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Vengeanceby Richard Marcinko
It was your basic freight train: big, slow, and ugly, springs squealing like a pig in a Missouri hog pen. The sound didn't make any difference to the fine, upstanding middle-class citizens of Lenaza, a few miles outside of Kansas City. Hell, nothing made much difference to most of them, because they were snoring in their beds. The train had crept into their dreams forever: it rolled through every night at two A.M., give or take.
Tonight, it was a bit on the take side. But me and my guys were about to even the ledger out.
Guys and gals. Never let me forget Trace Dahlgren. At that exact moment she was leaning off the side of an AH-6 Little Bird helicopter as it swooped down toward the freight train in question. I was leaning off the other side, doing my best to pretend I was the patient type. This was necessary because the helo pilot had a hell of a time matching the speed of the train, a useful prerequisite to our immediate goal: disembarking from the aircraft onto the roof of one of the diesels. The train had picked up speed as it started downhill, and to complicate things just a little, the weatherman had screwed up again, and the calm, clear night I'd ordered had turned windier than hell and misty to boot. I swore to myself that next time I'd play hobo and hop on the damn thing if I wanted a ride.
"Can we at least get over the damn train?" groused Trace. "All I see here is dirt." Normally dependable and crystal clear, even the discrete-burst communications system we used was having a hard time of it; it croaked and crackled, distorting her voice.
The helo rocked hard right and we zipped over the train — but instead of hovering over the engines, we were above one of the chemical tankers. Jumping off onto the car wasn't particularly convenient — if you can't figure out why, find one of those mega culvert pipes and spread your legs over it. Our pilot had flown with the 160th SOAR once, the Army's dedicated special operations airborne taxi squad, but either once was a long time ago or this just wasn't his night.
The tankers were the reason we were here. They happened to be all filled with the same basic ingredient: cyanide gas, or more technically speaking, Chlorcyan, another name for cyanogen chloride. Left alone, Chlorcyan is "simply" riot gas: beats shit out of your eyes and chokes you, maybe to death, maybe not. Heat it so it starts to break down and let some of it come into contact with water and you get hydrogen cyanide, which is best known as the gas used by the Nazis in their quest to exterminate a good hunk of the human race.
The exact effect of blowing up a dozen cars of the stuff would depend slightly on luck; if the charges were placed willy-nilly, all you'd get was really wretched smog and an ecological disaster unmatched since Chernobyl. If you knew what you were doing when you blew them up, you could kill half the population in the state.
My goal wasn't to blow them up, not really. The train was starring in a little Red Cell II exercise I'd worked up to test the procedures of the regional Homeland Security alert system and its various dependent and not-so-dependent agencies. The train was supposed to be under their guard and jurisdiction, well protected from terrorists and maniacs, to say nothing of airborne hobos with improvised explosive devices and attitudes to match.
"We need to be over that front locomotive," I told the pilot. "Before the tunnel."
"I'm trying, Skipper."
Finally the helo flitted forward and a relatively flat stretch of diesel engine appeared below my boot. I clicked the fancy French snap on my safety harness and stepped off as naturally and easily as if I were hopping off the last step of a mall escalator.
And if you believe it was that easy, I have some swampland for you to take a look at.
I felt like a cat pouncing onto the seat of a wet motorcycle moving about sixty miles an hour as I stepped off. My feet started to slide out from under me, but I managed to grab the edge of the roof I'd landed on. Trace came off just like the lady she is. Catlike and nimble, she stepped, twirled, and gave me a look that seemed to say, So what's the big deal?
There were three diesels, all facing forward. Trace and I were on the first, both of us just ahead of the dynamic brake fan, which is the large cooling area in the center of the locomotive. As a general rule, the people who design locomotives don't give a hell of a lot of thought to people riding on the top of them, which means moving across them and getting down while the train is doing sixty or so is not particularly easy. The fact that the top of the engine had been slicked with the rain made it even more interesting. Trace slipped and fell spread-eagled out across the top. Instead of gloating as I probably should have, I grabbed her leg to save her sorry butt and slipped myself. All I could find for a handhold was the side of the engine. I managed to grab it just as we roared into the tunnel.
