Authors: Stephen England
Day of Reckoning
Copyright © 2013 by Stephen England
Cover design by Louis Vaney
Author photo by Rachel Cox
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or any other—without the prior written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. Views expressed by the characters in this novel are their own, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author.
To every man, and to every woman who came home from the war with wounds impossible to see and harder to understand. To those who live with the daily reality that “only the dead have seen the end of war.” It is to you that this book is dedicated. May God watch over you and protect you even as you have stood watch over this nation.
“For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”—Matthew 16:26
"Whoever fights with monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you gaze long into an abyss, the abyss also gazes into you."—Friedrich Nietzsche,
Beyond Good and Evil
APB—All Points Bulletin
BOLO—Be On Look Out
CAIR—Council on American Islamic Relations
CINCLANTFLT—Commander-in-Chief Atlantic Fleet
DCIA—Director of the CIA
DCS—Director of the Clandestine Service
DEA—Drug Enforcement Agency
DOA—Dead On Arrival
DoD—Department of Defense
DHS—Department of Homeland Security
ECHELON—NSA surveillance program
E&E—Escape and Evade
FISA—Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act
FLIR—Forward Looking InfraRed
FSB—Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation
HHS—Health and Human Services
HRT—Hostage Rescue Team
IED—Improvised Explosive Device
JSOC—Joint Special Operations Command
JTTF—Joint Terrorism Task Force
LEO—Law Enforcement Officer
LVMPD—Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department
NCS—National Clandestine Service
NRO—National Reconnaissance Office
NSA—National Security Agency
PAC—Political Action Committee
PDA—Personal Digital Assistant
POTUS—President of the United States
PTSD—Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
ROE—Rules of Engagement
SAD—Special Activities Division
SDR—Surveillance Detection Route
SOP—Standard Operating Procedure
SVR—Foreign Intelligence Service of the Russian Federation
TACSAT—Tactical Satellite Phone
TOC—Tactical Operations Center
11:23 P.M. Local Time, November 23
Big Bend National Park,
No one came to Big Bend. At least that was the joke. The national park had never been a favorite with vacationing baby boomers, and with the recession…even that trickle of visitors had dried up.
That left the
, Emmanuel Gutierrez thought, clucking gently to his mare as she picked her way over the rocks, edging around a cluster of prickly pear. Coyotes…not the four-legged kind, but the smugglers, guides for illegal immigrants crossing the Rio Grande a few miles to his south.
He’d spotted the fire nearly an hour before, an uncautious flame flickering into the night sky—no doubt a
and a group of migrants heating up a meal before traveling on. It was a cold, cloudless night, the moon shining down on the rocky terrain, the temperature hovering just a few degrees above freezing. His Remington 870 shotgun hung in a loose scabbard from his saddle, within easy reach of his hand--a non-lethal “beanbag” round in the chamber, five rounds of 00 buckshot behind it.
The thirty-five-year-old Border Patrol agent had seen it all. Four years on the U.S.-Mexico border, two deployments to Afghanistan in the years before that. He’d left friends in the Helmand.
“You in position, Zac?” he asked, toggling the switch of his radio as he moved into the sagebrush. He and his partner had separated, moving in on the encampment from both sides.
“Almost, Manny. Looks like we’ve got nine, maybe ten males. I’ll move in on foot and challenge them. You back me up and stay mounted if anyone does a runner.”
“Roger that,” Gutierrez replied, a brief smile touching his lips. Someone always thought they were smart.
He could hear the low hum of voices as he crested the ridge, looking down the slope into what amounted to a boulder-filled gulch.
Come on, Zac
, he thought, drawing his Remington from its scabbard and laying it across his lap. Silhouetted against the night sky, there was every chance that the migrants would spot him.
And then he heard his partner’s voice from down the gulch, raised in a brusque command. Saw men scramble, throwing water over the fire.
The metal glint of a gunbarrel in the moonlight, materializing from under a coat. “Keep your hands where I can see them,” he called out, kicking his mare into a trot as he rode down the ridge, the Remington in his hands now, leveled. He saw the man look up, seeing the rider for the first time.
Saw him hesitate, his face visible through the rear “ghost-ring” tactical sight of the Remington. A split-second of indecision, hanging between them in the night. Not long enough.
The gun came all the way out, a long gun.
Gutierrez flicked off the button safety of his shotgun, the twelve-gauge recoiling into his shoulder as he squeezed the trigger.
It was too dark to see whether he had hit the man, but nothing could have stopped what happened next. A sound like a string of firecrackers exploding, the migrant’s rifle erupting in flame.
