Chapters 37 and 38
Christine is caught by surprise, and Sonnet moves forward with the dark side's plan
Blakely River Battery
The next morning, Christine put on coffee while Parker scoured maps of Virginia and Maryland. The search for the airfield proved fruitless, however. Pine Coffin and Uriel plowed through several boxes of cereal, arguing over the prizes inside like children.
Pine Coffin: “I get the decoder ring.”
Uriel: “Nuh-uh, I get the decoder ring.”
Pine Coffin: “Do you like the Cap’n Crunch?
Uriel: “No, it tastes like a homosexual robot corpse.”
Unbelievable. Christine sighed and poured two mug of fresh brew, then brought over a box of glazed doughnuts to Parker’s worktable.
“Nothing, zilch, nada.” Parker accepted a mug and threw a pen at his laptop. “I guess this place is a private strip…real private. But you know, it isn’t terribly unusual for an unused airfield to be left off of a map. Several celebrities have airstrips on their property that aren’t publicized.”
Christine shook her head. “It had a name…Cedar Creek Falls…that just sounds too specific.”
They all turned at the sound of a car approaching outside of the flak tower. Uriel rushed down the stairs and peeked outside, then looked up at Christine.
“Government Ford. Some old dude driving.”
Christine rolled her eyes and walked outside as a man got out of a fed-issue Crown Vic. The man stood up straight, shut the car door slowly, gazing directly at Christine.
It took her a moment, but when she put it together, Christine felt like she’d been slugged in the stomach with a sledgehammer.
Christine stared at the man she’d left behind. “Holy shit.”
“Gee, it’s nice to see you, too.”
Josh Pembroke was four decades older, yet it was still him, still the same man she’d loved with all her heart. He was still handsome, poised - and looking damn good in a Brook Brothers suit.
Josh had aged very well, the sandy brown hair had changed to salt and pepper…lending him an air of sophistication. The lines around his jaw had changed, as had the crow’s feet spreading from his eyes…but it worked.
And those unforgettable eyes, still as intelligent and reassuring as ever.
“What are you doing here?” Christine said.
Josh barked a laugh. “I think I should be asking you that – don’t you think? I mean, since I went to your funeral…in 1971.”
“That’s a little difficult to explain. How did you find me?”
“I’m the deputy secretary for the Department of Homeland Security, Christine. I’m pretty good at my job.”
Uriel stepped between them, cocking an eyebrow. “Going to introduce me to your hot friend, Christine?”
“Uriel!” Christine said. “Behave.”
“Nice to meet you.” Josh shook Uriel’s hand politely, ignoring the googly-eyes she was making at him.
Christine smiled nervously, then pushed a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Want some coffee?”
Uriel - surprise, surprise - liked older men very much, and immediately took a shine to Josh Pembroke. She made him a cup of coffee and toasted a bagel, growling at Christine to back off.
Parker and Pine Coffin, it seemed, liked him, too. They made small talk for a while, as if everything was normal, as if they were at an interagency meeting to discuss tactics and an upcoming family picnic. Christine decided to address the elephant in the room head-on.
“Josh, I need to tell you something.” Christine said, settling into one of the old office chairs Parked had salvaged.
“We…well, Parker, Pine Coffin and myself, we aren’t from around here…sort of.”
Everyone was dead silent for a moment, then – except for Christine – they all burst out laughing. Josh leaned over and patted her on the shoulder.
“That is a complete shocker, Christine. I would have never figured that out on my own.”
Josh smiled. “You see, I’m actually a huge fan of Pine Coffin Hardy from his boxing days - got all of his old fight footage on VHS. The man was…well, he was truly a legend.”
Pine Coffin raised his coffee mug. “Nice to be remembered.”
“And Parker Noble?” Josh said. “I went to the memorial service after his death. The Noble family has a lot of government connections. Parker’s nephew Geoff works for me, in fact…fine young man. Noble Industries even makes the presidential limos. It’s kind of hard to forget a guy that made the cover of Time magazine twice.”
Parker grinned, wiggling his eyebrows at Christine. “I am a vessel delivering a shipment of awesome. But we knew that.”
“More like a shipment of crap.” Christine said in disgust, then turned back to Josh. “So, you’re not surprised?”
Josh sipped his coffee. “I’ve had some time to mull it over, since seeing your face on CCTV footage yesterday. As for you, sweetheart, time has been very kind. I was one of the last people to see you alive, and you haven’t changed a bit. Was that last week? Why, no…it was over forty years ago.”
Christine huffed. “You don’t have to be snooty about it.”
“I do have question, though.” Josh said, spreading a hand toward Uriel. “What is the story with this lovely creature?”
Uriel giggled in pleasure. “Oh, you silly! I’m one of God’s Archangels, but enough about that. Tell me more about your job, Josh.”
“I wouldn’t want to bore you.”
“Umm, yes.” Uriel batted her eyelashes. “Bore me.”
Josh seemed embarrassed. “Err…”
Uriel turned to Pine Coffin. “Gonna need that mountaineering gear, buddy. I’m climbing to the top of Pembroke Summit in the morning.”
