Chapters 15, 16 and 17
Today, we see the inciting incident, unfortunately.
Remember James Hallstatt? Well, he has
to transport that Kris dagger from Earth to
the Oubliette in Hell....and there is only one
way for a soul to earn a guaranteed trip to
Hell's black-hole prison....and
that is to kill a child.
the Oubliette in Hell....and there is only one
way for a soul to earn a guaranteed trip to
Hell's black-hole prison....and
that is to kill a child.
Or in this case, a whole bunch of them.
Washington Memorial Park
“This is good.”
James Hallstatt pointed to an illegal spot across from the Commons that served as a parking area for tourist buses visiting the Memorial Park. His mom pulled the Nissan van to a sharp stop, placing the shifter into PARK but leaving the engine running.
“You don’t have to do this, you know.”
“Hush up, now. I’m lookin’ for two particular buses – 4190 and 2340.”
Bus 2340, a leased white Trailways, was the first to arrive, disgorging a slew of fourth-graders along with their teachers. The second bus – a blue and white Greyhound, Number 4190 – pulled in behind the first, unloading classmates.
The children wore their school uniforms, and many carried backpacks. These kids were from a well-to-do private school in Arlington, but it didn’t matter to Hallstatt.
Any school would have served his purpose.
“James, I don’t want you to do this. King Brian be damned. You have family right here that needs you. I know I’m not perfect…but I need you with me.”
Hallstatt sighed, ignoring his mom’s pleas. She was 47 years old and a burnt-out meth head. He sincerely regretted ever bringing her over from Ireland, but she’d guilt-tripped him relentlessly after his wife’s overdose.
He didn’t understand his mom for a moment, and wondered where the gene that drove his notorious relatives had disappeared to.
“Look,” Hallstatt glanced over at his mother for a moment, “we’ve had this conversation a thousand times. You should be thrilled when I’m gone…nobody will be nagging you about the drugs anymore. You can smoke all of the meth and crack you want. You’ll never hear another word about counseling or rehab…or any of that shit ever again.”
His mother sniffled. “Maybe I like the crap that you give me…ever think about that? And what of your daughter, James Hallstatt? What about Siobhan?”
“Trust me, she’ll be all right. That’s all been worked out.”
“What do you mean? What does that mean? She’s my granddaughter, you selfish bastard. You can’t leave us - ”
Hallstatt’s temper flared. “Enough! When have you ever cared about anything but your next high? Just shut up. And leave Siobhan out of it.”
“You - ”
“Just shut it!” Hallstatt said through clenched teeth. Then he relaxed and turned around in his seat. “Siobhan, honey? Daddy has to go away for a while.”
Siobhan Hallstatt, used to the fighting – as well as being ignored - looked up from her book.
“Will you come back?”
Hallstatt nodded. “Sort of. I’ll see you soon, okay?”
Threat Assessment Center
Rodger waved a hand. “You were right, Dr. Taylor. Something is blasting past our IPEX filter…on…give me a sec…Grid 889 – Washington D.C.”
Christine grimaced. “What SPEC 13 assets are available?”
“I’ve got two agents on call, Dr. Taylor.” A junior analyst called out. “Barber Five Nine is just coming on duty….and Charlie-Victor Three Three is on station at 130,000 feet above Washington.”
“Excellent.” Christine said. “Get ready everyone; I’m going to need more cowbell.”
KillBox warning lights started to flash around the perimeter of TAC 28, followed by a horn burst. A purple outline appeared on the globe, surrounding the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metropolitan area – and a red light pulsed in Washington D.C.
Everyone on the floor went into high alert. The IPEX filter was finally kicking in, too little, too late. Christine didn’t have time to figure out the discrepancy at the moment as an automated voice announced over the intercom the status of the risk they all knew was coming.
Warning…KillBox indentified, Grid 889…Risk Level - Five. Warning…KillBox indentified, Grid 889…Risk Level - Five. Warning…
Christine looked at her analysts, then sat down at a data/radar control terminal and donned a headset. “We have an official KillBox, ladies and gentlemen, and I need immediate information on the target.”
A KillBox alert was tripped by a potential murderer that met two criteria: the perpetrator had slipped past the IPEX filter…and that person was intent on taking a child’s life.
“Get us some eyes on this, Rodger.” Christine said. “Quickly.”
Rodger got on the horn, vectoring in Charlie-Victor Three Three and Barber Five Nine to the Washington D.C. coordinates. A few technicians gathered around Christine and Rodger’s workstations, watching the overhead monitors.
Christine keyed her mic. “Barber Five Nine, this is JHAD Control. We’re looking at Grid 889…contact 143.4, TACAN 28 degrees on the radial. Give us a longitude bearing shot to the northeast.”
