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The Spectrum Conspiracy
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article and book trailer
Author: Craig Faris
Trade Paperback Original
ISBN 978-1-62268-018-4 ebook
6"x 9" Trade Paperback; 372pp; Retail $17.95US
12:25 a.m, Alexandria,
the iron gates that guarded the entrance to the property, beyond the manicured
lawn and hedges that lined the driveway, the senator's home loomed in
the darkness. Upstairs in the master bedroom, a phone warbled two sets
of triplets, the pattern indicating the encrypted line.
"The President knows," the caller said.
"What?" Senator Luther mumbled, still
The message was clearer this time. "He knows
Eyes wide open, the senator lifted himself onto
one elbow. "Who is this?"
"Viper," Norman Trexler replied. "He
"All of it. He has a full report."
The senator swung his legs off the bed, fully
awake. "How did it get out?"
"How the hell should I know? Someone leaked
it to his press secretary."
"An hour ago. I just got out of the meeting
at the White House," Trexler said.
"Did you explain the implications?"
"Of course. Why do you think I'm calling?
He went ballistic. He's scheduled a press conference for tomorrow at noon."
"We'll all be indicted," Trexler choked
on the last syllable.
"That idiot. Who else knows?"
"Just the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and
the press secretary. He wants to go public with it himself."
"The Chairman's not a problem," the
senator said. "Has he contacted the FBI?"
"Hell no. Director Gregory's office leaks
like a screen door. He's afraid if it gets out before tomorrow the media
will accuse him of being part of it. He's beating them to the punch."
"There must be some way to reason with him."
"Believe me, I've tried. You know how righteous
he is." Trexler sighed. "It's over. Spectrum is finished and
so are we."
"Not necessarily." The senator glanced
at his alarm clock. "Where's the press conference being held?"
"In the White House Briefing Room. Why?"
The Senator didn't answer.
"You're not serious? It can't be done!"
"I'll discuss it with Raptor."
"You've got to be crazy. It's in the
"Are you certain he's told no one else?"
Trexler's voice was shaky. "I can't say for
sure, but I know his wife is out of town, and he wants to make damn sure
the media hears it from his lips. That's all I know."
"Go home and get some rest. Call for further
instructions in the morning. With any luck we'll be one step ahead of
him." The senator disconnected and punched in Raptor's speed dial
the Potomac River, the Secretary of Defense, Norman Trexler, hung up his
phone and steadied his trembling hand. He had never met the man they called
Counselor, and had no idea to what extent he would go to protect the project.
They considered themselves patriots, but selling weapons to a terrorist
state was a treasonable act, and hiding their true identities was crucial.
By midday the President would expose them all and his political career
would end behind iron bars.
Perhaps Counselor did have the power to stop the
speech. His political future might yet be saved, and if anyone could pull
it off, it was the man they called Raptor.
Circle, Washington, DC
The beer cradled between
his palms was warm, the foam long gone. Special Agent Devrin Crosby never
liked beer, but the smell of alcohol was still tempting. FBI agents were
expected to remain sober even when off duty, but Crosby was a recovering
alcoholic, a disease that had nearly cost him his job. If his boss so
much as smelled it on him at work, he would be cleaning out his desk the
same day. The beer was a self-imposed test, a ritual he went through every
Sunday evening. If he could resist the urge to taste despite its aroma
and proximity, he knew he could remain sober for another week.
The glare of the bar television reflected the
mirrored image of 12:34 a.m. onto his beer mug and Crosby glanced across
the room at the corner of Goodtime Charlie's lounge. There, a shiny black
Baldwin grand piano stood with ivory keys and a touch much finer than
the electronic piano he kept in the tiny bedroom of his apartment. The
lounge had a regular pianist on weekdays, but on Sundays the bench was
empty. Crosby played well but his addiction had robbed his confidence,
so he preferred to wait for the other patrons to leave. This evening,
he had hovered over his warm mug for an hour as a young couple stubbornly
The couple seemed an odd match to Crosby. The
woman was blonde, well endowed and strikingly beautiful, but the man was
short, bald and in a rumpled black suit. Must be an expensive date,
"Go ahead, Devrin," the bartender said.
"They won't care."
"I'll wait. What's my latest time on the
The bartended placed a Rubik's Cube in front of
Crosby and turned a few pages in his small notebook. "One minute,
forty seconds. You were off pace last week."
"Depends on the starting point." Crosby
studied the layout. "You ready?"
The bartender clicked a stop watch and Crosby's
fingers began spinning the faces. He only glanced at what he was doing,
as if each set of fingers had memorized the pattern and acted independently
of each other, turning sections without even rotating the cube.
"How do you do that?" the bartender
Crosby shrugged, fingers flying. "It's algorithms
designed to change parts of the cube without scrambling the others. Once
you learn the patterns, it's simple."
"These cubes are easy. You wouldn't believe
the really complex ones. What was my best time to date?"
The bartender flipped back a few pages. "Forty-four
"Was I sober?"
"You came in looking like you had slammed
a half-bottle of scotch."
"That figures. Almost there," Crosby
said with a final spin. "Time?"
The completed cube sat on the bar, each color
arranged perfectly. "Fifty-eight seconds," the bartender said.
"It's a far cry from the world record."
"You're way ahead of everyone here."
The bartender closed the notebook.
Crosby glanced up at a muted news segment on the
television. A reporter was standing in a park with blooming flowers behind
her, and in the distant background, the White House.
She's in Lafayette Park, he thought. Images
of the park flashed through his memory. The shouted warnings, the recoil
of his Glock, and tiny red spots on yellow daffodils.
Even as he refocused on his beer, a smell of cordite
remained. A year had passed since the incident, and there was no one to
blame but himself. Well, almost no one.
Christian Luther had no choice but to use his regular phone to make the
call. He had tried Raptor's secure line, but apparently his unit was switched
off. The phone rang twice before he heard a rough voice.
