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Distressed

DBS Publishing LLC

Copyright 2015  by DBS Publishing LLC

Smashwords Edition

 

Distressed

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1 – Friday 6:00 p.m.

Salt water flung from the fishing line as it snapped taut. The clear nylon cord twisted left, the boat crew aboard the Wave Cutter scrambling to reel it in. “Fish on!” The soles of rubber boots squeaked against the wet deck, legs teetering back and forth as waves brought the bow of the ship up and down. The faces associated with the gloved hands reaching for the line were weathered, sundrenched, and cracked from the ocean air. Teeth chewed blistered lips as the crew clenched their jaws, pulling in the four-hundred-pound Bluefin tuna.

First Mate Mark Hurley grabbed the long spear and rushed to the starboard side, where the rest of the crew struggled with the line. “Are you boys fishing or jerkin’ off? Don’t be gentle with it. Put your back into it!” The crew gave one final pull, and the Atlantic waters erupted on the port side of the Wave Cutter, the tuna thrashing and drenching the crew and the deck of the boat in its cold waters. Mark lined up the spear and thrust it into the shimmering blue-and-gray scales on the side of the fish. The crew high-fived each other as Mark reached for the hook to pull the fish aboard.

Captain Dylan Turk watched the excitement from the wheelhouse then opened the salt-crusted sliding window. “The celebration happens after we get it in the boat, and after we’ve caught another twenty of those.” The two young men quickly helped Mark pull their catch aboard, and Dylan slammed the window shut.

The hot sun beat down into the wheelhouse and had cooked Dylan a nice shade of brown this summer. It’d been hotter than last year, although he caught himself saying that almost every year. His tanned fingers hung off the wheel loosely, the diesel engine doing most of the work, propelling his ship along the eastern banks of Massachusetts. It was a route both he and the Wave Cutter were familiar with, like the worn path cut through a well-used trail.

Dylan rubbed his jaw, the scruff on his chin and neck coarse against his callous hands. He reached for the coffee mug resting in the plastic cup holder and sipped, trying to give himself a mid-afternoon burst. Light vibrations from the fish still flopping on the deck rippled up to the cabin but ended the moment Mark bled it out and their two other crew members, Billy and Tank, hauled it down to the storage units to pack it with ice.

Mark climbed the small ladder to the wheelhouse and joined Dylan inside. “Slow and steady today, Cap.”

Dylan gave a nod. “Third day usually is.” Truth was, they seemed to have to go out farther and farther to find the fish. Regulations, poaching, and the fact that there was big money to be had in fishing had increased the competition in the area over the past decade. “How are the greenhorns?”

“Useless,” Mark said.

Dylan grinned. Anyone that wasn’t Mark was useless in those old eyes of his. But while the first mate’s skin had wrinkled and cracked, his hands and neck freckled and rough, Mark was still as sharp as the first day Dylan had worked with him. “Well, that’s why I have you.” Dylan gripped Mark’s shoulder, gently swaying him back and forth. “Those boys will give Navy SEALs a run for their money by the time you’re done with them.”

Mark scoffed and shrugged Dylan’s hand off him. “I don’t know where you find these kids. It seems like each year they get younger and dumber.”

“Or you’re just getting older and more impatient.” Mark gave another scoff and grumbled to himself. One of the many endearing attributes of the man was the fact that he was fueled by competition. “You’ve seen what’s been happening, Mark.” Dylan’s tone darkened. “Everyone’s headed for the larger ships. They get more fish, and they get bigger paychecks.”

Mark spit out the window on the port side. “Bunch of lazy asses is what they are. I’ve seen those ships. Everything’s mechanical. It’s not fishing when all you have to do is press a button.”

The ocean had supported Dylan and his family for the past eighty years. His grandfather was a fisherman, his father, and him. Salt water flowed through his veins. There wasn’t a place in the world where he felt better than when he was on the water. His grandfather used to joke that Dylan didn’t start walking until his parents finally put him on a boat deck. He’d never seen a baby look so comfortable on two legs with the deck rocking back and forth.

A weather alert beeped from the satellite uplink and spit out a warning. Dylan ripped it from the printer and scanned the lettering then glanced up into the sky. Some dark clouds had gathered in the northeast, but the wind was still tame. They had a little more time. “Better go tell those baby seals to stow the gear. Might be a rough one.”

Mark wiped his runny nose along his sleeve. “Mother of Mary, if they start puking, I’ll throw them overboard along with their slop.” He descended the ladder, and Dylan heard his angered orders through the fiberglass of the wheelhouse.

Dylan took another swig of coffee as the bow of the ship crested a wave. He opened the windows, letting the salt air fill the cabin and whip his hair back. He closed his eyes, letting the breeze graze his cheeks and the sun soak his skin. When he opened his eyes, he glanced down at the picture taped between the speedometer and the wheel. Two faces stared back at him, one with a front-tooth-missing grin, and the other one with her tongue out. The picture was two years old but one of his favorites. Some of the color had faded and the edges furled from the wind and salt, but he refused to take it down. He barely got to see them as it was.

Then on the horizon Dylan saw the flash of a red flare. He reached for the radio and rotated the dial for the frequency. “This is Captain Dylan Turk on the Wave Cutter at coordinates 42.431566, -65.593872. I’ve got a distress flare from another vessel. Could need assistance. Do we have anyone in the area?”

The radio spat out static. Dylan waited a moment before he repeated the message. Then the raspy voice of a coast guard operator finally answered. “Copy that, Wave Cutter. We have a vessel ten miles from your location. Do you have any other information to pass along?”

“Negative. I’m going to take a closer look, make sure everyone is okay.” Dylan hung up the radio and whistled down to Mark, who was busy yelling at the deckhands. He pointed toward the direction of the flare, and Mark gave a thumbs-up. Dylan nudged the throttle down, pushing the engines to their peak, and the hull cut through the open waters.

The flare flickered out less than fifty yards from them approaching the vessel. It rocked back and forth on the waves, the anchor straining to hold the boat down in the growing seas. Dylan picked up the radio, scanning the frequencies to try and find any signal coming from the ship, but heard nothing. He scanned through one more time just to make sure, but again the radio spit nothing at him except silence.

The closer Dylan moved, the more he was able to see the ship itself. None of the crew was visible on the deck, and there was no sign of whoever had set the flare. He pulled back the throttle and turned the wheel left, allowing him to circle to the other side of the boat to get a better look. The windows of the wheelhouse had been tinted dark, and the nets and gear were stowed away, without a drip of water on them.

Mark ascended the ladder and stepped inside. “What’s wrong?”

Dylan shook his head, the bow of the boat veering around the distressed vessel’s stern. “Those buoys haven’t touched water, and I can’t get them on the radio.”

“You sure you saw the flare?”

“I’m sure.” They kept their eyes on the deck as they came around to the port side, and then a man waving his arms came out from under the deck, and then another mimicking the same gesture. “Maybe their radio was out?” Mark suggested.

“Maybe.” Mark exited the wheelhouse, and Dylan kept his eye on the two men on the deck as he sidled the Wave Cutter beside the distressed boat. Mark tossed a line, and the two men tied off the cleats while Tank tossed bumpers over the side to provide some cushion between the vessels with the growing waves. Dylan shut off the engine and opened the glovebox. He shuffled through some of the papers and pulled out a small black box with a lock. He rolled the numbers until he heard a click. The joints of the rusty box squeaked as he opened it and grabbed the black .380 revolver nestled inside. He opened the chamber to check the ammo. It was fully loaded. He snapped the chamber shut and stuffed the gun into his pocket before he descended from the wheelhouse.

Mark, Tank, and Billy were still on the deck of the Wave Cutter, pointing at the opened engine hatch, slowly enunciating their words and speaking loudly. “En-gine tr-ou-ble?”

The two men on the deck of the distressed vessel pointed at the open hatch and nodded. Dylan joined his men, and Mark was the first to speak. “I think they’re illegals.”

“Then how the hell did they get that gear?” While the boat itself wasn’t the most modern piece of equipment, the nets, lines, hooks, and other gear on deck were brand new and top of the line. Dylan walked to the edge of the port side, where the two boats floated together on the waves. “Do you speak English?” The two men looked at each other then shook their heads. They looked up to the wheelhouse and pointed, speaking in a gibberish that Dylan and his men couldn’t understand.

“Billy, Mark, you two see what you can do about the engine. I’m gonna radio the coast guard again to let them know what we’ve got.”

Billy and Mark nodded, and the moment they stepped over the side of the boat and set foot on the distressed vessel’s deck, one of the men grabbed Billy and pulled a pistol out of the back of his pants and jammed it in Billy’s temple. The man’s partner pulled out his own weapon and aimed it at Mark. “Anyone moves, and they die.” The man’s words were accented but still understandable.

Dylan felt the weight of the revolver in his pocket as he lifted his hands in the air. “Hey, nobody needs to get hurt.” Both men’s movements were jerky, and Dylan could see their fingers on the triggers.

“Off the boat! Off the boat!” The man with his pistol aimed at Mark motioned for Dylan and Tank to come over to their side. When they did, two other men descended from their wheelhouse, both their faces covered with bandanas. Only one of them spoke, his voice muffled by the cloth covering his mouth, and it was in the same foreign tongue as their comrades.

After an exchange, the two men in bandanas nodded then turned to head below deck, but Dylan stopped them when they had their backs turned. “What do you want?” The man that had aimed his pistol at Mark immediately turned on Dylan, screaming at him, and marched until the end of the barrel was against Dylan’s cheek. The piece of steel was hot against his skin from baking in the sun, and the man forced it into Dylan’s face with enough momentum to almost knock his teeth out.

The man moved close enough for Dylan to smell the stink of his hot breath. It smelled sour, rotten. “You do not speak to him unless spoken to.” The man with the mask barked a harsh order at Dylan’s captor in their native tongue, and the pistol was slowly removed from Dylan’s cheek, leaving a circular mark from where the tip of the barrel had rested.

Dylan squinted from the sunlight. The only sounds were the waves lapping against the two boats’ hulls and the thump of shoes from the man in the bandana making his way toward him. Sweat rolled down Dylan’s temples and broke out on his neck and chest. When the man was right in front of him, he lowered the bandana, revealing a thin beard of dark-black hair outlining his upper lip, chin, and jawline, all connecting in one fluid line. His eyes were a dark green, his face tanned. The dark circles under his eyes were the only sign of weakness that Dylan could see. While Dylan could tell that the man wasn’t hardened by the sea, there was no denying the look of someone who had bathed themselves in pain.

“I want you to hurt.” The words rolled off of his tongue with a light slur, his accent thicker than the other man. He looked around to the rest of Dylan’s crew, individually sizing each of them up, turning his back to Dylan. “I want all of you to hurt.”

It could be his only chance. Dylan wrapped his arm around the man’s neck, putting him in a choke hold, and reached for the revolver in his pocket. He thumbed the hammer back and jammed the pistol into the man’s temple. The man’s henchmen immediately scrambled for his own crew, aiming their pistols closer to Mark, Tank, and Billy.

Dylan felt the pulse pumping through the vein in the man’s neck against his arm. “You want your boss to live?” He started breathing heavily, his sweating increasing twofold. He kept readjusting his grip on the revolver’s handle, which slid against the perspiration oozing from his palm. “Drop the guns now!”

“They will not answer to you.” The man’s thick accent muddled Dylan’s ears. He took a step backward, dragging the hostage with him. “Both myself and my men are willing to die. Are yours?” The man spat a round of his foreign tongue to his men, and one of them grabbed Tank by his shirt collar and dropped him to his knees. He placed the barrel on the back of his head, and Tank began to sob.

Adrenaline and fear ripped through Dylan’s body. His stomach twisted into a knot, and his heart dropped to his feet. His throat went dry, and he readjusted his grip on the revolver’s handle. “I’ll do it! Do you want him to die?”

“My life is of no significance to them, or me. It will only take one of us to complete our task. Do you want your man to die?”

Tank’s face flushed red as snot and tears dribbled down his face. “Captain, please. Please, I don’t want to die.” He pressed his forehead against the boat deck, collapsing within himself.

Tank couldn’t have been older than nineteen. All Dylan could think about when he looked at him was his own son. Tank had a father somewhere, a mother, friends, people who loved and cared about him.

Dylan slowly disengaged the revolver’s hammer and released the man. He placed the gun on the ground, keeping his hands in the air. “No one needs to die. Take the boat, take whatever you need, and just go.” He kicked the revolver away, and it skidded across the slick boat deck until it landed by the man still holding a gun to the back of Tank’s skull.

The man Dylan held rubbed his neck gently, which was flushed red. He walked to his comrade and picked up the revolver. He tossed it over in his hands, opened the chamber, closed it, and gripped the handle. “Three-eighty special. A detective gun. Growing up, did you play cowboys and Indians, Captain?”

Dylan looked down to Tank, still reeling on deck. “Tank, you’re going to be fine, okay? It’s going to be all right.”

“I am sure you did,” the man said. “I bet you ran around your yard, green with grass, wearing your cowboy hat and your sheriff’s badge, hunting down the bad guys and throwing them in jail. I bet you liked that, being the hero. The good guy.” He cocked the hammer back on the revolver and twisted his face, the thin line of his beard forming a grimace. “There are no good men or bad men. There are only those that are willing to do what it takes to get what they want.” He pushed his comrade aside and placed the revolver’s barrel on the back of Tank’s skull, and Tank broke out in another fit of cries.

“Please.” Dylan took a step forward then stopped when the rest of the pistols were aimed at him. “I was wrong. Okay?” It took everything in him to keep his voice steady. “If you’re going to hurt someone, hurt me.”

“I am.” The man pulled the trigger, and the piece of lead entered the back of Tank’s skull and exited his left cheek. Both Mark and Dylan lunged at the pirates the moment the shot was fired but were pistol-whipped to the deck, joining Tank on the ground, where a stream of blood poured out of Tank’s face and mixed with the salt water puddled on the floor.

Dylan collapsed to the deck, looking to Tank, whose eyes were still open and his body motionless. He reached out and lowered the boy’s eyelids. Then, two of the pirates picked Tank’s body up and tossed it overboard.

“Even if you would have killed me, the boy would have died,” the man said, tossing the revolver over the side of the ship along with the body. “At least you’re alive. For now.”

Chapter 2 – Saturday 1:00 a.m.

The tires of a 1985 Oldsmobile with its headlights off pulled onto the graveled pavement that was the makeshift parking lot for the small harbor and docks that sat alongside the Atlantic. The only light that the harbor provided was a few lampposts along the docks and one flickering bulb encased in broken plastic against the harbormaster’s building.

Adila Cooper checked the clock on the Oldsmobile’s dash as it flashed 1:00 a.m. She cut the engine and leaned back in her seat, which creaked. She drummed her fingers on the wheel. “C’mon, you bastards. Don’t get cold feet on me now.” A pair of headlights flashed in her rearview mirror, and a surge of relief and adrenaline kicked in. “Here we go.” Cooper pushed herself out of the car and leaned against the back of the trunk, her arms crossed in an annoyed stance. “You’re late, Demetri.”

The doors of the black Mercedes seemed to shut in unison as the four figures exited the car. All of them dressed in long black overcoats with the same short black haircut and broad faces that accompanied their Russian heritage.

“Relax,” Demetri replied. “Good business takes time.” He was a second-generation son of a Russian mob boss that worked the Northeast. He spoke both English and Russian but never had the accent that his father and uncles had yet to shed.

“Good business happens when people agree to the terms,” Cooper retorted. “You talk with your father?”

“I did. Both he and I are in agreement. Three shipments a week. Twenty kilos per shipment, at six hundred thousand upon delivery.”

Cooper frowned and cocked her head to the side. “The agreement was for six fifty a shipment. Don’t try and lowball me on this, Demetri.”

Eta zhenshchina. Vsegda so spetsifikoy,” Demetri said, turning to the crew behind him. “You and I both know you’ll make up the difference in the volume. There isn’t anyone on the east coast that can handle the kilos you’re bringing in. It’s a mutually beneficial arrangement.” He reached out and gently rubbed one of the dark-black locks of her hair that rested on her shoulder.

Cooper reached up and gently rubbed the top of his hand with her thumb then squeezed her fingers and twisted Demetri’s wrist, causing him to howl in pain. “It’s not that beneficial, sweetheart.” She shoved his hand away, and he took a few steps back, rubbing his wrist and chuckling.

“I always thought you’d like it rough.”

“It’s best not to mix business and pleasure.” Cooper led them down the docks, past rows of boats floating silently in the night air. They boarded the second-to-last boat on the dock, and Cooper ripped off a tarp that covered a massive cooler with a lock. She reached into her pocket and tossed Demetri the key. “Take a look. Make sure everything’s in order. And then I’ll be taking my six fifty, and be on my way.”

Demetri laughed, shaking his head. He handed the key to one of his men, who opened the cooler, stacked the wrapped bricks of cocaine into his arms, and passed it to the others. Another one of Demetri’s henchmen gave him a small bag, then he extended it to Cooper. “Just have enough respect to wait and count it until after I’m gone.”

“Just make sure I don’t have to come looking for you after I do.” Cooper opened the bag and thumbed the thick stacks of hundreds inside. Money always had a distinct smell, like a crisp piece of paper that had been baked in the sun for too long and left out to dry. She zipped the bag back up and headed over to her car, with Demetri and his crew in tow.

“I look forward to working with you in the future,” Demetri said, his crew piling the cocaine into his trunk. “We’re going to make a lot of money together.”

The graveled parking lot came alive with sirens, lights, and police vehicles as they were surrounded with at least thirty officers. Cooper, Demetri, and his men removed their pistols, firing into the police, retreating to the docks.

Cooper’s feet smacked against the wooden planks of the boat dock. The water echoed the gunshots across the bay. She aimed her pistol into the clustered group of officers bottlenecking themselves at the front of the dock. Gunshots fired back and forth, and one of Demetri’s men caught a bullet in the back and collapsed to the dock before they made it to the boat that had stored the cocaine. The vessel rocked as the four of them climbed on board.

“What the hell did you do?” Demetri roared, gripping Cooper’s neck and squeezing.

