Category: “All Have Sinned”

I Never Thought I Would Say This…

running

I enjoy running. There. I said it.

Don’t panic, however. Those of you who have known me for a while may be tempted to, but let me assure you,  I have not been abducted and replaced by a body-double, and I have not lost my mind. Well, the last one is a distinct possibility, but nevertheless, I have discovered I enjoy running.

This does not mean running is fun. There is a difference.

I have never enjoyed running. Ever. If I was running, I have frequently joked, then so should you because it means I am being chased by something I can’t defend myself from. Even if running had been fun for me, I had not been able to run for a number of years, even before I had back surgery several years ago. After the back surgery, I had been able to get back in the gym and get back in pretty good shape –good enough to fit into a Batman suit again for Halloween, anyway. But even then I couldn’t run without it hurting my back, or more accurately without having the fear of it hurting. I took up boxing, hit the weights, and walked at a pretty good speed and ridiculous incline on the treadmill, but no running.

Fast forward to August of 2017. I’ve been out of the gym for over 14 months since we moved back to Florida, and my body is showing it. So my wife, Lea Ann, and I get signed up at a gym here in town and get to work. She gets back into shape much quicker than I, a fact I attribute to her extreme athleticism during her high school years and the fact that she isn’t fat like me. This fact doesn’t deter me, however; it actually serves to inspire me. Because she gets into shape much faster than I, I don’t want her to be looking all svelte but be stuck with a chubby hubby, so I’m working pretty hard.

Which brings me to the running thing. I realized that if I want to get a year’s worth of sedentary lifestyle off in less than a year I was going to have to make some changes and push myself. I’m tracking calories (which hurts my feelings but really helps the working out thing),  I’m doing 4 sets of 15 of everything, and I’m running. Well, running and walking, but I’m running more everyday. And my back hasn’t hurt yet. My knees, ankles, shins, toes, and hips hurt, but not my back.

A funny thing happens when I’m on the treadmill at the gym now. I can see a hazy reflection of myself in the window near my treadmill. I’m 46 now, and the beard that I have grown on a lark earlier this year is a lot grayer than when I let it grow in years past. I think back to the last time I really ran, back in 2000-2001 when I had been recruited by a government agency to come and work for them (I wound up not going). Lea Ann, who had been a track star in high school, was my coach, teaching me everything I needed to know about pace and stride length. I would run 3 or 4 miles a day, every day, rain or shine, because I had to. If I was going to be able to meet the physical requirements of the job I was being recruited for, I needed to be able to perform. Now, I have a different–and perhaps better–motivation.

I want to do this. I want to prove to myself that I can. I want to do because I can do it.

For years I gave a lot of reasons as to why I couldn’t run, most of them revolving around my fear of re-injuring my spine. The fact of the matter was that it was just excuses. Fear really is just an excuse. And I was making excuses when I should have been making progress.

So why do I now enjoy running when I so desperately hated it before? Because I see it for what it is –a privilege. I run because I can. Not everyone has the privilege of high-speed bipedal locomotion, and while I’m not exactly high speed I am up to 6 mph and a little over three miles at a time (alternating roughly 1/3 walking and 2/3 running). When I’m on the treadmill or running in our neighborhood, I try to push myself a little farther each time. Mind over matter. And boy, do I say some nasty things to myself when I think about stopping.

How many things do you and I miss out on because we make excuses? Because it might not be fun, or it might actually be uncomfortable for a little while? How many times do we lose the argument with ourselves and quit too early, just short of the goal? If you have the opportunity to run, then run. It may be running physically, but it may also be exercising your potential spiritually. Don’t let the fear of what might happen keep you from doing what you can. Start running and pumping those legs physically, emotionally, spiritually, until you find your stride–you may actually find that you enjoy it.

Important Rule Here: Be Nice

I haven’t addressed this before because, frankly, I haven’t had to. Since I have had over 35,000 hits this week regarding an article I posted earlier, the comments have also increased to say the least.

Let me say that I don’t expect everyone to agree with everything I post. It is entirely likely that someone may have a deep-seated loathing regarding whatever my post regards on that particular day. It is often helpful if one reads what I have written in it’s entirety before commenting ;).

