"Fascinating characters with action off-the-charts. Masterful. . .an entertaining romp.""
When Terrorism Goes Viral, One Man Goes Ballistic.
They can strike anytime, anywhere. A public landmark. A suburban shopping mall. And now, the human body itself. Three Middle Eastern terrorists have been injected with a biological weapon, human time bombs unleashed on American soil. They are prepared to die. To spread their disease. To annihilate millions. If America hopes to fight this enemy from within, we need a new kind of weapon. Meet Special Agent Jericho Quinn. Air Force veteran. Champion boxer. Trained assassin. Hand-picked for a new global task force that, officially, does not exist, Quinn answers only to the Director of National Intelligence and the U.S. President himself.
His methods are as simple, and as brutal, as his codename.
""One of the hottest new authors in the thriller genre. . .terrifying. . .in one word: Awesome."" --Brad Thor
A native of Texas, Marc Cameron has spent over twenty-five years in law enforcement, the last twenty with the federal government. His assignments have taken him from rural Alaska to Manhattan, from Canada to Mexico and points in between. A second degree black belt in jujitsu, he often teaches defensive tactics to other law enforcement agencies and civilian groups. Cameron presently lives in the Pacific Northwest with his wife and BMW motorcycle.
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November 01, 2011
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Excerpt from National Security by Marc Cameron
Mahir Halibi saw blood as filth. But in war, such filth was plentiful--and an absolute necessity.
The young Saudi wiped his hands on a shop towel, leaving a fresh crimson streak on the grimy cloth. The night guard--a Hispanic man about his age with a large belly and new running shoes, lay facedown, eyes slammed wide as they had been when Halibi's blade caught him by surprise. A dark pool blossomed on the concrete next to the obscene wound that opened his neck. White cords from an iPod trailed from his ears, one cord cut neatly in two and partially embedded in the gore. Glistening flies from three stinking garbage trucks buzzed around the dead man, crowding his sightless eyes for a spot to lay their eggs.
It had taken Halibi and his two cousins over two hours of constant, backbreaking labor to unload three hundred and sixty bags of fertilizer from two moving vans and distribute them--not nearly as long as the year it had taken to collect them in small purchases across the Rocky Mountain west.
The overpowering smell of ammonium nitrate stung the back of Halibi's throat and caused him to gag. Setting the thick, sausagelike tubes of Tovex booster explosive in the hold of the trucks sent tears streaming from his burning eyes. He felt as if his nose had been stuffed with tiny razor blades.
Roughly four hours after they had arrived at the Public Works garage, Halibi felt they were finally ready. Drenched in sweat, his gaunt body was filled with a sudden calm. For some inexplicable reason, he thought of apricots and dates and roasted lamb. He quickly shook away the notion. His next meal would be in the splendors of Paradise.
The trucks were wired as he'd been taught at the sheikh's training camp, deep in Pakistan's lawless Northwest Frontier. A handheld detonator in each cab led through the broken back window and into the cavernous metal garbage box. These wires connected to blasting caps he'd inserted into the tubes of Tovex. The strong metal holds, emptied of their wasteful American refuse, were each crammed full of over six thousand pounds of diesel-soaked ammonium nitrate fertilizer and nitro methane, an industrial solvent. Together the components made what was known as ANNM--an explosive one point six times more powerful than an equivalent amount of TNT. Timothy McVeigh had used a single Ryder Truck with roughly four thousand pounds of the stuff to blow up the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Halibi had three, each half again as large--and the time had come to put them to use.
Contact with the night guard's blood made Wudu-- ritual ablution--essential before an offer of prayer. And what was martyrdom but the ultimate form of prayer?
Halibi removed the lid to a new bottle of Aquafina. Beginning with his hands, he washed three times to his elbows, then moved cool water back and forth in his mouth, spitting away from his two cousins. He drew water into each nostril three times, touched his face, then moved to symbolically cleanse the remainder of his body, ending with his feet. His cousins repeated the same motions under the shadowed metal eaves of the Public Works garage. Devoted men of great piety, they were no doubt thinking as he was of the wondrous rewards that awaited them all in Paradise. All were freshly shaven, and now cleansed from the filth of the world. Halibi, the eldest, was not yet twenty-four.
"Allahu akbar," Halibi whispered, as he grabbed a handrail and pulled himself up and into the first truck in line, squinting, curling his nose against the harsh odor of ammonia that shrouded the vehicles in an invisible cloud. Eighteen months of preparation had at last come to fruition.
