The Reckoning: Chapter Thirty-Two . . . Tunnel of the Dead

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CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

 

THE TUNNEL OF THE DEAD

 

My gang were not where they were supposed to be when I got back to the Mall. It was just the first of many surprises I would have this day. A quick cell phone call to Matt cleared up the mystery. Together, they had decided to find the parking garage that was the exit point of the tunnel on the House Chamber side of the Capitol Building. They had followed a long line of trees on the north side of the Mall going toward the building, wisely staying out of the open. Then they again cut north about a quarter of a mile and easily located the garage.

Oddly, it was called “Congressional Parking,” although it had never sold a parking voucher—congressional or otherwise. It was strictly a cover, “temporarily” closed for business as a sign stated. Locals must have wondered on occasion why it never, ever reopened.  I instantly transported myself over to them. I had given up trying to mask my comings and goings. We were all way too far beyond that for it to matter anymore. Time, and nothing else, was of the essence now.

Fact of the matter was—I was running damned short of it.

I filled Matt and Shahida in on what was going down—short form. They both sighed deeply. I didn’t figure their computing of the odds were coming out any better than mine.

I had wondered just how Moradi’s men were going to get into the garage without a fire-fight on the surface. Now I knew. We watched them from across the street. There were probably thirty or more men in all, arriving in three large utility trucks, and all dressed as District road construction men—right down to the bright orange safety vests and hard hats. The vests were covering their guns. I could just make out the black straps around their necks, positioned to keep the barrel of their rifles pointing down and less visible. I was pretty sure I knew what those guns were too—most likely fully automatic, short-barreled Russian made rifles, caliber 5.45X39mm. Formidable, with a hell of a lot of power and lethality. They were going to be spreading a whole lot of lead—fast. The speed in which they were likely to be firing was my one advantage. That and the heavy-duty steel girders I was hoping and praying were going to be in the tunnel. If they weren’t, it was going to go badly for us.

It was time to find out.

“We need to get in there fast,” I said to Matt, as I watched the men start to work on the steel door lock with a torch. “Ideas?”

“Well, we better not go for the tunnel,” he replied. “It’ll be too narrow for us to try for, never having seen it. Better take us into the parking structure itself, and then look for the tunnel exit, and go in from there. Can’t be far inside.”

I nodded my head in agreement. “Just on the other side of the big roll-up door?”

“Looks good to me, Johnny.”

Our group gathered together and joined hands. In an instant we were inside, looking at the same door from the other side. I could hear the cutting torch just the other side of the roll-up. I was surprised at the amount of light inside the garage, supplied from probably a dozen large sky-lights. Further evidence of the fact that the garage was nothing but a front was the fact that there were absolutely no parking bays or painted traffic lines anywhere to be seen. What was plainly visible was a stairway, leading both up to the roof and the chopper pad, and downward to what I was sure would be the tunnels.

Hurriedly, we made our way to the doors. Not that it mattered, but surprisingly, they were unlocked and opened easily. They were large and double wide, meant to allow a high volume of people to flow through them fast. I locked them as we passed to the other side. The fact that the bad guys were going to have to work some to get through them was going to buy us a little more time to set up.

The lighting inside the tunnel was electric. Dim and soft, but we were able to see easily. My heart quickened as I saw what I was looking for. Steel girders—and just exactly the right kind. They was no way we were going to come through this without causalities, but I was beginning to think we might just live. As the tunnel ran under several very busy streets, I had been pretty sure that it would be well shored up.

It was. And it was a thing of beauty. Two-and-a-half-inch thick steel “I” beams ran up the vertical sides of the tunnel, spaced about fifteen feet apart. The same ran horizontally across the ceiling. The beams were about eighteen inches wide. Not a lot—but enough cover I hoped, to keep our body and souls together. The sides of the tunnel were cinder block. The girders butted up tight against the blocks. No space for a bullet to slip through. It was all I could have hoped for, environmentally speaking.

The rest was going to be up to us.

