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By JOHN GILSTRAP
PINNACLE BOOKSCopyright © 2011 John Gilstrap, Inc.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneColleen Devlin tried her best to blend in with the commuting crowd, hoping that the long black coat and the stocking cap pulled tight around her ears wouldn't provoke some cop or citizen do-gooder to intervene. After all the training and all the talking, it was finally time to pull the trigger. Literally.
The frigid wind off the Potomac River braced her for what lay ahead, as if by chilling her skin she could likewise chill her nerves. It wasn't that she was afraid of dying—if it came to that, she'd do what she had to do—but rather that she was afraid of failure. Brother Michael had prepared them for the variables of battle, the thousand complications that render the most careful planning useless once the violence begins. If that happened—when that happened—she prayed that she would have the resolve and the resourcefulness to adapt. It was about keeping her head.
The Army of God was counting on her. They'd blessed her with their faith, their trust in her abilities. There could be no greater sin than to let them down.
She moved as she imagined a commuter would, her eyes ahead and her stride purposeful, a lone pedestrian on this cold November evening, strolling on the sidewalk, separated from the sea of oncoming headlights by a waist-high Jersey barrier. If it were two hours from now, or two hours ago, the traffic here on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge, one of only two crossings on the Capital Beltway that linked Virginia and Maryland, would have been breezing along at sixty miles an hour, creating a windstorm of its own. Here at six-fifteen, however, the rush-hour traffic moved at barely a crawl, a walker's pace, as the money worshippers left their resource-guzzling offices via their resource-guzzling automobiles to eat dinner with their families in their resource-guzzling homes. Colleen's eyes watered from the cold, distorting the approaching train of headlights into as many shimmering stars, an endless serpent of greed. They were all Users. And they were in for one heck of a surprise.
Colleen's Bushmaster 5.56-millimeter assault rifle felt like raw power, slung muzzle down from her right armpit. She affected a limp to keep it from poking out through the vent of her coat. Loaded with a thirty-round magazine to which a second thirty-round mag was taped for quick reloading, her most devastating damage would be inflicted in the first fifteen seconds. The first mag would be spent in three-round bursts aimed at the drivers' half of the windshields, followed immediately by the second mag, which would be expended in a spray-and-slay raking motion. These shots would be unaimed and random, with the muzzle always a tick or two below horizontal to increase the likelihood of scoring hits.
The remaining two mags in the pockets of her well-concealed ballistic vest would be used only in support of her escape. If that didn't go well—if capture seemed imminent—she'd ... well, she wouldn't need more than one bullet for that, would she?
This is what God must feel like, Colleen thought, and then she was instantly sorry for the blasphemy. But it was true. People would live or die at her whim. The ultimate power lay in her hands.
Her Bluetooth earpiece buzzed, startling her. She pressed the CONNECT button. "Yes," she said.
"Are you in position?" It was Brother Stephen. The fact of his call meant that he had taken up position on the opposite end of the bridge, the Maryland end.
Colleen felt her heart rate double. "I am," she said. "It's beautiful."
"I'll see you at the Farm when it's over."
The line went dead. It was time.
Colleen threw open her coat and brought the weapon to her shoulder.
Man, you should have seen the look on the first driver's face.
Jonathan Grave shifted his BMW M6 into neutral to give his clutch leg a rest. "Next time I say yes to tickets," he said, "remind me that I hate traffic."
Next to him, Father Dom D'Angelo shrugged. "I offered to drive."
"You drive a piece of shit." He flashed a smile. "No offense."
Dom laughed. "The diocese looks askance at priests who drive sports cars."
"Surely God wants his representatives in better wheels than a Kia," Jonathan said. "I think I read somewhere that Satan drives a Kia." The car in front moved six feet, and Jonathan eased forward to keep up. "Isn't rush hour supposed to go the other way?"
"I have a theory that rush hours just are," Dom said. "There's no why or rationale to them. Monday Night Football doesn't help."
The Washington Redskins were scheduled to do battle with the Dallas Cowboys tonight at FedEx Field, and Jonathan had scored a couple of club-level seats. A lifelong 'Skins fan—despite their shameful failures in recent years—Jonathan remained forever hopeful that a winning season was possible. Clearly that wasn't going to happen this year, but games against the Cowboys were like Super Bowls unto themselves. A win against them could counter the humiliation of a four-and-twelve season.
"If I had to sit in this traffic every day, I think I'd—"
Sharp, staccato hammering drew his attention to his left. The instant he heard it, Jonathan recognized it as automatic-weapons fire. Close range, 5.56-millimeter ammunition—the same NATO round used in every U.S. theater of operation since the 1970s. He reacted reflexively, cupping Dom's neck at the spot where it joined his skull and pushing him toward the floor. "Down!" he shouted.