If I hadn't been hanging on to Trace by a couple of fingernails, the rest would have been easy: a quick slide around and I'd have plopped down on two feet onto the catwalk outside the engine cab. But between Trace and the wind of the tunnel and the slippery slime of the moistened grit I was perched on, I found it possible to slide in every direction but the one I wanted. If you've ever tried to catch a greased pig in the middle of a mud flat while a hurricane rolled through, you'll know what I mean. Trace suddenly slid over the side. Thinking she was falling, I threw my other arm out to grab her and flew off the side of the top of the locomotive.
I expect most of you reading this book know who the hell I am better than I do, but let's do a quick review for the nuggets among us who have wandered into The World According to the Rogue Warrior without a map or the proverbial pot to shit in, and more important without having read the books that should be on everyone's MUST READ NOW list, starting with Rogue Warrior and ending with Violence of Action.
Yesterday — well, it seems like yesterday — I kicked commie slimebag butts and slit throats in the jungles of Vietnam. Pretty little hellhole there, as detailed in Rogue Warrior. Fast-forward through mountains of shit and red tape and you get to the part where I started SEAL Team Six, the Navy's preeminent counterterrorism force — Delta Force with fins and finesse. After three years as CO on Six, I finally pissed enough people off that the powers-that-were found a way to shaft me off to the sidelines. Not that I stayed shafted too long — I managed to really irritate people with a little operation called Red Cell. This was conceived as an exercise in kicking the Navy in the pants — alerting the brass, swabs, ship drivers, and everybody else top to bottom to the very real danger terrorists posed. Today it's damn obvious what terrorism can do, but in 1984, very few people understood the danger posed by maniacal slimebags who believe religion greenlights murder and mayhem. Not that knowing any better has helped all that much in terms of improving security, but that's a topic for another day.
Red Cell got attention for a couple of reasons — "blowing up" nuclear submarines and Air Force One were just the start. All of this attention led inevitably to the ultimate revenge of the nerds: I got railroaded on a set of trumped up charges into a federal home for the absurdly unappreciated.
And then things got really interesting. It turned out that, once I was officially out of favor, my services were indispensable. I guess the secret to getting ahead is to get screwed by the right people in life.
Bullshit on that. I took no prisoners and gave no quarter; the secret to my success was the good ol' American secret to success: work twice as hard as everyone else. But I go into all this stuff in my other books, so we'll just skip up to the very recent past, say the three weeks that brought me to Lenaza.
Over the years, I have gained a certain reputation and maybe even a certain fame as a guy who knows the color of his shit when it comes to dealing with terrorists and security issues. And while I admit to rubbing a percentage of people the wrong way — I like to say I'm one hell of a brain surgeon, but I do flunk bedside manner — another percentage of people realizes that if you want to improve your security problems, the person to call is Demo Dick, whose talents and private firm are available for the proper considerations. Which led Rich Armstead from the Homeland Security Office to pick up the phone and jingle yours truly at Rogue Manor one fine early-spring morn. He explained that his department was working with local agencies to improve antiterrorist security. I immediately got the picture — Rich wanted Dickie to do a rerun of Red Cell.
"No," I told him. "I'm out of the pissing-people-off business. Now I just kill them if they get in the way."
Rich laughed, but I wasn't kidding. Certainly not about testing defenses BS. Showing people how dumb their security precautions are makes them mad, and, unfortunately, usually doesn't help improve them much.
Look at it this way: if the organization were smart enough to take constructive criticism, they wouldn't be so fucked up in the first place.
Rich didn't give up, though. He laid on the your-country-really-needs-you crap and dropped the President's name and insisted I ought to talk with him in person. And just in case I forgot the way, he'd detailed a limo to pick me up.
So that's what the honking was in the driveway.
