“Not quite, Sir. But I think I can guarantee target video a few minutes after sunrise.”
“That will do. I’ll also want a real time voice link to the pilot. Send me the audio-video link at least fifteen minutes before arrival.”
“Yes, Sir. That should be about 10:15 your time. Should anyone else have access, Sir?”
“No, that won’t be necessary. Thanks.” Baldwin turned off the intercom. It felt good to be directly managing a field operation again. Just like the old days.
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –
FBI agent Ralph Johnson was jolting his way up a jeep track winding its way up an anonymous Nevada mountain ridge. Next to him, another agent held a large satellite photo in his lap. Whenever the track forked, he compared it to the topographic map displaying on the GPS unit on the four wheel drive vehicle’s dashboard and called the turn.
“So how much further, Jeff?”
“Half mile – maybe less. He should be somewhere in that pass you see ahead and to the right.”
“OK. This would have been easier if we could have had Bart Thatcher on board. Guy knows this terrain like the back of his hand. But I couldn’t get through to him.”
“Retired agent that hangs out in Rachel.”
“Rachel? Why the hell would anyone want to retire in Rachel?”
“Well, he’s not married; not sure if he ever was. Probably likes to hunt. Plus, we pay him to keep his ear to the ground. It’s not easy telling the UFO crazies from the people we seriously want to keep out of Area 51, and after a career in the field he’s got a knack for that.”
“He’s kind of a strange old guy, too, which is just as well – he blends right in with the type of loners and odd balls you’d expect to end up in a place like Rachel. And it’s easy money, since there’s only one place in town to rent a room or eat. All he has to do is drop by for a beer every night like he probably would anyway and chat up anybody that’s new in town. If he ties up with someone we might want to know about, he lets us know and keeps an eye on them.”
“Well, better him than me. I’ll stick with Vegas.”
“Maybe that’s where he is – blowing off some steam. Anyway, let’s walk from here so we have an opportunity to check things out before this guy sees us.”
The plan was appropriately simple. They would pose as bow hunters, and their baggy camouflage clothes would conceal their Kevlar vests and side arms. They wouldn’t look particularly threatening arriving on foot, and the huge pines would still provide plenty of cover to duck behind if things got tricky.
Likely enough all they’d have to do would be to knock on the camper door, and then handcuff Frank before he knew what had hit him. Adversego’s profile didn’t indicate he had any violent tendencies, or that he even knew how to use a gun, for that matter. The FBI had checked back through the half dozen available satellite photos that happened to have been taken of the area over the last two months, and found no evidence indicating more than one person had been in the clearing since Frank had arrived. How hard could this be?
Walking through the widely spaced ponderosa pines it was obvious that the only way they wouldn’t be seen from a distance would be if Frank just wasn’t looking. But then again, why would he be? Odds were, he hadn’t seen a soul since he arrived on the scene. Soon, they caught a glimpse of a white truck ahead, with a weird stack of something on the roof. They stopped and pulled out their binoculars.
“Geez, will you look at that? What kind of crazy crap does he have on top of that thing?”
“Solar arrays. We saw them in the satellite photos. Makes sense, given how long he’s been up here. But it looks like he could fly to the moon with that many.” There wasn’t much else besides the camper to be seen in the clearing – just a folding chair and a fire ring.
“So that’s that. Let’s walk straight up to the camper like we need directions or feel like a social call.”
They started walking again, trying to carry their compound bows in a way that looked natural but could be easily seen. About 75 yards from the camper they saw that the solar array had started slowly rotating in a full circle. A minute later, it stopped at right angles to them. They stopped, too.
“Now what’s that all about?”
“I dunno, but let’s start walking again. Act natural and keep talking to me like we’re chatting about nothing in particular.”
But they had only gone a few steps before the array went into motion once again, this time swiveling it’s thirty feet of solar panels from horizontal to vertical until they were facing the agents broadside. They stopped once again.
“Ralph, I don’t know about you, but this is creeping me out. What the hell is he up to?”
