Chapter 70: Mr. president
Frederick Memorial Hospital, Western Maryland
President Hank Kemper’s POV
Six Months Previous
I opened my eyes, the lights blinding them. People were touching me, yelling, and the pain. The pain in my head was beyond anything I had experienced.
I heard a loud pop, like a gunshot, then more and more as my body tried to withstand the pain that was racing through it. Everything hurt, nothing was right, and a voice in my head was screaming at me to get up. The noises finally stopped, the pain abated, and I opened my eyes as people screamed and ran out of the room.
I looked up, everything seemed different; my vision was sharper, but colors less vivid. I looked down at my paws, then up… wait a minute, PAWS? I tried to sit up, but something was wrong, my arms didn’t work, and I felt myself rolling off the bed and crashing to the floor. Pain ripped through me again, my ribs on fire. “GET UP!” The voice was insistent, so I tried to, but I couldn’t make it happen. “Relax and let me do it,” the voice said. “Just trust me.”
I pushed back the pain and the thoughts and just stopped trying to think. My body started to respond, I got up on four legs and steadied myself. I could see my reflection in the stainless-steel cabinet doors, I was a huge wolf, my shoulders were above countertop height. I was black with a streak of white running between my eyes back over my head, another white patch on my chest, and white patches on my front paws. “Who are you,” I asked the voice.
“I’m your wolf, I’m with you always now,” the voice said.
I thought back, remembering the attack, the crash. “We… where is Tammy?” I panicked, looking around I knew that if I was here, she might be too. I tried to yell for her, but what came out instead was a frightening growl. I willed my legs to move, slowly for the first step but then I was moving faster, crashing through the swinging doors.
The hallway was chaos. I looked around for Tammy, growling loudly, as people ran for the exits. I looked at Robert, one of my leading Secret Service agents; he had his gun drawn, pointed towards me, and his face showed shock and fear. He was looking behind me and finding nothing. “Mr. President,” he said shakily.
“Back off him slowly and evacuate this hallway,” a female voice said.
I looked over at her. “Lisa is here, she is Alpha, you are safe,” the voice said in my head. I looked past her for Tammy, then made a break for the doors. Instead of moving out of the way like everyone else, Lisa jumped on my back as I went past, her arms around my neck. We crashed to the ground as she wrapped her legs around my stomach. I struggled to get free, trying to get my claws to her arms, but she was as strong as I was, and she knew what she was doing.
“Hank, she’s gone.” I stilled. “Tammy died in the crash, she was dead when I pulled you out, there was nothing I could do. I’m sorry.” I heard what she said, and it took a moment to wrap my head around it. My Tammy, my wife and love, was gone. The grief hit me like a wave, knocking the energy out of me. I relaxed in her arms, raising my head I let out a mournful howl to the now-empty hall. ”I need you to shift back, to be human again. You’re the President, your wife wasn’t the only one killed. You have to be strong, the man in a crisis we all know. Think of yourself as a human, think of your hands, of standing on your feet, and let your wolf go back.”
“Trust her,” my wolf said. I thought about fingers and toes, and a moment later I was lying on the floor next to her, naked and sobbing.
“ROBERT, come in now, only your agents,” Lisa yelled down the corridor. Robert burst through, two other agents right behind him. They saw me crying into Lisa’s arms and lowered their firearms. “Guard the doors, no one gets in. Someone grab him some clothes,” she said.
“Archer is safe, Archer is safe,” Robert said into his communicator. “Guard the doors, and send in a doctor and some clothes.” He looked at Lisa. “He’s all right?”
“His wolf integrated with him, he’s not an immediate danger, but he’s going to need to come with me. He needs to be with Pack, to learn what it means to be a wolf with us. If you take him back to DC, he could shift and lose the control he has.” Robert nodded and walked off to arrange things.
A doctor came through the door, nervously looking at me. “Mr. President? May I examine you?”