The day Rich called had been a particularly bad one for the office PR wise, with some dinky newspaper named the New York Times burying a story on page one about security lapses in the nation's rail industry. What really pissed Rich off about the story was that for once the news hounds had actually gotten their facts right; if any terrorist hadn't had a blueprint for ruining a lot of mornings in America, they sure as hell had one now.
Rich covered his feelings pretty well, smiling and shaking hands and even trying to flatter me by talking about what good shape I looked to be in. That's the dead giveaway, I guess, when they start asking if you're still benching five fat ones every day. (I am.) He smiled and nodded and slick as a carnival hawker moved onto a sob story about how fucked things were security-wise across the country. This of course naturally led to asking if I'd do my bit to straighten it out. There were violins in the background, and just as he finished, the strains of the Star-Spangled Banner seeped in from the outer office.
I may not be wiser but I'm definitely older since the days of Red Cell. I offered to provide Rogue Warrior services overseas for the proper fee, no holds barred and no questions asked. Hit the scumbags where they live and head off the trouble was always what I was best at, and I told Rich it made a lot more sense in the long run, in the short run, and in every run in between. Uncle Sam has seen fit to contract out for a variety of services which for one reason or another can't be handled in-house, and I'm always happy to work with Uncle on what needs doing.
Rich stood up, grinned, and shook my hand as if we'd agreed.
"Call when you're ready to start," he said.
"Don't sit by the phone."
He grinned as I left. The phone calls from old pals started five minutes after I was out of the office and continued nonstop. It was good stuff: duty and honor, responsibility, need in a time of crisis. Tears in my eyes — you get the picture. The clincher was a five-minute conversation with the President of the United States that went roughly like this:
"We want you, Dick."
So I agreed. It was my only option anyway. So many damn people were calling I couldn't use the fucking phone even to order a pizza.
Rogues never do learn, I guess. I rounded up some of the usual suspects, made plans to hire a few new ones, picked up a Rand McNally of the U.S., and off we went.
Which was how I came to be surfing a diesel locomotive roaring through the Missouri countryside, pretending to be a scumbag terrorist bent on kicking mud in the face of the world's only superpower.
Or rather, I came to be flying off said diesel locomotive, looking at becoming just another piece of tunnel trash.
I jammed my right hand out against the side as I went over, hoping I'd grab part of the pipe that ran back along the side of the engine. In my mind, I saw myself swinging down Tarzan-like and hopping onto the next platform.
That was in my mind. In real life, I missed completely. My chest and chin smacked against the side of the locomotive. My hand bashed against something else and I grabbed it desperately, sure that gravity had finally managed to find a way to kick my butt.
It hadn't, fortunately, though it kicked just about every other part of me. I'd snagged the side support of the metal ladder running up to the cab, jamming my arm between the corner of the rung and the side. I smacked against the side of the locomotive a couple of hundred times, flailing to stay upright as we emerged from the tunnel. After what seemed like a hell of a long time, I managed to get myself on the ladder — upright, bruised, but unperforated.
And where was Trace while all this was going on?
Mangled to shit back in the tunnel?
No, laughing, I think. She managed somehow to slide across the back of the cab, roll over me, and end up on the tiny platform at the rear above the coupling assembly. Just like a woman — you save her butt and then she walks all over you.
"You done fucking around over there or what?" she squawked in my ear as I met her on the walk-around ledge that circled the locomotive's waistline.
"I'm ready," I grunted.
That's what she said, but I couldn't hear it, and in fact I had trouble seeing her mouth it in the dim light. My microphone had snapped off somewhere in my tumble, though I didn't realize it at the time. We made our way to the front locomotive without further adventure, perching near the cab door.
If we'd been real terrorists, we might have popped a concussion grenade inside, killing the two crewmen. Or maybe we'd've sprayed them with our MP5s; hard to say what sort of terroristic mayhem might have occurred to our crazed minds. But Red Cell II fielded only considerate terrorists, and to avoid injury we had equipped ourselves with pepper gas, actual weapons tucked beneath our black clothes. The stuff was environmentally friendly, too, approved by the EPA and conservationists for terrorist use around the world. Even Greenpeace endorsed it.