Cooper ripped Demtri’s hands off her and shoved him back. “You told me the feds weren’t watching you anymore!” She fired down the long dock, her bullets splintering the wooden pillars the officers tried hiding behind. The pistol’s slide rocked back, signaling the magazine was empty. She ducked back into the cover of the boat and reloaded.

Demetri’s henchmen fired while their boss hung back, close to the boat’s console. He searched frantically, trying to figure out how to start the engine. “Where are the keys?

Cooper padded her pockets. “Shit! I left them at the car.”

Demetri turned on her as gunfire blasted their eardrums. “How the hell are we supposed to get out of here, then?”

“I don’t suppose you can swim, can you?” Cooper peeked above the edge of the hull’s wall and saw that the officers had marched more than halfway down the dock. They were overrun, outgunned, and running out of time. “I’m not going to jail.” She jumped from the boat and onto the dock, firing wildly into the authorities.

A bullet connected to her stomach, and a gush of blood erupted from her shirt. She stumbled to her knee and continued to fire, clutching her abdomen. The pistol’s magazine emptied, and another bullet impacted her chest, triggering another spat of blood, and she collapsed to her back. She lay there, her arms and legs twisted as she watched the faces of the officers circle above her then march their way down the rest of the dock.

Cooper lay there, motionless on the splintered docks, her eyes closed, listening to the battle between the police and Demetri’s men. She lost track of time as she lay there, and wasn’t exactly sure when the gunfire stopped, but she was suddenly aware of being lifted up and onto a stretcher and carried down the dock.

The paramedics slid her inside the ambulance, where she was greeted by two officers in DEA jackets. The medics closed the doors, and she felt the ambulance lurch forward.

“You got a lot of balls,” the DEA agent said.

Blood still covered her chest and stomach. Agent Cooper propped herself up on her elbows and eyeballed the two of them. “Had to make it convincing.” She slid her hand down her shirt and yanked out two small pouches of torn blood packs and slung them on the floor. She gently pressed down where the rubber bullets had bruised her flesh. “Damn, those things hurt.”

Agent Diaz tossed her a jacket, and she took off her bloody shirt and exchanged it for the jumpsuit. “Worth it, though. There’s enough cocaine to put Demetri away for a long time.”

Cooper zipped up her jacket and pinned her badge on the belt of her pants. “Good to finally have that back. Hey!” She shouted up toward the driver. “Take us back around to the surveillance vans. I want to see the bastards in cuffs.”

“Coop, that’s probably not a good idea,” Diaz said as the ambulance made a wide-sweeping turn. “You want to keep your distance for a while, and the boss wants a debrief ASAP.”

“I’m not going to get out and talk to them,” Cooper answered. “I just want to see the reward of four months’ worth of work.” She positioned herself just next to the window as the ambulance pulled back onto the harbor. Only Demetri and one of his henchmen walked out alive. She couldn’t help but grin as the officer pushed Demetri’s head down and locked him up in the vehicle. Cooper leaned back against the ambulance’s wall. “He was never anything more than a wannabe.”

“His father will do whatever he can to break him out,” Diaz said. “Despite their prickly relationship.”

“Well, tell him good luck. The Shoscovs don’t have the power they used to. We’re slowly cutting off their money, and without that, they won’t be able to hide behind their expensive lawyers or their concrete walls and security systems.”

“They won’t be able to weasel their way out of this one. It’s cut-and-dry. The coke was real, you’re dead, and they exchanged hands. This was foolproof.”

“A lot of things are supposed to be foolproof.” Cooper rubbed the tender flesh on her chest where the blood packs had detonated, and once the officers carrying Demetri and his henchmen disappeared, she climbed out of the van and joined the remaining DEA agents tagging evidence.

Glances and hushed whispers followed Cooper as she made her way through the crime scene. She felt each eye drill into the back of her head like a laser. She rolled her shoulders, uncomfortable from the attention. She made her way down the dock, passing the bloodstains on the wood where she’d been hit. Two coroners were wrapping up one of the dead henchmen by the boat, but Cooper kept walking until she ran out of dock.

The horizon was nothing but black and water. Waves lapped against the dock pillars, and Cooper closed her eyes to smell the salt air, but the only scent that grazed her nostrils was bird shit. When Diaz walked up behind her, he offered a light smile, which Cooper didn’t return. “Somebody know something I don’t?”

Diaz let out a sigh. “You’ve been undercover for a long time, Coop. When you go under that long, rumors start. It’ll blow over in a couple of weeks, once you get back into the routine.”

Cooper scoffed. “Seven years with the department, and they think I’m dirty? Why? Because some prick dropped a tip that I was dealing on the side. It’s bullshit.”

“And the bullshit will clear,” Diaz replied. “I know you’re not dirty.”

“Yeah, well, you might be the only one.” It wasn’t a secret that Cooper had been in more undercover operations than any other DEA agent in history, and along with those long stints came a reputation. A reputation that maybe she’d sunk herself too deep, let herself go in too much. Even she had to admit, it was a rush, living in the underworld that most people never see. Never knowing what would hit you. Maybe she had been under too long.

***

The office was small but adequate space for Homeland Deputy Director Richard Perry’s needs. The stapler, pens, and computer monitor on his desk were lined up in an organized grid, everything in its proper place. The walls and shelves were bare of any personal effects. No pictures of family or friends. Nothing.

Despite the small collar and tie, Perry’s thin neck wiggled loosely against the stiff collar. His jacket hung on the back of his chair, the American flag pinned to the lapel. His bony fingers typed along the keyboard, crawling like an insect over a larger foe. The cuffs of his long-sleeved shirt had crept up his forearms, exposing flesh that looked cracked and flaky. He quickly pulled them back down to his wrists.

The only light in the hallway was emitted from his office. The rest of the staff had gone home long ago, leaving Perry alone to burn the midnight oil. He finished up a few details on his report, spell-checked it, then sent it to his superior. He checked his watch and waited, looking at the phone on his desk. A few seconds later, and it rang. “Director, what can I help you with?”

“Perry, is this some sort of joke?”

Perry rose from his chair. Even when he stood, his body seemed twisted, and his legs and arms seemed too long for the rest of his body. He stepped around the desk, walking to the window to shut the blinds, a habit he went through even when no one was around. “No, sir, I’m afraid it’s not.”

“If this gets out, and we’re wrong… Christ, if we’re right, this could cause a national emergency.”

Perry nodded his head, making his way back to his desk. “Yes, sir. That’s why I wanted to bring it to you directly. Keeping this out of the public eye will be important.”

“We’ll need to bring in the Secretary of the Navy on this, make sure the West Coast is prepared.”

“I already have a proposal in your inbox, sir.”

The director gave a light laugh on the other end of the line. “I’ve never met anyone that made my job so easy and hard at the same time. I’ve set up a meeting for first thing this morning at 8:00 a.m. It’ll be on the second-floor conference room.”

“I’ll be there, sir.” The call clicked dead, and Perry set the phone down. He checked the time on the wall and pulled out a cell phone. He dialed a contact labeled “unknown” and waited as it rang. A few seconds later, an older voice picked up, and Perry spoke in a calm whisper. “Is it done?”

“Landing will happen before sunrise.”

Perry snapped the cell shut then stuffed it into his pocket. He grabbed his forearm. Even under the cloth of his shirt, he felt the bumps and grooves that tattooed his skin. Soon.

Chapter 3 – Saturday 2:00 a.m.

With the bandana tied around his eyes, blocking his vision, all Dylan had to rely on was what he heard and felt. The pirate’s gibberish and the heavy clunk of crates and boots across the ship’s deck. The side of his face still felt tender from the hit, and the temperature of the air had dropped dramatically, letting him know the sun had long since sunk beneath the horizon. His shoulders felt tight, and his back was rigid. The restraints around his ankles and wrists were bound together, and his knees had gone numb from sitting on them for the past few hours.

The adrenaline had long run out of him, along with the mixture of grief, fear, and anger that went with it. All he could do was sit there while the image of Tank’s face plagued his thoughts until his mind was soaked with the blood that had poured out of his crewman. He’d only known the boy for a few weeks, but despite Mark’s flogging that he was worthless, Tank caught on quick.

When Dylan watched Tank from the wheelhouse, he would catch a smile creep up the side of his face when he was chumming bait or stowing a line. The boy loved the water. But when the images replayed in his mind, a hole would appear in Tank’s left cheek, and blood would spout from it and onto the deck, and his body was tossed overboard. His family and friends couldn’t even bury him.

Mark, Billy, and Dylan had remained silent during their imprisonment. None of them were willing to risk the beating or bullet they knew would come if they spoke. Even Mark’s mouth yielded after a round of thrashing from the pirates.

The dialogue between their captors suddenly turned heated. While they still spoke in their foreign tongue, Dylan knew something was wrong. The words reached a crescendo when a hand yanked off the blindfold. Dylan blinked repeatedly, his eyes adjusting to the moonlight. He looked to his left and saw that Mark and Billy were both still tied up and blindfolded. The pirate who had taken the blindfold off him dropped a map in front of him with scribbling all over it.

Dylan unfurled the map in his hands, and under moonlight he saw a circle around a small stretch of land just south of Boston on the coast. Dylan tossed the map back at the feet of the pirate. “I’m not taking you anywhere.” A right cross connected to Dylan’s face, and he stumbled from his knees to his side, bumping into Mark, who fell with him. The pirate fisted a clump of Dylan’s hair and yanked his head back, exposing his neck to the blade in his hand. Dylan felt the cold steel just below his Adam’s apple. “Go ahead. Do it.”

The head pirate looked at him and smiled. “Captain Dylan, it seems like you’re finally understanding what we’re trying to do.” He crouched down and met him at eye level. “It’s a place here.” The pirate pressed his forefinger into Dylan’s chest, hard, until it pulsed in and out with the beat of Dylan’s heart. “The mind makes us believe that it’s the one in control, but it’s the heart that fuels our desires, our fantasies, and our revenge.”

“Whatever you’re doing. Whatever you’re planning. I won’t have any part of it.”

“That’s because you lack the proper incentive.” The pirate smiled and pulled out a small square of faded paper, and when he flipped it around and placed it in front of Dylan for him to see the faces of his children, Dylan lunged for him but was too slow, and the side of a pistol smacked into the back of his head. “Our GPS is no longer functional. You will take us to the coordinates on the map, and if you don’t, then I will kill your children myself.”

The pirate dropped the picture, and it twirled in a spiral to the deck. Dylan retrieved it from a small puddle and wiped the photograph on his shirt, drying its worn and faded edges. He gently rubbed his thumb over their faces then tucked the picture safely into his pocket as the pirate who’d held the knife to his neck shoved him violently.

Dylan jumped to his feet and gave a forceful shove back. The pirate raised his pistol, but before it escalated any further, the head pirate spoke in their foreign tongue and then untied Mark and Billy’s restraints, taking their blindfolds off.

“You two all right?” Dylan asked.

“Yeah,” Mark answered. Billy simply nodded, eyeing the bloodstain on the deck where Tank had been shot. Dylan handed Mark the map as the three reboarded their ship, now heavy with four pirates and whatever else the pirates had stored below deck while they were tied up.

While Mark and Billy untied the ropes from the cleat connecting the two vessels, the pirates exchanged their pistols for AK-47s, and each of those barrels was aimed at one of them at all times. The lead pirate joined Dylan in the wheelhouse, and once the distressed vessel was behind them, both Billy and Mark were sent below deck with their guards.

“How long?” the pirate asked.

“We should get there before morning,” Dylan answered, although he was in no hurry.

“It needs to be before sunrise.”

“I can’t make any promises.”

“Then neither can I.” The tone was threatening, as it was meant to be. “Turn the lights off,” the pirate demanded.

“There’s a lot of traffic out here. If I can’t see anyone, and they can’t see me, that’ll do more harm than good.”

“No. Lights.”

Dylan flicked off the bow and stern lighting, sending the ship into darkness, with the exception of the moon and stars above. Even the cabin lights were off. “I can’t get us to the destination if I can’t see the map.”

The pirate turned on a flashlight and shone it over the nautical gear then flashed it off. “Just keep us on course.”

The hours that passed felt more like days. Above, clouds flashed lightning, and it danced across the sky. Dylan remembered the weather forecast from earlier. The projections had them missing the storm, but if an alert had come through while he was blindfolded, he would have missed it. A light rumble accompanied the flashes of hot light in the clouds, and Dylan heard the pirate shift uneasily behind him. For the first time in his nautical career, Dylan found himself wishing for rain.

Thunder boomed and lightning clashed the closer they moved toward the shoreline. The first few drops of rain splattered against the windshield, and the bow rose up the side of swells and then sped down the opposite slope. Waves crashed over the front of the boat as the wind picked up and howled. “You need to let my crew tie down the gear.” Dylan gripped the wheel hard as the rain thickened.

“No, they stay where they are,” the pirate answered, the resolution in his voice refusing to break.

Another bolt of lightning and crash of thunder sounded simultaneously as Dylan steered the boat into the wall of water careening toward them. The force of the wave sent fishing lines and weights crashing into the windows of the cabin, and with it the water from outside.

The rain whooshed through the broken panes of the cabin’s window and pelted Dylan’s face and the pirate, who finally turned to his men and yelled at them in his native tongue, then looked to Dylan. “If your crew tries anything, I will kill them.”

Dylan examined the dripping pistol in the pirate’s hand. He shouted through the window to Mark and Billy below. “Stow the lines and put out the anchors!” But before he could even finish his words, Mark was already barking at Billy to do just that. The two men hurried around the ship, doing their best to stay upright in the howling wind and rocking waves of the storm.

The engine of the boat whined and strained to follow Dylan’s commands, but the captain willed the boat forward, pushing it beyond its limits. Mark finally lowered the anchors on either side of the ship, giving the vessel some stability. The Wave Cutter charged through the storm, and Dylan fought to keep them on course.

The storm clouds had blocked out the moon and stars, and all Dylan could see in front of him was blackness with the lightning from above flashing, occasionally illuminating their path. “I need to turn the spotlight on.”

“No! No lights!”

“If I can’t see a swell coming, then we run the risk of capsizing! If you’re worried about getting caught, no one is going to stop us in this storm.” Dylan’s wet shirt clung to his chest with an icy grip, the rain soaking him through to the bone. The wind sent rain droplets speeding through the broken windows, which stung his exposed face and arms. The pirate finally nodded, and Dylan flicked the light switches and grabbed the spotlight attached to the roof of the wheelhouse, which he could operate with the handle that jutted down just above his head.

Dylan rotated the beam of light, bringing it onto the waves and rolling seas. He turned the wheel hard right, avoiding a swell that threatened to knock them sideways. “Hold on!” Gravity pulled them backward as the vessel pushed its way up the side of the wave. The boat creaked and strained and crawled to a stop as they reached the crest.

Dylan jammed the throttle down harder, giving the ship the needed boost to peak over the wave and slam onto the choppy waters below. He wiped the rain from his eyes, looking for any more rogues that threatened to take him out. A hand gripped his shoulder, and he ripped it off, only to find that it was Mark. “Captain! The gear’s tied down, but we lost a lot of line.”

“You and Billy get below and grab the life vests. I don’t know how much worse this storm is going to get or when it plans on stopping.”

Mark nodded and then carefully descended the ladder of the wheelhouse, almost falling into the ocean a few times before he made it to the deck. Dylan looked back at the pirate, drenched from head to toe but still gripping his pistol. Lightning flashed in the reflection of his eyes. He kept that scowl, watching Dylan’s every movement, the same granite expression that he’d had since they boarded his ship. In that moment, the finalization washed over Dylan: the pirate truly did not care whether he lived or died, so long as his mission was complete.

Dylan continued the push forward through the storm, the rain and waves peaking after an hour of battling. He felt his body sag from fatigue as the raging downpour turned into a light rain that pattered the windows and deck of his ship. The waves calmed, and the lightning and thunder that had done their best to crush them turned into nothing more than echoes in the distance. Water sloshed back and forth in the wheelhouse, and Mark and Billy used the bilge pump to help clear it out.

With the storm safely behind them, the pirate forced Dylan to turn the ship’s lights back off. “You’re good at what you do. My thanks.”

“Keep it.” The thought of it disgusted Dylan, but he didn’t do it for them. Billy and Mark were still alive, and he’d be damned if he let any more of his crew members die because of his decision making.

Dylan checked his watch, and the clock face read 5:00 a.m. They had less than ninety minutes before the sunrise. “When we make it to the shoreline, I won’t be able to take you all the way to land.”

“What?”

“The location you showed me.” Dylan jammed his finger into the soaking-wet map. “The waters are too shallow for my boat to make it all the way to shore.”

The pirate yelled through the open window, and after a few short commands, one of the men descended into the fish cellar and emerged with a radio. He extended the antenna and tuned the dial to whatever frequency his comrades on the other end were listening to. A few minutes later, he was in communication and then yelled something back up to their leader. “Keep course. We’ll have a boat come and meet you in the deeper waters.”

The rest of the trip was uneventful. Fatigue and the fact that everyone was soaked to the bone seemed to have leeched everyone’s remaining energy. But once the shoreline was in view, the pirates’ energies resurged, and Dylan became painfully aware of what would happen to them once the pirates had completed their mission.

“Slow,” the pirate said, holding the gun to the back of Dylan’s neck.

Dylan brought the ship to an idle and kept the lights off as instructed. Two of the pirates down on the deck kept a lookout for whatever dinghy was meeting them. If Dylan was going to get himself and his crew out of this alive, then he’d need to do it quickly. The nearest port was thirty minutes north. If he timed it right, he might be able to get both him and his crew there safely.

The pirates on the bow started shouting as they heard the light rumble of the outboard engine from the smaller vessel heading to meet them. They gave a quick flash of their lights, and Dylan was ordered to do the same. He cut the engines, and the ship coasted until the small sixteen-foot boat, captained by similar-looking men with rifles and pistols, pulled up on their port side.

They cast lines and tied them off on the cleats. Dylan was escorted down the steps and placed with Billy and Mark in the cabin. Both of them were still soggy from the storm. Billy looked like he was about to fall asleep, while Mark still had a fire stoked in him and looked as though he could set fire to any man he stared at for too long. “You two all right?”

