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Lex Talionis by Greg Smith Part 8

CHAPTER 29

“We got a hit!”
Darci rushed into his wife’s office with Spirit dancing around him stirred up by the sudden excitement. “Where?”
“South Carolina.”
“South Caro—?”
“A state trooper just reported stopping a vehicle matching the one we believe Harper is driving.”
“Where in South Carolina?” Darci gripped the back of Maria’s chair and peered over her shoulder at the Google Earth map.
“South of The Border.”
“Yeah, but where exactly?”
“No, believe it or not that’s the name of the place—South of The Border.” Maria’s fingers danced over her keyboard and the map image zoomed in on a patch quilt of odd shapes of various shades of green with torn sections of dark green. A red dot appeared with the words South of The Border typed along side.
As the image closed in further Darci saw what he first thought to be a small town right on the state line between the two Carolinas. It turned out to be what looked like a hotel, a large truck stop and a collection of other assorted buildings that were most likely restaurants and stores. A single main road ran through the middle of the place. Along the left side of the town, for want of a better word, ran the I-95.
“What is it?” Darci said getting closer to the screen.
“It’s pretty much just a quick road stop for tourists as far as I can tell,” Maria answered.
“Okay, but what about the car the trooper spotted?”
“Judging by his report, he saw a SUV parked here,” Maria zoomed in to a fork and knife symbol, and a gray roofed building appeared along with a substantial car park. When Maria hovered her cursor over the symbol the name Peddler Steak House popped up on the screen.
“The trooper was walking around the SUV checking it when a woman came out of the restaurant and went straight to it. He didn’t have any problems with her when he asked for ID, and after everything checked out he let her leave.”
“He let her leave?” Darci almost choked on the words. “Why?”
“As I said, everything checked out. The woman’s name is Marianne Sommers out of New York; the vehicle is registered in her name. The trooper followed her to the state line then had to turn back but said Sommers kept driving north on I-95.”
“What about its license plates? The SUV Harper collected in Fort Lauderdale had something obscuring the plates.”
“They were clean, otherwise the trooper would have made a bigger point about them in his report. Naturally he took them down. Let me see . . . here they are . . . New York license plate GMJ-3046. But we got this as well from the trooper.”
The Google map reduced and another screen materialized beside it. After a couple of seconds a video began running.
“And this is?” Darci asked.
“Officer Westbury, our state trooper, happened to be wearing a body cam.” Darci could hear the smile in Maria’s voice.
The SUV jerked and jittered and tilted as Westbury walked around examining the vehicle from different angles. At one point the scene darkened as the trooper appeared to lean in close to check the interior through the side windows. It looked like he was standing at the back of the SUV when a tall woman entered the video from the left and walked up to the SUV. For the next few minutes, Maria and Darci watched and listened breathless as Westbury and the woman conversed, ID was handed over, examined and handed back, then a head-spinning jumble of images as Westbury climbed into his patrol car. Then the screen went black.
Maria’s office went dead quiet. Even Spirit sensed the tension and kept silent, deciding the best action was total inaction and settled at Darci’s feet.
“Was that . . .” Darci’s voice faded.
“It certainly looked like Harper.”
“But this woman is a brunette. We know Harper is really a redhead but when last seen was a blonde.”
“Don’t forget there are such things as wigs, dear,” Maria said.
“I know that, smarty. Thanks for reminding me, anyway.” Darci playfully punched his wife’s shoulder. “Has Kramer seen this? He of all people can tell if it’s Harper or not. Can you run your facial recognition software, same as you did for the cruise ship video?”
“No and yes,” Maria replied. “No, Kramer hasn’t seen this new video but I only just sent it to him. And yes, I can run my program, and actually started it before you came rushing in. I’m cross-referencing it with her image we have on file along with the match we got off the cruise ship video. We should expect—”
Maria’s smartphone jangled. She checked the caller ID. “It’s Kramer. I’ll put him on speaker.”
“That’s her—that’s Harper. It’s her voice. When and where was this taken?”
Maria began filling him and Brandt in on the details concerning Officer Westbury’s encounter when an alarm sounded from her computer.
“Both Kramer and my facial recognition program have confirmed Harper as the woman from the body cam footage,” Maria announced to everyone.
“Okay, so now we have a positive sighting,” Kramer said. “But according to my smartphone, it’s seven hundred miles from where we are in Fort Lauderdale to this place called South of The Border. That equates to a nine-hour drive. Even if we had a police escort all the way it would still take us around seven hours. That’s too long, folks. Harper will be long gone by the time we get there.”
“Calm down, mate,” Darci said. “Right this minute, Maria is notifying the highway patrol in both North Carolina and Virginia to put out a BOLA on Harper and her SUV. If we throw our net that far ahead of her we’ll stand a far greater chance of catching her, but—”
“But the cops don’t know what Harper is capable of, Darci,” Kramer said. “I know her. That woman is on a mission, and she won’t let anything or anyone stand in her way. We don’t even have any clue what she might have with her in the way of firepower.”
“Kramer has a point, boss,” Brandt added.
“If you two will let me finish…” Darci sounded noticeably irritated. After a few seconds of silence he continued.
“Okay. First of all, get yourselves back to the airport. I have the company jet refueled and waiting for you. It’s going to fly you direct to Raleigh-Durham International in North Carolina. It will take you all of ninety minutes, and should place you almost on top of Harper if she keeps to her run north on the I-95. When you get to Raleigh there’ll be other transport waiting for you to take you wherever you need to go.”
“How are you—”
Darci cut Kramer off. “No time for details, mate. Just get your ass and Brandt’s back to our jet. You’re the one keen to get back on top of this op, so get going.”
“Yessir,” Kramer snapped.
Darci heard scuffling and muffled exclamations then the call ended. Darci sat on the corner of Maria’s desk and sighed, visibly deflated.
Maria handed her phone to him. “Here. If you’re planning to roll out what I think you are, then you have at least a couple of very urgent calls to make—and right now.”
Darci looked at her for a moment and nodded. He collected himself and punched in a special number. His call was picked up on the second ring.
“I need to speak to your commanding officer. Tell him it’s his crazy Aussie mate on the line,” Darci growled.