I gripped the handle to the door. It pulled open easier than I expected. Trace flew through the opening.
"Homeland Security!" she shouted. "Stop the fucking train."
There were two men in the cab. The first one looked at her like he was about to have a heart attack.
The second pulled a gun.
Staring down the business end of a firearm never becomes routine. You can train to deal with it, and after a while it does lose some of its shock value, but a gun's a gun and death is death. Every so often they come together in the form of a small piece of lead propelled at high speed. So when it happens, you deal with it right away, no questions asked. Stop to ask questions and you may not be alive to hear the answers.
So Trace reacted and I reacted, and the result was one very teary-eyed engineer.
Which served the asshole right, because he actually managed to get off a shot.
Colonel Jeff Cooper — a serious, A1 pistolero and instructor — drills his people to conjure a "flash sight picture." The technique ensures a takedown shot in very close quarters and extremely tight situations. Had the engineer shot off a few zillion rounds with the esteemed colonel, no doubt this tale would have had a different outcome.
Still, you have to give him points for trying. The first bullet flew by close enough to change the press in my pants. There was no second bullet because by then, Trace and I had the man down on the floor. I felt damn lucky I didn't get bitten by a ricochet in the cab. It wasn't the engineer's fault that he shot, really. We hadn't told him that it was an exercise, and if someone had tried to hop my train in the middle of the night, I'd probably do the same.
Well, not exactly the same. I take Colonel Cooper's advice very much to the heart.
Both trainmen got faces full of pepper spray. The shooter began rolling around the cramped cab, screaming and carrying on. The other man fainted. This didn't keep his face from shading purple as tears streamed from his eyes, but even so, it was probably the most logical reaction to the situation.
Trainmen secure — we cuffed them with those nifty plastic garbage bag ties you've seen on EPWs — we now owned the train. Imagine how much ten tanker cars, their cargo, and three diesels would have fetched on eBay. But cash flow was just fine that month, and as thievery wasn't the point of the exercise, I checked our position on the GPS, then backed down the throttle and eased on the brakes.
Trace pulled out her cell phone and sent a signal to the second half of the team, which was waiting down the tracks. Then she pulled a bottle of water from her vest and gave it to the trainman who'd tried to kill us, telling him to swish it over his eyes. Obviously we cuffed him with his hands in front of him to ease discomfort and the potential of him beating himself up trying to get balanced as he tried to stand up.
"This is just an exercise," Trace told him. She dumped the bullets from his pistol — it was a Colt revolver, a short-nosed job once favored by detectives — and stuck the weapon in his belt. "We're sorry if we hurt you."
He grumbled something that I couldn't quite make out over the squealing of the brakes, though I gathered he wasn't completely accepting of her apology.
As we stopped the train, Danny Barrett and two other members of the Rogue Warrior team had turned onto a nearby service road and were driving along the tracks in a pickup truck. They carried a dozen IEDs, or improvised explosive devices, which had been armed with small radio receivers. Under other circumstances, the business part of the packages would have had C-4 explosive or something similar. C-4 is your basic plastique dynamite substitute; the stuff is so stable that I swear you can set it on fire and it won't explode. Of course, I wouldn't jump up and down on it to put the fire out. In the interest of avoiding a really spectacular catastrophe, we'd substituted less potent but nonetheless showy fireworks in its place.
I know what you're thinking: Dick, you can get C-4. Hell, you can get anything you want. You trot over to the annex at the NSA (No Such Agency), whip out your credit card, and they'll fill the shopping cart for you. You know what? You're right. So, just to show what real Tangos — another word for "terrorists" — could do, we had obtained real C-4 for the operation the day before, courtesy of the bomb squad of a nearby county law enforcement agency, which shall remain nameless for reasons that will soon become obvious. Said bomb squad used real C-4 as part of its training sessions to give the people who were supposed to work with it a bit of realistic experience. No problem there; commendable, in fact. But they kept it at headquarters. In my experience, one of the least secure places in most local municipalities is the local police headquarters, and this proved the case here. Danny and two other team members, Sean Mako and Fred "Hulk" Goddard, conducted an exercise long on deception and short on exertion — just the sort of thing Danny learned to love during his days as a detective back in the D.C. area.