Billy gave a sleepy nod, but Mark didn’t break his stare on the pirates. One man was left to guard them while the rest of the pirates moved whatever gear they stored below. Dylan heard the splash of the anchor and the thump of boots along the deck. The sounds continued for a while and then finally stopped as their leader shouted something down into the cabin for their captor to hear. He answered, and then the rumble of the smaller boat’s engine sounded. A few seconds later, a second guard came down to join his comrade, and both men took turns aiming their pistols over Dylan, Mark, and Billy’s heads.

With the rest of the pirates gone and two left to guard Dylan, Mark, and Billy, he realized that the small boat must not have had enough room to carry all of their gear. The pirates would need to make another trip.

Right now they were two hundred yards from the shore. It’d take the pirates at least five minutes for the trip, and just as long to unload whatever they had, then five minutes for the journey back, perhaps shorter since they weren’t so heavy.

Dylan’s eyes roamed the cabin, trying to catch anything in his peripherals that he could use, while keeping a watchful eye on the fingers curled over gun triggers. The two pirates watched them like hawks, and each moment that passed was one less second they could be using to get away. “You speak English?”

Neither man responded. Mark finally broke his gaze on the pirates and turned to Dylan. Billy awoke from his fatigued stupor. “Hey!” Dylan shouted, triggering the pirate’s foreign dialect and the barrel of his rifle to be shoved in his cheek. Dylan shoved the rifle’s barrel away from his face, but the pirate still kept a bead on him. Dylan forced the adrenaline coursing through his body to stop his muscles from trembling, and he gritted his teeth. “I know you can understand me, you piece of shit.”

The pirate grabbed Dylan by the collar and flung him across the inside of the cabin. He smacked into one of the cabinets, and plates and utensils spilled out. Mark and Billy jerked from their seats, but the pirate’s comrade kept them at bay.

Dylan fumbled his hands to try and grab a fork that had fallen to the floor. When the pirate lunged for Dylan again, he jammed the fork’s prongs into the side of the pirate’s neck. Blood spurted over Dylan’s fingers as the pirate squirmed and flailed. The pirate’s comrade aimed the rifle at Dylan’s head, and just before he squeezed the trigger, Mark barreled into him, sending the bullet off kilter and into the cabin’s wall. Dylan repeatedly jammed the fork into the pirate’s flesh, each new set of holes provoking fresh blood. More gunshots fired down the cabin hallway, where Mark had tackled the pirate and Billy had gone to help him.

The pirate Dylan had stabbed twitched, and the struggle slowly faded from his face as Dylan dropped the bloodied fork and pushed the dead body off him. He picked up the pirate’s rifle and stumbled into the hallway, where Mark rested on top of the pirate’s comrade, and Billy was slowly picking him up off the dead body.

“Mark!” Dylan rushed to help the first mate off the floor. Mark clutched his stomach, his hand covering a bloodied wound.

“Son of a bitch shot me.” Mark groaned as Billy and Dylan helped him to the seats by the kitchen table.

Dylan ripped the hole wider in Mark’s shirt to examine the wound underneath then checked his back. “No exit wound. Just hang on, Mark.” He grabbed some cloths and pressed them firmly over the wound. “Keep pressure on it. Billy, with me.”

The two rushed up the cabin steps and onto the dock. In the distance, he could hear the boat turning around. “They heard the gunshots! Pull up the anchor, now!” Dylan climbed the rungs of the ladder two at a time. He skidded to a stop, his feet almost sliding out from under him. He gripped the wheel for support, and the blood from his hands smeared against the old polished wood.

“Anchor’s up!” Billy shouted.

Bullets peppered what was left of the shattered wheelhouse. Dylan ducked, cranking the engine to life as he did. He pushed the throttle down, and the boat jerked forward, gunshots continuing to thunder behind them. Dylan straightened the wheel, and when he looked up, the pirate’s boat was right alongside them, firing into his ship’s hull.

Dylan turned the wheel hard left, knocking the small vessel back, and the driver veered out of their path, but one of the pirates leapt over the edge of the boat, onto the side of a cargo hold. “Billy! Cut the cargo rope off!” Dylan accelerated the boat and maxed out the engines at thirty knots then slid back down the wheelhouse ladder to help Billy.

The pirate swung the barrel of his rifle over the side of the boat and fired blindly, blanketing the boat deck with lead and tearing holes into crates, the hull, and equipment. Billy ducked behind a cluster of buoys while Dylan stayed behind the cover of the wheelhouse on the opposite side. The firing stopped, and when Dylan poked his head around, he saw the pirate swing his leg over the edge of the hull. Dylan sprinted toward him, and just before the pirate could fire the rifle, Dylan shoved him back over the side. The pirate grabbed the sleeve of Dylan’s shirt on the way down, bringing Dylan off the side of the boat with him.

The two men clung to the cargo net as waves of salt water washed over them, the boat still plowing forward. The pirate aimed the rifle, and Dylan kicked it away, losing his grip with his left hand and almost falling from the net. The rifle splashed into the water, and Dylan saw the smaller sixteen footer struggle to keep up with them. The pirate pulled a knife and sliced open a cut on Dylan’s arm before he could move out of the way.

Gunfire broke though the sprays of water puffed from the ocean as the small vessel tried to chase them. The pirate swung his knife violently at Dylan, who kept trying to pull himself up the net, struggling against the chop of the waves. Dylan finally caught the pirate’s arm, locking it under his own, and slammed his forehead into the pirate’s nose. The blade splashed into the ocean, and Dylan flung the man from the net in his disoriented state and watched his body skip across the water.

“Captain!” Billy peered over the side of the boat and extended his hand. Dylan reached for it but slipped, due to the beads of water slick on his arm. “C’mon, Captain!” Dylan lunged again, and this time the hold stuck, but a loud whistling came through the air, and then the water erupted into an explosion five feet from where Dylan struggled to reenter the boat, sending up a geyser twelve feet high.

The explosion left a ringing in Dylan’s ears, and he almost pulled Billy over the side with him but managed to keep his footing and flopped onto the deck.

Dylan caught his breath and checked his arm as another explosion rocked the stern on the starboard side of the ship. Dylan rolled to his stomach and pushed himself up, blood streaming down the side of his arm. He looked behind to see the pirate’s craft struggling to keep up, launching mortars from the ship’s bow. “Billy, get below into the cabin with Mark, now!”

Another long whistling sounded as Dylan rushed back up to the wheelhouse, and the mortar explosion rocked the port side of the boat, this one close enough to shift the vessel right, turning them back around to their captors.

Dylan reached for the wheel, straightening them out, and then swerved left, trying to give the pirates a harder target to hit. He spun the wheel back and forth in sharp turns, the movements causing the cut on his arm to gush more blood. The throttle was maxed out. Dylan checked behind him, and a mortar exploded directly behind the boat, sending a shockwave through the vessel.

A few more sporadic gunshots, and Dylan watched the pirates swerve off, giving up their pursuit, the small vessel no longer able to keep pace. Dylan collapsed on the wheel, his own weight crushing him. With the adrenaline subsiding, he suddenly became painfully aware of the burning sensation in his left arm. He ripped off a piece of his shirt and wrapped it tightly around the wound, trying to stanch the bleeding. “Billy! How’s Mark?”

“He’s okay! A little lightheaded, but he’s still breathing!”

Dylan let out a sigh and checked the water-and-blood-soaked map on the console’s dash. He adjusted their heading to the northwest and set them on course for the nearest marina. He made Billy give him constant updates on Mark’s condition, but when Billy started screaming that Mark wasn’t breathing anymore, he rushed down to the cabin, leaving the ship on its speedy course to the harbor.

“He just passed out!” Billy screamed, holding Mark’s head with his own two hands.

“Help me get him on his back,” Dylan said, grabbing hold of Mark’s legs. The two men laid him flat on the floor, and Dylan checked Mark’s airway passage. Once it was clear, Dylan opened Mark’s mouth and applied two breaths then placed his hands on the man’s sternum and pumped fifteen compressions. The boat rocked and bumped along the waves, making it difficult for him to keep a steady hand. “C’mon, Mark.” He checked for his breathing again; still nothing. Two more puffs of air followed by fifteen compressions, then two more and another fifteen, then again, and again, and again.

“Dylan,” Billy said, placing his hand on Dylan’s shoulder.

“No.” Dylan shrugged Billy’s hand off. “He’s not dead. Not yet.” With each compression thrust into Mark’s chest, Dylan felt the crunch of his friend’s ribs. Eleven, twelve, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen. He leaned down to Mark’s mouth and felt the light puff of air hit his cheek. “He’s breathing!”

Billy quickly jumped around to the opposite side and held Mark’s hand. Dylan grabbed Billy by the collar. “You check his breathing every twenty seconds, understand? If he stops again, do exactly what I did. Tilt his head back, open the airway, and breathe two long breaths. Got it?” Billy nodded.

The harbor lights were in view when Dylan made it back up to the wheelhouse and picked up the radio. “Harbormaster, this is Captain Dylan Turk. I need medical assistance at the docks immediately. I repeat, this is Captain Dylan Turk, and I have an injured man on board with a gunshot wound to the abdomen. He has severe blood loss and is in need of an ambulance.”

The radio crackled, and a few seconds later the harbormaster came on line. “Copy that, Captain, we have notified the authorities, and we have an ambulance inbound.”

Dylan blew past the No Wake signs, keeping the ship at full throttle. The sun was still an hour from coming up, but the docks were already busy with fishermen stocking their boats with supplies, getting ready for their day at sea. Horns blared, and the dockworkers shouted at him to slow down as his wake rocked the boats still docked. Dylan eyed an open slip, and just before he crashed, he reversed the engines, coasting him into the slip and giving the dock only the slightest nudge. He tied a line off and rushed down to help Billy bring Mark up. He threw Mark’s left arm over his shoulder, and Billy grabbed the other side.

The cursing sailors stopped their shouting about Dylan’s speed at the sight of their bloodied arms and legs as they pulled Mark out of the cabin. “Give us a hand, will you?” The sailors immediately came to their aid, and Dylan heard the sirens from the ambulance up ahead. The paramedics met them on the dock with a stretcher, which they loaded Mark onto. Dylan turned back to Billy, who stood there slack-jawed, looking at the blood on his shirt and arms. “Billy, stay with the boat, okay? Call the police, and tell them what happened. I’m going with Mark to the hospital. I’ll call you when I can.”

Before Billy could say anything, Dylan was already down the dock, fighting with the paramedics to let him inside. “I’m his brother.” The small lie seemed to work, and the paramedic finally let him in. The ambulance sped off as Dylan watched the paramedics work on Mark, shoving tubes in his arms, placing an oxygen mask over his face. He’s going to make it. Dylan repeated that to himself like a mantra.

“Hey, how did this happen?” the paramedic asked.

It took a second for Dylan to retrace the events in his mind. Sitting there in the back of the ambulance, it seemed foreign. His mind blurred and flashed with everything that happened. “We were attacked. They… they tried to kill us.”

“Who?”

Dylan squinted his eyes shut, trying to remember the outline of their faces, the sounds of their voices, what they wore, what they said. He knew he’d have to tell the authorities. “They had guns… and… and something else.” He suddenly remembered them moving gear on his boat, gear which was still there. “Something bad.”

Chapter 4 – Saturday 6:00 a.m.

Kasaika’s men lifted the rest of the cargo into the back of the van then pushed the boats out to sea and watched them sink. Kasaika removed the soggy boots from his feet and dumped out the water inside. The thrusts were forceful, angry, as the sea water splashed onto the sand. He put his boots back on and climbed inside the passenger side.

The caravan of three vehicles traveled down the back roads, keeping off the highways and interstates, going out of their way to make sure they avoided any detection. Even sitting there in the van, Kasaika still couldn’t stop feeling the rock of the ocean waves. The week at sea refused to relinquish its hold on his mind, which only added to his distaste of the water.

Kasaika always believed the ocean was unstable, too fluid, easily bent to the will of whatever the user of the water wanted. The entire trip across the Atlantic, his legs and body yearned for the solid foundation of land. Men weren’t designed to live at sea.

The caravan’s headlights offered the only illumination on the back roads, and when the van slowed, Kasaika looked in the distance to see a deteriorating structure surrounded by an equally decaying woods. “Is there no place that death hasn’t touched this land?”

“It’s an abandoned coal mine,” the driver said. “It hasn’t been active for decades.”

Once parked, Kasaika walked with three other men while the others unloaded the vans. The two men that flanked him were Kasaika’s contacts in America. The two men had migrated eight years ago in an effort to establish themselves as natural citizens. Sefkh was Kasaika’s brother-in-law, a man whom he trusted above all others, and not just because of the marriage to his sister. The two had shared a bond ever since they were boys, during the rule of Anwar Al-Sadat. It was there the boys received their first taste of Americans. Both Kasaika’s and Sefkh’s fathers were opposed to any US interference and attempted to undermine the growing relationship. Neither of their families wanted any part of any country or people that sided with Israel. The only way to God, to eternity, was through Islam.

“It is good to see you, brother,” Sefkh said. “You will be glad to know that you’re an uncle now.”

Kasaika stopped dead in his tracks. “Tatara had her child?” He clutched Sefkh’s shoulders. “When?”

Sefkh smiled. “Two days ago. Both she and the baby are healthy, fine.”

Subhaan Allah.” Kasaika embraced his brother in a hug. For the first time since he’d started this mission, he felt himself feel like it was before. Before all of this death, before all of the pain and anguish. “This is a great blessing of fortune, Sefkh.” It took all of Kasaika’s strength not to run to his sister, find her, hold both her and her newborn. But there was still work to do. “We give honor to your new family by our will. Maashallah.” Kasaika bowed.

“Thank you, brother,” Sefkh replied.

Jazakallaho ahsanal jaza,” Zet said, embracing both Kasaika and Sefkh.

Zet had been like a brother to Sefkh, and while Kasaika never truly warmed to the man, there was no denying his commitment. Out of all of them, he’d lost the most. Kasaika returned a smile with the hug. “Your family will soon be honored as well, Zet. We will make sure of that.”

The news of his sister’s blessing could not cloud the mission, which had already been set back. “We encountered an issue during transport. The captain that was sent, along with two members of his crew, escaped.”

“That is of no concern, brother,” Sefkh replied. “We have everything in place. By the time the US government finds out about what we’re doing, it will have already been done.”

“That’s not all.” Kasaika gave a heavy sigh, turning away from the group and watching the men unload the vans. “Half of our bombs are still on board the ship.”

“What?” Zet asked, marching toward Sefkh, switching his jaw-slacked gaze between Sefkh and Kasaika. “We can’t hit our targets with only half!” Zet’s face flushed red, a dribble of spit rolling down his lips into the coarse black beard extending from his chin.

“Kasaika, he is right,” Sefkh said. “We cannot pull this off without all of the devices. Our men are already in place.”

“We will improvise,” Kasaika answered, the authority of his voice returning under the duress of the moment. “Our primary target will remain Boston. The others will have to resort to household devices until we can regroup our resources.”

Zet jumped between them, his words quick with anger. “When the Americans find out what we’ve done, we will not have the luxury and advantage of surprise. The entire country will be on lockdown, and if this captain is able to identify you, then it will lead to the rest of us.”

Sefkh smiled. “Calm yourself, Zet. The Americans aren’t the only ones capable of intelligence gathering.”

***

Agent Cooper wiped her forehead with the back of her glove after she sealed up the last shell casing that she was able to find on the dock, and the first rays of the morning sun greeted her eyes. They cast the water in an orange filter, and she squinted away, her eyes unfamiliar with the sun’s gaze. “Four months undercover, and I think this is one of the only times I remember being awake when the sun came up.”

“Must have been hard sleeping in and living the life of a drug dealer,” Diaz said.

Cooper slapped a tag on the bag and handed it over to the rest of evidence. “Harder than you think.” The radio at Cooper’s side crackled. “Agent Cooper, I have the Bristol Sheriff’s Department trying to get ahold of you?”

“Copy that. I’ll take it inside.” The harbormaster had graciously (using the term loosely) allowed Cooper and the team the use of his facilities during the raid. While he wasn’t pleased with the amount of people sniffing around his harbor, the check he received for services rendered at least made him somewhat pleasant to speak with. She reached for the phone. “This is Agent Cooper.”

“This is Sheriff’s Deputy Waylon Falls. I have a situation down here, Agent Cooper, that I’m not sure how to deal with. I called Homeland, and they told me that they didn’t have anyone in the area but gave me your number instead.”

Cooper frowned. It wasn’t unusual for Homeland to pass the buck when it came to drug situations, and under any other circumstance she would have welcomed the case, but the only thing on her mind right then was a hot shower and the cool set of sheets that were fresh on her bed. “What do you have, Sheriff?”

“A young man with a boatload of explosives.”

The frown vanished, and Cooper quickly snatched a pen and paper from the harbormaster’s desk. “And what’s your location?” She nodded as the officer gave her the address. “I’ll be there soon, Deputy. Just hold tight for me.” She hung up the phone and rushed out of the building, clutching the crumpled piece of paper in her hand. “Diaz, we gotta go!”

Agent Diaz tiredly jogged over, tossing the last of his evidence into the van, where it’d be taken back to their headquarters. “What’s got you in a rush?”

“Homeland just dropped the ball. Some sheriff called in to report some contraband, so they tossed it our way.” She shut the door and started the cruiser’s engine, turning on the red-and-blue lights. “They’re explosives.”

“Holy shit.” Diaz quickly buckled his seatbelt, and Cooper floored it. This was the type of case that cemented your career and shot you up the ladder, skipping rungs others would have killed to be even considered for.

They were only thirty minutes from the port, and when they arrived, police and the sheriff’s department were already on scene, along with an ambulance and at least two dozen confused fishermen. Cooper and Diaz ducked under the police tape and flashed their badges when an officer approached them. “My name is Agent Cooper. This is my partner, Agent Diaz. I received a call from Deputy Sheriff Falls?”