I welcome comments and civil discussion, but I will not allow this to become a soapbox for someone else’s agenda. That’s what their own blog is for :D. If someone gets snippy it either doesn’t get posted or it gets removed after the fact. We don’t all have to agree, but we will all be agreeable here.

Thanks,

The Management

Passive Purity?

One of the most difficult subjects to wrap one’s head around is the interaction of faith and works. Once a person receives the forgiveness of Christ, is that all there is? Is no further action required, or is there something the believer has to do? If we are saved by faith, as the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, do works have any role whatsoever in the life of the Christian?

To suggest they do not is dangerous at best and unbiblical at worst. Since the very best we can do is, as the prophet Isaiah said, “filthy rags” before God (Isaiah 64:6), we know that our efforts have no part in becoming righteous in God’s eyes other than our reception of the forgiveness offered. Even so, the moment of conversion– the justification of the believer through the atonement of Christ– is only the first step in the process. The ongoing walk with Christ in this life, or sanctification, follows as surely as exhaust flows from an internal combustion engine. Sanctification is the natural result of justification, and is not possible through works. This being said, the works are the overflow of the conversion.

Paul teaches that there is more than a passive reception of purity involved in sanctification. In the great doctrinal thesis that is Romans, Paul points out the necessity of involvement in the work of sanctification. “For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification” (Rom. 6:19b). Here he indicates that the nature of man is to offer up service to one of two masters: sin or righteousness. When man chooses to allow his sinful nature to dictate his course, the resulting actions will be an increase of sinful activity. Conversely, when man surrenders himself to God and appropriates the righteousness offered through the cross, his actions will result in actions that are increasingly righteous or undergoing “purification.”

Paul further highlights the effort required of the believer in the process of sanctification in Ephesians 6:22-24: “that, in reference to your former manner of life, you lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth”. The “laying aside of the old self” suggests effort in addition to the justification of the substitutionary atonement. To suggest that no effort at all is required can be taken to such extremes as universalism, or such passive forms of Christianity as Quietism.

Paul continues and instructs the believer to “put on the new self”. The Greek word used here, enduo, has the connotation of not merely having a garment but putting it on, of literally sinking into the folds of it and having it envelop the wearer. This is very clearly an energetic act as opposed to a passive occurrence. Just as a parent lays out the clothes for a child, the child is undressed until they put their clothes on. When the child is small, the parent puts the clothes on for them. As they mature, they are to dress themselves.

Too many Christians are laying around waiting for God to dress us when He has provided us with everything we need. We need to not overstep our bounds, to be sure, but we must also ensure that we are assuming the responsibility our Father intends for us to take. Saved by Christ, empowered by the Spirit, we are to live out our lives demonstrating the hope we have within us.

Mustang Boss 302 “hotkey” = Awesome

Okay, so most people reading this know I love cars with substantive amounts of horsepower. Simply because I own a Challenger many assume that I do not like Mustangs and Camaros. They would be incorrect. While I’m not the biggest fan of some elements of the new Camaro’s styling (front grill and headlights are just wrong, and the taillights look like they forgot to finish them), I certainly appreciate it’s excellent performance capabilities.

But the car I would have, if it weren’t for the Challenger, would be a new Mustang GT 5.0 (that and the fact the Mustang only seats 4 while there are 5 members in my family–yes, the Challenger is a family car). With ridiculous performance levels, the 2011 and up GT is probably the best bang for the buck car on the planet. The new Boss 302 model will just ramp that up to super-ridiculous. I posted some pictures a while back on my blog, but today I show you the keys. It is called TracKey. When you want to drive like a normal person, you use the black key. But when you want to reset some 200 parameters in the car’s computer to unleash the full 444 horsepower, you use the red one.  This is simply awesome.

Now, back to our regular schedule.This Red Key Turns Your Boss Mustang Into A Race Car

Two a day Bonus! New chapter of the novel…

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.”

“All Have Sinned”, chapter 2 part 2

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.

More from the novel–Chapter 2 of “All Have Sinned”

Keep the comments coming. If I published this, would you buy it?