Hurriedly, I assigned our group their places, reminding myself again of the Alamo analogy. Sure hoped our results were going to be better. I put Howard and myself behind the first set of girders—one on each side of the tunnel. We would be about ten feet from each other—again, near to ideal. Howard was an artist with a pistol, and I didn’t feel like I was a slouch either. Behind us went Matt and Linh. Although nearly eight months pregnant, there was no way she was going to accept a spot in the rear, so I didn’t even bother to try. Brick and Maggie had the last two sets of girders. Maggie because she was the least experienced among us, and Brick because he was unarmed. Brick was going to be batting cleanup, a role which he immediately seemed to understand—and could do bare-handed.

He accepted the position with a grin.

I had a special assignment for Dallin and Shahida. Intercept the congressmen entering the other end of the tunnel and stop them cold. Shahida’s FBI credentials and Dallin’s DC badge would do a lot to legitimize their interception. And a few rounds from the UZIs fired into the tunnel ceiling would also be impressive if they didn’t.

After stopping the stampede from the House Chamber and making sure the congressmen knew to stay put inside the tunnel, Dallin and Shahida were to hot-foot it back to us, working girder to girder as they got close. By then we were more than likely to be needing re-enforcements, and pretty damned fast.

I didn’t think the President was going to be exiting with the congressmen, for fear of catching a stray bullet. I was pretty sure he had already mapped out a much shorter and safer route to the helipad on top of the parking garage, via Secret Service escort. Moradi didn’t much care if his gunmen got the prez or not—he, along with the rest of the city, would perish all at once in any case. It made me smile a little bit inside to think of Moradi’s gunmen. They probably thought they were heroes—soldiers in an army. What the fools didn’t know was the fact that they were nothing more than cannon-fodder, entirely expendable, right along with their own victims.

I was jolted out of my musings by the sound of many feet quickly descending the concrete steps just the other side of the locked double doors. The lock was not going to stop them for long. We all assumed our positions, as Dallin and Shadiha disappeared, hurriedly making their way into the tunnel at a trot.

Matt was keeping contact with the surface and the latest news via his cell phone. He informed me that there had been an attack on the Capitol Building. Several bombs had gone off very near the entrance, along with many shots fired. The building security team was engaging an enemy of unknown strength at the moment.

I could guess pretty accurately I supposed, that there no more than probably ten or so gunmen carrying out the ruse attack on the building. Mostly it was another case of smoke and mirrors, ala Saal Moradi. The congressmen were a hell of a lot safer just to stay put, but they didn’t know that. Any moment orders were going to be given by the security team for the congressmen to head into the evacuation tunnels—and certain death.

Along with all the other attacks both in DC and New York, Moradi’s men were giving a pretty damned good illusion that they were of much greater numbers than was actually the case. As soon as the senators and representatives were in the tunnel, security would mount a last stand defense at the entrance, thereby unwittingly blocking a retreat by the congressmen.

It was all going to be up to Shahida and Dallas, and us, to stop a bloodbath—or at least create another one—this one among the bad guys.

At last the doors opened, the simple lock having been broken by the application of a crowbar. I could see them beginning to file in. We all leaned in as far as we could behind our individual girders. I would give the signal to fire, at the last possible moment, by the simple expedient of opening fire myself. I wanted to let as many as possible through first though, and I wanted our surprise to be as total and complete as we could possibly make it.

There were approximately twenty or more men finally in the tunnel and milling around waiting for orders to move forward. I was sick at what I was seeing at closer range. Very few of the men looked as though they were of Middle Eastern descent. Most were fat, pasty white-faced Americans—recent converts to a cause and a cult—one of death. Once again my thoughts turned to Rowling and Tolkien. Didn’t know what kind of a Gandalf I was, but these mutts were sure as hell not going to pass. Not while I was alive anyway.

I thought party time was getting close. There was simply too much of a chance that one of them would spot something out of place. Several had removed their orange vests and taken their rifles off their shoulders and had them in their hands. Too handy. Time had just run out. I wanted the first few seconds to belong to us. Time to open the ball. I stepped out from behind my girder and greeted them with a friendly hello.

Then I opened fire.