“Agent Cooper!” A very large, very green, mustached behemoth waved his arm. She walked over to him, and after their introductions, he gestured over to the boat and crates being lugged off. “At first we thought it was cocaine. You know how bad the drug problem is, but before I could explain it to the Homeland agent that I got on the phone, he transferred me over to the DEA, saying you guys handled any smuggling.”

Cooper peeked inside one of the crates being lugged off and slipped on her gloves. “Well, this is a little out of our norm, but we’re always willing to expand our services when needed.” She’d spent the last six years of her life doing undercover work, learning every drug-traffic trick in the business. Along the way, she’d dealt with her share of guns and explosives. “How many crates?”

“Two dozen.”

Cooper turned around, raising her eyebrows. Each device was about the size of a large purse, easily concealed, and could be placed anywhere.

“What’s that attached to it?” Diaz asked.

“Bomb squad said it’s radioactive material.”

Both Cooper and Diaz turned to each other, and Cooper immediately backed away from the crate. Deputy Falls gave a light chuckle. “Oh, don’t worry, they said you can’t catch anything unless it goes off.”

“Christ.” Cooper glanced around the rest of the dock and made her way over to the boat. “I need to speak to the crew.”

“Well, there’s only one here right now. The other two were sent to the hospital,” Falls said.

“Where’s the one that’s here?” Falls led Cooper over to the squad cars, where a young man who couldn’t have been older than twenty kept his face buried in his hands. She leaned into Falls and asked his name. “Billy?” The boy looked up at her. “I’m Agent Cooper, and this is my partner, Agent Diaz. I know you’ve been through quite a bit already, but we need to ask you a few questions.”

“Do you know how Mark’s doing?”

Diaz started jotting down everything that was said. Cooper squatted down to her knees. “Is that one of the guys you worked with on the boat?”

Billy nodded. “He was first mate. Kind of a hard-ass, but a smart old guy. They shot him.” Billy kept staring into his hands, which were still covered in dried blood. “Those guys, they… they were evil. You could tell just looking at them. I knew something was off. I knew it the moment we sidled up to them when they popped that flare. I didn’t say anything, though. Mark had been hounding us all day to keep our mouths shut. He just got tired of me and Tank—” The boy cut himself off with a lump in his throat.

“It’s okay, Billy.” Cooper placed her hand on the back of his head. “Can we get a towel and some water over here?” Falls nodded his head then rushed off, his uniform jiggling with each bounce. “Billy, what did these men look like? Did they say anything to you about what they wanted?”

“They wore masks.” Billy wiped his nose, the snot turning some of the dried blood liquid again, which smeared on his nose. “Only one of them took the mask off, but I didn’t get a good look at him.”

“What kind of masks? Halloween masks? Hockey masks? Ski masks?”

“No, it was like a, um, the things that you wrap around your head in the desert, to protect yourself from the sun.”

“That’s good. That’s helpful, Billy. What else? What else can you remember?”

Falls returned with a bucket of water and set it between Cooper and Billy. He handed the boy a towel, and Billy took it absentmindedly. “Hurt.” The words came out as soft as a whisper. “They said they wanted to hurt us. Make us hurt,” he corrected himself. “They wanted to make us hurt.” Billy looked up at Cooper with tears in his eyes. “They killed Tank and tossed him overboard like he was a carcass. Like some rotten piece of fish!”

“We’ll find them, Billy,” Cooper said, rubbing the boy’s shoulder. “I promise.” She left the boy to wash up and pulled Diaz away from Falls’s earshot. “This has terrorist plot written all over it. As much as I would like to steal the glory, we’re in over our heads here. We’ll have to get back in contact with Homeland, let them know there’s a threat.”

“On it,” Diaz said then turned to make the call.

Cooper grabbed the attention of Falls, who had let his eyes wander back over to the squad cars where Billy was being held. “I need the name of the hospital where the captain and first mate are.”

***

The waiting room was filled with hospital announcements over the intercom and a whole lot of whispers and silence. Dylan bounced his knee up and down nervously, trying to figure out what happened. He checked his phone. Still no returned calls. He had to fight calling Evelyn again, but he knew she’d see the message when she woke up. Whether she actually listened to it was another story.

“Mr. Turk?” A doctor with a clipboard in his hand and his glasses sliding down the bridge of his nose stepped into the waiting room.

“Yes?” Dylan asked, jumping from his seat and rushing over. “How’s Mark? Is he gonna make it?”

“He lost a lot of blood and has some broken ribs, but we think he’s going to be all right.”

Dylan let a long, slow breath escape him, and he bent over to rest his hands on his knees, letting the feeling return to his stomach. “Thank God.”

“We’re going to keep him for a few days, make sure there aren’t any complications, but he should be able to go home by the end of the week.”

Dylan shook the doctor’s hand. “Thank you. Thank you so much.” The doctor nodded then disappeared. Dylan slumped back into his seat, and the exhaustion from the past twelve hours permeated through his body. He rubbed his eyes then made his way over to the coffee pot tabled on the opposite end of the room. The black liquid was still hot, and it piped steam from the Styrofoam cup as he poured.

“Dylan Turk?”

Dylan rested the coffee pot back on the burner, and when he turned, individuals dressed in DEA uniforms had their badges out. “Can I help you?”

“We need to speak with you about your boat, Captain. We have a place set aside where we can chat in private.” The female officer grabbed Dylan by the arm, but he jerked it back.

“I’m not going anywhere until I have some answers.” Dylan’s voice rose, and he watched the woman’s partner circle him. “Those men killed one of my crew then tried to kill me.”

The woman glanced around the room, and Dylan became aware that the other people in the waiting room were becoming wary.

“Mr. Turk, we need to speak with you about this in private.” The agent pulled him in close, lowering her voice, and Dylan started to get the impression that whatever they found on his boat wasn’t drugs. He let them lead him into a small conference room and shut the door. “My name is Agent Cooper. This is my partner, Agent Diaz. We just spoke to one of your crew members. A Billy Costagan.”

“How is he?” Dylan hadn’t given much thought to how the young man was feeling. The events of what happened were a lot for anyone to take in, let alone some kid on his first trip out at sea.

“He’s fine,” Cooper answered. “What can you tell us about the men that attacked you?”

“Foreigners. Arab, from what I could tell. Not sure what language they were speaking though.” He looked over to Diaz, who copied everything down. “What’d they smuggle on my ship?”

Cooper ignored the question and took a seat at the small square table opposite Dylan and crossed her arms. “You lost a member of your crew out there. Tank?”

Dylan nodded. “He, uh—” The image of Tank’s death flashed in his mind. The bullet through Tank’s skull, the bargaining with the pirates, the mixture of the scent of blood, water, and lead. The bullets, mortars, and knives that played a hand in trying to kill him.

“Mr. Turk?”

Dylan shook his head, trying to remember the question that was asked. “I’m sorry. I just… it’s been a long day.”

“Just tell us what you can. What you remember.”

Dylan nodded and reached for the coffee. It had cooled enough to where he could sip on it. He let the caffeine help re-control his nerves, and he cleared his throat. “We were about one hundred twenty miles from shore when I saw a flare off the starboard side of a vessel two hundred yards northeast from our position. We approached, and neither of the two men on board spoke any English. We tied off to the vessel once I determined there wasn’t any structural damage, and when we boarded, they took two of my men hostage.” Dylan took another sip of coffee and shut his eyes. “Their leader showed himself. He spoke English, and he wanted my ship. I never learned what was wrong with theirs, but I managed to get the leader in a choke hold. I tried to get him to let us go, but he was going to kill Tank, so I let go.” Dylan’s grip around the Styrofoam loosened, and he watched the light ripple of coffee inside the cup. “Once he was free, he shot Tank in the back of the head and tossed him overboard.”

“And what happened after that?” Cooper asked.

“Christ, you people don’t waste any time do you?” Dylan looked up, his eyes red with frustration. “What’d you find on my boat?”

“Enough bombs to blow up all of downtown Boston,” Cooper answered.

“Boston?” The words left his lips in a whisper. He immediately reached for his phone, apparently a little too quickly for the two agents’ tastes, as they reached for their weapons but immediately holstered them when they saw he was dialing. He got up from his seat and paced around the room. “C’mon, c’mon, c’mon.”

“Mr. Turk, you need to sit down. There are a lot of details we still need to go over.”

The phone reached its eighth ring and went to voicemail again. Dylan slammed the old flip phone shut and clenched it in his shaking fist. He walked to the door, where Agent Diaz was blocking him. “I need to get my family.”

“Sir, you need to calm down.” Agent Diaz placed his right palm on the pistol and his left on Dylan’s chest, pushing him backward.

“My family, they’re in Boston.” Dylan turned to Cooper. “Please, if there are bombs, then they’re not safe.” Sweat poured from Dylan’s face and neck. He could feel the clingy fabric of his shirt. His now dried clothes were once again becoming wet. “I have to get them.”

“Hey,” Cooper said, trying to calm him. “We will.” But before either of them got another word in, a man, escorted by at least a dozen men behind him, pounded on the door and slapped his badge onto the small window into the room. The man pulled it down faster than Dylan could read, but once Diaz opened the door and he marched in, the announcement made it clear.

“Deputy Director Perry, Homeland Security.” Unlike the DEA agents, Perry was dressed in a suit, with a folder tucked under his arm. The men flanking him, however, looked like members of a SWAT team. “Mr. Turk, you’re free to go.”

Before Dylan could move, Cooper stepped between him and the exit. “Agent Perry, I don’t think that it’s a good idea to let this man go. You don’t have all the fact—”

“I have all the facts, Agent Cooper, more than your clearance will grant you. Mr. Turk, leave. Go be with your family.”

Despite Agent Perry’s words, Cooper didn’t move, so Dylan sidestepped her and disappeared out the door. He didn’t know what was happening. All he could focus on was getting to his kids. That’s all that mattered.

Chapter 5 – 7:00 a.m.

The sun had finally made its way all the way up past the horizon. The light warmed Kasaika’s face. He closed his eyes and drew in a breath. “Bismillah.” After the words left his mouth, he walked back over to the dilapidated structure, past the rusting gas pumps, over the cracked concrete with grass and weeds poking through, and into the garage, where Sefkh, Zet, and the others waited. “He’s late.” Kasaika took a seat next to the piles of explosives.

“Patience, brother,” Sefkh replied. “Your changes in delivery have affected some of our times. Our men will show up.”

“Every second we waste is another for the Americans to catch up,” Zet said, spitting at the ground. “Now was not the time for changes.”

The room grew tenser with each moment that came and went. And then, carried by the wind, a light rumble came from down the road. Kasaika quickly grabbed his rifle along with the other fighters, and the men stood guard behind the crumbling structures as the sound grew louder. A lack of punctuality for a mission like this was cause for concern, and while the location was remote, there was always the chance that an unwanted guest could stumble across their path randomly.

The front of a garbage truck revealed itself as it bended the corner, and Kasaika felt himself let out a sigh of relief, and his body went slack. He lowered his weapon, but the rest of the men did not. They kept their guard up until the garbage truck parked itself and the driver got out. Once they determined the cause of his absence and checked the truck for any wires or traps, they lowered their guard.

Sefkh must have noticed the look on Kasaika’s face, because a few moments later he felt his hand on his shoulder. “We cannot be too careful, brother. Every single one of us understands what will happen to us if we fail or if we are caught. We have all accepted this fate, just as you have. But that doesn’t mean we are willing to fall into traps so easily.”

“Of course,” Kasaika said. “It’s smart, Sefkh. Well done.” The bombs were loaded from the back of the vans into the garbage truck, with the small unit of men that would be placing the bombs around the city. With the time of day and the current disguise, even if the United States intelligence had found something by the time they were in the city, it would be too late.

“They know the routes like the backs of their hands,” Sefkh said. “And we confirmed earlier this morning that all of the markers are still in place for the explosives’ deliveries.”

Zet checked his watch and rounded everyone up. “We need to move. We have less than two hours before the next phase.” The other modes of transportation that they arrived in were doused with gasoline and set ablaze. The fires burned hot behind them as they made their way through the backwoods, wading through thick swamps on their march.

Kasaika turned to look back one last time, watching the smoke from the fires go up. By the time the authorities showed up and tried finding anything, the city would be locked down. No one would be allowed in or out, keeping the populace vulnerable for the bombs already in place.

***

Dylan gripped the back of the headrest of the passenger seat until his knuckles turned white. The taxi driver turned onto East Boulevard and pulled up to the gated community where his children and ex-wife lived. The security officer stepped out of his booth, and Dylan rolled down his window. “Dylan Turk to see Evelyn Harth.”

“I know who you are, Mr. Turk,” the security officer drawled. “You and I both know you’re not supposed to be here. I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Listen, I know when my visitation times are, but you have to listen to me—”

“Mr. Turk, if you don’t leave right now, I’m going to call the police. Now, please leave.”

The driver shifted the car into reverse. “Hey!” Dylan smacked the back of his seat. “Do not move this car.” The driver stopped and threw his hands up into the air. “Hey, buddy, I don’t want any trouble. I’m just trying to make sure neither of us go to jail.”

Dylan opened the door and stepped out. The security officer backed up and headed for his post. “That’s it. I’m calling the cops.” Before he could even pick up the phone, Dylan was on him, shoving the overweight, minimum-wage, glorified mall cop up against the wall. The taxi driver immediately peeled off, his tires squealing, not even bothering to collect his fare.

“Listen to me!” Dylan scrunched his face in a combination of pain and anger while the security guard looked at him in horror. “I need to get my family out of this place. Now! So open the gate.” The guard absentmindedly reached over to the gate’s control panel. A buzz sounded, and the clank of the gate’s chain pulled the piece of iron open. “Thank you.” Dylan shoved the guard off of him then sprinted into the community.

Dylan’s forearm pulsed where the pirate had cut him open earlier. He glanced down to make sure the stitches weren’t tearing and was greeted by the uncomforting sign of blood soaking through his shirt sleeve. Dylan shook it off and kept up the run, his body and mind still screaming for a rest after the long night, but Dylan unwilling to comply.

A few of the neighbors were just getting up, walking out to grab their morning papers. Dylan ignored the hasty stares and turned onto Cover Street, his eyes on the seventh house on the left. He cut through the yard and didn’t bother slowing down when he made it to the front door, slamming his body and fists into the thick oak door. “Evelyn!” He beat his fists on the wood paneling with a violent fervor, his heart pounding like a jackhammer.

Another round of pounding, and Dylan watched the foyer light turn on, and Peter, Evelyn’s new husband, opened the door, still tying up his robe. “Dylan, what the hell are you doing?”

Dylan pushed Peter aside, still sweating and panting, his sweltering body feeling the cold rush of the A/C inside the house. He spun around, looking up to the second floor, where he knew his children were. “Sean! Mary! Come down here now!”

Peter grabbed Dylan’s shoulder and violently shoved him around, his glasses almost flying off his face from the force. “Dylan, get out of my house before I call the police.” Dylan tried wrenching himself free, but Peter refused to let go. Dylan grabbed Peter’s wrist and twisted it hard, forcing the man to release his hold.

“Dylan!” Evelyn rushed down the stairs, her black hair bouncing at her shoulders. “You need to leave. Now.” She blocked the staircase so he couldn’t ascend, but then Dylan saw Mary peek her head out behind the corner of the wall at the top of the second floor.

“Mary! Go get dressed, honey, and come downstairs.” Evelyn looked back and refuted Dylan’s orders, and the little girl just sat there, frozen. Dylan gripped Evelyn’s shoulders, his eyes wild, and not realizing the amount of pressure his fingers were digging into her robe. “Evelyn, we have to go, now. You, the kids, Peter. We need to get out of the city.”

Evelyn looked taken aback. “Have you been drinking again?”

“What?” Dylan shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts, get a grip on what was happening. “No, I—”

Evelyn shoved Dylan hard in the chest, a flash of pain covering her face. “You have to stop, Dylan. You can’t keep doing this. You need help.”

“I haven’t been drinking!” Spit flew from Dylan’s mouth, and his words rang throughout the house like the thunder from a storm at sea. His face and body grew hot until his face was a beet red. He clenched his fists at his side, searching for a way to make them see, make them understand. “I haven’t had a drink in over a year. You understand me? A year! You’re in danger, everyone is in danger.”

A police siren blared out front, and Dylan watched a cruiser pull into the driveway, blue-and-red lights flashing in the morning air. He shook his head and turned back to Evelyn. “No, this is a mistake.” The police officer walked through the front door, and Peter pointed at him, screaming that he was drunk, that he was mad, and that he was violent.

“Sir, I’m going to have to ask you to calm down and come with me.” The officer moved his right hand to the sidearm at his belt. “Now.”

“Officer, listen to me, call DEA Agent Cooper. She’ll tell you why I’m here.” Dylan made a move for Evelyn, and before he realized it, he was on the floor, convulsing as three hundred watts of electricity coursed through his veins. The sting of the metal prongs in his back digging into his flesh. Even after the electricity had run its course, his muscles continued to spasm. The officer cuffed Dylan’s arms behind his back, and when Dylan looked up the staircase, he saw Mary and Sean at the top of the stairs, both of them looking down at him with the same pale-ghost tint on their faces.

This was how they were going to remember their father. It didn’t matter what happened after that. This moment and all of the times that he came home stinking drunk from the bar, falling and vomiting over himself, those memories would be the ones that stuck.

The officer picked him up and half carried, half walked him back to the cruiser, where he was placed in the backseat, head leaning against the window, and he tried to regain control of his faculties. A dull ache blanketed his body. He watched Peter and Evelyn speak with the officer and the hordes of others that had walked outside to witness Dylan’s episode. Each stare from the neighbors around seemed to be accompanied by a whisper. Whispers he could hear even through the police car. The drunk father. The worthless oaf. Couldn’t keep it together. Couldn’t keep his family above water. Useless. Craven.

Dylan pushed himself away from the view of the window to the middle of the backseat, hiding himself from judgement. The officer opened the driver-side door and backed out of the driveway. Dylan maneuvered his way up to the chain mail that separated him from the officer driving. “Did you call Agent Cooper?”

“The Harths have chosen not to press charges, but I’m taking you to the station to cool down. Twenty-four-hour watch period.”