“I don’t know, but we’ve got a job to do. Get walking.” Two steps later, the camper’s engine roared to life.
They stood stock still as the camper slowly turned until it was pointing straight at them. The solar array stayed pointing in their direction. A rhythmically repetitive, unsettling symphonic work began broadcasting from speakers they had not previously noticed.
“Shit! What’s he going to do, run us down?”
“Easy, Jeff. It looks like he only raises the ante when we move closer, so let’s just stand here for a minute.”
“Hello!” Ralph called out. The headlights of the camper went on, but there was no other reply.
Ralph yelled again. “Can you tell us where we are? We’re lost.” The emergency lights on the camper began flashing angrily.
“Shhhh!” Jeff hissed at his boss. “I think you’re just making him mad.”
But how could they tell? Whoever was inside the cab had propped one of those shiny silver reflectors up against the windshield that people use to keep the sun from heating up a vehicle’s interior. Or maybe it was really bullet-proof armor? A slit about two inches tall and ten inches wide pierced whatever it was right where the driver would sit, but even with their binoculars the agents couldn’t see into the darkened interior.
As Ralph lowered his binoculars, the engine revved menacingly, and the camper began to inch forward.
“OK, OK, we get the point. We’re leaving.”
“That’s it,” Ralph said quietly. “I’ve had enough. Let’s just back up slowly and get the hell out of here. It’s time to switch to Plan B.”
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –
Carl slipped the master key into the door across the hall from Frank’s apartment and entered, followed by Marla and George. Outside, Bert and Ernie covered the ends of the block, ready to raise the alarm if either spotted Mrs. Foomjoy returning from her shopping.
Once inside, the trio made a quick circuit of the modest, one bedroom apartment. Aside from a remarkable penchant for tacky decorating and a morbidly obese corgi snoring on the floor of the bedroom, it was completely unremarkable. More to the point, the flat was totally devoid of any sign of technology more advanced than a VCR – and the clock on that item was blinking “12:00.”
“OK, no surprises. We’ll have to look a bit more closely.”
George placed his case of TEMPEST equipment on a coffee table in the living room and opened the lid while Carl started peering into closets.
But Marla continued to stand in the middle of the living room with a puzzled look on her face. “There’s something not quite right here.”
“No kidding,” George replied, scanning the vases of ugly artificial flowers, frilly curtains and slip covers. “This takes the banality of evil to a whole new level.”
“No – that’s not what I’m talking about. This apartment should be a mirror image of my father’s across the hall, but something’s different, and I can’t tell what it is.” Marla turned slowly around and then pointed to a large china cabinet.
“That’s it – there should be a closet behind that piece of furniture.”
“Excellent – gold star for you! Carl, help me move this monster.”
They moved to either side, looking hand holds and not finding much to work with. But in the process of grappling with the cabinet, they found that they could move it very easily.
George knelt down and peered under the cabinet. “Huh – look at that. The feet are a couple of millimeters off the floor, and there are wheels just behind them.” He stood up and they rolled the cabinet away from the wall, exposing a locked closet door.
Happily, the same master key did the trick, and the door swung open. Inside, a single deep shelf spanned the closet at desk height. Above it were narrower ones, packed with a miscellany of electronic gear, cables and assorted junk. Most importantly, in the center of the desk stood a large flat screen display, and next to it a high-end computer.
“Piece of cake,” George said. “I’ll have the hard drive copied and back in the box in no time. She’ll never know we touched it.”
- 0000 - 0001 - 0010 - 0011 - 0100 - 0011 - 0010 - 0001 - 0000 –
In the cold pre-dawn darkness, three blacked out, camouflaged military vehicles made their laborious way up the same jeep trail in Nevada that Ralph Johnson had driven the afternoon before. A driver with night vision goggles sat behind the wheel of each.