Sean and Hulk were new shooters, recruited as cannon fodder by yours truly, with the help and cooperation of Danny and Trace. Sean had become a SEAL when he was just twenty — not a record, but close. He served with Teams Two and Six, then graduated to freelance for our Christian friends — Christian as in "Christians In Action," otherwise known as the CIA — in Iraq and someplace in Central America; even Sean's not sure where it was. Past affiliations are no testament to character, fortunately, because Sean proved to be a perfect fit with Red Cell II and extra handy in this case. Before joining our little party he'd worked on a tactical squad in Missouri and attended a program put on by the agency in question. He not only knew about the C-4 but where it was kept.
Hulk is one of those real maggot ex-SEALs who thinks it's funny to mouth off about how the old farts ought to stand aside and let the young guys take charge. I used to threaten to put him over my lap and give him a good paddling with a baseball bat. I'd have to whack him on the side of the head with it first, though, because Hulk stands about six-ten and if he weighs less than 280, the action hero he was named after wears lady's underwear.
Danny and Hulk went into the station posing as painters, claiming the lieutenant had asked them to come around the day before and give an estimate. Sean came in a minute later to ask about a gun permit he was having trouble with, backing them up and providing diversion if necessary.
The estimate gag has to be the oldest trick in the book. It was the lieutenant's day off, of course, but the cover story itself had been selected carefully. The local newspaper had reported that the county supervisors had authorized a fresh paint job for the office building and would be accepting bids in a few weeks. Danny had called the day before, leaving two messages "from the painters" with the receptionist and the lieutenant's secretary, so that if anyone had raised questions, she could have scratched her head and said, "Oh yeah, them." But no one asked any questions. Danny pulled out a clipboard, Hulk took out a laser ruler, and they started measuring the offices as if they were preparing a bid.
It took nearly five minutes for them to reach the locker area where the bomb materials were kept. I'd like to say that there they were met by armed guards whom they had to subdue. My guys won only because of their determination and grit; from that point, they blew their way into the safe holding the weapons and made off with the goodies.
I'd like to say that, but, of course, it's not true. Stealing the C-4 involved walking to an open metal shelf, bending down slightly, and scooping the material into the tool bag Danny had brought along.
When Danny told me all this later on — and we watched it on the mini-digital video cam they brought along to document the operation — Danny insisted the entire operation had been among the most hazardous he had ever been involved on: bending so far forward could easily have thrown out his back.
Not wanting to mess up the department's budget, we returned the C-4 a few hours later, depositing it on the desk of the organization's head man with a little note on how we had obtained it. This half of the caper was carried out by the prettiest looking cleaning lady you'll ever see wield a duster: Trace. She left the explosives but came back with two shiny badges — a fair exchange, if you ask me.
As for the detonators, real terrorists might have gone on the Internet or the Slimebag Home Shopping Network and bought high-tech stuff, but we're a government operation, so we went the cheap-o route: local Radio Shack gladly sold us the equipment, thinking we were using the transmitters for our radio-controlled airplane. The most difficult part of the transaction was remembering which phony phone number to give the guy behind the counter so they could put us on their "Must Call at Dinner Time" telemarketing list.
As the train pulled to a stop, Danny and his guys got the video camera in the truck rolling, recording the scene for training purposes. Then they ran up and hoisted themselves about the tanker cars, setting their charges. Me and Trace, along with the two railroad people we'd detained, got out of the diesel and marched toward a nearby strip mall on the other side of the service road. During our intel gathering we'd spotted a Dunkin' Donuts here, complete with a set of picnic tables at the side of the parking lot around back. I couldn't have asked for a better field headquarters. I bought the two trainmen coffee and heart-stoppers, snapped off their plastic handcuffs and sat them down at the tables to watch the rest of the proceedings. Half of the donut shop had been turned into a Baskin Robbins ice-cream place and Trace came out licking a cone piled high with scoops of dark chocolate.