“I’m not drunk!” Dylan shouted louder than he anticipated. He shook his head as the tires bumped in the dip between the driveway and the road. “Listen, I’m sorry for what happened.” The houses and trees of the community flew by the window as he turned back to look at the house. “You have to call Agent Cooper. You nee—”

“Oh, I called her. She told me to take you down to the station.”

“What?”

“Apparently she has some more questions for you.”

“No, this… no, you have to call her again. We’ll talk to her together. Please, you don’t understand. They’re going to blow up Boston!”

The police officer turned up the radio in the car, drowning Dylan out, and no matter what he said, no matter how hard he pleaded, the officer wouldn’t listen. No one would listen. A group of madmen were loose in the city, armed with bombs that Dylan helped smuggle. One member of his crew was dead, one was in the hospital, he was in handcuffs, and only God knew what happened to Billy. It was all too surreal, too foreign. He needed to get his kids out of Boston.

***

Deputy Director Perry glanced over Agent Cooper and Agent Diaz’s work. He knew that the two were drilling a hole into his skull with their stare, but he took his time. While most agents were about speed, he was only concerned with accuracy. He’d been around long enough to know that when it came down to national security, having a spotless, consistent record with no fuck-ups would beat out the rest. After all, it was how he made it to where he was.

“Care to share your intelligence?” Cooper asked.

“In a moment, Agent Cooper. I’d like to make sure I understand what you understand first.” He looked up from the file, smiling. “We wouldn’t want to rush to any false conclusions. Not with a matter like this at hand.”

“Rushing to conclusions?” Cooper asked, squinting her face in a questionable glance. “You mean like the release of the captain of the boat that escorted the terrorists and their bombs into the country?”

Perry returned his concentration to the file. “If you really think that man, with his history of alcoholism and TV dinners, is a member of a terrorist group, I would say that there would be no problem with your application to Homeland being overlooked during the admission process. Or did you think I didn’t already know everything about you, and everything about anyone worth a damn or who threatens our way of life?”

Despite the snide comment, which normally would have had anyone else back down, Cooper snatched the file from his hands and slapped it back down on the table. “Who the fuck do you think you are?”

Perry offered a polite smile, while her partner pulled her back. She eventually stormed off on her own steam, leaving Diaz and Perry alone. “Is she always like that?”

“She just got off a job,” Diaz said. “We weren’t even supposed to be here.”

“And yet, here you are.” Perry picked the file back up and finished thumbing through it. “She’s been undercover quite a bit. You think she’s burnt out?”

“Honestly? I still don’t know how she’s sane. Nobody’s been on as many undercover operations as she has. There are guys who lose their minds after one sixth-month stint, and I’ve seen her do at least a half dozen of those. She’s a fighter. Fighters are passionate.”

Perry tossed the file back on the ground, and his phone rang. “Perry.”

We have a fire just south of Boston. Local PD are on the scene, but it looks like we’ve got a lot of traction. Three vans, big tire tracks leading into the city, and the dogs picked up a scent heading into the swamps.”

“Pull a stats report of all the different routes that truck could have taken, and then track every available camera on those routes. I want video, goddammit.” Perry hung up the phone then walked to Diaz until he was nose to nose. “Do you trust your partner?”

“Of course.”

“Even with all the rumors circling her? The kickbacks, the fact that half of the agents in the DEA think she’s been undercover for so long that her head’s not on straight?”

“There isn’t another person I would trust my life with, sir.”

Perry shook his head, brushing past Diaz. “My director spoke with your boss, and they’ve reached an agreement that we should combine our resources to find out what’s going on. I’ll need your man power.” He was almost out the door before he called back, “Better go find your partner. We’ve got work to do.”

Chapter 6 – Saturday 7:30 a.m.

Kasaika peeled his dirty clothes off and washed and cleaned himself, but even after the soap and cold water, he still couldn’t remove the stench of the swamp off him. Once dry, the alarm on his watch went off, as it did five times every day. He pulled out his mat and went to the living room, where the rest of his comrades waited. He expected to see them cleaned, washed, and ready for their morning prayers, but every single one of them, including Sefkh and Zet, were loading ammo, checking their weapons, or stuffing their face with food. “What is this?”

The only ones that stopped their actions were Sefkh and Zet. “We need to hurry, brother,” Sefkh said. “The bombs are already in place. We need to head south. Our contact will be meeting us there.”

“It is time for prayer, Sefkh,” Kasaika replied harshly. “Or have you forgotten why we are doing this? Why so many of our brothers and sisters have died? Or the oppression and ridicule these westerners have done to our people, our religion, our way of life?”

“We have not forgotten,” Zet replied. “But I’m sure Allah will forgive us this blasphemy for our greater purpose.” He loaded a magazine into the rifle and slung the weapon over his shoulder. “After all, we do all things in his name.”

La Hawla wala quwata illa billah,” Kasaika replied. “I have not forgotten, but I think I may be the only one who hasn’t.” His voice boomed, and the room filled with quiet where there had once been the busy scuffle of routine.

Sefkh stepped between Kasaika and the circling mob of stern looks. “Everyone, please. My brother is right.” He clasped Kasaika on the shoulder. “It would be unwise to break our laws and tradition in such a moment.” Sefkh was the first on the ground, and with him praying, the others soon followed. The last to lower himself was Zet, and he did so with disdain on his face.

Once the prayers were said, Kasaika and the men rose from their positions, and Sefkh received the first confirmation that the bombs were in place. “We have thirty minutes. We must hurry.”

***

The garbage truck rumbled along the downtown streets of Boston, the air brakes squeaking whenever the driver slowed and stopped. Two men rode on the back, and at each stop they looked for their physical marker of where to set the bomb that they pulled from the back of the garbage truck’s carrier. The bags were no bigger than a backpack and placed strategically all over the city. Small enough to stay out of view, large enough to inflict damage.

The empty sidewalks and streets were easy to navigate. Early Saturday mornings offered minimal congestion, which is exactly what they wanted. No one to call and offer suspicious tips, all law enforcement still too groggy and tired to have any real vigilance. With the dew still fresh on the morning grass and leaves of the city, it was a perfect time to strike.

Bombs were placed at power sub-stations, bridges, water utilities, market places, federal and state buildings, and the port. The blasts of the bombs were minimal, but the initial structural damage wasn’t what was so critical. All they needed to do was stir the pot enough to trigger a lockdown of the city. Once Boston was clogged to keep anyone from getting in or out, there would be enough chaos to get away with almost anything they wanted.

The garbage truck came to a stop at a red light, no traffic heading in either direction. The massive vehicle rumbled even as it sat still. The driver checked the side-view mirrors and saw the distinct black and white of a police vehicle pulling up in the left lane beside them. The driver looked to his partner in the passenger seat, exchanging a wordless glance.

The police cruiser stopped right next to the garbage truck. The cab of the garbage truck was too high for them to see the police officers and vice versa. The driver gripped the wheel tighter, his knuckles turning white from the pressure. The red light glowed its steady crimson, and the driver flexed his fingers over the wheel then glanced back down at the cop car.

A drip of sweat rolled down the side of his face and then, just as the light turned green and the truck lurched forward, the lights on the cruiser flashed red and blue, and the two Egyptians exchanged the same look of terror. The driver slowly turned right, pulling over to the side of the road.

The inside of the garbage truck’s cabin was bathed in the blue-and-red lights flashing in the side mirrors. The driver reached for the pistol next to him. He kept his hand low, concealing it from view, and then flicked the safety lever off.

Each police officer approached on either side of the truck, escorting their two comrades riding on the back to their squad car, where one of them stayed to keep an eye on them. Then, the second officer made his way toward the driver-side door, where he stopped at the window. “Sir, I’m going to need you to step out of the vehicle.” The police officer kept his hand on the butt of the pistol around his belt.

The garbage-truck driver measured the distance between the two of them and the time it would take for him to bring the barrel of his gun and fire at the officer before he could shoot back. The garbage truck’s engine sputtered and rumbled as it idled, and the driver felt the vibrations through the handle of his gun.

The officer hung back, not allowing for the driver to obtain a good shot. “Sir, shut the engine off, and exit the vehicle now.”

The driver watched the officer’s shoulder twitch as he went to pull the pistol from his holster, and in the same instant, the driver brought the barrel of his gun over the door and fired through the open window. The driver squeezed off three rounds, all three armor-piercing rounds tearing through the officer’s Kevlar.

The second officer still positioned with their two comrades by the squad car fired at the passenger side of the garbage truck, but the driver’s partner wielded his AK-47 and fired a series of rounds that cut the officer down where he stood. The two detained comrades by the squad car rushed back over to the rear of the garbage truck and hung on as the driver sped away, leaving the police lights to cast their red-and-blue colors over the bloody officers on the asphalt.

***

Agent Cooper checked the timeline of the feed again, just to make sure, then moved to the map in their makeshift situation room, where Diaz and a mix of Homeland, police, sheriff’s officials, and DEA agents had gathered. “All right, so we’ve got the garbage truck entering the city at 6:45 a.m. We have confirmed stops at these locations.” She circled twelve different spots along the route that they managed to project. “And these are just the ones we were able to find. We already have crews en route, but we don’t know when the bombs are set to go off. What we need help with right now is evacuation.”

Diaz stepped up and joined Cooper at the front. “Since it’s still only 7:30 a.m. on a Saturday, a lot of the local residents are still sleeping. We just sent out a press release telling citizens of those areas of the city where we know the bombs are located to leave, and then cordon the area off. However, we want to avoid any panic and looting, so that’s where you guys come in.”

“In addition to assisting in the evacuation, we’ll need your help in crowd control. The marathon bombings from a few years ago are still fresh in everyone’s mind, and we don’t need anyone trying to go all Jane Bond and start making citizens arrests for anyone that looks suspicious,” Cooper said. “Your COs will give you a specific breakdown of the areas you’ll cover.” She clapped her hands together in three quick smacks. “Let’s go, people!”

The room scattered until it was just Diaz and Cooper. “Look out, Perry incoming.” Diaz whispered in her ear, but it was barely enough time to brace herself before Perry shoved a file in her face.

“Can I help you, sir?” Cooper asked.

“Why did you issue an APB on Dylan Turk? I told you he doesn’t have anything to do with this investigation! You’re wasting time and resources, Agent Cooper!”

Cooper jammed the file back into Perry’s body and followed it up with a powerful shove that sent the thin man backward. Despite his size, she managed to move him back fairly easily, and she watched a look of shock spread across his face. “I don’t give a shit what you do with my application for Homeland, because if it’s just full of pompous assholes like yourself, I’d rather stay where I’m at.” She stormed out before Perry could offer a rebuke and before she shot him, which was an urge she’d been fighting since the moment they met.

The file said the local PD had picked Captain Turk up at his ex-wife’s place. As Cooper looked over the file as Diaz drove both of them to the precinct where he was being held, she took the time to look at the captain’s history. DUI, trespassing, drunk and disorderly, all of it starting around three years ago. Before that, the captain’s record was clean as a whistle. “Something happened to this guy, and whatever it was, it cost him quite a bit.”

When they arrived at the precinct, the place was chaos. The officers were balancing their day-to-day and getting caught up to speed on the situation with the bombs. Cooper found the officer that booked the captain, and he led her to the holding cell.

The moment the captain saw her, he rushed to the front of the cell, gripping the bars. “Thank God. I didn’t think they would let me see you.”

“They’re letting me see you, Captain. I thought you were trying to avoid being detained so you could be with your family? Or do they just not feel the same way?”

“Agent Cooper, please, you have to get my children out of the city.”

“Your children will be fine, so long as they stay at home, Captain. We’ve tracked the bombs, and the terrorists aren’t targeting the suburbs. Unless you have some information that suggests otherwise?”

The captain slumped to the floor, still gripping the bars as he slid down. A stressed sigh of relief and pressure escaped him. Cooper hovered over Dylan while he buried his face in his hands. “Captain, I need to know what happened on the boat.”

“I already told you what happened. I already told you what I know. They popped the flare, I went over to help, they took over my boat, then they killed one of my crew right in front of me.”

“Earlier you said that you checked the boat, correct?” Cooper reached for the notepad that Diaz had used to record their conversation. She flipped through a few pages then came to rest on the quote. “You said, ‘I thought something was off since I couldn’t see any structural damage, so I circled the boat, trying to see what was wrong with the vessel.’” She snapped the notepad shut. “And did you see anything wrong with the boat?”

“No. Nothing that I could see from the helm. When we boarded, they said it was engine trouble, but I don’t even know if that was true. A diesel like that would have been billowing smoke. They wanted to lure someone in.”

But why? If the boat was in good condition to complete the journey, then why risk exposing themselves? For cover? No, they’d made it that far. Why stop so close? What was she missing? “Captain, who knew about your trip?”

“My wife”—he shook his head—“ex-wife. The men on my boat, their families and friends.”

“Anyone else? Anyone that you could think of that would be a part of the routine of you going out?”

The captain closed his eyes, but Cooper wasn’t sure if he was thinking or sleeping. He lowered his head and rubbed the creases in his forehead. “The harbormaster,” he finally said, softly tossing his hands up into the air in exasperation. “He knows everyone’s routine. We give him our planned routes and return date. If we don’t check in or we miss our date back, they check in on us through the coast guard. It’s a safety precaution.”

“Does the harbormaster post any of this to the public?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

Cooper left without another word, and Captain Turk leapt back to his feet, shouting through the iron bars. “When do I get out of here?” She didn’t bother answering and instead immediately found Diaz talking to a group of officers. She pulled him aside and kept her voice low. “We need to track down the harbormaster of the port where Dylan Turk docks his boat.”

“What do you mean?”

“I think he might know something. There’s a—”

The explosion knocked Cooper into Diaz, and the two tumbled to the ground. Bits of ceiling fell from above, lights flickered on and off, and the only thing that could be heard after the blast was the screaming of everyone inside the police station.

Chapter 7 – Saturday 8:30 a.m.

The first blast knocked Dylan to the floor and rattled the concrete cell. The blast was close. It felt as though it was just outside the wall of his cell. Another explosion concussed the building, sending a rippling wave through his body.

The lights ceased their flickering and shut off. A solid ringing filled Dylan’s ears. He pushed himself off the flat, cold concrete, his arms and legs wobbling as if he was on rough seas. When he made it to his feet, he stumbled to the front of the cell and clung to the iron bars as though they were a life raft.

Dylan shook his head, trying to rid himself of the ringing and the drowsiness that plagued him. The hallway was filled with dust, broken-off bits of ceiling, and concrete that had disintegrated from the blasts. Dull thuds replaced the ringing in his ears, and the longer he stood, the more he was able to discern what the thuds were: gunshots.

Officers sprinted down the hallway past the cells, and Dylan reached out his hand to try and flag one down but did so unsuccessfully. “Hey!” The gunshots grew louder, more frequent.

Finally, Agent Cooper appeared, key in hand. She swung the iron doors open and then crashed into the side against the other iron bars. “Two bombs just detonated outside the station, and power just went out in half the city.”

The moment Dylan stepped out of the cell, Cooper spun him around and handcuffed his wrists behind his back. “What are you doing?” Dylan’s face was pressed back up against the bars of the cell, and he felt Cooper applying all of her body weight to restrain him.

“You’re connected to this somehow,” Cooper answered. “I don’t know how, and I don’t know why yet, but I know you are. Even if you don’t.” Cooper spun him around marched him through the shattered police station.

The glow of dull emergency lighting made the entire place look like a prison yard, and an escape alarm had just sounded. Gunfire continued its ominous thundering outside, and Cooper guided him through the cluster of officers reaching for their guns, Kevlar, and ammo, pushing outside into whatever chaos and mayhem awaited them.

Dylan and Cooper were joined by Cooper’s partner when they made it to the front of the building. “I think we may have lost our window here.”

“We need to get him someplace safe, and then we need to go and visit our friend,” Cooper yelled over the gunfire. “Did you find him?”

“Didn’t have time.”

Between the pounding in Dylan’s head, his NASCAR-like racing pulse, and the sharp pain from the handcuffs digging into the flesh of the wrists, he struggled to keep up with everything that was happening. A cluster of officers were at the front entrance, the glass from the doors had completely shattered, and Dylan almost rolled his ankle tripping over the dozens of shell casings lying about on the floor. Bursts of gunfire caused the ringing in his ears to return with ferocity, and Cooper shoved him to his knees. He hit the floor hard and was maneuvered behind a concrete pillar that had cracks running up and down the side like spiderwebs.

Dylan managed a peek outside before Diaz shoved him back behind the safety of the column. Fires had been set to many of the police vehicles, and smoke had shrouded the attackers under the cover of black clouds. Every once in a while an officer would try and dash out of the cover of the station but was immediately brought down and joined the growing number of bodies outside.

“They’re bottlenecking us!” Diaz shouted.

Cooper sprinted to the other side of the door, revealing herself to the pirates outside but making it to the opposite side without incident. Dylan tried watching her mouth, trying to decipher what she was yelling at the officer, but before he could figure it out, bullets peppered the concrete column. The sharp ping of the ricochet filled his ears, and he quickly lurched back behind the cover of the pillar. Diaz shoved him with an angry glance. “What the hell is the matter with you?”

“Take the cuffs off me,” Dylan said.

“No way.”

Another round of bullets peppered the side of the column, and both men instinctively ducked, even though they were both still protected by the layers of concrete. Dylan could see Diaz think about it, staring at the cuffs then eyeing the key on his belt. “You untie me and help me get to my family, and I’ll tell you whatever you want to know. Hell, I’ll take the fall, you can throw me in jail. I don’t care! Help me, please!”

After a moment of hesitation, Diaz reached for his belt and pulled out the key to the cuffs. “You try and run, and I will shoot you. Do you understand me?”

Dylan nodded quickly and spun around. A few seconds later, Dylan felt the pressure around his wrists release, and he rubbed and rotated the flesh until feeling returned to his hands. Cooper dashed over from the officer she spoke with, and at first didn’t notice that he was free. “They don’t have any more— Did you take his restraints off?”

“It’ll be easier to move him without the cuffs,” Diaz said.