"What is it?" Harold Sanders said curtly.
"It's Counselor," Luther replied. "There's
Sanders waited a beat to respond. "Serious?"
"A squall line is approaching."
Luther hesitated, remembering his unsecure line.
"Sixteenth and Pennsylvania."
Sanders remained silent for a moment. "Give
me a minute. I'll call you back."
Only seconds later the senator's encrypted line
"Tell me about it." Sanders voice lacked
any hint of emotion.
"The President knows about Project Spectrum,"
Luther said. "He has a detailed report that he's going to reveal
tomorrow in the briefing room. All attempts to reason with him have failed."
"Yes. Stalker is working on the confirmation."
"What time is the briefing?"
Sanders paused, apparently checking his watch.
"What choice do we have? The report is lethal
to the project. He must be stopped!"
"Proceed with Operation Sweep."
"I'll need executive authorization."
"You'll have it," Luther said. "Can
it be done?"
"What's the collateral damage?"
"One witness and some documentation. Stalker
will handle the documents. The witness will have to look like a coincidence."
"Won't work," Sanders said. "Better
to make it a consequence. Who is the witness?"
"The press secretary. You have someone in
"I'll see if Pigs is available."
"Approved," Luther said. "The identity
package is being prepared."
"What about his wife?"
"Out of town. Stalker is accessing her cell.
What else do you need?"
"Stalker will have to place the propaganda
material in the sponsor's home. I'll handle the camera equipment and seeding
the sponsor's clothing and locker. I need access to the storage facility
and the station's news van."
"Both keys will be in the package. What time?"
"By 0200," Sanders said. "See that
the primary cameraman calls in sick. Give him something that's untraceable."
"I'll try not to make it too contagious."
"Whatever. Just make damn sure he doesn't
show up. And one other thing."
"What's that?" Luther asked.
"Find out what time the cleaning crew vacuums
the briefing room."
"Just do it."
In Goodtime Charlie's
lounge the couple at the bar finally got up to leave. The bartender nodded
toward the piano. "Better hurry, Devrin. I'm closing at 1:00 a.m."
Crosby sat at the piano and examined his haggard face in its mirrored
finish. He imagined his mother's reflection looking over his shoulder
as she had during his years of piano lessons. What would she think?
He was forty-four, but he felt ten years older. He had gained fifteen
pounds since the incident in Lafayette Park, but at least his sandy blond
hair hadn't grayed.
His fingers moved over the keys and the meloncoly
strains of a piece called, "As for Us" filled the room. He had
no sheet music, just a knack for picking out tunes from memory. Above
the soft melody he heard the door chime and, glancing up, saw a man rush
in. The man stopped at the bar, his hair soaking wet and his suit dripping
on the floor. He glanced at Crosby, ashen faced, hands trembling, and
clutching a manila envelope close to his side. He said something to the
bartender who poured him a shot and pointed down the street. The man downed
the drink, slid money across the bar and dashed back into the storm, the
envelope still at his side.
Twenty minutes later, Crosby stepped out under
the awning, and the bartender switched off the neon lights behind him.
"Who was that?" Crosby asked.
"I think it was Tim Cook, the White House
Press Secretary," the bartender said. "He
wanted directions to the nearest mailbox."
"I thought he looked familiar."
"He left you a tip." The bartender handed
him a twenty dollar bill.
Crosby smiled. "Whoa. I must have sounded
"That's what I've been saying, Devrin,"
he said, locking the door. "See you next week."
"Thanks, Charlie," Crosby replied. It
was raining hard, so he hustled down the dark familiar path toward his
tiny apartment two blocks away.
Kathryn Froscher leaned
closer to the wheel trying to see through the streaks left by her windshield
wipers. She was on I-77 just north of the Panthers Stadium, still in the
dress she had worn to her father's wake earlier that evening. He had been
terminally ill for over a year, but the news of his death had brought
out far more mourners than even she anticipated. From 7:00 until 10:00
p.m. she had stood in the receiving line shaking hands with people she
had never met and never expected to see again. Afterward, a couple of
girlfriends had taken her out for a late dinner and a drink.
The dress was new, expensive and looked great
with her pale skin, brown hair and green eyes. At twenty-nine she still
had a great body and could have taken home any of the guys who kept eyeing
her long legs under the table. Wasn't getting laid while your father
was in an open casket a sin? Surely he would know.
A flash of lightening followed by the crack of
thunder refocused her attention on the road and seemed to confirm her
thoughts. Right decision. Her older brother, Chuck, was flying
in from Oak Ridge early in the morning. There simply wasn't any time to
deal with a strange guy in her bed, no matter how cute he might be.
The steering wheel began to vibrate, and she felt
the rear of the car pull to one side, the unmistakable signs of tire trouble.
Oh great. The interstate was busy, the
rain blinding with no emergancy shoulder in sight. She spotted a bridge
overpass and guided her older Honda Prelude to an exit ramp under the
bridge hoping it might afford her some shelter from the rain.
It didn't. It was a railway bridge that let as
much rain through it as around it. To make matters worse, the ramp led
to another interstate and trucks were flying past her at sixty miles per
She eased off the roadway as far as the guardrail
would permit and turned on her emergency flashers. She found her triple-A
card in her purse, but when she opened her cell phone, it beeped for a
second and went dead.
"Damn it." She rifled through the glove
box, failing to find the battery charger and realized that her only option
was to get out and survey the damage. She glanced down at the new dress.
"Just my luck."
When she cracked the door, a huge truck flew past,
rocking the entire car and coating the windows in a dirty mist.
Katie slammed it shut and threw the cell phone
into her purse. Wrong decision, she thought realizing how close
she had come to having a man who could change the tire in the seat beside
her. She thought about the "driving test" she would sometimes
give a male passenger if he was especially cute. The Prelude had a five-speed
manual transmission and she would place his left hand on the stick shift
and say, "Let's see if you can follow directions." She would
then put her right hand down his pants, grab his joystick, and change
gears by remote control.
