your guys stop him?” I asked.
“Probably not, Johnny. Like you said, he’s a tiny needle in a great big wet haystack now. And not much in the way of assets in the area either—they’re all concentrated on what we all thought were the two prime metro targets. My guess is that the cliffs will blow within the hour. While the attacks are going on here and in New York.”
“You ready to die, Harold?”
“Not especially, Johnny. I still owe Moradi a pay-back for Trey.”
“Well, I’m not either. And I’ll deliver the pay-back for you. I’m the only person in the country that has a chance of getting there in time to stop him. This time I’m really leaving. Get back on the phone with Watkins. Tell him everything that happening. See if he can do an end run around the President and get some assets in the air over Russia fast. If we can’t stop Moradi, at least we can give Mother Russia quite a few really big smoldering craters of her own. They won’t be seeing it coming.”
“Agreed, Johnny. End run, hell. I’ll tell him to shoot the son-of-a-bitching President himself if he has to.”
I laughed. “Moradi’s men may do that for him. And I may actually make sure a few get through to do it.”
Wiggins laughed then too. “Take care, Johnny. I don’t know what you have in mind to stop Moradi, but whatever it is, I kind of feel you’ll somehow make it work. You got Brick with you?”
“Well, take him with you. He’s a hell of a good man.”
“He is,” I agreed. “But he’s a man that doesn’t like guns.”
“You know what he can do?”
“Yeah, Wiggins—I know.”
“Then take him. He hardly need them. A man with his skills could come in mighty handy, guns or not.”
I though it over. The fact of the matter was that Wiggins was right. “I’ll take him,” I said.
My phone rang. I jerked it to my ear and listened for a few seconds and then turned it off. “Show time,” I said. “Moradi’s men are at the parking garage. They’ll be in the tunnel and set up within minutes.”
“It may already be too late then,” Wiggins said resignedly. “Too late for the poor schmucks in the tunnel. And too late for everybody else as well.”
“Hell no,” I cheerfully offered. “They don’t call me the flash for nothing.”
“Why you, O’Brien? Why you and your watch? Who the hell are you anyway?”
I smiled broadly and answered. “Captain America,” I said. “With a real bad back and mighty sore heels.” No more time to waste, I simply stopped talking and disappeared—right before his eyes.
Sure wish I could have seen the expression on his face.
Thanks for reading today. Back in a few days with another installment. Only a few more chapters to go . . .