Bad News

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Thrillers  |  House: Booksie Classic
Terrorists bomb a major city, and are hunted down. But that's not the end of the story...

Submitted: August 19, 2013

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Submitted: August 19, 2013

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Celebrations had begun, but maybe it was too soon. Crowds on the streets cheered and applauded as police cars and ambulances left the scene, but nobody dared fire shots in the air, although many young men wanted to, as that would have made the still tense situation worse. Only one of the suspects had been taken; the other was still on the run, and the manhunt would continue until he was tracked down and arrested or killed.

The series of bombs had started exploding downtown two days earlier. Three victims had died instantly, others had lost legs and arms and eyes, and in total more than a hundred people had been maimed and rushed to hospital. The first bomb had targeted the long-awaited parade that passed at midday, timed to the minute to cause destruction and chaos on the Mall as the happy, smiling crowds were at their largest, and it is, God be praised, a miracle that so few people were caught in the blast. A group of schoolchildren, specially selected for their flag-waving skills, was considered to have been particularly fortunate, as their bus had been delayed by the press of the crowds, and they had not yet disembarked to take their seats on a rostrum near what turned out to be the epicenter of the explosion a few seconds later.

After the immediate panic had subsided, the authorities appealed for the people to bring them their photographs and videos of the event—in this day and age of smart phones and surveillance videos and news cameras a terrorist is incredibly lucky if he escapes unseen—and shocked eye-witnesses came forward in droves. Forensic scientists swarmed the crime scene and quickly found the place where the device had been hidden: the shattered remains of a trash can attached to a lamppost, into which the timebomb had presumably been dropped. One has to ask why the trash can remained there on that particular day; as a security precaution it ought to have been removed from its location the night before; but somehow it had been missed, or maybe the bomber had replaced it, with the deadly payload already planted and ticking inside. Nobody knows. But somehow, not long after the second bomb exploded on the bus, photographs and names of two suspects were released to the media. Before nightfall, posters depicting the two young men were hanging in every storefront window in the city and blurred video footage of them played on every television and video screen across the nation. Panicked rumors began to flow that these latest assassins were in the pay of the North Korean government, who had been in the news recently threatening to attack every western country they could name, or were from some right-wing neo-nazi splinter group, but nobody really knew. It was, as one overexcited interviewee commented: "The million-dollar question!"

Whoever the terrorists were and whatever their motives, calls were soon being heard for the death penalty, from senators on both sides of the house. The mayor said he hoped the judge would ‘throw the book at the perpetrators’ when they were captured. Many agreed with him. "Yet another ‘crisis situation’, and no end in sight"; "We’re getting so tired of these outrages"; "The authorities must take action now!" were typical reactions.

"We will find these men," stated a government spokesman solemnly on the 6pm news. "This country refuses to be terrorized by such a brutal crime against the people." He neglected to inform the people, however, that in a separate incident that had occured at the same time as the second explosion (at 3:20 pm), a person close to the country’s leadership had been kidnapped while apparently being spirited to a safe haven, and his two personal bodyguards had been shot dead. The security services were of course suspicious of a link between the bombings and the abduction.

By 6:30 pm a team of anti-terrorist experts had been assembled, Josef Hamzah among them, and were being briefed at a secret location in the city. As they made their plans, the third bomb exploded in a restaurant in Arlington. Luckily the restaurant was empty; customers were too scared or too sensible to venture out on the evening of this terrible day; and the only injury was to one of the waiting staff who lost the little finger of her left hand.

Josef Hamzah was a recent immigrant, aged forty-five, a seasoned operative who had learned his trade in the hothouse of the Middle East, a welcome recruit to the homeland security services. His father had died during the South Lebanon conflict in 1997, his mother soon afterwards, and he had been raised by a maternal uncle until he had left home and disappeared into the levantine underworld, from which he had emerged much later as a veteran security specialist, with plans for a career in the West. Maybe he had been forced to make a run for it, he wasn’t saying, but here he was, in the country that had recently adopted him, eager to prove his loyalty. The bombings had come as no surprise to him; there had been several of them during the past month and today’s parade was an obvious temptation, but the simultaneous VIP abduction had shocked the whole team. The government of course was prioritizing the rescue of the hostage, and with the strictest secrecy. "Aha!" thought Josef. "That is why I have been chosen."