"That's going to cost you two extra miles in the morning," I warned her.
"It'll be worth it." She just about purred as she licked her tongue across the ice cream. I smiled at the way the engineer's eyes just about popped out of their sockets.
The wind had died down and the clouds were breaking up; the moon supplied enough light so I could see down the track without my night goggles. About three-quarters of the way through my Big Gulp, my cell phone vibrated on my belt. I flipped it open and found myself talking to Al "Doc" Tremblay, one of the original plank holders from Red Cell.
"Hey, Cock Breath. Doom on you," said Doc. Doc's eloquent turn of phrase was part of our normal greeting etiquette, but in this case he was telling me he had spotted the first of the emergency vehicles sent to check out the situation.
Like to see someone figure that out with their secret decoder ring.
"Got it," I told him. I hopped off the line and got Danny on the radio, telling him to snap it up. Within a half minute, our pickup truck began sending dust up from along the railroad tracks.
The two sad-sack trainmen tried to smile as the first red light glimmered in the distance. I felt a little sorry for them; not only were their eyes reamed but this was going to make them the butt of jokes for weeks. Danny, Sean, and Hulk came over just in time to watch the fun. I saw how Hulk bulked up — he had a dozen donuts, all Boston creme, and he wasn't sharing.
Doc drove up a few minutes later, completing the party. His walruslike mustache twitched, and he walked with the same swagger I recognized in his stride some twenty years ago when he played an important role on the original Red Cell. Doc's put on a few pounds since those days — but only a few — and he was a skinny SOB to start with. More than likely his wife gets the credit for him staying in shape. Donna is all the motivation any man should need to stay in shape, and how Doc was lucky enough to hook up with her in the first place remains one of the universe's unfathomable mysteries. He came over and plopped down on the bench. "Who's got two-thirty-three?" asked Doc, sitting down nearby.
"Me," said Trace.
"Don't tell me you guys started a pool on the response," I said.
"Not on the response," said Doc. "On the fireworks."
"Don't tell me any more. I don't want to be unduly influenced." I'd taken out the detonator and was waiting to launch the IEDs — improvised explosive devices, if you're new to pyrotechnics — at the most propitious moment.
Just as I was about to push the button Danny spotted Colonel Richard Telly's car tearing down the highway. Telly was the Department of Homeland Insecurity regional director — the bigwig whose domain we were peeing all over — and I didn't want him to miss any of the show. So I waited until he pulled up next to the first tanker car to touch off the Roman candles.
The show they put on was pretty impressive, even if I do say so myself.
Colonel Telly may have agreed. I know his dry cleaner sure did.
We heard the shrieks and screams all the way over where we were sitting. We were still laughing ten minutes later when the first squad car pulled up near the donut shop, lights and sirens blazing. Before I could even offer him a coffee, two more black and whites had pulled in behind him.
"Looks like they almost have us surrounded," snickered Trace.
"Drop your weapons," said one of the cops over his loud speaker.
"Comic relief," said Doc.
"Watch it, this ice cream is loaded," laughed Trace.
One of the doors to the police cars opened. An officer slid down behind it, gun drawn and aimed in our general direction.
The 9mm Beretta is a very serviceable pistol, reliable, accurate enough in trained hands, and relatively inexpensive — all definite selling points for a police department. It does suffer from something of an image problem, however. You see so many of them that they tend to lack the coolness factor needed to impress your hardened bad guys, let alone your smart-ass Rogue Warrior team. Which may explain why Trace laughed so hard she dropped her ice cream.
"Now I'm going to have to get another," she said between guffaws. I don't think I've ever seen that woman laugh quite as hard as that — and, of course, her laughing got us laughing even more. The cops, more than a little confused, stood up slowly and looked around, very possibly wondering if we'd hijacked a truckload of nitrous oxide in the course of our evening festivities.
