“They have to tell the public.” Chris spotted his pilot, Tony, running toward the helo.
“They don’t want to induce panic. It’s a major American city, 1.5 million people. If you go public, the residents, businesses, employees, and tourists freak out. It would be mayhem, dangerous for them and us.” The Rabbi shook his head. “And the Shanks might switch targets. The courthouse is on the other side of the Ben Franklin Bridge to Jersey. They could decide to blow up the bridge or hop on it to New York. They could stop at any exit, hide out, wait, steal cars—”
“They’d terrorize the entire Eastern Seaboard. Paralyze business.” Chris watched Tony climb into the helo, and in the next moment, the rotors whirred into life. “Looks like I’m good to go.”
“Okay.” The Rabbi hugged Chris impulsively. “Good luck, son.”
“Thanks,” Chris said, touched. He raced for the helo.
The helo flew toward Philadelphia, and Chris kept an eye on the horizon like a stopwatch. The sky was cruelly clear, and the rising sun streaked it in rosy swaths. It promised a beautiful day that could end in a horrific loss of life. Chris would never forget 9/11, which was one of the loveliest mornings of September until it became the most tragic.
Chris scanned the terrain below as the helo flew south down Route 81. The Shanks had an overwhelming head start, and he assumed they were already in the city. Nevertheless, he kept his head down and his eye on the traffic, looking for the black pickup or the dually. As they flew southward, Route 81 widened and grew more congested with cars, trucks, tractor trailers, school buses, and vans. Chris ran possibilities in his mind for the next step, trying to formulate a Plan A and Plan B.
“Curt?” Tony’s voice was transmitted through the headset into his ear. “I have a phone call for you from Supervisor Alek Ivanov. I’m going to patch him in. You’ll hear his voice next in your headset.”
Terrific. “Thanks.” Chris heard a crackling sound, then a click.
“Curt? Are you in the air?”
“Yes, headed toward Philly. What’s going on? Are they going to close the courthouse? Are they going to inform the public?”
“No decision yet. There are a lot of moving parts. JTTF will liaise with the other agencies and the city, and those decisions will be in their very capable hands.”
“Okay.” Chris thought Alek sounded unusually official and assumed that his boss was speaking for the benefit of others overhearing the conversation.
“Curt, you may not have been told that ATF is no longer primary in Operation Varsity Letter. JTTF is. JTTF didn’t authorize your deployment to the target zone. You’ve done a great job, Curt. I couldn’t have asked for more. But JTTF has its own people in the air, handpicked. Turn around and return to the Shank farmstead.”
“No.” Chris hadn’t come this far to quit. “JTTF doesn’t know how this may go down. Anything can happen. I may be needed. I’m the only one who knows Evan. I have his trust and his confidence—”
“Curt, Evan Kostis is a domestic terrorist, armed and dangerous, engaged in a conspiracy to blow up a courthouse and murder thousands of innocent people—”
“No, you’re wrong, he’s not a willing participant. They’re using him as a human shield. Courtney confirmed it to us, just now. Call the Rabbi, he’ll tell you. Evan is a hostage.” Chris felt fear tighten his chest. He could read between the lines. They were going to shoot to kill Evan. The boy was about to become collateral damage. If Evan didn’t get killed by the Shanks, he’d get killed by the feds.
“Curt, we’re talking about one person as against thousands.”
“No, it’s not that way. I would never sacrifice thousands of people for Evan, but I don’t think we have to sacrifice anyone. I want to stop the Shanks and get Evan out of there.” Chris had to sound reasonable or he would never convince Alek. “You already put the word out about the dually and the pickup. We’re going to start getting sightings. We’ll be able to locate them. They’ve got to be in the city or close by. When you start to get those sightings, we can coordinate our extraction of Evan—”
“There’s no extraction of Evan. That’s not JTTF’s plan. Their order is for you to come back.”
“But JTTF needs me. What if they have to defuse the bomb? I can do that. I’m a certified explosives specialist. You know that—”
“Again, not JTTF’s plan. Bomb squads are already headed to the target. Turn around and come back to the farmstead.” Alek’s tone turned angry, but controlled for the sake of the others listening.
“No, I can’t. I’m asking for one shot. I’m not gonna let you kill this kid. There’s no reason to. He’s a victim, not a perp.”
“Pilot, return to the farmstead.”
“No, don’t,” Chris told Tony, then said to the headset, “Alek, please, I promised Evan’s mother I’d bring him home and I want to try—”
“Pilot, turn around and return to farmstead.” Alek’s tone hardened like steel. “That’s an order.”
“Roger that,” Tony answered.
“Over and out,” Alek said, then there was a click on the headset.
Chris turned to Tony in appeal. “Please, don’t go back. They’re going to kill a kid for no reason, a seventeen-year-old boy. I can get him out of there. I’ve got to try. Let me try.”
Tony looked over, grim-faced. “I’m not going back. I heard you. We’re going to give it a shot.”
“Wait, what?” Chris didn’t get it.
“I don’t take orders from your boss, I’m a subcontractor. I’m a father, too. I’ll follow your lead.”
“Thanks.” Chris’s hopes soared. Evan had been given a stay of execution.
“I can switch channels and listen to the chatter from the other pilots. We’ll hear about the sightings as soon as they do. Nobody will know we’re in the sky until they see us.” Tony shot him a warning glance. “But if it goes south, I’m turning back. I’m not going to let you get us killed.”
“Fair enough,” Chris said, turning to the city.