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Bree Stone was thirty minutes into her morning exercise and breathing hard as she ran east along a path by the Tidal Basin in Washington, DC. It was a gorgeous spring day in late March, warm with a fragrant breeze.
The Japanese cherry trees that lined the path were in full bloom, attracting early tourists. Bree had to dodge a few of them, but it was so pretty a setting and day that she didn’t mind.
She was in her late thirties, but her legs felt stronger than they had when she was just out of college. So did her breathing, and that pleased her. The daily exercise was working.
Leaving the Tidal Basin, Bree cut past the statue of John Paul Jones and jogged in place, waiting to cross 17th Street SE beside a DC bus discharging and loading passengers. When the bus sighed and rolled away, Bree looped around the pedestrians to cross the street, toward the National Sylvan Theater and another grove of blooming cherry trees. The cherry blossoms only peaked once a year and she intended to enjoy them as much as possible. She’d just passed a knot of Japanese tourists when her cell phone rang.
She plucked the phone from the small fanny pack she wore, but did not stop or slow. Bree glanced at the unfamiliar phone number and let her voice mail take the call. She ran on and soon could see a team of National Park Police raising the fifty American flags surrounding the base of the Washington Monument. Her phone rang again, same number.
Irritated, she stopped and answered, “Bree Stone.”
“Chief Bree Stone?”
The voice was male. Or was it? The tone wasn’t deep.
“Who’s calling, please?”
“Your worst nightmare, Chief. There’s an IED on the National Mall. You should have answered my first call. Now you only have fifty-eight minutes to figure out where I left it.”
The line died. Bree stared at the phone half a beat, then checked her watch. 7:28 a.m. Detonation: 8:26 a.m.? She hit a number on speed dial and surveyed the area, swallowing the impulse to get well off the Mall as fast as possible.
DC Metro Police Chief Jim Michaels answered on the second ring.
“Why is my chief of detectives calling me? I told her to take a few days off.”
“I just got an anonymous call, Jim,” Bree said. “An IED planted on the National Mall, set to go off at 8:26 a.m. We need to clear the area as fast as possible and bring in the dogs.”
In the short silence that followed, Bree thought of something and started sprinting toward the men raising flags.
“Are you sure it wasn’t a crank?” Chief Michaels said.
“Do you want to take the chance it isn’t a crank?”
Michaels let out a sharp puff of breath and said, “I’ll notify National Park and Capitol Hill Police. You sound like you’re running. Where are you?”
“On the Mall. Going to high ground to spot the bomber on his way out of Dodge.”
It was 7:36 a.m. when the elevator doors opened.
Bree rushed out onto the observation platform of the Washington Monument, some five hundred and fifty-four feet above the National Mall. She carried a chattering US Park Service Police radio, tuned to a frequency being used by all FBI, US Capitol Police, and DC Metro Police personnel rapidly responding to the situation.
She had a pair of binoculars lent to her by the officers guarding the closed monument. Balking at her initial demand to be let in, they had given her a hard time while checking her story.
Then the sirens had started wailing from all angles, and their commander came back with direct orders to open the monument and let her ride to the top. Bree had lost eight minutes in the process, but pushed that frustration to the back of her mind. They had fifty minutes to find the bomb.
Bree went straight to the high slit windows cut in the west wall of the monument, and peered through the binoculars toward the Lincoln Memorial and the long, rectangular pool that reflected its image and that of the Washington Monument. When she’d started to run toward the towering limestone obelisk, she’d hoped to get high enough to catch sight of someone fleeing the Mall or acting strangely.
But too much time had passed. The bomber would have beat feet, gotten as far away as possible, wouldn’t he? That was the logical thought, but Bree wondered if he might be the kind of sicko to stick around, admire his explosive handiwork.
Even at this early hour there were scores of people running, walking, and riding on the paths that crisscrossed the Mall and paralleled the reflecting pool. Others were standing as if transfixed by the chorus of sirens coming closer and closer.
Bree pivoted, strode across the observation deck to the east wall where she could look out toward the US Capitol, and triggered the radio mic.
“This is Metro CoD Stone,” she said, scanning the open park between the Smithsonian museums. “I can see hundreds of people still on the Mall, and who knows how many more that I can’t see because of the trees. Move officers to 17th, 15th, Madison Drive Northwest, Jefferson Drive Southwest, Ohio Drive Southwest, and 7th Northwest, 4th Northwest, and 3rd Northwest. Work civilian evacuation from the middle of the Mall to the north and south. Keep it quick and orderly. We don’t want to cause panic.”
“Roger that, Chief,” the dispatcher came back.
Bree waited until she heard the dispatcher call out her orders, then said, “Block all traffic through the Mall north and south and Constitution and Independence Avenues from 3rd to Ohio.”
“That’s already been ordered, Chief,” the dispatcher said.
“Status of K-9 and bomb squads?”
“FBI, Metro, and Park Police K-9s en route, but traffic’s snarling. Metro’s ETA on 15th is two minutes. Bomb squads say five minutes out, but could be longer.”
Longer? She cursed inwardly. Looked down at the flags fluttering and noted their direction and stiffness.
She triggered the mic again. “Tell all K-9 patrols that the wind here is south-southwest, maybe ten miles an hour. They’ll want to work from northeast angles.”
“Roger that,” the dispatcher said.
Bree checked her watch. 7:41. They had forty-five minutes to find and defuse the IED.
Gazing out, her mind racing, Bree realized she knew something about the bomber. He or she had used the term IED, Improvised Explosive Device, not bomb. IED was a US military term. Was the bomber ex-military? Current military?