Christine was horrified. “Uriel!”
“Thank you, Uriel,” Pine Coffin grumbled, “for that mental picture. Excuse me while I stab out my mind’s eye.”
“Whatever, Mr. Killjoy…still…I’d crack me off a piece of that. Just sayin’. Tappable.”
Christine nearly fell out of her chair. “Please ignore her, Josh. We are trying to locate a private airfield, maybe you can help us.”
“Sure.” Josh said. “Does it have a name?”
“Cedar Creek Falls.”
Christine was startled when Josh put his cup down and abruptly stood up. “Damn, I really don’t like coincidences. What are you doing here, exactly?”
“We work for God, Mr. Pembroke. In a…unique capacity.” Pine Coffin said. “We’re under orders to protect the daughter of the bus bomber. We could use any help you can give us.”
Josh stopped short. “You know who the bomber is?”
“His name is – was - James Hallstatt.” Christine replied. “An Irish national. Late 20s, about six feet tall, reasonably good looking.”
“Yes, that’s the guy from our footage. That’s fantastic. We’ve been coming up dry.”
Christine and Parker shared a glance. That wasn’t good news. If Homeland Security hadn’t set their sights on James Hallstatt yet, there was a chance the demon that was targeting them might be inside the organization, scrubbing information.
“Josh.” Christine said. “Have you noticed anything unusual at Homeland Security? Has anything struck you as odd?”
Josh paused, thinking. “No, not specifically….but I do know that airfield…we’ve been watching the paper trail on that place for a while. Some red flags have popped up concerning the parent corporation that owns the property in the past couple of days - and here you are bringing up the name. Very odd.”
Christine was trying to put two and two together. “You know where the airfield is?”
“Spread that out.” Josh pointed to a road on one of Parker’s maps. “Umm, here. North of Bethesda at White Oak, right off the Columbian Parkway. You can’t see it from the highway, though, there’s a ridge between the road and the airfield. A dirt lane cuts through the ridgeline to the main gate.”
Parker got on the horn to JHAD, and had them send real-time SPEC 13 camera shots to his computer. Data started to come through on the airfield, the images enhancing every few seconds.
Christine studied the monitor. “Why have you been watching this place?”
“Let me be clear,” Josh replied, “I – nor anyone else - is watching them in an official capacity. Our forensic accounting department has caught some strange shipments being trucked in…things that can be connected to terrorism. The owners, a corporation called DCH, tell us that they transport supplies to various medical labs across the country – and so far their paperwork has checked out. Over the past three days, though, the chemicals consistent with G-Series nerve agents have been brought in piecemeal. Not enough to instigate a warrant to search their property, mind you - but enough for me to notice.”
Christine raised her eyebrows. “G-Series nerve agents aren’t enough to trigger an investigation?”
“For one thing, it’s only a few of the ingredients, which have a lot of applications. Secondly, we aren’t talking about backwoods anti-government types. This is a legitimate business with connections to dozens of federal laboratories across the entire United States.”
“You seem awfully familiar with the case.”
Josh nodded. “It caught my eye, that’s all. Besides the odd shipments, the security at the airfield is beyond what one would expect for a rinky-dink airport.”
A very good composite shot of the airfield was now mapped out on three of Parker’s monitors. They all gathered around to take a look.
The airstrip was a single runway, with antique hangers on one side at the south end, and more modern buildings on the other side. There was plenty of paved parking for aircraft, but only a couple of twin-engine types were using it.
Several piston-engine airliners of very old vintage were parked in the grass on the west side of the strip, along with dozens of equally old school buses. A small house stood behind the yellow buses, lonely and forgotten.
Josh was correct about one thing. The entire facility had a heavy-duty new fence surrounding it, topped with Cortina wire. A single gate leading in to the facility was posted with a strongly-built guardhouse.
Christine pointed to the cottage by the school buses. “Parker, can you zoom in on that?”
The camera view changed and the house grew much closer.
“Looks abandoned.” Pine Coffin said.
He was right. The roof was rust-streaked corrugated metal and the windows were mostly broken out, repaired with pieces of cardboard.
It was impossible to tell if anyone was inside the dilapidated house. There was no pavement around the cottage, only waves of uncut grass with furrows.
Christine cocked her head. “Are you seeing that?”
“I am,” Parker said. “Let me refocus.”
The SPEC 13 camera view refreshed once more. The grass around the house had recently seen a lot of automobile activity, with muddy ruts and numerous tire tracks. Several vehicles had entered the airfield, and driven up to the cottage. Then the cars had left the way they came.
Like three Lincoln Navigators?
Christine turned to her team. “This has to be checked out. We have our target.”
Cumberland Federal Penitentiary
Cumberland was – without a doubt - a hardcore lockup.
Sonnet stopped on the shoulder and stared up at the formidable buildings for a moment. The population pods were blocks of gray granite with plastic slit windows, and depressing as hell.
