Grey clouds lingered above the sea of vehicles trapped in the abysmal morning traffic outside the bustling Rosslyn Metro Station along North Moore Street west of the Potomac River in Arlington, Virginia. A block away, a stolen floral delivery van went unnoticed in the rush hour chaos as it eased into a metered parking space behind a late model Taurus parked along Wilson Boulevard with a “Baby on Board” sign in the window and a faded Grateful Dead sticker on the bumper.
The lanky van driver with a light brown complexion, jet-black hair, and a cobra-shaped face smothered in three-day whiskers killed the engine. Close enough to view the entrance to the Chase Bank, yet far enough to avoid suspicion, he opened a sliding partition and moved to the back of the van to join a member of the Aryan Brotherhood dressed in jeans and a black muscle shirt with a gas mask over his face.
Centered inside a rack of portable electronic equipment, an image of a human hand appeared on a flat screen monitor, palm out with each fingertip highlighted in red. The image rotated ninety degrees while the software impregnated each fingertip with unique loop and whorl patterns.
The Aryan member followed the virtual hand with his eyes. He loaded twelve-gauge shells in a sawed-off Remington while the driver removed a ventilated hood from a portable manufacturing device to reveal a translucent rubber glove with the same elasticity and fingerprint ridges of human skin.
* * *
Inside the Chase Bank, an armed security guard with silver hair and patent leather shoes manned his post near the entrance. Standing beneath a video surveillance camera focused on the bank’s revolving door, he faced the clock on the wall above the teller stations, where sheets of bullet-resistant glass separated the employees from the general public. He endured the pain in his right heel while he watched the second hand tick past the twelve o’clock hour. The burning sensation in his foot served a nagging reminder of the treatment his dermatologist had applied the day before. After decades of good health and bad, he’d now developed a plantar wart and experienced the searing heat from liquid nitrogen applied at minus two-hundred degrees Celsius. Not as bad as getting shot he surmised, but worse than stepping on a rusty nail.
He turned his head when a patron stepped through the revolving door: a waitress in a grungy uniform with a baby asleep on her shoulder. Seeing the infant reminded him of how young his own children were before they set out to conquer the world and left his wife on her own with no one to care for but herself and an aging husband with a bad back.
He watched the woman approach the teller station as a steady flow of morning customers arrived, including a biker in leather chaps who wore a Harley Davidson jacket with a POW/MIA patch stitched on the sleeve.
With three hours and twenty-eight minutes to go before lunch, the guard thought about his bowling league on Thursday night and how the guys would react when he told them he couldn’t play on account of his bad foot. They’d call him a slackass and torture him with endless jokes about getting old. Some insults he deserved on account of his frugal spending habits; others he could live without. Especially the jokes about his wife and how his friends would “take care of her” when he finally kicked the bucket. On account of his previous bout with prostate cancer, he never took kindly to jokes about his health or his early demise, no matter how well-intentioned the humor was meant to be. There was plenty in life to make fun of without blurring the line between amusing and insulting.
When a text message beeped on his phone, he pictured his wife in the kitchen scrawling out another “to do” list, which prompted her to contact him immediately about some inane chore she’d neglected to mention the night before—usually something involving a ladder or a trip to Home Depot to buy a tool he didn’t have or a new piece of yard décor he didn’t need.
He checked the message, squinting at the unknown number as the bank’s revolving door spun inside its cylindrical enclosure with a whoooshhh of air.
A small metal canister bounced in his peripheral vision and rolled toward the center of the bank lobby. A deafening boom shocked his eardrums. Then the room filled with thick, black smoke.
Stunned momentarily by the flash-bang grenade, he reached for his service revolver only to succumb to the noxious gas stinging his eyes. He fell to his knees faster than it took him to realize the bank was being robbed.
* * *
The man in the gas mask entered silently, his actions deliberate as he panned the shotgun in the open lobby.
He aimed the muzzle at the surveillance camera and squeezed the trigger, pulverizing the live feed connection to the video recorder. Another shotgun blast blew the cipher lock through the teller door, leaving a large splintered cavity in the wood.
The gunman charged toward the back where several employees huddled on the floor, choking on the potent fumes permeating the enclosed space. “Stay down and face the floor,” he barked inside the mask, filtering the adulterated air through a single activated carbon canister. “Or your day is going to get a lot worse from here.” He eyed the cash in the teller drawers and stuffed handfuls of currency in a black duffel bag, moving quickly from station to station until he emptied every drawer.
