935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Time --- The Present (4:14pm EST)
Place --- Third floor, conference room #2.
Meeting Principals ---
FBI Director and the Heads of the Counterterrorism and Counterintelligence Divisions
Supportive / Information Gathering roles ---
Heads of Information Technology Management, Laboratory, and Critical Response Group
The dapple-grey haired man staring down the length of an immense mahogany conference table is about as fuming mad as a government bureaucrat can be. The two slightly younger men seated silently to his right and left look about the same.
“Are you telling us what I ‘think’ you just said, Mrs. Brown?”
The disheveled and harried looking middle-aged woman, standing in front of a wall-sized monitor lowers her computer remote control and replies with a steady, but nearly inaudible, “Yes sir.”
“A Washington, DC wide imminent nuclear threat lockdown, and a full strategic forces alert, was initiated because of a couple faulty sensor and computer glitches? Did I get that right?”
Looking down reflexively at her seated and statue-still colleagues in the Information Technologies and Science Division for non-forthcoming moral support, the head of the FBI’s prestigious Critical Response Team turns her attention from the monitor.
She’d come to hate, both on professional and purely personal level, the miles-long meandering track of flashing circular nuclear warning symbols that ended only feet from the White House main gates, “That’s about the gist of it, Director Wray.”
“And this shit storm got rolling when you, without clearance or proper authorization, took it up yourself, along with those two, to contact the White House and the Pentagon in the name of my office with your ‘high confidence’ immediate response required Intel?”
“The president is not happy.”
Scrapping together the last few remaining shreds of her willpower, Mrs. Brown lowers her head and silently returns to her seat. After sitting down again between her two silent compatriots, she hesitantly lifts her eyes to meet Director Wray’s gaze and says, “Nor am I, sir. None of us are.”
Clinching his teeth in near homicidal rage, Director Wray stares back and responds barely moving his lips, “Personally, I couldn’t care less how any of you feel. Your combined gross incompetence has triggered the start of an international incident that will, in all certainty, embarrass the office of the presidency, the current party in power, and every American citizen for generations to come. And what’s worse --- me!
It’s only a matter of time before the media learns why secret service agents bum-rushed the president, quite literally, in the middle of a televised Rose Garden speech before several major heads of state down to the White House underground shelter; leaving the entire world twisting in the wind without a word of explanation for nearly four hours.
I doubt if your ‘happiness’ with matter much in the grand scheme of things when the present state of pandemonium finally dies down out there. Don’t you agree?”
“Excellent, it’s nice to hear we’re all on the same page. Director Wray replies in a neutral tone so bland it almost hides the sarcasm in what he says next. “So now, while we all still have jobs, could you please repeat your rundown of this day’s events starting from the 9:35 am mark? Bare-bones only, cut out the cover-you-ass crap this time. I’m not in the mood.”
After straightening the hastily typed Top Secret papers scattered next to the laptop in front of her seat, Mrs. Brown begins to recite a synopsis of what had unquestionably become the worst day of her career in government.
She was wrong.
It would get worse.
“At 9:35am a radiological sensor hidden in a lamppost located near the off ramp of Arlington Memorial Bridge ---”
Before she can finish the sentence, Director Wray looks down from the blinking warning symbols displayed on the monitor and interrupts mid-sentence, “Tell me, aren’t there other radiation sensors scattered along the length of that bridge?”
“That’s correct, sir. There’s a half dozen evenly spaced all along both sides of the Arlington Memorial, the Theodore Roosevelt and Francis Scott Key, too.”
“Can you explain how he managed to travel undetected all the way across from the George Washington Highway to Constitutional Avenue without being detected?”
“We can’t. The primary NBC computer grid crashed almost immediately after sensor GW6R detected a mobile bomb-grade gamma ray source. Two backup networks covering D.C.’s radiation, chemical, and biological agent warning systems also went offline, for no plausible reasons, when the subject walked past the second, and then third, sensor along his initial route.
The track and timeline on the monitor behind me is nothing more than a best-guess. After manually inputting all the data we could gather from field reports and security camera video logs, our IT people created this map to illustrate the subject’s most likely course over the span of the next four hours --- give or take fifteen minutes and a hundred yards.”