 

 

Chapter 2

 

            Special Agent in Charge Robert Shear stood at the perimeter of the destroyed parking garage. Investigators had the ubiquitous crime scene ribbon stretched around an area some 1700 feet from the actual pile of rubble and debris to keep onlookers and the media from getting too close while leaving an opening for rescue personnel to drive their vehicles through. The actual exclusion zone was 1500 feet, and only rescue personnel and EMTs were allowed within, while the next 200 feet out had been marked off as the operations zone where a field command post had been established. The FBI, Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and Fire Department already had representatives at the CP, and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement was on its way. The entire area had been shut down for over a mile, and the police had their hands full rerouting traffic. Interstate 95, which ran directly past the Convention Center, slowed to a crawl as people gawked at the destruction. The collapse of the structure had seemingly suffocated the flames of several vehicles ignited in the initial blast, although there were some small secondary fires burning as vehicles outside of the garage had been set ablaze by flaming debris thrown outward from the explosion’s core. The scene reminded him of other similar experiences—the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in 1995, and the WTC and Pentagon attacks on 9/11. He had actually been in Washington attending a meeting with FBI and Justice Department officials when the Pentagon was hit. Minutes later, he had been standing amidst the chaos about the same distance from the point of impact as he now stood from the destroyed parking garage. The same thought struck him as it had with the other bombsites he had been to: what a waste. These people died because some arrogant fool wanted to make a point. He contained his outrage, of course—it didn’t do any good to kick dirt around like a ticked-off coach at a baseball game. No, it was better to present a cool head for the people working the scene. He had seen more than his share of Bureau leadership blowing their tops and running around like chickens with their heads cut off, and had likewise seen what that had done for the morale of the agents. They needed leadership, not tantrums, and he was determined to do his job, regardless of the rage and sorrow that swirled in equal parts in his soul. He also knew that the press had cameras trained on the site. He scowled inwardly at the fact that media personnel arrived almost before emergency crews did. In a big hurry to start the rumor mill. Of course they would make speculations about who was behind it, what had actually happened, and so on—that was what they were paid to do. But he was paid to do a job as well: find the people responsible for atrocities like this and bring them to justice.

            It was a job he did well. Shear had been in the Bureau for 30 years, starting out as many agents do by working as a clerk while in college. After graduating with a Juris Doctor from Yale, he was hired as a Special Agent. The handsome Shear had always looked the part of a G-Man: tall and lean, a skin tone that showed a propensity for outdoor activities, and dark hair that seemed always about to fly out of place but never quite doing so. After some 3 decades in Federal service, his hair was much whiter, but the tan skin still covered the musculature of an athlete. At 6’3” he had been an intimidating figure to many on the wrong side of the law, but he always had a warm smile and firm handshake for a friend, fellow agent, or shady character he was trying to win over. His winning personality matched his success as an agent: he had arrested some of the biggest names in white-collar crime, as well as bringing several crooked politicians to justice. He had worked Iran-Contra, as well as trying to pick up the pieces at Ruby Ridge and Waco. He moved up through the ranks from street agent to Squad Supervisor. He earned a shot at an Assistant Special Agent in Charge, or ASAC, position in Albuquerque which he got, then became SAC when his predecessor retired. Usually ASACs would fill in when an SAC retired or otherwise moved on, but rarely were they promoted to the top position in their respective Field Office. But Shear was unusual, and proved to be an excellent top man—so much so that he was offered a position as interim Assistant Director over the Criminal Investigations Division in Washington. After 2 years in the bureaucracy that is FBI Headquarters, he took the SAC position that had come open in New Orleans. It was there that he had met Thomas Hawkins, a young man that he felt had a huge future with the Bureau. Shear had received a call at his office one day from a young man who was a seminary student and pastor of a smaller church out in Metairie. The young pastor told him of a special service where they would be honoring people who served in government positions, and asked if Shear would attend. Intrigued, Shear agreed to attend. Being a Methodist himself, he was not intimidated by the prospect of attending services in a Southern Baptist Church. When he and his wife arrived, he was greeted by a young man in his mid-twenties. He was slightly taller than average, although not as tall as Shear, but was solid looking, like a guy that could handle himself if had to. Not that many preachers would ever need to, Shear thought, but one never knew. Shear had been impressed with the young man’s easy demeanor and his seemingly natural way with people. He watched as he went to each person seated in the pews before the service started, called them by name, and took the time to find out the answer to his question of “How are you doing?”. When the service came, Shear became even more impressed. The young man had been a natural public speaker, and seemed perfectly at ease addressing the crowd of 150 or so congregants. After the service, the preacher had thanked Shear for coming. Shear invited the young man to give him a call—they could get together and have lunch that week. Hawkins had smiled widely at him, saying that he’d be in touch.