Copy that, JHAD Control
“Charlie-Victor, I have you on northwest vector, TACAN is also 28 degrees. Switch to Mode 290 and give us a wide shot.”
Copy, JHAD. Switching over to Mode 290
SPEC 13 zeroed their cameras to the 2nd Street Commons near the Washington Mall, the towering Monument not far away. The Commons was popular tourist stop, with good access for buses and trams – and busy every day of the week.
A Nissan minivan was parked illegally across from two tour buses waiting to reload tourists from Memorial Park. The van caught Christine’s eye and she keyed her microphone.
“Charlie-Victor, center in on that green Nissan van. Barber Five Nine, switch over to Mode 20-60 so we can get a better look at the occupants.”
Copy, JHAD Control
The overhead monitors registered the new focus points as the separate camera shots were patched into JHAD. The wide shot revealed that the buses weren’t waiting on tourists, but rather a crowd of fourth-graders. Approximately 150 or so kids, including the teachers and chaperones, were coming back from the Memorial Park.
The tighter focal shot taken by Charlie-Victor Three Three wasn’t what Christine expected at all. At first glance, the minivan contained three passengers – a woman in her mid-forties was sitting in the driver’s seat, a young man in the passenger side with a preschooler in the rear, strapped into a car-seat.
Just a typical family.
The woman had red hair tied into a ponytail, and seemed to nervous. She smoked a cigarette, puffing like chimney and chewing gum at the same time.
Christine’s hackles went up for a moment, then she realized that the situation could be nothing more than a spat between a mom and son. Evidence of this arose as the woman said something acidly to the man in the passenger seat. They had no sound, of course, but the message was clear. The older woman was pissed off at the man about something.
The small girl in the car seat didn’t seem overly worried, reading a book and humming to herself. Christine watched the child with a half smile. With bright red hair and a smattering of freckles, the kid was about as adorable as one could get.
Christine was about to activate her microphone and ask the two SPEC 13 agents to continue their search of the area when she noticed the young man’s pea coat. It wasn’t a duster or a raincoat, which would have made sense in Washington’s unpredictable weather, but a pea coat – and a rather bulky one.
She looked over to Rodger. “That man’s coat makes no sense to me. Let’s stay on him for now.”
Rodger nodded, then keyed his mic. “Charlie-Victor, Barber….hang tight for a minute. We want to see what this guy in the van is going to do.”
Christine rose from her seat and scanned the other data terminals. “Has anyone got a line on these people yet? Zandra? That’s your cue. I need some Intel here.”
Zandra, a tightly-wound Danish agent, looked up from her console. “Working on it, ma’am.”
Christine nodded and continued to watch the overhead monitors.
The man and woman were in a full on argument now as fifty kids sat down in the grass across the street from the Commons and waited for their classmates to catch up. Teachers walked among them, taking a head count and answering questions.
Christine knew that the Monument itself was closed to tourists but there were concerts and plays nearly every day on the Mall. She was having a difficult time trying to understand how one of the kids was in danger from abduction or any immediate threat. They were well watched by adults and it was broad daylight.
“I have some basic background stuff, Dr. Taylor.” Zandra said nervously.
“Up on screen, please.”
Christine tried to push her irritation away. They’d been losing too many data and signal analysts to burn-out - and agents like Zandra, who was already high-strung and emotional, had no business working TAC. Multiple – and sometimes horrendous – murders occurred every shift. Signal analysts needed to be tough, putting their personal issues aside.
An overhead monitor began to trickle information from a hacked DMV server.
Gertie Hallstatt, age 47. Born Kinsale, Cork district, Ireland. Criminal record dating back to 2008. Mostly drug possession charges.
James Hallstatt, age 28. Born in the Clommel borough of South Tipperay, Ireland. No American criminal record according to the DMV…but extensive IRA connections back home.
Christine’s senses went up another notch. More than likely these two immigrants had overstayed their visas. This was bad news for law enforcement. Nobody knew they were living off the grid in the US, which made criminal life easier.
The man – James Hallstatt – got out of the van and looked around. The bus drivers stood about 75 feet away, smoking cigarettes, while the children threw Frisbees on the Commons grass, chased by their teachers.
Hallstatt crossed the street and hunkered down in front of the first bus for a few seconds, then pulled out a travel guide, standing on the sidewalk as the kids were rounded up and counted.
“Umm, what’s he doing?” Rodger said. “He certainly isn’t your average pedophile.”
“I don’t think he’s a pedophile at all.” Christine said.
Christine stared at the overhead monitor, shaking her head slowly.
“I think James Hallstatt may just be a terrorist on American soil.”
Christine keyed her mic. “Charlie-Victor Three Three. This is JHAD Control. Did you get a look at what the subject placed on the first bus?”