“He didn’t miss much, did he?”
“No Director, he didn’t. It’s almost like he was taking a nuclear device on a grand walking tour of the Capital; a drunken one. As you can see, there’s little rhyme or reason for any path he took.
A regular tourist might wader from one monument to another to some degree, but most tend to minimize the walking effort by traveling the shortest distance that will maximize the number of places to be visited without wasting time doubling-back time and time again.”
“Do we know if he went inside any of the buildings or enclosed monuments?”
“We’re still reviewing the taped surveillance footage, sir. Picking him out of this weekend’s near-record crowd of visitors will take time; thus far we have no images proving he ever stepped off a sidewalk or pathway lugging that large briefcase of his.”
“Did he communicate or interact with anyone?“, inquires the stone-faced man to the director’s right.
“As we reported privately to Director Wray before your arrival to this meeting, Mr. Stein, we have numerous firsthand reports of the subject suddenly changing direction to talk with other pedestrians; both civilian and government employees.
A few of these meetings appear to have been arranged in advance. We will know more when our agents finish interviewing those we managed to track down. There’s nothing significant to report as yet.”
“I’m not asking for a polished report. You must have some idea what he was doing.”
Breaking the lengthy silence that follows her terse response, the equally poker-faced man wearing a finely tailored, but nondescript, black suit seated to the director’s left asks, “Can you please elaborate on that statement by giving us a few examples? We might still have a few more minutes before we’re all hauled before a Congressional Grand Hearing and shipped off to a Federal prison.”
Looking through the stack of papers once more, she chooses several and asks, “Are there aren’t any objections, could I to utilize the same list the interrogation team is using?”
Director Wray’s sole response is a snappish and very dangerous sounding, “Get --- on --- with --- it!”
At --- at 9:55 am, a high definition CCTV camera recorded the subject approaching and conversing with an unidentified elderly wheelchair-bound man wearing a US Army Vietnam-era uniform jacket. Their interaction lasts approximately nine minutes at the intersection of Henry Bacon Drive and Constitution Avenue.
At the end of their conversation the subject accepts a small ornately carved white sphere. In exchange for this object the subject tenders a bright metallic purple and gold heart-shaped medal attached to a faded blue or purple ribbon he took out of his briefcase ---“.
Interrupting once more, the man to the director’s right, Mr. North, asks, “Do you have this individual in custody?”
“No sir, he disappeared. We have uninterrupted video of the man turning his battery-powered wheelchair around and joining the crowd entering the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Two security cameras assigned to the memorial exit ramp don’t have a single image of him ever leaving.”
“Any eyewitnesses?” asks the Director, his voice beginning to show increasing signs of the stress he is experiencing.
“Several tourists visiting the memorial recall someone fitting his description reading names on The Wall and sobbing --- not exactly an uncommon event.
One witness leaving a bouquet of flowers for his MIA father vaguely recalls an elderly white male wearing a 75 TH Special Forces Airborne Rangers shoulder patch. He was holding something purple in one hand and saluting the wall with the other, but the witness has no memory whatsoever of the man beyond that act.”
“Could he have walked out and left the wheelchair behind?”
“Agents scoured the area and found nothing, sir. After all the security video feeds were examined, the count of wheelchairs entering and exiting this monument was found to be short by one.”
Letting his anger explode visibly to the surface for the first time, Director Wray, “People don’t disappear into thin air, let alone take a damned wheelchair when they go!”
With the tone of someone hoping the Earth would swallow them whole to escape their current predicament, Mrs. Brown replies, “I --- we --- have no explanation.”
“Keep going. And clear that damned screen. All those flashing orange icons are giving me a migraine!”
With a few taps of her keyboard, the blinking circular warning symbols disappear leaving a live high resolution satellite image of the entire Washington, DC area on the monitor behind her. Struggling to keep her hands from trembling, Mrs. Brown begins to read the next of the three pages she’s holding.
“At 10:35 a park service camera counting Lincoln Memorial visitors filmed the subject traveling in the direction of the Korean War Monument. He is accompanied by three elderly Asian men with long beards wearing white robes and cone-shaped head coverings. The eldest, and shortest of the three, is holding an approximately six inch long bone or ivory rod-shaped object wrapped in nearly transparent cloth, possibly silk.
