Copyright© 2021 by Lumpy
The time for the Senator’s speech at the hotel came and went, and Taylor couldn’t get anyone on the phone to tell him if anything had happened. Thankfully, they at least had working TV on the plane. News coverage was enough to confirm that Hubbard hadn’t taken his shot by the time they landed and had to shut the TV off.
She hadn’t left, so there was still time, but Taylor was pretty sure if Hubbard was going to do something, he would have done it earlier rather than later. While her schedule was pretty tight, especially for when events started, there was always some wiggle room near the end, depending on how long it took to talk to reporters and maybe work a rope line. Trying to time something so late in the event would have left a lot more to chance than Hubbard’s entire career would have trained him to be comfortable with.
The SUV they’d been assigned was still waiting for them at the airport when they landed, and Taylor left the sirens on until they were almost at the convention center. They managed to beat Caldwell, but the margin was close. Pulling up to the curb near the main entrance, Taylor and Whitaker leaped out and sprinted inside. Normally, their badges wouldn’t have been enough to allow them into a location already cleared by the Secret Service, but these agents all knew they were on the task force, and let them by.
As the agent in charge of Caldwell’s detail, Cole wasn’t there himself. Taylor did recognize the head of one of the advance teams, although they’d only met in passing during the first task force briefing. Taylor made a beeline for him, hoping once more he could talk some sense into these people.
“What do you need, Taylor?”
“I’m guessing Cole called you already,” Taylor said, hearing the exasperation in his voice.
“Yes, and before you ask, we’re not going to stop the event. We swept the whole place this morning and again this afternoon after you called Cole. We ran chemical sniffers and bomb dogs through every room in the building. We checked every employee already cleared against fingerprints and pictures on file. We’ve had an agent on every door into the building since we checked and no one not on our list has gotten in. We’re secure.”
“I know you and Cole know your jobs. I’m not questioning your competence Johnson, but you have to understand, this guy has been trained to do all of that. He knows the playbook, which means he knows what he needs to be able to get around it. This guy has gotten close once and he’s not done. This is the last public event till the election. This is his last shot. I guarantee you he isn’t giving up.”
“Look, you want me to sweep again, I will, but we aren’t going to cancel anything. Only Cole can make that call, and he’s made it clear he isn’t going to. I appreciate your concern and I know Cole’s been a bit ... pig-headed about this, but he’s still the boss and I still have a job to do.”
“Yeah, sweep it once more. I’m going to do a once over, if you’re okay with that.”
“Sure, knock yourself out.”
Taylor had a bad habit of lumping all of the agents he dealt with by their worst members. He only had to look to Whitaker who, despite her reluctance to go against the book, was capable of changing with the situation and flexible thinking.
Taylor had only made it a few steps when he saw Packer stomping towards him.
“Not now, Packer.”
“I’ve had just about enough of you. I don’t care what the Senator thinks of you or what special powers you think you have, I’m not going to let you screw this up. This place is crawling with press already and more are on the way. The Senator will be here in ten minutes and we’ve got this thing completely orchestrated. You need to leave. NOW!”
Packer had been building up a head of steam through most of that tirade, and it would have been impressive if he hadn’t trembled like a leaf while issuing his last command. Regardless, Taylor wasn’t going to let a little weasel like Packer get in his way.
Taylor stepped into the man’s personal space, glowering down at the shorter man.
“Or what? I’m an armed federal agent, or at least enough of one to have a badge. You’re a little piece of shit who schemes and backstabs his way through politics, always looking for a way to f•©k the other guy over. You’re going to what; have the Secret Service throw me out? What, you think these guys like you? Unless they get a direct order from their bosses, they aren’t going to do shit to help someone like you. How about this. I drag your ass down the hall to an unused room, beat the ever-living shit out of you, and leave you hogtied up and out of my way until I catch Hubbard, how about that?”
With each sentence, Taylor moved closer to Packer, forcing the man to take a step back each time. On the last step, Taylor shoved Packer, sending him skidding across the floor.
“John,” Whitaker said, grabbing Taylor’s arm and pulling him back a step, away from Packer.
“I don’t care how much the Senator likes you,” Packer said, his voice quivering, as he stood back up. “I’m going to make sure she knows exactly what kind of animal you are. I swear to God, I’ll make sure you get yours.”
Packer turned and stormed off, still shaking.
“He’s made a lot of friends over the years,” Whitaker said. “You shouldn’t have pushed him.”
“We can’t worry about that now,” Taylor said. “Let’s go.”
Johnson had been true to his word. As Taylor and Whitaker went through the convention center, they passed men with portable electronic boxes and dog handlers going room to room, checking for traces of explosives.
Taylor knew both weren’t going to be enough. Both the bomb detectors and dogs worked on the same thing, trace elements of specific explosives in the air. While one smelled them and the other broke down air samples chemically, they were both limited to checking for specific things. The dogs were trained using a range of known explosives such as nitrite or ammonia and the devices only knew what they were programmed for.
Dinitrophenol was a lesser controlled explosive and almost certainly not one that dogs had been trained to sniff out. While the detectors could be programmed to find Dinitrophenol, that would require Cole to have passed the information they gave him on to his techs and for the techs to have been able to update the detectors. Taylor didn’t know if adding new chemicals to the detectors database was something a field tech could do or not, but he wasn’t willing to bet everyone in this building’s life on it.