Lisa helped me stand, and I took the athletic shorts that were handed to me and pulled them on. I looked at my stomach, it was covered with blood but no open wound. “I think I need a shower first,” I said. He did a quick examination, shocked at how healed I was, then agreed I could go to a normal exam room instead of the surgical ward. The agents had cleared the hallway and elevator, and we walked out onto a different floor as he led me to the private exam room. He told Lisa to wait outside, but Robert and I overruled him. My wolf needed her, hell I needed her with me. I felt like I was an inch away from breakdown.
The exam showed that my stomach wound had been completely healed by the change, and my suspected concussion wasn’t there. I wasn’t even bruised. An hour later, against his advice to stay for observation, my staff had arrived and I needed to get to work. “Take him to Camp David again,” Lisa said. “My pack adjoins it, we can help him through this while you keep him protected.”
“Not until I see my wife,” I said. A few phone calls were made, then I was escorted to the morgue. A half-dozen body bags were on the tables, and the staffer nervously led me to one.
“Mr. President, it’s not pretty,” she warned me. “The fire…”
“I’ve seen the dead before,” I said, thinking back to my tours in Iraq. “I need to see her.” She zipped down the bag, and the scent of burning flesh assaulted my sensitive nose. She had been badly burned, and her neck gaped open from the wound that killed her. I leaned forward, kissing her forehead, as my wolf sat back. “Not mate,” he told me. “She was a good woman, a good mother,” I told him back. I stood up and allowed her to zip it up. I learned the names of the others who were killed, some I knew well, others I didn’t. As we walked out, I grabbed my Chief of Staff. “I want to speak to their next of kin after they have been informed,” I said. “Gather the Staff, have them meet me at Camp David. I need to go out and let people see I survived,” I said. The Secret Service didn’t like it, but they agreed to have me do a quick press conference in the hospital conference room with a few select reporters. Quick didn’t happen.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the President of the United States.”
I walked into the room and stood at head, staring at the half-dozen cameras that had been allowed in. Gesturing for the reporters to sit, I stood there in my hospital-issue scrubs, my face resolute. “My fellow Americans, today another attempt was made to topple our Government and end my life. Thanks to the brave pilots of Marine One, the Secret Service and the members of a nearby Werewolf Pack, my life was saved, and they have my eternal gratitude.” I stepped back for a moment as Lisa blushed and the press applauded. “The attack was not without losses. Six Americans, including my wife and first lady Tammy, were killed. Their death will not deter us, it will drive us to remove these Cartels from the face of the earth. No longer will a gang of criminals be able to influence the workings of a State. I am declaring a national day of mourning Friday, Federal offices will be closed, and we will see my wife laid to rest. Thank you, and may God Bless the United States of America.”
I walked out, escorted quickly to the waiting motorcade. Security was incredibly tight, roads had been shut down, I was put into a backup limousine without the Presidential seal and flags, and we had a strong military and law enforcement escort. It was more like a parade than a motorcade, with helicopters and jets overhead. I made it clear Lisa was to be at my side, for my safety and theirs. “What now, Alpha?”
Lisa took my hand. “We need a few days to give you a werewolf boot camp- how to shift, work with your wolf, use your new senses, and how Packs work. We can do it around your other commitments, but it will take longer.”
“My wolf is restless, he wants out,” I said. “He’s furious at the attack, at the loss of my friends and my wife. He wants their blood on his teeth, and it’s scaring me a little.”
“It’s to be expected,” she said. “What did your wolf say about her?”
“She wasn’t my mate,” I said with a sigh. “There’s someone else out there for me. I’m not ready for that.”
“You may not find her quickly. Don’t worry about that, it will happen, or it won’t. Robert, what do we need to do to get my mate and a few other wolves onto the grounds? Unless you’d let us take him to our territory.”
Robert laughed. “My bosses are a little risk-averse right now, anything short of wrapping him in bubble wrap and putting him in a high-security facility is not acceptable now. Give me the names and I’ll see what I can do.”
I wrote down a few names and gave them to him. We were all on our phones until we arrived at Camp David again, and we were escorted straight to the Situation Room. “What do we know of the attack,” I asked my Homeland Security chief.
“It’s definitely Cartel-sourced,” he said. “One of the attackers is a known Zeta, the others are from Honduras. The missiles were Stingers, identified as being sold to the Mexican military in 1998. The machine gun was mounted on a stand in the back of a full-size pickup that had been reported stolen three days ago. It was also from the Mexican armory.”