Molly Roberson brushed a curl of sandy hair out of her eyes and took a long, critical look in the bathroom mirror. This mothering thing was turning out to be more than she'd bargained for. Twin eight-year-old boys took a lot out of a girl and she was beginning to show it. She patted the five pounds of extra fat that had remained on her once-flat stomach after the boys were born--Jared jokingly called it her peter belly and took full
She ran a thumb across her eyebrows, in desperate need of a little wax and TLC. "I don't even have time to shave my legs," she whispered to no one in particular. "Guess my plans of becoming CEO of Microsoft will have to wait awhile. . . ."
She'd woken early to read the paper and see her husband off to work. The weatherman said it was going to be hot and Jared sometimes skipped wearing his bulletproof vest if she didn't get up with him and force the issue.
Now, resting both hands on the counter, she sighed, blowing at the curl that kept falling across her eyes. She needed a haircut and a long bath and a visit to the chiropractor....
"Mom!" It was Sam, the older of the twins by fifty- eight minutes. She could picture him on the other side of the bathroom door, already dressed, blond hair moussed as only an eight-year-old could mousse it. "Trent says he's not coming with us, but I told him he had to because we're buying school clothes."
Molly smiled, taming the errant curl with a plastic clippie from her stash in a cup beside the toothpaste. She felt much too haggard for thirty-four. A stupid clippie in her hair and bags under her eyes--that's the way mothers of twin dynamos were expected to look, like they'd been on a ten-day drunk. She was lucky Jared was the sort of husband who could overlook a little leg stubble.
She wriggled into a pair of clean but tattered black capris and a pink T-shirt before opening the door. "What's this about your brother, little dude?" She looked down at a freshly scrubbed Sam, his hair swept up in an earnest-looking pompadour.
"Playing Mario Kart on the Wii," Sam said, rolling his wide, blue eyes like an adult.
Molly looked at her watch. It was almost noon. They'd be lucky to find a place to park a mile from the mall. She leaned over the banister leading down to the basement. The smell of pizza and dirty socks rose up from the darkness to meet her. Jared called it the twins' man-cave--no place for a woman.
"Mister, you better march up here ready to go in three minutes!"
Trent, who was so slow it had taken him an hour longer than his brother just to wallow his way through the birthing process, plodded up the stairs dragging a blanket. He was slow, but he had a good-hearted glow about him that made it difficult to stay mad for long.
"I don't feel so good, Mama," he said, leaning his head against his mother's chest. She couldn't help herself and mussed his tangled bedhead of blond hair. "Seriously," he mumbled against her shirt, nuzzling her between the boobs in the na�ve way he was sure to lose all too soon. "I know I've been playing games all morning, but I really feel sick to my stomach."
"The back-to-school sales are today, dude," Molly chided. "We've got to get your clothes and supplies."
She tilted his chin up with her finger so she could look him in the eye. "I was planning to go by Cold Stone for some ice cream. . . ." With Trent, ice cream was a tried- and-true tactic.
To her surprise he shook his head, puffing out his cheeks to show the thought made him nauseous. She put the back of her hand on his forehead. Maybe he was a little feverish.
"Sam's the same size as me. Can't you just get the same stuff for both of us?" he mumbled. "I'll barf all over everything if I have to go out."
Molly folded her arms and looked at both her sons. If Trent was sick, she couldn't make him go. That would be way too unmotherly of her. She pursed her lips in thought. He was only eight. Even eight-yearolds needed a little TLC when they were sick. ...But there were the sales to consider and Trent was mature for his age. Maybe going out at all would be too unmotherly.... She was just not cut out for this.
Jared Roberson spit the frayed remains of a wooden toothpick out the window of his patrol car and tried to shrug off the unidentifiable nagging in his gut. A half mile below the rocky bluff where he sat overlooking the Denver suburb that was his domain, a parade of three garbage trucks rumbled single-file toward the Fashion Center Mall. Bits of cottonwood fluff floated up on the lazy summer air.
Roberson took a swig of Maalox, hoping the chalky stuff might drown whatever desert viper had slithered down his throat and coiled in his guts during his last tour in Afghanistan. It struck at him every other day or so, just to keep things interesting. Molly said he should see a therapist, but cops didn't visit shrinks--not if they wanted to keep their jobs.
The three trucks, blinding white under a noon sun, bore left on Spruce Avenue from the Interstate 25 access road. Something about the precise, almost choreographed way they moved reminded Roberson of a military convoy.
Glancing up, he caught a glimpse of his scar in the rearview mirror. Courtesy of a roadside bomb near some poppy fields outside Kabul, the grizzly war memento covered the left side of his face in tight, translucent flesh--and got a lot of second looks when he was writing tickets. It still ached--more than he confessed to Molly--and served as a constant reminder that he had survived when so many better soldiers had not. His twin boys seemed unbothered by the gruesome new look and reasoned that since their dad fought bad guys and had funny-looking skin, he must be a superhero. They called him Plastic Man.
