Steven W. Kohlhagen
Published by LitArt-World / Edition Bärenklau, Germany © 2017
In the near future, America is experiencing a dramatic increase in terrorist attacks---by jihadists, White supremacists, and Mexican cartels. In the face of these failures by the U.S. Government intelligence and law enforcement bureaucracies, an ad hoc vigilante effort has exploded on the scene. And, surprisingly, this shadowy and deadly vigilante group appears to be led by one of the U.S. Government's most senior and trusted Counterterrorism (CT) insiders. The President convenes a top secret Task Force to investigate and uncover who is spearheading this rogue, inner circle operation. Is it his CIA CT rep? The FBI Special Agent in Charge of CT? Or maybe it's the Army's Senior Special Ops CT expert. Boldly, the President decides to place all three on his Investigative Task Force, hoping to draw out the guilty party or parties, and put an end to the spiraling violence and chaos. Will his gamble pay off ? Or will things spin even further out of control. As the story careens full throttle in parallel between the thrilling action of the vigilantes’ frequent murders of terrorists in the act and the attempts by the senior CT officials to discover the rogues’ identities, neither the reader, the President, the innocent Task Force members, nor, ultimately, the President’s hired top secret investigator knows the real identities of the vigilante leaders.
As they close in, the murders---both terrorist and vigilante--ratchet up. The questions then become: what are the risks to America if the public gets wind of the vigilante murders? and what does the president intend to do with the vigilantes if, in fact, they are found alive?
Steven W. Kohlhagen, bestselling author of WHERE THEY BURY YOU and CHIEF OF THIEVES, has set a new standard for terrorist novels and action-packed thrillers. Don´t miss it!
I would like to thank Joe Kiehl for his career of service to our country and for sharing his helpful insights about the United States counter-terrorism community. The Point of a Gun is a work of fiction. Without Joe’s insights and guidance, I’m afraid it would have been, instead, an unrecognizable fantasy.
I would also like to thank the editors and publishers of Edition Bärenklau, without whose efforts and support this work could never have come to final fruition. And I would like to acknowledge a huge debt of gratitude and thank you to my friend Manfred Quintus, whose tireless German translations of my novels have magnified their impact and readership, and have brought my family’s work full circle.
Additionally, I would like to thank May Kung for lending her name to one of the characters. Her continuous intellectual support in one of my previous careers and her two hours of military support one afternoon in the North Carolina woods provided the inspiration for the May Kung character in this novel. The character in the book, of course, is not the real May Kung.
And to Charles O’Reilly, whose one comment was worth a thousand words.
As pointed out above The Point of a Gun is entirely a work of fiction. I would like to thank Ron Star and his team at Arnold and Porter for dragging me out of harm’s way on repeated occasions. Any mistakes, despite the help of those mentioned above, are entirely of my own making. Any resemblance in this novel to real or fictional events or persons (living or dead) is unintentional and part of that fiction.
And, of course, I would like to thank Galen, to whom this book is dedicated. She released me to live with Samms and the Rogues for a year. Thank you for that. And, in fact, for everything.
FBI: Federal Bureau of Investigation.
DHS: Department of Homeland Security.
CIA: Central Intelligence Agency.
JSOC: Joint Special Operations Command.
DNI: Director of National Intelligence
WTF!: White House Anti-Terrorism Task Force.
NCSC: National Counterintelligence and Security Center.
ODNI: Office of the Director of National Intelligence.
INS: Immigration and Naturalization Service.
TSA: Transportation Security Administration.
NSA: National Security Agency.
ISIS: Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.
JSOTF: Joint Special Ops Task Force
SOCOM: U.S. Special Ops Command.
JTTF: Joint Terrorism Task Force.
SAC: Special Agent in Charge.
ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
SIA: Special Interest Alien.
DIA: Defense Intelligence Agency.
HSI: Homeland Security Investigations
OEOB: Old Executive Office Building.
JCS: The Joint Chiefs of Staff.
CCC: Conference of Conservative Causes.
The adrenalin kicked in and she felt her heart race as she knew what awaited around the corner. She slowed to eighty as she felt the old Chevy take the turn.
Reached down to turn up the volume on her playlist. “A Thousand Miles from Nowhere” blaring from the speakers.
And there he was. Thumb out. Backpack at his feet. Hoody covering all but his eyes.
She braked hard, slid screeching toward the center yellow line, and laughed as she realized she’d reached for the Glock 17 merely out of habit. There’d be time for that. Tucked it back into the holster in the back inside of her jeans.
She pulled over on the shoulder and watched in the rearview mirror as the kid she knew to be Abdul grabbed his pack and started trotting along the shoulder toward her car.
She turned down the volume and rolled down the front passenger window.
“Where you headed?”
“That’s ten hours from here. What were you doing in Laramie?”
“I actually started in Chicago.”
“And somebody just let you out here on the road? In the middle of nowhere?”
He shrugged. “Guy was a jerk.” Sayin “jerk” like “herk,” but with a poor Spanish pronunciation and accent.
You ain’t seen nothing yet, Abdul.
“What’s your name?”
“Jose. Jose Gonzalez.” Acting like an innocent little Mexican kid.
She had to suppress a smile. “I’m Bobbi Sammons. But everybody calls me Samms. With two m’s.”
She leaned toward him. “I can take you part way. I’m headed in that direction until I head north to Pocatello.”
Abdul, pretending to be Jose, looked around. Licked his lips.
“Doesn’t matter to me, Jose. You can wait for the next ‘herk’ or hop in. Up to you.”
He opened the back door and started to climb in.
“Unh uh,” she said. “Front seat, Jose, or wait for the next ride.”
He looked at her menacingly, no longer pretending to be a timid Mexican. But his face betrayed that he thought better of it, returned to being the fictional, timid Jose, closed the back door on his pack, and climbed in next to her.