“Options?” I looked at the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs and my CIA director.
“Limited, sir,” the General said. “We have assets, but not targets. Our ships and aircraft have been banned from Mexican territory, and our military was expelled from the country. Give us a target and permission, and we will hit it, but right now we don’t have anything.”
The CIA Director nodded. “We know that the Operations Chief of the Zetas, Colonel Trevino Morales, survived our initial attacks. He’s smart and he’s paranoid; always on the move, never sleeping in the same bed twice. We think he’s mobilized his headquarters, using the vast jungle of Tamaulipas to hide from our satellites and drones. The area he is holed up in is completely controlled by his Cartel, police and military have been neutralized. Even before our drones were banned from their airspace, we had difficulty there.”
“All have been killed. We stopped sending teams in after three were lost. The only one who’s had any success in those conditions is Black Ker.” He explained a little about her, that she was a panther shifter with experience as a thief and an assassin. “I can try and make contact. She’s not a US asset, so there would be deniability.”
“If she is caught, you would be outed as employing a known criminal assassin to operate in a foreign state,” my Secretary of State added. “After the last attacks, this would ruin us for decades in the region.”
“What we need,” I said, “Is someone with the experience to go down there and take him out, without ties to our government, and for their own reasons.”
“I may know someone, but don’t say anything,” I heard in my head. “It’s the Pack bond, you bonded with me in the hospital so we can speak to each other using our minds. Finish the meeting and we’ll talk.” I spent another hour with them, going over the limited options we had, then I left for my quarters.
Lisa followed me in. “What do you know,” I said.
“Look, this whole thing started with a plot by the Zetas to spring a war between the Government and the Werewolves. You are treating this like you are the only player. The Packs have assets you don’t know about, and it’s better that you don’t. Just get me the usual.”
“A Presidential pardon and look the other way on some monetary transactions?”
She laughed. “Not to sound like a broken record, but yeah. Sign it and leave the names blank, we’ll hold it for when we need it.”
An hour later I signed the forms and handed them to her. “Thanks for not killing me with that drone, by the way.” Her face dropped, there was a brief flash of recognition before she gained control again.
“Mr. President, I had nothing to…”
“Don’t lie to me, Lisa. I understand what you did and why. It was genius, really. The FBI was shocked that a loose wire kept the charge from detonating, but I figured out you did it on purpose. In the end, we both had the same enemy.”
“We do, Mr. President. If you’ll excuse me, I need to get back to my Pack. Our Lead Beta, Ron Washington, just arrived and will help you with anything you need until I can get back to you. It might be a few days, so my mate, Alpha Ross, will direct your transition help.”
“You’ll have everything you need, Lisa. Just kill this bastard.”
Guns and Roses Pack House
Six Months Ago, Day after Assassination Attempt
“Lisa, what a surprise. I didn’t know you were coming.” I opened the gate and gave her a quick hug. “Are you here to check on Patricia?” Her mate’s sister Patricia was still here, as we were waiting for an Alpha Council trial on his involvement with the Zetas and the attacks on the Packs.
“Actually, I’m here to see you and Rose,” she replied as we walked towards the house. “Josh too. This isn’t a social call, I’ve got to fly back to DC soon.”
I sent to the two over the bond to meet me in the command center downstairs. We had been watching the coverage of the assassination attempt on the President and knew Lisa had changed him to save his life. I opened the door for her and stopped in the kitchen to grab some snacks and drinks, since this sounded like it would be a while.
“Hi Lisa!” Patricia came rushing in from the pool area, hugging Lisa and scenting the familiar smell of her Pack and brother on her clothing. “What a surprise!”
“And I’m not here,” she said quietly. “Come on, let’s get started.” Patricia started to follow, and I shook my head no at her. Josh was already in the room with Rose, so I locked the door behind me and activated the anti-eavesdropping features. I wasn’t sure how it worked, but Josh said it disrupted attempts to monitor the room from outside.