After a few minutes of intense conversation, and odd gestures, the subject waves them off. Looking extremely disappointed, the three men bow and all parties go their separate ways.”
“Those robes are covered in fancy gold embroidery. Has the country of origin been identified?”
“We’ve hit a dead end there. Our expert in Oriental history claims the dragon-things are vaguely similar to artwork created during first century BC Han dynasty in China, but none of the other symbols match any known culture, extinct or otherwise.”
“Did anything else happen?”
“Yes Director. Before the trio could move more than twenty feet away, the subject calls out and waves his hand. Rushing back they appear surprised, and more than a little apprehensive, when he opens his briefcase and extracts what appears to be a shiny metal box the size of a large eyeglass case.
Taking great care not to touch the object he is holding directly, the eldest drops the unknown object inside the box and hands over the cloth in exchange.
Smiling broadly the three men clasp their hands, as if in prayer, and bow repeatedly before turning and walking rapidly out of camera range in possession of both items. The subject keeps moving along his original course towards the Korean Memorial.”
“Let me guess, those three disappeared, too?”
“Not immediately, sir. But I’ve just received an update over the interdepartmental secure server.”
“Don’t keep us in suspense, Mrs. Brown.”
“Ah --- yes, sir. Approximately twenty minutes after the original DC-wide find-and-detain alert was expanded to include them at 11:05 am, three men matching their profiles were spotted getting into a Falton Taxi Cab vehicle outside the Federal Reserve building.
Two security guards wearing level II ballistic armor confronted the trio with weapons drawn and attempted to take possession of the object the oldest looking one was carrying.”
“So, was it a weapon?”
“We don’t know. Both guards haven’t been interviewed yet. They still haven’t awoken from the anesthesia used during their emergency room treatment and surgery for broken bones, concussions, and severe bruising at Providence Hospital.”
“Those three little guys beat up two armed guards wearing forty pounds of riot gear?!”
“No, no ---it was just the one, the one with the longest white beard. One handed, without releasing his grip on the object he’s holding in the other, he disarms one guard and tosses him clear across the street like a rag doll. The second guard is likewise grabbed and flung halfway up the Federal Reserve’s marble steps.”
“What action did the other guard take while his partner was being attacked? Did he discharge his weapon?”
“Yes sir.” Mrs. Brown replies anticipating with a deep sense of dread what the most likely follow-up question will be.
“And the result was ---?”
“Sergeant Vasquez fired three nine millimeter hollow-point rounds at point blank range into the chest of Corporal Luis’ assailant. The attack slowed momentarily but did not stop. All three subsequently returned to the taxi and departed due North in the direction of 23rd street. We are continuing the search for additional video surveillance records.”
“How is this possible?!”
“We --- we’re still collating data. From his movements alone, our combat experts on staff doubt the ‘elderly’ appearance was anything other than a total deception.
They believe the man who attacked Sergeant Vasquez and Corporal Luis possess unarmed combat skills akin to those of a martial arts master, and was likely wearing some kind of advanced ultra-thin bullet-proof vest or armor under those robes.
A high alert all-station bulletin to find the taxi and detain the passengers has been fruitless thus far. Falton denies owning any taxi operating in vicinity of the Federal Reserve today, or using the invalid license plate number the guards reported before leaving their posts.”
“Do we have eye-witness reports on this incident?”
“Yes sir, a large number of tourists watched the entire event from start to end. And a good number of them started filming from the moment the two guards ran out of the building shouting for the three robed men to halt. It’s all over YouTube by now.”
“Okay, do this. Tell our agents in the media to say the guards were participating in the filming of a training video, and keep me informed as to their medical status. And pull that video off the net for good measure. That should buy us some time to figure out this mess.”
Turning his attention away from Mrs. Brown who’s typing furiously on her laptop, Director Wray glances towards the tight-lipped figure seated to his left and asks, “Aren’t most of the security personnel currently assigned to the Federal Reserve former members of your fast-reaction team?”
