Lethal Expedition (Short Story) (11 page)

BOOK: Lethal Expedition (Short Story)
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The petite pregnant woman put a hand to her ear and went wide-eyed. She vaulted over the back of Laning’s pew, knocking the president aside, and tackled Henry Backer, pinning his arms. The Bible fell from his hand.

“Do not touch the book!”
the clandestine agent screamed. She hooked her heel behind Backer’s leg and dropped him, smacking his head on the marble floor. He was unconscious even before other agents swarmed over him. The female agent’s bun was in disarray, but otherwise she was fine. She stood up, shed the prosthetic belly, and turned to apologize for hitting the president on her way over the pew.

Too late. A wall of bodies already surrounded Laning and her family. An agent shouted,
and the whole mass moved like a great centipede, not to the distant main entrance but to a designated door behind the choir gallery. In practice drills, the fastest they had managed this emergency extraction with a presidential stand-in was nine seconds. This time, the last agent cleared the door in seven point four.


“So the Pakistanis wanted revenge for the death of al-Harani. Eye for an eye,” Hallie said as Agent Luciano poured them both fresh cups of coffee. It was Thursday of the week after Easter and she was in his office at FBI headquarters. She still had a painful egg on the side of her head and blue-and-purple bruises striping her neck. An ER doctor had irrigated the ice-pick wound, given her a tetanus booster, and told her not to run for two weeks. She thought one would do it.


“And we know what Ely told me. What about Backer?”

“He’s a New Patriot. So was Ely. They call themselves libertarians, but the truth is, they’re anarchists. They want to destabilize the government any way they can. Ely used Backer to get close to the president.”

She sipped the coffee, which was more appreciated than good. “So I was set up from the beginning.”

“We think so. CSI people found containers in Backer’s wastebasket with traces of the same pathogen that was on the Bible.”

“The fake battery Ely put in my pack. And took from my house.”


“Ely said the pathogen came from Biopreparat,” Hallie said. “Is that true?”

“We’re not sure yet. But a question for you: could it really be a leprosy-strep hybrid?”

“I wouldn’t have thought so, but if we’ve learned one thing from genomics, it’s that nothing is impossible.” She paused, sipped. “Why did Ely go to the trouble of faking his own death? Why not just bring the bioagent back himself?”

“He can’t tell us now. But I’d bet good money that he was afraid of being detected during some security screening on the trip back. Better you getting caught with it than him.”

“Why did he kill Halsted?”

“I’d say Halsted learned something he shouldn’t have. Ely had killed before. After the first, it gets easier.”

“What about Villanueva? That’s his name, right?” Hallie said.

“Yes. DEA’s been after him for a long time, but he’s not your typical drug lord. More money, power, mobility, connections. Even with special ops assets in play, my DEA friends aren’t optimistic.”

“Do you think he sent the Latin Kings after me?”

“No question. That number you called was his private cell phone. He probably had no idea who you were or why you called, but they don’t need reasons to kill people, and you were easy to trace.”

“And the Hallie Leland case?”

“Closed. The director himself instructed me to offer a formal apology. Oh, and I have something for you.” He stood, walked to his desk, and took a small yellow envelope from a drawer. She accepted the envelope, opened it, shook the contents onto her palm, and gasped involuntarily.

“My God,” she said. “You found them!”

“Among Ely’s things. In a Motel 6 up by Harpers Ferry.”

She gazed down at the gold watch fob and Distinguished Service Cross, then looked up at him with tears in her eyes. He appeared immensely relieved.

“We have to follow the facts, Dr. Leland. I hope you understand.” He put out his hand. “For the record, I had trouble seeing you as a killer.”

She shook his hand. “We all have our jobs. You were doing yours.” Then she brushed away the tears and said mischievously, “And for the record, you’re not a bad kisser.”

He turned bright red and reflexively touched his wedding band. His mouth opened, but no words came out. She winked, patted his shoulder, and left.

In the reception area, Stephen Redhorse stood when she returned.

“All good?” he said.

“Yes. I appreciate your coming down here with me, Stephen.” She touched an ugly bruise on one cheek. “Secret Service plays rough, apparently. Does that hurt a lot?”

He chuckled. “Damn right. And you should see my ribs.”

“I’m surprised they let you go so soon.”

“The power of an MD is amazing. Could stand for ‘medical deity.’ But I don’t think even that would have been enough by itself. Apparently Laning read my letter about the reservations. She must have had something to do with my early release.”

“Do you think it will help?”

He shrugged. “I can only hope. But at least it’s a start.”

“Crusader Redhorse?”

He laughed. “Maybe. It doesn’t take long to burn out on ER work in a place like D.C. General.” He paused, touched her shoulder. “Look, I know that I blew any chance to make this work, and I’ll be regretting that for a long time. I’ve been an asshole, and I need to make some amends. Can we just talk?”