Cooper reached around for her own handcuffs and then tried pulling Dylan close. “Yeah, and it’ll also make it easier for him to escape!” Dylan jerked backward out of the range of safety of the concrete pillar and was greeted by the burst of gunshots that skipped across the floor, nearly killing him on the spot before he returned to cover.

Before Cooper could lay a hand on him, he held her by the wrists, using his strength to keep her still. She fought back, almost reaching for her gun, with Diaz attempting to intervene. “Stop!” Dylan’s words caused her to look up at him, and he felt her muscles relax slightly. “I am not going to run.” They held eye contact, and Dylan waited for her muscles to loosen, and when they did, Dylan relinquished his own grip. “I’ll help you. However I can. Just get me to my kids. Let me make sure they’re okay.”

“You run,” Cooper said, moving close, the hardness in her face and the muscle in her jaw flexing from her clench, “and I’ll make sure your family is dragged through the mud. Even if you’re not associated with this, I’ll have them put on every major newspaper, magazine, and television show in the world. Even if it’s false, they’ll have that to follow them around with for the rest of their lives. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” Every fiber in Dylan’s being was set ablaze. Even through his compliance, all he could think about was putting his hands around Cooper’s throat and squeezing until the life drained from her eyes. He knew that woman couldn’t care less about his family and what happened to them, but right now she held all the cards. He was surrounded by police officers in a shootout with the same terrorists that almost killed him on his boat.

“Let’s move, now!” The lead officer by the door made a sweeping push with a cluster of officers at his flank into the billowing smoke and raining lead that had befallen the front of the station.

Cooper roughly tapped Dylan’s cheek, bringing his focus back to her. “You stay between me and Agent Diaz, and you keep your head low, understand?” Dylan nodded his head, and then Cooper grabbed his wrist and yanked him forward, with Diaz coming from behind.

Smoke hung thick in the air as the car fires continued to blaze. The smoke burned Dylan’s eyes and lungs, and he stumbled forward, doing his best to keep his attention on the back of Cooper’s head, but the amount of distractions that circled him made it difficult.

Dylan followed Cooper to the bumper of one of the police vehicles, and all three of them took a moment to catch their breath from the growing smoke. Bullets ripped through the sheet metal of the cruiser down by the trunk, and Cooper jumped up and fired retaliatory shots.

With the fires now downwind, Dylan saw the landscape more clearly. Officers and the masked terrorists emptied the magazines in their pistols and rifles, shell casings ringing against the asphalt in delayed reactions to the bullets that ejected the hot lead from the barrels and into metal, Kevlar, flesh, and bone.

One of the officers sprinted up to another car to join his partners, but before he made it, Dylan watched a bullet slice through the top half of his skull, and he crumpled to the ground like a house of cards. Bits of grey matter, bone, and squirts of blood erupted from the officer’s head as his lifeless body twitched on the ground, the brain sending the last of its messages to the arms, legs, hands, and feet before it finally came to a rest.

A sour pit churned in Dylan’s stomach, seeming to grow along with the pooling blood at the base of the dead officer’s head. A scream broke Dylan’s stupor as he watched a woman try and fend off one of the masked terrorists that pulled her backward, using her as a human shield. Her face was red and soaked with tears, her mouth distorted in pain and fear as the terrorist jammed the muzzle of his gun into the soft flesh of her neck.

Dylan eyed the officer on the ground along with the pistol in his hand. Cooper must have been reading his mind because before he could even make a lunge for the dead officer, she pulled him back by the shoulders, and he fell to the ground beside her. “Don’t do anything stupid, Captain.”

“The woman!”

“You can’t save her if you’re dead.” Cooper squeezed off a few more rounds, and Diaz mimicked her. The heat from the flames of the fires behind them started to wane as the fires ran out of fuel to consume to continue their greedy rage.

Dylan poked his head up and looked through the back of the busted window of the cop car. The officers had done little to penetrate the wall of terrorists in front of them. Then, through the shattered glass, one of the terrorists locked eyes with him. Dylan quickly ducked, and the series of shouts and gunshots that followed were all aimed toward the small squad car they were sitting behind.

What little glass was left exploded from the window casings and clinked against the trunk, hood, asphalt, and the tops of Dylan, Cooper, and Diaz’s heads. The tires blew out on the driver side of the vehicle, and Dylan dropped his head lower to remain concealed behind the cover of the car. Holes from the bullets entering the hood and roof started to combine to completely tear away any shielding of metal. Dylan kept his hands covering the top of his head, feeling the vibrations from each shot and wondering if the next one would kill him.

Finally, the gunshots ended, and before Dylan had time to react, both Cooper and Diaz returned fire, taking turns shooting and ducking as they reloaded. Most of the other officers were dead, and those that were left looked as though they were running out of ammo and stamina to stay in the fight.

“We need to head back to the station!” Cooper said, screaming between the gunshots coming from Diaz.

The three of them huddled in a corner at the back bumper and looked to the station’s entrance, and the daunting sixty feet that separated them. Diaz grabbed Cooper and Dylan by the collar. “You two make for the door. I’ll cover you.”

Cooper shook her head. “It’s too risky. We need to thin out the herd.” Automatic machine-gun fire peppered the squad car to further her point.

Dylan glanced around frantically. If they stayed there much longer, there wouldn’t be a car left to hide behind. Another officer tried to make a run for it and was immediately gunned down. Six bullets left red patches in his back as the body lost control of its function and smacked to the ground, where he joined his fallen brothers. Dylan leaned back and rested his head on the license plate of the cruiser and closed his eyes. He couldn’t die here.

A light breeze brought with it a waft of smoke, and Dylan choked from the virulent fumes. When he opened his eyes, the squad cars that had been set ablaze continued to keep a light smolder. Dylan cocked his head to the side then immediately checked his pockets. “I need a knife.”

“What?” Diaz asked. “I already let you out of your cuffs. I’m not going to give you a weapon.”

“I can get us out of here!” Dylan said, the hesitation and fear that had consumed him boldly turning to anger in the moment. “Just trust me.”

Cooper rolled up her left pant leg and pulled a blade from the side of her boots. She extended it to Dylan, and when he grabbed it, she kept hold as he tried to tug it away. Her eyes locked with his. “Don’t make me regret this, Captain.” She released her grip on the blade, and Dylan flattened himself on the ground and pulled himself under the car.

“Just don’t let them shoot me,” Dylan said. With the tires blown out on the driver side, he had to keep to the passenger side on his crawl. His stomach, legs, and arms scraped against the grainy, dirty asphalt, black grime smearing against his skin and clothes. He kept his head ducked low, and he could only turn it slightly sideways before his face smacked into the vehicle’s undercarriage, banging the corner of his forehead hard on the greasy underbelly.

Dylan opened the blade then reached for the fuel line and sliced it in half. Gasoline splashed onto the ground, and the harsh scent stung Dylan’s nostrils as he did his best to quickly scoot backward. The echo of the gunfire that vibrated through the car was dulled while he was underneath, but the moment his head was out from under the bumper, the roar of the gunfire was in full effect.

The moment Cooper and Diaz got a whiff of the gas that had leaked onto Dylan’s arm, Cooper flashed a grin and tossed him the lighter. “Just don’t catch yourself on fire.”

“I’ll do my best.” Dylan thumbed the striker and brought the flame down to the gasoline that had followed his escape. The asphalt caught fire in a haze of waving blues and oranges. The fire followed the trail of fuel underneath the car, and smoke billowed up and around the sides. Dylan, Cooper, and Diaz covered their mouths and noses with the front collars of their shirts. Once the car was set ablaze, they used the cover of smoke and fire to run to the station.

The terrorists fired blindly behind them as they skidded, coughed, hacked, and then collapsed behind the clustered cover of desks. Dylan rolled to his side, his lungs tight and his throat on fire, his brain still woozy from the inhalation of the gas and smoke. He rested his forehead against the tile while on all fours.

Diaz and Cooper checked their weapons. “I’ve only got one magazine left,” Diaz said, sliding it into his 9mm.

“Me too,” Cooper answered. “We need to head out the back before those assholes come in after us.”

“There’s no transportation back there.”

“Then we’ll have to hoof it on foot. Let’s move.”

All three of them checked their six as they moved back through the station. Dylan bumped into chairs and stepped over and on desk trinkets that had been upturned in the chaos. A fine layer of dust coated everything in the precinct like white chalk.

When Dylan placed his hand on the door handle, Cooper stopped him before he could exit. “Better let me check it out first. I wouldn’t want my one good suspect to get gunned down after all this.” Cooper cracked the door open slowly then rushed out, using the sights on her pistol to scan the area, and once it was cleared, she motioned for Diaz and Dylan to join her. “Let’s go.”

Dylan had one foot out the door when gunfire sounded behind them. The terrorists had pushed their way inside and were advancing on their position. Diaz fired back, and as Dylan rushed out, he pulled the agent with him. Before the door closed behind them, Diaz collapsed to the ground, and Dylan along with him.

“Shit!” Diaz rolled on the ground, clutching his left shoulder, blood oozing out from between his fingers. Cooper rushed to his side, helping him up, while Dylan pulled a dumpster over to block the door. When Dylan offered a hand, Diaz slapped it away.

“We need to get him to a hospital,” Dylan said.

“We don’t know if the power’s out to the whole city or not,” Cooper replied. “And the first thing we need to do is find a car.”

Dylan scoured the yard, checking door handles and windows, anything and everything, but the amount of cars in the back was slim. “I can’t—” He turned in circles, looking for an escape, looking for the right words to finish. “There isn’t anything here!”

Cooper and Diaz hobbled together in a stumble, with Cooper trying to keep pressure on the back of Diaz’s shoulder. The door pounded against the dumpster, quickly followed by bullets, as the terrorists tried to push their way through. Cooper reached into her pocket and pulled out a ring. She tossed it to Dylan. “Slam that against the window. It’ll shatter like ice.”

Dylan placed it on his finger and gave the driver-side window of a beige Buick a forceful tap. The car window shattered just like she said, and Dylan quickly unlocked the other doors. Cooper helped Diaz into the backseat then jumped in the passenger seat while Dylan cracked open the panel underneath the car and fiddled with the wires.

“Done this before, have we?” Cooper asked. “You really are just the shining example of an upstanding citizen, aren’t you?”

A spark flickered as Dylan combined two exposed wires, and the engine turned over. More gunfire blasts peppered the door, and the dumpster almost shook free. “C’mon, c’mon.” The engine finally cranked to life, and Dylan slammed the shifter into drive. He pressed the accelerator to the floor and turned the steering wheel sharply, tires spinning and screeching against the pavement as the dumpster broke free and the terrorists poured out of the back of the station.

The rear window shattered, and all three of them felt the vibrations from the thud of each bullet that impacted the Buick’s trunk. When Dylan made an immediate left, the firing finally stopped, and all of them raised their heads, looking back, waiting to see if anyone would follow them.

“Everyone all right?” Dylan asked.

Cooper checked herself then nodded and examined Diaz lying flat on his back, still clutching his shoulder. Diaz had broken out in a cold sweat and was shaking. When Cooper felt his forehead, she quickly checked the glove compartment and side pockets on the doors. “He’s burning up. We need to get him to a hospital. Now.” She found a half-drunk bottle of water and climbed back between the seats. She lifted Diaz’s head up and then rested it on her lap, feeding him the water to help rehydrate.

“Boston General is just a few blocks away,” Dylan replied. “If it’s still there,” he muttered under his breath. The explosions had caused a few of the store owners, up early to begin their day for the weekend crowd, to come out onto the streets, but other than that and a few delivery trucks, the rest of the city was still sleeping, although he didn’t think it would be for long, considering the loud disruptions that no doubt rocked the rest of the city.

The speedometer on the Buick tipped seventy, and Dylan barely stopped to check the streets at stop signs and lights, blowing past them in a blur. Cooper kicked the back of his seat. “Hey, the hospital won’t do us any good if you kill us before we get there.”

Dylan glanced down at his speed. He hadn’t realized how fast he was going. “Sorry.” He eased off the accelerator. He found that his heart was still racing, but it felt less intense. Either he was calming down, or he was getting used to the fact of being shot at. He hoped it was the former. “Listen. My kids. I still need to—”

The truck peeled around the corner without even stopping, colliding into the passenger-side front corner of the Buick’s hood. The force of the collision crumpled the car’s frame like tin foil. Dylan’s head cracked into the driver-side window and shattered the glass, along with his left shoulder. Cooper was thrown into the front seat with him as the car spun away from the point of the collision.

The Buick’s horn blew in a constant, long, drawn-out honk that filled Dylan’s ears along with the pounding on the left side of his head. He gingerly brought his fingers to the wound on his head and winced when he touched it. He looked down at his fingertips and saw blood.

Cooper’s body lay on the dash, and Diaz’s body was on the floor of the backseat. Neither moved. Dylan reached for the door handle and pulled. He collapsed onto the pavement, the light clink of glass bits falling with him. The floor felt as though it moved in waves, and it knocked Dylan back to the ground with each attempt to try and move forward. His arms gave out on him less than a foot away from the cruiser, and he rolled to his back.

The morning sky above was suddenly blocked by two men in masks, aiming their rifles at him. They spoke to each other quickly then reached down to grab him. But before they could, Dylan watched both of their faces receive a thick piece of lead to their cheeks and foreheads, sprays of blood staining his shirt as they collapsed to the ground.

Dylan quickly scooted backward, pushing the two dead men off him, and when he turned around, he saw Cooper’s smoking gun, still raised and slightly shaking in her hands. She rested her head back down on the dash, the burst of energy that she felt dissipated. She went limp like a wet noodle.

“Cooper,” Dylan said, shaking her arm and trying to glance at the truck that hit them to see if there were any more bad guys heading their way. “Hey, we have to get out of here. Others might be showing up any minute.” The pounding in his head only intensified as Cooper refused to move. He placed his finger on her neck, checking her pulse, and she knocked it away.

“Check on Diaz,” Cooper said, her body struggling for breath.

Dylan checked the backseat, and Diaz was on his stomach on the floorboard, but he was moving. Dylan reached down to help him flip over, and he cried out in pain when he managed to move to his side. “What’s wrong?”

“My ribs,” Diaz said, his body shaking worse than before. “I can’t”—he gulped for air—“breathe.” His breaths came out in wheezed gasps, short, sporadic, each one triggering a grimace on his face that seemed worse than the one before.

Cooper managed to finally push herself up, groaning from the effort, and Dylan took a few stumbling steps outside the car. Smoke and steam rose from both engines, and the shop owners watched from their windows, no doubt staying inside due to the gunshots. Dylan tripped over one of the terrorists’ hands then opened the back driver-side door.

Diaz managed to push himself to a sitting position, and Dylan reached inside and dragged Diaz from the vehicle, cursing and grimacing the entire way until he managed to put Diaz upright against the car to lean on. Cooper popped out and checked the two dead terrorists on the pavement, patting them down.

“Cooper, we have to get out of here,” Dylan said, an edge in his voice. The long hours had eroded away what was left of his patience. Anger rolled through him now, slowly replacing fear, doubt, and the nervous anxiousness that clouded his actions from before. “Cooper!”

“Got it.” Cooper pulled a small notepad from the pocket of the second terrorist, and she tucked it inside her blouse. Both she and Dylan helped Diaz to the side of the road, where they traveled down back alleyways to the hospital.

“Can you call anyone for backup?” Dylan asked. There had to be someone that could help them, someone that could get to them even with all of this. He refused to believe that the people she worked for didn’t have resources that could.

“Cell towers are down,” Cooper answered. “I checked my phone the moment shit hit the fan back at the precinct. It must have been one of the terrorists’ targets. Bastards are smart.”

Smart. It wasn’t the word that Dylan would have used. Their footsteps echoed in the alleyway as they pushed toward the hospital, but through the pounding of his head, a thought surfaced in Dylan’s mind. “What did you mean earlier?”

“About what?” Cooper asked.

“You said I was connected. The questions about the harbormaster. Do you think they picked my vessel on purpose?”

Cooper tilted her head to the side. “It crossed my mind.”

A cold shiver worked its way up Dylan’s spine as they walked. How did these people target him? And why? He’d never even traveled across the Atlantic, at least not far enough to make it to where these people were from. He had never been in the military, never even showed the slightest interest in any political affairs. Why would these people target him over the thousands, millions, of others?

“I wouldn’t read too much into it,” Cooper replied, catching the looks that his face was going through. “These people, they don’t have rhyme or reason. They probably just picked your boat because it happened to be in the area where they would be entering US waters. Nothing more than that.”

“Does this mean you’ve stopped thinking I was a part of this?”

“I never did. I just needed to make sure I looked at you from all angles. But even I have to admit, you picked to be at the wrong place at the wrong time. In the worst possible way.”

None of it was a comforting thought. A liquor store appeared when they exited the end of the alleyway, and Dylan caught the glowing neon in the window advertising beer and liquor, and he twitched his fingers.

The slow tick digging into the back of his skull was beginning to burrow its way inside. Begging him to go inside the building, grab a bottle, and get as far away from the place as he could. He closed his eyes, forcing himself to look away as they passed right in front of the store. He broke out in a cold sweat, and he felt the weight of his past dragging him down to his knees, telling him any and every excuse of why he needed to go inside that store. But before the voice in the back of his head could finish, they were already past and down another alleyway. Dylan shrugged his right shoulder to adjust for Diaz’s growing weight, and the three continued their march to the hospital.

Chapter 8 – Saturday 9:30 a.m.

Nurses, doctors, police officers, and hundreds of other people crowded inside the hospital’s main entrance. The cries of patients and their families consumed the ER, each individual convinced their problems were more important than anyone else’s.

Cooper managed to flag one of the doctors down, and he marked Diaz as a priority, since he had a gunshot wound. But the ER was filled with worse. Despite the early-morning hours, the bombs that had detonated in the city had caused severe casualties and injuries.

Exposed flesh, limbs barely hanging on to their hosts, blood, gore—it was like something out of a war book. In all her years in law enforcement, even in her undercover work, she’d never seen anything like this.

“Cooper,” Dylan said, bringing her attention away from a man clawing at the stump of what was left of his leg as a team of nurses and doctors wheeled him into a room for surgery. “My family.”