            The next day Shear had pulled up what he could find on Thomas Hawkins. He saw that he had been a decent student, always in Honors or Gifted classes, and pulling A’s and B’s in his classes. He had attended Clemson University as a music major, and attended New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, where he had received his Master of Divinity degree and was nearly finished with his Ph. D. Hawkins had never been in trouble, with only a couple of speeding tickets in high school. He came from good stock: Hawkins father was an executive with a major insurance company, and his mother was a physician. He had an older brother, Nathan, who had pursued a career in medicine and was now an administrator of a large medical center in Texas. He had no law enforcement skills, but that was fine. In fact, the FBI preferred it that way, so that they could train an agent correctly and not have waste time helping them to “unlearn” bad habits. Hawkins had the characteristic that had made for successful Agents throughout the Bureau’s history: a natural, easy way with people and a sharp mind. When Hawkins called a few days later, Shear had taken him to lunch. He was even more impressed after nearly 2 hours of conversation, and so he asked: “Would you consider a career with the FBI?” Shear was surprised at how quickly Hawkins had said yes. One 22-page application later, Thomas A. Hawkins was in the pile of nearly 100,000 applications to be a Special Agent for the FBI.

            A tap on his shoulder interrupted Shear’s reverie. He turned to see his ASAC, Walter Simmons, standing with a clipboard in one hand and a cell phone in the other.

            “The local affiliates are all here and they want some news. CNN just nearly ran over one of our Evidence Techs coming over the Matthews Bridge, and Fox News is putting up the pole.” Simmons was a tall black man in his mid-40’s that seemed to be in competition with his boss about who would be best dressed. Shear was already sweating in the early morning sun in his suit and tie, yet Simmons had not so much as a bead of sweat on his brow. There was no competition between these two, however; they had hit it off from the day Shear walked through the door as SAC Jacksonville, and he trusted Simmons to get things done. The ASAC had been here barely 15 minutes, and yet he had half a day’s work done already. And not even sweating, Shear thought as he shed his suit coat and clipped his FBI ID badge onto his shirt pocket. “The Sheriff just said that there was an explosion and that was all we know at this point. His press officer is trying to fend off the news hounds right now, but they want to hear from the Bureau. The Sheriff said he knew we were taking this, and anything you need from him, you’ve got”. Shear had ridden piggyback on the good relationship Simmons had established with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office over the last few years, and as a result the head-butting that often went on between law enforcement agencies was generally not a problem with the JSO and the FBI.

            “The Mayor’s Office called and said he wants to come down as soon as the area is secure. I told them it might be a while.”

            “First things first,” SAC Jacksonville said. “We need to get the sniffers to confirm for us that there’s nothing else about to go off somewhere in the area.”

            “They already have about 60% of the immediate area covered, and expect to finish their sweep within the next couple of hours. Bogart is on the horn right now with Homeland Security, and is monitoring the big picture very closely down here,” ASAC Simmons said. He was referring to James Bogart, the Weapons of Mass Destruction coordinator and Crime Scene guru for the Jacksonville Field Office.

            “Good. After that’s done, I don’t mind him coming down here, but make sure he doesn’t get into anything dangerous. Have you gotten Renee yet?” Shear was hoping that his lead press officer, Renee Cortez, would be the one to talk to the media. As good as Shear was about keeping his cool, reporters seemed to have a knack for finding his last nerve and striking it repeatedly.

            “Nope. Been trying her cell for 30 minutes, and haven’t gotten through. She was supposed to be coming back from the Keys this morning. Her new secure cell wasn’t working right, so the tech guys promised to work on it while she was gone. All she has is the old cell phone.”

