Rubicon

 

 

In book three of The Twelve Shepherds Saga we discover that the mission of the Shepherds is more than just the pursuit of justice.

The corruption and unscrupulousness of those in power have resulted in a public outcry that can no longer be ignored. With the help of the press the people themselves apply pressure on those in office, and as a result the mission reaches a turning point.

The Shepherds now target the root of the problem, knowing that when crossing that line, there is no turning back.

 

 

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The first two chapters of Rubicon: 

“America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

—Abraham Lincoln

—One—

 

Carter shifted his ass on the hard metal bench for the hundredth time since they had left the station, but it did little to lessen the impact of the mountain road. The van only augmented the discomfort with its lack of outside stimulation. Every surface was white. His view out the tiny observation window could only be achieved by awkwardly leaning forward, and with this came the risk of being thrown into the opposing wall by the next bump or unseen curve. The drone of the tires on the highway prompted sleep, but this wasn’t an option.

His view out the back window was not much better. The picture was distorted and hidden by the three panes of glass and the expanded metal covering them. He could make out the shape of a trailing vehicle through the layers of dust, but little else. Still, it was enough for him to determine the angle of the sun, and from this he knew they were headed somewhat north-east. To where, he had no idea.

The car behind them most likely contained agent Jack Randall. Carter had identified him the day before just before his fist had connected with the man’s jaw. Carter was not surprised to see him on the case; it was expected. During his initial training, Dayton had handed him a file on Jack, and Carter had read it with interest. The man who had caught their founder was no amateur. After learning of Jack’s military experience, and then his FBI record, Carter had no problem labeling him as someone to avoid. While the Shepherds did not classify the FBI as the enemy, they were not stupid enough to call them a friend, neither. Knowing who was pursuing you was equal to knowing who you were pursuing yourself. Carter had spent the last twenty-four hours trying to dredge up as much of the file as his brain could remember.

He turned his attention to the two seated up front. The driver, Carter knew. Greg Whitcomb. Former leader of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team. An elite SWAT team which trained at the same level as Delta commandos and Navy SEALs. A formidable adversary. Carter had seen him on TV. The woman in the passenger seat was a stranger to him, but her skill with the cannon she carried was not to be denied. Her FBI windbreaker was a size too big, but then again, she was probably hard to fit. She turned to check on him every few minutes, and he had been caught trying to hear their conversation. Now the air-conditioning blasted as well as the radio. It was enough to defeat his eavesdropping.

He turned his head back forward, only to face the white wall in front of him. It offered no input, so he turned his attention to his bonds. The shackles were standard issue and installed correctly. Almost. His size gave him some advantages. He had already determined that he could twist the wrist restraints back onto themselves. With enough pressure applied in the right direction, he might be able to break them. That would free his hands, but not his feet. He was still hobbled by the chain connecting them. He estimated it would limit his stride dramatically, to the point that a fast shuffle would become his top speed.

The van hit a pothole large enough to lift him off the seat. He landed awkwardly on the seat divider and let out a curse at the road. The woman turned to gaze back at him and he shrugged off the pain before giving her a nod. She turned away without a word.

To avoid further discomfort, Carter scooted to the end of the bench seat and then slid off it and onto the floor. With his knees bent, he had just enough space to lay down on the hard surface. He looked up to see the cloudy sky out the back window trailing behind them. Occasionally, the canyon wall they were traveling past would blot out the corner. He let out a sigh and wedged his shoulders in to prevent him from being tossed around. It was only slightly better than the bench.

 

 

“What’s he doing?” Greg asked

“He made himself a spot on the floor,” Laurie replied. “Can’t say I blame him; that bench had to be killing him with this road.”

“If it’s not potholes, it’s falling rocks. I was told it’s because of the fires they had last year; now there’s nothing holding the rocks to the mountainside.”

“The other side has a lot of cover. Not that I can see much through this glass.” She reached out to tap the windshield. The bulletproof glass was thick, and it distorted their view at times. She had tried rolling down the window, only to discover this was not an option. Good thing the air-conditioning worked.

“Maybe the fire didn’t jump the road.” Greg ventured.

“What do we have, an hour left?”

Greg glanced at the GPS he had mounted to the glass on his side. It was his personal one that he traveled with.

“Little more than that: an hour and ten. We should be—”

The GPS rebooted. He now had a blank screen with the words SEARCHING FOR SATELLITE SIGNAL displayed. Odd, he thought. The sky was pretty clear. Perhaps the steep terrain had cut off the signal? He then noticed that the radio had gone to static. Laurie reached out and thumbed through the pre-sets, but he had no luck.

“This is a serious dead zone.”

