The End Game

The End Game

The End Game 30

  The code fed directly into the plane’s database. In a perfect world, it would take fifteen seconds to take over the computers. They had five.



  There was complete silence on the line.

  He’d failed. The plane had hit the water, ripped apart, and now it was sinking and everyone was dead. His closed his eyes. Please, forgive me.

  He didn’t see the altimeter stop moving and level out at thirteen hundred feet.

  Mike leaned down, hugged him tight. “Nicholas. Look! You did it!”

  He opened his eyes as Colonel Moore’s voice came over the phone’s tinny speaker. “I have control of the plane. Repeat, I have the plane. Climbing to ten thousand feet. That was rather close. I thank you, Drummond, my wife thanks you, everyone on board thanks you. The president especially.”



  Nicholas heard the cheering but shut it off, too much more to do. “Colonel Moore? I don’t know how long the patch will hold. You need to land, right now.”

  “We’re in contact with the TRACON in Halifax, Nova Scotia, will be on the ground in less than ten. Can’t wait to shake your hand, young man. Drinks are on me, dinner’s on my wife. Thank you. This is Reynolds, out.”

  The vice president’s voice came over the line. “Special Agent Drummond? I see you do live up to your reputation. Good job. How did this happen?”

  “It was Spenser, ma’am. Mike was forced to shoot him, but not before he started the countdown to blow up Air Force One. As he pressed the button, he yelled, ‘I’m the beginning!’ There must be more coming. All I can think is that Spenser was to kill the president, which means Damari is still out there, gunning for you.”

  A brief pause, then, “I understand. I will speak to you soon.”

  Then Savich was at his side. “Everything is stable now, Nicholas?”

  Nicholas turned to look at Savich. “Yes. Thankfully, the plane will be landing shortly. Now I have Matthew Spenser’s phone. I’ll continue decrypting it and find if he was also involved in killing the vice president. We do know this was his goal, and, hopefully, his finale.”

  “You had to kill him, Mike?”

  “Yes, I did, but he still had time to press the button on his phone.”

  Savich watched Nicholas rise and take her arms in his hands. “Listen to me, you did what you had to do and you did it in the right order. I’m very proud of you.” He paused, then, “Thank you for helping me, Mike.”

  Carrie came out of the hospital room. “Hey, guys, look what I found sewn in the cuff of Spenser’s trousers.” She held up two gold coins. “Are these his undetectable bombs, the ones that blew up Bayway?”

  “Yes,” Mike said, staring at those harmless-looking gold coins, so small, so innocent-looking. “Hold them gently, Carrie.”

  “You can bet your sweet patoot on that,” Carrie said.

  Savich cleared both Nicholas and Mike through, saying quietly, “You and Nicholas need to get on out of here, let the crime scene unit come in and do their jobs. Go to the Hoover Building. Sherlock will meet you and take you to the command center with all the cameras on Yorktown. Questions later.”

  Nicholas nodded. “We have no idea what’s going to happen, but if what Vanessa said is correct and Spenser did have the opportunity to plant bombs on-site, we’ve got to find them. We can’t let anyone else get hurt.”

  “Already done,” Savich said, and ushered them onto the elevator. “They have two bomb units there searching, but they’ve been coming up dry. Since the bombs are meant to be undetectable, they’ve evacuated everyone anyway.”

  Before they parted company Mike handed her gun over, procedure, watched an agent slip it into an evidence bag, and wanted to cry. At least she had a small snub-nosed Glock in an ankle holster in her motorcycle boot. It would do.

  Savich gripped Nicholas’s shoulder. “You did great, both of you,” he said, and headed back into the fray.

  Nicholas felt a bolt of pleasure at Savich’s words, then shook his head. No time to bask. He turned back to Mike, saw myriad feelings play across her face. He didn’t blame her.

  “Let’s get out of here, Agent Caine. I think we both could use a nice cup of hot tea.”

  She didn’t know where it came from, but she laughed. She let him take her hand.

  “If you’re a good girl, I might even add a dollop of whiskey.”

