Chapter One: That Thing in London
London, England. Six years ago.
The black blade came down so swiftly it appeared to be conjured by the night. The guard caught it less than an inch from the base of his neck. The move surprised Captain Jordan Noble, but he recovered quickly. While his left hand struggled to bring the knife to its mark, his right forearm caved in the throat of his target.
The guard was a big guy, all muscles, but Jordan had the angle on him. For seconds that seemed like hours, the two brought all their strength to bear, Jordan down – the guard up. The guard wavered for only a moment and Jordan head-butted him. The blade dug into his shoulder and the guard howled. Jordan silenced him, moving his hand from the throat to the mouth. The arms and legs did a morbid dance, desperately trying to escape the inevitable. The knife twisted and blood filled the guard’s throat, gurgling from beneath a gloved hand. The light left his eyes and Jordan lowered him to the ground.
The mission was coming to a close. The Defense Intelligence Agency had tracked the weapon for months, and now this would be the scene of the dramatic conclusion. The three-story building set on the River Thames’ bank seemed to be just one more of the ancient factories and warehouses being repurposed into luxury living space. Jordan and his team knew better.
On the opposite side of the building’s massive doors, fellow DIA operative, Sergeant Eric ‘the E-Man’ Manning eased his target to the ground. Jordan turned and saw Captain Mike Horner, and his special tactics operators approach.
“We clear?” Jordan asked.
Horner nodded. “Security force eliminated. Only five targets, huh?” Jordan and Eric had worked on more than one occasion with Mike Horner of the Air Force Combat Controllers. They were as much friends as rivals.
Jordan cut a devilish grin. “Or more. Let’s move.”
Jordan and E-Man pulled the doors apart. Horner and his three operators bolted through the gap. Once inside, the operators spread out in all directions, their weapons held out in front of them. They ensured that the garage was free of enemies. Work benches, power tools and construction equipment dotted the room. Jordan, E-Man and Horner stacked up on one side of a far door.
“What’s this thing again?” Horner asked.
“Bomb,” Jordan said. The African American arched an eyebrow at his friend in Air Force special operations.
“Yeah, I know that, but what kinda bomb?”
“The kind that goes boom.”
The operators completed their sweep and formed behind the others. Horner opened the door and Jordan rushed in, his assault rifle at the ready. A stairwell reached upward. The team tackled the stairs, stopping every few steps so that the man behind could leapfrog ahead. At the second floor, the operators ducked out of the stairwell while the rest continued to the third. At the top floor, Jordan, E-Man and Horner again stopped at the door.
“Is it a Bullwinkle bomb with the fuse coming out the top?”
Jordan smiled and shook his head. He tapped an earpiece. “Viking-1, this is Spartan.”
“Worse call sign ever,” E-Man said.
Before Jordan could respond, Viking-1 spoke. “Go ahead, Spartan.”
“Penetrated enemy stronghold. Securing building.”
Jordan looked at Horner who held up a finger while another was to his earpiece. Two seconds passed. “OK,” Horner said, “Building secured.”
Jordan knelt and worked a scope under the door. An attached screen showed a large open space. The entire floor looked gutted. The only structures were support columns. On the far side of the room, about twenty feet from the door, ten men milled around a long table. Jordan zoomed in. Atop it set a wooden crate with the words: ENGINE PARTS.
Jordan tapped the image. “Bomb.”
“Doesn’t look like a Bullwinkle bomb,” Horner said.
Jordan turned the scope to focus on the faces of the men. The five opposite the table from him he quickly ruled out as his HVT he needed alive. The others were being uncooperative. Their backs were to Jordan and even when they moved, they didn’t reveal their faces.
One of them turned away from the group. Jordan zoomed in and…yes…it was the High Valued Target. He gestured for Horner to see the camera’s screen. The tiny image showed a man with a cell phone to his ear, standing a few feet away from the others. Jordan tapped the screen.
“HVT. Do not kill.”
“The other targets?” Horner asked.
