When Storm, who was doing the navigation, saw the Brandon McLean house, she said, “Dad, what kind of people are they? Look at this house. I’ve never even been inside a place like this. Have you?”
“Only at a crime scene. Notice they never act or talk as if they have real money. Jack is still a Marine and cop and Kathy is a spook. They are very good people, but hard. Jack and Kathy look like they’re the all-American couple but they can kill easily. Kelly is now almost there. She killed two professionals in a 15-foot shootout. That is just not natural. She has her mother’s DNA whose trade was killing on the field of battle. She was better than Kathy and equal to Jack. I do okay, but in a rare moment of honesty with my daughter, I’m not in Jack’s league.
“Remember, they’ll never make us do anything. We can always say no. The pay is very good. I believe we are on the side of the ‘white hats’ and we can contribute.”
They had only been sitting outside for a few minutes when Shadow came bouncing out and put his huge paws on the car’s roof. Storm took one look and said, “Dad, I think he wants you to come out first.”
“Sure, Shadow and I are old friends. That dog is smarter than most people.”
Lou got out and was greeted warmly by a sitting Shadow lifting his right front paw to shake hands. Storm said, “Do you think he knows I have a problem with huge black dogs?”
“I don’t know. Why don’t you ask him? Shadow come on over and say hello to Storm. She’s a bit afraid of you. Maybe you should sleep in her room tonight.”
“For God’s sake, Dad, don’t tell him that.”
“Why not? A dog that big sleeps anywhere he wants.”
Kelly came out and said, “Lou stop scaring her. Shadow hasn’t bitten anyone yet this week.”
Storm said, “That’s not a bit funny, Kelly.”
“Well, it’s true. Come on in. Kathy’s expected by dinner time. I’ll show you to your rooms and give you a chance to freshen up a bit. Jack’s downstairs in the gym doing an incredible workout. You can join him if you want a workout. He’s been helping me with my Hapkido.”
Storm said, “No thanks. I’ll pass for now. A hot shower is what I want.”
“You may change your mind. All the guests’ baths have deep soaking tubs with jacuzzi options. Follow me and I’ll show you to your rooms.”
Looking around her bedroom and attached bath, Storm thought I could get used to this. The entire house looks like it came out of a House Beautiful magazine. Storm was still exploring when Mrs. Minh said over the intercom, “Miss Kathy is here.”
While the Minhs were putting her light baggage in the master suite, Kathy ran downstairs to the gym. Jack had just finished his third set of 20 pull ups, when Kathy burst in and threw her arms around him. “I couldn’t wait to get here. You can’t believe how much I missed you. First, take me up to that beautiful master bedroom place and then walk me through the house. It looks like Lee has done a marvelous job.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to work out first?”
“Come with me now! No stops for a shower.”
After one of the Minh’s superb dinners of curried chicken, a Vietnamese noodle soup with shrimp and a dash of nuoc mam, and steamed rice, Jack said, “We’ll have coffee in the new command center. I haven’t shown the center to you yet. We’ll run our new operation from there.”
Kelly said, “Tell me, what was that sauce in the noodle soup? It was super. Did the Minhs make it or buy it?”
Jack laughed and said, “Nuoc mam is notorious. People either love it or can’t stand it. The Minhs bought it. The sauce is the result of a long process of distilling fish and that’s as far as I go.”
The command center was a 30-foot by 15-foot room with several flat screen monitors on the walls. Three stand-alone iMacs with quad processors, i7 intel cores and 27-inch monitors lined the far wall. When everyone had gathered around the table with fresh-brewed Colombian roast, Jack said, “I’ve accepted a very difficult mission. Some background. An al Qaeda senior leader is now running operations in the United States. The car bombs in Charleston, the burning of churches and the attacks on infra-structure targets in South Carolina are his doing. We now believe he is in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.
“This man is skilled in the deployment and management of sniper teams. He honed his skills in Iraq. On a few occasions, I was part of a counter-sniper group to clean out the snipers operating in the Sunni Triangle. I don’t believe this al Qaeda leader was operating in the field as a sniper. A highly talented sniper, who was the leader of the sniper teams in Iraq, is now in the United States. There is no guesswork here. Surveillance cameras and other information confirm their presence. Kathy was the first to spot this high ranking terrorist in Charleston. She saw and photographed him leaving the rug shop a few weeks before we destroyed it. So far, nothing I’ve said is conjecture or speculation.
“The rest of this brief is at best projected analysis of the above facts or conjecture based on experience. Make no mistake, the threat is very real. The man who sometimes provides our missions believes there will be attacks in the Capitol area within the next few weeks.
