GM - Story #3

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Chapter 38

Gina climbed the stairs in the dark. Cael’s gun brushed by her hip at each stride forward. She had enough familiarity with firearms to feel like she could point and shoot if required. She had counted at least six Deltanomics agents back in the tunnel. She had no plan other than to try and find Jaio and do whatever she could to free him. She tried not to imagine what might happen next. She ran exclusively on instinct.

At the top of the stairs, she came to a door marked NYY Executive Suites. Even the Yankees brass had an escape route to the tunnels.

She peered through the thin rectangular window and spied two guards, half way down the hall in front of the entrance to a room on the left. She tried to locate the other four guards but could not. She wondered why the halls were so quiet. She could still hear sirens in the distance, but the stadium seemed almost vacant already.

She held her breath and pushed the door open slowly enough not to make a sound. If they spotted her, she would simply pull the trigger and hope for the best. What did she have to lose?

She caught the attention of the closest guard. He immediately crouched low and reached for his weapon. Gina pulled the trigger. The gun did not fire. She realized that she had not released the safety. The guards swiftly approached her with their guns drawn and aimed at her face.

Gina trembled and nearly dropped Cael’s weapon. She had failed miserably and now Deltanomics had captured her too.

Cael heaved and grunted as he propelled himself across the floor of the tunnel to the staircase that Gina had found. He heard her yelp two stories above him as the Deltanomics agents subdued her with ease. Still unable to stand, Cael army crawled his way to the staircase and attempted to hoist himself to the Executive suites with his forearms substituting as legs.

Jaio’s protective coat had saved his life. But the close range of the bullet had done some sort of damage to his back, maybe his spine or a vertebra. He couldn’t tell how badly. Luck alone allowed him to avoid paralysis. However, he knew that further damage could still worsen his condition. And yet, he strained against gravity and friction, pulling himself up step by step with his powerful arms.

He had a second gun and paused to apply the silencer to the nose of it. He checked the tracker on his iPad, since Gina had taken his phone. Jaio appeared to remain in the same location above him.

The Vatican team is already gone,” Cael thought to himself. “And Deltanomics has total control of the stadium. Eventually the NYPD or the feds will take jurisdiction. But for right now, assume Lloyd has betrayed us and he owns the playing field.”

There would be no relief. He couldn’t trust any member of the Deltanomics team. Ruben was gone. He couldn’t reach Michael and Michael’s entire shadow communication protocol had failed without him at the helm. Gina was captured. And he could not walk.

He went back to work, suffering spasms and waves of pain each time he pulled himself another foot closer to the top of the staircase.

In the executive conference room above the stadium, the TV blared from the CNN coverage of the fiasco at Yankee Stadium. They showed chaotic scenes outside along the streets. They showed the view from the news helicopters of the emptied stadium covered by law enforcement and security personnel.

News anchors rattled off play by play descriptions like sportscasters. The Pope was confirmed to be safe and already airlifted out of New York. But nobody knew where Jaio went or whether he had survived.

Henry dropped his face into his hands when he saw the two Deltanomics guards enter the room with a bicep beneath each of Gina’s armpits. They tossed her to the floor in front of Henry like a doll. She scampered to him and they hugged each other like Koala bears in a bamboo tree.

“Are you ok?” he asked her.

She nodded, but had no voice left. She simply buried her face into his chest and cried. Henry held her close until she broke away in realization. She sensed Jaio’s presence and the warmth he exuded. And there he was, just beside her, held firmly by two statuesque Deltanomics goons.

Jaio smiled at Gina and she felt a few ounces of renewed mental strength.

“Why are you doing this?” she shrieked at Lloyd.

“He thinks he can manipulate the entire world,” Henry answered, his definite sarcasm eliciting a snarky laugh from his former protégé.

“I’ll tell you why,” he answered. “I’m sparking a new fire. The world needs a reason to band together in mass numbers and stand up to radical Islam.”

Henry audibly scoffed at Lloyd’s backward and dangerous stereotypical attitude toward the Islamic faith.

