Two a day Bonus! New chapter of the novel…

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Chapter 3

             Hawkins had been able to tune in to various news radio stations on the drive home, and as usual the media was jumping to conclusions just to have something to say. Each reporter seemed to be trying desperately to come up with some theory that no one else had so that they could get the notice of a bigger station or network and therefore move up the career ladder. Not unlike some people in the Bureau, he thought with disdain. But the recurring theme under it all was the same: terrorists had struck against the Southern Baptist Convention, a natural target because of their outspoken evangelism toward Muslims and the fact that a number of Southern Baptist leaders had spoken very strongly against Islam in the days and months following September 11, 2001. The time of the explosion, 9:11, had been carefully avoided by the SAC and Cortez, the press officer in Jacksonville. Hawkins remembered that Cortez had been on a diving trip to the Keys, and thought with no satisfaction that his wasn’t the only vacation interrupted by bad news. And yet, someone had leaked this piece of information that seemed to be more than just a strange coincidence, and the press was running with it. Hawkins had to admit that saying the 9:11 explosion was happenstance, as some media pundits and “experts” were saying, was reaching a bit, but there were many angles this thing needed to be approached from. Jumping to conclusions too early in an investigation meant that you would probably wind up swimming in the wrong pool.

            He turned into the parking lot of a squat-looking trio of office buildings just off of the Arlington Expressway. He knew that as he did several hidden sensor arrays and video cameras told security personnel stashed away in the heart of the western-most building everything there was to know about the vehicle and what it contained. They would be able to determine the make and model of his car, immediately running the tag to confirm it was on the correct car. The weight of his vehicle would be compared to the correct weight of such a car when loaded with that number of occupants—in his case, one. Advanced computer programs would calculate that, according to the biomedical data of the driver, he was a 32-year-old male in excellent physical shape. They could tell if the vehicle contained anything that might pose a threat to security, such as firearms or explosive components, so they would register the two pistols he wore on his body, as well as the Remington Model 870 shotgun and Heckler and Koch MP-5 submachine gun in his trunk, along with an accurate count of how many rounds of ammunition could be found in the black Charger. Such things had seemed very James Bond-ish when he had first found out about the information gathering capabilities of the FBI, and he still was somewhat in awe of it. All of the bells and whistles of Bureau gadgetry served to greatly improve the effectiveness of law enforcement, and he had to admit that he still loved to see what the tech guys at Quantico would come up with next.

            After punching in his access code on a recessed outer door, he walked into a stairway that led directly up to the secure entrance to the Field Office. There was a public entrance, accessed through the main lobby and a security checkpoint downstairs, but the agents usually went in the back way. He walked into what would, at first, seem to be an ordinary workplace: portable dividers creating numerous cubicle workspaces, well dressed men and women walking to and fro, and phones ringing. The difference was that nearly all of the well dressed men and women were wearing firearms and badges identifying them as Special Agents for the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Posters looking like items out of the OSS in World War II were attached to wall and cubicle alike, with phrases like “Loose lips sink ships!” and “National Security is YOUR Responsibility!” emblazoned on them. He walked to where his cubicle was, nestled amongst others in the White Collar Crime squad, and saw that there was an official letter from the SAC notifying Hawkins that he had been transferred to the Counter-terrorism squad until further notice. A post-it note was lying next to the letter that read: “Lousy way to get back to CT, huh? See ya upstairs. W.” He knew his partner, Mark Woodley, was as excited as Hawkins to get back into a Counterterrorism squad. The White Collar work was great for a lot of agents, but Hawkins and Woodley preferred the energy and sense of accomplishment of CT. The joy of being placed in their area of greatest interest and aptitude, however, was tempered by the event that dictated their transfer. People had died today whose only crime was that they were Southern Baptists.

