Chapter 1 Fayetteville, 2000 Hrs Thursday
Anyone who spends most of his career getting in the way of bombs and bullets learns. It’s better to be lucky than good.
Best to be both, but no one survives without luck.
My best friend once told me, “Dumb luck can kill you.”
I didn’t argue, because he was right.
Kettle Creek Apartments, Fayetteville, is occupied by middle class folk from the city. Civilian employees, and military families from Fort Bragg. My place is one bedroom, seven hundred square feet. Big enough to be comfortable, not big enough to own me.
Perfect for a man trying to figure out what to do with the rest of his life.
I sit in the living room, sipping a beer. Watching the news. Every station is showing live footage of a New York City street. Jammed with emergency vehicles. Police cars, fire trucks, ambulances. The firemen wear oxygen bottles and breathing masks. They carry injured civilians from a subway. Dozens of injured people, a constant stream.
Paramedics give the casualties oxygen and first aid. There aren’t enough gurneys. The injured are laid on the sidewalk and treated. The police stand behind wooden traffic barricades, blocking the street on either side of the subway exit.
Ominously, many bodies have been covered.
A reporter steps in front of the camera and speaks into a microphone.
“We’re still learning what happened in the New York City subway around 6 pm today. Police have cordoned off an area two blocks square around 28th Street and Broadway. Witnesses on the scene have told us about an explosion on a subway train. There have been fatalities, but authorities haven’t been able to tell us yet how many. We’re hearing that numerous injuries resulted from the crash and derailment, and there are casualties from smoke inhalation. Firemen are working to extract the injured from the tunnel. This is proving extremely difficult in the smoke and darkness.
“The police commissioner will make a statement later this evening; we’ll wait to see if he can comment on whether this incident was an accident, or the result of terrorism. All we can say is the city is paralyzed, worse than it’s been since the events of September 11, 2001.”
The situation looks bad. For the moment, nothing is clear. This could be an accident caused by a derailed train. It could also be a terror attack. Worse than the Boston Bombing, not as bad as 9/11.
Police wearing breathing apparatus pile out of a large black van. It’s parked behind delivery trucks and cars lining 28th Street. Beat cops are trying to get drivers to move the vehicles out of the way. An impossible task. This is the Flatiron District. Tourist hotels, beauty shops, ethnic restaurants.
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The police look like hazmat and forensic teams. They are carrying metal cases and heavy-duty flashlights. Single file, they enter the subway. You’d think they’d wait for the emergency crews to clear casualties. The investigators must be in a hurry to examine the wreckage for evidence. Before the firemen and stampeding civilians ruin it.
I sip my beer. The windows are open. A gentle breeze fills the apartment with fresh suburban air. The smell of grass and trees.
The camera switches to an aerial view of the city. A wide shot from a news helicopter. Throngs of people spilling from the subways. Snarled traffic. A total mess.
My phone buzzes. I lift it to my ear. “Breed,” I say.
The voice on the other end is curt, economical. “It’s Lenson.”
Mark Lenson, one of my best friends. He owns a sporting goods and gun shop in El Paso.
I mute the television. “What’s up? You see this mess in New York?”
“Subway. An accident or an attack. Cops aren’t saying which. I make heavy casualties. Hazmat and forensics teams on-site. They are not waiting for the dust to settle.”
“Sounds like they have good reason to be worried.” Lenson sounds distracted. He has more important things on his mind. “Breed, there’s bad news.”
“What is it?”
Lenson sucks a breath. “Keller’s dead.”
I sit bolt upright. “No.”
“Murdered on his ranch.”
“Mary and Donnie?”
“They’re okay. Hancock and I are with them. We’re staying at the hotel while the sheriff sorts things out.”
“When did it happen? Who did it?”
“Keller was found yesterday. The sheriff doesn’t know who did it. Could have been illegals or coyotes, but right now it’s a guess.” Lenson hesitates. “Breed.”
“Breed—they cut his head off.”
My stomach hollows. “They what?”
“They cut his head off. With a big knife, or a machete.”
I get to my feet. Pace. “I’m coming down. First flight I can get in the morning.”
“I have to go. Message me your flight and arrival. I’ll meet you at the airport.”
Images of chaos and suffering continue to stream from the widescreen. What is more tragic. A mass casualty attack or the murder of a friend. The personal nature of Keller’s death shakes me to the core.
The reporter’s lips are moving. The television is still on mute, there is no sound. More bodies are laid on the sidewalk behind him.
There is a flash of light on the street, and the widescreen picture dissolves into a mass of jagged diagonal lines. When the picture resolves itself, the image is canted sharply to one side. An ant’s-eye view of the street. The camera has fallen to the ground.
I switch the sound back on.
The street is an image from hell. Men and women scream and plead for help. Black smoke and dust fill the air. The pavement is a carpet of shattered glass, blown from shop windows and tall buildings on either side. Police and firemen—those who are able—stagger to their feet. Ghosts in the half-light, their clothing hangs in bloody tatters.
A woman’s voice, a studio reporter, cuts in.
“There’s been an explosion. We can’t reach our reporter at the scene. We’re switching to aerial coverage. I think we have footage of the blast.”
The image flicks to an aerial shot of the street before the explosion. The news helicopter is hovering, the cameraman holding the lens steady. There are four wooden barriers, two on each of 28th Street and Broadway. Each a block from the intersection. I can see police cars, fire trucks, and ambulances parked on the street. There is enough detail to identify first responders by their uniforms.
My eyes are drawn to movement. A man in civilian clothes emerges from one of the shops. A heavy backpack is strapped to his shoulders. With an air of purpose, he steps onto the street. The police are too preoccupied to notice him.
In slow motion, a flash of light consumes the man. The flare expands with the explosion and human figures are blown this way and that. The air seems to shiver as shock waves bounce from the buildings. The disturbance ripples sideways along the street. Silver shards of glass shower the pavement.
A second bomb. There must have been eighty pounds of explosives and shrapnel in that backpack. That bomb was not homemade. The flash, the black smoke, the terrific blast effect—all characteristic of a military-grade weapon.
The first bomber drew first responders to the 28th Street Station. Exposed, where the second suicide bomber could kill them.
Sophisticated terror tactics.
Elbows on my knees, I sit on the sofa. This is the United States. I am staring at an image of midtown Manhattan.
America under siege.
About the Author: Cameron Curtis
Cameron Curtis comes from a military family. His grandfather was a colonel of artillery, his uncle a colonel of infantry. Cameron grew up reading FMs from the age of eight. He read everything he could get his hands on, but grew up on war novels, thrillers, and murder mysteries. His taste in movies paralleled his taste in books.
With a Bachelor of Science degree, Cameron spent thirty years on trade floors as a trader and risk manager. He was on the trade floor when Saddam’s tanks rolled into Kuwait, when the air wars opened over Baghdad (both times) and Belgrade, and when the Twin Towers went down. He was there when the financial crisis swallowed the world.
Cameron wrote fiction as a child, because he has an active imagination and always makes up stories. He is the author of the Breed action thriller series.
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