“I’m uniting the world under a common cause,” Lloyd continued. “The very public execution of our rising star - Jaio here - will generate the kind of shock and resentment, that the world will rally around. In his most noble death, the first Jesus created an unstoppable force in Christianity that lasted two thousand years. But the effects of his sacrifice have started to wear off or at least wear thin.

“Religion and the power of the blindly faithful has faded. And we need that power back in our world. They have it and that’s how they've risen to such power. And we need it if we're going to win this war. Jaio is going to help us take back the hearts and minds of the masses who need a cause and a reason to act against our enemies. Jaio is our best weapon in this fight. And he is going to help us by making the very same sacrifice his kin made at the turn of the initial millennium.”

One of the Deltanomics guards stepped forward and gently interrupted Lloyd.

“They’re here,” he spoke quietly. “Also, the American Marine providing our primary transport has failed. We need to leave and execute our back-up egress plan.”

Four men entered the room, Al Khomeni Massad’s recruits. They hailed of Arabic descent and looked the part that Lloyd had described. Wordlessly, they took possession of Jaio and nodded.

“You’re delusional,” said Henry to Lloyd. “You think you’re carving history. You’re only making matters worse. You’re so wrong. You’ll go down on the wrong side of history here. You have to see that.”

Lloyd crouched to Henry’s eye level, sneered and extended his six-and-a-half-foot frame to full height.

“I should have done this a long time ago,” he said, pulling a revolver from his back pocket.

He aimed, fired and put a bullet right through Henry’s stomach. Gina fell back and filled the room with a loud, shrill scream. Henry slumped against the wall. His eyes affixed to the ceiling.

Jaio broke free from his captors and moved quickly to Henry’s side. The four stepped to grab him, but Lloyd motioned to let him go.

“He’s just a slob like anyone else,” Lloyd said. “He can’t help now.”

Jaio placed his hand over Henry’s heart and closed his eyes. He had only a few seconds before Lloyd indicated to the four radical extremists to take him away.

Gina bawled uncontrollably and placed her hand over Henry’s face.

“Shut it darling,” Lloyd said to her, pointing his gun at her face. “I don’t want to cap a pretty girl like you. But I will.”

Gina did her best to clamp her mouth and internalize her anguish. And then Lloyd left the room with his four Deltanomics guards close behind.

At the top of the stairs, Cael had heard the shriek. He was shocked to see that there were no guards in the hallway. He didn’t realize that they had just left Gina and Henry and exited in the other direction.

Cael quickened the pace of his army crawl and reached the doorway. He could see Henry still pressed against the wall beneath the giant plate glass window to the stadium. Gina lay with her head slumped against his chest. Tears flowed from her eyes. Mascara ran down her cheek. Her hair covered Henry’s torso forming a shroud.

“He’s gone,” Gina wailed as Cael entered the room. “They took him. I don’t know where. They’re going to kill him.”

Ruben Herrera led Hakim, Greyson, Olivia and Brad out of the subway station a few blocks south of the Marriott on 7th Avenue. The city crawled with aimless, confused residents grasping to figure out which direction to go and whether to run or hide.

Ruben’s phone lit with an incoming call.

“Ruben,” said Corporal Lance Winger. “I’m in New York with my team. We know you’re working with Block. We discovered a mole in the Corp. and we need assistance from you and Cael. We’re after Burnham and his conspirators. We have little time to salvage this situation. We need tactical support and your intel on this operation.”

“Winger?” Ruben repeated.

“Yes,” he barked in quick short sentences. “It’s Patel. He’s rogue. He was Mangano’s mole. He’s working with Burnham. We have their trail of communications. I can’t reach Block. Do you know where he is?”

“No,” Ruben replied. “Where are you?”

“We’re in the stadium,” he replied. “We dropped in by Blackhawk. We’ve neutralized several Deltanomics teams and we’ve taken charge of the operation here.”

“Where is Jaio?” Ruben asked.

“We don’t know,” Winger replied. “We tracked Patel to the stadium. He took one of the Horniday brothers as a hostage and commandeered his vehicle in an attempt to bypass security. There may have been a struggle, or the hostage may have crashed the car deliberately.”