We might all still be laughing if a Crown Vic hadn't screeched to a halt in the lot at that very moment. A little red light revolved on the dashboard. Colonel Richard "Dick" Telly (Ret.) had arrived.
If I weren't so politically correct, I might suggest "Ret." stood for retarded. But by calling Telly that, I would be slandering a lot of otherwise fine though mentally challenged individuals.
"What the fuck is going on here Marrr-sink-o?" he yelled.
It was a struggle getting serious. "You tell me, Dick," I managed finally.
I tossed away the cup I'd been drinking from and the cops all snapped their weapons back to firing position. I was now liable to be arrested for littering. I made a show of smiling and holding my hands out at my side in as nonthreatening a manner as I can muster at three-thirty or so in the morning.
"Marrr-sink-o, do you have any fucking idea of what you're fooling with here?" demanded Telly.
"Tell me, Dick," I repeated.
"Cy-cy-cyanide," he sputtered. "You know what this could have done if it blew up?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. How technical do you want to be?"
Telly's mouth moved, but nothing came out.
"Cy-cy-cyanide," mimicked Trace. The girl can be a real devil when she wants. Twenty-eight years old, five-eight, and built rock solid, her Achilles' heel is a sarcastic sense of humor that never knows when to call it quits.
Must be why I love her so much.
"Well, let's see," I told Dick, trying to throw a professional blanket over the situation. "Hydrogen cyanide and cyanogen chloride — that was car one and two respectively — belong to a group of so-called blood gases. Now these are not your typical beer farts. They interfere with the body's utilization of oxygen; basically, they're strangling you from the inside. Cyanide and its related compounds also have a particularly nasty effect on the central nervous system, kind of like drinking a lot of really cheap gin. Which is why I personally stick with Bombay Sapphire. And I'd advise you to do the same."
As I was talking, I had walked all the way over to Telly, so we were now standing face-to-face, separated by his car door.
"Of course, what exactly would happen in this case depends on several factors," I continued, "including whether we decided to simply blow up the train cars, or to get really fancy, maybe had a way to mix a little sulfuric acid in and turn the town down the tracks there into a giant gas chamber. Not much of a wind tonight," I said, bending to the ground and picking up a few strands of grass. I tossed them up as if to check which way it was blowing, though I knew damn well it was blowing straight out Telly's fat ass. "Light wind. Might dissipate in a few hours. First responders are dead, by the way. I apologize if I'm wrong, but I don't see any hazardous material trucks or any of that sort of thing, no MOP-4 chem suits, not even raincoats. Colonel, you have some serious butt kicking to do to get your people in gear. I do see some television trucks, though," I added. "You'll probably want to go down and talk with them yourself."
"Fuck you, Marcinko. Fuck you."
"Wow, he put you in your place," said Doc as Colonel Dickless Telly hopped back in his car and whipped out of the lot.
"Cy-cy-cyanide," mocked Trace, and those of us who weren't laughing already just about collapsed in convulsions.
There are a lot of folks in Homeland Security who are dedicated, hardworking, and intelligent — and a surprising number are all three at the same time. But none of them work for Tell-Me-Dick. He's carefully weeded out anyone smarter than him, which accounts for the fact that he's so understaffed. I'd suspected it prior to our encounter, but there's nothing like seeing a wild animal in his native habitat to truly understand the beast.
"TV truck at two o'clock," said Danny as the police cars beat a hasty retreat. He pointed down the road to an approaching van with a satellite dish.
"Time to move on," I told the team. "Sean and I will grab the video cams from the bridge and the crossing. We'll meet the rest of you back at Diggers."
Diggers, being our temporary headquarters (aka the most convenient area bar), complete with pool table and a bartender as generous as her chest was bountiful.
As we drove toward the video cams we'd left to record the event for training purposes, Sean fired up a handheld Sony to get a new angle on the response. Calling it fucked up beyond belief is being polite. The HAZMAT team had not yet arrived, there was no secure perimeter, and neither Tell-Me-Dick nor his equally clueless underlings had established a proper command post. If this were a real disaster, they'd all have killed themselves by now. Which I guess would have made the argument that it wasn't a disaster.