On the streets below, the garbage trucks rolled to a stop at North Mall Drive, waiting for the light. They were perfectly spaced with a truck's length between them.
The serpent in Roberson's gut writhed impatiently. Plastic Man's instincts told him something was wrong.
Halibi's eyes flashed to the side mirror. Ismail was lagging behind. "Keep up, my cousin," he said, speaking into the prepaid cell phone. "We are very close. You do not want to waste our opportunity."
"Do you truly believe, Mahir? No doubts?" Ismail's voice quavered like a small child.
"I am here, am I not?" Halibi whispered as much to himself as his cousin. Beads of sweat ran down his forehead, stinging his already burning eyes. An infidel woman in a pair of short pants that revealed much of her jiggling buttocks crossed the street in front of his truck, licking an ice cream cone like a mindless cow. "The Americans call this the Sabbath, yet they spend their holy day shopping and stuffing gluttonous faces." He took his foot off the brake. "Follow me, my cousin. We have come too far to falter now...."
Roberson hadn't checked out for lunch, but dispatch knew where he was. He came here every day. This was his spot. It was where he'd proposed to Molly, where she'd told him she was pregnant with the boys, and where he'd broken the news to her that he'd reenlisted with his old Ranger unit after September 11.
The muffled squeals and honks of traffic rose on waves of heat from acres of concrete and asphalt. The pungent smell of cedar mingled with the fragrance of freshly mown grass from the spacious Rocky Mountain estates that overlooked the city on the granite ridge behind him.
On the streets below, the light turned green and the trucks began to roll.
Fashion Center Mall was set up in a rough clover shape with its three anchor stores comprising the point of each leaf. Sun sparkled on an endless sea of windshields in the mall's three expansive parking lots. A steady stream of cars and SUVs poured in from I-25 like ants to a picnic. The big-box stores had advertised huge back-to-school blowouts for the weekend.
Molly would be there by now, buying the boys new jeans at the Sunday sales . . . the Super Sunday Sales. ...
Roberson snatched up the radio mike from where it hung on the dashboard.
The dispatcher answered immediately. "Go Three- twenty."
"Gina, I got three garbage trucks rolling up on Fashion Center. Any idea why the city would have trucks out today?" His stomach ached as if he'd gone three rounds with Rocky Balboa.
There was a long silence. "Uhhh . . . to pick up garbage?"
"On Sunday?" He slammed back another shot of Maalox.
"Ahhh." Now she got his point. "Public Works should be closed. I'll check with the fire department to see if they've heard--"
"Three-eighteen." The new voice on the radio was Brian Long, the officer working the northern sector. He was from Connecticut and his strong accent made it sound as if he was trying to eat the radio mike.
"Go ahead, Three-eighteen." Gina's voice bristled with this-better-be-good snippiness at having been interrupted.
"I'm out behind Public Works now. They're definitely closed, but somebody's gone and cut a big hole in the fence. You could drive a school bus through this thing. I got two empty box vans that don't look like they belong here and...holy shit!"
The radio went dead for what seemed like an eternity.
"Three-eighteen," Gina snapped. "Your status?"
Brian came back frazzled. "I ...I got me a dead guy here. Looks like his throat's been cut...."
"Ten-four, Three-eighteen," Gina came back, icy calm again. "I have two CSP units heading your way for backup."
Roberson watched as the garbage trucks picked up speed. The first two in line kept right at the entrance to the lower mall parking lot while the straggler hesitated, then veered left toward Sears.
"Three-twenty," Gina's voice broke squelch. "Threefourteen and Three-twenty-two are leaving the station, heading your direction at this time. Looks like whoever took your garbage trucks is good for a homicide."
Roberson keyed his mike as the second truck peeled away, moving toward the packed lot in front of Nordstrom. "Ten-four," he whispered. Memories of Afghanistan and cordite and screaming pressed in around him. The viper in his belly struck with renewed vigor.
He dropped the mike in the passenger seat and jumped from his patrol car, punching his wife's speed dial on his cell phone with his thumb. His eyes locked on the mall.
"Molly!" he yelled as if he could shout his wife a warning from the ridge top. She was down there with the boys. Dread flooded his system like a debilitating drug, making it difficult to stand. Her cell rang twice before she answered
"Hey, Super Dude," she said. "What's up?"
Roberson kept his eyes glued to the scene below.
"Molly, where are you?" Bile seared the back of his throat. He knew it was foolish, but he searched the rows and rows of parked cars for her Impala. Of course he couldn't locate it from where he was. He wanted to run to her, but if he moved he'd lose sight of the trucks.
"Trent was sick so--"
"Thank the Lord," Roberson sighed. "So you're not at the mall?"
"Of course I'm at the mall. Trent stayed home. Sam and I are looking at boys' underwear in Sears," she said. "Why?"