Ruben processed the information. Winger continued.

“Patel?” Ruben asked.

“DOA,” Winger replied. “No good to us now.”

“Horniday?” Ruben continued, his voice slower.

“Same,” Winger’s voice trailed.

“I’ll be there in four minutes,” said Ruben.

Ruben turned to Brad.

“Get them back to the hotel,” he said. “I’ve got to get to the bird.”

Ruben turned and ran off toward the helicopter he had landed in the middle of Times Square. A crowd had gathered around the vehicle. Ruben fired a shot into the air. They scattered immediately. He started up the rotors and jolted into the air toward the Bronx.

Cael took his phone from Gina and saw dozens of texts and voicemails lit up next to each icon. The television on the wall continued to display the CNN broadcast. Gina’s eyes glazed with terror. Her expression caught Cael by surprise and he turned to check the images on the screen.

“This just in,” said Hadley Crawford, looking unseasonably worn. “We are receiving a video feed from a group claiming to be the radical terrorist sect called the Kindred Brotherhood. It appears to be a live feed of Jaio tied to a chair in a room. We’ve seen gruesome images like this far too many times. You can see behind him, hanging from the black curtain, a flag and two – what look like – radical terrorist soldiers holding large knives or swords. This horrible scene playing out live as we speak. We do not know where this video is being shot. We can only guess that Jaio has been captured and removed from Yankee Stadium. We do not know if law enforcement is aware of where to find Jaio or is in the vicinity. We have very few answers here. Our engineers are verifying the authenticity of this feed, but you can see in the background, our CNN broadcast displayed on a TV screen, so Jaio’s captors appear to be showing proof of life in real time.

“Beyond that, we know little else about this video feed. From the images we can see, Jaio appears to be alert, but restrained and in a very grave situation right now.

“We will show the feed for as long as we deem it to be appropriate. We do not know the intentions of Jaio’s captors, but the world watches in fear for the worst. A terrible scene here on this sad, black day.”

Brad Halsey, Hakim and Greyson approached the hotel. They had texted Missy Davidson and she met them on the street in front of the lobby. Cidalia joined them. She had a large bandage wrapped around her forehead. But she had refused medical service and insisted on remaining in the hotel with Missy to stay informed of the events occurring around them.

At the sight of his wispy-haired girlfriend, Greyson sprinted across the street, took her in his arms and kissed her passionately.

“Thank God you’re alright,” he said to her looking into her eyes. “I’m sorry I left you. I had to …”

“I know,” she smiled. “You did what you had to do. I’m fine.”

“I love you Cid,” Greyson said, with a tear running from his eye. “When I saw you there, hurt, passed out…”

“I love you too,” Cidalia replied, kissing him again.

The moment lasted only a few seconds until Greyson noticed the television screen across the street that showed a helpless Jaio, bound and gagged in a safe house somewhere within any of the thousands of apartments surrounding the stadium.

Greyson’s expression faded instantly from glee to gloom.

Missy paused for a second and then tapped Greyson on the shoulder to inform him about his sister. Iowa Special Service agents utilizing intelligence provided by Winger’s team had used Patel’s communications with the AWOL Marine Tony Mangano and two other members of the same Atlanta-based Fundamental church to ascertain Melanie’s location and rescue her. Greyson bear hugged her. But she arched her back and gently nudged him away.

“There was an incident with Michael,” she started, peering into Greyson’s eyes. “He was attacked and taken hostage. He fought back. He and his attacker were killed in a car accident. I’m so sorry."

Greyson swayed and nearly lost his balance. He peered back at Missy as if not understanding, but he could feel the loss already seeping through his body like truth serum.

Greyson had no time to process the information as the CNN broadcast showed the two radical soldiers move in close to Jaio. All around them, a hush lingered. The growing crowds that filled the square stared up in unison, their faces twisted in frozen horror at the sight of Jaio’s predicament. Everyone looked up at the massive screens, but Greyson, who stared blankly at the crowds. Tears spewed from his face and he buried is eyes into his hands. Cidalia tucked his head into her chest and absorbed the sound of his sobs into her soft gingham sweater.