CHAPTER 30

The detour took her only twelve miles out of her way, and fell well within her allowance for hiccups to her primary plan.
Harper drove slowly down the main street of what she regarded as nothing short of a hick town. The welcome sign noted the population totaled less than three thousand, and from what she could see wondered what kept those few people hanging around. It wasn’t the nightlife, she was certain of that. The few people ambling along the sidewalks looked to be the types who were planted in front of their TVs by sundown before heading off to bed by seven.
The small hamlet was not so much as up-and-going, but more of already up-and-gone. Having passed through the town without seeing what she had hoped to find she decided to continue driving, knowing she would connect with the highway again in about ten miles.
A mile out of town the road led her through a leafy avenue of ancient oaks that gave her some relief from the heat of the day. As her SUV swept round a slight bend Harper had to swerve past a car stopped beside a mailbox. As she passed, Harper happened to notice a woman lean out to collect her mail before turning into a partially hidden driveway.
The SUV slowed to a stop then backed up until it drew level with the drive. It was about a hundred feet long, and lined on both sides by tall trees and dense hedges. Harper caught a glimpse of the other car as it disappeared from view and eased the SUV past the mailbox into the driveway.
She leaned over the wheel and scanned ahead for signs of the woman as she drove at a snail’s pace until she came to the bend where she’d last seen the car. The SUV stopped. A small cottage was visible through the trees and the woman was carrying an armload of grocery bags from her car. She negotiated the potted plants standing both sides of the three wooden steps that led up to the covered porch. When she reached the front door, the woman balanced her goods on one hip as she worked a key in the lock then, using a foot to push the door open, entered the house.
She didn’t pause to call for help with the groceries or for someone to open the door for her. Looks like she’s alone.
Leaving the SUV out of sight in the drive, Harper approached the house warily, periodically checking the area for an errant husband or other family members. Mindful of squeaking boards, she stepped carefully to the open front door and listened. She heard the woman singing from somewhere toward the rear of the cottage, most likely the kitchen.
She stepped through the doorway and into a short hall that led her past a sitting room on one side and a small dining room on the other. The singing grew louder as she padded by a bedroom, obviously that of a single person, with a bathroom across the hallway from it, and paused at the threshold to the kitchen that ran the full width of the house.
The woman stood at the sink with her back to her. As she busied herself washing newly purchased vegetables, the woman gazed through a large window that looked onto a well-maintained yard and garden. She sang with a soft, angelic voice, and though Harper didn’t recognize the song she sensed the woman was performing a perfect rendition.
The melody ended abruptly when Harper smashed the woman’s head in with a cast-iron fry pan.