Nodding silently in the affirmative, the still unnamed individual asks in neutral tone, “Do you mind if I take my leave? I won’t be gone more than a couple minutes.”
“No problem. I --- we --- can all use a little break.”
With another small nod and a mumbled, “Thank you”, the man slides his chair back and stands up. Spinning in place he turns and quickly leaves the room. The door lock has barely clicked closed behind him before the door, the wall in which it is mounted, and the pictures hanging upon it, rattle violently from a single sheet-rock busting blow.
True to his word the door reopens two minutes later and the same man, clutching his rapidly reddening right hand, returns to his seat and resumes his dispassionate examination of the monitor on the far wall.
“Feeling better, Nick?”
Without turning he head, the man now known by the name ‘Nick’ replies, “I’m good” and waits silently for Director Wray’s questioning of Mrs. Brown to continue.
“When and where was the subject observed next?”
“The subject had a verbal altercation at 11:15am with a female pedestrian roughly midway between the Lincoln and Korean Memorial. It was witnessed in part by an off duty police officer, a Corporal Sally Pennell, who mentioned the incident when she logged into her desk computer at 12:01pm.
Keywords contained therein caused her report to be red flagged and a copy was sent to our intercept office via the NSA’s Net-Alert system.”
“Do we know who the other person was?”
“We contacted Officer Pennell’s precinct Captain and requested a full report. Going by the officer’s description of the food services uniform the woman was wearing, and the direction she took leaving the scene, two of our agents tracked down a Ms. Lu Han Win.
Ms. Win is a recent immigrant from China working at Jenny’s Asian Fusion as a waitress. She confirmed having had heated words with the subject and still seemed upset about the encounter.”
“Did the subject say or do something in the nature of a hate-crime?”
“It’s still unclear exactly what he was trying to do. Initially, Ms. Win was rather reticent to divulge the nature her discomfort, but it seems he attempted to trade a bass-colored key for her engagement ring.
Already upset that the groom-to-be had cancelled their imminent wedding to court Ms. Win’s best friend that very morning, she slapped the subject followed by several elaborate curses in three Mandarin dialects before resuming her walk to work.”
“He wanted to trade a key for her engagement ring?” Director Coney asks with a tone of puzzlement creeping into his voice. “Is he some kind of nut job, Mrs. Brown?”
“That’s always a possibility, I suppose, but we have no evidence to support that conclusion. The arresting officers who picked him up outside the White House report he was always courteous and calm; despite almost getting turned into a smear on the sidewalk by a secret service agent stationed outside the gates.
And he remained that way while being handcuffed and belted into the back of their patrol car. As you know, that act alone frequently sends unstable personalities into a fit of belligerent activity. Instead, he spent the entire ride back to the officers’ station quietly examining their vehicle and gear asking odd questions.”
After pressing several keys on her Laptop, Mrs. Brown begins to read:
“How sad, what killed the woman who died back here? Wow, do you know the kind of person who used your gun before it was assigned to you? There’s something seriously wrong with that equipment belt, have you checked it recently? These handcuffs don’t belong to you; did you pick them up by mistake or steal ---”
Still gently kneading his swollen fist, the man to the Director’s left interrupts, “Big deal, so he’s a hyper vigilant nutcase. I’ve run into several perps suffering from Sherlock Holmes syndrome. It’s only a matter of time before he blows a fuse and grabs an axe.”
“That possibility was likewise expressed by Doctor Overland, our resident psychologist, Mr. Stein. He claims a full psyche evaluation might take weeks, and even longer before appropriate medication or treatment can start. Pressing time constraints preclude our traveling down that road at this junction. For now, we’re keeping that option in reserve.”
“How’s it going down there? The interrogation has been in progress for almost two hours. Is he talking?”
“That’s the problem --- he won’t shut up. To quote the head of the interrogative team, Detective Lance Donner, “It’s like trying to get a straight answer out of a carnival barker on crack!”
“Has there been any progress identifying him?”
Mrs. Brown glances down at her computer screen and sighs gently, “Nothing as yet, Mr. Stein. His prints were uploaded to RISC from the arresting officers’ onboard fingerprint scanner. There were several partial hits, but all proved negative when double-checked.