Jordan’s eyes turned cold as he met Horner’s. “Weapons free.”
“Gimme a second,” Horner said. He tapped his earpiece again to instruct his team. E-Man came to Jordan’s side.
“Noble, look.” He passed over a monitor. A series of numbers flashed across a screen. Initially, they appeared to be random, but the range quickly shrank.
Jordan said, “Does this mean what I think it means?”
“Yup. It’s running a little hot.”
Horner turned from talking to his team. “Hot? What is hot?”
“Nothing to worry about,” Jordan said, “considering where it came from.”
“And where was that?” Horner asked.
“Does it matter?”
“Yes. Yes it does. You got me on this detail at the last minute chasing a mystery bomb through London, you could at least -”
Jordan held up a hand. “Fine - I got it.” He moved closer to Horner and spoke softly. “Our targets are Iranian nationals -”
“I know that part.”
“Yeah, yeah. So, the guy they got it from, well, let’s say he didn’t take care of this bomb as well as he should.”
“So hot means it might detonate?” Horner dipped his chin and focused a tight stare onto Jordan, who looked to E-Man.
“Well, I guess it could, you know, theoretically detonate,” E-Man said.
Horner rolled his head back and moaned like he was wounded. “This is Berlin all over again.”
“It’s not Berlin,” Jordan said twisting his lips.
“Yeah it is. First you say, there’re only five guys – there’s at least ten in there…”
Jordan shrugged. “Intel is fluid.”
“You’re the intelligence guy!”
“It is a little like Berlin,” E-Man said softly.
“Can we table this?” Jordan stabbed the screen’s image again. “This guy – don’t kill. With me?”
“Roger,” Horner said with a lopsided smile. He tapped his earpiece and radioed his team. “Gold Unit, Gold-1. Location?”
Horner listened for a moment. “Roger, at northwest stairwell. Be advised: HVT present. At your twelve o’clock…ten feet from rest of group. Do not kill – copy?” Another moment passed. “OK, they got it. What’s the call?”
“Selectors to single shot. Flash bangs first. I’ll secure the HVT.”
“Works for me.” Horner relayed the plan. “OK – we’re ready. On your go.”
Jordan brought the assault rifle up center to his chest. He squared his shoulders and held up a fist. The men lined up in single file.
“Prepare to breach – ten seconds,” Horner whispered to his team on the opposite side of the building.
Jordan felt Horner’s left hand on his shoulder. He knew the rest of the team was doing the same. They were one being, ready to move in unison. Jordan opened his hand, spreading his fingers apart.
Five. Four. Three. Two. One.
The fist closed again and from the northwest stairwell two stun devices sailed into the room. A heartbeat later, a deafening explosions and blinding light followed. The snake of men struck. Jordan headed straight for the HVT off to the right. To his left, Horner’s operators entered from their doorway. An eruption of shocked chatter was cut short by the snaps of silenced gunplay.
The High Valued Target dropped his cell phone and ran for the windows behind him. Jordan caught him by the collar. The HVT snaked his way out of his jacket and threw open the window. He leapt through onto a fire escape. Jordan dropped the jacket and sprinted after his target.
The HVT headed down to the second floor. Jordan was two steps behind. The target saw his pursuer above and behind him. He reached for his sidearm. The pause was all the time Jordan needed to close the gap. He leapt down the final two steps and rammed his knee into the HVT’s chest. The strike forced the air from his lungs and was followed by a blow to the chin from the assault rifle. His eyes swam around in his skull. Jordan grabbed his shirt and flung him through the window into the second floor. Glass broke musically and flew in all directions.
Jordan didn’t enter right after his target. He trained his weapon on the man. Tense seconds crept by. When he didn’t move, Jordan stepped through the destroyed window pane. With the tip of his weapon, he flipped the guy over. The HVT was out cold.
Jordan returned to the third floor dragging his captive behind him like a sack of coal.
“Need any help?” Horner asked.