"It's incredible, Jared. You wouldn't believe the price--"
"Molly, shut up and listen to me!" he snapped. His wife could be stubborn and he needed her to be scared enough she'd do what he asked without question. "Take Sam and run toward the Home Depot--"
"Jared, that's on the other side of the parking lot--"
Roberson looked on in horror as the garbage truck bearing down on Sears jumped the curb. Throngs of shoppers fled as it crashed through the main doors and barreled into the mall, crushing anyone who couldn't get out of the way. He was too far away to hear their screams, but he knew they were there. It was like watching a tragic silent movie.
"Molly!" Roberson screamed into his phone. "Run. Now!" His voice caught hard in his chest. "Please..."
"Okay, Jared. All right, we're going," she said, still unconvinced. "I'll call you whe--"
The truck in front of Nordstrom broke through the red brick fa�ade, sending a blinding orange fireball in all directions. It took a full second for the roaring boom to reach Roberson's ears. In an instant, four stories of steel, mortar, and glass vanished behind a mushroom of greasy black smoke. The initial blast tossed row after row of cars across the parking lot like so many pitiful toys. The screaming pulse and honk of car alarms followed the superheated wave of hurricane-force wind.
"Jared, tell me what's going on...." Amazingly, Molly was still on the line, her voice hushed, fragile.
Roberson clutched the corner of his patrol car to keep his feet, leaning into the hot wind. "I love you, Molly--" he whispered as the two remaining trucks detonated.
Tornadoes of fire and flaming debris shot skyward. Curling dragons of black smoke completely obscured the mall. A searing pressure wave slammed into Roberson's chest, driving him to his knees and burning the scar on his face. Bits of shattered glass, shot skyward by the blasts, fell now to rattle off the hood of his patrol car in a constant rain. Three columns of inky smoke twisted upward from what had been Fashion Center Mall, blotting out the sun.
Roberson pressed the phone to his blistered ear, heard nothing but static, and began to weep.
Ash and debris were still falling like dirty snow when Nimble Rock Fire and Rescue screamed onto the scene eight and a half minutes after detonation.
Spot fires hissed among the twisted piles of steel and brick, looking more like war-torn Beirut than a Colorado suburb. An entire section of escalator rested in the middle of one parking lot, perfectly intact, along with a charred baby stroller and assorted empty shoes strewn up and down the metal steps. The explosions that had reduced three huge department stores to smoking pits tore away half the center portion of the mall leaving all four levels crumbling, naked and open to the outside air.
Through the acrid smoke, arriving rescuers were treated to the grizzly sight of the mangled bodies of mall patrons thrown in pieces on top of counters and upturned clothing racks. Computers and cash registers dangled by sparking electrical cords. On the top floor, along what was left of the food court, a bewildered teenage girl, still wearing her bright red and yellow Corn-Dog-on-a-Stick uniform hat, staggered to the jagged edge of concrete and support steel in front of her store and collapsed, clutching a bleeding stub where her left arm should have been.
Children, blown from their clothing, stood blinking in wide-eyed shock, waiting for parents who had simply vanished. The pitiful screams and cries of the wounded and dying drowned out the wailing sirens of approaching rescue units from Denver. Panic-stricken mothers and fathers stumbled through the rubble and smoke on each sagging floor, their frantic searching exposed to the rest of the world as if they were inside a giant ant farm. Some, deafened by the explosions and unable to hear the shouts of arriving rescue personnel were driven by desperation in areas still on fire and jumped to their deaths on the jagged concrete three and four levels below.
Two of the first firefighters to arrive, both hardened professionals, well accustomed to sights of human misery and gory auto accidents, turned away to vomit.
FBI Deputy Director Paul Sanchez stood ankle- deep in a pool of greasy water and gray ash, wondering if he'd ever get the smell of cooked human flesh out of his head. Midnight had come and gone hours before, and his eyes felt as if he'd rubbed them with a handful of sand. The caffeine from five cups of coffee and the sea of strobing emergency lights combined in the predawn darkness to drive a spike through his aching head.
More than fifteen hours after the three vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices--VBIEDs in the parlance of the Global War on Terror--had flattened a Colorado shopping mall larger than four city blocks, Sanchez still had no firm body count--at least not one firm enough to give to the President. Someone from FEMA had come up with the bright idea of counting the cars in the parking lots and doubling that number for an estimate. Mall shopping, they reasoned, was rarely a solitary pastime.
Sanchez looked at a tiny green cube of shatterproof glass smaller than a dime in the palm of his hand. It came from a literal ocean of the stuff, inches deep, in what had only a day before been a busy American parking lot. It would take days to sort through the twisted bits of plastic, metal, and broken glass to figure out the number of cars. It was like trying to guess the number of rocks it took to create the sand in a desert.