Enemy Among Us: Chapter 65

Kriegel bit down on the end of his cigar. He lit the hand-rolled paper with a lighter and talked out the side of his mouth. “I haven’t had this brand in years,” he told Agent Parks seated inside the dimly lit, Miami field office with the shades drawn.

“Yes, Sir,” Parks replied.

“The smoke helps me think. Clears my head. My father and grandfather were the same way.” He blew smoke through the corner of his mouth and closed a folder with information he didn’t need Agent Parks to see. “Any word out of your department?”

“No Sir.”

“What about our friends at Langley?”

“They’ve been… somewhat less than cooperative.”

“And Agent Burns?”

“We’re still tracking her down.”

Kriegel blew smoke. “What about our crispy critter from Abdullah’s hangar?”

“The lab confirmed the dental records. The teeth belonged to Fayez Sayeed.”

“Any leads on our missing plane?”

“Sir?”

“From the hangar raid. Based on the fuel type and grade we found, we should be looking for some sort of small, commercially manufactured fixed wing aircraft.”

Agent Parks glanced at the folder on Kriegel’s desk, hoping for a sudden distraction to lure him away long enough to steal a glance at the file his boss didn’t want him to see. “We’re still working on it. There’s more than two thousand single-engine civilian aircraft registered in the greater Miami area alone. We simply don’t have the manpower to follow every lead.”

“Then get every state and local agency involved. We’re talking about a single-engine airplane. Not something you can hide in the back of a truck or a small garage. Focus on every airport or patch of land with a takeoff strip. I want this thing found yesterday.”

“Yes Sir.”

“What about our flight ban?”

“I’m still working it through Washington. The FAA won’t budge. Unless a plane falls out of the sky or we present a stronger case, the skies stay open for business.”

Kriegel chewed the end of his cigar and spit the wet tobacco in his trash can. “I’ll get the FAA Director on the phone and handle this one myself.”

“What about Director Hoffnagle? I understand he’s still not convinced we have a credible threat.”

“I’ll worry about Hoffnagle. You focus on your assignments. We might have a plane full of anthrax flying God knows where over Florida and no one in this bureau seems to give a shit about stopping it.”

Parks toyed with his own cigar from Kriegel. He despised the taste and merely feigned interest to earn Kriegel’s trust and respect. He wanted Kriegel’s head in a jar, but greater plans took precedence above his own. “How’s everything else from your end?”

“Like pissing in the wind. Hoffnagle wants another status report by end of business. He’s not convinced of a large-scale event, but he wants the President to put the National Guard on alert in Florida and D.C. just in case.” He blew smoke at Agent Parks. “How are you holding up? With your partner’s situation and all?”

“I’m good to go.”

“You sure about that?”

“Yes Sir.”

“The murder of Agent Rollins will not go unpunished. You have my word.”

“I appreciate it.”

“The CDC’s still working on a viable anthrax vaccine to combat this new strain Abdullah’s cooked up. So far nothing’s panned out. If this weaponized anthrax blows up in our face, we’ll have no way to stem the tide of casualties. Physically and politically.”

“And how does Agent Burns fit into all this?”

“Like a square peg in a round hole. I don’t trust her with McLeary. I need another agent to babysit her on a little field trip up north in two days.”

“Where?”

“The Canadian Science Center. They’ve been working with Doctor Beckam and the CDC. The canucks claim they’ve found a viable cure. I need you there to keep Burns in check. Make sure she doesn’t do anything stupid. If these meds turn out bogus, Burns will take the fall.”

“What about McLeary?”

“I’ll handle him.” Kriegel checked his watch again. “I have a meeting agenda to prepare. I need your A-game on this one, Parks.” He snatched the ringing phone off his desk. “This is Kriegel.” He pressed the phone to his ear, listening intently while the caller spoke. “Keep me posted.”

Parks extinguished his cigar in the ashtray on Kriegel’s desk. He studied the expression on Kriegel’s face. “More news?”

“Nothing I can’t handle.”

Enemy Among Us: Chapter 61

Kriegel kissed the space where Doctor Beckman’s soft, slender neckline met her fair-skinned shoulder and rolled out of bed, squinting at the digital alarm clock with his badge and gun resting beside it on the nightstand. He clenched the vibrating smart phone he’d shoved under his pillow and read the text message.

Stark naked at 0430 hours, he felt exhausted from a night of persistent sex with a woman whose lustful appetite often exceeded his own.

A quick shower and shave brought his brain back on line. Despite his hard-ass reputation at bureau headquarters, he preferred the field work instead of greasing the political machine in Washington, where decisions stemmed from money and influence with little thought to the men in the trenches.

He drove through drizzling rain, traveling east across the Woodrow Wilson bridge to the new crime scene along the Potomac River. Greeted by a pair of Virginia State Police officers dressed in wet weather gear, he stopped short of the cordoned-off crime scene and ducked under the yellow tape.

“Sir,” the first officer greeted him, inspecting the FBI badge Kriegel offered. “Over here… We found a badge and gun on the body. We called it in. The department routed the request to you.”

Kriegel followed the officers toward the river bank, where a partially-decomposed male victim lay face up with frozen eyes locked toward the heavens in a permanent stare. “Christ on a cracker. What happened here?” Kriegel directed his attention at the coroner about to unfold a new body bag.

