Rose

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Chapter 65: Archer is hit

President Henry ‘Hank’ Kemper’s POV

One moment I’m giving a speech, the next thing I know something smacks my head and I hear multiple bangs, like gunshots. The Secret Service agents react as they were trained; before I can fall back on my ass, I’m caught, surrounded and dragged out of the Rose Garden. “ARCHER IS HIT, MEDICAL PROTOCOL NOW,” I hear as we are pulled through the doors into the Oval Office. My arms are in the grip of several men, I try to get my feet underneath me but they are moving so fast, I think I leave scuff marks on the Presidential seal as they rush me through the room.

“Goddamn it, boys, I’m all right, sit me down,” I said, but that didn’t even slow them down. I may be the President of the United States, but right now I’m more like a hooker. Not the kind on a street corner, the ones in Rugby like my roommate Josh played at Navy. The hooker hangs from the shoulders of much bigger guys on the front of the scrum, his feet free to hook the ball and push it back through the mass of big guys to where our team could get it. That was me, surrounded by big guys with guns, helpless to even stand.

I finally get them to loosen up as we hit the hallway, although I’ve got an arm over the shoulder of a man on each side, two guys in front blocking, Uzis out and yelling for people to clear the hell out of the way, and two more behind me. I get my feet under me and start to run with them to the elevator. When the door closes, they relax just a minute. “Sir, you’ve suffered a head injury, we’re taking you to George Washington,” Mark said. He was the lead agent for this shift, and I had worked with him for years.

“I’m all right,” I said just as the door opened to the motor pool. A gurney was waiting, and I was damn near tossed onto it and strapped down, seconds later I was in the back of the ambulance. Mark climbed in with me as the paramedics started to hook up their instruments.

“Mr. President, can you follow my finger please?” The paramedic, a good-looking woman in her thirties, had wiped the blood off my face with a towel while the other was holding a pad to my forehead. I focused on it, moving my eyes with it. She checked my pupils with a small flashlight, and asked me a few basic questions like my name and what day it was. The motorcade was moving quickly, it wasn’t just me who was hopped up on adrenaline. This was the first assassination attempt since Reagan, and most of these agents weren’t even alive then.

“I’m fine, it’s just a cut. I’ve had worse playing soccer,” I said. It was true, my senior year at the Academy, I was playing goalie and ran out to stop a breakaway, knocking the ball away just as the forward kicked for it. I took a cleat to the left eyebrow, splitting it open, a gash a good three inches long. I took my shirt off, holding it to the cut as I walked to the Naval Academy medical clinic, laughing at the ambulance rushing to the field for me. Enough blood, someone calls, right? “You took a good shot to the forehead, Mr. President. Did you lose consciousness?”

“No, it just startled me, knocked me back. Mark, what was it?” I looked over at a man I considered a friend, he and I didn’t always agree, but he kept me safe.

“Some kind of drone,” he said. “Our men and FBI are investigating, but we’re waiting on the Bomb Squad to get a good look,” he said.

“Bomb squad? Those weren’t gunshots?” It sounded like firecrackers going off.

“No sir. The drones had some kind of explosive.”

“Who else was hit?”

He hesitated, he didn’t want to say. “Sir, we had four others who were hit, all were killed instantly. It wasn’t gunpowder, it smelled like plastique, that is why we’re waiting.”

Four others…. Holy shit, I thought. One thing to try and kill me, but to target four others at the same time? Why not just use a bigger drone and take us all out? The ambulance took a hard right, tires squealing as the paramedics and Mark held on. “Who is dead, Mark.”

“We don’t use names over the radio, sir.” I stared at him. “I saw the Attorney General and Homeland Security drop, and Senator Mendes as we went by,” he finally said. “I don’t know the fourth. They were gone, sir, I saw gray matter on the ground, there’s no coming back from that.” He paused, listening to something on his earpiece. “Two minutes out, sir.”

“I’m not being wheeled in on a gurney,” I told them. “Get a wheelchair ready, I’ll give you that, but no gurney.”

“Sir, it’s protocol, we don’t know…”

“You don’t know, the COUNTRY doesn’t know, Mark. All they know is that someone tried to kill their President, and that person DID kill four others. We can’t have a panic. If I can calm things by stepping down from the ambulance and sitting in the wheelchair, dammit, that’s what I’m going to do.” He stared me down, but I was a stubborn old bastard and I wasn’t going to appear weak. “Mark, I’ll even let you hold my hand, but I’m walking out of this ambulance.”