, the agent’s mind registered, even as a hail of bullets began to tear up the ground around his rearing horse. He knew a Kalashnikov when he heard one.
Something struck Gutierrez in the leg, white hot pain shooting through him as he toppled backward off the horse, landing in the dust, his leg bending beneath him. He screamed a curse, fighting against the panic that threatened to overcome him.
It was Afghanistan. Had to be. Their convoy under attack, the sound of the Browning on the roof ripping through the air
moving in—air support twenty minutes out
But it wasn’t the Helmand—there was no air support on the way, no Ma Deuce on the roof of the Humvee providing suppressive fire. They were alone.
He could hear automatic weapons fire from down the gulch—coupled with the lighter crack of Zac’s M-4. The sounds of war. Ignoring the pain shooting through his bleeding leg, he raised himself up, reaching for his shotgun. Another burst of fire spattered against the rocks around him and he collapsed back into the shelter of a boulder, pressing his radio to his lips.
“This is Charlie Patrol, we are taking fire. I repeat, we are taking fire. Need help.”
Reception could never be counted on out here on the border. Not when you needed it.
He raised himself up, jerking his Heckler & Koch .40 semiautomatic from its holster on his hip. He leaned forward on the boulder, firing downrange at the shadowy figures moving in the gulch below him.
Another ragged burst and Zac’s carbine fell silent.
The silence of death
. Gutierrez fired until his H&K’s slide locked back on an empty magazine, bullets whistling through the air around his head.
He thumbed the magazine release, metal clattering against stone as it fell free, his fingers fumbling with the pouch on his belt.
A slug tore through the flesh of his arm, half-turning him around as another round smashed into his chest. The Border Patrol agent crumpled backward, his sidearm falling from his fingers.
. The stars seemed to swirl over his head as he lay there. It didn’t seem real, none of it. How long had the firefight lasted? Two minutes? Three? Not long, not long at all compared to the years of war he’d survived.
And yet he was dying.
Gutierrez coughed, blood flecking his lips. Voices, footsteps moving closer in the rocks.
. For him.
The voices were closer now, talking in their native language.
It wasn’t Spanish
, he realized in a moment of sudden clarity. But he had heard it before…somewhere.
He closed his eyes, straining to remember, a nagging doubt probing at his brain.
And he was in Afghanistan again, ferrying supplies up into the north. Along the Pakistani border. Listening to their ‘terp talk with the villagers. He had even learned a few words over the months. Words of…Pashto
But this wasn’t Afghanistan. He was
. In the United States.
His eyes flickered open and Gutierrez found himself looking up into the swarthy, bearded face of a young man. Into the muzzle of the pistol in the man’s hand.
Another voice in the distance, speaking in Pashto. It took a moment for the question to filter through his darkening mind, then the translation came to him.
“Is he dead?”
Above him, the Pakistani shook his head, drawing back the hammer of his pistol. “No.”
5:25 A.M. Eastern Time, December 13
The room was spartan in its furnishings, white walls on three sides and a pane of one-way glass beginning waist-high on the remaining wall. A folding table sat in the exact middle of the room, a chair on each side, beneath the panel of bright fluorescent bulbs in the ceiling.
Three men were the sole occupants of the room, the one a young Asian technician working over a polygraph machine mounted on the table. The second man was in his mid-fifties, heavy-set, dressed in a dark suit that had seen better days, the permanently bored expression of a bureaucrat plastered on his face. His name was Lucas Henderson Ellsworth IV, and he was proud of it, along with a pedigree that stretched back to Jamestown. What those illustrious ancestors would have thought of his position as CIA inspector general was unknown.
The man that sat across from him was thirty-eight years of age, tall— six-foot-three according to his personnel records—a lean, wiry frame concealing its potential for power, its capacity for violence. Eyes the color of blued steel shone from a smooth-shaven, rugged face. A smile might even have made him somewhat handsome, but the man beneath those lights was not smiling. Wires ran from the polygraph machine to electrodes attached to his arms and a strap encircling his bare chest.
The technician and the bureaucrat exchanged a few words and then the tech left, the door closing with the finality of a cell door.
Ellsworth smiled, opening the folder on the table before him. “You have an impressive history, Mr. Nichols. Fifteen years in the Clandestine Service—actually several in the former Directorate of Operations before the formation of the NCS. Awarded the Intelligence Star five years ago for an operation…the details of which have been redacted. Most regrettable. I’m sure it would have made for an interesting read. But that’s not why we’re here this morning.”
The man shifted restlessly, clearly annoyed at the small talk. “I was waiting for you to come to the point.”