Dom said something in protest, but Jonathan didn't care. He scanned the horizon for an escape route for the BMW, established that there weren't any, then slapped the transmission into neutral and pulled the parking brake.
To his left, on the opposite span of the bridge, he saw a man die. He saw the spray of powdered glass, followed an instant later by the spray of pulverized brain matter. Then it happened again to a car adjacent to the first one.
"Stay on the floor," Jonathan commanded. Not waiting for an answer, he shouldered open his door and rolled out onto the roadway. One clueless idiot blew his horn at him, clearly unaware that he was part of a mass murder in progress. Jonathan ripped open the zipper to his jacket with his left hand while his right hand found the grip of the customized Colt 1911 .45 that always rode high on his hip, cocked and locked. He drew it.
Across the way, on the southbound span, the shooter continued to unload dozens of bullets into the line of commuters, and on Jonathan's northbound stretch, people were just beginning to catch on. They leaned on their horns and several rammed each other in their haste to get out of the way. Panic blossomed around him, but for now he didn't care. If he could shoot the shooter, the panic would subside on its own. If he could not, then maybe it would be justified. When there's nowhere for victims to run, a man with a rifle can inflict amazing damage.
This particular shooter was not moving. Jonathan couldn't see him yet, but he could tell from the ripples of gunfire. He weaved through the jammed traffic, scanning the horizon for a target. As he passed a pickup truck, the driver threw his door open and yelled, "Hey! What do you think—"
"Stay out of my way," Jonathan barked. "Get down." What about this situation did people not understand?
As he turned the corner on the far side of a paneled van bearing the logo of a pastry company, Jonathan got his first glimpse of the shooter. He was tall and skinny and draped in one of those flowing black coats that seemed to have become the uniform of murderers. From his bone structure, he could even have been a girl. Jonathan's mind registered that he was young and white, but the glare of headlights made features difficult to discern.
But that didn't matter because the shooter was changing magazines, and he was not especially adept at it. The muzzle of his rifle—a Bushmaster, Jonathan now saw—was pointed harmlessly to the sky as he fumbled the effort to flip his quick-load mag. The shooter would never be more vulnerable.
Jonathan gauged the distance at forty yards, too far for a reliable shot to the head, so he took aim at the center of mass—the shooter's chest—and he squeezed off two rounds.
Colleen had never seen anything so beautiful. It was just as Brother Michael had told her it would be. It was better than any drug. This was power in its rawest form, and as her bullets raked the Users and sent them to Hell, she found herself laughing.
As far as she could tell, every burst of bullets had hit exactly where she'd wanted it to. Puffs of glass and puffs of blood. Her senses took all of it in and it nearly overwhelmed her. Blaring horns and crumpling metal mixed with the pounding thump of her weapon, echoed half a mile away by the hammering of Stephen's gunshots. The tableau of destruction—the tableau of success—was unlike anything she'd dared to imagine.
The first magazine emptied itself in no time at all, it seemed. She leaned into each burst as she pulled the trigger, bracing herself against the recoil, and each trigger pull drummed the rifle's stock into the soft tissue of her shoulder. After the tenth pull, the receiver locked open, but Colleen was too into it to notice. When the shots didn't come, she nearly fell on her nose.
She'd practiced the first reload dozens of times. Brother Michael had stressed that that would be the moment when soldiers would be most exposed. She'd taped two magazines end-to-end so that when the time came, she'd have only to thumb the mag release, flip the array in her hand, and then reinsert it into the slot. On the range, back at the Farm, she'd learned to do this with her eyes closed. She believed that she might even be able to do it in her sleep. But out here, in the heat of the battle, her hands shook, and she had difficulty finding the slot after she'd made the flip.
She unclipped the Bushmaster from its sling and raised the weapon, pointing it toward the sky. Maybe if she could see the slot, she could get the mag to seat. She took a deep breath. She had to settle herself. She needed to—
Something kicked her in the chest, then kicked her a second time. She staggered back, and as she did, she lost her grip on the rifle. Despite her efforts to grab it, she watched it clatter to the ground.
Somehow, she knew that she'd been shot, and when she looked up, she could see the man who'd done it, very far away, across three lanes of traffic. He stood in a crouch, his hands clasped in front of him. They made eye contact, and the muzzle on the man's pistol flashed again.
Jonathan knew he'd hit his target. First of all, he always hit his target—certainly from this range—and second, he saw the bullets hit their marks, dimpling the fabric of the shooter's clothing and causing him to drop his weapon and stagger back a step.
Yet he didn't fall. These were kill shots, yet his target remained standing. Reeling wasn't enough, not after being hit with two .45-caliber slugs. He should have dropped like a sack of bones. That he continued to stand could only mean that he was wearing body armor. As Jonathan shifted his aim for a head shot, the shooter looked up and made eye contact. Jesus, he was only a kid. A teenager. A girl! He hesitated on the trigger just long enough for the shooter to comprehend that she'd been made.
