Four strategic nuclear bombs are hijacked by terrorists seeking revenge for the deaths of their families and comrades. Just one bomb can destroy everything within sixty miles of Ground Zero.
An abandoned trailer linked to the missing nukes is found on the Gulf Coast. The Project is called in to investigate, setting the team off on a desperate race to find the terrorists before they detonate the bombs.
Behind the scenes, the last surviving member of an ancient conspiracy is calling the shots. He's rich, he's powerful, and he's dying. He's got nothing to lose. He believes nuclear war will cleanse the earth and establish a new world order. He dreams of a society where there are only two classes: elite rulers, and those who exist to serve them.
It's up to the Project team to stop him, but time is running out. Can they do it before the world is plunged into war and consumed in the fire of Armageddon?
What readers are saying...
....The story, as always, has a crisp methodical telling….It was wonderful and exhilarating seeing the gang again. Stephanie and Elizabeth Harker are always a great team at the helm... Going gets too crazy for Selena and Nick to handle and Elizabeth has to bring in the others, Valentina, Ronnie and Lamont…. the entire crew eventually having to be brought into the fray cross country and overseas to save us from WWlll with Russia.
it is always a life or death ending, this time we are at Death Con 5….
- Amazon Vine Reviewer
The bombs rode in a long, silver trailer, their nuclear demons safely confined within the sleek casings. The bright lights of a big Peterbilt pulling the trailer threw twin swathes of bright white through the humid night. Two black Suburbans kept pace at exact distances behind. At two in the morning, U.S. Route 83 in Texas was empty of traffic.
Inside the cab, the driver tapped his fingers on the wheel. Bob Wardell was listening to Merle Haggard singing about a man going to his execution. The song was one of Bob's favorites. Sometimes it brought tears to his eyes, the way Merle painted a picture with his music.
Wardell had pulled out of Dyess Air Force Base a little over two hours before, heading for the Pantex plant northeast of Amarillo. Tonight was an easy run, Texas all the way, short and sweet. Sometimes they sent him out to California to Livermore, or up to Kitsap in Washington. Other times over to Kings Bay in Georgia and the sub base there, or maybe the Savannah River national lab.
Bob worked for the Office of Secure Transportation, the government agency charged with moving nuclear weapons and radioactive material around the country. In the Safeguard Transporter trailer behind him were four B-61 nuclear bombs. He was taking them from Dyess to the Pantex facility outside Amarillo, where they'd get new fins designed to improve their accuracy.
Bob loved his job and he loved his truck. There were plenty of things to complain about when it came to the government, but the truck he was driving wasn't one of them. The cab of the Peterbilt 529 was a home away from home. It had a good bed, top-notch sound system, comfortable seats, a refrigerator, and a flat screen TV, plus the security features unique to the OST rigs. There weren't any ejection seats, or machine guns mounted in the bumper, but sometimes Bob felt a little like James Bond.
Mounted on the left side of the dash was a big, red button. Pressing that button would blow the wheels off the trailer, fill the inside with sticky foam, and send an emergency signal that would bring black helicopters swooping down from the sky.
It didn't pay to mess with the OST.
The Texas night rushed by, the rhythmic sound of tires on the pavement providing a soothing counterpoint to the music coming over the speakers. Up ahead, a pair of jackrabbits darted across the blacktop in the glare of the high beams. There wasn't much else to see along the road, except flat land and scrub. The route had been chosen to avoid populated areas as much as possible.
He glanced in his mirrors. The lights of the escort showed behind him, right where they should be. Two SUVs, four government men in suits who looked like they belonged in The Matrix. Nothing had ever happened in the four years he'd been on the job, but with the kind of stuff he was hauling, he was glad those boys were back there. They were all ex special forces, big, tough bastards.
He was getting near to Childress and the intersection with U.S. 287, where he'd turn left toward Amarillo. Then it was home for a two day break before the next run. He looked at the photograph of his wife pasted on the dash, taken the spring after Eddie was born. She was standing in a field of bluebonnets, smiling and holding the baby.