Myself, I was a double-tapper—meaning I fired two shots at each individual. The second shot was insurance. Howard tended to fire once in the chest, and then move on—a habit probably developed from the fact that he favored larger caliber handguns with a lot more knock-down power than my little thirty-eight.  It was just what we did now, when we had them at a total disadvantage for a few seconds. I hit my first man with two in the boiler-room, and then plowed the guy to his left with another pair. Howard did the same—one shot each being the only difference. Should have resulted in four dying men, better than ten percent of our problem solved. Wasn’t that way though. The four just stared back at us, stunned wide-eyed by our sudden appearance, but not coming anywhere near to falling over as they should have.

Not even close.

And in the split-second that followed, I realized my mistake. And I also knew that my blunder was likely going to cost us all our lives. Now I knew why they were disguised as construction men with heavy coats and vest. The men weren’t fat. It was the flak jackets under their shirts and vests that were making them look that way. We were facing major league body-armor with pop-guns.

And they were turning high-powered full-auto assault rifles on us even as we watched in mounting horror. Matt and Linh had also stepped from their cover, preparing to back Howard and I up, and engage their own men. I now screamed for them to dive back behind their girders, just as Howard and I were doing as I spoke. It was just a little too late. Howard took the first Russian slug. I thanked God as I saw him make it behind steel, clutching his profusely bleeding leg as he did so.

The tunnel was filling with Russian lead as the gunmen finally got into full action. We couldn’t move—pinned behind our lifesaving steel girders as leaden twenty-two caliber bees zipped by, and into our precious cover, splattering lead and copper jacketing everywhere. Acrid smoke began to fill the tunnel, partially obscuring all. I tried extending my UZI around my girder and firing blindly—but I knew it would have no effect. Nothing we could do was going to stop these fully protected and utterly professional gunmen from over-running us and shooting us dead as they went by.

And then they would move on to the congressmen—and then Moradi to the world.

One of the gunmen rushed us and made it past me. Linh, always the quintessential cop, stepped out again from her girder to take better aim and try to stem the tide. Brave but foolish girl. It was hopeless. As she engaged the man, I saw her take three in the chest and go down hard. The bile rose in my throat as I realized she could not have survived that. Matt had not seen her fall. I was glad for that.

My foolishness and hubris was costing lives.

I had just killed my friend and god-child—and made another a widower.

I stepped out from behind my girder to face them all. My life and indeed the world—be damned. I would stop them here, or die. Simple as that. Funny thing happened then though.

All of a sudden, I wasn’t alone anymore.

Suddenly—I had an army.

Man in Fedora and Raincoat

Ghostlike, Weeks and Faris appeared beside me. They had abandoned the congressmen to forge for themselves, and returned to fight to the death with their friends. Just to my right I caught a glimpse of Brick Wahl surging past me, and another of a flash of gray coming in from the left. It, and Brick plowed into the terrorists and sent several of them flying. Matt had gone into a crouch and was firing head-shots as cool as a cucumber. Even Maggie had moved forward through a hail of bullets to support us.

I shook my head to throw off my despair at having seen Linh killed and began firing head-shots too. My homburg was shot off the top of my head. I could feel bullets traveling through the loose folds of my jacket and slacks, but still none had touched my body. Finally, I could see some effect of our shooting as several of the terrorists hit the concrete hard. Something, or someone was sawmilling their way through them as well. I couldn’t see Brick anymore, but I could see the effects of his efforts as more and more of the enemy fell.

Weeks went down. Maggie too. I had no idea if they were killed or not. I just kept pumping lead into the enemy. Matt, still uninjured, did too. Howard was pitching in from the floor of the tunnel. I could clearly see his mangled leg from the corner of my eye, shattered and twisted at a crazy angle. Our rate of fire was falling as they began to simply overwhelm us. The result was going to be a foregone conclusion. I waited for the killing bullet to hit me as my UZI ran dry. I dropped it and picked up Weeks. Maggie was still firing one handed from a sitting position.

What a woman. What a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime, and one-in-a-million woman. The last I would love—here at the end of everything. I rammed in my last magazine and charged forward, the closer the better to kill a few more, firing as I went. More fell. Sadly, Brick became visible to me once again as he crumbled to the floor, shot in the face and dead as he went down. A bullet with his name on it had at last found him.

The firing pin of my UZI snapped on an empty chamber, finally out of ammo. I drew my little Smith and fired my last five rounds.