“Seat belt,” she said as his door closed. She restarted the song, turned up the volume for Dwight Yoakum, and floored the car toward ninety.
Out of the corner of her eye she could see that Abdul was no longer playing either the timid Mexican or his true malevolent, hating self. He was nervous. Looking like he was asking himself, “Who is this crazy lady driving like a maniac?”
She glanced back at the satchel, knowing the contents. Abdul was transporting this bomb to a meeting with his partner in Hanford, Washington tomorrow, where the two of them were planning an attack on the nuclear waste cleanup site there.
She looked down at the phone in her lap. Hit send. “Mission accomplished…see you in five.”
“Isn’t that illegal?” Abdul asked. “Texting while driving.” Spanish accent now gone as he took a closer look at her, smiling awkwardly.
“It’s not illegal to erase an unwanted or unwelcome message or object with one finger, Jose. You have the right to exit the vehicle at any point you want.”
He shrugged. Looked back at his pack. Reached back and adjusted it to lean against the back of the seat.
Samms lurched the wheel to the right and then back to the left as he reached back, watching him catch himself on the dashboard.
“What’s in Boise, Jose?” Accent on ‘Jose’, teasing him, making sure he remembered his name.
“Friends.” He hesitated, then added, “Amigos from Mexico City.”
“What do they do there?”
“Students. They go to college in Boise.”
“What school is that, Jose?”, stepping up the pressure. Having fun with him now. Torturing him.
He frowned. Started to say something, then stopped.
“What college, Jose?”
“I don’t want to talk to a strange lady about my friends.”
“I’m not a strange lady. All my friends think I’m normal. Boring, but normal.”
He grimaced. Looked like he was thinking of a way out of this situation with this crazy lady. “Why are you going to Pocatello?”, he asked.
“None of your business. But I own a string of housecleaning businesses. Franchises in each city. Do you know anybody that cleans motels and houses in Boise? We mostly hire illegal Mexican aliens.”
He glanced at her quickly, doubt in his eyes. “No, I don’t. Can you turn down the music?”
“No. You want me to stop and let you out?”
He didn’t respond.
“I know many Mexicans in Boise, Jose. But none of them are college students. Are you sure nobody you know in Boise works for me? Cleaning houses and motels?”
He shook his head.
“Maybe our meeting on the road today was meant to be. Do you want a job supervising illegal Mexican aliens for me in Boise, Jose?”
Each time saying the false name ‘Jose’ a little louder, emphasizing it. Taunting him.
He was sweating now. Shook his head again. His body language saying, “How do I get out of here?”
A service station appeared up ahead on their right as they sped around a hill, a lone car at the gas pumps.
Abdul looked at it, started to point at it.
“I need to stop to pee and get gas,” Samms said, braking hard and turning into what she knew to be the last service station after Laramie. No other buildings in sight.
She screeched to a halt outside the rest room doors at the side of the station and got out.
“You better go to el banos too, Jose. We won’t be stopping for another four hours.”
She opened her door, stepped out, and stepped around the front of the car to the ladies’ room. Watched him hesitate and look back at his pack as she stopped one step inside the bathroom, the door hitting her on the butt.
He opened his passenger door, stepped behind her, looked hesitantly once more into the back seat, walked the ten yards to the men’s room, and opened the door.
The man in the driver’s seat in the car parked at the pumps watched them both closely.
He glanced at the young girl behind the counter in the service station’s convenience store. She was as oblivious to the two entering the bathrooms as she had been of him, sitting at the gas pump, but getting no gas. In fact, getting nothing. Just sitting in the car, watching.
The girl turning the pages of what certainly she thought was a fascinating magazine.
He sat and watched.
As Abdul took his first step into the men’s room, Samms put the suppressor on the Glock in the darkness of the ladies’ room, and stepped back out of the protection of the open door.
The men’s room door hadn’t fully closed behind Abdul yet, so she took a second to look around.
Nobody in sight, except for the car and its lone occupant at the gas pump.
She strode the six strides to the still-closing men’s room door, ripped it open, and slammed into Abdul’s back as he started to turn, knocking him against the wall on the other side of the urinal.
“You don’t make a very convincing Mexican, Abdul.”
He looked up, puzzled, then alarmed at the pistol pointed at his chest.
The first two bullets killed him instantly as they went through his center mass.
She leaned over and put the third bullet into his forehead.
She dropped a business card on the bloody mess that had been his head, stepped out of the men’s room, glanced at the pack on the back seat, and tossed her keys and the Glock into her now-abandoned car as she walked past it and out to the center island.
There, she opened the front passenger door of the car, looked at the driver and said, “Jose, my ass.”
Though to be fair, she added only to herself as she lowered herself into the passenger seat, my name’s not Bobbi Sammons. Or Samms, either.
Three hours later a phone rang at FBI headquarters in Washington.
The man who picked it up heard a man at the other end say, “She’s done it again.”
“You sure it was her?”
“She left the card.”
“What was on it?”
“Same as always. Samms.”
“Yes, some initials on the back. ‘BOBS’.”
“Bob, like the name?”
“No, ‘BOBS’, like in many men named Bob.”
“Any idea who the Bobs are?”
All he heard was the line go dead.
“I need final authority to take out these two dirtbags,” the ex-Navy SEAL, formerly known as Andy Teeter, said. Sighting down his TAC-338.
“You have authorization, Cheese,” said the voice in his ear.
“Not good enough. Not authorization from you, Tom. I don’t hear Samms’ voice, I don’t pull the trigger.”
“Those aren’t the rules.”
“In this case, those are my new rules,” not moving his sniper rifle off the targets.
He heard ringing. Then it stopped. Then started ringing again. Then stopped. Then started a third time. Their emergency signal to Samms.