The coroner pointed to the line carved inside the victim’s neck. “No obvious signs of physical trauma other than apparent strangulation from the bruising around his neck. Petechial hemorrhaging in the eyes supports asphyxiation as the likely cause of death.”

Kriegel inspected the victim. “No weight around his hands or feet. Someone dumped him in a hurry—or they wanted us to find the body.” He turned around when headlights flooded the area, and watched a government sedan pull alongside his car. He waited for the driver to get out and make his way across the yellow tape. “You shouldn’t be here.”

“I’m Special Agent Parks with Homeland Security. I was assigned to assist a bureau investigation.”

“I know who you are, son.”

“I got a call about an hour ago. My partner, Agent Rollins, has been AWOL since—”

“Take it easy,” said Kriegel.

“Shit!” Parks exclaimed. “That’s my partner!”

“Easy…” Kriegel tried to calm him down.

“What happened?”

“That’s what I’m here to find out. When did you see Rollins last?”

“Three days ago. He left our surveillance post on a coffee run and never came back. I tried his cell, his home, his beeper. He never answered.”

“What time three days ago?”

“A little after two a.m. Thursday morning.”

“And why am I just hearing about this now?”

Parks looked about the crime scene. He fidgeted with his hands. “I figured something personal must have come up. Something urgent. Our shift was almost up. I had his back when he was gone. Yesterday we were both off duty.”

“Did he say anything to you before he left?”

“No, but he was acting weird.”

“What do you mean?”

“Nervous. Squirrelly. I figured it had something to do with his divorce. He’d been caught up in the shit with his wife big-time.”

Kriegel watched the coroner load the body of Agent Rollins in the back of the van. He knew the agent’s wife through Doctor Beckam’s group of friends. “Rollins was a good man, a good field agent. He had skin in this game.”

“What was he doing here?” Parks asked.

“Nothing, as far as I can tell. The river carried his body here. His murder took place somewhere else.”

“I don’t get it…”

“Did you see or hear anything during your surveillance operation? Anything at all?”

“No Sir. It was quiet. No one came or went from the Sayeed residence.”

“Your partner didn’t kill himself. Someone wanted him dead. The more you can tell me, the better our chances of finding who did this.”

Parks strategized the conversation in his mind. How to steer the line of questioning where he wanted and how to shun any hint of suspicion toward himself. “I don’t know what to tell you. Rollins was devoted to the job, but he kept to himself outside duty hours.”

“I don’t need his life story. Something must have happened, recently. Something prompted him to walk off the job.”

“I’m not sure this is anything at all, but the night before our shift last Thursday, Rollins told me he was going to take some personal time. Said he had to meet someone.”

“Who?”

“He didn’t say.”

“Did he say what for?”

“I didn’t ask. I figured it was his attorney or something to do with his divorce.”

“What else can you tell me about him?”

“Sometimes he complained about money problems.”

“Who doesn’t?”

“I mean big problems. I think his divorce was sucking him dry.”

“Was he involved in something he shouldn’t be?”

“If he was, I didn’t know about it.”

“He was your partner.”

“Like I said, Rollins liked to keep to himself.”

“I understand,” said Kriegel. “The bureau has a lot of irons in the fire. We’re balls to the wall on this Abdullah investigation. I need you to focus on tracking Fayez Sayeed. We’ll find your partner’s killer. I promise.” Kriegel grabbed the ringing cell phone from his belt. “Kriegel.”

“Sir,” the female voice replied, “we have a problem.”

Kriegel recognized the voice from the cyber-crimes agent in his command. “Spit it out.”

“Someone hacked our network and copied top secret files from the Carnivore database. An alert from a proxy server pinged the NOC. We traced the hacker through a router in Singapore and a Unix box in Berkeley.”

“Cut to the chase.”

“We traced the hacker’s IP address to a bureau laptop registered to someone in your department. Special Agent Shannon Burns.”

Kriegel turned back to Agent Parks. “Sync up with Doctor Beckman’s team. Find out where they are on the vaccine supply.”

“Yes Sir.”

“And Parks…”

“Sir?”

“Watch your back. If Abdullah’s people got to Rollins, they could be gunning for you.”

Enemy Among Us: Chapter 58

His senses jolted like a kick in the face, Brian snapped out of his chloroform state and imagined himself drowning in a frozen lake, alone, shivering in a dark space, condemned to die in a murky underwater tomb. A dream so real he could almost feel the frigid water on his skin.

When his eyes adjusted to the light, he found himself strapped to a wooden chair, his wrists and ankles bound with rope; a scarf wound tightly across his mouth and tied behind his head. The room smelled of blood and urine with a hint of gasoline fumes. A fluorescent ceiling light flickered above a wooden box positioned at the edge of a work bench beside a tripod-mounted video camera pointed in Brian’s direction.

Brian moved his head, trying to focus on the blurry figures in front of him.

Two men with ragged beards and black bandanas held AK-47s. Between the men, a dot of orange light glowed from the end of a lit cigarette dangling from the lips of a third man with missing front teeth and a forearm tapered to a stub where a hand once existed.