Danny had set up the video cams earlier, posting them on small tripod stands and marking the locations with flag poles and reflectors so they'd be easy to retrieve. The cams are smaller than the digital jobs you see in stores. They can take and store over six hours of low-light video and can be equipped to uplink to satellites or to feed into a radio or even a computer network. The resolution is a bit grainy and the action choppy, but we weren't looking to show what we'd recorded at the local cineplex. An outfit called Law Enforcement Technologies Inc. out of Colorado Springs developed them and made them available to me on a trial basis. Besides the tickets to the annual shareholders' barbecue, it's one of the benefits of sitting on their board of directors. I can get what I need without going through the normal two hundred and sixty-seven reviews, audits, and opinions a government purchase order would require, or the nonexport customs agreements and security checks even a private agency needs to clear.
As Sean jumped out and grabbed the first unit, an enterprising television crew drove up and asked if we were part of the Homeland Security operation.
"You want to talk to Colonel Telly," I told them. "He's in charge."
"He doesn't seem to know anything," said the reporter.
I couldn't really argue with her, so I just shrugged. The crew gave me a sympathetic look, then drove off down in the direction of the train bridge, about a quarter of a mile away. We had one of our video cameras there, so we headed in that direction ourselves. A police car belatedly decided to find out what all the excitement was about.
The van stopped near the creek that the bridge spanned and the reporter and her driver/cameraman got out. Sean and I decided to put the Ford's heavy-duty suspension to the test, clambering over the railroad tracks to get closer to our unit. Not coincidentally, this put us farther from the reporter and gave us a clear shot at the nearby highway. I got out of the truck and hustled down the embankment like I was making a pit stop, working across the cut and then up the side of the bridge, which was a steel-frame job with thick girders and peeling paint. The camera had been taped against one of the beams by Doc, who'd used enough duct tape to hold the entire bridge together. I had to hack through it with a knife to release the camera. As I did so, I happened to glance down along the tracks, which were nearly at eye level on my left. Out of the corner of my eye I saw a snake humped over one of the tracks in the distance. I stared at it for a half second, wondering what the hell a snake was doing on a bridge.
Then I realized it wasn't moving. And that it had to be one of the longest snakes in history. My eyes followed it off the side of the track to the grid work below. I climbed up onto the bridge and started walking out over the span. After a step or two, I realized I wasn't looking at a snake, but it still took a few more seconds before I saw the satchel charges rigged to blow up when the train went over the bridge.
Satchel charges. Old suckers rigged the way someone might have been taught back in the old days. The trigger mechanism had been hooked into a thick wire stretched across the rail that would be severed by the steel wheel of a locomotive, a kind of reverse switch that I guess you might have considered kind of clever if you're into grading those sorts of things. Clever or not, it was definitely armed — and it wasn't ours. I swung under the bridge, examined it with my keychain flashlight, and gingerly disarmed it.
Then again, there are only two ways to disarm a bomb:
a) violently, by blowing the sucker up, hopefully on purpose, or b) gingerly. If b) doesn't work, see a).
Meanwhile, the cops and the reporter started jawing back near the track. The police officer did not appreciate the reporter's recitation of the Constitution and its amendments, specifically the one entitling the press to pee on any damn picnic they pleased. At first glance, the reporter hadn't looked like much, but out of the truck — where you could see her short dress and sturdy legs, the curve of her breasts and her shoulder-length blond hair — I wouldn't have minded having a spirited conversation with her myself.
As a matter of fact, I was just considering whether I might want to offer my services as a negotiator when someone nearby shouted, "Holy fuck!"
It was the cameraman, who had wandered near the streambed on the other side of the train bridge to take a leak. I crossed over the tracks and looked down toward the water as he switched on his camera light.
A body floated against the rocks. The cameraman was getting some good video, but it was pretty clear he wasn't going to use much of what he shot. The body was there, but the head wasn't. Neither were the hands.
Copyright © 2005 by Richard Marcinko
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