Tidal Wave 23
Thomas J. Ryan
Special Agent Tristan Wood observed the hustle and bustle of Massachusetts Avenue buzzing with late morning activity. Cabs lined up in front of Union Station waiting for their next customer. Tristan took in the view of the United States Capitol while his FBI partner scanned through FM stations on the radio of the unmarked car. Though not a residential part of town, this was one of the most densely populated areas of the country during the week. Within one-half square mile sat the White House, Capitol building, Library of Congress, Metro Center, the Smithsonian museum complex, Washington Monument, and the J. Edgar Hoover FBI building to name a few. This was literally ground zero.
“Not too loud.” Tristan turned the volume down on the digital clock, which read; 11:11 a.m.
A handheld police scanner sat upright on the dashboard and hissed with occasional chatter over the frequency dedicated to the Secret Service. Another threat on the president’s life had prompted FBI to grant them four agents as additional security. Tristan and Jason kept watch over the front entrance and a second team covered the lot on the north side of Union Station. FBI special agents hated this kind of work considering it both demoralizing and boring. Today they were glorified security guards.
The president of the United States was at Union Station this morning for a ceremonial ribbon-cutting for the debut trip of the new Amtrak Next-Generation, or Next-Gen, high-speed rail train. It was the first of its kind in the country, connecting Washington, DC, to Philadelphia, New York City to Boston, using magnetic levitation or MAGLEV. This meant the train floated above the track at about 220 mph. The problem, from an engineering standpoint, was that MAGLEV could not run on standard tracks and needed a dedicated rail, stipulating added expense. And as with most government projects, the appraised $117 billion cost had more than doubled upon its completion. Amtrak had been in the black for decades, continuing to run only by subsidies courtesy of the American taxpayer. The Congressional Budget Office estimated the Next-Gen project could take fifty years just to break even. Watchdog groups criticized the timing, pointing to the extremely bad economy that seemed to continue with no end in sight. Sudden activity over the scanner brought Tristan back from his thoughts.
“Phoenix is on the move!” Static.
“Bring in the Stagecoach!” Static.
“What is condition of Phoenix?” Static.
“Phoenix is on the move!” Static.
“Heading to the Castle!” Static.
Tristan and Jason were out of the car and running across the street toward the Main Hall. They entered Union Station and headed for the Amtrak Next-Gen terminal. The dark suits of the two young FBI agents always drew attention. Black was no longer the required color, nonetheless, a conservative dress policy remained in the Bureau. Tristan Wood liked wearing a suit. After years in the military he had become accustomed to order, and took pride in his professional appearance. Several inside jokes about the dress code persisted among the agents who, at the moment, referred to themselves as the Men in Black.
“Bravo Team, are you on your way?” Tristan spoke into the scanner.
The response was stark, “Already here.”
With only two teams from FBI today, they kept it simple. Tristan and Jason were designated Alpha Team and the others, Bravo. They weaved in and out of shoppers and travelers on the middle of three levels that comprised Union Station. Both men hurried past Amtrak Police, arriving at the location of the ceremony. Tristan was now visibly limping.
He attempted to brush it off, but was in obvious pain. The hard concrete surface aggravated his bad leg. At over six feet tall and 200 pounds, this type of exertion put unwelcomed stress on his joints. They approached two Secret Service agents, easy to spot since they dressed just like FBI with the addition of the earpieces, and held up their badges.
“What happened?” Tristan asked.
“Somebody tried to set off a bomb in a piece of luggage.”
“He’s safe. We got him out of here right quick.”
Tristan recalled the codes Secret Service had used. If Phoenix was in the Stagecoach going to the Castle, the president was in his limo going to the White House. A common misconception, the unambiguous and easily pronounced words were chosen simply for identification purposes and were not secret. The White House Communications Agency, created under FDR, chose code names to identify the commander in chief, his family, and prominent persons and locations.
“Where’s the bomber?” Jason asked, scanning the area.
“We don’t know.”
“He lit the fuses and walked off into the crowd. We’re reviewing the security tape now to try and ID him.”
“No time for that,” Tristan said.
“See the guy over there?” One of the Secret Service agents pointed to an older gentleman surrounded by Metro Transit Police. “So far he’s the only real witness.”
“Who are we looking for?”
The other Secret Service agent paced with adrenalin. “A man wearing jeans and a short sleeve, striped golf-shirt is all he remembers. He thinks it was blue. We’ve got exits covered and my guys are on the upper and lower levels.”
“What about the parking lot?”
“I have two men out there as well, but there’s serious ground to cover. It just happened, he can’t be far.”
“We’ll search the north lot.”
The pair rushed across the room to Bravo Team, a young man and younger woman speaking with a civilian.
“Anything?” Tristan asked.
“Nope,” said the female agent.