  She felt the depression begin to lift. “You know, that might be a good idea.”

  “And maybe that’ll make you want to talk.”

  “Not a chance.”

  • • •

  They stopped at a coffee shop near the State Department and got the tea, but alas, no whiskey, plus bagels hot and ready to be smeared thick with cream cheese. She hadn’t realized she was hungry, but when she took that first bite, her taste buds started a stampede.

  When she finished, she sat back, laced her fingers over her stomach, and looked over at Nicholas.

  “Better, Agent Caine?”

  “Much. You did good, Nicholas, really good. I mean, you saved the president’s freaking life, not to mention all those people on the plane. Plus the captain’s wife will now make you dinner.”

  He wanted to tell her without her quick thinking, calling the vice president, hooking him up with the pilot, he couldn’t have saved them, but knew she’d only shrug, dismiss it. He said only, “You know what I think? You should frame the vice president’s card.”

  That was good, she thought, but it didn’t quite lift the cloud of doom. “About Spenser, Nicholas, I really wished I hadn’t had to kill him.”

  Nicholas shrugged. “I don’t think he ever planned to walk away from the hospital. He knew it was the end of the line. Blowing up the president’s plane? Killing the leader he saw as giving in to terrorists? I’ll bet Damari didn’t have to do too much convincing.” He shrugged again, took another sip of his tea. “I don’t guess we’ll ever know.”

  He was right, or close enough. “And now we have to wonder if that other countdown on his phone means he’s going to blow up Yorktown.”

  “Not a doubt in my mind, unfortunately.” Someone had turned up the volume on the television and they both watched the breaking news about a shooting at George Washington University Hospital. The anchor said, “No details, and the hospital is no longer on lockdown, we’ll have more news on this during the noon broadcast.”

  Mike said, “Everything boils down to a news bite.” She raised her face, and he saw pain there and regret and hated it. “He was fast, so fast. When he pressed the button I thought we were all dead, boom, gone up in smoke. All I could think was I failed, I failed everyone. And I thought about my mom, and my dad, and how upset they would be at me getting myself killed because I wasn’t fast enough.” She leaned forward, balanced her chin on her hands. “I made the wrong decision, Nicholas. I shouldn’t ever have let him press the button on that phone.”

  He wanted to tell her she’d stopped a killer, saved innumerable lives, but knew she’d kiss that off, as the Americans said. He said only, “So tell me, what did you do wrong exactly?”

  Instead, she surprised him. “I’d like you to meet my folks sometime, Nicholas. You’d like them. You’ll start panting when you meet my mom, the Gorgeous Rebecca.”

  This was interesting. “Yes,” he said, never looking away from her. “I’d like to meet them.”

  “Spenser is dead and we still don’t know where Damari is or what he’s planning. My folks come to New York regularly. Maybe we can all have dinner. No, no, lunch would be better.”

  He laughed. “We can discuss it.”

  “All right, yes, we can talk about my parents, and lunch, that’d be okay.”

  “Time to pack away all the second-guessing, Agent Caine. You made exactly the right call, and I would have done the same
if I’d been in your position. Don’t forget, he made it past me, too. If anyone’s to blame, it’s me. And no one is.”

  She waved that away, as he expected she would.

  “I wonder if the president will invite you to the White House, give you the keys to the Lincoln Bedroom? But I’ve heard the bed is really short, too short for you.”

  He glanced at his Breitling. “Seventy minutes until the speech at Yorktown was supposed to happen. No doubt in my mind there’ll be an explosion and we’ll be treated to another display of the bomb’s power.”

  “And still it won’t be over.” Mike banged her fist on the table. “Where is Damari?”



  Hoover Building

  Sherlock met them in the lobby, hugged them both. “Andy Tate’s body was found an hour ago in a motel in Lorton, Virginia. He was shot through the forehead. There were some electronics lying around, but no laptops, no phones. Only Spenser and Tate went into the room, so it wasn’t Damari, unless he was wearing Potter’s invisibility cloak.”