Brian swallowed dryly with the corners of his mouth pulled taut. He worked his wrists back and forth, twisting and turning against the banded sisal fibers.

“My name is Omar,” the man with the missing teeth explained, through a haze of cigarette smoke. As Brian stared, Omar inhaled deeply, burning the cigarette to within half an inch of his lips. “Do you know why you’re here?”

Brian shook his head, wondering what became of Seth, imagining the worst case scenario for his brother while his own recollection of events came back to him with startling clarity.

Omar stood over the box on the table, swiping his hand above the contents. Sweat drizzled through the hair in his scraggly beard and dripped. “Tell me, what is it you know about our plans and who have you told?” He signaled for the closest gunman to remove the scarf from Brian’s mouth and dropped the snub of burning tobacco on the floor.

Brian wiggled his jaw side to side.

The second gunman stepped forward, the butt of his rifle lifted to drive against the side of Brian’s head.

Omar held him back. “Not yet,” he said and turned his attention to the wooden box. He opened a sliding panel on the side.

Both gunmen shied away.

Brian noticed movement in the box but couldn’t make out the contents. “Who are you? Where’s my brother?”

“Your brother isn’t here.”

Brian strained his muscles against the ropes, his nostrils flaring, eyes wide with rage in his quest to break free and attack the man in front of him. “My father will kill you. All of you.”

“What does your father know about our plans?”

“Why don’t you ask him yourself?”

“Of course…”

Brian spat at Omar’s feet. “Go to hell.”

Omar produced a pair of wooden blocks from behind the open box. He clapped the blocks together loudly, arousing the live contents. “This is your fate. To be here in this place without knowledge of how or why or for how long, but with the certainty that mine will be the last face you see before you die. Does this make you afraid?”

“If I die, I die.”

“Perhaps.” Omar clapped the blocks again, this time closer to the wooden box, from where the narrow, coffin-shaped head of a black mamba protruded through the opening.

The guards retreated toward the door, redirecting their attention from Brian to the nine-foot reptile the color of gun-metal grey slithering down the work bench and onto the dusty floor.

Omar ventured behind Brian’s chair, standing just beyond Brian’s peripheral vision.

Brian watched the snake gather itself and flick its forked tongue at the air to engage its sense of smell; its hollow fangs tucked flat at the front of its mouth.

Omar clapped the blocks again, sending the angry reptile in a frenzy. “Dendroaspis polylepis. Worshipped by some, feared by all—and for good reason. The first bite will greet you with burning pain, nausea, vomiting, and respiratory paralysis to make the last ten minutes of your life seem an eternity.”

Brian pressed his back against the chair, watching the snake maneuver about the room in an agitated manner. “What do you want from me?”

“Information.”

“I told you I don’t know anything.”

Omar clapped the blocks again.

This time, the black mamba circled back toward Brian’s legs. “I’m an American citizen!”

“You are nothing if not weak and arrogant like your government. And now both shall feel the wrath of our vengeance.”

Brian craned his neck to see the snake move side to side around the chair, whisking its silky-scaled body with deliberate, effortless motion. “I’m just a college student.”

Omar clapped the blocks. “Tell me, what does your father know about our plans?”

“Stop asking me! I don’t know! I don’t work for him.”

“We found you in safe keeping for a reason.”

“He was trying to protect us from you.”

“Or protect you from yourselves because you learned something you should not. Your brother accessed information from your father’s FBI. Now too many people are asking questions.” Omar reached in his pocket and produced a photo of Hilario Gonsalez. “How do you know this man?”

Brian kept his eyes on the snake moving about the room until Omar shoved the photo in his face. “I’ve never seen him before.”

“What have you told him?”

“Nothing! I don’t know who he is.”

“Then your brother, perhaps?”

“He doesn’t know him either. We have nothing to do with this man you’re looking for.” He followed the snake’s movements, watching it helplessly from his unmovable position in the chair.

“Who else have you talked to?”

“No one, and I wouldn’t tell you if I had.”

“You’re a brave man. Not unlike your father.” Omar clapped the blocks again, directing the agitated reptile away from his men cowering near the door. He pressed a button on the video camera. A red light came on. “You’re going to deliver a message to your father. One he will keep with him for a very long time.”

Brian watched the snake slither from side to side, its motion governed by fear as it propelled itself away from the loud clapping noise and found two obstacles in its path.

Brian cried out from the stabbing pain of sharp fangs piercing his lower calf. A burning sensation spread through his lower limb from the dendrotoxins injected into his bloodstream.

He lolled his head to the side. Saliva frothed at his mouth. His skin turned cold and clammy. His breathing shallow. His pulse rapid and feeble. His chest tightened with the partial paralysis spreading through his respiratory tract.

Across the room, Omar’s blurry image teetered back and forth behind the camera, floating in space above the floor as the loud blocks sounded again and again like a morbid anthem from a hangman’s gallows.

“How soon this ends is up to you,” whispered Omar, dancing away from the black mamba’s head darting from side to side until it struck Brian’s leg again, this time on the upper thigh, plunging its needle-sharp fangs into soft human flesh.

Omar dropped the wooden blocks when a barrage of gunfire ripped the snake into pieces.

“Administer the anti-venom,” Abdullah instructed when the gunfire ceased. Smoke curled from the muzzle of his AK-47. Spent casings rolled across the floor.

