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Brian DeCamp, forty-three, slender with thinning sand-colored hair, unremarkable in looks and stature, parked his rental Ford Taurus next to a tour bus in the visitors center of the Hutchinson Island Nuclear Power Plant on Florida’s east coast eighty miles north of Miami. It was a few minutes before noon on a sunny day, but driving up along A1A, the highway that paralleled the ocean, he’d not really noticed the beaches or the occasional stretches of pretty scenery. Instead he’d mentally prepared himself for what was coming next.
Prepare first, shoot second, and you might just live to return to base. Never underestimate your enemy. Kill whenever, wherever the chance presents itself. Take no prisoners. Show no mercy. Wage total war, not police actions.
He’d learned those lessons from his days as a young lieutenant in the South African Defence Force’s Buffalo Battalion.
The Battalion’s primary mission had been to fight a brutal unconventional war behind enemy lines in Angola. And he’d been damned good, so that when he finally walked away seventeen years ago when the South African government had betrayed the unit by disbanding it and disavowing its tactics, he’d been one of the most decorated and youngest full bird colonels in any South African unit.
And he’d been a bitter man because he’d been forced to leave the intense camaraderie and esprit de corps of men who had shared the fighting and violent deaths with a sense of purpose; the holy zeal for the motherland, for the empire.
In the end the Battalion’s ideal had arisen from a letter a Roman centurion had written to a cousin back in Rome when the center began to fall apart:
Make haste to reassure me, I beg you, and tell me that our fellow citizens understand us, support us and protect us as we ourselves are protecting the glory of the Empire.
If it should be otherwise, if we should have to leave our bleached bones on the desert sands in vain, then beware of the anger of the Legions!
He got out of the car and headed across to the low building called Energy Encounter that served as the facility’s visitors center and he was still surprised at how easy it had been to get permission for a tour of the plant, though it had taken him the better part of the year to put everything together before he’d applied. It was silly, actually, after 9/11, for Homeland Security and the National Nuclear Security Administration to be so lax with such vulnerable targets that had the potential for destruction and loss of lives a hundred times worse than the World Trade Center.
He’d gotten the first call eight days ago from Achmed bin Helbawi, who’d reported that everything at the plant was in readiness. The Semtex and detonators were in place along with the weapons he’d smuggled in piece by piece over the past weeks. The Saudi- and French-educated New al-Quaeda operative had worked at the plant as an engineer in the control room for ten months under the name Thomas Forcier, and already he’d built up a reputation as an intelligent, cheerful, and reliable employee. Everyone liked Tom. He’d made no enemies.
DeCamp’s application for a tour had required a social security number, which he’d supplied under the name Robert Benson, a high school teacher from San Francisco. The name and the number were legitimate, but Benson was dead, his disappearance not yet reported because he was on vacation. In fact, that part of the op had been the most difficult to figure out. DeCamp had hacked into the databases of several San Francisco high schools before coming up with a dozen possibilities—teachers about the right size and build, who were single and lived alone. And it had taken even longer to find out who would be leaving town at the right time.
Benson, who was a homosexual, fit the bill, and two nights before he was scheduled to fly to Hawaii, DeCamp had followed him from a gay bar back to his apartment. Posing as an interested guy from the club, DeCamp got into the apartment without a fuss, had broken the man’s neck, and then telephoned Delta Airlines to cancel his flight.
That same night DeCamp had sealed the body in a plastic sheet with duct tape so that no odors of decomposition would escape to alert the neighbors and stuffed the body in the bedroom closet.
He took Benson’s identification and laptop to his hotel, where in the morning he went online to apply for a tour pass, which came three days later. After he’d altered his appearance with hair dye and glasses and then Benson’s driver’s license, substituting his own photograph, he’d left for Miami to wait for the final call from bin Helbawi giving the time and date that the next large tour group was scheduled.
The power plant’s twin pressurized water reactors, housed in a pair of heavily reinforced containment buildings like giant farm silos, dominated the facility that sprawled over an 1,100-acre site on Hutchinson Island, which looked more like some manufacturing operation than an electrical generating station. A maze of buildings were interconnected by large piping, umbilical cords that sent nonradioactive steam from inside the containment domes to the turbines and generators, returning the cooled steam back to the heat exchanger attached to the reactor. Two wide canals brought seawater for cooling from the ocean just across the highway.
Producing 1,700 megawatts, the plant supplied a significant portion of Florida’s power needs, and should there ever be an accidental release of nuclear materials, which would happen in about four hours, more than 140,000 people in a ten-mile radius would have to be evacuated or be in trouble.
That part of the operation was of no interest to DeCamp because by then he would be flying first class aboard a Delta jet back to Paris and from there by train to his home in the south of France where he could return to his flower gardens and pastoral existence.