Greg just grunted as they rounded another curve. Maybe when they cleared the canyon?

 

 

“I give up.”

Sydney tossed the phone down in disgust. Signal had been patchy since they had entered the mountains, and she had now lost everything.

“Thought this was southern California, the tech capitol of the world. You would think I’d have some frickin’ signal here.”

“I doubt it’s profitable enough to put up a tower way out here,” Jack replied. “Wait until we’re on the other side.”

“Fine.” She reached out to turn the radio back up, only to find it playing nothing but static. She tried a couple of presets without any change, and was about to turn it off when Jack’s hand stopped her.

“What?”

“You hear that?”

“I don’t- “

“Wait.” Jack held up a finger for silence. The radio gave off static that waxed and waned and Jack listened closely before reaching for the portable FBI radio. He had just keyed the mic when something impacted the car. The engine died with a sharp bang and a cloud of smoke. Jack slammed on the brakes before steering it into the wall of the canyon.

“Jack!”

Jack kicked his door open and grabbed Sydney by the shoulder, yanking her out behind him.

“Take cover!”

 

 

“What’s the call?”

“Pacemaker something-something. They dispatched it as a cardiac.” His partner replied over the sound of the wailing siren. He checked the screen again as his partner weaved the ambulance through another intersection.

“So, we don’t really know?”

“You got it. We’ll see when we get there, I guess. You been here before?”

“Just once. Guy collapsed during a stress test, and we took him in. It’s a doc for the rich and famous. Fancy office, nice nurses.”

“Nice?”

“One was real nice.”

“Well, okay, then. Here we are, let’s go find this nice nurse.”

The siren died as they entered the parking lot, and the medic eyeballed the two black suburban’s parked on the curb as they pulled up next to them. They loaded their gear on the stretcher, and the medic examined the vehicles again as they pulled it around the front. They looked familiar to him.

“What?”

“Nothing, let’s go.”

“Before they got to the door, a woman in office attire opened it and held it wide.

“Down the hall, on the right.” She pointed.

The medic followed her lead and stepped into the doorway. He found a room full of men in dark suits crowded around an examination table. On the table was an older man, unconscious and intubated, with a doctor bagging him. A nurse was up on the bed and had straddled him to pump on his chest in a steady rhythm.

“What do we have?” he asked.

The nurse of the man’s chest turned to look at him, and he flinched at the sight of her face. Both nostrils were stuffed with Kerlex, and blood was dripping from both sides. Her eyes were watering and already starting to bruise. Despite this, she never stopped pumping.

“Pacemaker failure! He’s a full arrest. We need to move him!”

“Frickin’ dispatch.”

“What?”

“Nothing. Let me get in there, guys.”

 

 

Anna let out the breath and spoke into the mic before the sound of her shot had echoed off the cliff.

“They’re down. Go!”

She took another half-breath and scanned the car. It had abruptly turned and softly impacted the cliff after her round had punched straight through the radiator and into the engine block. The driver’s actions and the collision had spun the rear end enough so that it now blocked a good portion of the road. Both steam and oily smoke now poured from the cracks around the hood and traveled across the road blocking her vision. She spotted shapes moving behind the car. She counted two. Opening her other eye, she checked the road behind them only to find it empty.

Good.

Returning her gaze to the car, she spotted a head peeking out from behind the engine. It was there for only a second. Her job was to keep them there. She centered her scope on the canyon wall a few feet over their heads and stroked the trigger again.

 

 

Carter’s head snapped off the floor at the sound of the shot. A rifle? Or just a car backfiring? The drone of the road and the thick walls of the transport van had muffled the sounds from outside to the point that he couldn’t be sure. He listened for chatter from the front, and was soon rewarded by the woman’s questioning tone.

Another shot. His brain labeled it a rifle—this time for sure. A big one.

“Get ready,” he whispered to himself. He quietly gathered the chain between his fists and held on.

 

 

“A hero is someone who understands the responsibility that comes with his freedom.”

—Bob Dylan

—Two—

 

Charlie stepped off the elevator in time to hear the end of the overhead page. Another code. What kind, he didn’t know; they seemed to have several. All of them colors. He’d asked a nurse last night and had gotten a hurried explanation. Pink for missing babies, red for fire, yellow for bad weather. Bad weather? Evidently, they had battery back-ups which were activated when a storm came. Charlie had just nodded and had then left her alone. She had the ever-present stack of charts in front of her and was busy, so he’d wandered on.

His trip this time had been altered by the storm outside. He’d ventured out to the edge of the awning over the front entrance and watched the dark clouds move in along with the valet and security guard. Neither of them looked very happy, and Charlie didn’t blame them. The distant thunder and lightning were rapidly approaching. He bid them both good luck and resumed his trip.