The Repository for Individuals of Special Concern system is still trying to match its bio-metric database to the subject’s face, voice, and DNA sample. With any luck we might have something within the hour --- wait, correction on that.”
“What’s going on? Did something come in?” Director Donner asks pointing at Mrs. Brown’s laptop.
“An update to the RISC search just arrived. The DNA sample taken during the subject’s booking is unusable due to multiple source contamination. RISC can’t even attempt an ID search until a clean genetic profile is inputted into the system. Facial and voice recognition protocols are still ongoing.”
“Damn lazy techs,” Stein yells out with deep contempt in his tone, “how hard can it be stick a cotton swab in someone’s mouth?! What they do, drop it on the floor?!”
“Unlikely sir, but the lab stopped counting when the ID kit found genetic markers for several dozen distinct individuals, and many more indicators that aren’t remotely human or even organic.”
“I was right! They did drop it on the floor! The taxpayers are gonna get a lab bill to identify everyone, and everything, that ever passed through this fuckin’ building! Do you expect me to ---?”
“That’s enough, Nick!” Director Wray interrupts raising his voice to a near full-throated shout. “Fighting among ourselves won’t get us anywhere! Okay, anyone, do we even have a name to work with yet?”
Staring woodenly at her computer screen, Mrs. Brown responds to the question with, “Mr. John Smith”.
Keeping his growing anger in check by interlacing the fingers of both hands together in a tight painful embrace, Director Wray stares back and asks, “Seriously? The best interrogator we’ve ever had can’t get me anything better than --- John Smith?!”
“He actually insists on being referred to as ‘Mr. John Smith’. He goes into a fugue state if the honorific is dropped. About the least he’ll accept is ‘Mr. Smith’. Until something new comes in, that’s all we have.”
“What about his possessions?”
“Those have proven to a dead end. Other than a bizarre alligator skin briefcase filled with junk, and a wristwatch that belongs in a museum, the blue business suit he wore was stolen from a Walmart in Virginia within the last twelve hours.
We didn’t find as much as a bubblegum wrapper in his pockets, let alone a wallet with any form of identification, authentic or not. Frankly, the likelihood of back-tracking his identify through any of these items is practically zero.”
“How do you know the suit was stolen?”
“The anti-theft device pinned inside the left sleeve has a serial number and is still active. The suit, along with absolutely everything else he was wearing, is equally brand new and likely stolen at the same time.
We sent local field agents to the store. They examined all the trash receptacles in the garment areas and found no used clothing in the subject’s size range. Walmart’s inventory retention team reviewed their security tapes and door alarm logs. No images of him going back several days were found.
An ATM attending to a customer photographed an individual fitting his description leaving the shopping mall, fully clothed, at seven thirty-four last night. Unfortunately, he was too far away for the low quality image to be conclusive. We’re expanding our efforts to include other potential surveillance systems in the area. It might take several days.”
Despite the gravity of the situation, Director Wray can’t resist replying in a brusque, but slightly amused tone.
“So he --- somehow --- swaggers into a huge box store --- buck naked --- and marches out fully clothed unseen despite dozens of store employees, scores of customers, and who knows how many video cameras. Do you really expect me to believe all that?”
“Go on ---”
“Sir, the State Department and CIA both insist you authorize the deployment of ‘extraordinary interrogation methods’. They’re threatening to take their demands straight to the president within the hour if you don’t give them proof Washington is free from danger.”
“How do you want me to reply?” Mrs. Brown asks with both hands hovering over her laptop’s keyboard.
“They want an answer; I’ll give them an answer.
Before I’ll even consider authorizing that course of action, I want signed hard-copy documents from the CIA and State Department describing in exacting detail what ‘extraordinary interrogation methods’ mean, and who specifically over there is making this request couriered to my office.
I don’t trust any those back stabbers. At the first hint of a Congressional inquiry, they’ll wipe their hands clean and throw the FBI to the wolves if we water board an innocent American citizen.”
“Do I quote you on that, Director?
“Did you transcribe everything I just said, Mrs. Brown?”
“Good. Send with urgent priority immediate confirmation requested.”