The President entered the White House conference room. Closed the door.
“Good morning everyone,” he said into the silence.
Nods all around.
In attendance were the Commander of JSOC, and the Directors of the White House Anti-Terrorism Task Force, the FBI, DHS, and CIA. As instructed, each of the five had brought the functional head of his relevant counter-terrorism division. These five division heads were to be permanently designated to work as the Task Force on this particular assignment. The President’s National Security Adviser was in attendance.
Ten men and two women. One of whom was Samms.
“You’ve all been briefed,” the President said. “Just to make it perfectly clear, the DNI and the twelve of us in this room are the only people on the planet who are to know the purpose of this group and any actions we decide to take. Clear?”
“Only I can change that. Each counter-terrorism division head, please introduce your boss, in case not everyone knows everybody else.”
Laughter all around.
He asked Ted Noose, head of the White House Anti-Terrorism Task Force to introduce the agenda. That particular White House Task Force had been dubbed WTF! from day one, and Ted was known to all as “Moose.”
“As you each know, assuming you were able to decrypt the briefing document,” Moose looked up and chuckled, but only got impassive stares in return, “we are facing a rather unusual problem.”
He glanced up, but again was greeted only by silence.
What an asshole, Samms thought to herself. She looked at the other four division heads, knowing pretty much with certainty what was going through their heads. Other than their unanimous disdain for Moose, anyway. The existence and accuracy of the briefing documents had been a surprise to her, so she knew it was a complete shock to all those who had no knowledge of what she and the others had been up to. Well, it had been inevitable that somebody would put it all together. Was going to happen eventually. Today was as good a day as any.
“Over the past seven months,” Moose said. “More than eighty-seven people who had been identified by one or more of your counter-terrorism agencies as being involved in possible terrorist acts, have been murdered.”
“By any of our people?”, asked the CIA Director.
“Not anyone we know by name,” the President replied. “And nobody, to my knowledge, is authorized to carry out domestic assassinations in this country. If anybody here knows anything different, now would be an excellent time for a full report.”
He looked around the room and got the expected head shake from each.
Unauthorized domestic assassinations. The guys will be disappointed to hear the President’s opinion of their actions.
“The NCSC is charged with leading and supporting counter-terrorism efforts,” the FBI Director said. “Are you sure the ODNI has not brought them in on this secret? And, if so, why not?”
Moose looked at the President, got a nod.
“We are certain nobody at NCSC is either involved or knows about this problem,” Moose said. “Part of my job will be to brief the DNI on the activities of this effort daily. We decided to contain knowledge of our activities to only the thirteen of us. If NCSC gets wind of our activities here, the DNI will receive a report immediately and we will know we were wrong about that.”
“This whole thing doesn’t sound like a problem to me, Moose,” said Linda Simmons, head of the CIA’s counter-terrorism division. “It sounds like an opportunity. Why would we look a gift horse in the mouth?”
“Well,” Moose said, “whereas you and I, Linda, might have a spirited discussion about the pros and cons of vigilantes and bounty hunters, I think we will all unanimously agree that it would be a good idea to find out how these people, whoever they are, have access to all of the agencies’ classified, secret information on domestic terrorists. Including your information at the Agency.”
He looked at the agency heads.
“Tell us a little bit more about the location of these assassinations and the nature of the top secret Intel,” the National Security Adviser said.
“Sure. That’s easy. The assassinations have been carried out throughout the entire country. These appear to be killers not tied down to any particular location. They’re mobile and they’re really, really good. Clearly ex-military. At least they’d better be ex- anyway.”
“No pattern?”, asked the head of the FBI. “We sure it’s random?”
“We had tech big data specialists analyze it for patterns while hiding our intentions. It came back random. No patterns or timing tracks at all.”
“Killers?”, asked Nancy Moffett, head of the FBI’s counter-terrorism division. “More than one? We know how many?” She slid two M&M peanuts out of one of her ever-present yellow bags. A red one and a blue one as it turned out. Popped them into her mouth.
“Can’t just be one person,” Moose said. “It’s too well organized and the MO’s are too different. In answer to the earlier question, the classified information on the about to be deceased terrorists has come from each of your agencies. Sometimes one, sometimes another. In short, you each have been hacked at various times by these killers. Or somehow compromised.”
“And there is no evidence of hacking left behind,” the President said.
“To cut to the chase,” Moose said, “in other words, we think this is an inside job.”
That was met with total silence.
“So,” the JSOC Commander eventually asked into the silence, “somebody in one of the security agencies has been pulling in the intelligence on domestic terrorists from all of us, centralizing it, and using it to kill suspected terrorists?”
“Well,” Moose replied, “the hell of it is that these aren’t so much suspected terrorists, as they are people who were on the verge of committing actual terrorist acts.”
“We were close to making arrests in some of the cases,” the President said. “Some of the victims were killed almost within sight of your agents.”
“About to make arrests?”, asked Colonel Tom Edwards, chief of the JSOC Operational Studies Group.
“No,” Moose replied. “In every case the agents had not yet been authorized to make arrests. Some were close, but none of the instances had yet been officially considered actionable.”
“Then your insider is a very senior official,” the CIA Director said.
“Why do you say that?” Moffett asked.
“No junior IT guy or group of junior IT guys could collect that information and monitor it on a timely basis. Only a very senior person, or group of senior people, could get the access and monitor the Intel so effectively.”
“Not to mention execute complex assassinations,” Moose said. “These killers aren’t agency bureaucrats. They are comfortable with weapons. Very comfortable. These vigilantes have certainly had military training.”
Samms begrudgingly agreed that they had done their homework. They’re better at this than we thought.
“Which brings us to the five of you,” the President said, looking at each of the anti-terrorism division heads in turn.
“Yes?” Samms said into Cheese’s ear.