Truck lights appeared in her rearview mirror and
pulled to a stop behind her. Fear gripped her as she watched a man open
his door. Ignoring the rain and oncoming traffic, he walked toward her
car. He might be an off-duty policeman, or a psychopath.
He knelt down beside her flat tire for a second
before approaching. She looked around the car searching for something
she could use as a weapon and grabbed the heaviest thing in her purse;
the useless cell phone.
The man tapped the glass, his mocha-colored face
at her window. Rain had already soaked his dark curly hair, and water
was dripping from his nose. She cracked her window and said, "Thanks
for stopping, but I'm okay." She brandished the cell phone. "My
husband should be here any second."
"You have a blowout, ma'am," the stranger
said. "Do you have a spare?"
"Uh, I suppose."
"Pop the trunk and I'll check."
She hesitated, wondering if he could get into
her car through the trunk. The rear seat could be folded down, but it
locked from the inside.
He smiled. "It's okay, ma'am. You can trust
Wasn't that the psychopath's motto? He
seemed nice enough and good looking, but so was Ted Bundy. If there wasn't
a spare, she wouldn't have to ruin her new dress to find out. She pulled
the trunk release.
Within a minute, she felt the car being jacked
up and heard the squeal of loosening lug bolts. She lowered the window
enough to yell, "Sir, you don't have to do that." Another truck
rocked the car, showering her face with specks of mud and the smell of
diesel fuel. She raised the window. If he's crazy enough to change
the damn tire, let him.
The rain slowed and she adjusted the side mirror
so she could see what he was doing. To her astonishment, the man was on
all fours, his legs in the lane of traffic. Trucks were passing within
inches of them, yet he seemed unconcerned. A total stranger risking
The car was lowered and the flat placed in the
trunk. Katie looked through her purse, but found only a ten-dollar bill,
hardly sufficient to pay the man for his kindness. The trunk slammed shut
and the stranger wiped his hands on his now filthy jeans.
"That should do it," he shouted and
gave her a goodbye salute.
Lowering her window again and waving the money,
she yelled, "Wait a minute."
The stranger came back to her door. He was handsome,
a thirty-something version of Denzel Washington. She felt ashamed she
had not lowered the window further the first time.
"How much do I owe you?"
"But your jeans are soaked. At least let
me pay to have them laundered."
He laughed. "I have a washer and dryer."
"You risked your life. Those trucks could
have taken your legs off."
She noted that he wasn't wearing a wedding band
when he turned to watch a car speed past where his legs had been.
"It's a matter of faith, ma'am," he
said with a smile.
"How can I thank you?"
"You just did. Have a nice day."
Within seconds he was back in his truck and had
pulled into traffic. He had been a shining example of human decency and
had said more with that single act of kindness than a thousand sermons.
I didn't even get his name, she thought
as she started the car.
letters on each side of the van proclaimed NBC-6 to its viewers. Harold
Sanders unlocked the back door and closed himself inside. With a small
key he opened a storage locker containing two video cameras, one older
and the other almost new. He removed the older one, opened his black bag
and took out a duplicate camera, pausing to check that they were identical.
He zipped the station's older camera into his bag, and placed the duplicate
in the locker. To ensure that the newer camera wouldn't be chosen, he
removed it from the locker, held it about three feet off the floor, and
let the $55,000 camera drop. The impact did little visible damage, cracking
a UV filter and denting the lens cowling. He returned the broken camera
to the shelf, making certain it was turned so the damaged lens would be
visible the next time the locker was opened. He checked his watch as he
locked the van door. It was 2:14 a.m.
Gerald McMullen had
stripped out of his wet clothes and taken a shower before climbing in
bed. He was tired and his flight back to Washington left at 6 a.m. He
thought about the girl's left hand. No wedding ring. My husband should
be here any second, he recalled her saying. That was smart, given
her situation. People were naturally suspicious of strangers. But when
she offered him money, her smile had given him an overwhelming feeling
that she wasn't married. It was only a chance encounter, but Gerald had
learned to trust his feelings.
Perhaps it was hopeful thinking, or the way the
light reflected off the letters as he slammed her trunk, but when he closed
his eyes, a clear image of her personalized license plate remained.
Corvette was parked in front of apartment 301 in building 4174. The man,
dressed in black, emerged from his truck holding a briefcase. He lifted
a corner of the canvas and focused a penlight on the candy red fiberglass
quarter panel. Drives a red Corvette, he recalled from the file.
D.C. License plate, REBA, the subject's favorite singer. He checked
the personalized license plate and spotted the NBC-6 parking sticker.
He returned the penlight to his pocket and gazed at the faint light coming
from a second floor window. Nightlight in the bathroom, the man thought.
After moving quickly to the top of the exterior
staircase, he checked to make sure no one was around then unscrewed the
light bulb by the door. He opened the lid of the wall-mounted mailbox
and pointed the penlight at the name, Chad Stillwell. Subject is single.
One cat, no dogs, he recalled, picturing the apartment layout he had
studied. Single bedroom, second floor apartment. Door opens into a
small den. Kitchen on the left. Bedroom and bath facing the parking lot.
No direct access was available to windows from the exterior staircase.
The door's threshold would have to do.
The man squatted, opened the briefcase, removed
a gasmask and placed it over his head. He inserted a length of clear plastic
hose connected to a metal wand into the crack under the door and attached
the other end to a small yellow cylinder. He opened the valve releasing
the viral agent through the tube and waited. A clear, odorless gas containing
a cocktail of a genetically altered zoonotic influenza virus, THC and
carbon monoxide flowed through the tube. It would give the subject a severe
headache followed by flu-like symptoms. Since the bedroom was fifteen
feet from the front door he had to use the entire canister to insure the
desired results. The whole process took less than a minute.