By the time he got home the kids would be in school, and Cindy would be waiting for him. He was looking forward to wrapping his arms around her and carrying her into the bedroom. She liked it when he did that. Hell, twelve years married, two kids, and he was more in love with her than ever. She was just a tiny thing, but boy, she was something else in bed. His very own Texas tornado, just like in the old blues song.
A few minutes later he made the turn onto 287. Another fifteen minutes, and he was coming up on the town of Estilline. Up ahead, he saw flares on the road and the flashing lights of two Highway Patrol cars. A cop stood in the road and waved him down.
Bob rolled down his window. The cop sauntered over to the cab and stepped up onto the running board. The man was whipcord lean and sunburned. His face was mean looking under his Stetson, with squinty eyes.
"What's the problem, officer?"
"Where you headed?"
"Well you can't go this way. Some dumbass ran his barge into the bridge over the river and took out one of the spans. You'll have to go 86 West, through Turkey."
The cop looked at the shiny blue truck.
"Nice rig you got here. Those boys back there with you?"
"You've got government plates. What are you hauling?"
"Machinery. Classified CNC stuff, programmed for making parts on the stealth fighters. That's why I've got an escort."
The lie came easy.
"Uh, huh." The cop stepped back onto the pavement. "Y'all have a good trip. The turn off to 86 is just up the road."
Bob rolled up his window, put the rig in gear and moved past the cars.
The radio that connected Bob to the escort crackled.
"Bob, what was that about?"
"The bridge over the Red River is shut down. I'm diverting to 86."
"Copy that. Out."
He turned onto the new route and planted the speedometer on sixty. Plenty fast enough, considering what he was carrying. The bombs weren't armed, but an accident would do more than end his job with OST. There was enough plutonium in those bombs to make this part of Texas a bad place to live in if it got loose.
Route 86 went through Turkey and Silverton, then connected with Interstate 27 at Tulia. From there it was a straight shot north to Amarillo. Between Estilline and Turkey was thirty miles of nothing. He reached over to turn up the volume on the radio.
Bob smiled, thinking about his wife.
Cindy, babe, I'm coming home.
The tire pressure gauge on his panel lit up. The steering began to feel heavy. Bob let his foot off the accelerator. The front left tire was losing pressure fast.
Damn it. All I need.
He steered to the side of the road and picked up the radio.
"Looks like I've got a flat tire. I have to stop. Better call up the wrecker."
He brought the truck to a stop. One of the escorts pulled ahead and parked, the other stopped behind. Bob left the diesel engine running and stepped down from the cab. The tractor settled on the rim of the wheel with a sigh.
The men in the SUVs got out of their cars. Headlights were coming up the highway behind them. Another set was coming from the opposite direction.
The lead agent was a man named Aaron Dupree. Dupree had been on the practice squad of the New Orleans Saints. Bob was six feet tall and weighed two hundred pounds, but Dupree dwarfed him.
Dupree looked at the lights coming toward them. There hadn't been any traffic on the road for the past twenty minutes.
Everyone who worked for OST knew these cargoes were a prime target for terrorists. The escorts were all former military and had gone through extensive training to prepare them for a potential terrorist attack. They were all armed, including Bob. He kept a Glock 23 in the cab. The trailers with their dangerous cargos were booby-trapped. Satellites kept track of the shipments. No one in their right mind would try to take one of these trucks.
What all the planners and trainers had forgotten was that it was a matter of opinion whether or not a terrorist was in his right mind.
As the two cars coming up from behind got closer, Dupree saw they were highway patrol, probably the same vehicles that had been in Estilline. A little of the tension building up across his broad shoulders eased away.
The cars came to a halt by the convoy. Four cops got out to stretch their legs. One of them lit a cigarette. The man with the squinty eyes walked over to Dupree. He gestured at the flat tire.
"Looks like you got a little trouble. Anything we can do to help?"
"No thanks," Dupree said, "we got it covered. A wrecker's coming."
"Well, that's all right then," the cop said.
He half turned away, then drew his pistol and shot Dupree twice in the chest, then once in the head. Dupree was dead before he hit the ground. The other three cops pulled their weapons and began shooting. In seconds all of the escorts were down on the pavement, dead or dying.
