He was beyond exhaustion and it took all of his willpower to try and avoid the inevitable mistakes one started to make when tired. What seemed like an eternity had passed since he’d first started living this hell on earth almost nine weeks ago at Fort Benning, GA. Then it was off to the mountains of Camp Rogers, Georgia and now he was elbows deep in a swamp at Camp Rudder. Nathaniel Howard was well on his way to receiving that coveted Ranger Tab and becoming a U.S. Army Ranger. That’s if he didn’t screw up in the next day and fail the course. He’d spent the last nine weeks running through forests, up and down mountains and now a swamp all the while carrying a hundred pound pack on his back and sleeping no more than a couple of hours a night. Exhaustion would be a welcome state of rest for him right now. He didn’t even think there was a word for what he was feeling.
Steven Lowery awoke after his customary eight hours of sleep and donned his jogging outfit which consisted of a white t-shirt and a pair of shorts. He was out the door within a few minutes of having woken up. He always started his day with a jog. It not only served to wake him up and keep him fit, but it had the added benefit of being the most peaceful time of the day with everyone still asleep in their beds. It was just him, the pavement and the rising sun. He was annoyed to hear his cellphone ringer. As a Special Agent of the FBI it was a necessary evil to carry the thing with him wherever he went, but that didn’t make it any less annoying when it interrupted his morning run.
“Lowery,” he said trying not to sound too annoyed.
“Steve, it’s Bob. There’s been an incident. How fast can you get down here?”
“I’ll be there in twenty minutes,” Steve replied. He had already turned around and was heading back toward his house. The shower would have to wait—the FBI had showers in headquarters building and he could clean himself up over there once he’d taken care of whatever urgent business it was that required his presence. He was used to being sent to all manner of places on short notice and so he had a bag already packed sitting in his foyer. He grabbed it and two minutes later he was speeding south toward the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Building on Pennsylvania Ave. His trip was made easier with the police lights built into the front grill of his car and the one on his dashboard. He didn’t bother with the siren. You only used that at intersections where you weren’t a hundred percent sure that you’d make it through without risking an accident. Only on television did they blare their sirens indiscriminately. That only warned the bad guys that you were coming—giving them ample time to get away. Better to sneak up on them than announce to all the world where you were. He tuned the radio to 90.9 to catch any news that he could from NPR on the way in. Surely enough, within a couple of minutes he was brought up to speed on what had transpired only a couple of hours ago.
He pulled up to the guard’s booth and flashed his ID to which the guard responded immediately by raising the barrier. A minute later, bag in hand, Steve was riding the elevator up to the fifth floor. When the doors opened, he saw that the place was buzzing with activity—which wasn’t terribly abnormal for the FBI, but there was an air of purpose in what he saw. The fifth floor of FBI Headquarters is home to the Criminal Investigation Division. He hadn’t taken two steps when he ran into Bob Reid.
“Steve, good you’re here. Listen, someone blew up the ambassador’s residence in Iraq—”
“I know, I heard it on the way in.”
“I need you to run the investigation. We’ve got a C-21 already warmed up at Andrews.” He didn’t have to say that the first forty-eight hours of an investigation was critical to solving it. Or that flying over the Atlantic ate into that time considerably. “I’ve put a preliminary investigative team together already. Sorry Steve, but there just wasn’t any time to wait.” He handed Lowery a suitcase on wheels with an extended handle. “Here’s a little light reading for your flight. It’s all the pertinent data we’ve got on the new ambassador, all recent threats, etc… The usual. Good luck.” Bob extended his hand and Steve shook it. He felt a little under dressed in his jogging shorts, but he couldn’t help it. It looked like the shower would have to wait a little longer than he’d expected.
First things first, he walked the five necessary steps to the nearest phone and dialed the communications room. “Get me U.S. Central Command.” It took fully twelve seconds—which felt more like an eternity—before he received a reply.
“CENTCOM,” the officer said on the other end of the line.
“This is Special Agent Steven Lowery of the FBI. I need to speak to General Robert Banion immediately.” Another eternity went by.
“This is General Banion. Who is this?”
“This is Special Agent Steven Lowery of the FBI. The ambassador’s residence bombing falls under our jurisdiction and my team will be flying out within the hour to conduct an investigation.” What he didn’t say, but what both men knew was that it would take several more hours before Special Agent Lowery and company’s’ boots touched Iraqi soil. Until then, jurisdiction or not, it was General Banion’s show. “I need your help in making sure that the crime scene remains as undisturbed as possible.” Of course in cases like these, recovery efforts pretty much ensured that nothing was left untouched, but the rules required him to request it anyway.
“You do realize that my men have been conducting recovery operations,” Banion informed the civilian. “And we can’t just stop in order to preserve a crime scene. I’ll inform my men to be as careful as the circumstances permit. But I won’t just let survivors die.”
“Understood General. Can you tell me if you have any new information?”
“Just that we’ve got a few soldiers at checkpoint Bravo who say they let a van through that could have been carrying the bomb.”
“I want to speak to them as soon as I land. Speaking of which, I need to get moving. I’ll give you a call once I’m in the air. Thank you General.”
“Your welcome,” and the line went dead.
“Bob,” he said to his boss. “I think we may have a lead on the bombers. A few soldiers at a checkpoint remember letting them in. I’ve got to run. I’ll let you know if we need anything sent over.”