By 3:45 a.m., Raptor's
van was outside the gates of a storage facility located less than three
miles from the sponsor's apartment. With a gloved finger, he punched the
entry code on a keypad and the gate opened. The rows of cinderblock storage
buildings, lit by the orange glow of sulfur-vapor street lamps, revealed
the pale outlines of numbers painted on the roll-up doors. Storage locker
K-11 was identical in size to the rest. Harold Sanders got out of the
van, carrying a cardboard box that contained the now disassembled parts
of the station's video camera. The sponsor's palm print, lifted from a
microphone in the van, had been placed conspicuously on one of the camera
He inserted his key into the Master lock, removed
it, and lifted the door. Inside the space were stacks of cardboard boxes,
flags, tent poles and what appeared to be folded white sheets. He ripped
open one of the boxes, removed a handful of brochures, and pointed his
penlight at the cover.
A Message of Hope fnd Deliverance for White
Christian America, he read. Compliments of The Imperial Knights
of The Ku Klux Klan.
Sanders put a few of the brochures into his coat
pocket. He placed the camera parts on a workbench at the center of the
room and relocked the door.
The White House,
As head of the White
House Secret Service detail, Harold Sanders walked the halls with total
confidence. He was tall and lean with salt and pepper hair, and a ruddy
face, the result of severe teenage acne. He entered the press corps offices
located near the rear of the briefing room and nodded to the fellow agent
on duty. In his hands were two Styrofoam cups of coffee, and under one
arm, a folded newspaper. He offered the paper and a cup to the duty agent.
"Thanks," the agent said. "You're
"Got a call," Sanders said. He stood
opposite the duty agent and looked down the hall into the darkened and
near empty briefing room. "Something's up."
"Haven't heard anything," the duty agent
said, taking a sip. "Good coffee."
"Yeah." Sanders watched the cleaning
crew running a carpet shampooer near the podium at the far end of the
briefing room. The rest of the room was dark. "They have Danish down
in the Navy Mess. Want some?"
"I'm too fat already," the agent said.
He put down the coffee and opened the newspaper.
"Nothing's on the morning schedule,"
Sanders added, noting that the duty agent was already involved in the
headlines. "Must be the President."
"Maybe he's going to address this Argentine
mess," the agent said. "Ever since the coup, their self-appointed
president has been making noise about leading them into the nuclear age."
"He's a mile wide and an inch thick,"
Sanders said. "All surface."
"I don't know. They say his father was killed
in the Falklands war and he keeps talking about taking back what's theirs.
I guess we'll find out soon enough," the agent replied, never looking
"I'm going to ask around, maybe get some
Danish," Sanders said, as he stepped back into the hall that led
into the briefing room. "Be back in a minute."
Sanders watched the agent from the hallway for
a moment. He was still reading, oblivious to anything else. Sanders found
the cord of the carpet shampooer plugged into a wall socket beside the
door. It ran down the right aisle toward the front of the briefing room
between banks of video equipment mounted on various stands. He spotted
the NBC-6 video camera attached to a tripod near the aisle. It took only
a second to make a loop in the cord and hook it high on one leg of the
"NBC-6," the receptionist said into her headset. "How may
I direct your call?"
"Gina." The voice sounded weak. "It's
"Chad? You don't sound good."
"I've come down with something," he
replied coughing. "Anything on the schedule?"
"The White House called. The cleaning crew
knocked over our camera. The President is scheduled to speak at noon and
we need a replacement."
"Oh, great!" Chad said. "There's
no way I can make it, Gina. I'm sorry. I've thrown up twice already and
have a splitting headache. To top it off, my cat died."
"Miss Reba's dead?"
"Yeah. She was fifteen. Died in her sleep."
"Oh, Chad, I'm sorry."
"Call Billy for me, will you?"
"Sure," Gina said. "Can he handle
setting up a replacement camera?"
"He knows the drill. There's a spare camera
in the van. He'll have to fill in for me, okay?"
"I'll take care of it," she said. "You
should go back to bed."
"I am. Thanks, Gina."
"You take care, Chad."
THE FOURTH ANGEL
It was a clear Monday
morning, with a slight breeze to carry the scent of the freshly mowed
grass into the portico of the White House. As the April sun climbed into
the sky, the moist heat rose, hinting that soon the muggy days of summer
would follow. President William Joseph Barnett had begun his day like
every day, by reading a passage from his Bible. He had chosen an unusual
verse; Revelation 16:8. The words seemed so appropriate that he added
them to the first paragraph of the speech he would deliver at his noon
President Barnett was an honest pious man and
vowed that he would once again make the office of President beyond reproach.
He was a born-again Christian, a former minister, and an African-Americanthe
first direct descendent of slaves to achieve the office of President.
Barnett was fifty-six, a father of three whose youngest daughter, Alma,
lived with them in the White House and would soon begin her freshman year
at the College of William and Mary. The first lady, Phyllis, had taken
Alma to Williamsburg for orientation, and they were scheduled to return
the following evening. He had called Phyllis earlier but her cell phone
signal kept fading out. At least he knew they had slept well and that
Alma loved the campus.
Barnett had been up early, polishing his speech.
Unlike most modern presidents, He preferred to write his own and he packed
them with as many Southern clichés and jokes as he pleased. His
admirers said it made him sound "down-home," and his return
to ordinary language caused a soar in his approval ratings after every
speech. His critics rolled their eyes and sneered behind his back, but
even they admitted that Barnett knew how to reach people.
He looked over the pages, committing them to memory.
He moved the announcement terminating Norman Trexler to the third paragraph.
He always considered his Secretary of Defense a friend, but the web of
deceit Trexler had woven was inexcusable. Trexler had gone to great lengths
to cover up the covert military operation called The Spectrum Project.
Even when confronted with the physical proof of its existence, Trexler
continued to lie. That was the one thing that Barnett never tolerated.