“Cheese won’t shoot without your say so,” Tom said.
“One of the targets is a beautiful young woman, Samms.”
“So am I, Cheese. You thought all your targets were going to be skanky old jihadists?”
“She doesn’t look as tough as she does in the pictures I had. I want your personal authorization or I don’t shoot.”
“Is the guy she’s with your other target? From the Mexican drug cartel?”
“Yes. No doubt about it.”
“Could the woman be the one we ID’d running the child sex rings into Phoenix? Look closely, Cheese.”
Cheese did. “You’re right. It’s her. Our pictures don’t do her justice is all.”
“Kill them both, Cheese. Now.”
He could tell that she stayed on the line. He could hear her soft breathing.
He exhaled, pulled on the trigger. Inhaled. Then exhaled and took the second shot.
Heard her breath respond twice, once to the sound of each shot.
“Both dead. I’m coming home.”
He heard the click that indicated Samms had disconnected.
“So my word isn’t good enough for you anymore, Cheese?” Tom asked.
“I’ll see you tomorrow, Tom. You’ll be okay. I’ll give you a big wet kiss at the meeting. In front of everyone.”
Five hours later, Nancy Moffett, FBI, and Colonel Tom Edwards were drinking at their normal D.C. watering hole, the Gibson. Edwards’ was in his fourth tour of duty at JSOC. He was in charge of all JSOC domestic U.S. counter-terrorism activity, innocuously titled the “Operational Studies” Group.
The two forty-three year olds had been like brother and sister since high school in El Paso, Texas. Nancy had been valedictorian of their class. Tom always told friends that he had just been happy to get the diploma. But the reality was that they both were consistently at the top of their class both academically and in marksmanship throughout their undergraduate, ROTC, and Army careers.
Their friendship was so close that they had even approved of each other’s marriages and had been commissioned into the Army together on the same day.
Well, they had been like brother and sister except for that one time when Nancy had suggested a beach weekend and they discovered that an actual physical romance wasn’t in the cards between them.
Since those two nights, they’d been just friends.
The knowledge of their close friendship had created heartburn with many government officials when she left the Army to join the FBI and he had moved up the ranks in special ops, but each time the two of them had successfully skated through the concern over potential conflicts. The information about them and their actual personal relationship had become an accepted part of the Washington security community’s environment.
“You go first,” Nancy said. “I’ll tell you the truth if you show me yours first.”
“Let’s take a big step backwards,” he said. “They…”
“They. The government. The President. Your Director. My Commander. They.” He sipped his cocktail. “They suspect Linda, you, or me of being Samms, of directing a top secret nation-wide official unofficial vigilante operation.”
“Do you think they really ever suspected either of the White House or DHS bozos they put in with the three of us today?” She reached down for her bag of peanut M&M’s.
“If they did,” he said, “whoever put together the list is pretty sloppy. As you and Linda quickly pointed out to the two of them, neither of them had the knowledge, training, or logistical ability to pull off covert anti-terrorist operations. Either professionally or personally.”
“Let alone murder people.”
“Well, there’s that. Maybe the President, Moose, and the Directors thought they were both cracker-jack investigators?”
She made a dismissive gesture. “More likely they felt strongly it was one of the three of us and they just put them in purely to cover up their actual suspicion.”
“I vote for sloppy.”
“Why just one of us, why not two or all three?” She took a sip of her martini. “And I thought we were the government.”
“We were, and we might be again if the true culprits are found not to be you and me. If they suspect it might be more than one of us, then they sure as hell suspect you and me. No way any of the other nine people looking at the President in that meeting would ever work together on something like this unless it were the heads of the agencies, and then not without Presidential approval or oversight.”
“Hoover did this kind of shit all the time without Presidential approval.”
“But not without Presidential knowledge,” he said, indicating she could challenge if she wanted.
She looked thoughtful, but let it go.
“Is there any chance these murders start at the President,” she said. “And they’re setting the three of us up to work on it as cover?”
“No,” he shook his head.
“You think there’s any chance they don’t really suspect us and that this is just a typical bureaucratic ass covering delegation down to the three of us?”
“Small. First of all, they wouldn’t need the President for that. And second, they didn’t come up with the three of us off the top of their heads. If they didn’t actually suspect it’s one of us, they would have included INS. No TSA or NSA presence suggests there’s at least some thought behind their choices.”
“Nobody at TSA or NSA is good enough to pull something like this off.”
“They don’t have the access or the military training, and they certainly couldn’t keep it secret.”
Their usual waiter interrupted to make sure they wanted another round. They had never bothered to dissuade him of his understandable belief that they were a nice married couple of Washington bureaucrats. They both waved him off with a nod and a two fingered gesture.
“Okay,” Nancy said, “I can see why the President, the DNI, the Commander, the Directors, and the National Security Adviser came up with the two of us. Combat veterans with continuous training and mission experience, now with the highest level access to anti-terrorist Intel. We’re senior enough with a long relationship that is now cross-agency. Makes sense. We’re the most likely suspects if it’s an inside job involving two or more. And, of course, if you ignore my well known reputation for job dedication.”
He flipped her the finger.
“Once they suspected us,” she said, “it was a logical step to look at the same level at the Agency. Linda has the same pedigree and the three of us have attended specialized Intel and ops training programs together for years. On the other hand, maybe it goes the other way around. Maybe it’s Linda they suspected in the first place and they’re looking for us to find her out.”
“Putting both of us on the Task Force makes sense if they suspect either one of us,” he said. “But if they actually suspect Linda, that doesn’t mean they had to put both you and me on the Task Force.”
Her martini and his Jack and Ginger came,
“What are we to make of the series of Samms business cards?” Nancy asked.
“She wants to be caught?”
“Of course, it could be an intentional fake gender identification,” he said. “Or even be more than one person.”