“What about our plan?” asked Omar.

“Sayeed is dead. Our plan has changed.”

Enemy Among Us: Chapter 40

Burns rode shotgun in McLeary’s rented Charger as they entered the parking garage below a covert DEA facility nestled within a cluster of high-rise offices outside a high-tech industrial park. Neither spoke on the elevator ride to the seventh floor task force office.

Burns flashed her badge at the guard on duty inside the office suite. “He’s with me,” she told the officer in uniform, pointing to McLeary beside her.

“You’re late,” Kriegel barked from the conference room window overlooking the Miami traffic below. He closed the vertical blinds and dimmed the lights. “Shut the door.” He motioned to Doctor Beckman who plugged her laptop computer into the video projection monitor on the table. “This is Doctor Candice Beckman, a senior pathologist with the CDC.”

McLeary shook her hand. “Doctor.”

Burns followed behind McLeary. “I’m Special Agent Burns. Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise,” Candice answered. She pointed to Agent Bryant seated across the room in jeans and a Miami Dolphins jersey. “I assume you all know Special Agent Bryant and his team with the DEA task force?”

“We’ve met,” said McLeary. He stared at Agent Bryant with contempt, recalling the face of a former accuser.

Kriegel snagged the wireless remote from the table and clicked the PowerPoint presentation to flash the image of a bearded man with a bloody face, half buried in the crumbled ruins of a deserted military bunker destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. “Special Forces snapped this picture from a drone three years ago in Afghanistan after an airstrike on an al-Qaida stronghold failed to neutralize the primary target.”

“Who is he?” asked McLeary.

“His name is Ahmed Mahmoud Abdullah, a radical fundamentalist and previous deputy chief scientist from Saddam Hussein’s former death squad. Abdullah’s believed to be responsible for conducting hundreds of lethal experiments involving aerosolized biological pathogens on civilians. Mostly women and children.” Kriegel paused to reflect. “As the photo shows, he was left for dead in the airstrike rubble until our friends at Langley uncovered new intelligence to suggest otherwise.”

Kriegel clicked the next slide to illuminate the picture of an airline baggage handler.

“Meet Marcus Noland, a former CIA asset killed in Amsterdam where he was working as a ground crew member for Transatlantic Airlines. Noland was feeding the Agency information on Abdullah’s whereabouts and his alleged plans for a wide-spread attack on U.S. soil.”

Kriegel clicked to the next slide, which showed a dead woman on her knees in a public restroom with her head in a toilet. “This photo was taken one week ago. Intelligence suggests Ahmed Abdullah assumed the identity of Marcus Noland to gain access to the airport facility where he got close to this woman, Carla Bonnnove, Marcus Noland’s girlfriend and ground crew shift supervisor in charge of baggage screening. He used her to gain access to a baggage sorting area. We believe Abdullah was attempting to smuggle something out of Europe and into the United States.”

“Smuggle what?” asked Agent Bryant.

“I’ll get there in a moment.”

Kriegel advanced the presentation, showing a bathtub full of partially liquefied human remains. “You’re looking at what’s left of Marcus Noland who took his last shower in an acid bath. This picture was taken by Rosie Uppal, a senior field agent sent to investigate Noland’s disappearance when he fell off Langley’s radar. A local asset found Rosie dead in her car.”

McLeary got up from his seat. “Why didn’t the Agency roll up Abdullah when they had the chance?”

“Because you know as well as I do Langley’s not interested in making arrests.”

Agent Bryant spoke up. “And what about Ali Muheen? How does he fit in?”

Kriegel advanced to the next slide, flashing the family portrait of Fayez Sayeed with his wife and three children. “We’ll get there.” He coughed to clear his throat. “This is a picture of Fayez Sayeed taken two years ago. A naturalized American citizen, loving husband, father, and well-respected GS-14 working for the IRS until he went AWOL from his job a week ago and fell off the grid.”

Burns shook her head. “What does he have to do with anything?”

“Before Marcus Noland was murdered in Amsterdam, he supplied the CIA with intel about an Iranian mole living in Washington D.C. Marcus never uncovered the mole’s identity, only that he had strong ties to Ali Muheen and Ahmed Abdullah. Marcus believed the mole was working with Muheen and Abdullah in conjunction with other members of a Lebanon-based radical Shi’a group who call themselves—”

“Hezbollah,” said McLeary. He rubbed his chin. “The same group who attacked the U.S. Marine barracks with a suicide truck in Beirut in ’83.”

Kriegel nodded.

Burns scribbled in her notepad. “What about Fayez Sayeed? Does he have any ties in the U.S.?”

“Homeland Security has his American wife under federal surveillance. So far she’s not suspected of any terrorist involvement. Fayez Sayeed came to this country to obtain a permanent residence and now he’s abandoned his American wife and children.”

“What do we know about his plans?” asked McLeary.

“Not much. We deployed a code yellow terrorist alert. State and local authorities have an all points bulletin on Sayeed. Hopefully they’ll get lucky and pick him up.”

“And what about Ali Muheen?” Agent Bryant asked again. “How does he fit into all this?”