Trexler acted as though the operation was above the law and his actions
were exceeded only by his arrogance. Trexler would have to go.
The President paused at a mirror outside the Oval Office to straighten
his favorite blue tie, a birthday gift from his daughter. His shirt, white
with blue pinstripes, contrasted well with his navy suit and dark skin
and would look great at his next portrait sitting.
Special Agent Devrin
Crosby entered Woodbutcher's Deli a little before his lunch appointment.
He wore the trademark Hoover Blues business suit of the FBI, but his tie
was loosened, the top button of his shirt undone. Crosby hated ties and
couldn't understand how starting the day with a noose around one's neck
had ever come into fashion.
The hostess was young and in deep conversation
with a waitress. She ignored Crosby.
He cleared his throat to get her attention.
She reluctantly excused herself. "How many?"
she said with all the enthusiasm of a mortician.
"Two," Crosby said, nodding towards
a darkened section. "We'll take that booth in the back corner."
"Sorry. That section is closed."
"Then please tell Louie that Special Agent
Devrin Crosby of the FBI would prefer to have his usual table in the corner,"
he said in a firm tone. In any other city the title alone would be enough
to warrant a degree of respect, but not in Washington. This city was crawling
with "agents" of this or that, and if the title meant anything
to the hostess, she wasn't showing it.
"Just a minute!" she said through clenched
teeth and disappeared.
Crosby glanced around and saw a table of young
women look at him and whispering something among themseles with raised
eyebrows. To his left he caught a glimpse of his profile in a mirror and
the slight pouch above his belt. Instinctively, he sucked it in and heard
muted chuckles coming from the table.
Within moments, the owner emerged from the kitchen,
took the menus from the hostess with a dismissive nod. "Agent Crosby!"
he said with a Greek accent. "Your usual booth?"
"You have a guest joining you?"
"Just one." Crosby gave the hostess
a smirk as they walked into the closed section.
She marched back to her station mouthing, "Whatever!"
"College kids," Louie said, putting
down the menus. "They think they own the place. I'll send a waitress
when your guest arrives."
"Thanks, Louie. He has wavy black hair and
looks like a model."
While Crosby waited, he looked over the laminated
menu. It was clean and bore none of the tiny brown spots roaches leave
when they walk across them at night. Louie ran a tidy ship. With that
assurance, Crosby considered the selections against their respective calories.
His stocky build had added a few pounds since he was reassigned to the
Violent Criminal Apprehension Program and started spending his days in
front of a computer. Surely his friend, Gerald McMullen, had put on weight
They had hardly spoken at all since the incident
that had landed Crosby his desk job. During the first Gulf War, Crosby's
Humvee loaded with wounded prisoners had gotten lost in the darkness and
wandered into a mine field. The explosion killed everyone aboard except
Crosby, whose lacerations had saved his life since the Iraqi's assumed
he was dead. Gerald's helicopter was one of three sent out to locate them.
When met with hostile fire, the other helicopters held back, but not Gerald.
His courage was the only reason Crosby was still alive.
"Devrin?" a voice said.
Crosby saw Gerald standing a few feet away. "Hi
Gerry," he said getting out of the booth. The two men gave each other
an awkward hug.
"You've put on a few pounds," Gerald
said patting Crosby's belly.
Crosby noted that Gerald's abdomen was flat as
a board. If anything, he had lost weight. Crosby had spent most of the
previous afternoon at the gym at Quantico in a vain attempt to sweat off
thirty pounds in three hours. He sucked in his stomach as he slid back
into the booth. "It's no bigger than normal people in their
"You have a girlfriend cooking for you?"
Gerald said as he sat.
"I work for the Bureau, remember? The only
women in my life pack a Glock and can kill you with their bare hands."
"Some women think guns are sexy."
"Yeah, but their idea of a hot date is a
five-mile run to a firing range," Crosby said. "So, how's your
"Who wants a beach bum like me?"
Crosby surveyed the room, expecting a sea of waving
arms from every woman in the place. "I figured you moved to the Caribbean
and were feasting on turtle soup."
"Someday, buddy, I'm going to find me an
island with an all-female staff and an endless supply of soup and margaritas."
He took a sip of water. "Speaking of which, how long has it been?"
"I've managed to stay on the wagon for almost
two months," Crosby said.
"That's good to hear."
"Are you still at the Post?"
"That's one of the reasons I called. I flew
down to Charlotte yesterday for a job interview. The Observer offered
me an editorial position."
"The Observer?" Crosby said.
"I thought you loved Washington."
"I don't have a choice. Mom's cancer returned."
"Oh . . . sorry, Gerald."
"Who knows, it could be six months or six
years. Ned's moved in with Mom, but with his aerial business he can't
be with her all the time."
Gerald's mother was Portuguese, his late father
Jamaican, and his dark wavy hair and chestnut skin was the same as theirs.
Crosby had met Gerald's mother and his brother, Ned, when Gerald won the
Scripps Howard Journalism Award for his story on Gulf War helicopter pilots.
"I need to spend as much time with her as
I can before the end." Gerald said, a hint of sadness in his voice.
Crosby changed the subject. "Does Ned still
do aerial photography?"
"No, just traffic reports. It's steady work,
and he also flies air-rescue choppers when needed." Gerald leaned
closer. "The thing is, as soon as all of this is over, I'm planning
on coming back to the Post. That's where you come in, buddy."
"Are you still in that tiny apartment near
"Of course," Crosby said. "What
else could I afford?"
"How would you like to move into my condo
while I'm gone?"
"Right. On my salary?"
"Here's the deal. If Mom goes into remission,
I could be in Charlotte for years. If I rent my place, who knows what
will happen to it, plus I would prefer to have it available when I come
back to town on assignments. It's three bedrooms and most of my furniture
can go into storage. There's plenty of room for your stuff and you can
use the spare bedroom for your piano."
"Sounds interesting," Crosby said, "but
I can't afford it."