“Correct. I doubt they want to get caught. Deep down they may know it’s likely or inevitable, but I doubt they want to be caught.”
“Then why the cards and now the initials?” Tom asked.
“I think whoever it is, is taunting the government. Catch us if you can? Something like that.”
“And the initials on the back?”
“I have no idea. Moose said they have computers trying to find a connection. So far, no luck.”
“Maybe Samms is trying to leave clues as to how we can more successfully stop terrorist attacks?”
“I don’t think so,” she said. “We all know how to do that. Declare martial law or otherwise deprive prospective terrorists of due process and full protection under the law.”
“Then what are the initials on the card all about?”
“I have no idea, but I seriously doubt they will lead to the identity of Samms.”
“I must say that it’s a helluva of an interesting assignment,” Tom said as the waiter drifted over. He waved him off. “But I think they suspect you and me.”
She smiled. Sucked on her straw. “As the five of us discussed ad nauseum, each of us knows the probability for themselves is either a hundred percent or zero. If it’s zero percent, then he/she suspects the others. If it’s a hundred percent, then they know the others are innocent.”
“Unless one of the others is their partner,” he said. “Then the two of them know who’s who.”
Nancy laughed. “Maybe Linda’s right. Maybe we should play Clue over drinks until we know the guilty party. Or parties.”
“I’m much better at poker.”
“Which only helps us if you aren’t one of the vigilantes.”
“Which brings us to us, Nan.”
“If you and I are innocent, then we each know that.”
“But if I know it’s not me,” he said, “I don’t know it’s not you.”
She nodded, “And vice versa.”
She reached for the check, pointed a finger at him, and said, “I, Colonel Edwards, on the other hand, know it’s not you only if it is me.”
After she paid, they left the Gibson and headed over to the Palm for their previously scheduled dinner with Tom’s deputy.
The deputy had served with both Nancy and Tom in the Army. Their work and training together spanned over two decades of military training, military ops, and graduate courses in intelligence operations together at locations too numerous for any one of them to successfully list. Most recently at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.
If Tom had told Nancy that he was planning to keep this operation from his deputy, she would not have believed him.
The two of them briefed him on their current assignment over dinner.
“And the President isn’t going to object to me being the fourteenth person on the planet to know all this, right?”
“Our clearances are identical,” Tom said, hitting his deputy along the side of his head. “Such niceties have never stopped any of us before now. Also, the President isn’t so naïve as to believe his own histrionics.”
“And there’s no way,” Nancy said, “that your boss isn’t keeping his boss or the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, briefed on these suspicions.”
“Agreed,” Tom said. “No way.”
“How many senior people in the sieve that is the FBI know by now?”, the deputy asked.
“Let alone by tomorrow night,” Tom said.
“No comment,” Nancy said.
“How about if you each start by telling me it’s not you,” the deputy said.
“Seriously?” Nancy said. “You’re seriously asking us this? Both at the same time? What else are we each going to say other than, ‘Of course it’s not me’?”
She looked over at Tom, who laughed in agreement, putting his arm around his deputy.
He frowned in feigned seriousness at the deputy and said, “Of course, it’s not me, dear.”
Getting the expected punch in return.
The deputy looked at Tom, then at Nancy. Clearly serious now, he said, “I actually only care if it turns out to be both of you. I’d be fully supportive if it was either of you acting alone, but not if it’s both.”
“Why is that?” Nancy asked him.
“Now that I know about these vigilantes, my initial instincts are that I think they’re doing the country a great service. They’re on the side of the angels, guys. I don’t need to be reminded that you two are diligent and hardworking and care about bringing terrorists to justice. But, as we’ve discussed a thousand times, you’re sitting, frustrated, at the top of two parts of a process where several bureaucracies hamstring your best efforts to act quickly enough to fully protect the American people. Despite your best work, successful terrorist attacks are increasing. People are dying out there, now at the rate of several attacks a month. And it feels like we, despite our best intentions, increasingly can’t prevent it.”
All three sat back at this unexpected speech.
“If either one of the two of you had asked me to join your group of vigilantes,” he said, “I would have joined in a minute.”
“Whew,” Tom exhaled. “Thanks for the confidence.”
“I’m certainly confident in the two of you. This isn’t a test about my respect or confidence in you two. This is about the realities on the ground. We all know we can’t stop a hundred percent of the lone wolves. But between the white supremacists, the Eastern European hackers, the drug lords in the southwest, and, of course, the Muslim jihadists and ISIS, the country is simply failing in its primary duty to protect its citizens.”
“At an increasing rate,” Nancy said.
“Let me take this moment to remind the two of you,” Tom said, “actually, the three of us, that the President of the United States specifically forbade us to talk to anyone about this. This conversation simply isn’t happening.”
“That’s absolutely correct,” Nancy said. “But he should know that the sentiments he just voiced were roundly echoed around the table at the White House today. We get it that the terrorists are increasingly succeeding. We’re all aware of this. Of our own failures. And we recognize that these vigilantes are doing us all a great service. We all discussed that.”
“In the meeting that didn’t happen this afternoon,” Tom said. “During the discussion that never happened and has nothing to do with my deputy.”
“Right,” Nancy said, turning to the deputy. “But you didn’t answer the question I was asking you. I was asking why you hope it’s not both of us, the two of us working together.”
“Oh. I think it would be very noble for either of you to do this to protect the country better. And I would be supportive of that patriotic effort. But I have two problems if it is both of you.”
“And they are?” Tom asked.
“Secondly, Colonel, whoever this is, is going to get caught. And it’s not going to be pretty. This is going to end badly for the traitors. There isn’t going to be a ticker tape parade down Broadway. Either this ends as a national scandal and public trial, or the vigilantes will be killed. Either by terrorists, or by our own government. I think I’m good for losing one of you for this noble effort. But I don’t think I could handle discovering that I couldn’t trust either of you and then losing both of you after all these years.”
