I KILL RICH PEOPLE 2, page 26
“Fuck!” he exclaimed enthusiastically.
“What?” Bishop wanted to know.
“Hah! The golden ticket! Yes!” Jeffers had somehow bypassed the security interviews, the background checks. Everything. Nussbaum realized he had the key to the entire grid.
“We’re into NSA’s entire surveillance system,” he explained. “The whole fucking thing. I’ve heard rumors about it, but I’ve never even seen a geo-specific enterprise intelligence system.”
“Think of a million eyeballs, more, all on 24/7 high-alert. Point a cursor on a map and scroll out to any radius and every camera, every street cam, every public transit cam, every bank, every Starbucks, McDonald’s, 7/11, every single private security camera in every house is right there, right on screen. We can filter for height, build, hair color, skin tone, clothing color, make and model of car. Damn! I’ve waited all night outside Best Buy to get the first copy of every version of Halo. That’s good. This is about a million times better. NSA has the coolest shit! This just scratches the surface.”
“This isn’t a game.”
Stephen disagreed. “It’s all a game.”
The gas gauge showed under a quarter tank of gas. Spencer figured twenty-five miles per gallon, maybe an eighteen-gallon tank, and began speculating. Then he found the button on the steering wheel and the information center in the dashboard screen. Range = 137 miles.
What does it matter? Make distance. Get clear of D.C. before they find the Prius. Once they had that they’d ID the Subaru. One-hundred-thirty-seven miles.
The nav system took him west on King to South Henry to merge back onto 495. Six-and-a-half miles of the most patrolled highway in America.
He accelerated to sixty-eight mph and tapped the steering wheel to set the car on cruise control. Every sight around him was made much more surreal because he had seen them all before. America. On American soil the entire time. 95 south. Forty minutes away from Jack. Heading home. He had to reach under his knee to take his right foot off the gas pedal. He was using his left foot for the brakes. No choice; either he slammed to every stop or he wasn’t stopping.
Cruise control bought him the chance to think. Eight bucks. A little over two gallons of gas. Sixty more miles. He reached into the paper sack on the passenger seat, felt for the imported water, cracked open the bottle top and drank back half in one gulp then belched away the bubbles. The coins. It would take him half a day to sort them out and get them into rolls. Where could he cash rolls? Where could he get the rolls in the first place? Every bank in the country used security cameras.
Coin machine. There used to be a coin machine in Tuckahoe. Eighty miles. Better to make distance or ditch the car? He took a deep breath, exhaled, and smiled. Fucked-up legs and all, there was color all around him, color on cars, billboards, trees, a sky as far as he could see in countless shades of blue. He felt alive, alive for the first time in forever. He let down the window and let the wind blow across his face, leaned his head out and stretched his neck into it, letting it blow through his hair and beard. Traffic slowed suddenly. He saw the gap closing and the rear bumper of a Chrysler minivan getting bigger fast. Before he could manage braking, he instinctively pulled left into the HOV lane and was passing the Chrysler and more traffic without ever slowing down when in the rearview mirror a gray sedan came up behind him. Five hundred yards.
He thought the hood and roof were black. Grabbing a fistful of blue jeans just above his left knee, he pressed down until he felt the brakes contact then lifted and pumped the leg to reduce speed so that he could cut back into the center lane. He let the Subaru decelerate, then cut to his right and tapped the button reading “Resume.” The Virginia State Police unit pulled parallel alongside. Spencer kept his eyes looking ahead, his hands at ten and two. Sixty-two mph. He breathed again after the patrol car moved ahead and reached into the bag, taking out an apple and biting in with a satisfying crunch. While he chewed, he reached the pale red and yellow fruit out at arm’s length and studied it, turning his wrist to look at it from all sides as the sweet juice moved over his tongue and settled into the back of his mouth. Best apple ever.