“Very well. Let me ask a few preliminary questions to establish a baseline for the machine. Your full name?”
I was given no middle name.”
“In early October of this year, you and Alpha Team of the Special Activities Division were involved in an operation in the Middle East. You’re the leader of Alpha Team, are you not?”
“That is correct.”
“Very good. May I call you Harry?”
“My friends call me Harry,” the man replied, his voice perfectly level, without a trace of inflection.
A moment of embarrassed silence followed, then the bureaucrat cleared his throat. “Good. We’ll begin, Mr. Nichols.”
The man lifted a hand from the table, gesturing around at the wires, the equipment. “What do you hope to accomplish with all this?”
Ellsworth seemed to consider the question, then he replied, “The truth, Mr. Nichols. I hope to get at the truth.”
A smile crossed the man’s face, an ironic, cynical parody of a smile. “Let me tell you something. I lie for a living. In 2008 I was captured by a Taliban splinter group in the passes of the Hindu Kush. I spent three months in captivity before a team was able to extract me. I was tortured on a daily basis for information. It was five months before I could run the mile again. My body still bears the scars of those days. In all those months, all they learned was what I wanted them to know. Disinformation, and they never knew the difference. Now, if you think this machine of yours can accomplish something they couldn’t, you’re wasting your time…”
5:42 A.M. Eastern Time
A brownstone residence
Anymore, the alarm always seemed to come too early. David Lay opened his eyes and stared up through the darkness at the ceiling as the alarm continued its discordant clangor.
With a groan, he swung his legs out of bed and fumbled for the luminous display. At the age of sixty-two, he wasn’t as young as he’d once been, which had to be a contributing factor. But hitting the snooze button wasn’t an option for the Director of the Central Intelligence Agency.
Wrapping a robe around his body against the morning cool, Lay pushed open the door that led into the hallway. The temperature had dropped below twenty degrees Fahrenheit the night before, a snow squall blowing in from the west, forecasted to leave a dusting to two inches on the ground. The faint odor of smoke struck his nostrils and his steps quickened as he made his way toward the kitchen.
“Good morning, boss,” was the nearly clairvoyant greeting as a short, stocky man emerged from the smoke shrouding the stove.
“Well, Pete, I see you’re giving them the old college try,” Lay observed, casting a critical eye at the stack of pancakes that surmounted the island.
Peter Ramirez laughed, waving his spatula in the DCIA’s direction. “They taste better than they look,
“Don’t see how they could help it,” was Lay’s reply. “What’s the latest from Langley?”
“The hourlies are on the table,” Ramirez responded, turning back to the stove. Lay took in the incongruous bulge of a holstered Glock 21 beneath the bodyguard’s apron and shook his head.
At thirty-two, Pete Ramirez was a retired Navy SEAL, sidelined from active duty after suffering a back injury during a mission on Mindanao. A solid, five foot-six battleship of a man, he had joined the Secret Service upon recovery. A year and a half had now passed since he had been assigned as Lay’s personal bodyguard and the two men had bonded well. Protector and principal.
“Any progress with Sergei Ivanovich?”
Ramirez shook his head. “Carter’s team is on it, but so far nothing. If his face hadn’t been caught on those surveillance cameras…”
“Tell me it shouldn’t bother us that a former
commando with mob ties could wind up in Philly without us knowing he was in the country.” Lay sighed. “Reading in the Bureau without explaining exactly how we obtained that footage will be one of this morning’s joys.”
There was nothing else notable in the stack of hourly reports, and the DCIA set them aside wearily, reaching for the TV remote.
“…and the election battle continues, now a month after the election, with continued reports of voter fraud in New Mexico. It is believed that the Supreme Court will take up the case next week, making it the first time the high court has intervened in a presidential election since the 2000 Florida recount between former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Albert Gore. With President Hancock’s lead dwindling to a mere fifty thousand votes over Senator Richard Norton, the allegations of thousands of votes having been cast by illegal immigrants in the border state could have a profound impact on the outcome of the election. Here to discuss the allegations and the possible impact of a Supreme Court decision on the legitimacy of a Norton administration, is the Senate minority leader, Senator Scott Ellis, of Utah. Senator, you’ve long spoken out—”
With a snort, Lay turned off the TV. There wasn’t anything about the election he cared to hear, unless perhaps it was a concession speech from President Roger Hancock. And even that would be marred by some stupid talking head who wouldn’t have a clue. Wouldn’t understand the darkness beneath.
