The chapter was too long to stick it all on, so here’s the last section. Chapter 3 will follow soon. If you ask nicely :).
Hawkins returned to the house just long enough to deposit his leather jacket back into the closet before heading to Florida. He put the tops back into place on the Z28 and placed his blue twin-strobe flashers on the dash. He called the FBI operator back in Jacksonville and asked her to contact the various law enforcement agencies along his route. They would appreciate knowing that the silver Camaro roaring through their jurisdiction with lights and sirens wasn’t some nut who had ordered a bunch of stuff out of a J.C. Whitney catalog and was pretending to be a cop. It was a pretty long drive—8 hours when you weren’t really trying—but he figured by the time he arranged for a flight, and waited around to get clearance to take his ever-present gun on board, it would be quicker to drive. Especially if one had a 500-plus horsepower car with blue lights and sirens.
He only traveled a short distance down the interstate before he heard the familiar voice of SAC Shear on the news radio station he had been able to pick up after coming out of the mountains of Cosby. Shear’s voice sounded confident and reassuring as he spoke.
“Less than an hour ago, an explosive device was detonated in the parking garage of the Orson Convention Center here in Jacksonville, FL. Shortly after the initial explosion, the parking structure collapsed as a result of the structural damage caused by the explosion. We do not at this time have any idea how many persons may be trapped in the wreckage, but rescue crews are hard at work searching for those in need of aid. We do not have any suspects at this time, and I will not speculate at this point as to the origin of the explosion or those who might be responsible. What I will say is that the FBI is coordinating with local and state law enforcement to investigate the facts behind this morning’s tragic event. As we have more information we will keep you informed. Thank you.”
Hawkins heard reporters shouting questions as Shear walked away, and the radio commentator jumped back in to overanalyze what Shear had said, and try to add some things the SAC didn’t say.
Five hours and a gas stop later, Hawkins entered the Jacksonville City Limits. He was still a good 20 minutes away from the heart of downtown, however, as all of Duval County was incorporated into the City of Jacksonville years ago. Twenty minutes at normal speeds—at better than 120, it would take less than half that. He merged from I-95 onto 9A South, the final stretch of the I-295 loop that would soon encircle Jacksonville. He crossed the Dames Point Bridge that connected the Northside with the Arlington area, spanning the St. Johns River with its many docks and shipyards. As he approached his exit, he killed the strobes and assumed more reasonable speeds. He turned onto Merrill Road, hung a right at the next intersection, and then turned onto Fort Caroline Road. A short drive led him to the long, winding private drive that led to his waterfront house. The house was fairly modest for its exclusive location overlooking the St. Johns River and the Dames Point Bridge he had crossed only minutes before–a sizable inheritance had provided him the means to live far above his federal agent’s salary. A medium-sized two-story brick home, the backside was composed almost entirely of glass, affording a panoramic view. The feature he was most proud of on the property, however, was the massive garage. Bordering on the size of a small warehouse, it contained a complete service facility for his vehicles. Once unable to identify a distributor cap, he had become extremely handy with automotive mechanical work thanks to a few particularly adept friends. Stored within the climate-controlled structure were his various “toys”: cars, trucks, a pair of Sea Doos, and a 31’ WellCraft Scarab speedboat with a supercharged big block engine. His parents had always been car aficionados, and it was his weakness as well. He bought and sold them continually, but there were a few he would not part with under any circumstances.
He pressed the button on his remote and one of the doors opened like the jaws of some ferocious beast, longing for a meal of silver Z28. He pulled the car into its spot and turned the key off. The motor kept running after he stepped out—he had a timer installed that would keep the engine running for 2 minutes after the key was shut off and removed, allowing the lubricants to course through the engine and turbocharger in a “cool down” mode. He walked through the enclosed corridor that joined house and garage, and ascended the stairs to his bedroom. He showered quickly, and grabbed a dark blue polo shirt with “FBI” in small yellow letters across the breast pocket and a pair of khaki cargo pants from a shelf in the closet. He grabbed his duty belt and ensured that his handcuffs, tactical baton, and extra magazines for his firearm were in place. He pulled on a pair of black Magnum Stealth side-zip boots—he got tired of tying that many laces—and wrapped his duty belt around his waist. He placed his faithful companion, a Heckler and Koch USP .45 pistol with 12 rounds in the magazine and one in the chamber, into the triple retention holster. He had a meeting at the office, but he knew they would make a trip to the crime scene and suits and ties were not the 24-hour-a-day requirement they had once been under Hoover. This was the “field work” uniform of the modern FBI.
Hawkins grimaced. The antiseptic phrase “crime scene” seemed somehow inappropriate in this case. Special Agent Mark Woodley had called him with what they had so far after only an hour into his trip home: a large explosive device, likely a truck bomb, was detonated at 9:11 a.m. in the newly built parking garage of the Orson Convention Center. The force of the blast was such that several vehicles had actually been blown out of the garage into the surrounding parking lot. The Convention Center had received relatively minor damage, leading Woodley to believe that the point of detonation had been on the side of the garage facing away from the Convention Center. The damage to the garage was sufficient, however, to bring the whole four-story structure down upon itself only a few minutes after the blast. He ought to know, Hawkins thought: his partner had been a Navy SEAL for several years before joining up with the Bureau’s HRT, or Hostage Rescue Team. SEALs spent much of their time blowing things up or figuring out how, so Woodley would be a good man to make judgment calls on explosives. The majority of Convention attendees for the morning session were already inside the convention center, but there was a considerable number still in the garage, either having just parked or circling around trying to find an empty space. One would be too many.
Hawkins had been to several Southern Baptist Convention meetings himself, and could visualize the people he had seen, people of all ages and ethnicities. Suddenly his mental picture was torn apart by his conceptualization of what had happened: innocent men, women and children, minding their own business, thinking of nothing but the events of the day, suddenly ripped to pieces, burned to cinders, and crushed beneath tons of debris. The image was highlighted by his own recollections of 9/11, something still far too vivid in his mind even after the passage of several years. He tightened the strap on the holster around his left calf that held a smaller .45 caliber Glock Model 30 that served as a backup pistol, and walked downstairs.
He headed to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. Grabbing a blue-colored sports drink with his right hand, he headed out to the garage, picking up his briefcase off the small roll top desk next to the fridge with his unencumbered left hand. The door opened, and the electronic voice of his security system announced that the garage access door was open. He noted for the hundredth time that it said nothing when he closed it; after all, alarms didn’t care when you closed a door, only when you opened one. As he stepped into the garage, he walked to another black vehicle, this one parked in a special spot with no other vehicle nearby: his Bucar—the jargon term for Bureau vehicles. This particular vehicle was a black Dodge Charger Hemi sedan, gleaming like a black jewel under the incandescent lighting, the chrome wheels like diamonds on a sheet of black velvet. Every night when he came home he cleaned the car, regardless of how late it was. The immaculate state of his car made him the darling of the motor pool, and made it very easy for him to get whatever he wanted, including the newest car in the Division. Agents with years more seniority were relegated to 8-year old Ford Tauruses in some cases, but the Agent in Charge of the motor pool told them: take care of your car the way Hawkins does, and you’ll get a better one. He also had been able to get a little “special service” engine work done on his car, which boosted the horsepower about 50 over stock and pleased him to no end. The garage door in front of the Charger opened and the black sedan rolled out, aiming for the Field Office a few miles away.