Now they would wait.
This would not be a quiet kill. There were some people you simply did not kill quietly. Regardless of the method, there would be repercussions. Investigations. Inquiries. In these cases, the best cover was to make a lot of noise. Explosions, fire, and smoke made it appear you were making a statement, and the first thought would be foreign terrorism. Especially when the target was a high-profile official.
Delta-One scanned the night-vision transmission of the tree-shrouded memorial below. The parking lot and entry road were empty. Soon, he thought. The location of this private meeting, though in an urban area, was fortuitously desolate at this hour. Delta-One turned his eyes from the screen to his own weapons controls.
The Hellfire system would be the weapon of choice tonight. A laser-guided, anti-armor missile, the Hellfire provided fire-and-forget capability. The projectile could home in on a laser spot that was projected from ground observers, other aircraft, or the launching aircraft itself. Tonight, the missile would be guided autonomously through the laser designator in a mast-mounted sight. Once the Kiowa's designator had "painted" the target with a laser beam, the Hellfire missile would be self-directing. Because the Hellfire could be fired either from the air or ground, its employment here tonight would not necessarily imply an aircraft's involvement. In addition, the Hellfire was a popular munition among black-market arms dealers, so terrorist activity could certainly be blamed.
"Sedan," Delta-Two said.
Delta-One glanced at the transmission screen. A nondescript, black luxury sedan was approaching on the access road exactly on schedule. This was the typical motor pool car of large government agencies. The driver dimmed the car's headlights on entering the memorial. The car circled several times and then parked near a grove of trees. Delta-One watched the screen as his partner trained the telescopic night vision on the driver's side window. After a moment, the person's face came into view.
Delta-One drew a quick breath.
"Target confirmed," his partner said.
Delta-One looked at the night-vision screen-with its deadly crucifix of cross-hairs-and he felt like a sniper aiming at royalty. Target confirmed.
Delta-Two turned to the left side avionics compartment and activated the laser designator. He aimed, and two thousand feet below, a pinpoint of light appeared on the roof of the sedan, invisible to the occupant. "Target painted," he said.
Delta-One took a deep breath. He fired.
A sharp hissing sound sizzled beneath the fuselage, followed by a remarkably dim trail of light streaking toward the earth. One second later, the car in the parking lot blew apart in a blinding eruption of flames. Twisted metal flew everywhere. Burning tires rolled into the woods.
"Kill complete," Delta-One said, already accelerating the helicopter away from the area. "Call the controller."
Less than two miles away, President Zach Herney was preparing for bed. The Lexan bullet-proof windows of "the residence" were an inch thick. Herney never heard the blast.
The Coast Guard Group Air Station Atlantic City is located in a secure section of William J. Hughes Federal Aviation Administration Technical Center at the Atlantic City International Airport. The group's area of responsibility includes the Atlantic seaboard from Asbury Park to Cape May.
Rachel Sexton jolted awake as the plane's tires screeched down on the tarmac of the lone runway nestled between two enormous cargo buildings. Surprised to find she had fallen asleep, Rachel groggily checked her watch.
2:13 A.M. She felt like she'd been asleep for days.
A warm onboard blanket was tucked carefully around her, and Michael Tolland was also just waking up beside her. He gave her a weary smile.
Corky staggered up the aisle and frowned when he saw them. "Shit, you guys are still here? I woke up hoping tonight had been a bad dream."
Rachel knew exactly how he felt. I'm headed back out to sea.
The plane taxied to a stop, and Rachel and the others climbed out onto a barren runway. The night was over-cast, but the coastal air felt heavy and warm. In comparison to Ellesmere, New Jersey felt like the tropics.
"Over here!" a voice called out.
Rachel and the others turned to see one of the Coast Guard's classic, crimson-colored HH-65 Dolphin helicopters waiting nearby. Framed by the brilliant white stripe on the chopper's tail, a fully suited pilot waved them over.
Tolland gave Rachel an impressed nod. "Your boss certainly gets things done."
You have no idea, she thought.
Corky slumped. "Already? No dinner stop?"
The pilot welcomed them over and helped them aboard. Never asking their names, he spoke exclusively in pleasantries and safety precautions. Pickering had apparently made it clear to the Coast Guard that this flight was not an advertised mission. Nonetheless, despite Pickering's discretion, Rachel could see that their identities had remained a secret for only a matter of seconds; the pilot failed to hide his wide-eyed double take upon seeing television celebrity Michael Tolland.
Rachel was already feeling tense as she buckled herself in beside Tolland. The Aerospatiale engine overhead shrieked to life, and the Dolphin's sagging thirty-nine-foot rotors began to flatten out into a silver blur. The whine turned to a roar, and it lifted off the runway, climbing into the night.
The pilot turned in the cockpit and called out, "I was informed you would tell me your destination once we were airborne."
Tolland gave the pilot the coordinates of an offshore location about thirty miles southeast of their current position.
His ship is twelve miles off the coast, Rachel thought, feeling a shiver.
The pilot typed the coordinates into his navigation system. Then he settled in and gunned the engines. The chopper tipped forward and banked southeast.
As the dark dunes of the New Jersey coast slipped away beneath the aircraft, Rachel turned her eyes away from the blackness of the ocean spreading out beneath her. Despite the wariness of being back over the water again, she tried to take comfort in knowing she was accompanied by a man who had made the ocean a lifetime friend. Tolland was pressed close beside her in the narrow fuselage, his hips and shoulders touching hers. Neither made any attempt to shift positions.
"I know I shouldn't say this," the pilot sputtered suddenly, as if ready to burst with excitement, "but you're obviously Michael Tolland, and I've got to say, well, we've been watching you on TV all night! The meteorite! It's absolutely incredible! You must be in awe!"
Tolland nodded patiently. "Speechless."
"The documentary was fantastic! You know, the networks keep playing it over and over. None of tonight's duty pilots wanted this gig because everyone wanted to keep watching television, but I drew short straw. Can you believe it! Short straw! And here I am! If the boys had any idea I'd be flying the actual-"
"We appreciate the ride," Rachel interrupted, "and we need you to keep our presence here to yourself. Nobody's supposed to know we're here."
"Absolutely, ma'am. My orders were very clear." The pilot hesitated, and then his expression brightened. "Hey, we aren't by any chance heading for the Goya, are we?"
Tolland gave a reluctant nod. "We are."
"Holy shit!" the pilot exclaimed. "Excuse me. Sorry, but I've seen her on your show. The twin-hull, right? Strange-looking beast! I've never actually been on a SWATH design. I never dreamed yours would be the first!"
Rachel tuned the man out, feeling a rising uneasiness to be heading out to sea.