“This isn’t working,” Taylor said, stopping after they checked another room.
“We don’t even know what we’re looking for,” Whitaker agreed.
“Okay, he’s done this before, right?”
“Yeah, he blew up our apartment.”
“Right, but we don’t know the details of that yet, except that the explosion was controlled enough to not damage much else besides our apartment. We also know this stuff was designed to implode and didn’t need a large explosion, just enough to set off another device and smother it. We’re also pretty sure that he killed the VA investigator, but that came back to a gas leak. What if the reason he used a gas leak wasn’t just to cover his tracks.”
“I’m not sure I follow.”
“This stuff isn’t used to fill bombs and couldn’t be used packed in a trunk as part of a car bomb. It’s a specialized, stable explosive, right? Did he have to use the gas to make sure the explosion was large enough? Did he have to use the gas in our apartment to get it to blow the way it did, and used charges to shape the direction of the blast?”
“Maybe. So what?”
“If he uses the same stuff here, which considering how OCD he is, it seems likely, how’s he going to do it? He can just have a bunch of it sitting in a room, waiting to go off. He’ll take out ... what, just that room? For this to work he’d have to basically put it right under her feet under the floor to get the Senator. The Secret Service might be target-focused, but they wouldn’t have missed that, and Hubbard knows it.”
“So you think he had to set up the device to set off something else?”
“Right. Places like this have kitchens, multiple water heaters, whatever. They have gas lines all over the place.”
“So he’s set it on a gas line?”
“Maybe, but he has to be sure the blast is large enough. This is his last show; he’s not going to go halfway, not anymore. He’s not going to care about collateral damage, not when he thinks the fate of good vs. evil is on the line.”
“You think he’s going to try and blow up the entire convention center? There’s going to be hundreds of people here.”
“I know, but I guarantee he doesn’t care.”
“This is a big place. How’s he going to do it? McVeigh needed to have a cargo truck packed to the roof with ammonia nitrate and he only took out part of the building. This place might be smaller, but we know Hubbard’s explosive is a lot less powerful. He’d have to cover the gas lines with the stuff to get the explosion to cover the whole place.”
“Come on,” Taylor said, turning and dashing down one of the corridors.
Whitaker didn’t ask, she just followed behind him. They’d briefly looked at a building map when they started checking rooms and Taylor seemed to remember a maintenance room on the map. After a few twists and turns through the back area hallways, he found the room, which held a lot of tools and a man in overalls with his name sewn onto one pocket.
“Jeff, I need your help,” Taylor said, reading the man’s name and holding up his badge.
“Where does the main gas line come into the building?”
“In the basement, well ... kinda.”
“What do you mean, kinda?”
“The basement here has always had some issues. It gets flooded kind of regularly, cause of how low the district is and how high the water table is. They couldn’t put the main truck and split-offs there, cause they were worried about corrosion. It’s not so bad on the pipes themselves, but places where you have joints splitting off can be more problematic. So they decided to put solid pipe going up a floor, well two actually, since the design of the first floor had already been worked out when they decided it. It’s why there’s that one weird half pillar against the one wall. They walled it off and kept it going up to the next floor, and turned that into an exchange room. Darndest thing I’ve ever seen, but it works.”
“So there isn’t access to the main gas line until the exchange room on the second floor?” Whitaker asked, slightly confused.
“I know. Like I said, darndest thing.”
“Show me where it is,” Taylor said, not caring about the design peculiarities of the building.
“Well, it’s right here,” the maintenance man said, pointing at a map of the building they had up on the wall. “We keep it locked up though.”
“Give me the keys for it.”
“I’m not supposed to...”
“Badge,” Taylor said holding it up and putting his hand on his holstered weapon. “Gun. Give me the key.”
“Right. Sure. Don’t get your pants in a twist.”
As soon as the key was in his hand, Taylor sprinted out of the room.
“Taylor,” Whitaker said, chasing after him. “Wait.”
“Cant’ wait,” he said as he dashed into a stairwell, taking the steps two at a time. “I know how he’s going to do it.”
“You think he’s going to put it on the main gas line?”
“Yes. It’s the only way he’ll make sure to get the whole building and guarantee he gets the Senator.”
“If he sets off an explosion on the main gas line, won’t it travel to the nearby buildings? Hell, he’ll probably blow himself up if he’s close enough to make sure she’s in the building before he sets it off.”
“Probably, but he won’t care. Fanatics love making themselves martyrs.”
They made it to the door of the room, helpfully labeled, and unlocked.
“Maybe the Secret Service would have left it unlocked after checking it?”
“The room to the main gas lines? No, they would have locked it back up.”
The room was warm and, oddly, had a window on one side, looking down to the street. It wasn’t a large window, a little wider than Taylor himself and going floor to ceiling. It probably had already been here and the room was designed for something else before they decided to move where the gas lines came together. They wouldn’t have wanted to compromise the outside look of the place, so they would have just left it.
Taylor moved through the room, slowly going over each inch. A large pipe came up through the floor and then split off, pipes splitting off near the ceiling and disappearing into the walls, probably above the drop ceilings in areas other people could see. Halfway up the main pipe, where the first connecter was screwed, wedged against the wall, Taylor found the device. It wasn’t large, maybe the size of a baseball mitt, and was thinner than Taylor had thought it would be. It wasn’t visible until you basically put your head against the wall and looked at it directly. There were all kinds of wires going in and out of it.