The target flinched as Jonathan squeezed the trigger. The bullet missed its mark by inches, and then the shooter was on the move, running full tilt toward the Virginia side of the bridge. Jonathan followed on his parallel span, plunging headlong into jammed oncoming vehicles while his target emerged into the open in the downstream gap formed by the plug of traffic that she had created.
Cursing himself for his hesitation before, Jonathan would not make the same mistake with a second chance. With the shooter in the open, Jonathan stopped running and readied his aim. This time, there'd be no—
"Freeze!" someone yelled from behind. "Federal officer! Don't move!"
Jonathan froze, even as his mind screamed for him to take the shot. The opportunity lost, he broke his aim and raised his weapon to the sky. He knew all too well that when a federal office yells "Don't move!"—whether FBI, ATF, DEA or any of the other alphabet agencies—the command was to be taken literally. Another trait common to federal officers: they were all very good shots.
"Hold your hands up high, where I can see them," the voice commanded.
A step ahead of you, Jonathan thought. He didn't move. The officer would figure it out.
"Drop your weapon!"
Now, here was a potential problem. "No!" Jonathan yelled back. "I'm a good guy, not a bad guy, and this is a three-thousand-dollar pistol. I will not drop it, but I will lay it on the ground." Former Unit member and renowned gunsmith Barry Vance had customized this weapon for him, and he'd be damned if he was going to ruin genuine artistry. Moving slowly and keeping his back to the cop so as not to spook him, Jonathan sank to his knees.
"I said drop the weapon," the officer demanded. "Drop it, or I will shoot you."
Jonathan assessed it as a bluff. If this guy hadn't already pulled the trigger, he wasn't going to now that Jonathan was clearly not a threat. That's what he told himself, anyway. The next five seconds proved him to be correct. He gently placed his weapon on the ground and raised his arms again. On the opposite span, panic had begun in earnest. People screamed as realization washed over them.
And the shooter was getting away.
"Get on your face!" the officer yelled. His voice cracked from the strain. "Arms out to the side!"
With his arms still raised, Jonathan pointed the forefingers of both hands toward the opposite span. "The shooter's over there!" he said.
Moron. The cop was so invested in Jonathan as the bad guy that there'd be no reasoning with him. Jonathan did as he was told and lowered his belly to the pavement. Partly to streamline the process, but mostly to steal the officer's thunder, he went ahead and placed his hands behind his back, cuff-ready.
"Don't you move," the officer warned as he approached. "If you so much as blink, I swear to God I'll kill you."
Jonathan listened as the footsteps halted on his right side, near his hips, he figured. This would be the time—at this range—when Jonathan could take the guy out if he'd wanted to; but the officer would be aware of that, too, making it that much more important for Jonathan to be on his best behavior. Most of the friendly-fire incidents that Jonathan had witnessed over his years in the military had been tied one way or another to a bad case of the nerves.
"I see you've done this before," the cop said as he placed his knee in Jonathan's back and gripped his thumbs for control. From the way he fumbled with the cuffs, the guy gave himself away as one who did not do this very often in the field.
"Actually, no," Jonathan grunted through the pressure on his back. "But I've done it enough to others to know the drill."
The cop hesitated. "What, you're going to tell me you're a cop?"
"I'm a lot of things," Jonathan said. "For tonight, though, I'm a private investigator who was seconds away from killing the son of a bitch who shot up the bridge."
"Right," the officer scoffed. "That's not what I saw." He ratcheted the cuffs tighter than they needed to be, then climbed off Jonathan's back and pulled on his wrists to bring him up to his knees. He continued to grasp the chain of the cuffs while he reached into his prisoner's back pocket for his wallet.
Jonathan sighed noisily—a growl, really. "Look, Officer ..." He waited for the guy to fill in the blank.
"Agent," the man corrected. "Special Agent Clark, United States Secret Service."
"Special Agent Clark, then. United States Secret Service. If you got on your radio right now, you might be able to stop a mass murderer before she gets away."
"Why be greedy?" the agent quipped. "I've already got one member of the team in custody. You'll give me the rest in time."
Jonathan bowed his head. Surely the man was being deliberately obtuse. Did he really imagine, even for a moment, that the destruction here could have been wrought by a man with a .45? Jonathan didn't have a lot of respect for cops in general, but he had a particular hard-on for federal agents whose bravado outstripped their abilities. It happened a lot. He resigned himself to losing this battle.
"What in God's name are you doing?" a voice boomed from Jonathan's blind spot. It was Dom D'Angelo.
"Stand away, Father," Clark commanded, clearly noting Dom's collar. "This is none of your concern"
Excerpted from THREAT WARNING by JOHN GILSTRAP Copyright © 2011 by John Gilstrap, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of PINNACLE BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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