Bob scrambled for the cab. He had the door open and was reaching for the button when a bullet struck him in the back. He fell across the driver's seat. The leader of the phony cops put another round in his head. Blood and bits of brain matter sprayed over the windshield.
"Move," the man said. "Get the bodies into the back of the SUVs."
He pulled Bob's lifeless body out of the cab and got in. The radio was playing a song by Willie Nelson. The man took a card from his pocket and read what was on it. He pushed an unobtrusive black button next to the speedometer. A panel slid back on the dash, revealing a computer screen and keyboard. He entered a sixteen digit code. In the back of the trailer, the doors unlocked.
As they cleared the road of the dead, a new tractor-trailer rig appeared and backed up to the open doors of the OST trailer. Two men moved a heavy steel ramp into place between them, forming a bridge.
The bombs were mounted on wheeled racks. With the security features turned off, it was a simple matter to release the clamps holding them in place, roll the bombs into the second trailer, and strap them down. The entire operation took only a few moments. As soon as the transfer was complete, the second truck drove away. The police cars and SUVs drove off in the opposite direction. All that was left at the scene were dark stains on the blacktop and the disabled truck sitting by the side of the road.
Four nuclear bombs, each big enough to turn a large city into a glowing crater, vanished into the Texas night.
Nick Carter came awake to the sound of his pager vibrating across the end table next to the bed. The green numerals on the dresser clock showed six minutes before five in the morning. Usually the twins woke him by four at the latest. By some miracle, they were still asleep. Next to him, Selena rolled over and pulled the covers over her head.
He picked up the pager and looked at the message.
Damn, he thought
911 meant a national security event had just taken place. 911 meant the shit had hit the fan.
Selena sat up in bed next to him.
"What is it?"
"Harker sent a 911. Something's happened."
"Someday nobody's going to call us in the middle of the night."
"It's not the middle of the night. It's five in the morning."
"It's too early for jokes, Nick. Go on, call her."
He sat on the edge of the bed and called in. Elizabeth Harker answered.
"Nick, where are you?"
"Home. Asleep, or at least I was. "
"You need to get in here."
She disconnected. Outside the bedroom window, a bird began singing.
"She wants us to come in," Nick said.
"I don't suppose she told you what it was about?"
"Are you kidding?"
"I'll go start the coffee," Selena said.
Nick used the bathroom, ran his hand over the stubble on his face, decided not to bother shaving. He pulled on gray Dockers, a light blue shirt and a gray jacket.
911 meant the world might be ending, but he was going to get a cup of coffee before it did. He went into the kitchen, waiting for the brew to be ready. He heard Selena go down the hall to the other end of the loft to Anna's room.
Anna Montalbano had become one of their family. She'd started out as a part-time nanny months before. Since then she'd become a full-time friend. After she'd helped foil an attempt by Japanese criminals to hold the twins hostage, they'd all decided the best thing would be for her to move in with them. There was plenty of room in the converted loft where they lived. The twins loved her. Nick was grateful every day that Selena had found her.
Outside, the sky was beginning to lighten. It was late October. The heat and humidity of an East Coast summer had faded. For Nick, it was his favorite time of year, but Harker's message promised to cast a pall over the day.
Selena came back into the kitchen.
Nick handed her a cup of coffee.
"You'll need this."
Twenty minutes later they crossed the Potomac and headed for the restored federal mansion that was the new headquarters for what had been the Project. They'd named it Virginia House. Officially, the Project no longer existed. The current political environment didn't favor covert actions, no matter how effective they were. The new president wasn't half the man his predecessor had been. Hopkins had been afraid of political consequences if he kept the Project funded.
He'd shut down Harker's team.
With Selena's financial backing, Elizabeth had used her connections to set up a consulting service for a select clientele who needed the kind of specialized expertise her team could provide. Without White House protection, things were different. It meant she had to tread lightly. Elizabeth did her best to avoid situations that might lead to violent confrontations.
Sometimes it even worked out.
A small brass plaque by the gate of Virginia House announced the Harker Group. Nick pulled up under the portico in front of the mansion. They went in through a set of oak doors, passed under a large circular skylight overhead, and went into Elizabeth's office. She looked up from behind her desk as they came in.