"If you cover the utilities, I'll lease it
to you for a dollar a month."
"A dollar! What about your mortgage payment?"
"I'll be living with Mom."
"Yeah, but she's sick. You'll still have
this mortgage on top of her medical bills?"
"Insurance and Medicare. She planned well.
You would be doing me a big favor, Devrin. What do you say?"
"Can I pay a year in advance?" Crosby
Gerald laughed. "Sure. Deal?"
"Deal!" Crosby said with a handshake.
"By the way, my boss thinks I'm having lunch
with my inside source at the FBI," Gerald added, "so lunch is
Devrin laughed. "I've never leaked any secrets."
"They don't know that."
The waitress arrived. "What'ya havin'?"
"I'll take a Cobb Salad and bottled water,"
Gerald said never bothering to look at the menu.
A salad and water? Devrin thought. "What
tha hell! Give me a Philly with extra cheese."
Gerald smiled. "No wonder."
US Secret Service
agent Harold Sanders examined the professional video camera carefully
before placing it in front of the electronic scanner, which would x-ray
it and check the lens for anything unusual. This was an old camera, not
unlike thousands he had seen come through the White House security check
before. A large label with the letters "NBC-6" was pasted on
its side with the television station's call letters, WBC-TV. The station
was a frequent visitor to the briefing room, but the cameraman was not
their usual operator.
"Name?" Sanders asked.
"Billy Ray Anderson." He held out his
press pass. Sanders examined it for authenticity.
"You have a license or other ID?"
Billy Ray handed the agent his wallet. Another
Secret Service agent ran a portable metal detector over Anderson's body
as Sanders typed the name into a computer. Billy Ray's name popped up
on his screen. His clearance was just over three years old, but his job
function listed him as a soundman.
"Remove your shoes and belt and place them
on the scanner."
Billy Ray complied.
"How long have you been assigned to the press
"Three years, two months."
"You're listed here as the soundman. Where
is your regular cameraman?"
"He called in sick. I'm his backup."
"I'll need his phone number," Sanders
said. "Have you ever operated a camera in the briefing room before?"
"A while back, but I usually handle the sound."
"You're familiar with the protocol?"
"Yes, sir. I'm the backup."
The station's NBC correspondent, herself being
scanned with the metal detector spoke up. "Sir, Billy's been with
the station for twelve years."
Agent Sanders knew the correspondent's face, and
her comment added the credibility he needed. "Sign here," he
instructed and turned his attention to the equipment. "Why the replacement
"Don't know," Billy Ray said. "I
was told to pick up another camera before coming in."
The correspondent explained. "Your cleaning
crew got a power cord entangled in our tripod last night. The camera was
knocked over and damaged. Your office called the station manager this
Sanders already knew this, but he needed the correspondent
to explain it in front of the other agents for the record.
"Write that out on this form and sign it,"
Sanders said, handing her a clipboard. He looked at Billy Ray. "Turn
on your camera, please."
Billy Ray picked up the camera, attached a portable
battery from the camera bag and switched it on. The blue-gray light glowed
from the viewfinder, and he handed it to Sanders.
Sanders put his eye to the viewfinder and ran
his hand in front of the lens. He noted the auto focus and the remote
zoom control. Both were common options on professional cameras of this
type. He tested various switches, and they all functioned as expected.
"You may proceed," Sanders said, handing
the camera, belt and shoes back to Billy Ray. He slipped a camera remote
into Billy's jacket pocket while he put on the belt. The camera seemed
flawless and short of taking it apart, he had given it an extensive examination.
Spectrum's technicians had done an excellent job.
Norman Trexler returned
from his morning jog and waited to catch his breath before calling Counselor.
He had put off calling but time was running short. He punched a four-digit
speed dial number into his secure phone and waited through two rings.
Senator Christian Luther's voice came on the line.
"Counselor, this is Viper. Are we scrambled?"
"Have you heard from Raptor?"
"We are go. You are to proceed with operation
"Holy mother." Trexler mumbled.
Even though he knew it was coming, the confirmation sent shock waves through
him. His father had been a Tennessee congressman who had lost his seat
in a bribery scandal and was now serving a seven-year sentence in federal
prison. He remembered his father's advice: "Your reputation's all
you got," but his reputation had landed him a view of a razor-wire
fence from a six by nine cell.
Today could bring Trexler a similar fate. He struggled
to regain his composure. "What are my instructions?"
"The documentation has been deleted from
the subject's computer and replaced with an appropriate but harmless report,"
Luther said. "A backup copy of the speech has been removed from the
private residence safe. The subject has the final copy on his person.
Your objective is to secure that copy. A replacement is already inside
the podium and will be discovered afterwards. Your window of opportunity
will be brief. Use it and be careful in positioning yourself. This video
will be studied frame by frame."
Trexler felt sick as he hung up the phone. One
screw-up and he could spend the rest of his life in a federal penitentiary.
He thought about his father, his wife and their daughter. How would they
ever understand? There was still time to act. He could save the President
and perhaps even himself. With a little luck he might even avoid prosecution,
but he knew it wasn't an option. Counselor had given him his assignment
and there was no turning back now. Raptor would make damn sure of that.
Crosby took another
bite of his sandwich and listened to Gerald expound about his upcoming
move to Charlotte. They had both attended the University of North Carolina,
but never met while there. Gerald played varsity basketball, and his one
claim to fame was that he had once blocked Michael Jordan's shot in a
"My boss wants to know what's up at the Bureau?"
Gerald said smiling.
"Not my favorite subject," Crosby said.
"Let's talk about something else."
"What's wrong, Devrin?"
Crosby shrugged. "I'm thinking about leaving."
"Leaving? The last time we talked, you said
it was the greatest job in the world."
"I was reassigned. Now I sit at a computer
all day profiling suspects."
"When did this happen?"
"A year ago," Crosby said, "and
I fell off the wagon soon after." He again thought of the red spots
on yellow daffodils.