He turned and walked to another stairwell that led to the third floor where the conference room waited. As he walked into the room, he saw SAC Shear seated at the end of the table, talking on a phone and writing on a legal pad. Several other agents milled about, looking at photos attached to a large mobile bulletin board. Various indecipherable notes were written on a marker board on the wall closest to the bulletin board, with BAPTISTBOM written in large red marker at the top. A secretary brushed by Hawkins and handed a telephone message to the lead evidence technician—what was his name? Bogart came to Hawkins mind just as he saw the man’s nametag. The evidence tech looked up from his laptop computer to receive the message from the harried-looking secretary, and waved at Hawkins when he saw him. Jim Bogart, that’s it. Hawkins had not worked a case with Bogart before, but had worked out with him at the gym after hours and found him to be an affable guy. Originally from Georgia, he had a thick southern drawl and a quick wit. Although Bogart was some 20 years Hawkins’ senior, he could do 200 sit-ups and pushups at a clip, and run circles around you in a workout circuit. Bogart had been a Marine and, as he liked to say, still was: “Once a Marine, always a Marine.” Bogart was a crack shot, and he rarely missed on the range. As sharp and intuitive as Bogart was, Hawkins figured he didn’t miss much of anything.

            “Care for a cold one, mountain man?” Hawkins turned to see his partner, Mark Woodley, holding out a can of cherry cola.

            “Thanks,” he said, popping open the soda and taking a sip. The body heat of a dozen agents in the small room made for an environment not unlike the humid air outside. “Anything new?”

            Woodley was about to respond when the sound of a phone being placed into a receiver echoed in the small room. “Take your seats, folks, and we’ll get started,” SAC Shear said. The agents found a chair around the rectangular table and sat, Woodley taking the spot next to Hawkins. Cortez, the press officer, caught Hawkins’ eye and shot him with her thumb and forefinger. “Welcome back,” she mouthed without a sound.

            Hawkins did likewise. “You, too”. Cortez had been nicknamed “Renee Lo” because of her strong resemblance to Jennifer Lopez, although Cortez was several years the senior of the actress/singer. Cortez would be a busy lady in the days to come. They all would, but there was not an agent in the room who would trade jobs with Cortez. It was commonly agreed upon among agents that it was better to face an armed suspect than a reporter trying to make a name for themselves, but watching Cortez work was like watching magic. She never got riled, always had just the right thing to say and, as a result, got excellent press for the Jacksonville Division.

            SAC Shear leaned back in the leather executive-style chair. “Alright, we’re at almost 8 hours post-event. Let’s talk about what we know at this point. 9:11 a.m., explosion in the parking garage. Three cars are blown through reinforced concrete retaining walls into the parking lot surrounding the garage. The damage was sufficient to cause the structure to collapse at approximately 6 minutes post-event. Rescue arrived on scene as the structure collapsed, so no fire and rescue guys got hurt in that. They have recovered a couple of bodies and lots of parts, but no survivors within the structure. We have 3 confirmed fatalities from debris in the parking lot, and 22 injured. Our best estimate says that there were likely between 50 and 75 people in the garage when it went down. I’m going to turn it over to Agent Bogart for some specifics on what the techs have come up with.”

            “Thank you, sir.” Bogart stood and walked to the bulletin board where the numerous photos were attached. “From what we have been able to determine, the bomb was detonated on the ramp between the second and third levels in the southwest corner.” As he spoke, he pointed to various photographs of the structure intact and destroyed. “The placement was such that the detonation was sure to bring the whole structure down, either immediately upon detonation or shortly thereafter. In all likelihood, the vehicle was a van or larger sport utility. Due to the restrictive clearance height of the garage—six feet eight inches—a larger vehicle such as a U-Haul simply would not fit. Evidence suggests that the bomb was a simple fertilizer/fuel-oil bomb of the type used in Oklahoma City in ’95. The quantity used was much less, but it would have been difficult to get much more in the garage considering the size of vehicle they were limited to using. Not to mention that they didn’t need as much to do what they did here. They also wouldn’t have had much trouble obtaining a smaller quantity of the required materials. We have yet to isolate the source vehicle, but we should be able to relatively soon.” Bogart took his seat.