            “And all of the cell systems will be messed up for hours with everyone calling to check on family members and friends,” Shear said. “Call the Miami FO and see if they can raise her on her radio.” Shear was so reliant upon Cortez’ excellent skills and working relationship with the media that he allowed the press officer to break the rule about using a Bucar for personal trips. He knew that Cortez kept her digitally encrypted FBI radio on at all times. If they couldn’t talk via cell phones, maybe they could get through another way. “In the meantime, tell them I’ll come over in five minutes to give them a brief rundown,” he said, emphasizing the word “brief”. “And tell them this is a statement, Walt…no questions.”

            “Got it,” and the ASAC jogged off towards the waiting media. Shear turned at the sound of a vehicle approaching, and saw a dark blue Suburban with flashing strobes in the front window and grill pull into the restricted area—Evidence Technicians. Now that the ETs were here, they could coordinate with the rescue crews and help direct their efforts to where people would be most likely be alive in the rubble. Shear prided himself on being an optimist, but the more he looked at the smoking pile of concrete and steel in front of him, the more he believed the rescue crews were wasting their time.

            “What in Sam Hill is going on down there?” the President of the United States asked as he hurried into the White House Situation Room. He saw before him several people he had seen only an hour ago in his morning Intelligence Briefing: the Director of Central Intelligence, the National Security Advisor, and the Director of Homeland Security, now joined by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of State, the White House Chief of Staff, the Director of the National Security Agency, and the Deputy Assistant Director of the FBI. The Director of the FBI would have been here as well, but was already on his way to Jacksonville from another engagement.

            “Best we can tell at this point, sir, is that we have a likely terror incident at a religious gathering in Jacksonville, FL,” Director of Homeland Security said. “It wasn’t a WMD, but a conventional explosive device demolished a parking garage at the convention center there.”

            “Religious gathering?” POTUS asked. “That’s the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention, one of the largest religious groups in the country. That’s like saying Disney World is a nice little theme park. There’s likely to be thousands of people there, of all ages.”

            “Yes, sir, I realize that,” DHS replied, then continued. “We have no estimates of casualties at this point. Local law enforcement and the FBI are coordinating.”

            The Director of Central Intelligence, Jack Price, spoke next. “We don’t have any indication of international chatter over the last few days, so this doesn’t seem to be an Al-Qaeda thing. They tend to get real noisy before they try to pull something.”

            “Which is how we’ve been able to shut them down before they could,” POTUS interjected.

            “Exactly,” DCI replied. Everyone in this room knew exactly how many terrorist plots had been foiled in this country and abroad because of the diligent work of the agencies represented there. They all knew equally well that the general public would never know of those successes, but would hear only of their failures. It had been said, and rightly so, that when the Intelligence community did their job well, no one knew about it; when they screwed up, everyone did.

            The NSA Director, Alfred Reid, interjected. “Director Price is correct. We’ve had nothing recently. We’re checking logs now, of course, but nothing has stood out that would lead us to expect something like this.”

            DCI Price continued. “This is not to say that it couldn’t be Al-Qaeda, but we could have another Oklahoma City-type thing here.”

            “The militias have been laying low for a while, so it’s about time they tried something,” the Deputy AD for the FBI said.

            “That they would hit another group of Christians is a little unusual for them, though,” the National Security Advisor said. “They usually target racial groups, or those they see as a threat to their way of life.”

            Price spoke again. “I’m not very knowledgeable on comparative religions, but I know that the Southern Baptists are diametrically opposed to most of what these militias stand for, racial equality only one of many such things. That could make them a target.”

            “Well, whatever it takes, we need to get to the bottom of this and find out who’s behind it,” the President said. “Each of you have a job to do, so go do it. Whatever you need, you’ve got it. I’m meeting with the Senate Majority and Minority leaders after this, so I’m sure we’ll have any resources available you need. No one’s going to want to look partisan and petty on this.”

            “I can think of a few,” the Chief of Staff said. Nearly everyone in the room grunted in agreement.

            “Regardless,” POTUS continued, “I’ll get my part done. You get yours.”