It was just noon when he presented his visitor’s pass and driver’s license to one of the women behind the counter in the busy lobby of what looked like one of the attractions at Disney’s Epcot. An animated model of the facility took up an adjacent room, and everywhere on the walls and scattered around the center were interactive flat-screen televisions, models of atoms and other displays where people, either not taking the tour or who had already been, were wandering. A group of middle school children and their chaperones were doing something at several computer screens, and overall there was a muted buzz of conversation. No one was speaking much above a whisper. Just out the door and through the secured area fences were a pair of nuclear reactors, practically atomic bombs in some people’s minds, devices that were even holier and scarier than churches. This was a place of respect and awe.
The clerk compared the photograph to DeCamp’s face then laid it on a card reader, which was connected to a nationwide police database, something DeCamp had already done. Benson had come up clean.
When she was finished she looked up and smiled. “You have a choice, sir. You can join the Orlando tour, which starts in ten minutes, or wait for the next regular one, which begins at two. You might want to wait because the two o’clock has four people booked. The noon has eighteen. And the one o’clock is just for the schoolchildren.”
DeCamp nodded. “Actually I’m supposed to be in Jacksonville later this afternoon, so if it’s okay I’ll tag along with the Orlando group.”
She handed him a packet of materials containing cutaway diagrams of the plant’s reactors, turbines, and generators, as well as a map of the site, all the buildings and their functions, including the main control room in the South Service Building, labeled, which was incredible, and DeCamp had to suppress a smile. He was here to damage the facility, and they had given him a blueprint of the bloody place.
“You’ll need this as well,” she said, handing him a bright orange visitor’s pass on a lanyard. “Please keep it around your neck and in plain sight at all times. Our Barker security people get nervous otherwise.”
“Of course,” DeCamp said.
As well they should. It hadn’t been difficult to dredge up profiles on most of the two dozen or so security people and any number of so-called security lapses over the past eight or ten years, including the shortcuts that guards on patrol routinely took, apparently because they’d wanted to get back inside and watch television. Early in 2003 some new fuel containers had been delivered to the plant aboard a flatbed truck, which was parked just outside the radiologically controlled area (RCA) fence. But the containers were sealed at only one end, and no one had bothered to search them before they were admitted too close to the containment domes and the RCA backyard and one of the fuel-handling buildings. And this had been going on for some time before that incident. The year before, Barker’s people doing access control duty let an unauthorized visitor into the protected area of the plant where he somehow managed to get inside the South Service Building without an escort and without being challenged.
The only really good improvement was the closed-circuit television system, with cameras in a lot of the sensitive areas. That information had not been available online, of course, but bin Helbawi had sent him a detailed sketch map of the camera locations, which he memorized, and for a hefty price a Swiss engineer, with whom he’d done business before, had supplied him with a device that could freeze any camera for a few seconds at a time. Disguised as an ordinary cell phone, entering 000 then
• would activate the clever circuit, yet the device actually worked as a cell phone.
The tour group people, most of them middle-aged men and women, not too different in appearance from DeCamp, were passing through an electronic security arch one by one, after first putting their wallets, keys, watches, and cell phones into little plastic containers that were sent through a scanner. It was the same sort of setup used in airports, and just as easy to foil.
Putting the visitor’s pass around his neck, DeCamp joined the queue, where he placed his wallet, watch, cell phone, and money clip with a few hundred dollars into a plastic tray, and when it was his turn he stepped through the arch under the watchful eye of an unarmed security guard in uniform.
Besides the man seated behind the scanner examining what was coming through in the plastic buckets, two other security guards stood to one side as the tour group gathered in front of an attractive young woman dressed in a khaki skirt and a blue blazer with the insignia of Sunshine State Power & Light on the left breast. She was smiling brightly and DeCamp noticed the two guards watching her rather than the people in the tour group, and he thought that it was a wonder that this place hadn’t been hit yet. No one here seemed to think that such a thing was possible, let alone feasible.
“Welcome to Sunshine State Power and Light’s Hutchinson Island Nuclear Power Plant,” the young woman said when DeCamp and everyone else had recovered their belongings from the scanner. “My name is Debbie Winger—just like the movie actress.”
A few of the men in the group chuckled.
“I’ll be your guide for this afternoon’s ninety-minute tour. But before we get started I need to go over a few ground rules with you. This is a working electrical generating facility, and therefore some areas are strictly off limits—simply because they’re too dangerous. So, rule number one, everyone stick together and no wandering off on your own. Once we go out the door behind me, you’ll be given hard hats. So, rule number two is that you wear them at all times.” Her smile widened even further. “If you have a question, please don’t hesitate to ask. And the last rule is, enjoy the tour.”
Copyright © 2011 by David Hagberg