Twenty minutes later Harper pulled back onto the I-95 to continue her journey, pleased that her timetable hadn’t been badly interrupted by her side excursion.
Her only concern was she had been forced to leave the SUV parked hidden behind the garage that proved too small to hold the larger vehicle. Other than that, all else went particularly smoothly, and she now had a different car that hopefully would not be on anyone’s radar for some time. And the Honda Civic was surprisingly comfortable, though it would need refueling shortly. Damn.

* * * * * *

The report was lying on his desk when he returned from lunch. It wasn’t until he’d made a few calls, replied to several emails, and signed a short stack of letters that he finally found a spare moment to actually read it.
Hundreds, if not thousands of similar communiqués had passed over his desk since he assumed the job. His was only one of a myriad of government departments, some large, and some consisting of only a handful of people, whose responsibility it was to assess anything and everything to do with terrorism, no matter how insignificant the initial report may seem.
What he held in his hand had already been assessed, evaluated, and assigned for appropriate action by other agencies, but still required him to designate some of his own staff to look into the issue someone had put into motion by bringing it to the attention of the security and intelligence community.
It had already been flagged for immediate attention so there was no way he could sit on it for a while or pass over it without risking internal scrutiny—something he certainly didn’t need at this stage of his plan. He made some notations on the first page then called his secretary in.
“Selena, see that Colville and Bradbury get this, and tell them the contents have been flagged. They’ll know what to do.”
“Right away, sir.”
“And see that I’m not disturbed for the next hour.” He swept a hand over a pile of paperwork. “If I don’t get stuck into this lot it’ll be Christmas before I see the light of day.” His little quip brought a smile to the young woman’s face.
“Certainly, sir. I’ll make sure no one disturbs you for at least an hour.” She smiled and left.
He waited a moment before picking up his personal smartphone with its heavy encryption and keyed in a special code. It had been made for just this situation, when news of their supposed attack might suddenly appear from an unexpected quarter and alert their enemy in advance. The code he sent simply put all his teams on the highest level of awareness. They must be extra vigilant for any unusual build up in law enforcement in their immediate vicinity.
There really wasn’t any need to suspect his fighters of being anything but utterly diligent in their preparations and own security measures, but it gave him peace of mind to know he had done everything within his power to assure the end result they all sought.
Whatever happened from this moment would be God’s will—and it would all be over in the next seventy-two hours.