Actually it was because he was on this week’s rota, but Josef was not to know that.

A fourth bomb next morning disturbed early breakfasters at a diner on the corner of 29th and Medina, after which the police announced a city-wide curfew for the day and shut down the local transit system. Several sightings of one of the suspects had been reported, most of them mistaken, but one was being taken seriously and the search focused on the harbor area. Streets were cordoned off, people heard gunfire, and helicopters zoomed overhead. One ex-soldier said later that it reminded him of the time he had fought in Mogadishu with the Rangers, but he was exaggerating a little. A policeman was shot and was later reported to have died of his wound.

Josef’s team was assigned as expected to tracking down the second suspect, as it had been determined that the first was a lone man on the run. The second suspect was more likely to lead them to the hostage, it was felt, although there had been no communication from the kidnapper(s) as yet. After the policeman’s death, the team was ordered to shoot to kill.

Shortly after 3pm, suspect number one was cornered inside a warehouse on the waterfront and cut down in a hail of bullets. Subsequently the hunt for suspect number two and the hostage that was assumed to be with him was intensified. Still there had been no ransom demand, no threat, or at least Josef’s team had not been informed of such. The news was wall-to-wall reports of the capture/execution of the first suspect, with features on his life history, his star student rating at a local high school and much (in some instances, hysterical) speculation as to the reasons for his horrifying actions. The media said he was from an old-established family, from way back in the country’s early history, which possibly explained his motives. Facebook and Youtube pages had been scanned, family politics put under the microscope, relatives harassed. For once the press couldn’t blame the attack on religion, because the dead man had been a professed atheist. It had been discovered though that he had recently lost his job to an immigrant from Pakistan, so one reporter had written at length on the possible racist angle. It was hard to tell; you know what the media’s like these days, and who can be sure of the reliability of the information they are fed?

Of course, while the second named suspect remained at large, tension in the city remained high. Some crazies were calling for Batman to come out of hiding to help the police find the fugitive, to which the police commissioner responded that this was not Gotham City, and the police were quite capable of hunting down criminals by themselves, thank you very much. With the help of the FBI and the National Guard, of course.

Late on the second day after the abduction, Josef received a phone call from an old friend—for the purposes of this report we must call him Mr. Anonymous—and what the friend had to tell him was very interesting indeed and Josef went straight to his team leader with the news. After more phone calls and a hasty meeting with the police chief, everyone converged on a house in Crescent Road, the street was cleared and a perimeter was set up. A robot vehicle was sent in to dispose of what appeared to be two incendiary booby traps, and a police helicopter hovered low overhead. There was no attempt at negotiation with the hostage-taker; the SWAT team went straight in through the windows, and gunfire and grenade explosions were heard from inside. Minutes later, members of the team emerged from the house carrying a person on a stretcher, whom they rushed into a waiting ambulance that sped off with siren wailing and lights flashing, in convoy with two police cars and several motorcyclists. Later they brought out a dead body, assumed to be that of the assailant.

Josef was much congratulated and patted on the back for his contribution to the rescue. There was even talk of a promotion. Relieved people from the surrounding houses were allowed to return home once the all-clear was given, and there was rejoicing until late in the night. "Who needs the Hunger Games?" laughed one iPhone-waving innocent bystander, for which she earned loud cheers and applause.

Not all the news was good though. As darkness fell, the head of security at the White House received a phone call from the hospital where the badly-wounded hostage was being treated. When he heard the news, his face fell. No matter, he had his job to do. Walking briskly to the Oval Office, he knocked on the door and was admitted at once. "Sir, I have bad news for you," he said to the man behind the desk. "Your son has just died from the wounds he sustained during the rescue operation. I’m so sorry, Mr. Grand Ayatollah."

© D. K. Janotta 2013

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