Tall manned turrets covered every corner of the property with rifle fire. Triple rows of razor wire graced the double fence. The sky overhead was slate and threatening to rain, which seemed very appropriate. Sonnet drove on toward the guardhouse, flashed her badge and waited for the cursory inspection.
Sonnet parked her Audi in the visitor’s lot, shutting off the engine. She was driving her personal car for a specific reason, mainly because her government Ford was LoJacked. She didn’t want any busybodies knowing her destination after leaving Cumberland.
Sonnet checked her watch. O’Brien and Timmons would be arriving in a half hour, driving a replica DOC transport van. They carried all of the correct credentials and paperwork required to transfer Fighting Jack Hallstatt to the Washington Metropolitan Detention Center. Not that he’d make it there. Timmons and O’Brien were loyal members of Dal Clann Hallstatt, and they wouldn’t be taking Fighting Jack anywhere near Washington.
Quite a few agents had already spoken with Jack, including the FBI, ATF and her own agency – Homeland Security. The interviews were to be expected. And a transfer was completely ordinary. Kind of.
Sonnet had to remind herself, though, that here he was just plain Jack - a rather clumsy bank robber - simply the grandfather of a recent notorious bomber. Nothing to see here, folks.
Everyone in the prison system knew Fighting Jack was related to James, so transferring him to a secure location wouldn’t raise any eyebrows, considering the bus bombing and the ungodly media attention.
Or Sonnet hoped.
Sonnet grimaced as she approached the main office. The administration building was stucco and brick, designed to be inviting. Fat friggin’ chance.
She announced her presence at the front desk, surrendered her weapons and was shown to the warden’s office.
“Pleased to meet you, Agent Sonnet.” Carlton said, shaking her hand. “This transfer certainly is short notice.”
Carlton, a large plain man, was the chief administrator in charge of federal prisoners deemed by the Bureau of Prisons as especially dangerous, escape-prone or violent. She looked at the various degrees on the wall. In the present day prison system, wardens weren’t warden anymore; they were paper-pushers with nice offices. Despite the inmate-made chairs and filing cabinets, Carlton’s office consisted of wood paneling, vintage metal fans and plush foam-green carpeting. There was an expensive leather blotter on an antique desk of French origin. The president didn’t have it this good.
“Is that going to be a problem?” Sonnet handed over the forged 10-point writ, along with a certified Interstate Agreement of Detainment to Carlton.
“Shouldn’t be.” Carlton replied. “Hallstatt is far and away from your normal prisoner, Agent Sonnet. You need to remember that. He’s been incarcerated for decades, but doesn’t seem to age like the rest of us. And the weirdness doesn’t end there.”
“Yes, Jack Hallstatt was employed by the US Army’s Chemical Weapons Program until 2003.”
Sonnet was surprised. “While he was locked up here?”
“Absolutely.” Carlton nodded. “He’s been awarded 23 patents for biological compounds in the last decade. When you combine that with his original federal charges of armed bank robbery, it makes him a fruit basket and a very scary guy.”
“Well, until a few years ago, the Army paid him and he got a lot of attention. The other inmates didn’t like that much, and broke quite a few of Hallstatt’s bones. He’s kept to himself ever since.”
“How long have you known Jack?”
Carlton smiled briefly. “Jack was transferred her from Leavenworth in 1988. I was just a guard back then.”
“I see.” Sonnet said. “Has he had any contact with anyone outside of the system?”
Carlton shook his head. “Like I’ve told every agent that’s come here since the D.C. bus bombing, Hallstatt has had no letters or phone calls from anybody. The army dumped him due to his unstable nature, and other than them, he’s never had a visitor.”
“Let’s go get him.”
Carlton and Sonnet walked through a set of steel mesh doors, entering a sally port controlled by a guard in sealed booth. Modern prison design was geared toward smaller staff needs, and Cumberland was no different. There were several tiered modules arranged around central control station. Pod E adjoined a recreational yard, with a few games of pick-up basketball being played.
Sonnet followed Carlton through a large two-story dining area, filled to capacity with prisoners in orange jumpsuits. The men were eating quietly from metal trays and drinking from metal cups. The food looked disgusting.
At the far end of the cafeteria, a recessed alcove was stenciled with WING WALK B. A buzzer sounded loudly and Carlton pulled open a heavy door, revealing a long catwalk. The narrow walkway terminated at a series of steel doors with lidded slots for food trays. Water dripped and the overhead lights flickered.
Sonnet turned to Carlton. “He’s in this hole? I was under the impression Hallstatt had never been violent.”
“Oh, he isn’t violent at all.” Carlton rattled a set of keys. “Never had any trouble out of Jack. This is what he wanted.”
Their footsteps echoed loudly on the metal catwalk. Sonnet didn’t care for the confined space, or for the muffled sounds coming from inside the locked cells. The whole thing reminded her way too much of Hell, and her unhappy experiences there. Carlton stopped and jiggled his keys once more, selecting a large brass one.
“Is this it?”
“Yes.” Carlton opened a door marked EASY 12. “Agent Sonnet, meet Jack Hallstatt.”