Outside the building, he pulled his gas mask off and entered the delivery van from the back. “Let’s go!” he hollered at his accomplice behind the wheel.
The van lurched away from the curb.
“You’re late,” said the driver with the cobra-shaped face, who spoke with a Middle Eastern accent. He glanced over his shoulder to see the duffel bag on the floor behind him. His head swiveled back and forth between the view of the road ahead and the view from his side-view mirror, reflecting a convoy of Arlington Police vehicles weaving through traffic in the opposite direction.
“We’ve got a tail,” said the driver when an unmarked Crown Victoria broke away from the pack and pulled a U-turn across the median. He glanced at the portable GPS. One eye focused on the small screen; the other remained stationary in its socket, more mechanical than human.
The gunman braced himself against a built-in shelf inside the van with one hand clasped firmly on the checkered shotgun stock. With his footing secured and his balance on center, he swung the rear doors open and fired three times at the Crown Victoria, striking the officer behind the unmarked cruiser’s shattered windshield.
The out-of-control cruiser plowed sideways toward a crowd of pedestrians like a runaway train, the engine revving and tires screeching from the violent G-force derived from four thousand pounds of gross vehicle weight in motion. The sickening crack of broken bones immediately preceded the grotesque acrobatics of hapless spectators cartwheeling through the air at the moment of impact, smashing café tables and a storefront display outside a coffee shop.
The van continued along North Fort Myer toward Wilson Boulevard and barreled through a red light intersection, prompting a multiple-car collision in its wake.
The gunman closed the rear doors as the van sped down a one-way street, clipping a row of metal trash cans before turning toward a construction zone marked with orange cones.
A second squad car in pursuit fired at the van, shattering the passenger window before the rookie officer lost control of his vehicle and slammed into the back of a newspaper delivery truck.
The gunman pumped the shotgun, ejecting a spent shell from the smoking chamber. “Faster!”
The van accelerated along a stretch of Arlington Boulevard, dodging westbound traffic heading out of the city before it veered toward the Queen Street exit. The driver followed the programmed route to an alley and swerved to avoid a forklift backing out from a driveway entrance. The sudden redirection threw the gunman to the floor, prompting an accidental discharge and a cavernous hole in the side of the van.
The gunman scrambled to his feet and leaned the shotgun out the passenger window to fire successive volleys at the fleet of Arlington Police cars closing fast. Crouching to avoid return fire, he quickly loaded new shells and blasted the driver’s window closest to him, shredding a patrolman’s face and sending the patrol car flipping end over end in a twisted mass of crumpled steel and shattered glass.
The van continued through another intersection before skidding around a sharp turn and proceeding several blocks to a private underground garage with a seven foot clearance. The van entered the parking structure and ventured behind a row of parked cars, away from the nearest fire sprinkler and out of view from the entrance.
The driver cut the lights and killed the engine.
Police cars splintered off to search the side streets.
Inside the van, the gunman pumped the shotgun to eject the last spent shell from the chamber. Propellant residue covered his arms. A deep laceration on the back of his hand dripped blood on the metal floor. He touched his hand to his mouth and licked it.
The driver jumped out. “We’re late.”
“We’ll make it up,” the gunman stated, pulling his shirt over his head. He stripped down to his socks and underwear and tossed the blood-stained clothes in a pile.
The driver added his shirt and pants before he donned a change of clothes. He squirted lighter fluid on the pile of potential evidence and ignited the tainted garments in a ball of fire. Black smoke rose to the concrete ceiling.
The gunman unloaded equipment from the van, dropping the money bag where he could see it. He took the lighter fluid from the driver and doused the van’s interior, directing the flames from the burning clothes to the stream of flammable liquid. “I’ll take the cash with me,” the gunman insisted. “We’ll meet up in an hour.”
“That wasn’t the plan.”
“The plan has changed,” said the gunman.
“How do I know I can trust you?” the driver asked, discretely shielding himself behind a concrete pillar with a remote detonator in his hand.
Unwittingly, the gunman grabbed a duplicate money bag full of wadded paper. “You don’t,” he said, unzipping the bag to inspect the contents, an instant before a massive explosion tore through the van, engulfing him in flames.