"So that's why you stopped calling,"
Gerald said. "What happened?"
"I'm not supposed to talk about it."
"Come on, Devrin. I'm your best friend."
"The usual reasons. I screwed up." He
pictured the slamming doors of the surveillance van; the suspect with
the briefcase ignoring the shouts to stop; the White House looming two
"That's nothing new. Anyone who falls asleep
at the wheel of his Humvee during the middle of a battle should be accustomed
to screwing up."
"I wish it was that simple." Crosby
waited a long moment. "I blew an innocent man's face off."
Gerald's smile vanished. "Good Lord.
Were you sober?"
"Yeah, but I had to prove it."
"That must have been rough."
"It still is," Crosby explained. "We
mistook his identity and I shot the wrong guy."
"That's an accident."
Crosby shook his head. "It doesn't matter.
I gave the order. After the FBI screw-up at Ruby Ridge, someone always
takes the blame. I happened to be the most convenient."
"Can you appeal?"
Crosby resumed eating, a clear sign that his part
of the conversation was finished.
Inside the super-secure
domain of the briefing room, Agent Harold Sanders checked his mic and
earphone. As chief of the White House Secret Service detail, it was his
responsibility to make sure everything was ready.
"Okay, people," Sanders said, his voice
almost as rough as his face. "Five minutes. Let's call them in."
"Penn Avenue entrance, clear," the agent
reported. A series of responses followed as each agent reported the status
of their area and ended with, "Tunnel, clear."
Sanders notified the team leader of the President's
security detail. "Scout One, briefing room is secure. Send in the
Through his left earphone, he could monitor the
"This is Scout Three; POTUS is in the elevator.
I repeat, POTUS is in the elevator and moving. Stand by, Scout Two."
"This is Scout Two. Back hallway is clear.
POTUS is now leaving the elevator. Briefing room, he's yours in sixty
"Roger Scout Two," Sanders said. "ETA
in one minute."
Everything was ready. Sanders moved his hand to
his waist and unplugged one of his microphones. He then switched on a
second wireless set, encrypted and programmed to an ultra-high frequency.
He checked his new equipment. "Scout One, do you read? Over."
There was no response.
"Scout team? Scout team, do you read, over?"
He waited ten seconds for a response. There was none. If anyone was scanning
the frequencies, the only thing they might hear would be static.
"Raptor." Counselor's voice was calm
through Sanders' right earphone. "Signal is scrambled. You are authorized
The napkins lay in
their plates, their drinking glasses empty. Their waitress had either
forgotten them or was siding with the hostess.
"So what was that other thing you wanted
to ask me earlier?" Crosby asked.
"It's a personal favor." Gerald slid
a scrap a paper across the table.
"What's KT-GIRL mean?"
"It's a North Carolina license plate number.
I was in a driving rainstorm in Charlotte last night and helped change
this girl's flat tire. She was something! Only problem is I don't
know her name or where she lives. All I've got is her license plate number."
"I see." Crosby smiled. "Still
"I tried the DMV's website and hit a wall.
I thought you might be able to suggest an agency I could contact."
"This is probably illegal." Crosby leaned
forward. "But I might be able to get a name."
"I don't want to get you fired, Devrin. It's
not that big a deal. For all I know she could be married."
"What the hell. I'm leaving the Bureau anyway.
I'll see what I can do."
Harold Sanders spoke
softly to minimize the movement of his lips. "Roger, Counselor. Switching
Sanders reached into his breast pocket and put
on a pair of aviator-type sunglasses. The sunglasses were standard Secret
Service gear, and since a potential assailant could not see their eyes,
the agents wore them inside as well as out. To the other agents, the putting
on of the sunglasses had always been their final signal to Scout One that
the team was in place.
But Sanders' glasses were different, and as soon
as he put them on, his visual point of view was transferred to the center
of the room. A virtual image filled his lenses, shot from a news video
camera twenty feet away and tapped into the signal from the video control
bank located in the back. The image showed the empty podium with the White
House logo in blue and white mounted on the wall behind it. Sanders took
an ink pen from his pocket and casually twisted the head of it to focus
the camera's lens on the logo. With the pen, he could also make the lens
zoom in tighter, but it had no control over panning from side to side.
A remote pan control might arouse the suspicions of his fellow agents
as well as the cameraman. The job had to look like the work of one man.
Additional controls were an unnecessary risk. With only a click of the
pen's head, the shutter would release at exactly the right moment.
Billy Ray's hands
were sweating. This was his first time as cameraman on a live presidential
shoot, and he was sure that he had forgotten something vital that might
ruin the broadcast. If so, it would forever kill his chances for a repeat
assignment. He knew how to do this, having watched the regular cameraman,
Chad, for three years. He had been a soundman for twelve years, and this
was his big chance to move up.
There was something odd about this camera, though.
He was sure that he had switched off the autofocus, but somehow it kept
refocusing as though it had a mind of its own. This was an older model,
and it was probably a faulty switch. Chad must have dropped the newer
camera he found in the van, so he was forced to use this one. It was heavy
as hell, and he was glad it was mounted on a tripod for the duration.
"Billy, you ready?" his NBC correspondent
"Yes," he replied.
"Five seconds," the director called
from the control room.
Billy put his eye to the viewfinder and pressed
the record switch.
At the same moment
a symbol in Sanders' sunglasses notified him that the camera was recording.
"Standby Counselor," Raptor said. "We
are armed and ready."
Billy Ray watched
as Tim Cook, the President's Press Secretary, entered the room followed
by several members of the Cabinet. The chairman of the Joint Chiefs and
the Secretary of Defense took their place to the right of the podium.
"Thank you for coming," the Press Secretary
said into the microphones. "I'm sure you are curious about the nature
of this meeting, so without delay The President of the United States."
