They made room for the flight of their wounded commander in chief; some even added to the body shield to protect the fallen president.
The president’s entourage reached the parking lot and the motorcade. As planned, the USSS Electronic Countermeasures Suburban, used by the Secret Service to stop any airborne attacks, ejected its arsenal of infrared smoke grenades, creating a thick pall to protect the president in his final flight to the waiting ambulances.
In that momentary confusion, a pair of Secret Service agents who were in on the ruse hauled the president into one of the emergency vehicles. Tucker climbed into the back. Kane jumped in after him.
The neighboring ambulance erupted with flashing lights and sirens and took off. The WHCA Roadrunner, the mobile command and control vehicle, sent out the false instruction, drawing the rest of the secure-package motorcade to follow the decoy. Armored vehicles gave chase, while local law enforcement blocked streets.
Staring out a window, Tucker watched an armored presidential limo race through the smoke with additional escorts, bearing to safety the First Lady, who must be beyond distraught, watching her husband shot right in front of her. They needed her to be the grieving wife for the cameras during the next few hours.
It was cruel, but no one could know of the subterfuge today.
Especially the enemy.
Amazingly, Painter had orchestrated a deception of this caliber after a single day of planning. He recruited only those he fully trusted, reaching out to a handful of people in various intelligence branches, but mostly he kept this entire operation in-house.
One of the Secret Service agents helped the president take off his buttoned polo. Gant wore a pained expression. The reason became clear as his bloody undershirt was stripped off and the exploded remains of the squibs removed. A blistered blast burn decorated the spot under his shoulder blade.
“Sir,” one of the Secret Service agents started, worried.
He was waved away. “I’m fine. Better than a bullet through the head.”
Another agent started the ambulance and set off, running dark, no flashing lights, no sirens. They headed in the opposite direction from the motorcade. The decoys were racing to George Washington University Hospital, where another team waited to continue the deception. In the story to come, it would be reported that the president was undergoing an extensive emergency surgery to repair his lung, that his chances were poor. They didn’t want to risk a second attempt on his life, so they would make it sound bad. But such a ruse could not be maintained for long without the threat of exposure.
So they set a six-hour time limit.
Six hours to bring down a shadowy cabal that had survived centuries.
Painter’s voice filled one ear. “Report.”
“The package is secure,” Tucker sent back, knowing their voice channel was kept secret by a modified version of the CCEP type-1 encryption algorithm developed by the NSA to keep presidential communications secret. “What about Commander Pierce?”
“We’re working on that right now.”
With advance knowledge of the sniper attack, Painter had set up a ring of tiny high-frame-rate, slow-motion cameras around the stage, all fixed on that balloon. Those cameras should have recorded the bullet’s passage and allowed immediate processing of the trajectory. A three-dimensional laser modeling of the park permitted the analysts at Sigma command to quickly trace the path of that bullet back to its source.
They needed Commander Pierce secured as soon as possible—not only for his safety but also to obtain whatever knowledge he had regarding the moves of the enemy, including the whereabouts of the president’s grandson.
Tucker felt a pang of regret, unable to escape the guilt of leaving Amanda’s child behind. He intended to do whatever he could to correct that mistake.
The first step toward that goal: find and secure Gray.
Without that man’s information, all of this subterfuge would accomplish nothing. In six hours, it would be announced to the world that the president had miraculously survived his surgery, and the thin advantage of the moment would evaporate.
He knew Painter didn’t expect to uproot the Bloodline completely by these actions, but he had one clear goal, the same one as Tucker: to find and recover Amanda’s child and expose everyone involved in this current bloody affair.
Even with such a defined objective, the odds were exceedingly long.
And without Gray, there were no odds.
Painter came back on the line. “We have his location. A utility bunker of an office tower. Seven hundred yards away.”
Tucker sighed in relief.
He locked eyes with the president. “We found him, sir.”
James Gant nodded, wincing. “We’d better not lose him.”
Gray watched the hatch fall open.
He still held the sniper rifle in his hands. He had witnessed the explosive chaos following his single shot. As he watched, he held his breath, concerned the sarin gas would still be released, killing everyone in the park. When nothing happened, he suspected that threat had been a lie, after all. He saw Tucker race off with the president, rushing him to a secure location.
He understood the situation immediately.
They were faking the president’s death.
A risky move on the director’s part, but Gray understood why that risk had been taken. It spoke volumes about their desperation. They were likely backtracking a trajectory already, looking to find him, hoping he could supply additional information.
That was a problem.
I don’t know anything more than they do.
That is, unless Painter was ignorant of Robert Gant’s involvement with the Guild. Maybe the director suspected the president’s family or inner circle was involved—but he didn’t necessarily know who in the administration was the mole.
Gray stared down at his hand. He still had one more round. Was it enough to stall, to buy Painter time to find him?
A shout rose from the dark hatch. “Leave the rifle! Show your hands!”
“Where are you taking me?” he called back, both stalling and trying to get more information.
The answer came as a shock—literally. An electrical jolt burst from his ear, blinding him, triggering his jaw to seize, his knees to buckle, sprawling him flat.
“Leave the rifle,” the guard repeated. “Show your hands.”
Gray belly-crawled and thrust his arms over the open hatch. He breathed heavily, gasping.
“Now climb down the service ladder.”
Gray dawdled—not because it hurt to move but to slow things down. He swung his legs into the opening, fumbling with a toe to find the first rung.