Jordan dropped his prisoner in the center of the room. “No, I think I got this.” The only ones alive were the Americans. Horner’s team lined up the Iranians to photograph them.
E-Man went over to secure the prisoner. He tossed a nod to Jordan verifying he had everything under control. Jordan went over to the table where Horner stood. He looked in the crate. “What the hell is this?”
An object about five feet long and thick as a fire plug set in the crate. It was complicated enough to at least look like a bomb. The gray metal cylinder had a touchpad on it and a hatch leading to a mystery within. “Never seen anything like it. Is this…an accelerant?”
“Don’t know,” Horner said. “This is your party.” Jordan drew out a small Geiger counter. He scanned the bomb.
“What’s with the Geiger counter?”
“Oh, this?” Jordan smiled. “Didn’t I tell you? The weapon in question was an old triggering device from a Soviet SS-25 ICBM.”
Horner put his hands on his hips and cocked his head. “No, you kinda left out that the weapon in question was a nuke.”
Jordan shrugged. “Technically, it’s not a nuke. I mean, it’s got nuclear material but it’s not going to go critical mass. It will however, make a very good dirty bomb.”
“Spare me the details, Professor. All of us weren’t missile launch officers in our youth.”
Jordan brought his brows together. “You ain’t miss nothing. Seriously, didn’t your command mentioned the whole nuke thing in the briefing?”
“Nope. ‘Render assistance’. So…radiation?”
Jordan said, “Nothing dangerous. Level is what I expected. My bomb’s in this mess somewhere.”
“Where’d this thing come from again?”
Jordan stared intensely at the bomb and shook his head. “I was tracking a retired Russian general from the Bad Old Days. He sold it to these idiots.” He took his head out of the crate long enough to point a thumb to the recently deceased.
Horner leaned in closer. “Yeah? So, what about the rest of it? The parts you don’t recognize…are they gonna kill us?”
“Dunno.” Jordan put away his Geiger counter. “Looks like something improvised.” He pointed at a series of wires. “See? Got some leads here… some other junk. Still, it’s got to be secured. Look, our British friends ain’t gonna be too happy about this.”
“Yeah, something about you’re not supposed to operate on British soil. Why’s that?”
“Article of Agreements…Operational Perimeters…blah, blah, blah. Way above my pay grade.”
Horner grunted. A kind of shorthand he developed over the years. There was an ‘agreeing grunt’, a ‘disagreeing grunt’ and one that more or less translated into ‘whatever.’ It was the latter sound he made now.
E-Man came over and looked into the crate. “Can your boys get some pics of this thing, capt’n?”
Horner waved over the photographer. He looked over at Jordan and threw his chin over to the door. The two officers left the enlisted men.
“Thanks for the hand,” Jordan said.
“No factor. Now, this being in England thing, how big a deal we talking?”
Jordan smiled. “Don’t worry. Now that I got the bomb, all will be forgiven. Course, I’ll have to share some of the credit with MI-5. Got some boys over there in the loop. It’s all good.”
Horner nodded. “I got some juice with SAS. I could pull your fat out of the fire if needed.”
“No way. I’m going to be hearing about this long enough as it is.” Horner tried vainly to hold back the force of a smile. Jordan was sure that sometime in the near future he would hear the words, ‘Remember that thing in London…’ He slapped Horner’s shoulder.
“All right – prepare for evac,” Horner shouted to his team. There were four ‘hooahs’ as they exited the room. He shook Jordan’s hand and just like that, they was gone.
Jordan looked over at E-Man. “Another day in the office, huh? You know, we should pick up some Earl Grey while we’re here.”
E-Man rocked his head. “Don’t front, Jordan. It ain’t every day we keep London from getting all radioactive-y.”
Jordan felt a tremble in his left hand start. He willed it to stop. The danger had passed but this wasn’t the time to fall to pieces. After the weapon was secured and the terrorists’ bodies disposed…after he was alone in his room, there would be plenty of time to vomit and freak out over the near death of millions of people.