“Our role is to identify probable sniper targets, locate shooting points, and develop plans to deny the snipers success within an area extending from a few kilometers outside the beltway to the Capitol. Questions?”
No one said anything. They all just stared at Jack. Finally Kathy said, “There are only five of us. The search area is huge, and there is very little time. There is one more fact. I think we have a clue in the cars our terrorist picked to drive. In Myrtle Beach, he drove a Cadillac CTS. He left that car in Myrtle Beach and drove a Passat north to Richmond. His car choices were made to fit in with his cover and pattern of movement. He did not want his car to call attention to him. Guess what he deliberately bought in Richmond? A used white Ford 150 4×4 pickup truck. He is not going to locate in an urban condo or in a downtown apartment with a pickup truck. True to his own internal security commandments, he bought the truck to blend in with his new environment.”
Kelly said, “You mean this guy is going redneck on us and live in a rural area?”
“I don’t know about the redneck part, but I’ll bet he’s now located in some relatively isolated rural area. Remember the four-wheel drive capability. He doesn’t want to be blocked by road conditions, and we are now in an area where snowstorms can shut down travel as late as mid-March. We need to search for the white Ford 150, as well as sniper nests.”
Jack said, “Excellent point, Kathy! You and Kelly allot some of your time to searching likely rural areas for the truck. The place would likely be within an hour of DC and I think to the west, areas like Leesburg and Poolesville, Maryland. He won’t want to be caught east of DC because of the natural barriers to car travel. That logic also makes south and north of the city less attractive. Now to the resources issue.
“I’m sure there will be other teams working the problem. Our job is to limit the area to patrol and come up with innovative approaches to foil multi-sniper attacks. We’ll have logistical and analytic support and special equipment. A helicopter for our sole use will be positioned at the Leesburg Airport tomorrow or the next day. There must be more questions.”
Lou said, “I’m sure you have an approach. Tell us your ideas and our questions can be more to the point. So far the mission is overwhelming.”
“You’re right, I’ve got a basic plan for beginning, but I’ll need help to flesh it out.”
For the next hour Jack laid out his initial approach. A lively discussion period followed. Before midnight they had a plan that gave them a blueprint to start.
Jack designated responsibility areas. He and Lou made up one search team. Kelly and Kathy, the second one. Storm was given the responsibility for running their command room, coordinating intelligence, integrating search team reports and keeping track of searched areas. Jack and Lou would assign search priorities. They could sleep in tomorrow, but after that, breakfast would be served at 6:30.
The next morning breakfast was over by 7:30 and all, except Storm, were out of the house. She was in the command center getting familiar with the equipment and setting up databases to handle the incoming information and channel it into files to organize and retrieve search results. Jack and Lou left to pick up the equipment Frank promised Jack from a local storage unit business. Before going to pick up the material, Jack stopped to rent a pickup truck. He thought the Professor’s logic made sense. For their search activities, pickups would blend in far better. He planned to get a number of magnetized signs to change the truck’s appearance from time to time.
After checking for anyone following them, Jack drove back to the house and they off-loaded the equipment into the garage. The box of maps and declassified images were carried into the house for Storm to sort and store. Kathy and Kelly, following Jack’s lead, also rented a pickup truck. Following Kathy’s hunch about the Professor using a remote rural area for his headquarters, they checked the records in the Loudon County courthouse in Leesburg and the Montgomery County, MD, records. Moving from Leesburg to Montgomery County, Kathy crossed the Potomac River at Whites Ferry. Kathy gave Kelly five dollars and told her to hold it out the window for collection. Kelly couldn’t believe a ferry, dating back before the Civil War, was still the site for a major river crossing. Kathy pointed out the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal just east of Whites Ferry.
Kathy said, “Look, kid, while we’re here I’m going to give you a bit of area knowledge. It will help put things in context tomorrow when we begin a serious search. Just ahead on Whites Ferry Road is a town called Poolesville. For a period in the Civil War, it was occupied by Confederate troops. We can get a quick lunch and then I want to browse a really good antique store, called Hearthside. The couple who run it know antiques. In my single days, I bought some things there. I was always treated well and never overcharged. Anyway, I like to mix a little fun and pleasure into our work. The man who owns the shop also does some work in real estate and may know if anyone bought a remote small farm in the past year or two.”
Storm was swamped with the maps and DVD images Lou and Jack handed off to her. She asked Mrs. Minh to please bring her a sandwich and coffee. She didn’t want to leave the windowless room Jack called the command center. She had now mastered the technology and swiped topographical maps, images and text from the iMacs to a series of monitors along the wall. She was ready to get on with the first search when Jack gave the word and selected a target.