She sat at the table as I pulled Rose into my lap, my hands automatically going over her pregnant belly. “What’s going on, Lisa?”
“The President knows we were behind the drone attack,” she started. My mouth dropped open, along with the others. We had done everything possible to insulate ourselves from that and the expected investigation, which was going to be intense.
“How?” Rose looked at Josh. “What did we miss?”
“He had a suspicion that the dud was intentional, and when he dropped the bomb on me that he knew I did it, my reaction sealed it.” She leaned forward on the table. “He’s not saying anything, he thanked me for sparing him and told me he understood why we did it. In the end, he said we have a common enemy and with his administration compromised it was a genius move.”
“So no immediate danger? We don’t have to leave for the Island?” We had an evacuation plan for the Pack, including false US and Panamanian passports, if things went south.
“No, but we have a bigger problem.” She detailed what she knew about the attempt, that it was the Zetas and their current leader, Trevino Morales. She “The CIA and military don’t have assets; he’s smart and doesn’t stay in one place, making it very difficult to get a drone strike or air attack. Given the lack of relationship between us and Mexico right now, the State Department is hesitant to send anyone related to them. They can’t have any fingerprints on getting this guy.”
“So, he wants us to take him out.” She nodded as I pulled Rose closer. “With no support, coordination or involvement with the Government so they can maintain deniability.”
Rose shivered a little. “If we get caught, it could expose us, the Packs, as agents in this war. We could get dragged in. If the Gulf and Pacific cartels figure out we were behind the attacks on their assets, on setting them up for a war with the Zetas, they’ll hit back hard.”
“We can’t get caught then.” I moved Rose to her chair and stood up, going to the display screen we had. Josh changed it to a map of Mexico, and Lisa showed where Trevino was operating from. All jungle, just like I liked it.
“He’s paranoid, powerful and travels with a small group of guards and tech people. Three vehicles, one of which is a mobile command center. Satellite communications so he can direct his people from anywhere. This area is huge, it’s a needle in a haystack.”
“He uses satellite phones and internet, right?” Josh was sitting back. “Can the government triangulate transmissions?”
“Yes, but we think he only uses them while moving, or he sends the command truck away from where he is staying. The CIA has been using this information to track him, somewhat, in this area for the last month.”
The plan was coming together in my mind. “So if you hacked that, or it was just provided to us, our team could move across country to where they bed down for the night and attack.”
“Hacking is fine, we can’t rely on the CIA after what they did to Al and Ella. I trust them as much as I trust gas station burritos,” I said.
“As much as emails from Nigerian princes?” Josh added with a smile.
“Or a drink handed to me by Bill Cosby,” Rose laughed with us.
“Or financial advice from Bernie Madoff,” Lisa said as we all laughed. “So, we have to do this, the question is who and how.”
“Ella has done this kind of operation before, so has Al,” Rose said.
“Yeah, that isn’t happening. No way we send any pregnant female into harm’s way. Al is former CIA, if he’s caught there is no way they don’t tie it back to the President.” Rose was pissed as she looked at me. “Don’t even think about it. I need you back here to run the Pack, and I need to know you are safe.”
“It makes sense. I’ll take Lars, both of us have a lot of experience in ops like this. We can move in cat form, avoiding the roads, and we can stay there as long as we need to.”
Lisa looked a little hesitant. “Two people isn’t enough, you should have at least three if you’re going to try to surprise them at night.”
I thought about who could be added, it had to be a cat, one who could speak Spanish and knew how Cartels worked. “I’ll bring Charlie into this as well.”
“That’s dangerous, if the Zetas catch him they will kill him, slowly and painfully.”
“True, but he’s motivated, and it would be believable that he would do this because of what they did to his family. Lars and I would be easier to trace back, but we are both retired and cats now, easier to leave a trail that we are mercenaries in the employ of one of the other Cartels. Josh can even transfer money into our accounts from theirs to make it hold up.”
“I hate to admit you are right, and I don’t like you going off without me, but I can’t risk our babies either,” Rose said. “Let’s bring him in here.”
“Patricia too,” I said. “They are new mates, she won’t leave him, and we could use someone on the outside for logistics. She speaks Spanish fluently.”