CHAPTER 31

Brandt and Kramer pulled up short. When Darci had said he’d have other transport waiting for them on their arrival at Raleigh-Durham International they both expected a vehicle—but nothing like this.
Their GSC jet had been directed to land at the area assigned to the 1st Battalion (Attack), 130th Aviation Regiment, an AH-64A/D Apache/Apache Longbow attack helicopter unit of the North Carolina Army National Guard. When they deplaned, Kramer and company were met by a military police unit that escorted them across to a hangar with an off limits barrier across its entrance and a detachment of armed soldiers.
“You have to be bloody joking,” exclaimed Brandt.
“Hey, don’t look at me—this is all Darci’s doing. That Aussie codger never ceases to amaze me.”
“Identification please, ma’am, sir.” The national guardsman looked as if he didn’t have a funny bone in his entire six foot seven inch body. He accepted their proffered ID and spent an inordinate time scrutinizing it before handing it back.
“I wasn’t informed about the, er, dog.” He cocked an eyebrow at the sight of the huge dog wearing an armored vest standing at Kramer’s side.
“If you’re referring to former U.S. Marine, Sgt. Shadow, I vouch for him. He’s with me—Shadow by name, shadow by nature.” Kramer’s smile bounced off the guard’s demeanor.
The soldier eyed Shadow up and down again then moved the barrier and stepped aside. “You’re cleared to enter, ma’am, sir and, er, sergeant. Colonel Crawford over there is expecting you.” He closed the barrier once the three had pass through and assumed a rigid stance with both hands locked behind his back and eyes front.
The hangar appeared large enough to accommodate at least three Lear jets at any given time but was empty except for the silvery satin colored machine squatting in its center surrounded by its own detachment of personal security guards.
A uniformed figure left a group standing by the machine and strode forward to meet the three arrivals. Kramer recognized the insignia the officer wore to be that of a bird colonel. They shook hands.
“Colonel Crawford. And I take it you’re . . . Kramer? Or should I call you Captain Kramer?”
“Nice to meet you, Colonel, and Kramer is fine. And this is my right hand man—I mean woman—Charise Brandt.”
“Nice to meet you, Colonel Crawford. Just call me Charlie.” She surprised Crawford with the firmness of her handshake.
“And the dog? He looks to be more than a pet. Which one of you belongs to him?”
Kramer laid an affectionate hand on Shadow’s head. “Colonel Crawford, meet Shadow, former Marine sergeant, definitely more than a pet. He’s risked his life to save mine on several occasions.”
To Crawford’s astonishment, Shadow stepped forward and extended a huge paw. The colonel hesitated then shook it. Shadow then stepped back and sat at Kramer’s side.
“Remarkable. It’s my distinct honor to meet you, Sergeant.” The dog answered with a gruff woof that caused everyone to smile, even the guards close enough to have overheard the exchange.
“Well, now that we have the formalities over with, let me introduce you to your ride.” Crawford gestured at the machine and led the way through the circle of guards to the knot of men waiting to meet the colonel’s visitors.
“First, let me introduce your pilot, Major Cummins. The major specializes in rotor aircraft and has clocked up…how many hours, major?”
“Twelve thousand, sir.”
“That’s a lot of time in the air, major,” Kramer said. “All fun, I take it?”
“For the most part, sir.” Cummins possessed a trim athletic figure and was just short of six feet. His boyish looks belied his years in service but his eyes testified to the pain and hurt they had witnessed in that time.
“Roger that, major.” Kramer acknowledged the fact that, as a member of the 1-130th with that many hours logged, Cummins would have seen deployment with his unit during Operation Enduring Freedom. Theirs was the first National Guard Helicopter Unit engaged in combat since the Vietnam War. Kramer knew all too well that some action is a lot more hairy than others.
“I think I should let the major give you the guided tour,” Crawford said. He glanced at his watch. “And you’d best make it the ten cent tour, major. These people are keen to get airborne.”
“Sir.” Cummins turned to Kramer and company. “You are looking at the demonstrator model of the Eurocopter X3—the fastest helicopter on Earth.”
Cummins spent the next few minutes walking them around the futuristic squat machine that looked as if it would be right at home in one of the popular sci-fi computer games currently on the market.
The well-contoured humpback design was due to the pair of 2270 HP Rolls-Royce Turbomeca RTM322 turboshaft engines that powered the X3 then tapered to a finely sharpened nose. In addition to its five blade main and tail rotors, the hybrid helicopter was also outfitted with a pair of stubby wings similar to those aboard the Mi-24 Hind but with propellers instead of missile pods that provided eighty percent of the aircraft’s lift. The engines allowed for a 12,500 foot service ceiling and blindingly fast speed.
