Enemy Among Us: Chapter 77

Christmas Eve

Kriegel dripped Visene on his bloodshot eyes. His hands trembled from too much coffee and too little sleep. In less than twenty-four hours, he’d navigated a political powder keg within the bureau, convincing Director Hoffnagle he had the situation under control.

Alone in a back office of the Disney Security Headquarters in Orlando, he stared at the flashing lights on an artificial Christmas tree while he assessed every scenario he could think of without drifting from the center of his primary mission. In reality, the situation was anything but under control. Intelligence reports came and went like tabloid headlines. No one, not even Langley or the NSA, knew for certain where Ahmed Abdullah would strike or exactly when or how hard. Dealing with the unknown, the unpredictable, and the often fiendishly illogical mindset of terrorist behavior had kept him on the brink of a major meltdown. Unaccustomed to having an operation go sideways, he still carried guilt from the death of two agents, both murdered under his command while he struggled with his own demons and a waning resentment toward Jim McLeary—an agent who’d done more good than harm despite his reputation to the contrary.

He said a prayer for himself and the men waiting for a strong leader to emerge in the conference room next door, convinced he’d done everything within his power to assemble the best and brightest from federal, state, and local law enforcement. Men and women equipped to handle the worst Abdullah’s people could throw at them.

He straightened his tie when he heard a knock at the door.

“Kriegel?” McLeary prompted as he entered the office. “Burns just checked in. Agent Parks was the rotten apple.”

Kriegel put his shoulders back to regain a more commanding posture. “Parks?”

“He tried to blow up the science center. Burns thinks he murdered Agent Rollins and fed intel to Abdullah’s organization.”

“Is Parks in custody?”

“He’s dead.”

“Where’s Burns now?”

“Her flight left Toronto an hour ago.”

Kriegel stepped around McLeary and headed for the conference room. “Did she retrieve the goods?”

McLeary followed his boss stride for stride. “Burns recovered the new vaccine. Doctor Beckman’s team is set to rendezvous.”

Kriegel stepped behind the podium adjacent to a presentation screen, facing the crowded room with Disney’s security personnel, plain-clothed detectives from Orlando PD, Orange County Sheriff’s Deputies, and agents from the FBI, DEA, and Department of Homeland Security. He glared at his audience with the stern intensity of General Eisenhower commanding his troops on D-Day. “Listen up people. You’ve all been briefed. As a precautionary measure, we’ve applied additional teams to circulate around the park.”

“Sir,” an officer interrupted, “Exactly what kind of package are we looking for?”

Kriegel cleared his throat. “The suspicious kind.” He heard grumbling among the ranks and scanned the faces in the room. He was dumbfounded at how Agent Parks, a man he’d trusted with his life, could have slipped through the bevy of deep background checks, psychological profiles, full scope polygraph examinations, and most of all, years of trust garnered from peers, supervisors, and other members of the law enforcement family.

“What about the potential for a suicide attack?”

“At this point, we can’t rule anything out for certain. We have bomb-sniffing dogs on the premises. Their handlers have been briefed on the situation and will integrate with our teams accordingly.”

“Why don’t we just close the park?” a sheriff’s deputy asked.

“Unfortunately that’s not an option we were given.” Kriegel pointed to the back of the room. “Lights please.”

The lights dimmed and the presentation screen lit up with a map of the surrounding property. “Team one will patrol the shops, stores, and major attractions in Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain, and Fantasy Island. Myself and Special Agent Jim McLeary will lead team two from Tom Sawyer Island, Tomorrowland, and the monorail traffic station. Teams three and four will be scattered throughout the park to overlap our positions and cover any areas we leave exposed.”

“How credible is this threat?”

“We believe it’s for real.”

Kriegel signaled for the next slide, a black and white photo of Ahmed Abdullah with a full beard and a turban on his head. “We believe this man is behind the anthrax threat. His name is Ahmed Abdullah. Intelligence reports indicate he may be present, either incognito or in the open. Most likely, his appearance has been altered. Search for anything out of the ordinary. Expect the unexpected. We’re confident Abdullah will strike. He’s waited a long time and jumped through hoops of fire to perfect his poison. Until now, he’s been leading us around by the nose. That stops today. Blend in, stay focused, and secure the area. If you see, hear, taste, smell, or even feel something out of place, signal the other team leaders. And be discreet. We don’t want a widespread panic on our hands.”

“What about surveillance?” a female agent prompted.

“Disney security has every entrance and exit monitored. We have a human eye on every camera. Undercover officers at the ticket booths and bag search areas will oversee the baggage inspection. Infrared surveillance will monitor any indoor facility with insufficient lighting. Additional PZT cameras will capture every face and every license plate number at the parking toll booths. If Abdullah shows up to the party, we’ll know about it.”

“What about sharpshooters?” a member of the FBI hostage rescue team asked.

Kriegel drew a deep breath. “What makes you think I want rifles pointed at crowds of women and children?”

“What about an aerial threat?”

“We have the surrounding airspace secured and the Florida National Guard on standby.”

Whispers carried in the audience. “Does this mean we’re expecting an air strike?” an agent piped up.

“We need to cover all our bases.” Kriegel wiped his brow. “We’ve got one shot at this. One chance to get it right. National Security and Emergency Preparedness responders will be waiting in the wings. Pray to God we don’t need them.”

The teams dispersed. The overhead lights came on, and Kriegel stepped down to join McLeary and Captain Blevins from the Florida National Guard.

McLeary spoke first. “There’s nearly fifty square miles to cover with a few dozen officers, most of whom aren’t trained for this. We need to shut down the park.”

“Been down that road already,” said Kriegel. “Not an option.”

“Bullshit. You know as well as I do that’s exactly what Abdullah wants. He’s dropping the bait on the floor and we’re licking it up and asking for seconds.”

“It’s my op, McLeary.”

“I still don’t like it.”

“And what would you suggest we do? Call in the SEALS to take him out? So far he’s been a ghost who never stays in one spot long enough to get a bead on.”

“They got Bin Laden.”

“Bin Laden wasn’t camped out in our back yard. We need to run this operation as quietly and decisively as we can without alarming the masses. Whatever happens, we can’t let Abdullah beat us to the punch.”

“How long do we intend to continue this operation?” asked Captain Blevins, avoiding direct eye contact with McLeary and Kriegel, despite the sophisticated guise shielding his true identity.

“Until I stuff Ahmed Abdullah in a body bag.”

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