The white ranch house where he grew up was a half hour ahead. Half an hour. Would Jack be there, he wondered, on the blue couch with his shoes on, or would he be out with the van on a job?
He hadn’t seen his dad since boarding the plane before the last deployment. At Walter Reed he told Jack that he’d come home to visit after his MEB. Right after he left Eagle Arms they talked on the phone. Hi Dad. Hi Johnny. How are you, Dad? Hanging in there. How are you? The same.
Before Sands Point, before everything. He was already back in operations mode, prepared to do what he trained for, what he did best.
You need to get rid of this thing. But how do you steal a car, he wondered? People did it all the time, but how? Could you stick in a screwdriver and break the ignition lock? He’d seen five or six of the Fast and Furious movies, but hot-wiring a car?
Hijacking? A gimp with no weapon. Probably get shot trying. Good luck on that. Where do people leave cars and keys? Oil change places. Valets. Car washes. Repair shops. Repair shops might not know it’s gone, not as fast at least. But what if it hadn’t been repaired? Steal a car that was going to break down?
He looked at his hands; he was gripping the wheel too tightly, his knuckles were white, bloodless. Pulse rate in the mid-70s. Way off. Adrenalin rollercoaster. Neurochemistry pinging all over the place like a pinball machine.
Radio controls were on the left side of the steering wheel. He could have reached down and put on music. Instead, he closed the window. Tuckahoe, he decided. Then find a way to get another car. Sorry Jack.
“I’m aware it’s been three hours,” Bishop conceded. “No, he can’t be on a plane, not without ID. Besides, how would he pay for the ticket?” Jeffers voice was hitting a high range that sounded entirely different from the deep resonant authority he normally displayed.
“I’m aware of that,” Bishop agreed. “One-hundred-fifty miles. No, camera densities fall apart in forty miles.”
“Red Pants”—Stephen Nussbaum—had mapping projected along an entire wall.
“Spencer didn’t escape on my watch. My contract was singularly for interrogation. Incarceration was entirely separate. Don’t put this on me,” Bishop said, defending himself.
“Things might be considerably different right now if you had an APB out,” Bishop repeated. “We didn’t find the Prius because he’s not in the Prius. Your doctor was taken to his house and found it turned inside out when he got there. No, no weapons. A revolver in the hall closet. Still there.
“Some food, clothing, medications. I know he’s not in the Prius because we have the Prius. He switched cars. A green Subaru Imprezza, Virginia license number 4201 Charlie Victor Thomas. We may not need the cameras. The Subaru has a nav system and roadside collision assistance.”
“If it has a nav system, you’re tracking it, aren’t you?” Jeffers demanded.
“Of course,” Bishop snapped back. ”We’re working on that as we speak. Once we’re inside the system, I’ll have a team on the helicopter.” Stephen and his nerds were proving resourceful.
With the giant jug set inside a shopping cart, Spencer held onto the handle and tried pressing up onto his toes. His heels came off the ground. Not much, but it was something. He tried squatting; the knees started giving way and only the cart kept him from falling smack on his ass. He moved tentatively, lifting one foot at a time, and used his grip on the cart to relieve the weight on his legs. But he was moving. His knees were flexing. Two minutes earlier he had scratched himself from his calves to his thighs on both legs. Months of therapy my ass.
Inside the automatic doors, the coin machine was still there where he remembered
Monday fried chicken special. Breast, wing, thigh and drumsticks plus two sides for $3.99. Monday. Tuckahoe, VA. The aroma of fried chicken made him swoon. He was going to eat it in the car but recognized that he was barely able to drive with both hands helping. He ate right there, every morsel right down to the bone, grits with gravy, mac and cheese, sitting at a metal table with four attached seats, bolted into the shining floor. People kept coming and going to and from the Starbucks counter. He looked up at them with chicken in his mouth. Nobody was going to get between him and that meal.