“On seventh June 2013,” the major continued, “the X3 conducted a forty-minute level flight over Southern France near Istres and established a new air speed record of 255 knots, or 293 mph. This followed a shallow dive just days before, when the X3 topped 263 knots, or 302 mph.”
Brandt leaned into Kramer and whispered, “How in the hell did Darci get his hands on this beauty?”
“Don’t ask, ‘cause he won’t tell,” Kramer responded with a grin.
Their tour concluded with a quick inspection of the interior that featured two seats for the flight crew and four forward-looking passenger seats positioned abreast behind the crew seats.
“An aircraft worthy of James Bond,” Kramer commented, after looking over the space age layout.
“Right now he has to stand in line,” Brandt said tapping her watch with a finger.
“I see you’re eager to get on with business,” Colonel Crawford said, rejoining them.
“That we are, Colonel,” Kramer replied.
“Good. Then I guess my mission is over and yours continues. Major Cummins, this bird is now in your hands. There’s no need for me to stress the importance of looking after these people and returning them, and the X3 intact.”
“Yessir.” Cummins snapped off a salute.
The colonel motioned for his security detachment to clear the area for the aircraft’s departure as the major saw to the seating of his passengers. A woman in uniform sprinted up as Cummins took his seat and buckled in. She quietly took the co-pilot position.
“Nice of you to join us, Captain Theya,” Cummins said.
“Yessir, sorry sir.” She was short, barely five feet seven, with a slightly husky voice and an unassuming manner.
Both pilots ran through their pre-flight procedure then signaled Colonel Crawford they were ready. A couple of guards moved the barrier aside and made sure the area was clear before motioning to the pilots. The hangar welled with a mechanical whine as the X3 came to life. While Theya rolled the aircraft out onto the ramp, Cummins radioed for clearance from the airport control tower and within moments they were airborne.
Although the cabin of the X3 was surprisingly quiet, Major Cummins asked that his passengers don the headphones provided—all, that is, except Shadow who occupied the two center seats and left each of the outer, or window seats, for Kramer and Brandt. The arrangement suited everyone.
As soon as they cleared Raleigh-Durham airspace, the pilots set a course for South of The Border one hundred miles to the SSW. It would be a twenty-minute flight at the helicopter’s top speed.
“Your first time at the controls of this bird, major?” Kramer’s voice buzzed over the comms.
“Yessir.”
Brandt and Kramer exchanged looks.
As if reading their minds, Cummins continued. “The X3 may have a few extra tricks up its sleeve, but pretty much it’s just a helicopter when you get down to it.”
Pretty much? Brandt mouthed.
Kramer shrugged. He’s the pilot.
They looked down at the hodge-podge of fields, farmlands, forests, rivers, and wetlands slipping past below, and the web of country lanes, roads, and highways– some with traffic, some empty.
A town appeared ahead.
“Coming up on Red Springs,” Theya reported. “SOB five minutes out.”
Damn. This thing really can move.
“Darci here, calling the X3.” The Australian’s voice caught everyone off guard.
“X3 here. Major Cummins, pilot, speaking. I was informed you might call, sir. I assume you want to talk to Captain Kramer?”
“Affirmative.”
“Patching you through, sir.”
Kramer heard a click in his headphone and knew the pilots had disconnected themselves from Darci’s call.
“Kramer here, Darci.”
“Well, what do think of the X3?” Darci asked.
“Helluva aircraft, mate—chews up the miles like the wind.”
“Yeah. Considering who we’re chasing and whatever timetable she’s working on, I thought you could do with the fastest set of wheels—I mean wings—I could dig up. Don’t you want to know how I came by it, mate?”
“Not especially—I’m a firm believer of plausible deniability.” Kramer looked across at Brandt.
Darci laughed aloud. “Fair enough, mate, no worries then.”
“Why is it that I sense this isn’t a social call?” Kramer asked.
“You have a sharp ear, mate, I’ll give you that,” Darci answered. “Just wanted to get pleasantries out of the way before knuckling down to business.”
“Maria here, Kramer…Brandt. Yes, we have a new development—happened about ten minutes ago. Local police in Fairmont, North Carolina received a call from a kid who turned up at a house just outside of town. The woman living there had arranged for him to come mow her lawns today. When he turned up he found her dead in her kitchen.”
“And this concerns us how?” Brandt asked.
“The car belonging to the victim is missing and the police found another parked out of sight behind the garage at the house.”
“Let me guess,” Kramer said. “It belongs to Harper.”
“Spot on, mate,” Darci answered. “We’re tracking you on Maria’s computer here. Right now you’re about five minutes from Fairmont.”
“Gotcha. We’re on our way.” Kramer leaned forward and tapped Cummins on the shoulder and pointed at his headphone. There was a click and Kramer quickly updated the pilots on the latest news.
The X3 banked onto a new heading and went into a long shallow dive to gain as much speed as possible.