Kriegel coughed. “We’re still piecing everything together. But we do know Muheen is a brother-in-law of Ahmed Abdullah, whose wife and son were killed in the airstrike photo I showed you earlier. We believe Muheen operated several terrorist training camps in Chechnya and the Pankisi Gorge region of Georgia. We also believe Muheen and his cohorts smuggled several experimental pathogens from a biodefense laboratory in Kazakhstan. Intelligence tracked him outside of Amsterdam, and most recently, Miami. We speculate he’s working in conjunction with Fayez Sayeed. As Agent Bryant can attest, the DEA’s had Muheen under surveillance for several weeks.”

Agent Bryant nodded. “For involvement with narcotics distribution. Now for all we know Muheen could be cooking up explosives instead of crack.”

McLeary looked at Burns, then at Agent Bryant, and finally at Kriegel. “Muheen is dead.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Agent Bryant.

“The man you’re watching is not Ali Muheen.”

Kriegel tossed the wireless control on the table, his posture telegraphing his disgust. “Have you been drinking on the job? Because the words coming out of your mouth don’t make sense.”

McLeary stood beside the conference table. “None of this makes sense,” he continued. “I received a tip two days ago from an anonymous source who believes Muheen is dead. This source also helped another colleague in Quantico decrypt a message from Gordon Gentry’s Blackberry we found in China Town, where a witness spotted Gentry getting into a sedan with Muheen.”

“What message?”

“Something about a magical kingdom.”

“And when were you planning to share this with the team?”

“I just did.”

It was obvious Kriegel struggled to keep a level head in front of Doctor Beckam. “What’s the connection?”

McLeary shrugged. “My money says Abdullah used Gentry to rob a bank. Gentry never knew the big picture. Neither did Rodney Nito and whoever else Abdullah’s team recruited to do their dirty work and sidetrack us from their real end game.”

“Which is what?” Agent Bryant chimed in. “My men have had Muheen under twenty-four seven watch for weeks. What makes you think your anonymous source is credible?”

“My gut,” said McLeary.

“Oh… well… why didn’t you say so in the first place? I’d trust your gut over credible intelligence sources any day.”

McLeary kept a tight face, deflecting Agent Bryant’s condescending tone with unwavering confidence in his own assessment of the anonymous caller’s credibility. “This wasn’t a crank call. This person had knowledge of Gordon Gentry’s Blackberry and the crypto skills to help an expert analyst uncover the coded message it was hiding.”

“So did anyone who worked closely with Gordon Gentry,” Kriegel interjected. “In fact, how do we know this mystery source of yours doesn’t pose a counter-intelligence threat? For all you know, he could be working with someone in Abdullah’s organization, dropping erroneous clues to disrupt our investigation. In fact, how can we trust that anything you’re telling us is true?”

“The same way we trust Agent Bryant never had inappropriate relations with barn animals.”

“That photo was doctored!” Bryant retorted amid a chorus of muffled giggles from his colleagues in the back of the room.

Kriegel gnashed his teeth. “God dammit McLeary! I warned you about pulling this sort of shit during my investigation.”

“You mean our investigation,” said Burns.

“Gentlemen, ladies,” Doctor Beckman piped up, undoubtedly attempting to diffuse the lethal concentration of testosterone in the room. “Please… We’re spinning our wheels and going nowhere fast.” She commandeered the remote from Kriegel and advanced to her portion of the presentation. “Time is our enemy.” She waited for the grumbling to subside before she started. “I don’t give a shit about your personal problems or your political agendas. The fact is we’re likely dealing with an anthrax outbreak the likes of which we’ve never seen before.” She clicked to a slide showing a list of names appended to five different hospital images linked to a bank photo. “Doctor Michael Lewis uncovered the threat before it finally killed him. His autopsy confirmed hematoxylinophilic bacilli had completely filled his perivascular lymphatic space. Immunohistochemistry revealed B anthracis in affected tissues with an antimicrobial-resistant strain modified to increase virulence.”

McLeary read the charts on screen. “Translation?”

“Doctor Lewis, and staff at other hospitals, confirmed almost a hundred cases citing exposure to weaponized anthrax as cause of death.” She paused once she finally had the group’s full attention. “A portion of my team began the process of trying to identify the source of the infection, starting with background checks of all known or suspected anthrax victims at nearby hospitals in the Washington Metropolitan region. We cross-referenced the list of names and discovered all were members of one or more of the financial institutions that were recently targeted. We confirmed our findings. Most of our anthrax victims were present during the time of the robberies.”

“Which leads us to speculate,” Kriegel added, “about the strong possibility that our robbery victims were exposed to airborne contaminants.”

“Are we at risk?” asked McLeary.

“The probability is low.”

“How low?” asked Burns.

“I can’t give an exact figure.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means we don’t have all the answers,” said Doctor Beckam. “Anthrax doesn’t spread like the common cold. It doesn’t pass from person to person.”

“Unless it’s been genetically modified to do so,” McLeary added.

Doctor Beckman looked at Kriegel then back at McLeary. “Let’s not jump to unfounded conclusions.”

“But it’s possible…”

“In theory, perhaps. Though it’s highly unlikely without knowing the specific gene sequence or—”

“We’re still missing something,” McLeary argued. “Are you suggesting the bank robberies we’re investigating are ground zero for these anthrax attacks?”