He wheeled from the deli past the checkout registers, reading the directory signs down each isle. He found disposable razors. Store brand. Packs of three. Then he went down the housewares isle. Brooms. Screw-in handles. After the checkout, he still had $103 and change. Forget gas. Ditch the car.
Just outside the shopping center, in an area of neat three story apartments and 1950s single-story little houses just like the one he grew up in, he cruised along the lowest speed that took cruise control, 20 miles an hour, with the broken broom stick resting in his lap, the threaded end touching alongside the brake pedal.
After two blocks he saw a FedEx van pull to a stop. The driver went into the back then emerged with a small package and trotted toward the nearest apartment building. Stealing a FedEx van? Nope.
Another block along he spied something more intriguing. In front of him was another small apartment building, this one off by itself, set back from the street, with a small parking lot in front. He pulled in, punched the stick downward to brake, and then let the car move slowly in drive past the pickups and older four-cylinder imports. At the farthest end away from the parked cars he turned the Subaru between faded white lines and put it in to park. Looking down between the apartment and the little ranch house beside it, a young man made a pass with a power mower across the back yard, turned and went behind the house, the sound fading as he moved in the other direction. Inside the single-car garage was somebody’s pride and joy, a beautiful Honda CTX700 standing all black and shiny. Key in the ignition, helmet resting on the seat.
“Of course we’ve pulled the description; we’ve got the license plate, the VIN. Well, it’s not that simple.
The service carrier is American, but they’re a third party,” Stephen explained. Jeffers’ micro-management was even more frustrating than tracking the car; why even hang up the phone when the intervals between Jeffers’ calls were minutes apart?
“The service contract is offered directly by Subaru,” Stephen continued, “which is owned by Fuji Heavy Industries. I already approached their U.S. headquarters in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Unless the request is made by the owner of the vehicle, they won’t do it without either a court order or an ok from Japan. There’s a twenty-hour time difference.
“The registered owner is a commercial airline pilot in the air halfway between Miami and Sao Paulo. I sent him a text to contact us the moment that he lands.
“Then break into their network!”
Nussbaum answered Jeffers testily. “Tried that. It’s a no-go. Hacking their system will take considerably longer than two-and-a-half hours.”
“Will a warrant get it done?” Jeffers offered.
“You have judges within the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, move on that, definitely,” Stephen agreed. “If you really can turn a FISA court order right now, that could be a game changer.”
The Honda was a different animal, not at all like his Harley; a cheetah, agile and smooth compared to the Harley’s throaty lion. No clutching; the automatic transmission was a godsend. The tinnitus rang louder inside the helmet, but he could live with that. All day long.
With the gym bag tied with a bungee cord onto the upper seat deck behind him, Spencer took Route 64 north and east to clear Tuckahoe fast, getting out before the motorcycle was reported stolen, but not before he passed the Alanon café where eight motorcycles were lined up under a shade tree in the gravel lot. He spied a plate with first and last numbers that were identical to the Honda’s plate; it could be weeks before the owner ever noticed the change.
Spencer nodded to himself, satisfied, as he put the pliers and screwdriver back into the gym bag. Hours earlier, he was in solitary confinement with both legs in casts from hip to toe. Now he had food, clothing, cash, transportation, and a direction. Goodbye Virginia.
There was open space after Charlottesville; horse pastures, cattle, farms with miniature goats and alpaca spread out along both sides of the highway. First to the state line, then find a place to get some sleep.
He crossed the river at Waynesboro, passing the Wal-Mart Supercenter and cutting south onto Stuarts Draft toward Lexington.
Glen Jean, West Virginia. “It’s just five hours west from Jack’s,” Mercy had written to him. “Five hours and you’re in another world, Johnny. Would you come and visit me sometime? Don’t even call. There’s no phone! Just come!”
At two hundred feet, the Subaru was visible from overhead without searchlight or night vision. The glow from the streetlight was enough. On playback, the belly cameras caught it; green for certain, license match at 20X enhancement. Bishop received the confirmation but waited before relaying it; the GPS had them dialed in.