Nobody could hear the volume or the narration by Hadley Crawford. They didn’t need the words. The pictures told the story. One of the captors yanked Jaio’s hair backward. His head and face angled upward exposing his long neck to the camera.

The crowd gasped. The world watched. People shielded their eyes. They buried their faces into their hands.

At the stadium executive office, Gina clutched Henry’s cold, sweaty palm as the radicals held Jaio in place for an inordinate amount of time. The drama built.

In the darkened staircase at the far end of the hall, Cael had managed to drag himself through the doorway and looked down at the two flights that he would have to descend to exit the arena in continued pursuit of Jaio’s captors. He had sent the details of Jaio’s whereabouts to Winger and his team and they were also desperately working their way through the stadium to get there in time.

Cael had the closest location, but the least mobility. He looked down the stairway into the darkness and pushed himself forward over the edge.

For the first stair or two, he was able to suspend his weight on his hands and slide down a step at a time. But by the time his hips and legs slung over the side, and his back convulsed in pain, he lost his hold and crashed, spinning downward out of control. His face smashed against the wall as his hips rolled over his head. He tumbled repeatedly in rolls and flips until hitting the ground and losing all feeling in his body.

On the screen, witnessed by virtually the entire world, one of the terrorists raised his sword. The CNN broadcast went blank. Then it switched to a static file photo of Jaio on one side and an inset box of Hadley Crawford on the other. Crawford looked away from the monitor and his face went ashen grey. He didn’t speak. He, himself, placed his face into his hands for a moment, collected himself and spoke into the camera. The crowd in Times square wailed and screamed. Nobody could hear the description but assumed the obvious worst.

Gina could hear Hadley Crawford explain that the video feed did, in fact, continue and that the scene was as gruesome as anyone could imagine. He told the viewers that the network would not show the results, but that he was witnessing a horror of inhuman proportions that he would never be able to forget or erase from his mind. Sparing graphic details, he informed his viewers that Jaio appeared to have been killed by barbaric beheading. After delivering the news, he dropped his head and remained silent for a long time.

Gina went numb. Missy and Brad all clung to each other. After several minutes, Greyson perked his head out of Cidalia’s bosom to observe the activity on the screen. He sneered at the image. His face went the brightest shade of red Cidalia had ever seen. His fists clenched, and his knuckles turned ghostly white. He shot his gaze directly up at the sky as if to take God to task for the turn of events.

The throng at Times Square howled in unison. Many people fell to the ground or hugged the stranger next to them. Even Olivia seemed to grasp the gravity of the situation and reached up to hug Greyson’s leg in support.

Cael lay face down at the bottom of the dark stairwell. He could feel, in his heart, the events transpiring across the street in the terrorist safe house. He knew he would not make it there in time.

The fluorescent lighting unit above him suddenly flicked on. He felt the warmth on his back. He couldn’t get up initially. He thought he heard a voice. It sounded like Jaio. His eyes adjusted to the light. He lifted his head. The pain in his back subsided. He pushed up with his arms. He was able to curl his knees under himself and rise upright to stand. He looked around. He was alone. But he didn’t feel alone. He proceeded through the doorway and out into the alley. His phone pinpointed Jaio’s location and he was able to move with increasing speed. Before long, he found himself running across the street to the apartment building that his phone specified as Jaio’s location.

In the executive suite at Yankee Stadium, Gina decided to move. She couldn’t continue to sit there with Henry’s dead body. Jaio was gone. The foundation was in ruin. She had no idea the status of her friends. Like a zombie, she stood and stared out at the field below. It looked like a battleground with wisps of smoke floating by, helicopters parked along the base paths and injured bodies lying in the infield grass with medical professionals tending to them.

She heard rustling and a gasp of air. She turned to see Henry twitch. Then he opened his eyes. He took another long drag of air and his eyes moved quickly back and forth.

