December 21 through December 25
Doctor Beckman rode in back of the HAZMAT van, clenching the grab rail above her head as the four-ton vehicle negotiated the slower-moving traffic. Dressed in a hooded suit with a positive pressure face mask and integrated rubber boots, she accompanied the FBI’s Hazardous Materials Response Unit and a team of Homeland Security Agents eager to earn their stripes. Out of her element, she felt more like a trainee in a SWAT team exercise than a chief scientist from the CDC.
Four banks and three local hospitals in Northern Virginia had tested positive for anthrax, implying hundreds, or possibly thousands, of patients could be infected with a weaponized anthrax strain. She’d been unable to persuade Director Hoffnagle to launch a wide-scale alert, and her options narrowed. And now, with Kriegel and his team eager to attack on all fronts, she had no one to help convince them of the silent danger they faced against an anthrax enemy impervious to bullets and brawn. Without Washington to back her play or the necessary vaccine resources to combat a wide-scale bioterrorism event, she could do little more than observe from the sidelines and watch the death toll climb.
She leaned to the left as the van made a hard right, sweating inside the protective suit as she peered through the face mask at the driver and cleared her mind from the mental spam pinging her like an Internet pop-up ad, pointless thoughts about the dry cleaning she forgot to pick up or the bills she never mailed. It’s the little things that’ll kill ya, a colleague once told her in a seminar on saran gas. A trite statement at face value but one she remembered as she held her own in the testosterone-laden environment replete with loaded guns and nervous trigger fingers eager to drop the hammer on anyone who moved.
Then there was Kriegel. Not the hard-driving, stubborn egotistical man behind an FBI badge, but the man she found herself falling in love with. Never one to mix her personal life with her work, she’d known Kriegel longer than anyone she’d ever dated before. He was an impediment to her agenda as much as a friend to confide in, and she straddled a fine wire above a canyon deep and wide with no safety net to catch her fall. She’d put her career at risk by engaging in off-the-record conversations, but Kriegel had a way with words—and his hands and mouth. The incredible sex alone would have sold her on him twenty years ago, but now, her desire for Agent Kriegel went deeper than carnal lust. She loved the man behind the badge; the man who listened when she called him at all hours for advice or just to vent; the man who opened doors for her; the man who could see inside her and make her feel safe; the man her ex-husband could never live up to.
She wanted Kriegel in her life. She needed him in her life in a way she’d sworn she would never need a man again. Despite his arrogance and eccentricities, he had a smile seldom seen by anyone in his command. A smile that made her melt like a school girl with a crush.
Keep it together, Candice… This isn’t the time to daydream. Too many people need you front and center without distraction. Real people are dead. More will die if you don’t get your shit together and do something about it.
She stared at the young men across from her, clad in gas masks and combat fatigues with fingerless gloves and Kevlar vests. You can’t shoot what you can’t see. You won’t find anthrax on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list. But it might find you.
The van slowed along the curb less than a block from the abandoned airplane hangar. Hand signals prompted the choreographed exit from the back of the van.
Doctor Beckman followed the men outside. Two teams aligned themselves at the rear entrance while the others prepared to breach the facility at the front.
The men advanced in a two-by-two formation with one man aiming at the blind spots while his counterpart trained his weapon straight ahead.
Candice lingered with the HAZMAT team near the back, pawing at an itch she couldn’t scratch until a single shot rang out followed by bursts of fully automatic machine gun fire.
* * *
With the scene secured through liberal use of lethal force, Doctor Beckman read the analog indicator on her portable pathogen detector inside the vacant hangar large enough to park a jumbo jet. She signaled her team to remove their masks, and said, “We’re clear.”
“How clear?” asked a team member, his voice quivering and hesitant.
Doctor Beckman removed her hood with confidence. “Relax. I wouldn’t ask you to do something I wasn’t prepared to do myself.” She stepped around the smoldering remnants of a charred human body. “Bio agents didn’t do this,” she told her team. She breathed through her mouth to temper the smell as she led them through the building littered with dead bodies from the firefight with Kriegel’s men. “Bag em and tag em,” she heard Kriegel tell his men. “The rest of you tear this place apart. We’re not leaving until we know more than we did when we got here.”
Doctor Beckman watched Kriegel kneel down to inspect an oily residue on the floor. “Looks like oil.”
“Aviation fuel,” an agent called out across the room. “We found fuel drums in the back.”
“You find a plane to go with them?” asked Kriegel.
The agent handed Kriegel a CD. “No, but we found this, along with several aerial maps of Florida in an office upstairs.”
Kriegel held the CD in his gloved hand and read, FBI, scrawled with a red marker. “Get it to the lab. Have it dusted for prints and processed for anything they can find.”
Doctor Beckman touched his arm. “What do you make of all this?”
“This fight was staged. They knew we were coming. I’ll alert the FAA. If a plane flew out of here, I want to know where it went.”
“You think Abdullah’s planning an aerial attack?”
“It’s starting to look that way.”
“What if this is just another misdirection?”
“It’s possible. But it’s not a chance I’m willing to take.”