His reasons for wandering were two-fold. The first was to learn his surroundings. Something Dayton had drilled into him. Standard security. Charlie wasn’t just a body-man for the General: he was also his first line of defense. As such, Dayton had drilled him of how to be a bodyguard. So he now roamed the complex whenever the General was sleeping, but only after the doors were checked and a back-up guard was in the waiting room.

The back-up man had brought a handgun for Charlie and had simply walked it past the hospital’s security, tucked in his belt, before handing it over to him in the stairwell. The handgun was now stuck in the back of Charlie’s belt, and he took comfort in its weight. If anyone tried anything, Charlie now had thirty 9mm reasons for them to change their mind. He took care to keep it hidden as he wandered and memorized the various floors and endless corridors. He now knew where surgery suite was, and the cafeteria. The loading dock. The Emergency Room. The Cath lab. The administration offices. Sterile processing. The laundry facilities. Maintenance. And, of course, the coffee kiosk. He was now on a first-name basis with its elderly operator and had a cup in his hand right now.

His second reason was purely selfish and something he would never admit to, but he couldn’t be with the General, not in his current state, for very long. It raised thoughts and possible futures he feared to contemplate. Charlie had lost both of his parents already, the thought of the General dying… was a place he refused to go.

Coming to an intersection, he paused. It had been less than an hour since he had left. One direction led to the cardiac floor, the other back to the ICU. Should he head back? His feet told him no. He entered the cardiac ward instead.

“Hello, Janet.” He greeted the charge nurse. She looked up, and smiled, and then frowned on seeing who it was.

“Charlie? What happened?”

“What do you mean?”

“The code? It was the General’s bed number. Was it a false alarm?”

Charlie gripped the coffee and sprinted back down the corridor.

 

 

Dayton tugged the straps tighter, but they were already at their limit, and then squeezed the sweat from his eyes without taking them off the approaching van. The hash marks he had spray-painted on the cliff face now served to tell him the van’s speed, and he counted under his breath until it reached the go-point.

With a practiced motion, he popped the clutch and floored the accelerator. The truck lurched forward, dragging its coat of branches with it and then shrugging them off as the vehicle gained speed and barreled down the steep, dirt road. He worked the gears without moving his gaze from the target. Five more seconds.

 

Greg negotiated the curve only to find the sun in his eyes again. He averted his gaze and moved it to the GPS, hoping it now had a signal. Laurie was still punching the pre-sets, one by one, attempting to find a station.

“What was that?”

“All I heard was static.”

“No. It sounded like a rifle?”

“I didn’t—look out!”

Greg looked up in time to see a boulder in the road. He reflexively hit the brakes and slowed the van while looking for a path around it. There was enough space between the rock and the side of the cliff maybe? His foot was still on the brake pedal when he caught motion out of the corner of his eye.

 

Dayton adjusted the trucks path slightly left before pulling both hands from the wheel and grabbing the harness holding him in place. His last sight of the van before it disappeared under the hood was of the open-mouthed look of shock on the driver’s face. He cataloged the man’s identity just before impact.

 

“Jack! What the hell?”

“Stay down! That was a rifle what took out the engine!”

As if to punctuate his words, another round chipped rock from the cliff over their heads to rain down on them. The sound of the shot followed a moment later.

“That’s a big rifle.” Jack said. “They’re trying to get him back!”

“How did they—?”

“I don’t know! Can you reach the shotgun?”

Sydney coughed on the acrid smoke, before crawling to the open door of the car. Reaching across the seat, she retrieved the Remington from its holder. She holstered her handgun in favor of the shotgun, but she couldn’t see how this would change their situation. She duck-walked forward to join Jack behind the engine block. It was the best cover they had. Maybe.

“Will the block stop that rifle?”

“If it’s a fifty? Not really. Trade me.” He gestured for the shotgun and she gave it up.

He rolled to the ground and looked under it in both directions.

“Can you see Greg?”

“They’re around the bend. I—”

His words were cut off by the sound of a heavy impact. First the sound of one, tearing metal and screeching tires, followed by a second, a large thud. Then nothing.

“Try the radio!”

 

“What’s happening?” the agent asked when the ambulance’s doors closed.

“We have to pace him!” the medic answered.

“What’s that—?”

“It means shut the hell up and let me work!”