Gina ran to his side, held his hand and stroked his face

“Jaio is gone now,” Henry whispered, the color returning to his expression. “We have to continue without him.”

As Cael approached the front of the apartment building, three black Ford Explorers screeched in front of him. Lance Winger and several of his men jumped out.

“Winger?” Cael called to him.

“Block?” said Winger, with a sad expression on his face as if conceding that they had arrived too late.

Cael pushed past Winger and Winger instructed his men to follow behind. They took the stairs two and three at a time and arrived at the worn-down apartment door. It remained ajar and they could see the black curtain, part of the symbolic flag and the television monitor through the crack. A dark, thick pool of blood moved slowly across the floor like a glacier migrating southward.

Cael put his hand on Winger’s chest. Winger bowed his head, stepped back and instructed his men to move down the stairs and out into the street.

Winger watched Cael disappear into the apartment. He stood in the hallway, alone, in silence for several minutes, maybe a dozen.

Cael emerged. His face looked peaceful. He managed a small smile and walked past Winger without addressing him. Cael would never speak of his experience in the room with Jaio.

Winger pushed the door open. The scene looked exactly right – just as it did on the CNN broadcast.

Only Jaio’s body was not in the room.

“He’s not here?” Winger called back to Cael as he reached the stairway back to the street.

“He was,” Cael replied. “But he’s gone now.”

“Where?” Winger asked.

“If anyone asks,” Cael replied from around the corner as he descended to exit the building. “Between you and me, the government has taken possession of his body and provided him with a private and secret burial.”

“But where is the body?” Winger asked again.

“He’s gone now,” Cael calmly repeated.

Greyson felt faint as he and the remnants of the team huddled along the sidewalk outside the hotel. Hakim prayed to Allah. Missy prayed to her God. Cidalia and Greyson held each other until they could no longer tell where one of them ended and the other began. Time seemed to stop. Nobody had any sense of what to do next. They lived in that eternal moment.

Greyson noticed the sound first. He peeled himself away from the scrum. Missy and Cidalia looked up. Hakim pointed out to the crowd. And Ruben hoisted Olivia onto his shoulders.

The sound rose from a murmur to a chorus. It started in pockets. And gained momentum. Parts of the crowd chanted Jaio’s name; “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o” …

Greyson, Hakim, Brad, Cidalia, Ruben, Missy and Olivia all looked at each other in wonderment.

The sound continued. More pockets of chanters joined from different parts of the square.

Greyson glanced back at the 50-foot television screen across the street at Jaio’s stock photo, still displayed on the CNN broadcast. He spotted a bullhorn on the back of a police motorcycle and took possession of it.

He darted off into the crowd. His friends followed.

Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o

Greyson bellowed into the air. All around them, people joined in. They followed him on his trek across the square.

Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o

The sound of hundreds of voices or thousands of voices joined in.

Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o

A CNN news crew picked up on what was happening and decided to broadcast it.

Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o

Greyson and the group arrived at the same scaffold that Jaio had used in his New Year’s Eve address to the crowd. He climbed to the top of the riser.

Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o

The streets filled with bodies. The sound echoed and vibrated off the glass canyon around them.

Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o

People held hands. They threw their arms in the air. They were local people and tourists from all around. They were young and old. Christian, Muslim, Jewish and any other possible faith. Americans, foreigners, children; they all chanted in unison.

Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o

It went on seemingly forever. Missy, Ruben, Brad, Cidalia and Hakim all clasped their arms together and swayed with the sound. Olivia chanted as loud as her 40-pound body could muster. Greyson waved the bullhorn in the air and directed the crowd like a maestro.

Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o

In the distance, about halfway to the hotel, Greyson glimpsed a brightness. A figure in white emerged between the chanters. He peered forward. He was sure it was Jaio. He didn’t know how it could be. He realized that his mind could be playing tricks on him. But when their eyes met and locked, Greyson knew what he had seen. They shared a look, an expression, a smile, a feeling. And then Jaio faded backward into the crowd. People filled into the vacuum and Greyson lost sight of him among the sea of passionate followers. The chanting continued.

Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o”, “Jai-o” …

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