Ten minutes later, we had sanitized the command center of everything except the information on Travis, and I opened the door to them. “Come on in,” I said. Rose laid down the situation over ten minutes; the plan was for the four of us to travel to Panama, then up into Mexico on Panamanian passports.
“We would be in cat form most of the time, but we would have packs with explosives, rifles, trackers and satellite phones,” I said. “We spread out over the territory, waiting to see them, and moving to any recent sightings that Josh can text us. Once we locate him, the three of us close in and do a coordinated attack to take him and his command team out for good.”
“There’s one thing, though. In order for the team to function well, you need a Pack bond to communicate. Patricia, Charlie, you’ll have to join our Pack until this is over.”
They talked together for a few minutes before agreeing, and I performed the ceremony to accept them into our Pack. “Welcome, and thank you,” I told them both.
“I needed a beach honeymoon,” Patricia responded.
“We’ll go back to the island afterwards,” I said. “This has to be done or none of us will be safe.” We left the room to get packed, there was no time to waste.
Two Weeks Later
I moved through the jungle in the darkness, towards the large tree that I was using to overwatch the roads just outside Jamauve. Josh had told us that Trevino’s signal came from the valley late yesterday, and so Patricia had driven us close enough we could get out and monitor. We didn’t have enough people to cover every exit from the valley, so we guessed the east end.
Patricia wasn’t one to stay back in the hotel. She hid our vehicle off a jungle path and went wolf, covering one of the roads herself. For the last eight days, we had been chasing after Trevino’s group, always a step behind. I got to the big tree, my small bag in my teeth, and leaped up to climb.
I hooked the strap on a branch, then laid down in a spot with good visibility. I was stuffed, having taken down a small boar earlier in the night to eat, then drank my fill at a creek. By staying in cat form, I could eat every third day or so and be fine. “I’m in place,” I sent to Lars.
“I’ll be set up in ten,” Lars replied.
“In place,” Charlie replied. Patricia was out of my range, so Charlie relayed her readiness. We used the Pack bond, avoiding use of any electronics that might be tracked. The Zetas were tech savvy, and we didn’t want anyone knowing we were here. Josh could send us messages, but it was one way unless we absolutely had to respond.
The hours passed slowly until the sun started to rise behind me, casting the valley into shadows. My ears perked up at the sound of engines; most had been normal traffic, but these were powerful and close together. I looked down, seeing three SUV’s speeding up the winding highway towards me. “Possible contact, three black SUV’s moving my way quickly on 126, headed east to Joya Verde.”
“Can you deploy a tracker,” Lars responded.
“On my way.” I grabbed the bag in my teeth as I went by and climbed out of the tree, running down the hill towards the roadway. I’d picked a spot where the road switched back, giving me a spot where I couldn’t be seen from those approaching. Two minutes later I was shifted by the side of the road, digging in my bag for one of Josh’s toys.
The tracker had GPS technology, and was a small black box with a powerful rare-earth magnet attached. It was lightweight and had a twenty-mile range, transmitting only once every fifteen minutes so it wouldn’t be detected easily. I gathered some sticks, placing them in the center of the road with the tracker, magnet side up, on top. I shifted back to cat form, grabbing the bag as I reached the ditch. I bounded back up the hill, finding a tree where I could get a good look at the people inside the vehicles.
The cars were moving fast, in tight formation, and I got a decent look as they passed. I could see rifles in the hands of the guards in the first car, and despite the heavy tinting of the window, I verified Trevino was there. “Target verified, move to rally points and pick me up on the way through,” I said. “Tracker is attached.” The vehicles hadn’t even slowed down over the branch, and it had attached itself to the first car.
It took almost two hours before our rental car stopped by the side of the road, so I could jump in. I quickly pulled on shorts and a shirt. “Everything working?”
“Perfectly,” Patricia said. “They stopped about fifteen miles ahead, three miles north of the main road. They haven’t moved for the past three transmissions.” She was working the laptop computer in the passenger seat as Lars sat next to me in the back. She showed me the topographical map around the target. “This farmhouse is the only structure in the area.”