“And the first problem?” Nancy asked, knowing what was coming.
“And first, I’d be furious you hadn’t asked me to join the gang.”
May Kung looked over the top of her computer at the man she knew only as Tom, cleared her throat.
Tom looked up from his screen, then at his watch. Two in the morning.
“Got them?” he asked.
“All but one.”
“Time to call Samms?”
“Not yet. Almost there.”
“Can I ask you a question while you work?”
“Sure. I can still multitask.”
“Why’d you agree to work with us, May? Originally?”
“You mean over a year ago?”
“Yeah. You’re great at hacking and decrypting. Why wasn’t that job at NSA not good enough for you?”
She looked at him. Made a face in silence and went back to work.
“Seriously, May. The three of us all have military or covert anti-terrorism backgrounds. Killing was new for you.”
“So you all wanted to believe,” she said. Not looking up.
“Cheese says you have an aptitude for it, but seemed inexperienced during training.”
“You mean, sorta like the poor damsel in need of help from the big strong, bad soldier?” in a high pitched fake voice.
She continued pounding away at her computer, still not looking up.
Tom seemed to let it go.
“You each asked me this a thousand times and I thought you completely vetted my background,” she said.
“We did. There was nothing in your background that suggested accomplished assassin. Just your hints. That’s why we pushed so hard. Why we insisted on all that training with Cheese.”
“Just nerdy Asian systems engineer, right?”
“And a girl.”
“Look, May. I’m not doubting you. No second thoughts. You’ve exceeded our hopes on every dimension. I was just idling the time here by wondering more about your motivation.”
“You got that my parents emigrated from Myanmar.”
“Did you look into why?”
“We’ve been through all this. The whole point of your parents coming here was just like any immigrants. To live in a free country.”
“And they told you that?”
“Yes. You, too as a matter of fact. Your NSA records were consistent with that.”
She looked up, said, “Some detectives.”
“You were, what, eleven, when you came here?”
“Something like that.”
“What did we miss?”
She looked up from her two computers. Hit save on one, then the other. Leaned back.
“I’m not going to tell you.”
They stared at each other.
“Ah. You lied to us about your experience with violence.”
“Let’s just say that Cheese was wrong. I wasn’t a virgin when he met me.”
“You mean sexually?”
She laughed. “That either. No, Tom. Let’s just say that there were aspects of my past activities, and, let’s say my internal propensities, that my parents and I chose to keep under wraps.”
“Sort of until tonight. I’m never giving any details that’ll compromise my family. But there’s no longer any reason for it to be, generally, a secret from the three of you. Especially if you’ve been having your doubts. May as well get this behind us. It’s not something I want to be constantly wondering if you’re going to ask me again.”
“So why then didn’t you think about joining the Army? The Marines?”
“I did. The Marines. I’ve changed my identity more than once that you all missed. NSA too.”
“Any that would give us second thoughts?”
“This late? No. After the Marines, my preference was to leverage my computer abilities in anti-terrorist government work. Until you came along, I was content to be a hacking computer jockey and let the past remain buried back in Myanmar and Quantico. It’s also what you asked me to be. You and Samms failed to mention that I would be involved in your violence. Hell, you didn’t even tell me about it until you had to. To close the deal. You just promised me a less frustrating platform than working for NSA. I think my involvement in our assassinations was a natural evolution.”
“Or unexpectedly natural re-evolution? We were certainly surprised. Pleasantly surprised.”
“Nothing surprising. At least to me. Tom, you guys vetted me ten ways to sundown. I worked twenty-four seven with you and Samms to identify and decrypt these hackers. I’ve knifed a Mexican coyote in front of you personally, and shot at least three Muslim jihadist terrorists with Cheese watching. Are you and Samms worried about me? Did I make a mistake that I now need to explain?”
“No, it was just idle curiosity. Let’s let it go. Sorry I brought it up.”
“You know a helluva lot more about me than I know about any of you, you know.”
He smiled over at her as she went back to the computer.
She typed away, now going back and forth between the two screens.
“That you’ll admit,” he said under his breath.
She looked up and smiled. “Yeah, that I’ll admit.” She shut the computer. “I just nailed the last one down. Call Samms.”
Samms returned their call after an hour.
“G’morning guys,” she said.
“Morning,” they said simultaneously into Tom’s cell speaker.
“Are we ready to go?” Samms asked.
“Yes,” Tom replied.
“All eleven nailed down,” May said. “We have dates and target locations for each of the hacker shut-down attacks.”
“How do you know there aren’t more?”
“It’s what I do,” she replied. “There are eleven.”
“How are they coordinating? Simultaneous attacks?”
“No. They’re shutting down the grids in Houston, L.A., and Miami on Wednesday. Then Philly two days later. Followed by Dallas, Denver, Boston…” looking over at her screen, “…Atlanta, and then Chicago. Every couple of days. Made to look random.”
“One guy per grid?”
“Precisely. They fancy themselves to be a confederation of franchisees, each responsible for his own territory.”
“Makes sense, actually. No coordination complexities. No control conflicts. And they’re available to help each other without getting in each other’s way if a problem comes up.”
“And their objective is to just shut the country down? Then count on a spontaneous revolution?”
“So they say to each other,” May said.
May and Tom waited for Samms to continue.
“Walk me through again how you can be so sure. Can we really be this confident you’re not compromised with this many involved and interacting?”
May looked at Tom. Exasperated. Then at the phone. Sighed.
“Honey,” Samms’ voice coming out of the speaker phone. “I know this decrypting is why we brought you in. But this is the biggest operation by far that we’ve contemplated. If this turns into a cluster fuck, or it traces back, we’re finished. Humor me. Just this one last time.”