  “Yes,” Nicholas said. “Matthew Spenser, no doubt.”

  Mike frowned. “Why did he kill Tate? He was one of his core group, his right hand—the computer guy who implemented the cyber-attack.”

  Sherlock said, “Dillon believes Spenser had simply gone over the edge at that point. His only focus became killing Vanessa and blowing up the president. He knew he was going to die, accepted it.

  “Dillon just called me, told me to tell you he’d spoken to both Carl Grace and Vanessa, told them what had happened. He wanted to assure you that Vanessa was going to be okay, and she sends her thanks for helping wrap things up, glad what she recorded for Spenser worked. But like the rest of us, she’s terrified Damari got Matthew’s coin to Iran.

  “Still—you saved the president of the United States, and that makes everything, for the moment, at least, okay. I’ve already heard from at least six agents that you guys were amazing. Nicholas, what does it feel like to have the president of the United States owe you big-time?” And she laughed, punched him in the arm. “My advice is to call the IRS, make a deal. I bet those dual taxes are crippling. Now follow me, guys, not much time now until Yorktown. And no one wants to guess what will happen.”

  Sherlock took them to the fifth floor, to a large conference room that had been turned into a sophisticated command center, similar to the command and control room in the New York Field Office. Four large flat-screen televisions showed four different aerial shots of the Yorktown refinery and surrounding area. There were light-green labels on the waterways—Back Creek, York River.

  There were a dozen or so FBI agents sitting around the large center table, drinking coffee, speaking in low voices to one another, always one eye scanning the television screens.

  Sherlock introduced Mike and Nicholas. There were so many new names, Mike knew it would be impossible to remember everybody, except Director Comey, of course, who rose and shook their hands. He looked closely at Nicholas. “Ah, our very own Brit. Didn’t I just graduate you from the Academy thirty minutes ago? And already you’ve managed to save the president’s life?”

  Everyone laughed.

  “Talk about hitting the ground running. The vice president wanted me to thank you, Agent Caine, for your quick thinking, and you, Agent Drummond, for your remarkable demonstration on the computer. I must say, I am very grateful both of you were at the hospital.” He paused a moment, then shook his head. “I read Matthew Spenser’s dossier and I’m left feeling it was all a tremendous waste. It was as if Spenser became the very person he’d started his crusade to fight against, a killer who eliminated everyone who got in his way or betrayed him.”

  He looked toward the map of Yorktown, slowly shook his head. “So many people in this world filled with hate, so many people who see violence as the only solution, who see murdering other people with dissimilar views as the right thing to do, as the only thing to do. Ah, well, that’s why we all have jobs.

  “Enough of that. Agent Sherlock, explain to Caine and Drummond exactly what they’re seeing on the screens.”

  “Yes, sir. We have drones and a satellite sitting over Yorktown, waiting. The bomb teams and K9s will continue searching until three-thirty p.m., in exactly three minutes, then everyone’s out. No matter what happens, no one will be in or near the facility at four. Though I have to tell you, the bomb squad doesn’t think there’s anything to worry about. They’ve seen nothing out of place, no violence toward any of the workers, no sign of any of Spenser’s undetectable bombs, and if you know the K9s, you know they’re thorough. We’re all hoping the attack on Air Force One was Spenser’s real target and the threat of Yorktown blowing up was simply a misdirection.”

  Nicholas didn’t think so, but he only nodded.

  He didn’t think any of the agents in the room, including the director, believed that, either.

  Sherlock pointed to the middle screen. “The Yorktown Seaport runs out into the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the main reason they’re turning it into a depot, and storing gas and petroleum and metal there. Those huge freighter ships have easy access. They’ve already begun the transition.” She pointed to the far side of the screen. “See, you can make out the Chesapeake Bay in the background, there. Amazing the detail we can get with these shots. We’ll have a bird’s-eye view if the place blows. And look at this angle.”