Perhaps that was for the best. The country had been through enough…
It was fated to end like this, Harry. There is no escaping the will of Allah
He hadn’t slept in three days. It was the classic sleep deprivation before an interrogation, standard Agency protocol. He was trained for it.
And that’s what this was…an interrogation. The polygraph was there, but Ellsworth wasn’t following the protocols by which those were conducted. The familiar routines, the standard format of
He was going for blood.
That voice. Haunting his dreams. Truth be known, he hadn’t slept for a long time. He closed his eyes momentarily, willing it away.
Ellsworth was speaking again and Harry raised his head to face the inspector general.
“Following the defection of Hamid Zakiri from Alpha Team, you were ordered to bring him in for interrogation. Is that correct?”
“You were ordered to take me alive, weren’t you?”
The voice of a dead man, reaching back from beyond the grave. He could still see the face, there in the darkness of the Masjid al-Marwani, beneath the Temple Mount. The face of a dying friend. The face of a traitor…
“Did you receive such an order?” Ellsworth repeated, testy at the delay. It wasn’t typically the responsibility of the inspector general to perform an interrogation like this himself, but he had an ax to grind.
“Yes,” Harry replied, his eyes locking with Ellsworth’s in a cold, icy stare.
A nod. “And you chose to disregard that order. Following his murder of your fellow team member, Davood Sarami, you wanted to take upon yourself the role of executioner, didn’t you?”
“He screamed when I shot him, Harry. I enjoyed myself
A involuntary shudder rippled through Harry’s body and he looked away. Even now, two months later, he could still feel the anger, the rage burning through him. Executioner…
Yes, that much was true. He could still remember the sneer in Hamid’s eyes as he lay there helpless, awaiting the final bullet. The big Colt recoiling into his hand. Every moment, playing endlessly through his mind.
“No,” he replied, mastering his emotions with an effort. “Zakiri’s death was unavoidable, the inevitable consequence of close quarters combat. If I could have aimed to wound, I would have. He died with a loaded weapon in his hand.”
Darkness. Standing over his friend there in the darkened prayer hall of the masjid. No, not his friend—the
, he reminded himself, his mind still struggling with the realization.
A burst of submachine gun fire had broken Hamid’s pelvis and he’d been lying there helpless when Harry had reached him. A weapon in his hand?
He’d been struggling to reach his Glock. Harry had kicked it away from him. Disarmed…
“Is that the way it happened?” Ellsworth asked, skepticism clearly visible in his eyes. Harry sensed the warning bells—emotion was filtering through into the machine results. His emotion. Control. “Let me tell you what I think, Mr. Nichols. I think it was deliberate—I think you wanted to kill him.”
Harry’s head came up with a jerk, his eyes flashing daggers at the bureaucrat. “Wanted to?
to?” he demanded, his voice barely above the level of a hiss. “He was my friend.”
Even as the words left his mouth, he saw his mistake. A neatly-laid trap, he realized with a detached sense of emotion. Or the lack thereof. Ellsworth was smarter than he looked.
“That’s right,” Ellsworth responded, “he was your friend, wasn’t he? Your recruit, too, if my memory serves me. You brought him into the Agency, vouched for him. Is that correct?”
“Tell me, Nichols, perhaps there is another reason you killed him?”
The sound of the SUV engine starting struck David Lay’s ears just as he finished tying his necktie. Undoubtedly Ramirez had finished his search for explosives. That was part of the morning routine, along with the continually-varied route to work.
Lay grimaced, adjusting his collar. It was probably paranoia. No CIA director had ever been assassinated. No one had ever even bothered to try. No matter, he didn’t plan to be the first. And with the enemies he had made in this past month…
His gaze fell to the framed photograph on his nightstand. The face of a young woman in her late twenties stared back at him, a smile dancing in those azure-blue eyes. She had her mother’s smile.
To have his daughter Carol back in his life—after well over twenty years of separation. It was a blessing beyond anything that he deserved. His wife had left him just weeks after Carol’s fourth birthday, tired of the long absences and lonely nights. He still couldn’t find it in himself to blame her.
He’d been an up-and-coming young CIA field officer in those days, the waning years of the Cold War. Young and brash. Patriotic. Or maybe just ambitious. He still didn’t know. All he knew was that it had left his family in ruins.
Even his daughter no longer carried his name, despite their recent reconciliation. And his wife was dead, stolen away by breast cancer. There were times that forgiveness was unobtainable.
A knock on the door disturbed his thoughts. Ramirez’s voice. “Think it’s time to roll, sir. Looks like the traffic could be interesting this morning…”
National Clandestine Service(NCS) Operations Center