CHAPTER 32

“Deputy Assistant Director Halsted.”
Peter Halsted regarded the two men standing on his stoop. They wore their secret service persona so well they could be regarded as twins born of the Washington system-–tailored black suits, dark sunglasses, adequate but hard-wearing rubber-soled shoes, even the ubiquitous earpiece with its coiled lead trailing into their coat collars.
“Can I help you?” Halsted asked casually.
It was Saturday, and a rare one at that, because he was alone at home for once. His wife had taken their kids across town to some kind of school event leaving him to enjoy some time to himself. It had been ages since he had the time to sit and read, something that gave him immense pleasure, and there was a short stack of books beside his favorite recliner awaiting his attention.
“May we come in?” They displayed their credentials, and their question came across as more of an order.
Halsted stood aside and the men stepped past him and walked straight into his study as if they were completely familiar with the residence.
“Do you mind explaining to me what this is all about?”
“Are there any other persons on the premises, Mr Halsted?” one of the agents asked while his partner stood gazing around the spacious study.
“No. My wife and kids are away at a school function.” Halsted put both hands in his pockets. “So, what is this all about?”
“Just a routine matter, sir,” the second agent replied leveling his gaze on Halsted. “We’re following up on a report of a possible security leak from within your department.”
Halsted looked shocked. “Wha—what? What do you mean by a possible security leak? What exactly are we talking about here, agents? Who made the report, and has anyone actually been named or implicated?”
“Take it easy, Assistant Director,” the first agent said. He glanced around. “Mind if we sit down? We have a few questions for you, nothing major. As we explained we’re conducting a routine enquiry at this stage. Can we all sit down, please?”
“Sure, of course. I’m sorry. Make yourselves comfortable. This is the first I’ve heard of this report. You’ve caught me a little off guard.” The agents sat on a two-seater couch. “I was about to get myself a beer. Can I interest either of you in something? Water? I realize that you can’t drink anything serious while on duty.”
“I’ll take some water. Thank you, sir,” the second agent said.
As Halsted left for the kitchen both agents withdrew notebooks from their jackets and settled into the couch.
“You sure I can’t get you both water?” Halsted called from the kitchen.
“None for me, but thanks all the same,” the first agent replied.
Halsted reappeared and held out a tall glass of water. “Here you go, agent.”
The bullet struck the agent in the forehead, snapping his head back. His body was slumping back when his partner went for his weapon. The second bullet entered just above his left eye.
Halsted stood stock still for a long moment watching the bodies go slack and lean in on each other. His use of a .22 pistol meant there was a mere trickling of blood from each wound and next to no spattering, and no huge pools of blood in back, because neither .22 had exited the skulls. And the gun’s suppressor negated anyone outside hearing the shots.
He looked down at his hands curious to see there were no signs of shaking. His breathing was faster than normal but not by much—maybe a trifle shallower, but nothing to worry about. A little stirring in his stomach that was distracting and uncomfortable but no sensation of impending nausea. Pulse was okay, considering he’d just gone from a bureaucrat to holy warrior in the blink of an eye. There was no panicking. He felt the hand of God on him, guiding him. This was His will.
He certainly hadn’t expected any of this to happen but that didn’t mean that he wasn’t prepared. There was no wasting time in creating a false scenario to throw off the police. This scene would be regarded as nothing but a double homicide, and he would be the prime suspect.
First he went to his desk and sent a message to his office computer then collected his backup drive and laptop. Then he went upstairs to the main bedroom and pulled a small pre-packed suitcase from the wardrobe and placed the electronics inside.