“People might talk, sir,” he said as we cracked up. “Is there a medical reason for him not to stand up?”

“I’d rather he didn’t, but if he can stand without getting dizzy a few steps won’t hurt,” the paramedic said.

“It’s settled then,” I said as the ambulance slowed to turn into the emergency entrance. Mark made a call, and before the doors were opened, a wheelchair had been brought out. “How do I look,” I asked them.

“Like you got your ass kicked, Mr. President,” the paramedic said with a smile. She unbuckled the straps and the two of them helped me sit, then after they were sure I wasn’t going to pass out, he helped me to my feet. Mark was right behind me, two Secret Service agents and a group of medical personnel were waiting for me. I stepped down, the agents keeping hands on me the whole time. I did smile and shoot a quick ‘thumbs up’ to the waiting cameras before sitting in the wheelchair and being taken inside.

An hour later, with the lidocaine starting to wear off and twenty-two stiches in my forehead, I was thanking everyone at the hospital and posing for a quick photo. I wanted to address the nation from there, but the Secret Service was nervous; the attack on White House grounds, still a crime scene and potentially vulnerable, made it so I couldn’t return right away. Instead of going to the limousine, Marine One was waiting on the roof, and F-16 fighter jets were flying cover. “Where are we headed,” I asked Jerry, his team had relieved Mark’s so they could debrief and give statements.

“Pentagon, Situation Room,” he replied as we went up the elevator to the roof.

“Roger,” I gestured to my press secretary, “Set up an address tonight, eight PM. Have the writers work on a speech, I want something that will calm fears, talk about how we will find and capture the people involved, you know the drill.”

“Yes sir,” he said. “I’ll have options ready in a few hours.”

“Good, we don’t know yet who is behind it, so options are good. One with terrorism, one a straight assassination attempt, one non-state actor, and one an act of war. I should know more soon.” He stayed on the elevator as we exited, he would head back to the White House which was in full crisis mode. “Where is my family?”

“We moved them to Camp David right after the attack, Mr. President. Tammy is pissed because we didn’t bring her to the hospital, but we couldn’t risk it. Your son is secure in Colorado Springs.” My son Scott was in his junior year at the Air Force Academy, a settle way to get back at me for all the times I took him to Navy football games as a boy. It was a place where Secret Service protection wasn’t quite as tight. “He wasn’t happy when we rushed him out of his class and stuffed him in a limo, but he’s safe on the grounds. We locked down the base and let him move around again, he just has a couple shadows now.”

I waved to the cameras, yelling at them that I was fine, and loaded up for the short trip. We landed at the Pentagon, and a few minutes later I was in the Situation Room with most of my Cabinet, my senior White House staff, and the Joint Chiefs. “Sit down, gentlemen,” I said as I sat at the head of the table. “So, the question of the day is who did this,” I said. “Chuck, you’re acting Homeland Security director?”

“Yes, Mr. President. As of now, we only know of one person behind it. Forensics is still looking at the drones, but we did get a hit on the fingerprint we found on yours. DEA Agent Frank Jennings; his body was found in his car, shot in the head at close range in a park about an hour southwest of here. We are putting every resource into this, sir, we’ll find them.”

The CIA Director was next. “Sir, we have nothing solid on any foreign involvement, many agencies are offering support. There were no indications of leadership going to ground early. We are focusing on the usual bad actors.”

“Military is the same. We are seeing the normal buildups in response per our change in DEFCON to two, but nothing started before the attack.” The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, a Marine 4-star General, leaned forward. “Sir, we request permission to stand down to DEFCON Three.”

“Granted,” I said. “Dust off strike plans for the usual subjects, if we get evidence they were involved I want options ready to go,” I said.

The meeting continued on for a half hour before an FBI Assistant Director rushed into the room. “Sir, we got a tip and it panned out,” the man said excitedly. “Agent Jennings was receiving payouts for years, the payments were from a bank linked to the Zeta Cartel in Mexico,” he said. “We started looking at other payments from that account, and it’s a gold mine. Both Attorney General Smallridge and Homeland Security Chief LaGrange have been receiving payoffs for years, totaling in the millions.”

I asked the question we all had. “So why did the Zetas kill their own?”

“Well, they also have been getting paid off by the Pacific cartel. In the last few weeks, they have received over a million dollars each, just as the DEA and Customs have focused on shutting down the Zeta’s smuggling routes in the Caribbean. Senator Mendez, he announced his retirement last week, he’s been on their payroll for years as well. And DEA Agent Mendico, he made a huge bust on a Zeta route last week, it turns out he was getting paid by the Gulf Cartel as well as the Zetas.”

