Chris spotted the cluster of Center City buildings he knew so well—City Hall topped by William Penn, the spiky ziggurat of Liberty Place, Commerce Center, and the Cira Center to the west, and to the east, Carpenter Hall, the U.S. Mint, and the Federal Detention Center. Straight ahead was the redbrick and smoked-glass tower that was the target, the James A. Byrne U.S. Courthouse and the William J. Green Federal Building.
Chris shuddered to think about the horrific loss of life if the Shanks succeeded, and the deaths would extend to people in the nearby office buildings, retail shops, restaurants, and tourist attractions clustered in the historic district of Philadelphia. It made him sick to his stomach. He wished the helo could move faster, but they were flying as fast as safely possible.
Chris listened to the constant crackling chatter through the headset. There had been no sightings of the dually or the pickup, according to the bulletins from the Philadelphia police and the other federal agencies, all with their own lingo and codes, telling the story of a major American city under terrorist threat, unfolding in real time. The public had been just been notified of a credible bomb threat on the federal courthouse, and Homeland Security had issued a severe threat level for the City of Philadelphia, shutting down the airport, and train, subway, and bus lines.
The Ben Franklin, Walt Whitman, Betsy Ross, and Tacony-Palmyra Bridges had been closed, and cars stuck on the bridge at the time of the closure were being escorted off by Philly and Port Authority police. The federal courthouse and all municipal offices and courts had been closed, and all employees, judges, staff, personnel, and jurors evacuated. People flooded the streets and sidewalks in panic, waiting their turn to be bused to shelters uptown. But none of this could be accomplished quickly, and tens of thousands of people were terrified, frantic, and in mortal jeopardy.
Tony looked over, eyes narrowed. “You seeing anything below?”
“No.” Chris watched the traffic as they flew over I-95 south, six lanes of wall-to-wall traffic, the drivers honking in fear and driving erratically as they fled the city. A fleet of Black Hawks and bigger helos from JTTF, FBI, and the Philly police filled the sky, searching the highway traffic, main streets, side streets, and parking lots for the dually and the pickup.
“This is JTTF. Pilot, identify yourself,” crackled an authoritative voice in the headset.
Tony looked over. “Tony Arroyo. I’m a subcontractor for DEA.”
“Who are you with, Arroyo?”
“Special Agent Curt Abbott, ATF.”
“Special Agent Abbott, do you copy? We were told you returned to base.”
“Negative,” Chris said, and just then, the voice was overridden by an urgent voice through the headset:
“Subject vehicles sighted at Ninth and Race Streets, heading east.” Suddenly the headset exploded with orders, reactions, and sightings, a frenzied cacophony of official business as every helo in the air and vehicle on the ground started barking orders, notifications, and alerts.
“They found them!” Chris said, his heart pumping.
“Copy that. We’re on.” Tony steered the helo eastward. The other helos turned and headed east as if on cue.
Chris and Tony’s helo was among the closest and they beelined for Race Street, flying over the concrete complex of buildings that was Hahnemann Hospital, then the Roundhouse, Philadelphia police headquarters. They zoomed east on Race Street and fell into formation with the other helos in hot pursuit.
Chris scanned the city streets. He didn’t see the dually or pickup. Traffic was being stopped in a ten-block radius around Race Street. Race Street was in the process of being cleared by police cruisers blaring their sirens, herding motorists off the street or to the curb.
Chris scanned the city streets as they descended, flying over Chinatown, which was bisected by Race Street. They flew directly over the ornate red-and-green gate that was the entrance to Chinatown, then zipped over Ninth, Eighth, Seventh, and Sixth Streets, where Chris spotted the police chase and felt his heart leap into his throat.
“There!” Chris pointed to the black dually and pickup, careening down Race Street at high speed. Blue-and-white Philadelphia police cruisers, boxy black SUVs from JTTF, FBI, and ATF, and emergency vehicles raced after them at top speed. Adrenaline surged through Chris’s system.
“Uh-oh.” Tony shook his head. “They’re not turning for the courthouse. They’re heading for the Ben Franklin Bridge.”
“The bridge is full of traffic.” Chris felt his heart sink, looking at the Ben Franklin, the massive blue suspension bridge arching over the Delaware River. Cars, trucks, and BOLT buses sat stopped across its span like a parking lot.
Meantime, the Shanks kept trading positions on the street, sometimes driving side by side, sometimes one leading the other.
“This does not look good.” Tony clenched his jaw.
“Stay with the dually.” Chris saw with horror that one of the unmarked helos was aiming a long gun out of the window, a sniper getting ready to take a shot.
“No!” Chris cried out, too late. The rapid popping of gunfire filled the air. He looked below on the street, stricken. Bullets ripped through the pickup. It zigzagged down Race Street and crashed into a line of parked cars.
Tony said grimly, “They’re shooting to kill.”
Chris said into the headset. “This is ATF, Special Agent Abbott. Do not fire on the dually. Repeat, do not fire on the dually. The dually contains a fertilizer bomb. Firing on the dually will result in its detonation and drastic loss of life and property.”
“Special Agent Abbott?” several voices replied, crackling with static. “To whom do you report?”
“Supervisor Alek Ivanov at the Philly Field Division, ATF. In the dually is domestic terrorist David or Jimmy Shank and also a hostage, minor Evan Kostis. I need to get the hostage out of there. If the bomb goes off on the bridge, you’re going to kill thousands of people and destroy the Ben Franklin Bridge. Do you copy?”
“Stand by,” “Negative,” “Affirmative,” came a torrent of replies, crackling with static.
Chris turned to Tony. “You got binoculars? I need to see inside the dually.”
“In the compartment at your feet.”
“Can you get me to the passenger side of the dually? I want to see if the boy is driving or in the passenger seat.” Chris opened the compartment, found the binoculars, and trained them on the dually as they bounced along.