“It’s one scenario.”

“Why would someone launch a bioweapon attack during an armed robbery?”

Burns rummaged through her notes. “Rodney Nito said someone paid him to rob the credit union. Maybe he and Gordon Gentry were recruited to do more than steal money?”

“They don’t fit a bioterrorist’s profile,” said McLeary.

“Maybe not,” said Kriegel. “But it fits with Ahmed Abdullah’s MO.”

Doctor Beckman clicked to the next slide. “Handling virulent biological agents in an envelope is one thing, but creating a weaponized version of anthrax spores lies beyond the reach of most terrorist organizations. It requires highly specialized skills and access to sophisticated equipment.”

McLeary shook his head. He stared at Doctor Beckman through pinched eyes. “Any crackpot with a degree in biochemistry and a quantity of anthrax material could pull this off.”

“We’re not talking about mixing fertilizers with diesel fuel, Agent McLeary. There are more than seventy different strains of anthrax. A potential enemy would have to isolate different strains before finding one sufficiently potent to work in a specific, weaponized format.”

“Like the Ames and Vollum strains?”

“Or worse… An aerosol release of fifty kilograms of dried anthrax containing several trillion spores over a city of five million would produce more than a hundred thousand deaths and nearly a quarter million incapacitating illnesses. The spores are odorless and nearly colorless in the atmosphere. They can also sustain their potency for decades.”

Burns tapped her pen on her notepad. “What about a vaccine?”

“Antibiotics are the first defense for victims already exposed. The CDC stocks Ciprofloxacin, although its effectiveness varies depending on the length of time from exposure and whether the spores were inhaled or passed subcutaneously through the skin. The Pentagon stores the military’s Biothrax vaccine. Right now that’s our best pre-exposure protection against known anthrax strains.”

“What about unknown anthrax strains?”

“Biothrax, or any vaccine we manufacture, is not a cure-all. No two people can be guaranteed the same level of protection. With the right anthrax variant and the right antigens, our best vaccine could be rendered ineffective. I’ve been in touch with Fort Detrick—”

“What are you saying?” asked Burns. “How effective do you think this vaccine will be? If at all?”

Doctor Beckman stretched across the table and turned off the slide projector. The darkened room fell funeral-silent with the cooling fan humming inside the projector housing. “A better question would be: how do we prevent the next attack from happening?”

Enemy Among Us: Chapter 32

Kriegel stared out the hospital’s ninth floor window overlooking the ground below. In the darkness, a dizzying array of blue strobe lights reflected off a dozen police and emergency response vehicles. “What the hell happened here?”

“We’re on it,” Burns replied, standing beside McLeary. She had blood spatter on her face. “Local PD’s got a man on every rooftop with a clear line of sight.”

Kriegel stepped away from the window and examined the victim’s pillow, speckled with skull fragments, pulpy tissue, and streaks of brain matter. An open handcuff dangled from the hospital bed handrail. “Did they find the shooter’s nest?”

“Not yet. It happened fast. I was going to bring you up to speed as soon as we—”

“Save it, Burns. I’m here now.” Kriegel focused a penlight on the floor and walls. “Did this corpse have a name?”

“Rodney Nito,” said McLeary. “We pulled his rap sheet. He was a two-time loser with a hobby of jacking cars. He did a three-year stint in Attica. No ties to any members on our watchlist or anyone associated with the Aryan Brotherhood.”

“Attica? That’s Gordon Gentry’s alma matter. Any other connection between this guy and the Chase Bank robbery?”

“We’re still exploring,” said Burns. “Someone wanted Nito dead. Someone with a sniper rifle and the skills to use it.”

“Any nut-job with a hunting rifle and a scope could have made the shot,” Kriegel argued. “I want to know who killed him and why.”

McLeary watched Burns wipe her face with a tissue while Kriegel gnawed the end of an unlit cigar. He thought about Kriegel’s arrogance and how he carried himself. The man was poison in an open flask, waiting to contaminate an unsuspecting person like Agent Burns who blindly followed him.

“You still with us?” Kriegel barked, aiming the penlight at McLeary’s face.

“Nito’s crew wasn’t after the money,” said McLeary, turning his head away.

“Have you been drinking on the job?”

“They never intended to steal the credit union cash. They wanted to test the vault’s biometric scanner.”

“Bullshit McLeary. I’ve seen the surveillance tape. They went for the teller stations just like the first four jobs. This time they got greedy and tried to tap the safe.”

“There’s more to it.”

Kriegel clipped his penlight in his shirt pocket. “And you know this how?”

“A hunch.”

Burns looked out the splintered window. A police helicopter circled with its spotlight pointed at the building across the street. “Who else knew Rodney Nito was here?”

“That’s the first intelligent question I’ve heard all night, Agent Burns. I suggest you find out. Interview every doctor, nurse, admin assistant, and janitor who knew about the patient in this room. I want to know why Rodney Nito was targeted—and I want the shooter in custody.”

McLeary rummaged his mental Rolodex. “What more do we know about Ali Muheen and his involvement in these robberies?”

“That’s what you’re going to find out. I want you and Burns in Miami for a meeting with our friends at the drug enjoyment agency. They’ve had Ali Muheen under surveillance for a month.”