Harker was a small woman, with an elfin, heart-shaped face. Her eyes were a deep, emerald green, her hair black as a raven's wing, streaked with white. What she lacked in size she more than made up for in dynamic energy.
She'd dressed in a black business suit and a blouse of crushed green silk that picked up the color of her eyes, a change from her usual white. She wore emerald earrings. A gold salamander with emerald eyes was pinned on her jacket.
Stephanie Willits sat at a separate computer console near Elizabeth's desk. Steph was Elizabeth's deputy and friend. She had a pleasant, wide face that spoke of her Midwestern roots. Her auburn hair was tied behind her in a ponytail.
"Hi, Steph," Nick said. "Morning, Director. We got here as fast as we could. What happened?"
"Better sit down for this one," Elizabeth said.
They took seats on a long leather couch in front of her desk.
"OST was moving four B-61 bombs from Dyess to the Pantex plant in Texas," she said. "Somebody hijacked them."
Selena brushed a wisp of hair away from her forehead. "I thought those trailers were escorted and booby-trapped."
"They are and it was. The hijackers killed the escorts and the driver. They defeated all the security measures."
Nick raised his eyebrows. "The safeguards are supposed to make that impossible."
"That's what everyone thought, until now. After the trailer is armed, it's locked up tighter than Fort Knox. The driver can activate emergency features to disable it, but he can't open the doors. You can't disconnect the trailer from the tractor without a unique code. Everything is controlled by a computer. When the truck arrives at its destination, someone enters the code. That allows the doors to be opened and disables the security features."
"Then how did they get in?"
"That's something we're going to have to find out."
"And the nukes?"
"They moved them into another trailer and drove off."
"That's what we're all going to be in soon, if someone doesn't find those bombs. I got a call from DCI Hood. The president has once again decided he can make an exception for our involvement. We'll be working under CIA auspices."
"Oh, joy," Nick said. "That makes me so happy."
"Don't start, Nick."
"This is the FBI's turf. They'll go ballistic if we show up."
"Isn't Langley supposed to stay out of domestic incidents?" Selena asked.
"That's right," Elizabeth said, "unless there are unusual circumstances. Four stolen nuclear bombs qualifies as unusual."
"Please tell me those bombs weren't armed," Nick said.
"Of course they weren't armed. It doesn't matter. Whoever took them can't set them off, but there's enough nuclear material in them to make a lot of trouble."
"How much material?"
"These were type MOD 11 nuclear earth-penetrators. Variable yield, with a plutonium core. Each one can be dialed up to four hundred kilotons. For comparison, the bomb that wiped out Hiroshima was around fifteen kilotons. It's the primary strategic bomb in our arsenal. Just one would take out a city like New York."
"Jesus. Someone stole sixteen hundred kilotons worth of plutonium?"
"You must have gotten an 'A' in math," Elizabeth said.
Nick got up, went to the sideboard and poured a cup of coffee.
"How do you want to start?" he said.
"I think it's an inside job," Elizabeth said. "No one outside of OST knows when nukes are being moved, much less the route. Someone had to tell the bad guys where the truck was going to be and give them the code for the computer."
"By now those bombs could be anywhere."
"The satellites might tell us something," Stephanie said. "Freddie's already on it."
Freddie was a Cray super computer Stephanie had modified with artificial intelligence.
"It's going to be hard to spot the truck they used," Elizabeth said. "There are a lot of big rigs out there. It's like trying to find one unique grain of sand on the beach."
"If I were them, I'd go to ground and get out of sight," Nick said. "Or I'd move the bombs out of the country, fast. If they don't park in a barn somewhere, Mexico is a good bet. It's close by. There are a lot of places they could get across the border without any problem. Or they could head for the gulf, offload to a ship. There's no way we can watch every spot on the coast. I'm not optimistic about finding where they went anytime soon."
"The president won't want to hear that."
"That's too damn bad. Playing ostrich on this isn't going to help. Whoever did this is smart. It took some serious planning to pull off."
"Just what we need," Stephanie said. "Smart terrorists."
"Look on the bright side," Nick said. "It's good they're smart."
"How could that possibly be good?"
"Do you want somebody stupid messing around with a nuclear bomb?"