And then the double doors blasted open as a SWAT team of FBI agents and District Police flooded in. All at once the bad guys weren’t shooting at us anymore. They were turning to a new threat, and they began to fall in numbers.

Harold Wiggins and Vice President Watkins had worked some damned fast magic. Wiggins from his hospital bed and Watkins probably from the Oval Office. An office I hoped he would soon occupy full-time.

It was over fast—the agents and cops quickly rounding up the few terrorists left standing. I spun around to do a quick assessment of our causalities.

It wasn’t good.

Shahida stood beside me—uninjured. We had something in common. No bullet had touched me either. Maggie sat a few feet away, holding her hand over her right side. She had been creased, but I could tell at a glance that it was not life threatening. Howard was severely injured. It looked like a couple of slugs had got him. One splintering his lower right leg. Another had shattered his knee on the same side creating an ugly wound. It was going to take a miracle for him to walk again. Weeks wounds were much higher up on his body. He sat on the floor, his back propped against the tunnel wall. One round in the upper chest, and another in the area of his collar-bone. Bloody foam flowed from his nose and mouth, a sure lung hit. His left arm hung useless. He had lost a lot of blood, but paramedics were streaming in now and would be to him in a matter of seconds. He stood a chance.

My eyes traveled further down the tunnel, to the second set of girders. Matt, himself uninjured, had just reached the prostrate form of his wife. She had fallen face down into a pool of blood. It was easy to see how she had died. She had stopped the gunmen who had rushed passed us. He was dead, riddled with bullets. So was she. As Matt turned her over and into his arms, I could clearly see the three holes in her blood-soaked blouse. Her head lolled back, and dead eyes looked vacantly at the ceiling of the tunnel. There was nothing to be done. Matt laid her gently back down and simply stared at her lifeless form.

I turned again to where I knew the body of Brick would be. Just to the right of the double doors. It was darker there, and gun smoke hung thick like fog. It was hard to see his form on the black and blood soaked concrete. Finally, I saw some movement. Sadly, it wasn’t Brick—but another man gently lifting him into his arms. It was a man in an old-fashioned gray three-piece suit. A man’s man. A man by the name of Norman Selby. The Kid had returned, one last time. And with the help of his grandson, pretty much saved all of our lives.

I knew what he was doing, and I wasn’t about to stop him. He was taking Brick home. The Kid looked up and our eyes locked for a few brief seconds. Those eyes held sadness—but they only had joy. He was on his way to a family reunion. The Kid raised his right hand and waved. Just a short salute to me. I returned it, as I silently mouthed the words, “thank you.”

And then he was gone. And so was Brick. Just as though he had never existed. He had spent much of his life as a Mossad ghost. And in the end, a ghost he would remain. Also, a legend. And my friend—for the rest of all time.

Matt walked up to my side. I turned to look at him and met eyes of steel. The killer in him, never long dormant, had returned.

“Let’s go,” he simply said.

“No, Matt. Not this time.”

“You going to kill him?”

“Gonna try my damnedest.”

“Then I need to be a part of that.”

“You need to get Linh to the hospital.’

“She’s dead, Johnny.”

“Maybe her baby isn’t.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean get her to the hospital as damned fast as you can move your ass. Maybe they can take the baby.”

I saw a glimmer of hope in his eyes. “Do you think it’s possible?”

“Hell, I don’t know, Matt. Neither do you. Try. Try for her.”

“Okay, Johnny. I’ll try.”

I reached up and took his face in both of my hands. I stared into his eyes. I looked  into his soul. “I am so sorry,” was all I could say. I didn’t have anything else, or anything more, for the best friend I would ever have in my life.

“Kill him, Johnny,” he said. “Kill him once for you, and then kill him again for me and Linh.”

“I will,” I replied. “I will.”

I looked at Maggie. She had overheard us. “Go,” she said. “Both of you go now. And God go with you both.”

We did. He to try to save an unborn soul. And me—like the wind. Like the light. Maybe even faster.

On the trail of Moradi.

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Thanks for reading. Be back in a few days with a new TALES OF ENCHANTED OCTOBER.

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