Going from room to room, he passed through the house double-checking everything, leaving nothing critical that could jeopardize his plan should it fall into the hands of the police and other agencies.
Yes, there will be quite a few agencies involved in this case. He headed out to the garage. He backed out and closed the garage door. Theirs was an extremely quiet street in the very exclusive Woodland-Normanstone Terrace neighborhood. It had all the appearances of being in an idyllic country setting, yet was only a short drive from everything in Washington. Having the Vice President of the United States and a former President listed among the residents ensured a crime-free zone due to the heavy police and secret service presence.
Halsted gave himself a generous ten minutes before the alarms began ringing in someone’s office—even on Saturday. It was a short two-mile drive to an address with an unobtrusive lane providing rear access to the houses along the street. He pulled into a carport, retrieved his luggage, locked his car, and dragged a paint-spattered canvas sheet over it. A hundred feet further along the lane he went through a gate and let himself into an ivy-covered garage, tossed his suitcase into the backseat of a 1998 Ford Mondeo, and moments later drove out of the nation’s capitol.
He felt calm and totally at peace. Even if he were arrested the authorities would take far too long to uncover enough hard facts concerning him or his plan to galvanize them into any timely action. He still had no clue as to the reported ‘possible security leak’, and considered that even if such a leak had occurred it might not have anything at all to do with his operation in any case.
The message he had sent to his office computer was coded to trigger a self-destruct device, and by now would have destroyed any possible trace of his complicity. The final act of removing himself from the area as quickly as possible meant the focus of his hunters would be entirely on him. His plan would go undiscovered, until it was much too late to halt.
As for his family, he felt no remorse at leaving them without so much as a parting word. They had been only the means to this end. Had they been at home at the time the Secret Service agents called he would have had no choice but to deal with them in a similar fashion. If there was an inkling of emotion for his family it only showed in a fleeting thought that they were better off with the way this day had turned out. They were mere innocent bystanders.
“Oh Lord, protect me from them as You wish,” Halsted prayed quietly as he joined the stream of weekend traffic out of town.

* * * * * *

In locations across America holy warriors huddled together with their drivers reviewing every detail of their forthcoming attacks. All chose to drive by their targets once more to ensure nothing of significance had changed, or that the police presence was anything but normal. They checked their weapons and checked them again. All the while many excerpts from ‘the letter’ replayed in their minds.
“Do not seem confused or show signs of nervous tension. Be happy, optimistic, calm because you are heading for a deed that God loves and will accept. It will be the day, God willing; you spend with the women of paradise.
Smile in the face of hardship young man/For you are heading toward eternal paradise
You must remember to make supplications wherever you go, and anytime you do anything, and God is with his faithful servants, He will protect them and make their tasks easier, and give them success and control, and victory, and everything…
Then every one of you should prepare to carry out his role in a way that would satisfy God. You should clench your teeth, as the pious early generations did.”
Halsted’s plan called for the insulation of each team from their counterparts. Therefore, no team had knowledge of the whereabouts of the others, their intended targets, nor each other’s timetable. It was a simple precaution of ensuring the capture of a team or team member would not compromise the others.
Satisfied they could do no more but wait, the Alif Team decided to get some sleep then catch up on the latest world and local news. They had less than forty-eight hours to go.

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