Winston MacGill—or Mac—pulled onto the quiet street in the suburbs of Virginia slowly approaching the third house on the right. He wasn’t necessarily trying to be covert, but, old habits died hard. He parked the car on the street and walked up the driveway. He noticed that the lawn hadn’t been mowed in ages. He remembered when it was one of the best kept on the street. He made his way up the steps to the front door. Much to his surprise it was ajar. Had he been carrying a gun, he’d have reached for it. Slowly, he pushed the door open with his elbow—after all this could be a crime scene, though he certainly hoped not. He needed the occupant of the house too much to lose him to some random crime, not to mention that he was his friend.
“Mark! You there?” He yelled into the doorway. No response. That got him a little worried. Not the squeamish type, Mac slowly, carefully made his way into the house. The place was a mess. “Mark?” he tried again. Nothing. He made his way to the master bedroom. It was the most likely place he’d be. And sure enough, there lay Mark Hannigan, out cold on his bed—still fully clothed. He must have gotten drunk again. When will he learn? He reached out and gently nudged the man. It took him several tries and then Mark slowly opened his eyes. On doing so he suddenly noticed that there was someone else in the room with him. That startled him and he jumped instinctively reaching for his gun on the night table.
“Mark! Mark! It’s me! Mac!” Winston stepped back a few steps with his hands out in the open hoping that his friend would come to quicker than he’d be able to reach his gun. He should have seen the thing and moved it. Bad move Mac. Let’s hope you don’t get killed now you genius. The strangest things went through ones brain when they potentially faced death.
Unfortunately for Mark—and fortunately for Mac—the sudden movement very quickly brought about a pounding headache which slowed him down enough to hear the person identify himself. It was then that he stopped. Partly from the ache in his muscles, and partly because something in his brain said Mac equals friend. There followed a good thirty seconds of silence as Mark tried to get his bearings. The light of day didn’t help his headache at all.
“What are you doing here Mac?” Hannigan asked his visitor without looking up. He was sitting up in bed with his head slumped down.
“How are things Mark? You look like hell,” Mac told him with a touch of sympathy in his voice.
“I’m fine. What’s it matter to you anyway? You didn’t answer my question. What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I was just in the neighbourhood and I thought I’d drop in to see how you were doing,” Mac said not too convincingly. It wasn’t his intention to anyway, but he did need to break the ice. It had been almost five years.
“The Deputy Director of Operations for the CIA doesn’t just ‘drop by’ Mac. What’s going on?” Mark said looking up. He was having trouble getting used to the daylight and the pounding behind his eyes didn’t help any.
“Fine, you never were one for small talk. I want you back at the Company.” Mac told him deadpan—there was no need for theatrics.
“You might recall the circumstances under which I originally left.” Mark said with just a hint of sarcasm in his voice. “Remember? I nearly got four of my agents killed and Cairo station needed to shut down for, what was it, six months? C’mon Mac, I thought you’d remember something like that.”
“Yeah smart guy, and if you remember both Senate and House Select Committees on Intelligence exonerated you of all wrongdoing after investigating the incident. For crying out loud, the DCI even testified on your behalf! You’re not made of stone man, nobody could have withstood the emotional impact of what happened to you and still focused on the job. Nobody!”
Mark grunted, “yeah it’s like getting off on an insanity plea. ‘Oh, sorry Judge,’” he said mockingly, “I nearly got four guys killed but it’s because my mind was somewhere else.” Even before finishing his sentence he knew he’d gone too far. The grief was evident on his face and he suddenly had a hard time looking at his former boss in the eyes.
“Look Mark, nobody blames you for what happened. I know you know that, but I also know that holding on to it has been your way of dealing with what happened to you. It’s been nearly five years, don’t you think it’s time to start moving on?” The look he got was one of fiery anger, but it was almost as quickly replaced with despair. Mac could tell that his friend—they’d been friends long before they’d ever worked together—knew he needed to move on, but he just didn’t know how. “What if I told you that what I’m here to offer you is a chance to get those dogs back for what they did?” He knew he shouldn’t have worded it that way, but they were friends, and he needed Mark back in the saddle.
People have been searching for a cure for hangovers for as long as there’s been alcohol. No one would have ever guessed that what Mark just heard was it. Suddenly his mind had something to focus on and though his head still felt like a pile driver was trying to ram a steel pylon through it, it somehow didn’t matter. “What are you offering?”
“There’s a plan that’s been sitting in my safe since around the time you left just waiting for approval.” He explained what it was. “It’s called Hydra—”
“And as of last night it was approved. NCA himself put his John Hancock on it.” NCA stood for National Command Authority, another name for the President of the United States. “Sure it’s got to go through the Select Committee, but that’ll be a cakewalk. You’d have carte blanche, anything you need. You interested?”
“What do you think?”
“Okay, first thing we need to do is get your clearance out of the dustbin. As DDO I grant you temporary clearance for everything you’ve just heard, but you know the drill, we need to get it on paper. As it stands, only three people know the name of the project. You, me and the DCI. Nobody else, and it stays that way, codeword only. And that’ll change on a monthly basis.” Codewords at the CIA were randomly assigned via computer. The better to keep humans from accidentally associating a codeword that was in some way descriptive of what it was meant to obscure.
“I’m going to need recruits.”
“I know just the place.”
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