His words hit the right spot. The apology meant more to Hallie than she could have explained; after the last few days, she was nearly moved to tears by something so normal and good.

“You have been,” she said, “and you do. Let’s go talk about that someplace. Over


A week after Easter Sunday, Hallie sat in the front pew on the left side of the cathedral’s nave aisle. The whole vast space resonated with the organ’s chords. Hallie watched Bishop Newberry emerge from her anteroom and climb to the Canterbury Pulpit, bathed in a cascade of golden morning light

Hallie was not a regular churchgoer. She found her higher power in mountains and caves and oceans and, sometimes, in other people. But medieval cathedral builders had spun magic from stone and glass and light. Their designs had guided the creation of this cathedral, as well, and the passing centuries had diminished that magic not one bit. She felt good here, felt like she did in those other places, her mind clear, heart open, at peace

Because of her work and her nature, Hallie usually dressed in jeans, running shoes, and old shirts. Today, she wore a white silk blouse, a pale yellow jacket and skirt, and low-heeled ivory pumps. After all, jeans would hardly have been appropriate for someone seated next to the president of the United States

About the Author

James M. Tabor
is the nationally bestselling author of
Blind Descent
Forever on the Mountain
and a winner of the O. Henry Award for short fiction. A former Washington, D.C., police officer and a lifelong adventure enthusiast, Tabor has written for
Time, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post
, and
magazine, where he was a contributing editor. He wrote and hosted the PBS series
The Great Outdoors
and was co-creator and executive producer of the History Channel’s
Journey to the Center of the World

His much-anticipated debut novel,
The Deep Zone
, will be published by Ballantine Books in April. He lives in Vermont, where he is at work on the next Hallie Leland thriller.


Read on for an excerpt from James M. Tabor’s

The Deep Zone


report. No surprise, that. Haji’s AK rounds traveled a mile in two seconds,
ahead of their sound. You never heard the one with your name on it. So to Father Wyman’s way of thinking, only fools and ground pounders ducked and flinched in firefights. When they were Oscar Mike, he stood tall in his up-armored Humvee turret, head on a swivel, hands on his fifty-cal’s oak, cigar-shaped grips, thumbs on the butterfly trigger.

Father Wyman was not a priest. He was a heartland patriot less than three years out of high school, but he loved to read his Bible and to hold prayer meetings for the other troopers, so that was what the men in Viper Company at Combat Outpost (COP) Terok had taken to calling him. Wyman’s was not a foxhole conversion. He’d inherited from his father and mother an unshakable belief in the Book’s literal truth. It was not an ancient tome of mystic parable,
but practical wisdom by which they lived their lives, day by day. They trusted it as farmers trusted their land and wealthy people their money. They read it more often than newspapers. They had no faith in soiled politicians and godless scientists. Anyone with eyes to see and a mortal soul knew that the Bible had survived centuries of sin and dark horror to bring them light. Why would God have saved it for them otherwise? When they touched their Bible, opened it, read from it, its power was as real as wind and fire.

Wyman was as big as he was devout, six-three and 210 pounds. His machine gun was bolted to a wheeled carriage that rolled around the circular track of his Humvee mount, so he could easily man the gun one-handed. He had seen the muzzle flash two hundred meters out. The haji fired—a good shot, considering the AK-47’s notorious inaccuracy—and dropped down behind a washing machine—sized boulder, no doubt thinking himself safe.

Too bad for you, Mr. Haji
. Viper Company was equipped with “Badass”—that was what they called the new boomerang anti-sniper detection system (BADS), which used passive acoustic detection and computer-signal processing to locate a shooter with pinpoint accuracy. Badass’s developers, like those who created audible aircraft-crew cockpit warnings, knew that the male brain responded best to a female voice. So, while he was still running on adrenaline, in his earpiece Father Wyman heard a sultry young woman say, “Target bearing one-nine-one. Range two-zero-seven.”

When he turned in that general direction, a bright red dot appeared on a particular boulder, two football fields distant, in the image in his monocular eyepiece. The red dot remained on that boulder no matter which way Father Wyman turned his head. A yellow dot representing his aim point, with computer-calculated elevation and windage adjustments, also appeared in the eyepiece. When the yellow dot merged with the red, a green dot appeared and the woman’s voice breathed, “Target acquired,” followed by a soft, continuous tone.

Father Wyman loved the fifty-cal because it was more light can-non
than machine gun. It could reach out and touch at two hundred meters, no problem. Wyman depressed the trigger twice with his good thumb and the gun bucked. He felt the detonation of each round, the blasts milliseconds apart.

. That one blew apart the boulder.

. That one blew apart the sniper.

“Scratch one haj …” Wyman said, but then the adrenaline ran out. White-faced, with his shoulder squirting blood, Wyman dropped out of the turret and collapsed on the Humvee’s floor.

BOOK: Lethal Expedition (Short Story)
12.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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