People fled toward both ends of the bridge, but none of them was harmed or injured.
“Yes!” Chris cheered inwardly, keeping a tight grip on Evan as Tony completed his final circle.
Flying them toward safety.
Their helo flew back toward the Philadelphia side of the bridge and descended slowly. The ladder dug into the back of Chris’s knees, cutting off his circulation and weakening his leg hold. The ache in his shoulders and arms intensified, supporting Evan’s weight.
Chris felt Evan grow heavier, as if the boy could no longer hold himself up, the handcuffs hobbling his grip. Chris formed his fingers in a vise, praying that they landed soon. He feared that Evan had been beaten, suffering internal injuries.
The street below was being hastily cleared and a makeshift helipad was being formed at the base of the bridge, in front of a small grassy park that contained a monument to Benjamin Franklin, a silvery lightning bolt piercing the sky. Their helo descended slowly, and Chris worried whether they’d clear the lightning bolt, but he had confidence in Tony, who’d more than proved his mettle.
Both Chris and Evan hung their heads, looking down at the chaos below. JTTF, FBI, and ATF vehicles, Philly and Port Authority police, firefighters in heavy coats, and EMTs and other emergency personnel clustered around a slew of fire trucks, ambulances, and a bloodmobile. There were SWAT team members in boxy paramilitary vehicles, white Bomb Squad trucks, and bystanders, gawkers, and other civilians, who must have left or been evacuated from their offices, businesses, and homes.
The helo dropped lower and lower, and each person watched the sky or held up a smartphone, iPad, or tablet to videotape the dramatic descent. A throng of reporters and media stood filming from white vans bearing network and cable-TV logos.
Chris realized that it was the biggest news story that had ever happened in the Philadelphia area and it was being recorded, filmed, and photographed by professional outlets as well as guys with flip phones. He looked back at the smartphones, lenses, and cameras with the sickening knowledge that he was blown. His undercover career was over. His face, his image, and his true identity would be posted online, shared, and broadcast everywhere around the country, maybe even the world, starting right now.
Chris Brennan/Curt Abbott was about to go viral, and there would be no more hiding in plain sight. No disguise would be good enough, not after today. Chris had saved Evan but he’d lost his job, and the only life he knew.
And it struck him that if he didn’t know who he really was, he was going to find out.
Chris didn’t release Evan from his grip until the boy’s feet touched the street, then all hell broke loose. Philadelphia police, JTTF, FBI and ATF agents, federal marshals, and EMTs rushed Evan from all directions, crouching to avoid the rotors and wash of the helo as it hovered above the street.
“Coach, Coach!” Evan shouted, as they hustled him away, his voice lost in the din of the rotors and blaring sirens.
“Get him to a hospital!” Chris shouted, as Evan was whisked into the nearest ambulance, its back doors hanging open at the ready.
Chris kept his grip on one side of the ladder, unhooked his legs from the rung, and swung his feet down to the street, righting himself as a noisy slew of official personnel engulfed him. He scanned the crowd for an ATF windbreaker, but there was too much of a commotion. The rotor wash subsided as Tony pulled the helo up and began his ascent, still trailing the yellow ladder.
Chris looked up, and Tony flashed him an okay sign, then climbed higher and steered northward.
“Special Agent Abbott, come with us, this way!” shouted one of the Philly police, barely audible over the din. “Special Agent Abbott, this way! There’s a command post at the United States Attorney’s office. We’ve been instructed to take you there unless you require medical attention.”
“I’m fine, let’s go!” Chris shouted back, jostled in the crowd, and the cadre of police whisked him to a waiting cruiser surrounded by more cruisers, emergency vehicles, and paramilitary vehicles. The media and the civilians beyond the perimeter surged forward, trying to get a look at him and cheering, applauding, or shouting to him.
Chris hustled to the backseat of the cruiser, closing the door behind him. The sirens kept blaring, preventing conversation with the uniformed officers in the front seat. He didn’t feel like talking anyway. He worried about Evan and how the boy would be dealt with by the law. It wasn’t a fate that Chris could save him from, but maybe the time for saving Evan was over.
The cruiser began to make its way through the crowd as official personnel cleared a path for it to pass. Chris couldn’t hear anything because of the sirens and the people cheering, clapping, or calling to him, though he couldn’t make out any of the words. They waved at him or flashed him thumbs-up. One woman blew him a kiss, and another one held up a hand-scrawled sign that read, MARRY ME!
Chris looked away, thinking of Heather. He didn’t know what she’d think of him now or if she still felt betrayed. Same with Jordan, which hurt, too. Chris didn’t want to be untouchable anymore, but he might have blown his chance.
The cruiser inched along, and he looked out the window at the cheering mob. His thoughts were in a quieter place, Central Valley. It struck him then that everything he’d said to Dr. McElroy in his job interview was absolutely true. He’d thought he’d been lying to her, but he’d been lying to himself. Central Valley did feel like home to him, and it was the kind of place where he’d want to settle down and raise a family.
He just didn’t know how, or even if, he could ever get back there.
The next few hours were a blur, during which Chris was escorted to the United States Attorney’s office, a concrete monolith on Chestnut Street in Philadelphia. The Rabbi gave him a relieved hug and Alek shook his hand, acting as if Chris had followed his orders to the letter, a charade in which Chris played his part. After that, Chris, the Rabbi, and Alek met with the heads of JTTF, Homeland Security, FBI, and ATF, in addition to the United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, the Middle District of Pennsylvania, the mayor of Philadelphia, and the police commissioner. Chris met so many members of the top brass that he lost track of the names, the uniforms, the suits, and the badges.