By Sally Fernandez
USHERING IN A NEW YEAR—PARIS, FRANCE
As scheduled, precisely at 11:50 p.m. central European time, the French president’s motorcade pulled away from his residence at the palace and headed to the public square. President Grimaud, having had to leave his own fête, departed through the front gate. He planned to arrive only minutes before he was to speak at the opening ceremony. Then, after performing his presidential duty, he would discreetly return to his guests. The drive to Place de la Concorde would take only three minutes…
CELEBRATIONS CONTINUE—PARIS, FRANCE
The limo pulled up to the staging area at exactly midnight—later than planned.
Suddenly, a loud explosion burst forth and blue and red sparkles filled the sky. Another explosion simultaneously erupted. The president’s limo had just pulled up behind a ball of fire…
THE NEW YEAR WAXES ON—BERLIN, GERMANY
Boom! Boom! Boom! The sounds of explosions were followed by crackling noises echoing through the air. At one minute past midnight, across the French border, the German citizens heard more explosions follow, one after the other, as they gazed at the smoked-filled sky. The onlookers watched excitedly as the red and gold lights streamed down from the black sky, mimicking their nation’s flag, and ushering in the New Year…
Seconds earlier, the spectators had finished listening to Chancellor Mauer offer hope to the German people, and to the rest of the world for peace and prosperity in the coming year. The chancellor ended by saying, “Einen guten Rutsch ins neue Jahr!” And, on cue, those words—meaning “a good slide into the New Year”—set off a series of explosions…
THE CELEBRATIONS CONTINUE – FLORENCE, ITALY
In Florence, Italy, Enzo Borgini, the executive director of police services for Interpol—the International Criminal Police Organization—was attending the New Year’s Eve festivities at the Societá Canottieri…
“Cosa?” Enzo snapped, startled by the abrupt intrusion. He spun around hastily and glared at the hand placed on his shoulder. “Cosa? What?” he shouted again over the sound of explosions in the sky. Having been lost in deep thought, Enzo had not seen nor heard his official driver yelling as he ran toward the wall where he was leaning… The driver, not able to slow down his breathing, began to sputter rapidly. “You’ve been summoned to headquarters immediately!…
The driver finally took a deep breath and, more calmly, added, “I’ll fill you in on the details in the car.”
“Oh mio dio,” was all Enzo could muster.
LONDON, ENGLAND IS AN HOUR AWAY
In London, British subjects had been partying for hours in the finest English tradition. The time was 11:00 p.m. Greenwich mean time. They had only one more hour before the fireworks display was to begin.
The 10 Downing Street party, a bit more refined than others, was also in full gear. Inside the gates, the entire length of Downing Street had been converted to an elaborate outdoor dining room. The round tables huddled under heat lamps, and the perfectly placed chairs stretched down the center of the road. The tables had been elegantly set with the finest china for a select group of guests who had been invited to share in the New Year’s Eve celebration with the British Prime Minister…
With only twenty minutes before Big Ben was to begin the countdown, the prime minister calmly moved through the crowd and requested, “Please move quickly into the residence. I will explain once we are all gathered inside.”
DEAD ZONE—JOY, UTAH
“In April of last year, the Emerson’s, an elderly couple in their mid-seventies, were reported missing. We found their bodies—here.” Max pointed again to the map where she had previously added a pushpin and scribbled their names. The marker placed off the side of the Brush Highway was approximately six miles from Joy, an old mining settlement that had been deserted for years. “They had been traveling from their home in Sunrise Manor, a suburb of Las Vegas, to visit their daughter in Provo.”
“That’s what, a six hour drive?”…
Max nodded in agreement. She then pointed to a location just north of the abandoned ghost town. “The bodies were discovered here, thirty miles northwest in the opposite direction from Interstate 15, which would have been a straight shot to Provo. A passing car found them the next morning.”
“What was the cause of death?”…
DEAD ZONE EXPANDS—SILVER CITY, UTAH
“In June, the Hazelton family of five was discovered here.” Max then pointed to another pushpin she had placed on the map, indicating a dirt road about two and a half miles south of Eureka. “Their van apparently skidded into a steep ravine off the Silver Pass Road. The autopsy determined the parents were killed on impact, although there was only slight bruising to their foreheads. Three young children between the approximate ages of three and seven were in the rear seat, ostensibly unharmed by the crash—all still buckled into their seatbelts.”
Noble recoiled with anguish. “Cause of death?”…
THE DEAD ZONE EXPANDS-FISH SPRINGS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, UTAH
…“What happened to the missing kayakers?”
Max tapped the screen and refocused the map on Utah’s Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge. “The wife of one of the kayaker’s called the rangers at the National Park Service when her husband hadn’t returned home the next day as planned. One of the rangers found their SUV here—just off the Pony Express Overland Stage Trail near Avocet Pool Road, approximately at this location. Another ranger found the four kayaks—here—on the banks of the Avocet Pool.”…
DEAD ZONE-FISH SPRINGS NATIONAL WILDLIFE REFUGE, UTAH
Studying the map further, Noble grilled himself as well as Max. “What’s going on? There’s nothing out there except an old abandoned mine that looks to be about four miles north of where the bodies were found.”