Negative, Control. Could have been an explosive device
The children lined up and started to board the buses, teachers and chaperones keeping them from wandering into traffic. James Hallstatt watched from the sidewalk as the minivan he’d arrived in left, tires smoking.
Barber Five Nine’s camera view tightened on the overall Commons, while Charlie-Victor’s focal point narrowed down on James Hallstatt – cool as a cucumber in his bulky pea coat.
Christine exchanged a glance with Rodger; they had seen such men before, but very, very rarely. Whatever Hallstatt intended to do, the man had nerves of steel.
The children had finally boarded both buses. Christine could see chaperones and teachers settling various disputes and calming kids down inside the big vehicles as Hallstatt calmly walked to the second bus.
Then he stepped aboard - out sight of Barber Five Nine’s camera view.
Rodger stood slowly. “Holy shit! That guy must be strapped.”
A police car rolled past with the traffic, not even slowing down. Christine caught herself staring at the overhead monitors; waiting….then realized she had a grim job to do.
She reached across her terminal and grabbed the Red Phone - a direct line to God – and tried to steady her nerves. The Red Phone connected automatically.
Christine drew a deep breath, and noticed her hand was shaking.
“Father God, we have a bad one.”
Phil Bellows and Harry Moss stepped off the elevator, alerted by Christine’s scramble call to God. Bellows took a place against the wall as Harry moved beside her, studying the overhead monitors.
“Why didn’t we see this coming, Christine?”
“I don’t know.”
“Did you actually see any explosives?”
“No.” Christine said. “There is nothing textbook about this situation. This guy didn’t trip any of our filters until the very last moment. It makes no sense.”
Harry nodded stoically. “If he got past us, dear, then that can mean only one thing.”
“Something else is going on.”
The detonation was catastrophic.
Christine and the other signal analysts watched in horror as a wave of searing heat and air pressure erupted from the second bus like a mini-Hiroshima, tearing it to shreds.
The bus peeled open in the blast, passing cars were knocked aside and storefronts across the street lost their glass. Debris showered the immediate vicinity, most of it in flames, as black smoke roiled from the vehicle.
The shockwave took 22 long seconds to reach the SPEC 13 cameras, causing them to shake. In that time the ground surrounding the second bus became quickly covered with, shoes, human limbs, shredded aluminum panels and glass.
Rodger removed his headset. “Sweet Jesus.”
Smoke continued to billow from the ruptured roof of the vehicle, and the pavement was blackened with soot and drenched in blood. People ran toward the bus, then backed away from the searing heat. Other people sat on the pavement in shock as the passengers of overturned cars struggled to get free.
The emergency response was remarkably fast as ambulances, police cruisers and tactical response trucks converged on the area. Several dozen children, unrecognizable now, lay in smoldering heaps around the twisted bus. Bystanders watched the burning lumps for signs of life from the sidewalk with hands over their mouths.
There was no movement.
The first bus had a good portion of its windows blown out. Christine could see dozens of cut and bleeding children screaming inside, their teachers in a state of shock.
The first emergency responders surrounded both buses, ten vehicles with flashing lights began disgorging emergency personnel – some tended the small bodies, others boarded the relatively undamaged bus.
Christine was worried what would happen next, because she had a pretty good idea.
A lot of terrorists thought it good tradecraft to draw emergency personnel into a bombed area to help survivors, then blow them to kingdom come. Considering that Hallstatt had fiddled under the first bus’s front bumper, she was expecting the worst.
And that was happening right now. Fire trucks shot water into the flaming wreckage of the bombed bus, while others tried to fight the smoke and get inside.
As the minutes rolled by, the firefighters got closer and closer to the burning vehicle, while others rendered aid in the first bus.
“We still have a situation here, Dr. Taylor.” Rodger said.
Zandra pulled off her headset and stood, tears streaming down her face. “There was almost a hundred children on tha - ”
Christine was taking stock of the situation when a second blast lifted the undamaged bus off of its front wheels – seemingly in slow-motion - and flipped it onto the burning bus, upside down.
Glass and smoke erupted in the blast, throwing emergency workers, firemen and police to the ground - ripping clothing and human tissue.
The second bomb wasn’t as big as the first, but it didn’t matter.
The blast caused the first bus to pancake the burning bus with a near perfect hit, and now both were blazing fiercely, one upside down on top of the other. Police cars and ambulances had been destroyed as they were pushed away violently from the blast, flipped on their sides and catching on fire.
“Dear God!” Zandra cried. “Those children…the…”
Christine touched her nose, a signal known only to Bellows. He gently took Zandra by the elbow and led her away. Christine glanced at Harry, then back at the overhead monitor, watching the two buses burn out of control.
“Well, he’s done it.” Harry said quietly.
She knew full well what Harry meant…what exactly the terrorist had accomplished with his second bomb.
James Hallstatt had just doubled the body count.