“Head out back and comb the parking lot, jeans and striped blue shirt, right?”
“Got it,” both special agents hurried off.
“Seems they have all the bases covered. I don’t remember seeing anyone fitting that description as we came in, do you?”
“No. But it doesn’t mean we didn’t miss him.”
Then Tristan spotted the departure board, a massive split-flap display hanging from the ceiling. The status of all departures was, “On Hold.”
The FBI agents ran out to the platform where two Amtrak commuter trains sat idly on opposite tracks, each man entering a different car. Tristan advanced up the aisle, making sure to get a clear visual of every person as he progressed. He swept through the first four cars with diligence, ending up in the fifth and last. The restroom was occupied. A conductor clipped tickets, probably expecting the train to depart at any time. Finding no one with the description of the bomber suspect, he backtracked.
“I need your help,” Tristan said, flashing his FBI badge.
The man stopped inspecting the commuters, “Sure thing.”
They arrived at the forward end of the car.
“Can you unlock the restroom door for me?”
The conductor searched for a key, finding the one he wanted. Tristan motioned to wait and then knocked. No answer came.
“Anyone in there?”
Again, no reply. He nodded to the conductor who slowly turned the key. Tristan took out his Glock and racked the slide. With the other hand he opened the door as fast as possible while pointing the gun inside. A young Middle Eastern man in jeans and a blue striped golf shirt leaned against the back wall, hands up. Tristan threw him face-down onto the aisle floor as passengers became aware.
“Do you have any weapons on you?”
He had to repeat the question and still got no response. Tristan searched his pockets finding only a used Amtrak ticket stub, and then FlexCuff’d his hands. Helping the young man off the floor, he escorted him off the train. As they walked back toward the terminal Jason joined them, grabbing the suspect’s other arm.
“I knew you’d find him, I have no luck.”
A Metro Transit cop ran up to assist, leading them back to the Amtrak Police Station where they locked the suspect in one of the small holding cells. Another cop searched video feeds in front of a control center that reminded Tristan of an air traffic tower. He recalled Team Bravo using his scanner.
“Did you find anything on him?” Jason asked.
“Just this stub.” He handed it over. “If there was a wallet, he ditched it.”
“One way from Philly? Interesting.”
“Is that the bomb?” Tristan referred to the carry-on bag sitting nearby.
One of the cops opened it, revealing multiple blocks of C4 bricks linked in series by wires. “Take a look at his little toy.”
“Holy sh…” Tristan interrupted his partner with an impulsive punch to the arm. He didn’t like cursing and considered it a cheap way of self-expression. The FBI ethics policy against foul language did not list specific words or result in punishment, but a special agent reflected the integrity of the Bureau. Swearing did not create a positive image.
“How much explosive power is this?” Jason asked Tristan, calling on his military experience.
“This would have taken out everyone in at least a hundred yard radius. The president would have been killed instantly. In fact, I’d say this entire section of Union Station would be leveled.”
Tristan pulled off one of the blasting caps, shook, and then smelled it. A black substance on the end rubbed off on his thumb. “This is a fuse cap.”
Before he could answer, Team Bravo arrived. The female agent assessed the young man in the cell.
“That him?” She studied the suspect. “What’s wrong with him, is he injured?”
“I don’t think so,” Tristan said.
“He seems a bit dazed.”
This had occurred to him. The suspect acted strangely subdued, even as he was being arrested, as if in a trance.
The other FBI agent leaned in, “See his hands?”
With head down and eyes wide open, the bomber suspect impassively stared at the floor. Tristan now caught what he had failed to recognize. The young man had scars on his hands.
“Looks like he was practicing,” the female agent commented.
Jason perked up. “Here’s our guy!”
The video showed an Amtrak train lumber to a stop. Passengers began to exit, including the bomber suspect with his luggage.
“So we know he was on the train. Let’s go to the ceremony area,” Tristan said.
The Metro cop switched to another shot of Union Station where spectators jammed in for a view of the president. After searching different angles they located the culprit, standing in back of the crowd, watching. A moment later he bent down and unzipped the top of the luggage bag, pulled a lighter out, and lit two fuses before walking away. The sparkling light began to capture the attention of those nearby. Both fuses quickly burned down and fizzled out with a poof. Two plumes of smoke rose upward intertwining as if in a dance.
“Rewind that?” Tristan asked. “Check this guy out.”
He pointed to a man in a red sweatshirt with his eye on the bomber suspect. Due to the angle, the face was indistinguishable. After the fuses burned out he calmly pulled the sweatshirt hood over his head and walked away.
“Strange,” Jason said.
“This guy looks familiar. Can you go back to the video of the platform?”
The Metro Transit cop replayed the previous frames.
“Stop it right there.”Jason pointed at the screen. “Well, what have we got here?”