“Right.” Cooper pushed past the wailing mothers, fathers, children, and spouses and found a frantic nurse at the reception desk, trying to do seven things at once. “I need to use your phone.”

The nurse didn’t even bother looking up. “I’ll be with you in a second, ma’am.” She picked up a pile of folders and sprinted down the hallway, calling the name of some doctor.

Cooper spotted the phone next to a pile of papers and reached over the counter and snatched it. She prayed the landline still had a dial tone, and when she pressed it to her ear, she let out a sigh of relief. “Good to know some of the old stuff still works.” She immediately dialed her superior in DC.

After a few rings, a man answered the phone. “Director Moringer’s office, how may I help you?”

“Jimmy, it’s Cooper.”

The proper, formal tone dropped, and Jimmy hushed his voice. “Are you okay? The director’s been going insane since Boston went dark.”

“I’m fine. Diaz was hit, but he’ll live. I need to know what’s going on beyond the city. The cell towers are down here, and I’ve just spent half my morning fending off terrorists trying to kill me.”

“Homeland is dragging their feet with giving us anything. Moringer’s been on the phone with Perry, trying to keep the lines of dialogue open, but at this point we know about as much as you.”

“What about the city? Has the news given anything to what’s been hit?”

“Utilities mostly, and communications. There were some blasts at the port, but it was mainly structural damage to the docks themselves. No real damage to any of the ships.”

“Is he available?”

“For you? Yeah, he’ll make time.” Jimmy placed her on hold, and her attention returned to the ER. The nurse who’d taken the folders had returned and given her a passive-aggressive glare, which only lasted as long as the next patient took to start screaming at her for help.

“Agent Cooper, it’s good to know you’re alive,” Moringer said. “Jimmy just told me about Diaz. Make sure you give him my regards.”

“I will, sir. Listen, I need you to get in contact with the nearest unit and have them meet me at Boston General. I’ve got a lead in the case, but with the amount of firepower I’ve seen so far, I know I won’t be able to go in alone.”

“I have Sanchez and his men heading over from Philadelphia. Cooper, we need to get a handle on this, and quickly. Homeland isn’t giving me much, but I think that’s because they don’t have anything. Whoever these people are, they caught them off guard.”

“Yeah,” Cooper said, her voice drifting as she took a look at the crowded hospital around her. “Boss, my lead that I have here was the boat captain that got pulled into this. He has kids that we need to get into witness protection. And I’d prefer if it were our guys.”

“You think Homeland’s hiding something?”

“I think that we’ll start sharing information when they do.”

“Risky, but I’ll tell Sanchez. He shouldn’t be more than twenty minutes from you now, pending the roads haven’t been destroyed on his route.”

“Copy that, sir.” Cooper hung up the phone, and before she went looking for Dylan, she made her way to the operating room where Diaz was being treated. The doctor had already administered anesthesia and was digging into the shoulder to remove the slug.

Dylan snuck up behind Cooper and placed his hand on her shoulder, causing her to jump. “I’m sorry.”

“He’ll pull through,” Cooper said. “He’s been shot before, although I’m sure he’d preferred it not to have happened again.” The risks of the job were always prevalent, and the moment that she thought she was comfortable, ahead of the curve, in control of the world around her, incidents like this cast her back into the realm of uncertainty. “We have a unit of men coming over from Philly. My boss sent for them the moment I called all of this in, just in case. They should be here in less than thirty minutes.”

Dylan exhaled, his body seemingly deflating within himself. “Thank you.”

The doctor pulled the slug out of Diaz’s shoulder and dropped the bloody piece of lead into a bucket then began the process of stitching him up. “I wouldn’t thank me yet.”

***

News coverage of the events put a smile on everyone’s face except Kasaika’s. He sat in the corner, watching from a distance as the rest of the group smiled with delight, jeering at the reporters, cursing and spitting at the mention of other terrorist groups taking credit for their work.

The mangled bodies of those at the hospital seeking medical treatment caused Kasaika’s stomach to turn. He closed his eyes and remembered why he was there, why he was inflicting this pain on those people. They will know our pain.

A hand slapped his shoulder, and he looked up to see a smiling Sefkh looking down on him. “Brother, we are one step closer to our final act.”

Kasaika nodded. “Allah willing.”

“Do not fret, Kasaika.” Sefkh sat down beside him, holding a plate of food in his hand. “My people here are very reliable. They want the same thing we do. Justice.”

“I do not enjoy bringing outsiders into our fold.” Kasaika shook his head and spit on the ground. “And to tell them so much? It’s foolish. They should not know the intricacies of our plans.”

Sefkh frowned, setting his plate down with some force. “Do you doubt what you sent me here to do? Do you think I would put us at risk? Put my family at risk?” Sefkh kicked the plate, sending its contents across the floor and diverting everyone’s attention from the television to the two of them. “Your patronizing is becoming tiresome, brother.”

Kasaika rose to his feet, and Sefkh with him. The two men were nose to nose, and the crowd circled around them. Kasaika knew that he didn’t have any friends here, at least not as many as Sefkh. “And your arrogance has been irritable since I arrived. You do not think farther than your own needs.”

Sefkh shoved his hands into Kasaika’s chest, sending him backward and into the arms of the circle of men, who tossed him back. “I am married to your blood! I have given everything I have to this! And I do not need you to come here and undermine my plans.”

Hands gripped the butts of rifles and pistols. Kasaika looked to his own men, outnumbered three to one. He knew they were better trained and willing to do whatever it took, but this was not the way. Not now. “I speak out of turn, brother.” Kasaika gave a light bow. “It has been a long journey, full of struggles that you no doubt have experienced. I forget the burdens we all bear and the difficulties of keeping them lifted above our heads.”

Sefkh’s face softened. “No.” The group of men loosened their grips on their rifles and pistols. “I have not forgotten your burdens, brother.” Sefkh reached for Kasaika, and the two men embraced each other.

“How sweet.”

The voice triggered every man in the room to reach for their weapons and turn around. Kasaika was one of the last to reach for his rifle, and when he aimed it, he could see the man who spoke with both his hands up at his chest.

Sefkh waved them down. “Brothers, please, there is no reason for alarm.” Sefkh shook the man’s hand but ignored the two men with him then turned to introduce him. “This is Deputy Director Perry from Homeland Security. He’s been helping us gather intelligence against the Americans.”

“This is your man?” Kasaika asked, keeping his rifle pointed at Perry while the others had lowered their weapons. “You have told this man our plans? Our secrets?” The closer Kasaika moved toward Perry, his men started to reach for their pistols. “He works for the very agency that’s trying to kill us!”

Perry held up his hand. “I can understand your hesitation, Kasaika. I would do the same in your position. Jazaka Allahu Khairan.

The man’s Arabic was impressive. Kasaika had never heard the dialect spoken with such authenticity from an American, but still, it did not mean he could be trusted. “Allah will reward only who he sees fit.”

“Enough!” Sefkh stepped between them with his hands thrust into the air. All it took was the look on his face to make his men lower their weapons. When Kasaika was the only one left standing with his rifle raised, Sefkh walked to him and gripped the barrel of the weapon then forced it down by hand.

“I thank you for your audience, Sefkh,” Perry said, giving a light bow. “Now, I believe we have business to discuss?”

“Yes.” Sefkh motioned to Kasaika, and the three stepped into a back room, where they could speak alone, leaving their weapons, and their men, outside.

The only thing Perry carried with him was a briefcase, which he set on the small table. “I trust your trip over went smoothly, Kasaika?” Perry unlatched the briefcase’s latches and spread the documents on the table.

“Yes, everything went according to plan,” Kasiaka answered, picking up a few of the papers.

“I’m glad to hear it.”

“Agent Perry has granted us much of the access that allowed us to get you here, Kasaika,” Sefkh said. “If it were not for him, I don’t believe your arrival would have been successful.”

“It hasn’t been easy,” Perry replied. “The state department still has terrorism listed as its number one priority. There are hundreds, thousands really, of government agents looking for a chance to score big on locating some type of threat. It’s a career booster for those looking to climb the rungs of the government ladder quickly.”

“People like you?” Kasaika asked, looking up from the documents.

“Do you see what you’re looking at? These schematics have only been viewed by a handful of individuals with the clearance to see them. You’ve been planning this trip for what? A decade? What you see before you has taken a life’s work. My life’s work. You may not trust me, but at least have the respect for what I’ve done!” Perry’s face had flushed red, and his head tremored from rage. He closed his eyes, breathing in deeply, slowly, the color of his cheeks returning to normal. “My apologies, Sefkh. Kasaika. The events over the past twenty-four hours in preparation have been stressful.”

Sefkh placed his hand on Perry’s shoulder. “It has been stressful on all of us, my friend.”

Kasaika looked over the documents carefully, examining them the best he could. All of them had red stamps over them marked “classified” or “top secret.” If these schematics were truly real, if this man was not trying to fool them into some type of trap, then everything that Kasaika had dreamed of, all of the suffering, all of the pain, would not have been for nothing. “These are impressive.” Kasaika pressed the corner of one of the papers into his finger. “But the drawings are only half of what we need. How do you expect us to move all of this?”

Perry pressed his hands against the front of his lapel, running his fingers down the soft fabric. “The boat captain.”

“I don’t understand.” Kasaika looked to Sefkh. “The captain was working for you? For us?” Kasaika slammed his fist into the table. “He killed our men!”

“Calm yourself, Kasaika,” Sefkh replied. “He was not working for us. Knowingly, at least.”

“That man, that captain you let slip through your fingers, did you ever ask yourself why Sefkh wanted you to keep him alive? Hmm?” Perry leisurely walked around the table. Kasaika didn’t appreciate the manner in which the man carried himself so casually, like nothing could touch him. Kasaika could touch him. He could kill him now.

“The United States has warehouses with thousands of acres of servers, all containing and processing information on citizens, foreigners, religious organizations, anyone and everyone that could have an impact on this country’s interests. And do you know who is highly targeted once all those terabytes of data are processed?” Perry pressed his finger into Kasaika’s chest and locked his eyes with his own. “You. Your name, your family’s name, all of them are red flags for anyone working in this business, but I made sure your sister wasn’t hauled off to some cell fifty feet underground when she arrived in this country because of who you were. But do you know who the government doesn’t care about? Captain Dylan Turk.”

Perry separated himself and returned to his briefcase. He pulled out a cluster of pictures and tossed them on the table, where they skidded to the edge next to Kasaika. “And that is Dylan Turk’s family. Aside from his job, it’s the one thing he loves more than anything. So what are we going to do? Use that love and twist it into whatever we want.”

Chapter 9 – Saturday 10:30 a.m.

The number of smoke plumes grew with every mile they drove. They dotted the city like a plague, each of them a festering wound. It wasn’t like anything Dylan had ever seen in his lifetime. The streets were clogged with traffic, people, police vehicles, ambulances. The peaceful Saturday morning so many Boston citizens had planned was immediately halted and thrown into chaos.

Rumblings from the streets, the cries, the people running on stores and the local police doing their best to stop them. Cooper tapped the glass of her passenger-side window. “That’s what people are. That’s what we turn into when our backs are against the wall. It’s amazing we’ve lasted as long as we have.”

The car was packed full with DEA agents, with Dylan sitting in the middle row of seats in the large SUV. They all murmured similar thoughts, watching the events they passed. The fear, the chaos, the ruthlessness that embodied everything that they tried to prevent had erupted from the city all at once.

“Our demons always reveal themselves during moments of trial,” Dylan said. Every agent in the car looked at him, and he watched a few of their expressions through the reflection of the window. It was a phrase he repeated to himself often, whenever he felt himself tempted, tested. It was something he wished he could forget, but the truth of the matter was there was a piece of him that hungered for the pain that came with those words. The moments of release, the moments when he couldn’t control that pain, that’s when he felt it—a deep, burning desire for more. More hate, more vengeance, more power.

Dylan gave his head a light shake. Sweat rolled down his temple and neck. The inside of the vehicle suddenly felt cramped, and the seatbelt across his chest felt like it was choking him. All that matters is getting my family to safety. Focus on that. Dylan’s heart rate lowered, and his muscles loosened their vice-like hold.

Once out of the city and into the suburbs, the chaos and violence was less prevalent. Screaming and looting was replaced with neighbors on their front lawns, talking to one another, no doubt trying to figure out what was going on now that most of the cell towers and communication channels were lost.

The security guard at the front gate of his ex-wife’s community was nowhere to be seen, so Cooper and her agents let themselves in. This neighborhood was more or less the same as the others they passed. A few families were packing up their belongings and anything they could fit in their car. Most of these people probably had second homes somewhere, and that’s where they would wait it out until whatever was happening ended.

No doubt that Peter would be in that same category. The man had money to burn. No matter how many times he tried to rationalize it, Dylan couldn’t rid himself of the gnawing perception that the only reason Evelyn had married that man was because of the money. Not that he blamed her. With everything that Dylan had put her through, she deserved some comfort. Dylan wasn’t a poor man, but the size of his operation never made him rich either.

“What now?” Cooper asked.

The caravan came to a stop on the side of the street right next to Evelyn’s house. She was outside, screaming at her neighbors, screaming at Peter. Her face was a bright red and her eyes and cheeks puffed from crying.

Dylan ripped his seatbelt off and rushed past the rest of the agents and toward Evelyn. She gripped him by the shoulders, hysterical, her nails digging through the fabric of his shirt. “He’s gone!”

“What? Who’s gone, Evelyn? What happened?”

Her voice quivered, and her hands trembled. “Sean. He was here, and then after we heard those explosions, we stepped outside, and when I tried to find him he was gone. I don’t know where he is or if he’s okay, or… or…” Evelyn’s face scrunched up, and she let go of Dylan and used both hands to cover her mouth, muffling moans creeping through the spaces of her fingers.

“Mrs. Harth, when was the last time you saw your son?” Agent Cooper asked. She held a notepad, and some of her men were already out, scanning the house’s perimeter.

“Um, an-an hour ago?” Evelyn shrugged, her lips still quivering. She wrapped herself with her own arms, and Peter walked up behind her and kissed her cheek.

“What about you, Mr. Harth?” Cooper asked. “When did you last see your son?”

“Stepson,” Dylan interjected. He didn’t care how good of a man Evelyn made Peter out to be. Those were his children. This was his son that had gone missing. And it would be Dylan who found him, not that man. That was his blood out there, not Peter’s.

“It was just before we heard the blasts in the city,” Peter answered, giving Dylan a side-eye. “Which was about an hour ago, like my wife said.”

“Anything go missing? Clothes, toys, food, his bike?”

“His room’s a mess.” Evelyn breathed big gulps between words, almost to the point of hyperventilating, but she held it together despite the random shakes from her body. “But I didn’t see anything.”

“I can check the garage for the bike,” Peter replied.

Cooper put a hand on Evelyn’s shoulder, giving it a light squeeze. “I’m sure he just went for a ride around the block, probably hanging out with some friends, trying to explore and figure out what happened. He’ll come back when he’s hungry. They always do.”

Evelyn gave a ghostly nod. Peter jogged back over and shook his head. “His bike’s gone.” The words set off another shriek from Evelyn.

“Does he have any friends nearby?” Cooper asked. “Someplace he likes to go when he feels scared or he’s in trouble?”

“No. He doesn’t have any friends close by,” Evelyn answered.

“He keeps to himself most of the time,” Peter said. “He doesn’t have a lot of friends.”

Dylan noticed the flicker of Peter’s eyes toward him when he said the words. It was true that Sean didn’t like crowds, and it wasn’t a secret that his father wasn’t a fan either. Some genetics stick more than others. “Where’s Mary?”

“She’s inside,” Evelyn answered, wiping her nose on Peter’s sleeve.

Dylan found his daughter upstairs in her room, coloring on the floor, circled by her stuffed animals. She didn’t look up when he entered, a habit she formed when her brother convinced her to keep a secret from her parents. “Hey, honey, what are you doing?”

“Drawing.” Mary switched out one of her crayons and continued the picture.

Dylan placed his hand on the top of Mary’s head, stroking her hair. “Mary, I need you to tell me where your brother went.”

“Sean said I wasn’t supposed to tell Mom or Peter.” Mary looked up at him, batting her eyes, her small cheeks round and puffy. “He made me promise.”

“But you can tell me, right?” Dylan asked, giving a smile.

Mary let out a sigh. “He said he was going to find you.” She returned to her coloring, and Dylan kissed her on the top of her head then flew back down the stairs.

Dylan barely slowed to a stop as Evelyn and Cooper grabbed hold of him on his way to the car. “We have to go back into the city.”

“Captain, I don’t know if that’s the best idea right now,” Cooper said. “We want to get you and your family to a safe place, and we don’t know when all of this is going to end.”

“And what is happening out there?” Peter asked, interjecting between the two of them. “We’ve been hearing all kinds of things. Mostly speculation, but it would be nice to have some facts.”

“The facts are still developing.” Cooper gave a smile that Dylan noticed had a hint of “fuck you.”

“Sean went to my place,” Dylan said.

“He’s out there?” Evelyn pointed toward the pluming smoke and chaos that had consumed Boston. The plumes had multiplied, and another explosion rumbled in the distance. It was light, like a thunderstorm growing on the horizon. Evelyn broke down and buried her face into Peter’s shoulder at the sound and sight of the city. “My baby.”

“I’ll get him back,” Dylan said, but before he could head to the car, Cooper pulled his shoulder back and spun him around. The other agents with her cut off any other path, forcing him to stay put.

“Dylan, think about this. And we don’t know what else these people are planning.” Cooper kept her voice low as the circle around Dylan thickened, causing Peter and Evelyn to move closer to hear what they were saying.

“You can either help me get back to my place, or I can go alone, but either way, you’re not stopping me.” Dylan felt his face redden. Each of the DEA squad members gripped their weapons tightly and took one step closer to Dylan in the center.

“All right, Captain,” Cooper replied, letting out a sigh. She thrust her hand into the air and circled it around. “Let’s move out.”