“Not only the decrypting, Samms.”
“What do you mean?”
“You also brought me in, ultimately, because of my willingness to kill terrorists. To share your foxhole.”
Tom smiled at that. ”Yes. You were the only former NSA contractor we found who we thought might be willing and able to kill dirtbags. That was an important factor. Especially for Cheese.”
“Okay,” May started, resigning herself to the torture. “They’ve been communicating among themselves on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, among other sites.”
“All encrypted?” Samms asked.
“Yes, all encrypted. One of the jerks thought he was being really cute and occasionally would lob in an innocuous, misleading communication to the other ten and several others. Those were never encrypted. He viewed himself as the genius of the group.”
“Did you need a contact at each social media site to decrypt everything?”
“No. I was able to triangulate using only two of my internal friends and the external source I use. And don’t ask, Samms. We’ve agreed I don’t give up my sources.”
“And they’re each secure? Buttoned down? No risk, right?”
May shrugged. “It’s in their self-interest at this point, Samms.”
“Even the external source?”
“Especially the external source.”
Tom cut in. “We waited until we were one hundred percent certain before calling you.”
“Right,” May said. “One hundred percent.” Raising her voice.
“They have a leader?” Samms asked.
“No, I don’t think so. No evidence of one.”
“And you think all eleven are in one place.”
“I know they are.” She looked at Tom for verification.
“They’re all in Colorado Springs. Where else would you expect to find a group of self-appointed constitutional militia wackos?”
“Certainly somewhere out West. They spread out or in one spot?”
“They each have their own individual server, but they’re either in one large building on the outskirts of town, or a small number of contiguous buildings.”
“Odd that they’d make themselves that easy a target.”
“That’s not how they’re thinking of it. They think of themselves as a full militia, with the Wet Mountains at their backs as an easy escape route.”
“Samms?” Tom said.
“May is right about it being precisely eleven franchisees. But there are many more militia members in total. Those are just the hackers. We haven’t been able to pin down the exact number,” glancing over at May and receiving a nod.
“On location, of course, they could turn out to be just the eleven guys I think they are,” May said. “We’ll know soon enough. Cheese is getting there this morning.”
“One last thing,” Samms said.
“You only named nine sites for the grid shutdowns. I thought you said there were eleven.”
“Really Samms, you need us to spell it out for you?”
Silence. They could hear Samms chewing something.
“What are you eating at four in the morning?” Tom asked.
“A chocolate bar. Breakfast of champions. What else?”
“Ugh.” It was May. “You figure out the answer to your question yet, Samms?”
“Right. Got it, May. Simultaneous?”
“Yes,” May said. “New York and D.C. the last day. At eight am.”
Nancy’s phone rang in her office, caller ID blocked.
“Hey Moose, what’s up?”
“How’s the Rogues Task Force going?”
“Is that what we’re calling it now?”
“Just here at the White House.”
“The President, too?”
“Now that you mention it, I don’t think he calls it anything. Just asks if the three of them are making any progress.”
“How many times has he asked? You just put us together four days ago.”
“I think it’s a high priority for him. Listen, Nancy, I think we’ve decided to put me back in as the titular head of the Task Force.”
“Makes sense. Your number two was redundant, and the guy from Homeland Security couldn’t possibly have been involved or useful to us.”
“Moose? You there?”
“Yeah. I wanted to get your opinion on the first meeting.”
“It was a little frustrating. You guys just threw us in a room and said one or more of you is a traitor and a national security threat. Get back to us on which ones ASAP. Not surprisingly, nobody volunteered to head it up.”
“Are you the traitor, national security threat, or chief vigilante, Nancy?”
“No, Moose. Are you?”
“No. Is Colonel Edwards?”
“Not to my knowledge, but thanks for your confidence in us.”
“Is this an interrogation, Moose? I’m FBI. We’re better at this than you.”
“I wanted to get your take on Linda’s refusal to take the chairman’s job when you tried to push it on her.”
“She sarcastically thanked us all for the honor, but pointed out that she, of all of us, was least able to execute the activities. She pointed out what we already knew. CIA can’t operate domestically. In her mind that included that she could not aggressively be looking among us for an inside traitor.”
“That’s what she said, Nancy. What I wanted was your take on it.”
“If she’s your internal vigilante, Moose, then she has to say that.”
“And if Linda’s innocent, what would she have said?”
“Precisely the same thing. Innocent or guilty, CIA can participate under Presidential orders, but they can’t volunteer to run the operation. Either way, Linda’s right. She couldn’t take it. But why focus on me, Moose, why not ask everybody else?”
“I already did.” And he hung up.
“Honey?” Linda Simmons was in bed with her husband in their Georgetown townhouse. She curled up at his side.
“Yes?” He turned and looked down at her.
“You come up with any ideas on best approaches for me on the Task Force? How to handle the others? I’m afraid this is going to be a long, drawn-out, waste of time process.”
George Simmons was a retired Marine General. The two had been married for twenty-eight years. Their only child, George, Jr., was at Stanford law school.
“I’ve thought about it. What’s your objective?”
“To spend as little time with them as possible on it. It’s a fool’s errand.”
“The President of the United States has sent you on a fool’s errand? I’m shocked.”
She stuck her tongue out at him.
“You want to play it straight?” he asked. “Or do you want to play games with them?”
“Nancy and Tom look like they’re going to play games. They have no patience with Moose and the process. They have to decide how to play it, that the two of them together are the vigilantes? Or that they’re both hurt the other one might have not included them?”
“They just can’t ask each other?”
“Friends or not, nobody is going to trust anybody in this game. Guilty or innocent.”
“The Agency shouldn’t be involved, Lin. They all know that.”
“That’s why I refused to chair the Task Force.”
“Then why does the President even have you there?”