“Pull over for a minute, Charlie.” We all huddled around the map. “Let Lars and I out here,” I pointed at a sharp turn in the road near the turnoff, “then Charlie here. You hide the car and cover the road here, ready to come pick us up hot if things go south at this location.” I pointed to a spot on an adjacent road, about a mile east of the farmhouse.
“What’s the plan?”
“We move in cat form to spots on three sides of the house. Once it gets dark, Lars will take the charges and rig each of the vehicles, bombs set with motion sensors in case they make a run for it. We wait until after they turn in, sneak in and take out the sentries, then attack the house from these spots. If they escape, we let them get to the vehicles and that takes them out.”
“Simple and effective,” Lars said. “Cat or human? No prisoners, right?”
“They don’t deserve to live, and we don’t want any forced turns, so kill them. We go cat for the sentries, then use suppressed pistols for the rest. If we can capture any intelligence, we do it. We torch the place then run overland to the rally point and get the hell out of here.”
It was now approaching midnight, and we had been in place for almost twelve hours. I liked the scout part of the job a lot better in cat form, I was more comfortable, and it was easy to get up in the trees and blend in. The three vehicles contained twelve people; six were guards, of which two were outside the house on patrol at all times and one remained just inside the front door. Trevino was in an upstairs room with two deputies and two tech guys, they had turned the bedroom into a command post. The last person was a young woman, evidently his mistress.
We waited until Trevino and his woman were asleep, and the others were downstairs. Lars moved to the edge of the clearing, timing his run for when the outside guards were not looking at the vehicles. He moved between them, setting the charges underneath the driver’s seat and arming each. He snuck back out when I told him it was clear.
We needed to take the sentries out quietly, and we waited until they had only ten minutes left before they would be relieved. The guards were ex-military, but they had become complacent; their patrols were always the same, and their replacements always came out the front door. The three of us moved into position, and Lars and Charlie each took a man out on my signal. Both attacked from behind, their big jaws crushing their throats before breaking their necks and dragging them into the trees.
I shifted and waited by the front steps until the replacement guards came out, with the other two poised to go in. Lars had moved onto the roof just above the balcony on Trevino’s room, while Lars was poised by the back door where the other staff members were. All of us had our silenced pistols in hand. When the door opened, I was ready. “Unleash hell on my mark,” I said. “Standby… GO!”
I put two rounds into the back of each sentry’s heads, then sprinted up the stairs and through the front door. I could hear the shouts as the other two broke in, but I was busy myself. I took out three in the front room, meeting Charlie as he came out of the back bedroom. He nodded and we both rushed upstairs, just in case Lars needed help.
He didn’t. “All clear, grabbing what we can,” I sent to Patricia.
We quickly verified the count of people, then set about collecting. Lars and I took the house, while Charlie went to the vehicles. We grabbed three laptops and four cellphones, plus two satellite phones. We removed all their batteries and put them in a carry bag. We also found coded notebooks and a phone list. It took us thirty minutes to clear the house, by which time Charlie was bringing the dead guards back into the front room. “Car bombs are on a five-minute timer, and the vehicles are set to burn,” he said as he handed me a petrol container.
“Lars, take the bag and head out. Charlie, set the upstairs ablaze then come down here.” We both stripped and gave Lars our clothes before he left. I went around the main floor, spilling gasoline on the floor in the other rooms until Charlie raced down. I followed him out the door, tossing the rest of the can onto the floor, then tossed a lighter in.
The fires in the night sky backlit our escape as we raced through the night together. A day later, we were back home and Josh and Carl were cracking the codes.
Lisa gave most of the data to the President; the books and laptops had a complete list of Cartel associates, safe houses and assets. He used it over the next few weeks to deal a killing blow to the Zeta Cartel.
Lisa returned to her Pack along with Charlie and Patricia two weeks later. The Alpha Council trial was short; given that he was under duress and had provided so much help to our Packs, they agreed he was not to be punished. He became the first feline member of the Thurmont Pack.
And Josh? Well, he cracked the banking codes and ‘liberated’ another couple of billion dollars from the Cartel accounts.
Just another day at the office.