“I have no clue.” There was clear frustration in Max’s voice. The same frustration was reflected on Noble’s face.
Heaving a sigh of displeasure he pressed, “And the cause of death?”…
DEAD ZONE—DELTA, UTAH
Noble was becoming visibly flustered. “Move on to the trekkers.”
“A week ago today, two men in their mid-twenties began a seventy mile trek along Route 174, starting from Delta.” Max pointed to the map. “They were to head north toward Fish Springs National Wildlife Refuge.” She drew her patent yellow line with her finger along the route, highlighting their trail. “They were heading to the same location as our kayakers,” she noted.
Noble acknowledged the coincidence, but remained skeptical. “What, are they crazy? That makes no sense. It’s January! In that part of the country both the day and nighttime temperatures are brutal,” he stated in a voice of disbelief….
A FAULTY PREMISE—DUGWAY, UTAH
With spurious politeness, Agent Darrow thanked Noble for the assistance, but then reminded him, “Your Dead Zone—as you call it—is located next to Dugway and, according to federal mandates, is restricted airspace. Of course, you are aware it’s the largest continuous block of a no-fly zone in the U.S.”…
Max knew Dugway was the U.S. Army’s Proving Ground facility for biological and chemical weapons testing. It was the size of Rhode Island, covering close to eight hundred thousand acres. Nestled within the acreage is a self-contained city, referred to as English Village, with a population of over two thousand, comprised of families and personnel. The entire complex rests under an invisible cover of protected airspace controlled by the U.S. Air Force and restricted to military flight operations only. It is also a major training facility for various armed forces.
“Call the defense secretary and tell her I need the assistance of an air search rescue team to locate six individuals missing in the area near Dugway,” Noble requested…
THE FRENCH CONNECTION—LYON, FRANCE
“Director Bishop,” he answered.
“This is Executive Director Borgini of Police Services for Interpol.”
“Excuse me,” Noble stated, not having a clue as to who was on the other end of the line.
“This is Enzo Borgini. I worked with Hamilton on the sting operation in Florence.”
“Ah, yes, Director Borgini. I’m sorry I didn’t recognize your voice at first. What can I do for you?”
“Director Bishop, I have been working on the New Year’s Eve bombings that took place in Europe, and I just received a message claiming responsibility.”
Noble was puzzled as to why the director would find it necessary to inform him. “And who’s claiming responsibility?”
“I think you should see the message for yourself. Wait one moment, I’ll forward it to you.”
Noble promptly felt the vibration notifying him of the incoming message.
As he glanced down at his smartphone, he was stunned to the point that he had to steady himself against the wall. He took a deep breath to calm his nerves before placing the phone back to his ear. Almost breathlessly, he asked, “What do you need from me?”…
Once outside he dared to look again at the message on his phone. It read, HEADS UP!
A PRIMER IN SAVIOR—BELL HILL MINE, UTAH
“Agent Darrow was murdered.”
“Oh my God, what happened?” Putting Hamilton out of his mind, he gingerly refocused.
“Darrow was discovered in his vehicle parked off the side of the
road, thirty-five miles east of the Brush and Weis highway junction,
on the Jericho Callao Road. He was shot one time through the head.”
“Irrefutably murder—perhaps a warning shot—literally for the rest of us.” Noble cautioned. “What was he doing out there?”
“I don’t know. But last night, during the air search, the pilot of the Apache helicopter picked up something strange on the screen from the infrared detectors. Four figures were pictured moving rapidly toward the Bell Hill Mine, and then they disappeared.”
“Do the other federal agents think it was the cyclists?”
“They weren’t sure. But this morning, Darrow personally went to the mine to check it out. At ten o’clock, he called in his location and reported something about an unknown tunnel leading away from the mine.”
It was an overcast day and Hank was thankful to be sitting inside at his favorite table in the Solar Café. As he sipped away at his steaming cup of black coffee, he watched a woman walk through Franklin Park and cross I Street. She was clenching her coat collar tightly around her neck. A scarf covered her head. What appeared to be a final attempt at camouflage was a pair of dark sunglasses, but it was fruitless. It was no disguise for an experienced operator like Hank. He knew from her stature and the cadence of her walk that it was the former first lady, Maryann Townsend Baari…
“You look like hell,” Maryann commented as she walked toward his table.
“I could probably say the same for you if it weren’t for the masquerade,” Hank razzed.
She knew he was right. Abner’s disappearance had devastated both of them. It showed particularly on her face. As she sat down across the table from Hank, without removing her scarf or sunglasses, she unbuttoned her coat and let it flow to her side. They chatted for a few minutes about trivial subjects while waving off the server as she attempted to pour a cup of coffee, unknowingly for the former first lady.
“How’s the foundation?”
“Fine. How’s the Senate?”