The attendees erupted with applause as President
William Barnett entered the room. Beside him was a surprise visitor, the
Reverend Jebadiah Johnson. The President shook hands with several of the
reporters, took his place at the lectern, and waited for the applause
Billy Ray zoomed in for a tight close-up, but
as soon as he tried for a wider shot, the lens refused to budge.
"This sorry piece of junk!" he growled
into his headset as he tried to free the lens by hand.
"What's wrong?" the NBC correspondent
"The damn lens is stuck!"
are clear to proceed," Luther's voice said.
"Affirmative," Raptor replied, "but
the Sponsor is jerking the target all over the place."
"Don't take any chances," Luther said.
"Make sure it's clean."
Billy Ray slapped
the lens with his fist and it started working perfectly, just as the President
began to speak. He zoomed out for the introduction.
"My fellow Americans," President Barnett
began. "I have asked you here today to tell you of a matter of utmost
urgency. I have spent many hours in fervent prayer as I contemplated how
to proceed. I've asked a friend, whose entire life has been devoted to
social change through non-violence, to join with me this morning. I'm
proud to introduce the Reverend Jeb Johnson."
Reverend Johnson took the opportunity to shake
the President's hand for the photographers and remained standing beside
him for several seconds.
"Any time Raptor,"
Sanders tried to control his frustrations. "I
almost had him, but the Sponsor is now focused between Barnett and Jeb."
Where is his speech?
Secretary of Defense Norman Trexler felt a wave of panic flow over him.
Barnett would often memorize his speeches, but if this one were to fall
into the hands of the press, all of this would be for nothing. Raptor
had told him to put on the sunglasses only if he had the speech in sight.
It must be in his jacket, he thought and put them on anyway.
"As many of you
know," the President continued, "I'm a firm believer in reading
the Holy Scriptures. The Bible says that the truth shall set us free.
This morning, while reading my daily passage, I came across a verse which
I have deemed most appropriate for this occasion."
The President reached into his coat for his glasses.
Reverend Johnson handed the President his Bible.
"I'm reading from Revelation 16:8."
The camera was back
on the President, but the scene was so wide that the center of the target
was on the President's neck. Instantly Raptor had an idea.
"Do it now," Luther said into Raptor's
earphone. "Before he gives the whole damn thing away!"
"Just a second," Sanders growled.
Billy Ray's camera
zoomed in so tight that all he could see was the President's necktie.
"Not this shit again!" The curse was
just loud enough for the surrounding reporters to take notice. He tried
to zoom out, but the lens wouldn't budge. His only choice was to tilt
the camera up to the President's face and hope for the best.
The President read
the passage with great reverence. "And the fourth angel poured out
his vial upon the sun; and power was given unto him to scorch men with
At that moment, Sanders placed his thumb on the head of the pen and squeezed.
Billy Ray's camera
lurched and a ringing sound pierced his ears. He raised his head looking
for the source, then he spotted something red sprayed across the White
House logo. He put his eye to the viewfinder and repositioned the camera
back to the lectern where the President's head had been. The lens was
still zoomed in tight.
Blood and pieces of flesh and bone covered the
formerly pristine logo behind the lectern. He tilted the camera down,
the lens working perfectly as he zoomed out. A mass of humanity now surrounded
the President. Secret Service agents were spread-eagled over him. Other
agents brandished their automatic weapons, searching for a target.
The Reverend Johnson was once again kneeling over
his martyred prince of peace, just as he had with Martin Luther King,
Jr. on a motel balcony in 1968.
Harold Sanders already
had his weapon drawn and pointing toward the crowd of reporters. The sunglasses
and pen were safely tucked away in his pocket. The smell of gunpowder
hung heavy in the room. Reporters cowered in small groups on the floor.
Few of the cameramen were brave enough to still man their equipment.
"Nobody move!" Sanders ordered. "All
stations, POTUS is down! I repeat, POTUS is down! Secure all sectors.
No one leaves the building!"
Billy Ray kept thinking
of Dallas in 1963. He had to keep his camera rolling. He thought of the
Zapruder film, the only piece of evidence, which showed Kennedy's fatal
head shot. His camera had been focused on the President's head moments
before. It must have recorded the best possible image of the moment of
impact. The tape could be worth millions and, if so, his name would soon
Men were covering the President's body, but the images were powerful.
The anguished look painted on Reverend Johnson's face; the bloody logo
and the constant screaming. The Secretary of Defense, covered with blood,
was holding the President's Bible over him and apparently gathering pages
torn from it. The secret service agents, with their automatic weapons
drawn, were yelling something and pointing their guns towards
Billy Ray raised his head from the viewfinder
. . . They were aimed at him!
One camera swiveled
towards Sanders and he brought his weapon to bear on its operator.
"I said nobody move!" Sanders repeated.
Everyone seemed to drop closer to the floor, but
the camera kept moving, turning its lens toward the agents, its cameraman
ignoring the command in an apparent attempt to film the total mayhem.
Other agents instinctively followed that movement.
Sanders spotted the evidence he needed; the frayed,
burned end of the microphone windsock. "Gun!" he yelled. "His
camera is the gun!"
Devrin and Gerald
stepped out of the booth and shook hands. As they walked towards the checkout
counter Gerald gave him the note with the license plate number and a key
to the condo so he could begin moving in. Crosby heard a gasp and glanced
over at the table where the girls were whispering earlier. Most of them
were visibly upset, hands over their mouths and makeup running down their
faces. He followed their gaze to the silent television on the far wall.
Displayed was a view of the White House briefing room with secret service
agents covering someone on the floor. Other agents had their weapons drawn
and were pointing at the camera.
Gerald turned and said, "What's wrong?"
Crosby's cell phone rang. He removed it from his
pocket and noted the incoming number. It was the emergency call back number
issued from the J. Edgar Hoover Building.
He looked back at the screen, saw the red smear
on the logo and knew.
"What is it, Devrin?" Gerald asked again.
"My God, the President has been shot."