“A month?” said McLeary. “And you’re just telling us now?”

“I was apprised of their operation a few hours ago.”

Burns turned away from the window and looked at Kriegel. “So what’s our next move?”

“Find out what the DEA has uncovered on Muheen and any connection between himself, Gordon Gentry, and this Rodney Nito.”

* * *

McLeary followed Kriegel and Burns through the swarm of reporters gathered outside the hospital. Greeted by cameras and microphones, the three marched beyond the media circus with a terse “no comment” from Kriegel.

“Who’s our point of contact when we land?” Burns asked Kriegel.

“He’ll find you.” Kriegel pointed to his cheek then back at Burns. High velocity blood spatter dotted the side of her neck. “Get yourself cleaned up first.”

Burns touched her face. “Looks like we’re headed south,” she told McLeary.

McLeary dug his vibrating phone from his pocket. “So is this investigation…” He flipped it open and pressed it to his ear. “McLeary.”

“Don’t talk, just listen,” said a sullen voice altered through a vocal distorter. “Nod if you can hear me.”

McLeary turned away from Burns nonchalantly and scanned the tops of several surrounding buildings. He nodded slowly.

“Muheen is dead. Decrypt the Blackberry.”

“Who are you?” McLeary whispered as the call abruptly ended.

“Who was that?” asked Burns.

McLeary followed the crowd of reporters with his eyes. “Wrong number.”

* * *

Standing inside the Dulles International Airport, McLeary gazed at the 757 parked at the terminal, with the jet’s ducted fan blades spinning slowly inside the engine cowling mounted beneath the starboard wing. As the plane was pushed back, he focused on the cone at the center of the spinning blades, producing an almost hypnotic circular motion as the blades spun to draw air into the gas compression stage, where intense pressure and heat would produce the requisite thrust at takeoff to launch the massive plane into the air.

He estimated the number of blades spinning around the impeller’s shaft, multiplying their estimated surface area by the number of revolutions per minute to calculate potential air flow between idle and full-throttle settings.

He watched the plane push back from the gate as Burns approached him from the snack bar with a magazine and a fresh pack of gum.

“You look tired,” said Burns, handing McLeary the sugarless gum he’d requested.

“I’m good.”

“What’s your take on the DEA? Do you think they’ll let us play in their sandbox?”

“I wouldn’t bet on it.”

Burns watched the 757 roll away from the terminal and rubbed the bruise on her elbow. She stuck her hand in her jacket pocket and withdrew an envelope with the initials JM on the flap. She nudged McLeary in the arm with the paper. “This is yours.”

“What?”

“Your paycheck. Don’t lose it. The first two are live until direct deposit kicks in, assuming you’re around long enough to collect it.”

McLeary took the envelope and examined the check. Living frugal for so long, the concept of money seemed almost useless to him. He folded the check and scribbled H a p p y H o l i d a y s. He studied the simple words, recalling a mathematical encryption algorithm he’d learned in a graduate mathematics course taught by a five-foot tall Chinese professor with bad teeth and a propensity to smear chalk dust on the back of his pants. “Happy Holidays.”

“What are you talking about?”

“A message I found on Gordon Gentry’s Blackberry. Happy Holidays. It means something… It’s encrypted. Substitution, transposition. Caesar cipher. Monoalphabetic ciphers. Limited permutation of alphabetic characters.”

“Are you high?”

“We need a way to decrypt it.”

“Gordon Gentry is dead. I doubt the message is of any significance to us now.”

“We don’t know that,” said McLeary.

“The bureau needs you to stop bank robbers. Not dive into every rabbit hole you come across.”

“I’m going to Quantico. Alone.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Tonight.”

“Kriegel wants us in Miami.”

“Kriegel’s a fool.”

“Maybe, but he’s still the boss in charge.”

McLeary walked away. “Thanks for the gum.”

Burns started to follow him, then reconsidered in mid-stride. She had McLeary pegged from the start: a loaner with a shady past and an uncertain future; a man with no one to go home to and nothing to live for but the job; a man who would say or do anything to further his personal agenda, no matter how much it jeopardized his career. “What am I supposed to tell Kriegel?”

“Tell him to go pound sand.”

“He’ll be all over your ass for this.”

McLeary kept walking. “Good. Then I’ll know where to find him.”

New song: When the Right One Comes Along

Leave your last goodbye in the rear view mirror

Where all your doubts and envy disappear

No regrets…

No complaints…

Embrace the changes…

We go through stages

 

Sometimes, we need, a brand new chapter

One with less, ending-in-disaster

A little more, love with lots of laughter

You know you can’t go wrong

When the right one comes along

When the right one comes along…

 

We live our lives on borrowed time

Hard to move on when we’re falling, way, be-hind

Caught in the storm we can’t get past

Not everything, in life, is meant, to last…

 

Sometimes, we need, a brand new chapter

One with less, ending-in-disaster

A little more, heart-starts-beating-faster

You can’t go wrong

When the right one comes along…

When the right one comes along…

When the right one comes along…

 

Is this how it goes?