“He either suspects I’m the traitor or he thinks I’m the best one to work with Nancy and Tom and learn if it’s both of them or one of them.”
“So it’s you versus Nancy and Tom?”
“Then you play games.”
“Thanks. That’s what I think too.”
She looked over at her unfinished glass of Pinot Noir and the bowl of chocolates, shrugged, turned off the light and snuggled up against him. Kissed him noncommittally.
Sex or sleep? Up to the General tonight.
“I just now received a message from someone claiming to be one of our vigilantes,” Moose said.
“What’ve we got?” the President asked.
“An offer to work together.”
“Only if they’ll reveal their identities. We aren’t going to be party to illegal executions, Moose. Officially or unofficially.”
“He addressed that.”
“And, he said don’t bother to ask. He said they think they can handle this job by themselves, but it’s risky. He doesn’t have the ability to coordinate with local law enforcement and you do?”
“You. By name.”
“That’s odd.” He frowned and looked out the oval office window out on to the lawn. “How do you know it’s a he?”
“I don’t. But he self-identified as a man in the text. Could be true. Could be fake information. Could be Samms. Could be an accomplice. I haven’t passed this along to anyone else for analysis. Wanted to run it by you first. I think he’s being cautious. Calling you by name takes no risk that we could figure out his agency by how he addresses you or how he views you.”
“He has an excess of caution?” the President said. “Maybe this isn’t an inside job after all.”
They both laughed.
“Mr. President, I’ve been thinking about this. I know you don’t want to hear this, but whoever these guys are, they are doing us a favor.”
“We’ve been over this ground, Moose. Whoever this is, is committing illegal acts. And just because they haven’t made any mistakes…”
“Any mistakes that we know of.”
“Right. Just because we don’t know yet that they’ve murdered any innocent American citizens or created any collateral damage, doesn’t mean that they haven’t or that they won’t. My office can never know anything specific about them or any of their operations.”
“Yes, sir. I’ll take this to the DNI, then. See what they can find out about him.”
“Or her. Linda or Nancy. Or some other woman with no desire to self-identify herself, as you call it, as a woman. Thank you, Moose. Anything else?”
“You do know, sir, that if we plant a false lead, we can identify him, or her, when he acts on it?”
“I do, Moose. In the event we decide the Rogues Task Force is going to fail to find out who this is, I’ll let you know. We can authorize any number of additional search procedures at that time. Okay?”
He walked out of the Oval Office with the information he had been seeking.
“What’s up, Lin?” the Director asked as she sat down in his office. She had asked for a five minute meeting.
“Just checking in with you on my Rogues Task Force work,” she replied.
“You guys find any vigilantes yet?”
“No. And me scheduling a meeting with you wouldn’t be how you’d find that out.”
“I suppose I’d hear from the President or Moose. Especially if you turned out to be the inside traitor.”
She made a face.
“The President told me you turned down the chairmanship without even checking with me.”
“True enough. The CIA can’t be party to a domestic investigation.”
“Even if I ordered you to?”
She looked at him thoughtfully. “Director, if you are ordering me to, we need to have a long walk in the Langley woods.”
He just stared at her.
“So,” she said, “you suspect me too?”
“I think there’s a high probability that the President and Moose are right that it’s an inside job. There was a lot of thought went in to selecting which five should look into this for us. I’ve studied the backgrounds of the other four. I agree that it’s either among you five, or one of you will find the insider pretty quickly.”
“Two didn’t make the cut.”
He shrugged. “Yeah, I heard. Look, Lin, I know you as well as I know any professional in the world. After twenty years working together off and on, I’d bet it’s Nancy and or her pal the JSOC Colonel. But, after extensive investigating, all five of you were equally above suspicion. So, it’s a horse race. Neck and neck.”
“Good to know of your confidence.”
He shrugged. “It goes with the territory. You, of all people know that, Lin.”
Less than ten miles away, the Director of the FBI was midway through the same conversation with Nancy Moffett.
He leaned forward. “Look, Nancy, if it weren’t for your friendship with Colonel Edwards, I’d bet you wouldn’t be on the Task Force. But it probably takes two very senior people for these vigilantes to make this go. Assume that there are two, then you and Tom are in the bull’s eye. Simple as that. And if it’s not you two, then you both are ideally positioned to discover who it is.”
“It could be just one of us, of course.”
“Of course. Is your friendship with Tom such that you wouldn’t turn each other in if one of you discovered the other?”
“Ah, a trick question. Thanks for not asking me that one over drinks.”
“And the answer is?”
“I can’t speak for the Colonel, sir.”
“I’ll let you know if it turns out to be Tom.”
“Unless you’re his partner.”
“Or decide to join him.”
They looked hard at each other.
The Director burst out laughing. “Thanks for the meeting, Nancy. Amusing. No, I don’t think it’s you in answer to your question.”
“One more question, sir.”
“Exactly how hard do you all want us to find these guys and turn these vigilantes in?”
“I can’t speak for everybody.”
It was Nancy’s turn to laugh.
“Exactly how hard do you want us to find these guys, Mr. Director, sir?”
He stood up, grabbed a handful of M&M peanuts out of the bowl on her desk, and said, “Just as hard as the President does, ma’am.”
May and Samms had arrived in Colorado Springs late the night before to join Cheese and Tom. It was now 8:00 am and the four were looking down from the hill at the Quonset hut through their field glasses.
“How many are in there?” Samms asked.
“All of them,” Cheese replied.
“The eleven only?”
Publisher: BookRix GmbH & Co. KG
Text: All rights reserved © LitArt-World & Edition Bärenklau, Germany 2017 / The Point Of A Gun © Steven W. Kohlhagen
Images: Cover and book design by Glen M. Edelstein © 2017
Publication Date: 06-21-2017
All Rights Reserved