“So they took out those they didn’t trust, and tried to get me.”

“Yes sir, the drone that struck you failed to detonate. It was a small shaped charge, capable of punching a hole right through a skull. The drone had facial recognition capability and artificial intelligence, very sophisticated.”

“Capable of being used by a Cartel?” I looked over at my CIA and FBI representatives.

“Yes sir,” the CIA director said. “Especially the Zetas, they are the most technologically advanced of all Cartels.”

I looked at the clock. “In four hours, I am going to be addressing the nation. I want strike plans ready in an hour, General, I want every known Zeta asset in Mexico targeted until we are down to bombing their outhouses. Director Jones, I want the FBI and DEA experts on the Cartel to focus on identifying Zetas and assets in the States. Lock the agents and analysts in a room, no communications with anyone outside the room until after my speech tonight. I don’t know who we can trust; if they’ve bought those four, they have more. Treasury, I want you to get after these accounts, get them seized and trace who has been getting paid off. And nobody here talks to the press, no one mentions the Cartels. Get moving.”

They stood as I got to my feet and walked into a smaller room with my Chief of Staff and Secretary of State. “How is the international reaction to the attempt,” I started.

“Better than I expected, countries are expressing outrage and offering support, or just denying they had anything to do with it,” the Secretary said.

“Good. We’re going to piss Mexico off something fierce, I need your help preventing war from erupting. I’m not going to ask permission for the bombings first.”

“Sir, that’s… they won’t like that at all, sir, it will take relations back decades.”

“I know, but if I tell anyone in their government it will get back to them. The level of corruption there is staggering, you know that.” He sighed and nodded his head.

I turned to my Chief of Staff. “I don’t want anything leaking out about a Cartel involvement. For now, have it leaked that the killer has been identified and is believed to have committed suicide. Paint him as eccentric, technologically gifted, maybe has a grudge against his leadership. I don’t want anything about corruption or drugs until I start my speech tonight.”

“Yes sir, I’ll get on it.”

By six PM, I was meeting with the Joint Chiefs in the Situation Room again. The strike plan was simple in thought, but wide ranging in scope. B-52’s loaded with dozens of cruise missiles were circling a hundred miles off the east coast of Mexico, while the Navy had two cruisers and a submarine off the west coast. Stealth bombers loaded with GPS-targeted bombs were flying over western Texas. Targets had been selected and reviewed; I approved them and gave them the go at 1830. A few minutes later, I was on Marine One, returning to the White House.

Precisely at eight PM, the cameras were rolling in the Oval Office as I went live to the nation. I looked a little foolish with the large bandage on my forehead, but such was life. “My fellow Americans, this morning a brazen attack on your President and his Staff, along with a sitting Senator, resulted in the deaths of four fellow citizens. I wear the evidence of the attack tonight, saved only by a faulty detonator that kept me from being killed on live television. I mourn the loss of those four men, just as I thank the Lord that my life has been spared. As you have heard, my injuries were minor.”

I paused, this was as far as we had gone with releasing the speech to the press. “Like all of you, I want the people who perpetrated this attack to face justice. Evidence uncovered has identified those responsible; it was not the attack of a madman, a terrorist or a foreign state. Rather, it was a brutal drug cartel, seeking to eliminate opposition to their criminal activities. They should have studied history, though. They have awakened a sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve.”

The television screen that had been placed behind me was turned on, the feed was live drone video of a compound. “This is the Mexican headquarters of the Los Zetas cartel, a brutal criminal enterprise formed by the very soldiers and law enforcement agents intended to fight them.” The screen exploded in lights as cruise missiles slammed into the buildings, reducing them to rubble in a matter of seconds. “All over Mexico, this is the fate of the Zetas. The full might and power of the United States is descending upon them, there is no place they can hide, no safety to be found. They present a Clear and Present Danger to the National Security of the United States, and we will deal with them quickly and decisively.”

I watched as the display cycled through targets, showing the destruction taking place within a single minute of time. “We will spare no expense, leave no stone unturned in this investigation. The Cartels have functioned with impunity for far too long, their activities unchecked by corrupted governments. This ends tonight.”

There was one last explosion. “May God protect our brave men in uniform, our law enforcement and our judiciary through this fight, and may God Bless the United States of America.”

I walked out of the White House to Marine One for the flight to Camp David, to finally rejoin my family.

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