“Out of control,” she retorted. Then warily, with a subtle movement of her facial expression, she glanced suspiciously toward the left side of his chest. “Hank, you seemed to have put on some weight,” she observed. Hank instinctively reached to his side as she chastised him furtively, “Have you lost your senses?”…
It was exactly 10:30 a.m. when Delta flight 1681 touched down at the Salt Lake City International Airport and promptly pulled up to the jetway. As Noble grabbed his carryon and shuffled through the aisle, he noticed he had plenty of time to get to his appointment. The base commander had offered to send a driver to escort him to the prison and then to Dugway, but Noble declined. He enjoyed driving and looked forward to the solitude, giving him the time to contemplate and prepare for his next move. Besides, a helicopter was available at the base if time were of the essence. So, all that was necessary was to pick up the leased car and arrive at the Utah State Penitentiary in Draper by 11:30…
Warden Lowell, to Noble’s surprise, seemed rather congenial compared to his unctuous tone on the phone the day before—a stark contrast from his earlier demeanor. However, his personality was of little consequence. He had complied with all of Noble’s demands, which were of greater significance…
“All appears to be in order,” Noble confirmed. “Thank you for your time. I’ll be in touch as soon as we have our man in custody.”
They shook hands and Noble left to begin his hour and a half drive to Dugway.
Every mile is a mile closer to Simon, he ruminated. To his surprise, the rest of his trip passed by quickly, and before he realized, he had turned onto Stark Road and was approaching the security entrance to the Dugway Proving Ground. “I’m Director Bishop here to see Colonel Evans,” Noble announced as he passed the soldier his credentials through the open window.
“Yes, sir. The Colonel is expecting you.” The soldier returned the I.D. card and directed Noble to the Colonel’s headquarters…
As he pulled up to the building, he was pleased to see a familiar figure standing outside, notwithstanding the slight bruises.
“Hey, boss,” Max shouted as she waved, wearing a huge smile.
Now standing next to her, he gently touched her forehead and, in a rare moment of intimacy, he said, “You look like hell.”
“It’s great to see you, too,” she teased. Then, turning sharply, she instructed, “This way, sir,” accentuating the word sir as she entered the building.
“Spending too much time on the base?” he needled as he followed her down the wide corridor. Then the jiving stopped, and his tenor changed. “Did the WAASP arrive?”
“Early this morning. In fact, it’s now on a plane heading back to France. I called Director Borgini to let him know the arrival time.”
“Did you speak with anyone else?”
“No, I spoke with Enzo,” she reacted speedily, and then challenged, “Why are you so uptight?”
“Sorry, I’m eager for this to all come to an end,” he admitted, as he thought, where is Simon now? He instantly refocused. “Did the WAASP give us what we need to know?”
“Yes, it confirmed that the underground bunker exists—which I suspected you already knew.”
Noble didn’t respond to her assumption. “Are we ready to enter the encampment?”…
Noble followed behind Max as they walked past the Colonel’s office and headed straight to his conference room.
“I have the command post set up in here.”
Noble gestured for her to walk in first.
When he entered the room, he observed a long conference table. Around the table stood three men, all wearing various attire, but it was obvious to Noble who was who.
“Gentlemen, I’d like to introduce SIA Director Bishop. He will take charge of the mission,” Max announced and then proceeded to introduce each member of the group…
“What you’re looking at is an aerial photo of the underground facility in the Dead Zone that was retrieved by an infra-red surveillance camera.” Max observed their expressions.
Unquestionably, the Colonel and the agent were astonished. The Major’s excitement matched Noble’s intense satisfaction.
Finally, Noble’s suspicions had been confirmed.
Max was also careful not to mention the WAASP in any specific detail. The Colonel obviously was aware that some newfangled camera arrived at the base. He was also told its use was classified, requiring security clearance from the White House.
Twenty minutes later, the Colonel and Noble, clearly on edge, finally viewed the B Team, along with Max and Agent Burke on the large flat screen monitor. They were now in two-way contact with the Special Forces team leader, Major Stanton.
“B Team in position,” sounded the Major’s voice through the speakers.
“You are coming through loud and clear,” the Colonel responded.
Noble looked down at his tablet and was able to view the scene transmitted from Max’s IMAC . “Max, watch your step,” he spoke softly.
“As the Major said, ‘Piece of cake boss,’” was the muffled retort that echoed through his earpiece, followed by, “Can you hear me, Director,” dismissing her personal comment.
“Loud and clear,” Noble reacted affirmatively, and then said in a softer tone, “I can also see you checking out the Major.” As he looked up from the device, he eyed the Colonel’s grin.
Max could feel her face flush as she quickly jerked her head to face the entrance to the tunnel.
Noble now faced the large screen monitor and focused all his attention on the mission underway…
“Quick, stop him!” Max screamed.
The Major snapped a look at her before swiftly passing the order to his soldiers. Instantly, they whipped into action and wrestled the figure to the floor.
Max moved forward. Standing only a few feet behind the soldiers, she looked down at the man lying helplessly on the ground. [THIS IS NOT THE END]