Ignoring the man, the medic stripped off the pads applied in the doctor’s office and replaced them with the ones for his own machine. The siren came on and they were moving. The vehicle chose to give a lurch to the left, and with conditioned reflexes the medic managed to plant a hip against the seat and stay upright. The agent, who’d refused to belt in, struck his head on the overhead cabinet. Fortunately, the edge was padded, but it still worked to sit the man down. If the medic noticed, he didn’t react. His job was hard enough without the three men crowding the back of his rig, but he had no choice.

“Don’t stop,” he told the nurse. She shot him a look and kept pumping on the VP’s chest.

“Really?”

“Sorry.”

The medic planted his butt in the seat, before yelling to his partner on the front, “Time?”

“In this traffic? Fifteen, at least.”

The medic caught the look of the agent. “It’s rush hour.” He turned on the monitor, selected the pacing option, and cranked the milliamps as high as they would go.

“Rate at seventy. Here we go.”

The agents leaned back with wide-eyed stares as the muscles of the VP’s chest began to twitch at regular intervals. The nurse eased up on the chest compressions, and then stopped to check the man’s pulse.

“Faint, but it’s there.”

The medic wrapped his patient’s arm in a BP cuff, and hit the button to activate it before addressing her.

“We need volume; hang a bag.” He couldn’t reach it so he pointed. The nurse found what they needed and went through the motions.

“Infuser?”

“Not in the new budget; just wrap it in that spare BP cuff.”

The nurse did so and pumped the cuff up until it was squeezing the fluid into the line in the man’s arm. She handed it to the agent across from her.

“Keep this inflated—not too much; just until you see a steady stream,” she instructed him. The man braced his feet and did as he had been told. The medic eyeballed the monitor, all the numbers were green, but not by much. He checked his patient’s pulse to see if it did match the number on the screen before looking the two men over. He noticed a holstered automatic tucked inside one man’s suitcoat. A black Suburban kept pace behind them with a light bar of its own flashing.

“Just who are you guys, anyway?”

The one next to him pulled out a ID card and flashed it to him. “US Secret Service. That’s former Vice President Haney you’re taking care of.”

The medic looked down at his patient. His face was upside-down and covered by an endotracheal tube and the clamp holding it in place, but he saw enough to recognize him.

“No shit?”

 

At the sound of the impact, Anna took her eyes off the scope long enough to look at the mirror sitting next to her. She could just make out the truck sitting in the road. The heavy plow blade had the van pinned to the cliff’s wall. Smoke and dust swirled around it, and she found herself holding her breath until the door of the truck opened and Dayton’s shape emerged. He turned and reached back into the cab before climbing down and moving toward the van.

He looked to be okay and she let out a heavy breath before returning her gaze to the car. She now saw the barrel of what looked like a shotgun sticking up over the hood.

“No-no. You stay put.” She centered her scope and sent another round into the cliff, this one a bit lower than the last one.

 

Dayton shrugged and cracked his neck before opening the door. One side of his body protested, and he knew he’d be sore in the morning. He dismissed the thought and turned his gaze to the van. He could see down and into the cab through the cracked windshield, but saw no movement. It prompted him to move.

He pulled the rope holding the door shut loose and kicked it open. He had tied it shut after wedging the floor mat into the opening, out of fear it would be jammed shut by the impact. The hinges protested as he pushed it and let out a squeal. Stepping out of the cab, he stopped on the diamond plate step to reach back inside. Gathering what he needed, he hopped to the ground.

The van was pinned. The plow blade had bit into the side and lifted it up and forward, slamming it into the wall and crumpling both sides. Dayton gazed out through the helmet’s tinted visor and checked the road in both directions. Smoke from the car could be seen in one direction, an empty stretch of highway curved away in the other. That wouldn’t last for long, but he had a plan to prevent it.

Lugging the heavy tool belt up onto the bumper of the truck, he pulled himself onto the hood. There, he slung loose his first tool, one that was a personal favorite.

The Milkor MGL was a lightweight 40mm six-shot grenade launcher that had been around since the 1980’s. Nowadays it was found in almost every army and police force over the world. Where the one currently in Dayton’s hands had come from, he didn’t care; it was its rapid rate of fire and flexible ordinance that he needed now.

Taking aim to the east, Dayton launched two smoke and one CS round as far down the road as he could. The combination of thick smoke and tear gas should persuade anyone approaching to stay clear. He checked the wind again and placed the same three rounds in the other direction before discarding the weapon and leaping up onto the roof of the van. The heavy tool hanging from his belt almost cost him his footing, but he steadied himself on the cliff-face before stomping on the roof three times.

“Get clear!”

Not sure if he was even heard, he dropped to one knee and pulled a tool from his belt. The cutter screamed its eagerness when he pulled the trigger, and he eased its spinning blade into the sheet metal of the roof. A shower of sparks arched over the windshield.

 

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