Danny was lying awake in bed, still reviewing his recent victory at Stalingrad in his mind and planning the rest of his life when the motion-triggered halogen lights around the front of the house flashed on at the same time he heard vehicles skidding to a stop out front on the gravel. How could cars get up the long drive without Blackie and Pluto giving chase and warning them with their barking? He shot up from bed and looked out his bedroom window: three long black SUVs were parked on their circle in a line, and shadowy black figures were running silently toward the house!
They disappeared under the roof of the front porch, and then Danny heard a crashing splintering boom and his Dad hollered. Damn it was all so fast! He jerked open his closet and grabbed his Marlin .22 lever action rifle. He knew it had 12 of the tiny rimfire bullets loaded into its tubular magazine under the barrel. Shit! He wished he'd still had his old M1 carbine with its fifteen-round magazines, or even his Ruger 10-22, but Dad had taken them away last week!
No time to think, no time to plan, he only knew that he had to protect his parents and his sister, so he headed out the door into the dark hall in time to see his mother in the dim light, running across the landing and down the steps, her little chrome-plated .38 revolver gleaming in her hand, her long white nightgown flowing behind her.
Then his father was yelling and men were cursing and screaming, there was an earsplitting boom like a shotgun and flashes of light like an arc-welder from downstairs, sounds like a jackhammer and his mother screamed just one time. What should I do? What should I do? What's happening down there he thought, his mind reeling, suddenly dizzy on his feet.
Then brilliant beams of light were coming up the stairs, a lot of them, super bright! He had to protect Valerie. In the hall was a heavy dresser piled high with folded laundry on top. Danny jumped behind it crouching low, his rifle barrel laid across a stack of clothes, hidden. Something thumped against the wall and a man yelled "flash!" and Danny buried his face in the clothes and covered his ears with his hands as a stun grenade detonated down the hall. A man yelled "clear!" and Danny took up his position again, he could hear them, feel them, and with his left hand he reached for the hall light switch, God had placed it right in his reach, he thought momentarily, and he flicked it on.
There was a huddle of men in black on the landing at the top of the stairs, holding submachine guns with the super bright lights under their barrels. Two were facing his way down the hall; they were taken by surprise by the chandelier suddenly turning on right above them. Danny put the Marlin's white bead front sight under the closest man's black helmet and ski goggles and squeezed the trigger, threw the lever and fired again. The man's hands flew to his throat but his black machine gun with the light stayed hooked on his chest. Danny fired again each time he thought he saw a face, the men wore black helmets and masks and goggles and he knew they wore bulletproof vests. The goggles and black masks under the helmet visors were all he could see of their faces.
The man clutching his throat was grabbed by the next man from behind and dragged away backwards on his heels. The two men who had been facing the other way towards his parents' rooms spun around on either side of them and they both let loose firing full auto bursts, their bullets tearing into the walls around him, but Danny remained unseen and unhit behind the dresser.
Both shooters went empty at the same time, and were switching to full magazines which were clipped parallel to the empties. Danny aimed and fired again when their bright lights turned aside, he couldn't tell if he had made a hit or not, but then he pulled the trigger and dropped the hammer on an empty chamber. At the same time one of the men in black fired another burst, splintering the dresser to kindling and stitching Danny Edmonds across his chest.
The boy who dreamed of becoming a United Stated Marine fell backwards, his head bouncing off the hardwood floor. The Marlin .22 rifle came to a rest on the floor next to him with his right hand still clutched around its stock. Danny Edmonds blinked and looked up through the ceiling to the starry sky, and saw his beautiful mother reaching down for him with warmly inviting hands, her white nightgown and long blond hair flowing in the wind.
George Hammet sprinted up the staircase after the shooting erupted in time to see the Edmonds kid go down. The wounded Blue Team member was already being dragged away, his blood pouring down the wooden steps. Hammet advanced down the hall with his HK at the ready-shoulder position next to the STU man who had shot the boy, and he kicked the rifle away from the kid's hand. Good looking boy, wearing a red sweat suit and staring at the ceiling with flat dead eyes.
More STU operators stormed up to the second floor and they began the ritual of clearing each room: a flash-bang grenade followed by a two man buttonhook inside, quartering the rooms with their barrel-mounted Sure-Flash lights, shouting "clear left!" and "clear right!" Then they switched on the room lights and checked under the beds and in the closets for anyone else who might be hiding.
Hammet helped to clear a girl's room; the bed was unmade and recently slept in. He yanked open the closet door with his black-gloved left hand, his right hand still controlling his submachine gun. He swept away a rack of hanging clothes and found a blond girl with her eyes tightly shut and her arms crossed in front of her who was sliding down the far corner to the floor, crying and choking out over and over "Hail Mary, Hail Mary, Hail Mary..."
The STU operators carried hard rubber wedges in their tactical vests for securing doors behind themselves. Hammet pushed shut the closet door, grabbed a wedge with his left hand and shoved it into the crack of the door frame at shoulder height and hammered it in with the butt of his MP-5. He dropped a second wedge on the floor and kicked it under the door with the steel-reinforced toe of his black SWAT boot. The girl was still whimpering "Hail Mary" when he left, and the second floor was cleared.