  She pressed a remote, and the view shifted, almost like they were on a ship out to sea, coming in to land. It was now clear enough they could see the stripes of the red-and-white-painted smokestack, looking almost like a quaint lighthouse, reaching a hundred feet into the sky.

  Mike imagined the smokestack would be a welcome sight after a long journey, and the cheerful candy-cane stripe in the sky could be seen far out to sea. They would have the best seats in the house.

  As everyone settled in again to watch Yorktown on the screens, Mike leaned over to Nicholas. “We have to check in with Zachery, see if Ben Houston and Gray Wharton have dug anything up.”



  Mike called Milo Zachery first, put him on speakerphone so Nicholas could hear, and filled him in on what had happened, her voice matter-of-fact, emotionless. He didn’t interrupt. When she finished, Zachery said, “Thank the good Lord you were able to stop the attack, Drummond. I hear you created a wild new hack to get into the flight control on Air Force One.”

  “Yes, sir,” Mike said, “he did. He was amazing.”

  “But you, Mike, I hear you were on the phone to the vice president making it all possible.”

  “Well, okay, I’ll take credit for that one.”

  “Nicholas, what did you do exactly? That’s Gray who wants to know.”

  “Tell Gray I need to review it once we have the time. But tell him now that I’m not entirely sure what the code read, other than ‘Please God don’t let the plane crash’ in ones and zeroes.”

  Zachery laughed. “Gray will like that and you can count on teaching our cyber-team how to do it. You two get back up here tomorrow. I’ll even go so far to say a round of drinks on your boss might happen.”

  There was still Damari unaccounted for, and finding out if he’d gotten Spenser’s bombs to Iran, but he said, “We’ll try, sir.”

  “Mike? The investigative board will meet in the morning to discuss the Spenser shooting, but don’t lose any sleep over it. You’ll have your gun back by noon tomorrow.”

  After they’d rung off, Nicholas said, “Now we need to catch up with Gray and Ben,” and he dialed them. He said without preamble, “Ben, tell me what you’ve got.”

  “You guys are going to like this. Our knock this morning was a treat. Like all our surprise early-morning visits to unsuspecting criminals, Porter Wallace heard us pounding on his front door, yelling ‘FBI, open up,’ stumbled out of bed and tried to run, the idiot. He didn’t
even have slippers on. His wife was yelling at him through it all, demanding what was going on.”

  Gray said, “In the end, though, Wallace proved to be quite cooperative. We barely needed to nudge him, he started singing like a canary when we showed him the statements Adam Pearce dug up for us. Let’s hear it for the kid, he’s good, Nicholas.”

  Nicholas said, “He’s got great criminal instincts for someone so young. So Matthew Spenser and his Celebrants of Earth had their very own stockbroker. Who would have believed it?”

  “Porter Wallace confirmed he and Matthew Spenser knew each other in school. Spenser showed up on his doorstep a year ago with a massive amount of cash and a need to invest it quietly. According to Wallace, he was forced into the scheme, which, I must say, is absolutely ingenious. When you get back, I’ll give you all the details and numbers in our secure documents. From what Wallace said, he’s been parlaying information from the backroom chat sessions he was having with his fellow brokers. They all get on a chat once a week and talk about what they’re going to be buying in the upcoming session. After the chat, Wallace makes all of his buys for his legit clients, and a few buys for his not so legit clients.”

  “Two sets of books.”

  “Exactly. High-stakes, too. The last numbers I saw give COE a bank account in the ten million range. This number grows and shrinks based on the market, but Wallace is a shrewd investor, and has done well for them.”

  “Where did they get the money to invest in the first place? We’ve known they were well-financed from the beginning, but we haven’t been able to find the trail. Who’s behind this?”

  “They were initially self-funded—Matthew Spenser’s quite large trust fund was more than enough to get them started. Then, three months ago, COE shows up with a massive influx of cash.”

  Mike said, “That was when Zahir Damari showed up, with the money from Iran.”

  “Exactly,” Gray said. “I started back tracing all the IP addresses they’ve used for the past month. Their computer expert is—was—first rate.”