            “Thanks, Jim. Okay, Bogart’s given us a green light to set up a field command post in one of the large conference rooms at the convention center for our evidence guys, as well as joint ops with ATF,  JSO and FDLE,” Shear said, referring to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “ATF is tracing sales of the ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, but as Jim said, we believe that it would have been bought in small enough quantities as to not raise any red flags. Our FCI squad is running down possible leads and coordinating efforts with CIA and NSA.” Foreign Counterintelligence was turning into the fastest growing area within the Bureau. Since 9/11, FCI and CT squads were seeing their numbers swell while some of the comparatively mundane law enforcement squads were seeing their agent allotments dwindle. The Bureau had been in the business of FCI for years, but a number of recent failures had led to a lot of heads rolling in the Bureau. Early retirements had come by the dozens as many in the top levels of the FBI had seen the writing on the wall. “The CT squad will be out shaking the bushes. We don’t know if this is an isolated event. In all likelihood, it’s not. If there is a connection to Al Qaeda or some other Islamic extremist group, we may get another hit. If you hear even the slightest hint that something may happen, you treat it like the gospel truth. Better to drop back and punt than to fumble in this game. And,” Shear said, looking directly at Hawkins and Woodley, “I’d like to welcome Agents Hawkins and Woodley to the CT squad. These two have a bit of previous CT experience working in the New Orleans Division, and you all know from their time here they do good work. Most of you know Woodley was a Navy SEAL and he was on HRT”—the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team—“for several years, so his experience will be invaluable in this investigation. As you know, Bill Jackson was Supervisory Special Agent for the CT squad, but he took a training position at Quantico last month. Because of Woodley’s extensive experience in this field, he will be acting SSA.”

            Hawkins turned to his partner to see him grinning ear to ear, his brown eyes squinting. “Did you already know this?” Hawkins asked.

            “Found out about an hour ago,” Woodley said. “Movin’ on up.” Woodley was several years older than Hawkins, and had him by 2 inches and about 50 pounds. Woodley was a Texan, raised on his father’s cattle ranch, and looked as if he could carry a medium-sized heifer on his broad shoulders. He had played football in high school, and wanted to play while attending the Naval Academy, but his course work prohibited his involvement. He had sandy blond hair, a round boyish face, and an easy going attitude that belied a brilliant mind. He had advanced degrees in nuclear science and engineering, and had served on a nuclear submarine before signing up for SEAL training. He excelled in the strenuous regimen, coming out on top in every area of the Navy’s commando program. He was with the SEALs for a couple of years before he was offered a slot on the Bureau’s Hostage Rescue Team. The pay was much better, and his wife was tired of her husband being out to sea for months at a time. Shortly after joining the FBI, Woodley’s wife became pregnant with their first child. Two years later, their second child was born. Woodley’s friends joked that maybe he should go back to sea.

            “I don’t know if I can deal with you being my boss,” Hawkins said.

            “You’re young,” Woodley said with his smile firmly in place. “You’ll bounce back.”

            Hawkins was glad for his friend’s promotion. There was no doubt he deserved it, as he had more experience and involvement with CT work than virtually everyone else in the Division.

            Shear continued the meeting. “Bogart is heading back to the scene when we’re finished here, and I’d like for Woodley and Hawkins to follow him down. The rest of you already have your assignments.” He paused for a moment. “Let me make something very clear. We do not know for sure who is behind this attack. We do not want to jump to conclusions or make leaps in logic. Stick with what you know or can prove. The Attorney General has made very plain that we are to use the full resources available to us to prosecute this investigation, and that’s what we are going to do. The 9:11 a.m. timeframe hit the media fairly quickly, and there’s a lot of tension right now in this city and around the country as a result. There is rampant speculation about who is responsible for this. The Baptists are shook pretty bad, and most of their leaders are calling for calm. The AG is likewise staying in front of the cameras to convey the importance of cool heads. But there have already been a couple of preachers on TV who were at the Convention that lost friends in the attack. Middle Eastern leaders are lining up to speak out against it—they’re in panic mode. But there are a few nuts on Al-Jazeera thanking Allah for another strike at the Great White Satan, and the footage of people dancing in the streets in the middle of the night in Tikrit burning American flags already isn’t exactly helping. The Sheriff has placed units at every Muslim center in town. The last thing we need to do is aggravate the situation with leaks and innuendo. No one, and I mean no one, says a peep to anyone about this investigation. I know there are always leaks, but the only leaks that should happen on this will come from me or Cortez. If anyone shoots off at the mouth and the press gets wind of it, I will hang your butt on my wall. This is as serious as it gets, people. Questions?” Another pause. “Alright then. Let’s get to it.”

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