While the rest of the agents piled back into their cars, Dylan walked over to Evelyn, still buried in Peter’s arms. “Evelyn, I will bring our boy home. I promise you.” She moved her head out from Peter’s shirt, her face red and wet. She walked over to him and used both of her hands to hold one of his. “I know you will.”

Dylan gave her hands a light squeeze, and then he rushed back to the SUV where Cooper and her agents were already waiting. The crowds had thickened on the streets and lawns of the neighborhood at the sight of any authority that could tell them anything about what was happening. But those people were the farthest thing from Dylan’s mind. If he couldn’t bring his boy back, he wasn’t sure if he could hold back that anger he’d kept at bay for so long. He wasn’t going to lose another son.

***

Dylan’s heart dropped when he saw his son’s bike propped up against the staircase of the duplex he rented. He glanced up to the front door, which was open, and Dylan was out of the car before it came to a complete stop in the driveway. He sprinted toward the stairs, screaming his son’s name, before Cooper had a chance to stop him.

“Dylan, wait! We don’t know wha—”

Gunfire from automatic rifles shattered the windows that faced the driveway where the DEA caravan of vehicles was parked. Bullets peppered the hoods and windshields, turning the SUVs into Swiss cheese. Cooper tackled Dylan to the ground as the bullets continued then dragged him back behind the cover of the trucks while her men returned fire.

Dylan tripped over some of the shell casings rolling down the driveway and waved his arms for Cooper’s men to cease fire. Cooper stopped the gunfire, but wouldn’t relinquish her grip as Dylan tried to push her off of him but kept pulling him back behind the car door. “Let go, Cooper.”

“Dylan Turk!” The shout caused both Dylan and Cooper to quit their squabble, and Dylan jumped up from behind the car, exposing himself and refusing to let Cooper drag him back down. “We have your son! If you want him to stay alive, you will come up here, alone!”

Dylan took a step forward, and Cooper twisted his wrist and yanked him back down behind the door. “You can’t do this,” Cooper said. “It’s a trap. They want something from you, and they think they can use your son as leverage.”

“I’m going to do whatever needs to be done to get my son back. There isn’t any other option for me.” Dylan noticed the panic to his voice, and from the look on Cooper’s face, she did as well.

Cooper shook her head. “It’s the wrong move, Captain.” But her words had the defeated tone of knowing that he was going to go in no matter what. “I’m calling for backup, and when they get here, I won’t be the one in command, and the person that will be won’t care about you, or your son. They’ll want to nail those bastards at any cost. You won’t have much time.”

“I understand.” Dylan kept his hands in the air when he rose from behind the car. The DEA agents kept their rifles aimed on the house, looking for any signs of movement. Dylan walked briskly yet carefully as he ascended the staircase. The wood creaked with each step, and when he made it to the front door, the front living room was cast in darkness, as the blinds had been drawn throughout the rest of the house.

The moment he stepped inside and blinked his eyes to adjust to the light, he counted six men, all wearing masks, all armed, and in the middle of them, with his sandy-blond hair and watery eyes, was his son. “Sean.” Dylan made a move toward him, but the butt of a rifle smacked into his head, knocking him to the carpet before he even got close.

A sharp ringing pierced his ears, and the back of Dylan’s head felt like it had been cracked open, but when his fingers touched the side of his head at the point of contact, they didn’t even draw blood. For a moment he saw two of his son, and both were crying. “It’s okay, Sean. It’s okay.”

One of the pirates yanked Dylan up by his collar and forced him to stand on his wobbling legs. The pirate next to Sean had his hand over his son’s shoulder. “You let my son go.”

“You would be wise to speak with respect, Captain.” Kasaika pulled off his mask while the others kept theirs on. “You’ve been foolish enough with us already.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out a phone that had a piece of paper folded on it then tossed it on the carpet by Dylan’s feet. “You will take that phone and keep it private. Show it to no one. When you leave here and go back to your DEA agents, you will tell them the following: We want five hundred million dollars delivered to that account on the paper. In addition to that, we demand that any and all American military presence in and around the country of Egypt will be sent home, and our regime will be placed into power and backed by the US government and the United Nations.”

Dylan kicked the phone, and it skidded back to Kasaika’s feet. “Give me my boy. Now.” But Kasaika simply nodded to two of his men, who restrained Dylan’s hands behind his back and kicked the back of his legs, sending him to his knees.

Kasaika stepped forward once Dylan had been subdued, and crouched down to meet him at eye-level. “You will do these things, and when we contact you and give you instructions of what else we need, you will do those as well. If you choose not to do these things, or tell the authorities about the phone or any other orders we give you, I will kill your son in front of you.”

Dylan spasmed against the two men, every fiber in his being enraged, struggling to be set free. All he could envision was wrapping his hands around the pirate’s neck and choking the life out of him one breath at a time.

“And then after I’ve killed your son, I will kill your daughter, Mary. And then your ex-wife, Evelyn. And I will work my way down the list of every person you care about, and when I am done, I will tear you apart piece by piece, keeping you alive long enough for you to feel every ounce of pain I inflict on you.”

Kasaika glanced back at Sean, and Dylan saw his son’s eyes. It was that that broke him. His son’s life was above anything else in the world. All that rage, all those feelings of pain and vengeance melted away. Dylan reached for the phone he’d kicked and slid it into his pocket. He clutched the paper in his hands and then looked Kasaika dead in the eye. “I will get my son back.”

“Only if you do as you’re told,” Kasaika answered. “I will keep him with me until we are done with you. As long as you do as we say, no harm will befall your son.”

“You’ll never get out of here,” Dylan said. “There are twenty men downstairs, and they will kill all of you, me included, just to make sure my boy is safe.”

“Captain,” Kasaika said, shaking his head, “you and I both know that it’s me they want. It’s you and your son who are dispensable.” Kasaika stood straight and pointed to the door. “Go. Tell your agents what we want, and if they try and chase us, we will kill the boy.”

The two men holding Dylan down released their grip, and Dylan pushed himself off the carpet. Sean had stemmed back the tears from earlier, but the boy’s mouth was twisted in a downturn of a smile. He was afraid and not understanding why his father couldn’t help him. “I’ll be back soon, Sean.”

“Dad, no!” Sean tried running to him, but Kasaika caught him before the two could touch. “Dad! Dad!” Sean kept his arms outstretched as Dylan slowly backed toward the door. Each piercing scream from his son wrenched his heart.

“I will come back. I promise.”

“Remember your words, Captain. Or I will slit your son’s throat,” Kasaika said, holding Sean still.

One of the terrorists gave a forceful shove to Dylan’s chest and pushed him out the door and then slammed it in his face. Dylan crumpled the piece of paper with their list of demands in his fist, and when he turned around, the DEA agents still had their guns aimed up at the second story, and Dylan made his way back down the stairs. A cold emptiness engulfed him.

Cooper grabbed him by the arm and yanked him back behind the cover of the trucks. “What the hell happened? Are you hurt?”

Dylan shook his head then handed her the crumpled paper in his hands. He listened to the sound of her voice, reading the demands as he looked back up at his apartment. He couldn’t imagine what was running through his son’s mind at that moment. He wasn’t sure if Sean would ever forgive him, but if Dylan could keep him alive, that was all that mattered.

“This is ludicrous,” Cooper replied, tossing the paper to her comrades. “There isn’t anything in here that the government would agree to, even if they hadn’t tried to blow up half of Boston.”

“They said they’d only let my son go if you did those things,” Dylan replied, turning back to Cooper. “If your men try and go in, they’ll kill him.”

Before Cooper answered, her voice was cut short by the wailing sirens and the flashing lights of police vehicles arriving on scene. Two men, dressed in suits and ties, exited of the front vehicle while SWAT poured out of vans, fully dressed in Kevlar and loaded down with rifles and ammo.

The closer the two men moved, Dylan recognized the agent who’d let him go at the hospital. “Agent Cooper, I’m taking command of this operation.” It was Perry.

“Well, that just makes me feel real good inside,” Cooper replied.

Perry had helped him before, and Dylan believed he could do it again. Dylan rushed over to Perry, gripping him by the collar. “They have my son. They’re armed. You need to tell your men to let them go.”

“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Mr. Turk.” Perry turned to the men behind him. “Set up a perimeter. We don’t want them trying to sneak around the back.”

Dylan grabbed Perry by the shoulders. He watched the man wince from the pressure of his fingers digging into the suit, squeezing hard enough to feel the bone underneath. “Call them off!” Perry tried to wiggle free, but Dylan had too good of a hold on him, and for a moment Dylan thought he saw a smile creep up Perry’s face. Cooper and one of her men had to peel Dylan off of him, and even then Dylan took the jacket Perry was wearing with him.

“Get him out of here!” Perry said, his face flushed red. He pulled the radio off his side and put it to his mouth. “We are a go. I want those bastards dead.”

“No!” But Dylan’s screams fell on deaf ears. The SWAT team raided the building, marching up the staircase, and even stormed the first floor. Dylan waited for the gunshots, his eyes glued to his apartment, Cooper and her man still holding him back. But as the seconds ticked by, all Dylan heard were the shouts from the SWAT members instead of bullets.

“House is clear, sir.”

Perry kicked the dirt and cursed. Cooper let Dylan go, and he collapsed to his knees. Mixed emotions of relief and fear gripped him. His hand found the outline of the phone Kasaika had given him in his pocket. As long as he did what they told him to, Sean would live.

“Dylan.” Cooper’s voice startled him, and he spun around quickly. “We’ll help get him back. I promise.” She offered a smile, which did nothing to calm him.

“No, you won’t.” Perry marched over like a bulldozer, jamming his bony finger into Cooper’s shoulder. “You’re the reason those bastards got away in the first place. And you let a civilian go up there to speak with those animals?”

Cooper maintained her composure. “His son was held hostage. They wouldn’t speak with anyone else. It was my call. Mr. Turk and my team had nothing to do with it.”

“You’re done, Agent Cooper,” Perry snapped. “After I speak with your supervisor for this arrogant display of negligence, you won’t be able to work security at a mall.”

“I look forward to hearing from you,” Cooper said. And before Perry could spit any more threats, Cooper left, with her team in tow.

Perry grabbed Dylan by the arm and waved his own men away. He pulled the two of them to the side, where the others couldn’t hear. “Mr. Turk, I am truly sorry about your son, but you do understand that we have protocols. We can’t negotiate with terrorists.”

Dylan remained silent, almost all of his attention focused on the weight of the phone hidden in his pocket. Perry leaned in closer. “If there is anything else they told you, anything else that they asked of you that you didn’t tell Agent Cooper, you could tell me, and I promise you I will do everything within my power to get your boy back to you safely.”

“No,” Dylan answered. “The demands on the paper were all they wanted.”

“I see.” Perry squinted his eyes, and Dylan could smell the coffee on his breath and the stink of his cologne mixed with the sweat from the summer heat. “Well, we’ll need to bring you in, have you give an official statement. My men will escort you.”

Dylan was tossed into the back of a cop car. He watched the image of his son’s bike grow smaller and smaller out of the back of the windshield. His mind raced back to when Sean first learned to ride. He was all decked out in pads. Evelyn wouldn’t let him ride without them. It took him a few hours before he was able to get the hang of it, but when he did, Dylan never felt so proud. The memory was fleeting, and when the bike was finally out of sight, he turned around to face the driver. All that mattered now was getting Sean back. At any cost.

Chapter 10 – Saturday 12:45 p.m.

Perry waited until most of the staff in the building had gone home before he left. He gave his customary goodbyes to those coming in for the afternoon shift and then drove off the Homeland Security premises. He stopped for a coffee before he left DC and then started the long drive to East Massachusetts.

It was nightfall by the time he arrived at the warehouse. He’d taken the long route to ensure that no one would be following and he was away from the prying eyes of any security cameras. Once he made it into the rural areas, he was safe.

A few of Sefkh’s and Kasaika’s men acknowledged him with a nod as he drove through the front gates and parked outside the rusted building. He locked his car and tucked the keys into his pocket and downed the rest of his coffee. He crumpled the Styrofoam cup and tossed it into the dirt.

Sefkh greeted him at the door, while Kasaika continued his sulking in the corner. “It seems your brother doesn’t like the way I plan things.”

“Give him time,” Sefkh replied. “Once he sees the results of what we’re able to accomplish, he’ll come around.”

Kasaika had been adamant about not wanting to take the boy, but Sefkh and Perry were able to convince him that it was necessary. Not everything could be tied up in a neat little bow the way Kasaika imagined his revenge to be. The man had yet to get his hands truly dirty. “I want to see him.”

Sefkh unlocked the door to the steel transport carton where Sean was being held, and Perry entered alone. The inside of the cargo transport was rusty and smelled of wet metal. It was dark, and the ground felt rough beneath his feet. The moment Perry entered, the boy recoiled.

“I know you’re afraid, Sean,” Perry said, continuing his slow walk to the boy, who’d tucked himself away in the corner. “But I can tell you that you have nothing to fear from me.” Once he was towering over the boy, he crouched to his level. “It’s your father you should be afraid of.”

“My dad is coming to get me!” Sean spit his words out defiantly.

“He will try.” Perry nodded. “But each time he does, I’m going to hurt you.” Perry pulled a blade from his ankle and pressed the flat side to the boy’s exposed forearm. “And every time he fails at the missions we give him, I’m going to hurt you. You will associate you father’s name with pain. And by the time your father is done”—Perry brushed the hair off the boy’s forehead with the blade’s spine—“all that will be left of you is scars.”

***

The police station Dylan, Evelyn, Peter, and Mary were brought to was a considerable improvement from the last station Dylan had been in, and twice as busy. They were shuffled past officers and criminals, looters and thieves who’d taken advantage of the chaos that was now Boston, and put into a small conference room, where members from Perry’s team took their statements.

No matter how many times Peter tried putting his arms around Evelyn, she wouldn’t stop crying. It took the investigator almost thirty minutes to pull everything out of her. Dylan had sat with his daughter, Mary, in the adjacent room, where he watched her hysterics through one of the windows. The investigators chose to interview them separately, seeing to their previous history.

Mary had been quiet the entire time. She hadn’t said a word since Dylan went to pick her up at Evelyn’s and just kept her head pressed against his side as she leaned against him. “You hungry or thirsty, Mary?” The little girl gave a light shake of her head. He bent down and kissed her on the cheek, giving her a few pats on the leg.

“Daddy, where’s Sean?” She looked up at him with her big green eyes, her light-blond eyelashes batting nervously.

Dylan knew she’d ask about him sooner or later, and he’d racked his brain on how he thought he should handle it, but he still had no idea what to tell her. “He’s with some people. He’s okay, but these people—” He paused, watching Mary’s small features twist in preparation of tears. “We’re going to get him back. I promise.”

Marry nodded then buried her face into his ribs. The door to the conference room opened, and Peter escorted a still-weeping Evelyn. The investigators called him inside, and Mary was left with her mom and Peter. A light chill of fear hit him when he sat down inside and realized that the phone Kasaika had given him was still in his pocket.

“Mr. Turk, have a seat.” The agents only sat down once Dylan had done so himself. They adjusted the ties around their collars, already having shed their jackets. It looked as if it was only a matter of time before the ties would be discarded as well. They shuffled the papers on the desk and brought out a fresh file for Dylan’s statement. “Mr. Turk, what can you tell us about the incident at your apartment?”

“I rode with Agent Cooper and her team to see if my son had made his way there,” Dylan answered.

“And what did you find upon you arrival?”

Dylan exhaled. “I saw that my son’s bike was parked outside. I got out of the car and rushed to the staircase that leads up to my apartment. Before I got there, gunfire broke out from the second floor.”

“Just the second floor?”

“Yes, why?”

“Just making sure I have everything correct here. And what can you tell me happened when you were inside speaking with the terrorists?”

“I went upstairs alone, and when I walked through the front door, which was already open, I saw six men in masks—”

“At any point did they take off their masks?”

“No.” Dylan had rehearsed what he’d tell them in his mind over a hundred times since Kasaika spoke to him, and he determined the less he pretended to know the better off he’d be. “They handed me the list of demands and told me that they were going to kill my son if they didn’t get what they want.”

“Do you believe your son is still alive?”

Dylan shifted uncomfortably. He fumbled over his words, shaking his head. “Why would you even ask that? How could you say that? Do you know something?” Dylan leaned forward on the table, slightly rising out of his seat. “Do you believe my son is still alive?” The words came out harsher now. He felt his face redden.

One of the agents put his hand up. “Mr. Turk, please, I was merely asking, seeing as how we were not able to give them their demands.”

Dylan leaned back in his seat, his arms folded across his chest. “My son is alive.”

The agents continued to jot down their notes. “What else did these individuals speak with you about?”

“Nothing. They gave me the list, told me that’s what they wanted, smacked me in the back of the head when I tried to reach for my son, then shoved me back outside. I gave Agent Cooper the list, and then you guys showed up.”

“Did you notice anything odd in your apartment?”

“Odd?” Dylan’s pocket buzzed. He froze as the two men glanced down at the pocket where the cell phone was. “No.” Dylan quickly shook his head and shifted in his seat. “No, I didn’t notice anything odd or out of place.”

“Do you need to get that?” The agent gestured to the cell.

“I’m sure it can wait.”

“Well, Mr. Turk, we’ll need to wait to see what forensics tells us after their sweep of your apartment, but we’ll do everything we can to make sure your son is returned to you. In the meantime, do you have a place to stay?”

“I’ll figure it out.” Dylan left the room then gave Mary a kiss goodbye. Neither Evelyn nor Peter asked what he’d be doing, but any words about Peter pressing charges seemed to have disappeared, which Dylan was glad to be rid of. Once outside, Dylan checked the message on his phone. It was a text.

Your boat dock. Tomorrow. 5:00 a.m.

And that was it. Dylan snapped the phone shut and slid it back into his pocket. He had no idea what these people wanted him to do, and he had no idea on whether or not the agents at Homeland would find his son before he did. All he knew for certain was that if he failed or was found out, Sean would die.

 

 

 

 

 

 


Distressed

  • ISBN: 9781310557217
  • Author: Roger Hayden
  • Published: 2015-09-09 01:50:09
  • Words: 30827
Distressed Distressed