Hell nobody knows

Stand on your toes and kiss me

Say what you mean

This isn’t a dream

Tell me how much you miss me

 

Sometimes, we need, a brand new chapter

One with less, ending-in-disaster

A little more, happy-ever-after

You know you can’t go wrong

When the right one comes… along

Hmmmm…hmmmm…yeah…

When the right one comes along…

She will when you least expect it

Hmmmm…hmmmm…yeah…

When the right one comes along

When the right one comes along…

New song entitled, “Someone Else”

I titled this one, “Someone Else.” A somber tune, but one I know many people have experienced in their lives. We’re all searching for something. Blessed are those who’ve already found it.

You were the one, who wanted space to breathe in
Without a heart to love or a hand to hold
Beyond the light, we hope to find forgiveness
But for you it’s always been about control

This ain’t our song
The note’s all wrong
When I wake up, I find you gone
No hesitation, life goes on
Despite our love, we both belong to someone else
A truth we hide within ourselves

Now the more he gives, the more he takes
I suppose, we learn to live with our mistakes
When the bad outweighs the good in the life you lead
You get caught up in the fire
Lost in your desire
Consumed by what you want, not what you need…

This ain’t our song
The note’s all wrong
When I wake up, I find you gone
No hesitation, life goes on
Despite our love, we both belong to someone else
A truth we hide within ourselves

The closer we get, the more we go astray
Unable to find the strength to walk away
From a place we can’t deny what we can’t see
Defined by who we are not who we’ll be…

This ain’t our song
The note’s all wrong
Despite our love, we both belong to someone else
Now it’s time we both collect ourselves
Bare the truth we can’t convey
And learn to live and love, another day

New Song: Jesus Loves You

When you feel helpless

Overcome with grief and sorrow

Don’t lose faith

Jesus loves you

 

When you feel, abandoned

Don’t give in

You’re not alone

He’s in your heart

He’s in your home

His love surrounds you

Like a sunrise on a cherry blossom highway

A child’s eyes

A desperate face

A rising tide

A fall from grace

 

There are things in life we learn we can’t control

And the more you trust in him, the more you’ll know

Jesus loves you

 

He’s paved in scripture

His love, is sewn, inside, the fabric of your life

He won’t desert you

He holds the power to forgive the unforgivable

A man of strength

A man of virtue

 

There are things in life we learn we can’t control

And the more you trust in him, the more you’ll know

Jesus loves you

 

He is your fortress

When you lose hope

You’ll find him, by, your, side

He will sustain you

He will, defend you, from, your, darkest night

 

Of all the things in life we can’t let go

The more you trust in him, the more you’ll know

Jesus loves you

Jesus loves you…

New Song: Nowhere to Hide

Nowhere to Hide

 

Somewhere, along the way, your heart grew tired

Of all the fools who denied the life you lead

So you walked away when your lease on love expired

Without a chance to show how much you mean to me

 

Love saves you

Love breaks you

Love keeps you, wide awake, at night

Love makes mistakes

Love cultivates those feelings, you keep locked away inside…

 

Now you follow around with your girlfriends, on Friday night

Hoping to find yourself in the arms, of Mr. Right

Taking one more drink and dance before last call

Stealing a drag from the last of your blue Pall Malls

 

Love saves you

Love breaks you

Love keeps you, wide awake, at night

Love makes mistakes

Love cultivates those feelings, you keep locked away inside…

 

Somehow, times goes by and the years unfold

Caught in the wrath, of my own lost soul

Trying to forget all the past and the pain, I left behind

‘Cause I know I can’t replace, what I can’t find…

 

Love saves me

Love breaks me

Love keeps me, wide awake, at night

Love makes mistakes

Love cultivates those feelings, I keep locked away inside…

 

In the end, it’s not about the destination

For us, it’s always been about the ride

I promise I won’t take this love for granted

When there’s nowhere to run and there’s nowhere to hide…

 

Love saves us

Love breaks us

Love keeps us, wide awake, at night

Love makes mistakes

Love cultivates those feelings, we keep locked away inside

Now there’s nowhere to run…

And nowhere to hide… again

New Song: This is Good Bye

(fast tempo)

 

I know you didn’t meant to hurt me

You said you never met my type before

All I needed was an explanation

A little meaningful conversation

 

I was hoping we could stay together

Instead of feeling lost forever

All I wanted was a chance to make things right

Now you got me, all torn up inside

 

So this is goodbye

Sayonara

Au revoir

Adiós amigo

 

Yeah this is goodbye

Sayonara

Au revoir

Adiós amigo

 

I was caught up in my indecision

Should have trusted, my, intuition

I was hoping we could stay together

But nothing seems to last forever

All I wanted was a chance to make things right

Now you got me, all torn up inside

 

So this is goodbye

Sayonara

Au revoir

Adiós amigo

 

Yeah this is goodbye

Arrivederci

Despedida

Adiós amigo

 

Maybe if I’d listened more

I wouldn’t be alone without you

There was something in your voice I can’t describe

And the more I dig, the more I find

 

So this is goodbye

Do svidaniya

Na shledanou

Arrivederci

Despedida

Adiós amigo

 

Yeah this is goodbye

Do svidaniya

Na shledanou

Arrivederci

Despedida

Adiós amigo

 

This is goodbye… (sustain)

This is goodbye

I’m so over you and I… (sustain)

This is goodbye… (sustain)

This is goodbye!