Two of the trucks carried a SWAT team of FBI professional trained and equipped to handle anything. In the third, Ralph Johnson was joined by the commander of the SWAT team and the Las Vegas Bureau Chief of the FBI. When they reached the last fork in the road before the pass, they halted and their occupants disembarked.
Ralph and the Bureau Chief watched as the team members donned their equipment and the commander gave his quiet instructions. Then the team melted into the darkness, fanning out to assume their positions surrounding the clearing and wait for the rising sun.
The Bureau Chief looked at his watch, and then at the pale glow that was only just beginning to show in the east. “Hell of a cold morning. Let’s get back in the truck and turn the heat on.”
Back inside the truck, the Bureau Chief turned on the cab light, pulled out a sheaf of papers and began reading, leaving Ralph to stare out the window in silence. The sun was close to rising before the quiet was broken by an alarm going off on the Chief’s cell phone.
“Mind if I borrow your satellite phone?”
The question was of course hypothetical. The Bureau Chief outranked Johnson by multiple pay grades.
“Of course not, Sir.”
The Chief put on a headset, dialed a number and waited.
“Bureau Chief Burke for Mr. McInnerney. He’s expecting my call.”
Ralph Johnson’s eyebrows rose involuntarily. Was the Bureau Chief really reporting directly to the head of the FBI about the operation they were about to launch? This guy Adversego must be a hell of a lot more important than Johnson had thought.
“Hello Sir. Yes, everyone’s in position. We’re initiating contact in half an hour. Yes, I’ll call back when we’re about to engage.”
Burke rang off and said “Let’s go.”
Johnson led the way up the jeep trail. When they were almost in sight of the camper they met the SWAT team leader. He led them off the track to the east and then began to circle back so that the just-risen sun would be at their backs. Frank would have to stare straight into the light to see them if they came into view. Scrambling up a bank, they reached a camouflaged shield with a small clear window that had been set up between two trees.
“This should stop anything that he’s likely to have on board, but when in doubt, get behind a tree. He’d need a howitzer to get through one of those, and I doubt he does. It’s 7:04. At 7:10 we’ll engage.” With that, he was gone.
Ralph scanned the scene ahead with professional interest. Just as it should, the clearing and the surrounding woods looked exactly as they had the day before, despite the fact that 12 heavily armed operatives were within 100 yards of the camper, each with a specific set of task to execute – four to blow out the camper’s tires, one to take out the windshield of the cab, another to fire a teargas through the gap immediately after, and the other six, in gasmasks, to rush in and drag their target, coughing and bewildered, from his bunk. It would all be over in the wink of an eye.
Burke dialed the satellite phone again and McInnerney’s assistant put him through.
“We’re about to engage, Sir.”
“Remember Burke – under no circumstances is Adversego to be injured. It’s not him we want, it’s who he can lead us to. I want any computer equipment, too – undamaged.”
“Of course, Sir. I’ve made sure that’s completely clear to everyone.”
“Good. Now I want you to give me everything that happens as it happens.”
Burke peered out through the thick window. This wouldn’t do, he thought. He was looking at the back of the camper and wouldn’t be able to see most of what was about to happen, and McInnerney would be unhappy. Burke looked down at his watch. Just enough time to swing wide and get behind another tree before the action started.
With that, he darted out from behind the shield.
The Bureau Chief hadn’t made it 20 feet before the solar arrays on the camper came to life and started to rotate. By the time he reached the tree he was aiming for, they were locked on his position.
“Stand down! Stand down!” The SWAT team leader barked into his microphone.
Damn it, he thought, this desk jockey had ruined everything. Two minutes more and the operation would have been all over, and now what? How were they to know where Frank was in the vehicle now? If he was in the cab, they might kill him when they took the windshield out. All their careful planning was now out the window. The commander would have to improvise, and fast.
“What’s going on?” McInnerney said impatiently.
Burke broke into a sweat, peering out from behind his tree. “It seems that Adversego knows we’re here.”
“How the hell did that happen?”
Burke decided he’d ignore that question and follow MicInnerney’s earlier command to provide real-time commentary.