“We have the car. No visual on target.”
The Team Leader, Curtis, signaled the pilot to maintain distance. The pilot nodded and spiraled out in widening circles to prevent the rotor noise from alerting their target. He spotted a two hundred-foot clear radius a quarter-mile away. Offloading took seconds, six men and equipment, then the helicopter rose again, leaving the black-uniformed squad crouched over surveillance and communications equipment, ammunition and ordnance packed inside black, hard-floored bags.
Using a tablet computer and mapping software, the team leader signaled On me before taking off at a fast trot, moving down the alleys that lead toward the Subaru. Six men carrying 486 pounds of gear, running in near silence. Nothing slapping, banging, shifting; their only noise was heavy feet thumping dirt and crunching gravel. A Dalmatian stood up from its spot on a back porch, craned its head, lifted its tail, and watched without a sound.
From above they would have looked like a flock of blackbirds, distributing around obstacles into formations choreographed along the streets and alleyways of Ramadi, Fallujah, Haditha, and countless hotspots. At one hundred meters, the two on security moved into positions front and rear with their HK-416s. They lamped up, turning on their laser sights and sweeping the bright red and green streaks across their fields of fire. Anything moving within their perimeter would intersect with a suppressed hiss sounding like an adder’s strike.
Three and four, both shooters, positioned at 9 and 3 with MP5s along the brick side walls of the apartment.
Profitt, the Assistant Team Leader, moved double time to behind a broad, unkempt boxwood hedge, where he slung his M4 to the ground. His Team Leader, Curtis, thundered up beside him. The ATL opened the duffle at his feet to draw out night-vision goggles, automatically handing the first pair to Curtis then powering a second pair before pulling them down over his forehead. Together, they swept the area: center stairwell, two units per floor, three stories; five cars in front, plus the Subaru, a derelict Oldsmobile on blocks, two pickups, a sedan and a Dodge Caravan.
Profitt made a tomahawk motion twice toward the Ford F150. His team leader acknowledged. Rear bumper Army Strong; rear window HOOAH! IT’S AN ARMY THING. Team leader punched his left fist into his right armpit then swept his outstretched right palm across the building. ATL tipped back the night vision then zipped the duffle wide open, pulling from it a specialized cigar box-shaped camera with a thick black conduit attached to a large b
Profitt handed the camera to Curtis and then drew out an aluminum tripod painted over in camo, flipped open its legs, and locked them into place before reaching for the camera back. As Profitt fired it, Curtis switched to visuals on the tablet; it had already synched its Bluetooth to the infrared camera. He steered to the upper floor left. One figure, reclined so that the heat mark didn’t display contours, man or woman, tall or short, wide or slender. He moved right to the second unit, top floor. One smaller mark on the floor: an infant, toddler, possibly a dog; not the target. An image showed top only, like a torso floating legless. When she moved from the kitchen, her legs came into view to join her upper body. No magic trick; she was standing behind the breakfast bar and walked out to pick up the baby.
He moved back to upper floor left; the figure had shifted. Now that he was stretched out on his side it was obvious that the figure weighed over three hundred pounds. Middle floor right was cold. Nothing there. Lower right, one figure plus a deep red package, moving package. Back and forth, stop, again back and forth. Waist level. Stop. Back and forth. Each move left a crimson trail that cooled orange, then yellow, then pale straw. Short, slender… not the target. Two larger male figures lower left unit, closest to the Subaru and to the F150. TL pointed two fingers. Profitt fixed the tripod in place then moved to a second duffle, unzipped and withdrew the grip-end of a pistol that extended into an eight-inch long pod. A spiral black electrical cord was attached to the base of the grip; when it came out fully, padded earphones were connected to the end of the wire. The ATL sighted through the lens on top then tapped his index finger to a button above the grip along the right side. A red dot lit against the front window of the unit.