Then again, Bree had seen and heard the term often enough on news and media reports. But why would a civilian use that term instead of bomb? Why be so specific?
Her phone rang. Chief Michaels.
“Because of your unique location and perspective, we’re giving you overall command of the situation, Chief,” he said by way of greeting. “K-9, bomb, and tactical squads will operate at your call after advising you of the options.”
Bree didn’t miss a beat. “FBI and Capitol Hill?”
“Waiting on your orders.”
“Thank you for the confidence, sir.”
“Prove it,” he said, and hung up.
For the next six minutes, as she monitored radio chatter, Bree roamed back and forth, looking east and west, seeing cruiser after cruiser turn sideways to block access to Constitution and Independence Avenues where they ran parallel to the Mall.
At 7:49, twenty-one minutes after the bomber’s phone call, mounted police appeared and cantered their horses the length of the Mall, shouting to everyone to leave the quickest way possible. Other patrol cars cruised Independence, Constitution, and Madison, using their bullhorns to spur the evacuation.
Despite Bree’s hope for calm, the police horses and bullhorns were clearly seeding panic. Joggers turned and sprinted north and south off the Mall. Fathers grabbed their kids and ran. Moms pushed baby carriages helter-skelter. Tourists poured like ants out of the Lincoln Memorial and left the Vietnam and World War II Memorials in droves.
Bree kept the binoculars pressed tight to her eyes, looking for someone lingering, someone wanting a last look at the spot where the bomb was stashed, or positioned to remotely detonate the device.
But she saw no one that set off alarm bells.
The son of a bitch is gone, she thought. Long gone.
The bomb dogs did not appear until 7:59 a.m., delayed by traffic caused by closing the Mall during rush hour. They had twenty-seven minutes to find the device, and Bree was fighting off a panic that threatened to freeze her.
She was in charge. What if something went wrong? What if the device went off?
As quick as the question popped into her mind, Bree squashed it. Breathe. The officers and agents converging on the Mall were outstanding, the best. You’re leading superior people, she thought. Trust them to do their jobs, and advise you well, and you’ll be confident in your decisions.
The Mall was almost empty when handlers released twelve German shepherds at intervals along Constitution Avenue from the west lawn of the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. Bree watched the dogs roam into the wind in big loops, noses up, sniffing out scents as their handlers tried to keep pace.
A minute passed and then two. On the radio, bomb squad leaders from the four law enforcement agencies announced their teams’ arrivals at positions along Independence Avenue, now empty save for cruisers with blue lights flashing.
At 8:02, Bree was looking west toward the Capitol when one of the FBI’s shepherds slowed, circled, and then sat by a trash bin along a pathway west of 7th Street, almost directly south of the National Sculpture Museum.
“K-9 Pablo says he’s got a package,” the dog’s handler said over the radio.
Bree closed her eyes. They’d found it with what, twenty-four minutes to spare?
“Back K-9 Pablo off,” Bree said. “Bomb squads move to his location.”
The FBI and Capitol Hill Police bomb squads were closest. Tactical vans raced east along Monroe from 3rd, and west from 15th, stopping a block away from the trash bin at 8:04. They had twenty-two minutes to neutralize the threat.
Agents and officers in full bomb gear piled out of the vans. Two FBI bomb experts walked within fifty yards of the trash can before releasing an Andros Mark V-A1, a four-wheel-drive robot that rolled right up next to it bearing electronic sensors and cameras.
“We have a timed device,” one of the agents said, within seconds. “Repeat, we have a timed device.”
“Evidence of cellular linkage?” another radioed back.
Special Agent Peggy Denton, the FBI bomb squad commander, called for heavy mats and blankets made of fire-retardant Nomex materials stuffed with sliced-up tire rubber. Four agents and five Capitol Hill police officers carried the mats and blankets toward the trash can.
Bree’s breath caught in her throat when they got within ten feet. If the bomber had a remote trigger on the IED, which was not cell phone driven…
But without hesitation, the bomb team showed exceptional courage. They went to the trash can and laid two bomb mats over it, and then a bomb blanket that draped over the entire can down to the sidewalk. The agents and officers moved back quickly, yanking off their hooded visors, and Bree sighed with relief.
It was 8:11. Fifteen minutes to spare.
“Job well done,” Bree said into the radio, and suddenly felt weak and tired.
She sat down against the wall and closed her eyes, her fingers playing with her wedding ring, an old habit, until she thought to call her husband, Alex. She not only wanted, but needed to hear his voice.
After four rings, she realized that he was probably with a patient.
“Alex Cross,” his voice mail said. “Leave your message at the beep.”
“Hey, baby,” she said, fighting down a surge of emotion. “I’m okay. I was running on the Mall and…”
Her radio squawked. “Command, this is Metro K-9 Handler Krauss. K-9 Rebel has alerted. Exterior trash bin, women’s public restroom immediately southwest of Constitution Gardens Pond.”
“Shit,” Bree said, got to her feet, and ran to the opposite window as she ordered the officer and his dog back. She saw them trotting north toward open ground and heard the sirens of the other two bomb squads rushing to the new site.
Were there more IEDs? Bree wondered. All set to go off at 8:26?
It was 8:18 as the tactical vans skidded to a stop well back from the restroom. If the bomb was timed to go off at 8:26, they had eight minutes. As before, officers and agents in heavy protective gear and visors poured out of the vans.
There was brief radio chatter regarding tactics before Denton said, “Command, I recommend we move straight to the bomb mats and blankets. No time for the robot.”
“No other options?” Bree said.
“We let it blow.”
8:19. Seven minutes.
- On Sale
- May 2, 2017
- Page Count
- 144 pages