Downstairs all the house lights were now turned on. A STU Team man was leaving the house with a duffel bag containing some of Edmonds's rifles and scopes, but they weren't being collected for trial evidence this time, because there was not going to be a trial, that was not the STU Team's mandate. The "sniper rifles" were being collected by the STU Team for future mischief and dirty tricks in actions which would then be blamed on Edmonds's so-called clandestine militia organization. Hammet knew that the same man carrying out Edmonds's rifles had been tasked with taking in and leaving a variety of fully automatic weapons, .50 caliber ammunition, 40mm grenades and even a few mortar rounds to be "discovered" later. These would "conclusively prove" that Edmonds's organization was tied directly to right wing militia groups in several Western states, with ready access to prohibited military weapons and explosives. This was another classic STU Team black operation, another of Wally Malvone's most deviously inventive ideas.
Hammet left the house to return to his Suburban. Malvone's helicopter, showing no lights, had landed on the front lawn a hundred yards away. Burgess Edmonds was being dragged like a side of beef across the grass towards it by two men. A heavy canvas sea bag had been pulled over his head and torso and was cinched tightly around his knees. The two black-uniformed STU Team members were pulling him by the sea bag's carrying straps, his stocking feet dragging across the lawn. When they reached the open side of the chopper they both picked the human bundle up and heaved it inside and the door slid closed. The blades spun up their RPMs as the unseen pilot pulled pitch, sending out a sudden rush of wind, and the chopper lifted from the ground. Then it dipped its nose, and took off over the cliffs and dropped from sight, disappearing down low across the mouth of the Nansemond River, leaving silence behind.
Hammet climbed back into the passenger seat of the lead SUV and stripped off his helmet and black balaclava face mask. Jaeger climbed in beside him and began to check his troops on the tactical net.
"Blue Two loaded up?"
"Ready to roll."
"Gold Two, you got the dogs?"
"Deltas and Romeo in?" The snipers and recon team checked in, they were departing in Gold Two with Bob Bullard.
"We're ready." Tonight the "Silver Team" was two Gold Team men driving Burgess Edmonds's silver Mercedes. Malvone already had a plan for it: Edmonds was "not going to be home when the fire struck." This way he could "stay on the run" committing more acts of terrorism with his organization....as far as everyone outside the STU Team was concerned. Actually, after his interrogation was finished in a day or two, Edmonds was going to be Vince Fostered with his own pistol, put into his Mercedes, and dumped in a lake. This way, as long as he was missing he could seemingly be kept alive as a fugitive terrorist kingpin bogeyman, using his sniper rifles in future assassinations to be blamed on members of his illegal clandestine organization. The rifles could be left where convenient to be found by the forever intentionally out-of-the-loop FBI, as dependably "Famous But Incompetent" as always.
If and when it suited the STU Team's evolving mission, Edmonds would be "discovered" in his car in the lake, with his own suicide weapon by his side, closing the circle. No doubt Edmonds had been very depressed over losing his family in the tragic fire, feeling especially guilty that the fire started in his own gun room ... Some headlines just wrote themselves, Hammet reflected. It was almost too easy, spoon feeding the media what they already wanted to believe.
"Poppa Team?" asked Jaeger.
"We're coming out." Poppa was the pyrotechnic team. These last two men came running out of the house and jumped in the back of Blue Leader's truck through the open rear doors.
"How much time?" asked Tim Jaeger.
One of the pyro team replied "anytime." There was a muffled boom from within the old mansion, and suddenly fire erupted into the first floor.
"That asshole sure had a lot of gunpowder in his cellar, very dangerous stuff! He should know better than to store it next to gasoline and paint thinner."
They all laughed at that one. Without a doubt the arson investigators would fall back on blaming the fire's start on faulty electrical wiring, that was the old stand by. Somebody in the back passed up two open bottles of ice cold Tuborg beer. "They're from Edmonds's double-wide fridge, you shoulda' seen the size of it! No point in wasting good beer."
Hammet took a long drink, holding Jaeger's for him in his other hand as they flew down the drive in the dark, relying on NVG's again. Hammet always got a kick out of rushing blindly through the pitch darkness, trusting the driver with the night vision goggles, but this time their way forward was partially illuminated by the flames behind them.
One of the men in back asked, "How's Robby?" Robby Coleman was the STU operator the Edmonds boy had shot.
"Robby's dead," Jaeger said. "He's on the helo, but he bled out. Shot in the neck...must have got an artery. Bad luck."
They were all quiet after that. "God damn gun nut bastards," one of them muttered.
The Edmonds's old wooden house was well on its way to being fully engulfed in flames as they turned onto the county road and headed back to their new temporary base, on the annex of the closed Naval Auxiliary Landing Field. A few hundred yards from the Edmonds's estate the vehicles switched on their headlights and split up for the return trip.
George Hammet wondered if that blond girl was still saying Hail Mary over and over again in the closet. It was a shame he had to leave her there, but Malvone's instructions had been clear: take Burgess Edmonds alive, swap the weapons, burn the place, and leave no witnesses. It was a shame, because she looked like she might have been a real hottie. She could have been a sweet little morale booster for the troops, while they were stuck in isolation at STUville.
But Malvone had been clear on the matter: no witnesses.