- Published: 5 January 2022
- ISBN: 9781405946285
- Imprint: Michael Joseph
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 384
- RRP: $22.99
Out of Time
The man lay in darkness near the cliff’s edge, staring down through binoculars at the moonlit Snake River as it wound through the Idaho hills toward the dam. Despite the colorful nickname the media had given him, he was dressed in black from his boots to his hood, and the drone in front of him was also black, from its four propellers to its nine-kilogram payload. He had built the large quadcopter himself in his hunting shed over the course of three months from parts he’d scavenged. Now it perched on the cli next to him like a spikey prehistoric bird ready to swoop down on unsuspecting prey.
He stroked the stubble on his cheek. He had not slept in a bed, had a shower, or talked to another person in four days. He had driven his van on back roads through seven states without carrying a cell phone or using credit cards, and he had not logged online since he had said goodbye to his wife and kids and pulled away from his house in Michigan. He had brought his own food, water, and gas with him because any store, no matter how small, might have a camera, and once an image was taken, it became data and could be accessed by those looking for him. He was wearing fleece and an outer shell layer of nylon to contain body heat, because he was less than a mile from a major soft target and they were searching for him with thermal-imaging satellites.
Below him the ancient Archean formations – the oldest exposed rocks on the earth’s surface – fell away steeply into a ravine through which the Snake River cut westward on its thousand-mile meandering journey toward Wyoming and the distant Pacific. Looking down at this vista in silvery moonlight, the man had the sense of peering back across the ages to a time when the earth was still innocent and pristine and mankind hadn’t mucked things up.
For a moment he was overtaken by a great sadness and sense of futility, and he almost gave up and headed back to his tent. Contrary to the psychological portrait the FBI forensic profilers had drawn up and disseminated so widely that he had read it himself, he did not want to be caught. If they found him, they would lock him up for the rest of his life. He was not afraid of pain, but a lifetime of incarceration was a hell on earth that he desperately wanted to avoid. If they caught him, they would also destroy his family, which was beyond precious to him.
He was acutely aware that each time he struck, the odds of making a mistake increased. The Green Man Task Force now numbered more than three hundred dedicated federal agents, twice the number who had pursued the Unabomber. Eventually, he would blunder and give them the clue they needed to find him – it was a matter of time and luck, but if he continued striking targets, it would happen. If he stopped, they would only have whatever information they had now. There seemed no point in taking further risks – the world was far along on its suicidal course, and he profoundly doubted that anything he could do would reverse what had already been set in motion. The wise course would be to abandon his mission and spend precious time with his wife and kids. But then he saw the headlights of a Jeep blink on as a sentry on night patrol drove across the parapet guard ledge, and the twin pinpricks of light moving atop the four-hundred-foot dam spurred him to action.
He took the transmitter out of his large black backpack but kept it enclosed in a three-sided fiberglass case to mask its thermal footprint. He switched it on, and soon the four rotors on the drone were whirling. He checked the payload one last time – the twenty sticks of closely packed plastic explosive lay snug against the blasting cap.
The drone lifted o the cli, and the man expertly moved the two control sticks to correct for roll, pitch, yaw, and throttle. He steered it away from him, and the large UAV flew out above the ravine, the moonlit reservoir, and the massive dam. It hovered, slowly circling, a black spot against the full moon, and he kept it high enough so they would not see or hear it. It was a calm and cloudless night – a night when God seemed very much in his glorious heaven, and the man had a final moment to hesitate at the enormity of the destruction he was about to unleash and to regret the taking of innocent lives.
The profilers were wrong about that, too – he was not a sociopath; he was in fact highly empathic, and killing brought him no joy. Nor did he have any illusion that the people whose lives he was about to end held any responsibility for the dam’s existence or purpose. Most of them hadn’t been alive in 1970 when it was built, and it was just their bad luck to be around the night it was destroyed. He understood that the dam employees had most likely just taken the job for a steady paycheck. When he was fresh out of Yale and knocking around, he had taken several similar jobs. But there was no way to do what needed to be done without loss of life.
The man lowered his head and prayed. ‘God, forgive me,’ he whispered, and then his fingers moved on the right control stick, sending the drone into a steep, expertly controlled dive. He felt the stab of excitement that always came with the knowledge that it was really going to happen, coupled with the guilty pride of seeing his creation finally fly at its peak speed of sixty miles per hour. Every kilogram of weight made flight more dicult and curtailed speed, so it had taken years for him to learn to build something with such a heavy payload that could fly this fast.
The Jeep was halfway across the parapet when it stopped moving. Had the driver heard something? It was unlikely, and it was also too late, unless he was a sharpshooter with the presence of mind to bolt out and squeeze o a shot in two seconds. More likely the sentry had paused midway across to have a smoke and admire the same moonlit vista that the man was watching. Framed by the ravine, against the hulking, dark monolith of the vast concrete wall, a stream of silvery water burst from one spill-gate and cascaded four hundred feet to the gleaming reservoir below.
But nothing happened – time stood still – and the man felt sure that something must have gone wrong. If the explosive device didn’t detonate, they would find the drone and the bomb intact. Despite all his care, they would have a great deal to work from. He panicked and thought of Sharon, Kim, and Gus and how their lives would be upended if he were caught. The kindest thing he could do for them would be to spare them the nightmare of a trial, so he carried a suicide pill with him wherever he went.
He saw the explosion before he heard it. A sheet of fire cloaked the downstream face of the dam from toe to crest. A concussive burst – a wave of violent sound – throbbed through the ravine. But the dam did not immediately crumble, nor did the man expect it to. The attack on the World Trade Center had demonstrated with terrifying clarity that it was not necessary for a blast to instantly demolish its target – it need only do sufficient structural damage for weight, pressure, and gravity to finish the destruction. The man was using the same concept here. The blast had only to undermine the structural integrity of the arched dam at a crucial spot. Thousands of tons of Snake River water would soon do the rest.
For several tantalizingly slow seconds, everything seemed as it was before. The cloak of fire folded back up into itself. The concussive blast reverberated to silence. Then the first tiny spigots seeped through cracks as if a dozen new spill-gates had simultaneously been opened above the reservoir.
The man did not wait for the river to punch through – he took no pleasure in destruction and death, even though he had planned this for months. He could already see lights going on and hear sirens. Choppers would be on site in less than twenty minutes. He gathered his things into his backpack, checked carefully to make sure he hadn’t left even a single wire behind, climbed onto his motorcycle, and sped away into the night toward his van and the long roads that would take him home to the people he loved.
The Pratt & Whitney radial engines rasped and hunted as they struggled to inhale the high-altitude air.
Captain Omar Rahal tracked the small boat racing across the placid waters of the narrow strait.
That was the order. Jack got it. Rijk van Delden—if that was his real name—was the only link between the Iron Syndicate and the nameless merc outfit the syndicate hired for their dirtiest hits.
The steep acropolis of Sardis loomed against the night sky, while far below at the city’s edge, flames consumed the reed-thatched buildings.
Heat shimmered in waves across the Valley of the Kings as the merciless sun baked the desert sands into clay.
The industrial sliding doors heaved open to a burst of bitter alpine air, a dizzying flurry of snow, and a barrage of hoarse cries