“The SWAT team commander just stepped into the open. It looks like he’s going to call for Adversego to surrender.”
As the commander moved forward, Johnson watched a familiar sequence begin to unfold: the solar arrays swiveled to the broadside position and the camper’s headlights came on. Only this time it was the menacing theme of the movie Jaws that began thumping out from the camper's speakers.
“You’re surrounded, Adversego. Look around you.”
“The twelve operatives just stepped out from behind their trees, Sir, all in full battle dress and with rifles aimed at the camper.”
The camper’s engine roared to life and its emergency flashers began to glare.
“Can you see Adversego?”
“No – all of the windows are covered.”
“There’s no way you’re getting out of here, Adversego. Give yourself up,” the commander yelled.
The camper was now turning away from Burke and towards the commander.
“Adversego’s starting to drive towards the commander!”
The commander spoke quietly to his team through his shoulder microphone. “Hold your fire; if I give the order, take out the tires and give the engine area everything you’ve got, but don’t touch the cab or the camper. If I can get Adversego to show his face, though, don’t wait for an order - take out the windows farthest from him and give him the gas. Got it?” Twelve voices confirmed.
“Now what?” McInnerney barked impatiently.
“I don’t know; I think the commander was giving orders to his team; now he’s yelling again.”
“Give it up, Adversego. You can’t escape. Even if you could get by us, you wouldn’t get far; we’ve got more forces covering the entire area.”
The commander waited, but nothing happened. He called towards the camper again. “I’m just going to walk slowly towards you so we can talk, OK? Nothing else right now, just talk.”
“He’s trying to get closer and see if he can get Adversego to respond.”
The commander took one slow step forward, and then another. No response.
“Adversego is letting him get closer.”
The commander took a third step, and then a fourth. Soon, he was only forty feet from the cab.
“Good choice, Frank. That’s playing it smart. Now I’m just going to…”
But that was as close as the commander got, because many things began happening so fast that Burke was only able to sort them out later. The chaos all began with the camper suddenly lurching forward, throttle wide open in first gear and engine roaring as it redlined.
At the same instant, music began insanely blaring at ear-piercing volume from the speakers mounted on the camper, almost drowning out the commander’s screamed command of “fire” as he threw himself out of the path of the accelerating camper. But only a few operatives fired for fear of hitting him.
“What’s that? What’s that?” McInnerney yelled into Burke’s ear as he heard the sounds of gunfire in the background.
“It sounds like Wagner’s “Ride of the Valkyries” Burke yelled back into McInnerney’s ear.
“No, you idiot! What’s happening?”
The camper was well beyond the cordon of operatives, racing downhill to the east. Now it was the SWAT team that was looking straight into the rising sun, hoping at best to pick off a rear tire as the camper careened down the mountainside.
And then, sitting at his desk far away, Baldwin barked a single word of command.
Burke was shouting “He’s getting away! He’s getting away!” when a giant, unseen hand threw him to the ground.
What had happened? He raised his head just in time to see the remnants of a giant fireball dissipating from where the camper had been just a moment ago. Stupidly, he wished it would disappear entirely, so he could see where the camper was headed now. Then he heard the sound of objects hitting the ground around him. A shoe. A piece of silverware. Pieces of paper fluttered away in the wind, and the sun glinted on the small pieces of metal that were falling gently down like spring rain.
Burke stood up, shaking. Now he could see the blackened, burning wreckage of the camper; an axle with a charred tire leaned up at a crazy angle.
He became aware that McInnerney was still screaming “What happened? What happened?” in his ear.
Burke pulled his earpiece off as he stumbled towards the wreckage of the camper. Suddenly, everything was peaceful and still, except for a far away sound. He stopped and looked up, and then nodded his head slowly.
A Predator drone heading back to base, of course. A Hellfire air to ground missile almost certainly. It all made perfect sense.
Burke replaced his earpiece and reported in.
“It’s all over.”
Carl can't follow Frank on the run, but you can, on
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